Transcendent BDSM: the importance of reaching for the moon (part II)

Space age pinup

This is the second part of a rather long article. You can read the first one here.

 

Fast-forward to around 2015. While surveying the main play area of my Sadistique party in Milano, I am shocked by what I see. Hanging from an elaborate and technically perfect rope suspension rigged according to the most exquisite Japanese style of kinbaku, a breathtakingly beautiful young girl (the likes of whom you could only dream of in the general freakshow of kinky gatherings just 25 years earlier) is being anally fisted by her equally handsome and proficient partner. He must be in his early twenties, yet his skill in this admittedly delicate practice is flawless and definitely superior to most of the old-times veterans. Everything looks like the ultimate proof of the wonderful progress we, the “Community”, have brought upon in a little less than just forty years – except for one thing.
The guy doesn’t really seem to be enjoying himself that much. And the girl is far from being in the moment – even in that situation, she is actually talking with someone sitting on a nearby couch: «Shall we do Chinese when the party ends? Or would you like me to take you to that pizzeria we talked about last Thursday?»

Boy, that hit me hard, believe me. All of a sudden I realized how many others – at the party, but mostly among the Community in general – lacked that duende I have always been so fond of ranting about. ‘Duende’, if you are not familiar with the word, is an Andalusian term that indicates that sort of darkly intoxicating, maybe a little morbid kind of passion that due to its slightly dangerous nature is even more arousing than normal. The kind of passion that had apparently vanished, ousted by cold technique. And I was dead scared to have contributed to that absurdity with my oh-so-technical educational books and work.
Problem is, I wasn’t immediately able to put my finger on it, so in my desperate attempt to make sense of that I just asked the wrong questions.

«Why do people invest so much energy, time, effort, pain… so much of themselves into something that doesn’t move their hearts?» I asked. «I can understand the curiosity of trying freaky games once, but if they don’t take pleasure, an intense, soul-melting pleasure from them… why do they keep going at it instead of finding something that makes them happier, or at least that is more useful to their lives? Say, learning Chinese is much more practical and maybe easier than devoting years to studying bondage styles!»
For months, I must have sounded like I had really lost it as I asked for opinions on the widespread feeling that sensual apathy was normal. «But where is the transcendence for you?» I enquired both online and in physical meetings, foolishly thinking that it better framed the matter.

«What do you mean by transcendence?» was the frequent reply.

«What I am saying is that the whole point of subjecting yourself to an extreme experience like BDSM should be to evolve. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a total transformation nor a Buddha-like enlightenment, but I always come out of a play session with at least a little different understanding of myself, my body, my partner or our minds; I have been doing these things for decades and every time I still learn about me and I grow a bit as a human being. In fact, in the rare occasions I feel nothing happening due to a lack of commitment or attunement with my partner, I prefer to just stop and do something else, for I treasure what I do and I see no point in going through the motions for nothing.»

And there, especially with younger people, I received another chilling blow when they answered that no, to them it was “just another thing to do, no drama about it”. A very small minority kinda confirmed my feelings instead, but they couldn’t find a real reason for it all either, beside a generic «the youth is just so, it’s like this all over, not just with BDSM. Times have changed». But they were only half right.

Indeed, times have changed as they are wont to do. We really live in very practical times and it couldn’t be anyway else either, since everybody’s just desperate to survive in a continuously accelerating world with astoundingly diminishing returns. Look at the whole “fake news” affair and the rise of angry, destructive political forces all over the world: they are not causes, but effects of a widespread dissatisfaction and lack of hope, of a tainted world we inherited from a couple of generations who couldn’t care for the well-being of their own sons and daughters, and even less for their fellow humans in general.
Times like these don’t leave any time nor any energy to devote to anything but Freud’s Reality Principle: all this Civilization would laugh in the face of esoteric ideas like trascendence – if it only knew how to laugh. These days people have more urgent business to attend than to dream of anything as silly as going to the moon.

The part my interlocutors didn’t get right, however, is that youth – and people in general – ain’t “just so”. At all. In truth, everybody feels ill at ease with this world and seeks, in their own personal and limited ways, to escape it. Somebody unleashes their frustration as an online hateful troll or by voting for scary buffoons who promise any kind of change, and pretty much everyone buys into what are actually called ‘escapist fantasies’. Was it The Matrix to introduce the public to the idea of a different world lying just outside of our reach? That doesn’t really matter, however: in the last twenty years for example the planet at large got into superheroes, a form of storytelling originally born for preadolescents needing some kind of power fantasy as they dealt with their impotence before the world of grownups. Religious fanaticism is another trendy fairytale that focuses on finding happiness someplace else than the real world.
Or, if you think I am drifting way too far from the supposed topic of this website, just think of the otherwise inexplicable success of Fifty Shades of Grey. Marketing played a part, sure, but what really captured the imagination of the whole female half of the planet weren’t the (awful) kinky parts but the notion that maybe, somehow, you could one day stumble into a mythical one-percenter who could pull you out of your drab daily life and present you with a passionate life. A little dangerous one by your standards, with just a hint of duende.

So, let’s get to just yesterday. There I was, taking a rare break and finally opening Unflattening, a comicbook-form essay by Nick Sousanis that had long been in my suggested readings list. Truly a propos, its subject is breaking from the mold of the current “flat” view of life that is holding society in its grip – but that’s not important. What struck me was a little mention of Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, that brought back a flood of memories and an epiphany.
Quick recap for those not into the Frankfurt School: Marcuse thought that Freud had mixed cause and effect up, so it is actually practical needs that box people into smaller and smaller mindspaces and dreams, until they just can’t escape alienation unless they band together in an organized fashion.

In the language of Critical Theory, the word ‘erotic’ doesn’t really refer to sex but to creative energy in general, to imagination (Marcuse’s most famous motto was ‘Power to the Imagination!’), to chaos as opposed to the orderly practicality and inevitable quiet desperation of ‘thanatos’, which literally means ‘death’ in Greek. This notwithstanding, I was impressed to recall the lectures about curbed erotic energy, based on a 1964 book that couldn’t imagine our current world state even in its worst dystopic scenarios.
The real difference with that admittedly quaint view is that the damage to eroticism has become literal, seeping even into our actual sex lives as demonstrated by that bored couple of bondage “enthusiasts”. And here comes my epiphany and the whole point of this long article.

Let’s retrace our steps. We are indeed living way too much by the reality principle: as a matter of fact, our society has probably already gone beyond the one-dimensional point where you can just decide you had enough and change your lifestyle, as the overall context doesn’t allow that anymore, or at least not with the ease the previous generations could afford.
The engine for freedom and change is eroticism as meant in a broader sense, but even that is now seriously constrained by all the damn difficulties, real and fabricated alike, that plague our daily lives. But at the heart of eroticism there lies sexuality, so that’s the first intervention point you want to manipulate if you are serious about bringing back satisfaction, joy, hope and everything this entails.

Extreme eroticism – which is basically just a synonym for ‘BDSM’ – has long been a powerful agent both for this and for the development of critical thought. After all, once you learn to question apparently rock-solid tenets such as ‘pain hurts and isn’t pleasurable’, doubting the status quo becomes second nature; it’s no coincidence if most classic “sadomasochist” literature was actually a satyrical, merciless attack against authority.
There is however a big issue with the current perception of BDSM, because the inevitable dissection of its technical aspect has taken preminence in its representation. As useful and precious as this form of popularization is, it has stripped it of its larger-than-life aspirations. People have completely lost the exiciting beauty of its immersive, all-absorbing lifestyle fantasy; they stopped dreaming of it and in doing so they also lost the transcendent aspect of this erotic art.

And yet. Do you remember what I wrote about everyone wanting to be an astronaut, and how the right narrative could literally bring a species to reach beyond its natural boundaries and change the whole perception of reality? In my almost-half a century of being around I have been fortunate enough to witness epochal changes, both good and bad. I have seen the rise and the decline of the space race, the birth of the BDSM culture and its stalling, the de-evolution from Imagine and the fall of the Berlin Wall to hate news and sociopaths rallying people to build walls where none is needed. Like everyone, I sure had a tiny part in all of that. Ok, maybe not so tiny in the case of BDSM, all right.

However, now I believe it is time to put everything I have learned so far to good use. I do want to try and make the world at least a little better, and like you who are reading this, I am just in the perfect position to kickstart the most improbable and yet possibly the most effective change. I’d like to bring back a different narrative to kink – a larger and more transcendent one. Surely not the moronic “castle full of damsels in distress” one, nor a Fifty Shades-like hopeless escapist fantasy, though: imagination should indeed be more empowered, but I remain a man of reason and I can make a better use of it. After all, allowing ourselves to dream and pursue our dreams is the key to progress, and every single extraordinary thing ever accomplished started with leaving the beaten path behind.
What about imagining a different view of BDSM then? Maybe think of it not just as a craft limited to using the right tool in the right way, but as an art that can elicit new emotions, new dreams, new insights and that can change our very souls. There is no need to go overboard with it: we can just choose to live kink in a slightly more profound way than a fleeting game, and most of all we can choose to allow its experience to really touch us, affect us in a deeper way than an orgasm or a bruise.

That way, I promise that just by taking it a little more seriously you will profit much more from all the time you are putting into this peculiar passion of ours. You will grow as a person; you will see the beauty in those “crazy” domination and submission fantasies; you will feel more satisfied, more empowered, more positively critical – and I bet you will get to a point where you’ll want to share this old-but-new vision with your partners and the people you love.

All I am asking is to raise your gaze to the moon and think what could it be like to reach for something more. It can only start with yourself, but if you are up to it I am here to show you the way and accompany you – and together, with lots of little help from our friends, we can once again fly to exhilarating new heights, giving Thanatos a fuck off so burning it might well leave us all be for a while already.

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