I Do Not Make Love – 50 Shades of Grey

It is certainly no coincidence that the French call an orgasm “La petite mort” (the little death) and that Shakespeare used the monstrous metaphor of the “beast with two backs” for sex. Sex and pain have been connected forever, even before Sigmund Freud developed the theory of the Eros-Thanatos motif which dates back to ancient mythology. Eros, the God of love, and Thanatos, the God of death, embody the two basic urges of humankind: Love and Death, or Sex and Pain.

This Freudin theory could very well explain the current success and hype created around a novel entitled 50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James, which is the fastest selling paperback in the UK even beating J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

50 Shades of Grey is the first volume of an erotic trilogy dealing with the unusual relationship between English Lit graduate Anastasia Steele and young, seductive millionaire Christian Grey. The unusual element about their relationship is that the two engage in a sado-masochistic relationship in which Ana becomes his sex slave and surrenders to his commands and fantasies… and she enjoys it!

“Firstly, I don’t make love. I fuck… hard.”

The novel has received both praise and critique. A lot of readers adore it for its frankness and erotic content, while critics feel disgusted with the heroine’s willing physical and psychic subordination. It is both found to be a good read and laughed at for its play with clichés. This latter view might stem from the novel’s origin as a fan fiction based on Stephenie Meyer’s famous vampire romance Twilight. While Edward Cullen warns Bella Swan not to get too close to him due to his vampiric appetite for her blood, Christian Grey warns Ana Steele to steer clear of him for his sadistic desires. In both cases the “victims” are inexperienced, ordinary girls who are fascinated by the simultaneous appeal and sense of fear that their “hunters” evoke. In both stories, the seducer triggers a hidden desire that has been with the heroine from the very beginning and which she starts to live out now.

“The more you submit, the greater my joy – it’s a very simple equation.”

“Okay, and what do I get out of this?”

I disagree with all the critics who feel uncomfortable with the delight that the heroine gains from her willing and often painful subordination. It is true that she succumbs to her male protagonist but it is also a step forward. She rejects social constraints and lives her sexual fantasies, finally combining Eros and Thanatos. The two protagonists follow their Id and they enjoy it. I think my good friend Freud would be as well entertained by this book as I am.

“Why did you give me Tess of the D’Urberville specifically?” (…)

“It seemed appropriate. I could hold you to some impossibly high ideal like Angel Clare or debase you completely like Alec D’Urberville.” (…)

“If there are only two choices, I’ll take the debasement.”

While I would agree that the novel’s style is not very elaborate, I still think that the text is less low brow than meets the eye. To me, it is no coincidence that the novel’s heroine studies English literature. The novel alludes to all of our favourite novel heroes. Christian Grey is the model byronic hero, he is passionate like Heathcliff but simultaneously the white knight in shining armor which saves the heroine from unwanted suitors. He is both Angel Clare, Tess of D’Urberville’s big love, and Alec D’Urberville, the man who raped her and made her the prototypical fallen woman of Victorianism. He is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the looks of Dorian Gray (who I personally think gave the hero his name). The novel is highly self-conscious and self-ironic. It combines all the features that we love about those 19th century heroes: their passion, their brooding characters, their seductiveness… Yet, the novel goes a step further and grants us the one thing that we do not get from our romantic heroes: Sex!

 

The Victorians, Early Films and the Train

The Victorians’ obsession with visual culture is nothing new. Neither is their obsession with trains. Whenever you open a book on the Victorian era you are bound to stumble upon fascinating descriptions of early trains, of the mingling of different social classes at railway stations or about the workings and effects of the steam engine.

During the end of the 19th century, these two intriguing aspects of Victorian life were combined and the appeal of the railway was captured on screen:

A Kiss in a Tunnel (1899) by G. A. Smith

A Train Collision (1900) by R. W. Paul

Royal Train (1896) by R. W. Paul

A myth surrounding the Victorians and trains on screen is that they could not differentiate between on-screen fiction and reality. They were frightened when the train approached them and panicked. The following fragment shows that this myth itself seems to be a Victorian invention. The Victorians themselves already laughed at people who could not deal with this new medium as the following fragment nicely shows:

The Countryman and the Cinematograph (1901) by R. W. Paul

Maybe the Victorians were as fascinated by film and trains as we are fascinated by the Victorians? The railway and early film have become icons of Victorianism with which contemporary critics and artists love to play. Just notice how often a train or a cinematograph take centre stage in contemporary representations of Victorianism.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Or have a look at the ending of the BBC adaptation of Gaskell’s North and South. Whereas this scene takes place in Margaret’s drawing room in the book, the film introduces the trope of the railway station as a meeting place and of the train which takes the lovers to their new life in marriage. It is also interesting to note that the film adds one scene which is not in the book and which is set at the Crystal Palace, another icon of Victorianism.

North and South

 

I hope you had fun with this movies and will look out for more trains and films in representations of Victorian life.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

Ever wondered whether the Sherlock Holmes cases collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes et. al. are complete? Ever asked yourself whether Sherlock could also fail and keep Watson from writing down the story?

This is what happens in Billy Wilder’s 1970 movie The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

The movie can be seen as a parody accumulating all the fascinating set pieces that make up our modern perception of Sherlock Holmes: You get his signature clothing, his drug addiction, the violin and a Sherlock who personally starts the rumor of him and Watson engaging in a homosexual relationship when a Russian ballerina asks him to become a sperm donor. Billy Wilder intelligently plays with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories weaving in allusions to famous cases such as The Scandal in Bohemia or having Watson’s short stories published in Strand magazine, the actual magazine in which the detective stories were published in the 1890s. Interestingly enough the film’s Holmes does not always correspond to Watson’s stories, which draws attention to the fictional quality of the stories and to Holmes as a already-fictional creation within a fictional movie.

Yet, what is most intricate about Wilder’s movie starring Robert Stephens as Holmes and Colin Blakely as Watson is his focus on the detectives failure which is brought by by the one phenomenon that Holmes’s genius mind can never quite understand: women.

“Holmes, let me ask you a question. I hope I am not being presumptuous but… There have been women in your life, haven’t there?”

“The answer is yes… You are being presumptuous.”

Although the title is a bit misleading as the viewer does not get to see a more private Sherlock than the one in other representations of the detective figure apart maybe from a scene in the bathtub, the film is highly recommendable. Wilder skillfully juggles with icons of Britishness from Holmes himself to a very feisty representation of Queen Victoria to the Loch Ness monster, for which he had a life-size model built which unfortunately sank during a test run. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is a witty parody on how myths of Britishness come to life and are transformed over time.

Holmes: “Take my fiancée for instance.”

“Your fiancée?”

“She was the daughter of my violin teacher. We were engaged to be married, the invitations were out, I was being fitted for a tailcoat. 24 hours before the wedding she died of influenza. It just proves my contention that women are unreliable and not to be trusted.”

Billy Wilder himself, who could not personally oversee the editing process demanded by the studio, said of his film: “It was an absolute disaster. The way it was cut. I had tears in my eyes as I looked at the thing… It was the most elegant picture I’ve ever shot.” Unfortunately many scenes, including a prologue, have been cut and couldn’t be restored so far. Just as Holmes himself, the film is a representation of mysteries and myths. It allows us to guess whether Holmes’s account of his later fiancée is true or whether there actually have been women in Holmes’s life at all. It wittily uses the Loch Ness monster, Queen Victoria and Holmes himself to show the viewer that all of them become “myth” at some stage whether actual historical persona, literary character or phantasmatic phenomenon in the first place. Sherlock is a bit like Nessie: They are cultural creations and we know that they are not real but on some level we’d all just for them to actually exist and to have a private life after all.

Nobody’s Perfect… Not Even Shakespeare

We all know the good bits and pieces written by Shakespeare, such as Hamlet’s “to be or not to be”-soliloquy, Richard III’s witty asides, or the love scenes in Romeo and Juliet. What a lot of people are less familiar with, are the really bad bits in Shakespeare. Yes, there are actually quite a lot of really bad twists in Shakespeare’s plots that often make me crinkle my nose in disbelief.

Here’s my personal Top 3 of the worst Shakespearean plot twists:

1. The Family Reunion in Cymbeline

Cymbeline is not regarded one of Shakespeare’s best plays although the character of Imogen (sometimes spelled Innogen) has been admired as a depiction of feminine virtue throughout the 19th century. This character is exactly what makes me shake my head at every re-read.

Princess Imogen secretly marries her childhood friend Posthumus. Because he is not a nobleman, her father Cymbeline banishes him from his kingdom. Posthumus swears eternal love to Imogen and goes to Italy where he is all whiny and going on about Imogen being the perfect woman. Evil Giacomo doesn’t really belief in this perfect woman and places a bet on her virtue. Giacomo then goes off to England to seduce her but Imogen is faithful to her husband. Due to a trick, Giacomo nevertheless gets to know the insides of Imogen’s bedchamber, sees a mole on an intimate part of her body and steals some of her jewelry as evidence for her infidelity.

Back in Italy, Posthumus beliefs him quite quickly and hates women from this moment onwards and orders one of his servants to kill off Imogen.

Then a lot of other things happen (like the beheading of evil Cloten, Jupiter coming down on stage on an eagle, and a war) but in the end they all meet up again with Imogen dressed up as a male peasant and still alive. Although Posthumus still believes that Imogen was unfaithful, he now regrets that he rejected her and that he had her killed. Ok: Imogen dressed up, Posthumus believing she’s dead and Imogen vice versa believing that Posthumus is dead (I told you: A lot of things happened!). Imogen recognizes Posthumus in an instant and when he laments her death she goes up to him and wants to tell him that she’s alive and: he hits her!

So, let me recap: Posthumus believes Imogen was unfaithful and orders someone to kill her. Then he regrets it. And when she wants to reveal her identity he beats her?

As you can guess, Imogen likes her Posthumus despite all of this and they end up together. Gurrrl could really learn a few things from Beyoncé… Independent woman and stuff…

2. The Groom Swap in Two Noble Kinsmen

Two Noble Kinsmen is about Palamon and Arcite who have been BFFs forever. Unfortunately they fall in love with the same girl, Emilia. Emilia, however, is very undecisive and cannot quite choose one of them. Well… What do you do, when you and your best mate fall in love with the same girl: You stage a big tournament and fight for her!

This is what happens. They fight and Arcite wins. Emilia agrees to marry Arcite and they could live happily ever after, but then the unforeseeable happens: Arcite falls off his horse shorty before the wedding and is fatally injured. Good friend as he is, his dying words are his wish for Palamon to have Emilia. And thus Palamon and Emilia lived happily ever after!

3. The Fate of Antiochus and his Daughter in Pericles

Pericles travels to the kingdom of Antiochus in order to win his daughter, who is praised as one of the most beautiful women in the world. Her father Antiochus, however, sets up a riddle. Pericles – smart guy as he is – solves it but the solution tells him that Antiochus engages in an incestuous relationship with his daughter.

Antiochus finds out that Pericles found out and Pericles has to flee followed by furious Antiochus and his daughter.

But luckily they are hit by lightning! End of story… for Antiochus and his daughter at least. Pericles’s story will further involve a birth in a ship, an (un)dead queen and finding his lost daughter in a brothel.

 

Now, if you ever stumble upon some unbelievable and unrealistic plot twist in a soap opera, remember this: Nobody’s perfect!

Gute Laune Lieder

Es ist Mitte Juni, das Wetter ist trüb und in meinem Kopf läuft seit Tagen “Nothing Compares 2 You” in Endlosschleife. Höchste Zeit, mal wieder eine ordentliche iTunes-Playlist mit meinen aktuellen Instant-Gute-Laune-Songs zusammenzustellen.

Und hier sind sie!

1. Wretch 32 feat. L & Marteria – Traktor

Wessen Körper sich bei diesem Lied nicht bewegen muss, hat wohl zu viel Valium geschluckt. Traktor hört sich am besten bei Sonnenschein im Auto mit offenen Fenstern und Sonnenbrille auf der Nase. Am besten natürlich auch laut!

Und vor allem die Zeile “Sie tanzt wie ein Traktor, du tanzt wie ein Fahrrad” zaubert mir immer ein Lächeln auf die Lippen, egal wie schlecht es mir geht. So schön absurd und paradox, dass das Kopfkino ganz von selbst ausgelöst wird.

Für alle unter euch, die Marteria noch nicht kennen: Hören! Sein Album Zum Glück in die Zukunft hat einen Stammplatz in meine CD-Wechsler und wird mittlerweile auswendig mitgerappt. Am besten: Kate Moskau, Marteria Girl, und die ultimative Songempfehlung für alle, die sich im Fitnessstudio auf dem Crosstrainer gerne mal wie Super Mario fühlen würden: Endboss.

2. Kate Nash – Mouthwash

Ja, Kate Nash ist nicht jedermanns Sache, aber meine definitiv. Ich höre die Alben zwar nicht so oft, aber besonders Mouthwash sorgt immer für Gute Laune. Und das “And I’m singing Oh Oh on a Friday night” lässt sich so schöne mitsingen, -lallen, -gröhlen.

3. Marius Müller-Westernhagen – Sexy

Westernhagen ist meine Allzweckwaffe. Für jede Stimmung gibt es ein Lied: im betrunkenen Zustand kommt Taximann super, bei Liebeskummer ist Lass uns Leben nie fehl am Platz, und um sich einfach mal so richtig gut zu fühlen kommt das Sexy mit whiskyrauchiger Stimme gerade recht.

4. Sido und Doreen – Nein!

Genauso wie das Album von Marteria, verdient auch das Unplugged von Sido nen Stammplatz auf der iTunes-Playlist. Viele mögen zwar Hey Du! mit Kurt Krömer viel lieber, aber mein Favorit ist und bleibt Nein! mit Doreen. Da ich das Lied so gerne höre, muss ich auch zugeben, dass ich schon etwas traurig war, als ich von der Trennung von Sido und Doreen erfahren habe. Es ist leicht peinlich, aber ich habe etwas mitgelitten…

5. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Ni***s in Paris

Ich kann noch nicht genau sagen, wie lange sich dieses Lied auf meiner Guten-Laune-Liste halten wird, aber im Moment ist es auf jeden Fall drauf. Ich war auf dem Konzert in Frankfurt und bei 4mal Ni***s in Paris (geschlagene 19 Minuten… siehe das Video) hat man den Beat irgendwann so drin, dass “Ball So Hard” zum Lebensmotto wird und man sich nie wieder traut, Fischfilet zu bestellen, denn das ist uncool! You don’t wanna be a bourgie girl!

Was sind eure Instant-Gute-Laune-Songs und was haltet ihr so von meiner Auswahl? Wenn ihr Tipps für mich habt, dann bitte immer her damit!