Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Everything is About Sex

Except sex, which is about everything else. Amusing and perverse and exaggerated, but there is much of art, and some of life, where that holds.

Sexuality in literature is a language in which what is not said is more important than what is. This principle holds good not only for writers who, for good reasons or bad, tackle sexual themes more or less indirectly, but also for those who invest the entire force of their discourse in them. Even writers whose erotic imagination aspires to pass all bounds often use a language that starts off with the utmost clarity and then passes into a mysterious obscurity precisely at the moments of greatest tension, as if its end result could never be anything but inexpressible. This spiral movement to get around or skim over the inexpressible is shared by writers of the most extreme eroticism, such as Sade and Bataille, and also those writers, such as Henry James, from whose pages sex appears to be strictly banned.

The thick symbolic armor beneath which Eros hides is no other than a system of conscious or unconscious shields that separate desire from the representation of it. From this point of view all literature is erotic, just as all dreams are erotic. In the explicitly erotic writer we may therefore recognize one who uses the symbols of sex to give voice to something else, and this something else, after a series of definitions that tend to take shape in philosophical and religious terms, may in the last instance be redefined as another and ultimate Eros, fundamental, mythical, and unattainable.

[Italo Calvino, "Sex and Laughter," 1970, translated by Guido Almansi]

For a literary critic, Calvino is full of good sense and humanism. Here he is on satire:

One component of satire is moralism, and another is mockery. I would like these two components to remain foreign to me, partly because I do not appreciate them in others. Anyone who plays the moralist thinks he is better than others, whereas anyone who goes in for mockery thinks he is smarter -- or, rather, he believes that things are simpler than they appear to be to others. In any case, satire excludes an attitude of questioning and questing. On the other hand, it does not exclude a large dose of ambivalence, which is the mixture of attraction and repulsion that animates the feelings of every true satirist toward the object of his satire. And if this ambivalence helps to give satire a richer psychological depth, it does not on this account make it a more flexible instrument of poetic knowledge. The satirist is prevented by repulsion from gaining a better knowledge of the world he is attracted to, yet he is forced by attraction to concern himself with the world that repels him.

["Comedy," 1967]

Which, at this moment and in the forum in which I type this, leads me to: And what is this parched little earth of political blog writing but the ugly parts of satire in their unjoined way, moralism over here, mockery over there, without the mild redemption that comes when they work as one under real satire and its forced tension and ambivalence? Questing and questioning never get out of the starting gate. It's why you can read and read so much online and never feel you've read anything, and still be starved for reading.