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For a new aesthetic of revolutionary exhibitionism against the aestheticised politics of liberal bourgeois voeyurism

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There is a need to think a new revolutionary aesthetics of exhibitionism against liberal exhibitionism — for me, the latter is basically the politics of commodity abstraction and society of spectacle a la Situationists such as Guy Debord. However, in order to do that the scopic drive will need to be rethought and re-envisaged, not in terms of contemplativeness, but contemplativeness pushed to its extreme that renders the contemplated object into a dialectical image. [Now, this is already a displacement of contemplation into practical-materiality — or, at any rate, the former being placed under the condition of the latter — in Marx’s sense of the terms as he explicates them in his Theses on Feurbach and The German Ideology.] That is crucial if desire is not to be conflated and confounded with its cathection (investment). Such cathection or investment being the interruption and concomitant distortion of desire precisely on account of its determinate instantiation. After all, as Lacan would tell us, the “petit object a” is not much more than a metonymy of desire.

And here Nietzsche’s acute poser about whether truth is not a woman can be deployed rather productively. “Woman” here in its Nietzschean articulation must, arguably, be grasped in terms of “becoming-woman”. That is, woman not as an anthropological difference (which is difference-as-identity) but as an ontological difference (difference as differing away from identity). Translating this antidialectical conception of “becoming-woman” into the conceptual framework of the asymmetrical or materialist dialectic we could say, following Lacan, that woman-as-truth or becoming-woman is to be understood as the Real that cannot be inscribed within the horizon of the symbolic even as it founds that horizon. Clearly then, ‘woman’, in “becoming-woman” or Nietzsche’s “woman-is-truth”, is now no longer thinking of even ontological difference but is, instead, a limit-conceptual figure of ontological subtraction.

This, I beleive, dovetails with what I have tried to get at above with regard to grasping the exhibitionism/voyeurism couple not simply as a dialectic, but as an asymmetrical dialectic, and thus as determinate presentation of exhibitionism-voyeurism singularity in excess of their symmetrically dialectical coupling as exhibitionism/voyeurism duality. In that context, the exhibitionist desire of revolutionary militancy is not merely exhibitionism but Dionysian exhibitionism (a la Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, for instance). And here, therefore, the exhibitionist revolutionary-militant is not a declarative-constantive object — or a directive tribune — vis-a-vis a milieu of passive contemplators/consumers he/she subjectivates thus. Rather, he/she is a semiosis of impulse or symptom of performativity, which is the object-exceeding force in the distinct temporality of its own singularising/singular subjective-materiality. Something that renders this sign/symptom a unit of the milieu of active and continuous producers in the Brechtian sense.

In fact, that is precisely the reason why I think Marquis de Sade’s ‘pornography’ poses and articulates a revolutionary-republican aesthetic. If we attend carefully to the apparently pornographic discourse of his literary production — particularly, his ‘Philosophy in the Bedroom’ — we see that not only does it have a didactic form but one whose mode is Dionysian (performative), which this form strives to transparently reveal. Clearly, De Sade’s discourse ceaselessly registers the thinking of the ethical imperative of desire and the moral law together, but in their separateness. It’s this form and mode of what I wish to call the Dionysian didacticism of desire — and not just any form of BDSM pornography — that renders De Sade’s ‘pornographic’ discourse the index of counter-contemplative revolutionary-republican aesthetics. And it’s arguably this formal and modal dimension of De Sade’s literary discourse that Foucault misses when he critically describes the former as “the sergeant of sex”, who, in Foucault’s estimation, elevates transgression itself into a law.

After all, it’s not for nothing that Lacan impressed on us the indispensability of thinking Sade with Kant. In short, the new revolutionary aesthetic of exhibitionism-voyeurism — as a historically concrete reconstitution of the revolutionary-republican aesthetic of De Sade — will be one wherein a form of contemplation is already always a demonstration of the displacement of contemplation. That is to say, such an aesthetic will truly fulfil itself only when exhibitionism is already always the demonstration of excess of exhibitionism in its limit.

Therefore, the problem of pleasure, from the standpoint of revolutionary politics, is ineluctable. However, the question then is whether pleasure is merely subjectively interiorised experience that is grasped by way of phenomenological reduction, or, is the question really of pleasure founding its own duration and historicity. For, if it’s the latter, then it is already a post-phenomenological displacement of pleasure beyond its phenomenological experientiality, albeit necessarily in and through that experientiality and phenomenology of pleasure. Hence, what we have is pleasure as an existential experience informing the constitutivity of an austerely neutral extension, which is the historicity of suspension of history — “historicity without history” in Alain Badiou’s terms. This, to my mind, amounts to pleasure founding its own duration and historicity.

And this, as far as I understand, is the path Freud also prefigures and indicates in his engagement with the question of pleasure. For him, the problem of pleasure is not, in the final analysis, one of interiorised experience, subjective intentionality and thus joyous productivity. Rather, the problem of pleasure (read in terms of jouissance) brings to him, particularly if we read him through a Lacanian lens, the question of lack and/or trauma as the Real. This, from what I understand, is the crux of his “beyond the pleasure principle”. And this reveals why Freud is no phenomenologist of pleasure, one who would be concerned merely with the question of alternation between the reality principle and the pleasure principle. Rather, Freud’s concern — in his concerted engagement with the problem of pleasure — indicates the need to develop an approach that thinks the problem of pleasure and its politics in terms of the suspension of the horizon of this alternation of the reality principle and the pleasure principle.

To think the question of pleasure in those terms – i.e. to think pleasure as an experiential-phenomenological moment of the post-phenomenological movement of its own overcoming (beyond the pleasure principle) — is to already have pleasure-as-joyous-productivity displace and thus transfigure itself into the neutral of subtraction. An engagement with the affective experience of pleasure, if it’s rigorous, is, arguably, bound to lead one towards its post-phenomenological beyond – which, in the same movement, would also obviously be a radical break with the horizon of the reality principle. That is demonstrated, besides Freud, by Roland Barthes: a thinker of pleasure for whom the twinned-questions of “zero degree” and “the neutral” are what ultimately matter.

As for me, I have been helped quite a bit in this respect by Badiou’s critique of what he calls “democratic materialism” – the differing alternation of bodies and languages (or joyousness and its interruption) – as also his attendant critique of Deleuze’s anti-Freudian productive conception of desire (“desiring-production”).

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The Porn Controversy: Save Desire from the Moral Police and the Sexual Liberaliser Alike

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The recent ban on pornography, and the liberaliser’s discourse of outrage it has triggered, proves yet again the problem of sexual/libidinal economy is too serious a business to be left either to the ham-handed ways of the fascistic moral-police or the knee-jerk exertions of the terrorists and (academic) merchants of desire. Truth be told, they are the obverse of one another and are mutually constitutive of the neurotic subjecthood of capital in its late, crisis-ridden, neoliberal moment..

Marquis de Sade’s affirmative conception of an anti-procreative sexuality with its basis in revolutionary republicanism (see his ‘Philosophy in the Bedroom’), together with Wilhelm Reich and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s concerted engagement with the question of sexual economy as an economy of desire — and its productivising regimentation, and psycho-somatic and psycho-social segmentation in capitalism –, point us in directions that are much more fruitful in terms of strategising a politico-sexual revolution that will unleash an emancipated, anti-hetero-normative sex-economy of free association of direct producers.

The government decision to ban pornographic sites on the internet is, therefore, not an occasion for spectacles of outrage and liberal exhibitionism. It is, instead, to be seen as an opportunity to work towards instituting the thinking and discourse of a radical sexual/libidinal economy. For, it’s precisely the absence of such discourse and thinking vis-a-vis the concrete historical circumstances of the conjunctural crisis of capital as manifest in its sexual moment that has led to the consolidation of repressive sexual morality. It is this sexual morality that is the molecular basis of the current ban.

All concerned would do well to realise that the BJP-led Union government’s decision to ban internet pornography is a step forward for the project of politico-sexual counter-revolution. Such a move is counter-revolutionary precisely because it seeks to validate itself by drawing upon, instrumentalising and mystifying objective sex-revolutionary possibilities posited by psycho-social segmentation and psycho-somatic stratification (which includes “genitalisation of desire”) of desire and sexuality in their moment of precarity and crisis. It follows, therefore, that a politico-sexual counter-revolution kicks in and accomplishes itself precisely when objective revolutionary possibilities exist without being subjectively actualised as such.

In such circumstances, to envisage opposition to this ban in reactive terms — without lending even half a thought to how such opposition can be orientated to transform the structure of social relations of production, which in its historically concrete mediation makes possible and indexes psycho-social segmentation and psycho-somatic regimentation of desire — will just not do. Such liberal reactive politics of opposition to the consolidation of repressive sexual morality effectively amounts to no more than demanding the preservation of a given regime or order of socio-sexual privileges that the politico-sexual counter-revolution tends to alter only by preserving and reinforcing its basic structure of psycho-social and psycho-somatic segmentation of desire through its formal recomposition.

Clearly, such reactive politics of opposition to the ban is as implicated and invested in the structure of psycho-social and psycho-somatic segmentation of desire as the counter-revolutionary move to ban pornography. Therefore, the reactive politics of sexual liberalisation — as opposed to the transformative revolutionary politics of sexual liberation — reinforces the discursive-moral paradigm, which provides sustenance and support to the fascistic politico-sexual counter-revolution. Something the proponents of sexual liberalisation apparently oppose with much sound and fury. The reactive, all concerned would do well to realise, is also reactionary. And no less reactionary — probably more — than naked reaction itself because it deceives by the apparent vigour of its oppositional claim with regard to what is openly reactionary, all the while reinforcing the latter’s condition of possibility.

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