PLEASURE, DESIRE & CULTURE … SADOMASOCHISM & ART

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There is an idea in Lacan that desire is always thwarted by pleasure. Perhaps the always is an exaggeration, but in trying to envisage how this could be, we start to see how the relationship works between desire and culture.

In fact, the development of the art of prolonging pleasures, that comes from the process of satisfying desires, is an integral part of culture. Likewise, cultural differences could be gauged according to the different ways they have of thwarting as well as prolonging, perpetuating and interpreting the pleasures of satisfying our desires.

Again in Lacan, desire is really desire for the other, and this psychologically tendency, that points toward a basic human altruism, is exploited by our Wealth-driven cultures to establish itself as the Big Other (either in the form of the nation-state or the God) in order to mould societies in ways that will ensure the fulfilment of its own needs. And, as such, by doing so, at the same time diminishing authentic human altruism in favour of nationalism and religious chauvinism.

However, aside from nationalist, racial, religious and class identities, most cultural differences can be measured by the kind of food on your table. The art of defecating is also cultural, although in a wider sense, as is the art of achieving orgasm.

Once we examine the cultural controls over our most basic needs, we enter a sphere of what Foucault called biopolitics, and hence bioculture.

Once this perspective on culture has been established, it could be interesting to analyse how nationalisms need to exploit the culinary extension of our satisfactions – which is decent – leaving the art of defecation – which is not – to the multi-national designers of toilets. The latter has relegated the hole in the floor to a curiosity status, whilst the sit-down stooling water closet has advanced into mostly all cultures without too much nationalistic resistance.

The other indecency, sex, has traditionally been put in the hands of God and, with the invention of bedrooms, performed out of sight, behind closed doors and curtains. What one does to prolong the pleasure is fine, as long as it’s not with a member of the same sex or a different species of animal. Because of this, the biopolitical-cultural struggle in terms of sexuality, has been as much one of opening the door and an attempt to make one’s particular indecency as legitimate as everyone else’s indecencies.

The cultural effect of such a revelation is that there are no cultural boundaries in sex at all, but rather they overlap all boundaries. As for the religious, well, it must be becoming clearer to them now, how they were duped into looking after culture’s dirty washing. In fact, it often seems that the laundering of sheets and towels is the only thing the church is good for.

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But let’s return to our point of departure: pleasure thwarting desire. The thwarting of course is seen as the experience of desire itself, which wants to satisfy itself as quickly as possible. Desire is always urgent in its essence.

Lacan’s original idea was expressed in an essay on “Kant and Sade”.

The thwarting of desire and the subsequent pleasure derived from it, is made obvious in sadomasochistic rituals, but it is this same process of refining desire through the act of thwarting pleasure that creates cultures and forms the highest and most refined cultures.

But, does this then mean that high culture and sadomasochism have the same nature? Or that culture is a sadomasochistic thwarting of our basic drives? Affirming this doesn’t say much, but it might help us to be more honest with our motives. Which is not to say we must dress our gourmets in latex, yet if they did, at least we can now appreciate the logic behind it.

As for us, as Sapiens creators, the question that now arises is: if art is to be linked to pleasure, what is art’s relationship to desire? How does art thwart desire? What is the pleasure being prolonged in art?

Of course the answer cannot be pronounced generically, but the question may be pertinent for any analysis or criticism of art. It also may be key for understanding why art works for some people and not for others, and why some works of art are more universal than others. Likewise, it might give us some leeway into discovering why some works of art are more profound than others by examining profundity through the depth of the prolongation of the thwarting of desire. Art appreciation now becomes an analysis of the sadomasochistic experience.

Obviously, many art lovers would be surprised or offended if we analysed them as masochists. However, this may also explain why great art can so very often be rejected, and that the difficult is often too cruel for its audience to bear. Great art and high culture knows it needs an audience that are prepared, committed and willing to endure its torture in order to be appreciated. And fine, yes, let’s repeat it, the audience don’t want to be considered sadists any more than the audience want to be masochists, but, in truth, we must be, if we are to create and appreciate great works.

The artist must work at the sadistic art of thwarting the object of desire, for it is in this thwarting that the art takes place. Going directly to the object of desire is anti-art, or pornography.

The Psychology of Capitalism (1) DEMAND – NEED = DESIRE

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This formula (Demand – Need = Desire) comes from Žižek, after Lacan’s Love – Appetite = Desire. But how does this work?

For Lacan, love is a demand, and he talks of the demand of love and the appetite for satisfaction. But not all demands are love and not all love is a demand. Is the appetite for satisfaction the same as need?

At the immediate level of needing to satisfy our physical appetites, the answer would be yes – I am hungry → I have an appetite for food = I need to eat something. A plate of spinach is given the hungry individual. He or she doesn’t particularly like spinach but the hunger is dominant and he or she devours the insipid dish to satisfy that hunger. After the hunger has abated, what is left over? Nothing. There might still be spinach on the plate, but the hunger has gone and the hunger was everything so there is no need to finish the spinach. If it is eaten it will certainly not be with any gusto, for after the hunger is satiated there is no desire left. On the other hand, give the individual a plate of his or her favourite food. The ration is ample enough to satisfy the appetite, the need for food and the hunger is quelled. Nevertheless, the individual is left wanting more. And … this is desire.

In this way we see that desire is a going-beyond need. In its essence it is a demand for more than one need.

Now, by understanding desire this way, we reveal how capitalism works in the realm of desire and needs.

In a mechanical sense, capitalism is a motor for desire which is a transcendence of the relationship between demands and needs that pulls us into a yearning for the unnecessary.

I love pizza. I am hungry. The pizzeria offers three sizes: individual, medium or family size. The family size is enormous; the individual ration is small but sufficient. Desire, however, entices me to buy the middle-size pizza. It will leave me stuffed, feeling unwell even, but … such is desire. The pizza lover after me buys the family sizer. He is alone and won’t be able to finish it, but … he also likes cold pizza. Or he’ll reheat it for breakfast tomorrow.

In this case, the equation is not Demand – Need = Desire but (demanded)Supply – Need = Desire. For capitalism to work, supply must create demand. It is not enough for a business to estimate what people want, it has to create that want. It has to create the market for itself. The realism of consumerism is not that we can have what we would like, but only that which is there. The illusion is that we can get whatever we want in the market place or the department store. Reality, on the other hand, is that we want what we imagine we can get there. What we really want is very often not to be found. One just has to look for a certain style that is no longer in fashion, or a replacement for a broken part of an old machine, or even a pair of shoe-laces for an old pair of shoes or a tooth brush that will slip into one’s old toothbrush-holder, or … a lightbulb that won’t have to be replaced every year, or a medicine to cure one’s arthritis, or a tomato that tastes like the tomatoes we had when we were kids …

For the capitalist market to exist there needs to be obsolescence. The shorter the life-span of a product the better. In the equation Supply = Need + Desire, it does not matter what the values of Need and Desire are as long as both of them have some degree of positive value. The real value for the capitalist is determined by the value in Supply itself, which is really the factor of availability. The greater the availability value is, the more likely it is to generate the Need and Desire necessary to make it a successful business proposition. The main aim is to fill the shelves with your products and leave no room for competition. This is why companies create their own competition – they are filling the space of Supply which determines our Desires and Needs.

POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE DESIRES

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positive and negative thinking crossword puzzle

Desire has its positive and negative qualities. It can be productive and creative on one hand and obsessive and delusional on the other. Negative desire comes from wanting what is lacking when what is lacking is not necessarily what we authentically need. In this face of desire we can see an eternal yearning for more and more; a desperate attempt to fill an emptiness, even though the emptiness is not really there. Most desire-for-lack in our civilisation has become a desire for imaginary lacks that are created by the publicists.

On the other hand there is the desire for creation – for producing interesting and better things; for solving problems; for progress.

Productive-desire, therefore, is a positive one only when it is removed from the manufactured desires that spring out of a myth of lack. Even the desire-for-lack would be positive if it was removed from this myth.

The way to tackle the problem of desire is to tackle the myth itself. To attack the manufacturer of false-lack, which, unfortunately, is the very basis of the capitalist system.

THE PROBLEM OF WILL (PART TWO)

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(IN OUR FIRST INSTALMENT[1] WE ARGUED THAT WILL IS A COMPLEX THING, HARD TO PIN DOWN, AND THAT THAT COMPLEXITY HIDES THE POTENTIAL FOR AN UGLY REALITY – THAT FREE WILL DOES NOT EXIST. IN ORDER TO ANALYSE THIS EQUALLY COMPLEX QUESTION OF FREE WILL, WE LOOKED AT THE WAYS THAT ADULTS USE TO COERCE CHILDREN AWAY FROM THEIR FAVOURITE GAMES IN ORDER TO TRY NEW THINGS. THROUGH ASSOCIATION WE CAME TO THE AGGRESSIVE MARKETING TECHNIQUES THAT INVADE OUR LIVES AND THE ATTEMPTS BY MARKETING TO MAKE ITS WILL BECOME OURS, SUGGESTING THAT OUR PASSIVITY FACING SUCH AGGRESSIONS DEMONSTRATES A WEAKNESS OF WILL ON OUR BEHALF. FINALLY, WE CONCLUDED THAT THIS EXAMPLE TELLS US SOMETHING ABOUT WILL ITSELF)

III

We want to be happy. We want to enjoy ourselves. But does that mean that our basic drive is to achieve happiness? If it were, wouldn’t our civilisation be far more hedonistic?

We quickly grow tired of the game, even forget that we ever had a favourite one. Likewise, we grow sick of the attempts to coax us into playing new games. Non-will starts to become more real than will.

Stressed by constant cajoling, we become resistant rather than submissive. New tactics for seduction have to be employed. The System knows we will give in eventually. It is certain of its own power to manipulate any of our desires with ease. So, what does this tell us about our will?

What this narrative seems to be unfurling is the conclusion that will is not that which actually drives our desires at all. The relationship between will and desire is a kind of shimmering mirage.

Will must be something deeper. In order to get a more solid representation of it we need to root it in another kind of soil instead of the sandy stuff of desire. It needs to be allowed to grow from a more substantial, fertile terrain. Let us now imagine what it could grow into if we let our will sprout from the bedrock of Necessity.

The more that will becomes associated with desire, the weaker it becomes, whereas, in a proportional way, it is strengthened by any association with need.

So, the best way to resist the aggressive desire implanting of our surplus-creating culture is to move toward that which is really necessary. A movement which, as Nietzsche preached, will require a revaluation of all values. The revaluation of those systemic values which are oedipal norms and codifications.

Paradoxically, will is the drive that takes us toward that which needs to be done. But the paradox here is a revelation: by simply paying attention to will, rather than desire, we can put our free will back on track, in the direction of what we need. The revaluation has to be through the separation of will from desire.

The Last Men, the ignorant nihilist, and the slave to the surplus-market system – they are all weak-willed creatures, seduced by the desires imposed on them and imbued in them. Strength of will is needed in order to see the greater human purpose. The purpose beyond nihilism and beyond the oedipal system of human separation, towards a non-segregated, truly human and homo sapiens’ idea of that which really must be done. That which is necessary in order to fulfil human potential and create a truly human course of history in which we are able to establish a meaningful partnership with the world we depend on.

Desire is in our bodies and minds. In our organs and in our libidos. In our DNA and in the chemical reactions that outer stimuli produce on us. But the will depends on decision making. Will is the how we drive our machine. The towards what we decide to go unto. Will is a directional faculty. We use it to navigate with.

Desire is not will. But if we are to be able to redirect the mechanism of our will so that it in turn can take us on a different, more positive and more human journey, then we need a desire to change our will. From the will-to-want-more to the will-to-be-human.

But, in order to achieve this revolution of wills we must temper our desire. Desire to want less. Desire to break down the walls and codes of separation between ourselves as human beings. A desire to be a conscious part of the world in a conscious way. A desire to understand, and a desire to be in partnership with reality through knowledge.

[1] https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2015/09/19/the-problem-of-will-part-one/

THE PROBLEM OF WILL (PART ONE)

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I

What is will? It is related to intentionality and becomes that which allows us to act in a voluntary way. There are etymological roots to be found in the Sanskrit vrnoti – chooses, prefers – or the Greek elpis – hope. If we think of the power of will, or willpower, we can associate it with another Greek term thymos, which is alike to spiritedness and was used by the Greeks to describe the way the gods inspire us into action. In the Homeric world of the Iliad it was the gods that moved men to action through the agent of thymos.

So, is will just an agent in the mind that we can turn on and off at will? The pun here was unintentional, but interesting none the less. In order to turn off the power of will that is driving us we need to exert another more powerful will. So will has different faces. It is not desire exactly, but rather that which drives or tames our desires. It does not decide actions – our reason does that – but it does power them. It powers our choices and preferences, it is the intentionality that can make our hopes and dreams a reality.

Traditionally, the problem of will has been anchored in where it actually comes from, which is its relation to free will. Is it, like thymos, inspired or influenced by some outside, divine force, or is it just an agent of the mind that could be associated with obstinate, determined attitudes? Of course the answer depends on your beliefs or what you’re willing to accept – which means the question of what will is, is also a question of will itself.

Will in fact is all pervasive – I’m writing about will because I have the will to do so. To tackle it then we need to firstly anchor and analyse it from just one of its facets. In order to do this, let’s define will as that which drives our desires. However, once we have done this, rather than simplifying the question what we do is reveal the complexity of the problem – who can actually say what drives our desires? If there is a force behind our desires it comes from all over the place. Most of it comes from the exterior: the propaganda machines of advertising and ideologies; the norms and collective desires of society; the family; as well as necessities for survival or well-being. Much of this may seem to be a product of our own free will because will itself feels like an interior drive. But it feels that way because the exterior has punched its own will into us via our superego or by stimulating the pleasure centre of the nucleus accumbens.

If this is the case, what hope do we have of possessing free will? Could it be that free will really is a mere fantasy?

Most of us would reject this idea. Free will is a precious idea for the individual, if not a necessary complement. Can one be an individual without free will? We certainly do not want to surrender so quickly. So, let’s analyse the situation more deeply …

II

How can free will be lacking in a species which seems to be so absolutely wilful?

The child asks if she can play her favourite game and you tell the child that she has been playing the same game all week and that today she will learn a new game. The child protests – she doesn’t want to learn a new game, she wants to play her favourite one. If you remain strong willed yourself and insist, you will be able to make the child learn the new game. When the child plays the new game she enjoys it. The next day you ask the child what she wants to do and she replies: “play the new game”. Which you do. And you continue doing it until you teach the child another new game.

What can we deduce from this? That we have an innate will to repeat that which we have learned to enjoy? How long does it take us to become consciously bored with our favourites?

The capitalist, market-will is geared toward the increase of the boredom-factor whilst at the same time reducing or concentrating options into simple packages. The current trend is toward a market of updates and complements for the product. It is an obsession with improving the product the consumer may already have and love. Of course, to make this politics of constant modification profitable, it has to be implemented without provoking a rejection from those who loved the original product when they are presented with the modified version. In other words, the company has to be sure that the new games it offers are better than the previous versions of it.

The result is, at times, a very aggressive invasion into the consumers’ lives from the competing companies, desperate for our allegiance to their own platform. They plague our lives, not only with a barrage of image-based and aural advertising, but make direct incursions into our lives through personal contact via the telephone, or through decades-old technique of knocking on our doors.

The advertising war becomes a way of enticing us away from our favourite game, to make their game our new favourite. So, where is our will there?

We only have two options if we remain within the system: the will to submit, or the will to resist. The only other viable step would be to try and step out of the system itself …

But what does this tell us about will itself?

(WE WILL ANSWER THAT QUESTION IN A SECOND INSTALMENT)

LAW AND DESIRE

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Law represses desire. But how could such a thing come about? What must the society fear in order to control precisely what we crave for? Is it a fear of the desire, or of what the desire consumes? Isn’t the negative force of desire this power to burn up everything that gets in its way?

It is what can be destroyed by desire that makes it so feared, and we need to remind ourselves of that. We, who have bent all laws for the spirit of freedom, for the unshackling and unleashing of desires. We must now contemplate what might be the real price to pay for our daring. We consume the world that engenders and supports us. We consume more than we need, with the simple justification that we are feeding our emancipation. However, liberation from necessity can only create a greater necessity.

Law does not repress desire enough. The definition of vice has to be amplified to include the unnecessary consumption, exploitation or degradation of anything which is necessary for human well-being or survival. Natural resources are obvious candidates for protection against their over-exploitation, but it’s time now to nip the canker at the bud. It’s time to declare the abuse of money as a vice.

OUR GREAT DIALECTIC – between the dictatorship of non-desire and the tyranny of want

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20th century literature produced two antithetical prophecies of the technological world we have today: George Orwell’s 1984 with its Big Brother and the Brave New World of Aldous Huxley. In one sense we could affirm that neither prophecy has really come true, but in another sense we could argue that both prophecies have been realised. How can that be?

Modernity is in fact a dialectical struggle between Big Brother’s omnipresent gaze and oppression of desire, on the one hand, and the seemingly liberating dictatorship of the Brave New World on the other.

Totalitarianism is a rejection of superfluous commodities while liberation is an embracing of the superfluous.

In another sense, totalitarianism is an embracing of responsibility and liberalism is a fleeing from responsibilities.

Dictatorship can only work in a perfectly enclosed reality. Enclosure can only work by closing frontiers (as in the iron curtain between communism and capitalism, or in the isolation policies of traditional Japan or modern day North Korea), or by making itself a total-reality in which there is no alternative to its dominion, as in the aspirations of our current economic globalisation programme.

Dictatorship only fails when the subjects within the total-reality becomes aware that their reality is not total but that in fact it is sadly lacking in many things. When this is realised, the regime itself becomes a hindrance towards achieving possibilities or fulfilment. Once the awareness of blocked possibilities seeps into the society, the dictatorship is doomed. Because of this, all regimes must struggle to maintain the illusion that their power does not actually retard possibilities, or that any oppression that takes place is necessary to combat undesirable elements threatening the comfort of the reality it has created.

In order to maintain power, all regimes must dedicate much of their energy convincing their subjects of the inexistence of any fundamental lack. If lack does exist, it is because what is absent is either frivolous or dangerous. Or, it simply just hasn’t been obtained yet by a system which potentially has the power to provide everything for everyone who subjects themselves to the rules and norms of the system.

Modernity is a dialectic between responsibility and desire: between the necessary and the frivolous; between duty and freedom; between obligation and emancipation; between the freedom achieved through responsible action and the oppression maintained through the addictions provoked by unfettered desires…

This dialectic is a complex one, at times favouring one side and, as Power itself, it takes a firm hold on the reins of the discourse in order to drive our cart in its direction. It is the dialectic between communism and capitalism; between Freud and Marx; between Al Qaeda and the oil companies; between religions and the women’s or gay-rights movements; between democracy and plutocracy; between humanity and the world.

What is our place in this constant dialectic? Our argument is not a condemnation of desire but a redirecting of it away from Big Brother or Brave New World manipulations. We obviously stand on the side of responsibility and necessity, but we are not waging war on desire itself. Desire needs to be harmonised with necessity in order to inflame desire with purposiveness and infuse humanity with a sense of itself based on its optimistic and noble visions. We define positive human desires as those impulses which point towards the fulfilment of human interests against the negative, because self-interested, desires of individuals or corporations.

The dialectic now changes and becomes immersed in a new antagonism between the personal desires and the solving of immediate problems against the future perspectives for humanity as a whole that are looking toward the fulfilment of our deeper, collective desires. This new dialectic is one between the desire for progress and the need for preservation; between the self-centred reality and the human; between the sharply focussed point-of-view and the global vision; between the family and the world; between the perception of things within us and the space around us and its atmosphere that allows us to exist at all.

But basically, it is a dialectic between the immediate present and the far-distant future that is threatened by our present. Whether we believe in the future or not, it must always compete with the conditions of the “now”. It is the dialectic compressed into the story of the Grasshopper and the Ant. In that fable labour – the ant’s labour – is a necessary condition that has to be done now in order for future survival, whilst the grasshopper’s summer appetite – our own locust appetite – will be its death sentence in the winter to come.

KNOWING THE LIE – CONSCIOUSNESS (1)

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One cannot be free unless one has the power to change one’s circumstances in a positive way. One cannot change one’s circumstances unless one can see what needs to be changed. Consciousness is therefore an a priori necessity for freedom. Dictatorship can be achieved by simply making the people it oppresses unconscious of the reality that really dominates them.

Consciousness has to be an alert force, if it is not alert it cannot be consciousness. Its power lies in its ability to see through the veil of systemic mystification. Consciousness allows us the right to be critical, sceptical, or even cynical.

Of course consciousness can also be false. False consciousness lacks clarity as it is muddied by its own ideologies: ideologies that stem from identities. For consciousness to be clear it needs to transcend all ideology-mask identities.

False consciousness could also be called misguided consciousness – a consciousness looking for a reality which is simply just not there, and probably never will be, is a misguided one. Consciousness needs to see through the masks, but that does not mean it must cut through all still surfaces. The cutting open can have negative results if the process itself does nothing but churn already clear waters and makes them no longer transparent.

Can we say that reality should be that which needs to be? What about want it to be? If we accept the validity of both possibilities, which is stronger: want or needs? Desires must be subject to needs. Desires can only be gained when needs are satisfied. Likewise, in order to uncover reality and therefore find truth, consciousness must be guided by needs at first and desires only when those needs are satisfied or safeguarded. The first thing consciousness must look for is necessity.

ON DESIRE.. DO WE NEED IT?

When I desire that car, it is not that I really desire it but I think that others expect me to want it. I want to have what I am expected to want to have. The greatest achievement of the publicity campaign is making your product or turning your product into something which people are expected to have.

Why do we let ourselves be duped time after time? Why are we so easily manipulated by the dictatorship of false needs? To the extent that our lives are driven by it, our resources exhausted by it… Why?

Go shopping, shop from home, whatever… The goal of desire is a viral one, to multiply itself by creating more desire. For this reason an orgasm in the consumer-world is a negative act if it satiates and needs to be followed by a stimulus for more. After satisfaction comes more foreplay – the law of the marketplace. Ours is a hypersexual, multiple-orgasm society.

Why is constant availability suddenly important for us all? Plutocratic publicists tap into our libido. The latest cell-phone dangling before your nose is an electronic phallic-carrot. Like a vibrator it can be pocketed and if its batteries are charged it can be used anywhere.

Exercise, run, keep yourself fit so you can keep cumming. We are kept consumer- healthy by being trained to desire rather than need things.

It is when you feel you are expected to have something that your interest for an object turns into a passionate desire for it. In fact, being expected to want it can turn an object that is even undesirable into something that we cannot do without.