Tuesday, September 25, 2007

VII Sexuality, Otherness and the Truth of the Self

Beyond Reactive Affect

Let me try to put this in more familiar language. What I am trying to say is that I think we have to treat the issues of sexuality as something more than a reactive affect, that is to say, defining one’s self by action or reaction, which is what happens when we get stuck in those odious comparisons and the absolutising that attach to difference. If the idea of a reactive affect is unfamiliar to you, think of the Pushmepullyou in ‘Doctor Dolittle’. That’s a reactive affect. Or think of a strip of paper pasted into a loop: it has an outside and an inside; it has two edges. The outside doesn’t talk to the inside, and the edges never meet. It’s like a tape loop: the message, the patterns, the songs are always diabolically the same. If, however, a half turn is made in one end of the strip—analogous to the ‘therefore’ in Phillippians 2:5-11, a metanoia—what is produced is a möbius loop that has only one surface and one edge, and there is neither outside nor inside.

Of course there is a stage in development where emerging awareness of gender difference seems very much like reactive affect, quite necessarily so. We do have to learn difference first of all.

But we also know that as long as emotion and identity are governed by reactive affects, life is problematic: the spiral is unable to take its true shape from Otherness. Integration and maturity are not possible until the Pushmepullyou, which is a counterfeit paradox, a contradiction, has been pulled apart, until we have found the stillness of Otherness from which the spiral arises and into which it disappears, the stillness of non-refutation where there is neither attack nor defense, identity or antithesis.

What I am trying to say is that I think that in our notions of gender identity, of the self, of sexuality and even of God, we need to be set free both from seeing them merely as reactive, and from the desire to nail them to any particular mast, for if we do try to fix them, we become blinkered and miss at least half the metaphors in the world. We seem to have great difficulty remembering that maturity has in large measure to do with being comfortable with ambiguity, and of course sexuality, as we have seen, is a metaphor in which différance spirals in a dance with Otherness.

Let’s go back to Ralph for a minute. Of course his ambiguity made him insecure. But there was no possibility, given his circumstance, that for the sake of feeling secure he could nail his sexual orientation to the floor like Linus trying to protect his blankie so Snoopy can’t steal it. And of course in the end this was Ralph’s great strength.

Circumstance took from him the possibility of using his sexuality as a transitional object that had deteriorated into a fetish. A transitional object is the technical term for a blankie, nu-nu, or a rubber duckie that is supposed to enable us to make the transition from the security of known relationships to those that are more ambiguous, but Linus classically turns his blanket into a fetish. And when we lack maturity, when we become fixated on something, particularly on our own sexuality, we are secretly and forever failing to make to make this transition, as we try to replace these childhood treasures.

Once Ralph had learned to be comfortable with the ambiguity that was part of the truth of himself, with his own différance and Otherness; once he got in touch with his solitude where he discovered the truth of himself and the glory, commonality and true intimacy to be found there so that he no longer felt pressured to acquire the transitional objects dictated to him by a childish culture, his whole life turned around. He was no longer subject to the tyranny that dictated that he declare his sexual orientation once and for all, which for him was impossible in any event.

Once he realized this, his anxieties about his sexuality disappeared, and his sexuality was free to animate his intention through the sea of différance, disappearing into and reappearing from Otherness, so that everything that was not himself as turned aside. The spiral of his self was free to dance in the dialogue of presence and absence with Otherness, and he was able simply to get on with life in a new key. His unique self was set free to find its appropriate responsive and ever-changing, yet always identifiable shape, untrammeled by stereotyping. There is a name for this: it is integrity.

It’s perhaps clear by now that I am convinced that the heated discussions of sexuality to date have been akin to one of those diabolical tape loops, skewed by a culture, particularly a religious culture, that wishes us to make fetishes out of what, in our arrogance, we presume to be knowable about people, the creation, and God. Frankly, I just can’t relate to God as a rubber duckie, no matter how exalted the language.

In fact, one reason that thinking people may find organized religion so off-putting is that their sense of Otherness is in very good working order, and to be asked to regress so that God takes on the form of some knowable transitional object, even under the most amorphous name such as Being-Itself, is simply more than they can stomach. The word ‘God’ itself becomes problematic. it isn’t a question of belief in God or not; such a question is a category mistake; it’s simply irrelevant. It is true that we need metaphors to talk about God, but as I noted above, we must never lose our sense of the Otherness that lies at the heart of metaphor, and into which metaphor elides. To do so is to find ourselves lying on hard kitchen griddle instead of reclining on the silk cushions of our pavilioned barge!

Or, more seriously, whether we choose either to reduce the transitional phase of our sexuality to a fetish and to be entrapped by it, or to be willing to relinquish these childish things and recognise sexuality as the animating metaphor for the intention that frees us for transfiguration, determines whether our lives are headed for annihilation or glory, whether we remain trapped in the stereotypes of a reductive culture or whether we are transfigured by integration within a context larger than our selves.

On our attitude towards our sexuality turns the decision to be locked into the individualism that ineluctably eventuates in the togetherness of fascism, or whether we discover ever greater depths of authenticity and solitude from which community is born, in which the elusiveness of truth, goodness and beauty take their natural shape in us and we know our most profound commonality and cohesiveness as a society in reverence for the Otherness in the other. True love, as Rilke pointed out, is the meeting of two solitudes who know the extravagance of walking unembraced. Not that our Otherness precludes embrace: indeed, lovemaking too reaches its transfiguration in o(O)therness.


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