Six in the University: on the Autoerotic Asphyxiophilia of Academics

Note: All characters and events depicted in this essay are factional, and any resemblance to persons living, dead or fictional or situations past, present or fictional is fairly coincidental.

There is less six (6[six]), if not six-talk (TS[txt-six]), in the university than in the *real world*. But there is plenty of talk about six (8[oral—and other kinds]), albeit safe talk.

Talking numbers [1]

This is because in the university, a.k.a. the ‘academy,we’re protected from six, and talk about six is protected by academese and acadecorum. (No straight six or straight talk here!)

That protection is historical, which is to say, there’s an institutional and ideological back story to it, though it feels to us like something in the air—atmospheric, prophylactic . . .

The academosphere

We’re trained to think of the university as a sixless bubble: we at the university and the bigger We who gets uptight about six-talk at the university—talk of paw-nography, praw-stitution . . . and aw-gasms.[2] It’s supposed to be a place of rationality (mind over body), of study not recreation (no parties, even more so in the sober environment of the ‘university of excellence’), without sixed-up advertising (except in the sanctioned retail spaces) or dress (except for undergrads who haven’t quite figured out the casual academic dress-code—or who go in for public primping and preening).

It is a place of gendered sixlessness, a place, for example, where gender-neutral language and gender-specific terms and pronouns rule. We can talk about six (gender, desire, sixual identity, etc.), but the thing itself is out (or rather, in . . . the closet, that is): 8 tops 6.

Historically speaking, I reckon the academosphere is indebted to Plato’s Symposium, a kind of talkfest—like our conference, tutorial, workshop, seminar, etc.—about eros (Gk ‘love’). Except that symposia were really about thinking and d***king (and, dare I say, d**king—or rather, ‘homosocial’ behaviour).

A symposium (Gk ‘d***king together’) [3]

Our version is somewhat neutered—and no-one gets newted.

I had thought that maybe the academosphere embodied the sort of platonic love that Plato has Diotima (supposedly Socrates’ female teacher) voice in the Symposium. Apparently, through love, or more precisely, when we look at beautiful people, we’re inspired to think about spiritual things, to contemplate Beauty and the Divine as the source of beauty. Philosophical perving.

Or that maybe it embodied the androgyny (the ‘cogender’) he has Aristophanes promote as an original identity: the womanly man or manly woman. Ambisixterous academia.

If only. Neither theory really captures the academosphere. ‘Desire flows’ only in sublimated form, to borrow a phrase from Jacques Lacan (the 34th most cited author in the Humanities—so he could be right).[4] I’d argue that we follow the idea Socrates also took from Diotima of the ‘mentally pregnant’ man as the symbol of philosophy. The pregmant philosopher produces wisdom and virtue from his forehead—the same way Zeus produced Athena, goddess of wisdom. Sophogeny (Gk ‘the birth of wisdom’). We think the same: no g*n*y here.

Birth of Athena (c.540 BCE)[5]

This gives the lie to the idea of the university as a feminised space: a womb of learning.[6]

But if the university is masculinised, it seems emasculated all the same: the only d**k is virtual—men in power (in the administration and faculties), as at the UoA.[7] Naked power. Naked men of power (ITIGBS!) like Owen G. Glenn and the other men of capital whose names grace our architecture and marketing.

And that’s unlikely to change, if you look at the proportions of male and female professors; likewise the growth of the (supposedly) male science and business faculties, and the decline of the (ditto) female arts and humanities.[8] The university as a womb for rent, then?

The Perverse University

The academosphere as a bubble blown by men of power seems not a little perverse. But it’s not as if men don’t hold power—or don’t think they hold power—in the *real world*. Nonetheless, there’s plenty of stuff that escapes their all-seeing eye (the ‘male gaze’). There’s real perversity out there. As Michel Foucault (the most cited author in the Humanities—so he can’t be wrong), puts it, ‘Modern society is perverse . . . in actual fact, and directly, perverse.’[9]

Likewise, assuming that the university is part of the *real world*, there must be perversity in the university. We study it, for sure (8): in gender studies, psychology, literary studies, etc. But we must do perverse stuff too (6). Our term for perversity is ‘paraphilia’: to quote John Money, ‘a sixuoerotic embellishment of, or alternative to the official, ideological norm.’[10] In the university, the normal ‘erotic’ relationship is friendship (‘peering’ and ‘mentoring’). But there’s plenty of other ‘abnormal’ loving going down:
  • Self-outing: openness about sixuality and sixual identity (>->-, :-:-, >->-/:-, :-:-/>-, >-®:-, :-®>-, 6, etc., if not >-:-, who are so out that they’re in);[11] 
  • Academics with an academic partner in their closet—often in the same department (:o . . . ;-));[12]
  • Crushes (and clinches, from flirting to petting to the *real* deal)—student on student :),[13] student on academic :(, and academic on student :( :(.
In other words, the academosphere isn’t a place in outer space: research, study, teaching and learning are sixed. Like it or not, we all breathe the same air.

So what was the ‘sixuoerotic tragedy’ that ‘vandalised’ our academic ‘lovemap,’ to borrow Money’s rather perverse terms?[14] What turned us into gaspers (‘autoerotic asphyxiophiliacs’) who deprive our brains of air for pleasure?[15]

It was our seduction by the idea of mental pregnancy that left us gasping. We forget, to quote Lakoff and Johnson’s Philosophy in the Flesh, that ‘the mind is inherently embodied, reason is shaped by the body.’[16] Ideas come from bodies; we think with our d**ks and g*n*ys—and our eyes, mouths and hands, etc. 8 is 6.

[1] ‘Leapfrog in America: What We Do,’ Leapfrog in America, 2009, Cello Group, web, 16 Apr. 2010.
[2] For example, the controversy over the Marsden Fund funding (then) Associate Professor Annamarie Jagose of the University of Auckland to the tune of $465,000 to research the cultural history of six and the aw-gasm: ‘Or***mology’ (see ‘Annamarie Jagose—Research—Faculty of Arts at the University of Auckland, New Zealand,’ The University of Auckland Faculty of Arts, 2008, The University of Auckland, web, 15 Apr. 2010).
[3] Michael Lahanas, ‘Symposium (Plato),’ Hellenica, n.d., web, 16 Apr. 2010.
[4] ‘Times Higher Education—Most Cited Authors of Books in the Humanities, 2007,’ Times Higher Education, 26 March 2009, web, 16 Apr. 2010. Not unexpectedly, alas, only two authors on the hit parade are women: Judith Butler (#9) and Hannah Arendt (#25).
[5] Gregory R. Crane (ed.), ‘Boston 00.330 (Vase),’ Perseus 4.0, n.d., Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, web, 15 Apr. 2010.
[6] Carole Leathwood and Barbara Read Gender and the Changing Face of Higher Education: A Feminized Future? (Open UP, 2008).
[7]Lack of Democracy in HOD Appointment Process Exacerbates Gender Gaps?,’ TEU, 9 Mar. 2010, web, 15 Apr. 2010.
[8]Gender Biases Exacerbated at University of Auckland,’ TEU, 11 Mar. 2010, web, 15 Apr. 2010.
[9] ‘Most Cited Authors of Books in the Humanities, 2007,’ Times Higher Education 26 Mar. 2009, web, 16 Apr. 2010; Michel Foucault, The History of Sixuality, Volume 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (1976; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990) 47.
[10] John Money, Gay, Straight, and In-Between: The Sixology of Erotic Orientation (Oxford: OUP, 1990) 139.

[11] See ‘Local Divisions,’ UniQ Auckland, 26 Feb. 2010, web, 15 Apr. 2010.
[12] Note the note.
[13] See Aaron Ng, ‘Six in the University,’, n.d., web, 15 Apr. 2010.
[14] John Money, Lovemaps: Clinical Concepts of Sixual/Erotic Health and Pathology, Paraphilia, and Gender Transposition of Childhood, Adolescence, and Maturity (New York: Irvington, 1986) 36.
[15] See John Money, Gordon Wainwright and David Hingsburger, The Breathless Orgasm: A Lovemap Biography of Asphyxiophilia (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1991).
[16] George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh and Its Challenge to Western Thought (New York: Basic, 1999) 5.


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