Monday, September 19, 2005

The struggles of sexual liberalism 

After prompting from several friends, I've been beginning to work my way through the novels of Michel Houellebecq. I might comment on them more when I've finished them all, but I thought I'd just note down this nice quote from his first book, Whatever (crap title translation from "Extension du domain de la lutte"). The narrator is musing on his co-worker's unsuccessful sex life:

"...in societies like ours sex truly represents a second system of differentiation, completely independent of money; and as a system of differentiation it functions just as mercilessly. The effects of these two systems are, furthermore, strictly equivalent. Just like unrestrained economic liberalism, and for similar reasons, sexual liberalism produces phenomena of absolute pauperization... It's what's known as the law of the market. In an economic system where unfair dismissal is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their place. In a sexual system where adultery is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their bed mate. In a totally liberal econmic system certain people accumulate considerable fortunes; others stagnate in unemployment and misery. In a totally liberal sexual system certain people have a varied and exciting erotic life; others are reduced to masturbation and solitude. Economic liberalism is an extension of the domain of the struggle, its extension to all ages and all classes of society. Sexual liberalism is likewise an extension of the domain of the struggle, its extension to all ages and all classes of society"

As the French title makes clear, this passage seems to be the very heart of the book, and it's an interesting bit to think about. It reminded me of a passage in Civilisation and its Discontents where Freud is arguing that destroying private property wouldn't solve the problems of civilisation, as he thinks the communists argue it would, because the sexual prerogative, and the differentiation that comes with it, would remain, and with it man's natural aggressive instinct.

Perhaps the problem is that even with complete freedom in the economic and sexual spheres these inequalities and struggles would recreate themselves; or perhaps it's just that this "freedom" isn't worth the name when it merely serves to gloss over and perpetuate the differences already created by the workings of our (bourgeois) civilisation.

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