Excerpts of the circus and of flesh colored turtlenecks

May 16, 2009

posted by Caroline Picard

I came across these two consecutive passages in Nightwood, a book by Djuna Barnes; it was originally published in 1937. She also made portraits.


The emotional spiral of the circus, taking its flight from the immense disqualification of the public, rebounding from its illimitable hope, produces in Felix longing and disquiet. The circus was a loved thing that he could never touch, therefore never know. The people of the theatre and the ring were for him as dramatic and monstrous as a consignment on which he could never bid. The he haunted them as persistentlyas he did was evidence of something in his nature that was turning Christian.

It was to the Duchess of Broadback (Frau Mann) that Felix owed his first audience with a “gentleman of qulaity.” Frau Mann, then in Berlin, explained that this person had been “somewhat mixed up with he in the past.” It was with the utmost difficult that he could imagine her “mixed up.” Her trade–the trapeze–seemed to have preserved her. it gave her, in a way, a certain charm. Her legs had the specialized tension common to aerial workers; something of the bar was in her wrists, the tan bark in her walk, as if the air, by its very lightness, by its very non-resistance, were an almost insurmountable problem, making her body, though slight and compact, seem much heavier than that of women who stay upon the ground. In her face was the tense expression of an organism surviving in an alien element. She seemed to have a skin that was the pattern of her costume: a bodice of lozenges, red and yellow, low in the back and ruffled over and under the arms, faded with the reek of her three-a-day control, red tights, laced boots–one somehow felt they ran through her as the design runs through hard holiday candies, and the bulge in the groin where she took the bar, onoe foot caught in the flex of the calf, was as solid, specialized and as polished as oak. The stuff of the tights was no longer a covering, it was herself; the span of the tightly stitched crotch was so much her own flesh that she was as unsexed as a doll. The needle that had made one the property of the child made the other the property of no man.


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