Sunday, 1 July 2007

socialism must not exclude human sensual pleasure from its programme!

by Infinite Thought

Despite the claim that ‘there is no such thing as too much fun’, plastered all over the dirty teflon of the recently reopened Dome, we must sadly come to terms with the fact that we live in a world in which enjoyment has been profoundly circumscribed. Don’t be misled: The imperative to ‘Enjoy!’ is omnipresent, but pleasure, joy and happiness are absolutely and entirely absent. We can have as many vibrators as we like, and drink as much booze as we physically tolerate, but anything else outside the echo chamber of money-possessions-base-pleasure is strictly verboten. Communes, you say! Collectives! Alternative models of the family! What are you, mad?! It’s a weary indictment of the state of things when virtually every book on these topics has been removed from your university library. People can’t possibly have once thought that there might be more to life than Daddy-Mummy-Me...could they?

Whatever did happen to those dreams of living differently? To the radical Kibbutzim, co-housing groups, revolutionary cells? When the ‘queer’ comes to stand in for the right for everyone to own their own fuck-pad, and the family turns every inward upon itself (‘now we’ve finally managed to save up for a mortgage, how about we schedule in a child around 2010?’), when gay lifestyle magazines fill their pages with advice on how best to marry and adopt you know the restoration is truly upon us. Alternative living these days is more likely to refer to the fact that you’ve shoved a solar panel on your roof rather than undertaken any practical critique of the nuclear family.

Thus we move, just like theories of being in Medieval theology, from the many (a generalised sexual hedonia) to the one (the ‘life partner’ who agrees to share the mortgage) but with nothing in between, apart, perhaps, for some, a glimpse at possible alternatives – but the shared student house, or squatting with an anarchist group or pottering off for a few years to an ashram in one’s early twenties are scarcely more than temporary diversions, slotted in to an already pre-ordained telos of domestic and economic stability. They lack structure – and deliberately so.

Dušan Makavejev’s WR: Mysteries of the Organism and The Switchboard Operator, whilst in strong part a metaphorical portrayal of the abusive relationship between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, simultaneously poses the question of what it might be to have a different attitude towards sex, and as a corollary to this, what it would be to live differently, to think beyond the apparently all-pervasive political separation of family and the world. What if every fuck was a kind of communism, egalitarian, joyful and for the good of all? This would precisely not be communalism, a kind of withdrawn fellowship, but a re-establishment of the link between sex and politics. This is the link that capitalism needs to obfuscate in order to hide its true dependency on the ordering and regulation of reproduction. The family in this sense is always precisely a question of the relationship between sex and politics, how it is that someone is fit and functioning enough to sell eight hours of their labour power a day. But the increasing dominance of the ideology of domesticity, shored up by endless televisual imperatives to clean, decorate or sell your home, increasingly strips all living arrangements, whether they be the single flat set up for a series of one-night stands or the nuclear household with kids and a puppy in the garden, of their real political role. Capitalism has to pretend that the world of politics has nothing to do with the home – one of the lasting achievements of feminism is to re-establish the link between household labour, reproductive labour and paid labour – from the cradle to the grave, a worker is infinitely harder to produce and maintain than merely turning up in the office might suggest.

From Sexoleftism to Deflationary Acceptance

There are perhaps two alternative ways of politicising sex, neither of which are particularly satisfactory. The first takes sex as being itself inherently liberatory. Makavejev’s films flirt with the powerful energies of a liberated sexuality, with particular reference to Reich, but tend to turn fatal when the question of what it would be to prolong such a project arises. When we look to actual attempts to put Reich’s ideas into practice, in projects such as Otto Mühl’s 1970s Viennese commune, we see one of the problems of something like an overpoliticisation of sex, an overcentralisation of its importance that eventually (inevitably?) leads to new forms of domination. Mühl’s ambitions for eventually realising a free society began with the declaration of war on one enemy in particular: monogamy. It was rather a popular choice, as by 1972 hundreds had joined and other sections were set up all over Germany.

Rather than our current many-to-one model, Mühl attempted something like a simple substitution – life-long fidelity was to be replaced by absolute promiscuity. Members were forbidden to have sex with the same partner more than once a week, yet all must have sex five times a day – romantic love was bourgeois, foreplay old-fashioned. Sex was to be performed as quickly and machinically as possible. The Weather Underground had their own militant take on this sexual critique of bourgeois morality: marathon criticism sessions, fuelled by LSD, which included forcing members of the group with no sexual attraction to each other to have sex, or making the boyfriend of one member watch his girlfriend have sex with another man. What is being invoked here is kind of sexual cognitive dissonance designed to shore up commitment to the group and ensure total subjective (and sexual) destitution. No more romantic dreams.

The anxieties and inequalities of desire seem to always rear their ugly head, however: not all members of the commune are equally desirable, some are in fact very undesirable, and one person in particular is incredibly desirable, Mühl himself, who takes on an increasingly phallic status. Hierarchy returns as the select few super-attractive people extricate themselves from the desires of the rabble – sexoleftism becomes a tyranny of copulation as Mühl is later accorded droit de seigneur over every young girl who comes of age. Mühl was eventually sentenced in the 1980s to seven years in jail for child sex offences.

The central problem of the notion of sex as inherently egalitarian emerges when it turns out that desire isn’t fair at all. Accepting the notion that desire is a tyrant forms the second attempt to link sex and politics: we could call this the tragic-psychoanalytic model, which at least has the virtue of speaking intelligently about itself. If there is no sexual relation, there is certainly no possibility of founding a community upon it, unless, precisely, it is a collective which is not one, which might describe something like the (very unsexily named) blogosphere.

The problem here is twofold: first, the relative ahistoricality of this model of sex, as if all maladapted animals with this peculiar relation to language will always wear their desire like a damaged mark of shame. The second problem involves the proximity of the tragic-psychoanalytic model’s conception of sex to the practical bourgeois performance of sex: here there really is no sexual relation! Only an economic, ossified and status-based one. Between isolationist sexual utopianism and a wry displacement of the importance of sex lies a poorly served desire for a collective sexuality that neither makes sex the be-all-and-end-all (as it were) nor a dirty little secret to be drowned in proprietary and hypocritical moralising.