Friday, December 17, 2010

Postmodernogamy, Polyamory, and the Marriage Narrative

By James Curcio
Postmodernogamy is a "playful perversion of language," a "facetious neologism" that I've been using for several years. (I'll explain the quotation in a second.)

I mostly used it because I've often gotten into pointless arguments with strangers on polyamory forums for reasons passing my understanding, perhaps having to do with not kowtowing to some kind of imaginary party line, or because my sense of humor is very easily taken the wrong way by strangers that are, in my opinion, clearly over sensitive about being politically correct, whatever the hell that means. (Who knew that the term "tarded" isn't acceptable? I mean, fuck!)

I've also employed it because I'm just a patently absurd being, and the term "Postmodernogamy" is patently absurd. That's not unlike Kierkegaard's ultimate justification for Christianity. (If we choose faith we must suspend our reason in order to believe in something higher than reason. In fact we must believe by virtue of the absurd.) We are meant for each other, like two soul-mates. Or something.

Let me explain it to you in my usual round-about way.

A conversation sparked up on a friend's Facebook, off of his use of the term Postmonogamy, a different term altogether though I was only half awake when I read it so I somehow assumed that he had said "postmodernogamy." And a conversation ensued which went somewhere both insightful and absurd, doubly so now that I realize it was all based on a misreading on my part. I in fact have very little to contribute to the idea of postmonogamy. I think it's unnecessary, and I'm sure we'll have a faux debate about that any day now.


But in the meantime I'd like to share my thoughts with you on the transition of relationships from the archiac to modern to postmodern age. Hopefully I needn't spell the general narrative of that obvious mythically implied linearity. It was the stuff of most of our education, formal and otherwise. De Sade foretold the death of the social convention of marriage, a "slap in the face to the Apollonian man." De Sade was, arguably, shaking his cage bars and fighting the formality of his age in the only ways he knew how. But there does seem to be a hysteria evident throughout much of the populace today, evidenced by the conflicts over gay marriage, and the forecoming arguments about progressive group marriage (as opposed to the regressive forms as seen in Mormonism) that are only beginning to hit the News.

The argument goes that marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman, and should this be contested, should it be sufficiently compromised, the entire fabric of society will collapse. We will revert to man-apes. Jesus will rise from the dead (again?!) and unleash his zombie hoards. Horrific stuff. Unless if you like zombies, which apparently some people do.

If our society hangs from such a fragile thread, if we're dangling so precipitously from the edge of the cliff, then it seems inevitable that we will slide to the bottom. I say we do it champagne glasses in hand. But let's back up a moment. Isn't it plainly apparent that marriage has nothing to do with biology? My wife and I kissed (and did other things) with several wonderful ladies at our wedding after-party, and I've yet to see a single zombie. (Though we should really get married more often, it seems to produce excellent parties, not to mention apparently getting women riled up. Even though that was unlikely the cause, it's still fun to attribute wildly.)

The restrictions applied to marriage, or applied through marriage, are representative of culturally normalizing forces within the society itself. They do not represent some kind of natural, let alone categorical, imperative. Though, of course, the pair bonding of mammals for the purpose of procreation does represent a biological imperative and I'll get to that in a moment.

This is EXACTLY what being polyamorous is like.
ALL THE TIME. Right, Charlie Sheen?
I don't say this as some kind of opponent of monogamy. My contention is with the de facto expectation that it is enforced as the norm in all cases, and I have a reservation about the heirarchy that is formed in modern life: rampant promiscuity when "dating" and "free" to either an ongoing string of serial monogamous relationships, or "settling down" which also implies "shutting out." I've lost more friends, at least practically speaking, to marriage than cancer or any other disease. I would not like to confine myself to this strict narrative.

What are the alternatives, and what the hell does this have to do with postmodernism? Often the accusation leveled at bisexuality and polyamory alike, when other options are expended, is that it is selfish. This accusation is meant to immediately carry a negative connotation, I imagine, thanks to Abrahamic morality. (Which so often uses piety to mask various forms of selfishness, but that's another thing.)

Though any relationship that endures can't be based entirely on selfishness, I still have to question the underlying logic being employed here. What does it mean to be selfish in these cases?

There was a speech given by a Canadian author and playwright whose name is eluding me at the moment called "The Virtue of Selfishness." It was directed at the graduating class of a specialized school -- they were all going into social work. And he asked, in a nutshell, "how can you help others if you cannot help yourself?" (Ayn Rand also had some things to say about the virtues of selfishness but I don't like her politics so I'm biased.)

If we shut ourselves down or make ourselves in the image of what our partner wants us to be, strictly, then we can't be of any service to them. I have often seen a pattern in the most claustrophobic relationships that partners fall for something in someone, and then suffocate it and find themselves dissatisfied with the person they helped engineer. I'm not talking about compromise here, that is an essential part of any relationship. As always it is easy to paint abstract pictures in absolutes when reality tends to fall somewhere in-between.

There isn't, on the flip side, an inherent virtue in selfishness, either. Without any regard for anyone else, the only alliances we can forge are along the axis of very temporary mutual best interests. However, in less extreme cases, if we're being honest, it is the maintenance of mutual best interest that any relationship is maintained. Without that it coasts on inertia only until such a time that a stronger gravitational force, so to speak, pulls it to a new course.


Finally, I can get to my actual point: 

Based on the ideology of those that oppose gay as well as open marriage, the ends towards which marriage are directed are progeny and the maintenance of a certain social order. This is the biological imperative I spoke of conjoined with a set of social rules and expectations which, though they vary by place and time in some ways -- for instance arranged marriages are no longer the norm in the Western world -- they tend towards a fairly similar pattern, with the exception of cultural outliers. (Such as matriarchal Native American tribes, etc.)

This is the archaic and modernist marriage, which implies teleology as the establishment of progeny as successors is a movement towards an end, one's own end, and in terms of time as well a stratification of life is implied.

Let's look at the pattern. birth, childhood and play, young adulthood -- experimentation and social training, college and breaking off from parents, the period of dating which is a code word in many cases for casual sex and genetic sorting (finding a suitable mate), marriage, and a shift of emphasis then on creating a platform for the life that is to come. Then, the long period of toil until the "golden" period when the young have left the nest and the now elderly can reflect before death. This pattern changes slightly by society but it is ingrained by various mythologies and seems mostly constant world-wide. It is re-enforced by the myths, by the laws, and by the possible presecution of the rest of society, should anyone contest these "God given" rules. Women are still stoned to death for adultery in some places of in the world, hard as it is to believe.


The "end of history" that harkens postmodernism is easily reflected in a skeptical attitude towards these patterns; hierarchical methods of time and behavior categorization are replaced with more fluid nonlinear approaches. The jumble can remain a jumble, chaos is striated through its own self organizing principles, and our task becomes simply being wherever we are, recognizing, responding, seeking to be aware-- sometimes to suffer and fail miserably but, we hope, fearlessly -- rather than trying to organize the process of our lives through an imposed order that comes from without. Life is a series of flows. There are heirarchies and orders, but they are self-structuring, and tend to collapse and reform on their own whims. To put it far less abstractly, we aren't the ones in control. We never were, we never will be. The conscious mind is a little air bubble in a giant block of jello, and yes. I know this post has nothing to do with squirrels that are also whiskey bottles. But look at them. They're fucking awesome. What do you want from me?

This is what defines the post-modern condition, as well as skepticism towards meta-narratives, one of which could well be called the "sanctity of marriage." Yet, I don't contest its sanctity, in fact I'd like to see more of the sacred in all of our lives. Instead, let's say that it is a skepticism towards the teleology of our existence as birthing machines, of beings that must always follow the same narrative, the same progression; that our futures must self-organize to the whims and dictates that come from without rather than within.

Now that I think of it, I hate the term post-modernism, too. Damn. Well, some day I'll find a categorization I can live with.


Nah. Probably not. ... Look, schoolgirl maids!

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth now.

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