Mapping Male Sexuality: Nineteenth-Century England

By Jay Losey; William D. Brewer | Go to book overview

The Private Pleasures of Silas Marner

DONALD E. HALL

Bite my lip and close my eyes

Slipping away to paradise
Some say quit or I’ll go blind
But it’s just a myth.

“Longview,” Greenday

THE SOCIALLY DISTANT, APPARENTLY SELF-SUFFICIENT INDIVIDUAL invariably provokes suspicion, but often she or he is confronted with even more intrusive actions. “What are you doing in that room by yourself? Get outside and do something!”—how many times did I hear that parental query and command as a bookish (and, yes, rather masturbation-happy) adolescent in the 1970s? Implicitly acknowledged, of course, was that I was already “doing something,” but whatever it was that I “was doing” was inappropriately hidden, was disturbing because silent, provoking because unmonitored. More recent, widely expressed worries about the effects of long hours spent by the young playing on computers or with video games similarly point to concerns well beyond those of physical health, even if expressed as “she may hurt her eyes” or “he is rotting his brain.” At issue still is a fundamental question concerning proper socialization, the required movement into, acknowledgment of, and continuous proving of allegiance to standards of social propriety, or more specifically, to a social power structure which encompasses demands (meaning, in desired effect, commands) by parents, teachers, religious figures, medical professionals, and other authorities concerning what one may or may not do with one’s own body, a body that should (learn to) fit seamlessly into the smooth functionings of the body politic.

Of course “provoke” is not the only verb that one might choose to characterize the (in)action of a relatively motionless and isolated body. Can- passivity be said to provoke? Yes, if we recognize that noncompliance of even the most inert sort is a form of agency, that

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