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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

IF SEX IS IN EVERYTHING...

...isn't that very like saying that it's in nothing? Or rather, that it's so diffuse that it might as well be like the atomic particles that make up all the things we perceive as "things?"

I'm not sure why Freudians seem to want to find sex in *everything.* I find it entertaining in certain cases; I even argued that Superman's romance with a mermaid might be deemed an Oedipal encounter.

But face it, if you find sex in *everything,* then you're the philosophical equivalent of the player/tramp who will sleep with anything that moves. Some discrimination wouldn't hurt.

Case in point: another selection from Alex Vernon's ON TARZAN-- though with the preface that this is still not an overall review of the book, just a quick philosophical rebuttal of one point.

In the same chapter I cited earlier, "Monkey Business," Vernon (who uses the term "Tarzania" for the totality of Tarzan-tales in all media) says:

I would like to speculate that the cannibalism omnipresent in the plots of 'Tarzania' texts is male homoeroticism, displaced. That the anxiety of men being eaten by men substitutes for the anxiety of, well, men being eaten by men.


Though Vernon's supposition is addlepated, I have to admire the piquancy of that line. It's easily worthy of one of Vernon's cited influences, the late great Leslie Fiedler (whom I've sometimes contemplated analyzing here in a compare-contrast with Northrop Frye-- though only my less sane moments).

Still-- really? Sex is so dominant in this Freudian fandango that even the act of eating-- more fundamentally necessary to individual survival than sex can ever be-- becomes a "beard" for a displaced sexual impulse?

Granted: cannibalism is a cultural creation that is not identical with eating for survival. Still, to use one of Vernon's examples, a still-uncivilized Tarzan does consider performing the act on the body of a dead native enemy at a time when Tarzan is honestly hungry, and when he doesn't know any reason why he shouldn't eat a dead man the same way he eats a dead deer. Naturally, author Burroughs invokes his own version of a moral "categorical imperative" to keep Tarzan from falling into this particular sin.

Further granted: there have been many instances in literature and culture where food and sex are intertwined in one manner or another, ranging from the relatively highbrow (the dinner-scene in the film TOM JONES) to the deliberately lowbrow (the black cannibals hunting white women in Robert E. Howard's "Man-Eaters of Zamboula.")
But it seems to me that the Tarzan scene in question is purely about the Levi-Straussian question, "what is it right to eat," and that sexual concerns are just too marginal to bring in-- unless one is trying, as many academics do, to find a ratiocentrist pattern that seems to throw a sheen of rational psychological cognition over any number of irrational-seeming events, literary or otherwise.

"Ratiocentrist," by the way, is my newly-minted term for critics who attempt a little too hard to impress intellectual paradigms on every facet of culture or literature. I conceived it as a counter to Derrida's "logocentrism," and though Vernon is more aligned to the banner of Freud than to that of Derrida's tiresome Marxism, Vernon shares the same overconfidence in a given intellectual paradigm to subsume everything.

I've written elsewhere that after Freud started using *libido* to connote the energy of sex, Jung tried (without success) to protest that since the term meant "life," it would be better used to connote the energies of any and all activities of life, sexual and nonsexual. Regardless as to whether two of those activities-- here, eating and sex-- are endlessly subject to conflation in culture, in reality they are separable and should not be conflated at the drop of an intellectual paradigm.

There may well be instances of cannibalism in "Tarzania" that might better fit Vernon's paradigm of "homoeroticism," though that paradigm might be compromised if any of the possible cannibal-victims are female, which puts us right back into hetero territory. Since Vernon doesn't mention any such male-female cannibal encounters (though he mentions rape a whole lot), does that mean that there are none, or that mentioning them would have weakened Vernon's case for unbridled homoeroticism?

More on these matters anon.

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