ICE AND FIRE

An excerpt from the novel

by Andrea Dworkin

Copyright © 1986 by Andrea Dworkin.
All rights reserved.

[This book is fiction and no resemblance to actual events, persons or locations is intended or should be inferred.]

[...]

I love life so fiercely, so desperately, that nothing good can come of it: I mean the physical facts of life, the sun, the grass, youth. It's a much more terrible vice than cocaine, it costs me nothing, and there is an endless abundance of it, with no limits: and I devour, devour. How it will end, I don't know. --Pasolini
*****

I can't remember much of what anything was like, only how it started. No lights, no weather. From now on everything is in a room somewhere in Europe, a room. A series of rooms, a series of cities: cold, ancient cities: Northern European cities: gray, with old light: somber but the gray dances: old beauty, muted grandeur, monumental grace. Rembrandt, Brueghel. Mid-European and Northern winters, light. Old cruelties, not nouveau.

He was impotent and wanted to die.

On the surface he was a clown. He had the face of a great comic actor. It moved in parts, in sections, the scalp in one direction, the nose forward, the chin somewhere else, the features bigger than life. A unique face, completely distinct, in no way handsome, outside that realm of discourse altogether. Someday he would be beautiful or ugly, depending on his life. Now he was alternately filled with light or sadness, with great jokes and huge gestures or his body seemingly shriveled down to a heap of bones by inexplicable grief, the skin around the bones sagging loose or gone. He was a wild man: long, stringy blond hair; afghan coat making him into some wild mountain creature; prominent, pointed, narrow, but graceful nose; a laugh that went the distance from deep chuckle to shrill hysteria, and back each calibrated niche of possibility, and walls shivered.

It was amidst hashish and rock 'n' roll.

The youth gathered in huge buildings set aside for dissipation. Inside we were indulged. The huge rooms were painted garish colors. There were garish murals. Political and cultural radicals were kept inside, tamed, self-important, it was the revolution: big black balls of hashish and rock 'n' roll.

Inside there was this figure of a man, all brassy on the outside, and inside impotent and ready to die.

I took his life in my hands to save him. I took his face in my hands, I kissed him. I took his body to save him from despair. A suffering man: a compassionate woman: the impersonal love of one human for another, sex the vehicle of redemption: you hear about it all the time. Isn't that what we are supposed to do?

*****

It doesn't matter where it was, but it was there, in a huge mass of rooms painted in glaring colors: rock music blaring, often live, old-time porno films--Santa coming down a chimney--projected on the walls, boys throwing huge balls of hashish across the room, playing catch. Cigarettes were rolled from loose tobacco in papers: so was grass: so was a potent mixture of hashish and tobacco, what I liked. I got good at it. You put together three cigarette papers with spit and rolled a little filter from a match cover, just a piece of it, and put down a layer of loose tobacco, and then you heated the hash over a lit match until it got all soft and crumbly, and then you crumbled it between your fingers until there was a nice, thick layer of it over the tobacco, and you sort of mixed them together gently with your fingers, and then you rolled it up, so that it was narrow on the end with the filter and wider at the bottom, and with a match, usually burnt, you packed the mixture in the papers at the bottom, and brought the papers together and closed it up. Then you lit it and smoked. It went round and round.

The boys had long, long hair. There were only a few junkies, a little hard dope, not a lot of stealing, very congenial: music: paint: philosophy. There were philosophers everywhere and artistes. One was going to destroy the museum system by putting his paintings out on the sidewalk free for people to see. I met him my first afternoon in the strange new place. He was cheerful about destroying the museum system. They were all cheerful, these energetic talkers of revolution. One spent hours discussing the history of failed youth movements in Europe: he had been in them all, never aged, a foot soldier from city to city in the inevitability of history. Another had Mao's red book and did exegesis on the text while joints were handed to him by enthralled cadres. Another knew about the role of the tobacco industry in upholding Western imperialism: he denounced the smokers as political hypocrites and bourgeois fools. Meanwhile, the music was loud, the porno movies played on the walls as Santa fucked a blond woman in black lace, the hash was smoked pound after pound.

The women stood out. Mostly there were men but the women did not fade into the background. There was M, who later became a famous dominatrix near Atlantic City. She was over six feet tall and she wore a short leather skirt, about crotch level. Her thighs were covered with thick scars. She had long, straight, blond hair. She wanted to know if I had carried guns for the Black Panthers. Since I had been too young then, she wouldn't have anything to do with me. There was E, an emaciated, catty little thief: girlfriend of a major ideologist of the counterculture revolution, a small, wiry, cunning, nervous, bespectacled man: she wore government surplus, guerrilla style: they were arrested for stealing money from parking meters. You can't make a great plan on an empty stomach, he told me. There was a bright, beautiful woman who looked like the Dutch Boy boy, only she lit up from inside and her smile was like sunlight. Her boyfriend was dour, officious, a functionary in the huge, government-run building that housed the radical youth and the hashish, he made sure the porno movies were on the right walls at the right times. There was Frau B, a dowager administrator, suburban, having an affair with the head honcho, an ex-colonel in an occupying army: they kept the lid on for the government. And then I too became a fixture: the girlfriend, then the wife. The American. The only brunette. The innocent by virtue of Americanism. They kept Europe's feudal sex secrets hidden. I thought I invented everything. Smoking dope in their great painted rooms they seemed innocent: I thought I was the old one.

In these rooms, he looked up, his face all questioning and tender and sad: and I kissed him.

*****

Once you want to be together in Northern Europe it is the same all over. There is nowhere to go.

In the South there are beaches and old ruins. Boys sneak girls somewhere, some flat place, and other boys hide behind rocks or pieces of ancient walls and watch. In the North it is cold. There are the streets, too civilized for sex. There are no rooms, no apartments, even adult men live with their parents. One is sneaked into a tiny bedroom in the parents' house: hands are held over one's mouth: no noise can be made: and sneaked out before dawn, giggling silently and left in the cold, unless one's lover is sentimental: then he covers you in his coat and buries you in his arms and you wait for dawn together. In Northern European cities, dawn comes late but parents wake up early. The young men have no privacy: they stay strange little bad boys who get taller and older. They get married too young. They sneak forever.

But it doesn't matter: where or why or how.

There were plenty before him in gray Europe. It was his sadness: saturating his comic face, his comic stance, his great comic stories, his extravagant gestures. It made him different: sad: more like me, but so fragile compared to me, so unused. When he looked up, so innocent, I must have decided. I became his friend, thinking that he too must love life fiercely, desperately: my gift to him: it costs me nothing and there is an abundance of it, without limits: the physical facts of life. There is not a lot I can do. I can do this.

*****

Darker, grayer: no buildings filled with hash: another European city: to get an apartment: we had spent nights together out on the street, in the rain, in the cold, he was my friend, I had nowhere to go and he had nowhere to take me so he stayed with me in the wet nights, bitter cold. So we went somewhere else, Northern, gray, he came a few days a week, every week, he taught me how to cook, he was my friend. There was a big bed, one room, a huge skylight in the middle of the room, one large table in a corner: I put the bed under the skylight, water condenses and drips on it, but there I teach him, slowly. I have understood. He has too much respect for women. I teach him disrespect, systematically. I teach him how to tie knots, how to use rope, scarves, how to bite breasts: I teach him not to be afraid: of causing pain. It goes slowly. I teach him step by step. I invent sex therapy in this one room somewhere in the middle of Europe. I am an American innocent, in my fashion. I forbid intercourse. I teach him how to play games. You be this and I will be that. Rape, virgin, Queen Victoria. The games go on and on. There are some we do over and over. I teach him to penetrate with his fingers, not to be afraid of causing pain. I fellate him. I teach him not to worry about erection. I tie him up. Dungeon, brothel, little girl, da-da. I ask him what he wants to do and we do it. I teach him not to be afraid of causing pain. Not to be afraid of hurting me. I am the one there: don't be afraid of hurting me, see, this is how. I teach him not to be afraid of piss and shit, human dirt. I teach him everything about his body, I penetrate him, I scratch, I bite, I tie him up, I hit him with my hand open, with my fist, with belts: he gets hard. He does each thing back to me. He is nearly hard. Water condenses on the skylight and falls. We move the bed. I am disappointed. I liked the extravagance. I do everything I can think of to help him: impotent and suicidal: I am saving his life. We are on an island, isolated in this European city. There is us. There is the bed. He is nearly hard. We move back to his city, where he is from, into a room that is ours. He needs some act, some gesture, some event to give him the final confidence: to get really hard. Reader, I married him.

*****

I love life so fiercely, so desperately: there is an endless abundance of it, with no limits: it costs me nothing.

Reader, I married him.

*****

I thought I could always leave if I didn't like it. I had the ultimate belief in my own ability to walk away. I thought it would show him I believed in him. It did. Reader, he got hard.

*****

He became a husband, like anyone else, normal. He got hard, he fucked, it spilled over, it was frenzy, I ended up cowering, caged, catatonic. How it will end finally, I don't know. I wanted to help: but this was a hurricane of hate and rage let loose: I wanted to help: I saved him: not impotent, not suicidal, he beat me until I was a heap of collapsed bone, comatose, torn, bleeding, bruised so bad, so hard: how it will end, I don't know.

*****

Oh, it was a small small room with no windows: he had it painted dark blue: he didn't let me sleep: he never let me sleep: he beat me and he fucked me: I fought back and I tried to run away. The rest is unspeakable. He got hard and fucked easy now. Reader, I had married him. He rolled on top and he fucked: it costs me nothing, and there is an endless abundance of it: I love life so fiercely, so desperately: how it will end, I don't know.

*****

Reader, I saved him: my husband. He can fuck now. He can pulverize human bones.

*****

I got away. How it will end, I don't know.

I love life so fiercely, so desperately, that nothing good can come of it: I mean the physical facts of life, the sun, the grass, youth. It's a much more terrible vice than cocaine, it costs me nothing, and there is an endless abundance of it, with no limits: and I devour, devour. How it will end, I don't know. --Pasolini
Sad boy. Sex is so easy. I can open my legs and save you. It is so little for me to do. I know so much.

Sad boy. Desperate child. Gentle soul. Too much respect. Afraid to violate. But sex is violation. I read it in books. I learned it somewhere. I show you how: and I devour, devour. There is an endless abundance of it, with no limits. I am a woman. This is what I was born to give. How it will end, I don't know.

*****

Then I can't understand anymore. This isn't what I meant. I am so hurt, the cuts, the sores, the bleeding, let me sleep. You are hard now, my husband: let me sleep: I beg: an hour, a minute. I love life so fiercely, so desperately: I mean the physical facts of life: I want to make you happy: I don't want to die: the fists pounding, wild, enraged: sex was always so easy: it costs me nothing, and there is an endless abundance of it, with no limits: and I didn't want you to suffer, to die. How it will end now, I don't know.

*****

The bed: I show you everything: every wild game: soon we drop the scripts and just tie the knots: how to penetrate: how to move, when, even why: every nerve: pretending to pretend so it isn't real: pretending to pretend but since we do what we pretend in what sense are we pretending? You pretend to tie me up, but you tie me up. I am tired of it now. I do what you need, tired of the repetition, you learn by rote, slowly, like in the third grade, not tone-deaf but no genius of your own: the notes, one by one, so you can get hard. You get hard. Now you're not pretending. I don't know how it will end. I am waiting for it to end. I know what I want: to get to the end: you will tell me when the game is finished: is it over? are you hard?

*****

He is normal now, not impotent and suicidal, but in a rage: my normal, human husband who gets hard: he is in a rage, like a mad dog. This isn't what I meant. I love life so fiercely, so desperately: I thought only good could come of it: sex is so easy: there is an abundance of it, without limits: I teach him what I know: he needed a little more confidence, so reader, I married him. I didn't know. I didn't know. Believe me, not them: the normal, human husband with normal, human rage: little girl saints of sex with your philosophy, little darlings, when what's inside comes out, be somewhere hidden, chaste, out of reach: it spilled over: it was rage: it was hate: it was sex: he got hard: he beat me until I couldn't even crawl: it costs me nothing, and there is an endless abundance of it, with no limits: I try to get away: how it will end, I don't know. Until now I devoured, devoured, I loved life so fiercely: now I think nothing good can come of it: why didn't someone say--oh, girl, it isn't so easy as it seems, be gone when what's inside comes out: impotence and suicide aren't the worst things. His face isn't sad now: he is flowering outside, to others, they have never seen him fatter, cockier, no grief, no little boy: the human husband, all hard fuck and fists: and I cower: reader, I married him: I saved him: how it will end, I don't know.

*****

You can see what he needed, you can see what I did. It's no secret now, not me alone. I got inside it when it was still a secret. It is everywhere now. Watch the men at the films. Sneak in. Watch them. See how they learn to tie the knots from the pictures in the magazines. Impotent and suicidal. I taught him not to be afraid to hurt: me. What's inside comes out. I love life so fiercely, so desperately, and I devour, devour, and how it will end, I don't know. Sex is so easy, and it costs me nothing, and there is an endless abundance of it, with no limits: and I devour, devour. I saved him. How it will end, I don't know. There will be a film called Snuff.

I love life so fiercely, so desperately, that nothing good can come of it: I mean the physical facts of life, the sun, the grass, youth. It's a much more terrible vice than cocaine, it costs me nothing, and there is an endless abundance of it, with no limits: and I devour, devour. How it will end, I don't know. --Pasolini
*****

Sad, gentle face, comic. Unconsummated. My virgin. My little boy. My innocent. Suicidal and impotent. I want you to know what I know, being ground under: hard thighs: hard sweat: hard cock: kisses to the marrow of the bone. I love life so fiercely, so desperately. It costs me nothing, and there is an endless abundance of it, with no limits, and I devour, devour. I teach you. You get hard. You pulverize human bones. Finally I know how it will end. Oh, I run, I run, little boy.

Coitus as punishment for the happiness of being together. --Kafka
*****

I lived another year in that Northern city of Old Europe. Terror wipes you clean if you don't die. I took everyone I liked: with good cheer, a simple equanimity. There were houseboats, saunas, old cobbled streets, huge mattresses on floors with incense burning: long-haired boys and short-haired girls: I knew their names: something about them: there was nothing rough: I felt something in the thighs: I always felt something coming from me or I did nothing: it was different: I had many of them, whoever I wanted. I read books and took drugs. I was happy.

I started to write, sentences, paragraphs, nothing whole. But I started to write.

Slowly I saw: coitus is the punishment for being a writer afraid of the cold passion of the task. There is no being together, just the slow learning of solitude. It is the discipline, the art. I began to learn it.

*****

I lived in the present, slowly, except for tremors of terror, physical memories of the beatings, the blood. I took drugs. I took who I wanted, male or female. I was alert. I read books. I listened to music. I was near the water. I had no money. I watched everyone. I kept going. I would be alone and feel happy. It frightened me. Coitus is the punishment for the happiness of being alone. One can't face being happy. It is too extreme.

*****

I had to be with others, compulsion. I was afraid to be alone. Coitus is the punishment for the fear of being alone. I took who I liked, whatever moved me, I felt it in my gut. It was fine. But only solitude matters. Coitus is the punishment for cowardice: afraid of being alone, in a room, in a bed, on this earth: coitus is the punishment for being a woman: afraid to be alone.

*****

I couldn't be alone. I took whoever made me feel something, a funny longing in the gut or crotch. I liked it. I took hashish, acid. Not all the time, on special days, or on long afternoons. I took long saunas. I was happy. I read books. I started to write. I began to need solitude. It started like a funny longing in the gut or crotch. Coitus was the punishment for not being able to stand wanting solitude so much.

*****

I gave up other lovers. I wanted solitude. It took a few years to get faithful. Coitus was the punishment for a breach of faith.

*****

I came back to New York City, the Lower East Side. I lived alone, poor, writing. I was raped once. It punished me for the happiness of being myself.

*****

I am alone, in solitude. I can almost run my fingers through it. It takes on the rhythmic brilliance of any passion. It is like holy music, a Te Deum. Coitus is the punishment for not daring to be happy.

*****

I learn the texture of minutes, how hours weave themselves through the tangled mind: I am silent. Coitus is the punishment for running from time: hating quiet: fearing life.

*****

I betray solitude. I get drunk, pick up a cab driver. Coitus is the punishment.

*****

I write day in and day out, night after night, alone, in the quiet of this exquisite concentration, this exquisite aloneness, this extreme new disordering of the senses: solitude, my beloved. Coitus is the punishment for not daring to be extreme enough, for compromising, for conforming, for giving in. Coitus is the punishment for not daring to disorder the senses enough: by knowing them without mediation. Coitus is the punishment for not daring to be original, unique, discrete.

*****

I am not distracted, I am alone, I love solitude, this is passion too. I am intensely happy. When I see people, I am no less alone: and I am not lonely. I concentrate when I write: pure concentration, like life at the moment of dying. I dream the answers to my own questions when I sleep. I am not tranquil, it is not my nature, but I am intensely happy. Coitus is the punishment for adulterating solitude.

*****

I forget the lovers of Europe. They don't matter. The terror still comes, it envelops me, solitude fights it tooth and nail, solitude wins. I forget what I have done on these streets here. It doesn't matter. I concentrate. I am alone. The solitude is disruption, extremity, extreme sensation in dense isolation. This is a private passion, not for exhibit. Coitus is the punishment for exhibiting oneself: for being afraid to be happy in private, alone. Coitus is the punishment for needing a human witness. I write. Solitude is my witness.

*****

Coitus is the punishment for the happiness of being. Solitude is the end of punishment.

I write. I publish.

*****

Coitus is punishment. I write down everything I know, over some years. I publish. I have become a feminist, not the fun kind. Coitus is punishment, I say. It is hard to publish. I am a feminist, not the fun kind. Life gets hard. Coitus is not the only punishment. I write. I love solitude: or slowly, I would die. I do not die.

Coitus is punishment. I am a feminist, not the fun kind.
[...]


Copyright © 1986 by Andrea Dworkin.
All rights reserved.

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