September 29, 2004

You've got me girl on the runaround


In the best possible way, I couldn't disagree more with John.

To say that Courtly Love is a version of the master-slave dialectic is getting it the wrong way round. Given that the Courtly Love machine emerged in the middle ages, it would be more accurate to say that Hegel's m-s dialectic is a garbled version of it. Historically speaking, there is no question that the modern notion of romantic love is a degraded version of Courtly Love. One of the most successful Courtly Love narratives was the roman de la rose (romance of the rose), and it is interesting that the word 'romance' originally meant "story of a hero's adventures," and "verse narrative," and only much later became solely associated with interiorised couple-passion. Courtly Love was entirely on the surface, about what Lacan calls ex-timacy, not the shared interiority of the modern domestic couple's 'four-eyed despotic machine.'

Besides, it's odd to invoke Bataille in opposition to Hegel. Much of Bataille's work was a reworking of Hegel's darkly pompous mystagoguery. But even that complicity with the Absolute Enemy is not the most troubling aspect of Bataille's (non) project. It is precisely his resolutely non-perverse, Catholic notion of perversion that is the problem.

Before I elaborate on that claim, a brief note on Catholicism. The problem with Catholicism is not excessive guilt. On the contrary, Catholics should be more guilty... for the Spanish Inquisition... for Bishop Landa burning most of Mayan culture in an afternoon... for systematically exploiting the poorest and most disenfranchised of the earth over two millennia and for encouraging them to breed indiscriminately (no-one mention Liberation Theology, please: that's only positive to the degree that it is Marxist, i.e. anti-Catholic)... for what Bergmann correctly identifies as its necessary, not accidental relationship to child abuse... 'Bergmann, ..., claimed that "the only rational view of the Roman Catholic Church" was that it was "a monstrous blasphemy of transcendent evil: incomparably more corrupt than the Mafia (if indeed it can be separated from organised crime, which of course it cannot)". His views, he said, were backed up by "hard sociological data which even they can't suppress now" concerning the – apparently endemic – problem of institutionalised child abuse amongst Catholic clergy. But Bergmann alienated any of the few supporters he had even within Protestantism by adding that "any religion that is serious about worshipping the Father-God will always be about child abuse; the only difference between the religion of the Paulites and that of the Abrahamites is that, in the Paulites' case, child torture spills over into child murder. Despite tying and binding Isaac, the Jewish God ultimately spares Abraham's son; but the Paulite God actually kills his own son."'

So, yes Catholics should be more guilty... not in that ooo, it is awful (so I'll do it) sense... but coldly guilty... so guilty in fact that they cease to be Catholics and really repent of their sins.


Bataille is as much a part of the despicable Catholic psychology of guilt and transgression as any other victims of this evil cult (you think I'm exaggerating? Tell me an institution that has done more evil on the planet? Nazism only lasted 10 years or so, whereas Catholicism is a still-existing, still-abusing two-thousand year reich). Everyone knows (but some continue to celebrate) that the deep sickness of Catholicism is that guilt ethically legitimates and pyschologically predisposes its victim-abusers towards destruction of others and self-destruction. Zizek has drawn our attention to Paul's observation that law produces (the desire for) transgression. The critique of this move is so well rehearsed that it scarcely seems worthwhile repeating it here. But suffice it to say that more or less the whole of Foucault and everything that is innovative about Lacan, Deleuze-Guattari and Burroughs is specifically designed to reduce that aren't we naughty transgresso-pantomimery to the interiorised, oedi-policed mummery that it is. And, needless to say, Spinoza could not have been less transgressive, less interested in urinating over the head of a priest to show how Bad he was. (Look at me, punish me... gaahhhhhhhhhh!)


'The whole Courtly Love/ Glamasochism thing stinks of a project with an infinitely deferred goal: "the act itself is unimportant/ boring". No. Far from it. Only in the climax-orientated, semen-drenched male libidinal economy which Bataille, far from escaping, produces yet another, academically titillating version of, is it is possible to defer goals. Nothing is deferred in Courtly Love, there is an almost unbearable plenitude, so that a breath, a sigh and a caress are enough to make your whole body shiver with intensely distributed libidinal charge. Nothing is deferred; what is positively avoided is anything that will terminate the plateau. Surely it's uncontoversial to note that the whole of, for instance, the Body without Organs plateau in ATP is about, not deferral, but a model of diffuse eroticism which can include sex and even orgasm, but which is not terminated by them. Deleuze-Guattari rightly take great pains to say that sex and even male emission phenomena need not end the plateau.

What then is this 'Act' of which the Sadeans (John and Glueboot) insist on maintaining the primacy? Only a Sadean sexualist (or a LLAD) could make a distinction between The Act and eroticism; for the Masochist, the distinction is meaningless; all gestures, all gameplay, is as fully erotic as any rutting. And that's because, though they will deny it, the Sadeans continue to have a model that is BOTH semiotically overcoded AND biologisitic. Semiotically overcoded because it privileges certain behaviours and activities as key signifiers ('we're having sex now, this is REALLY it, not foreplay....' and, conversely, 'it's over now, I feel disgusted, let's do it again....' There is no 'doing it again' for a Masochist (when did it stop?) Incidentally, when sexualists say 'they had sex five times last night' what is 'sex'?) Biologistic because, for all the mystificatory vagueness about what the Act involves, it is pretty clear that is sex understood in an absolutely straightforward way. And as I said before, the fact that this moves beyond genital copulation to orgasm doesn't mean anything. As Nina rightly says, there is nothing natural, but nevertheless there are biotic defaults, and there is nothing more biologistic than poking bits of yourself into holes or rubbing bits of yourself until they are sick. Look at dogs -- they'll fuck anything, any surface, any animal, any orifice will do. Are they 'perverse'? On the contrary, in their agitational drive to relieve tension by any means necessary one can see the whole Schopenhauerian torture chamber that is organic biotics absolutely exposed for what it is. Insofar as there is nature, insofar as there is biology, it is Sadean-Bataillean. I expect John and Siobhan will deny that this is what they mean by sex, but I suspect, and I could of course be wrong, that their defintion of sex is no more positive than the Trad Christian definition of the soul, i.e. it will proceed by negation, 'it's not x, it's not y': what is it then?

It it is precisely this drive to relieve tension - inevitably producing tristresse and therefore the need to relieve tension again and therefore etc... - that is what Masochism evades in its construction of a cold rationalist nu-earth hypersensuality. Unlike the pleasure principle drive to have done with tension, Masochism is literally in-tense, in that it takes its enjoyment from modulating tension.

So I would say that Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte are much more erotic than the Bataille-feted Emily Bronte. Wuthering Heights' orgiastic excess (calm down, jeez, with this amount of hot blood you could end up like D H Lawrence, a fate worse than life) and Bad Idealized Bad Unattainable lover feeds straight into Mills and Boon and Sex and the City (this latter surely the final argument against sex retaining any subversive potential whatsoever: what could be more depressingly normalising?) And it's not only me that finds Bataille's porn novels, like Sade's, dis-spiritingly and unreadably tedious. At least Burroughs' Nova Trilogy, with its obsessive fixation on the Garden of Earthly Delights mechanical sex repetition, was about the way that sex was a boring treadmill.

Note also that Courtly Love does not involve 'worship of one partner by a robot'. It is the femachine Ladytron that is worshipped, at least in the first instance. But this is only the first phase of the game; there are infinite other cyberotic combinations possible.

Also, there is no need for glamasochism to share the disastrous focus on the Couple. In any case, the masochistic couple is already part of a cybernetic assemblage (indeed it is this extimate desiring-machine that makes possible their coupling in the first place). But what could be less perverse, more militantly normal, than the idea of 'the intimate couple against the world' that John invokes? As Zizek rightly points out, drawing upon Duras, the only positive model for the couple is not two people looking into one another's eyes, but both looking outwards to a Cause to which they have both pledged alliegance.


Posted by mark at September 29, 2004 07:20 AM | TrackBack

Has the film version of "Story of the Eye" received any press coverage in the UK? I saw the film last week at Two Boots Theater in the East Village. Would be interested in knowing your views on it, assuming it is released abroad . . . . As for your remarks on Catholicism, my guess is that the same does not apply to Protestant denominations b/c in Protestantism the "elders" are more like "peers" to one another, with each congregation taking responsibility for their world and faith, rather than looking to Rome and the Church hierarchy for guidance??? I don't know, Mark, not one of your better moments. You could probably slot your views right alongside Hegel's on this one . . . . Although I don' t believe in the whole JC thing, and see no point in trying to capture the mystery of the universe and of existence in one word, "God," such that I cannot well claim to be a Catholic, I do think that the Catholic Church is a much more sophisticated/pragmatic institution than people give it credit for, and able to accommodate a far greater range of views and human types than other religions. (You might call this lack of rigor slavish, but I'd opt for the Church's pragmatism, i.e., the way a good priest shapes his spiritual guidance to the needs of each parishioner, including mobsters who go to Confession, over the spiritual/ethical straightjacket of Protestantism any day of the week. ) And without question Catholicism is aesthetically superior to Protestantism and Judaism, if not Eastern religions, with which I am less familiar . . . . Finally, I agree that Bataille's Catholic preoccupation with "guilt" can sometimes be offputting and, in the pornographic novels, is overdone. (He's no Dostoevsky on this count.) However, I think that transgressive acts will always result in feelings of guilt, probably because of what our parents, the Church, tradition, mainstream culture, etc, have told us. But the "probably because" is mere speculation. The primordial phenomenon is the feeling of guilt or perhaps shame. And I'd suggest that the primordial phenomenon carries more weight than any series of explanations

Posted by: dominic at September 29, 2004 07:45 PM

Thanks for the response. I'm not going to go into reams of detail because we're not going to agree and, whilst I'm suspicious of the way you're presenting Courtly Love here, I don't know enough about it (particularly in relation to Zizek) to say anything substantive. Four points:

1. I stand by the master/slave comment. Given that you are reading Courtly Love via Zizek and Lacan who are both saturated in Hegel, I didn't see this as particularly contentious. My point wasn't 'he's using the master/slave dialectic - bleeurgh', but 'not all erotic relationships are based on the master/slave dialectic'. I wasn't opposing Bataille and Hegel; I was opposing a single strand of Bataille's theory of eroticism to your piece. Bataille's influence on Lacan is well known; I would not oppose Lacan to Bataille per se. I should point out that I have far more time for Hegel than I have for Zizek.

2. Bataille and guilt: I agree, but see no reason to tie transgression to guilt in the way that Bataille does.

3. I see no reason to tie perversion to a semen-drenched male libidinal economy; quite the opposite in fact and I'm certainly going to deny that what you outline is what I mean by sex, which I elide with the erotic and all sorts of acts. Whilst, as Bataille says, value is concentrated in the act, I read that as meaning ‘this particular act here and now’; not some transcendent ideal Act of Fucking. Perversion as I understand it is the generation of tension; relief is neither here nor there. I'm certain that we have very different views as to what constitutes the perverse. I will just say that any form of sexual act carried on repeatedly, as in Sade, does not remain perverse.

4. The intimate couple? Guilty as charged, although I would suggest it depends upon what the couple gets up to as to whether or not they are perverse. I have a view of the erotic which encompasses sexual activity; consequently sooner or later bodies are going to interact physically. Empirical research seems to indicate that even in situations involving more than two, true intimacy takes place on the level of the couple, often to the detriment of other participants.

Posted by: johneffay at September 29, 2004 08:47 PM

Dominic, I utterly repudiate everything you say... half my family is catholic, so it's not like I don;t know about the infantilizing horror of that evil institution... surely anyone who's read the beginning of the Portrait of the Artist by Joyce knows everything they need to know about hos it operates... it terrifies children and wants to keep them terrified children forever... hence it;s idiot superstitious idoltary and pagan rituals... obv Protestantism is not much better, but that's because it is too catholic :-). If protestants were really protestatnts they would reject all institutionalised religion and become gnostics, which is the only true xianity. As jesus said, true evil will mask itself as the righteous. The Catholic church is a satanic institution, which calls evil 'good'. If you don't think so, kindly refute my historical examples. Saying it has nicer paintings (this is not even true, protestant culture is infinitely superior to catholic authoritarian mysitficatory maya) is hardly a good defence. The nazis had cool uniforms, yeh...


It might have to be agree to disagree thing, as you say...

1. Hegel: well.. what about D/G -- they use courtly love too -- does that make them Hegelian? The stronger point is that, as I understand it from my study of literature (prior to coming across Hegel, Lacan or Zizek) courtly love is very much as Lacan presents it. I'm no expert, but from the little I know, I don;t see any distortion at all.

3. I agree that perversion is not cum-drenched climax horror, that's precisely why I object to Bataille, who is not perverse at all! The here and now thing I agree with, that's what masochism is all about :-)!

4. Yr point here just proves that sexuality is locked onto reproducer rutting and bio-stratic coupling doesn't it? :-)

Posted by: mark at September 30, 2004 12:42 AM

Hegel: well.. what about D/G -- they use courtly love too -- does that make them Hegelian?

This is something that I think about quite a lot actually. Not in reference to courtly love, but in their take-up of Lacan, and Deleuze's reading of Spinoza which shares quiet a few facets with Hegel's. Obviously, I don't think they were card carrying members of the Hegel Society, or buy into that 'it's imposible not to engage with Hegel even/especially when you are denying it' nonsense. However there's still some interesting crossovers.

Give me five years or so, and I'll get back to you on it.

Posted by: johneffay at September 30, 2004 02:18 PM

Hey there, this is a reply to an old post (July 27). Well, it's actually about something that people were discussing about Zizek's new adquisition: the intellectual model, Analia Hounie. Someone was wondering if she's a genius or something like that. Well, she is. And she is not.
She is: she's a literature student and she married Zizek. (eeek) anyway, when the old man dies he'll leave her a really important book collection.
She is not: i'm actually a literature student and the thing is i got to be sitting with her in the same class room several times. Legally blonde.

anyway, nice bloggy you've got here.

Posted by: Rufian at October 1, 2004 01:37 AM

oh gosh, i just didn't read this post. I was reading september 28...
then I went up and read september 29, I'm sorry for having left such a stupid and irrelevant comment for this entry.

Posted by: Rufian at October 1, 2004 01:42 AM

Mark -- I was not trying to "endorse" Catholicism. Certainly I am not a Catholic or even a Xian, despite being raised such. I merely took issue with the way you directed your remarks against the Catholic Church exclusively. I don't see why the Church deserves to be attacked more than Protesantism, Judaism, etcetera . . . . Not that I wish to play the "against organised religion" card, which you and your correspondent rightly satired a week or so ago, but is it not the case that all religions, as practised, are run by men armed with authority. Religion relies on authority, philosophy on reason . . . . As for my remarks on the superior aesthetics of the Catholic Church, that was my idea of humor, i.e., a joke . . . . And as for your remark that the only true Protestantism is gnosticism, I take that as a kind of joke, because Protestantism, as actually practised, is very far removed from gnosticism . . . . It is perhaps worth adding the pedestrian point that the Catholic Church likely reflects the complexion of each country where it exists. Accordingly, Irish Catholicism is intolerant, moralistic, crusading in its fervor. Italian Catholicism is infinitely expedient (see Hegel on the character of Italians). American Catholicism is mushy and bland and sentimental . . . .

Posted by: dominic at October 3, 2004 08:59 PM


Yes, many religions have done evil things - but none have done so as consistently and on such a scale as Catholicism, which is without doubt the most malevolent institution the planet has ever known. Protestantism has done some stupid shit, but it's nowhere near in the league of the RCC, with its random pagan superstitious idolotary. But what has judaism done that even remotely compares with systematic child-abuse... the wanton destruction of other cultures.... the spreading of authoritarian power virus (Catholicism of course stands for the principle of hierarchy, for the idea that some human beings are above others)...sick sex/ guilt/ confessional obsession...

I'm sorry I didn't get the 'superior aesthetics' joke, but this point IS seriously advanced nauseatingly frequently. It's nonsense of course: what have the papists got to offer against Milton, Blake, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Poe, Burroughs, Beckett, Lovecraft... all of whom come from a Puritan or Protestant background?

You're missing (I assume deliberately) the point on Gnosticism... which as I rightly said is not adequately Protestant .. My point was, and I'm simply repeating myself now, is that IF protestantism were really protestant, i.e. anti-established church institutions and arbitrary human authority, it would have to become Gnostic. It can't do that, because it is still too Catholic.

Posted by: mark at October 4, 2004 04:54 AM