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Eternalize the Drive: notes on orchestras and orgasms

A story in The New York Post about a woman apparently having what patrons seated nearby at the Los Angeles symphony described as an orgasm senza sordino pricked up my ears for obvious reasons.

Lifted from an L.A. Times article, it’s just the sort of spicy content the Post adores. Titillating tabloid clickbait. Yet I paid particular attention to this story because I, too, recently attended an otherwise pleasing orchestral concert, entitled Rafael Payare: from Andalusia to the Plains of Venezuela, at the OSM. I won’t embarrass the woman who was sitting with me, only to say that she did not achieve screaming climax. The orchestra did all they could. I also offered.

But seriously, folks.

The invasion of gratuitous extreme sexuality into public space really should sound more worrying. This is not, as it superficially may appear, a cathartic expression of creative sexual liberation, or some Reichian reclamation of the repressed libidinal order; this is the sudden erosion of social mores that evolved over centuries and are the foundation of civil society.

An orgasm at the symphony is not a beautiful expression of passion; it is a public sexual assault, full-stop. Even if there was consent involved in the act, none was granted in its publicity. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for coming to the orchestra. Just not cumming at the orchestra.

In October, 2022, as Ukraine was preparing for the foreboding winter ahead, amidst the threat of nuclear annihilation, a group formed in Kiev to organize an orgy in which hundreds of participants enlisted to have every kind of public sex. One partaker characterized the event as “the opposite of despair.”

Radio Free Europe covered the story. Then Vice. Predictably, The Post picked up on it, ‘orgy’ being one of the publication’s top ten keywords. Next, Žižek wrote an op-ed applauding the sexual revelers, employing the argument that a pleasurable orgy was justified in the face of more horrific uses of sex and sexuality — namely, the evidence of genocidal rape.

Žižek might know. Members of the Bosnian Serb Army were convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for using sexual violence as part of an ethnic cleansing policy during the Bosnian War. The public nature of those terrifying crimes and their seeming routineness shocked their victims and the world.

Russian soldiers are using the same tactics. To the victims of these kinds of sexual violence and others that remember, a public orgy would function as another trigger as effective as a land mine in inflicting trauma. An orgy in Kiev in a time of war is arguably another form of sexuality weaponized against its own people.

In the West, we have been shedding our supposed sexual inhibitions at an alarming rate over the past century or so. This is one of the key differences between classically capitalist and communist societies: attitudes toward sex. For Westerners, embracing every new niche identity and accompanying sexual practice was a sure sign of the freedom of liberal democracies. To Russia, it became the ultimate confirmation of our bourgeois decadence. Fighting fire with proverbial fire, Russia paradoxically utilizes genocidal rape as a strategy to combat that moral decay. Yet the West seems less shocked now than we were during the 1990s Bosnian conflict.

One reason is precisely the fascination that a woman having a screaming full-body orgasm at the symphony arouses. A culture obsessed with absorbing the cultural shock of public sexuality is one which has eternalized the drive and made desire itself the object of desire. No longer is the goal to pursue when pursuit becomes the ultimate goal, when fixation on sexuality is itself the new form of sexuality. The libidinal drive is furthermore displaced fully away from both its natural procreative and symbolic revolutionary potential. An orgasm at the orchestra renders the most explicit the most quotidian. Just another boring dystopia. Social decay porn.

Since the fall of the former Soviet Union, Western liberal society has been preoccupied with defanging the old Foucauldian disciplinary enclosures — school, hospital, prison, institution. But Deleuzian Control societies replaced them, as protocol usurped discipline, and digital technologies more and more began to organize and regulate modern life. The private and public spheres became disputed terrain, too, as social networks over the past two decades increasingly encouraged the publicizing of our once-private lives. No Baby Boomer ever accidentally encountered boudoir photos of their friends — or worse, relatives — on Facebook.

But we’re still subjects. And as subjects, we’re still subject to being subjected to Control. We just lived through extreme enclosure in which our own homes were transformed into prisons from which we were granted conditional and fluctuating release. And now that we’re back out, we’re all the way out.

In an effort to release ourselves from our restrictive disciplinary enclosures, we in the West have eradicated discipline, but not the enclosure. So we are instead left enclosed with the undisciplined.

Sexual exhibitionism is shocking because it should be shocking. When it ceases to be, then other forms of violence — like an attack on a sovereign nation — appear all the more acceptable, too. We must resist the creeping acceptance of every form of violence: sexual, physical, psychological, economic — all of it.

A common English-language phrase when everything seems to be going wrong, is: ‘fuck it all.’ That saying has taken on a grim literality, as it appears more and more people nowadays are choosing to say fuck everything, in every way, including being properly fucked. But what differentiates us as moral creatures is our ability to choose not to fuck it all. Even though we could, we don’t. It’s what separates us from animals. It’s what makes us human.

There must be some places in which we are not bombarded with casual sex of varying degrees of disturbance. But most of all, I don’t want to wonder if something is wrong every time my date doesn’t have a screaming full-body orgasm at the symphony.◼︎

Photo: Antoine Saito


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