The Autoamputation of Lust

“Physiologically, the central nervous system, that electric network that coordinates the various media of our senses, plays the chief role. Whatever threatens its function must be contained, localised or cut off even to the total removal of the offending organ.” (McLuhan: Understanding Media pg.64-65).

For McLuhan, ‘autoamputation’ is that function through which all media and technology are created. That due to some irritation of the nervous system, some organ of that system would be projected out into the world to ease and soothe that irritation. Autoamputation was the process by which aspects of our bodies and selves were extended into the world as technology to counter certain nervous disruptions. Discursive technology, for instance, might be extended to isolate and examine a particular problem, to produce new freedom for a nervous system, to escape some sort of pain. By such a definition, this article is an autoamputation of a disquieted nervous arrangement.

Under the prevailing conditions of the Western World, lust has become increasingly problematic:

“Android robots appeared on the market equipped with a versatile artificial vagina. A high-tech system analysed in real time the configuration of male sexual organs, arranged temperatures and pressures; a radiometric sensor allowed the prediction of ejaculation… It had a curiosity value for a few weeks, then sales collapsed completely… The event was commented on by some as a desire to return to the natural, to the truth of human relationships; of course nothing could be further from the truth… the truth is that men were simply giving up the ghost.” (Houellebecq: The Possibility of an Island, 28)

An autoamputation of lust and sex through the idealised robotic sex-doll, and yet in this artificiality is the death of contact, the human relationship and the necessary conflicts which perhaps make that relationship meaningful.

In language today, in our hyper-analytical and rationalist moralisation of all things, we have infected everything with the extensions of language: negotiation, responsibility, consent, fundamental equality – all autoamputations resulting from the invention of speech and writing, discursive models meant to alleviate particular sufferings. As such we have sterilised every dimension of human contact which necessarily contained, organised and codified violence and conflict. At the very least, relationships contained a freedom of irrational impulses which were unaccountable, non-linguistic and yet in possession of a sort of sensory truth that cannot be derived by syllogism. Political and moral languages have divorced, exhausted, extinguished and divided us.

The consequent banalisation of the soul combined with the heat-death of contact within relationships leads us towards the autoamputation of lust. That is, the trauma caused by lust’s non-linguistic, irrational complexity leads us to extend it, discursively and technologically, into the world around us in an attempt to negotiate these conflicts. Two examples that would appear to testify to this process: BDSM and the virtual world. BDSM is itself a means of synthesizing a hybrid of conflicted extensions – lust, violence, power, love, sex and consent. A machine for producing linguistically acceptable systems of abuse, exploitation and mutuality. Virtual worlds and/or cybersex are similarly extensions of the same sort, only here we also do away with the relational dimension. Certainly, there are relationships, but they are by no means complete and more certainly they are not necessary. A contact is made, but with no cumbersome physicality or any guarantee of reality or accountability. In fact, part of their meaning is to escape accountability and the prevailing ‘reality’.

Both systems are artificial – the virtual world, obviously so, yearning at its limit for the Houellebecqian robot. BDSM less obviously in that it appears to assimilate more conventional forms of relationship; however, by virtue of language’s presence (in that it produces sex through the medium of a lifestyle which acknowledges choice and thereby protects its constituent members) it risks an artificiality and produces unexpected artificiality through the concept and image in which it realises itself. There is for certain no way back to ‘naturalness’ as Houellebecq rightly supposes and in truth, we likely don’t want to go back. The fundamental problem however persists – at the end of this artificial autoamputation of sensation is extinction; moreover, at the heart of this obsessive production of sex and relationships is the fear or fact that such sensuous contacts are already impossible.

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  1. Both the Virtual world and the BDSM ‘Lifestyle’ world are entirely codified, as are ‘real’ or ‘natural’ world relationships grounded in contracts of exchange. Just as Houllebecque’s robot fails to deliver, so does the conventional route of prostitution, as neither involve the possibility of exploring the ‘darker’ and unrevealed nature of one’s sexual partner’s and one’s own ‘soul’ (if the unconscious might be described as such). Some might argue that intercourse in which there is no possibility of impregnation is purposeless, from any perspective of the animal imperative of promoting both the continuity and the evolution of the species, but this view ignores the actual behaviour of both humans and other animals, in both of which non-reproductive sexual activity is commonly observed, including post-menopausal intercourse, anal intercourse both heterosexual and homosexual, and even such practices as fellatio and fisting which are often described by aficionados as ‘transcendent’, ‘intimate’ and even ‘spiritual’. Perhaps the ‘ideal’ sexual relationship is non-codified, and is the goal being sought through codified approaches such as Tantric Sex and some developments of Magick. The fantasy of rape is often based upon notions of the ‘victim’ being overpowered by someone in whom they have aroused so extreme a passionate desire that the rapist loses ‘control’, becoming a victim of desire, however rape is often more about the gratification of violent impulses in the rapist, and a wish to destroy rather than possess the victim. In warfare it is common for invading soldiers to rape enemy women, some of whom they kill, some of whom they impregnate. Any suggestion that the victims in some way subconsciously desire penetration is wildly misguided. That there are ‘pleasures’ for conquering men in raping their enemies, including other men and children, especially where they kill the victim during the act is evident, but such acts are certainly not ‘sexual’. The penis can be used for several purposes. Micturition is one of them and is not – conventionally – sexual. A waste paper basket can be placed on one’s head, but it does not become a rain-hat. Human beings have a propensity for doing things with artifice, but artificial things rarely satisfy like Coca Cola.

  2. “Just as Houllebecque’s robot fails to deliver, so does the conventional route of prostitution, as neither involve the possibility of exploring the ‘darker’ and unrevealed nature of one’s sexual partner’s and one’s own ‘soul’ (if the unconscious might be described as such).”

    I’m currenlty working with the idea that the failure is where the ‘soul’ is. It seems to me to be a far richer place to be, being trapped in the conflict. But yes, like Bataille, I reckon the imaginary ideal is in destroying/surpassing rational limits and the constraints of ‘individuality’.

    “however rape is often more about the gratification of violent impulses in the rapist, and a wish to destroy rather than possess the victim. In warfare it is common for invading soldiers to rape enemy women, some of whom they kill, some of whom they impregnate”

    I get a bit tired of this analysis of rape. I see why in a hyper-sexualized culture which sells every kind of sex – including rape – at every moment would need to protect itself from its socially harmful expressions, but why sacrifice reality for a sterile sex posiitivity? Rape certainly can be more about violence than sex, but it can be about sex, art, love, need, beauty, yearning, delerium, madness too. There is a good deal of preparatory ritual and sacrifice in rape which surely constitutes the essence of sexual interaction – stalking makes its victim sacred. Moreover, what deeper loss of ‘self’ and ‘reason’? Simillary for the fantasist ‘victim’. Victim fantasy I suspect is far more complex than you make out, and even if it isn’t yet, it is set to become moreso.

    Sex, with mass media and now as well with the internet is set to become far more conceptual than ever. Not only that, it’s gone democratic too – everyone and anyone can begin producing their own version of it. I guarentee that as people involve themselves more deeply in this stuff that various different and seemingly unfathomable desires will begin to present themselves – they already are. My concept of ‘Negative Exchange’, I think, is a stab at preparing for these kinds of new languages and can hopefully be made useful in organizing some sort of moral territory for their foundation.

    • ErnieM
    • August 29th, 2014

    ” I reckon the imaginary ideal is in destroying/surpassing rational limits ”
    –you might like my ideograms for English at neoideograms.wordpress.com. They are a means of transcending the “rational limits” imposed by conventional language. I got to this site because it a pic from it comes up when I google “neoideograms,” so there must already be some connection.

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