Thursday, February 08, 2007

Re-Vamping the World

In the 1985 August/September issue of the Utne Reader, in an article entitled Revamping the World, Deena Metzger puts forth an challenging concept to consider in a post-feminist context. She challenges both men and women to consider the body and eros as a vehicle of communion, restoration, and redemption instead of merely recreation, or anesthetization.

Metzger decries the limits of the last wave of Western feminism, stating it negates women's inherent power in its disavowal of female body itself, its inherent receptivity. She is disturbed by what she views as the attempts of women to refashion themselves using traditional male, Western models of power and achievement. She believes that women, trying to access a kind of power based in patriarchy, are losing their inherent strength. It is a strength of intuition, and connectivity, a strength that Metzger herself struggled to embrace.

This is not a new belief for us. Our roots, our spirituality before the conquest is rife with images of cosmic coupling. It is a spirituality based on a cyclic wisdom, linked to eternal regeneration contained in bodies of our dioses y diosas, and within ourselves.

Metzger's idea of female power is one that is frankly, clearly sexual. It is not ashamed of the body and its uses, but rather uses that body as the primary vehicle for reconnection and redemption. A very different notion for the traditional ideas of female sexuality I encountered through a Catholic upbringing. Metzger finds it ironic, and somewhat dangerous that women are trying to fashion themselves into men, rather than men and women reconnecting with a holistic view of the body, the spirit and the planet.

According to Metzger, what is necessary is a vision that re-sanctifies the body of woman, both literally and figuratively. I was deeply moved and challenged by Metzger's assertion that a return to the body and its rhythms that will have a global impact on consciousness and society; that once reconnected, we must be charged with nurturing and protecting our communities and the larger world beyond.

In describing a meditation in which she encountered an image that forever altered her life, Metzger writes that she was irrevocably altered by an image that appeared in a guided meditation. In it, she confronts her own dread in encountering a large, luminous, all encompassing image of a goddess figure. This following quote reveals what this encounter made her realize. Metzger states it is precisely the role of women to embrace their sexuality, not only for themselves, but as a tool of revolution, healing and social change.

It means that we must become vamps again, sexual-spiritual beings, that we must act out of eros. This means we must alter ourselves in the most fundamental ways. We cannot become the means for the resanctification of society unless we are willing to become the priestesses once more who serve the gods not in theory and empty practice, but from our very nature. It means that we must identify with eros no matter what the seeming consequences to ourselves. Even if it seems foolish, inexpedient, even if it makes us vulnerable, it means that we cannot be distracted from this task (of re-feminizing the planet) by pleasure, power, lust or anger. It requires a sincere rededication.

As contradictory and difficult a commitment it may be, she calls upon women, (I would also argue that men must consider this as well) to become Holy Prostitutes, reconsecrating their bodies to vamp and revamp the world.

What are the implications of such a stance? What call to action is Metzger making? What does it mean to revamp a society?

First, I think it means we ask ourselves with whom are we having sex, and why? Is it pleasure alone, is it distraction, is it sedation, is it a way to control? For our young people especially, is it sport sex, trophy sex, where the physical, emotional and spiritual stakes are high? But I think we would be doing Metzger and ourselves a deep, deep, disservice if this article were read as a call to harken back to the sixties, seeking the answer in a massive love-in of sorts, some narcotic tidal coupling that will magically cures all ills.

What does Metzger mean by transforming one's self into the Holy Prostitute? What is the connection between her assertion and our daily lives? Again, Metzger throws down the proverbial gauntlet.

It is to commit to eros, bonding, connection, when the (Western) world values thanatos, separation, detachment...So it is not sex we are after at all, but something far deeper....The task is to accept the body as spiritual, and sexuality and erotic love as spiritual disciplines, to believe that eros is pragmatic. To honor the feminine even where it is dishonored or disadvantaged.

As an artist and writer, I was moved on the deepest level by her challenge to 'Re-vamp' the world. 'Re-vamping' calls us to use the power of the body, free from the shame of patriarchal culture to change the world. It is the supreme play on words, with Metzger throwing down the gauntlet to readers, challenging us to rededicate ourselves to eros. It requires fully reclaiming sexuality as vehicle of connection, not merely in the literal sense, however. It means merging body and spirit and in some way developing a personal practice that we must we offer to the community-at large.

This idea of revamping the world has inspired me to explore movement-based ritual pieces where I examine, exploit, recover, and reveal my own physicality and sexuality. To begin to reconnect with eros in these pieces has meant taking my personal story, distilling it and recasting it with poetry, spoken word and dance. Metzger mentions thanatos, separation, and detachment as the benchmark of Western culture. These ideas are precisely what I want to contradict. It has forced me to more deeply connect with my body, its sensuality, to sharpen and hone that sense of physicality in order to use it as a conduit for narrative. Each of the pieces has some element where I ‘vamp’ the audience, communicate with them in a visceral, voluptuous way.

It has also influenced me to write work that is explicit, where sex is a metaphor and a commentary, and to risk being vulnerable in other work, in the rest of my writing, and my personal life.

Metzger closes her article with a series of questions that I'm enclosing, hoping it will fire your imagination as it did mine.

Whom do I close myself against?
When do I not have the time for love or eros?
When do I find eros inconvenient, burdensome, or inexpedient?
When do I find eros dangerous to me?
When do I indulge in the erotic charge of guilt?
Where do I respond to, accept, provoke the idea of sin?
When do I use sexuality to distract rather than commune?
When do I reject eros becuase I am rejected?
When do I abuse the body?
How do I reinforce the mind/spirit?
When and how do I denigrate the feminine?
When do I refuse the gods?
When do I pretend to believe in them?
When do I accept the gods only when they serve me?
How often do I acquiesce to the "real world?"

It's been over ten years since I first read this article. I won't pretend to agree with all of it, or have fully integrated the things that resonated with me. In that respect, I'm still a work-in-progress. What I do know is this: I'm interested in waking up, in staying awake, in connecting with others personally and within the body politic. I want to talk about storytelling and its healing potential, and the communal experience of the body. Metzger's article shook me up, challenged me, made me think, and I hope it's the beginning of a conversation between us.

A post script from Deena Metzger's site: "Re-vamping the world: On the return of the Holy Prostitute." Utne Reader, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August/September 1985. Reprinted in: To Be A Woman, The Birth of the Conscious Feminine, ed. Connie Zweig, Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. Los Angeles; Critique, ed. Bob Banner, P.0. Box 91980, West Vancouver,B.C., V7C 4S4. #33, Spring 1990; Enlightened Sexuality, Essays on Body-Positive Spirituality, ed. George Feuerstein, The Crossing Press, 1989; Iron Mountain, Florence, Colorado, Spring 1986, Vol. 1, No. 4; Reprinted (in expanded form) Anima, Chambersburg, Pa., Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring equinox 1986. Green Egg, 1996


Anonymous said...

Very, very thought provoking, Lisa. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This is an intriguing, thought-provoking article by Lisa Alvarado, and it's inspired me to explore the topic further.

As an artist and writer, I could relate to this bit in particular: "I'm interested in waking up, in staying awake, in connecting with others personally and within the body politic. I want to talk about storytelling and its healing potential, and the communal experience of the body."

Well said!

msedano said...

it is just me, or does metzgar's perspective seem exclusively heterosexual?

lisa, have you read alma luz villanueva's naked ladies? the characters who love have no difficulty with eros, sexuality, or gender issues, among one another.

Lisa Alvarado said...

Michael -- excellent point, and certainly one of the limits of her piece. For me re-vamping would absolutely include all relationships, and the idea of eros would have to include the ecstatic connection between men and men, men and women, women and women, trans and bi-identified. (Other work of Metzger's is certainly more inclusive, influencing and collaborating with such women as Adrienne Rich and Linda Hogan.)

From that more inclusive perspective, you certainly can move toward a fuller, truer, revisoning of who we are and how we should live. The foundation for a new society built on unifying body/mind/spirit cannot fall into the trap of homophobia, either directly or by omission.

Alma Luz Villanueva's naked ladies! Truly a wonderful book. Also thought provoking is Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body.

Anonymous said...

I don't doubt this was as "crazy" a post as La Bloga readers ever saw here. It was for me, as least.

That said, I had to read between the lines somewhat before I realized this post is something of a "roots of my philosophy" article, something I think all Bloguistas have written in one form or another, perhaps not labeling it as such.

Despite however much it might have "shocked" me or some readers, on the one hand it raised deep questions about many things, not the least of them: how we (m/f) view feminism, etc. in the year 2007. It might have also raised the bar for how we discuss questions of identity--Chicano identity, as well.

I have to admit I'm too distant from all the "feminine mystiques" to fully appreciate or understand all that's contained in your piece. I still appreciated the insights and pensamientos. I'll keep this post in mind when reading future posts to see how it applies.

Thanks Lisa for giving my brain a twirl and putting your Self out there so eloquently.

Lisa Alvarado said...

Thank, Rudy for taking the time out
from sabbatical to comment. You're right, this was a personal philosophy statement of sorts, and hopefully an invitation to dialogue with others.

Believe me, the concepts in Metzger's original article shook me up, too, but I think that's the point. Wake up, be moved from your (and mine) comfort zone to look at a possible underpinning of things.

And La Bloga seems to me, a garden expansive enough to hold flowers of many kinds....

One last thing, I saw this quote and thought I'd share it.

“What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?”

Ursula K. LeGuin

8:47 AM