Gide’s Immoralist And The Existential Necessity Of The Colony

The immoralist at the heart of André Gide‘s The Immoralist, Michel, does not travel just anywhere; he travels to French colonies like Algeria and Tunisia; the boys who he meets, is attracted to, and falls in love with, are not just any boys; they are Muslim Arab boys. He is old; they are young. He is white; they are brown. He is sick and tubercular; they are young and exuberant, bursting to the seams with health and vitality. Their blood is redder, and flows more freely; Michel’s blood is black, and hideous, and disgusting. He is diseased, but as he spends time among his new companions, whose bodies and nakedness underneath their clothes he cannot take his eyes off of, his health improves and he begins to describe the arc of a journey to greater health and well-being, away from disease; he begins a journey from flirting with death to welcoming life in all its fullness. The language that Gide uses to describe Michel’s journey or passage is richly symbolic and metaphorical, and invites multiple interpretations, mingling as it does, these descriptions of the physical with those of the mental, so that we are tempted to see Michel’s journey from bad to good health as his journey from being ‘a lost soul’ to being ‘a found self’; that much is straightforward.

But why place this journey in colonized lands, why make the vehicles of Michel’s transformation and self-discovery be the colonized, the subjugated, the colonial subject? For one, we can see the colonizer use both the land and the peoples of the colony as his experiential space for self-discovery; it becomes one more of the services or functions that the colonized provides; besides markets, it provides an avenue and domain for self-construction; it becomes one more of the means by which the colonizer comes to realize himself. Because the colonized inhabits a world in which the colonizer has been, as it were, ‘marketed’, Michel finds in the colonies and in the gaze of the colonial subject, one component of his identity: how a Frenchman is understood by those he has colonized. If the colonial identity is an indissoluble part of what it meant to be a Frenchman in the twentieth century then Michel has done the right thing by traveling to a French colony; it is there that he will find out what a Frenchman truly is.

But this salvation need not be individual; all of French culture and Western civilization may be redeemed in the colonies; it is where a decadent, dying civilization looks to being revitalized; to literally being brought back to life. French and Western civilization has become old and tubercular, its blood is polluted. But the Muslim Arab world is younger, even if immature, it promises a new vision of life to a culture on its death-bed and drags it back from its flirtation with death.

The colony is a material and spiritual and existential necessity; it extends the life of the colonizer; the journey to a new form of life for the colonizer begins there.

Same Sex Marriage Is Legal; Prepare For Doom, America

Same sex marriage is now a constitutionally recognized right in the United States of America. As usual, Justice Kennedy has confirmed that he is the only judge required for the Supreme Court to function. But danger awaits America.

All across the land, divorces will break out, children will disobey their parents, and pedophiles will prey upon adolescents. Traditional marriage will crumble; the family as we know it will be no more; disease–the sexually transmitted variants–and pestilence, for what else is homosexuality?, will stalk the land. Church, synagogue, mosque, and temple attendance will drop; disco will be played in clubs again; wedding planners will be driven nuts by not one, but two brides (and sometimes, two grooms); heterosexual Americans will cower, trembling, for fear of being inveigled into homosexual relationships; figure skating clubs and cooking classes will report dramatic increases in enrollment; at baseball games, the seventh innings stretch will now feature, exclusively, “Raise Your Glass“, “I Will Survive“, “Beautiful“, “I’m Coming Out“, “Dancing Queen“, “Born This Way“, and “Y.M.C.A.“; closets will empty; men will dress better; women will cut their hair; the increase in consumption of wedding cakes will send national diabetes and obesity rates to all-time highs; the Stars and Stripes will be replaced by the rainbow flag; standards of grooming will improve; ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ will become double entendres; jocks, otters, bears, and wolves will become the new national animals; dykes will be found everywhere, not just in the Netherlands; members of the Federalist Society–young men at our nation’s best law schools–will be overcome by uncontrollable fits of weeping at the fall of their patron saint, Justice Scalia; limp wrists and lisps will be required for entry into the Armed Forces; sexual promiscuity will be enforced by state and federal  law; the legalization of ecstasy will proceed quicker than the legalization of marijuana; Harvey Milk will appear on currency notes; Spandex and Speedos, say no more; musicals will be sold out for years; piano bars will remain open all night long; cologne manufacturers will not be able to keep up with demand; ‘girlfriend’ will be overused; Liza Minelli, Donna Summer, and Barbra Streisand will be Joint First Ladies For Life; video rentals of All About Eve and Steel Magnolias will skyrocket (Netflix’s servers will break down);  floral arrangements will become highly valued art; ‘tossing the salad’ will not be restricted to kitchens; Bette Davis impersonators will find regular work; Calvin Klein underwear will be worn–on the outside–to bar mitzvahs; lines at Pottery Barns will stretch for blocks; men will talk about interior decoration all day and all night; the WNBA will become bigger than the NBA; boys will wear feather boas to play football; barbershops will offer pubic hair trimming; firm handshakes will be replaced by slaps on the butt; crew cut women will clog the aisles of Home Depot; flannel shirts will be back in fashion again; women’s soccer will become ‘America’s Game.’

America will become Sodom and Gomorrah; Jesus will weep; Justice Scalia will continue to not get laid.

Might Same-Sex Relations Be Evolutionarily Advantageous?

A prominent fallacious argument used against same-sex marriage is the good ‘ol ‘we’re only protecting our species’ one. I referred to it in a post a while ago:

[R]oughly, same-sex marriage is problematic because a) marriage is all about procreation and the raising of children and because b) evolution tell us that reproductive success is important, therefore: Gay marriage should be frowned upon.

I then went on to note the naturalistic fallacy committed by the proponents of this argument.

But there is a flip-side to this argument against same-sex relations from a supposedly evolutionary perspective. Might same-sex relations be evolutionarily advantageous? A affirmative answer to this question would not, of course, imply that same-sex relations were thereby to be understood as morally praiseworthy; that would be committing a naturalistic fallacy of its own. Rather, quite simply, it might show that contributions to evolutionary ‘success’–a poorly understood notion at best–can take many more forms than just the mere reproduction of offspring and thus defuse, in yet another fashion, the so-called ‘arguments from evolution against gay marriage.’

In reviewing Lisa Cohen‘s All We Know: Three Lives (a biography of Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta, and Madge Garland), Terry Castle writes:

For same-sex desire [Cohen] implies, has as much to do with introspection as it does with carnality, and in the ‘inopportune ardour’ of her subjects she recognises the potential for a certain radical mental freedom. It makes sense: to embrace one’s sapphic feelings – to come out to oneself – is necessarily to rethink the world. For not only is one made at once to confront one’s apparently permanent alienation from the ‘normal’ or mainstream, one finds one has to adjudicate, in the most piercing and personal way, on a raft of ethical, religious and scientific questions. Are one’s desires felonious or unnatural, as most traditional belief systems (distressingly) continue to insist? Or are they something rather more benign – simply a ‘variant’ expression of human sexuality? If the latter is the case, couldn’t one view same-sex passion, in turn, as a perhaps useful evolutionary adaptation? As an age-old demographic reality, possibly hardwired into the souls of some, that actually enriches and diversifies human civilisation? [From ‘You Better Not Tell Me You Forgot‘, London Review of Books, 27 September 2012]

Castle reminds us that reproductive success in producing offspring might not be the only way to understand successful ‘evolutionary adaptations’. Perhaps members of the species can, through their ‘variant expressions of human sexuality’ contribute to the ‘success’ of their species in other ways? The ‘radical mental freedom’ of the same-sex members of our species might spark an efflorescence of activities–perhaps artistic, scientific, literary, cultural–that make possible its  adaptive success in a variety of environments. (Think Tchaikovsky, Wilde, Woolf, Turing – the list goes on and on.) Indeed, these activities by: enriching our lives, making them worth living, enabling us to find meaning in this world, might even(!) facilitate the reproductive success of the species.  (Some might think, of course,  that the excessive devotion paid to Turing’s children–the modern electronic computer–does no such thing.) Viewed in this light,  the presence of species members who do not partake in opposite-sex relations–with or without producing offspring–might come to appear as a positive characteristic of the species.