Saturday, 21 April 2012

loving much, and experiments in living

'Why should it be essential to love rarely in order to love much?' said Camus.

Look at that handsome man! Camus was well-loved, by literary critics and women alike. He was gorgeous and intelligent, and kept mistresses constantly throughout his married life. I'm reading 'Le Premier Homme' at the moment for an upcoming French exam, and you can see traces of the adult he was to become in the autobiographical work. A footnote early on in the book stipulates that the book should be 'heavy with things and flesh'. Right at the end of the book, he declares how much 'Jacques Cormery', the protagonist (a pseudonym for him) has a 'love of bodies, of their beauty, which made him laugh with bliss on the beaches, of their warmth that never stopped attracting him, with nothing particular in mind, like an animal'. This is a man who delighted in bodies, and love, whether long-lasting or brief. There's nothing sordid in that.

Sartre used to compare writing and love, saying that they came from the same creative process. He and de Beauvoir championed an experiment in living: the open relationship, which was scandalous at the time. In the 21st century climate, with things like girlonthenet, Belle du Jour, Tulisa's sex tape broadcast, and swingers parties or clubs like Killing Kittens in London becoming normalised, then an open relationship doesn't seem that exciting now. But de Beauvoir - author of The Second Sex, the manifesto for the beginning of the women's movement - described her relationship with Sartre as the 'greatest achievement' of her life. And despite all of our desires to have many lovers, to be sexually active - to love often and to love well, in other words - it is still an achievement nowadays to have a long-lasting relationship. What is more of an achievement in this day and age is not to successfully pull off an open relationship where each partner can take their own lovers, but, perhaps, to have a long, happy (possibly monogamous) relationship. That seems to be the more unusual thing. 

A famous Baudelaire quote reads, “Unable to suppress love, the Church wanted at least to disinfect it, and so created marriage.” Baudelaire was a dandy who squandered money and carried on illicit affairs, one of which was with his 'Black Venus', Jeanne Duval. What is it with these French writers? Not to mention Marguerite Duras' 'L'Amant', an autobiographical account of herself as a 15 year old having an affair with a 27 year old Chinese man. Then of course, the quintessential story of the adulterous wife: Flaubert's Madame Bovary. 

Basically, what I'm trying to say is this: my module in French Realism is like a course in how to have an exciting sex life.

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