In the culture and time we live in, few things are as accessible as a female body - it is enough to go to any of the social networks and to find often borderline pornographic depictions of the female beauty. As an ardent lover of nude art and human sexuality, I am not the one to moralise or to engage in a lengthy monologue about respectability. The intent of this essay is primarily to explore and shed light on the seductress trope or archetype that exists in art and perhaps to show the nuanced difference between those and the modern depictions of female sexuality. Pornography has penetrated every sphere of life - there is nowhere where it is not - fetish wear has become a part of normal nighttime attire - the dog collars, the leather, the spandex are worn by celebrities and women when they go out at night. Our way of approaching sex has also become dominated by pornography - the way we express our preferences is often done by appropriating pornographic or fetish parlance. Sexuality is expressed through the aggressive, vulgar and often pornographic methods - overdoing and "over showing" is everywhere. It is full of the urge to be as visually engaging as possible because the observer may soon find a stronger drug. This is to mention because the archetypal seductresses that I shall explore in today's essay offer an almost opposite image of what is seductive and what is an active, visible expression of a female sensuality.
Distance & Confidence
"I do not understand why they keep talking of love when they are around me, when they look into my eyes and kiss my hand. (...) But when the red light is on, at the midnight's hour, and everyone hears my song, the reason becomes clear to me: My lips they give so fiery a kiss, my limbs are supple and white. It is as if it were written in the stars: You shall kiss! You shall love! My feet glide and float, my eyes lure and glow, and I dance as if in a trance because I know: My lips give so fiery a kiss.", sings Lehár's Giuditta, a heroine and the dancer of his opera that bears her very name. Giuditta is playful from the first words of the scene - she enters, pretending that she is oblivious to her charms and the effect she has on others. She does not look for the audience to tell her the new information but to confirm what she already knows - the rhetorical questions she asks are like the moment she spends in front of a mirror, admiring her own face, hair and body. She soon gives the response - her lips, her moves, her feet - she is magic embodied, how could they not admire her? An indifference would come as a surprise to her, not an awe she provokes. When the contemporary opera singer, Anna Netrebko sings the playful Giuditta's words she embodies the very spirit of the character - she plays and interacts with the audience, she flirts with them but also maintains a distance - she is never pulling anyone's sleeve for attention, she holds her space and yet the audience cannot help but pay attention to her (Watch Anna Netrebko's performance). "Near the walls of Seville, at my friend Lillas Pastia's. I will dance the séguedille and drink Manzanilla! I'll go to my friend Lillas Pastia's place, yes but I'll be bored. And the real pleasures are two so to keep me company, I will take my lover along. My lover! ... he is the devil. I kicked him out yesterday. My broken heart mends fast. My heart is as free as the air. I have gallants at the dozen, but they are not to my liking; here is the weekend. Who wants to love me? I will love him. Who wants my soul ... it is to take. You arrive at the right moment, I do not have time to wait, because with my new lover I'll go outside near the walls of Seville. At my friend Lillas Pastia's, I will dance the séguedille and drink Manzanilla. Yes, I will go to my friend Lillas Pastia's place!" are the words of the Bizet's coquette Carmen, who in many ways resembles Lehár's Giuditta but is also slightly contumelious and ill-mannered - she gladly provokes not just admiration but anger and annoyance. Still in a similar manner to Giuditta she is well aware of the effect she has and enjoys playing with it. In the most famous part of the opera, "Habanera", Carmen famously, both invites the men, touches them and feeds them, then rejects them, pushes them away, only to call them back in. Even when she is very open and suggestive, just like Giuditta's, the power of her seduction is in her maintenance of degree of distance between her and audience. She never allows any of the admirers to fully grasp her and just when they are confident they did it - she slips out of their hands. ("Près des remparts de Séville" & "Habanera")
Both Giuditta and Carmen are deeply confident, even conceited and vain - they proudly inhabit the microcosm in which they are the center of it. However, their vanity and self-satisfaction are not the egoistic and closed off kind of arrogance - they are more than ready to share the warmth they feel within themselves with others and whenever they open the door to that warmth, those around them desire to be a part of it. They never lean towards someone, never beg - they simply create the magical space that others want to join in. What we often consider vulgar is when someone is trying too hard, when behind the superficial veil of beauty or faux confidence, is a desperation and a deep need for validation. As a contrast to Carmen who shares her warmth with others, the vulgar woman tries to get others to tell her that she has warmth in the first place. One is about connection and interaction, the other about the ego and its need for approval.
It is not difficult to find, in any cinema - be it Hollywood, Bollywood, Egyptian golden age era cinema, East Asian or European period dramas, a film or a scene, in which a dancer, dances in front of an audience, sometimes a king, a sultan, a maharajah, a tsar, and he, seeing her dance, falls madly in love. In the Western tradition, the story of the biblical Salome - the dancer who dances before the king Herod II and its connection to the execution to John the Baptist took a further development in the imaginations of authors such are Oscar Wilde, Arthur O'Shaughnessy, Gustave Flaubert and musicians like Richard Strauss. The mystery of the seven veils, that came from Wilde's story, became popular among the Western, cabaret styles of the Near Eastern dances. Salome eventually became the very name behind the mental image of a captivating dancer. The solo performance done by Giuditta, Carmen, Salome or any other woman combines the two aspects mentioned under the previous subtitle - she performs alone and for herself but ultimately she is watched, and she knows she is being watched and makes sure that she is seen. However, the moment a king or a sultan are completely captivated by her is usually the moment she becomes fully consumed by the music and the movement and forgets about the audience. She is free of self-consciousness, her thoughts and mind go silent and the movement is subjected to the intelligence of the body. Surrendering completely to the movement and the rhythm, the dancer offers the glimpse of freedom from the mind that those observing also want to discover. Giuditta and Carmen are both dancers, and they both captivate with their dance. Unlike the more pornographic, dances, they, like Salome, leave something "behind the seven veils", they show and invite without overdoing, they incite curiosity, the desire for the unfolding of the story and not the quick release.
Pornography & Eros
Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami, explaining his enigmatic cinema and speaking of modern cinema said: "With this type of movie, we as viewers can create things according to our own experiences-the things we don’t see, that aren’t visible. There are 11 people in this movie who are not visible. At the end you know you haven’t seen them, but you feel you know who they were and what they were about. I want to create the type of cinema that shows by not showing. This is very different from most movies nowadays, which are not literally pornographic but are in essence pornographic, because they show so much that they take away any possibility of imagining things for ourselves. My aim is to give the chance to create as much as possible in our minds, through creativity and imagination. I want to tap the hidden information that’s within yourself and that you probably didn’t even know existed inside you. We have a saying in Persian, when somebody is looking at something with real intensity: “He had two eyes and he borrowed two more.” Those two borrowed eyes are what I want to capture-the eyes that will be borrowed by the viewer to see what’s outside the scene he’s looking at. To see what is there and also what is not there." (Source) Abbas uses a very simple, yet significant expression to explain much of that which we consume today: "in essence pornographic". Drowning in quick stimulation, in constant novelty, the media serves us exactly that - pornographic in essence content. Explicit lyrics and images are present all around us. Even the modern poetry, the one art that almost entirely depended on poetic figures of speech, has become about angst and raw emotional expression. We are called to simply swallow it and take it in, without much contempletation on anything - there is no time for it. The pornographic in essence is simply explicit, raw, vulgar, aggressive, it lacks patience and most importantly leaves no space for the viewer to fill in with his own thoughts, ideas and interpretation. There is no space for the "borrowed eyes". The viewer is but a bin to consume it all. The eros that is in the dance of Giuditta and Carmen, and in the essence of the seductress archetype we all have in our minds, has patience at its core. The quick move to action interrupts the dance and it interrupts the very pleasant feeling that it offered to the sultan looking at the dancer before him. In eros, we desire to feel longer and stronger, until the feeling liberates us from our minds and its projections. Where pornographic sentiment alienates the viewer and makes him feel disgusting within himself after having his thirst quenched, eros invites the viewer, makes him not escape life but feel the ecstasy of being alive.