poetix (old content)

oh build your ship of death

Petty Demons

Sexuality has never seemed to me to be an area of life in which the construction of a meaningful autonomy is possible. The image of the confident, liberated person who exercises full rights of ownership over their own body, knows just what they want and is uninhibited in pursuing it seems utterly remote from the way I live (with considerable frustration) in my body, the way I understand and act upon my own (confused and contradictory) needs and desires. I don’t understand the feminism that wants women to be able to be that person, because I have no real concept of what it would be like for anybody to be that person. It seems to me to be an eidolon made in the image of the consumer, that petty demon of the marketplace.

If that’s what you think it’s like to be a sexual being, I guess you’ll be comfortable with the gratifications offered to you as a sexual consumer: the availability, on convenient terms, of other people qua sexual commodities. You may suppose yourself to be more liberated, the more congenial the terms and the greater the range of gratifications that lie within reach of your purchasing power. To me the whole set-up has always seemed perfectly foul, and rather spectacularly pointless - it simply doesn’t connect with anything that I think or feel, and certainly has no relation to either equality or emancipation as I understand them. But I suppose it simplifies things, in a way; as anodynelite points out, a large part of what the clients of sex workers seem to want is just this simplification, just this evacuation of the other person’s confused and inconsistent desires and demands from the sexual arena (which rather underscores my point that what the sex worker thinks and feels is structurally irrelevant…). To maintain an image of oneself as someone who simply wants “sex”, and has the pulling (or, failing that, purchasing) power to obtain it, is undoubtedly a lot easier than undergoing the continual wrong-footing and renegotiation of one’s sexual imago that occurs in the context of a committed relationship. But this is something one hopes people will grow out of, in spite of the cultural pressure (on males especially, but not exclusively) to remain in a state of emotional infantility.

I joyfully endorse Badiou’s dictum that love demonstrates the vacuity of any notion of sexual autonomy, and his demand that love must be defended against the libertinism of the “left” as much as against the control-freakery of the “right”. It should be pointed out that Badiou’s not massively keen on the heteronormative “family”, which he describes as the construction of a “mutilated present”: this isn’t an argument for settling down into a lifelong pattern of reciprocal repression, the wearying dialectic of male proprietorship and female resentment, finally made tolerable by illicit extra-marital sorties, mutual deceit and exhausted, suffocating contempt. That also is a simplifying, infantilising arrangement, quite properly described by old-school feminists as legalised prostitution.

Badiou is not trying to drive us all, straight and gay, into the arms of marriage partners so that we can live out our mutual resignation under the sanctified tutelage of the state. But his demand for a love that is violent and creative, that desanctifies the individual and enchants the world, is as absolutely opposed to the regime of commercial sexuality, as absolutely incompatible with the sale and purchase of sexual “services”, as it is opposed to the confinement of women as chattel property and incompatible with the moralised policing of sexual acts. It demonstrates, finally, the fundamental complicity of the “left” and “right” positions, their mutual hostility to anything that threatens the infantilising simplifications through which they seek to circumscribe and control the real of sex, so as to ensure that it neither gives rise to any amorous encounter nor permits the construction of any truth.