Pretended or not, our surprise at realising the extent to which (the thought of) sex, arrives at the doors of our consciousness does indicate a concern with our susceptibility to this over familiar guest. The winds of desire appear to set the compass of our motion, the ends of our attention, fill the sail of our consciousness and cause to veer the direction of our interest. Sex, the extent to which its patina is spread like a sheen over our objects of intention, rendering everything susceptible to another field of meaning, the repetitive frequency with which we find ourselves interrupted in our focus by the persistence of this other heartbeat, seems almost a scandal.
The distance between the public and the private can be measured by the breadth of this surprise (the index of our being as that of homo duplex, a life lived on a number of contradictory levels), a surprise possible because the qualitative nature of the question and answer accord so distantly with the quantitative nature of our personal experience. Yet rather than a cause of embarrassment and mendacity this realisation affords an opportunity to reflect on the role of sex in our everyday lives. Desire, we will find, offers us one indispensable rhythm in the music of our everyday experience.
The extent of this surprise is perhaps comparable only to that of the sigh of relief experienced as the Freudian model (or one of its near relations) explains all for us. That is it provides an origin and cause (and one moreover that we can do nothing about), and grounds our desire (at least in theory) in a simple, if inaccessible (because linked to the dictates of a guiding unconscious) explanation. However such explanations (based as they are on absence, like the presence of unfilled parentheses on the page) do not tell us what this nagging presence does for us. The invisible depths have been allowed to obscure the workings of the surface. Yet this surface plane with its accompanying patina of desire is the place where we live. Moreover, the rhythm of the ripples that so regularly traverse this realm offer us a point of return, a means of rejoining our everyday lives, or even of reconstituting that most intimate of recognitions, that of ourselves, made and remade with the passing of each wave, our identity.
If we look more closely at the rhythms of our daily life we soon realise that the troughs between the waves (like the parentheses on the page) are in fact filled and available to memory (that the contents do not always present ourselves to others as we might wish, or reflect material apposite for the public realm is another matter). It is this gap, the distance between each successive wave, that motivates the surprise (and not the content, of which we are only too aware).
As an unavoidable part of our everyday experience, one positive role the patina of desire may have is that of painting our surroundings in colours we find pleasing. Desire has the function of making things familiar; or of making us appear familiar with things… Of making our environment comfortable, of adapting it, customising it, making it more personal, more… intimate.
The same may be said for softening our relations with colleagues (or occasionally confusing them if the charge is too strong, or allowed to escape from the realm of the imagination into that of communication - or even action). As ours is a world where all may compete with all, and others appear to us as alien and unwelcoming, there is a sound rationale for welcoming strangers through the medium of the opposite sex (sexual preferences permitting) – as of alternating the sexes around the dinning table.
Flirting, almost mandatory in some cultures, may often appear manipulatory when practised across an all-too-uneven power gradient. Yet, adding brio to life’s necessary exchanges when taking place on a level social field; or conversely leavening hierarchy (when not incited by it – by the allure of power).
Giving us an interest in others, other than the utility of material gain or strategic alliance.
Or making exciting, adding salt and spice to the otherwise predictable patterns of life and work. A leavening of the bread of everyday boredom.
Desire. Mainstay of the advertising image. Hoardings as honey traps for the eye. Home of a gender imbalance gradually swinging the other way (but not yet in balance).
Transforming the lived environment. Penetrating (sic) spreading (sic) even to architecture. The direction of the eye over the walls and surfaces of urban life, until it encounters: glass. Making the Middle of urban architecture, the unobserved strip of city space, a zone persisting just above the usual level of the eyes, so often featureless, geometric and repetitious, into a sexual game of who and what and when. A permanent interrogative regarding what it is that happens behind the window, behind the scenes, behind the façade, behind the curtain (behind the curtain wall). Sexual curiosity humanises the great walls of concrete and glass that make up the horizons of our lives. With the suggestiveness and ambiguity of glass providing one reason for the popularity of glass architecture today.
Or the eye level (ilevel) of reflection (in windows as in others’ eyes). The ground floor of our exterior city space. Prompting reflection on the self and its presentation. The contribution of desire to the desperate game and continual test of membership of the communities of others (proffered and desired). For recognition is coded sexually (with ever more room for misrecognition in our encounters with the other on the street). A tension less acute in our more one-side relation with the eroticised others (the tailor’s dummy and unseeing others as sexual objects). Under glass.
At once a pulse and patina; ever present buzz and eruption. Sending the eyes (and the imagination) off obliquely; distracted from their prior pre-set course, a tack in our sails to be balanced against the prevailing winds of our occupation (whence the course unembarrassed ogling of the directionless and unoccupied).
But also another means of recognition; of recognition of the self. A key to the maze of social differentiation (linked - in whatever way - to biology and physiology, our grounding in matter) and so -still- one key to the world of role play and work opportunities. As well as providing a didactic indicator (more or less normative depending upon context) of what our behaviour toward others should be, of our language and motions as part of a determination of allegiances and hierarchies. Of our dance as part of the hive.
At once a pulse and patina of the self. Of self-recognition, assertion, one rhythmic peak in the heterogeneous set of recurring patterns that make up the assemblage of the self. A habit, repetition and degree of sexualised awareness. Of a programmed, and self-reprogramming system that works by the pulse of repetition and (within pre-set parameters) variation. Its repetition at once another surprise and yet the advent something all-to-familiar.
Desire as repetition joins the other key forms of repetition that make us what we are. Our patterns of eating as well as the kind of food we eat. The languages we speak (and when and how often we use the different registers of these languages). The places we inhabit, the rhythms and alternations of such habitation, the places we call home (nation, country, region, town, culture and religion). Our patterns of work and play. Our links to our families… All subject to repetition, to sequences and patterns habitual and normative, all involving a (more or less mobile) self-image, whether though the conformism of continuity or the challenge of change. All facets ritual in their repetition. Covering the range and gamut of rituality in modern life. Some experienced as mild, a background noise of pulse and iteration: others intense in their eruption, in their assertion of their own rhythm, their event in our lives, their event as ourselves. Constitutive.
All these pulses, all vying for space, all vying for time, for the constituting of time. Their rhythms creating time, forming, out of the successive patterns of their peaks and troughs, their alternations and returns, our lived temporality. The flavour and music of a life. The notation of a self.
The ritual pulse of existence, rendered yet more affective though the periodic measures of our desire.
Copyright, 2005 Peter Nesteruk.