Sex & The Divine (Not Divine Sex)

The sinfulness of sexual pleasure has always had more than a fair bit to do with the sinfulness of woman.

From an essay by Francine Prose at Lapham’s Quarterly:

The debate over sex with the beautiful versus sex with the ugly had its twisted roots in the belief that there was an almost mathematical ratio between pleasure and sin. The greater the pleasure, the worse the evil. Apparently, too, there also was considerable worry about ejaculation as something that drains and weakens the male, a dangerous process in general and particularly in the presence of the predatory woman who, unlike her mate, doesn’t lose in sex a life-sustaining fluid. The rabbinic admonition to think of a woman as “a pitcher of filth with its mouth full of blood” was echoed in the work of the twelfth-century theologian Petrus Cantor. “Consider that the most lovely woman has come into being from a foul-smelling drop of semen; then consider her midpoint, how she is a container of filth; and after that consider her end, when she will be food for worms.”  [too much more]

Robert George on  heterosexual marital sex and hating anything else:

… the argument for marriage between a man and a woman can require “somewhat technical philosophical analysis.” It is a two-step case that starts with marriage and works its way back to sex. First, he contends that marriage is a uniquely “comprehensive” union, meaning that it is shared at several different levels at once — emotional, spiritual and bodily. “And the really interesting evidence that it is comprehensive is that it is anchored in bodily sharing,” he says.“Ordinary friendships wouldn’t be friendships anymore if they involved bodily sharing,” he explained to me. “If I, despite being a married man, had this female friend of mine and I said, ‘Well, gosh, why don’t we do some bodily sharing,’ and we had straightforward sexual intercourse, well, that wouldn’t be friendship or marriage. It is bodily, O.K., but it is not part of a comprehensive sharing of life. My comprehensive sharing of life is with my wife, which I just now violated.” But just as friendships with sex are not friendships, marriage without sex is not marriage. Sex, George said, is the key to this “comprehensive unity.” He then imagined himself as a man with no interest in sex who proposed to seal a romance by committing to play tennis only with his beloved. Breaking that promise, he said, would not be adultery.

The second step is more complicated, and more graphic. George argues that only vaginal intercourse — “procreative-type” sex acts, as George puts it — can consummate this “multilevel” mind-body union. Only in reproduction, unlike digestion, circulation, respiration or any other bodily function, do two individuals perform a single function and thus become, in effect, “one organism.” Each opposite-sex partner is incomplete for the task; yet together they create a “one-flesh union,” in the language of Scripture. “Their bodies become one (they are biologically united, and do not merely rub together) in coitus (and only in coitus), similarly to the way in which one’s heart, lungs and other organs form a unity by coordinating for the biological good of the whole,” George writes in a draft of his latest essay on the subject. Unloving sex between married partners does not perform the same multilevel function, he argues, nor does oral or anal sex — even between loving spouses.

Infertile couples, too, are performing this uniquely shared reproductive function, George says, even if they know their sperm and ovum cannot complete it. Marriage is designed in part for procreation in the way a baseball team is designed for winning games, he says, but “people who can practice baseball can be teammates without victories on the field.”  [ewww more]

From Johann Hari at the New Statesman:

After all the arguments for subordinating women have been shown to be self-serving lies, what are misogynists left with? They have only one feeble argument that is still deferred to and shown undeserving respect across the world, even by people who should know better: “God told me to. I have to treat women as lesser beings, because it is inscribed in my Holy Book.”

Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom are the editors of Butterflies and Wheels, the best atheist site on the web. In Does God Hate Women? they forensically dismantle the last respectable misogyny. They argue: “What would otherwise look like stark bullying is very often made respectable and holy by a putative religious law or aphorism or scriptural quotation . . . They worship a God who is a male who gangs up with other males against women. They worship a thug.”

Every major religion’s texts were written at a time when women were regarded as little better than talking cattle. Their words and commands reflect this, plainly and bluntly. This book starts with a panoramic sweep across the world, showing – with archetypal cases – how every religion has groups today thumping women down with its Holy Book.  [the review carries on]

Marley’s Ghost

Original illustration of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol by John Leech

Dickens began writing his “little carol” in October, 1843 finishing it by the end of November in time to be published for Christmas with illustrations by John Leech. Feuding with his publishers, Dickens financed the publishing of the book himself, ordering lavish binding, gilt edging, and hand-colored illustrations and then setting the price at 5 shillings so that everyone could afford it. This combination resulted in disappointingly low profits despite high sales. In the first few days of its release the book sold six thousand copies and its popularity continued to grow.

From David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page

Here is a hypertext version of A Christmas Carol

The Fundamental Theology of Politics

Marci McDonald, author of the upcoming The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, says, “Harper has given the religious right a welcome and access in Ottawa and government they’ve never had before – and they’ve become used it.”

They are, she says, “here to stay.”

[…]

But he [Harper] believes in an incremental approach. Author McDonald sees it as the foundation of his thinking: “It fits with his natural personality and tendencies.

“Is he really a fanatic?” she asks in an interview. “I do not believe he is. I think he’s a very wily strategist… I see him as tacking on a sailing course.”

She argues Harper’s social conservatism is “more strategy than a deep impulse of the heart” and doesn’t envision draconian social measures under a Harper majority, but rather bureaucratic tinkering, appointments and staffing changes. Anything he did on, say, abortion, wouldn’t be a sudden reversal but “something that opens the way.”

However, if he were to do something, McDonald concludes, it would be irreversible by the time it was detected and “would change Canada in a profound way… People seem to wake up to what Harper is doing too late.”

More on the Boom Times for PMO’s God Squad at The Star

Ah cha cha:

What Van Gogh Said

An online version of all 902 letters to and from Vincent Van Gogh, including sketches, annotations, transcriptions and translations is available at Vincent Van Gogh: The Letters.  The website contains

vangogh sketchall the known letters from and to Vincent van Gogh based on a close examination of the manuscripts and supplemented with explanatory notes. The text is presented in the original language and spelling, as well as in an English translation …  we have tried to add all the information to the letters that present and future generations might need in order to understand what Van Gogh and his correspondents mean and to what they are referring. This mainly concerns the identification of individuals, of works of art by Van Gogh and other artists, of books and magazines. Wherever possible we identify the origin of allusions to (explicit or otherwise) or quotations from novels and poems, the Bible, publications of art criticism or art history, and other reading matter like newspapers and periodicals. Contemporary circumstances and events relating to biographies, cultural history and art history are also explained. These were either known or self-evident to the correspondents, but outsiders lacked the background to understand them – and that certainly applies to readers more than a century later. All this information is contained in the annotations to the letters. In addition, the lengthy study of the manuscripts and the literally countless investigations conducted in the most varied fields for the annotations, yielded more general insights. These are presented in this introduction. They also relate to the subjects discussed in the letters, to the historical context in which they were written, and the circles in which Van Gogh moved. As such they supplement the annotations, but adopt a wider perspective. However, it is not just a question of the referentiality of the letters. One can also detect patterns and tendencies in Van Gogh’s way of writing and in his treatment of the manuscripts and texts as letters. Attention is drawn here to the most important of these.  [Van Gogh as a letter writer]

It’s a Mad Mad World

I haven’t been posting much lately.  I’m thinking.  The world is spinning inside my head.  I’m thinking Chris Hedges is right:

A culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion dies. And we are dying now. We will either wake from our state of induced childishness, one where trivia and gossip pass for news and information, one where our goal is not justice but an elusive and unattainable happiness, to confront the stark limitations before us, or we will continue our headlong retreat into fantasy.   [more]

I haven’t retreated into fantasy but I’m less and less sure of how to talk about illusions of reality.  I’m thinking.

And then there’s this.

Adrienne Rich: No ‘Hostage of Power’

From Christopher Soden at the Dallas GLBT Arts Examiner:

AdrienneRich-smallConsidering the literary canon of Lesbian writers, perhaps none have had the pervasive impact and influence of poet Adrienne Rich, who entered the scene early, but continued to learn and evolve as she gained recognition and accolades for her modulated, angry, confrontational, articulate, yet subtle verse. Not that Rich only addressed defiant feminist gender politics. Much of her poetry has a reflective, wistful feel about it. No one (who gave it much thought) would accuse her of monotony or polemics. Married to Harvard economist Alfred H. Conrad in 1953, they had three sons before the epiphany of her actual orientation was fully realized, the territory of her writing symbiotic with her journey of self-discovery.

A pretty good summary of Rich’s poetic career follows here.

Adrienne Rich at Modern American Poetry

Rich interviewed by Don Swaim in 2008 at Wired for Books

On Adrienne Rich at bookslut

A list of online criticism for Adrienne Rich

Death of a Poet

I am very saddened by the suicide of poet Deborah Digges.  Her book on a journey with her difficult teenaged son is one of the most courageous pieces of writing I know of – only just slightly less courageous than the journey itself.  It gave me hope when I had little faith in my own much critisized mothering.

In recognizing Digges’ death, Edward Byrne posted this, written by Digges, on his blog, One Poet’s Notes:

“Once I asked myself, when was I happy?
I was looking at a February sky.
When did the light hold me and I didn’t struggle?”

And this.  I can do no better:

And here’s reaction from Tufts University where Digges taught.

Burning Bright

Today @The Guardian you can find a lovely slideshow of illustrations from classic children’s literature as published in the Walker Illustrated Classics Series.  Here’s one by Paul Howard from Classic Poetry:

tiger

‘The idea of illustrating classic poetry terrified me at first – I can’t remember jokes let alone poems from my school days and consequently think of myself as a ‘poetus ignoramus’. To my great surprise this worked in my favour and I found myself embarking on a fantastic voyage of discovery. I lived and breathed poetry for months, collecting many images of each poet. I wanted the portraits to reflect the period in which the poets lived, and countless visits to museums and libraries and a mountain of research lies behind the pictures … ‘  Paul Howard

Marilyn

From a review of Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde by Pam Rosenthal:

marilyn1How did a perpetually frightened and insecure young woman summon up such powers of illusion? Out of what fathomless need did an illegitimate child who spent years in foster homes command so much attention and so much love, even 40 years after her death? How, out of a series of doomed affairs and marriages and some not-very-good scripts, did she manage to tell us so much about sex? And what kept her from ever satisfying her own needs for love and respect?

Oates presents her story as a tale of the grotesque, a horror story akin to Stephen King’s “Carrie,” another book about an unhappy child with a mad mother. Like most horror stories, “Blonde” is a tale of freakish overcompensation, impossible wishes granted, awesome power ill-used, demons finally undefeated — the story of an injured child who can’t be healed, even by the love of the millions. There’s nothing supernatural in it, of course, unless you consider the immense sway that movie images and technology hold over all our imaginations.

Unlike genre horror fiction, though, “Blonde” is a huge, incantatory, expressionistic work that doubles back on itself to retell stories again and again, building its themes and variations through a seeming infinity of retakes. Description approaches hallucination. The action is told by numerous voices, some singular and famous, some anonymous and plural. Sometimes the narrative voice is breathless, almost gasping — the ghostly Marilyn Monroe voice, oddly formal and well mannered, too high and thin for the body that produced it.

Read the whole thing here

Galumph Don’t Glide

From Donald Fanger’s review of Stepping Stones: Interviews With Seamus Heaney by Dennis O’Driscoll:

There is a lot here about how poetry comes into being. Speaking of Robert Lowell’s “epoch-making poems like ‘For the Union Dead’ and ‘Near the Ocean,’ Heaney explains: “They came from where he was cornered, in himself and his times, and were the equivalent of escapes, surges of inner life vaulting up and away. Every true poem arrives like that, with self-consciousness giving way to self-forgetfulness in the glee of finding the words.” An aside on Lorca finds him making the same point in other terms, finding in the Spanish poet’s essay on duende an implication “that poetry requires an inner flamenco, that it must be excited into life by something peremptory, some initial strum or throb that gets you started and drives you farther than you realized you could go.” “The image I have,” he writes later, “is from the old cartoons: Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse coming hell for leather to the edge of a cliff, skidding to a stop but unable to halt, and shooting out over the edge. A good poem is the same, it goes that bit further and leaves you walking on air.”

One striking example comes in his discussion of the famous lines from his early poem “Digging.” Heaney explains: “In the case of the pen ‘between my finger and my thumb’, ‘snug as a gun’, and all the rest of it, I was responding to an entirely phonetic prompt, a kind of sonic chain dictated by the inner ear. It’s the connection between the ‘uh’ sounds in ‘thumb’ and ‘snug’ and ‘gun’ that are the heart of the poetic matter rather than any sociological or literary formation.” That aural susceptibility is everywhere on display in this book, as when he comments: “I always hear the tinkle of a whitesmith’s hammer in the word ‘tinker’, the rim of a tin can being beaten trim”—or when he speaks of “poems full of linguistic burr and clinker.” (“If I couldn’t altogether escape an Irishy/Britishy formality,” he comments, “I had an inclination from the start to dishevel it. I’ve always been subject to a perverse urge to galumph rather than glide.”)

Read the whole thing here