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“Shame” and transformation

Michael Fassbender

Just saw the grim but enlightening film “Shame,” wherein Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a bland, disarmingly handsome thirtysomething obsessed with pornography and vicarious sex. The film lit up a few insights inspired by Buddhist and 4th Way practices; I saw Brandon’s sex addiction as an extreme form of attachment in the Buddhist sense, or what 4th Way practitioners might call identification…sex addiction in the 21st century, well fed by prolific sources of pornographic media, being an extreme form. Brandon’s stuck inside his obsession, attached to completely subjective and interior experience. The sex act, for him, is always a form of masturbation, even when he’s with someone else. He’s managed to hide it and remain “shameless”; the film shows a transformation as his obsession is revealed to and challenged by external forces. Most powerful of these is the arrival of his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), who invades the privacy that is fundamental to the persistence of his cycle of craving and release. She challenges him to connect with a reality outside his own. She’s damaged, and she desparately needs him as a constant in her life. She needs his compassion to feel complete, but compassion is foreign to him. He explicitly denies any responsibility for her.

He has no sense of humor.

Drawn to a relationship with coworker Marianne (Nicole Beharie) that could be more intimate, not just masturbatory, he can’t take this potentially more authentic connection to any meaningful level – he snorts a line of coke and attempts sex, but for once, he can’t get it up. He rejects her and she leaves, but he quickly finds another girl and finds that he can “perform” in a context where there is no emotional connection or demand.

He makes this connection with Marianne after Sissy walks in while he’s masturbating, and triggering what might be his first instance of shame and a dawning sense of awareness. He plows through his flat digging out all his pornography and sex paraphernalia, and trashing it. Interesting that this is followed by a failed attempt to be real. This is followed by more rejection, self-destructive behavior, a desperate cry for help from Sissy, more wanton sex, and Sissy’s attempted suicide. As I said earlier, this is grim stuff.

Sissy’s suicide attempt shocks him in to reality – as John Shirley writes, in a piece about the Gurdjieff work, “it is only shocks that can lead a man out of the state in which he lives, that is, waken him.”

At the beginning of the film, there was a scene where he sees a beautiful girl on the subway, flirts with her, attempting seduction. We see that she’s wearing an wedding ring and an engagement ring. She flirts back, but quickly disappears, he’s unable to find her. At the end of the film, the last scene, he sees the same girl. Her makeup is less soft, and she’s not wearing her wedding ring. She flirts with him more overtly, but he doesn’t respond. The film ends here, and it seemed clear to me that we were seeing a person transformed, that he was choosing not to pursue his former obsession. Maybe we’ve seen at least a partial awakening?

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Go deeper

A couple of @jonl tweets re #OWS:

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Revolutions won at a superficial level take us into similar power games because we haven’t addressed fundamental issues that are deeply embedded in our thinking.

“A man will renounce any pleasures you like but will not give up his suffering.”

“Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.”

Both quotes from G.I. Gurdjieff

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Tracks on the Moon

Nasa’s lunar reconnaissance orbiter caught a nice shot of the Apollo landing site, including tracks left by astronauts in 1969-72. The moon’s such a bleak landscape, odd that it so captured our imagination back then. Article in the GuardianUK.

Then again, there’s Gurdjieff’s view: “Everything living on the Earth, people, animals, plants, is food for the moon…. All movements, actions, and manifestations of people, animals, and plants depend upon the moon and are controlled by the moon…. The mechanical part of our life depends upon the moon, is subject to the moon. If we develop in ourselves consciousness and will, and subject our mechanical life and all our mechanical manifestations to them, we shall escape from the power of the moon.”

More from Richard Myers:

Within the polytheistic world there is a partial correlation with The Fourth Way’s teaching regarding man as a food for the moon. In the mythology and the teachings of several of these polytheistic religions is found the belief in the moon as the repository of the finer bodies of man. In Etruscan mythology, the moon or “Luna” is the underworld, where souls go to rest and the production of new souls begins. In Greek mythology, upon death the soul and psyche first go to the moon and then go to the underworld where there is a second death and a separation. The soul then goes to the moon and the psyche to the sun. The Bhagavad-Gita describes two paths souls travel after physical death; one is the path of the sun, also known as the bright path, and the other is the path of the moon, known as the dark path. Gurdjieff states that man is a food for the moon and these myths and beliefs to a degree correlate with his statement. Gurdjieff also states that, “We are like the moon’s sheep, which it cleans, feeds and sheers, and keeps for its own purposes.” Though pantheistic religions and mythology put man under the sway of the gods they do not equate man to the status of domesticated sheep. This degree of mechanical control by the moon over organic life on Earth and man in particular is probably unique to Fourth Way teaching. Gurdjieff’s statement also implies that the moon is somehow feeding man. There is indeed some basis in Hindu beliefs that man does, at least indirectly, receive something from the moon in the form of soma. Soma in Hindu mythology is an elixir of immortality that only the gods can drink; the moon is said to be the storehouse or cup of soma. Though soma is believed by some to be a plant-derived intoxicant or hallucinogen, this may be a distraction from its real meaning. A verse from the Bhagavad-Gita speaks to this: “Permeating throughout the planetary system I maintain all moving and stationary beings by my potency and having become the essence of the moon, I nourish all plant life.”