Questioning Eros

Berlusconi will be happy to do it and so would the caretakers of prisons whose inmates are sodomised and pussy-whipped. This is the cult of militant sexuality. So, while it may be personally a joyful time to celebrate Eros Day on January 22, as Dr Susan Block so deliciously laid it on here in ‘Make Eros, Not Thanatos‘, on a larger canvas it is like kissing the barrel of a gun.

The Eros persona, attractive as it is, pursues ideas that may send out conflicting signals. We are not living in a mythological age of winged creatures or even the beatnik idea of peace where free love meant making love without inhibition rather than the naked transaction of sensual experiences sponged for free in the back alleys of the exploitative nature of the human beast. The Woodstock and Imagine ideas too suffered from blurred or altered vision as they sought to express hormonal yearnings with violent passion. Orgiastic pleasure is essentially a battleground and it would be questionable to conjecture that such excitable expression would soothe the violence within.

James W. Prescott, a neuropsychologist, had examined the connection between the seeking of pleasure and violence and averred that the former was something people could not get enough of: “I am now convinced that the deprivation of physical sensory pleasure is the principal root cause of violence. Laboratory experiments with animals show that pleasure and violence have a reciprocal relationship, that is, the presence of one inhibits the other. A raging, violent animal will abruptly calm down when electrodes stimulate the pleasure centers of its brain. Likewise, stimulating the violence centers in the brain can terminate the animal’s sensual pleasure and peaceful behavior. When the brain’s pleasure circuits are ‘on’, the violence circuits are ‘off,’ and vice versa. Among human beings, a pleasure-prone personality rarely displays violence or aggressive behaviors, and a violent personality has little ability to tolerate, experience, or enjoy sensuously pleasing activities. As either violence or pleasure goes up, the other goes down.”

Are we to make a distinction between the sensual and the sexual? Many acts of sex are violent and non-consensual. Almost every day we read about sexual crimes committed against children, of incest, of rape and crimes of passion.

Mythologies have looked on these without a puritan prism because they are distant and, more importantly, symbolic. Which god has been fathered by which one and enjoyed himself the most with his mother are what may be seen as the harbingers of a natural process of selectivity and, one hopes, amnesia. In the epic Mahabharata, Draupadi’s marriage to the five brothers of the Pandava clan is seen by contemporary thinkers as a feminist prototype. Even Krishna and his childish obsession of hiding the clothes of the village maidens constitutes a preamble to the ras leela (the pleasure principle) where they subsequently woo him. These are in the nature of totemic traits. But, the Mahabharata is essentially a treatise on the war for power. There is tremendous violence. So, where did all that pleasure disappear?

It is a fallacy to imagine that those who are satisfied will continue in this beatific mode. The nerve centres of the brain are prone to their own little orgasmic moments that last a few seconds. It does not follow that there is a paradigm shift in the sensibility of the senses.

Prescott’s further assertion is equally surprising: “We would expect to find that human societies which provide their infants and children with a great deal of physical affection (touching, holding, carrying) would be less physically violent than human societies which give very little physical affection to their infants and children. Similarly, human societies which tolerate and accept premarital and extramarital sex would be less physically violent than societies which prohibit and punish premarital and extramarital sex.”

Punishment is a moral theory. Human societies follow certain mores to keep the family unit intact. A man who abuses his wife could also indulge in sex outside of marriage. Many societies that have liberal values are not violent simply because they do not see themselves as big players in the political scheme. As Dr Block wrote, “Some Eros Days have been very political, such as 2005’s Eros Day Counter-Inaugural Ball, featuring effigies of Bush and Cheney that were gleefully smacked and paddled throughout the evening, and 2009’s exuberant Eros Day Orgy for Obama.”

This is significant because the celebration of pleasure cannot exist on an island, unless you wish to join the naturist clubs, which are themselves a political statement. The burning of the effigies has as much to do with the senses, a kind of sadism, especially when one thinks of the pornographic fantasy of WMDs. The Obama orgy may have seemed exuberant but it was like rain before the thunder. The drones had not yet flattened out homes. The threat perception of missiles has to do with sensual violence as they can penetrate the fluffy clouds leaving a comet trail across the sky.

This brings us to the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is being probed for setting up a township to facilitate his appetite for young women who were paid for. At 74, these girls would be considered too young. But, there have been reports by the one currently in the public eye that Ruby, the Moroccan night-club dancer, was bought for her silence.

One might think this is consensual and therefore not violent. Has Italy not allied with any violent powers politically during his tenure? Do his policies at home give the impression of being democratic and equitable? And the crucial point is that such pleasure is commercial. Most wars have been fought for land and what the land can give. The land can be the terrain of flesh. It happens now, it happened then when the 17-year-old Elsie Manners approached the famous vaudevillian Fred Karno for a role. He asked her to take off her blouse, explaining, “If I hire a 36-inch bust I want to know I am getting what I paid for.” After he was convinced that she wasn’t lying, he asked her if she wanted a two-pound a week job or a four-pound one. She chose the more lucrative offer. Promptly, he asked her to strip and “get on the couch and we’ll see if you’re worth four quid.”

The market economy is the war zone, and it does not exclude the gods. In the holy city of Vrindavan in India, Bhagwatacharya Rajendra has been christened ‘Porn Swamy’. He has been arrested for making porn films with kids, his foreign devotees and his wife against the backdrop of the holy shrines and the pictures of deities. These DVDs were sold. The cases of such holy men indulging in these activities in not unknown. The same applies to all religions, whether it is priests or pirs. Celibacy is not forced upon all of them. Many are politically involved in demagoguery and, in some cases, even inciting violence against minorities and those outside their purview.

The sensual is a violent idea and a weapon. In the normal discourse and course of social interaction men apparently take 152 risks of rejection from first eye contact with a woman until intercourse. This is likely to get internalised. In ‘How to Pick up Girls’, Eric Weber advised, “Do not get uptight. You are not on a bombing mission on enemy territory. You are not hunting bull elephants.” It is fear that sharpens the senses. I knew this man who would take his buddies to a brothel and even pay for them while he went off to sleep, unable to do a thing due to physical deficiency or moral pangs. Next morning, he’d go ho-hum, slap his thighs and talk about the great time he had. Where was the need? I read somewhere that, “Male bonding is institutionalized learning behaviour, whereby men recognize and reinforce one another’s bonafide membership of the male gender class, and whereby men remind one another they were not born women…male bonding is how men learn from each other that they are entitled under patriarchy to power in the culture.”

According to William Farrell, a one-time feminist male writer, divorce leaves men who are dependent on women for their emotional lives with a gaping “love void” that must be filled. These men who want to be “nurturer-connectors” are simply viewed as “killer-protectors”.

If it’s all in a day’s work, then go ahead and make love for Eros and for phallic patriarchy to lubricate inertia and angst

FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based author-columnist. She can be reached at



Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections