On Milbank: Let’s not and say we did

It has come to my attention that Milbank has weighed in on Stephen Fry’s claim that women don’t enjoy sex. I have read the article, and it seems to me to have a lot of questionable claims in it, of the kind one would expect.

Instead of actually posting about it at length, though, this time around I think I’m just going to summarize the way these things go in general, to save us all valuable time.

Adam: Milbank’s opinion on this matter seems to me to be ill-founded and wrong.
People who agree with Adam: I agree, and I’d like to point out a couple extra things you didn’t address.
People who are on the fence: I don’t know — I certainly don’t agree with everything the guy says, but he makes some good points.
Adam: What are those good points?
People who are on the fence: Well, if you remove this remark from its context and completely reinterpret it in the most sympathetic possible way, it seems to be arguably non-bad.
Adam: But that approach doesn’t really make sense — and even if we follow it, the end result is still not great.
People who are on the fence: Okay, fine, we’re just uncomfortable with the fact that you’re too negative. Add some nuance! Stop being so one-sided all the time!

Does anyone have anything they’d like to add?

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23 Responses to “On Milbank: Let’s not and say we did”

  1. Scu Says:

    Well, if you took the comments from the fence sitters out of context, and read their comments in most sympathetic possible way, they are really making good points.
    I’m just saying, add some nuance to the fence sitters, don’t be so negative.

    Oh well, now I guess I will have to click the link and read it, if you won’t bother to make fun of it for me… .

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Finally, a commenter who understands me!

  3. Mark William Westmoreland Says:

    Adam, this is great. Well said! Who ever accused you being pessimistic? Perhaps others should read you with more nuance. …do I hear murmurs of another book project: _Nuances: Cut the Bullshit_

  4. GF Wahlquist Says:

    Until rather recently, I was at least somewhat impressed by the way in which Milbank had refrained from using any discussion of sex or gender as an excuse to talk (however elliptically) about gay marriage, as in the states. (See: People who are on the fence.)

    Alas, those days now seem to be gone. (See: People who agree with Adam.)

    But perhaps I was previously blinded, as Milbank’s work was a stepping stone between my evangelical past and my whatever-the-hell-it-currently-is-probably-nihilism present/future. (See: Adam?)

  5. BB Says:

    Adam, I am not sure that Scu understands you. He makes some good points, but I am not convinced that understanding itself is presented in his comment. And you are being very rude to him, too.

  6. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Okay, I can’t resist pointing out one of the most poignant remarks I’ve ever seen from Milbank, about masturbation, “whose fantasy pays sad tribute to the real.” How bizarre to have a world-famous theologian musing about masturbation!

  7. Austin Says:

    Damn, in my experience, SEX pays sad tribute to the real…

    And in the following quote, I just have to call bullshit:

    “This might give us the confidence to say that, in the experience of most of us, sex doesn’t usually work all that superbly well the first time round, and gets better – often over the course of years, not months – the more we feel secure enough to give free rein to our imaginations with someone we trust and resonate with on every level.”

    I’m not sure what constitutes ‘work’ for Milbank here, but this is obviously the musings of one who has been deprived of much of life experience…

  8. Brad Johnson Says:

    My favorite line is “This is that, to go out on the heath in your tweed jacket in search of denim-clad youths for sundry erotic horseplay is itself precisely not to like sex at all – in John Donne’s sense.”

  9. Things We Don’t Need « PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR Says:

    [...] We Don’t Need Kotsko links to John Milbank’s longish take on Stephen Fry’s recent claim that women [...]

  10. Rod of Alexandria Says:

    Your one-sidedness is what I love about your posts.

    I would just like to add: the Women in Theology blog has a classic response to Milbank as well, in the form of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. My favorite quote is about Milbank being the re-incarnation of Eusebius. Classic.

  11. Marika Rose Says:

    Does anyone else find it kind of creepy how he talks about “homosexual males” and “heterosexual males”?

  12. Ken Surin Says:

    Remember the Woody Allen one-liner?

    “Don’t knock masturbation, at least it’s having sex with someone you love”.

  13. ben Says:

    _Nuances: Cut the Bullshit_

    Too wishy-washy. How about Fuck Nuance?

  14. BB Says:

    What about “You Cannot Fuck the Nuance. The Nuance Fucks You.”

  15. Mark William Westmoreland Says:

    Ben, that title is even better.

  16. Maladjusted Says:

    @Marika:

    Yes, but not nearly as creepy as the inevitable non-segue which apparently connects the rest of the article to the ‘we need a more paradoxically radical conservatism or conservative radicalism’. (I don’t know why the chiasmus makes it worse, but it…er…somehow… does).

    It does shame me to admit that I once thought that slogans of this sought might have meant something (Zizek w/Chesterton! Badiou w/ Aquinas!), other than ordinary, everyday, Toryism plus an (understandable but politically ….worrying) fondness for Medieval regalia.

    Also, is it just me, but is the rhetoric getting nastier and the similes at once more heavy-handed and less meaningful with every article? While I know that ‘An und fuer sich’ takes a harsh line on ‘equivocating points out of existence’ (attested to in the comments and in Adam’s aritcle), I can’t help feeling that Milbank in his ‘hard man of assertion mode’, manages to be as misty and vague as if he were politely equivocating: that his noance somehow manages to lack what’s good about nuance and what’s good about ‘straight-talkin’…’

  17. Adam Kotsko Says:

    A potential term for Milbank’s failed attempt at nuance: implausible deniability.

  18. Rob L Says:

    So, is Fry right?

  19. Adam Kotsko Says:

    It seems obvious that there are women who enjoy sex.

  20. Ken Surin Says:

    Perhaps, at the risk of being a Deleuzean pedant, we need to ‘singularize’ the ‘event’ of sex? Meaning:

    Certain kinds of sex will be ‘enjoyable’ to X but not to Y.

    Certain kinds of sex will be ‘enjoyable’ to X the baby boomer when aged 20 in the 1960s but not when X is in her/his 60s in 2010 (desire can remain insatiable but the arthritic body takes its toll).

    Certain kinds of sex will be enjoyable with partner X but not Y.

    The list could go on….

    Then there is the phenomenon of the asexual person who has never experienced this kind of desire.

    Multiplicity comes about when the singular is repeated, albeit differently.

    Stephen Fry is a provocateur, as well as being a certain kind of misogynistic British gay. I don’t share John Milbank’s premises, but he’s right to have fun at Fry’s expense.

  21. sdv Says:

    pointless discussion about two idiots Fry and Milbank… silence would have been more intelligent.

  22. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Presumably the same standard would apply to your comment as well, sdv.


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