Thinking with Your Blood


[Godwin warning] At an ICFA, I heard a paper saying that Nazis, being male bad guys, were mind-body dualists who hated women for their fertility. I could have sworn that the Nazis said things like, "Do not try to understand the Führer with your reason. You must understand him with your blood" and believed that fertility was precisely what women are good for. I gotta do something about these false memories. [end Godwin warning]

Another practitioner of hemocognition was D.H. Lawrence. Bertrand Russell made the connection in his autobiography, talking about how Lawrence would chide him for thinking with his mind, rather than his blood, but he eventually realized that this sort of thinking leads to the concentration camps.

That may be a bit of an exaggeration--surely Nazism is not an inevitable result of thinking with one's blood, and it would appear that Stalin thought with his mind--but Russell had a point. I am of an age to think of Lawrence first and foremost as an author They were trying to censor, and he has always struck me as the sort a First Amendment nut like me defends on principle, but without real enthusiasm. (And reading the description of his career in Hugh Kenner's A Sinking Island, one is reminded that he was considerably less loathsome than most of those who sought to suppress him.) As feminists have pointed out, there's real hostility to and fear of women there. Sex, to Lawrence, is not only the dumb upwelling fecundity upon which all agriculture rests (as Kenner phrases it), but a mighty Power to be treated with fear-tinged "reverence." Worse, women are identified with that awe-full Power. He also, in Lady Chatterley's Lover, did the have-it-both-ways trick of having a protagonist who had both peasant vigor (and authentic-looking folk speech) and a university education. I sometimes wish Lawrence had been American, in which case he might have made Mellors black, uttering all that life-affirming stuff with lots of "I'se gwine"s. (It occurs to me that there are at least three ways in which John Lennon resembled Lawrence: Each spoke in approving generalities of Life, the People, etc.; each liked to say fuck; and each wound up with a woman even nastier than he was.)

In addition, Lawrence had a strong view of Good vs. Bad Sex. Like that other sex crusader Wilhelm Reich, with his certainty that only good ol' vag-pen could bring real orgasms, Lawrence had a clear sense of Correct and Incorrect Sex. Consistent with his body-over-mind approach, he crusaded against "sex in the head" (Robert Anton Wilson and others have pointed out that there is a neurological sense in which all sex-and all other experience-is in the head), and he had the curious phrase, "doing dirt upon sex."

Of course, sex is not something that one can, in any meaningful sense, do dirt upon. Imagine a couple saying, "Let's have sex.... Eeuuww! Let's not. Someone has done dirt upon it." Trying to do dirt upon sex would appear to be like the small child Robert Graves once described, trying to say the most offensive thing imaginable, coming up with "piggy God," and thinking he has managed to do dirt upon the Deity. Sex itself is as invulnerable to dirt-doing as evolution is to the decisions of the Kansas Board of Education.

Sex considered as a giant squid

Perhaps what D.H. Lawrence meant by "doing dirt upon sex" is approaching it without the proper reverence. There was the famous, and perhaps decisive, moment in the trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover when the prosecuting attorney attacked the seemingly ludicrous concept of having reverence for a man's balls, and expert witness Richard Hoggart said it was quite possible, and indeed reasonable.

I've never felt reverence for a man's balls, including my own. I've felt affection for a number of vaginas, and love for one, but not reverence.

And in the face of sexual reverence, I find myself feeling that if it were possible to do dirt upon sex, I'd be tempted to try. Let's face it: Reverence tends to grow out of fear. Giambattista Vico said that religion began with the fear of thunder and lightning. Many tribes worshipped large predatory animals that were likely to eat them. Again, I think of this as explaining, but not explaining away. Religion is not disproven by showing its congruence with psychological needs.

Eric Berne said that he grew up with the idea that sex was like a giant squid, and indeed it can be as scary. Ask a woman whose life was ruined by an unwanted pregnancy. Ask someone dying of a sexually transmitted disease. (And if you think it wasn't that bad before AIDS, read a biography of Wyndham Lewis. If AIDS is Hiroshima, syphilis was Dresden. I have seen a filmed Buddy Hackett comedy performance forever placed in time by his reference to the literally deadly fear of syphilis he grew up with and by his pains to explain to the pre-1980s audience the concept of such a scary STD.) And to my way of thinking, the only thing worse than having this fear-tinged reverence for Sex is having it for Woman as the personification of Sex.

Shamans were both priests and scientists. While some concentrated on worshipping the predators, others figured out how to trap them, or at least to protect the tribe from them. And that is how I would approach all the scary things of life. We--human beings, small but clever creatures--figure out how to keep these things from harming us. Ideally, I do not want to revere or do dirt upon the Giant Squid. I want to tame it—to separate it wholly from disease, and to make it reproductive only with the deliberate consent of both parties. In other words I want to cheapen it.

If sex were tamed, one could have the same sort of attitude to sexual intercourse as to verbal intercourse. The latter can certainly be used to express love and share delight, and it can also be used for cruelty and loathing, and for much in between. And talk is proverbially cheap.

I feel that sexual intercourse, like verbal intercourse, is not inherently sacred, or loving, any more than it is inherently dirty or evil. As Jesus said of the Sabbath, it was made for people, rather than people being made for it. And the more it can be done without the costs of disease and unwanted reproduction, the better it is as a way of expressing positive things, even though it is cheaper.

(And perhaps for some of us, sex, when not separable from reproduction, is scary because it is bound up with war, power, and death, with the production of shrill little beings that will supplant us, in DNA's battle for survival. Take that aspect away, and it can be, as a gay character in Greg Egan's Teranesia called it, a diamond stolen from a slaughterhouse.)

Cheap & centrally located

The New York Times Magazine did an article Viewing With Alarm the casual way teenagers approach sex, and particularly oral sex, these days, with talk of "hooking up" and "friends with benefits." One problem with this is that teenage guys get away with getting oral sex but not giving, and of course I agree that those who aren't willing to reciprocate don't deserve to be blown. (And they're missing something.) But some teenage females like the power of providing sexual pleasure, even without getting it in return.

The good news is that we're approaching the great Sixties dream of cheap sex. I've got to explain what I mean by those words. In an essay on Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delany pointed out the stupidity of seeing sex as a "substance," particularly one a man "gets" from a woman. It's an activity. Cheap does not mean "nasty"; it means "at lower cost." Cheap sex is sex that doesn't lead to girls bleeding to death in alleys from illegal abortions, or being frightened into ruining their lives by becoming teenage mothers. Cheap sex is not so desperately important that one has to hate and fear those who do it with others who have the same sort of plumbing.

G.K. Chesterton, who so often expresses with clarity and eloquence views I find repugnant, chortled in What's Wrong with the World about the impossibility of "free love" when sex has consequences he likens to lightning and earthquakes. Cheap sex is about not having to treat sex with fear and awe like primitives cowering in their caves whenever there's a storm.