Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Excess

One topic that I don't often see brought up in discussions of SM and feminism is one reason that I enjoy it, and one reason that I sometimes had trouble reconciling with particular political stances, was excess.

Think about standard criticisms of the rich and opulent. Whether they're criticisms of the nobility, of the bourgeoisie, or other criticisms of the rich and powerful. The idea that these people are decadent, that they wallow in excess, drown themselves in pleasure.

That kind of excess is actually a big turn on for me. The idea of going further and doing more, overflowing with energy, desire, and intensity. It's something I began to have a very hard time with when I got into feminist circles that were also socialist or influenced by socialism.

Because the central idea of that kind of political movement is that some people have too much and some people don't have enough. If that's the material situation of people in the world, and I seek to be committed to some kind of distributive justice that least makes the first step to equalizing some of that, how can I get into bed and touch myself while imagining, sometimes literally, that I'm lord over other people?

It made it very difficult for me to enjoy sexual fantasy and sexual play with other people. Because for me, a huge part of the appeal of SM is the excess. The idea that too much sensation may be painful, but that only feeds an intense loop of pleasure that increases and increases, until I feel capable of devouring the world. And the person beneath me becomes a great consuming wild creature, able to take anything, transmute anything, beg for more, opening and opening, endlessly devouring in a different way.

And that sort of energy is a kind of destruction and consumption. It's a sacred kind, the consuming fire of the Destroyer . that fire runs through me when I'm high from topping. Frightening, sacred fire that seeks to devour to bring rebirth and joy.

I've long since remembered that it's not a bad kind of destruction or consumption, but for a long time looking at the world around me and sneering at American consumerism made it hard for me to understand where classist gluttony ended and sacred consumption began.

I'm a lot more suspicious of critiques of "decadence" these days, if they're not quite specific about who has too much and precisely how she's being frivolous with the resources in question.

And perhaps I've betrayed the left wing somehow, but I find the term "consumerism" less and less useful as time goes on.

Not because I don't think American culture has a problem with consuming. We do. Or with allotting ridiculous amounts of resources to people who don't really do much to better the world, like CEO's and astronomically rich sports stars. We do.

Rather, because I increasingly grow leery of American culture ever getting better about that if we don't specify what we're consuming and how, and understand that the problem isn't the desire to consume or devour, but the way that is aimed at inanimate objects rather than allowed to fuel passion and spirit.

And the way that we'll always be aiming that yen for excess at inanimate objects if we ignore that the desire to be consumed also exists. Which I think we have a big problem with. People who want to be guided by others, let go of the ego, submit, are deemed weaklings in a world where only literal consumption of inanimate objects is encouraged.

Because we don't remember what being burned by the sacred fire is. What it feels like. We only remember what it's like to toss the plastic wrapper aside once we've eaten the junk food. SO that must be what submission looks like.

Asking to be dumped aside because you think you're unworthy. That's all that shows up.

To me, that is the problem. Consumption without... passion. Consumption with desire, with little niggling yens that ads create and a new IPod might assuage, like scratching a mild itch, but without... transformation.

Yeah. That's it.

Consumption of objects. Which is a safe kind of consumption, a kind that doesn't bring you face to face with the possibility of being devoured yourself, or face to face with what it really means to channel the Devourer.

Consumption without transformation.

13 comments:

SnowdropExplodes said...

Interesting thoughts there.

One thought that struck me reading through it was about those different kinds of excess and consumption.

Some types of excess can only come at the expense of denying others - material excess, because ultimately there is a finite amount of material in the world, must come at the expense of someone else going without (unless there is such a vast quantity of material that even excess can be had by everyone).

But the emotional and sensation-based excess of SM is limited only by what our own bodies and minds can supply or sustain. (The same goes for many other types of emotion and sensation, of course).

While social issues often deal in zero-sum games, personal relationships do not have to be that sort of game, and I think BDSM relationships are anything but zero-sum.

Daisy Bond said...

To echo/extend snowdrop's comment... Sex is a renewable resource. One doesn't emit greenhouse gases, destroy habitats, poison drinking water, make toxic byproducts, or waste or ruin valuable resources (air, water) when one has sex, unless you need to, say, destroy a coral reef or run an inefficient paper mill to get off. One also doesn't generally deprive entire classes and countries of people of food, medical care, freedom, and infrastructure by having sex.

Real criticisms of excess aren't criticisms of excess itself, but of the damages and injustices mentioned above. I consider myself about as leftist-socialist-environmentalist as they come, but I'd never criticize anyone for an excess of intense human connection. Unless you needed to drive a gas-guzzling hummer or poison a river to get it.

Trinity said...

"I consider myself about as leftist-socialist-environmentalist as they come, but I'd never criticize anyone for an excess of intense human connection. Unless you needed to drive a gas-guzzling hummer or poison a river to get it."

True, but I HAVE heard it, in terms of discussing who can afford floggers, fetish gear, and the like. SM as classist because it's expensive.

Which, well: that's a valid critique of gear and vendors, perhaps, until you consider that a lot of these vendors are barely breaking even themselves. And that only goes so far -- good pervertibles can be had for cheap if you're creative.

But there's that, y'know: complicated sex is something the leisure class gets to indulge in thing.

I've even heard this said about sex at all: that it's the bourgoisie who is all into sex positivism and kink and all this, because we have the luxury of making sex an issue rather than, say, food.

Which strikes me as not right and demeaning of the sexualities of people who aren't middle class, but I've never been poor, so I dunno.

But even in terms of the objects... what if fetish gear IS a silly luxury? what would that mean?

To my mind I'm not sure that would count against it either. It could be I'm just irreducibly bourgeois myself, but I think we all need some indulgence somewhere sometimes. And sometimes that's the latex dress, or whatever.

And I think SM is one of the things that reminds us of that.

Daisy Bond said...

Well, everything that costs money is classist by definition, right? I believe you that some people have used that against SM in particular, but I think those people are pretty silly. The health care system in the US is brutally, inexcusably classist, but it would be insane to argue that people who can afford decent health care shouldn't do so because of the classist implications (health care is more basic the sex toys, but it's the same line of reasoning, right?). Even if SM is a silly luxury, I think the only class argument that makes sense would be, "Everyone should have access to this," not, "Those who do should stop (relatively) harmlessly indulging."

Now, one argument I could see myself making: you may have an excessive sex life if you use so much gear as to seriously distort your carbon footprint.

I don't like the idea that sex as an issue is a bourgeois thing, either. The public conversation about sex as an issue might be controlled by bourgeois voices, but it's ridiculous to think that others aren't having thoughts and conversations amongst themselves, without the resources to broadcast them... Though I imagine the criticism is probably more along the lines of, "Stop bickering about sex when other people are starving!" Which is fair.

Trinity said...

"The public conversation about sex as an issue might be controlled by bourgeois voices, but it's ridiculous to think that others aren't having thoughts and conversations amongst themselves, without the resources to broadcast them..."

Yeah. That.

"Though I imagine the criticism is probably more along the lines of, "Stop bickering about sex when other people are starving!" Which is fair."

Is it though? Wouldn't that mean we always must discuss the "Hierarchy of Needs" in order and never get to discuss anything else?

Daisy Bond said...

Is it though? Wouldn't that mean we always must discuss the "Hierarchy of Needs" in order and never get to discuss anything else?

Hmmm

Interesting point. You may be right.

I do think people have a point when they criticize feminism with the statement that resources should be diverted to things like, say, making sure women have health care and access to education, rather than disproportionately toward discussions that are only really relevant to tiny, powerful subset of women (i.e. "Staying home with babies -- valid choice or betrayal of the Sisterhood?" when most women, of course, have to work whether they want to or not).

Trinity said...

"I do think people have a point when they criticize feminism with the statement that resources should be diverted to things like, say, making sure women have health care and access to education, rather than disproportionately toward discussions that are only really relevant to tiny, powerful subset of women"

Oh, yeah... I'm not disagreeing. I just think that sometimes people decide that X or Y is a "bourgeois" thing to discuss, which means papering over voices like this one:

"It was through the sex wars of the 80s that I learned to be a feminist on the ground. I learned the sex wars as seen through the prism of class warfare. There were people telling me and my kind — we’d be called an interracial community of genderqueers today — that we were disgusting embarrassments to the movement. Our sex and behavior were not right. We weren’t women. We weren’t “proper”. This is code for: you aren’t middle class, white, and properly behaved about your sexuality; you’re not women.

Some of us were already aware of this growing up. If you are poor and working class, you quickly learn that you are the kind of ‘trash’ with whom certain men will do their thing, the thing they wouldn’t do with ‘their kind’.

And when you came out, then you also quickly learned, via campus, white middle-class lesbians, that you, too, were not women. With these women, you learned that there were feminists and women who were the same as men in this regard. My first “real” relationship with a woman was abusive for exactly this reason. I was that trash from the other side of town with whom she’d do her thing and when I got ‘uppity’ or revealed my financial dependence or my lack of education, I got smacked around and put in my place, called a slutty little tramp, low class, uneducated, disgusting filth to be shat on. Her favorite was spitting.

I wasn’t a woman. Because women didn’t have sex like we had. She reserved real, respectable sex for women: her kind. I was young enough and smart enough to get out, but to silence because no one discussed violence among women then. The first time I spoke of it, I was treated to contempt. I shut up after that.

So, you see, who I am cannot be disentangled from that history. I’m not poor. I’m not white. I’m not a woman. I’m not queer. I’m a poor, white, queer woman. They are bound up together. This history is also why I found it offensive when issues surrounding sex and gender were and continue to be dismissed as “white mainstream feminist” fluff."

subversive_sub said...

What irks me about leftism in general (and is a large part of why I stopped identifying with that crowd and started learning about anarchism) is this notion that because some people don't have access to X, therefore by denying ourselves X, or not making X a big part of our lives, we are somehow expressing solidarity with those less fortunate than ourselves, or freeing up more resources for them or something. Which is not only absurd and patronizing, but I think misses the entire point about why people are critical of capitalist society in the first place. Things like happiness, freedom, sex, time, clean food and water and air, shelter, and general enjoyment of life are things that every being should have, and there's really no reason why we shouldn't have it right here and right now. The problem of poverty is not an issue of individual enjoyment but of systematic racism and sexism, inequalities in the distribution of resources, the poisoning of certain communities by large corporations, the ongoing plunder of other countries for their natural resources, the established class hierarchy, and so on.

Or in other words: self-denial of simple pleasures (that should by all rights be accessible to everyone) helps NO ONE. Except maybe yourself, I suppose, by assuaging your guilt and giving you the illusion that you're doing something to help the poor and needy.

Of course, by "simple pleasures" I don't mean "consumer products." So to put it back in terms of this discussion, I think it's pretty stupid for people to criticize people for talking about and having too much sex when children are starving -- but I do think it's valid to criticize an over-emphasis on consumer products (and an over-emphasis on leather, IMHO) as essential components of good sex, or for that matter, of a good life. Not that I think anyone here's doing that, but I can see how someone looking at BDSM could be confused about the "necessity" of certain gear for S/M play.

[end rant thank you :) ]

Trinity said...

"because some people don't have access to X, therefore by denying ourselves X, or not making X a big part of our lives, we are somehow expressing solidarity with those less fortunate than ourselves, or freeing up more resources for them or something. Which is not only absurd and patronizing, but I think misses the entire point about why people are critical of capitalist society in the first place."

YES!

Thank you.

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