The following letter from Judy Bratten, a regular contributor to THE SUN, was the inspiration for this section on the sacred and the profane. I reply below. Betsy Campbell-Blackwell did the interviews, then answered for herself.
Judy and I have disagreed before, and remain friends. We were married for six years, the occasion of considerable illumination on the subject.
I was quite impressed with the April issue of THE SUN, for it is a remarkable reflection of you. For you both are the most interesting combination of the sacred and the profane that I have met.
The Ram Dass piece was excellent, so was the Stewart interview, and so overcame much of the mixed feelings I had about some of the other articles, cartoons and poems. I particularly want to respond to the editorial since little has been written in “liberal” terms on the other side of the issue that is not emotional or high pitched.
I think your logic is at fault when you write about obscenity. Granted, it is difficult to define and it takes many forms. But in this case we are discussing one form of obscenity: the abuse of our sexual passions and energy. Bringing in cigarette advertising, murder and Nixon’s memoirs is not the point. It’s very childish, in fact; like saying to one’s parents, “You cheat on your income tax, why can’t I steal from the local candystore?” The point is they are both wrong, or if I may use the word immoral.
The argument is that pornography never hurt anyone. I suppose that’s true if you mean physical brutality. But it wounds the soul, batters the spirit, and has saddened many hearts, as you and I know only too well. I know of several marriages it has ruined. And several people who have spent more creative energy in satisfying their sexual urges than in helping another human being. I admit that I doubt there is a direct relation between pornography and physical rape, but I do believe it contributes to the psychic rape of many.
You know I am not saying that sex is dirty. One does not condemn food or eating when one condemns gluttony. It’s when a lower passion takes dominance that we who believe in the spiritual development of human beings become concerned.
Now the question is, can one “legalize” morality? One attempt was tried with Prohibition, but that was a silly, inhuman law which did not work. But it does show that people feel a need for an authority to help them. Unfortunately, all these moral issues become very emotional and heated and citizens have difficulty in working out sensible, moral structures. But I do believe that a community has a right to forbid activities that are morally and spiritually degrading. I have said many times before that freedom without responsibility is worthless. And just as each individual chooses the limits he puts on his activities, sometimes the citizenry decides that, as a community, there must be limitations on a certain activity. It is a difficult thing to do, and too often there is too much hysteria, but I believe it could, and should, be done if we are truly concerned with the welfare of ourselves and our fellow citizens.
Pornography is a selfish, degrading (especially to women) and fruitless distortion of an energy that could be used to give joy, transmit love, and express a union which the Jews, for example, believe is as close to God as one can get. The Eastern philosophies instruct us how to redirect that energy to even more creative ends. Certainly, there is an attraction to the profane in all of us — but why serve it?
I am writing this at four in the morning. I just woke up with it all in my head and felt I ought to write it down. I don’t think I’ve been emotional about the issue. I tried to write as rationally and lovingly as I could. I hope you understand then why I still find some of THE SUN a bit repugnant. But we all change, hopefully for the better.
God bless you.
And may God bless you, Judy, as He blesses the purveyors of filth, the Larry Flynts and the pimps for masturbators and the pimply teenagers they carry over the edge, and down the slide to a lonely sleep. And the other pimps, with their Bhagavad-Gitas, their lust for bliss that stiffens the spine, loosens the eyes, and lets the Lord’s own honey shoot through them.
May He bless the Church, may he bless the cross and the stake, may he bless the rack. Those who live for Truth, and those who kill for it.
When Ghandi was shot, he said “Ram” — God. He lived so totally in God’s presence that he even embraced his assassin. “Ram,” not “Fuck you.”
Of course, Ghandi was a saint, whereas those who feel morally and spiritually degraded by Hustler magazine are not saints, merely human beings leaning toward the light, with all their heavy baggage of ambition, greed, and fear. If they chant a throaty “Fuck you” for Hustler, perhaps it is because they have not learned, like Ghandi, to see God everywhere — cop and robber; bullet and scream; degraded flesh, decaying flesh, flesh on the wing and in the yearning — and still imagine they can be degraded spiritually by another. My own chant, husky, between the shadow, and the sun, is that we create our own reality, and the challenges we set for ourselves are the circumstances of our lives. Hating pornography is an attachment no more or less than craving it. Shall we compare scars? Naked before God’s love, his terrible Fire, shall we see our killer face, our rapist face, our Nazi face flare for instant and be consumed? Stripped, of clothes and “self” respect, shall we smile for the camera, or smash the lens? And when we are marched, just so naked, to the showers, and learn that gas, not water, is Heaven’s gift, shall we cry the name of God, or cry, dear Lord, for Eichmann’s ass?
Judy, we visited Dachau, and saw the tourists taking photographs to slip into their albums between the coo-coos and the kegs. No naked woman will make a picture so dirty. And we, born Jewish, shall we say that scene degraded us? Born human, on a planet of dark and light, shall we legislate against the setting sun? We are heir to more seeming evil than the mind can bear — every German who “felt a need for an authority” to help him; every Christian who took up the sword for Christ; I could go on, forever, but why boil the blood when the oceans are already heaving? We, who are “truly concerned with the welfare of ourselves and our fellow citizens,” must embrace heaven and hell,
kiss the ass of the devil and eat shit; fuck his horny barbed cock, fuck the hag, and all the celestial angels and maidens perfum’d and golden — and then love the human: wives husbands and friends
see clearly how heaven is hell’s seed and flower, and vice versa, and understand, if history be understood, that the world cannot be made “safe,” for democracy, or morality, or a “spiritual” sex. In God’s garden, we may trample flowers, or open like flowers to the sun; if our suffering teaches us why we suffer, it is grace, for it takes us to God — and all our suffering leads that way, so what is not God’s grace?
Yet, infants are thrown into incinerators, grown-ups cheat on income tax; we are social animals and live by rules; I agree with you, freedom makes no sense without responsibility. Once, I imagined that reading The New York Times every morning made me responsible; today I would no sooner fill my head with that crap than sit before the TV all morning, or read Hustler. But I needed to experience it, to find out that responsibility, for me, means something other than being “informed” about “the news.” Just as I once needed to look at pictures of naked women to discover, and at what cost, the hidden alleys of my sexual imagination, the summer heat and stink of it, the sunlight hitting at strange angles, and a truer vision, and a way out.
Shall we throw Hustler and the Times into the fire? And, years from now, when these words and this argument are forgotten, shall we make into a funeral pyre the “spiritual” tracts we now so revere, those that spell out for us the right way, when we’re all heading the same way? The argument forgotten, because there is none. The sum of our lives a question made flesh, and the answer the same for all.
What’s most sacred to you?
Lovingness that’s exchanged between people.
I was going to say murder, but I want to enlarge that to abuse of another person’s body or spirit.
— Andrea Ayvazian, 25, nursing student, Chapel Hill
What’s most sacred to you?
Community of hearts, of spirits, of love, is most sacred. The love that I hold for God and how that is reflected. The blessed relationship that I have with my partner and friends. It makes you pray you can use it as your fuel.
I don’t think pornography is profane. I don’t think Times Square is profane. What I think is profane is that some people are born into Father-Knows-Best families and some are whores at nine. I can’t look at these women in Times Square and go, “Tch.Tch. Tch. You shouldn’t be peddling pussy.” I can’t do that. They never had a chance. The injust inequities are profane.
— Leslie Ayvazian, 28 actress, New York City.
What is most sacred to you?
What’s most profane?
I don’t know how to describe it. The source of evil forces, from which evil comes.
— Kevin Cohan, 23
What’s most sacred to you?
Sacredness is treating everything as if it were yourself; sacredness is complete unselfishness.
Profanity is base selfishness, conscious selfishness. It’s profane because you’re denying yourself.
— Sally Youngs, 23.
What’s most sacred to you?
Money and awareness.
Profanity is when a person’s brain is too close to their mouth. I’d also like to say that the devil has many disguises and one of them is organized religion.
— Jimmy Dobbins, repairman, raises Dobermans.
What’s most sacred to you?
Individual worth. But there are limits on that. I don’t respect the individual worth of Hitler.
An unquestioning mind I find intolerable. I do not like people that take things at face value. I dislike people that base their lives on unquestioned assumptions. Making light of the human condition, making fun of something that others find serious. Playing on someone’s vulnerability — that’s profane.
— Ann Gell
What’s most sacred to you?
My children, my wife, privacy. A good mind is sacred. Something I’d respect and want to preserve. A good class.
Violence. Not only physical, but intellectual bullying. Violence to people’s feelings.
— Jeffery L. Obler, political science professor, UNC-Chapel Hill.
What’s most sacred to you?
Sacred is something you can’t even talk about. The fact that it is sacred means you can’t put it into words; the feeling is so deep and heartfelt. Being out in close contact with nature is a sacred thing, feeling what’s around you, feeling sacred about yourself.
Profane depends on my mood, some kind of morality inside myself. I try to stay out of places. . . . I can’t think of anything profane, except some people I’m around It’s not a thing, it’s what they’re doing. An acquaintance, who is married, at a party. She was sickening, carrying on with other men. Maybe I felt like she didn’t treat her marriage or love reverently. Her values were so different from mine. I don’t feel like we could talk. A feeling of distance.
— Lynn Patrick, 25.
What’s most sacred to you?
Taking it easy. Sitting under a tree with a cool breeze, I guess.
If I lost my apartment. Or dying.
— Randy, 22.
An elderly man, in a suit and hat, doesn’t stop walking as he’s asked, What’s most sacred to you?
Blank. No comment.
An elderly woman, laden with bulging shopping bags, perspiring heavily, is asked, What’s most sacred to you?
You don’t understand. I just go to work everyday.
I do, too. It’s nice to be off now, huh? What’s the most sacred, the most wonderful thing you can think of?
You don’t understand. I work. I go to work everyday.
Is that the most wonderful thing that’s happened to you?
I don’t ever think about it. I work every day.
What’s the most profane thing, the most terrible thing?
You don’t understand. I just work. I work every day.
Hal Richman, who owns The Chapel Hill Trading Company and writes for THE SUN, thought about it overnight.
There is much that is profane: acts against God, acts against Dharma, acts against self. It’s profane that humans are brutally beaten and kicked; shocked by CIA-funded wires; raped by dogs; mutilated with clubs, eyeballs on the floor; burned by beds of red-hot wires around the world — while I sip pena cullatas in St. Martin or eat a quart of Breyers. Or is it profane if this were to happen to us, or did it already happen to us at Dachau? Well, was that profane or was there some metaphor behind the horror? Is something profane because it has no meaning, or meaning we don’t like?
That which is profound or sacred is easier. Non-aggression. A sense of being in the world. Simplicity, directness. Or is something sacred because it gives us hope of the future or great confidence that we are all intact now and on the right side? Would the world be profound during an age of enlightenment, during which all sentient beings on all planes practised Dharma? There would still be the sweat of hard work and patience. The mountains would not rumble nor move but would rest, soundly, with drops of water making their mark.
Robert Donnan, a musician and writer.
Sacred and profane? I’ve lost sight of that distinction.
“I’m going downtown tomorrow to ask Franklin Street what it thinks is sacred and profane,” I tell him. He’s interested, but more interested in what’s in the refrigerator. It’s his night to cook. I put on a nightgown, pad barefoot around the house to the front yard, sit down and watch the fireflies burn brighter and brighter in a starless sky. Steve brings the bowls outside.
“Can I ask you a really personal question?” he says. I’m startled. What would my husband want to know that he doesn’t already from sleeping with me, cooking my food, cleaning my toilet and tub?
“What’s most sacred to you?”
I realize I’m not sure. I think, for some reason, of the Methodist hymnal. I remember sitting in the children’s choir, purple hymnal in my hand, sitting patiently through the sermon, completely entertained with my pretense that I am one inch tall, and have to figure out a way to get from the tallest organ pipe to the crucifix on the altar below.
“Well?” he asks.
I think about being melodramatic, and saying, “Oh, your blue eyes, darling,” or “Your dirty socks and my bad breath.” But I decide to be as honest as I can. I remember something I once read in a book by Alice Bailey: “At the center of all love I stand, and naught can touch me here. From this place I will go forth to love and to serve.”
I think of the sacred heart. I tell him this:
“To me, the sacred heart is the same as that Hindu word, ‘Namaste.’ It’s like Ram Dass says — when you say namaste you honor the place within you where, if you are in that place and I am in that place within me, there is only one of us. Nothing can touch you in that place because there’s no otherness to touch you; there’s only the flow of the sacred heart, the eternal balance.
“Listen to your own heartbeat. It’s like a radio signal from God, from Us, a constant reassurance the whole time we’re on this plane that you think you’re away from home but you’re not. I AM within. What a tune that is. That kind of music is balanced, the rhythm never cuts up or plays jokes.”
When I was younger, I listened to my heartbeat the way a child listens to the ocean’s roar in a conch shell. Being able to revisit that part of my life has something to do with my being willing to open doors, open windows, agreeing to be a part of God’s play.
The open window. The face of a clown in sculptured plastic on the wall by the bedroom door. The last thing I see every night as I go to sleep. Mama’s hand on the clown’s nose. “Good night, girls.” She flips the nose — CLICK — and the light miraculously shrinks into an elongated ribbon outlining the almost-closed door. I lay there, in the darkness, before sleep comes, watching time become distended, waiting for the involuntary quietness as I listen to my heartbeat, the inevitability of the ocean tides, a feeling that makes me happy and sad: nowhere to hide from it. And I revel in that.
In those liquid moments between waking and sleeping, my breath would sink deeper and deeper until it vanished somewhere, curled up in my heart, a fragile life with velvet skin and large dark eyes, its hand in mine, as we listened together to the heart’s song of perfect balance.
— Betsy Campbell-Blackwell
One can of course not be certain it is necessarily bad to live in a country where almost every commodity is festooned with sexual symbol. Under nice circumstances it may not be deadening to vitality. But then we do not have the beginnings of nice circumstance. There is no one of power who has a tongue to say that sex has become the centre of our economy, and so the commodities which wall the years of our lives are not going to be presented to us for what they are: machine-made sacraments closer to the consumer than the bread and wine of his Host. Sex comes to us now at the end of a productive process, and it is heavy with biological guilt, for the urge to mate is dying in us and we need the spice of a dead object. The punishing trip to a flesh outside us is beginning to seem less attractive than the machine we buy, the consumer is beginning to leave his desire to mate for the desire to hunt down his happy and faithful fetish.
But to put one’s dream of love into the deadness of an object is to drift on the wind of the psychotic. The heart of the insane lives in the wish to move away from life outside oneself, grow God-like in the vault of the brain, and then move on to give the schizophrenic’s gift of life to what does not have life and never can (short of that interesting moment when God decides that machines deserve more of His attention than do we).
The bleak drift of a national sex-life which depends on commodity has become so acute that it is possible the raw (that is, pure) works of pornography, the strip-shots, the five-dollar pamphlets, the magazines of the tit, the comic books, and the obscene movies, are less crippling to the mind than the respectable products of the respectable economy: a sixteen-year-old boy closeted in the bathroom with the photo of a prostitute is laying the physical ground of his neurosis — he will pay later in bad reflex, pinched orgasm and nervous guilt, but at least he is not looking for a fetish — on the contrary, he is beginning his search for a mate. If he paralyses most of his chances by looking for satisfaction to come out of himself, he is at least still staring out— his dream is how climactic it would be to find such a woman in the real.
That much deserved to be said for pornography. It must also be said that pornography gives no preparation for sex. In the pornographic dream, all comings come together, the torso is lithe, the smell is clean, pleasure arrives like manna. What a shock for the sensitive adolescent when he finds the courage to capture his first sex. For good, by times, as it may be, there are dead small corners for which he is not prepared, and responsibility he never knew. Nothing in the life of his fantasy prepared him for tenderness, for war, for the tragic need of sex to move into love or be chilled to something else.
— Norman Mailer, Advertisements for Myself
Now, the state really has given me an excellent education — you know, continual prosecution and defense. Now, what is obscene? Obscenity — I’ll hip you to something — it’s the prurient interest. If I do a show about eating garbage, or dead children, or necrophilia, and you say
“That’s the most disgusting — ” No that’s not obscene. It’s disgusting, distasteful — but not obscene.
Or if I do a show and I talk about what sluts the Voodoo ritualists’ wives are, or if I say that about the Pope’s mother, or rabbis, etc. — that’s not obscene. If I do a show blaspheming Voodoo:
“Voodoo is fulla crap!”
“Well, he’s not right, and he’s blasphemous.” But if I blaspheme the Voodoos, the Catholics or the Patamonza Yoganondas, that is not obscene.
If I say, “Shit in your fist and squeeze it!” Not obscene for two reasons.
One, because of a new ruling in the Supreme Court that if it describes narcotics, the word shit is not obscene. In other words, if you shit in your pants and smoke it — you’re cool. That’s in the picture The Connection.
And also, because to be obscene, I must stimulate you sexually. That’s what obscene is — the prurient interest: if I get you horny. That’s it.
Now, as far as me, if you get horny with me — well, that’s good: the witness there would be very interesting:
“What did he say that was horny?”
“Well, whenever I hear the old glutius maximus, it gets me this rod on, heh, heh . . . ”
That’s why the obscenity laws are very embarrassing to the judicial system. Because of the latest decision, you hear the judges say, “You’re taking the teeth out of the law. How can we administer justice?” And the problem is that there’s no such thing as First Amendment punishment, just protection.
You know, the literal view of the law is that what’s obscene is dirty screwing and fancy screwing. If a guy can tear off a piece of ass with class, then he’s cool; but if the author depicts factory workers who are not experts with stag shows, then it’s obscene, which is just nonsense.
Tract Home Chippy, for example, would be the trite pulp book. Tract Home Chippy. The good book, they’ve accepted then, is D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly’s Lover. All right. Now, it’s really absurd. You’ve got two books. You’ve got Lady Chatterly’s Lover, and we’ve got here, Tract Home Chippy.
Now we got two couples in each book. D. H. Lawrence’s couple, they’re not married, but he knows how to handle the scene. Nothing patently offensive: there’s silk sheets, lebesraum — I mean the guy knows how to go about it.
Let’s go to Tract Home Chippy. They’re factory workers. They’re both virgins. I mean, page after page and this guy doesn’t know how to do anything. Never did it before. He’s ripping the clothes, conveying of semen before the penetration, didn’t wear a contraceptive — it was disgusting!
Let’s go back to D.H. Lawrence. This guy can really tear up a piece of ass — the third broad he’s on already. I mean this book was really stimulating — you felt like going out, getting a broad . . .
That’s what it is, it’s absurd:
“So, in the opinion of this court, we punish untalented artists.”
Which could never be, man.
But as far as disgusting is concerned — the reason we left England was just for that right, to be disgusting. If there’re any immigrants out here, by the way, who are thinking of becoming citizens, then you might be offended by some of the statements made by Jesuits or rabbis, concerning their gods, that would deny your gods. That’s not against the law in this country. Or you Chinese people who might hear your god referred to as “A fat slob, the Buddha” — but that’s our right.
In fact, that’s why we left England years ago — because we couldn’t bitch about the church, the Anglican Church, we Protestants. And we had underground meetings.
“I’m tired of this shit, let’s get somewhere else, let’s go to a different country where we can have our meetings and be Protestants. Let’s go somewhere else so we can be disgusting. And do disgusting shows. No one can stop us — flaunt it in their faces.”
“Well, go in front of a synagogue and sing about pork.”
“That disgusting? What about the Moslems?”
“Fuck ’em. The Jews too, and the vegetarians.”
Cause that’s our right — to be disgusting.
Prurient interest. That’s it. To the immigrant: If, after the show, and taken as a whole, there’s no redeeming social factor to this show, but if the show does appeal to your prurient interest, if you’re sitting there with a hard-on after I get off, then I should get busted. That’s the way it is, that’s the way it goes.
But if you’re disgusted, well that’s your ass, that’s my right, because I’ll sing about pork, and wail about it.
Oh. Back to obscenity. The law relates and justly so, that I should be allowed the poetic license of theatre. Legit theatre is not censured that way. So this is my theatre, my platform, and, of course, when all the facade is schlepped away — that word that I said, if that word stimulated you sexually, well, you’re in a lot of trouble, Jim.
And I’m sure your father will be quite unhappy.
— The Essential Lennny Bruce, edited by John Cohen