Of thanatology (or how to prevent sexual assault)
Even though I’ve mostly weened myself off the interwebs these past few weeks out of professional necessity, reading the morning’s news offerings remains as ritualistic as A.M. coffee. After a while, observing the destruction of human life becomes a morose daily expectation. (How many times does one awake to so-called good news, politically speaking? Tom DeLay leaving Dancing with the Stars doesn’t really cut it.)
Usually, the everyday pouring over the so-called bad news makes the part of my brain that stores facts, names, dates, figures and other records of importance take over. The emotional attrition of reading vivid accounts of death gets diffused. The imprint of these events on one’s person continues onward the next day, and the next day, and the next. It’s the virtual version of grave-digging: death is certain, a place is made to contain it, a plaque keeps the memory alive, death is certain, a place is made to contain it…
The Greeks personified the demon god of death as Thanatos, the son of Nyx (Night) and Erebos (Darkness). Death even has a twin, Hypnos (Sleep), perhaps explaining why soldiers and checkpoints regularly make appearances in my REM cycle with M16s and other death devices. The poet Hesiod imagines the twins of darkness dystopically and inalterably conjoined: ‘And there the children of dark Night have their dwellings, Sleep and Death, awful gods.’
Yesterday’s report about a 15-year old girl in Northern California who was brutally gang-raped outside of her high school’s homecoming dance was exceptional. Beyond the chills or despair that settles in from reading such things (i.e. ‘death’ things), then moving on to other accounts of gross abuse, this was a narrative that I couldn’t escape. The victim is alive, but the wreckage done to her body and psyche can only be described as a thanatological will to destroy. At least 10 males stood around and watched the girl get raped, beaten and photographed for over two and a half hours. The list of assailants keeps growing, with at least one 19-year old and one 21-year old suspect. But no matter how many individuals get caught, the crux of the matter is that there was a collective act with double-digit participants and witnesses (two categories collapse at some level, don’t they?). She was furiously abused and raped and no one—not a single person—came to her aid. Only when a female heard the offhand rumor of a gang-rape taking place was law enforcement called.
The Greeks and their descendents, whether in sincerity or infinite perversion, always imagined Thanatos and Eros as counterparts. In pictorial representations such as the painting above, Death and Life (for Eros is both the deity of sexual love and life) are always contrasted. Even though Eros is the son of Aphrodite, s/he personifies a woman. This woman is dominated, passified, or in ordinary language, raped. The twins Sleep/Death became contrapuntal with Eros, and the sexual drive (as Freud re-imagined it) became part and parcel of the thanatological one.
It’s heinous acts like this, in light of a mythological imagination, that makes Catherine Bréillat’s statement, ‘All men want to kill all women’ not crazy.
To that effect, here’s a handy sexual assault guide (not written by me) that turns the regular ‘prevention’ tips on their head.
How to Prevent Sexual Assault
1. Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.
2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!
3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!
4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.
5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!
6. Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.
7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.
8. Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.
9. Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!
10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone ‘on accident’ you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.
And, ALWAYS REMEMBER: if you didn’t ask permission and then respect the answer the first time, you are committing a crime- no matter how ‘into it’ others appear to be.