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Monday, August 25, 2008

Basic Instinct

Fourteen years ago, seeing Sharon Stone uncross her legs or frolic in the nude was a big deal on the big screen. Now, thanks to webcams, anything by anyone is possible....With the buzz no more and the lust wiped away from our eyes, what’s left is a poorly written, ill conceived erotic thriller.
2006 Review of Basic Instinct by Pete Croatto

I went to see Basic Instinct BECAUSE of all the sex in the movie! Anyone who tells you that they saw Basic Instinct for any reason other than to see loads of nudity and sex is so full of it, they should be slapped!
Amazon.com Review

While it is true that Basic Instinct could quite easily pass for porn, I nonetheless think the film has a good deal to offer by way of discussion points. It explores the intersection of desire, insanity, need, knowledge, and intimacy. Oh, and I think it is also a love story....in its own weird way.

"You just can't tell about people, can ya'? Even the ones you think you know inside and out." Lt. Walker says, shaking his head at the end of the film. The police have just pieced together a sick scheme by one of their own, the staff psychologist Dr. Beth Garner, who was killed at the end of a bizarre killing....or so they think....the ambiguous ending of the movie makes Lt. Walker's statement even more true than he realizes, because the case is anything but solved. And while the "facts" are conclusive, they are as un-interpretable as human beings themselves.

The entire film is about the failure of science to understand extreme sexual or criminal behavior. The director is telling us that art gives us more answers than science. - From the DVD commentary by Camille Paglia (American author, teacher, feminist, and social critic)

The film is clearly a throw back, with the unmistakable influence of Hitchcock (think Vertigo with the San Francisco setting/backdrop and the lady in white). Catherine Tramell (played by Sharon Stone) is the lead character. She has a certain gravity around which the film orbits, and everyone responds to her.

Nick is certain that Catherine is the killer. She aces the lie detector test, but Nick knows better. How does he know? "I've seen people lie before."

Nick is not a particularly extraordinary character. He's been involved in multiple instances of questionable shootings. So, people call him Shooter, which really pisses him off.

The film, itself, is also a bit less than exceptional. It is a bit off balance.

First, as noted by many critics and reviewers, Basic Instinct seems like more of a porno flick than a film to be taken seriously. There are several, extended sex scenes and all kinds of nudity, along with graphic violence. For the life of me, I can't see how it earned an R rating. No doubt the movie was, is, and will be used as porn for some, but for me there is certainly much more to the movie. If so, then this raises an interesting question: what is the line between art and porn?

If something is pornographic, is it excluded from being artistic? Can porn be artistic? Can philosophical art use pornography to comment on human nature and cause us to think and grow? Is pornography even sometimes indispensable to the artist?

Is it possible that the pornographic is one of the only ways to understand our 21st century American culture? Can we accurately comment on culture without commenting on (and even graphically representing) the pornographic?

These questions about the relationship of porn to art, philosophy, and culture are more applicable (and even urgent) now than they were sixteen years ago when Basic Instinct was released.

But back to the film.....and its imbalance.....The film also displays imbalance in the pacing. We find ourselves watching stereotypical characters going through the motions of predictable, B-rated scenes, and then abruptly we find ourselves in the midst of deep and twisted minds and dark, disturbing psycho-sexual chaos. The movies opens with a slasher murder scene: think Hitchcock's Psycho shower scene, only in bed and with an ice pick.....oh, and the woman kills the man this time.....After this bizarre opening, a group of almost arrogant male cops strut around the scene engaging in juvenile dialog.....but I think the contrast works. Gradually, the world of the cocky white males is turned upside down by the cunning Tramell, and Nick, the character with perhaps the most noticeable swagger, becomes one of Catherine's toys.

Perhaps the most interesting scene to me that illustrates the genius, control, and sheer beauty of Catherine Tramell is the interrogation scene. Catherine is brought in for questioning; her boyfriend was the one killed.

She is confident and relaxed; at ease.

"No," she says. He wasn't my boyfriend. "I was fucking him....I liked fucking him."

She lights a cigarette; comfortable.

She is in control.

"There's no smoking in this building."

"What are you gonna' do," she laughs, playfully, "charge me with smoking?"

In the end, the room of men is completely disarmed. Paglia interprets the film as centering on the archetypal femme fatale figure: the arrogant male loses control and is eventually decentered by the female.

She controls their minds. The power of her sexuality and superior mind combine to overwhelm them. She's not guilty, the men of reason and logic conclude.

But Nick thinks otherwise.

"She wants to play, fine! I'll play!"
"Everyone she plays with dies, Nick!"

As I said, Basic Instinct is primarily a love story.

"I'm going to nail you," says Nick as he walks with her on the beach the morning after their first sexual encounter. "No," Catherine laughs, "you'll just end up falling in love with me!" "I'm already in love with you," Nick replies, "but I'm still going to nail you."

What draws Nick to Catherine? She is exhilerating and mysterious. She is "the fuck of the century." She is someone who makes him fear and unafraid at the same time. She is also a writer, and she helps Nick write his story. Nick has a history of alcohol abuse, and of course, he is also "Shooter" to some of the guys at the station.

For Nick, Catherine is the object of sexual desire and his key to self-understanding....but she's insane.....but he loves her anyway, and he gradually becomes convinced that she is not guilty of murder. Love is.....what?

And if love is blind, what is desire?

The preview trailer for the movie flashes this statement:

Beyond desire is something beyond control.

Basic instinct explores the irresistible desires that drive us mad. But in Nick's case, Catherine represents both the key to his identity and his downfall. As his lover, she is his raison d'etre ("reason for being") and the key to his self-understanding, but as the femme fatale, she is dangerous and threatening. This complex mix takes Nick into the murky waters of desire, and then beyond desire and beyond control.

All of the main characters are caught in this complex crossfire of love, desire, need, and.....well.....insanity and psychosis. Roxy is Catherine's female lover who is driven to try to kill Nick; Dr. Beth Garner is attempting to hide her checkered past and win Nick for herself; and even Catherine becomes a bit decentered by the end of the film. We don't quite know what to make of it, either.

"She's evil! She's brilliant!"

By the end of the film, Catherine weeps. She is stripped of her elegance, genius, mystery, and power, and through her tears she is asking why everyone she cares about dies. Nick is there to hold her.

But what do we make of this?

If she is a psychotic killer, then perhaps this is a multiple personality. If she is not the killer, then she is playing the role of the tragic heroine.

The final shot in the last scene of the film unravels any ability we have to make a certain determination of who killed who. The killings (yes there are several) could have been done by any combination of the three main women: Catherine, Beth Garner, or Roxy.

Paglia suggests that this ending points to the fundamental ambiguity that is woman. I think it goes to the fundamental ambiguity that is human; our inability to discern or interpret how the complex web of desires and needs motivates our actions. We want to know; we want a final interpretation; we want to be able to say, "this is it." And in many cases we do, despite the fact that our interpretations are unstable: sometimes it is easier to believe in something: this is who I am.

What I like about Basic Instinct is that none of the characters are allowed a final say. The audience isn't even allowed a final say. In the end, the dominant, logical male cops look like simpletons; the cunning Catherine gets caught in the webs she has woven; Nick is at the mercy of love (or desire); Beth's past (or perhaps a fabrication thereof) is out in the open and she has no future; and when Lt. Walker says, "You just can't tell about people, can ya'? Even the ones you think you know inside and out," there is more to his statement than even he understands.

All of the characters are undone. And none of them can really say why.....even the audience is at something of a loss.....as we all are when events and people bring to the surface things about ourselves that we even we didn't know were there....and maybe they weren't!


Melody said...

Can porn be artistic?

Of course it can. There's still lighting, composition, plot, etc.

Does being artistic make it morally acceptable?

Some think so.

Bunny Yeager (famous for "discovering" Betty Paige and other Playboy pinups) said in an interview that she stopped shooting in the 70s because porn had become too raunchy.

She shoots "romantic" porn. And honestly, I understand her distinction, but romantic or not, artistic or not, her work still objectifies women and leads men to lust after women who are not their wives.

No comments on the movie...I haven't seen it.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: her work still objectifies women and leads men to lust after women who are not their wives.

What about romantic movies aka "chic flicks"? Or romance novels? Don't they "objectify" men and lead women to lust after them? Or do they merely present the ideal man?

I bring this up b/c I have heard some of my female friends refer to chic flicks as "porn for girls."

amy said...

Regarding your question of the line between pornography and art, I submit the following insight.
Today, we revere the lush reclining female nudes of the Italian and French Renaissances. We say "It's not porn, it's art" and "She's not naked, she's nude." However, these paintings were commissioned by aristocratic men and were created by male artists who worked largely for aristocratic men. They were displayed only in the parlors and bed chambers of aristocratic men. The only women who entered those chambers were servants and prostitutes.
The Venuses of Titan and Boticcelli were exposed for what they were by Manet's Olympia and ridiculed by Judy Chicago, but most contemporary people are completely ignorant of what the Medicis and early feminists knew so well: art is pornographic, and pornography is (will be) art. There is no line but what each generation chooses for its children and art students.

On another note, you can count me into the group of women who consider many (but not all) chick flicks to objectify men. I credit Hollywood in part with the fact that many quality men can't find an interested female because she just isn't "swept off her feet like in the movies." The expectation that adolescent hormonal sensations, roses, and perfectly ripped abs should be the foundation of intimate relationships is one of the great tragedies of our culture.

Melody said...

What about romantic movies aka "chic flicks"? Or romance novels? Don't they "objectify" men and lead women to lust after them?

I think it depends on the type.

Bodice Busters, sure.
Could they still be well written and thought provoking...yeah, it's possible.

As far as the idea of them presenting the ideal man, you tend to see that more in books that aren't strictly romance novels.

Most frequently I hear women wondering, "Where's my Gilbert?" (from Anne of Green Gables) or "Why can't I find a Mr. Darcy?" (Pride & Prejudice) and among current tweens & teens, "Forget Prince Charming, I want Edward Cullen!" (Twilight).

None of these books really fall in the romance catagory. Anne of Green Gables is about a girl's life. In the course of her life she falls in love - the story isn't specifically about that any more that it's specifically about her friendship with Diana or her students in school.

The point of the book is never to make women wish after an idealized man.

Pride & Prejudice is a humorous social commentary - as are all Austen's works. There is romance and women might lust after Darcy, but that's never Austen's aim.

Twilight is fantasy fiction. It's young adult and hence must have a romance. It is more about romance than the previous two, but it's equally about vampires,werewolves, teen angst and brushes with death.

No one pines after the type of men in chiclits or chick-flicks.

tamie said...

Wait! Aren't hormonal sensations, roses, and perfectly ripped abs what it's all about? If it's not about that, then what could it possibly be about? After all, we've got desire (hormones), beauty (roses), and body (abs). Is there more?!?

I'll be back to comment on the movie in a while, and to comment on your comments on the movie, after I've seen the movie.

tamie said...

I forgot to check the follow-up box. Oh, and can someone tell me the HTML for italics etc.?

Melody said...

Put < i > but without the spaces - at the front of your italics and < / i > without the spaces at the end of them.

Jason Hesiak said...

i have at least somewhat ripped abs, and hormones, and i like to buy flowers for a gal. so, am i the perfect man?

tamie said...

It really all depends on what use you put the abs, hormones, and flowers to.

Jason Hesiak said...

tamie - lol i didn't know you'd actually answer. i'm afraid to ask...what do you mean "depends on how you use"??

erdman - and whoever - on porn being artistic:

from The Doyle's favorite movie, The Big Lebowski...lol...


Hello Dude, thanks for coming. I'm
Jackie Treehorn.


The Dude is looking around at the '60's modern decor.

This is quite a pad you got here,
man. Completely unspoiled.

What's your drink, Dude?

White Russian, thanks. How's the
smut business, Jackie?

I wouldn't know, Dude. I deal in
publishing, entertainment, political
advocacy, and--

Which one was Logjammin'?

Regrettably, it's true, standards
have fallen in adult entertainment.
It's video, Dude. Now that we're
competing with the amateurs, we can't
afford to invest that little extra
in story, production value, feeling.

He taps his forehead with one finger.

People forget that the brain is the
biggest erogenous zone--

On you, maybe.

He hands him the drink.

Of course, you do get the good with
the bad. The new technology permits
us to do exciting things with
interactive erotic software. Wave
of the future, Dude. 100% electronic.

Uh-huh. Well, I still jerk off

Of course you do.


tamie said...

Clearly, hormones, flowers, and abs are not enough. You also need imagination.

Jason Hesiak said...

"imagination"? what about this?

the tender tsunami was like…

a cleansing fire that burns away the blackened crystal
healing waters falling over a radiactive napalm
the love it lingers where i'd thought i was alone
in a prayer where were waves of tears that left me
tenderly hugging the floor like a floating goldfish
greatly enjoying the firey waters rising around us

ktismatics said...

Stop it Jason; you're even making me hot now. And I thought that was YOUR favorite movie (nice excerpt though).

tamie said...

i'm at a loss. speechless before the powers of your imagination.

Jason Hesiak said...

doyle - on whose favorite movie it is - i was being vacetious...errr, facetious :) on getting hot...uuhhh...eeehhh...no comment. don't want to put any images in your head. "people forget, dude, the brain is the biggest erogenous zone."

tamie - uuhhh....sorry i emptied you so thoroughly, lol. wait...was that a compliment...or did my poem actually have nothing to do with the imaginationing you were referring to? i am now at a loss, myself. confused. in a state of lostness. "at a loss," if you will. going in circles whose radii vary. at least "the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind" :)

Jason Hesiak said...

also...and more seriously...to echo...sort of...and sort of not...amy's comment on manet's olympia...

there are titian's and giampietrino's mary magdalene...



which makes me ask: IS art (necessarily) pornographic? call me crazy but i think there's something else going on here with these images of a half-nude and fully repentant mary magdalene. that will probably sound odd for a contemporary protestant, for whom "sympathy" means something quite a bit different from what is i think implied in these two paintings. but hey...maybe i am crazy? btw my sympathies are stirred much moreso by these two magdalene paintings than by manet's.

Jason Hesiak said...

funnily i just looked up the origin of the word "pornography" and it is rooted in "porne", which means "harlot." so it originally was in reference to writings about harlots, specifically ancient Greek and Roman writings about harlots. but somehow i still have a feeling that those two paintings are different...even though lol i guess magdalene qualifies as a harlot (i think).

Ken said...

Back on topic; is it possible for porn to be art? Is this really the question we need to be asking, or is there a much deeper, and more important one?

I would ask this; is it possible (at least from a male perspective) to look at porn regardless of its "artistic" intentions, without falling into sin? Did not Jesus tell us that if we even look upon a woman with lust in our hearts we have committed adultery? Is it possible for the man to look on any form of nudity without dealing with lustful thoughts? Maybe not right away, but those images often return at other times and turn to lust.

How about this: do I really need to view porn, artistic or not, to understand what it is? Could the lessons portrayed in this movie be portrayed in a manner not requiring the nude scenes?

I think so, and therefore our excuse to engage in like activities is to throw ourselves into temptation. (ironically we pray that God would lead us not into temptation. And he doesn't have too, because we do a fine job of it on our own)

Sometimes we take this whole "in the world" concept too far. Yes we need to be "in the world", but let us not forget we are not "of the world".

Jason Hesiak said...

ken - i think i'm diggin' your basic point about Jesus' whole "if you even look at a woman with lust in your heart" thing. but your idea of art sounds rather narrowly confined to that one variety of the victorian morality play.

i mean...i'm with ya. but the paintings above for me bring forth memories of my lust as well as of my metanoia. but they are essentially paintings of repentence, so if i stuck on the lust, then that's my issue. which i think was your basic point. but your comment would also seem to suggest that the two paintings by titian and giampietrino should not include the (semi) nudity. am i wrong?

well, then i have to ask: how is there metanoia without any lust to see beyond? and...do i have to remind you or me that there IS lust to see beyond? does the victorian morality play assume the rule that there should be no nudity because it is legalistic, or because it is protestant and as far from the iconographic as east from west, or because it has forgotten in its zeal to rid itself of sin that it has sin? or more fairly, does the victorian morality play assume that rule in order to follow (the words of) Jesus?

maybe, though, you weren't thinking of those two painings at all? in which case i'm babbling to myself.

tamie said...

Hey Ken...it seems to me that the primary purpose of art ought rarely, if ever, be to teach us something (I'm responding to the bit where you talked about the lessons that movie has to teach us...). Didactic art is rarely all that great.

Also...can a man not look at any kind of nudity without falling into sin? I find it very problematic to think that every time any man looks at any kind of nudity, he's objectifying the person he's looking at. Nudity isn't inherently or primarily sexual, you know. Bodies have a lot more going on with them than just the potential for sex, and bodies are naked for a lot of reasons. I really hope that there are men out there who also recognize this fact. If we're going to go around avoiding everything that might, at some point, cause us to "sin," then we are going to avoid a heck of a lot of life...and that sounds like a rather fearful and un-free life to me.

tamie said...

Another thing...I'm not sure how exactly relevant this is, but I'm going to throw this out there.

What do we think that Jesus meant when he said that if a man even looks at a woman he's committed lust. Why is it a problem to wish that you could have sex with someone, or to think about having sex with someone, or to feel desire in the presence of someone? It seems to me that Christians--and many other folks--have a huge hang-up with desire. Desire feels scary, taboo, dangerous. Why is this? Of course, it's one thing to feel desire; it's another thing to constantly engage objectifying fantasies, or to try to manipulate people for our purposes. But to feel the desire, the attraction....why is this so scary to us?

tamie said...

jason...as for your poem....what can i say? i'm not a big fan of similes. sorry, pal. :)

Jason Hesiak said...

tamie on your question of desire...i can answer from personal experience. i think...desire is scary for many of us precisely because of the whole thing about constantly objectifying and fantasizing. it doesn't have to be that way. its not that way with God. but when it IS that way, it can get to a point where it feels totally overwhelming. like a monster or something. of course the only defense against monsters - under our own power - is to avoid them, right? :)

Jason Hesiak said...

oh and i meant to mention...i'm changing the name of my poem to "the tender tsunami was...". no real difference for me but apparently you will like it more, so there :)

ktismatics said...

Arguably the most sexist societies in the world insist that their women be covered from head to toe in order to avoid inflaming male lust. I used to live near a beach where topless sunbathing was the norm for both sexes, young and old alike, and I don't think lust was running any higher there than on beaches where women keep their tops on -- except perhaps among Americans and others who weren't used to it.

tamie said...

Yes, Ktismatics....hm.

The simple answer seems to be that we desire what we can't have, what is forbidden. But I have an allergy to simple answers, so I'm still pondering.

Jason. Now that your poem is no longer a simile, I think you might as well submit it to the Paris Review. It is that good.

But to respond to your other comment....a wise man once said to me, "that which is resisted, persists." I wonder if it's the running away from desire that's creating the problem (whereas we think it's the solution). Another wise man I know (Michael Franti) sings "Don't fear the nighttime because the monsters know that you're divine." In another song he sings, "And One truth I learned in life: you want to scare away the vampires, you simply guide them into the light."

I wonder--if we welcome the desire as a gift (not necessarily the objectification, but the desire), engage it, be present to it, if it will take us to the freedom we think we're pursuing by running like hell in the opposite direction.

amy said...


Well, I wasn't necessarily saying that all art containing nudity is pornography. It's just that, in its historical context, much of what we now call art was produced and used as pornography. What would you think of the paintings of Mary M., the focal points of which are the barely exposed, perfect breasts, were they not called "Mary Magdalene"? She is distracted, obviously in a vulnerable state (not looking at you, her viewer--go ahead, look all you like, she won't know), and is tantalizingly veiled by her long, sensuous locks.
These artists cleansed their craft by their titles. Even though they used local or private prostitutes as their models (people would have recognized these women), they gave them the names of legendary naked women, and thus were accepted. This is the beauty of Olympia. She was a local prostitute, whom everyone knew (she features prominently in several of Manet's works). Her real name was Olympia. There she lay, staring her viewers down, confronting the world with her profession and the true purpose of the Reclining Female Nude (RFN in art history texts). She covers her genitals as though to say, "You want it? It'll cost you." This painting is gritty and "vulgar," it was blatantly pornographic, and it was modeled after Titian's Venus of Urbino. Olympia was the last of the great RFNs, the thought of which after her brought a blush the the faces of many. And obviously it worked. She's supposed to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

What will we call the porn of our day in two hundred years? Is Basic Instinct porn or art? Does it really matter what we call it?

Jason Hesiak said...


specific to titian's painting...it was commissioned for a female poet who was known to have been very pious. named vittoria colonna:


In 1537 we find her at Ferrara, where she made many friends and helped to establish a Capuchin monastery...She returned to Rome in 1544, staying as usual at the convent of San Silvestro, and died there on ...The example of her life helps counteract the impression of the universal corruption of the Italian Renaissance conveyed by such careers as those of the Borgia. Her amatory and elegiac poems...were printed at Parma in 1538; a third edition, containing sixteen of her Rime Spirituali, in which religious themes are treated in Italian, was published at Florence soon afterwards; and a fourth, including a still larger proportion of the pious element, was issued at Venice in 1544.

And here's the page that says for whom it was commissioned:


...when Titian was questioned about the sensuality of his famous Magdalene...he explained that he had painted the saint just moments before she repented...The figure's sensuality becomes even more problematic when one realizes that this work seems to have been painted for the pious and respected poet Vittoria Colonna.

and importantly...the issue has nothing to do with her vulnerablity or its being "cleansed by the title." she's looking up AT JESUS!! which means she's not looking "not at me". AND...its not just by the literalness of the title that we know who it is. we also know from the bottle of perfume or expensive oils or whathaveyou that is next to her. which belongs to the medieval iconographic tradition. so, to answer your question, i would still think of the painting the same way if not for the title.

i mean, titian's magdalene doesn't fit well with within the feminist paradigm the way the olymia does.

as for "basic instinct"...i don't know. basic instinct does face, or at least deal with in some way, the consequences of the stuff that is the substance of porn a lot more than a prototypical and obviously pornographic "porno." under my definition of "art," basic instinct obviously fits. its obviously an "artifice." in my opinion its pretty lamo art, but that's not what you asked.


Jason Hesiak said...


touche on the similie thing.

on desire...i have no problems really with my sexual desires :) that said, i'm sure you would rather not be viewed as ONLY a sex object. you are a daughter, sister (presumably), and friend, and oh so much more...are you not? the monster wants you to be ONLY a sexy object. and yes, the monsters don't do well in the light. which i can also affirm from personal experience.

anyway...i agree in general with what you are saying. but when someone (me, in the not too distant past) is not living in the light (especially in this regard), they tend to turn precious gifts into stolen objects to keep hidden from everyone so you don't get caught in your theivery. conversely, in - my - metanoia - i - have been much more thankful for all my gifts. including both my sexuality and also including what God, in His power, has done and is doing to my "monsters."

tamie said...

hey jason....i didn't mean you specifically. i really can't speak to your desires or monsters. i was speaking generally, using your comments as a springboard.

you're right. i don't want to be viewed only as a sexual object. actually, i don't want to be viewed as a sexual object at all. i'd like to be approached as a sexual subject, and i'd like my sexuality to be wrapped into every other part of who i am.

how would you define metanoia? i know what the word means, but how do you see that manifesting in your life? perhaps that's too personal of a question for a public forum....so, how do you see metanoia working in a situation where one has "monsters" that need to be brought to light? and how would you define those monsters?

Jason Hesiak said...


on you speaking generally...gotcha :)

metanoia and monsters? well...my poem was about my metanoia. especially a recent experience with it. too personal? well, jesus is personal, so personal is ok...i think.

i was reading a book called The Shack. its a very mainstream evangelical book, i think. but lately i've been trying to practice letting go of such hang-ups (not just that one, but hang-ups in general) and just listen to the message that i feel is coming to me through...whatever God's messages are coming to me through.

so, yeah, i was reading that book. don't want to give too much away, but basically a guy with whom i can identify experiences great pain and tragedy. he comes face to face with God, and in a very real and honest way, expresses his anger at God both for not preventing the tragedy (not "taking care of so and so") and, so: "if you couldn't take care of [so and so], then why would you take care of me?" and the character said this to God with clinched fists b/c he was angry at God. and didn't even realize till after he said that that his fists had been clinched.

ok, so what? well, i had no idea i was angry at God, lol. but at that moment...well, hang on. part of the background context of the book...God has at that point of the book already demonstrated his loving and tender demeanor. i was like: "i can recognize that about God" (like, from experience). so i was identifying with the main character and with this depiction of God when the book got to this point wehre the main character expressed his anger with God.

well, what happened next would not have been possible without the love, but i realized that i was also myself angry with God and didn't think that God would take care of me. i had no idea before that that i was either angry at God or that i didn't think He would take care of me.

i started crying a little. i continued to cry. soon i had to put the book down. soon i was blowing my nose and wiping tears and went right through two napkins that were handy. got up to throw those in my little bedroom trash can. thought i was done. no. anther "wave" of emotion. it kept coming. soon i was slouched or bowed or something or other on the floor "like a floating goldfish," just plain old weeping uncontrollably. went through another paper towell. thought i was done a couple more times, but no. my cousin was sleeping in the room next door, and i was trying to be quiet. i hope i didn't wake him. anyway, it kept coming, like in waves, but very very powerful waves...tender Tsunami's, if you will :)

anyway, the waters were healing. what i was crying about...i still don't fully understand what happened. but at bottom i knew even while it was happening that whatever was going on had at root to do with my having distanced myself from God, and i was experiencing grief...grief in light of God's overwhelming love...that i had no reason to be angry at God, really, but that i had been pushing Him away because of my lack of anger...and because of my lack of trust (didn't believe He would take care of me).

now what do i mean "pushing Him away"? i mean my actions. things i was doing that were...where i had been ignoring God's tender voice through the conscience. lots of things, but that's probably what they all have in common. well, maybe not, but that's a biggie.

so anyway i don't remember exactly where i was in my story, but that's basically what happened. that's one major instance of what i mean when i say "metanoia." ahh...yeah...that's what we are talking about. metanoia. at the same time that i realized that i was angry at God and didn't trust Him, i was being cleansed of my anger and lack of trust. God was healing me, and i was "seeing beyond" my anger and lack of trust (and faith). seeing beyond my small little dark place to a bigger that i'm so used to, to a place where funky things happen like waters dousing napalm out and fires burning away blackened crystals and death of self being life-giving.

oh that reminds me. i fasted recently, and it left me wondering: "why is it so hard for me to give up my self will!?" and part of what was ringing in my mind during the waves of emotion was: "oh, now i see why it was so hard for me to let go of my self will!" it was very relieving, but like i said i was grieving....i was being cleansed but i was also grieving all that time that i had spent w/o God, who loves me so much. i was "seeing beyond"...metanoia :)

i guess in this instance too the "monsters" would be my anger and my lack of trust. and they were kind of monsters too. sort of lurking around in the dark corners of my soul, but i couldn't really find them. sort of mythical, if you will, not pinpointable. but yet although i couldn't find them, i defended myself from them as best i could...by avoiding them (mostly)! metanoia?...in the light of God's love...i "saw beyond" my big hairy monsters.


Crystal McCoomb said...


That's beautiful. Amen, brother!
What you just wrote reminded me of 1 Cor 7, esp vs 5, although I can't remember exactly why.

Being angry w/ God and trusting Him; such very strong opposites when in comes to dealing with yourself and monsters. Good to hear you and Him are staying close.

Crystal McCoomb said...


I know I left you hangin' on responding to the last post. I just can't keep up with you people! I can respond if you would still like me to, otherwise I'm going to let the matter drop. Let me know...

tamie said...

Hey Crystal. Totally up to you. Depends on whether you want to keep having that particular conversation. I am fine either way.

tamie said...

Jason. Wow. After your explanation I feel like I understand your poem a lot better, of course. And thank you for sharing it.

There is so much packed in to what you've written. A lifetime, really, I imagine. I don't have much to say, but know that my silence doesn't indicate indifference.

Thank you.

Crystal McCoomb said...

Those psycho killers will get you every time.

What if the question of instinct can be brought over to X-Men 3 where the Phoenix (Gene) is completely taken over by her dark side (instinct alone), loses control, and then in turn is destroyed to keep her from destroying everything around her. It seems to me that she could have been saved, if she just could have gotten control. She turned into a monster because of her lack of boundaries with herself.

Jason Hesiak said...

crystal...lol maybe what i said reminded you of 1 Cor. 1 b/c the context of the conversation is sex? lol...

tamie...thanks...i like silence, actually :) and you're welcome. and yes...that little comment and my experience of "metanoia" did/does in fact involve a lifetime, really!



Jason Hesiak said...

1 Cor. 7...oops...

Jonathan Erdman said...

Thanks. The comments have been very thought provoking.

Ken asked the question can a man not look at any kind of nudity without falling into sin?

One of the things that has come through that I think is significant is how relative "lust" and "desire" is.

Earlier in this thread, Ktismatics commented on how desire is culturally bound: Arguably the most sexist societies in the world insist that their women be covered from head to toe in order to avoid inflaming male lust. I used to live near a beach where topless sunbathing was the norm for both sexes, young and old alike, and I don't think lust was running any higher there than on beaches where women keep their tops on -- except perhaps among Americans and others who weren't used to it.

In so-called "primitive" cultures, the female breast is not an exclusively sexual organ. In American society it seems to be that way. Why? I'm not sure it's possible to know the whole reason. For some reason, it has become a very sexualized female organ.

Why does the author(s) of the Song of Songs get so excited about the neck (1:10; 4:4, 9; 7:4). Having a neck like an ivory tower really doesn't do much for me.

The point is that our sexuality is bound up with the culture we inhabit. Sexuality is defined socially. How we define ourselves sexually depends (in large part) on our culture.

I grew up kind of assuming that my sexuality was a personal matter; an issue of "self control" for which I was responsible. Accountability was there to help me "confront my sin," to heap shame on me when I "failed," and/or to "encourage" me to live according to "correct" Christian sexual morals and ethics.

What I found by observing my life and the life of others is that the more pre-occupied one was with their "sin" and "failure," the more often they typically failed.

As you know, I've been experimenting with freedom in my life. So, I got to a point where I said, essentially, "To hell with it! I'm going to do what I want, regardless of sexual norms and morality!" My thought was to rely solely on what was inside of me and not to worry about living up to standards or norms. An interesting thing happened: nothing much. That is, nothing much really changed. So, what was I worried about?

Jonathan Erdman said...

As I suggested previously: How we define ourselves sexually depends on our culture. If this is true, then perhaps we need to take a closer look at the "Christian" cultures that we are a part of.

Tamie, I thought you made a few interesting observations along this line:

What do we think that Jesus meant when he said that if a man even looks at a woman he's committed lust. Why is it a problem to wish that you could have sex with someone, or to think about having sex with someone, or to feel desire in the presence of someone? It seems to me that Christians--and many other folks--have a huge hang-up with desire. Desire feels scary, taboo, dangerous. Why is this? Of course, it's one thing to feel desire; it's another thing to constantly engage objectifying fantasies, or to try to manipulate people for our purposes. But to feel the desire, the attraction....why is this so scary to us?

I question whether or not we should take what Jesus says as a prohibition of lust. The passage you cite is embedded in the Sermon on the Mount. In that homily, Jesus goes to the heart of many issues; his point is to cut through legalism. Sure, you might not be in bed w/ your neighbors wife, but if you want her really really bad, then what's the difference??? Remember, Jesus is speaking to a culture of people who were religiously obsessed with laws.

Recent scholarship (cf. New Perspective), of course, suggests that this form of legalism was misinterpreted by the Reformers as a being a legalism for salvation; when, on the contrary, the laws were a form of expression of obedience for those who were already a part of the covenant people by the grace and faithfulness of God....but that's all a side note....the point is that the culture Jesus interacted with was obsessed with law.

I see Jesus as saying this: if you want to allow your life to be dominated by law, then don't forget that the law also regulates "covetousness."

But Jesus (I think) came to fulfill the law (which is clear to most Christians) and to set us free from living up to law....and this is where it gets far less clear, because we all have rules that we set up for ourselves and others. But that takes me back to my first point: that such rules are a big part of how we define and express ourselves sexually.

What if we were meant to transcend law? And go beyond rules and norms?

Tamie: But to respond to your other comment....a wise man once said to me, "that which is resisted, persists." I wonder if it's the running away from desire that's creating the problem (whereas we think it's the solution). Another wise man I know (Michael Franti) sings "Don't fear the nighttime because the monsters know that you're divine." In another song he sings, "And One truth I learned in life: you want to scare away the vampires, you simply guide them into the light."

What if the point is not to try to control behavior via rules, but to live as a "new creation" and to simply interpret our selves as "dead to sin"? What if the point is "light" and new birth?

If there is real, substantive change, then sexual rules and norms become irrelevant, right? And maybe we become less restricted by what people around us and our culture says about who we are sexually.

tamie said...

Since we're getting all personal on this comment section, I just thought I'd share a bit of how I try to live, in terms of norms and morality and etc.

For the last four years I've worked as an Episcopal chaplain with college students. I quit my job about a month ago. There were several imposed boundaries that were part of the job....like, not drinking with underage students. And all kinds of keeping-up-appearances stuff, that drove me crazy.

Anyway, I was hanging out with a friend & former student the other day, and I was lamenting living by imposed standards (I don't have to right now, but I'll probably be in spiritual leadership again...) and he said that actually my personal standards are way higher than the external rules people try to make spiritual leaders live by. The conventional wisdom is that you should impose these rules like--don't have sex in X,Y, and Z contexts. Don't shoot heroin with 7-year-olds. That kind of thing. But you can't really legislate whether a leader is being respectful or compassionate or fair. There are so many ways to follow the rules and still be a jerk.

My personal standards are thus: how can I treat the person in front of me as a divine and profoundly worthwhile creature? What is the most loving thing I can do for this person? Also....how can I treat the people who make my clothes & farm my food as divine and profoundly worthwhile creatures? How can I live in such a way toward both the American soldiers in Iraq and the Iraqi civilians? That stuff gets me into the realm of the systemic, and away from keeping my morality private and personal. Because if I'm being a kind person, but still participating in our bullshit system of exploiting the whole world so that we can have cheap clothes....then I'm still very, very morally suspect.

I am not bringing this up to show how hip and groovy I am. Maybe you do not think I am hip and groovy, anyway, to try to live this way. Maybe it seems too "subjective" or something. But I am bringing it up to point out that it is possible to try to live without external rules....and that actually, ironically, it can lead to a much stricter--in a way--standard of relating to others.

Of course, in the process I notice that certain actions seem to consistently violate the living-in-love-toward-others thing. For example, I notice that there seems to be no place in my ethic for shooting heroin with children, or torturing puppies. So I guess you could say that I have rules. But almost nothing is hard and fast. Lying, murder--these things are acceptable in certain contexts. If there ever seemed to be an appropriate place in my "system" for torturing puppies, I'd re-evaluate. Anyway, the point is that it feels to me like my rules have come from a different place, you know?

(And again, I don't say this to show how I'm morally superior--but just to show that people *are* trying to live this way.)

How does this play out in terms of sexual morality? Well, in a certain way it makes it so much trickier. I can't just refer to the rulebook to decide when and with whom I'll have sex. Or if I'll view porn, or "lust" or whatever. I have to ask myself: what kind of a human being do I want to become? Does doing this help me become that kind of human being? What is the most loving thing to do? Etc etc. (Frankly, the rulebook would be easier, and less tiring much of the time.)

I've done away with the "don't have sex before marriage" stuff and the "don't be gay" stuff. I just don't see the point. And after all, just because you're not sleeping with your girlfriend (or your gay partner) doesn't mean you're not an asshole. I think God cares a lot about whether we're assholes...God also cares about our sexual conduct, but in a *why*-are-you-doing-this kind of way, not a *what*-are-you-doing kind of way.

I feel like I'll have more to say in a bit, but I have to go right now.

Ken said...

Phew, not having regular internet access can be frustrating, including falling behind in comments on boards such as this.

Given the many points and questions, maybe all forms of sin in some way are culturally defined as well as personally. The danger with this is control. Who determines what is sin and what is not?

For example, there is a culture in Africa that views anger as the chief of sins. Sex outside of marriage doesn't even enter their radar as being even remotely wrong. In fact, a woman that has not lost her virginity (to her uncle by the way) before being married is borderline morally wrong... in their culture. So if sex before marriage is not wrong according to that culture, what is the Christian reaching out to them to say to that particular issue. "Oh its ok" just doesn't line up with Scripture.

We must be careful not to relativize sin according to culture and personal values. Otherwise moral standards would eventually spiral out of control (is this not what we see happening in America?).

I would also ask this, thinking theologically; what significance might the Garden story of Genesis 3 say about nudity and "covering up?" Perhaps being clothed has greater theological significance than simple cultural preference.

One last question/note. Just because some painter seeking to portray something from the Bible using nudes does not necessarily make what they did "ok".

tamie said...

Last night I had a conversation with some good friends, some male, some female. We started talking about this whole question of art/nudity/porn/etc. They all thought that it was ridiculous to think that all men are attracted to pornography, and that all men fall into "lust" just because they see nudity. I bring this up to respond to what Ken said a while back, questioning the possibility of whether men can look at nudity without falling into sin. Yes, I think many many men are perfectly capable of this act.

Jon, you mentioned that in our culture the female breast seems to be exclusively sexualized, but I disagree, even within our culture. I know lots of nursing mamas, and they nurse in public, without shame, because in fact the *purpose* of breasts are for nursing. Of course breasts are *extremely* sexualized in our culture. I just wanted to point out that they're not exclusively so.

Jon, I think that's a good point about our sexuality being culturally defined. And I think, referring to something Ktismatics said a while back, that repression tends to instigate much higher levels of sexism. And, to pick up on what Jon said recently--I think that a culture obsessed with law is a culture obsessed with repression.

I super-agree with you when you say that if there is real, substantive change, then sexual rules become irrelevant. Precisely. You don't need the rule if you are truly embodying love.

Jonathan Erdman said...


Yes. My point was not to say that the female breast was absolutely sexualized in American culture; just that in relation to other cultures, the breast is extremely sexualized. Agreed.

Commenting on the idea that looking at porn and nudity necessarily leads men to lust.....I think this perspective may have some link to the doctrine of Total Depravity and the Calvinist spin-off groups (and other religious groups) that tend to see the worst in human nature as normative. This goes back to what I was saying about how our culture influences our perception of ourselves: if you are a part of a religious (or non-religious) group/culture that treats you like a lustful animal, then chances are that is the way you will perceive yourself.

I am finding more and more interest in this line of thinking, because often conservative American Christians tend to think that if we expose ourselves to nudity, violence, etc. that we will necessarily become controlled by our base sexual/violent impulses. And while I think it is true that what we see and meditate on influences us, there isn't a one-to-one correlation (watch porn and you'll be lustfull). Where it gets really interesting is to start to read the Apostle Paul: his vision is so optimistic. We don't have to be controlled by our depravity any longer. We are "new crations" who "reckon themselves dead to sin." Something has fundamentally changed such that we don't have to succumb to lust just because we see a lustful image.

Maybe some Christian groups/cultures have conditioned themselves for failure: if I see a boob, then I will lust.

Is it possible to condition ourselves to fail????

Jonathan Erdman said...

Incidentally, I'm reminded of James Dobson's famous "for a man, any breast will do" statement.

Jason Hesiak said...


...I don't mean this as a jab...I'm actually just trying to understand where you're coming from...you said...

One last question/note. Just because some painter seeking to portray something from the Bible using nudes does not necessarily make what they did "ok".

Have you studies art or art history? Do you have some idea of what art is really about? Especially historically, outside of our current context of what "art" means to us? I mean...I hear your comment about "does not necessarily make what they did 'ok'", and it crosses my mind that maybe you are interpreting the painting through an exclusively religious (and evangelical) standpoint, without really having studied painting on its own grounds, and thus without the rich history of the relationship between theology and art. Like I said, I don't mean it as a jab. Seriously, I don't. I'm trying to understand where you're coming from. If you end up answering that you have in fact studied art, espeically in depth, then my next question is: "what is art to you?"


Jason Hesiak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tamie said...

Jon. If we were sitting over beer in some place quiet I would just nod, at what you've said. And I would say, "yes, it is definitely possible to set ourselves up for failure. Our expectations and interpretations of ourselves--the myths we tell ourselves about this cosmos we inhabit--they determine how we live it." Y'know?

And then we would keep on drinking our beer.

Jonathan Erdman said...


Are you suggesting that your answer would vary based on what you are drinking???? That beer makes you more agreeable???

Perhaps a scotch on the rocks might make you more argumentative?

ktismatics said...

Erdman, you said:

"We don't have to be controlled by our depravity any longer. We are "new creations" who "reckon themselves dead to sin." Something has fundamentally changed such that we don't have to succumb to lust just because we see a lustful image."

I asked (maybe earlier in this thread) if you believe that Christians have been magically transformed, and briefly you agreed that it's so. How might this magical transformation work with respect to lust and succumbing thereto?

On a related note, here's a stimulating item entitled "St. Augustine's Penis and Original Sin."

tamie said...

On the contrary, a scotch on the rocks would make me more agreeable. Well, maybe not a scotch. But, rather, an Irish. Give me a Jameson on the rocks and we'll be telling stories about the old country in no time.

tamie said...

p.s. Jon, I think you should read some Capon. Like, maybe, the book _Between Noon and Three_. It gets weird at the end, but for the first 3/4 I think you'd find it rather relevant & compelling.

Jonathan Erdman said...


As I have said before, I'm not sure how the "new creation" thing works. All I'm suggesting is that I see a very defeatist attitude (and I have personally lived a rather defeatist life, in the past) on the part of many Christians. I think the very short article you linked to bears witness to that fact.

Here's a few clips (emphasis added):

The sin of Adam and Eve, he argued, has been passed down intact to every member of the human race, transmitted through semen in the act of sexual intercourse. While Augustine did not condemn sex as such, he did condemn lust which was made manifest in males by an erection of the penis, a phenomenon which continues to amaze, delight, startle, and occasionally embarrass all men.

Augustine argued that erections were the physical expression of the sin of lust (libido) which came about after Adam's sin of disobedience in the Garden of Eden. Erections, and spontaneous sexual desire associated with them, were the proof and penalty of original sin. They were contrary to man's pre-lapsarian nature, to Adam's lustless state before the Fall, and therefore were to be associated with sin.

Because erections occurred apart from the will of the owner, Augustine argued they therefore occurred against the will of the owner and thus naturally involved shame: "A man by his very nature is ashamed of sexual desire" (De Civitate Dei, 14.17). The proof of this, Augustine believed, is the practice of covering the genitals and of not performing the act of sexual intercourse in public view (Confessions, 8.5).

Of considerable concern for Augustine was the fact that he and all men could exercise no control over their own penises. Erections might come and go without the man having much to do with it. A heterosexual male, however, was more prone to get an unwilled erection when in the presence of women. Women naturally and unwittingly provoked this physical reaction in the male. The man, in effect, loses full control over himself, and whatever his mental and spiritual aspirations may be, in the presence of sexually attractive females he is reduced to baser thoughts and physical urges.

Under these circumstances, his power is effectively usurped by the woman. Herein resides the fundamental threat posed by women to all heterosexual men. Unable to control their own bodies (a result of Adam's disobedience), men seek instead to control the bodies of women.

I think that Augustine brings up some legitimate discussion points; however, to suggest that a "Saint" (as Paul would describe them) is at the mercy of their base, lustful desires is nowhere to be found in the writings of Paul. As I said, the vision for the Christian life is optimistic and victorious.

Original Sin is a doctrine that has merit; however, if the doctrine is used to promote defeatism, then I think it is at odds with the Apostle Paul's vision for the Christian life.

To answer your question, I'm not sure how it all "works" in regards to lust; but I don't view lusts as inherently wrong, either. The concern for Paul is porneia, which is translated in various ways. The NIV translates it as "sexual immorality," which is yet another unfortunate translation by the NIV folks. "Sexual immorality" implies that one has violated a moral standard. I don't know that this is Paul's point. He seems more concerned--not about lust, per say--but about lust gaining a grip on a person's soul and controlling their perception of the world. So, the danger of pornography might be that one becomes warped in their perspective such that they begin to view the women they come into contact with in the real world as sexual objects for their own gratification, and not as people to be respected, loved, and learned from. But this is not a charge against sexual desire or even lust, per say; rather, it takes sexuality to a more subjective realm. The question is not about lust or desire but about how I am orienting my mind to myself and to those around me. If my perspective becomes dominated by sexual desire, then this becomes my defining characteristic and it "taints" everything I do.

Incidentally, it is not just Christian circles that promote forms of sexual defeatism; various sectors of the American media also portrays men as primarily driven by lust and sexual desire, particularly younger men in high school or college.

I hope that helps to "flesh out" the issue!

tamie said...

I'll blog about this, when I feel like blogging again. But I wanted to put it out there because it's relevant to this discussion we've been having.

Don't know how many of you have seen the Vagina Monologues. If you ever get a chance, go see the show. It's amazing. And it is very relevant to what we've been talking about. And man, if the Vagina Monologues don't make you a feminist, I don't know what will!

These links are to the 10th anniversary show of the Vagina Monologues, which was held in New Orleans (which is known as being fertile & feminine). I recommend watching Eve Ensler's monologue. She wrote the Vagina Monologues...the first 5 minutes of what she says is the way every show starts. And then in the last 3 minutes she talks about New Orleans in particular.

Then I recommend watching are "My Vagina was my Village" (about a Bosnian woman being raped). Also, "My Short Skirt" is relevant.

I'm curious to hear what you have to say, and how you think it relates to what we've been talking about.

Sorry I don't know how to embed or actually link.