Sex in the Russell Hotel
I was having a drink in the Russell Hotel in Russell Square (The Russell Hotel has changed its name but it will always be the Russell Hotel) with some philosophers last June, after an intense time discussing David Pitt’s forthcoming book The Quality of Thought, when David Papineau brought up a review of Roger Scruton’s book Sexual Desire that I wrote nearly forty years ago (published in The Times Literary Supplement on February 28, 1986 under the title ‘Ideal Coitions’). He remembered teasingly that I’d said in that review that no one ever has sex in ‘the West’ except under the influence of alcohol.
I couldn’t remember exactly what I’d said, although I knew I’d mentioned alcohol. I did, however, know that I couldn't have made such a claim, if only because a great deal of the sex I’d had in my life had been alcohol free. Nor would I have wished to overlook the polyphiloprogenitiveness of a good number of Western teetotalers. So I protested. And since I’d encountered this micromeme before (micro because confined to a tiny population of philosophers), on more than one other occasion, and since I had my computer with me, which held a blurry scan of the original review, I was able to look it up and convey the truth of the matter to my neighbours at the table. The single reference to alcohol read as follows: ‘here one misses any comment on the role played by alcohol in much—perhaps most—sexual activity in the West’.
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Another thing I knew, in the Russell Hotel, was that I’d had it in mind, when I wrote the review, that it is a pity that so much sex involves alcohol, because alcohol places an unbreakable upper bound on successful sex, shutting down its highest regions; no exceptions.
This doesn’t mean that alcholic sex can’t be, as someone might say, ‘fucking amazing’. But still it is so. Those who for whatever reason come to engage in stone cold sober sex, in a generally boozy culture, may count themselves lucky, given what they may then discover, if things go well.
I then remembered, in the Russell Hotel, something I’d forgotten: that I hadn’t dared to say anything about this—about the way in which alcohol caps successful sex—although I’d been tempted to. I hadn’t dared, because I thought that some would find it infuriating, and perhaps threatening; but also because it would have seemed ——— [insert some suitably derogatory adjective].
Here is a transcription of the review, produced, not without a certain amount of squirming, by converting a poor quality scan to pdf, and then running the Adobe optical character recognition program on the pdf. The program didn't perform well, because the scans weren’t good, but I eventually managed it. (I’ve added a few words and footnotes; I’ve adjusted some punctuation, and regularly changed ‘it is’ to ‘it’s’.)
The acts and emotions of sex and love seem to avoid language. They’re very hard to describe—the success rate is not high. The difficulties only increase when one tries to go beyond mere description into explicit theory, for to the difficulties of particular description are added the difficulties or saying anything that is quite generally true.
There are perhaps two main reasons why this is so hard. It’s not just that we differ deeply among ourselves in matters of sex and love; we also differ deeply within ourselves. Most of us are profoundly ambivalent—not to say inconsistent—about these things. Sometimes it seems that the only way to escape this ambivalence is to close the mind, and this is quite a popular option. But it’s never a very satisfactory thing to do, and it doesn’t work very well in the present case.
The ambivalence shows up in any good collection of aphorisms. Sometimes we agree with Tasso: ‘love is the affection of a mind that has nothing better to engage it’. Sometimes we agree with Theophrastus: ‘any time that is not spent on love is wasted’. Sometimes we half agree with both—uncertain in any case about whether we or they mean the same thing by ‘love’. Sometimes we reflect on our reflections and agree with Nicolas Chamfort: ‘in love, everything is true, everything is false; and it is the one subject on which one cannot express an absurdity’.
Roger Scruton has written a very large and rather florid book called Sexual Desire. It seems to prove Chamfort wrong. At the same time, it makes one see just what he meant. It has many serious faults, but it is undeniably impressive in scale, and it is likely to prove unignorable—by those who want to philosophise about sex in a professional manner. Most non-philosophers will probably find it unreadable. And so may many philosophers. Perhaps it will go down best with the readership wittily envisaged in Weidenfeld and Nicholson’s spring catalogue, where it is particularly recommended to ‘vicars, labour counsellors, child-minders, dog walkers and other doctors of the soul’.
Overall, Sexual Desire is a bit of a shambles—a highly ambitious but unfinished intellectual complex in which nearly all the missing bits are somewhere to hand, and some of the essential services are laid on (including the electricity—and the gas), but in which half the major constructions are lacking something: a wing, a staircase, a front door—or a ground floor. Definitions begin, subdivide, break off, and restart; they gear up nicely, and then just wander away. The use of key terms like ‘rational’ and ‘moral’ is ruinously vague (Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel all have a broth-spoiling hand in this). Scruton’s well-known brand of strangely self-righteous intellectual irresponsibility is everywhere in evidence (somehow he manages to be both cheeky and stuffy). The book is full of provocative exaggerations (the erotic ‘is fundamental to a full understanding of what it is for persons to be “ends in themselves”’), plain falsehoods (‘sexual desire is a necessary condition of personality’), truths that are truths only by virtue of bending the ordinary meaning of words (‘sexual arousal can occur only between persons’), and major and minor rhetorical abuses, of which I will give one extended example, chosen partly because it places such a curious emphasis on the notions of dominance and submission:
“Yeats lamented that ‘Love has pitched his mansion / In the house [sic] of excrement’. But his regret is incoherent. For love could not (phenomenologically speaking) have chosen a better residence. The sexual parts possess a vital and regularly exercised function [Scruton means excretion] which we can control, but which lies importantly beyond the reach of our intentions.”
Several obvious queries arise immediately, and they’re worth noting because they’re typical of doubts that arise on every page of Sexual Desire.
First: ‘house’ should be ‘place’. And is ‘lament’ really the right word? Or ‘regret’? did Yeats—or Crazy Jane—really find this ‘tragic’, as Scruton says? (‘“Fair and foul are near of kind / And fair needs foul”, I cried.’)
Second: is the alleged regret really ‘incoherent’? This is a very strong word. Sexual organs could have been very different, and so could sexual intercourse, as writers of science fiction are well aware (e.g. Ursula Le Guin in The Left Hand of Darkness, or James Tiptree Jr [the nom de plume of Alice Sheldon] in Up The Walls Of the World. Here as elsewhere Scruton builds illegitimately on a special feature of the human case to produce a generalization that appears to lay claim to immutable and intergalactic validity. In so doing he seems to show the sort of lack of imagination that he is prone to accuse others of.
Third: the reference of ‘sexual parts’ is perhaps intended to be vague. But if it’s not intended to be vague, then this view (as roughly half the human race will be quick to point out) depends heavily on treating the anus as a sexual part (given that the female urethra is not a plausible candidate). This is fine for some, but not for all—and there’s a clear sense in which the extent to which one treat the anus as a sexual part depends on the extent to which one’s experience has led one to think of it as such.
To continue (Scruton’s emphasis are in italics, mine in bold):
“I come to see my sexual parts as overcoming me, in obedience to the natural rhythm of my body…. They are therefore a symbol of the body’s eventual triumph over the will, of its infinite capacity to have the last word in all our alimentary transactions …. Excretion is the final ‘no’ to all our transcendental illusions—to the cari ingenii of the poet who imagines, with Leopardi, that ‘se stesso’ is something other than ‘fango’, something other than mud or slime….
When I urinate, my life and activity for a moment interrupted …. I allow the body to ‘have its way’, conscious that I cannot long resist the imperium …. Hence, I come to see my sexual organ as the conduit of the body’s orders, the instrument of its rule. Whatever happens to me through it, expresses the body’s command. Excretion has a daily task of subduing me, and hence the organs of excretion acquire the nimbus of authority which is the body’s ultimate due. Inevitably, therefore, they transform sexual excitement into a bodily imperative. The very fact that they are calling to me reminds me that, in this present arousal, I am overcome by my body. Nor can I regret the fact, for I am my body, and nothing more vividly remind me of this than the organs through which the body expresses its lordship … sovereignty … autocracy … dominion.”
The language of this passage is not good; its thesis is quite unconvincing. The intrinsic character of the (essentially psychophysical) feeling of sexual desire provides an entirely sufficient explanation of why it can be experienced as a ‘bodily imperative’. The argument from excrement—in which Scruton later includes menstruation—is as unnecessary as it is dubious. (What in any case is the status of the claim? Is it a claim about an unconscious association? Few people make it consciously.) Here as elsewhere it looks as if Scruton is projecting his own particular psychosexual profile on to the rest of the human race. It looks as if he is confusing theory with autobiography (as he seems to when he refers to the ‘titillations that occur in the bath’ as if these were a familiar part of the everyday life of all sexually active bath-takers).
This confusion is extremely natural. It constitutes a major danger for anyone who tries to theorize about sex and love. Quirks of cathexis that are profoundly determinative of one’s own outlook have a feeling of fundamentality about them. They encourage the assumption that they must be fundamental for everyone. Personal proclivities put themselves over as universal truths; they give rise to a deep and deeply deceptive sense of certainty, a sense that one can just tell from one’s own experience that the way one feels about things is universally shared. They prompt a seductive illusion of total empathetic grasp. Such things easily override the obstreperously contrary thought that other people’s experiences may be quite profoundly different from one’s own, in ways that one may not be able to imagine very well—a thought particularly disagreeable to anyone enamoured of grand theory and lordly generalization.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to dismiss Sexual Desire on the basis of passages like the one quoted above. There are many of them, but it is not always fair to lift them out of context. And although Sexual Desire is a difficult, excessive and very wearisome book to read, it has to be said that it is also an interesting and highly serious piece of work. Perhaps it is not particularly original in any of its main contentions, but originality is by no means always a virtue. Its main value is likely to be as a focus for criticism, but it is on occasion both subtle and sensitive: on the smile, the blush, the glance, the caress, for example (though even here there are many grounds for disagreement), or on ‘word-shame’, which interested Montaigne—the near universal human tendency to succumb to circumlocutions when talking about sex.
It is also very insensitive about many things. Scruton is (as far as I can see) remarkably wrong about jealousy, embarrassment and friendship. It’s just not true that arousal is always ‘a response to the other, as a self-conscious agent, who is alert to me’; leaving aside narcissists and necrophiliacs, one can be aroused, seduced, by the sight of someone asleep, or awake but completely unaware of one. Scrutiny is feeble on lesbianism and weak on women’s experience generally, and his efforts to pre-empt feminist objections at the level of argument have not carried over to his tone, emphasis and choice of example, which remain very ‘male’—where ‘male’ denotes a certain traditional style of sexual outlook rather than a biological category.
His objections to psychoanalysis are arid. His brief sketch of a general moral theory is a disaster. There are some serious omissions. He has taken virtually no account of the possible objections of anthropologists, or of historians who have suggested that the modern Western sense of self, which Scruton holds to be a necessary condition of sexual desire, may be of relatively recent origin. He never discusses infatuation, or the distinction that might be made between mere infatuation and genuine erotic love (Hazlitt's Liber Amoris might have helped here). Nor, more importantly, does he distinguish the case in which love develops out of sexual desire from the (probably more rewarding) case in which sexual desire develops out of prior love or attraction that is, initially, predominantly non-sexual in character. He thinks only of the former (Stendhal, whose De l'amour hardly gets a mention, may be a bad influence).
But he is also interesting—on many things: on nakedness, tenderness, abandon, intimacy, orgasm, arousal; on ‘Don Juanism’, ‘Tristanism’, narcissism, ‘Kinseyism’; on sociobiology, ‘gender identity’, perversion, shame, and ‘Platonic love’. However wrong he is, however lush and bossy, he is interesting. And through the heavy swell of sub-Sartrean phenomenologese there swims the silvery sprat of Scrutonian good sense. It is a lively fish. It must be, because it has to spend most if its time avoiding the loopy nets of Scruton's political metaphysics, and it has not yet been finally caught (it keeps on slipping out through one hole or another).
His fundamental thesis about sexual desire is not easy to summarize, and this is largely because when he appears to be talking about what sexual desire and love are actually like, he is as often as not talking about his ideal, about what he thinks they ought to be like—about how they are when things go best. This creates many confusions. Indeed the principal theoretical defect of Sexual Desire lies in Scruton's failure adequately to distinguish three things: (1) the project of saying what sexual desire and love are actually like; (2) the project of saying in non-moral terms what they are like when things go best; (3) the project of discussing any moral issues that are raised specifically by sex and love. These things are of course connected, but they are distinct. Scruton runs them all together in a thick theoretical blur, eager to scold and above all to edify.
The blur is perhaps not entirely unmotivated: Scruton sometimes seems tempted by the thesis that the best case of sexual desire is the only real or true case there is (so that (1) amounts to (2), and, equally, by the thesis that anything less than the best is likely to involve some sort of moral failure, some kind of perversity, obscenity or turpitudinous lack of respect for the dignity of persons (so that (2) is not distinct from (3)). But both these theses are false, and the blur is just a blur.
Scruton argues that the idea that our sexual relations reveal what is most animal about us (where ‘animal’ is infelicitously opposed to ‘human’) is really the reverse of the truth. The sexual congress of animals has a singularly casual and thoughtless character. Human sexual intercourse is profoundly different because it is essentially ‘mediated by, and expressive of, a conception of itself’. Human sexual desire is essentially informed by ‘interpersonal intentionality’ or thought-directedness. When I desire you, I think of you as a person, as a subject of experience with a self-conscious perspective on the world, as a fully self-responsible individual, a free and moral agent, and embodied ‘I’, a self; and it is as such that I desire you. (Otherwise I am some kind of pervert.)
I desire you. And, with luck, your thoughts and feelings reciprocate mine. (Scruton has a little to say about unrequited love.) We are mentally intertwined in a special way (Donne, Hegel, Sartre and Thomas Nagel are among previous exponents of this familiar theme). We are excited, and we are excited ‘precisely by a cooperative enterprise’. For you are conscious of my consciousness of what is going on, and I am conscious of your consciousness of my consciousness of what is going on—and so on. Each of us is aware of, and desires, the other, and each of us is aware of and no doubt desires the awareness and desire of the other (it’s a commonplace that many people are aroused principally by the thought that the other person is aroused by them). There is great exposure and therefore great intimacy in this state of mutual awareness, and there’s a straightforward sense in which it can be true of you and me that we are in this state although we’ve never actually thought about ourselves in these terms.
So human sexual desire is epistemically complex: it’s suffused with thought. In the case of sex, as in the case of many other things, pleasure depends essentially on belief. Suppose you’re eating a stew and find it delicious—until you’re told it is horse or rat (or, depending on your religious beliefs, pork, or beef). Suppose you’re electrified in a dark cinema by the touch of the person you love—until you realize someone else is touching you. In both cases your pleasure in the sensation ceases, but the basic sensation has not changed; only your beliefs about it have.
lnterpersonal intentionality is crucial, but it isn’t everything: there is (of course) an important respect in which sexual desire is focused particularly on the body. But it focuses on the body only qua the physical embodiment of the person; it is the person that is desired. (The face, crucial in desire, is part of the body.) It’s you I want, and you are not just your body. So my desire is ‘non-transferable’; it will not for example transfer to someone else who has a very similar body (it’s a pity that Scruton doesn’t consider Bernard Williams's intriguing discussion of what might happen if a number of perfect copies of the person you loved were produced). Desire is not just lust or urge or appetite or a need for what Scruton calls ‘curious pleasure’ (here one misses any comment on the role played by alcohol in much—perhaps most—sexual activity in the West). It’s aimed at a particular person—it is essentially constituted by ‘individualizing intentionality’. And it finds its highest fulfilment in erotic love—in the experience of union with another person that can, despite Plato’s doubts, somehow or other be achieved precisely by means of, and in the midst of, and not at all in spite of, sexual intercourse.
Any falling off from full interpersonal intentionality is a falling off in the direction of perversion and ‘obscene perception’. And interpersonal intentionality provides the main criterion of sexual perversity (at this point Scruton’s views are close to Thomas Nagel’s in his article ‘Sexual Perversion’). Bestiality and necrophilia are clearly perverse, on Scruton’s view, because they detach the sexual urge from full interpersonal intentionality. The same goes for paedophilia, to the extent that children are not yet fully persons: to this extent (and only to this extent) it is sexually perverse. But it is also highly likely to be wrong on other moral grounds.
Homosexuality is not a perversion, because it can obviously involve full interpersonal intentionality. But Scruton is clearly not happy about this; he suggests cautiously that there may be some ‘fault’ in homosexuality because there is a need for ‘complementarity’, ‘strangeness’ and ‘a sense of risk’ in sexual relations that is usually to be found only in relations with the sexually mysterious other sex. Others find strangeness and risk elsewhere, of course — they don't think it depends on differently shaped sexual organs. Nor is it obvious that the strangeness of difference is superior to the familiarity of similarity.
Sado-masochism is a ‘relatively normal part of the canon of sexual possibilities’, although it can be perverted—it all depends on the degree to which interpersonal intentionality is sustained. Incest, too, is not necessarily perverted: it is almost always wrong on moral grounds (especially when intergenerational), but it is not necessarily sexually perverse, according to Scruton, because it can involve full interpersonal intentionality. Fellatio and cunnilingus are unexceptionable (and have ‘immense symbolic significance’). Masturbation is not perverted so long as it is what one might call faute de mieux masturbation, performed by someone who would rather have the real thing. It becomes perverted—so Scruton rules—only when it becomes a means of obtaining sexual gratification while avoiding interpersonal intentionality and ‘the dangers and difficulties that surround ... the human encounter’.
On the face of it, it looks as if Scruton has to say that rape is not a sexual perversion. For as Sara Ann Ketchum pointed out when criticizing Nagel (in The Philosophy of Sex, edited by Alan Soble, 1980), it seems that rape can involve all the complex reciprocities of full interpersonal intentionality:
“the rapist desires to rape and humiliate the recipe; the rapee perceives his intention and is aroused to fear by it; the rapist perceives the fear and is further excited and aroused in his intention; the rapee perceives this further excitement and becomes more afraid, and so on.”
The trouble is that one can treat someone as a person while not treating her or him well. In fact there are ways of treating people badly that presuppose that they are persons. Still, Scruton can perfectly well claim that rape is not sexually perverted; he can condemn it morally on other grounds.
He is, furthermore, fully entitled to his ideal of sexual intercourse and erotic love. But he is far too quick to suggest that people who fall short of his ideal, and whose interpersonal intentionality is not always up to the mark, are failing both sexually and morally. The first time is simply a mistake. The second is particularly characteristic of sexual Scrutonism.
Sexual Scrutonism has its merits. In particular, it energetically repudiates Plato’s view that desire can have no place in love, since it is a physical urge, belonging to our baser nature. Sexual Scrutonism incorporates a strong and in intention admirable defence of the claim that erotic love is indeed a genuine possibility—that the highest and deepest forms of love can find full expression in sexual passion. (Scruton seems to hold that love is a possibility, experientially speaking, even though it is ultimately ‘a great metaphysical illusion’, founded on two other illusions, the illusion of the persisting ‘I’ and the illusion of metaphysical freedom of will.) But, having rejected Plato’s division between sex and love, Scruton introduces an equally unattractive dichotomy of his own: on the one hand there is that relatively rare thing, genuinely Scrutonian, uninterruptedly interpersonally intentional sex; on the other hand there is non-Scrutonian sex—a vast realm of greater or lesser obscenity, perversity and general moral failure. There is no in-between.
Scruton might object that this shows a misunderstanding. At one point he argues that nothing is obscene in itself; there is only obscene perception of things—perception which characteristically ‘focuses on the flesh as flesh’, and ‘enjoy[s] the thought of its autonomous operation’. ‘Obscenity’, he says, ‘attaches, not to the things themselves, but to a way of seeing or representing them’. But then he shifts his ground. He starts to talk about things that are ‘proper objects of obscene perception: not to perceive these things as obscene is to misperceive them’. And so in effect he reinstates the word ‘obscene’ as a way of classifying things, rather than just perceptions of things (asserting, for example, that all masturbation is obscene, although it is not always perverted).
He then goes on to claim that obscenity is just like perversity, in so far as it ‘standardly involves the attempt to divorce the sexual acts from its interpersonal intentionality’, in focusing on the flesh as flesh, and so on. Accordingly, he holds that people can be obscene in their sexual behaviour, just as they can be perverse. And when they are, guess what happens: ‘the body rises up and inundates [their] perception, and in this nightmare the spirit goes under, as it goes under in death’….
Suppose we grant Scruton his use of the term ‘obscene’. We may then want to say that sex divides into (at least) three parts: there is optimal Scrutonian sex, obscene and perverted sex, and a great deal more sex besides. But this is not how Scruton sees it. For now his black-and-white rhetorical instincts rise up, and his good sense goes under, as it goes under in his polemical journalism. He forgets about the facts; he forgets about how different people are from one another. He partitions the sexual realm into good and bad, and vast areas of innocent uncertainty, failure, imperfection, abnormality, honesty, exuberance and ‘animality’ are condemned as more or less immoral, obscene, or perverted. His principal error is perhaps simply this: he seems to be unaware that some of the most intense reciprocities of erotic love are essentially mediated by an attitude that he condemns is obscene.
The problem is not just that his lavish condemnations are morally unattractive; the more serious objection is that they involve a mistake, a failure to master the amazing data, a failure of theoretical reach. He has not got to the heart of the matter. He overintellectualizes and overintentionalizes. He is too narrow. He pays no attention to the special intensities of the young, the inexperienced, the artless, the indirect, the innocent, the clumsy, the timid, the shy, the insecure, those who are not quite so wise to the mutual messages of arousal, those whose desires are strong but who are too uncertain of themselves, or too modest, to have any deep confidence that they are really inspiring similar feelings in their partners. His mentally muscular lovers are so confoundedly busy. Highly practised, intellectually urgent, they resemble at times the body-conscious virtuosos of the sex manuals that he despises. They are always seeking and struggling, conquering and engineering. They’re too full of strategies and strivings. They are too competent, too strenuous, too knowing. (Perhaps they are rather ‘male’.) ‘In the full ardour of desire’, he says, ‘each participant is striving to be present in his body ….’ But many find that they just are present in their bodies, in this case. They do not have to strive at all.
Nor do they spend their time pursuing ‘a strategy which seeks to summon the perspective of the other into the surface of his flesh’. They find that there is less design and more thoughtlessness: intensity and reflex swamp reflection and intentionality. Sometimes—very often—things do not go well. But many would agree that when things go best there is a way in which they are effortless. No doubt the complexities of mutual awareness persist in some sense—but in a stilled manner. Strategy is lost in abandon; extraordinary tangles of insecurity that play such a large part in many people’s sexual lives, and which Scruton entirely fails to mention, are (at least temporarily) undone. There’s a point at which unequal power relations disappear because there’s a type of intimacy that annihilates them. There is here a difficult task of description to be undertaken, one that Scruton does not acknowledge.
As already remarked, Scruton is fully entitled to his ideal. But when the idealization of X is essentially bound up with the vilification of Y or Z for failing to be or falling short of X, that is something different. Polemical idealization always carries certain risks, and Scruton runs them in the present case: the risk of intolerance; the risk of slipping into a quite generally anti-pluralistic authoritarianism (something that Scruton would be happy to admit to, since pluralism stinks of liberalism, which stinks); the risk of moral arrogance or moral stupidity; connectedly, the risk of a certain kind of theoretical blindness, one that stems from overconcentration on an ideal, and produces insensitivity to the apparently almost unlimited diversity and plasticity of the human condition.
Sexual Desire is damaged by all these things, in spite of its animated, grandiloquent and sometimes very careful complexities. This is the result of Scruton’s moral and political ideals struggling to reduce a reality that runs rings round them. It is perhaps no more apparent than in the last chapter of the book, which is called ‘The Politics of Sex’ and unfortunately anticipates his next book. Scruton hopes for ‘a restoration of the sacred’; he wants, reasonably enough, to defend the ‘traditional decencies’ in some form, and he thinks he has some new arguments– arguments from sex. Thus, remarkably, he claims that ‘marriage creates … the objective conditions for the genesis of desire’. Even more remarkably, he thinks that sexual ‘integrity’—which is defined as ‘the ability to be in your body, in the very moment of desire’—‘will flourish in a society in which religious institutions and customs also flourish and retain their authority’. That is, he thinks that flourishing religious institutions are a sufficient condition of flourishing sexual integrity.
One thinks and one wonders. One thinks of those passionately Pauline early Christian communities, of Saint Augustine and of contemporary Islamic fundamentalism, of the entire history of Christianity and Islam, and of how much they have done for ‘sexual integrity’, and for the balanced acknowledgement of one’s essential corporeality and sensuality, and for ‘the ability to be in one’s body in the very moment of desire’. And then one thinks that it is wonderful what a theory can do to a fact, especially when the theory is a theory of ‘human flourishing’ and the fact is a fact about sex. It is a curious spectacle—Procrustes trying to have his way with Proteus in the SCR.
 Cf Cats the Musical: “Up, up, up past the Russell Hotel / Up, up, up, up to the Heaviside Layer”.
 I also knew that I didn't use the expression ‘have sex’. It took time to transition from the default expression of the 1960s—‘to make love’—and I hadn’t managed it in 1985.
 ‘Cari ingenii’, cherished illusions, ‘fango’, mud, slime. The references are to Leopardi’s extraordinarily sad poem ‘A Se Stesso’: ‘Or poserai per sempre, / Stanco mio cor. Perì l’inganno estremo, / Ch’eterno io mi credei. Perì. Ben sento, / In noi di cari inganni, / Non che la speme, il desiderio è spento. / Posa per sempre. Assai / Palpitasti. Non val cosa nessuna / I moti tuoi, nè di sospiri è degna / La terra. Amaro e noia / La vita, altro mai nulla; e fango è il mondo ….’ (To Himself: Now you’ll rest for ever, my worn out heart. The very last deception is over, though I believed it to be eternal. It's dead. I feel it clearly: in us, not only hope, but even desire for dear illusions is spent. Rest once and for all. You've struggled enough. Your beats are worth nothing, nor does the earth deserve sighs. Life is bitter, dreary, nothing more; and the world is muck ….)
 Catherine Millet may fail on this score, on the evidence of her book La vie sexuelle de Catherine Millet (2001). Karl Kraus thinks in 1907 that “intercourse with a woman is sometimes a satisfactory substitute for masturbation. But it takes a lot of imagination to make it work” (1907).
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