Tag Archives: experience

Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 11: On Pornography

BehindGreenDoor

I woke early this morning, made some coffee, and sat down to read more of Infinite Jest. One of the protagonists in the story, Hal, was reminiscing about when his older brother Orin got caught by their father as Orin was getting ready to watch “Behind the Green Door.” Their father does not forbid his son from watching the film; instead, the father explains why it would be better if he waited until he had more experience before watching the movie.

But Himself said that if Orin wanted his personal, fatherly as opposed to headmasterly, take on it, then he, Orin’s father – though he wouldn’t forbid it – would rather Orin didn’t watch a hard-porn film yet. He said this with a reticent earnestness there was no way Orin couldn’t ask him how come. Himself felt his jaw and pushed his glasses up several times and shrugged and finally said he supposed he was afraid of the film giving Orin the wrong idea about having sex. He said he’d personally prefer that Orin wait until he’d found someone he loved enough to want to have sex with and had had sex with this person, that he’d wait until he’d experienced for himself what a profound and really quite moving thing sex could be, before he watched a film where sex was presented as nothing more than organs going in and out of other organs, emotionless, terribly lonely. He said he supposed he was afraid that something like The Green Door would give Orin an impoverished, lonely idea of sexuality.

(pp. 955 – 956)

There is no doubt that many young people learn about sex through pornography, especially in the age of the internet, when access to porn is a click away. And while I personally have nothing against pornography, Wallace is correct that it establishes a lonely idea of sex. Pornography removes intimacy from sex and transforms it into a solitary, isolated experience for too many people.

I cannot help but wonder if the proliferation of online porn is having a negative impact on our society. It seems that there is a growing sense of alienation and isolation as people become more engrossed in virtual experiences, experiencing life vicariously instead of actually engaging in the experiences that life has to offer. I can’t say for sure, but these are my musings this morning.

Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to share your thoughts.

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“The Garden of Love” by William Blake

GardenOfLove

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And ‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys & desires.

This poem, included in the Songs of Experience, is an attack against the church and ecclesiastic authority. The Garden of Love symbolizes the Garden of Eden, which Blake associates with sexual freedom. Sexuality is not sinful in Blake’s eyes, but a beautiful and natural part of the human experience.

The image of the chapel in the midst of the Garden implies that the church and religious dogma are preventing humanity’s return to the Edenic state. As a result, the statement “Thou shalt not” takes on two meanings. The obvious is “thou shalt not” have sex out of wedlock, which is contradictory to the natural human state as Blake sees it. But also, “thou shalt not” re-enter the Garden of Eden. The church is like the cherubim blocking the return to the Garden.

The other metaphor I want to point out is the image of “tombstones where flowers should be.” The flower symbolizes the woman who has reached sexual maturity. Sadly, in Blake’s society, a woman who gave in to her sexual desires was cast out and shunned, often left desolate on the streets and destined to die at an early age. For a woman back then, sex before marriage too often resulted in death.

Although we have come a long way in accepting our sexuality, there are still cultures that condemn women for engaging in intercourse out of wedlock and we see news stories of women who are murdered for doing so. The big difference is that most of us are horrified by these occurrences, which is a sign that as a society we are slowly moving in the right direction.

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Introduction to Songs of Experience by William Blake

IntroSongsOfExperienceI recently wrote about Blake’s “Introduction to the Songs of Innocence” (click here to read that post). The “Introduction to the Songs of Experience” serves as a contrast, where one leaves the Edenic childlike state and moves into the realm of knowledge, along with the associated pain and suffering.

The opening stanza establishes the idea of the poet as a mystic, one who is visionary and understands the transcendent power of poetry. Blake points out that the Bard has heard the “Holy Word,” which means that he understands the power that words have in the act of creation.

Hear the voice of the Bard!
Who Present, Past, & Future sees 
Whose ears have heard, 
The Holy Word,
That walk’d among the ancient trees.

The second stanza addresses humanity in its fallen state. Mankind was banished from Eden as a result of its desire to know and become godlike. The fall is also symbolic of what happens to people on an individual level. Once a person becomes aware of mortality, the carefree innocence of childhood is lost forever.

Calling the lapsed Soul 
And weeping in the evening dew: 
That might controll, 
The starry pole; 
And fallen fallen light renew!

There is an interesting shift in the third stanza. The Bard is no longer addressing humanity in its fallen state, but is addressing the Earth. The Earth here is a representation of the Divine Feminine, which appears to be in a state of hibernation. This is likely the result of patriarchal religious beliefs that state that the Earth must be subjugated. Now the Bard beckons the Earth Goddess to awaken and renew herself.

O Earth O Earth return!
Arise from out the dewy grass;
Night is worn,
And the morn
Rises from the slumberous mass.

There is some ambiguity in the fourth and final stanza. Blake seems to be addressing both humanity again as well as the Earth. Depending upon how you interpret the Bard’s audience affects the symbolism. If the Bard is addressing humanity, then he is calling on people to recognize their spiritual connection to the Earth and to deny it no longer; if addressing the Earth, he is summoning the Divine Feminine to restore herself beside her masculine counterpart upon the starry throne. I personally feel that both interpretations are correct.

Turn away no more: 
Why wilt thou turn away 
The starry floor 
The watry shore
Is giv’n thee till the break of day.

This is a very powerful and mystical poem, and the closer you read it, the more you will find there. Blake’s next poem in the Songs of Experience is “EARTH’s Answer,” where the Goddess responds to the Bard. You can probably guess what my next post will be about.

Click here to read “Introduction to the Songs of Experience” online.

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