Tag Archives: literature

Disintercourse: A Conversation with Samuel Delaney

10 Feb

sdIn 2013, I had a conversation with legendary author and theorist, Samuel “Chip” Delany, as part of my online course How To Start A (Sexual) Revolution. Chip is one of the most respected science fiction writers of all time; the winner of four Nebula Awards, two Hugo Awards, and author of classics like Dhalgren, Babel 17and Nova. He’s also written about race (notably in his essay about science fiction and racism), critical theory, the art of writing, and sex.

Or maybe instead of saying Chip writes about sex, stating that he writes with sex would be better, since sex pulses through and is a central concern of his creation. Many of his novels – including Tides of LustPhallos, and Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders – are pornographic and potently erotic. His landmark nonfiction work, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue explored the disappearance of sex shops, porn arcades, and gay cruising spaces in New York as the city became Disneyfied under the Giuliani administration. It’s a work of resistance, longing, and vision.

I’d met Chip once before, at a Marxism conference at the University of Massachusetts where I was a student. It was a brief encounter; we sat next to each other before one of the panels, talking about theory. During a break, I got up to use the bathroom, and he cautioned me, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” If you know anything about Chip, you know that this left me a lot of options.

In the conversation below*, Chip and I go all over the place, but we stay close to intercourse and discourse, trying to understand just what’s going on with desire anyway, in culture as well as in our personal lives. I’m honored to have spoken with him.

CONNER HABIB: Something you write about and consider a lot is the concept of discourse; there’s no quick definition of it, but I’m going to attempt to give one anyway: it’s the structure of our consciousness and concepts in the social context of our time. It’s our inherited metaphors, the stuff surrounding our ideas and conversations. You write about discourse a lot and you also write about sex a lot. Those two things intertwine deeply; for me, sex has been the greatest teacher about all the metaphors we’ve inherited, about who we are and how we speak to each other. So I want to know how you see those things as bound together.

SAMUEL DELANY: That’s a very interesting question. I think one of the things that makes sex fascinating is that it’s an appetite, and I think appetites in general are fascinating. I think the appetite for food is just as fascinating as the appetite for sex, the appetite for entertainment and art are just as fascinating.

Discourse goes back to the notion of understanding; the way we use language to understand things. It’s hard to understand anything without thinking about it in terms of words, and it’s very hard to use words without calling into play our understanding of various situations, terms, and subjects. So we talk about the discourse of sex, we mean the way we understand sex. The way we understand appetites.

All sexual relations are power relations, but all relations are power relations. You walk down the street and you’re in a power relation with everyone you pass on the street, whether you’re thinking about it or not. The policeman who walks by you has one set of potential power relations and vectors to you, the homeless person on the other side occupies another set, and everybody in between, as you identify them and think, “oh that’s that kind of person,” or don’t even bother to think, “oh that’s that kind of person” and just fail to see them. All of these have a subtext of the power relations there. So sometimes, talking about the power relations is like talking about the air, because it’s our complete surround. I think it was Whitman who said, I’m not interested in God because God is everywhere and who’s interested in something that’s everywhere.

On the one hand, taking a small part of the world and looking at the power relations can be useful, but most of the time we don’t. Most of the time it’s when something goes wrong that we begin to analyze, and we find ourselves facing off agains the police, or we find ourselves with a homeless person yelling loudly at us because they don’t like what we’re doing for some reason. That’s when the power relations have to be interrogated. 

One of the things you said when you told me you were interested in having this conversation was that you were interested in how to start a sexual revolution. I can only come up with one strategy, which is to be brutally honest about what you do and what you want, and to be willing to interrogate the distance between the two.

What’s the distance between what you do do and what you want to do? Some of us get them much closer than others, and some of us don’t. Some of us have our fantasy lives right here and what we actually do over there, and why is there that distance between them? I don’t think they ever join one hundred percent, nor that there’s a reason for them to join one hundred percent, nevertheless you can try to get them closer than many people do. And when you do bring them closer, that’s your revolution.

CH: Yes, the idea of bringing them closer: What do you do, and what do you want to do? image1-5And also: How do we know what it is that we want to do, and how do we know what it is we don’t want to do sexually.

To bring that to the point you made: it’s hard to understand our lives or anything without words, but sexually, there’s a difference between what we want to do and what we do that is related to words and not thinking in words. When I feel a draw to someone or something I have sexual desire for, a lot of times it occurs to me in image, it occurs pictorially. My thoughts evade my words. On the other hand, I know when I feel guilty about something, words arise more readily than image. Is there a way to investigate what we want sexually and what we do sexually, by navigating whether or not it comes to us in feeling and image or whether or not it’s words or language?

SD: What do you fantasize about when you masturbate? That’s a very good entrance into what you want to do. In what way does what you fantasize about, when you’re providing yourself with sexual pleasure, differ from what you do when you’ve got another person there? What are some of the differences? I think that’s a good place to start.

CH: I want to pick that up. In much of my adult and teenage life, I identified with “gay” but the older I get, the more attracted I am to women. Women show up when I masturbate more and more, which was of course a surprise for me. But there’s this whole thing about “gay,” which I’ve heard from other gay men as well, that we’re not supposed to talk about that. Don’t think about it. Don’t get into that. I’ve already done my sexual crisis, I can’t do another one! As if trying something new needs to be a crisis and shattering of identity! That’s so interesting, because…

SD: It’s interesting for me because it’s just the opposite! When I was younger I used to fantasize about threesomes, with one woman and two guys, and of course I’d be one of the guys. That went on and on until the women were there less and less, and now they’ve almost entirely vanished. Of course like many gay men most of my best friends are women.

I think it has something  to do with the standard Freudian explanation of the difference between perversion and neurosis. Freud specified that perversion and neurosis were the opposite of one another. As you go through your early life, you come to these contradictory situations and you have a choice, you can either incorporate it into your personality as a neurosis, at which point it really screws you up for the rest of your life, or you can turn it into a perversion. Freud was quite clear on it: sexualizing it was much more healthy than making it part of a character neurosis. One of the big problems with the misogyny of a lot of heterosexual guys is, in the Freudian explanation, that their relationship with women is often neurotic rather than sexual. Whereas gay guys, because we often don’t sexualize women – I mean there’s the Kinsey Scale of course, which has been around since 1947 – but because we don’t often sexualize women, gay men often have less neurotically fraught relationships with women.

 

CH: I want to talk about that scale a bit. People bring it up a lot. The scale is about behavior. And now people talk about that scale as if it’s based on identity.

SD: Yes! And it’s mobile. Because everybody changes. Some things stay and some things don’t.

hbOne thing that’s been part of my sexuality since I was five or six years old if not younger: men who bite their nails. And bite them badly. To the point that some people would find this anti-erotic. I think anti-erotic is a clue that it does have some erotic appeal for everybody, but anyway. This started with me when I was five or six years old. And still, it’s as large a part of my sexuality as it ever is. My partner of the last 24 years is a committed nail-biter and I don’t think we would be together if he wasn’t.

One has got to be honest and willing to talk about this sort of thing. I don’t reduce myself in any way by talking about this. I don’t lose any of my dignity. My dignity is something I carry with me. It’s not something that comes because I have or don’t have something people would call a sexual kink. It’s not a kink to me because it’s something I’ve been living with for sixty, onto seventy years.

CH: Do you bite their nails too? Or is that you’re watching?

SD: Sometimes I’ve been known to fantasize about it. But I’ve never done it. I’ve never particularly found myself wanting to do it.

CH: Something you’re making me think about is the intensity of certain sexual images. For me, maybe the equivalent is ears that stick out. They drive me crazy. The cars doors open on the side. It’s not like I’m going to fuck someone in the ear. I’m not going to do anything with it. There’s just something visual about it that’s so erotic to me.

Another example: When I was 15, the moment I realized I was very sexually attracted to

men, I went to Ocean City, Maryland with my family. And my older stepbrother brought his friend; they had their own condo. His friend was in the shower and he called out to me in the other room to say, “I don’t have a towel, bring me a towel.” I got him a towel and it was one of those shower doors with clouded glass, I could see the vague blurred outline of his body. I could see the flesh color, I could see the shapes. It was like sparks flying out of bolts in my neck. I was going berserk. I still, now, over 20 years later, masturbate to that image.

 

Something that’s so interesting, whether it’s nail biting, or big ears, or the shower glass is the intensity of those images. What did Freud say? That desire is repetition.

SD: Repetition is desire.

CH: There’s something about the patterning, the repetition, that reveals how intense the desire is. I know we can’t come to a definitive answer, but I want to talk around that.

SD: I think it’s nothing terribly more complicated than the fact that what turns you on, you return to again and again. Show me an image that comes up twice in a writer’s book, and then again in other books, and I will show you something that that writer likes. The repetition is an acknowledgment.

CH: I’m trying to get to a metaphysical level. A spiritual answer would be that there’s some sort of karmic philosophy, there’s something going on in your etheric body or your growth principle.

So much about our sexuality changes. I used to be attracted to certain types of guys when I was younger, and now I’m attracted to other types of guys. Okay, but there are these little things along the way that are actually a revolution – meaning they come around, and around, and around. So whereas everything else is changing, these things remain. They’re there as a sort of formative principle that the rest branches off of somehow. I don’t exactly know why that’s so.

SD: We seem to look at it and see that it happens again and again. It goes into the way the brain is put together or neurologically, about which one can speculate, but one would have to have tools a lot finer than any I’ve ever been able to get my hands on. I think we sexualize what’s different from us. That starts with the genitals as children. We look at our own; we look at the genitals of our parents and compare them to ours. There are enough differences in the genitals of an adult male and a male child, so that you can easily say, “Oh, what my father has is different than what I have. His has hair and veins, whereas I just have this little thing.” So sexualization – for ten to twenty percent of boys – of the same sex begins. It’s probably easier for a boy to sexualize the genitals of a woman. Because the difference is more marked. So you have the phallic other. The little boy wondering, “What happened to mommy’s penis?” This is a kid who’s going to be heterosexual, because the female genital place has been marked as, “Oh this is different than mine.” And I think women can do the same thing.

Something that nobody ever points out is that this has been around for millions and millions of years. All the animals we know of. There are no mammals that don’t have the same sorts of sexualities as we do. It’s got to have some real use. Things that are useless do not last or persist for millions of years. We don’t know why it’s important, but when someone figures out why it’s so important to persist in all species, we’ll all think, “Oh yeah, that’s so obvious!”

CH: Something not present in other animal species is monogamy. Even the animals that we thought were monogamous, we’ve learned are not. Maybe monogamy is so human that we’ve had to become preoccupied with it. It’s an invention that we have so much art about, so much frustration and fear around: monogamy and adultery.

SD: And of course the fact that something that happens with another species doesn’t determine what we do.

CH: We’re emerging from a period when people took certain cues from nature, and now we’re taking different ones. Without talking about natural and unnatural, when we need to question those terms anyway, let’s talk about it personally. In a personal context, my question for monogamy is, can we be intentional? Can we be intentionally monogamous or intentionally open, rather than just living out of insecurity of losing a partner (monogamy) or fear of commitment (openness). And is there something else at work? I mostly have open relationships, but there is a part of me that has a longing for, not monogamy, not possession, but sacrifice. I almost view this feeling of monogamy (which you can have without having monogamy itself) as religious sacrifice. We sacrifice sex at the religious altar of the relationship. That’s supposed to mean something. But why is it sex that has to be sacrificed? Why is that the only thing that’s supposed to work?

SD: I think one of things about having a satisfying open relationship is to be aware of

sdguitar

Samuel Delany, 1960

the need of your main partner and to be able to reassure that partner that they’re Number One. If your main partner walks in while you’re actually in bed with someone else, you have to think about, what do you do?

 

Well, one of the things you can do is get out of bed and say, “Hi, I’m happy to see you!”You don’t sit there [makes blubbering noises].

You say, “Hey I’m glad to see you! Are you okay with this?” And if they show the least bit of uncomfortableness you have to be able to turn to the other partner, the casual partner, and say, “I’m sorry, you have to go now. Number One has come home, it’s his or her or our place, and you have to go now.” You do it politely but firmly, and then you go back to your Number One and you give them a hug. If you do this two or three times, they realize, hey, I’m Number One. If you don’t, if you blather, then yeah, they’ll be upset. And they have every right to be.

CH: Because repetition is desire! The repeated behavior will reveal the desire you have for your partner.

SD: I have a scene in Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, which is like that. And it works for the character. And I know it works because I’ve had to do it myself. A few times, not a lot! You should be aware that that’s what you have to do. And the other person should know as well.

CH: And make that move not just in the interruption, but in all sorts of situations.

SD: Yes!

CH: Before we open this up to questions, one place I want to move to is sex in public places. Because you and I have both written about it. And I’ve had sex in public places, I wrote an essay about sex at rest areas. And you’ve written about sexualized public spaces in New York and how they were zoned and that sort of thing. And here’s where my mind is with this: It’s the question of why confine sex to certain areas? Why cover it up, so it has to be behind closed doors? Of course right now, if everyone were fucking in the streets, there would be questions of consent, so I don’t want to take it there exactly. But why is it that this part of human life is totally concealed?

SD: I think that there’s nothing wrong with having certain spaces for certain things. You have restaurants to eat in. One of the reasons why gay men do as well sexually as we do, is that there are all these places where you go, where the moment you walk in, you know everyone is looking for sex. One of the things that happens a lot in bars – and because of this my heart goes out to our poor heterosexual brethren – you go to a bar, you talk to three to five different women and get rejected. And you have to go home alone. Maybe once a week if you’re lucky it’ll happen. This is not something we have to go through when we go somewhere to cruise. First of all we’ll go through approaching people at a much faster rate. And we may get the same number of rejections. But we get them five to ten minutes apart and we get an acceptance. So the rejections mean a lot less, because they’re offset by the acceptances. And you can get two or three acceptances a night. But this is only possible because they are limited social spaces. If it happened throughout society you couldn’t do that. We’d be in worse shape than straight guys.

CH: Also it’s unavailable to straight people is because there’s so much sexual violence between straight men and women. So sex continues to have a much more threatening element. Part of the price of all the bullshit men have done to women is that sexuality becomes pulled out of the realm of what’s available. So part of the enclosure is the space, but the gender.

People ask me, “When you put your dick through a gloryhole, aren’t you scared someone will bite your dick off?” And of course you don’t ever think of that. But you might be afraid of the police coming in to the rest room or porn store or wherever it is that the gloryhole is located. Because that’s when the heterosexual power model is brought into the space. And so they’re likely to “break it up.” There’s something about violence being kept at bay in all of this.

I think all of this is also why one grouping of heterosexuals that has any sort of cruising culture is BDSM culture, because they’ve ritualized aggression and pain and even violence, and they’re able to engage with each other in a ritualized way.

SD: One reason why most of us aren’t afraid of having our dicks bitten off in the gloryhole is that we’re very much aware that the person on the other side has one too. And so if you’re fellating someone, that’s a huge act of identification. Just to do it, just to suck someone (as a gay man) is identifying with their pleasure. You have the pleasure as a surrogate for them. If you’re aware of this, whether you articulate it or not, you know the biting isn’t likely to happen for the same reason they won’t bite their own off. Sucking becomes their dick in a funny way. At least it does for me when I’m sucking dick, which I enjoy very much.

CH: Me too! All right, now that we’ve both agreed we like sucking dick, let’s open it up to questions.

QUESTION. Why do you think gay male culture isn’t comfortable talking about attraction to occasional or persistent attraction to women?

CH: So why are gay men not welcoming to women, It’s a weird commonality with heterosexual men who are just totally repulsed by gay sex. But gay men say, “Oh vaginas are disgusting,” vehemently and violently. And of course you have suspicions about anything that comes up so violently like that.

SD: A lot of that comes from the consumerization behind gay culture. Nobody feels they’ll make money from the sexual attraction that gay men have for women.

CH: It’s easy to sell to people who have concrete identities. You only have to keep reinforcing “gay men are gay men and they should only be around gay men,” and then it’s pretty easy to sell a TV show or some dumb bric-a-brac at a gay store. There’s a whole economy that thrives on identity.

Q. How does sexuality and sex relate to creativity, specifically in terms of lack? If sex is as you say, intertwined with creativity, if you’re only attracted to men or to women, is there a lack there, if you’re only engaging in a single practice?

SD: Well I certainly don’t identify as a single practice kind of guy! What one does most of the time doesn’t necessarily mean what one does all the time. And I still enjoy getting sucked, I enjoy getting fucked, I enjoy fucking. So I don’t think of myself as someone limited to one kind of sex. I do have patterns, and I do have things that I do more of than other things. Largely because those are the opportunities the world presents me. Right now, I don’t find myself particularly missing anything. I have a couple of fuck buddies as well as my major relationship. I feel pretty satisfied. And anything I need? Well, there’s always imagination and masturbation. You know the joke, you meet a better class of people there.

CH: The imaginative landscape is part of my life. My thoughts are as real as objects to me. So my fantasy world is a real world as well. So if you’re asking if anything limits my access to creativity? I sometimes resent the human form and my materiality. But we are bound to certain laws, whether it’s being in a material body, being a man, being a gay man.

Being whole and being whole in our creativity is a move we make with all our enthusiasm and our integrity. It’s not something that can be given to us by external factors. It’s something we do inwardly.

dhalgren-1

photo: Maya Lassiter (click for her site)

SD: And I’d like to add: I feel I’m doing pretty well creatively!

 

I find myself very interested in sex as a topic, and in the last decade, that’s where a lot of my energies have gone in fiction. There’s one book called Dark Reflections, which is about a guy who basically has no sex. It’s a gay man who is celibate, who is not partnered, who does not have an active sex life. He kind of wants one, but he doesn’t, also, for all sorts of reasons. Whereas  …Nest of Spiders and Phallos are basically about having as much sex as you could possibly want.

CH: It’s important to remember all the romantics, too. That period of art was about longing, about restriction. And then there’s the Oulipo who gave each other restrictions to create new works. Creativity courses through limitation.

Q. Can we ever move beyond the paradigm of pairs?

SD: I would hope. I think that would be a very good idea. As far as I’m concerned, I’m all for it. One of my earliest books was called Babel 17. In that book, there is a tendency in society for people to hook up in threes. Those threeway relationships I told you before I was so interested in? I wrote about in that book. After that was published and was being considered for a Nebula Award, I was at a convention, just sort of standing against a wall and a young man came up to me and said, “Mr. Delaney? You’re the guy that wrote Babel 17?” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “The people who get together in threes, is that possible?” And I said yes. And he gave a huge sigh of relief and walked away! I thought, okay, I’ve done something good. And the most recent book, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, although the main relationship is a pair of guys, one of the things that happens is that people are doing political work to get the government to accept group marriages. All sorts of sexual associations. So in some sense I seem to have come full circle. I hope that’s a good sign!

CH: I love this question, I’ve been thinking about it so much lately. When I broke up with my last boyfriend, something I thought about before that moment of breaking up was, what’s the purpose of this sort of relationship? Why does everyone have to do it?

I’m not some sort of spiritual monist who thinks we’re all One. That’s interesting to me, but it’s much more interesting to me to engage with multiplicity and total individuality. So when I see another person and acknowledge them as totally separate from me, that’s when I’m the kindest. The more I recognize separateness, the less I feel like pairing off is necessary. The more I individuate, the more I see others and think I can let others in to include them in my life.

SD: When my daughter was born in 1973, I was living in  London.My wife at the time had a bookstore, and she had to go in every day. I was a stay-at-home dad. I had to go and visit a friend of mine who lived in a commune, a sort of free-flowing commune. In the commons room, at the back of the room, there was a sign that said “MOTHER IS A JOB.” It was around that time, too, that’d I’d read an article about how the average father spends less than 37 seconds a day with his less-than-one-year-old child. You know what happens when a person interacts with someone for that little? They die.

So I’d stay home with my daughter and we’d dance. I’d dance with her. And I think of that as our dancing lessons. We still like to dance and we also like to see horror movies together. But anyway, Mother is a Job. Not a gender, it’s something anyone can do if they figure out how to do it. So that opens up for me the notion that a bunch of people can get together. Not a pair. And form a group. Some will having the job of mother.

CH: In lots of cultures, more than a pair bring up the child.

SD: Right, the whole “it takes a village to raise a child” thing. Obviously that rings true.

Q. I’ve recently started being attracted to older men, so my question is about intergenerational relationships. What are the benefits and the challenges?

CH: Taken on a personal front, when I was younger, I was always attracted to older men, and nobody my age was attracted to me. Now that I’m older, guys who are 18, 19, are attracted to me. The first time someone calls you “Daddy” it’s shocking. Not in an unpleasant way, but it has a feeling for sure. My thought on daddies is that something happening in our relationships is that we’re becoming more individuated and personalized rather than just having a uniform or conforming idea of what we want. What could present more of a special regard than having a Dad? A regard for you as an individual. Of course, I’m attracted to daddies, although I am now open to younger guys as well…

SD: There are benefits of getting older!

CH: Exactly! But then one bad thing about it is that there are less and less people who are older than me. The daddy is eventually going to disappear from availability.

I just had a foursome with a group of guys in their early twenties, and we were talking during the act and I kept thinking, my gosh these guys are so smart! So much smarter than my generation. There’s a chance that people in their twenties are more intelligent than people in their thirties and forties in this moment in time. So I think there’s an interesting bridge because of connectivity, in part because of access to information via globalization and the internet. So I think some of the challenges are changing.

SD: Something Goethe said:“A man of 50 knows no more than a man of 20, they just know different things.” I was a pretty bright kid. I had an impressive IQ. I don’t anymore, the last ten points have filtered away along with an inch of my height! But when I was about 21 or 22, I suddenly realized that what I was interested in was not the people who knew the same things I did. How boring! I was interested in people who knew things that were different. And as soon as I became interested in that, all the stupid people in the world vanished. There were no stupid people, just people who knew things I didn’t know.

Attraction to older men is precisely that. A sexual predilection. Or liking younger men. I was always interested in older men, I still am, but as you say, there are less and less people who are older than I.

CH: Well don’t worry, Chip, Daddy is a job!

chip

*This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

“Tower of Power: A Poem for Donald Trump” by Martin Pousson

13 Jan

martins-armsMy friend Martin Pousson is an amazing writer. Author of, among other things, the profoundly strange and disturbing magical memoir Black Sheep Boy (Rare Bird Books, 2016).

Plus, look at Martin’s arms.

Also, Martin’s an amazing poet, and when he gives readings of fiction, memoir, or poetry, it’s always performative in the best possible way.

When I heard he’d written a, um, rather graphic poem about Donald Trump, how could I resist? I had to have him come over to and  read it so we could share it with you. It’s part of my push in 2017 to show all the irreverent ways we can resist, create, and radiate power to one another, which culminates this month in my online course, Radical Undoing: Decolonize Your Mind with Sex, Science, the Occult, and Philosophy, which you should sign up for so we can do this work together.

The poem originally appears here in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Follow Martin on twitter, and buy his latest book, Black Sheep Boy, here.

Write Better

12 Nov

wbWRITING COACHING

Hello, writers and writer-to-be! I’ve been a writing teacher for almost fifteen years now; helping writers meet their goals, improve their voices, and create sustainable writing practices. Since 2007, I’ve been offering one-on-one writing coach services, and I kept hearing from people that they wanted concentrated courses, editing services, and more. So I decided to up my game as a teacher and re-created my entire practice.

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Writing Life: From Page to Publication in Six Weeks for Your Personal Essay and Nonfiction Article

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You can also hire me for a Writer’s AssessmentCritical Editing, and a service that includes everything, One-on-one Writing CoachingI’m also an experienced script doctor and offer Script Elevation services on select-client basis.

For more info on any of these packages or services, click here.

About Me

I’m a prolific and widely-published author and have over a decade experience as a writing teacher. I’ve helped clients get their work published in nationally-recognized publications, prepare scripts for production on stage, make money off their work, polish their screenplays, create regularly updated and respected blogs, kickstart their writing careers, and more!

My writing appears and is featured in/on:  The Stranger, Vice, Salon, Slate, The Advocate, The Rumpus, Headmaster Magazine and more.  I’m a member of PEN American and my work has been anthologized many times, including in Best Sex Writing 2013 (Cleis Press), Best Gay Stories 2012 (Lethe Press), and more. I was awarded the Distinguished Teaching Award as a writing professor at the University of Massachusetts, and the Harvey Swados Prize in fiction writing. I’m an internationally recognized public figure who has given dozens of talks at universities and organizations, from Amherst College to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, from the Rudolf Steiner Social Finance organization to University of Green Bay Wisconsin.

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New Course! Banishing the World: Postmodern Philosophy & the Occult + Updates!

23 Sep
Gayternity

Me & Eternity

I’m teaching a new online course called BANISHING THE WORLD: POSTMODERN PHILOSOPHY & THE OCCULT. One session, 2 hours, live, online, with a Q&A at the end.  It’s only 15.00 for a standard ticket. And it’s going to be awesome.

I’ve been studying both postmodern philosophy and the occult for decades now, and you know? They’re not easy! They’re difficult to read and understand, even as you sense the deep value in them.

But put them together and, whoa, alchemical reaction. Gold.

Below is the course description; click through to the Eventbrite page to sign up! (Oh, and, if you sign up for a Gold ticket, you get an occult-meets-postmodern t-shirt designed by me and customized to your size!)

Below that are a bunch of podcasts I’ve been on, interviews I’ve given (including one super in-depth interview with a literary magazine). Busy fella; thanks for hanging out with me!

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aBANISHING THE WORLD: POSTMODERN PHILOSOPHY & THE OCCULT

Like the two snakes that twine around Hermes’s staff, the occult and postmodern philosophy embrace the same deep revelation:

The world is not as it seems.

But while the occult has been pushed out of serious academic study, postmodern philosophy remains much-discussed and influential. Of course, philosophy’s roots are in the occult: initiates in classical cultures discussing the meanings and substances of the universe. Then, as religion rose to new heights of power, philosophy rebelled against the magical, supernatural, and mystical. Now, after the distractions of the modern era, philosophers – as much as they may deny it – have once again found themselves at the altar with the occultists, the witches, and the mystics.

The postmodern philosophers are in many ways the mystics and maguses of our time. They speak in strange languages, presenting uncanny riddles, and exiling the old world by revealing the new. They’re renaming the gods, influencing cultures, changing medicine and science, and more.

With writer, radical thinker, and activist Conner Habib you’ll explore:

jl– How the theories of postmodern thinkers like Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Jacques Lacan, Bruno Latour, Donna Harraway, Michael Taussig, Michel Serres, and more, overlap with occult ideologies and practices.

– Why it’s all so complicated, anyway, and how using the occult to approach postmodern philosophy and vice versa can make both easier to understand.

– How to use both occult and postmodern ideas to reenvision the world you live in.

– How occult ideas have found their way into academia, science, and activism through the conduit of postmodernism.

dhConner will guide you through the complex ideas of the occult and postmodern philosophy in plain, easy-to-understand language in this live, online course. It’s for the beginner and the adept alike.

The one-session one-hour lecture will be followed by a Q&A, so you’ll be part of the mind-expanding discussion.

If you can’t attend the day of, or if you want to watch the lecture again, you’ll have exclusive access to a recording of the course for 90 days. SIGN UP HERE!

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UPDATES

PODCASTS! 

dtI’ve returned to the great, mystical, dangerous, raspy clutches of The Duncan Trussell Family Hour! It’s my fourth appearance on the comedy-meets-sprituality-meets-tech-craziness podcast. I seriously love doing Duncan’s podcast. We go deep, and Duncan is one of the best conversationalists out there. Also, we invoke the god Pan together at the end. So, um, there’s that.

I also kicked it with sex positive power generator Dawn Serra on the Sex Gets Real podcast. We go deep there. I diss feminism. But in a non-diss feminism-is-also-good way. And I talk about why consent is a bit of a Trojan Horse when it comes to sexual ethics.

saI was on writer/comedian/adult film witch priestess Sovereign Syre’s podcast, Observations. We talk about being (and not being) nice to other people, identity politics, and more. It’s a good one. Her podcast in general is pretty great. Listen to it.

The guys at Bateworld – a solo-sexual website (look it up, folks) – created a playlist inspired by me, which is kind of awesome. So if you need music to listen to while you’re, *ahem*, thinking fondly of me, it’s there. The site is not SFW, so if you have a horrible job that thinks looking at parts of the human body is wicked, don’t go there at work. Wait till you get home and you can blast it out. The music, I mean.

PRINT! I was featured in the rebel lit magazine, The Matador Review. It’s a good interview, and I’m proud of it. I like that I got to compare making porn to what César Aira must feel when he writes his novels.

Here’s an excerpt:  “…style is a mood. In other words, style is really this unique mood that you’ve created out of yourself. No one else has that mood, no one else has access to it. When you’re actually in your style, you experience a mood that you don’t experience in any other space, a mood that no one else can experience. That’s how you know you’re doing it. It’s this feeling of some emergence from you…”

Hurray that I got to be in Hot Press, which is basically the Irish Rolling Stone. I was interviewed by Olaf Tyaransen, who is the resident outlaw reporter there. Full disclosure, some of the facts are wrong in the interview. But that reflects an even deeper truth: that Olaf and I drank too much Guinness when we spoke.

Podcastmania!

10 Jun

If you want to hang out with me inside your ears (just let that be weird, it’s okay), you’re in luck!

I’ve been on a bunch of podcasts in the past few months and they are some of the best podcasts I’ve ever done. I’m not just saying that. People seem to be excited to talk with me about a variety of issues now, instead of just asking the basic porn questions, which at this point have become boring to me (and probably you, if you’ve been following along for awhile). So please listen and feel free to comment, and tell your fav podcast host to have me on. I love conversation.

Here’s a quick rundown:

First up, Rune Soup with the mighty Gordon White! I met Gordon through a series of synchronicities (that’s what people who aren’t crazy call “coincidences”) and suddenly, there we were, talking about fantasy novels (On A Pale Horse, for example), the problems of materialism in the occult, punk rock, and more.

You can click here to download, or just listen below.

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Sex

 

On futurist podcast The Singularity Bros, I got to talk stuff few people give me a chance to talk about, but that I love considering. Particularly: the end of work and why we don’t need jobs anymore. I also talked about the future of sex, dissed virtual reality and the occulus rift, and said Buddhist monks could probably fly. It’s good stuff.

Click here to download/listen!

 

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WTMatt Baume is the funny, thoughtful, and warm-hearted host of The Sewers of Paris podcast. I had no idea what to expect, and the episode wanders from topic to topic in a great, organic way. He’s an amazing interviewer. We start with The Superfriends and it all unravels from there. The book of spell I stole from my middle school library, the guys I wanted to fuck in high school. And at some point, I say I have superpowers. Click here to listen.

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MiriamFinally, I got on Miriam Seddiq‘s podcast, Not Guilty No Way. Miriam is a criminal defense attorney and force to be reckoned with. We met via a scuffle on twitter. There were insults and jabs, and then we were both like, “But, um, why are we doing this, you seem awesome?” Not atypical for Arabs, by the way. There’s the fast and furious expression of anger followed by embrace and trust. We know how to do peace pretty well. Miriam is one of the only podcasters that said she researched me by watching my porn. Bravo to her. She’s brilliant, and I had a great time. It’s very, very conversational. Without the back story, you’d think we’d been friends for a long time.

You can click here to download or listen below.

On Joy Williams, or, The Best Fiction Writer Alive

31 Dec

To close the year out here’s an ode to my favorite living fiction writing, Joy Williams. She’s also the best living fiction writer. Not just because she’s my favorite, but because no one is like her. Perhaps no one writing fiction today is capable of being like her. For comparisons, we’d have to turn to the dead: To Walter Benjamin or perhaps James Welch. This essay originally appeared on The Rumpus, a great literature and culture site. Please check them out, read this essay, and read some Joy Williams in the new year!

  • CH

THE ANIMALS DIE: ON READING JOY WILLIAMS

FloridaLast things first: people die.

Imagine you know nothing about Joy Williams. You pick up her book, Florida, what was once known as a “coffee table book.” It looks nice enough, filled with photos: melting purple Florida skies lining Tampa skyscrapers, a dolphin bursting through a motorboat’s wake, a flamingo on the cover, and essay by Joy Williams in the middle.

Imagine buying that book for the dolphin and the flamingo and getting this:

Whatever Florida is becoming (and she can become almost anything), she is essentially her most wondrous and exceptional self when she is not the Florida that is the result of a century of fabrication.

The essay, you discover, is filled with…not scorn for tourists, never quite that, but something angry. Sorrow, awe. This writer won’t leave any version of Florida alone, not the ones that have passed, nor the one that exists during the essay’s writing. The words run ashore against a picture of lifeguard shack. 

It was an edgy lifeguard shack at the time, no doubt. It has a curving silver roof and yellow legs and neon green walls. Now it looks dated and ugly. Certain images, you might sense as you look at the pages, have certain eras.

The Florida in Florida has had its era, and now it’s gone. Considering the book now, you might understand what readers felt when it came out; their excited longing for those beaches, Florida was almost glowing in their far-off longings, like neon. But the essay indicates a canceling out of all that. It states that time will take you on a ride to the end. Those images of Florida will be gone. Your time will be gone. This too, and you shall pass.

This is the death in Joy Williams’s work. It’s not passive or a neutral gray. It never happens on its own but is always courted with people’s thoughts of it, and the moment of dying. It might be a moment anyone of us has already missed. For all we know, we’re dead right now. Maybe this is it.

“So,” begins her novel The Quick and the Dead, “you don’t believe in a future life. Then do we have the place for you!” The title of the novel suggests that there aren’t really options, per se. After all it’s not The Quick OR the Dead. There might be two types of people, but time is quick and death is certain. The first chapter goes on.

Nothing we do is inevitable, but everything we do is irreversible. How do you propose to remember that in time?

Which would you propose to have your life compared to, wind or dust?

Why?

Sorry.

And in the novel Breaking and Entering, we come across Liberty and Willie, who break into houses and stay there as long as they can. Simple enough. Sometimes they meet the owners, sometimes not. The novel starts in a normal timbre, but slowly drifts apart from itself, like cells about to divide. 

desert

Joy Williams

Adventure gives way to being absorbed into the landscape of words and feelings. Gradually, no one knows who’s alive or who’s dead. Everyone becomes unintelligible to each other.

“I was a suicide,” Liberty says into the eye of a dead heron, finding some solace there, perhaps. The narrative continues, and we can’t be sure if it’s Liberty or the world that goes on to tell us, “We are addressed, even desired, but we are ghosts.”

When we know who’s speaking, we don’t always know why. “You’re admiring the light dear? There is an extraordinary light here, isn’t there? It only reveals, never explains.”

As readers, we think, people don’t talk like this. And then, anxiously, we must admit uncertainty. Or do they?

There’s an earlier version of the novel floating around, rarely seen but definitely real. This was the book before a publisher turned away from it, perhaps in fear. The host of a book-themed radio show told me about it once; he’d read it, was shaken to the core by it, then he passed it to an author. That version, he said, is less compromising than the published one; a deep treatise on the dread of being. I don’t know what that might look like. How could it be less compromising than the existing oracle? Unless it were written in a striking new language; or perhaps a very old one. Hieroglyphics. Sacred pictures of the dead.

Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead and the underworld appears in “Cats and Dogs,” a story in her latest collection, The Visiting Privilege. Osiris is alive, but dead. Dismembered, but whole.

Siblings drowned Osiris. Then chopped up body into fourteen parts and scattered them all over the place, all over Egypt. Someone found everything except for the penis, which had been eaten osirisby fish, then put him back together again and made him king of the underworld.

His severed penis, by the way, awaits you in one of her novels, though I won’t tell you which one. You’re going to have to find that severed penis on your own. The point here is that Osiris is the bridge between the kingdom of uncertainty (the living), and the dead, where we are certainly going. No one more than Williams writes from both worlds at once.

Imagine picking up that book with the flamingo on the cover.

That flamingo is dead now.

For sure, it is pink and beautiful and dead. Because also, the animals die.

I’ve killed a lot of animals in my life so far. So have most people, intentionally, directly, indirectly. The ones we eat of course. The ones we hunted as children. More, more. Let’s not forget the bugs that turn to dust or smears on the windshield. Surely we are not exempt here. We decide to make and buy huge machines of metal and glass and fill them up with the liquefied dead bodies of plants and animals and then blot other animals out of existence. We are absolute killing machines, but we hover above ourselves and watch, unless, like Jains, we sweep before us. Even then, we couldn’t hope to save everything.

Joy Williams kills animals in her life, she kills them or finds them dead in her stories. This is important. Jane, in “Preparation for a Collie,” poisons her dog, for example. She tries half-heartedly to give it away, but no, she’d rather really give it away.

Jane goes to the cupboard, wobbling slightly. “I’m going to kill that dog,” she says. “I’m sick of this.” She puts down her drink and takes a can of DRANO out of the cupboard.

It’s matter of fact. Earlier, her little son David had told the dog “We’re getting rid of you, you know.” But not in this way, surely not this way. He starts to cry. Jane loves her son in an unmoved way. She kneels down to kiss him. “David does not look at her. It is as though, however, he is dreaming of looking at her.” The story ends. No meaning is given but the dream.

There’s an occult theory, developed by hermetic masters sometime between ancient Greece and the 18th century. In each animal, the theory goes, there’s a golden thread running through. A glowing, golden mark on the spine that you could see if only you had a sort of astral vision. That’s where the animal is connected to the collective animal—the archetypal animal. If you pet an animal on that golden thread, you’ll feel connected. I’ve done just that with my dog.

If we’d look into our own bodies, the theory goes, we wouldn’t notice that thread, we are distinct. There’s nothing in Joy Williams’ work suggesting we ourselves are animals, no, we’re nothing so magnificent. What she might say we are, I’m not certain. But in the pages as in life, we are the beings kill animals, often after caring for them, like in “Preparation for a Collie” or the idolized then sacrificed bear cub in “Honored Guest.”

So many animals wander into our dimension (or is it the other way around?), and then they die, because in their deaths, they may actually have a chance to affect us.

In her essay, “Hawk,” (from her book Ill NatureJoy Williams writes of her own dreaming. Dreams and her lack of dreams after her dog, Hawk attacks her and has to be put to sleep, killed. You will remember this essay for a long time after you read it.

The animals don’t leave us, even in death.

In her finest story, “Congress,” a woman, Miriam, strikes up a relationship with a lamp with a base made of deer hooves. “It was anarchy, the little lamp, its legs snugly bunched. It was whirl, it was hole, it was the first far drums.” The lamp shines on everything in her life, and it has its own preferences, she discovers, though the lamp never speaks. She reads in its glow and sometimes the lamp judges what she reads. Moby-Dick produces the most powerful response, a book about a longing that, once met, is deadly. Whales are our largest animals, and we take them apart and turn them into fuel, food, candles. While Miriam is away, she reflects that the lamp, with legs that once “ran and rested and moved through woods washed by flowers” was back in her room,

…hovering over Moby-Dick. It would be deeply involved in it by now, slamming down Melville like water. The shapeless maw of the undifferentiating sea! God as indifferent, insentient Being, composed of an infinitude of deaths! Nature. Gliding… bewitching… majestic… capable of universal catastrophe! The lamp was eating it up.

There is nothing supernatural about the lamp; it is merely a part of life. Nor is there anything supernatural about the oracle she meets later, a taxidermist tucked in the room of a museum featuring gloriously stuffed animal bodies. People travel from great distances to meet him and ask him a question. His power seems to come from being in the palace of dead animals, since Miriam will be his replacement. It doesn’t matter if she’s qualified. She’s got her lamp, and she’s among the wisdom of preserved carcasses and halted motion. Any answer will do, since her words will be heard differently, with reverence, there.

The animals, only the animals, can reflect back to us our own failings and dishonesties.

When I met Joy Williams, it was over animals. I approached her sheepishly, stupidly, with a story I’d written about a woman who’d turned into a white dog. I was in grad school, and Joy Williams was giving a reading. I hadn’t known then that she’d written an entire novel featuring a white dog. I’d always been scared of them. Recurring nightmares. At that point, I’d only read The Quick and the Dead, which had changed me entirely. I’d never read anything like it, and I never will again. It was unbearable; it grew through me, the way grass forces its way through a sidewalk.

If you haven’t read anything by Joy Williams yet, do it. Confound yourself. If you are a writer, beware. She is a “writer’s writer.” What that means is: terror. When you read Joy Williams, there’s a feeling of terror. I might have written, “delight”, but let’s face facts, for writers, those are the same thing. I might have also written “wildness.”

It’s too much for most of us. A few sentences and off you will go, into a universe, wanting to write your own work. Needing to. If you can, stifle the urge to write, and finish her story, or worse, novel, and hum in your cells, wanting to do something. It’s the feeling Colin Wilson wrote about when looking into the Grand Canyon. It overwhelms you, but how will you resolve it? There are only two options: hold onto it or give in to doom and throw yourself in.

Kells

From The Book of Kells, where the intensity of the words and symbols also come to life.

“Thank you,” I said, “and here.” I handed her my story (used-up dead ideas, pressed with ink onto paper: dead, flattened plants). I told her not to worry about responding; I just wanted to give it to her.

“What’s your address,” she asked suddenly, and I wrote my email address down on the back of the story. She laughed. “My boy, you know nothing of me, do you?”

I wrote down my postal address, which looked lonely on blank white paper, like the name of someone I’d forgotten. I don’t think it looked that way to her—I think to her it looked healthy or at least normal.

Months passed and then, like a shell on the sand, a letter appeared in my mailbox. Typewritten on the back of a galley page of The Quick and the Dead. I won’t tell you what it says, except that it is kind, it is caring and encouraging and also a bit mysterious. It’s a story.

The next year, she returned to Amherst and we sat outside with her German Shepherds and talked about Gurdjieff and Edmund White and animals, of course. She was like a tarot card to me, sitting in that chair, with blue behind her and a giant dog on either side. She became friendly, personal. Not that she said it explicitly, but I learned then from her the lesson every writer needs to learn but never will. You can do anything when you write. If you’re writing and you think of a painting, have the painting appear. If the painting needs to talk, so be it. If, at the end of your work, you have a heavy impulse to let the lovers die suddenly in a toy store fire, destroy them. If the wolves need to speak to God, as they do in 99 Stories of God, well then:

“Thank you for inviting us to participate in your plan anyway,” the wolves said politely.

The Lord did not want to appear addled, but what was the plan his sons were referring to exactly?

Characters are not people, after all (they’re not wolves, either, though they are closer to animals), though we must show compassion to whatever they are. They don’t need to “make sense,”even if we need to try and make sense of them. In fact, definitions, which claim total understanding, will likely fail us when we write and read. Here’s the Lord again, in 99 Stories of God:

The Lord was trying out some material.

I AM WHO I AM, He said.

It didn’t sound right.

THAT’S WHO I AM. I AM.

It sounded ridiculous.

He didn’t favor definitions.

He’d always had the most frightful difficulties with them.

Little symbols, strung together, just like the ones in this essay, are what make characters. They’re shapes the djinns are cast through. They are not alive/they are alive in us. So the writer’s responsibility is to write them into being through that liminal space: dead and alive, sleeping and awake, animal and plant, drop and ocean, symbol and gesture. You can do anything. This is not an easy thing to remember as a writer. It’s a bit like sitting up straight: You have to keep reminding yourself to do it. Once you do it enough, writing becomes a place for wildness in a world where wildness will appear to be killed. Reading Joy Williams is a brush against this sublime evasiveness, this animal behind the trees. She doesn’t control each word, as some people might think. She just becomes some sort of medium, just tightens the bow and touches the spine so that the sound and the golden glow come through.

And what is wildness if not the Living and the Quick and the Dying and the Dead, all at once?

 

So I’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Hurray!

2 Jun

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 3.23.37 PM

SYBPS

MEDIA APPEARANCES

A lot of great stuff happening lately.  First, I want to give a shout out to my shout out in bestselling author Jon Ronson‘s new (and excellent) book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.  It’s about the rise of shaming culture on the internet, and its repercussions.  The book is funny and poignant, and having been a huge Jon Ronson fan since his first book, Them: Adventures with Extremists, I’m thrilled to be included in it.

Hilariously (perfectly) enough, Jon Ronson mentions my asshole.  And then Jon Stewart praised the book as “wonderful.”  So I’m just going to go out on a limb and pretend that that somehow means that I was on the Daily Show.  Or, um, my asshole was, anyway.

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Me with Brad Kalvo, David Anthony, Dirk Caber, and a funny porny mustache.  From After the Heist

Me with Brad Kalvo, David Anthony, Dirk Caber, and a funny porny mustache. From After the Heist

I’m featured in two new Buzzfeed Video videos: “Men Watch Porn with Porn Stars” and “Women Watch Porn with Porn Stars.”  Basically, I watch one of my scenes — from Joe Gage’s & Ray Dragon’s excellent and bestselling porn, After the Heist (link NSFW) with Buzzfeed staffers.  So they’re just sitting there watching me, you know, have lots and lots of sex.  It was a hilarious and fun experience.  In the “Women…” version, I hang out with my friend, comedian Gaby Dunn.  Always a pleasure to have your friends watch you get a facial (?)  In the “Men…” version, I watch with a very handsome straight guy named Dan De Lorenzo.  He was sweating, curious, and funny.  I have to admit the experience was arousing for me.  And maybe for him, too.  “There’s a lot of tension between us,” he said afterward, “and not in a bad way!”

Looking at my buttcrack while Gaby Dunn cracks a joke.

Looking at my buttcrack while Gaby Dunn cracks a joke.

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I appeared  on the Grimerica podcast with Skeptiko host and author of Why Science Is Wrong about Almost Everything Alex Tsakiris.  Along with weirdness/occult writer Red Pill Junkie and hosts Graham and Darren, we cover a lot of ground: Psychoanalysis, what to do about climate change, virtual reality models of the universe, how to fight conspiracies, and more.  These sorts of boundary-less conversations often have a Burning-Man-meets-The-Matrix thing going on, of course.  But they also have the more serious function of pushing me (and hopefully listeners!) into a creative and speculative way of thinking.  The alternating currents of playful and thoughtful do something interesting when they collide.  So listen and take it very seriously and also don’t take it seriously at all.

MOVIES

After over a year hiatus, I finally have some new adult work coming out.  It’s a sequel (yes, a real SEQUEL sequel) to Dad Goes to College, one of my most popular films.  I wrote about taking a break –and how porn performers can gracefully take a break or leave the industry — earlier this year.  It took legendary porn and Z-List science fiction director Joe Gage to coax me out of my donut-eating bliss.  The conversation went something like this:

Getting stared down by my

Getting stared down by my “dad,” Allen Silver in Dad Goes to College.

Joe: Hey Conner, I want you to reprise your role as Kyle in a sequel to Dad Goes to College.  It’s called Dad Out West.

Me: That sounds great, but I’ve been off for a year and a half.  I weigh 185 lbs. I have a different body now.  Not sure if I’m right for it.

Joe: Send me pictures, let’s take a look.

Me: *sends pictures*

Joe: You’re perfect!  Have you ever seen Boyhood?  It’ll be just like that!

Me:  Okay, sign me up. Just don’t make me stop eating donuts.

To watch a very NSFW teaser of Dad Out West, click here.  If you want to download the movie, stream it, or buy a DVD, click here (NSFW and also: it’s not up just yet but WILL be available later this month).

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WRITING

Quite a bit of stuff coming out soon.  Including

my horror comic with Amit Elan,

an essay, “The Name of Your First Pet and the Street You Grew Up On,” in the anthology Coming out Like a Porn Star

an interview in the academic journal Porn Studies

a collection of conversations with sex therapist and radical thinker Dr. Chris Donaghue

an essay about the connections between anti-sex work/anti-porn bigotry and other forms of hate speech

and more (phew!)

As always, if you want to hire me to speak to your college or organization about pornography, sex, and culture, you should!  Click here for more info/to hire me.

Okay, phew, that’s it for now.  Thanks for stopping by.  Love!
CH