Diary of an Innocent

Semiotext(e) publish a new translation of Tony Duvert‘s 1973 cult classic

‘I’d find it amusing if, in a few centuries, the only thing that our descendants condescend to retain of our artistic production, the only thing in which they’ll see worlds to admire, to penetrate, the only thing that they’ll show off as precious in immense museums after having flushed down the toilet all our acknowledged masterpieces, the only thing that will give them nostalgia and love for us will be our porn.’ Striking a similarly truculent tone throughout, French author and libidinal polemicist Tony Duvert’s recently translated Diary of an Innocent presents a parodic memoir of bedroom philosophy interspersed with a collection of quixotic observations and sexual inventories-in-miniature that are almost Swiftian in ambition. Written in 1973 – the same year as the author’s anarchic ‘how-to manual’, Good Sex Illustrated – the novel represents Duvert at his most literary and pornographic.

image

Assuming the role of a poète maudit in exile, Diary of an Innocentis set in an unnamed city – perhaps in Morocco or Algeria – where the narrator discovers a cornucopia of pubescent desire. The resulting documentation of his pederastic transgressions mines much of the same territory described in William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959), The Thief’s Journal (1949) by Jean Genet, and Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus (1972): part epistemology, part personal mythology. ‘It would be better to think of a name for certain boys,’ explains the narrator of the fictional christening process of his anonymous lovers. ‘I’ll take them from a novel by Quevedo [The Life of the Adventurer Don Pablos de Segovia, Ideal Tramp and Image of the Swindler, 1626]; I have hardly any books here, and that will do. I just need to follow the order of the first chapter [but] choosing accurate or attractive ones isn’t important; it’s enough for chance to decide.’

Beneath the scandalous accounts of ‘boy love’ that run through these fractured recollections, the mission of Diary of an Innocentis more ambitious in scale. Duvert is not only determined to take every mother and father to task for the sexual manipulation of their children, but to evidence how the oedipalized family is a molecular extension of the West and its regulation of libido for profit. ‘In middle-class families, manners have barely changed since the time when they had bachelors to admire the watercolours of their daughter,’ he writes, ‘[but] today, they invariably show you the little ones’ drawings and psychoanalyze them. They make aghast commentary if the images the brat produced are conformist; his duty is primitive art, not imitating big people. I dodge the requests for Freudian drivel.’ So Duvert’s salacious trysts with itinerants and juveniles, which fill the bulk of the 250-plus pages, invoke as much of the libidinal-economic as they do an Olympia Press ‘porno book’, transforming these playful, tanned bodies into the prelapsarian antithesis of western capitalism, French culture and secular humanism.

For his part, Duvert is rarely apologetic about his transgressions and, rarer still, does he cloak them in the circumlocutions of a fashionable, academic rhetoric. ‘To become straight,’ he explains matter-of-factly, ‘you have to transform your cock into a phallus, that well-washed instrument of power. The asshole can remain dirty, but you’ve got to sew it up, forget the half of the penis that joins it, favor the external part and confine orgasm to that part.’ Such ‘non-discourse’ discourse might be shocking to some and downright offensive to others (the overly squeamish need not inquire on the narrator’s erotic musings on farm animals, stray dogs and worms). But the importance of Duvert’s controversial labour cannot be overstated, not only because of its unrepentant advocacy of a so-called aberrant sexuality, but for the larger task of building a radical, narrative cosmology – polymorphous, heterotopic and dedicated to a politics of pleasure. As French scholar Bruce Benderson explains in the novel’s preface: ‘The fact that many passages of Diary of an Innocent were repulsive to me and that I identified that repulsion as much more than a matter of taste is merely proof of the efficacy of Duvert’s purpose […] One could say he has chosen to lie down with the Devil in order to escape the narrow boundaries of social experience – and thus achieve an unusual kind of transcendence. As I have tried to show, such a stance probably could not be more foreign and more distasteful to the American mind.’ So while Diary of an Innocentcontains a fascinating and essential reminder of a particular past dedicated to unspoken desires, Duvert’s pornographic transfiguration likely has no greater foe than the American reader of the new millennium.

Most Read

The punk artists’s invasion of the pitch during the Croatia vs. France match reminded us what Russia’s new ‘normality’...
In further news: Brexit voters avoid arts; New York libraries’s culture pass unlocks museums; Grayson Perry-backed...
If artificial intelligence were ever to achieve sentience, could it feasibly produce art? (And would it be good?)
The punk activist-artists have been charged with disruption after they charged the field during the France vs Croatia...
27 educators are taking the London gallery to an employment tribunal, demanding that they be recognized as employees
In further news: Glasgow School of Art to be rebuilt; Philadelphia Museum of Art gets a Frank Gehry-designed restaurant
Highlights from Condo New York 2018 and Commonwealth and Council at 47 Canal: the summer shows to see
Knussen’s music laid out each component as ‘precarious, vulnerable, exposed’ – and his conducting similarly worked from...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...
‘You can’t reason with him but you can ridicule him’ – lightweight as it is, Trump Baby is a win for art as a...
Anderson and partner Juman Malouf are sorting through the treasures of the celebrated Kunsthistorisches Museum for...
From Capote to Basquiat, the pop artist’s glittering ‘visual diary’ of the last years of his life is seen for the first...
‘When I opened Monika Sprüth Galerie, only very few German gallerists represented women artists’
Can a ragtag cluster of artists, curators and critics really push back against our ‘bare’ art world?
In further news: German government buys Giambologna at the eleventh hour; LACMA’s new expansion delayed
Gucci and Frieze present film number two in the Second Summer of Love series, focusing on the history of acid house
Judges described the gallery’s GBP£20 million redevelopment by Jamie Fobert Architects as ‘deeply intelligent’ and a ‘...
Is the lack of social mobility in the arts due to a self-congratulatory conviction that the sector represents the...
The controversial intellectual suggests art would be better done at home – she should be careful what she wishes for
Previously unheard music on Both Directions At Once includes blues as imposing as the saxophonist would ever record
In further news: Macron reconsiders artist residencies; British Council accused of censorship; V&A to host largest...
In our devotion to computation and its predictive capabilities are we rushing blindly towards our own demise?
Arts subjects are increasingly marginalized in the UK curriculum – but the controversial intellectual suggests art is...
An exhibition of performances at Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, unfolds the rituals of sexual encounters
An art historian explains what the Carters’s takeover of the Paris museum says about art, race and power
Artist Andrea Fraser’s 2016 in Museums, Money and Politics lifts the lid on US museum board members and...
The Ruhrtriennale arts festival disinvited the Scottish hip-hop trio for their pro-Palestinian politics, then u-turned
The Baltimore’s director on why correcting the art historical canon is not only right but urgent for museums to remain...
Serpentine swimmers complain about Christo’s floating pyramid; and Hermitage’s psychic cat is a World Cup oracle: the...
The largest mural in Europe by the artist has been hidden for 30 years in an old storage depot – until now
Alumni Martin Boyce, Karla Black, Duncan Campbell and Ciara Phillips on the past and future of Charles Rennie...
In further news: po-mo architecture in the UK gets heritage status; Kassel to buy Olu Oguibe’s monument to refugees
The frieze columnist's first novel is an homage to, and embodiment of, the late, great Kathy Acker
60 years after the celebrated Brutalist architect fell foul of local authorities, a Berlin Unité d’Habitation apartment...
The British artist and Turner Prize winner is taking on the gun advocacy group at a time of renewed debate around arms...
The central thrust of the exhibition positions Sicily as the fulcrum of geopolitical conflicts over migration, trade,...
The Carters’s museum takeover powers through art history’s greatest hits – with a serious message about how the canon...
The 20-metre-high Mastaba finally realizes the artist and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s design
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
US true crime series Unsolved takes two formative pop cultural events to explore their concealed human stories and...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018