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post #1 of 4 (permalink) Old 04-22-2007, 09:14 PM Thread Starter
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Listening to critics

Sexualizing everyday life
from Mann and Nabokov to Sheik al-Hilaly
Roger Sandall
Quadrant, January-February 2007

Where are the sheiks of yesteryear, riding romantically over the dunes? Not in Australia. Here a burly Egyptian with an ugly turn of phrase recently set new records for ungallantry. Scantily clad Australian women, complained Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly, go around like "exposed meat" inviting rape.

Of course we all made a huge uproar. Unbelievable! Who asked his opinion anyway? The sheik calls himself a Mufti and thinks he represents Islam Down Under. But the man's a brute who plainly hates western culture, who may have channelled funds to Hezbollah, and on top this he's a security risk too. Go home sheik, go home!

This said, maybe he had a point all the same. It does seem nowadays that you can't go to the newsagent to buy a paper, or the supermarket to buy a loaf of bread, without being surrounded by acres of glossy magazine erotica and exciting flesh. Not all of us would call it exposed meat, perhaps, but whatever it's called it's there—much of it little short of pornography.

To be honest, it seems to me that what the sheik was complaining about is a process that has gone on so long, and has now gone so far, that it has become the water we swim in and the air we breathe: a sexually heightened moral environment far removed from most normal human cultures in the past, where once forbidden instincts, thoughts, and desires, along with grossly exhibitionistic behaviour, are now increasingly treated as routine.

What has happened? Has a moral tsunami left our middle classes in ruins? What has been the corrupting role we ourselves have played in this state of affairs—every one of us that is, from the trash merchants at the bottom, to our most celebrated writers and artists at the top? Last December Kay Hymowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal how when "Britney Spears jauntily revealed her waxed nether-regions to waiting photographers as she exited her limo," this made her "the Internet smash of the season." Hymowitz then underlined the naivete of the exhibitionism involved—the taken-for-granted security of the celebrity world where Britney Spears and Paris Hilton live:

They underestimate the magnetic force field created by intimate sexual information and violate the logic of privacy that should be all the more compelling in a media-driven age."
The sheik and his followers live within that force field—as do we all. Recently too the papers have been filled with scandalised reports of paedophilia in a surprising variety of milieus, sometimes at high political levels. A cultural complaisance regarding men who like boys is not uncommon in the Middle East, particularly among the Bedouin, a fact that is doubtless well known to the sheik. But our subject today is not the comparatively innocent behavior of desert tribesmen; it is the more knowing depravity of modern decadence. What has made us this way?

Art and innocence
A hundred years ago the German author Thomas Mann made an interesting comment. Thinking about morality and its relation to the world of art, he wrote in his novella Tonio Kröger that "as the kingdom of art increases, that of health and innocence declines." Many artists are estranged from life, he said, pursue goals hostile to life, and work continually to destroy the bourgeois world.

Destroying the bourgeoisie was on many people's minds at the time. Thoughts of bloody revolution were in the air. Mann however suggested that this would be wasted effort. Given time, and left to itself, capitalism would be more easily debauched than overthrown—destroyed by the values of the artistic bohemia it admired.

Artists were exciting. Artists were sexually free. Above all art redeemed the bourgeoisie from the greedy sin of acquisitiveness. As Jacques Barzun has argued, it wasn't long before art became a new religion, writers were revered as prophets, and as part of this understanding the bourgeoisie came to believe that the creators of fine literature and beautiful music also had beautiful souls.

This was nonsense. The so-called artist's 'gift', wrote Thomas Mann in 1903, has dark roots in a poisoned psyche. "It is a very dubious affair and rests upon extremely sinister foundations." The world should know that most artists today are sick in mind and spirit, a danger to decent people and heedless of the damage they cause. Plumbers and carpenters and other tradesmen are reliable friends. But artists are not. And because he understood this so clearly, the eponymous Tonio Kröger (the character of a writer in the book who speaks for Mann himself) was embarrassed to find complete strangers sending him letters of praise:

…I positively blush at the thought of how these good people would freeze up if they were to get a look behind the scenes. What they, in their innocence, cannot comprehend is that a properly constituted, healthy, decent man never writes, acts, or composes…"
Literature is not a calling, it is a curse, believe me! It begins by your feeling yourself set apart, in a curious sort of opposition to the nice, regular people; there is a gulf of ironic sensibility, of knowledge, scepticism, disagreement, between you and the others; it grows deeper and deeper, you realize that you are alone; and from then on any rapprochement is simply hopeless! What a fate!

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post #2 of 4 (permalink) Old 04-22-2007, 09:29 PM
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post #3 of 4 (permalink) Old 04-22-2007, 09:34 PM
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Dem word writers it's all jealous cuz people wanna take de easy way out an' look at a shaved snatch instead of crackin' a book but iff dem writers wanna pop out their coochies I'll have a gander as well. Respekt!

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post #4 of 4 (permalink) Old 04-23-2007, 09:05 AM
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is it because you is black TK dat you is talkin like you does come from staines init ? Respekt!
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