the end of high school, in a public classroom in a Midwest town, I learned a word that would carry me through college and well into graduate school: epistemology. Epistemology: the study of knowledge, the discipline of philosophy that addresses questions of what we know, how we know it and what counts as truth. Most people would agree that truth is a beautiful concept, especially as they attempt to lay claim to it. But ever since I studied epistemology, I’ve given up on truth entirely. I’m happy just to have belief, and to know that my beliefs, as valid or idiosynchratic, sage or fatuous as they may be, are no more or less grounded or groundable than anyone else’s. But that doesn’t mean that I believe them any less. It was Stanley Fish’s great advancement in epistemology to say that one can never hold a belief in any way except absolutely. He might have been overstating the case for dramatic effect, but perhaps not. For we act in the world, sometimes effortlessly, often thoughtlessly, and we can only do so because we are not doubting the beliefs and interpretations that convert infinities of stimuli into manageable situations, and masses of data into that which we call experience.
Truth, then, becomes the word not to speak of the certainty of things, but of the certainty of our belief in them. Truth is a “convenient fiction,” as some philosophers say, like, perhaps, History, Identity, Art even Love. But the subscription to this convenient fiction i.e., the doing away with the absoluteness of truth opens one up to the full intrigue of falsehood. A falsehood set at odds with the true can only be one thing, whereas falsehood in a world without truth has free reign and dominion. For even without truth the false is still the false, only more ambiguously, more tentatively, with much more grey area and mystery.
And thus my fascination with forgery. I’ve heard that half or more of the paintings we ascribe to Modigliani are probably forgeries. Adequately good forgeries, apparently, to dupe most museumgoers and many museum curators. I think this is a marvelous state of affairs. For if Modigliani “himself” (again, the Identity fiction) didn’t get around to painting quite enough long-necked, bent-nosed women to satisfy the world’s demand, I’m glad someone took it upon her or himself to fill the gap. It is a clear victory of verisimilitude over truth, and a testament to the capabilities of the false.
A more complicated case is narrated in my favorite film (the greatest work of epistemology ever), Orson Welles’ F for Fake. In the movie, Welles tells the story of Picasso being asked by one of his friends, a gallery owner, to come and look at some paintings and say which were forgeries and which were genuinely Picasso’s. Picasso starts going through the paintings, looking at each one and pronouncing, “Fake, fake, fake. Fake, fake, fake.” At one point, the flummoxed gallery owner butts in, saying, “But Picasso, I saw you paint that one myself!” to which Picasso replies, “Yes, but sometimes I fake myself.” Picasso’s utterance, in a clean sickle swipe, deprives Truth, Identity, Art of their capital letters, and abandons them to the fragility of their own conditions.
Which brings me to this week’s selection, a most dubious, though extraordinary text: Pushkin’s Secret Journal 1836-1837. The Journal is an ultra-scandalous, perhaps even authentic, diary of happenings of the years leading up to the master’s fateful duel. Scholars are divided on whether the Journal is really Pushkin’s work there had long been rumor of its existence, and the present work was supposedly smuggled out of Russia under very strained conditions but it has still never been published in the motherland. I, of course, am less interested in ascertaining the “true” authorship of the Journal and more in appreciating it as a hysterical, irreverent tale of a very naughty, very Pushkin-like man who I love reading about. True or false, genuine or forged, the Journal is certainly great, and the Pushkin portrayed in it is the Pushkin you would like to have lived.* * *
From Secret Journal 1836-1837 by Alexander Pushkin
Fantasies started to haunt me, and it was the Devil doing it. Women I had had in different periods of my life passed in front of my mind’s eyes. I was especially tortured by memories of my orgies with Z. When I became her lover, I fucked her seven times during the first night. She said that she came twenty times and did not tire at all. Z. was one of those women whose desire is never fully satisfied but adapts itself to her lover’s capability. I confessed jokingly that I would not refuse helpers. She replied seriously that she wanted them too, and the more the better. So from her lover I became her procurer, which I had dreamed of doing for along time. Since my youth, I had discovered in myself a thirst for voyeurism, and in bordellos I took every opportunity to peep at couples, and if circumstances were favorable I joined them with my temporary girlfriend.
Z. shared with me dreamily that she easily imagined herself with many men simultaneously. She wanted to put her boasts into action and be taken by two lovers at once to start with. We agreed that at the next ball she would point out to me the uhlan she had her eye on but who had not been introduced to her. I was to offer him a good time with a lady in Kamenniy Ostrov. Her identity, of course, had to be kept a strict secret. She was to meet us naked, with a mask on her face, so as not to be recognized by the uhlan. Not a single word would be pronounced by her so that he would not recognize her voice. If need be, she would whisper in my ear.
When I said to the chosen uhlan that a great beauty of unspoken name wanted to spend time with both of us, it was not easy to calm his impatience until the arranged time. I took his word that everything would be kept secret, and he agreed to leave the house at the first request. The servants were sent away, and we two were to enter the bedroom according to the plan Z. had drawn for me. I knocked on the door with a conventional knock and opened it wide. The single candle by the bed shed light on a reclining Z. She faced us with widespread legs. A clever mask made her face unrecognizable but left open what was necessary: mouth, nostrils, eyes. My helper I will call him A. produced a sound resembling a joyful neigh. We quickly threw off our clothes and rushed to satisfy our hunger. After an hour she gave me a sign that it was time for us to leave. On the way back A. admired our accomplishment and tried to guess who the lady was. I shrugged and reminded him that he had given me his word that he would make no attempt to find out the identity of our lover.
Early the next morning, I came to Z.’s house to talk in detail about our adventure. But instead of happy exclamations, all I heard were reproaches that A. cared only about himself and that I had not watched him and that, as a result, we had acted not in tune, as she desired, but disjointedly. The most important thing for her was that the rhythm of our movements should coincide. “I want to feel,” Z. said, “that I am taken by one skillful man who has many cocks and not by rutting pigs only thinking how to come as fast as possible.” I took offense, but she assured me that by saying “rutting pigs” she did not mean me, whom she respects first of all for lovemaking and only then for my poetry, but other men she wants to talk about. Here she blushed, not with shame but with desire, and said that she now wanted one more man. Only this time I must be in charge and set the rhythm for everyone, and they must obey. In addition to keeping the secret, obedience to my directions should be a condition of their participation in the orgy. Z. developed a detailed plan. I imagined vividly how much hot juice she spent thinking over all the important trifles. She gave me directions on how she wanted to position all the participants. The first one would lie on his back and she would sit on him; the second one would get a place at her ass and fill it, and I would stand in front of her mouth. I, as conductor, would have to direct the rhythm of the others by setting them an example by my own movements. If Z. wanted us to move faster, she would grip my cock with her teeth once. If she decided to slow us down she would grip it twice. We at once rehearsed these signs. To avoid any attempts by the men to involve her in conversation, she would leave us after everyone had come, and we would leave then too.
This time, the rendezvous took place in the mansion of a relative who had gone with her family to their estate. We had to be in one of the living rooms and lock all the incoming doors. The plan was that if one of the servants showed up at the house he or she would think that Z. was again hosting a party. Servants were used to Z. inviting guests and behaving as if she were at home. The third participant she selected was a friend of A.’s I will call him K. They always attended balls together and were considered inseparable friends. Z. chose him to save A. from the temptation of gossiping about his adventure to K. and to tie them both with the same secret. I was strolling on the Nevsky 16 the next day and, of all men, I ran into A. First he asked me how our mutual acquaintance was doing and if she wanted to have a good time again. I told him that she wanted K. to join us. “Sure, he will be happy to but will there be enough room for everybody?” A. got worried. “Your fantasies cannot compete with her capabilities,” I calmed him. Soon all three of us met together in a confectionery to agree on the method of worshipping our Venus. I explained the major condition of dead silence and warned them that this time they would have to ride in the coach with their eyes blindfolded. Z. was afraid that they might recognize whom the mansion belonged to and trace her. Then I scolded A. for his egotism and described how they were supposed to act complete subordination to my commands, following my rhythm. K. giggled but A. rebuked him. He had begun to realize that here was not merely one more love adventure but a rare opportunity to bring tremendous pleasure to a woman. “And the most important thing,” I repeated, “is not to try to find out who she is, for society’s envy would not forgive her for pleasures they are not brave enough to get for themselves.”
Entering the living room we saw Z. lying on a plush carpet. She had on a long dress of the thinnest silk through which the shape of her insatiable body glowed. Her mask revealed greedy, half-open lips. She rose, locked the door behind us and greeted everyone, licking us avidly on the mouths and then kneeling in front of each man in turn, licking his cock. It was a real greeting, but she did not linger on any of us, not letting us get carried away. She was just making sure our cocks were standing straight at attention. We quickly shed our clothes and Z. dropped her dress from her shoulders, stepping over it as over a last obstacle. I had to remind the flushed K. about his duties, and he obediently lay down on the carpet. Z. raised her legs and skillfully mounted him. She beckoned to A. He came up, his cock taut as a stretched string, quivering. A jar of ointment appeared in her hand and she slathered a thick layer on A.’s cock. Then she handed the jar to me and bent above K. Her cheeks were small and I did not have to move them apart the little swollen orifice asked for a cock. I greased it generously, pushing ointment inside the tight, hot tunnel. Z. squeezed my finger gratefully. A. was impatiently sighing above me. I reluctantly followed our plan, letting him take my place, and I moved to her mouth. A. slid into her smoothly, and she opened her mouth invitingly, with pleasure at the sensation. Z. grabbed my baton with her lips and instructed me to perform the love composition andante. “Don’t get carried away, pals, watch for me,” I hailed them, “and don’t dare to come till our lady love does.” My partners assured me that they would not drop our sweetheart halfway. Z. looked up at me with eyes fogged with bliss and smiled with mouth full. On the way in the carriage we had loaded ourselves with champagne, and it made us durable. The end began to approach. Z. began to moan and let me feel her sweet teeth; she started to move faster, and I did not have to command they started pushing in, gladdened by the speed she permitted. Z. exclaimed loudly, as if she had recovered her sight, and she moaned, but her moan was interrupted by me finishing and the necessity of swallowing my semen. A. and K. streamed into her the same time. When we disconnected and K. crawled out from under her, Z. fell on the carpet as if her body had lost its skeleton, which consisted of our cocks. I looked at her as on our mutual creation. From time to time, convulsions ran along her body. Z. came to full consciousness in several minutes, got up gracefully from the carpet and let me know that we were to go. Reluctantly we obeyed.
At the exit, I again blindfolded them and helped them get into the carriage that was waiting for us. The carrier looked at me with fear. K. tried to take off his blindfold before I allowed him, and I threatened that if he did not obey it would be a dishonorable action, for he had given me his word that he would obey. I would challenge him to a duel, and we would fight immediately. K. saw that I was serious and waited until I allowed him to take his blindfold off. He even began philosophizing that the most noble thing a man can do for a woman is to give her the greatest pleasure. He could not imagine a deed more chivalrous then that which we had committed. I asked my fellows what could be done to make our lover’s pleasure even stronger. A. suggested installing mirrors on the walls and ceiling, as he had seen in a bordello. K. suggested that we invite Gypsies to sing in the adjacent room. And I said that I saw room for two more pals: we would take the same positions and they would lie on her right and left sides, with their heads facing her feet. They would suck on her breasts and scratch her heels while she masturbated them. The man she sat on would prop her up against his shoulders, because her hands would be busy. K. and A. got excited. We started to think who our helpers could be. They would have to be undemanding youths who would be satisfied with such an “innocent” role. We naturally did not want to forgo her hot passages, in spite of our chivalry. A. recalled his two nephews, aged fifteen and fourteen. He was sure they were virgins and would agree to anything that promised intimacy with a woman. It was settled that I would offer this to our lady, who had stolen our hearts.
When I told our plan to Z., she smiled and said that she did not regret choosing me as her procurer because I read her very thoughts. She confessed that she could not get that dream about five cocks out of her head. In fact today she had intended to ask me to share her body with two more. “I know you will not diminish, no matter how many men I share you with,” I said and kissed her pussy. We worked out the sequence: first, to give each boy a breast and let him stick to it. I would have to give them a sign when to start scratching her heels. It should happen only when everyone was in her concealed depths. For a change, we decided that K. and A. should switch places. I had to stay in my conductor’s place. Z. begged me to take care that her mask not slip from her face if she went unconscious. The last time, she was very close to it. Although I always maintained that a woman could overtake her fainting fit if she wanted to, now I saw that it could indeed be beyond her strength.
This time, we had to wait for her appearance in the apartment she had rented for her secret rendezvous . . . Five glasses and five misty champagne bottles were standing in beauty on the table somebody had brought from an icehouse. We drained three . . . We were sitting on the armchairs and sofas, pouring champagne into ourselves quickly, because we had not found ice and did not want it to get warm. Then we could not hold ourselves back any longer and went to look in the bedroom. It was filled with a huge round bed intended for more than sleep. The sun was shining through a curtain covering the window. There was a clavichord standing back in the living room. One of A.’s nephews started to play a merry tune, but his fingers stumbled with the champagne. The other, older boy tried to disguise his erection with his clothes, but his cock bulged through the fabric when he impatiently strolled about the room. I proposed a toast to the woman for whom we all waited so passionately. “Do you mean that there will be only one?” the older nephew asked in surprise. “This is such a woman that she will be sufficient for all of us.” the uncle replied wisely. We had not told the boys any details, we had simply promised that we would arrange a love affair for them. A. had told their mother that he was taking them for a walk. The junior lad finished his glass and wanted to fill it again, but K. did not let him. “Do you want to sleep through your rendezvous?” he inquired. The argument worked and the boy started playing the clavichord again.
Suddenly he cut the melody abruptly, and we heard the sound of an approaching coach. We all rushed to the window. Z. stepped down from the coach. She wore such a thick veil that her face was invisible. A bright blue dress embraced her divine body. In several moments the door opened, and I went out to greet her in the anteroom. Z. threw back the veil, and the beauty of her face, which could not be hidden even with a mask, appeared to us. Z. used to tell me that even if she were not scared to be recognized she would wear a mask anyhow, because in it she feels independent of any decorum. “Everybody is impatiently waiting for you,” I said to her. She nodded to me and proceeded to the bedroom. I began helping her undress, but she whispered to me to go into the living room and she would knock on the wall twice when we could join her. Everyone in the living room stood in tense expectation. “Well, should we go?” asked K. undoing his shirt. “Just a little more patience, my friends, and we will find ourselves in paradise.” Everyone followed my suggestion and undressed himself completely in order not to waste time later when we were called. The two boys bashfully stayed in their underwear, looking bewitched at our hard-ons.
Then we heard two inviting knocks on the wall and dashed into the bedroom. The daylight slipping through the curtained window allowed our eyes to greet a magnificent pussy. We rushed to cover her body with greedy kisses. But Z. pushed us aside and beckoned to the trembling boys, who stood shyly at the door. She freed them from the rest of their clothes. Fear made them less than firm in their intentions. Z. kissed their cocks in turn, and they livened up right away. The boys started puffing. She instructed them to lie on the bed and got in between them, resting on her elbows and holding a cock in each hand. A. crawled under her and lifted his hands, on which Z. rested her shoulders. I guided a nipple to each of the boys’ mouths and commanded: “Suck and don’t stop!” K., meanwhile, was putting ointment on his cock, which was aimed at the ass arched toward him. “Grease well,” I warned him, remembering Z.’s instructions. “I do it just in case. It’s already slippery here; she took care of herself. Well, God be with us,” said K. and moved into her ass. I took the hand of each nephew and put them on Z.’s heels: “Scratch and suck,” I gave them the last direction. Z. wet her lips and grasped my cock. “Fuck nicely, together,” I repeated from time to time, feeling Z. biting my cock and slowing down my movements. The boys kept forgetting to scratch, getting carried away with their own sensations, and I reminded them by spanking them on the shoulders. Z. did not want them to come too fast and did not masturbate them as skillfully as she knew how, but squeezed their cocks hard in her fists. This did not help much though one of them started to moan and threw his hips up, eager for the movement Z. intentionally withheld from him. She quickly dropped me and nestled to the boy, not wasting a single drop. Just after him, the brother writhed, and Z. quickly turned to him and caught in her mouth the first splashing drop, which was already in the air, and captured the rest of them. The boys lost interest immediately and fell off her breasts, and I had to raise my voice to them. They went on again, sucking and scratching in fatigue. Z. returned to me but held to their now flabby cocks. Then her time came, and she wailed, swept away by all three of us. It felt to me as if our three cocks met somewhere in the middle of her innards and pushed each other. We were sitting around Z. and gazing at her lying unconscious on her belly, with one leg bent under. Semen was slowly seeping out of her crimson pussy and flowing along her thighs on the sheet. I pulled aside her cheeks to enjoy the view in full. We saw the last spasms of her anus, surrounded with tender, voluptuous swallowing. The boys could not figure out what had happened to our lover. They looked at us, scared. We felt appeased and proud of ourselves. The junior put his hand out and scratched her heel. Z. moved her leg away and opened her eyes. She waved her hand, giving the sign that it was time for us to leave.
In the evening, Z. and I savored our recent sensations. Her husband was at the club, as usual, and we gave ourselves up to the recall of fresh memories, feeling horny and mixing the feelings with embraces. Z. was ticklish, but when she accepted three cocks, the scratching of her heels was overwhelmed by stronger sensations and became a new color in the spectrum of our copulation. The semen flowing into her ass acted as an enema, and she was thrilled with one more wholesome influence of love, which relieves her from constipation. She assured me that she was able to experience the feeling of each cock: to sense the approaching orgasm of the one while the other flooded her inside and the third became soft, throwing out the last drop. And if even moments separated the ends from each other, these moments dragged into infinity. That’s why it was so important to her that we move rhythmically, otherwise she lost that unity of sensations.
Secret Journal 1836-1837 by A. S. Pushkin
Published by M.I.P. Company
P.O. box 27484 Minneapolis, Minnesota 55427
reprinted with permission