Concerning D. Patrick Miller’s article, “Notes Toward a Journalism of Consciousness” [Issue 170], I believe the same dilemma exists in the realm of fiction. The key issue centers around intention: what exactly is my motivation for writing about this person? If it’s out of praise or celebration, then it might seem there’s no problem. But even if it is written out of deep respect and admiration, some people are very sensitive about how they are portrayed. In one instance, a man upon whom I had based a crucial character of a play was absolutely incensed at the violation. I remember the letter he sent me: all the o’s were punched so hard that light streamed through the paper. I was devastated by his response; I thought I had portrayed him in a heroic light. The man had overcome so much in his life. But in the play, he saw a buffoon.
Fortunately, I had the good sense to send him the text before I went about trying to market it. When we finally reached an understanding, I found I liked the play even more. Initially, I was ready to change the character to suit his tastes. But that didn’t feel right, despite my concern over inflicting pain on him. What, after all, does a writer have to work with except the truth, as he or she sees it? The need for approval is strong enough without adding the terror of offending anyone. But that is exactly what must be faced. I am always tested when I unveil a work, because I tend to write about people I know. Friends. I couldn’t write a word if I considered their possible reaction before the work is complete. I finish a work, and then I deal with those who may be offended.
Surely the writer, for his or her own integrity, must be free to offend, while at the same time remain cognizant of the responsibility involved. Truth, the ability of the writer to name reality as he or she sees it, must be served.
I read the excerpt from Camille Paglia’s book [“The Myth of Sexual Liberation,” Issue 177] as if it were a work of science fiction, thinking, “What an amazing world. How different from the one I live in.”
Society rises from nature, from the social orders of our animal ancestors, not as “a defense against nature’s power.” And religion didn’t arise from propitiation and spells. I think it arose from the same impulse that makes birds sing in the morning, and the yogic stretching of an animal awakening from its afternoon nap — from a joy in being alive.
Instead of saying “man” this, “woman” that, “nature” thus, I wish Paglia had spoken about her own experience of the world. As a man who cries looking at pictures of babies being born, I cannot see how childbirth is “an affront to beauty and form.” When my penis is soft I have not experienced it as a “flop” but rather as moving through its own changing lunar cycles. (In some cultures, the earth and the moon are considered male, the sun female.) And any man who has discovered his prostate will tell you that a good part of our sexual apparatus is hidden, too.
In saying “nature has won . . . by making disease the price of promiscuous sex,” after speaking of male homosexuals, I assume Ms. Paglia is referring to AIDS. To date, the virus has been transmitted primarily through heterosexual intercourse. Moreover, its transmission isn’t merely a matter of promiscuity. You can get it from a blood transfusion, sharing a needle, or from your first and only sexual encounter with another person.
I don’t understand how Ms. Paglia can talk about the “weary weight of eroticism,” when I think of its delights. To the woman who said, “most men merely grunt, at best,” from the bottom of my heart I wish you better lovers.
I recommend that Camille Paglia read Gary Snyder’s latest collection of essays, The Practice of the Wild, for a view of “nature” that will challenge hers. I can’t help feeling that Ms. Paglia hasn’t spent much time outdoors, in the wild — within that “inhuman round of waste, rot, and carnage” she calls nature. Had she done so, she might not be so contemptuous of nature. She might then admire not the “grand constructions of our culture,” but those cultures which managed to live and die without leaving a trace (and without oppressing women).
Camille Paglia’s essay is brilliant, incisive, poetic. By using academic, Latinized language, she creates an air of truth about what are only assumptions.
If she meant to balance the romanticism of some feminist thinking, she may have a point. Yet who is she to assume that man (a label she consistently and inaccurately uses for the human race) “justifiably fears being devoured by woman”? Is she hanging on to a narrow Freudianism to prove another dubious point? She says that female genitals are “lurid in color and architecturally incoherent.” Let her take responsibility for her own reactions. My scientific survey of one elicited the male response that “female genitalia are gorgeous.”
We are capable of experiencing ourselves in infinite dimensions; it is possible that we co-create with our consciousness. I think Paglia is, indeed, “a crackpot,” but a convincing one. That’s dangerous. Her article is nasty, inaccurate, brilliant. Communication implies a responsibility. The Sun can, and should, shine brighter than that.
Issue 178 of The Sun is the first and only issue that I have ever seen; it is not what I expected. Given the name of the magazine, I expected something bright, warm, and inspiring — throwing light on truth and freedom. Instead, I found a collection of articles and letters by and about desperate, trapped people, albeit literate and articulate.
If this is a magazine of ideas, as claimed, the ideas seem to be concerned with people in sad, dark, degenerate situations.
Is this the human condition, as seen by The Sun? Are humans so unaware of the beauty, harmony, wisdom, and justice of the universe that we must dwell on the darker areas of human experience?