Pleasing the master

February 20, 2015 § 1 Comment

Dichotomized perceptions of existence may have been overcome by post-modernism, but not everyone is post-modern yet. The effects of dichotomized thinking, then, still has real-world effects on the majority of the population. In terms of social relations [or contracts], this is most often shaped by Hegel’s model of master & slave. The basic assumption of the master/slave dialectic is that the freedom of others threatens one’s own freedom. When two minds meet, the theory continues, a challenge of freedoms is exchanged — she who is willing to risk more to assert her freedom will be the recognized master.

Marx would adopt this dialectic for his own theories, especially attracted to Hegel’s description in this model of “desire [a]s split into the distinct activities of production and consumption: one person labors and produces so that the other may consume and in so doing enjoy [her]self [sic.]” (Houlgate 22). The roles are mutually dependent & seemingly sacred. An ordered system may be created out of this model [capitalism], but it is by no means a system of equality.

Rather than going deeper into Hegelian or Marxist ideology, already so familiar, I propose to use the master/slave dichotomy for another set of relations altogether: an individual & the social contract. As elsewhere, the “social contract” here means the agreement or consent to legitimize the socio-political sphere as it stands — without proposing any challenge of it — so as to feel oneself a citizen of that society. In this equation, it is the contract that is master; the role of the individual is subservient, to please the master so as to protect the little freedom that master permits. Anyone who cannot or doesn’t wish to consent is a second-rate citizen & unfree. They are also often blamed for assuming this position; in reality, what choice do they have?

The unfreedom of dissidents is policed by two bodies: (1) austerity measures on the self & (2) the masses that persistently believe in dichotomizing relations into only two categories: the norm & everything else. This is enabled when dichotomized thinking passes as morality.

I believe a more responsible moral system would be one not based on exclusion.

Caring for one’s body & family became models of how states ought to be run: that is, with measures of repression. Controlling sexual urges became synonymous with the ability to control a whole people [especially relevant for men]; “just as modern nationalism emerged in the eighteenth century, so the ideal of respectability & its definition of sexuality fell into place at the same time” (Mosse 1). Hence the notion that those who do not fulfill their corporeal duties — homosexuals or women who don’t give birth, for instance — are traitors, deserters, or exiles. After all, “To govern is to populate” as one of the 1853 bases of the Argentine Constitution affirms. Social order, nation-states, & sexuality cannot be separated.

We can continue argumentation through a close reading of this poem:

After the initial refrain of “please master can I” of the first 13 lines & the single incident of “may I” in the 14th, a stark change of rhetoric occurs:

please master, please look into my eyes,
please master order me down on the floor,
please master tell me to lick your thick shaft
please master put your rough hands on my bald hairy skull

With the very word “order”, the grammar shifts to one of authority — becoming the one giving orders. The desires of the speaker are legitimized by this assertion; the slave becomes a master [NB: not the master]. Rather than ennobling the self, as might be expected of one claiming mastery, the rhetoric becomes increasingly self-degrading: starting in the extract with “bald hairy skull” but escalating to “a dog on the table yelping with terror delight to be loved / Please master call me a dog, an ass beast, a wet asshole”. The poem is not about domination, however.

The morality of ‘Please Master’ begins with a process of decrowning, an “ambivalent ritual, expressing the inevitability and at the same time the creative power of the shift-and-renewal, the joyful relativity of all structure and order, of all authority and all (hierarchical) position” (Bakhtin 124). In the festivals of Kronia [Ancient Greece] and Saturnalia [Roman Empire], the decrowning lasted a single day and required the crowning of a replacement, typically a jester, slave, or other politically unrepresented figure — perhaps even a wild goat. While feminist movements, post-colonialism, queer theory, minority rights, negative philosophy, & the like have all aspired to enact a permanent decrowning of the stone-set patriarchal & hierarchical systems, these academic fields are not ready to retire as their goals haven’t yet been reached.

‘Please Master’ does not use race or class, as is usual when representing the master/slave power struggle. The poem strips these relations to their core by exploiting sadomasochism, going further than depicting the slave as master by introducing love [in the last breath, “bamming it in while I cry out your name I do love you / please Master”]. Two stylizations evident in this work, though rare in Ginsberg’s oeuvre, might also be drawn upon to recall traditional love poetry. They are rhyme & the use of Romantic archaisms. Both can be found here:

tenderly clasp me please master I take me to thee,
& drive in my belly your selfsame sweet heat-rood

Love reduces the roles of master & slave alike to that of pleasure-inducers, satisfiers of the beloved; their union is one based on legitimate desire, on equality. Such is its moral advantage over traditional morality based on dichotomization & practiced by the general public. This is not to argue that a new morality can be found in the process of decrowning directly, but rather that through it we can identify the possibility of different moral systems [perhaps better moral systems]. In order to do so, we must first decrown the grand-master, the “social contract”. For those who cannot be verified in the world as it stands, that isn’t even a choice.


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§ One Response to Pleasing the master

  • “Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference — those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older — know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.” ~ Audre Lorde

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