What one must aim for in the struggle to control the desires was the condition of “ethical virility” according to the model of “social virility”. In the use of male pleasures, one had to be virile with regard to oneself, just as one was masculine in one’s social role. In the full meaning of the world, moderation was a man’s virtue.To be immoderate was to be in a state of nonresistance with regard to the force of pleasures, and in a position of weakness and submission. In this sense, the man of pleasures and desires, the man of non-mastery (akrasia) or self-indulgence (akolasia) was a man who could be called feminine.*
I am the honored one and the scorned one/I am the whore and the holy one/I am the wife and the virgin/I am the mother and the daughter…(6) This Sumerian poem, written hundreds of years before the rise of Greek civilization, begins Qualls-Cotbett’s The Sacred Prostitute, an academic look at the ancient rites of female sexuality.
The idea of female power and of the sacred prostitution is an anathema to the sexual politics of the past three thousand years, an idea expressed succinctly by Pythagoras: “There is a good principle, which has created order, light and man; and there is a bad principle, which has created chaos, darkness and women.” According to Qualls-Cotbett, it wasn’t always like this. Sacred rites of sexuality were a foundation to ancient civilizations: “The sacred prostitute leads the stranger to the couch prepared with white linens and aromatic myrtle leaves. She has rubbed sweet-smelling wild thyme on her thighs. The divine element of love resides in her. The stranger is transformed.” (23)Prostitution was not a heinous act conducted behind a veil of darkness and violence, but instead “nature and fertility were the core of existence. Desire and sexual response experienced as a regenerative power were recognized as a gift or a blessing of the divine. Great Mother was the goddess of all fertility.” (31) Much of modern-day attitudes toward female sexuality comes from the Bible and Koran, where the concepts are not so far from these ancient ideas: “She is the breath of the power of God, a pure effluence flowing from the glory of the Almighty.” (105) And yet, the dichotomy in today’s Calvinist/Capiltalistic world remains as strong as ever, reviling and adoring women solely on their sexuality, secreting the act of sex to one of shame, promoting pornography, defiling our scared selves.
Bob Dylan, awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, has decided to ignore the honor. Wow! I mean, right!? Everybody Must Get Stoned!Bob Dylan excuse me, I mean Mr. Robert Zimmerman, is like a god! Literally so. The man just shrugs off what everyone else on this planet accepts, all of those pathetic dogs: Alice Munro, Jose Saramago, Gunter Grass, Pablo Neruda, Samuel Beckett. Come on, Robert Zimmerman is so much more gifted, right? Waiting for Godot? As if. Blindness? Huh? The Flounder? Come on! What are they going on about? All you have to do is listen to Robert:
She speaks with a stutter and she walks with a hop I don’t know why I love her but I just can’t stop.
The great thing about all of this is that Robert is sticking it to those elitist royals in Sweden. Sticking it to them! He’s speaking out on behalf of his downtrodden American brethren – so many ignored over the years – leaving us in glorious silence to consider his lyrical awesomeness:
I know all about poison, I know all about fiery darts, I don’t care how rough the road is, show me where it starts
Or maybe it’s actually bigger than that. Maybe Robert is gone. Hasn’t everyone else died this year? Maybe they’re covering that up until Robert can figure out how to reincarnate. I mean, if anyone can pull off the Lazarus gig, it’s Robert fuckin’ Dylan Zimmerman.
Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, a chronicle of frontierswoman Mary Hallock Foote, offers reflections on how life unfolds:
Time hung unchanging or with no more visible change than a slow reddening of a poison oak leaves, an imperceptible darkening of the golden hills. It dripped like a slow percolation through limestone, so slow that she forgot it between drops. Nevertheless, every drop, indistinguishable from every other, left a little deposit of sensation, experience, feeling. Familiar and unfamiliar swam and blended into a strangeness like dreaming as she saw Howie’s face out of her girlhood against the mountainside of her present life. A wash of confused feelings went over her like wind across a sweating skin, for the identity that Howie took for granted and talked to and reflected back at her was not the identity it used to be, not the one that had signed all her past drawings, not the one she knew herself. That what was it now? She didn’t know.
The mantra for wanna-be writers is always the same: write every day. James Bond creator Ian Fleming is said to have written every morning, after which he headed off to the beach followed by an evening of cocktails. I tried that once. Didn’t work out so well. How-to-author James Altucher offered this: “If you can average 1,000 words a day, seven days a week, you can write four to eight books a year.” Uh…what?
Mystery writer Raymond Chandler said that he sat down at his desk each and every day just to concentrate. For me, the key to writing is not bullshitting yourself. It doesn’t matter what you tell everyone else. It’s only you that matters. You spend all day, from the moment you wake, and into your dreams, always in your head. You need to focus. You need to research. You need characters and action. You need to do all of that. You don’t need bullshit. Just do the work. And never let yourself off the hook.Okay, maybe once in a while.
This moment matters. This moment right now. I am writing. You are reading. This is it. Maybe more than that. Moments of truth. Never forget. And yet we do just that. A constant. People are killed. Wars are wages. On to the next thing. So right. And then it’s the next thing – what is it now?None of us will remember what it was were not supposed to forget.
Haruki Murakami writes extensively on the writing process in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, reflecting on the purpose of one’s work:
In the novelist’s profession, there’s no such thing as winning and losing. Maybe numbers of copies sold, awards won, and critics’ praise serve as outstanding standards for accomplishment in literature, but none of them really matter. What’s crucial is whether your writing attains the standards you’ve set for yourself. Failure to reach the bar is not something you can easily explain away. When it comes to other people, you can always come up with a reasonable explanation, but you can’t fool yourself.
What is wrong with this story is that it is not a true story. Men have in their minds a picture of how the world will be. How they will be in that world. The world may be many different ways for them but there is one world that will never be and that is the world they dream of. Do you believe that? (From Cormac McCarthy’s Cities of the Plains)
And now comes John Barleycorn with the curse he lays upon the imaginative man who is lusty with life and desire to live. John Barleycorn will not let the dreamer dream, the liver live. God is bad, truth is a cheat, and life is a joke. From his calm-mad heights, with the certitude of a god, he beholds all life as evil. Wife, children, friends – in the clear white light of his logic, they are exposed as frauds and shams. He sees their frailty, their meagerness, their sordidness, their pitifulness. And he knows his one freedom: he may anticipate the day of his death – suicide, quick or slow, a sudden spill or a gradual oozing away through the years, is the price John Barleycorn exacts.