Cabbage Requiem

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So he started to rewrite history. What it was like for those involved is a different story. Haha dear god, is that my line or his? In fact, it has been reversed in the past.

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Permissiveness has its constraints, its no-go areas even now. Consider being outwardly gay in hip-hop circles or as a footballer.

In certain environments and groups, what we deem acceptable or perverted is exposed as unstable and prejudiced as it really is. The audience becomes either complicit or outraged, both being compromised positions. In the same way, people read tabloid accounts of sex-crimes proclaiming disgust but lingering over every lurid detail. Gainsbourg knew this trait well, as Nabokov did and someone like Houellebecq continues to; that repulsion and compulsion are two sides of the same coin.

In Lolita , Nabokov puts us inside the mind of a monster, leaving us with some very difficult questions if we should begin to empathise with him. They could equally just have been creeps.

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Or all of the above. You bring your own perspective to it. The poet needs heartbreak at least as much as he or she needs love.

Without a doubt. Gainsbourg admitted as much when he said he wrote desperate heartbroken songs when he was in love and joyous love songs when he was depressed and alone. Love will tear us apart as the man said but we do it anyway. We cant help ourselves. James Joyce once tried to get his lover Nora Barnacle to cuckold him so he could write accurately about jealousy. Sin gives more chances to desire. The whole flagellation thing. Maybe he was a secret convert.

They seem to be exploring what it is that people fear about freedom, more than actually being free. Given that all three artists were working under the pressure of censorship and social disapproval, this is fair enough. Rather than really pining for freedom, or being free, they seem to be celebrating bondage…?

I think they came pretty close, as close as we could hope or dread perhaps. None of us are immune. When we talk about freedom what we usually mean is freedom for me and my kind. We make the mistake though of shooting the messengers of this, Gainsbourg and the writers I mentioned earlier. De Sade was dealing with a different level of freedom, the point where it is monopolized by one section of society and is raised to such a pitch it becomes something else, something unrecognizable. The point where we can get away with anything, excused by ideology or faith, when there is nothing reining us in.

De Sade was proved right not just by the Terror in the French Revolution but by the added unnecessary cruelties that took place then. The executioner knew he was beyond restraint and he delighted in it, theatrically. Nabokov knew from escaping Soviet Russia and then Nazi Germany what horrors took place in those places when all restraints were lifted for those in charge his own brother died in a concentration camp.

Gainsbourg knew this as well as a Russo-French Jew, narrowly escaping the Holocaust with his family his uncle was murdered in Auschwitz and having to hide for several years.

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These were intelligent cultured men given free rein. So we deny it and attack the people who tell us such things. He is also, like Humbert Humbert, a fiend. Both of them think they are free men and the disturbing thing for us is the thought that they might well be, damned though they are. That nothing can make them free enough?

Some critics might mistake Gainsbourg for the narrator of Melody Nelson. Similarly for Nabokov. Those making that mistake have a misunderstanding of authorial distance and the games that are being played by the writer and on them as an audience. Melody Nelson and Lolita have very little to do with their female subjects other than as objects of desire to be ultimately destroyed but unknown and unexplored in any meaningful sense.

The male characters have no empathy with the ones they supposedly love. There is a chasm between them.

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Like the old French folktale Bluebeard, their muses are required to die to attain some imaginary perfection. This is the end result that those who embarked on complete freedom end up in. Why do you think Birkin went along with it all? I think she loved him, as he loved her but maybe in a different way.

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You can tell from interviews that he was immensely charming. He was funny, smart, witty. I only became a misanthrope through contact with others. I imagine she was flattered. In his defence, Gainsbourg wrote many songs exhibiting many other aspects of her personality, or his interpretation of it. Entire albums. But that absence becomes a presence. The first thing I did writing the book was to contact Jane Birkin to arrange an interview but it was never possible to conduct due to the fact I was living in Cambodia at the time and she was in tour in Europe. The more I thought about it the more it seemed somehow appropriate in an odd way.

Melody Nelson was a cipher, an absence, a ghost and she remains so in my book. Lolita is just a silly little girl. Gainsbourg is often called a misogynist and he brought the term on himself. Certainly writing about the Beats at the same time put things into perspective about how liberal Gainsbourg actually was in comparison; Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, for all their strengths, were atrociously sexist. Serge fixated on women, which is no proof of egalitarianism all haters are fixated on and defined by the subject of their hate , but it seemed to come from many perspectives and in the work he wrote specifically for women, it took multi-faceted forms.

Sometimes cruel, sometimes kind. Like any artist, he used characters as ways of invariably and indirectly describing himself and his relationship to the world. You could see that as a denial of agency for those involved but what else can a man do if he chooses to write about women? Despite interference from a conniving ex-husband, she does her best to raise their teenage daughter.


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