Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 14

Sexual Licence and the Daimon

Hillman continues with his eccentric take on addiction.  He has already described in detail the excesses and addictions of Judy Garland's (1922-1969) life.  He then outlines a brief biography of the sexual excesses of the licentiously talented dancer Josephine Baker (1906-1975) who in October 2, 1925 opened in Paris at the Théatre des Champs-Élysées, where she became an instant success for her erotic dancing and for appearing practically nude on stage. After a successful tour of Europe, she reneged on her U.S. contract and returned to France to star at the Folies Bergères, setting the standard for her future acts. She performed the danse sauvage, wearing a costume consisting of a skirt made of a string of artificial bananas.  The famous detective writer Georges Simenon of Maigret fame who was an inveterate womaniser and sex addict spoke of Baker's nether regions as being like a "croupe" which translates as a horse's hindquarters.  Here are Hillman's interesting words:

Sexual relations were essential to Josephine Baker's performance.  She did it in the wings; standing up before going on; with every dance partner, gay or not, with big shots who paid; with the famous; with everyone she wanted, wherever she wanted, whenever she wanted.  Once she lay on the floor of her stateroom to entice an indifferent co-dancer: "Look at my body, all the world is in love with that body, why are you so arrogant?
We all wish that we could have known this over-sexed woman - certainly we men!  There was also some little of this compulsive eroticism in Judy Garland also.  Hillman says that the main thing that both these divas had in common was in their ability to fascinate all that came to listen to and see them perform.  They could reach out to that transcendent desire in the human soul which everyone in the audience aspired and still aspires to.  In short, they were wearing their daimon on their sleeves, were showing it off for all to hear, see and feel.

However, Hillman argues that Josephine Baker was able to "grow down" and embody her daimon which unfortunately Judy Garland was not.  Baker was able to embody her daimon step by step into the political and social world by becoming involved in la Résistance during WW II in her adoptive country France. She smuggled information, hidden in musical scores, across the borders of France and Spain into Portugal.  She was often in danger of deportation, if not execution being black.  In Morocco she worked at saving Jews from round-ups.  She also did much else, so much so that she was awarded the Légion d'Honneur and the Croix de Guerre.  She also was an early participant in The Civil Rights Movement.

Contrasting the deaths of these two great women in the context of the gift of the daimon Hillman waxes passionately lyrical and one is enchanted:

Rise and fall.  It is one of the archetypal patterns of life, and one of its most ancient, cosmic lessons.  But how one falls, the style of coming down, remains the interesting part.  Judy Garland's was a heroic and sad decline into collapse.  Her efforts aimed at the comeback; she tried again and again connect with the upper world of stardom, a struggle that ironically led to that dismal death in a London flat.  The thirty minute ovation Josephine Baker received in Paris that final week was both for the daimon in her body ("the people did not want to leave the theatre") and for her long and slow history of growing down into the world of "social evils": fascism, racism, abandonment of children, injustice. (Ibid., pp. 61-62)

To be continued.

Above, once again, a picture I took in the Vatican Museum of,  I presume, some Peter Pan figure or some other alluring young musician - surely the sexual enticement and addiction of Baker and Garland could be captured in this sculptural piece.

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