[ed: 4/26/2010 - I cleaned up a few typos in here that I somehow missed earlier]
Many folks are impatient with “philosophy” and “metaphysics”. I understand this well, dwelling on overly abstract ideas can be annoying. I understand wanting to keep a firm foot on the here and now. But I do think it is important to stretch our minds, and read things that may disagree with our worldviews or temperaments.
For me, looking at things in a more philosophical mode helps me to process certain ideas, and the act of writing out such things is part of an initial filter process, in which I sort out “this and that”, and discover interconnections between things that I didn’t realize existed. Sometimes the results of this, more notes than anything, are helpful or interesting to others. Sometimes they are tediously and pedantically annoying to others. Decide which is the case, and either read or skip this article accordingly.
For me, reading widely differing material helps my mind, gives me more to process, and better enables me to hit the little “ah hah !” moments that I seek, when trying to understand the world and people around me. I think similar processes help us all grow as people, and help us to see the world in wider ways, better understanding it and ourselves.
Here are two books, as different as night and day, yet both focus in some way on love. One is on Romance, in the most true and original sense, while the other is on Sex, raw and lurid, illustrating Eros with an almost indiscriminate and fevered pitch.
The first book is “Shadow of the Rose: The Esoterism of the Romantic Tradition” by Charles Upton and Jennifer Doane Upton. The second is “Sleazy Stories: Confessions of an infamous modern Seducer of Women” by a writer who goes by “Aaron Sleazy”
Shadow of the Rose:
While this book may be best appreciated if you have interests in traditional metaphysics or spirituality, anyone who is interested in Love Romance and Sexuality will find something challenging and interesting in this book, if they are open enough. Some readers may look at it more from the perspective of integral or perennial philosophy or Traditionalism, others may be secularists, humanists, or have other perspectives. Still the book asks hard questions, like,
“What has become of love in our society?”
Agree or disagree with the authors and their aims, you still might find value in both the questions they ask, and in the lore they unveils while dealing with these questions. Lore that is often hidden from modern eyes seeking to read. Obscure but highly important lore. Charles Upton is a poet, and as part of the San Francisco Beat scene he saw and experienced many of the ways in which our culture flails love herself with a cat ‘o nine tails. As one sensitive to poetry, he is also descended in lineage from one of the first Troubadours in history. So naturally, lore pertaining to the troubadours all but flows in his veins, and the book weaves through both christian esotericism and Islam’s inner teachings, comparing and contrasting them with other traditions and modern ideas.
Throughout the book the actual tradition of Courtly Love itself, its historical adherents (like Dante for example) and its remote echos, in the form of Romance, are looked at through the lens of metaphysics. Fans of Julius Evola would have taken some note of Evola’s exploration of Courtly Love and the Fedele D’Amor in his “Metaphysics of Sex” – what Evola does for Eros, the Uptons do with Amor, but with far greater sensitivity. Much of the lore they explore may astound you.
I think that Charles and Jenny Upton have succeeded in doing something almost no other writers of this generation have, making relevant what seems to be abstract principles, in the world of Romantic Love.
You know, in our society Romantic love is treated like a proverbial “red headed step daughter” today. I think that much of this is due to our own failure as a society, as people, to truly deal with romantic love as its due.
Somehow we were led to the idea that a higher spirituality may not lie in Romantic love itself – these things are no longer much thought about, but this book explores both contemporary culture and traditional lore to show that, in the past our forebears saw in Romantic love, Amor, something that could be vertical and potentially transcendent.. with a particularity and respect for the unique and personal, that could also see in what is unique and personal about the one we love, rays of light from the Divine.
That by truly loving a unique person for who and what she or he is, because he or she manifests qualities and aspects of the Real, of God, by loving a person in this way we find a road to Truth. This is part of the truth of the Quran’s statement that a husband and wife are “garments” for each other. This mutuality, implicit in the term zawjun ( a more sensitive term for marital partners than found in any other ancient language) is what true Romantic love is about.
The sort of Loving that the Uptons write of is not what contemporary “spiritual sexuality” often advocates. Contemporary “spiritual sexuality” is often anything but, often times it is neither spiritual or even sexy. Exceptions exist, but sometimes even while well meaning and well intentioned in many cases there is a darker vein of psychological control beneath. There certainly is modern Neo-Tantric experimentation that can sometimes lead the psyche in ways that can destroy a person herself, in favor of an inchoate psychic merging that is not “unification with the divine” but is actually a sort of dissolving into atavistic infrahuman psychological mass. A subhuman psychic dissolution.
A bliss-out, on the most seductive drug there is, sex. The contemporary “spiritual sexuality” scene desperately seems to want to find something real. What it seems to do, often, is to make the other into a veil on reality, to make the person of the partner into a veil on reality itself, so her person is something to be cast aside, allowing for the merging of the more anonymous energies of Eros. In a way, this is like chasing a psychic high, mistaking a good feeling for real transcendence and real enlightenment.
Ecstatic peak experiences become mistaken for gnosis. We are set-up for this, partially because in American, in particular, and Western European cultures, in general, experiential feelings are often privileged, in terms of reality. We are set-up by cultural conditioning, our art and literature, or expectations, to see a peak ecstasy as more real than less intense experiences. “It feels like the real thing”
There is some truth to this attitude, actually, but because our culture suffers from a pervasive dichotomy between intellect and heart (a dichotomy that intuitionist and neo-Romantic artists and thinkers actually deepen) ANY link that could allow intense or deep feeling to be a bridge to knowledge is severed. This leads to a pervasive mis-perception, that really deep and intense feelings are somehow more real than really deep and intense thoughts.
Again, there is a grain of truth to this, but it becomes deviated in a way that simply leads people wandering in deserts from which no return seems evident. Gnosis, experiential knowledge, isn’t a feeling. It is knowledge, though there are feelings, and states, that are part of it.
David Deida and Margot Anand:
These are errors that touch even a careful and thoughtful writer like David Deida, in whom many good and interesting perceptions can be found. Perhaps the whole field of “spiritual sexuality” is colored by matters of misunderstandings, of the nature of the spiritual quest, misunderstandings of traditions like Buddhism, misunderstandings of metaphysical principles, and the modern all too American, and all too irresponsible, misunderstanding of the idea of random spiritual experimentation, taking from this and that, without care, and without due respect for the integrity of the traditions we browse through. The eclectic “whatever works” attitude that dances around the question “well what if it doesn’t work?”
Where Deida is interesting and sincere (and I enjoy his writing greatly), writers like Margot Anand are subtly pernicious. I believe that Anand’s brand of “spiritual sexuality” actually has the potential and ability to enslave the will itself. A personal friend of mine has actually observed this in action, in person, among Anand and her followers. There is no doubt that certain techniques can condition the psyche to make it extremely sensitive to suggestion. There is no doubt that intense, repeat, sexual stimulus, combined with certain contemplative and meditative practices, can lead to a hyper-alertness that makes us very open to inputs from the world around us, the state is value neutral and can be used for good or ill,if for ill we are easily influenceable and suggestible in this state.
Thus our psyches become sensitive both to repetitive autosuggestion, through carefully paced “meditations” and “exercises” and suggestions of the teacher. I have no doubt that Anand’s teachings may sexually victimize her students in ways that leave their psyches open and bleeding and raw, ripe for manipulation and further conditioning.
Military brainwashing techniques work on similar principles, such things can easily be seen with certain neo-Hindu Gurus and their followers.
Sexual conditioning is among the most potent forms of conditioning there are. Anyone with an atoms weight of experience and the ability for self-reflection will realize this.
In such cases Amor herself, Romantic love with her quirks and peculiar stubborn insistence on the personal, the unique, the individual, can be cut-out the picture by Eros, her brasher and more brazen sister who, doubtlessly, has her role to play, but shouldn’t be allowed to run the whole show.
But is not the spiritual path about stripping away Maya, the illusions of the self, of multiplicity, a merging and unification? Yes and no. The Uptons address these ideas from the principles of many authentic spiritual traditions without their modern distortions, and also show how for the early Romantic Lovers, the Fedele D’Amor, Love itself was a spiritual path and an esoteric one at that.
This is all connected with a “cooling of the heart” – people often times no longer allow themselves to Love, or at least not to love fully. Sometime this is from being repeatedly hurt in love, trusts betrayed, while physical and psychological yearnings and needs persist. But where does this get us, and where does it take us, when our hearts are cooled, and its furnace shut down, but our loins are stoked?
Is it that we are so often afraid to love, or is it that we have forgotten how to love, or is part of the problem that we have butchered the word love itself?
In our world today Eros run wild without Amor becomes an Eros whose felt power may blind us to the more depersonalizing forces it can marshal, and this is where we slip away from Upton, and the Spirit, and Romance, to “Aaron Sleazy”
Aaron Sleazy is known in some Internet underground circles as a veritable modern day Casanova. Unlike the vast majority of would be, wanna be, “Players” “Seducers” and “Pick-up artists” Aaron Sleazy is pretty close to being the real thing. His book “Sleazy Stories” briefly hi-lights his transformation into a bit of a modern day Lothario and the brief stroll through the world of “the Player” before he seemingly moved on, greatly in disgust.
I picked the book up on a tip from a colleague, who knew of my interests in erotology and sexology. What I expected was a boring treatise full of misogyny and false bravado, churned out by a socially maladjusted so-called “Pick up artist” running around trying to score “bed notches” and using women as disposable tissues.
What I actually found, in this book, was more nuanced.
Some male readers might seek the book out looking for tips on “Game” – a rather ill defined term relating to many ideas about male sexuality, some good some not so good, and how guys can better attract and hook-up with women.
This book isn’t about “game” it is about how one man discovered and cultivated his sexual desires, and increasingly acted them out, to various ends, and found that true “seduction” was simply expressing his sexual desires without barrier or equivocation, and letting a turned on partner return this. As crass as the book’s exploits may seem, they are pretty much about him finding authentic connections. The connections may see, crude to others, but they do seem real. So in a way the book is “anti-Game” – there is no idea of manipulation, just putting his self out there. Repeatedly. To somewhat ludicrous ends
In many ways the book hilarious. In a deviant, depraved, and dark sense no doubt, there is a steady stream of understated irony that runs throughout the book. On another hand the author seems utterly without illusions or pretensions regarding what he is, and what he is doing.
In this respect its unusually honest. I’ve read other “kiss and tell” books on the modern dating culture, both from male perspectives and female perspectives. “Sleazy Stories” was just about the most candid. Almost to the point of brutality. But it doesn’t cross over into actual mean spiritedness.
Much like an abbreviated 21st century “Memoirs of Cassanova” the book sheds light on both the author, his times, and his scene. The post-modern pick-up, hook-up, club dating culture in Europe, from his depictions, very much resembles what we have here, in America, except possibly less restrained.
Sleazy documents his explorations in this culture without either fully glamorizing, or certainly moralizing about it. The author recounts his experiences, with almost clinical detail, and what he does and sees really does fly in the face of all public acceptable sexual decorum.
Beneath it remains the subtle vein of irony, but his dark humor that doesn’t get in the way of the narrative.
Of similar books, I found it far more interesting than Rick Marin’s “Cad: Confessions of a Toxic Bachelor” – and less mean spirited. Cad is not quite the steamroller of general assholery that Tucker Max embodies, but it does seem pervaded with a snarky disregard for the fallen women who somehow floated into the author’s bed, but didn’t quite live up to the author’s standards. There is a tragic sense of loss for the girls, some displaying a real desperate hurt, the author went through.
Rick Marin seems to have a vague, slight, sense of self loathing about his exploits. That said I enjoyed reading Cad, Marin’s an entertaining writer, much of the book is funny in an understated way, but it reminded me more of the type of toxic man I do not want to be and that I would seek to avoid becoming, and why.
Vague socially conditioned self-loathing is one of the more despicable traits of modern Western man.
Sleazy seems more like a Bukowski character, though less tragic and far less drunk (the author seems perpetually remarkably sober) – by this I mean, Aaron’s character has a certain self acceptance. Tucker Max’s “I Hope They Serve Cold Beer In Hell” also displays a certain self acceptance, but in a more ghastly way. It is entertaining, in the sort of way that watching obese Japanese men beat each other half to death for sport with neon light tubes is.
Tucker Max is mean spirited, though to his credit he simply doesn’t care. He simply is, with a sort of zen like inverted satanic simplicity and intensity. The man’s character appears almost like an avatar of assholery, like that buddy’s dog, the one who eats the crotches out of the sex-soiled panties of girls coming over. He is, he may dry hump or shit on your rug or any number of other hijinks, but the dog is and there is something pure to its is’ness.
Aaron Sleazy strikes me, in his writing, as a more fundamentally cool bloke than Tucker Max. Of course I don’t know either guy, and am just going off their writings.
Aaron in his book seems fairly conscious about his motives and inclinations. While many readers would be horrified at aspects of his sexual experiences, to his credit he doesn’t seem to prey on drunk and indiscriminate girls. Read closely, actually, there is not much that is indiscriminate to it. In each account there appears an erotic frission developing between Aaron and various women he encounters, which plays out to various ends. It is fully consensual, and doesn’t deal with manipulation as much as with shared desire.
His encounters typically seem highly exciting for the girls he is with, in fact in some ways both seem to be almost enraptured in a spell, a surreal dream. This is something of the beginnings of the manifestation of Eros itself, as an actual force. Something that is actually very rare in our outwardly sex soaked, but inwardly erotically deficient society. Very few people in the West are authentically sexual anymore, what passes for sexuality or sensuality (there is a difference) are typically just attenuated residues..
Where Eros has something somewhat seemingly indiscriminate about it, it is still about a connection and dynamic and rhythm between people, not a mechanically induced scratched. Also his accounts are candid of how and where his ego created problems for both his partners and himself.
This is not a defense of Aaron’s lifestyle, in many ways to strikes the reader as deeply pointless to some real degree.
The book is, however, entertaining, and fascinating, an account of almost pure Eros. Some may find it boring, of course, and to someone who is more interested in Romantic Love, it is also a bit of a warning tale.
When you ask “what do I really want” you have to be honest. The sort of instinctive sexuality that Aaron Sleazy displays in his book is something that many people may find wonderful with partners for whom they have sincere regard and love, but with random strangers in club after club bathroom night after night it would strike them as empty and non-fulfilling.
Anyone who wants a unique insight into the West’s modern urban dating and hook-up culture might find this book far more interesting than boring idiotic and repetitive shows like “Sex in the City” or “The Pickup Artist.” and more interesting than the tortured accounts of boring calculated depravity found in Neil Straus’ “The Game” (I loathe that book more and more each day, if anything it’s more of a far too glamorized cautionary tale). “Sleazy Stories” is shorter than Cad, just about as sardonic, and is more intelligent than “I Hope they Serve Cold Beer in Hell”
Aaron Sleazy’ book is a sign of the times, in a way it reflects a type of primal and innate Eros that no longer finds a comfortable place for conventional expression, so it overflows, powerfully, but almost to a tedious degree.
After all, how many girls can you have your way with in public bathrooms before the whole thing becomes an exercise in pointless erotic athleticism. Much less than something that numbs and veils your heart and prevents you from deeper and more true loving ?
For the author the challenge itself, and the flouting of norms, seems to have been a powerful motive and pleasure (if I read him right) but at the end of the day, it pretty much seems like a road to nowhere. Debauchery always ends in tedium, given sufficient time to run out of steam.
The book, fascinating as a high velocity bright, neon colored euro-Rail train wreck it is, and entertaining as it is there is something deeply disturbing about it all, from the perspective of any traditional Spirituality.
The book could be made into a movie, for if Tucker Max could be made into a movie some of Sleazy’s antics would certainly make interesting film fare. But given Public Society’s tendency to blindly ape anything it sees on the screen, such a movie would be problematic, for public restrooms would ever be safe for non coital purposes again…
From the clouds to the Latrines.
And this brings us back to…
Sex, Love, and the Spiritual Path.
A Traditionalist would look at Aaron Sleazy’s adventures as ruttish, animally carnal, and depraved. And yet, when both Amor and real Eros are withdrawn from society (and for the most part, modern dating and marital culture is deprived both of authentic Amor and authentic Eros) a Dionysian excess, like illustrated in Sleazy’s adventures, is almost a sign of sorts. A symbol, of the ego’s attempt to find fulfillment in stimulus.. and lots of it.
In Sleazy’s case, also, there is displayed what probably comes closest to a pure Eros than you will find in popular literature today. Though elemental, profane and desacralized, far more purely itself (with its consequences) than the typically commercialized conceptions of “sexuality” young men and women see on TV or in Cosmo or Maxim magazine. His description and depiction of his milieu has a certain honesty to it. In a pornographic and confused society experiencing moral and societal dissolution, in which men and women’s relations are increasingly cheap and comodified, Sleazy adventures, and misadventures, aren’t a herald of things to come – but an echo of something that no longer fits into our world, with its dog eat dog survival of the fittest, reduction of sex to athleticism. Elemental profligacy versus media stimulated pseudo-profligacy…
But some of us choose love, as something higher, more noble, and more real.
As Ali Lakhani notes, sexuality is a reflection of archetypal realities. Like all things are, really.
I think the Uptons’ book reflects, more deeply, how Romantic Love itself, irrespective of whether or not it is ever sexually consummated, reflects archetypal realities and can be a cure for much of the pointlessness to modern Relationships.
It looks beyond Eros, which powerful as it may be, is also often blind and potentially depersonalizing in the wrong way, and looks at the personal, the unique, the individual, as a support for Romantic love. And this love as a support for the cultivation, and manifestation, of deeper things.
It looks to go beyond technique, beyond psychological and spiritual technologies, to something far more holistic.
What the Uptons advocate is good old fashioned romantic love, as a means not an end, but what a refined and beautiful means it is. By engaging with, and in loving, for real, the person in front of us – understanding that this person, just as we do, reflect God’s light, but not visiting on the person the discourtesy of making them into a mere means to an end.
They show how the road of Romantic Love is one of mutuality, an ancient road that is also still modern, a road that is truly civilization, cultivated human feeling serving as a gateway for transcendence itself.
A counter-perspective that is much needed in our barbarian age of spiritual technology and atheistic technology and the fetishism of technology
I liken Upton’s book, compared with someone like Margot Anand, Corn Flakes to a bushel of freshly harvested wheat and oats from the fields – gathered by hand under the sun’s golden caress, and tenderly threshed. Charles and Jennifer Upton write and speak about things that may seem old fashioned, but are really substantial, and closer to our wounded hearts than we are willing to admit. This book is a hearty meal in an age so full of fast food.
Read it, and reflect on what love means to you. There is much in this book that could heal much of the divide between male and female by referring the “battle of the sexes” to a higher plane for resolution, conflict is a reflection of our multiplicity. While we live in this world we will never be free of conflict, but means exist to not just sublimate it, but to use the division between us, women and men, as a grounds towards principal unity, through love, because of love, and towards a greater love, together, hand in hand.
Those who see their loving as standing alone, in the ruins, without guiding principals, but who yearn for some greater understanding of Romantic love than we find in Pop culture will find something in this book to make them reflect, deeply.
Shadow of the Rose; : The Esoterism of the Romantic Tradition can be obtained from Amazon.com
Sleazy Stories: Confessions of an infamous modern Seducer of Women can be obtained from Amazon.com