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A Passionate Disorder by RĂ©gis Jauffret

Sex is a minor art, associated with beds and grottos. In the open air such physical union has a tendency to dissipate. In a natural environment the young couple without a mattress.

Consider, for example, this confused jumble of pleasure seekers, their strivings so unlike the approximations of coitus experienced in daily life. They appear sated with the ancestral gymnastics, the conventional postures, the humid torpor in which we drift off to sleep, swaddled in the sheets of our incontinence.

Pleasure is imaginary, yet they pretend to believe in it, finding gratification in its pursuit.

Take a close look at the joyous faces of the faithful kneeling before the altar or the bonzes of ages past enveloped in the smoke and flame of their destruction. Orgasm is a bit like believing in god: you are swept away on a wave of physical sensation. Although it's a voyage, you're left standing on the pier with the bums and the palettes of unsold refrigerators.

Life is ridiculous, sexual life as well. It goes on in spite of everything and amid the exhausting pageant of reproduction, there are those who play at torture the way children parody the genocide of Native Americans. They ask to be bound and whipped; they make us laugh. They are like clowns in some sordid circus whose act culminates in an explosion of sperm.

And love? Look at this couple, embracing in this swamp of limp, contorted bodies, resembling the occupants of some decadent tomb lit up like a nightclub. They appear to be in love but met here by accident. She wanders from room to room with her ankles shackled, while a fat middle-aged woman manacles him to a post. Later, they couple on a bench covered in raw leather, ignoring the buckles and straps. The woman's cries are louder than the knot of compressed, contorted bodies around her. His groan is like a death rattle. Alone again, they disappear in the crowd of corpulent ghosts in their living tomb, the music caterwauling, the lights flashing and glittering like fat candies.

Look again at the partly bald man playing a light back and forth across the woman's body. A lover of mechanical inventions? He is like the neighbor forever rebuilding his motorcycle or repairing his son's toys. Yet he's so clumsy his wife refuses to let him touch anything in the house.

The sexual congress that resulted in the birth of the large majority of these organisms was of an almost veterinary banality. They had a mother. And very likely, during the moment of conception, her hands gripped the edge of the mattress, her face distorted into a grimace like that of a grazing herbivore. Years later, their brood, now arrived at maturity, takes pleasure in dragging out this parody of conception. Look carefully.

In a way it resembles a party. The piled bodies are like the successive layers of cream that filled your birthday cake when you were a child. Their cries are like cherries on the whipped cream buttocks and breasts. Enjoy.

I would like to be in their place, lose myself in this horizontal crowd. Some of them achieve happiness... or at least ataraxy, oblivion. It's a convenient philosophy, a religion of multicolored monasteries, whose chapels are illuminated by a subdued light in which the faithful can struggle with their conscience without appearing wrinkled or fat. These are wingless souls, however, who mount one another to reach heaven.

Look at this pile of bodies with its heads, arms, hands and legs. If you were in their place, you would realize that each of them remains the same. There is no exchange of thoughts, feelings, or cells. Solitude is a beautiful invention, unchanged by this writhing, lively charnel house of swingers.

When you leave your office you go to the supermarket. You wait in line at the cash register, the ads flittering in the air around you like sprites. Suddenly, your mind is invaded by the memory of this woman in a harness, straddling you like a Cossack, music playing in the background, clumps of naked people scattered around the room, like so much meat in a display case. You pay and leave the store. You make your way home.

Your wife is small, thin, and she's counting on you to prepare dinner. At the end of the evening you have sex before falling asleep. Your movements are simple, ordinary, but exercised with a slight flourish. One day she'll accompany you to the club.

They are not repulsive. In any case, they think they're alone. As if someone were to photograph you in the bath, or the last time you masturbated, or when you made love last week with a former friend from school, who is now the mother of a disturbed child and sleeps with strangers to unwind. They are not repulsive. They are just there, caught in the net, swimming in this aquarium of flesh, behind the glass that keeps you from touching them.

You would like to walk among them, move from group to group, break them down into their component parts. You think you're in a garden, the human shrubbery waving in an invisible wind at sunset, at dusk, a red night with a pale moon blinking in the corner of the sky. You lean toward them. Ask them questions they never answer. You scratch them, poke them, but are unable to communicate. Even if you were to wander naked into their midst, you would never be part of them.

Love is a small, unassuming thing we can hide in our pocket, along with our keys and a package of tissues. But these bodies make it a point to ignore love. They know there is something adolescent about it, that it is as volatile as a whiff of ether.

They prefer to accumulate smaller pleasures, take their chances among these bodies, give and take in anonymity and oblivion. They reject feelings, tenderness... the whole line of sentimental products.

I can't help but wonder if I wasn't at this party. I seem to recognize my back in this photograph. I had spent part of the day in an airplane and had barely enough time to return home, put down my bag, and take a shower. When I got to the club, I left my clothes in the cloak room. The music made it difficult to hear. People assessed one another by touch. I was looking at a young woman, red under the perverse light of the spots, when I was snatched up by a small cluster of revelers.

I seem to have lost consciousness, and when I returned to my senses, found myself alone in a corner, curled up like a carpet. The others were no doubt more fortunate.

In our society there are those who ask to be beaten or tied... a corporeal elite. Suffering invigorates them the way a good hot bath invigorates a child who has been playing too long in the snow. They want our attention; they want to be pampered. How they long for the absent caress, the kiss that feels like dry straw upon their cheek. This man, for example... or is it a woman?... with his head bowed, hanging from the ceiling by a chain.

That night she wanted to get away from it all, take a break from protocol so to speak. When she returns home she'll be relaxed. She'll drink a glass or two of water before going to bed and the next day she'll feel like a new woman.

This man, the one with his clothes on, in the upper right, standing over a woman stretched out on the floor, runs a large pharmacy. He's divorced. His wife left with their only child, a daughter. He's never been interested in sex, and even when he was young he refused to spend more than 30 minutes a week doing it. Once married, he discovered he was useless, and his wife had to find pleasure alone so that her sense of frustration didn't make her neurotic.

Perhaps you recognize her. Her blue flesh stands out against the red background, roughly rectangular in shape. She's a politician.

She was surprised when she discovered she was pregnant, and suspected that it was more the result of her solitary masturbation than her lazy husband. She left one month after their daughter was born and he has been looking for her in the clubs ever since.

Orgasm is a transitory, yet agreeable, state. Other people's orgasms lack charm, however. They are more of a nuisance than a pleasure for the eye and ear. But photography renders them aseptic.

English translation by R. Bononno