29 August 2011
Specificity of a Gay Pornographic Subject
We never quite discussed what a "pornotopia" might be during Rob Halpern's recent Nonsite Collective discussion about pornotopias because we dove into Halpern's figure of the soldier instead. As such, I asked Rob if I could post this section of his notes, provisionally entitled "Specificity of a Gay Pornographic Subject," to point toward what a "pornotopia" might be. Here's Rob:
At its limit, gay porn becomes its own perfected formalism where a social typology of marketable masculinities is celebrated as a pure construct, empty of any essential content. Identity becomes fictionalized as mere mask, and hypostatized as a lubricant for the circulation of bodies and pleasures, before being permitted to dissolve. Robert Glück addresses this in his essay called “Caricature” in issue #4 of Soup, that is, the way porn sets up character systems and social typologies “in order to tear them down” (23). In other words, porn exteriorizes character—de-psychologized persona—as nothing but a social artifice where absolute content and the pornotopia of degraded narrative converge with absolute form, so that the commodified body mediated by legible social “type” collapses into its opposite: the body shorn of stable social identity. Identity is nothing more than a social and economic lubricant; and when its exchange value is consumed, when the link is consummated, its usefulness is exhausted, if not destroyed. And here lies the beautiful contradiction of pornographic logic: just as Eros converges with “the death drive” in the dissolution of identity, commodified relations potentiate the dissolution self-preservation’s logic, identity’s reason for being.
While parodying society’s identity structures—so many of which are anchored in labor—identity as a job—from taxi driver to chauffer, secretary to businessman, plumber to architect—porn gestures toward a logic of disintegration, and the need to break up social reality if only in order to satisfy desire. And yet, as a genre, porn remains inadequate to alter the mechanistic relations that ensure the ongoingness of pleasure’s ‘bad infinity,’ insufficient, that is, to go beyond the limit of identity’s spontanaeity. Porn thus becomes yet another “negative imprint” of utopia as it simultaneously illuminates and contains the social promise of democratization that it stimulates. While porn may underscore the contradictions of identity and its negation at the limits of lived social relations, it remains complicit in reproducing the terms of a broken reality whose norm is precisely relational dissolution. Unable to transcend its own commodity status, porn can only gesture toward the utopia it blocks.
The objective system of exchangeable individuals made legible in porn lacks a corresponding subjective element that might challenge that system, for to challenge that system could mean to undermine the distribution of pleasure. Porn’s limit is in fact the absence of the “subjective factor” which, according to Ernst Bloch, is crucial for any utopian form to make a countermove against what he refers to as “the bad existence” of society as it maintains itself within predetermined norms (Utopian Function, 108). Overcoming the spontaneous status quo hardened in those norms “is impossible to manage,” Bloch argues, “without a subjective factor, and it is equally impossible to neglect the profound dimension of this factor, its countermove against the bad existence, its mobilizations of those contradictions inherent in the bad existence in order to overcome that existence, in order to bring it to the point of collapse” (109).
Pornotopias, then, not as a critique of the mediated quality of our relations: but rather an opportunity to saturate the social space of our bodies’ appearance with as many mediations as possible. The more mediations, the more enhanced our chances become of grasping the whole.
The promise of porn: to suspend the paradigms within which the body means this or that. Porn becomes the scene where the body as means for reproduction can contest the terms of its own predication by returning to the body as a means without an end. In other words, to activate, rather than limit, the profanatory potential typically associated with porn—the promise of porn to profane being a promise betrayed by porn’s simultaneous ability to eroticize the apparatuses that capture and control—identify and predicate—us.
Porn, then, as both the regime of representation that harnesses the potential of the body’s use value, while also conditioning the possibility of unleashing it. To profane what the apparatus seeks to resanctify—sex directed toward generic ends, futures (finance)—if only in the most amplified terms: i.e., the money shot as evidence of desire: the prescription of the cum shot as evidence of desire’s fulfillment: precipitation of capital’s dreams about itself.
Porn is fundamentally about temporality: the present as lubricant to a future that reproduces the present’s fantasies about itself.
But rather than reaffirming an end-directed sexuality determined by dominant paradigms of sex and gender; pornographic writing—writing that fucks with the border between visible and invisible, being and non-being, life and death—can undo those paradigms by learning to sense—to be affected by—the radical particularity of the untagged that has been excluded in the order to consolidate a normal sexual subject.
So while consumer pornography is a conservative and often nefariuous apparatus, and what it conserves, even as it exploits it, is a certain essence of aim driven sexuality, which participates in a consolidation of the human, what I’d like to propose is a way of thinking porn that arouses the potential to fuck with that essence: to fulfill porn’s promise to profane “the human”. To elaborate the unfulfilled place of the inessential.
To stimulate the possibility of an irruption into the apparatus of sexuality by perceiving something the regime of representation can’t account for—what is unthinkable within its terms. Pornography: being the limit of what can be seen and thought. To allow for what is fundamentally incompatible within the symbolic order. (Edelman). To render the private self as an improper self: [post-] porn as placeholder for everything excluded—withdrawn into scenes of invisibility—in the interest of consolidating dominant meanings of human being: to hold a place open “where value as such is lacking” (Edelman).