Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The erotic human body: a borrowed transference


The book that occupied my time in the past few days was a collection of polemical essays written by a leading theologian-ethicist Oliver O' Donovan on the homosexual issue facing the Anglican Communion.

Among many astute insights into the tension, ranging from the discourse over the liberal paradigm, the nature of ethical disagreement and hermeneutics, O' Donovan highlights also the issue of human body, particularly the erotic aspect of it as a "beckoning".

That is to say, the body is a medium of divine calling through which we are called to reflect beyond it. Failing to reflect the beyond is to be stuck at the medium. And that is where temptation lies.

"It is possible, of course, to use the word "erotic," as a great many of our contemporaries do, simply as a synonym for sexual desire. But that is to miss almost everything of interest that has been thought about the erotic. Eros is precisely not sexual impulse; it is an aspect of the spiritual life of mankind, though inevitably engendering bodily experiences to accompany it since we are psychosomatic beings whose every moment is a mediation of the spiritual through the bodily. Reflecting on the body, it responds with yearning for its lurking hint of beauty and truth. It responds to something beckoning through it from beyond it. Precisely that moment of reflection is the temptation [...] understood. The familiar body, the body that we live in, object of wonder though it is, is too essentially present to us, too intimate, too enclosing--let us say, too heavy to beckon us beyond itself. But the body of the spiritual imagination is light and elusive. If we fail to carry the act of reflection through to its conclusion, if we fail to inquire what the erotic body is a medium for, then we end up investing our perfectly ordinary experiences of sexual attraction with an ontological weight that is, in fact, a borrowed transference, and in our confusion we fail to understand either ourselves or our bodies. We cannot and should not take that moment of rapture in the presence of the beautiful body quite at its face value--though we cannot and should not ignore it, either. We must interrogate it for its meaning."
(Oliver O' Donovan, A Conversation Waiting to Begin: The Churches and the Gay Controversy [UK: SCM Press, 2009], p.93-94. Emphasis original.)

The imagery of the erotic aspect of the human body is therefore not plain nakedness but the embodied lurk of beauty and truth that summons the observer's desire to go through it and back into desire itself. By going back into desire that we can interrogate the meaning of the body.

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