Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rebels Without a Cause

First there was Joyce’s Ulysses. Then Tropic of Cancer, O’Hara’s Butterfield 8, Updike’s Couples, Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint and Jong’s Fear of Flying all broke new limits in the graphic detail with which sexuality was described. In l956 Grace Metalious scandalized the publishing world with Peyton PlaceDwight Garner recently cited the following Metalious quote in a review of Allen Gurganus’s Local Souls: “To talk about adults without talking about sex drives is like talking about a window without glass,” ("The Town is Small, the Taboos Are Not,” NYT, 9/24/13). In Aristophanes Lysistrata the women of Greece withheld sex to protest war, but sex has always been looked at as the hidden force that underlies the stern structure of society with its laws and customs and upright citizens. It’s always been used to abrogate social norms to which society in turn responds as Hawthorne documents in The Scarlet LetterNietzsche differentiated between the Apollonian and the Dionysisac in The Birth of Tragedy, the former having to do with the rational and the later with ecstasis. Besides its procreative function sex still manages to maintain its mystery, power and danger. Despite the liberalizing of social mores, sex still packs a punch; it’s still capable of being rebellious. Biblical injunctions aside, there are those who think nothing of coveting their neighbor’s wives and doing something about it and there are a fair amount of wives and husbands who're bored or dissatisfied enough with their lives to reciprocate. You can either have an evening of boring polite conversation or get down and dirty and swing. Of course once the revolution occurs, you then have to deal with the new government. Free love can be a little like the prospect of Iraq, Syria or Libya after the authoritarian leader is overthrown. Once we have done away with repression, who is going to pick up the pieces? Once the swinging is over and so called civilized mores are overturned what comes next? Do you simply return home to life as usual? Or do you have to worry that the partner you have loved and trusted can now be in anyone else’s arms?

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