Wednesday, May 28, 2008
(5:41 AM) | it:
Wednesday Sex: Schopenhauer - hurrah for lesbians and contraception
Schopenhauer's notorious piece 'On Women', published in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851), along with the whole chucking-woman-down-stairs thing, has cemented unhappy Arthur's reputation as something of a lady-disliker in the minds of many.
He certainly says some funny, terrible things: 'only a male intellect clouded by the sexual drive could call the stunted, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped and short-legged sex the fair sex'. However, a more careful reading of the essay reveals a subtle cry for female emancipation, and of an end to the historical reliance of women on men for the latter's financial and cultural capital. I am not kidding.
Subject as women equally are to the will, that icky vitalist impulse to blindly perpetuate life (oh, you know, suffering), the 'super-abundant beauty and charm' possessed by young women (compared by Schopenhauer to the wings of the female ant that fall away after mating) is nature's ruse for tricking men into the horrors of 'childbed'. If, however, there is no reproduction, indeed no longer any link between 'natural' desire and the sexual act, then the spell of nature is broken – the contraceptive pill, by virtue of its powers of chemical confusion, not only diminishes libido ('out, damn will!'), but burns the sticky umbilical bridge that necessitates a link between the wild thing and a screaming thing nine months later (we should perhaps at some point tap up Meillassoux for an argument about sexual causation).
Schopenhauer notes that in order for women to entice strong young men into tricksy tupping, they must use all their powers of dissimulation (it is to be found 'in the stupid one almost as often as in the clever one'). If the will historically can no longer smuggle itself through on a tidal wave of lust, it is perhaps only then that we can tell the truth. The true is always wrenched from the bawdy teeth of nature, as the Enlightenment never tires of teaching us.
Schopenhauer also half-invents generic humanist feminism when he claims that women are 'altogether more involved with the species than with individuals'. The bourgeois, atomised male gets his arse kicked by the Gattungswesen of femme-genericity. Oh yes.
And the lesbians? Schopenhauer resents women who rely on men for cash and class, stealing their enjoyment for years upon end (just as Schopenhauer himself had to pay compensation for twenty years to the seamstress he pushed down the stairs - Obit anus abit onus [The old woman dies, the burden is lifted]). Removed from the heteronormative need to ingratiate oneself into the male wage-packet, lesbians (plus all women with a sufficient income) need not, in principle, compete with other women, nor bother men at all, except perhaps for mutually interesting comradeship. Understood historically-materialistically, Schopenhauer's claim that 'The European lady is a creature which ought not to exist at all' (my italics), is quite right. All hail the non-reproductive species-being of a paradoxical Schopenhauerian feminism!