Rape Culture: Extreme Pornography / Extreme Sexuality (Part 3.2)

Part 1Part 2Part 3.1Part 3.2

Extreme Sexuality 2

“’But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.’

‘In fact,’ said Mustapha Mond, ‘you’re claiming the right to be unhappy. Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer, the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.’ There was a long silence.

‘I claim them all,’ said the Savage at last.” (Aldous Huxley, Brave New World)

And:

“’Did you eat something that didn’t agree with you?’ asked Bernard.

The Savage nodded. ‘I ate civilization.’

‘What?’

‘It poisoned me; I was defiled. And then,’ he added, in a lower tone, ‘I ate my own wickedness.’” (Aldous Huxley, Brave New World)

Anti-pleasure and the Negative Sex

The principle of repression-liberation that works to energize, reveal and politically/socially engage various identities is fundamentally productive.[1] In fact, that the world is seen in terms of repression-liberation at all is itself a consequence of the productive gaze – that is, a gaze which seeks to quantify, identify, visualise and organize everything. This is precisely the appeal of power and equality as concepts in the relations between individuals. Given a relationship may be seen as an immersion in a sea of forces,[2] ‘power’ provides a means by which order can be ascribed to these forces; power is a conceptual distillation from an experiential morass by which we can measure the quality of relationships and behaviours. The same idea can be applied to pleasure and pain, conflict and violence.[3] – quantifiers by which the quality of a relationship can be objectively measured – a definitive scale of negative values.

Through this ability of language to delimit and identify, to categorise and quantify aspects of what is otherwise a confused, yet deeply integrated mass, we build into relational exchange an expanding system of ideas and methods designed to minimize conflicts, maximise stability, dissipate inequality and annihilate every trace of any negative value. We ignore the fact that such negativity may be essential to the functionality of relational exchanges and relational involvement in the first place. The internalised ideologies of relationship counsellors and risk-averse therapeutics; all those enervating victim-images at the limits of risk, deter us from anything but the simulation of risk in an effort to expunge all negativity from the relational forms. Equalityand compromise serve as instruments of division: neurotic firewalls at the boundary of intimacy, rejecting all but the safest, most quantifiable incoming and outgoing exchanges. A self-censored coupling.

Seeing power as an illusion of productive social structures, Baudrillard has made a great effort to get rid of it from his analytical method. He takes the instantaneous, vertiginous, ‘insane relation’ of both seduction and its counterpart challenge, then opposes them to the linear, intermediate strategies of instrumentation and production. Challenge abolishes the law and the contract and replaces it with a “vertiginous spiral” of “response and counter-response”. Challenge is not an “investment”, but a “risk”; never “individual”, but always “duel”; it is of an order of “destiny”, not “strategy” (Baudrillard, 2001, p.81-83). In short, the insane relation of challenge is not divisible into negative and positive, it allows no delimiting of the passive and active, the object and subject, but exists as an indivisible experience that abolishes all such separations. It exists outside of the productive strategy of quantification and in the spontaneous experience of seduction.

With this, Baudrillard can hold a view of sex relations – and all other relations – that does not depend on a strategy of identifying the Universal values and then measuring relationships by those terms. Such measures are not the be-all and end-all of relational functionality. On the positive value we acoord ‘pleasure’, he writes:

“But this is to remain unaware that sexual pleasure too is reversible, that is to say that, in the absence or denial of the orgasm, superior intensity is possible […] Or again, sexual pleasure can be just a pretext for another, more exciting, more passionate game […] But this vertigo can be equally present in the rejection of sexual pleasure […] Who knows if women, far from being “despoiled,” have not, from time immemorial, been playing a game of their own by triumphantly asserting a right to sexual reticence? […] No one knows to what destructive depths such provocation can go, nor what omnipotence it implies.” (Baudrillard, 2001, p.17 – 18)

Three things then: 1) a distinction between ‘pleasure’ and ‘intensity’, the former overtly positive and the latter signifying a much deeper ambiguity; 2) that pleasure may be an irrelevant detail or mere stage-prop for a more complex game – a game by its nature requiring challenges and stakes, a play of all the signs with symbolic winners and losers; then 3) a vertigo in the rejection of pleasure itself, a vertigo perhaps intensified by the fact that pleasure exists as one of the dominant organising principles of our society. There is a radical allure in the rejection (or circumvention) of pleasure, for pleasure (and all the other, more general measures of positivity) are the dominant quantities by which our society is organised and, by their overbearing simplicity, repressed. Essentially, the rejection of pleasure is the rejection of a new Conservatism: a safe, sane, consensual sex-positivism which constitutes a new frigidity whose rejection points us towards more unsafe, unsane, unconsensual alternatives.

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Notes:

[1] Here, we use production in the Baudrillardean sense: that it concerns making the invisible visible and is opposed to seduction, which concerns that which is hidden (Baudrillard, 2007, p. 37). Production and seduction are dealt with in greater detail here.

[2] Even ‘forces’ here applies the same productive gaze in that it assumes any particular at all can be grasped clearly and distinctly from the experiential chaos of relational interaction. Whether we use ‘power’ or ‘force’, as is always the case with our model-maker’s habit, we must omit the detail of their wider context and apply a culture-bound lens to the process of naming important aspects.

[3] Baudrillard’s production/seduction distinction likely owes a great deal to Bataille’s idea that beneath human reason (which was a consequence of our inventing work) there was a natural violence which was essentially beyond speech and categorisation. Philosophy and the ability of language to identify and analyse, for Bataille, originated in the invention of work and is therefore related in this way to production. Continuity however – the vertiginous sense of the loss of ‘the self’ (and identity) experienced in such things as erotic excess, poetry, love or mysticism – depends on the transcendence of these rational boundaries. For individuals to disappear in the underlying violence of nature and each other, one must exceed the boundaries of rationality, morality and individuality, which are precisely the things our modern, productive societies exacerbate to the point of insanity. (For a discussion of Bataille, see here)

References:

Baudrillard, J. 2001, Seduction, CTeory Books
Baudrillard, J. 2007, Forget Foucault, Semiotext(e).
Huxley, A. 1932, Brave New World, http://www.huxley.net/bnw/

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