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Sex and the Situs [ pdf ]. Sam Cooper. I want to talk about not talking about sex; or, more precisely, I want to talk about why someone who professes total social liberation should choose to not talk about sex. The Situationist International SI famously held that all social interaction is mediated by the spectacle, which is the culmination and controlling mechanism of consumer capitalism.
The si’s first phase, part three, –
At the very least, one might have expected some attention to sexual matters in terms of a historical analysis of the degradation of sexual experience via the spectacle, or as an exploration of the mutual imbrications of sexual and situationist revolutions. Why not extend the method of the constructed situation to the arena of uninhibited sexual activity between two Lady wants real sex Debord more consenting individuals?
Or even the solo individual: does not masturbation have its own history Lady wants real sex Debord posing a subversive threat to stultifying moral decency? In the former cases, the environment partakes of and invites libidinal cathexis and tends to be eroticized. This essay will explore this absence before turning to make some theoretical observations intended to gesture towards an approach to sex not undertaken by the SI but nonetheless commensurate with situationist thinking. So it is perhaps misleading to suggest that sex was completely absent from situationist theory, but the question of sex was broached primarily by way of allusion and intimation.
Firstly, in order to recognise how the Situationists themselves acted, behind their rhetoric and self-mystification, I shall indulge in some biographical inquiry: what type of sexual activity accompanied situationist critique? The second question—one that needs to be posed in order to establish what role sex plays in the situationist revolutionary programme—is even more speculative: what would situationist sex be? They were to practice what they preached. Our theories are nothing other than the theory of our real life and of the possibilities experienced or perceived in it.
As fragmented as the available terrains of activity may be for the moment, we make the most of them. We treat enemies as enemies, a first step we recommend to everyone as an accelerated apprenticeship in learning how to think.
It also goes without saying that we unconditionally support all forms of liberated behaviour, everything that the bourgeois and bureaucratic scum call debauchery. It is obviously out of the question that we pave the way for the revolution of everyday life with asceticism.
More problematic is their assertion that this should go without saying. I shall arrive later at some biographical s that suggest what, sexually, the Situationists were up to, but first I want to consider how the SI went no further than flirting with the question of sexual revolution.
What, precisely, had gone without saying? Despite their initial shock or fascination, the writings of Sade, for example, represent little that modern capitalism cannot accommodate.
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Pornography has become somewhat legitimized or de-sensationalized by its sheer ubiquity and profitability. This situation stands Lady wants real sex Debord contrast to the experience of founding SI member Ralph Rumney, who during the s was only allowed to read Sade in Halifax library in the presence of a representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Indeed, in its earliest stages, before when it disavowed artistic production in favour of a more theoretical focus, the SI had been relatively content with provocation by any means necessary.
Yet to address and confront spectacular society, to speak its language, representations of situationist sex needed necessarily to themselves be visual, and thus susceptible to recuperation. The SI shrank away from this antinomy with a profound distrust of the visual, as terrain entirely and irrevocably colonised by the spectacle.
The SI even decided that a work of art produced by a Situationist must be considered anti-situationist, precisely because Lady wants real sex Debord its engagement with the spectacular order. According to the SI, the pornographic image reduces a sexual desire predicated on direct experience of the body and of the environment into an alienated engagement with a world of surfaces that offer nothing more than visual titillation. With their speech-bubbled slogans, the Situationists attempted literally to inscribe such images with alternative, radical, meanings.
The juxtaposition of the newly-added political sentiment with the lascivious image, the suggestion that an image of a nude model could be anything more than an image of a nude model, as well as the implied association between life under the spectacle and prostitution, were all intended to expose the alienation embodied and propagated by the original image.
Whilst the gaze that these recontextualised images elicit is complicated, they Lady wants real sex Debord to demonstrate the degradation of sexual experience and the commodification of an almost exclusively female sexuality affected by the spectacle. Image from Internationale Situationniste 9 As such, they retreated from conventional artistic production.
Indeed, as early as Debord himself was retreating from the production of visual images, sexual or otherwise. His film Howls in Favour of Sade consists of a predominantly black screen without any sound, which was interspersed periodically with nothing more than a white screen and some fragmented voiceover.
The film contains nothing of the sexual exuberance suggested by its Lady wants real sex Debord. As a gesture of iconoclasm, Howls in Favour of Sade allows no compromise whatsoever with the image and visually offers nothing apart from its oscillation between light and dark. Such a denial of visual satisfaction, here and elsewhere, attracted the accusation of asceticism, or at least of bourgeois prudishness. Martin Jay recognises in Debord a puritanical streak at odds with the debauched and orgiastic sexual praxis that the SI claimed to herald:.
Vaneigem explained that. Whilst they renounced stoical restraint and self-denial, the Situationists were at pains to discover a visual register that could simultaneously reflect their sense of playful abandon and avoid spectacular recuperation. The problem, of course, was that situationist sex could not be allowed to look like anything, as its visual representation foredoomed it to recuperation.
If the spectacle served to replace lived experience with representation, with images, then the movement that the Situationists needed to catalyse from asceticism to sexual abandon needed to reverse this process and gesture towards a sexual practice not mediated by the spectacle.
Given this impasse, situationist practice seems tentatively to have gestured towards a non-visual sexual repertoire, to a sexual desire not determined by the gaze. Bernstein replaces graphic depictions of sex with a coy self-censorship, and exchanges overt eroticism for wink-wink suggestiveness.
Instead, sex enters the narrative only via oblique allusion, often with the tackiness and cheekiness of a pulp novel. The temporal ellipsis ified by the full-stop obscures the event itself, which is bracketed by the two sentences.
We get foreplay and post-coitus, but no sex. The narrator later recounts another night of passion:. Our gaze hardened. Then she rested her head against me, in surrender. I let it happen. I never saw a girl undress so fast.
The bawdy final sentence functions as a bathetic release of tension. Again, the event itself is eclipsed, and in the blank space between this paragraph and the next we are forced to write for ourselves the details of the night. The narrator has performed a sort Lady wants real sex Debord syntactical censorship by simply breaking off the paragraph as the characters begin to copulate, and resuming the narrative when they wake up the next morning, as though a chunk Lady wants real sex Debord the text had literally been cut out.
The narrator maintains a protective distance between the sexual act and its representation, and encourages the reader to imagine for oneself what is left uncommunicated by the narrative. Bernstein prompts the reader into projecting his or her own liberated sexual fantasies into the representative absence; however, there is no guarantee that this is what will happen. The refusal to represent sex explicitly as a means of sexual liberation creates a situation in which resistance and negation can hardly be distinguished from their antithesis, bourgeois moral indignation.
No alternative to the spectacular regime of visibility is produced other than a rejection of visual pleasure and a retreat into iconophobia. He remembers that. One of the curious things about the IS [sic] was that it was extraordinarily anti-feminist in its practice.
Women were there to type, cook supper and so on. I rather disapproved of this.
Remembering his time with the Lettrists, Jean-Michel Mension provides a portrait of youthful, carefree and indiscriminate libertinage. Oh, yes, the level of sexual activity must certainly have surpassed the national average. Naturally, we were not faithful, either on principle or by inclination; nobody is faithful by inclination—and we were not faithful on principle, either. It was quite inevitable, therefore, that after a while everybody had spent a tender moment or two with most of the others. Not with all, but everyone had two, three, four, or five liaisons in succession.
He adds that most of them were having homosexual relations. When I met Gilles three years ago, I realized quickly that he was far from the cool libertine most people took him for. People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints, such people have a corpse in their mouths.
Yet these are unsatisfying conclusions to reach, conclusions which ally the SI not with radical politics but with the Kantian sublime. An authentically radical sexual revolution would upset these romantic ideals and their quaint dedication to a love gallant and heroic. In sexual terms, we can recognise how spectacular sex was deemed inauthentic, whilst profound and authentic sex could not be represented visually. The image in general was afforded no agency in constructing a post-spectacular situ-sexuality.
But while the spectacular image could only threaten to obscure authentic sexual experience, the situationist image could only ridicule spectacular representation. Though the SI was unable to move beyond its own critique of the spectacle, the trajectory of situationist critique after Debord and Vaneigem reflects an attempt to move beyond the limits of the SI. I want to turn now to explore some instances of situationist sexual aesthetics beyond the SI.
Unattributed Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker poster