Benderson's "Sex and Isolation" (Andrew) (In the right place...)

“Sex and Isolation” is quintessentially Bruce Benderson.  Notorious for his highly sexed and dangerous prose, this collection of essays has Benderson in top form.  Though the collection covers several topics—from a contemporary reading of Max Weber’s “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” to a scathingly witty critique of young networking artists—all the essays seamlessly blend memoir, humor, and social inquiry to make this an entertaining and insightful read.  

Memoir has become an essential component to much of Benderson’s work.  Exemplified in his award-winning 2006 memoir “The Romanian: The Story of an Obsession,” Benderson has managed to craft a style of memoir that transcends the personal.  Like “The Romanian,” these essays take some of Benderson’s most intimate experiences and broadcast them into an immense social context.  They are always the setting for something larger and more challenging.  The title essay begins with Benderson’s web-cam sex encounter with a young Egyptian boy.  Without skimping on the details, the essay launches into an expansive critique of cyber culture and its roots in protestant values.  He writes, “Everything about the age of information conspires toward the ultimate removal of the private confession, which, according to Max Weber, accomplished the periodical discharge of the heavy emotional burden of sin that weighed upon the cultures of Christianity… And this same isolation has reared its head in the at-home spectacle of the Internet, a medium that encouraged constant confession and physical solitude.”  These kinds of revelations occur constantly throughout the book, showcasing Benderson’s ability to explode small events for their critical worth.  

Other essays in the collection, like “Surrendering to the Spectacle” and “America’s New Networkers”, are less overwhelming but just as sharp.  These two essays in particular speak to some unfortunate trends among young artists and new movements.  “Surrendering to the Spectacle” is more geared toward the latter, commenting on the politically conscious art of the “neo-situationist” mindset.  Again, Benderson weaves in and out of his own personal experiences—primarily in a run-down movie theater frequented by down-and-outs, criminals, and bohemians—to explain the importance of preserving the qualities of entertainment and pleasure in art.  “America’s New Networkers” is the more amusing of the two, as he recounts, with bitter irony, his encounter with a young musician plugging him for contacts.  This essay should be a mandatory read for all young aspiring artists.  

Ultimately, there is too much in this collection to speak to in one review.  Though the essays function in certain milieu, they all possess their own voice and intricacies.  Here, Benderson has successfully managed to blur the distinctions between entertainment and academic writing, a skill that should be studied by writers and readers alike.  It is also worth mentioning that “Sex and Isolation” is the only place to find his classic manifesto-essay “Toward the New Degeneracy,” which is perhaps the last truly American avant-guard manifesto.  “Toward the New Degeneracy” distills many the ideas Benderson has expanded upon through his career, and continues to be an essential work for any artist coping with life in the 21st century

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