hatred ∩ lust = 0

This is something that has come up among students a lot lately, so I figured I should write a post about it. It’s this: hatred and anger do not amplify lust.

For example… well. There are a LOT of things that bother me about the Kiera Knightley “Pride and Prejudice,” but chief among them is this scene in which Elizabeth Bennett apparently wants to kiss the man who has been the primary cause of wretched emotional agony to her sister. It happens around 3:30:

In the novel Lizzie tells him:

Had not my own feelings decided against you, had they been indifferent, or had they even been favourable, do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man, who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?”

She fuckin’ hates him. Therefore she doesn’t want to kiss him.

Not even a little bit.

The whole romance novel/romantic comedy conceit of two people hating each other and that hatred living right next to desire, indeed enflaming the desire? That only happens in fiction – in mediocre fiction, at that. Jane Austen knew better.

It’s not just a correlation; there is actually a causal mechanism I can point to here: the process of arousal is a combination of turning off the offs and turning on the ons.

Assume that the object of hatred is quite attractive on some level. Very nice to look at, a beautiful voice, great intelligence, superb charm, etc. They turn on the ons. And then add to that the fact that they PISS YOU RIGHT THE FUCK OFF because they are, on some fundamental level, cruel, without remorse, and incapable of believing they might be wrong about something. That’s turns ON the OFFS. It puts on the brakes. It prevents you from desiring them. It turns you off.

Lust? And hate? Mutually exclusive. There is no feeling that is in both Set hatred and Set lust.

Now, this is different from being drawn to a person with whom you disagree. Darcy himself experiences the titillating pleasure of attraction to a sparring partner. Elizabeth actually teases him about this very phenomenon, during the book’s denouement:

”…The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them. Had you not been really amiable, you would have hated me for it; but in spite of the pains you took to disguise yourself, your feelings were always noble and just; and in your heart, you thoroughly despised the persons who so assiduously courted you. There — I have saved you the trouble of accounting for it; and really, all things considered, I begin to think it perfectly reasonable. To be sure, you knew no actual good of me — but nobody thinks of that when they fall in love.”

(This is also among the best examples of why Elizabeth is among the greatest heroines in the English language.)

And while they were sparring, Darcy was growing increasingly attached, while Elizabeth was growing increasingly contemptuous. That can happen too.

What doesn’t happen is (what the kids call) “hate sex.”

In real life, no one that I have ever talked to (and I talk to a LOT of people) has actually wanted to have “hate sex” or been sexually attracted to someone they hated. Mostly people are actively repulsed by the idea of having sex with someone they hate. And for good reason. Hate slams on the brakes; no matter how superficially attractive they are, it can’t withstand the de-eroticizing power of hate.

So whence comes this myth? Well, I suppose it comes from the conflating of intensity with valence. If you feel one thing STRONGLY, surely it must be adjacent to everything else one might feel strongly! No. No. Intensity is one axis, valence (direction) is another. Hate and lust are on opposite ends of the diagram, and not in a wrap-around spectrum kind of way but in a THESE THINGS ARE VERY FAR APART kind of way.

Personally I think this kind of misconstruction of emotion could only happen in a culture as afraid of intense emotions as modern western culture. So really the whole thing is a product of the emotional constipation we inherited from our Puritan forebears. That’s my hypothesis and I’m sticking to it.