Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cut To The Chase: Eating, Fucking and Dying

By James Curcio

Much ink has been spilled about the relationship of sex and death. I've contributed to it in some small measure—if we can call pixels "ink"—although I don't think any intellectual or academic investigation has ever fully cut to the heart of the matter, and I doubt any ever will. Because, quite plainly, it would be impossible to do so in a satisfactory manner. 

The sex-death connection lies outside the realm of dialectical ideas, although we may choose to come at it from the angle of biology or religious symbolism, the interrelationships of iconography and psychology, and so on. 

But the truth of this connection still seems to lie somewhere in the visceral. Our ideas are in our biology but not of it, which is a turn of phrase a friend used recently that I found memorable. So, like much of our awkward relation to our own sexuality, at least in public, we also find an awkward relationship with death. And when we see that there is a juncture between sexuality and biological sex, a juncture that transcends reproduction, that links in fact into eroticism itself—which is an activity that has transcended its own function, if we are to consider sexuality to be functionally a reproductive act—then we really have to admit our blind ignorance in the face of what must either be taken to be fact, or not. It is said there is a link between sex and death, and it has been spun a million ways, but what can we actually trust in this relation? Who can entirely rule out that there is no link between sexuality and death beyond reproduction, and we're all just incredibly perverse? 

So, as seems to be my inclination, I find myself wanting to throw another variable in the pot when I've realized I can't even come to grips with the two that are already floating around in there. (Look, I like threesomes, alright? Shoot me, but it really helps to have an extra pair of hands. Slender, female hands. Because a pair of bear claws popping in there out of nowhere would be really—Wait, what were we talking about again?) That's just my way, and it has always been. Who am I to question what it is that I am? 

I've been thinking about this recently because I have seen a further linkage in here, I felt it, chewed on it, worked it around my body. These ideas only came up after the fact. This is the rare kind of idea I'm more prone to trust. There is a connection between sex, death, and food. Not just a one-to-one relationship. Many have noticed the connection between food and sex. Or sex and food. For some reason I've rarely seen the complete chain actually pieced together when it is really quite obvious. It is between all three of them that we see a clear picture of primal life. 

Just as they make a circle in the natural world, in their functional incarnations—sex as reproduction, death as an evolutionary necessity among other things, and food, of course, as what occurs unendingly between the point of conception to the point when our neurons all decide they've had enough of our nonsense and bugger 
off to get a pint at the pub. (Which is really weird of them since neither they nor I are British, Irish, or anything of the sort, but I'd be dead at this point so no one would be the wiser.) 

What I'm implying is that in addition to the material linkage between the "circle of life" (birth-life-death) there is another dimension, a mirror image of these facets, rendered within our psychology. I might go so far as to imply that there is a mirror image within our psychology of all of what we might describe as material, natural or necessary phenomenon. Sex becomes erotism when shown through the mirror of the psyche. Death becomes the great initiator. And food? What of food? More on that, in a moment, because it ties into the other two in a fundamental way. 

These mirrors can contain great insight. We must react to the urge to procreate; we must react to all the things that come into going along with that urge or fighting against it; we must react to what our culture prescribes for us sexually; or in terms of how and what we eat and we must react to death and the loss of our own function; we must react to the fact that we have to eat to survive. These are all defining points where we may go along with the status quo or work against it, we may go along with our own inclinations or nature or work against it, and these things themselves may be in or out of alignment. There is no more fundamental way of getting directly at our our way of being in the world than through this holy trinity. Fuck the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. They have nothing on these three that are one: fuck, consume, and die.

This seems very obvious and yet something gets lost in the translation. Maybe we just don't like to think we are so simple when all the mirrors are removed, and some of what we might find through such reduction makes us emotionally conflicted. There's a lot of psychological discomfort that has to be overcome to eat a snail much less realize that when we butcher and consume an animal, lapping at its blood on our knives, we are indulging not just in a necessary act, nor a sensory one, but one which is in this mirrored world of the psyche, intrinsically linked to our relationship with both sex and death. These emotional conflicts can cover a broad range of possibilities from guilt to fear, as well as all the moral quandaries which seem to assail so many of us in regard to our food, especially since we have industrialized the very process of eating. (And sexuality and death too have their odd roles in the marketplace.) Embracing what lies on our plates is no easier for many of us than doing the same with those we'd most like to have in our beds, or what we'd most like to do with them. 

All of this was impressed on me again recently. "Again" because it is not an entirely new line of thought. I had an interesting weekend. Among other things, I found myself building up an incredible excess of sexual energy, not discharging it, but instead adding more and more fuel to that internal fire. In the past, I have felt the way sexual frustration can create hostility, especially in males. I have felt how yearning for a thing that seems out of reach can produce depression—we identify with what we yearn for as an ideal state that we could attain if we were somehow more sufficient, more handsome maybe or smarter or younger or whatever it is—but this thing that I experienced, this time, wasn't like any of that. Not that there isn't inherent tension in the building of a state like this, but it occurred to me that the layer added on top of that where we narrate what it means to be feeling that way—that is up to us. And it didn't hurt that I am very loved by some wonderful people at the moment and that can always help bolster our fragile egos. 

What got me on this thing was that there was a strong secondary effect. I noticed that all of my other appetites were increasing as well. This is like and yet unlike its opposite—the mirror image, opposite again, standing in a mirror, left is right and right is left—of a Catholic, say, who starves and restricts their appetites. (Whether it begins on the level of sex instead of food is irrelevant, though consider the boiled down, lifeless faire of the 50s housewife and we might make a few quick guesses about their regard for sexuality, as I wonder we may also do with languages with an overabundance of consonants as opposed to vowels. But I digress, as usual.) The emphasis placed upon ones inherent urges being "bad," something that we should be ashamed of, is what creates this second inversion of Catholicism. It's the "narrative" I was talking about which takes the base biological accumulation of manna which has no place to go and says, "I am bad for wanting that thing" or "this must be stamped out." It just isn't my nature, and I've gone the extra mile to embrace rather than run from these things in myself, so if I hunger for something and it is within my grasp—...

You might think, "great, so you discovered that if you get pent up you eat a gallon of ice cream. Brilliant, genius." But, it wasn't a matter of the quantity of my appetites increasing. I haven't been shoving pizzas down my throat or anything of the sort. I've instead been craving the most sensual and sensory stimulating foods I can imagine—dark chocolates made by the indigenous people of...wherever, red wines with flavors within flavors from grapes that were grown in volcanic soil and probably harvested by underpaid migrant workers, olives, hot peppers, all things that are incredibly salty, sweet but with layers of flavor behind or in front of it. Anything that is quite plainly the analog of sex. Sucking on a mango or working your way into an artichoke, Freud may have been a reductionistic coke-head with an amazing essay-writing ability, but he was also onto something when it came to the sublimation of wills. I just think he may have gone a bit far with his reduction. (And I don't advise giving a woman head quite the way you go about getting the meat from artichokes. Teeth = bad.)  

It may be a bit of a digression, yet again, but I can't help myself. There's nothing so grounding as indulging in every part of what you consume. I love crushing freshly roasted coffee beans, and smelling it as it breaks up in the mortar and pestle. Is a mechanical device more efficient? Sure. That's not the point. You can feel each piece crack upon under the heel of your hand, which for some reason is intensely satisfying, and if you breathe right and shift your weight you can find a point where gravity does most of the work. (The same is true with massage, for what it's worth. No one has ever pulverized and kneaded his way through my back the way this little old chinese man in china town does and I doubt he could bench press a chopstick.) I like the feel of a knife as it slices vegitables or works its way through meat. I've eaten brain, sucked marrow, and all the while thought of how I am a piece of this world, too. As Mr. VI spells out very well in The Immanence of Myth, we are all cannibals, if we rightly understand what a Self truly is. We are enmeshed. This is my marrow, too. And it's fucking delicious. I am incredibly aware of what it is that I'm eating, and cooking only intensifies that. If it had a face, I'd like to see it. If I'm eating a bird, a fish, a snail, or a carrot, I want to know that thing as intimitely as possible without, you know, implying I'm sticking carrots in my ass. (Not that I'd slight you if you are, but please, wash it if you're going to eat it.) Hiding our food in packaging, slathering them with crappy cheese before you even saw what went into it in the first place. How do you relate to that? It's disposable. We live disposable lives. No one is going to infuse it with meaning for you. Significance doesn't have a label or have a handy "sell by" date, and that's an especially slippery idea when it comes to what we eat since we've all been so trained to cram something down our throat toss it and GO on to that IMPORTANT thing you're supposed to do. 

You really could build an entire religion, a pantheon, around the sources and combinations of what we eat, the possibilities of flavor, and their relationship to thoughts and moods. This kind of systematized thinking seems less absurd to some people who study, say, Western Esoteric Qabbalah when they are drawing out charts of the colors and notes in a scale that correspond to paths on the tree of life, but food. That's just crazy! It's not that I am always drawn to eat a certain food when I'm sad or happy, but everyone has heard of "comfort food" (some people live on it, which is not so good and might say something about your overall psychology.) Relationships of flavors and textures may be a more accurate representation of the actual nature of emotions than any rationalizations, and only the most talented painter or poet can hit those notes without forcing an emotion into the shape of an idea, which  is not quite the same thing. In other words, a food is among other things a feeling. 

So you can imagine, the seemingly simple act of producing, preparing, and consuming food is infinitely complex. You could trace the history of humanity, the history of oppression, of colonization, or reproduction, by the trade and choke points of civilizations through the foods that pass through them and how they are prepared...but certainly there doesn't need to be any beating around the bush as it were of the psychological role of chocolate and red wine, even with the most basic chemistry ignored. The marketing of Valentines can't be blamed for that one—most of the "chocolate" that gets pawned off on that date can barely pass for what it is meant to signify, and remains about as sensual as a cold wet noodle that's been soaking in dishwater overnight. So let's bring this back down to the micro-cosmic scale before I spin you off into the dimension where we can start attributing different kinds of curries to different Chakras and Mudras. 

When I noticed this connection between sex drive and fixation on taste, it got me thinking. Not that, you know, "I should never have an orgasm again and I'll eat food like a fucking king!" But rather, that you don't need to be De Sade, don't even need to be prone to violence, for this linkage to arise. And if so, what about the violence that stands behind food—even vegetarians must contend with a form of violence, though it is far more muted because it is ecological and has more to do with the supposed necessities of industrial farming—and what about obvious violence that stands behind death, even if it is nature that in many cases wields the scythe? 

I know the vegetarians and vegans out there are going to say duck confit aren't the same as a head of brocolli from an ethical or ecological standpoint. Fine. I have a thing about that, which starts with the fact that cabbage or duck, it's the human population that's growing out of control, not the duck or cabbage population. So maybe we should be talking about population control rather than whether we're farming cabbage or ducks because eventually, an ever-increasing population is going to outgrow any foodstuff. But you damn vegetarians never let me get to my point with all your moralizing when I'm just trying to eat and talk about sex and drinking blood. So pipe down and eat some hummus or something, Christ. 

It's not especially surprising to me that when any desire increases, and by that I mean the desire that is aroused either by the craving of food or sex, or in the appreciation and open indulgence in sensation which is—if nothing else!—our birthright as beings, there comes an increase in the awareness of this latent violence as well. Even if one is not inclined to violence, as I am not by general nature, well. Get me hungry or horny enough, and I'll probably gnaw straight through a jugular vein. Context is a powerful force, and there are yet greater systemic forces around us. But we all think it comes down to the singular will. (And you know, every German in World War 2 Germany was an evil Nazi, right?) 

In the past, I always approached the latent violence behind food, sex, and death with a certain guilt, it is one of the few things which can arouse guilt in me, and I often pull back before I get to a level of intensity where I have to look it straight in the eye. 

But not this time. I'm not flinching, I'm not blinking. This time, I found myself hitting a point where I could imagine plunging my hand into a chest. I'd tear out a beating heart, and bite into it. And is the spurting of that heart all that different than the eruptions from sex? Not as much as the squemish would like to believe, that is for sure. I realized at that point that I could no more be a vegetarian than I could be a Catholic, though the more we ourselves can identify with the bloody sacrifice, the more we can connenct with our true self which expands far beyond the barriers of this flesh, in this moment. 

If you've been reading Modern Mythology long, you know my thing with Dionysus. I won't rehash that. But let me be clear on this point: there's no malice in any of this. This is incredibly important, especially for those who are going into this with a foreknowledge of Dionysian symbolism. The violence of the mob, the bloodlust of the revolutionary pleb or the fascist regime has absolutely no place here. That is altogether different, even if the outcome could be the same. It is more like a cat which, let us pretend, plays with a mouse and only then realizes that their fierce play has snapped the poor things back. (Nor am I actively advocating literal cannibalism, though, on the one hand, I assume you understand the power of metaphor if you are a reader here, and two, I'm not about to knock the Aghoris for going that extra mile. You get an "A+" for effort, you lunatics!) 

The frenzy of the Bacchante does manifest in some cases, as in the Euripides play, as a reaction against a social order, and in those cases, if Dionysian rites aren't performed in the glade then they storm and drench the streets. But more naturally, and I think more accurately outside the strictly Grecian sense wherein Dionysus, like all Greek gods, has quite the ego, this blood-lust is the kind of frenzy that overtakes us if we drop our social masks when in the throes of any true passion. True passion and ecstacy bring us at once outside ourselves, and simultaneously make us immanent to ourselves. They embed us in ourselves and force us, in the end, to commit to what is within us, even if it seems horrible to the culture at large. 

Sex and love, consumption, death and grief: these things are outside of our thoughts, outside of our analysis, of our control. We are animals that imagine we are Gods, or we are animals that bow down in blind supplication to Gods made in our own image. Maybe one day we can be worthy of such a title, but for now we remain, in the glacial progress of evolution even against the increasing tide of our culture of industrialized technology, apes with rocket launchers. Imagine an ape with a rocket launcher that fancies himself God, and, reductionist or no, we can see a bit of the problem of War especially when it is juxtaposed with the power that myth holds over our psyches. 

Maoro Cerati
For my part, I don't seek release, in the form of Moksha, or like the devout Christian, who hopes to be removed from their own flesh. I am an animal, I am embodied, I am immanent, and to the extent that I can come to grips with the forces that control me: such as this trinity of death, sex, and food—the more I can come into accord with what it is that I actually am, rather than what I believe I am, what I am told that I am or should be. Acceptance of my self, and the extension of my idea of "self" to include all the systems with which I am actually a part of (which includes what I eat) is more my "spiritual path," if I can be said to have one, than supplication to any idea or ideal, let alone God. 

There should be no room for shame or guilt for what we are. Our only task is to discover, enhance, hone,  and embrace it. There is nothing else. To first acknowledge and then accept or even embrace what one is, that's a spiritual aspiration. If you call it sin, then you've turned God into a "feckless thug." (By the way, plenty could be said on the virtue of love, originating from self love, and that supporting all of these other things, even the seemingly most brutal. But that's another post.) 

There's an extent to which even this roundabout abstraction is still not pulling us out of that first conundrum I alluded to. It'd cut much more to the chase for my wife and I to fuck until dawn, or for that matter for us to collectively fuck a lover—I have a real sexist proclivity for women so we can assume she'd be a she—to the point where she's speaking in tongues, full-on glossolalia, before we sate our mutual desires in her quaking loins blah blah blah. (And then maybe we could make our wobbly-legged way to sake and sushi after if that wasn't the appetizer that got us there in the first place.) Or I could do the same with a lover, or— you get the idea. 

I mean, that'd make a lot more sense than for me to be sitting around writing all this nonsense, wouldn't it? Maybe you gained something from reading about it and maybe not, but it's not like it changed our relationship to the facts. These facts which, at the moment include that I'm on a bus for at the very least an hour away from such an eventuality, and there are probably other things that could interfere with such a plan being hatched immediately. That interference between the thing and the thing represented—T. S. Eliot said "between the emotion and the response falls the shadow," and we could well apply it here—that thing, that dissociation between analysis and vitality, is what keeps me from jumping at the opportunity to enter academia. Well, that and my clearly questionable morals and fondness for short skirts and girls that give a damn about philosophy and discussion. (And some less amusing financial and logistical considerations.) 

The fact there's any dividing line between signifier and signified in terms of sex, death and food might be a primary cause of all of civilization and its discontents in the first place. What we eat, who we fuck, how we face death, these things are real. So are all the myths and ideas we spin out of the mirror we put up to these things. As I have said, myth is a mirror. Nothing more, nothing less. But if we get lost in that mirror ...

Well, I don't know about you, but I'd rather be fucking in a field somewhere. 

Makes the crops more fertile, doncha know?

Until next time.  

MYTHOS MEDIA

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