Slavoj Zizek: Can Covid-19 remind us that SEX is an important channel for sprituality?

By: Slavoj Zizek

The Covid-19 epidemic will certainly give a boost to digital sexual games, but hopefully it will also lead to a new appreciation of physical intimacy and we will remember that sex between two people is a medium for spirituality.

The Irish Health Service Executive has issued guidelines about practicing sex in the time of coronavirus, and the two key recommendations are:

Taking a break from physical and face-to face interactions is worth considering, especially if you usually meet your sex partners online or make a living by having sex. Consider using video dates, sexting or chat rooms. Make sure to disinfect keyboards and touch screens that you share with others.

“Masturbation will not spread coronavirus, especially if you wash your hands (and any sex toys) with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after.”

Reasonable common sense advice for a time of epidemics spread by bodily contact – but one should note that these recommendations just conclude the process which was already going on with the progressive digitalization of our lives: statistics show that today’s adolescents spend much less time exploring their sexuality than surfing the web.

Even if they engage in sex, is doing it in a virtual space (with hardcore pornography) not much easier and more instantly gratifying?

For this reason, the new American TV series Euphoria (described by HBO as “following a group of high school students as they navigate drugs, sex, identity, trauma, social media, love and friendship”) with its portrayal of the dissolute life of today’s high school population is almost the opposite of present-day reality. It is out of touch with today’s youth and, for this reason, weirdly anachronistic – more an exercise in middle-age nostalgia for how depraved the young generations once were.

But we should go even a step further here: what if there never was an entirely “real” sex void of any virtual or fantasized supplement? The usual definition of masturbation is “doing it to yourself while imagining partners,” but what if real sex is always – up to a point – masturbation with a real partner? What do I mean by this? In a comment for the Guardian, Eva Wiseman refers to a moment in ‘The Butterfly Effect’, Jon Ronson’s podcast series about the aftershocks of internet porn. “On the set of a porn film an actor lost his erection mid-scene – to coax it back, he turned away from the woman, naked below him, grabbed his phone and searched Pornhub. Which struck me as vaguely apocalyptic.” She concludes: “Something is rotten in the state of sex.”

I agree, but I would add this lesson of psychoanalysis: something is constitutively rotten in the state of sex, human sexuality is in itself perverted, exposed to sadomasochist reversals and, specifically, to the mixture of reality and fantasy. Even when I am alone with my partner, my sexual interaction with him/her is inextricably intertwined with my fantasies, i.e., every sexual interaction is potentially structured like “masturbation with a real partner” – I use the flesh and body of my partner as a prop to realize/enact my fantasies.

We cannot reduce this gap between the bodily reality of a partner and the universe of fantasies to a distortion opened up by patriarchy and social domination or exploitation – the gap is here from the very beginning. So I quite understand the actor who, in order to regain his erection, searched Pornhub – he was looking for a fantasmatic support of his performance. It is for this same reason that, as part of sexual intercourse, one partner asks the other to go on talking, usually narrating something “dirty” – even when you hold in your hands the “thing itself” (the beloved partner’s naked body), this presence has to be supplemented by verbal fantasizing…

This worked for the actor because he was obviously not in a personal love relationship with the actress – her body was more a living sexbot for him. If he were to be passionately in love with his partner, her body would have mattered to him since every gesture of touching her would disturb the core of her subjectivity. When one makes love with someone one truly loves, touching the partner’s body is crucial. One should therefore turn around the common wisdom according to which sexual lust is bodily while love is spiritual: sexual love is more bodily than sex without love.

Will, then, the ongoing epidemics limit sexuality and promulgate love, a distant admiration of the beloved who remains out of touch? The epidemics will definitely give a boost to digital sexual games without bodily contact. Hopefully, however, a new appreciation of sexual intimacy will arise out of the epidemics, and we will learn again the lesson of Andrei Tarkovsky for whom earth, its inert, humid stuff, is not opposed to spirituality but its very medium. In Tarkovsky’s masterpiece Mirror, his father Arseny Tarkovsky recites his own lines: “A soul is sinful without a body, like a body without clothes.” Masturbation in front of hard-core porn images is sinful while bodily contact is a path to spirituality.

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Spirituality through holistic education

Por: Raunak Jain

Giving our children the gift of an education system that focuses on holistic development and is spiritually rich could be our best contribution to the world, writes RAUNAK JAIN

Holistic is a word that originates from ancient Greek and which means to encompass “an entire thing”. Ancient Greeks had created a civilization that is the bedrock of all western thought; they indeed had a holistic view of human beings. While today we know ancient Greeks mostly because of the many profound philosophical works of thinkers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; the ancient Greeks gave us much more than just inspiring philosophy. They were at the forefront of human thought more than 2,000 years ago. They also constructed beautiful buildings and theorised about how men should ideally live and be governed. So powerful was the impact of ancient Greece that works by the ancient thinkers, mathematicians, and philosophers were unequalled in the west for over two millennia.

Ancient Greeks were driven by holistic beliefs and thoughts, and viewed an individual who excelled in multiple activities to be far superior to one who excelled in only one task. For instance, it was not uncommon for a top mathematician from ancient Greece to also be a top bodybuilder and a top athlete. They believed that being especially skilled in only one narrow activity and in no other was actually a symptom of vulgarity. It should, therefore, be said that ancient Greeks believed in and practised holistic education.

Modern Education

Unfortunately, education today has grown rigid, narrow, and inflexible. Children studying in even the best schools in the country are forced to give up their passion after the 10th standard and to instead concentrate solely on a narrow stream of subjects that will allow them to earn a livelihood in the future. The ancient Greeks and some others today would call this vulgar. Holistic education emphasises that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. In the context of learning, this means that a student is comprised of more than just a mind that should memorise. Rather, a student is believed to have a unique function in society and is known to be driven by unique feelings and emotions. The holistic form of education takes such additional considerations into account and allows students to reach their fullest potential by improving additional qualities that children possess.

Spirituality and Holistic Education

While the term spirituality usually seems connected to morality or religion and often excludes many who are outside a certain belief system, when it is applied to education it stands for “teaching authentically”. This can also mean teaching with the intention to teach rather than mechanically going through the motions of teaching.

A student is more than the sum of his parts; hence while a child may be a good sportsperson and excel at history or physics, he or she also has a self that is connected to a community. This connection is what gives a child an identity, meaning, and purpose. The same connections also give rise to genuine feelings of compassion and a desire for peace in the world. Hence, holistic education is meant to help an individual fulfil his or her true purpose as part of a community. Today, education in India stresses academic excellence, often at the expense of the development of other aspects of a student’s personality. Holistic education prepares an individual for life.

Helping Children Spiritually

Today, good formal education in India strives to make children learn, while holistic education also helps children “learn, how to learn”. Simply learning a subject may not be sufficient to navigate life; children must learn how they can learn. By “learning how to learn”, they acquire skills that make them not only more successful in life, but that also lead them to be happier and well-adapted members of society.

Teachers and Spirituality

While holistic education allows children to learn how to become lifelong learners, it also instils in them a curiosity for learning and wanting to know more. So, unlike the traditional model of education in India today, holistic education continues outside the classroom and well into adulthood, if not into old age. Becoming lifelong learners is more important today than ever before.

Learning spiritually means that students and their teachers share a deep connection with the subject they are learning. Such teachers do nothing less than inspiring their students by creating a lifelong bond with learning. Such students develop spiritually and carry forward a spark into any profession they choose to work in.

 Practical Outcomes of Holistic Education

By following the practice of holistic education, a student grows more confident and certain of his or her place in his society or community. Thus, a child develops social and communication skills. Such skills are essential for success in any leadership role today and will remain important for success well into the future.

Gifted Children

Every child is born gifted, it is the role of educators to bring out the child’s strengths. Once the child discovers his or her passion, he or she will learn and take part in related activities with enthusiasm and enjoy overcoming the challenges.

Wanting to Learn

One of the most important principles in teaching is linked to “positive association” which in education translates into “the more children enjoy learning, the more they will want to continue learning”. Positive association with learning creates adults who remain curious and open throughout their lives and who go on to be more innovative in the workplace.

Our Contribution  

The ideas that shape our modern world were formed by the ancient Greeks well over 2,000 years ago. We pride ourselves for living in a democracy, but the idea was first formed by ancient Greeks. By adopting  holistic education for our children, one can aspire to contribute as much to the future as the Greeks have to contributed to our world.

The writer is MD, Tula’s International School


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