As if the laws of nature to which love submits were not more tyrannical and more odious than the laws of society! (Berl 1929: 404; cited in Benjamin 1999: 493)
In his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Origen attempts, following Paul's bidding in Romans 5.14, to describe the relationship between Adam's sin and the transgressions of his descendants. Central to the description that Origen offers is the question of how Adam's sin came to be borne by all his progeny when many of his children's transgressions are very different in type and character from that primary offense. Origen's explanation is that even while Adam enjoyed the Garden of Eden all his descendants subsisted in his loins.
And all men who were with him, or rather in him, were expelled from paradise when he was himself driven out from there; and through him the death which had come to him from the transgression consequently passed through to them as well, who were dwelling in his loins; and therefore the Apostle rightly says, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive [I Corinthians 15.22]." (Origen 2001: 311)
Sin is disseminated from the loins of Adam and it is only through the refusal of the promptings of the loins that Origen believes the soul can advance to spiritual purity. Sex in Origen's view distributes sin and so it was crucial that the second Adam was conceived without the medium of human seed. There is no hesitation in Origen's portrayal of Adam's bequest to link sex with heredity and reproduction, a fact confirmed by his assertion that sexual relations within marriage are for procreation rather than pleasure. Sex, in this account, has a natural role that is to be radically distinguished from its erotic lure.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is obvious that the nature of sex, and especially the partition between nature and eros, is not only modified but fundamentally transformed. Sex is not what it used to be! The availability of relatively cheap and effective contraception has been followed by the technical and technological unhinging of sex from an economy of fecundity and reproduction, a process that is intensified with the prospect of techniques of genetic cloning and practices of pleasure (such as teledildonics - see C. Gray 2001: 152) that are a part of the discourse of the present as well as the future. Sex has been unhinged from its reproductive, procreative role and now serves a very different economy of desire. Sex has been socially appropriated for the body and its pleasures and has been removed from the public realm of marriage, state, and church. Sex is no longer about the future - children, security, continuity - but about "experience."
Mark Ravenhill's play, Shopping and Fucking (1996), makes this unsettlingly clear. In the context of late-capitalism, eros is a figure of consumption (shopping) and the body is a commodity (for exchange at a price). The only route to authentic "experience," echoing Georges
Bataille, is to take that same body to the limit of value, to move beyond a restricted economy of discontinuity and immanent exchange and to transcend the fiscal body in a sacrificial body in which pleasure and destruction, eros and thanatos, are indistinguishable. But the promise of the limit is never fulfilled and a return to restricted economies of utility and value is always inevitable; life at the edge is only able to realize an experience that is, as it were, Bataille-lite.
The play concerns the (sexual, retail, and narcotic) consumption of three twenty-somethings - Mark, Robbie, and Lulu - and details their precarious involvement with a rent boy, Gary, and a businessman, Brian. While the cast spend an inordinate amount of time consuming a variety of bodies, the nihilism of measurement, utility, and value are constantly disclosed: "If we do anything, it's got to mean nothing"; "Civilisation is money and money is civilisation"; "Are there any feelings left?"
Unsurprisingly, Ravenhill's play attracted a tremendous amount of critical attention and discussion (not least for its title). The right-wing press went into paroxysms of righteous distress when the play opened in 1996 and the (then) UK Minister for Education highlighted the play as an example of moral degeneration. Amid realizations that the "new realism" represented by this play disclosed something rather profound - "What makes this play so dangerous to closed minds is its unnerving knack of opening our eyes to the horrors of our daily lives" (Sunday Express) - was the usual condemnation of explicit sexual performativity - "It wallows in the conditions it describes" (Sunday Telegraph). Missing from the critical notices, however, was an analysis of the kind of subjects we - who daily participate in a new rendition of the script - have become in consumptive, and I use the word advisedly, capitalist cultures.1 The play discloses something more profound than a worldview in which we clamor after the momentary jouissance available in a tub of Haagen-Dazs, impressed on my Nike™ sneakers or savored in an anonymous blowjob. We are confronted with the sublation and sublimation of identity in a context where the disarticulation of habitus, authority, and tradition leave only an overburdened reflexivity and a quest for the affect. This modification of identity reaches its apotheosis with the triumph of fantasy over the "real."2 Hence, pornographic material in which the subject looks into the camera and meets the gaze of the voyeur stimulates in a manner that is dependent on the "realism" of a performance that, in truth, only exhibits that the act of stimulation is nothing but simulation (Agamben 2000: 94). Or, to put it in less precious terms, sex has become a marker of the loss of experience: sex has become a thing like every marketed thing, something to want when you do not possess it and not to want when you do. This thoroughgoing commodification of love, pleasure, and eroticism cul-minates in the erosion of the significance of the body:
Never has the human body - above all the female body - been so massively manipulated as today and, so to speak, imagined from top to bottom by the techniques of advertising and commodity production: The opacity of sexual differences has been belied by the transsexual body; the incommunicable foreignness of the singular physis has been abolished by its mediatization as spectacle; the mortality of the organic body has been put in question by its traffic with the body without organs of commodities; the intimacy of erotic life has been refuted by pornography (Agamben 1993: 49-50).
And so the church must respond to the "thinning out" of the body politic, the disappearance of the body as the imago dei and the compartmentalization of the ecclesiastical body in matters sexual (and much besides). The thrust of this chapter, however, is that the church responds as a micro-fascist organization in order to cure its pain and does so by refusing eros and embracing a vapid and lifeless moralism. The church performs the role of a modern sarcophagus that harbors the ideology of moral values and seems to do little more than reflect the so-called ethical positions - particularly with regard to sex - of the moralistic media commentators who despise pluralism and espouse a myopic view of desire, relationality, and fecundity. Nevertheless, it is not simply the church that has failed. In Georges Bataille's Theory of Religion, eros and thanatos converge, as it were, in the quest for a lost intimacy with, and immediacy of, a lost animality (Bataille 1962: 90). The individual disconnection of subjects and the division of the sacred and the profane that is characteristic of advanced human societies is overcome in the convulsions of sacrificial violence and orgasm.
The act of violence that deprives the creature of its limited particularity and bestows on it the limitless, infinite nature of sacred things is with its profound logic an intentional one. It is intentional like the act of the man who lays bare, desires and wants to penetrate his victim. The lover strips the beloved of her identity no less than the bloodstained priest his human or animal victim. With her modesty she loses the firm barrier that once separated her from others and made her impenetrable. (Bataille 1962: 90)
Bataille's text attempts to uncover an originary economy of unity and continuity that is only attained through violence and the overcoming or, more accurately, the dissolution of subjectivity. This alternative economy attempts to harness and utilize heterogeneous energies, what Bataille calls nonproductive expenditure (dépense), in a quest of freedom from utility and commodification (Bataille 1985: 116-20). Sacrifice reintegrates eros and nature through thanatos.
Unfortunately, this sacrificial vision has itself been inhabited by the logic of consumption as Ravenhill's play reveals. Bodies, clothes, and commodities of all kinds are pretty useless but utility is not the point. Branding, image, and the ubiquity of the product are more urgently sought than profit itself. Hence, the salvific perversion of a sacrificial economy has become the norm. But we know all this! More shocking is the fact that the dominance of an ideology of moral values that dictates ecclesiastical responses to the signs of the times is equally a normalization of perversion. The fantasy of the church, which opposes -though underpins - the fantasy of consumption, is for a disciplinary logic predicated on the moral law. Whereas in consumer societies anxiety is engendered by too much freedom, the sexual ethics of the Christian churches create a body that is rigidly codified in a manner that is a perversion of its scriptural and doctrinal traditions. What is often neglected by theologians is the fact that the declaration of the freedom to enjoy that is the major characteristic and claim of late-capital feeds off the injunction to desist that is so typical of Christian sexual ethics. The law engenders the desire to transgress and so constitutes the ground of capitalistic enjoyment. Capitalism is strangely parasitic upon the moralism of a divinely authorized body in order to perpetuate the illusion that its vacant promises are really "cutting-edge" and beyond the norm. Concomitantly, Christian practice has become strangely parasitic upon capital. Yet again, it is popular visual culture that renders this "double bind" most transparent.
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