Ordering the Aspirations Inside Our Underpants

Aug 8th, 2012 | By | Category: Articles

by Guest Blogger Michael Thomsen writes about writing his new book - Levitate the Primate

Literal depictions of sex cannot help but act on us in some way. Even a clinical description in a text book has some distant echo in the reader that makes the formalism of biology seem like a cover for something stranger. To describe the act sentimentally is to indulge in the worst kind of cliché. In the great male conception of writing, we must be unmasking new truths at every turn of page and phrase, creating a privileged recording of an irreplaceable narrator, without whom these great truths would not have been lost from the collective conscious.

Sex is an impossible subject, then, because there is nothing privileged about it. It is not rare in the way that firsthand experience of the Spanish Civil War or an intimate ability to interpret tennis is. The horror of sex writing is its redundancy, recording insights the reader is very capable of having had on her own. One can make a pointed slapstick of things, like Phillip Roth, or indulge perverse fantasias like Bataille or Dennis Cooper, or retreat from the act in florid euphemisms as do Nabokov or D.H. Lawrence. But writing personally and in detail is a defeat, an admission that the whole idea of writing is off in someway, afloat on a cloud of mystical bullshit that can only seem true when it applies itself to subjects rooted in the writer's privilege.

Because of this sex writing is inherently philosophic, too much its own phenomenon to be contained in the medium that describes it, isolating the point at which the imperial nature of sense-making--of ordering reality into a power structure of one's own--is most transparent. The question of philosophy is no longer "What is true?" but "What do I want to be true?" Sex must be the heart of philosophic inquiry because it is the one act where one's want is most purely expressed and the object of it is most transient. It allows us to see the world not in terms of power structures but in desire relations, minutely differing and personal wants put in dialectic contact with another.

I suspect Levitate the Primate will  appear like a nonsensical jumble to many readers, scattered stories that insist on returning to the subject sex with dozens of different rhetorical points of entry. Each entry contains its own gesture toward an aphorism , an attempt to shrink down one particular experience into a kind of micro-obelisk which can then be projected outward and seem to make sense of everything that surrounds it. The collection is a rhetorical empire of incompatible fragments that, for all the sensible searching, return again and again to a person I loved once, and do still, because while time may be self-effacing, it is not self-destructive.

Having a point to return to is not a particularly good answer to the question of what one wants to be true, nor is it particularly helpful in mediating the strange thoughts and encounters one has in a lifetime. It is just one more expression of emotional empire, a well-meaning but oblivious imposition of permanence directed toward a person who cannot help but be different upon each return. While it would be maximally literary to impart these qualities of mystery and constant change to another person, I hope it will be clear the book is about me and not anyone else. There is no Annabel Lee, Nadja, nor Grushenka to be found, only my own restless temperament toward sex, which is expressed most clearly as a process, captured in pieces, and not as an ordered sequence of logical assertions.

In revising the essays--whose subjects include a range of embarrassing admissions--the most unexpectedly painful discovery came from the one instance where someone else speaks about their own experience with me. After having seen my description of our night out together, a woman I briefly dated, called H, wrote to tell me how upset she was at having seen herself characterized in my own rhetorical perambulations. So I asked her to write her own version of the night and I included that account alongside my own. I had been afraid this would lead to a long string of personal insults about all my various weaknesses and vulnerabilities by way of evening the score. Instead, she wrote a perfectly sweet and impossibly optimistic account of our time together and what I seemed like to her.  Reading both side by side was like reading observations from separate planes of reality that never finally intersected.

My ideal conception for the book would have given everyone who appears in it, always as a disembodied letter of the alphabet, a space for their own accounts relative to my own--and N most of all among them. But that distinction--between a person interested in writing about everything and a person interested in not writing for anyone outside of their own immediate life--is the first of many points of incompatible variance that one encounters in concretizing a vision of the world. It is not order we leave behind us--in sex, love, or empire--but a strange and mystic mess. In that way, the book is the document of a philophile stuck in a medium for sophists, a tool meant to create order and understanding accidentally entrusted to primates with levitational aspirations inside their underpants.

Bio: Michael Thomsen is a writer living in New York. He has written about sex, video games, books, music, animals, and male lactation for Slate, ABC World News, The Daily Beast, The Believer, n+1, The New Inquiry, Kill Screen, Billboard, Paste, The Millions, Wall Street Journal and others.

Author of Levitate the Primate 978-1-78099-498-7, $24.95/£14.99 Published September 2012

His own blog can be found here: http://manoamondo.com/


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