I've started a new blog - This And That Continued - at www.jennydiski.wordpress.com
I've started a new blog - This And That Continued - at www.jennydiski.wordpress.com
The paperback of my most recent book, What I Don't Know About Animals, is now available. You might like to read it.
This is part of my Diary piece in the latest London Review of Books: Read all of it here
(See also the latest from Bernard-Henri Lévi in the Huffington Post)
In 1961 I was raped by an American in London. I was 14, a year older than the girl Polanski gave half a Quaalude and champagne to, then had oral, vaginal and anal sex with. In defence of Polanski, various people have pointed out Geimer was a teenage model and was doing a photo-shoot her mother had fixed up with Polanski, who said he wanted to take the pictures for Vogue. As further evidence to mitigate Polanski’s crime people have pointed out that after she had been drinking champagne (encouraged by Polanski during the photo session) Polanski got into a jacuzzi and suggested she join him, but she said she had to go home. He phoned her mother and said she would be late, then he let her speak to her mother. Geimer replied ‘no’ when her mother asked if she wanted to be picked up and taken home, and she consented, according to one telling, though this isn’t clear in the grand jury transcript, to oral sex. She also told the judge that she’d had sex twice before with her boyfriend, who was around her own age.
What got my interest finally and fully engaged was the idea of a 13-year-old consenting to have oral sex with a 44-year-old film director. Not, of course, that children aren’t sexual or even apparently complicit sometimes in sexual play. She was clearly not an innocent. (Though previous sexual experience is not a bar to a rape conviction even where the victim is over the age of consent.) Nevertheless, in order for her to consent to oral sex, Polanski must have asked her. How did he ask? Some questions are more like questions than others. What is it like to be 13, a wannabe movie star (nearly all 13-year-olds are), in the presence of a powerful movie director in the house of a famous movie star (Jack Nicholson), being given a powerful drug and alcohol and then invited to give the great man a blow job or make yourself available for cunnilingus?
I was neither dazzled nor drugged into sex when I was 14 – I was embarrassed into it. I was walking along the street, one Friday morning, on my way to the Notting Hill Gate library, feeling cross after a row with my father, when a man with an American accent, in his twenties, suddenly appeared and started walking beside me. He asked my name. I ignored him. He repeated his question over and over again. That stuff happened. You just kept on walking when strange men spoke to you or exposed themselves. But this one was really persistent. He marched alongside me and then said that he was a singer and he’d written a new song. He wanted to know what I thought of it. When I said piss off, again, he started to sing. Loudly. These days, of course, I might well sing loudly in the street myself and not give a toss. But 14 is different. I was excruciated. A man singing to me full-throatedly as I walked down the road made me publicly ridiculous and clearly everyone on the planet was turning their head to stare at me. And laughing. I was beside myself with embarrassment. That, at any rate, was what my 14 was like. I hissed at him to stop and he said he would if I went to the recording studio where he worked and listened to him singing his song properly. It was just round the corner, a few minutes from where I lived. Then he started to sing again. He was amiable and quite funny, not frightening, if much too insistent....(The Whole Article)
In 2001, Armin Meiwes, a computer technician from Rotenburg in Germany, advertised on the Cannibal Café website for someone to have dinner with. He received numerous replies, but some withdrew when he responded and he considered others not serious enough. Eventually he invited Bernd Brandes for dinner. The plan was that Armin and Bernd would dine on Bernd’s severed penis, to be bitten off at the table for the occasion (this failed and it had to be cut off). Bernd found it too chewy, he said, so Armin put it in a sauté pan, but charred it and fed it to the dog. Later, Armin put Bernd in the bath (to marinate?), gave him alcohol and pills, read a science fiction book for three hours and then stabbed his dinner guest in the throat, hung him upside down on a meat hook in the ceiling, as any good butcher would, and sliced him into manageable portions. The world was agog at the news of the German cannibal and his two trials, at the first of which he was found guilty of manslaughter (no law against cannibalism in Germany, and his ‘victim’ had consented, volunteered actually, to being killed and eaten) and sentenced to eight years. He was retried on appeal for first-degree murder on the grounds that Bernd might not have been in a position to consent once his penis had been severed and the blood loss taken its intellectual toll. Armin Meiwes was given life. So far so goggable, but then Meiwes gave a TV interview and explained, ‘I sautéed the steak of Bernd, with salt, pepper, garlic and nutmeg. I had it with Princess croquettes, Brussels sprouts and a green pepper sauce,’ and you begin to see, as the suburban lace curtain drifts into place, that the reality of cannibalism could be far less interesting than the idea of it. I think it’s the Princess croquettes in particular that cause the disappointment. More here
My Book Of A Lifetime: The Essays, By Michel de Montaigne
Reviewed by Jenny Diski
Friday, 31 October 2008
In 1585 Marie de Gournay, an awkward 18-year-old who spent her days mooching in her father's small library, read the first two volumes of The Essays by Michel de Montaigne, then a man in his mid-fifties. She fell immediately in love. Her mother administered a dose of hellebore to bring her back to her senses, but she determined that one day she would meet the writer, because in all the world no one understood his remarkable work so well as she. Three years later, she did meet him, and he spent several weeks in her house in Picardy recuperating from an illness and wallowing in her adoration. After his death she became his editor. A reader's dream came true.
Marie de Gournay was just the first of many readers to be seduced by Montaigne and to be made to feel by his writing that he spoke directly to them. Montaigne has stood by my shoulder, and whispered in my ear, too, though, of necessity, he is more ectoplasmic these days.
It's not just Montaigne; all avid readers know that the best writers rank with the great seducers. Montaigne was quite brazen about it. He wrote about himself candidly as no one had done before: "I am the matter of my book." He described what and how he liked to eat (greedily, biting his fingers in his haste), how he preferred making love (in bed, not standing up), how often he emptied his bowels, that one must fulfil the letter of one's duty to family and work, but always keep a back room in the shop for oneself and, above all, what it meant to have had a true friend and lost him.
He retired to his tower to write about life and discovered that he was his own subject of investigation. Learning about himself was the only possible channel through which to interrogate the larger world. But in writing himself down he was also signalling – quite consciously – to someone he had yet to meet to fill the empty place that solitary writing left. "Besides this profit that I derive from writing about myself, I hope for this other advantage, that if it my humours happen to please and suit some worthy man before I die, he will try to meet me... If by such good signs I knew of a man who was suited to me, truly I would go very far to find him... Oh, a friend!" Such a person need only "whistle in their palm and I will go furnish them with essays in flesh and bone".
Of course, he meant me. Every reader of Montaigne knows that they are the very one he was speaking to. That manipulation by the solitary writer of the solitary reader is the secret, erotic space of reading. It works very rarely, but when it does, centuries don't matter, nor the actuality of the writer's life. We are their best and only reader. Montaigne – and all those others – reach out from their towers and make intimate contact and keep us mooching in libraries.
Jenny Diski's novel 'Apology for the Woman Writing' is published by Virago
Bits of Me Are Falling Apart: Dark Thoughts from the Middle Years by William Leith 208pp, Bloomsbury, £10.99