A trip down memory lane, we could call this post. On an impulse-buy counter in a French bookstore I see a little yellow book with this title in neon pink letters: Esthéthique de l’éjaculation (the aesthetics of ejaculation). Fifty pages, used copy, on sale for less than four euros, hard to resist (though some might say of a book with such a title, Better not to buy secondhand).
It turned out to be quite a good book, by one Antonio Dominquez Leiva, a professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and author of several other works, on sex and on gory movies, among other things. May I also say that the length, 8,000 words or so, has a lot to be said for it; readable in one sitting. Leiva provides a quick review of his subject, beginning in the Middle Ages, continuing on to the Marquis de Sade and the somehow inescapable Otto Weininger, and concluding with action painting, Georges Bataille, Lewinsky-Clinton, and contemporary advertising and porn films.
It was the beginning of the story that I, ignorant of this history or of its details, found the most engaging. Apparently for the Medieval church (i.e. the Catholic Church) coitus interruptus was a worse sin than adultery or incest because these latter were “natural” acts: they could produce offspring. Citing, or extrapolating from, Aquinas’s De malo (On Evil), Leiva proposes that the Medieval understanding was that the seeds of future human beings—or of future men—were entirely contained in the sperm. (Women were only born when something went wrong in the process, which it seems to have done about 50 percent of the time.) Thus, for Saint Bernard (1090–1153) those who, like Onan in Genesis, let their sperm run out on the ground were worse than assassins, they were guilty of infanticide.
From here (skipping many pages) we make our way—happily, I am inclined to say—from this “old world” to the present one in which onanism is not simply more common than intercourse; it seems, in many milieux, to be almost sin or guilt free. Near the end of his story Leiva pauses to note the quantity of joyously overflowing liquids now seen in ads for various drinks, and the deluge of creams and colognes that can be seen covering models’ faces, arms, chests, and seemingly to these women’s great satisfaction. Now that the survival of our species or of our particular religious or political groupings feels rather more assured than it did centuries ago, procreation seems much less essential or desirable. And thus in our advertising, painting and pornography—the spilling of sperm is now celebrated?
I had forgotten (or had never heard) that in her legal testimony Monica Lewinsky expressed frustration that the President never ejaculated. Perhaps in this way Clinton was able to tell himself that he was not really having sex or committing adultery, or perhaps his guilt and anxiety about what he was doing made ejaculation impossible. In another century or two, when we have more fully become “post-humans,” will this entire history seem quaint, with the pleasures once connected to ejaculation, and to sex and masturbation more generally, now being replaced by regular doses of hormones or electric stimulation of specific neurons in the brain? For several reasons, my age included, I am not looking forward to this.
— William Eaton, Zeteo Executive Editor
Images, Leiva’s Book, Weininger’s, Aquinas
The image, of Bernard receiving milk from the breast of the Virgin Mary, is based on the legend—or reports?—that this indeed happened in Speyer Cathedral in Germany in 1146.
Antonio Dominquez Leiva, Esthéthique de l’éjaculation (le murmure, 2012). I do not believe that any of Leiva’s books are available in English.
One of Leiva’s advertising examples is an ad and tagline for the L.A.M.B. fragrance (“I want you all over me”). An illustrative, 30-second L.A.M.B. video has been available on YouTube.
As regards Otto Weininger (1880-1903, Viennese), his misogynistic and antisemitic Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character) not only influenced Wittgenstein, Strindberg, and many others of his contemporaries, it seems to keep cropping up in twenty-first century academic works, as if the book had an irresistible fascination. In the context of the present discussion it may be noted that Weininger is one of the not so few who has preached (or simply thought) that sex saps our energies. To realize our genius we need to resist seduction and the pleasures of the flesh, devoting ourselves to the absolute, God. Hard for me not to respond to this by proposing that perhaps we’ve had enough geniuses.
This brings us to Aquinas (Summa Theologica): “Spiritual goods do not strike us as very valuable when our affections are sapped by love of bodily pleasures, and especially sexual pleasures. By craving these a man comes to feel distaste for spiritual values. Thus, despair is caused by lust.” From which perspective, the spilling of the male seed and female equivalents might seem less sinful than useful? And we might have to revisit the story line above. If, in the Middle Ages, procreation was a great good, how bad or depressing could lust really be?