Notes on Pleasure

With Desire the subject believes it knows what it wants in advance; this determination can render that subject oblivious to those proximate pleasures – those things that might happen in the vicinity of desire, or on the outskirts of desire, or to the side of it – that might effect some real change in the terms of one’s self constitution or effect what some would call desubjectification.

Desire fixes its objects in a situation that inevitably fails to deliver the plenitude it strives to attain in its single minded pursuit; in desire satisfaction is obstinate and insatiable; experienced in and through lack; (of course this is said to be constitutive of desire’s very structure). Desire is the dogged pursuit of an object whose properties and affordances are presumed to be known in advance, according to a list of interests specified in advance that tend to function also as exclusion criteria.

The move to cast desire as a productive force is more promising but still premised on some fixing of objects, if not the effects of this process of striving. Whether productivity is the only name for these effects is a moot point: destructivity would be just as apt as description when the striving is not altered in some way by what it has occasioned.

By contrast, the bid to notice and find enjoyment in the unpredicted event might get you somewhere in the sense of becoming other to the self that desire fixes and keeps in its regulatory suspension. For pleasure is not fully known or determined in advance, it so often relies on an encounter or event that takes you unawares, defies expectations and introduces a disturbance (small or large) into what you thought you knew about yourself and what you wanted. Whatever the identity of pleasure, it is emergent.

If desire myopically leads you along its road of single-minded determination in a desperate hunt for some manifestation of its identified form, pleasure bids that we open ourselves to what is novel, unfamiliar, curious or strange; some thing that moves us in unexpected ways, ways which couldn’t have been anticipated in advance, and that would indeed diminish in the presence of too self-assured an anticipation.  Pleasure is an openness to the unknown encounter induced by some optimism about what that encounter might afford, even if this optimism can be tinctured by fear of the dangers that any encounter might also deliver.

The best example I can give right now of these different orientations is the contrast between two stances that any dance party participant will be familiar with: The ‘circler’, on a mission to find something or someone that will make the night worthwhile; that will redeem an otherwise worthless event by embodying an achievement or personifying a goal whose attainment is thought to structure the meaning and purpose of the event. The quest becomes desperate and the crusader comes to embody that structure of desperation and disappointment, at the expense of other modes of participating in the occasion. This posture overrides any other way of inhabiting the space, engaging with others, connecting with friends or strangers, enjoying whatever occasion might emerge were they to make themselves available to the ‘whatever’ of that occasion.

Quite different to desire – which is presumed to be arrived at through deep self-knowledge or prolonged introspection or the scientific calculation of ones identity, needs, or requirements ….or by ticking the boxes that would claim to tell you definitively what you want or ought to be – pleasure is nothing but an event that happens, whose open-endedness derives from the creative but provisional work of making something of it; of co-inventive labour; of plunging into what is awkward, unknown, risky, exciting, unguaranteed and self-disruptive about any sort of contact with others

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Filed under Affect, Engagement with medicine, Erogenous zones, Eroticism and fantasy, Sexual practice

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