Incurvatus in Se(x)

Another quote from Mark Greif’s essay, “Afternoon of the Sex Children”, taken from the collection […]

David Zahl / 11.10.17

Another quote from Mark Greif’s essay, “Afternoon of the Sex Children”, taken from the collection Against Everything. While he may put a few more eggs in the cultural agency basket than I would, the core observation, when considered alongside an incurvatus in se-/AA-derived estimation of human libido, can’t help but illuminate our moment. You have to ask, in other words, are today’s headlines the awful yet inevitable fallout of decades of rephrasing/selling sex as self-fulfillment? Or is the everything/nothing-ness of our sexual schizophrenia an expression of a deeper bind? You tell me. Ghastly either way:

The reason it seems a sex of pure politeness and equal access does not work is that the constant preparation to imagine any and every other person as a sexual object (something our culture already encourages) proves to be ruthlessly egocentric and antisocial, making every other living body a tool of self-pleasure or gain. At times I wonder if we are witnessing a sexualization of the life process itself, in which all pleasure is canalized into the sexual, and the function of warm, living flesh in any form is to allow us access to autoerotism through the circuit of an other. This is echoed at the intellectual level in the discourse of “self-discovery.” The real underlying question of sexual encounter today may not be “What is he like in bed?” (heard often enough…) but “What am I like in bed?” (never spoken). That is to say, at the deepest level, one says: “Whom do I discover myself to be in sex?”–so that sex becomes the special province of self-discovery.

Meanwhile, the more traditional way of de-emphasizing sex, by subordinating it to overwhelming romantic love, has diminished as an option as the focus on self-discovery has increasingly devitalized romantic love. Self-discovery puts a reflecting wall between the self and attention to the other, so that all energy supposedly exerted in fascination, attraction, and love just bounces back, even when it appears to go out as love for the other.