Jack’s Naughty Bits: Catherine Breillat, A Man for the Asking (L’homme facile)

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Jack's Naughty Bits

Most semi-sentient people will tell you that there’s something wrong with being able to watch porn or be sent to war at eighteen, but not being able to order a beer until you’re twenty-one. It’s a standard complaint in high school and college, but it does reflect some serious problems with our culture’s understanding of personal development. If I got to choose (and I’m sure the president will be calling me any day now), the age/responsibility breakdown would look something like this:

If you’re:

You’re old enough to:


play doctor with your neighbor


realize truth is arbitrary


buy fireworks


smoke first cigarette (so yucky you don’t smoke again till



read Nerve


get a part-time job




go to R-rated movies




have sex (with gentle, older partner)


watch porn


have sex with someone younger than you


enter college (work and read till then so you know what

interests you)


get married


watch The Exorcist by yourself


be a parent


read the classics


write first novel


try writing poetry


pick a religion (or opt for none)


be drafted


I will admit that some of these rules could be broken without adverse consequences, but the prohibitions against writing before a certain age are the ones I take most seriously. And though there are historical examples that go against my breakdowns — both Keats and Rimbaud wrote world-class poems in their teens and early twenties, and Nerve contributing writer J.T. Leroy (a.k.a. Terminator) wrote “Natoma Street” at fifteen and, now twenty, is about to publish his extraordinary first novel, Sarah — there are plenty of examples that prove the rule. The caveman-like poems that I wrote on the walls of my college dormitory attest to the fact that I should have paused before penning; Ethan Hawke might have let a few more wrinkles set in before beckoning the muses; and the Jugendschriften of even such greats as Marx, Nietzsche and Freud are better left unopened.


An interesting case study is Catherine Breillat’s first novel, A Man for the Asking (L’homme facile), published in 1968 when the author was only sixteen. Few novels are as badly written, yet few contain so much explicit sexuality. And coming from a milky-skinned, ember-eyed lycéenne (a close-up of Breillet graces the English cover and frontispiece ), the book becomes more of an anthropological document than a work of literature. Breillat, who scandalized America again last year with her supposedly racy (but really rather prudish) film, Romance, set Europe on its ear at the close of the ’60s with L’homme facile‘s accounts of infidelity, indiscriminate fucking, bondage and anal sex. You can be assured it sold well.


Curiously, there’s a definite continuity between the portrayal of sex in L’homme facile and that in Romance. Both are extremely graphic yet amazingly detached, even judgmental, as if Breillat has spent her life having oodles of sex she never really enjoyed. Perhaps that is the case. And perhaps, then, her book is an argument for not starting so young; if you’re only sixteen and you’re already sexually jaded, something is very, very wrong.

* * *  

From A Man for the Asking (L’homme facile) by Catherine Breillat

Translated by Harold J. Salemson

he will raise her leg right up to his shoulder where he will hold her foot in his two hands so she won’t fall, in fact he also places on it his face, his mouth from which there flows a continuous stream of saliva on this foot as cold and soft as an ivory which does not keep him from looking exclusively at the geometric locus of his arc:


equidistant between the two spread legs a first drop of blood is beginning to form, L. moans and the spreading goes further as he arches backward, dazzled by the birth of this double peony, that Japanese flower with two linked petals whose stem she conceals entirely within herself.


L. is a vase, a porcelain in which a tuberose can be made out losing its breath, a violent anemone for she has not said that she was submarine and carnivorous, voracious flowers, into which he must go down as far as


—L. is bent over and taut as the wood of the bow she is as well as the target palpitating like a beckoning blinker. He cannot miss he who is vibrating like a bowstring and with one hand adjusting the drugged arrow, for he is dazzled and this dazzlement, far from being fatal, makes his back stiffen and his entire overcome body go down, he finds himself inside her while she thinks her final dizzying hour has come and she begins to beg.


—”Do it again,” L. says, but nothing will ever be the same again, violence can be played out only once, already too much blood has rushed to her head, she is too heavy, too moist, he has hurt her, harassed her, bareassed her and L. has derived an amazed enjoyment from it, the same violence will never have the same effect.