Virtual memories and the absence of their meaning
Jørgen Leth’s The Erotic Man (2010) as a speculum of voidne
Ioannis Tsirkas

‘Death threatens sometimes by the specular crossing of gazes (Perseus thus plays one mirror off another, looking at Medusa in a mirror so as not to cross her gaze) […], but also by […] the eye open like a wound, indeed gaping like an open mouth whose eyelid-lips might also open up, in order to expose it, onto a woman’s sex.’
Jacques Derrida

   Jørgen Leth’s film The Erotic Man (2010) circulated only in a few festivals and did not gain any significant critical and -at least until now- academic attention at all. This failure of what he himself considered as his cinematic testament does not have to surprise us, to the contrary, it is rather more fertile to be discussed as such. According to the critics, this ‘extremely personal film’ (McNally 2010), which, even worse, constitutes ‘a look into the fantasies of a single individual’ (Poynton 2010), is ‘undermined by its attempt to describe the indescribable’ (Koehler 2010) -namely the erotic- which can only be an ‘ambiguous venture’ (Christensen 2013). In addition, their opinions seem to converge on its being characterized as a ‘visually dull, and ethically repellent’ (Frank 2012) film which ‘displays very little in the way of self-reflection’ (Sicinski 2010). The above epitomize the problematic of its failure quite sufficiently: it was read as a first-person film that had to do only with its director and concerned exclusively him, a film that expended in an infertile way itself concerning its reflection on its supposed subject by depicting to a large extent elegant images of nude women. But the subject of a first-person film is -by definition- mainly its physical subject. Was indeed the film unable to speak to us? More importantly, was its text as poor, or even unethical, as it was conceived by both the audience and the critics?
   Trying to analyse the film as -Leth would have wanted- a testament means that I will have to analyse it as a confession. If I manage this, I think that I will justify its failure in relation to the audience’s expectations too: I will not apologise on its regard, but I will highlight its apologetic nature, since not only an apology presupposes a failure, but, as it will be accrued, the film may comprehend an apology for its failure as apology. Though it sounds somehow obscure for the time being, it will namely come out that one of its main possible purposes could be the demonstration itself that such a purpose, to be apologetic as regards your idiosyncratic perception of the erotic, can only be an effort, artistically speaking, perforce wasted. However, this chargeable event of the film’s realism does not seem adequate.
   So let me use the introductory quote of Jacques Derrida (1993, p.87) on this point. If we consider both the threat of the director’s physical death and also death as symbolistic of the slow and irreversible process of the decrease of the self as the main chargeable events of the film, and thus its realism as an attempt to still the fear that this threat generates, we can reflect on its function as a speculum that Leth uses in order not to stare at something directly but through the inviting perspective of the spectator’s gaze. We will be forced by -but also with- him to stare at the cinematic reconstruction of his memories, thereby his virtual ones, which will consist mainly of images of passive nude female bodies. But how could this signal an -even vain- inward process? The answer is somehow latent to what the gaze presupposes. In particular, the existence of an open wound which will remain open as much as he can be exposed to the reality of the eroticism’s grace, or tragedy. This reality will soon be a matter of past, and yet it is in the past that it has to be delved. Leth is going inward exactly because he has to go back in his memories, but instead of reconstructing them virtually, he chooses to prove their virtuality through their deconstruction in the present. The end of an existential threat -the reach of a limit within the vertigo of its anguish- could be its having been proved as a myth by the inward reach of the telos of life itself as a myth, a reach that can only be a personal catastrophe.

From the essay to the essayistic
   But before we attempt to go deeper in the film’s essence let us take at first into account its style. Is The Erotic Man an essay on the erotic man? More than a useless try to be such an essay it is rather a kind of a useful trial. But, according to Georg Lukács (1974, p.18), ‘[t]he essay is a judgement’ and ‘the essential, the value-determining thing about it is not the verdict […] but the process of judging’. Jørgen Leth judges himself by being at the same time indifferent to the final verdict since he knows that in the realm of the erotic, the realm of difference par excellence cannot be an exemplar according to which you can reach a judgment by reasoning. Besides, for Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher that Leth happens to admire[1], to love means ‘to try never to be proved right’ (Lukács 1974, p.34). This is reflected throughout the film which can be perceived as an exposure of the director’s political incorrectness of the way he seems to lust after and seduce women. Ιn almost its largest part the film contains images of nude women that seem to lack of any significance beyond the aesthetic pleasure that they may offer. The main question that arises from the poems that Leth is reading in parallel and his poetic meditations concerns just the reason why these rather racy images appeal him. A reason that in actual fact could not exist if not with the form of destiny, since it is just the destiny of man to desire women. Is thus his film’s content just its form? Maybe yes, but exactly because it reflects his insurmountable fate, namely to love and wanting to be loved by women, and considering Lukács’s (1974, p.7) claim that ‘in the works of the essayists form becomes destiny’, the film may emerge as something like a poetic essay, by, like poetry, receiving ‘its profile and its form from destiny’. Instead then of attempting an essay on the erotic, Leth prefers to shoot images that are primarily tempting for himself, without trying, at least in an obvious way, to merge them with meaning, abstracting thus for us the subject of its potential essay, since ‘the separation of image and significance is itself an abstraction, for the significance is always wrapped in images’ (Lukács 1974, p.5). He denies any expository instructions for his film; he cares only for its dynamics to expose. So, rather than having the quality of an essay, it results to be a meditation on the potential essayistic quality of intuition.

Gazing the Other
   But what is being exposed in the film other than nude female bodies and Leth’s scopophilic desire for them? If its meaning is confined to only these images and nothing more, let us then try to find the significance of these repetitive images, mainly the possible way that we can perceive them as being carriers of emotions, or the exact opposite of it, as deliberately deprived of emotions. Leth avoids accompanying them with illuminating thoughts, keeping maybe them for himself. Maybe his silence illustrates that if ‘[t]hought is active in speech’ (Riley 2000, p.44) eros can be active in image. Moreover, he claims that by contemplating nude female bodies he studies them, since he believes in general that he learns what he sees (Koutsouranis 2013, p.201). However, ‘to see is not, after all, to know’ and it is due to this ignorance that any resistance unfolds ‘in and of representation’ (Russell 1999, p.25). In fact, despite his claims, Leth seems to be fully aware of that, because, if we agree with Tina Chanter’s (1995, p.185) statement that ‘[t]o know is to bring something under a concept’, to relate it back to us, ‘to make it familiar’ and ‘objectify it’, the objectifying images of all those exotic -to the Western eye- women function both to him and the spectator as a pursued appropriation of what resists to it.
   But what does Leth want to accomplish by opposing this resistance? As it will be inferred at nearly the end of my essay, not something completely innocent, since ‘looking relations are never innocent’ (Kaplan 1997, p.6) anyway. More specifically, considering Jessica Benjamin (1995, p.210) when supports that
‘[a]ny act of the subject toward the other that has an impact “negates” the other, breaks into the other’s absolute identity with her- or himself in such a way that the other is no longer exactly what she or he was a moment before’,
Leth not impossibly wants to (ab)negate what the -accessible only visually- nudity of these women symbolizes for him. Or even he possibly wants to compromise with what shakes off this symbolism, betraying thus a kind of absence as the chargeable event of his attempt, since ‘you tend to notice things and put them into the focus of your scrutiny and contemplation only when they vanish’ (Bauman 2004, p.17). However, in order to come back to the film’s style, not only ‘the representation of [the] “other” is integrally related to the representation of “self” (Hallam & Street 2013, p.6) but also, according to Cecilia Sayad (2013, p.147), ‘performing authorship constitutes […] a way of looking’. Furthermore, in order to understand more efficiently the way by which it constitutes a kind of Leth’s autobiography, we have to keep in mind exactly that negation is not just one of its elements but one of its main motives.

Autobiography through (ab)negation
   Although, at least his later life and greatly the style of his previous diverse cinematic work is being more or less slightly and rather rudely reflected in many ways in the film, no significant biographical information is provided about his past. Are there any autobiographical elements inherent in the film and in which ways? Let me begin by mentioning some of Georges Gusdorf’s ideas about written autobiography, which seem nevertheless to help us understand the autobiographical function of Leth’s film, which even if in its turn is unconventional, it is consistent as well, or at least, as much consistent could something be belonging to the realm of poetry. Gusdorf (1980, p.38) supports that ‘autobiography is a second reading of experience, and it is truer than the first because it adds to experience itself consciousness of it’ constituting thus something like an ‘involution of consciousness’ (p.32). There is a particular experience of his past that emerges rudely all over the film and, as I will support in the end, the thought that the film was more than all a therapeutic procedure against this traumatic experience will not have to be considered as aphoristic at all. I am referring to his separation from the daughter of his cooker in Haiti, Marie Marthe Dorothie Laguerre. The Erotic Man is namely a second reading of this fact and its involving complications, a necessarily self-excusing second reading, since, as Gusdorf (1980, p.39) also supports, ‘[t]he man who […] is […] searching his self through his history; he is not engaged in an objective and disinterested pursuit but in a work of personal justification’. He is anyway the man whose perception of eroticism is in question and in autobiography ‘the truth of facts is subordinate to the truth of the man’ (Gusdorf 1980, p.43). If thus autobiography is a testimony in which someone is ‘seeking its innermost fidelity’ (Gusdorf 1980, p.43) we can now understand a second meaning in Leth’s declaration that his film is a cinematic testament, by perceiving him as testifier of his trauma.
   This trauma is what makes the film essentially dramatic. When Leth mentions that it is about ‘a poet from Europe who travels the word to find traces of his past’, he does not imply an attempt to recapitulate it, but maybe that his film could be the ‘attempt and the drama of a man struggling to reassemble himself in his own likeness at a certain moment of his history’ (Gusdorf 1980, p.43), having what he has tried either in fact or in wish to be in the present as starting point (p.45) [2]. If the act of autobiography can be at the same time a discovery and a creation of the self (Olney 1980a, p.19), Leth inclines towards a rediscovery process, rendered more as ‘self-interpretation’ (Starobinski 1980, p.74) than self-presentation[3]. But is he addressing his meditations only to himself? Why is the spectators’ gaze needed? Spephen Spender (1980, p. 121) seems to answer to that when he states that ‘[c]onfession must always be to a confessor’. Moreover, he upholds by supporting that ‘confessional autobiography may be […] a search for values, or even an attempt to justify the writer by an appeal to the lack of them’ (p.121), helping us to understand better what I mentioned in the beginning of my essay about the apologetic function of the film. Leth’s apology, after all, is an apology of lack­ and the spectators have to be both witnesses and martyrs to it, seeking what will remain absent. Our attempt is doomed in failure; since Leth’s (ab)negates consciously and intendedly any both ethical and artistic values within his film. The poetic approach thus is the only way to examine his film effectively. But while William L. Howarth (1980, p.104) supports that the ‘[p]oetic autobiographies can […] draw only tentative, experimental self-portraits’, to say that the film could only reach a tentative conclusion would be unfair to it. The film is poetic not just because it targets to reach the unreachable, but by comprehending an apology for this inability, of the inability to observe what is being absent, it illuminates exceptionally Alburey Castell’s (1965, p.40) thesis that we ‘never can observe anything but the perception’ itself.

An autoethnographic experiment
   Back to the film’s style now, since, on the one hand, there are more to be said about its peculiarity regarding its resistance to an easy categorisation and an ex-poetic approach and, on the other, it is exactly through my resistance to resign soon from a futile attempt to confine it in a wider academic frame that I believe I will reveal the core of its essence. Its testimonial and confessional character that I analysed before is, according to Catherine Russel (1990, p.279), usually inherent to autoethnographic films. The themes of ‘displacement, immigration, exile, and transnationality’ are also prominent (Russel 1990, p.278) in them, themes that we can easily recognise in The Erotic Man. Leth half of the year lives auto-exiled in Haiti where a large part of the film takes place. At the rest of the film he travels to exotic places where he shoots beautiful women nude in hotel suites. More importantly, what is being mentioned in the film as the reason of his separation with Dorothie is the fact that in opposition with her, although he had not problem to marry her, he wanted to continue living the most of his time in Haiti. Russel (1990, p.279) informs us that
‘[b]ecause autoethnography invokes an imbrication of history and memory, the authenticity of experience functions as a receding horizon of truth in which memory and testimony are articulated as modes of salvage’.
It is exactly his struggle to save himself from the depression that this separation caused to him the main reason of the film’s creation. But while examining it as an autobiographical film I analysed it as a testimony, considering its autoethographical elements, we come to the motif, but also motive, of repetition. Indeed its pattern is repetitive in many concerns, mainly by the repetitive images of objectified nude females in various counties. Michael Sprinker (1980, p.329), reflecting the views of Kierkegaard, supports that ‘[r]epetition and memory are surely among the most crucial categories to any consideration of [also] autobiography’. By remaining essentially silent about his memories and by choosing the almost similar to each other shots of passive female nudeness, in which way can the film be introduced at least as a kind of autoethnography?
   Let us speak about ethnography first. For Catherine Russel (1999, p.xvii), ‘[e]thnography in its most expansive sense refers not to the representation of other cultures but to the discourse of culture in representation’. By extension,
‘[o]nce ethnography is understood as a discursive structure, its affinities with filmic ontologies of memorialisation, redemption, and loss become a rich source of allegorical possibility’ (Russel 1999, p.xviii).
In our case, even if a large part of the previous Leth’s filmic work has considerable ethnographic elements and value[4], in The Erotic Man he does not seem to care at all about the representation of the various cultures of the places he visits. On the contrary, he revisits many places that during his filmic career had been ethnographically represented by him, just to resurrect his erotic affairs there, an action that would function as redemption of a personal loss. So, if an ethnographic film ‘is a practice of representation’ and ‘a production of textual form from the material history of lived experience’ (Russell 1999, p.14), what he tries to represent is possibly the way he experiences a personal loss during his inner wandering and not what he meets as it rises to the surface, restraining his representation of the Other as just a nude body in the space. Furthermore, Russell (1999, p.xii) states that
‘[i]f ethnography can be understood as an experimentation with cultural difference and cross-cultural experience, a subversive ethnography is a mode of practice that challenges the various structures of racism, sexism, and imperialism that are inscribed implicitly and explicitly in so many forms of cultural representation’.
The representation of other cultures in the film can exactly be described as subversive, since Leth deliberately shows us within his film the process of his castings through which he assigns young woman just to pose nude in hotel suites. He takes the role of the rich Western man who uses his money and fame -overall his authority- in order to objectify poor women from underdeveloped countries to expose their physical charms which are the only ones he mentions and appreciates. At the same time, the film does not lack of both aesthetical cohesion with his previous experimental and considered as avant-garde work and direct references, when experimental ethnography can be ‘a means of re-visioning the long history of the intersection of the avant-garde and anthropology’ (Russell 1999, p.xiii), a style that he has served in the past. But what Leth truly re-visions here is his self, (ab)negating even the potential artistic value of his film, making just references to all these styles and modes of representation aiming to something that lies beyond the filmic world of his creation. However, we have to continue our allusive analysis of the film before what could potentially justify it will be efficiently clarified. So, considering Keith Beattie’s (2004, p.45) notion that ‘[t]he tradition of the ethnography itself is deeply imbued with the “us” and “them” - self and the Other - dichotomy and its attendant differential relations of power’ it would be interesting on this point to attempt to analyse the post-colonialist overtones of the film, since, if ‘[t]he task of postcolonial ethnography is […] to revise the terms of realist representation’ (Russell 1999, p.6), there has to be a reason for both this unrealistic portrait of Leth’s self and the cultures that the objects of his desire represent for him.

The possession of the colonized
   Taking into consideration Franz Fanon’s (2007, p.35) famous aphorism that in the colonial cultures ‘we find characteristics, curiosities, things, never a structure’, the Erotic Man, though over-simplistic in its structure, the latter still exists and what is more seems felicitous according to its possible aim. In Leth’s fantasy -and in addition in what is depicted on screen- the beautiful exotic women are desired exactly as conquerable objects, they are significant because there are sexually desired. Therefore, as Catherine Russell (1999, p.24) informs us,
‘[o]nce otherness is perceived as a discursive construction and a fantasy that is reified in colonial culture, it is not simply thereby deconstructed and dismissed. Otherness remains a cultural component of desire, both historical and psychological’.
So why does Leth, in order to overemphasize on otherness as the only factor that describes the potentially approachable object, the one that is being conducted by the nude female body, need to depict/present himself with colonial overtones? Homi K. Bhabha’s (1992, p.313) thesis that ‘the body is always simultaneously inscribed in both the economy of pleasure and desire and the economy of discourse, domination and power’ could be a useful answer. Leth imagines himself excelsior against the women that he casts in the film. He needs them to remain totally exposed to his gaze, since, as it will be explicated at the end of my essay, this is the only safe way to expose therapeutically himself. In order to intensify their exposure he represents them nude, eliminating their possible awareness of their otherness to their nakedness. And as Bhabha (1992, p.316) also informs us ‘colonial discourse produces the colonized as a social reality which is at once an “other” and yet entirely knowable and visible’ and thus Leth’s choice is being reconfirmed not only as intended but as structured too.
   Speaking about visibility, there is a sequence in the film that it would be interesting to be mentioned under the context of this notion. I am referring to the one in which one of his actual mistresses in Haiti, Schilaine Cayo, along with another local girl are filmed during a voodoo ceremony. Scsilaine, ostensibly possessed by a demonic presence, dances in an openly, over-sexualized and apocalyptic way. This is not of course something unusual in similar ceremonies[5], but the shots seem to focus exactly on the way Scsilaine exposes her body in a definitely sexual way. In parallel we watch Leth contemplating her while being considerably -at least spatially- distant from what is taking place, participating in the event by watching silently. Hence, it would be interesting to consider here Russell’s (1990, p.194) mention that ‘the end point of the possession semiosis is the subjectivity of the Other, which thus resists cinematic representation along with its ideology of visibility’. So we return to the point that Leth is aware of a kind of resistance, a resistance that he represents rudely as well. With this sequence he reminds us and to himself of the fact that there is maybe once again something that cannot be visible and no matter if or how he possesses the Other with his gaze, he inevitably is not able to possess something from the under possession object of his gaze. What is more, Russel (1990, p.237) adds that ‘[p]ossession rituals constitute a form of representation that is grounded in a culturally specific body, but they point to a reality that exceeds the image of the body’. It is this reality that frightens Leth, and his declaration that for him to see is to know means that it frightens him exactly because by not being able to see it he will be not able to know it. So, if -even the colonialist, I might claim- possession is ‘itself a form of representation to which the filmmaker might aspire, [...] a mise en abyme of representation, with its final signified event beyond reach’ (Russel 1990, p.194) what is in the end possible for Leth to document in this sequence? What is he trying in general to document in the whole film by exposing the necessarily only visual possession that he can take from his desired object?

The reckless documentation of the inmost
   According to Keith Beattie (2004, p.10), ‘[d]ocumentary concerns itself with representing the observable world’ by interpreting the physical reality and not by being ‘a mere reflection’ of a pre-existing one (p.13). However, Leth remains unconventional in relation to that, not by just wanting his film to be exactly a mere reflection of a pre-existing reality, his inmost one, but even to use his film as a reflecting apparatus in order to achieve what will fully be revealed at the end of the essay. But if he can eventually discern a kind of ‘an unexamined surface of life’ (Cresswell & Dixon 2002, p.3) in his film, this betrays once again the absence within him. He betrays himself his real aims by succumbing to contradictions as on the occasion when he claims to the actresses that he is ‘attempting to frame eroticism’ when in the end we listen to him soliloquizing that he ‘doesn’t know exactly how to frame eroticism’. We have nevertheless to believe him when he states that he is ‘not looking for a definition’. Even if Emil Cioran (2013, p.203) rightly observes that ‘[w]e define only out of despair’ it can be true that for the same reason we can give up from this attempt too. But if Leth is despondent how does he leave us to perceive this? If the shooting of nude women ‘it’s like reviving a memory’, as himself states in the film, do these images function in a metaphoric way after all? None the less, he claims that he uses ‘no metaphors at all’ (Koutsouranis 2013, p.203). What is the import of just shooting, and watching with us, the nudeness of desired women as reworked memories? Let me cite Catherine Russel (1999, pxviii) who mentions that ‘[r]eworking memory and tradition as fantastic forms of cultural desire – rather than sites of authenticity – ontologies of loss can become allegories of desire’. In our case the converse is applied. Allegories of desire become allegories of loss. If there is no meaning in the process of the desirability of the female objects in the film this may betrays an anxiety for an equivalent absence of meaning in a pre-existing loss. Maybe he refuses one more time himself in relation to his non-acceptance of the using of metaphors. If, like Eugenie Brinkema (2014, p.215) aptly notes, ‘[m]etaphors […] attempt to posit an infinitude of meaning to mitigate the anxiety of the finitude of form’ it is exactly the pure form that he calls here forth in order to reconfirm the finitude of eros. He does this by just collecting and exposing shots of nude objects of his desire making thus the film a kind of ‘an imaginary archive that is never completed, always fragmentary, vast, infinite’, which, interestingly enough for Patricia R. Zimmermann (2008a, p.18), is like what a home movie usually constitutes. Let us examine the film as such.
   Except for the obvious coincidence with Zimmermann’s (2008a, p.20) aphorism that ‘[h]ome movies are always gendered and racialized’ the Erotic Man shares another common element with them. If ‘[a]mateur film imagery functions as a nodal point where history, memory, the nation, the local, power, and fantasy condense’ (Zimmermann 2008b, p.276) we can indeed observe a condensation of such a kind in the film. A Western man uses his power in order to fulfil his fantasy that is generated by a trauma of his past[6]. And indeed, as Sigmund Freud (2001, p.146) has supported, ‘[t]he motive forces of phantasies are unsatisfied wishes, and every single phantasy is the fulfilment of a wish, a correction of unsatisfying reality’. What haunts Leth’s memory is something from the past. As he states in the film, it is ‘about a poet from Europe who travels the word to find traces of his past’. But ‘[a]s visual texts, amateur films operate as traces rather than as evidence’ while they ‘reverse the relationship between text and context (Zimmermann 2008b, p.276). More particularly, in them ‘[f]acts reveal fantasies, and fantasies expose facts’ presenting thus ‘psychic imaginaries of real things, and figure material objects as psychic imaginaries’ (Zimmermann 2008b, p.276). All in all, the absence of significance in the film’s text is exactly a nod to a possible significance of a context. The first is being revealed by the second and the second is being exposed by the first. The nude female bodies constitute the figure material objects of his desire as an act of resistance against the physic imaginaries of what is responsible for his real despair. If, moreover, ‘[t]he visualities of amateur films figure as continual enfolding of text into context and bodies into text’ (Zimmermann 2008b, p.286), this exposure of their nudeness functions as trace in order to find a way to endure what threatens him.
   All the same, what is this and how could it be revealed to us? Let us try to discover it by searching along with him the traces of what seems able to allay the threat. Leth declares that what he does is to set up a scene and ‘observe the situation’; thereafter he wants to see ‘what happens when you have set up the rules of the situation’ (Koutsouranis 2013, p.204). However, by setting up erotic images he rather forgets that, in Ann Laura Stoler’s (2002, p.44) words, the ‘[s]exual images illustrate [just] the iconography of rule, not its pragmatics’. As a matter of fact, the pragmatics of what imposes him the rule of the film’s creation will be proved to be a grief that continues to travel from the past to the present through his memories. So the time of the film is passing with his visual encounters with beautiful women and this is something he approves, since he likes ‘time passing in film, because even when nothing seems to happen, there is always something taking place’ (Koutsouranis 2013, p.204). Maybe the key is exactly what is taking place. But if Leth only observes the nothing that seems to happen­­ in the film in which way could this really be significant and therefore shall we be in position to discover what is taking place? In the light of George Pattison’s (1992, p.161) observation that
‘[i]nstead of patiently enduring the burden of time we are all-too-prone to break off waiting and asset the presence of unambiguous meaning in one or other aspect of what must sooner or later be delivered over to decay’,
Leth insists on looking for a miracle against the decay of what gives meaning to his waiting. And if we agree with Gregory J. Markopoulos (2014, p.51) aphorism about the ‘filmmaking and [the] filmmaker who persists before the wonder that is the film’ it is highly probable that we have started on this point to understand the function of the Erotic Man, and thus we are ready to move from his style to the essence of its core.

Wandering in the past
   Jennifer L. Morgan’s (2005, p.59) -almost literal- observation that a man’s wonder can situate a woman’s distance has to be taken as the starting point here. The last of the poems read by Leth during the film concludes with the words: ‘Past tense / I produce past tense / Does he try enough to find her?’. Did he reach in the film’s present a kind of ‘telos of the past’ (Olney 1980b, p.241)? Who is this woman in distance in our case if not Dorothie? During the castings for the actresses in the film, which stand as important part of it, Leth states that the film is about a poet who travels and ‘has love stories in his past that he wants to revive’ by using his memory to recollect them in the present. Even if indeed ‘[v]isual imagery is an important consistent of memory’ (Nicholson 2002, p.62) does Leth actually recreate any memories, at least visually? The answer would be positive if the only memories that he wanted to recreate were the nude women who pose caught in his gaze and resemble with his previous love affairs from different countries. But why it is so crucial for him to travel to Brazil, Panama, Senegal, Venezuela, Philippines, Laos and Eastern Europe -excluding Haiti in which the half of the year he lives- ? Are there any significant differences evoked by what he shoots in all those different destinations, since anyway ‘travel […] entails searching for difference’ (Nicholson 2002, p.62)? And allow me one more question: Is there any possibility in this process to focus in some way only on Dorothie?
   Let us begin our answering by mentioning that not only memory and travel can be ‘means of exploring fragmented selves’ (Russell 1990, p.279), but also that ‘[a]s a diary of a journey, the travelogue’ is able to produce ‘an otherness in the interstices of the fragmented “I” of the filmic, textual self’ (p.280). Of course, the result of a trauma is usually exactly a fragmentation of the self and what Leth seems to need is to heal his trauma somehow and fill these interstices with the erotic images that he shoots in all these different places. Moreover, as Nicholas Thomas (1994, p.6) mentions, travel has frequently ‘affirmed the values and precedence of the centre, under the guise of taking a “genuine”, critical interest in the different spaces of the exotic’. So, through his physical wandering Leth wants to emphasize -relative to the position that he wants to place himself, that of a man in the centre- on his inner one but neither by being critical against the exotic Others nor by himself. A critique would demand the evaluation of his personality’s traits, while he wants to search for its traces beyond ethical and artistic limits, and thus beyond the limits of representation, where ‘exist other realities of experience, desire, memory, and fantasy’ (Russell 1999, p.25). He wanders willing to confront a pre-existing experience that now lies in his memory forming a pre-existing to the film’s world reality in order to reach a new one through his fantasy, in which his desire is reaching a fulfilment. Leth has to use, and thus to sacrifice, his film in order to reach this fulfilment. Through the surpassing of physical frontiers in his wandering, through the failure of his attempt for a difference to be produced in his perception of the pre-existing reality of the trauma, he will be able to perceive his pathos safely. Besides, Georg Lukács (1974, p.161) helps us a lot to understand when he reflects that
‘[t]he double meaning of the frontier is that it is simultaneously a fulfilment and a failure. In a confused way this is the metaphysical background to ordinary life, the simple recognition that a possibility can become a reality only when all other possibilities have been eliminated’.
So the Erotic Man is the medium in which the elimination of the other possibilities has to be reflected. Metaphysically speaking, it functions as a mirror that, if the traumatic loss that Leth experienced created an absence in his memory, it has to reflect nothing. More importantly, it is the gazing of this nothingness that will stand as his achievement.

The speculum for the absence to be reflected
   And now, the context. Five years before the release of the film Jørgen Leth had published in Denmark his memoirs, Det uperfekte menneske: Scener fra mit liv [The Imperfect Man. Scenes from My Life], a book that caused huge scandal there because of the detailed description of his erotic adventures with non-Western young girls from the places he also visits in the film, but especially for his confessions about the relationship that he had had with the underage daughter of his cook in Haiti, Dorothie. She is the one that we see exactly before the opening titles of the film and also after the ending ones. More importantly, within the films apart from the shots when we watch her being nude, Leth visits her in a hotel room to discuss their separation and even to film her while they are having sex for one more time[7]. The reason of their separation, as I have already mentioned, was her desire to leave Haiti, in which Leth spends half of the year, by marrying him and live in Europe as Madam Leth, as she herself characteristically fantasizes. From his references to her in his late books[8] it is clear that she represents something comparatively significant to his sentimental and erotic life and that their separation was something that he was never able to overcome. The above, along with all my preceding analyses, allow us now to perceive his film as mainly an attempt to confront with the grim truth after her.
   Is this process artistically valuable? During my essay the absence of any praise to it should not of course pass unnoticed. I do yet perceive it as successful without relating it exclusively with Leth’s possible success to overcome the loss of one of his lovers. This would be, academically speaking, at least unworthy of notice. What is indeed significant is the mechanism of this therapy, what it is able to introduce philosophically to the possible apparatus of the film and to the way that we can perceive it. But if this has to signal a disturbance to the process of filmic signification it has to mean an ironic perception of the filmic process. Let us cite Denise Riley (2000, p.155) who mentions that ‘[i]rony has its own ethic of appearance, even though it can and have no ambition to be anything more than an appearance’. According to that, where does the irony lie in Jørgen Leth’s project? It lies exactly in what he was caring to appear in the film and the significance of the spectator’s gaze for the achievement of this appearance. Aphoristically speaking, we would be able to claim that he used his fame; fame rightly subdued through over forty films during his career and made his film a medium to travel once again to the same old destinations and watch beautiful girls who were paid to expose their physical beauty for a project of ambiguous artistic value. Leth did not say anything about the significance of his erotic experiences showing thus the vanity of such a venture. Instead of using his artistic skills in order to embrace his tragedy in his creation, he uses his creation as filmic altar for the sacrifice of his art in order to expose the absence of any meaning in his tragedy, -and on this point can we affirm the film’s peculiarity- forcing us in parallel to gaze this absence. Even better, he intends to take the role of the spectator, to gaze his tragedy through us, as a spectator, not a creator behind the camera, but as a spectator in front of the screen.
   Even if, as G. F. Schueler (1995, p.10) mentions, each desire ‘has a distinctive kind of object’, the converse is not necessarily valid. Namely, there is not always a particular mode by which each object can be desired. It is this diversity that Leth desperately searches tortured by his desire for Dorothie. She has to gaze his anamnesis by confronting it and to confront it by gazing it. Even if it has been proved itself a vain process, since it was something that he needed more than at least artistically he was able to demand it, Jacques Lacan’s (2007, p.814) thesis that ‘[d]esire begins to take shape in the margin in which demand rips away from need’ could mean that beyond the filmic world of The Erotic Man, Leth has maybe managed to cross his gaze with what was threatening him.
   In conclusion, Leth needed to confront with his inner gaze the opened like a wound eye, the wound of his traumatic loss, the open one due to her absence, in order to accept the ending of his life which comes closer as the years pass by. While he was doing this in real life the threat could not be averted. He did what Perseus did, wanting to cross Medusa’s gaze: ‘Perseus thus plays one mirror off another, looking at Medusa in a mirror so as not to cross her gaze’ (Derrida 1993, p.87). His film functions like Athena’s shield in the Ancient Greek myth, which as speculum would allow the crossing of the gazes, as much unmeaning as possible, in order, being itself fulgurant, to be able to reflect them. It is the purpose of Leth’s sacrifice, the imperativeness that accrues from the film’s subject-matter which gives meaning if not only to its text, in any case to its being. Preparative to our acceptance of this giving is our firstly having accepted the imperativeness of the sacrifice. Film studies have yet to cover much ground as regards a film’s potentiality as an apparatus of remorseless rehabilitation.

[1] For example, in Truls Lie’s documentary The Seduced Human (2012) Jørgen Leth’s life and work are examined under the three fundamental concepts of the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard, namely the existential notions of desire, doubt and despair.
[2] Besides, as Louis A. Renza (1980, p.271) supports, ‘autobiography is the writer’s de facto attempt to elucidate his present rather than his past’.
[3] Elizabeth W. Bruss (1980, p.306) mentions that ‘the more a film succeeds as an expression of the autobiographer’s personal vision, the less it can claim to be an undistorted record or representation of that person’, since nevertheless ‘[s]elf-description is endemically inconclusive’ (Riley 2000, p.89). 
[4] Suggestively, I mention his films: The Perfect Human (1968), Life in Denmark (1972), Good and Evil (1975) and Notes on Love (1989).
[5] Jørgen Leth has also included shots of such voodoo ceremonies in his films Haïti. Untitled (1996) and Dreamers (2002).
[6] Besides, we should not forget his statement that ‘[e]ven in my documentary films, there is always an element of fiction. For instance, in Erotic Man fiction plays an important role’ (Koutsouranis 2013, p.203).
[7] Interestingly enough, Leth’s dialogues with his colleagues about which is the best way to for her to participate in the film are also part of it.
[8] But also in various interviews.

   Ι would like to express my sincere thanks to Christos Angelakopoulos for his diligent philological support.

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