Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Qualitative Methods Conference: "The Body Politic"
3 & 4 September 1996, Johannesburg, South Africa
Arriving in gender-fuck drag squirming with queer exhibitionistic anticipation as Eddie prepares to pierce my foreskin
Vasili Kapetanakis alias Dame Collonica Drek
Drek's Drag for Gender-Fuck:
Anti-glamour, anti-fashion bridal outfit constructed out of tubes, steel-wool, fly-net, wire, coloured stones, spray painted rags, latex gloves, troll-child + catz. A homo celebration of gender perversion for troll-child pro-creation.
MY EXCUSE FOR EXHIBITIONISM: FORESKIN-PIERCING:
Could be a personal rite of passage to Foreskin Pride, but actually is an opportunity for exhibitionism usually expressed in latex wank shows at moffie fuck clubs in Hillbrow and Rosebank, late night cruise parties, at the Pride Rave and once in Cape Town. An expression of sexual and body individual re-claiming ownership (from moral-monopolists and body capitalists) and a re-definition, assertion and celebration of sexuality in a post-epidemic mind-frame.
My travels to Perversity and Paradox will also be presented and exhibited through a photo journey experience.
My presentation/performance differs slightly from the abstract. The gender-fuck drag consisted of a matric-dance type dress and not as is described in Drek's Drag for Gender-fuck. This is because Drek had no time to construct this drag - my most serious regret, it would have been fab. The piercing was a PA (cock-ring piercing) and not through the foreskin as a cock-ring piercing is much more faster, cleaner and easier.
I understand bodies as a fusion of energy vibrations creating the illusion of matter: this relationship between essence and form moves beyond the cartesian mind, beyond the periodic table that places nature and body as patients etherised and dissected before you. So I also see your phallic assaults, your desires to conquer as you prod and probe in the name of science and god to pacify and possess.
But if nature and body is womyn, then I do not see a mother submissive to the father, or even a widow in waiting, but I see a drugged whore who cobra-fucks you with the mutants you procreate as a new millennium of chaos is bred and nurtured, making you think - who has the ultimate control?
I was owned by the hands that carried me, by the water and the oil that they covered my body in. I was owned by the christ they placed before my lips, by the dreams and desires to multiply, possess and control.
I was owned by the roles you demand I perform to sustain and maintain the machinery and the ideals of masculinity any empire provides to its soldiers to keep this great conquest alive.
But my desires rejected the meanings you place onto my gender and my body as I sat in secrecy behind the cupboard desiring to be possessed by the body of christ - ultimately longing to discover this supreme cock that was always so well-hidden. I longed to explore my body through the bodies of other boys and these desires fermented in fear of the exorcists, the psychologists, the psychiatrists you demanded I go to. In fear of your rejection and isolation, in fear of my exile to a land of demons and death.
But now, as my pain and fear transforms into rage and defiance I emerge as the dreaded Dame from the gutter, from the ghetto and from the closet - the township and prison I helped you create.
So I became a fallen angel - rejecting the passivity that silences me, that remains me a victim, obedient to your master's voice. So I kissed your christ and moved on to celebrate orgies with the romans. And as I assert this space I refuse to be confined to your expectations and assumptions of how I express my gender, how I discover my body and what I desire.
Exhibitionism is a performance of ritual. It is in these moments, these bubbles of exposure that I release my celebration of not belonging. It is in these spaces that I exhibit my exploration of body and its desires - where I reclaim and redefine this sensuality, magic, pain and blood. This is what this piercing symbolises to me.
New visual strategies:
Re-presenting gay identities in a second AIDS-decade
Hentie van der Merwe
University of the Witwatersrand
This paper is dedicated to the memory of Felix Gonzales-Torres who died of
AIDS related illnesses in February this year.
Acts whereby the body is represented in culture have the ability to reinforce stereotypes of marginalisation and to violate. Not only does it marginalise the body from outside, but also influences the identity of such a body. This notion which is the subject of the work of many scholars such as Simon Watney and Paula Treichler, have been of interest to me for some time and is the subject of the research I am currently involved in towards an MA degree in fine arts at the University of the Witwatersrand. Particularly how representations of AIDS have stigmatised and marginalised gay sexual identity and the many visual strategies developed in the work of direct action groups and artists such as Felix Gonzales-Torres as well as ACT UP and Gran Fury in response to such a practice. In South Africa there is also a complete absence of any discourse of this sort and therefore to my mind the importance of a paper of this nature dealing with cultural representations of AIDS and especially its influence on perceptions of gayness and gay sexual identity.
This paper is an investigation of the way in which different gay identities have been visualised in the work of contemporary South African and international artists during a time when the AIDS epidemic is already well into its second decade with still no sign of cure other than prevention. When investigating the kind of artworks produced over the last few years by artists working in the field of gay identity, one is aware of a definite shift both strategically and thematically where themes such as identity, love, desire, death, loss, memory, mourning and memorialising have become more significant - while also a change took place in the formal strategies employed to visualise such preoccupations. In the paper I will view these shifts in contemporary visual culture as a political strategy on the side of artists in direct reaction to the AIDS crisis. I will make the observation, by way of illustration, that the epidemic, as well as related homophobia and violence have created a need for the perpetual affirmation of sexual identity and out of this grew a visual culture of resistance and survival where the act of mourning and memorialising have become a way of asserting gay identity. Apart from engaging the work of international artists such as Felix Gonzales-Torres and Robert Gober there will be a brief discussion of my own work.
In order to briefly put into context what I am about to present, I will start by quoting Jeffrey Weeks in his important essay entitled Post-modern AIDS? He writes:
Early images of people with AIDS drew on barely repressed stereotypes of the male homosexual: unresponsible, pleasure-orientated, promiscuous, diseased. 'Part of the shock of AIDS was thus the shock of identity'. It confirmed your otherness, flushed out who, and more important, what you are.
Of course, on a world scale most people living with HIV and AIDS are not gay. Most are poor, black, and many are women. But despite all the government-sponsored education campaigns, the scientific papers, the documentaries, and common sense perceptions, AIDS and gayness are indissoluble linked. To be diagnosed HIV positive, to live with HIV disease, is to risk being diagnosed as homosexual.
HIV and AIDS mark you. They have also provided the challenge and opportunities of new identities, forged in the furnace of suffering, loss and survival(1).
In my paper I will illustrate, by way of discussing Simon Watney's notion of a "confident AIDS activist aesthetic"(2), how this challenge of new identities has been met in the work of the Latino-American artist Felix Gonzales-Torres.
In our post-modern era the issue of identity has become of utmost importance and as Weeks pointed out, the great achievement of sexual politics since the late 1960's has been the recognition of the historical nature of our subjectivity.(3) No longer do we take for granted or see as "natural" our sense of self, including our sexual identity. We have come to question these identities and also how it is influenced in particular by the way social groups and individuals are represented. The same applies to gay men and AIDS has had a strong influence on the way gay men are represented. Old stereotypes were reinforced and the disease was used as yet another scientific "proof" of our otherness. Thus the importance of scholars such as Paula Treichler questioning the "given" nature of the disease as it is presented to us through the media, legal, political, social and cultural signifying practises and suggests the need for an epidemiology of signification" rather than simply epidemiological information on AIDS. "it is not unreasonable to suggest that the representation of AIDS have reached epidemic proportions."(4) David Miller in his book Living with AIDS(5) suggests that those who have AIDS and HIV should avoid reading media coverage"(6), and in another writer's words "people have been stigmatised and destroyed as much by the 'idea' of AIDS as by its reality."(7).
Since such stigmatisation is often achieved through the act of representation it will only be through a discourse of intervention and subversion of such representations that will allow for the act of de-stigmatisation and the invention of new identities.
AIDS activist aesthetic
In his essay "Representing AIDS"(8) the British art historian and AIDS activist Simon Watney calls such a proposed visual discourse a "confident AIDS activist aesthetic" and explains it as ranging from the subversion of mainstream AIDS imagery to imaginative interventions in the fields of gay culture and politics.
By way of illustrating this notion he critically looks at two initial visual responses to the AIDS crisis. The first from groups such as ACT UP and Gran Fury respectively in New York and London. Watney sites Douglas Crimp notorious assertion in his essay AIDS: Cultural Analysis/ Cultural Activism as emblematic of such a response.
We don't need to transcend the epidemic; we need to end it(9) and
the really important work being done now is out in the culture, dealing with larger issues: it's not on gallery walls.(10)
The explicitly political and didactic nature of this response is evident in their extensive use of propagandist techniques such as posters, flyers and mass demonstrations with slogans such as "Why are we here? Because your malignant neglect KILLS." and "Reagan Kills Me".
These visual activities very much defined the "look" of AIDS activism in the late 80's.
While the anger of such groups were directed at a government and public that is homophobic and ignorant, it was also in response to another area of representation which were that of AIDS photojournalism as well as portrait-projects of PWA.
Here: the camera invariably seeks out the "victims" of the most spectacular battles. Its instinct for the sensational leads it to prefer the bald and wasted AIDS patient with the feverish, haggard look, lying in his hospital bed (preferably with a few tubes up his nose), to his companion who is still able to take care of himself and speak articulately about his condition.(11)
During an exhibition of such portraits at the Museum of Modern Art, members of ACT UP staged a protest outside the gallery while handing out flyers with "No More Pictures Without Context" and "We demand the visibility of PWA who are vibrant, angry, loving, sexy, beautiful, acting up and fighting back."(12)
Watney argues for the danger inherent in this kind of oversimplified activist critique of dominant media and art world representations of PWA. He states that
(although) it is entirely understandable that AIDS activists are outraged by the relentless fatalism and negativity of most images of people living with AIDS, ( ) we should not be tempted simply to duplicate the disavowal of the mass media with our own forms of denial. For it would be profoundly misleading to imagine the totally "positive" images are ultimately more truthful or representative of AIDS than the most morbid excesses of photojournalism and documentaries..., we should be cautious of any strategic interventions that seek to 'balance' dominant images, for in this way the larger illusion that a single universal 'truth' of AIDS might be disclosed is unfortunately protected."(13)
The second response to the disease Watney discusses is for example in the work of Gilbert and George as it featured in their exhibition "Art For AIDS" in London in 1989 to raise funds for AIDS projects. Apart from being commodities with the ability to raise funds such works reveal nothing of the reality of the disease and its uselessness can be measured by the apologist responses such as "sad self-portraits, poignantly encouraging flower-pieces concerned with blossoming and rebirth, and blunt studies of blood spattered in droplets on transparent infinity,"(14)
Apart from being grossly sentimental, these images have no ability to tell us anything important about the disease.
Watney concludes: the images that will do justice to this epidemic will be those that manage to communicate something of the power and nature of the forces that justify such a murderous indifference to AIDS on the part of those, gay or straight, who have had something murdered in themselves in order to be able to achieve so total a shutdown of their own attention and sympathies.(15)
In an AIDS activist aesthetic strategy is everything. Such an aesthetic "cannot and does not prescribe a single style or even technology. Instead, it invites us to think very broadly about the most effective ways in which we might intervene against specific discursive formations."(16)
In the work of Felix Gonzales-Torres we find a perfect example of just such an aesthetic. He does not subscribe to any particular kind of material or technique, instead he uses, in true Duchampian fashion, whatever medium seems most suited for a specific strategy of intervention whether it is the use of found objects such as clocks or shower curtains, or inventing a specific technique or method such as the stack pieces.
There is also less an interest in formal qualities such as preferring a specific shade of blue to another while what is more important is the method, not only in the sense of how the work was made, but also how it is shared with the public and distributed. Often while viewing a work by Gonzales-Torres one would be confronted with a sign inviting you to "Please Take" or in the case of buying a work of his, the client would be provided with a list of things to do as a way of looking after the work. It is in these actions that the meaning of his works reside and also its power to speak about the reality of the AIDS experience.
For example; between 1988-1992 he exhibited a series of works consisting of stacks of papers where each copy in a particular stack is of exact dimensions and with the same words or images printed on it. Although one's initial response might be the same as to the cubes and circles of minimalists such as Donald Judd or the Russian Constructivists with titles such as "Black rectangle and red square", instead we are presented with a subtle, but powerful metaphor for the experience of AIDS with titles such as Untitled (Lover Boy) or Untitled (Passport) and the invitation to take from the stack.
As Gonzales-Torres stated:
I wanted to do a show that would disappear completely. ..Freud said that we rehearse our fears in order to lessen them. In a way this "letting go" of the work, this refusal to make a static form, a monolithic sculpture, in favour of a disappearing, changing, unstable, and fragile form was an attempt on my part to rehearse my fears of having Ross (the artist's partner who died of AIDS around that time) disappear day by day right in front of my eyes
Not only does a work like Untitled (Lover Boy) speak of the experience of AIDS, but it also becomes a metaphor for the body with AIDS in its condition of fragility, disease, unsuitability and disappearance. The method by which the work is being consumed by a public, becomes a metaphor for the process of dying from AIDS and then death.
Freud's essay on the subject of death in the context of the Second World War, although irrelevant by way of comparison, can be applied in the following:
"Should we not confess that in our civilised attitude towards death we are once again living psychologically beyond our means, and should we not rather turn back and recognise the truth? . Death will no longer be denied; we are forced to believe in it. People really die; and no longer one by one, but many.(18)
In Gonzales-Torres' work there is a continuous acknowledgement of death, while at the same time presenting it as something that, as life, has the power to be a transformative experience. In the twin stacks of white paper called Untitled (Perfect Lovers) 1990 there is printed on the one stack "Somewhere better than this place" and on the other "Nowhere better than this place". Death is almost equated to the act of leaving one place for another, one which proves perhaps to be better than the first. Death is also implied in terms of the passing of time while the act of taking copies from the stack leads to erasure and disappearance. Life is defined by death and the act of dying while at the same time there is the suggestion of the body's ability for regeneration and growth, even if it is in another realm or time.
Also the idea of a body in need of constant care and looking after during a time of extreme illness is suggested in the fact that there is the responsibility on the owner of such a work to keep replenishing the stack by means of a printing plate provided for the purpose, and by implication the public responsibility to take care of such a body as a collective, whether by physical means or by seizing to be ignorant of AIDS and its disastrous effects.
Another series of works where the condition of the AIDS body is explored through metaphor are the piles of sweets. Explicit reference is made to the body in, for example Untitled (Revenge)1991 where 200 pounds, which was the combined weight of the artist and his lover, of individually wrapped ice-blue mint candies were presented to the viewer on the floor with the invitation to take and eat. Again the gradual wasting and loss of appetite, which is so often and so painfully experienced by people with AIDS is presented to us in the most subtle, but powerful way. Another work from the same series called Untitled (Placebo) involves us in the cultural field of the medical trials of potential treatment drugs which carries with it a profound supplement of hope
While on the one hand presenting the viewer with intimate biographical experiences of death and loss through the use of the metaphor, Gonzales-Torres also engages in a political activism of subversion akin to the strategies of such groups as ACT UP and Group Material, of which he was a member. For example the constant subversion of the art historical notion of the artwork as an unique image that cannot be reproduced by presenting the public with multiples, and on top of it inviting the viewer not only to touch, but take copies for free. Also the use of the floor space, as opposed to the wall or pedestal, with its distinctly "marginal" nature for the display of these fragile works about identity, loss and death. Thus the assertion of an identity that is distinctly queer in its subversive nature.
I admire artists that break the rules, that break with the expected unctions of an artist,...; artists that can recite economic facts at the drop of a hat; artists that can tell you how much money has been eliminated from programs for pregnant women and infants over the last twelve years by the Republican "pro-family" administration; ..."(19)
In his many jigsaw puzzle editions the images are from C-prints and could therefore not be handled as puzzles are supposed to be. Thus the "fun for the whole family"(20) is denied and the owner is instead left with the responsibility of preserving something that is fragile, precious and rarefied.
The political content of Gonzales-Torres' work is often suggested in titles such as "Death by Gun' or "Republican Years" or "Loverboy" or "National Rifle Association". Without didactically trying to deliver a message unto a receptive audience in need of reformation, the artist simply invites us to think about the social implication of for example the notion of "Death by Gun" in the context of the countless teenage suicides due to an inability to cope with a sexuality that is repressed in a homophobic society, or violence as a result of homophobia where countless gay men gets killed in the most horrific ways imaginable, or the stupidity of war and violence in general.
Finally, in Gonzales-Torres' work the personal and political becomes almost indistinguishable in the true fashion of feminism and gay politics. His series of billboard-works are an example of such a fusion where the personal/private becomes and informs the political/public and vice versa. In Untitled 1991 he presented the intimate image of a recently vacated bed on billboards all over New Work city. The bed, a site where people are born, lover's make love, and if you are lucky, die, is presented in a distinctly public site.
In Gonzales-Torres' work there is thus the refusal to present any one "truth" about the lives and experiences of all gay men within a single representational image of the body, instead careful metaphorical strategies are invented through which the body is courted and referred to in its fragile and complex state of being human in such a murderous time of AIDS.
1. Weeks Jeffrey, "Post-Modern AIDS?" Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS mythology, Boffin Tessa & Gupta Sunil (eds), London, River Oram Press, 1990.
2. Watney Simon, "Representing AIDS", Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS mythology, Boffin Tessa & Gupta Sunil (eds), London, River Oram Press, 1990.
3. Weeks Jeffrey, "Post-Modern AIDS?" Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS mythology, Boffin Tessa & gupta Sunil (eds), London, River Oram Press, 1990.
4. Treichler Paula, "AIDS, Homophobia and Biomedical Discourse: An Epidemic of Signification, October, no 43, Winter 1987, p 68.
5. McGrath Roberta, "Dangerous Liasons; Health, Disease and Representation", Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS mythology, Boffin Tessa & Gupta Sunil (eds), London, River Oram Press, 1990, p 144.
6. Miller David, Living with AIDS, McMillan, 1987, p 105.
7. Gillman Sander L., "AIDS and Syphilis: The Iconography of Disease", October, no 43, Winter 1987, p 88.
8. Watney Simon, "Representing AIDS", op.cit.,
9. Crimp Douglas, "Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism", AIDS: Cultural Analysis, Cultural Activism, Crimp Douglas, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1988.
11. Dreuille Emmanuel, Mortal Embrace: Living with AIDS, New York, Hill & Wang, 1988, p 122.
12. ACT UP Handout, New York, 1989.
13. Watney Simon, "Representing AIDS", op.cit., p 179.
14. Core Philip, "Unseen Enemy", The Independent, London, 14 April 1989, p 18.
15. Watney Simon, "Representing AIDS", op.cit., p 181.
16. Ibid, p 184.
17. Gonzales-Torres Felix, Felix Gonzales-Torres, New York, A.R.T. Press, 1993, p 13.
18. Freud Sigmund, "Thoughts For the Times On War and Death", Pelican Freud Library, vol 12, Harmondsworth, 1985.
19. Gonzales-Torres Felix, Felix Gonzales-Torres, op.cit., p 11.
20. Tallman Susan, "Felix Gonzales-Torres: SOCIAL WORKS" Parkett, no 39, New York, 1994, p 65.
I am an artist currently involved in research towards an MA in fine arts at the University of the Witwatersrand. My gay sexual identity in the context of a changing South Africa with its many histories of oppression and apartheid is of great importance in my work.
Challenge Research on Homosexuality
Department of Psychology, University of the Witwatersrand
I have changed my original paper entitled "Queer Question: Challenging Therapeutic and Research foci on Homosexuality" to only challenge research on homosexuality. I have integrated a view of modernist and post-modern subjectivities and how these epistemological and political frameworks inform certain ways of approaching homosexuality that are either oppressive or emancipatory. The 'new' focus I advocate for research is that of considering the person as oscillating between a monadic and self-critical, difuse subjectivity. As pointed out by my audience at my presentation, the use of a postmodern difuse subject makes it problematic to define a point from which the person can make a claim for the right to an essential experience of a fixed sense of homosexual attraction. How does the person move from this subjectivity to the monadic form from which such a claim can be made? I have no clear theoretical answer for this - I have no way to explain how a person who does not consider boundaries, who plays freely with discursive plasticine and has no fixed inner core, is then able to concretise such a core and narrate a self, and after a while dissolve again to start formation all over again. But I feel that this dilemma arises out of a theoretical fiction i.e. we are never in our total being either occupying a monadic or difuse subjectivity exclusively. A person is only engaged with certain parts of himself at a time, e.g. a person who experiences sexual orientation distress is at that moment of her life consciously and unconsciously enaged with the task of 'finding herself' but only with regards to her sexual identity. This task involves constant definition and redefinition according to the amount of discourses and experiences the person amasses whereby she can come to narrate herself. Any clear definition of the self is only stable until a new discourse or experience prods the person to reconsider himself and the way he relates to the world. But these revisionings of our parts always happen against a backdrop of the stable parts that are not being revised at that moment of one's life. It thus seems unlikely that a person will ever occupy a complete state in which all parts of himself are revelling in postmodern fragmentation and critical reconsideration. The person is always a work in progress - partly complete, partly under development, partly under revision. When the person is not, she occupies either monadic or difuse subjectivity completely and is operating in the extreme, and may no longer have full grasp of her potential to utilise a different subjectivity.
The place of this paper in my work is that is part of my endeavour to find a theoretical view that may enable emancipation of gay people without engaging in a dissecting, confessional practice of the origin of homosexuality. It is also part of a project that seeks to alter the discourse on homosexuality from one of "what is homosexuality's cause?" to one of "what are the pains and pleasures the person with same-sex desires in an oppressive world?".
Oscar Wilde spoke of "the love that dare not speak its name". Today we can speak of "the prejudice that dare not speak its name". The ethic that holds the norm to be more virtuous than differences is now maintaining silences more inconspicuously. As long as this prejudice and ignorance remains uninvestigated we cannot come to understand the form of reasoning that maintains the construct "homosexuality" as a high profile deviancy. Gay activist's attempts to to reinterpret and reinscribe the meaning of homosexuality, fall short of the dominant mechanisms of power that conspire to hide its true subjective nature within the closeted person who has no means or opportunity to describe her(1) sexuality in constructive terms. It is the struggle of coming out, the struggle of creating a knowedge of the self, that remains most misunderstood and misdirected. To what extent are the practices of psychology aiding or constraining this struggle; how does psychology articulate with the subjective narrative? Constructions of the body are realised through themes of etiology, object choice, sexual practice, identity and positions of power. Through their investigation, the multiple discursive view, points out how the homosexual body has a certain processed meaning and position within assymmetries of power. To what extent do research and clinical practices contribute to the positioning of homosexuality as subordinated or emancipated? What is the psychological discipline's responsibility towards the understanding of homosexuality?
could be pejorative, it could be celebratory, but whatever "Queer" is made to mean, it remains an act of distancing. This distance can be judgmental and prejudicial when it invokes the norm and deviancy; it can be subversive when reappropriated within gay politics; or it can be critical by defamiliarising and fragmenting our webs of meaning to reveal their constructedness in claims to knowledge and power. It is the last meaning of the word that this paper wishes to pursue to throw up the ways in which we have constructed homosexuality. "Queer!" allows us to note how erotic same-sex feelings, thoughts and actions are negotiated to be either represented within categories of sexuality or avoid them. "Queer!" notes our reactions to sex and the ways in which we try to circumscribe and control that most pleasurable and 'dangerous' phenomena. I seek to use "Queer!" as an analytic hammer whereby to smash the scientific category of "homosexuality" which has come to construct silences and implying differences without understanding the "shades of grey" - that illusive, discursively faint, twilight zone within which practices allow new subjectivities (new ways of relating) to emerge. "Queer!" does not respect reified categories since it is implicated within multiple uses. It is with this critical agenda that I seek to ask "Queer Questions" about the way we have come to understand homosexuality and showing up the sacred adherence to normality and science as particularly QUEER!
Psychology as a science is just one amongst many discourses on homosexuality. Its devotional popularity of positivism becomes dangerous when it so embroils the discipline that it no longer takes a reflexive positional or contextual look at itself within the different cultural narrations of which it is but one.
In order to escape discriminating ways of thinking, one needs to extricate oneself from the form of reasoning that is utilised by an oppressive discourse. This would mean looking at the ways in which the psychological discipline has been talking about homosexuality, and how these ways have prevented a radical re-understanding of homosexuality and have just pandered to discriminative practices, even unintentionally. We need to start from the practical position of asking, "Why has the discipline not contributed vastly to the lifting of victimising laws?" even more seriously, "How is it possible that the discipline's form of knowledge on homosexuality is able to be utilised to oppress people with same-sex desires?". In our current politically correct climate, "the love that dare not speak its name" (as Oscar Wilde so eloquently bemoaned) is now freely spoken about, albeit within a climate where there's a 'prejudice that dare not speak its name'. An essential part to being a psychologist or student-of-people is to acknowledge one's limitations and complicity in being at the same time the very object one wishes to study. The student's inextricability from her own study entails its own prejudice that needs to be acknowledged and understood for the inevitable bias it introduces.
This paper's bias is clearly that of working for an emancipatory position from which an experience of same-sex desire can be creatively employed to create a knowledge of the self that cannot be laid claim to by any institution of learning or supposed authority. Rather the position of any knowledge institution should be to understand the processes whereby knowledge is created and applied to create various effects within the self and the world. This is a bias as much as any other bias in science, religion or explicatory world views. The aim here is not to point out the emancipatory bias as any more legitimate than another. Rather, this academic perspective seeks to ascertain the context in which psychology can take a facilitative stand and the effects it is creating by doing so. The litmus test of the legitimacy and preferableness of the emancipatory view as a means of investigating the world, resides in the desirableness of its effects, namely that of enabling people with same-sex desires to give full blossoming to their erotic creativity by establishing constructive same-sex relationships. If the reader's philosophy of justice does not abide by this premise then she or he may now discontinue reading this paper.
The first starting point of the emancipatory perspective would be the investigation of the epistemological forms in which psychology has trapped homosexuality. This may be done by deconstructing the form of subjectivity employed in mainstream thinking. The subjectivity in question is that of the modernist monadic form, which assumes that the subject is an indivisible unit that is a complete, independent, separate and bounded unit that can be clearly defined in a fixed form. In order to illustrate the operation of this form of subjectivity in psychological discourse, a critique of two South African research studies may assist us, namely, A Psychobiographical Study of a Male Homosexual (Van Wyk and Simbayi 1995) and Geslagsoriëntasie, Kognetiewe vermoëns en Hormonale Status (Erasmus 1992).
Individuality: The Modernist Trapping of Homosexuality
Research on homosexuality immediately raises the concern, "What is homosexuality?" and "Who are homosexuals?"
In their paper Van Wyk/Simbayi (1995:1) defined homosexuality as including sexual orientation, sexual behaviour and sexual identity (attraction to the same sex, acting on those attractions and assuming an accompanying identity). They note that the distinguishing feature between homo- and heterosexuality is not the mode of sex, but "that homosexuals are attracted to partners of their own sex"(p.3). Homosexuality is thus constrained as a categorical trait that illustrates an internal property of the person within the boundaries of her individuality.
The study by Erasmus (1992) stated that homosexuality needs to be considered as a broad phenomenon that ranges within a continuum from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality, and thus includes a spectrum of vast differences in behaviour, physical constitution and personalities. Her sample however only contained 'exclusively homosexual' men, and without giving detailed illustration, it is suggested that this entails exclusive same-sex behaviour and erotic attraction for the same sex as the defining criteria (Erasmus 1992:37). Her definition is thus also one that focuses inwardly on the individual within the boundary of his individuality.
The two studies' inward foci are tied to their research enterprise to find the origin, cause or truth about homosexuality, namely that which is assumed to be responsible for the person's outward presentation in word and deed as "a homosexual".
By defining her subjects as "exclusive homosexuals", Erasmus assumes that her subjects are constitutionally different from heterosexual men as she proceeds to measure their hormonal and cognitive capacities. This assumption she is able to make because of her monadic understanding of subjectivity. Her subjects confessed to be "exclusively homosexual" and within the framework of a subject as a unitary, stable individual, this confession is taken as a revelation of internal truth, rather than a statement of how the person relates to the world. Erasmus fails to note the social construction of homosexuality as a person's means to find his fit in power relations i.e. that the person is not just self-defined as homosexual in relation to his internal feelings, but also (and especially) in relation to the understandings of others.
Erasmus (pp.37-42) does explicitly mention that a multitude of factors influence the nature and form homosexuality takes on in an individual, some of these factors being cultural influences. Unfortunately this acknowledgement does not stop her study from narrowly constraining homosexuality within the discourse of science. Her experimental research necessitated that, for the duration of its investigation, homosexuality was to be understood reductionistically i.e. that differences in (that broad phenomenon of) sexuality can be spotted by looking at hormones and performance on a cognitive test. Although she noted these as only contributing factors in the etiology of homosexuality, she still thereby manages to trap her subject's sexuality within the illusion of an exclusive homosexual individuality, and negate the very relations of persecution her subjects' identities are partly a response to. If you like, the multifaceted relational nature of the person is reduced to the singular internal properties of the individual.
What is thus interesting is that Erasmus (1992) found a statistically significant difference for her sample of male homosexuals who had lower testosterone counts and lower visual-spatial abilities than heterosexual men. It would seem that this confirms Erasmus' definition of "exclusive homosexuals", given that her results show a hormonal and cognitive similarity within that group. But such a conclusion would ignore some fundamental empirical considerations. Her sample is in no way representative of all people with the experience of same-sex desires. There seem to also be far more powerful factors (than hormones and cognition) at play, such as cultural dictates and constraints, that determine whether a person will define and realise herself as homosexual or not. It is also dubious how much of one's sexuality is determined by these organic or cognitive factors e.g. do hormones affect the way you express your same-sex desire, or are they merely contributive to having such desire? When we talk about homosexuality we are not talking so much about a particular internal composition of a person as about the way he chooses to relate socially and sexually to other people. What concerns the topic of homosexuality is far more about the politics of relationships, than about the truth of chemical composition.
Erasmus' use of the monadic subject illustrates how the construct of "the individual" is employed in order to provide boundaries to the person. Individuality becomes a circumscribed unit within which a construct (like homosexuality) can be operationalised (e.g. hormone level and cognitive performance) to explain its boundaries (e.g. to act and profess to be homosexual). In this way it is assumed that psychology can generate an explanatory theory of cause and effect that analytically highlights certain aspects of the person whilst suspending the entirety of the person. Within the epistemological mould provided by the monadic subject, individuality provides a means to capture a neat, contained understanding of the person as homosexual. This subjectivity allows the creation of a scientific truth about the person to which psychology lays superior claim by virtue of having the instruments of investigation that "discovered" this truth.
The question to consider is whether this is really what we want to, or ought to know about homosexuality, is that what concerns gay people, is that what will enable emancipation and the facilitation of people with same-sex desires to assume positions of psychological well-being in a world that discriminates?
Van Wyk/Simbayi (1995) tried to avoid the reductionistic effect Erasmus' quantitative method had in using the monadic subject, but they stepped into a different sort of scientific fiction.
Narrative: The Unacknowledged Legitimator of Scientific Constructs
Van Wyk/Simbayi (1995) attempted to avoid the quantitative bind of depersonalising homosexuality, by employing the entirety of the person in a qualitative autobiographical series of interviews of one male homosexual. This qualitative method was seen to consider the individual "as a person with thoughts, feelings and a history" (p.10). This hermeneutic approach was seen to allow an understanding of the person in context, thus giving a more complex multifactorial view of the etiology of homosexuality through drawing on the experiences of the person. Ironically the researchers end up breaking homosexuality "down into specific units" (p.10), a consequence which they sought to avoid by using their method. This resulted from their attempt to seek the best fit between the subject's autobiographical narrative and the available range of scientific theories on etiology.
In their conclusion the authors used the narrative account to inconclusively suggest that, in this case, family studies (overprotective mother and harsh father) together with unconscious phenomena (overidentification with mother and underidentification with father) provide the best predictive explanations of their subject's homosexuality. The authors thereby effectively employed their subject's narrative to justify scientific discourses whose methodologies remain disconnected from and nullify the subject's narrative as knowledge in its own right.
Lyotard (1984) noted this as a distinctive feature of the legitimacy process of modernist science. Scientific and narrative knowledge employ different language games. Each knowledge defines the criteria of authority differently. For science, authority is accorded to the technocrat who has been certified as competent to speak truthfully about the referent (construct e.g. homosexuality/homosexual). The referent plays no active role in its representation within the scientific statement. Narrative knowledge on the other hand does not require a community of technocrats and their evaluative standards. The authority lies in the uttering of the narrative by a person. This utterance positions the person in relation to the referent in such a way that what the person says is truthful. In effect the utterance is the referent.
The culture of science does not recognise the authority of narrative knowledge to be a legitimate professing of truth, yet relies heavily on that form of authority/knowledge in order to legitimise itself.
"Scientific knowledge cannot know and make known that it is the true knowledge without resorting to the other, narrative, kind of knowledge, which from its point of view is no knowledge at all." (Lyotard 1984:29 emphasis mine)
Van Wyk/Simbayi show this by gaining a narrative autobiographical testament from their subject, which was taken as knowledge about the person authorised by the subject's utterance. They then sought a fit between the way the subject had described himself and his life situation and the different scientific etiological constructs. The researchers/authors thereby appropriated and reprocessed the subject's narrative knowledge into a scientific form of knowledge. In this way the scientific community may come to respect the reworked narrative as knowledge, since it is now contained within a positivistically constructed understanding of individuality which acts as a higher order of knowledge to the subject's own narrative account of himself. But the narrative is essential to the legitimation of the scientific idea, since it can be claimed by science to be the true source of its knowledge without narrative being acknowledged as knowledge in itself. This is the knowledge credo employed by Van Wyk/Simbayi and many other modernist research projects.
The contingency of science upon narrative for its legitimation is unacknowledged within scientific discourse in order to maintain a scientific prerogative on the interpretations of what is to be legitimate knowledge or truth. But this hidden contingency also has a number of other unacknowledged power effects on the subject.
The Unacknowledged Effects of Scientific Constructs
Both studies cited thus operate with the implicit assumption of an individual within whom erotic same-sex feelings occur and from which same-sex behaviour is expressed. Their respective research aims are to try and find explanations or causes for homosexuality and to locate that point within the person and not within the relationship a person has with others. The person is seen as a product of various influences that range from the environmental to dispositional. Van Wyk/Simbayi and Erasmus' papers illustrate how homosexuality is appropriated by science and a particular homosexual constitution is mapped out that creates a new homosexuality.
There is a disjunction between the way in which people must politically use knowledge in their daily lives and the way science structures knowledge. Van Wyk/Simbayi and Erasmus are respectively asking the homosexual person to defend himself from discrimination using the excuse that he is that way because of his familial and unconscious dynamics and that he has a testosterone level that is lower than that of heterosexual men. Scientific knowledge in this way provides no affirmation, only excuses for homosexuality.
Through the scientific search for origin or explanation of homosexuality the person is individualised as a construct-containing unit, which is regulated by being accorded a certain scientific knowledge of itself, which serves to guide and control the subject within discourses. Science only allows the subject to speak of himself by referring to a truth outside the realm of his agency. Our research practices therefore create a knowledge that only allows for scientifically guided agents. Ordinary people become objects determined by scientific truth, loosing any legitimate agency and self-understanding of their own. This cult of scientific truth may explain why people who come out immediately grab and search for explanations for why they have the same-sex desires they have. The person experiences a profound illegitimacy in her experience of self when she does not refer to an authority outside of her body. The person experiences no integrity, no authority to be bound up in her self- experience. To feel same-sex desire is therefore problematically experienced as not really constituting a knowledge of the self, rather such a knowledge can only be granted by another i.e. scientific authority. This makes the person with same-sex desires profoundly vulnerable to the inconsistencies in scientific debates about the healthiness and nature of his own desires.
Discourses citing origin are more likely to evoke pity or accord the secondary status of a sexually disabled/disadvantaged person rather than provide equality and emancipation. These discourses also tap into the curative views that uses an understanding of origins in order to change a homosexual orientation into a heterosexual one. The assumption is that once you know what caused it you can cure/change it. People who seek to label their homosexuality positively and non-reductionistically are left out in the cold. The focus on origin ignores how homosexuality can be creatively applied in the world.
Identity: the political application of the knowledge form of individuality
So far we have considered psychology's paradigmatic use of the monadic subject as creating a particular epistemological framework of individuality within which people can be understood and can understand themselves. The concept of 'an individual' thereby allows certain forms of knowledge to operate with a prerogative that can be oppressive.
But individuals do not exist in vacuums, rather, in social systems. The positioning of one individual to another entails acts of power which create a political facet to individuality. This political nature of the subject is embodied by an identity. Identity establishes in and out groups, as well as what is in and outside of the subject. We thus come to consider not just boundary and content of the individual but also the centres and margins of society or knowledge communities that have certain identities. Identities are intimately wrapped up in knowledge i.e. what is known about the self and the other. An identity thus establishes a certain knowledge of self and the world as primary, constitutional or central, and other forms of knowledge secondary, marginal and fragmented. Thus knowledge wrapped up identity enables individuals to establish alliances and opposition, to include and exclude.
Given the political context of discrimination in which homosexuality is couched, research on it inevitably constructs homosexuality as an identity, i.e. a construct of knowledge that occupies a particular position within the political arena of margins and centres.
Psychology, with benevolent intent but still seeing itself as a defining authority of truth, has tried to reformulate the classically marginalised and pathologised experiences of homosexuality. But this has remained a benevolent despotic control exercised over the meaning of homosexuality. Psychology has restored (or rather created) this missing 'alternative' sexual form in psychological discourse as a coherent, autonomous, illusory identity constructed through the knowledge of the origin of homosexuality. The construct of "homosexuality" has centred same-sex behaviour, feelings and thoughts within Psychology's own discourse, the province of normality. "Homosexuality" became one of the legitimate sexual categories along with "heterosexuality" and "bisexuality" with an antecedent binary definitional requirement of either belonging or not belonging to one such category. And so psychology constructs the centre of homosexual health (through supposed objective measures) which is opposed to the marginality occupied by all other sexual practices that are not configured by psychology in its own particular way. Psychology thus constrains the legitimate ways of understanding and evaluating yourself. Sexual behaviour and attraction are 'objectively' reified into sexual orientation (Hencken 1984).
Claims to objective methods in psychology essentialise categories, missing many of the grey areas within which people make sense of their sexuality. Hencken (1984) illustrates the multitude of ways in which people construct labels to categorise their sexual behaviour and intentions within a political/power field where homosexuality is denigrated. Constructs such as, "Christ-I-was-drunk-last-night", "I was just horny", "It's more available with guys" or "I didn't really like it" (Hencken 1984:54-59) are all ways of labelling homosexual behaviour and feelings without self-labelling as homosexual. Psychology will find it hard to slot these labellings into its own preordained categories of understanding. What cannot be locked into a category will fall short of and be marginal to the discipline's understanding and be devalued consequently. Given the paradigm of the monadic subject, the person who does not conform to a delineated boundaried category of meaning is constituted as occupying an unarticulated, empty cite of rejection (Kirby 1996). In other words one is in crises.
Centring Crises: Regulating Identities and the Knowledge they Embody
Crises separate and alienate us from others. They are an experience of falling outside the boundaries of normalcy. The modernist response is generally to find a route back to the safe centre of a fixed identity or category, wherein research on causation has been instrumental by trying to define the categories we are supposed to return to for health.
Being in a crises makes a person feel as if he is in a state of incoherence and a loss of identity. The crisis position is unfortunately construed as a destructive fragmented margin from which the person needs to move towards a unified meaningful identity. But, although crises seems to be on the margins, it remains a discursive construction, a quality that centres it within dominant discourses that have constructed it (McNamee 1995). The discipline thus holds the knowledge on what is and how to understand marginalities. A paradox occurs in that the process of understanding the margins ascribes a definable identity/category to it (e.g. a state of sexual orientation confusion) in order to contain and capture the multiple natures or possibilities that occur at the margins, but at the same time the margins are treated as a condition of incoherence and fragmentation. This marginal identity as defined by the centre does not involve one of inclusion within the political/knowledge community and is therefore not attributed to a full person; the premise being that a complete person is also a social being. What is thus contained by science as an identity of marginality is effectively a non-identity composed of actions or states that are extra-social, devalued and considered dire to get out of.
Modernist knowledge practices avoid the marginal state of extra-categorical multiplicity and fragmentation and exploit it as a way of defining normality, community and health through exclusion, rejection and negation. In order to exclude you need to understand what it is you are excluding and it is in this capacity that knowledge of "the other" is vociferously pursued. Normality is deployed by totalising administrations and sciences as a way to identify people and getting people to identify themselves, and so individualise and categorise them, in order to make them governable (Rajchman 1991).
This is the political regulative aspect that the paradigm of the monadic subject commands by mapping identity onto knowledge and thereby positioning people hierarchically. Research has not aided in illuminating this experience of homosexuality i.e. the experience of being marginalised and searching and fighting for a valued and reaffirming knowledge of the self. This lack has flown from research using the monadic form of subjectivity which may have two disempowering effects for people who have experiences of same-sex desires that place them in a marginal position to the heterosexually centred majority who rate such desires as pathological or sinful.
1 People experiencing same-sex desires may feel a great pressure to go the normative heterosexual route. Where psychological research has omitted any narration of homosexuality, there it has condemned the same-sex desiring subject to official discursive silence. No opportunity is made to place a person with such desires in relation to socially acknowledged identities (i.e. no knowledge framework is created of same-sex desiring subjects in relation to being a member of community). Although the discipline may not actively discriminate in such instances, its active creation of silences relegates the homosexual subjectivity to the mercy of discriminating societal discourses. The monadic subject paradigm within its accompanying centre-margin framework enables the discipline to engage in such acts of silencing. This is because the centre is construed as being of all importance to the concerns of normality, stability and health. The margins exist merely to show what is not-health so that the margins are not attended to when they are not useful in defining the centre.
2 Same-sex desire does not have to be silenced, but can be constructed as a valid construct within the centre e.g. in today's politically correct climate homosexuality is researched as being a valid sexual orientation as part of a community's repertoire of healthy categories. However, homosexuality may still be pathologised in the process that is set up whereby a person must select which scientifically preordained category of being should apply to him. During such a process a person may run into categorical difficulties and be diagnosed with ego-dystonic homosexuality (officially removed from the DSM but still used by therapists today see Hartman 1995). This is the condition whereby the person experiences his same-sex feelings as imposing an ontological category upon him (i.e. homosexuality) and is highly distressed by this. The problem thereby becomes situated within the person.
Ego-dystonic homosexuality as a diagnosis pathologises homosexuality because it problematises sexuality and the individual rather than societal prejudice. Malyon (1982) states that the ego-dystonic focus should be shifted from homosexuality to homophobia. It is homophobia that opposes the very organismic homosexual feelings that emerge from within the person. Homophobia introjected may form an ego-baseline from which all feelings defined as 'homosexual' become ego-dystonic. It is therefore archaic self-restriction and societal/parental injunctions that are primarily ego-dystonic. Resolving difficulty with homosexuality should target the manifestations of homophobia and not the content of the person's homosexual experience. The paradigm of the monadic subject does not seem to encourage this, but rather entail the reverse, because of its unitary approach to the person that neglects the effects created in him by being relational.
Seeking an Emancipatory Subjectivity
In order to counter these oppressive effects made possible by the old paradigm, subjectivity in research needs to encompass the experiences that have been classically marginalised as being valid and constructive in their own right, and not as positions fallen from categorical grace. Foucault's ideas on freedom may assist us in this regard to draw in the missing dimensions of subjectivity. Foucault defines freedom as a critical experience which is
"a constant attempt at self-disengagement and self-invention" (paraphrased by Sawicki 1991:101).
Self-disengagement entails noting how one's identity is a product of its historical location. Identity becomes a target for questioning rather than a means of self-assertion and exclusion (Rajchman 1991). We need to ask what is desirable about our identities rather than what desire or act our identity is a response to. Freedom constitutes moments when we don't accept practices that define us and when we note the cost in maintaining our definition of ourselves. We note the ruptures and discontinuities in our identities (i.e. the things that don't seem to fit, the things in between categories). (Rajchman 1991)
Self-invention is not about transcending our present view of ourselves, but seeking new experiences; not to discover the self but cross our boundaries into new ways of being or understanding; to open up new possibilities of acting and suspend adherence to old interpretations in order to invent new ones. To do this we need to choose amongst the range of discourses available and reflect on the implications of our choices (Sawicki 1991).
For the gay person choice does not always seem to be an option, since choosing to be homosexual in a world that wishes its demise seems irrational. For that reason the homosexual person may feel subject to fate (Siegel/Lowe 1994). This sense of lack of control over one's life can make a gay man vulnerable to the various manifestations of disempowerment e.g. to surrender carelessly to self-destructive risky sexual behaviour owing to experiencing an external locus of control over one's destiny (Cave 1993). Research thus need to focus on how people with same-sex desires gain a sense of empowered agency in defining themselves.
Empowerment requires self-disengagement and self-invention which would constitute becoming aware of the effects discourses are trying to create in us i.e. how they try to both affect our way of relating to ourselves as well as to others. Once aware, we are able to choose how we will articulate with the political intent of these discourses i.e. we can choose to conform or choose to do and be different.
The virtue of self-disengagement and self-invention draws us a picture of a postmodern celebration of the critical experience of fragmentation and awareness of a multiplicity of subjectivities. A major criticism directed against this view is that it negates a self-managing executive self, which is required to hold the person in her crisis in order to avoid psychotic distress. But Wolf and Klein (1988) show that we are not faced with choosing either unified identities or fragmented subjectivities as a road to health. We can maintain the importance of definition and boundaries (and executive selves), whilst respecting, utilising and making space for the 'unformed' or undecided state. They reformed their client's negative assumptions as follows: "bisexual confusion was described to him as an innate flexibility that he was 'lucky' to have" (p.75). Their emphasis was that whatever decisions a person makes "would consider all parts of himself" (p.73). This conceptualisation acknowledges the modernist endeavour of establishing forms (i.e. "consider all parts") as well as the postmodern critique that involves and accords choice (i.e. "innate flexibility").
Our new paradigm of subjectivity may thus be described as containing two forms of being, between which the experience of self oscillates. On the one hand we have the inward origin-focused monadic subject that has a clearly defined boundary, and on the other the self-critical outwardly focused subject who speaks from no particular origin and sets no boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. This paradigm (which is straddling a modernist and postmodern one) enables knowledge of the subject to operate in the following ways:
1 Classical investigations of cause and boundary are still of value albeit being only a partial, incomplete way of understanding the person.
2 A critique of the coherent unitary self is endemic to having a knowledge of the self. This means that one cannot take a snapshot of a subjectivity (like being homosexual) and define its unchanging stable predictable configuration that may be assumed by a person. This would miss how a subjectivity is also idiosyncratically defined and reworked as a response to inner experiences (of e.g. desires) and outside discourses within which the person comes to relationally position the inner. Knowing who a person is also requires knowing how a person is, i.e. how the person changes her nature by being critical of the ways in which she is defined, ways that are non-essential and constructionist.
3 Moments of definition and coherence of self provide stability, security and a position from which a person may narrate herself by being able to choose discourses appropriate to her inner experiences and disagree with and change discourses available for self-understanding and self-promulgation. Emancipation requires identification with a stable construct of self from which claims can be made for equality and political rights.
4 Subjectivities entail conditions of fragmentation, the person need not be subordinated to her own self-definition or those prescribed by others. An oscillating subjectivity between centration and decentration, unison and fragmentation, creates permission for the person to experience parts of the self as undefined without devaluing it or labelling it as pathological/sinful or in crises. It creates permission for moments of crises to be reinterpreted as critiques of the self-order and social order, knowing that their constructedness have no deterministic bind on one's subjectivity. Agency is thereby broadened from a purely scientifically legitimated agency to a narratively legitimated agency as well. The subject contains authority within herself by virtue of being able to be critical and not just having to accept scientific dogma.
The Relational and Oscillating Subjectivity
This picture of subjectivity notes the person as existing partly within and because of relations with others, i.e. the self cannot be understood without understanding the way others relate to it. but his relational nature of the person has been ignored by the modernist monadic subjectivity. The knowledge created by this aspect of subjectivity is also lost to this paradigm. This is most clearly seen in research studies where the researchers omit their own sexuality and own interest from the design of the study. They also omit the reasons why people are willing to submit to their research studies. If we had to consider these reasons we would become aware of the relational understanding that researcher and researched have of oneanother. By that I mean, the meaning each party will construct of itself and the other as a result of their relating. This will shape people's conceptions about who should know and is able to know what, which will be influenced by the position of power each person has in relation to the other.
What this paper has tried to show is that through the manipulation of the scientific researcher-subject power relation a knowledge of the subject is created that is oppressive if the assumptions of monadic individuality are employed. Using instead a relational oscillating paradigm of subjectivity in research, the subject will be given far greater authority in defining what is to be considered as knowledge about herself and that this knowledge is contingent upon the context she moves in, and is not static, but self-critical and constantly changing within the political field of everyday life. A greater agency is thereby accorded to the subject whose concerns may then come to influence the nature of the research and enable the researcher to assist knowledge construction that may enable emancipation i.e. provide discourse that opens possibilities of new ways of understanding and being.
The assumption of objectivity has allowed us to think that the homosexual person and the discipline that seeks to understand him are untainted by homosexuality's pathologised past and present subordinated position. Surfing on the assumption Van Wyk/Simbayi and Erasmus' studies expressed the intent to aid homosexual emancipation via their empiricist proclamation of the truth of homosexual origins. But the position of this paper is that there is no such clear objective viewpoint from which a person can pronounce truth. Instead, as has been illustrated, trying to assume such a position results in creating a notion of legitimate knowledge that disempowers the person-on-the-ground by subjecting him to the dictates of a scientific knowledge empire whose knowledge concerns may even aid the oppression of the subject.
What would constitute a politically responsible research practice in psychology? This would be a critical position that both questions the subject's worldview as well as psychology's own theoretical assumptions by allowing the subject's perspective to alter theory, and not pin down and segment the subject through method. The discipline must always be open to articulate with its subjects without appropriating and reprocessing their meanings. Using the subjectivity of fragmented critical experience is not to advocate the decentred, fragmented subject as the new postmodern construct that will perfect data collection. No! considering critical experience is a means of injecting a critical conscience into the directions and aspirations set up by our modernist research striving to discover some form of truth with which we can promote change for a better world. This post-structural conscience may always check up on our universalising tendencies that obscure differences and oppress minorities.
In research we cannot assume that "exclusive homosexuals" used as subjects are non-relational, non-political and definitive. The realisation of the person is a combination of internally emergent qualities for which the person is trying to find meaning and negotiate justification in this world of conflicts. By heeding this emergent struggle, research's responsibility is to investigate the person's life journey by concluding with questions and not just synthesis.
Queer Questions highlight the dialectical process between an exclusive adherence to the virtues of a decentred, fragmented, postmodern experience of self and the pursuit of a definitive identity. Within and between these two positions we all find ourselves i.e. our experiences of ourselves as whole and purposeful are intermittently critiqued by experiences of being dissatisfied with the constraints of our self-understanding. Research should include both in order to avoid losing and dominating the processual beings we all are.
Cave, H.A. (1993) Acquired immune Deficiency Syndrome: Its Impact on Gay Male Lifestyles Unpublished Masters Thesis in Clinical Psychology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Erasmus, M.M.M. (1992) Geslagsoriëntasie, Kognetiewe Vermoëns en Hormonale Status Unpublished Masters Thesis in clinical psychology, Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg
Hartman, W. (1995) From Symptoms to Allies: An Eriksonian Utilization Approach in the Treatment of Sexual Orientation Distress, Paper presented at the First National Congress of the Psychological Society of South Africa, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg
Hencken, J.D. (1984) "Conceptualisations of homosexual behaviour which preclude homosexual self-labelling" in J.P. De Cecco (ed) Bisexual and Homosexual Identities: Critical Clinical Issues, The Haworth Press, NY
Kirby K.M. (1996) Indifferent Boundaries: Spatial Concepts of Human Subjectivity The Guildford Press, London
Lyotard, J-F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition Manchester University Press, Manchester
Malyon, A.K. (1982) "Psychotherapeutic implications of internalised homophobia in gay men" in J.C. Gonsiorek (ed) Homosexuality and Psychotherapy: A Practitioner's Handbook of Affirmative Models, The Haworth Press, N.Y.
McNamee, S. (1995) "Reconstructing Identity: The communal construction of crisis" in S.McNamee and K.Gergen (eds) Therapy as Social Construction
Rajchman, J. (1991) Truth and Eros:Foucault, Lacan, and the question of Ethics, Routledge, N.Y.
Sawicki, J. (1991) Disciplining Foucault: Feminism, Power, and the body, Routledge, N.Y.
Siegel, S. and Lowe Jnr, E. (1994) Uncharted Lives: Understanding the Life Passages of Gay Men, Dutton, N.Y.
Van Wyk, R.E. and Simbayi, C. (1995) A Psychobiographical Study of a Male Homosexual, Paper presented at the First National Congress of the Psychological Society of South Africa, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg
Wolf, T.J. and Klein, F. (1988) "Ericksonian Hypnosis and strategic interventions for sexual orientation confusion" in E.Coleman (ed) Psychotherapy with Homosexual Men and Women: Integrated Identity Approaches for Clinical Practice, The Haworth Press, N.Y.
1. The generic "he" and "she" is used interchangeably in this paper in order to avoid the cumbersome he/she as well as prevent alignment with any sexist discourses.
Completing a BA with majors in Psychology and Social Anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand. Qualified counsellor with the Gay and Lesbian Counselling (GLC) Service in Johannesburg. Current projects: I am currently investigating a topic for my honours research dissertation to be conducted in 1997. This topic is investigating the trauma dynamic in the closet experience of homosexuality. The intent is to discover to what extent the relational dynamics of post-traumatic stress can be found in the closeted person who experiences same-sex desires.
PO Box 364
The headmaster's study
K J Kelly & S Sedumedi
Psychology Department, Rhodes University & Psychology Department, University of the North
This is an essay on what it means to get a `good spanking'. The study interprets the meaning of spanking in a South African high school context, and in the lives of a number of people who find spanking sexually stimulating. Spanking for social control and spanking for erotic gratification are both pursued within tightly regulated and rule-bound confines. The significance of this commonality between these seemingly diverse social practices is explored. Some attempts are made at understanding the erotic face of spanking.
This study started as an attempt to explore common themes in what were in their inception two separate studies: one on the use of corporal punishment (CP) in a specifically sexual context and the other on the use of punishment (in general) in a high school in the Northern Province. The rather vague and general purpose of this effort was to begin to develop a better understanding of discourses around corporal punishment.
We will begin with a very brief reveiw of the literature in our area of study. Psychoanalytic thought has largely been concerned with understanding the relation between the aggressive and the sexual instincts. An early milestone was Freud's (1905) view in `Three essays of sexuality' that sadism is a normal, aggressive component in the sexual impulse of man. SM is conceived as an instance of identification with the aggressor and thus derives from sadism. In `Beyond the pleasure principle' Freud (1920) posits masochism not as a derivative of sadism but as a self-injuring tendency from which both destructive and sadistic impulses are derived. They are seen to have their origins in a primary death instinct. More recent work in psychoanalysis, has seen sexual excitement as a basic affect which serves to overcome primitive splitting of love and hatred, and serves to support the toleration of ambivalence in normal development (Kernberg, 1991). Benjamin (1990) situates understanding of relationships of domination in the context of the childhood environment and develops a less drive oriented and more relational view of SM.
A recurring theme that weaves through the literature is the relation between pain and sexuality. Other important themes are: the construction of the self in SM (Baumeister, 1989, 1991; Dean, 1992; Klossowski, 1994); moral discourse and CP (Gibson, 1978); and the relation between power and sex (cf. Tompson 1994: "There are enormous hard ons behind the facade of authority and power"!)
It should be said that there is a lack of conceptual clarity in the literature about the distinction between different forms of sado-masochistic practice. For example, between moral masochism and sexual masochism; between non-sexually oriented self-destructive behaviours (risk behaviours) and sexually oriented SM; and between sado-masochism as a character (or cultural) trait and SM as pathology. There is a tendency to lump together all forms of SM practice as if they are one and the same.
Having given a very brief introduction to some of the ideas addressed in the literature we will proceed to our own analysis. We are not going to address the sexual dimension of official CP (in the school context). The material thus far collected in this project does little to supplement the literature on this subject and we have not developed new ideas in this area.
(As an aside may we comment on the fairly widespread view that the sexualisation of CP is a product of the site of punishment; i.e. the buttocks. In Scotland caning has traditionally been delivered to the hands and it seems, from Woolaston's (1993) story, that there are those in Scotland for whom caning on the hands has taken on erotic significance. Unless the hands have somehow (in these people's imaginations) come to stand for the arse, this poses a threat to the theory!)
Before proceeding any further, we would like to state an assumption that underlies our study of sex CP. It is our view that people do not enjoy the pain they desire to suffer. They most certainly pursue it avidly, but if anything it is the mastery or control of pain that is sought. As exquisite as pain may be in the context in which it is set, it is still pain in the normal sense of the word, and sex CP may be seen as a treatment of pain. It transforms pain. It makes `a work' of pain. Undoubtedly the pull of sex, the sense of unequivocal purpose which sex gives to the senses is deeply involved in this work. Somehow sex is an essential ingredient in this work. We say `somehow' because we do not yet understand the roles that sex plays. What we have come to believe is that connoisseurs of the art of receiving a good beating tend to be able to enjoy the scene without the added pleasure of sex. The scene itself, played out over a period of time, becomes what is desired. The climax that is often, but not always sought as the object of the event, is not, however, its primary objective. We believe, based on interviews with informants, that while it is undeniably set in a sexual context, this is not so much a sexual perversion as an entertaining of a particular kind of relational scene. It draws on sex for its energy and direction, and it perhaps draws on sexual intimacy for its sanction, but this is not the primary story involved in the art of receiving a good spanking.
Before going further, we would like also to justify our bypassing of another concern to be found in the literature. This is the concern with pathology. It should be said that there does not appear to be a simple relation between early childhood trauma and the desire for a beating. Mollinger (1982) has shown that it is possible to explain SM from any of the basic developmental stages. It has variously been seen as a form of manipulation, a plea for help, a method of making oneself lovable, the down-side of artistic creativity and a religious expression. There seems to be little evidence in favour of it stemming from childhood abuse or a particular type of upbringing. Yet sex CP does have a particular fascination with historical detail. It is as if practitioners are strongly interested in historical detail and this may lead one to suppose that they are interested in rewitnessing or re-experiencing a childhood trauma of some sort.
There is a close mimicking of actual instances of corporal punishment situations in sex CP. The Wildfire Club is a WWW site specialising in female discipline. It advertises itself thus "The special feature of this forum is that it deals with real discipline in a serious manner; bad language, overt sexuality and crude behaviour in general are excluded. The Wildfire Club is also the world's finest source of authentic school-type disciplinary implements, including English school canes and Scottish school straps, made exactly as they always have been." There is a strong linking to real life situations.
A Cape Town professional spanker reports that his clients often request a spanking in gym shorts and South African spanking fantasies are frequently placed in schools. While it may seem that the spankophiles are in general a fantastical lot, they are, unlike some other CP practitioners, not all that inventive. They seem to draw on the past for material, and on actual situations of beating. Some spankophiles are avid collectors of real-life CP memorabilia, for example film footage. The place of the `actual' or `real' in CP fantasies, is in our view not really evidence of the phenomenon being an attempt to come to terms with real-life CP, but has another function. It serves to set sex CP in an imaginary context, which is real enough, but without whatever it is that would make the real situation truly intolerable. However, at this point we will not pursue this line of thinking further, because it is central to our thesis and needs to be more properly introduced. It is pursued more fully later.
The particular line we are going to take, and which allows us to find some interesting parallels between our two sources of material concerns the notion of rules. We will argue that CP in both its official and sex context is about rules: the setting up of rules, the testing of the limits of rules, and the enforcement of rules. Secondly we will look at what sex CP practitioners may be attempting to do with their practices. We will at this stage try to see it as a legitimate form of cultural work; i.e. as art or theatre. We will look at what sex CP does with domination, coercion, suffering, humiliation and how it plays with our languages for experiencing these.
The most general psychology which we are following is the psychology of rule following. By this we obviously refer to the psychology of morality and ethics and the psychology of the law. But more fundamentally and generally we are concerned with the place of rules in social life and the use of rules in regulating mental life through `discipline'. We must say at this point that we are aware of Foucault's concern with these issues and his work `Discipline and punish' (Foucault,1979) still needs to be properly consulted. We are trying to stay as close as possible to the material we have collected and are wary, at this stage, of grand narratives which might be too leading.
We will proceed by briefly describing the parameters of the two distinct studies which we are pursuing, and will work our way into the core of our argument through discussing why it might be of value to consider these studies alongside each other.
The one project examines the meaning and justification of punishment in a high school in the Northern Province. It compares and contrasts the different discourses of punishment subscribed to by parents, teachers and pupils. It has used focus groups and questionnaires to gather material and the literature on punishment justification as a theoretical resource.
Unfortunately much of the material collected in this study concerns punishment in general, although there was a fair amount of material relating to CP in particular. Much that was said about punishment in general is of relevance to the particular line taken here and we assume that these general sentiments refer also to CP.
The second project consists of a wide ranging exploration of the practice of corporal punishment in sexual contexts. This study incorporates a wide-ranging exploration of the literature on sado-masochism, beginning with the work of de Sade and Sacher-Mosach. It also includes indepth interviews with practitioners of sex CP, and extensive exploration of internet resources. The latter, it might be said, as an aside has been strong testimony to the value of the internet as a resource for conducting cultural studies.
CP for sex and CP for the purposes of social control in school contexts might be said to share no more than a particular form of body practice. The meaning of the practice in both settings might be as varied as the meaning of a wink, in which case there is scant reason to regard them as the same type of practice. However, we will argue differently.
For the purposes of this presentation we will focus on a particular subset of the CP sex scene, the adherents of which are strongly committed to the practice, in a sexual context, of what Colin Farrel's internet homepage calls `official CP'.
The discussion will be limited to this particular form of CP. The CP scene has many other subgroup and there is good reason to understand that the varieties of CP experience are really quite distinctive in their motivations. However, the particular form of CP experience examined in this context is characterised by a close mimicking of school CP situations.
In the high school in this study the desirability of CP as a form of punishment was not unanimously supported by any of the three groups surveyed and interviewed (focus groups). In general parents were possibly most in support of the practice and felt that teachers assume parents roles whilst children are at school. Since parents in that particular cultural context generally do apply corporal punishment there is no strong sentiment against CP. Teachers, on the other hand are now bound by a law outlawing CP. It has been deemed cruel, inhuman and degrading and inimical to constitutionally guaranteed rights of children.
At least some teachers feel that the recent outlawing of CP has denied them of a useful tool for maintaining order. In their view some form of punishment is necessary in order to instill a tendency to self-regulation, and CP is an easily administered option in this regard. Both parents and teachers tend to think in instrumental terms about punishment. They believe that punishment serves a constructive social purpose. They agree that it should be closely regulated and there should be policies about how pupils should be punished and for what. Pupils do not disagree with this, so much as feel threatened by punishment because the punishment scene provides an opportunity for the expression of what they perceive as sadistic enjoyment of the punishment of pupils. The motives ascribed to teachers in administering punishment in general, and CP in particular, range from venting of their own frustrations to sexual enjoyment. All parties agree that clear, consensually agreed upon rules should be set to regulate school behaviour and there should be clear and consensually agreed upon ways of ensuring that these rules are followed; and constructive ways of dealing with violations of these rules. The central concern seems to be to move away from a retributive, punitive mode of thinking about CP, towards a purposeful one. It must be rid of its emotionality and personal motivation and there must be strictly followed and commonly agreed upon rules for its administration. Furthermore, the rules which punishment in general and CP in particular are concerned to protect must be agreed upon. There is a general feeling amongst all three groups that the consultative process leading to formulation of school rules and rules of punishment, should be broad and might even incorporate community agencies such as the police and churches.
The pupils do not wish not to be punished; i.e. they do not desire freedom from punishment. Nor do they want the absence of rules. Rather, they wish punishment to be regulated, controlled so that more does not creep into it and so that it is unwaveringly bound to their act of transgression and their guilt. In general it might be said that they consent to being rule-bound and they believe that CP like any other form of punishment must be tightly rule-bound. Retribution discourse knows no place in this desire. Retribution involves personal feelings. It requires a judgement of guilt followed by some form of atonement. This form of atonement is achieved when there is public acknowledgement or witnessing of the suffering of the other. It follows `the talion law', `an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth'. Retribution discourse is distinct from more utilitarian, instrumental discourses aimed at resocializing, or correcting or rehabilitating offenders. It comes out of a deep personal psychology and cultural psychology of revenge which sees the personal suffering of the offender as a natural form of justice. Punishment is thus seen as intrinsically corrective because a perpetrator is seen to suffer. While this kind of discourse shows itself in punishment acts in schools, it is not, so to speak, official policy. Officially, punishment must be directed towards the aim of instilling discipline; i.e. it must have rehabilitative intent. Whatever retributive emotions might be felt, will not be given expression when the rules are followed.
Pupils use the fact that teachers seem to enjoy or at least be personally motivated to punish as an argument for the better control of punishment practices. We read this as their wanting to take humiliation, personal victory out of the punishment scene. Atonement is in this view not the objective. Punishment has the optimal outcome when the pupil is shown how to adapt better to the school environment and not when the pupil is publicly humiliated and experiences pain and suffering.
The pupils ironically do not protest the rules themselves. They seem to believe in rules, and are interested in being part of a process within the school system of redefining the rules within which they must operate. They are interested in having a say in making the system of punishment more impersonal and more rehabilitative. We cannot say why they might wish to make their own bondage less retributive, less punitive and less interpersonal. Perhaps because (most of them) have not shame, they do not carry a psychological burden of guilt which they need to find atonement for. Sex CP practitioners, on the other hand, do; or at least they have a need to sometimes act as if they do. The pupils seem to have no psychological motive to be on the receiving end of moral reprehension and be made to suffer for it.
Practitioners of sex CP, and we will concentrate specifically on `the bottoms' (recipients rather than spankers) are artistes of rule-making, rule-testing and the art of receiving punishment in its retributive sense. They hone to essentials the psychology of suffering, humiliation, mercy and forgiveness. Practitioners push the experience of pain to limits where it becomes close too unbearable, excruciatingly unpleasant. Here on the edge of what is only bearably tolerable to them, they experience and refine their direct knowledge of shame and guilt. They come to know it better, and better. May we again say that the reasons for this being sexualised and taking the form of caning remains somewhat of an unexplored dimension in our study. We have already said that whatever the sexual role is it seems to be a vehicle rather than the object of the experience. The reason for wanting CP, rather than say a good psychological dressing down, is possibly because it assuages a particular kind of guilt, which is the object of their compulsion to repeat. It is set in a particular form of relations of domination; one which involves a teacher who has a socially (as opposed to say, `spiritually', which takes shape in religious forms of sex CP experience) granted role of keeping order. The headmaster is the one who judges how naughty one has been and decides the punishment. He is also the guardian of a relatively petty form of morality; around the following of school rules such as `You may not put your hands in your pockets'. It is also a kind of morality the breaking of which does not earn peer disfavour. On the contrary it is associated with peer approval. There seems to be a form of pride and social status associated with being able to take the punishment in situations where there is no real questioning of authority. Possibly it is a way of coping with an unpleasant situation which knows not the vaguest possibility of protest. In the case of the high school pupils in the Northern Transvaal this is far from the case. They feel entitled to co-determine the rules, and the manner of their administration. The sex CP practitioner reenacts situations where this is explicitly not the case. However, very significantly while sex CP practitioners expose themselves to domination beyond their own right of protest, they do so within a system of finely thought out rules, which are their own. In this way they suffer the agonies of punitive justice, but because of themselves. This seems to represent a form of reversal where they pursue what is unpleasant, and in this pursuit they engage in an undoing of their domination by the other. It is finally `all theirs', by virtue of their desire, by virtue of their rules.
Let us say more about these rules. The use of `safewords' well illustrates that the infliction of pain is set in a regulated context. In spite of the need to experience pain and protest and begging for mercy and forgiveness and suchlike, the parameters of the activity are very well regulated. A safeword is a word that a spankee may use to stop spanking play immediately. It functions as a safety valve to prevent the prolonged violation of limits. And it allows the spankee to engage in mock protests without confusing the spanker. Common safewords are `red', `mercy', `uncle' and, believe it or not, `aardvark' (FAQ document in alt.sex.spanking). Some people also use cautionary word such as `yellow' to signal that the play is getting close to the limits and should be softened but not stopped. There is a careful sense of limits and boundaries and great care is taken not to transgress these. This is a closely regulated environment.
We would like to quote from a document written by one connoisseur of the art written as instructions for professional spankers whom he consults:
I want to give you the instructions before we start... You can cane me on the buttocks as hard as you can but not on the upper thighs or the small of the back. Try to spread the strokes fairly evenly over the buttocks. It does not matter whether the marks take a couple of weeks to go away. I would rather have a small number of really painful strokes rather than a larger number of not so painful strokes. It's OK if the cane breaks - it means you are doing your job. During the whole session you may pinch me, pull me etc., on the buttocks or on the genital area including the penis but not on the balls. You may fondle these but not cause pain with them... We have agreed on the details. I will say certain things basically putting myself in your control. Do not interrupt me until I lie flat on the ground before you and kiss your feet. Then you take over and are in charge and I will submit to you and your will.
One may ask who's in charge, who's in control? This is more like a play about control. The writer willingly places himself at the mercy of his master, but the master operates by the rules of the dominated.
Being a rule-governed game, the CP scene allows the enactment of high levels of brutality, coercion, suffering and humiliation. As Huizinga (in Gadamer,1975) has pointed out, in the confines of the rule-governed space of a game a particular form of life can be enacted in all seriousness, but given the safety of the fact that it is a game. The rules guarantee this. Although the game is as-if real it finally is set off from the reality of everyday life. CP sex practitioners do not necessarily like to be abused in everyday life and nor are they abusive of others. They need the safety of the game to entertain their predilection. Some have likened their activities to theatre. The representation is designed to be more than just fantasy. It must be close to real. The scene in CP generally borrows its imagery, as has been pointed out, and it uses real life situations and equipment to augment the play. One informant says that he instructs spankers to induce a feeling of fear in him, and this is important.
So the whole play must seem as real as possible, but finally it is a game and not for real.
The next point which we wish to make about this is that the bond between the parties, like the bond between two boxers, is generally respectful and consensual. A quote extracted from an internet FAQ document (alt.sex.spanking) makes this point: "There has to be a clear understanding of the conditions of that framework, and the consent of the receiver to those conditions".
In a quote out of an informant's document to potential spankers the prescribed CP relationships is seen to be given particular characteristics:
You will regard me as a person that you like or love and therefore you will want to embrace me and caress me. At the same time you believe that I deserve to be punished and you wish to inflict the maximum pain on me and you believe that I will be better for some severe discipline... You will inspect my buttock (with suitable pinching etc.) To see whether I am worth beating.
Here we find a strange bond which binds together respect, authority and fear in what is finally experienced as a delicious intimacy. It is not the pain on its own which is delicious, but the whole scene. The pain is made delicious by virtue of the context. In any other context this pain would be unbearable.
The object of the desire is the entire staged scene. Sex may or may not follow such scenes and questions such as "Did you enjoy it?" tend to trivialise what is a profound and deeply felt experience for the spankee. There is much, much more to this than pain or sex. While sex often `rounds off' such experiences, it appears that it is something of a salve which soothes any residue of brutality or disappointment in the scene. But isn't sex always like this, never quite delivering what it promises? In CP sex the sexual arousal, the nuances of the scene, and the relationship are so commingled that it is not easy to prise one from the other for the purposes of understanding.
However, we do know that CP practitioners enact the same type of scene which our study shows school children objecting to, and in so doing give it a desirable face. They take extreme punishment and the domination that accompany it and enculturate it; they put it in a form that is tolerable and liveable. Why they so long to do this, we cannot say, but indications are that the biography of each individual in deeply personal ways has led to these desires. In a very real sense they seem to aim to undo and subvert real suffering, real subordination. They subvert it in making it an object of desire, and by placing it in a consensual context. Like the school pupils they want to undo and control real sadism, the enjoyment of the spanker of his work. Both contexts have a disdain for real relations of domination.
The school pupils have the means to protest their domination and the opportunity to negotiate the rules by which they can be bound. On the other hand, CP sex practitioners are drawn, for reasons unknown to themselves, and to us, to again and again experience subordination and to beg for forgiveness, mercy, atonement. They have a different language for dealing with the same thing. In the school there is the possibility of challenging domination. In CP sex there is no challenge to real relations of domination. The practice does not hope for change, but is endlessly caught in a cycle of repetition, ever getting closer to the elusive, essential, object of desire. Finally, however, there is no satiation of the desire. It is bound to be repeated.
This latter encounter with forces of subjugation in a way represents a subversion of the domination scene; an attempt to undo what is brutal and oppressive in it, by setting it in a system of rules and by personally regulating its practice. And not least by desiring it. By desiring what one does not choose, but which is forced upon one, one gains a sense of mastery after all.
We wish to close by briefly reflecting upon a debate which has attended readings of the work of the Marquis de Sade. de Sade is known for statements such as:
It is the privations of others which make our pleasures felt; in the midst of equals we could never be content; that is why is said so rightly that to be happy one should look down, not up. If then it is the spectacle of others' misery whose comparison must complete our happiness, one must obviously not relieve them... Not only that: we must create unfortunates whenever the opportunity occurs to multiply that class and to compose one which, since it is your own work, will make far sharper the pleasures provided. So the full enjoyment would be to reduce this girl to asking charity and then refuse her cruelly, and thereby increase your pleasures by a comparison the more striking and enjoyable since it will be your doing. (de Sade in Gorer, 1953, p.194).
It is the pleasure one takes in the power that one has to make another suffer, and the exercise of this, that defines the sadist. There has been much written in trying to understand the morality of de Sade's position, considering that after all he was an author, and not as far as we know a real-life sadist of any note.
The libertine line of socio-political thought followed by De Sade (and which incidentally had him jailed for almost thirty years) has been said (Dean, 1992; Klossowski, 1994) not to transgress categories of good and evil, but only to invert them. The sadist remains within a dialectical struggle of mutual recognition. The bottom's suffering is necessary to the top's mastery, and the bottom is a mirror without which the top cannot experience, identify, or 'See' himself (Dean, 1992, p.177). The sadist cannot destroy the object of his attentions without risk to his very mastery, without ensuring the self-annihilation of desire. This kind of argument eventually leads Klossowski (1994) to say that the libertine's revolt is really only masochistic reenactment of God's original indifference towards man. Like the child who is being beaten, the libertine desires a beating that will be interpreted as proof of God's love. Insofar as the sadist depends upon others for his sense of `mastery', he cannot eliminate his moral conscience without eliminating a consciousness of his own mastery. Dean (1992) goes on to ask whether the masochist desires pure emptiness. Pure emptiness in this context refers to the absence of the dialectic of domination-submission between two selves. In the play of the CP game in its sexual context the dialectics of morality are finally transcended and replaced by the purely sensual realm of intense body experience.
For school pupils hoping to somehow determine the manner of their own punishment how different is it? Perhaps this is the only game there is? When there is real power and real submission we can but desire to be there at its origins, to be part of its inception, and thus to make a difference. If we are resigned to the inevitability of the dialectic of domination-submission it is altogether more desirable to make it a game, and possibly to sexualise it. If sexuality is already at the heart of domination-submission we are all the more trapped in the dialectic and the more so the reason to enculturate it through game playing. If we think we can overcome the punitiveness and the sense of righteousness in the punishers we face, we can do this only through hoping to be master-victim. This is in our view another version of the same game and one played by the school pupils in our study.
May we close by saying that we are inspired by this project to better understand the relation to rules and particularly the psychology of rule-following and rule-making. We believe that it would be a fruitful area of study to look more systematically at the different forms of relation we might adopt in the game of domination-submission, when we simultaneously face the strictures and the corrigibility of rules.
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Intergenerational relationships vs child-sexual abuse
It seems that in countries where pedophilia is not viewed as a psychiatric illness, but as a legitimate sexual orientation, child-sexual abuse appears to be on the decrease. The Netherlands is such a country and its permissive attitude towards intergenerational relationships is in stark contrast to many other Western countries. In these countries the treatment of paedophilia varies from stereo-taxic brain surgery to castration and long jail sentences. This difference of ideological perspective is the influence of a movement of research and philosophy that argues that child-sexual abuse and intergenerational sex are not the same phenomenon. South African researchers and public have been isolated from the abundance of literature and research that illustrates the controversy in the debate on pedophilia. The intergenerational debate is controversial in that it threatens conventional understandings of the notion of "child". This alternative movement suggests among other things, that by viewing all intergenerational sexual relationships as abusive and exploitative, the state is responsible for political crimes, by turning children's self-discovery and exploration into abuse and injury.
Headline reports on the sadistic and sexual abuse of children has created a moral panic. Social concern over the welfare of children has become a pressing concern. Solutions to the problem are focused on safeguarding children from abuse and the effective detection and prosecution of offenders. A primary concern in solving such social issues ought to be arriving at a better understanding of the paedophiles personality traits and motivations. Explanations of paedophiles behaviour have been clearly outlined by mainstream psychology in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders(DSM). David Finkelhor, a prominant child-abuse theorist, has also offered etiological explanations, through his research with convicted child-rapists and murderers. Being troubled with deterministic and causal explanations of mental disorders as 'organic brain impairment', I began reading about child-sexual abuse in 1987 with much skepticism. Skepticism at the tendency to neglect examining the historical, social and political dynamics that give depth and continuity any analysis of paedophilia.
As I read further I noticed occasional footnote references to other books and other researchers opinions on the subject. Eager to expand my understanding of the subject I tried to locate these books. I soon discovered that most of these books were banned for import into South Africa and the odd one available in the country was locked up in the University of South Africa's vaults. The offense code argued that these books were aimed at "corrupting public morals". I approached my professor and with his special request I was allowed to ask for some books to be released for reasons of academic research. When they finally arrived I was called into the library, taken to a little locked reading room, searched for pen and paper, as I was not permitted to copy the information. In the room I found the books I had ordered on the same shelf as Marx's Das Kapital and other anti-apartheid literature.
The books I read opened my awareness to the reality that in other countries around the world there seemed to be a controversial debate that expanded the very narrow understanding of paedophilia that was presented in all the freely available books in the country. Certain researchers seemed to be arguing that the violent and exploitative sexual abuse of children is not indicative of all intergenerational sexual relationships.
This argument promptly confuses the use of the term paedophile to possibly refer to a child rapist and/or a person who has non-violent and arguably, non-exploitative sexual relations with persons under the age-of-consent.
I was faced with two different trends in psychological research into paedophilia; Pathological research that conceives of paedophilia as a mental disorder, and Alternative research that highlights the historical, social and political nature of the phenomenon Paedophilia.
With the abundance of quantitative research in this trend, involving the use of plesmythographs and careful personality identification, this research tends to offer a very undescriptive etiology of paedophilia. The trap of an organic explanation is the limits put on exploring the social dimensions of paedophilia, since it is believed that the reason for paedophilic acts lies inside the individual realm and not the social realm.
Etiologies offered by Finkelhor(1986) and the DSM-IIIR include the following; -sexually abused as children, - turn to paedophilia in mid-life during a set-back in marriage or other close relationship, - inability to relate to adult women, - low self-esteem, - mental retardation, - Organic Personality Syndrome (recently rejected in the new DSM-IV), - alcohol intoxication, - schizophrenia.
Reid offered the following; -regression because of underlying depression, - organic impairment of the brain, - any other significant psychopathology. Treatments for convicted paedophiles are very similar to the treatment of rapists and include the following;
- Biological Reduction of the Sex Drive involving surgery and drug therapy,
- Surgery, involving castration (recently introduced in two American States), stereotaxic brain surgery, involving partial removal of the right frontal lobe and lobotomies,
- Behavioural techniques involve aversive conditioning through the use of negative reinforcers like apomorphine injections and electric shocks, inducing nausea which is then associated with the sexual object.
Interesting to note is that these etiologies and treatments are almost identical to the approach taken towards homosexuality before it had its status as a 'mental disease' dropped by the DSM. The concern to challenge and broaden our understanding of paedophilia is offered by Alternative Research into intergenerational sexual relationships.
"Paedophilia is one of the taboo topics in sex research. Sexologists carefully skirt and avoid the subject as much as possible; When they do take it up they do so in conformist, moralising and faint-hearted tones." (Schmidt, 1990, p.1)
This research and literature is immediately controversial in that it challenges the existing belief that all intergenerational contact is inherently abusive. It does not deny the reality of child-abuse and abusers, but carefully points out that this research was done using subjects found in prisons and mental institutions. The Alternative researchers specifically focused on non-institutionalised subjects who identified as being benevolent paedophiles.
"In contemporary Western society, intimate sexual relations between men and boys are considered as immoral, unlawful, psychologically deviant and damaging to the boys involved ... By almost exclusively studying these relationships as forms of sexual abuse, the social sciences have narrowed our views of the subject. The current social climate makes it rather difficult to look at these relationships in an objective way." (Sandfort, 1990, p.5)
Alternative research focuses on what it believes is NOT child-abuse, thereby accentuating a distinction between child rapists/abusers and intergenerationalists. Confusion in the continuing debate is the use of the word paedophile. Some theorists argue that because the word paedophile has become so closely linked to the sexual abuse of children, an alternative word needs to be developed; child-lover or boy-lover have been suggested as words to describe people who have a sexual interest in children but are opposed to the use of exploitation, violence and fraud to engage in sexual relations with children. Many paedo-queer activists argue that historically paedophilia has always referred to a love relationship between adults and children, and that the word should be worn with the same pride that "faggot" and "fairy" have been celebrated by queer homosexuals. I intend to suggest that the term be used for both the benevolent and malevolent paedophiles. The simple distinction between the two would be that the one manipulates and exploits children while the other does not.
Gerald Hannon in a very controversial article, Men Loving Boys Loving Men in The body Politic (Issue 39, December 1977/January 1978) argued that just as not all heterosexual sex can be qualified as rape, not all intergenerational contact can be equated with child-sexual abuse.
Dr Chin-Keung Li
In a pioneering phenomenological study by Li (1990b), detailed in the book Children's Sexual Encounters with Adults, he succeeded in bringing credibility to the claim that there are two distinct types of people who are interested in sexual interaction with children. His study used self-confessed paedophiles in clinical and non-clinical settings and proved that this "alternative group" of paedophiles did not convincingly meet any of the psychopathological etiologies outlined by Finkelhor and the DSM.
"There is a great need for giving voice to the viewpoints of the paedophiles, not least because they are rarely heard. We must let them speak for themselves. It is through listening emphatically to their accounts that we can hope to achieve a dialogue with them and consequently a better understanding of their experiences." (Li, 1990b, p.130)
The extreme publicity given to the sexual murders of children, although understandable, makes the idea of a benevolent paedophile a misnomer in conventional language.
Another benefit of his phenomenological approach was that a lot of the detailed explicated from his interviews, tied in very closely to an extensive amount of research done by other researchers and academics in this arena.
To further clarify the discontinuity and similarity between paedophiles who abuse and paedophiles who do not abuse, I suggest 3 categories of paedophiles.
1 - Certain paedophiles almost exclusively express their sexual interest in children through the use of violence and exploitation. Although the term paedophile is relevant because they have a sexual interest in children they most likely do not identify themselves as being a child-lover. They would fit the clinical etiologies of violent sex offenders, otherwise known as rapists or child-abusers.
2 - Certain child-abusers are dysfunctional paedophiles. They most often do not know how to control their erotic attraction to children and this leads them to abuse. They may or may not fit clinical definitions and etiologies, and they may or may not identify as being a child lover.
3 - Organized Paedophiles / Intergenerationalists / Child-Lovers. This group represents a controversial population of paedophiles who seek to challenge the idea that all paedophiles abuse children. They include many academics, prominant social personalities and revolutionaries who seek to challenge the idea that sex with children is inherently abusive.
To get an idea of the formal nature of this Alternative group of paedophiles we only need to look at its reality as a social movement. Formal movements and organisations have included the following; PIE - A now defunct paedophile information network, The Rene Guyon Society - The 1st European paedophile movement, now defunct, NAMBLA - Still active after 10 years, having survived numerous FBI investigations, its quarterly NAMBLA BULLETIN is protected under the American constitution as 'freedom of expression', The Abu Nuwas Society - An Islamic movement that explores boy-love as a part of Islamic cultural tradition. Its leader was recently assassinated by Islamic right-wingers, NVSH(The Netherlands Association for Sexual Reform) and COC(The Netherlands Association for the Integration of Homosexuality) - Both these movements are specifically interested in Gay and Lesbian politics, but openly support Paedophiles in their communities.
Journals and media printed that explore alternative theories include; The NAMBLA BULLETIN - the voice of The North American Man/Boy Love Association, PAIDIKA - a bi-annual journal featuring current research, theory and popular debate, KOINOS - a Danish magazine devoted to primarily to literature, poetry and photography, GAYME - a bi-annual magazine featuring interviews with prominant figures, literature, poetry, photography, book reviews and motivational arguments.
Some influential researchers that have contributed to an alternative theory on paedophilia include; Dr Edward Brongersma, Parker Rossman, Theo Sandfort, Frits Bernard, Camille Paglia, Daniel Tsang.
Reading alternative research makes one aware that many famous people were indeed paedophiles; Andre Gide, Paul Goodman, Allen Ginsberg, Michelangelo, Horatio Alger, Botticelli, Benjamin Britten, Lord Byron, Carravaggio, Yokio Mishima, Passolini, Lewis Carrol, Socrates, Abu Numas, Hakim Bey, Bill Tilden, Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Henry Thoreau, Hubert Kennedy, Strauss, Ralph Nicholas Chubb.
Films and books that have explored the idea of non-abusive intergenerational sex include;
The Man Without A Face, written by Isabella Holland. The film version made by Mel Gibson avoided dealing with any of the sexual relationship that Isabella expressed in her book. For A Lost Soldier, a film biography of Rudi van Dantzig's relationship with a Canadian soldier during World War II. Lolita and The Professional. Many gay biographies relate early positive gay experiences with an older gay partner.
CHILDREN AND SEX
"The very undebatability, until recently, of the propriety of sexual activity among children may be regarded as evidence of the long standing cultural rule that defines children as almost sacredly pure and the very discussion of their sexuality as beyond the pale of admissible dialogue." (Berger, 1981, p.247-248)
Alternative research makes one aware of the social and philosophical dimensions to any discussion of paedophilia. The work is essentially threatening because it openly challenges existing ideas and myths that surround popular beliefs about children and sex.
"Contemporary concern over paedophilia and child-sexual-abuse usually rests upon uncritical and under theorised conceptions of childhood sexualities." Kenneth Plummer in The Journal of Homosexuality, Vol 20(1-2), 1990, p.231
"One should not underestimate the power of the image of children as pure & uncontaminated by sex. The image is rooted strongly not only in religious and secular law but in concepts of personal development and identity." (Berger, 1981, p.253)
Even David Finkelhor argues that essentially paedophilia comes down to a moral issue. He believes that children are not ready for sex because they are incapable of giving Informed Consent. The counter-argument is simple; How is it possible to give informed consent to sexual activities, when you are denied access to information about sexuality? Age-of-consent laws serve to perpetuate abuse by making sex education illegal to under-age persons, thereby increasing their naiveté and ignorance that leads to high teenage pregnancy rates, high STD rates, gay adolescent suicide etc.
Finkelhor further argued his position by saying that children are unable to cognitively negotiate consent. Varying age-of-consent laws around the world suggest that there is a vast difference of opinion on when children are capable of consenting to sex. Gerald Hannon, as reported in the Mail and Guardian, argues that society often expects children to consent to a variety of other activities, such as sport and religious practice, without challenging the legitimacy of these activities in light of adult influence and control.
Where a lack of informed consent is responsible for sexual abuse, alternative theorists and organisations blame society for the deliberate mis-education of children about sex and the failure to let children learn to make sex part of their lives. The responsibility of the adult who is involved in the abuse, is not being aware of these social inadequacies and transforming their actions accordingly.
Such a discussion develops the idea of a conspiracy theory. Through looking at Michel Foucault's analysis of The War Against Masturbation in his book The History of Sexuality Vol I(1984), one is able to elaborate on the idea that of children's sexuality is a taboo subject whose expression was severely repressed. He details the use of barbaric chastity devices by the French Government at the beginning of the 20th century that involved belts and spiked teeth. Up until the middle of this century one was able to get for free from the American government a device that could be attached to a boy's penis that would set of an alarm in the night should the boy get an erection.
His analysis further argues that the repression of children's sexuality is integral to modern industrialised culture which needs to teach children that pleasure is a reward for work.. He argues that by repressing children's eroticism one can create the 'de-sensitised personality' that is most effective at meeting the demands of the menial and unstimulating work characteristic of the industrial workplace in a Capitalist culture. He further substantiates his case by noting how the age-of-consent in a country very often mirrors the legal age for a person to begin working. He argues that the repression of Eros is fundamentally important to progress in modern industrialised culture.
Because of the criticism that a large amount of Alternative theory is written by self-serving paedophiles, Theo Sandfort saw the value of getting the children's perspectives on their intergenerational relationships with older men. In 1981 he did in-depth interviews with 25 Dutch boys who were currently involved in sexual relationships with adult men. The research question was; Whether some boys in some pedosexual relationships could experience the relationship positively. Twenty-four out of the twenty-five boys said "Yes".
His interviews suggested that the boys willingly developed these relationships and that they satisfied numerous emotional and physical needs for the boys.
The results of Sandfort's research influenced the lowering of the age of consent in the Netherlands to 12 for boys, as long as they or their parents did not complain about the relationship. The Commission of Inquiry set up after the impact of the research hit the media, made the suggestion; That objections to intergenerational sex should not be moral ones, but rather be a concern over psychological and situational inequality. The aggressive nature of legal investigations of man-boy relationships, was highlighted by an American case in which a boy was hung over a cliff by police in order to get him to identify his older lover.
Sandfort's research was criticised for:
1 - Rationalising criminal behaviour.
How else should we attempt to understand criminal behaviour? This criticism suggest that existing arguments against adult-child sexual contact must be irrational ones.
2 - For not discussing the possibility that these boys could possibly be 'led astray' and develop a 'sexual deviation'.
This is obvious homophobic bias, which is central to moral objections to man-boy relationships. Much of the case-work research done by Brongersma suggests that most of the boys involve in intergenerational relationships did not grow up to be homosexuals.
3 - Using an unrepresentative sample.
In-depth case studies using just one subject is acceptable psychological research. The difficulties in finding subjects and the illegality in many countries of discussing sexuality with children make a large representative sample highly problematic.
4 - Finkelhor in further his moral objections to paedophilia by criticised the study by saying that no child could consent to sex with an adult because of the inherent Power Imbalance that exists between adults and children.
This new concept of an inherent Power Imbalance is the central issue raised by paedophobes in there theoretical objections. The counter-argument involves challenging the idea that a power imbalance is 'inherent'. In arguing further it becomes obvious that the solution to power abuse must be a disruption of the power imbalance that exists between adults and children. This idea of challenging the power imbalance that allows for the control and manipulation of children is most eloquently expressed by Alice Miller in her critique of the family and modern pedagogy in many of her books.
People have similarly argued that there is a power imbalance between men and women. Does this mean that consential sex between men and women is impossible? Seeing the power imbalance between men and women as inherent and unchangeable paints a very hopeless picture for heterosexual relationships. Indeed Andrea Dworkin argues that any sex involving the male penis is the equivalent of rape and should be made illegal. Surely the solution to power imbalances is working on effective ways of empowering the dis-empowered to take control of their lives and learn to prevent exploitation and abuse.
Sure power imbalances exist between men and women, however just as not all man-women relationships suffer from power mis-use, not all intergenerational relationships need be power abusive. Pushing this argument further one can suggest that power imbalances are inevitable and take a variety of forms; boss-employer, husband-wife, teacher-pupil. The only sure protection from power-abuse involves the empowerment of the dis-empowered.
The case studies done by Sandfort suggest that the person with the least to lose has the most power. Certain children in intergenerational relationships have used the awareness of the probable imprisonment of the older partner to exploit money or favours from their older partners. Perpetuating an image of children as weak and powerless will result in more 'weak and powerless' children being abused. Alternative theory argues that we ought to challenge existing conceptions of childhood and children's sexuality.
Strong objections to paedophilia come from feminists who argue that child-abuse, most often involving adult men and children, is another instance of the power abuse patriarchy exerts over the social environment. They argue that children are inclined to participate in sexual relationships with adults because "the powerless find power attractive".
Numerous lesbian feminists have developed counter arguments that support the idea of healthy intergenerational relationships.
In defending consented intergenerational relationships, the lesbian activist and sex-counsellor Pat Califia writes "Any child old enough to decide whether or not to eat spinach, play with trucks, or wear shoes is old enough to decide whether he or she wants to run around naked, masturbate or engage in sexual activity."
Kate Millet in defense of paedophilia writes "My own initiation came long before I was legally adult. Though a number of males around my age offered to participate, a women 10 years my senior was 'responsible', at my invitation and encouragement. The only fault I find with that part of my sexual education was the limit her guilt and fear put on our pleasure, the heterosexual pressure even she felt required to put on me. If I were to improve on that experience now, it would not be to protect children from adult seduction, but to make adults easier to seduce, less burdened with guilt, less defenced by hypocrisy... If we accepted sexual behaviour between children and adults, we would be far more able to protect our children from abuse and exploitation than we are now."
Historian, author and sex activist Camille Paglia openly supports NAMBLA and the ideals of consented intergenerational sexuality.
The feminist awareness that women need to be empowered to disrupt the power imbalance between women and men needs to be similarly applied to the empowerment and liberation of children in light of their sexual inequality and exploitation.
The empowerment of youth is avoided because it leads to problems. The power imbalance that exists between children and adults that allows for the sexual and physical abuse of children is the same power imbalance that is used, everyday, in so many "acceptable" ways to control and exploit children . Empowering children to be equal with adults would disrupt much of modern pedagogy. Adults rely on the authority they have over children to teach them what they believe is acceptable. These authoritarian relationships would be disrupted by the liberation of children from adult control and domination.
Empowering children will narrow the divide between adult and child and this is not desirable for modern, western industrialised culture that is built upon the oppression of children. Children were not freed from child-labour out of a concern for their rights/health, they were not freed at all, but placed in schools to serve even a greater need, the need for the "trained labourer".
Until this controversial aspect of child-liberation is recognised and initiated we will never be able to solve the abuse of children. Abusers make use of the current environment to exploit naive children. The current ideological constructs of child and childhood are responsible for perpetuating abuse.
The challenge of this alternative theory discussed by academics, philosophers and revolutionary social movements is to develop the concept of Human Sexual Freedom For All, including children's sexuality. As I have already mentioned, this new concept of free and empowered children threatens the existing social order. This is why individuals and organisations involved in this struggle are harassed and taunted. Perpetuating the idea that all people interested in sexual relationships with children are sick monsters, perverts or Satanists, quite effectively silences much of their ability to influence public opinion and sexual politics.
Ultimately the intergenerationalist debate challenges the idea that we can pre-judge whether a sexual relationship is acceptable or unacceptable, before asking what the relationship meant for the people involved. Instead of using moral arguments to judge the legitimacy of a sexual relationship, we should simply use the criteria specified by Rene Guyon, of violence, fraud and coercion. If any of these elements are present in a sexual relationship it is not acceptable, irrelevant of the sex, colour or age of the participants. Using these criteria would allow for sexual freedom for all as well as protection against exploitation. Yes, we need laws. Laws that define an act as criminal because of its violence or injury, not because of its sexual nature.
Solving the problem of the sexual abuse of children would be achieved through fostering their liberation struggle from power abuse and developing their full human rights. Full human rights would entail developing children's power and freedom to control their experience of sexuality. The inevitable result of this liberation struggle will be a transformation of existing beliefs surrounding the ideology of childhood and childhood sexuality. This transformation is seen as a threat because it will radically transform many aspects of our social environment. Indeed by reinstating the right to pleasure in reality would result in a new world consciousness.
"If repression has indeed been the fundamental link between power, knowledge and sexuality since the classical age, it stands to reason that we will not be able to free ourselves from it, except at a considerable cost, nothing less than a transgression of laws, a lifting of prohibitions, and a whole new economy in the mechanisms of power." (Foucault, 1984, p.5)
Abel, G.G. et al.(1984). The treatment of child molesters. New York: SBC-TM.
Brongersma, E. Loving Boys Vol I and II. Global Academic Publishers.
Finkelhor, D.(1986). A Sourcebook on child sexual abuse. California: Sage.
Li, C.K.(1990a). Children's Sexual Encounters With Adults. London: Duckworth.
Li, C.K.(1990b). 'The Main Thing Is Being Wanted': Some Case Studies on Adult Sexual Experiences With Children. Journal of Homosexuality, 20(1-2), 129-143.
O,Carrol, T. Paedophilia: The Radical Case.
Plummer, K.(1990). Understanding Childhood Sexualities. Journal of Homosexuality, 20(1-2), 231-249.
Sandfort, Brongersma, Naerssen(eds). Male Intergenerational Intimacy. A collection of articles originally published in the Journal of Homosexuality, 20(1-2).
Schmidt, G.(1990). Foreword: The Debate on Pedophilia. Journal of Homosexuality, 20(1-2), 1-4.
Sgroi, S.(1982). Handbook of clinical intervention in sexual abuse. Lexington: Lexington Books.
Tsang, D.(1981). The Age Taboo. USA: Alyson Publications.
Weeks, J.(1986). Sexuality. USA: Ellis Horwood Press.
Kevin Bishop has an honours degree in Psychology from Rhodes University in South Africa. He has attempted to get involved in gay politics but seems to frighten too many horses. He works as a computer consultant and occasionally writes articles related to children's sexuality for the local media. He also distributes GAYME magazine in South Africa. The core motivation for his politics come from the belief that intrinsic to the liberation of human potential is the liberation of children's sexuality.
e-mail c/o [email protected]
Sex machine (part 2): The cybernetic body
Department of English, Vista University, Soweto Campus
In the recently published second part of his serial study of serial killers, Mark Seltzer (1995) discusses the advent of the 'statistical person' in the twentieth century; a species of more or less psychopathological identity related to the predominance of information processing in contemporary urban epistemology. As Seltzer points out, only when statistical existence goes radically awry, as in the figure of the serial killer, is it noticeable how much of our contemporary being is given shape by the 'laws of large numbers' and information processing generally. This paper is an attempt to engage with and extend Seltzer's thesis that repetitive violence and trauma are the modes in which modern psychopathology expresses its relation to technology. To this end I argue that the late twentieth century relation to technology is the inverse of that of the Fordist worker at the assembly line in the early part of the century (which I have elsewhere dubbed the 'industrial body'). In the industrial body, the corporeal and natural identity of the body is identified with industrial technology; in the statistical era, information technology `disappears' into the body, becomes ostensibly simply a way of accounting for the body and its urban presences and absences. In fact, I will argue, the cybernetic turn represents the apotheosis of technology's psychological imbrication with the body, such that the only aspect of human being available exclusively to nature or qualitative 'life' is, as Seltzer, argues, violent pathology.
This paper is the second of a pair of essays on the body-technology problem in the twentieth century; the first was concerned with Fordism and Taylorism in the early part of the century, and this is largely concerned with late twentieth century information technology. Common to both is the tracing of the changing trajectory of the psychologization of technology in the twentieth century, a tracing in turn dependent on an analysis of the operations of identification between body and machine.
In the argument of the first part, I attempted to outline a double movement in the relation of the enculturated body to technology, a relation which has proved fundamental to twentieth century life. On one hand an ongoing psychologisation of technology was discernible in the Fordist and Taylorist era which represented the elaboration of an anthropomorphising and containment of that technology within the realm of culture. On the other hand a process of human assimilation to a technological social order typified by Fordism became clear, a process hinging on the identification of the human with the machinic. In enjoining the body of the worker to be like a machine, or rather to be part of a larger machine, the ergonomic order of Taylorism and Fordism formally constrained significant parts of the contingent and experiential which defines life. That the ergonomic order represented a major incursion of the technological into the cultural in the early twentieth century is symptomatically displayed in the aesthetic documents of the time. Hollywood movies and the European avant-gardes were united in a fascination with the consequences of a deepening imbrication of the human and the technological, a fascination perhaps best expressed by the Futurists and early science fiction like Lang's Metropolis as having a strongly teleological character. In other words, aesthetic views of the body-technology question at this time, whether technophobic, like Chaplin's Modern Times and Huxley's Brave New World, or technophilic, like Marinetti's famous manifesto and the less accessible work of Ernst Junger, saw the body-technology nexus as having consequences for human culture in an exponentially extrapolated future. It is perhaps worth pointing out here that the ergonomic order of Taylorism and Fordism, while certainly ideologically deployable and usually associated with industrial capitalism, was equally admired and lauded by the new communist states at the time, and by no less a figure than Gramsci. The perceived dangers or hopes of the new intimacy with technology were not thus primarily associated with a possible set of ideological contestations, but with a more general set of responses we could call 'psychocultural' to indicate that they occured on both an ontogenetic and a phylogenetic level. Thiis teleological and psychocultural view of the body-technology nexus, we should remember, was representative of the understanding of technology at the time - as what I have called a relationship of 'ambivalent prosthesis' between human and machine. Central to the operation of technology as prosthesis, of course, is the notion of extension, or (the occupation of) space. In the psychocultural nexus of body and technology in the ergonomic order, as I argue in the first essay of this pair, technology moves beyond being the extension of physical ability. In short, technology moves beyond instrumentality, into being a prosthesis of agency. The shift from instrumentality to agency requires an identificatory inversion and has one crucial consequence on which I will focus in what follows. That is, in order to replace human agency (or at least render agency subordinate to the demands of machine culture) the ergonomic order enjoins an identification with the machinic and a constraining of the body perfectly illustrated by Henry Ford's dismemberment fantasy recounted in the first part of this essay. What is also interesting about this identificatory inversion (the human is like the machine, rather than the machine being an automaton or simulacrum) is the way in which it refines the questions of agency and extension.
Since the advent of the manufactory, technology in society was inextricable from both work and the space of work. The major social consequences of the massification of the technology of labour were a constraint on time1 and the confirmation of urban space as the concrete arena of contemporary existence. In the ergonomic order the relation of the human to time and space was further reduced, or refined, on the model of the machine - that is, leisure time too became massified, and the worker became identified as only part of a larger machine, one that was technological but also social. It seemed thus that even private space, the space not only of the body but of the mind and soul, could be rendered machinic, a consequence of machine culture which has valency even now:
The incorporations of the technological process and the life process have become by now a thoroughly naturalized component of machine culture. One rediscovers here the familiar intersections between natural bodies and technologies, somatic and machinal systems of circulation: the miscegenations of the body and the machine that make up the prosthetic environment from the later nineteenth century on. One rediscovers, beyond that, a precise co-ordination of bodies and spaces. This involves not merely the spectacle of stilled bodies in moving machines, in the relentless...commuting "homeward"... .The nominal division between public and private has in effect given way to the unfettered movements which ceaselessly mingle bodies and places... . (Seltzer 1995: 126-127)
Seltzer's arguments are productive here not only for their assumption of a prior order of machine culture and the concentration on the body's lack of autonomy, but for the preliminary sketching of what he calls 'somatic and machinal systems of circulation'. It is this biotechnical system, which clearly requires its own spatiotemporal dimensions and conditions, which will concern the rest of this argument.
I have spoken of the identification of the body with the machine in the ergonomic order. This relation, which demands what I called the teratizing, or making-monstrous, of the industrial body, was not to last long in its Taylorist\Fordist form. However, industrial technology did proceed, and was envisaged in its analogous aesthetic versions, along the teleological, or 'progressivist' path I outlined earlier. Technology in the Second World War and in the Cold War era operated on a paradoxical precept - that of 'Big Science'. Paradoxical because the same era produced the first breakthroughs in micro- or even nano-sciences: in nuclear physics, characteristically in the service of technologies of war; and the first steps towards computer technologies, so familiar to us today and which have led, perhaps, to a new mutation in the social field affected by technology, and, even more conditionally, to a new mutation in subjectivity - the advent of the statistical or telematic person. I must gloss over this fascinating history for want of space, except to point out that this, perhaps final, step in the teleological narrative of twentieth century technology leading up to the information age found its perfect expression in the space race. The ensuing decades would be filled with the mediated fascination of technology overcoming the final frontier in the ultimate attempt at prosthetic extension - the conquering of space itself. Here we are far away from the claustrophobic biotechnical spaces, or non-spaces, of contemporary urban life.
The 'precise co-ordination of bodies and spaces' Seltzer calls attention to is represented by the technologies of transport of a machine age, as opposed to an information age, in a deceptively straightforward way. The image of 'still bodies in moving machines' captures quite succinctly the spatiotemporal dimensions of the subservience of agency and duration to technological extension in modern urban transport systems, especially the public transport so closely associated with the movement of workers. In the same article Seltzer traces what he sees to be an exemplification of the co-ordination of bodies and spaces in the contemporary conflation of 'life process' and 'machine process' in information processing:
...the convergence of the life process and the machine process [is seen in] collateral forms of information processing...What surfaces [in this convergence] is the anxiety-producing erosion of the distinction between living and machinal processes, their mutual absorption into the flows of information. The commutability of word counts and body counts provides one register of the way in which the life process and the technological process have come to indicate each other in machine culture... . (1995:136)
What is perhaps most immediately striking about the shift from industrial to information technology, and this is an element Seltzer glosses over somewhat in favour of his own concern with cases of serial violence, is the radical reduction and abstraction of specificity and individuality required by a social order of information technology, and the ways in which this procedure results in both a disturbance of identification with others (the Other), and, as Seltzer argues, a pathological identification with place or urban space. The 'relentless commuting "homeward" ' points to the gradations of identity dependent on both the technology of transport systems - the biotechnical 'systems of circulation' - and the more general technologisation of urban space: a move from alienated or pathological inner city life to the apparent psychic stability and safety of periurban, suburban and finally rural life. It is a journey away from the diseased heart of the urban machine to a home that is finally rendered unhomely by its technical contexts; not only getting there as a still body in a moving machine, traversing the biotechnical sytems of circulation that facilitate the commuting homeward and also the commutability of body and machine, but getting there within the technologically mediated context of the division between private and public space itself - a context rendered a priori by the nature of contemporary technological mediation as instantaneous and statistical, that is to say, digital.
In the ergonomic technological order of the early twentieth century, as we have seen, individual identity began to operate as a pathological and massified identification with machine process. The subject identified with technological space, both in the strict sense of an identification with a place of work, and in an identificatory submission to technological extension. In the technological order of information, then, a far subtler double register of identification and individuation is at work.
We should perhaps extend this analysis with a very simplified account of what computers are and what they do. Computers process information; they do so quantitatively, not qualitatively, and the necessary operations to accomplish this task are input, output, storage and recall (also tellingly called 'memory'). The rise of information processing technology can thus be productively linked to the extension of urban space, the planning of which requires a great deal of quantitative information which may also be predictive, and thus teleological. In this way information processing technologies can be used to 'produce' types of persons, most typically, statistical persons. That is, infotech can offer an account of the likely habitat, behaviour patterns, income and so on, of a given type of person in a given place, most typically an urban place. If we accept the argument that the 'somatic and machinal' systems are commutable, then we should be able to say that such statistical persons do exist, at least in some urban mode. Apart from the mode of spectacular typicality which characterises serial killers and concerns Seltzer in his work, we can all identify with such a deindividuation and 'hypertypicality' about our relations with others in urban, technological space, the feeling of alienating intimacy shared by strangers on a train or plane, for example. Of course, far from being the modernist or existential version of urban alienation, such an abstract deindividuation of the statistical person produces, paradoxically, an excess of identification, a knowledge of a technologically-mediated set of characteristics or behaviours shared with many others. Such an identification also paradoxically depends on the maintenance of the division between private and public spaces, so that the latter can become the arena for shared experience. The more fundamental identification with family can then be maintained in private space, as a fantasy model for identification with others which is rarely more than a fantasy in the body-machine complex. This model is quite rigorously maintained by contemporary aesthetic representation such as Hollywood films, where the closest-knit families live in suburbs or the countryside, dysfunctional ones in the innercities or innercity 'ghettoes'. Tellingly, the final violation of serial killers in many films is an attack in the victim's home, a horrifying and uncanny pathologization of private space.
Seltzer calls for an analysis of 'the generalised failure of distinction between subject and space' (146) that the imbrication of the somatic and the machinic space brings. Such an analysis would need to proceed in two ways: firstly the identification of subject and space must be seen as a symptom of a final elaboration of the ambivalent prosthetics of the body's relation to its technology; and secondly the whole question of a relation between subject and space might itself become superceded by the relation of the subject to the telecommunicative instant rather than a cybernetic form of prosthetic extension, or what Paul Virilio calls 'the third interval'.
The more or less pathological identification of subject and space can be understood then as perhaps a terminal experience, in the teleological sense of that word. It's an identification more pathological in its 'spectacularly statistical' forms such as serial killing; and less pathological (but still 'pathological') because the imbrications of subject and technologized space may represent a set of constraints on, if not a different model for, identification with the Other. In the body-machine complex then, we can trace the final elaboration of the imbrication of subject and technology: removed from the Fordist production line and apparently restored to wholeness from its dismembered ergonomic state, the body becomes ostensibly natural once more in the cybernetic age. Technology has been refined to eco-friendliness, to unobtrusiveness, to silence. But the apparent disentanglement from a literal identification with the machinic on the model of the automaton or robot has been replaced by a cultural experience grounded in technological space. The ostensible disappearance of technology from the body emerges as the disappearance of the body into technology, which has extended to form the context of our experience, our journeys in space, and our arrivals and identifications with places within it.
We have spoken of information processing as a means of the extension of technological space through the identification and 'production' of statistical persons, and as an attenuation and diffusion of biotechnical systems throughout the socius. One further effect of information technology remains to be considered, however. Infotech operates as a regime of representations, since, except to the machine itself, binaries cannot be 'understood' or recalled as statistical information. Telecommunications enable these representations to be made and transmitted instantaneously, a fact which produces a potential contestation of the spatiotemporal dimensions of technological space. This contestation is what Virilio calls 'the third interval'.
Virilio sketches a new conceptual model of the body-technology nexus emerging from telecommunication:
...these...technologies (based on the digital signal, the video signal and the radio signal) will soon overturn not only the nature of human environment and its territorial body, but also the individual environment [the space of the body] and its animal body, since the development of territorial space by means of heavy material machinery is giving way to an almost immaterial control of the environment... that is connected to the terminal body of the men and women. (1993:4)
The immateriality and immediacy of technological control over real space and real time devolves ultimately on the body which had seemed contained, but no longer invaded or eradicated, in the prior order of technological space. The 'very body' of the 'witness' to instantaneous telecommunications representations, according to Virilio 'happens to be the ultimate urban territory - a folding back over the animal body of social organization and of a conditioning previously limited to the core of the old city' (5). But, in this new mutation in the body-machine complex, what replaces our notion of duration (time) and extension (space)? It is light (absolute speed), that forms the third term and new possibility. The speed of light deployed by telecommunications collapses duration and extension, most emblematically in the ability to teleport. For example, forms of interactive internet communication produce a place (of representations) which is also a non-place, or a virtual place (cyberspace); at least in potential also, the duration of our movement there ceases to exist. Virilio, while characteristically hysterically millennial about the prospect of the interval of light as a new technological social order, yet attempts to map its effects onto the spatiotemporal co-ordinates of the biotechnical system now existing, and it is not a glowing picture:
Where motorized transportation and information had prompted a general mobilization of populations swept up in the exodus of labor (and then of leisure), modes of instantaneous transmission prompt the inverse, that of a growing inertia...[T]eleaction no longer requires human mobility, but merely a local motility. Telemarketing, tele-employment, fax work, bit-net, email transmissions at home, in apartments or cabled high-rises - these might be called cocooning: an urbanization of real time thus follows an urbanization of real space. The shift is ultimately felt in the body of every city dweller, as a terminal citizen... . We have before us the catastrophic figure of an individual who has lost, along with his or her natural mobility, any immediate means of intervening in the environment. (1993:11)
It is intriguing to read, at the margins of the work of both of these thinkers, a certain metaphorics. What is unspoken in both tracings of the permutations of the body-technology relation is a fascination, not, paradoxically, with technology at all, but with deviant and altered, even mutilated and constrained bodies. In the perhaps more carefully considered case of Seltzer there is the absence of the victim of the representative statistical person, the serial killer. The mutilated corpse is not absorbable into the biotechnical system, but is instead an abject excess. And Virilio, in common with many cyborgian theorists, gloomily heralds a new order of technological being and spatiotemporality while reinstating another kind of pathological body - this time the crippled or quiescent one.
Is it possible then, without the metaphorics of an explanatory narrative, to expose and analyse invisible technologies, those of space and time, even absolute speed? Can we do no more than reinstate rather more problematic and less gleeful versions of Ford's dismembered worker?
Department of English
Vista University, Soweto Campus
P.Bag X09, Bertsham 2013
Queory: Problems Arising from Presenting the Gay and Lesbian Art exhibition GAY RIGHTS RITES RE-WRITES 1995-1996
University of the Witwatersrand
As a contribution towards the campaign for, and debate around, the inclusion of sexual orientation in relation to civil rights in the (then) draft constitution, I co-curated South-Africa's first national travelling Gay and Lesbian art exhibition. It opened in Cape Town in October '95 (to coincide with the first Southern African Colloquium on Gay and Lesbian Studies at UCT), then went on to the Niewenhuis national art museum in Bloemfontein before concluding at the Gertrude Posel Gallery at Wits in April '96. While the exhibition generated debate (and, in Bloemfontein a furore) my paper will focus on two areas of curatorial debate which have emerged: firstly, the criteria for inclusion, especially in relation to the categories 'Gay and Lesbian' and 'Queer', which raise issues of Gay and Lesbian subjectivity; secondly, the dangers of colonization in such an exhibition, both in terms of curatorial interventions and interpretations and in situating personal, polemical and transgressive artworks within mainstream and, arguably, hegemonic spaces.
2nd Annual Qualitative Methods Conference: "The Body Politic"
critical methods society - www.criticalmethods.org - [email protected]