Saturday, December 29, 2007


Lesson Thirty-Seven

It has become necessary to understand the nature of desire. Not because you are desirable, but because you are so incredible desirous. Some days you can barely make it down the stairs without wetting your jeans. A hundred years ago you would have been institutionalized. Now you are just another single woman on the make. You mother would be horrified. But your grandmother, the one who shocked everyone in that small town in Illinois, would be proud. She was pretty enough to have any man she wanted and she chose the doctor, the married one. He was old enough to know better, but that didn’t stop him. Her parents knew enough to get her out of the state before the morality of the time got hold of her. She would have ended up in the same hospital as the doctor’s wife. Frigidity and promiscuity required medical correctives. The result was usually the same. All those women in white gowns, their hair combed and their sex parched. Desire is not bound by the order of language, but it can be constrained. Call it sin, punish the subject and the object. That ought to do it.

Lesson Forty-One

If chimpanzees resolve sexual issues with power and bonobos resolve power issues with sex, then you are evolutionarily closer to the bonobo, or so you would like to think. You are not alone. Many idealize the bonobo, a fruit eating chimp inhabiting a range south of the Congo River. It is a region at war. During the past decade nearly three million people have died and apes have been hunted to near extinction. In San Francisco, the children of hippies and the children of the children of hippies wear bonobo t-shirts, the black faced ape with pink lips smiling flirtatiously at the inhabitants of a pacific rim.

Two million years ago, the chipanzees and the bonobos split from the family tree. On separate sides of an enormous river that neither could traverse, they thrived. The chimpanzee, omnivorous and patriarchal, drew extensive scientific attention. Then Jane Goodall, who once said “on the whole, chimps are rather nicer than humans,” witnessed something shocking. In Gombe a chimpanzee population split in two, one group decimating the other and eating their murdered remains. This newest revelation, chimpanzees engaged in war, mirrored a rather ugly image of human kind. The bonobos provided a welcome relief. They are matrilineal and cooperative. They engaged in oral sex despite its failure to effect procreation. The Bonobos skull is smaller, generally thought to signify a reduced mental capacity, but their faces shows more individuated characteristics. Or so the primatologists tell us. The Bonobos could care less. They suck sugar cane from the researchers field, stretch, engage in tongue kissing, and rub their genitals against other female members of the group.

Bonobos pass the mirror-recognition test for self-awareness. Psychologist place particular importance on this capacity. The distinction between self and other and the ability to convey the cognizance of that distinction have long been held as central to the formulation of the ego, that mostly conscious trouble maker we call ourselves. The bonobos have their own vocabulary, although humans have yet to make sense of it. But their facial expressions, their hand gestures are intelligible to most. Come, they instruct, let’s play. Humans, in their incomprehension of the pleasure principle, all too often fail this test.

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