Category Archives: mastery

“Lifers”

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.


Definitions

Mastery (of someone):  to appropriate, own and give a disposition, a state of being, to that person.

Domination: to make available to oneself as appropriate.

To submit: to be revealed or exhibited as available and proper.

Submission: available to hear and simultaneously obey.

Submissive: acquiesce to obedience through devotion.


Style as Mastery

I’m going to talk about style and mastery, not simply the style of mastery, something that varies from person to person, something optional, but style as mastery, style as the necessary manner of doing things that changes their fundamental meaning from simple acts to dominating acts.

I was reading an article about dominance in a different sphere, specifically English football, or soccer.  The article was focused on a former Manchester United player, now manager of the nascent New York Cosmos, Eric Cantona.

Cantona puts paid to the idea of moneyball.  While statistically he was a good player, he scored plenty of goals but not the numbers recorded by van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney; he assisted on plenty but not with the numbers of a Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs or David Beckham; as far as defending, United fans put their hands over their eyes whenever Cantona went in for a tackle, fearing he’d be sent off again for another badly timed lunge.   On top of that he only played for United for 5 years, retiring young even by footballing standards.  However in fan voting Cantona was picked as the top United player of all time, eclipsing Rooney, Ronaldo, Scholes, Beckham, George Best and Sir Bobby Charlton among many other greats.

The article made the point that after years of mediocrity (United hadn’t won the title for 25 years before Cantona joined, they won 4 out of 5 in the years he was there) Cantona not only taught United how to win, but how to win with authority.  Not the authority of quantity, outscoring opponents massively on a regular basis, but the authority of style.   Cantona’s style was dominating in that it said to the opposition “try this … you can’t?  That’s why you’ll never be at the level I am …”

Looking at a specific instance, with United up one goal in an away game Giggs sent a cross field pass to Cantona with plenty of space around him and one defender plus the goalkeeper between him and the goal.  The obvious possibilities as a striker are to either hit the ball quickly, low and hard, trying to catch the defender and goalkeeper before they’re able to set themselves to block it, or to knock the ball past the defender, run onto it and therefore have a shot available with only the goalkeeper to beat.

Cantona, instead, controls the ball and comes to a dead stop, facing the defender and goalkeeper.  Then he stabs his foot downward under the ball, causing it to float into the air, catch the cold Lancashire breeze and drift over the helpless goalkeeper into the net.   Rather than an ecstatic goal celebration, Cantona then stands there looking at the other team with a disdainful expression.  Not only has he put United 2 up, a difficult score to come back from, the other team is completely intimidated by the style with which he scored it.  I could give plenty of other instances of Cantona’s style, such as the pole dance celebration after a goal against Liverpool, but you get the idea. During his time at United Cantona was referred to, not just by the fans, but by the rest of the team, as “King Cantona” or simply “Dieu” (God).

In another game, Cantona starts from close to the corner flag, skips past a couple of defenders, stops in front of the goal while the defenders and goalkeeper slide across to try to block the coming shot, then casually chips the ball over them into the net.  Cantona’s composure to the point of casualness, his nerve in front of goal and the apparent ease with which he does what he does, is a big part of his domination of the other team.  Showing strain lets the other know about the difficulty involved, restoring some sense of power to them, whether another team or another person in an M/s relationship.  Cantona, like any good master, makes his dominance look easy and natural.

Within M/s dynamics initially there’s a focus on the what, rather than the how.  Once the what is decided and to some degree achieved, however, there is often a sense of “what next?”.  Any specific what’s, whether rules, protocol, etc. can become either habitual, tedious or both, yet dropping them comes with the fear of “vanilla death” creeping into the relationship.  What seems to be missing in terms of understanding how to further and deepen the relationship is an understanding of style as mastery.  Mastery never consists in what is done but in the way that it is done, the specific style of domination required to dominate the specific slave in the relationship.  At best, though, style is often seen as something optional, an accoutrement to what is done.  Someone like Cantona demonstrates that the style changes the act itself.  Conceding a goal can be recovered by simply scoring one yourself at the other end, but Cantona didn’t just score a goal, in a topological sense he removed the level playing field that had existed by putting the other team in its place, and its place was to be dominated by United.  From that there’s no easy recovery.

Of course style remains something personal, the style with which one does things is, in total, how you are as a person to others.  As a result there’s no manual available on how to use your specific style to further an M/s context, and people seem to be constantly looking for manuals or guides on how to make their relationship work.  Having a sensitivity to how the way you do things affects the person you’re with, though, rather than simply looking at how what you do affects them, can lead to a better understanding of what it is about your particular style that is effective, eventually leading to an understanding of the best manner in which to accomplish something specific while simultaneously enhancing the dominant position you enjoy in the relationship and maintaining the appropriate places you and your  slave dwell in.


Mastery / slavery ? Digressions in Terminology

How the more extreme forms of domination and submission oriented dynamics acquired the terminology “Master/slave” is an odd question at first glance, and one related to another form of terminology, that of “Owner/property”.
A slave, defined by being-owned, would by definition have an owner.  One who owned a human being would by definition have a slave, owning simple “property” would not distinguish one from any other in our current society.  Masters in various areas of endeavour might have servants, novices, acolytes, initiates, apprentices, etc.  But in the specific area of consensual slavery the slave’s owner appropriates the designation “Master”.  Seemingly in reaction to the ability and responsibility mastery requires, some in domination/submission dynamics opt out of the issue of what mastery entails, preferring to return to simple ownership, but the simulaneous reduction of human property (“slave”) to just “property” signals a felt lack, as if owning a human being without mastery is somehow inappropriate.
Consensual slavery has multiple defining features, but one of the principle features is a vow of obedience that overrules further need for consent, in most cases perpetual, at least in intention.  Perpetual vows of obedience are found in a number of other areas of human endeavour, but are most associated with the religious life.  Within many religious orders a vow of obedience to the order is prescribed.  While it is unusual today, vows of obedience to a particular person were at one time also common within Christianity as in other religions.
The justification for vows of obedience within specifically Christian theology stemmed from the limited perspective available to any given individual, together with the notion that community ameliorated that limitation and provided a brake on unconstrained and potentially mistaken willing by the individual.
Will as Will to Power, in the consummation of metaphysics and therefore Christianity itself, however, is the term for the essence of being itself, rather than a specific faculty of a specific being.  As the essence of being itself the slave’s being is as fully Will to Power as the Owner’s.  Rather than ameliorating the expression of Will to Power, the being of the community, religious or otherwise, is also Will to Power.  A vow of obedience could not in post Nietzschean terms accomplish any constraining of the Will to Power but would simply make the perspective panoramic, and as panoramic all the more perspectival.
A vow of obedience, as central to the slave’s being-a-slave, and hence the slave’s expression of Will to Power, serves two other purposes.  First the vow is a shield against the tempting, in particular the most tempting itself.  Second it is the focus for the more understanding and creative expression of that will demanded by its continuing alignment with the will of the Master.

It is in the radicality of the demand of obedience that it functions as a shield against the tempting.  “The most tempting itself” is an odd phrase at first –  temptation is often conflated with desire, yet in a sense it opposes and frustrates the pursuit of that which is most desired itself.  Temptation diverts from the pursuit of desire as much as from the pursuit of perfection, or any other particular pursuit.  As the “most” tempting fundamental temptation is something we always find ourselves in in advance.  Radical obedience, in either expectation or fulfillment, opposes the most tempting in an essential way because it is an extraordinary expectation, and an extraordinary thing to attempt.  “The most tempting”, the founding temptation in which we always find ourselves immersed is essentially the temptation of the mediocre, the averageness of everyday understanding and levelling off any distinctions that might threaten that tranquillizing mediocrity of everydayness itself.

Expecting this kind of vow implictly requires a sense of one’s own unique abilities, a sense that develops with mastery of those abilities itself, a sense that breaks and continually re-breaks the temptation towards a tranquilizing common mediocrity.  Consenting to such a vow requires an honouring of the uniqueness of the Master’s abilities that accomplishes the same severing from the temptation to mediocrity.


Direction and Directives

Is it enough for Mastery that a slave obey his / her Master’s directives, while his / her thoughts, desires and will remain free? Or does the act of directing implicitly require that the directed align those thoughts, desires and will with that of the Master?

In directing the Master points in a direction and sets the slave moving in that direction. This of course requires that the Master have a perspective from which to direct. The perspective itself comes from the positing of viewpoints inherent in mastery, power itself is perspectival in the sense that it is always an empowering of overpowering, a will towards a horizon, enacted through the slave, that comes back to itself in the slave’s obedience and the Master’s self obedience.

The slave’s obedience in merely accomplishing the activity is never sufficient in itself to satisfy power. At best it can allow power to be maintained, but power is always overpowering as mastery – mastery of the slave and self mastery. If it is only maintained as measure it dwindles temporally.  Mastery must empower its own overpowering and for this it requires the overpowering of its perspective itself via the merging of the slave’s will with its own, the merging of viewpoints into one panoramic perspective.

Directives are obeyed by the slave in the sense of moving in that direction, but they empower the will of the Master when the directive’s viewpoint and perspective are adopted, such that the slave’s obedience returns and empowers the Master’s self obedience. In this the directive reaches its panoramic completion, empowering further perspectives, viewpoints, and directives.


The Enchantment of the Extreme

One thing that I’ve tried to be clear in discussing M/s with other subgroups within the BDSM community is that I don’t consider M/s “higher” or “more developed” than other relationship types, but I do consider it more *extreme”. While many are wary (for good reason) of extremes I believe the extreme carries with it its own special fascination.

Nietzsche talks about “us immoralists” as the “outermost”, the extreme. As such “we” do not need the lies of other powers. All other powers are force hiding behind the semblance of law, hence lying and dissimulation are necessary to veil true intentions, to display goals that are ostensibly sought after, and so make the subjugated happy.

Within the M/s dynamic, Masters refer to themselves as such, slaves know themselves as slaves. There is no false set of goals promulgated by the Master in order to underhandedly subjugate the slave. There is no expectation of eventual equality or even a specific reward for servitude to be sought after. The power differential is decided on in advance, and maintained and welcomed by both sides. The extremism of the dynamic, far from putting people off, exerts a powerful fascination, seduction and enchantment.

The “magic” of the extreme is the power of the most powerful. Most powerful because it hides behind no false pretenses of humility. Masters do not seek power over slaves “in the slave’s interest”, nor govern “as servants” (think public servants). We seek power solely and purely for its own sake and enjoyment. Slaves do not submit to their enslavement in order to gain a future advantage. This power transports members of the dynamic to another world with its enchantment and there brings them to themselves in a different way.

Who are, then, “we immoralists”? Are we an unethical gang of bandits on the fringes of society? No, we immoralists are those who stand outside the distinction between the true and the apparent worlds promulgated by metaphysics, and the hierarchy of moral rules and values that sustains it. We stand outside the distinction that sustained metaphysics and all its correlates, instead standing in the seduction of truth. We know that ethics is always concrete, always particular to the situation and are not confused by childish a priori rules.


Refusal Or … ?

Between my post on refusal and now I’ve had a very odd change in my manner of being.

I had what used to be called, in the conceptual world, a “divine revelation”.  Since I live in the post conceptual (post religious-metaphysical-scientific)  world it was no long divine in any sense.   However it was reflexive in a way that no epiphany could be.  It was a revelation of the nature of revelation itself.

The reflexivity made me suddenly understand Hegel’s Absolute Knowing, Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence of the Same, and Heidegger’s vom Ereignis (from Enowning) simultaneously as attempts to provoke the experience.  Not that they do, but they do at least prepare one for it in a similar way to mystic practice preparing one for divine revelation.  Understanding understanding, as it were, doesn’t give you an understanding of anything in particular.  It gives you a different sense of things where understanding precedes self-conscious interpretation.

More on this later …


Freedom, freedom and Waffling

I’ve been reading Master Obsidian’s House blog site some more and a paragraph in another post caught my eye as something I’ve also been concerned with. Part of the reason expressing oneself as a part of the M/s subculture is that our language betrays what we in fact do and how we structure meaning within the world. Speaking of a tendency within the community Master Obsidian makes the following observation on a common and becoming more common attitude:

freedom in its purest sense embraced is the freedom to do anything and to be anything at all. And if we truly are inclusive, if we truly are seekers of truth then we must conclude as often as possible that every man and every woman has the ability and the right to pursue what ever strikes their particular fancy. And perhaps even more importantly than that notion, is the notion that whatever a person comes up in their pursuit of getting their particular fancy struck as it were – is great and wonderful and not to be denied.

Freedom, for me, comes in two flavors. There is the a priori freedom that every human being possesses no matter what their life circumstances. Without this freedom we would be unable to comport ourselves towards anything whatsoever. It is a necessity of being-in-the-world itself. This is properly called ‘ontological freedom’, which can be explained as the freedom of being itself. The other sense of freedom is the practical freedom that one possesses within-the-world. This is a matter of circumstances, and is also a matter of degrees. The proper term for this is ‘ontic freedom’, which can be made clearer as the freedom to dispose of beings as one wishes.

Enhancing the ability, if the individual chooses, to exercise ontic freedom is a noble pursuit. The as-one-wishes is crucial though, as not everyone wishes to exercise every possible ontic freedom. As well, circumstances being what they are, no one can exercise every freedom they may wish. We are all constrained by law, by custom, by societal opinion, and by our own ethical sense.

Choosing to not exercise freedoms may be due to ethics or societal norms, or it may be a more personal choice in that an individual may simply not feel comfortable exercising a good number of freedoms. If this number is great enough they may choose to enter into a D/s or M/s relationship, depending on the degree of unfreedom they feel most comfortable with. In an M/s relationship, once the choice is made it is made in a permanent sense, unless one is willing to break one’s word in an important manner.

Whatever that person, who is now a slave where continued consent is not required, may suddenly feel the urge to express may now only be expressed accordng to the will of the Master . The slave has given up the freedom to “get their particular fancy struck” unless it happens to coincide with the Master’s particular fancy at that moment. That ontological freedom is still present cannot undermine ontical slavery.


Narcissism, BPD, Bipolar, Mastery and Slavery

“and the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder came up. These include “has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations””.

This quote is from a well thought out post by Tanos on Entitlement, posted in his weblog and linked from the ownership wiki on The Slave Register

I lived with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Looking back on it he had a somewhat D/s relationship with his lover, who had obvious Borderline traits. However there was no sense of mastery in his actions, attitudes, etc., merely entitlement without responsibility. Looking at my own behaviour I do, of course, act entitled, while at the same time discouraging such acting in my slaves. But I have a sense of responsibility and a dedication to them and their lives that is simply lacking from the purview of someone with NPD. I will and do take risks, including the risk of simply being an overt Master in a country where human ownership, consensual or not, is simply illegal. And that is a minor one given all the things in our lives.

A couple in our local scene are an obvious NPD/BPD couple, and the two tend to go together. While he seems to take reasonable care of his charge I feel a sense of creeping unease in their presence. Although emmie and mitda (and I myself) have all been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1 it doesn’t seem to have any direct bearing on our M/s relationship. Obviously my moods and theirs impact the day to day functioning of that relationship but I can’t say I see an overall tendency that runs from BP symptomology to M/s dealings.


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.