The Beginning of Wisdom p.295

Sex between siblings contaminates the sibling relation with the exclusive and dyadic attempt to fuse two lives in a merger that denies the meaning of siblinghood. To take a brother as a husband is as much an act of metaphorical fratricide as it is an act of metaphorical wife killing to pass a wife off as a sister. Moreover, motives for literal fratricide are also amply provided by brother-sister sex, owing to sexual jealousy.

Deeper than these adverse psychosocial consequences lies the matter of how one stands in the world, whether as a child or as an adult. First, in incestuous unions there is no need to learn the adult restraint of sexual impulse, for with an object of gratification near at hand, instinct spills over into satisfaction: “natural inclination suffices to unite them.” More important, in brother-sister marriage, both partners cling as children to the family of origin, in a relation that hearkens back to their common emergence out of the same womb (“flesh of my flesh”), under the protection of the same parents. There is no brave stepping forth unprotected into the full meaning of adulthood, to say permanent goodbye to father and mother and to cleave to your wife, to accept their death and, what is more difficult, to accept your own mortality, the answer to which is not narcissistic sexual gratification but a sober and deliberate saying “yes” to reproduction, transmission, and perpetuation. To consciously take a wife from outside the nest is deliberately to establish a family of perpetuation, in at least tacit recognition that human maturity entails both a willingness to die and a desire for renewal and continuity, through birth and cultural transmission – a matter of enormous importance when there is a special way of life to be perpetuated.

Finally, in an incestuous union between brother and sister there is no experience of the other as truly other. There is no distance, no sexual strangeness, no need to overcome fumbling, embarrassment, shame: the inward-looking love of one’s own flesh is naked but is not ashamed. For this reason, the other is taken for granted and approached in tacit expectation of full compliance with one’s desires; the other is not easily an object of respect. Because of familiarity there is likely to be contempt. There is little possibility of awe (what the Greeks called aidos) before the sexual other: awe before the uncanniness of sexual difference, of the radical independence and otherness of the other; awe before the uncanniness of sexual complementarity, of the remarkable possibility of mediating the sexual difference; awe before the mysterious generative power of sexuality, of the wondrous capacity to transcend sexual difference altogether in the creation of a child, who is the parents’ own commingled being externalized in a separate and persisting existence. And because there is no awe before the sexual other, there is less likelihood of awe before the divine Other in whose image created He them, male and female.

 

Leon R. Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.295

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The Beginning of Wisdom p.205

Sexual neediness, its dependence on another person not under one’s control, its resistance to self-command, and its link with our perishability are all reasons why sexual self-consciousness is colored with shame, and why we move immediately and almost instinctively to cover up.

 

Leon R. Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.205

The Beginning of Wisdom p.158

Throughout the animal world, nature uses superficial looks (along with every other appeal that the senses can distinguish, from mating calls to aromas to pheromones) to bring the sexes together, in order to accomplish the great work of procreation. The love of the beautiful takes on still greater importance for human beings, especially as we become mindful of death and necessary decay. The beautiful lures us into regarding it as a bulwark against death, a haven from the ugliness of disintegration. The beautiful beckons, promising permanence and happiness: the beautiful seems to us to be the skin of the good. Yet appearances are often deceiving on the side of both viewer and viewed. Imagination, colored by human hopes, often distorts what we see…

Even apart from such distortions, the pursuit of the beautiful may be altogether a dead end. Appreciation of the beautiful may inspire the soul, but efforts to capture it leave one unfulfilled – even when seemingly successful. For what do we really have if and when we “possess” the beautiful? Can a beautiful wife really satisfy our soul’s longings for the eternal or the good? Does union with a beautiful woman make us any less ugly or any less perishable?

The visibly beautiful, through its harmonious and well-proportioned appearance, always seems to promise some underlying goodness. Were it able to deliver on its promise, the love of the beautiful might bring us to the good, and hence to our felicity. But as experience teaches, the promise is only infrequently fulfilled; what strikes us as beautiful is rarely yoked to the good. Nonetheless we persist, seduced by the next beauty into believing that this time we shall gain our heart’s desire. We willingly allow ourselves to be betrayed by the testimony of our eyes; we naturally and repeatedly mis-take the beautiful for the good.

 

Leon Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.158

The Beginning of Wisdom p.101

For one thing, the man’s origin was lower, from the dust; the woman begins from already living flesh and, moreover, from flesh taken close to the heart. Also, the man is, in the process, rendered less than hole; he suffers a permanent but invisible wound, signifying a deep and probably unfulfillable desire. Because he is incomplete and knows it, the man will always be looking for something he lacks; but as the image of a lost rib suggests, the man cannot really know what is missing or what the sought-for wholeness would really be. Male erotic desire is a conundrum: it wants and wants ardently, but it is unsure of what exactly would fully satisfy it.

 

Leon Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.101