Sunday, November 30, 2008

Column: Deep Culture: Sado-Masochistic Tendencies: Ivo Furman

With the gaze of a cavalryman leading a charge, the gentleman walks up to the entrance of the curry house and holds the door for the lady behind him. Together they quickly stride towards the first person of authority they meet, the waiter, and ask for a table for two. The waiter makes a sweeping gesture towards one of the available tables in the establishment. With quick, staccato looks to one another, the couple decide to accept the offer and sit down. With the arrival of the menus, the process is complete for the experience about happen, by the end of which the couple will leave the restaurant having bonded over the experience of spice.

I've always been curious about why people like spicy food. As a matter of fact, I wonder why I like to order spicy food. It, after all, creates a rather painful sensory experience that runs quite contrary to what we actually desire at a restaurant. Often, people eat away from home for reasons of sociability and pleasure; either as displays of power or affection. Yet we still order spicy food. And we all enjoy it much more when in the company of others, especially if the other decides to partake in this act of pain. In my opinion, spice adds a particular dimension of bonding to cuisine. Like ancient warriors that would mutilate themselves in bonding displays of sexuality and power, we do the same thing in the restaurant. The desire to collectively experience pain brings us closer together. Although pain in itself is a subjective experience, the collective act unifies the experience as a shared act of consciousness. So as the couple bluster over their curries, what they are doing in fact is taking part a ritual of bonding through displays of power and sexuality.

How are these two key terms of power and sexuality unconsciously realized in the ritual? The desire to give and receive pain, the power to allow the other to experience pain in a controlled environment is surely the underlying theme of the ritual. By allowing one to experience pain, you empower the other; with the imposed hierarchy collapsing, the power relation is dynamic and fluid at the dinner table.

Now take a step back and reread the last few sentences. They sound more like a description out of an S&M manual rather than the description of a night out at the restaurant. How is it that a marginalized sexual practice has the same denotations as the scene described? Society seeks to marginalize particular sexual impulses; by labelling particular practices as dangerous, subversive and immoral it seeks to isolate and localize these experiences. Yet these desires exist within the repressed psychology of the individual. Therefore through localization, particular institutions and practices cater to the satisfaction of such impulses in individuals. The sexual impulse is "safely" played out within the context of the middle class restaurant. Needless to note is how the impulse is commoditised in an economic exchange. We have to pay to satisfy our power and curry cravings.

Once again I have run out of space, but what I tried to unpack today was how the ordinary or the accepted usually contains elements that quite marginal. What is normalized is usually done so to hide away the subversive. However, both always exist in conjecture with each other as in fact both are just signs to represent a social act.

No comments: