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PostPosted: Mon Jun 23, 2008 9:24 pm 
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brandonj wrote:
I'm very intrigued by the relation between clothing and sexuality— especially with clothing as a tool for desire-creation. Dan spoke of the "unveiling" as the true zenith of the Greek sexual arc. And this rings very true for me— as far as the veiling-and-unveiling tension creates a healthy fixation with certain female body parts— necks, legs, breasts, and so on. A traditional view of desire is that these body parts are just "sexual objects," that is, they naturally pull the desirer to them. Though there is some natural pull involved, wired into our instincts, it is a different case on a daily basis and for specific individuals and encounters. The object of desire is created by the play, the back-and-forth, and the surrounding structure- what would normally be considered the means to the desire.


Without getting too unbelievably personal, I've been revisiting these themes more in my own life lately, and I agree strongly that there is something that strikes me as inherently healthy about relating to sex, at least partially in this way, as well. This post will reiterate some points, but I think they bear repeating.

Actually, I want to flesh out the argument more at some point, but it struck me the other day that sex is in fact an inherently aesthetic act. At least, at it's best, it can be a wholly physical (relating to all 5 senses, not just one or two) experience of the appreciation of beauty, in ways that I'm not sure anything else in human life can be. Even if this isn't right, it's a nice way to think about it.

I should do more research on this, but I have heard about both arguments and studies on this being related to some demostrably negative effects from viewing porn. Or at least too much or certain types of porn. Namely that it becomes progressively more difficult to be genuinely arosed or satisfied the more used to seeing sex in this way you are. I think this makes sense: you can become numb or used to anything really, even the inborn drive to continue the specifes. And while I have absolutely nothing against it and make no judgements on whatever anyone does in the bedroom, I feel like there might be some relationship between the complete removal of the process of tension and release, the game as Brandon puts it, of veiling and unveiling, and the extent to which a lot of fetishes go right now. Clearly, this might be completely wrong because I can't make any claims about fetishism historically, but some of the things one can come across on the internet these days strike me as having to be recent innovations related to people essentially getting bored with sex because they've seen it all.

But back to the original point, I often wonder about various extra-sexual sexual acts whether or not they are or can be psychologically/spiritually healthy, unhealthy or completely neutral. I really don't know. I do think however that like the tension and resolution, especially as punctuated by space and anticipation, in a lot of great visual and auditory art, relating to sex in this way can certainly elevate it as well. Clothing therefore serves a primary role in that process. Perhaps this is as fundamental a role as warmth, protection or whatever, especially for a species that can reproduce all the time: we have to have something to look forward to, right? I agree that this is indeed "healthy," and clearly this is true for members of either sex and whatever sexual orientation. What makes it healthy is the question, and I think that the answer might be that it gives us a more realistic set of things to be excited about (simply, other people's bodies), and allow us to take full pleasure in that.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 05, 2008 8:36 pm 
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(I wrote this a while ago, but because of internet-lack and various bizness I didn't get around to posting it until now. I also didn't take into account the latest posts dealing with sexuality and clothing...)


Defense of Shame

Shame is the first step towards becoming human, and the first step away from an animal nature that is, in terms of civilization, unhealthy and dangerous.
Brandon recommends "introspectively burning out Shame, and consciously replacing it with Humility, or Deference." I believe this process is both impossible and incomplete:
It is impossible because shame provides the unconscious base which the subject must stand upon in order to fully believe or feel the conscious emotions of deference and humility. In the typically pellucid words of Bruce Fink, "a principle is nothing in someone's psychical reality until a quantum of libido has been attached to it ... A moral principle, like any other thought, has to be cathected before it can play a role in someone's psychical economy." Shame represents humility and deference cathected through the superego's edict.
It is incomplete because shame at one's animal nature is not only about nudity, it is about sexual desire, and deeper still, violent aggression. Taking the Freudian wager, every human retains an animal nature, which unrepressed could express itself through violence. Should one simply have humility about a desire to kill? That simply wouldn't work. Shame's great importance is its role as enforcer of superegoic law, allowing one to function as a member of human society. A grizzly bear has no shame, nor does a psychopath. Shame changes reality- from animal-reality to human-reality, natural to civilized.
The intertwining of sex and aggression necessitates shame as cathectically-empowered moral enforcer. (-- which incidentally forms the basis of a very convincing argument against sexual liberalism,.. I think).

Deferential Garb

Very simply put, "To wear stone-washed jeans is to signal a certain attitude to life."* In the same way, to wear outlandish clothes is to signal a certain attitude to life-- I would argue, one that can never be truly deferential.

(Dan says above, "can it not be said that dressing outlandishly is in a lot of ways practice for other sorts of rebellion later in life?" Indeed it can, but the question I wish to raise is, whether or not this rebellious attitude is a good thing. I have grown less and less convinced of the value of this kind of rebellious approach to life. I think the punk and hippy movements succeeded mostly in creating a youth-cultural tradition of arrogance, anti-historicism, shallow art, simple-minded politics, general non-helpfulness, and symbolic patricide (a masochistic attempt to induce the enforcement of paternal law)-- (with punk being the greater offender, since the hippies embraced certain natural and ancient notions). For me, a better future culture for which a youth should prepare would simply be historically deferential, open-minded, self-questioning, and intellectually-inclined. The general acceptance of rebellion as the goal of youth culture is, I believe, destructive, pointless, and in dire need of Freudian critique. It is unequivocally better to build on and progress from history rather than reject it in favor of contemporary forms. --but anyway...)

In an attempt to perhaps develop a method of clothing-interpretation, a dictionary of the symbolic language of clothes, let me list some examples:

--To wear a clown wig signals that you have a comic and happy-go-lucky outlook on life. (a clown-wig at a drunken party can increase the good-cheer of all present, however a clown-wig at a funeral would not similarly succeed in raising spirits)
--To wear 'sexy' clothing signals that you have a 'sexed' outlook on life. (which doesn't however imply that said person partakes in sex, but rather that they acknowledge their own status as a sexual subject/object)
--To wear flip-flops signals that you have a laid-back outlook on life. (laidbackness does not necessarily imply happiness, but often implies a lacuna of passion and/or motivation)
--To wear a business suit implies that you are business-minded. (however, being business-minded does not imply success-- we can all imagine the person working a low-level office job wearing an expensive suit to repress the humiliating truth of his position)

One could go on and on.. and probably be guilty of a myriad of unfortunate generalizations, of course. But I'll continue anyway, with the matter previously mentioned--

--To wear outlandish clothes, and not be insane or out-of-touch (in other words, to consciously and purposefully dress in an outlandish manner), reveals a) a desire to be seen/noticed, b) a desire to stand out from the crowd, c) a desire to make others question their own conventional choices of dress, and perhaps inadvertently (or not) d) make them feel bad or 'square' for these conventional choices. To me, a+b+c+d= VANITY. Or, at least, a modicum of narcissism, pride, or self-regard.

--Someone who wears expensive clothing, whether formal or not, similarly exhibits "b) a desire to stand out from the crowd", but not, however, "a) a desire to be seen or noticed", because expensive clothing can often be subtle and non-ostentatious, or only recognizable by a certain elite group-- and also not "d)", above, but something similar, e) a desire to make others feel bad about their lack of wealth, or, f) a desire to appear powerful by displaying proof of wealth. b+e+f=not exactly vanity, but something related, something more practical and more brutal: DESIRE FOR POWER.

Traditional (upper-class) Dandyism represents a cross between the two.

It is the desire to stand out from the crowd that reveals vanity and denies deference.

--A certain submission to what Brandon calls "homogeneous formalities" signals one's deference towards a certain social tradition. However, if the formalities to which one submits belong to a social tradition based on contrarian dress, such as the "Carnaby Street Punk" tradition, or the "Olneyville Patchwork Neon" tradition, the deferential gesture is directed towards such a small group of people that in most situations it would communicate instead defiant condescension. In order for the deference to succeed, one must appeal to a more universal, classical tradition.

Now, an anticlimactic digression:
--I realize now that, in most contemporary, Western cases, the universal tradition is casual, comfortable, and clean.. Clean jeans, clean running shoes, clean T-shirt or sweater. However, thinking historically one may see this universally accepted garb as offensive to the mores of past generations ('when men wore hats'). Proper deference must be filially comprehensive, must take into account the imaginary judgments of forefathers long gone. Filial piety does not and should not cease with parental death. Therefore, to be historically as well as contemporarily deferential, I would argue, one must take into account past traditions.
--However, this of course does not work, since wearing 18th century culottes today would be perceived as outlandish and dandyish. Therefore, historical and contemporary cultural deference is not possible due to inevitable cultural progression.
--But, certain antique customs which differ from contemporary customs may still be universally interpreted as deferential, and by adopting these customs one accomplishes the fantastic paradox of being at once deferential and critical: whence comes eternal power of classicism-- perhaps?


Personal Strategies

To put myself out on a limb, perhaps giving away too much, I would like to detail my own half-baked personal strategies for dealing with clothing, at the moment (subject to change):

Clothing, for me, should be...
-old (symbolizing filial piety, deferential by imitating past generations.. but also , selfishly, indulging my own nostalgic fantasies)
-a bit shabby but not too raggedy (showing respect but not wealth)
-dignified but not too formal (displaying, and also enabling, a serious-minded nature, and again not wealth. Perhaps also preventing excessive comic-mindedness, something I find destructively censorial.)
-simple colors (minimizing vanity [increasing deference] by not trying to attract attention)
-attractive, perhaps tightly-fitting (acknowledging role as sexual object/subject, something which, along with yielding aesthetic and romantic joy [seeing someone beautiful/attractive, provoking desire, leading to love], acts as a useful reminder of a certain social constant. This can of course be taken too far and communicate either perversion or vanity.)
-marginally uncomfortable, i.e. not athletic wear (deferential, a willingness to sacrifice comfort for social interaction, promoting a certain lack of personal indulgence... a bit Christian, yes, but symbolically effective)

However, one can of course add all these things up and conclude that such attention to what one wears = VANITY as well. But somehow I think that ignoring clothing's complex system of meaning and just wearing "any ol' thing" (uniform of sneakers, baggy jeans, t-shirt, sweatshirt, whatever) signals an unwillingness to take an active and analytic role in one's own involvement in society. And that, I think, prepares oneself for mediocrity and manipulation.

PERMANENT SELF-QUESTIONING, my only motto/battle cry.




*quote was from Zizek, although not at all a Zizekian idea, just a handy quote. However, it was taken from the book, How To Read Lacan, which some of you may be interested to know is now available for free here: http://www.lacan.com/zizhowto.html --for those interested it is a good introduction to Lacan, I recommend it. With Zizek, however, one must be aware of the differences between Zizekian and Lacanian ideas, just as one must be aware of the difference between Lacanian and Freudian ideas.. although all three are simply products of the overarching "Freudian revolution of which Freud himself was not fully aware," as Zizek puts it.


------also:

This quote from the same Zizek book offers some insight onto the relation of sexuality and clothing in terms of Islam:
"The Taliban not only forced women to walk in public completely veiled, they also prohibited them wearing shoes with too solid (metal or wooden) heels, and ordered them to walk without making too loud a clicking noise which may distract men, disturbing their inner peace and dedication. This is the paradox of surplus-enjoyment at its purest: the more the object is veiled, the more intensely disturbing is the minimal trace of its remainder. "
The veiling of women is an attempt to make their forms as invisible as possible in daily life. This seems radically more erotic than Western society, where a woman can bare large areas skin and not inspire the slightest titilation. To a Muslim the mere presence of a woman is erotic enough to induce the most sinful thoughts. This sheds a different light on the story someone brought up during the meeting about the men who said they "couldn't control themselves" around western women parading around Arab countries in bikini tops. If the mere presence of a woman inspires sinful thoughts, one can imagine how an encounter with an attractive woman in a sexy bathing suit could easily inspire a temporary erotomaniacal psychosis.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 06, 2008 8:26 am 
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I wrote this response to Dan's post once before, but for unknown reasons, it did not take. So I'll try and restate it:

I actually have much to say on "the veiling-and-unveiling" dynamic in relation to pornography— especially internet pornography, which can teach us tons about the dynamic of human desire. Internet porn is particularly culpable and telling, and why? Because internet porn gives us "what we want" too efficiently, too quickly— that is, it reveals the holes in the traditional picture of desire. This picture imagines desire to be lack, a hole, a privation, to be filled with the object of desire. When really, desire is not just about the object— the object in fact works more like a justification of the Desire (or "Desire-Complex" we'll say— no desire is just one simple, straightforward desire). To return to an example I used before, with the desire for food— to enjoy and savor and smell and hope for that delicious bowl of Thai curry— that desire is not just the desire to "not be hungry anymore." We are not just trying to get the hunger pangs to subside, we want to eat, we want to enjoy our food. The desire is about this process of enjoyment, not about ending it as quickly as possible. So hunger is a part of the desire, not its opposite.

Well, the same goes for sexual desire. We don't want to just get it all at once; it needs a overarching structure or process to make it a desire at all. But the problem is, sneakily viewing pornography on the internet, we might try to enjoy pornography with this old conception of Desire. We go to a site and they have, conveniently enough, broken the types of porn down into categories: latina, lesbian, anal, mature, interracial, and several other kinds of freakish monkey porn. So already we think: "Wonderful, now I can get down to the good stuff." We think we can distill our porn-watching down to just the "good stuff"— the real, solid, object of our desire. So we sift a little, and maybe grow a little unsatisfied. "That's pretty good, but it can get even purer." We peruse shitty clips or photos, trying to find that perfect moment or arrangement that mirrors our exact desire, our very object. But the longer we look, the less real the desire seems. Our brains go soft, and we feel this strange hollowness with the whole process. So what happened, what went wrong?

The problem is we tried to prune down all the peripheral stuff to get the kernel of our desires, when the secret is: there is no kernel. Our desires are composed of all this peripheral stuff, with essentially nothing at their center. The back-and-forth, the "veiling-and-unveiling" is what keeps the desire desirable, giving it it's force and dimension.

Ambling, even jokingly, into the adult section of a videostore, I glance at the backcovers and I get a little warm. I get tidbits, promises, peeks, and blurbs that aggravate my sexual impulses, and make them real. I see some things, but not others. Some things unveiled; others yet veiled. Some parts real and present; others a spur to the sexual imagination.

This distillation of the sexual object is why porn and Caligulan emperors tend towards ever newer and more gruesome extremities. They are without the process of frustration that creates to desire. The object of desire must be something that can create frustration, in some loose sense of the word, not assuage it. Of course, porn is also in itself separated from the "object of desire"— real women. So that eternal frustration inherent in porn serves for something, I'm sure.

I really liked Dan's idea about sex being the only act capable of engaging all five senses simultaneously; I'm definitely going to put that one in my pocket, and bring it out when the time is right. The true synaesthetic act. It might go deeper— maybe Nate could weigh in on that, in that if sex is the only true synaesthetic act, all other acts are merely its splinters; ultimately unsatisfying in comparison. In this sense, the Freudian universalization of the sexual impulse would have another angle. Maybe even to say: the sexual act may not so much be underneath all acts, as such, but that it is the ultimate act next to which they fail in comparison. The perfect being the enemy of the good. There is something about sex that is also very undifferentiated, the desire to eat what we see and smell, and so forth. So...


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 14, 2008 11:47 am 
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I might take this comment over into the newly-created Academic Categories forum, in order to vent and stress over theories that have flown off too far away from the original thread, but for now, to take issue with a Defense of Shame...

I have a thoroughly Nietzschean approach to Shame, in that we embrace the urges, claim them— which is not to say act on them. Shame, the refusal to acknowledge these ugly primordial urges and instincts, is not, in my mind a premise of civilization. It is an architecture hoisted upon us by specific worldviews; ascetic, Abrahamic, and other worldviews.
So, yes, after this fundamental acknowledgment, we can look neighbors in the eye, and can say "in certain ways, you are my rival: I want to kill and maim you," just as we can now acknowledge the presence of sexuality in otherwise inert scenarios. By embracing these urges, and following the forms into which those energies flow— we prepare for a civilization in which the bitter Schopenhauerian (that means Nietzschean and Freudian) truths have been absorbed rather than ignored. The willful concealment of these forces, after their acknowledgment, is not what I would call "shame"— I would call it "decency." I might want to kill or fuck this person, on some level, but now's not the time to mention it— this is decency.

But let's examine the presumptions even further:
Why should I feel Shame toward my instincts— instincts that are universal, prior to my agency, a presumably inalienable part of my Being? Or in Nietzschean terms, why should I "blame the great birds of prey." To blame that part of my Being: how is that any more reasonable than placing blame on wolves and panthers. The cruel, warring, violent impulses that guided my ancestors through cruel, warring, violent scenarios— they had their place. It is enough that through a mutual neutralization of Power— one of the true premises of modern civilization— that these impulses had to be countered, and forced against limitation and into Humility.
So "should one simply have humility about a desire to kill? "— Yes, only humility, only deference, only decency— to the extent that the desire to kill is there. But to what extent is the desire there— or what can we say of it exactly when the desire has not been acted upon?

There is a fundamental flaw in saying "the desire to kill is there" with so much coherence and narrative, when coherence and narrative cannot follow that statement to where the desire supposedly resides. It makes clean and beautiful theory, sure; asserting that we have some peephole or privileged access into subconscious urges. I don't believe it, however. I think we can say of these impulses that they are "aggressive" and "violent"— sometimes as a means, sometimes as an end. And even if you believe that civilization leaves these impulses fully intact— which I don't believe either— you cannot cleanly say which of our actions have their root in these violent impulses? Even animals are not continually pressed into circumstances of pure slaughter. There are other components to them, as well.

But the narrative that seals these impulses into the coherence of an act— such as the supremely coherent act of murder— helps make it possible to formulate something closer to Shame.

The Nietzschean story veers the opposite direction; saying that reclaiming these dark forces is essential for re-establishing the vital impulses in civilization. I have a different idea than Nietzsche about what this "reclamation" would look like, but we are together on the expurgation of Shame, as a sickness in the body politic.

Of course, a grizzly bear has neither humility nor shame, nor does the psychopath— but what is so offensive and disgusting about the psychopath is not the absence of shame, but that he has no other dimension besides this violent impulse— no loving and creative impulses. He makes the violence overly mechanical, straightforward, inhuman. But the same psychopathological impulse to violence may be present in many other great men; but in them, it is either balanced by a complex of other impulses or put into other interesting forms. Would we simply want to add Shame to the psychopath? Is this really good chemistry and psychical unity? It seems more like something that happened numerous times in the twisted history of Catholicism.

I've mentioned elsewhere that I think the superior attitude toward sexuality is in the acknowledgment of its darker motivations and forces, I think the same is true of violence and aggression. I think that just as in sex, power should be acted out through power-plays, which can maintain— even heighten— the awareness of these darker forces. Power-plays of agon and destruction; rather than practices of shaming.


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 14, 2008 8:41 pm 
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am going to skip Brandon's last post for now to just throw an insight out there regarding my own last post, Nate's following post, and Brandon's post following Nate's. On the surface, these three pieces of writing seem to be somewhat divergent, taking what I think are visibly different stands on the issues that are coming up. However, I noticed after re-reading all three in succession that there is a kind of mood or movement toward what for lack of a better phrase I want to call "holding back," consistantly across each post. Given the context of this community, where we all seem to be coming from, etc., and so on, this is an interesting theme to pick up on and highlight. Mostly because I don't know what to make of it. Clearly, again, we seem to have very different commitments and intellectual orientations--with all due respect I find Nate's discussion of shame, well, terrifying, especially from a clinical point of view--but at the same time (and I really think the term "conservative" should be avoided here), there is again a consistent intellectual/ethical "slowing down," "holding back" or whathaveyou. Clearly, however, we are in agreement that a more thorough assessment of the related issues as discussed here that revisits certain classical ideas, perhaps even values, is called for. Perhaps a Piercian suspension is in order, I dunno.

The only conclusion that I can draw from noticing this is that rather than there being a coming together here of different completed trains of thought, this looks more like a jumping off point for an as yet only intuitively outlined look at a few different things.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 29, 2008 12:58 pm 
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Just to add a few more short thoughts to this mostly exhausted thread— the abandoned beginning of a larger post from a few weeks ago:

I really don't understand what Dan means with the 5 senses relating to sex-- the senses are always engaged, any action engages all 5 senses, even if only minimally. I think eating, swimming, walking in the woods, being drunk, dancing are all totally comparable with sex in terms of multi-sensual engagement. Sex trumps other acts on the sensory level of touch, that much is obvious. However, smell and taste don't seem to be so central to the sexual act... or, at least, their role is not usually very pleasant (!). Plus, sex is often done in the complete dark. And sounds can also be quite minimal. So yeah, I don't agree or just don't understand what you meant.

What differentiates sex from other actions is its direct libidinal link. Sex, in theory, doesn't have to be libidinally cathected to cause pleasure. Freudianistically, the act of scientific experimentation redirects a certain aspect of one's libidinal drive-- in this case, a stereotypical example (a clinical possibility, NOT a constant, unless you're some kind of Jungian cretin), infantile curiousity about the sexual organs of the other gender is sublimated into curiousity about the chemical properties of certain matter. --resulting in a pleasurable activity. successful sublimation, heart-warming indded.. noble, yet neurotic in structure... (as good as it gets)

However, even sex can be disappointing and empty, in the same way as internet porn can feel empty. It is not because it hits-the-spot too directly, beelines straight for the lack without fanciful 'beating around the bush' (cultural slip). On the contrary, it misses because fantasy surpasses sex in terms of libidinal directness; and in some cases it betrays sex, usurping its position as libidinal focus. Therefore sex ('real-sex') can sometimes not live up to fantasy ('pastoral-sex'). I don't quite agrre with Brandon that "our desires are composed of all this peripheral stuff, with essentially nothing at their center." Our desire is composed precisely of this one central impossibility/pastoral/fantasy.. the inaccessible "Lady" of troubador poetry, the object a, object-cause-of-desire.

And, naturally, I end up at Lacan's famous assertion that "there is no sexual relationship." That the sexual partner "does not exist as a real subject, but only as a fantasy object, the cause of his desire." But that can maybe be left for another discussion as I think this one is quite tapped out.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 27, 2008 10:37 am 
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Nate, I'm grinning as I write this, but if taste and smell aren't much a part of your sexual life, and especially if you find them unpleasant, then I think we may just be on two different planets on this one. We're clearly not having the same kind of sex. Without getting too personal, these are for me some of the most enjoyable parts of the experience, especially simple things like kissing and smelling a partner's hair. And as for the dark and minimal sounds, all I can say is that from my point of view people having sex like that are living in a prison of their own making (!). That is a matter of personal taste perhaps, which then would warrant the inclusion of social-scientific data if we were really going to get serious about making claims like this. Take this tongue-in-cheek, please, but I seriously have always wondered about people who are too quiet during sex.

More seriously, it really doesn't need to be pointed out that all 5 senses are always engaged, that's obvious. My point is that, for at least some people anyway, sex at it's best can heighten the sensory experience in ways that other acts don't. I guess one has to be pre-disposed to making much of the senses within this context that you've rightly pointed out are not always engaged every time anyone has sex. Now, I am not someone who makes hard and fast claims in general, and this isn't one, but I think it would be useful to actually poll individuals on this and see to what extent this is true on various levels for different individuals across groups. This is a purely empirical claim, and is true of my own experience. Judging by his response, I think Brandon's probably corroborates this.

I can also only disagree that "there is no sexual partner." That claim to me begs certain metaphysical questions (specifically about boundaries, the nature of self, psycho-physical dualism, the law of non-contradiction, and so on), that would warrant a discussion of their own. Suffice it to say, I (and I think others here) have strong reservations about claims like this, as it smacks of the projection of a given theorist's own sense of alienation onto the world, assigning that personal "grid" of interpretation the import of metaphysical truth. Claims about which I hope we are all wary of in general at this point. Suffice it to say, claiming that it is impossible to genuinely connect with another person just sounds like the mechanistic age talking through theory, not a claim that holds in immediate experience--at least not for everyone.

I think this specific part of the discussion really draws out the intellectual and personal fault lines in this group, in really fascinating ways.


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