Bob Hicok, from Words for Empty and Words for Full
In researching sadomasochism, I did not begin with a prior assumptions or with the desire to placate academic moguls. I let the evidence suggest the theories. My conclusion, after wide reading in anthropology and psychology, was that sadomasochism is an archaic ritual form that descends from prehistoric nature cults and that erupts in sophisticated “late” phases of culture, when a civilization has become too large and diffuse and is starting to weaken or decline. I state in Sexual Personae that “sex is a far darker power than feminism has admitted,” and that its “primitive urges” have never been fully tamed: “My theory is that whenever sexual freedom is sought or achieved, sadomasochism will not be far behind.”
Sadomasochism’s punitive hierarchical structure is ultimately a religious longing for order, marked by ceremonies of penance and absolution. Its rhythmic abuse of the body, which can indeed become pathological if pushed to excess, is paradoxically a reinvigoration, a trancelike magical realignment with natural energies. Hence the symbolic use of leather—primitive animal hide—for whips and fetish clothing. By redefining the boundaries of the body, SM limits and disciplines the overexpanded consciousness of “late” phases, which are plagued by free-floating doubts and anxieties.
translated by Joseph Cadora
There within: the languid, silent pace
of their paws lulls, almost bewilders you,
then one of the cats quickly turns its face
and captures your gaze and its straying view
violently in its magnificent eye,
and as if seized in a maelstrom’s clasp,
it swims for a while, but by and by
abandons itself, slips from its own grasp,
as this eye with its apparent stillness
suddenly opens, then shuts with a roar
and snatches the gaze into its own red blood,
just so one time, out of utter darkness,
the cathedral’s soaring rose window tore
a heart and plunged it deeply into God.
All links in this piece contain graphic images of death.
‘Must we celebrate [death’s] essence once more, and thus risk forgetting that there is still so much we can do to fight it?’ asks Roland Barthes in his essay from Mythologies entitled ‘The Great Family of Man’. It would appear that a photograph that has been circulated on Facebook and Reddit, which has been reproduced by several (mostly American) media publications, would be doing just that. The photograph in question depicts a two Bangladeshis, they look like a couple, who are depicted half-buried in the dust and rubble of the recent factory disaster, embracing in death. The photographer was Talisma Akhter who took the image obviously with much personal bravery.
SEE THE IMAGE HERE.
This analysis deals instead with the way that this photograph has been viewed and disseminated in the West.
Nonetheless, I will not be reproducing this picture because its widespread circulation exposes many of the problems with our attitudes to disaster in the poorer nations of the world. While it’s true that we are sometimes presented with photographs of the dead in the aftermath of disasters in the Western world, they are rarely described as ‘hauntingly beautiful’ as they are here. Imagine photographs of a factory accident in, say, Ellesmere Port being described in the same way. The death of Others has become ours to aestheticise, and by turning this photograph into a work of art, we move towards celebrating death’s essence rather than fighting it.
It will be objected though, that the circulation of this photograph is accompanied by appeals to help raise money for the victims of this disaster. It must be asked then why this particular image is used. Akhter speaks of bodies that ‘were charred, like coal, or were only skeletons’. These images cannot be aestheticised because, such is their horror, there is very little that is recognisably human in them. Rather, in looking at the oppressed Other we select photographs that reinforce an ‘ambiguous myth of the human “community”, which serves as an alibi to a large part of our humanism’. We choose a photograph of a couple embracing in death, because love and death are ‘facts of nature, universal facts’. And, argues Barthes, this allows us to ignore the specific Historical context of the images, the socio-economic conditions that cause Bangladeshis to be treated as not human, as less than human. Hence the horror of the photograph becomes transfigured into safer terms, the romantic backstories of Reddit readers (see here) or even the photographer’s own observation that “the blood from the eyes of the man ran like a tear” (see the previous link to Time magazine). We create a fiction for ourselves that these people are humans just like us, when so many of the clothes we wear are directly implicated in ensuring they are dehumanised in a way that we cannot imagine, whose image is much more akin to those charred skeletons. People are not human everywhere in the same way, because for millions of people, part of their experience of humanity is asserting that humanity in the face of forces that ceaselessly try to rob them of their humanity.
Cleopatra to Mark Antony: What I’ve got in store for you baby. Sheaves of golden wheat, honey and dates, a guitar pick made from my bone, the safest tomb.
Byzantium was once a city on the Bosporus
famous for talking fountains.
World War I made everything evaporate.
At the time, it was the saddest thing,
men limped around London and Berlin
with shards of it sticking out their movements.
Some came back with idiotic ditties
trapped in their hippocampus. Others
strolled around for hours in wet dresses,
fleeing at the lowest possible speeds.
This was before television so folks
just looked into the fire and said
what they saw there for entertainment.
Lots saw Hell.
Did they have it better than us?
When a woman smoked, it was like
she was naked so that must have been fun.
Certainly they were accustomed
to death having done so much of it.
Their doctors spent all their time
figuring out what was killing you
then killing you with something else.
No need for a lawyer.
The rat was huge.
Into the breach stiff upper lip was huge.
When a doughboy missed his sweetheart,
he couldn’t just write,
I miss your muffin,
because of the censors. Apollo,
who ate the most pussy of all the ancient gods,
was out. The Holy Ghost was in.
Everyone knew where the Holy Ghost stood on cunnilingus
even though he was ineffable.
The invention of the telephone, machine gun, typewriter,
great strides in plastic surgery
before there was any plastic.
Funny thing is,
while just about everything was blown up,
nothing much changed,
so in 20 years they’d need bigger bombs.
There’s only one historical development, the possibility to say to another, “I don’t need you.”
A dog’s grave: mound of concrete
with a cross pressed in.
We are full-on sinful,
unbuttoning our Levi’s,
crouched behind a slash pile
in the Rathbone’s woods.
Scott pisses on it first,
then Harris, Owen, me. Steam fountains up
and forms sastrugi, greeting our faces
like sheer tongues,
like the dead who cannot bring
themselves to tell us, what you’ve feared is true.
None of us wonders
if there’s something worse
than Judgment: the years we’ll spend unmarried
to any home, praying in Potosi, Fayetteville, Batavia,
afraid that God
won’t care, afraid he will.
The worst thing we can think of, we’ve done,
then we walk home, grateful that the streetlights float
on darkness, indifferent as distant boats.
I am trained to perch in the crooks of trees.
I watch my petticoat flutter up there,
I tug the bodice of my corset with one hand
and set the rifle into my clavicle
with the otherand then I wait.
The pines above shed needles and feathers
and below, the rattlesnake is beautiful enough
to skin, if only I could catch him between my thumb
and forefingergentle enough between my thumb
and forefinger. I could save him for later,
sew his scales to my booties.
“Grow tired with me,” I call to him.
“Grow tired with me. I charm you.”
I tip the barrel over the picket fence. Aim
for venison, the white flash of fur. In the thickness
of night, I steady myself on the limb,
fix the ruffles of my dress.
Only two geese at midnight, only one within my range.
This quasi-object that is a marker of the subject is an astonishing constructer of intersubjectivity. We know, through it, how and when we are subjects and when and how we are no longer subjects; “We” : what does that mean? We are precisely the fluctuating moving back and forth of “I.” The “I” in the game is a token exchanged. And this passing, this network of passes, these vicariances of subjects weave the collection. I am I now, a subject, that is to say, exposed to being thrown down, exposed to falling, to being placed beneath the compact mass of the others; then you take the relay, you are substituted for “I” and become it; later on, it is he who gives it to you, his work done, his danger finished, his part of the collective constructed. The “we ” is made by the bursts and occultations of the “I.” The “we” is made by passing the “I.” By exchanging the “I.” And by substitution and vicariance of the “I.”
That immediately appears easy to think about. Everyone carries his stone, and the wall is built. Everyone carries his “I,” and the “we” is built. This addition is idiotic and resembles a political speech. No. Everything happens as if, in a given group, the “I,” like the “we,” were not divisible. He has the ball, and we don’t have it any more. What must be thought about, in order to calculate the “we,” is, in fact, the passing of the ball. But it is the abandon of the “I.” Can one’s own “I” be given? There are objects to do so, quasi-objects, quasi-subjects; we don’t know whether they are beings or relations, tatters of beings or end of relations. By them, the principle of individuation can be transmitted or can get stuck. There is something there, some movement, that resembles the abandon of sovereignty. The “we” is not a sum of “I“‘s, but a novelty produced by legacies, concessions, withdrawals, resignations, of the “I.” The “we” is less a set of “I“‘s than the set of the sets of its transmissions. It appears brutally in drunkenness and ecstasy, both annihilations of the principle of individuation. This ecstasy is easily produced by the quasi-object whose body is slave or object. We remember how it turns around the quasi-object, how the body follows the ball and orients it. We remember the Ptolemaic revolution. It shows that we are capable of ecstasy, of difference from our equilibrium, that we can put our center outside ourselves. The quasi-object is found to have this decentering. From then on, he who holds the quasi-object has the center and governs ecstasy. The speed of passing accelerates him and causes him to exist. Participation is just that and has nothing to do with sharing, at least when it is thought of as a division of parts. Participation is the passing of the “I” by passing. It is the abandon of my individuality or my being in a quasi-object that is there only to be circulated. It is rigorously the transsubstantiation of being into relation. Being is abolished for the relation. Collective ecstasy is the abandon of the “I“‘s on the tissue of relations. This moment is an extremely dangerous one. Everyone is on the edge of his or her inexistence. But the “I” as such is not suppressed. It still circulates, in and by the quasi-object. This thing can be forgotten. It is on the ground, and the one who picks it up and keeps it becomes the only subject, the master, the despot, the god.
This is the first cogito, more deeply buried although more visible than the thinking cogito. I feel, I have felt; I have seen, heard, tasted, smelt; I have touched; I touch, I enclose myself in my pavilion of skin; it burns with languages, I speak; I speak about myself, about my loneliness and the nostalgia of lost senses, I mourn the lost paradise, I regret the loss of that to which I was giving myself or of what was given to me. Since that phrase was written, I desire. And the world absents itself. This is the first, self-contained proposition, literally circular, the first stable unitary philosophy of identity. My desire identifies with writing, I exist only in language. The identity principle shuts itself off and is blind to the unstable, multiple, mingled, invisible senses, hidden in the jewelbox in the tent.
The girl, having laid aside her regrets, will turn back, will enter once and for all the tabernacle of language. We have always dwelt there with her, we have never left it, we have never seen, known or understood the Cluny tapestry.
I cannot tell or write of touch, nor of any other sense. I live in the tent crowned with the cartouche and clothed in tongues. Those who are in the tent with me demonstrate categorically that no-one can go outside, has ever gone outside. You will not find, they say, any language to tell or write things - flowers or fruit, birds or rabbits, sounds or shapes, tastes or smells - to write or tell the world before the emergence of language. You will only find a tapestry in the Cluny Museum. You find yourself foreclosed. They are right. I cannot write or describe the five tapestries, for if I describe or write, I only speak of the sixth. The original language has come into being, we can do nothing about it.
It is said that the horn of the unicorn is a protection against poison. One merely has to grind it to a powder, and mix or dissolve the powder in a beverage, in order to mithridatize oneself against harmful pharmaceuticals. The unicorn liberates us from drugs.
We seek the pharmaceutical, the fabulous animal which can free us from the hardest of hard drugs, language. We find it in the Cluny tapestry.
Displayed beneath our gaze since the Middle Ages, the enigma of the unicorn can be read, without representation, as the secret of subtlety; the tacit ascendancy of the tactile.
Jacques Lacan reminds us, that in sex, each individual is to a large extent on their own, if I can put it that way. Naturally, the other’s body has to be mediated, but at the end of the day, the pleasure will be always your pleasure. Sex separates, doesn’t unite. The fact you are naked and pressing against the other is an image, an imaginary representation. What is real is that pleasure takes you a long way away, very far from the other. What is real is narcissistic, what binds is imaginary. So there is no such thing as a sexual relationship, concludes Lacan. His proposition shocked people since at the time everybody was talking about nothing else but “sexual relationships”. If there is no sexual relationship in sexuality, love is what fills the absence of a sexual relationship.
Lacan doesn’t say that love is a disguise for sexual relationships; he says that sexual relationships don’t exist, that love is what comes to replace that non-relationship. That’s much more interesting. This idea leads him to say that in love the other tries to approach “the being of the other”. In love the individual goes beyond himself, beyond the narcissistic. In sex, you are really in a relationship with yourself via the mediation of the other. The other helps you to discover the reality of pleasure. In love, on the contrary the mediation of the other is enough in itself. Such is the nature of the amorous encounter: you go to take on the other, to make him or her exist with you, as he or she is. It is a much more profound conception of love than the entirely banal view that love is no more than an imaginary canvas painted over the reality of sex.
The love rose in my heart has wilted
The love bug
The news on the transistor
A nice man with a ponytail says
If you wanted to leave here for there
They were burying the evidence
Boys in prison cells
And outside the kids play stretcher
One of them was dying
Between my hands you think
Commands injections things
To make the time pass
As hope or action
She used to chase love bugs after school
To make them alight on her
She wanted not to have
Walked with naked men chained to a tank
In the houses she entered
A lemon an olive an apricot