The Separation of Church & State
I’ve been thinking about this scene in a male brothel (is that the right word for males? It’s a bathhouse but with professional interests) in Jean Cocteau’s Le Livre Blanc. (Oh, if you don't like homoerotics with strangely disconnected yet warm descritptions that tease at purple prose then, well, I don't know, read anything but Cocteau's Le Livre Blanc.)
"One of my few regrets was the two-way mirror. You went into a dark cabin and opened a shutter. This shutter revealed a metallic canvas through which the eye could see a small bathroom. On the other side of the canvas was a mirror that reflected so well from such a smooth surface that it was impossible to guess that it was full of eyes.
"Due to financial reasons I happened to spend a Sunday there. Out of the twelve mirrors in the twelve bathrooms it was the only one of this sort. The owner had acquired it for a very high price and had had it brought from Germany. His staff were unaware of the observatory. The young working-class men supplied the show.
"They all followed the same routine. They undressed and hung up their new suits carefully. Once they were out of their Sunday best their delightful professional deformities made it possible to guess their jobs. Standing up in the bath, they would look at themselves (and me) and begin by a Parisian grimace that bares the gums. Then they would rub one shoulder, pick up the soap and make it lather. The soaping turned into a caress. Suddenly their eyes left the world, their head would fall back and their body spit like a furious animal.
"Some of them sank down exhausted into the steaming water, while others began the same procedure all over again; the youngest ones were distinguishable because they climbed out of the bath and wiped from the tiles the sap that their blind stems had hurled distantly, madly, towards love. Once, a Narcissus who was pleasuring himself, brought his mouth up to the mirror, glued it to the glass and completed the adventure with himself. Invisible as a Greek god, I pressed my lips against his and imitated his gesture. He never knew that the mirror, instead of reflecting, was participating, that it was alive and loved him."
Reading this the other day I was struck with overwhelming confidence that this was a perfect rendering of the erotics of the text, an ars poetica via mutual masking, deception & performance. Both parties exhilarated & deluded. But returning to it today I couldn’t figure out which one I thought was the writer & which one the reader.