Total Power Exchange and the Limit Situation – 1

An oddity, but one that often surfaces when pro and con arguments are vetted out, is that they take the same form, and essentially become two moments of one argument. This is the root of the form of thought known as dialectic, particularly the way that Hegel uses the term.

This turns out to be the case in the pro and con TPE argument, so let’s take it apart a little. I will provide one of the original formulations of the argument for TPE and talk a little about the argument con, just to set the stage.
“When you “submit” to or “dominate” someone in a situation where safe words are used and when limitations are negotiated, you are not actually submitting or dominating at all – you are playing at it.” – Jon Jacobs

The con argument also talks about limits. (In TPE) “The relationship is subject to the physical and the emotional limitations of the participants and therefore cannot genuinely be total or absolute.” – From TPE, Wikipedia.

Odd isn’t it that the arguments are so similar. What is it about TPE that immediately points towards limits as the crux of its own possibility? Karl Jaspers, in “The Psychology of Worldviews”, a book unfortunately difficult to obtain, originated the idea of the “limit-situation”, a peculiar existential condition where something unconditioned obtrudes and causes the self to come before itself in a unique way.

“…Jaspers claims that the self-disclosure of the possibilities of human existence depends on the capacity of the individual human life to open itself to the experience of the unconditioned (das Unbedingte). When it experiences the unconditioned, human life’s knows itself drawn by a motive (idea), which extends it beyond the forms, both subjective and objective, in which it customarily exists.”

On a personal level, then, the limit situation unique discloses our possibilities, which gives us a better ground for actualizing them. On a philosophical level, if the limit is something unconditioned, and the unconditioned results in transcendence beyond the human’s customary existence, being in a limit situation is an especially valuable situation for understanding what that customary existence is grounded upon, as well as experiencing a transcendence from it. And in fact the two things are the same, the subject-object split turns out to be based on an originary transcendence. What does transcendence mean here then? “Beyond” the customary, beyond the subject-object split, is in any case not a very well defined location, as far as we can immediately see. Before we can understand transcendence though, we need a horizon against which to view this new location, which does not admit of either subjectivity or objectivity.

So in order to develop a sense of what this horizon might be I’m going to look closer at the limit situation in general, and the limit situation I believe the TPE relationship to be in particular. In any limit situation Jaspers says that “existence directs itself from its own origin against and beyond its experience of normal subjective and objective reality”. Direction then is important, and direction seems promising for understanding something like horizon. But what specifically happens in TPE? In the TPE situation there is an unconditioned demand, that the slave surrender all will, all freedoms, to the Master. Does this surrender equal surrendering all possibilities for the slave? By no means, but the slave’s possibilities now all involve those inherent in enslavement, a situation where rather than being an “existence for itself”, self consciousness becomes an “existence for another”. Of course this act simultaneously creates the Master, who for his part was merely an undeveloped self consciousness as well. This part is well documented by Hegel in his lord/bondsman dialectic, so I will not further pursue it here, though a link might be useful to those not familiar with the argument.

So in the master/slave relationship there involves a complex dialectical process at work, at least according to Hegel. In TPE we attempt to make the enslavement total, or absolute. What does this do to the resolution?

Obviously the easy happy resolution of Hegel’s “cooperation” isn’t what we have here. We have in lieu of that a permanent tension, a permanent dialectic without resolution, unless you consider the passing of the participants a kind of resolution. It isn’t a resolution as far as my thinking goes because the participants are precisely no longer there, but mortality is its own limit situation.

This post has become long and rather than lose the thread I will end for now and bring up the next element in the argument in a further post.


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