|Cardinal Spellman (1946) and Lana Turner (1955): Which would you rather get stuck in an elevator with?|
It's been a long week everyone, first week back in the classroom amidst the continuing COVID chaos. All sorts of contradictory directions and goals- it's good to be back.
Ishtar Rising Chapter 6: The Breast Expressed and the Breast Possessed
This is an interesting chapter with a few eyebrow raising ideas; while for the most part I generally find Wilson's anthropological theories in Ishtar Rising compelling, I find myself questioning many of his biological propositions. From the perspective of 2021 it is hard to imagine that there is any weight to the idea that breastfeeding "even helps the vagina return to natural size after childbirth" or that is is statistically likely that there is a real correlation between conventional attractiveness/unattractiveness and intelligence/lack thereof.
Moreover, this chapter is all about contradictions (as indicated by the chapter's title). The contradictory adulation of female archetypes in patriarchal institutions, the role of sexuality in public and the clash of cultural attitudes are laid out by Wilson as a spin-cycle view of the world. We read about Origen who derided women as "sacks of dung," and who castrated himself, but that mad fool was much gentler in his theology than Augustine or that maniac Clement. Wilson explains how the Athenians, progenitors of democracy, were the first society to make insane sexism a social norm and shows how a few centuries later prudery was alive and well in the satirical poetry of Juvenal- Wilson later portrays the "cheerful Greeks and sentimental Romans" favorably in comparison with Christian societies. We read about how Catholicism kept the Cult of Mary, and therefore the mother-goddess, alive while the Protestants violently rejected her, and yet the Catholic Church is the great malefactor throughout this narrative.
Furthermore, Blake's philosophy, which Wilson cheekily endorses at the beginning of the chapter, could be accurately described as ultra-Protestantism. I have encountered this paradox before as having grown up primarily with Protestants, and "non-denominational" ultra-Protestants at that, and as a child I developed a hearty distaste for Luther's spawn. And yet I agree with many of the early Protestants in their critiques of the church and even their draconian theology. While I loathe Calvin and believe he cast a black shadow over humanity that is still unassuaged, I find myself implicitly agreeing with predestination. I do believe that if either "God" is omnipotent and omniscient or if Einsteinian space-time is in fact a different dimension than the one we perceive, it is a given that our ends are writ. I adore the fiery visions of Bunyan but disagree with his Christian bigotry; I adore the idea of a Nation of Saints and shudder when I read about Cromwell. But I digress...
Wilson's musings on Lazarus' poem and his addendum "And we'll send them right back where they came from" is especially timely as we are faced with yet another refugee crises of our own making. The United States is founded on such lofty ideals and we fail them so very often. Reading Wilson agonize over the, at the time of publication, still-fresh Vietnam war while watching in horror at the immediate legacy of our occupation of Afghanistan is all the more poignant. We really don't learn much and we ping-pong our cultural consciousness between a childish desire to be admirable (our "City on a Hill") and our natural selfish, small-minded true selves. Looking again at Afghanistan, where we should never have been in the first place, and the reimplementation of oppression by the Taliban we can see yet another form of godawful patriarchy reasserting itself with a fury that Jack the Ripper could only envy. What little good we've done, unraveled in days.
Cycles. Having gone to brunch earlier today I was able to make some contemporary observations. (My observations were helped by a new found inability to not look around at other people while dining. I hate it but it seems to have developed over the pandemic.) I saw very little repression in anyone's state of dress, male or female. People's dress ranged from looking as if they had rolled out of bed to looking ready for a day about town. There was plenty of skin, which makes sense considering the ninety-degree weather. Our society is as contradictory as ever--witness the recent OnlyFans debacle--but clothing freedom seems to continue apace.
So I end this chapter with a lot of questions. What are we to make of cultural breast modifications? Is it a good thing or merely another way women's bodies are controlled by societal pressures? Should breasts be exposed to venom and stinging nettles? How conscious was Eleanor of Aquitaine of the symbolic significance of her ride through Jerusalem? How consciously has any of this shadow war been fought through the ages? Are we marionettes controlled by our own preconceptions, conditions and unconsciousness? Whose doing what? Was Ovid kicked out of Rome for vegetarianism? Was the heart chakra truly repressed? Are women with breast-implants "plasticized" and unnatural?
At certain points Wilson seems to be just as confused as I was- his discussion of discrimination and sexism seems like it wouldn't be out of place in a contemporary "intersectional" model until he throws up his hands in frustration with the Woman's Liberationists. The colors are beginning to run together.
To answer Wilson's question: Blake's trees, in comparison to Van Gogh's, would have been populated by choirs of angels if his childhood vision at Peckham Rye is anything to go by.
While I think I somewhat understand what Wilson was hitting at at the lack of accurate terminology for describing breasts, I'm not sure how much actual use Max Bartels' 48 types would actually be. Considering my wife's response was "Jesus Christ" when I read the classification system to her, I'm not sure she sees any point to it either.
After I read the quote by Lord McCauley, I am now certain there will be a gravity denialism movement soon. We don't seem to even need a financial interest to discredit reality today.
I agree with Wilson and have always insisted that the aphorism "in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king" to be incredibly fatuous. The one-eyed man is going slowly insane. The one-eyed monster reigns supreme.