September 16, 2008

Le Plaisir

The pleasure principle -- that we are entirely motivated by the attraction to pleasure and the avoidance of pain, has come to the cultural/political/economic news cycle foreground lately, in so many ways. What an ironic coincidence, for one, that the unhappy David Foster Wallace, whose book Infinite Jest centered around a film so entertaining it killed you to watch it, ended his life recently, and just now, coincidentally, Le Plaisir, by Max Ophuls, was reviewed in the NYT as a new release in DVD form, for home viewing. Now you can watch it again and again, and savor every morsel. Ophuls had a different perspective on pleasure than did DFW, that's for sure. It's quite a clash of world views to assimilate -- the New World post-modern self-consciousness of life in a consumer culture and the use of irony to defend the self against being ravaged by greed vs. Old World ease with a developed aesthetic of refined appreciation of all the animal/physical pleasures of daily life and materiality. Classic French culture teaches by example about eating carefully prepared food and drinking fine wines, refining the sense of smell with imaginative perfume and clothing the body in couture, and from there moving on into the development of complicated and classic romantic dances between the sexes and the cultivation of relationships over time -- as a way of life that is unambiguous in its pursuit of expressive sensuality and pleasure in all its forms.

DFW's interviews have been replayed everywhere recently, and the one that struck me the most was on Fresh Air, where he gave a great explanation of how contemporary self-consciousness, cynicism and irony are both necessary defenses of the self and mind and spoilers. They are defenses that undermine effectiveness in the realms of reality and physical experience. He noticed that he and his friends were well educated and incredibly privileged and yet all so deeply unhappy, nevertheless. A one to one relationship to experience had been broken, in part, by the use of irony, which has become an all pervasive primary defense against the exploitation of sincerity and enthusiasm, especially in the experience of pleasure. Nowadays, educated people have become wary of the language of sincerity and unambiguous pleasure and often reject it all as a trap in the service of manipulative sellers of that which is generally unnecessary and too expensive. So much inner conflict can be too difficult to bear, as poor DFW's experience testifies. He had so much clarity and humor and insight into himself and others. I wish he could have found more pleasure in his own gifts.

Back to perfume. In the midst of this change of season into cooler rainy days, while the financial markets melt down around us, as a personal antidote and an unambiguous pleasure for myself, I have reopened my sample set of Annick Goutal Les Orientalistes: Ambre Fetiche, Myrrhe Ardente, and Encens Flamboyant. I never got the one with musk, but I'm a bit musked out from my recent musk voyage, so I refrain without regret at this point. It will be officially Autumn next week on 9/22. Day and night will be of equal length and from then on the nights start getting longer, so it feels good to bring out the ambers and incense, smokes and leathers. Personally, I find that I most prefer the Ambre Fetiche, even though there is a heavy sweetness there. I can live with it and enjoy it because has a honeyed softness completely bonded to the dark amber and leather tone, crossed with a pale pepper and incense transparent airiness. The Myrrhe throws a wood-smokiness into the air, clouded above a lightly balsamic-infused, thin glove leather note. Encense Flamboyant is dry herbal coolness above a incense that has burned away already, and the most trans-seasonal of the three. After ten minutes all three dry down to a super soft blendedness in composition, so that no one note pokes its head above the rest, that makes them highly wearable for daytime use. At home, or at night, of course, no holds barred, all three can be worn at once on various areas of the body to join in a layered but separate symphonic atmosphere.

Above, Jean Galland on the left in a scene from Le Plaisir by Max Ophuls, from the article in the NYT.


chayaruchama said...

Indeed, his end was a great tragedy.

I agree that some of the happiest folk I've known, ostensibly have had the most uncomfortable and difficulty-fraught lives-

Yet manage to be the most grateful and content, despite it all.

Les Orientalistes are lovely and can become subtle, if not over-exuberantly applied; I like the MA and AF the best, myself.

ScentScelf said...

I actually think the vogue for skank is a reflection of the trend to irony.

A point which never gelled as clearly as it did after reading your article. Thanks for that.

I'll enjoy trying Les Orientalistes, I think. And I am finding it interesting how, after dismissing them because of either the lack of lasting power, or lack of interest in the bottles, the AG's have withstood the first leg of my perfume journey, and I find myself coming back to try again.

Lucy said...

Dear Chaya,
I think happiness is partly the ability to distract yourself from the horrible with the wonderful, at least when you are up for the heavy lifting that kind of thing entails. DFW was firing on all cylinders all the time, and it just didn't balance out to the plus side. What does it say when someone like that can't find a way to deal with the dark side -- his own and everyone else's. I hope his spirit is at peace now, at least.

Greetings, ScentScelf --

That is so true, the interest in skank has a reactionary flavor to it.

I'm liking AG more and more, generally, because I am in the mood for prettiness these days.

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