Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Problem with Eyes: Some thoughts on Photography, Beauty, Pornography and Obsession.

- I have a problem with photographs. Or, more accurately, I have a problem with how we view photographs generally: we trust them to too great an extent. Take the photographs of night spots which occur in every city every week. Shot after shot of nameless people dancing, or smiling, or drinking, but usually existing in some kind of picturesque vision of hedonism-light (which of course isn't hedonism at all). People like to be in these. They like to look pretty in these. They like this because they feel somehow it reflects their night.

The photographs don't capture the smell of stale beer and spilt coke and whiskey. They don't capture the feeling of being groped by strangers. They don't capture every time you weren't smiling.

But we trust what they do capture. We trust and think "What a good night", because that's what our eyes both us and everyone else. They collect an entirely false reality, which we then happily present as a truth.

That is my problem with photography. Nothing to do with the photographs themselves, but the inherent, occularcentric trust we have in them.

(this is of course a specific example - not all photographs, even those taken of you in night spots, do this)

- The more you love someone, the less their looks matter. Stendhal talked about beauty as it being the promise of happiness, and when you fall deeply in love with someone the happiness they promise you increases dramatically - to unbounded levels. This is why everyone claims that their partner is the most beautiful - to them they truly, sincerely are.

Therefor you should never view yourself as physically un-beautiful - unless of course you feel you unable to give another person happiness.

(and we are all, provided we work at it, capable of both promising and delivering happiness to certain people)

- Pornography is perhaps the ultimate trap, and in being so, the ultimate allegory to the problem of occularcentricism when applied to sexual desire. If you pare it down to what is essentially its base essentials, it begins to sound like some kind of perversely clever torture:

1. Take the single most physically pleasurable act capable to a human being - one whose pleasure is experienced through the less tangible senses: touch, smell and taste.

2. Present this act without using any of those senses, instead displaying it only through the more tangible, intelligent senses: vision and hearing.

Thus, it presents all of the visual cues of pleasure, but removes all the actual sensations of pleasure.

(I should note I am talking here of sex on a purely physical, sensation related level - there is obviously an emotional level in which a great sector of its pleasure resides - I am merely talking of our raw interaction with it through the senses)

- Breast enhancements and cosmetic labiaplasties are two examples of extreme occularcentricism, and both fill me with a profound (and useless) sense of regret over our society. I have no respect for men that favour the aesthetics of boob-jobs - these are men that lack imagination beyond what their eyes inform them and are probably terrible lovers.

(I have no factual basis for this last point but it makes sense somehow, no? You wouldn't trust a perfumer that preferred fake flowers.)

- The current fashion of the clean-shaven pubis is, I think, semiotically connected to the mainstream rise of pornography brought about through the internet. The evolutionary function of pubic hair is to provide visual cues as to the readiness to procreate. Thus it has a sexual link, but one in which leads to a necessary continuation of the species - to put it another way: you fuck, you have children. Pornography presents sex having this particular equation entirely removed from it - no porn films involves the woman then becoming pregnant and the tanned couples starting a family together, because it removes the lack of consequences and thus safety in the sex presented. With the post-internet pornographic boom then the cultural-subconscious decision was made to remove the visual cues of actual sexual reproduction and instead imagine a more fantastical hypothetical scenario where sex never lead to childbirth.

Because we so rarely discuss sex openly or honestly, pornography, viewed largely in private, very easily dictates what we regard as sexual norms. And thus: pubic hair has become both weird and unattractive.

(Again, the visual decision dictates the tactile experience. Again, the problem with occularcentricism.)

- Of all the senses, sight is the only one with the requirement of distance - taste and smell measure actual molecules entering our systems, touch is only experiences on our surfaces (internal and external), sound is experiencable at whatever distance the sound is capable of traveling (and is stronger the closer you are), but sight doesn't work at all if you are too close to your subject. This makes sight the perfect sense for obsessive tendancies, as obsession only works when there is some kind of distance between the obsessed and the obsessee (otherwise the obsessed's fantasies fall flat as they are forced to realise the reality of their subject). If you are prone to obsessing over people then here are two tips to avoid it:

1. Hang out with them on a regular basis.

or if that is not an option,

2. Don't look at pictures of them.

Staring forlornly at a potential lover is recipe for both unhappiness and, if left unbridled, obsession, because it is giving you some kind of imaginary access to them, but none of the actual access which would sufficiently ground your relationship with them. It keeps them in your mind, but in that mind allows them to float to the heavens as if angels, now miles above you, leaving you only to look up and marvel at their completely fictitious splendor.

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