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Toward a Sexual Ethics of Kindness: An Interview with Victoria Brooks

By Andy West.

Victoria Brooks is a writer and researcher on sexual ethics. She has published academic, media and fictional pieces on the connection between philosophy, ethics and women’s sexuality. Her book Fucking Law: the search for her sexual ethics is out in June 2019 for Zero Books. She is currently working on an academic project on consent and queer sex clubs, and she is writing on a full length fiction book on queer desire. Andy West spoke to Victoria Brooks about her new book.

3:AM Magazine: You’ve written this incredibly powerful book that you’ve described as an orgasmic attack on western philosophy. In particular, there’s a character in the book called “Her Philosopher”, who you describe as someone you were in an abusive relationship with. In many ways the problems you found you had in that relationship represent a lot of the problems you have with philosophy. There’s a question you pose to try and test the philosophy of sexuality and to test the sexuality of philosophy: do philosophers fuck differently? Your answer seems to be yes—on the pillow afterwards they can talk incessantly.

Victoria Brooks: There’s a bit in the book where I’m having a heated conversation on the phone with the man called Her Philosopher. I throw the phone across the room in frustration. When I pick it up, he was still talking, without noticing any interruption. That endless talking can be the norm with philosophers. There’s no way in. And that’s what happens from the point of view of female sexuality. When I teach philosophy I find myself apologising to the women in the room—and the men too— that all of what we are studying is written by men. Philosophy is often long and boring and it speaks from up on high.

3:AM: So philosophy is like the ultimate mansplain.

VB: Exactly—it’s the ultimate mansplain. I wrote an article about female sexuality recently and in the comments I got mansplains telling me ‘Actually Kant’s not racist.’ Despite all of the clearly racist things he said. I’m not saying men’s comments are always invalid. But when it comes to female sexuality it might not be valid. Don’t get me wrong I love philosophy. I love long works of philosophy, like Deleuze’s stuff. But these texts need to be understood just as thinking rather than the paradigm to which we must always defer.

3:AM: There’s a love-hate relationship with philosophy in your writing. Lines like “Destroy me with your words, I can’t orgasm otherwise” and you say “you really have to lose your head in sexuality research, but you can’t because your head is ever so sexy.” You’re interested in the paradoxes of sex, aren’t you?

VB: I think those paradoxes trouble me a lot. These philosophers often have a power, a very toxic power. But that is sexy too, it’s a turn on. That line “Destroy me with your words, I can’t orgasm otherwise”, I’m saying that in frustration.

3:AM: Much of your book is written in the third person and you also write from the first person in italics. Was it like that from the first draft or did you discover it needed to be like that as you started writing it?

VB: I think from the start of writing it I needed that safe space of ambiguity, the way the third person allowed me to say things and the reader could be asking did this happen or didn’t this happen? I also think It’s nice to use the third person because it makes you complicit with the reader a little bit, like you’re both watching the story unfold. The third person is more fun, more free and less painful.

 3:AM: Less painful…?

VB: If someone reads it and he makes a judgement then I can take it as judging the story and not judging me. The strange thing is my work is a lot about objectivity and how you shouldn’t distance yourself from the truth of the matter. But here that distance was nice.

3:AM: The book ends with you breaking up with Her Philosopher. Does that mean you’ve broken up with philosophy too?

VB: I still love philosophy as an action. But yes I wanted to break up with an incarnation of philosophy as this overbearing theory that tried to claim more knowledge of me and my sexuality than I had myself. I have my embodied set of desires and the white western conceptual framework often contradicts that. So I had to end it.

3:AM: You have an ecstatic prose style. The language is often brimming. I can’t imagine it was academic writing that inspired you to shape your sentences this way. What writers were important for you when you were drafting your manuscript?

VB: Houellebecq is a big deal for me, which is problematic because he’s clearly a misogynist. So I wanted to take the philosophy-meets-sex writing you get in Houellebecq and see what it looks like through a female sexuality. The House of Holes by Nicholson Baker. Charlotte Roche is so brave in Wetlands and that helped me get some of the courage I needed for this.

3:AM: The book is subtitled “the search for her sexual ethics.” But you don’t close the book revealing what the content of those sexual ethics are. I sensed you didn’t want to be didactic here…?

VB: Exactly, otherwise we’re just mansplaining again. As soon as you write a code it becomes biblical—rules you can’t break. Sometimes sexual growth is all about breaking these rules. Broadly I think we need to go from a sexual ethics of judgement to a sexual ethics of kindness. And I think that’s very contingent on the individuals. There are books about polyamory that give advice about practicing disclosure. But maybe disclosure is not what the people in that situation need for their relationships. I think that whatever sexual ethics we have should prioritise kindness over judgement.

3:AM: There was one moment reading the book which I found really scary. You describe being at an orgy on the beach and being surrounded by a lot of men. Your response to that was to, on the emotional level, fight, You write you want your arousal to be stronger than theirs, to ‘outdo’ their desire. I won’t spoil what happens next for anyone reading this interview who hasn’t yet read you book, but that event sounded like a really big life moment. When did you know that that moment was going to have an important influence on how you would did philosophy?

VB: I think my sexual experience has always been in dialogue with philosophy. It’s something about justice. That’s why it comes out in that confrontation that you pick up on that was there on the beach—why does male desire have to be stronger than mine? So although my sexuality has always been in dialogue with my philosophical practice, it’s never been in contact with philosophy. I can’t find my sexuality in Kant. I think it was Preciado who said that nobody could have an orgasm whilst quoting Hannah Arendt.

3:AM: I wonder if there is a philosopher you could quote and not have it stop you climaxing?

VB: Maybe if you had a particular fetish or something.

3:AM: Preciado called your work “a libertine love treaties in the times of #MeToo.” How did you feel about that?

VB: At the moment, everything slightly feminist or about gender and sexuality is understood through the #MeToo movement, isn’t it? But here I think what Preciado said makes sense. #MeToo is about broadening the conversation about sex, particularly the female experience of sex. And in academic departments too. A lot of lecturers and professors, especially in philosophy are older men. And this book is about female sexuality but I also welcome men to engage with it too. Many of them need to.

Andy West lives in London where he is writing a book for Picador about doing philosophy in prison. He has written for The Guardian, 3AM Magazine, Litro, The Millions and Bloomsbury Academic Publishing. 

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, June 24th, 2019.