Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Pornography, Villiers, and Levinas

So while reading Villiers de I'Isle-Adam's Tomorrow's Eve (a late 1870s work), I came upon the realization that electronic pornography through the Internet has created Hadaly already and broken down Levinas' concept of the Other. The story is about a Lord Ewald, who has fallen in love with an Alicia Clary, a woman who looks nearly identical to the Venus d'Milo. However, she is a heartless and cruel, empty woman, and so Ewald wants to commit suicide. He struggles with what he projects upon her (what he wants her to be according to the look of her outward appearance and what she really is). He visits Thomas Edison (the famous inventor), who he had donated lots of money to when Edison started his work. He explains his predicament to Edison and his intents to kill himself, but Edison urges him to quit his designs and join with him to solve his problem through the creation of the perfect woman, Hadaly. Villiers' Hadaly is the first idea of the "android," which would lady be spun off in films like Metropolis, or TV Shows with Data in Star Trek or in Battlestar Galactica. She is a woman made of completely artifical materials, but made to reflect humanity (another man made in a man's image).

When Ewald doubts his ability to fall in love with the android, Edison scoffs at his resistance (man seems to have this silly idea about being more virtuous by respecting the "real deal"). He says the following:

"You have declared... that the creature whom you love, and who for you is the sole REALITY, is by no means the one who is momentarily embodied in this transient human figure, but a creature of your desire. That is what does not exist in her, much more, you know it doesn't exist there. For you're not a dupe--neither of the woman nor of yourself. You deliberately close your eyes, those of your understanding, you deliberately stifle the voice of your conscience, in order to be able to find in this mistress of yours only the phantom of your desire. For you at least, her true personality is nothing but the Illusion planted in your entire being by the power of her beauty. This Illusion is the one thing that you struggle against all odds to REVIVE in the presence of your beloved, in spite of the frightful, deadly, withering nullity of the real Alicia.

What you love is this shadow alone; it's for the shadow that you want to die. That and that alone is what you recognize as unconditionally REAL. In short, it's this objectified projection of your own soul that you call on, you perceive, that you CREATE in your living woman, and which is nothing but your own soul reduplicated in her. Yes, this is your love; and, as you see, it is nothing but a continual and ever-fruitless attempt at redemption."

In these lines, we see the reduction of the other to the self. And Edison continues on to explaining how now Ewald can truly project his soul upon an Illusion (Hadaly) and get results: "You will see then how the Alicia of your desires will become tangible, concentrated, animated in this Shade... And then you will judge in your own intimate conscience whether this auxilary Creature-Phantom which leads you back to love of life doesn't really merit the name of HUMAN more than that living specter whose sorry so-called "reality" was able to inspire you with anything but the desire of death."

Later, Edison explains to Ewald the new and "better" relationship he will have with Hadaly: "Well, now, with the future Alicia, the real one, the Alicia of your soul, you will no longer have to endure these sterile and bitter frustrations. The word that comes will always be the expected word; and its beauty will depend entirely on your own suggestive powers! Her 'consciousness' will no longer be the negation of yours, but rather will become whatever spiritual affinity your own melancholy suggests to you. You will be able to evoke in her the radiant presence of your own, your individual passion, without having to worry, this time, that she gives the lie to your dream! Her words will never deceive your delicately nurtured knows how to make them. At the very least, you will never experience here that fear of being misunderstood which haunts you with the living woman; you will simply have to pay attention to the intervals between the words she speaks. In time, it may become superfluous for you to articulate anything! Her words will reply to your thoughts, to your silences."

Now, there's definitely something scary about this reduction of the Other, and the lack of interruption Hadaly can give Ewald. She is simply soul of his soul, mind of his mind. It's even more disturbing that she has rings on her fingers, which Ewald can twist and make her do and think things. One causes her to return to a black coffin and rest, which he can lock with a key.

So I began to think how sick it would be for people to have Hadalies, when I came to the horrific realization that many do in many ways through the Internet and pornography. People look into women's faces, hear their voices, but they actually never really see them, look into their eyes, or hear them speak. These images and videos, and 3-Dimensional virtual realities have no souls. They are only a reflection of the viewers: they see more of themselves in the faces of someone else. The computer buttons give commands, and the mouseclicks move the porn stars to other stances. These shades are shaped out of the image of the viewer's mind: they give them thoughts and feelings. But like with Hadaly, they can shut them up, turn them off, bury them back in the coffin, and cause them to re-emerge whenever they please. But it's hard to see how Ewald or the viewers could not begin to apply their relationships with the shades to real human beings. Levinas felt that the human face brought about ethical demands like not killing and so forth. However, what about online? What about digital media? Where the face no longer has a soul, but the viewer's. Does the 2-D screen, and it's lack of 3-Dimensionality allow us to demoralize ethics in humanity? Does the human face there say "rape me" instead of don't kill me? Does the distorted ethics of virtual reality bounce back on reality and cause us to produce shades of the others, and reduce them to the self? Just some thoughts. There may be many Hadalies. After all, 60% of the 600 million websites are pornographic.

It reminds me of a quote by a pornviewer in the book Pornified: "I don’t see how any male who likes porn can think actual sex is better, at least if it involves all the crap that comes with having a real live female in your life."


Ever have those moments where you realize that you're not terribly good at anything and significantly less interesting and amusing than you thought? When everything you are doing seems terribly silly and you're not even doing them well? It's somewhat like Heidegger's anxiety, and I got loads of it!


Monday, April 23, 2007

Oddly enough...

Funny thing happened today. I finally realized why certain people in the past have decided that enforced celibacy and/or becoming a eunuch could possibly be considered more than sheer lunacy. Formerly I scoffed at the idea, with no idea how anyone in their right mind could even think about it. Well, I think I get it now.

I was sitting in a student philosophy conference and I found myself distracted by a certain good-looking female in the class. I am really quite annoyed that I am unable to control my mind in that regard and that it distracts me from something I love and find important. Later, as I sit on my computer writing a very interesting and impending paper on the philosophy of food I wander off into thought about some girl. Why? Why is it so impossible to keep away from that topic. Right then I thought: "Gee, I wish I could just get rid of these thoughts altogether so I can focus on Philosophy". Go ahead, follow that line. Where does it lead? I suppose if you felt strongly enough you would find a way to repress the desire. Hence, castration, eunuchs, celibacy, etc...

So these people actually had a good reason. It still seems an incredibly drastic measure to me, but if you really, really wanted to focus maybe it would work?