Tuesday, July 06, 2010

on what an erotic phenomenon might or might not be

I'm really starting to part company with Marion's account. I'm not even going to touch the stuff on addressing the lover in speech and the connection he makes to theology and to the New Testament. Suffice to say that it seems really strange to claim a connection between the erotic phenomenon and a religious text that's not even 2000 years old. Nobody had erotic sensations before then?

What becomes painfully evident is that Marion's account is incapable of phenomenologically evoking or describing the erotic phenomenon, because it is chock full of presuppositions about the kinds of sensations that can be erotic (sexual, specifically, and heterosexual, and normatively, intercourse), but also the kinds of desire and erotic encounter that can be regarded as legitimately loving.

That said, he does some very interesting stuff about “lying,” which covers, for him, the ways we deceive one another about our love... by which he means, again inscribing the account with heavily normative presuppositions, heterosexual, monogamous relationships. So, one kind of “lie” is “sweet talk,” by which one proposes to another all the signs of love (which he says don't signify anything), thus evoking desire, which the sweet-talker does not carry through with. This could be exemplified by flirting. So, how is flirting a “lie”? Only if our love-talk, our erotic talk, always necessarily morally intends to offer one another the desire, arousal, and encounter of flesh to flesh. But he must mean flesh here in a totally literal, non-phenomenological sense. Sweet talk is a lie only if the moral standard for arousing talk is that it issue in the literally physical consummation of desire in intercourse. There's more: still worse than sweet talk is actual infidelity, when not only is the arousal a “lie” because ... er, because now the lie is that one loves, when one already has a lover.

So: it's as though the only kind of erotic connection we can have is in actual physical co-presence, and also that the only legitimately erotic encounter we can have (note!) is monogamous sexual intercourse.

And then, he says, we sometimes go even further outside of these boundaries, when, for instance, we become erotically interested in being, say, tied up or spanked, or, still worse yet, when we “transgress the borderline between sexes” (165). So now, the only legitimately erotic phenomenon, and the only love that counts as love, is monogamous, heterosexual, “plain vanilla” sexual intercourse (did I mention, to orgasm, and no further? cuz, that too).

From Marion's perspective, then, all those random arousals we undergo, and that we sometimes provoke and enjoy; and all non-monogamous, non-intercourse erotic encounters; are not really erotic phenomena, because, according to Marion, we cannot love in those ways (maybe you thought you were, but you were wrong, apparently. Thanks for the tip, Jean-Luc). Which tells us exactly the boundaries of his concept of love.

Monogamy, fidelity, flirtation, excitement, desire, and perversion, are far more complicated phenomena of human love, as well as of erotic experience, than Marion gives them credit for, to be sure – to say nothing of orientation, for crying out loud. Or gender! Or peaches!

If you wanted to account phenomenologically for the erotic, you would bracket all that you regard as real or settled about it. That's the basic step in phenomenology - the bracketing of the "natural attitude." Marion hasn't done it. I haven't done it completely, but I think I'm in a better position than he is. (He's even presuming that flesh means flesh of bodies that are human, for purposes of this account.)

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