Lust by Simon Blackburn

This is one of a series on the Seven Deadly Sins, but may differ from other books in the series, since the author defends what is supposed to be sinful. Blackburn defines “lust” as “the enthusiastic desire, the desire that infuses the body, for sexual activity and its pleasures for their own sake”.

He endorses Hobbes’s explanation of this pleasure: “LUST…is a sensual pleasure, but not only that; there is in it also a delight of the mind: for it consisteth of two appetites together, to please, and to be pleased; and the delight men take in delighting, is not sensual, but a pleasure or joy of the mind”.

Blackburn contrasts this view with that of Aristophanes: sexual desire is “the hopeless attempt to regain a total unity, a fusion of self and other”. Dryden translates Lucretius on the impossibility of attaining this goal: “They grip, they squeeze, their humid tongues they dart; As each would force their way to t’other’s heart; In vain, they only cruise about the coast; For bodies cannot pierce, nor be in bodies lost”.

On the other hand, a Hobbesian unity is attainable between sexual partners sometimes, much like musicians who create a unified performance.

This is a playful but serious book. Blackburn concludes that “lust best flourishes when it is unencumbered by bad philosophy and ideology, by falsities, by controls, by distortions, by corruptions and perversions and suspicions, which prevent its freedom of flow”. (3/22/10)