“THE LARGEST-EVER STUDY OF GENETICS AND SEXUAL ORIENTATION:” A REVIEW

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“Nonbinary!” What a word! It fires up the imagination! Not only that, it’s scientific. And sexy. And freeing. I don’t know anyone who could have anything to say against it.

As a word.

But even words are powerful things, more powerful than things themselves, more powerful than feelings, more powerful than thoughts, especially if they make one feel like a progressive, radical scientist, against which no argument can be made. “World! I may be a shy vulnerable nobody, but I am nonbinary! Husband! I am nonbinary! Don’t mess with me.”

The once transgressive term, “gay,” or “homosexual,” seems almost quaint when put next to the profound and ever-mysterious, “nonbinary.”

When a word like “gay” begins to lose its buzzword power, the general population begins to do the unthinkable—no longer intimidated by the word, itself, there is an honest and earnest attempt to calmly and rationally discover things beyond the word, itself, and seek to understand what homosexual activity really means.

The most common explanation I’ve seen is:  homosexuality occurs in animals; its rationale is to “thin the herd,” when there has been too much breeding.

But I’ve seen a splendid explanation much less “practical” and more “enlightened:” homosexuality is actually a movement of evolutionary progress, where people choose a partner based on loving, virtuous characteristics, rather than on their genitalia.

Genitalia? Some heterosexuals will protest: I choose a mate based on both: virtue and sex.

These two positions illustrate something crucial, I think.  Homosexuality as a function of enlightened evolution assumes nature is interested in progress, interested in making a “better squirrel.” Like a Marxist philosopher, nature does not want to preserve itself—it wants to change itself.  Homosexuality, from this enlightened and virtuous perspective, belongs to progress.  Typically, we know that people have no choice. People will usually get insulted if they are told that homosexuality is a choice.  Since it is not a choice, homosexuality belongs to nature, and by the reasoning of this “enlightenment” position, to evolution. A person is born homosexual—for the sake of progress.  To make a better squirrel, or a better human being.

But does nature care about progress? Does nature care about a better squirrel? Not really. Animals adapt to environmental conditions. Adaptation is just that: adaptation. Adaptation is slavery, not progress. Nature presents two things: the ruthless environment, and creatures who have no choice but to live within that ruthless environment, or die.  The pearl may be beautiful, but it is a pearl for one reason and one reason, only: it came about because of its ruthless conditions, to which it had to completely and blindly adapt. Animals are not free. Evolution is not free. Adaptation is not free. And nature is not free. Nature does not care if there is a “better” squirrel. The squirrel is a squirrel precisely because it is wholly, not partially, beholden to its environment.  And reproduction is the absolute primary fact of a squirrel’s survival. Since every single thing about a squirrel is based on its ability to survive, and reproduction is necessary for its survival, there is no such thing as a “better” squirrel which “does not reproduce.”  The idea that homosexuality is “progress” in terms of natural evolution is absurd.

The argument that homosexuality belongs to the realm of virtue and not sex—whereas heterosexuality belongs to sex and not virtue—and an important way that nature can evolve or progress, is by producing homosexual humans, is a fascinating and attractive idea.  It’s a very simple, and rather obvious idea, based on the notion that ordinarily, the male is slavishly driven to mate with the female—but homosexuality short-circuits this, producing a male who is able to remove himself from the slavery of reproduction, and focus on more enlightened and virtuous things.

But there are some problems with this.

First, as we mentioned above, it is a simplification to assume the heterosexual is only interested in genitalia—due to the traditional reproductive task to which the heterosexual is supposedly enslaved.  It does not logically follow that a homosexual would be less interested in genitalia, or more interested in personal virtue. After all sex, in terms of meaning, defines the homosexual qua homosexual.

Sex, depending on the person, could have no part of that person whatsoever, but as soon as one is identified as a homosexual, that is precisely, by the strict definition of the word itself, a sexual identity. Even if one is too ugly to have sex, identifying them as a homosexual, makes them, at least in terms of terminology, a sexual being. Homosexual means sex, and nothing else.

Secondly, reproduction is important to nature, but how much time in a man’s life has to be devoted to reproduction? Surely a lifetime is long enough that if a genius is devoted to science or art, there is plenty of time to do their science or art, whether they are gay or straight.

How did homosexuality, then, come to be identified with genius?  It’s easy to see.  Ancient Athens is known for two things: philosophical genius and male homosexuality—but this was because Greek women were slaves, not because male homosexuality by itself produces genius.  The genius, devoted to their craft, will often eschew marriage, children, and sex altogether, and in male dominated societies, count men as their dearest companions, opening up speculation they are gay; but gossip and social relations alone cannot in any way tell us whether homosexuality more than heterosexuality belongs to virtue, or creativity, or genius.

Nature is interested in reproduction, not progress. The genius often does not have children. Nature has no desire to keep breeding geniuses to create a superman. This is not how it works. The genius creates products which transcend nature. The genius defies the slavery of nature by making nature adapt to genius. The genius does not adapt to nature; the nature adapts to genius. Mozart was a miracle, was divine. The reproductive agenda ceases with a creature like Mozart. Nature reproduces with a roll of the dice—it doesn’t plan Mozarts; Nature doesn’t care if the bad or the good reproduce. Poe’s siblings were half-wits. The genius of Poe was not planned by evolution, or nature.

But whether Mozart happened to be gay or straight has absolutely nothing to do with his genius. Nature and evolution have nothing to do with genius. Reproduction produces genius, but only by accident, and reproduction, or lack of reproduction has nothing to do with genius, per se.

There is no enlightened reason for homosexuality to exist, then. A homosexual is not more virtuous, somehow, than a heterosexual.

But what about the nonbinary?  Is this more advanced?

If we go back to the argument, which I think I have debunked, that homosexuality is an evolutionary advancement of some kind, because homosexuals are more concerned with the ‘person’ than the ‘genitalia (reproduction),’ I think it’s pretty clear to see that nonbinary travels down that same road—for unlike the homosexual, the nonbinary eschews not only heterosexuality, but the binary, as well—to which the homosexual, as well as the heterosexual, belongs. In the gender binary language of 1, 0, female, male, a pairing, or a relationship, still signifies a binary situation, within that binary language, whether it is 1/0, 0/1, 0/0, or 1/1.

However, with the nonbinary, we see the same principle in operation.  The nonbinary is supposedly more enlightened, not because the nonbinary is removed from reproduction, like the homosexual, but because the nonbinary is removed from gender.

Imagine a binary language in which heterosexual is 0 and homosexual is 1.  Now we know that a sequence of zeros or a sequence of ones is hardly a language at all. Compare that to the “nonbinary” language, a sequence of any combination of 0 or 1; this produces computer code—a real language.  The nonbinary person, then, in terms of evolution, should be miles ahead of the mere homosexual or heterosexual.  Is a nonbinary person superior to a heterosexual or a homosexual person?  Would that be fair to say?

For the same reason that the homosexual is not in any way superior to the heterosexual, it would be highly prejudicial and unfair to assign any evolutionary advantage to the nonbinary person.  People are not good, or bad, based on reproduction, lack of reproduction, gender, or lack of gender. Nature needs reproduction, and therefore her creatures reproduce in specific ways, based on how they navigate their environment, in completely fixed, reactive, slavish, methods. Nature does not believe in progress, but only in blind reproduction. The miraculous, or the divine, human creativity, is the only participant in progress, and this progress does not happen individually—Mozart did not reproduce a host of little Mozarts—but through art and science which forces nature to adapt to its products, rather than the other way around, where animals must obey and adapt to nature. The transcendent products of art and science reproduce completely apart from the reproductive instruments of nature, and therefore have nothing to do with sex or gender or reproduction. Genius is not nonbinary, heterosexual, or homosexual, and never will be. Genius belongs to a completely different realm, apart from nature.

If the nonbinary is a kind of corrective advancement over homosexuality, we see how it fails in this task, just as all attempts at progress in nature fail, since nature is not aware of progress, only of reproduction and adaption. Just as the word homosexual cannot escape the sexual, the word nonbinary cannot escape the binary—since nonbinary seeks to negate the binary, and therefore if binary does not exist, the nonbinary does not really exist, either. And as we saw above: 010011100 is a binary language, and this is the “language” of the “nonbinary,” which is absurd, just as the language of the heterosexual 000000, or the language of the homosexual, 111111, is equally absurd. The binary condition of gender exists for one reason: reproduction, and reproduction belongs to nature, and not progress.

Therefore, questions of heterosexuality, homosexuality, and the nonbinary will always be a mystery when it comes to the human, since these questions are finally immersed in the science of reproduction and nature—who obeys her own law, and which humans, when they are creative at all, will do best to entirely escape.

The best example we can think of nonbinary is the aggressive male puppy, who, one may notice, will hump almost anything.

Has the mystery of homosexuality been solved?

A recent, October 18, 2018, MIT Technology Review article summarizes the “largest-ever study of genetics and sexual orientation.”  The results are paradoxical—as one might expect—and quite fascinating.  The significance of the study has not yet entered the popular consciousness.  The so-called discovery of the “gay gene” in 1993—a discovery never replicated, and subsequently dismissed in many scientific circles—had tremendous impact on the non-scientific community.

Genetics and sexual orientation are related in mysterious ways. Most likely there is no “gay gene.”

There’s the science of sexual orientation.

And then there’s talk—among the non-scientific.

When it comes to genetics and sexual orientation—or just sexual orientation—there is the scientific, the unscientific, and paradox—the mysterious bridge between the two.

The MIT Technology Review article has an enticing title: “Genes linked to being gay may help straight people get more sex”

In the spirit of the paradox of sexual orientation, I want to examine the work not of a scientist, but that of a poet, who happens to live in Brooklyn.

Then I’ll return to the latest scientific study and the paradox of homosexuality.

We need to see what the poets are saying, too.

A recent short memoir published online by Redivider, is introduced on Facebook by its author, Joanna Valente, as “a thing I wrote,” which gave “me a lot of anxiety to share.”

But share it, she did. And her short memoir has a great opening.

It sounds like the start of the great American novel today:

“I came out to T as a nonbinary after we’d been married for a year.”

Reading Valente’s “thing,” I was reminded why I prefer non-fiction to fiction—the majority of fiction is unreliable memoir—an autobiography rather elaborately disguised for a publisher’s board meeting.

Memoir is not dressed up, but a memoir is no more immune than fiction from unreliability.

But a memoir features an unreliability of a different kind.

A memoir’s unreliability is more unreliable.  It’s less professional. A memoir’s unreliability is right there on the surface. It has the novel’s complexity, but nothing about the complexity is hidden, or airbrushed away.

Immediately after her marvelous opening, Valente, though not a scientist, makes it known to us that she has an understanding of the nonbinary which eclipses her husband’s:

Over dinner I told him nonchalantly, hoping that nonchalance would soften it. I was nervous he wouldn’t understand, that I would just feel ashamed like I was still in 5th grade and trying to fit in with my Ramona Quimby haircut and Doc Martens.

“Okay. So can I still call you my wife to my friends? And use ‘she’ as a pronoun?” he asked.

I smiled quickly, didn’t even let myself feel the disappointment. But in the back of my throat, I felt sad, unseen. It wasn’t about the pronouns for me, it was about the question. It wasn’t about what I wanted.

“Of course you can. So, it’s like O. O is nonbinary too, but is more masculine than me, whereas I’m more femme. I mean, we’ve talked about how I think binaries aren’t helpful anyway. It’s not like masculine or feminine traits even mean anything. We’re all the same, we’re all humans. We’re just socialized to think in binary,” I tried to explain, using my best friend as an example. T always liked O, so I felt like this would help him understand.

“Sure, I mean, I don’t know. This whole thing just seems like a huge trend, a phase,” he said, laughing.

He always made everything a joke. I didn’t mind it unless I was trying to explain something serious—and this was one of those times where I didn’t want the answer to be a joke. I wanted him to see me. I wanted the person who married me to see me. Sometimes I wonder when I really stopped being a wife.

I realize now I that I stopped “being a wife” when I stopped feeling seen by T. How can we stay in worlds, in realities, that don’t feel true to us? We construct our own homes, our most personal and truest realities, in hopes that we can find a sanctuary outside of the capitalist heteronormative society we live in—as a way to dismantle a false world for another. We shouldn’t have to constantly navigate different identities that massage our authenticity into easy boxes and bite-sized ideas. It’s not about leading double lives or contradictory realities, but going between our different identities, like wife and colleague, so often we forget who we are—or try to change who we are to be seen.

A year later, he found an article about the third sex in history and culture; I remember wanting to feel proud of him, and I did, but I also remember feeling so alone. I was waking up as he mentioned it, and pulled the covers over my shoulders, bookmarking it to read for later. Sometimes I wondered if my love of language became too semantic to the point that I was destroying something beautiful; isn’t being too semantic a way to miss the point? Or was I simply just used to pleasing others? I remember how the word “wife” sounded weird in my mouth and offered partner instead. He felt it was too clinical, like a hospital bed. I wanted to find the right words, the right everything, for us. I’m not sure why I couldn’t.

The strange thing is, it’s not that I stopped finding him attractive or began to despise him over time, I just stopped wanting to have sex with him. There are, of course, a million reasons why this could have happened. I was sexually assaulted more than once by the time we met while I was finishing my MFA, I was still figuring out my queer identity, and I often suffered from chronic UTIs during our relationship. The UTIs became a scary cycle: we’d have sex, I’d have shooting pain, take antibiotics, try holistic methods to no success, and the cycle would repeat. Sometimes after sex, I’d spot pale pink blood blending into the toilet paper. My body was broken. I felt like I was broken.

My body was continually traumatized, so of course, I stopped wanting to do something that ended with pain. I became used to it. I shamed myself, as if there was something wrong with me. No doctor really tried to understand it, tried to help me in a real way. Were we just incompatible? I’d find myself thinking.

Valente’s memoir is “unreliable,” but not because she is unreliable—the author speaks, reliably, for herself, for her husband, and for her life. We have no doubt of that.

The unreliability, however, and this is ironic perhaps, lives in the very bones of her story.

Valente is unreliable with a perfect frankness and sincerity.  There is no author playing an unreliable character.  This is better.  The unreliability is sincere.  It is like us.

Fiction puts the burden of knowing on the reader—the memoir puts the burden of knowing on the author.

As soon as we publish on matters of any importance, we betray that world. This is why the dignified are not writers, and why so many good, honest people choose not to be writers. It’s a wise choice, actually, not to write. To write is to betray. If we are reliable in our writing, we betray. This is why Valente was honest when she admitted she had “a lot of anxiety” in sharing her memoir.

According to Valente, her husband makes “everything a joke,” but discussing her nonbinary nature, she doesn’t want to joke.

But what if the nonbinary is a joke?  What if the nonbinary itself is a profound, philosophical joke?

Well, it is.

When Valente presents us with her brilliant, searing, and yet oh so casual opening, “I came out to T as a nonbinary after we’d been married for a year,” she seems unaware that she’s being terribly funny. And ironic.

And here’s the further irony—the husband, according to the wife’s revealing and embarrassing memoir, is the stupid joke in response; we are told he is a joker. The husband’s response, however, is not funny at all; his response is a pleading attempt to “soften” the fact she is coming out as nonbinary; the husband speaks directly to the trope at the bottom of the memoir’s unconscious nonbinary joke: are you still my wife? Is what he asks, and this is very much not a joke.

The husband’s reaction highlights another interesting fact of Valente’s memoir—the fact that she perhaps married the wrong person: he is funny; she is not—her “partner” will not “get” her joke, the joke in which she tells her partner she is nonbinary, a joke she is telling, but, a joke she doesn’t seem to get.

Here’s the great irony: Telling him she is nonbinary makes him disappear. She wants him to see her—but she doesn’t see him.

Her marriage is tragi-comically nonbinary—yet she doesn’t notice the irony when she “confesses” she is nonbinary—she wants to be “seen,” but doesn’t “see” him, or “see” the marriage, or “see” how at every step, she contradicts herself. This is why, for me, she is a unreliable narrator—but not the unreliable narrator produced by the clever novelist. She is better than that.

T was supportive, to a point. It’s hard to understand how to help someone who suffers from sexual trauma, who stopped wanting to have sex with you even though they still love you. The problem was, I realized, I was expected to figure it all out by myself; T would listen when I would confront him, but offer little help or solutions. I was alone. I went to therapy on and off—to little success. One therapist even told me I wasn’t sexually assaulted in the first place, while another mostly listened, but never said much. Resentment seeping into me like a pus filling a wound. My entire body, my entire being, felt like a wound. A scab.

On the morning I moved out of my one-bedroom apartment with T, he helped me drive a truck with what I could fit into my new bedroom in an apartment shared with three strangers—because I couldn’t afford to stay in an apartment by myself. That’s the thing about New York City; it’s a city for couples, because hardly anyone without financial support or a hefty salary can afford an apartment on their own. I was delirious with fever, dealing with a chronic ear illness. It all felt too messy, too overwhelming, not real. I convinced myself this was good: I’ll discover myself and find ways to save our marriage—which largely meant, I’ll find ways to have sex with T again. After all, it was my idea to move. I craved space. I wanted a space to find myself.

During the beginning of our separation, we still saw each other a few times a week, slept over each other’s places; we were dating, basically. In retrospect, it’s hard for me not to feel like I was dangled, as if this was just a way to fade me out easily; perhaps that wasn’t  T’s intention, but I was still afraid. I was afraid if I didn’t  perform “wife” the right way or do the right things, he’d leave. I can’t say I wasn’t wrong. He was seeing someone else he met at work earlier that year, but I was hoping it was just a fling, something short-term and fun. I was going on dates, myself, but none of them mattered.

Two months after I moved, I started to feel him slip away; his fling was turning into a full-fledged relationship. I didn’t want to be unsupportive, so I supported him; I understood how it must have felt, having sex after years of intermittent sex that felt often very fragile, like a feeling for a cobweb in the dark. And yet, I felt abandoned, betrayed—left for someone else, someone new, someone fun—someone with less hang ups. I felt betrayed to be left when I was sick, dealing with an illness that left me with a hearing impairment, unsure if my hearing would return “back to normal.” It did, but with 24/7 tinnitus. Nothing, of course, is the same. A few months after our separation, we met for dinner. I couldn’t help but cry and say I missed him. I missed us. I missed my home. One of the hardest things about the breakup, any breakup, is rebuilding a home. I wanted us to work out, go to therapy, do something.

Valente’s behavior as a nonbinary is there for all the world to see, in her contradictory, nonbinary, behavior—she chooses to move away from her husband, a supporting husband, (perhaps clueless at times, but one she loves, at least she says as much in the memoir) to find “space”—in a four-bedroom flat with three random roommates.

According to her, dealing with medical issues and alone, she makes the decisive move to vacate her home with him, when she still loves him, and then (surprise) she wants him back, after she moves out, and after she gives him license to sleep with another woman, as she, the ever reliable narrator and wife, is, according to her confession, unable to have intercourse with him (and feeling guilty about it). Nonbinary, indeed!

The unrequited love she has for her husband becomes for her, unconsciously, the ultimate nonbinary affliction.

Her romantic longings are the old-fashioned parallel to the post-modern nonbinary of sexual politics—the heart-throb nonbinary and the sexual politics nonbinary are intimately connected on many levels, which she, able to lecture her husband on the nonbinary, doesn’t see. There’s more irony and paradox here than you can shake a stick at.

Perhaps she doesn’t love her husband, and he really is a monster, and every unconscious, gut-feeling, step she took was to save her dignity, and herself, from a marriage that was a (binary) mistake.

The narrative arc of either fiction or memoir, like all attempts at self-rationalizing thought, self-justifies itself during its inevitable forward movement in time. Fiction/memoir justifies everything, even as it betrays everything. And, of course, she tortures herself at what she could have done differently to make the marriage work.

This is the fate of all romance: nonbinary tortures the binary.

But just as Valente vanquishes her husband when it comes to the understanding of the nonbinary, the question arises: do we need to step outside of all narrative arcs, and philosophically and scientifically apprehend the nonbinary to understand what it really is?

Yes, even fiction, even scientific nonfiction is trapped in the narrative arc of its reasoning. If this review of Valente’s memoir so far is already an indication of a critic trapped in his review, just as Valente is trapped in her marriage, the critical arc yet demands philosophy (science) solve the tangle, a tangle related so calmly and deftly by Valente in her memoir.

It is hard to fathom whether Valente’s memoir is more like Anna Karenina or Judith Butler.

What is this, exactly? Old school romance or post-modern sexual blurring?

The wonderful opening line, “I came out to T as a nonbinary,” hints at Judith Butler, but there’s plenty of Anna Karenina, too:

I convinced myself this was good: I’ll discover myself and find ways to save our marriage—which largely meant, I’ll find ways to have sex with T again.

*

Two months after I moved, I started to feel him slip away; his fling was turning into a full-fledged relationship.

*

And yet, I felt abandoned, betrayed—left for someone else, someone new, someone fun—someone with less hang ups.

*

“How do you feel about us?” I asked him.

“I feel so, so guilty. I don’t want to abandon you, but I feel like we’re just friends. We’ve always been friends, but I need passion. I want something more. I want to see where things go with R… But I also don’t I’m abandoning you, since I’m still here for you. We’re still friends,” he said, firmly as tears formed in his eyes.

“I mean, if this is what you want, I want you to do it. I just want you to be happy. Obviously, I don’t want you to stay with me and then just resent me… I do feel rushed, though,” I said, trying to choose my words wisely, pausing and then said, “And I do feel blindsided. I want to try. Go to couples’ therapy. I just feel like it hasn’t been long enough to just give up.”

“But I’ve spent so much time with you,” he said. “I don’t want to keep prolonging this. I feel like we did try.”

“I know, and I’m not saying things would necessarily work out. I just want to feel like we did everything we could. I also wish the timing was better. I kind of sucks that a lot of this happened when I was sick. I did feel abandoned then,” I said, trying to push away that familiar ache in my throat.

So here is the question, as we observe the clinical truth of the “nonbinary” resting beside old-fashioned “binary” romance of Anna Karenina:

How much free will is involved in sex?

Here’s what Valente says:

“If life post-separation has taught me anything, it’s that love is a choice. You choose to stay in love, to work on love, to work on yourself.”

How much of this opinion is romance, and how much of it is scientific?

And remember, she says this: “The strange thing is, it’s not that I stopped finding him attractive or began to despise him over time, I just stopped wanting to have sex with him. There are, of course, a million reasons why this could have happened.”

When the general population uses the term nonbinary in terms of sexual orientation, are they using it scientifically?

Is being nonbinary a choice?

Is staying true to one partner a choice?

Is having multiple partners a choice?

Is sleeping with both genders a choice?

Is the nonbinary, which is replacing homosexuality in social importance, on some unconscious or pre-conscious level, The Revenge of the Cis?

Is the “nonbinary” secretly a heterosexual trope in an age of sexual confusion?

As a nonbinary queer person, Valente believes in free will and choice: “I’ll find ways to have sex with T again.” “No one ever talks about how you have to work at sex.” Contrast this with the following quote by the current U.S. president’s gay US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell:

“The truth for LGBT people is that we were born gay.”

It is almost time to return to the recent study on genetics and sexual orientation.

But permit me to rant and speculate a little further.

Is successful “partnering-up” a choice, or not?

Does the general population really understand the underlying truths of sexual orientation?  Is there a scientific test they can take? Do they only know after they sexually experiment? Or do they not know then, either, until they experiment some more? Or does too much experimenting confuse a person? Are they obligated to work on a relationship? Or do relationships happen based on how they were born? And what exactly makes them happen in the first place? What images or gestures matter, on a micro-level? How much is nurture, or nature? How can we begin to understand the complexity of a relationship? Who tells us this? Whom do we trust? A scientist? A potential lover? Ourselves? A wise aunt? The bible? The Oracle of Delphi? Teen Vogue? Jerry Springer? How much does scientific knowledge benefit the general population in this regard? How much of it is feeling and instinct? How much does popular culture impact how people feel?

And there’s a deeper philosophical question.  As Valente says when she first tells her huband she is a nonbinary:

“It’s not like masculine or feminine traits even mean anything. We’re all the same, we’re all humans. We’re just socialized to think in binary.”

In terms of pure logic, if there is no binary, there is no nonbinary, either.

And again, in the strictest logical terms, “binary” exists in whatever relationship there is between two people—at any moment in time.

There can only be a “binary” relationship.  There is no other.

How does nonbinary exist at all, then? If a relationship doesn’t exist, it doesn’t exist. A non-existent relationship is not nonbinary—it simply is not a relationship at all.

If nonbinary denotes, simply, “swings both ways,” one could make a case for nonbinary as having meaning, but if, as Valente points out, “It’s not like masculine or feminine traits even mean anything. We’re all the same, we’re all humans,” then isn’t “swings both ways” essentially meaningless within this context?  If a relationship is just a relationship, then every unique relationship is, as a matter of course, binary.

Relationships, then, will always be binary, whether or not one has found “the right one,” and, in Valente’s case, she seems to have definitely toyed (is that the wrong word?) with the idea that her husband is “the right one.” She is quite upset when her husband tells her he has found someone else who is “the right one,” even as she says she is “happy for him.”

That night over dinner with him, I asked if he was happy with her, if she was the right one. He said yes. I wanted to rip out all the years from inside my body, but I knew I couldn’t. I wanted to be happy for him, and I was, so I said so. Antagonizing or trying to persuade him was useless. It would alienate both of us. So I didn’t.

Again, and this is quite natural, and surely this happens a million times a day all over the world—and in many cases, including this story of Valente’s, we find ourselves asking: Is this Anna Karenina or Judith Butler?  A Tolstoy romance or Post-Modern Gender Studies?  If Judith Butler is assumed to be more “scientific,” what does it mean when the general population of non-scientists feeds their hearts on scientific terminology, but terminology of which the deeper philosophical implications they haven’t thought through?  Is this bad, or good?

With this in mind, we now turn to the high paradox of sexual orientation genetics in the most recent study on sex and genetics, where science, poetry and unreliable narrators commingle.

After discussing Valente’s work, the irony and paradox of genes, sex, sexual orientation, choice, free will, knowledge, hearsay, love, romance, binary and nonbinary, should leap right out at you:

It is best to quote profusely from the MIT Technology Review article itself—written, thankfully, for the lay person. And in fact, the article is brief enough that we can quote the whole thing:

Across cultures, between 2% and 5% of men are gay. That amounts to an evolutionary paradox: gay men have fewer children, so one would expect that the trait would disappear over time. But it hasn’t.

Now a team of researchers has carried out the largest-ever genetic study of sexual orientation and found evidence consistent with one possible explanation. The very same genetic factors that predispose people to being gay may also, when heterosexuals have them, lead to more sexual partners and greater “mating success.”

Details of the unpublished study have been described in a public research  plan, in two scientific abstracts, and by researchers at a scientific meeting held in June at the Broad Institute, a genome research center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The hunt for sexual orientation genes—which wades into the polarizing question of whether people are born gay or become so—is part of a boom in genomics research that aims to unveil how genes shape behavior, not just diseases.

Powering the new social genetics are huge databases, including the British government-funded UK Biobank and the DNA of millions of customers collected by 23andMe, a consumer gene testing company. Scientists have begun using this mass of data to successfully probe the genetic basis of a surprising range of behaviors, from smoking to insomnia, intelligence, marijuana use, and even time spent watching television.

The research is at its most sensitive when it touches on sexual orientation. Jeffrey Reid, who is head of genome informatics at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and who is gay, says he is concerned about how such discoveries are discussed in the press. That could have an outsize impact on already vulnerable people, he says.

“Supposedly ‘clear evidence’ of a genetic basis for homosexuality may lead a parent to deem their gay son irrevocably broken and eject him from their life,” Reid says. “Alternatively, maybe some evidence of a genetic basis of homosexuality may lead a parent to embrace their child as God made them, or lead someone struggling out of darkness and into self-acceptance.”

Because the work could be controversial, the team behind the new gene hunt opted to post their research plan online in 2017. They described their intent to perform a genome-wide association study, a technique originally developed to locate genetic susceptibilities to diseases like macular degeneration and diabetes.

But instead of scouring for associations between people’s illnesses and features of their genomes, they would carry out a vast statistical analysis comparing the DNA of hundreds of thousands of people with information about their sexual behavior.

It’s already well known that being gay is partly genetic—as in all other behaviors, genes play a role. Yet earlier attempts to identify specific genes involved were, by and large, unsuccessful. That’s mainly because there wasn’t enough genetic data available. The new study is about 10 times larger than any previous effort.

“With these large sample sizes, we are finally discovering things we can actually kind of count on being true,” says Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern University who studies sexuality.

The search was two-pronged. First, the team used DNA data on more than 300,000 heterosexuals who had disclosed in a survey how many sex partners they’d had. Then, to find genes linked to what the researchers call “non-heterosexual behavior,” the team also identified about 28,000 people who had answered yes to the following survey question: “Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone of the same sex?”

According to a presentation by team member Robbee Wedow of the University of Colorado in June, the researchers located four positions in men’s genomes that were statistically correlated with their ever having had gay sex, and about 40 correlated with whether heterosexuals had had more or fewer sex partners.

“This is not saying that someone is going to be heterosexual or not—it’s really saying there is going to be a slightly higher or a slightly lower chance,” Benjamin Neale, a geneticist at the Board Institute and one of the study’s leaders, said during MIT Technology Review’s Em Tech conference in September.

When it comes to explaining who is gay, though, Bailey says the study is “not ideal.” That’s because it relies on people’s self-reported sexual history. This may be too broad, says Bailey: the researchers may have categorized people willing to experiment sexually along with those who consider themselves gay.

According to Wedow’s presentation, the team had less success finding genetic links among women who’d had sex with women. That could mean they need a still larger number of volunteers, or it could reflect the failure of the study’s design to capture the nuances of people’s sexual behavior.

Nevertheless, the researchers used the results to address the question of why homosexuality is relatively common. One possible explanation for why it is, they say, is that the same genetic factors also give a reproductive advantage to straight people who have them.

According to an abstract the team submitted to the American Society for Human Genetics, whose annual meeting is under way this week in San Diego, the DNA signals linked to gay sexual experiences also appeared more often in straight men who had a large number of sex partners. The team also notes that straight men with the gay-linked variants were, on average, judged more “physically attractive” than others (the researchers decline to say who did the judging). This, the scientists conclude, could mean that these variants also “confer a mating advantage to heterosexual carriers.”

Such trade-offs are a fact of evolution. For instance, gene variants that can cause sickle-cell anemia also lend protection against malaria. The resulting balance means the sickle-cell gene doesn’t die out. The researchers say their new findings about non-heterosexual behavior, though not conclusive, are consistent with such a Darwinian balancing act.

The mystery is solved!

The chief question is: if homosexuals don’t have children, why does the gay gene persist?

And it has a very intriguing answer:

The “gay” gene persists, because, according to this latest, massive study, it is not really a “gay” gene, at all, but a “promiscuous” gene.

Nature, who is always the boss, needs insurance that a least some portion of the population will actively and aggressively breed—and in heterosexuals, that’s just what these genes produce.

But since over-breeding is a danger, too, and too much aggression (promiscuous behavior) in a population is a also danger, nature siphons off a certain amount of these genes—they perish in the homosexual, who is bred not to breed.

Homosexuality is where aggressive genes go to die.

Are homosexuals aggressive?

Most people know the “soft” homosexual is a myth—homosexuals are often unsentimental, sarcastic, and “manly,” and drag queens are often tough as nails; the homosexual aches to be softer—and that’s precisely why they want to dress up as women.

Nature is cruel—she has ideas (articulated by the cunning and complexity of genetics) for the good of the whole—so results for the individual are often not ideal.

As the article so clearly puts it:

One possible explanation for why [homosexuality is relatively common] they say, is that the same genetic factors also give a reproductive advantage to straight people who have them.

According to an abstract the team submitted to the American Society for Human Genetics, whose annual meeting is under way this week in San Diego, the DNA signals linked to gay sexual experiences also appeared more often in straight men who had a large number of sex partners. The team also notes that straight men with the gay-linked variants were, on average, judged more “physically attractive” than others (the researchers decline to say who did the judging). This, the scientists conclude, could mean that these variants also “confer a mating advantage to heterosexual carriers.”

Such trade-offs are a fact of evolution. For instance, gene variants that can cause sickle-cell anemia also lend protection against malaria. The resulting balance means the sickle-cell gene doesn’t die out. The researchers say their new findings about non-heterosexual behavior, though not conclusive, are consistent with such a Darwinian balancing act.

We talked about the bi-part aspect of Valente’s memoir: Anna Karenina v. Judith Butler, the lay person’s feelings about sexual orientation v. the science of sexual orientation.  And isn’t that sort of what the science says? Genetics tells us, in fact, that gay and straight are mysteriously mixed.

Genetics is more complex than we know, and that’s why there is no simple “gay gene;” genetics works more like a sentence—“I came out to T as a nonbinary after we’d been married for a year,” in which “nonbinary” and “married,” two opposites, exist together in the genetic strand.  The individual—in this case Joanna Valente—is riven by contradictions, agendas and considerations of which she is hardly aware.

Nature and its genetic schemes feature trillions of hits and trillions of misses—and Nature is always attempting to regulate the ratio of hits to misses—too many hits is bad and too many misses is bad; Nature is ruthless when it comes to the hits and misses—scientists study genes looking for both behaviors and diseases, for the good and the bad, for the hits and the misses, and scientists often find genes working against each other in paradoxical tandem.

Paradox seems to be the name of the game.  Look at this passage:

The hunt for sexual orientation genes—which wades into the polarizing question of whether people are born gay or become so—is part of a boom in genomics research that aims to unveil how genes shape behavior, not just diseases.

Powering the new social genetics are huge databases, including the British government-funded UK Biobank and the DNA of millions of customers collected by 23andMe, a consumer gene testing company. Scientists have begun using this mass of data to successfully probe the genetic basis of a surprising range of behaviors, from smoking to insomnia, intelligence, marijuana use, and even time spent watching television.

The research is at its most sensitive when it touches on sexual orientation. Jeffrey Reid, who is head of genome informatics at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and who is gay, says he is concerned about how such discoveries are discussed in the press. That could have an outsize impact on already vulnerable people, he says.

“Supposedly ‘clear evidence’ of a genetic basis for homosexuality may lead a parent to deem their gay son irrevocably broken and eject him from their life,” Reid says. “Alternatively, maybe some evidence of a genetic basis of homosexuality may lead a parent to embrace their child as God made them, or lead someone struggling out of darkness and into self-acceptance.”

How non-scientists talk about the science impacts the science.

Scientists are acutely aware how a genetic discovery can be devoured by real-life non-scientific behavior.

The science of love and feelings will be swamped by those same love and feelings as they play out and actually exist.

When it comes to love and the nonbinary, science and fiction (poetry) are the same.

And here is where the “unreliable narrator, mentioned earlier in this essay, inserts itself into the scientific study:

“When it comes to explaining who is gay, though, Bailey says the study is “not ideal.” That’s because it relies on people’s self-reported sexual history”

A child is the parents’ genes in action, but where there is no proof of the binary, where the reality is nonbinary, we are always dealing with the unreliable.

Writers like Valente, and this is why they are writers, live in that ambiguous place where proof of love is impossible. Writers, even confessional writers, tend to thrive, silently, in ambiguity. We see this most clearly when the nonbinary Valente is confronted by her husband’s aggressive and binary-crazed lover. Note how the nonbinary Valente cannot speak in the face of her binary rival, who comes looking for precise “timeline” relationship information:

When I met R, T’s new girlfriend over dinner, I fumbled with my umbrella as she introduced herself and felt the metal dig into my finger—felt the irony of this new cut as I saw them together. She was walking arm in arm with T, both of them giggling. I immediately felt like Ursula, old and unattractive and outdated.

The three of us sat down and awkwardly looked at our menus, made small talk for what seemed like an eternity about her move from Australia, what she wants for her career, that time a snake broke her arm. She was light, like a pale lavender crystallizing into something bright. Except that lightness seemed to miss the point, there was something off, as if it wasn’t light I was seeing at all, but something else.

As I sipped my soda, slowly, trying to seem calm and collected, I wanted to tell her the only reason he asked me to meet her was because they got into a fight over dinner where he called her by my name. He asked me over lunch a few weeks before to “do him a favor” and meet her to quell “insecurities.” When I mentioned it sounded like she didn’t trust him or trust that he was over me, he added

“She does trust me, but I think meeting you would just help.” Why did it feel like everyone was missing the point but me?

I didn’t know what to say, and most of all, I didn’t want to ruin his relationship. If it didn’t work, I didn’t want to be the one at fault, the vindictive ex trying to destroy everything. I didn’t want to be Ursula. I wanted to be the cool ex. I wanted us all to get along. How naive. How foolish to put my own needs last—but also how typical of me.

“I’m sorry I have to ask you something awkward,” she said, all of a sudden.

“Go ahead…You can ask me anything,” I said, warmly, trying to be what everyone wanted me to be. Trying to be happy.

“Well, why did you two beak up? I just want to make sure our timelines are correct, you know, because men can be awful and I’ve been hurt before,” she said.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to tell her that I had been hurt, over and over and over by men. That I was hurt right now. Instead, I massaged my feelings into a softer batter.

“Well, we faded into friendship, basically. It’s hard to say when it happened, we had been together for five years from a young age. I think sex in general has been hard for me, because I was sexually assaulted only two years before we met. I was still dealing with that trauma. And I think, because of all of those things, it lead us to where we are today. We didn’t have a big fight or a falling out. We obviously don’t hate each other. I still love him, as a friend,” I added, looking at him as I finished.

He nodded, then turned to her.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. Thank you for telling me that, for being so honest,” she said.

She looked down at the table momentarily. Maybe she felt ashamed for asking me. Maybe she didn’t know what to say. I put my hands in my lap to prevent them from shaking. The rest of the conversation reverted back to small talk until she went to the bathroom and he asked if I wanted to split the check with him. I stared at him, feeling my eyebrows lift. It’s not that I didn’t want to pay for my own meal, but I also didn’t want to pay for a meal I didn’t want to be at—that was a favor to him.

When she came back from the bathroom, he put his card on the bill and gave it to the waiter. I held back a smile. Everyone’s performance was convincing.

It was still raining as I got off the subway and walked home, put Miles Davis on repeat until I didn’t even notice the sounds, didn’t even hear what was playing.

 

******

 

 

 

 

ONE HUNDRED GREATEST SONGS TO SINK INTO

Image result for music in the bath in painting

Most of these songs are popular; ideally, they would be obscure and new to you, but you probably know most of them; but here they are, a type of song, defined by…”sink into.”  The criterion is somewhat unique: the songs are too good to be “background music,” and yet, because the songs have a certain nonchalance, a certain laziness—which can be a virtue in music—they will drift and wash over you, and not demand too much of you; and yet, because these songs are so wonderful, you should find yourself wishing the rest of the world would be quiet so you can listen to them.  Maybe you would like to fall asleep to them at night—and if you do fall asleep before the song is ended, is it still then not a good song? Where has a song gone when it still plays, and you are sleeping?  Many of these songs seem like they were written for that purpose—for the sleeping, not the waking, brain or ear.  The excitement here may be that so many genres are represented—why shouldn’t one be a fan of many different types of music?  Music would want it so. Looking at the list after picking these songs, we noticed that very few of them (“How Fortunate The Man With None” the notable exception) pontificate—and this makes them so much more interesting, various and powerful. There really is nothing to say. Music knows this. Science knows this. Math knows this. Humor knows this. Love knows this. What you actually say, is not that important in these areas. The way you don’t say it, though, is extremely important. You just need to look and hear. Genius looks and hears.  Meanwhile, the rest of us fret or talk. The songs are in no particular order. They are all good. If you do see a song you don’t know, go on you tube and listen to it immediately, because we guarantee all 100 of these songs are the greatest of their kind.  —the Scarriet editors

Fade Into You —Mazzy Star (deliciously insouciant)

Year Of The Cat —Al Stewart (almost like a movie)

A Whiter Shade Of PaleProcol Harum (Rock and Bach)

Horse With No Name —America (just a couple of flattened sevenths)

America —Simon & Garfunkle (life flowing into melody)

A Day In The Life —The Beatles (the first really transcendent rock song)

Tomorrow Never Knows —The Beatles (one chord will do)

Venus In Furs —Velvet Underground (fashionable amateurism)

Video Games —Lana Del Ray (best pop song of the 21st century)

Cosmic Dancer —T. Rex (glam sweetness)

Nights In White Satin —Moody Blues (most popular song of its type, perhaps)

The Rain Song —Led Zeppelin (this band did not just rock)

Two Thousand Light Years From Home —Rolling Stones (Ruby Tuesday & Lady Jane lost in space)

Alone Again Or —Love (strangely haunting 60s California band)

Riders On The Storm —The Doors (only the Doors)

Claire de Lune —Debussy (needs no comment)

Prelude To The Afternoon of A Faun —Debussy (and modern music begins)

Piano Concero No. 17 (slow movement) —Mozart (Mozart was maybe better slow than fast)

Moonlight Sonata (first movement) —Beethoven (the template of ‘sink into’)

Piano Concerto No. 4 (movements 1 & 2) —Beethoven (maybe his greatest pure orchestral work)

Symphony No. 3 (3rd movement) —Brahms (the majestic, autumnal Brahms!)

Mazurka A minor —Chopin (such a darling sweet piece; Horowitz is on you tube)

Gymnopédies No. 1 —Satie (I could listen to this forever)

Nocturne No. 1 —Chopin (maybe the greatest pure composer of the kind of music on this list)

I Want You (She’s So Heavy) —The Beatles (the lads get heavy and roll)

Daphnis et Chloé, Suite no. 2 —Ravel (classical swoon)

Radar Love —Golden Earring (riding is sinking)

In A Gadda Da Vida —Iron Butterfly (1968. Doors influenced)

When The Music’s Over —The Doors (Persian nights, babe)

The End —The Doors (crawling along)

Season of The Witch —Donovan (must be the season of the hurdy gurdy too)

How Fortunate the Man With None –Dead Can Dance (a meditative masterpiece)

He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot —Grandaddy (this song is like flying)

Autobahn —Kraftwerk (doesn’t try to be menacing, heavy, or cool. A pleasant ride)

I Fall In Love Too Easily —Chet Baker (we all do, don’t we?)

Midnight At the Oasis —Maria Muldaur (the 70s schmaltz industry)

Blue in Green —Miles Davis (a trumpet singing from the mist)

Love To Love You Baby —Donna Summer (Song as sex. In poor taste, unless done right.)

Light My Fire —The Doors (when FM radio was supreme)

Your Woman —White Town (the trumpet sample of this 90s tune knocks me out)

Sunshine Superman —Donovan (intricate groove)

I’m Not In Love —10cc (masterpiece of layering)

Guinnivere —Crosby, Stills, and Nash (a girl’s name can be everything in a song)

Across the Universe —The Beatles (John Lennon’s ode to stretching out)

The Spy —The Doors (come go with Morrison into the house)

The Look of Love —Dusty Springield (Bacharach is very romantic)

Us and Them —Pink Floyd (adolescent self-pity given a melody)

Liebestod from Tristan und IsoldeWagner (swimming in swimming music)

Air That I Breathe —Hollies (this is what love is like)

Adagio for Strings —Samuel Barber (sad never sounded so good)

Air —Bach (The illustrious Bach—inventor of music?)

The Lark Ascending —Vaughan Williams (music that hides on the ceiling)

Surabaya Johnny —Lotte Lenya (German musical theater. Wilde. Brecht. Ja.)

A Day In The Life A Fool —Jack Jones (walking around, lost in a song)

Claire —Gilbert O’ Sullivan (lavish and sensitive)

Poetry Man —Phoebe Snow  (there’s a 1967 song called Painter Man. Almost as good)

The Way We Were —Barbara Streisand (Almost anyone can sink into Streisand)

Stranger In Paradise —Tony Bennett  (I’m there, Tony)

It Was A Very Good Year —Frank Sinatra (nostalgia lets you sink)

Humming Chorus from Madame Butterfly —Puccini (hushed charm itself)

Sea of Love —Phil Phillips (low budget production can sound luxurious, too)

The Crystal Ship —The Doors (half-slumbering poetry)

Indian Summer —The Doors (the poetry of cheap lounge music; must be Morrison and his band)

Lonely Days —Bee Gees (Melodies, voices, and a subtle heaviness)

First Time Ever I Saw Your Face —Roberta Flack (the first time ever the 70s)

Canon in D —Pachelbel (top 40 baroque classical)

Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3 —Ian Dury (languish in lunacy)

All Or Nothing At All —Frank Sinatra with Harry James (Great lyrics in a minor key)

Layla –Derek & The Dominos (the formula is simple: great song and then add a great part 2)

Low Spark of High Heeled  Boys —Traffic (this song has length, reach)

Lush Life —Nat King Cole (great songs like this usually comment on a whole genre)

Third Stone From The Sun —Jimi Hendrix (a session guitarist to an icon overnight)

Is That All There Is? —Peggy Lee (a little talking can do wonders for a song)

How Soon Is Now? —The Smiths (Laughing gas melancholy)

This Guy’s In Love With You —Herb Alpert (relaxed yet passionate)

What’s Goin On —Marvin Gaye (Studio genius was everywhere during this era)

Me and Mrs. Jones —Billy Paul  (wall of sound melancholy soul music)

Space Oddity —David Bowie (One of those songs with everything: production, lyrics, hooks)

Rocket Man —Elton John (lonely outer space song his best ever, except maybe Benny & Jets)

Chasing Cars —Snow Patrol (will you lie with me?)

Transdermal Stimulation —Ween (A slightly “depressed and bored in the suburbs” vibe)

Pavane For A Dead PrincessRavel (grief shared)

It’s A Sin —Pet Shop Boys (Yup)

Kiss Kiss Kiss —Yoko Ono (Yoko matches the Beatles excitement at times)

Another Star —Stevie Wonder (This artist projects love, pure and simple, like no other)

Hey Jude —Beatles  (Paul talking to John, who was losing his mind. Hey John. It’s going to be okay.)

House of the Rising Sun —Animals (Several genre toppers happen at once in this song)

I’ll Be Around —The Spinners  (Simple hook genius)

Waterloo Sunset —Kinks  (the guitar in this)

California Dreaming —Mamas and Papas (multiplicity of voices is first rate)

Bittersweet Symphony —The Verve  (feel like walking down crowded streets while listening)

The Girl From Ipanema —Astrud Gilberto, Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz (do you sway or melt listening to this?)

Time of the Season —Zombies  (panting rhythmically to pretty melody)

Crimson and Clover —Tommy James (fin de siecle aesthetics meets trashy pop)

American Cowboy —Jada (Hint of hooker, but more important: hooks!)

The Winner Takes It All —ABBA (Romantic self-pity has never been better expressed)

Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again —Bob Dylan (Dylan kept the long ballad alive, if not entirely seriously)

Melancholia —The Who (Don’t know this one? Best Who song ever.)

White Rabbit —Jefferson Airplane (guitar and vocal sound are so good)

My Sweet Lord —George Harrison  (Sink into Beatle/Hallelujah-mania)

 

 

 

 

 

WHICH CAME FIRST: STORY OR CRAZY?

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Shakespeare: 1. Greatest Storyteller. 2. Poet 3. Taught us storytellers are liars.

 

A number of ideas recently entered my mind, drawn into it by a personal observation.

The personal observation is personal. I will get to it later. It is the centerpiece of my theme, but first, here are the ideas which saw fit to add themselves to the conviction that I was onto something real.

I saw a truism quoted approvingly in the New York Times in one of those ‘best books of the year’ pieces which went something like this: stories only happen to those who can tell them.

The ‘best books of 2015’ piece outlined those disturbing novels, memoirs and non-fiction works of eccentricities and loss which are discussed because they are discussed. The Times notice which originally drew me in was the new book on the Creative Writing phenomenon and Paul Engle, with its “show don’t tell” mantra that served to professionalize the American writer as a civilized university product—and was indeed sponsored by U.S. Government anti-Communism during the Cold War (just as it has now come out that abstract painting was CIA funded in the war against Soviet Realist art.)

The upshot of “show don’t tell” is the conviction that “telling” is propaganda compared to the more authentic and personal rhetoric that “shows,” gathered from genuinely observed experience.

The most exciting story-telling always reveals some kind of shame or tragedy or horror, the kind that has us saying, “No! Really?” in excited whispers. Is it real or fiction? It doesn’t matter. Our reaction is the same.

Most fiction is loosely based on truth. A story is a story, and the fine points of whether a particular piece of writing is fiction or non-fiction are reserved for the tedious scholar who is ignored by the rest of us, and who, when turned to, never finally knows the full story in all its truth, anyway.

The novelist “shows” what appears to be the “truth” by way of fiction, not because there is some poetic “truth” which hides behind fiction, or because there is something about “fiction” which allows “truth” to come to light—this is a sentimental falsehood repeated often by novelists and their defenders.

The novelist “shows” what is taken as truth only because the reader assumes “truth” is present due to the great confusion which naturally blurs truth and fiction in our minds; rather than admit ignorance, readers “fill in” the “truthfulness” of the writer’s presentation and construe it as “truth” without question—because this is what ignorance does.

The novelist is a cut-and-paste liar and the novelist’s “truth” is a shadow—cast by the truth of the reader’s ignorance, and the reader’s ignorance is willing to be duped by the fiction, whose “showing” merely strengthens the delusion that “truth” of any kind exists in the fiction. Emotional truth—the truth that one is having feelings— should not be confused with truth, or with cut-and-paste lies that trigger these emotions.

Therefore “showing” in fiction, the non-judgmental presentation of selected, cut-and-paste, experience with its corresponding emotions, the classic Workshop fiction formula, is not valid or truthful, per se. “Showing” stands in opposition to “telling” in name only, since selected presentation of experience: incident, dialogue, etc lacks truth in the precise way all mere experience lacks truth. What happens to us has no truth, per se, except as it is our private experience—which may potentially comprise leaning a skill through repetition. But our experience merely related by way of a story told to someone else, has for that other person, as literature, no necessary truth—unless the “truth” of a pleasant illusion, but only if pleasantly and artistically conveyed.

The only human truth with a capital T is moral truth—what happens to us is true only in its moral cause and effect. Whether this is told or shown is entirely beside the point: the difference is overstated since language by its very nature shows by telling.

Advertising is communication with a motive; it is crucial to understand that story-telling may be below even that of advertisement: a distinguished novel the inferior of a mere advertisement no matter how genuine the experiences conveyed in the novel. If an author’s experience is genuine, it is private, and private experiences alone can never rise to the level of truth unless we add what “showing” supposedly opposes: “telling.”

“Let me show you what I would otherwise tell you” is all about the illusion created— and nothing else.

There is nothing morally superior about “showing.” By “showing” we use an aesthetic term, only, and one that was practiced by the ancient Greeks by way of producing beauty—very different from the Workshop formula.

Now my personal observation: there is a very common personality that loves to talk for its own sake, and I was struck recently by one I know filling up time with talk in a way that was so pleased with itself and at the same time disengaged from preventative reality so it made me wonder: since we delight to hear stories of tragedy and loss, is it possible that story-telling itself can become a kind of mania which “shows” a “loss” of mind and reason? So that the “best” show-don’t-tell stories are, in fact, products of madness?

The stern, theoretical “telling” of communist or statist rhetoric is well worth refuting.  No argument there.

But what is the true value of the antidote?

What good is maniacal telling of the “show-don’t-tell” variety?

First, it essentially springs from personal experience so dense, genuine and “real,” it crowds out our own mundane and empty existence—that existence which is charged with “figuring things out” in order to live.

Second, it competes with all experience, since this is what fiction that “shows” finally depends on.

Third, it has no conclusions or directives, since it is genuine only because it “shows” and refuses to “tell.”

Fourth, it makes no attempt to please for its own sake: it is merely in thrall to the mania of its story-telling mode. When we tell a story, there is no attempt to do anything more than tell a story which causes the reader to exclaim excitedly, “No! Really?” Content—the lived—is all. Form—the teachable—is nothing.

Fifth, the sum total of others’ experience is so vast and interesting just by itself, that unless there is a mechanism of sorting, we find ourselves in a continual state of excited whisper, “No! Really?”

Sixth, the professionalization of this kind of writing in the Writing Programs, feeding directly into the book industry, has made it necessary to carry this ‘rhetoric of experience’ on our backs as editors, writers, and publishers. There is nothing worse than when the leaders of any industry are guilty of gratuitously dumbing down that industry—one in which lurid content is everything and form is nothing.

Seventh, there is nothing wrong with lived experience and its communication, except that it already exists in all walks of life—and when literature becomes merely a competition for ‘who can tell the biggest whopper of a tale’ without any self-reflection or qualifying judgment or restraint or art or philosophy (telling), then literature has essentially become a cynical part of what makes human life the most cynical.

For as we know, the most cynical is not the grief and consternation we find in rhetoric that desires to solve problems and prevent disasters, but the mindless “showing” with a devilish maniacal delight of every imaginable and preventable horror under the sun: literature = yellow journalism.

Now it may be said that there is good “show don’t tell” writing and bad “show don’t tell” writing, and that the good variety has been screened by good editors and publishers and the best of it is intelligent and not maniacal and does do a little valuable “telling” in the end, after all.

But of course. There is always ‘bad and good’ within bad, and always hybrid concessions which dilute any picture, but this should not distract from our main point—story-telling that takes on insane, self-justifying dimensions across the culture, supported by a professional apparatus and a professional class, all of which circles back to enhance the very same mania in subsequent generations of students and general readers.

When we say pleasure for its own sake, we don’t mean that there is something inherently wrong with the pure joy of story-telling for its own sake.

But telling a story carries it with it a responsibility that say, Mozart’s music does not.

Words can libel, slander, present half-truths, make a mere show of learning, and horrify and seduce in damaging ways. And further, storytelling, or talking for its own sake, can just be a plain useless waste of time, a vanity kept afloat by a professional class for its own benefit. So there is that.

The professional apparatus of music can safely pursue Mozart for its own sake and there is no doubt that this is a musical good with all sorts of side benefits (one doesn’t have to love Mozart personally to sense at once that Mozart embodies a universal musical skill that can only help and not hinder the pursuit of music itself in any way).

Cold War anti-Communist officials had no trouble believing that the Soviet Union was a unified and far-reaching society that was dangerous because of its art and writing and rhetoric.

But instead of finding a common ground of cultural connection, such as Mozart, the CIA instead gave us both abstract painting and the Writing Program Era of Paul Engle (good organizer, terrible poet) which celebrated anti-intellectual fiction (the novel as wounded auto-biography) and a “new poetry” which quickly lost any sort of public due to its poor quality.

Poetry is the crucial literary expression—which is like Mozart’s music: joy and excellence for its own sake that escapes all propaganda, either the sort practiced by communists or the kind practiced by the Jorie Grahams in the Writing Workshop.

Poetry avoids the trap of many types of story-telling rhetoric: the propagandist, the gasbag, the immoral confessionalist, the college essay blather, etc.

Poetry which is transcendently beautiful, setting the standard by what it is for all those who would aspire to be a poet—or any kind of writer—is unimaginable to most people, the same way that Mozart’s music flies above that of the folk singer. But who would want Mozart and the folk singer to compete? Never. That would be like introducing the fiendish illogic of war into heaven. No sane person would assert the world of music would be better if there were no Mozart—not even a folk singer singing communist folk songs.

If we are to have “writing programs” (to fight communism or cultivate professionalism or what have you) let us produce poets of the first order—Mozarts, who may then go on to write whatever they wish.

Just as with artists: first let us see if they can draw.

And musicians: first let us see if they can invent a melody.

If we are serious about avoiding propaganda and gas bagging and lower quality and lower standards and increasingly bored students, the answer is simple: music, poetry, and drawing which is beautiful for its own sake.

The blatherers will object, of course.

But in the world I am imagining, at least we will know what blathering—as opposed to poetry—is.

 

 

 

 

 

OH GOD! EVEN POETRY IS WAR?

The muse of epic poetry’s father? Zeus.

We commonly think of sports as war by other means, and some even think of love as war, and the beleaguered, the poor, the clinically depressed among us, sadly feel life is war. And, of course, Darwinian nature is war.

Not only is war everywhere—in addition, we are faced with this sad truth: everybody is in it for themselves.

Well, here’s the good news—perhaps.

We love ourselves.

Our life, our heritage, our struggles, our beliefs, our experience, our friends, as it all connects with ourselves—we love ourselves, and even if we hate parts of ourselves, it is always the disappointment for someone we deeply love; who else, how else, do we find what we know in order to know the world, but through our own selves? We open our eyes and see the world, or close them—our eyes—and the whole world goes away. So the world, as amazing as it is, is ours in the most complete sense.  Love exists—foremost and always—for ourselves.

So why is war better for us than love?

Because of what we just said.

The depressing reality of life: everybody is in it for themselves is a reality of love. Wrap that around your brain for a moment.

Can we blame people for loving themselves over everything else? Of course we cannot. Love is involuntary, as we all know. How can we not love ourselves? The unthinking will thump their umbrella on the ground, or thump their multicultural textbook on the desk and cry out, “selfish!”

No. Involuntary self-love is not selfish. Self-love is simply the greatest love there is. It may take a moment, but cancel your righteous indignation. Wrap. Your. Brain. Around it. Self-love is the greatest love. Not because we don’t love the world. But because—we, ourselves—do. We love the world. We love the world as ourselves, loving ourselves loving the world: loving what loves—ourselves—more than anything.

So love—happy, unhappy, all kinds—is actually lonely and individual.

Who knows Mozart’s music? Who knows and loves it? Who truly loves the most beautiful things worthy of our love?

A crowd?

Ha ha ha!

No, not the crowd.

The soloist. That rare, and gifted, and self-practiced, and devoted and unique, and monk-like human being who lives with Mozart—in their brain and in their heart and in their hands.

The audience at a concert hall may love the sounds of Mozart they are hearing, but where is the love (of Mozart) truly found?

In the individual—the master soloist playing Mozart.

Love lives in the individual, not the group.

Now, you might object—I know you will, if you are like most—“Mozart? That is a rather rare and elitist example! What about…table salt that a friendly crowd, eating together, are enjoying?”

Ha! I reply this way: how egalitarian and noble of you, to imagine people enjoying the taste of salt! I bet you think you are very community-minded and down-to-earth, but your example refutes nothing I am saying.

The taste of salt is a common thing, but we experience the taste in our own mouths, on our own tongue, and lick the granules from our own lips. Take salt away from any individual at that table and we will see immediately how that individual howls in protest, and cries out, bereft of all the apparent ” community” to which, moments ago, he apparently belonged.

The most irrational and indignant types are those who champion the entirely abstract reality of tribe and community.

They are very irrational and they are very indignant. Annoying, if we must say the truth.

Because they lack love. And they lack love because they think it is found in the “unselfish” love of community, when, as we have just demonstrated, it is not found there at all. It lives alone in the individual, who in the monk-like devotion of their cell (their self) they have practiced, with their own hands, for hours and hours and hours, Mozart, in an orgy of selfish passion and love—with breaks in-between, eating salt, that temporarily sticks to their lips.

So war is better—in general, and for most instances, and for most people—than love.

Because only with war are alliances necessary.

We would be terribly lonely without war.

And by war, we mean anything which materially advances a group, short of bombing and killing—though, as we know, it sometimes will come to that.

Friendship, then, belongs to war—not to the lonely intricacies of love.

She practiced for hours and hours her Mozart, and had no friends.

Only through war do people other than ourselves even exist.

You—truly alone and inviolate—belong to love—and its terrible loneliness.

War, if you hate the burden of love’s loneliness, is your salvation—because war belongs to the group.

The wars over the silk trade, the wars over tea and coffee and cotton and tobacco and sugar…all the alliances which war enforces…war is the terrible mother of friendship and sacrifice.

War is life. Love is you.

Most don’t even exist as “you,” but merely as a reactionary part of some war machine, indignantly defending their race, their group, their clique, their empire, their plot of woolly ground, their cold, salty, whistle of sea.

The others will defy you—ah, they will—for as others they all belong to war.

Even poetry is war.

Publishing, broadcasting, and reviewing is thick with alliances and conquest.

Mozart, the one you vaguely know, is war, an expanding empire—which is the goal of all written words and written music.

The drums, marked to be played just this way, the sound of them, fill the auditorium, the void, the world—and your neighbors stamp their feet.

This very essay is marching to war. War, here, is our aim.

In my poem you would hear the same.

Perhaps you love the soloist—(it depends on so many things!) as they exit the stage?

Are you conquered and alone?

If you are, let the rest applaud; you have gone into that happy dream: loving, helpless, unreachable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BAUDELAIRE BATTLES ADORNO IN THE MODERN BRACKET!

Is the photograph modernity’s face?

 

BAUDELAIRE:

 

The world—and even the world of artists—is full of people who can go to the Louvre, walk rapidly, without so much as a glance, past rows of very interesting, though secondary, pictures, to come to a rapturous halt in front of a Titian or a Raphael—one of those that have been most popularized by the engraver’s art; then they will go home happy, not a few saying to themselves, ‘I know my Museum.’ Just as there are people who, having once read Bossuet and Racine, fancy that they have mastered the history of literature.

Fortunately from time to time there come forward righters of wrong, critics, amateurs, curious enquirers, to declare that Raphael, or Racine, does not contain the whole secret, and that the minor poets too have something good, solid and delightful to offer; and finally that however much we love general beauty, as it is expressed by classical poets and artists, we are no less wrong to neglect particular beauty, the beauty of circumstance and the sketch of manners.

The child sees everything in a state of newness; he is always drunk. Nothing more resembles what we call inspiration than the delight with which a child absorbs form and color. I am prepared to go even further and assert that inspiration has something in common with a convulsion, and that every sublime thought is accompanied by a more or less violent nervous shock. The man of genius has sound nerves, while those of the child are weak. With the one, Reason has taken up a considerable position; with the other, Sensibility is almost the whole being. But genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will.

 

ADORNO (and MAX HORKHEIMER):

 

A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself. It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself.  Automobiles, bombs, and movies keep the whole thing together until their leveling element shows its strength in the very wrong which it furthered. It has made the technology of the culture industry no more than the achievement of standardization and mass production. The need which might resist central control has already been suppressed by the control of the individual consciousness.

The step from the telephone to the radio has clearly distinguished the roles. The former still allowed the subscriber to play the role of subject, and was liberal. The latter is democratic: it turns all participants into listeners and authoritatively subjects them to broadcast programs which are all exactly the same.

Real life is  becoming indistinguishable from the movies. The sound film, far surpassing the theater of illusion, leaves no room for the imagination or reflection on the part of the audience, who is unable to respond within the structure of the film, yet deviate from its precise detail without losing the thread of the story; hence the film forces its victims to equate it directly with reality.

Those very art forms which are known as classical, such as Mozart’s music, contain objective trends which represent something different to the style which they incarnate. Instead of exposing itself to this failure in which the style of the great work of art has always achieved self-negation, the inferior work has always relied on its similarity with others—on a surrogate identity.  In the culture industry this imitation finally becomes absolute.

No object has an inherent value; it is valuable only to the extent that it can be exchanged.

 

Adorno is nothing but Marx for the film age.  The pessimism is a necessary intellectual stimulation—how can we not love, “the film forces its victims to equate it directly with reality?” But how can anyone resist the revery of Baudelaire’s more optimistic, “genius is…childhood recovered…?”  Baudelaire’s pull is greater, even as we feel the dismay of being a “victim” of a film, or of—childhood?

Adorno’s fear that art which pulls us in will kill us probably goes back to the idea that hunting deer should take priority over drawing them on the cave wall.  It is always interesting, but finally tedious to mingle primitive fears with technological, economic, and reproductive sophistication.  Adorno’s distinction between telephone (active) and radio (passive) has merits in light of where technology is going today.

Philosophically, we find self-conscious modernism a big fat bore, and it can be downright malevolent sometimes, too.  The pathology of self-consciously modern philosophy is the primary manifestation to any real philosopher.  We see it in Baudelaire’s small-minded attack on the bourgeois love of Titian and Raphael.  My God, what is wrong with people loving Titian and Raphael?

Joni Mitchell recalled to an interviewer that her parents “each owned three records” when she was growing up (and she grew up in the age Adorno is writing about): her father owned three jazz trumpet records (Harry James, etc) and her mother, three classical piano records (Claire de Lune, etc).  People did not have huge record collections back then, but Mitchell found inspiration in her parents’ tiny collection.  Baudelaire looks forward to our over-saturated era with his recommendation that we seek “particular” beauty in numerous “minor” artists, but Baudelaire’s (childhood?) logic is flawed: great artists like Raphael give us more “particular” beauty than any given “minor” artist, and looking at a lot of minor artists does not give us more “particular” beauty—that would be to confuse substance with number.  It is tempting to say, and it’s often said: bring on the particular and give the ‘minor’ artists a chance, too, but when looked at soberly, this is nothing but crass, minor ambition.  We must always beware Raphael-hating.

The whole philosophical aesthetic of modern technology can be summed up by the despair generated when photography, which gives us so much to look at, gives us too much to look at, and instead of celebrating the variety seen and felt, we mourn the fact that everything now looks, and feels, the same.

 

WINNER: BAUDELAIRE

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