ON CHINA PART 2: The Erotic Problem

All ranting aside, there is something we can glean from examining China’s relationship with itself and with the world.

I’ve been reading a series of essays by Anne Carson on the history of Eros–the Greek concept/god of desire–a fascinating, puzzling and ultimately illuminating exposee on the ancient principle. In her book, “Eros: The bittersweet,” eroticism comes down to a sort of triangulated relationship between the lover (or desirer), the object/beloved (the desired), and a static gap that separates them (the ideal). This gap can be perceived of as the unreal, the lack, the thing that actually doesn’t exist. The gap is what keeps the lover in pursuit, and the beloved an always intangible thing.

When I really started to think about the Chinese government and their endemic policy of manipulating everything and anything in order to achieve certain appearances, the more I began to see that China–as a government, as a culture–is engaged in a game of eroticism with its national identity.

There is the real China; totalitarian, human rights abuser, huge poverty population, leader in pollution. This China always desires the unreal China: a society where every citizen is really free and happy with the government, no one complains, everyone has enough; a political culture that is fair and honest and always does what’s best for the people; a government that can do no wrong. And the disconnection, the reality that China IS NOT that nation, is what continually drives China to pursue, at all costs, the semblance of that unreal China through aesthetics.

This bleeds into the Olympics in a number of ways. The walls they build to shield tourists from blighted areas. Seeding the clouds with chemicals to prevent rain. Banning petitioners from the city during the Olympic fortnight. Shutting down all businesses to reduce pollution. Faking the fireworks, the little lip syncer, the underage gymnasts. All examples of how important aesthetics are in affirming China’s illusion of its desired self.

But, naturally, as this is an essentially erotic relationship, the real China can never possess the unreal China. That is the nature of desire. And everything that China does to achieve the appearance of those things it desires, keeps preventing it from ever really being what it wants. Because that is what we’re dealing with here: The real, versus the imagined. Erotics are predicated on the life force of the imagination. To see something plainly, in a non-erotic way, one’s imagination (call it a suspension of disbelief) is halted in order to engage in a relationship with what is real. China, as a government, as a culture, is unable to do this.

But, as it often is with the lover, they don’t care really if they ever achieve the real. Sometimes all the lover is concerned about is loving. Desire derives both pain and pleasure; i.e. the bittersweet. And the lover, uncomfortable with the painful prognosis that one will never possess the unattainable, settles for the action of desire as the object; the desire becomes what is real. It’s a mental leap that the lover makes when confronted with the paradox that erotic desire presents: Loving becomes having. To stop desiring, to stop hoping that the unreal will one day be real, kills the object and destroys both it and the lover. It’s a sort of paranoia of the lover: If the desire ceases; so does my beloved; so do I. That’s why lovers always die together in romantic tragedy: without one, there is no other. Without desire, there is no story. It is a literal projection of the erotic crisis of the imagination.

So, as long as China loves the idea of itself as something other and perfect, they will continue as they do, manipulating aesthetics to give themselves the erotic pleasure of appearing like the country they desire. Now, one could easily say this about most any government. We all know the Bush administration focuses a lot on what they would have things be, and ignore what things really are.

This is also reminiscent of corporate culture. Corporations, who mainly interact with the public through vast and wild advertising campaigns, perpetually infuse the world–through surrealist images, language and sound–with erotic messages. We are often presented, in an advertisement, with a pessimistic idea of our reality (housewife at home, sweating and hunched over a fussy old mop), then presented a new, possible reality (housewife looking easy, breezy, and beautiful using her new Swiffer), that kicks our imagination into overdrive, and we begin to desire the product. Because what advertising does is to make visual the static gap between what we have and what we do not have. That translates into our mind as consumer interest. Shopping is titilating because it rides on the same principle. In advertising, Eros is employed (or, one could argue, enslaved) to force desire where once there was none. Like placing a bulb in the freezer during the off-season to trick it into thinking it has hibernated, so when you take it out, it feels compelled to bloom, advertising works on us similarly, pressurizing us with a surreal image of “the real” and an equally surreal image of “the unreal” in order to evoke an imagined crisis of desire between what we have and what we have not yet possessed.

But these objects, like true beloveds, never satisfy their lovers. The Swiffer will never alleviate existential longing, in part because the longing was manufactured in the first place by the advertisement itself (one cannot want something one does not know one lacks), but also because, for whatever reason, humans always have this capacity to feel separate from everything else that exists. Erotic action has a paradoxical way of both affirming and allaying the static gap. The double affirmation is: Yes, you are alone; and yes, this new Swiffer will reunite you with the world.

Likewise, China’s gold medals, its perfect-looking ceremony, its ideal little songbird, beautiful in both face and voice, its cloudless skies, are all products bought by the Chinese culture in one giant effort of erotic self-deception.

As outsiders, it is easy to see the gap more clearly, and to identify it as deceptive; kind of like having that friend who will never give up hope that boy or girl X will come running back to them. Is it possible to save others from their desires? Probably not. Being a lover is a very homogeneous experience, and one not welcome to outside participation. Stepping in between a lover and their object of desire is a sure way to make oneself an enemy.

But I think we can, as outsiders and equal participants in the world community, call China out on its bullshit. The games are being marred by China’s erotic selfishness. These games are not only about China. That’s the point of the Olympics. Incidentally, that is the point of a heterogeneous, non-erotic reality.

Read Part 1

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