In reality, pornography is but the paradoxical limit of the sexual. A "realistic" exacerbation, a maniacal obsession with the real: this is the obscene, in the etymological and every o^her sense. But is not the sexual itself already a forced materialization? Is not the advent of sexuality already part of occidental realistics, the compulsion proper to our culture to instantiate and instrumentalize everything?
It is absurd, when speaking of other cultures, to dissociate religion, economics, politics, and the legal system (i.e., the social and other classificatory phantasmagorias) for the reason that such a dissociation has not occurred, these concepts being like so many diseases with which we infect these cultures in order to better "understand" them. In the same manner, it is absurd to autonomize the sexual as a separate instance, an irreducible given, as something to which other instances or givens can be reduced. We need a critique of sexual Reason, or rather, a geneology of sexual Reason similar to Nietzche's geneology of good and evil, for it is our new morality. One might say of sexuality, as of death: "it is a new wrinkle to which consciousness became accustomed not so long ago."
We remain perplexed and vaguely compassionate when confronted with cultures for which the sexual act is not a finality in itself, for which sexuality does not have the mortal seriousness of an energy to be liberated, of an ejaculation to be forced, a production at any price, or hygienic auditing of the body. Cultures that preserve lengthy procedures of enticement and sensuality, long series of gifts and counter-gifts, with sex being but one service amongst others, and the act of love one possible end-term to a prescribed, ritualistic interchange. Such proceedings no longer make sense to us; sex has become, strictly speaking, the actualization of desire in pleasure - all else is literature. An extraordinary crystalization around the orgasmic, and more generally, the energizing function.
Ours is a culture of premature ejaculation. Increasingly all seduction, all manner of enticement - which is always a highly ritualized process - is effaced behind a naturalized sexual imperative, behind the immediate and imperative; realization of desire. Our center of gravity has been displaced towards a libidinal economy concerned with only the naturalization of desire, a desire dedicated to drives, or to a machine-like functioning, but above all, to the imaginary of repression arid liberation.
Henceforth one no longer says: "You have a soul and it must be saved," but: 1
"You have a sex, and you must put it to good use." !
"You have an unconscious, and you must' let the id speak."
"You have a body, and you must derive pleasure from it."
"You have a libido, and you must expend it," etc.
This pressure towards liquidity, flux and the accelerated articulation of the sexual, psychic and physical body is an exact replica of that which regulates exchange value: capital must circulate, there must no longer be any fixed point, investments must be ceaselessly renewed, value must radiate without respite - this is the form of value's present realization, and sexuality, the sexual model, is simply its mode of appearance at the level of the body.
As a model sex takes the form of an individual enterprise based on natural energy: to each his desire and may the best man prevail (in matters of pleasure). It is the selfsame form as capital, and this is why sexuality, desire and pleasure are subaltern values. When they first appeared, not so long ago, as a system of reference on the horizon of western culture, it was as fallen, residual values - the ideal of inferior classes, the bourgeoisie, then the petty-bourgeoisie - relative to the aristocratic values of birth and blood, valour and seduction, or the collective values of religion and sacrifice.
Moreover, the body - this selfsame body to which we ceaselessly refer - has no other reality than that implied by the sexual and productive model. It is capital that, in a single movement, gives rise to both the energizing body of labour power, and the body of our dreams, a sanctuary of desires and drives, of psychic energy and the unconscious, the impulsive body that haunts the primary processes - the body itself having become a primary process, and thereby an anti-body, an ultimate revolutionary referent. The two bodies are simultaneously engendered in repression, and their apparent antagonism is but a consequence of their reduplication. When one uncovers in the body's secret places an "unbound" libidinal energy opposed to the "bound" energy of the productive body, when one uncovers in desire the truth of the body's phantasms and drives, one is still only disintering the psychic metaphor of capital.
Here is your desire, your unconscious: a psychic metaphor of capital in the rubbish heap of political economy. And the sexual jurisdiction is but a fantastic extension of the commonplace ideal of private property, where everyone is assigned a certain amount of capital to manage: a psychic capital, a libidinal, sexual or unconscious capital, for which each person will have to answer individually, under the sign of his or her own liberation.
A fantastic reduction of seduction. This sexuality transformed by the revolution of desire, this mode of bodily production and circulation has acquired its present character, has come to be spoken of in terms of "sexual relations," only by forgetting all forms of seduction - just as one can speak of the social in terms of "relations" or "social relations," only after it has lost all symbolic substance.
Wherever sex has been erected into a function, an autono-
mous instance, it has liquidated seduction. Sex today generally occurs only in the place, and in place of a missing seduction, or as the residue and staging of a failed seduction. It is then the absent form, of seduction that is hallucinated sexually -in the form of desire. The modern theory of desire draws its force from seduction's liquidation. j
Henceforth, in place of a seductive form, there' is a productive form, an "economy" of sex: the retrospective of a drive, the hallucination of a stock of sexual energy, of an unconscious in which the repression of desire and its clearance are inscribed. All this (and the psychic in general) results from the autonomi-zation of sex - as nature and the economy were once the precipitate of the autonomization of production. Nature and desire, both of them idealized, succeed each other in the progressive designs for liberation, yesterday the liberation of the productive forces, today that of the body and sex. ;
One can speak of the birth of the sexual and of sex speech
- just as one speaks of the birth of the clinic andjclinical gaze
- where once there was nothing, if not uncontrolled, unstable, insensate, or else highly ritualized forms. Where too, it follows, there was no repression, this thematic with which we have burdened all previous societies even more than our own. We condemn them as primitive from a technological perspective, but also from a. sexual or psychic perspective, for they conceived of neither the sexual nor the unconscious. Fortunately, psychoanalysis has come along to lift the burden and reveal what was hidden. The incredible racism of the truth, the evangelical racism of the Word and its accession. '
Where the sexual does not appear of and for itself, we act as though it were repressed; it is our way of saving it. And yet to speak of repressed or sublimated sexuality in primitive, feudal or other societies, or simply to speak of "sexuality" and the unconscious in such cases, is a sign of profound stupidity. It is not even certain that such talk holds the best key to unlocking our society. On this basis, that is, by calling into question the very hypothesis of sexuality, by questioning sex and desire as autonomous instances, it is possible to agree with Foucault and say (though not for the same reasons) that in our culture too there is no and never has been any repression either.
Sexuality as a discourse is, like political economy (and every other discursive system), only a montage or simulacrum which has always been traversed, thwarted and exceeded by actual practice. The coherence and transparency of homo sexualis has no more existence than the coherence and transparency of homo economicus.
It is a long process that simultaneously establishes the psychic and the sexual, that establishes the "other scene," that of the phantasy and the unconscious, at the same time as the energy produced therein - a psychic energy that is merely a direct consequence of the staged hallucination of repression, an energy hallucinated as sexual substance, which is then metaphorized and metonymized according to the various instances (topical, economic, etc.), and according to all the modalities of secondary and tertiary repression. Psychoanalysis, this most admirable edifice, the most beautiful hallucination of the back-world, as Nietzsche would say. The extraordinary effectiveness of this model for the simulation of scenes and energies - an extraordinary theoretical psychodrama, this staging of the psyche, this scenario of sex as a separate instance and insurmountable reality (akin to the hypostatization of production). What does it matter if the economic, the biological or the psychic bear the costs of this staging - of what concern is the "scene" or "the other scene": it is the entire scenario of sexuality (and psychoanalysis) as a model of simulation that should be questioned.
It is true that in our culture the sexual has triumphed over seduction, and annexed it as a subaltern form. Our instrumental vision has inverted everything. For in the symbolic order seduction is primary, and sex appears only as an addendum. Sex in this latter order is like the recovery in an analytic cure, or a birth in a story of Levi-Strauss; it comes as an extra, without a relation of cause to effect. This is the secret of "symbolic ef-ficacity": the world's workings are the result of a mental seduction . Thus the butcher Tchouang-Tseu whose understanding enabled him to describe the cow's interstitial structure without ever having used the blade of a knife: a sort of symbolic reso lution that, as an addendum, has a practical result.
Seduction too works on the mode of symbolic! articulation, of a duel* affinity with the structure of the other - sex may result, as an addendum, but not necessarily. More generally, seduction is a challenge to the very existence of the| sexual order. And if our "liberation" seems to have reversed the terms and successfully challenged the order of seduction, it is by no means certain that its victory is not hollow. The question of the ultimate superiority of the ritual logics of challenge and seduction over the economic logics of sex and production still remains unresolved. \
For revolutions and liberations are fragile, while seduction is inescapable. It is seduction that lies in wait for them - seduced as they are, despite everything, by the immense Setbacks that turn them from their truth - and again it is seduction that awaits them even in their triumph. The sexual discourse itself is continually threatened with saying something other; than what it says. j
In an American film a guy pursues a street-walker, prudently, according to form. The woman responds, aggressively: "What do you_want? Do you want to jump me? Then, ¡change your approach! Say, I want to jump you!" and the guy,¡troubled, replies: "yes, I want to jump you." "Then go fuck yourself!" And later, when he is driving her in his car: "I'll make coffee, and then you can jump me." In fact, this cynical conversation, which appears objective, functional, anatomical, and without nuance, is only a game. Play, challenge, and provocation are just beneath the surface. Its very brutality is rich with the inflections of love and complicity. It is a new manner of seduction.
Or this conversation taken from The Schizophrenics' Ball by Philip Dick: ;
"Take me to your room and fuck me." | "There is something indefinable in your vocabulary, something left to be desired." i One can understand this as: Your proposition is unacceptable, it lacks the poetry of desire, it is too direct. But in a sense the text says the exact opposite: that the proposition has some
* Trans, note: In French, the word duel means both duel/dual. Baudrillard is clearly playing on the double meaning of the word - agonal relations and reciprocal challenges. I translate the term 'duel', even in its adjectival form.
thing "indefinable" about it, which thereby opens the path to desire. A direct sexual invitation is too direct to be true, and immediately refers to something else.
The first version deplores the obscenity of the conversation. The second is more subtle; it is capable of disclosing a twist to obscenity - obscenity as an enticement, and thus as an "indefinable" allusion to desire. An obscenity too brutal to be true, and too impolite to be dishonest - obscenity as a challenge and therefore, again, as seduction.
In the last instance, a purely sexual statement, a pure demand for sex, is impossible. One cannot be free of seduction, and the discourse of anti-seduction is but its last metamorphosis.
It is not just that a pure discourse of sexual demand is absurd given the complexity of affective relations; it quite simply does not exist. To believe in sex's reality and in the possibility of speaking sex without mediation is a delusion - the delusion of every discourse that believes in transparency; it is also that of functional, scientific, and all other discourses with claims to the truth. Fortunately, the latter is continually undermined, dissipated, destroyed, or rather, circumvented, diverted, and seduced. Surreptitiously they are turned against themselves; surreptitiously they dissolve into a different game, a different set of stakes.
To be sure, neither pornography nor sexual transactions exercise any seduction. Like nudity, and like the truth, they are abject. They are the body's disenchanted form, just as sex is the suppressed and disenchanted form of seduction, just as use value is the disenchanted form of the object, and just as, more generally, the real is the suppressed and disenchanted form of the world.
Nudity will never abolish seduction, for it immediately becomes something else, the hysterical enticements of a different game, one that goes beyond it. There is no degree zero, no objective reference, no point of neutrality, but always and again, stakes. Today all our signs appear to be converging - like the body in nudity and meaning in truth - towards some conclusive objectivity, an entropic and metastable form of the neutral. (What else is the ideal-typical, vacationing nude body, given over to the sun, itself hygenic and neutralized, with its luciferi-
an parody of burning). But is there ever a cessation of signs at some zero point of the real or the neutral? Isn't there always a reversion of the neutral itself into a new spiral of stakes, seduction and death.
What seduction used to lie concealed in sex? What new seduction, what new challenge lies concealed in the abolition of what, within sex, was once at stake? (The same question on another plane: What challenge, what source of fascination, lies concealed in the masses, in the abolition of what was once at stake with the social?)
All descriptions of disenchanted systems, all hypotheses about the disenchantment of systems - the flood of simulation and dissuasion, the abolition of symbolic processes, the death of referentials - are perhaps false. The neutral is never neutral; it becomes an object of fascination. But does it then become an object of seduction?
Agonistic logics, logics of ritual and seduction, are stronger than sex. Like power, sex never has the last word. In The Empire of The Senses, a film that from end to end is occupied with the sex act, the latter, by its very persistence, comes to be possessed by the logic of another order. The film is unintelligible in terms of sex, for sexual pleasure, by itself, leads to everything but death. But the madness that seizes hold of the couple (a madness only for us, in reality it is a rigourous logic) pushes them to extremes, where meaning no longer has sense and the exercise of the senses is not in the least sensual. Nor is it intelligible in terms of mysticism or metaphysics. Its logic is one of challenge, impelled by the two partners outbidding each other. Or more precisely, the key event is the passage from a logic of pleasure at the beginning, where the man leads the game, to a logic of challenge and death, that occurs under the impetus of the woman - who thereby becomes the game's mistress, even if at first she was only a sexual object. It is the feminine principle that brings about the reversal of sex/value into an agonistic logic of seduction.
There is here no perversion or morbid drive, no interpreta tion drawn from our psycho-sexual frontiers, no "affinity" of Eros for Thanatos nor any ambivalence of desire. It is not a matter of sex, nor of the unconscious. The sexual act is viewed as a ritual act, ceremonial or warlike, for which (as.in ancient tragedies on the theme of incest) death is the mandatory denouement, the emblematic form of the challenge's fulfillment.
Thus the obscene can seduce, as can sex and pleasure. Even the most anti-seductive figures can become figures of seduction. (It has been said of the feminist discourse that, beyond its total absence of seduction, there lies a certain homosexual allure). These figures need only move beyond their truth into a reversible configuration, a configuration that is also that of their death. The same holds true for that figure of anti-seduction par excellence, power.
Power seduces. But not in the vulgar sense of the masses' desire for complicity (a tautology that ultimately seeks to ground seduction in the desire of others). No, power seduces by virtue of the reversibility that haunts it, and on which a minor cycle is instituted. No more dominant and dominated, no more, victims and executioners (but "exploiters" and "exploited," they certainly exist, though quite separately, for there is no reversibility in production - but then nothing essential happens at this level). No more separate positions: power is realized according to a duel relation, whereby it throws a challenge to society, and its existence is challenged in return. If power cannot be "exchanged" in accord with this minor cycle of seduction, challenge and ruse, then it quite simply disappears.
At bottom, power does not exist. The unilateral character of of the relation of forces on which the "structure" and "reality" of power and its perpetual movement are supposedly instituted, does not exist. This is the dream of power imposed by reason, not its reality. Everything seeks its own death, including power. Or rather, everything demands to be exchanged, reversed, and abolished within a cycle (this is why neither repression nor the unconscious exist, for reversibility is always already there). This alone is profoundly seductive. Power seduces only when it becomes a challenge to itself; otherwise it is just an exercise, and satisfies only the hegemonic logic of reason.
Seduction is stronger than power because it is reversible and mortal, while power, like value, seeks to be irreversible, cumulative and immortal. Power partakes of all the illusions of production, and of the real; it wants to be real, and so tends to become its own imaginary, its own superstition (with the help of theories that analyze it, be they to contest it). Seduction, on the other hand, is not of the order of the real - and is never of the order of force, nor relations of force. But precisely for this reason, it enmeshes all power's real actions, as well as the entire reality of production, in this unremitting reversibility and disaccumulation - without which there would be neither power nor accumulation.
It is the emptiness behind, or at the very heart of power and production; it is this emptiness that today gives them their last glimmer of reality. Without that which reverses, annuls, and seduces them, they would never have had the authority of reality.
The real, moreover, has never interested anyone. It is a place of disenchantment, a simulacrum of accumulation against death. And there is nothing more tiresome. What sometimes renders the real fascinating - and the truth as well - is the imaginary catastrophe which lies behind it . Do you think that power, sex, economics - all these real, really big things - would have held up for a single moment unless sustained by fascination, a fascination that comes precisely from the mirror image in which they are reflected, from their continuous reversion, the palpable pleasure borne of their imminent catastrophe?
The real, particularly in the present, is nothing more than the stockpiling of dead matter, dead bodies and dead language - a residual sedimentation. Still we feel more secure when the stock of reality is assessed (the ecological lament speaks of material energies, but it conceals that what is disappearing is the real's energy, the real's reality, the possibility of its management, whether capitalist or revolutionary). If the horizon of production is beginning to vanish, that of speech, sex or desire can still take up the slack. To liberate, to give pleasure, to give a speech, to give speech to others: this is real, it is something substantial, with a prospect of stocks. And, therefore, it is power.
Unfortunately not. That is to say, not for long. This "reality" is slowly dissipating. One wants sex, like power, to become an irreversible instance, and desire an irreversible energy (a stock of energy — desire, need it be said, is never far from capital). For we grant meaning only to what is irreversible: accumulation, progress, growth, production. Value, energy and desire imply irreversible processes - that is the very meaning of their liberation. (Inject the smallest dose of reversibility into our economic, political, sexual or institutional mechanisms, and everything collapses). This is what today assures sexuality of its mythical authority over hearts and bodies. But it is also what lies behind the fragility of sex, and of the entire edifice of production.
Seduction is stronger than production. It is stronger than sexuality, with which it must never be confused. It is not something internal to sexuality, though this is what it is generally reduced to. It is a circular, reversible process of challenges, oneupmanship and death. It is, on the contrary, sex that is the debased form, circumscribed as it is by the terms of energy and desire.
Seduction's entanglement with production and power, the irruption of a minimal reversibility within every irreversible process, such that the latter are secretly undermined, while simultaneously ensured of that minimal continuum of pleasure without which they would be nothing - this is what must be analyzed. At the same time knowing that production constantly seeks to eliminate seduction in order to establish itself on an economy of relations of force alone; and that sex, the production of sex, seeks to eliminate seduction in order to establish itself on an economy of relations of desire alone.
This is why one must completely turn round what Foucault has to say in The History of Sexuality /, while still accepting its central hypothesis. Foucault sees only the production of sex as discourse. He is fascinated by the irreversible deployment and interstitial saturation of a field of speech, which is at the same time the institution of a field of power, culminating in a field of knowledge that reflects (or invents) it. But from whence does power derive its somnambulistic functionality, this irresistible vocation to saturate space? If neither sociality nor sexuality exist unless reclaimed and staged by power, perhaps power too does not exist unless reclaimed and staged by knowledge (theory). In which case, the entire ensemble should be placed in simulation, and this too perfect mirror inverted, even if the "truth effects" it produces are marvelously decipherable.
Furthermore, the equation of power with knowledge, this convergence of mechanisms over a field of rule they have seemingly swept clean, this conjunction described by Foucault as complete and operational, is perhaps only the concurrence of two dead stars whose last glimmerings still illuminate each other, though they have lost their own radiance? In their original, authentic phase, knowledge and power were opposed to each other, sometimes violently (as were, moreover, sex and power). But if today they are merging, is this not due to the progressive extenuation of their reality principle, of their distinctive characteristics, their specific energies? Their conjunction then would herald not a reinforced positivity, but a twin ^differentiation, at the end of which only their phantoms would remain, mingling amongst themselves, left to haunt us.
In the last instance, behind the apparent stasis of knowledge and power which appears to arise from all sides, there would lie only the metastasis of power, the cancerous proliferation of a disturbed, disorganized structure. If power today is general, and can be detected at all levels ("molecular" power), if it has become cancerous, with its cells proliferating uncontrollably, without regard to the good old "genetic code" of politics, this is because it is itself afflicted and in a state of advanced decomposition. Or perhaps it is afflicted with hyperreality and in an acute crisis of simulation (the cancerous proliferation of only the signs of power) and, accordingly, has reached a state of general diffusion and saturation. Its somnambulistic opera-tionality.
One must therefore always wager on simulation and take the signs from behind - signs that, when taken at face value and in good faith, always lead to the reality and evidence of power. Just as they lead to the reality and evidence of sex and production. It is this positivism that must not be taken at face value; and it is to this reversion of power in simulation one must devote one's efforts. Power will never do it by itself; and Foucault's text should be criticized for failing to do it and, therefore, for reviving the illusion of power.
The whole, obsessed as it is with maximizing power and sex, must be questioned as to its emptiness. Given its obsession with power as continuous expansion and investment, one must ask it the question of the reversion of the space of power, and of the reversion of the space of sex and its speech. Given its fascination with production, one must ask it the question of seduction.
Continue reading here: The Sacred Horizon Of Appearances
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