Olympia is one of the most famous paintings, one that could say marked the iconic launch of the modern era in art. The background to the work may be seen in Charles Baudelaire’s the Flowers of Evil, a very pessimistic series of poems on the burgeoning industrial revolution surge in consumerism and the new dynamic of the urban setting which saw the emergence of the flaneur, the dandy, the rag-picker and the prostitute as marginalized byproducts of the metropolis.
The prostitute became the archetypal symbol of commoditized society, one who is the commodity and the seller in one, the shop-window and the store. Relationship with a prostitute, existed in that folded space between the rigid social world of work and home, and the ambiguous world of the ephemeral metropolis.Certainly, Baudelaire was attracted to the overlap, of crossing those boundaries. He even asked, why do men of intellect prefer prostitutes to society women, though both are equally dumb? The response he posited was in the freedom that such meetings permitted and boredom droves Baudelaire towards such encounters, and repulsion finally drove him away. But, Paris is a marketplace where the individual is commoditised, and the individual becomes submerged into this heap of trash. …
Kuspit: …There is always a temptation to perverse, forbidden sexual acts. As Freud writes in Civilization and Its Discontents (1929), “the irresistibility of perverse instincts, and perhaps the attraction in general of forbidden things,” can be explained by the fact that “the feeling of happiness derived from the satisfaction of a wild instinctual impulse untamed by the ego is incomparably more intense than that derived from sating an instinct that has been tamed.” Perverse impulses, by their very nature, and by the fact that they have been seriously inhibited by socialization — from weaning and toilet-training on — thus depriving one of deep pleasure, all the more so because it is instantaneous, can never be completely satisfied. …
…Let’s go back to Manet’s Olympia, the painting with which it all began, and still the most subtly perverse — which also means anti-bourgeois, for bourgeois sex is presumably normal sex, that is, never ventures beyond the missionary position — to grasp what’s at stake in perversion, and that perverse deviation from traditional art called modern art. Why was the work so offensive — so shocking to the bourgeois, or, as I would rather say, emotionally terrorizing? Manet himself was bourgeois, and knew the bourgeois had a perverse underside — knew that the bourgeois male could only satisfy his sexual curiosity, that is, the full range of his sexual impulses, with a prostitute. (Apparently Manet himself was a customer, and caught the syphilis from which he died from a prostitute.) Olympia is a prostitute, and Manet’s paintings of her suggest the two sides of perversion — perversion as an attitude and perversion as a practice.
There is another issue here. That of incest, that is a secondary but implied theme in Olympia. The incest taboo, child abuse, and part of bourgeois society’s pathogenic reaction to the picture was grounded in the fear of the exposure of the extent of child abuse. The ambivalent, aggressive and sexual attraction to one’s own children. Narcissism, and objectification of the child. Seduction and sadism.
Kuspit: One could sexually behave with a bad prostitute as one could not with one’s good wife. Indeed, if one had one’s perverse way with one’s wife she wouldn’t be good, especially if she let one do so. One could pay — thus soothing one’s superego — a prostitute to perform, in a kind of ritualistic daze, all kinds of perverse acts that one could never pay one’s wife enough to perform — acts that she would regard as lewd, abnormal, obscene, bad, disgusting, unsavory, filthy, etc. — acts that would profane the sacred marriage bed. Such pseudo-intimate physical acts — fellatio, cunnilingus, anal intercourse, sadomasochistic use and abuse (of genitals and breasts), to name those that most interested the Marquis de Sade (he also liked the smell of excrement — nothing perverse was alien to him) — involve what Freud called regression to the polymorphous perversity of childhood, presumably more pleasurable than straightforward, socially approved genital intercourse because more “primitive,” unrestrained, and above all narcissistic, that is, its inconsiderateness of the other, even indifference to the other’s independent existence and individuality. The other becomes simply an extension of oneself, more particularly, of one’s body. …
In the same way, one could do with one’s children, a sort of transference psychic as well as physical, what one would repress with their spouse. Let the children absorb the psychic garbage, and act as free prostitutes in a form of dependence.The dysfuntional family each requiring its black sheep/prostitute , its metaphorical subject for its honor killings repeated in a chronic manner. V.D. and syphilis of thought. The countless psychic deaths and the tortures at the whim and hands of people they were most encouraged to trust is part of this perversion Baudelaire saw in the space between the fixed world and the fluid urban setting. The prostitute as child in a very twisted relationship with an older client. Pretty babies.
Kuspit: …He’s all too familiar and boring, and what she’s going to do for him is all too familiar and boring. She’s given up counting how many times sh
217;s done it before. She’s the embodiment of ennui — a very vulgar incarnation of a very vulgar kind of ennui, in an explicitly vulgar picture. It is a picture that, in both its subject matter and style, is a prime example of what Frankl calls “regressive desublimation” — of the female body and, more generally, sexuality….
…As is well-known, many of the bored women in Manet’s café scenes are prostitutes, and Olympia is one of them with her clothes off. She’s not particularly attractive, but beauty is irrelevant to perversion. Her inertness, signaling that she is an unfeeling thing that one can use as one wants, matters more than her looks, as do her fetishistic slippers, bracelet, the ribbon around her neck and the flower in her hair, to describe her from bottom to top, which is the way she will probably be mounted.
Sex for her is not love, not even lust — it is a daily routine, like any other, and often as tedious. It is a job, implicitly sanctioned by society, indeed, socially necessary, and often high-paying however looked down on. “The pervert in general, and Sade in particular,” Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel writes, “sets out, consciously or unconsciously, to make a mockery of the law by turning it ‘upside down’. . . . Erosion of the double difference between the sexes and the generations is the pervert’s objective.” Olympia’s male customer is older than her, as Masked Ball at the Opera makes clear, and for him any one of her orifices will sexually do — in particular he prefers her closed mouth and hidden anus, which will open at his command. The more “upside down” the sex the more perversely satisfying. His indifference to her vagina, or his random use of it — or any of her orifices — as a toilet for discharge of his sperm, which he treats as so much excrement or waste pressing to be released from his body and flushed away, suggests, however unconsciously, his indifference to her sexual “difference.” Thus she is a piece of shit in what Chasseguet-Smirgel calls “the anal universe” which the pervert creates — a universe in which things are as undifferentiated and meaningless as excrement, the worthless end-product of digestion….
…Olympia creates this universe by her indifference and ennui — her sleepwalking through perversion. The passive aggressivity of her indifference, which is her way of defying her customer’s perverse dictates — her masochistic failure and refusal to emotionally relate, indeed, to feel anything during the perverse physical act, which is an emotional aggression against herself as well as her male customer — turns him into a piece of excrement. He de-differentiates into just another John, as it were.
But she also becomes just another whore, confirming the John’s unconscious fantasy of her body as a piece of shit he can play with like a perverse boy, animating at will what otherwise looks inanimate and will-less, as Olympia does, for all her supposed animality. Her emotional lethargy — even deadness, certainly lack of vitality — is more than equal to his perverse instincts, and just as perverse in its indifference to the other. One might say that the no-positions-barred physical closeness of Olympia and her customer is the measure of their unbridgeable emotional distance from each other, and from themselves. …Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazine/FEATURES/kuspit/kuspit6-10-02.asp
“Baudelaire makes modern, metropolitain prostitution ‘one of the main objects of his poetry.’ Not only is the whore the subject matter of his lyrical expression; she is the model for his own activity. The ‘prostitution of the poet,’ Baudelaire believed, was ‘an unavoidable necessity.’” As Benjamin himself put it, “Baudelaire knew how things really stood for the literary man: As flâneur, he goes to the literary marketplace, supposedly to take a look at it, but already in reality to find a buyer” .
Benjamin also observed that the prostitute held a special fascination for the modern artist because she was subject and object in one, both the seller of flesh and the fleshly commodity that was sold. This parallel between the situations of artist and prostitute was both fascinating and troubling for male writers and artists. For painters in particular, it was complicated by the relationship between artist and model, which recapulates in certain respects the situation of client and prostitute, and indeed, many models were also the sexual objects of their painters.Read More:http://www.brown.edu/Departments/MCM/people/scholes/Pic_Joy/Part_1_340.html