The Joys of the Erotic: Building Human Connections

An Inclusive Interdisciplinary Project

Friday 29th June 2018 – Saturday 30th June 2018
Palermo, Italy

Conference Abstracts and Papers

A History of Loving Objects
Peter Jones
School of Advanced Studies, University of Tyumen, Russia

Key Words:
Philosophy of Love; Eroticism; Materiality; Artificial Intelligence; History of the Emotions; New Materialisms; Object Oriented Ontology

Material Relations is a multidisciplinary research team based at the School of Advanced Studies, University of Tyumen, Russia. We are comprised of five faculty members, Duskin Drum, Evgeny Grishin, Peter Jones, Zach Reyna and John Tangney. Researching and writing collaboratively, we are currently exploring the hypothesis that love is the primary mode of relations between humans and things.

For this conference we propose a presentation of our upcoming monograph, A History of Loving Objects. Focusing variously on robots, love letters, nature, salmon fishing, and relics, this book seeks to expose an alternative history of how love has effectively bridged, subverted, and recast the boundaries between humans and non-humans across different planes of history. Among other themes, the book investigates how erotic encounters with objects have had the power to “shatter” human subjectivity, ignite radical forms of humility, and short-circuit prescribed networks of desire. Drawing on approaches from anthropology, psychoanalysis, medieval theology, and contemporary philosophy, the book develops love as a mode of reading, as a measure of analysis, and as an alternative theoretical framework. While probing the limits of where love and materiality have converged in the past, the book also promises to shine a light on where they may meet yet again in the future.

We would like to appear as a quintet, sharing presentation duties between the five of us. In order to fit in with the format of the conference, ideally we would propose a double paper slot (40 minutes). This additional time would allow us to summarize the major findings of each of our group’s separate members, while also reflecting on the broader theoretical implications our collaborative work might have for studies of love and eros more widely. If this is not possible, we would still be interested in presenting together in a shorter format too.

War Concubines In Ancient Greek Literary Texts
John Dayton
Rochester Institute of Technology, Dubai

Key Words:
Homer, Aeschylus, Euripides, concubine, captive, slave

The female war-captive, helplessly exposed to the desire of her masters, is one of the most “malignly arousing” erotic tropes in human culture. All too often, there has been occasion to indulge in it in reality. Anthropological and historical evidence reveals that the desire for women has been among the strongest incitements to warfare. Prehistoric sites of population massacres often yield no female remains at all. Their fate is not difficult to imagine. But they did not always remain “captives”; it is known from historical practice that such women were often fully incorporated into the conquering society as wives and family members.

In ancient Greece, we find a distinction between the archaic practice of concubinage, the direct assignment of female captives to warriors, usually on criteria of merit, and mass enslavement (more common later), wherein the prisoners were sold en masse to contractors who in turn took them to slave markets. In all cases females served for sexual gratification and domestic labor (“tending the loom, and sharing my bed,” in the words of Homer’s Agamemnon). Concubinage could be harsh but could produce some surprisingly strong bonds as well, as reflected in the relation between Achilles and Briseis. There are historical cases of strong affection, full marriage and even ennoblement accorded to captives. This presentation will assert that concubinage represents a continuation of prehistoric tribal assimilation practices, and so long as it prevailed, the desire to win women remained a powerful motivation for war. The onset of mass enslavement brought a significant increase in brutality of treatment for the women. Three literary texts relating to female captivity will be considered to demonstrate the gradual transition from concubinage to mass enslavement: Homer’s Iliad, Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, and Euripides’ Troades.

The Courtesan and the Lens-grinder: On Joy and Amor in Aragona and Spinoza
Michael Strawser
University of Center Florida, US

In Leone Ebreo’s Dialogues of Love (1535), Philo explains to Sophia how love and joy have a “contrary progression,” as “love goes from the lover to his beloved, but it is the beloved who imparts joy to the lover.” This passage opens a space for questioning the relation between love and joy and the role that the self and the other play in determining this relation, while also resonating with Audre Lorde’s view that the joy of the erotic involves a shared experience or two-way bridge between self and other. How are joy and love related, and is joy only possible through a specifically defined relation to the other, or even, as Philo suggests, a certain response from the other? To investigate these questions, I shall examine the philosophies of love of two writers influenced by Ebreo’s celebrated work, namely Tullia d’Aragona and Baruch Spinoza. Both Aragona’s Dialogue on the Infinity of Love (1547) and Spinoza’s Ethics (1677) make key distinctions between different manifestations of love that may or may not lead to joy. For Aragona “vulgar” love is distinguished from “honest” love, and although honest love manifests the infinity of love, it ultimately yields an unhappy infinity falling short of joy, for it consists in the endless yearning for a perfectly consummated physical union that can never be achieved. In contrast, Spinoza’s philosophy of love, which is not without ambiguity, maintains that only active love can lead to joy, the greatest expression of which is blessedness (beatitudo). In his recent work Coming (La Jouissance), Jean-Luc Nancy admires Spinoza’s view of joy, yet surprisingly accepts with Sade that joy (jouissance) can “be born from pain inflicted on another or on oneself.” As we shall see, Spinoza provides a necessary corrective to this inadequate view.

The Erotics Of The Crucifix, Mary Magdalene And The Poet
Immanuel Mifsud
University of Malta, Malta

Key Words:
Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, Renaissance, death, violence, sex, eroticism, religion, Christianity, poets

Renaissance art sought to affirm Christ’s humanity particularly in the imagery of the crucifixion and the entombment. Christ’s body becomes eroticized not only by its nudity on the cross, as shown in paintings by Michelozzo, Desiderio and Donatello among others, but also by emphasising its muscularity and maleness. In Renaissance art both the crucifixion and the entombment depict Christ’s beautified body in very close proximity to yet another eroticised body, that of Mary Magdalene, the supposed penitent prostitute, always shown unveiled and bare shouldered as opposed to the very well wrapped Virgin Mary.

In my paper, I shall give a detailed account of how the body of Christ is sexualised and how the violence of his death enhances rather than inhibits the erotics of his body. Secondly, I shall also discuss how poets, especially male, religious poets, have imitated the Renaissance (and later) artists by blending violence and death with eroticism, tragedy with beauty, spirituality with sex and divinity with carnality. The poets’ gaze at Christ’s body becomes scopophilic in that they focus on Christ’s physical beauty (despite his tragic death). Furthermore, I will also be arguing that some of these poets, in particular Marjanu Vella, a Franciscan monk and poet, eroticises the entombment by taking the role of the Magdalene as he imagines himself kissing and anointing the dead Christ.

I would argue that the Christian experience, rather than antagonizing the body and erotics, becomes the religion of the body which, in its attempt to establish its god’s humanity ends up eroticising him.

Through the Looking-Hive: Desire, Drama, and the Decline of Eros on the Bumble Dating App
Treena Orchard
Western University, London, ON

Key Words:
dating apps, sexuality, gender, eros, communication, performance, technology, social media

With over 18 million users, Bumble is one of the most popular dating apps on the planet. Marketed as a feminist platform, its unique selling point is that women make the first move to initiate conversations with potential matches. Celebrated on social media as empowering and providing women the opportunity to be sexually assertive without the stigma associated with certain (pro)active dating behaviours, namely ‘hookups’, little is known about the lived experience of using this app. For four months I inhabited the Bumble hive, the company logo which symbolizes the idea of industry and individuals working towards a common purpose. As an anthropologist specializing in sexuality, gender, and health research I was fascinated by and compelled to document the strange parallel Bumble world. As a woman seeking sex and maybe something more I found myself plummeting into a troubling, sometimes fun but largely unsatisfying place full of desire and drama but devoid of the sensual, the curious, the embodied.

If not Eros, then what fuels the obsessive, scripted, often emotionally harrowing behaviours that make-up the Bumble journey? What is being bridged together in these virtual landscapes, which rarely lead to real-life encounters, that have become the norm within contemporary dating practices? This paper problematizes these questions to make sense of my own experiences and the light they shed on tech-mediated forms of sexuality and gendered communication in the pursuit of love, lust, and human connection. I explore the dominant textual and visual modes of self-representation employed by app users, in-person encounters, and reflections of my on-going use of the app. My analysis also includes the concept of voluptatem techne- technical/crafted pleasure, which I have developed to operationalize how Eros works in the virtual realm and is discussed within the context of performance and communication theory and sexuality research.

The Joys Of The Erotic- Draupadi: The Erotic Archetype
Arindam Mridha
Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

Key Words:
Draupadi, polyandry, Folk Mahabharatas, Vasuki Naga, Fire, desire, sexual power, erotic, forced voyeurism.

If Sita of Ramayan coming out of the Earth is Mother archetype, then Draupadi of Mahabharata coming out of Fire is Erotic archetype, simply because Earth stands for Mother and Fire stands for burning desire. If Sita’s power rests in purity, polyandrous Draupadi’s power is in her sexuality. It is important to note that, other than the Draupadi we find in Vyasa’s Mahabharata – in all Folk Mahabharatas –Draupadi is a powerful woman with powerful sexuality. In the Buddhist Jataka, Draupadi has illicit sexual relation with a hump-backed servant; in some Folk Mahabharata of South India, Draupadi has secret sexual desire for Krishna and Karna; in Devi Bhagavata Puraana, Kichaka enthralled by her coquettish sexual charms could not control a rape on her. But the power of her sexuality reaches its height in Bheel Bharata – a Folk Mahabharata of the Bheel (or, Bhil) tribes of Rajasthan (India) – which gives an account of her sexual relation with Vasuki Naga, a ‘snake’ king and that she remains Vasuki’s willing sexual partner for some time. In the Bheel Bharata, we find how Draupadi’s sexuality, unable to find fulfilment on earth, is seeking out satisfaction in the netherworld. The punier sexual power of the highborn Pandavas drives her to find someone like the lowborn yet mighty Vasuki, who can bring down even the great Arjuna to forced voyeurism. Beckoned by her sexuality, Vasuki leaves Patala (netherworld) immediately, breaking his twelve-year sleep, leaving all his beautiful queens behind and willingly becomes her sex-slave. Draupadi is the Fire into which not only Vasuki but generations of men fling themselves ecstatically, only to be consumed by her as fire devours the moth that flings itself into it. My talk will try to explore how the Folk Draupadi has triggered off the erotic faculty of men by her sexual power.

The Erotic: Bridge and Threshold between People
Edwin Koster
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Key Words:
erotic, cinema, philosophy, bridge, threshold, paradox

In my paper I try to show how the erotic can be a bridge as well as a threshold between human beings. I thus emphasize the paradoxical and ambiguous nature of the ‘erotic’. In particular I will reflect on the erotic imagination in cinema from a philosophical perspective. By connecting this reflection to the film 7 Giorni (Rolando Colla), I will explore at least two themes mentioned in the call for this conference: ‘The erotic imagination: literature, art, music, theatre and cinema’ and ‘The erotic, ethics and philosophy’.

Early Christian theologians such as Hieronymus and Augustine considered the erotic as sinful. They were aiming at a spiritual and ascetic life by way of self-discipline and self-denial. The erotic was identified with a loss of self-control and thus negatively related to the concept of original sin. These thoughts have seriously influenced Western culture: traditionally the erotic is seen as socially taboo and is often associated with fear and shame.

Nowadays philosophers try to show that the erotic can build pathways which bring us closer to each other. Roger Scruton, for instance, argues that the erotic play a role in ‘I-You’ relations. According to him desire always has a personal dimension: erotic love is expressed in bodily attraction, but in the erotic as erotic the body is not considered as an object but as an embodied subject. In this way the erotic can build bridges as an outreach to other humans.

However, the erotic has another dimension. Inspired by, among others, Georges Bataille, I will try to make plausible that the erotic possesses disruptive powers as well. In the enchantment of the erotic rational plans are overruled, autonomy is lost, and subjectivity may be teared apart. The erotic, I will conclude, is an unstable equilibrium of uniting and breaking powers.

These insights will be illustrated and deepened by referring to 7 Giorni, a film in which the roles of bridge and threshold come together.

The Erotic Cloth: Seduction And Fetishism In Textiles
Alice Kettle
Manchester Metropolitan University
United Kingdom

Lesley Millar
International Textile Research Centre, University for the Creative Arts
United Kingdom

Key Words:
Erotic, Cloth, Body, Touch

The fundamental relationship between cloth and the body has been discussed in depth since the late twentieth century, mainly with a focus on the socio-political, psychological and narrative particularities of textiles. With the emergence of Haptic studies, the connection between the surface of the skin and the surface of cloth has been considered in the discussion of the sense of touch. However, the erotic nature of that relationship has tended to be the subtext of previous discourse, acknowledged but to a large degree unspoken.

This Paper posits a variety of interpretations in which the erotic is a multifaceted state, historically and culturally connected in its contemporary relevance. We will place our argument within the aesthetics of cloth which excite and disturb through its materiality, alongside the metaphorical qualities of cloth which are seductive, erotic, intimate and, at times, shocking. Our definition of erotic is not fixed or presumed, much as the erotic sensation itself is changeable, ephemeral and individual.

We are makers of cloth and our starting point is that of the cloth itself, our hands and bodies are imprinted with that ‘outrageous closeness of cloth’ (Oicherman 2015: 114). We will draw upon the theoretical writings of Freud, Winnicott, Perniola, Bataille, Deleuze alongside poetry and fictional prose, and use examples from historical and contemporary art, cinema and performance.

Cowboy Drag: Eroticism of Masculinity and the Gay Rodeo
Nicholas Villanueva
University of Colorado, US

Key Words:
Gay Liberation, Erotic, Rodeo, Sport, Heteronormativity, Masculinity, Cowboy, Drag

Following the Stonewall Riots of 1969, gay and lesbian men and women stepped out of the shadows of society, and widespread protest for equal rights and acceptance emerged during the 1970s. The gay rights movement of the 1970s was about acceptance of gay identity, and necessitated widespread visibility of their uniqueness from heterosexual norms. Early activists fought for acceptance of their lifestyle—denying heterosexual “rules” of what was deemed “normal” for society. By the mid-decade homosexuals were a more visible presence, and, for a group of men in Reno, Nevada, they wanted to celebrate their uniqueness within the gay community—gay cowboys. This paper examines how the gay rodeo association, which began as a safe space for gay men to compete in U.S. Western rodeo, and became a space for erotic expression. I use oral history testimonies from rodeo participants to provide a narrative of the annual rodeo that included arena events and the weekend dance party that lasted into the early hours of the following day. Rodeo programs (flyers) illustrate the eroticized cowboy in the advertisments for bars, hotels, and baths. These primary sources help examine “cowboy drag.” “Cowboy drag” is a term I use to identify the eriticised esthetic of the gay rodeo. This paper presentation seeks to explore the paradox of masculinity and the eroticized gay rodeo cowboy.

Inter-sex-tions; Architecture and Sexuality
Kristine Seitz
Therapist & Educator, USA

Key Words:
Architecture, Erotic, Human Sexuality

The erotic can be found throughout our built landscapes; both in nature and man-made. Among many different emotions, the erotic in our environment can evoke feelings of desire and sensuality or dominance and power. Dennis Dailey created the Circles of Sexuality to better describe the complex nature of human sexuality. Sexuality is not just about sexual intercourse or sexual feelings. Dailey’s five circles of sexuality represent the many aspects of sexuality and the erotic to include all five senses; taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight. The five circles are Sensuality, Sexual Intimacy, Sexual Identity, Sexual Health and Reproduction, and Sexualization. Using the Circles of Sexuality as a framework, this visual presentation will be a critique of what makes the built environment erotic. What makes a space inherently feminine or masculine? What causes a space or a building to feel sensual? How do spaces create intimacy? What do dominating spaces feel like? How is reproductive anatomy portrayed in architecture?

My Studio As A Privileged Space Conducive To Erotical Collaboration
Lawrence Buttigieg
Artist | Architect | Freelance Researcher

Key Words:
Body, box-assemblage, dance, erotic, female, Other, Self, self-awareness, self-exploration, sexual

As an artist I discuss my association and collaboration with Idoia, a specific model who in the context of my work not only epitomises but transcends womanhood, and the resultant box-assemblage whose materialisation requires this woman’s physical and active participation. Bearing Idoia’s metonymic presence, this mixed-media, body-themed artefact translates into a perpetual reminder of the female Other in my existence—that which forever remains elusive but tantalisingly real.

Mindful of art historian Paul J Karlstrom’s metaphorical description of the female model’s performance within the studio as an erotic dance, I examine the sequence of psychological and postural transactions undertaken by Idoia in relation to myself and the project in hand. Through these she gradually sheds inhibitions and modesty to arrive at a very specific kind of intimate operative relationship with me, one in which she feels empowered to express her erotic Self (Karlstrom 2009: 122). The box-assemblage not only disrupts the traditional assumption whereby male consciousness transforms the passive female body into an artefact, but it also provides Idoia and myself with a tangible and equitable space where our encounter is unaffected by hierarchical distinctions.

Throughout, I examine Idoia’s role in the creative process. Notwithstanding the fact that this is primarily directed and choreographed by myself as the box-assemblage’s prime mover, Idoia not only lays claim to being a key and effective player in it, but affirms at the same time that her role is conducive to self-exploration and sexual self-awareness. As for myself, I am cognisant that Idoia’s individuality and physical presence in my studio catalyses our association, and I intuit that she holds the potential key to my own self-discovery. Thus, I pursue in earnestness our alliance through the artefact which perennially acts as its materialised reminder.