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Gravity Waves & Valentines

Valentine heart 120Scientists detected gravitational waves this past September, but spent the next four months checking their figures to make absolutely certain they knew what had happened and then, after giving it some thought, they chose to announce their findings this Feburary, just before Valentine’s Day. After all, these scientists are real flesh-and-blood people, not robots. They were as aware as you are that being swamped by love changes everything, affects your sense of time and space — alternately squeezing and stretching them  — as do gravity waves.

Linking gravity with Valentine’s Day gives a weight to the concept of love and meaningfulness to the notion of gravity. Gravity is powerful when objects are close to each other, but it weakens amazingly fast as the distance between them increases; in fact, it diminishes with the square of the distance and pretty soon it’s so weak as to be undetectable. Essentially, there’s nothing there. Phone calls don’t get returned, emails don’t get answered.

Scientists hoping to detect gravity waves searched for four years and got nowhere, no results. They shut down their equipment, improved it’s performance fourfold and began their search again. And they got lucky. Two intensely powerful gravitational loci circling each other closer and closer finally merged, devouring and sinking into each other in a fashion reminiscent of the poet Lucretius’s description of a man and a woman making love. The event, which happened 1.3 billion years ago sent waves across the universe which were picked up at the LIGO detector in Hannaford, Washington, and the LIGO detector in Livingston, Louisiana.

Those two points of pure gravitational energy were drawn to each other 1.3 billion years ago and the vibrations emanating from that mating have been traveling across the cosmos to us ever since, reaching us this past September, and expanding even now beyond us. It’s good to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Couple in bed 464
Shy But Happy Couple Making Gravity Waves

Our posts on earlier Valentine’s Day are accessible from the search box at the top of the page.

The Golden Age of Porn Movies

Barbara Nitke - Exhibit of her Photographs at One Eyed Jack's
Barbara Nitke – Exhibit of her Photographs at One Eyed Jack’s

Did you know there was a Golden Age of Porn? OK, probably you never gave it a thought. A Golden Age is a time of prosperity, achievement and happiness, and for the porn industry that period extended from around the early 1970s to the mid 1980s. It certainly was a time of achievement and prosperity for porn movies — happiness for the actors, not so much.

One of the most beautiful visual records of that time is Barbara Nitke’s un-sentimental collection of evocative photographs gathered in her book, American Ecstasy. (Critical Pages posted about American Ecstasy some time ago.) Nitke worked as a set photographer in the porn industry just as the Golden Age was coming to an end. To be protected by the US Constitution, the porn movies had to claim a socially redeeming value — in other words, they had to pass as artistic expression, which meant they had to have characters and a plot, not just bodies doing it. That was the achievement and that’s what brought about porn prosperity and the Golden Age.

According to Green Cine’s Sex in the Movies Guide, “between 1972 and 1983, porn — not sexy Hollywood fare, not racy sexploitation, not European art films, but pure, unabashed porn — chalked up 16 percent of total box office returns in the US.” Eventually, AIDS, the video camera and the Web ended the showing of large scale porn movies in movie houses. The Golden Age was over.

But not forgotten. Photographs from Barbara Nitke’s American Ecstasy volume have been enlarged and beginning on April 4th they’ll be exhibited in Great Britain at One Eyed Jack’s gallery in Brighton. Social historians, admirers of E. J. Bellocq’s Storyville portraits and anyone interested in fine photography should take a look at these astonishing photographs.

The Heart of the Valentine

Valentines and hearts are romantically linked. For long-ago Valentine heartcenturies the human heart was thought to be the place where emotion resided. After all, our heart will beat faster and harder when we feel a great emotions (think terror or erotic excitement) even though we may be bodily at rest. What more proof do you need that emotion dwells in the heart?

So when we send a valentine, a message declaring love, the little note often carries the image of a heart, a human heart. Well, not exactly an image, but a symbol, a red thing that stands for a heart. That design, nowadays called a  heart-shape, was around for a long time and was thought of as a leaf or a dart. It was taken over and used to represent a heart only later.

And in the photo below, there it is on the cheek of the young woman kissing the young man. Indeed, the young woman is wearing sunglasses, and the beach-like sprawl in the background suggest that this is not February 14th, that it’s not Valentine’s Day and that the heart is the sign of human affection any day of the year.Valentine's kiss

The first image we have of a man giving a woman his heart occurs in a Medieval manuscript and the heart is shaped like a pine cone, because classical authority, namely the  philosopher-doctor Galen, said it was shaped like a pine cone. Gallen was a brilliant man and his influence lasted from the 3rd century through the 16th, but he did his disections on monkeys, not humans. Furthermore, there are many shapes to pine cones, and we don’t know what Galen had in mind when he said the heart was shaped that way. But we’re getting lost in a digression here.

Let’s take a look at that Medieval depiction of a lover giving his “heart” to his beloved. The scene comes from  Li romanz de la poire — let’s call it The Romance of the Pear and please don’t  get fussy over the etymology and meaning of romanz in medieval French. Here’s the scene.
Medieval man giving his heart to his lady
You’re right, she doesn’t look happily impressed. In fact, she looks likes she’s going to swat the poor man. Yet she does have a certain passion. In fact, the story is called The Romance of the Pear because the Lady peels a pear with her teeth and shares it with her lover. There’s a certain intimacy in that. No? Well, the story was pretty hot in the 13th century.

All of this is quite far from our freezing Valentine’s Day of  2014. Today we have ice and snow from Georgia to Maine. So we’ll insert our favorite image from our previous Valentine’s Day posts.A couple of lovers in a snowstorm

As we said before on an earlier Valentine’s Day, we admire the young gentleman helping the young lady across the street in a snowstorm, and we admire the young lady who wears a short dress and those high-heel shoes in a blizzard.  If you’d like to see the posts on a couple of  earlier Valentine’s Days, just type Valentine’s Day into our little search box on the upper right, over the right-hand column.



Stamp Out Starving Writers!

 From time to time we remind you to patronize your local, independent book store.It’s part of our effort to stamp out starving writers by buying their books. In the past, when we suggested that you buy a book, you may have thought we had in mind only a literary novel or a heavy work of non-fiction. We never mentioned pulp fiction, even though it’s one of our guilty pleasures. And by pulp fiction we mean everything from Westerns and mystery stories, to science fiction and romance novels. Pulp fiction writers get paid by the word, and only pennies per word. Buy some pulp fiction and you’ll help stamp out starving writers!Woman topless reading book

And as long as were talking about pulp fiction we should mention The Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society. Yes, it was news to us, too. Their web site says, “We’re a group of friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends, and complete strangers, who love good books and sunny days and enjoying both as nearly in the altogether as the law allows. Happily, in New York City, the law allows toplessness by both men and women. So that’s the way we do our al fresco reading. If you’re in New York and the weather’s good, won’t you join us sometime…?”  The photo above comes from their website. Finish reading this page first, the whole page, then go off and do what you will. We hope that will include buying a book.

February 14th is Valentine’s Day

Today, being the 14th of February, is secular Valentine’s Day, which is a wholly different matter from St. Valentine’s Day in the liturgical calendar. We had a nice post about both secular and liturgical Valentines last year, and it’s still in our archive for the curious or the bored and lonely. (We hope you’re not lonely today, but there’s nothing we can do about that. We’re sorry.) In any case, unless you’ve stumbled onto this site by accident you’re probably fond of books and reading, and as we’ve come across a couple of photographs of books, reading and Valentine romance we’ve posted them for you. Kiss in the library stacks

You never know what you might find when you venture deep into the stacks at Harvard’s Widener Library. Of course, not just anyone can get into that particular collection of books. But you might have luck at your local library. The lighting isn’t too bright in the narrow aisles between bookcases, so make sure you have the right book and be very sure you have the right person.Kiss reading in bed Here’s another pair of intellectuals reading in bed. He’s the kind of intellectual who gets tattooed, and she’s the kind who smokes in bed. The like to live dangerously. Or carelessly. Anyway, it’s a good bet he’s not going to finish reading that paperback of Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms. But we don’t care if they don’t care. And we’re pretty sure they don’t care.A couple of lovers in a snowstormWe can’t help it. We know we posted this same image exactly a year ago, but we like it. We admire the young gentleman helping the young lady across the street in a snowstorm, and we admire the young lady who wears a short dress and those high-heel shoes in a blizzard.

Dress Goes Transparent If You’re Aroused

Intimacy 2.0
Intimacy 2.0

It’s here — a dress that becomes transparent when you’re in the mood.  (And you thought only Steve Jobs had cool ideas.)  Advanced tech artist Daan Roosegaarde and fashion designer Anouk Wipprecht produced the dress. It’s called Intimacy 2.0 — the name doesn’t sound like haute couture, but it does suggest the high degree of science and technology that went into the garment.

The dress is made of leather and — here’s the good part — conductive e-foils that become transparent when exposed to electricity. It’s possible to design a circuit that is activated by an accelerated heart beat or an increase in body heat. And the subsequent flow of electricity will cause the e-foils to become transparent.

According to Studio Roosegaarde’s web site, “Studio Roosegaarde creates interactive designs that explore the dynamic relation between space, people, and technology.” And “By creating interactive designs that instinctively respond to sound and movement, Roosegaarde explores the dawn of a new nature that is evolving from technological innovations.” (more…)

The Sex Life Of Oranges

 Cara Cara orangesHere’s something to brighten your gray wintry day — a Cara Cara orange. The Cara Cara has an unknown parentage. It’s a kind of bastard orange. It’s believed to have sprung from a mating of the Brazilian Bahia navel and the Washington navel. The orange was found in 1976, growing shamefully on a tree that regularly bore Washington navel oranges at the Hacienda de Cara Cara in Valencia, Venezuela. It could be a mutation. But that kind of immaculate conception excuse doesn’t convince us. We’re not naive. We think this is what happens when young and foolish oranges fool around. (By the way, this is a true story. You can look it up on Wikipedia. Go ahead. We’ll wait here.)

As for the taste of the Cara Cara, it’s been described as having a bit of cherry flavor, but some tasters add that it also has a bit of rose petal and blackberry. We at Critical Pages haven’t eaten any rose petal, but we’ve dined on Cara Cara oranges. In fact, you might say we’ve binged on them. To our jaded palates they taste mostly like oranges. As our high-school teacher liked to say, “De gustibus, non disputandem est.” That’s Latin for “Don’t tell me what it tastes like, I’ll taste it for myself.” You can get into trouble that way, too.


Hysteria with Maggie Gallenhaal and Hugh Dancy
Hysteria with Maggie Gallenhaal and Hugh Dancy

You probably didn’t see Hysteria, the movie directed by Tanya Wexler.No great loss, as it’s a very silly comedy. On the other hand, if you’re facing a blank weekend and a lonely evening, a silly comedy will do. Maybe we should say right now that Hysteria is about the invention of the massage-vibrator. Yes, that one, the one used primarily by women for sexual relief. As the movie begins it announces that it’s based on “true events. Really.” Yes. Well. Sort of.

Hugh Dancy plays handsome Mortimer Granville — an enlightened doctor of the late 1800s who believes that germs exist and that washing your hands is a good thing to do if you’re a surgeon. In fact, his advanced ideas cause him to lose his job. Fortunately, he finds work as an assistant to Dr. Dalrymple, an upscale physician who caters to women diagnosed as having hysteria, a Victorian female problem with a collections of symptoms: insomnia, fatigue, sexual frustration and general nervousness.

Dalrymple’s successful cure consists of a discrete massage (masturbation is the word we’d use today) of the patient under something like a fancy red shawl that conceals what’s going on down there. Dr. Dalrymple happens to have two daughters: passive & conventional Emily, who lives with her widowed father, plays Chopin and studies phrenology, and feisty Charlotte, dramatized by Maggie Gallenhaal,  who has left home to work in an impoverished settlement house, educating children of the poor, taking care of the sick and injured, a bright energetic woman with advanced ideas about medicine and women’s rights and sex.  OK, you’ve got the setup.

But handsome Mortimer abruptly loses his smarts and, encouraged by his mentor Dr. Dalrymple, begins to court passive & conventional Emily! Young Dr. Mortimer becomes quite skilled at the massage cure for hysteria, so skilled that his patient list grows and he develops carpel tunnel syndrome. As it happens, his very rich young friend, Edmund St. John-Smythe, an inventor, is at work on a hand-held electric fan. It doesn’t work so well as a fan— it vibrates! OK, you get where the movie is  going with this.

Viewers can enjoy being aghast at the hypocrisy and willful ignorance of Victorian society (as portrayed in this cartoonish movie) and can anticipate with pleasure Dr. Mortimer’s last-minuet recognition that smart, cheerful Charlotte, who looks terrific in a strapless gown, and who believes in germs and the washing of hands, but doesn’t believe in hysteria, a woman who is vibrantly sexual and who will take a husband as an equal, yes, our Charlotte is the one he admires and loves —why, he’ll even go down on one knee in the snowy courtyard of the settlement house to propose to her! And she’ll accept.


There was a doctor Joseph Mortimer Granville who is credited with inventing the electric percussive massaging instrument, but he refused to use it to cure women suffering from “female hysteria,” an affliction which rose to prominence in Victorian times and was, indeed, treated as portrayed in this movie.

American Ecstasy

American Ecstasy book imageIn 1982 Barbara Nitke began to take still photographs on pornographic movie sets. “The porn business is my alma mater,” she’s written. “I learned the craft of photography there, from the cameramen, the lighting guys, and all the other hopeful kids who came into the business straight out of film school.” Nitke worked as a set photographer in the porn industry just as the Golden Age of Porn was coming to an end. (You didn’t know porn films had a Golden Age? Now you do.) Eventually, the social scene, AIDS, the video camera and the Web ended the large scale movies she had been photographing, along with the actors and directors. Nitke’s attention shifted to the SM scene and in 2003 she wrote Kiss of Fire: A Romantic View of Sadomasochism, a collection of photographs of sadomasochistic couples published by Kehrer, a distinguished German company  producing books on culture, fine art and photography. Kiss of Fire was too hot for an American publisher to handle.

E. J. Bellocq’s photos of Storyville prostitutes waited fifty or sixty years before they were published by the Museum of Modern Art, but Barbara Nitke didn’t want to wait that long.  Nitke  worked through Kickstarter, the crowd-funding website,  and today we have American Ecstasy, a memoir in pictures and words of the years she spent taking still shots on porn movie sets in New York City. It’s a beautifully produced coffee-table book with superb color photographs, a fluent text by Nitke herself and an introductory essay by Arthur C. Danto, Professor Emeritus of philosophy at Columbia University and former art critic for The Nation.

American Ecstasy contains sixty-eight large color shots. A  few, a very few,  are of bodies (a back, an arm or a leg) but all the others are portraits. These are  portraits of people caught in the midst of a sexual encounter or, far more often, pausing or waiting in the act, gazing inwardly, bored or sleepy or curled up asleep on some fancy bed that was used in an earlier scene. And often a camera intrudes, a 35mm machine — bulky, glittering and dark — edging in from the margin. It’s the camera’s alien presence, of course, that produces the dissonance in these pictures.  The women themselves, and it’s mostly women we see, often look looked wiped out — maybe they’re dulled or maybe just emptied by hours of work.

Barbara Nitke has given us people in moments of bizarre comedy or innocence and even tenderness.  Her color work, those gauzy whites, soft tans and gentle defining edges, evoke a kind of pathos, for the photographs are chromatically beautiful whereas the people are working in a porn movie and that kind of  work is not beautiful. Nitke’s text doesn’t sentimentalize or romanticize the porn movie industry.  She’s a responsive photographer with a deep understanding and affection for her utterly human subjects, and those qualities raise her images beyond mere documentary or social insight into the realm of  art.

Women Lose Interest in Sex

But men don’t. That’s the conclusion of researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. The researchers, Sarah Murray ad Robin Milhausen, asked 170 undergraduate women and men who had been in heterosexual relationships from one month to nine years to report on their levels of relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction and sexual desire. What they discovered was that the longer a woman was in a relationship, the weaker her sexual desire became. Men reported no decline in desire over time.

Well, that wraps it up. End of post.

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You want the sad details? Sarah Murray and Robin Milhausen wrote online in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy that women reported lower levels of desire depending on the length of their relationship. “Specifically, for each additional month women in this study were in a relationship with their partner, their sexual desire decreased by 0.02 on the Female Sexual Function Index.”  That’s a bit of news that will make men and women equally glum. Even more depressing, the researchers reported that the length of the sexual relationship was a better predictor of sexual desire in women than the quality of the relationship or the level of sexual satisfaction.

For those of you who still retain sexual curiosity after reading the above, the Female Sexual Function Index goes from 1.2 to 6.0. We at Critical Pages don’t know why the scale starts at 1.2 and not, say, zero or 1.0.  You can find out more about the FSF Index online —  it really exists and really is used.  We don’t know how they measured male sexual desire.  We’re beginning not to care about any of this at all.

More Notes

Tim Carmody, in his excellent piece, "How Haiti Became Poor", notes that President Trump's racist policies and vulgar language have sullied the word "shithole" which used to be one of the all-time great swear words. He's right. It's another terrible power this careless President wields.