My continued exploration of Milligan's oeuvre uncovers more surprises. I know from 'Shade' that he isn't afraid to challenge himself and tell a differ...moreMy continued exploration of Milligan's oeuvre uncovers more surprises. I know from 'Shade' that he isn't afraid to challenge himself and tell a different story, but the sheer breadth of themes and genres he has tackled continues to surprise me.
Looking through Moore's work, you can see his obsession with certain ideas playing out over and over: the power of magic as a symbol, the interaction of violent political structures, and the way stories are built from half-truths and zeitgeist. Milligan has none of this translucence: each story is different, and the author remains strangely opaque.
It produces a kind of mystery for me, the same sort that encircles Shakespeare. When an author can write so much, on so many topics, with humor, wit, and vibrancy, and yet keep their own preferences from interfering, one marvels at the control they exert over their medium, and over themselves.
The story even unfolds differently. There is still that sense of unfinished pieces which must be put together until they can finally be seen as some kind of whole, but the tone and structure are very different from his other works.
The story is still one of human experiences, told through the particular views of characters, but the variance of experiences and characters ensures that there is relatively little overlap. Clearly, Milligan is not satisfied to pick apart the same ideas over and over, instead constantly driving himself towards unusual and difficult challenges, a goal admirable to pursue and impressive to achieve.
As I continue to work through what he has created, I hope that he continues to maintain this standard, not that it would be reasonable to expect. Already, he has shown himself capable of not merely one masterpiece like 'Shade', but to keep creating wholly new, brilliantly realized visions.
The Extremist is not his most groundbreaking work, and for all its concentration on conspiracy and mystery, it wraps up rather cleanly in a confrontational twist that recalls the overplayed conclusion of 'Skin'. But it otherwise bears the hallmarks of a strong Milligan story, transplanting you wholly to a new world of inexplicably familiar people, all bound up in a dreamlike skein of overlapping emotions and experiences.
Yet there is always something that reaches through the clouds to cruelly and unerringly transfix the reader, some combination of verisimilitude and sympathetic confusion. Truly an idiomatic style.
I remember the sense I had as a child that sexual perversity had been invented in the 1960's. Before that, everyone did it purely for procreation, and...moreI remember the sense I had as a child that sexual perversity had been invented in the 1960's. Before that, everyone did it purely for procreation, and only to people they were married to.
This was often the face put forward in the fifties, the dark ages of sex as culture. It's no wonder that this is where we get stories about couples having no idea what they are actually supposed to do on their wedding nights.
The depression and the war resulted in the centralization of cultural power. Nationalism, McCarthyism, church-based religion and patriotism are all about surrendering individuality for the safety of the group. Sure, the most eccentric 5% of the populace will be imprisoned, committed, or blacklisted, but the dull majority will be able to cling to the reliability of enforced normalcy.
This also allows the culture to transfer the energy normally spent on chasing tail to material production. There's a reason the puritans and Amish get so much done. However, once the war, persecution, and economic hardship disappear, leisure returns, and with it, recreational sex.
That isn't to say that there was no recreational or enjoyable sex in the fifties. It was not sex itself that went away, but the cultural discourse that has often surrounded it.
As usual, anyone who looks to the literature of the past can find all the peculiarity and perversity their heart desires. From Fanny Hill to De Sade to Sappho, there is plenty of sexual history to contend the myth that the clitoris was discovered in the 1960's. Most fourteen year old girls can tell you it doesn't take a team of scientists to find it. Fourteen year old boys might disagree.
The Satyricon presents a great deal of straightforward sexuality, including all the various sodomies and same-sex pairing. Particularly interesting from a sociological standpoint is the sympathetic presentation of pederasty. For the uninitiated, that would be a sexual relationship between a grown man and a pubescent boy.
Pederasty has been recorded among many cultures, from the Spartans and Athenians to the Romans, Japanese Samurai, and the most prestigious colleges of Britain and America. It was often a method to tutor the young man in the ways of life, not just sex.
After the West romanticized procreative sexuality under Christianity, a father might have brought his son to the town prostitute to 'educate' him. In my youth, it was vintage issues of Playboy passed from friend to friend. Now we have the internet and sex ed in school.
Each method has its strengths and weaknesses, but as the Satyricon shows, they are different means to the same end: producing a fully-fledged member of your society. Though pederasty is now a deviant practice, it is not inherently psychologically damaging (at least, not more than any other sexual relationship has the potential to be).
Even sexual abuse is not necessarily harmful outright. Psychological damage can also come from social moralizing after the fact. The culture of victimization and powerlessness saps all strength and identity from those who have been forced to endure unfortunate circumstances. In cases of abuse, children often do not feel frustration and depression until people around them make it clear that they are supposed to feel this way. A man who becomes bankrupt is not hurt by the loss of pieces of paper, but by losing the freedom and power the culture ascribes to them.
Some have argued that youths cannot make informed decisions, and hence are liable to fall into manipulative and unequal relationships. While this is certainly true, many full-grown adults are equally uninformed and prone to manipulation.
I don't mean to suggest any need to change our laws, since our cultural traditions have no role for pederasty, there is no way for it to operate as a healthy relationship. However, I would suggest that people try to appreciate that our traditions are just as arbitrary as those of the Romans. There's nothing like history to remind us that there are many, many ways.
The Satyrican is also historically important for its uniquely accessible form. It is one of the only surviving examples of a novel-type narrative from the Roman tradition. It depicts the lives of small people and their everyday activities, from theater to dinner parties to beggars, prostitutes, and impotence.
The tale even follows the form of a comedic picaresque romance. Even though there is no direct tradition linking the development of the modern novel in seventeenth century Spain and the nearly identical narrative structure of the Satyricon, it provides an example of parallel evolution for the edification of literary critics.
The lighthearted tone and humorous situations give this work a remarkably modern feel. Indeed, it is more accessible than many newer works. It is intriguing for its presentation of Roman life, for its similarities with the novel, and for its frank depiction of the unheroic.
The Greeks and Romans developed calculus, crossbows, and steam power a thousand years before they would enter common use. Why should they not also innovate realism? I find comfort in the fact that the funny sex novel predates the codification of the bible. It seems history is as much the property of the prurient as the holy; maybe even moreso.(less)
This book's primary thesis is that the Marquis De Sade is the father of modern feminism. For the uninitiated, De Sade's works are infamous for their d...moreThis book's primary thesis is that the Marquis De Sade is the father of modern feminism. For the uninitiated, De Sade's works are infamous for their depictions of sexual humiliation and cruelty. We get the term 'sadism' from the sex practices he fearlessly explored.
Against all expectation, Carter supports this seemingly absurd thesis in a way that is lucid, reasonable, insightful, and even amusing. It seems there is a gift for women in Donatien's mad sensual rebellion, after all.
I have struggled for some time in trying to review this book, simply because it is still beyond me how anyone could be smart and talented enough to propose something so outlandish, and then to make it seem the most natural thing in the world.
Carter's observations on sexuality, gender, and pornography are as remarkable as Foucault's, with none of the meandering semiotics. Her ability to say precisely what she means, both evocatively and concisely never ceased to impress me.
She also suggests that many commonly accepted aspects of feminism are not only narrow-minded, but counterproductive. For instance: she presents how the popular 'mother goddess' figure is just another way to entrap women into the role of 'baby factory'--even making them proud of their one-dimensional existence. Of course, she says it better than I.
This book was roundly and vehemently criticized by high-ranking feminists when it was published. They could see no way that their plight could possibly be illuminated in the works of any man, let alone a man possessed of a perverse and dehumanizing sexuality.
They were uninterested in looking for a commonality with someone they were so clearly superior to. Contrarily, Carter shows that when we are able to connect ourselves to those we instinctively draw away from, we can move further from our narrow selves and closer to humanity.
How can a movement seek to move beyond mere gender definition and call itself 'feminism'? Would we call a movement to erase the delineation between rich and poor 'povertism'?
If the goal of feminism is to remove the discrepancies and prejudices between the sexes, why not name the philosophy after the goal instead of the conflict? 'Humanism' always sounded good to me.
Carter likewise desires to reach beyond barriers, refusing to accept a strict delineation between smut and philosophy. Her willingness to search for insight in the last place expected makes her first unique, and second, revolutionary. It is all too sad that modern sexual theory is still far behind the mark Carter set, it's current vanguard having neither the imagination nor the daring to match her, let alone excel beyond her.(less)