A bright Monday morning with a cold wind blowing. Hard at work, writing and rewriting and rewriting. Some of you know what this feels like. The old yellowwood table at which I write is lonelier than any desert.
Odd and troubling distraction. My much-loved bipolar friend sent me a grainy old photograph of Edwardian erotica that she found in her grandfather’s mouldy suitcases. I don’t know what it signified to her.
It is not erotica, it is pornography. Erotica is how art celebrates sexuality in a context of beauty or aspiration. Pornography is just masturbation material. A youngish woman spreadeagled on a bed with a lascivious smile and no expression in her eyes. There is a chamberpot half-concealed under a brocade curtain probably thick with dust. A cradle in the corner of the room. (Single mother?) A battered heavy umbrella near the door, an old coat hanging on a hook. There is a bruise on the underside of the woman’s arm and her belly is concave, probably from hunger. Inked inscriptions in white inform me that this photograph was taken in 1914 in Nieuwpoort, Belgium.
I looked that up. Nieuwpoort is a fishing village in Belgium where the German invasion was brought to a halt in 1914 because of floods. The German invasion was halted for a while. The town of Nieuwpoort was completely destroyed in the fighting, wiped out, erased. This is where the Battle of Ypres took place. Pillage, rape, looting, destruction.
How is it possible to look at a photograph of a naked woman and not see that bruise, not see that small cradle, not see her humanity and pathos, the desperation, the tragedy unfolding? She has a wedge of dark hair on her vagina, thick eyebrows, a mouth crowded with crooked teeth, a mole on her left breast, a harelip. Woman as receptacle, woman as spittoon.
When I look at an image like this I realise again how much of my own humanity I lost during those long oblivious years of alcoholism. And I think of frightened soldiers and taunted young men trying to prove themselves and the bluntedness that comes to bored and drunken men everywhere. But mostly I think of that woman and the bruise on her arm.
Obviously I can’t post this old photograph online because I will have my blog restricted or attract porn-watchers. So absurd, so pathetic.