The Mask of Aphrodite - Some Personal Thoughts Against Pornography

The Mask of Aphrodite

In this post I just wanted to share a few thoughts against pornography, but using an argument from a Jungian framework. The post is really an extension of my reading and thinking on Carl's Jung's work and his idea of the "collective unconscious." See my earlier post here. One of Jung's main points in that essay is that there are deep unconscious biological structures which have drives and desires that influence our thought. When these deep drives come in contact with our conscious self as we interact with the forces of the world they take on a life of their own. In a way, we interact with these desires as "persons" projected into the world. Now I do not consider myself a Jungian. I disagree that such explanations can explain away the reality of the metaphysical and spiritual. Rather, I would argue that there are spiritual desires that are not reducible to biological drives. (Again see the linked post for my criticism of Jung and the Materialist worldview.) But I do think such an idea can be helpful in understanding how our biological drives influence our perception of reality. In Ancient Greece they personified these base desires into gods and goddesses, and so provides an interesting way to discuss them. In this post I want to explore the idea of the male biological sex drive and female attractiveness through the figure of the Greek goddess Aphrodite (Venus).  

Who Was Aphrodite?

If you don't know much about Aphrodite, here is some background about her... Aphrodite, “A goddess on a mountaintop shining like a silver flame, the goddess of beauty and love, and Venus was her name.” Erotic or sensual love in the Ancient Greek understanding was a possession by the goddess Aphrodite. As a personified figure of erotic love she is very promiscuous and wild. In her own way she is one of the most powerful gods in the Greek Pantheon through her power of manipulation, even manipulating Zeus to an extent. 
The Birth of Venus

She is also the personification of human beauty and sexual love. Originally, she is identified with the land east of Greece in Turkey, and their fertility goddesses. Her birth is recounted by many, but Hesiod gives the most information with the story of the castration of Uranus. From these genitals cut off and fallen into the sea there’s froth forming, and a young maiden arises. “Aphros” is Greek for “foam.” Literally, “she who arose from the foam” is Aphrodite. Homer gives us another story about her origin. Homer says that she was the daughter of Zeus and Dione. Eros accompanies her, and Himeros does as well. These mean "love" and "desire," respectively. So wherever there is Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, there is the personification of love and it awakens desire in men. Love is key to the Greeks from the start, one of the most fundamental components to creation. Love though has to do with the “smiles and deceits” of young girls and causes one to lose one’s reason. So be careful. 

Myths of Aphrodite 

The myths of Aphrodite all make some moral point about the nature and tragedy of sexual desire. To give one example here, take the story of the Golden Ass. In the Golden Ass there’s a young guy who falls in love with a beautiful girl who happens to be the servant of a witch. He asks her to steal a magic potion that can change himself into a bird. She does it, but he ends up getting changed into an ass. He is mistreated as a donkey, but overhears a story about Cupid (Aphrodite's son and also a symbol of sexual desire) and Psyche (Same word for the mind/soul, a type of higher spiritual love). Psyche is so beautiful that Aphrodite can’t take it, and out of jealousy sends Cupid to make her fall in love with something bad and sabotage her. 

Back in Psyche’s hometown, a serpent is coming to destroy it unless a beautiful virgin is sacrificed. The people decide to sacrifice Psyche. She walks off of a cliff and dies, but wakes up in a beautiful palace where she gets food and drink, and a mysterious stranger in the night comes and makes love with her. She can never look at him though. She invites her sisters to come stay with her, but the older sisters are wicked, and tell her that he’s a horrible monster that she got pregnant with. After Psyche (and the hidden Cupid) have made love that night she takes an oil lamp and lights it to get a look at him. She realizes that he’s handsome, but a drip of oil hits him and he wakes up. He kicks her out even though she’s pregnant. Cupid and Venus are both Sabotaging her because you don’t upset Aphrodite without paying for it. Psyche then goes to kill her sister by telling her that Cupid really loves her and wants her also to walk off the cliff in order to be taken to Cupid’s house. Her sister walks off the cliff and dies. 

Aphrodite is looking to punish Psyche when she tries to commit suicide. Aphrodite calls her in and says she’ll give her a chance if she performs four tasks. Task one is to sort a huge pile of grain of different kinds, and she wants it sorted by morning. Then ants come in and sort the grains for Psyche. Aphrodite is shocked the next morning. The second task is to take wool from man-eating sheep. A talking dog tells her to get them at noon when they have fallen asleep. Task three is to go down to the river of wailing in Hell, and get some water from there. There are huge water falls and one would surely die trying this. Another god helps her, though, and she takes it to Aphrodite. The fourth task was to go down to talk to Persephone and say that Aphrodite requires a bottle of her beauty. She does it, and Persephone gives her a vile but tells her not to open it. Psyche looks in it, and she's knocked onto the ground. Cupid comes flying in and realizes that he loves her, and that she is carrying his baby. They take a vote, and wake her up and allowing her to become immortal. Psyche gives birth to a child named "Voluptas," meaning “joy”. “Cupido” here clearly represents the urge for sex, and “Psyche” the soul or urge for spiritual love. One of the points of the story is that union of the two is joy, but these are two warring desires ... It’s not that easy to bring these two together. 1

Fabricating the Mask of Aphrodite

The archetypes that Jung speaks about in the collective unconscious of humanity are in many ways like Plato's forms. Plato's view of that which was most real was one which held that ideas which are stripped of their material individuality and united in their essential nature. All trees share in the perfect form of tree-ness which embodies everything essential to being a tree in a most perfect way. In our experience of the world we begin to develop (or remember for Plato) these perfect intellectual forms as we encounter more and more examples of that object. And so over time the idea becomes more full and perfect, approaching the limit of perfection to what that idea can be. 

When talking about the collective unconscious or archetype of male desire for female sexuality, we can apply this same type of structure to understand it. The biological sexual desire is always present, but over time as men see more and more examples of women they begin to form the idea of "woman" or "female sexual attractiveness" in a more and more purifying manner, attributing to the perfect form of woman that which is common among all pretty women they have seen. One can also see a cultural version of these characteristics in the pop culture of the time which tries to present the most powerful expression of attraction, whether that be a certain hair style, look, dress, or color. Usually in all of these categories, though, there is a move towards removing any particular imperfections in these qualities that particular people might have for a perfect version of these characteristics. Perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect body shape, etc. 

It is through this perfect form of "woman" that all individual women get seen through to the man. Insofar as they have similarities with this form they will be found attractive to him. This perfect woman is Aphrodite, the embodiment of sexual love and desire. She is the expression of the desire for ultimate attractiveness. In so many words, this is what Aphrodite's mask represents. Every man fashions this mask for himself. It is a mask because, from the opposite perspective, every woman in her desire to be found attractive by men, seeks to figure out how to wear it. They seek to embody Aphrodite and shed their individual imperfections. 

Interacting with Aphrodite

And so to speak from an Ancient Greek perspective, we actually interact with Aphrodite as human beings. Men see her reflection in the perfections of women, and women seek to embody her with whatever tools they have available to themselves. As much as men and women try, Aphrodite herself will never be fully embodied, as there is always some type of imperfection in every human being's appearance. 

A serious problem, though, is presented when through technology we are able to strip away the individuality and imperfection from digital presentations of women. Almost all of the models that are presented on magazines have been digitally enhanced to remove any defects in their appearance, making them to seem to embody having perfect characteristics, and thus wear Aphrodite's mask even more fully. This is even more of a danger with the ubiquitous of pornography where almost all human personality and individuality is stripped away for a purely carnal experience. Here one seeks to find Aphrodite herself, to find sexual desire itself. And since this media is enhanced, filtered, cut, and edited it is certainly a more powerful experience than real life when has so many other components to human interaction. It excites the system because it's hyper-real. It's the aggregate of the sexual desire distilled down which engages us fully in our animalistic desires (Cupid), shutting down the human side (Psyche). 

Pornography, therefore, is an experience of sexual desire that is completely disconnected from reality. It exists in a fantasy or mythic world of sorts. And yet Aphrodite can never be captured, she is always elusive. No matter how much one seeks her, sexual pleasure is always unfulfilling by itself. In fact, when one has bored himself with seeking her in one place, he seeks to create a new mask for her and find her in other places. It doesn't take long though for these masks and locations to be twisted and perverted. Novelty, the scent she leaves behind, is always a fruitless pursuit. And so Aphrodite in today's world drags people down into the pits of Hell in that they are disconnected from reality in their sexual desires and living in warped fantasies. Many can use/abuse individual people in their pursuit of Aphrodite. They can even ignore the person in front of them to only focus on Aphrodite or Cupid in them. 

Aphrodite's Revenge

To just finish my point about just ONE of the evils of pornography and tie things together here, we can summarize by saying that to pursue sexual desire for its own sake is always a fleeting pursuit. It is the pursuit of an abstraction that doesn't actually exist. Worst of all it can lead to seeking that abstraction via a perverted/depraved/demonic industry that often preys on the vulnerable; one which will only pervert the mind of the person using it. In the pursuit of these things, not only will one's desires be perverted, but one will be unable to love a real person. A real person is not some Platonic form, is not some goddess, but is an individual with faults and flaws. 

That is also the point of the myth above, that sexual desire must be integrated into a spiritual type of love for someone. It is only this deeper form of love that one is able to sustain a authentic communion with another, to will their good over one's own. 
1 - Introduction to Classical Mythology - Lecture 16 and 17 by Dr. Joseph Hughes