Hans Bellmer – Girl (19XX)
But this…this has gotten right under my skin to a degree only a handful of things–mostly music–have ever managed.
My instinct is to start by diminishing any personal interest in the hebephilic content. But in so doing, I distance myself from the work; I engage it on my own terms with a near total disregard for context. This strikes me as gallingly disingenuous.
It is fucking absurd to divorce something like this or the majority of Balthus’ oeuvre from a reckoning the relationship between the female experience of puberty and the formation of an individual sexual self. For fuck’s sake, it’s not just a pathological fixation, it’s the goddamn foundation of the work.
I won’t argue that hebephilia is a ‘normal’ sexual orientation; but I refuse to relegate it to abnormality. (Also, what the fuck is ‘normal’ anyway. whatever it is, I am sure it is fucking God-awfully boring.)
I will argue instead that dismissing the inconvenient or the problematic in a work demonstrating such rigorous mastery of craft should be tempered by two considerations:
- As a capital-A Artist, there is less duty to notions of social propriety and strictures and more to the abiding by the commandment: homo/mulier sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.
- Be mindful of Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion, i.e. to be human is to be subject to consequences.
In her widely acclaimed Bellmer biography The Anatomy of Anxiety, Sue Taylor reports that Bellmer told Unica Zürn that without the valve that drawing young girls offered him, he would’ve almost certainly have “resorted to sexual murder.”
In all likelihood, Bellmer and Balthus as well, while were at it were probably not far off from what Dan Savage terms a gold star [hebephile]. Yet, instead of submitting to an instinctive programmed drive, they sublimated the drive and openly integrated it into their creative efforts.
Maybe I am the only one, but I find something admirable in this. Yes, it certainly makes for unsettling work–something I expect from art is a degree of terrorism. But to me, I prefer the truth to any sort of self-deception. At least, Bellmer and Balthus are out in front with it. There are the Jock Sturges’ of the world who mask who and what they are with an empty sheen of art pretense.
I’ve gotten far afield from this image–which to be clear, I fucking love. It’s partly something about the clean lightness of the lines, partly the surrealist globular floating secretions that could be either vaginal or seminal. (If the latter, then there would be a rather strong correspondence with this.)
More than all that, it reminds me of what it felt like to feel both curiosity and shame about my own body. But to have curiosity always win out and the liquid feeling of pleasure and shame that always descended in slow, powerful waves after. As well as the Freudian gender ambiguity. I am just stunned by this because it so effortlessly captures a feeling that resonates with my own memories of sexual awakening.