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EVENT: Hang Out with Me & I’ll Answer Anything You Want To Ask Me about Sex.

26 Jan
Goofyface

So, you want to talk about sex. Hi.

Want to hear me talk about sex? Want to ask me your biggest, most urgent, most arousing question about sex?

Well, all right. Let’s do it.

Here’s how!

(Scroll down to Ask Conner Anything below if you already know the deal.)

THE EXPLORE MORE SUMMIT

I’m part of the Explore More summit – an online summit featuring thirty (!!) sexual thinkers, including Me, Dan Savage, Feminista Jones, Tristan Taromino, and more! (For a full list of speakers, click here.) The summit airs from January 28 – February 6. But you can sign up at any time during the summit!

In my interview, I talk about butts, consent, fear of sex in our culture, the problem of sex on campus, sexual shame, and more. Oh, and I talk about dicks (duh).

Each day, three 60 minute-long video interviews (an hour for each speaker) will be available for you to watch.

DS

Me and Dan Savage, coming at you.

Anyway, it’s totally free! 

You don’t have to pay anything for the interviews, you just have to watch them within 24 hours (Mine airs February 5).

Ask Conner Anything

BUT! Here’s the best part – If you sign up through me for the Platinum Package, there’s a big bonus:

I’ll personally answer any question you have about sex.

Yes! It’s true! Whatever sexy or anxious or baffling or funny or arousing or personal or cultural question you have about sex? I will personally answer it. And I don’t just mean with a “yes” or “no” or “boners!” – I mean, I’ll sit down and really go at answering it. And I’ll send you my answer by the end of the summit (February 6).

It’s easy to sign up.

  1. Just go to the summit site via this link
  2. When you get there, click on BONUS PACKAGES in the top right.
  3. Sign up for the PLATINUM PACKAGE.
  4. After  you sign up, just send me an email with your question – connerhabibsocial[at]gmail.com  – and include “Explore5” in the subject line.  This offer is ONLY available for people that sign up for the summit THROUGH ME.

I’m using the honor system here, so please be a nice person. One sign up = one question.

On top of that, you’ll have access to all the interviews for 90 days, as well as all the bonus materials other speakers are offering.

All right?

All right!
Love,

CH

Twitter Explore More Image

2015: The Best Stuff

3 Jan

Happy new everything, everyone!

Here’s a list of my best stuff from 2015.

I do this every year, and it’s just my best stuff. It doesn’t have to be anyone else’s, but I’d love to hear your stuff too. So feel free to comment with your favorite stuff at the end here.

Music:

DA.jpg

Blur’s Damon Albarn, praying to sound.

The album I enjoyed the most that actually came out in 2015 was Magic Whip by Blur; and I got to see them play this year too – something I though would never happen again since seeing them in the late 90s. No band creates such diversity of sound from album to album, while still maintaining the “oh-that’s-them” recognizability as Blur. Watching Damon Albarn laze across the stage, then pounce up with energy, only to stumble toward the crowd smiling and handsome in the atonal guitar grind…It’s still powerful, still amazing.

If you’d like to know what song was most blasted out my car windows this year, while like a moron I was singing at the top of my lungs, it was “This Is Not A Party” by The Wombats.

Other noteworthy albums – The Beauty Pill’s amazing and layered Describes Things as They Are, a John Zorn-worthy pop rock record. +Exit Verse’s self-titled debut left me wondering why I never felt so connected to guitar riffs before. I found myself singing, not just the choruses and verses, but the parts without words, too.  + Faith No More created a metal album, Sol Invictus, that rivaled the brilliance Angel Dust. + I listened to a whole lot of Death Grips this year.

SW

from Slow West

Movies:

Carol

Tangerine

Where to Invade Next

Slow West

In a sea (“sea” is a generous word) of mediocre LGBT-themed movies, obsessed with struggle or snark and not humanity, Carol and Tangerine are brilliant, powerful and lead the way forward, albeit on two very different paths. Real works of art. + Michael Moore’s excellent new documentary Where to Invade Next is an even rarer thing, perhaps: a work of optimism. + Slow West was not a perfect film, but it was a beautJBDiful one. I was excited by it and even more excited to see what writer/director John Maclean (this was his debut) does next.

Also, extra shout outs to: A forgotten slasher film from 1981 – Just Before Dawn screened at Los Angeles’s amazing vintage film house New Beverly Cinema. It’s a weird, unsettling, and gender-conscious horror movie. + The crazy, nonstop real-actual-blood fest of Roar, also from 1981 (what a year!) – a reality-meets-fiction movie about lots and lots of big cats. It’s fun and horrible.

Books:

Taussig

Michael Taussig

As usual, I didn’t mostly read books that came out this year, so these are the favorites of what I read, not of new releases. This year, I also lived out a lifelong dream of reading a book a day, every day. I lasted about six weeks. It was amazing; my mind felt like it was on speed, even as I’d slowed everything down to sit in silence and scan the symbols on the paper.

The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira and The Hare by César Aira

Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide by Franco “Bifo” Berardi

Our Lady of the Ruins: Poems by Traci Brimhall

Campus Sex, Campus Security by Jennifer Doyle

Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy

The Joy of Revolution by Ken Knabb

The Corn Wolf by Michaeil Taussig

TB

Traci Brimhall

From top to bottom here: Discovering César Aira’s novels was a huge highlight for me – their insistence on the magic of thought is intoxicating and playful.+Berardi’s great book on why so many mass shootings are taking place as our society is translated into a spectacle. + Brimhall’s book of rich and terrifying poems, a cold light that will turn in you a truth you might not have wanted to feel. + Doyle has written the bravest book on sexual culture in the US I’ve read in a long time, with particular emphasis on how our views of sexual assault are intertwined with dependence on the state. + Eltahawy’s book uncovered the hidden corners of my own misogyny and challenged them with a body of work so powerful, I could not help but surrender. +Ken Knabb enlivened my sense of what is possible and why I would enjoy engaging. + Finally, Michael Taussig bonds together myth, magic, theory, and Walter Benjamin in a stunning exercise of style.

Two books I need to give special mention to – Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been SOTLPublicly Shamed and Dr. Chris Donaghue’s Sex Outside the Lines: Authentic Sexuality in a Sexually Dysfunctional Culture. I make small appearances in both. The former is a book on the reemergence (and pitfalls) of shame as a social strategy. It is funny, light, and still profound. + Chris Donaghue is one of my closest colleagues and best friend. His book is a stirring look at sex in our personal lives. He utilizes his years of clinical experience with a radical outlook. It’s the perfect book to change your life.

***

All right, folks, that’s it for now. Let’s hold hands into this new year. Much love,

CH

On Joy Williams, or, The Best Fiction Writer Alive

31 Dec

To close the year out here’s an ode to my favorite living fiction writing, Joy Williams. She’s also the best living fiction writer. Not just because she’s my favorite, but because no one is like her. Perhaps no one writing fiction today is capable of being like her. For comparisons, we’d have to turn to the dead: To Walter Benjamin or perhaps James Welch. This essay originally appeared on The Rumpus, a great literature and culture site. Please check them out, read this essay, and read some Joy Williams in the new year!

  • CH

THE ANIMALS DIE: ON READING JOY WILLIAMS

FloridaLast things first: people die.

Imagine you know nothing about Joy Williams. You pick up her book, Florida, what was once known as a “coffee table book.” It looks nice enough, filled with photos: melting purple Florida skies lining Tampa skyscrapers, a dolphin bursting through a motorboat’s wake, a flamingo on the cover, and essay by Joy Williams in the middle.

Imagine buying that book for the dolphin and the flamingo and getting this:

Whatever Florida is becoming (and she can become almost anything), she is essentially her most wondrous and exceptional self when she is not the Florida that is the result of a century of fabrication.

The essay, you discover, is filled with…not scorn for tourists, never quite that, but something angry. Sorrow, awe. This writer won’t leave any version of Florida alone, not the ones that have passed, nor the one that exists during the essay’s writing. The words run ashore against a picture of lifeguard shack. 

It was an edgy lifeguard shack at the time, no doubt. It has a curving silver roof and yellow legs and neon green walls. Now it looks dated and ugly. Certain images, you might sense as you look at the pages, have certain eras.

The Florida in Florida has had its era, and now it’s gone. Considering the book now, you might understand what readers felt when it came out; their excited longing for those beaches, Florida was almost glowing in their far-off longings, like neon. But the essay indicates a canceling out of all that. It states that time will take you on a ride to the end. Those images of Florida will be gone. Your time will be gone. This too, and you shall pass.

This is the death in Joy Williams’s work. It’s not passive or a neutral gray. It never happens on its own but is always courted with people’s thoughts of it, and the moment of dying. It might be a moment anyone of us has already missed. For all we know, we’re dead right now. Maybe this is it.

“So,” begins her novel The Quick and the Dead, “you don’t believe in a future life. Then do we have the place for you!” The title of the novel suggests that there aren’t really options, per se. After all it’s not The Quick OR the Dead. There might be two types of people, but time is quick and death is certain. The first chapter goes on.

Nothing we do is inevitable, but everything we do is irreversible. How do you propose to remember that in time?

Which would you propose to have your life compared to, wind or dust?

Why?

Sorry.

And in the novel Breaking and Entering, we come across Liberty and Willie, who break into houses and stay there as long as they can. Simple enough. Sometimes they meet the owners, sometimes not. The novel starts in a normal timbre, but slowly drifts apart from itself, like cells about to divide. 

desert

Joy Williams

Adventure gives way to being absorbed into the landscape of words and feelings. Gradually, no one knows who’s alive or who’s dead. Everyone becomes unintelligible to each other.

“I was a suicide,” Liberty says into the eye of a dead heron, finding some solace there, perhaps. The narrative continues, and we can’t be sure if it’s Liberty or the world that goes on to tell us, “We are addressed, even desired, but we are ghosts.”

When we know who’s speaking, we don’t always know why. “You’re admiring the light dear? There is an extraordinary light here, isn’t there? It only reveals, never explains.”

As readers, we think, people don’t talk like this. And then, anxiously, we must admit uncertainty. Or do they?

There’s an earlier version of the novel floating around, rarely seen but definitely real. This was the book before a publisher turned away from it, perhaps in fear. The host of a book-themed radio show told me about it once; he’d read it, was shaken to the core by it, then he passed it to an author. That version, he said, is less compromising than the published one; a deep treatise on the dread of being. I don’t know what that might look like. How could it be less compromising than the existing oracle? Unless it were written in a striking new language; or perhaps a very old one. Hieroglyphics. Sacred pictures of the dead.

Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead and the underworld appears in “Cats and Dogs,” a story in her latest collection, The Visiting Privilege. Osiris is alive, but dead. Dismembered, but whole.

Siblings drowned Osiris. Then chopped up body into fourteen parts and scattered them all over the place, all over Egypt. Someone found everything except for the penis, which had been eaten osirisby fish, then put him back together again and made him king of the underworld.

His severed penis, by the way, awaits you in one of her novels, though I won’t tell you which one. You’re going to have to find that severed penis on your own. The point here is that Osiris is the bridge between the kingdom of uncertainty (the living), and the dead, where we are certainly going. No one more than Williams writes from both worlds at once.

Imagine picking up that book with the flamingo on the cover.

That flamingo is dead now.

For sure, it is pink and beautiful and dead. Because also, the animals die.

I’ve killed a lot of animals in my life so far. So have most people, intentionally, directly, indirectly. The ones we eat of course. The ones we hunted as children. More, more. Let’s not forget the bugs that turn to dust or smears on the windshield. Surely we are not exempt here. We decide to make and buy huge machines of metal and glass and fill them up with the liquefied dead bodies of plants and animals and then blot other animals out of existence. We are absolute killing machines, but we hover above ourselves and watch, unless, like Jains, we sweep before us. Even then, we couldn’t hope to save everything.

Joy Williams kills animals in her life, she kills them or finds them dead in her stories. This is important. Jane, in “Preparation for a Collie,” poisons her dog, for example. She tries half-heartedly to give it away, but no, she’d rather really give it away.

Jane goes to the cupboard, wobbling slightly. “I’m going to kill that dog,” she says. “I’m sick of this.” She puts down her drink and takes a can of DRANO out of the cupboard.

It’s matter of fact. Earlier, her little son David had told the dog “We’re getting rid of you, you know.” But not in this way, surely not this way. He starts to cry. Jane loves her son in an unmoved way. She kneels down to kiss him. “David does not look at her. It is as though, however, he is dreaming of looking at her.” The story ends. No meaning is given but the dream.

There’s an occult theory, developed by hermetic masters sometime between ancient Greece and the 18th century. In each animal, the theory goes, there’s a golden thread running through. A glowing, golden mark on the spine that you could see if only you had a sort of astral vision. That’s where the animal is connected to the collective animal—the archetypal animal. If you pet an animal on that golden thread, you’ll feel connected. I’ve done just that with my dog.

If we’d look into our own bodies, the theory goes, we wouldn’t notice that thread, we are distinct. There’s nothing in Joy Williams’ work suggesting we ourselves are animals, no, we’re nothing so magnificent. What she might say we are, I’m not certain. But in the pages as in life, we are the beings kill animals, often after caring for them, like in “Preparation for a Collie” or the idolized then sacrificed bear cub in “Honored Guest.”

So many animals wander into our dimension (or is it the other way around?), and then they die, because in their deaths, they may actually have a chance to affect us.

In her essay, “Hawk,” (from her book Ill NatureJoy Williams writes of her own dreaming. Dreams and her lack of dreams after her dog, Hawk attacks her and has to be put to sleep, killed. You will remember this essay for a long time after you read it.

The animals don’t leave us, even in death.

In her finest story, “Congress,” a woman, Miriam, strikes up a relationship with a lamp with a base made of deer hooves. “It was anarchy, the little lamp, its legs snugly bunched. It was whirl, it was hole, it was the first far drums.” The lamp shines on everything in her life, and it has its own preferences, she discovers, though the lamp never speaks. She reads in its glow and sometimes the lamp judges what she reads. Moby-Dick produces the most powerful response, a book about a longing that, once met, is deadly. Whales are our largest animals, and we take them apart and turn them into fuel, food, candles. While Miriam is away, she reflects that the lamp, with legs that once “ran and rested and moved through woods washed by flowers” was back in her room,

…hovering over Moby-Dick. It would be deeply involved in it by now, slamming down Melville like water. The shapeless maw of the undifferentiating sea! God as indifferent, insentient Being, composed of an infinitude of deaths! Nature. Gliding… bewitching… majestic… capable of universal catastrophe! The lamp was eating it up.

There is nothing supernatural about the lamp; it is merely a part of life. Nor is there anything supernatural about the oracle she meets later, a taxidermist tucked in the room of a museum featuring gloriously stuffed animal bodies. People travel from great distances to meet him and ask him a question. His power seems to come from being in the palace of dead animals, since Miriam will be his replacement. It doesn’t matter if she’s qualified. She’s got her lamp, and she’s among the wisdom of preserved carcasses and halted motion. Any answer will do, since her words will be heard differently, with reverence, there.

The animals, only the animals, can reflect back to us our own failings and dishonesties.

When I met Joy Williams, it was over animals. I approached her sheepishly, stupidly, with a story I’d written about a woman who’d turned into a white dog. I was in grad school, and Joy Williams was giving a reading. I hadn’t known then that she’d written an entire novel featuring a white dog. I’d always been scared of them. Recurring nightmares. At that point, I’d only read The Quick and the Dead, which had changed me entirely. I’d never read anything like it, and I never will again. It was unbearable; it grew through me, the way grass forces its way through a sidewalk.

If you haven’t read anything by Joy Williams yet, do it. Confound yourself. If you are a writer, beware. She is a “writer’s writer.” What that means is: terror. When you read Joy Williams, there’s a feeling of terror. I might have written, “delight”, but let’s face facts, for writers, those are the same thing. I might have also written “wildness.”

It’s too much for most of us. A few sentences and off you will go, into a universe, wanting to write your own work. Needing to. If you can, stifle the urge to write, and finish her story, or worse, novel, and hum in your cells, wanting to do something. It’s the feeling Colin Wilson wrote about when looking into the Grand Canyon. It overwhelms you, but how will you resolve it? There are only two options: hold onto it or give in to doom and throw yourself in.

Kells

From The Book of Kells, where the intensity of the words and symbols also come to life.

“Thank you,” I said, “and here.” I handed her my story (used-up dead ideas, pressed with ink onto paper: dead, flattened plants). I told her not to worry about responding; I just wanted to give it to her.

“What’s your address,” she asked suddenly, and I wrote my email address down on the back of the story. She laughed. “My boy, you know nothing of me, do you?”

I wrote down my postal address, which looked lonely on blank white paper, like the name of someone I’d forgotten. I don’t think it looked that way to her—I think to her it looked healthy or at least normal.

Months passed and then, like a shell on the sand, a letter appeared in my mailbox. Typewritten on the back of a galley page of The Quick and the Dead. I won’t tell you what it says, except that it is kind, it is caring and encouraging and also a bit mysterious. It’s a story.

The next year, she returned to Amherst and we sat outside with her German Shepherds and talked about Gurdjieff and Edmund White and animals, of course. She was like a tarot card to me, sitting in that chair, with blue behind her and a giant dog on either side. She became friendly, personal. Not that she said it explicitly, but I learned then from her the lesson every writer needs to learn but never will. You can do anything when you write. If you’re writing and you think of a painting, have the painting appear. If the painting needs to talk, so be it. If, at the end of your work, you have a heavy impulse to let the lovers die suddenly in a toy store fire, destroy them. If the wolves need to speak to God, as they do in 99 Stories of God, well then:

“Thank you for inviting us to participate in your plan anyway,” the wolves said politely.

The Lord did not want to appear addled, but what was the plan his sons were referring to exactly?

Characters are not people, after all (they’re not wolves, either, though they are closer to animals), though we must show compassion to whatever they are. They don’t need to “make sense,”even if we need to try and make sense of them. In fact, definitions, which claim total understanding, will likely fail us when we write and read. Here’s the Lord again, in 99 Stories of God:

The Lord was trying out some material.

I AM WHO I AM, He said.

It didn’t sound right.

THAT’S WHO I AM. I AM.

It sounded ridiculous.

He didn’t favor definitions.

He’d always had the most frightful difficulties with them.

Little symbols, strung together, just like the ones in this essay, are what make characters. They’re shapes the djinns are cast through. They are not alive/they are alive in us. So the writer’s responsibility is to write them into being through that liminal space: dead and alive, sleeping and awake, animal and plant, drop and ocean, symbol and gesture. You can do anything. This is not an easy thing to remember as a writer. It’s a bit like sitting up straight: You have to keep reminding yourself to do it. Once you do it enough, writing becomes a place for wildness in a world where wildness will appear to be killed. Reading Joy Williams is a brush against this sublime evasiveness, this animal behind the trees. She doesn’t control each word, as some people might think. She just becomes some sort of medium, just tightens the bow and touches the spine so that the sound and the golden glow come through.

And what is wildness if not the Living and the Quick and the Dying and the Dead, all at once?

 

Book-lust, or, I’m Reading A Book A Day and You Can Too

17 Nov

books

Book-lust used to plague me, because I didn’t know how to love it.

 

For years (almost two decades, now), I’ve had a dream of reading a book a day. Someone told me that Susan Sontag read a book a day (and later, I heard that Noam Chomsky did the same). I have no idea if that’s actually true, but the myth was almost overpowering. If she could read that much and write as much as she did and think as deeply as she did and direct plays, give talks, etc etc. Surely, I thought, it must be possible.

I’m sure the original idea was that reading a book a day would make me more like her.  As time passed, I realized that wasn’t necessarily a desirable goal, given some of the less pleasant contours of her life.  But her notion of living a serious life remained. I wanted to read a book a day, not to collect books, but to equal the commitment and artistry that was found in them.

But you know how the story goes:

L

Susan Sontag, in varying moods of bookishness.

I bought books and books thinking I’d read them, and they stacked up around me. Soon I had all those words waiting for me to live up to my promise. It started to feel like I was buying books to accuse myself of not reading them. That’s not necessarily an unpleasant feeling.  Going to bookstores (including the one I worked at for seven years), the pursuit of books, was a pleasure in and of itself. Bringing them home, having their colored spines show up on the shelf, feeling the promise, it was all good. It kept me in a constant state of arousal.

 

But the pursuit was a single pleasure, seeking a complimentary partner in reading that equaled it. I didn’t just want the books around me, I wanted them in me.

Instead of books, I carried the urge to read more of them in me for years. I enacted it too slowly. I’d read a book every two weeks, or, at best one or two a week. What would happen if, instead of lengthy considerations which took second stage to the rest of life, I immersed myself in constant conversation with an array of voices? What would happen to my thoughts if they were always active with style and challenge and whatever else was beautiful (or terrible, for that matter)?

Anyway, this is a longwinded introduction to a project I embarked on, of reading a book a day. I’m in week three.

If you’ve longed to do it, here’s how I’m pulling it off. I don’t know that these guidelines would work for you, but I think pieces of my plan might be helpful.

How To Read A Book A Day: Guidelines to Myself

  1. Pick the books for each week a few days before the week starts.
  2. Pick more than seven books, so that you have some leeway.
  3. In general, pick books that are no more than 200 pages in length.
  4. Have some quickly-read books on hand: Plays, poetry, very short books. Finally in desperate cases, books that you had previously started, approached the end of, but never finished
  5. If you want to read a longer book, or if you start a book and it appears that you won’t finish it before the end of the day, have one of the shorter books on hand. That way, you can read the part of the longer book and finish the shorter book. Then finish the longer or not-finished book on the following day.
  6. If you have to stay up to finish a book, break out the coffee and make it happen.
  7. Tell your loved ones. Ask them if they’d like to hang out somewhere and read with you. Or, if you really want to involve them (and they want to be involved!), read plays or poetry or short stories out loud with them.
  8. Understand that in the first few weeks, it’s going to take some time to adjust. That means you might fuck up your work schedule a bit, you might disappoint a few people with plans, etc. That should clear up as you get used to it.
  9. You can have one day off a week. Try to avoid taking a day off. But if it happens once, its okay.
  10. Don’t get caught up in whether or not this is a good or bad way to read books. You’ve done it the other way – slowly – for your entire life. You’re doing something new now.
  11. Go for at least a month, then check in with yourself.

Anyway, all that said, I’m in Week Three after having adhered to my guidelines for the first two weeks.

Here’s a list of the books I’ve read so far:

WEEK ONE

week1.1week1.2

Intimacies by Leo Bersani and Adam Phillips. In Praise of Love by Alain Badiou. How I Became A Nun by César Aira. Outside Mullingar by John Patrick Shanley. The Joy of Revolution by Ken Knabb. Talk by Linda Rosenkrantz. Blue Yodel by Ansel Elkins.

WEEK TWO

week2.1week2.2.JPG

True Deceiver by Tova Jansson. Song and Error by Averill CurdyThe Beach Beneath the Street by Mackenzie Wark. The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjöberg. Variations on the Body by MIchel Serres. Lobby Hero by Kenneth Lonergan. (missed one day)

I’ve got a lot to say about each book and also, about all the books and what it feels like to have them flow in and out of each other. But that will come out in my writing organically, I’m sure.

But one note here: Not only has the experience been tremendously energizing and enlivening to my thoughts, but I also experience the lack of anxiety. The urge to read a book a day is gone, and in its place is space and time. It might seem funny that spending hours every day reading should give me more time, but I feel the relief of a certain kind of pressure. Lust, in other words, has become, through following it faithfully, its virtuous self: chastity. Experience feels purified.

Okay. So. Let me know: Have you ever tried this? If so, what are your methods of going at it? If not, and you long to, what can you do to make it happen? What will you read?

CH

 

#TheSexRadicals, Conclusion: Where are the sex radicals of today?

22 Sep

AASBEach week this summer, I’ve been posting short essays on sexual thinkers who have changed my perspective on sex, and who, I believe, could be instrumental in helping us remake Western sexual culture. All the figures were dead except one, Amber Hollibaugh, who I included because, in my life, she’s tied to the other thinker featured in that post, Edward Carpenter, in a way that I felt made both more illuminating.

The task at hand after the series was finished was to cap it off with a review of the sex radicals of today.  I thought it would be easy.  Instead, I found myself searching without much success and wandering around in a sort of cultural pessimism.

It’s not that there’s a shortage of people doing amazing sexual thinking. I know dozens of people who are doing essential and powerful work around sex.  I list some of them here in hopes that you will find and engage with their efforts.  People like:

sex and law scholar Eric Berkowitz

trauma and abuse researcher Susan Clancy

Middle East cultural critic and feminist rebel Mona Eltahawy

sex work journalist Melissa Gira Grant

trans rights activist/porn occultist Bailey Jay

critical theorist Roger Lancaster

writer and researcher into childhood sexuality Judith Levine

the dispeller of sex and porn addiction myths David Ley

cultural documentarian and sex worker advocate Maggie McNeill

sex-in-evolutionary thinker Christopher Ryan

The world would be worse off without any of these people’s vital efforts. And for all the tremendous amount of respect and

Wilhelm Reich

Wilhelm Reich

gratitude I have for them, I don’t find in them the big picture risk of someone like Wilhelm Reich, or the comprehensive theorizing of someone like Jacques Lacan. Nor anything like Ida Craddock‘s attempt to merge dimensions of science, pleasure, spirituality, and feminism into a usable practice of sensual liberation.

This isn’t a slight to any of the luminaries I’ve mentioned.  Rather, it’s a report on the state of the world, which has seemingly moved on from a renaissance of interdisciplinary thinking. Instead, thinkers tend to find a niche and gather information, to become experts.  This is, in some ways, a positive development.  After all, the sweeping generalizations of the modern era led to (and continue to lead) to colonialist wars, racism, classism, and more.

But the drive to discover the entire world in yourself, and to discover yourself spread out across the world your very being located everywhere, that does bring us something potent and radical.

Perhaps more to the point, that the current cultural impulse demands we sequester our work and not allow the free flow of other disciplines into our own is decidedly un-sexual.

My mentor, biologist Lynn Margulis, was an interdisciplinary radical if ever there was one.  She knew geology, chemistry, microbioogy, botany.  She could recite Emily Dickinson poems by heart, and at the end of her life published a book of fiction.  She went to school for philosophy and helped create the field of biogeochemistry, which studies how living beings interact with non-living beings in profound discursive loops.

Lynn and Me.

Lynn and Me.

“The people down the hall from my lab,” she told me, “have no idea what I’m doing.  And the people down the hall from them have no idea what they’re doing, and so on.  How is anyone supposed to know what ‘science’ is if scientists don’t talk to each other?”  That was in a single University of Massachusetts building.  Now what about that building and the humanities building?  And other campuses?  And people who don’t go to college or teach at a college and those that do?  The world is hopelessly fragmented and continues to harden into fine intractable points of view.  We don’t have disciplines any more so much as we do shards of thought.  We can’t help but harm ourselves with their edges, still jagged from when they were broken off from the whole.

Happily, there are deeply interdisciplinary thinkers that write and speak about sex. The founder of the Center for Sex and Culture Carol Queen, for example.  Science fiction writer and academic Samuel Delaney. Sex therapist and author Chris Donaghue.

I don’t mean these intellectuals are “better,” simply that they are doing the work of introducing disciplines and perspectives to SOTLother disciplines and perspectives.  They are bridges for disparate ways of thought.  These sorts of bridges are desperately needed.

And we need to do more than that, even.  We need to focus our efforts on more than just sex.  Sex is the teacher, and its lesson is not merely itself.

I’m guilty myself of every charge here, of course.  I’m guilty of limiting my scope and vision and action, and I’d like to do better.

A world that embraces true sexual freedom will need to be pluralistic, because sexuality is individual.  Unfortunately what our culture embraces, sexually, is pluralism’s opposite.

Fundamentalism is the default attitude of our culture when it comes to sex.

It’s an attitude composed of a psychotic certainty about what is sexually moral.  People and institutions in power may have set the stage for these fundamentalist attitudes, but everyone perpetuates them.  Whenever you slut-shame someone, whenever I reactively flinch at a friend’s sexual preference, whenever we unthinkingly let a sexual taboo go unchallenged, even if we are sex positive, we reinforce sexual fundamentalism.  The best way to combat fundamentalism is to cultivate in thinking, feeling and action, a true plurality. Sexually, you may engage with people you might not normally find attractive, try a new sexual act, question your patterns and boundaries.  But let’s move beyond sex here to get truly sexual.  We can read and investigate topics outside of our interests, allow ourselves to be uncomfortable.  Pull a book at random off the shelf at the library, force yourself through it, whatever it is.  We can speak to people outside our group, however we might define it.  Start a conversation with a stranger, and watch your thinking as you proceed.  Finally, we can believe in and hold lightly concepts that are counterintuitive to see how they feel.  Allow love for your enemies, whether they’re people or ideas.

When we view the world pluralistically, when we see many disciplines, the image of the leader dissipates and is replaced with and image of partners.

When Lacan observed the revolution in France in 1968, he said “What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master.” He knew that what usually happens is that people replace one assembled invisible worldview with another.  There’s no desire in that.

So how can we change the landscape of sex without seeking new masters? 

I’m not sure, but my best shot is this:

Let sex teach you.  Be its student.  Then look to yourself, the world is there.

#TheSexRadicals, Part 7: Jacques Lacan on How to Want Wanting

9 Sep
Jacques Lacan

Jacques Lacan

Each week this summer, I’ll be posting short essays on sexual thinkers (read the introduction to the series here) who have changed my perspective on sex, and who, I believe, could be instrumental in helping us remake Western sexual culture. It will include some bits about my own life, some history, and some controversial claims. The last installment was on Russian mystic Vladimir Solovyov’s and his virtuous concept of lust.  The series also appears on RealitySandwich.com. (heads up, Reality Sandwich was recently hacked and is putting the pieces back together. I’ll remove this message when the site is up and runnign again.)

Desire Is the Truth of It: Jacques Lacan and Wanting Wanting

“What does it matter how many lovers you have if none of them gives you the universe?”

– Jacques Lacan (1901-1981)

Let me use the cute and baffling koans of physics here to introduce you to French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.

Neils Bohr, a physicist, once said, “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.”  And Richard Feynman is also known to have weighed in on this:  “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”

If you think you understand Lacan, you don’t understand Lacan.

This is good news.

The powerful shock of not understanding him awaits you.

***

Jacques Lacan, silverering hair above a furrowed brow.  A look of…bemusement? Acceptance?  What is that look that’s always on his face?  He was born in France, he practiced psychoanalysis.  He drew from Freud, yes, but also Salvador Dali and James Joyce, among others.  He was adamant that psychoanalysis should be considered science, but also deeply suspicious of science.  He gave powerful lectures and treated psychotic patients (patients are distinctly referred to as “analysands” in the language of psychoanalysis). He was and is constantly pinned down by detractors, supporters, and friends alike, all certain they understand him.  Unlike many of the other thinkers in this series, Lacan has enjoyed waves of popularity in the US, although he has never made a dent in the collective psyche. Currently in a resurgence at universities, he is clumsily spun into any narrative that anyone wants.  Right now, somewhere, there’s a student starting a sentence with “Jacques Lacan says…”  Art historian and feminist Camille Paglia has (correctly) cautioned against the overbroad — she might say “stupid” — theoretical misuses of Lacan’s work.  Lacan’s friend Noam Chomsky (incorrectly) labeled Lacan an unintelligible and performative “charlatan.” 

Instead of “charlatan,” Trickster will do. 

Like the Coyote or the Crow of some Native American spiritual traditions (and rather like a Warner Brothers cartoon character)

Lacan shows up, sees the mess of the world, and understands and lives through it. “Lacan is a great thinker of disorder,” says Marxist philosopher Alain Badiou.  Lacan’s work confuses us with its strange wording and schematics, not because he intends (like many who are influenced by him) to use jargon, but because he wants to keep his integrity intact.  “I don’t boast of making sense.  Not the contrary either,” he says; an amplification of Whitman’s famous line, “Do I contradict myself? Fine, I contradict myself.  I am vast, I contain multitudes.”  At the end of his life, Lacan works to dissemble his theories.  Again, like a cartoon character: disappearing into his own cape, or, as Badiou puts it, Lacan “undoes by himself the knot of his own existence.”

If it seems like I’ve been spending a lot of time qualifying Lacan’s difficulty, it’s not out of apology.  I’m highlighting a key tenet

The subject supposed to know.

The subject supposed to know.

of his work: the discomfort of not-knowing, and just how much frustration we feel when we can’t understand others or the world.  It’s intolerable, isn’t it?  We want to know what it is people think and want from us; our parents, our lovers, our therapists, our bosses, even the authors we read.  If we don’t get what an author is writing about, we say they’re “bullshit” or if we don’t get what a lover wants, we say he or she is “fickle” or “crazy.”  We dismiss what we don’t understand with a phony gesture of total understanding.

To counter this, I’m not invested in who is “correct” about Lacan (and that includes not worrying so much if I myself am “correct,” as certain readers will no doubt try to point out).  I don’t need to adopt him as a perfect hero by which to view the entire world, or, for our purposes, sex and culture. Lacan is not someone who is supposed to know everything.

Rather, his work is a living and dynamic system, hopelessly complex and obviously simple, like any living organism.  There it is, moving and breathing in front of you, and yet full of intricacies and secrets you’ll never quite unravel.  Indeed, to truly encounter it, one must move with it.  It is rather like poet and scientist Goethe’s quote about nature, that to grasp it, we must “become as flexible and mobile as nature herself.”  In this case, we must be as flexible as desire.

***

When it comes to desire, first things first.

Lacan, and indeed psychoanalysis in general, gives challenge to one of our most basic assumptions:  That we are beings of knowledge. In other words, we learn something, it changes our view, we grow and then we learn something else. Any bit of information becomes a little collectible object.  Get enough of them and suddenly your world advances.

Lacan counters this.  Knowledge isn’t the thing we think it is. In the words of critical theorist Todd McGowan, psychoanalysis conceives “of the subject as a subject of desire rather than as a subject of knowledge.”  In other words desire is what leads us. If true, this poses a major problem for political movements and social justice activists.  It means that their view of change is far too optimistic.  However focused social justice work is on the woes of the world, the implicit message is, If we could just get culture and economics all tidied up, then everything would be all right!  This would depend on knowledge being the center of humanity, not desire. If everyone just woke up to new knowledge and awareness of what was “really happening” in the world, the world would be better.

The counter-notion of psychoanalysis is that people don’t want to change, even if they say they do.  They don’t want to change because their destructive behavior — destructive to themselves and others — is giving them something that they desire.  And to make matters more complicated, in Lacan’s play on words, “There isn’t the slightest desire to know.”  Everyone’s world view hinges on keeping behaviors and excuses and explanations as they are.  Desiring and knowing are at odds with each other.

What’s more, desire isn’t what it seems.  Desire is an active organizing principle.  It exists before the object of desire.  Put simply, desire is happening in us all the time, arranging our personality, world view, and behavior. We experience our desire when it finds something to focus on.  It could be a new car or a big bicep or a word of approval.  When we get what we desire, we’re frustrated, because desire can’t be ameliorated.  You probably know someone who has gotten her dream job, only to find herself frustrated with it.  Or someone who keeps moving to new locations, believing that surely this will be the perfect place for him, only to find himself drawn again to a new perfect spot.  When it comes to sexual experiences, they may be pleasurable, but now think of how frustrating they are when we expect them to satisfy our desire for sexual experiences or to be a cosmic encounter where all we feel is love and transcendent ecstasy. 

In other words, once we get what we want, we can’t want it anymore. 

Or we see that it’s not really what we wanted after all.  Either way, disappointment, and we search again.

For Lacan, changing the world requires not just action, but changing, or discovering, or creating the self.  That work requires moving with the current of an individual’s desire.  “Current.”  Desire is a movement, not a thing.  So, like trying to see the rushing movement of water rather than the water itself (which, even when still, is nearly invisible), it takes an extraordinary capacity.  One must peer into his or her own unconscious, and this can almost never be done alone.  That is the function of psychoanalysis.

One technique for doing this work is paying attention to words. For Lacan, everyone’s unconscious is a language.  It’s not made up of English or whatever words we use on the surface – it’s a language of associations and images, connections and gravities. The words we use are a sort of indicator of what’s going on, signposts in an vast and unknowable landscape. Words point to images, associations, and more, that are not on the surface of understanding.  Thus, the famous “Freudian slip,” in which the analyst focuses on a word that comes out in error.  Lacanian analysts also focus on repeated words.  Why, for example, is an analysand always saying “forced” when he could be saying “coerced,” “pressured,” “pushed into?”), and words that sound similar.  When someone says again and again, “I just want to be heard by my partner!” and always find themselves unsatisfied by their tone deaf lover, are they perhaps saying, “I just want to be hurt?”

Everyone’s unconscious is totally individual, and so requires a different mapping.  When you read the word “cat” for example, why should you envision the cat you envision, and not the one I do?  What brought you to your image?  And what about all the associated feelings you have with it?  And how would you describe that image and those feelings? What words would you use for those?

You can imagine the implications here for all the words we use for sex, as well as the associative erotic images and feelings.

Part of why the images and feelings arise is because they’re structured by forces outside of us. When we want something, for example, it’s often because we’re thinking about what others want of us. We’re imagining these people, imagining them even if they’re standing in the room with us.  We’re puzzling out what their desires and demands are.  We want to know what they want from us.  For instance, we think: She wants me to appease her, so I’ll ask her if she wants me to get her anything from the store or He wants me to submit to him because he’s always angry, but I will never do what he wants! 

Lacan doesn’t stop his interrogation there, though.  He points out that we think people want this or that from us because we relate to the world through an even bigger Other.  We believe what we believe about what other people want based on the way that we think the world works.

***

Yes, complicated! 

For Lacan, every shade of thought, every gesture of behavior has its own distinct reality.  This is a great compliment he pays Uus: our lives aren’t day-to-day, but inexhaustible.  We might look at ourselves and motivations and think, not much to it!  But through Lacan’s understanding, a whole varied, textured, and layered portrait appears.  No wonder he was interested in Joyce, who, in Ulysses, revealed that a single ordinary day was also and always a mythic saga of consciousness.

We are beings of desire, not knowledge.

Desire is not a thing, but a gesture of being.

Our words give indications of our unconscious and our desire.

We don’t know why we use the words we do.

We want what we want because we’re thinking of what others want from us. 

And we’re thinking of others in a certain way because we’re imagining a them in relation to an even bigger Other.

What that means is that in a way, our unconscious isn’t some totally static object that’s somewhere inside our brain.  Instead, it’s something that happens to and through us.  In that frantic swirling chaos of happenings, what do we do?  We try to make sense of it.

The way we make sense of the world is our foundational illusion.  It’s paranoid.

Imagine the stereotypical image of the conspiracy theorist, sitting in his bedroom.  He’s sweaty, of course, he hasn’t left his house in awhile.  On his wall are all sorts of photos.  Between them, strings connecting one photo to the next, to the next.  When his phone rings, it’s because someone is after him.  Is it the government?  When he answers, it’s just a telemarketer.  But wait, he knows that the telemarketer is actually a secret agent posing as a telemarketer.  Next time, he won’t answer because he knows why they’re calling him.

Conspiracy!

Conspiracy!

This is how we all encounter the world.  The key differences between a non-paranoid person and a paranoid one are that the paranoid person’s ego is on the surface, evinced by all his behavior, rather than hiding; and also that someone who does not exhibit psychosis in a paranoid way simply exhibits less certainty in her convictions.  But the fact remains: All of us are always threading the dots, creating connective tissue, making correlations.

Paranoia is an x-ray of a “normal” person’s mind.

This is why Lacan is so important to understanding sex, because our ideas of sex – which are, after all, intimately connected to desire on every level – are delusional.  Our feelings about sex are totally attached to a nearly psychotic level of certainty.  What is more common about sexuality than claiming to know what it is we prefer?  We like what we like.  “I can’t control what I’m attracted to,” people say.  “I’m not into that.”  The contours of most people’s sexualities are fixed by what we think others want: The state, our parents, our lovers, the person we’re hitting on, who “society” tells us is attractive, and more.  Even people who are not certain about what they may or may not want sexually are often totally certain about what they could or could not do.

And when it comes to relationships, we are often at our most paranoid.  Not just when we look through a lover’s texts, convinced he or she is cheating on us, and finding ourselves unsatisfied when there isn’t any evidence of that, but in the desperate work of assessing. 

Here’s a sequence to explore that: I spend a Monday night one a date with a guy.  It’s interesting, though not passionate. I see him again Wednesday and we have sex, and then I see him again on Friday but he makes me angry.  Even though he’s made me angry, I decide to see him again anyway the next Tuesday.  All along, I’m in a perpetual quest to pin down the situation with words.  I think “where is this going?”  and “are we dating?” And eventually, “is he my boyfriend?”

Another way to expose these frameworks: when we go out to bars and events hoping to find “the One.”  That one special person. 

It’s a reenactment of P.D. Eastman’s children’s book Are You My Mother?, a title just waiting for psychoanalytic dissection.  In

=

it, a lost baby bird wanders around asking other animals and even objects if they are his mother.  In the book’s climax, the fledgling interrogates a steam shovel, which, though terrifying, reveals to him the ridiculousness of his question and lifts him back into his nest.

The person questing for meaning at the bar looks at everyone he meets, sizing them up.  Is this “the One?”  No.  What about this person?  No.  What about…?

No wonder the question of the One can haunt us long after we get into a relationship.  Did we choose properly?

We’re all performing this paranoid structure, it’s just that most of us don’t know we’re performing it.  The job of the analyst isn’t to “cure” the person of their ego structure and somehow make them totally authentic. Instead, Lacan wishes an adventure on the analysand: What happens when you drop the connections you’re making and start to regroup your fundamental fantasy about how the world works?

Far from the desexualized stereotype that some critics place on him, Lacan wanted people to experience the true movement and fluidity of their desire.

Lacan, perhaps unsatisfied.

Lacan, perhaps unsatisfied.

“There is no sexual relationship,” he stated. We don’t ever really encounter each other during sex because there’s so much regulating the interaction, particularly our ideas of sex/gender/man/woman.  By the time we get to the bedroom, it’s already too late to meet another human being.  “One can no more speak of ‘woman’ than of ‘man’ without …invalidating in advance any conceptualization,” declared French feminist writer Helene Cixous.  Lacan might agree and add, “Or speak of any sexual advance either.” In sex, we only meet each other, instead, as “partial objects.”  That is, we encounter whatever aspect it is that we can handle.  Objectification is not the same as dehumanization.  Indeed, for Lacan, it is an intrinsic part of the sexual process.  The question that needs to be answered isn’t “How do we not objectify?” but “Why would I want to do anything else?”  Desire will lead you to releasing all the false objects of desire that you think will please you.  Follow it, and you won’t ever see other people the same way again.

“The only thing,” Lacan stated, “of which one can be guilty is of having given ground relative to one’s desire.” 

He didn’t try to dissuade anyone from their desires (and as such was one of the first psychoanalysts to work with people who identified as homosexual without trying to change them).  What he wanted instead, was for people to confront what they swore up and down was “real,” because it was precisely what they were using to avoid what might be truer.  To put it in the words of theological writer GK Chesterton, “the vision is always solid and reliable. The vision is always a fact. It is the reality that is often a fraud.” 

The desire is the truth, if there is such a thing.

*

Next Up:  Sex Radicals Today

*

Sources

Badiou, Alain and Elisabeth Roudinesco.  Jacques Lacan, Past and Present: A DialogueNew York:  Columbia University Press, 2014.

Lacan, Jacques.  The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge (Encore).                        New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.

Lacan, Jacques.  Écrits:  The First Complete Edition in English. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006.

McGowan, Todd.  Enjoying What We Don’t Have: The Political Project of Psychoanalysis.                                                                 Lincoln:  University of Nebraska Press, 2013.

Rogers, Annie.  The Unsayable: The Hidden Language of Trauma.  New York: Ballantine, 2007.

Zizek, Slavoj.  How To Read Lacan.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007.

NoSubject.com.  Entire site.  Web.

Interlude/Update/Events/Hello

2 Sep

inbedMy blog series, The Sex Radicals returns next week with the penultimate entry.  Until then, I wanted to give everyone a heads up about what’s going on here in my ridiculous life.

***

Upcoming Events

I’ll be speaking at Catalyst Con West on Saturday September 12, with my closest colleague, Dr. Chris Donaghue.  Our talk, “The Limits of Sex Positivity,” will focus on the pitfalls of the sex positive perspective and community.  The sex positive movement has helped contribute to a healthier, better educated, and more open sexual culture. But with any cultural shift, new dangers are created. What are the limits, pitfalls, and problems of the sex positive movement? For more info on the talk, click here.TT

The same day at Catalyst Con, I’ll be recording a live podcast discussion with porn director and sex educator Tristan Taromino on her world-renowned radio show, Sex Out Loud.  Click here (and scroll down) for info.

***

Media

Happily busy with podcasts, videos, interviews, etc.

A while back, I appeared on the Grimerica podcast, which focuses on science at the margins, the occult, and general weirdness.  This was my second appearance, and I was joined by the host of one of my other favorite podcasts, Skeptiko.  Alex Tsakiris and I talked about all sorts of stuff, and we don’t always agree (as usual with Alex and I), but it goes deep.  To listen to the discussion, click here.  If you like the discussion, there’s another one between Alex and I, on my blog, here.

Abby Martin

Abby Martin

I also appeared on Abby Martin’s new podcast, Media Roots RadioYou might remember my appearance on Abby’s radical journalism show Breaking the Set a few years back.  Or, if not, you might just know who she is and think she’s awesome.  You’re right.  Abby and I discuss the problems with gay marriage from a queer perspective, as well as bigotry masquerading as new atheism.  We also talk about the PEN America/Charlie Hebdo kerfuffle I was involved in a few months ago.  Abby just moved to New York to start her new show, The Empire Files.  When it airs, watch it.

In other podcast news, I also appeared on This Week in Blackness after Dark with host N’Jaila Rhee.  We spend the 45 minutes or so talking about the recent federal raid on the offices male escort service, Rentboy.  We also discuss all the issues of intersectionality (male privilege, homophobia, class issues, etc.) this raid raises.  Lots to chew on.

My series of sexual health videos for the LGBT Center in West Hollywood, produced by WeHo Life, are now out.

In the first video, I talk about cleaning yourself out in preparation for sex.  For some reason they wanted me to film that video in a public park, so, enjoy my frank public discussion of a generally private act.

I talk with Happy Endings star Stephen Guarino about open relationships and monogamy, and how to juggle both/either.  Quick tip: neither is in-and-of-itself easy.  Watch it here.

In another video in the series, I discuss how to create a sex positive community with stand-up comedian James Adomian.

James Adomian

James Adomian

Meaning, I discuss it with him.  Not, like, how to create a sex positive community with James himself.  Although, okay, sure, if he lives in your neighborhood, you might want to.

I loved shooting these videos because they allowed me to talk about sex and be goofy at the same time.  But not like “tee-hee, OMG it’s SEX” goofy, just like, “look, like is silly and we do this silly thing called sex when we’re alive.”

Also, they did a little opening credits animation thing where I’m the Superman of sex.  I like being a superhero.

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 11.53.06 AM

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