The Vanishing Point of Desire – Vi Khi Nao: Eroticism at its most intimate. (book review)
The opium pipe of ink runs through the river of your breath. You inhale. I exhale. A trail of reddish brown, the drug, unravels the air. I am still outside the corridor. Time, the Gentleman, still inspects the palimpsest of desire. He takes his time. He looks carefully at the torn pages. The slit. The mark of passion. The pipe of ink. The opium floats through his nose.
In his collection of essays entitled Eroticism, Georges Bataille says that eroticism is an inner aspect of ourselves, but we fail to realise this because we are searching, always for the erotic outside of ourselves. We will take object – an other – and turn them into the emblem of our desire. He says:
“The choice of object always depends on the personal taste of the subject; even if it lights upon a woman… the decisive factor is often an intangible aspect of this woman, not an objective quality; possibly nothing about her would force our choice if she did not somehow touch our inner being.”
This quote from Bataille perfectly sums up The Vanishing Point of Desire, skilfully and delicately written by Vi Khi Nao. Eroticism is a deeply personal experience; despite our attempts to colonise it and turn demystify it, it remains elusive ad unfathomable. It washes over us and yet comes and goes with the tides of our inner being. Batialle states that human eroticism differs completely from animal sexuality because it calls this inner life into play. For all our attempts to reduce eroticism to the sex act, it eludes us and remains connected to something deep within. I have never seen this so skilfully and beautifully portrayed as in The Vanishing Point of desire.
Take me in.
Could you see where the artist places her hands on the ink stain? To produce different notes. Different ink glissandi. Watch as it spills out, cannot be contained by the instrument that creates it. Please.
Leave me here.
Tied up in the nature of eroticism is shame – another experience that separates us from animal sexuality (a thing a human creature can experience but it is not eroticism). This does not mean we will feel shame in the sex act, but that our eroticism is connected with the complex feeling inside each of us that will tie us to moments, places, people and things about which we have had confused responses. Vi Khi Nao weaves an internal world that matches the external imagery to her protagonists own desire as she observes and longs for, a female she wishes to take for her lover. She begins with her observations of the woman in a conference room, and immediately the reader is aware of the voyeurism and the predatory nature of the erotic. As the book floats through image after image, we are won over, despite the overwhelming nature of the protagonists erotic fever which at first can seem unsettling. Despite the beauty of the protagonists thoughts, this is not an innocent longing we are dealing with here.
Women with their pale breasts exposed fall as we depart the Tree of Solitude. They fall slowly and calmly. They float in the cold air. Suspended. Kissing the ground on their way down with the hems of their skirts. The crushing sound of their weight. Lubricating dry the outer rim of the earth’s dank lips.
Have you ever gazed at Autumn and desired her?
The images and their floating evoke film scenes inside the reader’s mind. I was struck with how strongly I could see the narrative, despite its absence of plot and typical characterisation. This is avant-garde literature at its best eschewing all forms of structure to simply be within the moment. But then that is what desire is, surely. The total and full immersion into feeling and allowing that to overtake everything for a moment brief and delicious. Bataille connects religion with the fever of eroticism and so does Vi Khi Nao. She uses terms like cathedral, Gates of Hell, and God hanging out the souls of the dead. These are the terms that will infuse desire with dread and give us the sense of object of desire as victim.
I take my first bite into you. Eating you. My eyes searching the horizon for the Vanishing Point of Desire. Nowhere in sight. Desire doesn’t have a point. It doesn’t vanish.
This is my third painting. My complete exhibition. Will you let me know what you think of it? AS you descend out of the airport Charles de Gaulle. AS you walk out of the conference room from the interview.
Flowers of Shanghai.
Do they ever bloom out of your television screen?
And make you enter the Cathedral?
Leave a mark on your skin?
And a question remains, or rather is answered eventually, as to who the “victim” of this desire is. Although there is no clear plot line, there are some settings. A conference room and an airport, and several museums. The Museums are referenced, but the narrator appears to be observing – hunting – the object of her desire in the conference room and in the airport. She is painting a great work. She is uncovering a great work. Her desire is a work of art, built in the shadow of her muse. She sits and observes with the peripheral stare of a lover at the muse who inspires and completes the great work of art – the representation of the object of desire, because in the end we can’t really touch the other, we can’t really reach the other, we can only hope to connect with the mirror image inside ourselves. And again, this is Vi Khi Nao’s point, as she reveals me, the reader as her object of desire and the book I hold, as the great work of art. That moment, that point of realisation, is The Vanishing Point of Desire.
As you can well imagine a book with subject matter like the depths of eroticism and meta connection with itself and its reader is bound to be tied up in the most beautiful of language. It’s not always a light brush stroke, as I said above. There are moments that weigh heavily, as any book about desire and creativity should address heaviness. This is no mere rambling of a woman salivating over love. This is the work of a serious philosopher, a gifted, clever writer teasing and taunting her reader as she seduces with lush eroticism However, despite all the twirling and tongue tickling, this is a writer who loves her reader and wants to connect in the deepest possible way. She creates an intimacy that is born of a freedom to experience her own longing.
The Vanishing Point of desire is a wonderful, beautiful book. Another in the unbeatable collection from Fugue State Press, a collection (I now understand) skilfully woven by James Chapman.