Wednesday, August 13, 2014

More on Emotional Porn



A reader (and fellow writer) at the Ink Desk has asked me to elaborate on what Flannery O'Connor means when she talks about sentimentality as a kind of emotional porn.

Dena Hunt writes ...

Kevin, I can usually follow you, but I've been having some trouble here. I've never had trouble following Flannery, but her remarks in this context mystify me. I cannot see that "pornography is essentially sentimental." I can only believe that we regard "sentiment" differently.
I DO understand how and why prudery is forbidden by the Church. I DO see that people--of both genders and in all sorts of relationships--behave with emotional irresponsibility and/or predation, while excusing their behavior because it's "non-sexual" (It's certainly not a-sexual, however--though they don't really get that part of it. Witness the intimate "friendships" between certain women and practicing homosexual males.)
But how this involves grace-into-nature is not clear to me.
Fighting for what/whom one loves. I do get that. It's depicted graphically in my first short story, "Pear Trees," (Dappled Things, c. 2007)

I reply

Dena,
Here's what I think Flannery means.
We certainly see the rejection of God's presence in nature in the modern secular world.  Scientists sometimes graft a materialist atheist theology onto their work and claim that all arose from nothing [no cause] and that only chance governs existence.  And non-scientists really do believe that our "natures" can be overcome by a mere act of will.
In the Catholic world, I notice the same sort of thing, especially in devout young Catholics.  While they believe in God and while they admit that God's presence and his grace can penetrate nature, they come at the problem from a modern secular perspective, and they assume (as everyone around them does) that nothing in nature innately bears the mark of the logos - which is to say that they believe that God is not intelligible in nature.  In this they are as handicapped as the non-believers Paul referred to in Rom. 1:20 - "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people [who don't believe] are without excuse."
Thus there appears, even in the Church, a "Manichean" strain, a separation of nature and grace.  Much of Flannery's program as a writer was to shock the reader into seeing the operations of grace in nature - and she could only do this through tactics such as violence because we had grown inured to this mystery.
And if you separate nature from grace [or deny that nature has any intrinsic function designed by God] then you forget two big things.  1. You forget that sex has a built-in purpose (secularists are better at forgetting this than Catholics), and 2. You forget that sentiment - feelings and emotions - have a built in purpose.
This second one is harder to see.  But you and I have written about betrayal before.  There seems to be a lot of betrayal going on among dating devout Catholics these days.  They don't become physically intimate, but they become emotionally and spiritually intimate.  Not realizing that such intimacy implies at least "friendship" and "loyalty" and all the other obligations that go with such sentimental bonds, one party simply dumps the other and moves on (even after months or years of intense closeness), in what I've been calling examples of a "non-sexual hook-up".
And so what pornography and sentimentality have in common is the deliberate cutting off of each from what they imply, removing each from the context in which they are placed by nature, and severing them from the demands they make and the crosses they force us to bear.



2 comments:

Michael said...

Hey Kevin;

can I assume you're positing a stern natural law governing man's emotional/romantic nature?

i.e.

Intense emotional connections are by nature for marriage?

I'm inclined to agree.

Benjamin. said...

I've understood that some Catholic saints were suspicious of any sexual pleasures within marriage. It seems Aquinas was concerned about sexual acts for the sake of pleasure. How much can pleasure have a role in the acts? Surely many married couples are often drawn to sex for the pleasure. When does this become sinful?