Alexander Weinstein’s moral is as clear as white light in his collection of short stories, Children of the New World, that technology is no replacement for the real world. The stories suffer from what Weinstein terms in Cartographers as “nothing but white light”, broad strokes, many of those poorly thought, and no effective detail.
Sentences such as “Can’t beat a cold beer,” I said, taking a swig (13), ‘(I) traveled endless hours, numbed by bad sleep and bland airplane food (67), surrounded by pressurized air and bland airplane food (80), ‘I stopped talking, hating the clunkiness of words (190) are the clunky norm. Worse is his adolescent portrayal of sex, the male character – let’s call him Misogy – obsessed with sleeping with porn stars (38), being fucked so good (112) and fully exposing the vulva (136), leaving the reader to wonder if technology might actually be better than having to read this.
Davis stood in the back corner of the convenience store, nervously eyeing the owner. She was old, an Asian woman, who probably didn’t care. Or maybe she did. Maybe she would lecture him and call his step-mother.
Heart pounding, he snapped the Penthouse from the rack and approached. The woman took the magazine, slid it into a paper bag and waited to be paid. He walked outside, pausing at the corner of the parking lot to slide the magazine into his pant leg.
“Hey.” His step-brother, Flynn, appeared behind him. “Can I see that after you’re done?”
Davis redid his shoelace. “Huh?”
Davis couldn’t understand how he had appeared, where he had come from. “Yeah, okay.”
It was a good issue, four pictorials, lipstick lesbians, the centerfold Pet leaning back with a cigarette in her hand. He took the magazine to Flynn and went back to his room, laying uneasily on his bed. He never spoke with Flynn. They had nothing to say to each other. And now this. Was this some kind of turning point? Would they talk about the naked women? Which was best? What they liked? What they did as they looked at them? What were they supposed to say? There was a knock. Davis sat up abruptly, crossing the room and opening the door to find the magazine, face down on the beige carpet, Flynn’s door closing down the hall.
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.*
*Taken with a grain or two of salt.
The house was long and bright, a small tour being conducted as I came home.
“What longitudinal line does the house bisect?” The guide smiled briefly, waiting only a moment before conducting the group through the sculpture gallery. “Originals, everything is an original.” My clothes were missing from some shelves, moved to a downstairs room still under construction. That’s where she was, my wife, unpacking my things. I thought of just staying there, waiting for all of this to come around to a sensible point, but gathered my wits and caught up to her before her next meeting. “I need just ten minutes.”
A loose-suited man stood beside her. “I need the same.”
Her look was reserved as she glanced between us and then back at him. “Would you like to look at the garden? Why don’t I take you out to look at that?”
“We won’t have time then?” I stuttered.
She was already leaving. “We can schedule something for next week.”
I followed them down to the train, past a half naked man engaged in a complicated ritual, artistic or personal I didn’t understand. “Henry, we’ve talked about bringing your friends.” She turned to the loose-suited man. “It’s too much, isn’t it?”
I thought that it was but had been left at the top of the stairs.
Sometimes in the recording of a bald sexual incident great significance adheres. Sometimes the sexual becomes a writing, pulsating facade such as we see in Indian temples. Sometimes it’s a fresco hidden in a sacred cave where one may sit and contemplate on things of the spirit. There is nothing I can possibly prohibit myself from doing in this realm of sex. It is a world unto itself and a morsel of it may be just as destructive or beneficent as a ton of it. The gods came down from above to fornicate with human kind and with animals and trees, with the earth itself. Why are we so particular? Why can we not love – and do all the other things which give us pleasure too? We fear to lose ourselves. And yet, until we lose ourselves there can be no hope of finding ourselves.
She was hiding under the covers and then I was under her dress, tucked against her breasts. She tried to push me away but she liked it too much, her body taut, pushing into my face and then pulling away. I loved her like that, her lips and breasts, her hips rolling up, so bent on the edge. I liked that emptiness, holding that demand in me, hard, and I couldn’t stop.She was still wearing her panties and part of her top, or at least I thought she was, and saw her lean away, her face go to one side, eyes closed as she lifted her knees and grabbed my shoulder. I was frozen, seeing her like that, pent up, wanting to explode, me wanting nothing but that, to be there, my hand down her stomach, pulling at her top and breasts, down onto her hips, pulling her panties down, all of her naked, she turning around, pushing back, wiggling, hanging on in a desperate act, burning, her back arched and pulling me inside. It was terrifying – for a moment anyway – how much I liked it.
There was something marvelous about what she did. It was almost a breakthrough, how sexuality wasn’t such a thing, that an erect penis was just that, no more than an effective device in a situation comedy, like wide eyes or a gaping mouth. It was funny, the way he sat there with it sticking up. It was funnier how she grabbed it to let him know that he was accepted. But then it was something else when he did the same, the roommate, putting it in his mouth. I mean, I thought it was surprising but funny too. Most people did not. It was a scandal. There was screaming and yelling. People went into the street. I watched for a moment and then went alongside and then ahead of the crowd, only just. They were coming out of the side streets across the wide boulevards, all of them down to the old freeway. The concrete posts stood like an obliterated forest. That’s where they were, whatever those things were called, effigies, I guess, standing above us like Easter Island heads. It really looked like they would talk. But there were just too many people, most of them still screaming, and I lost interest and went back to the hotel. It was better going the other way. And they were still there. His penis was the same.
I have watched Fate unfold her pattern; Try endured/ What she endured; her captor now, by Helen’s decree,/ Ends thus.
I have done with tears. I will endure my death./ O gates of the dark world, I greet you as I come! Let me receive, I pray a single mortal stroke,/ Sink without spasm, feel the warm blood’s gentle ebb,/ Embrace death for my comfort, and so I close my eyes.
Friends, there is no hope, none – once the hour has come./ This is the day. Retreats wins little./ I go. Now in the land of the defeated I/ Will mourn my end and Agamemnon’s./ I have lived. I am not like a bird scared at an empty bush,/ Trembling for nothing. Wait: when you shall see my death, woman for woman; when in place/ Atoned with death woman for woman,
Then witness for me – these and all my prophecies/ Were in utter truth. This I request before I die. Alas for human destiny! Man’s happiest hours/ Are pictures drawn in shadow. Then ill fortune comes,/ And with two strokes the wet sponge wipes the drawing out.
Cassandra’s lines (1297-1328) from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon.