Letters to the Heretics

Fourth Letter

To Angelo,[1]

The content and tone of my letter will surely surprise you, habituated as you are to having an austere image of me and my political party, which is a little retrograde and not always very sensitive to the problems that one today classifies under the rubric of “the personal.” Perhaps you will be surprised by my statements, which might at first seem to you to escape from the mentality of the Party and clash with the problematics that we typical confront. But if I am resolved to write to you what follows, this is because you can appreciate our levelheaded and calm approach to the same themes that you, on the contrary, have raised in a provocative and slightly confused manner. I allude to the famous sexual liberation, about which one rants in the press, without ever considering that it progresses, not due to your disturbances and problematizations, but as the unavoidable effect of the development of capitalism. You – the radicals, the homosexuals, the feminists and the sociologists of deviant behaviors – have drafted a complete series of essays on the subject, analyzed the most idiosyncratic comportments, and raised the veil on attitudes that were clandestine only a short time ago, all in the name of sensitizing the masses, but without ever seeing that you avoid the heart of the problem and set aside its adequate political solution.

Therefore, it seems to me that the question, stripped of what is excessive and useless, can be reduced to the sad and distressing complaint that Franco Antonicelli,[2] who is missed, often expressed to me in the last years of his life. A great lover of the feminine charms, he deplored the fact that our epoch had irreversibly made ugly the corporeality of men (though it was in fact the corporeality of women that mattered to him), stiffening the grace of their movements and depreciating the delicacy of their manners. No one, especially not the young people with whom he was close at the end of his life, seemed worthy of love or capable of fascinating him. And these reflections depressed him all the more because he saw no way out of this state of affairs. In sum, it seemed to him that the women had become irremediably ugly, insipid and absolutely deprived of the tempting charms that had contributed to making his youth so pleasant.

Antonicelli couldn’t explain this generalized ugliness, nor could be come up with a remedy. But his grievances allow us to formulate the question in appropriate terms: what is the human body today or, in other words, where have all the pieces of ass[3] gone? The question might appear vulgar to you, but its triviality doesn’t prevent us from responding to it.

It so happens that our epoch, in which one has copulated like never before in human history, has nevertheless provoked an unprecedented self-effacement, thus putting into play the somber deception of generalized ugliness. What is this ruse? The creation of a multiplicity of extra-human interests – the interest in the body that you designate by the phrase “the personal” not being the least one – that divert the attention that each person would otherwise receive.

It is common to present the interests that are external to the human being as being able to enrich it and raise it to a superior level of completeness. These interests range from political commitments to cultural pursuits, from work to drug addiction, and so on: behaviors that answer to the call for “participation,” which is so dwelled upon these days. To participate means to suppress the attention that one brings to oneself, even if one participates in a political activity that centers upon “the personal,” to use your expression, and from this inevitably comes the uglification of the body. I cannot say if this also results in a veritable cellular degeneration, but it is certain that, when each person wastes his or her energy in participation, there truly remains none to dedicate to one’s own sensual attractiveness.

Is this a good thing for society and the individual? Perhaps there is no valid answer to this in the absolute, but one must remark that, to the extent that everyone is lowered to the state of average ugliness, certain dissonances that could be created by an excess of beauty or ugliness (the too beautiful and the too ugly, to whom I return below) find themselves attenuated, and conflicts between individuals – created by envy or rivalry – instead become based on a general carnal mediocrity.

And then, one must still wonder: what good is it to become more attractive? The response can only be discouraging because, when an amorous encounter is an everyday task like any other (as it is today), it follows that the body can only expect such an encounter in its habitual sensory numbness. Today, making love has become a function, equivalent to any other activity that permits the day to come to an end. Too many times I have seen young people of both genders go to an amorous encounter with the same bodily and emotional bearing[4] they possess when they go to a newspaper stand or, let us say, to a political meeting, with the only difference being the bathrooms[5] or their tastes in partners!

Why become more attractive if the sexual function finds itself satisfied in a carefully maintained mediocrity? Because today sex is precisely a question of a function and it is experienced as such. Creatures of sad flesh meet each other and copulate, demanding nothing of their partners[6] except a little hygiene, a little care for the clothes worn, erotic technique, and shared ideas. Above all, they demand nothing of themselves; they tolerate their own mediocre sensuality.

My analysis could stop here, but alas! there is worse. I have in mind the terrible social distress that strikes two categories that are apparently antithetical but are actually very close in their misfortunes: the too ugly and the too beautiful. What happens to them? The first group of people must submit themselves, in solitude, to a process of valorization that is unnatural, or face exclusion from the general copulation. Ugly as they are, they must adorn themselves with some ersatz quality: in sum, enhance themselves. If they are taciturn, they must strive to become chatterboxes; if they are unassuming, they must become brilliant; if they are uncultivated, they must become learned; if they are flat broke, they must become wealthy; if they are crude, they must become refined; and so on. The social condemnation that nature has inflicted on them is to be regarded as the mechanism that forces them to seek out a social mediation (other than their bodies) that obligates them to create some exchange-value.

Inversely, the misfortune of those who are too beautiful resides in the fact that nature, in its eccentricity, has sometimes endowed them with additional penchants and aptitudes, but their development has hardly been facilitated by these people’s beauty. Dazzled as they are by the base propositions that they continually receive, and ceaselessly spoiled due to their desirability, they are never asked for anything other than their flesh. These unfortunate people must struggle arduously if they want to obtain credibility in domains other than the bedroom. Above all, they must make themselves as ugly as is necessary. It is a rule that beauty is accompanied by intellectual vacuity, or at least that is the common prejudice. And so a beautiful person, to make him- or herself [an] intellectual, must become ugly. In our society, an excess of gifts engenders suspicion, and to enjoy one of them prevents a person from possessing others or, at least, if an individual possesses many gifts, they only exist in small amounts, at the mediocre level of the common man.

The moral of the story, dear friend, is this: no one lives in peace; everything must be won with difficulty, including one’s own being! The individual is prohibited from being what he is (here, in passing, is work for the penal legislators of the future: to express in the rule of law the “interdiction of being”) under pain of exclusion from society’s benefits. And so the beautiful people must make themselves unkempt, the ugly people must give themselves intellectual beauty, and the swamp of the mediocre people must take care to not emerge from the enviable situation in which they live.

It might be the case that the people of previous epochs did not have problems of this kind. They inherited from the past a given body[7] and didn’t encounter the necessity of building a new one[8] or attributing value to it. Clothing, also transmitted by tradition, expressed the harmony of the person with the natural universe. In other civilizations, or at least in other classes, one tried to emphasize (excessively so) the discrepancies between the sometimes obscene presence in the world of people and the rule of things by having recourse to extravagant clothing, which was often an unconscious symbol of man’s mastery of the world. Today, by contrast, for the first time ever, we witness the spectacle of a humanity that is born and lives without a body,[9] and thus must work hard to attain one. Many times I have diverted my gaze to the sad spectacle of young workers dressed like disc jockeys,[10] ladies disguised as prostitutes, hippies[11] and feminists dressed up in the images of themselves – all of them seeking some identity, a package inside of which they sell, at a cheap price,[12] their own raw flesh, which is a perishable commodity like all the others! Thus diverted from themselves in the name of the idea that they should participate in something, they prepare an acceptable image (that is to say, an image having sufficient credit) for the society in which they live and conform to the roles that they must interpret, one after the other. Since they do not love themselves, they are the worst lovers, and the absence of lustfulness and luxury is reflected in their very bodies. Lustfulness and luxury are passions that are too strong for our times. Prevent their birth or only allow their deployment through political mediation: the result is the same.

The fact is, my excellent friend, that certain desires are absolutely shameful in the absence of adequate mediation. No one – I say this by way of example – dares to admit that he is a sex fiend or, if he does, it is to hide some small, even more abject vice. Isn’t that the case with the hard-line advocates of the groin, among whom you prosper? In fact, you have made public certain practices, such as sodomy and lesbianism, which were previously considered as private or frankly reserved for the whorehouse; you have, so to speak, revealed your dispositions, your previously secret, small vices. By chance, haven’t you wanted to make noble some slight obscenity with the sole end of hiding a more serious one, namely, the creation of canons of debauchery, in the shelter of which deviants can work in peace and in agreement with society? If you have, I can only admire you. Your work would thus be in conformity with the words of Sade, which I relate to you from memory.

In a word, there is no kind of danger in these mania: if the women were to go even further, as far as caressing monsters and animals, as the examples of many peoples teach us, all this nonsense wouldn’t cause the smallest inconvenience, because the corruption of morals, which is often very useful for a government, doesn’t harm it in any way, and we must expect from our legislators enough wisdom, enough prudence, to be quite sure that no law comes from them that would repress the miseries that, absolutely favoring [social] organization, never make the one who is inclined towards them more guilty than the individual whom nature has created deformed.[13]

If your goal is to reinvigorate the government, I can only congratulate you, but say so, so that everyone can understand this!

In fact, today I believe there can be an agreement between the large popular masses and the deviant minorities, and I desire that it be made. It falls to you to take another step: deviancy cannot be set in opposition to the model that we Communists pursue, and realignment is absolutely necessary. But you must understand that the defense of the “sexually different” individual – a defense that would guarantee him or her the serene exercise of his or her deviancy – is not the ultimate goal. What is more important is the establishment of small social centers (I cannot come up with another expression, since the Anglo-Saxon term racket[14] irritates me) in the framework of which the aspiring deviant would effectuate his or her apprenticeship and gain the right to get his or her rocks off in broad daylight with society’s consent.[15] It would be our misfortune if sexual difference were a starting point! On the contrary, sexual difference must be a state of imperfection that reaches it completeness only if the individual earns it; only if he or she acquires it after a difficult struggle. A friend who is a journalist tells me that one of your slogans,[16] pleasant and provocative, is “Struggle hard against nature.” Well, you must take that seriously; you must struggle to establish your dignified difference within the heart of society. Your associations, your publications and your groups are the places where deviancy must be won!

You, dear friend, are too used to reflection for me to have to recall to you that capitalism is not a static entity, but a process of value-creation. And a heterosexual becoming a sodomite is a process. But must it also be a process of value-creation? I can respond to you calmly in the affirmative, provided, of course, that sexual deviancy is politically ennobled in some way. A homosexual who accedes to public status[17] thanks to politics is worth something; he can have respect [crédit]; but a man who, among other things, is also a homosexual is not worth anything [as a homosexual] and must be conscious of this fact at every moment. Thus, he must continue to frequent public urinals!

Thus, why must we be opposed to deviancy when we know that the capitalization of the planet is nothing other than a colossal deviancy with respect to the modes of production and the ways of life that have become implanted so deeply that they are considered to be “laws of nature”?

But there is better [than that]. In the bitter struggle for the construction of sexual difference that has finally been authorized, is it not possible to hide the general carnal mediocrity that characterizes the epoch in such a way that it can be accepted? Can the deviant who pursues and conquers his small, personal vice convince himself that he has attained a more elevated degree of passion in comparison to the norm? Can he convince himself that, to a greater degree than the common man (if you will permit me to use this crude expression), he enjoys the dullness of his passions, which are, all in all, similar to those of a heterosexual, despite the strangeness of his sexual practices? If it has been conquered after a difficult struggle (and thus already represents a lot), deviancy gives to the perverse person a taste for difference and procures for him the feeling of being heroic by managing to hide his corporeal mediocrity.

Fortunately for us, in both our political formations and the inner circles of our friends, we do not often speak of this carnal colorlessness that marks the epoch. On the contrary, we often and gladly ramble on about the various sexual practices; the advantages and disadvantages of each one; the ways of experimenting with them; and the necessity of making them acceptable in the eyes of society. In these great cauldrons, the fantasies and logorrhea of each person are given free reign.

All this being said, I can only regard with favor your struggle for sexual difference, and this approval is seconded by the orderly anthropomorphization of capitalism. As you well know, capitalism demands commodities that are always different and always new. And its voracity continues, today requiring up-to-date human merchandise, which means – in the domain that we have explored here – the introduction of new models of sexual merchandise on the market of behaviors.

Yes to the valorization of deviancy – any and all deviancy.

Yes to the unremitting creation of new deviancies.

Continue, comrades, but vigorously.

[1] Publisher’s note: Angelo Pezzana, bookseller, member of the Radical Party and a founding member of FUORI, is a specialist in self-awareness, becoming aware and the passage from individuality to collectivity. [Translator: FUORI is the Fronte Unito Omosessuale Rivoluzionario Italiano (“United Front of Italian Homosexuals”). In Italian, the word fuori means “beyond.”]

[2] Franco Antonicelli (1902-1974), an anti-fascist, poet and “independent” Leftist. It is highly unlikely that he and Berlinguer were ever friends.

[3] The Italian here is pezzi di figa (“pieces of pussy”).

[4] French in original.

[5] French in original.

[6] English in original.

[7] Latin in original.

[8] Latin in original.

[9] Latin in original.

[10] English in original.

[11] English in original.

[12] Latin in original.

[13] “Français, encore un effort si vous voulez être républicains” (Yet another effort, Frenchmen, if you would be republicans) in La philosophie dans le boudoir (Philosophy in the Bedroom). French in original.

[14] English in original.

[15] Latin in original.

[16] English in original.

[17] English in original.

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