The warning signs could not have been clearer. In a recent cover story, Art Press had singled out C.G. Jung and Mircea Eliade for special demonization. Their shared crime was unfettered “obscurantism.” As it happened, in targeting these two thought leaders, Art Press had picked on the two most influential thinkers in my own young life. (more on that in another post.) Catherine M. and I had singled out the same two guys, only for wholly opposite reasons.
C.G. Jung and Mircea Eliade saved my sanity as a renegade seeker while the postmodernist Art Press crowd vilified Jung and Eliade for their propagation of “the repressed religious element in secular societies”. This was “an element” against which Art Press was a self-appointed vigilante as expressed in its own mission statement.
This ruthless denial of meta-meaning had some sensational results. Catherine M. is a face you might recognize from Isabelle Huppert’s lifelike portrayal of her in the 2004 film I Heart Huckabee. It is also a name you might recognize for the furor she caused in 2001 with the publication of her own book, The Sexual Life of Catherine M.
In the book, Catherine M. chronicled her raw sex-capades with unflinching objective detail and a staunch refusal of any emotional or spiritual implication. If I hadn’t already been advanced in my departure plans for the States (after a 22-year stay), the national enthusiasm for Madame Sex, as Catherine M. came to be known through her nearly nightly appearances on the nation’s talk shows, might well have hastened my packing.
My distress over Catherine’s success was largely writer’s envy uncolored by disapproval of her libertine attitudes. I freely admit my envy along with my admiration for her self-exposure. There was something chilling in her ability to write with graphic, laconic detail and an anesthetized air about orgies during which she could have sex with 20 to 30 anonymous partners a night.
But here she was, once again barging into territory I held sacred, stripping it of all spiritual dimension. Even while offering up her emaciated body in an act of public sacrifice, she managed to freeze-dry eroticism into a sterile wasteland. Catherine’s triumph was using language to bring us sex meticulously described as detached sensation and nothing more. It was her right to do so. But for me, sex has long been about absolutely everything. Sex is about woman power and man’s terror, our violent need for connection. It is, to paraphrase Camille Paglia, a ritual stalking of all our lost Edens. Desire is besieged by apprehension: Will we meet God or end up maimed in some forlorn corner of our secret selves?
I needn’t have been troubled. There was Catherine M. to the rescue on the late night talk shows letting everyone know that we could lie back on the hood of a car, open our orifices to random strangers, bang our way past all this psychic baggage and finally live free.