24/05/2012 § Leave a comment
The first book on my summer reading list is Jean Beaudrillard’s Seduction. This might have been a somewhat poor choice, given that I have not read Simulacra and Simulation. I have it on reasonable authority that Seduction is one of Baudrillard’s more opaque texts. He does a wonderful job of exploring and critiquing the hyperreal, the Marxist obsession with false consciousness. In some sense, I am still really grappling with the notion of seduction as the Trompe-l’oeil, as well as the power of reversal, but that’s another story and shall be told another time. It also made me ponder The Game and ironic processing as seduction, which is also another story that shall be told another time. The first thing that struck me, reading Baudrillard, is the way he talks about women and feminism.
Baudrillard presents a prettied up “men are from mars, women are from venus” style of argument. It is not a hidden message, it is part of his critique of the notion that women have real bodies that are somehow subjugated by “play” activities that involve toying with the surface, such as the application of cosmetics (here, he draws on Baudelaire), but also with the presentation of gender, and so on. In essence, seduction is the realm of the woman. It is a reversal of, but not an opposition to, the discrete masculine power of production. He accosts the women’s movement on the grounds that “They are ashamed of seduction, as implying an artificial presentation of the body, or a life of vassalage and prostitution. They do not understand that seduction represents mastery over the symbolic universe, while power represents only the mastery of the real universe.” (8, emphasis in original) Therefore, women ought not be concerned when they feel that their rights, bodies, and happiness are being attacked or removed, because, they are still able to master their masters through the power of seduction. Women shouldn’t care about sexual pleasure, the desire for orgasm in sexual encounters is naive, because sex is not about pleasure. This is not some battle of the sexes, because femininity isn’t about sex, it’s about the reversal of sex.
…the feminine is not a sex (opposed to the other), but what counters the sex that alone has full rights and the full exercise of these rights, the sex that holds a monopoly on sex: the masculine, itself haunted by the fear of something other, of which sex is but the disenchanted form: seduction. The latter is a game, sex is a function. Seduction supposes a ritual order, sex and desire a natural order. It is these two fundamental forms that confront each other in the male and female, and not some biological difference or some naive rivalry of power. 
For the record, Baudrillard presents mastery of the symbolic world as being quite possibly the bossest mastery ever. Why should women ever want sexual pleasure when they are masters of the symbolic world?
I find the whole thing to be really troubling…Women ought to be comfortable with their mastery over men via seduction. I don’t even think Baudrillard is right, that women can always use this power to master men, or even that women are ultimately concerned with mastering men. I am extremely bothered by this weird essentializing of what THE feminine means. What’s more, he gives some very keen examples of the seductress (produced by the desires of others) and the seducer, both men and women engaging in seductive power. Men can challenge their role as producers, but women ought not challenge their role as seducers. To me, Baudrillard basically says “Haha, ladies, why so serious? Let me tell you how to make your life better.”
Things that make this book worthwhile — Contemplation of the commerce of signs, sexual liberation (although I think Foucault does a much better job of examining this in History of Sexuality, Vol. I),gender play, male and female as non-oppositional categories (although leaving out how this plays out in the way people live).