Typos p. 8: negativness [= negativeness]
- p. 3 -
Positiveness The Saying of "Yea" to Life
(1) Sex Versus Death
To speak of the higher organic life on this globe as sexual, therefore, is merely to state in other words, that all higher organic life is doomed to die, and must be replaced by new life. Abolish death and you abolish the meaning and the need of sex and reproduction. Abolish sex and reproduction, and, if you cannot establish eternal higher organic life, the higher organic life of the globe must for ever perish.
At least for human beings and myriads of animals, Death and Sex are consequently counterparts. Sex with its purpose, reproduction, might be regarded as the contrivance for circumventing Death, for nullifying it, for cheating it of its complete victory over life. And that is why all dreams or concepts of eternal life are, and cannot help being, tainted by a certain hostility to sex: because where eternal life is the scheme, sex drops out. Conversely, all hostility to eternal life is and cannot help
It is for this reason that, in its depths, Christianity is more logical and more acceptable to a rational man than Mohammedanism. Christianity, accepting the concept Eternal Life, says: "In heaven there will be no marriage or giving in marriage." 1 It realized that you cannot eat your cake and have it. Mohammedanism, while accepting the concept Eternal Life, imagines an eternity of sex-life into the bargain, which is an absurdity. Mohammed did not realize that you cannot eat your cake and have it. Read the Koran and you will understand how it happened that he could be guilty of this confusion of thought.
Sex, then, while as a scheme it is opposed to eternal life, is nevertheless the enemy of death the most unconquerable, crafty, resourceful and untiring enemy of death so much so, indeed, that whereas mortal life is not nearly such a good opposite of death as is eternal life (for the dead mortal is eternally dead to this world), sex might, and in this book will be regarded as the opposite of death, the reverse of death.
This point is important in any case; but it is particularly important to me in this book; because all my conclusions will be based upon it. To repeat, then, the equation reads: Sex = Mortal Life; No-Sex = Eternal Life, or, in the absence of Eternal Life, Death.
From this chapter onwards, however, save in regard to the one particular question of virtue, I shall cease from considering Eternal Life; because, as we see from the equation. Eternal Life and Death come strangely as correlatives together that is to say, for all ordinary purposes, and as far as this world is concerned, they
1 See St. Matthew, chap. xxii. verse 30: "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven."
A very significant conclusion arises from this: that in this conflict of sex and death, all those who are opposed to sex, or who call it a sin, or who associate it with guilt, or who cast odium upon it, range themselves on the side of death; while all those who stand by sex, favour it, wish to vindicate it, and claim for it a character absolutely free from all sin, guilt or odium, range themselves against death. Here Christianity is quite logical. At its root it is hostile to mortal life, and in favour of Eternal Life. But it never refers to Eternal Life as a possibility on this globe, but always as an existence that is a correlative of death on this globe.
Christianity, therefore, being an advocate of Eternal Life, very logically preaches that sex is to be deplored, to be avoided, and, if possible, negatived. And the Puritan, who may be regarded as the extreme Christian, is notorious for his implacable loathing of sex. Unconsciously he sees quite clearly that any scheme of organic life that involves sex, must be a substitute for eternal organic life 1 which in an idealized form is the life for which he has been taught to crave. Death to him, therefore, is merely a merciful gateway leading from Sex into Eternal Life. Being the foe of Sex, he knows quite well that Death must be his ally, his accomplice, his ringleader, in his conspiracy to realize Eternal Life.
Is this quite clear? For the present I have wished to say nothing concerning the respective merits either of Sex, Death, Eternal Life, or Mortal Life; I have only wished to point out that, as schemes, as ideas, they are mutually exclusive and irreconcilable, and that you cannot desire the one without thereby coveting the doom of the other.
As far as this world and its problems are concerned, however and who, if you please, stands outside this world and its problems? we have to deal with one kind
1 It should always be remembered that the promise of Christianity is "the resurrection of the body."
Throughout this book, I shall argue on the assumption that the reader, like myself, believes that mortal life is desirable. I shall take it for granted that he, like me, is content to allow transcendental questions to weigh with him only in so far as they do not render him hostile to Mortal Life. I shall therefore assume all along that he believes, as I do, that Sex is desirable, however far the consequences of such an admission may lead him.
Be this as it may, let him entertain no qualms as to the direction in which I wish these consequences to lead him. There are more than two alternatives in the choice of one's attitude to Sex. To most people there appear to be but two opposite extremes: the attitude of the lecherous reprobate who makes decent women ashamed of being women; and the attitude of the Puritan
To neither of these attitudes has this book, or the spirit of it, even the remotest relation. The acknowledgment that Mortal Life is desirable, and that consequently its indispensable correlative Sex is desirable, can be made by a man in full possession of a healthy control over his passions, 1 in a state of complete mastery over his appetites, and endowed with the most fastidious taste as to. where normal desire and its gratification end, and where excess begins. Extremes belong only to the uncultured, to the hogs of life. It is they who make everything appear disgusting, simply because they are unable to approach a single aspect of life with that amount of understanding and reverence which is due to all things connected with the sacred task of making mankind and his existence an honour and not a curse to the universe.
To accept the proposition that Mortal Life is desirable and to commit one's self by so doing to its inevitable rider that Sex is desirable, may lead one very far, as this book will show; but, if it lead one to a tastelessly pornographic or licentious attitude towards the most fundamental instinct of life, then one is of a nature that has no right to Mortal Life, much less, therefore, to its indispensable correlative Sex.
Without wishing to labour this point, but with a keen sense of the host of misunderstandings and prejudices that will cling like barnacles to a book of this kind, unless I make my position unmistakably clear from the start, let me put the case a little differently by the use of another instinct of Mortal Life. Let me say, to accept the proposition, Mortal Life is desirable, is to commit one's self to its inevitable rider that eating and drinking
1 For an explanation of what I mean by this much-abused phrase, see pp. 70, 9094.
This conclusion, however, provides absolutely no sanction for those who are sufficiently material and gross to make food and drink things of shame and of horror. No man, therefore, need fear lest by acknowledging that eating and drinking are desirable he should find himself supporting gluttony, drunkenness and bestiality of all kinds. It is, however;a strange and significant coincidence that, where we find hostility to Sex, we also find a certain suspicion of all things connected with the body. The Puritans did not accept Sex as desirable; at the best they held it to be a necessary evil; but we also find the Puritans hostile to eating and drinking, and not only to excessive eating and drinking. I have already shown with sufficient elaboration elsewhere what regrettable reforms in food and drink they introduced into England in the seventeenth century. 1 This only supports my contention that you cannot be hostile to Sex without being hostile to Mortal Life in general.
If, therefore, you believe that the acceptance of Sex is immoral, as Otto Weininger did; 2 if you believe, as he did, that "woman is the sin of man"; 3 if, moreover, you claim, as he did, that "it is the Jew and the woman who are the apostles of pairing to bring guilt on mankind"; 4 if, again, you assert that "sexual union is immoral"; 5 that "women must really and truly and spontaneously relinquish it"; 6 that "woman will exist as long as man's guilt is inexpiated, until he has really vanquished his own sexuality"; 7 that "man must free himself of sex, for in that way, and that way alone, can he free woman"; 8 and, finally this gem of negativness:
1 See my Defence of Aristocracy (Constable), chap. V.
2 See Sex and Character (Heinemann, 1906), p. 299.
3 Ibid., p. 299.
4 Ibid., p. 329.
5 Ibid., p. 336.
6 Ibid., p. 343.
7 Ibid., p. 345.
8 Ibid., p. 345.
A man may remain longer than he likes in a certain vicinity or apartment, if he feels it his duty, before taking his leave, to get others to accompany him thence, to persuade and exhort others to forsake the place as well. St. Paul certainly felt it his duty to act in this way, and so for that matter did Schopenhauer.
For us who accept Mortal Life and say "Yea" to it
1 Op. cit., p. 346.
We do not shrink from pain, as Schopenhauer did, we do not magnify it or concentrate upon it, as he did, and condemn the whole of existence because of it. We do not call our glorious history, as the King of the Animals, the Martyrdom of Man, as Winwood Reade did. We call our history the Triumph of Man; and it is because we wish to maintain it as the triumph of man that we face it with spirit and positiveness.
Our duties are grave, I say; they involve everything, in fact, that can be conceived as belonging to the task of keeping that to which we say "Yea" in the highest degree worthy of our "Yea" worthy, that is to say, of our unreserved acceptance.
The conduct of Mortal Life, therefore, is our principal concern. And for this conduct to be correct and fruitful in good things, we must be quite clear as to the "shall" and the "shall not" of what we should hate and what we should love, of what we should call bad, and what we should call good.
Throughout this book the word "good" will always mean "that which is favourable to the best kind of Mortal Life and its multiplication." If this book reveals any hate at all, it will be for that which is hostile to the best kind of life, and if it reveals any love at all it will be for everything that is friendly to the best kind of life.
For instance, in opposition to men like St. Paul, Knox, Calvin, Prynne, Schopenhauer, Otto Weininger and their like, we say that Sex is good, Woman is good, the flesh is good. And we heartily dislike men like St. Paul, Knox, Calvin, Prynne, Schopenhauer and Otto Weininger because their attitude shows not only hostility to Woman and to Sex, but also, by implication, to Mortal Life, to which we have said "Yea."
We call good all that which actuates us and maintains us in a proper exercise of our functions, and makes Mortal Life desirable: appetite, desire, lust, motherhood, fertility, reproductive love, reverence for the body, prepossession in favour of health and prejudice against sickness, respect of love, of beauty and of its multiplication. We also call good the loathing of ugliness and the desire to suppress it; we therefore approve of deep suspicion towards ugliness and illness, and towards everything and everybody that attempts to give ugliness and illness fine-sounding and euphemistic names, and we cultivate a love of moderation and a loathing of excess.
We call bad all that thwarts us in a proper exercise of our functions and all that makes Mortal Life undesirable or seem undesirable: loss of appetite or desire, the abuse of appetite or desire, as of all things; the finding of excuses or extenuating circumstances for ugliness, botchedness and sickness. We also call the following bad: excess, sterility, non-reproductive love, prostitution, homosexuality, irreverence towards the body, the setting of transcendental questions before vital questions.
On our side, in our advocacy of the first-named things, we have our instincts which, if they are sound, confirm us on every point.
It frequently happens, however, that Mortal Life is so difficult, and those who preach against it are so many, so eloquent and so powerful, that we need almost an
It is before such disasters happen that an intellectual assent to the deepest promptings of our instincts is the greatest need of all. In practical life it may be taken as a general rule that it is more helpful to have an intellectual justification for our mistakes and the instincts that have led to them, than the most convincing theories in favour of our virtues. For it is innocence in the exercise of our natural functions that the preachers against Mortal Life and the body are most anxious to undermine, and most successful in undermining. And how often, particularly when an instinct has, so to speak, "drawn in its horns," or ceased to assert itself owing to a momentary mistake, check or rebuff, would not an intellectual justification of its vigorous re-assertion help us to tide over the evil hour without our falling a prey to the opposing party to the enemies of Mortal Life and the body!
If, however, we bear in mind the maxim that everything is "good" that is favourable to the best kind of Mortal Life, and everything is "bad" that is unfavourable to the best kind of life; if, moreover, we stand bravely and firmly by the principle that Mortal Life is acceptable and desirable, and therefore that all it exacts for its continuance must also be acceptable and desirable, and consequently that the things of the body beauty, charm, ardour together with the flesh, the world, sex,
1 Of course, I mean this intellectual positiveness only as a rational confirmation of bodily and constitutional positiveness; for frequently when I shall use the expression "positive" it will also mean the unconscious, spontaneous positiveness of a healthy body. From the context there will be no mistaking which I mean. The same remark applies naturally to the expression intellectual negativeness. For instance, St. Paul and Calvin were both intellectually as well as spontaneously negative. An unhealthy child, or an unhealthy adult, may be only unconsciously or spontaneously so.
There is something strangely pathetic about this positiveness of the child. The philosopher knows the wilderness it is in. He knows that on the mountain peaks all around, the vultures are waiting hungrily to see it make its first mistake, to see it writhe under its first misfortune or its first "guilt" as they like to call it. He knows with what extraordinary vigilance they are tracking its footsteps, so that they may be there in time, so that they may be at its side in the first moment of its doubt in Life, to tell it that Life is sinful, that lust is sinful, that sex is sinful, that the World, the Flesh and the Devil are interchangeable terms. And the positive philosopher cannot help wondering with some alarm how the child will survive this first encounter with doubt, with suspicion, and with distrust concerning that to which a moment ago it said "Yea" so wholeheartedly.
The positive philosopher trembles over the outcome of the conflict. With fear and trepidation he forges the weapons of intellectual positiveness and flings them with anxious prodigality before the child, hoping that they will sustain it in the struggle and confirm its best instincts; trusting with all his heart that they will revive its "Yea" to Life before it is completely overcome. And when the positive philosopher succeeds in this and sees the
To the positive philosopher, then, the healthy child is the best pattern for the yea-saying and positive man. The only danger the child is in, as I have shown, consists in the fact that it is intellectually unprepared to justify its "Yea" in the face of the preachers of "Nay." Apart from this one flaw, however which in a universally positive world would not be felt as a disadvantage at all (because it is only in negative environments and negative ages that a conscious or intellectual confirmation of one's soundest instincts is necessary) the child, or the animal for that matter, presents the perfect example of the positive attitude towards Life. The positive philosopher, therefore, learns from the child, and watches it with interest.
The principal characteristic of the healthy child is, that it does not play with its primary appetites; it does not laugh about them; it cannot abide a joke about them. Watch a healthy child eat! It is absolutely serious, absorbed, concentrated, intent! A very healthy boy will even frown over his meal, just as he will frown when he eats a piece of chocolate. It is obvious from his expression that eating is no joke with him. It is one of the gravest, most pressing, most engrossing interests in life. And the same holds good of all healthy, positive adults. Watch a healthy and positive adult at his meals; he is serious to a fault! It is only when the demands of his body have been satisfied that he begins to indulge in levity. The man who habitually jokes at the beginning of a meal is past salvation. He is negative by nature and cannot be rescued.
Seriousness towards the primary instinct of self-preservation is one of the principal characteristics of the healthy child. But the healthy child is not yet fully, consciously concerned about any other instinct; if it
In spite of all the apparent light-heartedness of the healthy child, which is all that superficial people can see in it; in spite of the ease with which it turns from sleep to wakefulness, from tears to laughter, and vice versâ, there is a profundity, a sobriety, a solidity about its seriousness that nothing can affect. It takes its own body, itself, the world, and life tremendously seriously. It takes its wants and its desires seriously. It takes its loves and its hates seriously. Little children can be homicidal in their loathing of other children; they can be heroic in their devotion. Those who always depict children with a smile on their chubby faces, and hopping about on one leg, know nothing about them. They know nothing of the imperturbable gravity of the child, and of positiveness generally.
To watch the face of an elderly, negative spinster when a really healthy boy loses his temper, is to witness in one human countenance the whole history of the long conflict between those vultures of which I have spoken and the artless yea-sayer to Life.
Later on, if he is carefully handled, this boy will take his love seriously; he will cling to the girl he chooses in a manner that will make that same spinster marvel at his determination, and he will be as fierce and as serious in his desire for the woman of his choice as he once was over his games, over his hates, and over his meals.
Laughter is not nearly such a common characteristic of healthy positive life as the superficial imagine more particularly noisy laughter. In every mixed party where much loud laughter or shrill laughter is heard, there is sure to be a good deal, not of gaiety, not of wanton spirits, but of nervous irascibility, sexual excitation, and particularly sexual abstinence, exasperation and negative-
Positive people take too serious an attitude to life, to themselves, to each other, and particularly to members of the opposite sex, constantly to vent what they feel in an idle cackle or giggle. They laugh, but their hilarity is short, violent, and apparently effective; because it seems to relieve them for longer periods than does the laughter of negative people.
One of the chief characteristics of the positive mind, then, is the gravity, the solemn interest, with which it confronts life itself, the body that holds it, and everything vital, including sex.
Behold the healthy child, and you have an automaton guided absolutely by a positive mind! To retain this positive mind throughout one's youth and adulthood is the greatest triumph particularly nowadays that anyone can achieve. He who achieves it may well laugh; he has a right to laugh; for he has mastered the most redoubtable foe a man can encounter the powerful false values that are. now seeking to prevail everywhere, and over the victims of which the vultures are muttering their thanksgiving.
The only positive form of laughter is the expression of a consciousness of acquired power. This is Hobbes' view, it was Stendhal's view; it is the biologist's view, who says that laughter is the expression of superior adaptation.
Another characteristic of the positive mind is its forgetfulness in regard to the things that incapacitate it for taking a lively interest in life. This quality of the mind is simply a spiritual counterpart of the healthy body's power of evacuating those portions of the food absorbed which cannot be assimilated without hurt: forgetting and digesting being the same function of evacuation in two different departments. The positive mind, like the healthy body it is in, knows how to get
The positive mind has no fear of pain, particularly if this pain is incurred in a vital effort. Little boys will actually enjoy enormous discomfort and pain, provided it is encountered in doing things that reek of active life, that bring their bodies into violent action, and give them the thrill and bracing sensation of overcoming an obstacle, of resisting an attempt at capture, or of effecting a capture. "Yea" is their constant attitude to everything, even to the things which, to the adult, are disagreeable.
I remember on one occasion, when I was walking home from a friend's house in the pouring rain, I met that same friend's two little sons returning at a perfectly leisurely pace from school. I had an umbrella, they had not. Naturally I felt it incumbent upon me to see them home, and, gathering them carefully under my silk shelter, I marched them smartly in the direction or their father's house. I soon found, however, that all my pains were wasted on them, for whenever I was not looking, out one of them would stray into the drenching shower; and when I insisted on their keeping quite close to me, each of them gravely extended his free arm out into the rain to catch as much of it as possible, while every puddle was conscientiously and solemnly explored by their feet. .
This may seem a trifling circumstance to dwell upon;
The gravity of the little boy when he does these things shows clearly the relation between positiveness and things that matter things that have weight, solidity, importance, tangibility, definition.
Another incident occurs to me as I write. I remember once feeling a little intrigued by the sight of a knot of little village boys standing like conspirators very seriously together in one of the streets of my favourite Sussex village. Their ages ranged from about eight to eleven years. I knew them all perfectly well, and the fact that I drew close up to them did not disturb them in the least. When I was near enough to discover what they were talking about, this is what I saw and heard: In the centre of the grave and almost hushed group there stood a lad of about nine years of age. He was exhibiting his dirty hands proudly and almost arrogantly to his friends, and the latter were listening with rapt attention to his harangue. I noticed that they all appeared to be a little crestfallen and dejected, save the boy who was demonstrating with his hands, and one other boy who seemed to be arguing with him. Now the explanation of all this profound interest, rapt attention and conflicting emotions, was as follows: The central figure, the boy of nine, had hands that were covered thickly with large warts, and he possessed one particularly big and ugly-looking specimen just beneath the knuckle of a finger of his right hand. He was exhibiting these horrible excrescences to his schoolfellows triumphantly and defying them to show anything like them, or even approaching them in size and number; and there was but one of them who had a sufficiently respectable record, where warts were concerned, to be able to answer him and meet him, as it were, on equal ground, and this was the boy who had been contesting his. point all the time.
Again, this is a trifling incident, but it is full of signifi-
To say "yea" to everything to mud, to filth, to danger, to illness (for positive children are positive even to their bodily disorders), to the rain, to animals, to vermin, to the knife, to explosives, to ladders, to dangerous altitudes, to the precipice, and so on is of course, supremely delightful, supremely healthy; but it cannot be allowed in its full catholicity. This I am perfectly ready to knowledge. The luxuriance of the child's positiveness must be pruned. The human being must be reared for society. He must be taught the limitations of his freedom; above all, he must be taught taste and discrimination: what to select and what to reject. And there is perhaps no more solemn moment in life than when a full-grown man or woman, in perfect possession of all the necessary intellectual equipment for the task, approaches his universally yea saying junior to discipline it that is to say, to determine its "yea," to limit it, and to confine it only to a certain set of things.
The object and province of juvenile discipline are simply these: to rear a positive human being for social life; to discipline it to selection and rejection without forcing it to scout or to suspect vital functions or vital virtues. It sounds simple enough when stated in a single line; but how many misunderstandings, how many ruined careers, how many bitter, disappointed and ill-adapted adults are not the result of the opposite principle, the principle which reads that the positive child should above all be taught to distrust its deepest instincts, its body, and to be suspicious of the world, the flesh and the Devil the latter meaning very often no more than wanton spirits.
Sometimes when one sees the kind of people men and women into whose gentle bloodless hands, into whose drab, lifeless but well meaning existences, healthy
Luckily, robust positiveness has a tenacity and a vigour that frequently survive even the contagion of these toads with evil consciences. But how few are the survivals compared with the number that go under annually!
That is why little girls survive the process more often than little boys; because, as a rule, unless attacked from the side of the body, a female's positiveness to life is wholly and utterly unbreakable. But it is deeper, more silent, less conspicuous, less articulate than that of the little boy; therefore it more easily eludes the cerulean but very superficial glance of the negative adult. It is more unconscious and consequently less liable to betray itself in the presence of constraining influences. It manifests itself, too, in a less arresting, less annoying fashion; it appears to be "harmless." Behold the girls that are turned out annually from convent schools or strictly Puritanical High Schools. If their tremendous positiveness had not been secret, concealed, subcutaneous, uncon-
Modern man is not only less positive generally than woman, but the modicum of positiveness he possesses is also more apparent, less resisting, more self-assertive, more conscious and therefore less secret. It also manifests itself in a more obtrusive and more irritating way. 1
Boys suffer most from a negative discipline. Men are suffering most physically and mentally from our negative age. Women only suffer from the indirect results of the age that is to say, from the deterioration it causes in their men.
1 In this connexion, see pp. 98103.