November 08, 2004

surrealism, sex, prostitution

Over at philosophical conversations there is a post on Adorno's picture of modernity as one of living in a wholly abstract and instrumental world, where each object we encounter holds meaning only as a representative of the class to which it belongs and a tool for our use. In another post on surrealism, the unconscious and desire, it is observed that:

"The surrealistic impulse is the flow of desire, a self in flux... The liberatory impulse is the unrepressed gratification of sensual desire with its promise of a guiltless and nonrepressive way of life. The sign of that life of liberated instincts is childhood. It is a very seductive image of redemption."

What would such a life be like? What would such a life be like in Adorno's kind of modernity? What do we get when we juxtapose or montage the two posts at philosophical conversations?

One suggestion is Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. This text uses desire and the unconscious to step outside the horizons of art and literature to positing desiring-machines which create history, society, culture and the economy.

Bataille offers another suggestion. It is a life with a prostitute. It is the courtesan or prostitute, who is relegated to the margins of bourgeois society, who embodies the life of "forbidden" unrestrained sexuality.

Bettina Rheims, Madonna, 1994

In the Dialectic of Enlightenment (p.70) Horkheimer and Adorno say that it is the fact of the courtesan's (Circe in the text) exclusion that is the key to the suppressed dimension of freedom.

Circe is the keeper of a forbidden hedonism. The cessation of the pain of work, an indispensable aspect of any non-repressive order, and is made possible by surrender to Circe and a night of all consuming pleasure. This rejuvenates the body and eases the layers of civilized repression.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at November 8, 2004 11:10 AM | TrackBack

I understand the notion of prostitute as giver of release and permission to escape with wild abandon.

But this all exists with the assumption that prostitutes are on the outside looking in.

But we know that many sex workers live lives that are at least partly integrated into bourgeois society, and not just in her role as a companion. I mean, what about a whore like myself, who also exists in the academic world, doing my library-immersion thing. What does this do to the "suppressed dimension of freedom?"

Posted by: Dacia Ray on November 9, 2004 06:56 AM

yeah you are right again.

The US in 2004 is different from Paris and Berlin 1930-40. Sex workers now work outside brothels and live ordinary lives than work inside a brothel for a madam.

What does that do for the "suppressed dimension of freedom" for Adorno & Co? Kinda shoots a big hole into it doesn't it.

On their account the residues of freedom are less than they once were. More and more realms of private existence have become controlled and rationalized by instrumental reason, thereby losing their play character as they become tainted by the spirit and techniques of domination.

So it becomes more and more difficult to step outside the flow of historical time and step into the sensual river of forgetting.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson on November 9, 2004 10:11 PM
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