The pleasures of (go)ogling

Start with a random article in the wonderful philosophy magazine Aeon on the limited relevance of consent in sexual ethics and politics – actually a taster for the author’s forthcoming book on the same topic.

There are some good arguments there. And consent is a topic I have been thinking about and touching upon time and again in my research. The legal understanding of this key aspect of human agency is not just different in law than in morality or common sense; it is also domain specific. Consent has a different legal meaning in, say, contractual (business), family (marriage) or criminal (rape) contexts. This article opens new perspectives on this issue and at the very least makes a strong case that consent has a far more limited role in determining what is right or acceptable or should not be interfered with, than many of us had thought.

The article is illustrated by a (cropped) painting by Károly Ferenczy, representing two wrestling men, a mild visual parallel to the strong fable the article opens with. A simple google search (for “Károly Ferenczy wrestling”) brings up a number of images which are taken from a 2012 blog entry by Hungarian art historian Nóra Veszprémi (currently at the University of Birmingham, as another simple google search would confirm).

Artwork by Károly Ferenczy, Wrestlers III, Made of Oil on canvas

This blog entry is a small revelation – it confirms what I have been feeling and thinking for a while now, every time I walk through the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest or look at certain reproductions: there is, what is called, “homosexual eroticism” in many of Ferenczy’s paintings. At least this is a serious academic hypothesis by Judit Boros, the curator of a retrospective exhibition back in 2011-12 and a co-editor of Ferenczy’s collected letters. There is little biographical evidence but some good starting points for legitimate speculation. Namely, Ferenczy’s late work, with circus artists, wrestlers but also earlier pieces of the human nude, allows for a queer reading.

Ferenczy: Orpheus (1894)

And from here, it is easy to jump to a further blog entry, originally written as accompanying material for that exhibition, especially if one reads Hungarian. It provides details on one of the few biographical hints at “uranian” or “oxonian” interests – how Ferenczy responded to Nijinsky (there are many other interesting details on the links between Nijinsky and Hungary). After seeing the dancer as the faun in the legendary performance with the Ballets Russes in Budapest, he wrote an incredibly detailed, anatomically precise report to his son. The letter contains almost nothing else but this report on Nijinsky’s body – and Ferenczy is candidly affirmative about this exclusive focus of his gaze.

Vaslav Nijinsky, 1912, dancing the Faun. Photograph by Adolf de Meyer.

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