Friday, February 18, 2011

A few more thoughts on obscenity

The first time my narrator, Vivian, actually encounters Tzipi Honigman in the flesh, they’re driving to a fancy restaurant in Tel Aviv and Tzipi asks her if she knows any of her poems by heart, and if she could recite one to her.

“With my heart in my mouth, I did – an unrhymed sonnet about failed love. It was called ‘Obscene.’ She looked over at me, smiling just a little. I felt extremely naked.” (p. 9)

I didn’t reproduce the sonnet in the novel, although I did include some of Vivian’s other poems. But I thought you might want to see the one she recited to Tzipi in the car. The epigraph is from Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse.


“Discredited by modern opinion, love’s sentimentality must be assumed by the amorous subject as a powerful transgression which leaves him alone and exposed; by a reversal of values, then, it is this sentimentality which today constitutes love’s obscenity.”

No one would have raised an eyebrow at

the little sexual accoutrements

of their love. These might provoke a smile

but little more. She e-mailed him a file

called “dirty pictures” in which she appeared

in all her glory playing with sex toys.

Even that phrase, “sex toys,” goes to show

how innocent they were. He sent her back

a picture of his hard-on. She was charmed.

The thing that was obscene, the dirty secret,

was neither flesh nor fetish. It was love

itself. Bataille describes the sentiment

in all of its vulgarity—a massive

throbbing organ. An embarrassment.

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