Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"The Soul of Sex" by Thomas Moore

"The Soul of Sex: culturing life as an act of love"
by Thomas Moore was such an interesting book, and with such an interesting thesis. I stumbled across it at the library and read the inside flap and had to bring it home.

Here is an excerpt from the flap:
In our age of science and psychology it's tempting to think of human sexuality in terms of biology and interpersonal relationships. But this new book...regards sex as an experience of the soul and emphasizes the themes of fantasy, desire, meaning, and morality. In [this book] Moore turns especially to religion, mythology, literature, rites, stories, and visual imagery [like classic art] that see sex in some of the most profound mysteries of life. He finds spirituality inherent in sex and at the same time explores the many ways in which spiritual values can sometimes wound our sexuality. He recommends chastity and celibacy for everyone--as aspects of sexuality and not only as literal lifestyles--and presents them as a means of developing a sensuous spirituality.
The Soul of Sex also establishes the principle that one can't have a fully satisfying sex life in a world that is asexual and antierotic. Thomas Moore recommends many ways in which society could tone down its moralism and create a public life that is erotic, one that affirms desire and pleasure. He sees widespread attention to sex in the media as a symptom of our failure to find a positive place for sex in the culture, and he spells out an Epicurean way of life in which the simple, deep pleasures of good food, friends, family, home, and intimacy with nature provide and appropriate erotic base for a fulfilling sex life.
The author is conservative catholic and was even a monk for a while. It's been interesting for me to read about sexuality from a distinctly moral perspective (although he does make the specification that 'moral' is not the same as 'moralistic'...in other words, having morals isn't the same as being all hoity-toity about stuff). So much of what is out there now is from a more 'natural man' point of view, and this is definitely not. He is very pro-marriage and pro-fidelity, and also pro-spirituality. As he says "If there is any substance in the common sentiment that sex is sacred, it would seem appropriate to explore that sacredness in religious terms."
This book also isn't erotica, or a 'how to' in any sense. Like I said, it's philosophy.
He talks a lot about archtypes--Aphrodite of course, but also Artemis (the virgin), Eros, and even Christ. I certainly never thought I'd read something about Jesus as sexual (he doesn't say sexually active, merely pro-sexuality), but it's entirely respectful and the author makes some very thought provoking points.
He talks about sexual symbols such as the phallus (which is more than just a penis, it's a symbol of honor, power, vitality, humor, playfulness, etc) and also the vagina (which he suggests is a symbolic harbor, a source of stability, calmness, and safety).
It's really fascinating to look at sex and sexuality from a more encompassing perspective--as symbols of larger (sacred) things. Or as a rite that reminds us of the sacred.

The book is full of highly quotable things, so rather than try to talk about the book any more I will just let it speak for itself...
In modern life sex is one of the few numinous areas we have left, numinosity being the aura of awe and mystery usually associated with religious feeling. We have destroyed the mystery of the planets and stars with our telescopes and roving machines. We have diminished the numinosity of nature through our countless studies and exploitation. But fortunately we have not yet reduced the power of sex to stir deep desire and to compel contemplation.

If we understand marriage only as a literal living arrangement, then it entails a literal giving up of the solitary life. But as an initiation of the soul, marriage takes us deeper into ourselves... We can imagine marriage as something we do for ourselves. Marriage is not a surrender to another person but to another condition of life, one that can be deeply rewarding. (208)

In our symptoms lie the seeds of our revitalization. If we want to know how to gain new life and fresh sensibility, all we have to do is look closely and appreciatively at our problems. We have to be careful not to leap into compensation--championing the opposite of what our symptoms embody. Rampant pornography, for instance, suggests that we might consider the value of sexual imagery. Rampant divorce suggests that our idea of marriage might need some space. Rape suggests that we have not yet learned to use the power of love. Excessive sex in the media suggestions that we have not built an erotically rich society. (235)
Modern society's combined moralism against and obsession with sex indicates that we have not yet discovered the deeper meaning of sexuality. We think of it in purely personal terms, in contrast with many cultures that treat sex as a sacred cosmic force. We try to keep sex hidden, apparently thinking that what we cant' see won't hurt us. But like all powerful elements in the soul, sex needs to be manifested. Otherwise we suffer not only from the sudden return of the repressed--sex breaking through our repression in negative and uncontrollable ways--but also from a diminishment of life and vitality. Sex gives life color and vivacity. When we hide it out of fear, our personal lives and our social lie become flat. (276-7)

And finally, an idea that was on my mind a great deal this last week as I drove up and down the billboard-lined, 8 (soon to be 12)-lane scar of pavement that is I-15 in Utah (and thought about the pretty little tree-lined, winding, 2-lane road that I live off of here in Alaska)
It seems clear to me that the plague of sexual images that fill the internet and line our city streets, and the so-called gratuitous sex that spices most grown-up movies are exaggerated, autonomous, and noisome because we don't understand the importance of a sexy road or an appealing building or a sensuous workplace. The principle at play is simple: whatever we don't have the imagination to weave into our human lives beautifully and intimately will haunt us in the form of autonomous temptation and shadow values. There seems to be no middle ground. Either we build a beautiful road or the ugly version will soon begin to destroy the culture we are striving so hard to make. As always, our choices are basic: either Eros or Thanatos, sex or death. (248)
If we'll loosen up and let a little more 'sexy' into our world, and embrace the sexuality within us as the holy and powerful thing that it is, then we won't have so much negative sexuality bursting through the seams of repression. And we'll all be happier besides.


Jenne said...

This definitely sounds interesting and worthwhile. Thanks for telling me about it. I'll add it to my library list.

Katrina said...

This sounds similar to a book I'm reading, written by an LDS woman, called "And they were not ashamed." I am different--better--for reading it and highly recommend it.

Jessica said...

I especially like that last quote. I would think if we could do as you say and "let a little more 'sexy' into our world" instead of being so raw and blatant about it, society as a whole would be brought to a higher plane of thought and understanding.

You bring up another interesting point: Why the heck is I-15 in Utah so littered with crazy billboards? I was just down there (the same week as you, actually!) and those boards can be so distracting! Yuck!

Dryad said...

So I read this post because you talked about it elsewhere... Definitely looks like something to add to the reading list...

Editor said...

If your readers and you enjoy Thomas Moore's work, you may like a blog, Barque, dedicated to him at barque.blogspot.com. It points to additional online resources in which he discusses the eroticism of the world. Thank you for taking the time to share your reactions to The Soul of Sex. May the beauty of enchanting roads prevail.

Linked Within

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...