Saturday, October 28, 2006

Excerpt: The Book of the Courtesans.

Although it is clear that the courtesan would need to have carnal knowledge, what has not always been so evident is the profound nature of what she knew. The realm of sexual pleasure is also the realm of the psyche. To love or be loved, to touch, feel pleasure, passion, ecstasy, to surrender and release engages every human faculty, not sensual adroitness alone but intelligence of every kind. As well as being willing to give pleasure, a good lover must be sensitive and aware, registering what kind of touch, for instance, on which part of the body arouses desire, knowing which mood calls for a robust approach, which moment requiresgentleness, able to laugh or tease while at the same time probing both the mind and body of the loved one for gateways to greater feeling.

The desire to give pleasure is, however, not the only motive. The deepest ardor of the lover is the desire to know the beloved: to test, feel, see, taste, smell, witness every response, every shade of sensation. In this sense, it is right that Venus as well as courtesans should so often be depicted with mirrors. In recognizing even the subtlest desires of the beloved or in answering these desires with a delicate precision, the lover is providing a mirror for what the beloved feels. The beloved feels known, even ravished, by this intense reflection. And, in turn, the one who is loved feels an echoing need to know, because being a lover as well as the beloved, the desire is to please by knowledge, even know all that can be known at once.

The urge to consume knowledge can be consuming in itself. Though in an afternoon of lovemaking desire may arc and come to fruition, the desire to know is inexhaustible. The wish is for an impossible thoroughness, a complete union between the knower and the known. Yet as Tullia D'Aragona, an Italian courtesan born at the beginning of the sixteenth century, has written, "...Because it is not possible for human bodies to be physically merged into one another, the lover can never achieve this longing."

--Susan Griffin (2001)

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