with THE STROKER (PT II)
a video by PILVI TAKALA
Abstract: What’s wrong with flirting? Why does online dating suck? Luce deLire answers: it’s capitalism. What can we do? We can develop counter-paradigms of seduction. Drawing on a trip to the Pink Totaliterian Re-education Camp (PTRD), deLire exemplifies this strategy in a model of receptive flirting, seven hands-on flirt exercises, and her own take on de-commodified love.
For the longest time, I was confused about the nature of heterosexual flirtation. Each time a heterosexual man would flirt with me, all I could hear was a resounding: “DICK?!” But I had no idea what that was supposed to mean or how to respond. Once, a man walked up to me while I was writing at a bar in Berlin, around 3 a.m. He said: “If you keep staring at this screen, you’ll soon need glasses.” I turned to him and responded: “And then I’ll look like you—or what?!” A middle-aged white European wearing glasses himself, he was very much taken aback and trailed off. Another time, my then partner and I were approached by a male teenager who expressed his fantasy of a threesome with two women by whistling: “Wow, I would love to get in between you right now!” To which I responded: “Yeah. And then you can suck my dick.” He was utterly confused and stopped pestering us. Yet in both cases, I had simply taken their advances literally and responded accordingly. But apparently that was not what they were looking for. What then is hetero-patriarchal flirting about?
Moments of first interaction often articulate a promise, an offer regarding what a social relation could look like. How will we relate? How will we care for each other? These men offered me oppression. They proclaimed: DICK! PHALLUS! POWER! OBEY! This toxic paradigm of erotics as obedience is here especially pronounced, embodied by straight men. Yet this pattern often occurs in less radical degrees and in non-cishet bodies as well, for example, when people insist on taking care of you by re-structuring your life, by reprimanding you for spending too much money, or not enough time at the gym, or by constantly making sure that your clothes fit correctly, your makeup is accurate, and all you say is nothing but the truth, and it accords to this or that normative framework. In short: they offer to become an extension of your super ego. But these kinds of relations are not just characterized by the imposition and adherence to some (at times secret) standard. Underneath the psychological formation of the superego lives the material reality of the police officer. The police officer is the guardian of property. The ideology of property is such that the use of your property is reserved exclusively for you, while everybody else is excluded from its use. My bank account, my white leather heels, and my sex toys are mine in that I alone decide if, how, and when they are being used (including all the notable exceptions, of course). The police prevent illegitimate use of property (allegedly). Broadly speaking, there may be police officers of property and capital in the classical sense, but also of cultural capital, of social capital, of emotional, intellectual, and most importantly, libidinal capital. And where flirting happens under the eyes of a police officer, it becomes toxic: it may feel nice initially, but is ultimately restrictive. The relation spun out of such toxic flirtation will soon turn into a prison, guarded by the police officers already present in the very first move. If joy is an increase of the desire that constitute us, then the restrictive relationship, woven out of toxic flirtation and guarded by the libidinal police, is a place of utter sadness, and necessarily so.
The almost universal logic of the police as agent of the commodification of everyday life is most obvious in the neoliberal mode of seduction. Everybody knows that dating apps require the full scale commodification of the self. On any such app, we turn ourselves into products, increasing our market value as best we can while simultaneously trying to prevent being returned to the shelf (the app) because the product did not match the ad (the profile). What is less talked about is the kind of subject these apps interpellate: a subject that chooses and is being chosen, according to preferences and other criteria. It is in fact nothing but the homo economicus, the neoliberal subject as consumer, whose primary concern is to strike a good deal, to make a good cut. The point is that dating apps turn their users into subjects of this kind, because this is the kind of subjectivity required by their overall design. The apogee of neoliberal seduction is ghosting, online and offline: Insofar as potential partners are mere commodities, they are disposable, expendable goods. Salad, crypto, yourfuturelover567 – the difference becomes marginal. Really, the entitlement to spontaneously interrupt an ongoing conversation or social relation without warning is a genuine expression of the commodified self. In ghosting, individual agents enact their alleged right to enter and withdraw from any (social) contract, assign and revoke the license to use their time, attention and a bare minimum of care whenever, wherever, engendered (and sometimes required) by the design of neoliberal capitalism.
“Do you want a dick?”
“Yes I want babies!”
“Love” in this scenario becomes an extension of negative freedom, a space within which shared interests are pursued with added mutual support. It’s an asset, not a relation. Of course, many things can function as BABIES—a dog, a home, a life together, endless consumption of MDMA in dark rooms. The sky is the limit, and in restricted domains of neoliberal culture the hetero-patriarchal model has been pink washed into homonormative counterparts. And yet, the logic of property, of signification as insemination, remains the same: yes, we want to have something particular together. We want to own something—and that is why we need to negotiate in date form whether we want to invest in each other. However, I am not saying that apps don’t work. They can get you laid, coupled up, or even married. Maybe they don’t work better or worse than non-app dating, who knows. But the point is that they work because they respond to and function within a larger social framework: the total commodification of everyday life. And wherever that is not the case, it will be perceived as a refreshing exception to the overwhelming paradigm of seduction as contractual negotiation.
Is there another way? Yes.
Many people think that we need new narratives or new strategies to oppose the seemingly overwhelming power of neoliberal capitalism. I disagree. The new is too slow for the job. The new will only enter the marketplace of ideas, practices, and revolutionary proposals as yet another commodity with no other “radical potential” than to produce profit for some of its shareholders. But most importantly, the message most likely to arrive is the one that has been there all along. For all signification, all intelligibility is based on repetition. You always only see things in relation to what you have seen before, you always only understand things within previously established frameworks. And likewise, each action must be formed from whatever has existed before, each thing is created from the materials at hand. Thus, there is no novelty, no change, no revolution without repetition. In fact, repetition is the only way forward. For whereas we constantly repeat, we always repeat in another situation, another context, another set up, which is why the repetition will look just a little bit different, its effects will be just a little off. And that is how progress happens: repetition with a difference. Yet the question is: repetition of what? The point is thus not to come up with something “new” that may function as a disposable political project in the ever-hungry marketplace of ideas. Rather, the point is to repeat something that can unfold some gravitational pull against the given toxic paradigm of neoliberal seduction as contractual negotiation and policing. Thus, we need to access material affective resources that are already available. We need to find and kindle existing counter-paradigms, develop them, take care of them, let them grow, become enmeshed in them, popularize them, and thus change the material conditions that already exist. In what follows, I want to describe such a counter paradigm as I encountered it.
During my work with Comrade Josephine, the famed face of the revolutionary movement known as “Pink Totaliterianism,” I was lucky to visit a few sessions at a Pink Totaliterian Re-education Camp (PTRC). The camp functioned simultaneously as a corrective facility and an experimental site, a libidinal lab of sorts. The participants were mostly political activists, artists, burned-out managers, teenagers sent in by parents concerned about the social ineptness of their offspring, and meditation maniacs on the lookout for the next frontier. One exercise that people were encouraged to engage in was the extension of flirtatious behavior to situations traditionally thought of as non-erotic. This is one of the ways in which Pink Totaliterians try to redirect life from the accumulation of capital to the accumulation of pleasure. In so doing, they repeat an existing, though minor, social paradigm, transforming it into a full-blown alternative to life as we know it (or that’s the plan at least).
Pink Totaliterians understand “flirtation” to mean the form that seduction takes in direct interaction. They insist that flirting in particular, and seduction more generally, are not essentially connected to sex. And indeed, there is another mode of seduction, a genre of social connection in its own right, one that thrives on pleasure and the tantalizing, enticing play of various desires with one another. This is the kind of flirting that happens casually between strangers, at the dance floor, or within committed relationships. It’s you and me at a bar, or through a messaging app, etc. and may be articulated in a look, an off-hand joke, or a whole, late-night conversation. It is seduction for pleasure, seduction to please, not to bring about an extra-seductive goal. Yet any such possible goal may well be integrated in the process. Sex, drinks, and gifts may all occur within this kind of seduction. Yet they are not the envisioned ends. Rather, they are elements in the general process of seduction, and the more enthusiastic the consent, the more powerful sex, drinks, and gifts will become, and not the other way around.
Part of the process is to unlearn the understanding of one’s individuality, autonomy, independence, etc. as the articulation of some hidden inside of a singular being, divided from the world. Inversely, the pink individual is marked by receptivity, openness to an “outside” that is understood to be continuous with the self like in a Möbius strip. Receptivity is understood as a state beyond activity and passivity. The receptive seducer gets absorbed, loses herself in relationality, potentially returning to something that did not exist, or did not exist like that, before. Yet in receptive flirting, the detour, the non-arrival itself is exactly what arrives, what will have been “meant” to arrive. Receptive flirting is an enactment of repetition, with a difference, as described above, which Pink Totaliterians try to habituate as a revolutionary practice at an everyday micro level. In this sense, Pink Totaliterians understand flirting as a genuine transition: repetition begetting progress, where progress is not understood as approximation of a model but as a material process that pushes itself forward, constantly generating resources for more movement, more transition.
From the position of neoliberal flirting, receptive flirting can only be read as an infinite detour, inappropriate and at times encroaching, as it does not obey the boundaries between sexy times and non-sexy times, and neither does it envision a clear start nor end point. Yet that does not mean that my time at the PTRC would have been dominated by activist blokes bluntly creeping up on me, asking for initiation fucks. Quite the contrary. I felt an almost ultimate care and a genuine desire to make flirtation enjoyable for all participants, no matter how many were involved.
The two most important aspects of receptive flirting that I gathered from my visit at the PTRC are hospitality and permeability, which are basically the same thing in different respects. “Hospitality,” in this sense, means—tentatively—to account and make space for other people’s actions, needs, and expressions more generally. “Permeability,” however, is the ability—tentatively—to let yourself be transformed by the interaction with someone (or something) else. In matters of seduction, we need to be hospitable to one another—we need to allow for them to unfold, pick up on what they say and what they do, enter the game, and keep playing it. Instead of limiting the other, we want to provide a stage for them to shine. Simultaneously—and this is basically the same thing—we need to let ourselves become the other, pick up on their facial expressions, their puns, and mannerisms. What is hospitality toward the other is permeability towards ourselves. For the point here is not to insist on a solid identity for ourselves that is to be sold, but to wrap ourselves into one another and become something different, to envelop instead of developing. And in this sense, receptivity sidesteps signification as insemination, avoids marketability and does not submit to the logic of “DICK?!”—”BABIES!”
LUCE DELIRE writer
PILVI TAKALA artist
Pilvi Takala is an artist living and working between Berlin and Helsinki. Her video works are based on performative interventions in which she researches specific communities in order to process social structures and question the normative rules of our behavior. Her works show that it is often possible to learn about the implicit rules of a social situation only by its disruption. Her work has been shown at MoMA PS1, New Museum, Palais de Tokyo, Kiasma, Kunsthalle Basel, Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Manifesta 11, Careof, CCA Glasgow, International Film Festival Rotterdam, HotDocs, Witte de With, and the 9th Istanbul Biennial. Takala won the Dutch Prix de Rome in 2011, and the Emdash Award and Finnish State Prize for Visual Arts in 2013. Takala will represent Finland at the Venice Biennale, 2022.
THE STROKER (2018) 15:16 min two-channel video installation:
Director of Photography: Katharina Dießner
Sound Recording: Karl Laeufer, Luke David Harris
Editing: Elisa Purfürst
Sound Design: Christian Obermaier
Choreographer: Emma Waltraud Howes
Co-writer, Production Assistant: Iona Roisin
Production Assistant: Amelie Befeldt
Curator: Teresa Calonje Trenor
Title Design: Ana Fernandes
Performers: Donna Celay, Hais Hassan, Laura Hemming-Lowe, Manos Koutsis, Matthew Moorhouse, Patricia Mories, Iona Roisin, Emma Waltraud Howes
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