Thursday, 22 January 2009


When we think of promiscuity, we most often think of sexual promiscuity. This word, however, can have a wider significance and can also be applied to musical tastes or intellectual endeavour. It is possible for instance, to think of someone as intellectually promiscous. The very existence of the word tells us something very significant about our place in the world and our mode of being. It can also demonstrate what Martin Heidegger means by the often quoted line: "Language is the house of Being."

Within this word there are several related associations. One of the most important is that of faithfulness. When one is faithful to a wife, one is generally not thought of as being promiscous. Within the academy, an academic will tend to stick to the topic matter that she is deemed to have expertise. And likewise, all but the most brave musicians will stick within a specific genre of music once they have established themselves and have a fan base.

I have a real issue with this. To start with, it is generally not accepted that a man can love more than one woman at a time. How many times has the following line been said in the heat of martial battle: "If you loved me..., you wouldn't have slept with her!" Human society has also developped various schools of thought with named subjects, to deliniate lines of influence and control. What can a geographer know about the sociology of post industrial society? And within the history of modern music, several genres have sprung up and cliques established. Is there not something fundamentally dishonest about this way viewing things?

The harsh truth is that it is possible for a man to love more than one woman at a time. This may be a taboo thing to admit but it does make sense. Love does not of necessity imply exclusivity. It is also possible that a geographer can know a great deal about sociology- and for individuals to make more than one type of music. We only need to refer back to the great polymaths of the past as evidence of this. In my mind at the moment is Aristotle.

Now, this does not imply that people should not choose to make a commitment of exclusivity, say in a long term relationship. That is up to the individuals involved. Nor is there anything wrong with someone pursuing painting for the rest of their life without feeling the need to pick up a guitar. It is impossible to experience everything in life and one does have to make choices.

But that is not the issue. Rather, when we tend to see people as types: (The married man, the heavy metal singer, the geographer)- we divest them of their complexity and the latent possibilities therein. There is an attraction to this way of thinking because it is easier. It is also more dangerous for we understand the world less. The people we associate with can also let us down in ways we find hard even to imagine.

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