Friday, May 28, 2010

princess marie: notes

In the dead of winter 1916, after a two year courtship, Princess Marie Bonaparte wrote a letter to Aristide Briand, “I have decided to surrender myself in your arms.” The first night they stayed together, he asked her to remove her clothes. She slipped out her dress limb by limb, committed herself to an affair. An affair! But Aristide simply held her naked body in his arms. Marie wrote in her journal, “...and above all I wanted to leave!” Their relationship blossomed, aside. Not until 1922 did Aristide meet his rival in X, “the friend.” Autumn in full-swing. Marie and X walked through the damp woods, sun slipping below the horizon. “Our eyes kissed,” Marie said. Although she developed an intense intimacy with X, he, like all her lovers, failed to satisfy her sexually.

Failed to satisfy: frigid? No, Marie knew how to come. Understood the anatomy of the female orgasm better than most early 20th century sexologists: the clitoris. But orgasm, and orgasm alone, was not It. Marie wanted to come during penetration, from penetration, for whatever reason. With her lover inside her.

More important, still: she had the courage to admit I don't
. How little sympathy exists for women who Can’t. Not only "cold" but also somehow stupid: Why the preoccupation with penetration? Why did she not assert herself with her lovers? Why did she not show them how? As if desire were an activity and one could identify a Why.

Marie tried. The attempt to know a thing, understand it’s every element, is to kill it. Well, precisely the point. By the time Marie began her analysis with Freud, she had already conducted her radical clitoral research and developed her own theory of female frigidity, emphasizing a biological root. Although not formally trained as a physician, her knowledge of the body, and impeccable research skills, surpassed many professionals. Resisting Freud’s accepted ‘myth of the vaginal orgasm,’ Marie focused instead on the connection between the clitoris and the vagina, their proximity, intricate kinesis.

After measuring the distance between the clitoris and the vagina in 243 women during routine gynecology examinations, Marie published her results under pseudonym. In Considerations on the Anatomical Causes of Frigidity in Women (1924), she concluded that women with short distances (the “paraclitoridiennes’) achieved orgasm easily during intercourse while women with a distance of more than 2½ centimeters (the "téleclitoridiennes") did not. Marie considered herself téleclitoridiennes. She wrote, “Even if [an] attentive lover is found and his caresses ‘before and after, or even during’ lead to orgasm, these women will never be fully satisfied. Because it isn’t these ‘eratz’ of voluptas that Nature demands of love. And though these women may well sometimes want to convince themselves of their perfect happiness, perfect it isn’t: they remain, despite all the caresses, all the tenderness of love, eternally unsated in their bodies.”

Two years later she agreed to undergo a procedure performed by Dr. Josef Halban to move her clitoris closer to her vagina. Like many pioneers of sex research, Marie experimented on herself first. The procedure was unsuccessful. Halban performed another. And another. Each surgery proved as ineffective as the last yet Marie continued to champion the procedure among colleges and friends as well as in published reports.

Marie first consulted Freud in 1925. He was sixty-nine, referred to her always as Princess. In a matter of weeks, they began meeting every day. Eleven am to one pm. All formalities dissolved. Marie confided in Freud, Freud confided in Marie. After three weeks, he confessed, “Look...I’m telling you more than to other people after two years...I must also add that I am not a connoisseur of human beings.” Marie described her deepening involvement in analysis as “...the most gripping thing I have ever done. Ich bin, as the say in German, gepackt! aber vollstandig!

Although Freud knew of Marie’s surgeries, he disapproved, instructed her to “turn her focus inward.” Following Freud’s advice, Marie scoured her childhood for a clue, any clue. Born in 1882, Marie’s childhood was cut-off, spent (minute by minute) holed-up in a stone mansion with her widowed grandmother and father, Prince Roland. Aside from seaside “holidays”—as isolated as her own home—Marie attended no social gatherings of any sort until her early twenties. Excluding governesses, had no companions. How does one overcome the death of a mother? Marie's mother died of consumption, cradled in her husband’s arms, a month after giving birth. The housemaid's whispered poison! Even the stable boys were suspicious: just days before a new will had been drafted in Prince Roland's favor. The rumors persisted.

Brief moments of bliss: in a room with a shut door, Marie filled five copybooks between the ages of seven and ten with stories of flowers bent in the breeze, white-tailed dogs, a woman who swallowed five houses whole. Also, poems: if I am so sad / I am sad / I want to say it. Stealing herself away, Marie learned German and English, skipped ahead to mathematics, anthropology. When Prince Roland gave her a book by the French astronomer Flammarion, she read it cover to cover, spent night after night face turned towards the sky, recording her observations in sprawling script. To get away, out: she devoured the Greek myths, studied Latin, sat back-straight on a bench two hours a day learning to play the piano with grace. Her constant comfort: to investigate, uncover, get to the root. When Marie is sixteen, she meets a man with black hair, blue eyes, and a pointed beard. Almost twice her age, he coquettes with finesse—walks through the dim-lit garden, kisses behind the curtains, gushy letters that, upon his urgent request, are ‘to be burned’ after reading. One afternoon he is so bold as to ask Marie for a lock of her hair; dutifully, she hands him a swath of brown curls. Proof in hand—he blackmailed her for 200,000.

Marie’s childhood—and marriage—the hope (however short-lived) that there will be a way out.

Her husband, Prince George of Greece, was a ‘handsome giant.’ Certain implications, however, were clear to almost everyone but her: George was only happy if Uncle Waldemar was near. In her diaries, Marie described the loss of her virginity: “You took me that night in a short, brutal gesture, as if forcing yourself and apologized, “I hate it as much as you do. But we must do it if we want children.”

Throughout her life’s work, Marie echoed Freud in that she believed that vaginal sexuality was somehow superior to the clitoral. But a ‘product of her time’ she was not. Marie remained restless: "The analysis has brought me peace of mind, of heart, and the possibility of working, but from a physiological point of view nothing...Must I give up sex? Work, write, analyze? But absolute chastity frightens me." Marie’s lifelong search for the vaginal orgasm is in a sense not at all related to the orgasm itself, but rather the desire to feel it, in the same instant, with another. That’s the terror: when you don’t.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

interview with birkensnake

read my interview with the masterminds behind birkensnake, one of the swankiest lit journals out there, on the black clock blog.

p.s. birkensnake is currently reading submissions for issue 3. submit!


my sister got married! awww!
more photos here!

Monday, May 10, 2010

interview with urs allemann

i recently interviewed urs allemann. you can read the interview on the tarpaulin sky blog.