Watching you sleep, I see defenselessness, frozen worry pocketed momentarily, far from the muscles in your face that folds into the linen encased pillow. Your eyes roam the darkness inside you. When you awaken, you’ll reach for me, close me into your warmth, your body heat rising as you battle weariness in slumber’s imaginarium fraught with curiosity and care.
Easy. Sleep devours some while teases others, a little here and there, never on command. Always an uneasy relationship with sleep, I could write a book on the cruelty and charity of insomnia. After all, some mysteries solve under the light of the moon where the sun smashes them to smithereens, overexposed and heated.
“Mommy, what happens when you sleep?” The same kind of question like “How does your eye work?” that left me stumbling when my daughter, then 6, asked me. I did not know what the question meant or how to answer something so ordinary, so taken for granted and so available in the age of the internet. But how to explain it so she would understand was the mystifying assault on my usual ready to inform mode.
What happens to anyone in sleep–that great world divider between hope and despair? Death. Death to the waking world, the one we make sense of daily, and birth to the enigmatic world of weirdness and worry. Dream-works piqued wonder to others way before Freud. Prophecies preistesses told by dreams as hypnotic spells. And sleep, so much more than eye rolls, rapid eye movement and rest, reveals time’s illusion. Though the clock handles spin unceasingly while we play dead for so many hours, we have no recollection of its passage and do not experience it as we do awake time. The numbers do not lie, only our consciousness creates bent experiential time.
We travel in sleep, we fly, we problem solve and hit all kinds of brain receptors ranging from the pleasurable to the terrifying. As if the horrors of daily grinds, near missed vital truths and fatal accidents, deep abiding love attained and lost, rational solutions and indecipherable chaos, cannot affirm living human sufficiently. We need another look, another more creative, spatial-emotive glance at life’s curious condition to assure ourselves that it is better to live than die: God’s inserted micro chip in each of us. Otherwise, who would be there to entertain IT so thoroughly? Not all the others swaddled in space, far more advanced yet far less amusing than we.
Yet Freud’s or the French’s little death (orgasm) requires total submission and trust–to let go of holding on without fear of being judged or betrayed by another, a body or self.
Different pathway to the same result, which is total obliteration, mind-erasure, loss of control over the world–fear and pleasure.
Both test humanity.
When terror burns its path through a being, however, surfing its electricity at sonic light, what remains is not so much silence as a spentness, a vapid stripping of nerves that leaves a permanent mark, maybe a tic, a recurring memory, or a dullness close to death.
Dopamine refuses fear the same experience as orgasm, though dopamine injects its life-loving pleasure-ful substance in both, pre-death.
Both are ineluctable surrender, an abandonment of reason and belief, a blackness in the mind’s hole.
But I’d take a cheap orgasm over a good scare any day.
The therapeutic rewards of writing have long been touted even before Freud and “the talking cure.” Writers write endlessly about writing as compulsion, art, creativity, release, documentation, imitation, recording, reporting and life. But my scouring of the web today yielded very little about writing as a gift. Correction, writing as a gift to the reader. I read plenty advice to write as a gift to the self.
I teach writing. I have often wondered not only what every teacher has wondered (and Kurt Vonnegut wrote about in one smart anecdote he told in the New York Times “Writers on Writing” series), if writing can in fact be taught (which I think it can), but what can teaching writing teach about relationships.
Just like all roads in creative nonfiction lead home to the writer writing about writing, all teaching should lead to life, and what is life but relationships? We live in the world with other people–most of us. Relationships are relevant. Teachers should teach relevant skills, especially in classes teaching craft.
So, I try to impress upon students that grammar is life and writing is a gift, if you write consciously and conscientiously.
Grammar is life. The eight parts of speech comprise the basic elements, the core of the English language. However, what something is, changes in relation to what that something is next to. For instance, when is a noun not a noun? When it is up against another noun, side by side, in a sentence. Often the first noun acts like an adjective such as in the phrase “road runner” or “nurse maid.”
Similarly, a student sits in my class as a human being, perhaps a particular gender identified to that human. Sitting in my class, that human is a student, an enrollee and a peer. At home, he or she may be a sibling, a daughter or son, or spouse. People are defined by their relationships, where they are in the world–just like grammar.
And grammar is the coded order of our language, how we make sense of things. When we write–even for our own health or need–we write to be read by ourselves and others. To be understood is to write for someone else, to paint pictures, to explain something, to teach how to do something or vent, to name a few purposes of writing.
The act of writing is a giving. To do it well, to make it beautiful, clear, precise or illustrative, we must turn our eyes from ourselves to others, see like an other. What will my reader understand? What will it mean for the reader? My great gut-wrenching desire to get “it” right–just the right word–is the desire not only to create something worthy of respect, not merely catering to compulsion, but to connect a mind to another mind in a shared moment of thought or experience.
jarretfuller.com and illuminology.tumblir.com
My daughter and I were at the frozen yogurt store the other day when we overheard a boy about five years old say to presumably his mother, “I can’t wait til I’m a grownup!” Not exactly sure of the context, but I believe his mother had just conditioned his frozen yogurt choices on being old enough to know what was good for him.
Though the exclamation produced a smile on my face, my 19-year-old-off-to-college-this-week daughter quickly turned to the boy and said, “Don’t rush it, kid. You don’t know what you’re asking for.” And she laughed so as not to terrorize the boy.
I turned to her and asked, “Is it that bad?” She nodded, yes.
I know the anxiety of living away from home for the first time preys on her nerves, playing a checklist of to-do’s and what-if’s in her mind on endless repeat. I feel her.
She and I differ that way. When I left home, I had no thoughts. I left on the sheer will of want: whatever I wanted. It was only after I left that I began to worry as I realized I had no idea how to write a check let alone balance a checkbook. I had only one experience with a bank: a savings account my mother opened for me when I was in junior high, one with a little blue, firm-covered, palm-sized bank book in which to register deposits and withdrawals. I remember how grown up I felt then. But that bank book, regulated by my visions of large purchases and the change in my mother’s purse divided by four, did little to teach me about pooling money in time to pay rent, feed myself and pump gas into my car.
I learned, especially after a few months of barely living on graham crackers and cottage cheese or peanut butter. A visiting uncle, a psychologist from Texas, remarked to my mother at one family gathering during that time, “Does she have anorexia?”
Burning by my own mistakes was my way. Still is. So long as they were mine. My mother did little to prepare any of us five children for the world as she protected us–wittingly or unwittingly–from the responsibilities of grown-ups, cocooned as we were in our middle class suburban neighborhood.
Maybe it was the time too. She stayed at home and cooked for us, washed our clothes and poured our milk for us. I remember telling her one day in sudden astonished awareness, “Mom, I’m 12. I can pour my own milk.”
My children did not grow up the same way. Their parents worked and so had to fend for themselves more. Even when I worked from home when they were small, I advocated for their independence. As soon as they were old enough to complain about what was for dinner, I let them know they could make their own if they did not like what was on the menu and then showed them how to use the stove.
I am not suggesting my kids are not over protected or spoiled in other ways, however. While my parents had no means to buy their children things we nevertheless asked for, my kids have had more money given to them than I had. Growing up in a one-wage factory laborer family, we became accustomed early on to the idea that any material items we wanted would have to be purchased by our own means. I worked mowing lawns, helping my brother deliver newspapers and babysitting from the time I was 8.
My daughters, on the other hand, were raised to believe their grades and sports were their jobs, that they had too many years ahead for the paying jobs that they would eventually have to report to daily. “Don’t rush into working,” I always said.
So my 19 year old has had a job for a year now; she worked part time while attending the local community college to pay for her car, books, concerts and clothes. I know it has been a stretch, the responsibility, though I know it hasn’t been a shock. She is used to budgeting her time and her resources, having been over-scheduled since she was 6 with soccer practice, piano lessons, school, and whatever the day’s playdates or parties brought.
But it is not the practical how-to’s or what-to-do’s that have her worried about moving out. I know it. She can figure things out, and it isn’t as if she is completely cut from the cord. Smart phones have kept us connected for years now anyhow, near or far. I group text my daughters to come down from their upstairs perches (more like second-story caves) to dinner (when I cook).
Nope. What she fears, I imagine, is what we all do. Doing it herself–whatever it is. The psychological state of being on her own, which prefigures the time when she will be truly on her own, no parents to call upon for a word of advice or a few bucks (or few hundred) to carry her over til payday, is the foundational fear–of death, first others and then her own.
Not to be too dramatic, but Freud did not get everything wrong. Death and sex are primary human motivators. Everything that drives us is rooted in either or both.
When my daughter goes off to college, it will symbolize that eventuality (hopefully far down the line) of being on her own without the umbrella of parental love. She will experience it as a mix of anxiety and excitement. And even as she will be making her own love, whether parenting or not, which will occupy enormous space in her mind and heart, she will one day yearn–even if it is just for a moment—for a time when the burdens, seemingly too heavy to bear, were barely perceptible just as they were lurking, unnoticed, above her childhood, as she splashed in an inflatable pool in the backyard and wondered what was for lunch and if she would ever not be bored on endless summer days.
I know I have.
And perhaps my mother, sitting among us near motionless in the skin of a fading light, silently reminds her, also symbolically, that connections run deeper than the physical–etched like the voice that called her to dinner at night all those years of play and idle dreaming. Even when the voices are silenced into memory, beginnings and endings forge life forward even as they fall backward in the marching on.
Every day is a thrill to be alive, to be human–even when it’s not. Nothing pleases me more than settling into my writing routine each day with nothing on my mind. Reading around the Internet, then, is an adventure: wide open.
During the early 2000s, I taught a course called “Writing Your Life” at a few senior citizen centers in Riverside County, California. I was an English Composition instructor at the local community college when the call for a teacher came up through the community education division. I was happy to embark on something unknown–teaching folks much older than I how to write their life stories.
After a few rough starts, including a crabby ex-English teacher rolling her eyes at me, I got into the rhythm of helping my students tell their stories, rich in textures from worlds I imagined only through history texts, like hopping a train or tears for receiving a sandwich from a stranger during the Great Depression. There were some talented writers among the group, but most were there to listen and write to share their joys and sorrows–to be heard and seen. It was therapy.
Freud and those that came before him knew that talking about one’s life is therapeutic healing. Narrating the self gives the speaker the opportunity to frame her life with a beginning, middle and end for others to understand the point of the story, the meaning of one’s life in specific scenes or on the whole.
Writing has the same therapeutic qualities according to an article in The New York Times entitled Writing Your Way to Happiness. The article examines a study documenting the effects of students who wrote and re-wrote versions of themselves with respect to school performance and other aspects of their lives. The results were interesting, reflecting the importance of controlling perceptions–of others and of self. Students who re-framed their stories improved their performance in school.
“The idea here is getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go,” said Dr. Pennebaker. “I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.”
I agree. The creative urge is the same in writing and living–insight and projection.
Cheating: a lot of people do it, but hardly anyone talks about it.
Now, thanks to Whisper — a free online app where people anonymously share secrets — we have a little more insight into an otherwise private situation.
That is what I read in The Huffington Post the other morning while poking around the Internet. Apparently this anonymous confessing site is not the only one either. This idea has been around for a while on postsecret.com, which asks its participants to send in postcards with secrets–so I learned from my girlfriend.
Now what could be the benefit of an anonymous confessional app or space? I know the power of confession is great, a purging, and the anonymity allows for the confession, but how does that change anything for the confessor, the voyeurs looking on, or the couple? I can understand the voyeur part, as misery loves company is not a cliche for nothing, and perhaps the redeeming factor for such a site is for those who peer into others’ lives not just for vicarious thrills but to shore themselves up to do something about their own cheating or their significant others’ like confront or confess to the real live partner.
But as for the cheater confessing, what does that do other than provide a momentary relief of built up pressure that comes with holding in a really big secret. Does it alleviate the guilt associated with the act by justifying that others have done so too? Does it allow someone to reduce the self-hatred that comes with the act by seeing that he/she is not alone or the only person who has ever cheated? I can see how some would benefit from such a site. But for the serial cheaters and sociopaths, this site may actually be a narcissist’s delight; look at my exploits.
I believe the real need for confession comes in not merely commiseration but in communication and validation. If one carries a dark shameful secret, it works the mind of the carrier into shame and guilt, distorted thoughts of proportions from “I’m a bad person “to “no one has been as evil as I am.” If someone on either end of the scale confesses the secret and the hearer does not run away or burn up in the hearing, or the confessor does not explode, then the test of validation has occurred. He or she thinks in relief, “I said this terrible admission but the other is still looking at me as if I were a human being. Or, maybe, even sympathy or empathy.”
Human beings need continual confirmation that they/we are all together in being human. It’s lonely living in your own skin. There is no perspective, no context sometimes. The human egocentric being will distort the degree of horribleness of his crime or sin commensurate to how he feels about what he risks losing in having done that shameful deed: dignity, moral standing, trust, stature, jobs, friends, lovers, spouse and/or kids. For marital strayers, the need for confession depends upon that experience of projected loss and degree of guilt, whether religiously or secularly framed.
Confession as therapy has a long history from Freud’s “talking cure” and later Jung’s stages of wellness. Jung believed confession was integral to therapy and was one of the specific steps to recovering wellbeing. Others, philosophers like Michel Foucault, saw the confession as an institutionalized demand by society’s officials, the confession recipients. Whether criminal, medical, psychological or religious, confession is an extraction of personal details for the purposes befitting the one with greater power, the confessor’s hearer, i.e., police, doctors, and priests, according to Foucault. By the act of confession, one person is dependent upon the other for the hearing, the pardon, the judgment or non-judgment as the case may be, the punishment. One of the two-party configuration is in a position of power and the other is spotlighted in the gaze of the other, awaiting her fate.
When it comes to ‘straying’ spouses, should the offender confess to his or her partner? The answer to that question will vary according to the agenda or, not so cynically, the orientation of the advisor. Religious advisors may consider the moral character and state of the soul of the offender as paramount, whereas a psychologist may consider the long and short term damage to either or both spouses and the marriage itself.
In the small sampling of articles I perused on the subject from marriagehelper.com, psychologytoday.com, time.com and spiritualityhealth.com, the answer seems to be: it depends. Only one of the aforementioned seems intransigently prescriptive: in other words, here is what you have to do to make this work, regardless of the circumstances. The other articles weighed the grave injury to the non-offending spouse against the need for honesty and seeking for forgiveness of the offending spouse.
Some argued that it may be best not to tell for the irrevocable injury it would cause to the innocent spouse (I use these terms bluntly and descriptively only) not only in context of the marriage, which may well break up, but future going for the next relationship he or she enters, trusting issues, for example. Others advocate risking the injury and the probable breakup for the power and virtue in honesty and the contrition with which the honesty is given. Most agree that each case is different, which makes sense since each couple is comprised of specific individuals, not a common class of people.
Confession in itself is a rich source of contemplation, its ubiquity (Isn’t all social media confession?), its therapeutical properties and ritualistic sedimentation in cultures throughout the world, as well as its artistic value. One of my favorite poets, Sylvia Plath, harkens from what has been termed the Confessional Poets of the 50s and 60s, along with Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton, characterized by very personal subject matter such as domesticity, relationships and sexuality: novel for its time but pretty old hat now. Who doesn’t write the personal?
To delve in more deeply and expansively, I consulted the Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion and found an interesting morsel in an abstract of an article by Morgan Stebbins titled “Confession”:
The act of confession either begins a process of reparation or affirms the subject’s relationship with the transpersonal. That is, one can confess wrongdoing or confess one’s faith. In most religious traditions, the former is accomplished through ritualized admission, absolution, and repair, while psychologically it begins the formation of therapeutic trust and unburdens the subject of poisonous secrets….The word confess is made up of the Latin com (together) and fateri (to acknowledge), indicating that a process of change begins both with another person and by admitting that which is in error.
Getting back to C.G. Jung, in The Journal of Religion and Health, Elizabeth Todd in “The Value of Confession and Forgiveness According to Jung” describes confession according to Freud’s successor, as one of need by virtue of being human:
Man, a naturally religious being, has a need to confess his wrong and to gain forgiveness of one sanctioned to absolve. The curative effect of confession has been known for centuries. Without confession, man remains in moral isolation. Priests, ministers, and rabbis, as well as psychotherapists, attest to the universality of this human phenomenon. Confession is located in that place where psychology and religion meet-guilt. Jung’s views on confession bridge the chasm between psychology and religion.
Confession is relationship by its very nature. One confesses to an other, human or deity/spirit. Implicit in someone unburdening a wrong committed against the hearer is the hearer’s consequent carrying that burden; confession is a complex configuration of moral, ethical, and personal obligations and considerations of fairness, rights and compassion.
Does one who cheats have the right to feel better by unloading the gnawing secret on the one on whom he cheated or is he nobler to suffer quietly the burden of that dark knowledge and guilt so as to keep the other unharmed? If morality and personal integrity is the sole consideration, then isn’t the secret holder/strayer obligated to be honest regardless of the consequences for the ultimately highest purpose of integrity and rebuilding trust, i.e., if I confess the impossibly difficult, I show you I am capable of being honest going forward? What role does the other play as mere listener, forgiver and rebuker? Is honesty always the best policy? Your thoughts?
We are never so helplessly unhappy as when we lose love. ~ Sigmund Freud
Fringed in blue like the Israelite Jew
Shades of true, of you my baby blue
Capris and violet blue coats of denim
Your azure sky dreams my attention.
Glaucous eyes brimmed with the sea
to embrace the cold chalice ardently
and drink in the cerulean ceilings high
in the after-shadowing bloom of sighs.
Ultramarine me beyond your dreams
can only a southerly sensed vision be.
Acid monastral bubbling seething bliss
etches the skin sorrow of my mistress.
Sing a finch’d cornflower autumn song
of my thanksgiving hands a lithe strong
to travel me home again in zaffre smelt
in cobalt measure of springs long unfelt.
Serendipity. I was writing about shame the other day when a friend emailed me an article by Jeanette Geraci titled “Unwanted Arousal & Sexual Shame,” appearing in elephant journal on August 7, 2012, with the subject line, “Shades of You.” A reliable source so I read it.
In this article, the young female writer struggles with the shame of her fantasy life, one comprised of debasement and humiliation. The shame, she explains, quoting from Carolyn Shadbolt’s “Sexuality and Shame,” is “the result when the inner meets the outer,” referring to the inner fantasy life meeting societal expectation and the inculcation of “…moral edicts about what is sinful, the chastity of women, the sanctity of marriage, the moral degeneracy of homosexuality, the superiority of male heterosexuality, the deleterious effects of masturbation, gender roles, sexist imagery, biological determinism and so forth…” which form and influence consciousness and sexuality (Geraci quoting Shadbolt in the above-referenced article).
With embarrassment, Geraci admits she is aroused by debasement, images of the female form exposed and humiliated, something she confesses as uncomfortably anti-feminist. She reveals that her former therapist echoed popular social attitudes and normative constructs–as well as the writer’s inwardly adopted critical “voice”–that self-debasement, anti-feminist self-loathing-laden imagery was evidence of illness; she even feared she was a “demented pervert.”
“Reading” her, it occurred to me that she was in a three-way relationship with herself, her fantasies and societal dictates: she (subject) gazed upon her mistress (object), which was arousal, fantasy or desire, both of whom/which (Geraci and her desires) were seen/judged (subject and object) against societal norms, and in this triple gaze, she found shame.
I have to admit my friend was right. I identify. I also enjoy deep, dark, delicious and salacious fantasies about masochistic debasement, cages, leashes, whips, confinement, exposure, humiliation…sure. I have a rich imagination, always have. Why these fantasies? I could psychoanalyze and conclude that my life and my ego-produced self-idol as an overly burdened, overly responsible, overly worked mother, lawyer, daughter, teacher, sibling, community member and leader are the cause.
My life-long focus and long hours spent working for others, trying to solve their legal problems, carving spaces in young minds for some critical thinking and civic responsibility, volunteering my time to build others’ dreams and financial success, care taking of husband, children, parents and siblings (the go-to volunteer and legal advisor) needed counterbalance–a place of rest and surrender commensurate with the output and idol of my own making just shy of martyrdom. Extremely responsible people require extreme fantasies of complete irresponsibility–maybe.
So I could say the body/mind needs balance and self corrects. I could say I have guilt that I believe I need atonement for, something that happened in my childhood and has been buried. Perhaps it was growing up in a Jewish family (enough said) or being sexually molested by trusted family members. I am no psychologist and can only rely on what I have read and heard anecdotally throughout the decades to understand the possible effect.
But I am not going to concede my fantasies as deviant or the result of psychological trauma and therefore unhealthy. When asked about my theories as to the origin of my masochistic arousal, I have often responded that I thought my fantasies allowed me to safely dabble in the taboo. Long before me, Freud wrote that the taboo has a complex position in human lives. He defines the taboo in Totem and Taboo as a concept that “diverges in two contrary directions. To us it means, on the one hand, ‘sacred’, ‘consecrated’, and on the other ‘uncanny’, ‘dangerous’, ‘forbidden’, ‘unclean'” (75). So the taboo is extraordinarily both profane and sacred, the apogees in the unconscious.
I recall reading that ancient societies created taboos for organizational purposes, when heredity and genetics were unknown, from pre-psychology days. They served practical necessity: living in tribes where birth defects were observed or jealousies endangered lives led to the conclusion that sleeping with a sibling or parent should be a no-no. Survival of the tribe and society depended upon it. The numerous generations since have swallowed without questioning such practices or forbearance of behaviors deemed taboo, behaviors inscribed in flesh after so long.
However, it is in the human spirit to test limits, to yearn to know all there is to know, even what has been proscribed. There are those who need to go further or deeper than others. To complicate matters, in Judeo-Christian influenced Western societies, the bible with its begats and siblings procreating to get the world kick started confuses matters even more.
So many airy filaments to tie together, all invisible floating conflicting inflections of morality out there in a culture, in the consciousness of a culture. I have never thought of my fantasies as abnormal. Nevertheless, I have not wanted to share particular details of them to lovers or friends because I have a strong need to be liked and respected. Perhaps that need is an offshoot of shame, a byproduct or the source. But I never thought the having of them was wrong. I always knew that it was society’s prerogative to judge but that did not make having those fantasies wrong. That did not cause shame in the having.
I think the biggest reason I didn’t share my fantasies was to preserve that treasure trove of the deeply private, simply for the keeping. It is the deepest layer closest to the core, layered upon semi private space to the all too public space of daily life.
I was gifted time with my daughter today, my sorrowing baby with a broken heart, her first at 15 and 1/2. She reminded me of the beauty of aching sadness. I took her to the beach rather than school, and as we sat on the ridge of a small bank of sand overlooking the ocean, two dolphins slowly passed by, swimming leisurely, sometimes in sync, sometimes not, but they cruised the shoreline easily. She seemed to know what it meant.
There is texture to a day when the sky and the sea are only a few shades apart. Despite the subtle sameness of the two, the horizon is in sharp relief. The outline of each tittering tern or gull is charcoal black.
This was the backdrop of my soft discussion with her, both of us on the edge of tears for the pain, holding back the overwhelming flood of feeling, the sublime, the knowing that there is something more, as I spoke into the horizon of what I knew about staying with someone who pushes you away despite his needing you, the nature of depression and feeling.
There is a pain that measures and balances pleasure that reaches perfection. We need to go where there is no holding back sometimes–we practice the path in our dreams and fantasies.
I never felt that I wanted to live out all of my fantasies. Some are going-solo utilitarian, some are sexual enhancers, some I don’t want to experience and some I do. The striata is based on acceptability to myself and society, yes. But there are so many communities within which to be accepted, one to fit every fantasy one could possibly have: bdsm, bestiality, scatology, fetishism, necrophilia, you name it. There are societies of all flavors of the erotic or pornographic. The key is to uncover, recognize and deconstruct the “normative” voices in your head. Undoubtedly, some fantasies, if enacted, would injure me so survival instinct and pain threshold define my boundaries.
Trite, but we all come to this subject of fantasy with all that we have been and all that we are. The internet teems with those who have weighed in on the subject of so called “deviant” fantasy and arousal, professionals and lay people alike. The consensus seems to be that such fantasies are “normal” and instrumental to a healthy sex life, improving, enhancing and enacting sex with them in the safety of a relationship or the mind.
Unfortunately, it appears Geraci did not have the benefit of internet assurance and validation, or a bereaved daughter to show her the horizon on an overcast day. But she figured it out nevertheless. Her conclusion to an intriguing subject and a touching vulnerably written piece is that with age and support she learned not to judge herself and that others should not do so either, not on one’s sexual cravings and arousal source; she concludes that all is fine so long as no one gets hurt. Of course, the self is a someone, and I bristle a bit at Geraci’s title after such a conclusion. “Unwanted arousal” still implies a critique based on social mores. She apparently wants her arousal and to not be judged for it, enough to work hard to un-sublimate it, discuss it and defend it.
Arousal and shame have a rocky relationship. It’s like society and the police, necessary evils we want, support and hate–hate that we need them. They impinge on our freedom and remind us that we are susceptible and un-free. But anarchy is less predictable. We trade off. Our fantasies are trade offs too. We keep them to police, uncover and secure our socio-genetically formed psyche. But we also need them to give us, some of us, pleasure and rest, profound desire–and a rich sex life. They teach us who we are, ever mediated in the gaze.
A natural corrollary or perhaps foundational exploratory precursor to the analysis of sex and shame is anthropological and historical–the taboo.
I remember reading Freud ‘ s Totem and Taboo as an undergraduate Comparative Literature student. Thought bits have remained with me in the succeeding decades since that first read and have returned with the advent of my current meditations on sex, shame, arousal and discipline, the text, though ancient by modern standards, warrants another look.
The following excerpt begins a delving deeper into that relationship, which I will continue in fragments as they multiply and mature:
Chapter 2: Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence
Taboo is a Polynesian word. It is difficult for us to find a translation for it, since the concept connoted by it is one which we no longer possess…
The meaning of taboo, as we see it, diverges in two contrary directions. To us it means, on the one hand, ‘sacred’, ‘consecrated’, and on the other ‘uncanny’, ‘dangerous’, ‘forbidden’, ‘unclean’. The converse of ‘taboo’ in Polynesian isnoa, which means ‘common’ or ‘generally accessible’.
It may begin to dawn on us the taboos of the savage Polynesians are after all not so remote from us as we were inclined to think at first, that the moral and conventional prohibitions by which we ourselves are governed may have some essential relationship with these primitive taboos and that an explanation of taboo might throw a light upon the obscure origin of our own categorical imperative
p.86 Anyone who has violated a taboo becomes taboo himself because he possesses the dangerous quality of tempting others to follow his example: why should he be allowed to do what is forbidden to others? Thus he is truly contagious in that every example encourages imitation, and for that reason he himself must be shunned.
But a person who has not violated any taboo may yet be permanently or temporarily taboo because he is in a state which arouses the quality of arousing forbidden desires in others and of awakening a conflict of amibivalence in them… The king or chief arouses envy on account of his priveleges: everyone, perhaps, would like to be a king. Dead men, new-born (page 87) babies and women menstruating or in labour stimulate desires by their special helplessness; a man who has just reached maturity stimulates them by the promise of new enjoyments. For that reason all of these persons and all of these states are taboo, since temptation must be resisted.