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.
There’s only one historical development, the possibility to say to another, “I don’t need you.”
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.