Monday, December 04, 2006

Pleasure, Continued

Mark, bless him, has joined our little pleasure party:
The question, that is, is why ought I to prefer "anti-absorptive" texts to "immersive" ones? It's in the "ought" that the rub resides, no? for the question of why do I prefer such texts to other sorts of texts ends up boiling down to either a question of biographical taste (Adorno's dreaded "culinary" approach to art) (eg I like late modernist poetry because I have a disposition, nurtured on bales of densely detailed Richard Scarry books and crossword puzzles and so forth, towards the complex and open-ended), or to a Bourdieuesquely-mapped position within the field of production, consumption, & distinction (which, if you're deeply committed to poetry, is a pretty depressing perspective from which to view matters).
Since I rather like both of these approaches--the culinary and the cultural-positioning--I'm a bit puzzled here. What's exactly wrong with them? Isn't the problem simply that neither lets you take pride in liking one thing more than another? They're humbling; they don't let you feel smug or self-approving in your scorn for NASCAR and McRib sandwiches. (I write this as Talking Heads sing "Psycho Killer" on the iPod--back in 1977, I knew how superior I was for liking punk rock, rather than, I don't know, Fleetwood Mac or Bob Seger. But dude, I'm 40-something now; how on earth could I take such distinctions as seriously as I did when I was 14 or 15?)

Mark goes on:
The deus ex machina here is to invoke a political or (which often boils down to the same thing) moral argument: that anti-absorptive work is somehow better for you, or that it somehow works to change the world (not immediately, not directly, not vulgar-Marxistly) by altering the way you or your readers conceive the world.

In my bones I believe that these arguments are more or less right, tho I have yet to see them stated in a way that I find more than temporarily convincing.
In my bones, I believe that these arguments are more or less wrong. I have yet to see a shred of evidence. Show me the money, Mark, Josh, or anyone. Point me to any example of an anti-absorptive work changing the world. (For the better? I assume you mean for the better.) I can think of absorptive works that might have done so. ("Yo Soy Joaquin / I am Joaquin," by Rudolfo "Corky" Gonzalez comes to mind, but it's probably vulgar-Marxist. The romantic erotica published by Kensington Brava comes to mind--the editor of the series is guest blogging today over here, quite delightfully, but it's probably not what Mark or Josh has in mind, either.)
I want to believe wholeheartedly, but I'm still skeptical. And it does ultimately come around to the issue of pleasure: what I want is a convincing account of the pleasure of what's difficult – perhaps analogous to the pleasure I take in a 100-proof habaƱero sauce on top of a plate of black beans & rice, a pleasure that involves two minutes of searing pain & buckets of sweat – an account that won't (disregard that last analogy) fall back upon the culinary, try to convince me that reading My Life is like a good bout of S/M, or preach to me about the virtues of asceticism like the aged Scottish Covenanter penguin in Happy Feet.
Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!

Mark, it's time that you and I wrote the book on this. I'll bring the flogger, you bring the hot sauce; we'll have us a party. Tell me when you're up for it--there's no one as ready as we are.

(P.S. I'm posting on this topic today over at Teach Me Tonight also, in the hope that some of the folks who read that blog will offer suggestions. Barthes, Adorno, Freud, Lacan, even Aristotle (whose distinction between sensory pleasure and eudaimonia is probably relevant): have you noticed that the critical discourse on this subject is pervasively by men? Something wrong with that, gentlemen. Let's rectify the situation, pronto.

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