Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 1 (or, Sex in the Gaze of the Sun)

8 Mar

This is the first in a short series of essays about the origins (origins, because there are more than one) of sex. The essays are inspired by my mentor, the biologist and geoscientist Lynn Margulis, and by a little quote by one of my favorite philosophers, Michel Serres

“Life superlives.” 

For Part 1, I’m going way back, to some early starfucking.

Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 1

SunSex in the Gaze of the Sun

For all the problems that accompany sex in our lives — shame and fear, jealous lovers, unplanned pregnancies, STIs — one might be surprised that, according to the scientific narrative, sex began as a healing act which diverted crisis.

Once upon a time, billions of years ago, the Sun’s violent and ultraviolet rays cascaded over an ozone-less Earth, greeting the only lifeforms with harsh light. These were the bacteria; prokaryotes, so named for their lack of nuclei (pro = before, karyon = nut or core).

These beings arose only to dissolve in the radiated presence of light.  They already had a way to repair themselves, or life would have never survived its bright beginning. Their DNA — the double-stranded molecule that many of us know about but that scientists still have trouble understanding — had begun to replicate itself through a series of gestures from various enzymes. If one part of a DNA strand was damaged, it was amputated by an enzyme that could cut the DNA bonds apart (a nuclease), and then another enzyme arrived to create wholeness and heal the void.

In the gaze of the Sun, the tiny prokaryotic innards were often too damaged to recombinate on their own. So these beings reached, in the mordial soup, for the ejected DNA of their dead kin, the floating pieces of bodies amongst them. They used their own enzymes in conjunction with the dead to repair themselves.

This was the beginning of sex for living organisms.

It was a co-mingling of partners. The Sun was there first. It aroused the prokaryotes, initiated sex, and then the presence of the dead infused the living with a new possibility for life.

Experiments today that replicate ultraviolet early-Earth intensities prompt similar responses in bacteria.

Life’s first sexual partner was a star.

That also means that by evolutionary implication, our first sexual partner was a star. The ancestors of all our ancestors undulated across the Earth, under a pulsing sexual sphere.

As children, we stare at the Sun, and it blots out our perception. As adults, we know better. When we look at the Sun, we turn away, flushed. It remains a flirtatious, sexual glance cast upon an unbearably beautiful face.

Next: The orgy that exposes identity.

Sources

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of  Microbial Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. What Is Sex? New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Serres, Michel. Variations on the Body. Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012.

EVENT: Come See the Best Person Ever Play Music. Or: Jeb Havens Sings! (and Maybe I Will Sing Too)

12 Feb

 

JGH1

JH

 

I don’t usually promote other people’s events, but seeing that this is the best person ever, I thought I would.

My best friend, singer and songwriter Jeb Havens is playing his album release party at Rockwell in Los Angeles on February 17th.

And you’re coming! I’ll be MC-ing the show and also maybe (I really mean maybe) singing NNNa little.

Jeb has been my best friend since, I dunno, a long time.  We used to be boyfriends (here we are talking about how to be friends after breaking up on my Logo TV web show), then we realized we were totally forever in love, just not in THAT way, if you know what I mean.

He’s opened up for Little Boots, Matt Alpert, Ladyhawke, and more.  Last year, he was all over the place with his heartbreaking cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” I know, I know, you’re thinking, how did he pull that off? Well he did. It was amazing.

His album, Home Base, was almost ten years in the making. It’s out on the 17th. It’s somewhere between Fiona Apple, Matt Nathanson, and Kacey Musgraves. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it’s all true. Here’s a teaser clip from his Fiona Apple-esque song, “Burn Slow.”

 

Come hang out with me and Jeb and all the other LA gaylebrities (sorry for that word, it’s just that there will be some recognizable gay-famous faces there) while he makes us cry by singing beautiful songs that will stick in your head forever.

I would never, ever, have been who I am or where I am today without Jeb.

Come celebrate his music with me.

Tickets here.

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

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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.

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