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Edvard Munch's glassy-eyed heroines, Renoir's lush damsels, even Matisse's joyously dancing maidens - all, Mr. Dijkstra contends, were examples of the need to see women as primitive, and possibly demonic, temptresses. Like many writers bent on proving an ideological thesis, Mr. Dijkstra has a tendency to force material into shapes that serve his own ends.

Remy De Gourmont

In some cases, he attributes impulses to individuals or makes assumptions that aren't necessarily true - always choosing the one that best supports his thesis of rampant cultural misogyny. For instance, in describing a painting of a woman looking at a fish bowl on a table, he writes, the ''educated male viewer of '' ''would have seen her not as the proprietor of the objects around her, but as one of the objects herself.

Whether or not the reader fully agrees with Mr. Dijkstra, however, isn't really the question. If his ideological fervor occasionally diminishes the believability of his arguments, he nonetheless makes a passionate case for his point of view, and in the end, ''Idols of Perversity'' remains a provocative and absorbing book. View on timesmachine. TimesMachine is an exclusive benefit for home delivery and digital subscribers. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.

Richard Aldington and Selected Writings , trans. And ed. Glenn S. Burne offer introductions to his work. A skin condition that emerged in his 20s kept de Gourmont largely housebound for the second half of his life, during which time he wrote and published prolifically.

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He died of a stroke at the age of Prose Home Harriet Blog. Visit Home Events Exhibitions Library. Newsletter Subscribe Give. Poetry Foundation. Although gnostic theology was far from homogenous indeed, its leitmotif was the continuing elaboration of ever-more exotic revelation its essential belief was that "matter" was base and the pollutant in which "spirit" had been cast, trapped or lured.

Flesh was perverse and corrupt.

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The body would surely decay and putrefy, but salvation was through gnosis or knowledge of divine truths, which would allow the spirit to return to a heavenly realm of pure light. Such speculations inevitably meant that gnosticism could not subscribe to the notion that God, the sublime spirit, would ever incarnate or in some shades of opinion, reincarnate as "flesh" or take human form. Nor could God suffer any kind of death.

In the gnostic belief system and in "gnostic Paul", Galatians 3. There will be no sex in heaven. In this, the material world, marriage and procreation were the work of dark powers and principalities, "base matter" begetting more "base matter". The 2nd century followers of the gnostic Marcion, who wrote pseudonymously in the name of "Paul" , made clear that, if possible, the godly should practice self-restraint:. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows. It is good for them if they abide even as I. Such detachment from carnality allowed the gnostics to accept an equality of the sexes quite radical for the ancient world.

Ironically, while gnosticism would be driven from the world stage by its Catholic enemies, it was gnosticism's negative view of the body which would underpin many of Catholicism's worst traits: a bleak asceticism, starvation fasting, flagellation, and the whole paraphernalia of mortification of the flesh.

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The early Church Fathers, including the authors of Paul's epistles, glorified the asceticism that had been a discipline of the gnostics. Martyrdom, the ultimate mortification of the body, became the epitome of spirituality, a fast-track to salvation. Every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour.

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Not in the lust of concupiscence , even as the Gentiles which know not God For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. Throughout the 2nd century the orthodox fans of Christ were embellishing the skimpy story of their godman with a "history" set a hundred years earlier.

Yet the very notion of a "man of divine status" was offensive to the Jews, who responded with a darkly humourous slur that the Christian holy man, in fact, had been a scurrilous character of dubious parentage, the offspring of an whorish hairdresser and a Roman trooper Contra Celsum 1. The insult could hardly be bettered. Female virginity and racial purity were matters of great honour and mercantile importance among the Jews. Males, of course, were at liberty to be rampant stallions. To meet the insult and underpin their hero's claim to divinity, the early Christians copied a motif common enough among the pagans.

They gave JC a " virgin birth " Matthew 1. The new god thus entered the world without the mess and inconvenience of sex. In the process, the sacred feminine, formerly the active element in procreation, was reduced to that of a passive receptacle , a "mother of god" rather than a goddess in her own right, done to rather than doing. In time, as the sacred feminine was relentlessly subsumed into Catholicism, the virginity of the godman's mother would be extended through the birthing process virginitas in partu and on through the rest of her life virginitas post partum.

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  • This created a theological conundrum because the sacred history had already given the godman four brothers and two sisters Mark 6. Later, Jerome would downgrade the inconvenient siblings further, into mere "cousins". At the same time Catholicism acquired a transcendent, sexless and meek " queen of heaven ", forever at the hierarchy's beck and call. They even went so far as to insist that he rose bodily from the dead. Catholic orthodoxy — and its "historical" Jesus — emerged from and was a reaction against a number of rival christianities and saviour cults.

    The story of a cult founder called Jesus, who trod the earth and was crucified under Pilate, was a late appendage to a gnostic drama of a celestial Christ, existing in time eternal. This allegorical device, useful in popularising an otherwise esoteric philosophy, was debased into a "literal truth" by the pragmatists and politicians of orthodoxy. Organised into cells and a command structure of bishops, priests and deacons, the Catholics outwitted and outmanoeuvred the heterogeneous and democratic communities of the gnostics. The gnostic leaders had charisma and intellect but their doctrines were complex and esoteric.

    Catholicism's "theology" was simple, reducible to a few chantable creeds, and its ceremonies were public pageants, open to all who had merely to "accept Christ" and "believe". The gnostics were contemptuous of such easy and meaningless salvation. For them, neophytes had to train for months, even years, before entering the "inner mysteries"; they had to live as Christians and not merely profess the faith.

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    In contrast, the Catholics adopted and adapted whatever was popular in the practices and traditions of the pagans in order to draw an indifferent population into the church. They forgave "sins" readily, including murder and sexual indiscretions. As disputes in north Africa were to show, even sacraments performed by heretics were deemed acceptable, if the correct formula had been followed. The "open door" of Catholicism prevailed against the "elect circle" of gnosticism.

    Orthodoxy itself started disparaging marriage. Purity became identified with sexual abstinence; chastity replaced charity as the central virtue of the Gospel. Religion, as a consequence, became sombre and joyless. With birth from a virgin a "glory", dogmatised as a central myth of the new faith, normal conception and childbearing, in contrast, were polluted and beast-like.

    The Jewish notion that birthing rendered a woman "unclean" passed into Christianity, confining the new mother to a month of seclusion which ended only with a ritual of purification or "churching". The gnostics and Stoics had already declared "the passions" suspect. The apologist Justin, in the mid-years of the 2nd century, could boast that there were already old men "in Christ" who had maintained an "immaculate purity" their entire life Apology I.

    Antipathy to the sex act became a cornerstone of the new religion. Church father Tertullian feared that a man's soul was lost in the moment of ejaculation :. In nascent Catholicism, virginity became the badge of a dubious "purity" and was accorded an unmerited and unworldly respect as being "closer to God". The virginal were somehow superior to the sexually active. Part of the tragedy was that at a time when the empire of Rome desperately needed manpower, the Church fathers were encouraging chastity and continence, of men as well as women, as a path to "spirituality".

    The individual's glorious self-denial anticipated the coming kingdom of the Lord, a time of untainted spiritual purity. In the vain hope for the kingdom of virginity they sacrified civilization itself. Another Church father, Clement of Alexandria? Whilst he accepted the necessity of marriage — had not most disciples been married, after all?

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