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Ovi Symposium; forty-first Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2014-12-19 12:00:10
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Ms Abigail George, Mr Nikos Laios, Drs. Paolozzi, Paparella and Mr. Rywalt
Forty-first Meeting: 18 December 2014



Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

abigailAbigail George is an African activist for human rights, a feminist, writer and poet. She has received writing grants from the National Arts Council, Centre for the Book, and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council). She is not purely devoted to poetry but to pursuing writing fulltime. She has written two volumes of poetry, and her latest book is titled Winter in Johannesburg. Storytelling for her has always been a phenomenal way of communicating and making a connection with other people. All About My Mother (a collection of short stories) was published by Ovi magazine in July 2012.

laios_01Nikos Laios is a poet, artist, lover of philosophy and student of the human condition, currently writing poetry and producing art; he is also a sculptor, a photographer, widely read in the humanities. He hails from the highlands of Epirus in Greece; greatly influenced by the poetic traditions which have been passed down from his poet ancestor on his maternal side from the island of Cephalonia. He currently resides in North Sydney Australia, is an autodidact and a passionate ‘renaissance’ man, has always been a practical philosopher, throwing himself into the hard questions that life has to offer in search of elusive gems of wisdom.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

rywaltEdwin Rywalt is a computer specialist living in Pennsylvania with his family. He is a talented and accomplished pianist with a college education from Columbia University and a life---long scholarly interest in the nexus between science, technology, and the liberal arts. Beginning in May 2014 he will be offering pro bono services to the Ovi Symposium with typo correction editing and other useful suggestions aiming at improving the overall format of the twice a month section of Ovi magazine. Perhaps in the future, if his commitments allow it, he may decide to join the Symposium’s ongoing dialogue.


Subtheme of session 41: Ethical considerations on Sexuality, Violence, Social Commitment, Marriage, and the family.

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Rousseau, Beethoven, Vico, Craig, Martos, Lugouri, Leo the Great, Nicetas, Aquinas, Abelard, Gratian, Lombard, Alexander III, Origen, Plato, Aristotle, Pope Francis, Wevill, Hughes, Plath, Kavan, Quin, Socrates, Fanon, Marechera, Rhys, Hemingway, Lowell, Head, Woolf, Jonker, Muirhead, Monroe, Ragghianti, Croce, De Sanctis, Fiedler, Bruno, Parente, Gembillo.


Table of Contents for the 39th Session of the Ovi Symposium (4 December 2014)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “Ethical Considerations on Sexuality, the Family as the Basis of Society, Marriage as a Covenant, and Social Commitment.” A presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 2: “Female Promiscuity in a Teenage Wasteland. The Secret Crisis of the Family in this Century.” A presentation by Abigail George

Section 3: “Raghianti: between Croce and Vico.” A presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi.



Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

In this 41st session of the Ovi symposium we shall focus on three interrelated themes: sexuality, marriage and family, commitment. They all seem to be natural to the human species. But are they? It is hard to tell nowadays.

Emanuel Paparella examines so called “virtual sex and violence,” a new disturbing phenomenon made possible by modern technology and then asks the question whether or not sex ought to be conceived as mere entertainment, a toy of sort to play with, or is it a sacred expression of love rooted in some kind of interpersonal relationship underpinned by social responsibility? Ignoring such considerations inevitably leads to the transformation of women into instruments of pleasure for men’s entertainment and enjoyment. That is the “Playboy” mind-set rendered famous by Hugh Heffner and his infamous magazine. The question then is this: is there a middle ground between the two extremes of the playboy’s superficial attitude proclaiming that “the more sex the better for one’s psychic health,” on one hand, and on the other hand, the Puritan’s rigid attitude, redolent of neo-Platonism, proclaiming that anything having to do with one’s body, like sex, is somehow dirty and unholy, to be merely tolerated for the sake of procreation? Abigail George also examines poetically this crucial conundrum in section two.

The question therefore arises: what is the link between an instrumental kind of sex for sheer pleasure, or for mere procreation, and the institutions of the family and marriage?  Indeed, marriage is an institution that has been around as an essential component for the preservation of the family for at least ten thousand years, perhaps from the beginning of any kind of viable society or civilization, as Vico well informs us in his New Science. Is the family and marriage an institution necessary for man’s survival or can we do without it, given the confusion that exists about its social functions. Here too there is a paradox at work in between two extremes: in an era when many couples no longer bother with the marriage ceremony and simply opt to live together and procreate (as the jargon goes, shack up) while assuming that merely living under the same roof makes them married, albeit without a legal document attesting to that union, we have at the same time insistent demands by same-sex couples for a bona fide marriage certificate recognizing their union and bestowing the benefits that flow from it. This strange social phenomenon ought to at least intimate to us that marriage among humans may naturally be much more than a mere contract or a quid pro quo legal contract complete with pre-nuptial arrangements, but rather a solemn unconditional commitment witnessed by the community; that is to say, it may be a covenant and a communal act with no strings and condition attached; based solely on unconditional love; a symbol or metaphor, if you will, of the unconditional love of God for his people dubbed a covenant.

Religiously speaking it is called a sacrament, symbolical of a higher reality. All of this is argued in Paparella’s presentation. It is hoped that both Paparella and George’s presentation will stimulate some pertinent reflections on the issue and perhaps a lively dialogue; a needed dialogue in today’s confusing notions on marriage and the family and their definitions, which, when everything is said and done, may determine if civilization, as we know it, will long survive the current unvivilized onslaught of philistinism and boorishness.

In section three, lest we forget, we are returning to the bigger vision, with which we began this symposium: once again we have a presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi of a famous Italian Film Critic who was also a Vico and Croce scholar but remains widely unknown: Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti. The bigger picture Ernesto and I refer to, being of course the aesthetic sensibility of Vico and Croce as the best path for the envisioning of a new humanism and renaissance for the 21st century, something that is integral part and a goal of our agenda. True to form, Paolozzi presents us with a brilliant philosophical essay on the issue, originally part of a conference at Cassino University. In it he elucidates once more, via Ragghianti, the link between language, aesthetics and historicism as found in the thought of two of the greatest Italian philosophers of the modern era: Vico and Croce. It is, in my opinion, one of the best explanation of the link between the two philosophers.

Last but not least, I have the distinct pleasure as coordinator of this symposium of introducing Nikos Laios as a future symposium participant (see photo and bio above). He is due to start his collaboration at the beginning of the new year. Actually, he is already well known to the Ovi readership, having contributed to Ovi magazine, for several years now, insightful essays and beautiful sensitive poetry and graphic art. I have no doubt that he will turn out to be a priceless addition to the symposium in as much as he is the sort of enthusiastic intellectual who is also a holistic visionary, able to analyze the particular without ever losing sight of the whole picture and the universally valid. I think of him as a sort of Zorba the Greek or Ulysses on an adventurous journey outside Greece. Indeed, if there be any residual hope for an exhausted Western culture in deep trouble, it can only proceed from the pen of humanists and visionaries with a zest for existential life who have not lost sight of the importance of the poetic within reality. It also occurs to me that at the Ovi symposium we presently have sitting around its table and sipping the rich intellectual wine being passed around, representatives from four of the five continents of the world: Africa, Australia (Nikos is Greek born but presently resides in Australia), Europe, America. It is indeed a McLuhan global village we all reside in. On behalf of the other contributors, I extend a warm welcome aboard to Nikos. We sincerely look forward to a fruitful exchange of ideas and an inspiring dialogue within the enduring and noble tradition of the Greek symposium.


Giambattista Vico                                      Benedetto Croce


Ethical Considerations on the abuse of Sexuality, the Family as the Foundation
of Society, Marriage as a Covenant, and a Failing Social Commitment

A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella




I’d like to begin these reflections by juxtaposing the concept of civilization and shamelessness as exemplified by  the latest rage among the young and not so young within in the computer revolution: that of virtual sex and violence. Indeed, shamelessness may well be an acquired trait within a decaying civilization and not the primitive original liberating experience Rousseau envisioned (the noble savage experience) it often purports to be. In fact, shame is an indication that a civilization is still viable; it is part of being human. When shamelessness arrives on the scene, the survival of a civilization becomes problematic.

We now have on the stage of our brave new world another form of so called “liberating” virtual reality graphics that goes by the name of cyber sex and cyber violence. It is in fact the latest fad among our youth bent on living so called “second lives” of total self-absorption, devoid of any redeeming social empathy and concern for the common good.

It has been alleged for some time now, that as computers become more powerful and programs and sensors more sophisticated, the difference between actual and virtual reality will all but vanish, for after all what the brain experiences as sensations are nothing more than electronic and chemical stimuli which in principle can be duplicated. The assumption on the part of  materialists and logical positivists of every stripe is that what the ancients dubbed the soul, a spiritual entity enlivening all living beings, is a mere illusion bordering on a delusion. What could those primitives possible know! What really exists is the brain which can be studied and manipulated by science. This is ironic indeed, for it contradicts the romantic Rousseaunian myth of the noble primitive devoid of the sense of shame.

From this assumption the jump to virtual cyber sex is easy. Why confine the sensory to the head, to computer porn confined to still pictures circulated on floppy disks or downloaded? What is now being visualized in our brave new world is the possibility of the digital equivalent of the inflatable doll but much more sophisticated, capable of being programmed to cater to the most exotic of tastes. This would be the ultimate in choice; an infinite variety of sex, and safe sex to boot. One could turn the TV camera on a crowd, pick out someone one fancies and let the camera gather the necessary data: shape, looks, body rhythms and so on; perhaps do a vox-pop interview to get the modalities of voice and facial expressions. Then one can download the data to the computer which will calculate all the necessary parameters, set one’s preferred passion level, preferred position, duration of activity, timing of orgasm. All that remains to be done at this point is to double click the mouse cursor on the icon.

The same applies for violence, considered the ultimate in virtual experience, not surprisingly, quite often found together with degraded and loveless sex. Rape, more often than not has more to do with power and less to do with sex. We already have a great variety of computer games in which the players are encouraged to visit mayhem on their opponents using guns, nuclear missiles, fists, feet and anything else that can be of service.

Virtual reality is now considered the logical extension of such games: you can stalk your prey in the setting of your choice, armed with your favorite weapons as you fancy; aim and direction, recoil, trajectory will all be promptly calculated. The computer will be primed with the tensile strengths of flesh and bone and arterial systolic pressures to produce the most realistic simulations of wounds rendered in 24-bit color and over 16 million shades, more than the human eye is capable of distinguishing. The screams of the victim will be synthesized in 20 channel stereo and algorithms emulating human metabolism will render a realistic prognosis—life or death. Having accomplished your mission, you can now remove your helmet and relax, perhaps go to another part of your electronic emporium. Perhaps a Beethoven sonata this time; for after all, it is not real. Or is it? What may indeed be real is the dehumanizing process going on which makes Nero’s inhumane shows in the Colosseum look like a picnic in comparison. The philosopher of history Vico had it on target: shamelessness is a sure sign of a civilization that has lost its moral bearings.

The loss of moral bearings in today’s society is reflected also in the confusion abounding around the very definition of marriage. There is no more agreement on what that definition is. And yet few people would deny that marriage is a very old institution deemed by most historians and anthropologists one of the main pillars of any viable civilization. Let’s briefly survey the history of marriage within the four thousand year old Judeo-Christian tradition. According to one source, traditionally marriage is "…a relation of one or more men to one or more women, which is recognized by custom or law and it involves certain rights and duties both in the case of the parties entering the union and in the case of the children born of it." (William Lane Craig, The only wise God: the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1987, 12). This could serve as a working definition of sort.

There is ample evidence of marriage contracts both from secular and religious sources.  On the religious side, evidence of this is found in the Old Testament narrative of Genesis where the story of Adam and Eve begins. After creating Adam after his image and likeness it is interesting to note that God needed to address a very important issue in regards to Adam. Scripture tells us that "Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him'" It appears that for God it was essential that Adam have a companion. That seems to be just as important as the function of procreation. In this narrative of creating Adam in his own image and finding him a companion is very telling of the importance God has in mind for the union between two people and the creation of a community (the first social unit) called the family.

Several hundred years later we see that the practice of marriage and its significance had grown to a more sophisticated experience for the Jews. Despite an ongoing struggle to keep marriage, as instituted by God, between one man and one woman, and the outside pagan influences affecting such a tradition, the core value of marriage was preserved through Mosaic Law.   

During the Roman reign a conflation occurred between cultures and customs from all of the nations the Romans had under their empire. Joseph Martos, a church historian, notes some of the peculiarities that developed within Rome from the traditional to the modern. He states, that “what changed the social status of woman and children as well as the institution of marriage was war. When the Romans began to extend their republic throughout Italy and build their empire in the Mediterranean, men were often away for long periods of time, and sometimes they did not return home. Women learned to manage their family's affairs, and children began to make decisions that used to be made for them….Many of the traditional wedding customs were kept, like handing over the bride and eating the cake, but they no longer had the religious meaning they had in the past. (Doors to the Sacred: A Historical Introduction to Sacraments in the Catholic Church. Ligouri, Missouri: Ligouri/Triumph, 1981, 353).

At this point the marriage was primarily a family affair with little or no interaction from a Roman priest; which is to say, the sacred and the secular had effectively been separated. This is redolent of today’s situation. Although there are some remnant considerations found in the text of the early church fathers, there was little involvement from the church clergy. It could be said that the separation of marriage and the church, as strange as this may sound to our ears, might be due to a distorted understanding of what happened during marriage. Origen for example, noted that the Holy Spirit was temporarily lost during sexual intercourse. This rather puritanical view was more neo-Platonic than Jewish. It reasoned that the soul was a prisoner of the body and everything pertaining to the soul was good and anything pertaining to the body was bad or at least suspicious. This gives marriage a very negative connotation and thus was an issue that was addressed but with little understanding in the early church. All this changed in subsequent centuries.

After the fifth century, the Church in Rome was more vocal in her marital pronouncements, especially since the ever enduring issue the dissolubility of marriage had plagued the church and the whole western civilization. This was a matter that the early church fathers, bishops and popes had to address since it affected many of the parishioners that were off to war but never returned. These issues not only had to be answered but also confronted if the church was to provide an answer for this growing epidemic. As early as 458 A.D. Leo the Great has written a letter to Nicetas, Bishop of Aquileia, in which he decides that “liberty in divorce in the Civil Code was no law to Christians; that for instance, a woman whose husband had been carried into captivity was not released from the marriage tie, but remained, in the eye of the church, the wife of the captive as long as he lived…."  

This went on in the Western Church up to the time of St. Thomas Aquinas.  Everything from incest, family inheritance, rogue marriages, etc., were so out of control that the early church writers began addressing these issues through their writings and through the courts. It seems that pragmatically this was the best course of action. If the church was to remain relevant amidst what seemed to be a chaotic atmosphere in the realm of this particular social contract called marriage, it had to make ecclesiastical decisions from above in addition to legal decisions on a case by case scenario.

By the time of St. Thomas there were already several works that addressed marriage as a whole by several notables such as Peter Abelard, Francis Gratian, Peter Lombard and even Pope Alexander III. Not only were there practical reasons the canonist lawyers addressed these issues, but spiritual ones as well. These medieval writers touched upon the spiritual condition of marriage by stressing the sacramental aspect of marriage.  As a result, marriage and its implied idea of intercourse were finally ridding themselves of the heavy neo-platonic notion (according to Origen) that only the spiritual union between two people was superior to the sinful act of intercourse. Theologians from Thomas Aquinas onward admitted that the sacrament gave a positive assistance toward holiness in the married state of life. This sacramental view was reinforced by Paul’s notions of the fidelity of God to his chosen people, a sort of marriage, and especially the marriage of Christ to his bride, the Church.

When St. Thomas (1224-1274) enters the medieval stage there is already a concerted effort to deal with marriage and clear it from negative neo-Platonic connotations. Not for nothing Aquinas chooses to found his philosophy not on Plato but on Aristotle. This sets the stage for some of the main principles St Thomas teaches, corrects, and at times rebukes with what has to be said about marriage. One of the first places to start is the Summa or his summary of theological commentary where he addressed a wide variety of questions and answers for the students of his day. For example, he considers one of the first ingredients for marriage in question forty-five of the Summa when he deals with "The Marriage Consent Considered in Itself."  Here he considers the past historical elements in marriage whereby women were given away as property and usually negotiated by the father To this he answers that matrimony as a sacrament is a kind of "spiritual joining together" and it is also a "material joining together" insofar as it relates to the natural goods and desires they both have. It follows from this that since this is a sacrament in its fullest sense then it also follows that consent is its efficient cause because, according to Aquinas, this (as a sacrament) is empowered from above.

But what is marriage according to St. Thomas? One can only extrapolate the answers from the different questions he entertained. One of these questions succinctly gives Aquinas the pathway to define marriage in its proper context. When answering whether Joseph and Mary were married he sets up his answer by providing what marriage is. He says that “Marriage or wedlock is said to be true by reason of its attaining its perfection. Now perfection of anything is twofold; first, and second. The first perfection of a thing consists in its very form, from which it receives its species; while the second perfection of a thing consists in its operation, by which in some way a thing attains its end. Now the form of matrimony consists in a certain inseparable union of souls, by which husband and wife are pledged by a bond of mutual affection that cannot be sundered. And the end of matrimony is the begetting and upbringing of children: the first of which is attained by conjugal intercourse; the second by the other duties of husband and wife, by which they help one another in rearing their offspring.” (ST.II-II, q. 29, a. 2). This is the heart of many of his arguments. As a scholastic he divides his species, which in this case is marriage, into form and operation. Then, in classical Aristotelian form, states that the very operation of what marriage is functions as its end. He expounds this further by saying that "matrimony consists in a certain inseparable union of souls."  This in turn contributes to the mutual enjoyment and obligation a husband and wife have towards each other. Certainly, his view of marriage is a lot stronger and closer to the biblical account than any of his predecessors.

In answer to the question of whether matrimony is of natural law, Aquinas quotes Aristotle: "The Philosopher firmly states that ‘man is naturally a political and gregarious animal….’Therefore he is naturally inclined to connubial union, and thus the conjugal union or matrimony is natural. It is our design to be political (thus reasonable) and gregarious (thus social), and that is what makes us different from the animals that do not have a will or an intellect but rather rely on instinct for their interaction.” (ST., XP II, q. 41. a. 1, ad 1).

Next, St. Thomas deals with matrimony as a sacrament. This is the crux of his argument and this will elevate marriage to within its proper setting before the church and before God. Since the priestly involvement in the marriage celebration was not a standard event, St. Thomas' answer to the first question not only establishes the priestly role but also answers the first objection that questions the validity of marriage as a sacrament. First, the objection states, "It would seem that matrimony is not a sacrament. For every sacrament of the New Law has a form that is essential to the sacrament. But the blessing given by the priest at a wedding is not essential to matrimony. Therefore it is not a sacrament.”(ST., XP II, q. 42. a. 1, ad 2). The objector assumes that the priest at the wedding is not essential to it. St. Thomas here differentiates the sacrament from that which is sacramental. In his answer to this objection he states that although the priest's blessing is sacramental it is the consent between the two parties that make the act a sacrament.

To summarize his main points in the supplemental, Aquinas' view on marriage and sexuality is that it has three main purposes: (1) Reproduction, (2) the production of a family unit that together form a strong bond and a unit in society (3) companionship and friendship. Couples who cannot have children can still marry for the third reason. What is also very essential to marriage is the exchange of mutual consent. Without consent, this is violence or forced love and forced love is no love at all. As a matter of fact, real union is a result of love and there is no real marriage if the couple does not have this principle in mind.  In fact when such a principle is violated, the marriage is invalid to begin with and can be annulled.

The question could be asked "what happens if there is more than one person involved?" St. Thomas also has an answer for this when he says in his work Summa contra Gentiles “The reason why a wife is not allowed more than one husband at a time is because otherwise paternity would be uncertain. If then while the wife has one husband only, the husband has more than one wife; there will not be a friendship of equality on both sides, friendship consisting in a certain equality. There will not be the friendship of a free man with a free woman, but a sort of friendship of a slave with her master. The husband might well be allowed a plurality of wives, if the understanding were allowable, that the friendship of each with him was not to be that of a free woman with a free man but of a slave with her master.”

Aquinas argues that once you introduce a plurality of spouses in the marriage, then there will be a significant reduction in the very things that make it right. As a side note, It is real easy to make use of these arguments with people who do not accept neither the authority of the church nor the inspiration of the Bible because the way Aquinas sets them up is so that he could lead the person through an argument and by way of reason and then reinforce it with what the word of God says. In regards to his answer to polygamy, it is not the best pragmatic option to have the multiplicity of wives or husbands because in that moment the opposite party becomes a slave to the other. Finally, he mentions that establishing paternity would be difficult (at least for those times) when a wife is allowed more than one husband at a time.

One of the last articles in this annotated translation of the Summa Contra Gentiles called Of God and His Creatures, St. Thomas deals with indissolubility of marriage. By far one of the strongest arguments for marriage, these articles express the final cause for marriage. According to Aquinas, marriage (and consequently sex) is based on right reason and rationality. Reproduction is rational because it is needed for the preservation of the species. Thus he summarizes in one paragraph all the reasons for the indissolubility of marriage. He states that “Thus understood, good manners involve the indissolubility of the union of male and female: for they will love one another with greater fidelity, when they know that they are indissolubly united: each partner will take greater care of the things of the house, reflecting that they are to remain permanently in possession of the same things: occasions of quarrels are removed, that might otherwise arise between the husband and the wife's relations, if the husband were to divorce his wife; and thus affinity becomes a firmer bond of amity: also occasions of adultery are cut off, occasions which would readily offer themselves, if husband could divorce his wife, or wife her husband.” For Aquinas, when there is love, there is fidelity; then, they will take care of their possessions and reduce the amount of conflict between them. They will also not consider divorce because of the mutual love for each other. However if there is divorce then the possibility of adultery is removed because of the strong love that existed between them.

Aquinas deals with the subject matter of marriage in a clear, yet precise manner. His works paved the way for a deeper and spiritual understanding of marriage as a sacrament. He realized, as did other scholastics, that marriage existed long before the coming of Christ, but for him this was no different from the fact that washing existed before the institution of baptism or that anointing existed before the sacraments that used oil. Indeed, the Christian tradition on marriage is a rich one and much of it is based on the theology/philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. Before accepting some of the more shallow and pernicious modern views of marriage based on a mindless “political correctness,” it may prove wise for both believer and non believers alike to acquaint themselves with it.

Current Views on the Institution of Marriage and the family

After the above view of marriage within the overall Christian view and assuming that marriage has a definition outside of which one cannot talk of marriage any longer but of a legally binding contract, let us now focus not so much on its traditional conception but on its more personalistic aspects.

It has become an accepted social norm for young heterosexuals to decide to live together, having children and quite often skipping the ceremony of marriage as an unnecessary meaningless formality, at best a convenience to avoid the censure of society. The argument goes something like this: if two people are willing to commit their lives to each other then they are in essence already married via that commitment and in fact more properly so than those who marry publicly with much fanfare (in church or outside of church), but actually don’t love each other or are unfaithful to each other. It is not the piece of paper or the blessing of the priest that makes the marriage but the commitment and the exchange of vows. This is paradoxical indeed when one considers that gays are now vociferously demanding the right not just to live together within the parameters of a private arrangement or even a legal contract recognized by the State, but the right to enter into a traditional marriage and to have society acknowledge it as such. In effect they are demanding a redefinition of marriage but they are not discarding marriage, far from it. They have understood, perhaps better than those who merely live together, that what makes the marriage per se is the exchange of vows of fidelity and not the sprinkling of holy water by a priest.

In fact, there is some truth to this line of thinking in as much as it is not the blessing of the priest that makes the sacrament even within the Church but the exchange of vows and the commitment to be faithful to those vows. Nevertheless, something important is being lost sight of here. Those who think that way see marriage not so much as an old traditional institution which has powerfully contributed to civilization as we know it, in and out of religion, but in a more narrow personal way, as a sort of personal experience. And yet, given that constancy is a rare virtue, that not many of us possess it at all times, is it possible to see marriage as something beyond ourselves, as an institution in fact that makes allowances for our all too human failings?

The very nature of marriage makes it a practical institution. When we marry we go beyond ourselves and create new life and with that come new responsibilities which the marriage must be strong enough to bear. Paradoxically marriage makes great demands on us but at the same time gives us the strength to meet them. That marriage is difficult there is no doubt, but it is precisely because it is difficult that it needs to be permanent buttressed by vows of fidelity. It is precisely because the temptation to give up will occur that we must promise at the very outset, when everything is rosy and wonderful, that we are in it for life. The prevalence and even popularity of divorce and/or separation erodes the concept of permanence in marriage and makes it that much easier for the next couple to get married to give up. The sad results are seen in the children. Most studies conclude that divorce and separation is not a positive contribution to the rearing of children.

The rebuttal to the above argument goes something like this: if you need marriage to give you security, than the relationship cannot be that strong to begin with; after all love overcomes all difficulties. That is certainly so, but there are times when love fails, and it is at those times that people take a deep breath and stay married because indeed they are married and have promised faithfulness to each other, and when they come through on the other side they discover that the marriage is now stronger and rooted in love. No human relationship is without problems and if one enters into marriage one ought to do it knowing that such is the case and that in spite of it the marriage is forever. The content of the relationship—a woman and a man living together sexually—contain all the elements that are present in marriage, but without its form. It is like taking on all that is difficult in a marriage without the help that it can offer. What I am suggesting is this: that even on a purely psychological level, knowing that one is married, that one has solemnly promised, before God and the human community, that this is forever, will put a different light on the problems that one will inevitably face.

The above is not to deny that there are couples who have not married and yet have serious commitments to each other and have relationships closer to the ideal of marriage than many married couples. Those are extraordinary people. The present Pope has acknowledged as much. And yet, even here something is missing as perceived by the rest of the human community. In comparing a married couple with one living together in a committed relationship, both having children and both attempting to love each other, there seem to be no differences. But there is one and needs to be explored; namely this: the married couple is engaged in a community building act from the very beginning, the other is not.


To marry, that is, to celebrate a committed love publicly, in the presence of family and friends, is to say that the meaning of one’s life can only be found in the context of a community. It is to acknowledge one’s part in the human family, to recognize that one’s life is more than one’s own, that one’s actions affect more than oneself. It is to proclaim that marriage is more than a private affair between one man and one woman. Especially for Catholics, it reflects the covenant of God with his people and as such it is a highly communal act.

The other side of that coin is this: to simply live together without bothering to get married is to imply that the central relationship of one’s life is nobody’s business but one’s own, the result of a decision reached privately and put into motion alone. In fact there is no community blessing or celebration of such a decision. People usually do not bother to announce with written notices that they are going to live together. Indeed, what the community does not bless, it does not feel responsible for. The community’s tendency will be, quid pro quo, to declare that the problems of couples living together is none of its business. If it was not asked for advice or even congratulations, at the outset, why should it feel any responsibility now? On the other hand, a community which is asked to witness and bless the beginning of a marriage is more likely to feel a sense of responsibility to a couple while their marriage grows and develops. That is why there is a best man and a matron of honor. One may argue of course that most couples who marry, in or out of the Church, simply think of their wedding guests as people who have to be fed rather than participants in a community celebration and that may be so but the symbolism of the community remains even if one gets married in a deserted island by an exchange of vows: there will still be the presence of a witness, namely God before whom one marries.

There is no doubt that the need for privacy and individualism looms rather large in today’s youth. To admit that we need others is considered a sign of weakness. Often grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are all kept at a safe distance. Many marriages are private affairs while purporting to be a community event. Most weddings say very little about the two individuals marrying, or for that matter, about the community witnessing the event, although most do say something about the amount of money that is being thrown about, about fashion, and respect for authority as represented by the State which issues the license, for a fee, of course. Sad to say, many weddings are the occasion for bitter arguments over relatives one cannot abide but must invite anyway, seating arrangements, who pays for what, how many guests each family is allowed. Should it be in church or on the beach? Shall we have beef or chicken? How about cigars? Should the bar be an open one? What kind of wedding favors should be dispensed? What color should the cake be? Should people be made to pay for internet pictures? Should the father of the bride finance the whole wedding? And so on. No wonder many couples end up wishing they had just decided to live together and skip the hassle.

What is even more disturbing, though, is that so many weddings do not welcome children. Frequently one reads the phrase “no children please” on wedding invitations. Those who bring them anyway are frowned upon. It’s as if children, the hope and the future of any community, are some sort of interruption, a noisy distraction, and additional and unnecessary expense taking away from what is really important. What is really important, it would appear, is that two grownups want to live together, but before they can they have to get married. At the wedding of my daughter Francesca it was agreed that children would be welcomed and one of them, my  granddaughter Sophia (two at the time) would be a flower girl in the bridal procession. That, to my mind, was a good omen which gave good fruits: the couple is now awaiting their second child.

There is in today’s weddings an alienation of the community from the wedding ceremony and a lack of identification with the bride and groom. They seem like actors playing their pre-arranged roles rather than a couple expressing their love for each other. There seems to be a boring sameness to weddings. One goes because one has to; it is expected. The community is not expected to take part and it does not and the wedding sets the tone for the community’s role in the marriage itself. The message is clear: the community should limit its involvement to making appearances at the appropriate times, giving gifts at the appropriate occasions; nothing more nothing less. A Caribbean cruise would be found much more attractive by far.

What am I implying here? Simply this, that a wedding ought to be a community celebration and such it ought to involve as many of friends and families as possible. It should reflect the religious and cultural background as well as the political and social concerns of the people marrying; in short it should be not only a celebration of the mutual love of the couple getting married but also of the community who has come to share their joy. It ought to especially involve the parents of the couple whose name should appear on the invitations. In short, the wedding should be a symbol of the way the bride and the groom wish to live their lives together, surrounded by family and friends, giving and receiving the gift of time, laughter, advice, and help, sharing food, work, prayer, and celebration, creating a world where children are free and full of joy.

To return to the original issues at hand: the nature of marriage as going beyond the individual self, marriage is by its very nature a community event. In its ideal form it ought to express a belief in the goodness of community, in the beauty of two people who love each other coming together to live in communion, in the wonder of human life, so strong that it ushers in new human life. If people who wish to marry and don’t believe in all that, if they do not wish to be part of the human community but live their undisturbed private lives, perhaps they should consider not marrying, for living with each other in the suburbs is radically different from being married.



 Female Promiscuity in a Teenage Wasteland
The Secret Crisis of the Family in this Century
A Presentation by Abigail George



I specifically wanted to write about young girls. I wanted to write about the young girls I went to school with. The popular girls, the lonely girls, the girls who did not have any one to eat lunch with, the ones who were the head of the class, but as I grew older I noticed that some girls had what my father and mother called ‘norms and values’ and that there were other girls who did not know what the word virtue was. There were two kinds of girls. Late bloomers (I was a late bloomer) and girls who were ’easy’. Girls who would allow heavy petting and necking after school behind the bus stop. Girls who would call that intimacy.

So after school these experiments would take place. Glorified explorations. Skin against skin. Those girls were traitorous to me. It turned out that it was not just a phase for me. They were tyrants to me who ruled the playing fields of my adolescence. Young adults who engaged in sexuality, that mindful coupling off filled me not with a desire to join them but filled me with shame. It was as if they knew something that I did not. It was true in a way. Their skills were magical to me in a way but my mother has positioned me in life, in modern society the same way her mother had positioned her. To be a wife.

They would call those glorified explorations the opposite of sex. Then I discovered girls in high school who experienced sexual violence. For the first time in my life I realised that of course, men are sexual beings but my mother never told me this. Of course, the bodies of men are physically different from a girl’s to a woman’s. Women are nurturers. They are intelligent enough in taking care of ‘their girls’. The girl who was a virgin who would end up being a girlfriend in a long term relationship, then a bride in wedding lace honeymooning in a beachfront hotel, then a newlywed, a wife, and then a mother.

Young adult female manipulation is a power struggle (she is screwing with herself, anthropology, the cult of the sisterhood of wives who are also mothers out there and she does not even know it and that is the sad fact of it all). It is a learned behaviour that is slowly becoming legend in our society. I feel sorry for girls who fall in love with the lie that the man they have just slept with is still going to be around in the morning. Is going to hold them, let them fall into his arms or maintain them. To a man sex is just sex but to a girl even a promiscuous girl sex is so much more. Sadly, it can even mean love.

She, the portrait of the young girl, the adolescent on the verge of adulthood, is searching for answers to her own sexuality, her behaviour bordering on the maladjusted. She is that drowned thing. Once a prodigy in childhood but also Nabokov’s Lolita. She is the shameless narcissist who paints her toenails and her lips a siren red. When you are aroused it becomes an obsession. Norms and values go out the window. You must be touched. You cannot speak of gender equality when it comes to arousal because when a man is aroused it becomes an obsession for him and when a woman is aroused it is something else completely. It is pure. It involves rituals.

It involves overwhelming emotion, and how can women realise the failure of advancing the obsession of the male’s fantasy without regaining a powerful intelligence in the throes of what he is thinking, without regaining a powerful success. Even the girl realises this before or after the orgasm. Extramarital sex is often unsafe sex. The young girl is often addicted to the freedom it gives her from her partner. You see, it does not if it is a fumbling boy in question, or an older man they will always tell you, the girl, what they think you want to hear in order for the sexual transaction to take place.

I hope that the girl will experience a spirituality from a feminist perspective, but I know that she will not. I want her to grow from the experience, but I know that she will not. For a man the be all and the end all of the relationship is the orgasm. Does the girl understand this with inexperience and youth on her side? The orgasm like lust is a kind of hallucination. I saw many geniuses in the girls that I went to school with and I think that they all must be married now with that sunny road. With those kids. Packing school lunches. I wonder if their family is happy or dysfunctional. I wonder if their daughters have good fathers, come out of good homes.

I hope for their sakes that the girls I went to school with, that they are liberated but if they are liberated they would have to call themselves feminists and I don’t think they would go as far as to call themselves that. There is a certain capacity for grace and mercy in the act of sex. There is also a sensuality that goes along with sexuality and we must take cognisance of both. Here I am only talking about heterosexual relationships and not lesbian or homosexual relationships. I believe in the energy of lust. It is held hostage in a personal space while pornography holds it hostage in a very public space. On a stage with spotlights.

The female body is more than just lovely bones, innocence, as pure as when rainclouds gather, she is already expertly damaged. She is already expertly exposed with all her insecurity, fears and doubts no matter how beautiful she is. She wants a partner and she is hungry for it. She wants a husband. She is hungry for it. Can she put it into words? Her hunger for what society has provided virgins with. Girls these days are no shrinking violets. There is nothing mysterious about sex to them anymore, and they are caged by that thinking. Reduced to that thinking. When I moved to a city, discovering that sex was rife I turned to religion. I turned to church.

Lying in bed next to their lover, be it their married lover, the older male, the rogue male, they feel they have found escapism or a miracle. They feel they have found a return to love. They feel they have found intimacy and sometimes a replacement for a lost mother, a lost father, the family of their dreams, and a fabric of a dream handbook made out of their flesh, and hair. In her mind she will turn over to the thoughts of the act itself. How she positioned herself, was she lovely enough for him, how he positioned himself. She will think of romanticism. She will think of the moonlight. She will think of the wine. Was she something or was she nothing?

She does not feel hurt yet. Cannot give it name. If it is sex abuse she cannot give it a name yet. She does not know what the word rape means yet. Can she see him? All she sees is his longing for her, the attraction, and that she is appealing to him in some way that she cannot explain. The naked human body is a vision of loveliness. Are those his words or hers? Did it come from literature? She is mapping a chart for herself alongside this precipice, this dangerous edge but she does not know that she is already defeated, that perhaps in the end no one will love her. She does not know that there is nothing angelic about her.  Only this, that she is destructive.

Female promiscuous behaviour hints at her physical body. The laughing carcass. She supresses her identity and her ego. The identity and the ego of the young girl that she was in childhood. If there is an absent father and an absent mother, neglect and abandonment, there will be a certainty of foot traffic in her life. Intimacies in her life where she will regard the older male, much more experienced than she is in relationships with the inexperienced and gamine as wise. She will learn to drink. She will learn to binge drink. Smashed out of her skull she will remove her articles of clothing and engage in the sexual transaction feeling saintly, exotic, and filthy.

There is an electric joy in the orgasm. It is human to fear life and to fear what the orgasm means. I wish I could tell all young adults that and that they would believe me. I wish most of all that I could tell adolescent girls that and that they would believe me. Yet, I know by any means necessary she will still want that father figure in her life. She will still worship the ground that the man that she has just engaged in physical relations with walks upon. She will put him on a pedestal and that is the most dangerous game of all. The most dangerous kind of thinking. Her self-worth and body image will be abused.

Sexuality is not an achievement. It comes with responsibility. You need to chaperone it like you chaperone your health. If you do not do it then no one else is going to do it for you. There is sometimes no romantic attachment to going to bed with a man. I will never forget sexism. I will never forget being loathed by a man just for my intelligence. Just for being a woman and for this I was punished. You have to understand that people, other woman and sometimes other men will not appreciate your self-love. That they will see it as vanity. For a time I was fragile. Saw the world as men saw it. Erotically charged. Saw the world as women saw it. Anti-them.

Sex to her will be a kind of heaven, and religion, but it will also open up a handbook on eating disorders, on alcoholism, absent fathers, absent mothers, growing up in a single parent household, and on religion and spirituality. The young adolescent girl, or girl in her twenties will not know that the behaviour she is engaging in with is called abuse. Once upon a time she had the potential to become many things. All children are prodigies. All children have potential. The future is open to them with so many possibilities. What separates the girls from the boys? What empowers the girl is her sexuality? What empowers boys is knowledge?

Is that why they dominate, build castles in the air and empires, kingdoms? Boys are taught from a young age to provide for a family. That a woman wants a house to raise her family in, a husband with status and power, that big car. The family sedan standing in the driveway. A woman wants those kids. A girl who has lived in spiritual poverty her whole life, even with the psychological framework of church, the construct of those rituals found in church and religion, prayer and supplication, wants what other women have. The husband. A man who has wealth, status and power is worth his weight in gold. Any girl can see this. Any woman can see this.


Quotations about Prodigies

“There's a stark difference between the words 'prodigy' and 'genius.' Prodigies can very quickly learn what other people have already figured out; geniuses discover that which no one has ever previously discovered. Prodigies learn; geniuses do.”

― John Green, An Abundance of Katherines 

 “Those rare individuals society labels geniuses are almost always freaks of nature and are naturally gifted rather than being diligent students who became geniuses because of their education.”

― James Morcan, The Orphan Conspiracies: 29 Conspiracy Theories from The Orphan Trilogy 

 “The music world is where child prodigies go to die.”

― Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman


Diary of a House
By Abigail George

Once upon a time there was a diary of Assia Wevill and Ted Hughes setting up house together. Sylvia Plath dead as dead as could be and by then she was already six feet under, pushing up daisies. Stuck her head in the oven. Gassed herself like they, the minority, the intellectuals, the Jews, women and men standing en masse nude were gassed at Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen.  Anna Kavan died of heart failure, a heroin addict. Ann Quin the experimental fiction writer swam out into the waters at Brighton beach never to return to Sussex again. Sick, troubled women every one. How they must have moved once in the world with self-love on their side before self-pity petrified them as they overruled youth? Their perspective like smoke in a mirror like a man intent on finding an intense discovery of a woman woven into her perfume like a detailed tapestry, a man finding a feminine image an alluring and organic portrait of an organism always constructed vainly or unselfish. I don’t believe that there is any man in this world who wants a poetic-revolutionary-feminist to be the mother of their children. They do not want a woman who wants to interpret maps, philosophy, Plato and Socrates for them.

And most especially not this wretched earth or as we are marching like red ants, internally struggling towards a Frantz Fanon’s African revolution, towards mortuary attendants, Dambudzo Marechera’s alcoholism and descent into schizophrenia, towards death, towards suicide, towards writing. We must still remain camouflaged, the housekeeper, the wife, play the role of the hostess, the sexual object of the lover and the mother of the imaginary children in the womb. And in the woman’s inward path they followed since childhood and adolescence, each neurotic, hallucinogenic impulse, every stimulus recorded for posterity in their poetry. Jean Rhys is a good example of that. A Dominican childhood, an adolescence in London, England. She carried her journals which later became books, modern classics until her posthumously published autobiography. All of these women, these daughters, these wives, these mothers and lovers will never be dead to me. The dead manic depressive poets with their artistic temperament tormented when they write, tormented when they don’t. I speak of dead poets and writers and people who kept journals and diaries because that is all I do now. Keep journals.

And all that is left for researchers in their wake are their Pulitzer prizes, their sonnets, their poetry books, letters, diaries, ghost-correspondence and fragments. There is an aroma of a lake in winter, snow revisited. Here are thin volumes of books. The birthday present for daddy. What is it? What is it? It is poetry. There’s an apparition. There’s a face in station. There are words. Gorgeous lists of them. Up and down on the page, sonnets with their rhyming couplets. There are jittery figures in the park. People you don’t want to meet after dark. Trees are being born again for the first time in the representative for air. They are all elected candidates. Boots, boots, boots, boots on the stairs, tramping in mud, toes feeling like ice, odes, and hours that the existentialist spends in quiet contemplation outside. The air is gravitating towards cold and flu season. The logic of damage in childhood there is simply an explanation for it or none at all. I will not go Sylvia Plath’s way. I will try my damnedest to survive but I need skills for that. All I have is self-pity and mental illness that I inherited from both sides of my parents’ family. I’m not allowed to talk about the wide pale moonlight that spreads out across my physical body.

There was Hemingway. There are leaders, followers, disciples, prophets and leeches (women can be all these things too). There are rocks, a little earth. When an hour of golden light enfolds this soil, discerns, and finds roots suitable something rhizoid grows. Quivering, unnamed yet. To be this alone is awesome, it feels extraordinary sometimes, everything just for a moment loved and beautiful, exquisitely tender and it feels as cold as when I am admiring a sea view. Robert Lowell’s foam’s dieted white blossoms. The sea, my wild, wild sea is but a sacrificial fluid for fish and their home as they multiply as they either live or meet a certain fishy death and at the borderlines of the vision of the shore I stand. I forget that the boy I once loved, fell for hard, was an egomaniac that goes by the name of Himself. I shared everything with him but who is he hiding from now? From who? From who? Where is he now? He has taken to the flight of the bridegroom, this man in black from head to toe. Where is his armour now? Where is his coat, his hat, his gloves and why does he not look dashing next to me the woman who longed to be his bride?

Himself, why does he not love me to death the way that I love him to death? It is because he loves another. He loves himself. The egomaniac in him to death. I love melancholy men. My father was a melancholic man, vulnerable and insecure like all men who are bewildered by the emotional, overtly hysterical woman, the pensive adolescent in her still. The nurse who does not flinch when her child falls over and cries out for her, cries out for her in the dark for a glass of water, with a scraped knee, a wounded elbow with scratches from playing in the street, picking roses that hatch insects in the middle of the bloom that stings them, their alien fingertips. I have hidden away for fifteen years. I know nothing of the world today. It overwhelms me so except for the nightly news and television and the people who come to my front door with deep pain and suffering in their eyes. Each one an empirical self-portrait asking for bread when all that they really want is cake or spaghetti, macaroni or milk and bread. I don’t read the newspapers because if I do I will think too much of poverty and not enough of the African Renaissance or the Renaissance at all.

I will think too much of their grief, condensed tension in their trembling hands. I know it is not lovely where they come from. There is no soap, no clean running water, no service delivery, no sanitation only a pit latrine, no electricity.

I think I will continue to hide away for another fifteen years. Perhaps I will braver then. Perhaps at forty-nine. But all of these greats are ghosts now. All I know is that Bessie Head, Virginia Woolf, Ingrid Jonker did not have the right idea in mind. What was their psychological analysis behind their last extraordinary-profound-smile?

They should have been writing, making love.

Knowledge comes with failure helplessness hope illuminating skin artistic pain and I have imagined men who have left me that they have loved me in a dream sequence the wreck.

I am a frail and a delicate Scout’s knot and genuine with sometimes a savage’s insanity.


We’re on the threshold of nested thunder. I am shrouded in darkness. Language destroys me. A woman with all that cleverness well she can sometimes be inadequate, serious, and down-to-earth, (she doesn’t need mirrors and furs, a key to start the ignition of a car, and to live in this darkness is one rich experience upon the other because I get to write about it). You don’t get to know me completely and here is where the suffering, the vibration, the looking-glass, wings, the strings of age chimes in and I’m afraid the world-at-large never really will get a good look close-up at the real me. We all hope to be made of substance but in the end that is only a distortion like a room. You can become a child again, or a girl-child on the verge of adolescence, of womanhood in this room. There are chains in this room, there is an axe in the corner so I can cut away all my nightmares that I’ve built authentic bridges too, and of course I must dream, I must escape somehow. What sustains a thief? What sustains me? What is this flexibility? What is this background? Eyes, eyes and more eyes watching me and I am watching them. I am growing older and in their minds the light has gone out of my head, out of my eyes.

See my ghost logic. I saw the world in his eyes and then it became my world too in a way. I was left vulnerable, held my head in my hands, could not breathe in that climate because he did not want me even though I thought he was deserving of me. I thought he would make me happy. Back then I was not afraid of love, of sex, of being a sexual object. He took a chance on me. I took a chance on him but still it was not enough. After leaving Mr Muirhead I returned home. He revisits me in my dreams. I scream but no one comes to comfort me, to hold me instead the whole awful experience burns me. And I find myself in a lonely room with a lonely fire burning for one, a flame that will never go out, a lonely love that is not reciprocated, a lonely girl very, very scared, frightened to death, scared to death that every night from Johannesburg he will return to laugh in my face, to smile, to name the depression as acute (as if he was my doctor, or a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist). The sexual impulse cured me but not forever. As cold and faraway as Kilimanjaro, as the ice was poured into my heart, my veins, every cell and dendrite of my brain. Whose design was this? God’s? All thumbs permanently now.

Mr Muirhead is no longer alive to me, to my fabulous blood, fabulous exposure. There’s no warning of oncoming dementia that would rule in the end. There is instant heat in the blood. He is rotting away. It comes with mangled love. Nobody knows why dementia and love exists in harmony. Daddy and mummy younger, youth on their side, tigers, tigers, hours in a ward in a hospital bed. Children pictured there with the psychologist. The five of us look so grim. No smiles only prehistoric horror of what was to come. No confetti, no dream of a wedding dress and a veil, walking down the aisle with both parents. All I can imagine now is this: it was the end, it was the end of the world and of life, of family-life as we knew it. We can only get to St. Helena by boat. My paternal grandfather came from there. This is how pain is felt. The pen is the pen, the words are the ammunition. The pen is Seamus Heaney’s gun. After leaving Muirhead I discovered the Pacific. To my father I am his child, his daughter, to my mother I am mentally ill. The sky is made out of the instinct of blue glass this morning. The wind is up with a nothing-sound and so the journey of the continually staggering great continues.

And the diary of a house begins. There will be no more waiting in a park for a lover that will never come. Put a record on. A legend croons, a diva wails, a Samaritan comes across a bleeding Saint Maybe, bird on the move. Behold after the flood the rainbow. Turning, dividing that is obscure feminine electricity, speculation. Therapist and patient. One smells rich and the other is a glowing, shining, illumined hypomanic, a hypochondriac. One probes minds and the other is a woman. One is a shell and the other is an intellectual, a thinker, and an addict (substance-abuse-a-handful-of-barbiturates-in-the-evening-taken-with-water-like-Marilyn-Monroe-the-most-famous-film-star-in-the-world). I think that I continually live in the shadow of my father, his existence and not my mother’s. He was my rock, my little earth, my gravity that sustained me. My first mistake was not to love my mother when I was a child. Perhaps then my life as an adolescent would have been more ideal. It hurts because now I’ve realised that Himself was faithless. I thought we were linked by our exotic mysterious creativity, similarly spiritual, our female madness and male madness was interconnected, creatures-woven-by-confessions-of-our-backgrounds-our-writing-our-poetry.

I do not need friends or lovers in this phase of my life only lectures and sermons and books now.

What a tragedy right? The sexual phase has completely vanished. All I have of it is a detailed tapestry of what was before. The flame, the teeth, the vowels and consonants of pleasure. The only thing that could make a drowning insomniac like me fall asleep angelically.

All the gorgeous men. How the years have changed me? I go around looking like the middle-aged woman I am now. What is thin? What is being, humanity, and flesh, tell me what is skin, what is this feeling of incomplete revenge, what is starvation and it feels, it haunts me that I still have not been loved for myself, lived because when I tell people that I lived I’m afraid they don’t believe me.

I miss it all.

The narrow streets of Johannesburg, Mbabane, Swaziland, and Cape-Town and crucial conversation in my storytelling. The school of life. The school of men. Those who were brilliant at lovemaking. I’ve divorced myself from it (sometimes-even-the-poetry).

The hunger for a childhood continued, tunnels from adolescence to becoming a typist.

I’m afraid I’m not brave at all. When I used to see him, really look at him (the third man, the third make-believe lover) up and down in the workplace, up close and personal, this gorgeous being, with angelic hands, two flints for eyes I wanted to eat him up, I wanted to sink my teeth into him as any predator would into their prey. My sight had a brightness to it then. He was a forbidden segment and the wound was deep. It was as deep as stigmata. I wanted unity. I wanted to meet up with survivors, form a support group, for correspondents who were like me in every way who had traversed the same frontiers. Was nothing in life, in my life ever going to be enough for me in the end? And then everything began to have a riveting-reckless-abandonment interconnectedness about it. Everything went kaput. How I love that word? How it says and means everything at the same time with such driven purpose as tough as nails. Would it have been such a catastrophe if he could have just found it in his heart to forgive me and love me a little even though I was tiresome and exasperating, blissfully ignorant of the mannerisms of the man, of the liberal? And so I went home. A voyage into childhood again.

Sleep was a thorn in my side. The negative days were far more than the positive ones. I wanted to love you see but I didn’t know what. Man. Woman. Woman. Man. I wanted a second mother who would bring me flowers, praise me, bring me gifts, and tell me how talented I was, brilliant and brave. I wanted the man for a husband who would bring me flowers, praise me, bring me gifts, and tell me how talented I was, brilliant and brave. I wanted a force of nature. I wanted too many things. Insomnia had her own inner room. There I was brilliant and brave. I could feel the pale moonlight penetrate my skin, and all night I would imagine him, I would imagine his skin, his hair and flesh, the back of his neck in my hands, his shoulders beneath my hands, and the complexities of his physical body in my hands and the psychological framework of his mind. He torments me, my unstable and emotional spirit. Shock of black hair. Light of my life.

I was water. I was fluid. I was liquid. All that was left of my hometown that I loved, that I loved was the sea, was the wild, wild sea. I can smell salt and light. I am bathed in both. Too afraid to venture, to bathe in the sea afraid that it would spit me out like Johannesburg did.

Aloe sap endures. Rhizomes endures. Branches endures. Trees endures. A flock of birds endures. Petals well they wilt, turn brown around the edges and their life races and then they die. And then this was my route to follow home. My homeland. My heartland but love does not endure. It can’t. It doesn’t have fingers and toes. It is thin noise and explaining it does no good to my heart, to my ears, it pierces do you understand, it pierces. Sculptured hurts. What have you done? What have you done to me? Even ghosts endure with their hieroglyphs written on the body once upon a time a feast for the eyes. I have been abandoned at the wreck station this manic blossom thin, thin, thin and a mother who has queried it and bought me clothes in the children’s department of a popular retail chain. She doesn’t say that I am too thin bordering on anorexic. Johannesburg’s streets, alleys, bakeries, walls, illusions, museums covering me like a shroud. Come back to me. It rules my love life all of its instruments. You will begin to desire beautiful women again. I know that you will. You will give the performance of your life again and again and again. You will become attached to them and I will watch you.

Look up in the air. I am that unidentified flying object. I am that picturesque cumuli passing by, that dream-sequence of clouds. I am that silver lining. Night-time I am cured. You are now with me here but you are also not with me. Your face is a watercolour brushed with wisdom, sometimes there is an emptiness there, sometimes there is beautiful logic, and you strike an elegant pose with your swagger, your cold better life. My memory of you is so sharp, we’re no longer familiar to each other never were really. The lovely bones of home. Johannesburg has filled me with shrapnel. I’m a body littered on the fields of war bullet to the heart. I’m home. Look at me now and tell me what you see. Nothing right? The invisible woman. The feminine who sabotages everything in her wake. The female destroyer. Blood is a politician. Don’t bring politics into it. I’m into weeding now. Weeding knowledge, weeding logic as the wind helps my fingers to break up the soil. This earth of mine is made of substance, three experimental passages, it sharpens all of my senses, gives me an acute perspective of the world, the world of men. The world of men that I miss so much. Dominate me. Control me. Push my buttons.

Work on me. Could you not, could you not have saved a little love for me in the end? In Johannesburg I lived in self-imposed exile. Loneliness and grief was my calling. It became a daily habit to fly above the cut-glass sky. It just became part of my nature to wonder why I was slowly killing myself this way. Humming, ‘Is this the way to go?’ every morning when I woke up. You are killing me. You are killing me. Don’t you see? I want nothing to do with the thin noise of love, and its faint murmurs (give me my sea any day, my seas murmurs, and groaning, spells because at least I know this. It will endure. It will never die. It will never leave me and it will never say goodbye). In the end people are just male or female. Imaginative or not, impulsive or not, introverted or not, introspective or not, imprisoned by inhibitions, by some kind of childhood trauma, the fact that your mother never told you as often as she should have that she loved you, that you were the best little girl in the world yesterday, today and tomorrow.

I sit in waiting rooms now. Endlessly waiting for a beautiful Afrikaans psychiatrist who used to photocopy her textbooks in university and work as a nurse to pay her way through school.

I do not want to look at the magazines. Too Dadaist-surreal for me. What I want right now is shamanic wisdom. Bless me father for I have sinned. Again, again, again and again. I was no Catholic girl in Johannesburg. I sit in waiting rooms now and talk my head off, sometimes I just fake it to please whomever (not like I’m the one paying for this, it is mummy and daddy), I stand in a line at the pharmacy. I need these drugs like I need to eat, like I need to stay alive, like I need to breathe, like I need to exercise. I have no more rivals and never will again. All teeth and glasses now hidden away from the world like you’re hidden from me now the third man. I cannot stand the laughter and screams of children so I keep well away from them. I cannot have any of my own. No husband remember. No home of my own. I am a child again. Mummy is mummy. Daddy is daddy. Sometimes I revisit the gathering loveliness of the third man, I remember his spirit, how he drained me, how he hardly saw me and in the end he was and meant and in some ways still means something to me while I mean nothing to him. I am just a figure of fun. I think of his smile. His laughter. He then becomes authentic.

He then becomes genuine again. How I had a word for every thread of how he challenged me, my life’s progress. He turned this Antigone the right side up, gave me a constellation. You, third man with the third eye dragged me by the hair kicking and screaming against my will to give myself to you and when I eventually turned to you, you smiled, you just smiled solitude standing, the winner in the end waiting and listening for my tears and then I went and buried myself. Stinking, stinking to high heaven like burning incense, sandalwood, a rose garden, jasmine in a bowl, stinking, stinking of perfume. I have just described myself to you.  Now it is your turn. Now I will describe you once again to myself, for myself, for my own record in my journal. What is humanity? Come again. Shutting up about you is impossible. I’m not prepared to do that like some rag doll. You were rich. You skin creamy and thick. As pale as snow revisited, words revisited again and again in the same short story. Fiction that is written by women is different than is written from men. Do the genders use the same vocabulary, thesaurus, do women use driftwood and men use bricks building layer by layer?

Do women do the cleaning up, the clearing away, the healing, the nurturing in their fiction?

Are men greedy and at the end of it all as their fiction is just ripening, bearing fruit are they the ones who drink the most, smoke Cuban cigars, go fishing, beat on their women, cheat on their wives, and love others, another with so much of the narrative, and the context, the protagonist, the characters? Which gender is the most depressive, the most suicidal, which gender smokes the most, has the most scars at the end, the most scar tissue, feels the most wounded, moves forward as if a hundred years has past to the next project? The intersection. Gravity. Perfection. Juice as fresh as people who find they cannot talk to me anymore. Are you still in recovery woos the grey matter between my ears. Caught-between-the-four-the-love-I-felt-for-the-third-man-was-as-beautiful-as-the-stars-and-the-fabric-of-a-wedding-dress. I need to feel the earth. I need to feel something made of substance. Not the death of the third man (oh no as a matter of fact he is still quite alive, but he is dead, dead, dead to me but I you see I still respect him. I am still in awe of him. This epic University of Sussex man. He-has-built-entire-kingdoms).

In front of my eyes it transforms me (earth) and the fact that he will never love me back, you see there is a question mark. My infertility. There are a few question marks. My emotional instability, the fact that I don’t feel poetry is outdated and old-fashioned and going out of style. Oh no! I think it should be read, read often, read widely, it should be celebrated, our poets, the poets of the post-apartheid Renaissance should be celebrated and not just Ingrid Jonker. The fact that I feel writing poetry is my duty and obligation and that I’ve made a career out of it which is madness because there’s no money in it and people do not read poetry. It is unfathomable. I mean is it my fault that people don’t really want to think too hard about the state of the nation, politics, memory working, being cast out, so I have taken to cooking. It is therapeutic. It is healing. It is good for the serotonin, dopamine and dendrites to keep busy at all times. To work, to work, to work which to me means to write, write and write. To keep my favourite books near. A book of Rilke and a collection of Sylvia Plath’s poetry. I am damned now for sure forever. I was in such good spirits and excellent health as a child.

Where did that go? What happened? Who cursed me? What terrible thing did I do? I know. I know now. I did not love my mother as I loved my father. I did not run into her arms as I ran into my father’s arms. I did not confide in her as I should have probably confided in her as a child and as an adolescent. I never considered her to be my friend, she was aloof, spacey when the pensive mood would just come over her and she would just sit or lay in a foetal position on the sofa, the sunlight in her hair, rings on her hand and I never realised the importance of what that meant at the time. You know I would just think to myself as a child eventually the same thing would happen to me. She got married at twenty-five. I would get married at twenty-five. But instead I lost my mind at nineteen and even before that I was depressed. Even in childhood I was depressed, I mean I inherited it, it was in the ladder of genes on both sides of the family. Now in my return home as I look at my sea it’s still there at the back of my mind, always there, just the pills keeping it in check. But if you got to know her, really know my mother you would see what I see, that she is elegant, extraordinarily beautiful, clever with her hands.

She is highly intelligent, a complicated and complex figure, this love light of my life. Her world is infinite.

So this is who I am now. I am the writer. I am the poet. All I’m asking is that you remember me. (You know who you are.)



Ragghianti: Between Croce and Vico
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi


Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti

In the essay “Art and criticism,” Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti writes: "And it is well known that I have no objection to being called a 'Crocean' (...). No matter how modest is my reflection, certainly incomparable with that achieved by the genius of Croce, I would feel ridiculous by this affectation or the desire to stand out from ideals of continuity, that it is precisely what those who think seriously assert, as Croce himself did, of doing, with a reference back to the teaching of Vico and De Sanctis, and more precisely when he supplemented or corrected their conceptions. "(1)

 This statement is so clear and well reasoned, so ethically rigorous, that would not be out of place to further remember the Crocean derivation of our greatest art critic. On the other hand, there is no written essay or minor writing where Croce is not being recalled, and, yet, it is known that the magazine founded by Ragghianti, "Art Criticism", recalls, in the title, the magazine Croce founded in 1903, in which he, still very young, in 1933, published a critical essay on Carracci.         

 However the Tuscan scholar worked in the sense of the most rigorous critique of Croce, in an attempt to explore some specific issues of paramount importance. The central point is without doubt the ability to specify a proper sense of the visual arts (happily dubbed by Ragghianti the arts of visualization) and in particular the cinema, without abandoning the fundamental assumption of the essential unity of all the arts. That the aesthetic judgment, in fact, is always that, whether judging music or poetry, fiction or architecture, sculpture or cinema, it remains a firm staple, but it is equally true that the concrete experience, "doing" art and criticism, vichianamente (and Ragghianti, especially the last Ragghianti, always recalls the productivity of Vico), leads us to rediscover the horizon of the universal art the specificity of the single art since verum et factum convertuntur.

So Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti, in its long and troubled intellectual life, always strictly non-conformist, tried to grasp the peculiarities of speech and of the artistic and identify  what is proper for film within the  movement that seems to characterize this particular art. But, it is worth repeating, not in his published writings, and not even in his private letters and discussions, belied the fundamental concept, the source of Croce, the unit of the arts in the only art. The specificity of the cinema, like that of literature, theater and architecture, always operates within a common categorical horizon because of a completely different nature are the purely intellectual operations, or the purely practical ones that belong to the world of ethics, of economics, of politics.

According to our interpretation Ragghianti intended to affirm the idea that the author, when he is really an artist, in the rare occasions when he is really an artist, understands and creates the image, always keeping in mind the technical means at his disposal. No one senses out of a form and then always, in conformity with the identity of content and form, intuition is intuition of an expressed content expressed in that form. The critic should not, therefore, escape the task of retracing the route taken by the view of the specific, plastic, visual, dynamic, or otherwise, of the form in which his vision was realized.

It is not up to us here, to point out any aporias that may accompany the great effort made by Ragghianti, but it is certain that the one he traced out is the way forward to go beyond Cross, without risking, as has happened in recent years, to go back to De Sanctis. In our view the question must be met according to a criterion that could be called common sense and that yet, on the other hand, it may appear paradoxical. What actually exists is neither art in general nor art in its particulars. But always and only the individual works that we meet concretely. And they should be judged only on the basis of purely aesthetic autonomy. And 'the autonomy of art, in fact, the fundamental concept that also led the work of Ragghianti, theorized in full force by Croce, but already present in in the original speculation of Vico and the militant criticism of Francesco De Sanctis. The idea, in short, that this particular region of being, art, though universal, lives always and only in its actual accomplishments, that is to say in its immediacy.  Ragghianti returns to Vico, in the concrete historicity.

It is no coincidence that Ragghianti, in a strictly philosophical perspective, puts at the center of his reflection historicity as foundational to thinking and therefore also foundational to aesthetic thought. And, as a demonstration of his original and insightful philosophical-historiographical approach, offers, always written in his fundamental writing, art and criticism, as the fundamental connotation of Croce’s thought, not excluding the historicity of the sciences themselves. Which even today can result scandalous for many professors still lingering in purely conformist schemes. As Ragghianti writes: "The meeting of the modern reflection on physics or epistemology with historicism, and his increasingly substantial resolution in the same, is in my opinion the most important intellectual phenomenon, which can be called an ideally distinctive feature of this phase of the process of thinking, characterized by the real discovery of Croce of thought as history, resulting in the logical dissolution of every metaphysical system and of any transcendence. It 'important that to the Crocean definition of nature as a product of the abstracting spirit, and the spirit properly abstracting, correspond more and more the points of arrival of the consequent modern scientific thought "(2)


Recorded and verified, as the great art critic liked to say, the filiation with the thought of Croce, it remains essential to propose to the attention of the readers the innovation accomplished, or perhaps only attempted, by Ragghianti, as part of what we might call the tradition aesthetic Vico-Croce aesthetic tradition. We have already mentioned the identification of so-called figurative arts with the art of visualization, thus identifying a criterion of distinction which is not only purely technical (an external technique) but a substantial one. A distinction between the arts involves, therefore, a reconsideration, in the context of aesthetics, depending on the technique which is always at the base of the concrete distinction between the arts. The same inscription of cinema as part of the visual arts can be inserted in this reasoning. The film, in fact, is a visual art which, in turn, is specified as Ragghianti claims, " in a figurative expression which has as its unique character the objectification of the factor of time."

But, actually, what is the specificity of the visual arts? Excluding the fact that to determine them are only the outward means, technique in the traditional sense; also ruling out that this specification was determined even by different external "objects" retrievable therefore differently from the various arts. There still remains the only possibility to define the visual arts in their particular development, process, or be, identifying the originality and irreducibility of the verbal language. As an old bad habit, we make the big mistake, says Ragghianti, to assimilate visual language to verbal language. As if the former should manifest the latter. This bad habit is also found in semiotics and has prevented a correct interpretation of the visual phenomenon. Visual language has, in fact, its full and legitimate autonomy: the same alphabet, which seems to be the most striking case of passing from the visual to the verbal (the sign a stands for the phoneme a), has, however, its own visual autonomy. Its route, in fact, has "an internal spirited nervous system." The pure visibility, to quote Fiedler, an author dear to Ragghianti and Croce, who rediscovered it after years of neglect, has its own intrinsic periodicity not similar to others, but rather specific and decisive. Raffaele Bruno, in his essay “The Philosophy of Art in Ragghianti” (see "The New Anthology", January-March 1980), comments and clarifies: "Tracking the straight line may seem elementary thing and unproblematic, while it is an experience or fundamental act of human consciousness, coming out of the dark limbo of undecipherable  scribble, transient, rambling, indecisive, uncoordinated, unstable, unmindful of a child’s graphic, and it makes itself, constituting itself as a conscious and coherent path governing itself in a disciplined way, devoid of every randomness and uncertainty ... "

On the other hand, the same geometry is understood by Ragghianti as an autonomous rational process transferable to other processes purely linguistic or logico-formal. Geometry participates dialectically to the concrete process or the becoming space-time of art. In Speech and Path he writes that: "geometry, thinking about itself, as Plato understood it once and for all, and elaborating itself on its own terms of graphics operations, in placing elements and shapes its basic axioms and postulates and principles, and in deriving from the same terms and various assumptions and transformations and combinations and syllogisms, the consecutions and theorems defined with logical method albeit purely visual, has borrowed the artistic processes or expression in terms of forms and linear constructions, plastic and chromatic, the acquired and exercised rational qualities. That is to say that between geometry and inflection and sorting out and distribution and composition of form occurred parts similar to those of poetic discourse with logical devices of rhetoric derived from it, affecting grammar and syntax and, in general, and the communicative devices of literary works." (3)


Speech (or verbal process), therefore, is distinguished from the path (visual process). But they do not stand out from each other, and it is therefore possible to speak categorically, in as much as both are an expressive process. They differ in that they contain internal rules which are irreducible to each other.

In our view, this important and complex theory of Ragghianti can resolve a real profound problem of Croce’s aesthetics or, depending on interpretation, remain midway and apply only as motivation for the resolution of the matter. The whole point, it seems, is constituted by the idea that, whatever the forms of expression to be considered, they, while being always and only the expression of the unique artistic expression, you diversify, are distinguished in their process and not in according to the pure, abstract, art. The author of a drama or a comedy can, as often happens, just put in the form of dialogue and stage performance a literary text, at least an outline of the literary text. But in other cases, usually those in which the work has been a success, the author, as it were, "thinks", "understands" "dramatically", his intuition is a  theatrical intuition. Even more, this is true for film or photography, and so on.

In his essay of 1954, “Croce and Film as Art,” essay, an essay that is enjoyable even as high anecdotal biographyl Ragghianti writes: "Of course, not all of the film that is produced is film in its authentic meaning, that is to say aesthetic: things, however, are different in the remaining figurative arts, in poetry or in music - Whenever language is not an expression or an image but goes on to becomes a sign or an instrument of the means of communication, it resolves itself (and this is the dialectical point) in the spiritual form that it means to it." (4)

Indeed this is a dialectical and critical point. There is no quantitative transposition purely exterior between language types, modes of expression, techniques, of various types. Language is always one and only one, as was claimed by Croce. The specific feature that it assumes essentially depends on the predominant meaning that it assumes. And it is for this reason, and already Croce puts it thus, in this sense  we can speak of the beauty of a philosophical text and even of  math or geometry text. This does not mean that, during the judgment of the same, the judgment does not change depending on whether one is judging a work of philosophy or of art.

Ultimately, it seems to me that the aesthetics of Croce consist of a very simple idea which is reached, as often happens, only after a complex work. The idea that, as Croce himself writes with subtle irony in the “Breviary of Aesthetics,” To the question -What is art? - You might answer jokingly (and would not be a silly joke) that is what we all know what it is." Certainly, what is interesting in the final analysis, is if a work, any work, whoever created it, in whichever way it has been realized, is beautiful.

A similar account can be reached by following the reverse path from the one undertaken by Ragghianti, one followed by his old friend and musicologist Alfredo Parente, who investigated the issue of the unity and distinction of all the arts regarding the famous Walt Disney film, Fantasia, in which, as is well  known, the depiction of suggestive cartoons, was accompanied by the equally impressive soundtrack composed by the most famous classical pieces. The academic critics turned up their noses toward what looked like a misappropriation of languages ​​and almost an act of irreverence. But, if what we have attempted to say is true, the only aesthetic problem that arose was that of answering the question of whether or not the movie was successful, if the movie was or was not a work of art. If it was, to say it once again controversially, beautiful or ugly.


Poster for the Disney film “Fantasia” without the music


1) CLRagghianti, art and criticism, Vallecchi, Florence, 1980, p.47

2) Op.cit., P.26. On this fundamental issue we would like to return to my Benedetto Croce, the logic of the real and the duty of freedom, Cassitto, Naples, 1998 and the volume of G.Gembillo, new historicism complex, ESI, Naples, 1999.

3) CL Ragghianti, Address and route, in the Arts of the vision, Einaudi, Torino, 1979 vol.III, p.23. E 'is essential for the completion of the speech Ragghianti, refer at least to the conscious man. Art and knowledge, Calderini, Bologna, 1981.

4) CL Ragghianti, Croce and the film as art, in view of the Arts, cit., Vol.I, p. 158

5) A. Parente, colors and forms in music, Chastity music, EDA, Torino, 1982 (1936).

* Paper read at the conference organized by the University of Cassino on the figure and work of the great critic




Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -29th Meeting - 30th Meeting - 31st Meeting - 32nd Meeting - 33rd Meeting -

34th Meeting -35th Meeting - 36th Meeting - 37th Meeting - 38th Meeting - 39th Meeting -

40th Meeting -41st Meeting -



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