Saturday, May 30, 2009

The erotics of knowledge and reading

Roland Boer has a quite interesting little post on his Stalin's Moustache blog - Sexy Writers or the erotics of knowledge. He asks:

Why do we fall for some writers and not others? Why do we find the thought of one person sexy and another not? Why are some texts so seductive while others leave us cold?

And then goes on:

I know the writers I find sexy: Rosa Luxemburg, Theodor Adorno, Ernst Bloch, Max Horkheimer, Louis Althusser, Henri Lefebvre, Fred Jameson, Alain Badiou, Georg Lukacs, E.P. Thompson, Karl Kautsky, Jacques Lacan, and of course Marx and especially Engels. It's not that they are physically attractive (I don't leer at their photographs), but their thought is stimulating and gets my juices going, so to speak.

He then lists a group of writers who leave him "cold and totally uninterested" including Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and Michel Foucault. I've not read Deleuze or Derrida ( I made a start on one of his essays but never finished it). Foucault I have read some of but again could not really get into him. It didn't excite me or captivate me at all. I have determined to make a start on Derrida probably starting with what he wrote on hospitality. But Foucault, well I'm not so interested in trying again to make any connection there.

But Roland's post got me thinking about the erotics of knowledge, of writing. Good writing, sexy writing necessarily excites the mind. The mind is definitely aroused and excited by what one reads. And when the mind is all excited, there is what I think Plato would term an insemination take place. Sometimes it can be in the form of an affirmation or confirmation of ideas one holds already but often expressed in a much better way. Other times it can unlock thought flows of one's own or provide a whole new perspective that opens up new perceptions, dare I say conceptions of reality. Other times it's the analytical process itself that is mentally arousing. Sometimes it can be sheer joy to witness and participate in; all reading is participatory.

What's really curious for me is the number of women whose writing I find sexy. They have played a crucial role in teaching me, in awakening and exciting me. Eve Kosofky Sedgwick is one, Luce Irigaray is another. In biblical studies there's a whole suite of feminist writers, but I have to say that three important women, in terms of opening up my thinking to new possibilities, have been Avivah Zornberg, Margaret Barker and Mary Douglas. In my younger days Dorothy Day and Emma Goldmann were two women who I 'fell in love with' and soon Catherine de Hueck was another. And both Julian of Norwich and Maguerite Porete struck me very profound exciting and sexy writers who again opened my mind and spirit, exciting and arousing new possibilities and perceptions. These are some women I think of without really trying.

The irony is that I am a gay man, a homosexual, a homophile and yet intellectually am I more heterophilic? If writing is sexy can it have gender? Or when I read these women does my mind awaken to its lesbian dimension? (Perhaps that's why I thought J K Gayle was a woman because his writing excited my mind in its lesbian dimension?) Because I really am not heterosexual/heterophile at all. I know this from reading the writing of those I love. I have a friend in the US that I have yet to meet. I got to know him through the internet in the days when I was working on my thesis. He was working on a Master's thesis in theology at the same time. In it he critiqued an essay of mine that had been published. When he told me I asked if could see it and sent me the chapter in question. He was actually very nervous about it, perhaps due to a certain awe at the fact that my essay had been published in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. But on reading his critique I was quite excited, he had perhaps misread me but then perhaps he had highlighted an ambiguity in my own argument of which I was not aware. So I then wrote him into my thesis and thus into my book, acknowledging his point and giving a clarification of my own position. I sent him a copy of the chapter and he was chuffed, as I recall. I think he was even more chuffed when he realised that it was also included in my book. That I was determined to do.

So if writing is sexy, arousing exciting and inseminating the mind does it mean when we cite and acknowledge each other that we are making love one to another? Is that yet another dimension of the eros of knowledge, the eros of writing?


  1. Surprising to relate it's all a matter, very largely, of either natal astrological affinity or timing as once again just recently I've had proof. Only during this last fortnight or so I have been very caught up reading and writing something (to be on my Blog next month) to do with John Lennon and Marianne Faithfull). Only yesterday I discovered that the last full moon which was the trigger for dealing with Lennon fell almost to the minute of a degree on my natal place of the asteroid, Lennon. I won't go on about Faithfull connections but there's so much and as I was never really into pop music why should I even be interested in this singer? But her Descendant angle, her Chiron, her Fantasia asteroid etc conjunct my Sun while her Juupiter conjuncts my reading/writing Mercury and so we go. It's all there. And absolutely it's always all there if you look at, say, someone who becomes, say, a Shelley or Keats scholar. Without ties to the person it's virtually impossible to spend a lifetime researching in their shadow.

    Sometimes, especially with philosophers and thus Boer with Deleuze and Foucault, the writing style is obscure and alienating even if the ideas and the peron are potentially interesting so we don't progress with them though we maybe might - at the right moment. But with some theorists one may still need to read summaries of their ideas first to be attracted. So here there's a division between an eros which could go to or against the person, or the ideas or the style dependent considerably upon one's natal pattern. I don't say it's everything but I do believe it's a lot.

  2. I'm sure the astrological connections are most significant but how do they account for the eros of writing, the eros of knowledge as Roland puts it. Do your Descendant angle connections to Faithful give a particular erotic connection to her writing?

    And why do I a gay man find so much writing of women 'sexy' in a way that I don't with so many men. Mind you I realize now that it's a different sort of sexiness compared to the writings of those men I might love like my USan friend I refer to in the post or a friend of mine today with whom I feel a close bond of love.

  3. I think we might have to define sexy and erotic a bit more here.

    I would assume you mainly mean just intense interest or attraction which has some of the quality of the total eros drive (Freud's libido which drives more than just sex) or else we would be saying philosophy tomes etc can be between erotic and pornographic which is almost never the case.

    But if you are, let's say, more "fired" by female writers that's probably because there simply is working here some of that affinity of gay males for the feminine at a certain level. In eary Uranian theory (as of Ulrichs) gays have even been called female souls in a male body and if we want to be astrological then they are closer to the spirit and feeling of Mars negative/feminine as in Scorpio as opposed to Mars positive/masculine as in Aries. There is less conquest and aggression, more rut or total orgasm sought as in Erospirit today.

    So I think it's quite natural you should derive much inspiration and perhaps excitement of thought from female writers and their vision. I don't think however most gays would understand how one could find the tones and ideas of very obscure writer like Irigary sexy though I will say her hesitations and gasps, her comings and goings could be deemed a bit orgasmic or cutely naughty. As regards Marianne Faithful, there are quite a few links to my chart. I would however describe myself as more intrigued by her than positively attracted, in fact intrigued is suitable for the mystery quality of the Scorpio contacts. Her descendant angle does near conjunct my sun for a start but that's more a connection than an attraction that makes me in some sense her audience or representative as for the soon to be posted article.