Shark Porn

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Damien Hirst’s “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” (1991)

 

Stephen Burt has a recent review, “Poems about Poems,” from the Nov/Dec issue of the Boston Review that begins,

If you write a book of poetry about sharks, you might get attention from readers who care about sharks. If you write a book of poetry that is explicitly and consistently about poetry—its institutions and conventions, how we decide what counts as poetry, what we expect it to do—you might get extra attention from readers who care about poetry, which is to say from anyone likely to pick up new poetry at all.

Who, you might ask, would want to write poetry about sharks?  But there is, of course, Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror, which contains quite possibly the most sublime instance of shark pornography ever written.  This is from Georges Hugnet’s translation, published in 1965 by New Directions:

But what is this further disturbance in the waters, yonder, on the horizon? It looks like an approaching waterspout. What powerful strokes! I realize what it is. An enormous female shark is coming to take part in the duck-liver pasty and to eat cold boiled beef. She is furious for she arrives ravenous. A battle takes place between her and the other sharks over the few palpitating limbs floating here and there, saying nothing, on the surface of that crimson cream. To left and to right she slashes with her teeth, dealing mortal wounds. But three living sharks surround her still and she is forced to twist in every direction to outwit their maneuvers.

With a mounting emotion hitherto unknown to him the spectator on the shore follows this new kind of naval engagement. His eyes are fixed upon that brave female shark with her deadly teeth. He hesitates no longer, brings his gun to his shoulder, and, with his usual skill, lodges his second bullet in the gill of one of the sharks as it shows itself for a moment above the waves. Two sharks are left, their fury redoubled. From the summit of the rock the man with the brackish saliva throws himself into the sea and swims toward the pleasantly-colored canvas, gripping in his hand that steel knife that never leaves him. From now on each shark has an enemy to deal with. He advances upon his weary adversary, and, taking his time, buries his sharp blade into its belly. The moving fortress disposes easily of the last enemy.

The swimmer and the female shark rescued by him find themselves together. For a while they look at one another eye to eye; and each is astonished to find so much ferocity in the aspect of the other. They swim around in circles, neither losing the sight of the other, and each murmurs to himself: ‘Hitherto I have been mistaken: here is someone more evil than I.’ Then with common consent they glide toward one another, with a mutual admiration, the female shark parting the waters with her fins, Maldoror beating the waves with his arms; and they hold their breaths, each desirous of contemplating for the first time his living portrait. Arriving within three yards of each other, effortlessly, suddenly they come together like two magnets and kiss with dignity and gratitude in an embrace as tender as that of a brother and sister.

Carnal desire soon follows this demonstration of friendship. Two sinewy thighs clasp tightly about the viscous skin of the monster like two leeches; and arms and fins interlace about the body of the adored object which they surround with love, while their throats and breasts soon fuse into one glaucous mass exhaling the odors of seawrack.

In the midst of the tempest that continues to rage, illumined by its lightnings and having for a nuptial couch the foamy waves, borne upon an undertow as in a cradle, and rolling upon one another towards the depths of the ocean’s abyss, they join together in a long, chaste and hideous coupling!

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