A crippled eros that can no longer take wing

The philosopher Allan Bloom, a long-time college teacher, attributed the “flat-souled” quality he noticed in his students, in part, to the maelstrom of cranked-up sexuality that surrounds them from childhood. He believed it coarsened them — affecting their intellectual ambitions and depriving them of ideals. “Our young people,” he wrote, “have a crippled eros that can no longer take wing. … Their defective eros cannot provide their souls with images of beauty.”

The following article is beautiful – there is much more to passion than insecurity, anxiety, and objectification… Our generation has lost the ability to recognize love in our haste to achieve gratification. An obsessive barrage of sex as a mechanical function effaces the glamor of life.

Revive the natural magic in this generation of the unnaturally disillusioned; this deserves a read:

Sexual Ballet Has Become A Slamdance
Star Tribune,
September 25, 1996
By Katherine Kersten

Most of us know the feeling. You’re in line at the supermarket with a towering cart of groceries, and your 10 and 12-year-old children. Though you try to distract them, their eyes inevitably stray to the rack by the cash register. There it is — the magazine gauntlet. There’s “Redbook” — “Sex Tips for Tonight: 23 Ways to Make Him Want You Bad in Bed” — and the smirking “Cosmo Girl,” one breast almost entirely exposed. What do you say to your children as, puzzled but intrigued, they stare wide-eyed at this display?

“Women’s” magazines have changed since the days when my mother used to arrange them carefully on her coffee table. The in-your-face sexuality they purvey makes many parents squirm. But could it be that their frank portrayal of “the facts of life” is somehow healthier — more natural — than the furtive, “back-of-the-schoolbus” whispers of our own childhood?

The sexual revolution that transformed women’s magazines promised that acting on our sexual impulses would bring an easy and comfortable enjoyment of our bodies, and a liberating release of energies long repressed. But the faces of the women who adorn these magazines tell a different story. Far from pleasure-filled, they are vacant (even bored), self-absorbed, and stamped with the emptiness of the proverbial “morning after.”

The truth is, this stuff isn’t erotic. It’s strained, joyless, passionless, and finally, numbing. Like the faces, the articles speak of disillusionment — a waning hope that “the perfect night” is just around the corner, that somehow, the electric thrill so often promised will be achieved at last. Rather than a healthy comfort with the body, they betray insecurity — “Sex: How Men Rate Your Appeal” — and anxiety — “How to Tell When He’s Cheating!” Because they view emptiness as merely a problem of technique, their hallmark is an obsessive preoccupation with sex at its most mechanical.

Why this fizzle in the promise of the sexual revolution? The “older generation” may have pushed a hypocritical double standard, but they were right about one thing. Sex is — and will always remain — one of life’s great mysteries, impossible to fully dissect, or to “misuse” without getting burned. Its complexity springs from the paradoxical fact that it links both what is highest and what is lowest in our nature.

Informed by love, sex can be sublime. As the subtle and beautiful dance of connection between men and women, it is the source and center of life. Poets have rhapsodized about the wonder at “the Other” that inspires it, and about its role in the human quest to transcend incompleteness, and grasp momentarily at eternity. As an act inspired by devotion, the fleshly union points beyond itself to a merging of souls — “My beloved is mine, and I am his.”

But in the absence of love, the sexual urge is often little more than an itch we seek compulsively to scratch. Too easily, it can become an instrument for using others for our own selfish ends — cruel, degraded, even violent. As the women in the Japanese “pleasure” camps of World War II knew, far from pointing to the sacred, it can epitomize the profane.

As parents, we are responsible for guiding our children as they awaken to their powerful, emerging sexual sensibilities. Our job is to help them understand the role these yearnings play in their larger nature, and to reveal their potential to serve what is good and beautiful. But parents who try to do this today encounter obstacles at every turn. For from the moment our children can read or switch on the TV, they are surrounded by images of sex as recreation — the thrill-seeking pursuit of bodily pleasure for its own sake. Under siege by constant low-level titillation, they are encouraged to gawk, snicker and leer at members of the opposite sex.

Concern about this assault is, in part, behind some parents’ eager interest in bringing sex education into the classroom at an ever earlier age. They favor feverish preemptive strikes — we’ve got to get to kids with “the facts” before Calvin Klein does. But grasping at this easy antidote, they rarely question its fundamental assumption — that a barrage of clinical information is the best antidote to the surfeit of stimulation in which our children are drowning.

Like the magazines — though in a very different way — sex ed programs are often curiously flat, and obsessively preoccupied with the mechanical aspects of sex. In many cases, they derail the last vestige of children’s natural modesty, and their sense of wonder at the mysteries the opposite sex represents. Graduates of such programs can be forgiven if they lack any hint of the sublime possibilities of a loving union. The “divine” passion of the great lovers — Dante and Beatrice, Abelard and Heloise, Romeo and Juliet — must seem bewildering to them.

Indeed, it is precisely the passionless of our young people that has excited comment in recent years. The philosopher Allan Bloom, a long-time college teacher, attributed the “flat-souled” quality he noticed in his students, in part, to the maelstrom of cranked-up sexuality that surrounds them from childhood. He believed it coarsened them — affecting their intellectual ambitions and depriving them of ideals. “Our young people,” he wrote, “have a crippled eros that can no longer take wing. … Their defective eros cannot provide their souls with images of beauty.”

A new book — “Generation X Goes to College” — echoes Bloom’s critique. Author Peter Sacks, a journalist-turned-professor, notes that many of his students seem devoid of passion in any aspect of their lives. They are “jaded, unachieving, highly demanding yet lacking any respect for standards or intelligence.” At 18, they have “been there, done that.”

For many of our children, the sexual ballet has become a slamdance. As they age, the passage to a mature grasp of the profound mysteries of sex is increasingly difficult to make. A child who has spent his formative years plugged into high-volume, heavy-metal rock is unlikely ever to thrill to the nuances of a Mozart symphony. Sexual understanding is similar. If it is to grow, there must be room in a young person’s soul for a crescendo. For many of our children — deafened by the din of pervasive sensuality — the real thrill may be gone, before it has even had a chance to arrive.

— Katherine Kersten is chairman of Center of the American Experiment in Minneapolis and a commentator for National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”

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4 thoughts on “A crippled eros that can no longer take wing

  1. Recent alum says:

    I agree with this article and most of TLR’s stances. However, I think it’s unfair and ironic to use contemporary *women’s* magazines as the representation of everything that’s wrong with “in-your-face sexuality.” From long before World War II up through the present decade, it is much more frequently MEN who have been compulsively scratching that itch, too often at the expense of women. Sex for self-gratification is ugly and demeaning, as it always has been; but until recently (and, in many places, even now), men were the only ones who were pursuing that kind of sex since it was socially impossible for women to do so. This article’s portrayal of women’s magazines and the fact that it described the disillusionment of casual sex only from the female perspective subtly made me forget the extremely disproportionate role that the male sexual urge has historically played in the degradation of sex. The sexual revolution was definitely a misguided reaction to this inequality, but it got one thing right: women have been victims for far too long, whose insecurities and anxieties were exploited and then multiplied before they decided to become sexual aggressors themselves.

    Another problem I have with the article is that it naively believes that postponing sex ed is any sort of real solution. Sure, it would be great if sex ed could preserve the sublime mysteries of sex. But for that, we have Sunday school, English class (we still require Shakespeare, right?), museums, the opera, and the Twilight series, not to mention good parenting and mentoring. The reason we need frank, effective, early sex ed is because we can’t afford to let our children remain ignorant about STDs, pregnancy, rape kits, HIV transmission, menstruation, and date rape drugs. We are indeed under siege—but from many things more dangerous than constant low-level titillation. In many areas of this country and the world, mandatory sex ed is the equivalent of having to teach a 10-year-old how to use a gun because she is unfortunate enough to live alone in a lawless ghetto. It breaks your heart to make her grow up so quickly, but better that than being clueless in this ugly world.

  2. Esther says:

    “The reason we need frank, effective, early sex ed is because we can’t afford to let our children remain ignorant about STDs, pregnancy, rape kits, HIV transmission, menstruation, and date rape drugs.”

    Thank you for remembering that sex ed includes education about puberty as well as education about having sex. For example, many virgin girls and women menstruate. One can’t save menstruation for marriage (although sadly some people in the world do hurry to marry off their daughters to rapists before they menstruate).

    “In many areas of this country and the world, mandatory sex ed is the equivalent of having to teach a 10-year-old how to use a gun because she is unfortunate enough to live alone in a lawless ghetto.”

    Mandatory sex ed is also the equivalent of the toilet-training most parents make mandatory in their homes. Teaching a 10-year-old how to use a sanitary napkin because she has a uterus is much like teaching a 2-year-old how to flush the toilet because he has bowels.

  3. Esther says:

    “It breaks your heart to make her grow up so quickly, but better that than being clueless in this ugly world.”

    …and better than being clueless within a marriage years later.

    Abstinence is the best birth control but it’s very difficult for some people. Suppose a married mother has:
    * 4 children and a home to look after
    * no energy left to look after a 5th child too
    * a husband who works as hard as he can but still can’t afford to feed a 5th child in addition to his 4 children and his housewife (her)
    * a husband (same man) who says it’s the traditional male role for him to want “a bit of comfort” from her body (see http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200301/flanagan for this belittling description of marital sex) even when she’s too afraid of unwanted pregnancy to be in the mood
    * determination to keep her marriage together instead of giving the father of her children reason to feel “emotionally abandoned” and grounds to seek a with-fault divorce
    * no good sources of advice on how to explain to her 4 children why their new baby brother or sister is going away and reassure them that they won’t have to go away too, if she has an unwanted pregnancy and chooses adoption
    * too much concern for society to endure her most traditional neighbors calling her a bad mother and her husband a bad provider if they choose adoption for an unwanted 5th pregnancy

    No wonder she needs information about the second-best birth control, the third-best birth control, etc. ahead of time.

  4. Thought Criminal says:

    Loved the article. Hate the comments afterward.

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