Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cahiers Parisiens: À faire vôtre conaissance, je suis ravie

Désolée, mes canards! Sorry, Ducks! Been an odd few days--an exhausting theory fight on a board I belong to, and general exhaustion! You see, it would seem that I did an apartment exchange with a French person who only drinks tea. That's right! No means of creating coffee in the apartment except a jar of instant coffee. Which I was actually desperate enough to use.

So I've been drinking tea. Now, I know that the UKians in my audience will think this odd, but tea doesn't wake me up, or at least not enough, not like coffee. And I think I've been going into serious caffeine withdrawal, which has completely messed up my sleep cycle. So today's big accomplishments--on the day I needed to do a solid day's work to get back on track--was walking down the Boulevard Voltaire to a kitchen appliances store where I got a tiny french press to make coffee with. And after I'd had a pot, and took a long nap, I finally am feeling human again.

So anyway. Do you like puns? do you like obscure French puns that only make sense in English! I do! I've named two blogs after that way, and the title of this post! Which I will explain below.

On Monday I went to the opening of Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Venetian Rivalries at the Louvre, thanks to a ticket my exchange mate scored for me. I'm not a huge fan of the Cinquecento, but there's obviously some insanely good stuff done by these painters, so I was happy to go--plus sailing into the special exhibition hall in the Louvre was pretty posh.

The show has some really good paintings, and they are really beautiful--though I agree a bit with Michelangelo's critique that the Venetian painters placed color over drawing skill. (It's okay; you can make the same criticism of my favorite painting in the world, which has some awkward bits--look at the way the arm kind of hangs out there in the foreground.) And as I walked through the exhibit, two thoughts came immediately to mind:

A) These guys painted real women!
Take a look at the centerpiece of the exhibit, one of Titian's most famous paintings, Danaë:

It's astonishing to contrast Danaë with media images today--her breasts, hips, thighs, arms--and look, she even has a bit of stomach. And she's a gorgeous, idealized image of femininity; this is what women were supposed to look like.

In fact, she looks a lot like Lizzi Miller...the plus-size (size 14) model:

Although she's hardly idealized, at least by some people:
So what do you think? Does Lizzi Miller look fantastic or is this lowering standards for stick thinness industrywide?
(For a little more intelligent discussion, see this Below the Belt post.)

However, my appreciation for this fact was kinda mitigate by my next observation...

B) This exhibit is a little...rapey

OK, a lot rapey.

I mean, the signature painting of the exhibit--the afore-referenced Danaë--depicts, well, the rape of a woman by Zeus. Oh, and did I mention that she had been kidnapped by her father and locked up to prevent her from having a kid? I know the Greeks weren't really big on happy stories, but still.

In fact, and I guess sort of to it's credit, the exhibit has a whole couple of rooms about the ways nudes are depicted in the arts of these masters. But even that was a bit problematic: wall to wall naked women, offering themselves up to men, or the male gaze, or alone by themselves (letting you gaze voyeuristically at them.) And in one room, there were five separate treatments of the Rape of Lucretia. Which is a lot of rape to have in one room, even if the paintings themselves are exquisitely decorated.

So that takes me back to French puns.

One of the things you say in French when you are introduced to someone is Ravissante à faire vôtre conaissance. Now, ravissante means ravished; and in French, this is basically only used in the way we use the English word ravishing, that is, beautiful.

But it comes from the same roots and same sense as ravished in English: to take, to carry rape.

So that's why I flipped it around in my post title, one translation of which might be: "to meet you, I am ravished."

I don't mean to say that in French you say that you're raped when you meet people. That's not what it means anymore. But it is an artifact of how rape, how the principles of rape--that a woman's body belongs not to her, but the men who look at her, who can take her--pervades every corner of our culture. You can see it art; you can hear it in language; you can feel it in the way men look at you, or in the long lists that people send you telling you how you can avoid being assaulted--because assault is an implacable force of nature, not the acts of people with the moral capacity to make decisions.

But hey, don't believe me. Just ask Tucker Max!


  1. For the word culture I just read rape culture these days.

    Never come across Tucker Max before - is he taken seriously by many?

  2. I've always been a fan of plus-size models. There's a great site with many images of plus-size models here:

    They're all gorgeous. The site's forum also has thought-provoking discussions about body image.

  3. God, I hate the phrase 'plus-size models'!!!!!

  4. @earwicga: yeah, especially since they're never plus-sized! (I think Emme was a 12.) Of course, we could just call them...models, right? I mean, they are models. But noes! Models is alls skinny!

    And you know, it's not a big deal to other people who are heavy, or gay, or trans or anything, cause, well, they aren't normal.


    Of course, it should be noticed that there is class stuff going on in both the images from the 16th century and those from the 21st. That is, when Titian was painting, having a body like that meant you ate well: you had enough money to afford as much food as you wanted to eat. (Not to get into fat-shaming issues about overeating; I just mean, you had enough to eat, as opposed to people who were skinny because they were starving.) In our enlightened era, of course, there are no hungry people (well, there are, but they don't make the TV or the glossies), and the marker is now to be thin: to be affluent enough to afford healthy food, to have a job where you don't need to do the kind of physical labor that demands you eat more food, to have the time to be able to cook the kinds of meals that keep you thin, to have the time to exercise. So there's even more fun privilege stuff going on! 'Tis ever the story.

  5. "A little rapey..."
    I never thought about Danae as raped, probably *because* of all these images where she's daydreaming and lounging through insemination by weird weather. And now I'm like, wait... Rapey! WTF!
    We need more Artemisia, to balance things out: