|Blogs > rm_connor696 > life on the installment plan|
There's a Richard Brautigan poem that goes something like "Unlaid for forty days. / If I were dead / I couldn't attract a female fly."
So I've been mucking about with this site for a few weeks, but so far I haven't had much in the way of promising contacts. (I am very happy, however, to have discovered this segment of the blogosphere. It feels like a warm and welcoming community.)
The lack of contacts no doubt relates to both space (I live in a not terrifically well-populated area) and time (I'm 49, which makes me understandably irrelevant to a lot of otherwise horny people). Still, it got me to thinking, and the results take a rather roundabout path, one that starts in ancient Rome. Hey, don't get all crosseyed with me; I TOLD you it was roundabout!
The notion that bits of culture, such as language, customs, artifacts, and so on, are always open to radical reinterpretation is fairly common these days. Maybe it's true. Maybe nothing can be self-interpreting, as it were. In any event, male homosexuality provides a good example of such a reinterpretation. These days we think of it in terms of desire, of identity. Whether you regard it as a choice or an innate element of personality, you're likely to see it as a matter of desire: what gets the person all hot and bothered.
It was not always so, however. The Romans, for example, viewed this differently. Consider the following, one of the so-called Priapic poems (the Romans used statues of Priapus, a small god with a big, hard dick, as "scarecrows" in their gardens; these statues often bore short poems): "Girl, watch your c*nt; boy, keep your ass from grief. / Another threat awits the bearded thief." What, were Roman men cheerfully bisexual, as ancient Greek men are thought to have been? No, it turns out that the only "homosexuals" in the poem just cited would have been the boy or the thief--namely, those who were penetrated. The penetrator remains splendidly male, even if he gets hard at the prospect of reaming some tight, firm butt.
How can this be? Richard Hooper, a translator of these poems, writes, "If the phallus is power, then the exercise of that power symbolizes status." He might even have said that it constitutes status. Hooper concludes, "A real man (vir) in Rome was a full citizen who was free to penetrate anyone of lower social staus than himself, whether a woman, a boy, or a slave of either sex. . . . A man who allowed or WAS FORCED to perfom fellatio was considered completely feminized by the experience" (emphasis added).
So for the Romans the issue was largely behavioral, at least within the confines of their social system. You could actually make someone else gay, whatever his desires. Even if male bodies made his penis shrivel away, the fact that you penetrated any of his orifices would make him homosexual everywhere and always.
As I said, I think this differs a lot from our understanding of the matter. Even Michel Foucault, a social theorist preoccupied with power, fixated on the relation of power to desire. He didn't ignore the latter to focus on the former. What explains the difference? Anything I say will be a mere guess, but I suppose it has something to do with classical liberalism, wherein societies are viewed primarily as collections of individuals, with those individuals constituting the ultimate locus of value, and with the subjective turn initiated by psychology and psychiatry, where desires become the preferred explanatory tool.
What does this have to do with my not getting any? No, it's not that I'm gay--in either of the two senses. For the answer, tune into part 2!
7/30/2005 5:30 pm
I will wait for part 2.