A discontinuous discourse on a discontinuous subject

INTRODUCTION

To attempt to present the following ideas in some logical and, consequently, linear way would amount to a deception. To offer a coherent and explanatory logic, as is perhaps too common to contemporary social science, is to fashion a rhetoric that sustains the illusion of a corresponding logic inherent in actual practice that is rarely to be found in actual practice. This tendency is reinforced by the ability of labels, such as homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual, to homogenize what are significantly pluralized phenomena.

How then can one write in a postmodern style? A partial answer is that there will be no one postmodern style. Different adaptations will obviously depend upon such diverse factors as the qualities of specific subject matters and the constraints of representation, responses to the strains existing between what we know and what must be lost and added in communication, and, always, the conflict between what we know and what we believe. The problem is one of finding a space for the articulation of what I believe, without the distortions that inevitably follow the conventional ways of making the believable believable.

What I have done in the present instance is merely to have started thinking about the meanings of sexuality as I tried to understand it; they tended to derive as “side-baf’ elaborations that occurred while what has gone before was initially being composed. Lines of thought were allowed to develop without a self­conscious awareness of what would be included, excluded, or what it would look like when finished. I started writing, allowing what had come before to move me forward in a journey combining discovery with invention. If by the end of this journey I have not fully contradicted myself more than once, I shall have failed.

Lastly, I have entered brief quotations from works that prompted some line of thinking or that were called to mind by some line of thinking. Often they were prompts that followed one of those “of course" responses that denote an addition to perception; often it was the occasion for a dialectical response. Not all those who have shaped my thinking are represented, and even these are rarely acknowledged to the full extent of my reliance on them or the full extent of my appropriations of their thoughts.

The sexual appears rooted in our very nature, as an ultimate, if obscure truth of the human being, and we continue to believe this bedrock conception of the sexual even though we rarely expect to find it in its quintessential form. Though we expect it to appear variously costumed and occasioned, we do not doubt that, at its origins, the sexual is an unchanging creature of nature, a touch of the original, a universal starting point, the illusion of the starting point of a desire that is what it is and not the creation of some historically burdened negotiation.

This belief is necessary if sexuality is to serve as an ultimate anchor for a multiplicity of semiotic chains. However, like Barthes’s view of the photographic image, the appearance of the sexual is most typically a moment of deception: sex is rarely what it appears to be and it is never more deceptive than when it appears to be what it is.

* * *

It is in sexual encounters that solitude is sharpest, that the imagined wealth of remembered, alternative, or illusory possibilities devastates the pretended truth of the moment. Men and women sleep not with each other but with the regrets, the hopes of unions yet to come. Our adulteries are internal; they deepen our aloneness.

(George Steiner, 1995)

* * *

Among the most significant contributions of Freud is the insight that not all of sexuality (desire, physical excitement, and heightened emotional productivity/ sensitivity) is experienced within the context of recognizable sexual acts. And, by the same token, not all recognizable sexual acts are ever totally in the control of sexuality.

* * *

Even when many of us dream the same dream, such similarities are not as important as the sense of their being our possession, our very own secret.

* * *

Even at moments of purest composition, when it is least burdened by service for other ends, sexuality remains a (com)promise. And moments that occasion a sense of completion may satisfy only through complicated psychological book­keeping.

* * *

We often experience our sexual selves as coming from within largely because the moment is illuminated with a sense of knowing yourself as you have always been f or the first time, knowing yourself in an especially confirming way. The feeling is something like being well fitted for a pair of fine shoes. However, you have just become the kind of person capable of that experience and that capacity is the property of that moment and not that person.

How rare are the instances where this coalescence of past and present occurs without strain, inconsistency, fracturing, and reckless misrepresentation?

* * *

The fabric often tears along ragged, often hastily sutured seams.

* * *

Sexuality, under certain conditions, is transformed into eroticism. Eroticism can be defined as the images of desire that, independent of their immediate possibility of realization (enactment), are capable of initiating and sustaining sexual arousal. These “certain conditions”, despite many very general aspects, find the appearance of the erotic following discouragingly unpredictable paths. But once constituted as eroticism or as an aspect of a subjective erotic culture, such images of desire approach hyperreality, resembling Lacan’s notion of the recycling of desire. The erotic comes to function like the mock rabbit at dog – racetracks: while tempting with the scent of flesh, it is constituted never to be consumed.

* * *

The salience of the sexual circles from an absolute refusal to be sexual (possibly the most erotic response of all) back upon itself, where almost all experience is colored with sexual possibility or where that which is not colored with the sexual is lost to an under-attended backdrop.

* * *

Satisfaction can be defined as the “experience of judgment”, something close to Kohut’s concept of “ego-autonomy”, or the self observing the self, and often the self observing the self observed or observable. Pleasure reverses this, it occurs as the “judgment of experience”, close to Kohut’s concept of “ego – dominance”, the self thoroughly into its experience. The difference between these two—satisfaction and pleasure—is like the difference between doing something that you know to be fun and having fun.

* * *

All sex is a form of longing, even as it happens.

(DeLillo 1991:90)

* * *

Desire, as experienced by the self, is not merely the experiencing of a lack or absence. It is the labeling of a lack that is the initiation of desire, the initiation of a process of layered interrogations hidden in the deceptively singular question: What is it I desire? Individual biography is the layered history of such interrogations, and personal character (as against “social character”) may be little more than the practices by which the interrogations are most typically carried out.

* * *

Desire is the scripting of potential futures (“when I act”), drawing upon the scripting of the past of desire as experienced in the contingent present. Desire, in

the fullness of its implicit ambiguity, can be described as the continuing production of the self.

* * *

I am as you desire me. This is what sounds the differentiating human experience: other animals may hunger; only the human experiences and is shaped by an awareness of what others desire of us. We are rarely only what others desire of us, but we never fully escape the fact of their desiring.

* * *

The functions of the orgasm: at times it appears as an exclamation at the end of a sentence. A link between pleasure and satisfaction? A way of avoiding the panic of pleasure or a way of returning from the pleasure of panic? The homage or ransom that “ego-autonomy” offers “ego-dominance”?

* * *

The dream of desire produces pleasure; the desire of the dream produces satisfaction. What makes satisfaction possible is not always an enhancement of pleasure (though it can be), just as what makes pleasure possible is not always an enhancement of satisfaction. There is an overlap of the two that permits one to speak of the pleasures of satisfaction and the satisfactions of pleasure; however, each of these represents a muddied, derivative or echoed character.

* * *

PLEASURE— (1) DESIRE, INCLINATION; (2) a state of gratification;

(3 a) sensual gratification; (3b) frivolous amusement; (4) a source of delight or joy.

SATISFACTION—(1a) the payment through penance of the temporal punishment incurred by a sin; (1b) reparation for sin that meets the demands of divine justice; (2a) the fulfillment of a need or want; (2b) the quality or state of being satisfied: CONTENTMENT; (2c) a source or means of enjoyment: GRATIFICATION; (3a) compensation for a loss or injury: ATONEMENT, RESTITUTION; (3b) the discharge of a legal obligation or claim; (3 c) VINDICATION; (4) convinced assurance or certainty.

(Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary 1975)

* * *

The desire of the dream and the dream of desire are both constructions. The former is the product of interpersonal scripting, the latter the product of intrapsychic scripting.

* * *

The essence of the nature of the desire is not merely the experiencing of a lack or absence. It is the labeling of a lack that is the initiation of desire. One of the distinctive features of the modern experience was the tendency either to leave ambiguous or to pluralize potential labels for specific desires. This was accomplished by creating private spaces, both within and without, that sheltered the quest for desire that preceded desire’s quest. Postmodernity extends ambiguity, pluralization, and sheltering to the point where the coercive legacies of surviving tradition become uncertain of themselves.

* * *

Recognition of the fundamental and extensive difference between behavior directed towards these two ends [“satisfaction” and “pleasure”], and hence the fact that individuals living above the level of subsistence are likely to be faced with a choice between them, made it possible to distinguish traditional from modern hedonism. The former was identified as a preoccupation with sensory experience, with “pleasure” regarded as discrete and standardized events, and in the pursuit of which there is a tendency for the hedonist to seek despotic powers. Modern hedonism is marked, in contrast, by a preoccupation with “pleasure”, envisaged as a potential quality of all experience. In order to extract this from life, however, the individual has to substitute illusory for real stimuli, and by creating and manipulating illusions and hence the emotive dimension of consciousness, construct his own pleasurable environment. This modern, autonomous, and illusory form of hedonism commonly manifests itself as daydreaming and fantasizing.

(Campell 1989:202-3)

* * *

The erotic, that which endows something—a person, feature, posture, object, shape, texture, odor—with the capacity to elicit sexual excitement, can claim very little as its own. The construction of an erotic preference, aside from its coincidental biological inputs, can draw from many, often conflicting desires. For the moment, what is important is that we understand that these same desires can invariably be attached to many behaviors.

* * *

The experience of sexual desire might be described as a handful of M&M candies; a handful that for some persons is dominated by a few colors and for others is expressed as mosaics of conflicting tints, complementary tints, and— more than we realize—changing configurations of desire. Each M&M candy, in cross-section, can be seen as an oval of chocolate covered by a thin layer of candy, which is itself followed by a third, still thinner layer of dye. The chocolate oval at the center may represent the most primitive and inarticulate responses of the human: a very basic, undifferentiated core of longing that subsequently can be attached to a plurality of qualities of experience (the candy coating) that are associated with some specific gestural tone (the specific color).

* * *

Sexual behavior in its direct reproductive f orms is not discovered; it is there all the time. Motivation (eroticism) may have never rested in biological uses, but in socially reinforced, expressive statements. For example, Freud’s notion of the primal horde, where presumably a dominant male controlled all or most of the females to the exclusion of other males, suggests this relationship. The behavior makes more sense as an expression of a desire for power or social recognition than as the expression of a sex drive. The sexual becomes the vivid signifier and empowers the signified. Being the dominant male could be described and experienced as one of the more oppressive burdens of power. Having sex or, somewhat more dramatically, denying sex to others became a display, if you will, a confirmation and respectful acknowledgment of hierarchic position. This, or something like it, is necessary, given the absence of periodicity in women and similarly programmed responses by men: sex must be given a value.

* * *

Sexual deviants, like other marginalized categories of individuals and groups who resist the conventional or normal, become the occasion for the diffusion of disobedient desires as they become the uninvited presence at almost all demonstrations of conformity.

* * *

The “solution” of the pervert is unique to her or him, but the “problem” whose solution is being attempted is anything but unique. The pervert is frequently “solving” a problem that others are solving in different ways, ways that at times serve the conventional and at other times occasion change in the construction of the conventional.

* * *

Gender is an erotic signifier whose most common attributes are power and power relations. It is the difference between what I want to do and what I must be in order to do it well or merely to be allowed (to allow myself) to do it. As gender issues diminish dramatically, does sadomasochism replace them as the eroticizing of power after gender has been too compromised to serve?

* * *

We must consider the role of masturbation in training people to the illusion of empathy. Empathy must both follow and lead “the desire to be both sexes”, the desire that, like many desires, is burdened with gender codes and prohibitions.

* * *

A poorly kept yet under-advertised secret: our sublimations are often richer in their capacity to sustain cycles of emotional production than the ghostly forbidden desires that may have infused them with significance in the first place. The sexual, both the object and subject of sublimation, often must be refurbished and elevated to approximate the qualities of expression found through other well – founded sublimations. At the core of our lusts is a falsified history of prosaic successes and failures.

* * *

It is the lust for orgasm and not orgasm itself that is the sexual in its purest form, lust that is nurtured in the continuing commerce of the self.

* * *

The most important permanent truth about sexuality is that there may be no important truths about sexuality that are permanent. Those of its aspects that appear to be permanent are rarely important and those that appear important may rarely be permanent. This is especially relevant to the seeming permanence of the link between the sexual and reproduction. This is another way of saying that there is little truth to be found in the body as such, and even less truth to be found in the body abstracted from life. Anatomy or body chemistry, as such, is rarely, if ever, the unmediated source of our destinies.

* * *

What we try to possess, then, is not just a body, but a body brought to life by consciousness…. The importance we attach to the body and the contradictions of love are, therefore, related to a more general drama which arises from the metaphysical structure of my body, which is both an object for others and a subject for myself. The intensity of sexual pleasure would not be sufficient to explain the place occupied by sexuality in human life or, for example, the phenomenon of eroticism, if sexual experience were not, as it were, an opportunity, vouchsafed to all and always available, of acquainting oneself with the human lot in its most general aspects of autonomy and dependence.

(Merleau-Ponty 1962:166-7)

* * *

The deception that we have practiced—often too knowingly—was that when we talked about the sexual, whether across spans of time, cultural boundaries, or what others “down the block” were doing, it was as if we were always talking about the same thing.

* * *

Sexual psychopaths, like almost all psychopaths, differ from many apparently non-pathological persons in only a few, often relatively unimportant ways. The ability to act upon some fantasy, some congealed desires, generally has little to do with the capacity to have the fantasy.

* * *

“Cultural skin” describes the occasions where cultural scenarios evoked by the contingent moment are comfortably appropriate for the scripting of both interpersonal and intrapsychic responses: the moments when I am what (I sometimes pretend) you desire me to be and when you are what (I sometimes pretend) I desire you to be. This might be described as a situation where identity controls desire by containing desire within the prison of the dream.

* * *

PLEASURE IS FOUND IN METAPHOR, SATISFACTION IN NARRATION.

* * *

The desire of the dream is not the same as the dream of desire. The pleasures of the dream are the satisfactions of narration; the satisfactions of desire are the pleasures of metaphor.

* * *

The sexual act as performed in anticipations, in enactments, or as part of the changing narration of the self, while giving the impression of constituting a unitary act (an impression heightened by the singular focus often given by the experience of or aspiration for orgasm), might better be described as an ecology of desires, one that generates and sustains a highly variable economy of pleasures. The relationship between the intensity of desire and the intensity of pleasure is not necessarily very direct. Not everything that is strongly desired in the sense of being associated with heightened levels of sexual excitement is equally pleasuring.

* * *

Sexual intercourse is often more poetry than prose as it represents a sequence of metaphoric gestures whose interdependencies or claims for coherence are rarely articulated. And when they are articulated it is invariably through the arts of fictionalizing the truth to protect the innocence of the guilty.

* * *

The deconstruction of the desire of the dream, if possible, would reveal the desires hidden behind, or more accurately within, the dream. This is another way of saying that the dream, i. e. what the actor wants, wishes or desires to happen (which, even or especially in the dream, is most often quite different from what actually happens) is itself not the direct expression of her or his sexual desires, but a transformation of them into a narrative, i. e. a script for a sexual drama, a sexual drama with its own claims for plausibility, for—in most instances—a minimal assumption of mutual recognition, and appropriateness.

The desire of the dream, then, occasions the consideration of a wide range of sexual desires, i. e. those associated with an increase in sexual excitement, as it references a still larger universe of desires, many of which come tainted by other past and present uses. And with the invoking of any specific sexual desire there is an invoking of strings of associated desires, sexual and nonsexual, that have both negative and positive consequences for sexual excitement. The desire of the dream is a negotiated product that both produces sexual excitement for the actor and is offered, under varying terms and conditions, for negotiation with the other.

* * *

To consider a desire is to begin the experiencing of that desire. Many sexual desires have the capacity to generate excitement merely by being invoked, though the negativity of the response to its being invoked rarely permits its explicit inclusion or enactment. To understand that X or Y is not acceptable is

different than X or Y being unthinkable. The negotiated dream of desire is often

what makes the unacceptable at least thinkable.

* * *

I felt obliged to study the games of truth in the relationship of the self with self and the forming of oneself as a subject, taking as my domain of reference and field of investigation what might be called “the history of desiring man”…. Not a history that would be concerned with what might be true in the fields of learning, but an analysis of the “games of truth”, the games of truth and error through which being is historically constituted as experience; that is, as something that can and must be thought.. What were the games of truth by which human beings came to see themselves as desiring individuals?

(Foucault 1985:6-7)

What Foucault is raising as an essential issue is central to the sociology of emotions as it directly addresses the fundamental question of the evolving nature of the self that “experiences” such emotions. To ignore this connection, proceeding with a directory of emotions as a given, i. e. fixed starting points like something akin to a concept of primary colors, is to miss the point, like seeing all sexuality as if it rested upon some unchanging truth.

* * *

Human sexuality is really nothing, at least nothing specific. It is nothing specific in an almost infinite number of ways. It is almost never the same even when it looks the same. At the same time, it often finds compelling kinships of motive or feeling among even the most bizarre comparisons. By the latter I mean that people doing strikingly different things may be experiencing very similar feelings, very similar experiences of the self. And of course the reverse: people engaging in what look like identical activities may have very little in common with regard to what they are feeling or how they are experiencing themselves. Sexuality is really nothing that is constant. At least it is not a constant if you want to think about sex as referring to something more than gender. Of course, it is difficult for us, living late twentieth-century Western lives, to think about sex independent of concerns for gender or recognition of its implication for species reproduction. However, it is equally difficult for us to think about human sexuality as if it were only an issue of gender or reproduction. That might constitute a sexuality, but surely not a human sexuality.

Even where aspects of gender and species reproduction seem to provide some near universal commonalities, such commonalities are rarely very inf orming. While all but the most ephemeral of groups facilitate some kind of heterosexual genital intercourse, not all individual members of the group necessarily engage or are allowed to engage in heterosexual genital intercourse and, among those who do, not all will engage in it in the same way or for the same reasons.

* * *

Hate between men comes from our cutting ourselves off from each other. Because we don’t want anyone else to look inside us, since it’s not a pretty sight in there.

(Ludwig Wittgenstein)

* * *

The picture does not create desire, desire creates the picture. The picture evokes desire, but only the desire that was lying in wait.

* * *

Self-cohesion might better be described as the degree of self-solidarity characterizing the subject. The use of “solidarity” should be explicitly linked to its Durkheimian richness: the ways in which the various aspects of self establish continuity-enhancing reciprocities. Indeed, Durkheimian imagery is very appropriate, particularly if a slight spin might be put on his terms. Mechanical self-solidarity is the degree to which the subject has achieved, experienced, or blundered into an integration of roles in ways that make them mutually reinforcing, creating a seamless identity, one whose comfort with self is accompanied by great interpersonal and intrapsychic silences. A realm where almost all language is public language and almost all utterances are in the service of social solidarities.

As the achievement or experience of self-solidarity becomes more problematic, those aspects of the self that are most directly implicated in the management of self-solidarity become more significant and so the human is transformed. The problematics of self-solidarity become greatest when the specif ic roles the individual plays increase in number, in fluidity (changing rapidly in the number of alternatives and significances), and in commanding respect (the degree of influence in the negotiation of behavior) both internally and externally. Which, in turn, suggests the fullest implications of the term “organic solidarity”, the solidarity that derives from the potential reciprocities and pluralizing complexities that inevitably accompany increasing depths of differentiation and specialization. As the division of labor increases, all politics, including the politics of the self, become the politics of coalitions.

* * *

Disorders of mechanical self-solidarity produce rage and apathy; disorders of organic self-solidarity produce anger and anxiety. The former tends to freeze perceived options prematurely, while the latter inspires an exhausting constancy of scanning.

* * *

The feminine, it has been argued, is the accepting of the responsibility of being other, of willingly becoming the desire of the subject of the gaze, of being receptive in accepting the identity components desired by the subject’s gaze. Allowing the subject to be what the object mirrors, implies, or mandates, completes one—and only one—of the circles of power surrounding the sexual.

* * *

Do pleasure and satisfaction necessarily war with each other? Is satisfaction the imposition of the past upon the present? Is pleasure a constant threat to the present moment? Martin Jay’s characterization of the millennial postmodernist as wanting to stand forever at the very edge of an end that never comes is something the contemporary sexual experience increasingly prepares us for.

* * *

To say that all sexuality is a deception is not to affirm some special or unique character of the sexuality; rather, it is to recognize that sexuality, a kind of desire, shares this with human desire at the most general level. Sexual behavior is more often the representation of desire than its direct expression. And this too is a reflection of a more general attribute of the human. If deception, or the complexities of representation, describes all sexualities, the conventional or perverse appearance of desire does little to certify the conventional or perverse meanings intended. Nearly identical desires (Are there any identical desires?) may derive from different experiences. Identical archaeologies (sources of the desire of the dream) may find varied expression depending upon the contingencies that make available representations (the dreams of desire).

* * *

Unlike Magritte, I cannot inscribe under the preceding words these additional words: “This is not sex.” Both public and private talk about sex constitute a form of sexual activity, a form of sexual behavior. Sexuality, more than any other aspect of behavior, first and foremost, is talk; it is rooted in discursive formations; it cannot speak until it is spoken. Its most clever disguises are ways not of hiding itself but of finding itself.

For many, if not most, readers trained in the Western tradition, these words have sexual meaning. A range of associations with meanings is immediately established; collaged images of experience are evoked; a history and possibility of fantasy is reconnected; in some cases, even the very preliminary biophysical manifestations of arousal commence. Similarly, in what follows, different degrees of sexual provocation will be experienced; some thoughts and images pull us away from the text, others return us to the text somehow made different by the digression. Much that is sexual, much that is intensely sexual, can be experienced without what is commonly regarded as sexual behavior occurring.

With increasing recognition of this, we learn to ask, “How is the sexual represented?” Often the answer is that it can be found in appearances seemingly remote from an explicit sexual act or gesture. What is more rarely asked is the still more important question, “What does the sexual represent?” In other words, the sexual may be far less the origin of our desires than a way station, a marketplace at the intersections of the trade routes of desire.

* * *

But what is eroticism? It is never more than a word, since practices cannot

be so coded unless they are known, i. e., spoken; now, our society never

utters any erotic practice, only desires, preliminaries, contexts,

suggestions, ambiguous sublimations, so that, for us, eroticism cannot be defined save by a perpetually elusive word.

(Barthes 1976:26)

* * *

Sexuality involves deception. This includes not only the deceptions we commit and those committed by others, but also the self-deception involved in not perceiving certain deceptions of certain others. Deception is not the sole property of sexuality. Rather, it is the signature of social life; it is what, to varying degrees, sexuality shares with most of social life. Among its singular attributes is its ability to convince us of the very possibility of truth regarding human behavior.

* * *

Sexuality is far more rooted in the poetic than the physical or biological. Sexual behavior, like many other forms of human behavior, is dependent upon myth (“a story that is not history”—where the truth of telling is more important than the telling of truth) and metaphor (“a relationship between symbols [representations] that is not logical”). (Definitions of myth and metaphor are those of Northrop Frye.) And it is this poetic aspect that explains why we tend to act out our sexuality less often than we can and more often than we need to.

* * *

To understand my sexuality, you must understand my life. However, it may be possible to understand a great deal about my life without understanding much about my sexuality. Does it involve osmosis between sexuality and existence, as Merleau-Ponty suggests? It seems so. But what is hiding behind those two words? Sexuality as both outside and inside meeting (trying to meet or colliding) in experience.

* * *

Sexual excitement, Stoller suggests, inevitably involves the objectification of the other because she or he is the carrier and bearer of what elicits sexual response. This attribution to the other has the capacity to be associated with sexual response prior to having met the particular other who occasions the response. This inevitable fetishizing is a way of making the other both more and less than she or he is. That may be one of the inevitabilities of social life. However, this seeming objectification of the other is a way of accomplishing the experiencing of a version of the other as a subject Objectification of the self by the self, which may also be occurring as the necessary accompaniment to sexual excitement, is also a way of accomplishing the experiencing of a version of the self as a subject.

* * *

The urgencies and improbabilities, if not the absurdities, of our sources of sexual excitement often conflict with the idealizations that socially costume most of our sexual performances. Our desires for sexual activity, as a result, are not always synonymous with our sexual desires. It is in this sense that we might say that the scripting of sexual performances (the desire of the dream) is not necessarily the same as that which may have inspired the desire for the performance in the first place (the dream of desire). The tyrannies of sexuality are multiple; its threats of pleasure and promises of danger are many and only rarely, if ever, can they be separated.

* * *

The erotic, that which is associated with sexual excitement, does not adhere to behavior as such, but is only found in conduct (or the idea of behavior) after it is costumed with meaning. “Raw sex” can only be found as a sequel, as a last sentence.

* * *

Central to the transpiration of sexual practice into erotic feelings is its potential for combining an intensity of feeling with some complex idealization. Eros—“love directed towards self-realization”. (One must ask, which version of the self?) Where the sexual, like other aspects of life, is eroticized there we will also find, virtually by definition, an instance of the “precession of the simulacra”: the empowering and, in some instances, the “libidinizing” of an ideal that will henceforth lead our desire, becoming the judgment of behavior awaiting the coming of the real.

* * *

Hyperreality is the natural character of eroticized desire in the sense that it always points to what is sought, never to the merely discovered. Nothing may be so rare as truly “unexpected” sexual pleasure.

* * *

Erotic cultures, like certain kinds of religious cultures, specialize in transforming the real or nearly real into the possibility of the hyperreal. Where the object (or occasion) of desire for sex is found, it is entirely consumed in the finding, allowing us to find more in less and, sometimes, less in more. Like religious cultures, erotic cultures struggle to routinize the exceptional and, like religious cultures, they succeed more often than we realize. (Which is possibly why they war with each other so often?)

* * *

Desire is not a thing but a variable presence in the production of behavior. Even as a sexual event occurs, levels and uses of desire may fluctuate. At its best, sexual activity is the coordination of fragments of narrative within the confines of an episode.

* * *

To embrace desire fully is to run grave risks, not least of which is the risk of disappointment. For most of us, most of the time, merely to invoke its presence is sufficient.

* * *

Kundera observes that eroticism tends to feed upon ambiguity—the greater the ambiguity, the greater the excitement that is generated. This requires a suggestive, and always incomplete, typology of ambiguities. And ambiguity, of

course, is a relatively gentle expression for the increasingly common pluralized (heteroglossic/polyvocal) psychic life of the individual in late modern or postmodern social contexts. It is possibly for this reason that the democratization of preoccupation with the sexual, the transformation of the sexual into the erotic, occurred.

* * *

Well-integrated individuals, whether this integration is achieved through the coercion of external expectations or the happy, if rare, confluence of roles and role commitments, tend to have relatively uninteresting sex lives. The sexual flourishes at the margins, as well as in dark corners that generate a sense of risk at the approach of consuming warmth.

* * *

An additional dimension is sensuality—at last we get to acknowledge the body —the pleasures of bodily sensations that are scripted to generate pleasure. Not all touching or being touched feeds on or is fed by erotic possibility, by sexual excitement. The pleasures of these do not always feed on pleasure, but on the pleasures of feeding and, at times, of being fed.

* * *

The deceits and impersonations of the erotic vampire, who produces pleasure or the appearance of pleasure in the other only to appropriate it for her or his own nourishment, speak to the merger of ambiguity and sensuality. The erotic vampire must generate the simulation of her or his own pleasure in order to encourage the production of the pleasuring pleasure in the other. The erotic vampire may be among our most successful erotic possibilities.

* * *

A man can bare himself before others only out of a kind of love. A love

which acknowledges, as it were, that we are all wicked children.

(Ludwig Wittgenstein)

* * *

My premise is that recognition of the other is the decisive aspect of differentiation. In recognition, someone who is different and outside shares a similar feeling; different minds and bodies attune. In erotic union this attunement can be so intense that self and other feel as if momentarily “inside” each other, as part of a whole. Receptivity and self-expression, the sense of losing the self in the other and the sense of being truly known for oneself all coalesce. In my view, the simultaneous desire for loss of self and for wholeness (or oneness) with the other, often described as the ultimate point of erotic union, is really a form of desire for recognition. In getting pleasure with the other and taking pleasure in the other, we engage in mutual recognition.

Understanding desire as the desire for recognition changes our view of erotic experience. It enables us to describe a mode of representing desire unique to intersubjectivity which, in turn, offers a new perspective on women’s desire.

(Benjamin 1972:126)

An alternative view:

The love between women is a refuge and an escape into harmony. In the love between a man and woman there is resistance and conflict. Two women do not judge each other, brutalize each other, or find anything to ridicule. They surrender to sentimentality, mutual understanding, romanticism: Such love is death, I’ll admit.

(Anai’s Nin)

* [1] *

What is particularly striking is that Benjamin who, like most who operate from an object relations perspective, credits the pre-oedipal stage with being the context for the most critical aspects of character formation and the initial structuring of the agenda of desire. What is for her one of the most essential desires of this the earliest of periods of existence, “the desire for recognition” by another, constitutes the essence of the erotic experience. But recognition is not a form, it is a content. What is one recognized for being, and by what authorization is the other as a mirror privileged to judge? Benjamin’s erotic act is pure form, which is what makes it both utopian and anything but erotic.

* * *

The very idea of “healthy” sex rests on the assumption of the possibility of a quality of relationship, a quality of experience that is inherently pathogenic in its utopianism.

* * *

The questions that must be asked are these:

In “erotic union” the experience of inter-subjectivity is the exclusive province of the intrapsychic. Togetherness is an individual experience that, at best, two individuals might have at the same time without ever knowing whether they were having it or having it in the same way.

* * *

In a social context seemingly with more signs than signifieds, there f ollows an understandable anxiety about the effectiveness of efforts at communication. Does the other receive what I am sending in ways that I anticipated or desired? Questions whose very plausibility reminds us of the capacity of pleasure to hinge on our ability to perceive others as perceiving us as we desired them to perceive us and responding appropriately. At a minimum, two sets of emotions must be scripted. Which of the two is the most significant contributor to pleasure cannot be determined. However, we can know who is scripting the emotions. At the same time, the potential confusion makes communication more self-conscious, heightening reflexivity (What shall I un-wear today?). To varying degrees, this has the potential for shifting the locus of pleasures, as sending messages (anticipation/assembly/creation) becomes a locus of pleasure that becomes independent of how such messages are received. This, in turn, heightens the importance of “undercoding”, the increasing eroticization of underwear which

slowly begins to work its way to the surface (Davis 1992).

* * *

Sometimes one experiences oneness and the other does not. We only experience oneness one at a time.

* * *

There are times when the only way the subject can rest fully confident of the authentic presence of the other is to play the role of the other. This should be particularly relevant when the burdens (complexity) of the performance fall to the other. This should occur most often when the initial commitment to the perf ormance (script) is experienced by the self as the object’s object or what happens when the object of desire must provide not pleasure but the responses that engender pleasure.

* * *

Intensity of feeling derives not from revealing ourselves to the other, but in revealing ourselves to ourselves. The other is often merely the occasion.

* * *

But in losing the intersubjective space and turning to conquest of the external object, the boy will pay a price in his sense of sexual subjectivity. His adult encounter with woman as an acutely desirable object may rob him of his own desire—he is thrown back into feeling that desire is the property of the object. A common convention in comedy is the man helpless before the power of the desirable object (The Blue Angel); he is overpowered by her attractiveness, knocked off his feet. In this constellation, the male’s sexual subjectivity becomes a defensive strategy, an attempt to counter the acute attractive power radiating from the object. His experience parallels woman’s loss of sexual agency. The intense stimulation from outside robs him of the inner space to feel desire emerging from within—a kind of reverse violation. In this sense, intersubjective space and the sense of an inside is no less important for men’s sexual subjectivity than for women’s.

(Benjamin 1988:164)

* * *

Masturbation as a way of holding onto, developing, extending, and becoming fixated within the inner space.

* * *

Psychoanalytic discourse continues to predicate an emotionally dense infancy and childhood and, more than dense, an emotionally consequential infancy and childhood. The discussion—particularly Benjamin’s— contains too much by way of borrowed meanings: meanings and intensities derived from later experience represented by metaphors of earlier experience. “Castration anxiety” has the ring of plausibility to the postpubertal man because it so neatly sums up, for all but the insensitive and unconflicted, his continuing fear of failing as a man.

* * *

Two defects in the psychoanalytic approach to sexuality:

1 Desire in earliest childhood is inherently sexual. (Sexual desire is always inherently something else.)

2 That sexuality is the expression of the permanent conflict between the individual and the collective. (It is humanity at its most social.)

* * *

Freud’s “where id is, ego will be” makes sense only in terms of drive theory. Without drive theory we might have to rewrite this as “where ego was, id will be”. Ego—the organism trying to avoid discomfort and panic—gives rise to a developing self system, with those fragments, self objects and versions of self objects that cannot be incorporated within the self system constituting the id-like intrapsychic functions. Some were excluded when they were inconsistent with the emerging self, others are abandoned because they are outgrown. Others just abandoned and forgotten—it does happen. Some are “repressed” because they engender conflict, others because they cause depression.

* * *

Fundamentally, the agent is not he who has power or pleasure, but he who

controls the direction of the scene and the sentence (as we know that every

Sadean scene is the sentence of another language) or: the direction of

meaning.

(Barthes 1976:31)

* * *

The basic dialectic of modernism: the constancy of change is contained within the normalizing of the very nature of change which anchored the stability of the human or the normalizing of its evolution. My attempt to make sense of the sexual required calling into question not the biological substrate but its explanatory powers.

* * *

The pleasures or rewards of interpersonal scripting are something analogous to ego libido, the motivational source that encourages the individual to engage in self­enhancing behaviors, a center of motivation that often conflicts with desires to engage in psychic pleasures less rooted in immediate social interaction (intrapsychic scripting). An emphasis on the urgency of “a sex drive” obscures just how rich the pleasures of eliciting confirmations from others can be.

* * *

Behavior that is not particularly pleasuring or persistently mysterious often enhances the pleasures at the interpersonal level. This occurs when we fail to experience existentially the pleasures that prevailing cultural scenarios promise are associated with the behavior. At any rate, we may have excessively focused upon the desires of the intrapsychic.

* * *

Love, which minimizes the difference, which would abolish the difference, also permits the revelation and revelry of the difference. Romantic love retreats to the middle ground of merger, to the celebration of a loss of identity such that neither lover is experienced as complete without immediate reference to the other. Romantic love is risk aversive, the dancing on the edge of mutual permission is fatal; transgression becomes a terminal crisis. For those who celebrate the difference risk is vital, transgression the occasion for its inevitable confirmation: a sharing of wickednesses that cannot be experienced alone.

* * *

Myth is totally dependent upon the powers and mysteries of the other; to know her and be known by her in a costumed nakedness that confesses more than there is to confess and that forgives only enough to preserve the difference.

* * *

How terrified we are of not being anchored by the brutal reality of economic interest; we are required to adore its implacable objectivity, its capacity for ruthless logic.

* * *

How poorly sex serves sexuality.

[1] Who (what) is the identity of both participants?

• How do they make their presence known?

• Which of the alternative identities must be transformed?

• What history of negotiation brings them to this moment?

In other words:

• Who are they?

• What have they come to do?

• What provides permission for them to do it?