Dec 092011
 

A year or so ago, I read first The Sexual Life of Catherine M. and then Jealousy by Catherine Millet.  The former is an account of the protagonist’s extreme sex life (it can be summed up as follows:  she simply never says/said “no,” to anything).  The latter, an account of her reaction to her husband’s infidelities.

The most memorable moment in the sexual memoir is when she writes that she is pretty sure she never fucked her father, but of course, because she only saw the faces of very few of the men she fucked, she couldn’t really be sure.  In any event, reading the two books together is fascinating.  On the one hand, she is such a libertine with her own body – so relentlessly, manically willing to fuck any man in any circumstance – she participates in gangbangs at sex clubs and parties, in the woods, in cars, in houses; she allows herself to be pimped out by a variety of lovers; and on the other, she is maniacally, insanely jealous over her husband’s paltry number of affairs.

Her engagement with the irony is unsatisfying:  she never tangles fully with her almost complete estrangement from her body in favor of her mind.  Her location of her sense of self is so intellectual that it seems coherent to her to imagine her behavior as simple, not problematic in the context of a committed relationship, whereas her husband’s is sadistic, horrifying.  To be fair, she treats her own reaction to her husband’s infidelities as the subject of the book, rather than his infidelities themselves.

But the juxtaposition of the two books makes stark something I know intimately from my own life:  because I know myself (or at least I imagine I do), because I’m so familiar with my motivations and bodily sensations, I know that my sexual peregrinations never have been a threat to my feelings for T.  I know that in my heart, in my soul, in my body.  But I have no such luxury with respect to hers, fewer and less frequent though they may be/have been.  In my chest – in my solar plexus, in my lungs – when I contemplate her fucking another man, I feel abandonment and rejection.  My breathing quickens, grows shallow; my chest tightens.  This, of course, has nothing to do with her feelings or motivations.  It’s about my imprinting as a child, about my insecurities and vulnerabilities.

The good news is:  I don’t fear these feelings any more.  Quite the opposite – I welcome them.  Not because I’m a masochist, or crave them.  But because they’re fascinating.  Where Millet wasn’t particularly analytic about her own seeming hypocrisy, I find mine endlessly interesting.  How can it be that I forgive myself my (CPOS) infidelities so easily, that I see them as so benign and innocuous, while my wife’s open, transparent dalliances with just one man can render me insane?

Last night, I wasn’t insane.  The opposite:  T graced me with a few choice, sexy photos of herself from the evening, and I was almost completely equanimous (or even whatever the adjectival form of “compersion” is) in the face of my wife’s evident rapturous pleasure.  But I find it all interesting.  In the “poly” world, people often speak of jealousy as if it is an “immature” emotion, something that sophisticated people don’t feel.  This is the opposite of how I conceive of it:  my maturity consists not of my outgrowing jealousy, but of my accepting it, rather than shrinking from it.

  4 Responses to “Catherine Millet and jealousy”

  1. N.,   I know the focus of the post is not Catherine Millet's work but I had to add a comment about the first of her books (I haven't read the second; a friend said it was not worth it, and it sounds as though you agree).   I'm not easily shocked, at least by things I read, but that's how I felt.  It wasn't the number of sexual encounters or even the singular focus ("manic" is a good way to describe it) with which she pursued them.  It was the real detachment, the remoteness from any kind of personal involvement in the experience of sex, even with men for whom she says she had feelings. I know – it's possible to have good sex without emotional involvement, but you don't get the impression she enjoyed herself even a little, despite the abundance of fucking.   If I were reading the book aloud, I'd read it in a monotone, because that's the way it came across to me: flat, unaccented by emotions of any kind.  Bestb.e.g.P.S. – Oddly, the Story of O came across like that, too (as well as bo-ring), so maybe it's the fact that they are translated works that accounts for the seeming flat affect?

  2. Re: your P.S. – I don't think so. Maybe that they're FRENCH, but not that they're translated…. But yes, the monotone would capture well her Aspbergerian relationship to her body, to her partners. That was the thing that got me, in the end: it's as if she's a hole, and men are just there to fill that hole. And damn if it never gets filled.I'm capable of objectifying with the best of them, but I've never fucked a woman whose name I didn't WANT to know, and only one whose name I didn't know. (All right – whose "name" I didn't know.) But the human connection, the part where you actually get to know a bit about someone – that's what animates me. It's precisely why the sex parties where people spend time with their clothes on are more exciting to me than the ones where there's no speaking, just fucking.And when are you next posting on your blog?

  3. The thought did occur to me that their both being French was responsible for the lack of emotional involvement, and it probably does have at least something to do with it.As for your question, the answer is that I don't know.  I lack inspiration, motivation and self-discipline at the moment, so your guess is as good as mine. 

  4. Funny – I thought it wasn't so much that they were French that explained the monotone as that they write in French, and that that's how French reads to English-speakers.  Interesting, subtle, difference.And get inspired, motivated!  You write good.  I want to read more….

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