Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Life as a dirty joke: one post-feminist perspective

As noted yesterday, the Christian view of sexuality is under attack as part of the assault on transcendent meaning, for which the human heart longs and is made. In the works of no twentieth century thinker is the assault more pointed than in the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre, which amount to not much more than a strange (mis)appropriation of several deep insights by Heidegger. In Sartre the question of meaning can only be answered by the autonomous, allegedly free (i.e., unattached), individual, the radical de-linking of freedom from truth, which is but a variation on the destructive theme of the divorce between reason and faith. On his view, you invent the meaning of your life, nothing is given, and anything told you by others is oppression. If you want to really upset me, link Camus with Sartre. Camus, unlike Sartre, was no nihilist. He persisted in his quest for meaning. Whereas, Sartre went to great lengths in trying eradicate the path Heidegger made through the forest, all the work he invested in clearing space so that the question of being, which is the only question that matters, can once again be posed. "The danger facing the Western world," said Pope Benedict earlier this year in the speech he was to deliver at La Sapienza University in Rome, "is that man today, precisely because of the immensity of his knowledge and power, surrenders before the question of truth". What is truth? asked Pontius Pilate, as the truth stood facing him (Jn. 18,38). The I, Don Gius taught us, is a direct relationship with the Mystery. That, my dear friends, is the truth!

Authentic sexuality is also rendered void by what can only be characterized as a continued gnostic dualism as regards the Christian understanding of sex. Virginie Despentes, the author of the novel Baise Moi (the English edition of which hauntingly and somewhat ironically features the visage of Karen Bach) and co-director of the film, has not ever, at least as far as I can tell, appropriated Bach's experience into her thinking. This becomes clear in reading a review of her most recent book, a series of essays, entitled King Kong Théorie.

Virginie Despentes
From the review, Virginie Despentes’ King Kong théorie: "Despentes feels that society’s ‘devious and deliberate’ manipulation of sexual archetypes is not just a political and economic weapon: it’s the ultimate obstacle to self-expression, that can only saw [sic] seeds of malaise and dissatisfaction. Day after day, the possibilities of our sexuality and the potentials [sic] of our personal freedom are occulted in a variety of ways. To illustrate her point, Despentes discusses the French media’s coverage of prostitution in France, what she sees as a desperate attempt to avoid ‘sending married women the message that there is an alternative to the marital contract’. As a result press and TV go to extraordinary lengths to highlight the most sordid, dramatic aspects of this phenomenon (the all too familiar news reports of underage, drug addicted, paperless immigrant girls in near-slavery conditions on the most dangerous banlieues) rather than the stories of those, such as Despentes herself, who had decided to entertain the profession by choice. According to Despentes, it is the financial side to the equation that feels destabilising, as it spells independence: something evening the scale between genders is automatically seen as dangerous." Despentes herself writes about this: "as traditionally women and men are expected not to relate to each other so openly and explicitly, this eventuality opening into unknown possibilities is scary". The reviewer summarizes this as "the prospect of [men and women] becoming accomplices". Despentes continues, "if I had to give some advice to any girl out there, I would suggest to preserve their independence and gain some profit from her charm, rather than getting herself married, knocked up and finally trapped by some guy she wouldn’t stand unless he took her on holidays twice a year".

What is striking about Despentes' post-feminist take is that she takes the Christian view of sexuality head-on. In other words, hers is not a response to a mistaken dualistic, pseudo-Christian view of sexuality, which is ultimately gnostic, and still all too prevalent in the Church. What she proposes to "any girl out there" is striking: the way to independence and happiness is by seeking to "gain some profit from [your]charm". According to Despentes, prostitution is the way to happiness and independence for "any girl out there"! So, in the post-feminist world envisioned by Despentes and others, borrowing from the repertoire of noted anti-feminist Andrew Dice Clay, the appropriate response when a man and a woman are on a date and, before ordering an expensive bottle of wine, for which he is going to pay, the man says: Hey, that's a $50 bottle wine! How about a little [something] up front?", is saying "Okay", performing the requested act, popping back up and saying, "Where's the $50 bottle of wine?" On this account, life becomes a dirty joke and sex is always a commercial transaction.

J'ai une question si vous plait: "Si un homme parvient à posséder le monde entier, à quoi cela lui sert-il s'il se perd ou se détruit lui-même?" (from Luke 9,25 see also Matt. 16,26; Mk 8,36). Rather than an "opening into unknown possibilities", as the case of Karen Bach shows, at least one possibility is known. Or, is it the case, as a post-feminist, like Despentes, might aver, that Karen Bach was just not strong enough, could not get beyond society's insistence on "occulting" her sexuality. Or, is it the case that she got beyond it alright and found herself in the void, which led to meaninglessness and ultimately to despair?

Oriana Fallaci
Instead of formulating a detailed, well-composed, and lengthy response, I will limit myself to mentioning that it was Karen Bach's express desire to get (re-)married and have children. I also direct attention to a post here on Καθολικός διάκονος from the Fall of 2006: Yet More Signs of Hope, God's fierce love and endless mercy, Jesus Christ.

Sadly, I have created a time crunch for myself with all these musings. I offer the perspective of another post-feminist, the late Oriana Fallaci, as at least a partial corrective to Despentes' life-as-a-dirty-joke perspective.

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