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Sex and Surrealism, America and France


Life is surreal. Oh yes, it is.

In a state close to dream last night, I finished Henry Miller’s “Quiet Days in Clichy,” his alter-ego, Joey’s, rambunctious accounts of sex with prostitutes and a 15-year-old girl whom his equally goatish roommate, Carl, picks up wandering the streets of Paris.

Joey comes home one night to find Carl with Colette, whose virginity he has just plucked from her as casually as the god, Hades, plucked the girl, Kore, from a meadow (where she was herself plucking flowers), and took her down into the underworld with him.

The homeless girl turns out to be so sexually ravenous that Carl begs Joey to help him sate her appetite on nights when Carl is away at work in a newspaper office.

But Colette, whom the two men agree is “dumb,” is not Joey’s type. He prefers women who have something interesting to say. Besides, they could be thrown in jail for having sex with a minor. (Though sex is legal in France at the age of 15, or at least is today, the two men at first believe that the girl is 14.)



Joey begs Carl to find Colette something to wear beside the transparent Japanese shift he’s provided for her, or he may find himself raping the girl against his will.

One day, Colette disappears. The next day at noon, when Carl and Joey are both home, someone knocks on the door. It’s the police, with the girl’s parents.



The mother is so beautiful that both men wish they’d found her first. “The mother! says Carl later. “Did you have a good look at her? She was not only beautiful, she was divine.” But the mother is mostly quiet while the police and the father, who looks like a barrister, question the two men about the girl’s missing watch.

When the mother examines a stack of books on Carl’s work table, Faust, Blake, Lawrence, Shakespeare—good literature—and hands the last volume of Proust’s great work to her husband, the man looks at Carl with new eyes. Carl then discusses the essay he’s writing on the relation between Proust’s metaphysical vision and the occult tradition, and Joey is revealed to be a famous writer. The attitude of the parents changes from accusatory to respectful.

(This was first written in New York City in 1940, and rewritten in Big Sur in 1956.)

It is fascinating to read this account of untrammeled male sexuality by an American artist, a writer, in Paris, pre-Women’s Liberation.

The only woman in Henry’s accounts of his sexual adventures who seems offended by what some might see as insensitivity to a woman’s inner life is a beautiful young Danish woman. But that’s after she and Joey and Carl and an acrobat named Corinne have a four-way sexual romp after dinner at the men’s apartment.

Those Viking babes can be so difficult!





The next morning, Marley and I read The New York Times over breakfast. The big news: Anthony D. Weiner (really, that’s his name?) was caught sending snapshots of parts of his body to various young women over the Internet. He had excellent pecs that must have taken many hours over many months at the gym to develop, so you can hardly blame him for wanting to show them off.

I didn’t get the opportunity to see the shot of him in his boxers, though it seems to me that he might be confusing what turns women on with men’s love of viewing body parts. But what do I know?



What knocked me out was the photo of him in bed with… Marley! Really. It was our cat, white with fawn ears, sleeping soundly beside him, so I knew immediately that Anthony, though not, perhaps, a man of good judgment, was certainly a man of good taste.

(A little aside here: Richard came home the other day from l’Alliance Francaise and told me that his French teacher had informed the class that they must not pronounce the “t” at the end of “chat,” when referring to a cat. Just as in English, in French, a pussy may refer to a cat. Or it may refer to a woman.)

Anthony, too, uses the two words interchangeably, calling this photo, “Me and the pussys.”  



But then I read that not only is Anthony married, but he’s been married less than a year. His wife happens to be a personal aide to Hillary Clinton, which perhaps suggested to Anthony that if Hillary accepted Bill’s indiscretions, her aide might do the same for him.

Furthermore, Anthony seemed a likely candidate to replace Michael Bloomberg, the current mayor of NYC. And those political hopes, it seems, have now been extinguished.

I watched a video in which Anthony confessed that yes, he had sent texts of photos of his body, along with flirtatious messages to several young women on the Internet. At several points he broke down in tears.

What has happened in our world between Henry Miller’s lusty joyous relish of sex with prostitutes, 15-year-olds and indignant Danish beauties (who nevertheless, surrender to his desires), and the sexual scandals that have erupted lately in the news?

The contrast between these two New Yorkers, Henry Miller and Anthony Weiner, seems to me to be utterly surreal.

Perhaps it’s the difference between what is permitted an artist (or rather, what an artist permits himself to do) and a politician.

Perhaps it’s a difference in space, of geography, between France and the U.S.A. (The parents of the 15-year-old shifted their attitude entirely when they learned that they were addressing a famous writer. Writers are that deeply respected in France.)



Perhaps it’s a difference in time, that certain changes that occurred in the 1960s—the birth control pill, sexual freedom, books such as Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” and Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” and the rise of feminism—changed what women accept, and thus, what the culture condones.

However, I think another element is at play here.

There was a brief time in history in which one generation (in America, at least) was free to experiment and live out our sexual fantasies completely. There was a period after the birth control pill and before AIDS, when men and women could live as freely as they chose without fear of getting pregnant or catching a deadly disease.

Not everyone participated. But those of us who did had a rocking good time.

And listening to Anthony Weiner talk, I thought, Poor guy, he just wasn’t born at the right time. He didn’t get to live out his sexual fantasies before getting married, and this can be a big problem for highly-sexed (but repressed) people.

Artists and libertines have been sexually expressive at all times in history. But for other folks, who are socially or religiously programmed, sex may be a guilty pleasure that must be alternately repressed or furtively engaged in.



And yet, it’s the very essence of the life force. As the philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said, “The degree and kind of a man's sexuality reach up into the ultimate pinnacle of his spirit.” 

In Henry Miller’s writing, he often gives the impression that he’s oblivious to the effect he’s having on the women with whom he has sex, whereas Anthony Weiner’s tears of regret at hurting his wife (as well as his more political concern about disappointing his constituents) seemed to me to be genuine.

This seems like a cultural advance, a man caring (at least in retrospect) about his effect on the woman to whom he’s married.

Yet all that magnificent lusty life force that Henry had! What I love about Henry Miller, what Nietzsche himself would have admired, was the way that Miller’s sexuality and spirit were not divided. It was all of one piece, in all its lustiness as well as crudeness and lack of sensitivity.

What seems sad to me about Anthony Weiner is how divided his spirit is from his sexuality. That seems to be the inheritance of Judeo-Christianity—the body divided from the spirit. And what a sad and tortured story that creates.





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Reader Comments (8)

Dear Richard and Kaaren,

How I love reading your delightful journal, punctuated by such curious and appropriate photographs! Thank you for all of it,every morsel and crumb like a scrumptious pain chocolat for the mind, soul and spirit.

Looking back, I am so grateful to have been a part of our adventurous era! You have described it so eloquently with a few brushstrokes of brilliant words, Kaaren.

And how sad, as you say, that these poor politician guys keep repeatedly screwing up in this mad world we live in now!

Anyway, I want to send you both heartfelt hugs.... so I will!


Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 9:07 | Unregistered CommenterMalika Moore


What a thrill to hear from you. I'm so glad you're enjoying our journal, and Richard thanks you, too.

Didn't we have a good time in Berkeley? There was a window of revolution open for around four years, and then most of us scattered around the world, on our individual journeys. But that was the most thoroughly communal time I've experienced, and I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

I have vivid images of you in the Firehouse, painting your surreal paintings of zebras and, really, a whole zoo of creatures. You were the Hieronymus Bosch of Berkeley. Do you still paint?

I guess all this sexual scandal is part of our zeitgeist. It all seems so furtive and pathetic. It was much healthier when it was all in the open, honest and joyful--it seems to me that we've moved backwards in many respects as a culture. Back to the '50s almost. Why get married if you're not through sowing your wild oatmeal?

I've heard that you're taking very good care of Daniel. We hug you both, and hope to see you before too long in Paris.

Much love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 17:09 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren


I remember you as uninhibited in those Berkeley days. Something that came naturally to us who were growing up in that open time. A few years later I would go to the "Women's Building" in SF to look for someone I could "pick up." I loved the irony of going to the place that was the bastion of feminism to try to find a woman who was open to just having some fun. It usually worked. Coming from a place of their own strength, advances of my kind were not so threatening. And, yes, America has become disgustingly uptight about sex along with many other things. I think it is part of our consumer culture turning something that never needed to be monetized (though always has been) into something sidelined by all that is sold to pacify and distract.


Friday, June 10, 2011 at 23:23 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Kitchell

First, if you and Richard are even half as complete away from the page as you are on the page....well. What a gift.

Second, let me defend my poor maligned Judeo-Christianity. Where people chose to take it over the centuries is one thing. What the Bible actually says about sexuality shows absolutely no divide between the spirit and the body. Au contraire! Even Paul says (and this is PAUL, mind you) that men and women shouldn't keep themselves from each other sexually for any reason. The unity of spirit, soul and body is not only important but vital. Many, many original phrases about our relationship with God are highly sexual in nature: we are the "issue" of God; he is as a husband to us, wanting to possess us completely; unfaithfulness is as a harlot with her studs, whom she "pants after," exposing her ass, and who fuck her to a frazzle and leave her for dead (yes, it's that blatant in Hebrew); and so on.

Third, the Weiner. Sacre bleu, he has wormed (no pun) his way even unto the pages of THIS sacred text!

Because I don't think that spirit, soul and body ARE separate, the fact that a man in his position — knowing the strange moralistic (as opposed to moral) nature of this country — would actually TWEET photos of his...what should we call it?....junior wiener, perhaps? — shows such a lack of wisdom, savvy, control, discretion, etc., as to be absolutely laughable. Beyond that, I'm a sucker (no pun) for vows. Back in the halcyon days, when I was picking up every shiny thing, I hadn't yet taken vows. I hadn't promised another human being to be eternally faithful. If we don't believe vows are worth anything, then what's the point? Nothing disturbs and infuriates me more than empty ritual. And if he couldn't even tell the truth to the one person he swore to be truthful to, what makes his constituents think they're somehow above the lying? And finally, the nature of the tweets disturbed me. Nothing wrong with a little rough sex. But telling women that you want to gag them on your junk? Seriously?

And with that, I'm done with Weinergate. Done, I tell you.

Thank you for another marvelous post that prompts discussion. Did I already say what a gift...?

Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 19:34 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

Dear Peter,

What a delightful message. Yes, uninhibited we were, and are. A long journey it was from 17th century Puritans to 20th century hippies but we DID it! I think we owe some of this to our lusty Scorpio fathers (& brothers). That's hilarious, your going to the Women's Building to pick up women. It didn't hurt that you looked like Paul Newman.

What on earth has happened to our country? It's like a sad return to the repressive '50s (with politicians acting out in childish ways). Yes, I believe you're right; it's the consumer values. France is far from perfect, but there IS less sexual puritanism.

Thank you for weighing in, and for the wonderful photographs.

Hope to see you and Gayle soon here in Paris.

Kaaren & Richard

Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 21:35 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren (& Richard)


Mon dieu, you are generous and articulate!

Thank you for bringing up this aspect of the Bible. It’s ironic—the day after publishing this post, I read a quote from the Bible about the oneness of the spirit and the body, and I wish I could find it now. It said exactly what you are saying. However, I do believe the church took Christianity in a direction away from that unity of body and spirit or soul, and invited many Christians to see body and soul as divided and antithetical. (Women as the source of evil, guilt about sex, etc.) James Joyce wrote eloquently about that guilty divide in The Dubliners and Ulysses.

You seem to me to be a Christian of the kind that the Bible meant for Christians to be: healthy and whole, able to write about sex in your fiction in a Rabelaisian way, and also be devoted and faithful in marriage and in your religious faith.

Excellent distinction between moralistic and moral: that’s it. I have exactly the same feeling about Weiner that you’re expressing. He’s a fool (another way of saying, without wisdom), and I don’t really care what he does sexually, but a vow of fidelity in marriage IS a big deal. Otherwise why get married? What makes it all the stranger is that he married a gorgeous, warm, smart, talented woman, and that marriage isn’t even a year old!

This is something I love about Americans. There is an ideal in the U.S.A. about marriage which I think is admirable: that if you promise fidelity, you ought to carry through on that promise. Whether or not people do that, it IS the ideal. Older European cultures seem to be less idealistic about expecting marital fidelity. Yet most people want it from their partners.

Gag them on your junk? I hadn’t heard that. I thought he just tweeted photos of himself with bare chest and in boxer-briefs.

The main impression I got from reading about Weiner is that he’s sexually repressed and immature and that this was his way of expressing himself, like a 14-year-old boy. He probably should have waited another seven to ten years longer before getting married.

Which brings me to the question: why don’t we elect men or women of wisdom to political office in the U.S.A.?

Thank you from both of us for your great intelligence and friendship.


Kaaren (& Richard)

Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 22:19 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren

RE: Mr. Weiner

"When It Comes to Scandal, Girls Won’t Be Boys"

I had to share this link, and a quote from the NY Times article:

“The shorthand of it is that women run for office to do something, and men run for office to be somebody,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “Women run because there is some public issue that they care about, some change they want to make, some issue that is a priority for them, and men tend to run for office because they see this as a career path.”


Regarding Anthony Weiner, he betrayed his pregnant wife... Kaaren - I'm with you - he's lower than a snake. However, in his defense, I heard on NPR radio the other day about a study of the rich and famous and why they stray. Rises in endomorphins are to blame - athletes, politicians - they feel emboldened, almost godlike, invincible. Of course, it doesn't sound like this Weiner has anything to be too proud about - no measurable claim to fame that I can see - let's hope his fifteen minutes of fame is soon over.

Lisa :)

Monday, June 13, 2011 at 3:27 | Unregistered CommenterLisa - remaining Head

Dear Lisa,

I love that article. Had already posted it on Facebook, before reading your message. It's true of the women I know who are in politics; they're focused on issues, wanting to do something for their community. We do need to elect more women in government.

My main take on Anthony Weiner is that his sexuality isn't integrated into his psyche, his integrity, his life. He probably really loves his wife, and really does care about public service. Which makes the whole thing sad. He damaged his marriage and his career with some stupid tweeting and photos of himself. That's self-sabotage.

Maybe it is endorphins. I know whenever I have any success or a particularly vigorous day of exercise, I hit on every man in my address book. (KIDDING.) What's fascinating is to look at all of this through French eyes: they're rolling their eyes at all the "Puritan scolding." I think the appropriate response may lie somewhere out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, half way between Americans' scandalized reactions and French laissez-faire yawning. The contrast is interesting.

More than his 15 minutes of fame may be over. But who knows? Maybe he'll go to "clean tweets" school and learn to tweet as innocently as the birds do; we know how monogamous they all are.

We miss seeing you down by the Pacific Ocean.


Kaaren (& Richard)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 13:49 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren (& Richard)

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