LONDON—According to a Swiss writer and philosopher who once told a New York Times critic who had written a negative review of one of his books that "I will hate you until the day I die," the world is in desperate need of porn that is not "divorced from the values that people generally aspire to for their day-to-day lives." A prominent European intellectual, he believes he can remedy the situation.
Actually, Alain de Botton, who lives in London, sees the solution as a group effort. According to The Independent, "The philosopher wants to bring together leading figures within the porn movement and the arts to identify a 'new pornography' which is more socially acceptable and is 'fit for thoughtful, good human beings.'"
Unlike all the current porn, which is apparently only fit for thoughtless, bad people, which is what he actually believes. "No longer would sexuality have to be lumped together with stupidity, brutishness, earnestness and exploitation; it could instead be harnessed to what is noblest in us.”
Like in the old days, when "the Ancient Greeks understood that there was no need to have to choose between 'being human and being sexual.'" Yes, but what about the modern Greeks, who can't choose between working six hours a day and rioting in the streets?
A purveyor of a so-called "philosophy of everyday life," de Botton also is the founder of a "The School of Life," a new enterprise offering good ideas for everyday living, and the author of several books, including his most recent, Religion for Atheists.
In addition to his publicized run-in with the Times critic back in 2009, it seems that de Botton has developed a reputation as something of a know-it-all who has no problem sharing his worldly expertise with the rabble. As Helen Lewis of the New Statesman put in her astonished post about this latest initiative, "Holy hell. Not content with telling us how to work and how to be happy, Alain de Botton is now going to tell us how to have sex."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but not unexpected considering de Botton's snooty attitude toward modern erotic fare. "The real problem with current pornography is that it's so far removed from all the other concerns which a reasonably sensible, moral, kind and ambitious person might have," he said in a press release. "As currently constituted, pornography asks that we leave behind our ethics, our aesthetic sense and our intelligence when we contemplate it. Yet it is possible to conceive of a version of pornography which wouldn't force us to make such a stark choice between sex and virtue—a pornography in which sexual desire would be invited to support, rather than permitted to undermine, our higher values."
He might be on to something. In the old days (Not Ancient Greece, but 1960s-70s Times Square), porn stars used to skirt getting arrested by reading from the classics during live sex shows. Shakespeare was a favorite of the New York crowd, who would boo mercilessly during a blow job if one word from a Hamlet soliloquy was out of place. In the Big Apple at the time this was still considered low-brow entertainment, however.
de Botton plans to launch a website that is the online manifestation of his higher-values porn. “Ideally," he mused, "porn would excite our lusts in contexts which also presented other, elevated sides of human nature—in which people were being witty, for instance, or showing kindness, or working hard or being clever—so that our sexual excitement could bleed into, and enhance our respect for these other elements of a good life."
We do not know whether de Botton has any interest in engaging with anyone from the States, or whether he sees this as purely a Euro affair. Immediately, one can't help but think of Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, which, let's face it, set the standard for chic pool table sex among the European elite (albeit with a dash of intrigue and murder thrown in).
We do not know if formal wear and masks are what de Botton envisions, or whether he imagines his better porn in, say, a Beckett vein, with Vladimir and Estragon as patiently discursive as ever while taking turns shagging one another. It would still be the same play but might inspire more kind thoughts in the viewer towards theater. Or perhaps he envisions a more contemporary aesthetic that will inspire the neurons as it excites the gonads. 50 Squared Shades of Grey? Research suggests he may be going up against biology, but who is to say he will not succeed and does it really matter? The great thing about erotica is that anyone—even philosophers, especially philosophers—can have a crack at it, and may the best pornographer win!
In de Botton's sexual nirvana, that translates as a win for the whole family. "The School for Life project," reported the Independent, "will create a ‘Better Porn’ website that is intended to display examples that parents would be comfortable with their children seeing."
Would that include Claire Perry?
Image: Philosopher Alain de Botton imagines his first porn scene.