NATURAL SEX AND ARTIFICIAL SEX
There are people, it has to be said, for whom pornography, or reproductive erotica, is less a physical perversion than a spiritual need. For it must be admitted that pornography can, under certain circumstances, enter into the realm of the spiritual, serving, in its sublimated sexual essence, to facilitate a break with natural sex and so pave the way for a greater dependence upon the artificial.
An egocentric man will not, admittedly, find such a prospect particularly encouraging; for the more natural one is the more must pornography of whatever type be regarded as a perversion - indeed, an evil. But for anyone who has gone beyond the egocentric stage of evolution, for anyone, in other words, who sees human evolution in terms of a gradual break with the natural and, at its climax, a total independence of nature, then pornography will be regarded in a very different light from that normally ascribed to it by the egocentric man. Instead of being regarded as an evil, it will be seen as a comparative good, a means of leading one from the body to the mind and thereby making possible the eventual transcendence of all sex, whether natural or artificial, at a higher stage of evolution - a stage when civilization will be geared to the attainment of the transcendental Beyond in spiritual transformation. Thus for the more sophisticated and spiritually-advanced man, pornography may signify the prevalence of a kind of transitional stage between literal sex and the transcendence of sex, a means of furthering the development of human evolution.
To such an egocentric man as D.H. Lawrence, however,
pornography could never be seen in that light.
As is well-known,
But sexual sublimation in print is one thing, sexual
sublimation in photographic images quite another, and we can be confident that
For the higher man, 'sex in the head' is less an indication of sexual perversion than of spiritual advancement, a proof, as it were, of the triumph of mind over body, of spirit over senses. He may not be wholly given to sublimation - how many men at this juncture in time actually are? - but at least he is prepared to treat a bias in favour of the sublimated with respect rather than contempt. It is something for the more evolved man to be proud of, this relative triumph over nature. It can only lead to still greater triumphs for humanity in due course, as evolution continues to advance in the general direction of greater artificiality. Even the ambitions and attainments of a Des Esseintes will be found wanting in true spiritual accomplishment as time progresses; for this protagonist of À Rebours was, after all, the brainchild of a fin-de-siècle imagination, reflecting a degree of bourgeois artificiality roughly compatible with the extent to which such artificiality can attain, that is to say, with the extent to which a given stage of cultural nobility, be it aristocratic, bourgeois, or even proletarian, can free itself from the natural and endorse a relative degree of spiritual sophistication.
One may recall that the hero of À Rebours acquired a passion for collecting rare plants. Now rare plants undoubtedly reflect a more sophisticated approach to life on the part of their collector than would the collecting of common ones. But the 'artificial' aspirations of that bourgeois aesthete could easily be transcended by a mind, reflecting a higher degree of spiritual sophistication, which either avoided collecting plants of any description, no matter how exotic their origin, or only specialized in collecting artificial ones - for instance, plastic flowers. Huysmans' or, rather, Des Esseintes' sophistication evidently didn't stretch that far, which, under the circumstances of his time and class, need not really surprise us. Yet a time must surely come when, following decades, if not centuries, of egalitarian progress, the artificiality of the proletariat will be so extensive as to make previous class attainments in transcending the natural dwindle to a comparative insignificance.
What, then, does all this indicate? Quite clearly that the highest nobility, which should arise from the proletariat, will entail the greatest degree of artificiality the world has ever known - an artificiality in which the natural body will be replaced by an artificial support for the brain, while the latter is exclusively dedicated to cultivating superconscious mind. And being so dedicated, a time will come when the highest humanity, composed of meditating minds, will free itself from the last remnants of the natural, namely the brain, and thereupon rise clear of its artificial support-and-sustain systems in order to attain to the transcendental Beyond in the ineffable bliss of Supreme Being. Humanity will then have reached its true destiny in eternal unity, a destiny which, in putting an end to man, will signify the establishment of God. For God is the most supernatural of all possibilities, the complete antithesis of the stars, which, in their flaming negativity, are the most subnatural. The stars signify the most agonized doing; the Holy Spirit will signify the most blissful being.
Between these two absolutes - the lesser diabolic absolute of the stars and the greater divine absolute of the Holy Spirit - man weaves his course, 'born under one law, to another bound', which is to say, born under the dominion of the natural world but struggling, through civilized progress, towards the attainment of the supernatural, the attainment, in a word, of God. The fact, however, that he still has such a long way to go before he attains to divine salvation is made perfectly clear by the existing state-of-affairs in the world, in which a great deal of the natural, as of nature, still prevails. For one thing, we still have our natural bodies, and, for another, we regularly encounter manifestations of the natural world in our towns and cities, not to mention far more abundantly outside them in the forms of grass, plants, trees, bushes, birds, animals, etc. We don't exactly panic at the idea of a summer holiday but, on the contrary, are usually eager to go somewhere bright and hot, not to say naturalistic. We are quite resigned to the prospect of relapsing into a quasi-pagan lifestyle for a few weeks every year.
But a time must surely come when, paradoxically, men will prefer winter to summer, will prefer grey skies to the sight of the sun, will prefer their part of the earth to be at its farthest possible remove from the sun, which is the most agonized doing, than at its closest to it, as in the summer. When such a time will come for certain, I cannot of course tell you; for it will depend on the speed with which evolution progresses over the next century or two. But I should be very surprised if it hadn't come by the end of that time, in accordance with the growing entrenchment of that 'revaluation of values' which the twentieth century, in particular, would seem to have initiated. For as evolution advances, so the rate of its advancement quickens, and what may seem bizarre or implausible to us becomes credible to those who come immediately afterwards. Even the recent development of space stations and space shuttles, as initiated by the Americans and the Russians, is crudely indicative of a turning away from the earth, the beginnings of a crude approximation to the transcendental Beyond in the form of a materialistic acclimatization to and presence in space. Of course, the site, so to speak, of the transcendental Beyond would be much farther out into space than any contemporary space station, since it would be obligatory for transcendent spirit to get as far away from stars and their planets as possible. Yet that doesn't prevent one from divining the birth and growth of an otherworldly tendency in these artificial presences there. The future will doubtless witness their proliferation.
At present, alas, modern man is still the victim, to varying extents, of a transitional angst, a rootlessness between two worlds. This angst, about which, incidentally, so much has been written ... with numerous interpretations as to its basic cause, is essentially attributable to the transitional nature of the age from faith in and respect for nature to an isolation from and contempt of nature. It is a consequence of the fact that, for the great majority of people, the old order of society, with its dualistic traditions, no longer possesses any real relevance, while the new order, centred in a post-dualistic transcendentalism, has yet to be officially established. Caught between the natural past and the artificial future, modern man lacks that sense of stability and confidence which would automatically accompany a more settled age, and is consequently possessed by the angst of instability. He doesn't know to what extent he ought to consider the city beneficial to himself and, conversely, to what extent nature detrimental. And, quite often, this problem is reversed, so that it is the city which appears detrimental and nature beneficial, according to the individual's standing in relation to his environment. Clearly, there are sufficient grounds for a widespread generalized angst, a kind of Zeitgeist angst in this day and age. Never before has change, together with its consequences for good or bad, been so rapid and extensive. Man isn't quite sure, on the whole, whether he has things under control or whether he is the victim of his expanding technology.
Yet one would, indeed, be mistaken to suppose that there is only one angst and that it applies to everybody; for there are undoubtedly as many kinds of personal angst in existence as one might care or dare to name, not the least of which being the financial or economic angst, the class or social angst, the weather angst, the health angst, the nuclear angst, the nightmare angst, and, needless to say, the sexual angst, which, not surprisingly, is often associated with the relationship between the natural and the artificial forms of sexual indulgence, and the ratio of the one to the other. If one is sensuously biased, then the artificial is more likely to be regarded as a kind of perversion, to be avoided in the interests of mental and bodily health. One will shy away from pornography, even its mildest and most innocuous forms, as from a potent drug, fearing its corrupting influence upon one. If, on the other hand, one is spiritually biased, then pornography is more likely to be regarded as a blessing than a curse, insofar as it spiritualizes sex by facilitating the development of cerebral sublimation. One realizes that the further civilization develops, the greater will be the degree of artificiality inherent in it, and that this process of gradually overcoming human nature through artificial means should be regarded as a good.
However, even then there is a limit to the extent to which one can allow oneself to be artificial; for one is still a man and, having flesh to appease, one is therefore under some obligation to toe-the-natural-line. Obviously, it is necessary for each individual to safeguard his human integrity as best he can, if he isn't to suffer the detrimental consequences of being too artificial for his own good, like the sophisticated protagonist of Huysmans' À Rebours, who eventually suffered a nervous derangement. One is caught between the natural and the artificial in a complex and often nerve-racking way, a way guaranteed to provoke a certain amount of sexual anxiety. For whilst one must to some extent respect oneself as a sensual being, one is also under obligation, as a man, to aspire towards new spiritual horizons, to extend the domain of the artificial until it gains the upper-hand over the natural. One is, to repeat that oft-quoted line of Fulke Greville's, 'born under one law, to another bound'. And yet the law to which one is bound as a civilized being, the law of increased artificiality, must eventually triumph over the natural law, if one is to attain to the bliss of spiritual transcendence at the culmination-point of evolution. One mustn't allow oneself to take a fatalistic line, as though the human condition was eternally fixed and implied a stasis of warring tensions. On the contrary, one must encourage spiritual progress at whatever cost to the sensual; for in that lies the key to our ultimate salvation as a species. Willy-nilly, this sexual angst ... of being caught between two opposing tendencies ... must be overcome by and through a lopsided artificiality, if we are to fulfil our destiny as men. But that can only happen gradually, in accordance with our individual capacities and the extent to which technology has been developed at the time. We cannot allow ourselves to lose patience with the needs of the body, including the dietary. Yet neither should we fatalistically resign ourselves to them, as though they can never be overcome. The evolutionary struggle must go ahead and people become ever more artificial, achieving through reproductive erotica the sublimation of their sexual impulses.