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On Love

Georg Diez+Jagoda Marinic
45 min
Georg Diez

Love is such a bourgeois subject. Is it even real? We talked – briefly, on Twitter, tentatively, but with a strange confidence – about two kinds of love, the lover*s love and the other love, a son, a father, a painting maybe even. But, very simply put: If love were real, why is it so hard to find, to see, to communicate, to hold on to? Is love ever more than just a trick of the self to believe there is some sweeter form of reality?

Jagoda Marinic

So this is asking me to be the Advocate of Love.... The only bourgeois thing about Love is to believe that Love is bourgeois, just construction, invisible, wish. Sitting by the ocean I see Love in little gestures, gazes, in the tense bodies of fathers watching their kids playing and fighting with the vastness of mediterranean elements – though most of the beaches neatly tailored for tourists... I see Love mostly where it isn't cause you see longing eating up the unloved bodies and eyes...

Georg Diez

This is the interesting thing about Love, as you say, because like a lot of ideologies and religions it produces the suffering it pretends to do away with. Without Love there would not be lovesickness. Without Love there would be not unfulfilled longing. There might be more action without love and less fear. Less doubt. Less self-hatred. It reminds me of christianity creating the sins it pretends to forgive.

Jagoda Marinic

I'm a writer and though I don't have to tell a story every time I write I love to tell one every now and then. There is a sense of coherence a story gives us, call it comfort from all those unfnished threads in our lives. Love can set characters in motion and thus creates action. I believe it does the same to our lives. It makes us move, boast, pretend, yearn, laugh, fear and cry.  It makes us want to come closer. Or away from it. Sure, what you say is right: there would be no lovesickness, no unfulfilled longing. There would be no fear of loss and no fear of pain, no fear of dependence and no fear of being humiliated by the ones we love. No fear of abandonment and one-way-love. And yet, to deconstruct Love in a way you would deconstruct Christianity feels utterly wrong. Yes. We do have an academic-intellectual narrative about the ways we invented Love, above all Romantic Love. The One you might compare to Christianity, today's neurosis, played out best as a marketing instrument for whatsoever, particularly our lives. But only because there is a nausea in certain manifestations of Love doesnt't mean that Love in itself is. I know this sounds like Old Communists' Rhetorics, claiming just cause Russia failed doesn't mean Communism failed. But to rid us of Love is to rid us of our most human aspect: our vulnerability towards others, most of all the ones we love. Would this leave more space for action? Maybe. But I am not sure at all whether I would want to live in a world inhabited by human beings acting free from Love. Fear can make us better. And what if we are not yet at a level where we live Real Love. What if we lived out Bad Love most of our days...

Georg Diez

There is love, of course. People passing each other on the street with the sudden insight that life could be so much different if this moment did not pass. People sitting across a table not saying a word but knowing why they are there. People drifting apart and meeting again because without the other there is no room small enough not to feel empty. People fighting for nothing or just to make up for it. People making love. People sitting on a couch and reading and hearing the other breath and after a while one of them will move and the other will look up and not say a word and not smile and not move just because there is not need for that. Of course, there is all of this and much more. But there is also Love, the system, the pattern, the ideology that rules people*s lives and ruins people*s because they feel they do not live up to what is expected from them. It is like a writer forcing a narrative on something which cannot be bound by a narrative. I agree that this narrative might be necessary to get out of bed in the morning. Still, it helps to be suspicious of the motives behind it. Just as it helps to question the narrative necessity in novels, by the way.

Jagoda Marinic

"Pero el amor, esa palabra“ (Rayuela, by Julio Cortazar, born on August 26th, 1914)
When I think of Love, I could think of a very other Love than the one you just pictured. Images-of Love-Industry: Making Love. Sitting at a Table in agreed silence. People in heavy arguments. „They don´t live up to what is expected from them?“ What exactly do you mean? The images on love we create or the expectations the ones we love impose on us?
What about the invisible aspects of Love, encounters that pull us into somebody´s path of life and reflects his in ours? The kind of Love that turns somebody formally nobody into a reference on who you really are… There is a scene in Max Frisch´s „Stiller“ where a female character says something like: „I don´t want to be a woman for you. I want to be your woman. Like your father is not a father.“ How do we become that crucial to each other? How often does it happen? And what is it that happens between A and B so that they feel or long to feel that connected? That doomed to each other that they share aspects of life that are rarely pictured in the Love-Image-Industry? Don't you think that feeling of Love ruining something is a feeling of people who don´t have that kind of connection? Of people who actually think of happiness when they think of Love rather than connection?
When the two of us started our conversation on Twitter what pulled me in was this difference in viewpoint. We tweeted a few little lines about Zadie Smith´s essay on the loss of her father. I saw a life-rooting Love reflected in that essay. After reading it I was left with the Impression that her father must have contributed in inexplicable ways to place her here on earth. They seemed to have had this connection; whereas you saw a lack of space for another Love in her immense attachment. I hope I got it right. Your position made me wonder. It was so completely new, not to say alien to me. It´s not that I haven´t heard of psychoanalysis, but I have only ever thought it not felt it as a concept of my life. It had simply never seemed plausible to me: only because one branch of our selves is rooted in one person why should it disturb another branch, the ones for lovers, kids, whatever… It´s like forcing a tree to root like a broomstick.
And now to your lesson on the narrative -I appreciate, by the way;) But because I have written a novel without writing a story, kind of an anti-novel, I have come to the conclusion that the non-story-telling will always be measured by the story-telling - not only by readers. Also by creators. Even the latter will feel the joy of disturbing an order. It is very tough to come to a point where you feel you are simply creating a new order - but even then critical and uncritical reception places you aside from the regular and thus again into order…. Even if you tell a contemplative story, tell them a story, Paul Auster once resumed the secret to his success in an arte interview. When you leave the story out, completely out, there will be only few people left who stick to it. Very few. For most of us thoughts and feelings in writing have to be contained to be bearable. I´m afraid it is the same with Life. It has to be contained in Love. And certainly the other way round. When I speak of Love I don’t like to mess it with addiction. I sometimes don´t even mess it with making Love. I simply mean the way certain people intertwine with who we are. Like Julio Cortazar - who this week would have turned 100 - wrote in Rayuela (the holy book of the non-narrative) about the way Maga questioned everything his protagonist thought about Life. Cortazar destroyed the narrative. But he placed Longing for Love and Reflections on Love and Life there. And thus created a thread, a timeline on Love and Life, Art and Philosophy… Feels like we are entering difficult ground…

Georg Diez

I remember well the things Zadie Smith said about her father, her loss, her longing, her life without him, I remembered it all as I sat with my daughter in the movie theater watching "Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart", a sad and smart French animation movie about a boy who was born with a heart of ice. He is saved by the midwife who implants a cuckoo clock where his heart used to be. He has to be careful for the rest of his life she time and time again implores him, he has to avoid all excitement because his cuckoo heart would not support it. But most of all, she says, he has to be careful not to fall in love. By now the midwife has taken the place of the mother who has left the son in her care, she is a good mother to him, watchful and supportive and not egoistical in her love for him - but is she really? Because after all, what is the message: Don't stray to far, don't have fun, don't let anybody take my place. This is the life she sees for him in all her love. Maybe she herself does not even realize it how large her control is over his heart - he realizes it quickly when he meets this lovely short-sighted girl singing on the town-square. He is destined to love her even if it might destroy him. It turns out also to kill his mother who cannot support him leaving. The movie is beautiful in its soft Tim Burton gothic style, there are songs and music, and at some point my daughter snuggled up to me. It was sweet, and in some way we sat there as lovers, because this is what we have learned a movie theater is, right, a dark place for people with physical intentions. It was a weird mix of emotions, I felt strong and protrective. But then again, you never know how the other feels, really, do you?

Jagoda Marinic

Yes, we never know what the other one truly feels, which makes me want to talk about rejection, but yet there's another question I'd like you to answer first: What – to you – makes us lovers? You sat there as lovers, you wrote... There was only one time I remember to have been in a cinema with a young girl, not my daughter, and yet that day had something to do with Love. It was back in the late nineties. I had come to spend my vacation in Split, Croatia, my first longer stay after the war. Our family apartment was rented by two student girls, siblings – chatty, noisy, enchanting young ladies… I had to stay with them and had a gigglish time. Until one day their little sister came to visit. She was almost ten years younger then my two summer room-mates, the same beautiful features but darker hair and temperament. Unlike her sisters, she didn't like to giggle around and though the youngest of the three she felt the oldest to me. One night the two of us went to the movies. "Titanic", the kind of Industry Love you would certainly consider responsible for disasters in certain people's lives… We didn't sit there as lovers, but like big sister and small sister with two unreasonably happy sisters in between that we were not missing at all at that particular movie night... We left the cinema after the titanic had sunk, walked to the oceanside, the old city's riviera; those big white ships were still entering and leaving the harbor... I noticed she wasn't watching them but looking at the island she comes from: "Do you think it's possible to love somebody you actually never really talked to", she said. I didn't know. But I knew she needed an answer that wouldn't disturb her belief in something she obviously needed to believe in. "Yes, sure", I said – in a way I even convinced myself. She came up with a story about an old widower who she had been visiting for years, cleaning his house, helping him out with cooking, sitting next to him... This year her family refused to let her. Obviously, in the eyes of some people in charge, this year she had turned into a girl and an old man's company seemed inappropriate. She herself didn’t know yet. "Could it be that you love someone“, she asked, "just because you love to go there and clean his house." Yes, I said, and she talked all the way home... When we got back to the apartment she turned into the silent deep girl-kid she had been the days before. Her questioning, while staring at the island, had made me write a story on what I thought was her kind of love – years later. A decade later, she was a young woman, we met again. We did our smalltalk and then, when I felt it was time, I dared to ask whether she remembers we went to the movies when she was a girl… "Sure", she said… "And do you remember you told me that story about this old man you went to visit and…" She looked at me as if she had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with it... Where does our memory place love?

Georg Diez

Which would mean that "lover" is an abstract term that can be applied to very different circumstances. It would cover the intimate moment in the cinema with the daughter and the glimpse of a woman passing you on the street, the movement of a body, a strain of hair, cheekbones, it can be the wife or the husband in a sexual way that goes beyond the routine of marriage, it can be the exception of the rule or just the foolish notion that you can break free from the limitations of time and life, for this one moment, for this one night, it can be a story you like to believe in or a cat or even a tree. There is a liberating aspect to this interpretation of the word "lover". It ignores any preconditions of what may or may not be appropriate, it ignores the limitations of love which is defined by sex and opens it up to this at the same time. It all comes down to one word, a contradiction, I would still claim, because really it is more a wish than a real possibility: intimacy. There is always a boundary that seperates you from one another. Love might in the end always be self-love, which might not even be a problem. Everything else might be a delusion. You get something from loving but not really what you expect or want. You get something from being loved but not necessarily what you are looking for. In a way "lover" could thus be an ideal state of mind. It is more about the idea of love and less about its physical manifestation. It is about a sensual connection to the world, about listening and looking. To be a lover means to be in the world.

Jagoda Marinic

What an ending. It made me smile. And shortly after I thought: Is our conversation now heading towards universal, romantic Love for the world? Phew. We are neither often lovers nor often in this world nowadays, I´m afraid. We are always here and somewhere else at the same time. Our current habits of digital communication and thus a whole communication industry only show that human beings almost cannot bear to be at one place at a time anymore, with one person at a time, experiencing only one moment or event at a time. We are not being sold contracts for phones anymore, we are being sold pseudo-sensual "connections“ to the ones we care about, to events we love – because we are in the world when we love things? Thumb-up-Love called „Likes" on Facebook? To be a lover in such an abstract sense, as beautiful as it sounds at first, bears the danger to turn us all into 24-hours-enthusiasts – though enthusiast I actually often love. And yet I wonder: Are we really capable of being lovers in your definition, meaning  Lover = To be in the World? Why are we so easily leaving the world we are in, as if we had nothing valuable to lose? And now I am returning to your first rather love-deconstructing thoughts. Back to that love-projecting activities people call love, the kind of love that you talked about when we started. Those people that on the surface seem to be unhappy due to love. Or are they unhappy due to a lack of self? This absence of the Self can so easily and effortlessly be changed the moment one falls in love. Falling in love to many means projecting completion into someone else. It was like that from our very first myths and explanations we told each other about love: This half that we are missing. It was always a pitiful narrative: I am missing my half and the other one is missing his half. Two sad halves are wandering round that flat planet called earth. All of this never contained the thoughts: I wonder if the other half is unhappy without me. The perspective was always that two individuals cut in half worried about their unhappiness. As if we are always concerned about ourselves and our completion when we think about Love: Me and my need to become what I was meant to be. Me and my need to feel what I desire to feel. To become what I want to be. Then we meet someone who provides us with enough distance so we can project all this longing onto him/her. We grow into that relationship, into that imagined completion, we grow into who we think we can become. And as soon as we are there, another longing pops up, another desire of what we want to be drives us. We do not grow complete through love, we grow incomplete in another way. I think Love has always been – and nowaday even more so – a vehicle of personal growth to many. A vehicle for the ideology of personal growth. That person is not who I thought he/she would be. Which means: She doesn´t make me feel the way I wanted to feel. And then? Is that question the beginning of real love or the unmasking of unreal love/self-search? The abstract term „lover“, as you defined it, loses its universality the moment it refers to a specific „lover“. It focuses, narrows down. And even if it doesn´t, what happens to us if we really feel completed next to someone? Is that the moment we start being possessive? Fearful? Creatures afraid of loss and abandonment? What if I simply don´t want to lose is that sense of Self I acquired through the Other? Possession? Can we talk about love without talking possession – in a double sense? Ownership and the mental state? Do we really want to posses the other or rather what we think we can be in relation to that other?

Georg Diez

Is it really such a difference, love in the times of Twitter and Tindr and the old-fashioned love of a wife sitting in a hut in Russia waiting for news from the Gulag, a young man idling on a bench in Venice waiting for the letter she has sent him, a girl missing the boy who was sent off to boarding school, two lovers torn apart by two continents, a husband longing for this girl, a wife thinking of another man – does it really change the substance of the eternal conceit that love is, namely that to feel something is better than to feel nothing? This is what it means to be in the world, internet or pre-internet. It is about the consciousness of being here and there, not physically, but in your mind, some would say in your heart. It is a proof of things that are otherwise very difficult to take for granted. The sun will rise, the sun will set. The rain will fall, the rain will stop. There will be another day or there might not be one more. Age is a sequence of days, weeks, months and years, and to give a life a meaning there has to be a story with a few characters and a plot. Otherwise all is empty. All is wrong. All is lost. So the other as the missing half? Maybe the other as the missing world. As this universal hole that is at the heart of things. If love brings no relief, it is not our fault. If love goes wrong, it is not our fault. If love is an illusion, make a pop song out of it. Love is not the thing that saves you. Love is not the thing that kills you. Love is beautiful, don*t get me wrong. Love is necessary, just for all of these reasons. Love is a test of time. Love is the dream that we want others to dream. Love is, after all, about oneself. And it cannot be any other way. We don*t even know what that means in the light of the doubts that have been cast on the very notion of the self in the last 200 years. Stil, it is love that moves us, that creates something that is absurd in the face of everything that is around is, a moment maybe of truth, an intimacy that really has been gone, from the beginning, in a way the story of Adam and Eve is cute in that sense. But this is what children would tell each other, the story with the apple. There can be no God which is a force of love. Not even another human really can be this source of love. Mind you, again, this is not bad news. It it just a glimpse of the strange and beautiful ways of this grim universe. This is what love is.

Jagoda Marinic

This is what love is. I guess I don´t know how you know so much about it so clearly. 1984. Foreigner releases a song called "I wanna know what love is". I am age 7 then. By the time I am a teenager I have listened to this song as often as a zillion others. How the hell do we come to know what love is? And that fucked-up-following-line just made me wonder even more: I want you to show me. Where does the other one know it from? You and I, we write on Love here, you and I and a lot of others talk about love, we make decisions on Love and yet I wonder if we all really know what it is. To some it is longing, isn´t it?
I once met a young actress, boy did I love that girl. How do I know? Is it because the memories are so alive, because I was all the way present in her presence? She was young, could be anything between 17 and 21, she was free and wild and asexual in a gorgeous way. She had cut her hair short and bleached it platin blonde. The one night we were almost drunk we took pictures of us with our cameras, selfies with digital cameras, me, that brunette-twenty-something next to that coming-to-life-big-eyed-blonde-shorthaired girl… when we looked at our pictures we knew: She was Andy Warhol. Andy Warhol - with a slavic accent - is what we called her when she felt most ridiculous since then. We saw and we knew. Have I ever really seen love? She has maybe given me some of the most vital hours since my childhood, she was all so curious about life, she needed life to act, she didn´t think of acting as acting, she thought of acting as re-living experiences and thus she needed them. All of them. And then, one night, she came up with that one thing she was missing in her life: She didn’t know what love is. How can you act when you don’t´know what love is, she asked? All those female character are about love… I was amazed at how clearly she knew what she had not felt… I was sure she would know it one day, because the clarity of what wasn´t there felt like a space for what was to come…. And then again: What happens to those who don´t believe in it, don´t ask, don´t know about it… Do you have to believe in it to experience it? This is what love is, you wrote. And I got all lost. I need more doubt in all this.

Georg Diez

Love is the benefit of doubt. Love is the absence in the present. Love is but a song we sing to ourselves, and be it this strange tune from the eighties by the band aptly called Foreigner – some might say that this was a major aesthetic accident of pre-late modern times, but you know that. You say that this is more humble, to accomodate the doubt in the concept of love? But this is not what this song is about. It is about convincing a girl to go to bed with him. It is a tactical question, the doubt this song employs is superficial in the sense that it could be addressed to more or less any girl or boy for that matter. Which is not a bad thing. It is, to the contrary, a very common feature of what love can be. A pastime. A game. A carnival. A Reigen, as Schnitzler called it, in a time which was much less romantic about what love is. Why is that? Freud told us that love has to be treated with a lot of suspicion. Who is it that loves? Who is it that he or she thinks they love? Why do they think they love? What is the story they want themselves or the other to believe? Is this the doubt you see in love today? Or is this doubt gone, replaced by a narcissism that wants love, claims love, as if there was a right to love and be loved. There is a greed in this, a sense of entitlement. The story of life is incomplete without love.
The story you tell, on the other hand, totally makes sense. But it is not a story about love in the sense that most people would use that word. In this we agree. It is a story about being awake, about being in the world, about feeling alive, about having dreams and blond hair, about the strange beauty that is youth, about age which teaches you to love as compared to youth which tells you to live. Then again, of course this was love, especially in the more or less innocent way it happened, even though I am not sure that the innocence is in your narrative or in my mind - which is a typical way in which love and the things associated with love happen - or if there is a tone in the story that makes me doubt the innocence of it all. And what would be innocence after all. You would agree that love is a dangerous force, not only for oneself who can be led to despair, false hopes, a life of misery and longing, always the wrong person, always the wrong dream – but also dangerous in the sense that it can unleash brutal forces of revenge, of deceit, of pure want. How did this story end? What did become of the girl? What did become of you?
This love you talk about, it has a very broad meaning, and this I like. I think we use words to try to even access some of the things that puzzle and surround us, these words in turn take on a meaning that we cannot very much change after a while. They take on a reality which might be different from what they were meant to mean. The stories that love writes are stories that might be different if a different word would be used. The lifes that people live might be different if they would realize what they mean when they say love. It is not only a substitute for many other words, which means that you become lazy after a while and don*t think about these other words, about these other aspects of living with a person, of longing for a person – it also means that something is being hidden behind this word. There is a reality to be discovered. Which in turn and again: is the world.

Jagoda Marinic

I have never felt safe on any ground. Not on band names. Not on the eighties. Not on Games. „Love is the absence in the present", let me take this line of yours as the starting point of inquiry, the underlying question towards whose answer I´m heading to. Do questions love answers - or the other way round?
I loved to watch Schnitzler´s Reigen on stage. But it scared every cell inside of me to be part of that play off stage. Maybe ´cause I saw Reigen when I was in my early twenties and in a way it retold the story that women would turn tender after having sex whereas men would turn cold. I saw the play only a few days after a guy I was almost impressed by had let me know: Women have sex for relationships and men have relationships for sex. How the hell did all these men from Schnitzler to Freud to that guy so precisely know what women wanted sex for and how they would feel afterwards? I really, in those times, couldn´t understand what kept the two sexes so interested in each other, and if it worked out: what was the missing link, that glue that tacked two independent circles to an eight of eternity. Judging by Reigen and Schnitzler and so many others, that one moment of closeness we long for can´t but destroy anything between us because in the end it is all about the power play of „ getting someone“. And behind so many stories representing that power play there was always that one cliché being reproduced: a man trying to get sex and a woman trying to get love. Not to speak of the repetitive motif of the exploitative nature of older men in their lust for inexperienced young women/girls, this little young nothings as an instrument of masculine aging self-love. I live(d) in a little town. Imagine Schnitzlers Reigen there. Is this all there is about the sexes that we pass each other on from one to another - not much of an attractive idea, particularly in a little place, to be honest. What about exclusiveness? Or is the dream of exclusiveness already a self-deceit in utter need of therapy? It would scare the shit out of me to sit on Freud´s couch. Not that I mind inquisition and deep talk. But much of what I have read about him and from him has to be treated with a lot of suspicion. In the ways it is so absolute. So intrusive. So Original Sin and thus religious in its claim for the darkest corners of our Selves. I prefer to be misled by Love than by a bad Freudian therapist. Or Freud himself. Love has to be questioned, you wrote. But so has lust. In the way we live it it might be as invented as love. We are maybe directed into lust in the same way we are directed into a certain image of what love is nowadays. You say the song by Foreigner could be addressed to any kind of girl or boy or… Reigen… you make it sound easy and like a reminiscent of a time where hormones were not so heavily loaded with romanticism and concepts of love as they are today - whereas i think the play was written in that way because it was a way to release the lust from the normative load that was then the hormone´s daily christian and societal rule. Sure there must have been a secret night-life, but: I believe we are nowadays physically and emotionally more able to express love and lust „freely“. We are on so many levels invited to live our sexuality/ies in a daily routine just like eating Corn Flakes in the morning or jogging along a river. Simply add the ingredient sex to your daily routine if you like or seem to need it. Today´s times make sure you know where you can get it - and I don´t mean for money, i rather mean sexploitation of your own sexlife. Whereas sex could have been a refuge it has turned into a hunter itself since it supposedly doesn´t have to have to do with love.
The other day some news ticked into my account: Young people these days don´t seem to know when a relationship starts. Now that everything is just an expression of oneself, from a kiss to a night to whatever - people don´t need to clear up what this means any longer. Is this still the Reigen? Is that still a dance, a song? Or is it mechanical love? Mechanical lust? Is anyone listening? You don´t dare to ask a machine how it feels, do you? Narcissim hasnt´t replaced anything but taken the role of a shield against that vulnerability that competitiveness and replaceability cause. Where is the difference between lust and love? Why do we often speak of love when we speak of contexts you pay for physical activities? Why do some in turn speak of duties when they speak of the same activities in marital contexts? This whole love-lust-life-marriage-whorehouse-thing seems to be upside down. We are afraid we are not gonna find love in marriages, or lust in marriages, we believe you can´t have it all and yet architect our lives exactly around that have-it-all-theory as if that knowledge wasn´t around.
I do agree that love is a dangerous force. Self-destructive in times. It can unleash all sorts of feelings, pure want being the one among them I consider the least harmful. I don´t know about innocence, Georg. I think innocence is that in a person that does not know what an experience will cause inside her. Or around her. That inside us that doesn´t even know there is a possible experience. I don´t know about the innocence of the scene I told you about. We stood in front of each other in awe. Admiration. Wonder. Experience - and hence a threat to innocence - begins when you reach out. Desire is the beginning of the loss of innocence because you sense or know that there is an experience to be made. The two of us knew no desire, we just wanted to be where we are. Maybe a kind of love the gods would have shattered in a Greek Comedy for the Human´s Happiness was unbearable to our Divinities. The complexity of that encounter was limited, that is why it was innocent - and joyful. Complexity raises tension and thoughts and thus reduces that childlike joy we feel about each other. The girl became an actress. The last time she wrote to me she was in Germany, precisely in Berlin, because she had fallen in love with a German. I don´t know what became of her. I don´t even know what became of me - in terms of love. There was always this question of safety when I felt love could be around. It was not the Reigen that made me catch glimpses of Love. Not that wanting to know what love is, as Foreigner put it, but knowing. Calm. I remember watching „The Making of Imagine“. There was this scene in which Yoko Ono and John Lennon talked about Love. And this sentence: So, what is love then? I really think that love is something to do with relaxation, you know? When you're guarded with somebody, you know, then you're not relaxed. And when you're guarded with somebody, you can't love that person, you know? Love is when you understand it so well that you relax for it, you know. And we have that kind of relaxation between us, a lot.
--Yoko Ono Lennon
I know that people hated her for that. I know that I had little to say about that since I have always rather been the Annie-Hall-kind-of-girl-with-more-of-a-J-Lo-Shape-and-dresses. I never knew much about relaxation. Maybe, just like Lennon´s fans, I was afraid it would kill creativity. But maybe this is why I often wonder if this is exactly what love is about.

Georg Diez

Love as memory, maybe this is what I mean, maybe this is what you mean. This is, at least as I read it, how you employ love in your novel "Restaurant Dalmatia". The past is the past, but what we take from it or what takes us back or what helps us bridge this gap is the idea of a story that connects us with others. Is this then exile? Is this being lost? Or being found? We tell ourselves stories in order to survive, this is what Joan Didion said. There is nothing wrong with love being such a story. This does not mean that love is exactly that story. The power of storytelling is essentially that it creates a reality by describing it. Or by describing another reality that is not even similiar to the one it creates. This poetic leap is what love makes possible. Creating is an act of loving, of sharing, of giving something to the world. Does it have to do with John Lennon and Joko Ono? I would think not. I remember a book that I did or did not read a while ago, it was called "From Shame to Sin" and describes how in late antiquity the early Christians used morality to create around the dangerous force of sex something that was inflated with morality. Guilt arose and with it order. And suppression. And anger. And loneliness. This does not mean that a different society would have less suffering. It only means that this society has the suffering it signed up for, a long time ago. It is the very foundation, the agreement that holds us together. It is not even bourgeois. This is a conceit of the present to think that everything has to do with something that happened in the last 200 years. The book by Kyle Harper was exciting exactly for that reason: There was a moment of creation or destruction, there was a decision made that had consequences. Everything could be different. Again, not to say without suffering, longing, fear, loneliness. Happiness, fulfillment, everything that love can bring, the sparkle in the everyday, a look, a gaze, warmth, belonging, all these things that are so hard to hold on to and so easy to destroy and so valuable. They are still the feelings that love is made off. But in a different setting they might play out differently. It would be worth a try at least.

Jagoda Marinic

Love as loss, because the way children love seems to be the truest love I have seen. Since this will inevitably be lost all I can do is to try to re-create this once I outgrow childhood. Maybe that is how I use Love and Memory in my novel. Re-creating a world where love made everything around us loveable just the way it is because it was distinctively ours (I remember how I once I went for a walk and passed by a really obese and rather unattractive father – he had his kid jump up and down on him, laughing at him, then kissing him, caressing him – loving him and no other father). We don´t chose as long as we are kids, somehow we just love the world surrounding us no matter how dysfunctional it seems from outside...  In my novel I use memory as the sculptor of that loss, giving shape to that hole, that we were born to love and that we later leave behind....  That abandoned hole works like a prism for our lives, every experience is reflected through it... Later in life we chose deliberately, we create consciously, though we like to use the rethorics of „You don´t chose who you love“ many of us do chose (same class, same education, same age – or at least something that favours our image of who we want to be as an adult).... Are we to blame us therefore? Chosing – the freedom of choice – is part of our dignity as human beings, and yet it is almost humiliating to see how what we chose often seems designed by a certain zeitgeist (which is in an almost satirical way displayed when we are travelling today´s megacities and observering the same sort of coffee-nerds popping up all over the world, they even pick a similar interior design for their coffeshops). We tell ourselves all kinds of stories, all kinds of stories are being told and we believe them – but our belief gives us no hint about the truth contained in these stories... Joan Didion tried to tell herself the story of her beloved coming back even after he died... We can believe all kinds of stories which is what makes life so difficult; now that there seem to be more options for who we are (and love) available, it seems even more difficult to truly be (and love)...
Last week I strolled through Vienna, and after two days I felt part of a world that didn´t exist anymore (like in Woody Allen´s movie where he meets up with Hemingway, Fitzgerald etc in Paris), I sort of met up with Thomas Bernhard, Gustav Klimt and Mahler, Alma Mahler-Werfel, boy, have they all loved and unloved... What stories they told, and people told about them, museums and history books telling their lives and stories... (Here again: This obsessive remembering seems like some kind of love...) Interestingly, Freud, whose house I visited, the man who tried to heal neurosis by finding a coherent story for the often displaced experience that caused it, had a sort of very stable life, an oldfashioned marriage, six kids! (Though he said marriage is not the best place to live out sexuality...) In this psychoanalytical phantasizing about who we are, the cathartic experience through storytelling is considered the truth about us and our life... It seems a very interesting approach: The the fiction about who we were should provide us with information about who we are... It actually doesn´t seem to matter if the fiction is true or if it just fits into the shattered hole. (Or is healing only taking place when we find the story exactly fitting into that fraction?) The times I live in has found and lost itself in this thinking... Everybody seems to need a professional sounding board to know who he is by the very constructed narrative of who we supposedly were. How does that affect who we are and what we are? And who we love? Why was psychoanalysis so much about the past? Maybe because the intensity of our loving as children is so immense that it almost feels like in the first years of our lives rails are being laid in the lovelandscapes of our lives... And later on, all our loving is like a journey on the railways, on these paths. It´s a hell of work to create others, some encounters carry that magical gift to in iteself be able to create others.... More often adult love remains overshadowed... Like the writer Nicole Krauss once said she had always been observing her life, it was only when she gave birth to her first child, she said, that she found back to being in a moment instead of observing it (which also means that the love towards that kid´s father was not able to create that inside her)... There is a chance that parental and childhood love is the only kind of love that silences the observer inside us... Unmittelbarkeit. Maybe physical love is, too.
That book you read, the story it tells: I find these kind of narratives games of thought that I find hard believe... There is in such a plausible manner so much construction, narration, storytelling, which is fine but it´s a man´s game to own the world that in itself does not provide this kind of sedation... Life is disruptive, incoherent. Love is, since it is life. I get a little anxious when logical storytelling starts claiming real explanations about what the world is or – even worse – was like ...  As long as we treat that kind of knowledge as stories in order to survive what we don´t understand, tools to master experiences, I am interested – but as academic and plausible as it seems, it is in its own way fictional... I don´t believe that we created this kind of suffering by setting up morals to our sexual desires (why was there a need to do so in the first place)... I believe that fight between desire and destruction is much older than our morals...
The „story about lost love“ to a certain extent replace that „lost love“. That is maybe why we so love therapy nowadays: it allows us to come back and back to our childhood, pretending it is only in order to become better adults... Which we in the end might well become... Memory here works as a way to keep love alive and wipe out the experience of time passing. And at the same time, by creating a coherent story, makes past out of a memory that was incoherently present inside us....
I was rarely in love while in love. I was ecstatic when people were able to move me, it rather felt like what Poe (?)  called an overalterness of senses. I fell in love – afterwards. When I felt what it was like not to be around a certain person. Not to be the person I was around that person. As selfish as it may sound, I didn´t only miss the beloved, I just as much missed the person the beloved would let me be... The adult creation of love happens in the longing, in the remembering, in the re-creation of the moments you fell in love with by placing them into the narrative of your life. The child´s creation of love happens in the arriving, being. Can you own a story by telling it? Do we really own our lives, and our psyches, do we heal them by creating coherent stories of what we think what once happened? And when we tell other people´s stories better then they could, who then owns these stories? Ownership, not in the sense of owning the story of a person but a memory of that person. Expressing love by showing that their personality was the texture of the stories you tell... The ones I love(d). I think of them. I (re)create them while I think of them. I love them this way. It might sound like a lot. But maybe, at the same time, it shows that it is not. That they are not. My phantasy needs to add to them, my love for them will only be complete if I try to express it. Will reality ever be enough?
That´s how I employed „love“ and „memory“ in my novel. My Love for people who never told their stories somehow asked of me to claim the right to remember their stories... Is that love or abuse of it? Love is also despair, cause you long to be understood. And sometimes you even dare to expect to maintain that feeling of being understood. Though tides and inreliablities are part of life and every human being. How can we be one person, when we are hardly ever the same. How can we love one person when she/he is hardly ever the same. And  if she/he ist he same, it might just as well kill someting vital inside us and them. When life (and who we are) changes in an instant, as Joan Didion put it in her Year of Magical Thinking – then how can we really love?

Georg Diez

The sun is shining. It seems to be spring at last. Even though there is still this notion of coldness, of the air struggling to rid itself of winter. This used to happen much faster when I was in Munich. Warmth pervading everything. There was a certain speed in things. Here in Berlin it is much more static, the weather, the rest. People are more at odds with the world. Less cheerful. How is that in Heidelberg? I guess even more gentle, inviting.
Does that have anything to do with love? I don't mean to stray from the topic, but maybe I am. I don't mean to say that love is all around us as in a bad pop song, if there is such a thing as a bad pop song, because, after all, isn't that a contradiction in terms, bad and pop, it is of no importance what kind of quality jugdement can be applied. What I am saying is: I like the idea of a love that moves like a stray cat, touching this and touching that, leaning against the foot of chair, jawning, scratching, jumping on a table, a bit dirty, a bit strange, very independent, this is all we can do, watch it move, watch it exist, watch it vanish.
What is left is the memory of what we saw. What we can do is recreate that memory. But this is something that happens in the present. Memory is of the present. Love is of the present. Even if this love is long gone. Even if it is locked in some wardrobe covered with stickers of soccer players or horses or pop stars. This love that is lost is never lost, because you have to think about it to realize that you lost it, and once you think about it, really, it is there, as pain maybe, but it is there, it is real. There is no fault in having loved. There is only a fault in forgetting.
Which brings me to another point: If love is real, the love we talk about – what then about the other love that is out there, the love as suspicion, the love as conspiracy, the love that is seen as the ideology of a system want to govern and program you. Love, as we have not talked about it, as a political tool, and you do not have to believe in it for it to work, to exist, to have conseqences. This is the case with many things. If someone sees love as the tool of a bourgeois plot to suppress individual freedom this in itself implies a politcal reaction which follows from there. Also, from quite another perspective, is love a term that is even applicable in societies that for example strive for a radical form of Islam? Is love, as they say, in this case a revolutionary form that is a danger for a fundamentalist regime?
I guess that the secret of love is that it is more of a word that takes the place for the lack of better words to reach some sort of secret that is at the heart of every society: Individuals struggling with a way to make sense of who they are and a state that is trying to create some sort of coherence, of cohesion really among its people because this is why is exists, and if that does not work out, there is not reason why it should continue to exist. Love, in this sense, would be much more than just a shirt you try on for yourself to see if it fits, it would be a key for which you invent a lock, every time you talk about love it is the attempt to talk about something unspeakable, about a dark or light mistery. This makes the word so beautiful, so free, so dangerous too. Not only in an individual sense, but in a much larger political context.
Love is not the reason. Love is not the answer. Love is something that happens or something that does not happen, love is real and artificial, it is narcisistic and beautiful, it is most of all an attempt to at least try to advance towards the riddle that, yes, is existence.

Groin Gazing

Didi Cheeka+Sarah Diehl
49 min
Didi Cheeka

The common presumption in society and the media is that erotic response to visual stimuli is not characteristic of female sexuality. For instance, pornographic magazines and videos directed at men are a multibillion dollar industry while similar products directed towards women are difficult to find. I’m looking at Claire Milbrath’s photo series of phalluses cloaked in khaki and denim, entitled “Groin Gazing,” and how it speaks to female desire. I wonder about the female response to Milbrath’s images.

Sarah Diehl

Me and my boyfriend have a morning ritual, when we are in different places: he switches on skype when he goes under the shower, so I can watch him.
I love to see his naked body splashed with water. It’s also a beautiful moment of intimacy in our daily life, that we share. It was new to him, but he learned to really enjoy it, also it changed his self-perception as a desired man. Do heterosexual men enjoy being looked at and desired by women?
Did they learn to enjoy it? Or is it forbidden, ‘cos we falsely connect it to passivity which is not acceptable for our perception of masculinity. I guess the magic trick is to disconnect desire with passivity and objectification and connect it to mutual appreciation. For me it was always very natural to resist seeing myself as a bait for men, as it is suggested by that presumption you mention. And I do believe that female and male sexuality are more complex than that, but also not very different from each other.
It actually never occurred to me that it’s more normal that men look at me than I look at them with desire. So, for me, Milbrath’s images just mirror a very relaxed normality in the relation I have to my enjoyment of the beauty of men, which I miss in a way in everyday life, ‘cos the images in our culture go only one way: men look at women, ‘cos gazing is connected to power, a power of judging, that men don’t want to give up. Men give women value, so women need the evaluation of men to feel good about themselves.
It's simply a tool of patriarchy to keep women’s self-esteem dependent on men’s judgment. That is the ugly part of it, which we need to break through and turn into something beautiful and powerful for everyone. We have to distinguish objectification from enjoyment based on equality. When I see a table dance-bar, I feel excluded, ‘cos I know there are just women with certain beauty standards on stage and all sorts of men watching. I find that very limiting.
I would like to enjoy that too, I would like to see men up there, as well as people of all shapes and colours. I would like to enjoy their enjoyment of their pure physicality, dis-connected from money and oppression. This enjoyment is indeed very sexy to me, especially when its free of these standard ideas of beauty, dictated by an industry which only tries to make us feel ugly, so we buy their products and which feels indeed very dead and restricted for me. There is a performer called Diane Torr, who sometimes dresses up as an elderly man while doing a pole-dance. It’s not satire, it’s not a joke, she indeed shows how sexy and transgressive, freeing that can be.
There is the term “sex-positive feminism“, which addresses the attempt to open up this enjoyment, but with regard to equality, and mutual respect, not with the purpose of objectification and submission as we see in male directed porn or commercials. Have you heard about that? When feminism started to address porn as a problem in the 60s it focused on the porn that existed, which was produced for men and didn’t take into account female desire or sexual practices that women enjoy.
Because of that criticism feminism got this bad reputation to be against lust and desire, while indeed it was only criticizing the limitations of sex portrait in the existing porn. From there women developed their own forms of sexual depictions which took into account the complex desire different people have and which women can enjoy as well. That is called sex-positive feminism.
I see Milbrath’s images in that context. I want to see all of us shaking booty, men, women, disabled, fat or skinny, black or white, not only women with certain measurements. Do you perceive the one way male gaze is a dead end in your personal and professional life (you can take “dead end“ literally and symbolically)?

Didi Cheeka

I had this girlfriend, our intimacy involves her watching me make love to myself. I had to learn this, get used to being (aroused from being) looked at this way. In a way, something about this transgresses the construction of masculinity.
(I will come back to this.) There is, to quote art critic John Berger, a “lived sexuality” in these looks – in the sense of, to go further with Berger, the state of being naked as opposed to being nude. In this regard, it’s instructive to note that Adam and Eve’s shame, after eating of the apple, was not from each other – they were not ashamed to look at each other, their shame was from a third party looking at them. When sharing a look with someone you’re intimate with, you’re naked, you’re yourself without disguise or artifice. There is, on the other hand, a cultural way of looking, viz., how men and women are culturally represented.
I will deal with this presently. To go back to the construction of masculinity: how do men encourage women to look, to desire them? How do women look at men – that is to say, who is the looking woman? Generally speaking, men do not encourage women to look at them, to desire them in ways that reimagines masculinity.
So, all too often, when a woman looks at a man, it is a man, a type of man, looking through her. This brings me back to Milbrath’s photos and the cultural representation of men and women. What you say about the male gaze’s relation to power, its need to dominate, to make women’s evaluation of self male-dependent is absolutely true.
It remains to state that too many women have internalized these power relations and evaluation of self. Milbrath’s photos testify to this: it reproduces masculinity as a phallic force. The photographed phalluses are in attack position, they are photographed in relation to what they can do, what they are about to do. When men, on the other hand photograph women, women are photographed in a submissive, expectant (in the sense of what can be done to them, what they expect to be done to them) position. These images of domination and submission find their sharpest expression in mainstream pornography. In agreeing with you on this, I align myself with Shere Hite.
I do think, however, one can offer a critic of male-oriented porn the same way one can criticize a female-oriented one: they both express the same thing – a running away from real sexuality into objectification and stereotypes. (I am, of course, opposed to right-wing moralists and anti-pornography feminists.) I agree with you on the need to de-objectify the look of desire.
If I say, in response to your question, that acceptance of the male gaze leads to a personal and professional dead-end, what I mean is the tendency of acceptance to stifle, to limit creativity, real sexual love, its tendency to lead to the physical and emotional impossibility of the satisfaction of real sexual desire.
This takes me back to Milbrath’s photos. It seems to me that in her more-or-less conscious attempt to look at men the same way men have always looked at women, she has produced images that testify to men’s sense of self: male notion of potency, in relation to women’s submission to this potency.

Sarah Diehl

I was similarly attracted and disappointed by Milbrath’s photos, because they didn’t widen the possibilities of the female gaze, like you describe so well.
Indeed by only focusing on erect penises, for some women, especially if they had experiences with sexual harassment or rape – which, let’s not forget that 1 in 4 women have – it is not just desiring but also observing something that could harass you. On the other hand men seem vulnerable and needy, when you focus on their penis, which can be attractive as well as appalling; again, when they force their neediness on you – all of this also depends on the relation you have to this specific man, you look at and it is not easy to generalize the capacity of that gaze. I also wonder if herein lies one reason why male penises are hardly shown in films and on photos: they cannot hold up to the idealized image we have in our minds.
Non-erect penises look weak and defenseless and are in opposition to the powerful ideal they should culturally represent in our patriarchal culture. There is this scene in the film Walk Hard, a kind of persiflage on Rock’n’Roll life, where male musicians are shown with groupies in a hotel room.
They prominently walk by the steady camera half naked with non-erect and therefore harmless and powerless looking penises again and again, in order to scrutinize and challenge the intense Sex Drugs Rock’n’Roll cliché. So I think the gaze on the sole penis or on the whole male body differs in meaning. I fully agree with you on the scope of limitations that the acceptance of the male gaze leads to a personal and professional dead-end. We have to learn new forms of depicting men as desired and give men a chance to explore that, without being scorned.
The positive side of the desiring gaze is that being exposed to someone you trust can be very nice, comforting and giving. And men should be able to enjoy that like you and my boyfriend did. But I feel we are still far from that: One signifier of that is when men are staged in positions normally taken by women in commercials, they at times look ridiculed in an objectified way.
There was a Photographer who staged men in the exact same position like women are shown in American Apparel ads. These pictures make very clear how limited our viewing habits are: (besides that one should question the sexualized language of commercials altogether) they just don’t work, because we are not used to seeing men in these positions and most pictures made them look simply belittled – a belittled position we are used to seeing women in.
In that regard it would be interesting to discuss in detail how you think female-oriented porn also runs away from real sexuality into objectification and stereotypes. Which images or films do you have in mind? Another thing comes to my mind here, which is also an interesting topic in a discussion between a German women and a Nigerian man. Women looking at African men at the Völkerschauen, which took place until the 1940s in Berlin were criticized and ridiculed by the German press. These women were depicted as weird horny old maidens misguided by an exotic desire.
I find it remarkable that it was one of the first times when women looking at men was made an issue in modern times. Maybe it reflected the intimidation Germans felt towards African masculinity, so the desire towards them had to be belittled in public altogether.
One more question, what do you mean by “who is the looking woman”? You mean in our culture we have to create her subjectivity, for it is still unknown?

Didi Cheeka

How do our preconceptions shape the images we respond to, and the way we frame these images? We can frame images to challenge or reinforce prevailing perceptions of reality. The function of ideology is to legitimize a way of seeing – I will come back to this in connection with the Völkerschauen. Mainstream media present a subliminal text: female sexuality as passive, submissive; male sexuality as predatory – with the whole attention focused on erection and ejaculation.
I think this goes to the heart of what you say about a non-erect penis – it arises from a way of seeing male sexuality. Concerning your comments on Walk Hard and the lie it gives to rock ‘n’ roll’s sexed up image, I recall Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful’s comments that further gave the lie to this image. Even though masculinity presents itself as a monolithic image, with men being pressured to perform, being pressured into the mindset that they must manufacture an erection every time, male sexuality also involves a sometimes absence of desire, an inability to manufacture a “hard-on.” (The manufacture of viagra further increases this pressure.) Fifty Shades of Grey testify to the tenacity with which even women cling to these very conceptions of their own, in relation to male sexuality.
Thus, when I say that femaleoriented porn is a running away from real sexuality, what I mean is that, like male-oriented porn, it’s a lie against itself – in the sense that they both lie about the nature of sexuality; in the sense, that pornography, both male and female-oriented, presents a distorted image of male and female sexuality. It becomes an ideological imposition on male and female sexual feelings, expression and behavior.
How true is the underlying message of female-oriented porn’s focus on romance and relationship: there are not women who actively seek one night stands, women with high partner turn-over? Is not the underlying theme a reconfirmation of a mindset: men’s nature to “thrust,” women, to “open up?” (You’ll have to help me here, as I’m more familiar with mainstream porn than – to my shame as a filmmaker/ critic – with female-oriented porn.) It is possible there is something to say for Milbrath’s photos? It is that it privileges the female look. In this sense: even in these so-called liberated days girls can still be labeled “promiscuous,” few women could openly look at a man sexually – the way the man could look at her, approach a man sexually the way a man can approach her.
It seems there’s, in all of us, a more or less conscious residue of moral condemnation of female sexuality. “Groin Gazing” offer women the thrill, even if vicarious, of gazing at male penises without embarrassment.
But, like you so astutely observe, this gaze is framed by the pervasiveness of sexualised violence (usually directed against women.) The thing, as regards male sexuality, is to go beyond this one-sided sexual frame, to question assumptions: is a non-erect penis not part of male eroticism? I find what you say about German women looking at African men at the Völkerschauen interesting.
On the one hand, you have the public display of colonized people in a performance of Otherness. On the other hand, this performance offered a female spectate a frame through which to gaze at male sexuality.
When the German woman, herself the object of German male gaze, gazed at the African men (from a culturally superior position), she, quite apart from the voyeurism, de-objectified herself by exercising over them the same power exercised over her in her own culture – a one-sided gaze.
Here, before her, was that which had been denied her in her own culture: a male body to gaze upon and openly desire, to fear and fantasize about. (In a way, I’m reminded of Lupita and Fassbender’s characters in 12 Years A Slave: he – a white plantation owner – loves and desires a female black slave.
Yet, to deal with this transgressive love, he’s compelled to whip her.) It was, thus, only through their encounter with a culturally different male that these German women were able to openly affirm their desire and assert themselves – with regard to German men – as a subject.
In this lie the opposition of the German male: the German women’s gaze (at displayed African men) provoked fear and fantasy and was, literally speaking, a blow below the belt. A symbolic castration was, thus, projected on black sexuality: savage, threatening, animal-like.
As an aside, is it accidental (correct me if I’m wrong) that Milbrath’s photo series does not feature a single black model? Bourgeois society, through its myths, has produced an image of male and female sexuality that deprives sexuality of its humanity and fetishizes it.
(Pornography constitutes the clearest expression of this fetishism – with sex as the fetish.) These myths determine people’s definitions of themselves and others, and mutilates the feelings, desires and relationship possible between them.
One can safely say, to borrow from Wilhelm Reich, that bourgeois society is ideologically producing men and women who are incapable of tenderness and real sexual love because it needs such people in order to perpetuate itself.
Men and women are encouraged to define themselves in a culturally created way which they believe is natural. I’m reminded of French photographer, Scarlett Coten’s photo-exploration into reimagining the image of the Arab man.
Coten’s work was a role reversal (trying to unveil men in regions where most of the time, the attempt is to unveil women), trying to look beyond the accepted stereotype, exposing a more diverse, and perhaps softer image of the Arab man especially in intimate situations they don’t get to be seen.
In a way, this is what I mean by “Who is the looking woman?” Is she a woman trying to re-affirm a theses, a mindset, or a woman trying to shake the framework of her conditioned perception, trying to reconstruct her subjectivity? Of the two, I prefer the latter.

Sarah Diehl

I like your first remark, it makes me think of how situations and subjects become invisible by our preconceptions. So, even though they exist in real life they are doomed not to matter. I have no doubt that women were always gazing and desiring men. They were just not encouraged to do so. The female gaze was made invisible and a deliberate blind spot of society, in order to uphold hierarchies about who was empowered to desire and herewith control the other sex. But the “blind spots” of my own gaze got awfully clear to me, once when I was traveling through Gambia. Gambia has a reputation now of European women seeking male prostitutes.
When I was there about ten years ago, I was approached by men in that way but I couldn’t see myself as a customer of people who prostitute themselves. I didn’t understand the signs. It took me a while before I actually got that they wanted me to be their “sugar mommy.”
It was all very confusing. To understand that these men could see me as a customer of their bodies, their sexuality and somehow also of their integrity, was very alien to me. Because I never learned in our culture that I could buy a man. It reminds me of an article I wrote years ago for a daily newspaper in Germany about my experience in a strip show by men for women.
The whole event didn’t work out for me, because I was turned off: I felt awkward due to how staged that seemed. It was so clearly trying to create a market niche where women cheer at men’s bodies. There was nothing liberating about it, quite the contrary: instead of trying something new, it just copied a vulgar Ibiza-style. I couldn’t enjoy it, because my enjoyment would clearly buy into an ugly consumerism.
On the other hand my mother told me that she attended a Chippendale show with some girlfriends. She comes from a generation where this gazing was not permitted and encouraged (even though, of course, it took place among her girlfriends. My mother actually told me that she enjoyed going out with her girl-gang checking out boys much more than actually having a boyfriend). So her experience had an air of liberation and equality, instead of oppression and corruption. I enjoyed listening to her experience.
But that is, of course, just one side of the story. I think you are right with your observations on the Völkerschau: I want to add that, as Joshua Kwesi Aikins emphasizes in his research, the Völkerschau stopped in the 1940s not because they were seen as inhuman, but because some participants undertook some actions which were just too subversive for the German audiences:
E.g. some Africans compared the “tribal” dances they had to perform to the “tribal” dances in Germany – the Schuhplattler, some wore suits instead of “traditional tribal costumes” (which were, as well as the dances, of course, totally made up from German exhibitors’ imagination) – and, here it comes, looked back at the German audience with a lorgnette, an instrument which symbolizes sophistication, civilization and the arts.
All this exposed the vulgar racism of the Völkerschauen which thus could not pretend to be the climax of civilization. Africans looking back with a lorgnette put themselves in a position of higher culture than the Whites who rather behaved like going to a fairground attraction.
That, by the way, is a story totally ignored by the German history canon, where Africans – if they are acknowledged as victims of oppression at all – are hardly represented with their agenda and subjectivity. That also played into my confusion about Gambian male sexworkers.
I remember one night where a man in Gambia offered me his service and when I friendly declined he said, we could also make love without the penis. I found that offer quite remarkable and was wondering if it was something he liked personally or if this offer was accustomed to European clients of his sexwork, who want to be assured that the offered service is directed – with a focus on the clitoris rather than her vagina – at her pleasure.
As an assurance not to be penetrated by a man who might turn out to be selfish. Of course, it could also mean he thought that Europeans were scared of STDs. But also in relation to colonialism, poverty and sexwork, I find it very powerful when you say, through its myths, an image of male and female sexuality was produced that deprives sexuality of its humanity, because you indicate how the way we learned to gaze defines also our action and relation to each other.
A classic cliche is that women tell men to switch out the light when they have sex. She is too ashamed to be all exposed for the man to see her flaws (thus she perceives herself that she has to be the perfect object of his desire) and see her excitement about him.
Because she looks needy and horny, she is afraid that her arousal looks ridiculous to him. The act that is supposed to be about total pleasure and melting into each other, lust and togetherness is forbidden, she is stuck in her own self-consciousness. So, watching my boyfriend under the shower is an attempt to connect to him, maybe as an attempt to create true intimacy, when we overcame his shame.
And here, as well as with my experience with the male sexworker, we also come back to your question “Is a non-erect penis not part of male eroticism?” A question I really liked very much. It is the eroticism of expectation, surprise, exposure, the absence of danger or force, as well as the intimate honesty and care of someone who cannot “perform”.
A non-erect penis is an offer of intimacy without the force of a man’s will, exploring each other’s body, without the need of penetration (and thus avoiding the possibility of the man to totally take over, which is by the way exactly the point of a particular debate about rape: a woman’s NO has to be respected at all points of an ongoing sexual encounter, even if she consented in the beginning, for the man might turn out during the play to be selfish or rude or violent).
A non-erect penis can be an offer for more time and space and sometimes depth in a sexual encounter for there is no need for a specific play and an orgasm. Also it is the aftermath, the cuddling and warmth after sex, when we lie in bed all wet and happy.
And that also is a quality feminist porn has in store. It is much more diverse, than just focusing on the male body for a female audience. It also includes a lot of signifiers for women to feel safe and not objectified, for example, they show the use of condoms and the play with the clitoris.
The models don’t have to represent unrealistic beauty standards, it’s not too clean and sterile, and often transcend strict gender signifiers, utilizing imagery we didn’t expect. It’s about having fun and not being objects. It gives space for non-standard sex. Often the actors are being interviewed so you learn about their perspectives, why they like what they do.
This enables a whole turnaround of the cage of the clear-cut images of women being “taken” by men. Like my friend Bini Adamczak came up with the term circumclusion instead of “being penetrated”. It emphasizes a perspective of activity and sovereignty by women. A women circumcludes a penis.

Didi Cheeka

It’s a way of seeing. I recall what you said about the American Apparel Ad, the staging of men in position usually occupied by women, its seeming unworkability – which arises from the strangeness of seeing men occupy a position that is not theirs, so to speak. This and in a way what you say of Gambia is a reason I detest a certain kind of “feminist,” whose notion of liberation means women positioning men in ways long occupied by women.
That is to say, the legitimization (by women) of women as bitches. In response to the deliberate invisibility of the female gaze, yes, I do think that male and female erotic responses to visual stimuli are culturally conditioned. What you say about your mother and her friends reminds me of a story my mother told me some time ago: The first time she set eyes on my father’s village champion wrestler. (My mother is from the coast, so the concept of half-naked men engaged in wrestling was alien to her.) She was twenty and newly-married. What a sight he cut: His loin-cloth barely covering his heavy buttocks, and the women of the village chanting praises a safe distance behind.
So, yes, I think Kinsey’s female non-erotic response to visual stimuli is not biological. I want to pursue Gambia a bit further. To challenge my preconception, if I accept prostitution as an act of violence a woman commits against herself for material gain, am I merely reconfirming a mindset? Do I see male prostitutes in this light? Is male prostitution also an irreparable damage, an irreversible destruction of a human body? Are male and female commercial sex the same thing? I think it’s safe to say that with both male and female prostitution, men and women are both mauled by the reduction of sexuality and sexual fulfillment to having as many orgasms as often as possible.
Part of the thrill of commercial sex, at least for men who use the services of female prostitutes, is the power play. Is there, I wonder, a transfer of power to these women who go to Gambia during the sexual encounter? This takes me back to Milbrath’s photos and how men and women are sexually positioned: Is it about what could be done to this male body, or what this body could do to them – for these pleasure-seeking European women? In what way does the fact that, historically, men have held a sexual dominance affect our perception of male prostitutes? Is not our general perception of men in society one of power, domination?
Do we ever look at these Gambian males as being exploited by the European women – because of their material circumstances – the same way we’d look if they were female? I find it really interesting, your experience in Gambia, your use of market terminology. In a market driven society, form is usually passed off as content. Since naked cash is the sole nexus between individuals, what common ground could exist between men and women except as buyers and sellers? Again, on the legitimization by women of themselves as bitches. Does the availability of commercial male bodies – in strip clubs and the Gambia – signify the arrival of equality, liberation?
I can understand why the male strip club did not work for you, the same way commercial male sex did not. Neither signified liberation, but rather a buying into ugly reality. They do not in any way challenge our reality. I do wonder, however, to reference the Völkerschauen, if a modified version of it is enacted on the beaches of Gambia and Mombassa. It seems to me, these sex tourists who come to the Gambia are more comfortable with black males they can lead around with an invisible leash and make to perform. (I find what you say about the Völkerschauen really interesting.) It is possible to agree with Freud – in reference to your comments about the cliche of the female need to shroud herself with darkness, her need to hide her desire – that every sexual act is “a process in which four persons are involved.”
One can extend this to also include the preconceptions about ourselves and each other both sexes bring to the act. The one responds to the other – during the act – not truthfully, but according to his/her own externally-imposed preconception. Identity is constructed from birth. It is safe to say that, distance tend to develop between women and their body. This distance is culturally constructed. In a way, I think this is expressed by the myth of Immaculate Conception: the construction of female sexuality in reproductive terms – to exclude the vagina and clitoris.
A woman, what is she? A womb, an ovary. As an aside, I’m thinking of Jamie McCartney’s The Great Wall of Vagina. To what extent does it speak to female shame to never go down there?
It is possible that to the traditionalist-minded, McCartney’s images (so unlike the astonishing leveling out of uniqueness in porn’s designer vaginas), from the most intimate world of women, which had always remained hidden from the eyes of women themselves is an excursion to the dark side of art. A person can either submit to this imposed identity, or seek to reconstruct herself on her own terms, to resist all attacks against her sense of self. (It must be said, however, that easy access to male flesh – on ‘female terms’ – and the staging of the male body does not in anyway constitute resistance to attacks against self.)
With Milbrath, there’s no attempt to go beyond the surface, to look beyond stereotype. There’s, in this gaze, no questioning. My reality of being male is not validated by mainstream imaginings of men. I’d managed to hang on to my own sense of self all through the crisis of adolescence and the pressures to conform. It is for this reason I make my male protagonists deliberately feminine. (The most powerful men are men who are not afraid to be feminine. Machismo is cover for insecurity.) I’d translated my discontent into new images with which I seek to undermine conventional perceptions of black male sexuality. For me, it’s not just the sex. I particularly like the shared silence, the talking, and the taking breaks, the nonsexual caresses.
I like that it is not just the sex. The commodification of love expresses itself in the fetishization of sex, that is, sex stripped of its human quality, stripped of tenderness. To accept this is to accommodate oneself to a life without beauty.

Sarah Diehl

The things you say resonate with the situation I am in right now. It makes me think about the unfortunate constellation of power, desire, harassment and resentment. I am sitting in a train and while I am writing this, a man stares at me. I don't like the situation, because there is no way out for me. I don't want to engage with him at all, don't want any mutual communication to go on. But if I ignore him, he just feels free to continue to watch me and if look back at him, he might interpret that as if I am teasing or approving. So I feel trapped in his gaze.
In the discussions about rape or sexual harassment men often accuse women of using/abusing their power to tease men. But what this teasing means is defined by men and their desire. They get angry at their object of desire – the women, because they think she has power over them. But in reality they gave a woman the power she never asked for. Men resent women, because they feel exposed to their desire for her and the danger of being rejected. But the rejecting is a power the women never asked for to begin with. Still men accuse women for provoking desire in them, as if its the woman's responsibility.
I feel that this is at the core of this wicked misinterpretation of who has power. The person who desires or the person who is desired. I was in situations where men became rude because they felt rejected by me, because they projected that I want them to desire me. But that was a “power” I never even wanted to have. On the same time, I realize again and again, most men are not capable to see themselves as a teasing object of desire for women, because they argue that this power relation only goes one way – women teasing men. They blame women to tease them and don't acknowledge that men have the same enticing power for women as well. But women don't rape (besides the few cases, statistically close to 0 in opposition to how often men rape). So apparently men feel more entitled not to limit their desire but see it as an invitation whenever they feel teased. Gender hierarchies become clear if we simply reverse gender positions: for instance I wonder if the female gaze could be seen as so dominant that men wouldn't be allowed to go topless anymore, because it would be seen as a tease for women and therefore indecent. I always want to go topless in the summer. I would love to feel the warm air on my chest. But people might call the police, if I'd do so. Why? Because society sexualizes my breasts. Honestly I find that a scandal, that I have to cover my chest in hot weather because other people sexualize me. The male gaze defines what I can show and what not. Honestly I find that truly crazy, but it is perceived as totally normal. So, will we come to a point when men have to cover up because women sexualize them? I think if you turn around this perspective you truly understand how crooked and limiting our perception of normality is.
I agree with you that the most attractive men are the ones who are not afraid to lose their strength by not performing a strict and clear image of masculinity. Instead machos smell of a deep insecurity, which they try to cover up. But you can of course also look underneath the macho skin and find other things: As a girl, I liked to watch soccer with my father. I liked watching men being so emotional, sensitive and physical. Indeed I didn't see soccer as a sphere where men are super masculine but a sphere where they show their beauty in their vulnerability.
But mostly, even if men are shown as sexy it still adheres to the typical gender stereotypes: Men are more and more sexualized like women e.g. in commercials, but still the difference is that sexualized women are portrayed as serving, passive, waiting to be taken, while sexualized men are portrayed as strong, demanding and ready to take possession. So just because we all undress for commercials doesn't change what women and men perform in their presentation of femininity and masculinity. And that’s pretty boring.
Because the very sad thing is, that the dominant view on sex takes away our ability to explore, enjoy and define our sexuality on our own terms. In the end sex and desire should be about play and not about who wins.
In that regard I also have to respond to your view on prostitution: I actually think there is a possibility that prostitution can be a service to assist in a play, if we don't find a partner or we have a certain wish about a sexual speciality. I would argue that pornography, sex work, desire or gazing is not a problem in itself. But it becomes a problem, because it is organized according to a sexist world. I also find the comparison of sexwork and being a wife or mistress valid. In a patriarchal and capitalist society women have to use their body and their sexuality as a source of income or social status (e.g. marriage) because that is the way men acknowledge the status of a woman. But is there a way to organize sexual services in an non-damaging way?
We consider penetration altogether as an act that makes women vulnerable or easy to degrade. And that’s a fucked-up notion to begin with, created by patriarchy and a culture which uses rape to discipline and scare women to feel vulnerable and powerless. And of course in the world we live in, men use paid sex to feel power over women, to get their superiority out of degrading her thru using her for sex. In that way it makes me just sick when I think about how popular it became as an image representing sexuality for a man to spread his cum all over a woman's face. That this is portrayed as the absolute climax of male sexual pleasure. Well not for women..., but that unfortunately has an impact especially on young people’s expectation when this is presented as usual sexual behavior. So you are right, we teach women to feel alienated from their bodies and their pleasure, to be ashamed to explore what turns them on and tell their partners. We hardly see men in porn going down on women, especially not until she comes. Visuality and gender inequality strengthen each other in mainstream porn: men’s pleasure is the sole focus, confirmed in an always-visible ejaculation; this hyper visuality also denies women any orgasm, as there is no obvious visual sign to be used for it. Squirting – the female ejaculation could be one, but not all women do that every time they come. Instead we say that it is sooooooooo complicated for women to have orgasms, sooooooo complicated that you have an easy excuse if you don't even try… and women feel ashamed to ask for it or to even explore which are the best ways for them to come and tell their partners, because it's being presented as too much work. It's all about women serving men and not at all about the different ways women and men can find pleasure. It makes me really really sad. In that way, prostitution in a sexist world approves that men have the right to fuck without caring about their “partners” pleasure. So in that regard we still have a long way to go.
But I do think in a non-sexist society, where sex is not a tool to degrade and control women, where our desire wouldn't be so fueled with images of objectification, there would be a way that prostitution can be organized in a non-damaging way like any other service with workers rights, unions, health assistance, etc. and if they could organize it on their own terms, not dictated by a sexist culture, pimps and the police. Maybe it could be acknowledged as a healing power, but I know that is utopian right now.
So, regarding African male sexworkers, I do agree that European women find it probably easier to objectify a black man, then a white one, because in a racist culture they learned to take for granted they don't have to consider African men as subjects with their own perspective and experience. They are easier preys, you can deal with them in a more irresponsible way and get away with it.
That makes me wonder: How do Nigerian women look at men? What does it mean culturally, when they direct their gaze at men. Does it signify an invitation, provocation, an aggression, a transgression? As a white female traveller, I was told Nigerian men would see it as an invitation when I directly look at them. But I wonder if that is one of the clichés which reinforce the cautionary tale, teaching women to be aware about dangerous black men and dismiss any communication from the start, to uphold a race division. I like to smile at passers-by, as an expression of friendliness (but also to be honest, as the performance of the leftwing, liberal white middle class women in a black environment, in a city which is pestered by class and race division), I hate the feeling I shouldn't smile at male passers-by, to not “provoke” them. In Lagos I got involved in some nice and easy chats because of that, never harassment. I would like to know your thoughts about that.

Didi Cheeka

As an aside, I wonder how the silent 'war' with the gazer ended. I will come back to my deliberate use of the word war. The unfortunate constellation you talked about certainly involves power and harassment. A man who openly stares, whistles or calls out sexual innuendos at a woman is not realistically trying to seduce. He is simply trying to intimidate by openly proclaiming to her that she is a sex object, and at the same time affirm and thrill himself with his masculinity. It isn't about desire per se. To further invoke Berger, it is correct to say this arises from how a man's presence in the world is constructed – as a potent force, powerful and able to act; a woman's presence, on the other hand, is always about itself, about what can or cannot be done to her, never by her. So, yes, harassment involves power. It's about taking pleasure in feeling superior over another human being.
Note that I use the word construct with reference to masculinity and femininity. It's why I hesitate to include resentment in our constellation. To begin with my use of the word war. My refusal of the term resentment is predicated on its implication of a war of the sexes. Who are these men who resent women for the reasons you outlined? Are men all the same then? In any case, what do men want from women? Just to be desired? It seem to me that implicit in what you wrote is that violence and aggression towards women is inherent to men, with rape being a weapon used by men to oppress women. Picture them: helpless prisoners of their testosterone – insatiable and sexually aggressive towards their object of desire. This outlook necessarily boil down to the notion that all men are bastards who benefit from women's oppression. I've always opposed this biological determinism that presumed men aggressive and violent by nature, while women are naturally caring.
What you say about the possibility of overturning gender hierarchy, of men being at the receiving end of the [female] gaze, as tantalising as it may seem, overlooks the fact that objectification of women is (no longer directly) male-driven. This concept takes as its starting point the notion that the objectification of women necessarily benefits the majority of men – whose own lives are actually blighted by the distortions of male and female sexuality. Men and women are shaped by society, with gender roles implanted from a very early age. The thing is that men have the legitimacy of examining women – while women examine themselves being examined (for instance, you observing yourself being observed during the train ride and being trapped by the man's gaze). But, it is correct to say that women has internalized the objectification of themselves and now do to themselves what men are usually accused of doing to women.
So, who has the power – the one who desires or the one being desired? The thing is to refuse the question. I am for non-belligerent relationship between the sexes. I do agree that women's desire should exist on an equal basis with men's without them being seen as “sluts.” The paradox is that the same world where women are seen as sexual objects still traps them in a denial of their own sexual needs. A question comes to mind. When you talk of wanting to go topless in summer and a man admires your breasts, has he objectified you? Where do we draw the line between a gaze that objectifies and a look that admires? In spite of the generalized randiness exhibited by a culture of fetishism of sexuality, there's no escaping the feeling that underneath it all is a pervasive sexual dissatisfaction; there's no escaping the strong feeling that there's less of a real desire for sexual liberation, as of a need to destroy men by a provocative exhibitionism that further objectifies women. My fear is that to want to walk around topless may tend unconsciously towards this fetishism of sexuality – the legitimization, by women, of themselves as sex objects under the superficial guise of affirming female sexuality.
I recognize the necessity of creating a space in which women’s sexuality could be seriously discussed by both women and men, however, the trend is to present the human person not as a sexual being but as a commodity – the sexuality is stripped from its humanity and becomes a commodity. This is the fetishism of commodities about which Marx wrote. I'm reminded of a brief polemic with a Latina concerning Beyonce's feminism as empowering and a triumph for female sexual liberation. The irony inherent in this noisy celebration is that rather than overcoming sexism, Beyonce actually surrenders to it. On the other hand, compare how shocking and provocative Jane Birkin was in the song Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus) where Birkin seem to be in the throes of orgasm. Whereas there's real erotic power in Birkin, Beyonce comes across as sexism made sexy. In place of genuine eroticism you have packaged exhibitionism.
This surrender is all the more insidious because it feeds on women's struggles for the right to assert their sexual needs and desires, to be more than mere objects for the enjoyment of others – and because it is sold as a liberated way for women to express their sexuality it perpetuates the very process of objectification it claims to negate. The mainstreaming of porn, viz., the rise of what Ariel Levy refers to as "Raunch Culture" – strip bars, pole/ lap-dancing and so on – all show the extent to which human sexuality has become fetishised. This is a most graphic expression of alienation and fetishism in decaying bourgeois society. Attention is drawn, not to the humanity but to the sexuality. And so, what we've ended up with is a dialectical paradox: this expression of sexuality that was supposed to reflect the final liberation of female sexuality, that was supposed to challenge objectification and the repression of women's sexuality – this very expression of female sexuality ends up objectifying and commodifying women as mere sexual objects in more crude and vulgar ways. The attention is not in the person as a sexual being. Rather, the sexuality has become more important than the person. It is an expression, not of liberation, but of submission to a sexed-up stereotype.
We are also in agreement with some of what you say about sex-work – decriminalisation, unionisation etc. Just that, for me, prostitution is not a job like any other. The commodification and alienation of sexuality finds its sharpest expression in prostitution. A part of our humanity, our sexuality is dehumanized and transformed into something alien to us, to be bought and sold. How can genuine sexual needs be satisfied this way? You correctly pointed out that the condition under which this transaction takes place precludes an acknowledgment of the other as a person, an equal, someone who also has needs. Bourgeois society is incapable of offering satisfying (sexual) relationships. A society in which this most intimate relationship will not involve monetary transaction is one in which genuine sexual liberation, increased openness about sex and sexuality will exist. It will be one in which (even regulated) sex-work will not exist.
How do Nigerian women look at men? Among an emerging generation it is at once inviting, challenging, provocative, assessing, and it could be nothing – just holding a male look. It is mostly the second. I will tell you though that even among this layer, for all their brazenness, it is not uncommon to hear a woman say, "Before you brag about sleeping with a woman, make sure you satisfied her." Thus, she still thinks of sex as something that's done to her, not, to use your word, a play she actively participates in. Which brings me to the use of the term play. Why is sex not a comingling of passion, a shared intimacy? Why do you call it play?

Didi Cheeka

I asked about your use of the word play, because I was afraid you meant it in the sense of "Sex and the City"-feminism, in the sense of empowerment exhausting itself in serial anonymous sex, on how many orgasms a woman achieves. Now, I see what you mean. In Nigeria, for instance, there is a burgeoning feminism that intersects between "Sex and the City" and Raunch Culture. This feminism, for all its braggadocio, seems to consist chiefly in the idea that positioning oneself as a bitch is liberating. I use positioning in this sense: you never escape the feeling that it’s all a pose, a concession to fashion. You get the feeling that underneath this sexual pose is a pervasive sexual frustration and conservatism. I argue that this [sexual] ‘liberation’ is not liberating at all: it is simply an attempt at convincing oneself that one is empowered and using the corresponding pose to revenge oneself against men.  
To agree with your use of play by revisiting what has been said: Freud likened every sexual act as involving four persons, by which he also meant the fantasies each partner takes to bed. What is missing sorely in relationships is the thrill of discovery and astonishment, the thrill of being naked – that is of being open, without artifice or disguise and be seen this way, of being yourself – as against being nude, that is, not seen for who you are. Being naked involves what you said: the acceptance and exploration of each other without attempts to dominate or define. Being nude, on the other hand, involves belligerent tensions because you are on display, objectified. In this lies the contradiction. How do you achieve the former in a society where we are all buyers and sellers? How does love escape being a commodity, in the sense of the fetishism of sex (once it’s stripped, necessarily, of acceptance, exploration and equality)? In the film "Paris Is Burning", a character, Venus Xtravaganza says: “But I feel like, if you’re married, a woman in the suburbs, a regular woman who is married to her husband, and she wants him to buy her a washer and dryer set, in other for him to buy that, I’m sure she’d have to go to bed with him anyway and give him  what he wants for her to get what she wants. So, in the long run, it all ends up the same way.” Under existing class relations, sexual relations tend to involve commodification, objectification and domination. I will come again to "Paris Is Burning".
What you write about wanting to go topless and its attendant ‘danger’ of objectification is still somewhat problematic (at least, for me). To make a somewhat unrelated analogy: certain African writers, who decided, in response to what is usually referred to as cultural imperialism, to write in their own language. These writers, I insist, are trying to solve what is a political economic problem linguistically. It seems to me that this desire to want to go topless inputs the responsibility for staring sorely to male admirers. If, as you say, admiration could also be a form of objectification, would you accept that going topless could also be a form of exhibitionism? Are men, for fear of being labeled, to pretend that they don’t see you, that they don’t find your breasts sexually moving? And the women who also find you sexually attractive this way, would they also be objectifying you? I agree with you that it could be subversive. In this sense: society actually encourages women to show themselves, but you must wear your nudity like a designer dress. That is to say, your body must be sculpted to unreal standards (I prefer unreal to unnatural because there is nothing natural or unnatural about human sexuality or the human body).
Here, I’m reminded again of the conversation I had in a small unisex gathering about FEMEN. Whereas you can legitimately say that its activists encourage breasts that conform to certain specifications, it is also possible to question whether the opposition to FEMEN activists is also because, in a society where men has always been stripping women in films, fashion, photography, it is an affront to them for women to take off their clothes by themselves without the male factor which necessarily involves objectification. So, yes, in this light, to go topless with a female body that challenges prevailing specifications could be an act of subversion. Just that it comes with its own dangers. This danger, of course, does not involve, in any way whatsoever, blaming the woman or placing responsibility on her for men’s actions. No, not at all. I can’t resist saying this: since part of the photography of the construction of the savage involves nudity, do you think that wanting to go nude implies a return to the savage?
What you say about women needing to cover involving shame is valid. I’ve argued that this shame, which involves fear and denial of a woman’s sexuality, is why Virgin Mary had to be constructed without a vagina. As an aside, I wonder how you’d classify the woman who parted her legs to show her vulva in front of Gustav Courbet’s painting “The Origin of the World” in which the “origin” is actually not shown. Is this exhibitionism or subversion? And yes, what you say about showing breasts in their diversity easing self-hate in women reminds me of a personal experience. But, I wonder if women are also aware that men also have this with respect to their penis? Really, my thinking is that men are much more insecure about the size of their penis than women are of their breasts. Just that men have a better way of bonding with other men and coping with this. Thus, braggadocio becomes a pose, a longstanding one. I must also point out to you that breasts and vaginas were not things of shame, especially in the streams and villages of my childhood. Now, to a large extent due in part to Catholicism, the rise of political Pentecostalism, porn and raunch culture shame has been invented. You say it would be healthy for a society if we can hang out naked in the sun without it having to mean anything sexual. Yes, but only a healthy society can offer this. So, I’m inclined to agree when you wonder about another cultural setting in which shame would not come into play anymore, “probably a less violent culture,” you say.  
To round off our conversation you ask what I think I learnt and benefitted from feminism, how feminist perspectives supported and inspired me to free myself from the strains of masculinity. Since you mention Pasolini, I must tell you that I love Pasolini. Again, I reference "Paris Is Burning". There’s a sense you can say identity is performance, that prevailing notions of femininity and masculinity are constructs arising from social codes which acceptance and performance has naturalized. I mention Paris here because its subject matter demonstrates that gender can be performed: it can be constructed and deconstructed. How did feminism facilitate my notion of masculinity, you ask? Because I was totally outside gay culture, ‘feminism’ made it possible for me to construct my identity deliberately feminine, in a way, deliberately homosexual – to shock and confront the aggressively male and macho pose of the black masculinity that I was never able to fit into. As a black male person, who’d been fascinated, by what it means to be a woman, the fact that I could put kohl on my eyes, a ring on my nose and ear, dress feminine and still come back home without blood on my body had been a source of power. Femininity in men (as opposed to effeminacy) I feel, is a source of power. It is why, to the extent it is possible for me to use this term, I’ve never ever felt attracted, in any way whatsoever, to men who fit the traditional notions of masculinity – understand that I don’t use labels like straight and queer. To really end with "Paris Is Burning", one of the strongest sexual impulses I’ve ever felt was what I felt for Octavia Saint Laurent, a transgender female character in the movie – what I felt was quite irrespective of her birth gender, which  was quite meaningless to me. Perhaps, it is that I’d always been attracted to the masculine in women?...

Didi Cheeka

With Robert Capa, it’s frozen images. With Didi Cheeka, it’s moving ones. With Capa, it’s the world’s theatres of war. With Didi, it’s city streets and torn human souls. In this, however, there’s a connection: truth is the best picture. If there’s poetry in these images, it’s the poetry of disgust, a tragi-lyrical poetry.
With Didi, there’s also the power of words. Words and images, bitterly charged (like a symphony orchestra conducted in ruins). As if there’s no one to talk to; as if in desperation to reach the unreachable. Sometimes, there’s the impression of a broken poet in search of one-night stands to exchange words with…

Photo: Agostina Rufolo

Mario's Books

3 min

I fell completely in love one beautiful autumn afternoon. One of those that it’s a bit chilly but the sun is shining and it warms your back or face up and the leaves are falling off from the trees and you get to step on them and you listen to one of the most amazing crunchy sounds on earth and there’s this cold but not so cold breeze and the smell of the mixture between cold air and the warmth of the sun in the air. This man was sitting at the door of the book shop. He was sitting on a deck chair at the entrance of the store, one of those old people use at the beach, the ones that are used only to sit down at the beach, maybe where the sea touches your feet a little bit making them fresh for a few seconds. He reminded me of Steve Zissou, Bill Murray’s character on Wes Anderson’s Life Aquatic, or maybe just plain and wonderful Jacques Cousteau or a simple mariner resting after months off-shore. This book shop buys and sells used books, as many around the area, so I decided one day to see if they would take my textbooks and some children books from when my sister and I were little. I took a bunch of them, because all of them would’ve been too heavy, and rushed towards the closing store. It was 6PM, but this book store has the weirdest schedule and its rare to find it open (it’s usually open in the morning and from 3 to 6 PM) but you’re truly lucky if you actually do. I ran as fast as I could while carrying those heavy books and talked to the man that was heading out. He called Mario, the man that gave the name to the book shop. He came in a grumpy way to the door, slowly, with his walking stick serving as help. I talked to him as politely and kindly as I could, observing that he wasn’t an easy character to get along with. He took a look at my books and said they were too old and of no use at schools nowadays. He didn’t say it in the most kindest of ways, but he was right. It’s been long since I went to primary school, publishers change textbooks every year nowadays so people can’t buy them used, and there was no chance someone would buy my books from him. I was a little surprised, though, that he didn’t take the children books, which were in perfect shape. This book store was so full of books it was a bit difficult to get in, so I didn’t bother, since I wasn’t planning on buying anything that day but rather sell. But if that would’ve been the case, it’s a lovely place full of dusty literary gems worthy of the most avid explorer and curiouseur with its infinite number of paper-made floor-to-ceiling columns covering the whole place. Served by his owner, grumpy but endearing Mr. Mario, with his walking stick and his almost a thousand years old.

As pearls before pigs

6 min
  • I saw what you did. I liked it. How did you do the image? Photoshop?
  • Illustrator and Photoshop before that to use the wand.
  • It’s nice that you know how to use everything. What’s the meaning?
  • Of what?
  • The image you made. If you find any meaning in it. How did you feel when you made it? What did you make it for?
  • It doesn’t mean anything. I didn’t feel anything. I made it because it’s going to be a fanzine cover. The things I do don’t mean anything.
  • Well, I’m sure it means something.
  • Yeah, it’s Poseidon surfing a wave made of flowers and a flamingo and a wood and palm trees and a gigantic cactus. There you have the meaning. And an angelfish popping its head out of the water.
  • I don’t know why I always feel you’re messing with me.
  • Because that kind of questions irritate me. It doesn’t have to mean anything. It just is.
  • So you don’t give a fuck about analyzing your work. You do what you want and you don’t give a shit, basically. You don’t want to communicate anything.
  • It wasn’t a graphic design work for university…
  • Or maybe you do want to communicate… A cactus, flamingos, etc. I don’t know, I didn’t go to university.
  • No, I just made a collage with some aesthetic elements that I like. Regarding an art piece, if it means anything, fine, but an art work its an individual being that when you start it you have no idea what’s going to end up being like. It makes itself. And then what it communicates depends on the recipient. You asking me what Poseidon riding a wave made of flowers and a flamingo and palm trees covered in snow and a gigantic cactus and a parrot and an angelfish it’s as if you ask me what does the phrase “as pearls before pigs” mean.
  • Well, but maybe you did want to communicate something, that’s why I asked, but if it irritates you I won’t ask anymore.
  • Hahaha. It’s up to you.
  • OK.
  • It´s about the fall of the USSR.
  • That’s what I asked first. It was easier to say that instead of arguing about it during 235235 hours.
  • Does it communicate that?
  • I don’t know, but you did it to communicate that.
  • I want your feedback. If you don’t say anything it’s because: 1. You didn’t like it. 2. You don’t think it communicates that.
  • I don’t think it communicates that if I see it isolated and untitled. I can woolgather about it and find my own connections, otherwise, and then decide if I like it or not.
  • So you need tons of assistance to enjoy an art piece. That means that you don’t like it and that you don’t think it means that.
  • I don´t think a title it’s too much.
  • It’s a lot.
  • I like a bit of the aesthetics of it.
  • Hahah what a phony.
  • Haha fuck you.
  • No, fuck you for not being able of saying the truth.
  • Why? I’m telling you. I don’t think it communicates anything about the fall of the USSR.
  • You just said that, not before.
  • And I don’t love it either, but there’s something of the aesthetic that I like.
  • You can say you don’t like it. There’s nothing more annoying that this risk-less intermediate.
  • Of course but instead of that I tell you what I do like. You get irritated by everything, and that’s your problem.
  • No.
  • Goog luck.. When that happens to me I’m not sad about seeing something I just like a detail about. I take that and that’s it.
  • It doesn’t have anything to do with the fall of the USSR, obviously. I don’t get sad, it just bothers me that people can’t be honest.
  • And why did you make it like that? You just wanted to.
  • Because  I wanted that image for the fanzine cover. Nothing else. It just popped into my mind the image of Poseidon and tropic and woods and flowers.
  • You think that if I don’t tell you I don’t like something I’m not honest?
  • And I like surfing. So that’s what I did. I think that you not telling me that you don’t like it it’s you not being honest.
  • You are judging too much.
  • No.
  • That’s irritating.
  • I’m just telling you what I think. You are looking for a way to find me irritating instead of the other way round. OK.
  • I’m not trying to find any way, I’m telling you what I get of what you tell me through this chat window. Which is another determinant.
  • OK.
  • That’s it, I try to chat, take something out of it.
  • Fine.
  • Not arguing or having someone tell me I’m not honest when you really don’t know me.
  • It’s a point of view. Take it or leave it.
  • I think there are funnier things, or maybe I’m too sensitive, I don’t really know.
  • I don’t know you.
  • Me neither. I think it’s fun to get to know you. Or at least I had that intention, we’ll see if I can and if it really entertains me. I think it’s 23223252 times more amusing to talk in person.
  • Are you testing me?
  • The same you do with me, I don’t think it’s testing, it’s getting to know the other person, I can’t find any other way.
  • I’m not testing you.
  • Me neither, no way. Testing  what?
  • You just said that… Like “let’s see if it entertains me”
  • If I feel good about it or not. I don’t get why you retain something so stupid. It’s getting to know the other person. Are you not checking out if you like me or not? You said it yourself…
  • I don’t know what I said, quote me.
  • That you sort of liked me.
  • I don’t know when I said that.
  • Anyway, I’m zero testing you, “I follow your lead”, but I get bored so I ask you out.
  • OK. I can’t today, I told you. I’m off. Kiss.
  • Kiss

So you stop liking me

3 min

–         Last Saturday you said to me: “Goodbye, my love” before you left walking to your house. It really bothered me, it felt awful, don’t ever do that again. –         Yes, it is true that it was something ridiculous. Furthermore, I don’t even know why I said it. Anyway, if you felt awful, tell me why, because otherwise I don’t get it. –         Because I’m not your love nor I want to be and it makes you feel like the other person is crossing some limits regarding language. It feels like a personal space invasion, I don’t know if I’m being clear. I don’t get why you would call “my love” a girl from college who is not dating you and who answered “no” to your texts asking if I wanted to go home with you. –         Let’s see… Like I said before, the fact that I called you “my love” was asshole-ish and in fact is one of those things you say when you are high on something, it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t seem that relevant to me, though. I don’t see it like you do, as a super outrageous lack of respect nor I see myself as a “language rapist”. –         It felt that way. It wasn’t “WOW, super outrageous” but it really disturbed me. I don’t want anything to happen, ever. That’s kind of what I’m trying to say because we go to school together and that’s fine with me but I don’t want it to be awkward due to something silly like this and even if we didn’t go to school together I wouldn’t want anything to happen either. –         Right, anyway, not “kind of”, that’s what you are actually saying, dude. –         “Kind of what I was trying to say with all that I had said before” was the complete sentence. –         Oh, OK, fine. To say the truth, I like you but I think you are a bit nuts. I am, too, but different kind of nuts. –         Sorry, I’ve been mean, but I prefer everything to be clear. Yeah, I prefer my craziness to yours. –         Although that was obvious. Hahaha that doesn’t have to do with anything, I didn’t speak badly of your craziness. –         Yeah. –         So don’t mess with mine, please. –         You did speak badly because you said “you’re pretty BUT you’re nuts” and I don’t think I’m nuts, I’m just in a “nutty” moment but I prefer to speak of these kind of things directly because if I don’t say them then I feel super uncomfortable and I act nuttier than normal with you, anyway. –         No, I said that I liked you but you’re nuts, not that you were pretty. –         Well, that you like me, whatever that means, which is more or less the same as if you say that I’m pretty. –         And I don’t know if you’re saying a nutty moment right now or in this period of your life. Anyway. –         Yeah, I act nuttier with you, anyway. –         And why is that? –         So you stop liking me. –         Haha. I’m going to sleep. –         Alright, goodbye. We have to talk to M that comes back on Saturday about that paper.

Aerial Nationbuilding

Jamal Ghosn about Air Rage
3 min

You can spend 12 hours on a flight with a stranger resting their head on your shoulder and not exchange a word with them beyond the required formalities. Sharing geography doesn’t make you friends. But when an airline turns a 2 hour flight into a 5 hour jail sentence on a grounded plane, you make a lot of friends. This is the amazing power of having a common enemy. It brings people together.

Many a nation exist merely because they have an enemy. It can be an imaginary enemy, but that doesn’t keep these nations from having flags and anthems. They even have historic tales that the national bonds were predestined and will never be broken.

But this post is not about them. It’s about my new nation.

Santa Barbara Airlines Flight 1340 was supposed to depart from Simon Bolivar International Airport at 11:30 am local Venezuelan time. Its scheduled arrival time at Tocumen International Airport was 1 PM Panama City time.

A week before the flight I received an email, followed by a phone call, to inform me that the flight has been rescheduled. It would depart at 3pm instead. That’s an unpleasant 3 and a half hour delay, but how professional of them to let me know ahead of time?

By 3:15 pm passengers had filled every seat on the plane. I was very tired and fell asleep shortly after I sat in my seat. At 4pm, I woke up to a bit of commotion on the plane. You never want to wake up to that, but I had a window seat and I realized we were still on the ground. I still wasn’t sure what was going on, but I could tell the air conditioning wasn’t going on at all.

4:15pm, we got off the plane in Caracas. It was a long ordeal, so I’ll skip the details, but people weren’t happy.

At 8:40pm, the plane touched down in Panama City.

At 9:15pm, we were somewhere near the end of the runway “waiting for a gate.” And that’s when you start making friends.

You discover that you have other things in common–beside the common enemy–with the family of 5 sitting next to you. It turned out we have a common background. We also found out we have common interests. We bonded. At this point, the enemy tried to drive a wedge between us.

It was around 9:50pm–and we were still on the plane–when a muffled voice announced the names of the passengers whose luggage had stayed behind in Caracas. The enemy wanted the luggage-less to resent the privileged ones. But at this stage we were one nation united in hate of Santa Barbara Airlines.

After 90 minutes on the Tocumen tarmac, we were released. Celebratory gestures were exchanged by the passengers at Gate 28.

The next day, I was walking in Panama city’s “old” quarters. It’s genuinely old if you turn a blind eye to the mocha frapuccinos, Peruvian fusion cuisine, and Pecha Kucha events. In one alley, I saw a man walking towards me. We both smiled and as he passed by we exchanged a high five. “We finally made it!” I was sitting in seat 18E. I don’t know this guy’s name or anything else about him. But I know his national ID number. It’s 12B.

Before he started work as a lifeguard, Mike Z. (middle) doing the Hitler salute. The two men at his side are wellknown Neo-Nazis.
Credit: Berliner Kurier.

A Nazi was hired as a lifeguard. You won't believe what happened next...

Emily Dische-Becker about Nazi lifeguards
5 min

Two weeks ago, a 35-year old Cameroonian man named Anneck E. drowned at Berlin’s Plötzensee – across from the beach bathing club where lifeguard Mike Z. was on duty. According to numerous eyewitnesses cited in the media, Mike Z. simply ignored the man’s cries for help – as well as the cries of his family and people who were attempting to rescue him.  “He just kept on opening his sunbrellas at a comfortable pace,” a man who tried in vain to rescue Anneck told the B.Z.

Mike Z. himself told the local daily:

“I did hear the bawling before. Then someone came and said there’s a guy drowning. But I can’t attend to that. I sometimes have up to 1,000 guests. How am I supposed to help when there’s someone drowning over there? Shortly after, someone came and said the guy was being reanimated.”

Curiously, the B.Z. makes no mention of Mike Z.’s recent past as an active member of the neo-Nazi scene. In fact I found only one news item about Annek E.’s death that references this – in a post on Berlin Online about a demonstration outside the beach club planned by an anti-fascist group.

Last summer, I had my first encounter with this “reformed” neo-Nazi.

In the past, I’ve found myself whispering “Nazi” under my breath during run-ins with run-of-the-mill German authority figures. Now that I was faced with the real deal, that seemed almost impetuous (reminding me of the many times I had mistaken a roll of thunder over Beirut for sonic boom from Israeli fighter jets. When it comes, sonic boom is unmistakable. So, too, was the Nazi.)

He approached our canopied booth at Plötzensee with a comedic woodenness and came to a stilted halt. Hands on his hips, he barked at us: “I wasn’t kidding ten minutes ago when I said you have to leave in ten minutes!” Except I hadn’t heard his original order. My lips instinctively began to form the word. I glared back and replied: “Well I didn’t hear you. Did I. (Nazi.)”

He was squat and blonde and sporting a short mohawk, and he continued to stare us down before making a sweeping gesture with his hand: “Well that doesn’t matter. You better be on your way. Now!”

My friend A. remained silent. The lifeguard’s eyes narrowed; he made a curt turn and goose-stepped theatrically across the sand. We begrudgingly collected our belongings and wandered across the sand toward the cafe on the opposite bank of the lake.

There, over beers, A. said that he had looked at the beach club’s Facebook page earlier to check the closing times. On the page, a discussion was raging over media reports that an ex-Nazi was employed at the club. Someone had posted a link to an article entitled, “Nazi supervisor at beach: Heil lifeguard!” which included photos of a certain Mike Z. seen at various neo-Nazi gatherings, and in one snapshot, striking the Hitler salute in the company of what the paper said were infamous neo-Nazis. The beach club management had recently published a statement defending its decision to employ Mr. Z, who had apparently left the neo-Nazi scene in 2010 and had been employed with the club since 2011:

“Mike declared his exit [from the neo-Nazi movement] to the intelligence services in 2010. The published photos are from before his avowed disengagement. The declaration he made to the service, as well as a further explanation given to us in which he—among other things—said that he had sworn off the mindset, had no form of contact (on or off the beach) to the right wing scene, and of course displays no right wing or racist behavior, were the basis and condition for his employment.

“On 15.04.2011, Mike was employed with us as part of a silent exit program. Since then he has performed outstanding work and never made a negative impression.

“Many of our employees have a migrant background and hail from the most diverse countries (from Cuba to various eastern European countries, to the US.) One of our patrons is a foreign Jew. Mike is fully integrated here, inconspicuous and popular. Many of our guests also hail from the most diverse countries and there have been no complaints over the past two years.”

In fact, a past news article in the Berliner Kurier had reported numerous previous complaints about racist incidents as well as attacks at the club (including a complaint filed in 2013 year with the police), emanating apparently from a wider contingent of Nazi-leaning employees.

Surely, people who have recently sworn off organized race-baiting need to find employment somewhere. Just not as arbiters of life and death.

Update: The Berlin police just released a statement saying that numerous criminal complaints have been filed claiming that the lifeguard didn’t rescue Anneck E., because of the former’s far-right views. “This suspicion has not been confirmed, according to the joint investigations by Berlin police and prosecutors. There is no evidence for the lifeguard’s culpable conduct.”

The statement also adds that maintaining the assertion that the lifeguard let Anneck E. drown could constitute a libel offense and result in a criminal complaint. I believe I have just laid out the facts here.

Jaffa Road

3 min

There was a time in which Jaffa, Tel Aviv’s Arab sister, meant something magic to me. It wasn’t just the area’s increasing hipness getting me excited – a remarkable hipness –, which fed itself from the myths of an ancient port-city representing a time of prosperity before Zionism as well as a literal safe haven for the European Jewry, the ones which fled the Nazi Regime and arrived safely in Palestine. More than that, Jaffa seemed to set an example of Jewish-Arab existence beyond the “co”. There were days when I would wake from the sounds of the mosque immersing the city in chants, when minutes later I’d walk over to my favorite bakery for Rogelach and coffee. Ana Lulu, a tiny club in the center of the city was one of the few places, maybe the only place in Israel, which equally invited a young Jewish, Arab and international audience, to the point where you just couldn’t tell anymore. Things seemed perfect. Some days ago, I planed to cool my moments of fear and hitchhiking with reality – constantly waiting for the next alarm, the next interception, the next images of dead civilians in Gaza. I walked down Jerusalem Road, Jaffas main street. On my way I ran into Dafni Leef, one of the former leaders of the social protest of 2011. Back then the people demanded social justice. Dafni was shouted at by a raging woman in her mid 40ies. Walking further I understood, what the people, not Dafni herself, demand today. A group of about 100 men covered with Israeli flags brotherly held each others arms, jumping, shouting, as loud as they could: “Death to the Arabs – Death to the Arabs – Burn their houses – Burn their villages – Burn down Gaza”. Having seen them attack the first anti-war-demonstration since the beginning of “Operation Protective Edge” about a week ago, senselessly hurting left-wing demonstrators, out of which some ended up in hospital, was a shocking experience. It was something I had never seen in Tel Aviv before. Yet, it seemed more like an internal fight. In the Jaffa demo no one got hurt. Still, it was the first time I conceived such hatred, as well as my physical disgust towards the symbols which represented it. Whilst more and more civilians die in Gaza, many people in Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa and other Israeli cities do their best to hold against a serious shift within the Israeli society. A shift, which seems to undermine its’ sense of diversity and human values. Standing in an almost surreal empty Ben-Gurion-Airport a day, an airport where incoming flights have been cancelled and everyone pushes the line to be first to leave in departures, I thought that listening to those people, staying aware to one’s sense of empathy, as well as to its ruin directed by voices of blunt racism seems to be one of the most important things these days. Otherwise this sense of magic might be gone quite soon. Not just in Jaffa. 

Iron Dome Cures Baldness

Jamal Ghosn about Israeli Propaganda
3 min

The 30-second TV commercial is losing its marketing supremacy. In the internet age, new ways of cross-platform advertising are used to lure customers. Product placement in movies and shows has become an attractive option for advertisers. TiVo can let you skip commercials but not the product logo in the movie’s money shot. You can pirate the movie, but you can’t skip the salesmanship.

I would venture to say that real war gets almost as much viewership as war movies. So that gives marketers an opportunity to sell.

Major news networks may have done some horrible things, but they haven’t had the audacity to this honest:

“This decapitated child is brought to you by Warprofiteerco. We didn’t invent death, we just bank on it. Warprofiteerco also happens to be the sister company of BSBC News.”

That just sounds wrong.

Since corporate sponsorship of war news is not socially acceptable yet, salesmen of death are left with product placement.

In Israel, the military censors have direct control over what gets published in Israeli media and at least one newspaper in New York. The Israeli military also happens to be a major trader in the global weapons’ market.

Israel launched a war on Gaza and dubbed it: Operation Protective Edge. What madman comes up with this shit?

In the past 2 weeks, many news items streaming out of the military censor’s office start with the words “The Iron Dome intercepted…”

“A 90% success rate” brags the press release published here and here.

Now, each interception attempt costs up to $100,000, while the incoming rocket usually costs less than a $1000.

It’s not cheap, but 90% success is pretty damn good. Except, this rocket scientist thinks the “90%” is actually less than 5%.

Shooting up piñatas from rocket launchers is almost as effective as the Iron dome. It’s a lot cheaper. Most importantly it makes it rain chocolate and lollipops.

But who cares if the product works? We already have at least one sucker paying for it.

Product placement works.

On September 1, Poland hosts a major military expo. Iron Dome’s Israeli manufacturer Rafael should be in Hall E of the Targi Kielce Exhibition Center. A week later, they’ll move their traveling sales show to Baku, Azerbaijan.

Here’s the product brochure:

"Combat Proven" is new "As Seen on TV"

The “Combat Proven” might as well read “As Seen on TV”.

And look at the slogan: Now, We’ve Got You Protected.

Again, what madman comes up with this shit?

On Love

Georg Diez+Jagoda Marinic
45 min

Groin Gazing

Didi Cheeka+Sarah Diehl
49 min

Mario's Books

3 min

As pearls before pigs

6 min

So you stop liking me

3 min

Aerial Nationbuilding

Jamal Ghosn about Air Rage
3 min

A Nazi was hired as a lifeguard. You won't believe what happened next...

Emily Dische-Becker about Nazi lifeguards
5 min

Jaffa Road

3 min

Iron Dome Cures Baldness

Jamal Ghosn about Israeli Propaganda
3 min