Come Together

It's November 3. Let the rapture begin.

The revolution will be in the micro, not the macro. The post-election polarization will be bridged by two souls, many truces, one confession at a time. The healing will be done in tabernacles, saloons, bedrooms, and boardrooms; places where the human experience is boiled down to its most primal and universal. Places where we can be reminded--no, where we know--that we're more alike than different. Places like the tiny Australia-based website Beautiful Agony (www.beautifulagony.com).

There really is no other place like it. Most likely it is categorized as a porn site, whatever that means, but even in conventional terms that cast internet sex as pornography and Fox as news, it doesn't stick. There's no nudity, no acting, and no Desperate Housewives mockery of desire; no reality TV pranks or anxious would-be actors trying to outdo one another in sheer heartlessness. It is simply the sight and sound of ordinary young people who are not being beheaded or blown up, but pleasuring themselves.

The site's subhead is facettes de la petite mort, which means "faces of the little death," a reference to French and Arabic slang for the "little death" that is the orgasm. And at a time when the big death is all around us, it is heartening to know that you and I and sailors from all ports in this storm can so easily tune into a gallery of faces whose expressions of rapture are so intense, they could be postmodern, high-tech holy cards.

James O'Brien

Yes. It says here that Beautiful Agony is art, at its most basic: The artist (or "agonee") sets up a video camera in the privacy of his or her home, focusing exclusively on his or her face, and masturbates. Some of the agonees lie on their backs, some on their stomachs, some stand up. Then they mail it in to the good folks at Beautiful Agony, who deem whether or not it fits their standards of "beautiful." So far, there are 151 holy cards in the deck at a site that has been up and running since late last year.

Only subscribers can see all 151, but even the effect of dialing up the three free samples is quiet, erotic, and calming--like staring at a candle, or an aquarium. There is no one yelling at you with opinions or in your face about morality, about what sex should or shouldn't be. Each facette is a song; some are ballads, some are rockers, some you'd like to remix. During Number 120, a hammer can be heard, pounding from the next room.

Number 100 lies on her stomach, her face filling the frame. Her concentration is yoga-rapt, as if she's digging something out of herself. She licks her lips and gulps at the air and her eyes stay away from yours, except when a bedspring pops and breaks the sacred silence and she looks at you with a hint of apology. When she comes, she doesn't shout like they do in the movies. She whimpers, and the silver stud under her lip quivers. At the end, a faint what have we done? smile creases her lips, and she rests her chin on her arm and gazes at you for a split second. Personally, I believe she's triple-dog daring me to follow her lead.

The wispy beard that frames the visage of Number 26 says foreign exchange student, clove cigarettes, The Complete Nina Simone shuffling on the iPod, poetry, and a sullen night ahead at the CC Club. His rainbow-colored sheet and pillow suggest a Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory aesthetic he can't let go of, and a yearning to find someone to make love with, not fuck. There is no foreplay to his seconds-long sample, so his eyes are instantly furtive, his jaw already set and jutting, and when he lets go of his masterpiece, it is with a lot of power and a little desperation. I wonder if his parents are alive.

Number 148 fusses with her hair clip, readies herself, and finally gets over her apparent ADD and gets down to the art at hand. Her tongue darts in and out of her mouth, she turns her head on the pillow and offers her neck to an unseen lover. A bicycle bell rings in the distance, birds chirp, her shoulders quake. When she's done, her soul would seem to be a glass-bottom boat. Then she looks off, a dancer coming out of a trance, slightly embarrassed at how the music took her away. Similarly, seeing Number 1 is like watching someone pray, or a shaman having a vision. Her eyes roll back, time stops, space expands, and she's no longer of this awful place. She makes you want to see what she sees; she makes you wonder what you look like, what noises your lover or best friend or neighbor would make in the throes of such ardor.

In that moment, we are Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, but all he saw was a murder. We get to see the sort of ecstasy that we know so well, but rarely share, and that is medicine. Mysterious. Vulnerable. It is what led Anne Sexton to write "The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator" and Lucinda Williams to sing "Right in Time," but those are relatively circumscribed experiences. Beautiful Agony is the umbilical cord that bonds computers, cubicles, basements, libidos, and maybe even hearts that would otherwise never find a way to each other.

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