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Intense Exchange: Sadomasochism, Theology and the Politics of Late Capitalism Jeremy R. Carrette
Abstract Recognizing the need to move beyond the sensationalism surrounding S&M and Christian theology, this article positions S&M within an understanding of the material economics of sex in late capitalistic society. It makes a distinction between discourses of pain and the religious body and the modem S&M discourses of psychopathology, subcultural politics and commercial markets. The article then explores the tensions between S&M as an oppressive theological and social structure (a capitalistic model of sexuality-desire) and S&M as a liberating activity in its non-productive exchange (Foucault's pleasure-intensity). While revealing the problems of idolatry and the need for 'critical consensuality', the article concludes by showing how intensity and intimacy in S&M can change Christian attitudes to sex and the market.
Sex in the Imagination
Be cruel in your erotic play: snap on handcuffs, neck-collars, and chains, lock pins and clips on nipples, administer meticulous floggings; or, be a slave for a night and, with your master's help, mimic the ancient 'art of unbearable sensations', tremble with the most exquisite agonies, savor the disintegration and humiliation of the self in the jouissance of exploded limits (Miller 1992: 237).
The preceding representation of sadomasochism (hereafter S&M) was presented in James Miller's fanciful and imaginative, perhaps journalistic, depiction of Michel Foucault's interest in sadomasochistic gay sex in California in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It reflects the external economy of sex, its mechanics, and its fanciful decorations, which titillate the voyeur, but bored Foucault. David Halperin has forcibly argued that Miller's representation of S&M made it doubtful whether Miller had
© SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi), 2005.
Theology & Sexuality
been in a gay S&M club, particularly in the period of the early 1980s. Halperin continued his critique by suggesting Miller's imagined portrayal of such events was 'perhaps the most singularly unsexy dungeon scene ever written' (Halperin 1995:170,182). What Miller's imaginative construction failed to register was the underlying politics of the exchange. Sex according to Foucault was a boring subject (Foucault 1983: 340). Indeed, Foucault was not interested in sex as such, but with the technologies of the self in Western culture. He was interested in the historical conditions that produced the discourse of sexuality and the relations of power that S&M depicted. Sex is boring as a discourse because it covers up the relations of power and techniques of the self, which underpin and shape our sensual living. In many ways, as Kathleen Sands has indicated, sex has become overburdened as a liberating space (Sands 2001). She argues that we ask too much of sex, but what Sands does not make clear is that talk about sex, which proliferates on the edges of contemporary theology, needs to be placed within the wider material structures of society. Sex is exciting in theological discourse because of its order of representational power and its potentiality to subvert disembodied orthodoxies and conservative ideologies. In many ways, as seen in the history of surrealism, it is easy to play with the discourse of sex within Christianity, particularly in the domain of S&M. This play of tension— offering important cathartic release and theological critique of oppressive systems—can easily alienate and distract from the underlying economic questions of sex in an age of late capitalism (see Hennessy 2000). This article will not only be a reflection on the bodily exchange of fluids, but the discursive exchange of theological representations of S&M, which inform our embodied lives and our lived material existence. My aim is to review critically the often sensational and confusing amalgamation of S&M and Christianity and locate these discussions within the context of late capitalistic societies. This task is important because the fantasies surrounding sex and Christianity often lose sight of the embodied economic systems they support and sustain. This article will therefore try to establish a vital link between theology, the body and the economics of our material existence inside the problematic of S&M.
Links between S&M and Christianity
There have been in recent years a number of texts which have delighted in the apparent links between the history of religious suffering, particularly in Christianity, and asceticism and the practices of contemporary S&M. Such writers as Anita Phillips have argued that while religious experiences and S&M have different outcomes they are both 'aware of
org). it is time to move beyond the shock tactics to the careful analysis of the social order of the body politic. (Phillips 1998: 140-42). as discourses of S&M become more prevalent in the theological world. The establishment of links between religious practices and eroticism have been rich resources in literature and art. needs to .Carrette Intense Exchange 13 the importance of integrating pain and privation into experience rather than denying it. Both'. 'What is problematic'. therefore. We even find extraordinary web-communities delighting in Christian BDSM (bondage. 'have found their own way of translating a concern with mortality or negativity into a useful set of keys for living' (Phillips 1998:140). 'is that sm takes a non-reflective attitude toward sexual desire' (Butler 1982:172). However. particularly if there is to be wider appreciation rather than alienated fear of such practices. despite the fact that it challenges the comfortable worlds of traditional Christianity. sadomasochism). Indeed. that either Christianity was distorted and needs correcting. The obvious links between the history of Christianity and S&M leave us. The pains and agonies of the ascetic life and the erotic liberation of sado-masochists are found to be constructive —an acknowledgment of the fatality and rapture of the human body. bizarrely sanctioning S&M through the biblical texts on submission (www. as Judith Butler rightly recognized in an early piece of lesbianfeminist critical reflection. from the surrealist films of Artaud to the avant-garde novels of Klossowski and Bataille. These subversive works have all been uncritically used to challenge the binary separation of pain. As Jordan states: 'Pursing any of these alternatives. domination. or that God is at the heart of all affliction. it is necessary to establish some critical evaluation in order to ground the discussion and avoid any problematic sensationalism. according to Mark Jordan—in his recent work The Ethics of Sex (2002) —with a number of possible conclusions. What Mark Jordan rightly recognizes is that Christian theology can learn from the contemporary site of S&M practice. Using S&M to shock the theological world has value in attempting to respond to the pains of exclusion and the denial of embodied pleasure in the Christian community (the silent unconscious of theology that fuels S&M in the theological mind). we will find ourselves learning that sexual sadomasochism lies close to many of our 'purely religious' experiences than we might have supposed' (Jordan 2002:168). or that power lies at the heart of all intimacies. the historical links between practices held under the modem term 'S&M and Christianity' are now well documented by many writers from George Ryley Scott's History of Corporal Punishment (1968) to Althaus-Reid's Indecent Theology (2000).christian-bdsm. sexuality and religion. Theology. But before we can appreciate this relationship. offering networks for discussion and contmunities for shared experience. she goes on to say.
We must also be aware that contemporary S&M. the sex industry and now cyberspace (Muggleton 2000. it is however also publicly manifest. The striking feature of S&M is its curious 'secret visibility'. It covers the 'voyeuristic aesthetic' of art and pornography (in theology playing with the images of religious pain and suffering). but all reflect the politics of late capitalism. like all aspects of ethical concern about sexual relationships. from married couples to the professional dominatrix. S&M is specifically a technology of modem living. It is described as the 'velvet underground' and. The context is as important in understanding the oppression and liberation of S&M as the acts themselves. including the wider BDSM. My concern with the economic status. social networks (particularly in its more concealed heterosexual manifestations). be placed in one hegemonic category. is a spectrum of engagements in a diverse set of contexts and cannot. It is also important to recognize that you cannot read subcultures. consensual politics and social construction of S&M relates to all these various expressions in slightly different ways. acts also carried out both within and outside traditional relationships. it is a mild engagement with positions of domination and submission in a diverse set of relations. The Construction of S&M: Psychopathology. as David Muggleton indicates. Brain McNair's study of the media and pornography demonstrates there has been the development of 's/m chic' (a claim made by . outside the specific dynamics of individual couples who draw on the subculture. which draws on a whole series of cultural resources. see also Steele 1996). and it is also an intense psychophysical encounter with painful pleasures and desires (both mild and extreme in nature).14 Theology & Sexuality break down the sensationalist and politically naive readings of S&M in order to understand the political ideology behind its varied manifestations. outside commerce and the media. Subcultural and Commercial However titillating and strategically important the introductions of S&M into Christian discourse may be. to which we may also add fashion trends. most notably in its forms of political resistance in the gay leather scene—most cities have gay S&M bars and clubs. we have to remember that S&M is a recent discourse developed from the writings of the Austrian psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing in his 1886 Psychopathia Sexualis. as Weinberg and Kamel note (Weinberg 1995). it operates within small private. S&M is a psychosexual discourse that operates in modern capitalistic societies as a transgressive subcultural form of resistance to hegemonic sexual practices — in so far as it identifies pleasure outside the procreative act.
(MacKendrick 1999:157). Here she states: Despite my consistent conjunction [here] between asceticism and s/m. which more often than not turns to a kind of New Age fluff (veering often.Carrette Intense Exchange 15 Judith Coburn in New Times in 1977). or the bodily denial of the flesh in any form of religious asceticism. but he divorces this from S&M. politically and historically) from. the general practices of submission and domination in the heterosexual houses of British suburbia or the gay bathhouses of San Francisco. domination and submission and the history of religions are not restricted to popular discourses about S&M. While it is not in question that at some level religious suffering and S&M may constitute a parallel event and hold a common denominator in the suffering body. This means we need to be cautious about simplistic associations between S&M and Christian theology. toward the sanitised and pastoral). To read S&M outside its psychosexual. Tennent's Lager and Pot Noodle (McNair 1996:154). entitled Counterpleasures. develops a hypothesis based on a neuropsychological model of agency and the self to show how pain is a way of transcending the self and effecting the emergence of a new self (Glucklich 2001: 207). Glucklich. What is held in the space of S&M erotics is different but related to the history of Christianity. subcultural and commercial context is to create an ahistorical phantasm. though by no means inevitably. exists within a different order of experience (both socially. S&M here becomes a commercial strategy for selling. there are huge epistemological quandaries in understanding the erotic experience of S&M as religious or theological. What is important to note about this delineation of S&M within a latemodern context is to recognize that the discourses of pain. but this is not the modern invention of S&M. I think that we must be wary of the association made between the erotic and spiritual. this point is made clear in Karmen MacKendrick's excellent study of S&M in literature and culture. still caught in a psychophysical model. among other things. The desire to die for Christ in the literature of martyrdom. While there is some political value in the subversive and sensual tactics of theologians and writers delighting in the connection between . particularly as the context and belief behind a specific infliction of pain on the body is crucially important. the body and religious practices have a long history. for example. Pain. which acknowledges the way pain has played an important part in religion and culture. This can be seen in Ariel Glucklich's recent study Sacred Pain. He argues that pain in ritualized contexts throughout history leads to new states of consciousness and can be perceived as a good thing (Glucklich 2001: 88). The separation of the history of bodily pain from the discourse of S&M is crucially important at this point.
which require a new political economy of sex in relation to power and gender. Few writers have started to think critically about the relationship between the bodily pains and suffering in religious practices and S&M erotic pleasure from this perspective. There is important historiographical work to be carried out in this area. but never grasps the full force of the material structures of S&M and never relates this to Christian theology (which resides outside his remit). as the major issue of concern. I do not find the comparison between S&M and Christianity. as 1 have already indicated. is that S&M is not so much a mirroring of religious violations of the body but that it is rather socially constructed through religious discourses. as Gary Taylor has indicated. as Taylor has argued. shape and make sense of their sexualities and so explore the way in w^hich SM sexualities are discursively and materially shaped' (Taylor 1997: 121). What seem more important—and the key issue at stake—are the material structures of sexual relations and the ethics of exchange. it is necessary to 'investigate the way in which these discourses are used by people to define.16 Theology & Sexuality S&M and the history of Christianity. . we need to explore critically the images of Christian asceticism that are carried into S&M subcultures and attempt to understand why such images become useful for erotic play. in the arena of historical practices. which is a modern invention of just over 100 years old. rather than reflecting an understanding of the specific aspects of S&M as a modern set of sexed relations in the contemporary capitalistic world. Religious discourses of suffering permeate into contemporary eroticism. is that there is an uncritical utilization of the term S&M. first. domination and submission in the space of theology. One of the problems. related to but distinct from the history of Christian asceticism. psychopathology or studies of pain. second. but it merely restates a central problematic about relations of pain. What is often forgotten. mutated through psychological history and capitalistic processes of commodification. Taylor touches upon the key question here. Taylor's work seems to imply that there are two necessary tasks to carry out in the engagement between S&M and Christianity. we need to reverse the equation and ask what S&M subcultures in modern capitalistic societies can teach contemporary Christian theology about the importance of embodied pleasure and the material relations of our intense exchanges. I find this connection both prosaic and at times a misplaced anachronism. If we see S&M as a socially constructed discourse built up from the fragments of modem living then. It is important then to recognize that the discussion of S&M and Christianity is a late modern discourse. which will include bringing some critical ethical insight from such traditions.
the body and the flow of capital —a configuration that makes S&M powerfully illuminating to . and avoids the tendency to see sexuality as private and the political and economic as public' (Altman 2001:157). It is through these types of exchanges—which. 'desexualize' pleasure and develop the 'eroticization of power. types of exchanges between individuals that are new and are neither the same as. types of existence. As Altman states: 'We badly need a political economy of sexuality. I want to read S&M as a set of political power relations informing and related to. but in terms of the economics of relationships and the dynamics of intimacy. not just those dressed up in the capitalistic outfits of commodified leather and rubber —Miller's fanciful decorations). It is. I want to follow Foucault in recognizing. and cultural structures. But it is the material structures of exchange in S&M sex that I believe have much to teach contemporary theology. but distinct from. nor superimposed on. economic structures through which sex occurs and which allow us to have the pleasures and orgasms we desire (or more terrifyingly are manufactured within us to desire). In this sense it not the connections of meaning but the material structure of our sexual relations which are central (Foucault 1976: 114). but it is also important to recognize that the eroticized mind games of BDSM are celebrated precisely because of their safe. in his attempt to map the political economy of sex. economic. the eroticization of strategic relations'— that we can rethink the structures of exchange in Christian theology (Foucault 1984). in his reflections on S&M and gay culture. Even in its subcultural commercialization S&M can still be a site/sight of political resistance and in this sense S&M can be both oppressive and liberating. according to Foucault. Theology is always an institutional practice of social exchange that orders the material economy of the body and offers in turn a space to ethically transform S&M practice as well as fuel its oppressions. not in terms of its obvious phenomenological parallels. types of values. in its material and institutional formations — the social. the need to reflect upon 'a culture which invents ways of relating. In order to respond to this position. political. of course. Our understanding of God (the presence of love and justice) is always shaped by interpersonal exchanges in community. existing cultural forms' (Foucault 1982: 39). one which recognises the interrelationship between political. I am here following Dennis Altman. important to realize that Foucault's somewhat uncritical and visionary hope in the early 1980s that gay leather sex could transform society was tragically reconfigured with the pan-epidemic of AIDS. all sexual encounters (i. non-penetrative sexual practices.Carrette Intense Exchange 17 What I am seeking to draw out in this paper is the internal economy of S&M sex as a late modern exchange (and the word exchange here is important).e.
The reason for this is that I see the dangerous aspects of sex as capitalism (supported by certain forms of patriarchal theology). and here I want to refuse the either/ or mentality of Christian binary epistemology and to recognize that in complex worlds we can at times both simultaneously abuse and liberate in the same action and that actions can be viewed differently in specific contexts.18 Theology & Sexuality theology. 1982) and on the other it is defended as a cultural parody. In my view. We are in this sense tainted with the frailty of the human condition. In this sense. the material conditions under which individuals meet and share their pleasures. S&M is a cultural site from which theology can learn about the politics of pleasure . Hart and Dale 1997). Ethical Tensions in S&M Literature The literature on S&M holds a fundamental tension about the place of S&M within the sexual economy of exchange and the underlying ideology of exploitation. 2000. desires and understanding of God). his thinking takes on renewed force within the conditions of late capitalism. although neither of these positions negates the possibility of a positive reading of S&M as such). liberating intensity and offering fundamentally consensual sets of relations. What theology needs. the history of our traditions and the spectre of capitalism. If we recognize that S&M is both a liberating and oppressive form of exchange then we may ask what these two sides of S&M offer to Christian theology in terms of its own economics of pleasure. but that we are tainted with the blood of our own liberating revolution. Thompson 1991. It is critiqued on the one side for its abusive models of power and collusion with a culture of violence (see Linden et al. that even the attempt to think outside such positions becomes a move that supports it. 1998. (It is precisely this moment of recognition that means I can never completely ignore the conditions of my thinking in Western Christianity and my Quaker identity of non-violence in reading these questions. as Foucault argued for society as a whole. This is not to say ethical solutions are not possible. even finding expression in its 'New Age fluff as 'spiritual' (see Califia 1979. which are hidden in the economy of S&M exchange and ethically transformed by an embodied economy of the Godhead (that is. I want to map the relationship between the internal economy of S&M onto the economy of the divine relations and map the economy of divine relations onto S&M. is a 'different economy of bodies and pleasure' (Foucault 1978: 159). S&M can be both a form of oppression and liberation. The challenge to this is the even more dangerous aspect of sex found in the economics of intensity and intimacy (the counterpoint of capitalistic sex). While Foucault often used the idea of 'economy' in a metaphorical sense.
Weinberg 1995: 42). 32. the 'global brothel of Bangkok' reveal how 'sexuality' is a sign of the production of modernity and global capitalism (Altman 2001:10. now classic. He rightly notes how this has been framed by gendered relations. I will explore a few aspects of the dynamics of oppression and liberation in S&M in terms of the economics of intense exchange inside contemporary theology. S&M. as reflected in the torture chambers of the commercial dominatrix who frees and indulges the elite business fraternity from their positions of embodied structural power. 1969 article 'Fetishism and Sadomasochism' by the anthropologist Paul Gebhard. which depicted the 'promise of the West' with a nude American pinup. This image and. there is an important recognition that S&M occurs within a cultural context. This structural analysis of sexual relations is echoed by Altman. It is not an insignificant fact that S&M subcultures take images from World War II Germany and flourish in the market economy of the USA. He argues that S&M is embedded in our culture because the culture 'operates on the basis of dominancesubmission relationships'. S&M functions within this space.Carrette Intense Exchange 19 and exercises of power (Bersani 1995: 83). Oppressive Structural Relations in S&M Sex In the. at this point.' He recalls. If we want to understand our culture we need to look at the practices of the body and as Nietzsche indicated read those questions of spirit in terms of the body (Carrette 2000:109-28). as Leo Bersani has indicated. is to some extent 'profoundly conservative' in so far that its 'imagination of pleasure is almost entirely . but never achieves the critical insight of Gamman and Mackinen. As Geoff Mains delightfully remarks: 'Leather can relieve stress' (quoted in Bersani 1995: 84). 91). The world of theology has as much to learn from S&M as the world of S&M has to learn from a critical theological politics that reflects on patriarchal sexual abuse and the ethical importance of nonviolent forms of relating. In order to illuminate some of these tensions. What emerges from these studies is that S&M reflects the structural realities of Western society. I offer this economic register in order to cut across and widen existing debates about the ethics of S&M. Robert Kaplan's description of a poster on a bus in post-Soviet Uzbekistan. what Bruce Rich calls. who recognize the S&M dimension of advertising and its effects on female anorexia (Gamman and Mackinen 1994. who provocatively notes that: 'Sexuality' — and the shift here to the idea of sexuality is important—'is a useful domain in which to test the alleged dominance of the American. as both a site of resistance and compliance with global capitalism. S&M eroticizes the power relations of the Western world and seeks to find liberation from those embodied agonies.
as he quotes Lenore Manderson. in so far as it maintains the power structures of hegemonic patriarchal sexuality — even if they wear different uniforms! It is for this reason that Christian BDSM groups can so easily form themselves in the USA. submission' Qordan 2000: 213). S&M is ironically as conservative as aspects of the Christian church. sex is seen. Such attempts to dislocate the politics of 'submission' from its sexual and embodied formations only hide the reality of (economic) exchange in Christian theology. This is seen more vividly in his earlier work. as a 'means of production rather than a mirror of the self — that is.20 Theology & Sexuality defined by the dominant culture' (Bersani 1995: 87). The discipline of submission does have an important value in the Christian tradition. what we need to do is ethically evaluate the nature of 'submissions' and 'authority'. Here. In such a climate Jordan believes it is not surprising that the clergy are attracted to S&M and that 'priestly cassocks or monastic robes figure so prominently in some S&M rituals' (Jordan 2000: 218). What is never touched upon in these reflections is that submission is also an economic category. a fact noted by Anita Phillips and now explored in a recent collection of essays by Sarah Coakley (Coakley 2002). where he refers to 'ecclesiastical bondage' (Jordan 2000: 213). While acknowledging the obvious 'excessive' and oppressive nature of submissions in the church. hope and charity. but submission. especially for the gay community. In the heterosexual households of Western capitalism the pleasures of the body take on a different socio-economic structure and shift from a means of production to a culture of consumption. submission. The Silence of Sodom. Coakley missed a great opportunity to overcome the dualistic ontology of Christianity by rejecting the discourses of submission in sexual bondage as offering insight into her theological project (Coakley 2002: xii). commercial sex versus its identity spaces of white Western lifestyle (Altman 2001:104). Mark Jordan is correct in his suggestion that one of the options in considering the relationship between S&M and Christianity is to recognize that 'power lies at the heart of all Christian intimacies' (Jordan 2002: 168). It holds conventional understandings of masculinity. Referring to the Catholic tradition he says: 'The theological virtues are no longer faith. The relations of domination and submission are written throughout the Christian tradition and it is this that attracts the S&M community to the images of Christian history. We can see this from Altman's understanding of the global exchange of sex and his consideration of women in the sex trade of Thailand. mirrors master-slave relationships and 'argues for the continuity between political structures of oppression and the body's erotic economy' (Bersani 1995: 90). so that alongside visits to the IKEA furniture stores gay and straight couples can have orgasms —'with or without .
are still operating on models of household trinitarian relations from the social and economic structures of late antiquity. Karmen MacKendrick recognizes how S&M pleasures have the potential to destabilize and threaten not only 'the existing political and cultural orders but all manner of orders'. we should also be aware that S&M gets caught in productive exchange and mirrors the violations of the body still prevalent in global capitalism. in effect. written in 1979. Vaneigem's manifesto. So that its narratives of exchange in the Godhead. Liberating Pleasures: S&M as Political and Theological Transformation In her work Counterpleasures. asceticism and sub/ dom relations. people living apart from their households and work driven occupancy. such as Stephen Long's Divine Economy. The reason for this is that pleasure is 'not inherently productive' and 'has the power. by the economic theologians such as Justin. Irenaeus and Tertullian. such models of theological exchange are outdated. she notes. However. become a form of nostalgia for a theological worldview out of touch with the embodied realities of global capitalism (Long 2000). particularly in its understanding of the sexed-body. the sacred and profane (MacKendrick 1999: 6). echoing in my view both the tones of revolutionary French surrealism and Whilem . Nietzsche and Foucault in thinking through the literary and cultural understanding of sadism and masochism. to disrupt a society based on production and consumption (MacKendrick 1999:3). in a post-industrial world where the theological spaces have shifted from the nuclear family to unmarried couples. So.Carrette Intense Exchange 21 fries' —and order their pleasures around models of consumption and desire. Her work follows Bataille. These tensions require us now to consider how S&M can also be a site/sight of resistance as well as oppression. Christianity supports such docility by continuing to hold onto models of household economics (inherited from the Greco-Roman period) in its theological constructions. These new economies of lifestyle result in new forms of psychosexual exchange and this leaves theology divorced from the body and the contemporary analysis of this exchange. This is precisely why studies in contemporary theology. single-parent families. what we have is a model of theology based on a nostalgia for productive sex (maintained in the global sex trade) rather than models of pleasure based on non-productive intensity vis-^-vis certain forms of S&M or BDSM. The book takes it political and economic inspiration from an extraordinary little work by Raoul Vaneigem—his political manifesto The Book of Pleasures. However. The undermining of social scientific methods to support contemporary theological reflection on the present economic realities is to separate theology from its ever-changing material conditions. in its polymorphous mutliplications. including.
MacKenderick is wrong to build her otherwise effective analysis of S&M on such naive models of exchange as simply capitalistic and dangerous. which is far more complex than Vaneigem's isolated—perhaps one could say. Mackenderick also believes Vaneigem's work to be 'interestingly close to Foucault'. Foucault on the other hand recognized that what non-gays fear about homosexual relations is not the bodily acts they may get up to but the consequent issues of lifestyle. but such comparison. We can now understand the enormous amount of fear Christianity has about pleasures outside the economy of productive sex. stated: 'what you are really afraid of is the threat to your privileges in the gay escape from relationships you created in order to protect your power' (Bersani 1995: 82). the techniques of the self and the communities established from such relations of pleasure. However. Sexual pleasures result in different forms of social exchange and to change the economy of pleasure is to challenge the socio-economic structure. the subsequent social exchanges that would result from such pleasure (Foucault 1988: 301). builds sexed-leftist-anarchy by arguing that indulgence in pleasures will overcome the machine of the work economy and the class struggle. Exchange. 90). Vaneigem's book is not specifically about S&M and Mackenderick would have been more effective if her work recognized a model of contractual exchange which S&M establishes. consequentially. the question is not getting rid of exchange buf of finding more effective and enriching forms of exchange in society and theology and in all our bodily pleasures (Alles 2000). is a far more complex category and one that grounds the basis of all human society. because non-productive pleasure challenges the power relations of the religious hierarchies and their—often hidden—values of capitalistic . Mackendrick's reliance on Vaneigem means she fails to show how S&M is a particular form of 'intense exchange'. echoing Foucault's words to the non-gay world. He argues that 'intense pleasure means the end of exchange in all its forms' (Vaneigem 1983: 28). masturbatory—society of pleasure. Vaneigem argues that 'exchange paralyses the living' and later 'exchange putrifies whatever it touches' (Vaneigem 1983: 30. fails to register Foucault's concern with lifestyle. while right in the broad sense of linking pleasure to the wider socio-economic processes. It is here that I reject Vaneigem's economic analysis. as Gregory Alles has shown. because it dangerously turns into a form of solipsistic fascism in believing self-indulgence in pleasures will change society for the better. As Leo Bersani.22 Theology & Sexuality Reich's leftwing analysis of orgasmic pleasure as revolution. The body and its practices are key organizing boundaries for a society and it therefore matters how our bodies are materially and economically ordered (see Albanese 1999: 2-6).
heart and passion. The irreconcilable struggles between pleasures and social status are here brought into focus by the S&M community. It becomes a site of resistance because it seeks to reconfigure pleasure in its intensity of exchange rather than through its productive or commercial value. but rather that the modes of engagement challenge the 'production' of capitalism by establishing new social contracts (even though such contracts are tainted within capitalistic society and perhaps even a product of such a society). It is this side of S&M which is celebrated in its practices and in its literature. that is a pleasure generated through an exchange of deep trust and intense intimacy—formative of communities. as Foucault makes clear: 'What interests the practitioners of S&M is that the relationship is at the same time regulated and open. This is where sex gets dangerous. The dynamic of intensity here is central. shows the levels of 'attention.. a perpetual tension and a perpetual uncertainty which the simple consummation of the act lacks' (Foucault 1988: 299). S&M is therefore an exchange at the fragile limits of the bodily sensation and the fantasms written across it by society and its institutions. Gayle Rubin's account of the famous Catacombs. with all the messiness of human suffering and our multiple polymorphous desiring selves.. an S&M club in San Francisco. intimacy and trust' which result from extreme S&M pleasures (Rubin 1991:103). This is a shift from Christianity as capitalistic bourgeoisie commimities perpetuating the productive pleasures of the traditional family unit to a community of intense exchanges. This mixture of rules and openness has the effect of intensifying sexual relations by introducing a perpetual novelty. not in its glossy commodification but in its personal imaginative pains and enacted fantasy. for it demands not only the body. As Foucault argues: 'We live .Carrette Intense Exchange 23 theology. The correlation between pleasures and social management is crucial at this point. For S&M requires something which commercial-theological productive sex does not require. but fantasy. which demand honouring the disappearance of a coherent self in the spaces of rapture. If Foucault is correct to see pleasures as forming new social relationships then intense exchanges in the Christian community can begin to change the morphology of Christian living. It is here where there is a giving up of self to pleasure—Foucault's 'new economy of bodies and pleasure' (Foucault 1978:159). We must also recognize that the idea of 'non-productive' does not mean S&M is of no economic consequence or that it 'produces' no interpersonal value. In such a world belief will be the enactment of faith between vulnerable bodies and a demolition of the isolating politics of capitalistic exchange. This is where theology has much to learn from a model of non-productive pleasure in intense exchange.
This critical awareness raises a further question of how theology can transform S&M. What becomes. valorizing the pleasures outside models of deprivation and sexuality. '[I]t draws'. following Bataille. At the heart of physical rapture. It requires us to recognize the complexity of intense exchange and imderstand the value and danger of such engagements. She suggests that 'sacrifice. we have to face the problem of 'idolatry' (and here I am grateful to Hugh Pyper and Benedikte Uttenthal for bringing this question to my mind). Submission without a purpose or symbolism other than its own pleasure simply becomes a form of . as she says. through either the dominant or the submissive position. which find pleasure in the desire to control pleasure or the 'excess' that would challenge the ecclesiastical regulation of the body. 'the divine back into the body and transports the body in the intensity of its pain to the divine' (MacKendrick 1999: 86). MacKendrick argues.24 Theology & Sexuality in a relational world that institutions have considerably impoverished. who suggests in her clinical papers that 'masochism' might be the shadow side of 'worship and surrender to a deity' (Gordon 1993: 274). Society and the institutions which frame it have limited the possibility of relationships because a rich relational world would be very complex to manage' (Foucault 1982: 38. MacKenderick. the Spirit'. It is the unmanageability of S&M exchanges that threatens orthodox theological systems. enable us to see how important it is to develop a critical framework for our physical expressions. The difference. however. This can be seen most clearly in the work of Jungian psychologist Rosemary Gordon. as making the body the new space of religious experience—brings about a loss of theological order for the act of submission. as examined through questions of the material economy of our intense exchanges. in contemporary S&M is that pleasure is now validated through the act of privation (MacKendrick 1999: 86). 'unquestionably powerful' in such a move is the way such subversion is found in the very 'conformity to religious demands' of the past Christian tradition. selfsacrifice and expressions of humility are part of veneration and worship of God. What Gordon is suggesting is that the death of God—which Foucault saw. Idolatry and Critical Consensuality The oppressive and liberating aspects of S&M. emphasis added). is correct to realize that this paradoxical point of Christian theology returns us to the bodily practices held in Christian asceticism and brings about new understandings of divinity. which is an important representational shift. of course. She goes on to say that if this need becomes 'isolated' from God or spirit it becomes an end in itself and thus we may argue a commodification of bodies and selves.
Foucault has shown . but as Linden shows. These positions of power and powerlessness in the fabric of our everyday life and work shape (and at times mirror) the intimate spaces of our sexual world and reflect the passionate drives and vulnerabilities of such connections in all their confused. angry and joyous forms. Our consent in late capitalist society is manufactured and. We assume different roles in giving and receiving. we also need to ask whether they are given by God (the presence of love and justice) as Christ was given to the torturous pains of crucifixion out of love for the world. It is only through these critical concerns that we can begin to make sense of the intensity of our embodied living in late capitalistic society. we find a ritual of exchange where bodily intensity and limits become pathways to intimate expressions of love. In the loss of self in submission to the other. Indeed. The politics of consensuality moves us through questions of the freedom of choice. or in the responsible act of dominance. while the 'violations' may well be therapeutic and personally liberating in such a world. what William James called the 'unseen presence'. with models of desire rather than pleasure and intensity. The divine presence in acts of erotic exchange transforms them into mysterious encounters with our God-given power and our submission to God's loving power. directing and following and holding and being held. Contemporary Christianity is caught in a model of human relations determined by its structures of 'sexuality'. through the social and historical conditions that determine our consent (Linden et al. as Foucault made clear. But if S&M pleasures are located in the intense exchange between persons and the non-empirical realities.Carrette Intense Exchange 25 reasserting the psychosexual self. between life and its refusal to produce and its free will to celebrate the intensities of being alive. was the 'desexualisation of pleasure'. which. then the intensity of pleasure becomes a revelation of God (James 2002: 46-65). If these forms of relation are taken to levels of physical pain then we need always to interrogate the 'consensual politics' of such acts not only through the freedom of choice. There are levels of being dominant and submissive in life from childhood to old age where trust and love hold our vulnerability. as we saw in the anthropology of Gebhard. This loving intensity is a gift of the exchange between the created order and its creator. Conclusion: The Politics of Intensity and Intimacy The key contribution of S&M. God brings an ethic of value to games of submission and domination. shapes the contours of our everyday life. which sustains capitalism (see Carrette and King 2005: 54-86). the care of limits and the economics of our intense exchanges. 1982: 7).
demands integration of mind. what I want to suggest is that intensity and intimacy are seen as political categories of a new theological exchange. recognizing also that such households hide non-consensual sexual violence. it is the bringing of God into the world of pleasured life —an exchange in the erotic economy of God's justice and salvation. not some romantic sharing or commercial product. In such 'critically contractual' exchange a space is created for bodies and pleasure before God (the presence of love and justice). What is potentially dangerous about S&M (bondage and domination) is precisely its intense exchange. There is an emotional openness to the physical truths of the other. restrictions by bondage and acts of playful submission bring about the fracturing of hegemonic capitalistic sexuality by opening the possibility of loving pleasure without the abuse of power (even though such exchanges are always open to the spectre of capital and abuse). The Christian community needs to find a wider set of options in theology than the household economies of capitalism. Capitalism alienates the individual from pleasured relationships as a means of producing the unrealizable desire.26 Theology & Sexuality how the discourse of sexuality emerged from the history of Christianity. which is why they are so compatible (see Carrette 2004). it is the endless and unfulfilling pursuit of the impossible to produce and sustain uninterrupted capital. it demands self-disclosure. The voyeurism of pom. Intensity demands intimacy. It exploits the unlimited space of desire by constantly creating more desire. body and heart. not fearful closure or objectification of the other for one's own pleasures. where the 'pleasurable' pulling of hair. The challenge brought by the contemporary S&M scene to Christian theology is to create new forms of pleasure outside the modes of production found in the discourses of sexuality. Here humanity finds God in the delights of shattering the oppressive discourse of sexuality and discovering a vision of love (mutual affirmative exchange) in intense exchange. present and non-productive. but a new basis for Christian living in intense communities. While 'pleasureintensity' offers an exchange in terms of gifts across identity politics and non-sexual pleasures. Intimacy is intense because it demands the embodied reality of oneself in terms of fantasy enacted and a freedom in a pleasured exchange of the heart. Intense exchanges are dangerous to capitalism but not necessarily to a theology of loving power and humble reverence. Each of these acts requires us to be 'critically consensual' in order to explore the material relations of our intensity and the ethics of our painful pleasures. Pleasure on the other hand is fulfilment. In conclusion. 'Sexualitydesire' marks out identity into marketable objects (identities and transactions of consumption). the drunken one- . 'Pleasure-intensity' opens the realm of transgressive intensities.
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