Stir Up the Transgressive and Taboo
There are always social limits on what one can do.
Some of these, the most elemental taboos, go back centuries; others are more superficial, simply defining polite and acceptable behavior. Making your targets feel that you are leading them past either kind of limit is immensely seductive. People yearn to explore their dark side. Not everything in romantic love is supposed to be tender and soft; hint that you have a cruel, even sadistic streak. You do not respect age differences, marriage vows, family ties. Once the desire to transgress draws your targets to you, it will be hard for them to stop. Take them further than they imagined—the shared feeling of guilt and complicity will create a powerful bond.
The Lost Self
It is a matter of a certain hind of feeling: that of
In March of 1812, the twenty-four-year-old George Gordon Byron published the first cantos of his poem Childe Harold. The poem was filled with familiar gothic imagery—a dilapidated abbey, debauchery, travels to the mysterious East—but what made it different was that the hero of the poem was also its villain: Harold was a man who led a life of vice, disdaining society's conventions yet somehow going unpunished. Also, the poem was not set in some faraway land but in present-day England. Childe Harold created an instant stir, becoming the talk of London. The first printing being overwhelmed. There
quickly sold out. Within days a rumor made the rounds: the poem, about a are many who have a great debauched young nobleman, was in fact autobiographical. fear of bring overwhelmed
by someone; for example,
Now the cream of society clamored to meet Lord Byron, and many of someone who makes them them left their calling cards at his London residence. Soon he was showing laugh against their will, or up at their homes. Strangely enough, he exceeded their expectations. He tickles them to death or,
was devilishly handsome, with curling hair and the face of an angel. His worse, tells them things
that they sense to be black attire set off his pale complexion. He did not talk much, which made accurate but which they do an impression of itself, and when he did, his voice was low and hypnotic not quite understand,
and his tone a little disdainful. He had a limp (he was born with a clubfoot), thingsi thatgo beyond their
1 prejudices and received so when an orchestra struck up a waltz (the dance craze of 1812), he would wisdom, in 0ther m^, stand to the side, a faraway look in his eye. The ladies went wild over By- they do not want to be
ron. Upon meeting him, Lady Roseberry felt her heart beating so violently seduced since seduction
means confronting people
(a mix of fear and excitement) that she had to walk away. Women fought to with their limits, limits
be seated next to him, to win his attention, to be seduced by him. Was it that are supposed to be set true that he was guilty of a secret sin, like the hero of his poem? and stable but that the
seducer suddenly causes to
Lady Caroline Lamb—wife of William Lamb, son of Lord and Lady waver. Seduction is the
Melbourne—was a glittering young woman on the social scene, but deep desire of being inside she was unhappy. As a young girl she had dreamt of adventure, romance, travel. Now she was expected to play the role of the polite young wife, and it did not suit her. Lady Caroline was one of the first to read —DANIEL SIBONY,
J L 'AMOUR INCONSCIENT
Childe Harold, and something more than its novelty stirred her. When she saw Lord Byron at a dinner party, surrounded by women, she looked at his face, then walked away; that night she wrote of him in her journal, "Mad, j t 111 j t- ht
bad, and dangerous to know." She added, "That beautiful pale face is my riined stalion \ Ge• the bit fate." in his teeth and bolt \ Like
The next day, to Lady Caroline's surprise, Lord Byron called on her. lightning—yet the minute
he felt the reins slacken, \
Evidently he had seen her walking away from him, and her shyness had in- Drop ooose on hss lyring
trigued him—he disliked the aggressive women who were constantly at his mane, \ He stopped dead.
overwhelmed, taken beyond.
We eternally chafe at heels, as it seemed he disdained everything, including his success. Soon he m^Mrnm, covet \ was visiting Lady Caroline daily. He lingered in her boudoir, played with „,, . , ' her children, helped her choose her dress for the day. She pressed him to
(Look how a sick man 1 J 1
who's told \ No immersion talk of his life: he described his brutal father, the untimely deaths that hangs round the bath- seemed to be a family curse, the crumbling abbey he had inherited, his ad-h°use.) \. Desire \ ventures in Turkey and Greece. His life was indeed as gothic as that of
Mounts for whats kept out of reach. A thief's attracted Childe Harold.
\ By burglar-proof Within days the two became lovers. Now, though, the tables turned: premises. H°w often mu Lady Caroline pursued Byron with unladylike aggression. She dressed as a love \ Thrive on a rival's uppmrni? its not your page and sneaked into his carriage, wrote him extravagantly emotional let-
wife's beauty, but your own ters, flaunted the affair. At last, a chance to play the grand romantic role of
\ Passion for her that gets her girlhood fantasies. Byron began to turn against her. He already loved to
... . . . , shock; now he confessed to her the nature of the secret sin he had alluded something, just to have hooked you. A girl locked to in Childe Harold—his homosexual affairs during his travels. He made up by her \ Husband's not cruel remarks, grew indifferent. But this only seemed to push her further.
chaste but pursued, her She sent him the customary lock of hair, but from her pubis; she followed fears \ A bigger draw than J 1
her figure. jliiicit passion— him in the street, made public scenes—finally her family sent her abroad to like it \ Or n°t—is avoid further scandal. After Byron made it clear the affair was over, she de-
sweeter. jt only turns me scended into a madness that would last several years. on \ When the girl says,
"i'm frightened." In 1813, an old friend of Byron's, James Webster, invited the poet to stay at his country estate. Webster had a young and beautiful wife, Lady translated by peter green Frances, and he knew Byron's reputation as a seducer, but his wife was quiet and chaste—surely she would resist the temptation of a man such as Byron. To Webster's relief, Byron barely spoke to Frances, who seemed equally uninterested in him. Yet several days into Byron's stay, she contrived jt is often not possible for
[women] uter on to undo to be alone with him in the billiards room, where she asked him a question: the connection thus formed how could a woman who liked a man inform him of it when he did not in their minds between perceive it? Byron scribbled a racy reply on a piece of paper, which made sensual activities and
something forbidden, and her blush as she read it. Soon thereafter he invited the couple to stay with they turn out to be him at his infamous abbey. There, the prim and proper Lady Frances saw
psychically impotent, i.e. him drink wine from a human skull. They stayed up late in one of the frigid, when at last such
.. ... . . abbeys secret chambers, reading poetry and kissing. With Byron, it seemed, activities do become permissible. This is the Lady Frances was only too eager to explore adultery.
source of the desire in so That same year, Lord Byron's half sister Augusta arrived in London to many women to keep even get away from her husband, who was having money troubles. Byron had legitimate relations secret for a time; and of the not seen Augusta for some time. The two were physically similar—the
appearance of the capacity same face, the same mannerisms; she was Lord Byron as a woman. And his
for normal sensation in behavior toward her was more than brotherly. He took her to the theater, others as soon as the condition ofpmhiMticm is to dances, received her at home, treating her with an intimate spirit that restored by a secret Augusta soon returned. Indeed the kind and tender attention that Byron
intrigur—untrue to the showered on her soon became physical.
husband, they can keep a
second order offmth with Augusta was a devoted wife with three children, yet she yielded to her the lover. •in my opinion half brother's advances. How could she help herself? He stirred up a strange
the necessary condition of passion in her, a stronger passion than she felt for any other man, including forbiddenness in the erotic her husband. For Byron, his relationship with Augusta was the ultimate and life of women holds the same place as the man's crowning sin of his career. And soon he was writing to his friends, openly confessing it. Indeed he delighted in their shocked responses, and his long narrative poem, The Bride ofAbydos, takes brother-sister incest as its theme. Rumors began to spread of Byron's relations with Augusta, who was now pregnant with his child. Polite society shunned him—but women were more drawn to him than before, and his books were more popular than ever.
Annabella Milbanke, Lady Caroline Lamb's cousin, had met Byron in those first months of 1812 when he was the toast of London. Annabella was sober and down to earth, and her interests were science and religion. But there was something about Byron that attracted her. And the feeling seemed to be returned: not only did the two become friends, to her bewilderment he showed another kind of interest in her, even at one point proposing marriage. This was in the midst of the scandal over Byron and Caroline Lamb, and Annabella did not take the proposal seriously. Over the next few months she followed his career from a distance, and heard the troubling rumors of incest. Yet in 1813, she wrote her aunt, "I consider his acquaintance as so desirable that I would incur the risk of being called a Flirt for the sake of enjoying it." Reading his new poems, she wrote that his "description of Love almost makes me in love." She was developing an obsession with Byron, of which word soon reached him. They renewed their friendship, and in 1814 he proposed again; this time she accepted. Byron was a fallen angel and she would be the one to reform him.
It did not turn out that way. Byron had hoped that married life would calm him down, but after the ceremony he realized it was a mistake. He told Annabella, "Now you will find that you have married a devil." Within a few years the marriage fell apart.
In 1816, Byron left England, never to return. He traveled through Italy for a while; everyone knew his story—the affairs, the incest, the cruelty to his lovers. But wherever he went, Italian women, particularly married noblewomen, pursued him, making it clear in their own way how prepared they were to be the next Byronic victim. In truth, the women had become the aggressors. As Byron told the poet Shelley, "No one has been more carried off than poor dear me—I've been ravished more often than anyone since the Trojan war."
Interpretation. Women of Byron's time were longing to play a different role than society allowed them. They were supposed to be the decent, moralizing force in culture; only men had outlets for their darker impulses. Underlying the social restrictions on women, perhaps, was a fear of the more amoral and unbridled part of the female psyche.
Feeling repressed and restless, women of the time devoured gothic novels and romances, stories in which women were adventurous, and had the same capacity for good and evil as men. Books like these helped to trigger a revolt, with women like Lady Caroline playing out a little of the fantasy life they had had in their girlhood, where it had to some extent been permit-
need to lower his sexual object. . . . Women belonging to the higher levels of civilization do not usually transgress the prohibition against sexual activities during the period of waiting, and thus they acquire this close association between the forbidden and the sexual. . . . • The injurious results of the deprivation of sexual enjoyment at the beginning manifest themselves in lack of full satisfaction when sexual desire is later given free rein in marriage. But, on the other hand, unrestrained sexual liberty from the beginning leads to no better result. It is easy to show that the value the mind sets on erotic needs instantly sinks as soon as satisfaction becomes readily obtainable. Some obstacle is necessary to swell the tide of the libido to its height; and at all periods of history, wherever natural barriers in the way of satisfaction have not sufficed, mankind has erected conventional ones in order to be able to enjoy love. This is true both of individuals and of nations. In times during which no obstacles to sexual satisfaction existed, such as, maybe, during the decline of the civilizations of antiquity, love became worthless, life became empty, and strong reaction -formations were necessary before the indispensable emotional value of love could be recovered.
—SIGMUND FREUD, 'CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LOVE,-SEXUALITY AND THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LOVE, TRANSLATED BY JOAN RIVIERE
This is how Monsieur ted. Byron arrived on the scene at the right time. He became the lightning Maudair analyzed mens rod for women's unexpressed desires; with him they could go beyond the attitude toward prostitutes: „
"Neither the love of a limits society had imposed. For some the lure was adultery, for others it was passionate but well- romantic rebellion, or a chance to become irrational and uncivilized. (The brought-up nor desire to reform him merely covered up the truth—the desire to be over-
his marriage to a woman whelmed by him.) In all cases it was the lure of the forbidden, which in this whom he respects, can
replace the prostitute for the case was more than merely a superficial temptation: once you became inhuman animal in those volved with Lord Byron, he took you further than you had imagined or perverse moments when he wanted, since he recognized no limits. Women did not just fall in love with covets the pleasure of
debasing himself without him, they let him turn their lives upside down, even ruin them. They pre-affecting his social prestige. ferred that fate to the safe confines of marriage. Nothmg can replace thm In some ways, the situation of women in the early nineteenth century bizarre and powerful
pleasure of being able to has become generalized in the early twenty-first. The outlets for male bad say everything, do behavior—war, dirty politics, the institution of mistresses and courtesans—
everything, profane and have faded away; today, not just women but men are supposed to be emi-parody without any fear of nently civilized and reasonable. And many have a hard time living up to retribution, remorse, or responsibility. It is a this. As children we are able to vent the darker side of our characters, a side
complete revolt against that all of us have. But under pressure from society (at first in the form
organized society, his of our parents), we slowly repress the naughty, rebellious, perverse streaks organized, educated self and especially his in our characters. To get along, we learn to repress our dark sides, which religion." Monsieur become a kind of lost self, a part of our psyche buried beneath our polite
Mauclair hears the call of appearance.
the Devil in this dark
passion poetized by As adults, we secretly want to recapture that lost self—the more adven-
Baudelaire. "The turous, less respectful, childhood part of us. We are drawn to those who
prostitute represents the live out their lost selves as adults, even if it involves some evil or destruc-unconscious which enables
us to put aside our tion. Like Byron, you can become the lightning rod for such desires. You responsibilities." must learn, however, to keep this potential under control, and to use it —NINA EPTON, strategically. As the aura of the forbidden around you is drawing targets into love and the french your web, do not overplay your dangerousness, or they will be frightened away. Once you feel them falling under your spell, you have freer rein. If they begin to imitate you, as Lady Caroline imitated Byron, then take it Hearts and eye go traveling further—mix in some cruelty, involve them in sin, crime, taboo activity, along the paths that have whatever it takes. Unleash the lost self within them; the more they act it always brought them Joy: out, the deeper your hold over them. Going halfway will break the spell and if anyone attempts to and create self-consciousness. Take it as far as you can.
spoil their game, he only makes them the more passionate about ^ G°d Baseness attracts everybody.
Tristan and Isolde. As —JOHANN W°LFGANG G°ETHE
soon as they were forbidden their desires, and prevented from enjoying one another by spies and guards, they began to suffer intensely.
Desire now seriously ociety and culture are based on limits—this kind of behavior is accept-
tormented them by its able, that is not. The limits are fluid and change with time, but there are magic, many times worse than beoore- their need or always limits. The alternative is anarchy, the lawlessness of nature, which we one another was more dread. But we are strange animals: the moment any kind of limit is im
Keys to Seduction posed, physically or psychologically, we are instantly curious. A part of us wants to go beyond that limit, to explore what is forbidden.
If, as children, we are told not to go past a certain point in the woods, that is precisely where we want to go. But we grow older, and become polite and deferential; more and more boundaries encumber our lives. Do not confuse politeness with happiness, however. It covers up frustration, unwanted compromise. How can we explore the shadow side of our personality without incurring punishment or ostracism? It seeps out in our dreams. We sometimes wake up with a sense of guilt at the murder, incest, adultery, and mayhem that goes on in our dreams, until we realize no one needs to know about it but ourselves. But give a person the sense that with you they will have a chance to explore the outer reaches of acceptable, polite behavior, that with you they can vent some of their closeted personality, and you create the ingredients for a deep and powerful seduction.
You will have to go beyond the point of merely teasing them with an elusive fantasy. The shock and seductive power will come from the reality of what you are offering them. Like Byron, at a certain point you can even press it further than they may want to go. If they have followed you merely out of curiosity, they may feel some fear and hesitation, but once they are hooked, they will fond you hard to resist, for it is hard to return to a limit once you have transgressed and gone past it. The human cries out for more, and does not know when to stop. You will determine for them when it is time to stop.
The moment people feel that something is prohibited, a part of them will want it. That is what makes a married man or woman such a delicious target—the more someone is prohibited, the greater the desire. George Vil-liers, the Earl of Buckingham, was the favorite first of King James I, then of James's son, King Charles I. Nothing was ever denied him. In 1625, on a visit to France, he met the beautiful Queen Anne and fell hopelessly in love. What could be more impossible, more out of reach, than the queen of a rival power? He could have had almost any other woman, but the prohibited nature of the queen completely enflamed him, until he embarrassed himself and his country by trying to kiss her in public.
Since what is forbidden is desired, somehow you must make yourself seem forbidden. The most blatant way to do this is to engage in behavior that gives you a dark and forbidden aura. Theoretically you are someone to avoid; in fact you are too seductive to resist. That was the allure of the actor Errol Flynn, who, like Byron, often found himself the pursued rather than the pursuer. Flynn was devilishly handsome, but he also had something else: a definite criminal streak. In his wild youth he engaged in all kinds of shady activities. In the 1950s he was charged with rape, a permanent stain on his reputation even though he was acquitted; but his popularity among women only increased. Play up your dark side and you will have a similar effect. For your targets to be involved with you means going beyond their limits, doing something naughty and unacceptable—to society, to their peers. For many that is reason to bite the bait.
painful and urgent than it had ever been. • ... Women do lots of things just because they are forbidden, which they would certainly not do if they were not forbidden. . . . Our Lord God gave Eve the freedom to do what she would with all the fruits, flowers, and plants there were in Paradise, except for only one, which he forbade her to touch on pain of death. . . . She look the fruit and broke God's commandment . . . but it is my firm belief now that Eve would never have done this, if she had not been forbidden to.
— GOTTFRIED VON STRASSBURG, TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, QUOTED IN ANDREA HOPKINS, THE BOOK OF COURTLY LOVE
One of Monsieur Leopold Stern's friends rented a bachelor's pied-à-terre where he received his wife as a mistress, served her with port and petits-fours and "experienced all the tingling excitement of adultery." He told Stern that it was a delightful sensation to cuckold himself.
In Junichiro Tanazaki's 1928 novel Quicksand, Sonoko Kakiuchi, the wife of a respectable lawyer, is bored and decides to take art classes to wile away the time. There, she finds herself fascinated with a fellow female student, the beautiful Mitsuko, who befriends her, then seduces her. Kakiuchi is forced to tell endless lies to her husband about her involvement with Mitsuko and their frequent trysts. Mitsuko slowly involves her in all kinds of nefarious activities, including a love triangle with a bizarre young man. Each time Kakiuchi is made to explore some forbidden pleasure, Mitsuko challenges her to go further and further. Kakiuchi hesitates, feels remorse— she knows she is in the clutches of a devilish young seductress who has played on her boredom to lead her astray. But in the end, she cannot help following Mitsuko's lead—each transgressive act makes her want more. Once your targets are drawn by the lure of the forbidden, dare them to match you in transgressive behavior. Any kind of challenge is seductive. Take it slowly heightening the challenge only after they show signs of yielding to you. Once they are under your spell, they may not even notice how far out on a limb you have taken them.
The great eighteenth-century rake Duc de Richelieu had a prediliction for young girls and he would often heighten the seduction by enveloping them in transgressive behavior, to which the young are particularly susceptible. For instance, he would find a way into the young girl's house and lure her into her bed; the parents would be just down the hall, adding the proper spice. Sometimes he would act as if they were about to be discovered, the momentary fright sharpening the overall thrill. In all cases, he would try to turn the young girl against her parents, ridiculing their religious zeal or prudery or pious behavior. The duke's stategy was to attack the values that his targets held dearest—precisely the values that represent a limit. In a young person, family ties, religious ties, and the like are useful to the seducer; young people barely need a reason to rebel against them. The strategy, though, can be applied to a person of any age: for every deeply held value there is a shadow side, a doubt, a desire to explore what those values forbid.
In Renaissance Italy, a prostitute would dress as a lady and go to church. Nothing was more exciting to a man than to exchange glances with a woman whom he knew to be a whore as he was surrounded by his wife, family, peers, and church officials. Every religion or value system creates a dark side, the shadow realm of everything it prohibits. Tease your targets, get them to flirt with whatever transgresses their family values, which are often emotional yet superficial, since they are imposed from the outside.
One of the most seductive men of the twentieth century, Rudolph Valentino, was known as the Sex Menace. His appeal for women was twofold: he could be tender and attentive, but he also hinted of cruelty. At any moment he could become dangerously bold, perhaps even a little violent. The studios played up this double image as much as possible—when it was reported that he had been abusive to his wife, for example, they ex ploited the story. A mix of the masculine and the feminine, the violent and the tender, will always seem transgressive and appealing. Love is supposed to be tender and delicate, but in fact it can release violent and destructive emotions; and the possible violence of love, the way it breaks down our normal reasonableness, is just what attracts us. Approach romance's violent side by mixing a cruel streak into your tender attentions, particularly in the latter stages of the seduction, when the target is in your clutches. The courtesan Lola Montez was known to turn to violence, using a whip now and then, and Lou Andreas-Salomé could be exceptionally cruel to her men, playing coquettish games, turning alternately icy and demanding. Her cruelty only kept her targets coming back for more. A masochistic involvement can represent a great transgressive release.
The more illicit your seduction feels, the more powerful its effect. Give your targets the feeling that they are committing a kind of crime, a deed whose guilt they share with you. Create public moments in which the two of you know something that those around you do not. It could be phrases and looks that only you recognize, a secret. Byron's seductive appeal to Lady Frances was connected to the nearness of her husband—in his company, for example, she had a love letter of Byron's hidden in her bosom. Johannes, the protagonist of Soren Kierkegaard's The Seducer's Diary, sent a message to his target, the young Cordelia, in the middle of a dinner party they were both attending; she could not reveal to the other guests that it was from him, for then she would have to do some explaining. He might also say something in public that would have a special meaning for her, since it referred to something in one of his letters. All of this added spice to the affair by giving it a feeling of a shared secret, even a guilty crime. It is critical to play on tensions like these in public, creating a sense of complicity and collusion against the world.
In the Tristan and Isolde legend, the famous lovers reach the heights of bliss and exhilaration exactly because of the taboos they break. Isolde is engaged to King Mark; she will soon be a married woman. Tristan is a loyal subject and warrior in the service of King Mark, who is his father's age. The whole affair has a feeling of stealing away the bride from the father. Epitomizing the concept of love in the Western world, the legend has had immense influence over the ages, and a crucial part of it is the idea that without obstacles, without a feeling of transgression, love is weak and flavorless.
People may be straining to remove restrictions on private behavior, to make everything freer, in the world today, but that only makes seduction more difficult and less exciting. Do what you can to reintroduce a feeling of transgression and crime, even if it is only psychological or illusory. There must be obstacles to overcome, social norms to flout, laws to break, before the seduction can be consummated. It might seem that a permissive society imposes few limits; find some. There will always be limits, sacred cows, behavioral standards—endless ammunition for stirring up the trans-gressive and taboo.
Symbol: The Forest. The children are told not to go into the forest that lies just beyond the safe confines of their home. There is no law there, only wilderness, wild animals, and criminals. But the chance to explore, the alluring darkness, and the fact that it is prohibited are impossible to resist. And once inside, they want to go farther and farther.
The reversal of stirring up taboos would be to stay within the limits of acceptable behavior. That would make for a very tepid seduction. Which is not to say that only evil or wild behavior is seductive; goodness, kindness, and an aura of spirituality can be tremendously attractive, since they are rare qualities. But notice that the game is the same. A person who is kind or good or spiritual within the limits that society prescribes has a weak appeal. It is those who go to the extreme—the Gandhis, the Krish-namurtis—who seduce us. They do not merely expound a spiritual lifestyle, they do away with all personal material comfort to live out their ascetic ideals. They too go beyond the limits, transgressing acceptable behavior, because societies would find it hard to function if everyone went to such lengths. In seduction, there is absolutely no power in respecting boundaries and limits.
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