Ideas from 1915: “Herland”

If any of you out there are interested enough to stick around and read more of my blog, you’ll probably start to learn over time if you haven’t already) that, aside from being an English major (which means a ton of literature classes), I also enjoy all types of literature that doesn’t show up on any of my syllabi. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a 1915 novel which actually is on the syllabus for a summer class that is absolutely killing me right now (with the help of fiscal-year-end reporting at work), but thank goodness it’s at least an enjoyable read.

I ran across a passage in it tonight that I want to share. It’s not a new idea; in fact, it pretty closely resonates with PZ Myers’ message I posted last week. It wasn’t even new at the time of the novel. It serves to show, though, that maybe in another ~93 years, we’ll have made even more progress in teaching people to look forward instead of backward. (All emphasis is mine)

This was a lesson to me. No wonder this whole nation of women was peaceful and sweet in expression — they had no horrible ideas.

“Surely you had some when you began,” I suggested.

“Oh, yes, no doubt. But as soon as our religion grew to any height at all we left them out, of course.”

From this, as from many other things, I grew to see what I finally put in words.

“Have you no respect for the past? For what was thought and believed by your foremothers?”

“Why, no,” she said. “Why should we? They are all gone. They knew less than we do. If we are not beyond them, we are unworthy of them — and unworthy of the children who must go beyond us.

(etext here; passage from Chapter 10, page 111)

Even beyond the progressive thinking that pervades the book, I highly recommend it. It is a utopian novel on the surface, which naturally comes with a great deal of social commentary, and as with most utopian literature, a bit of an undercurrent of dystopian ideas as well. It is also well-written, easy to fall into and thought-provoking.

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Because regular sex just isn’t good enough…

Dr. Jenny Wade has tapped into The Secret for the sex world: that gimmick that, once picked up by Oprah, will have people clamoring to the nearest B&N to pick it up:

Transcendent Sex: When Lovemaking Opens the Veil

I have not read the book; maybe someday I’ll pick it up. But it sounds like it is a compendium of 91 personal anecdotal accounts – notoriously not empirically sound. Here are some of the things Dr. Jenny claims can come through transcendental sex:

— Seeing visions;

— Feeling heat, light and energy waves throughout the body;

— Reliving past lives;

— Seeing the face of God;

— Paranormal powers;

— Being visited by gods;

— Feeling possessed by spirits;

— Working with natural forces;

— Nothingness, whiteness, pure bliss;

— One with everything – there is no “me” or time;

— A lack of sensory channels;

— Time travel;

— Enlightenment.

In an interview on Extatica Radio, Dr. Wade stresses that experiences were not culturally exclusive or centered. She recounts stories of Baptist women who had experiences found in Zen literature, of an atheist who converted to Buddhism because of the experiences she had that she later found described in Zen literature.

Interestingly, later in the interview, she talks of people who were so frightened by the experience that they sought therapy, but rarely discussed the actual event with the therapist, and instead focused on discomfort with the romantic relationship. Possible explanations include fear of medication or institutionalization, or fear of being laughed out. I think maybe Dr. Jenny is neglecting the concept of the power of suggestion. Is it just possible that they really had some sort of feelings about the relationship, but the introduction of the concept of some frightening spiritual transcendence gave them some sort of way to accommodate their desire to stay in a physical relationship that lacked emotionally, for example?

In the second segment, Dr. Jenny tells a detailed story about a woman who, while making love, began trembling violently and crying, “I’m dying, I’m dying,” and instead of calling 911, her lover held her, calmed her, and encouraged her to continue the out-of-body experience that had her so frightened. She awoke later, ecstatic about what she had seen, but soon was violently ill and spent most of the night throwing up. Still, this couple, and Dr. Wade believe this is a spiritual experience, not an emergency room kind of ordeal.

Don’t get me wrong – I believe in incredible sex, and I believe that in a sense, you do transcend the moment. But I think the concepts Dr. Wade presents are exaggerations of such experiences, probably from the suggestion of “transcendental sex” as described by the good doctor. It’s funny how the human memory works.