Saturday, January 18, 2014

SEX AND VIOLENCE Pt.4 "Free Radicals"

I once joked that the only way severe rapists had not gotten direct access to the viscera of their victims was cutting a hole in the abdomen and sticking their penis straight into the guts.  Now I hear that bedbugs do exactly that: “traumatic copulation” -- bite  into the abdomen of the female and inject their sperm.  Bugs will go to any lengths to survive, but I doubt they get much pleasure out of it.

Now consider the bull Stellar’s sea lion who weighs 2,200 pounds lumped into a ten-foot-long body.   The female is much smaller, only a few hundred pounds.  The big alpha bulls spend months on the beach, not eating, devoting all their time and energy to harems of females, each one breeding hundreds.  The strict dominance order of the males rules a bull’s life.  “Anyone” more powerful makes him go galumphing away for safety, those who are less powerful attract a gang eager to rip into war.  The animals are sexually dimorphic (big males, little females), and mate on land where the females can’t easily escape.  As collateral damage, pups and females are sometimes crushed under the bulls.  Females can hardly escape the big bulls, though they seem to want to.  It’s rape and gangs.

On the other hand, seals that mate in the water have an entirely different sexual pattern, a matter of pursuit swimming, which takes so much energy that those male seals only breed a matter of dozens of females, those interested enough to pause.  These two patterns exist among humans.  Big all-powerful males who dominate their territory fit with small reluctant females.  The seals that are relatively the same size and have the freedom of the seas, dance to quite a different music.

When considering human sexual -- and loving -- relationships, the paradoxes between violence and coition is the source of centuries of stories -- okay, millennia.  There’s the OT story about the chieftain who talked his rival tribe into getting universally circumcised by telling them if they did so, they could marry the chieftain’s tribe’s desirable women, who being “other” were of course attractive.  Then, says the Bible, “when they were all groaning in their tents”, clutching their crotches, the chieftain and his warriors killed them where they lay.

Then there’s the other one about the enemy who unwittingly came to the tent of a woman “belonging” to his rival.  She welcomed him, fed him, gave him LOTS to drink (not water), and when he was asleep she drove a tent peg through his head.  Jesus would not have approved, but Jesus was a town boy -- not a nomad, not a tribal guy.  Peace, not war.

Madame Robbe-Grillet

He would never have made the pages of Vanity Fair, where the most recent issue features “The Thin End of the Whip,” an article by Toni Bentley about Robbe-Grillet’s widow, a famously elegant dominatrix.  Roman Nouveau is another one of those fancy French literary theories, not necessarily sexual.  This time the idea is to move the “new story” from the introspection and adventure of plot to the sensorium of objects.  By manipulating the description (which has always been done but hasn’t been the primary focus) one can create an emotional atmosphere that can be -- um -- brought to a climax as much as events do in ordinary stories.  

Madame Robbe-Grillet acts out against one’s skin in a fancy setting with elegant little instruments, like custom branding irons, glittering knives, designer pincers.  This is considered a great privilege.  Read the article.

The reality is the alcoholic and brutish man who comes home in a rage and uses his belt to whip his wife and children into submission.  It is criminal behavior but not always enforced.  Yet few consider it “sadism” in any fancy literary sense.  The same issue contains an article called “Darkness in August” by Buzz Bissinger about teen shooters who idly shotgunned a donkey and then an Australian college student.  Not in France but in semi-rural Oklahoma.  Downscale.

Why do we like to read all this stuff, to watch television about it, when it is such a source of bafflement and grief?  Maybe that’s why.  Those who are doing all right, comfortable, maybe a little bored, like to imagine the extremes on both ends of the scale of blended sex and violence.  (There’s no doubt that among the other resentments, the ghetto boys were jealous of privilege that included nice girl-friends.)  Sometimes I wonder whether the reason we don’t get around to changing our society to prevent cruelty and suffering is because on some secret level we like to be “turned on.”  We want it.     


The first time I met Robbe-Grillet in Richard Stern’s narrativity class (a very short piece in Stern’s anthology called “Honey and Wax” ) it was a description of a room in a way that made it seem menacing, though nothing happened.  That was about the same time (1980) I went into a feminist bookstore and came out with a copy of “The Story of O.”  Curious, I opened the book while I waited at a stoplight and was electrified.  I couldn’t put the book down until everyone behind me was honking and shouting.  The objects involved in much S/M ceremony are religious.  Secrecy/punishment/authority/ecstasy  -- all used by religion if only in imagined tales of martyrdom.  Story/liturgy/seduction/conversion.

The question is how these forces contribute to survival.  For the abused wife the stories of long-suffering martyrs may help her endure her beating by rationalizing that it’s a sign of virtue or a necessary means of survival.  No doubt some abusing men think they are Jehovah punishing the wicked.  For a kid on the streets, the others’ craving to abuse someone gives the kid at least a way to make a little money for food.  If society wanted to end wife-beating and child trafficking, it could just spend the money.  Enough law-makers want those practices to continue (or be influenced not to end them) that we don’t take action.  These violences contribute to THEIR survival, but erode the survival of the larger culture.

Madame Robbe-Grillet is the size of a child but she compensates with attitude and has since her early years.  She says she was called “the sneering student,” which is close to the oppositional defiant “disorder” that still bring many readers to my posts on the subject.  That dynamic of who’s on top -- whether you’re a hen or a bull elephant seal -- is in even the most elegant and sophisticated Chateau-dwellers.  If you can’t be a top, you can be a bottom -- at least you’ll be a player.  

Of course, you could write about it.  Checkmate.  (Tim says, “Never fuck a writer.”)

Once I read a description of someone raping a sun-warmed watermelon in a summer field.  He chose his melon carefully and cut into it with his small folding ivory-handled pocket knife, so that the emerald zebra-striped rind, taut as a human stomach, had no angled edge that might cut his tender penile skin but wasn’t larger than necessary so it would grip his member.  Due to experience, the hole was exactly right to get access to the pink flesh underneath, crisp but soft, warm and yielding.  He knelt there in the damp field dirt, his head thrown back, alone and gasping under the sky.  Only the crows laughed from the trees before they flew off.  The watermelon did not suffer. It wasn’t going to survive anyway.

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