Contra mundum

Glimpsed on Pinterest a little while back, this MMS (male-male sex) painting, Contra Mundum by Fyodor Pavlov: a pair of young men kissing, seductive male buttocks highlighted, their Edwardian-picnic amour unfolding beneath the point of a potent abstract phallic design, the down-pointing triangular shape of the male genitals (often given physical form as a hanging bunch of grapes, here as a cluster of leaves on the tree that shades the young men’s secret tryst):

(#1) Packed with further details worthy of comment, among them: the dark-light (paired with dominant-submissive) contrast of the two men, the overarching U of the tree’s branches complementing the cupped U of the submissive man’s body, the red of the strawberries against a mostly b&w composition, the stuffed bear, the vibrant green of the men’s sweaters, the neck of the wine bottle poking out from the confines of the picnic hamper, the phallic reeds on the far shore of the lake

Things to comment on: picnics; contra mundum; and the artist. This turns out to be quite a lot.

Picnics. I’ll edge into the topic with the NOAD entry:

noun picnic: [a] an outing or occasion that involves taking a packed meal to be eaten outdoors: we swam and went on picnics. [b] a packed meal taken on an outing and eaten outdoors: we packed up a picnic and went to the reservoir. [AZ: so, either a food event or the food for such an event]

Typically, these are communal occasions; but intimate tête-à-tête picnics are also possible. As in #1.

Again, typically, the occasions are centered on food and the sharing of pleasant company; but erotically focused picnics are also possible. Again, as in #1.

Then, in Wikipedia, a wonderful grab-bag of material on picnics, including their representation in art.

The most famous picnic in Western art is surely the one in Édouard Manet’s 1862 painting Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass), in which a nude woman picnics with two fully dressed men:

(#2) The painting is suffused with erotic charge, but without any sexual actions (in contrast to #1)

contra mundum. From NOAD:

adv. phrase contra mundum: defying or opposing everyone else. ORIGIN Latin, ‘against the world’.

The young men in #1 are passionately defying the extravagant strictures of their time against the love that dare not speak its name — instead embarking on a kiss that’s foreplay to sub’s getting sweatily pronged by dom, to the loud music of the rooting-pig noises of their mutual satisfaction, right out there on the picnic cloth, with only the little stuffed bear as witness to their grave sin. At least they can feed each other dead-ripe strawberries afterwards, while they lie there amidst the wreckage of their lunch.

Athanasius Contra Mundum. But the queer Edwardian fantasy of Pavlov’s painting strays far from the origins of contra mundum. In the history of the Roman Catholic church.

From Wikipedia:

Athanasius I of Alexandria (c. 296–298 – 2 May 373), also called Athanasius the Great, Athanasius the Confessor, or, among Coptic Christians, Athanasius the Apostolic, was a church father and the 20th pope of Alexandria (as Athanasius I). His intermittent episcopacy spanned 45 years (c. 8 June 328 – 2 May 373), of which over 17 encompassed five exiles, when he was replaced on the order of four different Roman emperors. Athanasius was a Christian theologian, a Church Father, the chief defender of Trinitarianism against Arianism, and a noted Egyptian Christian leader of the fourth century.

Conflict with Arius and Arianism, as well as with successive Roman emperors, shaped Athanasius’ career. In 325, at age 27, Athanasius began his leading role against the Arians as a deacon and assistant to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria during the First Council of Nicaea. Roman Emperor Constantine the Great had convened the council in May–August 325 to address the Arian position that the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, is of a distinct substance from the Father. Three years after that council, Athanasius succeeded his mentor as pope of Alexandria. In addition to the conflict with the Arians (including powerful and influential Arian churchmen led by Eusebius of Nicomedia), he struggled against the Emperors Constantine, Constantius II, Julian the Apostate and Valens. He was known as Athanasius Contra Mundum (Latin for ‘Athanasius Against the World’).

Bonus: Contra Mundum Press. An unexpected find, among various modern uses of contra mundum, is the Contra Mundum Press. From their About page:

Contra Mundum Press is a New York based independent publishing house with a global outlook. Our principal interest is in Modernism and the principles developed by the Modernists, though we also publish challenging and visionary works from other eras.

Our catalog consists of poetry, novels, drama, philosophy, film criticism, and essays & criticism. In the future, we intend on expanding it to include works on architecture, music, & other genres. While we have published bilingual and multilingual books, in accordance with our global outlook, we intend on publishing works in languages other than English. Our vision is informed by a poetics of hospitality, which is enacted through translation. In being a home to lone and often exiled or forgotten voices, CMP serves as a home to world culture, welcoming the voices, and so the lives and experiences, of “foreigners.” From Gilgamesh to Emilio Villa, in publishing translations from as many different languages as we have, CMP not only welcomes strangers into its house, it presents them to the Anglophone world as its honored guests. It is also a way of mutating the Anglophone world, of changing its character, by introducing new hosts into its body. A poetics of contagion.

The primary aim of Contra Mundum is to publish translations of writers who in their use of form and style are à rebours, or who deviate significantly from more programmatic and spurious forms of experimentation. Such writing attests to the volatile nature of modernism. Our preference is for works that have not yet been translated into English, are out of print, or are poorly translated, for writers whose thinking and aesthetics are in opposition to timely or mainstream currents of thought, value systems, or moralities. We also reprint obscure and out-of-print works we consider significant but which have been forgotten, neglected, or overshadowed.

There are many works of fundamental significance to  Weltliteratur (and Weltkultur) that still remain in relative oblivion, works that alter and disrupt standard circuits of thought — these warrant being encountered by the world at large. It is our aim to render them more visible.

Fyodor Pavlov. The creator of #1. From Wikipedia:

(#3) The artist’s logo; Latin vide cor meum ‘see my heart’ (taken from Dante)

Fyodor Borisovich Pavlov-Andreevich (Russian: Фёдор Бори́сович Па́влов-Андрее́вич, April 14, 1976, Moscow, Russia) is a Brazilian artist, curator, and theater director.

Early life and education: Pavlov-Andreevich was born in Moscow to film historian Boris Pavlov and writer Lyudmila Petrushevskaya. He is the great-grandson of the linguist Nikolay Yakovlev, and the great-great-grandson of the Ukrainian Jewish revolutionary Ilya Weger.

He graduated with MA in European literature from Moscow State University’s department of journalism in 1999.

Pavlov-Andreevich first made a name for himself in the 1990s as a young journalist and presenter for Russian print and television outlets. At the end of the 1990s, he began producing projects in the contemporary culture sector. [AZ: At some point he fled to the West, settling in Brazil.]

From the 2000s onward, he has worked as a theater director, performance artist, and curator. He lives between São Paulo and London

… Since day one of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, Pavlov-Andreevich became quite vocal against Putin’s aggression, dedicating both his live work and activism to Ukraine and its defenders.

#3 brings to mind this extraordinary Frida Kahlo painting:

(#4) The Two Fridas (1939); well, there aren’t a lot of vide cor meum paintings around

Pavlov-Andreevich bonus. From about his tarot cards:

Captivating artist Fyodor Pavlov pays tribute to the seminal Smith-Waite Tarot Deck® imagery by creating a hand-painted tarot deck in watercolor and ink that is informed by his personal queer and trans experiences. The result is a tarot deck that is familiar and timeless while exploring new and diverse representations of gender, sexuality and culture. Pavlov artfully introduces queer and non-binary identities while staying true to the canonical tarot meanings. Includes: Two-piece box with gold foil stamping, 78 gold gilt-edged cards with linen finish, foil accented backs and color-themed suits, and 172-page full-color illustrated, hardcover book. [US$35.08 for the deck]


3 Responses to “Contra mundum”

  1. Steven Messamer Says:

    The teddy-bear makes me think this is Charles and Sebastian from Brideshead Revisited

    “If it could only be like this always – always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe, and Aloysius in a good temper…”

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      An excellent idea.

      • arnold zwicky Says:

        Expanding on this. Yes, surely based on a scene from Brideshead Revisited (the book); and the text might even have a contra mundum allusion in it. I’m not going to be able to explore the matter. But I invite someone with the time and resources to explore the connection to prepare a discussion of it that I could then offer as a guest posting on this blog.

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