Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Romance in the 21st century - sloppy linguistics

I have a problem with Victorian vulgarisms as the mainstay of intimate discourse.
Foucault makes a distinction between ars erotica (erotic art), mostly an Eastern approach, and scientia sexualis (the science of sexuality) which frames the Western approach. The former encourages imaginative expression, the latter not. To quote James Hillman:

Listen to the marvelous language of foreign erotica: jade stalk, palace gates, ambrosia. Compare with ...... prick, gash, bush, frog etc. A Chinese plum is to be ..... enjoyed; our cherries are .... taken, popped, broken….Our Puritan prose is impoverished; it cannot encompass the sexual imagination to which great temples have been built in India. Our imagination reinforces the image of lovemaking as a heroic performance, the hard-rock fantasy of sex….performance heroism makes impotence threatening, and inevitable….this hard language makes us ignore ..... times of lassitude and gentle reluctance......

What would it take to move away from sloppy linguistics and reinvest words like ‘exquisite’, ‘savour’, and ‘delay’ with currency?  Are we moving too fast? It doesn’t take rocket science to see that courtship is embedded in a very different linguistic landscape from speed dating. Anticipation, nuance and texture, courtesy and civility don’t find expression in four letter action words.

So if we’ve moved beyond chivalry, knighthood, courtly love, castles, Lancelot and Guinevere - and Hollywood schlock and schmaltz aside, where does romance reside these days?  The young people I know eschew the word. Yet I’m sure a yearning for the impossible (like blue roses) still lurks in hearts. How else do we account for the popularity of movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with its fabulously restrained eroticism?

Some slow movements offer hope. In Leisure: The Basis of Culture Joseph Pieper invokes Aristotle: ‘the first principle of action is leisure.’ In The Importance of Living Lin Yutang celebrates the elegant philosophy of half-action and half-non-action. You may also be interested to know that Carl Honoré’s In Praise of Slowness has been translated into 30 languages. Implicit in slowness is a different way of relating to others.

And the great love stories? Orpheus and Eurydice, Tristan and Isolde, Heloise and Abelard, and Paolo and Francesca seem to have had this in common: a good deal of prohibition, forbidden contact, transgression and secrecy. More often than not, the threat of death dangled. Are these necessary conditions for romance/eros? Maybe not although Bataille for one would say so: "...renunciation enhances the value of the thing renounced…. [i]t complements eroticism which heightens the value of the object of desire. Without the counterbalance of the respect for forbidden objects of value there would be no eroticism…."  (Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo).

Maybe permissiveness is the other problem? Where nothing is risked and everything is permitted, imagination is rendered redundant. Why walk through the forest when you can fly over it?
But romance is alive in gestures and actions if not everyday our language.  The beautiful roof of Elena Rocchi’s  Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona, only “visible to God” to quote her, is a deeply romantic idea.

Source: Superstock Photos

Stone roses. The Sartorialist  finds beauty, quirkiness, originality and style on street corners, in obscure nooks, and under our noses. The Zen movements of my gardener where there are no observers. For my friend D: (i) the colour black and darkness (including dusk); waves and wavy (undulating, flying [like a flag or long hair]) things (even -- why not? -- anemone): things in which there is a certain hiddenness -- in the case of waves, I suppose this means that the source of life, of activity and movement, is evident, but not in itself and only in what it makes happen or move (ii) Beautiful eyes; Ursula Andress rising like Venus from the waves (!) in Dr. No.

What do you think?

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