“THE BODY” by Hanif Kureishi
“If other people´s bodies get too much for you, you can stop them by stabbing or crucifixion. You can shoot or burn them to keep them still or to prevent them from saying words which displease you. If your own body gets too much – and whose doesn´t? – you might meditate yourself into desirelessness, enter a monastery or find an addiction that channels desire. Some bodies are such a nuisance to their owners – they can seem as unpredictable as untamed animals, or the feeling can overheat and there´s no thermostat – that they not only starve or attempt to shape them, but they flagellate or punish them”.
Wandering around bookshops, I just recently came across Hanif Kureishi´s book “The Body” and decided to buy it. I was specially attracted to the fact that he was appointed Writer-in-residence at the Royal Court Theater in London in 1982 and has won several awards including the Chevalier de l´Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Kureishi´s work includes plays, screenplays, fiction and non-fiction books. The curiosity for his writing also led me to discover Patrice Chereau´s “Intimacy” (winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2001), since its script was based on a Kureishi´s short story. At the time I was also reading “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams, and I suddenly realize that they all share the same subject. Kureishi´s short story, Chereau´s Film and Tennessee Williams´play investigate deeply into the territory of human desire.
In “The Body” Hanif Kureishi tells the challenging story of an aging playwright, who is offered the chance to have his brain transplanted into a younger body, this way changing “container” but keeping his mind, all for the benefit of mankind. In his mid-sixties, partially deaf, with back and knee pain, hemorrhoids, ulcer and cataracts, spitting bits of tooth while he eats, he is a brilliant mind producing some of his best work but he is stuck in an old body. And so, he cannot resist trading his “half-dead old carcass” for a “stocky”, handsome, “lightly toasted, with a fine, thick penis and heavy balls” sort of body.
He simply cannot let go of live. And he cannot resist the offer, of becoming more attractive to others, more desired and therefore, loved. As a Newbody he goes into the world seeking for new experiences and plans to return to his old “facility”(former body) after six months. The only sure thing is that he will have to live with the consequences of his choice.
At one point he says: “I had always taken it for granted that I was a person, which was a good thing to be. But now I was being reminded that first and foremost I was a body, which wanted things”. It is obvious that “The Body” was written under the strong influence of Deleuze´s writings – Kureishi read Philosophy at King´s College in London. Indeed, “The Body” stresses how bodies are not free, how they are legally, financially, culturally and medically restraint. And it is about human appetites, what escapes the control, how we all have desire(s) and how we coup with and handle them.
“INTIMACY” by Patrice Chereau
On its hand, Patrice Chereau´s film “Intimacy” speaks of brute desire. Two strangers met every Wednesday to have sex without sharing a single word. They meet, have sex and go their way. He is a musician who abandoned his home and family in a day just like any other, never to return. Since then, he lives in an wrecked house crammed with garbage and sleeps on a thin filthy mattress on the floor. This is the scenario where their bodies battle their frustrations and release their desire. We are not told how the two of them met. Their situation changes when, he spontaneously decides to follow her one day and from then on every time a bit further. And so he finds his way into the woman´s close circle, hanging around the places she lives and works, having conversations with her husband.
He comes to realize but doesn´t admit that she has given him something to wait for every week, thus installing a need that already existed in him but that he had channeled and disguised differently before. His level of anger increases as he cannot make sense of her actions, he cannot understand why she looks him up every week and what meaning these encounters have for her. Later she will say that she hadn´t wished anyone in very a long time until she meets him. The language their bodies speak becomes insufficient as he is obsessed in telling her what he feels and in cross-examine her to find out what it means to her.
“A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE – Tennessee William´s play and Elia Kazan´s film
“Whoever you are – I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”, says Blanche as she lifts up from the floor and accepts the Doctor´s arm. He is there to take her away into an insane asylum without her knowing it.
In Tennessee William´s “A Streetcar Named Desire”, Blanche is a desperate lonely woman hiding from her past, seeking for love and attention. She´s looking for a safe place as her life is coming apart.
She tries to hide the conflict between her horny appetite and her sensitive propriety as she knows this to be her last chance. Either she finds protection in a Mr. Rightguy´s arms or she will be totally lost.
Blanche, is a very interesting and complex character, she has both good and bad qualities which only make her human.
In her youth she deeply loved a young poet. But she had sensed that there was something that she couldn´t give him. She always felt like she failed him in some mysterious way and wasn´t able to give him the help he needed but couldn´t speak of. One day, accidentally, she finds him in another man´s arms. And later she cannot help herself and cries: “I know! I know! You disgust me… “. And so, he runs out, stucks a revolver to the back of his mouth and blows it away.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” was shoot by Elia Kazan in the end of the forties and obviously subjected to the censorship going on in Hollywood at the time. Both the Breen Office and The Legion of Decency evaluated both the script and final cut of the movie, and so lines were changed and scenes cut off. Blanche´s “sins” had to be smoothed in the Film due to censorship reasons. And so her young husband´s homosexuality, her working as a prostitute after his death, her nymphomania and special attraction for young schoolboys, sailors and solders, and the scene of her rape are only to be truly understood if one reads the play.
In Kazan´s Film Blanche condemns her husband Allan because he cannot hold a job, because he doesn´t seem to be able to do something else except … being a poet! It is said that Viviene Leigh, playing Blanche, had a good laugh about the fact of having to condemn someone for being a poet!!! In the original play, Blanche reproaches her husband for being an homosexual.
Sure is that, due to this change, she bluntly states in the Film that she has killed him, thus admitting how guilty she feels about it. On the play, on the contrary, we can only grasp her guilty conscience through her raising lost of control and increasing madness.
Anyway, she does feels responsible for Allan´s death. It´s very interesting that in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” – also by Tennessee William – Brick is constantly being confronted with the suspicion of his supposedly homosexuality, as he doesn´t touch his gorgeous wife since his best buddy´s suicide. Furthermore, as Blanche, Brick also feels responsible for someone´s death and is completely haunted by it.
In the end of “A Streetcar Named Desire”, Blanche is “taken away”, eliminated as if a mere inconvenient. Her presence and personality shook the waters and what comes to the surface is too upsetting to be accepted or comprehended. And so, she is the one being sacrificed to keep the order of things. Everyone and everything will continue as if nothing happened. Blanche is the one finding no place in life and being subtracted from it.
We cry in the end, because she is a force of nature unjustly sacrificed in name of oblivion, for the sake of convenient routine, to perpetrate the quiet hypocrite familiar state of things. We cry because she is crashed by people who abused and forced her to change. And of course, Stanley has his saying in it. Brilliantly performed by Marlon Brandon, Stanley is a brute, an ordinary and bestial bloke, who is also pure libido – making him a complex character as we cannot help to love him. He will crash Blanche like a bug both because he wants and hates her.
The complexity of Tennessee William´s play and characters is just amazing! From Blanche´s and Stanley´s complex character – at some point she states that the way to one´s heart is never a straight line – to the conflict aroused by different and conflictive desires, Tennessee William´s text is one of the strongest and most moving texts I´ve ever read.
The fulfillment of Allan´s desire lead to his death and to Blanche´s drifting. She says that after her husband´s death she had intimacies with strangers, as it seemed to be the only thing able to fulfill her empty heart. But a lost love and the need to hunt for some protection weren´t the only explanations for her unbalanced desire. The desire to live, to deny death also had a word, as Blanche took cake of the sick and watched them die. She says death is the opposite from desire – interestingly Kureishi´s main character in “The Body” says exactly the same. Tennessee William´s play starts with Blanche having to take a streetcar to get to her sister´s house, meaningfully it is called “Desire” and the one running in the opposite direction is called “Cemeteries”.
As Stella asks Blanche if she had ever been on streetcar Desire, Stella replies: “It brought me here!”. Unfortunately, together with the circumstances, it will also take her to madness and death.