Sunday, December 27, 2015


Who the hell is Mason Cooley?*

Advice about writing and advice about sexual relationship both represent a major failure of the American school system, but at least they’ll purport to teach writing.  Sex in terms of relationship and communication is very similar to writing, but it is a tabooed category.  Sometimes, under cover of a white coat, they will gingerly talk about anatomical equipment — just not what to do with it.

One reason for this taboo is that people in the larger culture are making money off both and they don’t want interference.  If people really learned how to find partners and communicate with them in a satisfying way, it would put whole industries out of business —  clothing, cosmetics, places to let down one’s guard by supplying food and intoxicants, things to read and watch (displaced from reality) — they would collapse.

This is as true of writing/reading — mental and emotional interaction — as of physical contact.  Both emerge from learning the infant does naturally in first months and years.  Part of it is that thing “smart” computers do by watching a person, which is to learn from what one does and then supply what one wants according to the demands one makes.  It’s a “Simple Simon” system because it is always based on what one did in the past, the “last time,” which may fit but may not.  It can be a lid on creativity and exploration, even a kind of censorship.  It can shape personality in dimensions like violence, adaptability, sociability and so on.

Writing can create a virtual world that displaces physical learning.  I was very near-sighted as a child so writing/reading was better.  By chance, I was encouraged in this choice.  My mother sent me off to school a little too young but late in the school year, saying I was too much trouble.  The class had already organized so I was a social isolate. She encouraged my reading because she never got to read as much as she wanted. And so my sexual life has largely centered on reading/writing, often secret and with nothing physical to measure it against.

The late forties and early fifties produced a lot of writing about sex, supposedly scientific and medical:  Masters and Johnson were at the most recent end of the wave.  Freud and Krafft-Ebing (full name Richard Fridolin Joseph Freiherr Krafft von Festenberg auf Frohnberg, genannt von Ebing) were at the beginning.  Kinsey was along in the middle somewhere.  My father bought them as they were published.  I didn’t read any porn until I was in seminary, over forty, and then it was feminist porn.  YOWZER!

Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) was mostly a taxonomy, but as we know, definitions and categories control thinking.  Krafft-Ebing was often working in a legal context where definitions are more potent because they incur consequences.  The law is “teleological,” meaning it works towards some result, usually what those in control want.  He did not address pedophilia and mentioned homosexuality as a feature of insanity.  Much of it was in Latin because the assumption was that anyone who was educated enough to speak Latin could handle the information.  Upper class, you know.  Privileged.  Access to sex, even information, has always been a kind of entitlement.  Same with good books.

Unfortunately, they could not recognize that this German medical attitude was exactly the distancing effect of Cartesian thought that allowed both rational scientific approaches to emotional subjects (good) and the cold-heartedness that made the Holocaust possible (evil) — maybe inevitable.  This persists in contemporary English-speaking cultures.  I don’t know about Germany, which has had some hard, painful thinking to do.

That both WWI and WWII were middle-European at their core is not surprising because the whole continent had been in chaos and war for centuries before nations formed on the basis of pride and power.  These values greatly affect both writing and sex.  Germanic ideas were “civilized” and quite unlike the Celtic and other indigenous understandings of life.  They were reinforced by the Catholic church which was one of the keys to resolving the Thirty Years War by the use of authority, hierarchy, boundaries, and rigidity.  But I am not an historian.

Recognized historians are writers and, more than that, published and often academic.  Their cultural skew affects their understanding of what happened.  The necessity of anchor points requires the names of people and the dates of events, mostly battles but sometimes written documents.   The important stuff happened in between.  "People's history."

Writing as records claimed primacy over every other form of speech and communication.  Licenses and lists for sex, birth, death, and taxes.  That set authority against natural body-based ecologically contexted empathy and interaction.  It was powerful and boring.  Authority sold itself on the grounds that God-said-so and that it was “higher” status culture.  We’re still doing that.  But there’s a strong backlash.  We’ve discovered a lot of lies and misunderstandings.  Clay feet under the spats.

Because America is an immigrant culture it evokes constant worry about being improper and therefore being stigmatized and prevented from success.  On the rez the schools when I taught there were — and probably still are — so focused on proper usage and spelling that they stifle the creativity that they purport to encourage, leaving the student with contradictions that prevent free reading and writing.  Whole school systems are punitive and rigid as if Calvinist missionaries still ran them.  Recently my little nephew started kindergarten in progressive Oregon and came home shamed because he didn’t hold his crayons properly or something.  Now he has to be encouraged to draw and color.

On the other hand, the last time I taught, the other high school English teacher could not correct an ordinary usage and grammar exam without an answer sheet, because her English degree was based on French literary philosophy.  And I, who was educated in the Fifties, was never taught sentence rhetoric.  I could diagram a sentence, tell a participle from a gerund, understood parallel construction, but had no sense of the implications of thought order in English, could not convert one kind of grammar phrase into another, and a dozen other strategies.  Luckily I read like a bonfire and internalized quite a lot unconsciously.  Ultimately one must learn from experience — which is the source of all theories — and that goes for sex as well as writing.

Any system that scolds one for holding a crayon “wrong” or improperly splitting a verb or ending a sentence with a preposition or for using or not using some physical intimate technique in bed is a constraint.  Unless there is some practical reason, such things should themselves be constrained.  This is true for both sex and writing/reading.  Properness is the least useful value for communication.

*Mason Cooley was an aphorist.  What the hell is an aphorist?  Something about bees?  No.  Famous for being famous.

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