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l’effet du réel

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In the backdraft of IT’s post about arses, how about this?

“Clésinger’s Woman Bitten by a Snake, a succes de scandale . . . ensured its creator’s notoriety at the Salon of 1847. The scandal surrounding the work was orchestrated by Theophile Gautier, who spread a rumour that the cast for the statue had been taken from life. The model was Apollonie Sabatier, called ‘camp-follower of the fauns’ by the Goncourt brothers, but by Baudelaire ‘the beautiful, the good, darling’, ‘a guardian angel, muse, Madonna’ and ‘girl who laughs too much’. This notorious work exerted a lasting influence. Sculptors began making the female body more curvaceous and languishing, but omitted the cellulite rippling above Mme Sabatier’s thighs that had lent credence to the live-casting rumour. ‘A daguerreotype in sculpture’, wrote Delacroix, in his journal for 7 May 1847. However, the tide of realism was arrested by subsequent titles for nudes. They were called Sleeping Hebe (Carrier-Belleuse) Eve after the Fall (Delaplanche) and Young Tarentine (Schoenewerk). Mathurin Moreau’s Bacchante continued this series late into the century.” — Pingeot, Musée d’Orsay, p. 45.

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August 27, 2009 at 6:22 am

Posted in aesthetics

16 Responses

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  1. There’s a conspicuous absence of cellulite in the Bayley book as well (so far at least). I think the real secret of male hetero arse-lust is the desire for dimples. L’effet du reel indeed!

    I’m not sure what role the snake plays, huh huh huh…

    infinite thought

    August 27, 2009 at 7:26 am

  2. It’s just sort of amazing to think that “realism” crossed some sort of limit before it had to turn back into idealisation. And that limit was cellulite.

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    August 27, 2009 at 7:59 am

  3. I’d love to know the word Gautier used for cellulite. I had always read that this was a word made up in the 1960s by advertisers. As far as I can tell, cellulite in the 19th century referred to a material that imitated tortoise shell. In the history of ass, cellulite was one of the forms of a new kind of epidemic – the epidemic by advertising. Here’s what Estrin and Akerson say in Cosmetic Regulation in a Competitive environment:

    “The word cellulite is of recent vintage: it was virtually unknown in the United States before the 1970s, and most peer-reviewed medical journals use the term in quotation marks if it appears at all. Although the cosmetic industry has ppopularized the term to describe the spongy, dimpled texture of the skin often apparent around women’s hips and thighs, some experts have suggested that what may be celluite is not substantially different from fat deposits on any other parts of the body.”

    Sade, a master of ass if there ever was one, likes to talk about fesses bien potelés – which sounds so much better than the english chubby. Anyway, I think this story about the sculpture sounds very suspicious. What cellulite is really about is not realism at all – or rather, realism once we have accepted that the human body type that is most real is on a screen, from which sovereign position it endows the body with its lesser reality – and discovers things like cellulite.

    roger

    August 27, 2009 at 4:17 pm

  4. ps – I can’t resist this example! Having tracked down Gautier’s words, and other comments about the statue (notably in The Invention of the Model by Susan Waller), what apparently happened is that fleshy became translated, via the scrim of our advertising saturated sensorium, into cellulite – how funny. I do wonder where the art historian came up with the faction that the idea of translating a body cast into marble became all the rage. It would be hard for a culture that didn’t SEE cellulite to decide not to represent it – but such are the vagaries of sloppy research.

    roger

    August 27, 2009 at 4:48 pm

  5. The second pronunciation of ‘cellulite’ is ‘sel-you-leet’, and this makes it far more palatable to the victim and her paramour. When my ex-girlfriend informed me that the onset of cell-you-LEET was imminent, it didn’t sound nearly as unfashionable, you know, or remind you of things like ‘cellulose’. Nor did it open up a space in which there were urgent demands for liposuction funding. This pronunciation gave us a sensation of having a few more years of being a ‘pretty couple’.

    I also know portrait painters who are determined in a studentish way to show the ‘inner states’ of all theire subjects–with the exception of themselves: This translates as ugly portraits of their friends (I’ve had to send out photographs to people when portraits of me were so odious as make me disown any connection to these so-called ‘likenesses’ or whatever they are) and vainglorious portraits of themselves. Sometimes they are so delusional they claim that these self-flattering portraits are ugly. This is extremely obnoxious, but does lead one to deduce that cellulite ought to always be eliminated, and that sell-you-LEET is so minor that it can only mean ‘a slight thickening in middle age’.

    informal economy

    August 27, 2009 at 6:18 pm

  6. That looks like a pretty damn uncomfortable pose, what with the head angled the way it is.

    For Roger, I always appreciated 18th C English writing (mostly poetry, though I think there are even some mentions in Eliot’s Adam Bede) for its approving descriptions of “dimpled flesh” on women. I have a half-compiled list somewhere of literary references to women’s sexy “dimpled flesh” or “dimpled cheeks” (not the face) that I’ve collected. Obviously must be my next book project!

    Sisyphus

    August 27, 2009 at 10:23 pm

  7. “dimpled cheeks” (not the face) is very good! I think we need to bring cellulite (or dimples, and all the earlier names for it) to the forefront of popular culture, design coke bottles after it, that sort of thing.

    infinite thought

    August 27, 2009 at 10:36 pm

  8. IT — But the deal is that cellulite doesn’t name the same thing as dimples! Dimples aren’t an early name for cellulite, is the point. If I smile and a dimple occurs, it would occur to very few people to say, oh, cellulite. Nor do we call other pockets of fat cellulite when we see/don’t see them. Actually, your disquisition on the ass should replace the Quine riff on gavagai – do names translate without remainder through different linguistic regimes? I’m plumping for no. Thus, my feeling is that the idea that artists copied the bodycasting technique of Clesinger, but smoothed out the cellulte, is nonsense. It means they took body casts, as they had before, and smoothed the skin out in marble, as they did before. So nothing happened. The introduction of an anachronism distorts history.

    The pose looks less uncomfortable if you imagine another body next to it, Sisyphus. The scandal was that this was actually a woman fucking, sans the fucker.

    roger

    August 27, 2009 at 11:13 pm

  9. I’m not opposed to it, cellulight or celluleet. Either way, is OK with me.

    Roger! The title says that she was bitten by a snake, not involved in the f-word thing! Goodness!

    But I don’t get it, Roger. If there is cellulite or whatever in this one (whatever we call it – the lumpy stuff) and not in the others, then something happened, no? Cuz all the girls in all the statues are thick in a nice way and in the right parts, and would have at least some…. In other words, isn’t it something if Clesinger skipped the smoothed out the marble part, and isn’t that what the writer is saying?

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    August 27, 2009 at 11:23 pm

  10. Ads, the point is pretty simple. If I put a person who knows the word cellulite in a room and had him or her point to it, and I had another room with a person who knows dimple and that person points to it, and a third room – for this is what the salon said about Clesinger, that it was fleshy – and asked this person to point to it, there would be significant overlaps – and significant differences. I have serious doubts that any plaster of paris bodycast in the 1840s would pick up cellulite that we see, although it might pick up creases and bumps for whatever reason. Until the 1980s, there exists no description of the woman bitten by a serpent as being distinguished by cellulite. Then, suddenly, she is – the folds on her haunches suddenly become cellulite. So I think the whole story is doubtful. Where others saw fleshiness, folds and dimples, suddenly we see cellulite. And the idea that this statue got sculptors to make a bumpier representation of the skin than, say, Venus aux belles fesses or the Hermaphrodite, former champions of statue ass, seems less than plausible to me. More plausible is that photography made the roughness of the human body much harder to ignore.

    roger

    August 28, 2009 at 1:31 am

  11. PS -And, of course, if she is really fucking, and the serpent on her leg, an afterthought, has really little to do with the statue – then those folds could easily be the folds of her position.

    roger

    August 28, 2009 at 1:34 am

  12. I’m still saying that with my body halfway rolled back and then my head turned at almost a 90 degree angle I would be very uncomfortable — with that pose though, the viewer gets a nice look at both her butt from the side and a front-on view of the face. Plus she’s supposedly “dead” so it’s not really about her comfort.

    Bernini had a rape-of-whoever-it-was where he was acclaimed for carving the pressure of the god whatsit’s fingers dimpling her thigh — that’s usually more what I think of when I hear the word “cellulite” — that pocky, cottage-cheese sort of look on the flesh.

    And we haven’t even started on all those massive nudes of Rubens…

    Sisyphus

    August 28, 2009 at 5:16 am

  13. More plausible is that photography made the roughness of the human body much harder to ignore.

    Yep. I mean this whole genre of recumbent getting it / just had it done females seems like a genre determined by sculptor’s anxiety about photography’s ability to bring you real real fucking, doesn’t it. It’s an odd genre.

    BTW, Sisyphus is right, this pose stretches the limits of comfort. But I suppose that’s the point, if she’s just then had such a good time that she’s um wrenched herself a bit and then um expired in exhaustion.

    I’d like to go see the thing in the real. Will make sure I do if I ever actually get to Paris before the year’s up. Funny, every time I go to the Orsay I’m in pursuit of something hyper-pervy that I’ve been writing about on the blog. Last time, http://bit.ly/nHw2F

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    August 28, 2009 at 7:49 am

  14. Ads, this post has convinced me that we need a Foucaultian history of cellulite, and we need it now! The world before and the world after cellulite are obviously working on different lines.

    Perhaps I’ll supply a mini-history of cellulite on one of my blogs. A good weekend project.

    roger

    August 28, 2009 at 7:10 pm

  15. Roger,

    It is a fantastic idea, and it sounds like you’ve already done quite a bit of the research!

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    August 28, 2009 at 7:49 pm


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