The Desire to Possess through Transgression: an excursus
Durkheim’s brilliant ability to take the mundane and through it understand social structure makes this sort of impression. Deviance is necessary because it reinforces what is normative and we can thus know what it means to transgress without ever having to actually do so. Crime is thus functional, and while the judge, in organic solidarity, ‘speaks nothing of punishment’, he is still evaluating a condition which has been impressed with an imbalance. It is the same metaphor that is used in the health sciences, since the ‘body politic’ takes its Aristotelian homology too seriously in its bid to outlast the eroticism of bodies in general: “…we can say that in biology it is the pathos which conditions the logos because it gives it its name. It is the abnormal which arouses interest in the normal. Norms are recognized as such only when they are broken. Functions are revealed only when they fail.” (Canguilhem, op. cit:208-9). A hammer, to use Heidegger’s oft-cited example, is understood in its very being only when it breaks, fails us, becomes something other than it was fashioned to be. And so we too become ‘something other’ in this manner; indeed, our ‘arousal’ for the normative might be seductive in its own perverse way. Who, after all, desires the norm with the lustful ardor we bring to the taboo? The too-young woman is a cliché at best, at worst a sacrilege, though such a conception is itself akin to an authentic blandishment pronounced upon a sacrality, not so much of childhood itself as females mature at a far faster rate than do males, but rather of the idea that we ourselves should be able to regress so that the youth would actually desire us. This is worse than a joke, and all those who anchor close in to the official definitions of pedophilia – the American Psychiatric Association speaks of ‘prurient interest and desire for children under twelve years of age’ – are attempting to throw themselves across a backward looking chiasmus that has become in due course a chasm. While it is historically accurate to portray the sexual exploitation of young children, those who are not yet biologically sexual in any consistent manner – under most national laws, children under twelve can only have sex with themselves, as it were, and are not beholden to wider legal sanctions as are youth; this is a far cry from the nineteenth century wherein the bourgeois sense of blood and biopower took shape, culminating in our contemporary understanding of childhood; until circa 1892 in the United States, for instance, the universal age of consent was a startling ten years of age – as a figment of the bourgeois imagination, compelled as it was by the sense that it was the heir apparent to the aristocracy and indeed, also divinity, yet there is something more authentic to our protective and at least, official concern that true children are not exposed to eros ‘before their time’. It is, intriguingly, a successful measure of familiality that adults and older children do not exploit the young in this manner. The bourgeois family was understood as a seething crucible of repression, resentment, lust and violence, and in many cases, this combination of Dasein’s entanglements in the world of others was indeed manifest. But if this was the rising class’s predicament, only a bourgeois perception would have privileged its own children and more or less utterly forget about all others. The children of elites were a dying breed in any case, and could be dismissed. The children of the working classes were simply younger animals of the same stock as their parentage, and if they were sexually abused they would accept it as part of their ‘training’. It is only recently, in post-war democracies, that childhood in general has been granted the belated privilege of being sacrosanct: “This explains the problematic, or if one prefers, ambiguous nature of bourgeois consciousness. It also explains [ ] the contradictory reaction of fascinated contempt the idea of ‘success’ has evoked during the last two hundred years.” (Moretti, op. cit:84). On the one hand, the French Revolution ontically exposes a moment in which power is shown to be a simulacra of a certain kind of politics, rather than the traditional obverse of this. The bourgeois sensibility – I must attain the status of the aristocrat but through my own individual merit and not through blood; yet I must make sacral the blood of my class as something preserved and inviolate so that my children may also be meritorious – is ‘by definition’ ambiguous. The supposed meritocracy of bourgeois dominated democracy prefers the nobility of wealth to all other merits. In this it mimics more closely the assignation of divine rule than it would acre to admit. But all of this is old hat. The most important aspect of nineteenth century class self-understanding is that it took upon itself the mantle of authority and not so much power. This is also the age in which direct sexual abuse of children became surrogate in direct physical abuse, which lasts to this day amongst the ironically most recent social groups to ape the status and trappings of bourgeois life: evangelical sub-cultures the world over.
Not unlike the developing world, which is seen as passing through the same industrial and technical phases in a series as did Europe et al before it, sub-cultures once very marginal to the bourgeois revolution are now in that phase of attempting to take over some of the politics and authority of their once betters. They have adopted all of the modernist rationales for the discipline of youth and cloaked it in irrelevant scriptural nonsense which was directed at only very young children, ironically, the very same age group that the nation state defines as chattel today. Such sub-cultures are able to display such oblivious hypocrisy only due to their sense that history in their case does not truly exist, or at least, it is telescoped radically from its inception in the messianic period to its end in an apocalyptic judgement. For them, pursuing the revolution in reality means speaking only of revelation in the imagination: “For a man whose future is almost always imagined starting from past experience, becoming normal again means taking up an interrupted activity or at least an activity deemed equivalent by individual tastes of the social values of the milieu.” (Canguilhem, op. cit:119). Of course, the tendentious and irascible marginalia of the Levant was never ‘normal’ in any contemporary sense. While it may have been that messiahs were a dime a dozen, the vast majority of persons in every culture lived without their credos. This was, after all, the this-worldly aspect of the Pauline injunction. Even so, as Weber has noted in detail, the ‘routinization’ of charisma begins with the first apostolic missions; begins in their wake, as it were, for the mission itself must be couched in a mimesis of the original kerygmatic experience, one in which acolytes must feel the sense that they too can be, or would be, ‘overwhelmed with joy’. But after the fact, one can only experience the glad tidings and not the being himself. Being, on the other hand, is to be found within such revealed truths of existence and is thus intended as universalistic in its ability to impart the same sensations and feelings.
And it is this last dynamic that lasts, so to speak. The living-on through each era casts Being as a shadow over the past. History on the one hand, life on the other. Achievement and newness. For human beings, “…these two desires are not hostile and irreconcilable, but form a homogenous and complementary whole. Only the man who is always able to achieve happiness can [ ] do without it.” (Moretti, op. cit:112). ‘Always able’? Now who is that? Moretti immediately accedes to Freud; no, such constant happiness is in fact impossible and streben, which Freud referred to as a ‘benevolent illusion’, must be recast as being a dynamical synthetic term that brings together two things that are forced upon Dasein, ‘change and freedom’ (cf. ibid:112-3). This is more realistic, surely, but at the same time, any evangel raises neither of these. His version of streben is perfect happiness in the ambit of heavenly arc. This is the lighter side of evangelical satisfaction; the darker is of course that the rest of us our damned. As Natanson comments, “…there are some insults for which apology is out of the question.” (op. cit:185). His general remark may be taken however one wishes, as it is generally applicable to social circumstances in which all of us must find ourselves once in a while, but his conception of ‘noetic failure’, the phenomenological equivalency of what he refers to as ‘social aphasia’, fits the bill. Any reactionary or regressive social movement is proclaiming not so much the end of the world but rather their own inability to adapt to the world as it is. These persons are, aside from their entanglement with an imaginary history, or better, the imaginal cast as if it were history, are always already ‘abnormal’ due to their ‘attachment’ to values which have, in this case and to be fair, for better or worse, been passed by: “To define the abnormal as too much or too little is to recognize the normative character of the so-called normal state. This normal or physiological state is no longer simply a disposition which can be revealed and explained as a fact, but a manifestation of an attachment to some value.” (Canguilhem, op. cit:56-7). Now this is not at all to suggest that all those who do not publicly cleave their hearts to some antique religiosity are necessarily ‘normal’ in any way. But they are normative. And both behind and beyond this sense of what is ‘normal’ lies, as Canguilhem assiduously points out, the conception of perfection (cf. ibid:57).
Perfection is not available in the this-world. Both evangel and once-born agree upon this. The latter shrugs this condition off, arguing that perfection is not necessarily a human or humane thing. The former agrees that ‘too err is human’ but that we should seek to ascend from this sorry condition to something higher. Perfection may not be available here, but it awaits in its fullest presence elsewhere. But the turning away from reality and the celebration of the inner life are the two most important aspects of Bleuler’s original definition of autism (cf. Minkowski, op. cit:74). Evangelism is autism projected.
But if that is so, eroticism, so often portrayed by evangelism as its patent enemy – apparently these persons prefer surrogate sex to the real thing, and perhaps ironically, more radically than do those ‘normative’, since they use their children in this manner under the euphemism of ‘discipline’, a fitting abuse of the word of which the Reich would have been proud – is autism internalized. It is a compulsion betraying itself through self-love, a sensuous narcissism that is oddly more tolerable to others because it involves them, even if only as objects. But to be someone’s ‘toy’ is better than to be someone’s enemy, the masochist argues in turn. This obsession (cf. Natanson, op. cit:264, for references here), because it does not compel the entangled Dasein to seek happiness or contentment either in the otherworld or in the underworld, but rather simply enjoins the other to join the self of self-annihilation – who, in the end, can resist this hortatory appeal when all of us are potentially alienated? – allows the Dasein to imagine that it has triumphed over delusion, specifically, the religious delusion. For the evangelical, sex is not so much a villain as a competitor. It is a decoy of the devil, perhaps his ‘pet’ decoy, to stay within the torrid vocabulary of BDSM for a moment, because the devil wishes to convince humanity that earthly life can be even better than that heavenly. Hieronymous Bosch’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ portrays this tension brilliantly and yet not without some sardonic skepticism as well. Hollywood and pulp fiction have transfigured a great artist into a half-man half-bully in their detective Harry Bosch whose ‘manhood’ is expressed at one point by him threatening to assault his own daughter (season one, episode ten). Whether or not evangelicals watch cop shows, this would be one to their taste.
But neither evangelism, our somewhat straw man, nor eroticism, our somewhat stuffed shirt, exemplifies a ‘lack’. Rather, cites Minkowski, we are after a ‘difference’ because it is the entire ‘structure of psychic life’, recall for a moment, this is held to be a unity by almost all of our sources here, that is altered (cf. op. cit:248). What brings these two apparent poles together is that both religion and sex must be pursued as serious hobbies only. The ‘dreaded hobby’ of Adorno is metastasized into a pseudo-vocation that makes time off from work into a consistent ‘vacation’ of the spirit. This word is used advisedly; the spirit does indeed vacate the scene in both eroticism and evangelism. Like art, religion and sex, if taken to the nth degree – the reader should already be aware that the author has no quibbles with either in moderation – can be ‘taken under’ only if some other station is maintained: “In short, the pursuit of art is sanctioned when it is undertaken b people who have achieved identification with some other socially sanctioned role.” (Griff, 1960:221). So our unknowing and unbecoming selves go to workplaces wherein an evangelical or a BDSM artiste lurks, the one hiding in the light which blinds viewers to his ‘true identity’ and the other in the usual murk of the shadows, suitably cliché and melodramatic. Both partake fully of the theatre of comic books; one relishes his superhero aspirations – he has the strength and build to beat his kids, at least – the other his sultry villainy – he has the strength and build to beat women, perhaps, or maybe it is the other way round. Well done both! The only problem is that the rest of us are not inclined, as it were, to tread either set of boards alongside these would-be teachers. Indeed, all sense of pedagogy is lost to the one who ‘knows the truth of things’, as both the evangelist and the eroticist proclaim, the former to the world, alas, but the latter at least only to himself. And there is a good reason why neither is art, in spite of our indirect comparison: “The creative powers of teachers disappear because the teacher tends to lose the learner’s attitude.” (Waller, 1960:341 ). Perhaps the closest normative world analogy to these extremities of entanglement would be the journalist, especially the one who heads up the media room, editors, producers and the like. Kristeva’s amusing update on Proust’s character Mme Verdurin is called to mind, wherein this ‘Mistress’ of what is fit to print is a vulgar Pauline figure – well, how much more vulgar than a fellow who exchanges ethnic identities, travels with an amanuensis with who it would have been culturally normative to be involved in a pederastic relationship, and then criticizes everyone else for being hypocrites will be left to the imagination or perhaps even to one’s taste – who can be everything to everyone and maintain her utter mastery of every situation (cf. Kristeva, op. cit:69-70). All of this “…suggests that the narrator believes in transsexuality, the idea that every individual belongs to (at least) two sexes and that each of us negotiates the officially unbreachable partition of sexual difference by way of an underlying, implicit, ‘involuntary’ passage.” (ibid:71). Transsexuality is itself a transformative concept; it itself has its own ‘transsexual’ character in the loosest sense, shall we say. If we are also charged with narrating our own lives, giving at least the air of existence to a biography that no one else would read let alone write for us, then are we not also faced with the transsexuality of personhood, the eroticizing substrate of an existentiality which knows itself as these changes and not so much as change in principle?
Akin to the narrator whose Pauline burlesque hardens himself against not worldliness but the world, just as passion is available to us but never as a replacement for compassion, so an internal conflict is engendered, given bodily form, sensuous appetites, desireful urges, and the like. It is, in its either vulgar or overindulged sense, a grassroots claimant upon the breaching ‘behavior’ of any scientific or philosophical analytic: “Existential analysis, therefore, constantly has the character of doing violence, whether to the claims of the everyday interpretation, or to its complacency and its tranquillized obviousness.” (Heidegger 1962:359 , italics the text’s). This is not quite the same thing as Boss and Binswanger would later develop out of Heidegger and Freud but the principle of non-acceptance of the normative world remains. This is, by virtue of its ownmost question – not, though, by virtue of the direction such questioning may lead – no different than Paul’s critical interrogation of the cultures of his day. Discursive questioning sanctions its own question, sometimes questionably, pending academic and institutional circumstance. But this aside, there is a socially sanctioned space wherein the question of Being might arise. Yet for the phenomenologist, this is merely another example of what is ‘tranquillized’; one does not feel the violence of the question from within the insulated interior of an institution. It is bracketed in much the same way that the authentic radicality of philosophical reflection brackets the rest of the world, object, other, and norm. For a question is not just an objection. In erotic action, objectification is part of the dynamic that does a violence upon the personhood of the Dasein involved. But this is, ideally, agreed upon as its own social convention. An authenticity of question, the question of Being, does not harbor in its action a ‘safe word’, as it were. This is more than restating the cliché ‘nothing is sacred’. This is more like a carnival, however Pauline in intent. It inverts the social order in order to expose its iniquities and perhaps also its vices. Indeed, it can use vice to expose virtue. This is what any modern erotiste, at least since De Sade, in fact does. The facticality of his repetitive and projected onanistic activity at once takes away any edge of incipient critique – the violence here is all theatrical even if sometimes physically risky; there is a reason, aside from our misplaced esthetics, why BDSM models are young and built like a certain kind of athlete – as well as confronting the ‘vanilla’ Das Man to at least nod his head to his own desires, however suppressed. Even so, we rapidly regress into farce, and much literature of this tenor cannot be said to entirely escape this same fate: “The narrator keeps his characters’ ambiguities alive, and he also engages in the inversion of values, either through the passing of time or by merging disparate points of view into a single instant. In doing so, he amasses contradictory meanings that produce a comical effect drawn from the inadequacy of meaning.” (Kristeva, op. cit:154, italics the text’s). Not to mention his own inadequacy as a writer, perhaps. For him, the reality of his characters is a parody of all that he suspects in real persons around him. What he suspects of himself he keeps to himself, as if he were the carnival landscape embodied, a Las Vegas writ yet smaller and into an interiority which objects to its presence along with the co-presence of a theatrical Eros. If the circumstances are pleasant enough – who would not want to have a young person worship one and service one’s every sensual desire, even if it were not real? And then again, whose to say either way? – then one could call it ‘time well wasted’. But the idea that time was lost, either Time itself or as in Proust, some experience of time that had thence to be regained though in a most circumlocuted fashion as imaginable, is debatable. We are told that Proust maintained both ‘the violence of marginality’ and the ‘grace to construct a world of communion’ (cf. Kristeva, op. cit:171). The nightmare one engenders dreams of the other, one might well imagine. The observation of the first suggests the vision of the second, and so on. Even so, it is very much the wider case that, outside of this ‘lost time’, Dasein runs along, tarries, is distracted, curious, fascinated, just as par for the course. One manifestly does not need Eros to extend, deepen, heighten, or yet transfigure any of these commonplace situations. So what then, does Eros as an existential critic actually and authentically accomplish?
Let us begin again, in a sense: “Common sense misunderstands understanding. And therefore common sense must necessarily pass off as ‘violent’ anything that lies beyond the reach of its understanding or any attempt to go out so far.” (Heidegger, op. cit:363). Right away we have a reiteration of Heidegger’s two basic senses of the ontological structure of Dasein: one, that understanding is mode of Being-in Dasein, and two, that such a Being is ‘constituted as care’ (cf. ibid). Now it is not that ‘common sense’ – a term that is the unabstracted sibling of ‘human nature’; the person who uses the one will inevitably use the other and very often in the same conversation – does not ‘care’ about things. But just here, we have the objectively apprehendable duality that obtains between Anxiety and anxieties: Care and cares separate the authenticity of Dasein’s in-Being in the world and Dasein’s being in the world of forms, norms, and others. Of course we care about things! The problematic term is not care, but rather ‘about’. The denial or avoidance of the primordial structure of Dasein’s subjectitudinal complex is contained in the projection of Sorgeheit only as a reaction to this or that which is already in the aforementioned list of worldly realms. Heidegger is rather stating the Dasein is care, as the primordiality of its also being interpretation or understanding. But in reality Dasein reacts only when its own being is already understood as care. It is almost as if Heidegger is responding to Kant: how do we have an experience (in the first place)? How do we exhibit care or act caringly or ‘care about’? But there is more: “If we make a problem of ‘life’, and then just occasionally have regard for death too, our view is short-sighted.” (ibid, italics the text’s). This is, in a way, saying the least of it. We are rather more literally narrowed, made stenochoric, by this sense that life is to be lived apart from death – here is an in for both ‘common sense’ and human nature’ to respond at once and in chorus, heaven help us – and it is this lack of perspective, this myopia of which Heidegger speaks, that allows for time to be ‘lost’, whether through nostalgia, transference, projection in the analytic sense rather than that Schutzian or phenomenological more broadly, and of the utmost, through eroticism. In his efforts to narrate an autohagiographic epic, Proust comes across more like Augustine than Cervantes. For a gay Jew this would seem to be an error, at least of taste if nothing else. To be fair, Proust also should be credited with maintaining a desire for what is, on the face of it, despicable or even grotesque, so that he can show the rest of us what it means to inhabit the ‘deontic facticality’ of an absurd projection we call ‘social life’, especially one in which D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf were confronted with the same basic problem as was Proust; where lies the meaningfulness of intimacy within social strictures? What can be maintained of the reality of love, for example, which can only gain meaning through the reality of death – Isolde realizes this perhaps right at the proper time – within the structure of social organization as a whole? “It can be maintained only on the condition that one discover what was alluring in the fact that an object is horrible – or shameful – and, in the face of shameful nakedness, make shame and desire a single, violent convulsion.” (Bataille, op. cit:78). Violent, once again, because norms are here not so much transgressed in principle – this occurs during the contemplation of the act – but they are subverted and bent to the new principle of possession. Once possessed ,the object is no longer part of the world of forms, others, or norms, and though much of lovemaking and associated mischief may be highly scripted, Eros as a force is kindred with the neighbor, irruptive and perhaps even uncanny, as when it discloses to participant Daseins the reality of once lived-through horror. Even as it heals, it reveals that healing is necessary. Thus the horror and shame of unshared life is also revealed in its nakedness. The object is horrible, but so are we.
Norms provide cover for their transgressors. The form in which such a blind takes place, takes over, takes cover or even undertakes to fake its own death, is torn asunder by the desire to possess anew and again. Both chicanery and theater aside for a moment – and who can tell the lover from the love? – what Eros itself desires is the dissolution of the personhood of the persons. Generally, even the carnival does not admit to this more radical understanding: “Where there is no such practice or understanding, however, benign deviation becomes malign deviance. To violate the acceptable social patterns is to put myself outside of society, to be alienated from it, to be considered obscene, insane, criminal, traitorous. My freedom is to be whom I choose within a kind of personhood that is never itself in question.” (Allan, in Cook, op. cit:26). More’s the pity, Bataille might respond, but of coursed pity, like forgiveness and guilt, is one of those archaisms that authentic freedom frees itself from. This is not a naked will to power simply due to the facticity of anxiety and the facticality of desire. Power desires but more of itself, but will focuses and restrains power because it, in turn, must be bent to the purpose at hand. At-handedness must become in-handedness, being-in to in-Being, the finite goal must overtake, or even ‘take over’ as being must do to Being, the absolute value. At ne level, of course, is the usual sense that one’s loyalty cannot be divided, at least in public, between self and society. This is Spencer’s discussion, inherited somewhat obliquely from Kant. It is still a reasonable conversation in which to engage, and if it is a trifle Whiggish at least it is not downright quaint. At the same time, the necessity to maintain what is also beautiful – though there is also beauty in horror, as the twentieth century attempted not merely to experience but also to celebrate; perversely, precisely because it desired to make the horrible itself horrible instead of letting the being of horror simply Be – constrains our freedom: “Because all human beings are subject to necessity, they are entitled to violence toward others; violence is the prepolitical act of liberating oneself from the necessity of life for the freedom of world.” (Arendt, op. cit:31). This is why, when political regimes retreat into violence, they lose their authority. Authority is always lost before power. Will might remain but it too does not endure. This is why shame and desire exert a moment of violence, because anything more would destroy both subject and object instead of simply placing them sous rature, as it were. I have used this transparent analogy before, but imagine a Durchstriechung in the form of the Reich’s swastika as juxtaposed with the Buddhist emblem, for instance. Place either over text, certainly, but go further than this; Eros as willed desire must adorn the beloved with some kind of effort at erasure. Not a complete success, for we do not desire the object of desire to simply be obliterated – this is not a private genocide – but rather to behold the beloved dressed in the violence of our will. She may resist but once again, as above, her resistance too is necessary. it brings the horror of desire to the fore, it makes naked the shame of eroticism. This is not the shame of guilt but instead the term used more like ‘is it not a shame that such a beautiful face should be contorted in the agony of ecstasy, that the ‘tears of eros’, to borrow from Bataille, should arouse me so, that her own objective nakedness should be turned to a prosthetic nudity, and so on. I desire to possess her, but on my terms. This is Eros naked, shameful, and yet full of desire.
So while sex, and especially in our time, sexuality, may be a political act, having sex is prepolitical in the Greek sense that Arendt is discussing. Authentic shame cannot be found within its folds, however manifold. No, the shame of a post-agrarian worldview must be felt in the horror of inequality and poverty, very much real and not esthetic, let alone aesthetic, circumstances: “Everything that ‘justifies’ our behavior needs to be reexamined and overturned: how to keep from saying simply that thought is an enterprise of enslavement; it is the subordination of the heart, of passion, to incomplete economic calculation.” (Bataille, op. cit:105). Once again, tell me how this is not a proclamation of the humane, for humanity as a free disclosure of Dasein’s authenticity? Yet for Bataille’s scalpel and scythe, even here there is slight reservation; the term ‘incomplete’ might have been rendered as ‘incompetent’ if one took a different tack. Of course, there is a sense that all is indeed calculated, that suffering if measured out in proportion to the relevance of this or that segment of global society that will act, submissively of course, to keep power channeled the way it has been so: through national states of varying degrees of ultimate power. Now this is shame, and not ‘a shame’ or ‘a pity’. Now this is horror, and not simply horrible or horrifying. Now this requires little reexamination and much overturning.