public desires/private pleasures

(a novel)
part one

Jyanni Steffensen





Two women are dancing. Sometimes she goes to the city alone at night.
A man & a woman are dancing. Without music. There are no lights.
Sometimes she wakes in the night in a light sweat. Images appear in books where they are not.
They dance formally. A waltz. Turning in a circle. The subway is empty. Trains roar through the tunnel. Debris drifts after them. Wind storms precede them. The woman is dressed in black. She moves backward. The man's hand is on her back. They turn.
Two women leave by a side exit. A crane hovers over the city. Outlined in blue light. They place quotation marks around their words. The meanings change. They do not touch.
In the night she is delirious. Later she reads it as dangerous. Images churn in her head. No words come. She laughs. Wordless. Later she feels empty. There is nothing left to say. She sees the photograph again. A woman in a white suit & a pith helmet. Lounging under a streetlight. A black & white film still. She does not know from which movie it has been 'taken'. Sometimes she walks in the streets at night without hearing any sounds. Or sometimes the light reminds her of Europe for a moment.
Women in coffee shops engage her in conversation. Her strangeness attracts them. Men do not speak to her.
She no longer feels anything. Not regret, nor nostalgia, nor love, nor displeasure, nor ecstasy nor pain. She has no grand passions.
Two women dance cheek to cheek. Their dresses brush gently against their ankles. They do not speak.
The walls re-assemble a primeval forest. The lights are dim. The streets are often deserted. The city is somewhere asleep.
Sometimes the silence is blissful. Sometimes appalling. She is never hungry at night.
Two women caress each other's hair, cheeks, breasts. Their hands stop tightly on each others' arses. They pull their hips together. The silk separating them slides. Heat rushes between their bodies. They laugh. Grind. Tender skin my mind.
The music is all bass. The neon blinks Budweiser. Pink & blue.
The air outside is cold. Cracked with static. Electric. The pavement black. The sky is torn in half. The underground walkway smells of piss. She sits alone one Sunday morning in a cafe drinking thick black coffee. & cognac. The air outside is freezing. Notre Dame looms up from the river. Her fingertips bleed. About to cross the street she thinks for a moment she might be in Paris. It passes in an instant. She falls ill. Her lover is in another city.
Two women kiss each other on the mouth. It becomes urgent. But not seriously.
The sound of male voices late at night is unbearable. She snaps the radio off.
There are currently at least three movies showing in mainstream theatres somewhere in Canada about lesbian & gay relations & in some instances go so far as to depict them as downright normal. That may be breathtaking in itself, yet one still has to decide to see it consciously & lay dollars down before gaining entry. The cost is high.
She watches a video of Schwestern late at night. By the fire. Later in her room she snaps the radio off. With irritation. The film consoles her. The younger of the sisters commits suicide. She is neither saddened nor distressed by this. The two women are extraordinarily beautiful. Watching it soothes her. She watches it while everyone else is asleep. Suicide is both fetish & taboo. Like woman. The sisters are incestuous.
She goes to a performance with friends. By taxi. She is relieved. It rains slowly. She is tired. Feverish. The radio plays something slow.
Something innocuous & not very memorable. Like Gershwin maybe. Deep Purple. & then, Scott Joplin playing some Marvin Hamlish rag.
Her masturbation as always is ecstatic. At 44 she is amazed by the beauty of her body. She wakes & stretches her legs from under the sheets. Her skin glows in the morning light. She is content.
Two women walk out into the dawn. The dance is over. It is 7 am. The streets are deserted. They walk to the Boulevard Saint Michel(e). Some cafes are open. For workers. The pavements are washed. One of them buys cigarettes. She thinks of the young bulldagger.
Sometimes she stands at the studio window at night & looks at the city. She can see the blue lighted crane. The one that she has grown attached to. A woman says it is the BLF's contribution to the cityscape. She is amused. Later they go to a bar & drink champagne.
The first word uttered in the performance is "Angels." In darkness. It seems to emanate from nowhere. A word that reminds her of something. She writes alone late at night. Easily. Relaxed. Sometimes she looks unexpectedly at her lover's face. It seems to be illuminated. This always surprises her. Her lover is much younger. A woman nonetheless.
Two women move their hands down each other's thighs. Denim & silk. Their hands seem electrified for a moment. Then they are still. They do not speak. She places her hand on her lover's back & presses gently. She feels the soft breasts crush slightly against her own. She is delighted. So is her lover. She thinks often of trains or subways. Never the sea. She stands alone one night on the Pont D'Austerlitz & watches the lights on the water. For a time. She moves her hand to the back of her lover's head. It fills her palm. She pushes lightly. Her lover's skin is soft & smooth. It seems to have no pores. This does not surprise her.
The performance pleases her. She does not always listen to the words. Just the voices. She half recognises the sounds. She is glad to be there. Her lover will come back.
On the other hand an unsuspecting civilian walking north on Yonge Street might glance up to see the word "Lesbian" spelled out in lights 20ft high & 40 ft long. Doubting their senses the viewer stands transfixed through 7 minutes of banal advertising messages. Then, preceded by a disclaimer of sorts (An Artist's Project for Public Access), the message returns ... "Private Desires, Public Sins" it says "Lesbians Fly Canada." The civilian does not see the message as it was originally intended "Lesbians Fly Air Canada." The sponsoring company, Electromedia, fearing reprisals from Air Canada refused to run it. The artist compromised under protest.
Nevertheless, that word, intervening into public space, was seen in 20ft letters on Yonge Street, in lights, every 17 minutes from April 21 to April 27,1986.
Stand by, you're on the air. Your captain will be back in five minutes.
Two women wearing no shoes walk across Bondi Beach. They wear white hats even though it is early evening. They sit on the sand talking & laughing. They go into a bar for a drink without putting their shoes back on. Still wearing the white hats.
She wants to remain nocturnal perhaps anonymous.
She enters the story like a character might enter a scene.
Private Desires, Public Sins. Of course, she was bound to read it as Pubic Sins. Like misreading "hovers" as "lovers." Her writing is always ambiguous. To separate light from night would be to abandon the lightness of their blending together. Their bodies.
The woman angel in white falls down, even as the black woman the photographer captures her in order to pin her up. What is written is close to the writer. Too close. This is a kind of exposure that is always charged with desire.
Occasionally when walking on the pavement or being discovered in an empty (hotel) room, they dazzle. Idols. But they are not goddesses. The two women. Their story does not have a reserved space for men. Censorship over the body is lifted. Over breathing & speech.
Her body recalls other bodies. Their memory is written there. The body disappears into language. Becomes a linguistic category.
This can't go on.
They refuse to believe that desire is forbidden from the start. Desire has to begin with a line of flight.
They refuse to reassemble the text. Their bodies are uncoded. Yet the problem of how to escape remains, for the way out of representation inevitably leads through it.
She is laid under an interdict in the city where her lover lives. She has no rights to go there. They loose their dogs on her when she approaches. Everything is denied her even the right to asylum. She is overwhelmed by desperation. She hears voices saying she may not come. She sits weeping in a ditch.
Language is her insomnia. Sentences prowl her. Narratives haunt her nights.
She says "Go away."
She looks out of her hotel window late at night. A man in the apartment opposite is making phone calls. He telephones often. Always very late.
Another man enters the apartment. Into another room. Takes off his coat. She assumes they are lovers. They have never indicated this.
It occurs to her that she can also be seen.
Two women. Lovers. Lick each other from head to foot.
Lick your toes lick your knees lick your thighs lick your cunt lick your belly lick the inside of your elbows your throat lick your larynx lick your nape eat your hair lick your skin off lick your eyeballs lick your mouth lick your tongue lick your lungs lick your heart.

Turn you inside out like a glove.
There is nothing between the words. There is nothing between the sheets. The coupling of the first person possessive pronoun with the obscene noun, my cunt/her cunt.
Here we have two questions of genre like two desires, two passions coupled. They dissociate themselves one from the other in their very coupling. They embrace & part: they reconnect touch caress leave & then come back one to the other, the same as the other.
Are you sure of that?
One of the women leaves, the one surprised. The one photographed as she falls. The one who before was one of the two partners of the story. You see her depart. The other woman wakes up, gets up, slips on a white dress. The one before dressed in black trousers. Camera in hand.
Are you sure of that?
I shall start again.
So one of the women gets up
She leaves the room with a dossier in her hand.
The city where her lover lives is surrounded by a deep ditch where the unaccredited & the unacknowledged the untold & the unseen the unintelligible & the unrepresented are lost.
She often feels that she lives in a desert. The feeling is uncanny. But she is not overwhelmed by this.
In the city where she lives there has never been a film about lesbians shown in a mainstream theatre. Never. One on TV. Two in Art cinemas & 4 short ones ones in an independent festival.
She leaves her lover in a hotel room in a strange city.
She mouths the names of her lover's body
eyebrows
armpits
knees
fingers
breasts
bones.
Time lost.
I shall begin again
Very well, this will be the rule then. The narrative is interminable. The rule I have established for myself. There will be no story. But as a result your desire for stories is all the more intense. There are impossible, illegible or forbidden narratives: for example the one I will not tell you.
I am serving you notice.
She thinks of Desert Hearts. The camera cuts from the woman's face to another woman's body. Unmediated. For 90 minutes. She is soothed. She falls into silence. She shouts at a man in a cafe. He leaves.
She wakes up laughing. She writes furiously.
Her lover leaves by train.
She says "I'm here to see the editor." Words haunt her. At night she hallucinates the words to the images. She does not write them down. She imagines her thesis, already written.
Her lover has red hair. A triangle shaved just above the nape. She lifts some fiery strands. Exposed. Someone says but what does it mean. She laughs.
She has vowed never to write this story. This amuses her. Later.
The film opens as a train pulls into Reno. The time is 1959. A button down year. The most amazing thing about the film is that it was ever made at all. She wanted her first feature to be a love story between two women. The story is called Desert of the Heart.
The phone rings. Someone answers it. Her lover has returned.
She spent two and a half years of her life raising the dollars to finance the film. Nothing to the world of features.
The film opens as a train pulls into Reno. The time is 1959
She is about to tell the story. Her lover walks in. She forgets about the story. For a moment. Theirs is a mutual seduction. Everyone watches this scene.
To what order do these women belong?
To what genre does this work belong?
Who has the right to invoke narratives?
And be believed?
Two women embrace in the courtyard. In mid afternoon. One of them has a gift. One of them departs. With the text.
You have a strategy. Each character or couple has its own trajectory which has to be taken into account, so you play with these figures choosing among the configurations & identifications white or black, positive or negative, angel of lightness or darkness.
Who has the right to enter this scene?
To interpret?
To edit?
And to be believed?
Imagine a woman who steals photographs.
Imagine a woman who exposes herself.
Are you sure of that?
As a matter of fact, I don't understand any of this. What you say is only intelligible if one can see the images at the same time.
I shall start again. So
You will never know the story. I will not tell it to you.
This affidavit bears my signature. My name is Steffi, Isabella. I reside at 604 Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans. My profession is writer. I swear to tell the truth.
A woman plays a violin. She stands in a pool of light. A circle.
She plays the same phrase over & over. It haunts her.
In the city where her lover lives the subject is forbidden. The dogs snap at her heels. They have cut out her tongue & shaved her head. The ditch is full of thorns.
Her skin bleeds. Her throat fills with green slime. She spits. She tears the dogs apart with her teeth. Her lover is arrested. For a crime she didn't commit.
She half wakes in the night. She imagines she is writing a thriller. She dozes again. Her lover is a lawyer. In the early dawn she eats a bowl of yoghurt. With honey.
Two women peel each other. Peel each other's eyeballs. Like grapes. Peel the silk off their skins. Peel off each other's stockings. Peel off each other's skin.
In the afternoon the lovers eat chocolate with their coffee. Crumbs stick to their lips. They lick. Suck.
Her lover enters the room. She is dressed in black. With silver chains. On her boots. She telephones. The man in the apartment opposite her hotel is at his desk. He speaks to someone on the phone. She imagines he is calling New York. It is 2 am. The alley between the hotel & the apartment is narrow. Her cigarette glows in the dark.
Her lover orders a tonne of bones. Boiled & cleaned. In drums. The man who cleans the bones is a psychiatrist.
Two women sit in a darkened cinema. Their elbows touch. They do not speak. The woman in the film has red hair & green eyes. One of the women has green eyes. One of them has red hair.
Her clitoris aches. Heat rushes between her thighs. She wears black leather gloves.
Her lover leaves the city. To see her lover in another city. She sleeps in the afternoon. On the floor. In her room. Her books are scattered about. Her pen slips from her fingers. The pain in her legs is unbearable. She has brain fever. In the morning she is saturated with sweat. This surprises her. On Saturday April 21 1988 a group of lesbian protesters were attacked without provocation, by the police outside the British Embassy in the Rue du Faub St. Honore. They had walked from the Eglise de la Madeleine. At midday. The civilians shopping in the expensive boutiques were cautious or embarrassed. One of them was curious. The lesbians fight back. They are ferocious. The police are surprised. The British Government threatens to ban the publication of all homosexual literature. What this means will be determined by their Ministers & the police.
Two women are dancing. They keep perfect rhythm. One of them wears a black suit & black sunglasses. The dancers are all women. So is the band. A stranger speaks to her in the street. He say you were the highlight of the ball. She thinks he has understood nothing. She says ring my bell. Condescendingly.
After Tchaikovsky died other composers made additions to Swan Lake.
She had purple flowers in her room. Once. Also a painting called "the purple queen."
She does not particularly like purple. But she understands its meaning.
She wakes to the smell of blood. Hot & wet from the sheets.
The smell is comforting.
Two women meet in a bar. One of them always thinks she already knows the other.
One of them is always a lawyer. A woman dances flamenco. Straight back. Images pile up. So do words. She laughs while taking a shower.
On September 1 1989 she enters stage left wearing a dress. Everyone says but you are wearing a dress. This surprised her. She had often worn a dress.
She travels to the airport. On the outskirts of the city. By train. The destination of the train is in a language she doesn't understand. She waits for another woman with a dossier in her hand to board the train. She is pleased about this. The difference is between a midnight blue train & a sky blue train. A shade of coding with infinite variation.
There is nothing between skin & bone.
One of her black leather gloves smells of perfume. This surprises her. She cannot remember touching anything perfumed.
Two women fuck. Each other. This surprises no one.
She is insistent. Elle, elles.
She wakes up. One of the stones has fallen from her earring. It lies on the white sheet. Blood red.
The writer who sleeps in the room at the end of the hall whistles. Sometimes he sings. She laughs. He sighs. They both talk to themselves. They are mad. Two women are in a nightclub. It is 5 am. One of them is wearing no shoes. Her name means white. Her skin is dark. Almost black. One of them is always amused by this. One of them has white hair. She sucks her lover's toes.
The barman counts money.
On Sunday she walks to the studio. In Spring. Someone has vomited on the pavement.
So I shall start again.
One of the women gets up. She leaves the room with a briefcase in her hand. The two men in the apartment opposite her hotel are talking. She can see their lips moving. Soon the workers will arrive to collect the trash from the alley. The apartment above the one where the two men are talking has flowerboxes. On the windows. One of the men leaves. His lover telephones.
Her lover is arrested. For a crime she did not commit.
The story concerns a double theft. Of a letter. The letter is sent to an exalted personage called 'the queen'. She leaves it lying innocently on a table. She is caught unawares by the entrance of the King. Enter the Minister of Letters. He takes in the scene at a glance. Steals the letter in full view of the queen & the unsuspecting king. He leaves another in its place. The queen engages the Prefect of police to recover the letter. He searches the Minister's apartment. He fails to recover it. He calls in Isabella, a private detective. Isabella, like the queen, reckons the minister would leave the letter unconcealed. Thus she finds it. Pinned up on the mantelpiece. She arranges a distraction & steals it. She leaves another in its place. The King & the police have seen nothing. The King does not count lesbians.

hat/head
darkness/skin
scissors/cloth
razor/skin
liquid/skin
What do you know about this business the king said to Isabella.
She said you shouldn't make jokes if it makes you unhappy.
Pardon me. I must be going.
Two women are amused.
Imagine a woman who steals letters.
Imagine a woman who exposes herself.
Two women photograph each other.
There is no camera in the room.
She finds a map. In the pocket of the briefcase. Made in black leather. A torn map. A map of the city.
The performance ends. The musicians take off their costumes & masques. The woman puts her violin back in its case. The forest dissolves. The performers go to a cafe. To drink coffee.
Two men are standing on a corner in a city. Somewhere in Canada. 45,000 gays & lesbians are approaching them. One of them says we better get out of here now. He is overheard. She can read lips.
Her lover does not come. On Sunday. She sees another lover. In the city where she lives. Her lover has made a film.
The film opens as a train is pulling into Reno. The city is in a desert. The time is 1959.
Two women are dancing. At the Rose Cafe. B 52's Rock Lobster pounds 'down'. Pearl diver. Wild women. No admission without leathers.
Nothing is said. The words do not represent the pronouncements of the characters.
You are not content to tell stories. There are at least four languages in this work. The languages have no voice. They expose themselves. A linguistic grid. Like a map.
She falls by chance upon fragments of letters & photographs on the pavement.
Without hair you can see her skull & the nape of her neck.
It is the Law of Letters.
I wouldn't call it a fable. Although it is fabulous. Not that I oppose truth to fable, but in this case there is no fable inasmuch as nothing is said. The word, otherwise known as the fable is seen only when photographed.
I shall begin again.
She wakes up. She sees a blood red jewel between the sheets. She looks pensive. An eyelash falls. On her cheek.
She departs.
"She leaves the room."
She cites a brief from a case titled Bowers v. Hardwick "Brief Amicus Curiae for the Lesbian Rights Project et al."
There is no camera in the room.

Shot
#1 Her lover's hand is holding a photograph of her face. She holds it over her own face. She places it carefully on the bed.
Shot
#2 Her lover's hand is frozen in mid sentence.
Shot
#4 Her lover's hand is under her skirt.
Shot
#6 Her hand is somewhere in the scene.

In Love's Coming of Age (1911), Edward Carpenter said that women become feminists because they are not normal. Their maternal instincts are not very strong since they are not real women & therefore do not "represent their sex." They are "mannish in temperament,"" ultra-rationalizing & brain-cultured" & lesbian.
She has no relationship to a beloved site. A land. A country. She is in absence. No place of origin. No story of origin. A state of displacement. She works with images & words. She is not looking for roots. She is not bound to one sacred place. She does not feel deprived nor impoverished by this. The discomfort is quite tolerable. She likes it. The map is a clue.
Two women open a studio where you go to have your picture "taken." You may bring any photograph you like. After a small deposit the women "take" the photograph from you. The balance falls due. In time.
She takes the photograph from her lover's hand. She places it carefully on the table. She places her lips on the inside of her lover's wrist. She leaves a red trace. Her lover touches the mark. Lightly. With a fingertip.
She sips her wine. She is pensive. She studies the map intently. The city is familiar. The street names are in a foreign language. The train departs. She prowls the city.
Nocturnal but known. She places the map carefully in the briefcase. It is torn.
Her lover takes the letter from her hand. Places it carefully on the bed. She touches her lover's lip. With a fingertip. Her lover has a dimple. She smiles. Her lover caresses her bum.
Two women alight from the midnight blue train. The doors slam closed. One of them has a dossier in her hand. One of them is carrying a briefcase. They do not speak. They walk toward the exit. The door is locked. The train departs. A man watches them. In the external world she discovers a sign of her very desire. This fascinates her. She is surprised. An expression of her most secret fantasies. A trace of her own trajectory. It seems ambiguous. A phantasmic formation.
Two women are dancing. One of them is questing for pleasure.
One of them is searching for identity. They turn.
In a letter dated 16 July 1962 she recounts the opening of a show of Contemporary American Art. Her lover is not present. She suffers the effects of delirium. Drank champagne. Outside it rained. Water poured down the skin of the plastic tent. She felt like she was in a bubble. Droplets hissed on a spotlight. She wore a tuxedo. She spoke of snakes although she was no authority on the subject. Her forehead burned. She prowled the pavements. They were black & wet. She had her photograph "taken." The story begins with a description of the scene. The film script has 240 shots. One shot per page. The text is divided into four parts. The narrative is generic simplicity. The protagonists are indicated by pronominal linguistic shifters. Me / my / you / your / my lover / your lover / my hand / your hand / your lips / my cunt.

The polarity of language is structured according to the differences between the shifters "I" & "you." This relationship is reversible. It is not equal. Nor symmetrical. Words do not come. She craves a croissant. Sunlight. Warmth. She thinks of another lover. The one with a cock. The one who fucks like a woman. She thinks I can think. The thought delights her. She wears black leather gloves. With no fingers.
She is distracted. She is contemplative. Is there a difference. A distracted mode. Of looking. Moving from photography to film to the city to the street. Her gaze is concentrated. Absorbed. Distraction beyond words. There is another reason.
This is surely ...
Are you sure?
"Hmm"
Fluidity ...
One can't very well photograph in the genre of ...
Are you sure?
She reads an agenda bereft of all desire & pleasure. Her lover tears it up.
Her sister's death is important. A gesture of mourning is necessary. An acknowledged loss. The film will carry on regardless.
Whether she succeeds or fails is a matter of opinion.
"If upon leaving what we have to say we speak."
Her lover moves with speed. Like light. She comes. She goes.
They live in a free market economy. They have television & video. The video shops in the city where she lives do not have Desert Hearts.
Private desires public taboos.
Private desires public perversions.
Clit City.
Private pleasures public perversions.
She is exquisitely good at sublimation. Her texts attest to this (f)act. Her lover is an exquisite lover.
She calls her lover Frangipani. This is not her lover's name.
The man in the Metro follows them.
Two women are lying in a ditch. They talk softly together. Their legs and arms are bare. Their muscles glitter in the moonlight. One of them wears a broad unsheathed sword. One of them has a bow that fires steel bolts. They are your worst nightmare. They find a torn map. A fragment.
Saliva dribbles between the two women's mouths. She says this is the best part of the film.
She kisses her lover's ear. She wonders if she will turn crimson from kissing a redhead.
The sand is hot. Scorching. Two women fuck. They sleep in a cave. Fucking she says is all in the head. The erotic is the idea of fucking. She is always fucking in her head. She snaps the elastic on her black lace suspenders.
She stares at her croissant. She hesitates to eat it. If she begins she will finish. It will be gone. She will still be hungry. Butter sticks to her chin. She licks it. She finishes her coffee & cigarette. She gazes out at the street.
She peels off her stockings. Minute flakes of dead skin cells rise in a cloud. They float on a shaft of light. For a moment. She repeats this performance with the other one.
Her lover is called The Hustler. Secretly.
Her computer makes an error. It demands: timeout.
Computer error: timeout Offending Command: timeout.
She says Shit.
Leautreamont told a story. About two angels whose appearance on earth are portents of disaster.
"(They) used to appear on earth, surrounded by clouds, during grand epochs of calamity when a dreadful war threatened to plant its harpoon on the breasts of two enemy nations or when cholera was getting its slingshot ready to hurl putrefaction & death into entire cities."
Erotics is a silent art.
Angels are imagined as communicating without words.
Their story is only serial. There is no apocalypse.
Her lover is exquisitely articulate.

Second Tableau.
This scene begins with a description of the room
(table/bed/glove/coffee/cup/cactus).
Fourth Tableau.
Describes scenes in which two women figure.
You & your lover embrace naked in a room. Your lover enters the scene, & after you leave & disappear.
Sixth Tableau.
Describes you & your lover fucking on the bed. Outside the window are described a multiplicity of scenes of the world.
There is a major category error at the core of metaphysics.





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gap is Linda Marie Walker and Paul Hewson
gap is designed and sponsored by Virtual Artists
gap co-exists with parallel
this page last modified 27 Nov 1995