YouTube video: ANTI-SEXUS. …And Even Stranger Out There (Part 2)
Welcome to Lecture 6 of Alenka Zupančič’s What Is Sex? In this lecture we will be covering Part 2 of Chapter 2 titled “The Anti-Sexus”. In this subsection we will be exploring a particular way in which the modern mind confronts sexuality as a problem that could potentially be resolved with the introduction of a technology which could allow us full sexual enjoyment without the problematic otherness of the other human being. This is a fascinating dimension of the battle inherent to sexuality and freedom which structured much of the thought of the 20th century. To be specific, is sexual liberation about being free to express our sexuality in a multiplicity of forms? Or is sexual liberation about being free from sexuality itself? In order to approach this question Zupančič quotes psychoanalyst Aaron Schuster’s meditation on Andrei Platonov’s “The Anti-Sexus” (1):
“If part of the twentieth century’s revolutionary program to create a radically new social relation and a New Man was the liberation of sexuality, this aspiration was marked by a fundamental ambiguity: Is it sexuality that is to be liberated, delivered from moral prejudices and legal prohibitions, so that the drives are allowed a more open and fluid expression, or is humanity to be liberated from sexuality, finally freed from its obscure dependencies and tyrannical constraints? Will the revolution bring an efflorescence of libidinal energy or, seeing it as a dangerous distraction to the arduous task of building a new world, demand its suppression? In a word, is sexuality the object of or the obstacle to emancipation?”
We can thus see a quote that perfectly captures an ambiguity which still seems to be with us today. Of course, progressive liberalism sees the conservative past as responsible for putting an unfair and illogic constraint on sexual pleasures and desires (and, of course, women are perceived to be most unfairly and illogically constrained in this regard). However, for the conservative position one often finds the perspective that sex itself is the problem and that the path to true freedom requires an overcoming of sex as an obstacle to self-realization.
From my perspective the path between the two options is not at all clear or intuitive. On one level humans seem to make such a big deal about sex where it is not obvious why this is necessary. Could it be that we can imagine and construct a world where sexuality is not taboo but perceived as an act of highest enjoyment and thus an act that we find a way to relate to in a free, joyful and artistic expression? On the other level humans seem to be pathologized by sexuality in a way that transcends any rational deconstruction of its prohibitions and taboos. Could it be that sexuality and sexual energy specifically is something that could be better utilized in a form that finds its outlet above and beyond the biological sex act? Indeed, it is interesting to note that both explorations or experiments appear to be underway in our contemporary culture. There is a flourishing of experiments related to open relationships and alternative modes of expressing sexuality; and there is also a tendency in spiritual communities to sublimate sexuality and to find a higher function for the mind.
However, right after this quote, Zupančič notes that the paradox between these two alternatives requires more nuance in order to properly navigate its structure. Indeed, in the standard interpretation of progressive freedom to express sexuality in a multiplicity of forms we perceive an ideality of relation between the sexes; and in the standard interpretation of conservative freedom to overcome sexuality we perceive an ideality of relation to something higher than the sexes. However, for Zupancic, this desire for abolishing the non-relation (the impossibility of sexuality) for the ideal relation (free relation to the opposite sex; or free relation to God) is the mark of totalitarianism or tyranny.
In other words, when we try to abolish the impossibility of relation (when we abolish the non-relation, or the absolute) and posit that we know the way to the true relation (in either a progressive or conservative mode) we end up with social tyranny. We may find that this path was explored by progressives in the formation of communist societies, and we may find this path was explored by conservatives in the formation of religious societies.
Perhaps this observation is more obvious when we consider the traditional religious society. In traditional religious society we have the formula for man and woman to be clearly defined and eternal. Man is man. Woman is woman. There is no flexibility in this relation and both parties are to know their place in the social edifice. In other words, they are both reified in their essence as static forms that we know.
However, as Zupančič notes, the position of psychoanalysis complicates this knowledge of the seemingly stable and eternal identity of the two genders. To be specific, she claims that woman in particular has been confined to a gender category which has no ontological basis. In this situation it is not that woman is something other than what conservative culture claims woman is, but rather, that there is no such thing as woman. To be specific, there is no such thing as an essence of woman which could be used to categorize half of the human species. Woman is nothing but the imposition of a gender category which is used by a machinic social operating system aiming to reproduce this dynamic for its own reproduction. Without the woman there is no traditional social structure. In this context, the liberation of woman from this category is the same as destroying or undermining traditional social structure. What we open in this situation is a radical unknown: what is to become of society when we deconstruct the genders?
To quote Zupančič (2):
“The most oppressive societies have always been those which axiomatically proclaimed (enforced) the existence of the sexual relation: a “harmonious” relation presupposes an exact definition of essences (involved in this relation) and of roles pertaining to them. If there is to be a relation, women need to be such and such. A woman who doesn’t know her place is a menace to the image of the relation (as a totality of two elements that complement each other, for example, or as any other kind of “cosmic order”). To this psychoanalysis does not respond by saying that woman is in fact something other than what these oppressive orders make her out to be, but with a very different, and much more powerful, claim: Woman does not exist.”
Thus, this “deconstruction” of the gender norms, the on-going abolition of “women” from the category of “women” dismantles the traditional religious culture at a fundamental level, and in its place, constructs a type of pluralistic post-modern culture grounded in multiplicity of relations. In this scenario the non-relation of say, transcendental God, becomes replaced with the non-relation to any totality whatsoever. There is no harmonious whole to which we can inscribe our identity, and instead we find ourselves in a sea of chaos where stable structure disappears. Thus, Zupančič does not claim that the non-relation of traditional society is replaced with the true relation of multiplicity of genders and sexualities, but rather the non-relation of traditional society is replaced with the non-relation as such, in its free floating anti-form.
To quote Zupančič (3):
“If we look at the history of political (and class) oppression, we can also see how the enforced idea of a “harmonious” system or social organism has always been accompanied by the most brutal forms of exclusion and oppression. The (Lacanian) point, however, is not simply something like: “Let’s acknowledge the impossible (the non-relation), and instead of trying to ‘force’ it, rather, put up with it.” This, indeed, is the official ideology of the contemporary “secular” form of social order and domination, which has abandoned the idea of a (harmonious) totality to the advantage of the idea of a non-totalizable multiplicity of singularities forming a “democratic” network. In this sense it may even seem that the non-relation is the dominant ideology of “capitalist democracies”. We are all conceived as (more or less precious) singularities, “elementary particles”, trying to make our voices heard in a complex, non-totalizable social network. There is no predetermined (social) relation, everything is negotiable, depending on us and on concrete circumstances. This, however, is very different from what Lacan’s non-relation claim aims at. Namely: the (acknowledged) absence of the relation does not leave us with a pure pluralistic neutrality of (social) being. This kind of acknowledging of the non-relation does not really acknowledge it. What the (Lacanian) non-relation means is precisely that there is no neutrality of (social) being. At its most fundamental level, (social) being is already biased. The non-relation is not a simple absence of relation, but refers to a constitutive curving or bias of the discursive space — the latter is “biased” by the missing element of the relation. In this sense, to conceive democracy, for example, as a more or less successful negotiation between elements of a fundamentally neutral social being is to overlook — indeed, to repress — this consequential negativity, operative at the very core of the social order.””
Thus, what Zupančič is attempting to communicate is the idea that the affirmation of a pluralistic multiplicity masks or obfuscates the underlying negativity which still absolutely structures the sexual and political forms of our existence. When you abolish the clear traditional non-relation which overdetermines our structures and forms, you do not get pure relational multiplicity, but an unconscious hole which still persists beyond any deconstruction.
Here we have a clearer image of what Lacanian totality aims at. We do not have a perfect sphere of the traditional totality, but neither do we have the networked multiplicity of the progressive anti-totality. We instead have a sphere that is internally divided, thwarted from within by the absence of the perfect relation. If one deconstructs the traditional perfect relation of God, for example, we do not get the pure absence of God, but rather the presence of an absence that persists within the sphere affirming multiplicity. What this means is that our discourse still maintains a curvature that is structured around the singularity of sexuality and politics. There is no escaping the curvature of this singularity, and that is the point of Lacanian totality.
To re-quote Zupančič on this point with an extended reflection (4):
“Lacan’s non-relation claim aims at[:] there is no neutrality of (social) being. At its most fundamental level, (social) being is already biased. The non-relation is not a simple absence of relation, but refers to a constitutive curving or bias of the discursive space — the latter is “biased” by the missing element of the relation.”
“For Lacan, the non-relation is a priori in the precise sense that it appears with every empirical relation as inherent to its structure, and not as its other. The choice is never between relation and non-relation, but between different kinds of relations (bonds) that are being formed in the discursive space curved by the non-relation.”
In other words, Zupančič is claiming that we do have the possibility of forming new relations, new relations which do not necessarily have to resemble the traditional relations. However, in forming these relations we must always remember that the impossibility of an ideal relation is still overdetermining the structure of these relations from within. There is no getting away from this overdetermination. Every space of possible relations is already preceded by an impossibility at the core of identity formation.
To return to the imagery of Lacanian totality we see here situated the masculine and feminine essences, not as fixed static essences, but as twists or curvatures, possible ways in which humans can relate to a sexuality energy overdetermined by impossibility of ideal relation. The non-relation is what precedes the formation of the masculine essence and the formation of the feminine essence. In other words, the problem of how to express sexuality precedes the formation of the gender identity that a subject comes to assume in its life history. Thus there is no reason why we cannot play with this space of possible relations, as long as we acknowledge the constitutive and singular deadlock of sexual non-relation, the singular deadlock which curves the discursive space of libidinal becoming (5):
“The non-relation […] refers to a declination, a twist in these elements themselves: “in themselves” these elements already bear the mark of the non-relation (and this mark is the surplus-enjoyment adhering to them.”
Now we can add some depth to this structure by inscribing into it the way in which Lacanian psychoanalysis imagines the relation between possibilities and impossibilities. For the Lacanian totality there exists a space of possible relations which come to assume their forms against the anti-background of the immanent impossibility of their ideal form. Thus, in order to play with possible form we also have to play with impossible form. We have to ask ourselves: what is the impossibility which is structuring our current possible relational forms? For example, the traditional society was structured by the impossibility of God, and this impossibility is what informed the identity of man and woman in their becoming. When we remove this impossibility of God, we have to ask ourselves, what is the impossibility to which we do not relate in the Lacanian sense? Is it the ideal-self? If it is the ideal-self then how should such an impossible form structure our possible paths in sexuation?
To quote Zupančič on this distinction between possibility and impossibility (6):
“Acknowledging the non-relation does not mean accepting “the impossible” (as something that cannot be done), but seeing how it adheres to all things possible, how it in-forms them, what kind of antagonism it perpetuates in each concrete case, and how. This is kind of acknowledgement that — far from closing it — only opens up the space of political invention and intervention.”
As I tried to demonstrate in the previous slide, we should not view impossibility in its unbearable lack, but rather as that which opens us up into serious political self-reflection. The first question should be something like: in breaking away from the traditional structure what do we hope to achieve as human beings? When we think about what we hope to achieve as human beings are we being as deeply reflective as possible? Are we ready to actualize what we really hope to achieve? In other words, do we hope to achieve a world where everyone is freely relating sexually without the old commitment and taboos and restrictions? Do we hope to achieve a world where no one is having sex and instead sublimating to a higher post-sexual plane of existence?
Now enter The Anti-Sexus to help us define this problem. Zupančič here once again refers to psychoanalyst Aaron Schuster’s remarks on The Anti-Sexus (7):
“The work is a fictional brochure […] that advertised an electromagnetic instrument promising to relieve sexual urges in an efficient and hygienic manner. […] The brochure includes a statement touting the virtues of the “Anti-Sexus” and the company’s mission to “abolish the sexual savagery of mankind,”[.] The Anti-Sexus, we are told, has many benefits and applications: it is perfect for maintaining soldiers’ morale during wartime, for improving the efficiency of factory workers, for taming restless natives in the colonies. It also fosters true friendship and human understanding by taking sexual folly out of the social equation.”
Clearly, then, The Anti-Sexus does not see the free expression of sexuality as something to be embraced, but rather, to see sexuality as the constitutive obstacle to true human becoming. The Anti-Sexus views the world through the lens that, if we were to eliminate sexuality as human express sexuality, then we would experience the true relation of human social life freed from its disorientation. In this image we get the image of a human world where sexuality is sublimated to a higher spiritual plane.
Zupančič then goes on to explain the way The Anti-Sexus perceives the sexual relation as problematic. The first thing is that The Anti-Sexus does not perceive sexual enjoyment to be problematic, on the contrary, but rather the way in which it perceives the Other as problematic. The Other as the impossibility of true sexual relation, and thus, what The Anti-Sexus device does is seek to remove the need for this Other (human subject as sexual partner).
On the one hand, the Other can be unpredictable, unreliable, unavailable to us when we want them to be predictable, reliable, and available. On the other hand, the Other can be expecting, demanding, and complicating when we want them to be the opposite, selflessly and simply caring for us when we need them to do so. The fact that the these dimensions of the Other seem ineradicable in sexual relation make the sexual relation itself something that requires a technological supplement to get rid of this Other. We need to dehumanize the sexual relation with technology. If we think this dimension in our present context it may seem that internet pornography and other types of techno-sexual gadgets are designed to produce such an Other, an Other that is totally predictable, reliable, available whenever we need them/it; and an Other that is present, satisfied and simple, reconciling our experience of sex.
To quote Zupančič (8):
“The double quandary presumably resolved by the Anti-Sexus device, which is claimed to be able to isolate, extirpate what is sexual about enjoyment, from all other pleasures and relations in which it appears — to distillate, as it were, the pure essence of sex (and then administer it in just the right dosages). In this way, the Anti-Sexus provides an “Other-free” enjoyment (enjoyment free of the Other) and at the same time makes it possible for us to relate to others in a really meaningful way; to create real, lasting bonds (pure spiritual friendship).”
This quote captures the double move of The Anti-Sexus. On the one hand, we want sexual enjoyment. On the other hand, we don’t want the complications of human social life which make it impossible to fully enjoy in the way we idealize our sexual enjoyment. In that sense, The Anti-Sexus images the reconciliation of sexuality in the full expression of sexual enjoyment without the Other, and also the establishment of human relations that are pure, untainted by sexual desire which corrupt our spiritual friendship.
Let us analyze these two operations here. The first operation of The Anti-Sexus is what we may call the “sexless Other” which is basically removing the other human from the equation of our sex life. This desire is something that emerges in contemporary MGTOW communities and also in some separatist feminist communities. The second operation is “pure sexual substance” which we can have direct access to whenever we want. We can see this emerge in some contemporary forms of sex toys, whether they are dildos or dolls or other forms of masturbatory aids.
Here to deploy Zupančič’s reference to Platonov himself on these two operations of The Anti-Sexus (9):
“We have been called upon to solve the global human problem of sex and the soul. Our company has transformed sexual feeling from the crude elemental urge to an ennobling mechanism, we have given the world moral behaviour. We have removed the element of sex from human relationships and cleared the way for pure spiritual friendship. [/] Still, keeping in mind the high-value instant pleasure that necessarily accompanies contact of the sexes, we have endowed our instrument with a construction affording a minimum of three times this pleasure, as compared to the loveliest of women used at length by a prisoner recently released after ten years in strict isolation.”
Platonov’s reflection on the ideal “Anti-Sexus” device is thus something like foreshadowing the movement of some sexual dimensions of contemporary life. One could here imagine a man who decides to exclude women from his life and buy a sex doll that he can sleep with whenever he wants. Or one could imagine a woman who decides to exclude men from her life and buys an assortment of sex toys in order to replicate the enjoyment of penile penetration. In both forms we see a type of “Anti-Sexus” movement where we want to eradicate the Other from sex and at the same time have the pure sexual substance whenever we want it and on our terms. What should be added in this equation is Platonov’s insistence that this path is also a path that opens into true relations between pure spiritual humans. What gets in our way is sex with the Other, and what resolves sex is the sexless Other at our full command and control.
Here we see the precise formula for Platonov’s ideal communist society. In this formula we do not stay human as we have known humanity, but rather we see the human being as precisely the problem that is to be overcome for true freedom. From this perspective we cannot be both truly free and human simultaneously. In order to be truly free we have to be post-human, essentially. Furthermore, to become post-human, it requires an overcoming of sexuality, or more precisely, a sublimation of sexuality in relation to the Other. This is necessary so that we can stably build and maintain the social relations that are pure (meaning: not sexual). One may think of this formula as a precise structure that is captured by some spiritual communities. For example, when I visited a Buddhist temple it was structured on emancipation from normal human relations, a sublimation of sexual energy beyond the sexual relation, and an attempt to build pure spiritual communities devoid of sexuality.
Now Zupančič moves to her aim of problematizing this interpretation of the problem free sexless Other which would allow pure sexual substance. Her first question: is it possible to remove the Other from sex? What she means here is that when one removes the Other (human) from sex do we get the same phenomena? Is the (human) Other necessary for the dimension of sexuality proper? The second question is: does removing the Other open pure sexual substance? In other words, when we operate in a self-referential masturbatory mode, are we in pure sexual substantial satisfaction? Or does it seem more distant? These questions are not easy to answer, and Zupančič claims that Platonov does not really come close to answering either. And when we reflect on our contemporary sexual landscape, it does not seem straightforward whether we have an answer now, either. Does a sex doll or a dildo open us up into the pure state of sex that we desire and a pure state of non-sexual relation to the spiritual other (human)? Or does it bring us face to face with a disorienting and mindless negativity?
These observations fall into form with Zupančič’s psychoanalytic assessment of The Anti-Sexus device. She concludes that this device is best described by the matheme of “to make oneself masturbated”. This means basically that Platonov is imagining some technological wonder that relieves us of any need for sex with the Other human and instead allows us to enter a strange loop of our own sexual self-relation, where our circle would close in on itself.
In this self-relating looped masturbatory motion we may say that we are neither active (the traditional masculine position) nor passive (the traditional feminine position) but both simultaneously: we are both active and passive. We are moving our self in the same place, creating a sexual singularity of pure sexual enjoyment. Is this really the future of sexuality as an highest expression of the psychoanalytic drive?
Zupančič then precedes to propose a model for the sexual paradox in this form of enjoyment. In short when we think the matheme of ‘to make oneself masturbated’ we are thinking the structure of a set of matryoshka dolls, where one is nested in the other, is nested in the other, is nested in the other. In this structure we have the coincidence of ‘enjoyment is in the other’ and ‘the other is in enjoyment’ (10):
“This is perhaps the most concise formulation of the structure of the non-relation, the non-relation between the subject and the Other.”
For Zupančič this means that the non-relation between the subject and the other is something that cannot really be escaped because they are deeply entangled with each other. In other words, the other is present even if we eliminate the ‘other’ as a human subject.
To quote Zupančič (11):
“All enjoyment already presupposes the Other, regardless of whether we “get it” with the help of the “real other” (another person) or not. This is Lacan’s fundamental point. Even the most solitary enjoyment presupposes the structure of the Other. This is also why, the more we try to get rid of the Other and become utterly self-dependent, the more we are bound to find something radically heterogenous (“Other”) at the very heart of our most intimate enjoyment. There is no enjoyment without the Other, because all enjoyment originates at the place of the Other (as the locus of the signifiers). Our innermost enjoyment can occur only at that “extimate” place.” […] It is of the utmost importance to grasp that the radical heterogeneity, incommensurability, and antagonism between the signifier and enjoyment is […] [due] to the fact that they originate at the same place. The Other is both the locus of the signifier and the locus of enjoyment (mine, as well as the enjoyment of the Other).”
This complex passage points towards the paradox of Platonov’s ‘anti-sexus’ technological imaginary and our current technological age where people are attempting to mediate sexuality by eliminating the human other. According to Lacanian theory, this attempt to maintain a sexual enjoyment, isolating sexual substance and eliminating the other (as human), will not ultimately work (as a utopian ideal relation) because the otherness that we experience with an other (human) is actually (always already) an extimate other within that is projected onto the other (human). In that sense the otherness (as non-relation) is something irreducible to us as sexual beings, it is not something we can eliminate or escape, but something we have to live with, to tarry with. The antagonism or negativity at the heart of sexuality is constitutive of it (sexuality), as an irreducible otherness which cannot be tamed and purified. This is true if one takes the progressive path of free sexual expression (with other humans), or if one takes the conservative path of overcoming sexuality as an obstacle (for pure relation to God). Otherness remains.
Now Zupančič concludes this section with an interesting reflection that attempts to connect with the first chapter (and specifically the section focused on Christianity and Polymorphous Perversity). She notes that there is a structural homology between The Anti-Sexus of Platonov and the structure of historical Christianity. This is interesting because Platonov was an anti-Christian communist imagining free communal relations. The homologous link can be found in the idea that we should cut sexual enjoyment from sexuality so that we can enjoy free spiritual relation. In the Christian context this free spiritual relation was to God, and in the Communist context this free spiritual relation was to the Human. The idea that we can cut our direct link to sexuality and enjoy directly in the Other thus makes both Christianity and Platonov’s form of ideal Communism as a type of ‘anti-sexus’ device. What these relations promote is ultimately a “nonsexual sexual enjoyment”, where we can have our cake (sexual enjoyment) and eat it too (no problematic otherness). Zupančič refers to this Relation as a “sexless sex” and an “otherless Other”.
Here if we think Zupančič matryoshka doll model as an example of this structural sexual homology between Christianity and Communism we can see that whether we frame things metaphysically in terms of God and Adam; or if we frame things secularly in terms of Other and Subject, we find the same pattern: an intimate or extimate link between enjoyment and the other.
On the one hand (12):
“If we remove the Other from enjoyment, we find the Other at the very heart of the most autofocused, masturbatory enjoyment.”
In other words, if we eliminate God (as Communism does), or if we eliminate the Other (as human) (as Christianity does), then we find ourselves face to face with our own self-relating loop of masturbatory enjoyment, which is an irreducible Godly Otherness.
On the other hand (13):
“If we remove enjoyment from the Other, we find enjoyment at the very heart of the (most spiritual) bond with the Other.”
In other words, if we eliminate (sexual) enjoyment, as certain variations of Christianity and Communism have tended to do, then we find the ultimate relational bond with the Other, in the form of God, or in the form of the Human Community.
What Zupančič is trying to suggest with this model is that we are dealing with a twisted geometrical structure that is fundamentally connected: a connection between sexual enjoyment and an irreducible otherness within. This is what makes sexuality so fundamentally problematic and why we cannot have a “sexless sex” and an “otherless other” (as Platonov imagined with the anti-sexus device). We should do well to remember this structure in the context of our current age, where, again, the idea of an anti-sexus device is emerging in a multiplicity of forms.
This brings us to the conclusion of Part 2 — The Anti-Sexus of Chapter 2 of What Is Sex? In this lecture we discussed the structure of the relation and the non-relation, demonstrating its traditional and progressive interpretations. We approached an understanding of Lacanian totality as a twisted or divided circular motion constitutive of sexuality and politics. We unpacked the idea of impossible non-relations as coordinating the space of possible relational expressions. We explored the idea of the anti-sexus device in its communal imaginary as a device aiming to resolve the deadlocks of sexuality within the human being as the path to true liberation. And finally, we posited as a structural homology between the anti-sexus imaginary of communism and the anti-sexus imaginary of Christianity in religious traditionalism, identifying an entanglement between sexual enjoyment and the other.
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(1) Zupančič, A. 2017. Chapter 2: …And Even Stranger Out There. In: What Is Sex? p. 25.
(3) ibid. p. 25-26.
(4) ibid. p. 26.
(7) ibid. p. 27.
(8) ibid. p. 27-28.
(9) ibid. p. 28.
(10) ibid. p. 29.
(11) ibid. p. 29-30.
(12) ibid. p. 30.