A friend has asked me to listen to some tapes she has by a man called Barry Long. Although I had heard people speak favourably of him in the past, I had never actually heard him before. I cannot remember the name of the first tape I heard but it was all about what he called the "noble Man". There was a lot of talk of purification of the lance of the noble man and the fight against the beast within. Today, I listened to a talk about how to have sex. Which is, and here I sum up his teaching in my own, partial, way, by eliminating emotion and the imagination and approaching union with woman in perfect love. Which seems to mean for him, perfect rationality.
Woman and man. These are the words he uses. His talk is of absolutes. There is nothing of the individual here - of the wide variety women and men and there widely differing experiences and personalities. Penis in vagina - that to him seems the measure of love. Ideally, there should be no foreplay - for that is of the imagination - it is a distraction from the perfection of penis in vagina. No masturbation - for that of necessity involves imagination. If a man's urge to masturbate cannot be resisted, he cautions against imagining the loved one and focussing the imagination on a generic set of women's genitals.
There is no room in his universe, it seems, for homosexual desire - penis in vagina is the measure of all. But then, in reality there is little room for desire. Love and desire seem to be, for him, mutually exclusive. He says, in fact, that it is preferable for the penis not to erect before entry into the vagina. In this, he strikes me as a true descendant of Augustine of Hippo, who stated that before the Fall, sexual union occurred without any other desire than to perform the will of his god and reproduce the species. An act of perfect love - to quote Long.
Underneath all this talk of man and woman there is a deep misogyny that I find disturbing. In many ways, his diagnosis of the current unsatisfactory nature of the relationship between the sexes is very accurate. But his solution rests upon an extreme essentialist assumption that the nature of woman is love. (I am here, I think, quoting him directly). It is the nature of woman to be receptive - to open herself to the man - providing, of course, that he has "purified his lance".
I confess to feeling profoundly uneasy at a rhetoric that relies upon the imagery of chivalry. Knights, however much romance tries to hide the fact, are killers. The codes of chivalry, devised by such luminaries as Bernard of Clairvaux, were attempts to place the essential homicidal function of the knight into some sort of christian framework. This of course during the time of the mass murderous adventures of the Crusades. Codes of knighthood, far from noble, were a PR stunt - very successful and lasting to this day - Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and much else of modern culture being saturated with it. In both the sagas mentioned, there is little concern for those who are on the "dark side" - be they Imperial Stormtroopers or orcs. The latter are killed in their thousands and are killed with an exultant glee. Such glee was in earlier times reserved for accounts of the killing of, say Muslims in Palestine.
It is here where Long's talk about the beast becomes, to my mind, both sinister and dangerous. The noble man, to use his phrase, has to subdue the beast. The beast consists of the emotions, the passions - the shadow world within us. It consists of our fears and desires, our jealousies and our disappointments. It consists of our imagination. It is, in fact, an intrinsic part of us. If we try to deny it, and this is where I fear his argument takes us, then we drive it underground. We wish to be noble but, deep within, are only too well aware of how short we fall from nobility. That knowledge, however, cannot be articulated so the beast is then transferred from us to the other - however defined. Jew, Moslem, socialist, capitalist, man, woman, homosexual, BDSM, black, white, - the list goes on. The other becomes the repository for the beast and we can only maintain our nobility by overcoming that other.
It is not without significance that the Sanskrit for "noble" is "Aryan". I am not deterred by Godwin's Law from looking at the roots of Nazism. Adherents of the law assert that Nazism was a total aberration - that it is, somehow, ahistorical and born of the very particular circumstances of post Versailles Germany and the particular psychopathology of Hitler and the Nazis. This is, I fear, a pious hope rather than a reality. There is a long and terrifying history of refusal to face our own shadows and the subsequent displacement onto the Other- who can then carry the burden of our own shame at being human into the wilderness.
For, in the end, we are human. I am not, nor do I want to be, a "Noble Man". I am often venal. Very rarely am I noble and unselfish. Even in my most noble of actions there is a high degree of self-interest. There is something I want - even if it is only the good opinion of others. I am OK with this and do not aspire to any purity. I am ok with having a shadow and not being pure light. I am ok with the fact that the tapes I heard have awoken an anger within me. I am also ok with the fact that I am convinced that a large part of my this anger is a response to the anger I heard expressed - but unacknowledged- by Long. The tone of his voice was oftne harsh and confrontational. That is fine and I have no problem with other people being angry. What I have a problem with is when people are angry but then deny it - which seemed to me to underly much of what Long had to say. When someone tells me, in an angry-sounding tone to overcome my anger, my mind turns to beams in eyes and I no longer listen.
Long claimed to be a Tantric guru. That may be true. But if it is, then what I practise is not tantra - which to me involves a recognition and celebration of one's total being. What I heard was the dualism of the Zoroastrians, some of the Gnostics and much of Augustinian christianity. I heard Calvin and Pope Benedict. I did not hear liberation. I realise that his followers will tell me that my feelings are an indication of just how unenlightened I am. So be it. I do not want an enlightenment which leaves me with the repressed anger I heard on the tape that spoke of the noble man.
From pain to empowerment
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