L'Air du Temps
There are certain passages in literature that undoubtedly express a sexual moment, but are such that they compel us not with an erotic feeling but by the beauty of the language or the intensity of the emotion. One such scene is Proust’s attic masturbation; another is Pierre Louÿs’ magical description of a kiss and the taste of the courtesan’s tongue and mouth. Neither passage is sexually stimulating, although the passage from Aphrodite possesses a degree of erotic charm. We appreciate them because of their poetry, the sensuality of the imagery, the sound of the words and the rhythm of the phrasing. Let me add, though what I have to say will not be said nearly so well as the passages cited, that a moment in my experience that suggests something of the same aesthetic or romantic (and this is probably as far as I would ever let the foul concept of romance interfere with the erotic) trance is the unforgettable memory of the smell of a stripper. The perfume or body wash she applies is meant to function as a recollection or a hint that, when mingled with the animal scent of her skin, produces a lightness, an incorporeal presence that dissolves into air the materiality of her flesh, and, when she walks away, lingers, as if a part of her, your protective spirit, intended to stay with you forever, but disappears with the tragic act of washing. (I mentioned this to one girl and she was flattered, saying, “Well, we have to be purty for you!”) The smell is an intoxication to which loss and abandonment is essential. For there comes a moment when you must go, when she has kissed you for the last time, when, as you see her back disappear in the darkness and the crowd, the subdued sense of her odor lingers and follows you home, promising both infinite sex and reminding you of eternal loss. Indeed loss haunts the lap dance and the awkward conversation, and that is why there is an unexpected poignancy in the thought of weeping strippers. The encounter with an exotic dancer compresses the entire history of every romance that has ever been played out, from the first awkward phrases, through the sexual touching, the half-sober confession of her little sorrows and the desperate final clutch for some sort of reassurance before the necessary parting, you to masturbate and she to repeat the drama with another man.