For some unknown reason, i woke up this morning, and realized i wanted to write about desire. Actually, i’ve been reading some very interesting things on this question, and so i wanted to chime in. I don’t have time to do actual citations, so just realize that i’ve been reading Bitch Lab and AntiPrincess a lot lately.

Edit: Go read B|L here who just went on a wonderful fieldtrip with Lacan’s discourse of desire. And brought back cookies.

I had this exchange over at BB’s place (don’t ask me why, but i broke my read/don’t comment rule with her and Twisty yesterday.) Her piece opens…and i respond:

“I really DO want to have sex with a child but I know that there are consequences for that action that I may not be willing to take.” [Sly: Note that this is a quote of BB writing for a constructed voice in context. Also note that i’m entirely unwilling to take on the ridiculous charge that pro-sex feminism likes teh kiddy pr0n.]

This is the statement that gets me thinking. What if one of those consequences of fantasy involving harm/etc… is “harming a living human being which I don’t actually want to harm.” We tie rubber bands to our ankles and jump off of bridges, but i don’t think i’d take bungee jumping as suicidal intent. I really do want to feel like falling, but there are consequences i don’t want to take. Namely, the part where i actually hit the ground.

You’re right…people are often *terribly* uncritical about their internal life, and will cop of out responsible self-examination. At the same time, i do think its possible to have a fantasy for something that one does not actually wish to see occur in real life, precisely because the fantasy can interact with an object that has no other interior content, and is simply an empty projection.

I think your argument lies in that those projections inevitably get brought back around to the perception of real women. Is that a pervasive malady of the Patriarchy, or is it a logical inevitability?

Her response was based on the claim that it is “[im]possible to have a fantasy for something that one does not actually wish to see occur in real life…Because you WOULD like to see the fantasy occur in real life, as long as the consequences for that action were something you were able to deal with. ” She follows with a discussion of acclimatization, and finishes: “The simple fact of the matter is that masturbating to violent images or even images that you are ashamed of is playing with fire. The logical conclusion of this mindset is that some people will actively engage in the behaviors that they are masturbating to and ALL of the people who are masturbating to those images are at risk of acting out if the consequences shrink to an ‘acceptable’ level.”

Note, I would have included her entire response…i don’t usually cut people’s words up like that, but the kind of spacing employed there didn’t really permit entire inclusion. Go read the comment thread for the full version…

My response, and the close of the discussion, afaik.

“Because you WOULD like to see the fantasy occur in real life, as long as the consequences for that action were something you were able to deal with. ”

I did see that part of your argument. But we’ve obviously got a different evaluation here. Rejection of action based on consequences does not have, IMO, a strict moral valence.

It does not necessarily follow that one *really* wants to see it happen, becuase *really* is an empty term. For example. A man visits a professional Domme. Does he *really* want to be subordinate? Or does he enter in to a space of unreality and fiction (the contractual relationship that returns power/status) in order to explore without residing? I would think very few men who do so would really enjoy this relationship full time if they could accept the consequences, rather they enjoy the “fictiousness” in that it has no durable social reality. Now, you’re absolutely right to note that many productions of fantasy, this example included, are not empty and in fact often depend on the use of an Other as object.

That’s my objection to “really” as an evaluation of desire. Rejection based on consequences is still rejection. It may not be enough. But it is not necessarily an essential and immutable expression of what a person “really” wants.

Obviously, it may have been impolitic to mention the dreaded Four Letter Acronym For A Set of Sexual Practices at the Den…but the simple fact is that BSDM views desire both seriously and as fiction, and makes a rather good explanation. I’m not too vain to note here that Belledame and I appear to have gotten the same memo on this (check the comments).

Which brings me to my grand point. Desire is a place of negotiation.

It is not:

  • An unrejectable, totalizing experience that overrides all other expressions of the self
  • Unrelated to the evaluatory framework that surrounds it
  • A window in to the otherwise inscrutable soul

Why do i say these things? I’ve often heard about self-hating gay men (think Brokeback) really want to have sex with other men. I’m going to contest that. They have constructed their experience of desire, in conversation with society, that their primary sexual expression is homophobic. So who am I to say that their truest self is to be found in something that they hate? We might see faulty logic or reliance on cultural assumptions in their evaluation, but we cannot rename their desire.

We are evaluatatory animals, who make choices. Our ideas and desires are never entirely separated to how we evaluate and respond to them. Which is why I get rather disturbed by the confusion of desire with idenity. In affirming or rejecting desire, a person exhibits moral agency, a power they may not have over the content of their desires. (Think of the impulse one might have in anger or frustation.)

So how can we see desire as both reality and fiction? By taking seriously the limits and extents to which we will enact it. I don’t mean to place a strict “real world” test here, as i think extended consideration and mental energy constitutes a form of enactment. But what are the preconditions and surrounding contexts that have to be in place?

I’m at the very beginning stages of a relationship right now, so this is all on my mind a great deal. I’ve got a million and one ideas of what needs to happen (and i don’t just mean sexually), and a million more realities and complications. My desire is both reality and fiction. They have not come true, and these ideas do not leave my mind readily. They are checked by other desires, found in my developing knowledge of my partner as a full, rich, and complex human being. They are reality, and form my interior content in conversation (and even agonism) with each other. They point to a future space of relationship in which they can be fufilled, even if that space does not yet exist.

What do we really want?

It’s not that simple.