Monday, 23 April 2018 06:00


It would seem at first glance an impossible undertaking to break the link between eroticism and evil without restoring the illusory, transfigurative positivity of love. The myth of Don Juan has established and maintained such a link between the sexual drive and the negative, between the dynamics of pleasure and sin, for at least three centuries. Though recent attempts to reconsider erotic life through the concepts of seduction and love move in opposite directions, they do converge on one point: both discourage the search for a path that would be independent of either the libertine or the romantic tradition. Both react energetically to the banality and loss of meaning of sexuality in contemporary society by rethinking, in original and subtle ways, the two fundamental concepts through which the West has given meaning to its erotic life. But precisely for this reason, and notwithstanding the modifications they bring to the notions of love and seduction, they remain within a tradition that contemporary society would seem to have discarded. One may take the subjective aspect away from seduction and submit it to the rules of the game, but it remains always chall11e and negation. One can make love more anarchic and disordered by multiplying its manifestations to infinity, but it will always tend toward transcendence. Of course, it is characteristic of our times to be beyond good and evil, to have little tolerance for truly immoral or truly moral behavior, and to overturn either into its opposite, and, finally, to sink both into a state of indistinctness in which everything is reversible into everything else, everything is confounded with everything.
In the erotic civilization of the past two centuries, seduction and love are complementary dimensions that describe, respectively, the most common masculine and feminine behavior. For every Don Juan who seduces, there is a Lady Anne (or more) who loves him. Of course, one can significantly modify this paradigm by inverting the roles. One may say that seduction, as a strategy of appearances, is first and foremost feminine. The feminine would not be that which is opposed to the masculine, but rather that which seduces the masculine. By the same token, one can identify the solution to the current crisis of masculine sexuality in an amorous disorder in which masculine eroticism can, by abandoning the code of virility, open itself to an emotional intensity previously unknown to it. Both orientations tend toward going beyond the distinction between masculine and feminine toward transsexuality. But both, precisely because they remain prisoner of the notions of seduction and of love, can at best overturn traditional attributes without succeeding in going beyond the erotic civilization that created the myth of Don Juan and is the apologist for the redeeming power of feminine love. The heart of the matter is not sexual but philosophical: the waning of masculinity and femininity depends upon the dissolution of the concepts of seduction and love, and on the search for eroticism independent of both libertine negation and romantic transcendence.
This new eroticism must therefore stand upon notions independent of a prejudicial critique or metaphysics. Better than the word ”fascination,” too connected to the enthralling magic of the gaze and its malevolent powers, the word ”charm” presents itself as open to various uses and suited to indicate divine emotions as well as sexual attraction. Such polyvalence acquires better definition when placed in relation to the impersonal notion of ”venus” as it was understood in archaic Roman religion, before it came to name the goddess and was confused with the Greek Aphrodite. The interest that the archaic idea of ”venus” excites today is not due to a generic up-to-dateness of that which seems least trendy, but to specific reasons connected to historical research and contemporary experience. In fact, historical research can show such a notion was not dissolved by the Hellenization of Roman religion, but remained alive and active in more or less subterranean forms in the West. At the close of the erotic civilization dominated by the figure of Don Juan and romantic love, the idea of a ”venusian charm”, free of mythological baggage, reemerges. It is articulated by means of an analysis of the four fundamental words Robert Schilling has inferred from the linguistic study of the term ”venus”: veneratio, venia, venerium, and venenum.

Translated from italian by Barbara Spackman
Published in Giovanna Borradori (ed.), ”Recoding Metaphysics. The New italian Philosophy”, Evaston (IL): Northwestern University Press, 1988
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