Rape Culture: Extreme Pornography / Extreme Sexuality (Part 1)

“When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises
When it knows good as good, evil arises
Thus being and non-being produce each other”
(Laozi, Tao Te Ching)
Today, there is much talk about ‘rape culture’: about whether or not it exists; about whether or not it elides with ‘rape fantasy’; about whether or not it exists only through the inversion of sexual desirability into an experience of sex-phobic, sexual oppression.

At the same time, there is little consideration given to what has fixated the modern attention on rape and rape culture – leisure, individualism, the related fantasies of ‘the self’, ‘oppression’, ‘repression’ etc. and the identification of the psyche alongside the medicalizations of the emotions through mental health, trauma theories, victimologies etc. That it is not simply ‘progress’ that has allowed the identification of a ‘rape culture’ – ‘progress’ itself being a fantasy through which a culture can consolidate its own orientational conceit – but that it exists only on the basis of interacting systems and theories which transform sex, relationships and the whole range of our personal interactions. Thus we can look back to the 70s in self-stupefied bewilderment and evaluate a time we pretend to have little to no understanding of.

It is not the purpose of what follows to deny the existence of ‘rape culture’. Rape culture exists insofar as anything ever exists – it has been identified, it is advocated, it is bound up in the existential experience of its numerous advocates. The purpose of what follows rather, is to make some remarks about the existence of rape culture and its subsequent black mirror, which is its negative inversion and all the inevitable counter-actions its very existence gives rise to. For in our system of endless repression-liberation, it is the fantasy of a rape culture that now inspires the legislature and constitutes the dominant form around which sexual ‘reality’ is defined. As a consequence, we energize with seductivity and resentiment all its negative, antithetical forms.

Some Clarifications

When we talk about rape culture, we are talking about it as an idea: the ascendant idea through which the society is increasingly organised – that there is a culture that colludes with rape and that this culture must therefore be dismantled. All those behaviours from ‘street harassment’, ‘catcalling’, the unsolicited gaze, ‘slut-shaming’, ‘rape jokes’, misogynistic alterity etc., and any related cultural forms must be eradicated, for they all contribute to a dangerous and uncomfortable environment for women. In short then, reversing one perceived oppression – that of women by the predatory response to desirability – with another oppression – the containment and dismantlement of that predatory response.

When we speak about ‘the fantasy of rape culture’, we do not wish to deny its existence. ‘Truth’ is always a dominant fantasy, a system whose constituent parts are always open to challenge or collapse. The rape culture is a form made up of other dominant, yet contestable, mutable forms: mental health, bio-/social-engineering, sociology, human rights, electronic involvement, ubiquitous information, the role of leisure, excessive productivity, excessive identity, the fantasies of oppression, repression and liberation etc.

When speaking about seduction, we mean it as Baudrillard did. That seduction is a mode of secrecy in opposition to a mode of productive visibility. That is, seduction concerns the attraction contained in deviating from ‘the truth’, the truth being fundamentally ‘productive’ and concerns making things visible.

“Seduction continues to appear to all orthodoxies as malefice and artifice, a black magic for the deviation of all truths […] Every discourse is threatened with this sudden reversibility, absorbed into its own signs without a trace of meaning.” (Baudrillard, On Seduction, p. 2) [1]

We can similarly talk about Bataille, who placed our access to ‘the sacred’ in the transgression of the law or the taboo. Bataille also noted that the experience of the sacred was bound up in the destruction of one’s individuality. And what is individuality but an extreme over-production of one’s sense of self? The self in High Definition?

Rape Culture-Rape Fantasy: Reversibility

Erin Pizzey[2] has recently enjoyed some controversy over her support for Paul Elam’s[3] view that within rape culture, there is a rape fantasy. Beyond the brash iconoclasm and provocation, Elam’s ultimate point is that the thing in common for the rape fantasist and the rape culture advocate is that they both do an awful lot of thinking about rape. For Elam, rape culture is the inversion of the female rape fantasy and, in his view, a way for women to extend the fantasy of their own irresistibility. So for Elam, rape culture is perhaps the black mirror of a dominant rape fantasy in women?

Along similar lines, one might argue that inverting the rape fantasy is one way for the informational individual to think about rape whilst preserving their rational integrity, self-ownership and individualism. In any case, these kinds of argument don’t do much justice to the experience of the rape culture advocates whose response to the inherent violence of desire seems quite unambiguous and real. Moreover, one might argue that it is the challenge of women with such attractions to produce the visible structures (simulations) through which these attractions/anti-pleasures are accessible. Pizzey’s support is part of this process, rejecting rape culture as either a suitable analysis or solution to the problem violence.

For a more tantalising interpretation, it might be enough to just say that the rape is now a dominant image in the erotic imagination and that it’s through this image we coordinate all sexual behaviour – through rape fantasy or resistance to rape fantasy. With the collapse of power into desire and desire into power (as Baudrillard has pointed out, you can now switch between the two terms at will[4]) all sex is an act with stakes for the sovereignty of the individual. A sex phobia then emerges through exacerbated individualism/self-consciousness; a sex-fantasy emerges, because violence is the only thing capable of surpassing that individualism. Domination and submission become the seductive revenge on the law of individual sovereignty and sexual conviviality. Rape fantasy is a revenge on the oppressive organisational force of rape culture.

Intimacy in sex is perhaps a structure from the age of sexual secrets and silences. Here, the publication of sex was illicit and as such, its appearance could derive the properties of secrecy and exclusivity. The intimacy of violence then perhaps thrives in the structure of over-production, ‘speaking-out‘ and hyper-visibility, the secret world having now been shifted to the imaginaries of abuse and challenges to individual sovereignty.[5] At the very least, the image of a sex forever haunted by violence is what results from this accelerated self-itemisation and the result is not simply the ordering of sex through sanction and imposition; rather, we also see a reconstitution of the territories of relational seduction. To remain visible, the product must be respectable, otherwise it is condemned to silence and obscurity, which is the essence of seduction. That is, the black mirror of rape culture is rape fantasy, and, more broadly, the potential for a mutuality in violence.

The film Irreversible by Gaspar Noé, deals with the potential for this kind of reversibility, attempting to find reversion’s limit. Though Alex rejects the sensitive intellectual in favour of a more brash, selfish, traditionally masculine male and discusses her attraction to a certain kind of animalism, her rape in the film is brutal, prolonged and leaves her almost dead in a coma. The film however, is played back with the events occurring in reverse order, perhaps to give this limit a degree of ambiguity. That the rape scene too was so long not only conferred on it an ‘unflinching realism’ (so say the critics) and makes a rape visible (produces it), it also, in its mirror, ensured its place in the archives of extreme pornography.

Part 1Part 2Part 3.1

Notes:

[1] See Against Analysis for a more complete discussion.

[2] Erin Pizzey started one of the first domestic violence refuges, the one that would eventually become known as Refuge. Originally, she aspired to provide for women, men and children, however (according to Pizzey) a more feminist-led, female-centric agenda would eventually exclude her, in part due to her views on the mutuality of violence and the potential complicity of its victims. She is currently one of the leading female figures in the anti-feminist movement.

[3] Elam is one of the key founders of the much maligned Men’s Rights website A Voice for Men. At the time of writing, Pizzey has some kind of editorial input.

[4] “Foucault is part of this molecular intertwining which sketches out all of the future’s visible hysteria: he has helped establish a systematic notion of power along the same operational lines as desire, just as Deleuze established a notion of desire along the lines of future forms of power.” (Baudrillard, Forget Foucault, p.36)

Or:

“…today micro-desire (that of power) and micro-politics (that of desire) literally merge at the libido’s mechanical confines: all one has to do is miniaturize.” (Baudrillard, Forget Foucault, pg. 35)

[5] “Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.” (Jung, The Psychology of the Unconscious)

References:

Baudrillard, J., Forget Foucault
Baudrillard, J., On Seduction
Jung, C. G., The Psychology of the Unconscious, (1943)
Laozi, Tao Te Ching, http://www.taoism.net/ttc/complete.htm

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