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Branding the Species
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    The Five Steps to Mysticism
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    Branding the Species
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    Bataille's Eroticism Explained
    Project: Branding the Species
    Eroticism, as explained by French writer/philosopher Georges Bataille, is a very specific concept. Overall we can define eroticism as one of two (related) things: 1) a state where one is either sexually aroused or in anticipation of sexual arousal, and 2) the aestheticartistic spirit & depiction of sexual desire. Bataille, however, thought to interpret eroticism more in the terms of human nature. To him eroticism was the desire for us to go beyond the limits of subjectivity & humanity and enter into a transgression of the ephemeral.

    …Does this sound familiar? Wham! It directly correlates with Mysticism, which is also about leaving the subjective world and being in communion with something other. Mysticism and eroticism are different concepts that talk about the same thing, basically. They arrive at their conclusions in a different manner, but in the end the conclusion is the same, which is the human desire to escape earthly things and enter into a transcendent state.

    In order to understand Bataille's perspective on eroticism, we must start by talking about his concept of fear. To Bataille, when a person's deeply held beliefs about Truth (such as the existence of a God) are challenged, when they start to see that it is all a human construction, fear comes in and consumes the person, leaves them totally bare (notice a semblance here to one of the steps of Mysticism as discussed before). When this has happened all that a person can do is supplicate, reach out their hand and wait for help. But since they have already accepted the fact that there is no God, it is not to He whom they are supplicating; in fact they don't know. Being so vulnerable and empty, a sacrifice takes place that elicits the ecstasy. The fear sets one free as it "cleans up" our innermost thoughts & feelings, and if a person is able to endure this, they will come out of the other side with ecstasy. This part is very analogous to something I'll discuss in a future post regarding the chemistry behind what is called the Runner's High, which is essentially the body producing endorphins when a runner has already run a long distance in order to keep the body functioning. The key to surviving the fear and coming out in ecstasy in the other side is, according to Bataille, having an awareness of yourself. Again we have a connection between another part of my research, this time the different Elements of Flow, in which awareness, concentration, and focusing were very important in trying to achieve flow.

    Another important term to understand is the concept of the ipse-being, and the desire to be in communion. Ipse-being is the part of us characterized as being autonomous & separate to the world around us. At the same time, this part of us paradoxically is aware that it is unnatural to be such a hermit and so struggles with both being so independent and desiring not to be. This desire to not be independent is related to the desire of people, in their hearts, to be in communion with the sacred.

    It is with this that we arrive at eroticism, finally. Whew! In my opinion, I think Bataille thought that eroticism was the ultimate way of being in communion and achieving spiritual ecstasy. I say this because of the way he talks about it. Eroticism has all the properties of ecstasy. The orgasm is the equivalent of fear, as when we are in orgasm we enter Emptiness and the whole world is suspended, we are transcended to another place. Intense focusing and concentration take place in eroticism. In all four dimensions there is a central point where all is concentrated and all consciousness of the outside world is erased. In the spatial dimensions, this is the genital area and/or the lover's kiss. In the temporal dimension, it is the moment of orgasm. This is the so-called famous Ecstatic Moment, where the ipse-being completely disintegrates.

    Another important aspect for Bataille is that eroticism is basically an act of violence. It is not an act of violence in our normal sense of the word. He is not talking about rape or S&M (necessarily...) or anything like that. Instead, it is the violence inflicted on us by the Other, that jerks us out of our normal consciousness and violates our innermost core. As Bataille says himself, it is "a violation bordering on death, bordering on murder."

    For Bataille, in eroticism the crucial act is stripping naked. This act, though seemingly basic & simple, is on the subconscious level more than just taking off clothes. Clothing is not the only thing that is removed when stripping naked, a person's usual self is also disposed. The way this works is that when we are naked we feel obscene; this triggers an uneasiness within us that disrupts the self's usual self-identity and standing. See how, again, for the umpteenth time, one concept of my research correlates with another. Here the act of stripping naked and the loss of self that comes along with it is related to the fear of the person who has let go of their spiritual dispositions (as talked about earlier in this post). The act of losing everything is here symbolically represented by the stripping of the clothes.

    The final piece of Bataille's interpretation of eroticism is one of the most fundamental; indeed, it connects several other aspects of my research together. Bataille says that when the erotic activity is consummated, both participants will have been stripped of their selves, and what is revealed is what he calls their "fundamental continuity, like the waves of a stormy sea". This "fundamental continuity" refers to a place where all existence can go, this kind of sacred place. I'll list the equivalents of my other research directions to this concept:

      • This is Step 5 in Underhill's mysticism process, a union with the Other in Eternity that results after one has gone through the other mystical steps
      • Related to Csikszentmihalyi calling "flow" because people who he interviewed felt like they were being "carried by a current"
      • Related to my personal experience when in flow of feeling as if I am being carried by something Other, such as when running my 5K races, riding rollercoasters, and when swimming at the beach

    Understanding eroticism, especially Bataille's interpretation, can be confusing & sometimes paradoxical. The fundamental thing to remember is that it is only a different manifestation of mysticism, just as flow is. Mysticism, eroticism, and flow. It has been my daily bread this entire quarter; I hope you can also eat, drink, & live these amazing concepts and realize how important they are in branding the human species.

    Tue, May 20, 2008  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Branding the Species
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    vis     Thu, May 29, 2008  Permanent link
    Well stated. But I have a question, are there times when removing one's clothing has no intent of the erotic? I'm not speaking of taking a shower or sleeping in the nude, but when one of my models disrobes for a photo shoot. To some VIEWERS (of my photographs) their interpretation is that there is some aspect of the erotic. Since most comments along these lines have come from americans, they interpret any nudity other than personal hygiene as having at the very least some aspect of sexuality/eroticism. Americans seem fixated on sex, they deny their sexuality but are one of the biggest consumers of porn. They see everything in sexual terms when nudity is involved. You would be surprised how often I'm asked if I had some sexual liaison with one of my models.

    I taught a college course in Erotic Art and literature at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena California. It was a popular class and we dealt with the erotic from early man to the present. Although early depictions of erotic imagery in caves had a much different intent than today's eroticism.

    Thanks for this very well written piece on George Bataille.
     
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