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.

Image

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!”

Advertisements

Consider Virginity

This story appeared, modified, in the Gauntlet on February 6th, 2014. 

Consider, for the following moment, what it means to lose one’s virginity. For some, considering virginity means recalling a pleasant moment, wherein a romantic interest blossomed out of an idyllic and simple time into the beginnings of one’s sexual life. For others, the boundary of virginity has not yet been crossed, and anxiety and ambivalence can be the common sexual state of mind.

Virginity can be seen as a special thing to be maintained. Perhaps sex is entirely unappealing despite the pressures to buy into the sexual game. Yet for many others virginity conjures up memories of worry and fear, perhaps physical, emotional or mental pain and anguish.

Whether one’s earliest sexual experiences were negative, positive, non-existent or somewhere else in the sphere, most of us are made profoundly uncomfortable by openly discussing virginity.

Image

Photo by Michael Grondin

I must admit that I too initially withdrew from this topic, knowing that opening such a door would put me and my sexuality in a vulnerable position. After all, a topic such as virginity touches upon very personal and often sensitive issues. For this reason, I insist upon taking a thorough and meaningful look into what we mean by virginity and its comings and goings.

Considering virginity provides us with an intimate gateway into the intricacies of sexuality. And now, more than ever, do we require such a gateway. Never before have people been so bombarded by images, ideas and ideals of sexuality. Never before have people faced such disorienting and possibly damaging sexual forces through the Internet or commercialism. Never before has sexuality been so thoroughly tied to politics, economics and our collective experience.

Considering virginity and how we relate to it forces us to be vulnerable. But, if we truly wish to grow, and see our passions and desires flow free from the restraints of the media’s shackles — overturning the unspoken traumas that lurk behind every door— then we must confront the issue at its heart. We must go beyond the current understanding of virginity into new and exciting realms where sexuality exists in its heartiest and fullest form.

The traditional description of the so-called loss of virginity is, to its credit, fairly straightforward: the first time that a penis finds itself in a vagina, or the first time a vagina finds itself with a penis in it.

While this description may seem simple and broad enough to constitute the boundaries of virginity, we would be doing all sexual peoples a massive disservice by accepting that description as fully encompassing and accurate.

The first and most clear problem with the traditional description is its hetero-normativity. That is to say, the description is inherently biased towards a heterosexual picture of sexuality. A gay person who has never been with a partner of the opposite sex, but has been with someone of the same sex is considered, under the traditional description, still a virgin.
Transgender, gender ambiguous or hermaphroditic people are also left in a confused and difficult situation if our explanation of virginity is grounded entirely in traditional ideas of mere genitals. It should seem obvious that calling said alternative-sexual types to still be virgins is a painful and incorrect understanding.

The hetero-normative aspects of the traditional description of virginity are made even more apparent when we consider the historical underpinnings of virginity in women. As psychoanalyst Amanda Hon pointed out, “Historically, the hymen has been widely regarded as the ‘anatomical representative of virginity,’ although its existence is conjectural. Virginity has been written about as a physical state long before the hymen was ever discussed in medical literature.”

That is to say, the physical loss of virginity was patriarchally decided upon first, then proved with the hymen’s so-called discovery. And yet, even when the problems of the traditional description is laid out before us, rather than engaging their imaginations, many attempt to simply reform the traditional description, or add enough caveats for it to operate successfully.

Such reformers attempt to expand the traditional definition into a scale of sexual activity: once one has achieved or performed a certain level or certain number of sexual acts they then cross the boundary out of virginity. While this reform of the description may be inclusive enough for most members of the sexually active population, it still leaves us short on too many levels.

First of all, it still leaves us with a description that favours penetration as a marker, since on any scale of sexual activity, penetration remains the easiest point on the scale at which to draw the line.

Take, for example, recent research that analyzed the teen magazine Seventeen, as mentioned by Amanda Hon, wherein girls’ loss of virginity was, “defined as occurring when they have intercourse, while in boys there was some flexibility, allowing them to choose whether to base their virginity status on their achievement of orgasm rather than penile penetration of a vagina.”

This sexual double standard reconfirms a heterosexual, male and phallic bias that leaves all non-straight, non-male-identifying people with penetration as their only option for defining virginity.

It almost feels silly to point out that penetration is not the end-all-be-all of sexual activity, and yet such thinking all too often underpins sexual assumptions.

The take-home point, it must be stressed, is that all attempts to create a definition of virginity using carnal descriptors inevitably reveals itself to contain some element that ends up being discriminatory or limiting. This point is made all the more real when we consider situations of sexual abuse. If a person’s first major sexual experience was one of rape, do we still maintain that that person is no longer a virgin? After all, they’ve “gone all the way” at that point, even though it was not their choice to do so.

Yet, our intuitions should be telling us that something in our understanding of virginity is wrong if it leaves the sexually abused and mistreated in the dust, if it leaves us with that sinister virgin-whore dichotomy, if it leaves us in the trash-bin of modern hyper-sexualization. If we hope to maintain any understanding of virginity that cruxes on physical lines, we will be drawn back in to problematic and limiting understandings of virginity.

We need to re-envision virginity to move past these limitations. We must therefore turn to desire, to consent, to passion, to seduction and to dignity which will arouse in us a fuller awareness of virginity and sexuality.

First and foremost, we must drop the whole “losing” or “loss” part of the equation. Virginity is often something special — that cannot be doubted. But, for most of us, virginity has an endpoint that, if we are being sexually respectful of ourselves and others, occurs when it ought to occur, free from the pressures and hold-ups of the oversexualized consumerist game around us.

By calling it a loss we inadvertently buy into the fetishizing of virginity, and miss out on what can be gained on both sides of this supposed virgin/non-virgin divide.

Genuine virginity, then, ends where genuine sexuality begins: at the moment in our lives where, as contemporary philosopher Wolfi Landstreicher put it, we “truly allow the expansiveness of passionate intensity to flower and to pursue it where the twisting vine of desire takes it.” That is to say, virginity is ours to decide.

If my passions, abilities and desires dictate that a certain set of experiences is what constitutes the end of my virginity, then that is that. If my partner has chosen a different set of conditions then that is their choice.

What is more important is that we open up the field of discussion of what each of us expects from the other in sexual interactions. The meaning of virginity and sexuality is a personal decision, and an autonomous understanding of need and desire.

We must realize that, as Slavoj Žižek put it, “True freedom is not a freedom of choice made from a safe distance, like choosing between a strawberry cake or a chocolate cake; true freedom overlaps with necessity, one makes a truly free choice when one’s choice puts at stake one’s very existence — one does it because one simply ‘cannot do it otherwise.’ ”

That is to say, our choosing of meaning must not be treated like any average choice one would make while shopping. It is a choice that matters deeply and must be treated as such. One must consider what virginity means to them, since if one does not then social forces and pressures make the decision for better or worse (with a likely tendency towards to latter).

The definition of virginity must not be a closed ordeal. There is no other way to transcend the demands of hyper-sexual modernity, since the sexuality of our present day doesn’t respect our personal trajectories or passions, but instead dictates what it means to be sexual. And, as has been shown, that present-day sexuality is far too often damaging, non-inclusive, reductionist, consumerist, sexist and not in the interests of liberatory attitudes.

Virginity must remain fluid and interactive as to be able to respectfully include the many requests that each person’s sexuality asks of it. Rather than having our understanding of virginity ask us to conform to certain discriminatory and damaging norms, our understanding of virginity must ask of us, as Martha Nussbaum once asked, “What is each person able to do and to be?”

But it must be remembered that such an alternative vision of virginity can only come about if we decide to adopt the struggle for a radical, collective and authentic sexuality. We must decide to shed the sexual anxieties and frustrations that modern hyper-sexualization has burdened us with. We must decide what constitutes or constituted the end of our virginity and where, and how, and why our sexuality has its beginning. We must decide what is or is not meaningful within the many twists and turns of the erotic.

So I ask you again, to consider virginity. Consider what virginity is in the here and now. But most importantly, consider what virginity can be.

Watching Wall Street burn

 This article appeared in the Gauntlet on September 20, 2012.

It was late Saturday night in Black Rock City, Nevada — site of the infamously intense Burning Man festival. As I relished in the comedown of another acid trip, I stood witness to the burning of “Wall Street,” which stood as five full-sized buildings, ironically beautiful representatives of capitalism’s financial vanguard: corporate banks. The fire that engulfed them was immense in size, ferocity and brightness, reducing the structures to smoldering coals atop the desert dust. Raw joy and satisfaction bubbled throughout my entire being, and then, as we gathered around the remaining ashes, a peaceful stillness set in.

While the entire week of Burning Man left me with countless thoughts each to be pondered in their own right, the question of the significance of Wall Street’s burning continued to linger as one of the heaviest issues. I wondered if anyone beyond the several thousand ‘burners,’ huddled together in a dusty corner of the desert, would be tripped-out by such a politically-charged artistic act. I wondered if anyone beyond we burners could care, or even ought to care. Yet surely such an intense act could not leave our hearts untouched, nor could it be ignored by mass media or those in power.

Courtesy Tim Vargas

However, when it came time to bring sage words to the question of the significance of mock Wall Street’s burning, I was initially silent, all my thoughts had become still, just as I had been as I stood before the buildings’ ashes. But, as it turns out, that is the point. That is the significance. A fire, incomparable to any other, occurred before me and I basked in its brilliance — neither thought nor action (and especially not words) were necessary. My eyes were open, as was my heart.

For those who have had the opportunity to immerse themselves in sport, there is a moment when thought and action unite, the distinction between them melts and performance becomes singular. Being ‘in the zone,’ as it were. I receive a pass, take a shot and score — neither thought nor action guided me, as it was mindless, a moment of ‘oneness.’ Our radicality, our dream of a better world, needs this same sensation of oneness.

The burning of mock Wall Street, the significance that can be drawn from it, lies in that ‘zone’ of which I speak. The fire was a figurative and literal melting of theory and practice. Practice informed theory, like the brilliance to construct and enact a mock burning of Wall Street. And theory emerged from practice, just as the flames that leapt out of Wall Street’s windows ignited a fire in our hearts and inspires us with new ideas and dreams, while also giving us the space to construct something new atop the ashes.

For those of us who dream of a better world — those of us who know a better world is possible — the burning of mock Wall Street is an incredible gift. Moving forward, my radicality is informed by the sensation of the becoming one with thought and action, of theory and practice, just like the stillness I felt in the face of the flames. That is to say, we are hopeless without theory and hopeless without action, but when the two meet and melt together — an occasion only feasible through the stillness born in opening our hearts, which sometimes takes a fire for us to feel — then our adventures, encounters and experiments begin, in their own right and on their own terms, to create a better world upon the ashes of the old.

Student newspaper terrorist

This column appeared in The Gauntlet on April 12, 2012.

Since the beginning of the fall semester, in September of 2011, the University of Calgary’s independent student newspaper, the Gauntlet, has been held hostage by a lone ultra-left terrorist who goes by the simple pseudonym “Remi.”

The founding member of the terrorist network the Coalition for a Revolutionary Alberta Society, Remi has single-handedly managed to capture and control the Gauntlet’s nine section editors, as well as countless numbers of the paper’s volunteers. Adopting the title of “opinions editor,” Remi has transformed the previously arch-conservative student newspaper—once the springboard for Canadian right-wing heroes such as Ezra Levant and Stephen Harper—into an ideological tool for a terrorist message of “pro-autonomy” and “pro-dignity,” ideas that are clearly dangerous to the health of sensitive Albertan minds.

Having precipitated several violent incidents on the university campus, Canadian security and peace enforcement agencies having been pooling their resources to capture, kill and end the strife he has caused.

‘Remi,’ as he is known to allies and enemies alike, commandeered the student newspaper on September 3, 2011, and seized the title of “opinions editor.” The opinions section previous to Remi’s takeover maintained a small but humble position near the back of the weekly  issue of the Gauntlet. While maintaining his reign of terror over the paper’s real editors and volunteers, Remi has successfully expanded the opinions section to take up most of the paper, and through the section he bombards University of Calgary students with a weekly barrage of horrifyingly new ideas. As student Emily Hamilton, member of the Delta Upsilon Mu sorority observed, “The newspaper [the Gauntlet], like, used to be, like, totally fair and balanced, like the Calgary Sun is. Now it’s basically like mostly opinions from that hipster fag Remi or whatever his name is.”

As of the March 28, 2012 issue of the Gauntlet, a total of 300 students have claimed serious injury after having been exposed to an issue of one of Remi’s signature articles or illustrations.
One political science student Sam Bloom, remembers all too well how he obtained his injuries.
“I was walking down the hallway just leaving professor Flanagan’s class, and I saw the Gauntlet. I used to read it all the time. It was way better in my day. But I hesitated picking it up because it had something I totally didn’t like on the cover,” Said Bloom. “I flipped it open and it was just ultra-leftist filth everywhere. Some of the art was even communist looking. Then I started to read this article by that boy Remi. There were words that I didn’t like, like ‘passion,’ ‘vitality of life,’ ‘apparatus’ and ‘wherefore.’ I barely got through the first paragraph when I felt this terrible pain fill my head. Next thing you know I’m in the hospital for an entire day. I wasn’t even allowed to go to ThursDen that night. Like what the fuck. Remi is so pathetic and stupid.”


No one has yet to successfully discover the identity of “Remi,” although the Canadian Security Intelligence Service believes Remi’s gender is of a male-like variety, as one Gauntlet hostage reported as having seen, “A large phallic-like object,” which supposedly came out of Remi’s pants once during a  visit to a bathroom. Remi’s elaborate use of disguise, including a tangled mess of hair, crafty and distracting glasses and a penchant for shadows has allowed him to avoid recognition. It is thought that Remi is capable of producing fake newsmedia as a tool for deception, as well as writing about himself in the third person (generally considered an extremely masturbatory act) as to dumbfound and irritate his detractors.

The Coalition for a Revolutionary Alberta Society was, according to the group’s website, founded by Remi in late 1988, apparently not long after “Remi’s” supposed birth. Since that time both Remi and cras have grown considerably and have forged powerful relationships with various terrorist groups. Yet Remi has retained his anonymity since day one. Even fellow terrorists involved in Remi’s terrorist ‘Front’ or affiliated groups in his terror network apparently know nothing relevant about the ultra-leftist’s identity or origins.
In late 2011, members of the West Albertan Nationalist Guerrillas and the Socialist and Anarchist Coalition who had participated in terrorist acts of “discussion of political alternatives” alongside Remi’s CRAS, were apprehended by the Royal Canadian Peace Enforcement Agency and were subsequently coerced into revealing details behind their terrorist network. The coercion undergone by members of WANG and SAC revealed startling information about the level of penetration perpetrated by the terrorist connections here in Alberta and abroad, but failed to reveal anything significant about Remi. Even Remi’s Facebook profile is incredibly vague and misleading, claiming that Remi is, “In a relationship” and “Likes” such topics as “reading” and “music.”

With a love for violent “debate” and the use of frightening tactics such as “critical thinking,” Remi has successfully kept the editors and volunteers of the Gauntlet student newspaper hostage. Current Gauntlet editor-in-chief Eric Mathison, who has managed to maintain a level of connection with the outside world, stated in one letter that, “most of the time we are subjected to his [Remi’s] constant discussions of ethics, politics or metaphysics, as well as hour-long diatribes about the proper accents on ‘Slavoj Žižek.’ But he has allowed me to go for the occasional coffee and washroom break, and every now and again my wife is able to bring me in some vegan cupcakes.”

However, not all students or Gauntlet members have been overcome by Remi’s takeover. A post-Trotskyist student organization, a campus-based anarchist association and various pro-human rights activist students have all asserted their solidarity with Remi and CRAS. Additionally, current Gauntlet news editor, Amy Badger, has, according to one hostage mediator, fallen ill with Stockholm Syndrome.
According to Mount Royal University psychologist Evrin Ting-Halvoff, Stockholm Syndrome is “a paradoxical psychological condition where hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, occasionally to the point of defending their captors.” Badger is believed to currently be involving herself in sexual relations with Remi, although this has neither been confirmed nor denied by either party.


The Royal Canadian Peace Enforcement Agency has been unable to infiltrate the Gauntlet and arrest Remi. RCPEA commissioner Dic McIver stated in a recent press conference that, “we, the law enforcement agency of this fine city, have been unable to capture Remi. As it stands, we have been heavily preoccupied with meeting our quotas for speeding tickets, parking violations and agitation of undesirables.”

When questioned as to what changes might aid the RCPEA in their hunt for Remi, McIver claimed that an increase in peace officer funding and powers would enable the organization to “finally rid the city of its unwanted elements,” at which point the capture of Remi, “would become our top priority.”

With the student newspaper under Remi’s control, the ultra-leftist terrorist has been able to offend and horrify the delicate minds of University of Calgary students. With a large proportion of upper-middle class students attending the institution—all of whom are succeeding through their own rugged individualism—the terrorist demands of Remi’s, which include the “proliferation of genuine autonomy” and “respect for the dignity of all people,” have erupted into obscene ideological violence.

Age of no consent

This column appeared in The Gauntlet on March 22, 2012

You have never had consensual sex. The sex you have now is not consensual, nor will you ever have consensual sex so long as you continue to live as you do. Rape, sexual abuse and assault are merely the tip of a sexually violent iceberg. Given the direness of our present circumstances — the inherent barbarism of the social, economic, political, religious, academic and cultural corrals into which we are captured and contained — it is fair to claim that it is impossible for anyone to adequately consent to sexual activity in the present. And what’s most sinister is that we’ve been ‘educated’ to think that all is well. While it may seem harsh or absurd to think that a statement that echoes of the obscene charge that “all sex is rape” could be legitimate, to deny it suggests that one is suffering from a terrible case of false consciousness. We have become numb, no longer capable of feeling the flow of sinister authority that permeates the fabric of our lives. We are incapable of making autonomous and well-informed decisions, incapable of being in touch with ourselves and our own sexualities. We’ve been normalized to sexual violence and the vital force of our erotic passions has been drained, leaving the substance of genuine consent unobtainable.


The issues of consent cut a wide swath of possible discussions in all sorts of fields of interest, but none of them evokes as furious and emotionally infused reactions as the issue of sexual consent does. Clearly we are pressing on sensitive tissue. Dare I say that our nerves are so frayed perhaps because we, at heart, understand that something integral is lacking in our sexualities? That sexuality’s intimate core is missing, or has been stolen? Do we not sense that some grave and grievous injustice is being done in every porn film, night club, brothel, fatherly household or kangaroo rape trial? Yet we don’t face up to this reality, perhaps because we know that the rot exists not only on the periphery — in the porn flicks, whorehouses and violent rapes — but that its roots extend through the entirety of the whole, the bulk of matter, and into our very beds. Must I remind you that most sexual assaults and rapes are perpetrated by friends, family or acquaintances — and if we are finally being honest with ourselves and one another, even when we, men and women the same, tell ourselves that our sexual activity is mutually and genuinely consensual, we are refining our skills of disavowal. The behemoth that is our way of life is thoroughly infected. The laws, the language, the imagery — everything our senses can be imbued with, even one another, has been infused with patriarchy’s dominating, savage values. The same system that allows spliced and splayed ‘women’ to be devoured also liquidates our capacity to make well-informed judgements and to understand and appreciate our own sexualities. We live under the same roof, and eat the same stale, mouldy bread as the whore and rapist do.

We grudgingly accept the old cliche “sex sells,” not because we understand it as ‘truth,’ but because we aren’t allowed to believe anything else. Sex is pleasurable, erotic desire animates our lives; but that doesn’t justify the sort of logic that packages our passions into marketable, measurable and manageable hedons. Even if a seemingly innocuous phrase like “sex sells” contained a nugget of truth (although I don’t know how it would), it has been used against us, inoculating us from birth with a false sense that the hyper-sexualization of our world is an inevitable consequence of ‘human nature,’ of Homo economicus. Or worse, we tell ourselves that sexual violence is an exception, perpetrated by perverts. But we know better. We can do better. The bastions of patriarchy are far from being inevitable consequences of ‘the way things are.’ Walls do fall, whether through lack of upkeep, nature’s wrath or by our own hands. But rather than waiting for the situation to improve or placing our hopes on reform (which, lest we forget, only buries the problem deeper) we ought to take sexual and erotic freedom, and the revolutionary struggle necessary to achieve it, seriously. We must, as Wolfi Landstreicher told us, “ . . . truly allow the expansiveness of passionate intensity to flower and to pursue it where the twisting vine of desire takes it.”

No one wants to admit that their sex life is not and never has been consensual. But there is nothing fantastical and utopian about believing that it is possible to form new ways of life where we congregate with one another as autonomous equals, adequately informed and genuinely in touch with ourselves. Bringing to fruition the way we ought to live — where loving and erotic relationships of infinite variety are legitimately possible — requires overturning and annihilating the destructive order at hand, adopting struggle as a way of life, passionately and incessantly dreaming and doing. Accepting sex’s current non-consensual nature is a bitter pill to swallow, but perhaps it is just the right medicine to cure us of our sexual woes.

Curve appeal

This article appeared in the Gauntlet on March 15, 2012

Females everywhere, rejoice! The cultural arbiters have loosened the shackles and chains, allowing a little more body mass to fit into fashion’s cuffs. Curves and full-figures may finally be welcome in the hallowed halls of fashion, health and beauty. But there are a few conditions: don’t get too curvy, and you damn well better be pretty.


All too often we construct our ideal selves along the lines of the superficial imagery with which we are inundated daily. And while many of us will be somewhat familiar with the inoculating role held by media and advertising — their powerful effect on people’s self-images — far too few of us understand that things can and ought to be different. It pains me to point out the gross problem surrounding the inclusion of ‘full-figured’ models into the fold. Most of us understand that the ‘normal’ from which curvy models are categorized as ‘plus-sized’ (“full-figured,” “extended-sized,” “outsized” or “curvy” as the labels go) is a sick valuation. And yet we find this barbie-look logic and its stigmatizing language around every corner. The emaciated and contorted women splayed out in every film and advertisement are quite far from any serious measure of normalcy. So while it is certainly comforting to finally see a few women with slightly more realistic bodies being showcased, the language and symbols that capture them (and us along with it) do nothing for conceptions of beauty and self-worth, and do nothing to limit the proliferation of rape culture that infects the fabric of society.

From the point of view of the system in which we live it, makes sense to impose the demands of fashion and beauty upon us. As fashion ever changes, so too must our wardrobes. As the stringent demands of beauty and health weigh down upon us, so too must we continue to push our bodies and budgets to their limits. I need not even mention the abhorrent effect that the demands of fashion and beauty have on our psychology and self-worth — after all, we all know more than a few people suffering from eating disorders, performance anxieties, mental body distortions and related varieties of depression. With the expectation on us to achieve the ‘look’ — the toned, well-groomed and well-dressed body, the ‘technologies of the self,’ as it were — we spend our time in gyms, malls and salons. Such pursuits have the appearance of improvement or betterment, but their primary effect is to distract us from the far more important task of genuine personal growth. There is little money to be made off of moral development, as the more one grows and refines the strength of their own presence, the less reliant one is on the exchange of commodities and the systems of submission. Plus-sized doesn’t let any of us off the hook from the system’s coercions, nor does it open up the sufficient space for resistance to its demands, it just tricks us into thinking that something is being done to make the system better.

With the disfigured bodies of both men and women on the cover of every magazine, in every advertisement and in every film, I can sympathize with those who feel hopelessly distressed by the crushing dissonance between appearance and reality. Yet we all have the capacity to shake off the shackles that call our healthy sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers and friends overweight. The inclusion of curvy is, despite our best wishes, not a real start to constructive dialogue. We ought not lay down our guns, nor take our fingers off the trigger. Thinking that plus-sized models are an acceptable start to a genuine metric of health is as disappointing as saying that hate literature and harlequin romances are positive for literacy on the grounds that they get people reading. While the trappings of fashion and beauty’s discourses are certainly immense, creeping into every conceivable corner of our daily experience, the more we develop and learn — enhance ourselves, not our looks — the more we begin to see the possibilities of genuine possibilities. Too much is still at stake for us to consider this change as being anything more than a small skirmish in a brutal war of attrition fought over the meaning of health and well-being.

Against disingenuous community

This column appeared in the Gauntlet on March 8, 2012

Constantly in our ears like cheap linguistic currency is the word ‘community,’ as if each of us instinctively understands the merit of its ceaselessly repeated use, as if each of us are still intimate members, comrades, brothers and sisters of one meaningful togetherness or another. It is the intensity, the vibrancy of life, the density of presence and thought that gives genuine community its critical identity. But, to adapt a phrase from the Invisible Committee: community has everywhere already disappeared.


Continuous effort is made to sell us on the idea that the problems we face in our era — the decay of social and environmental fabrics — stems from an estrangement from communities, as if we accidentally decided to leave them behind once upon a time, and that we ought to pay heed to the various calls for a new coming together. Posted on every telephone pole, newsletter and cafe message board are posters and pamphlets begging us to assemble and reintegrate into this or that community. Are we to accept this call to community without haste? Is community actually a source of meaning or value? No, it is not. Community has become false consciousness in a world long liquidated of all vital forms — genuine community has been replaced with sanitized and homogenized relationships and norms. By accepting the vapid buzzword community we co-opt ourselves into the operations of the organs and apparatuses of domination, into a logic of submission.

Perhaps you consider yourself a member of an authentic community: you and your group share common goals, common language and common values. Perhaps you even see community as being outside of, or subversive to the violent and reductive organs and apparatuses that regulate the fabric of our lives. But none of these associations so calmly dubbed community contains the raw density of life’s vital essence: the heart of genuine community. Even the Occupy movement, which in many ways has been an effort to reestablish genuine community, is under constant threat of having its heart purged of the life-sustaining fluids. Just as porn mutates sexuality into violent obscenity, so too does ‘community’ render genuine forms of the vibrancy of life into disturbing obscenity, making it, as Jean Baudrillard would say, “immediately proffered for view . . . for devouring.”

Accepting the present form of community means, at best, acting out a pseudo-struggle, and at worst, harbouring a complacency to the frameworks and discourses that label, categorize, rape, pillage, reduce, package, market and sell. Furthermore, the boundless growth of different forms of community does not open up the space for authenticity. Rather, it directly corresponds to, as Agamben put it, the boundless growth of apparatuses, the extreme proliferation in the processes of proliferation, in which we living beings are incessantly captured. New types of community does not mean the formation of new freedoms, since that same newness is synonymous with the bulldozing finance-speak of ‘emerging markets.’

It is no longer enough (was it ever enough?) to turn on Pete Seeger’s rendition of Little Boxes while in the company of friends and imagine yourselves to be subversive. After all, there is a line of clothing, eco-friendly garbage, magazines and nicknacks — an entire lifestyle — available for such niche markets.

But the situation is far from hopeless. Genuine community is far from having been made impossible. It is always just beneath the surface, and it’s tiresome trying to continually convince ourselves of the dangers in engaging in anything remotely reminiscent of it. The question of tactics is still open, always open, as the ground is increasingly and incessantly shifting, allowing we clever of minds to act, respond or plan perpendicularities accordingly. If we ever hope to establish genuine forms of community then we must ceaselessly dream, experiment, participate, critically consider and most importantly, act.