novel, "Prose" series, Cartea Romaneasca;, 2007, 264 pages
Translation rights sold to: All rights available
This is a spectacular volume of experimental prose, entirely consecrated to love or, more generally, the mysterious relationships between women and men. The erotic fantasy in the book is matchless, but is nonetheless akin to that of the author’s previous novel, Tricephalos. Taboos are attacked one by one, in order to undertake a detailed investigation of the psychology of intimacy. It is a book that is principally about men, within an explosive kaleidoscope achieved by a ludic, sensual and expressive feminine sensibility.
The Birth of Liquid Desires is one of Ruxandra Cesereanu’s best volumes of prose to date: it has the most meticulously supervised construction (with symmetries and correspondences between the component passages of prose); it enjoys thematic coherence and engages in a deep sounding of interior landscapes.
The volume opens with a text (The Birth of Liquid Desires) that takes passionate love as its theme, as experienced in absence or unrequitedness. Employing the epistolary convention, the tale provides a highly nuanced rendering of the experiences of hopeless love, capturing a divers range of mental states (from enthusiasm to repulsion, from fascination to hatred). The following prose piece, entitled The Touch, attempts to navigate to the centre of erotic fantasy, along a nightmarish and convoluted course. The third text, The Pearl and Other Snail’s Horns, is, in fact, a long and dense prose poem, on the theme of another incompatibility that love attempts to surmount: incest. However, it is not the taboo that is crucial here, but rather the pretext to investigate (in the form of a confession) the most obscure limits of desire and intimacy.
The second part of the book, Post-males, unfolds a kaleidoscope of masculine images, as they are retained by a capricious, ludic, sensual and – most importantly – expressive feminine memory. The one hundred and seven portraits of men are just as many masculine characters, moralities, and physiognomies, treated with lucidity and precision.
Finally, after an autobiographical and self-ironic postscript, there is a pseudo-questionnaire, containing questions addressed both to women – What is a man? – and to men – What does it mean to be a man? Constructed with much imagination, the answers manage to create a new and piquant gallery of masculine portraits, from the perspective of both camps.
The man a woman twists around in words are post-males. As a rule, all that is left of them is flayed skin put out to dry. But sometimes they leave behind visions, phantasms, sensations and emotions.
The man of whom I shall write at the beginning of this chain of men of every variety was a cat. Many people might think he was a tomcat, but no, he was a green cat, with piercing eyes and a well-trimmed bushy moustache. A hussar-cat, with strange desires, which he told me about, as we were sitting on the steps of a pavilion. He had a warm voice, nonetheless rugose from smoking, a colonel’s voice, half Prussian, half Polish. He was a short man, striding softly or even slightly swaying, with eyes a little inflamed by alcohol, like a merry frog. That was why I liked him : he was both a cat and a frog. He was a man who was one of us, a women’s man, almost like us, without having lost his virile sense and without ever having had the urge to be with a man bodily, to consummate sex with one like and identical to him. He saw in women warm roundnesses and had acquired a taste for voluptuousness. I didn’t know what a woman with warm roundness is, but I liked how it sounded. He spoke slowly, chewing his words like slices of halva, swallowing them at leisure. That is how the idea of writing about men came to me. Because it was he who began to tell me about how he would have liked to be a woman for a day. He would have liked to find out, for one day in the whole of his man’s life, how it is for female blood to flow there, through the crevice, what kind of blood it is, how it flows outside. He was very attached to our life, that of women, in a tender and blithe way, because, as I have already said, he was a cat. He did not, however, want to know about how it is to give birth, the pangs of creation did not arouse him in the least. He wanted to be a woman just for one day. As a man, his desires were both strange and normal ; in any case they had enchanted me. He would have liked to have been endowed with a marsupial pouch, but not like that of a kangaroo : a better concealed, eventually invisible, marsupial pouch in which to carry his lover. More precisely, he would have liked his lover to dwell all day in that marsupial pouch, to carry her with him day and night, to shield her from the temptations and from the scorns of this world. He would have let her breathe fresh air only at night, by the light of the stars, and, as he specified to me, he would have let her watch television for a little. But he would have made her coffee at the crack of dawn and he would have washed her like a badger cub. He would have spied on her while she said her prayers, to see whether she said a prayer for him. He would have hand-fed her, like a frail creature. Well, I told him, but this lover of yours would have to be the size of a five-year-old girl, otherwise she wouldn’t fit in your marsupial pouch. What can you do with a lover who has the body of a five-year-old girl ? A lover who is always with you and in you, he told me, what more could I ask ? A pocket lover, I murmured. I would tell her stories and brush her hair, he interrupted. I looked closely at the man before me : he was a cat of a man, and so I said meow-meow and off I went.
He was a tall red-haired man, almost always dressed in black. He was an interesting man, but I avoided him like the plague. I would not have liked to have been touched by him at any time or under any circumstances. I felt a revulsion, as towards a hysterical and incomplete man. His small hands were those of a girl, his eyes autistic. He was lively and full of charm and a great storyteller, picturesquely loquacious when he was not in the grip of paranoia. His body was never to be seen, because it was always swaddled, camouflaged in roomy and concealing layers of clothes. He refused to make his body felt in one way or another, and that was why he was reminiscent of a gravedigger. He had white skin, unaccustomed to being touched. He did not know what it meant to be tempted or to desire, because he did not permit himself to feel anything. He was frightened of the world and of the bodies that circulated through it. Had he been able to choose the way in which he could be born, he would have opted to be a soul without a body. That is why he was, in fact, a kind of ghost. He was a man enclosed within his own body as though in a crypt. He had the sharp voice of a quarrelsome or nosy woman : it seemed that he had concentrated his hope of life in that hysterical, squeaky voice of his, in the manhood that it ought to have contained. What was to be done with such a man ? To leave him to his own devices, to find his own way. He had a horror of the male sex, because he had a horror of his own body. Sometimes he and his solitude made me nauseous. Other times, he was very dear to me, because he had red hair and dressed in black.
He was a mature man, very mature, corpulent and soft. He was neither ugly nor handsome, but he had a voice that stirred all the outbursts and inbursts of a woman. He had the voice of a lively and gentle man, of a somnolent man, with flushed skin. I liked his voice as a quilt, as a sheet. I floated after his voice ; I bent towards it to pick it like a succulent fruit. I could have rubbed up against that voice as though up against a body. It was even a slippery, wet body, hence the way in which it invaded my ears as though they were defoliated sexes. I would thus hear with my own sex split in two, and his voice fell like a silent, fluffy avalanche. It was nice. It had a kind of silky, orchid yearning. His corpulence did not entice to bodily love, but nor to disgust. It was a corpulence like any other, bearable. But his voice was a mature sex, not at all hurried, a sign, a passage, a crossroads. He had chubby and childish hands. Their sensuality was minimal, but functional.
His long black hair, smelling of laundry soap, aroused me : long black hair. Sometimes, his eyes got in his hair and stayed there for a long while, hanging like bats. He was just skin and bones, thin, a man hard to caress, because there was not a crumb of flesh left on him. I don’t know how women touched him, because I never touched him. His long black hair was enough for me. It was my baldaquin. He creaked from all his joints, he was doubled-up in the thoracic cavity, he was a man crammed into himself, sickly and dear. I liked his voice only when it grated jerkily. Otherwise it would be hoarse and prickly, it would prickle my flesh and I didn’t like it. I could not at all imagine how that man made love, because I saw him as just a single, tall bone, from head to foot. I didn’t like his beard, but had he shaved it off, I would never have recognised him again. Polished hair and bone, that’s what he was.
He was a faun, a swarthy man, with a stiff beard. He had a curved, arched body, as though he were continuously embracing a woman. He often had an appetite for women, but he did not permit himself to expose it. He looked at them and was content with that much. He had a somehow gobbling mouth, with powerful teeth, which would have been capable of ripping you apart. He could have been an industrious shepherd of female sexes, his happy and obedient little sheep. But he was concerned about appearances. With his hands he would have touched greedily, with his beard he would have pricked wildly. But not he. He would speak of the body, but not of possessing it, although the latter obsessed him. He would smile satisfied at his own masculine state, he did not omit a single woman with his gaze, he would touch her in passing, as though he had given her a slap on the buttock, weighing up her backside, and nothing more. I often used to talk to him about women and men ; I liked to talk to him. I had never seen his body, but I suspected that it was dreadfully hairy. You could tell by his backwoodsman’s beard. His body hair was probably what prevented him from letting himself go : not because he was embarrassed, but because he was tangled in webs of lianas that hindered him advancing. His jungle of mature but nonetheless callow man, of faun but nonetheless tamed man. And, unfortunately, of conformist and predictable man.
He was a manling, which is to say a fresh little man. He had well-drawn and strong lips. He was a guerrilla fighter, although he looked like a little monk. I don’t know how much he knew about women, nor even if he had had any. His body was collapsed or ruptured, although he was young. Like a seahorse. However, he also seemed to be a budding inquisitor, reining in his body and his fluids. He might just as easily have been able to become a full and seductive man, a gourmand of women. He had to be prudent, because he was so slight that he would not have been able to survive the passion of too many females. I gazed on him with pleasure, as though he were my own, albeit imperfect, work. His eyes were sunken : they had a Spanish sensuality, but restrained rather than lustful. His eyelashes were arousing, as though they were a hundred untiring thighs all tumbled one on top of another. I had the sensation that he was wrapping me in yards of hair, as though in a cocoon. I would have liked to be younger for him, but time had left me behind.
I was crazy about tall men, and he was just the right height for my appetite. But he was an inveterate masturbator. He had nacreous, almost Japanese skin ; he had little brushes for eyelashes, fleshy lips and telescopic eyes. Women liked him, and he was addicted to them : he had possessed many and nonetheless he would never be sated, even after the sexual act was consummated he would still not miss out on a bout of masturbation. For that reason he disgusted me, even if it was a pitiful disgust. His own body was like a brother in arms to him, he could have done anything to it, except to mutilate it. That is why he used it in every shape and form, as a submissive and malleable servant. And nevertheless, his body was svelte and lively ; it was a young body, in the most authentic flowing of blood through veins and arteries. But it was, at the same time, the body of an autist. Sick of itself and, for that reason, stammering. I felt sorry for that man, so alien in our world. However many women he possessed, it was still with himself and with his own sex that he ate, dreamed and prayed to God. What more can I say, except Amen ?
One, two, three, one, two three, he plunges into his flesh, glancing sidelong and furtively at some women. With pasteboard appetites, with puffy eyes, as motionless as a Sphinx, he unnaturally caresses his ravenous body, his inflamed and defeated man’s body, with hairy hands, with legs cleaving the foul air, he falls and by no means ceases in his rapacious chasm, like an owl fur-lined in its screech, the Masturbator has no gods, he does not even have the keys to the body. The sticky, delusive and heavy touch momentarily raises him to the heavens, into a Nirvana that tastes of jam. He would look like a yogi in the lotus position, were his mouth not glassily half-opened, were his fixed smile not boozy, were his hands not moving like windmills, without them being the chimeras of Don Quixote mad on earth. He would be like an orphan with former octogenarian millionaire parents, were his eyes not leaping with sickly liveliness, one, two, three, the Masturbator is waltzing all by himself or dancing the tango with the phantasmal bodies of the above-mentioned women, not femmes fatales, or sensual, but bitter, with puckered breasts, their sex as black as the mouth of hell, in which, swimming on the point of drowning, the Masturbator seeks a crossing.
He was a huge man, of around one hundred and fifty kilos : he was the fattest and sexiest man I had ever seen. His body, although adipose, was friendly and calm, it was equal to itself, and that was what I liked. I never imagined him undressed, because there was no need at all : his sexual and warm voice did everything in place of his body. You could clamber on that voice like a baobab and live there for years at a time, without needing to feed yourself on anything. His body was a quivering basilica, stirring like an extraterrestrial mutant snail. There was something regal in his bodily hugeness, a patriarchate of flesh, a storehouse of bones enveloped in yellow furs, like a Methuselah of Siberia. If some woman might imagine a Yeti in the hypostasis of a sonic lover and nothing more, then such was this man, the fattest and the sexiest I had ever seen.
He was a lean, wizened man, with the eyes of a corpse. He was harsh with both women and men. I could never view him sexually, because he creaked with so much leanness and harshness. It was as though he were a boomerang-man. He yearned for interstellar communication with women, but he managed it only with men. For that reason he could speak only in an obscure tongue, so as to be sure that no one would understand him. I don’t know how he made love with women, but I feared that he pulled some of them by the hair and struck them across the face. His mistake was that he did not see in women predators, but sought partners for dialogue. Naturally, he was a romantic, inasmuch as he had no business in the century that had given birth to him. He would have felt at home in exile in Siberia or on a desert island, whence he could have sent impassioned letters.
He was a man as libidinous as a gob of spit. That’s exactly how I felt him to be. He had skin beaded with sweat, with a kind of bloated bubbles. His mouth was large, as broad as a frying pan. He was tall, as I like a man to be, but for nothing. For, he provoked the disgust of a purulent maggot that gets under the skin and bursts there. As for his voice, that made my revulsion all the greater. It was so greasy, so smeared in its faux tropical warmth that it would stick to the body of listener, and the latter would suddenly start to itch. It was the voice of a tender louse or an almost fervent bedbug. I was not at all sorry for that man, who was fit only to be thrown in the trash. After he spoke a few words to me, I would feel my skin stinging. Or I would have the feeling that I was about to come down with scabies. He had long pianist’s hands, but they were of no use to him. He had long eyelashes, but nor were they of any use to him. He did not know how to caress, or to see, or to talk. And that, with his voice of a slobbering slug.
He was a man who looked feeble-minded, with the face of a cretinous child, although he was intelligent and sensitive. He was so haughty that I used to feel like slapping him across the mouth, since that was whence all that vermiculate haughtiness spouted. Then, he was thin and cranky, and his thinness aroused repulsion, because I imagined his spine arching into his stomach and turning his innards inside out. In the summer, he used to wear low-cut blouses, as though he were a woman, so that his acquaintances used to nickname him the Wench. He liked those of the same sex as him, but he had never tried anything because he was far too thoroughly eaten by the avid mouths of the female sex. He did not know how to choose women, but only to be chosen by them. He spoke bluntly and was wilfully and tendentiously scabrous, but all that made him neither more attractive nor more repulsive. My repulsion came above all from his hybrid legs, which were those of neither a man nor a woman. And from his shoulders, those of an ephebe on steroids. If someone could imagine a weightlifting angel, then that man was something like that. Between worlds.
He was an ugly man, but his ugliness attracted me. It was almost a beautiful ugliness, that is to say. His entire being was concentrated in his face, I never looked at his body, I never thought that he had bones and that blood flowed through his veins. I never thought that he had a sex. But I always gazed at his face with a morbid fascination. There was nothing handsome or pleasant in that face : the nose was swollen and hideous, the mouth frayed, the eyes puffy, the cheekbones unhinged. Archimboldo, Archimboldo ! But all the ugliness of those features brought about a symphonic understanding of the whole face, so that the ugliness emerged from its habitual state and became something else. I might say that it became a provocative, interrogative stasis. That face was a map of the world, as I knew all too well, and that was what tempted me so cruelly. To touch that map, to travel over it, to attach myself to it. Things were none too normal, of course, if that was the way I felt. His face was like a broken lighthouse.
He was a man with a healthy body, the body of a well-fed peasant or a sailor with well-honed muscles. When he walked, I could hear his innards booming and his bones crossing blades as though in a fencing match. On the other hand, he had a face liquefied by languor, and the pallor of a simpleton. He was so ardent that his face consumed all the energy of the rest of his body, throttled as he was by all kinds of phantasms. His well-made body was thus useless in love : a beast of burden, good for bearing that ghost-like face. I felt him hulking in his passion. He had outbursts of rage. He was quarrelsome, coarse and did not know how to comport himself with women : he thought they could be a coin of exchange. He would come to blows, like an out-of-work drunkard, his albino foetus face convulsing. Everything flowed melting over that face, death, sexuality, and faith. Nothing was consistent or clear ; everything was viscous. Pallid snail’s head atop an athlete’s body.
He was fat, but he was enormously successful with women. His flesh and his voice and his varicose legs were all charming. His sense of humour gushed through his beard like a snake. Women liked him, because he didn’t wear rings on his fingers, neither the rings of a lone male nor of a married man. The crown of his head was like that of a newborn babe, and he had the chubby hands of a small boy greedy for sweets. Most of all he was seductive for the fact that he knew how to dance on his own. His belly was both an inflatable swimming float and a pillow for sleeping, and women, however much they might have thought that things were otherwise, used to adore sleeping on top of him, as though on a warm and living bed, a moving, steaming, whitish bed. I adored his ears, like those of a baby alligator. I would have played with them had he let me. He liked both to eat and to be eaten a little. He was an endlessly erotic and eroticised Ubu. He aroused passion and jealousy and frustration and rancour. I used to look at him, unalone in his corpulence as he was, and wonder : what would a plump Don Juan have been like ?
He had a shaven head and he always kept it that way, because he wanted to have two phalluses, one concealed the other visible. I knew from the start what message he wanted to convey by his close-cropped pate. He ate women with both a spoon and a ladle, and from time to time he would cut their souls in two or three with a kitchen knife. And then he would kick them out of the house. He had also frequented a number of brothels, in order to attempt all kinds of procedures for being raised from the dead. He often used to tell me about his women, as though I were a professional confessor. He liked to watch my eyes popping out. He twirled women like hoops, throwing them up into the air, jumping through them, twisting them around. He was hard to bear as a man, but he could be borne as a witness. His stories had something fantastic about them, as they were uttered by an incorrigible predator of women. He would lick his lips and his fingers when he was recounting his women, as though they were hunks of meat gobbled on the run. Had he been able, he would have added spicy sauces to them. Sometimes, he used to recount womanly fluids as though they were decadent ambrosias. He was a shaven pig, intelligent, slim, enticing. He would have crunched up however many women, whenever, wherever.
He almost always smelled as though he had pissed himself. He had the heavy stench of an unwashed man. His body was crumpled in on itself like a caterpillar swaddled up in its segments. Whenever I met him, I would never know where his spinal column was, or where his hips were joined. I would never have been able to touch him, because of his amorphous body with its pestilential smell. His gums were fused together by rosy ridges, as though he were still breastfeeding. Nevertheless, what I knew about him was that he made love quite often. On the other hand, he didn’t really know how to talk. His mind was in another world, which is why he did not take care of his body, but let it go to hell, to the trash. Whenever I met him, I would feel like bandaging my nose with gauze, as in a time of plague. Had I been closer to him, I would have told him to go and live in a fishery or a tannery, so as to quench his unkempt odour. His body was puffy, swollen by toxins. Otherwise, he had handsome, albeit watery, eyes, and the smile of a serene and contented murderer, even though he would have been incapable of killing so much as a fly.
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth
“Ruxandra Cesereanu’s book The Birth of Liquid Desires looks set to enjoy great success, not merely because it is one of the most refined literary experiments of recent years, but because it is an astonishing compendium of erotic fantasies, which have nothing banal or vulgar about them, and which approach us gracefully, helping us to emerge precisely from banality and tastelessness when it comes to what most absorbs us – the Eros.”
(Dan STANCA, Romānia liberă)
“The title of Ruxandra Cesereanu’s latest book, The Birth of Liquid Desires, is much more than an allusion to Dalí’s painting of 1932, it is the guiding thread of a literary experiment that embodies incipient eroticism, on the lines along which the author has already initiated her readers, in Tricephalos. Ruxandra Cesereanu’s writing is humorous, her observations are subtle, and each portrait comes with its own ambience, which evolves from melancholy to irony, from piety to mockery, to caricature.”
(Alina HORDILĂ, Altitudini)
“We do not yet find ourselves in a dynamic culture of impresarios and image-builders that might turn a writer like Ruxandra Cesereanu into an eccentric star, a corky and delicious VIP, which is to say what she is already, except that not everybody knows it…”
(Luminiţa MARCU, Cotidianul)
“The book contains a number of experimental prose pieces and is entirely consecrated to love or, more generally speaking, the mysterious attraction between women and men. The courage of erotic fantasy, unfettered imagination, and the consummate art of the portrait to be found in this volume are reminiscent of the author’s previous novel, Tricephalos. Ruxandra Cesereanu attacks and dismantles taboos one by one. She investigates the most intimate mechanisms of human relationships and explores a world that is apparently visible, but, in essence, full of unknowns : the miraculous world of men. The Birth of Liquid Desires is a volume full of refinement, but also brimming with a sensuality that is hard to ignore.”
(Claudiu GROZA, Clujeanul)
“Sketches from the pen of an author in an irresistibly ludic frame of mind. Sensual and full of imagination, these prose pieces are anchored in the most prosaic reality at one end, and in the super-reality of the dream and invention at the other. Bizarre, lively, enchanting, and then some !”
(Mircea MIHĂIEŞ, Cotidianul)