Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Christopher West, nudism and the usual

I've been reading Michael O'Brien's latest novel The Father's Tale. This past Sunday I was getting in some reading time, and found it quite funny when I came across the following passage in the novel. Alex the untravelled Canadian protagonist is sitting in a sauna in Finland:

After ten minutes of roasting, he felt the deep pleasure of total warmth, a relaxation of all his muscles, and a blessed drowsiness. He was about to lie down flat on his back when a door opened and three women sauntered in. They were in their thirties or early forties, heavily made up with crimson fingernails and blond hair of an unnatural hue. They were carrying drinks in their hands, they were talking loudly, and they were stark naked.

Alex decided not to lie down.

The other guests appeared not to notice the new arrivals. The women sat together on the bench opposite Alex and continued their discussion, which he now realized was being conducted in German. They eyed his towel as if it were obscene. The situation was so completely alien to his experience that Alex was for a moment paralyzed with astonishment. In the aftershock of the total inversion of cultural norms, it took him a second or two to regain control of his eyes. He got up and left.

After an icy shower that restored his equilibrium, he returned to his room, opened the sliding window, and sat down on the bed facing it. Gusts of cold air wafted in, billowing the curtains, carrying with them a shimmer of frost particles.

He blew a few puffs of breath against the draft and watched the colors of the city lights materialize in their crystals.

"Matto-pazzo", he said aloud. Then he laughed, throwing himself back on the bed, shaking with the crude humor of it. The meaning of what was funniest lay beyond his grasp, and so too any ability to explain to himself why he was so convulsed.

He sat up, still chuckling, staring out at the bleak landscape of this liberated Nordic void, and shook his head in disbelief. The scene in the sauna had taken him totally by surprise and was now indelibly imprinted on his mind. Yet the sight of the red-taloned Valkyries had little power to inflame him, for what he had witnessed was absurd and sad, a symptom of a society that had lost its sense of mystery. If it had been merely a three-dimensional pornography, a kind of virtual reality of hot cavorting pagan flesh, he would have been morally offended. But now, in retrospect, he was most disturbed by the banality of the women's demeanor. The situation appeared to be, for them, completely normal. Strangest of all, it was asexual--or at least the Europeans in the sauna had treated it as such.

Alex's desires had always been well within the range of the natural. Yet he now felt an inexplicable disgust, for the sudden and unexpected cornucopia of female bodies was not in essence feminine, not womanly in any way that awakened the heart's deeper longings. Why all this pink flesh? he wondered. Why the desperation to return to the bacchanal in the forest glade? Did these women think their overexposure was attractive? If they had ever known real love, would they have unveiled themselves to strange men? The sensation of attracting male eyes would have been revealed to them for what it was: an adolescent concept of sexuality, bereft of love, and in the end bereft of genuine passion. Then it struck him that perhaps they did not think about it at all.

Ah, good healthy natural disgust at the unnatural asexual programming effected by the naturist nudist. It's the main reason why political breastfeeding rouses disgust. It's not because you're breastfeeding; it's because you're making a campaign of it, sloganeering how its natural, natural, natural. Sort of like Al Gore burning up jet fuel to warn people around the globe of the dangers of man-made global warming, the naturists carry their own unnatural contradiction - like Christopher West carrying around his own Manichaeanism.

A body belongs to a person. The personhood of a person, of people, is what initiates and sustains communication and relations between the sexes - not our masculine and feminine bodies. I can look Jane in the eyes when I speak to her because I recognize and respect that she is her own person, not because I perceive the spousal meaning, or the glory of God in her body, or the "key stamped in her sexual body". The source of these natural relations does not reside in my own purity, but in the objective fact, whether recognized or not, that a person is a person. If I was to see Jane naked by some turn of events I would turn away my eyes for that same reason: because I respect her as a person. Knowing shame in that situation would be the result of recognizing her person. Shame is good. It does more good for a man both in short and long term than all the gnostic Westian pure gazes of love in the world.

If I was to look at her naked body without lust and without arousal, it could just mean that I am a dead person. If I look at her naked body without lust and without arousal but perceive the glory of God in her body, I have just objectified her as much as I would have if I looked at her naked body with lust. The same also if I did the same while she was clothed. If both her and I were to sustain perfect equanimity in each others nakedness, it would mean two dead, asexual people. Greetings fellow naturist nudist! You're dead like I am! Ah, the great naturist nudist version of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers! Hail dead comrades!

Moreover, if every man had to come to see the "key stamped in her sexual body" as the way to know her or respect her or, well, to see her, then no man would ever fall in love with her. And definitely not at first sight. It's funny that West talks about how the body is not a cage for the soul; it's funny because he teaches to see in the body a key, as though the body was a container. But that looking is not what begets love. What begets love between the sexes - since we're talking in the realm of falling in love - is what is "outspoken" of the person, by which I do not mean what is extroverted of the person, but simply that the person is "a word spoken"; it is presence; and presence is the language of the person; and it is of the soul informing the body. And a person has a name.


Enbrethiliel said...


The Michael O'Brien excerpt tells more than shows too much for my liking, but it does capture the absurdity--nay, the banality--of it all. I think "bleak landscape of this liberated Nordic void" is my favourite line. It's also very Brave New World.

Do you know of Naked News, Stilwell? It's a news programme in which the women anchors read the headlines completely nude. (Oh, I just checked . . . For obvious reasons, I thought it was a European show, but it turns out that it's Canadian! ROFLMAO! Congratulations, Stilwell.)

Anyway, I remember reading about the launch many years ago. Two details were particularly memorable . . . First, someone's opinion that people would start watching for the nakedness but keep watching for the news--because when you see the same bodies over and over again, the novelty totally wears off and the titillation factor is reduced to zero. And second, one anchor's comment that the reason she has no problem with total nudity is that she sees it as "sexual, but not sexy."

Having done some quick research, however, I wonder whether the first prediction no longer applies. Apparently, Naked News has always had a high turnover of anchors and reporters. (Not as high as strip clubs, but the "human resource" principle is the same, aye?)

love the girls said...

"If both her and I were to sustain perfect equanimity in each others nakedness, it would mean two dead, asexual people."

"it ought not to seem incredible that one member might serve the will without lust then, since so many serve it now." St. Augustine City of God Book 14 Chpt23

It is worth noting that our first parents never had sexual relations in paradise. And not only would their relations been completely under the control of the Will. Our first parents were able to look at each other in perfect equanimity.

We have fallen nature, and thus our will has imperfect control, but that same equanimity is what we strive for.

Dawn Eden said...

Paul, what a beautifully poetic ending to your post--and so true! Liked your previous one very much as well, but didn't have anything to add to it. It sounds like you are doing what we all should be doing this Lent--no, not blogging about Christopher West, but going deeper into what the Incarnation means for our daily lives. Oremus pro invicem!

Wade St. Onge said...

"We have fallen nature, and thus our will has imperfect control, but that same equanimity is what we strive for".

We also strive for sinlessness, but I doubt a single saint has stopped going to confession because they reached a point where they stopped sinning.

love the girls said...

Wade St. Onge writes : "I doubt a single saint has stopped going to confession because they reached a point where they stopped sinning."

I can't say what heresy this falls under, but I'm pretty sure the Church teaches that the blessed in heaven don't commit sin. In other words the saints have all stopped going to confession.

So off to the stake with. Burn heretic.

Of course you probably didn't intend a present continuous tense which includes the saints in heaven. And a charitable, dare I say Catholic, reading of your writing would assume and look for the Catholic understanding in your writing. Which is how I did read it. Because that is how we should read each other's writing, including Christopher West.

Frankly, I find all the talk about sex around here and elsewhere to be rather unseemly. With the NFP purveyors being the worst.