Monday, September 7, 2020

22 Minutes or Nine and a Half Weeks

You may recall the l978 novel Nine and a Half Weeks: A Memoir of a Love Affair. Written under a pseudonym, it told the story of an art dealer who gets involved in a sadomasochistic relationship with a Wall Street broker. An excerpt appeared in Playboy and was made into a film starring Kim Basinger who claimed she had been traumatized during the shooting. Daphne Merkin’s 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love bears some comparison, though it's distinguished both by the author's ferocious intelligence and her  metafictional asides. This time the subject is an editor, Judith Stone. She's an ingenue who falls for a lawyer, Howard Rose. The Story of O was the ur-modern novel of sexual cannibalism and before that was, of course, de Sade, who went to prison for the acts he documented. Merkin’s novel is actually a wonderful anachronism to the extent that it recalls a form of sexual desire, centered around submission and domination, that has become forbidden in this era of Newspeak. It does for S&M what samizdat did for poetry during Stalinist times. And it’s also reminiscent of those Victorian novels like The Autobiography of a Flea written by Anonymous. Here is what Laura Kipnis, the author of Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, said on the jacket “Sometimes desire is a catastrophe. You can be a supremely brainy woman and not have the first clue about your predilections, until the wrong man comes along and introduces you to them. Daphne Merkin gives us an exquisitely rendered philosophical mystery about the divided self, and the awkward fact that we don’t necessarily choose what arouses us.” Bravo! And bravo to Merkin and Kipnis for keeping unconscious and irrational desire alive as a subject for art—at a time when feeling, emotion and sexuality itself are increasingly  turned into political choices to be dealt with by absentee ballot.

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