This blog is mostly about writing and what goes into it, and this is the 22d post. This week there have been some unwelcome surprises in my personal life, and I’ve thought not to do one, but then decided – once I venture down that broad highway, it will go from “Blog-a-delphic” (the title of my first post) to “Blog-a-phobic”, and I’ll find it hard to get around to it, and then drop it altogether. Once I get started on one, it becomes interesting to me if to no one else, and I’ve enjoyed writing them overall, so I’ll try to keep going…
And here we have – Wilhelm Reich! Sex! Dear reader, if you don’t know about Wilhelm Reich, check him out on Wikipedia…he is to put it mildly a challenging thinker. Like many of the influences on my writing I’ve canvassed on this blog, he was shall we say somewhat less than perfect. You could even say he was pretty much a nutter, even or even especially about the things he is known for, and in particular, sex.
Reich fell under the influence of the great first generation psychiatrists in Vienna – Freud, Jung et al – before striking out on his own and heading for Berlin, where he practised till the Nazis got going and he ended up in Norway, and from there the United States. His best-known work was The mass psychology of fascism, which went through a number of editions and is both convincing and ridiculous in equal measure.
What was good about Reich’s philosophy – I’m going to call it that, rather than psychology – was his idea that people can attach far too much importance to sex in that they are uptight about it, and want to hide it from the rest of life, as if it is somehow in a little box separate from anything else, when the truth is that it pervades everything we do. His fundamental message was that people need to relax about sex, and its place in their lives. He was open about sex in ways that people even now, after the sexual revolution of the 1960s and after, can find appalling. He used to see his patients in the nude as a means of getting them to feel comfortable about it; whether this worked or not I have no idea. It may have been pretty odd, to be greeted at the door of his surgery by a naked man, but I can see his point.
He also had a strange idea of the cosmic energy involved in sex and designed and built and marketed a machine he called an orgone accumulator. He even got Albert Einstein interested – and offended the great scientist by publishing their correspondence. Among other things he also believed he could influence the weather – he won a bet that he could make it rain – and that there exist things called “biota” that are in a kind of halfway house between life and inorganic matter…which he claimed were easily observable in the laboratory. It just seems no one else could make them out.
He was controversial enough to be imprisoned in the United States for selling his orgone boxes and died in prison.
Putting all this aside, there remains his open and fundamentally healthy – so say I – attitude toward sex. However strange a man he may have been, it is refreshing to read someone write about his own sex life and about the role of sex in society in a way that does not hide or obscure, that is positive and indeed wholesome.
As I write thrillers, a genre that as it has developed has taken in the need to include a reasonable amount of sex, just how this might be done was shall we say an “issue” for me before I picked up my metaphorical pen for the first one. I wanted, like Reich, to be open about sex, not to conceal the human interest in it. And I wanted to integrate it into the rest of life as it is apparently integrated into the life of each of us, even when we hide it, or are frustrated.
At the same time, I didn’t want to get into the “exploitative” aspects of sex in writing, and that made and makes it a problem. Sex in writing needs not just to be there, but to be erotic, at least some of the time. There are techniques for doing this, and writers learn them however they do. To me that means the balance between “erotic” and “exploitative” can be pretty fine. One of my books is not published as the publisher rules out any sex involving young people, however portrayed, and it the story of an adolescent who is sexually abused as well as educated during WWII in Germany. The abuse is meant to be seen as abuse, and not to be erotic, and I believe and think and hope that it succeeds in this. That book sits quietly on my e-shelf, awaiting its turn. I think myself it is a very good book, despite some weaknesses I have never been able to weed out.
So what I decided about this was that I would try to write my “meant to be erotic” sex scenes so that they would be erotic to women, reasoning that if they were erotic to women, men would also find them not too bad, and that meanwhile the women would be unlikely to complain.
Generally, I’ve been pleased at the positive responses from readers. I’ve had a few complaints, and from surprising sources. One of my books, Savonarola’s Bones, was written in an attempt to turn everything upside down: there is only one “straight” person who is a significant character in that book; all the other characters, good and bad, are gay/lesbian, and the heroine is a lesbian whose “set” spends a lot of time talking about sex, and even more having it off.
My purpose in this in part was to suggest, especially to straight women, that gay sex is a valid option in life, and they might think about it. I was put on this track while writing my previous book, now called The Kleiber Monster. This book partly involved two older women who begin a sexual relationship after a long friendship. I thought then, and think now, that women tend to outlive their men, and condemn themselves to many years, decades even, of sexual abstinence, though in their social lives there are plenty of people just like them, lonely and frustrated, and that all this requires is an attitude change. Sex is that important, and it’s important both for the physical pleasure and for all the intimacies that surround it – touching, cuddling, nuzzling, small “pillow” talk…we are stunted as people when we are unable to express ourselves in these ways, and this is true whether we are fifteen or ninety.
The complaints I got about this came from within the gay community. A few people didn’t like the idea that I gave gays the “right” to murder, or that I could feel comfortable describing sex between people I could not possibly know myself, being a straight male. If this is a theoretical problem – as it is – the proof of the pudding is in the licking of the spoon: readers can make up their own minds, if they choose, by reading my books.
The book I am now writing, with the working title Kaos, is like the others in that way: there is a lot of sex in it, and it’s not all “straight”. I’m still “Reichian” and probably will die that way.
Reich’s ideas have been more widely accepted, at least in their general tenor, and have been extended too, to the point where many people who hold them would not think they involve him at all. Sex research has tended to confirm conclusions he arrived at existentially and clinically. We are told that men think about sex every few minutes, and women only slightly less frequently, and I see no reason not to think this is true. An article on a website by a man involved in an American charity helping abused children, claims that men – not just one man, but men – routinely imagine what it would be like to take off the clothes and have sex with women they pass in the street, that this is part of our biological makeup, that men are biologically disposed to “spreading our gene pool around”, while women are not.
Of course the important thing is not what thoughts go on in one’s head, but what we do about them. Plato’s dialogues for example, routinely involve discussion of men having sexual relations with boys. Late in his life, in The Laws, Plato changed his tune about this and declared the practice “unnatural”, though that can hardly be so if we take humans to be animals, since everything we do is natural, when it involves control, or abandon. The issue is not what is or is not “natural” but what is or is not “right”.
Friedrich Engels, in his fascinating book The origin of the family, private property and the state, saw sexuality in the evolutionary sense that Marx and he saw in society. As other researches have suggested, our type of male-dominated society, or patriarchy, replaced a female-dominated one – matriarchy.- and that the basis of both is how descent is traced. In patriarchy it is through the male, and Engels reckoned the evident hypocrisy of severe punishment for adultery against a woman compared to in his time even an expectation of fornication by the man, rested on this desire. Men needed to feel certain that their genes were being passed on and had – and often now have – no qualms about sexually imprisoning their wives while casting their seed wherever else they could manage it.
We are living in a different time now. Our society’s sex and “gender” roles are changing very rapidly, and while, I am not young, I think I may live to see a new era in human relationships in so-called developed societies that will “trickle down” or spread to others. It would be great if this were true, and I’ll try to write another post about this. Dear reader I hope this one has not offended you and that perhaps you have even enjoyed it!