Monday, April 28, 2014

The Objectified Woman and the Snuffed Out Soul

The First Mourning- Bouguereau
Pain and love came into the world as conjoined twins. No one can escape the grief that comes with rejection, having to watch someone they care about suffer, or the separation that death brings. But in a short-sighted, pathetic attempt, our culture tries. Driven by cowardice and complacency, the goal of objectification is to maximize reward and minimize risk; to simultaneously escape both loneliness and consequence.

To say that this is a spreading problem is undeniable-- pornography has grown into an economic titan, television and film are becoming increasingly adult-themed, and the female form is exploited at every opportunity. All these mechanisms have a common engine that strives to take one thing out of the equation-- their subject's personalities. They exploit the beautiful, and in the act, remove the sublime.

Wanderer Above the Sea Fog- Friedrich
German philosopher Immanuel Kant distinguished the beautiful from the sublime by defining the beautiful as something that is found in a contained form. It has defined boundaries and shape, and it is this shape that usually causes our appreciation of the thing. The sublime, on the other hand, is limitless, expansive, and infinite. Kant felt that we can experience the sublime in two ways—either at the moment we realize something is beyond our capability to measure it or at the moment we realize that something has limitless power and the capability to destroy us, yet it has no dominion over us. If we run with Kant’s definition, then to experience the sublimity of love requires acknowledging the terror that accompanies vulnerability. Any man who has experienced this knows that women’s souls can be explosive and nebulous. One moment they can feel like a summer breeze, the next a harsh wind. To say the least, they are immeasurable. Too frequently this causes men to seek out cheap imitations of companionship that don't require risk-- either by wasting away in their dark rooms with pornography or behaving promiscuously (by this I mean expressing strong romantic feelings loosely and without conviction) with a different girl every weekend. These actions ironically distance us further and further from what it is we actually desire.

Ours is a culture obsessed with the beautiful. It seeks to capture it with film, pixels, and sounds. Our eyes have been trained to drift instantly to the measurable aspects of female interactions. Too often our conversations about women are uninspired—how hot was she? What was her body like? Instead, where are the men who are less concerned with a woman’s shape but whether or not her mind has stretched out into the far reaches of her potential? When we stop recognizing the limitless in each other, we stifle it.

 The hard truth is that recognizing the majesty of the female soul increases our sense of hesitation in approaching it. Unfortunately, simply having the courage to allow ourselves to be vulnerable doesn't always result in sublime experiences. Unlike many of the forces of nature, we can't always have control over others souls like we wish we could. We can't force others to feel for us the way we feel for them. But if we as men choose to hold out with some integrity, then we can eventually reach the sublime experience described by Kant: we will share dominion with a woman not because we force her, but because she has chosen to offer it freely to us as we offer ourselves to her in harmonious partnership. We are then exposed to both of Kant's concepts of the sublime-- another soul, limitless and measureless, has aligned itself with our own, replacing our vulnerability with security. This pursuit requires strong people who are willing to shutout the pervasive influences that tell us to seek out the easy in life. It requires both patience and ferocity and a desire to cultivate the depths of our own souls while helping others do the same. In this framework, pain no longer becomes a hindrance, but a foundation.

Ezra Pound described the need for these kind of men in the last two stanzas of his poem "Revolt:"

Great God, if men are grown but pale sick phantoms
That must live only in these mists and tempered lights
And tremble for dim hours that knock o'er loud
Or tread too violent in passing them;

Great God, if these thy sons are grown such thin ephemera,
I bid thee grapple chaos and beget
Some new titanic spawn to pile the hills and stir
This earth again.

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