Principia Seductio

This article first appeared (modified) in the Gauntlet on Feb. 13, 2014.

If you’re out to spot a feminist or radical leftist the watchword is consent. The word traces the outlines of today’s sexual/political discussion to the point that no discourse is complete without it.

Consent as a sexual/political category — as a tool of personal and social interaction and decision making — is the product of laborious and courageous efforts from feminists and radicals (and let’s be serious, mostly through the efforts of female comrades). Its effectiveness in reducing harm to the disenfranchised and shaping sexual discourse cannot be denied. But consent has reached an impasse. Consent cannot be our only tool for establishing sexual dignity and autonomy.

Consent is a mainstay of the privileged: access to requisite knowledge and the will required for consensual decision making is fundamentally in the hands of a select slice of society. While consent has enabled many disenfranchised individuals to have dignity and autonomy in their lives, full access to the empowerment of consent comes with the trump card of privilege.

As the TerrorINC collective put it, consent has become a “tool for defending consensus reality.” Many feminists and radicals want to tell us that the language of consent hasn’t made its way into the larger social discussion. But the problem is actually the complete inverse: the language of consent has been incorporated into larger discussions, and has thus been compromised by its ensuing compartmentalization — stripped of its liberatory core. Consent has been integrated in such a way that we will never be able to ‘consent’ our way out of sexist, racist and classist domination. The gentrification of consent should suggest to us that, instead of connecting us to a radical emancipatory kernel, acceptance of consent ends up replicating oppressive conditions through our complicity.

We must reintroduce and reorganize a notion of seduction into our sexual/political discourse. Seduction as a sexual/political mechanism still retains a radical emancipatory core that other concepts do not.
Admittedly, the concept carries baggage. One’s mind immediately jumps to ideas of deception and manipulation when a word like seduction comes to the table. After all seduction was, as Jean Baudrillard reminds us, the “strategy of the devil, whether in the guise of witchcraft or love,” as well as the primary preoccupation of pre-industrial aristocracy. But this fear of seduction is profoundly misplaced. Yet if anything, the unsavory, risque heritage of traditional seduction would give it an edge should it re-enter social discourse, unlike our softer friend consent.

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Illustration by Bridgitte Badowich

Seduction cannot be divorced from desire. The two are inextricably entwined. Desire is the slippery, irreducible element that introduces the ecstatic “yes!” into our sexual and political decisions. Of course consent and desire can go hand-in-hand. But the two are not serious bedfellows. Consent can be mundane. Consent can be bureaucratic. If our goal is to create a society composed of autonomous people who live with dignity and make the most of their various capabilities, then that enthusiastic “yes!” is absolutely necessary for our discourse. It then follows that if desire is a necessary component in a better world, then the most effective route is to make the most of desire’s coupling with seduction. Thus our task is, as mentioned above, to reintroduce and reorganize seduction.

Our reappropriated notion of seduction contains many of the structural features that any traditional notion of seduction contained. An act of seduction is still a risk — a one-off shot at convincing another person of the value of your proposed sexual and political sphere of desire. An act of seduction may still fail — rejected at the outset as undesirable with a stalwart “No.” But what’s crucial to our reappropriation of seduction is that it bypasses the realm of the conventional forms of decision making. Additionally, our reappropriation refuses to see seducers as manipulators and those who are seduced as victims of manipulation. Instead, our robust notion of seduction sees seducers as people who are seeking to share a particular desire that is inaccessible given present boundaries. Our notion of seduction sees those who are seduced as people who have chosen to connect to a new and rewarding sphere of desire that had previously been beyond their boundaries of possibility.

Seduction gives us access to a realm of decision making that consent cannot. One may be seduced into a particular sexual or political decision which they may have never consented to at the outset, and discover a sphere of desire previously denied to them. In one’s day-to-day life chances are that one may not feel the impulse to engage in a strange or new sexual activity or political experiment. But, critically, they can be seduced into it. And once seduced, they have, by extension, consented. If the right partner comes along in the right context, one may be seduced into trying sexual bondage, whereas your rational mind would never consent to it. And the same applies politically. Since consent limits our political discussion, we are unable to consent our way beyond the politics of domination. We must be seduced beyond.

Our friends in the TerrorINC collective give us the most parsimonious account of how seduction can work in the service of liberatory discourse:

“How does seduction work? We hypothesize that seduction unfolds via three processes: transformation, invitation, and contagion. We transform circumstances, creating space for new possibilities and thus new desires to flourish; we invite others to participate in these new situations, to experiment with different modes of action and desire; and we infect others with curiosity, an insatiable desire for freedom, and the means to experiment towards it.”

We must come to see seduction as way to consent ourselves into new spheres of experiences that have previously been off-limits but are, deep down, desirable. We must come to see seduction as a mechanism that enables our deepest dreams and passions to become livable experiments in radical sexual and political emancipation. And don’t forget, if a seduction presents you with a set of desires that are truly beyond your limits, just say “No!”

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It’s time we Occupy Calgary

This column appeared in The Gauntlet on Oct. 6, 2011.

     “Our politics caught up with who we are,” were the words of Alberta’s new premier-designate, Alison Redford, touting her election victory. While admittedly it is certainly momentous that a woman has finally come to power, and in such regards Redford’s remark is a fair point, it is incredibly embarrassing to hear politicians and media alike believe and announce that our present politics have in any way, shape or form caught up with who we are. In contrast with Redford’s remark, I find myself sympathetic to sociologist Jean Baudrillard’s astute observation that “today, power itself is an embarrassment and there is no one to assume it truly.”

Our political sphere continues to survive on the fiction that it represents we the people, and not the hegemony of capital. In our globalized world held hostage by corporate forces the need to subvert the system and bring about serious and legitimate change has necessarily gone viral. We stand at a juncture in history where through emancipatory enthusiasm we can become the terminal illness that brings an end to a system that has long propagated massive global injustices.

Courtesy Tommi Watts

The Arab Spring, Tahrir Square in Cairo, the acampada in Spain, protests in Greece, London, Iceland and Portugal, the Occupy Wall Street movement and all of the additional Occupy movements are all united in their desire to open up new social, economic and political dialogues and avenues.

In solidarity with the multitude of international movements that have occurred, are ongoing or are yet to come, I urge all Calgarians to stand up on Oct. 15 and show that we too are interested in joining this global conversation of change.

When the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia on Dec. 17, 2010 provided a catalyst for protestors to take to the streets across the Arab world, igniting the Arab Spring, the stations of politics and media were caught off guard. They struggled to make sense of what was happening, what it meant and what brought it about. Watching coverage of these events through mainstream sources reveals that they still don’t truly understand.

Fuelled by an ongoing debt crisis, various austerity measures and an enthusiasm boiling over from the Arab Spring, movements for change have seen their opportunity and have broken out across Europe. The ongoing acampada in Spain, wherein thousands of people have gathered and are continuing to camp in Madrid’s central squares, began on May 15, 2011. The ‘social crisis’ in Greece has continued since May 5, 2010. The London protests held on Mar. 26, 2011 saw upwards of half a million people take to the streets. Early this week on Oct. 2, 2011, some 100,000 people turned up to protest in Portugal. And on Sept. 17, 2011 the Occupy Wall Street initiative got underway, setting up camp in Zucotti ‘Liberty’ park in downtown Manhattan, which continues to grows larger day by day. The “Occupy” movement– inspired by Occupy Wall Street– has already spread to San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Portland (Maine), Portland (Oregon) and is encouragingly anticipated to further spread to most major cities in the western world, including Calgary on Oct. 15.

In reporting specifically on Occupy Wall Street, major American news sources, in trying to explain what is going on, have assessed the situation as Marxism, Post-Marxism, Communism, Socialism, juvenile behaviour, the beginnings of totalitarianism, lefty-nutcase protesting, a non-serious non-event doomed to disaster and on and on and on. The world of media and politics have shown themselves to be utterly confused and somewhat disgusted by the idea of regular, autonomous people camping out on public property to participate in an attempt to create an altruistic, alternative space wherein a dialogue for serious change can be conceived and incubated. In an honest diagnosis of the present political and media culture, their inability to understand seems directly connected to their total reliance on the corporate system of greed which people, such as myself, hope to bring to an end.

The culture of corporate greed has liquidated values, resources and dignity. It has tied itself inextricably into our social and political institutions and has liquidated their cores. Noam Chomsky, in strong support of the Occupy movement, recently made the following remark:

“Anyone with eyes open knows that the gangsterism of Wall Street– financial institutions generally– has caused severe damage to the people of the United States (and the world), and should also know that it has been doing so increasingly for over 30 years, as their power in the economy has radically increased, and with it their political power. That has set in motion a vicious cycle that has concentrated immense wealth, and with it political power, in a tiny sector of the population, a fraction of 1 per cent, while the rest increasingly become what is sometimes called “a precariat”– seeking to survive in a precarious existence. They also carry out these ugly activities with almost complete impunity– not only too big to fail, but also too big to jail.

The courageous and honourable protests underway in Wall Street should serve to bring this calamity to public attention, and to lead to dedicated efforts to overcome it and set the society on a more healthy course.”

The title of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s most recent major book, Living in the End Times, communicates so much about the state of current society. Our mode of political, social and economic existence has been on a steady decline– just look at our global situation– and it doesn’t take much insight to understand that its end is coming closer and closer. Žižek’s “four riders of the apocalypse” come not in the form of their traditional religious conceptualizations, but as forerunners of the “ecological crisis, the consequences of the biogenetic revolution, imbalances within the system itself . . . and the explosive growth of social divisions and exclusions” that will bring about an end-times for capital’s hegemony.

Each of the global movements that have gotten underway or are about to start face different issues, different problems, and require different solutions. While people such as myself are all connected by our desire to end the injustices of our corporate society, economy and politics, each location faces a unique challenge. Here in Canada we often play the ‘calm’ card. You hear platitudes about how easygoing and peaceful we are as a people, as if our very genetics somehow expressed a desire for non-confrontation. This, however, is a mask easily worn by Canadians, allowing each and every one of us to continually fail in participating as citizens of this nation, and as citizens of this world. We find ourselves in a malaise of mutual indifference.

Furthermore, Calgarians are especially guilty of failing to see their role in the continuing injustices occurring both in our own backyards and on a world-wide scale. The overt racism and exploitation of resources and people by economic and political agendas, the tight grip that capital keeps around our necks, is so often passed over in silence or ignorance by all of us. Calgary is, in many ways, a colonial outpost in the corporate network. So many of those in suits working in our downtown core believe themselves to be autonomous– working in the best interests of themselves, our city, our people. What they are, however, are compradors– the privileged middlemen between our vast natural resources and the corporate exploiters abroad. Our resources are extracted, roughly refined then sent elsewhere (generally south) to the benefit of the ultra-wealthy– exploited like the serfs we are. Corporatist hegemony’s social stranglehold and our tendency to apathy has deluded us, bound us, blinded us from the cruel reality in Alberta.

Courtesy Jason Park

It is the enthusiasm for emancipation from corporate hegemony that ties our movements together. Our brothers and sisters who have camped, are camped and will stay camped in the plazas of Madrid, parks across America, central squares of Arab capitals and the streets of Greece believe that now is the time to start the conversation. Revolutions of the past doomed themselves to the repetition of history through traditional modes of coercion, incomplete methods of representation and a tendency towards violence. The global injustices we currently face, propogated by the behemoth of capital that enshrouds us, can be brought to their ends through encouraging, incubating and realizing the conversation started by the global movements.

This time that we, as Calgarians, can begin our own version of this conversation that redefines our social space, bringing an end to injustices at home and abroad. As a press release from Jason Devine, an individual assisting the organization of Occupy Calgary put it:

“Occupy Calgary is a movement with no appointed leadership structure. It is an exercise in participatory democracy, where all members discuss, debate, and make decisions. Its decision-making process takes place through consensus and voting . . . While we share many of the issues raised by our sisters and brothers in the u.s. [and abroad], Calgary is a unique place with problems that are specific to it. Participants of Occupy Calgary are already developing a collective critique of our local society and our various demands for change . . . Each movement has something to say.”

It is in the wake of the end-times of corporate greed’s hegemonic control that an emancipatory enthusiasm like we are seeing across the globe can become capable of taking root, starting the essential conversations and creating the opportunities for the changes we need.

Spun: tUnE-yArDs — w h o k i l l

Piece originally published here.

On Feb. 11, tUnE-yArDs- epithet of the endlessly enigmatic and unconventionally gorgeous Merrill Garbus- dropped the single “Bizness” to the enthusiasm of ears far and wide. The eclectic and energetic song, available free on the tUnE-yArDs website, has built up exceptional anticipation regarding the upcoming album w h o k i l l, which is set for release on April 18.

For the most part, w h o k i l l meets all expectation. However, the worry exists that the unique stylization and dangerously dynamic nature so characteristic of tUnE-yArDs, which made “Bizness” so pleasing, could potentially cause the album to be difficult to fully appreciate. After all, tUnE-yArDs is frequently considered “experimental” and “lo-fi,” which are often just surface terms for “unapproachable” and “not meant for mainstream.”

That said, w h o k i l l is a great album encompassing an enormously wide musical range. It manages to swing from slower rhythmic tunes such as “Wolly Wolly Gong” and “Powa,” through funk-laden songs like “You Yes You” and “Gangsta,” to the nearly indescribable and incredible tracks “Es-So” and “Bizness.” Ultimately, in spite of the broad musical swath cut by Garbus, w h o k i l l manages to retain its identity as a whole- and resonates in all its eclectic glory.

John O’Reagan is Diamond Rings

Click here to visit the Gauntlet.

John O’Regan — who performs under the moniker Diamond Rings — is one of Canada’s hardest working artists as well as one of her most intriguing ones. Capable of pulling off solo shows that pulse with an unparalleled energy, Diamond Rings deserves attention. On Monday afternoon, I grokked with Diamond Rings — touching on his artistic persona, being misunderstood and the difficulties an artist faces — in advance of his Mar. 23 show at Republik.

Gauntlet: So you, John, are Diamond Rings. What is this persona?

Diamond Rings: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly. I have a background in fine arts and listen to lots of diverse music. Diamond Rings is where everything meets. This is what it looks like when they all get spat out at once.

G: In other interviews it’s often said, or assumed, that the Diamond Rings persona just mentioned is a sort of mask, probably on account of all the makeup and glam; a sort-of character that you put on before going on stage.

DR: That’s completely unrealistic. Anyone performing anything is, ultimately, going to show you a part of themselves you usually don’t see. But, no, it’s not fake or anything. That goes for anyone getting up on a stage. It’s not a put-on; it’s still part of me.

G: So Diamond Rings is perhaps an alternative part of you?

DR: Totally.

G: Whenever I read about you, apart from the mask thing we just discussed, it’s often suggested that a lot of what you’re doing has a sexual side to it. How do you feel about that?

DR: I don’t really think there’s anything explicitly sexual about what I do. I’m not flashing my dick up on stage or anything. I’m not doing anything that is that provocative. It’s been interesting for me to watch the way that other people reinterpret what I’m doing. I’m consistently shocked and amazed that often what I’m doing is thrust into a world of people looking at [it] as being this explicitly sexual thing. It’s not about that to me. It’s about personal freedom and liberation. For myself, if other people want to take what I’m doing and run with it, great, but it’s not about them. There are people contributing far more to whatever problems like what you’re talking about than what I’m doing. We’re not puritans anymore. I’m getting up on stage in tights and dancing around. It’s no different from what any female popstar would be doing. In that sense it’s a lot more covered up than a lot of those people too.

G: So that sexual reaction to your work is an inane interpretation?

DR: I don’t know. I mean, people can interpret what I do whatever way they want. That’s the beauty of music and art. Regardless of what your intentions are as an artist there is bound to be someone who interprets you in a way that you could never have anticipated. Ultimately it’s not my place to care what those people think, either. Whatever. Just because some dude doesn’t get what I’m doing, it’s not like I’m gonna stop doing it.

G: Pitchfork gave your album, Special Affections, an 8.2. How has this affected you?

DR: I don’t know. On some level it goes to validate the hard work I’ve put in to recording an album. It didn’t buy me a house or a Mercedes-Benz. There’s the misperception that as soon as Pitchfork talks about you, all of a sudden as an artist you’ve made it. This isn’t true. It definitely helps, but it’s not like I can just start playing shitty shows and mailing it in performance-wise. I still have to work hard. If anything, it’s given me the incentive to work even harder to complete another album that is just as good or better.

G: What are your intentions as Diamond Rings?

DR: To write great music. To perform. Put on entertaining shows. Be an award-class artist.

G: Are you achieving that?

DR: No. Not at all. If I was I’d be taking a vacation. It will take years to achieve that. I’m doing as well as I can given my circumstances, but I’m no where near where I want to be as a performer, a musician.

G: Lots of hard work for the future then.

DR: I just know that to do this at a high level requires a lot of work and I’m aware of that. Part of that awareness stems from the fact that I haven’t had a lot handed to me in that way. I value that. If I had grown up in a major centre I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now. I don’t take it for granted that I live in Toronto and there’s interesting shit to do every night. I started playing music in Guelph, Ontario, which is smaller than Calgary, but it has its own rich musical tradition. I know and understand those pressures, like, “Oh you’re moving to the big city, isn’t that nice.” Who are other people to know what’s best for anyone but themselves?

G: I can respect that. I myself am from rural Alberta: Calgary is the “big city” that I’ve moved to… .

DR: Totally. Toronto is small potatoes when you start playing shows in New York or London. There’s always that “better” place. It’s just about finding that place you’re comfortable and making the best of it.

Transgenders and transsexuals have rights too

The plethora of possibilities that comprise gender identity and gender expression — and the recognition and acceptance of sensitivities of such a spectrum — is critical in shaping Canada as a progressive, positive and nurturing nation. In accord with such notions, it is intuitive that Canadians with alternative or non-traditional gender expressions or identities — those different from “normal” views, such as transgenders or transsexuals — should certainly be recognized and protected all the same. Bill C-389 is an attempt to do just that. Introduced to the Canadian House of Commons by Burnaby NDP MP Bill Siksay, Bill C-389 is an attempt to extend an arm of support and compassion to transgender and transsexual peoples by legally recognizing their expression of gender and gender identity. Although the bill is not expected to pass the Senate, a narrow vote of 143 to 135 got this private member’s bill through the House, scoring a surprising and significant moral victory for advocates of transgender and transsexual rights.

Opposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Bill C-389 would effectively amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to protect the rights of transgender/transsexual citizens, prohibiting discrimination based on “gender identity” or “gender expression.” This would be a much-needed progressive step forward for our country. As one would expect, the opposition to the bill has been fierce. Detractors, which include large portions of the Conservative Party (notable exceptions being House Leader John Baird, Foreign Minister Lawrence Canon and Heritage Minister James Moore), the Conservative Senate, several Liberal Party members and the Institute for Canadian Values headed by the windbag Charles McVety, fail to see the bill’s necessity. There is no denying the difficulty associated with being a member of the transgender/transsexual community and detractors to the bill often do admit the point. The problem is that their partisan games and unyielding dogmatism have blinded them from seeing the needed priority towards human rights that the bill addresses.

As Albertatrans.org remarked regarding the necessity for the bill, “Without anti-discrimination protections, transgender and transsexual Canadians face economic marginalization, lack of access to services, and even violence simply for being trans.”

The fears held by critics of Bill C-389 coalesce in the notion that the bill somehow enables or legally protects child-predators, voyeurism, or any other form of dangerous perversion. Charles McVety of the Institute for Canadian Values, the loudest and most inane of voices speaking out against the bill, stated that “Bill C-389 is a danger to our children … any male at any time will be permitted in girls bathrooms … if I then try to stop such a man from showering with my little girl at the local pool I could be in breach of the Criminal Code of Canada and could face imprisonment.” Following a similar line, other critics have dubbed Bill C-389 the “bathroom bill.” These criticisms manage only to echo the panicked rhetoric once used against gays and lesbians and show the misguided spirit of the critics. In reality, starting in the ’50s and ’60s, transsexuals began using washrooms according to their gender identity without trouble. Also, the bill does not legalize or make acceptable any unethical behavior in washrooms. Predatory action remains predatory action. Furthermore, the assumption that the transgender and transsexual community is more predisposed to perverse predatory behavior reflects the insensitive and uninformed sorts of biases, as held by its critics, which necessitates the bill.

Perhaps the deepest problem is not the political game being played around an issue of human rights, which is troublesome enough, but rather that the bill’s critics have failed to recognize the spectrum that is gender, seeing only the antiquated and diluted male-female gender polarization.

As the bill approaches the Upper House for voting, despite forecasts of doom regarding its passing and the relentless spewing of homophobic fear-mongering-based rhetoric, we can be content that at minimum Bill C-389 passed the House of Commons. That transgenders and transsexuals have won one moral battle signifies that Canada as a whole is perhaps almost prepared to take the superior step forward in gender rights.
(Source: thegauntlet.ca)

 

Spun: Braids – Native Speaker

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Do you know where we go when we die? I am not so sure about you, but I know where I am going. As my lungs enact their last efforts, my heart performs its final pump, and my digits and limbs stretch out in one definitive grasp, my brain will throb and vibrate to the frequency and beat of the song “Lammicken” from Braid’s latest album, Native Speaker. My consciousness will be eternally entwined with the thicket of oscillations that is the sound of Braids. Heaven is not beyond us; it is here, around us, in one’s ears, encapsulated in a rhythm and frequency most divine.

But how, you may ask, could mere mortals create such a divine musical concoction? The four Calgarians who comprise Braids, now transplanted to Montreal, have somehow discovered the musical key to man’s spiritual mind. Opening with track “Lemonade,” Native Speaker spirals upwards and outwards. On “Plath Heart” and “Same Mum,” the album travels through an array of emotions. “Glass Deers” sees the band float through different auditory layers and they tackle the atmospheric in the aforementioned “Lammicken,” all-in-all making saintly use of all musical space available.

If eschatology concerns you, then I suggest you allow your consciousness to pulse and flow along with Braids’ Native Speaker for a while. After-all, heaven awaits.

Spun: David Vertesi – Cardiography

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I am of the opinion that David Vertesi, the young and handsome fellow that he is, gets laid on a most frequent basis (or at least should). I base my delicate yet serious opinion upon four premises: 

1) His debut solo album, Cardiography is a shipshape sonically pleasing undertaking that could possibly be thought of as a modernized take on the dusty art of crooning.

2) He’s best known for his musical work as the bass player of the Vancouver indie-pop group Hey Ocean!, who have been plenty capable of inspiring their fair share of heart-grinding.

3) Opening with the track “Mountainside,” one gets a personal welcoming into the emotional web of Vertesi. Immediately following are some of the albums best songs: “Gentlemen Say” and “All Night, All Night, All Night,” both of which, to borrow phrases from Henry Miller, “set the shores a little wider” and “iron out the wrinkles.”

4) Most importantly, his voice — simultaneously smokey and silky — resonates with a sophistication and density that is difficult to match.