International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 165 13th September 2011


I. 'Narcissus and Melancholy' by Matthew Del Nevo

II. Matthew Del Nevo 'The Work of Enchantment' Reviewed by Rachel Browne

III. 'Sexopoly: Beckoning into Abyss' by Stephen Farthing MNCP



There is no shortage of explanations on the part of philosophers -- those who following Nietzsche grandly style themselves 'physicians of culture' -- for the present state of our cultural fallenness. It is less common to find thinkers who are prepared to stick their necks out and advocate a remedy. Matthew Del Nevo's new book, The Work of Enchantment offers, in the author's words, 'a philosophy of culture which crosses between psychoanalysis, social-critical theory and literature.' To make good the ground we have lost, the corrosion of modern consumerist culture, requires dedicated work on the part of each and every one of us who cares about the state of our 'soul'.

According to Del Nevo, it is through art, and in particular poetry, that our salvation lies.

Alongside an extract from Del Nevo's book we have a review by Rachel Browne who comments on the book's relevance to recent events in the news, as well as defending the author against the suspicion of elitism. The point of the book would be lost if Del Nevo was merely preaching to the converted.

Fitting with the theme of cultural critique, Stephen Farthing, a Member of the National Council of Psychotherapists offers his searing observations of a society in the process of becoming an all-engulfing 'sexopoly', where existential anxiety and the fear of death manifests itself as an increasing obsession with sexuality and the body, reducing human beings to objects and destroying the meaning of human relationships.

Geoffrey Klempner



Lou Salome was the daughter of an aristocratic general in the court of Tsar Alexander II; she traveled in Europe; spoke Russian, German, French, and Italian fluently; wrote 20 books and many articles. Nietzsche's best friend, Paul Ree, was in love with her in Rome, when he wrote to Nietzsche, who he believed to be in Genoa, and asked him to join them. Nietzsche was just turning toward all that he would become in his own inner life and ours. He had left Genoa for Messina, where the letter eventually reached him. He caught up with Ree and Lou in Rome. He fell in love with her too. They formed a menage-a-trois. Her idea. A 'holy trinity' they called it.

Nietzsche read 'The Madman' aphorism to them at Rome, part of the book that he would publish as The Gay Science, in which, in the aphorism I am speaking of, a madman declares in the marketplace that God is dead, God remains dead, and that we have killed him. A capital philosophical text in the history of modern thought. Nietzsche, no womanizer, believed Lou to be his intellectual peer, and discussed his ideas with her. He proposed marriage several times, only to be rejected. Lou wrote the first book on Nietzsche's work, which is still one of the best books on Nietzsche, around whom now flourishes a whole academic publishing industry.

In 1911, Lou met Freud, a man who was rewriting philosophy in terms of the soul of the individual. Freud had discovered something people were largely unconscious of, which he called 'sexuality.' This quality of the soul, he thought, was definitional for what went on between people, for the points of coalescence and demarcation, for the dynamics of every relationship, and it affected inner thought including philosophical thought. Lou had already in 1910 published a book entitled Eroticism. She and Freud were very much on the same page, as it were. Lou was a legend in intellectual circles in Europe, including Freud's. Lou had known Nietzsche, Wagner, and Tolstoy; she knew Rilke, Strindberg, Buber, Hofmenstahl, Hauptmann, and Scheler. Her biographer writes: 'A female Faust she was not interested in rummaging in empty words. She wanted to 'detect the inmost force that binds the world and guides its course,' she wanted to know it, to experience it, to live it.'

Lou and Freud had already set their sails to the same course before they ever met. Of all the great men she met, Freud was the first who stopped Lou in her tracks. She recognized a teacher and mentor, and a reverse situation took place for the first time in her life: she fell under his spell. And he did not, like so many of the others, succumb to her charms, although he recognized and even revered her intellectual versatility and insight. She moved to Vienna and enrolled in his lectures. And then she worked with him at the inception of psychoanalysis; a student, but also a colleague, she helped to bring Freud's soulful science about.

According to her 1910 book Eroticism, Lou speaks of Narcissus as a germinal soul-story as, at the core of narcissism, there is a tension between self-love and self-surrender. In the Greek myth, Narcissus looks into the water, looks into the depths. He sees his reflection gaze back at him rather than the depths; he sees not just himself, but the trees and the sky -- nature, in short. He sees his own face and sees it in nature. He does not just see himself, but himself against the backdrop of nature. Lou asks: 'Does not his face express melancholy as well as enchantment?' Enchantment, because he is delighted with what he sees, especially with the sight of himself. Melancholy, because he is estranged from what he sees; he senses his exile, even with regard to himself. This is important. Enchantment is coupled with melancholy.

Melancholy is the mood in which the soul is made ready to become sensitized. Melancholy 'opens' the soul, lays it bare. Melancholy, we are sensitive. We are not sad, we are not despondent. These are a different music. We are not depressed. Then we cannot hear the music. Melancholy is none of these. We do not induce melancholy. As the poet Keats says, in his famous Ode on Melancholy, 'But when a melancholy fit shall fall/ Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud...' Melancholy falls, and from heaven. In other words, it is good, beneficent, and heaven-sent. It moistens the soul, like soil is moistened if what is rooted there should grow. But here, what is to grow is our inwardness. Melancholy is a mood we fall into. It takes us by surprise. It 'takes' us, in the full biblical sense of the ravished bride that is 'taken.'

In Freud's language melancholy is sexual, in the sense of a general unawakened languishing as a ground-mood of existence -- in contrast to awakened sexuality, which is creative and wants to give birth. In ordinary language, melancholy is a mood. But it is not a mood in the temperamental sense in which, perhaps, I wake up 'on the wrong side of the bed' in a bad mood; or, alternatively, in which, 'I am happy as Larry.' Melancholy is a ground-mood in the sense that, according to the philosopher Martin Heidegger, anxiety and boredom are, because the way we 'deal' with time opens out from these ground-moods, or closes back into them if we are not careful. A ground-mood is a mood as close as possible or as imaginable to the experience of our naked being or to the intimacy of our solitude. A ground-mood is a basic condition of 'experience.' Melancholy does not center the self but opens it for the possibility of determination, and melancholy has the effect of making the self extremely vulnerable. This is when, if the mind is like antennae, the antennae are at a fever pitch of receptivity.

Melancholy is also, traditionally, related to our exile. In this world we know what ought to be the case: justice and mercy. And we can see we exist apart from a world where these reign. As Levinas puts it: 'And love means, before all else, the welcoming of the other as thou. Can that welcome be carried out empty-handed?' We know what heaven is like: it is a place of harmony where good prevails; and we know this earth is not like that: 'And after this our exile' said T.S. Eliot, who recalled all this about melancholy and exile in Ash Wednesday, 1930 so perfectly. We know our job (if we know anything) is to make this world conform more to how things ought to be. And yet we get sidetracked and forget, or stuck in a never-ending argument. Even relations in our own world are a mess and their fate, perhaps, out of our control; how much more impossible other relationships then! Melancholy is related to realism. Every realistic novel is a melancholy affair and every death-bed scene. Melancholy can easily sink to darker, more confining moods, which are not from heaven. To avoid this dire fate we must know what the poets and artists down the ages have to tell us. This is what the humanities used to teach. If we sink into darker moods we cannot become initiated into the beauty, depth, joy, and aching pleasure that the melancholy fit portends.

Enchantment presupposes melancholy, as Lou Salome perhaps was first to theorize in her work on the erotic, and as Rilke would show in his poetry. We are not really part of things in the sense of 'that openness that is so deep in the animal's vision,' as Rilke wrote, for 'we never have that pure space in front of us, nor for a single day, such as flowers open endlessly into' (Eighth Elegy). Self-love and self-surrender at the heart of our being -- our 'sexuality' -- confines us within the world, within the human. 'Always,' Rilke wrote, for us 'there is world, and never the Nowhere without the Not: the pure/ unwatched-over, that one breathes and endlessly knows, without craving' (Eighth Elegy).

This extract from The Work of Enchantment is reproduced with kind
permission of Transaction Publishers, New Jersey USA.

Matthew Del Nevo Senior Lecturer in Philosophy Catholic Institute of Sydney http:---




The Work of Enchantment By Matthew Del Nevo Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, 2011

Matthew Del Nevo is a philosopher at the Catholic Institute of Sydney. The book falls within social theory but is mainly an example of philosophical reading of literature. It laments the soullessness of the world; it's increasing banality and the increasing influence of the culture industries and commodification of ever more areas of our lives, including education. The 'work' of enchantment is identified as reading, listening and gazing. These seem unimportant in today's culture, but this soulful activity, which Del Nevo calls 'enchantment' is counter-cultural. He attacks modern day culture while examining some works by Proust, Rilke and Goethe, and sets this literary investigation against the background of Adorno's philosophy.

Enchantment is written to be accessible to those outside philosophy (dependent on whether they are able to read, I suppose). Del Nevo states that he is aware of sounding elitist, but says that he doesn't mean to be so. You can't help but believe him and he is actually addressing cultural problems in as honest a way as possible. The book is also a defence of the humanities over technological and vocational education, which abounds in these materialistic times. Del Nevo takes the strong view that enchantment has actually been lost from the humanities. He doesn't make quite clear why this is, but his choice of writers to look at in this book suggests that these writers are deeper than contemporary literature, film and art, which is studied.

The philosophy here is a philosophy of life, not a systematic philosophy. For instance, Del Nevo shows, through looking at a work by Marcel Proust that 'within an enchanted life death loses its sting.' (p.35). It is wisdom literature.

Del Nevo's analysis of Proust makes me feel I should have paid more attention when I read him years ago. He describes Swann becoming infatuated with Odette in Remembrance of Things Past. The nature of the metaphysical experience of falling in love in this case is described as 'aesthetic', in that Swann comes to see Odette in a new light as he falls in love with her and comes to regard her as beautiful. Proust might not have been aware of engaging in aesthetics when he describes this.

But it is also shown that the novel embodies a philosophy of language. It is found that in Proust there is an understanding that we don't just 'use' language and that it is not a mere tool. Words are not neutral. Swann receives an anonymous letter telling him that Odette has been engaged in licentious sexual behaviour, and this too changes him. He became soulful when he fell in love, but when he received the letter, it was soul destroying. The words in the letter had the power to change Swann. I suppose it is to be assumed that a writer would be aware of the power of words, but I wonder if Proust had explicit knowledge that he held a theory of language?

But Del Nevo doesn't ignore theory. According to Adorno, philosophy from Plato on to Hegel was concerned with conceptuality, ideas and generality (Of course this was how philosophy was before Plato too), but this was turned on it's head by Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, who were more concerned with psychology, sociology and detail. It seems that Proust, Rilke and Goethe also rejected Hegelianism by concentrating on the trivial and the particular. It is by this means of the grip of recognising the psychology presenting and meanings that trivia have for us that we are entering another 'world', which is denied to us by grand systems.

Time is an undercurrent of the book. The aesthetic theory that a work of art is that which passes the Test of Time, as posited by Anthony Savile and others, is an aesthetic theory that Del Nevo seems to subscribe to. He says that an 'artwork can speak diachronically, across time, to a time of its own' and that the 'optimum example is those writings regarded by our culture such as Scriptures'.

It seems that Goethe's Faust is MORE relevant now than when Goethe wrote it. It has more than passed the test of time. It seems prophetic. Parallels are drawn between Faust's pact with Mephistopheles and modernity, which is out of control and subject to external forces. Mephistopheles had hold over Faust, but eventually Faust comes to see that pleasure-seeking and worldliness are disenchanting. We can only hope this is prophetic if we find modernity spiralling out of control.

Just a warning to atheists! This is a philosopher who teaches in a theological institute, who is theologically informed and so uses metaphorical language of the soul, heaven and angels. This should not put you off. I'm an atheist and it didn't put me off. This is not a religious book and actually notes that the soul is not to be confused with the spirit, which is the religious concept. This distinction can be found in Rilke. The soul is about humanity, recognition of depth, being able to appreciate art, and finding resonance in things. Things, or objects, are held to be important in this book. The poets discussed are particularly interested in how some things resonate with us -- real things, names of real things that have the ability to arouse feeling in us -- not brand names.

I take it that properly this book is about the inner life; of our ability to be captivated by things; about being enchanted in contrast to the modern obsession with economics and technological communication. It doesn't fit neatly into the modern world of mobile phones and twittering and at times the author seems to apologise for what he is writing about. Such apology has been made before, by the Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, who is quoted as having said 'The inner life: One is almost ashamed to pronounce this pathetic expression in the face of so many realisms and objectivisms' (p22).

I write this review shortly after the riots in England, which occurred in London, Birmingham and several other cities and towns. This is also shortly after English pop singer Amy Winehouse was discovered dead. Although unfashionable to write about enchantment, this book is relevant to the modern world. Of technology, Del Nevo suggests that 'we become the unwitting tools of our own tools'. Del Nevo believes that capitalism often provides 'delusory substitutes for enchantment' (p.13), such as glamour, and that even violence can be taken to be glamorous. This certainly seems to have been the case in the recent riots. Those involved were unable to see the reality of destruction and harm to others. Furthermore they were seeking glamour by looting for designer goods in many cases. Del Nevo also claims that celebrities 'lead glamorous lives which, very often, are totally disenchanted' (p.13). The sad case of Amy Winehouse immediately comes to mind. There are truths to be found in this book which many would not like to voice for fear of sounding superior.

Since enchantment, listening and gazing are about absorption -- in art, philosophy, and religion (some forms of science are not excluded) -- this book won't appeal to those who twitter and text and probably would bring remorse to the friends of Amy Winehouse. But really it is these people to whom the book should be addressed. An interesting question is whether the book would have rapport with such people. Del Nevo defines the soul as that which refers to 'the unity... of our inner sensibilities and sensitivities' (p.23). Soulfulness and enchantment are about our inner life. Everyone has an inner life in this sense, unless seriously ill, so enchantment is about the quality of that inner life.

Enchantment, or being captivated, and having 'metaphysical experience' (Adorno's term, which Del Nevo uses) is of physical, not just social, importance. We need to take note of the warnings that this book brings to us.

(c) Rachel Browne 2011




Existential psychotherapy has its roots in finding meaning, and how meaning is experienced within one's relationship to others, and in relationship to one's self. Whereas the psychodynamic school of thought centres itself on drives, drive reduction and conflict between the psyche, the behaviourist on acquired learning around stimuli and response, and the cognitive therapist on faulty and inaccurate thinking, the existentialist philosopher grounds his work on being a being, and on being a being in the world. From a biological paradigm, life has a natural flow of coming into existence, then of replication of itself, followed by withering, decay and death. Within the existential paradigm, we think in terms of non-being, then becoming a some-thing, and returning to non-being as a no-thing. Every person as a some-thing, has to locate themselves in relation to other some-things who are in a state of being at the same point of existence. This paper will explore the theme of the implosion of sexuality and its increasing absorption into our society, and relate this within an existential paradigm of socially mediated defence against anxiety of ultimate concerns.

As Spinelli (2005, p 113) points out we as a some-thing, along with other some-things, are part of 'a particular body, a particular time, a particular culture, a particular set of prevailing socio-cultural attitudes and more, stances and opinions.' In this article I am addressing the issue of being and becoming a some-thing-that contains a sexual element as an interregnal experience of being. Social discourse and meditation craft and shape our experience of being-in-the-world, with sexuality bridging the anxieties of death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness.

Jennifer is 24, white, a brunette of British origin. She is 5' 3", bisexual, a non-smoker, has a tattoo and but no piercings. During the day Jennifer is works in an office as an administration manager and is described as outgoing and comfortable in social situations. There are four photographs of Jennifer, one in an evening gown, another sitting on a swing in jeans and an T-shirt, and two others. Nicky is described as a blond, 5' 6", and size 10. Nicky is a social smoker, has good conversational English, and is very popular. Sam is described as a redhead, with the fiery personality that you would expect. Sam is bisexual, aged 26, and has both piercings and tattoos. She is central European, enjoys both theatre and clubbing and is very good company. There are a number of photographs of Sam in various poses. Although these descriptions could be thought of as being presented by an introduction agency, they can in fact be seen on the Internet by simply clicking an on-screen button that says you are over 18, and asks no further questions.

The photographs of Sam show her in different styles of clothing, from a long dress ready for an evening out at the theatre, to her crouching down nude leaning up against a wall, while looking into the camera lens. All three girls in fact appear in the galleries of different London escort agencies. Each agency promises a professional and discreet service, but also points out that the fees payable are for the ladies time and that anything else that occurs is solely between two consenting adults. Such agencies can now be found all over the United Kingdom. Over the years, such agencies have become more confident in their existence, with many now offering on-line booking forms for appointments and credit card payments. With growing boldness, some of these agencies now state what sexual services are on offer from each of the women by using various abbreviations.

In addition to the agencies, there is a significant number of 'independent ladies' with their own web-sites, along with a number of directories. Caroline in the Midlands tells you that she does not mind travelling to London, and that she has been driving since the age of 17 so driving distances to hotels is fine. The web sites along with their booking terms and arrangements for both in-call and out-call visiting, present escorting as a sophisticated, glamorous, and a social acceptable activity. Such web sites are a form of Weird Science in which the potential user can go through the galleries and find the perfect women for themselves [1]. The galleries are mere catalogues of 'objectified' female bodies.

Many of the Internet based agencies also carry reviews that consist of feedback from those who have made appointments with escorts. One independent web site consists of large numbers of such reviews about both escorts and various agencies. The feedback details include dates, locations, and the experience of the appointment.

However, there is no need to go on-line looking for such agencies. A local free paper that is available each week on a Friday in newsagents, outside garages, in pubs and on display stands, contains among others under personals an advert that states 'Hot Angel. Stunning & Upmarket. New Ladies. Luxury Flat. Quality Time.' The same edition of this free advertising based paper has an advertisement that seeks to attract new escorts, both female and male, with the prospect of high earnings.

The television series, Secret Diaries of a Call Girl was broadcast between 2010 and 2011. The storyline follows the character Hannah Baxter (played by the actress Billie Piper), who comes from an average middle-class background and is a successful university graduate living in London. Unknown to her family Hannah is a high class call girl (Belle) with expensive tastes in living, having attempted a number of professional roles she has difficultly is settling down to a career. The television series was based on the real life of Dr. Brooke Magnanti, who supplemented her doctoral research by working as an escort between 2003 and 2004. Brooke Magnanti published two books about her life, Belle de Jour: The Intimate Adventures of a Call Girl (2005), and The Further Adventures of a London Call Girl (2006), which both became UK top ten best sellers. Dr. Magnanti, revealed her real name and profession as a child health scientist in 2009 fearing that her real identity would be discovered. Her original internet blogs attracted millions of readers around the world.[2]

Pornography, including material which refers to images of prostitutes is widely available in the United Kingdom. Such material is stocked by family orientated retailers such as WH Smith, newsagents, and garages throughout the country. One suburban local shop called Oswell's stocks basic groceries and provisions, with a long top shelf crammed with different titles of pornographic magazines (of which there are 500 titles in circulation). Digital has seen the arrival of Television X; a subscription site to pornography. In 2007 Television X set up Television X WebTV. This followed censorship rules that did not apply to this and allowed Television X to show hardcore content to its viewers for the first time. In 2008 Television X established Television following an Ofcom ruling that prohibited the advertising of explicit sexual material on television. However the promotion of soft pornography remains permissible.

More recently the Freeview Channel Babestation was launched where topless women can be watched gyrating while they receive private telephone calls on a premium rate number from viewers. Babestation first broadcast in 2002, and is one of a new type of televised sex line. Babestation became so profitable that it duration of time on air was doubled. Increased expansion on the adult section of Freeview channels includes a station called Blue, and another called Filth.

Predecessors such as Channel Four's Euro Trash and Virgin Televisions Sextextra programmes perhaps paved the way and edged towards the increasing sexual material available on television. Eurotrash was a programme produced by Rapido Television and shown on Channel Four from 1993. Eurotrash was watched by 2-3 million viewers every week. Channel Four's average number of viewers for Eurotrash was around 900,000 people, making the show a significant and popular broadcast for the channel. It is no longer unusual for a television announcer to offer a warning that 'the following program contains scenes of a sexual nature' before the start of broadcast.

Asterburn & March (2007), note that there are 400 million pages of pornography on the Internet, and that 25% of daily searches on internet 'engines' are for such sites. This accounts for sixty-eight million searches each day. They also note that according to Family Safe Media, the greatest consumer group of internet pornography is boys between the age of twelve and seventeen. The average age of a boy looking at internet pornography for the first time is at the age of eleven. Under the category of Romance and Relationships, the two most popular user groups are, Sexy Live Webcams Room and, Sexy Kittens Group. During the first week of being established on the internet, the Sexy Kittens Group had 30,000 people signing up, with the Sexy Live Webcams Room having had 93,000 people sign up to its site.

The Internet site YouTube has also become a platform for people who want to broadcast activities of a sexual nature. Uploads of both heterosexual and gay encounters are easily downloaded from YouTube either on the Internet or by using Smart Phones. It can be seen that there is no shortage of people willing to display their sexualised behaviour to the world. The recent activity of 'sexting' has become a new platform of sexual display using mobile telephones, particularly among young people. The extent to which sexting takes place is notable.

The following statistics are taken from CosmoGirl and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2009:

     22% of teen girls and 20% of teen boys have sent nude or
     semi-nude photos of themselves over the Internet or their
     22% of teens admit that technology makes them personally
     more forward.
     38% of teens say exchanging sexy content makes dating or
     hooking up with others more likely.
     29% of teens believe those exchanging sexy content are
     'expected' to date or hook up.[3]
In June 1995, the British actor Hugh Grant was arrested and charged with indecent conduct in the United States having approached Divine Brown, a 23 year old prostitute on Sunset Boulevard. Wayne Rooney, the Manchester United and England Team football player, has also been involved with prostitutes. In his autobiography Rooney writes that he had visited a brothel at the age of 16. In his book Rooney wrote that he was not saying his actions were right, but that he felt it was the type of thing lads do when they are hanging around, eating chips and what 'lads' do for a laugh. However, since the original story came under press attention in 2004, Jennifer Thompson has made fresh claims around Rooney's involvement with prostitutes. Alistair Campbell, before becoming a parliamentarian and previously working for the Daily Mirror, was employed by the pornographic magazine Forum to write erotic stories. In an interview with journalist Vanessa Thorpe, Alistair Campbell told her that he wrote erotic material 'purely for a laugh... and too see what effect it had' (Thorpe, 2010).

Rooney's comments that his behaviour was simply something that lads do for a laugh, along with those of Alistair Campbell can be seen through the concept of banal interpretation. Banal interpretation is a casual comment that describes something seen as ordinary (Willig, 2011). As philosophers and existential therapists, how do we make sense of the experience of being, and being-in-the-world relating to both the increasingly normality of overt presence of sexual display available on the Internet, in newspapers, and on television, along with the open promotion of sexual interaction in the form of escorts, chat lines, erotic dancing and lap dancing clubs, and web-based sites such as Elicit Encounters which links married people who are seeking an affair or sexual encounter?

Terms such as the sexual revolution and sexual liberation are seen by the existentialist as a banal interpretation, for the philosopher and existentialist there is further and significant thought beyond the banal. The banal interpretation itself may find its roots in the consumerist age in which our culture finds itself. The human body, particularly the female body, is now evoked as a prized consumer object. Jean Baudrillard notes in regard to the body that:

     It's 'rediscovery,' in a spirit of physical and sexual
     liberation, after a millennial age of puritanism; its
     omnipresence... in advertising, fashion and mass culture;
     the hygienic, dietetic, therapeutic cult which surrounds
     it, the obsession with youth, elegance, virility/
     femininity, treatments and regimes, and sacrificial
     practices attaching to it all bear witness to the fact that
     the body has become an object of salvation,. It has
     literally taken over that moral and ideological function
     from the soul. (Baudrillard, 2009a)
The body is today experienced as an object to be embraced, to be invested in and indulged, but also an object to be feared. Both male and female are called upon to botox and detox, to 'make over' and in the consumerist culture reinvent itself. The body itself is taken as a product that in a highly competitive consumer culture, is required to reduce the aging process and delay the inevitability of decay and death. The female body is required as an imperative to stay beautiful and young, while the male becomes distinguished, is required to remain virile and potent. For the women, her body is an unquestionably an asset linked to success. This has created a huge economy in fashion, health products, beauty and anti-ageing creams, and gymnasiums and fitness models such as palettes in addition to health farms and beauty salons. Baudrillard (2009b) states that the body has become the finest consumer object. The body for Baudrilllard has become the new soul and taken over its function.

The concept of the body being an object for the consumption of others is noted by Urry in relation to sustaining:

     The modern tourist resort is in many respects organised
     around the idea of visual consumption and this involves the
     body itself becoming an object -- while on holiday people
     display their bodies in ways that are quite different from
     what they might do at home. The suntan has become a
     significant part of this visual consumption. (Urry, J, 1990)
The female body can be seen therefore as both object and product. As both object and product, the body becomes an item which requires investment, but can also be coupled to wider images of the consumer society. It follows that the body is an economic asset for the promotion of affluent material life style. Linked to this consumer culture of beauty, is that of the erotic, with its fantasy and illusion. The contemporary escort and pornographer have capitalized on the asset of the body as object and product. Hard core pornography, easily available on the internet, signifies the final fallacy and disfigurement and objectification of the body, particularly the female body. It is however a disfigurement that has its form within existential anxieties. The chaos of such anxieties involving expression through the sexual body can be seen in Salvador Dali's 1966 drawing 'Scene Erotique a Sept Personnages'.

The natural next step from consumerism is that of competitiveness. Bauman (2007 p82) notes the pressure and demand of the consumer 'to be and to stay ahead' (ahead of the 'style pack' -- that is, of the reference group, of the significant others,' the 'others who count' and whose approval or rejection draws the line between success and failure.)' The social mediation of the body and sexual activity is constantly fed by women's magazines. Cosmopolitan (Sept 2011), carried the front cover theme of 'Win the Sex Factor -- The hottest moves his ex didn't know.' The message here is clear. The reader needs to be better then her predecessor, she has to be a new improved version for him. In the same month, Glamour, which claims to be Britain's No1 Women's Magazine, had a front cover stating 'What sex feels like... with a movie star, in a threesome, when he's a virgin. (You know you're curious).' The message tells the reader that she ought to be curious, and her interest is enticed. Barker (2011) notes that 'Despite societal shifts, women are still encouraged to objectify their bodies, as passports to love and happiness... the mechanisms of this have simply become more slippery and difficult to identify in these days of postmodern irony and media saturation.'

The movie, Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008), tells the story of 14 year old Georgia moving up the 'snogging scale' as she negotiates her way through adolescence. A scene in this movie aimed at young people, shows the main character going to a boy for snogging lessons. Subtle as it may be; it mediates and normalises the message that again is rooted in consumerism and perfection of the body. Georgia must perform kissing perfectly; she must get it right if she is to get her dream boyfriend. But not only get kissing right, she is 14 years old with her birthday soon, so the pressure is there to do it now.

Another film has the following scene. Three girls at a private school, seemingly in the 6th form, are standing in a room that has the presentation of a theatre dressing room. The girls are wearing little clothing with one in just underwear. Two of the girls are making up the third while she sits in front of a mirror when the telephone rings. The telephone is answered with the words 'posh totties,' as two young children in school uniform are hushed out of the room. The actress greets the caller with the words 'hello big boy.' The caller's voice is never heard but a further response from the actress is that she is wearing her school uniform but is changing into her gym kit. This is followed in a seductive voice by the line 'I did really well in my last oral, although I did find it a bit of a mouthful at first, but miss says that if I practice as often as I can I could become head girl.' (St. Trinnian's, 2007) The scene reflects a liberalisation in innuendo. Both Angus, Thongs & Perfect Snogging, and St. Trinnian's were passed by censors as being appropriate for twelve year old children.

Below sexual liberalisation where the body has become a fine consumer 'object' there lies existential anxiety at deepest levels. The present consumer culture is a cover forming a defence against existential anxieties. Consumerism hides innate death and isolation anxiety. All the time that people are buying, increasing, building and extending their material world, improving and making life over, an illusion of moving away from decay and death is created. It is a great distraction from existential death anxiety. One's own body takes part in this illusion with the ever increasing need to stay looking younger and thus ward off the reality off death. Existential isolation anxiety is also warded off through sexuality and the liberalisation of attitudes and behaviour (which also brooches existential freedom anxiety).

Hanby (2000) makes an interesting comment alluding to existential anxiety of meaninglessness:

     The culture of death is simultaneously a culture dominated
     by the notion of 'entertainment.'... The very notion of
     entertainment presumes the state of boredom as the norm,
     which means that a culture increasingly fuelled by the
     notion assumes that our lives are innately and
     intrinsically meaningless without constant stream of
     stimulation and distraction, a stream inevitably subject to
     the law of diminishing return.
Hanby expresses the view that in the Western World humanity is living within a culture that causes the death of authentic relationships and living. It is the death of meaning and being comfortable with ones finite place in the universe. We are busy 'keeping our mind off' the realities of our transient existence and inability to make sense of it and ground our lives.

Crichton (2000) also points towards underlying anxiety when he notes that the uppermost and overriding demand from people is that of distraction. He points out that in all fields from commerce to government, marketing and sales to education, that entertainment has become the dominant mode. Sexuality is a very large entertainment field that provides such distracting entertainment. When we are being entertained, we are again distracted from away from our existential anxieties of death, isolation and meaninglessness. Sexuality has become a mode of existential defence against ultimate concerns of existence.

In thinking about existential meaninglessness, Maimonides (1963) highlights four possible ways to address existential meaningless. He begins with the course of gaining perfection of physical possessions, but rejects this as materialism is imaginary and an impairment to human growth. His next course is that of the perfection of the human body, but sees this as neglecting to acknowledge the difference between animals and the human being. His third course is that of moral perfection, but rejects this as it only serves others and denies the 'self.' He chooses his fourth course, which is that of rational perfection. This is defined as true human perfection where man becomes man. This comic existentialism is the only meaningful course as it allows man to comprehend the existence of God. Both consumerism and the body as an object can be seen in Maimonides's first two courses. The third course is sacrificial in that it denies the individual, with the fourth course as a being-in-the-world and being-there-for-others standpoint.

Martin Buber's well known thoughts on the I-thou and I-It is particularly relevant. However, an argument for an I-thee could be presented. The I-It would be experienced within the self relating to object, with the I-Thou relating to two sets of self (a one and an other). The I-thee is a more familiar, but is less attuned than the I-thou. The experience between escort and client could however be seen in terms of an It-It relationship. The escort turns his or her client into an 'It,' and the client does the same. This is the great illusion, a deceit to ward off and defend the self against existential anxieties.

But this can also be true of many other relationships; those that are perceived to be I-thou but barely make the I-thee. A consumer mind and life that is in constant tension and competition with others has little time for authentic I-thou relationships, so the self may gorge on the I-It with all underlying existential awareness unknown. The inner life of the self is dismissed out of mind, and relationships with others, particularly in relation to the body become vulgarised. People become mere tools or equipment of another. This can be seen in current web sites that link people seeking 'no strings attached' and casual sexual experience. The contemporary term of 'friends with benefits' is another example of human relationships becoming diluted in the attempt of the self to ward off isolation anxiety. An increased number of casual sexual encounters, being lived out or imagined, become increased material capital.

According to Buber's account of an existentially aware relationship,

     The basic experiential mode of the I-Thou is 'dialogue,' in
     which, either silently or spoken, 'each of the participants
     has in mind the other or others in their particular being
     and turns to them with the intention of establishing a
     living mutual relation between himself and them.'
     (Yallom, I, 1980)
To fend off existential anxiety, materialism & consumerism along with the competitiveness that follows; the body and sexuality having being given a prime position in social mediation, a synthetic sense of being and being-in-the-world is experienced. Society is failing to face questions of ultimate existential concern. For the existential psychotherapists, the fear of addressing and accepting the existential realities of our existence lies behind not only pathology, but the human condition in general and in the shaping of our present culture. Our society and our inner selves are absorbing socially mediated sexuality that leaves the 'self' and relationship with other's 'self' as a caricature of humanity. New words in our sexualised society such as vanilla, friends with benefits and so forth, further sediment sexual liberalisation and increase the very anxiety that it is trying to reduce and avoid.

The mathematical, scientific and terrestrial mind is blinded to the existential anxieties that lie behind unexplained behaviour and actions. Isolation anxiety is not mere loneliness, but an a-lone-ness, being severed and extracted from all that exists. Primary anxieties that are not embraced and dealt with become a vortex within the mantle of the human soul and bodies crust. Rogers (1989) gives the  illustration of a metal pen that is not as solid as it appears. A metal pen, which feels solid, is made up of invisible atoms that move at great speed. Every atom however is made up of a nucleus, and that itself is made up of other particles. There is much speed and movement with the metal pen.

This paper has highlighted the theme of the gradual and unnoticed sexuality and its increasing Sexopoly (absorption) into our society, and related this within an existential paradigm. Yallom (1980) notes that death anxiety... freedom, isolation and meaninglessness... all four represent strands in the cable of existence and all must eventually be recombined into a unified existential model of psychotherapy. Slowly, there is a beckoning into the abyss as each 'I' avoids the 'Thou' and avoids opening the deep well of mutual existential discovery.

The existential psychotherapist in their casework conceptualisation is aware of the manifestation of the ultimate concerns of death anxiety (returning to non-being), freedom (fear of autonomy), isolation (being alone and without connectedness), and meaninglessness (life having no reason, validity or purpose). The therapist is aware of how these underlying ultimate concerns can be seen in today's consumer world view, with its along-siding competitiveness, and the sexopoly that is, beyond our awareness, enticing and beckoning the self into the abyss of anxiety. Sexopoly makes the seen become unseen.


1. 'Weird Science', a 1985 movie written and directed by John Huge and staring Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchell-Smith and Kelly LeBrok. The film is about two 'nerdish' boys who use a computer to create perfect women. Having created such a women on screen, she magically appears in reality, and in one scene is shown holding up a pair of undergarments and thinking allowed about what young boys would like to see her wearing.

2. In a study that interviewed 854 male, female and transgender prostitutes across 9 countries published in the Journal of Trauma Practice, it was found that 70-95% of had been physically assaulted, 68% had post traumatic stress disorder, and the likelihood of early death is 40% higher. 65% of interviewees had been sexually abused as children.

3. Hook up is a term colloquially meaning to have sex.


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(c) Stephen Farthing 2011


© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020