The Eye of the Beholder (homage to Georges Perec)

The person formally known as me recently watched a Tehran-set horror feature on my laptop. He stretched out on the bed, head cradled by a feathery softness (but safely supported by a sturdy headrest), feet abroad, off on hols. He purchased the bed from a popular company out of Sweden. The company had made an Absolut Fortune from the sale of beds, sofas, tables, wardrobes, pouffes, bookcases, drawers, coat racks, rugs, mugs: the works. There you could buy all you would ever need to make a faux-elegant but homey home at a reasonable cost (they had recently set up shop where he dwelled, a small, northern European state by the sea (the pattern of the flag uses three bands, yellow for sun, green for land and red to denote blood, because an abundance has been shed over the years). The country stands between two other small coastal states of comparable land mass and culture.

He loved the bed, the comfy mattress, the way the foam cleverly read the contours (some would say slender, others stout) of the body. But now he was all eyes for the lead actress. She was a rare beauty. No sooner had the story begun than he was besotted. He watched her spellbound, followed her raptly (some would say ogled). He hoped she would reveal more of herself but the story was set to the backdrop of the brutal war that raged through the 1980s between Tehran and Baghdad (partly a proxy war between the USA and Moscow). He knew he would never get to know her true contours; there would be no flash of flesh, no bust-out of breast, no cheap money shots of any currency. No matter! After half an hour he was wholly enamoured of the woman. Her face was a work of art, elegant but strong, sensuous but contemptuous of the goggly male gaze. The story (some nonsense about malevolent supernatural forces that harass her, a stay-at-home mum, because her absent husband, a doctor drafted off to war, never supported her dream to be a doctor after she was expelled from the faculty, all because she waved a few angry placards about and went on a few marches, he’s no good for her, that husband of hers, he’s not there for her when she most needs the support, such as now, as those ghosts torment her and her daughter, although we don’t actually see them, the buggers only appear cloaked as bed sheets, those hoary hustlers, them no-good rustlers, although the woman from the next floor down swears the spooks are real because the Quran refers to them) was by the by.

Although he loves her, and wants to be corporeally and legally bound to her, he feels he may become a tad annoyed by her constant workouts. She has a tape of Jane Fonda, queen of the workout, even though the feared secret agents of the state do not trust people who own a VHS, that clunky source of moral degeneracy and revolt. But the spooks need not worry about my beloved, she’s only focused on her abs and her buns, look at all that sweat, there’s not a pamphlet or placard to be seen. Jane herself was once an outspoken opponent of war before she became better known as a health guru. She neglected to see, however, that her newfound role as body-maker and butt-shaper would not pave the (shag-carpeted) way to female freedom. On the contrary, there was a cultural backlash to the heady days when women seemed, at long last, to be almost equal to men. We do not mean wages or other legally adjustable gauges but, rather, a general outlook that accords women the respect they deserve. Barbarella, once a shocker, now resembles a dowdy prude compared to the newly “empowered” women who thoughtlessly subvert language to such a degree that whole careers can be founded on leaked sex tapes. Never has there been such flagrant rancour towards women, as the web abundantly attests, through personally targeted abuse, demented harangues and even the threat of rape. Never before have so many women been duped by the bankable propaganda of how they should look; where once they worked out before the TV, now they undergo surgery on the pudenda (from pudēre, to make or be ashamed) as though the folds that protrude out of the vulva were a defect (they are the norm), they bleach asses, they destroy elegantly arched and crooked noses, to name but a few of the ways they deform themselves. We fully support a program that places the vulva at the vanguard of a new awareness, one that has to tackle the plague of body shame that has engulfed modern culture.

As Jane pranced about, resplendently bendy, a spandex-clad sage for the age, my woman followed her steps, aped her every move, not so much to have a well-toned body, but to sweat out her anger at her husband and her fear of the supernatural forces that were unleashed when a bomb landed (unexploded) on the roof of the apartment block. Women today are haunted not by ghosts but by corporeal standards of beauty that are laughably supernatural. A woman concealed by the Burqa and an “empowered” western woman masked by a dense layer of make-up; both are puzzles wrapped up as a mystery.

Sadly, the woman abandons me as soon as the story concludes (she defeats the baleful bed sheets, clearly not a metaphor for the Burqa or for zealotry among Moslems). There won’t be any church bells or vows of eternal loyalty, no legal papers that allow us to be the chattels of one another. As for myself, an array of spectres haunt my lonely, creaky old home. Some are undocumented refugees from the beyond that are after my resources; some are scaremongers that gleefully tell me the future looks bleak; some are tortured souls that enjoy my company; one succubus adores my mattress and the way the foam cleverly conforms to the voluptuous naught of her. Her non-presence upsets my sleep but her puckered non-vacuum calls out to me nonetheless. One way or another, death always looms over me.



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