Tag Archives: Master/slave

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.

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.

History of a Relationship

When I first got together with h, we lived in separate cities, separate countries in fact.  We met online in a vanilla situation but quickly realized we were both into kink in various ways.  H was insistent that I become a “play partner” even online, although she was in an O/p relationship at the time.  She even managed to convince her Owner at the time to ‘give’ her to me.  

She moved to Canada, which was relatively easy since I was half owner of a software company and could simply hire her.  At about the same time, my relationship with the woman I was living with wasn’t working out and that woman told me “you need to have a relationship with a sub, not try egalitarian relationships with other dominant people.”  We ended the relationship on good terms and h moved in.

The next year and a half or so were fairly intense work wise for me as I developed an extensive piece of software from scratch by myself, at times working 36 hours or more in a row.  Although things between h and I seemed fine, in cleaning up some of the things she left behind I came across journals that indicated her behavior while I was busy was already contradicting what we had agreed upon, that the lying, cheating and hiding her behavior was there from the beginning.

As our relationship developed, however, she started to desire that I take more control.  She desired a 24/7 M/s relationship, and as it seemed attractive to me and worth trying we entered into that type of arrangement.  Things seemed to settle down under that arrangement, at least at first.

At a certain point, shortly after I had completed the work on the software, h’s grandmother passed in San Antonio.  H went down immediately for the funeral and returned.  Her mother was, however, extremely depressed and since she had inherited the house, asked h and I to come down for a few months, both to give her some company and to give me a much needed vacation.

H’s uncle, however, suddenly demanded his share of the house.  Given the time constraints and its location in an unfashionable part of San Antonio the house went for very little.  Simultaneously h’s mother decided to spend all the money she had from the sale on unsecured debts incurred in California, leaving the three of us stranded in San Antonio with virtually no available cash.  H’s mother had difficulty, as could be expected, finding reasonable work in her late 50’s due to the ageism in society, and h had been on disability for manic-depression for some time, which doesn’t amount to a great deal of money per month.  Since I had come down for a vacation initially I hadn’t bothered getting a work visa at the border, but due to work I had done for the U.S. military it was simple enough to get work authorization from the DHS.  Shortly after that h and I got married in San Antonio.

We then decided that the three of us would move to the Austin area, work being more available in my field than in San Antonio.  However this was at the lowest ebb in tech in 25 years and decent work was not easily available even in Austin.  We managed to get by on a few short-term contracts I was able to pick up but finances were tense.

At around this time we met emmie and Edwin.  The four of us got along well and, since primarily h and Edwin had wanted to be poly, we formed a quad.  The relationship between the four of us developed quickly and although emmie wasn’t all that impressed by h’s idea of being a ‘slave’ she found it an attractive idea for herself.  She therefore asked if I would take her as a slave and I collared her soon after.

It was shortly after that that we started to make appearances in the kink scene in Austin, initially starting with the GWNN bash that year.  Edwin wasn’t at first all that interested in kink, and as a result it was the three of us that attended.  He became, of course, far more interested not long after that.

We made friends in the scene, and continued to try to make the M/s aspect of the lifestyle work between the three of us while continuing the poly lifestyle as a quad.  During this period h’s sexuality appeared to change from being obviously bisexual to predominantly gay, which of course put a strain on the poly relationship, never mind the relationship between h and I.

I don’t want this to sound as if there were no good times, no good periods in the relationship, because there were.  We had a good deal of fun at different times, shared a good deal of laughter and wit and enjoyed each others’ affection quite deeply.  H can be intelligent, funny, and on good days can think and reason extremely well.

Partly in order to offset the issues, though, we split up the quad, moving to separate apartments with only a parking lot between them, with the idea that emmie would spend part of the time living with h and I as my slave, and part with Edwin as his wife.  As the relationship between emmie and I deepened this became less and less the case and emmie spent most of her time with h and I.  Eventually we decided to move from the downtown Austin area to a house in Cedar Park. 

While h and I had agreed, due to her bisexuality, that she could have liaisons with women, we had never agreed on her having relations with men other than Edwin.  Of course this wasn’t the actual result, and the lying and hiding things that had begun in Canada continued.  Strangely enough, due to her need to tell someone she disclosed much of her activities to emmie, who simply didn’t tell me because she assumed I knew.  A string of threesomes and foursomes involving h and various others continued, a few of which I was aware of, a number of others which I wasn’t.

At the same time h’s jealousy of emmie had grown to the point of being nonsensical.  The ensuing small-p politics that naturally came about put a huge stress on me, to the point of not particularly wishing to continue in an M/s manner.  H’s behavior belied her verbal expression of her desire to continue in this manner but of course the situation where behavior consistently contradicts sworn verbiage becomes a very confusing one. Finally I provoked her into saying precisely the opposite of what she had been saying, but was entirely in line with her behavior.  Her response to realizing what she had done was to physically attack me.  Honestly I found the physical attack amusing more than anything, as she was not particularly capable of hurting me, but I did tell her to leave until she had worked out what she actually wanted, and we could discuss it reasonably.  Despite her claims afterwards that she was “trapped” and “no one would help her” the reality is that she left driving a car I owned, utilizing money from our bank account, and staying with various friends who, at least at first, were very willing to help in the situation.

A short time thereafter she returned, begging to be re-collared and swearing she wanted that lifestyle more than anything.  I didn’t re-collar her immediately, wanting to see what her behavior was like.  After a few months we did have a small re-collaring ceremony with emmie, h and me.  Of course, after this re-setting of vows she continued to consistently break them.

She decided, having a return ticket that was given as a present for assisting at a wedding for friends of ours, to visit Los Angeles over the Christmas break.  She decided while away that she wanted to remain in Los Angeles, a decision promoted  by certain people in the Austin area who at the time believed some of the nonsense she was spreading about the way she was treated at home.  Most ironically, she wished emmie a happy anniversary on emmie’s blog days after the decision to remain in Los Angeles, which of course she hadn’t told us about, calling her “beautiful muffin girl”, which hardly went with the horrific stories she was telling others.  She finally did tell me she wasn’t returning, literally minutes prior to my leaving for the airport.  At that point I was so put through with her that I barely reacted, my most immediate feeling being one of relief.  We quickly discovered as well that the day before telling us she had virtually emptied the bank account, leaving myself, emmie and emmie’s son with virtually nothing to live on for a month.  She stopped corresponding with me permanently after I refused to give her 80% of my income. 

Since then her life situation in California appears to have worsened, and with each setback her public attacks through her blog and other online media have increased to the point that I bothered to write this.  Unfortunately manic-depressives are extreme, and when that’s combined with an on-again / off-again relationship to reality, the results are very extreme. At first the attacks were specifically on me but since then have extended to nearly everyone she knew in the Austin area. 

At this point emmie and I are very happy together.  So much of the constant stress involved prior to h’s leaving has vanished, and we have moved on to another, better stage of our relationship.  We enjoy a full 24/7 M/s relationship and are each very satisfied with our places in the household.  Our close friends in the area have assisted significantly in dealing with the extensive changes and coming to see and deal with emmie and I as a unit.

Roles and Reals

In a famous passage Sartre discusses the behavior of the stereotypical French waiter. Waiters in France are expected to behave in a very specific way, they have a specific role in the play being enacted at the dinner. This role is to be as faceless and robotic as possible, as much an automaton as they can be (in contrast to the American waiter, for instance, who is expected to portray a generic friendliness). However anyone experiencing the French waiter’s behavior is quickly aware that it is put on, that behind it there is a person who would behave very differently if you met them after they clocked out for the day. And this immediate awareness of the real human being behind the automaton comes about precisely through the waiters over identification with the role, the exaggeratedness of their playing of it. Through a twist in our perception their apparent over identification with what is after all only a job role exposes the gap between the facade and the real person.


The converse of this is the British or American lawyer or chartered accountant, who through a touch of sarcasm and self deprecation here and there (the lawyer that occasionally tells lawyer jokes, for instance) lets you know that they aren’t a “generic” lawyer or accountant but “themselves as” a lawyer or accountant. Despite the appearance of not “fully” identifying as their job role, this mode of behavior betrays their real self-identification with the role and their enjoyment of the prestige and respect they feel it affords them. A correlate of this is that they find it far more difficult to “drop” that role in a situation where it’s inappropriate (for example, I’ve taken precisely that type of person, a CFO, to a Rancid concert and observed their discomfort at not being able to adapt to a situation where their “being a CFO” is entirely irrelevant).


This relates to people in 24/7 M/s or D/s relationships in a unique way. By virtue of the intent of the initial role adoption (as a Master/Dominant or slave/submissive) to be 24/7, i.e. to be “really” who and how they are, rather than playing a role for employement and dropping it the instant they “clock out” (or in this case are not “in public”), the “bad faith” that Sartre identifies the waiter as having avoided through exaggeration is inverted. The “slavelier than thou” slave or “domlier than thou” Master are the ones that betray a lack of self-identification with the role they are in, and since the claim is that that is who they are, they are in bad faith in the Sartrean sense. Conversely those that tend to understate their role, self-deprecate their ability in the role, are precisely playing “themselves as” a Master or slave, and as a result the self-identification is genuine and over time becomes more so. They are a Master/Dominant or slave/submissive in full good faith.


To some degree, then, anyone new to living in this manner is liable to be a bit more “over the top” than someone who has, over time, more fully identified with the role by making that role their own in their own way. But genuine self-identification is by no means an automatic thing that occurs over time, and as a result, as with the waiter or the lawyer examples, can be used as a rough guide as to how “genuine” a given person is in their claims as to who they are and how they live.

Subject-Object vs Topological Sexuality

In the subject-object mode of sexuality (or subject-subject, it means the same since the “other” is treated as objectively present, whether they’re referred to as another subject or not), there’s a masculine and feminine way of experiencing sex, which are very different from each other.  The masculine means of “objectifying” the other and subjectivizing themselves – experiencing sex from the perspective of the “I”, not the Self, is really masturbation with someone else there as a prop.  The feminine means is to experience it as a narrative.  Perhaps it sounds harsh to say that the common feminine experience of sex relationally is primarily as something to be discussed afterwards, but even though they may enjoy the sex at the time as well, that enjoyment itself contains an element of narrative distance, as if they are already observing the act and turning it into a story.  Some men of course experience things in the feminine manner and vice versa.  You’ll notice that ‘feminine’ types who experience sex in that way are the ones who take up the most space (almost all of it) online whether on BDSM or on vanilla relationship sites.
Beginning with a fantasy explicitly though can result in a different reality.  The a priori fantasy removes the “I-subject” as the focus of the experience, hence there is often tendency to talk in third person because somehow saying “I” feels odd, while saying “me” doesn’t, but where “me” doesn’t grammatically fit using third person is the only available option.  But this provides the possibility for each to experience sex topologically, not relationally, from the places they occupy in the fantasy, and the resulting real situation, the resulting shared Self, arises out of being in those places.  The is also a more intense experience, because it’s not an experience of doing something with or to an “other” that is irreconcilably distant, but an experience of a shared being-together enacting the very means by which that sharing arises.
If the RPG player is more themselves in their fantasy character than in the person they play in “real life”, the BDSM play scene takes that one step further, in that roles are still being played, but they’re being played in a more realistic physical manner.  However the people playing are still not willing to accept that that persona IS closer to their real Self and actually enact the role as much as possible in their “real life”.  Hence the insistence with many people that “they’re always dominant except when playing” or the need for many tops to appear super-sensitive to the bottom when not actually playing.  The discomfort of people into BDSM from a play perspective with those who enact the role to any degree in real life, which in my experience is much more intense than the discomfort for vanilla people, comes out of this combination of a desire to enact it more fully with a lack of confidence to actually do so.