On the evening of May 6, as Attanasio and I wandered down 10th Avenue in Chelsea, he stopped in front of a small gallery that had an innocuous landscape painting displayed in the window. Taking a black marker from his inside pocket, he discreetly scrawled on the window, in about one second, 'This Art Sux Go to Another Gallery.'
I burst out laughing and said, “I know one other artist who’s almost as crazy as you are.”
“What do you mean?” He sounded suspicious, as if such a thing were impossible.
“I mean she’s pushing 80 but still parties like she’s 19 and smokes weed like a Rastafarian. She was my art director when I was doing the porn mags. Now she does porno paintings… and a lot of other stuff, too. You should meet her.”
He thought that was a good idea, so I called my former colleague and she said, “C’mon over.”
I found out Attanasio was dead on December 16, 2015, from a review of one of his movies on the New Yorker website. Sound Camera Rotation, made in 1977 but now being shown at an art gallery on the Lower East Side, was “witty” and “a slapstick gem,” the critic said.
What a great review, I thought as I began reading, amazed that the film was suddenly getting so much attention. I also wondered why my old friend hadn’t invited me to the opening—until I read the last sentence: “The show turned unexpectedly elegiac: Attanasio died last month, after a brief illness, at the age of sixty-three.”
I’d known his cancer was terminal but hadn’t realized—or wanted to realize—how aggressive it was. The last time Attanasio and I had communicated, by text in mid-October, he said that he didn’t feel strong enough to have me visit or even to talk on the phone, and that it was impossible to make plans. The effects of his medication were too unpredictable.
He’d died on Friday, November 13, a day I remembered well—it was the day terrorists massacred 130 people in Paris.
I hadn’t heard the news about Robert Attanasio because we no longer had any mutual friends; nobody I knew from City College was still in touch with him. When he first e-mailed me, in early February 2015, nearly 30 years had passed since we’d last seen each other. We hadn’t had a falling out. We’d just drifted apart.
Diversity is something that sexually explicit media have broadly failed at for centuries. While we all have our preferences, the ‘norm’ from which erotic media deviate to a greater or lesser extent is still defined by youth, whiteness, heterosexuality, and framed by the male gaze. For every civil rights victory and ‘equality and diversity away day’ the world has seen, too many contemporary representations of sex are still limited to fit, able-bodied white people fucking in a penthouse.
The Marquis de Sade tells us that his epic catalogue of perversions, The 120 Days of Sodom, should be treated like a vast banquet. Enjoy the breadth of what’s on offer, pick what you enjoy, and leave what you don’t. Criticise neither the host for giving you such wealth of choice, nor your fellow diners for picking what you find unappetising. Appreciate that dishes which might seem the same to you are, in fact, delicately nuanced. In short, don’t be prudish at the table: be philosophical.
Admittedly, advice from Sade should usually be taken with a large pinch of salt (I’m no advocate for abduction, cannibalism, and baroque torture machines myself). Yet we could do worse than adopt his approach to explicit literature. Sex, like eating, is invariably a question of taste. So while Eimear McBride’s critique of Desire: 100 of literature’s sexiest stories is undoubtedly well intentioned, I can’t help but think she would make a judgemental dinner guest.
It’s a funny time of year. Somehow the absence of visitors makes the landscape quieter. In the season it is as if the hum of their activities transmits even at night to the moors. Down at the Old Doom Bar we regulars retreat to the snug in small numbers and the landlord or his wife sometimes join us, though willing to knock out scampi and chips if we fancy them.
The women are less in evidence. This is because they are busy with seasonal preparations. As well as list-making, baking and provision planning these include two day excursions to favoured shopping centres such as Bath which is a smart city with spas and high end hairdressers.
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Rosewater, saffron, almonds and milk – the recipe sounded like the Song of Solomon. It sounded exactly what Patrick, with his seductively angst-ridden Catholicism would adore. As Katy only had the milk she would have to go out and buy the dozen other fragrant items the curry required. It would be an offering to Patrick, an offering of love.
She liked shopping for spices. Cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, frankincense and cloves, nutmeg, mint, bay leaves and myrrh, turmeric, garam masala, gold...Spices were the precious stones of the food world. Poor man’s diamonds. The saffron came in a tiny plastic box engraved with gold curlicues like a jewel case. It cost £1.75. Katy liked the idea of a luxury that cost less than two pounds.
The grocery round the corner had everything she needed. Carrying it all to the checkout, she buried her nose in the coriander and mint and sighed over their green scent. The man behind the counter, eyes glued to a Turkish soap opera on the TV in the corner, glanced at her and smiled.
‘What the fuck did he say?’
The Dean was used to speaking plainly to the Communications Director.
‘He said, The Min Ed wouldn’t know a rational argument if it knelt down in front of him and sucked him off.’
‘And who all knows about this?’
‘A reporter on the Traffic saw it. About 2,000 followers, ten of whom have already retweeted it.’
‘And is the Traffic going to run something?’
‘Looks like it. We could brief them off the record’, he suggested, ‘that the University has internal disciplinary proceedings. We’ll have to take time to see if they apply in this case. Or we could tell them to fuck off. And if they drag us into this their free pass to the graduation ceremony will get lost in the post.’
‘What about the wee cunt himself?’
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In our new GALLERY section, Julia discusses her work. "My project, The Act, is a multi-faceted study of women who engage voluntarily in the UK sex-industry, their reasons for choosing this career path, and their feelings about their work. It includes images, and ‘stories’ in text and as well as online videos. During the project, I was involved not only as a photographer, but as a ‘normal’ woman observing other women unabashedly engaging in acts during which they exploit their sexuality and their physicality to earn their living. It was a stimulating experience from start to finish. It took me on an unexpected and daring adventure seeing life from a distinctly different perspective than one I lead. These are my thoughts on my photographic odyssey into the world of the sex industry."
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'What can MRI scans of brains in orgasm tell us? Past editrice of the Erotic Review Rowan Pelling reveals how the science of la petite mort might might hold the key to abolishing pain. This debate is brought to you by the Institute of Art and Ideas, home to cutting-edge philosophy and ideas from the world’s leading thinkers."
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DESIRE: FROSTRUP & EROTIC REVIEW
100 of literature’s sexiest stories, chosen by Mariella Frostrup and the Erotic Review.
Strict mistresses, naughty maids, handsome gardeners and disarming strangers; literature is awash with love, sex and desire. This collection brings together 100 of the best examples, hand-picked by Mariella Frostrup and the Erotic Review.
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