Overweening Generalist

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Solo Flight: On Masturbation

May is International Masturbation Month, because hey, why not? You've probably already celebrated it without even knowing it. I say glibly "hey why not?," but its genesis had to do with Unistat Surgeon General under Bill Clinton, Joycelyn Elders, saying publicly that masturbation is a safe way to explore sexuality and (gasp!) maybe we should tell kids that in school. She also had enlightened ideas about drug use, so she had to go. Unistat was and still is chock-full of anti-sex hypocrites and sexual fascists and "morally correct" authoritarians with major sticks up their asses.

So, in comparatively enlightened San Francisco, the response by sex-positive activists was to make May the month to celebrate masturbation, about which James Joyce once praised its "wonderful availability," and try to turn the cultural tide against the hypocrisy and lies and fear-mongering of anti-masturbationists. It's been almost 22 years since the Erisian Ms. Elders was forced out, and it could be that she will be talked about as a cultural hero, a sexual freedom fighter, in a decade or so. It's in our hands, ladies and germs, so get to it!
Singular Pleasures by Harry Mathews

Q: What is the question to which the answer is: 9 W?

A: Mr. Wagner, do you spell your name with a V?

I remember this from an interview with OULIPO member Harry Mathews (b.1930), often cited as the sole American member of that group. Mathews has talked about how Stravinsky and Bartok opened up his mind to breaking the rules in writing poetry, when he was 13. So far my favorite book by Mathews is his Singular Pleasures, which is nothing but 61 very short literary snapshots of people masturbating, all over the world. Compared to most of his work, it's extremely accessible, but I find it sweet and daring and frank and funny and therefore liberating.

A native woman has disappeared into the jungle upstream from Manaus. She is alone. She wants to do what she had so often done until the day of her fifteenth birthday, ten years before, when she became a woman: straddle once again the resilient trunk of a young rubber-band tree.

A man of sixty-three belonging to the Toronto chapter of MAID successfully masturbates in a slaughterhouse while steers are being killed and disembowelled. His achievement is not recognized after it is discovered that people of both sexes bribe their way into the slaughterhouse every day in order to perform this very act.

A twenty-four-year-old cellist is sitting naked on a stool in her bedroom in Manilla. Her legs are spread; her left hand pulls back the folds of her vulva; her right hand is drawing the tip of the 'cello bow over her clitoris in fluttering tremolo.

Somewhere north of the Bering Straits, sitting on the edge of an ice floe, his face impassive, all movement concealed beneath thicknesses of pelt and fur, an Eskimo male of thirty-one is bringing himself to an orgasm of devastating intensity in the slickness of dissolving blubber.

Mathews's OULIPO colleague Georges Perec - perhaps best known for A Void, a novel accomplished without use of the letter e, which he tied down in his typewriter - called Singular Pleasures "a great ecumenical work."

                                              Joycelyn Elders, heretic     

You Too Can Become a "Solosexual"

That's how a gay man with the pseudonym "Jason Armstrong" is describing himself. A "bate sesh" should take three hours, or why bother? He lights candles, looks at himself in a mirror, jerks off alone with other guys online (a very special way of being alone?), just really takes his solo pleasure seriously.

His spirit is with the sex-positive female activists who started Masturbation Month is the wake of the Elders travesty, saying he talks publicly about masturbation (asserting it was more difficult coming out gay than as a confirmed masturbator) because a "discourse about sexuality that affirms us" is like a utopia. I was moved by his drive to alter his consciousness via jerking off; getting into the "batehole," which is "That place where you completely lose yourself to the experience and broach another consciousness." In another place he says it's like "flying," which suggests I should take my own masturbations more seriously.

Some reading this may think about Armstrong and say, "Come off it," but I think he's describing an essential move away from ordinary reality. We all do this. The sociologist Peter Berger called these altered states "finite provinces of meaning.":

"Now, there is one reality that has a privileged character in consciousness, and it is precisely the reality of being wide awake in ordinary, everyday life. That is, this reality is experienced as being more real, and as more real most of the time, as compared with other experienced realities (such as those of dreams or of losing oneself in music)."

Berger says his mentor in phenomenological sociology, Alfred Schutz, called the primary reality the "paramount reality" and departures from the paramount reality were "enclaves," but Schutz also used William James's term "subuniverses."

I know for some readers this discussion has taken a rather odd turn, but it's my own weirdo turn of mind, so, here's more of Berger writing about subuniverses/finite provinces of meaning/enclaves, and Armstrong's "batehole":

"These are not abstruse theoretical considerations but rather are explications of very common experiences. Suppose one falls asleep - perhaps while working at one's desk - and has a vivid dream. The reality of the dream begins to pale as soon as one returns to a wakeful state, and one is then conscious of having temporarily left the mundane reality of everyday life. That mundane reality remains the point of departure and orientation, and when one comes back to it, this return is commonly described as 'coming back to reality' - that is, precisely, coming back to the paramount reality."
-all Berger quotes from The Heretical Imperative, p.35

To get into Armstrong's "batehole" is to depart from your paramount reality and enter a finite province of meaning, or subuniverse. And you thought you were merely "rubbing one out"!

                                                    Prof. Ingvild Gilhus    


Amazon Is There For You

There's a LOT of nasty things I could say about this company, but now is not the time. Rather I will link to two items and see what you make of them.

1. A 55-gallon drum of Passion Lubes, Natural Water-Based Lubricant. No comment, save for the wonder of who buys this and how it's used. And the possible scenarios, one of which I just noticed flitted through my mind: a scene that makes anything from Caligula look like a child's birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.

2.) Kleenex Everyday Facial Tissues, Pack of 36. Since 2013, consumer James O. Thach has received over 10,000 "review helpful" votes, and if you read his review you can see why. The warm reception for his review probably fits best into the third of Ingvild Gilhus's three theories of laughter: the "relief theory," which says we laugh and feel relief for being able to express something over that which is forbidden. Or: be an audience to someone who says forbidden things. Robert Anton Wilson told me he thought this was one of his favorite theories of laughter, and why humor must be used if you're going to discuss taboo issues. To me, George Carlin was the master of this stuff.


Fapping in the Great Books

Wikipedia does a good job on meat-beating, flogging the bishop, wanking, self-polluting, jerkin' the gherkin, beating around the bush, polishing the pearl, muffin buffin', roughing up the suspect, engaging in a menage a moi, and juicing. (These are just some of hundred-plus euphemisms I picked up from Spears's dictionary of Slang and Euphemism, and this Internet article. If you have a favorite that's not mentioned here, lay it on me in the comments.)

Kant and Voltaire seemed to buy Tissot's idiot ideas about self-pleasure. If you didn't read the Wiki (I don't blame ya), you're probably still not surprised that, soon after the Romans (who thought you ought to fap or schlick with your left hand, something sinister about that), masturbation suddenly caused idiocy, cancer, weakened spines, moral degeneracy, blindness...really: just about any disease you can think of. Mark Twain had a negative attitude, probably 'cuz he got more pussy than he knew what to do with. William James, it is theorized by scholars, may have associated it with epilepsy due to a haunting experience he had after visiting a sanitarium.

Freud thought masturbation was like addictive drugs, and represented an inability to face reality, according to his fantastically wrong and yet interesting and brilliant and influential Three Essays On The Theory of Sexuality. I bet he jerked it a hour before writing that, but who knows?

Not until around 1897 do we get Havelock Ellis, one of the great early sexologists, who called BS on all the fear and danger about masturbation. By the time of Kinsey in the 1940s? Everyone does it! By 1972 the AMA calls masturbation "normal." The great renegade psychiatrist Thomas Szasz said that masturbation was the "disease of the 19th century" and the "cure" of the 20th. But if it's 1994 and you've been appointed by the POTUS, you can't say what Ellis, Kinsey, the AMA, and Szasz say: you get canned. (Tonight, or this morning, or during lunch break, do it for Joycelyn!)

Sin, vice, self-pollution, etc: how in the hell did this idiocy stick with us for so long? How much suffering it caused! It's wonderful and normal and safe and free, and yet Authority had almost everyone believing it's HEINOUS! (This symptom of the emotional plague is still with us, but I do see an...<ahem> abatement.)

Friends, let's not let Joycelyn Elders's termination be in vain! To paraphrase Ben Franklin, "Fap proudly."

Interestingly, David Foster Wallace thought a lot like Freud. (In other places DFW called himself a "puritan.") In the book Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, about writer David Lipsky's time with DFW just after Infinite Jest came out, Lipsky's book being made into the very moving little film The End of the Tour, DFW says masturbation is part of the addictive "pleasure continuum" along with drugs and TV. -pp.84-85 I read this and realized, "Oh my god I'm addicted!" On p.128 DFW tells Lipsky that people have wet dreams even if they've been masturbating, which I think may only apply to males, aged 14-19? I do not consider DFW a sexologist, but I do consider him part of the continuum of the Great Books.

Speaking of the canon, Rabelais joked about masturbation (which I will call right now, "Being one's own best friend"), and my friend Mark Williams, who, in writing a paper for his degree in English from UCLA, on Tristram Shandy, told me he had to jump through some hoops in order to get his hands on 1716's Onania, or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution And All Its Frightful Consequences In Both Sexes, Considered: With Spiritual and Physical Advice To Those Who Have Already Injured Themselves By This Abominable Practice, by the - I'm not making any of this up - Dr. Balthazar Bekker.

'Cuz in Tristram Shandy there are jerk-off jokes galore.

And hey check out Gulliver's Travels. Swift gets into it on the first page, repeating Gulliver's benefactor's name "Master Bates," three times. Because it was hilarious back then.

But things evolve.

When in the late 1990s, after Madonna and Britney Spears tongue-kissed on the MTV Music Awards, conservatives got all lathered up in their moralic acid, and the comedian Jon Lovitz was on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, when Conan asked Lovitz what he thought about the kiss. Lovitz complained that the kiss wasn't long enough, because by the time he'd pulled his pants down to his ankles, it was over...And I (the OG) call this progress!

No, but seriously: I knew I was addicted around age 15, and I hope they never find a cure.

Men? You Wanna Stay Healthy? Jerk It Every Day

If you read about the Xtian Era of masturbation terrors, you'll see we've done a 180:
"Masturbation Actually Has Health Benefits"
"Is Masturbation Good For You?"
"Good News For High Frequency Masturbators"
"New Study Confirms Link of Frequent Orgasms To Lower Prostate Cancer Risk"

So, you may be a confirmed Ladie's Man, but on your off days, even though you may not approve of it "morally," just do it. (Progress!)

Sir Francis Crick Anecdote

"Finally, a decade ago, I was at the home of a friend when someone visited him in order to borrow some pornography - it was the late Francis Crick, who in 1962 won the Nobel Prize in medicine for his seminal (yes I said seminal) discovery with James Watson of the double-helix structure of DNA.  In a best-selling 1968 book, The Double Helix." - One Hand Jerking, Paul Krassner, p.95 Krassner thought it ironic that "DNA" is now so publicly equated with semen.

Other Sources I Dipped Into
"Welcome To The Masturbate-a-thon," by Paul Krassner

Interview with Prof. Thomas Laqueur of UC Berkeley, who wrote the end-all scholarly book on the history of masturbation.

3 min video with popular science writer Mary Roach, about female masturbation

"Is Female Masturbation Really The Last Sexual Taboo?": a review of a Taschen book titled La Petite Mort

Feminist writer Amanda Hess says women don't masturbate as often as men for logistical reasons

Whitey Bulger Gets Solitary For Masturbation (Sure, Bulger is a vicious murderer/gangster, but I thought this was monstrous; every prison official should have to do a week of solitary before they sentence someone else to solitary confinement. It's fucking medieval, and just plain evil: Let's stop it! - OG)

                                                   Kunst von Bob Campbell


Eric Wagner said...

Great piece. No, I spell my name with a "W". I never finished the film "Caligula", although I've watched "I, Claudius" over and over again. I plan to watch it twice in the coming year.

michael said...

Thanks, Eric.

I saw "Caligula" once and thought it was sorta vile. It's an odd bump in the history of Hollywood. Thanks, Bob Guccione!

"I, Claudius" seems about 15 times better.

Giordanista Heliopoleos said...

"Masturbation is cheap, clean, convenient, and free from any possibility of wrongdoing--and you don't have to go home in the cold. But its lonely.

---- Lazarus Long

michael said...


Point taken, but the loneliness seems subjective, and Heinlein's character Long means that it "is" lonely to him. Even the solosexual in my article says he has sex with other people.

I believe we can frame the meaning of masturbation for ourselves, but I can see that someone only masturbates BECAUSE they have no partner...that could get lonely. (Btw: there's some interesting research on social exclusion and its pains being mitigated by cannabis in one study, and psilocybin in a recent one...but that's a digression.)

"Well there's a rose
In a fisted glove
And the eagle flies
With the dove
And if you can't be
With the one you love
Honey: love the one you're with."
-some 1960s troubadours