Unmediated Pleasure

IF you’re a person who desires, you’ll notice that there are probably many obstacles between you and the fulfillment of those desires. Too often, these obstacles are strategically placed in your way in order to make your exploitable. It’s an interesting exercise to ask yourself: who benefits from me pursuing my desires? Critical Hedonism(s) as a project is committed to critically examining the ways that “our very tastes and desires [are] constituted and ‘taxed’ by a regime of perpetual scarcity and narrow distribution of pleasure/care,” often to the detriment of our long-term happiness, social cohesion, and sustainable futures. In addition to this (and this is where it ceases to be merely academic), it aims to transcend these mediated, stratified and exploitative relations through desire—not by rejecting desire, but by rerouting desires in more direct and equitable ways. this has made us allies, in some senses (we will post in the future about the limitations of uncritical polyamory), with some practitioners of polyamory and open relationships, but it also necessarily means examining and reconfiguring our non-sexual desires and ambitions.

In the first volume of History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault pointed out that in the developed capitalist world, one does not witness a mere repression of desire (as Freud and many others had postulated), but an affirmative development of desire that aligns it with the interests of power. According to Foucault, the very ways that we (even sexually “liberated” people) speak about and think about sex tends to reinforce the power that it exerts over us. Consistent with his larger schema of the three basic modes of power (sovereign, disciplinary and governmental), Foucault explores the ways that power operates affirmatively—that is: how power compels us to move in exploitable/useful ways without threatening or forcing us to do so, by simultaneously structuring our desires/subjectivities and shaping the environment in which we make decisions as subjects.

One incredibly powerful critical voice producing commentary on the ways that we tend to be exploited by our desires is the Northwest-based anarchist collective Crimethinc., who succinctly and clearly state the matter thus:

“Growing up in this society, not even our passions are our own; they are cultivated by advertising and other forms of propaganda to keep us running on the treadmills of the marketplace. Thanks to indoctrination, people can be quite pleased with themselves for doing things that are bound to make them miserable in the long run. We are locked into our suffering and our pleasures are the seal. To be truly free, we need leverage over the processes that produce our desires. Liberation doesn’t just mean fulfilling the desires we have today, but expanding our sense of what is possible, so our desires can shift along with the realities they drive us to create. It means turning away from the pleasure we take in enforcing, dominating, and possessing, to seek pleasures that wrench us free of the machinery of obedience and competition. If you’ve ever broken an addiction, you have a taste of what it means to transform your desires.” [1]

Elsewhere, the collective describes the way that predefined and commodified options tend to be the only way to achieve desirability or accomplishment. “Without our chewing gum, no one will want to kiss you. Without our deodorant, no one will want to touch you. . . . We play on your insecurities, on your fears and anxieties. There are products for every human activity.” As we know, monetized consumption necessitates monetized production, and so if we can be compelled into consumerism, the flip side of that is that we will be forced into working. because “you must pay to eat, pay to sleep, pay to keep warm, pay for a space just to exist,” you must also engage in capitalist relations of production, either as a waged laborer or as an employer or investor.

Crimethinc. poster on the dependency of desire.

Crimethinc. poster on the dependency of desire.

The collective makes special space for leisure, urging its readers to “[c]onsider all your leisure-time activities,” in order to realize that “you’re not having fun unless you’re paying for it.”

Such a project has led some of us working on the project of Critical Hedonism(s) to explore the exciting niche literature of Critical Leisure Studies, which theorizes the role of leisure under capitalism. Authors such as Chris Rojek explore how sanctioned modes of leisure tend to discipline and exploit us. 

Yet, leisure also provides a potential space of resistance. Communes, subcultures and various “deviant” activities offer avenues of leisure as modes of desiring. Like these, alternative aesthetics can, temporarily (until they are inevitably appropriated by profit-seeking entrepreneurs) generate ripples and dissensus in our desiring capacities, such that we pursue pleasure in non-commodified ways. In the parlance of Gilles Deleuze, we might maintain a “nomadic” relationship to aesthetics that generates space for yet-untapped schemes for enjoyment and desiring.


[1] Crimethinc (group), To Change Everything: An Anarchist Appeal, <https://crimethinc.com/tce>