Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sensations of Nothingness

"She was silent. Logic might be unanswerable because it is so absolutely wrong."

Today I read chapters four and five in Lady Chatterly's, and I noted some interesting things about functions of sex both on its own and in the context of say, a marriage, and how it relates to personal fulfillment.

Chapter four features "intellectual discussions" between Clifford Chatterly and his three best friends from Cambridge. One of their topics is sexual freedom. Charlie May introduces the idea that sex is "just an interchange of sensations instead of ideas" (page 32), fundamentally a conversation in a different language. He goes on to say that if he and a woman had similar ideas, they would talk about them; and in the same way, if he and a woman had similar "emotions or sympathies," they should sleep together, because that would be the medium of expressing those emotions or sympathies.

This is a male character discussing a kind of sexual removal similar to the one experienced by Constance and her sister Hilda during their early sexual experiences. Remember, they used their own mental awareness to define their sexual pleasure as a sensation they felt, but one that didn't overpower them, and so they kept themselves separate and "free." Charlie is speaking of the same thing. He uses the sensation of sex as a kind of emotional food for his mental life as an astronomer: "I have my mind: I have certain calculations to make in certain astronomical matters that concern me almost more than life or death. Sometimes indigestion interferes with me. Hunger interferes with me disastrously. In the same way starved sex interferes with me." (page 33).

Now, Charlie is probably just referring to the fact that it's hard for a horny person to think about anything other than sex, and that going too long without it can get distracting. Charlie is an intellectual man, who lives the "mental life" and views sex and emotions as subordinate. But Tommy Dukes, another of Clifford's friends, later argues that intelligence is a whole person: "It would be wonderful to be intelligent: then one would be alive in all parts mentions and unmentionable. The penis rouses his head and says: How do you do?--to any really intelligent person. Renoir said he painted his pictures with his penis...he did too, lovely pictures! I wish I did something with mine. God! when one can only talk! Another torture added to Hades! And Socrates started it" (page 40).

Tommy speaks not as an intellectual, just a soldier; but his comment implies that the body is not separate from intelligence, or the mental life that his friends are so fond of. Sex as an exchange of sensations, then, is not something done just to appease the body so one can get back to the mind. They go together. It's like a more lewd version of Ralph Waldo Emerson's concepts of thought and action, and how one cannot be fully realized without the other (The American Scholar).

Chapter five sees a return to this discussion when Clifford essentially tells Connie to have an affair so that he can have an heir (Clifford is paralyzed from the waist down, and didn't have much interest in sex anyway). He justifies this desire by comparing this casual sex thing to the enduring fabric of higher intimacy that he and Connie have in their marriage: "Do these things really affect us that deeply? ...You had that lover in Germany...what is it now? Nothing almost. It seems to me that it isn't these little acts and little connections we make in our lives that matter so very much. They pass away, and where are they? It's what endures through one's life that matters; [...] It's the life-long companionship that matters. It's the living together from day to day, not the sleeping together once or twice. You and I are married, no matter what happens to us. We have the habit of each other. [...] Little by little, living together, people fall into a sort of unison, they vibrate so intricately to one another. That's the real secret of marriage, not sex; at least not the simple function of sex" (page 45-46).

Clifford subordinates sex because he physically can't participate, but he also subordinates it emotionally because of its perceived importance in intimate relationships. This speech is not just about justifying a fling to create an heir. It's also justifying the lack of sex in between them as married people. Their marriage relies wholly on their mental intimacy; but as we saw in the discussions in chapter four, the mental life requires sexual stimulation to some degree.

The end of chapter five shows Constance's disillusionment with men and sex. But more on that later.

I think I need to start updating every chapter instead of every two or three chapters...I end up having a lot to say.

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