Monday, January 27, 2014

My Apologies to Past Inamorata

By: Matthew Cuffaro 

This post introduces semiotics, the study of signs, in a philosophical formulation of sex. This claim is not principally bioethical, if we understand that bioethics is the extension of ethics to fields with a technicality that often demands both a masterful technical understanding and philosophical prowess. However, this method of conceptualizing sex utilizes understandings from a previously distant intellectual tract to forge a novel method of contemporary ethical thought. Current bioethics has failed on this point, much to its detriment.

Firstly, two disclaimers:
While the themes of sexual semiotics papers may stress the boundaries of bioethics, it is helpful to know that the roots of philosophy are in that body— the distinction between ethics and bioethics blurs at the flesh.
Further, because “sex” is such a vague term in academic discussion, I leave it undefined. Sex could be from foreplay, penetration, or even a particularly witty discussion-courtship. A couple will be used as the example, but the specifics, such as sex and gender, style, orientation, setting, etc. are variable.
Not all sexual encounters appear out of the void; they are usually prefaced by something to arouse the mood. Whatever arouses the mood is usually based off a list of characteristics that the interpreter can vividly imagine but probably murkily articulate. These characteristics, such as swaying hips, musculature, skin tone, are articulations themselves, because they speak for the otherwise silent figure flying across the ballroom, which only leaves impressions (like footprints in the sand).

These characteristics are then positively buzzing with the possibility of influencing the impression of the person of interest; this potential influence is a recharacterization of them, so that the next impression will be accompanied by recognizably sexual features. We can, with an almost offensive ease, recharacterize the space enclosing this encounter. If the person of interest perhaps stole your mortal soul when they picked up that punch, the very room and its objects will be irradiated with meaning, each like a phylactery. I understand this happens frequently to couples with particular songs, movies, classes, workplaces, pen pads, etc.

Room, song, or person, each item then becomes its own place, because they are spaces infused with interpreter’s wild and private meanings.[1] A lover can use this to the couple’s advantage by uncovering old songs, re-enacting older charms of the relationship, or transforming a space into a loving place with the insertion of these meaningful signs. Yet, there can always be novelty, and either way the lover guides the mood through articulations—the most arousing actions from a lover can move a couple to a sexual encounter the same way a rogue percussive sound can invoke horrors in a PTSD-afflicted veteran; both open a world unto themselves.

Whether or not the arousal was arranged or accidental, it appears that it automates the couple into the sexual mode as if they were guided there. In a sexual encounter, each phase seems to proceed fluidly as if the lovers were guided as well. The idea that each sign is not just an indicator but a motivator is the theme here, because it seems to relieve the lovers’ self-consciousness. Neuroticisms, ninny-picking, wandering trains of thought are eroded as the sexual encounter assumes small tiers of consciousness in its participants. This is more prominent in sex; actions seem to be reflexive and talking seems absurd. In the more passionate throes of sex, lovers may be consumed with each other. The lovers become responsible for a spectrum of emotions in the other: they become their pain, struggle, angst, suspension, hope, and pleasure. It is almost if the lovers, only for a moment, wish to –in a very physiological way—forget that there is a psychic difference between them, and while they may object to physical fusion, the emotional will have to do.

If such potent experience is accurately described here, then it summarizes how many fields of contemporary philosophical thought can discuss sexuality in a cogent way. Though sexuality is still intellectually murky, it is suspended between what we might say are medical and philosophical realms desperate for each other’s enrichment. Cooperation may be difficult because the canonical, arcane concepts from philosophy can quickly annex and impede comprehension from other professions.

To ameliorate this problem, bioethics is the representative of ethical study in the very least; it mediates between two academically distant fields providing insight into political issues such as fetal and patient rights while formulating theory and architecture. The semiotic argument above, is another form of this philosophical application—preparing a consistent framework into our understanding of sexual practice to illuminate its influence in our social and individual practice.

Matthew Cuffaro is a philosophy student at the University of South Florida with a concentration in the philosophies of mathematics and religious studies. 

[1] People are not necessarily spaces insofar as they take some up, and songs are on an entirely different physical order, but they are both invitations to a completely different world themselves.

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