Maybe It Really Was Two Minutes In Heaven

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Episode 18 of VM, which I discussed yesterday, opens with Veronica making out with Deputy Leo (whose reappearance near the end of season 3 is a much needed bright spot) before her front door. He wonders why he's never been invited in and wants, he says, "to get a really good, long look at your bedroom ceiling."

"Wow! College girls must be easy," she replies.

The focus of the scene is the talking, not the kissing. There's no dramatic music, nothing unusual in the camera shot. You understand, from everything in the scene itself, that these two people like each other, but you also understand that Leo likes Veronica a lot more than she likes him. I thought Deputy Leo was a great character and was sorry Veronica wasn't nicer to him. But the show doesn't intend for them to have incredible chemistry, and they don't. The show does intend for Veronica and Duncan to have incredible chemistry, and they still don't.

The show intends for Veronica and Logan to have incredible chemistry, and they do. And it makes sense that they do. Because as they work together on things like finding out who stole the money at the poker game, what's going on with the various witnesses who claim to have seen Lynn Echolls jump off the bridge or ride away in a van, who is using the credit cards of Logan's supposedly dead mother, they come to see one another's virtues and vulnerabilities.

The kiss signifies something complicated and wonderful: they've discovered they have an emotional connection. As they acknowledge this emotional connection, it allows for an embodied attraction. (I use that slightly odd phrase because I think it covers more than calling the attraction merely "physical," as opposed to some other sort, like "emotional" or "intellectual." Emotions and thoughts are not just emotional and intellectual, they are embodied, and can cause physiological changes, including alterations in blood pressure, pulse, expression, posture, digestion, etc; and embodiment includes things like the way we carry ourselves, what our voices sound like, and how we adorn or decorate our bodies.) Admitting and acting on that attraction allows their emotional connection to deepen. And lust is part of every aspect of the embodied attraction and connection.

These people want each other, and the kiss makes it clear. OK, it's a pretty tame kiss in a lot of ways: it's just a first kiss, and just first base, and they're juniors in high school, and while Veronica isn't a virgin in that she was roofied and raped while unconscious, she's never had consensual sex she remembers, so she could be considered a kind of psychological virgin. But there are little things, aside from the camera work and soundtrack, that show how passionate this kiss is. One gesture I particularly love is when Logan slides his hand down to the small of Veronica's back and stops there for a moment: he knows that according to the protocol of a first date, his hand can't venture any farther down, but it then allows him to slide his hand back up along her spine--not too far up, mind you--but this time, his hand is under her shirt. The kiss continues a moment longer, before they break apart and stare at each other, alarmed, excited and confused. There's an awkward disengagement from the embrace, then Veronica goes to her car and shrugs at Logan before she gets in and drives away. Days later, after an inconsequential conversation about something else, Veronica will think to herself, "All right-y, Logan. We'll just skip over the two minutes in heaven we had. You want to pretend it never happened? No argument here. My lips, for all intents and purposes, are sealed," but there's virtually no talking involved in this kiss. And it wasn't two minutes in heaven: it was closer to a minute.

I acknowledged Monday that I could watch a fairly explicit, completely naked sex scene I enjoyed and admired, and still not get worked up, because the sex wasn't about me. Whereas this kiss I've just described is, as I've already acknowledged, pretty tame. And yet, as I imagine my account of the details make clear, watching it is a complete turn-on. This is because the kiss replicates both my experience and my fantasies in really lovely ways. The kiss is a nice, accurate representation of what I have been taught to consider the early stages of how you act when you want to deepen not feelings of friendship, nor admiration or respect or esteem (though I think things develop more nicely when you feel all those things), but feelings of lust. And I have found, that just as turned out to be the case with Veronica and Logan, lust can make you feel more kindness, affection, respect and tenderness for the person with whom you explore it.

I grew up being told, flat-out, "Lust is evil." We had countless lessons on it in every venue the church could provide. Lust is evil. Love is pure and virtuous, and completely unconnected to lust, which is evil. Lust is an evil feeling, and the actions that proceed from it are, from start to finish, evil. Never mind that, more than just about any other branch of Christianity, Mormonism is obsessed with sex, scorning and condemning celibacy as abnormal and insisting everyone get married, while the big whoop-de-doo reward of Mormon heaven is that you get to have sex for all eternity, which you wouldn't find much of a prize if you didn't have an active enough libido to experience lust to some degree and with some frequency. In Mormon culture and doctrine, you get married, you have sex, but somehow, you're supposed to do it without feeling lust, feeling only this other, pure desire for children or SOMETHING that is divorced from anything erotic or bodily--again, ironic, since Mormons claim to love bodies, and insist that God has a body.

I don't believe lust is evil, any more than hunger or illness or being incredibly, incredibly cold, or even buoyant good health, all of which can also prompt people to commit evil acts. (I think people get up to mischief sometimes when they're feeling REALLY good.) I believe that the Mormon church's vilification of lust is evil, and one more reason that Utah is the most depressed state in the nation.

All right. I have to run off to meet a student now and I'm going to be late. But I'm still moving towards my final point, and I promise to get there eventually. Thanks for your patience.

3 Comments

Sort of on the point about evil: I've been reading the amazing discussions of Crimean War photographs in Errol Morris's New York Times blog (starting here and followed a link to his own web site. There, he has a little series of entries entitled "The Grump," and the one where he explains why he is a secular anti-humanist struck me as on point here. He quotes Stephen Weinberg first: "With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." But he has one slight disagreement: he says good people do evil things even without religion.

I agree. Consider anthropogenic climate change.

This has been a very interesting set of postings. I’m especially interested in the way you assert the importance of embodiment – we’ve had parts of this conversation already – but I might put things a bit differently. I would not say that thoughts and feelings are not “just” intellectual or emotional; I think they are necessarily embodied, they don’t have another way of existing. This goes back to the mind-body split problem and the way it seems to make us rely on some kind of spark to animate matter in order to understand things: the spark might be a soul or God or Hegel’s Mind, whatever, but something outside of matter is proposed to animate it. I don’t agree with this and it’s not a matter of giving “matter” a priority over “ideas” or the Ideal but of rejecting the split in the first instance.

If that’s a worthwhile premise, then your emphasis on the body and embodiment is pointing helpfully at the way that lust (for example) isn’t some deadly sin as commanded by a super-natural entity, but is an essential part of how bodies work. But at the risk of descending into navel-gazing, it seems to me that this all also raises another question: what is the body? I only figured out that this could be a question because of something I read very much second hand about Susan Buck-Morss. I haven’t read her book The Origin of the Negative Dialectic, but the thing I did read argued with reference to her that we tend to think of the nervous system as a closed system when it might be better to think of it as open. That is, our egos organize experience in such a way as to make us seem like separate, autonomous units that interact with an “outside” world; instead maybe our nervous systems, through sense-perception, don’t operate as separate from the “outside” but as part of the world and the world as part of us.

I don’t think this is an either-or issue. Maybe bodies are “closed” with regard to appetites, itches that need to be scratched. So there’s nothing necessarily philosophically or morally suspect about eating merely to stave off hunger, though there may be something aesthetically, and maybe morally, more appealing about being able to feast in a garden of delights or being able to enjoy foods that have been produced in sustainable and fair and ethical ways.

This is all very hypothetical for me now, very much back-of-the-cocktail-napkin. And probably I’m pointing to a mere terminological difference – though because you’ve clearly given this more thought than I have and especially in the context of your engagement and critique of Mormonism. But I think it helps me, at least, to think of “lust” as an appetite, a scratch to be itched, something that springs from our experience of ourselves as “closed.” In that sense, in lust the other person is objectified – the other may be capable of reciprocally objectifying us as well, I guess, but nonetheless we’re objects. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this – not every meal can be a feast in a garden of delights – though I suppose that to the degree that it presumes a denial of empathy, it does become ethically suspect. But to get to the sensibility you write about in, for example, the kiss shared by Logan and Veronica, I’d want to be able to distinguish their kind of desire from lust – and maybe just call it desire. Desire is part of the open system, it connects the two open bodies and cannot be sated; in its full force, it multiplies itself in both bodies: the desire of one magnifies the desire of the other.

What makes Logan interesting for me is the ambiguity between the apparently spoiled rich kid that is (at least) his façade and the possibly sensitive and compassionate person that leaks through when he’s with Veronica – Logan as “closed” and self-seeking versus Logan as “open” and empathetic. I don’t think they try to resolve the ambiguity and it’s that tension between the closed and open systems that makes his kiss with Veronica so much more exciting that what happens in other relationships in the show. (I think this is partly because Logan is a well-written character and partly because he’s well-acted, unlike Veronica’s other boyfriends).

It seems kind of the same when I think about Buffy’s relationships with Angel and Spike. Angel never manages to stop being self-referential, a closed system. He’s either self-denying and tormented by his bad acts when his “soul” – rather, his conscience – is in place, or he’s a self-indulgent monster. There never seemed to me to be much chemistry between Buffy and Angel – no matter how compelling their itches got, they only ever scratched (or decided to live with the itch). But Spike was much more complex: a sensitive if bloody awful poet, whose first impulse on being given the power of a vampire is to cure his mother and is then haunted by the consequences; his fights with previous slayers are not quick kills: he “dances” with them, putting himself at risk in order to have the contact and make the kill; he falls in love with Buffy even though he doesn’t have a soul. Spike is both open and closed, both connected and self-seeking. And the desire that binds him and Buffy together is never quenched – Angel knows satisfaction or “true happiness” and disappears under Angelus but for Spike and Buffy, desire only breeds more desire. Spike’s struggles are to be worthy of that desire.

Sorry, it’s a very long comment but you got me thinking. I’d be especially interested in whether you think I’m reducing lust too much to define it as an appetite, or if I'm being too binary and dichotomous, or if you think the distinctions I’m trying to draw are too rigid in terms of your critique of the Church and organized religion.

Hi Spike--

Sorry, but I'm not quite sure what you're getting at here, or what you're really drawing on from my post.

I would not say that thoughts and feelings are not “just” intellectual or emotional; I think they are necessarily embodied, they don’t have another way of existing.

Um, given that I wrote "Emotions and thoughts are not just emotional and intellectual, they are embodied," I'm not sure what your point is. OK, I didn't include the word "necessarily," but I cite examples of how emotions and thoughts affect physiology. You know, from reading my work, that I point out repeatedly that everything we think and feel is mediated through our physicality, and that what we "know" is dependent on the information our bodies (including not only our eyes and noses and ears but our intuitions, which are also embodied) communicate to us. Why are you raising this point as if it is an elaboration on or furthering of what I have already written?

I don’t agree with this and it’s not a matter of giving “matter” a priority over “ideas” or the Ideal but of rejecting the split in the first instance.

Again, this is something I have been discussing in my criticism for the past 15 years at least.

But at the risk of descending into navel-gazing, it seems to me that this all also raises another question: what is the body?

this is among the main questions posed by a branch of literary criticism.

Maybe bodies are “closed” with regard to appetites

I can't agree with that. Who hasn't smelled something really delicious and felt their stomach stir? Think of what happens when you catch an unexpected whiff of bread baking. A dear friend who has been a vegetarian for close to three decades said her mouth still waters a little when she smells meat grilling on an outdoor barbeque.

But I think it helps me, at least, to think of “lust” as an appetite, a scratch to be itched, something that springs from our experience of ourselves as “closed.”

This is not really compatible with my way of looking at things, but your analysis of Buffy and her boyfriends is interesting.

You seem to be simply transferring the mind/body split to a split between the self and its environment. I do not believe that any appetite, most of all lust, is part of a "closed" bodily system. It is always experienced--and therefore always satisfied or frustrated--as part of our larger environment, including what we have been taught to consider, in the case of food, delicious or wholesome, or, in the case of sex, righteous or fun or naughty or erotic or whatever. Fantasies, after all, play a huge role in most people's sex lives. What we are thinking or processing psychologically--in terms of setting, other people, clothing or nudity or accessories or toys or lighting or audience or whatever--can have profound influences on how aroused we become, how easily we achieve orgasm. If lust were merely a function of a closed bodily system, that would not be the case.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on December 19, 2007 1:45 PM.

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