Friday, 18 November 2011

Brian Sewell (1): the pleasures of the flesh

The London Evening Standard printed an extract from Brian Sewell's forthcoming autobiography in its edition of 17th November 2011. It can be found on their website with the title: The sex life of Brian Sewell: Story of my 1000 lovers. In the print edition it had the title: "Easily a thousand sexual partners in a quinqennium". To date, there appears to have been very little reaction to the piece, or to the trailed accounts of the contents of the autobiography.

The later two-thirds or so of the extract published in the Evening Standard describes a catalogue of casual gay pick ups in the street, at parties and through introductions. There are a sprinkling of longer relationships, though the term relationship can only have a rather analogous meaning in the context. [It is not referred to in the Evening Standard extract, so I think I have encountered it in a review of the autobiography I have read, but there is also the suggestion that Brian Sewell was used as a kind of sexual bait by an employing art auction house when visiting and staying over with clients.]

There is something disguised behind the use of the term "lovers" in the title of the website posting of the extract; it is still disguised, but perhaps less so, in the print edition's use of the term "sexual partners". What is disguised in the title, but abundantly clear in the text itself, is the exploitative nature of Brian Sewell's activities (I hesitate to use the word "relationships" - it just doesn't seem to apply to the encounters being described). He is exploiting other men for his own satisfaction and others are no doubt exploiting him for their pleasure. The extract seems to recognise this, when Brian refers to his "metamorphosis from celibate to whore". The behaviours involved would probably have been recognised as exploitative at the time, in the years from 1959 onwards, to which Brian Sewell's account refers.

Today, I wonder whether we might use the word "abusive" to describe these activities. Procedures for the protection of children and vulnerable adults indicate behaviours ranging from neglect or failure in a duty of care, through a spectrum, to explicitly physical and sexual activity, as being relevant to their considerations. That the activities Brian Sewell describes took place between adults who had, we presume, consented - is this enough for us to take them out of the spectrum of neglectful-to-violent/sexual that would now be considered within the wider sense of the term "abuse"? Are the activities described neglectful of any real care towards the other man involved, in circumstances where freedom of will to consent may itself be impaired? The at least potentially abusive nature of these activities appears to be recognised by Brian Sewell, with his inclusion of the word "violence" and reference to opportunism in the following passage from the extract:
I learned that sex ranges from tenderness to violence, from the short and sharp to the night long, from the security of the bedroom to the thrilling risky business of doing it while standing up in a canoe, and that the opportunist must make his opportunities.  

1 comment:

Jan Baker said...

It must take enough energy to run all of the world's Christmas lights to maintain the disjunct between stories like Sewell's and what happened at Penn state et alles. There is a contradiction between 'no moral restraints' of any kind, apparently, with adults, and 'total moral restraints' vis a vis humans who are called children but may or may not be children in terms of their physical or mental development. It must be hard to listen approvingly to Sewell's ilk at the faculty cocktail party, see the type being promoted, and celebrated, and published, and then being expected to turn that same ilk in--more than once; aggressively turn them in; turn them in and keep turning them in, until somebody does something when nobody apparently wants to--when it's a coach and a fund raiser and a do gooder. Look how quickly we defended Michael Jackson. At the time of his death almost everyone I spoke with was quick to insist, 'it wasn't proved without a shadow of a doubt.' I guess it's thought that moral restraint is something easily turned on and off, rather than something difficult to be acquired. It's a chaotic mess, cognitively speaking.

Maybe we should insist this book be read in the new sex ed classes--does it show the horrible negative physical and mental consequences of whoredom? Does it show the violence? Because students aren't getting any of that information in their Planned Parenthood literature. Thanks for taking it on, I'd hesitate to open it.