The Virtues of Being an Object

11 Nov

Below are excerpts from my essay in the book Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness (Evolver Editions/North Atlantic Books), “The Virtues of Being an Object”.  The essay is about all sorts of things; but all relate to the charge that porn “objectifies” people.  We’ve all heard that argument, but I wasn’t so sure it made any sense.  When I tried to figure out what porn critics were getting at, I figured out that they were even more confused than I thought.
Because the topics of the essay are so interwoven with each other, it wouldn’t have made sense to present a big long excerpt from it.  Instead, I cut out little parts here and there and modified them into mini-essays for this blog.  For the whole essay, please buy the book by clicking the cover.  

ON SCIENCE, RELIGION, EXPERIENCE, and DEHUMANIZATION
or, “…science may be the most objectifying force in the world.”

While you read this essay, your hair will grow and spit will form in your mouth.  Your bones and tendons will be shaping themselves and decaying, and masticated food will be dissolving in your stomach acid.  Mites will crawl through your eyelashes, your cells will touch each other.  You will be and are a wave of motion and movement, of blood and piss and bile.  This is science’s description of your body.

The problem with it is simple:  you thought you were sitting still, reading.

When you say hello to or kiss or have sex with someone, are you aware of their liver producing bile?  Of the shit forming in their bowels?  People say they want x-ray vision, but they don’t really want to see what’s going on – not just under the skin, but even underneath clothing, where they wouldn’t see perfect bodies, naked and sexual – they’d see nipples squished up against bras, dicks and testicles all mangled up in underwear, and flesh pushed into weird mis-directions.

So we notice our experience of science’s description of the body: there’s a feeling of distance from it.  The descriptions of fluids and processes may seem repulsive or alien, or simply funny or strange.  But they’re not what we normally encounter as our bodies.

This is the deal that science strikes with us.  It will tell us, unblinkingly, what is there and what is “real”, but in exchange, we must accept this as the truth, whether we experience it as true or not.  We shouldn’t dismiss what science has to tell us, but what if we didn’t have to trade experience for information?

(Nevermind pornography)… science may be the most objectifying force in the world.  And of course, it is constantlyconfusing the body for the entire self.  Science/scientific progress’s worst crimes are ones that misunderstand a whole organism or system: they’re crimes like genetic manipulation of seeds, dumping poisonous mercury into rivers, testing weapons out on humans for experimental purposes.  While defenders of science may claim it to be objective, science does not exist in a vacuum.  It demands that the world be material, then blends with its objectifying counterpart, consumerism, and commits materialist crimes.  After all, what’s to stop anyone from doing anything heinous if all that matters is that we’re just stuff and nothing else, not even experience?

On the other end of the spectrum, religion and spirituality often deny the reality of the body.  The most recognized problems with this are suicide-bombing and the historical and present-day religious wars, in which the body is seen merely as a vessel for spirit.  Adherents of fundamentalism don’t have to worry about their bodies, which are a sort of problem for them to cope with before the afterlife.  Similarly, many children raised in monotheistic traditions are told that their bodies are filthy and sinful.  Not surprisingly, many of these children grow up to be atheists – emphasizing only materiality where they were once instructed to hate it.

But it’s not only the Abrahamic religions that are guilty of abandoning or mistreating the body.  In some Buddhist traditions, the body is perceived as a block – a weight of the ego to be overcome.  Or in kundalini practice, the body can become merely a slave to spirit.  Like high school boys the night before a football game, practitioners are told not to go all the way.  You can orgasm, men are told, but do not ejaculate or you’ll discharge the vital energy you need to enliven your spirit.  While there may be genuine esoteric value in orgasm without ejaculating, it is often turned into a moral prescription.  This condemns the body to a lower caste than the spirit, rather than viewing it as a dynamic and loving body in and of itself.

No real transformation can happen without true engagement.  To understand how we (not just culturally or spiritually, but as individuals) relate to our bodies, we must be able to simultaneously immerse in and detach from them.  By stymying true engagement with the body, powerful structures of religion, science, and consumerism create deeper attachmentto the body rather than detachment.  In cases of religious abandonment of the body, no real transformation is possible because exploration through immersion is denied.

ON SEXUAL LOVE
or, “What if we were as loving and forgiving in our lives as we were while we were sexually aroused?”

The first time I masturbated thinking of a man, I was barely a teenager. I’d masturbated before, but I never really understood why – it was just a feeling contained in myself. I’d push myself into my mattress and consider the strange, warm feeling. Waves up my chest and in my spine, a peaceful feeling afterward. It was unrelated to anything but me.

But then my body began to teach me something.

I went to the beach with my family and saw my older stepbrother’s friend in the shower. Through the clouded glass of the shower door, I saw his form, the color of his skin, his legs, what must have been his arms, his ass. There were no clear lines, there were shapes and color. I looked at him, and saw what was there. I felt inside of me something entirely new, the coalition of light and sound and this…feeling. My body was going crazy, and I had no idea why…I didn’t yet know what “gay” was, not really.

My body, the object part of my body, was wiser than the rest of me, it knew things I didn’t, and it was responding to someone else’s body.

The body, it is often said, has a mind of its own, and its actions intersect with experience.  Anyone who has ever had an erection in public will know immediately what I’m talking about.  When it happens, the will of the body is glaringly obvious.  Then again, it’s not only the penis that reacts to sexual stimulation.  We also sweat, out hearts race, we may get a little jump in our stomachs.  In fact, the body’s sexual response is often how we knowwe’re attracted to someone.  We may be surprised to find ourselves aroused, but there it is: a draw to another.

This draw can be sustained and often is.  When we see someone we’re attracted to for a second or third time, when we first start dating or after we have sex, the draw stays there.  Scientists have widely agreed that there is a combination of factors – including hormones, dopamine, adrenaline, etc – that work in conjunction with this draw.  The attraction becomes very powerful, allowing us to forgive faults we might not normally.  Anything that is annoying to us normally becomes endearing while this draw is sustained.  The body’s will makes us extremely kind.

But our attitude to this kindness is often flippant.  Cognitive scientists and neuroscientists may refer to the above chemical changes as the cause of it all; nothing special about that love stuff, really, just chemicals.  Evolutionary psychologists might refer it back to advantageous mating behaviors, leaving out present-day context.  In popular culture, we might say, “That’s just infatuation.” We might say that being attracted to someone because of his/her appearance is “shallow.”  If someone acts on this initial attraction, we might refer to her or him as a “slut”.

A contradiction, then: We love the feeling that the will of the body brings, but we don’t hold it in high regard.  We think of it as somehow fake.

What if we took it seriously?  What if, instead of measuring it up to other experiences, we reversed our ethic and held this infatuation stage up as the standard?  We would see then that it’s not that these initial feelings are false or fake, it’s that we don’t feel them enough.  In other words, we aren’t normally as forgiving and adoring to other people as we are in the initial stages of attraction. What if we were?  What if we were as loving and forgiving in our lives as we were while we were sexually aroused?

ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HOLLYWOOD MOVIES AND PORN
or, “… about six inches”

No cultural phenomenon expresses our confusion about the reality of the body better than pornography.  Indeed, pornography exposes hypocrisy and power struggles over what the body is, how it should be used, and who decides both.

There are parts of the object-body that we regard as having a different quality than others.  If this weren’t true, what would the difference be between a sex scene in a mainstream movie and pornography?  In a mainstream film, the actors really kiss, sometimes explicitly so, showing their tongues touching. They might be naked, baring breasts, asses, and sometimes even genitals.  But as the camera pans down past their entwined bodies, one thing is never (or at least very rarely) shown: penetration.  In other words, the difference between a movie and a porn is about six inches.

We live in a world that is saturated in sexual suggestion, but not sex itself.

ON WEAK CRITIQUES OF PORNOGRAPHY
or, “Objectification isn’t something that is done to us; we are already and always part object.”

The popular argument goes something like this: pornography isn’t film or art because it is really just exploitation based on “objectification” of people (usually this means women).

The argument has changed to hide behind technology.  Now added to the argument is that porn is destroying relationships.  But this argument rose to prominence with the rise of the internet, and these arguments against pornography are really just borrowed critiques of technology: that it creates separation and erodes real human relationships.  What’s really underneath arguments against porn, once you pull away all the borrowed supplements and find whatever original argument is there, still lies with objectification.

For many, these arguments are meant to be self-evident: objectification is bad.  Porn is bad.  This is easily seen in the many attacks against porn that simply state what is depicted.  For example, in the hysteria around Robert Maplethorpe’s photography, which depicted sexual acts (often featuring naked gay men), attackers would merely describe the act in the photograph.  Or in Chris Hedges’s anti-pornography essay “The Illusion of Love,” he names what he sees and hears as if it presents some sort self-evident truth:  “…oral sex, vaginal sex, double penetration, and double anal.”  He quotes a performer who says during a shoot, “Shove it up my fucking ass…: and “Fuck, motherfucker…” and “Fucking love it…”  For some reason, Hedges thinks no explanation as to why this should be problematic is required.

Of course this all misses an important aspect of our lives:

Objectification isn’t something that is done to us; we are already and always part object.

For those few critics of pornography that don’t believe arguments of objectification are self-evident truths, the rest of the argument goes something like, “It’s a problem because the viewer of porn sees someone only as an object.” These arguments leave out so many questions of context as to leave them impotent.  Questions forgotten in this line of reasoning include:

Will we react to people in life the way we do to people we watch in porn?  Should we?  Does all porn have the same affect, even across cultural boundaries (i.e. does straight porn exist in the heterosexual world the same way gay porn does in the gay world?)?  Does porn show up in the same way across cultures?  Does it change through time?

Because these questions are rarely considered in anti-porn arguments, most anti-porn arguments are not very useful or complex.

…As a porn performer, I can say from experience and with confidence that I’ve never been objectified by other performers.  Nor have I been objectified by viewers.  At least not in a way that seemed to confuse them into thinking I was an object.  What happens instead is that I shift in and out of object-hood.  Athletes do this too – they engage with their bodies for a specific task.  At the end of the game or the shoot, the context changes.  When I meet someone who recognizes me for my work with pornography, it usually begins as a recognition of that draw that they’ve felt and then turns quickly into an everyday conversation.  No danger of being objectified there.

On the flipside, when anti-porn critics examine pornography, they often turn their subjects into functions.  Again, Chris Hedges’s essay serves well as an example of this often-used tactic.  In the essay, the style and fullness of the writing jumps back and forth so that anyone in porn is a mere caricature of a person.  Anyone on his side of the argument is fully human.

Furthermore, good and detailed research has been done noting that men who watch porn don’t engage in dehumanization.  Some of the best of this work (best because it is so detailed) is in Watching Sex: How Men Really Respond to Pornography by David Loftus (De Capo, 2002.), which presents in-depth interviews with nearly 150 men who watch porn.  Almost none express anything like a split in thinking or the sentiment of objectification.  The sample may seem small, but the interviews are detail-rich and as such stand as a glaring contradiction to critics’ reasonings.  Unless we want to agree with some of the more hardcore porn critics who state that all men are stupid, unaware, or lying about their motivations for watching porn, we have to dismiss this argument based on evidence.

As for complaints about studios and studio people exploiting workers, I certainly have observed that. But is this a problem with porn itself?  This is a systemic problem of capitalism and socialism and communism.  It’s a problem that arises when a society confuses economic values for values about human rights or values about culture.  It unfortunately happens in every workplace, and is not porn-specific.  Which again raises the questions: who objectifies?  Who destroys and exploits multiplicity?  And why?

ON SELLING SEX
or, “…when’s the last time you saw a billboard advertising beer that had a photo of a penis entering a vagina proclaiming BUY BEER next to it?”

People love to say that “sex sells.”  But this really isn’t honest except in the case of pornography.  When you’re driving and you see a billboard of a man in swim trunks drinking beer and a woman in a bikini sitting down on the sand next to him, it’s an ad for the brand of beer in the man’s hand.  He might have perfect abs and she might have large breasts.  But is this sex?

Well, when’s the last time you saw a billboard advertising beer that had a photo of a penis entering a vagina proclaiming BUY BEER next to it?

It’s not sex but the suggestion of it that is meant to sell.  It’s not even just arousal, but a sort of coitus interruptus arousal.  Advertising gets you turned on, and how does it consummate the relationship? Instead of showing you sex – which is two people touching, expressing actual intimacy – it shows you a product.  The end of the sexual encounter is beer or a computer or whatever other product.  So you’re elated and then re-routed.

This is dehumanization – not because there are photos of scantily-clad people;  that’s not a problem.  This is dehumanization because it takes real human emotion – the emotion of the person who sees the ad, an emotion which is aimed at human interaction – and reroutes it into something not human: the computer or the beer.  Here and there, this probably wouldn’t cause a problem.  But in our culture, arousing and then hiding sex is a calculated, repeated, and basically institutionalized pattern. In a Pavlovian rut, we’re aroused a hundred times, but consummation is never delivered, even in image.

The constant bombardment of this sexual rerouting trains us that sex is something separate from life.  Indeed this can be seen in the attitude we have toward our genitals and breasts – that they are parts of our bodies that are seen as separate from us.  We even name them sometimes, as if they’re in different worlds entirely.

So the easy flow of multiplicity is exploited through a rerouting of sex to product.  Add to this the fact that those in charge tell us – not just implicitly through the absence of sexual imagery, but explicitly – that sex is bad.  Showing penetration is immoral; it would be indecent, exploitative, and objectification.  This has been going on for so long that we take it for granted.

Perhaps one of the best antidotes to this would be the mainstreaming of true sexual imagery.  If we took a cue from the Romans who had sexual images displayed prominently and openly, we’d be much less susceptible to manipulation through arousal.

30 Responses to “The Virtues of Being an Object”

  1. Doug November 11, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    Excellent essay. I gave you a link on my blog. (http://www.aplacedoug.blogspot.com)

  2. rob November 12, 2012 at 1:30 am #

    I have recently been writing about this very subject, more specifically the difference between the contxtualisation of porn in the gay and straight ‘worlds’. You really have given me food for thought (as always) and addressed some of my own long held confusion.

  3. Mayson Buffington November 14, 2012 at 3:54 am #

    Great reading…thanks Conner!

  4. Lizard McGee November 15, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    I stumbled onto Conner’s website by chance. I rarely find myself engaged enough to finish reading an essay in full on the internet. Your writing is seductive. Your arguments intelligent and sophisticated. I’ll be back to read more.

  5. Brendan November 19, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    Great stuff – I particularly appreciated your thoughts on objectification. I objectify myself way more than I objectify others and I derive great pleasure and a feeling of freedom in each ofthose processes. Erotic objectification is a space where my mind/imagination and body intersect in very immediate and tangible ways and whenever that mind body connection happens, it feels really good.

    On a slightly different but similar line of thought, my friend and collaborator Nina Arsenault wrote this following manifesto about her artistic practice called A Manifesto of Living Self-portraiture (identity, transformation and performance). I feel that a lot of it speaks about objectification but within the framework of an artistic practice. Check it out: http://ninaarsenault.net/2012/07/a-manifesto-of-living-self-portraiture-identity-transformation-and-performance/

    xoxo

    • Conner Habib November 19, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, handsome. And thanks for the link. Nina’s work seems really intense and beautiful. I have to say that I’m not totally on board with the “my life is my art” thing that many artists, particularly performance artists, present. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate or love their work nonetheless – but this reasoning seems to me to blend distinctions and blur cosmologies that are of more benefit to us if we keep them distinct and explore them more deeply as distinct. Too much to write about here, but it’s something I’d love to talk about more with artists who disagree.

  6. Ross January 26, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    Hi Conner
    I stumbled on your blog by accident and have just spent the last 2 hrs immersed in a wonderfully honest and amazingly beautiful world. This piece is in particular is very thought provoking for me and has made me want to explore how and whay I react to my life around me and to get more from it.
    Thanks for sharing it with people.

    • Conner Habib January 26, 2013 at 11:34 pm #

      thank you so much for the kind words! as your thoughts develop feel free to share them with me via email. – CH

  7. Ingonyama70 January 27, 2013 at 1:43 am #

    Hi Conner,

    I wanted to say that I really liked what you had to say about dehumanization.

    I think, as you do, that it would be liberating to have more public acknowledgment that a) sex exists, and b) that it’s healthy. The re-routing of consciousness that you describe would be much harder for marketing departments everywhere to achieve if sex weren’t such a taboo that we feel forced to seek our fulfillment in other products, and guilty for doing so.

    I feel modern Americans, as a culture, are too sensitive about sex. I know I, personally, am. Like when I stare at the cute guy in the Starbucks on Castro for half an hour before dashing out of the store, instead of working up the nerve to talk to him.

    The difference is, I’m trying to get more comfortable with it, while the greater part of America seems content to continue using it as a crude joke and marketing ploy.

  8. T. Modey January 27, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    Firstly I’d like to say thanks for sharing your unique perspectives and experience.My question is based on the types of pornography, amateur or professional that is readily available online.

    I just wondered perhaps if you have previously addressed in greater detail the differences of all of the above in homosexual versus heterosexual porn.
    What might be interesting as well, I believe would be to address the perspectives of those who are opposed to certain genres of heterosexual porn ie those that entice viewers with the promise of “barely legal girls” (this cheeky description to me seems to wink at the laws against child pornography by telling the viewer “come and enjoy yourself by watching these girls who, if you didn’t know better, could pass for being underage.”).

    Then there are those that embellish the act of sex on screen with the threat of violence against women, be it linguistically (whore/bitch/slut…suggesting an air of gratification by way of belittling, humiliating and demeaning said women) or physically (all of the above occurring outside the realm of S&M shoots)

    These are just a couple issues, that I believe plague the porn industry, and contribute in part to the problematic perception of female sexuality for example the Madonna-Whore complex which simplifies the sexual appetite of women into two distinctly black and white categories (prudes and sluts.). I realize it’s just silly to inquire about such a myriad of complex issues in a couple of paragraphs, but i supposed I came to this page looking for information on this topic, and I remain curious.

    Without having done any solid research on the correlation of the following topics, I have often wondered, in a world where women outweigh men by a far cry as victims of rape, violence at the hands of the opposite sex, sexual slavery related to human trafficking, and perhaps even pedophilia , how do the above mentioned genres of pornography contribute to normalization of these vile acts in the societies/communities in which they regularly occur. If the above mentioned genres of pornography were few and far between, I might agree that they have naught to do with these issues, but these are some of the most abundant types of pornographic film around.

    A wonderful documentary “Killing Us Softly” by former model Jean Killbourne, touches on some of these issues and I thought i’d share it with you and your readers if you haven’t already seen it: http://vimeo.com/20024751

    Perhaps the points i’ve mentioned here are outside of the scope of issues that you take an interest in, as they involve the heterosexual, more so than the homosexual, porn industry, but i’d love to hear your take on them nonetheless.

    Many thanks!

    • Conner Habib February 7, 2013 at 12:47 am #

      Hi,
      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I do indeed address quite a bit that you mentioned in the full essay, which is in the book.
      I don’t agree that porn contributes to the normalization of the acts you list. It’s a larger conversation, some of which I’ve written about here.
      CH

  9. thineownpalace February 21, 2013 at 5:24 am #

    I am very glad I found your blog. I read your Arpad Miklos essay last night and just finished this one.

    “Objectification isn’t something that is done to us; we are already and always part object.”

    If you want to encase a strong argument in a single line I don’t know a better line that could’ve been constructed. And the opening paragraphs were about as visceral as visceral can be. I really enjoy your writing.

    The reasons I’ve stopped watching porn, and my personal objections to it have nothing to do with objectification, violence; they have nothing to do with prejudice against sex workers and sexual acts being made public, I find nothing wrong with any of that. I believe what you’ve said about the variety of professions sex workers have, the strength of their characters, their enjoyment of their work, their not being pushed into it by desperation or nefarious personalities etc etc. I think it would take a very brave person to do do porn, or to escort.

    My personal objections to porn are that it dulls my sexual imagination, sexual stimulation and shortens my sexual attention span along with increasing my criticality of a person’s body and features (and by “personal objections” I mean these are solely observations of myself and personal conclusions that I’ve drawn. I’m not going to turn this into a universal argument, because I don’t believe it is, we all have different experiences). After watching porn essentially every time I’d masturbate (and that is not uncommon for many men, especially younger ones like myself who were more or less weaned on porn videos) I realized that it wasn’t only something I’d do because I wanted to, it was something I did because anything less than having a guy in front of me wouldn’t get me sufficiently aroused except very occasionally. When I realized that, I had to go out of my way and try masturbating without visual stimulation. I would get hard and reach ejaculation, but I didn’t feel nearly as aroused as when watching porn, and my fantasies, which were entirely imagined, not watched on a screen, did not engage me at even remotely the same level. In fact, I was pretty bored. In terms of my sexual attention span, when I would be masturbating to a video, I’d watch the first minute or so, skip to the middle, skip to the end, get bored and go onto another video, get bored and go onto a third or even a fourth. Or I would flip through a few pages of videos on a porn site (a free one, sorry), my eyes must’ve glazed over 50 or 60 videos and I had only put three or so in other tabs. When I looked over those videos again and looked at the guys more carefully, I realized that for the most part they were all at least cute, very many of them were sexy and some of them were gorgeous. Yet I’d deemed them beneath my standard. Worse of all, I saw it translating into real life, when talking to guys I felt more critical of their bodies than I had in the past, and my arousal became more dependent on the physique, while less on the character. And these would be fit attractive men to start off with. I was disappointed by what I felt was a devaluing of my sexuality coupled with increasing physical standards.

    Since I’ve stopped watching porn, I’ve begun to enjoy masturbating on my own again, I’ve developed fantasies in my mind and am extremely aroused by them, my arousal is less dependent on the physical than it had been, and my overall sexuality has benefitted. This isn’t to say I had to give up porn entirely because it is a bad thing. I don’t believe porn is bad, too much of a good thing is real, and I’m sure I could still watch porn occasionally without it negatively affecting me, I’d just rather not. Though I think watching porn with a partner would be fun, I guess I’ll just have to wait and see who fate sees fit to deal me.

    Anyways, reading your essay was a pleasure. And I’m not reading over my response again because I’m too tired and need to go bed, so sorry for any redundancies or grammatical errors, ha. I honestly look forward to your next post.

    • Conner Habib February 21, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

      Thanks for the response – I think a lot of people have had experiences like this with porn – But I’m not quite sure it’s a critique of porn so much as it is a critique of the internet and digital media – People say the same sorts of things about human connectedness and the internet, television, etc. In other words, what you’re dealing with, and what others deal with, is a technology issue. How do we cope? I think cultivating your imagination and patience is key in any time. I thank you for sharing this.
      CH

      • thineownpalace February 21, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

        It is a critique of porn in relation to its effect on me, but I believe that it can be extrapolated to a critique of digital media, and their ever more forceful presence in every day life. In a world driven to distraction and divertissement, the self has lost layers off its identity and perseverance. Is this true for everybody? Of course not, but perhaps it is true for many people. You speak of cultivating the imagination and patience, but is that a possibility for many people in our new digital age, or is a deadening of those more likely? I don’t know, but I think it is a vital question.

      • Conner Habib February 22, 2013 at 3:53 am #

        Not only do I think it’s a possibility, I think that it’s the challenge of our time. It may even be that we brought this challenge to ourselves, that the weight of distraction is ultimately good because it presents the challenge.
        Everyone with a computer or internet access is trying to navigate this right now – I think a lot of people are doing a greta job. It’s a new challenge, so we’re bound to stumble at first.
        CH

      • thineownpalace February 22, 2013 at 4:26 am #

        You see it positively as a challenge to be overcome, where a failure means a stumble. I see it negatively as a malignant disease, where a failure means a twenty foot drop. Maybe I just need another glass of red, ha.

  10. Olivia Panthera February 22, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    “We live in a world that is saturated in sexual suggestion, but not sex itself.” – Nailed it

  11. Ryan Field March 14, 2013 at 12:27 am #

    I write gay erotic romance and an author friend suggested this article to me. I found it fascinating.

  12. Eitan April 2, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    Oh my, If the brain is the biggest sexual organ, man, you’re hung!!!

  13. M. Gunnison Collins June 8, 2013 at 3:33 am #

    Hi Connor,

    I discovered you via Evolver’s MeetUp page. I was really excited to discover the seminar you’re putting on. It’s a remarkable subject to consider and I’m eager to attend.

    Knowing nothing about you or Duncan Trussell, I happened over to his podcast with you and D. Bolelli. I was really moved by your conversation there. The subjects that you covered in that conversation in response to your old friends’ pro-active, voluntary, and premature “end” arrived to my ear at a good time in my life to hear them. Toward the end of the podcast one or all of you discussed allowing aspects of yourself, or habits, or commitments that have taken up residence in your life to just pass on, in lieu of throwing in the WHOLE towel, as it were. I think that whenever my mind resorts to fantasies of my own demise, that it is my self saying, “something’s got to give.”

    It got me thinking about the french term, la petite mort. How the very culminating act of love is a little death. It allows us to grow a little further, leaving something behind so to be ever so slightly reborn. From that moment of first consummation, the theme of a little death reaches out fractal-like to describe not just the first orgasm with a lover, but the entire theme of a love relationship. It’s as if every new engaged moment in life allows a part of ourselves to die so that a new part may awaken, the theme of life from beginning to end. I, personally, consider each relationship to be a thing that begins with a moment of idealized perfection and hope, which over time and through experience become something real, or else become a negotiated fiction, (each mythic in their own way) thus leaving for dead that original vision. That doesn’t diminish the love or the relationship, but because it is a vehicle to ‘know thyself,’ it takes on the weight of redemption, virtue and glory.

    So sometimes, when I feel trapped in a love relationship that’s become obligatory in some way, some way that crushes self-awareness and an emergent life, those old suicide fantasies will peak from behind the veil so to say, “get out!” Its like my body saying, “it’s either me or this relationship, pal.” And my mind has to negotiate the labyrinth out and my body has to bend its way so as to avoid breaking. But it also happens when I’m in a job that doesn’t agree with my constitution. Or a living situation that’s not enabling my best self. I think the conflict stems from a committed desire for integrity, or wholeness or something like that: a continuity and consistency whereby, my words, my actions, my desires, my ideals, my sympathies and my service to others may have alignment in their composition and harmony in their execution. Of course experience doesn’t play out harmonically and life is a messy thing. The future and its particular novelties can never be fully emotionally anticipated.

    Hence I really enjoyed the acceptance, humor, respect, forgiveness and thoughtfulness that the three of you brought to the subject in the podcast. Such well adjusted consideration is rare in the world.

    —–

    After listening to that show, I started perusing your blog and I came upon this essay on objectification, “the Virtues of Being an Object.”

    This essay strikes some chords with me again. I think your approach and my approach to this subject have a complimentary sympathy. I really love your voice and the way that you are willing to re-consider conventionalized and cliched ideas, framed by your personal experience. I also love the way you approach the subject with experience-driven-logic, an aesthetic/non-scientistic compass, and attend it with a yogi-like wonder and non-attachment. In the little of you that I’ve read and heard, you seem to me to speak for humanity at its best – its most rigorously aspirational and real.

    So I’m sharing my essay on objectification, titled “On the Object and the Lord.”
    http://vitruvianheart.blogspot.com/2013/01/on-object-and-lord.html
    Here’s a teaser (I hope not the money shot): “I have discovered in the gauntlet of unrequited love that it is better to be the object of one’s desire than a subject of one’s ambivalence. And I have discovered in the majesty of requited love that success rests in the mutual sharing of being at once both subject and object in coexistence…”

    —–

    On the subject of your last line above… “If we took a cue from the Romans who had sexual images displayed prominently and openly, we’d be much less susceptible to manipulation through arousal,” I couldn’t agree more. But I would take that one step further, when thinking about how contemporaries emulate and appropriate from successful civilizations passed. We’ve already attempted at least 2 American Sexual Revolutions, neither of which has made itself sustainable. Perhaps we ought to make like the artists and merchants of the 14th through 17th centuries in Europe, and attempt a paradigm shift through Sexual Renaissance, instead. It might not market test as well, nor draw big numbers to a seminar, but it’s less likely to rile restless privates eager for battle on either side, no? (One might say with a back hand wave “these are just words, interchangeable synonyms – revolution/renaissance,” but don’t they each imply their own intention and particular structure?) And aren’t war, along with war’s chaotic power vacuum and attendant violence, the very things that we hope to prevent by championing a return to the body…?

    I’ll see you (from New York) at “How To Start a (Sexual) Revolution,” sitting (quietly without protest, my fist not in the air, but in my lap) before my screen. ;) Can’t wait!

    Peace,
    Matt

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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