Liberating pleasure: reading

October 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

Reading fiction is a proud practice coming from & creating leisure, education, & austerity. Even with equalising literacy levels between classes & sexes that we see today, reading remains an aristocratic conduct — the least economically taxing among them [in New York the homeless often read, some take notes; percentages may actually be higher than the upper commuting class]. Reading is usually viewed as functional, complying with requirements of the day, whether it be to develop cultural currency, historical positioning, example, or simply a good grade. Yet there is an underside to function Roland Barthes writes about in The Pleasure of the Text: “what pleasure wants is the site of a loss, the seam, the cut, the deflation, the dissolve which seizes the subject in the midst of bliss” (7). Pleasure might be called the energy of function. Yet it is not. It is hardly talked about at all for being a virtual cul-de-sac, atopic.

That which does not have an end, is an end unto itself & thereby non-linear, is popularly known as perversion. Imagine a housewife who is aroused by the vibrations of a moving shopping cart; if she were to discuss her pleasure she would almost surely be pleaded to deny it. We seem to fear any appendage to functional acts. Everything outside of order is impure. Yet most people accept that there is chaos as well & absurdity. We may follow Barthes & stand on the side of perversion instead, saying that it “shields bliss from the finality of reproduction” (24). Pleasure is uninhibited, then, so unmanageable & undesirable socio-politically. Pleasure is suppressed.

Parallel to dream-logic, pleasure disappoints ordinary morality in another way: “nothing is really antagonistic [in desire], everything is plural” (31). It may allow its practitioner to acknowledge unaccounted for desires or means of being which are subversive [outside hegemonic fiction which is prescribed; within fictions of their own invention]. “A certain pleasure is derived from a way of imagining oneself as individual, of inventing a final, rarest fiction” (62) — that is what gives counter-culture its [unreal, deluded] pull. The advantage, generally, of those who engage in counter-culture is a strengthened sense of the self as author of our private fictions. Without question, chance contributes in forming the narratives of individuals: many minorities do not will themselves into that post. Nevertheless, it is the responses to accident that are the crucial story-determinants.

Like all writing acts, in our creations of self we are susceptible to influence. Propaganda works by this principle, when an authority directs the public’s exposure to charged myths. Advertisement is the same, perhaps only more grotesque for having a remarkably less noble agenda. Barthes names the fictions of individuals inter-texts, “the impossibility of living outside the infinite text — whether this text be Proust or the daily newspaper or the television screen: the book creates the meaning, the meaning creates life” (36).

Serious & constant reflection make it difficult to settle on an inter-text. We understand it to be our great work. It is among those rare things that are never naïve & never innocent. “Every fiction is supported by a social jargon, a sociolect, with which it identifies” (27). In our word choices, we are constantly naming ourselves. That act of naming excuses others of getting to know us as text, rich & layered, for it achieves the work of analysis in the fell swoop of the name. Nothing surprises if we take everything at the face-value of its name. Bliss escapes us then, for bliss is in the surprise; “bliss may come only with the absolutely new, for only the new disturbs (weakens) consciousness” (40). When Barthes writes, “the text undoes nomination, & it is this defection which approaches bliss” (45), the regret is that so little is taken for text when, in reality, all things could (as he has shown in Mythologies). We might do well to think of bliss à la Barthes foremost as any act of iconoclasm — the introduction of anything that unsettles our more permanent image of the world. By merely showing that perspectives could be altered ours are made inessential & theory important. [In The Pleasure of the Text, it is the overthrown notion of perversion that delights me most. When the whole is taken as a text, the word no longer stands alone accusing many innocents. It is redeemed!]

Bliss does not occur with all new things, nor simply in close observation. No. The bliss here described is that instant of opening up the possibility of understanding or bridging a gap or entering between seams. It is the anticipation of a great discovery or the heart pounding in arousal. No wonder that mystery & adventure stories have proven to be the most resilient & universal. For me, it is an excuse to continue buying more books than I can read. One cannot guarantee high, transportive pleasure from a text [it could come from any text]. Like those who seek romance or a casual affair peruse bars in their free time, there is an underground community of frantic book-hedonists who multiply instances of reading pleasure by increased exposure. They measure the quality of cities by their bookstores & could never tell you if/what music is played in them. They are literary perverts, libertines of the common chains. But they are not free; they may even be worse off, in spite of possessing inter-texts which are richer, poly-vocal, & more combatant. It is not out of choice that they return to the church of literary potential, but to tend to a list of insufferable questions which burgeons with every book read, with every attempt at conclusion.


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