“Few pleasures are as robust as the simple country pleasure of sneezing. The whole body ripples in orgasmic delight.”
“Orgasm is a metaphor.”
In a chill yet drippy night of end august, my friends and I were, as usual, pondering over philosophical mysteries. One of them being, unsurprisingly, the ontological value of our new teachers and the quality of their classes. We quickly realized that most of us had become quite intrigued by one of our textbooks, a compendium of thoughts about the five senses by American writer Diane Ackerman. In A Natural History of the Senses, Ackerman argues, in all seriousness, that women’s genitals smell of fish because we were originally, like all other living beings, dwelling in the oceans (“we are small marine environments on the move”, p. 149). This hypothesis made us think. At other occasions, she connects the senses in an unexpected way. I tried to convince my fellow drink-mates that qualifying the pleasure given by a sneeze as “orgasmic” was, to my taste, slightly extravagant. We discussed whether sneezing could be seen as a climax just like any other. Julia (her name has been changed for the sake of this fable), who did not follow the trend of our thoughts, stumbled upon the intriguing connotations of our words, tried her luck and outbid: “Orgasm is a metaphor.” Silence. This made us think even more.
What did Julia’s comment reveal? Two things. First, that in today’s academic world, it is fashionable to see everything as a text, as an encoded message that we must decipher. Yesterday, “metaphor” was a technical term used to understand and study literary genres, like poetry. The sentence “you are the sunshine of my life”, for instance, is a metaphor. Today, after some strange French post-structuralist philosophers said so, it turned out that even non-textual things could be seen as texts. In which case, everything could be a metaphor of something else. Second, Julia’s comment also highlighted that in this game of reduction, sexual things would be the ideal topic to transcend textually. What obsessive theme, other than sex, could be more conveniently reduced to incomprehensible post-modern ideas? Moreover, claiming something as enigmatic as “orgasm is a metaphor” assures anyone to receive the awe of the listeners, who will think that the author of the aphorism must be an expert in the topic, if she can talk about it with such beauty. Take any thing of the world, preferably something sexual, equate it with some obscure concepts and there you go: you master it.
If “orgasm is a metaphor”, then an orgasm has a meaning, it is there to convey a message. Next time your girlfriend has an orgasm, ask her: “what do you mean?” You may get the point by the face she will make. This tendency is dangerous because it attempts to shut down the non-intellectual and non-linguistic value of a thing to the all-encompassing world of words.
While this practice may be a general trend in today’s philosophy, we must realize that it is quite alarming when it enters the field of the sensuous/sensual. Not only an orgasm – a highly physical phenomenon, is more than and different from a metaphor, but it is even, simply, not a text. A text generally has an author, a medium, signs and a meaning. Trying to locate these entities in an orgasm, or in any sensation for that matter, would be missing the point. If “orgasm is a metaphor”, then an orgasm has a meaning, it is there to convey a message. Next time your girlfriend has an orgasm, ask her: “what do you mean?” You may get the point by the face she will make. This tendency is dangerous because it attempts to shut down the non-intellectual and non-linguistic value of a thing to the all-encompassing world of words. And if meaning there is, then the orgasm does not suffice in itself: we must find something enciphered in it. There would be more than an orgasm in an orgasm. No, orgasm does not have a meaning, and we should feel grateful for that. Orgasm is something valuable in itself, unlike many text-mediated things. An orgasm makes us stop and disconnect everything; inversely, a text makes us connect and create more thoughts. Orgasm is one of the last self-sufficient events of our pro-active modern lives. “Do more! Use more! Buy more!,” says society. “All I want is to come,” replies the body. Let’s choose our camp.
This intricate situation also indicates the major challenge of any intellectualization of the senses. We can easily understand that commenting on the tone and intensity of a blue, a green or a yellow would be meaningless for a person who is blind by birth. It is clear that sensuous experiences come first, and their linguistic translations, later. Then, an ambitious project like Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses holds a perpetual tension between saying too much and staying silent, between betraying the sensual for the intellectual, between killing feelings and offering life to ideas. And judging by the size of her book, she seems to be at peace with her emotional genocide. Perhaps one line could have changed the destiny of her anthology, one quick conclusion in a crypto-Buddhist manner: “Forget everything I wrote and go feel yourself.”
Image courtesy: Saatchiart