I clocked off from my research for two weeks, during which time, Samantha Brick-gate happens. I don’t want to add to the sheer volume of words generated by the incident, instead, I wanted to blog the final encounter with the showgirl in my second chapter. My research, to reiterate, investigates both my own feelings of loving showgirls and the experiences of showgirls themselves. It is my hope, wish, intention, that through opening up my feelings of sisterhood and respect for glamorous women, that I may potentially add to a rich, healthy discussion and how women relate to one another in positive, sisterly ways. I am completely fed-up with the trite worn-out trope of women’s competition amongst each other. It is not what I feel or experience.
In a tiny bar, Cellar Door, underneath the Aldwytch, London, I put cocktails I could not afford on my credit card. As it was a bar, a middle-aged man chatted to me, asking what I do. I told him. He began to tell me what he thought about burlesque, informing me how little affect it could have. I began speculate a politics of burlesque, perhaps, femininity and the potential for collectivising around specific issues, citing the Slut Walks as an example. He responded by telling that as he could not see what all the fuss was about with the Slut Walks. As he saw it, it was a good idea to avoiding dress like a slut and going to bad areas, in reference to the initial comments by the police representative, who addressing a group of students in Toronto, which hard sparked the initial protests. Hearing his prejudiced, short-sighted views, in which his sense of entitlement had blinded him of other peoples’ experiences, caused an internal incandescent rage. I did not want to have tell him how totally ignorant, misogynistic he was and his sense of entitlement to tell me about my research and experience as a woman in that specific context, so instead I died a little inside. I was gradually able to disassociate from him as the performers did their turns. Hannah Friedrick, sang jazz interpretations of pop songs including Material Girl, Wild Thing and songs from Jungle Book, to hilarious effect. I was singing along and I was able to relax and make a few notes in my notebook. I drank another cocktail and started to chat to Beatrix Von Bourbon, the burlesque dancer, before she performed. We had tweeted each earlier in the day. Then, as Beatrix started her second and final strip of the evening, I stopped writing and I closed my notebook, so that I could be present in the moment.
The strip was a perfect moment and the performer owned the room. She performed for the audience, as an act of generosity. She was experienced and educated enough to be aware of what she was doing. It did not feel sleazy or uncomfortable despite the number’s conclusion in which the performer’s nudity was in close proximity to the audience. She was prepared to be our object of desire for a moment, because she chose to be. And as I watched, still, not far from the middle-aged man, I thought, yeah fuck you, you have no idea what this means, what pleasure the performer is generating. You have no idea what this means!
Amongst the pleasure-experiences I have described, this was a very simple encounter: a tiny bar and a dancer with a fabulous heavily tattooed body in a great outfit. During the short act, my attention was focussed and nothing else existed. The formula was minimal, but completely accessible to me. I just felt happiness. I felt happy a woman could produce the moment. I felt sisterhood for the performer.
The pounding, relentless forward propulsion towards the end of the world in ‘Melancholia’ experienced through the emotional breakdown of Justine serves to illustrate just how little agency the individual has. Against impending disaster: economic, environmental, political we experience only our own our emotional response. That’s all we can feel. As the film shows, we have no manoeuvre room to change the direction of the hidden planet Melancholia. We can change nothing. Just feel the catastrophe.
The first time I watched the film, I enmeshed my own feelings I was experiencing of dislocation, estrangement and research-confusion into Justine’s pull downwards into depression. Maybe she was the only one who understood what the end of the world meant. Maybe she was the only one who intuited it. The unrelenting unravelling and unhinging of Justine drives the film. Her inverted charisma cyclones, collecting up the cinema-spectators with tear-stained faces. It can wrap you into the storm, if you let it. As I walked away from the cinema in November I could feel my own cyclone collecting all my failures, all my doubts, fears, flaws. Like a magnet, the affect of film searched my psyche and found all the negativity. I had no agency. I could feel the self-doubt rush to the surface. I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe, I was hyperventilating.
The second time I saw the film, the cyclone didn’t pick me up. I watched the film dispassionately. I saw only the metaphor of the film. And the hand-held camera work and lens flare. Holding myself outside the film, I could see the mannered personas with their limitations. If I say they were one dimensional, that is not to suggest a weakness in script or acting, rather, the characters were roles, functions, once that function was completed, the character was over. The script, a product of a misanthrope’s mind, no-one comes off well, but oh! they look good. I love the running through wool, the naked moonbathing, sex under dress. All these sensuous pleasures: they return the depressed subject back into her body. She can feel.
I don’t cry the second time I see the film. I watch, distanced. I choose not to descend into the film.
It’s like I told you honey, don’t make me sad, don’t make me cry.
Lana del Rey saved me from ‘Melancholia’ that second time. Her song ‘Born to Die’ takes control of the descent. She describes mental tumbling downward, in this song, through a destructive compulsion toward the archetypal bad boy – is it even him she loves, or just how he looks?
Come and take a walk on the wild side. Let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain, like your girls insane.
The song is an ode to the pleasure of the descent. Lana chooses to pursue the pleasure of failing, for the wrong boy, the wrong life choice, the wrong drug. But this is the song of the sober person. Remembering the feelings of disembodiment, disenchantment, wanting to feel, feel something. Even if those feelings are the most negative and masochistic. An ode to the masochistic pull of falling down, into hyperventilated tears. The fond rememberings of someone back on terra firma. Choosing not descend again.
Choose your last words, this is the last time cause you and I we were born to die.
Moving back and forth between the so cool it hurts car-bonnet sex in jeans-shorts and Converse and sitting, queen of her dominion with a her tigers, in white femme-fatale dress, blue rose-crown and red lips, there is no sexier way to tell the story of the love-affair that nearly killed you. The affair, here, a love affair, but also we could insert any death-drive behaviour that we will upon ourselves, bringing us back into our own body. I guess my drug of choice is my quiet victim-moments in which I force myself to envisage and feel the catastrophic failure of my research and career. But I have a choice, I can choose that choice. Own that choice, own my feelings. The individual, with her agency.
Here’s the performance paper I delivered at ‘Who Do We Think We Are: Representing the Human’, in March 2011 at the Royal Holloway The Showgirl Speaks! Paper
In the dark theatre I could not make notes. I make notes in the pub afterwards:
I also visited Paradis Latin, and here are my notes from that show. At the end of the evening I rode a ‘velib’ – a bike you can rent in the street, to my friend’s flat to say goodbye to her before she travelled back to Berlin. Just some context for you!