Purple Magazine
— F/W 2011 issue 16

Mehdi Belaj Kacem

Jocelyn in Cali, Colombia. Photo by Marlene Marino


Translation by Sara Sugihara


MEHDI BELAJ-KACEM is one of the most brilliant — and controversial — philosophers of his generation. For the past five years Belaj-Kacem has been working on a philosophical essay about sex, more specifically about women’s sexuality. He gave Purple this brief introduction to his upcoming book, Être et sexuation (Being and Sexuation), a post-Lacanian essay which will be published in French this coming winter.

First, a brief refresher on the deleuzian theory of masochism and its compelling, subtle nuances:

According to Deleuze, a masochist is someone who is able to take control of his desire and make it into “full desire,” increasing it, making it a desire that becomes more and more intense,
as — with the help of his Dominatrix — he manages to delay the moment of his orgasm longer and longer. The masochist is able to implement a plan of intense consistency for his desire,
an intense field, crowded with fantastic differences, all focused on indefinitely postponing the orgasm. This touches on two known terrains, philosophy and psychoanalysis. The masochist is someone who exemplifies the chastity so often lauded by philosophers. Spinoza, Deleuze’s preferred philosopher and the philosopher par excellence on the concept of “full desire,” was himself the most chaste of men, which is not an insignificant detail. Contrary to what psychoanalysis supposedly tells us, desire needs nothing; it is not affected by need. This would become one of Deleuze’s leitmotifs against psychoanalysis. The less one climaxes, the more one desires, as one moves into the exquisite pleasure of fantasy. This seems coherent.

But in the end, isn’t this line of argument topos, and therefore confined to the masculine position? This topos, this orgasm as the interruption of desire, got me to thinking. Can it be applied to the other side of the bed — as Lacan, that fountain of knowledge about women, might have said, with his somewhat gangster-like insolence? I thought about this empirically, and rather trivially, in terms of the many women I have known more or less biblically. When one asks women if orgasm represents for them the stopping point of desire, the least one can say is that the overwhelming majority of them seem quite baffled by the question.

Unlike the psychoanalytic snobs who disdain the empirical study of sexology, I do read a lot of books on sexology, and, irrespective of their period or country of publication, their message is both an open secret and thoroughly devastating: at least a third of the women studied — in certain studies, two thirds of them — never reach orgasm. This is called frigidity. So it would seem that for some women the greatest problem is not really fabricating — à la Deleuze — a “full desire,” constantly pushing back the moment of orgasm, but of simply having one at all, in whatever manner possible. The open secret is that some women often don’t get there — and that others never do.

The Deleuzian topos of an orgasm, the dialectical enemy of desire, which is automatically interrupted by it, is in fact a masculine topos — it does not apply to women. I’m reminded of the rather nasty joke told by two lesbian friends I am very fond of, militant activist women: Heterosexual sex is when the man tries not to come and doesn’t succeed, and the woman tries to come and doesn’t succeed, either.

This is something like Deleuze’s “feminist” response. Ironically, in order for the man not to come, he must submit himself to the woman — The Mistress — which is also the masochist’s task. Aside from the question about The Mistress and what happens to her, and how it happens, the fact that she does find satisfaction isn’t the question. The question is what kind of satisfaction she gets. Deleuze’s mature philosophy contains much on the consequences of this decision. But I shall dwell on our aporie, our discomfiture. The masochist’s “full desire” is to no longer be a slave to his own orgasm, but to the person who brings it to him, the woman as Dominatrix, who providentially impedes him from reaching his orgasm.

On the other side of the bed, the woman’s side, the mystery continues. In fact, we touch upon a problem that has always stymied psychoanalysis. As Lacan wrote in Encore:

I mean that women know nothing about orgasm. We’ve been begging them, on our knees we’ve been begging them — I mean women analysts — to try telling us about it, and the response has been silence, nada, dead air. So we call it what we can, this vaginal orgasm, and we talk about the posterior pole of the muzzle of the uterus and other crap like that. If only a woman felt it without being aware of it — that would help to cast doubt on the famous notion of frigidity. 

To feel it, yet not to be aware of it. The psychoanalysts started with the mystery of hysterical symptoms, finding through it the unconscious, and ended up in the absolute abyss of what knowledge was available about the female orgasm — from one unconscious to another, as a novelist might say. One thing is clear: Deleuze and his theory of “full desire” presupposes implicitly the theory of psychoanalytic castration, meaning the phallic climax as the stopping point of desire, if occasionally pierced by need and emptiness in masculine desire. So it is null and void in terms of the feminine position. The woman not only does not come systematically — and therefore does not have to try to postpone her orgasm to create “full desire” for herself — it seems that she doesn’t know much about orgasm itself, at least as far as Lacan is concerned. It is even probably why Freud discovered the unconscious on the feminine side rather than on the masculine side. If only because of this, psychoanalysis is not (yet) outdated, because we still don’t know much about female orgasm, and in spite of all the accomplishments of sexual liberation and pornography for the masses, we are still swimming in an ocean of unconsciousness. That, broadly speaking, is where I was. How do we get out of this mess?

It’s here that a Rousseauean point of view comes into the picture. It’s a bit more literal

and unsophisticated. Not only am I operating outside the university system, I’ve been living in the country. My Rousseauism has a touch of what is called Raw Art, which, unfortunately, is closer to a caricature of Rousseauism. Habituated to a peasant-like proximity with all kinds of mammals, and with my philosophical and psychoanalytical categories well in hand, as well as with the aporie [discomfort] which has been bothering me, I thought about what I have always observed when animals rut. Like Rousseau, I prudently made a few conjectures, a sort of hypothesis on the state of nature, about the mammals I was watching, a hypothesis that turned into the “libidinal” central thesis of my book. Meaning that, in our animal origins, from which we are separated by language, and what we call Culture — which, at this stage, is a pure negative supposition (as it would be with Rousseau, meaning that we would not have access to it unless we were indeed separated from that animal origin) — there is manifestly no difference between climax and desire itself, not from the human female side, but the femelle side, the female as gender. [The term femelle in French only refers to animals. Ed.]

The adjective femelle seems violent in French. The thesis itself is also violent in its prime formulation: the so-called mystery of female orgasm, which even Lacan gave up on, can be explained directly by the operation of a Rousseauean foundation, by which we posit that originally — in our pre-language biological originality — there was no difference in mammalian mating or rutting, between desire and climax in the female. Meaning there is a single libidinal substance in the Rousseauean hypothesis.

This is what happens, and these are the sort of concepts we dream up when we spend our time milking cows, as opposed to their masters: we imagine that the hermetically guarded secret of feminine orgasm is actually something other than orgasm, and that it’s the perfect identity of desire and orgasm.

I dare to use the adjective femelle, which will double the violence of the thesis by the violence of what we may call our semantic unconscious. My hypothesis, posed in these terms, produced violence at the beginning, especially for female interlocutors, but also for men, such as Olivier Zahm, the editor of Purple Fashion magazine, who was gallant enough to ask me if I wasn’t reducing women to their strict animality, when it was actually the exact opposite. So there was violence resulting from the hypothesis itself, doubled by the unconscious violence pervading our vocabulary. A kind of semantic misogyny historically weighs down the ensemble of idioms that we use to speak of sexuality. If you say the word male, no one sees anything pejorative in it. However if you say the word femelle, a slew of displaced connotations comes crashing through the gate.

It took me a year to explain this thesis to my companion, and it was not without a degree of difficulty, because of all the semantic sedimentation pejoratively corrupting our vocabulary in this area, proving that it takes repeated efforts to be a true feminist. After 45 minutes of violent abreaction /catharsis she did in fact begin to understand and from then on it all went very well for the best couple in the world!

Femelle — not woman — because a woman is precisely an animal of language, which has separated her from her animal situation. Another fact, which gives us a kind of simple Rousseauean matrix for what psychoanalysts have called castration, which can come after days of play and giving chase, is that when the male gets what he wants, his orgasm, the rut is interrupted for both the man and the woman. The sort of trance that affects the female — for days, sometimes — is interrupted with the ejaculation of the male. And during the time he is in rut the male does not show his desire like the female does. The rut is the orgasm for the female, but not for the male. Often the female seems to feel no pleasure during intercourse itself, as a good mujik (a pre-Revolutionary Russian peasant) like myself has observed. However, it can be for entire days, during what we behavioristically call the rut, that she seems to experience an almost continuous climax, which men cannot easily transpose to ourselves, into our anthropological enclosure, except in our imagination — the fantasy space whose logic both Lacan and Deleuze described so well. It’s all there. There are no women in rut, except in the misogynous metaphor inflated by the pornographic imagination. We do find something there. How? Let me quote someone — not a lofty thinker, but a writer who thinks a lot, one whom Lacan appreciated enormously, Philippe Sollers:

A friend of mine told me that what’s great about a woman is that it doesn’t end. The negative side is that it’s a fatiguing, processional activity, like Death, but still living. Rubbing is censured, fine, and it wasn’t me who invented excision (clitoral mutilation), and vaginal orgasm is still a question. One can be entirely sure about what happens with the clitoris, but as for the rest of it — well, you’ve been warned. There again, it seems important to stop lying and to underline the enormity of simulation in all this turmoil. So few men are informed that it’s funny; it’s all passionately hidden. Total confusion reigns. I hope to find a feasible historical moment when we can actually say the things that have never been said, in particular those about simulation. What is not “simulable,” on the other hand, is clitoral orgasm. That this is positive for a woman is not in doubt; but that it is extremely worrisome in terms of the metaphysical surveillance women are subjected to isn’t in doubt, either. Men in general are not aware of simulacra, which means that there are issues of power that are never analyzed. They believe they must get to it as fast as possible. Most women complain about this when we listen to them; they do not understand why the men act this way in order to penetrate them. And why is penetration obligatory, I ask you?

So, what is animal rutting, exactly? We have no idea, except that suggested by the exterior observations made by peasants like me, as opposed to city dwellers. It’s an identity of origin, as they say, and it’s at the beginning, as monotheism tells us, and we have no direct access to it, only the myth of Original Sin, that mysterious collusion of science and the libidinal: the tree of knowledge, the apple which Adam bit into at the instigation of Eve, and the sly Serpent. Man is a mammal separated from his animal origins by science in its extended sense. This is why he does not go back to those origins, except in parody. Our sexuality, especially in its most extreme form, is often targeted in parody, the repeating of that which we have lost — the talking mammal, being also the mammal dealing with sexual compulsion. In repetition we commemorate, repeat compulsively, that which we have definitely lost, what monotheism calls Original Sin. If my bucolic-metaphysical hypothesis, the hypothesis of the Rousseauean mujik, is correct, the “mystery” of female orgasm preserves the original animal identity of desire and orgasm, even where and when it is suppressed. This conservation-suppression is almost always done in a parody form.

What do they show us — in length, width, and extreme close-up — in the standard, normal, heterosexual pornography, the stuff they show on Canal+ on Saturday at midnight? Well, of course, it’s always women who climax /desire 24/ 7, waiting for the principal climax of these kinds of films, the phallic climax, which puts an end to the man’s desire. Now, we all know full well that this kind of climax, overacted by sex-industry professionals, as dear Marcela Iacub would say, isn’t a real climax, nor is the desire with which the climax is mimetically identified real.

Kaori Endo, the girlfriend and muse of the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, in Tokyo. Photo by Marlene Marino

But, nonetheless, it is this same masquerade, this same faking, which gives us the millions of images, all showing the same thing: women paid to act out — in the act of real, close-up intercourse — the ecstatic images of desire and orgasm, which is the truth of what we see. As in the natural matrix of mammalian mating, it all ends abruptly with the phallic climax, for both parties; whereas, at the center of pornographic imagery is the glorious phallic achievement. It’s psychoanalytic theory made literal, as in mass-market porn: de Sade made literal.

As Lacan said in the fateful speech he gave in Rome in 1975: it’s always the fake that leads the dance. The fake does not hide the truth, as a current philosophical cliché says, like Platonism, which has been reactivated by one of our eminent elders. And the fake cannot be truth itself, as a recent platitude would have it (something said by a certain postmodern anti-Platonist). Fakes are an enduring condition of truth, the one we have lost. The talking mammal that has lost all comprehension of what rutting is finds it again by parodying it. There is something commemorative in all parody, because initially — in the 16th century, if I remember correctly — parody was a musical genre, a religious thing. Fakes create anthropological truth by compulsively commemorating that which we have lost: the truth of our sexuality — a pure cultural artifact, voluntarist, supernumerary, the supposed “natural” sexuality — which we have indeed lost. We have no idea what animal rutting is, but by repeating it endlessly in the void, we create the entirety of our sexuality, for better or for worse — on both sides of the bed, as dear old Lacan might have said.

What I’m saying here will undermine the primacy of phallic orgasm. What’s left to explain is why it’s in what Deleuze calls “becoming woman,” and not only in masochism, that so many men seek a kind of supplementary orgasm, an intensity which the simple virile classical position, the plain old phallic orgasm, does not seem to be able to give them. It’s a sort of object statement, given the fact that there are significantly more male-to-female transsexuals than the other way around. Even in the phenomena of transvestitism, without pushing too much into masochism, statistically the choice is made in this direction.

With psychoanalysts, Lacan in particular, the hypothesis about all of this wavers between two points of view: one contends that there’s a supplementary, other female orgasm we don’t know much about, but which we can define as a kind of asymptote; the other is the pure, simple, nihilist declaration of the non-existence of a female orgasm equivalent in form or intensity to the phallic orgasm. Lacan was just as pessimistic, believing that the female orgasm, for all intents and purposes, is based on hysterical faking. If we accept, provisionally at least, this extremist but not impossible hypothesis, if we stay with this object lexicon, we still need to explain why so many men so willingly give up the comprehensive certainty of the virile, infinitely repeatable phallic orgasm, instead of seeking that other, supplementary orgasm, as Lacan insists on calling it. Supplementary, not complementary — with, as ever, the supposed female orgasm shrouded in mystery.

[Table of contents]

F/W 2011 issue 16

Table of contents

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purple NEWS

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