Sunday, September 19, 2010

Libertine

It was pointed out to me a few mornings ago that my name had appeared on the list of Notable Libertines in the Wikipedia article on such.  It's unfortunately gone now, the change labeled by an irritated comment, replaced by Jim Morrison, another questionable entry given the true nature of the article itself, a figure who has been found misplaced there before. While I clearly can't pretend to be as Notable as the Notables listed beside Jim and myself, I thought it might be time to explain my feelings on the topic, and my masthead, which my friend Madeleine B. now repeats whenever speaking my name: Maestro Erling Wold, composer, producer of operas, libertine, the list of honorifics extending. Going back through the edit history - in my opinion an invention second only to the talk page - we see that the only others who have been awarded the honor and then stripped of it are three: Peter Doherty, Russell Brand and Carl Barât, all of whom were associated with the band of the name of the article, to wit, The Libertines, whose names were removed with a comment weighted with equal irritation to my own disbarment. 

Most of those on the list are famous for being ancient, since the past, the more distant the better, confers a certain weight and nobility to the members of whatever class of which one speaks. And let us also be clear what we mean of libertine. In the argot of today's common folk in the US of A, libertine equals rake or maybe slut, if that perfect word were to be applied to men, since we note immediately that all those on the list, and all those who have been on the list, are men. The word carries another meaning, and even another undercurrent in its sexual application, i.e., that the reason for the libertine's sexual excesses is that he is a freethinker, a person that rejects regular old European Christian proscriptions on sexual behavior. 

Ami Perrin predates the others and was not so much a libertine in our current sense of the word, not a fucker of goats and a drunken vomiter to excess, but the leader of group of German anti-Calvinists, a group who followed the reformation of Guillaume Farel, who carried to an extreme the theological notion of Sola Fide that my Lutheran father taught me, that we are saved by faith alone and not by our works, in that they were exempt from all temporal laws, be they of the church or of the state. He and his wife were accused of moral turpitude and in one case, that of the sin of dancing, ad even admitted their freedom to partake of such fruit.  From the 59 volume set of the works of Calvin himself, we find such salacious hors d'oeuvres as:

8 April 1546 - Register of the consistory. The wife of the sieur Ami Perrin appeared and was accused of having danced at Belle Rive and at the house of the sieur Antoine Lect. She denied it, although she admitted that she had seen others dancing and that she enjoyed dancing herself. ... She was again asked to name those who had been dancing, and she replied twice that she would prefer to be corrected by the city magistrates and face civil justice rather than the consistory court.

for which terrors, and for his attempt to overthrow the government and slaughter all the French, he was convicted and sentenced to the removal of his hand, a sentence made in absentia and thus of little consequence. 

The antinomianist idea that the post reformation man - and woman in this case - was freed of the shackles of civil and ecclesiastical law  became more popular during the period that the rest of the Notables are from, the 17th to the 19th centuries. Sade almost defines the modern notion of the term Libertine, having written the definitive manuals on the topic, some of which have been covered here before, Justine, Juliette, 120 Days of Sodom etc. But, as Simone de Beauvoir points out in her better-than-the-book introduction to the last work, he hardly actually did much of anything, nothing that would raise more than the slightest stirring in the chair of a daytime TV viewer today, hiring a few prostitutes who complained of mistreatment, using a Mickey Finn on another, sodomizing his manservant, ho hum. But he may have earned the title since he was arrested and sentenced to death for it (in absentia) and did bounce around from prison to prison, liked and disliked by the French governments who were at the time, blowing in the wind. I'm sure more happens in one San Francisco S&M club on one evening amongst those who need to get on with it and get back to their babysat children and their web design jobs. 

John Wilmot is famous mostly for being played by Johnny Depp in the movie of the name of this article and his one crappy childish play on the topic featuring characters with names like Fuckadilla, who at least defrauded young woman and their families by posing as a gynecologist and sometimes the matronly nurse Mrs Bendo, where one assumes that the intent was to apply what later became known as a treatment for hysteria, sans batteries and electric motors. That, the fact that he did seem to go both ways and acted in that regard with some gusto, and that he again, like Sade, was a vocal advocate for libertinage, may in fact earn him the title.  

Rimbaud and Verlaine?  Oh come now, a little love triangle gone bad, hardly the stuff of a medium-quality hard-boiled mid-century paperback, even the attempted murder mundane gunplay, no wheelchair-down-a-staircase or stabbing-in-the-eye-with-a-stiletto-heel. And Byron, the pederast and home-wrecker?  The only aspect of his romantic life that rises above tedium was that the married Lady Caroline Lamb lost so much weight in her despair that in stalking him could realistically pass as a young page boy. Casanova?  Most of those, myself included, that deign to wear the mantle of libertinage are truly just poseurs, like AC Swindburne, who Oscar Wilde famously called "a braggart in matters of vice, who had done everything he could to convince his fellow citizens of his homosexuality and bestiality without being in the slightest degree a homosexual or a bestializer."

The reader may at this point say that I am being unfair, that I am viewing these old folks from the vantage of my modern and urbane and laissez-faire period, post sexual revolution, post Wilt Chamberlain's claim of 20000 bedded, post the rockstar lifestyle, where even those who commonly call themselves monogamist are really serial polygamists, maybe waiting until the third date or the second or not and thinking not twice of it. This is a true condemnation. I myself, hardly an athlete of Wilt's stature, have probably had wilder, more public, and more frequently complex sexual incidents and relationships in my life than some of the Notables, and who, when I walk through the Folsom Street Fair can be happily recognized by one of the men in a public speed masturbation contest, who, when I enter a costumed sex party, just to press the flesh, to keep my name in the papers, can cause a ripple of recognition to spread through the crowd, reminiscent of the Leopold scene of Long-Haired Hare. But I am afraid that in the new world, the subsidence of religion as a civil force, the rise of sexual permissiveness, the decriminalization of pursuits long considered unacceptable, the golden championship belt of the World Champion Libertine must be put in its glass case, gathering dust slowly, pushed back bit by bit until it can no longer be seen behind the collection of Liberace rhinestone rings, as much as I wish I wish that I could be presented it. 

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