Monday, 21 July 2014

9 12 13

My lover, my sister and I have arrived at the venue hours too early for the show. It’s 4 o’clock; mid-Summer hazy sunshine produces a glowing that gestures towards lightness-of-being, but not for me – I am anxious and angry.

Attempting to communicate with my mother, who is interchangeable with Sarah: my friend. Both should be here I am in possession of tickets, frantic, I cannot relax in spite of being present prematurely. There are crowds of people, and dogs, everywhere. The venue is a valley/is a park (Potternewton Park). Human bodies lie down in the grass, basking in the sun, enjoying the company of other humans. David is dancing inside with a beer in his hand. His face is filthy and his movements are jerky, which alarms me; I pass him, ignoring his attempts to grasp me.

My sister sits at the bar smoking, always smoking. “You are always smoking” I say. Her lips are painted red. David is sitting at the bar. He is upright though dressed casually, with an expression of confident geniality. He is desirable. My sister is dancing. In a swift movement she swooshes up to David and launches her body onto his. He is seated on a short stool with his back against the bar – legs open, feet fixed to the stool, rendering thighs rigid. My sister lands perpendicular to him – her open legs scissoring his lower abdomen – their pelvises are locked together (her legs remaining outstretched at either side of his torso). Their hands are fixed at their respective sides. I approach them as she springs away from him (all of these details occurring in an elegantly prolonged moment). Their coupling strikes me as neither one of whimsy nor concupiscence.

I direct a rage at them that had, up to this point, remained buried within me. I spit bile-fuelled diatribes at each of them in turn. All attendant fall silent and cease to move. Everything is still and my mouth is moving. We three leave for the sun-dappled exterior where so many dogs roam; I am terrified, I am thinking of my baby daughter. We have walked away and begin to hike up a narrow trail on a hillside that looms over the city (Hebden Bridge – where ‘the view’ is).  There is an impenetrable tension between us and everything. My face is contorted – the lines around my mouth and nose growing deeper, ageing me; I am suddenly aware of being alone in my body; my body as an army, a membrane repelling psychic interlocutors from all directions (including within).

On the trail two black dogs rush by; as they pass they rustle the dry grass that has been baked by the sun. My sister is ahead of me and I witness her body folding into the soil as a dog sinks its teeth into her arm. I see blood on the arm and on the muzzle of the dog, which has turned white. From this point on we are allies. The dog owner – an apparently mild-mannered and apologetic woman - begins to walk with us. She speaks of her husband and her babies (they are down below beside the venue with the contented masses who lay there in the grass with their lovers and children, static instead of trudging merciless along, as we do). We seem to represent a nihilism that produces propulsion: Keep Walking! We Must!

Still too early for the E.S.G. show. I have a red union jack letter-headed sheet of paper on which I write a note for Sarah, something ambivalent, which I heard someone else say: “Come if you like”. I write it neatly over the horizontal section of the St. George’s Cross.

2 12 13

At the home of Felicity (my daughter’s friend from school), which is cluttered and teeming with ‘things’ – antiques and objects with animal faces that I remember from my own childhood – a duck, in particular: rusting. Everything is very close. Felicity’s mother and father loom large wherever I look – she: furtive; he: hardly bothering to mask his desire (towards/for me). Inside, it smells of roasting meat and outside there is a festive buzz of mainly hushed chatter with occasional bursts of promiscuous laughter. My daughter and their daughter are playing happily together whilst her father (his bulging face and body always so close to mine) is attempting to offload mirrored picture frames onto me. They are like boxes but without glass. He seems to manifest the curious narcissism of a ‘hoarder’ like me, which I tell him and he enjoys; we are thus bound together by our shared obsession.

Dog-attack? No, misunderstanding-elicited-by-over-zealous-dog-owner. My daughter climbs into the grey buggy that currently rots in our cellar, lays back and immediately falls asleep. I am stuffing my things into the buggies’ undercarriage basket. Boxes and the like: parcels and packets - objects that fit together. Then the mirror frames, which I slide satisfyingly atop the small heap of unsteadily stacked oblongs.

The district has morphed into a market town, and the wheels of the buggy into those of a car, which is being driven hesitantly by Felicity’s mother; she is hunched over the wheel and I am beside her, the husband/father character hovering between us. He disgust me but I realise I am starting to appreciate his object-status – his use-value in a potential forthcoming exchange.

My daughter is playing on the street outside our home. I plan to wait for her father/my lover to call/materialise. Asa is standing in the doorway to my kitchen where the bead curtain hangs (it is currently tied to one side by the waist-tie of my apron), and I approach him, and we embrace. We embrace deeply, as if he is a healer or as if the chemical reaction produced by our bodies pressed together releases a transcendent elixir. All distractions dissipate. For a moment it is bliss – he is tall and broad-shouldered and his embrace envelops me totally, until ‘I’ ‘disappear’. I detect the quickening of his breath and come to realise that the embrace is arousing him, which in itself, the thought of it, arouses me. We move into the kitchen, standing by the sink; the kitchen table and chairs are to our left and the window is directly behind us. I unzip his jeans and remove his erect cock, which is gigantic. He pulls my dress up and pushes it against my opening and I am afraid he might injure me, in spite of having given birth, a point that seems to have receded into my unconscious, so that fear corresponds instead with the loss of my virginity (like in ‘A ma Soeur’ – “just one hard thrust is the best way, trust me”).

I pull myself away before he penetrates me and flee to the space behind the bead curtain (now untied) and watch from this position of partial obfuscation as he uses two hands to lift his obscenely tumescent cock over the sink. He ejaculates a stream of greyish semen that spurts of out him in propulsive bursts in tandem with the squally waves of his orgasm. Peace follows: then shame/guilt.

6 1 14

I discover that my mother has been plying my nephew with alcohol to make him sleep, which elicits a confrontation that escalates until she grabs a handful of blunt cutlery from the kitchen drawer and begins stabbing me with it. I dodge the jabs and flee to my bedroom intending to leave home (all the time thinking: why am I even here?) I see Hilary outside the white house (Rebecca’s house) at the heel of the cul-de-sac and she wanders over to me. I ask breathlessly if I can stay with her – she agrees – and she walks away.

Upstairs. Wandering through a market-place that features at its centre an art installation recreating the hotel room in which two artists lived in the early 20th Century – a cluttered dressing table, decaying clothing scattered over antique furniture, the pair of them sculpted out of wax, strewn across the bed in the throes of orgasm, or death; forever embodied in a state of rapture. I am overflowing with vicarious pleasure. I cross the ‘room’, a film-set of sorts, out of it and into the bustling market (Kirkgate, Leeds) where a matted-haired woman complains loudly on the subject of Christmas trading. ‘We didn’t leave ‘til 6 on Xmas Eve, and then had only two days off’, so today must be December 27.

An orgy is taking place upstairs in the eaves of the house (familiar to me from an earlier dream in which I inhabited a mansion, widows and staircases multiple and often parallel. I am naked between bodies mostly female like mine. My sister is talking to me as I press myself against these bodies, always close to orgasm but never coming. A body climbs onto my body, I hold the buttocks in my hands, kneading and pulling them absent-mindedly, a voice uttering from the mouth of the body, and my sister asks what I am doing. I cannot answer. Instead I ask: ‘do you know that mum is giving alcohol to Jack every night?’ and she affirms. ‘It helps him sleep’, she says, giving rise to infuriation. ‘The child is an alcoholic,’ I accuse, ‘and it is down to you all’.


When I close my eyes I can see
blood. Whenever I used the word ‘laceration’
I didn’t mean this.
I am not looking there, not there.
I am steeped, drowning in blood.

And when I wake,

drag myself up from the place I sank and rose
to be greeted by death
and then, mistaken (death was thwarted),
after drifting around an alcoholic nightmare,
I make contact.

A trauma. A lesion. An itch from which

I remove my hand, calmly. It is placid, this place,
it is still.
I have collapsed (his hand is on my socked foot).
I am contained; I am held.

I say: I should go.

I don’t go. My need
is becoming clear. It is revealed.
It is revealed to both.  My need is revealed
to both of us; to me, to him – at this moment.
I am together with someone.
I am clothed.

I ask to be close, and I am rewarded

with closeness. Libidinous thrills – these are absent.
I wouldn’t have asked for that if I could.
I am filled up, overflowing, with orgasmic
waste. Excess. A fountain, a labyrinth, a thousand
(little) deaths.

I am

enamoured, admiring, humbled.
I have sunk my face into a stranger’s breast.
I have lost my inhibitions there.
I am present, living, focusing
on the hands that
move, with care,
in the space between the falling shoulder of my blouse
and the taught strap of my vest. That very
slice of flesh.

I relive this sensation. This gentlest of touches.

This being touched. I watch the hand I called
‘strangely elegant’, both in motion and stasis,
upon my hip. Casual, yet incisive.
Not loose, not promiscuous, but
doing, making (me).

Yes, there are eyes that see me and,

in turn, I see. There is the sludge of magnetism.
But I am no empty vessel.
I am no hole to be filled.
I needed strength and it came forth from
this unlikely, yet potential source, and
there is no reimbursement,
no expectation. This ‘man’
is making me into a ‘woman’.

I don’t need to drink from his cup.

I don’t struggle underneath his
frustrated desire
to possess, bodily or otherwise a ghost that
slips by unawares, out  the door, and is
miles away. There is no struggle.
I have retreated from that.
This economy is as far-removed as I can imagine
from that.

And my centre shifts from nerve-endings

to the womb. Away from goal-oriented psycho-sexual games
to kindness and ‘free exchange of strengths
and weaknesses’. I know about this. I have
imagined it, in-between
violent sex: bodily harm that I still refuse
to name as such.
I know it exists. They speak often enough of it.
I watched it play out on my screen
This morning. A different kind of blood.
A witnessing. Intimacy

This  route

is the way



Leaning across a table/ travelling over water [the Hudson River].

I watch him chainsaw wood,

he watches me chop wood with an axe.

Wanting to held, but more than that:

to be contained. In the
generous, radiant warmth
of arms that exceed my own,
less flimsy
less fine. Solid.


defiantly  containing myself
drip-dripping, in his direction,
words that mask the true intent,
(to have your arms around me).

But awareness descends

obstructing any possibility of the spontaneous
play of needs being voiced (unvoiced: known)
and met. [That was wordless
passed from me to you by osmosis,
it seems, and without desire’s flames
licking my spine.]

From experience I know,

that to receive is to take (with
some force): to obtain is to remove, and to
seize is to ruin.

He is kind. I know him;

and his hands – oblong, stained,
yet elegantly proportioned – nails cut short,
rather pale. Genuine. I
And he doesn’t know
he is touching me.

18 3 14

Claire has obtained for me a gun (from Manchester gangsters she knows). Ash she hands it to me she warns that it ‘goes off easily’ and to be careful. It is wrapped in an off-white napkin. 

Amalgam of Eoin and David. He/they and I are wandering through sparse woodland with the intention of using the gun. The scene is almost joyous; we are not-quite laughing as we sort of frolic in-between trees and kick-about on the dusty ground. He is brandishing the gun and the forest seems to be empty (it isn’t clear if our intention is to shoot a particular person or thing) and the gun goes off. After a few seconds I hear the dreadful sound of an unseen body dropping heavily to the ground accompanied by an anguished cry. We run from the scene for as long as there are no people, stopping and strolling arm-in-arm like lovers when people are there, assuming that a loving couple are above reproach. Police cars arrive, police officers spill out of them: eyeing us with generalised suspicion and passing us by. We seem to have got away with it, but, realising that our days are numbered we separate: me to the coast and he inland. 

She finds me wandering by the sea. It is the North Yorkshire coast, easily identifiable by the close proximity of desolate moorland. I trip through a strip of woodland that runs parallel with the water to her house, into which she invites me to stay with her large family, in spite of the fact that I was complicit in the shooting that injured her. I suspect she knows it was I, and yet she shows concern for me and my daughter, who is absent. I must find her and rearrange my existence. We discuss my movements; she gives me a key. I am suspicious of her kindness but know that I have limited choices.

My plan is to go and see my daughter and Claire at our home, though I know this is very dangerous. I say I will return late (there are inner and outer doors: I am to leave the outer one unlocked and lock only the inner door. Her eldest son, who would return later than me will then ensure the outer door I locked when he arrives). It is finally decided that I will instead return in the morning. I begin to pack my things, anxiously seeking a plastic bag into which to stuff my red Afghan jacket that identifies me and an accomplice of the shooter. I am thinking: I could sell it; I need money and may get £40. I am thinking: I should burn it; it exposes me and I should be inconspicuous. Then my mind turns to disguises. I think: I must cut my hair off. But my face is he same; I should slash it with a knife. 

Monday, 14 July 2014

21 3 14

4 4 14

Dreams (archive #1)


Performance at Green Door Store, Brighton, Nov 2012

Snapshots of Leeds and Anglesey


Forsaking all Others: Marriage, Monogamy and Contamination

And when I call you my love, my love, is it you I am calling or my love? You, my love, it is you I thereby name, is it to you that I address myself? I don’t know if the question is well put, it frightens me. But I am sure that the answer, if it gets to me one day, will have come to me from you. You alone, my love, you alone will have known it. We have asked each other the impossible, as the impossible, both of us.1

This essay will examine monogamy, marriage and the third party as a deconstructive figure that disobeys the opposition between inside and outside, presence and absence, private and public. Its departure point will be a close reading of a small section from a 2004 interview in which Derrida aligns ‘monogamy’ with the institution of “marriage,” and appears to tacitly advocate a kind of ‘polyamory’ (love for many, as opposed to ‘polygamy,’ which is marriage to many). The state of subjectivity at the moment of an encounter with the other is bound up in what preceded it, rendering its force cumulative, embroidered by the collective thread of others: at the same time present and absent. Through deconstructive analysis I will explicate the condition of the one on one relation that bears the trace of a third party, rendering every desiring relation contaminated.

The drive towards securing a relation with the other is at the same time inherently insecure due to constantly shifting borderlines that criss-cross the intimate relation. The move between singularity and so-called union passes through the in-between realm of dissimulation (concealment) and risk (of being unmasked). ‘Forcing himself to say who he is,’ writes Derrida, on the subject of Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, ‘he goes against his natural habitus that prompts him to dissimulate behind masks…life is dissimulation.’2 In this essay the figure of the third party in its various guises will haunt, spectate and frequently interject. The third party will constantly speculate on the potentiality of ‘the couple,’ it will penetrate more or less deeply the borders of their apparent security. The drive towards the other will be analysed in view of the possible formulation of a new relational construct that rejects the baggage-laden concept of “marriage” and supplements a type of monogamy that has been renamed.

In the films Exhibition (Joanna Hogg, 2013) and Possession (Andrezej Zulawski, 1981), architecture makes legible the idea of the third party, interpolating on the one on one relation and insinuating itself into the spaces between bodies, externally, and between subjectivities, internally. Both films reveal disobedient oppositions between internal and external and public and private. Both films also examine the condition of marriage and the situation of the triangle, a form that elucidates the true nature of one on one relation – teasing the so-called monogamous party, threatening their security as singularities both in a condition of constant flux and also conjoined, each supplementing the other. In this context, and via the prism of psychoanalysis and Derridean analysis, I will problematise the concept of two-becoming-one that underpins both the notion of any ‘monogamous’ relation and, crucially, the institution of “marriage.”

In Learning to Live Finally, an interview in which the issue of marriage is raised as regards the constitutional omission of homosexual couples, Derrida defends this group and, in doing so, indicates a position of a generalised concept of inclusion, in spite of his ambivalence toward “marriage” itself. His theoretical support is ambiguously negated by the more radical viewpoint that follows it: ‘If I were a legislator, I would propose simply getting rid of the word and concept of “marriage” in our civil and secular code.’3 This statement, provisional and speculative in essence, reveals a the multi-faceted arrow of his attack: the legislative machinery of social control; the arbitrary articulation of words and concepts (words, in an archaeological sense, bearing multiple meanings; words ciphered according to the speaker’s own intentions, whether conscious or unconscious); the situation of secularity and the disintegration of a blanket faith-based system of morality. To extend the reach of this dismantling process, one could at this point raise the issue sexual difference and a ‘civil code’ that is supposed to afford equal rights to (marginalised) women; marriage is a hangover from a patriarchal order that not only excluded women from social life, rendering them second-class citizens, but also, historically, used women and girls as currency (a practice that, of course, continues to this day, but is prohibited in ‘our civil and secular code’).

Provisionally, beginning at the beginning, Derrida proposes ‘getting rid of the ‘word and concept of “marriage,”’ which interpenetrate: the word entwined around the concept. Derrida employs Saussurian linguistics to dislocate the langue (Latin – ‘tongue’), which is the abstract system of a particular speech act, from the parole (Latin – derived from ‘discourse’; ‘parable’), meaning the most commonplace speech acts. Through utterance of the word, the signifier, one summons the concept, the signified. Every utterance is marked, imprinted, connoted (from the Latin connotare, ‘to mark along with’). Every speech act is linked by an invisible thread to its etymological origin, that is to say the concept in the service of which it was originally appointed. In order to ‘get rid of’ the concept, which is heavily loaded with historico-political valences, one would have also to ‘get rid of’ the word and its echoes that reverberate retroactively, with which it is burdened and to which it is forever beholden.

‘“Marriage” as a religious, sacred, heterosexual value – with a vow to procreate, to be eternally faithful, and so on – is a concession made by the secular state to the Christian church…’4
Marriage” is a ritual traditionally sanctioned by the church. Many of those who practice it today (marriage both an event and a practice) do so with sincerity, in the belief that it has been sufficiently ‘modernised’ through cultural re-inscription over successive epochs: ‘modernisation’ being predicated on the values of the time with which it is contemporaneous: ‘modernisation,’ ostensibly, echoing the times in which one lives. The primary shift has been the transplanting of the ceremony from the church (consonant with the religious code) to the register office (consonant with the legislative code). For many this shift seems significant enough to, essentially, extricate the religious undertones completely. But the heavily connoted state of marriage, ‘as a religious, sacred, heterosexual value,’ persists in many forms, from the exclusion of homosexual marriage to the persistence of the idea of monogamy, or ‘marriage to one,’ which are foundational values. The ‘vow to procreate, to be eternally faithful, and so on’ – I might add ‘to co-habit,’ – are inseparable from the codes, practices and values of the Christian church, from which Derrida seeks to conclusively diverge, cleaving a clearly delimited alternative for those who would choose to ‘marry,’ (that is, to ritualise their commitment to the other through event and practice) without interception, and infestation via trace, by the church and its values: even if only by echo through the ages. Derrida argues that it is thus the responsibility of the secular state to formulate a genuine alternative that diverges at root, at the subterranean stems that define and maintain it, the profoundly codified practice of “marriage.”

Discourse around ‘the scared’ is prominent in both in religious and more colloquial discourse, via the mass absorption of ideology. The monistic tradition, reifies a hallowed singularity – but secondarily this notion is transplanted onto the common conception of ‘The One.’ One’s ‘other;’ the other that would make one complete. To pursue one’s ‘other-half’ is an activity that is hugely over-determined in our culture via culturally naturalised depictions of romantic endeavour, love songs and anecdotally via the mass-internalisation of myth and a nostalgic return to a past, in which couples married young and married forever: divided only by death. Clearly this idea(l), illusion, or, indeed fantasy is reproduced in the discourse that pervades “marriage.” ‘The sacred’ as a category with its intimations of privacy, exclusivity and reverence – values which transcend the ordinary expectations of human interactions – thus place the ‘sacred’ condition of monogamy on an ideological/idealistic metaphorical pedestal.

As for heterosexuality, a value that is intimately entwined with the ‘word and concept of “marriage,”’ one is led to the contentious issue of procreation, and the prescriptive, written, law of Christian (though far from exclusively) ideology that renders sacred the union of one man and one woman, irrespective of their desire or biological capability to procreate. It is outside of the scope of this essay to interrogate the particularities of this issue, but the current debate explicitly illustrates a socio-political division between those who wish to conserve (and simultaneously exclude marginalised couples) from the institution of marriage, which in spite of gestures in the direction of ‘modernisation,’ remains the last bastion of homogenised political ideology.

[“Marriage”] is a concession made by the secular state to the Christian church and particularly with regard to monogamy.’ In proposing the elimination of ‘the word and concept of “marriage,” and thus the ambiguity or hypocrisy with regard to the religious or sacred – things that have no place in a secular constitution,’ Derrida suggests a startlingly radical option: an alternative that strikes at the very source of pervasive common conceptions on the subject of fidelity, love and the intimate relation. That he strikes at the root is of utmost import when one considers the extent of what lies invisible, subterranean, beneath the surface, threading around and binding the visible shoots. In pinpointing “monogamy” –– ‘particularly with regard to monogamy’ – Derrida’s position, unequivocally anti-Christian church, implicates through opposition non-monogamy: a condition that is more or less inevitable depending on the depth of ones interrogation of the third party, which will be returned to later. This being Derrida, however, one must approach oppositional thinking with extreme caution and resist reifying the (nearest known) binary opposition – ‘polyamory.’ The simple gesture of binary reversal, says deconstruction, is merely a manipulation of terms and fails to forge to a genuine break from the thinking that produced both poles of the opposition. Again, circuitously, perhaps, but necessarily: these issues will be returned to.

The word and concept of “monogamy,” the pulse that reverberates through of this essay, should be studied under the lens of the deconstructive microscope. “Monogamy,” the word itself, rooted in ecclesiastical Latin, is not merely steeped in religiosity, with its attendant notions of the sacred union and so on, but is constituted by and therefore inseparable from the sanctified condition of marriage (‘gamos’). When one claims to practice ‘monogamy’ one inadvertently (perhaps) invokes a condition hugely codified, burdened by the ‘word and concept of “marriage,”’ whether or not the couple is “married” in the proper sense of the term (though the verb ‘to marry,’ of course, signifies a more generalised conjoining). The ‘mono’ contained within the word ‘monogamy,’ describes an exclusively one on one relation, an exclusivity that is pronounced by ‘marrying together’, into a sacred unity, two, presumed, mutually singular entities, ‘forsaking all others,’ according to the traditional vow: “marriage” exclusifies the one on one relation. As a prerequisite for ‘marriage,’ the word and concept of “monogamy,” is ‘over-determined by ethico-political norms.’5

The so-called ‘sacred union’ is permeable, rendering it inherently adaptive, from the inside, to outside forces. The word and concept of “divorce,” is fully naturalised into the collective consciousness: a clear and present hypocrisy. If marriage is such a sacred state how can its severance be possible? If its severance is possible then “divorce” legitimises, reifies and makes provision for the interjection of the third party, rendering “marriage” potentially temporal, divesting it of all that sacred rhetoric, the backbone of which is the scared union of one to the other, forever. The word ‘divorce’ is derived from the Latin ‘divertere,’ meaning ‘to turn aside:’ ‘di’ – apart, ‘vertere’ – to turn. The existence of “divorce,” this turning against the other with whom one was once “married” radically challenges the so-called sacred, profound unification into one whole of two singularities, and, significantly, extinguishes the core concept of ‘the one.’ That is to say, ‘the one’ who would complete the other in a unity of faithfulness (sexual fidelity, indubitably, but also emotional? experiential?), ‘forsaking all others.’ The notion of the hermetically sealed, mutually self-sustaining – one could argue mutually cannibalising – couple is a conceit that disavows and even proscribes the various and, greater or lesser intense varieties of (sexual and/or non-sexual) encounter. The subject is constantly being penetrated by multiples ‘others,’ who affect (‘touch’), destabilise and mark, which brings us to the precarious, shifting status of fidelity.

Fidelity’ is derived from ‘faith’, which has wide-ranging connotations from the religious to the ‘leap of faith’ that is the signifier of any encroachment into risk – risk looming large in any one on one relation that is accompanied by an erosion of physical and emotional borders. Fidelity has transmogrified into a predominantly sexually proscriptive term in modern usage. It has thus come to align itself with “monogamy,” which is itself sufficiently removed from its etymological roots to denote a sexual as opposed to matrimonial relation. Fidelity is multi-directional, functions simultaneously and has many faces. There is fidelity to the cause, in the case of marriage, accompanied by notions of duty, role and position within a relational unit (that I dispute as a foundation for the integrity of the transformative relation.) This type of fidelity disavows fidelity to oneself and to the other, by neutralising subjectivities into positions: it problematises the condition of flux to which all subjectivities are by their very nature prone. There is fidelity to the other, which suggests a subjection of self, an obfuscation of self behind or in opposition with the other. And there is fidelity to the self, under which one could justify any action: a relativist position, in which disparity is produced when one attempts a connection with the other. Subjectivity congealing into a parallel state of relation, with inevitable dissimulation, rendering one obscure to the other: detached. Common conceptions of fidelity occupy non-negotiable positions that are fixed and therefore at odds with the state of union Derrida proposes.

Loyalty’ and ‘fidelity’ are intimately linked. My interest in loyalty is the way it winds its way through multiple intimacies, usually both non-sexual and sexual. Loyalty is bound to trust. One can trust many, and to those one ‘gives’ oneself via the shedding process of disclosure and exposure of inner-selves: the private as opposed to the public self or persona (which means ‘mask’). That is, the ‘hidden’ selves that one reserves for the trusted ‘other.’ Language, communication, handles trust as trusting communication relies on a shared language: a close proximity to meaning that is ciphered specifically for the other. To speak approximately the same language minimises, but by no means diminishes the risk of mistranslation, misinterpretation, which in turn minimises the speaker’s dissimulation or obfuscatory flights that would alienate the other. To speak the same language is to be free to spontaneously extemporise, that is, improvise one’s subjectivity in speech without preparation, and for this there must be trust. To trust is to allow the fragilisation of ones borders so that the ‘inside’ comes ‘out’: the inside that is masked by internal personas – the stripping of masks to reveal more masks. This type of profound trust, this necessarily partial disclosure, on the ellipse, can and does lie in multiple persons.

In closely considering fidelity, or loyalty to the other, the figure of the third party emerges; protruding obscenely from the word itself that needn’t exist if it wasn’t for its omnipresence. I shall alight from the passage in the interview from Learning to Live Finally in which Derrida radically reformulates and expands the perimeters around the notion of “marriage.”
By getting rid of the word and concept of “marriage,” and thus this ambiguity or hypocrisy in regard to the religious or the sacred – things that have no place in a secular constitution – one could put in their place a contractual “civil union,” a sort of generalised pacs, one that has been improved, refined and would remain flexible and adaptable to partners whose sex and number would not be prescribed.’6
Here Derrida negotiates the waste-land, or the wall, between “marriage” as it stands, opaque and over-determined by prescribed conditions, and the endorsement of mere pleasure-seeking, or hedonism. I use the word ‘opaque’ deliberately, to denote a condition that obscures the smorgasbord of potential transparencies that are marginalised by the marriage contract (which will be returned to later). He reifies the momentousness of the intimate one on one relation – the urge within each of us to fuse with the other: to connect – but abhors the socio-cultural imposition of boundaries with their attendant quasi-religious overtones – ‘things that have no place in a secular constitution’ – and circumscribe the full potential of inter-subjectivity. Derrida refers to the French ‘pacte civil de solidarite’ (PACS), albeit with a radical twist that can be traced back to his previous statement on monogamy – ‘[“Marriage”] is a concession made by the secular state to the Christian church and particularly with regard to monogamy.’ He advocates a version of PACS that has been ‘improved, refined and would remain flexible and adaptable to partners whose sex and number would not be prescribed.’7

Derrida’s vision of PACS has been transformed at root. He does away with monogamy, which is the most insidious element, the most naturalised; like Western Metaphysical binary thinking it is the impossible element, and that is where he makes his move. He does away with circumscription, which imposes conditions on subjectivity with which the willing participant might very well concur, under culturally prescribed duress, one might argue, but the deconstructive tendency abhors, replacing it with ‘flexibility.’ He emphasises ‘adaptability,’ that is, he would embed the thing that is merely implied in the extant system of ‘marriage’ and ‘divorce’ – that the couple is not literally sealed off from the world, that subjectivities in constant flux require an adaptive structure in which they can flourish. He advocates the de-tabooing of same-sex couplings and, indeed, poly-sexualities.

And given its spatial and temporal dimensions, its structure of relays and delays, no human being is ever safe from AIDS. This possibility if thus installed at the heart of the social bond as inter-subjectivity. And at the heart of that which would preserve itself as a dual inter-subjectivity it inscribes the mortal and indestructible trace of the third-party.8
Any desiring relation brings infection; one is always (already) contaminated by the other. In being ‘touched’ – a multi-sensorial event that can take place in the absence of proximity – one is transformed. In the figure of the third party one can decipher the one on one relation, integrating multiple ‘others’ into the illusory sacred union and fully occupy the situation of the social being in flux, continually marked and transformed by multiple forces, whether human or object, without mortally wounding the profundity of the encounter. In the language of monogamy, such forces are a threat to the (constructed)whole’ that constitutes the couple; these forces gather against the ‘couple’ in their purportedly conjoined solidity as a single entity, seeking fissures in their armoury; an armoury that is in fact a collection of porous membranes. One bears (or is burdened by) traces of multiple ‘others,’ past and future, and these intrusions have many forms and manifestations. As will be shown in the next section of this essay, architecture is polyvalent; it is at once anchoring, reassuring and imprisoning. Walls, in the films ‘Exhibition’ (Joanna Hogg, 2013) and ‘Possession’ (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981), embody literal and metaphorical interlocutions into the more or less sealed unit of the married couple. Walls also function as deconstructive figures; they disobey the opposition between inside and outside, public and private, whilst at the same time functioning as symbolic and actual boundaries. Walls keep one in and, correlatively, keep others out. One could even imagine denouement of the subject into a wall: sealed-off, sealed-up: sharing with the wall a condition of apparent impenetrability.

Exhibition’ emphasises the relative permanence of the architectural frame in relation to the inherently destabilised humans that inhabit it. The film depicts the anxious realisation of the instability of architectural annexation, for the couple intend to abandon the house. D and H, both visual artists, have inhabited their starkly contemporary home for eighteen years, their marriage exhibited within the confines if its walls, which have absorbed the domestic choreographies contained within them. In lieu of offspring – conscious, reflective products of their relationship – the walls are witnesses to the fluctuations and ruptures of love, mutual dependencies and desire. In the absence of offspring the walls are a constant, unchanging presence: their clean, ordered stillness juxtapose sharply with the destabilising force that the presence of children would impose.

D negotiates space as ‘other,’ with consideration and care, as if the architecture was receptive as flesh is receptive: yielding. She manipulates the sliding doors to her studio with particular reverence; her body articulates a synonymy with the architecture. Internal walls not only represent the third party interpolating on the matrimonial dyad, but also impose themselves on D spacio-temporally, articulating a frequent blurring of the boundary between self and other, whilst at the same time supplementing and supporting her very body. The walls are her confidante and her other secondary, intimate ‘other’ – the third party that deconstructs the opposition between self and other; inside and outside. Her trust is invested in the architecture of her surroundings, she is loyal, and the walls that contain her also ‘hold’ her: their tactility is an embrace that is returned. D’s singularity (which is of course divided) on the domestic stage is frequently disturbed and she moves through spaces with a nervous tension one recognises as a symptom of love – preciousness, a fear of harming the other: a fear of loss.

If ‘Exhibition’ takes on the third party architecturally, then ‘Possession’ (1981) digs into it archaeologically, disobeying the comfortable opposition between preservation and destruction. A disturbing depiction of one man, Marc, his descent into madness and the psychotic disintegration of his marriage, ‘Possession’ also makes use of the rich tapestry of domestic unbliss, internal walls pushing/punishing the inhabitants to the limits of their sanity, domestic roles inculcated by marriage diminishing the potential for inter-subjective development and the enslavement of one to the other. Additionally, and crucially, the film is set (and filmed) in West Berlin, the presence of the Berlin Wall producing a meta-narrative intensity, not to mentions the armed sentinels (do they protect or do they threaten?) who often come into focus, witnessing both the film’s production and the involuted narrative unfold. One has a sense of presence in absence and absence in presence throughout, and a rapidly diminishing opposition between inside and outside.

Most scenes take place in confined interior spaces (rooms in an apartment, an underground station, an office, a bar) and yet deconstruct the opposition between inside = safety/outside = risk. Outside, in spite of the situation of incarceration its inhabitants endure in a walled-off sector, seems oftentimes preferable to the destabilised condition of bodies negotiating domestic spaces. The opposition is deconstructed via the mirroring of inside/outside in terms of their equivocal devastation. A position is thus adopted by the director against the ‘family unit,’ “marriage” and especially in regards to the inherent porousness of these states that are ordinarily considered to form an impenetrable whole, constituted and nourished by the circulatory feeding system of its composite parts. The traditional ‘triangle’ formation that emerges in ‘Possession’ positions the character of Anna’s lover as the third-party. Heinrich is the antithesis of Marc. Where Marc’s libido is domesticated, Heinrich seems liberated (indeed, he has abandoned his wife and child). He embodies the panoply of attributes of which Marc is devoid – athletic, open-minded, ‘sexually liberated,’ all of which are dismantled as the narrative progresses, sexual liberation being a ‘modern delusion.’9

Inter-subjectivity, whereby a thing exists ‘between conscious minds,’ that is, ‘shared by more that one conscious mind,’ [OED, my italics] makes legible the situation of fluidity in relational connections, abandoning the possessive and sacred overtones of the extant discourse around ‘monogamy.’ In applying Derrida’s theory of the text to the social being in flux, marked by traces of multiple forces, one can recognise the inherently porous character of subjectivity, and thus the fallacious nature of the one-that-is-two as an inter-subjective construct, as opposed to the condition of the subjectivity itself, ‘the text produced only in the transformation of another text:’
[Whether in the order of spoken or written discourse], no element can function as a sign without referring to another element which itself is not simply present... This interweaving results in each ‘element’ – phoneme or grapheme – being constituted on the basis of the trace within it of the other elements of the chain or system. This interweaving, this textile, is the text produced only in the transformation of another text. Nothing, neither among the elements nor within the system, is anywhere ever simply present or absent. There are only, everywhere, differences and traces of traces…the gram as ‘differánce,’ then, is a structure and a movement no longer conceivable on the basis of the opposition between presence/absence. [My italics]10

This essay has considered the affects of multiple, simultaneous ‘inter-subjectivities,’ how and what type of negotiations are required in a more generalized deconstruction, or dismantling, of terms such as ‘monogamy’ and also the highly codified practice of “marriage.” My proposition is that there is no such thing as a purely one on one relation and that there are necessarily more than two people present (even through absence) in every desiring relation. The difficulty is in definition, and the expectations that are bound up when one takes on a particular ‘role’ in relation to the other. I have looked at the hypocritical condition of “marriage” in our secular, civil code through a close-reading of Derrida’s text. The next section will analyse the condition of the one on one relation and the drive toward the other as a complementary subjectivity: the intense one on one relation whose connective tissue (be that intellectual and/or sexual stimulation and gratification) binds self to other and has the potential to re-orient the ‘couple’ onto a trajectory that is marked by past experience. Of central importance to this investigation are the risks inherent in a radical openness that will be proposed, explored and explicated.

I follow Freud, Nietzche and Sade in my view of the amorality of the instinctual life. At some level, all love is combat, a wrestling with ghosts. We are only for something by being against something else. People who believe they are having pleasant, casual, uncomplex sexual encounters, whether with friend, spouse, or stranger, and blocking from consciousness the tangle of psychodynamics at work, just as they block the hostile clashings of their dream life.11
Polyamory,’ a preference for multiple lovers that is spelled-out unambiguously in the word (a vast improvement on ‘monogamy,’ which is infested with the word and concept of “marriage”), in its equivocal tendency, describes the condition of most relations, most accurately (albeit divested of the implicit simultaneity). An unmarried state of connection to the other with an active openness to outside influence and a flexibility, in terms of others: their ‘number or sex,’ as Derrida remarked. In the absence of equivocality, a potential so-called ‘primary’ relation could form an orbit around which others enter and exit, like electrons, marked by fluidity and flux, coming in and out of orbit, supplementing the ‘couple.’ Regarding the concept of monogamy and its hypocrisies, ‘polyamory’ seems too simple a construct: too oppositional, as if in its obvious radical criticality it doesn’t go far enough beyond the binary.

Peggy Kamuf writes,
The idea will have to be approached that even if it is essentially preservative, love (but also deconstruction) is nevertheless no stranger to destruction to loss and to ruin…we will be approaching the figure of love as affirmation that deconstructs the opposition between preservation and destruction, of love, therefore, as that which like deconstruction takes place along the divided, ruined border of this alternative.12

Perhaps polyamory’s failing is enshrined in its Utopian disavowal of ‘destruction,’ ‘loss’ and ‘ruin:’ equivalence creating libidinal plenitude and resistance to crisis, which after all is a force of nature that is creative. Perhaps, in the final analysis, what is cultivated is a generalised, multiplied dampening-down of desire. A state of relativism that avoids intensity and the risks associated with a mutual exchange of strengths and weaknesses in a constellation of mutually binding elements that overlap and construct inter-dependencies out of which profound depths of trust and intimacy are born. Loss, after all, is embedded not only on the marriage contract, but any loving relation – if not by severance then by death. I can imagine a socially acceptable practice in which, through the supplementary application of ‘radical transparency,’ multiple intimacies could flourish without the diminishment of each relation’s unique (potential) intensity. I propose ‘radical transparency’ as a solution to the problem of opacity that constitutes the ‘monogamy’ contract. ‘Radical transparency’ functions within the confines of a never fully open openness: an external openness that always recognises its internal closures, its multi-directional varieties of accessibility. It emerges at the threshold, on the borders of the visible or perceptible space available for translatability between self and other. It recognises the fludity of borders, the necessity of perpetual negotiation with the other (inclusive of all the other ‘others’) and the unresisting, yielding nature of productive intimacy. The condition of possession, of central import in the marriage contract, could thus be gotten rid of, in addition to the mythical safety net that was never anyway existent.

And this contact without contact, this barely touching touch is unlike any other, in the very place where all it touches is the other.13
The Japanese dance theatre ‘Butoh’ is motivated by the play of inter-subjectivities on the bodies of the performers, though a conscious and deliberate deferment of contact. “We dance completely separately,” utters choreographer Tatsumi Hijikata’s translator in the documentary, ‘BUTOH: Body on the Edge of Crisis,’ (1990), “yet our hearts are dancing in unison.” Isolation from the other, for Hijikata, creates a greater depth of feeling, so his dancers “work in isolation” His hypothesis stretches beyond performance and categorisation, into the more generalised relational scene, jarring with the familiar “marriage” contract that contaminates most loving relations: “This kind of independence between dancers should exist between [married] partners as well,” he proclaims. Intimacy has many facets, and not least presence in absence – one only has to look at the word itself; intimate is derived from Latin ‘intimare’ – to bring into, to impress, to make familiar – and ‘intimus’ – innermost. So the word is closely acquainted with a co-existence of interiority. Derrida writes in ‘Envois’: ‘It is curious to see that generally I do not answer your letters, nor you mine or are we delirious, each alone, for
ourselves? Are we waiting for an answer or something else?’14 Sharing and disclosure come into play, but physical proximity is not a prerequisite, and after all one is isolated inside one’s body and the other is always outside of oneself, but never simply.

When one speaks of the other having been ‘made’ for us, a common idiomatic expression, my contention is not with the utterance itself, but the archaeology of the word ‘made’ and its mistranslation in terms of the production of the self. The conceit is produced from the fully naturalised idea that people are born and then ‘find’ each other on a fateful parallel trajectory that converges, finally. However, this narrative disavows the affects of the third party in producing the self, invoked by the word ‘made’ (or might the word ‘constructed’ be more useful?) It also disavows the extent to which singularity is translatable, meaning being ciphered, always, and, like Derrida’s approach to the ‘text,’ singularity coming apart during translation. We invoke the spectre, the echo and the imprint of multiple others when we admit we have been ‘made,’ since one can only hypothesise ones needs through experience, failure, negation; multiple others leave their imprint on the subject through inclusion and exclusion: their vestigial presence is in absentia. Hence the third party, its trace, alongside the other, (equivocally) – a presence ‘conspicuous by its absence,’ performs, defines, refines – co-exists.

To conclude, I cite a passage from one of Derrida’s performative love letters from the book within a book, ‘Envois,’ in which the third party weaves its way around the desperate mutual desire of the couple, who must negotiate daily with the ‘truth’ of their situation, beyond which lies the possibility of monogamy supplemented by ‘radical transparency.’
And these inexhaustible words, these days and nights of explication will not make us change places or exchange places, even though we ceaselessly try to do so, to got to the other side, to swallow the other’s place, to move our bodies like the other’s body, even to swallow it while drinking its words, mixing the salivas little by little, wearing down the borders…but there are others, the others within us I grant you, and we can do nothing about it, that is the limit. There is a crowd, right, such is the truth.15

Derrida, J, Learning to Live, Finally: The Last Interview, (Hampshire, Palgrave, 2007).
Derrida, J, On Touching – Jean Luc Nancy, (California: Stanford UP, 2005).
Derrida, J, Positions, (London: Continuum, 2004).
Derrida, J, ‘Envois’, in The Post Card, (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1987).
Derrida, J, ‘The Rhetoric of Drugs,’ in Points…Interviews 1974 – 1994, (California, Stanford UP, 1995).
Kamuf, P, Book of Addresses, (California: Stanford UP, 2005).
Paglia, C, Sex and Violence, or Nature and Art, (London: Penguin Books, 2006).
BUTOH: Body in Crisis, (dir. Michael Blackwood), 1990.
Exhibition, (dir. Joanna Hogg), 2013.
Possession (dir. Andrezej Zulawski), 1981.
1 Jacques Derrida, ‘Envois,’ in The Post Card, p. 8.

2 Jacques Derrida, ‘Otobiographies’, in The Ear of the Other, p.10.

3 Jacques Derrida, Learning to Live, Finally, pp. 43 – 44.

4 Ibid.

5 Jacques Derrida, Rhetoric of Drugs, p. 229.

6 Jacques Derrida, Learning to Live, Finally, pp. 43 – 44.

7 Ibid.

8 Jacques Derrida, Rhetoric of Drugs, p. 251.

9 Camille Paglia, ‘Sex and Violence, or Nature and Art,’

10 Jacques Derrida, ‘Positions,’ pp. 23 – 24.

11 Paglia, Sex and Violence, or Nature and Art, pp. 20 – 21.

12 Peggy Kamuf, Book of Addresses, Deconstruction and Love, p. 26.

13 Jaques Derrida, On Touching – Jean Luc Nancy, p. 68.

14 Jacques Derrida, ‘Envois,’ in The Post Card, p. 19.

15 Ibid, p. 44.

Articulating Sexual Subjectivity: A consideration of desire, power and the paradoxical nature of so-called ‘sexual liberation.’ How does female sexual desire (being predicated on lack) function in the world of objects, and bodies, on the market?

The very uncertainties which sexuality creates for subjectivity magnify the importance of the experience: that is to say, as sexuality becomes more problematical it becomes more important to us in defining ourselves…sexuality has become too important…it has become charged with tasks of self-definition and self-knowledge that it can’t and shouldn’t perform.1

This essay will consider two female character’s psychosexual trajectories as depicted in [two scenes from] the films ‘I am Curious (Yellow)’ (1967), and ‘Intimacy’ (2001). It will examine how desire, through tacit agreements between subject and object, creates conditions of entrapment for sexual subjectivity that render paradoxical so-called sexual liberation. The essay will consider how social conditions, resulting in the naturalisation of gender roles, power and resistance collaborate in the disavowal of desire being deployed in the spirit of labour freely given. The problematic at the centre of the essay is the way that sexual subjects negotiate with a strict adherence to fixed roles and the attempt at a more free-flowing exchange of submissive and dominant roles (each inscribed, dialectically, with advantages and disadvantages). As such sexuality in this essay is viewed as a performance of self, with power-struggle at its core.

The scenes depict confrontations in illicit relationships with a particular emotional charge: producing a friction that precipitates rupture. Lena and Claire navigate their erotic subjectivity in these relationships and as social subjects, in addition to experiencing to a greater and lesser extent the effects of objectification (however, it will be seen in the close-reading of ‘Intimacy,’ a reversal of objectification takes place). Both women attempt to play out a transformative sexuality; to achieve through the other, the object of their desire, a greater sense of their sexuality. Their quest to emerge as sexual subjects in this way is overdetermined, intimating the truism that beings are indeed socially determined, whether through passivity or resistance. As such, the vicissitudes and contradictions that constitute the articulation of their desire will be probed.

The two scenes will be close-textually analysed using the concept of the commodity as described in chapter one of Marx’s ‘Capital’ and Marx’s theory of alienation, produced by the division of labour: which has wide-reaching implications for the social subject. Freudian psychoanalytical theory will provide a conceptual framework for the analysis. Also, the scenes will be read through Michel Foucault’s theory of repression, power and sexuality, with particular emphasis on part four (‘The Deployment of Sexuality’), from volume one of ‘The History of Sexuality.’ Helene Cixous’ utopian deconstruction will be deployed, in addition to French filmmaker and author Catherine Breillat, whose theories of female sexuality will constitute a textual ‘thread’ that will perforate and weave through the entire essay.

I am Curious (Yellow), dir. by Vilgot Sjöman (Second Sight, 1967)
The over-determination of intellect by corporeality is of course expressed in the vocabulary of curiosity, which like hunger and lust is not governed by the mind, but is 'aroused' 'gratified' and so on.2

Lena Nyman is a politically engaged young radical inhabiting liberal Stockholm in the late-sixties. Lena and Börje are lovers for some time before it is reported that he is co-habiting with Marie, the mother of his child. In the wake of this discovery Lena initiates her bid for freedom. Fleeing to the countryside in an attempt to absolve herself of the scourge of Börje, she pursues spiritual rebirth through new-age technologies - a particular brand of sixties hippydom. Also, in a mid-twentieth century re-imagining of Virginia Woolf’s entreaty that a woman should have a ‘room of her own,’ Lena designates a zone for intellectual growth within her typical Swedish country-house retreat that incorporates books, a typewriter and a shotgun.

Börje Ahlstedt ploughs into Lena's retreat in a new MG sports car that symbolises his success as a suave car salesman in the world of commodities, out of which he leaps with an urgently aroused sort of instantaneity. He enters the wood-built house with an air of arrogance that reveals his sense of absolute entitlement to Lena, as an object of his desire. Characteristic of a man at ease with himself and the phallocentric order that sustains him, and inflated by avarice, he infiltrates Lena's self-imposed exile: his assailment of her both an extension and re-assertion of his power.

Having registered violation, she is war-like in preparation for the confrontation. Bare-breasted and sheathed from the waist down in a wrap-around floor-length skirt, she adopts the symbolic code of a tribal warrior defending her property and by extension her self, though at the same time, breasts exposed, constructs a sexually appealing image of herself for Börje’s consumption that recalls Mulvey’s (psychological term) ‘female figure.’3 She appeals to the male need for ‘re-enactment of the original trauma [investigating the woman, demystifying her], counterbalanced by devaluation, punishment or saving of object [woman].’4 Lena wields the shotgun that, previously displayed in her room as a representation of non-violence, now – a protrusion from her, a phallus that she pushes into Börje’s back - signifies power. He flees from the porch on which she stands regally, triumphantly possessive of her gun and her breasts.

Territorially, protecting her own domain, forcing the retreat of the assailant who has penetrated it; looking down on the feeble man who himself has been assailed she screams “Get Lost” from her elevated position and shoots her gun at him. Dominant and submissive positions thus reversed: the ground is cleared for a continuation of their psychosexual drama under the very same constellation of oppositions. Her dominance is short-lived; her capitulation to him is part of the game. In ‘The History of Sexuality’, Foucault spoke of ‘the general form of [powers] acceptability’ in our society, as ‘a pure limit set on freedom.’5 The love scene with consequences that follows (the consequences revealed later to be a dose of scabies) depicts sexual liberation as a myth and freedom’s limits. ‘Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power.’6 The act of resistance manifests power’s presence and power-struggle is produced.

Later, Lena wakes from a post-coital slumber beside Börje, who remains asleep on the wooden floor-boards of her sanctuary – it and her penetrated. She takes his car keys and, in much the same way that he invaded her, she invades him. Inside the boot of his MG she finds (and steals) gifts not only for his wife, Marie, but a mystery woman, Madeline. Suppressing anger (for he has committed a double infidelity), she returns to him, repositions herself parallel to his chest, their bodies curled together and sex organs aligned, and he wakes and penetrates her (again). A consensual ambiguity is established (this time) and there is a re-assertion of the Foucauldian idea that ‘sexual relations are not reciprocal: in sexual relations you can penetrate or are penetrated.’7 Lena consents passively, magnifying for the viewer (the voyeur) a sense of her ambivalence towards Börje, colluding with him in a debasement described by Linda Williams (with reference to the films of Catherine Breillat), ‘[she] is willing to show the sexual degradations women often endure in a quest for pleasure and intimacy.’8

Lena’s dissociated state is manifested by their body language. They are connected at the genitals and alienated from the waist up in an appropriate visual rendering of their psychologically convergent states, a corporeal replication of the wedge that has been driven between them. Sex, echoing Lena’s sated curiosity, becomes an arena for power to play itself out and a kind of desperate self-flagellation via the other. Muteness acts as a support for her state of subjection and also the obfuscation of her knowledge, so she opens up a dialogue that, in piquing the paradoxically sexually aroused Börje (arousal manifesting virility and fragilisation), colludes with and at the same time produces a conclusive undoing of that self-same desire. She initiates the display of ‘primitive passion’, in which a ‘violence of one goes out to meet the violence of the other.’9

Lena begins by asking, “Is Madeline dark or blonde?” and Börje, nonchalantly penetrating her, pauses, as if asking himself if and to what extent this line of questioning will inflict on, or increase his pleasure. “Dark”, he replies. As Lena is blonde, and by taking pleasure in highlighting this difference, he makes a tacit agreement with the climate of hostility in which this sexual act will be articulated and invokes the Madonna/Whore complex, the Freudian condition that explains a type of male impotence (‘they seek objects which they do not need to love, in order to keep their sensuality away from the objects they love’10). In Freud’s theory the man is rendered impotent with his wife, to whom he ascribes unrealistically virginal attributes, and lustfulness is reserved for the lover(s) (in this case Lena, for sure, and Madeline, perhaps), who are sexually objectified by him. ‘The whole sphere of love in such people remains divided in the two directions personified in art as sacred and profane (or animal) love. Where they love they have no desire and where they desire they cannot love’, wrote Freud in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.11

Their dialogue goes on:
Lena – “Social class?” Börje – “Upper,” “Fat or slim?” “Very slim,” “Like a model?” “Better than that.”
Her questions are far from arbitrary. The illicit search that revealed gifts reminded Lena of her status, which is constituted by its location on the hierarchy of his lovers (and she internalises). Börje sadistically taps into her this internalisation by subjecting her, a working class female of meagre means who doesn’t conform to the standard body-image, to this thinly veiled abuse. Unavoidably, and in spite of gestures to the contrary, she manifests the power of mass culture’s oppressive discourses and colludes with him in reproducing them. She seems to spur on his desire while at the same time destroying both her pleasure and her brittle self-image. Lena continues:
Single?” Börje – “Engaged. But she’ll leave him for me” L – “Are her orgasms better than mine?” B – “No idea” L – “Haven’t you slept with her yet?”

She automatically situates herself and Madeline as rivals. This exposes her own binary thinking - a logic that is difficult to avoid, especially when heightened by envy that can also heighten desire – desire for something being predicated on lack and, crucially, a lack that is emphasised by the presence of a rival. It is grotesque that in the circumstances she asks for her orgasms to be assessed, as if they are objects: commodities with equivalent value. ‘Voyeurism has associations with sadism:’ states Mulvey,
pleasure lies in ascertaining guilt, asserting control and subjecting the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness…sadism demands a story, depends on making something happen, forcing a change in another person, a battle of will and strength, victory and defeat…’12
Lena’s masochistic collusion is an example of how ‘the subject who is constituted as subject – who is ‘subjected’ – is he who obeys.’13 She thrashes about on the floor demonstrating the madness of their deteriorating ‘love’, uttering frantically, “Why haven’t you shagged her? Why haven’t you? Why the hell haven’t you?” (as if knowing would somehow release her from the trap she is in).

Börje’s aggressive thrusting finally divested of all pleasurable accumulation, and with a force of revulsion that signifies the diminishment of his virility (or an indentation on his position of domination), he pushes Lena away, uttering: “You and your bloody curiosity.” Framed by a doorway, he stands and she is sprawled on the floor, the camera shows the emotional architecture of their cleavage. The two lovers inhabit a sphere of erotic tension, and are somehow, by a logic of contradiction that infuses their desire, united by the violence they have produced. Lena retreats though the doorway into her carefully constructed study, crying convulsively pursued by Börje. He picks up her doll (that, for him seems to signify her naivety versus his conclusive passage into adulthood) and throws it at her before marching across the threshold into her hitherto utopian safe-haven. This act is another crossing of borders, another penetration into her; war-like he forcibly situates himself right at the centre of the sacred core of her subjectivity with impunity.

Linda Williams describes sadomasochistic power struggle as a ‘complex emotional relation of ecstasy, alienation and humiliation enacted in the performance of the sex act itself.’14 Performing patriarchy at its most oppressive, patronisingly looking down onto her meticulously arranged new-age, political and feminist texts, he circles the room as if circling prey. Either enraged by the evidence of the inner-life of his sex-object, or, as a socialist at the dawning of the age of rampant consumer culture, her political naivety: the acquisition of money and power being the mainsprings of his desire, he spits, “Lend me The Passive Female Ideal”, to which Lena replies, with a hunted demeanour, destroyed by violation, her borders in tatters, “that’s what you have – a passive female.” Her admission slips neatly into the category of victim: that is her lot, and as Foucault wrote, ‘all the modes of domination, submission, and subjugation are ultimately reduced to an effect of obedience.’15

Once cavalier in her attitude to sex, she is now enfeebled. Her body stooped and hair bedraggled, falling limply around her ashen face (that ordinarily beams); her nudity seems shameful in comparison to his, which radiates imperiousness. However, exercising disgust and revulsion only reveals, confirms, concretes his position in the social strata – that of a conservative Christian democrat invested in the state apparatus, class-system and position of women in society (though, expediently, he reveals support for women having the same ‘sexual freedom’ as men).16 Freud said that some men need a ‘debased sexual partner’, that ‘as soon as the condition of debasement is fulfilled, sensuality can be freely expressed.’ Börje’s own sexuality reveals itself to be predicated on this trope, his pleasure being reliant on the presence of ‘a debased and despised sexual object.’17

In The History of Sexuality Foucault wrote that sexuality was seen (from the fourth-century onwards) as a sign of weakness, a passivity, and that early Christian hermeneutics elaborated a pursuit of mastery over the self, and its’ appetites. The erection, being involuntary was seen as a punishment for sin, whereas the Greeks considered it a ‘sign of activity.’18 In a precise rendering of Laplanche and Pontalis’ definition of projection – ‘an operation whereby qualities, feelings, wishes, or even objects, which the subject refuses to recognise or rejects in himself, are expelled from the self and located in another person or thing’19 Börje projects onto Lena all the misery of his internalised psychosexual bondage. Both harbour simultaneously conflicting feelings towards the other; he considers her both desirable (in her willing sexual availability) and repugnant (politically, emotionally). Similar sensations are most certainly reciprocated by her towards him, albeit with less phallic distinction, less well-defined. “Are you going to sit in my MG with those tits?” he boorishly states, toying with her ‘unstandard’ breasts. The doorway framing them again, he throws her onto the floor of the other room and, the lovers having achieved mutual degradation, penetrates her again without gaining her consent. ‘For Catherine Breillat, the visual display of sex is inseparable from the representation of the consciousness of her female characters,’20 and, similarly this rape sequence is essential in depicting the relational ambiguity between Lena and Borje, specifically their collusion. As such, the explicitness of this and previous scenes of sex cannot offer up the ‘visual pleasure’ for the voyeuristic viewer as suggested by Laura Mulvey,21 and provides instead a lacerating psychosexual intensity for the viewer to consider, intellectually.

This social structure negates our beings,’ Kathy Acker pronounced in her early novel Algeria, it supports the ‘maintenance of a subjective attitude in organized contradiction with reality.’22 This resonates with the power-struggle between Lena and Borje that replicates the tension between Lena and the socio-political situation, reproducing the conservatism of a super-structural mass culture and political system that maintain oppressive apparatus. Lena sees that subjects are socially determined and because the personal is the political she subjects the material of society to questions and becomes destabilised: anchorless in a world of myths that create for human subjects a diminished experience. As such she is trapped in a force field of oppositions and must confront and negotiate with contingencies on a daily basis. The double-bind of her situation seems related to praxis, the dialectical necessity of theory and practice to one another. Society’s hypocrisies, the apparatus of limitation and naturalisation through power and myth, are described by Roland Barthes, ‘bourgeois norms are experienced as the evident laws of a natural order – the further the bourgeois class propagates its representations, the more naturalised they become.’23

Lena is conflicted by the emergence of a desire for Börje that is ambivalent, a ‘powerful attraction, but [it is] also a source of shame and compromise.’24 Perhaps her shame was incubated by the experience of the first 19 of her previous 23 lovers, who were, she states, “no fun.” Lena and those lovers collaboratively closed the circle of desire – pleasure – [and] gratification through a phallic logic. She explains, “I slept with them because they wanted to sleep with me, to satisfy them.” Even as a proponent of so-called liberated sexuality, she is trapped in a permanent state of subservience and objectification. Feminist activist Barbara Ehrenreich shed light on how 1960s sexual liberation movements fed right into the hands of the bourgeoning consumer society, accepting women into the ‘man’s world’ at the same time as marginalising them, in the Sweetening the Pill. ‘Socially supported traits of selfishness and individualism’25 frequently masqueraded as sexual freedom. As if sex itself leads to emancipation. Echoing Foucault’s assertion that in modern culture the disconnection of desire and pleasure has led to the former taking precedence over the latter;26 Lena’s sexual experimentation has been constructed out of lack, and has functioned as an extension of power, manifesting it. Being entirely at the service of the other, investing her labour in his pleasure, she has wilfully divested her own pleasure of importance. Thus, she shows the paradoxical nature of so-called liberation.

Intimacy, dir. by Patrice Chéreau, (Empire Pictures, 2001)
Desire describes a state of attachment to something or someone, and the cloud of possibility that is generated in the gap between an object’s specificity and the needs and promised projected onto it. Desire visits you as an impact from the outside, and yet, inducing an encounter with your affects, makes you feel as though it comes from within you; this means that your objects are not objective, but things and scenes that you have converted into propping up your world, and so what seems objective and autonomous in them is partly what your desire has created and therefore is a mirage, a shaky anchor.27

Claire, a discontented thirty-something married mother, lives in New Labour’s late-nineties London. Claire meets Jay for weekly casual sex, never disclosing her marital status. It is passionate, frenzied sex that pulsates with vulnerability – as if the state of vulnerability was one they sought purposely, their sexual intercourse incubating it. ‘Intimacy’ situates graphic, un-simulated sex at the centre of a narrative that is perforated with the ambiguous and shifting nature of subject-object relations and, more broadly, the inevitable curiosity into and pursuit of the other, in the midst of casual sexual encounters. Moreover, the risks that arise from increased promiscuity, or revelation of self to other (exemplified in both ‘Intimacy’ and ‘I am Curious’), are multiplied by the loosening of fixed roles and, as responsibility to the other combines with ambiguity, one potentially becomes alienated from self and other. The frail foundations that support social constructs (from friendships to the nuclear family) are brought to bear on both Claire and Jay as their affair goes on. Stumbling through their first non-sexual confrontation, words having largely been withheld up to that point, they reveal to each other (through language, identity being constituted within it), what the silence of their bodies had formerly been aching to express.

Jay’s curiosity leads him to follow Claire after their Wednesday trysts, and he discovers she works at an amateur-dramatics theatre, where he insinuates himself on performance nights and cynically befriends her husband, Andy. Jay is ushered into the dressing room one night to meet Claire, a pause impregnating the room with a verging-on-fearful sexual tension. As it empties and Claire shuffles about in the process of dressing, Jay looms, seeming debilitated. He launches into speech at the first opportunity, after the last chirpy member of the cast has vacated,
I mean at one point the fact that you never said anything I wondered…a woman who keeps her trap shut so much…”, “Yeah” Claire interrupts, “all those things I was hiding…scary isn’t it.”

Claire is shocked and perturbed by the emergence of a voice from her sexual object, empowerment accompanying the emergence of subjectivity through utterances:
At one point, just to make it very clear where I’m coming from, at one point I thought that if what we did together was all that you wanted, it was because you knew more than me… I thought you’d found something, I thought you were ahead of me and that in the end you would tell me what you knew…”
She is disconcerted by his intrusion, an intrusion that exposes in sharp relief a situation she saw as a purely sexual interaction, orchestrated, and performed, apart-from her life. Forced to acknowledge that she has been marked by the silence between them, she attempts to resist this force by forcing her way past him and out of the room.

Pursued by Jay into the bar, Claire sits across from her husband and their son, the bar between them and noise all around, close yet far enough away for this confrontation to unravel. Jay stands beside her. “What the fuck are you doing with him?” he asks, barely concealing his disgust. “He’s my husband”, she matter-of-factly replies, clearly warming to the subject, perhaps even aroused by the close proximity of the trio. Her face turned upwards to him, supplicatory. “You wanted to talk”, she continues, staring into the middle distance, “well then here we are, talking…” She rises to her feet combatively, as he stares down on her, clearly stunned by her hardness, the contradictions of his expectations causing suffering. Pursued out of the bar, down the stairs into the subterranean theatre in which she professionally performs multiple selves, she disavows his attentiveness to her state of mind, (“back then you looked really sad”), instead needing to contain her desire for him, which has been displaced.28

In the empty theatre their disjointed conversation seems to reproduce the state of being Freud described – that of the divided self (the ‘I’ that speaks consciously also speaks unconsciously, these narratives running alongside each other, overlapping)29 “Everyone listens to you…here I am listening to you, interested in you,” Jay’s monologues are charged with condensed expectations, presumptions and fantasies of who Claire is. Claire lowers herself into a seat; a captive audience of one, witnessing his performance (the performance of his self) with a minor horror that lacerates. The unravelling of their relation, hitherto purely a bodily exchange, mirrors the unravelling of themselves. “It’s all your game, isn’t it?” he pronounces, and she responds, shaking her head slightly, steadying herself prior to standing in flight from him: “I didn’t picture you like this.” But the ‘game’ was theirs. The dissolution of their contract, their tacit agreement, has been instigated through the wounding impact of curiosity, pursuit and probing, a process in which both have shown themselves to be complicit. And from this point on the game, as they played it, is over. The unspoken yet for some time mutually understood rules have changed and there is nothing left at stake.
Adulterous, illicit sex requires for its existence the condition of marriage, a certain commitment to a different state, a licit state. Consequently, provided the marriage is sustained, the other has the condition of a sexual object, or, in the context of a rampant consumer culture, something approaching a commodity. Jay, all too aware of his condition as a sexual labourer, therefore fulfills the requirements of a commodity – ‘an external object, a thing which through its qualities satisfies human needs of whatever kind.’30 Though his curiosity is sated through the pursuit of Claire, it isn’t enough to watch her from a distance and know her in a fragmentary way by proxy through her husband, which highlights a deconstructive dissolving of borders that constitutes their relationship and troubles Jay deeply. Claire and Jay are at the same time close (their naked bodies locked together in the simultaneity of penetration and engulfment, mouths open, corporeally capitulating to the other) and distant. They are, at the very least via the resistance to words, far apart. They know nothing of each other. And neither did they ask.

Claire and Jay’s sense of subjectivity seem unstable, through the fixed roles which they have each been expected to perform, and the alienating consequences of the performance of roles that seem to diminish rather than fulfil. Their ‘concrete individuality does not exist [in the current conditions of alienation] but rather is smothered beneath the weight of those real conditions…”31 The emotional content of their relationship is inseparable from prior and current conditions of their intimate lives, and a more generalised fading of subjectivity within the social and political context of high capitalism has occurred, which leads both Claire and Jay to collude in a performance of sex and silence, an ‘acting out of existential despair.’32
An increasingly volatile Jay, whose appearance has transformed in the scene from maimed to maniacal, produces from within repressed expressions, occasionally spiked with violence, that frequently overlap. Claire is compelled by him as a speaking subject, and jolted into speaking too, disambiguates herself, revealing to the viewer the conception of an affair that she initiated, “that first day you must’ve been really surprised by everything, that I should want you, that I didn’t seem to make a big deal out of it, that it didn’t seem to hurt me that much, you not saying anything….I didn’t give your not saying anything a second thought.” Little by little this encounter disintegrates into disorder, with each locked into their innerness, striking out at the other. Claire’s son interrupts Jay’s final eruption, a cacophonous monologue of phallic posturing around ‘finality’, as if he is capable of shouting Claire out of his unconscious and therefore ridding himself to any extent of the ghost of her presence. Former lovers, former articulations of intimacy, congeal into a haunting of the self. And the mastery of desire is a fallacy.

Catherine Breillat’s theory of female sexuality protrudes from desire’s taboos, the suppression of pleasure, and shame. Far from relying on fixed male and female roles she suggests there is a ‘reciprocal exchange of weaknesses and strengths in the act of love.’33 However, Claire has allocated herself a condition of power through sex, and by withholding language (for the most part) she also withholds discourse and with it, her self, and so is armoured. For Jay, on the other hand, regular sexual encounters with Claire have committed him to a gradual dissolving of self, because unbeknownst to him; theirs is in some way, though not entirely, a perfunctory transaction, elaborated by her. Claire, with Jay, performs a state of being both ‘there’ and ‘not there.’ The critical distance that cleaves their intimacy deconstructs sex, and seems to seek something beyond language or gesture. This recalls the film-work of Breillat, in whose vision ‘the construction of female identity through sexuality begins with the deconstruction of any givens and is followed by the subversion of existing codes of interpretation.’34

One way that Claire ensures that she remains in control is by remaining impenetrable, in spite of being penetrated by Jay. The paradox of penetrability (and a concomitant deconstruction of the phallic binary code) is elaborated by Breillat:
But one doesn’t take a woman. One is taken by her. Look at it. All one has to do is make a sketch. The man is surrounded, seized, can no longer be seen. It’s the woman who takes him…from that moment on he is no longer himself. He belongs to the breathing body he has entered. He is the penetrating body, but not for long.35
Refusing infiltration and positioning herself in a permanent state of detachment, she ‘remain[s] a closed entity’36 putting herself outside pleasure, not entering into an exchange with him. When Claire performs fellatio on Jay he orgasms and thus, according to Catherine Breillat, ‘transcend[s] material.37 However, when he attempts to reverse the submissive/dominant roles and subject her to cunnilingus, she refuses. Unlike Bataille, for whom ‘the aim of sexual pleasure [was] not the gaining but the losing of control,’38 Claire understands that to be the active participant is to maintain the occlusion of her self. If she were to desire pleasure, a loss of self would be necessary for its fulfilment; a fragilisation of her borders that would signal she had relinquished power. This is desire that isn’t at the service of pleasure, but power as a method of self-determination and resistance to the limits of the social order - ‘More than for desire, she is looking for her sexual identity, for her self.39

The pursuit of sexual identity, or self unbound to other, ends up for Claire congealing into a certain myth of sexual liberation. ‘To masquerade,’ wrote Mary Ann Doane ‘is to manufacture a lack in the form of a certain distance between oneself.’40 Claire’s masquerade is the performance of a dislocated part of herself. After the theatre sequence that afforded Jay a voice and produced a dialogue that revealed her motives, Claire realises the full extent of their mutually emotional entanglement. By resisting this eventuality she manifests it. There therefore exists a double-bind – an erotic attachment to Jay that sustains her at the same time as it threatens her, via the slippage from concupiscence into emotionality, producing questions she didn’t intend to address. Lauren Berlant summarises this conflict succinctly, ‘it’s not the object that’s the problem, but how we learn to be in relation.41

Their final encounter at Jay’s house takes place in the stripped-down room in which they, in various ways, contracted one another (contracted in the sense of becoming ill, or catching something contagious; and a binding agreement). Jay crippled by vulnerability and Claire visibly frustrated, they calmly outline their convergent perspectives in relation to the other. Having already left his wife, Jay manifests a mode of availability that couches his appeal as an object. He is on the market, and like a commodity, for Claire, he has no ‘intrinsic value.’42 “What was I meant to feel,” asks Jay after describing Claire as someone who “fucks and goes, just for the thrill of it”, to which she replies, “what was I supposed to be like, who should I have been to keep everyone satisfied, just to come and see a man and bury myself in his arms because I wanted to.” As she stands over him, he almost cowering with vulnerability and the weight of melancholy caused by loss, which is in some sense imaginary and tied up with projection, Jay articulates his predicament with something of the logic of victimisation:
So, I am a divorced man, I have two children, who are getting used to me not being around, friends with a certain number of people, I suppose I am their best friend: that’s something, and also I am this…Wednesday man to a woman that I have never asked anything of, and she’s happy with that it’s no problem to her, but it really fucks me up…..I didn’t know it would be like this…..I didn’t know I would become so closely tied to you.”

The locus of Claire’s courage is in her ability to mange the casual link between her own personal ethics and her external conditions (the Innenwelt and Umwelt), through a version of projection described by Laplanche and Pontalis: ‘The subject perceives [her] surroundings and responds according to [her] own interests, habits, long-standing or transient emotional states, expectations, wishes etc.’43

Both Lena and Claire seem to occupy dialectical positions between the concepts of female libidinal economy (that is, the desire for sex as labour freely given and as such unbound from wider economic relations), and a phallic model that demands a reversal of accepted gender roles, within current conditions. In masculine libidinal economy, male subjects are burdened with the threat of castration and therefore their sexuality must be protected, which leads to the necessarily restrictive phallic mode of relations. Sexual subjectivity is reduced to ‘having’ or ‘not having’; the ‘other’ is feared as a threat to the ‘self’; ‘mastery’ of the other (as opposed to knowledge of the other) is the primary goal. This binary logic whether manifested this way or that, only limits free expression and perpetuates fixed gender roles, so a deconstructive approach to the whole constellation of language, gesture and sexual activity seems the logical one. Gilles Deleuze describes the difficulty of resisting these boundaries and the depressingly constrained condition of the social being in an increasingly mechanised culture:
There is always a binary machine which governs the distribution of roles and which means that all the answers must go through preformed questions, since the questions are already worked out on the basis of the answer assumed to be probable according to the dominant meanings…so many dichotomies will be established that there will be enough for everyone to be pinned to the wall, sunk in a hole…’44

Helene HeleneHCixous deconstructs the notion of mastery, and reframes identity and sexuality as something that is constantly in flux, overflowing, intertwining with ‘self’ and ‘other’. Her theory of so-called ‘liberated’ female sexuality, a process of undoing, informs Lena’s idea of social and personal liberation from hypocritical society – and finds her at the conjuncture between intellectual engagement with the desire to displace the system and psychosexual attachments that inevitably lead to the subjugation of (her) pleasure. For after all, a phallic, binary system can be, and often is, reversed and as such has the potential for the construction of equality within sexual relations.

In other words, female ‘sexual liberation’ in capitalist society translates as defining oneself through sexuality and exhibiting more sexual availability, taking little account of wider implications for the individual. The construction is socially determined and conformist. Terry Eagleton pitches this idea alongside dominant ideology to surmise, ‘my sense of self is not mine but the ideal image of myself that ideology (language and social gesture) has manoeuvred me to accept as myself.’45 The dominant ideology demands that women aspire to a state of desiredness, mechanically sating desire that is at the service of the pleasure of the other, and manifest permanent concupiscence. Catherine Breillat explains this condition of female sexuality with reference to the proliferation of certain types of objects, and that
Sexuality, the sexual act, cannot be what we are shown complacently. We are shown things that are allowed in porn movies and we’re told that that’s the way we ought to behave. Girls are raised for that purpose, which induces a behaviour where you can find pleasure in shame…the words used to describe women’s sexuality, the censorship and shame that society inflicts on women, creates a very schizophrenic condition.’ 46

The Utopian ideation of this essay comes from the perspective of the emergence of ‘ethical’ individuals who create their own life as one would a work of art, without recourse to dominant discourses, re-inventing modes of self-constitution. Foucault asked, ‘Are we able to have an ethics of acts and their pleasures which would be able to take into account the pleasures of the other? Is the pleasure of the other something which can be integrated in our pleasure?’47 Similarly, ‘feminine libidinal economy,’ which renders advantageous the Freudian disadvantage inherent in being biologically female, re-imagines exchanges between self and other. A mode of giving (or equilibrium without balance) that would produce, especially for women a satisfying sexuality would require a radical transformation of society, which uses an economic logic as a conduit for all social relations. Cixous, who’s inquiries into subject / object relations pitch her feminine libidinal economy to the dominant phallic mode, asks for a deconstructive blurring of fixed subject-object positions, she ‘look[s] for a scene in which a type of exchange would be produced that would be different…’
I look for a scene in which a type of exchange would be produced that would be different…This desire would invent Love, it alone would not use the word love to cover up its opposite: one would not land back in a dialectical destiny, still unsatisfied by the debasement of one by the other. On the contrary, there would have to be a recognition of each other, and this grateful acknowledgment would come about thanks to the intense and passionate work of knowing. Finally, each would take the risk of other, of difference, without feeling threatened by the existence of an otherness, rather, delighting to increase through the unknown that is there to discover, to respect, to favour, to cherish.48

The unravelling of self alongside subject/object relations, the messy entanglement of emotion and language have been demonstrated by these articulations of desire. Vulnerability is manifested through the overdetermination of Lena and Jay’s attachment: they have been engulfed by Börje and Claire. The latter, the penetrators, seem to dispossess themselves of affects, apparently returning to their lives, but in fact they too must live with the transformation, or haunting aftermath, of the affair. For Claire, being sexually desired by Jay gives her a window of opportunity for a sort of dissociated sexual performance conducted under the constellation of freedom (from the stricture of her gender roles) that asks nothing of him or her, laying waste to the idea that sex and emotion should always entwine (which of course they shouldn’t). Her achievement is temporally limited, which recalls a scene in which Andy tells Jay, “When you are with someone, there is only a short time that you can give each other things for free.”

As the scenes that have been close-textually analysed in this essay show, it is clear that some movement towards women ‘leaving behind their conditions as commodities – subject to being produced, consumed, valorised, circulated, and so on, by men alone,’49 has occurred, but that ultimately the ‘Hefnerian’ version of female sexual freedom persists, in an internalised way and externally through culturally endorsed expectations. That is to say, so-called liberation manifests yet more servitude to patriarchy. By taking part in ‘elaborating and carrying out exchanges,’50 a reversal of binary roles has taken place; one where women may exhibit confidence in the production of themselves as sexual subjects but are still duped by the idea that this masquerade will empower them. Through language and gesture, revelation and negation, the affects of each affair spill out, as violent eruptions of innerness protruding outwards upon the other.


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1 Richard Sennett, ‘Michel Foucault and Richard Sennett: Sexuality and Solitude,’
London Review of Books, vol 3, 9, (1981), <> [accessed 13 Nov. 2013]

2 Nicholas Thomas, ‘Licensed Curiosity’, in Cultures of Collecting, ed. By Elsner, J; Cardinal, R, (London: Reaktion Books, 1994), p. 125.

3 Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, <>[accessed 26 Dec 2013].

4 Ibid.

5 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, (NY: Vintage, 1990), p. 85.

6 Ibid, p. 95.

7 Michel Foucault, ‘On the Genealogy of Ethics’, in The Foucault Reader, ed. by Rabinow, P, (London: Penguin Books, 1991) p. 345.

8 Linda Williams, Screening Sex, (NC: Duke UP, 2008), p. 115.

9 Bataille, pp. 103 – 104.

10 Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, (London: Penguin Books, 1991), p. 251.

11 Ibid, p. 251.

13 Foucault, History of Sexuality, p. 85.

14 Ibid, p. 117.

15 Foucault, The History of Sexuality, p. 85.

16 Unsurprisingly, Hugh Hefner, editor of Playboy, also supported this idea. With reference to the emergence of the birth control pill in the 1960s, Hefner hoped women would become more ‘openly sexy’, if they could prevent pregnancy. ‘Although men have a continuous sense of masculinity, women are not thought to need a sense of femaleness any more complex than a physical, performed sexiness that is attractive to men. Hefner decided that if a woman looks sexy and is having sex then she must be experiencing a liberated sexuality’.
Holly Grigg-Spall, Sweetening the Pill, (London, Zero Books, 2013), p. 90.

17 Freud, Three Essays, p. 252.

18 Foucault, p. 347.

19 The Language of Psychotherapy, (London: Karnac Books, 1998), p. 349

20 Brian Price, ‘Catherine Breillat,’ Senses of Cinema, 23, (Dec 2002) <>[accessed 13 Dec 2013].

21 Mulvey, L, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, <>[accessed 26 Dec 2013].

22 Kathy Acker, Algeria, (London: Aloes Books, 1984), p. 4.

23 Roland Barthes, Mythologies, (NY: Noonday Press), p. 140.

24 Williams, p. 275.

25 Grigg-Spall, pp. 142 – 143.

26 Foucault, On the Genealogy of Ethics, p. 347.

27 Lauren Berlant, Desire/Love, (NY: Punctum Books), p. 6.

28 A parapraxis occurs early in the dressing room scene when Claire sneezes signifies, revealing a psychological slippage into the realms of their passionate sex-life – sexually induced sneezing is a phenomenon that can occur during foreplay, sexual intercourse or sexual thoughts. <>[accessed 23 Dec 2013].

29 Sigmund Freud, ‘The Unconscious’, in On Metapsychology, (London: Penguin Books, 1991), pp 167 – 173.

30 Karl Marx, Capital, (London: Penguin Books, 1990), p. 125.

31 Karl Marx, Grundrisse, (London: Penguin Books), p. 265.

32 Williams, p. 117.

33 Catherine Breillat, Pornocracy, (LA: Semiotext(e), 2005), p. 115.

34 Laura Malacart, Catherine Breillat – Interview, Filmwaves, <>[accessed 29 Dec 2013].

35 Breillat, p. 114.

36 Acker, p. 3.

37 ‘I don’t believe the aim of sexuality is pleasure, but rather the transmutation into an abstract principle’
Laura Malacart, Catherine Breillat – Interview, Filmwaves.

38 Bataille, p. XIII

40 Mary Ann Doane, Film and the Masquerade,<>[accessed 13 Dec 2013].

41 David Seitz, Interview with Lauren Berlant, Society and Space, (March 22 2013) ( [accessed December 26 2013].

42 Marx, Capital, p. 126.

43 The Language of Psychoanalysis, p. 350.

44 Dialogues II, (London: Continuum IPG, 2006), pp 19 – 21.

45 The Significance of Theory, (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1989), p. 5.

46 Robert Sklar, A Woman’s Vision of Shame and Desire: An Interview with Catherine Breillat, (Cineaste, 25, Dec 1999), pp. 24 – 26, p. 25<>[accessed 29 Dec 2013].

47 On The Genealogy of Ethics, p. 346.

48 Helene Cixous, ‘Sorties,’ in The Newly Born Woman, (Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 1986), p. 78.

49 Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which is Not One, (NY: Cornell UP, 1985), p. 191.

50 Ibid.