On The Dark Side

I’m in New York this week seeing my agents and refuelling psychologically and creatively before plunging into the next manuscript. One of my most favourite cities there’s nothing like walking around Manhattan (although I’m also a big fan of Sth Williamsburg across the bridge) endless and anonymously through the streets, pounding the concrete until your total identity has blended into landscape then the ideas flood in.

I’ve also crammed in as much exhibitions and shows that I can possibly handed but a few really stand out.

One was at the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (okay, it’s fashion week in NY), there’s two shows on here, one is called Seduction and is a very loose (and in my opinion not very well researched) collection of clothes ranging from the early 19th century through to contemporary around the theme of seduction – (figure hugging, lacy, short you get the picture.) Far more exciting and thought provoking (and stay with me here, male readers) is the show Gothic: Dark Glamour.

An exploration of gothic literature and imagery on fashion it touches on many other themes, and also includes a couple of costumes from the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Naturally being an old punk myself and having a fascination for structured theatrical design I was captivated by several of the dresses  – particularly McQueen, Tischi and Westwood – Demeulemeester was a stretch however. And the curator’s Walter Benjamin’s quote – “Fashion mocks Death” because it inherently celebrates ethereal youth against inevitable decay, and that, according to the philosopher, the essence of fashion is fetishism because it is based on the sex appeal of the inorganic, is beautifully illustrated in the exhibition. So what is essentially a shallow display (it is after all clothes!) becomes both thought provoking and poignant.

I was reminded of my experience writing a screen play based on background/love story behind the writing and publication of ‘The Story of O’ by Dominique Aury sometime in the late ‘90’s for HBO (alas it went into turn-around and a crappy movie based on the same story was made, released and died ‘Writer of O’ in 2004). I was amazed to discover that when it was originally in the 1950’s under the pseudonym Pauline Reage that, because of the implicit and sadomasochistic sexual nature of these scenes, everyone assumed it was written by a man, or possibly a group of men.

In reading as an author myself again (I had read it as a teenager) it was quite apparent to me that it was written by a woman. Why?  – the graphic and very implicit descriptions of both the costume and dress; this was written by a woman who knew how it felt to be wearing a very tight corset and how that both empowered and disempowered. The sensuality of such descriptions work as a deliberate erotic foreplay but it is a lingering and (in my humble opinion) female gaze.

I did get to meet the authoress that year (and give her a signed copy of Quiver), she was in her eighties and still beautiful and had the exact appearance of a well-dressed librarian. There was a slight severity about her dress that made you think she was very precise in her choices. Dominique Aury only ‘came out’ as the identity behind Pauline Reage – writer of The Story of O – four years before her death in 1998, which is a good indication of how long it has taken feminism and Western society in general to acknowledge the rich complexity of female sexual expression/female sexuality. Now, things have accelerate so fast it would almost be considered blasé.

Back to the exhibition, again, I was also struck by the current rise of the ‘Vampire’ (both on television and in bookstores) and the current political climate. Perhaps we are all looking for the swoon and surrender (although the Twilight series has a particularly extended foreplay).

Oh, and by the way, Dominique Aury originally wrote ‘The Story of O’ to re-inspire her long term married lover the famous French publisher Jean Paulhan, it really was an extended love letter of sorts and it was he who persuaded her to publish.

Apologies for the no-show posting last week – I was ill.