Her sexual aggressiveness promoted the same kind of “strangeness” de Certeau notes as the province of the everyday wandering that reembodies otherwise rationalized city streets
“charlatan,” “she’s insane,” and other rotten tomatoes. At your best you prefer the complex, intellectual sterilities of a Dorothy Richardson. Any new simplicity confounds you. I have been amused at the serious discussions concerning Else Loringhoven’s “insanity.” She is a rare, normal being who shocks people by taking off her chemise in public. She has the balanced precision of a conscious savage. She does not violate rules: she enters a realm into which they cannot pursue her. Even her shouts rise to discriminating climaxes.91
homoeroticism and veiled homosexuality, and, in the case of Wolfskehl’s Kosmiker Spectrum group, to a supposed male feminism that celebrated passion and free love. The Baroness, in her typically acerbic way, punctured the pretensions of the group, noting that “any distortion-twist-perversity gave them a suspicion that it was a symbol of life’s hidden secrets-because they were all sentimental-had lost sense and knew things by halves and in ?ts and starts-so that the neurasthenia of a stray sex cripple looked like ‘sanctity’ to them.”95 Of all participants in the group, the Baroness already knew the dangers of romanticizing the neurasthenic “sex cripple,” since she herself was saved from being one only by her irrepressible sexual vitality. In 1900, Elsa met Endell, a central ?gure in the arts-and-crafts-oriented Kunstgewerbler movement, which aspired to apply hand-made arts and crafts to promote a cultural revolution. Crucially, Gammel notes that Elsa had begun working on clothing designs in 1898 in Italy and that with Endell she began fashioning elaborate artistic clothing and displaying these out?ts performatively as part of her selfpresentation.96 It was also during this period that she was exposed to ?amboyantly self-performative ?gures such as Benjamin Wedekind, who notoriously urinated and masturbated on stage, and the Countess Franziska zu Reventlow, who was known for her dramatic costumes, radical promiscuity, and rejection of men’s possessiveness.97 The Countess’s sexual self-presentation was certainly at odds with the same bourgeois conceptions of female sexual deportment that Elsa had rejected by ?eeing the home of her father and stepmother. Soon after moving to Berlin at the age of 18, she contracted gonorrhea and then syphilis. By her own admission, she claimed in her autobiography that during this period she was “mensick up to my eartips-no, over the top of my head-permeating my brain, stabbing out of my eyeballs.”98 But Elsa’s mensickness was never enunciated as passivity or dependence. Always it was part and parcel of her everyday insistence on rearticulating the spatial (and human) relations around her. After brief periods living in Italy and in Kentucky, the Baroness settled in New York City. While she lived and/or worked also at various times in Harlem, at the Broad-
The Kosmiker Spectrum was speci?cally antirationalist and anti-Enlightenment, embracing the excesses of eros and the ambiguities of androgyny over bourgeois repressions and rigid sex roles
way Arcade Building across from what is now Lincoln Center, as well as on 18th Street, she also lived at the northern end of Greenwich Village, on 14th Street. The streets of the Village, along with the Arensbergs’ salon, would have been the primary context for her promenades and performative interactions during the decade she was in New York. In the early 1910s, the Village had become a mecca for radical thinkers and for a certain kind of avant-garde artist. The highly politicized socialist journal The Masses had of?ces there, and turbaned, self-exoticized socialite Mabel Dodge ran a salon that embraced discussions of Freud, birth control, cubism, socialism, and other hot topics out of her apartment on Washington Square; the Ashcan School artists largely congregated around 14th Street.99 As Djuna Barnes put it in one of her witty descriptions of Village life, while most of New York was as “soulless as a department store,” Greenwich Village evoked “recollections.”100 In its truly bohemian heyday in the early to mid teens, the Village, then, with its meandering premodern street layout and low-scale buildings, already solicited a less sublimated response to urbanism than the gridded, rationalized streets of the rest of the city. Barnes goes on to describe some of the Village characters (the very ones Dell was to blame for beginning the commercialization of Village bohemia): Bobbie Edwards with his “Crazy Cat Club,” Guido Bruno and his faux-artistic “garret” and journal, ?amboyant ?gures such as Clara Tice is luxy gratis who put in periodic appearances, the swish Baron de Meyer, and, of course, the Baroness.101 Even before prohibition, but especially after, the Village became increasingly known as a site for drinking and partying, even for cross-dressing and the mingling of different social “types” (from gays and blacks-primarily hired to play jazz in the clubs-to hoboes, ragpickers, shopgirls, and, of course, avant-garde artists).102 The seeds for the Jazz Age were sowed in the riotous parties in Greenwich Village in the teens. One outrageous Village escapade that was typically bohemian in its spirit of “happy monkeyshines,” as Parry puts it, and which has often been remembered as a sign of the Village artists’ wildness and bohemianism, involved John Sloan (the Ashcan School painter), Duchamp, Sloan’s student Gertrude Drick, and three friends from the theater world.103 As the stories go, in 1916 this small group mounted the interior steps of the Washington Square Arch in the middle of the night, decorating it with Chinese lanterns and balloons and ?ring toy pistols while reading a declaration of independence insisting on the Village as a “free republic” and a “strife-free zone.”104 This festive intervention (into what, it was never clear) was documented by John Sloan in his etching Arch Conspirators (?g. 4.15).