On pleasure, creation, madness & reason
I have made it a little tradition of this page, that at the gate of the new season, I write a contemplative essay, rather a purely intellectual one. As much as I enjoy pure intellectualism, weighting theories and ideas, and finding a way to apply them in life, in contemplation, one offers an opportunity to connect, engage in the world-altering experience exchange that saves the world, of which Solzhentysin spoke in his Nobel speech.
Late summer and early fall are abundant seasons - the harvest, the fruit of the labour of the whole year comes to be visible as we prepare for the cold, and contemplative winter. It is a season, that is, if we speak of archetypes, connected to vegetation deities, and deities connected to eros - Dionysus, Demeter, Aphrodite, Pan, all which represent the sensual, the earthy, the erotic. Such a season is perhaps wonderful to reflect on the role of pleasure in our lives, and to purify the notion of pleasure from the both attacks of puritans and others who still fail to see in it nothing but either a damnation or cheap escapism.
Ever since I read it, I like to go back to Yourcenar's book "Memoirs of Hadrian"; Hadrian has always been my favourite Roman Emperor - a visionary, who tried to dress the world in beauty. Yourcenar's book, although fictional, seems to be in alignment with the Emperor's constitution that while reading, I would often forget it is a word of fiction. In this book, there is a quote that I would like to use here and it goes: "I have thought sometimes of constructing a system of human knowledge that would be based on eroticism, a theory of contact wherein the mysterious value of each being is to offer us just that point of perspective which another world affords. In such a philosophy, pleasure would be a more complete, but also more specialized form of the Other, one more technique for getting to know what is not ourselves. In the least sensual encounters it is still our contacts that emotion begins, or ends; the somewhat repugnant hand of the old woman who presents me her petition, the moist brow of my father in death's agony, the wound which I wash for the injured soldier. Even the most intellectual or the most neutral exchanges are made through this system of body-signals; the sudden enlightenment on the face of tribune to whom a maneuver is explained on the morning of the battle, the impersonal salute of a subordinate whom my passing fixes into an attitude of attention, the friendly glance of a slave at my thanks for the tray which he brings me, or the appreciative grimace of an old friend to whom a rare cameo is given. The slightest and most superficial contacts are enough for us with most persons, or prove even too much. But when these contacts persist and multiply about one unique being, to the point of embracing him entirely, when each fabrication of the body becomes laden for us with meaning as overpowering as that of the face itself, when this creature haunts us like music and torments us like a problem (instead of inspiring in us, at most irritation, amusement, or boredom), when he passes from the periphery of the universe to its center and finally becomes for us more indispensable than ourselves, the astonishing prodigy takes place where I see much more invasion of the flesh by the spirit than a simple play of the body alone."
Summarised, the purely sensory contact, offers a transpersonal experience, and demands a focus on the other rather on ourselves. To direct senses at someone, is to notice them, and done without any other intent but noticing, it offers a glimpse of divine vision onto the world, in which we, like God, look at every little movement, suggestion, as an incredibly complex music, aware of everything that had to happen before for that hand that hands you something to exist. It is not a gaze of an egomaniac but gaze of a detached observer.
I am writing this as I drink red wine, pieces of dark, bitter chocolate standing near the glass, and Ravel's Piano Concerto in G plays in the background - this is the moment in which I experience the sweet forgetfulness of tomorrow, obligations, the lofty goals, ambitions, and plans that I am normally glad to have. There is probably a reason why both bitterness and sweetness, both of which we can experience in wine and chocolate, is so pleasurable to our tongues, and why we enjoy it both for the taste and the effect - for in true, noble hedonism, the one infused with keyf and merak (I discuss these in my essays: "Dolce Far Niente" & "Gentle Hedonism"), we do not seek to numb ourselves down, or to turn ourselves an animal, rather it is done to feel more - so that every sensation feels stronger. The dark brown of the chocolate, the dark red of the wine, are colors of the earth, blood, of the act of going inside, of the inscendence and not transcendence. This path has often been thought to be the lowest aspect of human consciousness, but it is so only if one remains there forever - if we allow the sober mind to take on after, we are allowed to understand why Dionysus and Apollo were worshiped at the same temple, even though they appear to be opposites. As Nietzsche claimed, there is no one without the other. There is a pleasure in pure experience without any additional commentary. Life may be hard, often with much a suffering, but I do not think life was ever meant to be not pleasurable. Perhaps for that reason a human was made to have a perverse pleasure in suffering, in pain, and with an impulse to sometimes seek it, and prolong it. Even in the greatest pain, there is often that secret, hidden pleasure of: "I am here", and the pleasure of triumph, after heavy, dark seasons of life, is even greater. I do not think that pleasure is the purpose of life, neither is happiness, but I think, there is always a degree of underlying Dionysian pleasure in it. Who knows, maybe, despite the physical pain, the saints or mystics who were skinned alive, experienced the delirium that was psychological or spiritual.
I do not think that monks who have truly taken the path, that is, those who have gone towards it, rather ran away from something, do not experience pleasure. On the contrary, I think they experience an outstanding amount of pleasure every day, especially if they had been spiritually actualised - for person with eyes of "I-to-Thou", rather than "I-to-It", the world is ever new, nothing is ever the same, and as such, they are in a constant state of ecstasy. The divine fools such as mad dervishes, sadhus, yogis, could pursue such a life because there was pleasure in it. The teacher Osho has been met with much criticism, much of it perhaps reasonable, but I cannot help but agree with his following statement from his "The Original Signature, Sufis the People of the Path": "In a sexual love moment, for a single second, time disappears, space disappears. For a single moment ego disappears. For a single moment you are lost into the cosmos. That’s why there is so much joy, so much ecstasy. That’s what orgasm is – the individual is lost into the whole. But this happens only for a single moment, and not even always. So sex only opens a window and closes it again. You have to go beyond sex. Going beyond sex means going beyond the house, the confinement, going under the sun, going into the open sky. Then that ecstasy is yours, and it is constantly yours. A real saint, one whom I call a saint, is continuously in orgasm – that is my definition of a saint. His ecstasy is a natural phenomenon like breathing. You may not have ever heard a definition like that, but that’s my definition. Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed are continuously in an orgasm. They don’t need anybody, they don’t need to connect with anybody, they don’t need any kind of sexuality. Their energy is constantly orgasmic because they have disappeared into the whole. The part no more exists, no more claims to be the whole. The part has become the whole, the wave has become the ocean – and that is their orgasm, that is their ecstasy."
The orgasmic experience seems to occur naturally if we are to engage with the world. It is also necessary in order to create anything. It is a libido, a daimon, that brings everything into creation. It is often said that desire for power, war, sex, creation, destruction, all come from the same impulse, - those who are capable of creating are also capable of destroying. This impulse finds a way out in one way or another, and it is our conscious, reasonable, objective, detached minds that have the power to direct it in either direction. Creation is not simply the one of creating a child - humans have a chance to create and build beyond that which animal also can build - an invention, a new theory, a song, a poem, a building, a city plan, a strategy for how to win a battle. It is the ecstasy that serves the rational mind - an actualised, ideal human is perhaps the one who is within in the constat state of orgasm, but who without is Stoic, calm, reasonable, objective and resolute. It is a human who knows ecstasy, and knowing it, does not need to deliberately seek it in anything external. The ecstasy destroys the attachment to every thought that comes to the mind, but it does not turn the human into a slave to appetites.
Links: "The Memoirs of Hadrian", Marguerite Yourcenar "The Sufis", Osho