Sex Lives Of Philosophers is a monthly column that imagines the sex lives of history's greatest philosophers.
In an interview, when French philosopher Jacques Derrida was asked if he could watch a documentary about the lives of Kant, Hegel, or Heidegger, what he would want to see, he replied: “La vie sexuelle.” Their sex lives – the most important part of their private lives.
But what can the sex lives of philosophers teach us? You might ask: What do philosophers – book worms, library dwellers, yes, nerds – even know? Do they have sex? Do they even fuck?
As long as there has been philosophy, as long as there has been human thought, there has been a philosophy of sex. This column seeks to entangle that which is typically disentangled — the works and the sex life of a notable philosopher — to uncover something intellectually provocative.
Not simply because it is necessarily erotic, but because the sex lives of those famous thinkers — from the very virginal Kant to the BDSM lovin’ Marquis de Sade — demonstrate something fundamental to our lives: The failure of sex reflects the very constitutive failure in our very human existence.
As Beckett said, “Fail. Fail better.” Is that not descriptive of our every sexual encounter?
Indeed, perhaps the impasse that is sex – the failure of the two to become one, that which obsesses us and repeatedly dissatisfies us – can reveal something very real about our own philosophical incursions into this frustrating, anticlimactic existence we are stuck masturbating within.
Let’s begin with Socrates. He's certainly not the first philosopher, but he's a philosopher that occupies center stage in our minds when it comes to antiquity and origin. Did he even fuck? Was our Greek grandaddy all talk or did he have something to show for it?
Socrates drove a lot of people crazy. He was incessant. "Why? Why? Why?"
His questions pulsate. He frustrates in precisely the right way. He's always building up to something. Socrates teased his audience, working the tension in the room, until: utter disorientation. What you thought you knew vanishes. And, for just a moment, some relief, some clarity, washes over you. But Socrates was never satisfied. And neither are we.
You arrive at the symposium, and Socrates is curled up on the couch with someone else – another beautiful, young man. You turn to the crowd and, in utter desperation, tell them: “I can’t live with him, and I can’t live without him.” Socrates just took you to dinner last week – you talked all night. And when he came back to yours, after all the servants left, he just… fell asleep on the couch.
Total dissatisfaction. A build-up… to what?
Socrates is a tease. He works us up, frustrates us, momentarily satisfies us, and moves on to frustrate us all over again. They even call it his method. Is sex so different from the fumbling path toward truth? Deeply frustrating, circuitous, often totally unsatisfying. But that promise of momentary “aha!” keeps us trying, and trying again.