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...)


M.Yu said...

Nice one Mac.

Believe it or not, I was just discussing a very similar idea recently. I am happily surprised to read this

I gave a presentation on the transformational potential of intimacy, or what I had defined as such in my talk, when I was in Portland earlier this year. It was received as very controversial and it ruffled some feathers and a few folks left at the break. The rub being "limits" and how staying always anchored to them, physically and psychologically can stifle intimacy and kill, as you say, the "surprise."

Some took this, incorrectly, to mean, it is OK to violate someone's limits. This was a huge misunderstanding and I had trouble reining in the resulting emotional backlash. These "openings" are difficult for some to understand or see in themselves and others.

However, some of those who stayed with me through the explanation of these ideas told me they were quite moved.

I am working these ideas more and more into my classes this year as I am pushing a new way to view erotic domination with rope. Hope they don't hang me...

Thanks for your insight on this. Wish we had a chance to chat over drinks and fish. Perhaps sometime soon.


Mac K. said...

Somehow, M., I'm not the slightest bit surprised that we should be running in parallel - less a matter of "great minds thinking alike" and more along the lines of precisely the unspoken intimacy, the being inside the opening about which I bet we're both thinking, and on which I'll elaborate further in coming installments. That along the way assumptions get challenged, feathers get ruffled, that things get difficult to understand or even abide is only a clue, I think, that the right things are happening.

And yes, yes and yes to the tag ends of yellowtail loin, cachaça and limes. Sooner rather than later.

Señor Jaime said...

Great stuff, Mac. It was a pleasant surprise to read of another mutual interest - Tatsuya Ishida's Sinfest. I'm glad and grateful to follow this serialization and I look forward to additional installments.


Mac K. said...

As for many people, nearly all of my cultural literacy comes from close reading of Sinfest. Such other matters of moment with which I would wish to be conversant, such as the comings and goings of fixtures on, say, the Tejas proto-punk, trash-funk scene, well, for that one has to have well-placed sources. ;)

Thanks for dropping by, Jaime.