Troubling pleasures: a creative-relational inquiry
Mackay, Susan Moir
This inquiry was prompted after I discovered a broad schism in the literature between endorsed BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadomasochism, sadism and masochism) and pathologised SM (sadomasochism or sadism and masochism). Both as a therapist and personally, I was curious about this dichotomy. Sex which includes, in my experience, the troubling pleasures of pain is more than the essentialised, reductive, homogenised and gendered formulations I find in the discourses. Consequently, contemporary scholarship into BDSM and SM sex needs to delve deeper, expand wider than, and not ignore these definitions. To facilitate this, to agitate SM, BDSM and the assumption of normal sex, I pick up the concept sex assemblage inspired by Fox & Alldred and Deleuze & Guattari. The sex assemblage produces a new materialist, posthumanist framing and an ontology of immanence where sex is entangled in intricate human and nonhuman intraactions. This aligns with notions of becoming and breaks binary hierarchies. To support this figuration of the sex assemblage – which in this thesis I term as a pleasure pain sex assemblage – I work with creativerelational inquiry. Thinking with creativerelational inquiry, troubling pleasures, I ask, In sex, what can pleasure do? What can pain do? What does pleasure pain do? What else emerges through pain and pleasure sex? These questions challenge seeking pain in sex as only either worrying or a pastime. And they push pleasure beyond a function rooted in heteronormative ideals because pleasure, conceived as bound in a humanist subject, pure or normal and essentialised, is also troubling. The questions prompt sex to move beyond physical interactions alone, including diverse affects, human/nonhuman relationships, ethics, eroticism and agency. Pleasure pain sex is exhilarating and difficult – objective accounts, clinical and academic language inevitably fail it. To attend to this, I write my sexual experiences through the graphic, and fractured language of my body and art. Influenced by my practice as an art psychotherapist and professional artist, I engage artmaking as a process to express, explore and document. This spawns further writing and concept engagement. For example, I utilise Deleuze and Guattari’s line of flight and desiringmachines, and from Audre Lorde, Uses of the Erotic. This creativerelational inquiry is intimate, close to my skin and emotions. I write the raw, explicit, profane, beauty, struggles, and complications of pleasure pain sex. I traverse themes, locations, literature and timelines. And to invigorate contemporary discourses of sex, I generate an artful, personal, provocative and vibrant engagement of troubling pleasures.