“Le Rire de la Meduse” – an excerpt from The Correspondence Artist
Subject: how to change the subject
Well, that’s a funny way to make the “conversation seem finished: it’s about the clitoris and the vagina.” It finishes like this? I have to wait until November 1st to respond in person?
I went to see a brilliant play by an Israeli playwright, Hanoch Levin. “Krum.” A Polish theater company, TR Warszawa. It gave you the impression that Polish people are extremely sexy, smart and ironic.
I’m just changing the topic to the theater in order to stop thinking about my clitoris and vagina.
This was so typical of Tzipi. I guess I started it. I’d sent her three little webcam photos of me masturbating while reading an e-mail she’d sent. They didn’t show my head. Whenever I send dirty pictures to my long-distance lover, I always leave them headless. It just seems like a good idea, considering how digital information travels. So these pictures were low-resolution, at an awkward angle, entirely home-made – and for this reason very sexy, if I say so myself. Tzipi didn’t say anything about them. She just sent some kind of political tirade, which is sometimes what she does when she’s aroused. I knew that’s what was going on. So I wrote her, “I’m not even going to ask you what you thought of my pictures. I’m going to take that politically incorrect subject heading of yours as an indication of your arousal, because that’s the way you are.” She wrote back saying that my pictures made her very aroused. And that she wanted to talk with me about masturbation.
All of this was just a week and a half before we’d be seeing each other again. I asked her if she wanted to have this conversation when we saw each other, or if she wanted to have it on the internet, which was, as far as I could tell, created precisely for this kind of thing. We started having the conversation in our correspondence. I reminded her of an e-mail I’d once sent her about coming with my two fingers inside myself, imagining what she’d be feeling if my fingers were her fingers. She wrote back that she remembered that e-mail very well, and she loved it, and she had a question for me, but that she’d really rather talk about it than write about it. But she said, “just to make tconversation seem finished: it’s about the clitoris and the vagina.”
And I kind of sort of changed the subject to the Polish theater company. Of course the conversation wasn’t finished at all. I hope I’m not shocking you with the tenor of my correspondence with my lover – or my ex-lover. I’m not sure what to call her. After three years, it would appear that things are petering out. And if you’re wondering, yes, I am talking about Tzipi Honigman, the beautiful Israeli novelist who just won the Nobel Prize. I’m one of a multitude of lowly critics who’ve followed her literary trajectory. For some inexplicable reason, she took an interest in me, which led to this ill-defined, trans-Atlantic affair.
Because we’re both writers, a lot of our sex has been textual. That’s why it baffled me, a couple of years into this, when I realized that my e-mail server had an automatic but seemingly very arbitrary spam filter that trapped certain messages with the kinds of dirty words that tend to appear in those random sex-oriented messages we all receive on occasion. I had no idea I had a spam filter. I get plenty of spam, and as you can see, my correspondence is hardly pristine.
Take, for example, the clitoris/vagina exchange: these messages went through without problem. Tzipi wrote me back, telling a beautiful story about standing and looking at herself in the mirror when she was a little girl, and being aroused by her own tiny breasts and long hair, and imagining a little penis rising between her legs. This image reminded me of those magical drawings by Henry Darger, of little warrior girls with penises. I sent her a couple of photographs of these drawings. She seemed to like them. And then she made some interesting comments about reflexivity, and reflexive verbs in Romance languages, and masturbation. She shrugged off, however, a comment I’d made regarding the G-spot, an anatomical invention she found highly suspect. I thought maybe this was a generational difference. I can tell you, with her two fingers inside of me, I know she’s touched mine. She’s willing to acknowledge that breasts are sensitive, that lips are sensitive, that all kinds of touch can be sensual, but she insists that female orgasm is almost inevitably linked to clitoral stimulation. Sometimes she’ll go after mine – or her own – with a concentration bordering on hostility. Sometimes I’ll grab her fingers and look into her eyes, and guide her to touch me with more delicacy. But the truth is, my erotic bond with Tzipi is so strong, even though we seem to disagree about some things in bed, I always come with her, immediately and repeatedly, and I always want more. Every time I’m near her I want to be touching her.
She says her fingers inside me are for her, not for me. She says she’s imagining her cock deep inside of me. Sometimes when I send her dirty pictures, or messages about sex, she’ll tell me I’ve given her a hard-on. Tzipi often refers to her own sexual excitation in masculine terms. Actually, sometimes I do that myself. In fact, I just got my own hard-on thinking about Tzipi’s.
Tzipi sees a Lacanian psychoanalyst. I’m not sure what they talk about. I imagine they’ve discussed the mirror stage. It makes perfect sense, of course, that she sees a Lacanian. And yet I can’t help but wonder sometimes if this is the best approach, from a therapeutic perspective. Because one of the things that seems to preoccupy her most is the sad truth of that Lacanian chain of cathectic signifiers – the infinite replaceability of her lovers. She’s fundamentally a very committed person. Her love for her adult son Asher is profound. She still loves her ex, Hannah, in spite of everything – and their little son Pitzi, of course. She’s a dedicated friend to her circle of progressive and sensitive intellectuals. She’s taken risks to defend them. But she’s a very seductive person, and even though she complains on occasion about the bother or even terror of men and women falling in love with her, she can’t really resist seducing them.
Especially young people. Now there’s a little something for the analyst to chew on.
In this respect (and in a few others), Tzipi bears an uncanny resemblance to Simone de Beauvoir. There are a lot of stories about both her and Sartre. Of course she kind of told one of them herself in that book, She Came to Stay. You know, the young woman they seduced and shared and then belittled wrote a pretty bitter response herself. There are also some rumors about the adopted daughter who eventually published Simone’s correspondence with her American lover, Nelson Algren. I bought that book.
In January of 1948, Simone de Beauvoir wrote to Algren a description of a New Year’s party she’d been to. There was a charming fifteen-year-old girl there, and Simone describes the way she danced. She says that she imagines that if she were a man, she’d be a “very wicked” one, because she’d surely take great pleasure in seducing and making love to young girls, and then she’d dump them immediately, because they’d begin to get on her nerves. Ssays, “I feel there is both something appealing and something nauseating in very young girls.”
This is precisely Tzipi’s feeling about the “beautiful, dumb Thai girl” she recently told me she’d been sleeping with. Of course, Simone de Beauvoir didn’t need to be a “very wicked man” to seduce and dump a lot of beautiful young people. She managed just fine as a woman.
Do I sound a little cynical? I don’t really feel that way – and in respect to Tzipi I certainly can’t claim to be an ingénue. By the time I met her I’d been around the block. Although she’s twenty-three years older than me, at forty-five I’m at the antique end of her spectrum. And I’m not dumb. Even Tzipi’s acknowledged that. I went into this with my eyes wide open, and she’s been honest with me every step of the way.
October 29, 2007, 9:59 a.m.
Good morning. Today I’m sending you the beautiful pictures by Henry Darger. Henry Darger was a crazy person who lived alone and secretly wrote a book that was 15,000 pages long. They found it when he was dying. He made thousands of pictures to illustrate the story. He would copy drawings of little girls out of magazine advertisements, and he gave them all penises and testicles. Half the time they were naked.
The story is full of action and kind of frightening. The girls have to fight a lot of battles. You can see, some of the drawings are very violent. Anyway, I thought of these girls when you wrote about looking at yourself in the mirror, and the penis you imagined popping out.
And that made me remember Freud’s essay, “A Child Is Being Beaten,” which is about a very typical fantasy construct of girls. First the girl fantasizes that another child, often her brother or sister, is being beaten by the father. Freud says this is a way for her to fantasize that she is loved exclusively, or best, by the father. Then the fantasy becomes masochistic: she is the one being beaten herself. The fantasy is often accompanied by masturbation. The girl usually forgets this middle phase of the fantasy (it is shameful), and ends with a more abstract but sexually exciting sense that “a child is being beaten” – not her, nor a brother or sister, just “a child.”
Feminist psychoanalytic theorists like this essay because they say it’s one of the places where Freud suggests that one’s gender identification can slip and change. The masturbatory fantasy of the girl is linked to her shifting identification with the child-figures who move from boy to girl and back again.
Speaking of Freud, and penises, I learned a new dirty expression: “smoking a Cuban.” It means giving a blow-job with the active use of both hands. Of course when I heard that it made me think of you, and that photograph on your desk of you and Harry Mathews smoking Cubans in the marché des enfants rouges.
It’s getting colder, but it’s nice: crisp, with a very blue sky. I think it will be like this when you get to Boston.
Tzipi was going to give a talk at Harvard and she invited me up to stay at the hotel with her for two nights. As usual, she’d booked us adjoining rooms. As I said, she liked those pictures by Darger that I sent her. But she wasn’t particularly interested in the business about Freud. Even though she’s in analysis, it really bothers her when I start in with my Freudian mallet. And she has no patience at all for French feminist theory about the slippery slope of gender identity. Of course Tzipi considers herself a feminist, but it’s hard to say what that means, exactly. Her politics are very unpredictable.
In one of her letters to Algren, Simone de Beauvoir makes some reference to the fact that he didn’t identify as a Jew, or that he acknowledged being Jewish but in a strange way, and the editor explained that in an interview he had said jokingly that he was a “Swedish Jew,” which was his way of saying that technically he was both of these things but that he didn’t really identify as either. This was funny, because when Tzipi was very young, that actress Tippi Hedren was very popular, and Tzipi used to joke that she was going to change her name to Tzipi Hedren, because she thought she was really Swedish. Because of her very public position on Palestine, a lot of people have accused Tzipi of being a “self-hating Jew.” She’s not, of course. She’s just a Swedish Jew. I’m not sure what kind of feminist she is.
This week I’ve been listening to that beautiful Bill Evans album, Conversations with Myself. It was considered very innovative when he recorded it in 1963, but also a little gimmicky. Evans laid down one solo piano track, and then laid down another on top of that, and then a third. Technically, it’s very virtuosic. I mean his piano technique – the recording technique was really just piping these three tracks through a left, a right and a middle channel. It sounds best if you have your speakers arranged far apart so you get that illusion of spatiality.
The most lyrical song on the album is the “Love Theme from ‘Spartacus’.” In fact, if I were to choose a song to
represent my love affair with Tzipi, it would be this song. I know that sounds pretty tacky. The theme song from a cheesy old movie with Kirk Douglas played on a gimmicky three-track album. But if you listen to it, you’ll see what I mean. And Spartacus, of course, isn’t just cheesy. It’s actually kind of great. I watched it recently and at several moments I got tears in my eyes. It’s not the love story, of course, that’s moving. That part is pretty banal. It’s the politics of it. It’s so interesting that the first slave who sacrifices himself in order to make a statement about the brutality of slavery is a black man. That self-sacrifice is what politicizes Kirk Douglas, and turns him into a great revolutionary figure. There’s a whole gay subplot with Tony Curtis (Laurence Olivier’s “body slave”). And then there’s the amazing scene when the soldiers come to the camp of rebel slaves and say they’ll kill everyone unless Spartacus gives himself up. Kirk Douglas steps forward, chin first: “I am Spartacus.” And then one by one, each of his comrades in arms also steps forth, willing to sacrifice himself for the higher cause. “I am Spartacus.” “I am Spartacus.” “I am Spartacus.”
But the song, “Love Theme from ‘Spartacus’,” the way that Bill Evans plays it, isn’t dramatic this way. What’s beautiful about it, the reason I find it so à propos of my relationship with Tzipi, is that it begins so lush and sentimental, so tender, ultra-sensitive – and then it changes character entirely and becomes funny, bebop, clever, sexy, playful. I get sentimental over Tzipi, but she’s so smart that however cruel or hard-headed or selfish she can be, in the end I always find myself smiling at her virtuosity.
She wrote me about a month ago about a twenty-one year old couple she’d met at a reading she gave at Tel Aviv University with Tanya Reinhart. Afterwards she took the young couple home with her and the three of them had sex – she and the boy took turns working on his girlfriend. She said they were both beautiful and intelligent, and that this encounter was “very important.” But she hasn’t said anything about them since then.
I wanted to tell you a little story about my e-mail correspondence with Tzipi. It has to do with a message that got trapped in my spam filter. It raises some interesting theoretical questions. In the “Seminar” on Poe, Lacan asks this interesting question: “For a purloined letter to exist, we may ask, to whom does a letter belong?” He notes that there are certain situations in which the sender might reasonably feel some proprietary rights regarding the letter which he’s written, even if he sends it to the recipient, ostensibly, as a gift. Clearly, there are both legal and ethical ramifications to this observation which spring to mind. But Lacan is more interested in the psychological ramifications. This is related to his complicated assertion that “a letter always arrives at its destination,” even if the recipient never gets it. Because, as Lacan suggests, it may well be that the person to whom the letter was addressed was never “the real receiver.”
We were planning a visit. Tzipi was spending a few weeks on Mykonos, working on the manuscript of her new novel. She’d rented a little villa that had a guestroom. She invited me to spend a few days with her. The messages Tzipi sent me from Greece were glorious. Of course we talked about Sappho, and about Nietzsche. She shares my enthusiasm for The Birth of Tragedy. I told her that from a distance, before I met her, she’d always struck me as a Bacchante, but when I got to know her I realized how Apollinian she was. She said, “Oh, I am very Apollinian.” I told her about a film documentation I’d seen of Richard Schechner’s famous theatrical production, Dionysus in ’69. The actual production was done in 1968. It was based on The Bacchae, but the hippie actors would suddenly slip out of character and say their real names and talk like cool cats, and make references to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. They acted out a Native American birthing ritual in the nude, and then they started playing bongo drums and making out with the audience. The film was shot by Brian de Palma before he became famous. I guess then he was just a guy with a camera – or actually, two cameras. It was a split screen. The whole thing was very hallucinogenic and sexy and could never happen today. I’m kind of jealous that Tzipi got to be a part of that generation.
I sent her an image from Dionysus in ‘69 which I found very beautiful. It’s the birthing ceremony. I said I knew it was funny for me to be sending this image enthusiastically, because I’d recently had an exchange with her about how I found the idea of group sex overly distracting. I, who seemed so Apollinian, was showing my Dionysian side. And she, who really looked the part of the Bacchante, had come out as Apollinian.
Tzipi quoted to me a passage from The Birth of Tragedy about a counterintuitive optical phenomenon: “When after a forceful attempt to gaze on the sun we turn away blinded, we see dark-colored spots before our eyes, as a cure, as it were. Conversely, the bright image projections of the Sophoclean hero – in short, the Apollinian aspect of the mask – are necessary effects of a glance into the inside and terrors of nature; as it were, luminous spots to cure eyes damaged by gruesome night.”
She wrote me some other beautiful things – about the ocean, about the smell of salt and the shock of the white villas against the intense turquoise sky, about the lemony taste of the fish and the calm of the nights there, about how she wanted to touch my thighs and my belly and feel my small hard nipple between her lips. She also told me there was a local girl named Melina who’d developed an obsession with her. Tzipi told me it was entertaining at first because she was pretty and had big brown eyes and a nice ass and she liked to dance around the terrace for Tzipi but it was a little hard to get her to leave after fucking and she’d told her I was coming and pretty soon she was going to have to clear out and she’d cried. Tzipi told me she was telling me this because she wanted to tell me everything as it was a way of being close to me. That was the one message from Greece that didn’t make me feel particularly close to her, but I can’t really complain – she’s been honest with me every step of the way.
When I flew in to Athens, I had about a four hour layover. I checked my BlackBerry. Nothing from Tzipi. On Mykonos, I got a taxi out to the villa. She wasn’t there but the door was open. The place was kind of a mess. That surprised me a little but I figured she’d been concentrating on writing the novel. I found the guestroom and began to make myself at home. I took a shower. I put on some thigh-high stockings, black lace panties, and a little black shift. I put on make-up. I lay on the bed and waited. I checked the BlackBerry. Nothing. I texted my son Sandro in New York and told him to study hard for his algebra exam. It got dark and I drifted off for a little bit. When I heard the door to the patio open, I was sure it was Tzipi, but it wasn’t.
Tzipi was just arriving in Athens, having written me that Melina was having a very inconvenient reaction to being dumped. She told me not to bother to catch the connecting flight, that she’d already booked us adjoining rooms at the King George in Athens, and it was too bad I’d missed the villa but she couldn’t wait to show me the Acropolis anyway. And she said that even if she couldn’t be stroking my pussy on Mykonos as we’d planned, we’d be together tonight in Athens and it gave her a very hard wood just thinking about it.
I had recently taught Tzipi the English expression “morning wood,” which she found very charming and poetic. I told her we also said, somewhat less poetically, “woody” to refer to any masculine erection. She seemed to have confused the terms. I don’t think, however, that it was Tzipi’s erection that had triggered the spam filter. I think it was my pussy.
January 19, 2006, 1:08 p.m.
I had a long, beautiful conversation with an old friend of mine, E—- C—-. He came over for tea. He told me about an essay he wrote with a Serbian woman about love and photography. And Barthes. I told him about my sonnets, and later we exchanged work. He told me he was in Israel last year, I think for the first time. He gave a paper at the TA Museum of Art. He said, à propos of nothing, “I met Honigman.” I said, “So did I.” He said, “She has such a wonderful face.” I agreed. I don’t know if you remember meeting him. He’s a very gentle, lovely person. We talked about his obsession with mathematical theory. He’s very good at math.
We later went to see an exhibit at the Japan Society by Hiroshi Sugimoto, a photographer and collector of old things. It was called “History of History.” My favorite part was a room of fossils. Sugimoto thinks fossils are like photographs.
Are you happy? Are you still in London? How are your kids? Sandro’s in love with a girl named India.
I send you a kiss.
I’ve told almost no one about my relationship with my lover. In fact, the only two people who really know what’s passed between us are Tzipi and myself. Of course, I guess you could say that about any pair of lovers. Sandro and my best friend Florence know a fair amount, and I’ve said enough to my brother Walter that he’s probably figured it out, or thinks he has. He met her briefly at that PEN reading at Cooper Union. Every once in a while I’ll find myself in an abstract conversation with someone about love, and I’ll make oblique reference to my “paramour.” But I never say who it is. I don’t do this to create an air of mystery around myself. Of course, I do have a sense of humor about the ridiculousness of this code name.
Anyway, as I was saying, when I make reference to “the paramour,” I’m kind of making fun of myself. It makes it sound like I have a secret and exciting love life. I guess I do, from a certain perspective, but as you can see, in most respects it’s as stupid, awkward and frustrating as anyone else’s. I never use any terminology that would appear to ascribe specific terms to our relationship.
Tzipi, on the other hand, has sporadically used this kind of language in reference to me. It kind of irks me, because she never asked me if this was all right. Even when she was living with Hannah, she tended to be discreet about her private life. But periodically, she’ll haul off and blab to somebody about me. I didn’t worry when she told me she’d talked to Asher. He, like Sandro, has excellent judgment – much better, in fact than Tzipi. But one day, she told me that Hannah had been hectoring her about me, and that she had asked Tzipi outright if I were her new “official girlfriend,” and Tzipi, in an attempt to show defiance, had responded, “Yes, if you want to put it that way, she is.”
When I heard about this exchange, I had profoundly mixed feelings. Obviously, I was flattered that Tzipi would even momentarily promote me to this lofty status. On the other hand, I saw four potential problems: 1. the designation was Hannah’s, and Tzipi appeared to be embracing it mostly just to undermine Hannah’s control; 2. given Tzipi’s unpredictable and famously circuitous logic, this configuration could flip over at any given moment; 3. I worried, not unreasonably I think, that Hannah might come after me with a lethal weapon; and 4. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be Tzipi Honigman’s official girlfriend.
Once she’d said it to Hannah, however, she seemed to be on a roll. Even though I protested against the “girlfriend” line in an affectionately slighting e-mail (I said I’d prefer to be called her “concubine”), she almost immediately reported that she’d referred to me by name, in a conversation with a journalist she knew only vaguely, as her “lover.” I didn’t want her to think I was resisting being outed as her sexual partner for politically objectionable reasons, but given certain aspects of our relationship, I also thought she was overstepping a bit her rights of indiscretion.
Still, I confess, it gave me some small pleasure, for the moment, to feel loved.
Once Tzipi wrote me an e-mail that ended very affectionately, saying that it seemed I would be her “friend forever or something like that.” I answered, “Of course I am your friend forever.” I hope I will be. Naturally, I am starting to wonder about the possible repercussions of writing down the story of our love affair. I haven’t received any word in over a week. The last message I sent was friendly, but I did mention something about Simone de Beauvoir’s letters being “silly and brilliant and girlish and superior and pathetic and sadistic and loving and cold.” This may have come across as somewhat accusatory. At this point in the story, perhaps it’s not necessary to point out that I was also talking about myself.
Tzipi has the admirable habit of maintaining friendly relations with many of her former lovers. I’ve also tended to do this throughout my life. In fact, just this week I received an e-mail from someone I saw in my twenties. Ten years later, after Sandro’s dad and I split up, I called this person, and we had a brief and torrid repeat encounter. It was very helpful. It got me over the hump. Now, after another ten years, he was just checking in. It wasn’t clear whether he would be interested in going to bed again. I do this kind of thing sometimes with my exes.
The other day I was flipping through the new New Yorker and I saw a picture of Mikhail Baryshnikov in an advertisement for a Movado watch. I looked at his face and thought, “He also breathed hotly and hungrily into Tzipi’s mouth.” They had a well-known and long-running, sporadic love affair years ago. In fact, there’s a character very clearly based on him in her fourth novel, With Conviction and with a Rigorous Sadness. Now they’re just friends. They kiss on the lips when they see each other, but in that friendly way you can do with someone after so many years.
Once I wrote Tzipi about a comment that a friend had made at a dinner party at my house. Sandro had entertained the guests by playing piano and making some uncanny jokes, and then he had passed out on the couch. My friend looked at me with his eyebrows raised and asked, “How did you create this miraculous person?” I said, “Well, I had an egg and I got some sperm.” I was very proud, of course. I told you, Tzipi is also very close to her older son, Asher. She had told me that when she was trying to get pregnant with her ex-husband, they’d been living right near the beach, and she had this sense that the pounding of the waves was part of the whole amniotic process of Asher’s conception. After I wrote her about my friend Leonard’s comment about Sandro, I mentioned one other lovely thing that Sandro had done, which particularly charmed Tzipi. She sent a quick message reiterating my friend’s praise, and I responded:
October 27, 2007, 10:16 p.m.
> How did you conceive this miraculous person?
But it’s very interesting that you changed the question a little bit. Leonard said, “How did you create this miraculous person?” “To create” is different from “to conceive,” which would seem to imply that it’s all about DNA, except “conception” also brings us back to Asher who was conceived in an atmosphere of sea-sex, which takes you far from both the behaviorist and the biological models.
But conception is a great word because it makes a child seem like a parent’s IDEA, and that makes me think of the birth of Athena, who just popped out of Zeus’s head.
I believe a little bit in biology and a little bit in behaviorism and I also believe I imagined Sandro and he popped out of my head fully formed, but I believe just as much in other highly unlikely explanations like reincarnation, or better yet, the aboriginal belief in child spirits and the woman’s capacity to conceive alone depending on the strength of her orgasm and vaginal fluids.
I read about some people somewhere, I don’t remember where, who thought that semen could last many years in a woman’s body, so paternity could be attributed to a lover from her distant past. I find this interesting because sometimes I see in Sandro qualities of different people from my past, and it seems almost like all that semen mixed together. I like this idea.
But Sandro’s theory is that he was very lucky to be “fathered” by my “lesbian friends” and by a “crazy Mexican” (Raul).
Are you still in Greece? I wanted to get back to Freud and “A Child is Being Beaten” and the masturbation of little girls.
We went to the Metropolitan Opera last night to see Verdi’s Macbeth! Very bloody!
As you can see, things Greek have occupied a considerable amount of space in my correspondence with Tzipi. Which was part of why it was so important to me that we were going to be spending time together on Mykonos. In fact, the visit itself seemed to me so symbolic, even the most banal practical details – my connecting flight on Olympic Airlines, paying my cab fare to the driver, Epifanio – seemed to take on mythic significance. This was also attached to the fact that so many of the cultural references we had were fundamentally about sex and sexuality: Sappho, of course, and “Dionysus in ’69.” We’d essentially been living in the mythic realm, or working our way toward it, and this is why, on that balmy night on Mykonos, it seemed oddly right that when I opened my eyes on Tzipi’s guest bed to see who was entering the patio door, I saw Medusa.
She was carrying a boom box. Between this and the wriggling snakes all over her head, she was having a somewhat difficult time getting through the door. She banged the doorframe with her sound system, which was what really got my attention, but somehow she managed to get in, set up her equipment on the floor, and hit play. It was Fani Drakopoulou singing “Thelo na ta pio.” Melina’s snakes were dripping all over her forehead as she shimmied and swiveled to the music. Snakes in her eyes and the dim lighting may have contributed to her inability to discern that she was dancing for her arch nemesis, me, and not the impossibly desirable Tzipi. Her eyes were shut, in fact, and yet from her grimacing mouth and tremulous dance performance, it was clear that she was crying, and had been for some time. Aside from the snakes, Melina was wearing a flesh-tone Lycra unitard. Her large, firm breasts pushed up against it, struggling to escape. She had no panties on and her pubic hair was entirely visible. She swiveled her hips and turned in a circle, one snake slipping off her shoulder and dropping to the floor. Tzipi was right about her ass.
As you can imagine, things started to go haywire pretty quickly. The snakes weren’t cooperating, and the CD started to skip. Melina, who was really in no condition to deal with these frustrations, ended up dropping to the floor herself and kicking the boom box with her left foot. Then she began sobbing and kicking away her snakes.
That’s when her dad came thumping in, screaming in Greek. I couldn’t tell if he was angrier with Melina or with me, and I didn’t understand a word he said. All I know is, when Melina figured out I wasn’t Tzipi, she started in on me too, and then she and her father started hitting each other, and the only thing she could yell at me in English was, “Bitch! Go back to America!” And finally her dad dragged her out and she carried the boom box and he managed to round up the snakes (in point of fact there were only five although their initial effect gave the impression of there being many more) and they were out of there. Fortunately I’d kept Epifanio’s card and I called him and got him to take me back to the airport and after a hellish wait at the Olympic Airlines counter I managed to change my tickets and get the hell out of Mykonos. I had a splitting headache.
Don’t look at me if this story seems overdetermined. Everything about my affair with Tzipi has been overdetermined. But in the aftermath, we did have an interesting exchange about Freud’s essay, “Das Medusenhaupt,” and Hélène Cixous’s “Le Rire de la Méduse.” Tzipi was interested in the figure of castration, and the thesis of the proliferating phalluses, of course, but she really has no patience with the notion of “écriture féminine.” She had also forgotten that Freud suggests that petrifaction symbolizes “the comforting erection.”
I realize that I will appear at least as hard-hearted as Tzipi for submitting Melina’s anguish to this treatment – first a distanced irony, and then a clinical, psychoanalytic diagnosis high-jacked for French feminist theoretical ends. The truth is that when I saw her slumped over on the floor in that ridiculous get-up come undone, the shadow of her hungry pubic hair and her mashed nipples urgently forcing their reality through her unitard, when I heard her moan and uselessly thud her foot at her uncaring snakes, when I watched her wipe the snot from her nose and grimace in all her exquisite pain, I felt for her.
I may be a little more understated, but what is this but my own grim display of the intolerable ache of losing Tzipi Honigman? What are these little glimpses of our story together but “luminous spots to cure eyes damaged by gruesome night”?
Photo of Richard Schechner’s Dionyusus in ’69 on p. 7 property of Richard Schechner (who graciously granted permission).
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