If I hate myself and masturbate, does that make me a hypocrite?
Monthly Archives: November 2006
This image is a good example of how some art is transformed by the knowedge we bring to it. Although, I guess all things are transformed by the knowedge we bring to them. Sometimes this enhances our apppreciation, sometimes it deadens experience e.g. we often “stop seing” the things around us because they have become too familiar, we come to imagine them to be what they are not – most people, for example, when asked to draw a tree, will paint the trunk brown, despite this only sometimes being the reality.
In this photograph, however, what we know changes our view of the photograph in a powerful way. It is, on the face of it, a picture of a man and a boy and, as such, we bring to it certain aesthetic appreciation, our experience of fatherhood, our own childhood etc.
Now look at the photograph again. Its title is “Retarded Boy.” What new levels of emotion and appreciation does this now provoke?
“The term white noise is also commonly applied to a noise signal in the spatial domain which has zero autocorrelation over the relevant space dimensions.” (Wikepedia)
“Because white noise contains all frequencies, it is frequently used to mask other sounds.” (http://home.howstuffworks.com/question47.htm)
“To “show the white feather” is to display cowardice. In cockfighting, a white feather in the tail is considered a mark of inferior breeding. In Victorian England a purported coward would be presented with a white feather.” (Wikepedia)
There are few things people don’t talk about these days. Flicking through the many blogs on the web, for example, gives an insight into the propensity for us all to blab ad nauseum about anything from masturbation to marriage, from betrayals to boredom, from art to alliteration. Everything is up for grabs; no secrets too private, no subject taboo. Not that this suggests that there is a great outpouring of truth; we witness the same old false logic and obfuscation; same old lies wrapped up as candour.
But that is OK. We are humans and we talk – about everything and anything, it seems. Or do we? Are there areas of ourselves and our lives that we never discuss? Ever?
Well, I’ve read a lot of blogs, spent many a happy hour with good friends eating a fine meal, drinking a great red and yelling at each other across the table. I’ve heard all sorts of confessions, usually drunken; witnessed lots of soul searching, mostly cloaked in anonymity.
And only one area remains off limits – cowardice.
No one ever talks about that moment in their lives when they acted without honour, without dignity and out of sheer self-interest or self-protection. You know, that moment which when recalled makes us wither inside.
And I don’t mean that time when we were afraid. That is too easy. Cowardice is fear become action. Or reaction. Or inaction.
They say a coward dies a thousand deaths but is there such a thing as a permanent coward? Or are we all cowards at some time in our lives?
And why do we find that so hard to talk about?
They say that the things we are afraid of define who we are. Perhaps it’s the way we react to the things that we fear that most reveals our secret heart.
The illustrious French writer Gustave Flaubert was a common frequenter of brothels. He wrote, “A man has missed something if he has never woken up in an anonymous bed beside a face he will never see again, and if he has never left a brothel at dawn feeling like jumping off a bridge into the river in sheer disgust with life.”
Of course, Flaubert paid for his full life with a number of doses of venereal disease.
Even poor old Kafka tried the joys of mercenary sex. Typically, it was not a great success and he records in his diary, “Lonely, long, absurd walk home.”
Hans Christian Anderson was afraid of sex almost all his life. He finally visited a brothel when he was aged 62 – but he didn’t touch, just paid 12 francs and left. He referred to the brothel as “a human shop.”
Is prostitution exploitation? If I am a prostitute by choice, can I be exploited? What if I am poor? Or a drug addict? Is my choice still free?
“We live in a world where the pornification of popular culture is nearly complete — where the satisfaction of every kink is an Internet click away and where a celebrity isn’t really a celebrity unless an unauthorized sex tape is in circulation. We’re a society of licentious prudes who freak out over a bared breast on the Super Bowl while stocking up on “Barely Legal” DVDs. The result is a nation obsessed with sex as plumbing, with the mechanics of carnality divorced from the soul-nourishing pleasures of desire.”
So writes Ty Burr Boston Globe (13 October) about “Shortbus,” a film that depicts real sexual activity as opposed to the use of images and editing to suggest sexual activity. And it strikes me as funny, as always, this strange thing we have about sex in art and culture. Why is the depiction of actual sex somehow more confronting than its suggestion? It’s as if the knowledge that something is “acted” legitimises its portrayal, in fact, is necessary to its categorisation as art. Maybe we bring to art an expectation that it will represent reality – clarify, illuminate and heighten reality – but not be reality. And there is a certain truth in this – effective artistic representations of death, love and nature do, in fact, reinvent reality in a form that enables us to see it through new eyes.
Is this the same for sex? Can it only have artistic merit if it is distorted through a lens that recreates its meaning? And can this only be achieved through simulation? Perhaps, the truth is that sex is always distorted through a lens of our own making – elevated, deified, worshipped and pursued to the point that its meaning has become lost. We have come to expect that mainstream films will enable us to view sex in a safe way that is easily transformed into what ever we wish it to be, to be subject to our own imagination, beliefs and prejudices.
Maybe “Shortbus” forces us to confront sex as it is when stripped of the safety net of “acting” – maybe that is where it becomes art. How is this different to pornography? Well, I guess, the context becomes all-important here. Perhaps pornography is real sex wrapped in unreal circumstances while art is real sex wrapped in a view of the world that is as purposefully revealing of the human condition as the sex acts themselves.
But I don’t really know. What do you think?
I have always loved this photograph. Intimate without being vulgar. Somehow rustic without being sentimental. I wonder who she was, what happened in her life after the photo. But then I wonder about all the nameless people in old photographs. And what lay outside that window, what lost world?
A long time ago I knew a man and woman who decided that their relationships would be based on total honesty. This, they decided, would manifest itself in all aspects of their lives together. When she would ask, “How does my hair look?” he would tell her, “I think it makes your face look fat.” If she didn’t like his shirt, she would say so. When one would look momentarily hurt, the other would say, “But we agreed to tell each other the truth all the time. How can we be truthful about the big things if we can’t be truthful about things that don’t even matter?”
I don’t know if they ever were truthful about the so-called big things; I was never privy to those sorts of conversations. Anyway the relationship struggled on for about a year with the “honest” moments becoming more frequent and the silences between longer. Finally they broke up.
But had their honesty been a failure or had it, in fact, never existed? Is telling the truth about everything – irrespective of its effect on the loved one – really an honest manifestation of the relationship’s basic premise of mutual respect and care? Or does the promise of truthfulness only represent the ultimate rationale for the exercise of power and meanness in the guise of honesty?
I guess it raises bigger questions of the nature of relationships themselves. One of the hardest lessons we learn from the failure of a relationship is that there were aspects of it that were the product of sheer illusion. We create in those we love impossible ideals that we think are necessary to sustain our love. We recover much more quickly from the incidents that disabuse us of our illusion (e.g. a betrayal, a beating) than we do from the fact that our illusion is shattered.
And, to a certain extent, maybe an affair is an attempt to rebuild illusions in our life; not just about a significant other but also about ourselves. Especially when this has become impossible in a long-term relationship where everything has become known and predictable.
We invent ourselves in a manner to attract love.
We recreate our partners in an image that we can love.
If these are the lies that form the foundation of most relationships, then even assurances of openness and honesty will always be just another deception.