Tag Archives: sex and culture

How did love change time and space? My conversation with historian and literary theorist Stephen Kern on the latest Against Everyone with Conner Habib!

25 Sep

listen on:

iTunesStitcherOvercastSpotifySoundcloud

SUPPORT AEWCH via PATREON

Friends,

If you don’t yet know historian, literary theorist, and interdisciplinary intellectual, Stephen Kern, I’m so excited to introduce you to him.

Stephen teaches at Ohio State University, and his books, including The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918 ,  A Cultural History of Causality: Science, Murder Novels, and Systems of Thought  and The Culture of Love: Victorians to Moderns, are wide-ranging explorations of history, especially in how it relates to concepts of time and space.

In this episode, we talk about psychology and phenomenology of time, how love has become more authentic and changed the experience of time, the vulgarity and beauty of Joyce and Ulysses, what Christianity has made available and closed off when it comes to intimacy, the struggles of the Victorian era, just how real the concepts of “modernist” and “romantic” and “Victorian” periods are, how pain and time are interconnected, why a reevaluation of time and space needs to be part of labor activism, and more!

I was alarmed to find that there weren’t many podcasts or interviews with Stephen available online (although he is known and respected in literary and historian and other academic communities) so I was determined to bring his work to a broader audience.

For show notes (this time there are LOTS of links to books!), click here.

XO
CH

SK

“…sex for money usually costs a lot less.” Maggie McNeill & I talk about sex workers’ rights on the latest AEWCH!

1 May
SUPPORT THE SHOW via Patreon and get show notes, bonus eps, membership to my book club, one-on-one meetings with me, and more!
PODCAST VERSION: iTunesStitcherSoundcloud
My guest for AEWCH 28 is author, whore, and activist Maggie McNeill. On top of those qualifications, Maggie is an uncompromising and fierce thinker who gives me strength every day. Often, if I feel like I’m exhausted, faltering, or tired of the state sex workers’ rights, or cultural attitudes towards sex, I turn to Maggie’s twitter (which you really should follow), and am re-infused with my own sense of integrity.
We talk about how legalization vs decriminalization, sex work vs the state, the problem with enthusiastic consent, Stormy Daniels, SESTA/FOSTA, and more!

Me + Moshe Kasher talk about a lot of terrible things in a very funny way. It’s AEWCH 27!

24 Apr
SUPPORT THE SHOW via Patreon and get cool shit. Yes? Yes!
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST VERSION: iTunesStitcherSoundcloud
Friends, one of the reasons why I love this episode of Against Everyone with Conner Habib is pretty simple: I love talking with comedian and author Moshe Kasher. He’s one of those rare wide-ranging thinkers who is also warm, and very funny.
Moshe and I talk about doing drugs, what it’s like to belong nowhere, why comedians are not philosophers, growing up poor, how I defiled waffles as a teenager, why Call Me By Your Name is a horrible movie, Moshe getting off with gay dudes on the phone, how MeToo is partially a reflexive backlash to trans rights, and gurus.
You can get the show notes for the and every ep with links to further reading, films, images, and quotes by signing up for as little as a dollar per month.

Conner and Mish Barber-Way from White Lung talk about screaming, abuse, and danger.

10 Nov

In AEWCH 13, I hang out with one of my favorite punks, Mish Barber-Way, singer/screamer of White Lung. White Lung is intense, loud, metal-meets-punk, and they’re truly awesome. (Rolling Stone named White Lung’s album, Deep Fantasy, one of the 40 Greatest Punk Albums of All Time.) So I made sure to ask Mish to play a couple songs, too, even though she’s used to playing MUCH much louder. There are acoustic versions of “Paradise” at  57:55 and “Stand By Your Man” by Tammy Wynette: 1:17:40

IN THIS EPISODE

  • Mish’s sordid, awesome past and present in the adult industry: 2:45
  • Who gets screwed up by being in porn and who does well and why?: 5:10
  • Strategies for public performances. Of all kinds.: 7:15
  • Radiating sexuality: 10:20
  • Our apocalypse survival strategies and the Amish at the end of the world: 13:15
  • How screaming gets you ignored in music, especially if you’re a woman, and why to do it anyway, and what Wilhelm Reich has to do with it: 23:00
  • Arousal and desire are not the same thing: 36:05
  • The missing language of gray area sexual encounters, and why we’re drawn to simple language, even though it doesn’t help us: 46:35
  • The complicated relationships that can frame assault: 51:05
  • Mish talks about White Lung’s song, “Paradise”: 54:40
  • Mish plays an acoustic version of “Paradise”: 57:55
  • Once you get what you want you can’t want it: 1:00:50
  • Why danger matters: 1:03:15
  • Mish plays “Stand By Your Man” by Tammy Wynette: 1:16:45

If you like the show, please support it on Patreon, where you can also find the show notes!

New Online Class Sunday 12/18! Good Sex, Better World: 8 Ways Your View on Sex Can Improve the World+ Q&A!

11 Dec

SexI’ve got a pop-up live online course Sunday 12/18!

My last pop up course was on writing, this one’s on sex and culture.

While my longer online lectures/courses are very in-depth, these pop up lectures are aimed at accessibility for everyone. Accessibility in content: giving you talking points and things to think about after the lecture is over. Financial accessibility: each pop up always has a donation option so people can buy a standard ticket, pay whatever they can afford, or donate even more if they like what I’m doing. Also accessibility for me as the creator of the course – I think of the material and the course is set for just a week out, rather than all the planning/promotion that goes into my other courses.

This time, it’s Good Sex, Better World: 8 Ways Your View on Sex Can Improve the World, followed by a Q&A! Sign up here and/or read the description below.

If you ever want to know how somebody feels about freedom, start talking about sex.

Talking about sex and sexuality pushes people to the limits of their moral, ethical, and political frameworks because it’s all so highly individualized. What one person enjoys sexually – an act, a type of person, a set of features – is unintelligible to another.

For instance, have you ever been attracted to someone and pointed him or her out to a friend, only to have your friend make a repulsed sound?

Him? your friend says, incredulously. The one with the belly and big ears?

Meanwhile, you can’t take your eyes off of him as he walks by, talking on his phone.

Or maybe you like a sexual act or type that you fear is “abnormal.” You like fat men in their fifties, you like almost non-existent breasts, you like anal sex, you like sex with people dressed as stuffed animals, you like being urinated on, you like wearing a leather mask shaped like a pony’s head, you like dressing like a baby, you like…

The list goes on and on. It starts with what features you’re attracted to and ends with how you live your life…and how you think others should live theirs.

At some point or another, everyone comes across a sexual act or attraction that makes them cringe. How we think about and deal with that offense will tell us how deeply our principles about freedom go.

That’s why sex – so individualized, so active and reactive – is the perfect sphere for political and cultural progress! It’s also why sex is so over-legislated and controlled by people and institutions in power.

In other words: If you want a better world, get your perspective on sex – the sex that you and others have – worked out.

In this live, one-session-only online course, Conner Habib will tell you 8 ways to improve your views of sex and how those new viewpoints extend into a better world.

Together, we’ll investigate:

  • How sex and culture intertwine in the realm of individual freedoms and political rights
  • The current sexual landscape and not find what’s “natural” or what’s “normal,” or “real,” but what would would be ideal, what would allow the most cultural space for everyone to understand what they’d like, without restricting that access for others.
  • Why not talking about sex is so damaging
  • The benefits — and problems — of consent and boundaries
  • Why immersive and connected sex isn’t “better” than a casual, anxious hookup
  • What sex workers have to teach us about sexuality and politics
  • Some messy sexual gropes of history, the unwelcome and forcible restricting grip of power, and the pleasurable moments where we seemed to get it right
  • and more!

The course is followed by a 45 minutes sex advice Q&A with Conner, where you can get in on the conversation and uncover your own sexual ideas.

You’ll leave the course with a deeper understanding of sex’s role in our cultural psyche, a whole host of sexual stuff to think about (aside from the usual sexual stuff you think about!), and strategies for a new approach to sex and politics.

And you’ll get exclusive access to a recording of the course for 30 days after the course ends!

SIGN UP HERE!

 

The Future-Non-Future of the Adult Industry

2 Dec

image1In 2013, I wrote an essay (called “Facing the Torsos”) for The Stranger about hook-up apps (like Scruff, Grindr, etc) having the potential for becoming individuated pornographic experiences. Actually, let me restate that – these apps have already become our new porn, whether they claim to be or not. I’m presenting it again here because, porn companies have still failed to realize better models and structures for delivering erotic and arousing experiences to viewers. Basically, studios/producers are still doing the 1980s/1990s VHS model of things: Record a scene, deliver it to viewers, hope they’ll pay. What they don’t realize is that the potential for new realms is not in the platform or even the content, but the INTERFACE. This is why something like VR where you wear a giant occulus goggle thingy is still ultimately a boring extension of the VHS model: You’re still just watching it happen. Sure, it’s a different sort of watching, but the interface is essentially the same, panoramic or not.

I’m tired of constant complaints from producers in the porn industry about piracy and how people not paying for porn is why the industry is failing; ultimately using that as an excuse to justify docking performer pay.

No, it’s not piracy, it’s lack of innovation (or better said, lazy refusal to innovate) on multiple levels, and one of the big ones is interface.  

But producers won’t get this till they understand: porn is not a set “thing,” it’s not just a scene of people fucking on a website. It’s a set of aesthetic rules that inspire a way of watching by individuals.

I’ll write more on this later (I’ve given talks on this at a bunch of art schools now, so the essay is imminent). What might be “porn” for you may not be porn for me (for example, did you masturbate to the Macy’s underwear catalog when you were a kid like I did? Or The Real World Season 2 whenever that blonde surfer dude came on?).

Until people get a handle on this, porn payouts will continue to decline, decline, decline, and at the same time drag performer wages, quality of experience, and producer integrity down with them.

And let’s not forget that all the while, anti-sex bigots and internet censorship dressed up as anti-porn legislation will keep coming at us.

Innovate happily, adapt, or die.

If you’re a producer, feel free to hire me to consult on this.

Anyway, here’s the article again. Hope you enjoy it.

***

fttFACING THE TORSOS

You’re at a gay bar with a group of searching, horny guys, and you’re talking to a bunch of them at once. “Pull your dick out,” you say to one of the cuter ones. He does, and it’s hard and good-looking. “Nice dick!” you say, naturally.

“Sup,” someone else says to you while you’re admiring it, but you don’t pay him much attention.

One of the guys in the group has been talking for a while, but he’s so boring that you turn your back on him mid-sentence and ignore him.

Just a few feet away is a guy who’s really attractive but doesn’t seem interested. You go up and say hello. When he doesn’t respond, you say hi again. Nothing. Well, you’ll see him again a few days later anyway, in the same spot, and you’ll say hello again.

But look, there’s that boring guy you turned your back on. Now that you know what it feels like to be ignored, you reluctantly say, “Sorry. I had a phone call.” Or whatever. Then you pick up the conversation right where you left off.

These are the absurd in-person equivalents of phone hookup apps like Scruff, Grindr, Mister, and Jack’d: brief hellos (“sup”), the trading of nude pics, the dance of expressing interest, dropping in and out of conversations, and picking up chats you abandoned days ago.

It’s obvious in the imagined bar above that our in-person behavior doesn’t mirror our behavior and expectations on the apps. But there’s a good deal more confusion as to how much of our behavior and expectations on the apps should mirror real life. This can be seen most clearly in the common declaration of many profiles: “I wouldn’t talk to someone without a head at a bar, so have a face pic.”

I don’t like when profiles don’t have face pics, and I wouldn’t talk to a headless person in life, either. But neither would I—at least for the most part—ask to see a guy’s dick at a bar and expect him to pull it out. And I wouldn’t suddenly stop talking to someone with no explanation. So there’s a tension and confusion between how much “real life” we’re supposed to enact on these apps. This is, in part, because when we download an app, we don’t just download the standard features, we download a narrative.

The narrative we’re sold is a nice one, and sometimes it plays out: You create a profile, you chat with guys, you meet in person and fuck or even go on a date. I’ve had the good fortune of having this happen, but that’s not what usually happens. Just last night I was on Scruff while in bed, facing the gay man’s dilemma of too-horny-to-sleep-but-too-tired-to-go-out-and-get-some. Typical. With my phone hand, I was scrolling through pics, and with my other hand, I was casually and lazily playing with myself. I talked to a few guys, unlocked my photos, jerked off, and called it a night. Also typical.

Masturbation cued me in, as it has more than a few times, to something valuable: These apps are geared not specifically toward sex but toward stimulation, masturbation, and desire. Put another way, hookup apps are pornography—individualized, participatory pornography.

As a porn actor, I’ve been hearing fearful noises from porn studios and misguided journalists for years now, bemoaning how porn isn’t as lucrative as it once was. While a lot of these concerns are aimed at the internet, what’s overlooked is that a lot of our sexual attention is being diverted to our devices and hookup apps. Instead of writing about how apps compete with bars, we should be looking at how apps are dovetailing with other forms of sexual imagery. Because the substance of these apps isn’t hooking up—it’s browsing. All the traditional elements of porn are there, and more. By creating a profile, we agree to put ourselves on display. Many of the photos we post are borderline pornographic, even if they’re “G-rated.” They’re chest pics or pics of us looking seductive, or they’re goofy because we’ve sexualized goofiness. Exhibitionism is part of the agreement of these apps. We turn ourselves into desirable objects for others to look at.

Meanwhile, we’re voyeurs, looking into everyone’s little windows. The interface is similar to the way we view porn now, not fixating on one scene until we come but flipping through scenes—bringing up the next and the next until we find the one we want to stick with. The ability to chat with the person whose image you’re getting off to amplifies the individualization of the experience. While I’m looking at someone’s dick, I’m also wondering: Is he a top or a bottom? Does he like the same sexual acts as me? But it goes further than that—everyone on the app has access to what turns them on about personalities, too. Does he like the same movies? Is he into comic books? Will he wear that Thor helmet in his pic when he fucks me?

And the best thing is—unlike porn on the computer—we get to be on the screen, too, displaying ourselves to the other player.

But these encounters often do not lead to meeting. When you get to the point of hooking up, the person you think you’re about to hook up with disappears. Or the person says, “I’m busy.” Or you call it off because you don’t feel like cleaning out your butt or going all the way over to that neighborhood because that’s like a 20- minute walk!

And of course, there’s the possibility that the person in the photo is not who he seems to be, that he’ll look different than his photos, or that maybe he’s expecting too much from you.

So instead of meeting up, the next step is turning the app off (or leaving it on) and masturbating. After the interaction has, um, come and gone, you “star” or “favorite” a guy’s profile and revisit the scene again—like a replay, only better.

With apps, we create living pornography on the spot; they embody exhibitionism and voyeurism par excellence. They’re portable, they’re accessible when we want them to be (in your office! In the Starbucks bathroom!), they’re not one-way like much live cam porn, they’re not expensive, and everyone who signs up is agreeing to the same basic premises.

Some features are even optimized for the pornographic experience. The Global feature on Scruff, for example, allows you to engage in chatting and pic sharing without the promise of an encounter. If the person you’re talking to lives in Papua New Guinea and you live in Chicago, you’re probably not getting it in anytime soon. In other words, the Global feature presents a more realistic expectation of what’s probably going to happen when we sign on.

This kind of realistic expectation can help save us from becoming dependent on these new technologies or trapped in the nervous energy that propels them. We’ve all seen people at bars staring into their phones, chatting up the very same sorts of guys they feel unable to approach in person. When we use the apps too frequently or depend on the narrative we’re sold—one of meeting rather than browsing—it can become a crutch and diminish our skill sets for approaching others. We all know someone (or may be someone) who checks his apps constantly or inappropriately. I’m guilty of saying hi to someone via app when he’s sitting four tables away from me at the coffee shop (embarrassingly, he didn’t respond even as I watched him check his phone).

If we can see most of our time on these apps for what it is, we can access the apps’ potential. Seeing the apps as pornographic allows us to interact with our desires rather than try to approximate in-person experiences. Engaging in—rather than just receiving—personalized sexual imagery can afford a degree of healthy detachment through which we can explore the contours of what gets us off. Right now, because the apps are clinging only to the prepackaged narrative, their potential isn’t yet realized. Not expecting our devices and apps to approximate the same experiences we have via in-person contact will let us drop real-time expectations for them. Then we can face the torsos, whether they have faces or not.

 

 

Interview about The Culture of the Current + Last Chance to Sign Up!

28 Jul

CHJust a few more days to sign up for my four session online workshop, The Culture of the Current: A Workshop for Facing the World We Live in Now.

Registration is open until 7/30 at 11:59PM!  Below is a quick interview I did with consciousness scholar and pop philosophy writer Jeremy Johnson the new philosophy and consciousness journal, Metapsychosis.

Read the interview, sign up for the course, and spend your next few Sundays envisioning a better world with me!

Jeremy: I’m very drawn to what you’re implying in the description for your workshop. It speaks to our deepest anxieties and hopes right now, doesn’t it? Corrupt powers are consolidating into global behemoths of themselves just as new, revolutionary, political forces and conversations are taking hold. Amazing technology surrounds us, but we’re filled with that creeping anxiety, the dread of living at the edge of a cliff—in our case, the Anthropocene, climate change, etc. The glass is half-full and half-empty, collapsing into a singularity. A new world seems entirely plausible and yet it often feels like we’re about to implode before we get there.

It’s hard to keep this all in your head at once. Especially in your mentioning that some of the very structures of our reality, things we take for granted in modern society, like representative governments and even “religious impulses” are “relics” crumbling in the face of an entirely new way of doing things. So, I might start out by asking you the most preliminary of questions. It’s the big question we’re exploring here at Metapsychosis. How do we even begin to think about all this? What does that kind of thought even look like?

Conner: A kind of downward spiral can happen when you approach the state of the world: The disastrous US election! Mass shootings! Police Brutality! Taken alone, they’re bad enough, but they can build and build until you feel utterly overwhelmed and helpless. So as for how to begin, there are two ways: One is kicking and screaming, which is the tendency (and the one that many people and institutions in power feed on), the other is with some clarity. So that’s how we begin, or how not to begin. We don’t begin with fear, and we understand that whatever is happening is necessary for and even, perhaps, asked of us in this moment. That’s the foundation. If you can’t dispel the fear entirely (and who can?), you notice it, and let your thoughts run parallel to it rather than letting it intrude so much.

Then, one by one, you examine the phenomena. Not just with data — although of course data can be useful — but with an eye for patterns. These might be patterns in the phenomena themselves; for instance, that activist movements such as identity politics movements and Occupy both have profoundly important messages of resistance. It’s clear through them what is being resisted. But alternative positive politics are not articulated in them (that doesn’t make either of these movements lesser movements, by the way; it’s just an observation of what they are). Or there may be patterns in yourself; the expression and limits of your feeling and empathy during crisis events, for example. Why should I feel deeply moved when certain events happen, but not others? Where is that framework coming from? The individual is everyone’s starting place, so it’s ridiculous to look at world events without inquiring into the self, and vice versa.

meandlynn

Lynn and Me.

Which thinkers have contributed to your thought? You’ve got a few listed on your event page, like the biologist Lynn Margulis, and the anthropologist Bruno Latour. I’m interested to know how they helped to develop your ideas.

Lynn was my mentor and like a second mother to me, and I owe some of what I’ve already said to her. She studied two things, really: bacteria and earth systems. And she studied how they intersect. In other words, her view was both microscopic and planetary. Lean forward, stand back. As above, so below. So her perspective and approach was as helpful to me as the content of her work (which was also mind-blowing).

The anthropologist Bruno Latour and some of his colleagues have brought me a long way to understanding how important experience is. Since anthropologists have to take experience seriously, they are, in some ways, the foundation of all other sciences, because all science springs from human sense and experience. Of course, it’s not just my own experience that I need to take seriously, but the reported experiences of others. You can’t just dismiss someone else’s sufferings, desires, beliefs, etc as stupid or “un-evolved.” Anthropology had a tough time with that in the beginning, but has caught up with itself in many ways. But it’s even more than that. Anthropology insists we question our own beliefs and experiences and prejudices, not just of political concepts or whatever, but of reality itself. You have to (here’s a fun academic buzzword, but I think it’s really useful) decolonize your mind; Latour’s particular emphasis is in decolonizing our minds from the phony objectivity claims of scientism. You have to undo yourself to come close to anyone else. What would that mean in encountering not just the indigenous person, as anthropologists are typically thought of doing, but the religious fundamentalist? The Trump supporter? What might you learn if you engaged with them seriously? Anthropology is the science of compassion and real engagement.

I’m glad you picked out these two thinkers to ask me about, since, if I’m going to try to figure out what’s going on in the world, Lynn’s macro/micro perspective — and more importantly the tension between the two — as well as real listening and inner decolonizing, are key.

How does spirituality, or mysticism underpin all of this for you?

Spirituality underpins everything I do. The culture of materialism and consumerism is a specific kind of spirituality, after all, and it’s played a huge part (though it’s not wholly to blame) in getting us where we are now. To keep moving and changing, we’ll have to readdress our spiritualities, even if it’s the spirituality of not having a spirituality.

Does art, or imagination, play a role in this new way of thinking?

Yes, especially fiction and poetry. Poetry is obvious to me: Poetry is a refusal of the world, particularly the names of the world and everything in it, as it is. Poetry demands things be said on new terms, on the terms of the poet first, and then the reader. A poet does not have to accept that a table is a table, they exercise understanding of that object as a relation to their own individuality, and write accordingly. Poets have been saying this for a long time, though not enough people have listened.

Fiction is important, though I wasn’t always so sure why. Once Daniel Pinchbeck asked me what role I thought novels had in the upcoming world (this was before 2012, of course), because he couldn’t see any. He thought — back then, at least — that they were a distraction. I love fiction, but it took years and years for the answer to arise. Now I see clearly that it cultivates compassion and vision. When I read, I have to co-create the world using the symbols in front of me, and in fiction, those symbols are of a non-existent world.

Co-creating the world with the symbols laid out in front of us: What could be a better description of what is needed right now? We need to see what’s before us, learn to read it, internalize it, and then create it by combining it with our individuality. Fiction that pushes on the boundaries of the real is what is most instructive, since what is “real” and “possible” is basically owned by people in power. So we need to start our training in the impossible. As soon as, um, possible.

Was Rudolf Steiner saying something about the Culture of the Current in his own way?

Rudolf Steiner, as your readers probably know, was a late 19th—early 20th Century philosopher, scientist, mystic, etc. He created biodynamic farming, Waldorf schools, and more, directly out of his spiritual-scientific worldview. He wasn’t a prophet, but he had plenty of warnings for us about our time, which was his future. His idea was that the world was going to be slowly permeated by the influences of something called Ahriman. Steiner thought of Ahriman as a literal being, and I think that’s a good way to consider him. But to describe in totally secular terms: Ahriman names the vast realm of materialistic impulses. The dependence on technology, the dampening of feelings, the belief that love is just chemicals in the brain, the idea that we’re biological robots. I mean, he pretty much nailed it long before these ideas were popularized. Not a bad warning. The thing he also said about the age of Ahriman is something I take to heart and that is present in my course: there’s no way to stop Ahriman from coming. There’s no way to stop these impulses from growing and growing. They will do so on their own, with or without our consent. What matters instead is how we meet these impulses. How do we move with them, and eventually redeem them?

Thank you, Conner.