RARA-AVIS: porn in noir: Louise Welsh's _The Cutting Room_

From: Jay Gertzman ( jgertzma@earthlink.net)
Date: 08 Nov 2003

This novel is narrated by a tough-minded, gay man named Rilke,an appraiser for an auction house which has been comissioned to sell the contents of a house in Glasgow. He uncovers a splendid collection of classic and modern pornography compiled by the man who owned the house, but also a set of half-a-century old photos which seem to depict a woman's torture and murder. He sets out to discover whether or not this
"snuff" really occured, and if the owner of that house could really have participated in such an act. On the way, he visits the considerable vice district of Glasgow, with its dirty streets, greasy restaurants, bars, and porn stores. The style is terse and carefully descriptive when necessary. We learn about the increasing trade in women, children and their vital organs, drugs, and porn in Europe since the fall of the USSR, about the compulsions of transvestism and furtive gay sex in dark corners (Rilke's own practice), and about the reasons the auction business is primarily cash-based. The depiction of amoral behavior from one end of the social scale to the other is informative and intelligently noir-ish. But the ultimate reality check Welsh is working toward is problematical, and too narrowly conceived, in my opinion. Various people explain to Rilke that if *men* desire something purely enough, even snuff, they will bring it about. Death is at the heart of sex; Poe is quoted about the death of a beautiful women being the most beautiful thing in the world. Since the cavemen drew pictures of naked ladies on the walls of caves, "all manner of vice" existed. The distance between between de Sade and the Traveller's Companion books one bought in Paris b/c they were banned in the US and Britain is collapsed. Late in the novel, Welsh has Rilke discover the porn collector's edition of _Merryland_, an 18th century version of the old theme of the woman's body as a newly-discovered paradise. To Welsh (ok, Rilke), the woman is not the subject of adulation and desire, but is anatomized like a dead cadaver, taken apart like a student would cut up a frog. Damned if the other texts are not all about death also, cutting, stripping, murdering the female in the man's heart. Not too far from Jane Campion's version of the novel _The Cutting Room_. And here is Welsh
(er, Rilke's) interpretation of a bridal gown: "the bride a sacrifice in white." Point taken, Ms Welsh, time and time again. Yes your book is noir--unless your interpretation of its universe cannot be taken seriously.
     I wish someone else who has read this book would comment on it, and on my interpretation, which of couse may be all wet.

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