David Guy’s main point in porn’s favor (“Notes Toward a Theory of Pornography” [Issue 115]) actually shows what’s really wrong with it. He states that fantasy is a fact, a real part of a man’s sexual being, and that porn portrays this fantasy or dream. In particular, porn offers a “fantasy of total acceptance,” a vision of “idyllic sexual compatibility,” where men don’t have to make the first move or know what to do next.
In porn, men risk nothing, and women make all the moves. As Guy puts it: “A man in a dirty movie does not have to approach the woman; he doesn’t have to call her on the phone and he doesn’t have to make an advance.”
What’s dangerous about this “dream” is that it hampers love and fosters hate. Love is intimately connected with the vulnerability involved in reaching out. One falls in love out of a deep desire to affirm a beautiful move by another, to say “yes I will Yes” like Molly Bloom. One may well want to marry the person he or she thinks will consistently make the best moves, so love will abide. (Interestingly, in his review of Erica Jong’s novels [Issue 119], Guy notes he is “reserving judgment” about romantic love.)
But if reaching out is exclusively the woman’s duty, as it is in porn films, then resentment can easily build in the heart of a man whose expectations get consistently disappointed. Hatred and violence can result.
I hate to say the same annoying thing that authors often say in replying to letters, but I think we actually agree (in other words, you misread my piece). I certainly agree that love involves a reaching out and a vulnerability on the part of both partners, and that for only one partner to reach out is disastrous. I wasn’t suggesting that people live out a pornographic dream in real life. I specifically said that they shouldn’t. (“The only real danger in pornography is that someone might get carried away into thinking that it portrays reality.”)
What I do believe is that understanding and accepting our fantasies as fantasies helps us to keep from unconsciously acting them out. It is no use pretending people don’t have a dream of total acceptance and idyllic sexual compatibility; pornography is full of it, to say nothing of Hollywood movies and prime time television. All of this stuff must be appealing to someone. I see no harm in it as long as it is accepted as fantasy (though I suspect that — especially in its slicker Hollywood forms — it is often viewed as a possible reality). And I do believe that understanding our fantasies helps us to understand who we are.
My views on pornography do reflect on the problem I have with romantic love. I mean by that term a situation in which a person falls in love with a kind of fantasy, projects wishes on the loved one and invests him with all kinds of qualities he doesn’t really have. Isadora Wing, in the Erica Jong novels, is an incurable romantic, and although she is a very endearing character and has some wonderful experiences (I feel sure she wouldn’t care to live any other way), she doesn’t form especially successful marriages. As a matter of fact, Molly Bloom’s “yes I will Yes” didn’t lead to a particularly successful marriage either.
The love that leads to a good marriage seems to me to be more often something else. It involves seeing the other person for what he really is and deciding to love him (not “falling” for him or “totally accepting” him). It is more a decision than it is a felt emotion. To me it resembles friendship more than it does romance. And, like friendship, it is more likely to last.
Regarding “The Writing on the Wall” [Issue 120], bear in mind that not all Eastern masters are gurus, and not all gurus fail to pass the test. Other than Richard Baker-Roshi (an American, after all), few of the Buddhist teachers have had problems. I think this is in large measure because they are masters at a discipline, a path, and not endowed with some special authority other than experience — Buddhist priests start as lay people and beginning trainees; the gurus who have had the worst trouble are the ones who claim some special, usually sudden, “appointment” to glory. Even the Dalai Lama began at the beginning, every time. In Buddhism the rules get stricter as you go up in rank, rather than looser; for every lesson learned one sees how much more there is to learn. Enlightenment is the beginning of training.
I have mixed feelings about your decision to publish pictures of contributors.
Sometimes, when a photo accompanies a SUN interview, I find myself scrutinizing the countenance, trying to determine whether or not the subject looks like my preferred type of enlightened being. I remember seeing a photo of Ram Dass with a flower, and sarcastically concluding, here’s a guy who’s trying to look enlightened by striking a schlock pose straight from the Sixties. Reading the article, I was able to look at the photo with a less defensive view — how nice that this man is sensitive and secure enough to be photographed with a flower. Despite the obvious overtones — call them sexist, prejudicial, or simply unaware — I comforted myself with the thought that I was just protecting myself against being taken in by new-age phoniness.
Issue 120, however, helped me to realize just how firmly I judge by appearances. The photo of Sparrow was not what I had expected. When you have been “reading someone’s soul” for a while, you tend to form a hazy mental picture of them. If you have a particular fondness for their voice, you attribute to them all the characteristics you like best. In my case, I had pictured Sparrow as older, slightly chiseled, a whimsical no-nonsense kind of man, a walking paradox in tight jeans and tweed jacket. The reality of Sparrow created a dilemma: could I transfer my affection to this bearded stranger?
Other questions followed — would I have felt differently about his writings if I had seen his picture first? (Yes. I would have held myself a little distant from them. Sparrow does not resemble any of the kindred spirits I know.) What is it that bothers me about Sparrow’s picture? (I want him to look more “profound.” I love to be in awe of people, to put them on a spiritual pedestal. The more distant they are, the more excuses I can find for not nurturing my own growth. Spiritual honesty seems less attainable. Here’s a spiritually honest person who looks like a regular guy. Shit.) Does this change the fondness I had associated with Sparrow’s name? (Yes. It’s more personal now. Genuine warmth and acceptance as opposed to warmth tinged with stale respect.)
Thank you, for giving me the opportunity to love Sparrow in his reality and not Sparrow-as-I-think-he-should-be. Each contributor’s picture will be a lesson in the foolishness of judging by appearance, and a delight in discovering that spiritual teachers come in every guise.
The photograph of Sparrow mentioned above (“Letters from the Road” [Issue 120]) is available as a PDF only. Click here to download.
One of the wonderful things about THE SUN is you never know what page of it will speak to you, although you know something(s) will. Often it’s your own column; Sunbeams, of course. Issue 121 had the letter by Adam Fisher. A “wonderful letter, like the color of Spring’s first grass. Wonderfully wise.”
But even that letter. . . . It was too long. I was sure he would end it by saying that as important as one step is, there is no first step, there are no steps at all. Instead he ends repeating “important” this, “important” that.
I’ll be fifty in six months. What I’ve learned, spiritually, experientially, especially over the past few years, can be summed up: nothing is important.
Either Nothing is important. Or nothing is important. Since being is the be-all and end-all of our miracle of life, the ultimate mitzvah, how can any one thing be isolated as important?