This is an article published in connection to our Lava lamps group exhibition November 2020

HOMAGE (Argumentum Ad Hominem?)

Malou, Les larmes d’Eros 2020, acryl and pigment on canvas 90 x 90 cm

(For women behind and in the margins and as subjects, see lat. Subiectus below)

My (homage?) is an attempt to gaze at the vague, inaccurate, edge, cracked, and scraped away or past the object itself. I deal with my subject in the spirit of Jacques Derrida’s Parergon, or framework. [1] The frame excludes the outside space and defines what belongs in the work itself and is thus relevant or it can be a confusing, vague space between the inside and the outside. According to Immanuel Kant, commented on by Derrida’s text, the drapery on the fabric of an ancient sculpture is parerga, a sheer ornament, ornamentation, surplus, past the essential. At the same time, however, the skillful drapery serves as part of the work. It is an addition to the “hors d’oeuvre,” outside of the work, with the content of the work itself in a naked body.

The concept of argumentum ad hominem attached to the argument is strongly negative. In this text, the focus on people’s personalities and actions is not meant to refute the arguments and texts they make. And so in this context, I do not bother to dig into the depths of the concept itself. Following Parerga’s idea, the meanings of interior and exterior, essential, and addition are simultaneously present. I write a personal background tone behind philosophical thinking and I show a personal one as well as a political one, painting the center of the frame. I share an anonymous motto: ”Love art / philosophy, not artist / philosophy, most of them were nasty people, annoying in an unpleasant, malicious sense.”

Getting lost is most rewarding. It keeps my mind bubbly and porous (to quote Juho Hollo) [2]. My genealogical wandering began surreptitiously with Gustave Courbet’s work “L’Origine du monde” from 1866. The painting is currently in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and has inspired a myriad of feminist-oriented art as well as theory. The anxiety evoked by the painting keeps me alert, the irritation prevents me from solidifying into the usual ways of thinking, it is porous. Among other things, Marina Abramovic[3]  says the work is still disturbing and shocking, as art should be, right? The work evokes confusion, the focus is on the woman without a head, her thighs open lying down and waiting for a look, new life, birth, satisfaction, shame or pleasure, or all of these together. This is deeply corporeal, the body is present and the world is concretely born of a woman. Or it is simply pornographic. The painting pushed to think of women in the background of great artists and thinkers, as models in front and alongside as living, in the margins and shadows – without a head. The story, like a detective story, set out to move forward and give birth to new branches, eventually losing its starting point (l’origine).

In a book published in 2018, cultural researcher Claude Schopp [4]reveals that the model in the work was ballet dancer Constance Quéniaux, who had ended her active career. In addition to the correspondence from the inner circle, the clue was Courbet’s painting in the legacy of a ballet dancer presenting camellia flowers in a vase. Camellias were a reference to the Courtesans and the opening blooms on a woman’s genitals. The conclusion was also partly based on the color of the pubic hair. Earlier, the red-haired mistress of Courbet was suspected as a model for the work. Later, a painted head was also imagined for the work, which would have been cut from the original work. The museum disputes this theory and the woman is still left without a head.

Courbet’s production includes numerous strictly delimited paintings from the heads of others and from the artist’s own, such as L’homme blessé (wounded man). In the sketches of this work, the mistress gently rests on the man’s chest, while in the final painting, the woman is replaced by a sword as well as a leaking wound in the chest. But Courbet himself is not at the center of this text now.

The painting “L’Origine du monde” was commissioned by Halil Şerif Pasha (Khalil-Bey 1831-1879), an Egyptian-Turkish diplomat and cultural figure. After ambiguous stages, the work ended up on the wall of the country house of Jacques Lacan, a philosopher and psychoanalyst, as well as an authority in contemporary art research. This aroused my interest. A work on the wall of a man whose most famous quote, which has spread both in the frenzy and numerous misunderstandings and interpretations, spreading in the depths of the Internet, is “la femme n’existe pas”, meaning there is no woman. The quote has been roughly taken out of context, but I’m not going even that direction now. Lacan’s writings on the Gaze, the Phallus, or the Other and the dimensions wrapped around these concepts frame the painting. In Lacan, the work was shyly hidden behind wooden doors. The outlines of the work itself are barely identifiable in the doors. The doors were carved by his wife’s brother-in-law André Masson. Lacan’s wife, Sylvia Maklès, was also the ex-wife of writer and philosopher Georges Bataille. Sylvia Bataille made a spectacular career as a movie star.

From this, digging into women’s stories in the shadows of male thinkers is just beginning. At the same time, the question of the subject or self, connects these two thinkers (men) partly through a woman. Carolyn Dean has chosen these gentlemen because they both prove quite slippery to definitions and categorization to be at the heart of the reflection of the self [5]. (Sub)consciousness and I, some deep source from which all art springs, are at this core. Is the onion shell just a cliché as a metaphor of this and is there anything to be found in the center in the end? Is there a core and if so, where is it formed, or is it just a weathering layer of paint that does not distinguish between clearly defined objects, only overlapping mist, and scratched or corroded surfaces without depth?

Let’s go back to the path or the frame. Sylvia Bataille starred in numerous delightful roles in the 1930s, the best of these in Jean Renoir’s films such as Partie de campagne (Excursion to the Land) and Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (Crime of Mr. Lange). At the age of twenty, Sylvia married the philosopher and author Georges Bataille. She moved in with Jacques Lacan as early as 1938 (who in turn was married to Marie-Louise Blondin at the time), but she did not divorce Bataille until 1946. Part of the reason was World War I and the German occupation of France. Sylvia was Jewish. With Georges Bataille, they had a daughter in 1930 and in 1941 she gave birth to a daughter for Lacan, called Judith. Both daughters later became psychoanalysts. Judith Bataille (Lacan for a moment) married Jacques-Alain Miller, a disciple of Lacan. Judith Lacan declared admiration for her father with a book containing photographs of Lacan (Album Jacques Lacan: visages de mon Père). In this way, we can focus our gaze on the man who himself wrote about the Gaze. But Lacan’s wife, Marie-Louise Blondin, nicknamed Malou, had meanwhile given birth to a second daughter and son, and was eight months pregnant when Lacan told her that Sylvia was expecting her child as well. Thus, the daughters were born almost at the same time to both Judith Bataille and Sibylle Lacan. Lacan arrived at “Malou” and his children every Thursday for dinner, and the children had no knowledge of the new family until the wedding of the eldest daughter in 1958.

At the age of fifty, Sibylle Lacan published a book called Un Père puzzle (a father not the father), in the introduction of which she describes the book as anything but fiction.[6] The book contains references to the concepts of psychoanalysis, that is, the life work of both his famous sister Judith and his father. The book describes an absence, a father who is, but never is, present. Present is the father’s name Lacan, which belongs to them (cf. forclusion du nom du Père). For Sibyl, Lacan’s text is crushing. She feels clumsy alongside chic Judith, who is a sophisticated city dweller and she is a yokel herself. In the cover photo, Sibylle is a short-haired boy girl with a downward-looking gaze shaded by thick eyebrows. The book contains terrible details. While visiting her father’s study, she sees there a single photograph of radiant Judith. The Who’s Who book mentions Lacan’s only daughter, Judith. Sibyl has been wiped out. The book also has a catchy description of the father appearing in the brothel door. It is a view from the balcony of an abandoned mother and children. Sibylle states of herself: ”Je suis le fruit du désespoir.” (I am the fruit of despair.) In these happenings the origins of the idea of femininity and the authority of the father’s phallus become entangled to each other.

Jamer Hunt [7], who has researched Sylvia Lacan’s life, compares Sylvia Lacan’s situation to the “women exchange” described by Claude Lévi-Strauss and Marcel Maus, a practice familiar from anthropology in which a woman is abstracted as powerless goods. The exchange of gifts is part of the core of the social structure. I am well able to share the same fracture with Hunt as he describes his relationship with French thinkers such as the just mentioned Lacan, Bataille or Derrida, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre. They all had a life framed by people of flesh and blood along with abstractions. How have these men who wrote about body and corporeality, masculine and feminine, gaze, otherness, desire and pleasure lived? Lives cannot be somewhere else, in a parergon, in an insignificant frame, outside.

Hunt drove into his own research the observation that neither Lacan nor Bataille tell anything about Sylvia as a person, she is completely invisible, a symbol, an abstraction. The surrounding space is described meticulously and deeply, but there is an empty place in the middle, Sylvia. Women form an empty stage in which men play their part and at the same time define their relationship with other men.

Sylvia Maklès as well as her sisters Rose, Bianca and Simone became friends with the most rebel surrealists of their time. The circle of friends included André Breton, Louis Aragon, Theodore Fraenkel and André Masson, who married Rose. (Masson is the same sculptor of the wooden door mentioned at the beginning.) Fraenkel married Bianca. At this same time, Sylvia was also involved in the political, socially conscious theater group Groupe October, which produced plays for factory workers. [8]

Somehow it seems unbelievable that Sylvia Lacan would be an onion of chastity, wanting her brother-in- law to carve the doors to Courbet’s painting and cover it shyly. This is claimed, for example, on the Lacan website. [9] Either way, my attempt to revive Silvia Maklès-Bataille-Lacan to life from the shadows of men seems to dry out and crack.

Georges Bataille and his friends founded a secret society and a publication called “Acéphale” (headless). The name character was the headless man on the cover of the first issue, drawn by André Masson (still a wooden door sculptor). The society, which operated from 1936-39, was loosely associated with esoteric thoughts and strongly defended the power of flesh, ecstasy, eroticism, madness, sacrifice, and other Dionysian phenomena. Following the reason was the counterweight to the endless publication. The ubiquitous common sense (head) was revoked by defending Nietzsche’s legacy, which had been tainted mainly by his sister in the Nazi uprising. Other thinkers in the background were, of course, Sade, but also Kierkegaard. Death and Erotica flirted with each other. The goal was a kind of (anti) religious society that was at once anti-Christian, anti-communist and anti-fascist. The society and the publication also had strong social goals, with members setting up an informal Collège de Sociologie, which organized debates and lectures. There were wild rumors about the rites of the Secret Society, including human sacrifices and sadomasochistic orgies.

Colette Peignot, “Laure” was one of the few women known by name to be involved in the activities of the society. She died at the age of just over thirty in Bataille’s apartment of tuberculosis, which she had met as a teenager. Overall, Colette Peignot’s fate was tragic and contributes to the gallery of the suffering women. She was born into a prosperous bourgeois family that included prominent figures in French cultural history. It was not until the age of 13 that she lost his father and three uncles in World War I and at the same time became ill herself. There were suicides, illness, and endless death all around. [10] Bourgeois morality represented war, death, violence, both mental and physical. She joined the early surreal intelligentsia and wrote articles in the name of the communist movement in the 1930s and lived for some time in Moscow fighting the rise of Stalinism. “Laure” grew into a tragic figure in numerous books and articles written about her. Her texts dealing with death, suffering, sacrifice, and especially lived life make her an almost rock-symbol, self-sacrifice in the name of a kind of holiness, a short bright flare, like Marina in Eeva-Liisa Manner’s play Burnt Orange. [11] In the 1970s, Jérôme Peignot, the author of Colette’s nephew, raised Colette Peignot’s own literary production from the shadow of Bataille. [12]The Association des amis de Laure, founded by the association, included prominent intellectuals of their time such as Michel Leiris, Michel Foucault, Jean-Paul Sartre and Marguerite Duras. “Laure” gradually became as abstract as a color surface without content and depth.

Colette Peignot looks pale and serious with sad eyes in the few photographs that have survived of her. A true “la Sainte de l’abîme,” a saint of bottomless depth, as in the name of Elisabeth Barillé’s work. [13]

I feel a slight embarrassment and at the same time a teasing enthusiasm as I dig into the depths of these male thinkers and their relationship twists. The stories have a colorful, cheesy, eternally fascinating plot, straight from my childhood Peyton Place or my early adulthood Dynasty, Dallas, Beautiful and Bold, today’s Temptation Island. Who were the women in the margins and how much do they still influence in the texts that we more or less earnestly read and quote in the name of male philosophers?

“The relationship between knowledge and Pleasure is thus Revealed in its purity: there is nothing to know. “(Derrida, 1979 p.8)

P.S. Why Sylvia, Sybille and Laure, but Lacan and Bataille? I get caught up in this all the time and it’s confusing. Women naturally take on temporary small roles with their first names, as the father’s name follows as a patriarchal legacy and separates the main stars and performers.


Abramovic, Marina. 2014. FondationBeyeler. Haettu 22.10.2020 osoitteesta: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjen0HRspjo

Barillé, Élisabeth. 1997. Laure, la Sainte de l’abîme. Paris: Flammarion. Haettu 22.10.2020 osoitteesta:  https://excerpts.numilog.com/books/9782402284905.pdf

Connolly Sean. 2010. Laure’s War. Selfhood and Sacrifice in Colette Peignot. French Forum, Volume 35, Number 1, Winter 2010, pp. 17-38 (Article). Published by University of Nebraska Press.

Dean, Carolyn J. 1992. The Self and Its Pleasures. Bataille, Lacan and the History of the Decentered Subject. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press

Derrida, Jacques and Owens, Craig. The Parergon. October, Vol. 9 (Summer, 1979), pp. 3-41. Published by: The MIT Press. Haettu 22.10.2020 osoitteesta: http://users.clas.ufl.edu/burt/poescrypts/JacquesDerridaTheParergon.pdf

Hollo, Juho. 1919. Mielikuvitus ja sen kasvattaminen II. Sielutieteellinen ja kasvatusopillinen tutkimus. Porvoo: WSOY

Hunt, Jamer. 1995. Absence to Presence. The Life History of Sylvia [Bataille] Lacan. Huston: Rice University

Lacan, Sibylle. 1994. Un père puzzle. Paris: Gallimard

Lacan.com. Nd. Haettu 22.10.2020 osoitteesta: https://www.lacan.com/courbet.htm

Peignot, Colette / Laure. 1943?. Histoire d’une petite fille, Paris: Hors commerce. (édition et notes de Georges Bataille et Michel Leiris). Haettu 22.10.2020 osoitteesta:  https://archive.org/details/1943Laure-HistoireDunePetiteFille

Peignot, Jérôme. Entretien/Jérôme Peignot et Laure. 2005. Haettu 22.10.2020 osoitteesta: https://remue.net/Entretien-Jerome-Peignot-et-Laure

Schopp, Claude. 2018. L’Origine du monde: Vie du modèle. Paris: Editions Phébus

[1] Derrida, Jacques and Owens, Craig. 1979), pp. 3-41.

[2] Hollo, Juho. 1919, p. 239

[3] Abramovic, Marina 2014.

[4] Schopp, Claude. 2018.

[5] Dean, Carolyn J. 1992.

[6] Lacan, Sibylle. 1994.

[7] Hunt, Jamer. 1995.

[8] Hunt 1995, 107-108

[9] Lacan.com

[10] Peignot, Colette / Laure. 1943.

[11] Connolly Sean. 2010.

[12] Peignot. Jerome. 2005.

[13] Barillé, Élisabeth. 1997.


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