Sensuous Knowledge

The current issue of The New York Review of Books has an enjoyable essay on Indian eroticism (Dalrymple, William, “India: The Place of Sex,” vol. LV, no. 11, 26 June 2008, pp. 33-36). Alas, everyone prior to a certain era it would seem was possessed of the anti-life of Platonism and the sky cult:

… there has always been a strong tension in Hinduism between the ascetic and the sensual. The poet Bhartrihari, who probably lived in the third century AD, around the time of the composition of the Kamasutra, oscillated no less than seven times between the rigors of the monastic life and the abandon of the sensualist. “There are two paths,” he wrote. “The sages’ religious-devotion, which is lovely because it overflows with the nectarous waters of the knowledge of truth,” and “the lusty undertaking of touching with one’s palm that hidden part in the firm laps of lovely-limbed women, loving women with great expanses of breasts and thighs.”

“Tell us decisively which we ought to attend upon,” he asks in the Shringarashataka. “The sloping sides of wilderness mountains? Or the buttocks of women abounding in passion?”

Of the happier consequences of the death of god, one is that we can dispense with this never really existent dichotomy between the life of the mind and the sensuousness of the body. From beyond such strictures, they seem entirely arbitrary. Their abandonment is the aesthetic-ethical corollary of Kant’s dissolution of the rationalist-empiricist debate. I take it that this is what Nietzsche was getting at when he promulgating a collection of aphorisms under the title The Gay Science, or as it has occasionally been translated, The Joyous Knowledge. I think here of his discussion, as well as my own experience, that one’s best thoughts are often had while in motion.

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