Lick the beggar’s stinking feet, drink his hot urine, eat his shit and let him spit in your mouth. Now are you aroused? Few of us would be, but even the most squeamish explorer into the nature of human sexuality must account for the appeal certainly not universal of abjection. I say “not universal” and yet, if all of our layers of libidinal repression and ignorance could suddenly be stripped away, the question might be open to dispute. Female prostitutes have told me that every man wants to be dominated; the johns who can’t handle the shame of this kind of subjugation are the ones who respond with overcompensating aggression, trying to convince themselves that they are really the ones with the power. Despite popular conceptions to the contrary, the working girls insist that there are really no exceptions. And so I wonder: Is the step that large from submission to abjection? It is clear that identity is a scratchy garment we’d all like sometimes to remove. But how to slough off the agonizing “I”? Perhaps crush it under the weight of humiliation. Bury it under a complete, boundless shame. Find transport through the boot heel licked.
Therapists would tell us paying customers that we think we deserve it. Not loving ourselves, we can’t imagine other people loving us, they chant in unison. But even if this is true, there remains, to me, the question of pleasure. Is the unconscious strong enough to transform humiliation into erotic pleasure just to serve our self-hating needs? It appears so. Are we all masochists? Maybe, but not all masochists are created equal. Some figure out how to do it through sex, others through other means (in my case, grad school). These pleasures may or may not be tainted by concomitant anxieties about what precisely such tastes might mean. Some believe masochism is just pleasure, just sex (which would be what, exactly?). Others recognize it as evidence of a fault line in the psyche. Still others take pleasure in seeing it as just such a fault line: they find a masochistic delight in being able to uncover their own mechanisms, however ugly. Would that I could be so brave. Instead, I retreat into the safety of the Wonderbread sex I have known, only wondering what the unconscious actors of my desires might be staging behind the scrim.
Not so with Aleister Crowley. In his early years of writing poetry (still before the turn of the twentieth century), he privately published a book of poems entitled White Stains. Among them are some unflinchingly erotic explorations, the most aggressive and flamboyant of which is this week’s bit. Crowley enacts in his poem the scenario I described in the first line of this column. And his conclusion: that it’s better than hearing angels singing at dawn. Devil’s food, indeed.
“Go into the Highways” by Aleister Crowley
Let my fond lips but drink thy golden wine,
My bright-eyed Arab, only let me eat
The rich brown globes of sacramental meat
Steaming and firm, hot from their home divine,
And let me linger with thy hands in mine,
And lick the sweat from dainty dirty feet
Fresh with the loose aroma of the street,
And then anon I’ll glue my mouth to thine.
This is the height of joy, to lie and feel
Thy spicéd spittle trickle down my throat;
This is more pleasant than at dawn to steal
Towards lawns and sunny brooklets, and to gloat
Over earth’s peace, and hear in the ether float
Songs of soft spirits into rapture peal.