Saturday, 19 November 2011

Brian Sewell (2): the abandoning of moral constraint

There was in 1959 a change in my life - a change essential for my sanity.
These are the opening words of the extract from Brian Sewell's autobiography published recently in the London Evening Standard and available on their website under the title The sex life of Brian Sewell: Story of my 1000 lovers. I have already posted on one aspect of this piece - the pleasures of the flesh. That post will, I think, indicate to you that the style of life adopted by Brian Sewell after the change of 1959 is not one to which I would apply the descriptor "sanity".

In the first two paragraphs of the published extract, Brian Sewell describes turning away from a practise of Roman Catholicism that was "a dry discipline scarcely spiritual", a practise that had been "much troubled by my sexuality" (ie homosexuality). Now what Brian Sewell would have us believe is that this turning away from Catholicism was necessary for his sanity because it then liberated him to practise his homosexuality, removing the tension in his life that otherwise existed between Catholicism and his homosexuality.

However, if we consider the utter licentiousness in which Brian Sewell describes himself as engaging after this change in his life, then we can perhaps recognise that even his rather dry relationship to Catholicism was actually exercising an important influence in his life before he abandoned it. It was exercising a moral constraint. It is possible to read the first two paragraphs of the London Evening Standard extract and see that, though Brian Sewell admits to finding what he terms "chastity of the imagination" impossible, he had nevertheless sustained a physical chastity in so far as involvement of other people was concerned. Brian Sewell uses the word "turbulent" to describe the pressure on him, though one might also see this as an experience of the necessary effort to try and overcome a temptation to a behaviour that is recognised as morally wrong. It was the experience of a moral constraint, the maintaining of a boundary to human behaviour against a strong desire to cross that boundary. One suspects, from the subsequent events that Brian Sewell describes in this extract, that it was a moral constraint that he was willing to abandon with a certain readiness.

So the question being asked in this post is the following. Was the change in Brian Sewell's style of life a change "essential for my sanity", as he wishes to present it, or the abandoning of a legitimate moral constraint, of value both to Brian himself and to society as a whole, and the abandonment of which led Brian to a life of promiscuity?


Frederick Oakeley said...

The story of Brian Sewell's sexual exploits after he gave up the practice of religion is indeed depressing. He glories in the emptiness of as many as five casual partners in a single evening. Yet, there is too a question for Catholics. Now that we know that some people can only truthfully have sexual relationships with the same sex, if the proper standards of faithfulness and constancy apply, should we really deny them the sort of permanent, creative, relationship of, say, Benjamin Brittan and Peter Pears? The ugliness of Sewell's story is the grimness of promiscuity, not of the homosexuality with which he was born.

Webmaster Gareth said...

I disagree. Homosexuality is a disorder and so is intrinsically ugly. Otherwise we could sing poetically of the alcoholic who beats his wife!

Patricius said...

I am not sure that "sanity" is a word that I would necessarily associate with Brian Sewell-nor that I would believe a word he wrote. His stock in trade appears to consist in making statements that are outrageous or controversial. By such means he has established himself in the public consciousness as an instantly recognisable art critic. He might be best described as a living caricature.

Frederick Oakeley said...

I've just read Webmaster Gareth. I fear he is mixing two issues. The normal order of things for human beings is to be heterosexual, in the sense that most of us are lucky enough to be pretty well defined along the sexuality scale. Some are clearly capable of sexual relationships with either sex but there are some for whom same-sex relationships are the only kind they can truthfully have.
What is a disorder for most is truthful for them. That's intrinsicaly ugly if it is promiscuous but if it results in a permanent loving relationship, it has nothing in common with an alcoholic beating his wife.

Carl Gardner said...

To compare homosexuality to wife-beating is outrageous.

Reading that comment reminds me yet again that the morality of many religious believers is objectively disordered.

George Latterday said...

Homosexuality is not a disorder in any sense... it was remoced from the diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM) in 1973 as there was a lack of scientific evidence to colloborate the diagnosis.
The cathechism also does use the term intrinsically disordered in the sense that it is a disorder.
YTo use it thus is disingenuous to say the least.

Joe said...

Thank you for the comments.

A slightly lateral thought on the question of whether or not homosexuality is a disorder.

From the physiological point of view, the organs of the human body are ordered towards, and make sense of, conventional heterosexual activity. Whatever view one might want to take of homosexual inclination (or, to use a better term, same-sex attraction)is there not a readily apparent disorder at the physiological level with regard to same-sex activity?