The Hottest Sex Show In Paris: The Library
By Elaine Sciolino
A teaser in the closed Croix Rouge train station in Paris for the show “Hell at the Library, Eros in Secret” can provide commuters a fleeting glimpse of erotic engravings lighted up in shocking pink.
Sign In to E-Mail or Save This
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
Published: January 16, 2008
PARIS – The lighting is bordello red, but the librarians insist that their X-rated exhibition is serious.
A museumgoer peeks inside one of the exhibits. No one under 16 is admitted.
“Hell at the Library, Eros in Secret,” which opened at the National Library here last month, offers a look at its secret archive of erotic art, putting on display more than 350 sexually explicit literary works, manuscripts, engravings, lithographs, photographs, film clips, even calling cards and cardboard pop-ups.
Visitors to the library can listen to a modern-day recording of an 18th-century “dialogue” during sex (simultaneous orgasms included) and watch a six-minute excerpt from a black-and-white silent pornography film made in 1921 (one man, two women, intriguing lingerie).
The handwritten manuscript of the Marquis de Sade’s novel “Les Infortunes de la Vertu” (“The Misfortunes of Virtue”) is under glass here, as are 17th-century French engravings of “erotic postures”; English “flagellation novels” exported to France in the late 19th century; Man Ray photographs; and a police report from 1900 that compiles the addresses of Paris’s houses of prostitution and what they charged.
Sadism, masochism, bestiality, inflated genitalia and the most imaginative sexual fantasies and athletic poses are given their due. To avoid complaints that a publicly supported institution is corrupting the country’s youth, no one under 16 is admitted.
“In an era where sexual images are a product for popular consumption, the library has decided to lift the veil on this world of imagination and fantasy,” Bruno Racine, the library director, said in an interview. “The library is a very serious institution, and the project was done with gravity. But we also perhaps are different from what you think – and there is humor here too.”
Until now, the only outsiders allowed to view the vast erotica collection of about 2,000 works were legitimate researchers. Certainly the public has responded. The exhibition is one of the most popular in years. It takes an hour to get in.
The items, on display through March 22, are drawn from a permanent collection created in the 1830s when the library isolated works considered “contrary to good morals.” They were put in a locked section and given the name L’Enfer – hell. Many pieces have been consigned there over the years by the police.
The exhibition comes at a time when France is struggling with a variety of societal issues: the limits of privacy for its public figures, censorship and the definition of good taste. A one-day scholarly conference at the library about the exhibition included a debate on the meaning of modern-day censorship.
Paris seems proud of the library show. The Paris metro system constructed an advertising teaser for it on its No. 10 line. Commuters passing by the closed Croix Rouge station get the most fleeting of glimpses of erotic engravings lighted up in shocking pink and partly hidden behind fluttering black curtain strips.
The newspaper Le Monde has run ads for the show (with a shocking-pink X) on its front page. The literary review Le Magazine Littéraire devoted its December cover to the subject, with scholarly essays on sex and aging, the last taboo of pedophilia and whether excessive public display of sex has made it boring.
Still, with France’s tough laws against pornography and one of the most aggressive law-enforcement campaigns against child pornography in Europe, the library has taken care to avoid falling afoul of the law, like Henry-Claude Cousseau, director of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Mr. Cousseau is facing charges of exhibiting works of “a violent pornographic nature,” in a modern-art exhibition in a Bordeaux museum in 2000. One painting depicted a young girl, wearing heavy makeup, in a bath; a video showed a girl in a graphic masturbation scene. If convicted, Mr. Cousseau faces a fine of $110,000 and up to three years in prison.
A wall display of vintage advertisements for prostitutes. “There is humor here too,” said Bruno Racine, the library director.
The library show is not the only one in Paris with sexually explicit material. An animated film that includes sexual intercourse and violence was being screened at “Sots Art – Political Art in Russia Since 1972,” at the Maison Rouge museum and gallery near the Place de la Bastille. There are no posted warnings, but a lot of very curious children.
“Hell at the Library, Eros in Secret” runs through March 22 at the National Library of France, Site François-Mitterrand, Quai François-Mauriac, 13th Arrondissement, www.bnf.fr.
巴黎擁有舉世聞名的瘋馬、紅磨坊和麗都三大名秀，本文標題卻說巴黎最火辣的春宮秀（the hottest sex show）在圖書館，而且是國家圖書館，展場燈光還是紅燈區妓院門口的那種紅（bordello red）。
翻譯往往涉及語言文化差異，展覽名稱即為一例。Hell at the Library，望文生義，可以衍生出「萬惡淫為首」、「色字頭上一把刀」等和「地獄」有關的聯想，還正好和後面秘藏的情慾（Eros in Secret）押韻。
根據大導演奇士勞斯基遺留劇本拍攝的電影叫做L'Enfer，英譯片名是The Hell，中文取了個《奇士勞斯基之地獄》。與法文enfer對應的英文是inferno，源於義大利文，也是但丁《神曲》（The Divine Comedy）其中一篇的篇名。
終究得回歸原文來判斷。經查，enfer在法文字典裡大概有七種意義，前六種都和英文理解的hell差不多，包括罪惡、詛咒、折磨，但是最後一個解釋出現玄機：這個字和圖書館連用的時候，意指存放禁書的區域（section with books forbidden to the public）。翻譯的關卡至此豁然貫通。