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Pierre Klossowski

The Pantomime of Spirits


Hervé Castanet

This book examines the many facets of the work of Pierre Klossowski (1905–2001). Klossowski first established himself as a writer and was known and admired by peers such as Bataille, Blanchot, Gide, Foucault, Deleuze and Lacan. But in 1972 he gave up writing to devote himself to his ‘mutism’: painting made up of large coloured drawings. In time he became as famous a painter as he had been a writer and theorist. Klossowski now has two separate groups of commentators: those concerned with his writings and those with his painting, with little overlap between the two.
Here, this separation is explicitly removed. Klossowski’s entire œuvre revolved around the concept of the gaze. Rarely has the gaze been so radically interpreted – as an active, mobile, evanescent object that breaks down the connections between representation and the visible. How is one to see the invisible divinity? This question plagued Klossowski, and he displaced it onto pornographic rituals. The pantomime of spirits is the scene, fixed in silence, where bodies meet – a knotting of desiring body and dogmatic theology. A creator of simulacra, Klossowski attempted to exorcise the ‘obsessive constraint of the phantasm’ that subjugated him in all these scenes.
Translated from the French by Adrian Price in collaboration with Pamela King.
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Conclusion: Inhuman Diana


In what is perhaps his keenest text, the 1965 Diana at her Bath, Pierre Klossowski actualises the insistent question of the presence/absence of the gaze. This text allows us to grasp what is at stake in the act of viewing as well as in what is given-to-be-seen by the (magical) picture. He takes up the story of Diana (Artemis) and Actaeon, as recounted notably by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, and which remains ever-present in our memories: Diana, goddess of hunting, at her bath, is surprised naked by the young hunter Actaeon. This pivotal scene: seeing the goddess naked, was one of the staples of western painting and sculpture.

The contradictory attributes of the goddess are well known: ‘virginity and death, night and light, chastity and seduction.’1 She is the protector of hunters, and yet one of the finest, Actaeon, meets the fate of a hunted game animal, torn to pieces by his own hounds after she had transformed him into a stag. Diana is thus ‘the dazzling and murderous maiden’.2

In this pivotal scene, the goddess ‘presents herself to man, then slips away from him’,3 re-actualising her contrasting attributes in the very instant at which Actaeon rears his head and catches her unawares. Once again, we meet the contrast between seeing and saying, between image and text, between immediacy and concept. Actaeon did not see Diana bathing by chance, as Ovid and all antiquity supposed. On the contrary, he wanted to see, violating...

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