Sexuality In Our Culture English Literature Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Sexuality in our culture is no longer as prevalent as it once was. Religion and society frown upon acts and demeanors that are innate within humans and have set the limits for how we are allowed to act. The people who resist conforming to the social norms are looked upon in a degrading manner; radicals threatening to throw off the equilibrium of sexuality established by religion and society. Bataille's, Madame Edwarda, takes the opposite path and graphically narrates our natural desire for lust that society forces us to contain.

In his preface to Madame Edwarda, Bataille writes that:

"Danger paralyzes; but, when not overpoweringly strong, danger can arouse desire." [1] 

This idea ties in to the fear of getting caught arousal, where engaging in forbidden sexual acts in public places can actually enhance the pleasure and increase the desire to perform them. In Madame Edwarda, Edwarda tells him in a commanding tone to come over and have intercourse with her in front of everyone in the brothel. At first he is very surprised but then complies as the rush causes ecstatic effects we wouldn't expect. Similarly in Bataille's My Mother, Réa takes Pierre's virginity, according to his mother's wishes on the floor at the Gran Canaria's Yumbo Centrum, a popular shopping and nightlife complex, in front of spectators who make no objection to what they see. The public displays of sexual intercourse are ways by which Bataille is trying to express how he feels about our concrete rules of what is and isn't proper, but rather that we are ultimately humans with desires that should not have to be contained. Additionally developmental psychologist, Abraham Maslow, in his hierarchy of needs graph puts sex as one of the most basic physiological needs in addition to eating, breathing, and sleeping. Clearly it is evident that sex is a key focal point of a human beings daily routine and yet our society portrays it in a negative light.

In Freud's essay, "The Uncanny" he combines aesthetics and psychoanalysis to explain The Uncanny. He says that it is something fearful and frightening, and as such it has been neglected in the history of aesthetics. To explain The Uncanny, Freud breaks down the semantics of the word into two German words, heimlich and unheimlich. "The word Heimlich embodies the dialectic of 'privacy' and 'intimacy' that is inherent in bourgeois ideology." [2] Freud associates it with a person's "private parts" or genitals, as those are the most "intimate" parts of a person and require the most covering. This ties in to how our society now is not open to the nakedness of the human body as was the norm in ancient Greco-Roman culture. Many of their famous heroes are depicted without clothes as the human body was considered a thing of beauty, however as the "heimlich" explains, our culture and ideology has forced us into covering our "private parts" as we are forced to believe that they are the source of immorality and corruption. Freud concludes by explaining that the unheimlich, The Uncanny, is the realization of what is private and concealed; from others as well as yourself. The Uncanny is often described as an instance where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, causing an uncomfortable feeling. So too the unheimlich carries the same definition for as we try to usually suppress our unfamiliar sexual desires but at times they might overwhelm our native behaviors.

Many of Freud's theories are based on the sexual desire of people controlled by the "id," one of the three parts of the psychic apparatus in his structural model of the psyche. The id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual tendencies; the ego is the controlled, pragmatic part; and the super-ego plays the role of the police to stop unacceptable desires. This theory is prevalent in many of Bataille's literary works. In Madame Edwarda, we immediately see the id working at full force as the sexual desire for the man draw him toward the brothel, an immoral establishment in our society today. Similarly the id is responsible for the formation of the Oedipus complex, the desire to love the mother and to eliminate the father. Bataille brilliantly illustrates this theory in My Mother by setting up the entire story for the climactic part when Hélène and Pierre finally submit to their inner desires and proceed to have sex with each other. Pierre himself was at first not completely sure about his feeling for his mother as he says,

"Was I even in love with my mother? I worshipped my mother, I did not love her. As for her, I was the forest child, creature of ungodly joy; she had cherished this creature with a childlike devotion, the steadier counterpart of that extravagant tenderness, anxious and gay, which she would lavish upon me, not often but with dazzling effect. I sprang from the magic of her childhood games, and it is my belief that she never came to love any man, and did not ever love me in the sense that Hansi loved me …" [3] 

Interestingly enough in Christophe Honoré's movie rendition of the book, for the climactic scene he does not actually show them having sex but rather lets the viewer infer it based on their own perception of how the Oedipus complex plays out. To further analyze Pierre's Oedipus complex right before his clothes are removed, he says that "you're my mother and my love." It's very likely that Pierre was not simply referring to the innate maternal love every human has, but rather a stronger sexual love and lust he had for his mother. Hélène however does not try and stop her son, rather she also succumbs to her desire to be him however she is aware that it is a forbidden love as she says "wrong is not what we're about to do. Wrong is wanting to survive it." In the story Hélène is even more graphic as she tells Pierre,

"grit your teeth, my son, you resemble your cock, this cock streaming with rage, which clenches my desire like a fist." [4] 

It's clearly evident that Pierre's Oedipus complex was strengthened as a result of his father dying early in the story, as he is the biggest threat and obstacle in Pierre's ultimate goal, as well as the fact that his mother had strong sexual feelings for him as well.

The super-ego which is the polar opposite of the id, is the part of Freud's psyche model that is supposed to serve as a conscience and restrain the id from getting every pleasure it wants. It is formed once the Oedipus complex in a man begins to disband and resembles the father's character. It is also linked to the fear of castration which Freud links to the uncanny. In his essay, Freud ties the source of the uncanny to the idea of being blinded, as in many dreams and fantasies the loss of eyes is a direct reference to the fear of castration. In "The Sandman" Coppelius, is the castrating father who kills the good father who first protects Nathaniel's "eyes." The castration complex is reminded of by the fear of loss of the eyes in the story. The uncanny is therefore the return of something in our past psychosexual history that has been conquered and disregarded.

Bataille's graphic, inclusive sexual references in his stories go in direct opposition to our society today. Many of our moral laws have been established based on the church and Bataille's writing can be seen as a personal war against the church. Many times throughout history the church has waged war and murdered anyone who preached something that was not in direct accordance with their views. For instance, Galileo was put under house arrest for publicly supporting the heliocentric theory which was opposed to the churches geocentric theory. Being that the church did not have as much power and influence as it used to in the 1600s, Bataille is perhaps avenging him and the others who were condemned by publishing the sexual literature that the church would vehemently oppose. Bataille uses his words to convey his abhorrence for the people who restrict and limit others based on their beliefs.

In our reenactment of Nietzche's Madman parable, we went around telling people how god is dead and that we have killed him. Using various metaphors we asked random students how it was possible to kill god and how they thought god affects their daily lives. Similarly Bataille's stories carry this notion that god is dead and that we should be able to do as we please sexually. The main reason society and our culture have put restrictions on sex is due to religious factors which all emanate from god. Therefore in Nietzche's parable and Bataille's novels, they seek to kill god to release the id contained in all of us that is restricted by our ego and super ego that are a result of culture.