In Which We Do Not Wish We Were Djuna Barnes

This is the third in a series.

The Vicious Age

The diaries of Charles Henri Ford culminate in a tremendous amount of unhappiness. In his primary relationship with the painter Pavlik Tchelitchew and the other affairs he consummated in full view of his partner, Henri Ford brings the sex life of his period into full and magnificent display in all its decadence, glory and shame. The older Ford became, the more reluctant he became to settle on any determinative theory of art or life, so he spent most of time bouncing from muse to muse.

The entries that follow are highly excerpted from the original manuscript, which you can purchase here.

“Santa Claus,” I replied to the man in the movie house on whose lap I sat, as he fingered my penis he’d whispered in my ear, “What’s that” and simultaneously a slide with the image of St. Nick was flashed on the screen. My earliest memory of sex.

This time twenty years ago I was visiting Getrude Stein at Bilignin. The first thing she’d asked me was if there’d been sex between Carmita and me in Morocco. Raspberries were in season. A big fresh bowl of them, a generous serving of cream, arrived on the breakfast tray. Alice B. Toklas had picked them that morning. Gertrude let me read a MS-copy of her book, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, to be brought out in September. “I’ve given you a boost,” she told me.

One night, by lamplight, I complimented Gertrude on her looks. “You look handsome in that light,” I said, her profile being towards me. “Yes,” she said, “we’re both very handsome.” She predicted “success” for me in Paris – warned me that I should work, work, not let personal success spoil me. She said I showed a”three-year” development in character in maturity since she’d seen me in the spring of 1932 – when I’d gone to her to repay a small loan. That repayment fetched me a line in the Autobiography: “He is also honest which is also a pleasure.”

+

It is as a natural for a poet to want to draw as it is for an eleven year old boy to want to masturbate a man.

How I shall enjoy leaving Pavlik one day – how free I shall feel. But everything must be set first, both for him and for me. It will be like leaving a parent – but the time must come.

Babies are no more impossible than human beings.

Pavlik’s arrogance, childishness, infantilism, narcissism — all combine into his personality, take a personal form — as does my arrogance, childishness, infantilism, narcissism.

+

I go out now to have the car insured against fire and theft. Pavlik has gone, without breakfast, to deposit his stool for examination.

Writing is writing, nothing else. Gertrude Stein was convinced of this, it was her chief conviction. That’s why she used so many words trying to convince others.

I went to Harlem one night with an extraordinary woman: beautiful, famous, elegant, witty, worldly. To her I was a naif, pretty, bright little boy with a Southern accent. But if I had been her, I too, would have kissed that little boy, in the taxi returning from Harlem to Greenwich Village.

The next day I was in another taxi, on the way to the French Line Pier, but I stopped by the lady’s Washington Square apartment, to pick up the gift of a book — her own — which she’d promised me. “To Little Charles — With love,” it was inscribed – and the offering was sealed with a kiss. She told me later – in Paris – that she’d wanted to kiss me sober, so as to show her drunken kisses were meant. Her name was Djuna Barnes.

+

Last night, high, I disclosed to Mayo the three types of females who attract my imagination: the little girl, the somnambule, and the cadaver.

Ape’s face on a bird’s body.

Where is the Equinox: the day of the conscious, the night of the unconscious? “Rhymes, too, come from the unconscious,” Auden told me. “They should stay there,” I said.

We laugh at the childish, the inappropriate, the unfortunate. At this point, 1954, the United States is much too full of its own enjoyment.

“You should show it something,” said Pavlik, of the new moon, as we walked on the starlit, moonlit roof terrace.

“I show my eyes of silver blue.”

+

My birthday. At the next post office, made of rocks and rills, there may be a package, postmarked Eternity (that inconceivable town), addressed to one of us, tied with strings that meet at a touch, wrapped in the skin of a transparent creature, holding an egg to explode the magic tooth which shines when the moon shines, only.

The landscape is covered with a blanket of snow. All this whiteness adds to the sense of being isolated, enclosed, one feels stimulated sexually.

Don G. was telling us how in the winter season the Italians make love less — even among the peasants — their sexual nature sleeps, like trees and such, wakes up again in the spring. And that’s why, he says, an Italian man of sixty may still appear young. I know one thing: I’m sex-starved. Any age is the vicious age.

I met Isak Dinesen. She was wearing a deep cloche of tobacco-colored straw. She talks rhythmically, and sounds as if she were reading one of her own stories. She said I am like what she expected me to be. I said, “You are beyond my expectations.”

+

As much of humanity in me as I can stand.

1954

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