Sense, Sensation, Sensuality:
Sex and the Body without Organs

The other night I heard about a birthday party, a public party, thrown by someone I didn’t know. Friends considered it, but were too tired after weeks of hard work. I wasn’t sure I had the energy either, but always reluctant for the fun to be over, as if to go home is to admit defeat, curl up and die, sleep and surrender, the desire to keep on living was more palpable.

I walked past the venue on my way home, still in two minds, and said “fuck it”. It looked quiet — still early doors. I’ll go in for one drink and see how I feel, I said to myself. The women on the bar were wonderful, chatty, hilarious. Their good spirits put me in good spirits. It felt like a good place to stick around.

I’d barely sat down before I was joined by a young man in his early 20s, I later learnt. We start talking, then flirting, then dancing. By the end of the night, we were kissing on the dancefloor.

As the party wound down, I agreed to walk him home, laughing together the whole way. He wanted to me to come upstairs and wanted to meet up again. He’s leaving Newcastle soon and I feel his desire for a final romance. We exchange contact details; he messages me. But I feel anxious, pulled into a brief moment of privatization of self. I pull back. I head home. Nothing about it feels right. The strangeness of sensation becomes an anxious preoccupation.

… the crack pursues its silent course, changes direction following lines of least resistance, and extends its web only under the immediate influence of what happens, until sound and silence wed each other intimately and continuously in the shattering and bursting of the end.

The crack spreads, but not in his direction. A rush but not the right kind. It has been over a decade since I was last with a man, and the anxiety of men’s advances is still triggering.

At the moment I was primed to explore a bisexuality in Hull’s various gay bars and clubs, it was always older men stealing glances at urinals, groping, chatting up, commenting on my dis-ease like any stereotypical drunken straight man would do, and doing nothing to settle it, as if aroused by the smell of virginal fear.

It takes a lot for me to trust men.

This is not something I project onto the man met recently. In fact, the sensation is oddly reversed. I am 30; he is 22. My more historic anxiety has been inverted. But still, I am the older man being chased. The discomfort is disorientating.

For whatever reason, I turn to Deleuze’s depressively asexual writings on the body’s erogenous zones, albeit not those at the surface, which he discusses in his book on Francis Bacon. “When people note that internal organs are also able to become erogenous zones, it appears that this is conditional upon the spontaneous topology of the body”, he writes. Inside and outside are not disconnected. I feel this acutely. Conversations around sexual exploration can only be entered into, at least at present, through a mitigation between the desires of flesh and the cracks of the interior — and each, of course, mirrors the other in striking ways.

“Our sexual body is initially a Harlequin’s cloak”, Deleuze says — a comment I am puzzled by and do my best to interpret. Perhaps he means they are chequered, patchworked; cloaked like a dazzle ship, obscured on the horizon, with an irregular beauty when seen up close. The harlequin is also a sort of jester, a clown; cunning and mischievous. But unlike the clown, the harlequin is sophisticated, astute, even romantic; a Chaucerian character whose sexual proclivities are buried in the depths of costume but which nonetheless flash and traverse the void. Sexuality, in this sense, plays simultaneously upon the surfaces and depths of the body. “It is important,” Deleuze notes, “to distinguish, for example, between the oral stage of depths and the oral zone of the surface.” There are so, so many things we can do with our mouths.

I wonder if this fluidity, this traversing of the body without organs, has something to do with my recent anxiety, equal parts social and sexual — a desire for deep connection, the affection for the surface, the pull toward the depths. The self undulates across all levels, from the social to the animal, and we feel that desire to run our hands over each and ever one.

Nin, in the first paragraph of her unexpurgated journals, published under the title Henry and June: “The impetus to grow and live intensely is so powerful in me I cannot resist it.”

A love entertained with a man named Eduardo:

He has suffered from the realization that we are both seeking an experience which we might have given each other. It has seemed strange to me, too. The men I have wanted, I couldn’t have. But I am determined to have an experience when it comes my way.

‘Sensuality is a secret power in my body,’ I said to Eduardo. ‘Someday it will show, healthy and ample. Wait a while.’

This erogenous folding of inside and outside, where internal organs are not so much central to the functioning organism as they are to the intensive and extensive body in itself, may be more easily understood through the fluidity of sexuality. Who has not heard or uttered the post-coital cliche, if the sex is good enough, of having melted into a puddle at the point of orgasm — the orgasm in which organs and organisms lose all sense of definition and determination? Orgasm as the paroxysm of the organism. It is the body overrun by sensation, by excess — it is no coincidence that female sexuality struggled to free itself from its diagnostic containment in hysteria. Orgasms are hysterical sensations, perhaps the most desirous and delirious of all.

For Deleuze, sensation “has only an intensive reality, which no longer determines with itself representative elements, but allotropic variations. Sensation is vibration”, it is a shuddering, quaking, tectonic rapture beyond the body’s surface.

If only Deleuze, for all his love of Lawrence and Miller, was able to write a bit sexier. If only he’d read and referenced more female modernists.

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