On the Death of Eroticism

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A dear friend has recently provided what may be the best definition of eroticism I’ve come across. We were lamenting a series of cultural manifestations that seem to be having an impact in the ways we connect with our own bodies: disengagement, in one word. On one hand, our hostage condition to our own ethereal presence in social networks – the self as a compressed image file, endlessly rehearsed, heavily contrasted; on the other hand, an inescapable conformity directly linked to the oppressive, mutual surveillance of social media that once promised self-expression – and ended up cultivating a phobic rejection of the complex and not promptly decipherable. The body as a bipolar battlefield, pointing towards its own spectacular representation, no longer able to acknowledge itself, as the body itself has surrendered to codification beyond use.

Eroticism is the intuition of a field of possibilities, my friend said. On second thought, one may add: Eroticism is the intuition of an imminent field of possibilities beyond codification. It is the body shining through, devoid of agenda, imposition, pattern. A paradoxical sense of coming home while overtaken by a vertigo of how, out of nowhere, Home has acquired this improbable configuration.

This field of possibilities is not purely anatomical, nor is it performative – although it may include these as ingredients. The experience of eroticism transcends its parts, its signs, guiding us back towards the essential, existential territory of ambivalence. It is therefore narrative before all else: it requires investment, anticipation, a desire for inner growth and a longing for wholesomeness. In an age of paradox, how telling that a surgical extraction may actually end up returning us to our own bodies in ways otherwise now inaccessible: ablation a reminder of our own pursuit for physicality, beyond formula, beyond prescription, an irreducibly solitary journey. The body as humble witness of the wondrous, tortuous path versus the body as denying construction of a hysterical timelessness.

And this is why Eroticism has died. This field of possibilities beyond codification has been rendered impossible by the current mechanics of post-digital seduction that demand pouting, waxing, laughing, re-touching, pranking, provoking, smiling, alluring, photoshopping, geo-locating, tagging, hallucinating, consuming the spectacle of the cute, statistical other while never consummating our redemption in face of the unconditional Other.

The colossal, puerile “end of privacy” hoax does not take into account that the depths of human existence are singular, and therefore untranslatable. Our algorithmic apps will know what we like, all else is null. As one breathes the rule of total transparency, one either entrenches his/her integrity beyond readability (i.e., stops breathing), or abdicates of complexity and enters an acquiescent, abbreviated “fiction of the self” – an inevitable cycle of banality, unable to flourish among the depth of human awe. Our eyes swollen with digital fatigue, glaring bulimically into stuff while gradually unlearning how to actually gaze into the eyes of another, as the Other we reciprocate is now simply an orbiting pastiche of ourselves. As the screen replaces the gaze, so the touchscreen replaces touch.

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