Thursday, March 15, 2012

Techniques of Pleasure

SM is a practice of the self, a form of community and belonging, an impetus to consumption and lifestyle, and an eroticization of social inequality.

   ~ Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality by Margot Weiss

Much as ethnographers go to places like New Guinea to live among and study the natives, putting their customs and rituals under the microscope of science, so has the BDSM community been studied.

Yes, boys and girls, a scientist moved to San Francisco and lived among the leather crowd to study and analyze our behavior.  Now there's a book retelling and analyzing the experience.

The book's author, Margot Weiss, specializes in the ethnography of contemporary sexual cultures and politics as an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan University.

Serafina asked me, as I read her the opening paragraphs, if such a study legitimizes what we do.  I replied, "It may very well have that effect."

I wonder at the same time to myself, if it marginalizes our community.  And, in it's own way, the book may do that as well.

You see, there are times when life delivers a platter of delicious contradictions.  BDSM itself has always seemed to me to be a construct of delicious contradiction, built upon the two sided coin of sadomasochism.

But my personal perceptions of BDSM are observations from within.  I've always been attracted to bondage and power exchange, I can't separate who I am from how I perceive.

With that in mind, I picked this book up with great interest.  Here was a look at the community I inhabit by the objective eyes of an individual trained in ethnography.

Do you ever wonder how people outside the BDSM community perceive us?

Even that simple question is more complex than it seems, as the "BDSM community" is not some monolithic construct.  We are a widely varied group of individuals who's interests and sexual practices have been shoehorned into an acronym.  

Even saying that I am an inhabitant of BDSM community is bit problematic.  I fit a large number of the characteristics described to be inherent to the BDSM community as described by Weiss, yet there are a number of significant differences as well.

I've never been to a munch, nor to any of the various social events she attributes to be key aspects of the BDSM community.  I've never been to a "play party" either, unless you count the never ending series of threesomes (and the occasional foursome) with BDSM overtones that occurred in my home during the 1990's to fall under that heading.

And, I also get the feeling that the BDSM community in other regions outside of San Francisco may have evolved rather differently than the community Weiss describes.  So, this study might be best viewed as a serious look at a single distinct BDSM tribe.

As such, it's a very interesting book, fascinating in fact.  I find myself stopping to ponder the points that Weiss makes, to question her conclusions, or, to try and decide what conclusions I might personally reach based upon my own experiences.

I'm close to finished with my first full reading of the text, so I should be posting a more complete review of the book very soon.  I can already recommend that you pick up a copy for yourself, as the book is challenging, but thought provoking.  I do not suggest the hardback version for $71.97, and not even the softcover for $24.95, as Techniques of Pleasure is available on Kindle for just $9.99.

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