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jueves, 3 de julio de 2014

Lessons on Love's Obscenity (Adam Colin Chambers)


First released in Off Beat Cinema Magazine #03, in April 2011, Amsterdam 








Lessons on
Love’s Obscenity

Obscéne  /  Obscene

Discredited by modern opinion, love’s
sentimentality must be assumed by the amorous
subject as a powerful transgression which leaves
him alone and exposed; by a reversal of values,
then, it is this sentimentality which today
constitutes love’s obscenity.


- Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse 1



As with schools and cathedrals, the cinema also plays a role in socializing us through its lessons on love. In the throes of passion, who can deny uttering a line or performing a gesture that we once encountered on the screen? In these moments, with an uncanny sense of  déjà vu, we briefly become the actors of our dreams; acting out films, in the movie that is our life. (oh god, what a horrible admission…)

But cinema also helps us transgress such images, moments, and gestures. Through its movements, it sometimes guides us beyond the heteronormative impressions left upon our brains, and reminds us that we still have some semblance of control over whom and what we love – even the concept of ‘love’ itself.

Xavier Dolan’s recent J’ai tué ma mere (2009) offers audiences with a beautiful sex scene that far surpasses the usual depictions of high school romance. With collage-style editing, and an abundance of paint, the two male actors wrestle each other to the floor, and have sex to an awesome musical score.

Gaspar Noé’s  Enter the Void (2009) also transgresses mainstream ideas of love, but with images that are extremely scarring. The film presents a critical deconstruction of intimacy that focuses on the radical materiality of sex. There are images revealing  p. o. v. close-ups of vaginal penetration, alongside orgiastic scenes of emptiness at a neon-Tokyo-brothel in the middle of the night.

Although these films offer inspiring cinematic experiences, and succeed in transgressing taboos and stereotypes, perhaps they fall short in crossing what Roland Barthes describes as love’s most obscene aspect of all: namely, its sentimentality.

In A Lover’s Discourse, Barthes writes that in our modern age, by some historical reversal, “it is no longer the sexual which is indecent, it is the sentimental – censured in the name of what is in fact only another morality.” In other words, today, love’s true obscenity is its sentimentality (it is what is most hidden by the morality police of consumer culture).

If we follow Barthes point then, the most transgressive films of all should be the ones that explore sentimentality, and not simply sexuality. In other words, there is an abject quality to sentimentality that surpasses even the most obscene representations of sex (incest, rape, paedophilia, etc.) and for this reason must be addressed in any meditation on transgression.

The pain we feel in Death in Venice (1971), when Gustave von Aschenbach slowly succumbs to his death, sitting on the beach, as he stares at his pure image of love; an adolescent boy representing everything he lacks.

Marco’s tears in Hable con Ella (2002) following the suicide of his friend – the man who taught him how to love, and how to talk.

And in Mädchen in Uniform (1931), the teacher- student relationship that reveals the deep pleasures of pedagogy, while truly pushing the boundaries of critical cinematic eroticism.

Together, with such films, let’s move beyond the conventional taboos of the present, and try to explore an old transgression that is often neglected.

Together, let’s look into lessons on love’s ultimate obscenity.

Let’s redefine the sentimental…

Let’s take back sentimentality!




-Adam C. Chambers


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