A comment on sexuality

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Fri Jul 25 10:12:58 MDT 2003

> Hi, Jurriaan, again!
> This will be an interesting Friday, or so it seems.
> Your very answer, I believe, supports my own comment. I was thinking in
> terms of commodity fetishism, where "capitalist culture emphasizes
> animality" (please remember that Marx regarded capitalist formations as
> most "natural" that had ever existed, and Engels was the first one to see
> that the "survival of the ablest" thesis, predicated on Darwin, was in
> the naturalisation of the general laws of social movement of capitalist
> societies. In this sense, emphasizing "animality" and pressing on people
> be "social" is the concrete expression of the unsolvable (under
> contradiction between use value and value that pervades the whole fabric
> society and you depict so well in your following paragraphs.
> I wasn´t addressing prostitution, however, but only a general issue which,
> unexpectedly, you transformed into a most interesting debate.
> Best,
> N.

I don't disagree with you about social darwinism, but I have no evidence
that Marx opined that "capitalist formations were the
most "natural" that had ever existed". I think rather that he meant that
market economy, industrialisation and the development of science stripped
away the mystiques, occult magic, superstition and religious mystification
that had surrounded human conduct and human relations in previous modes of
production. But this insight should be relativised on two counts: firstly,
people in precapitalist civilisations were by no means stupid or ignorant,
sexually or otherwise, and had expressed very sophisticated conceptions of
human nature - in some ways more sophisticated than those on offer today, so
that we continue to refer to those "old ideas" as reflected in classic
literature and art; secondly, capitalism introduces numerous new
mystifications, because it is unable to reconcile sociality and
individuality in a fully harmonious way, free from contradictions, and
objectifies human characteristics in such as way, that it becomes
exceedingly difficult to think objectively or constructively about them.
Therefore, the reification of human nature and physical nature does not end
with capitalist civilisation at all, it just changes its forms.

The problem with Foucault is not that he criticises the bourgeois
preoccupation with the control and regulation of pleasure (pleasure must
always be conditional on hard work and the extraction of surplus-value), it
is rather that he does not attempt to arrive at a more profound critique of
the political economy of pleasure. He explores the subjectivities of
pleasure and its constraints, but fails to systematically address the
objective circumstances that are the foundation of those subjectivities.
This is not unlike Feuerbach's critique of religion - it explains precisely
why Foucault was so fashionable; he appeals to libertarian and humanitarian
instincts within the sexual area, in an erudite way, without however causing
the slightest affront to the bourgeois classes. The "dirty" social question
of prostitution, however, contains much more radical potential, because it
goes to the core of the whole issue, and highlights its class dimensions in
no uncertain terms, free from prettifications and romantic illusions, sexual
intimacy and the heights of ecstasy reduced to an purely economic, class
issue, commercial huckstering. This was the radical contribution of the punk
rock movement, and indeed the etymological root meaning of a "punk" is a
prostitute. The term "pornography" is likewise derived from the Greek word
"pornos" meaning harlot. Personally, when neoliberals and neoconservatives
carp about their free market panaceas, I personally prefer to start talking
immediately and directly about prostitution and pimping, since this is what
they are in fact endorsing, universal whoredom, despite their drivel about
"protecting women" and the "morality of the market". It shows the grotesque
nature of bourgeois conceptions about human nature in their sharpest
expression, as Marx anticipates in his 1844 Manuscripts.

The search for pleasure and the avoidance of pain, form the basis of the
human emotional structure, however much this may be confused, perverted or
deformed. The critique of bourgeois class society as unpleasant and painful
is therefore a powerful critique.



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