Sexual Recipe Books: my translation of a Carl von Ossietzky essay.

First published as Sexual-Kochbücher, and under the pseudonym Lucius Schierling, in The World Stage [Die Weltbühne], on April 19, 1927. With thanks to the Hamburg Culture Foundation / Hamburgische Kulturstiftung, for their generous funding of the translation and recording of these essays.

I.

For generations, sex education has led an underground existence in bad pamphlets, printed on recycled paper: educational research’s lingering object of desire. Today, with this arcane lore long since escaped from the catacombs to become a recognised dogma, virtuous doctors who are concerned about humanity’s well-being round off their portfolios in this subject, and make great efforts to initiate their contemporaries, by writing fat tomes: rather like teaching people who have been playing good music for ages what four flats in a key signature means. And thus a rich literature about sex and sexuality has grown up, with insights pretentious and long-winded enough to make any year three grammar school pupil smirk. If, indeed, at all, a mature practitioner would only use this literature out of curiosity, to check how his own façon d’aimer matches up to the latest findings in sexological science.

Readers working through these books get about as much pleasure as they would from a dissertation on disturbed abdominal function. The gentlemen authors are steadfast characters with principles as thick as planks; they manage effortlessly to keep their writing entirely free of grace, in order to avoid the scent of wantonness. Even though they’re only dealing with one moment over hundreds of pages, always just a single moment, wanton is the one thing they are not. Any sense of shame about this does not register, even for a second. And regardless that what they describe is the most arousing sequence of events, they never depart from their mood-killing academic seriousness. It’s like a guy clumsily lighting fireworks, wanting to see his rockets burn even though his hands are wet.

II.

The Strategy of the Male Approach by Dr. Heinrich F. Wolf MD from Vienna has now been published. What a marvellous theme! How much could be exposed in this region, what unconscious comedy could be revealed! That’s exactly the kind of task unsuited to a professional sawmill of feelings, but rather one that should be undertaken by a passionate observer of the human surface, a genial connoisseur of the human face in all its reflection’s of the sensual. Our love strategist, however, has studied books with greater acuity than he has humans. Like a symbol of his erotic clairvoyance, a bibliography is given at the start, where we can view his sources. Where did the industrious doctor teach himself about love? Schönherr’s Devil of a Wife, Sudermann’s In the Gloaming, Porto-Riche’s The Lover,[i] Mommsen’s Roman Stories, and Anton Menger’s Socialist State Law. This is how a descriptive observer prepares himself to tackle such gallant issues. The result: he does not characterize, he categorizes. He divides the men into clever, stupid, sentimental, crude, decent, and deceitful, and the women into emancipated or primitive. He manages this without intimating that life throws such cardboard cut-outs to the dogs each day, and that the state of being in love is utterly disinterested in the fixed masks used in burlesque, improv theatre. That’s what’s wonderfully enchanting about the erotic, it throws people’s usual temperaments to the wind. It turns the clever into donkeys, makes Mr Coarse purr like a poem, lends the wimp the strength of lions, and changes the utterly honest bloke into a nasty so-and-so. The honourable doctor has no angle on why this is funny, as it’s something you might get the gist of from a night in a box-bed, but not from Menger’s Socialist State Law. That’s why this strategy, which presents itself as the purpose of the doctor’s book, will lead the woman, at best, into a highly embarrassing Battle of the Marne[ii]. The doctor wants to compensate the woman for her lack of experience, by giving her arms and a strategic position in the battle with the man; though it’s questionable whether the doctor’s ward wishes to be armed at all. Because the man she will encounter will also take to heart the ancient culinary practice of cooking without a recipe book: you take a bit of this, and a bit of that …

III.

Rather too much has been written on theories of sexuality, and both the psychoanalyst–who’s foolhardy enough to take a fine brush to the corners of the life of the soul, as if it were a larynx–and the scholarly physiologist have employed German thoroughness to turn the simplest thing in the world into a Weltanschauung. Why attach such importance to the subject? The disintegration of old bourgeois morality has made life freer and friendlier. People no longer jump into bed quoting Nietzsche like an Übermensch, only to step into their slippers the next morning like a dehydrated Strindbergian penitent.[iii] Today, we’re on the road to swapping waffle about the problem of the soul for medical waffle instead. I’m sure these authorial, gentlemen doctors are industrious and conscientious compilers of recipes, and their boring style leaves no doubt that they’re reliable tradesmen. We might trust them blindly with our noses, but below the stomach their realm of responsibility stops. 


[i]  The play L‘Amoureuse–or the Lover –by the dramatist Georges de Porto-Riche (1849– 1930), was first performed in 1891.

[ii] The First Battle of the Marne was a WW1 battle fought from September 6-12, 1914, which ended in a significant defeat for the Germans, and marked a turning point in the war. It was widely perceived in Germany as an embarassing defeat: prior to the battle it looked like Germany would take Paris. The head of the German General Staff, von Moltke, had a nervous breakdown and resigned his position following this battle, because of the public perception of failure.

[iii] Penitents appear as characters in a number of Strindberg’s plays, including The Saga of the Folkungs, first staged in 1899.