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Continuing on with my comments on Dorion sagan's little book.  The previous  part is here:More on Dorion Sagan's book "Sex":  Part one - Humans and other Chimps  It links the first installment which gives background information.  It covers the first part and the introduction.  This installment covers The first chapter of Part Two: "The Beautiful, the Dangerous, and the Confused."  He begins Chapter 7 "The last Pornographer"  this way:

If we, as humans full of tall tales and musical dreams can come up with all manner of story and associations, how are we ever to get to the bottom of the mystery of sex?

Interesting question for it entails far more than it might seem at first glance.  Read on below to find out more.

I recall Tom Lehrer's song about this idea where he has the line:

A thing is a phallic symbol if it is longer than it is wide.

 And then there is the monument for the father of our country.  Sagan's wit is hard to bring out here, but believe me when I say that he is good!  That is but frosting on a very substantial cake.  The first paragraph goes on to say:

Evolution, one avenue of solution, is certainly the main road taken in this book.  But that, too, can be twisted.  The mating mind is so full of sexual thoughts and erotic innuendos that it can see sex everywhere.  Forget all the jokes and double indentures and think of the more basic fact that the romance languages ascribe a gender to virtually every noun.  In Spanish, the earth, la tierra is feminine; the sky, el cielo, is masculine.  Never mind that the sun is male in some languages and female in others, or that in Ibiza and the Azores - and all Spain and Mexico and South America - cono [tilde over the "n"], the vagina, takes the masculine article el cono like el toreador, the (male) bullfighter.

 here Sagan makes a link with much of George Lakoff's writings but seems not to know that he has.   Lakoff spends a great deal of time developing the idea that mathematics, philosophy, and especially politics is best understood in terms of the embodiment of our thinking.  This is his big challenge to rationality.  What could be more subjective than rooting ideas in one's own body?  Sagan claims that gendered thinking reflects our bodies.  Like Lakoff he sees much of what we "think" as coming from our unconscious without our realizing it.  He then gets to the cental ideas in the chapter:

But when it comes to coming to grips with the mundane omnipresence of thoughts sexual, few subjects are as strangely illuminating as the extreme case, that of French theorist George Bataille (1897 - 1962).  Deeply influenced by the Marquis de sade and Frederich Neitzsche, Bataaille was author of the famous novella Histoire de l'oeil, the Story of the Eye.

He goes on to delve into this work in depth.   His point is this:

Like the gendered articles of unsexual things in Latin derived languages, Bataille's extreme fantasy shows our tendency to project our own animal sexuality onto a more - than - sexual world.  Yet as Barthes intimates, there is something more than sexual, something of literary merit , in Bataille's depraved imagininmgs.  It is as if he were showing us a real quality of the universe that we had somehow missed.  As if you could only take in the philosophical ideas he had to offer  by presenting them in the form of sexual imagry.


The idea that sex is important beyond the obvious is a rarity in our society.  in fact the dominance of Christian fundamentalism has made the whole picture very distorted.  Sagan seems to believe that even in Bataille's time one had to use special mechanisms to try to delve into the subject.  He quickly comes back to his central theme:

In the cosmic scheme of things, it is not sex that is life's true aim so much as reproduction.  And reproduction, scientifically viewed, represents the maintenance of a certain kind of complex system that uses available energy, spreading it in the process.  Such systems, not confined to life, spread energy and are favored by a universe obeying thermodynamic's second law.

 So he returns to this theme.  It's origins go back to work done by Kay and Schneider.  I had a small but influential role in it as Sagan and Schneider point out in their book Into the Cool.  The idea is very simple, life, the biosphere if you like, is part of a very intricate complex system that has been this planet's seemingly unique claim to fame.  When you strip away all the mythology, religion, and, yes, reductionist science, we are talking about a relatively stable system that is a unity.  It can not be dissected into humans and the rest as religion and some shortsighted versions of science try to do.  To the extent they have succeeded, they have done great harm to the human "collective consciousness" (for lack of a better term at the moment)  about our state as a system.  Sagan has some important pieces.  In my next installment I'll carry this further.  I'll end this one by saying that Sagan has seeded some thoughts here,that need further discussion.

Originally posted to don mikulecky on Sat Jan 23, 2010 at 07:03 PM PST.


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