Dualism: I Want Your Drama, the Touch of Your Hand

I figured that since I was finished with the “Legends of the Fall” series, I was absolved from my promise for no more Lady Gaga.  Anyway, it is relevant here–probably more than it was there.  This time, I just posted the whole dang video.

FWIW, I like the song much better than I do the video.  That’s actually true for me of most of her songs and videos.

OK–back to where we left off last time.  There, I discussed how there has been a tendency since the middle of the 20th Century to try to move away from dualism in theology.  I gave some of the reasons for that, and some of the ways in which this had been manifested.  I also expressed the opinion that the pendulum had swung a bit too far the other way, and explained why.  The only area I didn’t discuss was sex and sexuality.  That’s a topic that can well do with a post all to itself, eh?The Christian outlook on sexuality has often been described by quoting Swinburne’s line, from “Hymn to Proserpine”,

Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath.

The idea is that Christianity has been pleasure shunning and world denying, and has relegated sex to at best a venial sin regrettably necessary to propagate the species, and at worst a horror to be fled.  This critique has often been leveled against Christianity by its opponents; and in all fairness, there is an element of truth to it.

In any case, as part of the attack on dualism and the real and supposed ills it had bequeathed to Christianity, and also in response to real issues raised by the feminist movement and the Sexual Revolution, many Christian thinkers began to re-evaluate sex.  They rightly pointed out the sexist and patriarchal detritus that had accumulated around the faith over the millennia like undergrowth, and they rightly began the task of clearing it out.  They also rightly pointed out that the ascesis of previous ages had at times been excessive, resulting in much neurosis and unnecessary guilt and repression.  This was often stated as the old cliché that “sex is dirty, nasty, and something you should save for the one you love”.  Certainly, not a healthy viewpoint.

The pendulum began to swing the other way as far back as the late 60’s, but it didn’t really take off until the 80’s, and has been going strong ever since.  There has been much talk of how asceticism was bad, how sex, being created by God is good, how He wants us to enjoy a good sex life, and how sex is even a quasi-sacramental pointing to God.  Books were written to give Christian and/or Biblical perspectives on sex (search “christian sex” or “christian sexuality” and you’ll get lots of other titles–the example at the link is an early one).  Yes, there were still expectations–none of that adultery or premarital sex, though the latter was soft-pedaled–but by and large, sex was no longer dirty.  It was to be joyfully embraced, maybe even as a way to find God.

Well, we see where that went.  Most surveys show that the behavior of people describing themselves as Christian is not much different from that of anyone else in terms of sexual behavior:  premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, divorce, etc.  Some behaviors are a little more concealed among some groups than others, but there’s not that much difference in incidence.  Whether this is good or bad depends on one’s perspective, of course.  However, most Christian churches at least theoretically teach the traditional sexual ethos, even as most of their members flout it.  This may always have been so; but it is much more open now.  So in comparison to tradition, is it better to flout traditional mores, but to be discreet (and thus be covertly hypocritical); or to flaunt your lifestyle openly and not even try to resolve the cognitive dissonance?  ‘Tis a puzzlement, as the King of Siam might say.

I have to point out that this is still going on in some quarters.

The effect has been that there has been a de facto caving in of organized religion to the present-day sexual mores.  Now I’m not interested in defending the bad old days.  Changes in emphasis, allowance for changed modern conditions, and rethinking of some old truisms have been in many ways good and often overdue.  Still, the proper approach is not a wildly swinging pendulum, but a careful dialectic, assessing both sides of the issue before moving on; not a wholesale embrace of anything and everything in the culture at large.

The thing is that all of us, if we are honest with ourselves, should know it’s not that simple.  Mindless repression is bad, but so is mindless indulgence.  Any sexually active adult knows that not all sex is good, not everything about sex is sweetness and light, and that there are really dark areas of sexuality, even for the most vanilla of us.  Heck, even celibates, if they are honest with themselves and don’t deny what’s there beneath the surface, should know this.  I’m not saying they can’t integrate it in a healthy, non-genital way.  Many can and do.  It’s just that it’s a lie for anyone, celibate or not, swinger or chaste, to pretend that there is no negative and dangerous aspect to sexuality.  In this respect, insofar as it realized this and was honest about it, the Church in the old days wasn’t all wrong, by a long shot.

Even though it could be said that Lady Gaga is deconstructing pop, I think there is something in her music, if you overlook the disturbing videos and the layers of deliberate camp and excess, that actually speaks to this.  “I want your drama, the touch of your hand.”  Who hasn’t felt that way about a lover, especially in the first flushes of new love?  The next line, though is, “I want your leather-studded kiss in the sand.”  Who among us has not felt the dark undercurrents of our sexuality, the hints of dominance and submission, the juggling of power, the testing of limits, even in the most standard issue relationships?  One doesn’t have to be into (or even aware of ) BDSM to be aware of this, if one looks deeply into oneself.  Aldous Huxley, no conservative by a long shot, somewhere said that sex is a powerful force, and that those who deny this, whatever ethic they push, are deluding themselves and in danger.

Many of us, as randy youths, liked to hear that God was all for sexual pleasure, that sex wasn’t dirty any more, and so on.  As we got older and actually experienced the world, relationships, etc., made our mistakes, broke hearts and got ours broken, we saw that it wasn’t as simple as all that.  Maybe, in a sense, Lady Gaga, for all her camp and cynical media manipulation,  has it closer to right than many of our religious leaders in the last part of the last century, and some in the current one.

Thus, while I don’t by any means advocate a return to Puritanism, I think libertinism and much of the so-called “sex-positive” ideology is a dead end, as well.  What this means in terms of actual practice is something for another day, though I’d tend toward a cautiously libertarian approach, generally speaking.  My main point here is to show one more way in which I think we’ve moved too far away from a dualistic perspective, and in which I have tended to return to such a perspective myself.  And so, my little monsters, it’s not a matter of rejecting dualism, but appropriating it in the right way!  😉

Part of the series Dualism.

Also part of the series The Lady Gaga Project.

Posted on 30/07/2012, in Christianity, metaphysics, philosophy, religion and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Hey Turmarion,

    I\’d like to make a comment, not merely on this post but on the whole \’Dualism\’ series. I agree with a lot of what you\’ve been saying, and among other things, I\’m glad you\’re willing to say it openly (considering you\’re a member of church with a higher view of authority than I do). I\’m more or less a dualist at heart, too, and enough so that it puts me outside the boundary of strict Christian orthodoxy. (That\’s one reason I don\’t think I\’d be comfortable as a Catholic or Orthodox Christian, even if I came to terms with the contraception teachings and other stuff). It seems to me that one of the most basic points where I disagree with orthodox Christianity, is that they went too far in countering the Manichaean heresy in the 5th century (and the Albigensians in the 13th). These were both heresies, of course, but the direct opposite of a heresy isn\’t usually much better. While it may be wrong to say that the material world is inherently bad, I think orthodox Christianity made the equal and opposite error in believeing that the physical, created world was inherently good. Jesus told us, after all, that \’the devil; is the prince of this world\’. I think that a lot of what I disagree with, and a lot of what other people find mistaken, about Catholic teaching as it has existed in history, is that in reaction to the Manichaeans and Albigensians, it systematically overestimated the goodness of the world, of nature, and of earthly institutions, and underestimated the power of evil. That contributed in my view, to things like the overly high view of church authority, the (often) overly comfortable relationship with the secular powers- with kings, landowners, and businessmen- and an excessive focus on procreation as a required and necessary *end* of sexuality. To the very things, in other words, that a lot of modern-day Catholics have issues with.

    I\’ve got to go to bed soon, but I\’ll flesh out more of this some other time. Anyway, thanks for a geat series of posts! I should say, again, that whil I definitely consider myself an incarnational Christianm, in the Anglican tradition, and definitely *not* a gnostic, I\’m more sympathetic to some elements of the Marcionites, Albigensians, and Manichaeans than a lot of Christians might be. My basic starting point is that everything I can see- from the study of nature, from history, from personal experience, and from my own reflections- is that thensjai world has too much evil than orthodox Christianity can easily account for, and that most Christians need to take more seriously what Jesus taught about the reality and power of supernatural evil (and natural & moral evil, which are its results) in the world.

    • Thanks for your support, Hector, and for the comment!

      The thing that set me off was the Eden myth. Of course it’s not literally true; but I had gone around believing that while at the same time accepting the orthodox theology on the Fall of Man without really thinking through the implications. Awhile back I got into a debate with a Catholic Traditionalist blogger who insisted that Adam and Eve had to be a literal couple, and that (though he accepted evolution) all humans must be descended from that single pair. His argument was that unless you assumed something like that, the traditional interpretation of Original Sin didn’t work.

      In the process of arguing with him, I realized that he was actually right. Not in his assertions about Adam and Eve, but in saying that orthodox theology on Original Sin and the Fall of Man–and of the world with him–has to hang on the literal (and wrong!) interpretation of Genesis. That’s what set me off on the “Legends of the Fall” series. As I tried to work out the implications, it set off theological ripples that spread ever wider, which led to the series on dualism, which is actually part of my series on the Bible. That’s the other thing that got me going–as I have discussed at greater length elsewhere, my rereading of the Bible has left me rather appalled at the Old Testament and its extreme nastiness

      As you well know, being in biology, nature is not fluffy-bunny, Babmi sfuff. Really being forced to think about this, in connection with the other things I’ve mentioned, led me to conclude that it’s just not tenable to believe that God created the world totally, perfectly good by any reasonable definition of “good”, and that somehow all the natural nastiness of the world was caused by man’s fall. As if ichneumonids’ behavior, which so disconcerted Darwin, was caused by the Forbidden Fruit!

      I’m still working out implications here, and I don’t claim that I–or anyone else–will ever truly understand all this in this life. Still, I’m inclining rather towards a Tolkien-type of notion whereby the Devil and co. marred the world from its very beginning, or an Evagrian perspective, in which the flaws of the universe are a deliberate tutelary device. Either way, it’s clear that in this area the orthodox accounts simply will not work.

      Btw, you mentioned awhile back about a Yahoo! discussion group on the Bible or some such that you were in, and asked if I were interested. I didn’t have time to get back to you then, but I would be interested. Just let me know the details–my email is at yahoo.com, prefix is turmarion.

      Thanks once more for reading, and feel free to comment at any time!

  2. darththulhu

    Enjoying all the thoughtful Gaga tie-ins. ; )

    I have to disagree on the video vs. song opinion for this one video, however. While I agree where her other songs are concerned, I really believe that this video truly elevates and twists portions of the song into places both more subversive and more reflective. I’ll give three examples:

    1) Unlike many of the other videos, there’s a coherent, three-act plot that enhances the lyrics. Kid gaga gets drugged and sold, then flesh market gaga gets ogled and bought, then purchased gaga has the sex with her owner (with the coda implying her survival and his death). It’s a really grim counterpoint to the lyrics, making it clear just how messed up a bad romance can actually be. Up to and including literal abusive sex slavery, she (sometimes) honestly wants something like that.

    2) “Wordplay” counterpoint with the existing lyrics is very skillful and adds an extra layer of twistedness. The verse she sings while dancing in front of her auction buyers is, officially, a series of Hitchcock titles leading to an anal sex allusion:

    I want your Psycho,
    Your Vertigo shtick.
    Want you in my Rear Window
    Baby, you’re sick

    But when you watch the video and the motions, there is every single effort made to make you mishear the lyrics into something even dirtier still. The three hand-erection gestures around “vertigo”, the big pregnant belly gestures around “window baby” lead to frequent mishearings as:

    I want your psycho-
    your vertical-stick …
    Want you in my rear
    when your baby- you’re sick!

    The video elevates the debauchery from a punning plea for anal sex to an explicit visual request for anal sex while pregnant with her partner’s kid and while that kid is … something something apparently even going there is too much.

    There’s a lot more of that kind of video “wordplay” throughout the video, and it is much more skillfully layered than anything else I’ve seen her do.

    3) Crying

    As many good things as there are to say about the song, the song alone strongly implies that she’s at most a bit conflicted, but is otherwise fully committed to the bad romance.

    In the video, in the “orgasm” parts of the song, we cut among many characters to a shot looking at a “normal”, unmade-up Germanotta openly weeping and wailing during the “whoa-oh-oh-oh” part.

    She knows the romance is terrible, she knows its bad for her, her “uncovered” self is actively being hurt and is weeping about it … and still she wants it.

    That’s a powerful added layer.

    So yeah, I agree on her other videos, which frequently do not manage to up the stakes in any meaningful way, but this video is a gem and a classic, and I will defend it with my dying breath. : )

    • I have to say that until now I did mishear it as “vertical stick”, though I had the second part as garbled words followed by “when your baby is sick”. That does throw it into a different light. Certainly, I absolutely agree with you about the power of her crying with the un-made-up face; it’s a very visceral image.

      I think you really make several good points regarding the video, and I’ll definitely re-assess it. Thanks for the insights! 😉

      • Very welcome. I was a video kid in the late 80s and 90s. Weird Al, Madonna, OutKast, all that good stuff. I’ve really regretted the near-total absence of great videos of the past decade, so I latch on to whatever I can get.

        Bad Romance is definitely the real deal. Whatever other “meh” Gaga may put out, this thing is a work of art. The fact that every single scene is shot in different angles and décor of the exact same room, for example. Just a lot of skill in play.

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