Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Babes in the Woods: On "God, Sex and Love on American Campuses"

The following is a response to "God, Sex and Love on American Campuses" by Sociology Professor Roger Friedland for The Huffington Post (link) originally posted on Facebook.

Speaking as a college-age virgin of this generation, I see things in a different, more unsentimental light than this author. I speak as one to whom grave doubt about the reality of love catalyzed a serious crisis of faith, as it is said that God is love and love is from God. Our author comments on the mythos of love that "Students don't exactly believe in it anymore. The majority suspect love might be a fiction invented to keep women down," which is to say they are aware on some level of the discourse's economic ties to patriarchal capitalism. Professor Friedland's generation sought to challenge this system through Dionysian destabilization and deregulation of the process ("free love", "free store") that dialectically actualized its Apollonian antithesis, the neo-Puritanism of the Christian Right, but what it did not in fact actualize was love. So now it's his turn to face the historical consequences of the world he helped actualize, a world torn between anxiety and authoritarianism, and daddy more or less openly admits that his research is a deployment of knowledge undertaken with the aim of rendering his daughter's bodies from active bodies into passive bodies. That they too may wish to venture into the dark forest of self-discovery where all adventures begin with the onset of menstruation, rather like Red Riding Hood, is not a possibility he would like to entertain. But this is in knowing hypocrisy, as his own adventures during his own rite of passage involve "stoned encounters in strange beds and on forest floors with girls whom I didn't know very well," which are of course basically the elements of said fairytale. Where would the author be now if he showed up in that dark wood some two decades before the existentialist influenced Post-Punk/Gothic band The Cure released “A Forest” (link), and no one was there? Thomas C. Foster aptly comments “In the age of existentialism and thereafter, the story of lost children has been all the rage... But you don’t have to use ‘Hansel and Gretel’ just because it’s the flavor of the month. Or even of the last half century.” (Thomas C. Foster, How to Read Literature Like a Professor p. 63) Whereas in this story entrance into the forest marks the anxious destabilization of values once held securely, the difference now is that Hansel and Gretel can no longer hold hands.

Consistent with his inauspicious beginning, Professor Friedland’s defense of the value and importance of love seem apparently designed to make Simone de Beauvoir roll in her grave. “I think there is third reason, one that points to love as a structure of faith central to the making of our world. A relation with the divine is one in which you acknowledge your lack of sovereignty and self-control; admit that you are not your own basis, your own source; and depend on an other for your being whom you will never really understand or control. Religiosity and real romance are parallel orders of experience.” Thus the subject can dodge freedom and anxiety, courage and responsibility, by rooting one’s existence within the Other, who remains Other. The experiential parallelism between human love and divine love is not reassuring, for ours is a generation born of broken promises, and the sovereign Deity is quite full of them. If God is dead, which is to say that any set of values can no longer be securely rooted in the idea of God for eternal validation, then so is love. As such, this ideological development is not surprising from a socio-historical standpoint. Our author says that the value of love is the “essential... prerequisite of our kind of history,” which is to imply there is some kind of Platonic essence, some cosmic cookie cutter that establishes the presently constituted order of patriarchal capitalism in the never-ending bond of love. This order has co-opted the profound desires unleashed by Friendland’s generation to the ends of commodity fetishism and mystified reification, and hence to the ultimate deferment of these very desires for real connection and expression. And in the end, desire and the hope it implies is indefinitely deferred, or goes on to find expression in an illusion of wish-fulfillment, while the categorical emptiness of nothingness continues to abide as the promises of God remain far off. It’s no coincidence that two of the most influential Hansel and Gretel films of my generation are Suspiria directed by Dario Argento and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre directed by Tobe Hooper, which horror film historian David J. Skal describes along with related films as “the collective witnessing and reenactment of childhood’s murder by premature, media-driven sex.” (David J. Skal, The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror p. 297) But whereas Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel can count on the protection of God the Father and Mother Nature where their earthly father and mother has abandoned them to die, now the lost children are simply ruthlessly slaughtered in an industrialized misse-en-scene. I write now as representative of a new lost generation, vanished somewhere in “the uniform weave of the matrix.” I am not an atheist, I am simply grieved and frustrated to live in a world where love is a lie, everything I see around me is a tragic illusion whose decay is readily manifest, and the covenant God appears to be just one more deadbeat and cop out, while I remain lost in a forest, all alone.


James said...

Speaking as a college professor-age virgin of the generation between yours and Friedland's, I say sometimes these things take awhile. I was approaching thirty before I had any inkling of what love was really about, and then it was discovered not by seeking for it, but by providing it. And it didn't involve some girl, it involved a drunk passed out on my apartment floor because I was the only one around at the end of the Dark Arts Festival who was sane or sober enough to take care of him. Prior to that I'd met with much frustration as so many would-be mentors never seemed to have time for me, despite my never having asked them for what I thought it was I needed. I think the "tragic illusion" is to see only "manifest decay" in this world. Certainly that is an aspect of a Fallen world, however redemption of all this "manifest decay" is certainly possible when one invites Christ to become more than some philosophical Other.

Michael Bridgman said...

Oh brother, not another one of these 'philosophy is pure abstraction' experiential arguments, it's in rather poor taste when that level of datum is so disastrous. I too have had incredible religious experiences, and now I am incredulous. To invoke the properties of divine holiness is to invoke God as "wholly Other", as theologians have acknowledged since Rudolf Otto. So you decided to affirm the existence of a drunk man, good for you. But as I see it, the decision to come to his aid, and the decision to leave him in despair for trying to drown out his own consciousness are both valid, the choice is yours. God is just like all those mentors when you get down to it, especially where it really matters. So all things considered, I wouldn't really count on any promises for redemption.