“We cannot reduce sexual desire to that which is agreeable and beneficent. There is in it an element of disorder and excess which goes as far as to endanger the life of whoever indulges in it.”
Georges Bataille, Literature and Evil 1
In the past, when accounts of explicit sexual desire were prohibited and, by necessity, written, distributed and consumed in secret, social values and both physical and social consequences constantly acted as a reality check on any fantasy of sexual excess. While fiction may have represented sexual desire as wholly agreeable and beneficent, the world around the reader was full of warnings (e.g. social condemnation, loss of status, unwanted pregnancy, venereal disease, etc.) to the contrary – especially, but not exclusively for women.
Today, pornography is ubiquitous and does present sexual desire as wholly agreeable and wholly beneficent. Not in contravention or transgression of predominant cultural norms, but in agreement with them. This is especially true anywhere in our culture where sex and commerce overlap. In the promotion of products, services and marketable personas, in the sales of erotic media or sex aides. One begins to wonder if the only reason sex work itself is still widely condemned in the public sphere today is simply because neither governments nor major corporations have found a way to make a profit from it.
Two parts of Bataille’s statement are worth examining. The first is whether, as Bataille contends, sexual desire does contain this element of self-destructive disorder and excess, or whether this was simply a consequence of a culture’s resistance to openly discussing sexual desire. The second is his assertion that, in presenting sexual desire as agreeable and beneficent, we reduce it to something less than what it is.
What do you think?
- Bataille, Georges. Literature and Evil. Trans. Alastair Hamilton. London: Penguin Books, 2012. Print.p. 102 ↩