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The Art of Seduction

The Art of the Phone Interview by Darcy Cosper

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When The Art of Seduction arrived at my house, my enthusiasm for interviewing its author, Robert Greene, flagged. The thing is a doorstop: four-hundred odd pages of tiny text cataloging the seductive process and crammed with thousands of quotations and anecdotes from history and literature illustrating each of the book's many, many, many points. I read it with a pot of coffee in one hand, a chip on one shoulder and despair in my heart. Ten types of seducer? Eighteen types of victim? Twenty-four not uncomplicated steps from "Hello" to "How was it for you"? Doing my taxes long-form would be easier than this, and I'm usually guaranteed a return on that.

So, despite Greene's evidently keen mind, erudition and sterling prose, I didn't really want to talk to him. All I really wanted was to go to bed for about a week. Alone.

But duty called, and so did I. And — who will be surprised by this but me? — within minutes, Greene charmed my socks off, got me to completely reconsider his approach and advised me regarding flirtation strategies for a party I was attending that night (which worked). The guy is good. And I'll be perusing his book again — after I catch up on my sleep.

* * *

Darcy Cosper: What are you wearing?

Robert Greene: It's funny you said that. I was just thinking about a female friend of mine who went undercover and became a phone sex operator for an article. That was always the first thing the callers said: What are you wearing? She had an incredible voice, men were going crazy for her because of the voice. You have a very nice phone voice.

Ah, flattery. You talk about that in your book?

In Chapter Ten I explain how flattery works, how to make it even more effective.

This book made me extremely tired. It makes seduction seem like so much work.

That's not good. I'm sorry to hear that. Are you sort of a romantic?

Yes. But I'm also lazy. I mean, most women can get laid by just flat-out propositioning someone.

Sure, if that's what you want. But then my book is not for you. You know about Tantric sex? Essentially, it teaches men to have multiple orgasms without ejaculating. The Art of Seduction is like that, only psychologically. You're putting off the sexual element to heighten the excitement, the tension, all those wonderful things that we've kind of lost because we're so impatient.

The approach you describe seems counterintuitive as a prelude to a relationship — so much of it is based on manipulation or deception, and I figure most people consider an ideal relationship one in which you're seen and appreciated for who you really are.

But this isn't a book about how to have a successful relationship; it's about seduction. Although there is a relationship element addressed in the book — that you must continue to re-seduce. I think that's the main foul-up in relationships, allowing a kind of inertia to set in. There have to be levels of mystery, where there's something left to know about the other person, something kept back that you can reveal later. And that might be seen as cruel or manipulative, or you could just see that as what makes human beings human.

Most people don't make seduction an art, they tend to either just pursue sex, or search for enduring relationships. What are the pleasures afforded by seduction for its own sake, as an end in itself?

A sense of more play, illusion and fantasy in your life, which I think is somewhat lacking. I think those things were more part of people's lives when courtship periods were standard practice. The book talks about how to create psychological foreplay. Oh god, I sound like the Anthony Robbins of sex, and I don't want to. Please understand that I would never recommend that you put into practice all of the twenty-four steps I describe. That would be tiring. It's more like you select certain things that strike you as something you can do. Sometimes when you're driven by impatience and have sex right away or get right into a relationship, all that tension just dissipates, it's all flabby and flaccid. But say you go through a period of three or four months using some of what I've described in here before you have sex — everything afterward will be so much stronger, more emotional.

And you know this from experience?

I would say yes, otherwise the book wouldn't mean much.

So, tell me about it. Are you currently involved with someone?

I've been with someone for nine years.

And how did you seduce your partner?

We both agree I did most of the seducing. We lived in the same neighborhood, I'd seen her around, and was very interested. She was having a party at her house, and I had a friend who knew her, so I cleverly got myself invited. Once I was at the party I looked at the books on her shelves and her music collection, and noticed she was interested in some of the same weird opera I like, so at the end of the night I invited her to go see some opera. That intrigued her; I got my tentacles into her that way. I have a chapter about this strategy, about entering the other person's spirit.
    Then I invited her to a birthday dinner some people were giving me at a restaurant a few weeks after our first date. I have a lot of female friends who are very attractive, and I knew there would be maybe nine beautiful women at the dinner, and just a couple of guys. That's a good example of triangulation that I talk about in Chapter Four. She told me later that really had an impact on her.

How long did you wait to make the "bold move" you refer to in your book?

We have a silent movie theater here in Los Angeles, it's been here since the 1920s, they have an organist and everything. I took her there, and it was such an exciting evening, we had so much fun, we went out afterwards and it just kind of naturally happened. The book includes a chapter about creating moments, kind of an aesthetic thing, where you take someone to a place or event that's just so exciting, it poeticizes your presence.

What kind of victim was she?

That's a good question. The victim section is all about identifying what people are missing in their lives. And what she was missing was someone who was giving her a lot of attention, someone who would really listen to her. She's not exactly a Crushed Star; she was a combination of several types.

I think I may be a Reformed Siren. Or maybe some version of a Masculine Dandy.

That's a good thing to be. And that type is related to the Siren, too. There's the same kind of bravado, the same kind of brashness and energy. The Siren has a masculine streak, it's almost the male part of a woman that's sexually attractive, that excites a man.

In the introduction, you point out that the moment a woman begins to seduce, she assumes a male role to some extent, she becomes masculine. And that for a man to be effective as a seducer, he has to become feminine to some extent, because seduction is, or was originally, a female art, a feminine form of power — but powerful in part because it involves taking a traditionally masculine position.

You say it better that I do!

More flattery. It's very effective.

No, it's all very true, what you say. When a woman seduces, it's a power game, and she's assuming a slightly masculine role. A lot of the seducer roles require a kind of androgyny. In my research I became convinced of this, because all the great male seducers had pronounced androgynous streak to them.

So what about these classic female fantasies about the very manly man, the knight in shining armor, James Bond and so on? I mean, they're not my particular fantasies, but they're out there — and they seem to have no feminine side at all.

No, that's totally untrue! The totally masculine male is actually one of the least appealing, effective male types. Granted, the world is full of individuals and there will always be women who do find that attractive, but I believe that's not the majority. Even in the dashing hero, the great chivalrous knight, there's always a touch of the dandy. Casanova was extremely androgynous and effeminate — he loved clothes and took great pleasure in attending to how he looked. And the medieval troubadour took great delight in clothing, adornment, aesthetics. We live in a period where men repress that side of their natures much more than ever before in history.

Straight men, maybe. Gay men seem to have that beauty and ambiguity thing down, stereotypically anyway — that combination of the extremely masculine, sculpted physiques, and then the attention to detail and appearance, the refined tastes and so on.

Right. And I don't hear about many women who have fantasies about John Wayne, for example, who had none of that and wasn't very seductive. I talked to my mother about this, and she said when she was a teenager, most girls were lusting after Montgomery Clift . . .

Who was gorgeous, and gay. So, what was the genesis of this book?

This is kind of a sequel to my first book, The 48 Laws of Power, which is all about how to get power in the modern world, a lot of which involves deviousness, manipulation, whatever. People want power no matter what, and they'll do anything to get it. But the ultimate form of power is seduction, because you're giving people pleasure — the main thing they lack in life. And in exchange for that pleasure, they give you power over them and they don't resent or hate you for it, unlike other power relationships.

Tell me about how you developed the taxonomy of the book, the types of seducer and victim, and the steps of seduction.

For this book, there was no source material, no analytic texts I could refer to. So my idea was to just read biographies and memoirs and fiction about the greatest seducers in history, and courtesans, and great political seductions. As I read I started noticing that the same psychological traits would repeat over and over again — because seduction is all about psychology. It's not a science, of course, these things overlap, but I eventually identified ten types of seducer.
    As far as the twenty-four strategies go: a seduction is chronological, it begins at some point and ends at some point, and in between there are all these things that heighten the whole seductive process. They're from ideas that I drew from the literature of seduction, the themes and ideas that weren't contained in the ten types.
    The victim types, that was the last thing I wrote. The idea came very late — I looked at all the seducers and saw that the people they seduced also followed certain patterns or fit certain psychological profiles. Also, in that particular section I drew a lot from my own experience; I thought of everyone I knew, everyone I've seduced, everyone I know who's seduced or been seduced, and just gathered as many stories as I could.

What are the drawbacks or limitations of a life of seduction?

The level of dishonesty it requires — the Rake, the Siren, the Coquette, these aren't necessarily people you're going to want to be in a long-term relationship with. Also, you have to know the limits of how far you can go. A political seducer like Bill Clinton, for instance, he gets so intoxicated by the power of seduction that he has that he doesn't know when to stop, and he begins to seem foolish.

What about seducer burn-out? Have you given up your career as a seducer?

I haven't given up. I enjoy the playful aspect of life, and I like playing different roles, being different people, taking on different personae, so I'm always playing that kind of game.
    Seduction isn't always sexual, though there's always a sexual undertone. I'm doing this talk in bookstores now about how humans are the only species in which the female doesn't go into heat, so there's never a period during which we're free from these very powerful, distracting, disruptive, violent, antisocial impulses. And you know the effects that promiscuity can have on a society — it's problematic, so taboos were created as a way of restricting these behaviors, but underneath everything in society is this sublimated sexual energy. Even in a social or a political seduction, you're playing on this pool of sexual energy we've repressed in order to survive.

How Freudian of you! What did you do before you began writing books?

I worked in Hollywood for eight or nine years, did everything in Hollywood except direct. Before that I worked in journalism for a while.

Those are good places to study manipulation and seduction. What are you going to do next?

The Art of Seduction is part of a series — there's going to be a third book. It's not so sexy. It about applying the ideas of strategy to everyday life, thinking ahead, as if life were a kind of a game, and you learn to make certain moves. I'm a big history buff and I love games. I play a lot of backgammon.

You still haven't told me what you're wearing.

I'm wearing a pair of hounds-tooth pants I got at Barney's that I really like, sort of 60's style. I'm wearing boxers — I don't wear briefs; by coincidence they happen to be Valentine's Day boxers I received as a gift, with little hearts on them. A long-sleeved T-shirt from French Connection and glasses. No, I took the glasses off.


For more Darcy Cosper, read:
Keeping Count
A Story Problem

©2001 Darcy Cosper and Nerve.com, Inc.

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