Such plot as there is in Rochester’s Sodom centers around the King Bolloxinion’s loss of interest in procreative sex (“I do no longer old stale Cunts admire”). The women turn to dildoes (“I grant in absence dildoes may be us’d / With milk of goats instead of sperm infus’d.”) As far as the men are concerned, the time has come to recommit themselves to buggery (“Come we miss-spend our time, we know not how / The choice of Buggery is wanting now.”) Homosexual sodomy was not unknown to the court as the play opens (“It could advise you, Sir, to make a pass / Once more at loyal Pockenello’s arse.”) The women are disappointed by their dildoes (“The simple dildoes are not worth a fart”) that are simply not big enough. Cuntigratia’s untimely demise and the demonic flames that engulf Bolloxinion are not so much an affirmation as a parody of Molière’s Festin de Pierre (Molière’s moral vision being the touchstone for much of the philosophizing of the Restoration poets).
The oft-repeated theme is that mere procreative sex is just boring:
“Nature to them but one poor Rule doth give
But man delights in various ways to swive. (Act IV)
Ass-fucking is not unlike the gift of fire:
May as the G.ds his name immortal be
That first received the gift of Buggery. (Act IV)
In the middle of the 17th century and hard on the heels of Cromwell and the Roundhead Revolution, there suddenly appears what may not least be described as a hymn to homosexuality. Most striking is that its author was not homosexual, nor was he an obscure libertine. Rather he was the finest lyric poet of his age. Rochester’s ass-fuckathon is not hidden away in a personal folie. Scattered throughout his lyrics are declarations that, if his true love of the moment won’t satisfy him, he always has a page or two in his back pocket:
Nor shall our love-fits, Cloris, be forgot,
When each the well-looked linkboy strove t’enjoy
And the best kiss was the deciding lot
Whether the boy fucked you, or I the boy.
(The Maimed Debauchee, ll. 36-40)
We are far too often treated to the distressing spectacle of homosexuals trying to pass themselves off for what they are not. For that reason there is something approaching metaphysical significance in the fact that Rochester, whose biography betrays not the slightest inclination to homosexuality, should so glorify buggery in his outrageous fresco of cyclonic sexuality. There is a specularity about Rochester that is not simply an inversion of the Proustian (Also in play is our knowledge that Shakespeare’s most moving heroines were in fact young boys). Indeed libertinism or sexual freedom is not the most important theme here. Of course, Rochester’s work presumes freedom and openness, or at least enough freedom to keep him from being drawn and quartered. But the theme of buggery is not really about the new freedom; rather it is about reversal, specularity and an echo of homosexual masking and self-deception.
Contrast Rochester’s playful outrage with the discomfort of preceding generations towards James I’s open secret not to mention the imprisonment and harassment of Théophile de Viau (touched off by a verse that could as well have been about a game of tric trac as about a homosexual encounter: Ce divertissement qu’on doit permettre à l’homme, / et que Sa Sainteté ne punit (permet?) pas à Rome, La Plainte de Théophile à son ami Tircis). That Rochester, Wycherly and Etheredge and others could have written at all, much less enjoyed such success is a tribute to that much underestimated monarch, Charles II, whose astute avoidance of civil war was misattributed to his easygoing nature. Carolus Magnus effectively enriched the concept of freedom espoused by the Roundheads to encompass not only freedom of religious behavior but also an almost complete personal freedom of expression and enjoyment. The debts incurred by pleasure did not include the outrage or revenge of the Carolingian government or society. Significantly personal freedom went hand in hand with an enthusiasm for that new thing called science, a curiosity about the world and a firm adherence to what was called at the time the mechanistic view of the universe. Charles II, the clock collector, was also Carolus II Societatis Regalis Author & Patronus and one can trace almost a direct line from Rochester’s lyric obscenity to the Principia Mathematica.
There is another aspect to the work of the first great English Pornographer, a quality that is best summed up in Bataille’s lapidary expression, “Dirty!” Sex in Bolloxinian’s court is certainly a filthy slimy affair:
Swivia: I’ll shut the door and you shall see my thing.
Pricket: Strange how it looks, me thinks it smells of ling
It has a beard too, and the mouth’s all raw.
The strangest Cresture that I ever saw:
Are these the Beards that keep men in such aw? (Act III, scene i)
So t’is with cunt’s repeated dull delights
Sometimes y’ove flowers for sauce, and sometimes white
Or crablice which like buttered shrimps appear
And may be served for garnish all the year. (Act IV)
A bald cunt (There is a doctoral thesis on the subject of the history of pussy shaving) is no better:
Unhappy cunt, and comfortless
From swelling plenty fall’n to distress,
Depriv’d of all its ornamental Hair…. (Act II, scene i)
The reason, as put forth in some of the best lines, in the play, is that a bald cunt may be diseased:
Their pocky false bare cunts; Love’s proper center;
Their ulcer’d cunts by being so abus’d
And having too much prick there in infus’d,
And then not cleans’d till they beginn to stink
May well be styl’d, Love’s nasty common sink;
When e’re your fancy is to fuck inclin’d,
If they are sound or not, perhaps you’ll find
Some of their cunts so stufft with gravy thick
That like an Irish Bogg, they’ll drown your prick
Some swive so much their hair’s worn off the spot
They’re dead to sin and do beginn to rot…. (Prologue I)
There are many meanings to this indulgence in the dirty. Recall the famous sexual encounter with the patronne of the café from Sartre’s La nausée:
La patronne étant là, j’ai dû la baiser, mais c’était bien par politesse. Elle me dégoûte un peu, elle est trop blanche et puis elle sent le nouveau-né. Elle me serrait la tête contre sa poitrine dans un débordement de passion: elle croit bien faire. Pour moi, je grapillais distraitement son sexe sous les couvertures; puis mon bras s’est engourdi. Je pensais à M. de Rollebon: après tout, qu’est-ce qui m’empêche d’écrire un roman sur sa vie? J’ai laissé aller mon bras le long du flanc de la patronne et j’ai vu soudain un petit jardin avec des arbres bas et larges d’où pendaient d’immenses feuilles couvertes de poils. Des fourmis couraient partout, des mille-pattes et des teignes. Il y avait des bêtes encore plus horribles: leurs corps était fait d’une tranche de pain grillé comme on met en canapé sous les pigeons; elles marchaient de côté avec des pattes de crabe. Les larges feuilles étaient toutes noires de bêtes. Derrière des cactus et des figuiers de Barbarie, la Velléda du Jardin public désignait son sexe du doigt. ‘Ce jardin sent le vomi,’ criai-je. (pp. 71-72)
It appears both Rochester and Sartre have a particular taste for crab.
The dirty could be an intimate part of sex in pornographic literature and art for any number of reasons. Quite obviously the artist could regard what had been considered dirty as beautiful and stimulating; he is opening up a new type of experience and sexual excitement. This sort of experiential pioneering is not rare. In our time the cunt is no longer regarded as an object of disgust but as one of the most beautiful parts of the female body, a flowering swell of soft tissue as attractive as any of the secondary sexual characteristics. Equally white skin was considered beautiful to the Elizabethan poet and black, perhaps for racist reasons, a sign of evil. In our time dark skin is almost universally preferred over pale skin.
That change of appreciation or reshaping of attention and taste is not intended by either Rochester or Sartre. They both highlight the dirty in sex because it is irredeemably dirty. Some people find the dirty sexually exciting exactly because it is disgusting. This is a theme in Hustler and seems to be the taste of “dirty girls” in the porn film industry. Those performers reportedly relish sperm on their face and slimy sex with unbathed panhandlers in a trash bin. For the Sartre of La nausée sexual filthiness reveals something about the world to the conscious mind that experienced such filthiness. Like simple nausea it is a philosophically revelatory experience that makes one aware of one’s tenuous disconnectedness from the material world. Roquentin’s sex with la patronne is one of a series of experiences related to the description of slime and the experience of slime in L’être et le néant. Bataille, who recognized that dirty sex in La nausée is a privileged situation or revelatory experience (Le sacré, p. 560), approaches dirty sex differently. The dirty is an example of bassesse; it is to be assimilated to other low and mean things like violence, the unconscious, formlessness and the proletariat. The celebration of the dirty is a revolutionary act and all of a piece with overturning the economic subjugation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois ideal of unchanging, fixed and above all clean formal essences. There appears to be a dialectical misstep in the revolutionary view of dirty sex. One might say that to value the undesirable because it is undesirable is to make it desirable and thus fall into that sort of contradictio in actu so beloved of Hegel. The contradiction is only apparent, however, since undesirable and disgusting are not necessarily coextensive. Something may be disgusting and remain desirable due to a kind of personal masochism. Or for political reasons.
But Bataille’s inversion is not mere lip service to cultural reformation; it is not subordinate to some more pressing goal (as it probably would be in your common or garden communist), such as getting the cash in the hands of the workers. There is, Bataille argues, something very wrong with the shining stainless beauty beloved of bourgeois idealism. The dirty is not just something whose true beauty has been misunderstood, nor is it a rallying cry for the economically disadvantaged. Rather, in the battle between the dirty and the ideal, Bataille chooses to question a set of attitudes, beliefs and aesthetic philosophies that compose a mental structure that could be called bourgeois cultural idealism. The purpose of pornography is to destroy bourgeois cultural idealism and recognize “the insubordination of material facts.”
Regarding a fad in the Spanish court for touching women’s feet, he writes:
Whatever may be seductive about the big toe has nothing to do with a higher aspiration….The pleasure…of touching the foot of the queen was directly proportional to the ugliness and infection represented by the lowness of the foot….Even if her foot were wonderfully attractive, it would borrow its sacrilegious charm from deformed gutter feet. A queen is a priori an entity that is more ideal, more thereal than any other, and so it is agonizingly human to touch the part of her that differs little from the filthy foot of a beggar. (Le Gros orteil p. 203)
In a later article where he tries to define the concepts of the homogeneous (roughly associated with bourgeois cultural idealism) and the heterogeneous:
…the heterogeneous comprehends everything that homogeneous society rejects either as trash or as a ranscendent and superior value, including the excremental products of the human body and certain analogous matter such as shit and vermin as well as persons, acts, words and body parts possessing suggestive erotic value. Also included are the various unconscious processes such as dreams and neuroses as well as the mob and the classes of warriors, aristocrats and the miserable. Also heterogeneous are …violent individuals and those who refuse the rule of law, such as madmen, demagogues and poets. (La Structure psychologique du fascisme p. 346)
Yet bourgeois cultural ideology and its clean sex component is not a permanent fact of society. What the surrealists revolted against is the specific morality of European 19th century society and the idealist view of art that was developed alongside 19th century religious revival morality. It is not clear whether the cultural ideology, or at the very least its sexual component, could be jettisoned within the framework of a predominantly bourgeois society. Liberal western (and Hindu) societies appear to have recently permitted an unstable mechanism for the expression of dirty sex within a bourgeois framework.
To muddy the waters even further, “bourgeois” as a term of contempt – as has been frequently observed – is largely the property of the French aristocracy and its literary representatives from Molière through Balzac. Bataille acknowledges this strange relation between the lowest classes and the aristocracy. The sacred also is heterogeneous and societies treat their aristocracies as sacred persons. That may go part of the way to illuminating the apparently paradoxical position of the royalist Carolingian court in the 17th century sexual revolution. More work needs to be done toward understanding the roundhead and monarchist forces that emerged in the course of the English Civil War and how the political compromise worked out during the reigns of William, Anne and George I relates to the cultural renascence of the Restoration. If the Roundheads espoused without qualification the mind and the values of the city dwelling middle classes, then what they stood for can and should be understood as incorporating the ideology of clean sex. In that case the dirty sex of the Restoration poets affirms a similarity between certain aristocratic attitudes and the cultural critique inspired in our time by the surrealists. But if, indeed if only in part, the Roundheads represented the English proletariat, then the gutter as exemplified in the excluded and powerless working class may not necessarily be so closely identified with the gutter as exemplified by despised and filthy sexual organs and practices. Rochester and Charles II are the products of a restoration of the monarchy and so are rather on the anti-revolutionary side from the perspective of both the defeated Levellers and the citizens of the bourgeois state aborning. The relative positions of the monarchists and the Roundheads with respect to religious and individual freedom were more than a little vague. Socialist governments and societies and sexual liberation have usually in our time been mutually exclusive.