Mark Gaipa The Avant-Garde as Erotica:
Kiki and Samuel Roth at the Margins of Modernist Art
The primary objective of this essay is to chart the publishing history of Kiki's Memoirs.1 In 1901, Kiki--whose real name was Alice Prin--was born into the humblest of circumstances in the Burgundy region of France. By her twenties, she had managed to escape the dangers of the street and become one of the most celebrated models of the Parisian avant-garde. In 1929, she related her life story to the world by publishing her memoirs. The next year an English translation was brought out by Edward Titus, who--with an eye on the American literary market--arranged for Ernest Hemingway to write the introduction. Due to their explicit content, the memoirs were barred from reaching readers in America; but in the early 1950's, Kiki's text mysteriously circulated in the United States, refashioned and extended, under the title The Education of a French Model. In the years that followed, Americans interested in reading Kiki's story had to visit the archives of the few libraries that owned extant copies of the latter text. Fortunately, Kiki's Memoirs was brought back into print last year by The Ecco Press. The editors, Billy Klüver and Julie Martin, had previously returned Kiki to public recognition with their 1989 book on the Montparnasse art community, Kiki's Paris: Artists and Lovers 1900-1930.
The importance of Kiki's memoirs, as Klüver and Martin assert, lies partly in their special ability to capture the spirit of left-bank culture in the 1920's. Kiki's memoirs also contribute to the feminist revisionary history of modern art--showing how the avant-garde appeared through the eyes of a working-class woman, and giving voice to a female model who became an artist in her own right.2 But when I examined the changes that Kiki's Memoirs went through over the course of their publishing history, a further dimension of the text's significance was revealed. In particular, the significance of the fact that Kiki's memoirs eventually crossed the path of Samuel Roth.3 Roth--an American publisher and author working out of New York for most of his life--is probably the most notorious American book pirate of the modernist period. He was the first to publish James Joyce's Ulysses in the United States, although he did not have the author's permission at the time. Roth is also known to have published unauthorized works of Eliot, Lawrence, Shaw, Gide and others.4 Roth pirated Kiki's memoirs, retitling them The Education of a French Model in 1950--and in a 1954 edition he included a self-consciously "forged" sequel in which Kiki runs across the publisher himself5
The second objective of this essay is to consider what significance lies in Kiki's near "encounter" with Roth, and to wonder what Roth's interest in her memoirs says about them and his relation to their author. Kiki and Roth may not have met in actuality, but they did share common ground as legends from the underside of the world of modern art. Both figures were surrounded by an aura of scandal, and both participated in the adversial ethos of the avant-garde by straining the limits of social propriety--Kiki lived and worked in the shadow of prostitution, while Roth plied his trade at the border of pornography. By bringing Kiki and Roth together, Kiki's memoirs disclose the location, occupied by both, where the avant-garde crossed over into erotica. The history of Kiki's text is especially tailored to illustrate this intersection of art and sex, for Roth transformed Kiki's text in the fifties from an advertisement for the Parisian avant-garde into a vehicle for pornography. One could dismiss Roth's work here as simply exploiting Kiki's memoirs, but i will argue that Roth did not have to push that hard to bring about this effect; nor was his use of Kiki all that different from the uses that surrealist artists like Man Ray had for her previously. By studying the treatment her memoirs encountered when they fell into Roth's hands, I hope to explain the significance Kiki's text had in the first place.
Once it is recognized that the history of Kiki's Memoirs conveys a double portrait of Kiki and Samuel Roth, I come to the third--and final--objective of this essay: to discern from Kiki's text the perplexing role that erotica and other sensational material performed within the cultural economy of modernist art. While no definition of modernism will do justice to the plurality of conflicting artistic developments in the first half of the twentieth century, I am using the term in this essay to refer to the work of artists and authors who turned their backs on the consumer culture of modern society, even as they rebelled--sometimes at cross-purposes--against a previous generation's strict morality, reticence, and middle-class respectability.6 Andreas Huyssens and others speak of the great divide that modernist artists installed between their works and the surrounding commercial world; but with regards to sexually explicit works like Ulysses or Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, this divide proved not wide enough for a concerned public and government officials who placed censorship bans on this material to ensure that the books did not circulate widely. In general, the avant-garde's involvement with erotica is important to us today because it offered one channel of exchange between high and low culture. Openly sexual or sensational avant-garde works that aroused the general populace provided a counterpoint to modernism's dominant ideology which promoted the aloofness of the artist and the disinterestedness of the aesthetic sphere. When figures like Roth and Kiki lent their social illegitimacy to the project of modern art, they had a similar effect of sensationalizing high culture and popularizing it for a mass audience.
Kiki and Roth were marginal figures who used their association with modern art to advance their careers; but what is less apparent--and of primary concern to this essay--is how their marginal careers were in turn useful to modern art. Because serious artists could not readily address the general public or engage in the selling of their work without compromising their artistic value, intermediaries like Kiki and Roth emerged who could traffic--sometimes on behalf of these artists, sometimes not--between the worlds of art and popular culture. Roth's early journals, Two Worlds Quarterly and Two Worlds Monthly, were explicitly designed as a conduit between American and European culture; by importing artifacts of avant-garde Europe into a more puritanical America, Roth showed how bridging the modernist divide (between bohemia and business) could yield a profit. In like manner, Kiki's fortune arose from playing a mediatory role between art and tourism. Her celebrity status as the embodiment of Montparnasse life was enabled by the postwar influx of Americans into Paris, which financially invigorated the Montparnasse art community; and when Kiki's memoirs were translated into English and shipped off to America, they were traveling in a path of exchange that American mass culture had cleared earlier in the twenties. In each case, Kiki and Roth may appear to stand outside the orbit of the modernist economy, but their marginal relation to high art allowed them to market modernism and extend its commercial infrastructure beyond what the ideology of high art could publicly acknowledge.
I am aware of the apparent injustice of pairing Kiki and Roth in this way, especially since Kiki's reputed generosity and indifference to wealth contrasts sharply with the way Roth clearly took advantage of people. But I also believe that one can best measure their common service to modern art by their inflated (albeit opposed) reputations. It was no accident that Kiki was deified by her modernist contemporaries as extravagantly as Roth was demonized by them. To diguise the commercial interests that modernism exercised through them, Kiki and Roth each realized a role that accorded with the larger script of modern art, which publicly maintained that artists cannot do business with the world without being exploited or losing their soul. Accordingly, Kiki came to represent--by her irreverent, honest, carefree nature--the autonomy of the avant-garde before its fall to commercialism; and a contrasting figure like Roth could explain that fall to the public by representing the unethical business of art. If one identifies a functional continuity between the darling and demon of modernism, they are less liable to swallow these mystifications of modernist self-understanding. Certainly those of us today who go to great lengths to celebrate Kiki should wonder if we are continuing the modernist fetishization of her. And those who persist in condemning Roth should remember that strident anti-semitism and narrowminded Comstockery were also at work in fashioning his reputation for evil.
Modern art may have employed Kiki and Roth to tell one story about itself, but there is an alternative story about modern art that their joint histories can help us relate. In the twenty-five year period between Souvenirs: Kiki and Education, two startling events took place in Western culture. First, there was the unlikely triumph of modernism, whereby art that had previously puzzled and upset the general populace was accepted by them as the cornerstone of the respectable cultural establishment. Second, at the same time as the outrages of modernism were beginning to look normal, obscenity laws were being scaled back to an extent unprecedented in human history, making acceptable by public standards what had previously been kept repressed in the private sphere. The history of Kiki's memoirs will not explain these developments, but it did have a small hand in them, and it may illustrate how much the success of modernism and the defeat of obscenity had in common.
I 1929-30: Kiki of Montparnasse
When she published her memoirs in 1929, Kiki was already quite a celebrity in Montparnasse. As a model for some of the most famous painters of the day, Kiki's face had been widely publicized in its association with modern art. But Kiki was also known as a painter in her own right, having exhibited her works in local galleries where she received favorable reviews. Her talents also extended to bawdy singing in cabarets about Paris, and to acting in a variety of films that include Fernand Léger's "Ballet mécanique." At one point she even traveled to New York for a screen test at Paramount Studios. Seemingly larger than life, Kiki was held by many to represent the life of Montparnasse, of which she was officially "elected" Queen at a benefit concert in Montparnasse in 1929. Impetuous, carefree, vulgar, disrespectful, but also down-to-earth and caring, Kiki embodied many of the qualities that made the avant-garde so provocatively thrilling to the bourgeois public. Little wonder then that so many tourists who wanted a touch of authentic Parisian life sought her out when in the quarter.
While most memoirs are written years after the events they describe, Kiki published hers while she was at the height of her fame, at the ripe old age of twenty-eight. Undoubtedly one motive was to cash in on her wave of popularity. Kiki's publisher was Henri Broca, who had been publishing a local magazine called Paris-Montparnasse; according to Klüver, this publication "mixed nostalgic stories of life in Montparnasse with gossipy items on the comings and going of the artist as celebrity" (KM 1996, 25). Some of the early chapters of Kiki's memoirs first appeared in Paris-Montparnasse ; it would seem that the eventual shape of her book owes much to Broca's talent for publicity. Certainly the contemporaneity of Kiki and her memories lends her book the air of a gossip column; and the French edition reinforces this impression by including a series of news clips advertising Kiki's success. In recounting how Kiki got to be where she was, Souvenirs: Kiki seems very much aware of itself as the next step in her fame, as though it were the capstone for the events described in the book.
Whatever Kiki's merits, one may still wonder at this popularity which inflated her to larger-than-life proportions. A clue may be found in the six portraits of Kiki that, along with Foujita's preface and the aforementioned blurbs, make up the first section of her book (SK, 7-27). These portraits, each by a different artist and presented on consecutive pages, provide a sort of introduction to Kiki, greeting her audience with various views of her that they may already have seen. Yet at the same time, these many depictions of Kiki also introduce readers to the multi-valent artistic community of Montparnasse. This point is made for us by the titles printed beneath these paintings--"Kiki par Foujita," "Kiki par Kisling," etc.--which suggest that these artists have all recreated Kiki in their own image. By placing their stylistic signatures on her, they have helped Kiki evolve into a public personality; but the "Kiki" who appears in these multiple portraits is no longer simply herself but has become a point of orientation around which the members of the avant-garde may measure their artistic differences from one another. When one views the paintings together, Kiki appears larger-than-life precisely because her face now serves as a communal substrate for the avant-garde. It is as if the artists who have painted Kiki had entered, through her, into a family of stylistic relationships; and the readers of her Souvenirs may accordingly look to Kiki (who puts a human face on the disorienting work of the avant-garde) as the touchstone by which they may access the diverse community of these artists.
By introducing us to Kiki and to the avant-garde at the same time, the opening pages of Souvenirs: Kiki give us some insight into the way she was popularly celebrated as the spirit of avant-garde Montparnasse. They also point out how Kiki has functioned, both then and now, as a fetish.7 By embodying the aura of her surroundings, Kiki metonymically focuses sexual desire onto herself that really can only be satisfied elsewhere; and like a fetish, she has become the powerful object of irrational devotion. If the power ascribed to a sexual fetish lies in its disguised expression of the lost maternal phallus, one may suspect that Kiki's overcharged fullness compensates for a loss experienced by individuals around her.8 In Foujita's introduction, there is an expression of this when he says: "Montparnasse a changé. Kiki ne change pas" (SK 14). This observation appears to set Kiki against Montparnasse, but I would suggest that Foujita ascribes such constancy (fixity, timelessness) to Kiki so she may nostalgically stand in place off Montparnasse as commercialization begins to change it for the worse. As we saw with the six portraits above, Kiki provides here the symbolic ground and enduring spirit that holds the avant-garde together. Ironically, Kiki could remain true to herself only because, as a fetish, she supplied the pliable female content that gained its value from the conflicting forms and desires the artists impressed upon her.
Kiki's peasant origins, as well as her continuing association with prostitution, made her an especially good candidate for this kind of fetishization. As a coarse-speaking native from Burgundy, Kiki provided the avant-garde with the raw material it needed to break with the bloodless academic past and continually fashion itself anew. Symbolically part of the land, Kiki also had a figure ample enough to represent for the artists (many of them foreigners) the environment in which they worked. Kiki was not a prostitute, yet her image (and often enough, her body) did function as a currency passed between the mostly male artists,9 all of whom claim to have slept with her. In 1947 Samuel Putnam, the American translator of Kiki's memoirs, titled his own memoirs about Montparnasse "Paris was our Mistress." Kiki's identification with Montparnasse suggests how literally one may take this.10 Her alleged constancy may have allowed her to stand in for Montparnasse, but it was the idea of sexual promiscuity, attached to her status as a model, that allowed her to circulate as an advertisement for the avant-garde.
Certainly a number of advantages came to Kiki in her capacity as fetish for the avant-garde: it brought her fame, offered her greater social mobility, and freed her from social conventions so she could make good on her talents. Significantly, the overall structure of Souvenirs reflects this progress that Kiki made toward realizing herself. After readers pass through the introductory section of the book, they encounter a series of paintings by Kiki (twenty in all) before finally arriving at her memoirs. This tri-part organization--which displays Kiki as model, artist, and author, in that order--has the effect of bringing us ever closer to representations of Kiki herself: Souvenirs: Kiki first presents the reader with numerous images and accounts that others have produced of Kiki, but further inspection of the book reveals images she has produced herself, and finally one gets to hear the voice that lies behind either set of pictures. I believe that this arrangement is quite deliberate, and that it is structured to turn the tables on any preconception of what a model can do, as well as promote Kiki as someone who takes an active role in turning things upside-down herself. Once again Foujita's introduction is instructive. He recounts how Kiki, when first modeling for him, took it upon herself to trade places with him:
She took my place before the easel, asked me not to move and calmly began to draw my portrait. . . . From that day on, I never knew which of us was the painter (SK 10)11
Appropriately, Kiki's portrait of Foujita (SK 39) is included in the paintings that follow, providing a counterpart to Foujita's portrait of Kiki that leads off the volume (SK 7). Kiki may not have had the middleclass background, let alone the slim build typical of the "new woman" in her day; but she did find in the social and creative freedom of the avant-garde what many new women sought there, including freedom from genteel gender roles and career opportunities outside the domestic sphere. Should readers of Souvenirs question whether they are to take Kiki's artistic aspirations seriously, they need only reflect on the make-up of her book, which has the look, feel, and (with the deluxe edition) price of an art book worthy of our respect.
Early on in Souvenirs the importance of Kiki's role-reversal with Foujita is emphasized by the very first of the news clippings: "Kiki, who has been the inspiration for artists all these years . . . has herself become an artist" (SK 19).12 What does it mean for an art model to become an artist herself and then write her memoirs? Since Souvenirs is structured to trace the surprising course of Kiki's development, I suspect that this question was a major promotional theme behind the book. In a way, Souvenirs represents Kiki as though she were Galatea to the avant-garde's Pygmalion--a beautiful object for the gaze of others which, in stirring to life, has finally achieved the wherewithal needed to show us the world through her eyes. And what Kiki is liable to recount, having won the right to speak from her male mentors, is an intimate, potentially embarrassing view of the modern bohemian male artist, who has now become an object for his female model's gaze.13 While various American correspondents (like Putnam, Janet Flanner and Wambly Bald) were sending home to their American papers reports about the Paris art scene, Kiki's memoirs would seem something more: not only an insider's view of the world of art, but what the artist's work would say if only it could speak.
Given Souvenir's deep investment in the idea of Kiki's emerging subjectivity, one might expect that our new view of Kiki as an honorary "new woman" and equal member in the Montparnasse community would displace our initial view of her as symbolic prostitute and fetish for the male avant-garde. But as I will show, Kiki never quite escapes the role of fetish in Souvenirs ("Kiki ne change pas"); and this is because Kiki's newly realized subjecthood is secretly constructed upon the autonomy of the fetish it seems to have escaped. Here again, Kiki 's fortune recalls that of Galatea: in becoming human, Pygmalion's art object seems to have achieved a life independent of its maker, but Galatea actually functions now as the living embodiment of her maker's imagination. In Kiki's story, there are quite a few men who could play Pygmalion to her: Broca, Man Ray, and Titus all had a hand in nurturing her talent and helping her produce her autobiography. If these men left an imprint of male desire upon her memoirs, one is likely to find their presence not in the suppression of Kiki's self, but rather in the way the text constructs that self for her audience. Accordingly, the very structure of Souvenirs--which turns on Kiki's transformation from art object to artist, from being seen to being heard--carries a double message. On the one hand, one may read Kiki's story in terms of a feminist hermeneutic, which shows how she has managed, by strength of her personality, to turn around her condition as the object of oppressive male desire and to develop her own voice. On the other hand, this same story supports another reading--much less empowering, that plays on our desire to witness the scandalous private view of a public figure and delights in having her bare for the viewer her innermost secrets. This double-coding of Kiki's emerging subjectivity is partly explained by Souvenirs' attempt to reach a large audience beyond the avant-garde; but the avant-garde--and French surrealism, in particular--was already pointing Kiki and other women in this direction by making them the aesthetic means for delving into the unconscious and liberating repressed sexual desire.
A case in point is the work of Man Ray, who was Kiki's lover during the twenties. In Figure Two, one sees a clip from his film Emak Bakia (1927) in which Kiki is pictured opening and closing her eyes. The unsettling effect that Man Ray has produced here arises from his having painted a set of false eyes on her eyelids: now when Kiki closes her eyes, she appears simultaneously to be reopening them. This clip may help us discern what makes Kiki's memoirs so provocative: if Kiki surprises us in Emak Bakia by returning our gaze when we think she cannot see us, in Souvenirs she surprises the public by showing the many things she saw as an object for the avant-garde. Yet there is also something disturbing, even uncanny about the clip; when Kiki's unliving eyes look back at us, our grasp of the real seems to falter. Rosalind Krauss has described the chief aim of surrealism as having us experience "reality as representation" (112). As much is accomplished when Man Ray, foregrounding the medium of his film, has Kiki's false eyes alternate with her real ones, making her real eyes appear superficial to us even as her false eyes gain an uncanny depth. If I read Man Ray's technique here in terms of the surrealist privileging of the dream state over waking consciousness, one may recognize Kiki's false eyes as "dream eyes" that express the unconscious depths and inward vision repressed from her real (or conscious) eyes. When Kiki closes her eyes (as when she goes to sleep), we now see that her vision persists in a powerfully strange way.
In Souvenirs, Kiki's psychic depths are constructed in much this way by Robert Desnos, a surrealist poet known for putting himself in trances. Responding to Kiki's art exhibit in March 1927, Desnos wrote: "You have, my dear Kiki, such beautiful eyes that the world you see through them must be beautiful. What do you see?" (25).14 This description by Desnos, which appears in the first section of Souvenirs, provides us with instructions for reading the paintings by Kiki that appear later in her book. According to Desnos, we should regard these works as an expression of Kiki's dreams:
If you dream that the world is peaceful like the lush prairie in the serene dale of your imagination, the only storms will be those in your nightmares. And here [in Kiki's paintings, we find] the lush prairie in the serene dale, the blue sky, the green grass, the nude women, the songs and the flowers" (26)15
Like Kiki's false eyes in Man Ray's film, Kiki's paintings are here held to express what she sees when her eyes are closed. Desnos celebrates Kiki's artistic power over the world by considering her a visionary. But at the same time he seems to be returning her to the interpretive control of men, since the beauty that she is said to see in the world reflects the beauty that Desnos and other men see in her eyes. In a way, Desnos has projected a line of desire from Kiki's eyes (her performance as a model) onto her artistic vision (her performance as a painter), so that the dreams he credits to her are likely to be his own. Much the same holds, I would argue, for the "dream eyes" that Man Ray has constructed for Kiki. In each case, Kiki's new visionary self--deep, powerful, strange--emerges only when the male artist takes over the job of making up her eyes, which had always been Kiki's most remarkable and characteristic feature.16
In these depictions of Kiki, one sees how surrealist artists identified the power of the unconscious with a woman's body, and sought to release this power--as Man Ray attempted with his literal "trompe l'oeil"--by foregrounding their artistic technique. In Man Ray's "The Violin of Ingres" [figure 3], perhaps the most famous picture in which Kiki appeared, we find a wonderful illustration of how these concerns work together to produce Kiki's "inner self." In this picture, Man Ray has photographically superimposed a pair of sound holes onto Kiki's back so as to summon from her body the image of a stringed instrument. One may be tempted to read "Violin" as simply a denial of Kiki's subjectivity; indeed, by refiguring Kiki as a violin or cello, Man Ray seems to have objectified her body and succeeded (in the words of one critic) in "putting woman in her place," as though the model were little more than an instrument for the artist to play upon.17 But such a reading overlooks how Man Ray's photograph achieves its uncanny effect by deliberately falling short of objectification. Rather than turn Kiki into an instrument, Man Ray shows Kiki turning into an instrument in a moment of suspended transformation. As with his film clip, the surreal effect of this picture arises from an unresolved tension between the real (which is marked by Kiki's face, plainly visible to us) and the unreal (the illusion occurring behind her back). Man Ray is also foregrounding his technique by allowing his mode of production--in this case, his model, whose public personality challenges the anonymity of the back-to-the-camera pose--to show through as part of his final product. If this brings Kiki's subjectivity into play, so does Man Ray's fiddling with what Kiki sees and does not see. It appears that Kiki cannot see what the viewer sees occurring behind her back, since this lies just outside the scope of her vision. But much as Kiki's "dream eyes" emerged in Emak Bakia only when she literally closed her eyes, the lyricism we witness in "Violin" probably lies beyond Kiki's conscious sight because it originates from her unconscious. The surrealistic effect in this picture first appears to be a little secret we share with Man Ray at Kiki's expense; but eventually our angle on her proves to be a privileged view into what Kiki holds deep inside her (or keeps secretly behind her back).
Souvenirs, I have argued, is constructed along very similar lines: after offering us an external view of her as seen by others, the book turns Kiki around so the reader may enter the inner world of her experience and see the world through her eyes. But since the woman who bares her soul to us in Souvenirs may be no more real than the "dream eyes" in Man Ray's film, our consideration of the surrealists' uses for Kiki prepares us to approach her memoirs with a degree of suspicion. What, according to her narrative, have Kiki's eyes seen? Kiki's text recounts various episodes from her childhood in Burgundy, her arrival in Paris at age twelve, her continuing struggle to maintain a job and provide for herself, and finally her gradual assimilation into the art community. Kiki places her personal stamp on all this by writing in an unsophisticated style: her individual chapters are short and impressionistic, she uses an abundance of slang and street language, and she frequently narrates in the continuous present as though she were recounting events from the past while they were happening. In contrast to the way Kiki always appeared heavily made-up in public, the stylistic naiveté of her narrative in Souvenirs confirms that we are witnessing her untutored, authentic self without the cosmetic defenses.
The idea of Kiki's interiority generated so many meanings for the surrealists, it seems likely that her authenticity will only grow more overdetermined when Souvenirs repackages her deep self (already a surrealist object of sorts) and peddles it to both bohemian and bourgeois audiences.18 Certainly there is something for both camps in her text. Sympathizers of the avant-garde can admire Kiki's turning things upside-down as an expression of their own social nonconformity. At the same time, Kiki's "turn around" conforms to the commercial framework of sensational autobiography, which confirms her wider audience's libidinal investment in the separation (and subsequent confrontation) of private and public realms. In this way Kiki's memoirs, as an advertisement for bohemia, may distress its wider audience even as it cannily markets its shock-value to them.
This double coding of Kiki's Souvenirs is apparent in the way her narrative cannot decide whether it wants to segregate or integrate the matters of art and sex. As evidence for the first, Kiki's story is plotted along a rags-to-riches theme that solicits the audience's respect for bohemia (art) by showing how it saved Kiki from the life of the streets (sex). Clearly, Kiki's fortune turns on her discovering sanctuary in the artists' company, and her narrative--which shows her moving from isolation to community, from hardship to celebrity, from constraint to freedom--implicitly contrasts Kiki's life before and after she hooked up with the avant-garde. Born illegitimate and raised apart from her mother, Kiki also finds in the avant-garde community the family that she never had, with the artists standing in as her adoptive parents and Montparnasse figuring as a protective enclave.19 There is certainly an element of irony here, since Kiki's development and success are explained not by her adhering to an assortment of bourgeois values but rather by her falling under the influence of the disreputable avant-garde.20 But the cozy picture that Kiki ultimately paints of Montparnasse shows us how the avant-garde, despite its reputation for effrontery, may outdo the bourgeoisie at their own game of moral decency; and Kiki's repeated insistence that Montparnasse is a "family" and her "home" reveals how her book rattles bourgeois sensibilities only to salvage its most prized institutions.
This reading of Kiki's narrative seeks to tame the avant-garde for general consumption by charting Kiki's progress from street into studio; but an alternative reading of her story presents her life amid the avant-garde as a spectacle and source of arousal for her audience. In general, this view depicts bohemia as blurring the line between art and sex,21 so Kiki's entrance into the studio hardly amounts to an escape from the streets. Such would seem to be the case with Utrillo; according to Kiki:
I don't remember much about him. I only know that once, after I had been posing for him, I went around to take a look and see what he had done and was knocked off my pins to discover that he had been drawing a little country house. (SK 130)22
Kiki is surprised to discover here that Utrillo was simply gazing at her while he directed his artistic attention elsewhere.23 In the apparent discrepancy between what he sees and what he creates, we sense how the salacious male gaze is not left outside the studio but has followed Kiki into this haven, to exist alongside the creation of art.24 The double gaze that Kiki meets in the studio is also the double condition of Souvenirs, since the art book aesthetic and moral structure of Kiki's story offer her respectable audience an excuse to gaze at her with impunity.
If the first account of Kiki's life marvels at how radically Kiki's fortunes have changed, this account collapses the before-and-after structure of her narrative progress to show us that Kiki winds up at a place not much different from where she began. There is much truth in this: Kiki could run among celebrities in avant-garde circles precisely because she never left her disreputable past behind, and "Kiki ne change pas" because bohemia needed to ground its capacity to provoke upon the kinds of experiences that Kiki had survived.25 The result is a paradox, wherein Kiki could achieve a sort of respectability by simulating acts that were deemed disreputable. If this indicates how the two accounts of Kiki's narrative pull against each other, another indication of strain is found in the ambivalence Kiki shows about prostitution, which persists as an anxious undercurrent throughout her narrative.26 At times Kiki proudly acknowledges her closeness to the streets, and often seems protective of, if not friendly towards, prostitutes; but she is just as quick to fight someone who mistakes her for one. And while she relates numerous events that characterize prostitution as the alternative to her new home in the artistic community, prostitution reappears as a subject in much of Kiki's art: she created a number of paintings depicting prostitutes and sailors, and in one photograph at least posed herself as a grue with Man Ray pretending to be her miché (Klüver, 142). Early in her memoirs Kiki recounts how she was given money by an old man for showing him her breasts; yet in bohemia Kiki was still showing her breasts for money, with the difference that she did so now in the name of the avant-garde.
Kiki's ambivalence about prostitution attests to her hazardous footing atop the avant-garde's grounding in erotica--for even as she stood to be hurt by this conflation of art and sex, it provided her with the means for advancing herself as a model, artist and performer. Soon I will assert that Roth exploited this same precarious terrain in his publishing ventures, and also consider how the court sought to clarify this hazy area by making art and obscenity mutually exclusive categories. But first I will briefly consider the English edition of Kiki's memoirs that Edward Titus (an American bookseller in Paris who was responsible for first publishing Lady Chatterley's Lover) brought out in 1930. A number of changes that Titus made in Kiki's text reflect his attempt to introduce her to a broad American audience: in place of Foujita's introduction and the prefatory advertisements, Kiki's Memoirs opens with an introduction by Hemingway, a note by the translator, Samuel Putnam, and finally an additional note by Titus himself.27 The matter discussed by these men was whether or not Kiki's text can be translated. This may seem an odd topic for debate, not simply because the reader has the translation in hand but because Kiki's popularity, as I have tried to show, has always depended upon her being "translated" into something else. As a fetish for Montparnasse, Kiki translated the life of the street into the ethos of the studio (sex for art); and her Souvenirs exchange her public, pictorial image (as a model) for a private, verbal self (as an author/artist) while trading between the social codes of bohemia and the bourgeois. Ultimately, these expressions of Kiki's mutability inform the terms of the Americans' controversy.
Hemingway wrote his introduction before Putnam had translated the memoirs and seemed intent on undermining the venture before it got off the ground, arguing that "It is a crime to translate [Souvenirs]. . . . I know it is going to be a bad job for whoever translates it, please read it in the original" (KM 14). Putnam hilariously responds to Hemingway by arguing that if translation is impossible, then he must have performed a miracle--and proceeds to speak of Kiki in deific terms while comparing his venture to St. Jerome's translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin.28 The real issue at hand, however, is not so much whether Kiki's memoirs can be translated, but whether they should be. Hemingway's discomfort at writing the introduction ("this is the only book I have ever written an introduction for and, God help me, the only one I ever will") seems to grow out of his understanding that Kiki's sudden emergence as a celebrity is tied up with the dissolution of the Paris bohemia she represents:
the era of Montparnasse . . . was definitely marked closed when [Kiki] published this book. . . . in one year, Kiki became monumental and Montparnasse became rich, prosperous, brightly lighted, dancing-ed, shredded-wheated, grape-nuts-ed or grapenutted. (9, 10-11)
In other words, when Americans took over Montparnasse and got the cafés to serve them their breakfast cereals, the era was over. And while Hemingway holds out for Kiki's Souvenirs being authentic French fare, I suspect that their easy authenticity here, like Kiki's capacity to stand in effortlessly for Montparnasse, indicates how the memoirs have already been adapted, in the original, to the tastes of the bourgeoisie and Americans alike.
I want to describe the English-language edition, then, as a "further" Americanizing of Kiki--for this edition sought to extend the promotion of Kiki by translating her distinctive idiom overseas. This marketing of Kiki compounds her status as a monument, and Hemingway--despite his protests--is of course contributing to her inflation: Titus undoubtedly reasoned that more Americans would read Kiki's Memoirs over their breakfast cereal at home if Hemingway was somehow involved. Because the prefatory material in Titus's edition was likely staged to surround Kiki with the air of controversy while adding pages to her short text, the debate between the three Americans boils down to three additional portraits of her. For Hemingway, Kiki appears as the antithesis of Virginia Woolf ("[Souvenirs] is written by a woman who, as far as I know, never had a Room of Her Own," 14), as a modern-day Moll Flanders, and as royalty--a queen, though never a lady. For Putnam, Kiki has become a deity or saint: "Kiki is more like St. Theresa than any one I know" (23). For Titus, Kiki seems to represent a good deal. When he adds his own opinion, he brings matters down to earth again by claiming that Hemingway and Putnam have been "decanting poppycock." As anyone with sound business sense knows, translation is always possible:
An American bootlegger will find it easier to repeat the miracle of Cana than an American college to produce a graduate equipped with two languages and a sufficient skill for their workmanlike employment. (29)
In retrospect, these words seem slightly prophetic; for having packaged Kiki's Memoirs for transit across the Atlantic, Titus set the stage for Roth's method of intervention. Kiki's Memoirs never reached their audience since they were confiscated and (apparently) destroyed by United States Customs when they reached New York Harbor. But twenty years later, Roth--an "American booklegger"--succeeded in bringing out his own edition of Kiki's memoirs. What is more, this edition also heeded Putnam's warning that "the problem is not to translate Kiki's text, but to translate Kiki" (20)--for Roth not only pirated Putnam's translation of Kiki's text, but went on to"translate" Kiki herself by concocting a sequel in which she supposedly visits New York for a second time. First published as an art book that employs erotic material to capture the spirit of the avant-garde, Kiki's memoirs are transfigured, upon second publication, into the "avant-garde" of erotica.
II 1950: Enter Samuel Roth
Had Samuel Roth participated in the discussion that Hemingway and company waged in the preface to Kiki's Memoirs, he might have described translation as an easy way to make a fast buck. Roth's Two Worlds journals were premised on the idea of cheaply republishing sensational European texts in America. The difference in copyright laws between the United States and other nations, coupled with sheer physical distance, proved an especially lucrative combination for Roth, who built a career from publishing books that fell between legal cracks and exploiting authors who were incapable of legally restraining him. Roth's serialization of Ulysses provides a nice case in point. When Ulysses was banned from America, it lost its copyright protection in this country; Roth was therefore free to publish the text in the United States without paying the author, so long as he expurgated the text to please the censor.
As I noted earlier, one may also define the "two worlds" that Roth sought to bridge in his publications in less literal ways. The subtitle to his journals--"Devoted to the Increase of the Gaiety of Nations"--indicates that Roth was determined to import the uninhibited world of bohemia into the staid world of the bourgeoisie, and to fiddle with the distinction between the worlds of high art and mass entertainment, as well as the worlds of public respectability and private disclosure. When adapted to his uses, the forthright world of art offered Roth the means to arouse his audience--which is what Roth also sought from his favorite genre, autobiography.29 A text like Kiki's Memoirs brings all these worlds together, as do other books published by Roth--like Bubu of Montparnasse, also published in 1950 by his Avalon Press, or any of the texts, such as Lady Chatterley's Lover and Lila and Colette, offered in a continuing series of "amatory" or "ardent classics."
One can observe how Roth bent art into erotica in one of the advertising circulars he mailed to subscribers in the early fifties [Figure 4]. Two operations seem to be at work here. On the one hand, Roth assures his American audience that the pictures in these books of nude photographs are satisfactorily dirty because they come from France; on the other hand, these pictures are not simply smut because they may also be classified as art. Roth is of course overstating the reputation of the "leading French artists" responsible for these pictures; yet in another of his circulars he advertises, with the same intent, "French studies in the nude" by Renoir and Matisse. Such manipulation of the category (if not actual instances) of "serious" art was typical of Roth, who found he could better purvey erotic literature if he could authorize it in the name of Culture.30 Today people may find fatuous the way Roth used the vocabulary of aesthetic appreciation to signify his readers' prurient interests; but blurring these separate concerns was still provocative in Roth's day.
In the 1930 edition, Hemingway and company debated how they may devise a faithful translation of Kiki's memoirs; by contrast, Roth's interest in Kiki attests to the profit to be found in faulty translation. Indeed, bohemian shock became "shlock" in Roth's hands as he deliberately marketed his publications so his audience would "mis-read" them. It is hard to imagine that Kiki would have been pleased by Roth's mis-use of her memoirs; but her notoriety, as well as the ambiguous relation between art and sex in her memoirs, gives Roth ample opportunity to push her book toward his kind of production. Without much effort one can apply the headlines in Roth's circular--"Just imported from Paris," and "[nudes] posed by leading French artists"--to describe Kiki as Roth has remade her. As a metonymy for "France" (and its sensual affiliates: "Paris," "Montparnasse," "avant-garde"), Kiki signified for Roth's audience a simple alternative to American puritanism. The bohemian ethos of free self-expression and outragous defiance became (in a dubious, but not wholly unfair trade) the less noble ethos of loose morals and free sex. This translation of Kiki from French model into American sex kitten is finally borne out by Roth's adding pin-up glossies of nude women to both his 1950 and 1955 editions of her memoirs, which he retitled The Education of a French Model. The only explanation offered for these women is to introduce them as "Some Friends of Kiki." Of course, even this explanation is gratuitous since their inclusion needs no justification: Roth's audience knew that these pictures were the reason for the publication in the first place. If the original Souvenirs already gestures in Roth's direction by providing us with the secret self behind the public images of Kiki, Roth has taken matters a step further by reducing Kiki's narrative to an envelope for selling erotica.
In what follows I will examine in some detail what happened to Kiki's Souvenirs when her text resurfaced as The Education of a French Model. One thing I will argue is that the pornographic treatment of the latter edition is more consistent with the outlook of the original avant-garde than the critical reputation of modernism in the fifties could easily admit. I will also show that Roth, in the process of financially exploiting Kiki, comes to identify with her. This identification is enabled by a number of likenesses between them, but one in particular stands out: like Kiki, Roth assumed many different identities over the course of his career. We have seen that Kiki's success depended upon her functioning as a fetish, a mutable image that could serve as a metonymy for so many things; yet Roth also operated by means of numerous aliases and multiple selves.32 And much as Souvenirs: Kiki profited from promising to disclose the "real" Kiki beneath her heavily made-up eyes, what is most important in Roth's productions, as showcases of the secret lives of others, is the outward appearance of interiority. To get at Roth himself, we need to work through his various publishing ventures, his numerous authorial poses, and--where I will begin--his sensationalist book covers.
Why does Roth change the title of Kiki's memoirs to The Education of a French Model? Certainly he needs to explain to an American audience unfamiliar with Kiki what her text is about; but the new title also locks her memoirs into a frame of expectations at odds with what they actually offer. Souvenirs: Kiki sought to surprise us with the singular voice behind Kiki's ubiquitous face, and her narrative makes good on this promise by giving us an impressionistic, individuated account of outstanding moments from her life. Yet the new title --"The Education of a French Model"--shifts our focus to an impersonal, external perspective on Kiki's life, channeling her experiences into a publishing formula that Roth's audience would understand. Once tailored to suit the market, Kiki's memoirs could take their place among a number of items on Roth's booklist that similarly offered generic accounts of women's secrets and sexuality.
The distance that Roth's new title placed between the reader and Kiki's history is partly an expression of parody: having been lessoned in love, Kiki now speaks to us as a graduate of the school of casting couches and hard knocks. If we examine the title page of the 1955 Education [Figure 5], we will even find the happy graduate pictured for us, sporting her mortarboard and proudly displaying her diploma for all to see. One may suppose this diploma attests to Kiki's credentials as a French model; but Kiki demonstrates what this acquired proficiency really involves by cleverly using the document to towel over an otherwise naked body. Kiki has learned, in other words, how to arouse her (male) audience; but this lesson also belongs to Roth, who by now has mastered the art of manipulating the covers of his publications and advertisements to lure in his reader. It is interesting to note the likeness this picture of Kiki bears to the apparent friend of hers featured in Roth's circular (in Figure 4 above). Like the censor's stamp in that picture, the diploma here acts as a sign of the law; its imposition over the figure in each case initiates a hermeneutic economy--between surface and depth, cover and contents--that guarantees we will find the naked truth ("You'll like her better without the label") disclosed/unclothed within the body of the text. For the reader who invests in the story of Kiki's education there will be a payoff--something that violates the public law of decency--as sure as there are pin-ups in this world. I have shown how Kiki's modeling in Souvenirs could signify her escape from prostitution; but in Roth's idiom, prostitution is merely the unspoken signified behind Kiki's modeling career. As a loose woman, the French art model represents the delights they may associate with a purchased sexual encounter.
Here, part of the publisher's strategy was to incorporate the symbol of the law (the authority of the diploma or the censor) into his texts in order to signal the illicit nature of their contents and inspire the male reader's desire. This operation, like the new title for the book, constitutes a form of parody, for Roth has reproduced the letter of the law in his texts in order to undermine its authority. As an act of deliberate mistranslation, parody also lies behind his efforts to import the authority of serious art into his publications while transforming that artwork into something erotic. This strategy runs throughout Roth's editions of Kiki's text, but it becomes most apparent in Figure 6. Here I have juxtaposed one of the line drawings that Kiki made for Souvenirs against the drawing as it appears, as one of a series of new illustrations, in the 1955 edition. Numerous likenesses between the two (they share the same field of orientation, the same positioning of the female figures, as well as many small details like similar door handles, window curtains, footrugs, and the berets on Kiki's head) indicate how this is not simply a new picture, but a deliberate adaptation of the old, a willful translation of Kiki into a new idiom. Kiki is no longer the discreet, naive adolescent girl one found in the earlier picture, but rather appears to us all grown up, having traded in her bobby socks for stockings and a chic dress; Kiki is also pictured none-too-innocently fellating the sausage she has brought for lunch. Such changes have the effect of parodically "rerouting" the meaning of Kiki's trip to Paris: what had been a frightened adolescent's first venture into the dangerous-but-exciting city, now becomes a confirmation of Kiki's innate and precocious sexuality--a point that seems to be borne out by the change in the apparent subtitles from "En Route Pour Paris" to "My Arrival in Paris." Foujita claimed that Kiki never changes, but the reworking of Kiki's picture assigns to her a new kind of immortality: upon arriving in Paris, Kiki becomes a type, ultimately incapable of individuality or real development. Naturally, the import of the "modernist" style that had distinguished Kiki's drawing--its flattened perspective, its seeming unsophisticated technique--is also lost here in the trade of avant-garde for erotica.
One could discount this picture in the 1955 Education as being merely vulgar, but its significance is complicated by the way its audience could not be expected to have access to Kiki's original drawing, which appeared only in the earlier 1950 edition. The elaborate parody is thus a sort of private joke played out for an audience of Kiki aficionados. But because this parody certainly fails to reach the public audience, we may read it as another secret portrait of its producer, Roth.
In a moment I will show how our clearest view of Roth emerges in the sequel he wrote for Kiki's memoirs. But one can better discern the relation between Roth's Kiki and that of the avant-garde if I first explain the illustration "I pose for myself." that faces the title page in the 1955 Education [Figure 7]. This picture shows Kiki turning herself into a piece of art by transferring onto a canvas the image of herself she sees reflected in the mirror. Interestingly, the picture also incorporates a couple of references to other pictures by Kiki [Figure 8]: "Je Pose . . ." (which appeared only in the French 1929 and in the American 1950 editions) and "Eve" (which appeared in the 1929, 1930, and 1950 editions). The title of Roth's "I pose for myself." most likely alludes to (and completes) the title of Kiki's "Je Pose . . ."; the former picture also adopts the general layout of Kiki's drawing: both pictures place us behind the artist so that the viewer may view the canvas at the right, and both painters have angled their right arm while holding a paintbrush with the same delicacy. One change that Roth introduces into his translation of "Je Pose . . ." is to put Kiki in the place of the artist; another is to make the painting that Kiki is working on none other than her own "Eve."
These pictorial intertexts help us appreciate the sizable investment that Roth, like his surrealist predecessors, had in the idea of Kiki's self-portraiture. Whereas Kiki's "Je Pose . . ." depicts her as the female object of art, Roth's "I pose for myself." shows Kiki assuming control over the representation of her self. This ascription of agency to Kiki apparently displaces the popular assumption (pictured for us in "Je Pose . . .") that the artist behind the artwork is a man. But the change also reveals how, in the economy of Roth's text, Kiki's act of self-portraiture is linked to secret disclosure. "I pose for myself." presumes to expose the unseen history of "Eve"'s composition by revealing how a seemingly objective painting by Kiki is actually a secret portrait of herself.34 By letting us peer into the mode of production behind one of her paintings, Roth's depiction of Kiki also reminds us of the way Man Ray used Kiki's self-reflection to foreground his own medium.
The trouble with both of these views of Kiki's self-portraiture is that they are the product of another's gaze. This point can be made by again comparing Kiki's "Je Pose . . ." and Roth's "I pose for myself." In the first drawing, Kiki has actually assumed control of the scene in which she appears as an "objectified" figure; in fact, before the male artist even has a chance to depict Kiki on his easel, Kiki has beat him to the punch by depicting him on her own unseen canvas. But this situation is essentially reversed in Roth's version; Kiki may seem to have achieved control over the artistic process in this picture by standing in for the (male) artist, yet it is Roth's artist who invisibly calls the shots behind the entire scene. As with Man Ray's photographs of Kiki, Roth's picture controls her not by denying her subjectivity, but rather by exploiting an image of an autonomous female subject that he has constructed on her behalf. The autonomy conveyed by Kiki's act of self-posing is appropriated and rerouted into an opportunity to titillate the male viewer. As the frontispiece for the book, "I pose for myself." engages the public/private hermeneutic at work in the title page to suggest that Kiki's memoirs will reveal to us the private self behind her many public masks. The picture also suggests that the secret significance behind Kiki's memoirs is that she is an exhibitionist engaged in an act of autoerotism. Not surprisingly, I find a counterpart to "I pose for myself." in one of the pictures Roth advertised in his circular: "A nude girl regarding her lovely self in a full-length mirror." By fetishizing Kiki's autonomy, Roth gives new significance to the relation between Kiki as artist and Kiki as subject of her art, remaking the act of autobiography into a kind of self-abuse.
"I pose for myself." illustrates Roth's parodic use of Kiki's memoirs, but it is important to see how a similar "misuse" was already at work in Kiki's initial text. When Roth translates Kiki's "Je Pose . . ." into his own "I pose for myself.", he retains for his edition the gesture essential to Souvenirs: Kiki in which the model turns the tables on the art world to become a painter and author in her own right. In this respect, the difference between Roth's edition and Kiki's is largely a matter of degree; but Roth was not content merely to add more male desire to the formula. Instead, he literally took over Kiki's authorship by writing a sequel in her name. The phrase "I pose for myself.", by posing as one of Kiki's utterances, helps us discern the nature of this sequel. Much as Kiki is not the artist who produced the picture that goes by this title, nowhere in her memoirs does she ever speak these words. This title is thus an invention-masquerading-as-a-quotation and embodies the logic of the sequel in which Kiki seems to "speak" when in fact she is being "spoken for." Construed as the powerful subject of her own art, Kiki has become a witless object of erotica.
There is so little of Kiki left in Roth's sequel to her memoirs that I regard the text as a coded portrait of Roth himself, who now speaks in Kiki's stead. I also want to title this secret autobiography of Samuel Roth "Je pose. . .," since the sequel has so much in common with this real self-portrait by Kiki. In her drawing, Kiki appears twice: first as the naked model about to be pictured by the male artist, and then, indirectly, as the artist-behind-the-artist who has conceived the entire drawing. The sequel similarly gives us two pictures of Roth to choose from: a straightforward picture of him as a minor character that Kiki draws for us in her narrative, and a more elusive picture of him that comes clear only when one recognizes that Roth has been masquerading as "Kiki" all along. By including himself as a character in her story, Roth certainly makes an effort to repair his public reputation.35 In the sequel, when Kiki arrives in New York City, hoping to find there her old lost love, she discovers two things: that she is famous again, due to the recent publication of her memoirs in America; and that she is as poor as ever, since her publisher is the notorious book pirate, Roth. Kiki decides to track him down "to get a little money" out of him (88), but the man she eventually confronts is hardly what she expected: Roth invites her to lunch, explains that he has paid for the copyright to her memoirs, and sends her off with fifty dollars after warning her not to trust Hemingway--another of Kiki's old acquaintances who is now quite wealthy and living in the Waldorf Astoria.
There are good reasons why one should not trust this humanized picture of Roth: it is highly unlikely that he ever paid for her memoirs, and he seems to be using Kiki (and her text) to settle an unknown score with Hemingway, whose success Roth perhaps resented. Yet it is surprising that Roth, given the opportunity to clear his name, never disavows his reputation as an "archpirate": characters in the sequel commonly identify him as a pirate, he never denies that he pays authors only when he wants to, and Kiki says some discreditable things about him behind his back that confirm our distrust of him. One suspects that Roth goes only so far in exonerating himself because he is really smitten by his role as a "booklegger." Whatever the cause, Roth refrains from further self-vindication until the conclusion of the narrative, where he finally forces Kiki's hand and has her return (for no apparent reason) to the issue of his tarnished reputation. But even here Roth does not coerce our sympathy, claiming instead that "If you repeat all the gossip you hear about this book pirate you would only help to turn a monster into a saint, too heavy a reversal of the orderly process of nature" (177).
Moments like this in the sequel draw our attention to the text's other portrait of Roth as the agent behind Kiki's point of view. This would not be the first time that Roth has spoken from the perspective of the people he had exploited. After he pirated Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1930, for instance, Roth followed up with two sequels to the dead author's work: Lady Chatterley's Husbands in 1931, and Lady Chatterley's Friends in 1932, each anonymously authored by the publisher. And in his biography of Frank Harris (predictably titled The Private Life of Frank Harris), Roth clearly identifies with the beleaguered Harris even as he closely resembles the American publishers who caused Harris so much grief by illegally publishing his memoirs.
In the sequel to Kiki's memoirs, the first clue of Roth's displaced authorship comes to us not through Kiki but rather through her associate--a talking dead fish whom Kiki has befriended. The narrative opens with Kiki walking along the Seine; by now old and down-and-out, she ponders whether to end her life when suddenly she is drawn to a fish lying in the gutter. Picking it up, Kiki asks "What . . . am I going to do with you?," only to have the fish reply, "The question is not what you are to do with me but what I am to do with you" (63). This fish quickly becomes her advisor and companion, and Kiki deposits "Little Antoine" (the name she gives him) into her blouse so she may carry him wherever she goes. Within days the two embark on a trip to America, where Kiki hopes to reverse her recent bad fortune and unearth her true love from yesteryear.36 There is certainly something surrealistic about Kiki's friendship with this talking fish, and Kiki underscores Little Antoine's affinity with the avant-garde when she cites its resemblance to "objects deposited in the bellies of animals drawn by Picabia and Picasso" and notes that "it had about it a stench that was absolutely delightful, an effect out of reach of even a Picasso" (63). But the fish is of course, at the same time, a very crude joke. As an expression of Kiki's aged genitalia, Little Antoine reminds us how Kiki had formerly relied upon sex to find her way in the world; named after Kiki's lover--"Big" Antoine--the dead fish may also figure as a sort of dildo (or sexual fetish). Whatever its symbolic significance, Kiki's fortune is clearly entwined with that of Little Antoine. When she pulls him out of the gutter, she is supposed to be doing as much for herself.
By finding in the surreal an occasion for pornography, Roth was trading art for erotica. Kiki quickly takes on the pungent odor of her fishy companion, so characters throughout the narrative hurry to keep a safe distance from her; her friend Hemingway even pays Kiki to vacate his hotel room. Yet it was Roth who carried an aura of scandal about him and whose name elicited public rebuke through much of his career. Most spectacularly, when Joyce issued his protest in 1927 against Roth's publishing of Ulysses in Two Worlds Monthly, 167 of the prestigious figures who signed on--including Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, and the scientist Albert Einstein--put a safe distance between themselves and the alleged pirate.37 And later that year Waverley Root, who had worked with Roth on his Two Worlds journals, published in transition an attack on Roth's character that was designed to absolve him publicly of all former contact.38
Expelled from the world of legitimate art, Roth recorded he had no recourse but to go underground, "to adopt the pseudonym of Norman Lockridge in order to escape the disgrace associated with his former name" (Hamalian 1968, 321). This is not quite true, since Roth's penchant for aliases preceded the public excoriation of him that began in the late 1920s. Still, the mythology that quickly sprung up around Roth may have made a necessity of the various practices he had been honing. I have shown that Roth's poses increased over time, both in terms of aliases and publishing imprints, and that these fronts served a general sanitizing function: to foil the smuthounds, set upon him by the Post Office and the Society for the Suppression of Vice, who were on his trail through much of his career.
A public reputation for unsavoriness is what Roth shared with the female protagonist of his sequel; in composing this text, Roth seems to have projected onto Kiki his own sense of being socially excluded. By speaking through her, Roth finally publishes this part of his life story even as he covers over his authorship--a trick that is improved by his appearing as "other" to Kiki as a somewhat abused character in her own narrative. Such a scenario also offers us a new way to read Roth's Education, provided one regards Kiki's fictional relationship with Little Antoine as a parallel to Roth's own relationship with Kiki. The story-behind-the-story would go something like this: Sometime around 1950 Samuel Roth happened to stumble upon Kiki's memoirs. By this time Kiki was more or less in the gutter--old, spent, vulnerable, all but dead. Believing that he saw an opportunity, Roth brushed her (memoirs) off and, newly confederated, made another go at America by publishing her text in this country. Kiki's attempt to turn back the clock and find lost love in America thus plays out Roth's efforts at republishing and finding new life in a French text that is twenty years old. Roth naturally stood to be tainted by associating himself with a text that had been banned for obscenity in this country. But in the "advertisement" (titled "The Education of the American Censor") that he attached to the 1950 edition, Roth appears happy to play the martyr, claiming that he will abide "by the vow I made . . . that I would publish anything offered me that seemed to me good or beautiful if I had to make a citadel out of every jail in the United States" (6). Here I see Roth turning his sense of public isolation on its head in order to portray himself as standing alone in the fight for freedom of expression. As Roth would have it, his republishing of Kiki's memoirs merely confirms the United States' tradition of non-conformity.
A final word about art. Early on in the sequel, Kiki is about to enter America when she is stopped by a customs official who "smells something fishy." Of course, something similar happened in 1930 when Kiki's memoirs did not pass customs in New York. But as restaged in the sequel, Kiki gets through on this second try since all the official discovers is a dead fish. There is a moral awaiting us here: art--in this case, the symbolic or surrealistic disguising of something profane--can help turn the smuthounds away and provide protection against the law. As I will show below, a distinction between art and obscenity had been gaining wider popular acceptance in the United States since the 1930s. Such a distinction even seems to make an appearance at the end of the sequel. When Kiki's prospect of renewing her relationship with Big Antoine falls through (and when Little Antoine, who was picked up to assist in this tryst, is duly returned to the gutter), Kiki makes "A Forced Return to Art" in order to get on with her life. Here Kiki's reliance upon art takes the place of her reliance upon sex (as figured by Little Antoine), as though art were finally one thing and love and sex quite another. Yet Roth's sequel, like his career, really hinged on his making one work on behalf of the other. Even as he published Kiki's book because it was erotic, Roth hoped to free himself from the charge of pornography by placing both himself and Kiki's memoirs under the authority of art.
III Modernism and the Law
From the period in the late 1920s when Kiki's memoirs were first published, to the period in the early 1950s when Roth pirated them, modernism underwent a considerable shift in social prestige. No longer the bohemian "other" that shocked the bourgeoisie, modern art had become a respectable cultural institution in its own right, gaining the authority to define and defend the artistic tradition it had formerly revolted against. The careers of Kiki and Roth have guided us, albeit indirectly, through this social ascendancy of modern art. As couriers for the avant-garde, they lent their symbolic illegitimacy to bohemia while smuggling its productions to the public at large. But when a posture of revolt stopped being the means for modern art's advancement and became instead an encumbrance to its authority, both Kiki and Roth were cut loose. Certainly one thing they had in common was to be punished for working the wrong side of the law.
I close with two tableaux of imprisonment. Kiki's memoirs are largely episodic and impressionistic, yet her narrative reaches a sort of climax when Kiki relates in a series of chapters her dealings with the law ("In Bad with the Law," "In Jail," "Telling It to the Judge"). In the spring of 1925, Kiki was imprisoned in Nice for nearly two weeks as she awaited trial for having struck an officer. Her trouble began when she lashed out at a bar owner after he mistook her for a prostitute. If she did not win her freedom, Kiki vowed she would kill herself rather than serve a likely six-month sentence in jail.
Jumping ahead a few years to 1928, Samuel Roth was also incarcerated for the first time. After publishing Ulysses in 1928, Roth was sentenced to sixty days in jail. His crime was not piracy, but rather obscenity: this time Roth did not take the precaution of expurgating Joyce's work before publishing it. Over the course of his career Roth would spend as many as eleven years behind bars.39
We also have a document to accompany each of these imprisonments.
In Kiki's case, the document is a doctor's medical statement that was used to win her release from prison. As Kiki describes it, this document certified that she was "a little bit cracked" and "had nervous trouble." I should not make too much of this legal strategy carried out by Kiki's friends, but I find in this certificate a poignant contrast to the document earlier associated with her--the diploma that she wears on the title page of Education. In that picture, the document functions as a sign of Kiki's authority; by wearing the diploma, Kiki is invested with power, which is figured for us by the tassel positioned where her genitalia might be hanging were she a man. As the recipient of this honorary phallus, bestowed upon her by the official nature of the diploma, Kiki secures the power and privilege of manipulating the law and moving her audience. But it is this same innuendo of being a prostitute that, in reality, nearly does Kiki in. What the doctor's medical report reveals is Kiki's ultimate dependency and her real vulnerability before the law; far from being powerful, Kiki wins her freedom only because she cannot be held accountable for her actions--because, in the eyes of the judge, she is not autonomous after all. In a way, this certificate attesting to Kiki's hysteria suggests another reality lying behind the "naked truth" that lies behind her modeling diploma. And the reality behind the celebration of Kiki is that, in the 1930s and 1940s, she drifted into a cycle of drug addiction and declining health, becoming a victim of the behaviors that had previously made her a celebrity for the avant-garde.
In Roth's case, our document is Judge John M. Woolsey's 1933 decision that lifted the ban on Ulysses; had it been issued five years earlier it would have spared Roth his first jail sentence.40 What Woolsey decided is that Ulysses was not obscene after all, but rather a serious literary experiment. He arrived at this decision by adhering to two principles, which hereafter became precedents for deciding other obscenity cases:41 first, a text is not to be judged on the basis of individual passages that were found to be offensive, but rather has to be judged "as a whole." Previously courts were asked to decide a text's obscenity based on evidence of isolated passages; now one was to judge those passages in terms of the encompassing context of the entire book and the presumed intention the author had in writing it. Second, the standard by which a book is judged to have literary merit should not reflect the lowest common denominator in society, as was previously the case, but rather determined, in part at least, by referring to the judgment of professional art and literature critics.42 In arriving at his decision in favor of Ulysses, Woolsey himself appealed to two people who had read Ulysses and whose literary opinions he valued highly. This represents a marked change from past procedure, where obscenity laws had been construed as protecting the most vulnerable elements in society (impressionable youths who may accidentally come into contact with smut), and where obscenity decisions generally hinged on the gut reaction of untrained witnesses (generally customs officials who simply knew obscenity when they saw it).
One can see how both of the principles laid out by Woolsey in 1933 reflect and confirm the growing prestige afforded modern art and literature as an institution in America. Deciding a book's obscenity was no longer a simple matter, since it now had to be proved that the book in hand had no literary or artistic merit; and this meant that the legal evaluation of obscenity began to respect and incorporate procedures of interpretation established by professional critics and scholars. In observing the integrity of a work "as a whole," Woolsey was really placing his faith in the integrity of the literary institution and its capacity to defend, in the name of "literature," a way of reading books that would somewhat mystify the general populace.
The point I want to draw from the Woolsey ruling is this: during the period when Kiki and Roth were losing their individual autonomy, modernism and modernist texts in America were winning it. I would contend that the events are related, since both outcomes reflect the way "literature" and "obscenity" had become, at least in the eyes of federal law in this country, mutually exclusive categories.43 This theoretical opposition was instantiated in order to pry apart and resolve actual instances where literature and smut appear to be conflated; but the point where these two categories overlap is where Kiki and Roth made their living, ferrying contraband goods between the worlds of cultural respectability and social illegitimacy. I have sought to show how the anti-institutional stance of the avant-garde was partly sustained by such border-crossings; from disreputable social enterprises like pornography and prostitution, artists found models for violating standards of communal decency and for shocking and arousing an audience. But when modernism was increasingly recuperated by mainstream society, it no longer needed to define itself upon extra-aesthetic discourses and looked instead to substantiate its cultural capital as an autonomous social institution.
One ironic result of modernism's recommitment to an ideology of cultural autonomy is that it permitted ever more candid and erotic material to be published under the heading of literature.44 The price exacted for this greater explicitness, however, was for the modern institution of art to assume ever greater responsibility for patrolling itself. In the Woolsey decision, the law began to show a respect for literature, but this in turn meant that literature was now entrusted with the law. Modernism had won the power to regulate its own affairs and even set the rules of aesthetic evaluation for society; but it did so only when modern art stopped defining itself beyond the law and began to interiorize it. Erotica could now be published as literature if it was placed under the custodial supervision of the broadening aesthetic sphere.
Because there is no overlap between literature and obscenity in the eyes of the law, as well as in the purity of the modernist aesthetic, figures like Kiki and Roth, who spanned the gap, went from exploiting a legal loophole to becoming casualties of a legal fiction. However, their legacy is to remind one of how illegitimacy still abides at the heart of modernist art. As symptoms of what Andreas Huyssens has called modernism's "anxiety of contamination" (ix), Kiki and Roth signal the return of the repressed in high art by showing us how modernist purity, self-referentiality, and autonomy are implicated, historically, with vulgarity and smut.
Two quick examples. The first is the phrase "complete and unabridged." Such words convey the prestige and values of literary scholarship, as well as the purity of a text; the alternative refers to all texts that have been condensed or expurgated to satisfy an extra-literary, commercially-expedient agenda. But as the audience for Roth's promotional circulars knew, a "complete" text is likely to be a "dirty" one. Here the phrase reveals its potential to connote--within or alongside its claim to high cultural seriousness--something essentially "impure." The distinction the phrase first observes, between highbrow and lowbrow culture, has given way, upon further review, to a distinction, borne out by recent history, between illicit booklegging and legal publishing. Should one credit the phrase with both meanings at once, the categorical difference between literature and obscenity is overruled.
The double service performed by this ideal of textual integrity points toward our second example: the ideological category of "literature" itself. This category, which works with the idea of autonomy to sustain the institution of art, supports a legal fiction which maintains that literature is most valuable when it can be read without consequences. One may easily imagine how a text can arouse its readers, be it sexually or otherwise; but if this arousal occurs within the larger conceptual arena of literature, the audience is asked (requested? commanded?), by force of the contextual integrity of the work, to refrain from translating its arousal into social (or, what is more to the point, anti-social) action. Here we see how the autonomy proper to literature acts as a sort of social prophylactic: for unlike Roth and Kiki, our illicit cultural couriers, the ideal of autonomy shuts down movement between art and the world. Yet, in quite another way, Roth's business would make use, every day, of this crucial function of the ideology of literature: in his vigilance to keep the smuthounds at bay, he would stuff his erotic texts into extra-sturdy blank envelopes before sending them out through the mail. As sanitizing containers, these envelopes--like the category of literature, which will displace them with the triumph of modernism--can harbor the erotic inside because they maintain the fiction of respectability without.
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