A Good Term In Huysmans

Either Huysmans, or his character Des Esseintes, forgive my memory, has a striking line about the female enslaving the male through the “venereal flower”. That is perhaps the best two-word expression of the enslavement that Hugo himself fancies having detected. The phrase that comes immediately after, though, “terror of the vulva”, does not strike me as equally well-made. Terror of the vulva, I am sure I don’t have one of those. It seems to belong to the same mental world as Freud’s concept of penis-envy in the female.

I nevertheless do feel Huysmans to be in sympathy with my own suspicion about much of our yearning for contact with the opposite sex – that it is founded on the fatal assumption that the other sex is metaphysically more important than we are and can therefore validate or redeem our existence. This error is, of course, committed by both sexes. Maybe gays do it too, I wouldn’t know, in which case we should be talking about a sense of needing metaphysical rescue by the Other.

I would quarrel with the Gnostics on one point, however; the seat of the trouble is not, I think, “the body” as such but rather our sense of identity.

(last, but fiddle date-stamp to February 2, 2020)

On Not Respecting Their Betters

In a history of the Spanish Civil War, probably Anthony Beevor’s, I read that the Spanish proletariat never respected or imitated its betters. If I recall correctly, this was meant as a sharp contrast with the Anglo-American culture of social deference and class ascent.

I have to take his word for the Spanish proletariat, or indeed any other. My own background is of the British lower middle classes, where aspirations to gentility and worship of nobs and royals were intense and utterly repulsive. I am given to understand that the same applies in the United States, replacing nobs and royals by screen celebrities. That is, I have never heard that the superstitions of my childhood era, namely that one demonstrated superiority by calling a sofa a “settee” and extending the pinkie to drink tea, had any American cognate, although the ideal of the detached house with lawn and white picket fence was surely the same as in our own privet-hedged suburbia. But this is the middles, which most Americans imagine they are. Insofar as there was once a genuine proletarian culture in either country, it probably no longer exists. We now have the precariat instead, which is by no means the same thing. I have not read enough Orwell or even watched enough “Coronation Street” to know much about how the British proletariat used to be. I would not know which author to go to for the prewar American industrial worker, and of course I know better than to seek him in American soaps.

So how did the Spanish proletarian of the Thirties live? What was his culture, to which he held in defiance of any proper deference to the hidalgo? I would expect that bullfighting had something to do with it, but otherwise I have no idea. But if there were to be a secret to a society in which “sucking upwards and kicking downwards” was not the aspiration of the impoverished, then I should like to hear about it. Spain would hardly a good example to follow in general, with its misogyny, mystical gobbledygook and murderous clergy. Not to mention the inability of that undeferential proletariat to achieve much beyond jacquerie and defeat. But even so, I should like to know more about a class that hated those above it so single-mindedly. We Anglos might learn something.

(Fiddle date-stamp to January 15, 2012)

Meditation On Casanova’s Leah

Giacomo Casanova reports one of his lady-friends as having said, “A girl who gives nothing must take nothing”. I was startled to meet, in the eighteenth century, a strain of feminism that had been common in my youth. Back then, a woman who wanted company but had no intention of going to bed with you might insist on going Dutch. She did not conceptualise this in ideological terms, but rather in language of dignity and ethical straightness. If the man wined and dined her, there would be a certain degree of obligation, at least in his mind, probably in the minds of third parties and perhaps even in her own. And if she did not want to go there, she would not allow him to pay the bill. Simple as that.

In Leah’s case that fastidiousness may have come from her being Jewish, because everyone else in Casanova’s memoirs was happy to amass as much loot as possible from male sexual interest, gratified or otherwise. In this way the continent’s entire womanhood seemed in one way or another on the game, from the kitchenmaid up to the duchess – or most especially the duchess. I have seen the same in Africa. To the extent that this is no longer true of Europe, it must represent a historical anomaly.

After my own youth the pendulum swung again, so that some young ladies came to think that feminism meant doing whatever you liked and at the same time taking men for plenty of swag. Getting a good price for their tail, or a mere hint thereof, became rebranded as Girl Power. I always thought the older principle showed more ethical integrity.

Such is the human talent for self-deceit, however, that Going Dutch was actually compatible with the Remount Strategy I have discussed elsewhere. Casanova was capable of being just-friends with a woman, since he appreciated intelligence above all, but he could see the difference between a fiercely independent bluestocking and a hypocrite accumulating a reserve of potential benefactors.

(Fiddle to August 28, 2012)

Whom Does That Leave?

In the beginning there was autism, which we did not understand was a definite neurological issue. In those days we did not know this about schizophrenia either. Then there came Asperger’s Syndrome, which despite our later knowledge of brain-wiring faults, we have confused with being a nerd. By this I mean that introverted and intellectual behaviour, which has always been about half of the human repertoire, and perhaps the better half at that, will now get you called an Aspie. Do one of these self-testing things on the Intertoobes, and you will find that staying at home with a good book will get you stigmatised as mentally abnormal; you have to be a loud party animal, or else.

At the same time every second person seems now to have ADHD. They tell me that this is a neurological condition too, and can even be seen on fMRI. In that case I should like to know how it relates to the steep decline in the ability to pay attention to the three-dimensional world that is commonly blamed on smartphones. Has the world of the Internet, apps and social media mis-wired the brains of a generation to the extent that they can no longer handle any tasks other than preening, or should we be looking at new environmental toxins that dumb us down like lead in petrol used to?

Brain scans or no, I cannot shake the suspicion that those with a scientifically confirmable syndrome are far outnumbered by those who are merely continuing an ancient human tradition of not paying attention. And yet perhaps not quite so ancient after all. For at one time this habit would have been very vigorously selected against – those who did not pay attention to their surroundings would become something’s dinner. In our own society, there may still be evolutionary pressure against texting when crossing a busy road, but I do not really see any Darwinian penalty on not listening to others. Supposedly real-world interaction often resembles attempting to argue with a recorded message. I do not think one has to be especially curmudgeonly to recognise that this is now universal.

People now devote five per cent of their attention to the three-dimensional world and the people encountered therein, listening with half an ear, seeing with half an eye, and thinking with half a brain. If that. This they do for terror of missing something on the little screen that they have been taught is far more important than the person standing in front of them. This cannot be neurology, it is obviously acculturation, though one can see how it might suit the non-payers of attention to pretend otherwise.

The key here is to what extent a given neurological thingymajig is really suffered under and to what extent it functions as a permission for what everybody wants to do anyway. Whereas I cannot imagine anyone wanting to have OCD and wash the skin right off their hands, I find it all too easy indeed to imagine someone wanting permission not to pay attention. At any rate to the real live human being in front of them; it is funny how selective the Youth Of Today are, in that they have no problems with computer games and social media, only with being addressed by a meat person wanting some kind of service or cooperation. Meanwhile, why cannot I get traction for my own quite uncomfortable condition of PEIS, or Psychobabble Excuse Intolerance Syndrome?

Finally, I would point out a dilemma, almost a Catch-22. If people who fail to pay attention to the world around them are all deemed to be suffering from ADHD, while those who do pay attention to the world around them are all deemed to be suffering from Asperger’s, then what might a “neurotypical” actually look like, and what would she do with herself all day?

(Fiddle date-stamp to January 8, 2010)

The Real Point of the Kalokagathos

Friedrich Nietzsche made part of his name on a “naturalistic” explanation of ethics. In a revolutionary move, he turned his back on the substance of ideals of The Good or Virtue or Duty, and looked instead at who was formulating these and for what purpose. The young philologist reckoned that he could derive words for good and bad from the self-description of a putative master race keen to distinguish itself from its menial subjects. He thought mostly in German, but contemplation of the multiple meanings of the English “fair” may also be instructive.

In linking ethics to external and physical qualities Nietzsche was not intrinsically wrong; but I would suggest that he was led astray by the concept of race, which we have since come to deconstruct and abominate. Let us focus more on the individual, while by all means keeping in sight the biological, the “healthy body” that the sickly philosopher worshipped. We know from lab work on the “halo effect” that if a person is beautiful, he (or less likely, she) will be accorded all sorts of other qualities as well, such as intelligence or good will – which may be a dangerous mistake.

The baseline of ethics may be, not membership in any master race, but a purely individual beauty, which is the outward and visible sign of an inward genetic health. That the Athenian word for gentleman, the kalokagathos, puts the beauty part first may not be chance but rather an expression of the correct order: one becomes an honorary beautiful (kalos) by having been good (agathos).

(Fiddle to May 17, 2009)

What I Learned From Faulkner

When my programme of filling in the gaps in my literary education reached The Sound and the Fury, I found less ferocious racism than I had expected. His Southerners’ self-perception as supporting their blacks rather than being supported by them (in the original, slightly redacted: “working to support a kitchenful of negroes”) seems weird to us but plays to my general doctrine that “No man is a villain to himself” and that oppressors often see themselves as victims.

Note that the word is “kitchenful” because these are domestic servants, what people used to call house-slaves, and that as far as I could make out, field-hands did not appear in the Faulkner at all.

The worst generalisations about African-Americans are put into the mouth of Jason, who is such a nasty character as to be the most unreliable of narrators. On the other hand, his remark that “negroes always have a watertight alibi for everything they do” makes me wonder. For this was my own observation while living in Africa. I used to say that if a certain poor and unhappy country in which I lived for months could only find a paying market for excuses, it would become an economic superpower overnight, and my native hearers ruefully admitted the truth of this satire.

What do I think is happening here? Why, a version of Edward De Bono’s Intelligence Trap, in that the immense African verbal facility, learned at Mother’s knee, is primarily instrumental and tactical. Were the culture to be biased less towards bullshitting your way out of trouble and more towards not getting into it in the first place, we might see continental progress.

A biography of Toussaint L’Ouverture quotes slaves’ excuses in very much the same terms as Jason, although from a very different set of values. CLR James regards the verbal habits as an entirely comprehensible response to utterly horrible conditions. The trouble is that none of the people I have heard the lies from were slaves, though their ancestors had been colonial subjects. So perhaps the mind-set I encountered was inculcated by colonialism and the mentality of corrupt extraction it brought, and not broken by generations of theoretical independence.

One might expect the concern with “watertight alibis” in the slaves of Antiquity and other maltreated groups – subalterns in the sociological jargon. Yes, that means women too. I do not know whether anyone has systematically looked for this. The mechanism involved would be that all speech has to be geared entirely to self-preservation. What would remain in need of explaining would be the odd psychology of the human being who obstinately tells only the truth.

(Fiddle date-stamp to 3 March 2020)

Does The “Office Nympho” Actually Exist?

The other day I came across the phrase “Office nympho”. Never mind how wrong it is for anyone to say this nowadays – the reflection it provoked in my own so wicked mind was to ask whether I had ever met such a thing. I have, after all, spent a certain small fraction of my life working in offices.

I quickly realised that it would be a matter of definition. Assuming for the sake of argument that there were something we should call a “nympho” – or sexually liberated/aggressive woman, if you prefer – was there any reason to think that every office would have one? Certainly I had never observed the phenomenon, but then again, if I had been at an office supplied with an office nympho, she would not have looked at me. I might not even have noticed that there was one. Anyway, I had not worked in enough large organisations, which reduced sample size.

At a larger workplace, could I envisage a social dynamic that created this title? Well, yes. The office is the modern village, and so we must expect there to be a ducking-stool. Now, it suits women to pretend that the policing of female sexual behaviour is conducted solely by men, whereas in reality it is (in Shaw’s phrase) female trade-unionism.

It should be blindingly obvious that if the Office Nympho exists, she is a bigger threat to the women than to the men; the latter can hope for a cheap fuck and thus have no reason to suppress her, but for the other women there are no upsides. The promiscuous woman is both driving the price down and generally undermining claims to the superior moral “virtue” of the sex. In addition, Jung’s theory of projection is highly relevant; seeing someone else live out your own secret fantasies is upsetting.

What would drive the behaviour that gets a woman stigmatised as the Office Nympho? It has nothing to do with offices per se, but many people suffer from a pathological need for validation. A man with that need might be the Office Casanova, or waste a lot of time trying to be; in a woman, the thirst seems to be for attention. One rarely meets a female who entirely lacks that craving, perhaps because such a person might be a complete recluse. The judgment call that must be made by all other women is how much attention to purchase with how much sex. The Office Nympho, then, is making a particular call that others do not, either because they have a smaller craving for attention or because they are more aware of the downsides of being awarded the title.

Posted on March 23, 2021 at 10:05 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: WHAT WOMEN WANT, Keeping Score

Newsreader Porn And The Really Real

In porn, as most people know it is the Japanese who come up with the truly weird ideas, and schoolgirls in pigtails are not the only thing they have going on. I have seen a video showing a company headquarters full of Office Ladies doing whatever they did at computers, and eating noodles for lunch; then masked men came in and started fucking the OLs one by one – with no understanding of the sound track, I could not say whether this was supposed to be commercial, recreational or rape. The twist was that all the other OLs took not a blind bit of notice, but carried on with their spreadsheets or their noodles regardless. In fact, the OL currently being fucked did her best to complete her work or her lunch at the same time. This whole scenario very clearly played to male office-worker fantasies, also drawing upon the classic cultural binary of Giri, duty, and Ninjō, human feeling. At the same time it might satirise the corporate mentality of isolation in your own little tasks.

I have also seen a video of a girl got up as a bronze statue in a park, while an elderly lady park-keeper seems to buy into the pretence and – after the girl-statue has had sex with a boy-statue – even wipes birdshit off her. I read this as satire of what we allow ourselves to notice and what we do not.

Another piece of Japanese social psychology is the trope of “First Day at School” in which the entire class enters naked. There is no sexual action here, the girls are all concealing their breasts and generally carrying on as people do when seriously forced to be naked together, so this genre has to be all about social anxiety, of which the Japanese have even more than the British. The “First Day at School” is, then, their answer to Mr. Bean.

Yet another subgenre is “newsreader porn” in which a hot young woman tries to do read the news impeccably, even though being fucked in a manner supposedly invisible to her television audience. In the early days of the BBC there were stories of staff trying to put (male) newsreaders off their stride by playing tricks on them, invisibly under the desk; this newsreader porn was obviously the logical end-point of what the BBC began, or at least until they combine it with the snuff movie. It has to be all about inscrutability, the need to control your face. Tatemae, or persona in Japanese; once again, not entirely unknown to the British.

For all this I had some understanding. But what I absolutely did not get was the voyeur site that often inflicted itself on me for advertising purposes, that is, a pop-up. Its real-life cams showed a person or couple doing ordinary domestic things by themselves or together: cooking, cleaning, watching TV or even just sleeping. Whether they ever got it on for the camera I did not know. No doubt much has been written about the couples who invited paying strangers into their intimate sphere; what dumbfounded me was not so much this aspect – as it merely reflected the modern conviction that you did not exist unless watched – as the mentality of those who paid to watch others watching TV. Unless the motivation was purely the hope that next minute they would put off both the television and their clothes, the clue had to be in the saturation use of the word “real”.

The bottom line must be that the target audience thinks that they are less “real” than the people observed, and can thus become “more real” by observing them at their chores. Excuse me if I think this both bizarre and very, very sad.

Against Nature
(Fiddle date-stamp to September 2, 2011)

Posted on March 10, 2021 at 17:50 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: AGAINST NATURE, Against Nature, Miscellaneous

On Elves And Smartphones

I have read a fantasy novel by Sarah J. Maas, an author who, according to the shop, had previously achieved great success in the Young Adult market without my having heard of her. This marketing distinction often eludes me; for example the Discworld series is for grown-ups while the Tiffany Aching sequence set in the same place is supposedly for Young Adults, but I enjoyed the latter equally with the former.

The Maas book in question is a strange hybrid of High Fantasy with policier and chicklit, and I am not sure that the investigative aspect sits well with the absolute power of the dominant non-humans. In the same way, I am uneasy about the blend of ancient magicks, shapeshifters, the Fae and so forth with a ruthlessly 2020 technology and social sensibility: movie streaming, e-mail, smartphones and selfies. Here the gods do not stage theophanies, they phone you. This could be a design choice, intended as a break with the clichéd joinder of sorcery and demons with cod-medieval technology and cod-medieval manners, an originality that I would applaud. At the same time I have a worrisome feeling that the largely supernatural denizens of her world preen in front of their smartphones solely because Maas, being of her generation, is honestly unable to imagine a universe in which people (broadly defined) do not preen in front of their smartphones.

In support of this suspicion is the heavy emphasis on clubbing. Whether this lifestyle is regarded as a good thing or not is a little ambiguous, but on the whole I think she counts getting wasted and having quickie sex in the club toilet as heroic, at least when indulged in by females. And this brings us to another point. While by no means following the “two legs good, three legs bad” mantra of much of a previous generation, and wholly ignoring the issues of transsexuality, Maas seems unusually prone to referring to a character as “the male”, and, slightly less intrusively, as “the female”. She is almost the opposite of Patricia Briggs in that she loathes dominant males, whom she calls “alphaholes”. This is a fine coinage, which I intend to steal, but is never applied to power-crazed females. Of which she portrays several, but never under that name.

Being “sassy” has long been regarded as a virtue in women, but Maas’ “party girl” characters seem to take it a bit further and into what I would call fratboy territory. Moreover, her emphasis on male beauty sits oddly with how women used to describe themselves as motivated solely by the inner person, whatever that is, while her “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” attitude is definitely a violation of one of the earlier waves of feminism. These beings, both human and other, positively welcome ocular harassment! Again, this may be a generational difference.

An even sharper contrast would be between on the one hand Maas and other chicklit authors, and on the other hand the worlds of my childhood and maturity. In the first, no middle-class provincial girl would ever come close to admitting that she had genitalia, and indeed had probably never seen her own. I have dealt with my consequent culture shock before in these essays, but what I wonder about now is how such sexy authors fit together with the puritanical feminism I remember from the Eighties. Is this a deliberate polemic against the misandrists of her mother’s generation, when the response to any criticism of a specific individual’s actions was “You hate all women!”; or are they completely different people; or are we talking about quite different rules for the novels someone writes and the conversations the same individual might have in mixed company?

I have the impression that such authors are letting cats out of bags as if they are writing solely for their own gender, forgetting that there is as yet no mechanism for preventing (boo hiss) males from reading them too. Perhaps this will soon become a technological possibility; one could lock books (which by then will only exist electronically) to a retinal scan and a database, thus allowing only females to read a woman’s description of her character’s zipless fucks. Folks, you saw it here first.

How It Was Done On Palau

My palm for best museum goes to the Ethnographic at Dahlem, Berlin. There is a whole section on Palau, of which not many people have even heard. This is a Micronesian archipelago that belonged to Germany until 1914, when the Japanese took it. The main exhibit is a men’s clubhouse, from the rafters of which hangs a sculpture of a young woman with her legs apart. The story behind this is startling. Yes, it is advertising.

For the life-cycle of the Palau female apparently involved spending her teenage years in the men’s clubhouse, where she made herself available to the members for a set price. When she had accumulated enough of whatever they used for money, she would return to the female society and buy respect, status and clientele with it. If I remember correctly, and I might not, politics were matriarchal. A very successful clubhouse provider might thus become a tribal leader. If I remember wrongly, she would become at least a leader of the women’s society.

It seemed to be that this obscure society represented the most intense conceivable incarnation of two truths that we do not want to know. One, that sex is always about buying and selling, and two, that the bottom line is nothing to do with us mere males but rather is about the female hierarchy. The teenage Palau girl sold sex to the men in the clubhouse, but the latter were merely the means; the end was advancement in the female half of the tribe.

(Fiddle date-stamp to February 4, 2012)

Posted on February 7, 2021 at 14:24 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE NAME OF THE GAME, The Matrix Of Exchange