The New Freewoman: No. 5, Vol. 1, August 15th 1913.
by Dora Marsden
It is strange to find searchers coming here seeking thoughts, followers after truth seeking new lamps for old, right ideas for wrong. It seems fruitless to affirm that our business is to annihilate thought, to shatter the new lamps no less than the old, to dissolve ideas, the "right" as well as the "wrong". "It is a new play of artistry , some new paradox," they reflect, not comprehending that artistry and paradox are left as the defences of power not yet strong enough to comprehend. If a man has the power that comprehends, what uses has he left for paradox? If he sees a thing as it is, why must he needs describe it in terms of that which is not? Paradox is the refuge of the adventurous guesser: the shield of the oracle whose answer is not ready. Searchers should not bring their thoughts to us: we have no scruple in destroying their choicest, and giving them none in return. They would be well able to repair the depredations elsewhere, however, for nowhere else, save here, are thoughts not held sacred and in honour. Everywhere, from all sides, they press in thick upon men, suffocating life. All is thought and no thinking. _We_ do the thinking: the rest of the world spin thoughts. If from the operation of thinking one rises up only with thoughts, not only has the thinking-process gone wrong: it has not begun. To believe that it has is as though one should imagine the work of digesting food satisfactorily carried through when the mouth has been stuffed with sand.
The process of thinking is meant to co-ordinate two things which are real: the person who thinks and the rest of the phenomenal world, the world of sense. Any part of the process which can be described in terms unrelated to these two - and only two - real parties in the process is redundant and pernicious, an unnecessary by-product which it would be highly expedient to eliminate. Thoughts, the entire world of ideas and concepts, are just these intruders and irrelevant excesses. Someone says, apropos of some change without a difference in the social sphere, "We are glad to note the triumph of progressive ideas." Another, "We rejoice in the fact that we are again returning to the ideas of honour and integrity of an earlier age." We say, leprosy or cholera for choice. Idea, idea, always the idea. As though the supremacy of the idea were not the subjection of men, slaves to the idea. Men need no ideas. They have no use for them (Unless indeed they are of the literary breed - then they live upon them by their power to beguile the simple). What men need is power of being, strength in themselves: and intellect which in the thinking process goes out as a scout, comparing, collating, putting like by like, or nearly like, is but the good servant which the individual being sends afield that he may the better protect, maintain and augment himself. Thinking, invaluable as it is in the service of being, is, essentially a very intermittent process. It works only between whiles. In the nadir and zenith of men's experience it plays no part, when they are stupid and when they are passionate. Descartes' maxim "Cogito ergo sum," carried the weight it did and does merely because the longfelt influence of ideas had taken the virtue out of men's souls. Stronger men would have met it, not with an argument, but a laugh. It is philosophy turned turtle. The genesis of knowledge is not in thinking but in being. Thinking widens the limits of knowledge, but the base of the latter is in feeling. "I know" because "I am." The first follows the second and not contrariwise. The base - and highest reaches - of knowledge lie not in spurious thoughts, fine-drawn, not yet in the humble and faithful collecting of correspondences which is thinking, but in experienced emotion. What men may be, their heights and depths, they can divine only in experienced emotion. The vitally true things are all personally revealed, and they are true primarily only for the one to whom they are revealed. For the rest the revelation is hearsay. Each man is his own prophet. A man's "god" (a confusing term, since it has nothing to do with God, the Absolute - a mere thought) is the utmost emotional reach of himself: and is in common or rare use according to each individual nature. A neighbour's "god" is of little use to any man. It represents a wrong goal, a false direction.
We are accused of "finesse-ing with terms." No accusation could be wider off the mark. We are analysing terms; we believe, indeed, that the next work for the lovers of men is just this analysis of naming. It will go completely against the grain of civilisation, cut straight across culture: that is why the pseudo-logicians loathe logic - indeed, it will be a matter for surprise that one should have the temerity to name the word. So great a fear have the cultured of the probing of their claims that they are counselling the abandonment of this necessary instrument. They would prefer to retain inaccurate thinking which breeds thoughts, to accurate thinking which reveals facts and in its bright light annihilates the shadows bred of dimness, which are thoughts. Analysis of the process of naming: inquiry into the impudent word-trick which goes by the name of "abstraction of qualities": re-estimation of the form-value of the syllogism; challenging of the slipshod methods of both induction and deduction; the breaking down of closed systems of "classification" into what they should be - graded descriptions; _these_ things are more urgently needed than thinkable in the intellectual life of today. The settlement of the dispute of the nominalist and realist schoolmen of the Middle Ages in favour of the former rather than the latter would have been of infinitely greater value to the growth of men than the discoveries of Columbus, Galileo and Kepler. It would have enabled them to shunt off into nothingness the mountain of culture which in the world of the West they have been assiduously piling up since the time of the gentle father of lies and deceit, Plato. It is very easy, however, to understand why the conceptualists triumphed, and are still triumphing, despite the ravages they have worked on every hand. The concept begets the idea, and every idea installs its concrete authority. All who wield authority do it in the name of an idea: equality, justice, love, right, duty, humanity, God, the Church, the State. Small wonder, therefore, if those who sit in the seats of authority look askance at any tampering with names and ideas. It is a different matter from questioning the of _one_ idea. Those who, in the name of one idea do battle against the power of another, can rely upon some support. Indeed, changing new lamps for old is the favourite form of intellectual excitement inasmuch as while it is not too risky, is not a forlorn hope, it yet ranges combatants on opposing sides with all the zest of a fight. But to question _all_ ideas is to leave authoritarians without any foothold whatsoever. Even opposing authorities will sink differences and combine to crush an Ishmaelite who dares. Accordingly, after three quarters of a thousand years, the nominalist position is where it was: nowhere, and all men are in thrall to ideas - culture. They are still searching for the Good, the Beautiful and the True. They are no nearer the realisation that the Good in the actual never is a general term, but always a specific, i.e. that which is "good for me" (or you, or anyone) varying with time and person, in kind and substance; that the Beautiful is likewise "beautiful for me" (or you, or anyone) varying with time and person, in kind and substance, measured by a standard wholly subjective; that the True is just that which corresponds: in certainties, mere verified observation of fact; in doubt, opinion as to fact and no more, a mere "I think it so" in place of "I find it so." As specifics, they are real: as generalisations, they are thoughts, spurious entities, verbiage representing nothing, and as such are consequently in high repute. The work of purging language is likely to be a slow one even after the battle of argument in its favour shall have been won. It is observable that egoists, for instance, use "should," "ought," and "must" quite regularly in the sense which bears the implication of an existing underlying "Duty." Denying authority, they use the language of authority. If the greatest possible satisfaction of self (which is a pleasure) is the motive in life, with whose voice does "Duty" speak? Who or what for instance lays it down that our actions must not be "invasive" of others? An effete god, presumably, whose power has deserted him, since most of us would be hard put to it to find action and attitudes which are not invasive. Seizing land - the avenue of life - is invasive: loving is invasive, and so is hating and most of the emotions. The emphasis accurately belongs on "defence" and not on "invasion" and defence is self-enjoined.
No, Duty, like the rest, is a thought, powerless in itself, efficient only when men give it recognition for what it is not and doff their own power in deference, to set at an advantage those who come armed with the authority of its name. And likewise with "Right." What is "right" is what I prefer and what you and the rest prefer. Where these "rights" overlap men fight is out; their _power_ becomes umpire, their might is their right. Why keep mere words sacred? Since right is ever swallowed up in might why speak of right? Why seek to acquire rights when each right has to be matched by the might which first secures and then retains it? When men acquire the ability to make and co-ordinate accurate descriptions, that is, when they learn to think, the empire of mere words, "thoughts", will be broken, the sacred pedestals shattered, and the seats of authority cast down. The contests and achievements of owners of "powers" will remain.
The New Freewoman: No. 5, Vol. 1, August 15th 1913.
by Dora Marsden
The following remarks are to be considered as pendant arguments to those contained in the article in our last issue, "The heart of the question." A contributor, Mr. Clarence Lee Swartz, raises the objection that the main cause lying at the base of prostitution-the apparently excessive sexual requirements of men as compared with those of women-is systematically ignored in discussions which pretend to deal with the question. He likewise, very courageously, raises the issue of the necessity of prostitution from this aspect of the matter, and points out that this has not been fairly considered and certainly not been disproved. So far, so good: when however the "undersexing" of women is implied as a fact, and for this, Christianity is cited as the cause the argument goes, we think, much too rapidly for acquiescence. On the one hand, prostitution did not make its appearance with Christian morality, nor does it show any signs of diminution now that Christian morality is no longer established even in theory. On the other hand, while one school of theorisers is proclaiming women to be oversexed the assertion that the opposite is the case has to bring its proofs along with it.
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In the preceding article to which we have referred we showed at length that all forms of prostitution are the outcome of the lack of property, or primarily, the lack of the power which leads to the acquisition of property. Psychological effects inevitably follow upon this impoverished condition, and it is upon this condition, or so it seems to us, that the explanation of the phenomena of sex-prostitution rests, rather than upon the sway of Christianity or any other religion or cult.
Externally, prostitution reveals two factors: lust in men (lust is a good crisp word for the use of which there is no need of apology), and a hapless condition among women which makes them surrender themselves as victims to it. This is the accepted picturesque description, a mixture of sinfulness (not altogether uninteresting, be it confessed) and pathos, and to it must be accounted all the excitement and veiled pleasure with which the subject is ordinarily tackled. For the lust, men are held primarily responsible, and the chaste minds of women are held up as pleasing contrasts. It is this view of the matter which makes prostitution in the eyes of many men (and some women) seem inevitable, and which gives to women all the satisfaction of virtue realised when they attack it. During the agitation for the Criminal Law Amendment Act, women and womenlike men have wallowed in righteousness. There has been an orgy of virtuous feeling, highly pleasurable no doubt to all those who shared in it. Yet it was over-hasty, for of the few things of female manufacture in a man-made world, foremost stands this affair of masculine lust. It is women who evoke it, fan it to flame, feed it to keep at fever-heat. They must, since they live, not indeed on it, but by it. It is their mode of eking out an existence, the market they live by. Merchants do not as eagerly await the coming of the cotton laden ships which keep these spindles busy, as women watch for the rising of desire.
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The dismay when it is reluctant to quicken is as sincere as profound. Such a phenomenon will cause to foregather the wise among women, and give to their specifics the respect due to mothers in Israel. The foolish hasten to become wise by instruction. Have they been forward, they will make themselves rare and remote. Have they been obvious, they will seek to become a mystery; they will go veiled, and draped and bonneted. Always however there will be the frill which flutters "Come and find me." To be provocative, they learn that nudity is inferior to clothing. To the womanly women the whole philosophy of dress is just-provocativeness. The frill is not fluttered by men even the most lustful, it will be observed.
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The essential feature of lust is that it is not an expression of a need of the soul. It is merely desire called into consciousness by external stimuli. It is this feature which differentiates it from love, which has birth in the requirements of the personality itself. This explains why, where lust is profligate, love gathers and garners. Lust is answering the wants of a power external to itself, squandering itself: love explores abroad to feed its own. This explains too what has so often appeared paradoxical, the fact that passion is inhibitive: "chaste," if we can use the word, in proportion to its strength. For the cause of lust (and cure if considered necessary) attention must be turned upon those who supply the stimulus: and these are women. Externally, they appear to be the victims: in reality they are causing the onslaught. They effect a continuous attack; their relation to their victims is comparable to that of a magnet to a heap of iron filings. Men succumb, against their will, and usually against their inclination. They are the victims of an art, the most perfected in the world; so perfect that it has become instinct. For we have not in mind the obvious devices of those who frankly pursue seduction as a trade: we are referring to the far greater artist, the "womanly woman," her of the modest air, the veil and the poke bonnet, the gentle still "mystery" which is the masterpiece: the one who "waits to be asked" but waits on such a wise that she must be asked. That still manner suggesting immobility in life, suggests too the promise that it will bear examination: that it has a mystery to reveal which can be explored; and withal life enough to retain interest. But no more; no jarring impetuosities, no self willed determinations: it is the desired of artist, scientist and plain man alike-still life, still enough to be known and yet alive. This is the kind of woman who through all the romantic ages has lured men on; her lure was the suggestion that in her, with the essence of life so quiet that it appeared seizable, would be revealed the genius of life. The passive woman is the subtlest seducer- she, at one and the same time, appears to offer more, and yet offers less than the great run of women, including herself, can. She suggests a mystery, and it is a fraud; she has nothing mysterious to reveal: she suggests too the impossible phenomenon-passive life. She herself having genius of a sort, escapes the results of her work, of propagating a belief that the meaning of life can be revealed objectively. The extraordinary fascination which has attached itself to thc human female form can only be explained by the tactics of the passive woman, the, womanly woman. The preoccupation with the mere form of women (which is the basis of lust) is confined to men, and the fault-if it be such-is women's. Women are not preoccupied with the male form in any appreciable degree at all; the reason is that men ordinarily have sufficient mind to prevent attention wandering from themselves to their physical forms; and women have not. It is quite the hardest thing that could be said of women, the harshest comparison that could be made; but it unhappily cannot be denied. The mindlessness of women recoils upon them at every turn: had they had more mind, they would not have sunk to the condition of propertylessness: had they had mind, even being propertyless, they would not have sunk to the level where it became possible to treat them as mere bodies. Had they had mind, they would not have been content to live by rousing emotions which in the long run visit their distressing evils upon themselves.
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These facts of the situation being kept in view, it seems that the question of the cessation of prostitution is scarcely one for men to answer, but rather for those who are the cause of it-women. It is therefore to be noted that women are more hopeful in the matter than are men. During the last fifty years-to go no further-the awakening of mind in women, the consciousness of personality, and the realisation of the motives behind attitudes and maxims has become a tremendous fact. That it is so is more obvious to women than to men by reason of the necessity with which they are faced of having to refuse the ready-made mental clothing which communities offer to successive generations in the shape of traditions, conventions and codes. The area of its extent is small or great according to the standpoint from which it is viewed. If from the one which it has yet to cover, it is small; if from what progress it has already made, it is vast. And the cessation of prostitution must-and can only-proceed step by step with the growth of mind in women. Consciousness of mind makes such treatment as is accorded to mere body impossible, and it is just such treatment which constitute the phenomena of prostitution. Women as commodities, as "appendages of the uterus," as live-flesh-food, are possible only when such phenomena exist. They can be bought, exhibited, experimented with, only when what they are, is fairly well limited to the possession of such powers as are tractable to such treatment. Mind cannot be denuded, exhibited, "trained" to expose itself. The reserves of personality are denser than clothing: they are impenetrable. We have heard a good deal latterly, too much indeed, of the iniquities of exhibitions of young women, nudities and what not. Mr. Laurence Housman and his friends would we think be well advised if they let the subject drop. The naughtinesses of the nude are as virtues compared with the naughtinesses of the clothed, of the implied "mysteries." Divested of their "wrongess," their furtiveness, and secrecy, tbe melodramatic situations throw off their lurid Mephistophelian character and are revealed for what they are, a silly sort of amusement. The melodramatic qualities with which the situation is invested by morality-to which by the way its existence is a necessity, as in a coin reverse is to obverse-invest it with just that sense of importance as involving moral destiny which enable it to keep up its attractions. A sense of humour would shrivel the situation up and desolate it as the morning light tawdries the scene of a revel. It is the sense of sin which gives it the glow, the warm light and seductive shadows. Remove the moralists from the scene, imagine women with minds and there is precious little left for prostitution to maintain itself upon. . .
The presence of mind in women reacts upon the situation in manifold ways. To be conscious of one's self as a person eliminates to a large extent the consciousness of one self as a mere body. Attention shifts from oneself to that of others; consequently, it fails to be concerned with the little tricks of dress and attitude whose purpose is to focus attention objectively upon bodily features. In short a woman with a mind is not intent upon rousing physical passion in connection with herself. She is amusing herself differently, and by so doing she is failing to exert the ordinary sex stimulus. She gives men a chance to escape by that avenue at least. Lust is permitted to sleep. In the second place, should it not be so, she is not tractable to its satisfaction, any more than men of sensibility could be turned into toys, and treated as things.
But more than any other difference which mind effects is in the fact that it changes women from "negative" to "positive." A great deal of pseudo scientific nonsense has been uttered upon this question of "positive" and "negative." It has been held to be a biological difference inhering in the different genders of the human male and female, the embodiment of some great mysterious underlying law. As a matter of fact, it admits of the homeliest explanation, and the supposed difference vanishes like smoke with the intensification of conscious personality in women. The "negative" characteristic of women was nothing more than a willingness to be effaced: to forego her preferences in order to have others dictated to her: to be amiable, tractable, useful. Her "negativeness" was just her wantlessness, her lack of individual preferences, and personality is exactly the consciousness of individual preference. This explains the heartburnings which the insurgence of women is causing, despite its many obvious advantages. It is necessitating a vast, almost illimitable displacement. When the main thing for women is not what men want but what they want, the ultimatum is issued, the glove is thrown down, the fat is in the fire. Men do not like it; it annoys them, not merely for their own sake but for women's also; it is unwomanly; they are ashamed for them.
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Men's instinctive attitude towards the positive characteristic in women has had a unique chance of displaving itself over the recently published letters of Charlotte Bronte. The commentators have been chiefly men, and the tenour of their comments has been a mixture of quite sincere pity, considerable embarrassment, and a slight shame, the expression being duly moderated, the person being dead. The editor of the "Spectator" feels it is "very painful." That champion of the poor, who originated the spirited retort to the canting philanthropists, "Poo-ah Poo-ah," speaks of her as "this poor soul" (poo-ah also, one may assume). All rejoice to be assured that the thing "went no further," that it had "no sin it." It is a pitiful sight, this complete "domesticising" of the judgment of men, this combined prudery and timidity. The offensive part of their conventional "vices" is that they are hypocritical and furtive. Their fear of scandal, of what "they say," the intrusion of their moral warp between the thing done and their description of it, is a painful spectacle. Since men in spite of their "morals" give way so often to their emotions, it is expected they should have the courage of them, and what they have to say in the presence of a perfectly obvious and recognisable emotion in a woman is indeed a revelation. It explains why silly things have become "bad" things with them. It is quite plain that Charlotte Bronte was "in love with" the person addressed in the letters. What she wanted of him was as much as she could get though probably what she would have accepted was as much as her moral code allowed. There is no certainty however, since being a person of quality, her requirements would probably have assumed a more imperious content than her views. Her wants were of herself; her views would probably have assumed their true character, fancies capable of being dissolved. And certainly in unconventionality for her day, she travelled very far. "I will not submit"- to a wresting away of friendship-the tone of a person of quality with wants more important than another's preferences! It is the positive nature of such wants, the demand for satisfaction which men do not like. To want satisfaction and demand it, is their prerogative. A woman should sit motionless until wanted. "This poor soul." There have been male lovers in plenty who have loved in vain, without eliciting "this poor soul." Rather, they have been admired for their definiteness and pertinacity. True, Charlotte Bronte's womanliness got the better of her. Had she been a man, unanswered letters would not have terminated the matter. A learned elderly bespectacled school mistress would have been compelled to give something other than silence to an ardent young author with all the promptings of realisable power within him. One is led to wonder indeed why Charlotte did not, having gone thus far, seek to settle her doubts in person. For there are no limits to invasive attempts in the emotions. One goes as far as one can. Limits are the concern of the other party.
It is of small purpose to speculate upon the attitude of Monsieur Heger, whose name is preserved to the world, like a fly in amber, only in the stuff of a woman's genius. Probably he was attracted to her as a pupil, but was so taken aback by the intensity of the response that he thought it discreet to retire. Probably it was only a passing incident, not worth wasting good money over, and school revenues soon go down when masters are not the white soul of discretion with their pupils. And tongues readily wag. Still there must have been in this pedagogue a very heart-whole fear of their venom to have held out so resolutely against cries of obvious pain. A cry of pain in an animal, a whimper from a dog, even the writhing of an insect, evidences of pain in any shape or form, we make some effort to mitigate, or end. M. Heger must indeed have been fortified by a virtue and discretion almost heroic to have maintained a position at once so pure and so correct.
At this late day, it strikes observers as curious that letters too insignificant to merit answer at the time they were written, waste paper whereon to note a cobbler's address and suchlike domestic concerns, should have been preserved for three quarters of a century. One would have imagined that these evidences of anguish to one who found himself unable to do anything to alleviate them, would have been objects to be removed from sight and as far as might be from memory. Apparently a little vanity is not incompatible with a quite complete virtue. Instructive are the workings of the minds of the respected and righteous.