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Volume Ten, Number One   January 2005

Getting Political About Lust:

The Politics of LustThe Politics of Lust
By John Ince
Pivotal Press  
$24.95         335 pp.

Tom Sandborn

Vancouver lawyer and shopkeeper John Ince belongs to a long and honourable tradition in western culture. He belongs to the chorus of brave voices raised against the sexual repression and prudery that has distorted so much of our shared history and brought torment to the lives of uncounted women and men. 

Like Blake, Ince cries out against the “priests in black gowns…walking their rounds, and binding with briars, my joys and desires.” Ince echoes Sapho in celebrating the compelling power of desire and its rooted connection to all that makes life sweet and poignant. Like Wilhelm Reich, he charts the profound links between anti-sexual attitudes, social hierarchy and rigid, armoured personal character. Like Norman O. Brown, he calls for the liberation of “love’s body,” the creation of a social order that affirms and celebrates eros as a central source of human vitality and creativity, not a dangerous, demonic force to be dammed up and channeled into the shallowest and chilliest of matrimonial reservoirs.
At a time when clamorous voices on the Christian Right are louder than ever in their insistent, hectoring demands that Canada turn the clock backwards to some imagined Victorian era of chaste brides, stalwart, non-onanistic grooms and a decent public silence on all matters sexual, while the Supreme Court and Parliamentary committees reflect on issues of same sex marriage and reform of prostitution and bawdy house legislation, the arguments arrayed in The Politics of Lust deserve a fuller hearing than the obscure small press distribution of this challenging book are likely to afford them.

This gallant sexual polemic would make a wonderful Christmas present this year for your ReformaTory MP or the uptight in-law who seems to haunt so many family dinner tables, even now in an epoch of somewhat greater sexual frankness and equality.
Ince, the co-owner of The Art of Loving, a tasteful little operation that merchandises sex toys, erotic sculpture and the like (in the same neighborhood, I was delighted to note, as the Vancouver offices of Lord Black’s now flaccid press empire) has had a life-long concern with issues of sexual health and justice, an interest he has pursued through his work as a defense lawyer and, more recently, as an author, publisher, producer of live performance erotic theater, merchant and public educator. The Politics of Lust can be viewed as a report from the front lines of the sexual revolution, a social transformation that is, in the author’s view, still incomplete and threatened by the forces of prudish counter-revolution.

Ince, a trained lawyer, clearly knows how to make a case, and any sensible jury would be likely to bring in a guilty verdict in assessing the current status of sexual sanity in North American culture. He is particularly persuasive in suggesting that much of the mass media porn and sexualized imagery in commodity advertising available today represents symptoms of erotic fear, rather than proof of its disappearance.

And yet, there are serious problems with this book, for all its useful cataloguing of the follies of prudery and censorship. First of all, the prose is unfortunate in its unrelenting earnestness and owlish sincerity. This stilted, ponderous text, which rivals the late unlamented film Eyes Wide Shut in any competition for the most outstanding recent cultural equivalent of saltpeter, struggles too hard to be scientific and uplifting.

The results are not pretty, and the unintended comic notes struck by the endlessly multiplied pathological entities Ince invokes-from “erotophobia” to lust phobia to stripper phobia to, my personal favorite, condom phobia--not only distract from the author’s serious and useful critique of much of the current public discourse about sex, but also created, at least in this reviewer, a severe case of jargon phobia. But the tone-deaf multiplication of new phobic entities is an aspect of a deeper analytic problem. For Ince, the central problem with sex and the society can be best captured within a medical model.

His treatment of rape, violence against women and misogynist pornography gets subsumed under the essentially trivializing rubric of “nasty sex,” and none of these phenomena are placed clearly in the context of gender, class and racial hierarchies, despite a few promising and suggestive passages in which it seems that he might be about to abandon the limitations of the medical model. 
Furthermore, Ince seems occasionally to suffer from what he himself might call “feminism phobia,” lapsing too often in his treatment of the currents within the women’s movement that have campaigned against pornography into a tone that comes uneasily close to patriarchal contempt. Besides, in his earnest attempts to be serious and scientific, he falls into a dire humorlessness that betrays one of the great truths about sex: it is both fun and funny, one of the great cosmic jokes we get to enjoy on the planet. John Ince shows no evidence of getting the joke.
Despite these defects, The Politics of Lust is a useful and important book. As noted above, it will make an ideal Christmas present for the uptight and the upright in your life you might want to educate or annoy. For other potential readers, it will serve best if read in conjunction with a balancing volume selected from the works of pioneering radical feminists such as Andrea Dworkin, or Susan Brownmiller.

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