Berlin to Shanghai – out of the frying pan into the fire?
The night before I fly I am in my sleeping bag, nose-to-nose one last time with Ilka’s bookcase.
I can’t sleep.
I scan her books for something – anything – post-feminist; none of this po-faced anti-sex nonsense. Karen Kleinfelder’s tome has been replaced in its alphabetically rightful slot. I leaf through it again: maybe her erudition will helpfully put me to sleep.
‘…any representation that explicitly thematizes the act of representation is self-referential twice over, the act of representation playing a dual role as both signified and signifier.’
I used to have patience with this kind of academic writing, but it requires a kind of optimistic belief in our layers and layers of sophistication as humans. Doesn’t age and maturity bring the realisation we’re simply animals?
Or is it only me? Getting lazy in my old age?
‘…Situated at the point of intersection between these two co-ordinates is the image, precariously balanced between the formal configuration and the enframing metafiguration…’
But then a footnote wakes up my brain: Kleinfelder reacting to another academic’s opinion that flies in the face of her own thesis that Picasso‘s act of painting equates with the sex act. Lise Vogel benignly suggests that Picasso ‘has a certain sensitivity to the nature of contemporary social and sexual relations’.
‘Traitor!’ cries Kleinfelder (my précis). Then Vogel offends Karen even more, directly ridiculing feminists who say men’s creative work ‘is essentially equivalent to sex from the standpoint of a man, with the ever-present implication that such endeavours are perhaps not quite so valuable, so virile, as a good fuck.’
‘How dare you let Picasso and all these other bastards off the hook!’ yells Kleinfelder (My paraphrase again).
For god’s sake, Karen, men are men. Let them be.
Have I become an anti-feminist?
Whatever. I use a pen lying on the bookshelf to mark the text so that Ilka might one day be entertained by it.
‘Are you defacing my book?’
‘Ilka! God – you made me jump! No, not defacing. Just asterisking some bollocks.’
Ilka grins, ‘Still wanting to educate me,’ yet looks deeply sad. She flops onto my sleeping-bagged feet. Her raincoat is wet. Her hand lands on the hump of my knee.
‘Thought you were staying over in Leipzig! Why have you come home?’
‘Because it’s the end of our story. Because we have to say goodbye. Because I’m worried about you. Because we’re both going to be lonely again.’
‘Get this’ – I tap the page I’m on: ‘even though Kleinfelder concedes Picasso’s images present a little bit more ambivalence than simply the – quote – “familiar theme of art-as-creative-rape-of-the-model,” she’s got this fixation that his entire approach is about likening creativity to sex, from a man’s standpoint.’ I look up. ‘My question is, why is that actually a problem?’
Ilka takes me by the shoulders. ‘You’re such a crap listener.’
Will she – for once – give me a good shaking? Lay down the law? Isn’t that what I need?
But then she lets go again. Looks at her hands. ‘Are you going to have one of your so-called “fling-ettes” with Bel?’
‘I’m going to Shanghai to write my novel.’
‘Why can’t you just stay still and love somebody? Relationships are hard work. You have to stick at them. Please, Suki. Change your mind. Please.’
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