|The Dissolute Family, by Jan Steen|
Okay, back to our regularly scheduled broadcasting. First though, I have to give an update on my relationship with the new Blogger interface. Tonight, I find that for the first time since using it, there is no error message as I open pages. I have no idea why, but I'm happy to attribute it to some change made by Google after reading my feedback. We can only hope, since they certainly aren't going to tell me.
I was reading an interesting article by Kerry Howley in Bookforum at the register the other day. It was called "Fifty Shades of Beige" and you can find it in its entirety here . It's one of those things that I can't explain, but though I really have no interest in reading the books, I'm fascinated to read commentary on the phenomenon. For a bookseller, it's always interesting to try to understand why one particular book breaks out like that. Almost always, there are plenty of other books in the same genre, and usually a lot of them are at least as good or better. But this one book for some reason lands in fertile soil at a propitious moment.
Anyway. I liked this article and it brought up an interesting question.
When the French philosopher Georges Bataille described eroticism as “assenting to life up to the point of death,” he was talking about a moment of freedom from the prison of isolated existence, a moment in which an essentially discontinuous body might experience the kind of continuity with the universe we’ll all presumably find when our lives are over. In the erotic we bump up against the possibility of dissolution; there is a reason we call a certain kind of person “dissolute.”
Okay, but is this the reason we call a certain kind of person dissolute? That's what I'd like to find out.
Well, I'm kind of striking out here. The Online Etymology dictionary tells us that it entered our language in the late 14th century and meant loose, morally or religiously lax. It does of course have a relationship to the word "dissolve", and comes from the Latin dissolutus, "loose, disconnected" and was a figurative use of a more literal word. And in fact, most of the definitions I found searching around on the web use dissolute as the definition for other words--words like profligate, libertine, rakish.
What I still don't know is why looseness and a dissolved state symbolize the state of being outside the bounds of our current morality.
Maybe Kerry Howley has the answer. Certainly it's the most interesting I've come across so far.