Aphroditism--A New Sexual Perversion?

A new sexual perversion? Well, Aphroditism is not new, though it is newly recognised and that only because it is newly required in order to dispel some new fallacies. A good example of it may be found in the Can-Can. Every one knows about the Can-Can. It was danced in Paris in the 1890s, most notably at the Moulin Rouge. It involves, in a dance of breathtaking athleticism, an extravagant display of frilly underwear. stocking-tops,. suspenders and white thighs, accompanied by that exuberant music from Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld.

Les Cancans de Vintesse

What is less well known are the circumstances in which the Can-Can rose to its enormous popularity. In the relaxed atmosphere of the Naughty Nineties, moral censorship of stage performances in Paris virtually ceased to exist and there sprung up in the city a large number of nude shows. Naturally these attracted large audiences, especially at first. But numbers began to diminish as the public realised that nudity, once you have seen it a few times, is not really all that exciting.

Then the Follies opened with the Can-Can and its delightful display of clothed (but suggestive of unclothed) feminine charm. It swept the board, virtually killing the nude-show trade overnight.

This is a prime example of Aphroditism. The Can-Can succeeded by playing on a vital truth of human psychology--that the crude and obvious is essentially unerotic; that eroticism thrives on what is hidden and dies in a climate of total exposure; that what can be freely seen ceases to be worth looking at, while what is never quite revealed becomes an object of increasing power and attraction.

Is this a sexual perversion? Well, if we accept the assumptions of Freud, the man who invented the concept of sexual perversion, then it certainly is. Indeed, it is sexual perversion in its purest form. Freud believed that the sole purpose of eroticism was consummation; that the entire erotic aesthetic of humanity (indeed, ultimately the entire aesthetic of humanity passim) was merely a deviation from the animal instinct for procreation. Curiously, Freud's view, although based on Darwinism and the dogma that man is no more than an animal, is very close in this respect to that of the Catholic Church, which also holds that procreation is the only legitimate aim of erotic feeling.

From this point of view, subtilism is the purest and simplest form of sexual deviation. De-via-tion means literally "going out of one's way". Per-version is a "turning-away". If the true aim and goal is the sexual act, then anything which leads away from this is a perversion or deviation.

To move voluntarily from the more explicit to the less explicit, from the crudely obvious to the subtly suggestive, is sexual perversion par excellence. The whole climate of sexual "frankness", the intensely and crudely sexualised (and correspondingly de-eroticised) atmosphere of the late 20th century is based squarely on this theory.

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of Freud in these matters. Not only the very concept of sexual perversion, but the entire way we talk about "sex" (including the very fact that we use the word "sex" as we do) comes from Freud.

People who have scarcely heard of Freud use Freudian concepts every day of their lives; not simply in speaking, but in acting. The way they conduct their relationships, their expectations of other people, even the way they dress, are founded on Freudian concepts. The simple facts of existence, the things we see for ourselves and cannot imagine to be otherwise are Freudian, because although we are "seeing for ourselves" we are looking through Freudian eyes.

The question, therefore, which needs desperately to be asked is was Freud right? Given that we are living in a Freudianised society, are we living according to truths that the great man discovered, or are we living out the falsehoods and misconceptions of a turn-of-the-century Viennese theorist?

Was Freud right about the erotic nature of man? And the erotic nature of woman?

A vulgar bongo has said--in a typically vulgar bongo way--"sex is one percent friction and ninety-nine percent imagination". It is vulgar, but it is true. Now the Freudian theory asks us to believe that the entire imaginative achievement of human civilisation is ultimately founded on the one percent that is friction. We are asked to believe that King Lear and Beethoven's ninth and Chartres cathedral are all merely elaborations--essentially unnecessary elaborations--upon an activity which we have in common with dogs and beetles.

But let us narrow the discussion down to human erotic sensibility. Are all the myriad subtle feelings and emotions which have been associated with our erotic nature: are they all nothing more than "deviations" from alley-cat copulation? And when we opt for subtler more thrilling manifestations of the erotic, are we simply putting the "real thing" at one or more removes? Simply teasing ourselves in the manner of one who looks at a bar of chocolate and then puts it away again?

We say no. And the chocolate example helps to demonstrate our case. C.S.Lewis, writing in the 1940s, talked of striptease shows, and commented upon the strange way in which we treat the "sex appetite", as I believe he called it. Could one imagine, he asked, a stage performance at which a roast chicken was unveiled slowly before a hungry audience, and then, just as they had a full view of it the lights were turned out?

Of course not: nor do we tantalise any other of our appetites--thirst, the need for sleep or for air, etc.--in this way. But what this proves is that "the sex appetite" is not an appetite like the others. It is different. It works differently. It is not necessarily satisfied by ordinary physical consummation as the appetite for food is, because it has a non-physical dimension. Even when we satisfy the physical craving we may leave deeper and more important cravings unsatisfied. Even the 1940s strip-show (as opposed to what one supposes would be a much cruder and more explicit performance in later decades) retains a strange element of idealisation. The unveiling is all. The thing unveiled had best be plunged into darkness before excitement dies of over-exposure -- that is, before the subtle thing sought becomes confused with(or reduced to) the gross thing seen and disappointment sets in.

"Idealisation", "sublimation": these are the words that the Freudianised world uses for older attitudes to the erotic. But they beg the central question. They assume, without examining the matter, that there never was anything ideal or sublime in human erotic nature. They assume that we are merely naked apes satisfying the same urges as birds, beasts and bugs in exactly the same way, and that everything beyond that is mere frill and decoration;--mere illusions of the past to be cast away in the light of our "new knowledge". The whole of late 20th century civilisation is founded on these assumptions.

One trouble with them is that, like many modern theories, they seek to derive the greater from the less. If vast areas of human culture are nothing more than disguised "sexual appetite" then one can only say that the disguise is more important than the thing disguised. The "unnecessary decorations" are deeper and more vital than the mere animal act to which they are unnecessary.

But we believe there is more to it than this. We believe--in common with all cultures before the present one--that human beings are essentially spiritual creatures. We believe that the erotic urge, while it is reflected in the instinct for procreation, is ultimately something much more than that and that for those of us whose eroticism is feminine-directed, a fundamental part of the supra-physical roots of eroticism lies in the urge toward the Eternal Feminine, the feminine mystery at the heart of creation.