Essentials for a Manifesto on Transgressive Simulation

Definitions:

  1. We admit from the outset that the virtual is the estranged simulation of a reality lost. We further admit that we don’t want any real world back. Alien to that world, we look forward to those new realities produced by our fomenting fictions and your decomposing real.
  2. As a model for the origins of eroticism and exquisite feeling – the kind produced by poetry or art – we shall look to Bataille’s transgressive model: that beyond those constraints that govern our regular social behaviour is a feeling of free and absolute liberty; that to produce this sensation of the absolute, one is drawn to find limits and transgress them; that the work of art should contain such limits and internally press against them. We speak no longer of Good and Evil as Bataille did. The limits are social and sociological, purely structural. It is from the order of discourse that we take our transgressions – the language from which we formulate our values and mores.
  3. ‘The real’ (as in what we’ve lost) should be defined as that which arises out of necessity. The real appears where there is pain, hunger, need and struggle. The real appears in poverty, in sickness, in aspects of lust and the threat of death. One does not know reality through the soap opera or the talk show. The ‘real’ community is bound by its mutual dependency and its shared, un-synthesized interest.
  4. By contrast, we see fiction in egalitarianism, human rights, luxury, expanding law, information, the media, advertising and affluence. Our politics is a fiction, our sex is a fiction, our needs are a fiction and our expectations are driven by fiction, each a precarious state the world could overturn – by act of violence a life can be ‘ruined’ (‘ruination’ is a fiction), by change of policy a right can be revoked, by economic collapse expectations are overturned.
  5. Our bankrupt reality and passive consumption of social fictions creates a hunger for something real – a significance beyond how we are maintained in our daily lives: “People resent the fact that the most moral decision in their lives is choosing what colour the next car will be … All we’ve got left is our own psychopathology. It’s the only freedom we have – that’s a dangerous state of affairs.” (J. G. Ballard, Spike Magazine). Transgression therefore takes on a new significance: it invigorates our morality by giving it meaning, it overturns the passive triviality of our daily life making us free and complex again.

Mutuality of the Image[1]:

  1. The image of the violent act, the transgressive act, never portrays the real act; rather, the image contains an aesthetic aspect beyond any pretended/intended higher message. The rape in Irreversible is not a rape, but the exaggerated, hyper-real, hyper-violent image of rape; it is the further development of the aesthetic of rape constructed out of its history and politics and a history of cinema and women more generally. Steeped in an extraordinary ugliness (this is the only place for the modern rape, to become more and more grotesque) it develops through a pre-existing structure with a life of its own; it portrays a rape cliché as it floats up like a corpse from a more concentrated landscape of ugliness– the underpass, the beauty of the girl, the ugliness of the man (The Tapeworm); the moral desolation, the whores, faggots and transvestites; the homophobia, racism and excesses in the club (The Rectum). There is an erotics of nihilism which is accentuated by the real through the film’s loyalty to detail and duration. In short, the image portrays a complex psycho-social structure that lives well outside and beyond any real rape. It is to some extent shared and to some extent contained in and recognised by all of us well before the shooting of the film itself. It is the image of rape as produced by our collective imaginations and cultural discourse.
  2. Similarly, Nick Zedd’s Cinema of Transgression: It a) presents these hyper-stylised, hyper-violent images of murder, mutilation and rape and b) by Zedd’s assertion that ‘All values must be challenged’ it presents these images as some sort of challenge regarding human sexuality and what that sexuality really contains. This is mistaken however as these images are not truths about what human sexuality wants, but rather, workable simulations of acts already documented and held in the popular imagination as criminal and perverted acts. The actions are performed in a narrative sequence to produce the erotic truth, men and women working together to realise these truths through a pre-existing imagination and a pre-existing structure of transgression. It is a culture producing and exchanging its imagination of perversion and crime, not a culture becoming or partaking in the criminal or perverted.
  3. For example, Richard Kern (in his work at least) is no misogynist, but rather the image or simulation of misogyny. The women in his films do not pander to hateful male desire but are complicit in the production of the image of that desire and are so for their own erotic sakes (see for instance the argument that precedes Lydia Lunch’s rape in Kern’s film Fingered). Misogyny itself is dumb and dead, however the ‘image of misogyny’ has acquired a communal value in which men and women are related through the potency, coherence, and overall atmosphere of a shared, conflicted imaginary landscape. Complicity in the production of the erotic-aesthetic transgression and a political/moral/spiritual revitalisation in the production of the misogynist form. Lydia Lunch installation: You’re Not Safe in your Own Home:

    “I possess a criminal predilection, devoid of all guilt which insists I admit to not only my own crimes of passion, but also my complicity in aggravating others to commit crimes both for and against me.” (You’re Not Safe in you Own Home)

    And is there any truth to this ‘predilection’ or these ‘crimes’ or is this yet another fiction and aesthetics of the self? A glamour originating with Genet (who was hopelessly real), only in this case transgression becoming something more communicative and relational? Is there an abuser and an abused, or are there only their images agreeably produced by both parties to float about within the reciprocal and mutual relationship?

  4. Regardless of the reality of these crimes, it is this criminal reality that bores us and the mutuality of transgressive images that fascinates us. The seduction of crime itself can die with the 20th century. We hanker for the real, the dangerous and vital, yet outside the predictable safety of style there is too much chaos, too much suffering and too much unknown. The pleasure of a poem was never derived from its actual reality, but rather it originated in a well-made model that presented a possible version of reality, a cogent organisation that perhaps has little to do with actual reality at all.

Simulation:

  1. Simulation is not fantasy, and lifestyle is a bore. The lifestyle produces itself too much in line with the civil, too desirous to see itself in acceptable terms. We have no stakes in social tolerance or rejection and require only our own linguistic vehicle – “Lifestyle Choice” is a sort of defence against the ordinary. ‘Fantasy’, on the other hand, draws too wide a schism between our selves and our desires, between our civility and our sex. To make one’s sex a scene is no sex at all and the language of fantasy maintains a link to an order that is crumbling. The ‘roleplay’, the ‘fantasy’ allows the participants to enter a space wherein they are protected from any reality – it is a fantasy, only a fantasy, the underlying social subject is protected from any debasement or anxieties about being what they enact.
  2. But ‘perversion’ is rapidly collapsing. Likewise, the whole pathology of sex and desire. Though still rigorously managed in our physical space, sex has lost its own original purpose and intent. In imaginary space, increasingly sex is becoming a matter of choice, limitless in its possible permutations. Post the normalisation of homosexuality, promiscuity, sodomy, pornography, the production of BDSM and lifestyle, the surreptitious sexualisation of children, we are entering an age of limitless sexuality. Psychology still maintains some weak governance, but psychology is of an order that saw some purpose behind sex, some normative limits that contained sex. Both ‘fantasy’ and ‘lifestyle’ are of this disappearing order and function so as to protect themselves against it. We have no use of either.
  3. Simulation, by contrast, produces its own scenes as if real scenes. Consent is derived through the poetry and mutuality of its images and the reciprocity of the bodies and avatars that make up the scene. The simulation maintains a sense of the real, making no distinction between the event produced and the relationship or subject in general. The perfect simulation is poetic and aesthetic – chaos eliminated – bodies and actions communicating with one another, inspiring each other across a shared imaginary landscape. The ideal of Transgressive Simulation is to produce these scenes, these images that speak with poetic perfection, to speak our imaginary with this aesthetic glaze – the liberation of the transgressive image from the tabloids and political agendas that produced them and to redeploy them back in our sex and the relational sphere.

Some Renunciations:

  1. Though admitting it seemingly desirable; though admitting its poetry apparently possible, we renounce the actual crime. We renounce it on the grounds of its hopelessness – social and moral; we renounce it on the grounds of its laziness, and we renounce it on the grounds of its lack of narrative, the absence of mutuality and the totality of the emptiness thus contained. Though the crime produces itself in the authentic space of ‘the real’ and through this apparent ‘authenticity’ acquires a sort of seductiveness and magic (derived from the frivolous insipidity of our environment), this magic of the ‘authentic’ is an illusion. For us, it is never in the authentic space that magic is to be found. Reality is too haphazard, chaotic and brutal. Poetry and magic are produced only in the social, ritualistic and communal space, in the organisation of images and events, where ‘what is supposed to happen’ does happen and does so at the right time. In fact, even ‘what is not supposed to happen’ must happen in the right place at the right time and likewise ‘what one does not expect to happen’. A transgression must be produced in the same way. It must be built correctly before it occurs. In authentic crime, this magic necessarily collapses leaving only emptiness, oblivion and confusion in its wake.
  2. We renounce every politics of weakness, fear and anxiety – the politics of prevention, the politics of the ‘dangerous individual’, censorship, extremes in sexual politics. We insist that a crime is committed only where there is an authentic victim. Thoughts are not crimes, images are not crimes, simulation is not a crime, however frightened of their effects you might be. The transgressive image is no more subversive than the rape survivor’s story, a story in a newspaper, a book or in a film – the imaginary space is already created, already developing, psychiatry, Hollywood, soap-opera and sexual politics having had more to do with the fashioning of these imaginary horizons than the gratuitous image itself. In many ways in fact the story and the political agenda are themselves already carriers of the transgressive image – the background image and fear of the grotesque already helping to shape the character of a story or the nature of a policy and even the interpretation of an experience.
  3. We renounce gratuitous imagery without depth or art and we renounce the insincere image produced only to shock. We insist on the authenticity of the image creator and the exquisite blend of reality, immersion and illusion in the image. If politics is subtle enough to convey within its agenda ‘the dark imaginary’, then the ‘dark imaginary’ should also be able to return this political element. In the same way that politics becomes a subtle game between the fictitious and the real, then so too should the transgressive image manifest itself through the political, the sociological and psychological structures that give it form. Moreover, the image should produce a degree of consternation and contain the moral anxiety inherent in its production. The image should not gratuitously titillate, disowning its own horror in the same way it should never only condemn and pretend a higher moral purpose. The transgressive simulation, perfectly formed, should contain within itself the very order by which the image becomes blasphemous and unsettling.
  4. Finally and related to all the above, the image should be intended to communicate. In simulation, regardless of its striving towards the real, the image should seek to speak to and produce its own community. The simulated event is essentially an exchange between participants, not a blunt shock, an empty commercial venture or an attempt to gain ‘edgy’ artistic credibility. Simulated transgression is not about the glib production of violence for the sake of attention, but something more relational; it is another mode of contact and another method through which we can explore and revitalise intimacy within our flagging relationships.

NOTES:

[1] With hindsight, the concept of an ‘image’ here could easily be replaced by McLuhan’s ‘icon’: a compression of many cultural nuances, activities and ideas in a single image

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