Cosmic Shivers

The movie Melancholia gave me a momentary frisson that sent me to the Web to find the scene. A gas giant rogue planet, called “Melancholia,” collides with and destroys the Earth. We see the fluid surface of the giant extend protruding gasseous lips, which engulf the Earth, as the Earth shatters. As this happens, I experience the familiar thrill I get from fantasies of being overwhelmed. [Interestingly, it’s the receiving agent here that does the overwhelming, not the one that penetrates.]

Yummy. I start the YouTube clip running again. Even though I just did it seconds ago, my brief shudder is just as strong as the first time. It’s not quite an orgasm, but it would be interesting to masturbate while watching it….

Waitaminnit. This is exactly the scenario I’ve read related by men who became addicted to internet porn. Psychiatrist Norman Doidge — who has studied and written extensively on neuroplasticity — warns how internet porn addiction changes the brain. Orgasm’s dopamine burst encourages addiction. The Web makes it easy to find and repeat whatever best triggers each individual. The addicts lose the ability to be turned on by real human relationships. Those who seek treatment hope to get that back again.

Hmm. Have I lost that ability? Has fantasy done that to me? Is this why RC[1] preached renouncing sexual fantasy? But I was never turned on by Jesse. And what about the fading of PEA? Don’t most marriages lose arousal? Or am I confusing testosterone lust with PEA limerence? Argh. In any case I guess I won’t try masturbating to the YouTube excerpt of Melancholia.[2]

But that cosmic image reminds me of another one. In the novella A Momentary Taste of Being, by James Tiptree Jr., the crew of spaceship Centaur are looking for habitable planets for burgeoning humanity. On one likely planet they encounter beings that evoke in humans a profound urge for contact — which results in a momentary high, followed by a loss of life force. They lose mental capacity, and eventually the will to live. Centaur psychiatrist Aaron Kaye concludes that human beings are “nothing but gametes … half of the germ-plasm of … something. Not complete beings at all. Half of the gametes of some … creatures, some race.”[3]

This bleak assessment frightened me, and I got rid of the book. At the same time, that sense of profound, overwhelming urge for union… thrilled me. Still I managed to forget it — until the scene from Melancholia zapped me. Now I’ve bought another copy of the Tiptree.

My fantasies often incorporate a science-fiction element: I get off on its eeriness. A favorite is a creature who looks a little like the archetypal “gray aliens,” for example those in Close Encounters. This one feels very friendly; he hangs around to watch over me. But the apocalyptic theme, I hadn’t noticed before. Its sheer power gives me a different way to feel overwhelmed, one that doesn’t involve any gender politics.

In another movie, The Tree of Life, I got some of the same thrill, this time from watching director Terence Malick’s gorgeous image sequences of the universe, of forces of nature on Earth, of microbiology — all accompanied by stirring classical music. The play of power in these scenes again and again gave me the feeling of being overwhelmed, though not quite so strongly — perhaps because the movie evoked a more complex mix of primal emotions.

Sexologist Iwan Bloch, studying the Marquis de Sade, defined masochism as a subset of sadism:

A connection, whether intentionally sought or offered by chance, of sexual excitement and sexual enjoyment with the real or only symbolic (ideal, illusionary) appearance of frightful and shocking events, destructive occurrences and practices which threaten or destroy the life, health, and property of man and other living creatures, and threaten and interrupt the continuity of inanimate objects, whereby the person who from such occurrences obtains sexual enjoyment may either himself be the direct cause, or cause them to take place by means of other persons, or merely be the spectator, or, finally, be, voluntarily or involuntarily, the object against which these processes are directed.[4]

Interesting that he includes impersonal events as agents of the experience.

When I was researching Tantra, I noticed a recurring notion that the ego needs to be overwhelmed, in order for a person to experience the ultimate. Charles Stein’s book Persephone Unveiled explores this need from a Western point of view:

Persephone is not a projection of the male slander that every woman wants to be sexually ravished, as a certain feminist reading of the myth is quite rightly tempted to hear in the story; for Persephone is an aspect of every person, male or female, and her ravishment is the relation of the individuated soul to a darkly numinous background that is the shadow of death itself, the overwhelming character of an aspect of Being that, though beyond identity, is still irrevocably intimate with what one is.[5]

So it’s good for me to crave being overwhelmed? As long as it’s not a person (especially man) doing it? I dunno. This could be a great excuse, a rationalization. On my part, and also on the part of teachers of Tantra — all of us justifying our cultural conditioning.

Still I decide to invent a new fantasy about cosmic force. The first time I try it, what makes me come is a sudden twist in the scenario: the powerful alien declares how profoundly he. (Yes dammit, gender has crept in.) Wants. Me.

[1] Re-evauation Counseling. Participants usually shortened the name to “RC.” This organization later split in two; the new group, taking a stand on egalitarian relationship as fundamental, became Co-Counseling International. For a description of my experience of the politics of the split, see Picking It Up By Myself / Peer Counseling.
[2] Trier, 2011, 0:23.
[3] Tiptree, Star Songs (New York, Del Rey,1978), 158.
[4] Card, “Issues” in Lesbian Choices (New York: Columbia U. Press, 1995)

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