Friday, June 08, 2007

À la recherche du temps bawdy

Yet another creepy Bush nomination. This time, it's James Holsinger, nominated for surgeon general. While he isn't nearly as bad as David Hager, his 1991 paper the Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality has justly got the blogoglobe in an uproar. A favorite passage from his wisdom (borrowed from Sadly No!):
The logical complementarity of the human sexes has been so recognized in our culture that it has entered our vocabulary in the form of naming various pipe fittings either the male pipe fitting or the female pipe fitting depending upon which one interlocks within the other. When the complementarity of the sexes is breached, injuries and disease may occur as noted above. Therefore, based on the simplest known anatomy and physiology, when dealing with the complementarity of the human sexes, one can simply say, Res ipsa loquitur - the thing speaks for itself!

There's also this, which surely resonates with anyone fortunate enough to have heard James Paxson's paper at Kzoo (see reference here):
"It is absolutely clear that anatomically and physiologically the alimentary and reproductive systems in humans are separate organ systems, i.e., the human does not have a cloaca," he said, referring to the posterior orifice that serves as the one opening for genital, urinary and intestinal tracts in amphibians, birds and reptiles. The surgeon general nominee wrote that "even primitive cultures understand the nature of waste elimination, sexual intercourse and the birth of children. Indeed our own children appear to 'intuitively' understand these facts."

Mostly he's talking about anal sex. Let's put aside the strangeness of his implicit gendering of the anus (my elbow? Male or female?) and put aside (until your comments) his primitivism, and simply wonder: does he read fablieaux? Because I can't help but hear, even from beneath the cotton batting, "Le Chevalier qui fist les cons parler."


Jeffrey Cohen said...

My favorite example of the fact that perhaps nature isn't quite as natural as people like James Holsinger make it out to be? Homosexual necrophilia among mallards.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Well, if we go by ducks, then we should consider rape to be the natural and preferred method of mating, too. Of course, if we base our sexual practices on the practices of the apes closest to us, then we may have to admit that women are not made to be monogamous. Of course, the minute we bring ape habits into it, we open up that whole can of evolutionary worms. Isn't it funny how biology can be used to explain sexuality, but omit any connection to evolution?

For the record, although I think both these guys are creepy, I think Hager wins. And not because of his sexual preferences, but rather because of his sexual practices and the way that they seem always to have been connected to an abusive power dynamic.

Which reminds me ... isn't the human brain and the ability to reason and give consent a natural thing? From a theological POV, isn't free will essentially a human thing? So biologically and theologically, shouldn't consenting adults have the right to do what they want, as long as it's really between consenting adults?

Nicola Masciandaro said...

"The experience woot wel it is noght so."

Karl Steel said...

Good point, ADM. Arguments from nature assume a human continuity with nature, but Christian eschatology argues for an ultimate radical break of the human from nature: nothing 'of nature' will survive the Last Judgment except humans, which suggests that humans are extranatural. I like the point on Free Will, but remember--and this is a point made by Judith Butler (but as Uebel was quick to remind me, by many others)--the powers that be tend to give a great deal more respect for compulsion than choice (this is part of the reason I'm for immortality, bracketing off--if this is possible--questions of the persistence of the self or what comprises the self: what is more compelled than death?). Free choice is a kind of fantasy, insofar as making a free choice (let's assume that such a thing is possible) necessitates breaking with causality, necessitates not letting oneself simply be swept along by the inhuman force of the past. Here's Butler, more or less at random, from Undoing Gender:

Fantasy is not the opposite of reality; it is what reality forecloses, and, as a result, it defines the limits of reality, constituting it as its constitutive outside. The critical promise of fantasy, when and where it exists, is to challenge the contingent limits of what will and will not be called reality. Fantasy is what allows us to imagine ourselves and others otherwise; it establishes the possible in excess of the real; it points elsewhere, and when it is embodied, it brings the elsewhere home. (29)

Nice reference JJC. I'm fond of two flamingos, Carlos and Fernando, who adopted a chick. (Also fond of the penguins who did something similar).

I'm also fond of the sodomite medieval animals. Looking here at my Boswell, I see that the Epistle of Barnabas warned against hare-eating (makes you, in Boswell's translation, a "boy-molester"). Has something to do with the hare's natural propensity for growing a new anus every year ("For the hare grows a new anal opening each year, so that however many years he has lived, he has that many anuses." Like counting rings, I suppose.). The hyena, says the Epistle (and a lot of other works), changes its gender every year. The weasel? Prone to oral sex (perhaps that's why Giuliani hates ferrets so?). There's also the viper.

Does anyone know of an article on medieval unnatural animals? I'm inclined to say that the argument against using these animals to support the 'naturalness' of same-sex sex, sexuality, or unions would run aground on the Fall: since animals (for most exegetes) started eating each other after the Fall, why not assume that sin changed them in other ways too. I see in my notes on a Lynn Thorndike article of 1956 that at least one commentator thought hyenas are born of human corpses, and I recall that such creatures--gnats, for instance--did not come into existence until after the Fall. So perhaps hyenas were, at least in certain instances, also extranatural?

Another bleg: I recall a medieval story on the crucifixion in which, at the moment of Christ's death, all the sodomites died and the animals started talking. I thought it was in the Golden Legend--no dice--or the Historia Scholastica (not apparently). I can look harder, but perhaps someone remembers?

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Karl, if it's an animal, how can it be unnatural?

Karl Steel said...

Good q: depends on where you draw the line between nature and unnatural. I'm thinking of sodomy here as 'unnatural,' which is why animals that seem to 'naturally' cross gender lines, engage in sodomy, and otherwise complicate the line between natural and unnatural are so interesting to me. And no doubt so frustrating to reactionaries.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

And see, I'm such a subversive type that I figure if animals do it, it's probably a natural thing!

Of course, that means feeding the "Man is superior to animals because Man has a sense of right and wrong and knows how to conquer His animalistic tendencies" crowd.