11 June 2010

Histoire d' O :: Soulified


I read Histoire d'O (published in Paris in 1954 by Anne Desclos under the penname Pauline Réage) on a journey through Thailand last month. 

Story of O is one of a terrifying sexual protagonist, and her story one of the most controversial of its time. Anne had written the story as a series of love letters to her lover who, it has been noted, was fond of the Marquis de Sade.  It might not be a stretch to consider Anne herself as the writer carrying out her own excavation of soul throughout the process.

In the story, O allows herself to become a consenting sexual slave, and grants her captors full control over what they fantasize an ideal female sexual entity might look like, act like, react like, scream like, cry like, be owned like - but not, to be loved like, or even to be able to like or know herself.

What makes this story so compelling is that O is in love with her primary captor, to whom she consented to engaging in sexual slavery, and was not in any way forced to do so by economic or societal dictates.  Not without obvious parallels, O is a fashion photographer creating, powering over, depicting and capturing her own version of femininity. 

In the end, O finds that while she still feels in love with her captor (who started out as a 'lover') he does not, and never did, reciprocate her feelings.  As a lover herself, O knew very little of love and self-love. The story compellingly spirals into the total and complete destruction of a version of self O had identified with, leaving her in the end glazed over and broken. 

This is disturbing if the reader cannot draw upon their own philosophy, experiences and values of life.  The story is utterly tragic if one believes that O was in complete rational control, or acting openly as a loving human being, and not, as I believe, operating from the needs of soul clawing from the depths of her self.

The needs of the soul are confounding.

While the total destruction of (a perceived) self is messy and gory (and despicable in light of the other actors involved who are culpable in the most severe acts of self-cherishing), it is not tragic at all.

Little did she know, on the level of the soul, O was acting in ways that were of her soul's volition dragging her deeper and deeper, irrevocably, down the long dark lonely path of the self. The journey of self that can only be made completely and entirely alone, and that arrives one inevitably to complete and utter ruin and destitution - either by the hand of external or internal, self or other, mind or body, religious or atheist, moral or immoral, etc. 

It was necessary that O's sexual captor not be her true lover, even though she kept herself believing he did love her until the very end, for the tale not to have been a tragedy; for the story to continue to it's final, deep dark well of utter isolation and collapse of an ending.

In the final chapter (and the author put forth several endings that might be an indication that she herself was waffling in her own crisis of faith), O is brought to a masquerade party to which she has herself chosen, because it suits her aesthetically - and because it covers her breasts and hides her final naked state from the others -  to wear the mask of an owl.

There O sits, entirely pierced, tattooed, branded, in bondage and naked save for her owl mask that has in the final denouement granted her the soul's version of night vision. A young man traipses past with his very young, naieve, entirely dependent girlfriend and comments that one day his girlfriend would 'learn' to be the same. (At whose hands, by what machinations and circumstances, I can't help but wonder ? )

O's gaze in that moment glazes over, goes inward for the first time as she peers with mythological soul-moving vision out across the edge and expanse of her own nothingness. Hers is a barren, broken, scarred, void of a landscape, and with no direction whatsoever, no concept of love, no reference point of self remaining she has no choice but to sit.

In this, disheartening for some, ending I saw what Thomas Moore might identify as the 'O-ization' of O. That  moment where she becomes completely individuated and entirely on her journey -  which was in a sense, the moment of salvation of her own soul. O is at a party, entirely alone at the end of a journey of such extreme, not one person around her, or in the universe, would comprehend what she had gone through. The end of the tale is a moment of incredible found faith.  There O sits on a frontier of self, donning the mask of an owl, outwardly glassy eyed and glazed over - but, inwardly, communing with herself for the first time. O sits alone, with no inner or outer direction, no guides save for a symbolic mask (she cannot herself see), at the edge of her ideals and her notions of control and power, and emptied of any fantasies of love, in fact abandoned by them.  There she sits - 'the holy fool' -  still alive, still breathing, in a raw, individual moment of found faith. 

"The path of the soul will not allow concealment of the shadow without unfortunate consequences. You don't achieve the goal of the philosopher's stone, the lapis lazuli at the core of your heart, without letting all of human passion into the fray. It takes a lot of material, alchemically, to produce the refinement of the peacock's tail or the treasured gold... But if you can tolerate the full weight of human possibility as the raw material ... You will have the spiritual radiance of the holy fool." 
(Moore, Thomas. Care of the Soul: a Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1992. 262. Print.)

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