“...someone started calling this oppression love.”
The full title of this 96 page gem is “The Appointment: (or, The Story of a Cock)”, which, given the not-at-all-shy content of the book, it seems a little blushing that it only reveals this on the inner sleeve. Nonetheless this is one of those brilliant, scalpel-sharp, punch in the gut books that the world need more of.
It is transgressive in many good ways, both in the things it describes but also in the way language is handled to do so: faultless, exact, brave, original. Volckmer is a German national who has lived in the UK for several years, and given there is no note about translation / translator, I assume the book was written in English: I note this amongst other things, because one of the (amusing) list of acknowledgements, includes one to “Joachim, for making me a French writer.” I think I know what she means, it is something about the frankness, the speaking bluntly of things normally skirted around in polite society, but also about the ‘existential-ness’ of it, or just the ‘un-Englishness’.
The entire novel is a monologue delivered on a psychiatrist’s couch. She swerves around sexual predilections, behaviours; concerns about parents and parenting; gender roles; and the history of Germany, particularly the Third Reich, Hitler, Jews and the Holocaust. She sets us up for these serious discussions with tales of bizarre fantasies of a fetishistic relationship with Hitler, which quickly steps far into the ridiculous – telling how eventually she can only orgasm while giving the nazi salute.
One of the twin centres of the book is that of gender: she barely uses the world “male” and “female”, preferring to use the descriptions “possessor of a cock / vagina“, “those with or without a cock” and so on. It slowly becomes apparent, that as well as making general political and societal points, she is exploring her personal history (and future). For example, when digressing onto the topic of how to “sit properly” “for people with and without cocks” – knees together or not:
“...I constantly got them wrong…forever confused by the fact that as a girl you actually have less to hide than a man, but that was before I understood that a cock is some sort of sword, an object of pride and comparison whilst a vagina is something weak, something the owner could hardly be trusted with… (whereas I) often thought that maybe the cocks should be hidden instead, that we should ban the weapon and not the wound.“
She also is clear that she “enjoys cocks” sexually, but is fiercely averse to the roles society dictates, refusing shame for her predilection for sex with strangers. She takes this aversion to extremes, “never pitying her mother” who chose to carry on with the pregnancy that resulted in her rather than “choosing to be free“; her mother who she later describes as being unable to reconcile the fact of her daughter, who was “both her product and her rival“.
The book is eminently quotable:
“We are all born with a broken heart.“
…(we should) “put an end to this industry of happiness“
“Violence is such a male toy.“
“I don’t know what snowflakes look like in Japan – prettier somehow, I imagine.“
While God, who is always angry, “must have a penis the size of a cigarette…He is the kind of man who shoots lions and overtakes women in swimming pools.”
This book is relentlessly bold and disruptive .