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Lecture Topic Consent: Sex as Destructive

A reading of Johns lack of consent

One of the central reasons why I think Johns encounters with sex are particularly problematic in the text is because both times that he is directly involved, there is a distinct lack of consent (either from John, from his partner, or both). These is a reasonably modern reading of the text and is difficult to connect to what Huxleys original intentions might have been. Why I think the reading is interesting though, it because ideas of consent are particularly relevant to the world we live in now. Questions are being increasingly raised around what constitutes consent, and by looking at the impact a lack of consent might have, we can get quite a modern insight into the destructive potential of sex. So, what this presentation deals with is more around how Huxleys text can be used to help us engage with particularly modern issues, even though Huxley himself would have been distinctly unaware of them. This is perhaps important to the text having lasting value - that within it, we can find modern resonances alongside the classical issues that were consciously placed within the text.

Lenina and John

Looking first at Leninas encounter with John, we see that he was never offered an opportunity at consent. Going back as far as Fannys conversation with Lenina, she seems to be suggesting what would, in todays standards, amount to rape: Why dont you just go and take him. Whether he wants it or not. John is never offered an opportunity to consent as Lenina, high on soma, aggressively makes her move: so intense was her exasperation that she drove her sharp nails into the skin of his wrists. The Biblical allusion screams persecution here. There is about as much consent as there was when Christ was put on the cross. It is worth nothing that Lenina reads consent into Johns declaration of love. This isnt okay. And the consequence of the aggressive, non-consensual attitude towards sex? Violence, pain, heartache: Get out of my sight or Ill kill you. He clenched his fists. The noise of that prodigious slap by which her departure was accelerated was like a pistol shot - the simile directly reinforcing the violence of the reaction. O thou weed, who are so lovely fair and smellst so sweet that senses ache at thee. Was this most goodly book made to write whore upon? - Johns heart aches at the realisation that his impressions and fantasies of Lenina dont live up to her promiscuous reality. His fondness for her is tainted by his sudden awareness of her values.

John and Lenina

This isnt their only non-consensual sexual encounter. We get the even more disturbing final sequence (Chapter 18) where the roles are reversed and John takes advantage of Lenina (I am aware that this sequence is ambiguous about whether Lenina and John actually have sex here or not. I think that there is enough evidence to suggest that they do, and so I base this analysis on that assumption). The encounter is again distinctly violent - John is lashing Lenina with his whip in the prelude to the sexual encounter (I will deal with the violence in a later presentation) and so it is pretty clear there is no consent here: Like a madman, he was slashing at her...Terrified, she had turned to flee, had tripped and fallen... - Lenina tries to escape but John draws her back in. The hints at sex are there - exhausted by a long-drawn frenzy of sensuality, the Savage lay sleeping in the heather. - and the consequence of this particular sexual encounter are similar to the previous, but far more serious. John is initially seen as ashamed: ...then suddenly remembered - everything...Oh, my God, my God! he covered his eyes with his hand. Finally though, he is distraught, with his final act being suicide. While this encounter is not the only factor in Johns death, it is a significant catalyst or motivating factor. The lack of consent can only lead to a deep sense of shame - it can only be destructive.

Modern implications
If we look at these two sequences from the angle of consent, or lack thereof, it becomes a reasonably powerful expression of both the importance of consent, and the destructive consequences of the absence of consent. I think it is worth keeping in mind that both Lenina and John are destroyed in the non-consensual act - both physically and psychologically. There are simply no good outcomes from either of these non-consensual acts. Both are framed by violence and so are immediately connected to pain and destruction and both result in psychological pain. So, while Huxley was definitely not an avid campaigner for consent and stronger understanding of consent, I think this is potentially a really interesting way to read the text in light of modern issues around sex and sexual violence. There is a really clear lesson that can be read into the work here: that ultimately, a lack of consent is destructive for both parties - it denies any positive connection and can lead to an ongoing sense of shame, which will always be a destructive force.