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Home Books, Arts, Stage Is Art, and especially Music, an avatar of sexuality?

Is Art, and especially Music, an avatar of sexuality?

by Francis Benoît Cousté

To start with… preliminary generalities

There are two ways of looking at the world: one dry (appealing to the Ratio), the other wet (to the Intuitio) – the first arousing our interest, the second our emotion.

In the same way echoing the admirable formula of the British epistemologist Karl Popper in “Clocks and clouds”, which opposes the dryness of science and technology, to the wet, the hormonal, the glandular, to which the art, eroticism and spirituality – all things that give meaning to life …

Finally, who knows the apple best – the chemist who analyzes it or the one who bites it? The woman, her lover or her gynecologist? … And Victor Hugo exclaimed: “Reason is intelligence in action. Imagination is erect intelligence.

Glenn Gould

Moreover, the beauty of a work was never linked to its level of complexity! And the adamantine perfection of a Mozartian melody is no less admirable than the grandiose Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach

Also, let’s point out that unlike science, there is no progress in art – except in its stewardship: Francis Bacon is not superior to Rembrandt, nor is Boulez to Johann Sebastian Bach. Artistic languages ​​evolve in a spiral …

 Ecstasy of St Theresa (1652) by Le Bernin (1598-1680)
Cornaro chapel de Santa Maria della Vittoria. Roma

Therefore, obligatory precision: Beauty in no way resides, in my opinion, in Nature. The so-called “natural” beauty only exists in the mind of the one who contemplates it … Thus, a sunset only seems beautiful to us because we consider it as “an effect of art“, just as a thunderstorm only exalts us when it echoes our interior thunderstorms! Beneficial catharsis …

Then let’s go even further! Wouldn’t our perception of the world be aesthetic from the outset? (Except, of course, when it comes to meeting our physiological needs …)

In fact mimesis (mimetic behavior), however, muddies the waters. So far is not the object of our desires usually designated by the desire of others? Thus, fearing to distinguish ourselves from the group, or even to be frustrated with an unprecedented pleasure, we adopt the physical, clothing or mental postures of others …

Indeed this is usually the case with adolescents, in whom conformism and gregariousness reach their maximum extent … Immaturity, fragility of the ego, at the origin of all future snobbery of adulthood!

Behavior no less frequent among music lovers, this art having to do only unconsciously – “signifier devoid of signified”, the essence of which cannot be distinguished from existence …

Besides, isn’t music the only art to develop in real time? That is, its temporal unfolding is similar to that of our drives, our affects, our sex life – whereas it is, of course, quite different for literature & the visual arts.

On the whole, music is in no way an image of reality, it is “real” itself! But real abstract, resistant to any figuration … What in his exquisite way, Salvador Dali said very well: “I hate music, because it is incapable of describing a fried egg placed on a chair!

Consequently, stronger than any other is the hold of music on our inner selves! And if we readily admit that we criticize our ideas or our pictorial choices, this is never the case for our musical choices, which put us intimately into question. The other arts are, in fact, less meaningful, connected as they are to reality – even if, as academician Jean Dewasne professed, “In any painting, the subject is parasitic” …

This is not, however, a reason to give the same value (fashionable “egalitarianism”) to the key works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven or Debussy, and to the iterative prettiness of a Steve Reich, a Terry Riley or ‘a Phil Glass (and their epigones), without falling to the level / gutter of so-called… z’actual music.

Equality conferring equal dignity on Rembrandt and wallpaper – the latter elegantly tagged …

To sum up, isn’t the natural vocation of any artist to transgress the prohibitions, to establish disorder, the para-doxa, in order – armed with the object-dart (according to Marcel Duchamp) – to create the future order?

Theme and variations

Afterwards, to come back to sexuality, we must clearly distinguish “reproductive function“(in other words, hygienic) and “erotic function” (ie playful). As for the music, it mainly derives from the erotic function … Although the reproductive is always present there, in the form of the “same”, the identical, the repetitive – in other words, the melody. In fact, theme whose variations have an erotic function … Eternal principle of “theme & variations“, so dear to lovers and musicians!

To be clear, I will not take the [overly elaborate] example of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations (on a little waltz by the charming Diabelli), but an example borrowed from popular music.

So, when John Coltrane launches into his fabulous variations on My Favorite Things, it is not so much the theme (nice tune from Broadway) that is of value to us, but rather the prodigious cathartic delirium of the improviser, but his libidinal surge …

Therefore, this playful, erotic, libertarian character of the “variation on a theme“, the very essence of all music, has always worried the censors – from Plotinus to our Salafists, for whom there is only satanic music …

In this regard, we quote the excellent Ayatollah Khomeini: “When the brain gets used to music, it loses its normal functioning after a while, and a man loses his seriousness. It becomes unnecessary and parasitic. Music breeds immorality, lust, wanton and stifles courage, bravery and chivalrous spirit: it is prohibited by Koranic laws. ” Excellent, isn’t he, such a cutie !

Welcome in Vienna

As for Siegmund Freud, the very Judeo-Christian father of psychoanalysis, doesn’t he profess that the notion of Beauty has its roots in sexual arousal? But, stuck, stymied and puritanical as he was, the great Siegmund sees the sexual act only as a hydraulic mechanism, a mechanism without joy. Accordingly, if he willingly speaks to us about Eros (the scholastic personification of the vital momentum), he never speaks to us – what a horror! – eroticism. No more, of course, than music …

Thus, curious paranoid aversion in this cultured and highly educated Jew from the end of the 19th century – residing, what is more, in Vienna, then the music capital of the world …

Thus, in his immense work, we have only been able to identify five allusions to music. And again, were these only collateral approaches: opera librettos, lieder texts or even melodies …

Besides, we know, on the other hand, that Freud attended only one concert in his life: Yvette Guilbert’s recital – much more of a “teller” than a singer …

At the end of his life, however, he confided that he had never been moved by more than one melody: that of the Austrian National Anthem – in its martial version, of course, and not in its original version (Andante of the 3rd Quartet , op. 76 by Joseph Haydn). This hymn was then common to Austria and Germany.

[Note however that in 1946, Austria will adopt, for national anthem, Mozart’s K. 623- last work written by this one, five days before his death, for his brothers in masonry, and entitled Eine kleine Freimaurer. ]

Egon Schiele. Autoportrait en nu accroupi, 1916.
Aquarelle et crayon sur papier, H. 0,295 ; L. 0,458.
Vienne, Graphische Sammlung Albertina.

Hence this fear of flow which characterized the father of psychoanalysis – fear, in particular, of surrendering to the oceanic feeling of music – led him to take refuge in the reassuring, timeless world of concepts. And when these do not exist, he invents them: witness this concept of “Unconscious“, which he describes as a closed object, outside any temporal evolution, any dialectical perspective …

So he was only ever interested in the quantitative, the countable … Rejecting, a priori, all “ineffable” (music or erotic games); however that are of primary interest to perversions – obsessive, repetitive, sad, constraining tendencies …

Additionally, couldn’t we not explain this need for timelessness by this other concept of which he was the inventor, and to which he confers an inordinate importance: concept of “primitive scene“, trauma engendered, in his own childhood, by coital rhythms coming from his parents’ room? Intolerable acousmatic which definitively altered its relation to any rhythmic, to any temporal structuring …

Freud recognized this, however: “I am incapable of enjoying music. A rationalist or perhaps analytical disposition struggles in me against emotion when I cannot know why I am moved, or what is gripping me. “[In” The Moses of Michelangelo “,]

Thaïs (1894).Jules Massenet (1842-1912). “C’est toi mon père”

There are however psychoanalysts less stuck and stymied than him, such as the British Michael Balint (1896-1970) – who imagined two notions, Ocnophilia & Philobacy:

• the Ocnophile is a purely reasonable, methodical being; it only moves forward by hanging on to the branches

• the Philobate is, on the other hand, a creator; he likes to improvise and loves nothing so much as throwing himself into the void …

Music – outcrop of the unconscious, pure schizophrenia -, we could say that it was only a hemorrhage of orgasmic affects … Its privilege being to authorize, a piacere, the repetition of the movements of tension / relaxation – something which is hardly to us, alas! permissible… in vivo…!

Freud opposed Eros (life instinct) to Thanatos (death instinct). But no more than Eros is reducible to the sexual drive, and on the other hand Thanatos is not to any suicidal drive: Thanatos is simply appeasement, the end of tensions …

In musical discourse as well as in coitus, resolution – even if it is acme of pleasure – is feared, because it puts an end to the desiring movement! So it is, as far as possible, delayed …

Thanatos, in music, is the perfect tonic chord: resolving all tensions, what the doxa calls “little death” – which is really just… stampede!

The most explicit illustration of this being, with Wagner, the “Death of Isolde” – orgasm finally reached, epiphany after more than four hours of convulsive, Dionysian, wanton music

Let’s pulse

So far, there is another element of the musical discourse on which I would like to emphasize, because it is given a sexual significance… I want to speak of the pulsation, of this omnipresent “boom-boom” in jazz, rock and most of our popular music.

The pulsation, the pulse, the beat, whatever you call it, is the “always the same“, zero level of rhythm. The rhythm being, for its part, the “always different” …

For instance, the pleasure we can experience in hearing violently pulsing music takes us back to the most archaic phase of our history. Wasn’t our first sensory perception, in utero, the tremendous beating of our mother’s heart?

Hence the ineffable happiness, for the youngest, of immersing themselves in the amniotic paradise of nightclubs …

But, as we move away from the mother’s womb, the need to “always be different” authorizes the constitution of a real “me”. Thus attesting to the cut of the cord with “Mum” …

Although – as I said – the enjoyment aroused by this universal “boom-boom” never completely disappears …

Sexual harmony

During intercourse, the feeling of duration fluctuates widely – just as when playing or listening to music …

sexualité et art
Le Verrou (1777). Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Huile sur toile 74cm/94cm (détail). Musée du Louvre

Namely, in a couple, it is obvious that sexual harmony can only arise from the phasing of their intimate rhythms. Likewise, it is essential to musical pleasure that the listener substitutes for his own biological clock that of the musician: “Are we not music while the music lasts?” “

This is not just an analogy between erotic time & musical time, but the same flow, the same “com / union” in the same temporality.

Isn’t it, moreover, surprising that music remains the privileged domain of monomaniac fanaticism, intolerance & anathemas. Whether it is contemporary music, jazz or musette, opera, rock or rap, everyone is convinced they have the truth … And to stigmatize, in others, old-fashioned, snobbish, decadent, perverse tastes. or degenerate …

Adjacent, irreducible barriers, irrational, visceral aversions – at the source, sometimes, of the worst sectarianism – behaviors of contempt or even hatred … Hence is there another area where people feel called to give their opinion on everything and anything?

La chevauchée des Walkyries. Richard Wagner. Mise en scène Stéphane Braunschweig
Festival d’Aix-en-Provence 5 juillet 2007. DVD Bel Air Media 2008.

Indeed, our tastes betray us, in truth, much more than our political judgments. Can we not thus detect, almost infallibly, someone’s background from their favorite music? Without, however, ignoring our common concern to appear, to imitate the behavior of people imagined superior …

But for those familiar with the matter, these identity problems are easily detectable: lack of self-confidence, in one’s social or sexual appearance …

Need to join a group defined by a certain music, i.e. to display a relationship with Eros: “The music I love is my sexuality, even my background“, this is the subliminal message …

Is it not thus remarkable that, in the same environment, relationships to sex and music are associated? Those that, at least, we like to wear …

In France, for example – and this since the Ancien Régime – music has always been the “thing“, the gimmick of the privileged classes, the nobility and the upper middle class. They have always had a much freer, more natural relationship to pleasure than the working classes.

sexualité et art
L’Odalisque blonde ou Jeune fille allongée (1751). François Boucher (1703-1770)
Huile sur toile, 59.5 × 73.5 cm, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne.

To quote Witold Gombrowicz: “The idol of the vulgar is utility. The idol of the aristocracy is pleasure. ” There was always, in fact, the morality of the castle – freedom of manners, even libertinism, original familiarity with the arts and pleasure.

On the other hand, let us note the relative blocking, inhibition, pain-to-enjoyment, today, of the middle classes (French academics, in particular) vis-à-vis music, displaying:

• or a pronounced taste for austerity, from Bach to Webern [as, in painting, from Braque to Rothko] – asceticism revealing a hidden relationship to sex …

• or an exclusive taste for jazz, proclaimed by many petty-bourgeois intellectuals, music on which they fantasize about sex and / or revolution! Although jazz is hardly more erogenous or liberating than bourrée auvergnate or branle poitevin*

La Belle Hélène. Jacques Offenbach. Création par André Barbe et Renaud Doucet à l’opéra de Hambourg.

Certainly, the musical fields interpenetrate today more than yesterday, but remains the spirit of caste… It is, without convincing, that to frequent the Palais Garnier, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, even… the Zenith!

Music first

As for artists, their art is the sole basis of the pleasure principle – without any ethical consideration. Some happy quotes:

Oscar Wilde: “No artist has ethical sympathies. Such sympathy would be an unforgivable mannerism of style.

George Steiner: “How could some men play Bach and Schubert at home in the evening, and torture in the morning in the camps?

Léon Blum: “Socialism is a moral and fascism an aesthetic“.

As for saying that music softens manners, it is only to wonder about the furious music addiction of a Nero, a Gilles de Rais, a Hitler or a Stalin

Music in nazi camps

Marginal notation: I have always been intrigued by the fact that there is hardly any suicide among great composers [the only proven case being that of Bernd Alois Zimmermann, stricken with blindness]. A phenomenon without example in any other field whatsoever … Could musical creation therefore guarantee the drive for life, for Eros?

sexualité et art
蛸と海女, “Dream of the fisherman’s wife” also known as “The Diver girl (Ama) and the octopus”. Hokusai (1814)

Ultimately, let’s explore the notions of Ethics and Aesthetics. It is, in my opinion, an aberration to want to apply ordinary moral categories to the fields of artistic creation. Which is “Beyond Good and Evil” (Nietzsche)…

And however morally reprehensible in literature the works of Donatien, Marquis de Sade or Choderlos de Laclos may be, they remain nonetheless – by virtue of their eminent writing qualities – ethically elusive. So, in spite of it, the philosopher George Steiner can he claim the right to prefer the hideous Celine to the gentle Aragon!

Cantique de Jean Racine. Gabriel Fauré. Maîtrise de Radio-France, direction Sofi Jeannin, Vincent Warnier à l’orgue.
Enregistrement 28 octobre 2016, Auditorium de la Maison de la Radio. Paris

In the same perspective, here is what the novelist Michel Tournier wrote in 1978: “The normal vocation of man is to create. Everything that opposes creation is reactionary, nefarious, and absolutely wrong. Creation alone is absolutely good! Everything must bow to creation.

Music is like love; it has to be done, it has not to be said”, should I conclude with !

Editor Note: 
*Two folk French danses. Double meaning and amphibology on both words/ The Bourrée is not only a French dance but could also be translated by F...off and " Branle" which comes from the verb se branler= to jerk off.. Auvergne and Poitevin refer to French provinces situated in the center of France.

Heading: Pan. Pierre-Yves Trémois (1921-2020). Epogravure sur plaque de cuivre, contre-collée sur un panneau. 96cm/96cm

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