This book has its flaws, but it is fucking devastating and it is beautiful. It is also everything I didn't bother with or avoided for years of literarThis book has its flaws, but it is fucking devastating and it is beautiful. It is also everything I didn't bother with or avoided for years of literary reading. I was a fool. ...more
The truth is that while the introductory biographical stuff is interesting, and the extensive and somewhat dull guidance at the end is probably usefulThe truth is that while the introductory biographical stuff is interesting, and the extensive and somewhat dull guidance at the end is probably useful to people who are less inclined to eye-rolling at some of the content, the real meat of the thing, what people still come to this book for, the fancy-design-groovy-as-hell heart of the book, which I assume is the original pamphlet, is actually worth checking out.
Man, it's fun to flip through. And stare at. And it contains some real wisdom that no amount of eye-rolly irony can simply dismiss. I am not inclined to agree with everything here, or even most of what is here, but the thing is just way too interesting a document to just ignore. This is from before alternative religious thought in the West became all pastel and insane; it's when Western self-proclaimed saddhus used to just give it to you straight, all the shit about having to die to this world to be reborn into enlightenment, when they'd talk about death and the darkness and light of the universe without sugarcoating it.
If you haven't read this, and for some reason are interested in reading what the first man in the 20th century to get fired from a tenure-track position at Harvard for feeding psilocybin mushrooms to undergrads then devote to a guru in India has to offer as an introduction to a particularly psychologically-driven version of Eastern religious thought, married with some Perennialist tendencies and even stuff about how Christ is plenty groovy and the Bible's a real trip, too (man), but all in the context of a very 60s outlook, then you should probably read this.
All that said, you could probably dismiss a lot of this with just a line or two from Blake. ...more
Despite the above expressed sentiment, the one star is not an indication of seething hatred as much as simple dislike.
I'm sure that the book hBlech.
Despite the above expressed sentiment, the one star is not an indication of seething hatred as much as simple dislike.
I'm sure that the book has given much to people who don't wish to do more serious work in (or read more serious work on) investigating the areas and issues covered. And there's really nothing wrong with pop treatises such as this one. They're just not for me, and I wouldn't recommend them to most people I know.
I fully expected not to be wowed by the content, but what surprised me is just how clumsy the style is. Plain prose is fine for stuff like this, but it's not even efficient plain prose, and the book is structurally more than a bit of a mess.
I also suppose that some of my reaction just has to do with not being particularly moved or interested by stuff that moves and interests others. That's fine, too. I suppose.
So blech, again. Except some of the motorcycle stuff was neat. ...more
I was tempted to give this one star at times, three at others.
The most laudable thing about this book is that Falk avoids the traps many other anti-cuI was tempted to give this one star at times, three at others.
The most laudable thing about this book is that Falk avoids the traps many other anti-cultists fall into: -treating new religious movements (popularly called cults) as categorically different than (and less respectable than) old religious movements -assuming that the Abrahamic faiths (especially Christianity) somehow have, by default, less potential for harm than Asian spirituality and religion -failing to recognize that cults form in many quite secular contexts: e.g. frats, the military, workplaces, and so on. As a graduate student in literature, I am most thankful that Falk recognizes that both Freud and Jung were leaders of classical cults of personality that followed the same tactics and urged the same dogmatism that religious cults, UFO cults, and so on rely on.
On the other hand, the book is written with such bile-laden ferocity and anger (Falk had a rough time of things in the Self-Realization Fellowship) that one is tempted not to take it all too seriously, even when the evidence compiled has its own force. Indeed, the whole thing has an air of immaturity about it. It really is just a book of gossip, mostly with a charmless, sneering tone.
Of course, when a lot of the "gossip" is about really fucking serious allegations of abuse, it's most certainly worth taking a closer look at. When it's about such allegations. I use italics there because much of the book isn't about such allegations. The chapter on Ram Dass, for instance (there are some other examples), is so devoid of anything shocking or even particularly troubling that one wonders at its inclusion. I also wonder at how reliable some of his sources are. Some really are reliable; there is a lot of good, valuable, important information here about the abuses that people get away with in the name of religion and spirituality. In some cases, however, the sources appear to be of the "this guy I knew said his brother's friend who was in this cult said that his girlfriend's mother's friend said that..." form.
The issue is that both reliable and somewhat sketchy sources are used. I am not denying the importance of exposing information from reliable sources.
There is also way too much sneering at consensual sexual relationships in spiritual commmunities (oh no! yoga teachers in the West have sex with their students?????!!!!! Who knew?!!!) [yes, there is often a power imbalance, but are we really going to rail against every relationship someone has with someone in their social circle who's higher up the ladder than they are? That would invalidate a large portion of relationships as abuses of power] and at drug use and at various other fairly mundane stuff.
I'd like to note that Falk did get me thinking about the parallels between BDSM and spiritual devotion. I really do not mean to be too fashionably unholy here. The interest in the parallels is genuine. His only comment on BDSM in the book seems to see it as pathological and necessarily problematic; this is also how he sees devotion to a guru, to God, etc. The reason why seems to be that Falk assumes that submission by choice is indication of seriously poor self-esteem, when there's a reasonable amount of anecdotal and social-psych/sex-psych stuff that suggests otherwise. He also assumes that playing the dominant role is necessarily always a matter of actual control, of genuine sadism. He displays no understanding of the dynamics of necessary care, of profound trust, and of very serious intimacy involved (as some have told me; I would of course know nothing personally of BDSM).
Do we have the ability to make such choices in the way we're often assumed to? I do not know, but I do know that this is not the place to try to resolve the millennia-old question of whether or not we have free will. Even the less complex subsidiary questions of influence-after-having-been-initiated and so on are immensely difficult to answer. My own feeling is that such influence is most often inescapable after initiation into a cult or culture or professional group or whatever it is. Critical thinking helps, but doesn't solve all problems. Advertising being the best example of this in the global cult of capital to which none of us alive, as far as I know, even asked to be initiated into.
Of course, the issue of blurred lines is always there in BDSM and always there in spiritual communities. In the use of certain drugs as well as in intense meditative practice, there is the possibility of ego death, often resulting in what have been called "bad trips" and "dark nights of the soul," respectively. In BDSM play, too, the issue of ego death looms large. Falk is no fan of ego death. But I don't think it's a simple matter (by the way, fascinatingly enough, "spiritual vanity" identified by Falk among ashram members seems quite analogous, to me, to the vanity displayed, I'm told, by many BDSM submissives and some doms; the notion that these egos are anywhere near dead is itself quite suspect [you'll also not have to struggle too hard to find LSD users who will endlessly flatter themselves about their special insights]).
Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to get at is that I see plenty of evidence that many BDSM circles have worked out ways to keep the lines from blurring and to turn what is often, in the world at large, actual abuse and actual psychological violence, into something quite contrary. And I think that many spiritual communities also have checks in place that mostly work.
Falk's assertion is we should "just say no" to most spiritual seeking and (I gather) pretty much all organized religion. I would contend, though, that by the same logic, we should "just say no" to power dynamics everywhere (and they are everywhere). Oh, and perhaps join together with others to create communities without power dynamics (I'm extrapolating here).
Oh, shit, that didn't tend to turn out too well, either, did it?
So let's just be freegans, then. But, damn it, we need support when we're hopping trains, and some of us are better dumpster-divers than others, so fuck, we're in trouble again.
I could go on, but I won't. In essence, I think what I'm driving at is that most human societies and communities contain some elements of fuckedupednness. Perhaps, and I know I'm being pessimistic, there's just fucked up shit that happens when people band together, and we can't seem to avoid banding together, given how profoundly bad it is for us to be genuinely alone. I am thoroughly convinced of the shittiness of some of the groups and leaders Falk discusses here, but thoroughly unconvinced that some of the others are all that terrible or that any of this is somehow unique to spiritual communities. Shit, even Falk doesn't seem to think it necessarily is unique to them.
Very important: none of the above is to imply that we should raise our arms in surrender when abuse does happen and pretend it didn't. One of Falk's most valuable points is that it must be possible to critique and to reform.
When compared to the work of dunces (Sam Harris) and raving ideologues (Hitchens, Dawkins) that constitutes the new atheism, Paul Kurtz's The TranscenWhen compared to the work of dunces (Sam Harris) and raving ideologues (Hitchens, Dawkins) that constitutes the new atheism, Paul Kurtz's The Transcendental Temptation, which predates the work of the new atheists by a couple of decades or so, is rather good. It covers much of the same ground, but actually provides much reasonable and detailed argumentation in doing so.
The major fault of the book emerges from the fact that it is not merely a critique of religion and new agey woo-woo stuff. It is also an argument for secular humanism. And while I find secular humanism, in the abstract, to be noble and beautiful, and while I was thoroughly one of these folks for a few years, I have become increasingly convinced that it is a dream of the well-educated philosopher or poet, seated in armchairs, meeting in beautiful rooms to discuss how stupid everyone else is for believing in magic sky fairies or seeing God in everything.
Kurtz devotes a chapter to Mosaic revelation and the history of the Jewish people. He takes great pains to stress that he is not anti-semitic, before making the declaration that a secular humanist must make if he is to stick to his logical guns: that the history of the Jewish people is a tragic history of a people who fell for the prophecies of and stuck to the laws of a charlatan and that much of the persecution Jews have suffered is due precisely to their unwarranted faith in their God and their scriptures. Much the same is said of Christians and Muslims, but given the lack of a proselytizing component to the Jewish faith, this chapter stands out.
It stands out because it illustrates the fact that Kurtz is proselytizing his faith in secular humanism. And while it is true that science and rational inquiry do not require faith in the same way religions do, secular humanism is not identical to science or philosophy. Secular humanism involves passionate belief in the power of its own tenets to lead to progress and, presumably, some sort of greater good in the world. It is, in short, a belief system. Secular humanism is not identical to simply lacking belief in religion and the paranormal and a refusal to stand in the way of science and philosophy. Secular humanism also involves much universalizing and a globalizing tendency that has already been critiqued sufficiently well enough that I need not bother doing so here.
There is also the small question of what cult(ure) formerly deluded folks are meant to join after they leave their deluded (by Kurtz's estimation) cult(ure)s? The globalized capitalist engine? It is quite unlikely that every atheist, agnostic, or secular humanist become a Bertrand Russell, and far more likely that they become another dipshit consumer who worships the box store aisles and tech products in place of more out-of-fashion gods.
It is very convenient for Kurtz to designate Marxism as a religion. He seems not to think that secular humanism could go the way Marxism has gone. But let us imagine a world led by a council of Christopher Hitchenses. Contemplate the neoliberal bullshit masquerading as enlightened secular humanism that could come of that.
Also worth noting here that Kurtz repeatedly mentions Freud and Freudian ideas as if they are perfectly sensible and rational and have any empirical or scientific or philosophical validity whatsoever. I've read a fair amount of Freud and found some of it pretty good, but as much of it complete woo-woo crap virtually indistinguishable in terms of validity on empirical or logical grounds from stuff you'd read in new age books (some of which also contain much insight, despite their pukey covers and placement in appalling "metaphysical" bookstores).
Kurtz has a lot of ammo to use against the major Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and against whatever minor prophets and charlatans and psychics and UFO cults an so on that he chooses to pick on. These are, in many respects, very easy targets. His (very brief) chapter on mysticism is extremely weak by comparison, yet this is precisely where he ought to have focused some more nuanced argumentation (given that his book is called The Transcendental Temptation. His strategy is largely to suggest, without outright claiming it in some cases, that mystics and drug users and others who have had experiences outside the realm of Kurtz's experience are probably experiencing some form of pathology or psychosis. That they must be nuts, or at least they're driving themselves nuts. Oh, and sexual repression. That Kurtz appeals to Freud to counter the experiences of mystics and to launch not-so-sly personal attacks against people who seek to overcome worldly temptations reveals very much indeed.
The result is that Kurtz is more dogmatically anti-spiritual than even Sam Harris. Even Harris, due to an experience with MDMA, is convinced of the potential value of spiritual pursuits and the often mysterious or at least complicated and unsimple character of reality.
On a bit of a tangent, I want to mention that Kurtz doesn't really discuss Hinduism, which, notably, is the least worldly, most transcendental, most mystical, most out-there of the top three world religions, but which also has the most non-violent (to outsiders, anyway) record of them all, the one that has contributed the least amount of fucked up shit into the world. Yes, Hindu extremists exist, who have recently persecuted Muslims and Sikhs (nothing in comparison to Muslim persecution of Hindus in centuries past, it must be noted), but given the magnitude of this religion's history, its record is pretty remarkable. And, again, it is the most transcendental.
And hey, what if you swapped every bloodthirsty, intolerant mainstream religionist of the Abrahamic faiths for their mystical counterparts, for Kabbalists, Christian monks, and Sufis? What if, in addition to those, you had a bunch of new age hippy types with their crystals and so forth and a bunch of occultists? Would they battle science the way mainstream religion has done? I sincerely doubt it. They may not aid in progress, but what is this dogmatic progressivism? I may wish to simply maintain a small plot of land with a couple of goats and some plants and, when not tending the land, make love to my wife and perform superstitious rituals. Why the fuck not? If there were any proof that being an atheist or a secular humanist necessitated superior contributions to the world, that may be an argument against indulging in the transcendental temptation. Kurtz seems to think it's important that we all do stuff. I wish to appeal to the following paraphrase of Pascal: wouldn't shit be a lot better if more people just learned to sit quietly in their rooms?
The error Kurtz makes is in attacking the transcendental and assuming that mainstream Abrahamic religion's deleterious effect on the world is rooted in its lack of acceptance of the way Paul Kurtz views the world. Mystical spirituality is probably the best weapon against the violent frothing fervor of the religious mainstream: this is my belief statement. Secular humanism is probably not. The reason why is identified by Kurtz himself. He ends the book by noting that secular humanism will need to have similar appeal, similar grandeur, similar mythic significance for it to power itself into the place of established religions and transcendental practices. But what would be left of secular humanism at that point? Would it not have emerged as something of an intellectual/political cult and would it not be liable to fall into the same traps that every thing and every person who gains real power seems to fall into?
Kurtz's book is nowhere near as confident in itself as some of the newer stuff in this area. It is clearly the work of a good academic philosopher. It is also a work revealing of great bias and of a lack of understanding of social nuances and the nuances of spiritual exploration and spiritual community. ...more
The title gives you an idea of what to expect, but the book is still a (mostly pleasant) surprise.
Albert Hofmann, as everyone knows, is the Swiss cheThe title gives you an idea of what to expect, but the book is still a (mostly pleasant) surprise.
Albert Hofmann, as everyone knows, is the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD. The standard narrative is that he's not at all like most of the people who have taken LSD since the fateful afternoon on which he became the first to experience an acid trip while bicycling home from his laboratory. The truth is more complicated. Hofmann does view LSD as his "problem child." He has a disapproving attitude regarding the use of the drug as a recreational inebriant.
What one ought to expect from the book, but probably doesn't, is that this is very much a scientist's book. It is not what certain types of human have been known to refer to as "trippy," despite containing what are known as "trip reports." Hofmann is a fairly dry writer, and assumes that the reader is as interested as he is in accounts of the chemistry of LSD and other psychiatric drugs. Wade Davis' writing on psychedelic drugs in One River is something like these parts of the book, from an ethnobotanist's perspective. This makes for a very pleasant and welcome departure from the nature of most psychedelia, which tends to be about somehow approximating the psychedelic experience or the various rantings and ravings of those who believe their minds to have been expanded.
And what's most curious about the book is that, while it is very much a book written by a chemist, it is also a mystic's book. So Hofmann is both chemist and mystic, man of science and man of well, if not God, then something of that general order. Suitably enough, given that psychedelics are both chemical molecules and gateways to mystical experiences (as shown by the Good Friday experiment at the Harvard Divinity School and the recent Johns Hopkins studies). Now, whether a mystical experience is "real" in that it literally involves meeting the "spirit realm" is not something I want to deal with. My personal feeling is that everything is reducible to some sort of material explanation, but that mystical experiences are, in themselves, a remarkable and peculiar species of experience, and one that might aid the world in general, no matter how annoying the people are who result from such experiences. And I think Hofmann comes across as being more or less in the same camp as I am, although he has spiritual beliefs I do not have.
It is not a very well-written book, and the content veers from this to that so often that it can get disorienting, hence the three stars and no more. But at the heart of the book is an accurate and serious account of a fascinating molecule and a plea for its reasonable and sensible use in therapeutic contexts. This book was written some time ago, but it is only now that the potential of psychedelic drugs in therapeutic contexts has come to the attention of largely white Euro-or-Anglo-oriented therapists. And that renews the importance of this account by the father of LSD.
If you intend to purchase this book, buy the MAPS edition. 100% of profits go to "psychedelic psychotherapy research."
Clearly compiled by a religious studies scholar. There is no doubt that the Indian philosophical tradition is often inextricable from theological andClearly compiled by a religious studies scholar. There is no doubt that the Indian philosophical tradition is often inextricable from theological and other religious traditions, but given the small amount of space here, too much is given to selections that do not have all that much philosophical import. Where texts have both religious and philosophical import, the texts or selections from texts are not edited to remove materials that have not very much to do with philosophy except in a too-broad and too-inclusive sense. Still waiting for a book on Classical Indian Philosophy that is more similar to the book on Buddhist Philosophy published by Oxford University Press. I've yet to find one. The most useful books I've found are written by Indian scholars in the first half of the twentieth century and do not include any primary sources directly, only the scholars' discussion of those texts. ...more
As entertaining as I find Morton's later work, there is a sense in which comparing his earlier work against his later work is genuinely sad. I want toAs entertaining as I find Morton's later work, there is a sense in which comparing his earlier work against his later work is genuinely sad. I want to give this more than three stars. There's a lot here that's the stuff of genius. It's a profoundly engaging literary history, but not only that. Morton's readings of Keats, Coleridge, Charlotte Smith, and even Milton stand out as some of the better ones I've encountered. In fact, parts of the book may be considered primers on how to do original literary criticism without being an overreaching fuckwit. There's also enough here of the humour and style that makes Morton's later books worth reading.
Unfortunately, there's also a substantial amount of nonsense here. And repetition. But, in the end, it's a book that informs readers that Milton's Satan was a drug-pusher and that Dryden was a Satanist and that makes a pretty excellent argument for Keats as a master of camp. So, I don't know, just wade through the crap about charlatans like Lacan. ...more
"I knew the work of Descartes and Malebranche well, Spinoza a little, Aristotle not at all; Plato and Pascal quite well, Kant not at all, Hegel a litt"I knew the work of Descartes and Malebranche well, Spinoza a little, Aristotle not at all; Plato and Pascal quite well, Kant not at all, Hegel a little"- Louis Althusser ...more
Pretty far removed from and much better than stuff like Mad Men and Philosophy or all those other pop-culture-and-philosophy things. This book is pretPretty far removed from and much better than stuff like Mad Men and Philosophy or all those other pop-culture-and-philosophy things. This book is pretty serious and credible and the contributors aren't some wannabes stranded at rural community colleges, but serious philosophers at universities like Purdue and UC Irvine etc.
Found this to be far superior to Gesturing Toward Reality, which tended to be a bit bizarre at times. On the other hand, since these essays are written by philosophers, there are instances where, unlike a lot of literary criticism that engages with philosophy, the writers' grasp on philosophy is excellent but they appear to be deficient when it comes to the basic skills of literary criticism. ...more
"The most cynical use of women has been on the Left—cynical because the word freedom is used to capture the loyalties of women who want, more than any"The most cynical use of women has been on the Left—cynical because the word freedom is used to capture the loyalties of women who want, more than anything, to be free and who are then valued and used as left-wing whores: collectivized cunts"- Andrea Dworkin.
Yeah, Andrea Dworkin is the shit.
See, for proof, the chapter in which she exposes the ludicrous treatment of deSade by intellectuals, the countless attempts to exonerate not the writer but the man of his crimes, while ignoring his victims entirely. See, for proof, the way Dworkin reveals what an utter joke it is that Hugh Hefner is anything but another exploitative pimp.
I'm writing this on a Saturday night. It's 9:44 PM as I write these words. As a not-hideous male in his twenties who lives right by the veritable meat market known as Vancouver's Granville Strip, I am expected to be getting ready to go out on the prowl, looking to deposit my seed in some not-hideous female in her twenties. The not-hideous female will have shopped specifically for club wear, will have spent hours on her makeup and on ensuring her legs are free of any hair and that her pussy looks sufficiently prepubescent and that the hair on her head is sufficiently alluring. I am expected to go out there and buy her alcohol (aka the world's favourite date-rape drug), and play mental games with her (aka seduction), and this is meant to lead to us both getting laid (aka having utterly meaningless sex that somehow exceeds the emptiest masturbation in sheer loneliness).
And most of the above would take place against the background of the processed-into-oblivion voice of a young woman whose stage shows are identical to stripteases, except in that they are without even the burlesque or radical tendencies of some striptease. A woman, now a commodity, whose lyrics consist of various mantras of sexual "freedom" probably written by male professional songwriters. Alternatively, the background music is the swaggering bragging of a young male who really, truly seems to believe that he exists to find as many "free" women to drug and fuck and dump as possible.
Welcome to porn culture. This is what counts as freedom.
"Freedom is the mass-marketing of woman as whore. Free sexuality for the woman is in being massively consumed, denied an individual nature, denied any sexual sensibility other than that which serves the male. Capitalism is not wicked or cruel when the commodity is the whore; profit is not wicked or cruel when the alienated worker is a female piece of meat; corporate bloodsucking is not wicked or cruel when the corporations in question...sell cunt; racism is not wicked or cruel when the black cunt or yellow cunt or red cunt or Hispanic cunt or Jewish cunt has her legs splayed for any man’s pleasure... The new pornography is left-wing; and the new pornography is a vast graveyard where the Left has gone to die. The Left cannot have its whores and its politics too"- Andrea Dworkin.
But wait a minute; the not-hideous female I'm meant to "hook up" with does not regard herself as a piece of meat. She believes, on some level, that she's like the hot pop star, twerking her way into an embrace of femininity and her own sexuality. She would laugh at what Dworkin has to say. She wants to strut her stuff, drive the cute boys wild, have a wild night out.
Wait a minute; the not-hideous male, despite his feelings on all this, kind of wants to go out and stick his dick in the not-hideous female, who makes herself so available to him. He wonders what he's doing at home on a Saturday night, having recently experienced the end of a not-quite-relationship. He, or at least what William T. Vollmann calls "Mr. Penis," wants to get his dick wet. Mr. Penis says to the better part of him: "hey, when you went out to grab smokes earlier, did you see all those fucking whores? You know at least one of them would suck your dick tonight." And Mr. Penis is right. Except he's not morally right. And here's where we find out that Mr. Penis' counterpart is Mr. Self-Righteous. This guy says: "goddamnit, fuck people who think morality shouldn't matter. Fuck people who think we shouldn't judge Mr. Penis for his desires and his frequent taking advantage of not-hideous women's sexual and emotional insecurities. Fuck people who think that's just how things are and we shouldn't strive to be better than that. I'm better than that."
And so Mr. Penis and Mr. Self-Righteous have a little internal battle within the non-self of the not-hideous male.
The not-hideous female dances away, makes out with guys she's never going to go home with, doesn't make out with the one guy she will go home with. The not-hideous male realizes that, after a while, he loses track of what the not-hideous female's thinking inside her head. And he realizes that maybe he had no idea what she was thinking to begin with, but just figured that it kinda made sense because of a few facts about her appearance.
And then he realizes that it's not unfathomable to think that she also has no idea what's going on in his head, that she's also constructed bullshit fantasies about his thoughts. That every girl he's fucked for the sole purpose of fucking has had this whole thing play out in her head about his wants and his desires and his ideals and what it means to him or doesn't mean to him that he fucked her.
That they are both probably on some weird auto-pilot ritual.
And that what they've played out is, to a frightening extent, conditioned by a culture and by systems that see him as what's there to fuck and her as what's there to get fucked and that have told them that this is what sexual freedom is: to embrace the fucking and to ignore any of the seriousness of it and to roll their eyes at the few people who think it's serious. To roll their eyes at the epidemics of STIs, at the emotional malaise, at people who believe love can exist.
And that neither of them experienced, even for a second, anything resembling what freedom felt like the few times they've experienced something like real freedom.
That they've both, but especially the male, been exposed to pornography that sends these messages over and over and over and over again for cumulative hours. That there is no way to be certain that they're actually smart or strong or free-willed enough to be able to state with anything resembling certainty that they haven't been influenced by the pornographic culture they live in.
And this is what the not-hideous male knows: that he really likes that he has so many options, so many liberated women to fuck, so many whores who comply with what corporations sell to them in the guise of freedom; that Mr. Self-Righteous is the merely the other side of the dick, the flaccid side, that Mr. Penis always wins out when he's hard. And that he doesn't just like actually fucking women who conveniently buy into the notion that freedom means being the perfect male fantasy; he also likes jerking off to them in porn. And that, to some extent, Mr. Penis is always going to be pro-pornography. That Mr. Penis is welcome in most circles, even those on the Left, the supposedly enlightened Left that embraces people's right to do whatever they want with their own bodies and that anything between two consenting adults is perfectly fine. And that "two consenting adults" are in fact consenting while they're playing out this weird drugged ritual of desperate sad fucking.
I'm young; I must fuck. If I'm single, I get horny, I watch porn, I jerk off, I see the woman on the street, I want to fuck her. Mr. Penis is so goddamn happy that she complies with my wish to fuck and then ignore her because I don't want to deal with the difficult shit, because commodity culture has taught me that not only are my laptops and iPhones and pizza boxes there for easy consumption and to be disposed of later but also people are there to use and then dispose of.
And what's really insidious about this last thing is that unlike the phones and other bullshit, I'm not even made to feel guilty about fucking somebody then ignoring them. This is supposed to be liberated. Hey, man, she also used you, they say. And that's supposed to make it alright. Hey, you're not bound by ideas of monogamy or any sort of intimacy anymore, you're not expected to actually give a shit about anyone, you're being free, just like you're free to consume everything else.
Because you don't have time for intimacy; you have to get up and go to work so you can buy shit and you're too tired to care about people when you get home at night. So they're entertainment now, like your TV and your internet. Freedom.
This is what sexual freedom as we've painted it seems to be: the "freedom" to be as uncaring, as callous, as stupid about sex as you are about everything else. The "freedom" to make sex as meaningless as everything else. And if someone points out that it's meaningless, what you're doing, you can say: "get in touch with your body. Embrace your sexuality."
And what Dworkin gets at is that this is all very, very convenient for men. Most dudes are perfectly fine with all this.
"The boys are betting on our compliance, our ignorance, our fear. We have always refused to face the worst that men have done to us. The boys count on it. The boys are betting that we cannot face the horror of their sexual system and survive. The boys are betting that their depictions of us as whores will beat us down and stop our hearts. The boys are betting that their penises and fists and knives and fucks and rapes will turn us into what they say we are—the compliant women of sex, the voracious cunts of pornography, the masochistic sluts who resist because we really want more. The boys are betting. The boys are wrong"- Andrea Dworkin.
You know what? I think Dworkin's arguments are often not arguments at all. I think she knowingly stretches the limits of truth on a frequent basis. I think she misrepresents things frequently. I think she's way in the wrong that male sexuality=violence, rape. I think she's way in the wrong in equating de Sade with the purest essence of male sexuality. In fact, I don't think she gets men at all, or understands what our deal is.
But why should she bother caring? Why shouldn't she write something this rhetorically brilliant?
Fuck the questions. It's good that this book exists. It's good that Dworkin isn't writing some deeply intellectual argument about the psychology of pornography. It's good that this is as emotionally honest and as brutal and as visceral as it is. If I hadn't written so much already I might try to analyze this book's rhetoric and get at why it's so goddamn perfect as a piece of writing and as an appeal for real justice.
Because no matter how many cases and how many things counter Dworkin's arguments, she is absolutely right in the deepest sense about everything she says here about porn and about what it means. And she's morally in the right, too.
Who reads this and thinks: hey, but *insert-not-molested/addicted-porn-girl-here* seems to be having fun? The book's not an attack on any one porn performer or director or producer. It's an expose of pornography. It's one of few grand attempts to cut through all the bullshit.
And there's so much bullshit. And while no part of my conscious self enjoys women being ignorant or fearful, while no part of my conscious self is betting on "fists and knives and fucks and rapes" winning out over calls for freedom, while no part of my conscious self wants to "beat [women] down and stop [their] hearts," Mr. Penis is perfectly happy with how much he encounters "the compliant women of sex, the voracious cunts of pornography, the masochistic sluts."
And from my male perspective, which is the only perspective I can write from or claim to speak for on any level, Dworkin got at something in me that is neither Mr. Self-Righteous nor Mr. Penis, but something that neither makes over-the-top empty moralizing gestures nor something that just wants to fuck "voracious cunts."
Dworkin got at something deeply empathetic, an aspect of my male self that acknowledges with deep horror that Dworkin isn't some screaming hysterical banshee but just one of the few people who had the guts to point out all the delusional shit and sexual-impulse-justifying crap we love to revel in.
I don't know that "the boys are betting," at least maybe not consciously for most of us. But shit, I sure hope "the boys are wrong."
And if I haven't lost a bunch of friends already I might now lose some; what's valuable on, I guess, a sort of literary level about Dworkin is that she gets somewhat profoundly at the combat between the sexes. She deals with that scary, scary thing that none of us male or female seem to want to confront. And here's what might lose me some friends: a lot of Dworkin's writing here is the female counter to the way Hemingway wrote about relationships with women. I don't think Hemingway hated women, by the way. And I don't think he was endorsing the way his male characters thought about them. I think he was being fucking honest about the way things tend to be, which is really sad and also really hard to reduce to biology or social conditioning or whatever the fuck. And I think Dworkin's being honest in the same really, really fucking rare way. And given the history of patriarchy, it matters way more to listen to the female side of that honesty.