BDSM as M/s Praxis

“Any form of skillful coping in which you can become an expert, in which you get into a kind of flow in which you don’t have to think at all, your mind is out of it and the skills in your body are doing it, we’ve done all of that and we’ve done it taking a risk too, that when you do that: you end up lost or you may end up saying things you regret having said, and if you aren’t ready to take that risk you’ll never become an expert in that. So, I could predict that you have taken the risk and done it and felt bad about it, and you’ve done it and felt good about it, and when you’ve got that, you’ve got a kind of mastery. “ – Hubert Dreyfus.

Merleau-Ponty had an important insight. When we look at certain types of expertise (and I’m betraying less philosophical interests of mine, lol) such as the expertise of an athlete, we see embodied expertise, the expertise that is not simply “unthinking” in its operation but is required to be unthinking, such that the athlete wouldn’t be able to do what he/she in fact does if he/she had to think about it while doing it. In this context we have to look at such things as “muscle memory” etc. where the brain simply doesn’t contain the whole representation of what is going on. Merleau-Ponty recognized, in his idea of intercorporeality, that our usual and normal interactions with the World were bodily in nature, that we don’t in fact keep a mental representation of the World, the World is immediate to us through our bodying forth into it. The skill of an athlete is an extension of our normal bodying forth, not an unusual or fundamentally different manner of relating to the World, or meaning-context, in which we exist.

The “play” aspect of bdsm is related to this, as part of the praxis of M/s relationships. Most M/s relationships do in fact incorporate aspects of bdsm play, and this is not an accidental relation. Dominating someone is not, fundamentally, simply a mental thing, and as a result purely psychological or psychosocial theories of M/s fall down when it comes to praxis. The physical aspects, bodily aspects of domination and submission come to the fore in bdsm “play”, and the scare quotes are there because in an M/s context “play” is in fact very serious and very much a part of the real dynamic between the people involved. That bdsm involves skilled play, mastery of technique in a more limited sense of the word mastery than I usually use it, is part of the way that M/s is embodied and brought to a fullness beyond its psychological expression.

When mitda and I first became involved it was in both a romantic (in the old fashioned sense) and practical manner. We were not an M/s couple in any sense, in fact neither of us understood the M/s dynamic as a real possibility. But the combination of a psychological bond together with a penchant for bdsm play resulted in a very tight relationship with one another, and an unplanned but powerful tendency towards M/s within the relationship. After getting together in a physical sense, living together as a couple, and engaging in such play our relationship dynamic inevitably tended not just to M/s, but M/s in its absolute form. Without having any conceptual transparency, we lived together, played together, and developed a total power transfer dynamic. As we became more aware of the tendencies that were expressing themselves within the dynamic and attempted to achieve some sort of conceptual transparency for what we were in fact doing, ideas such as TPE/IE suddenly made sense to two people who had run across and essentially written off such ideas. One of the things this made me aware of as a person who writes on the subject, is that while I can provide a framework for thinking about such relationships, I can’t justify its existence or prove anything of what I am saying, and viewing it as a framework for my reality is something that could be accepted or rejected by the reader, but probably not really understood by the reader unless they themselves had experienced a similar dynamic. And this dynamic cannot be experienced purely mentally, it requires a bodily expression, it requires the bdsm practice aspect that from a conceptual point of view seems extrinsic.

In the relationship that developed with emmie that this praxis was intrinsic came more to the fore, in that she was not, is not a masochist in the conventional sense. She doesn’t engage in bdsm praxis for the sake of the physical pleasure that a conventional masochist derives from it. She engages in it, and it has felt and become necessary to both of us to engage in such practices, from a purely dominance/submission aspect. As a result it is impossible to make the error of viewing the bodily aspect as essentially separate and different from the psychological. Her enjoyment of s & m play is purely the enjoyment a submissive derives from being submissive, palpably, physically. It is the bodying forth of her submission and the bodying forth of my mastery. Our play doesn’t, as a result, have the comfortable and easy feel that mitda and I attain, where mastery and submission is bodied forth in concert with deep mutual pleasure and satisfaction. Instead it results in a tension of necessity, an expression of dominance and submission with our bodies that we cannot choose to forego simply because it isn’t a fundamentally pleasurable activity.


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