Stewart Home’s introduction to White Thighs

When we were selecting the books for Bookkake’s opening collection, one of the authors we wanted to include was Alexander Trocchi, the Scottish editor of Merlin and author of Young Adam and Cain’s Book, as well as, pseudonymously, several volumes from Maurice Girodias’ Olympia Press.

We were under the impression that the rights to several of these works were available, and we asked Stewart Home to write an introduction to White Thighs, one of the Olympia novels originally published under the name ‘Frances Lengel’. Stewart was kind enough to do so, but we later discovered, despite the wealth of ebook editions floating around, the rights were spoken for. So, as some small consolation, we’re pleased to present that introduction here. Enjoy.

I tend to think of Alex Trocchi as the original punk rocker. He never lets you down because he always aims to disappoint; in White Thighs (1955) he disappoints almost too well… However before dealing with this extraordinary novel I’d like to take you on a quick romp through Trocchi’s life. Born in Glasgow in 1925, Trocchi relocated to Paris after university, where in the early fifties he edited the literary review “Merlin” and was involved in the early English language publication of writers such as Samuel Beckett and Jean Genet. Simultaneously, Trocchi assumed membership of the Lettrist International, a group that mixed a revolutionary praxis with excessive drinking and which later transmogrified into the Situationist International.

As well as writing high modernist literature of his own, in the fifties Trocchi was churning out porn both to make money and as a vehicle for subversion. Trocchi’s greatest success through scandal in the dirty book business was a faked fifth volume of “My Life And Loves” (1959) by the philanderer and literary middleman Frank Harris. However, among his pornographic novels Thongs (1955) and White Thighs undoubtedly have the greatest “literary” merit. Trocchi even added some pornographic touches to his first serious novel Young Adam (1957) to secure its publication. He moved to the United States in 1956, which is where he became a fully fledged smackhead with all the accompanying lifestyle trappings including prostituting his American wife Lynn to raise money for skag. Trocchi’s Magnus Opus Cain’s Book was published in New York in1961 and shocked conservative reviewers with its audaciously autobiographical descriptions of the drug underworld. Almost simultaneously, Trocchi was charged with supplying drugs to a minor by the American authorities, and with the aid of various people including future rock star Leonard Cohen he fled the US, returning to the UK via Canada. After a brief spell spent in Scotland, Trocchi found himself in London where he became a fixture of the sixties counterculture. As a famous literary drug casualty one of the many ways in which Trocchi demonstrated his disdain for the bourgeois book trade was by copying out his own novels in long hand and then selling these hoax productions as his ‘original’ manuscripts.

From the early sixties onwards Trocchi could no longer be bothered to write novels, although he did do translations and composed some impressive occasional pieces such as the manifesto “The Invisible Insurrection Of A Million Minds”. Instead of writing fiction Trocchi would come up with a synopsis of a planned work, take an advance from a gullible publisher who wanted the completed book and then moved on to his next mark with a new abstract. Less admirably, Trocchi also took great delight in turning people – and particularly beautiful women – on to heroin, and he used drug dealing as a nice little earner. Towards the end of his life Trocchi appears to have been getting about a thousand pounds a day for the drugs he supplied his key dealer ‘Grainger’, and there would have been other outlets for his gear. Not a bad turnover for a smack broker in the nineteen-seventies or even the early-eighties.

There are those who think Trocchi failed to live up to his promise, but I think he lived up to it admirably by self-consciously working towards spectacular failure as a literary figure. Trocchi despised the bourgeois cultural order and in his pornographic works such as White Thighs he mocks it by using his mastery of literary technique for the ends of pastiche and parody. In this his pornographic works are quintessentially post modern, and move both beyond and behind the paradigmatically modernist concerns of his two “serious” literary works Young Adam and Cain’s Book. In terms of prose style White Thighs is better than one might reasonably expect a work of sado-masochistic poronography to be. That said, Trocchi doesn’t bother to construct a credible story or attempt “proper” characterisation; since such things would undermine his revolutionary intentions..

On one level White Thighs is a tale of bondage and flagellation. At the age of 12 the narrator Saul Folsrom becomes infatuated with his governess Anna. He wants her to spank and dominate him. He even commits murder for her; but soon afterwards his American guardians ship him to England to complete his education. Unable to find sexual satisfaction in women other than Anna, Folsrom returns to the United States with the intention of finding her. At which point he explicitly states he is what he is due to Anna, that she’d made him a murderer:

For that is what she had made of me, and the mold, once set, was firm and unchangeable: I experienced no desire to possess, nor to mold in my own likeness another woman. I felt only an urgent necessity to be absorbed, used again even to the point of murder, and to draw my identity from every act done of another’s necessity. The memory of Anna electrified me. She alone, of all the women I had met, was fit to receive such homage.

Had she not made me commit murder for her? I nurtured the memory, with as much loving care as a poet gives to his creation. I worshipped her. I imagined myself prostrate before her. I buried my head between her soft thighs, knowing their strength. I asked her to judge me, to control me, to administer my punishment. I loved her, called to her in my dreams that I would kill my uncle all over again. She had to exist. She could not be dead, or worse, grown weak and as insipid as the women I met at college. That would be a betrayal. Men have destroyed gods for less.

After Folsrom has “freed” Anna so that she might “dominate” him, by murdering her tyrannical husband, he rushes off to tell her all about the killing only to be disappointed by her response:

“I told you I loved him!”

“You told me he had the power of a beast over you. I shot the beast.”

She was looking at me as a rabbit watches a snake.

Something stirred in me. I knew that I had to act now or not at all. Coldly, with calculation, I slapped her across the face.

I was now ready to act at every moment in accordance with a new attitude. She had loved Inez. I had thought about that night after night as I waited to slay him.

She had loved me in a different way.

My act of slapping her across the face had the effect of annihilating the past, of reversing the relation between us. In the future, she would obey. It was not what I wanted, not what I had intended, not the situation for which I had made a thousand preparations while I was separated from her, but I had come to realize clearly that it was the only effective wayóat least for the moment, for she was not ready to be that woman of my imaginationóof putting things in suspension; I should not have lost irrevocably.

Her expression had changed.

The fear was still there, but it had undergone a subtle modulation:it was no longer stark panic, and all hatred had gone from her eyes. It was as though she were waiting for me to act again.

Slowly, holding her gaze, I bared myself, and as I did so, I felt the sluice of urgent blood move to harden my member. I looked I climbed onto the bed beside her. Kneeling there, slowly, an inch at a time, I brought it toward her face. She stared at it, her whole attention riveted upon it, and then suddenly, when it was no more than six inches from her, she let out a small whimper, enclosed it like a valuable object in both hands, and took it into her mouth. As she did, her liquid eyes closed, and I felt the warmth of complete envelopment. Her full lips pressed to my hard flesh, sliding up and down it, her tongue twisting madly around the swollen head. She held onto the base of my sex with her hands, squeezing hard. I was on the verge of annihilation.

Disappointed by Anna, Folsrom develops an infatuation with his housekeeper Kirstin. Stumbling across her engrossed in sado-masochist acts with two other maids, he watches them through a keyhole:

Each girl picked up a skeleton. The fantasy began. I was conscious at once of the fact that the bones had been wired together, and that, fixed firmly to each skeleton, was a rubber penis. Carefully, in a practiced way, each girl slipped it into her, draped the arms of a skeleton over her back and shoulders, and lay down on the filthy straw. To see a skeleton pricking a young girl, the bones bouncing like a beaded parrot-cage on her soft belly, is a strange sight. It did not last long. I had the impression that Kirstin was impatient for her little insects to become stuck in her web. She said something and the girls rose immediately, allowing the skeletons to tumble onto the floor. They began to fly again, or rather, to make the motions of flying. Mona was more graceful than Milly. Her movements were less abrupt and the flesh of her buttocks was a startling white against her red hair.

And so after Folsrom has witnessed these ‘perversions’, Kirstin becomes his new sexual ideal:

Here, at last, was the risk that I was looking for; the intensity, the obscenity, the criminality to which I could bring the willing consent of my own body and soul. The vision of Anna paled before the image of Kirstin. The one wished nothing more than to be a victim; the other would dare to victimize. What hellish green fires must have burned within Kirstin to turn her into the woman-beast I had seen in action!

I had to make a compact at once. I would wait an hour. Then the orgy surely would be over, and then I would ring for her. For the first time in my life, I had met a woman to whom I could dedicate myself utterly. The old craving to be the instrument of another’s will surged up in me anew. Kirstin. Kirstin. Faust is waiting for you.

Folsrom briefly finds contentment with Kirstin, leading him to announce that:

In only a few days time, Kirstin had made me the doting slave of her body and her will. Kirstin now slept with me every night, or rather, I slept with her, for it was she who had become pre-eminent and it was I who nightly slept with my head between the wet weight of her thighs. It was she who insisted upon this, and I loved and worshipped her for it, deriving more pleasure from my utter abasement than I had ever drawn from abasing another.

However, boredom soon set in and at the conclusion of White Thighs, Folsrom discovers a new and better sexual ideal than Kirstin in a housemaid called Ursula:

She lay with her hands to her sides, as if her palms were nailed to the floor, and looked ceilingward. Still, I thought I gleaned a shadow of a smile on her face. It was not a smile of simple pleasure, but one that seemed to hold the secreted knowledge of evil. I was, surely, going insane, for Ursula had no knowledge of evil, but was virgin soil, untainted, pure. Surely. I drove into her harder, in confusion perhaps, and she closed tightly around me, and I released my seed deep into her womb. There was, afterwards, again that smile, that evil smile!

I kneeled up to remove myself from the hideous, yet lovely sight of her furtive meaning. She looked at me, my body kneeling before her.

“Now pray”, she uttered, her voice hoarse, dull. “Pray and then lick me clean.”

Obediently, I did as I was told. As my tongue came out to meet the mixture of our fluids, I realized the gravity of my actions, for then, intoxicated by her heavy, sweet fragrance, I was committing sacrilege, worshipping a new god. She clamped my head between her flawlessly white thighs, the tender flesh of them burning my cheeks, my ears, suffocating me and cutting off all sound. It was then, as I swirled in the thick eddy of her release, that I gleaned the future: I would have to prove my devotion to her; there would have to be a sacrifice.

Moving from the specific to the more general, men only enjoy power in a male dominated society if they function as a cog of this society by transmitting their own submission onto those on the next level down. The problem that Trocchi is confronting – but Folsrom patently cannot – is the fact that rather than abandoning their power, revolutionary males must assert themselves over and above their function as cogs in an inhuman machine. White Thighs does not address the sexual struggle from the perspective of women, it merely demonstrates that pre-determined sexual roles lead to disappointment and the endless repetition of a limited number of unsatisfactory acts. That said, it is important not to see women as the victims of sexual norms, but rather as playing the role of victim. While women too have to reclaim their repressed sexuality, the fact that they start from a different position in present society means that their struggle has other dimensions, with Trocchi presumably viewing them as more suited to describing this.

What White Thighs ultimately provides us with is a critique of consumer society in the form of a parody of a pornographic novel. In our alienated world we can never be satisfied – physically, emotionally, intellectually – since capitalism is predicated on us forever attempting to assuage an unending number of cynically manufactured dissatisfactions through the acquisition of new goods and chattels (which upon examination turn out to be little different from the old ones we already had). What Trocchi attempts to do in White Thighs is show us that we need to free up our sexuality from the limits imposed on us by capitalism and the state, and he does this by depicting the dehabilitating effects these limits have on Folsrom. Trocchi’s problem with Folsrom is not that he is “perverse”, but rather that his perversion is limited and channelled, when if it were healthy it would overflow capitalist canalisation in a rising flood and tide of polymorphous perversity. The controlled release of sexual frustration has long been used for the purpose of repression and Trocchi’s depiction of this in White Thighs is spot on. This book remains an exemplary revolutionary text in as far as it continues to disappoint those who pick it up hoping to gain sexual satisfaction from it… As I said at the start of this piece, Trocchi never lets you down because all along his intention was to disappoint!

Stewart Home is an acclaimed writer, critic and editor. His website can be found at stewarthomesociety.org, and further writings on Trocchi can be found here. .

Posted September 27, 2008 by James Bridle. Comments (1)
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1 Comment

  1. […] of course, is the author of the introduction to the Bookkake edition-that-never-was, Alex Trocchi’s White Thighs, as well as many other works. He’s also got a great Youtube channel, including the above, […]

    # by Stewart Home’s Prank Call to a Hooker — Bookkake, October 29, 2008

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