Master / slave as Identity in Hegel and Nietzsche 

If nobody ever acknowledged your existence, you wouldn’t exist as a person. You’d just be a personless body.

Hegel puts it like this: “Self-consciousness exists in and for itself when . . . it so exists for another; that is, it exists only in being acknowledged.” Suppose nobody else ever talked to you or interacted with you. In some cultures (like the Pennsylvania Deutsch), one way of punishing people is to “shun” them: refuse to speak to them, refuse to eat with them, never touch anything they’ve touched, never hand them anything. Shunning is far crueler and more effective as a threat than jail or even a beating.

  1. Put two self consciousnesses face to face and it’s like putting two mirrors face to face: each reflects itself in the other, each sees itself in the other. Its like this: I know; you know; I know that you know; you know that I know; I know that you know that I know; you know that I know that you know this goes on and on, and nobody can stand it.

180 181. At first the encounter between the two self-consciousness is perfectly symmetrical: the self- consciousness’ are so far exactly identical, so they can’t distinguish themselves from one another. Am I you? Are you me? So far, there’s nothing to differentiate us. We’re totally alike. So we’re not different persons; the symmetry destroys our personal identities.

This is ultimate torture: each wants to be its own person, and so wants to end the symmetry by establishing an asymmetric relation. Each wants to dominate the other (“supersede this otherness of itself”). The tension builds.

182 183. Domination and submission are based on useful action involving objects of natural biological desire. How would I know if I were the dominant person? Because while I would do things FOR MY SELF, you would also do everything FOR MY SELF and not for your self. I would live strictly FOR MY SELF; you would live FOR ANOTHER. You would not live for yourself at all.

Since you will do everything for my self and nothing for your self, you will effectively cease to live. You will have no life of your own; you’ll be dead.

  1. The dialectic of Force and the Understanding is repeated here at a higher level. Now, forces are not merely physical like in electricity, but they are conscious forces that are able to recognize each other: “They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another.” 185 186. Tension builds. The symmetry of mutual recognition is unstable. The symmetry must be broken so that of the two opposed self-consciousnesses, one is going to be only recognized (master), the other only recognizing (slave).
  2. The only way to settle the matter is in a fight to the death, in which one self-consciousness wins (lives) and the other loses (dies). the relation of the two self-conscious individuals is such that they have to settle their equal opposition by means of a life and death struggle a dialectical death match! Freedom can only be won by risking one’s whole life, by holding nothing back.
  3. The problem is that if one self-consciousness kills the other, the dead self-consciousness can’t do anything at all, so it can’t do anything for the other. To be FOR ANOTHER, self-consciousness has to be somewhat FOR ITSELF. If the one kills the other, it thereby destroys its own freedom, since there’s nobody there to recognize its triumphant victory. You can’t rule corpses: a dead servant does not obey anybody and so is free. Simply killing the other in the life or death combat is an “abstract negation”; it is “not the negation coming from consciousness, which supersedes in such a way as to preserve and maintain what is superseded, and consequently survives its own supersession.” It’s like playing a game of chicken: both contestants know that one of them has to surrender or they’ll both die. The pressure on each to surrender increases.
  4. Each self-consciousness realizes that it needs both its own life and the life of the other.

Their relation in the life or death contest is unstable, but at some point, one side gives in and surrenders. At this point, the victor has the right to kill the one who surrendered; but of course, the victor realizes that killing the loser would be futile. What the victor wants is recognition, acknowledgement of the victory. You can’t be admired by a corpse, so the victor spares the loser’s life.

The victor does not kill, but rather enslaves the loser. One of the two self-consciousness’ “is the independent consciousness whose essential nature is to be for itself, the other is the dependent consciousness whose essential nature is simply to live or to be for another. The former is lord, the other is bondsman.”





  1. Every elevation of the type “man,” has hitherto been the work of an aristocratic society and so it will always be—a society believing in a long scale of gradations of rank and differences of worth among human beings, and requiring slavery in some form or other. Without the pathos of distance, such as grows out of the incarnated difference of classes, out of the constant out looking and down looking of the ruling caste on subordinates and instruments, and out of their equally constant practice of obeying and commanding, of keeping down and keeping at a distance—that other more mysterious pathos could never have arisen, the longing for an ever new widening of distance within the soul itself, the formation of ever higher, rarer, further, more extended, more comprehensive states, in short, just the elevation of the type “man,” the continued “self-surmounting of man,” to use a moral formula in a supermoral sense. To be sure, one must not resign oneself to any humanitarian illusions about the history of the origin of an aristocratic society (of the preliminary condition for the elevation of the type “man”): the truth is hard. Let us acknowledge unprejudicedly how every higher civilization hitherto has originated! Men with a still natural nature, barbarians in every terrible sense of the word, men of prey, still in possession of unbroken strength of will and desire for power, threw themselves upon weaker, more moral, more peaceful races (perhaps trading or cattle rearing communities), or upon old mellow civilizations in which the final vital force was flickering out in brilliant fireworks of wit and depravity.

At the commencement, the noble caste was always the barbarian caste: their superiority did not consist first in their physical, but in their psychical power—they were more complete men (which at every point also implies the same as “more complete beasts”). [Higher Class of Being] 258. Corruption—as the indication that anarchy threatens to break out among the instincts, and that the foundation of the emotions, called “life,” is convulsed—is something radically different according to the organization in which it manifests itself. When, for instance, an aristocracy like that of France at the beginning of the Revolution, flung away its privileges with sublime disgust and sacrificed itself to an excess of its moral sentiments, it was corruption: it was only the closing act of the corruption which had existed for centuries, by virtue of which that aristocracy had abdicated step by step its lordly prerogatives and lowered itself to a function of royalty (in the end even to its decoration and parade dress).

The essential thing, however, in a good and healthy aristocracy is that it should not regard itself as a function either of the kingship or the commonwealth, but as the significance highest justification thereof—that it should therefore accept with a good conscience the sacrifice of a legion of individuals, who, for its sake, must be suppressed and reduced to imperfect men, to slaves and instruments. Its fundamental belief must be precisely that society is not allowed to exist for its own sake, but only as a foundation and scaffolding, by means of which a select class of beings may be able to elevate themselves to their higher duties, and in general to a higher existence: like those sun seeking climbing plants in Java—they are called Sipo Matador, which encircle an oak so long and so often with their arms, until at last, high above it, but supported by it, they can unfold their tops in the open light, and exhibit their happiness. [Life Denial]

  1. To refrain mutually from injury, from violence, from exploitation, and put one’s will on a par with that of others: this may result in a certain rough sense in good conduct among individuals when the necessary conditions are given (namely, the actual similarity of the individuals in amount of force and degree of worth, and their co relation within one organization). As soon, however, as one wished to take this principle more generally, and if possible even as the fundamental principle of society, it would immediately disclose what it really is—namely, a Will to the denial of life, a principle of dissolution and decay. Here one must think profoundly to the very basis and resist all sentimental weakness: life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation, and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation; but why should one for ever use precisely these words on which for ages a disparaging purpose has been stamped? Even the organization within which, as was previously supposed, the individuals treat each other as equal—it takes place in every healthy aristocracy— must itself, if it be a living and not a dying organization, do all that towards other bodies, which the individuals within it refrain from doing to each other it will have to be the incarnated Will to Power, it will endeavour to grow, to gain ground, attract to itself and acquire ascendancy—not owing to any morality or immorality, but because it lives, and because life is precisely Will to Power.

On no point, however, is the ordinary consciousness of Europeans more unwilling to be corrected than on this matter, people now rave everywhere, even under the guise of science, about coming conditions of society in which “the exploiting character” is to be absent—that sounds to my ears as if they promised to invent a mode of life which should refrain from all organic functions. From the reading. . . “The noble type of man regards himself as a determiner of values; he does not require to be approved of. . . he is a creator of values.”

“Exploitation” does not belong to a depraved, or imperfect and primitive society it belongs to the nature of the living being as a primary organic function, it is a consequence of the intrinsic Will to Power, which is precisely the Will to Life—Granting that as a theory this is a novelty—as a reality it is the fundamental fact of all history let us be so far honest towards ourselves! [Master Morality]

  1. In a tour through the many finer and coarser moralities which have hitherto prevailed or still prevail on the earth, I found certain traits recurring regularly together, and connected with one another, until finally two primary types revealed themselves to me, and a radical distinction was brought to light.


There is master morality and slave morality, I would at once add that in all higher and mixed civilizations, there are also attempts at the reconciliation of the two moralities, but one finds still oftener the confusion and mutual misunderstanding of them, indeed sometimes their close juxtaposition—even in the same man, within one soul.

The distinctions of moral values have either originated in a ruling caste, pleasantly conscious of being different from the ruled—or among the ruled class, the slaves and dependents of all sorts. In the first case, when it is the rulers who determine the conception “good,” it is the exalted, proud disposition which is regarded as the distinguishing feature, and that which determines the order of rank. The noble type of man separates from himself the beings in whom the opposite of this exalted, proud disposition displays itself he despises them.

Let it at once be noted that in this first kind of morality the antithesis “good” and “bad” means practically the same as “noble” and “despicable”, the antithesis “good” and “evil” is of a different origin. The cowardly, the timid, the insignificant, and those thinking merely of narrow utility are despised; moreover, also, the distrustful, with their constrained glances, the self abasing, the dog like kind of men who let themselves be abused, the mendicant flatterers, and above all the liars: it is a fundamental belief of all aristocrats that the common people are untruthful. “We truthful ones” the nobility in ancient Greece called themselves.

It is obvious that everywhere the designations of moral value were at first applied to men; and were only derivatively and at a later period applied to actions; it is a gross mistake, therefore, when historians of morals start with questions like, “Why have sympathetic actions been praised?” The noble type of man regards himself as a determiner of values; he does not require to be approved of; he passes the judgment: What is injurious to me is injurious in itself; he knows that it is he himself only who confers honour on things; he is a creator of values. He honours whatever he recognizes in himself: such morality equals self-glorification. In the foreground there is the feeling of plenitude, of power, which seeks to overflow, the happiness of high tension, the consciousness of a wealth which would fain give and bestow: the noble man also helps the unfortunate, but not—or scarcely—out of pity, but rather from an impulse generated by the superabundance of power.

The noble man honours in himself the powerful one, him also who above all has power over himself, who knows how to speak and how to keep silence, who takes pleasure in subjecting himself to severity and hardness, and has reverence for all that is severe and hard. “Wotan placed a hard heart in my breast,” says an old Scandinavian Saga: it is thus rightly expressed from the soul of a proud Viking. Such a type of man is even proud of not being made for sympathy; the hero of the Saga therefore adds warningly: “He who has not a hard heart when young, will never have one.”

The noble and brave who think thus are the furthest removed from the morality which sees precisely in sympathy, or in acting for the good of others, or in dèintèressement, the characteristic of the moral; faith in oneself, pride in oneself, a radical enmity and irony towards “selflessness,” belong as to noble morality, as do a careless scorn and precaution in presence of sympathy and the “warm heart.” It is the powerful who know how to honour, it is their art, their domain for invention. The profound reverence for age and for tradition—all law rests on this double reverence, the belief and prejudice in favour of ancestors and unfavourable to newcomers, is typical in the morality of the powerful; and if, reversely, men of “modern ideas” believe almost instinctively in “progress” and the “future,” and are more and more lacking in respect for old age, the ignoble origin of these “ideas” has complacently betrayed itself thereby.

A morality of the ruling class, however, is more especially foreign and irritating to present day taste in the sternness of its principle that one has duties only to one’s equals; that one may act towards beings of a lower rank, towards all that is foreign, just as seems good to one, or “as the heart desires,” and in any case “beyond good and evil”: it is here that sympathy and similar sentiments can have a place.

The ability and obligation to exercise prolonged gratitude and prolonged revenge—both only within the circle of equals, artfulness in retaliation, refinement of the idea in friendship, a certain necessity to have enemies (as outlets for the emotions of envy, quarrelsomeness, arrogance—in fact, in order to be a good friend): all these are typical characteristics of the noble morality, which, as has been pointed out, is not the morality of “modern ideas,” and is therefore at present difficult to realize, and also to unearth and disclose.


[Slave Morality]


It is otherwise with the second type of morality, slave morality.

Supposing that the abused, the oppressed, the suffering, the unemancipated, the weary, and those uncertain of themselves should moralize, what will be the common element in their moral estimates? Probably a pessimistic suspicion with regard to the entire situation of man will find expression, perhaps a condemnation of man, together with his situation. The slave has an unfavourable eye for the virtues of the powerful; he has a skepticism and distrust, a refinement of distrust of everything “good” that is there honoured— he would fain persuade himself that the very happiness there is not genuine. On the other hand, those qualities which serve to alleviate the existence of sufferers are brought into prominence and flooded with light; it is here that sympathy, the kind, helping hand, the warm heart, patience, diligence, humility, and friendliness attain to honour; for here these are the most useful qualities, and almost the only means of supporting the burden of existence. Slave morality is essentially the morality of utility.

Here is the seat of the origin of the famous antithesis “good” and “evil”: power and dangerousness are assumed to reside in the evil, a certain dreadfulness, subtlety, and strength, which do not admit of being despised.

According to slave morality, therefore, the “evil” man arouses fear; according to master morality, it is precisely the “good” man who arouses fear and seeks to arouse it, while the bad man is regarded as the despicable being. The contrast attains its maximum when, in accordance with the logical consequences of slave morality, a shade of depreciation—it may be slight and well intentioned—at last attaches itself to the “good” man of this morality; because, according to the servile mode of thought, the good man must in any case be the safe man: he is good natured, easily deceived, perhaps a little stupid, un Bonhomme.

Everywhere that slave morality gains the ascendancy, language shows a tendency to approximate the significations of the words “good” and “stupid.”

[Creation of Values]

A last fundamental difference: the desire for freedom, the instinct for happiness and the refinements of the feeling of liberty belong as necessarily to slave morals and morality, as artifice and enthusiasm in reverence and devotion are the regular symptoms of an aristocratic mode of thinking and estimating.

Hence, we can understand without further detail why love as a passion—it is our European specialty—must absolutely be of noble origin; as is well known, its invention is due to the Provencal poet cavaliers, those brilliant, ingenious men of the “gai saber,” to whom Europe owes so much, and almost owes itself. 261. Vanity is one of the things which are perhaps most difficult for a noble man to understand: he will be tempted to deny it, where another kind of man thinks he sees itself evidently. The problem for him is to represent to his mind beings who seek to arouse a good opinion of themselves which they themselves do not possess—and consequently also do not “deserve,”  and who yet believe in this good opinion afterwards.

This seems to him on the one hand such bad taste and so self disrespectful, and on the other hand so grotesquely unreasonable, that he would like to consider vanity an exception, and is doubtful about it in most cases when it is spoken of. He will say, for instance: “I may be mistaken about my value, and on the other hand may nevertheless demand that my value should be acknowledged by others precisely as I rate it: that, however, is not vanity (but self-conceit, or, in most cases, that which is called ‘humility,’ and also ‘modesty’).”

Or he will even say: “For many reasons I can delight in the good opinion of others, perhaps because I love and honour them, and rejoice in all their joys, perhaps also because their good opinion endorses and strengthens my belief in my own good opinion, perhaps because the good opinion of others, even in cases where I do not share it, is useful to me, or gives promise of usefulness: all this, however, is not vanity.”

The man of noble character must first bring it home forcibly to his mind, especially with the aid of history, that, from time immemorial, in all social strata in any way dependent, the ordinary man was only that which he passed for: not being at all accustomed to fix values, he did not assign even to himself any other value than that which his master assigned to him (it is the peculiar right of masters to create values). It may be looked upon as the result of an extraordinary atavism, that the ordinary man, even at present, is still always waiting for an opinion about himself, and then instinctively submitting himself to it; yet by no means only to a “good” opinion, but also to a bad and unjust one (think, for instance, of the greater part of the self appreciations and self depreciations which believing women learn from their confessors, and which in general the believing Christian learns from his Church).

“Everywhere slave morality gains ascendancy, language shows a tendency to approximate the meanings of the words ‘good’ and ‘stupid.’”

In fact, conformably to the slow rise of the democratic social order (and its cause, the blending of the blood of masters and slaves), the originally noble and rare impulse of the masters to assign a value to themselves and to “think well” of themselves, will now be more and more encouraged and extended; but it has always an older, ampler, and more radically ingrained propensity opposed to it—and in the phenomenon of “vanity” this older propensity overmasters the younger.

The vain person rejoices over every good opinion which he hears about himself (quite apart from the point of view of its usefulness, and equally regardless of its truth or falsehood), just as he suffers from every bad opinion: for he subjects himself to both, he feels himself subjected to both, by that oldest instinct of subjection which breaks forth in him.

It is “the slave” in the vain man’s blood, the remains of the slave’s craftiness— and how much of the “slave” is still left in woman, for instance! which seeks to seduce to good opinions of itself; it is the slave, too, who immediately afterwards falls prostrate himself before these opinions, as though he had not called them forth. And to repeat it again: vanity is an atavism.

The Mutability of The Self in Being-Together-With

“We Are The Same”. We are the same in being self-same and self-different. We become a self, properly speaking, ourselves as self-same precisely in changing through self-difference. Self-Identity can never mean identification in the sense of some commonality.

“The same is in no way the equal. The same is even less the coincidence without difference of the identical. The same is rather the relation of the different.”

“”Belonging lies in the assimilation that distinguishes the appropriating event. By virtue of this assimilation, we are admitted to the event. This is why we can never place appropriation in front of us, neither as something opposite us nor as something all-encompassing.

.. This is why thinking which represents and gives account corresponds to Appropriation as little as does the saying that merely states.”

Representing one’s self, as in the I-Subject, nor representing the other can ‘get hold’ of what is meant in being-the-there-together as appropriating event. Nor can representations such as space get hold of the place we open up in which we become who are together.

To say that emmie and I became what we are for ourselves and for each other in the appropriating event of coming together means precisely this, that what is retrospectively the self is in the first instance, an outline, a figure that must be filled in by living. “Figure” does not mean picture, but a prefiguring in the sense that the wings of a butterfly are prefigured just prior to metamorphosis, by corresponding shapes that appear in the body of the caterpillar.

“Master and slave” are such a prefiguring outline. What it means to be such can only be worked out from the prefiguration, but the figure only properly is in the working out, the outline defines as little as necessary. Representing is to “picture”, which overdetermines becoming from the start. Identity becomes identification, which is opposed to both self-sameness and self-difference. It is merely applying a prefabricated generalization as already decided to what should instead develop out of decision.

Being the same does not mean being the same as the other, which is exactly what equality conveys. The same (το αὐτó) does not presuppose the equality of “two things or two terms”. In fact it precludes such equality. The same is always the same of some other, but this other is first of all itself, or self-same. The same is the gift of self, given in the event. The same is dative—for itself and with itself—in relation to itself, and therefore of a different self-relation.

The dative ἐαυτω means: each thing itself is returned to itself, each itself is the same for itself with itself. In sameness, there is thus difference—opposition to self. “Opposition appropriates itself. It appropriates itself in the same as the essential of being. This “opposition” is the incision of the other in the same, an incision that remains occluded within relationships of equality.

If being the same originally means being self-(ex) change (the withdrawal of oneself in self-giving—the play of the dative) and letting the other be in the self, and if, originally, identity is a metamorphosis, then the incomparable character of being simply designates the impossibility, for everything that is, of being equal to itself. A being could be just like another being, but it cannot be just like itself in that it originally differs from itself. The being of beings is what inscribes in beings the difference of beings from themselves.

It is in this sense that being and time belong together, we differ from ourselves in time, over time. Self-difference as contradiction has another definition: finitude. We can be “in time” and “over time”, and simultaneously self-different and self-same because we are finite. But as the same, being, essence, and beings are all finite and mutable. Through finitude we become incomparable except via the incomparable itself.

The complicity between being, essence, and beings revealed by the (ex)change stems from this change and rupture of identity that makes each thing, each person, simultaneously an essence, a being, and the difference between the two; a dative self-difference that prevents every self-enclosure. When I encounter emmie, after the event that appropriated us to each other, I move into her, exploring her difference, the singular play opened in her between my essence and itself. It is exactly there, at that place, that she welcomes me. Ereignis, the event that appropriates, or the enowning, is the place where this can happen, there where we make room—a place for the other.

This welcoming, or passage into the other and back, neither is pure transcendence, nor is it some sort of transcendental hospitality; it is ordinary in the sense of ordinary changes in living, where the interplay between living and those who live changes both. There is no alterity without change. The other changes me because I change myself in it. The strange resemblances between people who live together without being kin; between lovers, friends, and children are such living changes. Alterity is transformation—fashioning of and by the other.

The metamorphosis and migration of Dasein, God, the relation to being, beings, etc., corresponds neither to the sudden appearance of new monsters nor to what are ordinarily called fantastic creatures. The new metamorphosis and migration results from the way in which, after an appropriating event, breathe the same air, and live the same novel ontological condition: being-essence, being-beings, and being the difference between the two.

Self, Self-Identity and the thinking of identity are changed to the extent that what is the same is not the closed circle of generic community or commonality but a gathering that precisely does not generalize. Essence is henceforth a remaining open, the revolving door of the house of being through which the exchange of the favor passes.

The “gift” and the “giver” are not abstractions, but ourselves and the things we give each other, in this case emmie and I and what we give and receive, and the ways in which those things matter. The “gift” is material, in the true sense of mattering, and only by understanding each other, and each others place, the “there” we each are, have we a shared place where we could understand what matters to the other, and thus to ourselves. Favor is gift, of course, but also the excess of giving that is never exhausted in any gift.

“The visibility of Being itself found in transformed beings in and after the event is born precisely from ontological mutability, where god can be shown as Dasein, “Dasein as god, being as a thing, Dasein as a thing and a thing as a god, without any of these essences trying to alienate each other or become equal. The divine, the thing, man, and being from time to time show in each other, are installed in each other in passing. Essence—stand-in, double, halo, aureole—is the other name for what, in a thing, god, Dasein, or animal and in being itself is the most exposed, the most fragile, the most ordinary. The littlest, in everything, is living tissue of a constant autotransformation, which is itself living, thinking, and thinging: a being’s capacity to take leave of itself so as to be crossed and exchanged with another. There can be no “belonging” without this suppleness of gathered terms, itself founded on the suppleness of gathering, a suppleness that permits them to fold into and substitute for each other while remaining what they are.” —  Malabou, Catherine

That emmie can substitute for me, that she can put herself in my place and do what I would have her do; that she can see me as her Master, not despite the ordinariness she knows in me, but precisely because of that ordinariness, is part of suppleness, the exchangeability that nevertheless keeps us who we are. That I can put myself in her place and understand what she needs, understand what she wants, and decide whether those are congruous with our place together is also part of that suppleness and fluidity of self and self-identity. Enowning makes the ordinary explicit as fantastical, and the fantastical simultaneously real by living.

“Pain maintains a natal tie with the logos, meaning with gathering and belonging. An essential bond would in this way unite pain and gathering. “Pain would be that which gathers most intimately,” in the littlest, most fragile, and exposed fashion.” —  Malabou, Catherine

“It is necessary to look after and protect what is supple” – Malabou, Catherine

Enowning as an “Intra-Action”

“The notion of intra-action is a key element of my agential realist framework. The neologism “intra-action” signifies the mutual constitution of entangled agencies. That is, in contrast to the usual “interaction,” which assumes that there are separate individual agencies that precede their interaction, the notion of intra-action recognizes that distinct agencies do not precede, but rather emerge through, their intra-action. It is important to note that the “distinct” agencies are only distinct in a relational, not an absolute, sense, that is, agencies are only distinct in relation to their mutual entanglement; they don’t exist as individual elements.”

Barad, Karen (2007-06-20). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Kindle Locations 789-792). Duke University Press. Kindle Edition.


While it can be dangerous to jump to ontological conclusions from any scientific perspective since those perspectives are always themselves based on a (usually) not well clarified ontology of their own, Barad is cognizant enough of that difficulty to at least make her ideas worth looking at.  Her notion of intra-action as a key implication of quantum entanglement is interesting in terms of M/s and the idea of enowning that I’ve put forward in earlier posts.

The notion of what ‘makes’ a Master a Master and conversely a slave a slave itself arises for me in the event of enowning, an entangled shared event which simultaneously enowns each to the other and out of which both are what they retroactively always already were.  We ‘are’ what we become, since we determine the effective past (the past perfect) that determines who we become, and thereby who we already have been. 

In dialectical terms the ‘actual’ series of events is not the determinative one, since any event not remembered or regained in some manner is gone.  The past that determines who we are in the present is that which we retain as in a sense still present, the past for which we use the past perfect tense; not the past that was but that which has been.  Since we determine this from out of entangled intra-actions what we ‘are’, in our case Master and slave, we determined as the past from out of a co-event that ‘made’ us such, and did so retroactively, in such a manner that we always ‘had been’ only as a potential actualized in that event. 

As such neither Master nor slave pre-existed the event, although we certainly were in the sense of being precisely who and what we were.  As distinct, determinate agencies in a specific situation of enowning we didn’t pre-exist the event of enowning which brought that situation about, and so we were not Master and slave as such.  The intra-action of enowning – the simultaneous leap into enowning/enownment is an ontological event, and a unique one – ‘The Event’ as such, for any shared being-with that comes about as such through the event.  We are as enowned perpetually in the leap.

Beyond the Master/slave Dialectic: Erotic Ownership

In erotic ownership of another self, Eros draws the potential owner and the potentially owned by engendering desire, and in this draw draws both into the draw itself as an intimate being‐there-with. If we posit the two persons involved, though, as present­at­hand, fully determinable entities, and the desire as some sort of mutual relation, we fail to understand the way in which the beauty we perceive in the other draws as erotic

If the other were a fully determinable entity, a thing, such as a statue for instance, our desire to possess it leads to a contrary desire, that is, to keep possession the beloved should be made less desirable to others, hence less beautiful, less engendering of desire in others, but this would also engender less desire in ourselves.  From the potentially owned perspective, then, precisely they should allow themselves to be owned by one that doesn’t desire them fully, because one that desires them less will have less interest in reducing what beauty is there. This technical understanding of the situation misrepresents Eros, in that desire and possession as moments of Eros become contradictory, and in one way or another the contradiction leads to the loss of both.    It is also totalizing in that it re-presents both the other and the between as fully determined, totalized things in a totalized relation to one another. Rather than erotic, this technical understanding is thanatic, in that the self, the other, and the relation are experienced clinically, laid out before, precisely as a corpse is laid out before a clinical, theoretical gaze. As total, this type of possession can only be relative, predicated on  a  relation  between totalized entities. 

Beings as things can be seen as present-­at-­hand, and in our ‘rational’ way of thinking, we experience things in that manner.  We can even, in a theoretical stance, strip a thing of the relations that give it meaning, such that it becomes an object. Things can also be experienced as ready‐to-hand, in the way we perceive tools when we use them with only implicit recognition of their presentation,  primarily  recognizing them as fulfilling a function, for example we don’t really notice the chair we sit in as a chair in its full presentation, but as a  functional “for‐sitting‐in”. These two modes don’t exhaust the possible modes of being, though, since they only deal with beings as determinate things. Neither our self, nor the self of the other, nor the beauty of the other as Eros that draws us towards, nor finally the desire that we experience in this draw are fundamentally experienced as things in either the present‐at‐hand or ready‐to‐hand modes, still less as ‘objects’ stripped of their meaningful relations. In that selves have thingly aspects we are no different from the higher animals, other aspects of our being determine us as primarily selves, and in so doing redefine the animalistic traits we do have. 


Eros and desire as what draws and the draw itself are not experienced as a relation between present‐at‐hand things.  In erotic being-drawn-towards we are drawn towards a projection of the self and the other upon a possible shared horizon. In this draw we are simultaneously stretched temporally from our history (the past as what is retained in the present) towards a projected future. The present ‘moment’ in which we experience the other is not a single now‐point but is the entirety of this projected stretch. Desire is not a relation between two already present‐at‐hand things but is mediated by the self‐narrative of the projection, and Eros is not an ‘object’ of this desire but its goal, its telos. The erotic is what engenders the self-narrative of fantasy (hence why fantasy is always seen as fundamentally erotic) by drawing us towards possibilities that are not yet fully actualized as possession and being-possessed, and can always be further actualized.  Absolute possession is always partial, because as absolute it possesses what is only partially determinable,

As selves, the potential owner and owned are not primarily present-­‐at-­‐hand entities, but the opening of a place in which such entities can appear and pass away as the interplay of reality. In being-­‐with the other there is no ‘relation’ between isolated self-­‐things because selves themselves are the between in which any such relations can occur. Since both the draw of desire and the being caught up in the draw occur as projections, both desire/Eros and self/other are experienced as only partially determinable possibilities, and desire is desire to  actualize those possibilities as fully as possible. To possess in the mode of guiding the actualization of the possibilities of the other, while being‐possessed, is in the mode of being-guided in that actualization. The erotic as owned is simultaneously present‐at‐hand beauty and ready‐to‐hand usefulness, but more primarily the continuing increase of self, Eros and desire in a co‐actualizing being-there-with, where co‐actualizing determines the possessor as owner and the possessed as owned as an ongoing appropriating event, an enownment, in which each receives their appropriate potential from the appropriating event itself.

In this situation there is no contradiction between desire and Eros as its telos. Desire desires precisely the fullest actualization of the erotic and of the self as possessing the erotic. In the appropriating event the proper places of each are determined in an ongoing way, the places of the enowned and enowning as the fullness of enownment itself. Being caught up in the draw and projection of desire by the possessed itself co-projects the fullness of enowning as far as our finite projections can, and the event,  as  ongoing,  constantly  re-projects  enownment  onto  further  horizons.  By absolute being‐there-with in the appropriating event we avoid predetermining or over-determining the other, from either side, by holding open possibilities as possible, and remaining open to changing projections of those possibilities.

American Medical Schools

Apparently if you attend medical school in the U.S. rather than elsewhere in the world, you can skip the required courses in Medical Ethics and Medical Prudence so long as you replace them with “Lying To Your Patients 101”, and the more advanced “Sociopathy Through Medicine”, along with “Being Patronizing for Beginners” and the follow on “Being Absolutely Condescending”. The final required course is a double credit value course titled “Replacing Medical Prudence with Personal Cowardice”.

The Problems with “Identifying-As”

A number of things I’ve read and/or observed lately run aground on the notion of “identifying as”. The notion of identifying as in a fixed manner indicates not only a misunderstanding of the proper use of that action, but a misunderstanding based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the notions of Self, identity and Self-Identity.

The only thing I identify as in a fixed way is my Self, i.e. I identify uniquely and solely as me. This isn’t some rampant individualism, since my Self is largely shared with other human beings, more so the closer we are in terms of the society into which we were initiated, and in which initiation we became human. Self-identity, at its base, is precisely the identity of one’s Self with oneself. How we comprehend this identity and how we always know when we are being true to our Selves is a complex matter, but it has nothing to do with identifying as one genera or another, or with one group or another.

When I see someone doing verbal somersaults trying to accommodate their sexuality, as an example, to a label they can be comfortable identifying as, and predictably failing, there is a demonstrable confusion between who one is and how one happens to live. Simply put, if I fuck the same sex, I’m gay; if I fuck the opposite sex, I’m straight; if I fuck both, I’m bisexual. At any given point in my life, based on how I project myself acting in the foreseeable future, picking one or the other shouldn’t be altogether that difficult. The apparent difficulty arises when we try to use the way we project living in the reasonably near future as determining who we are. At that point the simple definitions (and the huge variety of more complex ones) are never sufficient to capture every aspect of something as complex as sexuality, and the only possible outcome, beyond the above mentioned confusion, is a self-limitation to one or another group’s definition of itself as a group. Living as straight, gay, bi, is not a limitation since that projection can change as we change and develop. Identifying as any of those, or queer, or leather, or cuticle-centric, or whatever is inherently limiting the manifold ways in which we change and grow as selves.

Of course we spend time in various groups, not just over a lifetime, but over a single day, and to some degree we ‘take part’ in the identities of those groups. However simply because we are employed by private businesses we do not necessarily ‘identify as’ rampant capitalists; nor do we necessarily ‘identify as’ xenophobic nationalists simply because we come home to a family of a particular ethnicity and enjoy some of the common praxes of that ethnicity. The State arbiters between groups as groups precisely because individuals morph between various groups on a constant basis, and as a result their identities, wants, desires are far too complex and fluid for any kind of comprehensible contract between state and individual. Just as having an ethnicity that is part of my identity does not make me identify as that ethnicity, neither should having particular sexual proclivities, or being part of particular groups that are defined by some common proclivity, force me to identify as that proclivity. While it is part of my identity it may be a major or minor part, it may be constant or fleeting, or it may come and go.

The exceptions, of course, are groups where membership is a lifelong binding commitment. Being a Jesuit is not something you can take up and put down, for example. Neither is being a Hell’s Angel. Even in these extremes, though, members remain the complex beings they are, the difference being that they have made a solemn commitment to putting a particular group’s interests above those of any other group they may take part in at different times in their lives or different times of the day or week.

With the implosion of the concept of ‘personality’ and its replacement with the poorly enough defined ‘self-identity’, as individuals we are in greater difficulty coming to grips with who we are than ever before. However self-identity and identification are separate matters, and conflating them cannot lead to a satisfactory self-understanding. Simultaneously modernization, and capitalization in particular, has functioned as an acid on a vast number of shared praxes that lent a sense of belonging to members of different groups, whether the destruction of the shared praxes of particular rituals in various religious groups and their replacement with groups that only share abstract ideological belief-systems, or more recently the abandonment by capital of the shared praxes of the sciences, and the ensuing removal of funding for the scientific community and its replacement with “knowledge workers” that do not maintain the expensive and, from the perspective of global capital, useless shared praxes that gave a sense of belonging to members of the scientific community. These changes lead to an understandable desire to have a comprehensible determination of oneself, and a sense of belonging to some sort of community with whom we share something intrinsic.

Creating new communities, though, requires new shared praxes, and this is a difficult achievement, particularly in a time where people are skeptical even of skepticism itself. Trying to create communities via a shortcut of self-imposed sets of limitations via the notion of ‘identifying as’ will not work, and in fact will cause nascent communities to self-destruct, leaving individuals in the same place they were to begin with. There’s no point in defining and redefining what makes a particular group the group it is to such a degree that it becomes unrecognizable. All that’s been achieved, functionally, is the destruction of the group and its replacement by an arbitrary set of individuals with no common praxis that would lend the sense of belonging and identity desired in the first place.

Redefining something in order to make it more inclusive, in this case usually inclusive of whatever is part of your Self, but was excluded in the original definition, also makes the definition less precise. As an obvious example, some of the recent redefinitions of ‘leather’ that I’ve read are so inclusive they make it practically synonymous with ‘human’. We all belong to that definition in any case, there’s no need to duplicate it, nor will doing so give anyone any greater sense of belonging to something particular.

Communities based on new shared praxes, providing they are not particularly difficult or onerous, have the advantage of being open to anyone willing to participate in the shared activity, without thereby becoming more and more inclusive to the point of meaninglessness.


Recently I had a discussion with someone who had spent significant time in the scene, albeit in another city. He mentioned a non-group of people, since they didn’t get together or necessarily even know one another, that he referred to as “lifers”, i.e. people who lived a 24/7 M/s or similar dynamic but weren’t part of any “scene”, although most had been part of one scene or another at some point.

We discussed the reasons most of these people had no further interest in the scene: they had no interest in the mutual admiration performance art of a play party; they had no interest in the mutual justification societies of the BDSM / leather conference circuit; they had no interest in relationship-oriented groups since, just as individuals individuate and diverge from group interests, their relationship had individuated to the degree that group discussions about relationships had little to no relevance.

One of the reasons I found the discussion fascinating is that it articulated many of the things I feel about the scene and the various sub-scenes, and their relation to emmie and me.

I find no interest in playing publicly, the aspects of the way emmie and I actualize our fantasies are rather personal and playing publicly forces us to “tone down” what we do to the point of disinterest.

I haven’t enjoyed the conferences I’ve been to: the only areas of interest are largely for beginners and, it seems to me, necessarily so, since discussions on more advanced topics would be too specific to the people involved, without enough in common to attract any type of group.

I’ve lost interest in the relationship-oriented groups we’ve attended: I have very little advice to offer that is generally applicable, what we do is too personal and thus irrelevant to others; the inverse is also true, where what others who have been involved in this lifestyle as long or longer do things in such a substantially different manner that beyond mutual respect there isn’t much worth discussing; the idea of teaching or otherwise influencing those new to the idea of a 24/7 power dynamic is both repetitive, since what is common to this type of dynamic is very limited, and irritating, since people whose longest power dynamic has been measured in months or less are aghast at how emmie and I actually live and spend the time telling us that we’re doing it all wrong.

I have no interest in any of the established “groups” precisely because they, as groups, depend for their own survival on inculcating and maintaining group values and interests, while my own desires and interests have diverged further and continue to do so.

Although many of our friends, naturally, are in the scene, meeting at “scene events” gets annoying simply because we’ve said all we have to say to one another about “scene stuff”. While I enjoy them as people, the enjoyment of their company has to do with enjoying things that have nothing to do with M/s or BDSM from the perspective of non-vanilla people. Since people are busy though there is an unfortunate tendency to put off getting together with other people in the scene in non-scene situations, with the idea of “we’ll see them at such and such scene event in any case”.

It appears to be the last point that seals the effect where those my acquaintance referred to as “lifers” often know very few or even no people who share their lifestyle the longer they’ve been involved in it.

Enslavement and Enownment

I see two major issues with the linked post on enslavement:

  1. Everything mentioned is in terms of the slave’s “needs”. However you could turn things around and make all the same statements in terms of the Master’s “needs”.
  2. The point is apparently solely so that the slave can “be all she can be”. Aside from sounding like an old recruitment commercial, precisely what’s in it for the Master?

It’s true that a slave needs a certain “safe” zone in order to fully express themselves as such. In large part so does a Master, in order to express themselves as such. For both to occur there has to be an event, which I term “Enowning” or “event of appropriation”, both borrowed from two different English translations of Heidegger’s term “Ereignis”, which can also be translated as “Mastery”. In the case of an M/s relationship, “Enowning” has two simultaneous moments to the event, that of enslavement and that of enownment – the slave’s slavery is enabled as the Master’s ownership of the slave is enabled in the event of Enowning. The event is not something that occurs and then is over, but something from within which each remains what they have become, and becomes it more deeply.

As far as being all they can be, a significant part of being enslaved is precisely being what the Master/Owner wants her to be, not what she wants to be. A significant part of being enowned is that you *can* master the slave to be what you want them to be, in fact the mastery of the Master consists precisely in being able to accomplish this. The event of appropriation appropriates the slave into the malleability of being enslaved, and appropriates the Master into the ability to own and enslave.

The focus on a slave’s “needs” reminds me of an article I read recently, where the article writer said “obviously this woman is in close touch with all of her needs”, i.e. she’s a selfish bitch. That seems to me to be entirely the wrong approach for a slave in an M/s dynamic, and catering to it seems entirely the wrong approach for a Master.


My use of the various English forms of the term Ereignis is not simply a random hangover from my studies in modern philosophy. Variously translated as Event, Event of Appropriation, and Enowning,
Ereignis formulates in a term a number of key notions.

In denoting not simply an event, but The Event, Ereignis is not the type of occurrence that happens and is over, any more than The Science in Hegel refers to any science or science in general. In using the phrase “vom Ereignis”, or from the Event, Heidegger indicated that he was writing from out of the Event, from within the Event that was still occurring. Perhaps an easier term to think the “from” is Mastery. Mastery is an event, but it doesn’t happen and then end – it’s a constantly repeated continuation.

Mastery appropriates, enowns, both what is mastered and the Master themselves, precisely as a Master. Heidegger went so far as to express the non-subjective nature of Ereignis in the phrase appropriation appropriates. The redoubling is not due to a lack of alternate terms, but because the Event itself is a redoubling, a redoubling in which neither the One nor the Multiple is relevant, but the Two. In the Enowning the Two remain Two, each appropriated to their proper place. Since it is non-subjective, neither is it inter-subjective.

Place is a key notion. Time-space may arise from place, but doesn’t necessarily, although we have no conceptions other than poor imaginings of time-space that doesn’t arise from place. The primary place is comprised of here, there and over there; me, you and others. Me as here is non-subjective, it is not “I” but me that is simultaneously always here, that is the here. It is you that is simultaneously always there, that is the there. As two we have the possibility of being mitsein: being-with in an average everyday sort of way, the way we are with others that happen to be alongside, or mitdasein: being-the-there-with in terms of founding a place, dwelling as building.

The latter can only occur from out of the Event, as appropriating. Enowning enowns. Appropriation appropriates. But only from within the Event. Only in this sense can appropriation appropriate appropriately.

In appropriating appropriately each finds their proper place within the There that they build and dwell within.

Social Conceptions of Marriage and Alternatives

There are two different basic conceptions of marriage operative in society.  The first, and socially encouraged, conception arose from the Christian, specifically Paulist, conception of marriage as a social control on the ‘evil’ of erotic passion. 


Erotic passion is not ‘natural’ but a specifically human sublimation of the generically animal expression of sexuality as a means to encourage the reproductive cycle.  The erotic is essentially individual and transgressive.  Ontologically it is the erotic horizon that is transgressed by the individual uncovering of what is erotic, which in itself is indeterminate – what is erotic is specific to the individual and in general terms can be anything at all.  In Lacan’s terms ‘There is no sexual relationship.” i.e. normalization of the erotic precisely undermines the erotic as erotic, returning it to the ‘natural’ expression of animal reproduction.  For the Paulist Christian this is the lesser evil, since the passion of individual eroticism is made to conform to a non-transgressive, moral ideal of a socially acceptable sexuality, and is thus destroyed as erotic passion and turned into a social duty within the confines of a socially inscribed formalism.  The civic conception of marriage simply re-inscribes the religious conception from a formalized union ‘in the sight of God’ to a formalized union ‘in the sight of the Big Other of the ideological framework, where God is removed from the place of the Big Other without removing that place as a structural necessity within the ideological framework.  This removal of a God posited as loving and forgiving in fact absolutizes the formal rules of marriage since there is nothing in the place of the Big Other that can respond to an appeal for forgiveness in transgressing the formalism.  It is within this conception of marriage that anything that does not follow the formal rules, such as gay marriage, cannot be considered a ‘real’ marriage in its institutional meaning, but only a civil union.  Although a civil union is legally the same as a marriage, for a Paulist it does not properly reduce dangerous erotic passion to the societal duty of passionless ‘natural’ sexuality.


The second conception of marriage is precisely the equation of marriage with a civil union, a social convenience that itself is meaningless and simply confers social acceptance while not affecting the transgression of eroticism and romantic passion.  In the case of someone whose initiation to society included a strong indoctrination of the first conception, viewing marriage in the second sense can even strengthen the erotic transgression of romantic passion, because the intentional refusal to engage with the expected formal rules of marriage is itself a further erotic transgression, enhancing the transgression of the erotic passion.  


While a move to the second notion looks immediately as both simple and attractive as an operative notion where marriage confers social advantages but the partners have no intrinsic interest in submitting their passion to a socially acceptable formalism, the reality is that maintaining that understanding is far more difficult than it appears.  We are all initiated into society with certain understandings and resulting inherent ways of interpreting given situations.  We have all experienced, at least at second hand, the initially baffling situation where lovers who have already had a long term passionate relationship marry as a social convenience, and it results in a falling apart of the relationship within a short time.  Many have also experienced on a more intimate level a sudden change in the other, where from being a passionate lover there he or she immediately conforms to the social expectation of the behavior of a husband or wife, confusing the person who hasn’t changed yet is expected to match the change by conforming to the social expectations of their role in the marriage. 


Although the partner who suddenly changes may have believed himself or herself that marriage is simply a social convenience, the act of inscribing the relationship into the symbolic order of society results in an immediate change in the operative interpretation of the meaning of the relationship.  Suddenly erotic passion becomes a more or less boring duty to one’s partner.  Erotic passion becomes something looked for or at least fantasized about as extrinsic to the marriage, something to be enacted with another.  Ironically, the fear of being found out that may be operative if this fantasy is indulged, or may prevent the fantasy from becoming more than that, is often not primarily related to the other partner discovering the extramarital activity, in fact they may be completely open about the situation with the other partner, who is often engaged in similar activities.  The fear is primarily that of being found out by society in its guise of the Big Other that remains operative despite being unoccupied by a posited being.  It is the fear of transgressing the inscription of the marriage into the symbolic order of society.


Often, precisely because the erotic is always transgressive in some way, the extramarital activities are perceived as ‘kinky’, which is nothing more than society’s judgment on the nature of fully erotic passion.  The ‘kinky’ transgressions may include physical activities that are against the established societal norms, such as violence that may range from mild spankings to extreme whippings and beatings.  Interestingly, within the ‘scene’ that provides both a relatively safe space in which to indulge this behavior, and a meeting place for those interested in the activities in the first place.   In some cases the activities are not extramarital but are carried out with the married partner, in order to reignite the passion of the marriage that the social inscription has obnubilated or even obliterated, but more often the activities are carried out with other partners, although often with the knowledge of the married partner who tends, at least initially, to see it as a way of satisfying desires they don’t share, and thereby maintaining the marriage.


In other cases the transgressions are specifically opposed to current society’s conception of an appropriate intimate relation.  This may take the form, for example, of an actual enactment of the largely mythical and now socially unacceptable ‘1950’s household’; it may take the form of the power differential initially found in a small minority of the ‘leather’ community (itself already a transgression of the societal stricture against damaging the liberal egalitarian ideal of marriage by adopting a dress and manner designed to evoke the impression of extreme masculine power); it may take the form of an extreme interpretation of the ‘courtly love’ relationship that initially required obedience due to the danger involved, but evolved into a dominant/submissive or even Master/slave ideal of extreme or absolute obedience for its own sake as fully transgressive of the liberal egalitarian ideals.   This latter type of transgression often goes beyond the bounds of the specifically erotic situation and eroticizes the entirety of the relationship.  While this remains a minority of the specifically erotic community, it has developed from a small and very secretive group to a group with a public international presence, one that very often wears external symbols of their relationship that are becoming more and more known within society at large, and even in a small way acceptable enough to be portrayed in mainstream media rather than only in small release productions that are unknown outside the community itself.  In many cases these different forms are mixed, where the ‘leather’ dress and manner is adopted by the dominant partner, while a dress and manner reminiscent of 1950’s pinups is adopted by the submissive partner.  This mixing is very prevalent within the heterosexual component of the community, especially those with a dominant male and submissive female.  While this may be seen as ‘reactionary’ in terms of being a repetition of at least a perception of a historically older type of relation between men and women, the transgressive situation in which it is enacted changes the meaning of the power and authority discrepancy into an erotic, socially transgressive situation, which is unrelated to a reactionary stance.


While in many cases even the more playful, less relationship oriented types of transgressive eroticism erodes the conformist marriage to the point of dissolution.  Other than the cases where both partners already married are simultaneously attracted to abrogating society’s expectations of the nature of their relationship in order to increase or reignite the erotic passion of the relationship, or conversely those already in a transgressive relationship get married for the sake of the social convenience but are careful not to let the expectations of others that they will now ‘act married’ affect the eroticism of their relationship, in most cases those that were married to another find their lack of real interest in the marriage inevitably leads to its dissolution.  Of course this makes it all the more imperative, but all the more difficult, to maintain the initial level of eroticism in the transgressive relationship.  By carefully avoiding any tendency to drift towards a normalized relationship or to accept others’ expectations (whether real or only posited) and change the relationship to be more in line with those expectation, the eroticism of the relationship can be maintained.