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Philosophy is a game with objectives and no rules.
Mathematics is a game with rules and no objectives.
Theology is a game whose object is to bring rules into the subjective.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Philosophy and Pornography: Juliet or Justine?


Written in the context of the ongoing Parliamentary Debate in the United Kingdom on the banning of the possession of extreme pornography with a maximum penalty of five years. Many have questioned the relevance of philosophy of late, as the stagnant image they abide, captivates, sours, freezes their minds, and keeps them from what they have been made to believe is the bad side of town.

We are talking about dark, hidden ‘forces’, those underneath Bildung, education, discipline and breeding, the medical doctor, psychiatrist, jailer, surveillance, (too bad for Mill, but maybe not for Bentham) as they orchestrate a situation of archetypes and techniques for the reproduction of the Same.

Yet, in our context, the bad side is the current official establishment, and not the other bad side, the resistance that is the ceaseless spectre of an ever deepening topos of questioning. We must throw our existence into question. We must become bad, and in the right way…

There is a deeper topos, not all at once or as an accumulation – existence itself seeks instead to lay out a place for be-ing and expression, communication - to the exclusion, in each case, of the established arche and its culture of hegemony.

It is perhaps philosophy, as with no other field of study, that could address our concerns with respect to the overwhelming transformations of human sexuality and existence, since the agricultural and industrial revolutions, but especially in the last fifty, twenty, ten, five, one year(s), amid this -

Yet, it does not whisper a word in its sanitized corridors (except for stale references to Foucault, the dusty fate to which even Bataille will not escape) upon the forbidden depths of human sexuality (it leaves that to the diaspora in the other disciplines and to popular culture).

Indeed, there are, to this very moment, epistemological and existential taboos surrounding questions of ‘our’ sexuality. Is that which is disclosed an aspect of our ‘nature’ or existence, and how are we to respond to this revelation of ‘ourselves’? Of course, the question of the eroticisation of one’s own subordination should be explored, but this is a topic that cannot be addressed in the terms of morality or amid the current sexual aesthetics.

To a significant extent, this question exposes the tactical and strategic implications of the internet (technology in the sense of Heidegger’s Question Concerning Technology), in the dissemination of the ‘ghost’ of sexuality per se (Derrida) –

Foucault would have loved the internet, the dimension of the ghost, sex and death.
This awakens the questions of death and eroticism. Such a question and disclosure begins to upstage modernity – as an echo, an aspect, thread, culture, discursive formation, iconography of these pre-historical and post-historical ‘ways of life’.

Philosophy had long made a theme of eros, in Empedocles and Plato (the Symposium, for instance), Aristotle, Augustine, Eckhart, Bruno, Leibniz, Kant, Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Heidegger, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Wittgenstein, Kristeva, Iriguray, to name only a few – not mention poets and artists (including film makers) who are inexorably intertwined in this grand conversation/contestation amid our strange existence.

Each of these is trying to say that our lives are more than laws enacted by whatever current arche, theory, state, government, tribe - that our desire is insurmountable, and must be acknowledged as a force in our discussions. It would seem that having acknowledged eroticism as a form of life (as an unimpeachable aspect of the human condition), and as expression as art and intimate practises, philosophy would turn to pornography, erotic art and sexual practises in a similar manner. Indeed, it could well be argued that pornography is a genre of art, even if, low art. But, the opinion on pornography has been mixed between a small smattering of advocates, those who oppose it, and those who either tolerate or consume it.

Yet, when did low art lose its appeal? Did the internet come too late? Or, does it not swallow low art, give it a place for expression, but one of no consequence? Such a terrain compels the philosopher to begin to deal with the underground events behind the mask of aesthetics and the ‘industry’, amid the body (which is not that of the mind), culture, the soul – and the criticisms of pornography from a moral, ethical or political basis. Of course, there are also many free spirits who embrace pornography as a means of liberation and expression (Cf. Klossowski, Bellmer), and this includes all of the various sub-genres of pornography, including the most ‘extreme’.

We are familiar with these battles and ceaselessly hear everyone’s best lines on the matter. Yet, as many of ‘us’ feel compromised even dealing with this topic, not to mention mere eroticism, not to mention pornography and extreme pornography, it seems that there has been erected, ironically – or perhaps tragically - a barrier to research into contemporary sexual existence and expression as the guilty conscience of the researcher. This could be symptomatic of a culture of weakness, as we could discern easily enough from Nietzsche.

‘We’ recoil amid the dark depths of our enlightenment.
Indeed, if the law which is being discussed is passed, this would mean that an intellectual researcher of eroticism and ‘pornography’ (as expressions of human sexual existence) would be criminalised. The fact that this present, my very writing now (and you become complicit as you read) may be criminalised or held suspect (if it is not already so) in less than a months time is quite disturbing.

We may think of Foucault in this context, in relation to the exposure of a truth regime to its existence as conflict, and should expand our reflections upon this matter in a serious manner – and act
the deed is all ..
Behind all of this chatter, expression and politik about sexuality, gender, eroticism, pornography, sexual violence, there lies an unarticulated question – and one that genuinely seduces us into an abyss.

An un-important question distracts us: What are ‘they’ trying to hide? Yet, each of us already always knows and feels what ‘they’ try to hide, ‘in’ their idle chatter and gossip. Each of us is complicit in the secret, we, each of us, knows what we are trying to hide.Yet, should we bother to hide it? Indeed, it is upon this sexual topography that we build our world. Yet, we can still articulate the question:

Do not these images and films indicate a depth to the human creature, and, are these images and films not indicative of the primal desires (even if extreme) that are felt, imagined or expressed amid the human condition, not as deviations to be tolerated, but regarded as authentic desires and narratives with respect to the event, flux, of human, finite, existence?

Is it possible that an exploration of our more darker sides will enlighten us as to the authentic meaning of our finite existence?

Shall we be Juliet or Justine?

(James Aire)

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