Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pierre Klossowski: “Diana at her Bath & The Women of Rome” & “The Baphomet”: Reviews

These two books follow “Roberte Ce Soir & The Evocation of the Edict of Nantes” as intellectual exercises, couched less as fiction and more as essays in “Diana,” and as a more straightforward (relatively speaking) imaginary excursion in “The Baphomet.” The preface, included in the latter novel, is an essay by Michel Foucault on the moment of Acteon’s attempt to restrain the huntress. Well-written and easier to understand than perhaps Klossowski in his many recondite moments, Foucault’s essay, however, seems oddly placed. It should have been introducing the other book—the one on Diana!

“The Baphomet” appears in a handsome volume, with four illustrations by the author. This tale does open more dramatically than most of his imaginary stories, with the Templars’ infamous rituals about to be exposed. This shifts into a visit from a sufflation, a breathed spirit, of St Teresa (spelled here in the French fashion) of Avila. The problem is that the characters in the action, such as it is, have been turned into emanations seeking vainly a re-entry into the flesh. Such is their fate, repeated endlessly, and they cannot hope for any exit from this existentialist cycle. So seems the case, according to the saint. As with Klossowski’s earlier fictions, this predicament inspires extended theological and diabolical debate. Eventually, centered around the androgynous figure who incarnates as the Baphomet, the arc segues back to the Templars’ earlier clash-- before another seismic jolt forward. Near the end, an enchanting meditation on Martha vs. Mary enters into a consideration for what we’d call “living in the moment”—yet this earns eloquent expression, a reminder of the difficulty we have in living in a time that does not seem our own. Klossowski by his narrative appears to instruct us to forget fitting in, and to embrace the suspended, brief, fleeting moments when we slip temporal bounds.

The book stops suddenly—as does the recounting of the Ovid encounters retold in “Diana.” A translator of Vergil, Klossowski’s ability to plumb the intricacies of Ovid and the Latin poetics reveal a careful scholar as well as an adventurous adept. I cannot say the book succeeds as its own totally engrossing or assuredly mimetic fiction, but in the spirit of Barthes, this compilation works well enough, if rather tediously for my less refined tastes. “Women of Rome” contrasts the erotic staging with the liberated sexuality of the classical tableaux dramatized. Critical notes grace both editions; “The Women” itself is more an excursus or series of appendices than its own full-fledged, extended text.

Klossowski’s method often appears to me scattershot, with rare moments of insight couched in overly mannered prose stylized in the fashion of French philosophical speculation, scholastic terminology borrowed from Catholic medieval erudition, and sporadic episodes of brief erotic grappling. I cannot imagine that there are many readers sufficiently educated in the nuances of all three discourses. But Klossowski, ex-Dominican seminarian, student of Bataille, mentored by Gide, and explicator of Sade and Nietzsche, is the one writer who’d search for and reward perhaps this rarified audience.

(Posted to Amazon; Image: a late sketch by PK)

No comments: