Preface to A Driving Passion

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Written by
Norman Mailer

To entertain a large generalization, I would say there are two kinds of philosophers: those who build their structure upon the work of other philosophers as opposed to what I would call pioneers — that is, who develop their philosophy from the journeys of their life. This second category (one thinks of Rousseau and Nietzsche) does not owe that much to what has gone before.

Marco Vassi was a philosopher of the second variety. He was by any average standard a minor writer, which is to say that he never succeeded in getting his whole view of life into at least one truly important book. His concerns, however, were major, and he went far with them — often by way of his extraordinary essays. His theme was Metasex. He coined the word to stand for all the varieties of sex that explore to the side, beneath, or beyond the act of procreation. Procreation was sex, but any other use of the act was Metasex, and Vassi believed (if he never put it exactly this way) that in Metasex were the secrets of individual health and the good society. One could not find oneself (that is, acquire the healing secret) unless one explored to the end of one’s sexual inclinations. Even for the late fifties and sixties, Vassi carried it pretty far. He went way beyond the threesomes, foursomes and more gala endeavors of the orgy. As a presumptive heterosexual, he also voyaged past bondage and domination into personal degradation. He uses the concept of degradation — it is his word — to describe being corn-holed by a dozen men in a Turkish bath; in short, he did everything. He a philosopher, with that notebook of the mind that speaks of immaculate detachment. He got about every kind of sexual, that is, Metasexual, relation possible with men and women, he even got married.

He was a sexual explorer, but he was born and raised a Catholic. If Catholicism has many faces, its presence in the psyche of a sexual explorer must be felt first as a great weight. Marco Vassi was a mountain climber who carried this impost in his psychic knapsack, and what it must have cost him is hard to measure. I met him only once for a brief period, long enough to shake hands and say hello, but he looked small and tired. He was hardly as imposing as that intrepid and incredibly honest navigator who recounted his sexual adventures in a strong clear literary style capable of handling all the paradoxes of his exceptional experiences. Of course, one of the marks of good writers is that they should not in person be as handsome as their works — it is better when the best of themselves goes into their writing. Besides, he may have been ill. I met him only two or three years before he died. Perhaps the HIV virus had entered him already.

In any event, he died of AIDS without putting up any great fight. It is not surprising. He was a serious philosopher and the mark of the species is to live and die by one’s ideas. He saw Metasex as the healing agent. The world was dying for lack of communication among all of us humans, and sex was not only there for procreation, but in its larger form, as Metasex, was there to accelerate communication. I expect he believed that no faster way existed to speed up a relationship than by way of Metasex. Humans would cross the abyss between themselves and others by entering the playgrounds and jungles of sex.

It was his philosophy, and he articulated it and its moral ramifications in a dozen works, all interesting. At his best, which was surprisingly often considering the inroads on his energy, he wrote beautifully, but when he was writing on the wave of his philosophy which was that Metasex would give him all the energy he needed.

I think it was for this reason that he put up no fight against his terminal disease. He had put all his bets on one hypothesis — exactly the impulse of an ambitious philosopher — and when he lost (for he had to see his disease as a refutation of what he believed) there was much less point in continuing to live. Philosophers are the first of the species to die of a broken heart and Marco Vassi proves the case. He was his own experiment, and, ipso facto, a rare mortal. There are not that many men and women who come out of a religious background who are willing to spend their lives trying to stare into God’s eyes, knowing all the while that if they are forced to blink, they accept the full significance.

Let me leave you with A Driving Passion. It is, in effect, an introduction and overview of all his other books, and my hope is that it will lead readers to explore the bold literary contribution of Marco Vassi.