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from The Apologizer by Milan Kundera

There’s just loads of French out there to read these days. Not just a new Houellebecq novel, but another Kundera book as well. The Festival of Insignificance will be his first novel in more than a decade. I’m in the midst of the French version, but the translation comes out next month and I seriously doubt I’ll finish it before then. Here is a selection of a selection in The New Yorker a few weeks back:

It was the month of June, the morning sun was emerging from the clouds, and Alain was walking slowly down a Paris street. He observed the young girls: every one of them showed her naked navel between trousers belted very low and a T-shirt cut very short. He was captivated, captivated and even disturbed: it was as if their seductive power resided no longer in their thighs, their buttocks, or their breasts but in that small round hole at the center of the body.

This provoked him to reflect: if a man (or an era) sees the thighs as the center of female seductive power, how does one describe and define the particularity of that erotic orientation? He improvised an answer: the length of the thighs is the metaphoric image of the long, fascinating road (which is why the thighs must be long) that leads to erotic achievement. Indeed, Alain said to himself, even in mid-coitus the length of the thighs endows woman with the romantic magic of the inaccessible.

If a man (or an era) sees the buttocks as the center of female seductive power, how does one describe and define the particularity of that erotic orientation? He improvised an answer: brutality, high spirits, the shortest road to the goal, a goal that is all the more exciting for being double.

If a man (or an era) sees the breasts as the center of female seductive power, how does one describe and define the particularity of that erotic orientation? He improvised an answer: sanctification of woman, the Virgin Mary suckling Jesus, the male sex on its knees before the noble mission of the female sex.

But how does one define the eroticism of a man (or an era) that sees female seductive power as centered in the middle of the body, in the navel?

How? indeed! Read more here.

Comments

  1. Broderick Barker says:

    Without peeking ahead: it’s not the navel and its sly tease as the one orifice that cannot be used for sex. It’s the flat belly around the navel, unstretched by pregnancy, unpadded by age. It’s the worship of virginity, and by extension, youth: territory that is so far unexplored, unconquered.

  2. Interesting that the one part not mentioned (except in passing and almost by accident as one of the twins in the part about the buttocks) is the true source and summit (if I can be somewhat irreverent) of eroticism/fecundity.

    Or did I miss something?

    JOB

    • Broderick Barker says:

      Well, it does open with a discussion of the way the women are dressed. There is clothing that accentuates leg, breast, butt, belly. But that source/summit? Ill-fitting yoga pants, maybe?

    • Quin Finnegan says:

      Or did he miss something?

      I think he may be purposely excluding the true source and summit, his interest being in the journey rather than the destination, as it were. And that however much eroticism has always confused the journey for the destination, this development in which the navel becomes the new source and summit reveals something about our condition at this point in history.

      But that’s just my speculation. I’m slogging my way through the French version now, and will let you know what turns up.

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