Salome's Dance

"It is no coincidence that the vogue for SALOME should manifest itself simultaneously with the growing prominence of the 'New Woman'.

The Figure of the Dancer: Salome. Sylvia C. Ellis



It is a question of price. Value. Meaning.

Notes for further development. 1 January 2001

1.  Is it worth the exchange? The temple prostitute, initiated into the pagan mysteries, the seven veils, as yet unravished: Salome's maidenhead, for the head of John the Baptist, dreaming of the kingdom of heaven and the seductive death of the maiden?

Rather be fucked by Herod, surely, and get half a real kingdom? La femme moderne ... who can tell the dancer from the dance?

2.  Love's Body. Through the murder of Salome we entered history.

"I saw a temple all of gold that none did dare to enter in ... "

3. Ophelia. Antigone ... Crazy Jane. Tiresias the celebrated whore. Ecstasy, the severed head.

4.  "For representation is the dance of Salome —capable of such power that it can kill, so dangerous in its strength that, like all divinities, it need never be described, but only sensed, imagined; so convincing that it can generate the notion of history and of politics that it chooses.

Literature is, among many other things, a chronicle of the history of representations; of the extent to which representation is glorified, vilified, feared, worshipped, repressed, foregrounded. The presentation of a portrait in a text particularizes the hierarchical stance writing wishes to assume in the face not only of the erotic image (which writing always strains to reduce to its own medium), but of representation itself as well. 

... Literature, like Echo, may have lost its own discourse—unable to "speak first", it can only repeat, mimetically**, the brand of representation that encloses it."

5.  (*** develop mimetic/plagiarism and mimetic/coincidence. Caduceus -inter-textuality)

6.  I will 'present' these fragments of text for the reader to fuse into meaning .... beyond the words. Colour with their own context ... enveil and unveil (your choice) the naked girl, legs open, blindfolded, the vision of the past through which we were born, the future through which we will die—the mask of the seven coloured veils of the rainbow ... 

7. Who can tell the entrancer, from the trance?


And in the night, my soul, my daughter,

Cry, clutching heaven by the hems,

And Lo! Christ walking on the water,

Not of Genesareth, but Thames ...

Francis Thomson:

You can find him, he's still around ...

Walking the waters, rather than drinking them ...

9.  Her hair, powdered in a violet sand, and gathered in circles according to the style of Canaanite virgins, seemed to make her larger. Tresses of pearls attached to her temples dangled nearly to the corners of her mouth, rosy as an open pomegranate. On her breast was an assemblage of gleaming stones, imitating by their medley the scales of a muraena. Her arms, garnered with diamonds, emerged naked from her sleeveless tunic, which was spangled with red flowers on a black field. Between her ankles she wore a small chain of gold to regulate her gait, and her great coat of deep purple, fashioned from an unknown material, trailed behind her. [P.12}

Amid the heady odour of these perfumes, in the overheated atmosphere of the basilica, Salome slowly glides forward on the points of her toes, her left arm stretched in a commanding gesture, her right bent back and holding a great lotus-blossom beside her face, while a woman squatting on the floor strums the strings of a guitar.

With a withdrawn, solemn, almost august expression on her face, she begins the lascivious dance which is to rouse the aged Herod's dormant senses; her breasts rise and fall, the nipples hardening at the touch of the whirling necklaces; the strings of diamonds glitter against her moist flesh; her bracelets, her belts, her rings all spit out fiery sparks; and across her triumphal robe, sewn with pearls, patterned with silver, spangled with gold, the jewelled cuirass, of which every chain is a precious stone, seems to be ablaze with little snakes of fire, swarming over the mat flesh, over the tea-rose skin, like gorgeous insects with dazzling shards, mottled with carmine, spotted with pale yellow, speckled with steel blue, striped with peacock green. [P.64]

10. As previously noted, Flaubert was already inspired to write on Salome after his trip to Pont-l'Évêque and Honfleur. His work on Hérodias was delayed by the long completion of Un Coeur Simple, finished in August. On August 17, Flaubert writes to his niece Caroline, 'Now that I am finished with Félicité, Hérodias presents itself and I see (clearly, as I see the Seine) the surface of the Dead Sea glistening in the sun. Herod and his wife are on a balcony, from which one can glimpse the golden tiles of the Temple' (Correspondance, p.341). See also Robert Baldick's 'Introduction' to the English translation of Flaubert's Trois contes: Three Tales (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1965), p. 14.

11.  Perhaps, too, in arming his enigmatic goddess with the revered lotus-blossom, the painter had been thinking of the dancer, the mortal woman, the soiled vessel, ultimate cause of every sin and every crime; perhaps he had remembered the sepulchral rites of ancient Egypt, the solemn ceremonies of embalmment, when practitioners and priests lay out the dead woman's body on a slab of jasper, then with curved needles extract her brains through the  nostrils, her entrails through an opening made in the left side, and finally, before gilding her nails and her teeth, before anointing the corpse with oils and spices, insert into her sexual parts, to purify them, the chaste petals of the divine flower. [Pp. 66-67]

12.  With a gesture of horror, Salome tries to thrust away the terrifying vision which holds her nailed to the spot, balanced on the tips of her toes, her eyes dilated, her right hand clawing convulsively at her throat.

She is almost naked; in the heat of the dance her veils have fallen away and her brocade robes slipped to the floor, so that now she is clad only in wrought metals and translucent gems. A gorgerin grips her waist like a corselet, and like and outsized clasp a wondrous jewel sparkles and flashes in the cleft between her breasts; lower down, a girdle encircles her hips, hiding the upper part of her thighs, against which dangles a gigantic pendant glistening with rubies and emeralds; finally, where the body shows bare between gorgerin and girdle, the belly bulges, dimpled by a navel which resembles a graven seal of onyx with its milky hues and its rosy finger-nail tints. [Pp. 67-68]

13.  Has not man for his part, by his own efforts, produced an animate yet artificial creature that is every bit as good from the point of view of plastic beauty? Does there exist anywhere on this earth, a being conceived in the joys of fornication and born in the throes of motherhood who is more dazzlingly, more outstandingly beautiful than the two locomotives recently put into service on the Northern Railway? [P.37]

14.  It was at that time that reports about Jesus reached the ears of Prince Herod. 'This is John the Baptist,' he said to his attendants; 'John has been raised to life, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.'

Now Herod had arrested John, put him in chains, and thrown him into prison, on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife; for John had told him: 'You have no right to her.' Herod would have liked to put him to death, but he was afraid of the people, in whose eyes John was a prophet. But at his birthday celebrations the daughter of Herodias danced before the guests, and Herod was so delighted that he took an oath to give her anything she cared to ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, 'Give me here on a dish the head of John the Baptist.' The king was distressed when he heard it; but out of regard for his oath and for his guests, he ordered the request to be granted, and had John beheaded in prison. The head was brought in on a dish and given to the girl; and she carried it to her mother. Then John's disciples came and took away the body, and buried it; and they went and told Jesus.

When he heard what had happened Jesus withdrew privately by boat to a lonely place; but people heard of it, and came after him in crowds by land from the towns.

Now King Herod heard of it, for the fame of Jesus had spread; and people were saying, 'John the Baptist has been raised to life, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.' Others said, 'It is Elijah.' Others again, 'He is a prophet like one of the old prophets.' But Herod, when he heard of it, said, 'This is John, whom I beheaded, raised from the dead.' [Mark 6:14-16]

For this same Herod had sent and arrested John and put him in prison on account of his brother Philip's wife Herodias, whom he had married. John had told Herod, 'You have no right to your brother's wife.' Thus Herodias nursed a grudge against him and would willingly have killed him, but she could not; for Herod went in awe of John, knowing him to be a good and holy man; so he kept him in custody. He liked to listen to him, although the listening left him greatly perplexed.

Herodias found her opportunity when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet to his chief officials and commanders and the leading men of Galilee. Her daughter came in and danced, and so delighted Herod and his guests that the king said to the girl, 'Ask what you like and I will give it to you.' And he swore an oath to her: 'Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.' She went out and said to her mother, 'What shall I ask for?' She replied, 'The head of John the Baptist.' The girl hastened back at once to the king with her request: 'I want you to give me here and now, on a dish, the head of John the Baptist.' The king was greatly distressed, but out of regard for his oath and for his guests he could not bring himself to refuse her. So the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. The soldier went off and beheaded him in the prison, brought the head on a dish, and gave it to the girl; and she gave it to her mother.

When John's disciples heard the news, they came and took his body away and laid it in a tomb. [6:17-29]

15.  The Salome of Huysmans, moreover, is also born of a vision that privileges speech—this despite the fact that the audile has been replaced by an emphasis on the visual. Like the passages in the Gospels, this Salome's power rests in her insistence upon taking the words literally. If it is her dance that extracts the rash oath from Herod; it is also the same assumption that the word is truth that leads to the decapitation of the Baptist. The Salome of Moreau and her verbal rendition by Huysmans, then, is a mimetic elaboration, both ideological and figural, of the logo-centrism informing the writings of the Gospels. In the texts of the Gospels as well as of Huysmans, writing is secondary to presence: in the former, writing serves solely to convey the Word of Jesus; in the latter, it serves only to 'bring to life' the Salome of Moreau's canvas.

"Let it be known that the ballerina is not a woman dancing; that, within those juxtaposed motifs, she is not a woman, but a metaphor that summarizes one of the elemental aspects of our form, sword, goblet, flower, etc., and that she is not dancing, suggesting, by the wonder of ellipses or bounds, with a corporeal writing, that which would take entire paragraphs of dialogued as well as descriptive prose to express in written composition: a poem detached from all instruments of the scribe."

What Mallarmé sees in the dance, the texts we have discussed do not. And it is in this sense that the unimaginable dance of Salome in these texts—as unimaginable for Matthew, Mark, and Luke (who does not even mention it) as it is to Huysmans (who is limited to describing Salome's attire and the movements of parts of her body, but never 'the dance' as a full moment) — is a metaphor for writing in the logocentric perspective. For that which is believed to be the transparent tool of 'real' meaning need never be acknowledged. If Mallarmé succeeds in de-automatizing writing, it is by admitting that there is no dance, and no woman dancing. But for the writing of the Gospels as well as for Mallarmé, there is always a dance, always a woman dancing—and her name is Salome.



The Japanese Moon Moth: her lover

"She feels it happening in an aerial region, just beyond her body, the formation of a finer form, whose stages proceed once again by the manifestation of light. But it's a thin light now, and thread-like, spinning round her through the night. Warmth pervades her, and signals enter her head in comb-like patterns, bringing visions of existence so delicious she stirs impatiently and works to penetrate her cocoon of light, while her mortal body sleeps below, insensate, dreamless.

Or, she asks herself, am I its dream?

Her soul form breaks through its silken girdle; she emerges.

'Japanese moon moth!' wails the cricket. 'We are estranged.'

She flies around him, emitting her attractant. 'We can make it work,' she says, and flutters down beside him.

They circle and dance, but each movement in the mating flight must be precisely that of the other, must correspond exactly, and they do not know each other's code.

Their passion searches madly. The moon moth is in frenzy and the cricket is in tears, for he knows how impossibly intricate the password is.

He improvises, but across these boundaries no one goes."

Herr Nightingale and the Satin Woman

William Kotzwinkle.




SALOME: Oscar Wilde

Introduction by Robert Ross to the play's text, published in 1894,

with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley

"Salome has made the author's name a household word wherever the English language is not spoken. Few English plays have such a peculiar history. Written in French in 1892 it was in full rehearsal by Madame Bernhardt at the Palace Theatre when it was prohibited by the Censor. Oscar Wilde immediately announced his intention of changing his nationality, a characteristic jest, which was only taken seriously, oddly enough, in Ireland. The interference of the Censor has seldom been more popular or more heartily endorsed by English critics. On its publication in book form 'Salome' was greeted by a chorus of ridicule, and it may be noted in passing that at least two of the more violent reviews were from the pens of unsuccessful dramatists, while all those whose French never went beyond Ollendorff were glad to find in that venerable school classic an unsuspected asset to their education—a handy missile with which to pelt 'Salome' and its author. The correctness of the French was, of course, impugned, although the script had been passed by a distinguished French writer, to whom I have heard the whole work attributed. The Times, while depreciating the drama, gave its author credit for a tour de force, in being capable of writing a French play for Madame Bernhardt, and this drew from him the following letter : —  


Thursday, March 2, 1893, p. 4.

Mr Oscar Wilde on 'Salome'

To the editor of The Times.

SIR, My attention has been drawn to a review of 'Salome' which was published in your columns last week. The opinions of English critics on a French work of mine have, of course, little, if any, interest for me. I write simply to ask you to allow me to correct a misstatement that appears in the review in question.

The fact that the greatest tragic actress of any stage now living saw in my play such beauty that she was anxious to produce it, to take herself the part of the heroine, to lend to the entire poem the glamour of her personality, and to my prose the music of her flute-like voice—this was naturally, and always will be, a source of pride and pleasure to me, and I look forward with delight to seeing Mme. Bernhardt present my play in Paris, that vivid centre of art, where religious dramas are often performed. But my play was in no sense of the words written for this great actress. I have never written a play for any actor or actress, nor shall I ever do so. Such work is for the artisan in literature—not for the artist. 

   I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,

                                                         OSCAR WILDE


When 'Salome was translated into English by Lord Alfred Douglas, the illustrator, Aubrey Beardsley, shared some of the obloquy heaped on Wilde. It is interesting that he should have found inspiration for his finest work in a play he never admired, and by a writer he cordially disliked. The motives are, of course, made to his hand, and never was there a more suitable material for that odd tangent art in which there are no tactile values. The amusing caricatures of Wilde which appear in the Frontispiece, 'Enter Herodias' and 'The Eyes of Herod,'* are the only pieces of vraisemblance in these exquisite designs. The colophon is a real masterpiece and a witty criticism of the play as well.

On the production of 'Salome' by the New Stage Club in May, 1905, (1) the dramatic critics again expressed themselves vehemently, vociferating their regrets that the play had been dragged from its obscurity. The obscure drama, however, had become for five years past part of the literature of Europe. It is performed regularly or intermittently in Holland, Sweden, Italy, France, and Russia, and it has been translated into every European language including the Czech.

* [Also in 'A platonic Lament.' — PUB.]


(1) A more recent performance of 'Salome' (1906), by the Literary Theatre Club, has again produced an ebullition of rancour and deliberate misrepresentation on the part of the dramatic critics, the majority of whom are anxious to parade their ignorance of the continental stage. The production was remarkable on account of the beautiful dresses and mounting, for which Mr. Charles Ricketts was responsible, and the marvellous impersonation of Herod by Mr. Robert Farquharson. Wilde used to say that 'Salome' was a mirror in which everyone could see himself. The artist, art; the dull, dulness; the vulgar, vulgarity

It forms part of the repertoire of the German stage, where it is performed more often than any play by any English writer except Shakespeare. Owing, perhaps, to what I must call its obscure popularity in the continental theatres, Dr. Strauss was preparing his remarkable opera at the very moment when there appeared the criticisms to which I refer, and since the production of the opera in Dresden in December, 1905, English musical journalists and correspondents always refer to the work as founded on Wilde's drama. That is the only way in which they can evade an awkward truth—a palpable contravention to their own wishes and theories. The music, however, has been set to the actual words of 'Salome' in Madame Hedwig Lachmann's admirable translation. The words have not been transfigured into ordinary operatic nonsense to suit the score, or the susceptibilities of the English people. I observe that admirers of Dr. Strauss are a little mortified that the great master should have found an occasion for composition in a play which they long ago consigned to oblivion and the shambles of Aubrey Beardsley. Wilde himself, in a rhetorical period, seems to have contemplated the possibility of his prose drama for a musical theme. In 'De Profundis' he says: 'The refrains, whose recurring motifs make 'Salome' so like a piece of music, and bind it together as a ballad.'

He was still incarcerated in 1896, when Mons. Luigne Poë* produced the play for the first time at the Théâtre Libre in Paris,

* [Aurélien François Lugné - Poë, 1869-1940. PUB.]


with Lina Muntz in the title role. A rather pathetic reference to this occasion occurs in a letter Wilde wrote to me from Reading; —

'Please say how gratified I was at the performance of my play, and have my thanks conveyed to Luigne Poë. It is something that at a time of disgrace and shame I should still be regarded as an artist. I wish I could feel more pleasure, but I seem dead to all emotions except those of anguish and despair. However, please let Luigne Poë know that I am sensible of the honour he has done me. He is a poet himself. Write to me in answer to this, and try and see what Lemaire, Bauer, and Sarcey* said of 'Salome'.

The bias of personal friendship precludes me from praising or defending 'Salome', even if it were necessary to do so. Nothing I might say would add to the reputation of its detractors. Its sources are obvious; particularly Flaubert and Maeterlinck, in whose peculiar and original style it is an essay. A critic, for whom I have greater regard than many of his contemporaries, says that 'Salome' is only a catalogue; but a catalogue can be intensely dramatic, as we know when the performance takes place at Christie's; few plays are more exciting than an auction in King Street when the stars are fighting for Sisera.

*[Jules Lemaitre, 1853-1914; Francisque Sarcey, 1828-1899;

drama critics. — PUB.]


It has been remarked that Wilde confuses Herod the Great (Mat. xi. I),* Herod Antipas  (Mat. xiv. 3), and Herod Agrippa (Acts xiii), but the confusion is intentional, as in mediæval mystery plays Herod is taken for a type, not an historical character, and the criticism is about as valuable as that of people who laboriously point out the anachronisms in Beardsley's designs. With reference to the charge of plagiarism brought against 'Salome' and its author, I venture to mention a personal recollection.

Wilde complained to me one day that someone in a well-known novel had stolen an idea of his. I pleaded in defence of the culprit that Wilde himself was a fearless literary thief. 'My dear fellow,' he said, with his usual drawling emphasis, 'when I see a monstrous tulip with four wonderful petals in someone else's garden, I am impelled to grow a monstrous tulip with five wonderful petals, but that is no reason why someone should grow a tulip with only three petals.'



* [Matthew ii, I — PUB.]




"The Dancer as Wave Form."

But perhaps the most startling finding Pribram uncovered was Russian scientist Nikolai Bernstein's discovery that even our physical movements may be encoded in our brains in a language of Fourier wave forms. In the 1930s Bernstein dressed people in black leotards and painted white dots on their elbows, knees, and other joints. Then he placed them against black backgrounds and took movies of them doing various physical activities such as dancing, walking, jumping, hammering, and typing.

When he developed the film, only the white dots appeared, moving up and down and across the screen in various complex and flowing movements. To quantify his findings he Fourier-analyzed the various lines the dots traced out and converted them into a language of wave forms. To his surprise, he discovered the wave forms contained hidden patterns that allowed him to predict his subjects' next movement to within a fraction of an inch.

When Pribram encountered Bernstein's work he immediately recognized its implications. Maybe the reason hidden patterns surfaced after Bernstein Fourier-analyzed his subject's movements was because that was how movements are stored in the brain. This was an exciting possibility, for if the brain analyzed movements by breaking them down into their frequency components, it explained the rapidity with which we learn many complex physical tasks. For instance, we do not learn to ride a bicycle by painstakingly memorizing every tiny feature of the process. We learn by grasping the whole flowing movement. The fluid wholeness that typifies how we learn so many physical activities is difficult to explain if our brains are storing information in a bit-by-bit manner. But it becomes much easier to understand if the brain is Fourier-analyzing such tasks and absorbing them as a whole.



see also The Risen


YEATS ....

Being developed ...




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