27 December, 2008

The First Shall be Last

So the last shall be first and the first shall be last.
Matthew 20:16

For many are called, but few are chosen.
Matthew 22:14

This image (from the LA Times) is of the easel near Bettie Page's funeral bier:

And this one the last in the series the Times did of the burial:

It seems my accidental first exposure to Ms. Page was of the image series thought by family and friends most befitting of her parting memory.

I'm either rational or cynical enough to find this symmetry completely meaningless, but sentimental enough (and fanboy enough, given my having followed these events so closely) to be touched somehow.

26 December, 2008

Tie Me to the Ends of Love, Part 4

We spend out lives forgetting perhaps because the apparent truth that the self that gets pumped out into this dimension is somehow inauthentic bumps up almost immediately against biological nature. Nature’s uncaring and fascistic intent for us is to make copies – authenticity be damned. Nature gives us the little incentive called sexual pleasure to make those copies, but, the deeper truth being what it is, just as nature would confound our reaching in the direction of authenticity it also gives us one of the best avenues back to unity that we have, sex, which religion fears because sex trumps orthodoxy (and, hence, power) as a means of ecstatic, transformative experience. Not that devotion doesn’t work at all – millions of mystics have renounced the world to commit their lives to attaining a view of the godhead. But that’s a slow, laborious process. Similar, if not identical, results can be achieved with sex in a fraction of the time. Mysticism is to sex as the abacus is to a Quad-core processor.

So, there you go, nature itself offers up to humanity the sine qua non of spiritual actualization, sexual ecstasy, by marking it specifically as difficult, by making it appear inauthentic, by prompting a forgetting of unity. Thus does the fast track of sex become boggy with cultural and religious ideas of separation and thought-based self-identity, crystallized in the emotion of… shame. In shame sex looses its efficacy, and we can all think of some manner in which we’re thoughtfully disabling our sex with some blockage or other – an entire industry and billions of dollars in chemicals have rallied to meet our shameful thoughts about our sex. We become useful idiots in nature’s plan for our chromosomal proliferation.

That is, unless we don’t.

In a grander sense nature provides the friction we need to get traction, to make our way back to what lies in front of all of us and use that truth now and, instead of hovering just above life, falling fully and intimately into it.

She’s still there, by the way. Still just as tightly tied, somehow managing all this while to have avoided being gagged. And look at that – she is a good girl after all! In all this time I’ve been talking nothing has changed about our Besu and her predicament, except maybe her thoughts. With time and patience, hers and mine, she begins to let thought go and allows her body to be – in pain, dislocated, displaced. She has allowed herself to become unknown to herself, her self has mysteriously abated and left in its stead an opening, a widening which will meet all possibility now, especially that of divine immediacy, of the immanence of love and the enfolding of time and space, the time and the space in which we firmly believed until we shook ourselves loose from it.

For my part, as the top, I stay on the path I started down with her, the one on which she consented to volunteer her freedom, her voice and her self to my designs, my intentions, which, as anyone knows, were always in some sense her own. Among those intentions would be to for me to remove from her senses the veil of familiarity and the known, and challenging bondage is the manner in which I apply myself to my intention, a manner in which she can at every moment of our engagement feel that intention and the collapse of space/time that, if we are able to press forward into true intimacy where things are fuzzy, scary and strange, reveals the authentic nature of self in its obliteration and merging into the other, and by extension, into all things, into unity. With bondage it is to this strong possibility I continually pledge myself and then my self’s subjugation, that I might feel her in and about me and in so doing forget about either one of us.

It’s very similar to exactly what is going on right this very moment between all of you and me. Right now you, this audience, is not an assembly of individuals to me – to me you’re all fused, you’re an audience. With any luck you’ve been having an experience roughly in common of me, the element at the front of the room, the one holding forth hopefully with more authority than pedantry, but hopefully… full of hope and, therefore, vulnerable, open and exposed, with many of my deeply felt and personal truths revealed to others, the audience, my partners, as it were, in this little talk, without whom nothing here would have taken place.

Well, perhaps Besu and I would found our way into a lovely little scene, but you get my meaning.

And that’s how it happens – you show up, you present yourself and you stay present and before you know it you’re in the throes of an intimate experience. Surprise!

In my experience of it, it’s in this way that BDSM can deliver the goods sought after for millennia by adepts, mystics, alchemists… aspirationalists of all kinds and colorations; that being to surrender self, and to gain power and strength in the surrender. Regardless of what two people may actually be doing, when energy is fearlessly offered and intense both top and bottom surrender to the present moment and die to their respective pasts. To relate is to be fully conscious without necessarily being happy. Let the first happen and the latter will follow, get the inside right and the outside falls into place. The B of BDSM, bondage, as fact and as agent, may be no more efficacious than any other sadomasochistic mode, but if it may be said to do nothing else it does stress interiority - the daunting pleasures of going within, for, after all, and perhaps paradoxically, bondage is all about containment. I don’t want to overstate my position here on bondage, for I have a great many other kinks, but I believe that to be in it and to look at it is to have ready and unique access to the primal and essential impulse of being human, to step lightly back into the deeper currents of being, and through the gateway of intimacy as partners welcome a pure intimacy with all things, in every dimension, and in no time.

12 December, 2008

Bettie Page, In Pace

In 1988 a tiny ad in the back of my wife's Premiere magazine introduced me to Bettie (then Betty) Page. There was no bondage evident - even if there had been the image was so small I might only have been able to infer it. Sandwiched between other bits of cheesecake in this sidebar placement for Movie Star News was a woman in a tight white sweater, skirt and heels. There was nothing I registered but the look - the posture, the natural command, the curve - it was heavily encoded and ineluctably erotic. Her hair was the black from which all other parts of the image keyed. It was labeled with her name.

Page led to Musafar, who led to Willie, who led to Japan... all of which began the toppling that is still my life. Musafar spoke to me of worship within the bodily temple and I modified myself accordingly, becoming one of Bear's first clients (his second actual PA) at Forbidden Fruit in Austin, Texas, at the old North Lamar location, next to the Hole. Bear knew about Bettie. He said I was on the right track, a good one. He gave me leads. I began to get an idea.

For the past many months I had removed and parked the substantial ring I had sported for so long. No reason. Yesterday, the 11th, I put it back in upon the completion of my morning ablutions, again, for no reason. The whole was tight, but still open. I took note of the doing of it.

Twelve hours later the mother of all perverts had passed her legacy to us. Like all the most effective avatars for world-ending change she scarcely understood her own importance, she simply stayed open and let the world show her what was missing that she could fill. She suffered mightily for it, but one has the impression that she was not unhappy until abuses of the law and the spirit blandly wore her into the madness from which she eventually rallied to part from us gracefully, and, I'd like to think, happy again.

That the world was missing much she sought to do nothing about, and in seeking nothing did much, fulfilled much, gave everything.

The New York Times appreciation is here.

09 December, 2008

Tsk, tsk...

Ladies and Gentlemen, you may trust me on this: when it comes to remembering scenes accurately and completely, bottoms have it all over tops.

My dear byrdafyre reminded me (however inadvertently, or perhaps very, very subtly) of a scene we did several years ago during which she orchestrated some serious overcoming in a Barca Lounger thus enabling her 2+ hour endurance of the various depredations upon her person. Once summoned again from memory I recalled that I was challenged too, and not unpleasantly: rigging to a soft, somewhat amorphous block of yield-y upholstery takes a little extra doing.

So, I bow to and thank the formidable woman reclining to your left for keeping the record straight. Clearly higher selves are somewhat more ecumenical in their choice of landing place than I would credit them, even in my own (somewhat faulty) memories.

03 December, 2008

Tie Me to the Ends of Love, Part 3

But what has an ontology of duality brought to human relations? I see an ever deepening, almost therapeutic search for self as distinct from all else that is believed to exist as the final measure of earthly attainment, the ultimate good.

And I’m referring now to the quest itself, for as you’ve noticed the notion of concretely individuated self is (kind of) slippery, and that’s good. What would it mean to actually “tie down” who I really am? Well, if I tie anything down so it stops moving, stops becoming, is, in other words, static, then I can tell myself I know something for knowledge can only be of the immutable and unchanging.

But I would not appear to be those things. I’m always changing. I am, for example, aging. I’m compressing the gap between this very moment and my ultimate non-existence even as I simultaneously open up time and space between having become conscious and this very moment. I understand that I live constantly in relation to my end, my death, what Martin Heidegger called his “proximity theory” of being. Eckhardt Tolle would have me understand my relationship to my end as a brand of intimacy which most people are conditioned to avoid, as it is unmanifested and cannot, therefore, be weighed in thought.

Being, to Heidegger, is a misapprehension of authentic self (as opposed to individuated self); as I noted before we tend to settle for a concept of who we are relative to what we think we know about the world around us. Heidegger, while saying that the ultimate knowable truth is death, elaborates by observing that we do this prejudicially, meaning we construct a self from what we think we know best, what is most familiar, even comfortable, and this leads to a misbegotten notion of self. Our most authentic selves come not from what we know best, but from what is
most mysterious to us, what is darkest, strangest and most inscrutable. We know our authentic selves when we’re on the trickiest ground. Our highest and best selves are unlikely to show up in a Barca Lounger; we do, however, recall proudly the last time we pulled through when the chips were really down.

I would like to extend Heidegger and propose that in life we are processing toward unity, which is the truest course of being, and unimpeachable because we all face the same end, which, despite the most thoughtful efforts of organized religion, is a vast, aching mystery. Thus do we come into the world with an inborn ability to process back to a unified state, for all that is born dies. Being born itself gives us a strong impetus to aim for unity, for the world of the womb is expressive to earliest consciousness of a principle of unity and birth is all about separation, so in a sense the Abrahamic or Judeo-Christian problem of struggling for reunification with God is apt, but only as metaphor. As a way of understanding one’s humanity and of actually getting to God it’s historically of somewhat dubious utility.

So, how to go from unity to separation and back to unity? Well, we all get to unify in the ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust episode, the curtain call, as it were, and maybe even then we get to understand the nature of God and being without time, but what about before then, in life? Is it possible?

Through intimacy. Through breaking down what we think we know about self and its separation from other, from our partner. Through abrogation of self and merging, fusing and even joyously confusing the frontier where you end and your partner begins. It is what the Buddhists call compassion... compassion – feeling with. In Heidegger’s native language, mitgefühl. It is in the realization of authentic self, the self that is the other and acknowledges no distinction, no separation. It is being as one, unmediated, undifferentiated, which is available to us in this life, before it ends. No where is it written that we have to wait to know, in fact we’re born knowing and we spend our lives forgetting. That, to me, is what intimacy is all about, forgetting to forget.

26 November, 2008

Tie Me to the Ends of Love: Part 2

Say I have somewhat ruthlessly tied my partner in a position for which she was unprepared. Unprepared? Some might say that’s bad form for a top, and I would beg their momentary indulgence. So, my partner is working hard with this position and is possibly breaking down a little before long... sooner than she’d like... and in recognition of this I add a bit more challenge to the picture, something subtle that shifts the focus of discomfort just enough to take her out of the mind that’s saying “I… can’t… do this…” and put her back into the body that’s feeling more and more with each passing moment.

While I can afford to appear aloof about all this shifty energy, she’s anything but: it’s really uncomfortable now and ere long she might want out, might even get a little irate, but she’s not using her safe signal. In a little while she might get vocally angry, which is easily frustrated with a gag, about which she’d be humiliated on top of her aching for release. But in the meantime we’ll all keep aware for a safe signal, or panic, or, hopefully, fuller and fuller consciousness and presence as her options fall by the wayside.

I may give her a moment’s respite in the form of a glancing, gentle touch, brokering the continuation with a moment’s kindness, as it were, but I'm in close to her suffering, which is now acute and which she's resisting - I sense that she wants to be still in her bondage but it’s hard... she wants to be good but she’s unprepared to be good, to perform as she thinks I want her to perform, as she thinks I want her to be. Thinking about doing something “right” or “well”, or how she can manage the pain or the humiliation. Thinking… thinking… and thereby making the Cartesian blunder of being – cogito ergo sum, I think, therefore I am. But what? What am I? What’s assumed here? Well, first of all a self, a substantial, individuated entity apart from other selves and things. “I” is not only assumed, it's separate, and separate is, of course, anything but intimate. Separate is alienated.

So, now the suffering is more than physical; it’s existential. She’s in her head, figuring how to do what she’s being challenged by to avoid being with the challenge and thereby risking who she thinks she is. She’s the solidly proverbial human doing as opposed to the shifty, ephemeral and maybe chaotic human being. The primary question is now before her, brought by her dangerous lover, someone with whom she would be intimate if she could figure out how. If she could figure her way out of alienation. Always figuring. How to answer? Figuring out what the original question was in the first place… perhaps finally figuring not to figure.

The head, the mind, the brain, the center of ratiocination is the back office of intimacy, it’s where your claims get processed by unfeeling functionaries who insist on procedure and logic ahead of inconvenient and disorderly emotions. As any process-driven bureaucratic organization would do, thinking insists on not only its primacy but on the expansion of its control. Not surprisingly, many of the people I’ve met in the BDSM community are very bright, one might even say brainy. Good with their heads, and, maybe, in the community specifically looking to get out of those same heads a little more often.

So, perhaps rather than militate against intimacy, we simply fall back on familiar and culturally endorsed patterns of dealing with new information – we sort, we categorize, we try to figure it out, we think about things. Think about that; when’s the last time you had an ecstatic experience by thinking about anything?

Maybe some of you are familiar with Eckhardt Tolle’s Power of Now and his concept of the “unmanifested”. The manifested is the reality we think we know and the one we rely on to explain our existence. It’s a relative existence, one in which context is all important. It’s the heir to a long tradition of what I call separationist belief structures, starting with Plato’s ontological division of the world into extensional and ideal realms in the “Cave Analogy” to an interpretation of grace that includes a fall from it - Lucifer’s fall from heaven, man’s fall in the book of Genesis, and with the fall the eternal struggle to return to God’s good side.

Coming into the Enlightenment, this basic principles of separation and alienation are present and operant in Descartes and the worldview he organized so neatly and imparted to, for example, Issac Newton, which in turn gave us Newtonian physics and the calculus and their divvying up of reality into smaller and smaller quanta, ad infinitum.

Already pickled in a guiding existential principle of separation and duality, these leaps forward in human thought to this day look to most folks like unvarnished benefits. Notwithstanding important confirmations in high-energy physics (e.g., Heisenberg and the "Uncertainty Principle") of long-standing theories enunciated in metaphysics (e.g., Liebniz and his "Monadology"), both of which concern themselves with primary substance, and which together are beginning to point to resolution in a non-granular universe, the doctrine of duality continues to advance a world view where parsing thought, method and calculation is practically a religion, one where quality is least of all judged on refinement of feeling and mostly based on reproducibility of results. Not altogether a bad thing, I would say, for it made writing this essay using a word processor a great deal more fluid a project than it might otherwise have been.

20 November, 2008

Tie Me to the Ends of Love: Part 1

This is the text of a lecture I delivered for TES in NYC recently. It is only slightly modified to suit this forum. First the teaser:

Join Mac for a riff on Leonard Cohen of which the poet himself would approve. The ends of love have known many means: chocolate, diamonds, war... bondage? Well, maybe not so much. Until now. From ancient myth to modern neuroses Mac explores what love might have in store for us and how rope helps pin it down. Carve into your desire to bind or be bound and what it means to your ideas of yourself, your partner, your intimacy and the ends of your being. Go straight to the top to get to the bottom of some pretty big issues, expect the usual big words, a little Q&A, maybe a few gratuitous visual aids, and maybe to leave with some new ideas.

Thank you all for having me again, and especially to Lolita for her raw determination in getting a date together. I can well imagine that she often gets her partners to stretch and do the sorts of things they might not otherwise, and about which, afterward, they’re grateful.

I’d like to open tonight with a quote from the blog of someone who appreciates many of the same things I do about art, culture, daring, polemic and especially Japanese aesthetics. His name is Tatsuya Ishida, and he’s the author of Sinfest. Here you go:

“Whenever I peel an orange, I save the stem end for last. There's something about pulling out the spine that is very satisfying. Texture-wise, visually, the little plucky squirty sensation, it's a fun little operation to cap the peeling process. That's sort of my modus operandi when it comes to food. I try to leave the best for last. When I have a chicken pot pie, for example, I eat all the carrots and peas first, and leave a stash of chicken for the big finish. When I have a sandwich I work my way around the crust to the middle. I have this shit down to a science. Sometimes, though, it's not so smooth. Things can get complicated. Like, when I'm eating a pancake breakfast with hash browns, bacon, and eggs, I can't decide what my favorite thing is. I panic a little in my heart because I don't know how it's going to end. But that's what life is all about. Thrills, man. Thrills. I start out all confident that I'll end with a bite of bacon but then, the sweet syrupy pancakes start to win me over. Then the hash browns, that unassuming dark horse, make a comeback. And then the eggs are like, "Hey, we're the pure unblemished souls of chickens! Recognize!" At that point, all bets are off. It's anybody's game. I might go with bacon. I might not. Nothing's set in stone. Anything can happen. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, ‘Tat, you crazy fool! You HAVE to have the last bite planned out AT ALL TIMES!’ But I like to live on the edge, Jack. I take chances. I flirt with danger. That's how I roll.”

Flirting with danger, that’s certainly one way to roll, and, I’m going to submit here that it’s not only a great way to roll but a great way to come to the timeless moment when danger, uncertainty, and the strangeness they engender roll into fusion between oneself and what, until that timeless moment, was another person. This is what I call intimacy.

A big part of success in anything has to do with allowing yourself to be surprised, indeed, being grateful for the leavening and spice of life's surprises, big and small. This is never more true than in relationships, but in principle yielding to surprise solves for what appears to be a host of life's more intractable problems while creating very few new problems of its own. Often events are just surprising and nothing else - not really problems at all if one can accommodate having not expected them.

I’ve been chatting about this idea with friends for a while to see what views I could glean that are different from my own. Rather than definite answers to the question of “what is intimacy?” or “how do you arrive at intimacy?” I have, for the obvious reasons, been interested in the question of whether suffering and displacement are legitimate access points to the realm of intimacy, and, concomitantly, what is that militates against immediate immersion into intimacy if suffering and displacement are indeed effective?

In the BDSM community we’re all familiar with the terms “intimacy averse” or “intimacy challenged”, and if I may presume to narrow these concepts down to something we can work with in the short time we have, let me suggest that they mean something like the inclination to run away, to withhold, or to give the impression of withholding, and, perhaps most importantly, to react with trepidation to a partner’s fullness of feeling in love, be it ecstatic or despairing.

To go into what I mean by “love” is a subject for another day – I’ll allow, however, that love in any universalizable sense of the word, must include an opening of self to the other, a revelation, if you will, where at least in some measure we expose the better, and the worse, angels of our natures to another person. I know that I will develop an intense and poignantly suasive feeling when I am coming unfurled before a companion, and never more so than when I am freely, profligately and perhaps even recklessly reducing their physical representation to me – who they look like, feel like, who they like to think they are. Rope is pretty good for this.

But, coming unfurled in this instance refers to the way in which I become completely honest about who I am in the moment, which is often neither pleasant nor attractive. But it’s authentic and it’s there, and it is fully expressive, and it fronts for me if it is welcome. If it’s unwelcome, it’s still there but there are other aspects of my character that may step to the fore at such times, no less honest, and which may be called upon to broker a continuation of the opening and the revelation.

Let me give you an example... (Besu and I teamed here to provide a visual aid similar to what we did a while back for photographer Jack Montgomery, a riff on Nobuyoshi Araki, right...)

25 October, 2008

The Primacy of Rope in Japanese Aesthetics

Ages before the Pharaohs used it to construct the Pyramids, thousands of years before Oppian of Corycus described its use in fishing nets, and about the time humans started using vessels to cook and store goods, the Japanese were adorning things with rope.

Japanese pre-history is divided into what in Japanese archeological terms is called the "Pre-ceramic" period, and the "Jomon" period. The molding and firing of clay was a monumental technological advance among ancient peoples, and in the archipelago of Japan the ceramic arts may be said to mark the beginning of permanent settlement and the birth of an aesthetic culture. The Jomon people are not only credited with the first manufacture of serviceable clay pots, but at a very early stage of the technology’s development began decorating what they were making.

The first potsherds found in Japan were undecorated and date to the late Paleolithic period, approximately 15,000 years ago. The relative paucity of fired bits of such vintage suggest that while firing clay was known among Pre-ceramic peoples in Japan, the carrying of earthenware vessels was impractical given their nomadic ways. Based on the scant evidence, it is not well-established whether the Pre-ceramic peoples of Japan produced vessels or implements of some other unknown utility. The crude contour and smallness of the Pre-ceramic craft does suggest either a very prosaic or experimental view of the use of low-fired ceramics (see Kainer, Simon, "The Oldest Pottery in the World", Current World Archaeology, September 2003, pp. 44-49). However, the advent of pottery in Japan attends the first permanent settlements, the founding of agriculture and advances in social organization that would be understood as characteristic of the ascendant Jomon culture.

The elevation of pottery as a vital economic good during the 10,000 years of the Jomon period established one of the earliest man-made mediums of self expression, and a living cultural tradition still prized in modern Japan. Along with the pots themselves was something of far greater interest for our purposes here, namely, the ideas being expressed. The word Jomon is from the Japanese for “cord-marked” or “cord-marking,” or in some translations “rope-marked.” Whatever other practical uses rope may have been put to in Jomon culture (and one assumes that such uses were many), its entire epoch in Japan has been distinguished in name and artifact by an affinity for rope as an aesthetic good.

Japanese Pre-history, Briefly

It was on the Kanto plain in the vicinity of modern Tokyo that the first shards of Jomon creativity revealed themselves. Evidence of human habitation on the land mass that is modern day Japan dates to over 30,000 years ago during the last ice age when sea levels were significantly lower and temperatures much cooler, and Japan was connected to the Korean Peninsula and southern Siberia by several routes, or possibly a single expansive land bridge. The remains of flint tools consistent with late, or upper, Paleolithic technology have been found of the northern island of Hokkaido and the central island of Honshu, placing their makers not only in Japan, but also identifying them as nomadic hunter-gatherers with much the same seasonal ranges and tribal behaviors as their brethren to the west.

In most archaeological schools of thought pottery making is associated with the advent of agriculture; the fact of a harvest understandably necessitates a means of storing same, and thus does pottery appear in Mesopotamia around 7500 B.C.E. as grain cultivation developed and spread. The shard record reveals that the peoples of pre-literate Japan, however, began experimenting with pot making as early as 13,500 B.C.E., long before agriculture is known to have been introduced to Japan. The record also states pretty plainly that during this time these same people still organized themselves in small groupings, were nomadic and moved with the seasons following game. What small examples as exist tend to point to the manufacture of fist-sized spherical pots of no discernible utility - not capacious enough to store rice enough for even a single person’s daily needs, nor robust enough to use over an open flame. It is possible, therefore, to suggest that, in addition to being hard evidence of the earliest ceramic technology, pots were cast for their own sake since they lacked conceivable utility. It was, one could allow, something of an art in a primitive (but nonetheless rigorous) sense of the word. Evidence from later Jomon periods would elaborate on this idea.

Pottery making is one of the markers of the Neolithic era in human history. We’ve already noted that the advent of ceramic technology in Japan reaches back to the upper Paleolithic era and may be the bridge event that prompts most scholars to suggest that the Mesolithic era of human technological development does not apply to Japan – culture went from Paleo to Neo directly. The heirs to the “Incipient” Joman, so-called owing precisely to their pot making, were the Jomon proper, literally, the “people of the cord.”

To be continued...

12 October, 2008

Red is the New Black

I read a scathing indictment of stalking-horse Sarah Palin by Naomi Wolf, whom I respect but whose writing I often find perversely reactionary within the feminist canon. In this recent essay, Wolf makes a good case for the Rove/Cheney Axis having picked pliable Palin (chummy in that hillbilly Bush way and, based on her flirtatious body language, an equally adept liar) as the perfect tool and the solution to an overly principled John McCain. While I agree with and find interesting Wolf's central thesis concerning affable, weak figureheads and creeping fascism (although she goes a little histrionic toward the end of her essay) her blundering use of "S and M" as a kind of reactionary adjective for the embrace of threatening (capital B) Black accoutrement by modern police forces demonizes not only SM but fails (since no one has ever been stomped to death under an SMer's jack-booted heel) to draw a sufficiently grave image in the reader's mind of the potential threat of a full fascistic bloom.

As agents of the state go the great historical exponents of aggressive black paraphernalia are, of course, the Gestapo (Geheimestaatspolitzi or Secret State Police) and their superiors in the Schutzstaffel, the SS, who did indeed fetishize their costume. "Costume" is a fair characterization of high-ranking Nazi regalia owing to its operatic presentments, fussy personalization and lack of uniformity, but the black ensemble of the SS was originally designed as a uniform by SS officer Lars Bonne Rasmußen, introduced by Heinrich Himmler and manufactured by Hugo Boss. Although the Waffen SS (the "armed" combat corps, frontline ideological police and, later in the war, the field extermination squads for the "Final Solution") persisted in black colors throughout the Nazi era, domestic SS enforcers began moving toward Herr (army) feldgrau (gray-green) as the black uniform became increasingly identified among the German Volk with capricious, even gratuitous, bullying and corruption (see the excellent BBC documentary series War of the Century for the Nazi view of art as political legitimizer, and also Peter Cohen's brilliant Architektur des Untergangs ("Architecture of Doom") for a penetrating overview of the totality of the Nazi aesthetic, blackened and otherwise. Finally, Albert Speer's memoir, Inside the Third Reich, illuminates the dark power of perception management and the depth of public docility martial bombast can engender).

Ignoring Nazism, Wolf's one nod in the direction of meaningful Fascism/black associations is toward Mussolini's "Blackshirts", but even that's wide of the mark as the Blackshirts were the voluntary militia arm of the inchoate Italian Fascist movement - not state-sponsored, certainly not when they were founded, and then only tenuously once Mussolini came to power. Before the Nazis claimed legitimacy in '33 the SS were Hitler's personal bodyguard - the Brownshirts, however, did most of the stomping. With respect to state-sponsored thuggery Wolf has missed the SS/Gestapo connection utterly in favor of prosecuting a parochial antipathy against SM - a stateless social group, a culture if you like, and at best (giving Wolf the benefit of the doubt) an NGO - that advocates consent as among its first principles and has never had any material effect on anyone not in its own ranks.

Naturally I'm sensitive to such misappropriations, especially from the political camp to which I claim some allegiance, but it's I think instructive to note Wolf's use of the the stalking horse metaphor ("FrankenBarbie") for Palin, a device Wolf (like Rove) seems quite content to use when it advances her own demagoguery against "the other", in this case SM. It's no less mendacious, in my opinion, than the kind of rabble-rousing currently deployed by the Republicans desperately flogging a insubstantial connection between Barack Obama and one William Ayers, neighbor and one time party host to Obama, and a former member of the Weather Underground (known as "subversive" when they were active, but now conveniently called terrorists (in the present tense) by McCain, Palin and their acolytes).

Of the independently verified vacuity of a Obama / Ayers cabal McCain says "We need to know that's not true." Sure they do. For a generation, arguably since Nixon (who birthed the culture wars), conservatives in this country have needed to know that the truth is whatever the pathocracy tells them is required to control and banish "the other". What a pity that Wolf should stoop to the same ponerological tactic in her Palin/Black/"S and M" conflations.

Wolf could have set her "FrankenBarbie" arguments to right by simply stating that Palin and McCain have a lot to gain by steering attention away from Palin's hardwired associations with the Alaskan Independence Party, which advocates violent secession of Alaska from the Union and at whose conventions Palin has spoken more than once, as recently as this year. Better still, such red herrings distract from Palin's active membership in certain radical congregations of the Assembly of God church, which makes no secret of its lust for Armageddon and its aim in the meantime to install a theocracy in the US. Then there's McCain's memorable turn with as Number 1 of the cast of The Keating 5 at the outset of the last major bank failure, forgotten only to those now voting for the first time.

Regrettably, Naomi Wolf sees intellectual honesty in likely the same way Karl Rove and Dick Cheney understand it, as a trap that confounds the efficacy of spurious associations made to fan righteous fear among true believers, such as the Obama / Ayers canard, or, as in Wolf's case, the fusion of "S and M" and Fascism.

06 October, 2008

Brooklyn est Arrivée (Fine Art 103?)

I like to think of this journal as having nominally to do with rope and it's eroto-mystical potentials, but it is, I think, slowly shaping up to be something to do with art and aesthetics too (albeit often run through a mangle). Maybe the bottom line is infected by the virus - likely less-dormant in me than in most, for it is indeed present in all - that resists the conventionalizing, commodifying and homogenizing blandishments of the dominant corporatist paradigm (capitalist that I am, I do have a lively and legitimate conflict theorist in me).

Now and again, but rarely, an artist perfectly encapsulates the resistance and thus the essentially humane act that is art-making. One is less likely to find game-changing art in a museum, for once it has made it that far it has been thoroughly vetted and assigned a value. It has become the convention in which it now floats, a host rather than fundamentally immune. Some artists are conscious of this progression and harness it to wryly humorous effect, such as in the case of Damien Hirst's $200M two day Sotheby's auction , held in bold defiance of the standards and practices of the broker/dealer/gallery model, or even more obviously in the impish indifference of Takashi Murakami to the art world's tut-tutting of his branding efforts. His recent show at the Brooklyn Museum was titled © Murakami.

But the guy you'll never see in a museum (unless he's doing a stealth installation) is Banksy. His metier simply doesn't allow for segregation, although it is happily and fittingly ghettoized. We here in (relatively) humble Brooklyn now have a few insights from the elusive savant of aesthetic subversion to show for having kept our house welcoming (but not so tarty that Banksy's elegant lipsticking were not juxtaposed on any less than an authentic pig).

27 September, 2008

Ins and (Mostly) Outs of Public Displays of Kink

When time is short I'll occasionally dip into the pool of interesting ideas I've addressed with one correspondent or another over the years and dress it up a bit for posting on RSE. Here's one concerning my antipathy toward public play.

  • What happens when the norms/rules are violated in a club? Do others provide sanctions or do some just look away? What if people consistently violate and are sanctioned…will they eventually stop coming because they realize that they aren’t wanted there? Have you ever seen someone who others ignored or sanctioned because they weren't respecting the rules? If so, what happened and what happened to them?

In my checkered experience of the public scene, the answer to this question seems to me highly contingent on the nature, structure and/or conditions of entry into the club. At one of the few surviving public BDSM clubs in NYC there is no vetting for fitness to the club's motif and putative purpose, so culture tourists and "wankers" (men who intrude on scenes while masturbating) are not only common but form the base upon which this club continues to do business.

Crowding by such persons reliably breaks scenes, mine and others. My standard line to unwanted participants (at first politely delivered) is "If you need to know where to position yourself, it's where I'm not hitting you," referring putatively to my reach inside the scene, but offered with a dusting of menace. More than once I've been brought to the point of physical confrontation with a wanker who simply would not keep his distance from my bound partner. In one instance an inebriant ended up being physically removed by myself and three other men (none of whom represented the club), but it is my impression that as a matter of policy no one who pays the cover is ejected unless the disruption has practically evolved into one for the police. I understand the club's position as a business proposition, however, and my choice to attend or not is, like any wanker, mine to make. It's impossible, however, not to conclude that under such conditions I am providing an attraction, and act, as it were, and indeed paying for the privilege of doing so, solely for the club's benefit.

In the interest of gender equality let me also observe that it is not only sexually repressed men who confound public play. Under different public circumstances and on more than one occasion women have approached me in public and endeavored to insinuate themselves by exaggerating their interest and experience, or by just lying. The latter behavior, if not pathological, one can usually chalk up to loneliness or an interest in something other than bondage (such as in one case the mistaken assumption that I was both substantially well-off and of a certain faith). More than a few women I've met have "always been intrigued by bondage" once, it seems, they've calculated my value on some other scale. Finding out I'm married usually puts an opportunistic intrigue down pretty quickly.

A counterpoint to this kind of tedious public dynamic are clubs such as one I used to frequent in Seattle, which fields 7 - 10 dungeon monitors on any given night. These experienced volunteers manage scenes in which perhaps a large number of people have taken an interest, or will assist with complex suspensions or other dangerous situations, and generally make their presence known and felt for the sake of those who can use them to, or, at the very least, to establish a perimeter.

(As an aside, gay bears and leather daddies make, I think, especially excellent DMs; robustly masculine and intimidating on the outside, politic, diplomatic and empathetic on the inside. The queer clubbing community also seems to have an intuitive feel for SM scene energy, irrespective of individual appetite. This reflexive and deferential civility toward concentrated human experience (in this case intimacy) is what I think endows a community with culture. Perhaps we don't use the word "culture" to qualify the straight or vanilla communities precisely because they lack the requisite erotic cultivation and civility to qualify as such. As I am often wont to observe here, BDSM just amplifies who one (or an entire community) really is.)

It helps that the Seattle outfit is a membership club, so all members are thoroughly briefed on the rules, and outsiders such as myself are obliged to either be accompanied by a member upon entry, or to be meeting one there. Even so, outsiders are obliged to sign off on the rule sheet. I'm given to understand anything untoward is very unusual, and that was indeed my experience. Likewise, in a private party setting all of the attendees have probably demonstrated their bona-fides to the host directly or by relation to a trusted source, so rules are largely unnecessary and comity is far more likely.

But, still, there are no guarantees. Once, some time ago, at a private party outside Austin I performed a semi-suspension that gathered a large audience. As the scene played out to the satisfaction of myself and my bottom (a friend's girlfriend), the respectful (and wanker-free) crowd dispersed to reveal two attractive young women, one of whom I had taken note of earlier in the evening, the other giggling cutely and asking if she could be next. I foolishly (and youthfully) said "of course," both flattered and feeling very full of myself on the heels of my moment in the spotlight.

Well, pride goeth before the fall.

Their excitement ended up centering around getting pictures of each other in situ at a BDSM affair, to which they had been invited as decoration (which I would find out presently). I had unwittingly volunteered to be their sideshow cut-out. With very little rope on her my initiate posed and mugged for a few snapshots before she realized she was in fact in the early stages of helplessness, at which point she began complaining loudly that she was uncomfortable, and went from giggly to apoplectic in a matter of a few seconds. Fortunately my creds were good with the organizers and, more importantly, the bouncers, who bounced promptly when the one I had initially found cute started shouting (most uncivilly) "Hey! This asshole's assaulting her!" There were several minutes thereafter of feather smoothing and drink ticket distribution, the effect of which apparently prevented the dialing of 911.

Turns out culture tourists can show up in grubby trenchcoats and shear back-seamed stockings.

The above constitutes the majority of my misfortune in the public scene taken over 20 odd years, so I consider myself actually pretty fortunate. Apart, however, from the occasional class or private tutorial (and, of course the fine art stuff), I've pretty much forsaken public play for these and other reasons, but mostly because I finally got wise to the happy fact that in all areas of life the right sorts of folks seem to show up right in my midst when I'm least expecting it, and with a lot less work and stress. To quote Bertold Brecht:
"What a miserable thing life is: you're living in clover, only the clover isn't good enough"

17 September, 2008

Marriage Failure a Natural Success

In a hilarious example of editorial resistance to the way things actually are, the Washington Post published this feature on the findings of researchers at the esteemed Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on the genetic basis for marital dysfunction.

The writer and editors of the Post article blandly accept the social idealism of the study's authors, not bothering to trouble themselves with a critical (i.e., journalistic) perspective on the biological ramifications of what, essentially, now seems to be a demonstrable biological truth (albeit as yet scientifically uncorroborated); that some 40% of men are genetically outfitted to "cheat".

The use of the word cheat in the article is very telling, as are words such as "risk", "dysfunction" and "threat":
"Men with two copies of (a particular) allele had twice the risk of experiencing marital dysfunction, with a threat of divorce during the last year, compared to men carrying one or no copies," said Hasse Walum, a behavioral geneticist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm who led the study. "Women married to men with one or two copies of the allele scored lower on average on how satisfied they were with the relationship compared to women married to men with no copies."
If we consider more than one copy of the allele in question (an allele is a member of a pair or series of genes that occupy a specific chromosomal position) predictive of a man's success or failure in marriage and long-term relationships in light of the much more rigorously predictive models of Gregor Mendel and later Charles Darwin, then a fair alternate conclusion could be that men possessed of more than one of these rover alleles are more likely to wander and therefore reproduce - precisely nature's intent for all its creation - and that failure, if any is to be assigned here, accrues entirely to the institution of marriage as it is conceived in the popular consciousness.

Do we blame fish for dying off when we dam a river?

The report is all very nuanced, and not made any less so by the inclusion of weasel words such as "satisfied", with the concomitant couching of the entire study's relevance in terms of that vague and variable criterion - stacked, let it not go unobserved, on but one side of the matrimonial partnership (which, I suppose, if one considers the Latin root mater in matrimony is placing the emphasis where it wants to go anyway). It's quite likely that nearly 100% of men with this naturally-occurring genetic variant would have equally valid (i.e., weak) complaints about their matrimonial "satisfaction", thus is the criterion spurious and the point of the study moot.

But, since we're on the subject, let me apply Occam's Razor and offer a simpler thesis: Naturally-occurring human genetic encoding trumps socially-engineered monogamy.

Big surprise.

Despite its laughable faults, this study does support an explanation for women-kind's reliable attraction to renegades and outcasts, the proverbial "bad boys", the "alphas", of whom it is always known at the outset never stick around. The basis of the attraction to the James Dean type is by now well-understood: women sense good-quality genetic information much as men do - the kind that begets more of the species most efficiently (and therefore gets passed on), the kind they want expressed in their offspring. If 40% of males pack the tomcat allele, then there's no denying that variant's success in getting itself passed on.

If a woman thinks about it (i.e., does the risk-analysis math) she may indeed go directly for the beta male, or upon hooking up with an alpha seek to modulate his risk profile down the scale to beta levels (thus possibly jeopardizing her marital satisfaction in an entirely different way). On the level of woman's feeling, however, the recently popular beta types, e.g., the "emo-boy" and homo-manque, have apparently had their moment in the sun and have been largely discarded (as they characteristically fretted they would be) by sexually astute and self-aware (read: trend-leading) women.

From the perspective of a long-time married man who, given my history, likely has two or more of the offending allele, marital survival is in no way predicated on the luck of the double-helix draw. Fin and my marriage is completely legit in all the conventional senses of the word (licensed, blessed, taxed, etc.), but it is also something else utterly outside conventional legitimacy: we can't "cheat" because we tell the truth.

Or, pulling in Occam again, cheating truth telling. Fin knows all about my partners, they know all about her, I know about hers and they about me. Everyone is clued in and gets complete disclosure upon request from me, and I from them. I think the marriage succeeds not because it's open but because we are open with each other, fully exposed and vulnerable... and therefore, paradoxically safe.

Think about it - the "cheating" is just the lying (cheating = lying); we fear what we don't know, and if our partner lies to us about his or her desire for other partners, about the nature and extent of their lust, about their kinks, about whatever, we don't get to know them, who they really are, who we're spending our lives with, who sleeps next to us (when we're really most vulnerable), who's helping to raise our kids. Now, that's fearsome, not knowing who you're married to. That could be reason enough to get out of the relationship.

Make no mistake, I'm not arguing here for having a lock on everything your partner is or will ever be in order to stay in your relationship. Quite the contrary - mystery promotes attraction (see "bad boys" above). I'm talking about proceeding from truthful premises and being content with the unvarnished truth of what you find out about your partner, which is often what they're finding out about themselves in the same moment. Their own picture of themselves is likely incomplete, so the truth is we don't get to know anything our partners don't know - although we pretend it's possible and often demand answers along these lines. In effect, we ask to be lied to.

A big part of success in anything has to do with allowing yourself to be surprised, indeed, being grateful for the leavening and spice of life's surprises, big and small. This is never more true than in relationships, but in principle yielding to surprise solves (in the sense of Wendell Berry's concept of "solving for pattern") for what appears to be a host of life's more intractable problems while creating few new problems of its own. Often events are just surprising and nothing else - not really problems at all if one can accommodate having not expected them.

Blaming unhappiness on hardwired (and therefore unsurprising) biology is lazy, even shabby, thinking. Lying is a social act, related in this case to a social institution, marriage. Given that over 50% of marriages end in divorce, and that cheating plays a big part in a sizable percentage of those divorces, it may be fair to say that lying (by cheating) is a property of conventional marriage; i.e., dishonesty comes with the package, if not in the bridal registry.

That after 25 years Fin and I are still married is already statistically unconventional, but in the conventional sense our marriage is a failure in that it utterly fails to force biology to heel, and has failed, thereby, to fail. With respect to this failure to fail we have also been told occasionally through the years that our marriage is basically a sham, that our relationship is nothing more than that of roommates with privileges (ironically, this often comes from folks whose marriages are somewhat brittle, if not in outright distress).

And you know what? Those folks get to be right. That's all 25 years of cohabiting companionship, mutual support, commitment, pooled resources, sexual experimentation (within and without), crisis management and the gathering to our relationship of a cherished and loyal coterie of friends, lovers and fellow travelers comes to: a sham marriage. Nothing like a real marriage, with the lying and the cheating and the stacked odds on ending and the counselors and the lawyers... the real institutional trappings of the institution of marriage.

So, there you go: lots of alleles = marital failure. QED.

What bearing, then, does the bit of embossed paper with the endorsement of several potentates with powers granted them by The State of New York have on my relationship with my wife? Nothing with any real meaning, really.

Other than perhaps economic. The last lines of the article cited above confirm as much:
"Fisher (quoted previously in the article), who described herself as a romantic, said she would not reject a potential mate who has two copies of the risky allele (Surprise!). She paused, (no doubt doing the risk analysis) then added: 'But I might not start a joint bank account with them for the first few years,'" (italics mine).
What's left? Well, Fin and I don't lie, cheat or resist our genetic makeup, and we stay together despite the odds. Clearly it's something other than the kind of failed marriage that gets looked at in studies.

I wonder if anyone still believes in the idea of a sacrament.

11 September, 2008

Meeting with BS 4

Much has transpired since my last entry on Insex and BS.

The lovely, well-connected and ever helpful Barbara Nitke, as it happens, is a close friend of BB, a former writer for Big Worm Productions - Insex's minuscule nom de camouflage that once marked their DUMBO warehouse door here in lil' ol' Bklyn. She arranged a dinner at a perfectly extraordinary little place on the LES (Mexican food / French technique / 22 seats) where we all met and regaled each other with our respective experiences of Insex and BS. I had read BB's 2000 literary opus (available on Amazon) a couple of years ago, a rangy and popular thriller with a carefully considered BDSM theme, and had been moved by her unsentimental traverse across the some of the uglier congruencies of our favorite pastime. I was eager to meet her.

I won't speak out of school here*, but suffice it to say that I was sorely impressed not merely by BB's heartfelt interest in the ways of BDSM (as opposed to the usual uninformed or academic - so characteristic of (often wrong-headed) portrayals of BDSM in a popular context), but with the many dimensions of her intelligence and the ecology of her life as a writer. While she had provided Insex with a great many of its more legendarily scenarios she had been quietly digesting her experience into a documentary script for a more gimlet-eyed exploration of Insex and, more specifically, the cult of the mad genius behind it, BS. Being a work in progress, it is as such subject to all of the usual detours, funding difficulties and creative slog any work of its scale would be, but it promises to be masterful when it comes out. BB believes it will be well received in European markets and Japan, where people better understand the distinction between analyticity and porn than they do in our electively sex-conflicted culture.

I surprised myself by having information I would have guessed BB to already possess regarding BS's foray out from conventional middle class propriety. It was while in the walled garden of academe, well before the veil would be lifted from the eyes of the first Insex subscriber and BS would fulfill the mandate of those who had convinced themselves that he was a corrupter of youth.

When he and I first met BS had recounted to me the beginning of his fascination with digital media in the 1980s when he was living in Buffalo and appended in some fashion to SUNY Buffalo. It was there that BS began experimenting with realtime interactivity using machine interfaces and video. By the early 1990s BS was at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, having taken with him some of his more promising protégées from Buffalo, encouraging new acolytes and continuing to build a reputation in interactive digital media. Consider this former student, and for an even clearer harbinger of what was to come (including perhaps the character origin of the renowned Insex model Liz Tyler) click here.

At about the time Bruce Sterling and Tom Maddox teamed up on the breakthrough Snake Eyes (a live-action cyberpunk drama wherein actors controlled computer generated graphics with bodily movement) in Austin, TX, BS was organizing his first interactive performance art / installation outside the university setting. The piece, titled manINFESTation, debuted at the TransHudson Gallery in Jersey City in June of 1995. I remember BS said that the press showed up but did nothing with it, although I would learn later that some positive reviews did come of manINFESTation's one (expensive) gallery exhibit.

The following quip from the press release presages the elaboration of BS's career in art and media, and had it not been written for manINFESTation could easily have been applied to Insex.
"This work raises questions and concerns about control and power. It explores relationships and responses to the spectacles of society. These spectacles are recontextualized in images and performances intended as visual hyperboles."

In their reaction to consideration of BS's theory and practice of art, the predeceased right, the hysterical left and the timid administration of a major eastern university satisfied themselves that faculty member BS was a danger to their young charges' well-being and moral probity. He was summarily discharged and several other factors arrayed themselves against his quiet enjoyment of life. Thus began the plunge into the woods that ended with the founding of Insex.

*By the way, all the clues about BS left out in the open throughout these essays are entirely intentional. A little googling around would net you all this and more, and with the screening of BB's documentary all of this coyness of mine will be moot anyway. I'm just being respectful for the time being.

03 September, 2008

Non-Zero Sum

Every now and again I can't resist giving props here to the flashes of genius that are erupting all the time all over the web, only a very small percentage I get to see, and an even smaller percentage of which apply to the focus of RSE. This post is, I think, a laudable read on the first of Sarah Palin's campaign vexations, but more importantly on the sex/culture wars. That such a sophisticated, articulate and accessible analysis should emerge from the domain of art doesn't surprise me in the slightest.

Is it possible that the last salvo has been fired, the last petard hoisted, the tsk tsk'd and we can all go about our business?

02 September, 2008

Push Button Behavior Modification

What does a rope top do with a bottom who presents as a blood/collar/throat/electrical stim fetishist? Tell a story about this bad boy I know…

Ben presents as nothing out of the ordinary really, not in New England at least. One sees his kind all over, especially during hunting season, which begins soon. Ben happens to be a pretty fine specimen, however – strong, lean, blond, “nicely made” as any Yankee might observe. Not a bad recovery from his early life, during which he likely fell out of a pickup and wandered the landscape in search of food for a year and some.

Whether it was barbed wire, an unfortunate meeting with a farm implement, or perhaps with a coyote, Ben ended up under a surgeon's knife getting an 8 inch gash in his leg muscles fixed one day in his early teenage, having been found lame by the side of a farm road and ferried in yet another pickup to the only medico available at 2am in rural southern Vermont - a horse vet. Of course he spent that whole episode anesthetized, and just as he woke (in a cast hiding 40 sutures) to begin his convalescence, over him were hovering the solicitous faces of two elderly women. One of them was my mother. The other was the kennel owner.

The county doesn’t maintain a pound, so what few strays there are that survive the coyotes, the bears, now the gray wolves, and finally the Vermont winter are sent to the kennel on the north side of the Waloomsac Bridge. Ben had done alright, apparently. His coat was shiny, he was strong, his eyes bright despite his obvious pain, and he had offered his rescuers no resistance to their bundling him off to the vet. He was a little light in weight perhaps, and his movements even in the cast were clearly feral, but he was used to people, and he was beautiful and my mother fell in love with him immediately.

Ben immediately established himself as the alpha character among the others of the menagerie occupying mother’s farm. Once the cast was off he gleefully strutted his dominance and abilities in the fields, racing full out in any direction, flushing game, putting down challenges to his authority – even to mother.

Like boys will do, he wandered. Like feral animals do, he killed. It was unclear to mother what he was killing, but over 300-odd acres of range it’s easy to loose sight of a fast-moving yellow lab. Ben would frequently emerge over some rise with blood on his maul, looking quite pleased with himself. Mother didn’t mind the thought of her young man enjoying an occasional woodchuck, mole or vole tartar, but now and again there was more blood on Ben than could possible fit in the average vole.

The story got much more interesting one fine spring evening when out for a romp on Pointer’s Run. 50 yards across the new alfalfa planting three dear broke from the wood and foolishly gamboled along the margin. Ben broke into a streak, flattened out like a catamount and caught up with the smallest of the white tails in seconds. Mother stood rooted to the spot Ben had just vacated and watched in horror as he tackled this yearling and promptly tore open its gullet, laying his full fighting weight of 90 pounds across the poor deer’s forequarters as it spasmed and sprayed life out on the alfalfa. Ben was stripping the skin from his kill’s neck when mother, now shouting, attempted to pull him off, getting herself covered in gore and recoiling at Ben’s sharp and aggressive rebuke.

Mother retreated with her other dog and let Ben find his own way home. Over an hour later he came prancing up the drive, caked with blood, lymph and bits of the downy undercoat his prey had just begun to shed before going down to his blood lust. She banished him to the tool shed and went to see to the cadaver lying up on the edge of her top field. When she got to the bottom of the fields she could see the coyotes were already finishing the job, so she let the whole matter be, apart from washing Ben of his victory as he panted happily.

Clearly there was some training needed.

The solution was surprisingly elegant. Instead of the leather field collar Ben had discolored with his vampyrine mayhem, he was fitted with a new little box and nylon strap - a shock collar. The regime was simple: whenever Ben ignored a command he got an audible signal, triggered from a cell phone-sized sending unit; further recalcitrance would receive a fixed nine volts at various levels of amperage up to the full measure, which is more than enough power to take-down an obese Newfie, much less a 90 pound gazelle of a retriever.

Ben responded very well to the training and before long he was hanging much closer on walks. I learned how to use the system but had needed it much, other than to “chirp” my charge, for over a year. I was, admittedly, more inclined to indulge Ben’s blood lust than my mother, finding it altogether fitting to his general deportment and mien. He is, after all, a dog, an exemplar of his breed at that, and not so removed from his lupine brethren all over the woods. It had not escaped my notice, either, that since Ben’s arrival the coyotes no longer ventured anywhere near the house.

On a wet and windy evening we were at the entrance to the Mile-Around Wood when Ben stopped and pointed into the bramble off to one side. As I uttered “Ben…” he bolted into the cover and I fished the sender out to signal his return along with the full-voiced “Ben!” to go with it. Before I could organize myself a six-point buck broke no more than 5 feet in front of me, a huge deer, leaping the ten foot wide path in nearly a single bound, with Ben not more than a few feet behind it and gaining as they charged out into the open field on the other side.

I amped the sender up to 3 and hit the key. From 25 – 30 yards away Ben shook his head slightly, lost a little ground, and then pressed his pursuit, giving the buck time enough to turn and confront his assailant with his rack at ground level. Ben, mad with the chase, tore forward playing chicken with the lowered rack and without thinking I dialed all the way to the last stop and keyed. About five or so yards from the buck Ben’s head suddenly dropped and he went tumbling ass over tea kettle in a spectacular jumble. The deer immediately seized its good fortune and flew out of the field onto higher ground.

Just as I began to wonder if I’d seriously injured my mother’s feral founding his head popped dazedly up from the grass, he shook, and then made his way with his tail down toward me, shaking his head periodically. Finally he came up close at sat next to me somewhat stoop-shouldered, looking genuinely contrite. No small feat for such a proud creature.

For myself, I considered it a win-win. Ben was in one piece (as was the buck) and my pervy wheels were spinning.

Back in the present tense my fetishist friend had said nothing during the entire story, simply sat rapt and somewhat dreamy (especially during the throat-ripping bits). After a pause and a wondering stare, she turned to me and asked sotto voce “So, these collars… where do you find them?”

With thanks to Graydancer for the inspiration.

24 August, 2008

Fine Arts 102

Switching from photography, in whose bright precincts I have spent most of my slavish devotion to the representative arts, I take you now to the rarefied world of my fellow subversive and friend Sophi, aka Carolyn Weltman, multiple-award-winning figurative artist, flyweight dominatrix, faerie Queen and Her Majesty's Registrar of Secrets-Hiding-in-Plain-Sight.

Our kinky compatriot Jane Duvall inadvertently introduced us by posting a gallery of Sophi's work on her site, into which I'd fallen from a link at my future business partner's site where Jane was guest-bottoming. I was immediately smitten with the toppish impatience revealed in Sophi's drawings and her obvious affinity and intuitive feel for the human form in bondage. I say intuitive because it was immediately apparent that the ropework in her pieces were either purely imaginative constructs or renderings of restraint limited in their potential efficacy only by... well, for starters, physics (e.g., certain troublesome aspects of gravity - as much a problem in art-making as in bondage rigging, apparently).

But apart from such pissant and geekish exceptions these pieces were a revelation. It was clear that Sophi got it, and this at a time when I was having difficulty describing "it" even to myself. I inquired to the proffered email and received a polite reply with the indication that the artist had some connection to New York City...

Within a few weeks I would be accompanying Delano and other fellow rope freaks at the first BondCon in Queens. By then Sophi and I had developed a dialogue and she had allowed that she would be on West Broadway in Soho presenting her wares on dates when I would likely be showing out-of-towners a bit of my home turf. I found her holding court under an umbrella and surrounded by a bottomless wealth of erotica, all of her own devising. We were chums as of the first embrace.

Among the first of my entreaties to her (for I was at once extraordinarily admiring, turned on, inspired, but largely mystified by her work) concerned her faces, or the lack of them. While her figures were delightfully amplified in irregularity of torso, extremity and mane, not a one of them had but the vaguest hint of physiognomy. In my journal entry for that night I quoted Sophi as asking me "Well, dear Mac, who would you have them be?" Who, indeed. My rumination on that point would end up informing much.

Over the years I have modeled for Sophi on numerous occasions, elaborating on my long experience sitting for life drawing classes. The results have varied from merely excellent to world class. One of our collaborations (a drawing of an exercise Fakir Musafar reminds us is traditionally referred to as a lingam pendulum, right) hangs now in the permanent collection of the Kinsey Institute. In the leading rôle is a glass block that still haunts Sophi's studio and still makes a good story when visitors call.

Fin and I have modeled together as well, most recently logging 25 images over many sessions for Sophi's contribution to the soon-to-be-released Mammoth Book of the Kama Sutra. As a fond interpreter of sadistic self-expression I can vouchsafe that most severe erotic torture is wholly inadequate to more than even a few short minutes holding Utthita-uttana-bandha so it can be drawn. Still, by all means, do try this (and everything else you see in this very well-done book) at home - just keep moving.

With as many years as I've been back in NYC I've had the faith and confidence of this most dear friend to participate in her art and way of world-making. The record is large - much more than could ever be done justice here. I'll be posting more of Sophi and about our connection in the near future.

14 August, 2008

You Want to Make It Yourself, or Have It Delivered?

“Can you imagine old age? Of course you can’t. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I had no idea what it was like. Not even a false image. No image. Nobody wants anything else. Nobody wants to face any of this before he has to. How is it all going to turn out? Obtuseness is de rigueur.”

Philip Roth writing as David Kepesh in The Dying Animal
A few months ago I wrote an essay about stalking game fish and wild fungi. Although my conscious focus at the time was on patience and to some degree the election to suffering in order that the very best of things can learn of the sincerity of our interest in them, at the same time I less consciously eluded to the possibility of a relationship between myself and my delicately elusive quarry.

Much of that relationship and the messy excellence of it was predicated of the time devoted to it, specifically when the goal of my elaborate efforts (to eat fish and mushrooms) was deferred, when my ultimate reward still lay before me, when the going was the toughest. Merely eating fish and mushrooms could have much more easily been satisfied by a stop at Fred Meyer (sprouting all over the West these days like a mushroom itself, usually in the shittiest of circumstances), or easier still by occupying a booth in a Bennigan's or TGI Friday's until a Brobdingnagian combo platter of beer battered "fish nuggets" and 'shrooms heaved into view.

After all, some things are available just for the asking (and $9.99), so it's perhaps interesting to ask what the non-obvious qualitative differences are between my time-consuming and labor-intensive approach to a quantitatively small (but intense) payoff, and the passive, leisurely route to rafts of fishrooms. In terms of the biological necessity of getting calories into my body the latter would seem to have much to recommend it. What is it about foraging that should be so persuasive when the biological essentialist in me can simply open my wallet and fill my hole?

Perhaps it has something to do with adding a little more time and effort to my pleasures to make them not merely meaningful, but more obviously substantial. Eating food used to be a central tenant of life, and the quality of one's life varied dramatically depending on what, if anything, was to be found in the fields, wood or crosshairs. Our senses used to be acutely geared toward determining ripeness or rot - hard to do when your lettuce is barricaded in a blister pack, or your peaches have been dipped in a chemical agent to stall their ripening.

There is a relationship one has with food, or can have with food, that is fundamentally life-giving and life affirming. Anyone who has traveled in France or Italy invariably takes strong note of the cuisine and the culture surrounding it, and of the (concomitant) sexiness of the people, their joie de vivre, as it were. Ever notice how one does not jump to such conclusions so readily in Germany or England?

Relating to the foodstuffs marketed by industrial outfits is kind of the equivalent of having a relationship with Internet porn. One can have a relationship to porn, and we all by necessity have a relationship to food, but it's impossible to have a relationship with porn because it's not the real thing. Permit the suggestion that a relationship with industrial foodstuffs is an equally dubious proposition - one does not have a relationship with food through the intellectual exercise of reading the nutrient labeling. One eats. One, however, is not obliged to eat the real thing.

There are certainly pleasures to be found in paid procurement, as I'm sure Eliot Spitzer would agree. I myself tremble in lust before Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey. But prostituted goods are not what our better natures crave, they are not what we get to the end of our lives wishing we had not missed.

At the center of what will have been a life well-lived is how much of it we gave to surrendering ourselves to forces we thought were not us - other people, nature, eroticism, etc. In this sense a relationship is only the entry point to the really important stuff - the surrendering. The ultimate surrender is given ("Most things may never happen: this one will." - Philip Larkin). In the end it will pay to have gotten good at surrendering while you were able, that is, unless one finds a dreadful exit somehow attractive. Death won't care one way or the other. Good examples of surrender come to you daily by way of what you put into your body, and claiming the life of the plant, or better still, the animal that is headed for your dinner table is to understand the nature of having a relationship with something. I can relate to killing - lots of fish have met their ends at my hands, and if I were a better shot I might also have had relationships with a few deer.

I should think that if something is inevitable and there's a option to have it at least tolerable, maybe even enlightening, that'd be the choice I'd like to make. That's possible when relating, which in order to be worthy of the word requires vulnerability, access, risk - in a word, surrender.

But, that means: Relating! - not the sort of thing that happens when what sustains you shows up for a few bucks on demand, like so much fried fish. Such cheapness casts the erotic (and food, for that matter) as entertainment - no risk, no edification, no surrender possible... a pastime and detour many pervert into a way of life. Food, sex and life itself become art when we have discovered ourselves opened in a kind of voluptuous, abandoned and carefree way, fearless of the entailments, final and otherwise, loving the moment and knowing that we're in it... in a relationship with it.

You'll know you're in it, of course. It'll be very close, too close for comfort, really, it'll be very difficult...

...and, unless it's death, it will not be delivered.