When you feel yourself to be a writer, when you lay claim to that identity, the only possible objective is to say everything. Starting with the things you’re ashamed of.
For the first time, I am talking to my mother about the sexual diary I have been keeping for years. She immediately asks me: “When are you going to publish it?” I reply: “At the start I was waiting for Granddad to die, but then I thought, that doesn’t make any sense, it’s just an excuse, and anyway, he won’t read it.” My mother: “I’m not going to read it either.” I go on: “In any case, I was thinking that I could tell you all not to read it. At least, I certainly wouldn’t expect any of you to read it.” My mother, half-joking half-worried: “But why aren’t you waiting for me to die to publish it?” Me: “I thought you didn’t want to read it?”
Back in Paris after ten days in La Rochelle, five of which were spent finishing with Bord Cadre. The night before, a possible foursome fell through: I don’t want to sleep with either of the guys we met in the gay bar, even less so with them and my boyfriend at the same time. So here I am alone heading towards République to meet Bandit, who I’m meant to work with on a book of my photographs. I open Grindr, which I haven’t done in Paris for a while. The profusion of guys is staggering, as intoxicating as always. In literally five minutes, a 21-year-old has given me his address and the code of his building, for me to come and give him a blow job. He’s slim, clean-shaven, with black hair, and I realize as I head to the Boulevard des Filles du Calvaire where he lives, that I decided to meet him without seeing any photos of his cock. It’s that urgent. But I get the picture anyway, en route, and it looks respectable. I don’t linger over the picture, there’s too much sun, too much glare on the screen, and anyway I’m nearly there. However, I’m messaging him about the details of the hook-up. He claims he’s active in the profile, which is fine, and I ask him about his possible preferences. He replies: None in particular. He asks me about my own. I ask him if he’s a top or a bottom. He says: a bit of both. Fine. I hold off asking him too many things, so as not to frighten him, but I take my courage in both hands (both thumbs) and ask him: does he like being sucked off while watching a porno? He says he has never done it, wants to know if that turns me on. I reply sometimes (hedging my bets). He explains that he has left his computer at his aunt’s, so I suggest that we watch the video on his phone. He says Okay. One last thing: does he have any poppers? I hope I’m not pushing my luck. Brilliant: he’s got some. I reply Cool. Stop: I’ve arrived at his building, needing to piss, as bloody always. I enter the code, go in, find the number on the entryphone and read the corresponding name: ABRAHAM. A Jewish name, I think. I ring the bell, a voice tells me it’s the second floor. Before I head up, I note the bin store to my right; its little door is open. I head over to the bins and I piss on the ground, ready to look like I’m throwing out a bit of paper if someone appears, but luckily nobody does. I do my flies up and go up the stairs. I am, as always, a little bit ashamed, but always a little bit less than the last time I performed this ritual. He tells me to watch out and not get the floor wrong: It’s on the mezzanine, between the first and second floors. I keep heading up wondering whether I should propose, at the last minute, some water sports.
But no: between the porn and the poppers I’m not going to throw in a potential dealbreaker at the last minute. Finally, I get to his landing (a window on the staircase diffuses a whiteish light on the stairs). The door opposite is open; I go in. It’s a studio, with an entrance that doubles as a kitchenette. On the wall, opposite the utensils, is a coatrack with some hangers, all of them with designer jackets on them - APC included. I think to myself that he must be a fashion student. I put my sunglasses in my straw hat, and my straw hat upside down on the edge of the sink. He’s not there to welcome me. I presume that is waiting for me stretched out on the bed, the corner of which I can see round the wall. I set my rucksack down against the wall and start to move towards him, before turning back to add my mobile to the contents of the upside-down hat (wanting to be free of the device, the machine) and as expected I find him stretched out, in boxers and a T-shirt, waiting for me, his eyes glued to the screen of his phone, on which is playing, I guess, something X-rated, as agreed. As soon as I see him I think of Blé, my sister’s fashionable friend, and also a little bit of Moine, an old friend of my brother’s. He is a mixture of boys I already know, his body corresponds to a stereotype in my mind: that of a specific kind of pleasure in a specific era.
He is slender; his torso is flatter than a leaf, with two nipples traced in blood-red. He has a milky complexion, a deceptively simple haircut, dark eyebrows, an intelligent face. In a few seconds, I’ve inspected his miniscule apartment, which can be summed up in two words: order and culture. Indeed, here and there, in this youthful bazar, I note a certain number of high-end knickknacks, a model schooner, some art books on Renaissance painting, a large Greek-French dictionary, a pocket watch (I think), a Bible (I think). I take off my shoes and climb up on the bed, leaning over to press my lips against the black boxers that he’s wearing (he is actually called Gabriel - his name was written by the entryphone, opposite the number corresponding to his apartment: no. 3). His cock is soft under the material, it doesn’t want to get hard, and I’m worried that I’m a turn off for him, this kid, with my air of a tourist looking for a good time, my beard, my age - I am obviously older than my Grindr profile suggests - my extravagant demands. Am I lacking confidence? I’m almost afraid he isn’t into me. Doubtless it’s also owing to the extreme transparency of the light in this small room: only a thin cotton curtain is drawn across the window and it’s very bright out; this overdose of light confers on our actions what can only be called a voyeuristic tone. I continue to squeeze his cock under the fabric, forcing myself to refrain from touching the actual dermis, the real thing, to heighten the pleasure. Nonetheless after thirty seconds I pull down the elasticated waist of his boxers, slide them down over his thighs, and get going on his cock, soft as marshmallow, small but adorable. Its colour, its texture belong - this is the idea that wells up in my mind - to that of a small child. Not because it is that small, but because it bears a kind of innocence, all the way up to the pink meatus almost folded in on itself.
Adorable, that’s the word. I think of Verlaine : Glans, the supreme point of being. And also: Retreat into your foreskin, slowly / As a god into his cloud. I suck and suckle this bit of flesh, which has yet to grow: is it time to start worrying? The fear of not pleasing him turns into a fear of disgusting him. I stand back up and take off my trousers, which I let fall to the ground, before getting back into bed, and after another short session of sucking, my face glides up over Gabriel’s body, licking his right nipple, kissing his stomach, going all the way up to looking him in the eye, to kissing him. At this point, I think, I take off my T-shirt. My partner’s hand stretches down to my boxers, tugs on my cock - which for its part is certainly hard. Kissing Gabriel is disappointing: he doesn’t give me his tongue, instead just opening his lips four times without much enthusiasm. I don’t insist and go back to his cock; there is a beauty spot there, as black as his curls, just above his pubis. Like a drop of wasted ink, it’s something to focus on while coming and going, my mouth busy. His cock finally starts to swell a little -- but only a little. Once or twice I glance over at his phone, which is connected to porn sites, but without the sound on. Did he not understand my fantasy (too innocent?): what turns me on is obviously to suck someone off while hearing the sound of the video, the physical proof of the objectization of my mouth, an ardent desire to be used, to escape my individuality, my identity, to simply provide a sensation. I decide to change position and stretch myself out on the bed, a pillow folded under my neck.
Quietly, I urge: “Get on top of me.” He puts his silver phone on the mattress, complies, and pushes his marshmallow cock into my mouth. I ask him if he has the poppers (the definite article a reminder of our agreed terms and conditions) and he leans over to a bedside drawer and holds out a nearly empty bottle, which nonetheless does the trick. I give the bottle back to him, in case he wants a sniff - but he doesn’t. The act of submission is more obvious, for my pleasure and, I hope, his. Turns out it was a good idea, because Gabriel kisses me, hard, for twenty or thirty seconds. I try to forget that my face, twisted and angled low, my creased neck, and my weak chin must all make me look ugly. Not to mention my incipient baldness, which my posture can’t help but emphasize.
He doesn’t seem to mind, intermittently reiterating his dominance, finally almost erect, and suddenly moving his legs beyond my armpits, where they had been up until then, so he can thrust his cock all the way into my mouth, a knee on each side of my neck. Arching like never before, I allow myself to be invaded by an increasingly forceful energy and realize, finally, delightedly, that he is now hard. That’s it: a boner at last. His cock is respectable, that’s the word I had instinctively reached for, which is to say that it is fine, neither big nor small. A functioning penis, tubular and straight with a bulge at the end, although the base of the glans does not overhang the edge - a type of penis often possessed by obsessives, although I cannot provide any evidence for this categorisation. The fuck becomes more intense, I jerk myself off more vigorously, orgasm approaches. I had messaged my partner via Grindr, asking where he wanted to come. He had replied: In your mouth?
I wonder if it’s going to happen soon. There is a moment when he stops, a trickle of viscous fluid hanging between my lips and his glans, and we look at each other. (He had spent several seconds staring down at his cock as it thrust into my mouth before looking at me. I remember feeling his eyes on me as he tapped his glans against my cheek, before resuming the fixed rhythm of before.) I say: “Are you going to come?” He says: “Soon. In your mouth?” “On my lips,” I reply, “and after you can put it back in.” He nods and continues to thrust his cock back and forth between my cheeks, vigorously, as he had for the last few minutes, when suddenly he pulls back and jerks himself off just above my face, my mouth, my eyes: in close-up I see his glans, from which spurts a magnificent white jet which oozes on to my tongue, on to my lips, while he groans and pushes his cock back in as if resheathing it. I come abundantly on my stomach, in one of those orgasms that leaves you trembling and covered in spurts of cum without even needing to touch yourself. A few seconds later Gabriel mumbles: “Hmm… that was great.” I smile. He kisses my right shoulder in a funny way, ever so charmingly, and rolls on to his side to liberate me. I get up to find the sink in the little bathroom across from the bed, behind a sliding door.
I spit out his semen, rinse my mouth out and try to find some toilet paper. The rolls are empty. Gabriel says: “I’m out of toilet paper; you can use the white towel there.” For some light relief I grab a cotton bud and mime trying to clean myself up with one (there is a box full). My host laughs: “That’ll take a while.” I throw the cotton bud away and grab hold of the towel folded on the bathroom shelf to wipe down my face (his sperm), then my navel (my sperm). After this partial clean-up, I go back to the bed and lie down. I want a little bit of conversation, a feeling of closeness, but I don’t know if Gabriel is so inclined. I say in a detached voice, intended to reassure: “I won’t stay long…” He stretches out beside me. I ask him if he’s a fashion student. He says no, wants to know what made me think that. “Because of all the designer jackets in the entrance hall,” I reply, honestly, before adding: “History then? No, hang on, history of art.” He says: “That’s pretty good… How did you reach that conclusion?” Me: “By looking at the décor…” At this point he turns the questions back on me: “What about you?” Me: “I’m a writer.” “That’s a worthy profession; necessary.” I think: I don’t know if it’s necessary, but it’s useful. I don’t say this phrase aloud -- it’s a little hollow, it doesn’t mean anything. I add: “And for a while I’ve been working on a photo project as well.” “Do you photograph everyone you fuck?” I smile: “Yes and no. No exactly.” “Because that’s already been done…” I know that only too well. Putting together a flattering photographic directory of all my lovers is the last thing I want to do. They would have seen me coming. I hope I can pique Gabriel’s curiosity; make him a model. I tell him about my series on phones, show him three examples (Moine, Gym and Toison – whom he knows: “it’s a small world”).
He seems to like my photos. I don’t quite know how we get onto the subject of the eroticisation of the nude body, of the differences in classical painting between the treatment of the hieratic body, the religious body and the carnal body. I do a Jesus pose, Saint Sebastian. We talk Cupid and cherubin. Gabriel says, “Some of the saints, with their long hair hiding their naked bodies, are more erotic than the completely naked ones.” He quotes someone, I don’t remember who, better naked than stripped bare. I add that yes, hair is definitely an erotic attribute, noting that Muslims are well aware of that. My partner cites Duras whom he’s reading in order, to observe the evolution of her language from the torrent of words, to the withdrawal of words, experimenting even with the absence of certain words. Distracted, I ask him if he’s read the Memoirs of Hadrian? He draws a blank and I correct myself – I’ve got the two Marguerites confused.
He is currently reading Moderato Cantabile. I remember L’Amant, found in Dominque Fernandez’s holiday home. I remember Valentin, Jean d’Oubli’s friend, who swore by Les Petits Chevaux. Pause. I suggest maybe he, Gabriel, could pose for me one day. Instantly he proffers a picture of himself as a child. I tell him it’s beautiful, this portrait of a young boy, and I mean it. I put my boxer shorts back on. I tell him about the upcoming exhibition, and he asks me if it’s at the gallery Le Petit Monde. I say no; Hector’s name comes up (he’s a photographer, does the PR, is into sadomasochism). I know him a bit and so does he; I say he’s an intelligent person but I can’t seem to feel close to him. He asks me why, and I say, half joking, that Hector is really too pro-Palestinian, adding, “with your name you must get it…” He replies, “a Jewish name doesn’t make you Jewish.” Turns out he knows nothing about Jewish culture. I tell him my upbringing wasn’t religious either, and my mum’s a dyed-in-the-wool secularist, but I know what a matzo is. He doesn’t. I let him guess. He gives up. I tell him the answer: unleavened bread! His ignorance goes to show that Gabriel is in fact closer to his mother (who does not have a Jewish name). At this point, my host asks me my name because something about me rings a bell. I decline to tell him. Yes: he has already heard of me, he may even have a friend who has read [all] of my books. Am I proud of them? I must be a little. I use this to return to the subject of him posing for me. He is a little hesitant at the start, he’s been out the night before, he’s doesn’t look great. Teacherly, I explain, “You know, your idea of not looking great doesn’t really mean anything. No-one is capable of judging their looks themselves. We see the difference in ourselves because we know ourselves so intimately, in such detail. But that doesn’t mean other people don’t find us beautiful. I, for one, find you very beautiful today.”
I am not lying. He is not an Adonis, like Bernard, not the summit of perfection, but his charm is undeniable. I manage to persuade him, and things get going, between his yellow sheets. It’ll be a good shoot. When it’s time for me to go, after this photographic gambit, which has brought us closer and created a kind of complicity, it seems to me that he’s (finally) into me. He talks to me about my face. “I never know if you’re taking the piss, or if you’re smiling sincerely, if you’re teasing or not.” I play the role of the genial loon, as I know how to do. It’s only half a character study. I’m pleased with the new photos. We exchange numbers. I promise him I’ll ask his permission if I use one of the photos of him in the exhibition, and I mention the possibility of giving him a cut if I sell it. To give him a peek – I show him one of the last ones taken with him, because he wants “to see”.
This scrutiny reveals a fault in the photo – which prompts me to take the same picture again, but better. I ask my model to stand up again for a few new photos, to stand up in front of the cupboard. He jumps up a little too quickly; he’s dizzy. I tell him it’s called orthostatic hypertension. I don’t know if that’s true. I always heard my parents use that expression, when I got up too fast and felt my head spin. The new photos are satisfying. I am pleased with myself for having taken them, or re-taken them – despite how late I now am for Bandit, who’s still waiting for me in a café. Before I leave my host opens his arms; I accept the embrace, which is amusing, but I am distracted, I am already hurrying in my mind. Gabriel accuses me of being ill at ease with sensuality. He doesn’t know me! I give him a second hug, more tender, more serene, softened with a kiss on the shoulder. I disappear, happy with this encounter. That evening, I write to him, I’ve started looking at your photos. They are really beautiful. Thank you. He replies: You’re welcome. Hope I can see you again for…
I say: Friday-night dinner?
He replies: More than that.
In his Proust questionnaire, in the space for Favourite Pastime? Hervé Guibert wrote, in his round and slender script: Writing and sucking cock. I always wondered if they came to him in that order.
Near Bastille in July 2016 I slept with a boy named Gabriel of whom I also took photos. He was the one who “deciphered” me so well in a café afterwards: he had a curious lucidity about me. So we kept in contact, and over the course of our conversations he asked me if he could read his paragraph in my sexual diary. He knows that I keep one - I talk about it quite openly without going into any detail, but I must have mentioned it in front of him. I like it when boys have that kind of curiosity. I remember when Titi read his paragraph; it was an enthusiastic reading which encouraged me to pursue this work and it made me happy. I checked his paragraph to make sure that there was nothing disparaging about him (in which case I would not remove it, but would say that I prefer not to share my writing, or something like that). After reading it I see that the text in question is a wholly flattering portrait. I was afraid that I might have referred to a small cock: but really I enjoyed its form, and without claiming it’s enormous, was moved to compliment it. Same for his face and complexion, which I liked. As for his personality, Gabriel comes out of it well – I was afraid that I had insisted on a comparison with Blé, the annoying friend of my sister’s, but no. I even write that he strikes me as intelligent. Certainly the spray of piss in his bin store might astonish him, along with my plan for watersports, but he is an adult after all, and it’s he who wants to read it. As I have a bad feeling about it, I ask him preemptively – you promise you won’t be shocked? No, he replies. At the start of our conversation by text, Gabriel asks me to send him a photo of this paragraph, evidently unaware of how prolifically I write about my hook-ups. I explain to him – it’s impossible to take a picture of it. Paragraph is just a turn of phrase – your text is actually 7 pages long. His response: What? It’s a funny kind of astonishment, which should have alerted me to something. Well. Impelled by a kind of exhibitionism and maybe by pretentiousness, I send him over the 7 pages. He reads them instantly, and 15 minutes later I receive this message: You can’t be serious Arthur? A moment later he rings me, in an absolute panic. The conversation we have knocks me for six, it upsets me.
It interests me, furthermore, because it puts into perspective many aspects of this journal, but it torments me all that evening – and the whole night afterwards. First, Gabriel is terribly worried about his intimacy being violated. The only one of my models to have quibbled over the right to his image, he is particularly concerned about his representation, about what, in whatever context, could be said or known of him. I should have known this might be the case. However, my account of him does not merely worry him, it moves him to take action. Gabriel is categorical. “Promise me, Arthur that you will never publish this story. That it will never appear in any form whatsoever in any of your books.” Faced with blackmail, I dig my heels in.
Without wanting to launch a full-scale counter-offensive, I have absolutely no intention of giving in (which I know deep down, although I don’t reveal this) I defend myself first off by trying to explain, seeking to assuage his anxieties: “If, one day I publish this text, I promise I will change all the details by which you could be identified, names, places, streets, neighbourhood, decor, studies, basically anything that would allow anyone to know whom I am talking about. No identifying details will appear. I promise you.” Gabriel is having none of it: “But Arthur, you talk about my mother, you give my name, the number of my apartment, my floor, it’s impossible. Whether you change the details or not, I am asking you as a favour, out of friendship, to never, ever publish this. It’s just not ok.” As calmly as possible, I dig my heels in: “As I just said, I don’t even know if I will publish this…” He interrupts me: “Don’t treat me like an idiot, Arthur. You talk non-stop about this diary – you know that you’re going to publish it.” I repeat: “No, I’m not sure. I don’t know if an editor would take it. I don’t know what form the text would take. If I’ll just use fragments to then compose a story, or if I’ll make a smaller selection to avoid repetition, if I might get rid of some bits...I just don’t know.” [In fact, I‘ve already worked out what form the text will take: it will be, in alternating form, a series of sexual stories and short reflections upon sexuality – like in Histoire de Ma Sexualité, without cutting out any paragraphs, its obsessive, exhaustive nature being its founding principle.] Anyway. When Gabriel says, I’m asking you as a favour, I think immediately of my mother. It’s the kind of thing she might say to me, if a passage upset her in a text, ignoring my literary intentions - because if a bit of it upsets her, my desire to have it broadcast to the world redoubles. Not because I like hurting other people, but because the idea of writing the self rests entirely on a contract of (supposed) truth between you and the world. Accepting the idea of cutting off a bit here and there would contradict entirely the principle of the text. If I was able to remove a part of it out of respect for another person, I would have given up this journal a long, long time ago, I would have fucked a thousand times without writing about it, by laziness or indifference. That has never happened. Gabriel insists: “Whether it’s in two years, five years or ten years, I’m begging you, Arthur, please don’t publish this part of it. I’m sure you’ve got other more interesting bits. Seven pages won’t change that much, surely, so put them in a little box and throw them out. That’s all I ask.” Funny choice of metaphor, this little box. My views haven’t changed. I answer without really answering, repeat the only thing which I can promise him, which is that it won’t be recognisable and that’s the best I can do. You can’t stop someone from writing about them when they are not even remotely recognisable. I rationalise, idiotically: “If I change the town, the time, the objects, the things we got up to, your studies, your statements, what can that really do to you? I have no desire to expose your private life to the public stage, I promise.” That part of my argument is true. I made a pledge to myself, for legal reasons above all, to change all details that might permit the reader to recognise whom I am talking about in these pages. However, the idea of replacement seems to have no meaning for Gabriel.
Furthermore, in the instance of publication, I will alter the most explicit details. On the other hand, swapping out the practices or the decorum of perisex would be absurd, why would one narrate the real if all its contours are to be altered? That isn’t the contract that I have drawn up. Gabriel asks me who I show my journal to. “No one,” I reply. “Except the boys who I talk about in it, if they want to see it. What did you think? That I read it to my friends? I’m not crazy, I’m not a pervert.” A moment later, I add: “You know this journal I write is for me.” Gabriel disagrees. “It seems actually like you’re writing it for it to be read. At any rate that’s how it seems when you read it. that you’re writing it to explain it to someone.” Me: “That person is me. That’s the way I remember things. And to go back to your remark, my intimacy is also in jeopardy, it’s not just yours. It would be as embarrassing for me to publish these pages. There’s a lot at stake…” My adversary draws upon one of my old confessions: “No, I don’t think it embarrasses you. I think you like exposing your private life. It would embarrass your grandfather, as you said, but that’s it.” I say: “Listen, whatever anyone says, it’s a big deal. Maybe exhibitionism motivates me, ok, but it’s still a big deal… At any rate, if it reassures you, my computer has a code, my hard drives too, no one except you has read it and nobody will read it in this state.” Gabriel thought that I had already ”disguised” his paragraph, as it happens, because I wrote his name wrong. Those are just innocent errors, not in any way an attempt to disguise it (if that was the case, with one letter out of place, I’d be a pretty hopeless disguiser). Up next - and beyond the matter of his intimacy – are the concrete details which shock Gabriel. The bit in the bin stores: “You pissed on my bins, Arthur! What the fuck!” I thought that would have amused him. He also doesn’t like the bit where I compare his penis to that of a child (on the phone, I don’t remember how exactly I phrased it). By my reckoning what upset him in this description is the idea that it’s small, his dick, like that of a child. Finally, Gabriel comes out with: “It’s made up, anyway, all this, you’re writing things that don’t exist. You’re making stuff up.” He doesn’t remember this, or that. The spanner of subjectivity is in the works. I reason: “Gabriel, my text is not false. It’s true for me, and me alone. But fiction for the rest of the world. And for you more than anyone. That’s what’s problematic and painful, when one reads a text about one’s self, especially when it’s about intimacy. I can only misinterpret what happened, because what I felt belongs to me, and doesn’t correspond in any way to what you felt. This is just two subjectivities clashing. At no point do I make the claim that I am telling the truth.” Gabriel adds that what annoys him is the act of being considered just a common fantasy. In this way, what I have imagined upsets him profoundly, as if he were obliged to participate in it. My erotic peregrinations are unseemly to him. “Reading your text, I feel like I‘m reliving the misplaced jokes that my boss made when I did an internship at MoMA in New York. I felt the same unease.”
I’m not letting that one go. “Except that here, It’s the opposite. I am putting words on something that already exists with your consent, whilst your boss was fantasizing about something which hadn’t taken place and which you did not desire. In a way, you’re discovering, by the intermediary of my text, a sexual relationship which you would have refused it you had had access to its internal discourse. That is not at all the same thing.” Here I realise that in hindsight, albeit without him knowing it, the domination he demonstrated is part of the shame Gabriel feels. I keep going along these lines: “It seems that you’re a bit ashamed of sex, that you refuse to look it in the eye, or to look back on what happened – even from my point of view.” He dodges the issue: “No, I’m not ashamed Arthur, but I don’t want it to exist in that way. [Me, all I hear is no, but]. When I hook up with someone I don’t think about it. It’s a moment that is detached from everything else. But the problem is that your text is inserting a depth to it – you’re trying to bring a meaning to everything and it’s very embarrassing for someone who saw things differently – who tried to strip the meaning from the moment. You said I’m a bad kisser or whatever, that I don’t use my tongue, but that’s precisely because for me a hookup, it doesn’t have any meaning [he’s fixated on this passage – I thought he might be. The only thing he remembers is bad kisser – which is not the case. I was just a little disappointed by the spirit of his kisses. Maybe all this is just about wounded pride?] “For me,” he continues, “the thing that made the difference was your photos at the end. Taking them created a link between us. If you’d left without doing that, I don’t think we would have stayed in touch.” What is he trying to make me understand? That the sex before the photos basically didn’t exist? That our photographic complicity has erased the sex we had? Or that a set of nice images is more worthy of being immortalized in pixels than a written account of a fuck? At any rate, I admire his honesty. “Your text upsets me because it makes me think about my way of functioning. I don’t want to see some things, and you, you’ve gone and put words on them.” I thank him for his frankness. The conversation becomes less tense. He goes on: “The way we do things in my family, my mother especially, is to not say things, to not express yourself. That’s very important for me, do you understand?” “I understand, but …” He cuts me off, “No. You don’t understand. There’s something a bit unhealthy that I noticed about you the first time, that’s to do with the company you keep…You like to provoke, to stir things up, make things up even, you’re ready to write things that shock...A bit like your photos. To me it seems like your journal is the same project as your photos. [I don’t respond to this jibe.] But Arthur, I’m outside of all this – I don’t move in the same circles. It’s not my life. For all of your theories, you’ve got to understand that with a text like that I feel my intimacy has been violated.” I don’t raise the issue of the term violate (here he is going over the top, I think) nor the descriptor unhealthy, which seems inappropriate in the context of a discussion on the limits of creation. That said, Gabriel’s comment is astute: I do like to blur the lines, to play with what he calls the unhealthy – which is nothing other than the grey zone of the social space, which worries everyone, and which artists have a duty to explore. I answer: “I don’t know if you can understand what I feel as a writer. I’m not saying that I’m a good writer. I’m quite possibly a very bad writer, but that’s not the question. But when you feel yourself to be a writer, when you have that pretention, founded or unfounded, the only objective you can have is to say everything. Starting with the things that you’re ashamed of. You feel, by nature, an attraction towards that which is unsaid, that which should not be said. It’s a motor. Even if it’s always complicated to write about people we know – I know that and I am aware of it. It’s just that from the moment when tact or a desire not to offend affects what you choose to say, at that point it is no longer writing. Graphic arts may permit allegory and metaphor, but the literature that I like is the kind that encapsulates life, which has a taste for beauty but also for filth.” During this long-winded speech, I think about the ton of artists whose works and theories are utterly opposed to my point of view. Of course, you can be a great author without exposing your cock and balls to all and sundry. I am not suggesting that it’s a prerequisite for talent. I am just saying that the literature which interests - and excites me – is found there, and in that field concessions of conscience are not permitted. Gabriel insists on a facile accusation: “What’s the interest in sharing your life with everyone? Sex is intimate, it’s something that happens between two people, we could have just talked about it together…” [Yes, we could have, but that has nothing to do with literature.] Then, after a pause: “In fact, for a writer it’s probably just a bit of a laugh, well I mean, easy. You know that it’s going to sell and that it will interest people.” I retort: “Err, sorry, no, it’s anything but easy, or funny for that matter. Because first, whatever you might think of my exhibitionism, saying what I say isn’t easy. Not everything shows me in a good light.
Whether it’s the piss in the bins or the ridiculousness of my eroticism, I’m hardly covering myself in glory. And, it’s a massive effort. For four years there hasn’t been a single fuck that I haven’t spent hours translating into words. If it weren’t a monomania, I wouldn’t do it. Don’t think it’s a game. It’s something I’m locked into. Something which prevents me, in my private life, giving myself up entirely to pleasure, revelling in it, when I have the opportunity. Imagine that: I never experience pleasure, simply empty pleasure without knowledge of the task incumbent upon me, after that pleasure. And at the end, at the moment of publication, it’s really violent to expose my privacy. I went through that with Histoire de Ma Sexualité. So yes, the experience is interesting, exalting, but it’s not a laugh and it’s not easy. Believe me.” Gabriel, who is still in a closed circuit, launches another attack. “By putting words to all of your hookups, you know what you make me think of, ultimately? Of porn sites and the tags they put on their videos – teen, watersports, twink etc. you categorize everything.” “I love your metaphor. I don’t know if it’s very flattering but it’s very eloquent”. Since I don’t say anything for a moment or two Gabriel says: “Are you taking notes or something?” Me: “Of course not!” [Sorry for the lie – I was in fact taking notes on my computer – but, unable to accept the transcription of the immediate present, this kid will lose his shit, I tell myself, if I push him into the meta against his will.] Then, after a pause, he comes out with an amazing question: “Arthur, is that why you fuck? To write?” I can’t help but smile. What a puzzle. I’ve already asked myself that question, but never so head on. I try to reply spontaneously: “I don’t know Gabriel. It’s quite possible. The two practices are so linked to each other for me that I don’t know which comes first. Sometimes I think that I fuck in order to write, and sometimes indeed I stop fucking so as to avoid writing. But I do also experience a real pleasure, I promise you, when I fuck. It’s not just a theoretical apparatus.” Slowly, he starts to be less annoyed. He even starts to unpick why he’s so upset by it. “It’s the context too. I shouldn’t have read the text at work, in a hostile environment. It was like seeing my intimacy surge out in a place where I wasn’t expecting it to. And at the museum I’m used to taking decisions, to controlling everything, in a way. So the idea of something escaping my control is really unpleasant for me.” Once again I admire his good faith. However, the interrogation isn’t over. “But seriously Arthur, how did you think I would react?” “I thought you’d be a bit upset, but not to this point. I was worried about the piss, yes, and a couple of sordid details, but as I only say nice things about you I didn’t think you would be shocked really. Also, even if we’re not talking rationally – because the text directly concerns you - knowing that you know the history of art and that you like contemporary art and that you work in this milieu, I didn’t think you would support what is basically censorship…” On the other side of the line my opponent laughs bitterly: “God, Arthur...really?” He says he has to go. We end on this subdued note. I keep thinking about this conversation for the rest of the day, as it answers many of the questions that I ask myself about this journal – as well as eliciting others. I try to have a conversation with Bord Cadre about Gabriel’s reaction (without him reading the paragraph). Through some sort of perversion, I even hide to myself the cruelty of such a scenario: making a boyfriend talk about a lover’s reaction to reading about a hookup he has no idea about. But if I want to talk about it with Bord Cadre, it’s also because this debate engages analytic themes. Out of sincerity, but also to mollify him, I say: “In any case, this dispute is a perfect illustration of Lacan’s claim that there is no sexual relation. Inevitably we come up against the other person’s fantasy, we think we’re sleeping with someone but it’s not them, and vice versa…” Bord Cadre, detachedly: “Yes, there are no sexual relations, only misunderstandings. Because a signifier never carries the same meaning for two people.” I like this idea of misunderstanding. In bed, before sleep, Bord Cadre sees that I’m worried. “Why did you make him read it?” Me: “Because he asked, and if there’s one person with whom you can share a sexual narrative, it’s the person you experienced it with…” Bord Cadre, flegmatic: “Well, no, quite the opposite. If there’s one person with whom you shouldn’t share a sexual anecdote, it’s the person who experienced it with you…Because they can only disagree. Don’t you think?”