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Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Words and Deeds
It was the perfect time for me to see a film called Eros because I've been having many deep and important conversations about what the concept of "sex" entails. I've read enough of the literature on the subject to know that the PC thing is to state that just about anything can count as "sex" under the right circumstances. The definition is as subjective as they come. On the other hand, I've known a good number of people, men and women, who restrict the definition to intercourse, whether of the anal or vaginal variety.

I had a woman friend when I was an undergrad who would go months into a relationship before consenting to penetration. She would say, "We haven't had sex yet," during that time, even though she was swallowing her partner's ____ on a daily basis. I found the idea that this activity was only "fooling around" rather curious at the time. But now that I'm wiser, I recognize that her definition at least had consistency going for it.

My current preoccupation is erotic language. Does it ever make sense to say people are having an affair when they are exchanging only words? At what point would a mutually shared fantasy take on the force we normally associate with physical contact? If an idea makes you come, could its influence reasonably be described as a type of penetration?

I'm fascinated by the divide between my theoretical position, which holds that the distinction between words and deeds is ultimately an illusion -- Faust might as well have quoted the Gospel of John the way it usually gets translated, "In the beginning was the Word. . ." -- and my practical one, which counters that there is a huge difference between merely thinking of an action and actually doing it. Interestingly, it's the theoretical position that is steering me away from the path of freedom. I'm sure I could get along just fine with the knowledge that the space of fantasy only promises liberation so long as it is unregulated, provided I could convince myself once and for all that it really does matter whether we act on our impulses or not. Stranger still, as I've been writing this entry I've been fighting back the urge to go read the New Testament. What's that about?

Mode: perplexed
Muse: War Criminal Rises And Speaks - Okkervil River - Down The River Of Golden Dreams

16 comments or Leave a comment
leela_cat From: leela_cat Date: May 20th, 2005 03:22 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I do not believe that words make an affair. Flirting has been around for centuries and is a tightwire that people must tread carefully if they don't want it to blow up in their faces. It can also be a hell of a lot of fun and not lead to anything of any sort except friendship.

However, in certain circumstances, they can be dangerous and can lead to pain (if there is a third party in this relationship who believes they have an exclusive relationship with one of the wordsmiths) and even danger (if one of the wordsmiths believes that more is happening than the other and also happens to be unstable).

Words are damn powerful. They're just words though. If we truly take "In the beginning there was the Word" to the (il)logical extent you're suggesting, then we're in the realm of mind police and the same region as many of the neo-con religious right.

For example, is a picture or a story the equivalent of the act? Do we want people to be jailed for purely and simply conceiving of the act of murdering another human being? Where does that leave writers of murder mysteries? Makers of films such as Basic Instinct?

Humans can have all the impulses that they want. The veneer of civilisation that makes it possible for us to live together in something resembling peace is bolstered by the expectation and understanding that we will not act on most of those impulses.
kdotdammit From: kdotdammit Date: May 20th, 2005 04:56 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thank you for this. You've actually captured my thoughts on this subject much better than I would have been able to do myself. I also believe that words are words. Not only that, but that people need fantasies, and there are plenty of "safe" ways to engage in one's fantasies and desires through language in a way that is respectual, acceptable, and (most importantly for me) SAFE. It's when people censor their fantasies and desires and don't explore a broader conceptual way of engaging with them that we end up with a lot of repressed people who act out their desires in harmful ways.

I have a lot more to say on this subject and will probably come up with something for my journal over the weekend. But thanks for your input. You, as a writer of course, understand the difference between the word and the action. Thanks!
leela_cat From: leela_cat Date: May 20th, 2005 05:21 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
There's an enormous gulf of difference between the word and the action.

I get intensely nervous when people want to charge someone with child abuse or molestation simply because they wrote a story where a child is sexually abused. That's written into law in some parts of the world, and it's damn scary.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 20th, 2005 05:37 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Oh, to be sure. I know these are difficult questions to broach. It is interesting, for my own selfish part, that supposedly left-wing theoretical positions can double back on themselves to the point where they serve the same purpose as right-wing ones.
leela_cat From: leela_cat Date: May 20th, 2005 09:06 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

One of the themes in the Dalek episode of the new Doctor Who deals very much with that.

The doctor has spent a good portion of his life fighting and became the last of his race because of the Daleks. Then, in this episode, he's faced with a "last" Dalek. Part way through, the Dalek says to the doctor, "You would make a very good Dalek".

And at that point, you know it's true and so does he, and it stops him cold. It's an amazing moment.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 21st, 2005 05:42 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Fascinating. We never watch TV, of course. But if we did, I want to watch that.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 20th, 2005 05:08 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Wow! That's incredibly eloquent. I remember sitting in church as a child and listening to a sermon about the "Sermon on the Mount" in the Gospel of Matthew that focused on that passage about how thinking about sin is actually the same thing as sinning. Even as a pre-teen, I was troubled by the (il)logic of that conflation. It's odd, though, that so much of the theoretical stuff I've used in my work over the past fifteen years seems to make a similar point, suggesting that words are deeds. Maybe we need to decide A) that words are deeds; and B) that there's still a fundamental difference between the sort of deeds performed solely with words and those that have what Descartes called "extension" in the world. But even as I wrote that last sentence I was already finding ways of taking it apart. Tricky stuff.
leela_cat From: leela_cat Date: May 20th, 2005 05:20 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I think that you're still conflating things. Words can be deeds, yes, but there isn't a 1:1 ratio between the deeds performed with words and the "equivalent" action.

Take your example of an affair vs. flirting. If I perform the actions, then I'm having an affair. If I merely flirt with words, then I'm not having an affair. However, if I'm in a serious relationship where my partner has expectations of monogamy, and if I'm not upfront about the flirtation, then my flirting words can cause almost equivalent pain to my partner.

I'd argue though that the deed of causing pain through words is a different deed than that of causing pain through actions. What I did by flirting in that case can only cause pain if I'm not upfront and honest with my partner and set the correct expectations. I didn't have an affair (ie cheat), nor did I lie to my partner in any demonstrable way.

What I did was to destroy trust.

That also occurs during an affair, but it's only part of the deed of having an affair.

Words can also be weapons but that's another discussion.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 20th, 2005 05:36 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Again, wonderfully thought out. I want to say, though, that I'm not conflating myself so much as thinking about how others conflate. That is, I'm trying to think my way out of a theoretical position that seems intractable in this instance. One thing I still wonder, though, after reading your comments, is whether we can really establish a fundamental difference between sexual stimulation done by touch and sexual stimulation by words. If the results are the same, doesn't that make it seem like the divide is tenuous?
leela_cat From: leela_cat Date: May 20th, 2005 09:09 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
True. You are talking about how others conflate, and they alwayss will.

I think that, in the example of sexual stimulation, the words are not the deed. The deed is sexual stimulation. The words are merely the tool used to accomplish the deed.

Maybe that's part of it? Words are a tool, not a deed. The question is whether the words are actually used to accomplish the deed or simply to explore, discuss or describe the deed.

Hmm... must think on this some.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 21st, 2005 05:39 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
The more I think about this, the more uncertain I become. To speak or write words is to act. In that sense, there is a deed already, before any other extra-linguistic deeds that might follow in its wake. On the other hand, as you have so nicely pointed out, there is a huge difference between words and actions that go beyond them. Thanks for helping me think through all this, even if I'm unlikely to make it to the other side anytime soon.
tpratt From: tpratt Date: May 20th, 2005 05:37 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Now this is an interesting subject. Speaking as someone who has been all too blissfully unaware while a supposedly loyal significant other was treading the tightwire of flirtation with cyberspace chums, I think words are incredibly powerful. I also think that intent speaks for itself. If you go to Dolores Park to cop a dime bag of seedy, crapass mota, end up skulking around for half an hour without any luck, then get hassled by the Man, how indignant can you really get about being accused of doing exactly what you were doing? Wow, that's a shitty example.
Anyway, I consider it disingenuous and coy to try and bury the reality of one's intent under semantic piles. Sure, you're not having sex. You're just gargling nut butter. Sure, you're not cheating. You just masturbate on the phone while someone who isn't your spouse is grunting in your earhole. After all, it hurts so much less when you've been cuckolded without any actual dick in vagina having taken place, no?
Seriously, though, flirtation surely has been around for millenia. So has adultery. I don't think either thing is really a problem, as long as everyone involved knows that's how things are going to be. Strangely enough, in my experience, not everyone ends up on the same page, so to speak. I'm sure I'm just another ersatz Puritan who is annoyed that people can have their cake and eat it too in the sense of having every sort of non-physically-consumated affair with others, then coming home to ol' Reliable. If it works for them, fine. I've been on the ass-end of that pecking order, though, and I decided years ago that if I were to do that kind of shit to my wife I might just as well sack up and do it to completion - or, of course, not even get started with said shit at all. So to speak.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 20th, 2005 05:44 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yeah, there's that too. If the words are already causing injury, why not turn them into deeds that go beyond words? There's logic to that line of reasoning. The problem is that logic falls so far short of its mark in dissecting this topic, because logical arguments can be formulated for any number of positions. One thing I agree with wholeheartedly is that there is a clear distinction between what's done in secrecy and what's done in the open. On other other end, having been on the "ass end" of a one-sided open relationship with someone you once _________, where everything was made public but it still often hurt, I also recognize that honesty is never going to be enough by itself. I've been using the word "asymmetry" a lot of late. I think that, while the perception of symmetry almost invariably depends on "illusionment," it's a good goal to aspire towards. The bigger differential in relationship matters, the harder it is to bridge the gap.
kdotdammit From: kdotdammit Date: May 20th, 2005 06:25 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Very interesting to see the difference in language and approach between girls and boys in this thread. I'm seriously going to have to do some writing on this subject over the weekend.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 20th, 2005 07:27 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Hmmmm. I don't want to be pigeonholed here. I think the sample is too small to make generalizations on the basis of "biological" gender, for one thing. I'm not sure where I stand, for another. I agree that the thread is fascinating, even though part of me regrets making the entry public. I'm not sure I want to be in a space where I'm being identified in this manner right now. But I suppose that, in the end, it's better that this sort of topic see the light of day.
From: wondrousbeauty Date: May 21st, 2005 05:37 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
The next to last paragraph is something I've been thinking about a lot. In very personal ways. Thanks for giving me more to think about. Perhaps it's telling that I don't want to say more about my own thoughts about this because the power the words have to me (and perhaps that's the crux of the matter--whether or not one believes that the words in fact do the deed, the power given the words changes depending on who and what is involved and whose reading you are taking into account).

You know that last part of Althusser's essay where he talks about how kneeling down and doing the worship can make one believe? I've always thought words have something to do with that, but in the space in between the doing and the belief.
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