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Carl Jung

Temenos

Other Jung Socs.

Perspectives on the Erotic
and the Energy of Desire

Brendon Stewart

"Free from desire, you realize the mystery, caught in desire you see only the manifestations. Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source."
Dao De Jing

A favourite Zen Koan has Songyuan ask: ‘why can’t clear-eyed Bodhisattvas sever the red thread?’ Buddhism speaks of the passions as the “red thread.” We see that desire is at the root of our suffering, yet attempting to eradicate desire doesn’t work; neither does indulgence. So, how do we work with desire in a way that is skilful, honest and liberating?

Friday I tasted life. It was a vast morsel.
A circus passed the house – still I feel the red
In my mind though the drums are out. The lawn is full of
South and odours tangle, and I hear today for the first
Time the river in the tree.
- Emily Dickinson

A recent vox pop by Hack TV reveals that 80% of the 20 year olds surveyed had porn on their mobile phones, with no discernable difference between young women and young men.

American Poet Jim Harrison (Zen student) set me smiling when he penned that:

On my zafu I’ve tipped over
Sideways several times when
Thinking about women and food

Let me try to name the point(s) that I want to make. We live at a time and in a cultural milieu that is prosperous and indulgent. This lets us enjoy our erotic imagination and take pleasure in things to be desired. This is a good thing. Psychological practices would do well to encourage such wellbeing. Nonetheless there are hindrances and they stem from a deep place in our cultural character. It is easy to link Eros to Thanatos as if the connection is that of sin and punishment. Prudishness is still common practice.

It is easy to blur distinctions between what desires might be; in psychological language it references libido energy, and the erotic, which could easily be an aesthetic quality. And too there are certainly erotic thoughts that drive our being and objects that have qualities of the desirable.

In the most part Jung doesn’t delve into desire with his psychological reflections and contemplations, nor does he offer an appreciation of the erotic as something of psychological interest. He confines himself to a complex and sometimes I think a less than convincing discussion of the gendered characteristics of our psyche, my personal anima and animus.

Some scholars have tried to chase Jung down with regards this. Andrew Samuels, (Essex) says that a perception of Jung was that he was anti-Semitic, racist, sexist, 'mystical', and an inferior thinker and writer to Freud (and Lacan). Sue Austin takes a feminist perspective and says; “I read everything Jung had written about gender, then I read the studies on Jung's work on gender, especially Anima as Fate by Cornelia Brunner, a text devoted in large part to a Jungian exposition ofRider Haggard’s She. Jung wrote in the preface to Brunner’s work in April 1959 that:[f]or Rider Haggard the significant motif of the Anima unfolds in the purest and most naive fashion .... He, however, who seeks understanding and insight will find rich fare in She, just because of the simplicity and naiveté of the views. (Brunner, 1986, p.xii).

What comes through Austin says was that Jung and the first generation of his followers took works like She as simple and clear examples of the universal nature of certain male fantasies about womanhood.

Austin reflects on her fascination as an adolescence with the 1970’s TV show; Hammer House of Horror a version of H. Rider Haggard's classic She. In the final scene Ayesha - 'She Who Must Be Obeyed', played by Ursula Andres, (Ursula Undressed as I always fanaticized, or Miss Anyone Undressed as I often longed for) … encourages her mortal lover to step into the fires of immortality as she had, thousands of years ago. What she does not know is that stepping back into the flames a second time reverses the process of immortalisation, and she ages thousands of years in front of the camera.

As she dies, Ayesha collapses forward and turns to dust, a process overly signified by the wedding veil she was wearing to greet her lover's new-found immortality, it flutters flat to the ground as her body crumbles. Something about this tale says Austin, of an all-powerful immortal and ruthless woman, finally brought low, is disturbing.

Buddhism returns often enough to the troubled waters of desire as do the Hebrews who know something about how the flesh can be glorious. Islamic scholars, especially those from both old and relatively contemporary Persia sing the praises of desire and the joy of erotic encounters. At best Christians make do with erotic love becoming an allegory for Divine union. This hasn’t meant of course that the church and its various adherents haven’t found much to desire and erotic fantasies swirl around choir stalls and altars.

The always notorious Song of Songs, (the canticle), are a series of Hebrew love poems, allegorized by the Jewish community and by the early church, to be of the soul's longing for God’s Divine love; Agape. This is a self-sacrificing kind of love which sounds difficult, as it is, and not very attractive. If the best image we have of love in the Christian church is that of a man who's been tortured and hung upon a cross to die an excruciating death then this is something that we may find very, very hard to understand as love.

It is nonetheless the highest Christian image of love.

But on the path to God, the path which leads to greater intimacy with God as Therese of Avila, John of the Cross and many others have pointed out, Agape suddenly flips into Eros. The best way of understanding God's love for us, says the Australian Poet Kevin Hart, is of the kind of intimate love that men and women share. In Kevin Hart the poetry often blurs the lines between romantic and religious longing. It's a way of speaking that stems back to the Hebrew bible and to the Christian mystical tradition. He makes sense of this type of erotic encounter by turning to the pleasure of the bedroom.

Simply to touch her hand
And know the undertow
Of feelings without names
That pulls my mouth to hers,

To listen for the laugh
That falls between her words
And live there all the week,
A lazy animal,

To run my fingertips
So slowly down her thigh
And feel the honey thicken
Inside my newfound flesh,

To ease her heavy hair
Away from ear and shoulder
The better to kiss her neck
And hear her saying Yes,

So that the bees will dance
So that the lion feeds
So that the truth is told
So that the ocean lives

Kevin Hart, “Nineteen Songs” (nos. 6, 9, 19), in Flame Tree: Selected Poems (Tarset, Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books, 2002), pp. 173-75, 180.
 
In an interview with the ABC Encounter programme Kevin Hart says that the “kind of love God wants for us is of an infinite longing for union, and the kind of love God wants us to have for him is also an endless longing”. He goes on, “I think erotic love transforms us, but it does so only momentarily. It has to be embedded in something much longer, a much bigger narrative called marriage or durable relationship or something like that. In ordinary relationships that we may have with God, most are not characterised by the erotic, it's only in the most intense moments that we can understand what God wants with us. This union, which is so intimate, the best image that we have as mortal, finite creatures, is erotic love; and it's so momentary”.

There is a place undoubtedly for the erotic in psychotherapy even though the British object relations theorist, Bion, wrote about approaching each psychotherapeutic session without memory or desire. A fanciful idea I would think, (much the same as the Zen Buddhist suggestion to empty the mind) because as the Freudian conceptions of the unconscious suggest we are bound to indestructible infantile fantasies. The unconscious contents of the mind Freud says consist wholly in the activity of fulfilling our desires or wishes – which derive their energy directly from the primary physical instincts. They function quite regardless of any consideration other than that of obtaining immediate satisfaction. (Freud, On Sexuality)

Still in most clinical practice the predominant aim is to touch the soul, or the reasonable mind, never the body. Yet it is the body that constitutes our being in the world forming the very basis from which we relate with ourselves, with others and with the spiritual dimension of being.

Men and women Freud concludes, are incapable of abandoning pleasurable objects, they merely shift from toying with their faeces to tinkering with trombones or paint tubes.

The French are glad to die for love.
They delight in fighting duels.
But I prefer a man who lives
And gives expensive jewels.

A kiss on the hand
May be quite continental,
But diamonds are a girl's best friend.

A kiss may be grand
But it won't pay the rental
On your humble flat
Or help you at the automat.

Men grow cold
As girls grow old,
And we all lose our charms in the end.

But square-cut or pear-shaped,
These rocks don't loose their shape.
Diamonds are a girl's best friend.

There may come a time
When a hard-boiled employer
Thinks you're awful nice,
But get that ice or else no dice.

He's your guy
When stocks are high,

But beware when they start to descend.

It's then that those louses
Go back to their spouses.
Diamonds are a girl's best friend.

  - Jule Styne

There is a story of Moses descending Mount Sinai with the tablets of the law under his arms. I’ve got them down to ten he shouts to the assembled Israelites, but adultery’s still in.

It is the law that sadistically prohibits our desires, Freud acknowledges in Civilization and its Discontents. He goes on to suggest that by way of psychoanalysis we may presume to know that our desires and appreciation of aesthetic beauty derive from the ‘field of sexual feeling’.

How could he think otherwise!!

Talking about it has always been important in how the erotic can be experienced, as might be the situation with pornography or risqué conversations; or approached as in therapy. We know that the talking cure was developed in the course of Breuer’s therapy with Anna O. It was also the disruptions and hesitations within that same therapy that circuitously led to the concept of transference; which also provides an insight into the nature of an erotic transference. I think it was probably the case that the therapy was flirtatious. Breuer was preoccupied with Anna O’s treatment. His wife became increasingly jealous. After I suspect, some heated bedroom exchanges he terminates Anna O’s therapy. In a strange twist on the nature of transference Anna becomes fancifully pregnant. As Anna comes to full term with her phantom pregnancy, Breuer is called back to his patient who is in the throes of a phantom delivery. He calms her down and the very next day takes his wife on a holiday, which he described as a second honeymoon.

Did the Breuer’s enjoy the delights of the second honeymoon? Did they argue a lot and call each other out on well-established habits in the bedroom or at breakfast? Do arguments and discontent provide a perspective on the erotic?

Desire and shame seem at times to be coupled?  As Shakespeare puts it;

Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight,

I hope it becomes obvious that I am talking about the fleshy bits’n’pieces that are attached to our being and I am not going to pay much heed to Kant’s assertion, for example that the human mind has a natural desire to be reminded of the fact that it is possessed of the faculty of reason.

The erotic is evoked over and over in the literature of the academy and in the profession of the psychologies but the way it is talked about there seems constrained when considered alongside something experienced by our own flesh and blood.

Something about the erotic requires it to be explicit; like pornography. To engage in an erotic way with life it seems that one has to be prepared to be seduced or at least flirt with the joyousness of living in human form. It is about a relationship, I don’t agree with propositions that suggest that eroticism, sometimes confused with pornography is non-relational. This is not to say that self-pleasure isn’t delightful and satisfying.

In some academic material I have read there is the proposition that women have to take back the erotic as it has been a self serving strategy within the patriarchy for too long and after all men are unworthy of a contribution to the contemporary discourse on the erotic because they can only think with their dicks.

I think this is somewhat unfair because I know on occasions I have had to put considerable thought into my fingers as they were put to the task of unclipping different types of bra straps.

This critique seems to be suggesting that men tend to flirt only with the intent of securing a sexual conquest and that they have not noticed how seriously damaging this can be especially with other people's affections. So is flirtation dangerous, exploiting the ambiguity of promises and then to sabotage our cherished notions of commitment? Or is it, as Adam Phillips suggests that flirting is a productive pleasure, keeping things in play, letting us get to know them in different ways, allowing us the fascination of being played with. The possibilities of flirtation is that it can open us to the contingent; to surprise, because itsets before us the virtue of a commitment to the open-ended-ness of our life stories.

 Sophisticated flirtation prolongs the preliminaries of sex, which need never be consummated.  

Perspectives of the Erotic depend I suppose on how you think about them and on the other hand, how you think about them.

Immanuel Kant sought to separate aesthetics from desire. For Kant, disinterest lies at the core of aesthetics, and while enjoyment of the pleasant may satisfy specific desires, the core of aesthetics is a freedom from desire. I on the other hand think that there is an epicurean thing about the erotic, (hopelessly romantic in the way one may remain enthralled by a mistress over a lifetime).

So I cannot separate the erotic from the aesthetic, for me it has something to do with a way of life and an appreciation for things of desire; for places and experiences; and of drifting guiltlessly into the enjoyment of a wide variety of emotional and sexual entanglements, some lasting as long as a glimpse, others for a life time. The erotic involves intricacy and digression and includes some things to do with religion, sexuality and the allure of certain forbiddenness.

Some places always suggest an erotic flavour and sensibility; Berlin, Istanbul, Beirut, Shanghai, Prague, Alexandria, Saigon. Sometimes it’s just a name, Babylon, Mesopotamia. “ I was already a man of mature years” says Freud, reflecting on his first visit to Athens and the Acropolis, “when I stood for the first time on the hill of the Acropolis in Athens, between the temple ruins, looking out over the blue sea. A feeling of astonishment mingled with my joy.” (1904).

Later in “Civilization and its Discontents” Freud describes his journey to the eternal city, Rome as a flight of imagination. “Suppose,” he says that “Rome is not a human habitation but a psychical entity … in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away”. For Freud, Rome was a place that could only be truly reached by a flight of the imagination. 

Jung interestingly found the idea of Rome forbidding. It was not a city that he could consider simply visiting, ‘if you are affected”, he says “to the depths of your being at every step by the spirit that broods there, if a remnant of a wall here and column there gazes upon you with a face instantly recognized, then it becomes another matter entirely”. When as an old man he finally decided to go, he was stricken and fainted while trying to buy the tickets for the journey. He never attempted the trip.

There are things too like kasbahs, rooftop terraces, secret gardens, revealing blouses, the way some men run, the pleasure of art rather than an obligation to it and comfortable friends who have been a part of ones play with pleasure where sex, food and drink have been fellow travellers.

Such things easily morph into gifts and it is in the giving and receiving gifts, the exchange of gifts that connects with an erotic life. Gift exchange lets you have your cake and eat it too, indeed as with friendships you can’t have your cake unless you eat it too. Friendships don’t happen unless you take on the friendship. In this way the gift of friendship, the gift of anything really is an emanation of Eros. Libido is not lost when it is exchanged, lovers never waste the erotic, the satisfaction of making love (and here I mean in it’s widest sense), somehow assures there is plenty to share.
“We must agree”, says Salman Rushdie “on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty and love”.

Theodore Zeldin says that sexual pleasure as a refined activity; an erotic luxury had its roots, (a nice play with words and imagery) in the so-called pagan traditions and it can be dedicated as the Taoist put it to ‘the simple and joyous art of living only with a view to living’. Sometime around 450AD the techniques of sexual pleasure had been comprehensively described in the Kamasutra, which itself is a summary of even earlier and lengthier treatise. My own favourite embroidery on this is Jolan Chang’s The Tao of Love and Sex a slim volume that explained to me that the nibbling of toes and kissing the inner arm of one’s lover made a big difference in my bedroom life. These detailed texts were in fact meant to be read as manuals detailing the subtly of love making for a beginner as well as an old adept. The idea being that the art of lovemaking was an aspect of the 64 attributes which a cultured person (and it was meant for both men and women) should possess.

The erotic imagination has been with us a long time, erotic fantasy has been resident in our minds for thousands of years. It didn’t take humans long to recognize that we have at our table and in the bedroom a variety of pleasures that can be imaginatively separated from the necessities of life. I like the idea of erotic luxuries, the red thread running through our lives. It is this thread that links our passions, our pleasures and our vulnerabilities to the world.

Indian Miniatures are code for erotic paintings. What makes them delightful is the explicit nature of the sex and that it happens in a beautiful setting. There is always a maid-servant at hand usually in the corner of the picture. What are her day-dreams like?

When I first came across Indian Miniatures I was surprised and excited while confused and embarrassed. The embarrassment was in being able to see these pictures, in public, with my parents and later with girlfriends. There was nothing remotely similar in the usual picture parade that was available to a young man; magazines like ‘Playboy’ or ‘Men’ had the suggestion of a breast and the titivation of nudity, but here with these Indian paintings were real sexual encounters. It was a relief then to locate them as high art, to see them in a gallery or in a real art book. I suppose because they were somewhere in the realm of anthropology too they slipped under the censors eye. Which wasn’t the case for Michelangelo’s David, or as the promotion had it, a genuine replica of ‘The David’, which was to be displayed in the David Jones Gallery in Market Street in the late 1960’s. The gallery was obliged to cover his already somewhat smallish member before the good citizens of Sydney could gaze upon his otherwise naked beingness.

When I look closely at an Indian miniature, and I certainly look closely, I am always struck by how beautiful, how delightful they are. The scene is completely seductive in and of itself, and most importantly the lovers are clearly enjoying them selves. The viewer too is invited into this moment, we are allowed the full pleasure of an erect penis and bulging vulva, breasts ever ready to be fondled and embraced.

Indian art and thought has clearly been infatuated with the Erotic and this has been so across the great spread of religious and philosophical traditions that emerged there. The Shringar, referring to the erotic is also called the Rasaraja, or king of the sentiments.

To a large extent Christianity, the religion of love has had a long and difficult history with sexual pleasure making and taking. Marriage as a sacrament was a theological design concept that had Luther describe it as a hospital to cure lust.  Still marriage is more interesting, psychologically interesting than courtship, something like the rosarium philosophorum, demanding attention always. All marriages are secret. Something here to be thought about when we speak about couples (marriage) therapy

Touching and hugging are both wished for in therapy, and the cause of some reticence, we are reminded of this when bumper car stickers are needed to advise us that hugging our children is a good thing. But touching and hugging have become suspicious in some work places and certainly it is not done to show physical feelings in most psychoanalytic settings. Prudishness remains common and hasn’t disappeared from our contemporary world. One can be scolded on enough occasions to be wary of even the slightest hint of flirtation. We are warned all the time to watch out for abuse and told too that sexual mistreatment is happening in something like one out of every three homes.

I must admit I am dumbfounded by these figures and attitudes and not certain what to make of it all. We also live at a time when the body and its appearance are lavishly catered for. We know a lot more today about keeping fit and we have put an enormous sum of money into fabulous renovations of bathrooms, kitchens and bedroom all for the pleasuring of our bodies. Magazines like Men’s and Women’s Health make it clear that a healthy body is good for your sex life, which is true.

D.H.Lawrence yearned for a more direct and passionate contact, a copulatively commune with the world when he spoke of being “happy in the wet hillside, that was overgrown and obscure with bushes and flowers. I want to touch them all, to saturate myself with the touch of them. I take off my clothes and sit down naked among the primroses. … To lie down and roll in the sticky, cool young hyacinths, to lie on one’s belly and cover one’s back with handfuls of fine wet grass; and then tosting one’s thigh against the living dark bristles of fir-boughs, this was good, this was all very good, very satisfying”.

Eroticism vastly expands the range of objects that can exert an appeal to our senses. Human beauty is always tinged with the erotic, which of course explains the deep response to a baby and their milky fragrance. Think too of how we eroticise, by reference to our own bodies, the world around us; the mouth of a river, the eye of a storm, the face of a cliff, an arm of the sea. It’s this erotic naming of the things of the world that remind me that I am still somehow a pagan and not far from the earth.

Susan Sontag characterizes sexual desire as ‘one of the demonic forces in human consciousness’ that can surge out of control.

Come sail your ships around me
And burn your bridges down
We make a little history
, baby
Every time you come around

Come sail your ships around me
And burn your bridges down
We make a little history
, baby
Every time you come around

Come loose your dogs upon me
And let your hair
hang down
You are a little mystery to me
Every time you come around

We talk about it all night long
We define our moral ground
But when I crawl into your arms
Everything comes tumbling down

Come sail your ships around me
And burn your bridges down
We make a little history
, baby
Every time you come around

Your face has fallen sad now
For you know the time is nigh
When I must remove your wings
And you, you must try to fly

While the brain exists within the skull our minds extend outward and it comes into being by way of an interaction with the world and others. Extended consciousness.

The flow of ‘information’ that comes to us is a braided stream. The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past we call genetics. The information passed along from hundreds and thousands of years ago we call culture. The information passed from decades ago we call family and the information from months ago we call education. But it is all information and it flows through us by way of the mind. The mind enables the brain to make sense of this information but it only works because we are creatures in that great flow of information.

How to flourish in this stream? Putting yourself into the flow in such a manner that self-consciousness drops away and you loose yourself in the relationships with the world, with other people, with tasks, with experiences. This happens most (best) when you are deeply in relationship with other people usually in some pleasurable activity. Happiness, let us call it erotic happiness is determined by how much information and affection flows through us covertly everyday. Happiness is a measure of how thickly we are intertwined with other people and with activities.

o0o

 

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