Thursday, July 31, 2008

the marquis & me - 4

Reality, of course, is a matter of balancing attractions and pleasures [not always carnal] with the responsibility and effort inherent in getting ahead and nurturing offspring and enhancing the civilization apparently born of sublimation. With all this in mind, I’ve recently read, more closely than ever before, that perverse mixture of sexual fantasy and libertarian philosophy, the Marquis de Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom.

When I first discovered the work of the far-from-divine Marquis, I laughed a lot. Laughter relieved my discomfort, as well as allowing me to feel unshockably sophisticated. Clearly his work was a joke, a finger up the arse of public taste and public morality. He was simply upending all that we claim to hold dear – family, religion, fellow-feeling, ‘common decency’ – and he had the audacity not only to travesty these values in his fictions, but to defend such a travesty intellectually, or pretend to. I’ve never been quite sure how seriously to take him.

In any case, as I’ve grown older, the joke has worn thin. More importantly, as one grows older, one is less able to think of ideas in a vacuum, one thinks of impacts, possible or actual. Sade’s arguments always go to extremes, but diluted versions of them are still to be found among modern libertarians, not to say libertines.

I should point out the difference – at least my working difference – between libertinism [what Sade calls libertinage] and libertarianism, a version of which he was advocating in Philosophy in the Bedroom, specifically in the section called ‘Yet another effort, Frenchmen, if you are to become Republicans’. Libertarianism, usually associated with the political right these days, is all about freedom from state control, and obviously libertinage, freedom of sexual action, can be seen as entailed by such a libertarian philosophy. Sade certainly thought so.

Philosophy in the Bedroom was written in 1795, after the French Revolution and the reign of terror under Robespierre. This was during a rare period of personal freedom for Sade, who’d been imprisoned for years under the ancien regime, and was to be so again with the advent of Napoleon. Not that we should feel too sorry for him – his activities, if repeated today, would keep the tabloid journals churning over for a lifetime. Though he’ll always have his defenders, it’s pretty clear that he was a serial rapist and sex offender who, especially during his young adulthood, before his reputation overtook him, used his aristocratic position to procure pleasures for himself at the expense of the relatively powerless. His crimes were far from victimless.

‘Yet another effort, Frenchmen, if you are to become Republicans’ is divided into two sections, ‘Religion’ and ‘Manners’, though he doesn’t keep to these subjects very tightly. Needless to say, Sade was an atheist, and he took advantage of the contemporary talk of liberty to urge his compatriots to jettison ‘this puerile religion’, Christianity. His warnings about the probable resurgence of the church have a certain prescience:

Before ten years are out – utilizing the Christian religion, its superstitions, its prejudices – your priests, their pledges notwithstanding and though despoiled of their riches, are sure to reassert their empire over the souls they shall have undermined and captured; they shall restore the monarchy, because the power of kings has always reinforced that of the church; and your republican edifice, its foundations eaten away, shall collapse.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

surface touchings

In between science reading – Stephen Jay Gould and New Scientist – and a rereading of The God Delusion, even more enjoyable the second time, I’ve been working slowly through a travel book and history book of sorts, Microcosms by Claudio Magris. I’ve always liked this sort of stuff, personal, informed meditations on places and the people who’ve been or gone there before, eg in the work of Jonathan Raban and Cees Nooteboom. Magris always works in a minor key, his word selections carefully odd but understated, a relief from the occasionally overblown [but always thought-provoking and informative] Gould. I’m only an armchair traveler myself, but I wonder if everyone else is as mystified by the places he mentions, even though they’re ‘only’ in Italy. Thanks to the net, I’ve found his current place-names [Morgo, Grado] in the Friuli at the top of the Adriatic, near Slovenia, and Alto Adige is at the very top of Italy. It includes the town of Meran [Merano], so favourably mentioned by Kafka in his letters to Milena. Magris’ descriptions shift subtly from landscape to poets and characters of place, of local distinction, or perhaps forgotten. It’s quietly enlivening, if you will.

Agave – they are what I thought they were, and the pronunciation is uh-gah’-vay.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

more education, less religion

Delighted to hear recently that, overall, teenage pregnancies have fallen to a virtual all-time low in Australia [they've been steady at that low rate for a few years now] though there are still problems in the top end and in rural areas.

This is an impressive result considering that the stigma attached to teenage pregnancy is surely much less than it used to be. Leaving aside planned pregnancies, it would seem that teenage pregancy is largely a result of ignorance and/or carelessness. Not that I want to sound callous about it, for it's often the most traumatic event in a young person's life, and it can often lead to retreat from the kind of assistance that's generally readily available these days.

The good thing is that the reduced numbers are another stab to the heart of the death cults with their anti-contraception and anti-sex prejudices. These cults are being increasingly rejected in our society, which is growing more healthy as a result.

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let's keep on pluggin

godlessness - is it worth it?

Thank anyone but the gods for the internationalism of the net. I read this beauty via Pharyngula.


Monday, July 21, 2008

the marquis and me - 3

This time with an exquisitely beautiful young woman many years my junior. The initial impact was perfect, just as I’d wanted it. She was deeply impressed, so she assured me. IMHO, it was one of my best productions, and I’d used it to cross a threshold I would never have been able to cross otherwise, to introduce myself. We got on well, I thought, though the process was slow. She was quiet, intelligent, wary, promising. I soon reached a point with her where I felt the need to take another risk, rather than having the connection gradually fritter away. So I wrote another letter, then another, I couldn’t stop myself, though they weren’t personal, or I should say intimate, letters, just the unburdening of pent-up ideas and reflections. It was another disastrous error. She treated me, no doubt on the advice of friends, as mad bad and dangerous to know, and cut me dead.

My last effort, or error, occurred in the email era. This probably explains why, unlike the previous females, my third victim at least offered me a couple of perfunctory responses and again the overwhelmingly negative reaction in the end stunned me.

These successive rejections profoundly affected my confidence in the romance game. Until quite recently, women had generally found me attractive, viewed from afar. I’d tried to cultivate a self-contained, intellectual air, which, it seemed, attracted quite a few attractive women. I cleverly avoided saying a single word to these women [actually it wasn’t hard], and the air of erotic mystery was preserved. We went alone to our beds, mutually fantasizing, I like to hope.
My real sex life was pretty well non-existent. I blamed my poverty. I argued to myself that it would be best not to talk to these women as I hadn’t the wherewithal to show them a good time or even to offer them a comfortable bed. I was protecting them from a disastrous match, or even a disappointing assignation [performance anxiety was another issue]. But how lovely some of those women were, and how horny.

I’ve now well and truly gone to seed, though my sex drive is as strong as ever. My confidence is at such a low ebb that I can no longer even imagine having sex with those women who’ve remained as young and beautiful as ever as I’ve grown older, fatter, smellier and uglier. Perhaps if women still looked at me as they used to I might picture myself pleasuring them as I used to, but now they look hornily at others, so I obligingly imagine them doing it with them. I just hope they don’t mind me watching their imaginary shenanigans.

This brings me to sexual perversion, pornography, freedom, society and the future.

I’m not sure if I’m a sex addict, but I don’t involve anyone else in my sexual preoccupations, at least not directly. In any case I’ve never felt any guilt about sex, as masturbation, and only a slight tinge of guilt regarding fantasizing over others. This is perhaps because I don’t treat other people horribly, even in fantasy. I’m not much of a sexual fetishist, and I don’t fantasise about leather, rubber, whips, clamps, coprophilia, humiliation or brutality. My almost sole sexual delight consists in fantasising beautiful women giving themselves over to sexual bliss. The greatest turn-on comes from beauty expressing ecstacy, or sexual surprise or satiety or hunger. Priceless and addictive, it’s easy to comprehend feeling numb to all but that. Particularly easy for me, so unschooled in in the practicalities and problems inherent in real romantic liaisons, to fall prey to the delightful daydream of life as a succession of pleasurings and orgasms.

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Libertinage & libertarianism, individualism & society, the Marquis & me - 2

My first experience of this kind was at sixteen or seventeen. I fell for the ex-girlfriend of a friend, and instinctively felt, being a timid type but not without pretentions to genius, that I would make my best impression via the written word. This was particularly brought home to me after my first visit to her home. I’d gotten her address from my friend, and dug up the enormous courage required to knock on her door. The usual scenario pertained, I walked up and down her short street, appraising her house, examining the windows, wondering which one belonged to her bedroom, if she was in there, or in the living room with her family, or having a bath…
She was surprised and a little disconcerted at my appearance on her doorstep – we knew each other socially of course, but not enough for her ever to expect a visit – and invited me into the kitchen where a group of her friends had gathered. I’d seen none of them before, and I didn’t say a word for the rest of the visit. I went away feeling a gross failure, and, after brooding awhile on my plight, decided to write her a letter as full of energy and bounce as my visit had been full of dead weight. Naturally I tried to disguise while obliquely emphasizing the romance at its heart, aiming to flatter her perspicacity rather than her beauty. In fact she was no great beauty but she had style and a spontaneous brightness I longed to possess and play with.
I was on tenterhooks afterwards, but I felt it would be rude not to follow this letter up quite quickly with a visit, in case explanations were needed, or awkward mysteries had been created. On this occasion she was alone – apart from her family of course – and, it being a balmy night, she sat out on the porch with me, in her dressing gown. I thought that this was a more successful visit, but I was probably wrong. I’d imagined perhaps that, after the letter, my presence would be sufficiently awe-inspiring, and felt little need to embellish it with conversation. I was obviously more comfortable with the silences than she was.
As always on looking back, these amatory excursions have an inevitability about their ending. I soon reflected that my presence was a disappointment, and resolved again to reveal my real self through another letter, and then another, until the return to sender stamp set me to rights and seared my heart.
The point is that, though my personal preoccupations were quite different from those of Kafka, there was a similarity in my motive for writing – to pour out the material of my pent-up musings to a real, particular person, to fashion them to please her, and hopefully, though it was ever a very small hope, to have them reflected back at me in a fruitfully unexpected fashion. To genuinely communicate.

I would’ve done better to have chosen women who liked writing. I was almost cured by this first failure, and it was more than twenty years before I tried again.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Libertinage & libertarianism, individualism & society, the Marquis & me.

at least they kept his letters

The following is the first part of a lengthy essay I'm writing on the above subject, though hopefully I'll find a better title for it before I'm finished.

I’m an obscure individual who once had a book published, a cross between a novel and a memoir, effectively capturing my inability to ever really work out what I’m about. A book that failed financially, though its publication afforded me brief heroic status in my small circle, now much smaller, more like a dot.

From adolescence I’ve always written or thought about writing – but mainly the latter. I spend hours of every day avoiding writing and feeling guilty about not writing more or better.

I was an isolated, timid, passive child, and I suppose I still am, but of course in my luxuriant inner life I’m not timid, I’m argumentative, witty and spirited. I talked to myself like Adam Smith in the Edinburgh streets, but not so much now, I’m a little more complacent, or defeated, bored with repetition. So now I’m writing to shake myself up.

I was given to hero worship and intense identification. My first literary hero was probably Bob Dylan. I tuned out and tuned in, listening on headphones to the dark uncatchable lyrics of Visions of Johanna and Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands from the Blonde on Blonde album of revelations. I was myself this unfathomable seer. I practiced my fathomlessness before the mirror. And then came Jethro Tull and David Bowie and Pink Floyd and Lou Reed, words to music to words to music.

My first hero of the book was Thomas Hardy. Wrenched and choked I was in living the desolation of the Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess Durbeyfield, Jude Fawley, Giles Winterbourne. What emotional depth I felt I had as the tears drenched my pillow.

As I left my teens and started dabbling in writing myself I encountered one Franz Kafka. In three or four days I devoured The Trial, The Castle and America, then discovered his diaries, that fantastical resource book. Here was inspiration, a fellow who’d made of his aloneness an armour of the imagination, all-confining and intriguing. I was dazzled but daunted, and preferred to argue to myself that to be that good would mean sacrificing too much. There were other enticements – the simpatico haze of alcohol, idle fancies, beautiful faces, the anticipation of fleshly pleasures.

I read Kafka and Beckett, and wrote like them from time to time, but they weren’t very sexual, it seemed to me, though no doubt there have been critics who have fruitfully examined their oeuvre through sexual or Freudian lenses.

When I was young I got wind of the Freudian idea of sublimation. The whole of civilization was a channeling of sexual energy into a more abstract, but often quite concrete, creativity. I didn’t look at this idea too closely – I didn’t read Freud himself – but it had obvious appeal. I used fantasies of girls – and boys too in my teen years - to energise myself. When I read a stimulating book, my fantasy one of the moment read it too, over my shoulder, and we were aroused together. I exerted myself on the soccer field when I pictured her on the sidelines. I spoke French with all the romantic resonances and her eyes widened with admiration then narrowed with desire, I spoke obscurely and oracularly and she had the half-disguised hopeful look of wanting the mysterious powers my words might reveal.

The sexual element in Kafka was revealed, surely, not so much in the content of his writing but the fact that so much of it was addressed to women – his voluminous letters to Felice Bauer, and later to Milena Jesenska. Clearly, having someone specific to write to, delighting in the circumspection of flirtation, energized him no end. It’s a phenomenon I particularly identify with. Apart from occasional billets doux, I’ve made an effort to embark on correspondence with three different females in my life, each time with disastrous results. Arguably I’m a victim of the modern age, in which women are far less likely to put up with unwanted attentions, however politely, diffidently or wittily couched. More to the point though, they were all the wrong people for this sort of thing.


pavlov's cat