The cultural shift from modern to postmodern is a curious one: we move away from a society concerned with discipline and routine customs and strict difference of work and home to a society with a disappearing boundary between labor and leisure plus an added bonus of a whole lot of free porn. In other words, if society at large can be seen as a person, the disciplined neurotic has now turned into an irrational pervert.
A lot of reasons should come to mind. A first obvious one would be what I have stated above — the disintegrating boundary of labor and leisure with the advent of computers, and later cyberspace. Does this disintegration not also serve as a symbolic disintegration of the big Other of the work office? Seeing the symptoms apparent in today’s society, I am tempted to claim so. This disintegration, however, both constitutes and is a part of a larger cultural phenomena — the advent of new media (for an explanation on the relationship, please refer to Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media). In other words, the changing structure of media itself changes the psychological sphere of society.
Where do we begin? Let us take the Lacanian position in regards to analyzing perversion: it is essentially the disavowal of the fact that the mother does not posses a phallus. This mother for the society at large is the mother that deep feminism has introduced to us: nature. What is nature? Nature has always been understood as some kind of mystical balance existence itself, something that can only be experienced as mediated by the ultimate big Other of its laws. But what is happening today is precisely the realization that there is no nature: Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, chaos theory, economic failures, etc. — the Lacanian “the big Other does not exist” suddenly emerges in most — if not all — intellectual fields. Then there is the added anxiety with our natural biological existence that comes with biotechnology and cybernetics combined — the shadow of the ultimate inefficacy of biology; the Haylesian becoming of the posthuman.
In short, the advent of the posthuman means the traumatic realization that the mother does not possess the phallus (of balanced deterministic progress, benevolence and subordination towards mankind, and so on), and the perversion prevalent in today’s society can be precisely read as a symptom of the disavowal of such realization. This can be confirmed by looking back into the previous mode of society, the neurosis — are we not precisely, by repressing sexuality, repressing our “natural, animalistic” instincts? With postmodernity, our sexuality is no longer repressed — it is let loose, but disavowed of its being a highly emotional and subjective, “uncodable” experience, for we have to treat it as an act of mere casual fun and games (I first blogged this issue here). Recall the notion of the animal signifier — being an “animal” used to be a derogatory remark, but now it means positively sexually aggressive, especially when compared to the now hip derogatory remark of being a “robot” in a relationship. (Curiously enough, the notion of “sex robots” are positive only qua an other we want to have sex with, not as).
As we are about to become near-spiritual beings with biotechnology and cybernetics, we force ourselves to have as much detached sex as possible, because we secretly fear that we could never be posthuman. We have now a perverse injunction to regard oneself as the instrument of the actual bodiless sexual relations, since the body is now a mere prostheses — a phallus of the Other apropos biological strap-on dildos.