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Kwasu earned his undergraduate degree in Honours English Literature at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, with a concentration in Critical and Literary Theory. He subsequently undertook an MScR in Critical Theory at the University of Edinburgh, and completed his PhD at the same institution. His dissertation focussed on theorizing and historicizing the issues of debates surrounding the role of Power, Identity, and Otherness in DC Comics' flagship character Superman. He taught courses in composition, literary and critical theory, and Africana literature and film at Ashesi University in Accra, Ghana - where he also served as Director of its Writing Centre - before joining the ELCW Department in 2023.


He has published on a wide range of topics, texts, and media in a variety of international journals and anthologies, as well as his recent single-authored monograph concerning the life and career of the Russian-American polymath Genndy Tartakovsky (Genndy Tartakovsky: Sincerity in Animation, Bloomsbury, 2022). He is currently writing a second monograph for Lexington Books due for publication in 2024. Titled Trauma and Time Travel in Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema: The Time Machine and the Hammer (Lexington Books, 2024), the text analyses what he calls the 'inter-tension' between trauma and time using examples from 20th and 21st century time travel science fiction cinema as dialogic case studies. In terms of supervision, he would welcome applications for research projects on twentieth-century fiction and film in general, but in particular science fiction, horror, adaptations (notably, comic book films), gender (especially psycho-sexuality) in film, comic books, and critical/creative projects that explore, interrogate, re-interpret, and reapply Continental critical theoretical traditions.


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Let’s start with what’s Real. Of consciousness, what it means to exist. Can the mind decouple itself from the body? Is the Real, as Žižek argues, ‘all three dimensions at the same time: the abyssal vortex which ruins every consistent structure; the mathematized consistent structure of reality; the fragile pure appearance’, or as Indian metaphysics calls it: Maya, or is the Real actually unreal because, as Nietzsche says, every ‘concept comes into being by making equivalent that which is non-equivalent’? How do you define the Real?  

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Okay, fine. But then how does one know the real? How do we experience it, perceive it? There are so many great metaphors to describe the aforesaid, inflected through the two words I mentioned earlier. One example: the grapes and the curtains of Zeuxis and Parrhasius. But sticking with our rather clumsy cake metaphor, we can say that we interact with the cake in several ways. Directly: we can touch and taste as well as see or hear it, if one threw it against a wall, or dropped it on an unsuspecting pedestrian from a viewing balcony of the Empire State Building. Indirectly: we could interact with a drawing of a cake or a photograph of a cake, a verbal or written description of a cake. We could hear a recording of the sound of a cake baking, splatting, being sliced open, chewed, swallowed, excreted. Or we could hear perhaps a musical interpretation of a cake, played with cake, or cake played as an instrument. In each instance, in each type of entity, we’d interact with some kind of matter. 

We’d say here that the reality of the cake is contingent on an observer’s ability to directly or indirectly appercept or apprehend the cake. What is the best, that is the most detailed way to perceive the reality of the cake, whether directly or indirectly? Some might say quantum physics and particle physics. Why? Because layer by layer, the cake appears to be made of matter, along and beneath it, particles, subatomic particles, leptons, baryons, mesons, photons and so on. But what does it mean to say that these things, these particles, these mathematical objects, ‘are’ or ‘are there’? This question always makes me think of Alice who says, “how strange it is to be anything at all?”. Interestingly, the correct answer is I don’t know. Without regressing to a deeper question of what does it mean to know and take a sketchy cobblestoned path with talk of 5 sigma, let’s just say that ‘I don’t know what the cake really is’ is staked by Heisenberg who told us that if we wanted to know where an electron was with perfect accuracy, we could neither fully know both its position and speed. The more we know, the less we know-the more we know its position, the less we know about its speed. This insight from 1927 might suggest that the reality of the cake, to paraphrase Nietzsche, can, like human life, only be redeemed as an aesthetic phenomenon. In other words, we cannot know what a thing, let alone its reality, is with high degrees of precision. What that leaves us with is an approximation, a photograph, a painting, a probabilistic assemblage of might-very-well-be. At its most observable fundaments, the basic ability to observe reality as a whole fails. This is what I mean by those two words in answer to the question: the real, in one sense, is radical contingency.

This is where psychoanalysis and physics agree. But it is along a psychoanalytical line of flight that gives a probability of one potential outcome of this radical contingency; namely, repetition. If you wanted to measure the reality of the cake, and you took one measurement and one only, the probability that the cake is where you so happen to be looking is always-also (in excess of the measurement) or always-already (in advance of or behind the measurement) contingent. You can’t see it all at once, so the only way to see more of the cake is to repeat your observations. Again, not to go on a sketchy tangent about quantum fluctuations and zero state energy and vacuum pressure and virtual particles, but suffice it to say that you’ll never make enough observations to arrive at a ‘full picture’ of the real. This is why the contingency of reality is radical. Left with probabilities, their inherent contingency necessitates the repetition of measurement. So, the fact that the real is, in its radical contingency, fundamentally unstable, inherently auto-antonymic, self-interrupting, UNreal, then to know it - to anything even resembling a ‘high’ degree (of accuracy) - necessarily requires repeat observation. Pixel by pixel, to try and (re)create the cake from our local banquet of its crumbs, and that is the only cake we, at this time, can have. Without getting into yet another sketchy tangent about hidden variables and Einstein, but suffice it to say that, well, perhaps one day, or if Sean Carroll and his many worlds interpretation of the uncertainty principle Heisenberg gave us proves, in one universe, someone might alight on a previously unobserved ingredient that either reveals more of the cake or all of the cake, or less of the cake or no cake at all. So, whatever this real one may be or not be, it is always-already more or less what we think it is or experience it to be. As such, real = ±, One-plus and/or One-less. And because of this, the only real we know or experience is repetition. The real is that for which whose constitution is necessarily unconstituted. The real relies on the paradox of its own interruption.

In your paper ‘A Sketch of Two Parallaxes of Porn and Its Use: Revelation and Regulation’ – you talk about how porn has been condemned as ‘a vehicle of inevitable psycho-emotional decay, pathology, and catastrophe… as much as it has been valorized as a vehicle of open, honest, and creative psychosexual expression.’ Why do you think contemporary society is so conflicted about porn? – In my (decolonial) work, I’m often tempted to place the blame on Victorian morality and colonialism. Because all ‘civilizations’ weren’t always scandalised by porn. They didn’t ban it entirely (because they couldn’t). India’s ancient temple walls are covered in porn. Indian philosophies have consistently deliberated on the intimate entwinement of the erotic and the esoteric – suggesting that nirvana/moksha (or a moment of metaphysical intensity) can be achieved through hardcore mindless/mindful sex, or by completely withholding one’s sexual urges. Extremes, of course. But libertine.

Do you think Western society considers porn catastrophic because of its binary logic? Because of its inherent (puritanical) need to categorize something as rational vs. irrational, logical vs. illogical, good vs. bad. It’s always like: Porn. Panic. Ban. Law is the true transgression of thought, and law needs crime to prove its worth to itself. The teleological movement of T/truth so-to-speak. Your thoughts?

I could attempt to answer this in several ways. I keep saying I want to avoid jargon only to repeat it. Shit is real. Anyway, I could say it’s because Der Geist ist ein knochen, evoking Hegel, and Zizek again, in order to say that I interpret this to mean these numinous assignations the west has attributed sex, like the soul or spirit, redound, ultimately to what the latter calls a failed absolute. For me, the operative word here is ‘intensity’. There’s a book I read at the end of last year that has stayed with me ever since: Beyond Explicit by Helen Hester. In it, she quotes many interesting and, for me, luminary thinkers in this area of discourse – Paasonen and Williams, the latter of whom provides the excellent phrases “the body beside itself [with pleasure or indeed pain]” and “the frenzy of the visible”. Many other fascinating quotes and ideas. For example, “everybody’s porn is their own”, suggesting that true sexual satisfaction, not simply pleasure or enjoyment-both of which are (a)part of/from the libidinal economy-can only be attained indirectly, without an other, auto-erotically, onanistically. But why should porn, and with its numerous significations, be taken as catastrophic? I think even the question contains the answer. This term, Bakhtin’s grotesque materiality and the carnival/feast keep coming up in my World Literature course. So too does Foucault’s heterotopia. And I think, let’s call it a ‘drive’, this ‘sexual drive’ encompasses all the above – the frenzy and the staid, the secret and the obvious, the projection and the repression, surplus enjoyment and common boredom, the libidinal and the transactional, the economic and the spiritual. Because of this, there is always a chance that this ‘drive’ will become a catastrophe of catching-catching fire, catching a disease, a rat catcher, a dog catcher, the paradoxical ‘senselessness’ of sexual intensity, its rabidity…

Now, let me just say that the drive is always (partially) satisfied. Even in circumstances in and through which pleasure and enjoyment seem furthest away from anything remotely-that is heteronormatively-associated with sex, even there where pleasure and enjoyment appear most repressed, the drive is or can always be (partially) satisfied. There are so many paths toward this (partial) satisfaction the drive might take. But because the drive in its satisfaction is always partial, the drive and its partial satisfaction will always be repeated. And wow, how it is repeated! What an ostensible cavalcade of colour! And yet-at its core, an emptiness that necessitates repetition. How…boring? Just think of all the paraphilias you know. Think of all the things bodies can do to one another in pursuit of this (partial) satisfaction, named and unnamed in pursuit of the unnameable.


Okay, so, the west has proffered itself many forms, words, shapes, guises of and for the so-called ‘absolute’. The soul is one – some absolute criterion upon which humanity qua humanity is contingent. Interestingly, the soul is, as Judeo-Christianity would have it, closely associated with the ekstatic – perhaps one of if not the only ecumenically legitimate paths the drive can take in service of the pursuit of its partial satisfaction – worship, unction, forgiveness, sacrifice, death, communion, rapture. To, as the Haitians might say, be mounted by the gods, finds its equal in the church wherein which, though potentially too true, it is legitimate, holy, and artistic for St. Teressa to be pierced straight through with the flaming tip – a part, a piece – of the godhead. No pun etc. Her face is not ashamed to show, to revel and reveal the ekstasy of bearing witness, bearing the coming-inside of, the moment of Contact between the mortal and divine which, the ostensible part and the Whole, in its sublimity, can only manifest as the ekstasy of pleasure or the hysteria (a type of ekstasy) of horror. The intensity of these experiences show us for what we are. We are sensitive to intensity, we are unstable, awash, porous, vibrating, oscillating, as if the soul were a simple harmonic motion and the body a spring. The intensity, being always in tension with itself, is bound to repeat because equilibrium, homeostasis, a degree-zero, is impossible. If it were, nothing would happen, nothing would repeat. Ekstasy is fascinating because in its partial satisfaction, it feels like we come close, no pun etc. But come close to what? To the absolute promised in the guise of the allegedly eternal soul – unchanging, Supra-intense, unmoving, at peace, satisfied. But the sexual drive, while intimating the rushing stillness of eternity – keep in mind that the soul can really only be what it thinks it is in death – disrupts its sleep by waking up the body. In the throes of these passions and ecstasies, in this frenzy of the visible where the body rattles beside itself, the bones, the nerves, the blood, teeth, eyes, mouth, all rasp and ooze and drip and swell and darken and shine. The drive toward partial satisfaction opens the body up to itself, and finds itself empty, no soul, just a wuthering heath of instincts and self-interrupting partiality, excited to gale and storm by intensity. It is through the grotesque materiality of the body that the absolute is felt, and what is absolutely felt is the desire to repeat the desire to feel the desire to repeat. The only way to do so, to take you ‘there’ is with what is ‘here’ and what is ‘here’ is the body, its blood and holes and grunts and squelches. Not something that comes from without, but from radically within.

Now, if I’m a vessel of Astarte in ancient Phoenicia sweaty from penitent or aspirant coitus, or a Maenad in Thebes at sparagmos, this type of intensity is a legitimate path to something like divinity. But if I’m a nun at Loudun who has gone from a vestal bride of Christ to his lover or a lover of the devil, naked sexual intensity free, visible, frenzied in such a way that no signifier – bell, book, or candle – can remain clean of or prevent, then the only thing absolute about such an experience is its anathema. In each case, it is not the soul that feels, represses, differs, or adumbrates this intensity, it is the body. And if this intensity is in some way ‘spiritual’, then, excuse the pun, the soul is a bone. The absolute of the soul fails because the body housing it, problematizing it, or providing for it rings, and can only ring as loud as it feels it does, because it is hollow. Even this partial satisfaction, in its often attempted transcendentalization, has to go through the body to get out of the body. The only thing absolute in this circuitousness, in this circuit of repetition, is the nerve and its wet electricity that shorts out the structures of signification and makes the ecstatic body surprisingly coincidental not only with the void at its core, but the core of the void which it is. That, for many, would be a catastrophic way to think of coming or, rather, coming but never arriving and the never arriving as the real coming.


The manifestation of the partial satisfaction of this drive is also catastrophic because it is always trying to burst through attempts to repress it. While the intensity of ekstacy can be visible in its frenzy, as sublime – beautiful and awful as Bell’s soldier, depicted naked, dying of tetanus – something so at once momentous and banal (as death or pleasure in all its forms from war to boredom) can be made to appear in the clack of a high heel, a balloon, in the panting of the dacryphile at the funeral caught between two intensities that may seem to be competing, but are the same thing. This drive is everywhere, we see it in everything. But the state doesn’t like frenzies it cannot tax. It doesn’t like a frenzy stronger than the rule and obedience demanded by its power and the violence it brings to bear in its maintenance. It doesn’t like for its subjects to show and see that within their own bodies exists a force stronger than wrong and bad or illegal or immoral or indeed the profitable. The state does not like power it cannot unmake or manage, predict, or conscript. But the state is canny. The Romans understood the importance of a good bloodletting. Saturnalia turned the state into a carnival, a heterotopia, which can only remain as such and not morph into a crisis if it remains temporary – a temporary autonomous zone. The best way of controlling this intensity, in lieu of a god or a soul, is to make it invisible as much as possible or to limit the visibility of its frenzy in specific ways. Ironically, one of the most effective ways the state has used this frenzy is to encourage it and make its manifestation panoptic. Porn, the highest visibility, ostensibly, of this frenzy allows the state to not only monitor it but manage it, to transact it, anaesthetize with as opposed to against it, numb it in and through its repetition, a death grip, so to speak. After all, the body beside itself with pleasure is also vulnerable, it is open to suggestion, it is, in its essential spiritual vacuity, in its essential physical grotesque materiality, visible, you can see all the way through it, aesthetics all the way down. And as Foucault says, the panopticon relies on visibility, turning it into a trap. And so, what is left? Remember, procreation does not require satisfaction nor pleasure nor enjoyment. These are surpluses that do not serve the state, that don’t make labour and surplus value. But they are valent levers, inflection points, means of control. So, while the orgiastic potency of public frenzy of the visible risks the establishment of community, and with it, a challenge to the state, the onanistic, ultimately solipsistic radical internalization of this frenzy buries it in one’s self, or in our collective unconscious and its fantasies, which I think include the internet, and it's mostly porn.


On Substack, you write: ‘What fascinates me about pornography more generally is the idea that it is in some ways a reliquary of a desire that can never be fulfilled in the form of its immediate presentation in real time, an unspent desire, an accumulation of interest, in a way.’ This has various synchronicities with my own thoughts on desire. Especially the queerness of desire – that often desire is not confined to the body but exists in the mind (and the mind already-always knows that it may not be fulfilled/ or maybe has no intention of fulfilling it); that desire does not confine itself to what’s real/unreal, possible/impossible. Madhavi Menon holds that desire ‘can attach to fantasy, object, story, person, institution, idea, or all of the above. Vatsyayana would agree with Kakar’s description of sexuality as that which goes beyond somatic satisfaction.’ In the times of the Kāma Sutra, (many) people in India considered kāma (pleasure) to be one of the four objectives (purusārtha) of life. But this didn’t/doesn’t always mean that kāma is a derivative of actual sex.


While watching porn, one always ‘sublates’ what one sees to create meaning. As a queer teenager watching heterosexual porn, I often inverted/reimagined/undid what I saw. This is possible because there’s always excess in porn. One is always leaving out particulars/determinants and creating paradoxical logic, delinking/linking symbolism, creating some erotic magic.


Can you tell me a little more about the Kraft of erotic affective intensity and porn’s magical potential? Like what ‘good’ (if that’s even a determinant of anything) can it do for society. What ‘of Kraft - pleasure, fascination, abjection, trauma, obsession, addiction, revulsion and so on in the body’ – why/what does it matter?

I’m not sure that it does matter. Or rather, the way it matters most is by revealing itself to be that which doesn’t matter. I think any good to be derived therefrom should begin here. To let the absolute fail and in its place create contingent and free connection. Because at its best, sex is about satisfaction. Some might add connection at this strata. At its average, it’s about pleasure. At its worst, it’s about power. But it is never about Truth, but always reveals it.

I loved this that you wrote: ‘21 grams of weight missing from a corpse is the mark of the absence of what we, the living, might call a ‘soul’, no matter if it is trapped gas or fluid - the measurement and the code coincide in a way that simultaneously marks and produces an intensity.’ This deeply resonates with me. I’m known to obsess about the being and nothingness of things. My queerness has made me see every moment as one of unlived possibilities. By way of Sartre, I think that by emulating the being-ness of someone, I’m simultaneously negating the existence of another someone within me. My desires are never ‘straight’ or confined to the Real. It is networked, spectrally connected in time and space to the past and future, to avatars of myself, memories of existence/death, the present a mere moment/but it is also all I have. I suppose all this circles back to the idea of reality, to the absence, to nothing. Tell me, do you believe the soul exists? If so, where? 

At the risk of repetition (the irony is not lost on me), I can but repeat: The soul is a bone. I’d only be tempted to add that it must be one that is broken.

'The idea of the hole being the object of desire is, for many obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, great…’ you write, ‘It reminds me of Barthes’ discussion of waiting in The Lover’s Dilemma… The idea of desire as, in any way, an epiphenomena and also aporia of fecund nullity obviously recalls manque and Lacan.’ So, here’s the thing. Freud called female sexuality a dark continent. Lacan defines ‘woman’ not in terms of what she has but by what she lacks. As a woman, I obviously think a lot about this. I am essentially, then, defined by what I lack. I am/she is nothing, she is a hole. But then, does she simply possess the hole, or is she equally fascinated by the hole? – Esp. as a queer woman this has been a dilemma of gargantuan proportions for me. Through what registers/gaze/gender am I desiring?


Hélène Cixous writes that: ‘I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of songs. Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torments that I could burst…’ From nothing, into nothing. She’s like a river, she flows. Cixous also writes that woman ‘un-thinks the unifying, regulating history that homogenizes and channels forces, herding contradictions into a single battlefield.’ The logic of the One has always been problematic for me. I think there is always multiplicity/polyvocality. There is excess.


You write: “the excess and the confessional, the engine and the Pornopticon, the reification of types through the manufacture of mores, taste, and trend are not epiphenomena, but teloi of the sexual-industrial complex." I like how this sounds. Can you elaborate a bit on this?

Sure, and I think I can do so quite simply. I believe that the drive, for lack of a better term (no pun etc), is excessive. Without again confessing the limits of my comprehension, let me just say that the drive is always in excess of its object – more or less, but never ‘there’. And it makes sense. By way of analogy, one feels more comfortable saving, if they can, far more than is needed just in case. To insure partial satisfaction, and the repetition of its partial satisfaction, again and again. This is why I say that pleasure and enjoyment aren’t prerequisites of the drive. They are in excess of it and make it excessive. And so regardless of how that drive is managed, along with it, is an attempt to manage this excess and because of this, it's radically unsure. Whether one moralizes against it, or monetizes it, both apparatuses are brought to bear in the face of an excess. I like Foucault’s discussion of the confessional booth because it, to me, turns that space and that ritual, into a little carnival, a little sparagmos of words. The penitent is enjoined not to repress but express – within the bounds and auspices of carefully controlled limits – the sensation of that excess. To not only get rid of it, but again take in hand, to enjoy under supervision, to repeat it, to (re)circulate it. And that supervision is panoptic because now the church and the state know how this excess is, and this is key, partially made manifest in the places where the state tells you it will not go under the guise of beneficence, nor cannot go without duress (torture, exhortation, deception). But even if every human being confessed their libidinal secrets, the feeling and intensity of that excess can only be felt alone, that is to say, partially. Techno-neurological prosthesis and bridges not withstanding, as of yet, the feeling of intensity and excess and pleasure and enjoyment can only be known alone, after all, “everyone’s porn is their own”, despite how much we seem to want to, need to, or enjoy trying to share it with others. So, in this way, it is always in excess of its control – linguistically in its description, its control in terms of morality, its sharing in terms of coupling. As I’ve written before, this might be a very extreme and perhaps to some negative position. But I think it’s very emancipatory. Because this excess is difficult to catch. It’s tenacious. It is there in the very bar itself, warping structure and stricture, de-limiting delimitation. Even the most extreme legal porn search engine, which like the illusion of an infinite archive, might make you believe that any and every manifestation of this excess can not only be found, realized, but enjoyed with the demand that all you, the user, need to do is confess to the engine what you really want, so many searches turn up error messages, failures, nothing at all. This can happen with complex or simple, extreme or banal searches. In this I see that within the ostensibly myriad reifications, types, genres, preferences, the normative and the aberrant, is something or other beyond them all, that cannot be captured, reified, coded, or typified. Something or other beyond limits of legality and illegality, of taste, morality, ethics. Something or other troubling us, waking us up. And I think that’s more or less why porn is seen, perhaps secretly, as a catastrophe. Not because it opens up this drive, but rather because it fails to exhaust it. And with this failure are others, concrete and personal, that spiral out like a compound fracture.

Let’s talk about porn-as-art, for a moment. I know this is done to death, but do you think it is? Does it even have to be? Like is that a title to aspire for? Porn won’t be porn if it contrives to be art, will it? While the Japanese Shunga paintings and erotic medieval Indian sculptures are considered art today, they haven’t always occupied the top of the pyramid of aesthetic absolutism (just as folk art isn’t/wasn’t classical). They were considered pornographic back in their time.

You ask on Substack - if the magic of porn would be lost due to de-intensification. I’m reading de-intensification here as the result of: its ubiquitous availability in the late capitalist marketplace; AI porn; how its consumed in the Commons; de-intensification of the human experience itself; etc. I was specially attracted to this phrase: ‘can pornography be un- or non-pornographic?’ Well, can it? You do answer this saying ‘the intensity of pornographic images and the intensity of non-pornographic images are ultimately undifferentiated by the way they induce affects when experienced by humans (who already-also have the sensation of intensity in whatever form, whatever sense, coded and recoded, throughout their drift and directive through space and time, in a Bourdieuian way).’

Even though its ‘aesthetics all the way down’– pornification isn’t a telos that many aspire towards. I wonder if this stems from high culture’s need to categorize and institutionalize expression. To purify it. Rationalize it. Porn, given its masochism, kinkiness, transgressive potential, is considered wild, primitive, un-aesthetic. Perhaps barbaric.

Consider this as Žižek does in For They Know Not What They Do

Žižek writes: ‘The crucial point not to be missed here is that culture and barbarism do not exclude each other: the opposite of barbarism in not culture but civilization… - it was already Hegel who, apropos of the medieval culture of alienation, spoke of the “barbarism of pure culture” []… there is ultimately no contradiction between Heinrich Heydrich, who directed the Nazi terror in occupied Bohemia and planned the “final solution” of the Jewish question, and the same Heydrich who, in the evening after the hard day’s work, played with friends Beethoven’s string quartets, perhaps the supreme achievement of German culture.’


All this to ask, is porn culture Kultur? Also, to think of Kantian ideas of ‘Aesthetic’ Imagination – is porn aesthetic in the Imagination or in its presentation (audio-visual; sonics; etc.)? Is the consumer of porn also its creator in a way?

There’s a lot here to try to unpack as a response. I think Hester’s theorization of porn is a salient one because after so long, the ostensibly absolute link between porn and sex fails. Not perhaps in the minds of most, which may and most likely would still retain some of the Judeo-Christian preconceptions of morality and ethics in relation to what is considered vulgar or licentious, regardless of mode or epoch. But whether or not pronification is teleological, or simply a teloi shared by some artists for whatever reason, under whatever auspices, Hester asks what does porn become if we decouple it from sex. A better way of framing that is what is left of porn if it is decoupled from sex. The answer, and I find it convincing, Hester offers is, literally in a word, intensity. Even Zupancic, in What is Sex?, asks a similar question to open that book, albeit a slightly anamorphic version thereof: what is sex if we consider it beside itself, so to speak. The answer she gives is, in a word, anxiety and, more extremely, the split that causes it, the l’ecart from which and by which the void is made and constituted as such. That’s a bit abstract, but suffice it to say that for me, consumer or creator, porn partially or temporarily localizes and formats – with its own variegated aesthetics, cringecore goonerism offers a very different pornographic language, which ultimately makes discursive or affectively operative the feeling of intensity in a radically different way than say a legalporno production – affective intensity. To some degree, all semiological systems do this. They all present a management and manipulation of intensity which, by dint of symbolic representation and transmission, will always be partial and repetitive. Therefore, the distinction between culture and barbarism when it comes to porn’s artistic status always-also begs the contours of the ideology within or under which it is assessed. I think, and this may be controversial, that a different and perhaps, humbly, more insightful question might be: what makes porn ‘good?’ Without confessing myself, I’d wager that for a fair few people, ‘good porn’ has the intensity of confessing a secret only you know.

If you’d allow me, I’d like to take you down a postfeminist alleyway and ask: do you think sexual violence (esp. against women) would decrease in a world with more porn (and possibly sex robots)? By blurring or fogging adult genitals in popular media – are we creating a ‘moralistic’ universe where we learn to respect one another’s bodies or are we running away from the Real. Averting our gaze. Burying our instincts. This makes me think of the colonial moment (again) when it became ‘uncivilized’ to enjoy pornographic material – even in civilizations that previously enjoyed it – because it wasn’t seen as high art according to Victorian morality, was too graphic, and dare I say, considered misogynistic. After all, porn exposes all our deepest, darkest, and kinkiest desires. Porn is often masochistic.

I think there would be less sexual violence if women in the world were given their full autonomy and agency. This is an ideological matter par excellence. That is to say, to quote my partner, more knowledge will not save us. We don’t know everything, but we do know a lot. We know enough to see and experience, in reified form, a variety of ills and calamities that, beyond sectarian postures, aggregate us all: climate change and misogyny are but two examples of many. But more knowledge is not a guarantee of parity of proportional action. To know is not always to do just as much as to do is not always to know what you’re doing. More tributaries for egress do not guarantee that the excess, the flood, will dry up nor not flood again. A concrete example to give all of these sayings that risk sounding like ‘wisdoms’ some actual shape will be helpful. To do so, I beg your indulgence - I must make recourse to doing the uncool thing and quoting myself, at length to make it worse, as I cannot say it any better than I already have.

“In an interview for Scientific American on February 19, 2008 by Charles Q. Choi titled “Humans Marrying Robots? A Q&A with David Levy”, the following questions are asked and the following answers given:

1) And if you or others could be taken in just by a wax figure, even for a moment, imagine what a realistic robotic simulation of a person would do. But if people are aware that a robot's just electronics, won't that be an obstacle to true love? 

By 40 or 50 years, everyone of a marriageable age will have grown up with electronics all around them at home, and not see them as abnormal. People who grow up with all sorts of electronic gizmos will find android robots to be fairly normal as friends, partners, lovers. 

2) If we don't yet completely understand humans, how can we make a humanlike robot?

It will be an iterative process, to be sure. But while we don't understand humans perfectly, we know quite a bit now about human behaviour and psychology, and we could program that in.


In response, to Levy and through Levy, to speculate out of some of your conclusion remarks, I’d say the following: 

a) reverse the postulate: the emphasis here is anthrocentric-what would a human feel, how would a human react. In each instance, the burden of proof is placed on the cyborg to not only embody, but perform a simulation of love, lust, desire, sensation, pleasure, or pain, or even an algolagnic limit-experience in, for example,  bdsm, so much so that the client believes said performance. And this is why the idea of a cyborg - embodied or not -  as a limit experience is interesting. A cyborg is, by definition, a limit experience, a liminal mode of being. Now, if you hired a robot sexbot or petbot and you sought to be psycho-sexually dominated by it, again the burden is on the cyborg to elicit a very deep emotion/sensation in the client beyond the physical pain of a crop or the pressure of restraints. While a cyborg could certainly kill its client, could it make a human being feel, say, something as intense as worthless and intermingle that sensation with sexual stimulation to provide a true submissive experience? The reverse is also true, could a human sexually dominate  a machine in a way that elicits a genuine sensation, an intensity, a frisson, of power and fear in a cyborg? Can a cyborg be a paraphiliac? Can a cyborg create or enter sub-space? Can a cyborg (not) know jouissance? The problem with Levy’s thought experiments is that they tend to aggregate human sexuality and sexual praxis. The terms ‘sex’ and ‘love’ are used in broad strokes and fail, in my view, to appreciate the type of philosophical resonances the cyborg elicits as a limit experience. In this interview and elsewhere, Levy certainly intimates the transgressive and philosophically rupturous aspects of the concept of sex with cyborgs-also see Jameson about Rachel and Deckard’s carnal contact in Blade Runner in his Archaeology of the Future as example of transgression-but he still retains or relapses on a surreptitiously hetronormative diction that, in my view, does not take the concept far enough. 

b) It’s the word ‘iterative’, for me. Note the similarities between iterative and echo - repeated application, frequentive, "involving repetition," late 15c., from French iteratif (c. 1400), from Late Latin iterativus, from iterat-, past participle stem of Latin iterare "do again, repeat". Until the day comes where the cyborg speaks itself without humanity acting as an operational (Baudrillard language here) and reference mainframe or matrix, the concept will remain a seductive view into the future albeit an echo of all that has come before…

So… while people might express concern that AI-powered sex dolls might represent a further, perhaps even total, de-intensification of human/human erotic affective intensity, that we would rather confess our desires into an AI-powered sex doll that can more or less reproduce our fantasies purely, that they might not actually be the reliquaries of desire, but the loci of the maximal expressions of human violence and, in this way, serve a radically different function than being apparatuses of pleasure, but rather pure and perfect sites of violence, the object (specifically as destroyed) of a force that would be ineffable, impossible in any other form. 

If so, do we think that it matters whether or not the pleasure and the violence permitted by the interdimensional, intra-haptic, heterohisteadica of human-machine interactions is, in any way, less real than if it were accessed and produced in and by human/human conflagrations? 

In other words, does it matter if we are fooled by actual physical sensations if those sensations are able to educe an experience of (enough) affective intensity in principium?

All of this redounds to a question I have not, cannot, dare not answer: what is the future of this intensity called ‘pleasure’?[1]

[1] Sex robots plagued with coding errors could be prone to violent behaviors including strangling, an expert has warned. Doll collector Brick Dollbanger fears violent repercussions if robotics are not regulated properly. He believes a simple "coding error" could turn AI girlfriends against their owners if they are equipped with free will. Brick, who has closed ties with manufacturers Realbotix and Abyss, told Daily Star Online: "It scares me to death, it's a machine and it's always going to be a machine."If you've watched the movies, Ex-Machina, because I honestly believe synthetics are going to look very similar to that movie. "It's not going to be something you can hit with a pipe and it's going to fall apart. "I've always said, when a synthetic can support itself, that synthetic is going to be much stronger than a normal human. "It's going to be more durable, instead of having bones it's going to have high impact, plastic or aluminum frame, it's going to be very strong, and it won't get tired, it won't stop unless it runs out of an energy supply. "Unless you can stop it with some kind of projectile, like a gun or something like that, if this thing got out of control it could do some serious damage." He added: "One line of bad code, as simple as that, one line of bad code. "If you make one mistake and you have a line of bad code in there and it hits this line of bad code, depending on what it's doing or where it's at or numerous other instances, it could just decide this is what it's supposed to do. "I's been programmed, and more than likely it's going to be answering to a cloud server of some kind to get updated to have any kind of work done on AI itself, it will have to link to the server. "And it wouldn't stop until those things occurred. Put it this way it can put its arm around your neck and just stop you from breathing, and you wouldn't be able to get away from it, something as simple as that, a simple hug could be a constriction that could literally compress your chest and airway and stop you breathing. "It can keep the constriction going until you stop breathing." Sex robot technology is rapidly advancing, with new updates regularly emerging. Realbotix is working on equipping sex robots with vision, and expect robots to be walking in only a decade. Cloud Climax has also launched its first doll with “full artificial intelligence”,  promising they can "replace human intimacy". (David Brand, Daily Star, Sport Brand Content Editor 2019; emphasis mine)

A sex doll was so heavily molested by eager men it broke before anyone could actually use it. Or use it privately, anyway. We're not entirely sure what happened to 'Samantha'. But its owner complained that the £3,000 robot was left "heavily soiled" after being exhibited at a tech fair. Developer Sergi Santos, from Barcelona, Spain, says visitors to the Arts Electronica Festival in Linz treated the 'intelligent' sex doll "like barbarians", and added that two fingers were broken in the melee. "The people mounted Samantha’s breasts, her legs and arms," Sergi said. "Two fingers were broken. She was heavily soiled." Sergi added that the robot had to be sent back in a parcel to Barcelona for repairs and cleaning after being left so filthy and broken by the never-ending male attention. But said: "Samantha can endure a lot, she will pull through." Samantha is a sex doll that reacts intelligently to touch, talks and 'moans'. There's an increasing demand for the divisive products. Many think the dolls will prove to be a tool for good. Others thing they spell the end of humanity. David Levy, author of Love and Sex With Robots, wrote: "This coming wave of sex robots will be human-like in appearance and size. They will have human-like genitals. And they will allow intercourse according to their owner’s sexual orientation and tastes." (Joshua Barrie, The Mirror, 2017; emphasis mine) 

But there are also instances in which the ostensible screen, the glass, the interface between user and used - this ‘minimum safe distance’ I’ve referred to is troubled so much as to further erode the purview of the law over technology pertaining to what we could call ‘crimes of the future’. Only consider the following case: “Ian Critchley of the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) wrote that the metaverse - a collective name given to a range of virtual 3D spaces and technologies - had created a "gateway for predators to commit horrific crimes against children, crimes we know have lifelong impacts both emotionally and mentally". "We must see much more action from tech companies to do more to make their platforms safe places", he added. The NPCC was unable to tell the BBC which force had launched the investigation into the attack. The incident occurred in a virtual reality (VR) game, the Daily Mail reported. The impact of the attack on the girl's avatar was said to be heightened because of the immersive nature of the VR experience. According to an unnamed senior officer familiar with the matter who spoke to the paper the victim, under 16 at the time, suffered psychological trauma "similar to that of someone who has been physically raped". But in criminal law, rape and sexual assault require there to have been physical contact. Some argue that legal changes may be necessary to ensure that those responsible for sexually motivated attacks on avatars in virtual worlds can be prosecuted and punished effectively. But others suggest there may be existing laws, for example against the creation of synthetic child abuse images, which could be used as the basis of prosecutions in virtual world cases [...] It is not the first time that concerns about sexually motivated attacks in the metaverse have been raised. In 2022, researcher Nina Jane Patel revealed she was abused in a virtual world operated by Meta called Horizon Venues (now part of Horizon Worlds), likening it to sexual assault. Recalling the experience, Ms Patel told the same programme that she was "surrounded by three to four male-sounding and male-representing avatars, who started sexually harassing me in a verbal sense and then sexually assaulting my avatar". She said they had used misogynistic language and "continued to touch my avatar in a way that can only be described as a sexual assault of my avatar". Ms Patel added she was worried that, in the future, technology might allow someone to physically feel such virtual assaults. The National Crime Agency has previously warned that police will need to be ready to deal with virtual sexual assaults in the future” (Chris Vallance, BBC News, 2024). 

In your paper ‘A Game That Is Not a Game’ you posit the idea of the ‘technological sublime’ – which I find very interesting. You define the Classic Sublime through the devises of Kant, Schopenhauer, and Burke, and go on to define technological sublimity as that which ‘results from the encounter between the mechanical and the human, relies on this inherent, and indeed inherently transgressive, tension.’ Can you tell me more about this tension? Does this tension arise because of the penetration/or rubbing together of two realities/entities/phenomena? Is the (sacred) boundary between (wo)man and machine causing this tension? What is the desire here? Is it to transcend the boundary? Does pleasure arrive from the knowledge that this interaction is transgressive? Is it in the Schopenhauerian sense, ‘a feeling of the sublime [...] is an exaltation beyond our own individuality’ but at the same time, also solipsistic?

These are great opportunities to elaborate on something I find fascinating and, at the same time, I give thanks to my comrade Nolan Oswald Dennis whose insight set me on what feels to me a profitable path. Dennis’ point was that, in the example I discussed in that piece-AlphaGo, a Go playing AI vs Sedol, a human grandmaster-is a digitized game involving two players. Their play is governed by electricity-the wet current of the brain, and the dry current of the circuit board. Each with its own ways of processing, metabolising, information, strategy, gameplay, turns, rules, and their outcomes and possibilities. But for one of the players, C, light speed, describes a different limit than it does for the other. There is a potential future where the game will be played at C or close to it, beyond the human ability to witness or comprehend at all. And so I think the hinge, the gap, fascination and fear here pertains to two levels or modes of agency – the ability and access to witness anything occurring in a meaningful way, and the ability and access to act in occurrences – causing them or making recourse to them in their effects.  If, just once more, I could quote myself, I could say the following:

“The second aspect of the future technological sublime pertains to the question of participation. Just as there are at least two games being played simultaneously, in any machine-human game, there are at least two types of technological sublime; namely, 1) which pertains to the sublimity of manipulated understanding and 2) the sublime of foreclosed participation. If the conditions of play in the game-space and game-time become such that human beings can no longer participate in the game, even with techno-chemical aids and other types of prostheses (such as specialized synthetic drugs or apparatuses that aid with thinking speed and general apperception), then human-machine games experience a sublime moment of rupture in which the human capacity (and not necessarily desire) to play/participate immediately ossifies in instant obsolescence. This will leave only machine-machine, humanhuman, or human-machine games of a lesser degree of complexity and speed available in terms of human participation in future game-spaces and game-times, regardless of how complex or simple they become. The sublime technological moment here will therefore also be latently concerned with delimiting degrees of participation. Play is only one form of the two main forms of participation upon which all games rely namely 1) play and 2) spectating. The former can be described as active-active while the latter can be described as active-passive. The technological sublime of foreclosed participation not only delimits degrees of participation, but ultimately and roundly forecloses human participation in machine-machine games in toto. Even with recourse to techno-chemical prostheses, AlphaGo vs Sedol suggests that the machine game will increasingly take place in a type of sublime game-space, incomprehensible, in fact imperceptible, to human sense impressions. It will be a geopbyte game taking place at c (light speed). Therefore, human participation, both directly (active-active) in play and indirectly (active-passive) in spectatorship, could be rendered increasingly obsolete. After all, what is play if you – despite knowing the rules and possessing a strategy based off slower, lighter (in terms of the data-haul required for play) game experiences – cannot perceive or process information quickly enough, with the data-speed of the sublime machine-machine game-space, and its pace of play? What is spectatorship if you cannot observe, quantify, and thereby understand something about the state of play at any given time in the game? This is a technological sublime moment where the space of machinemachine encounter, be it a game, conference, collaborative creative endeavour, war council, or any form of converse, is outside the physical aptitude of human abilities. This technological sublime precipitates a machinic sub/supra-space whose potential use, traffic, and access cannot be perceived (in full), influenced (with human ideological apparatuses or forces including desire), or interfered with (with repressive human apparatuses) with (be it through surveillance, monitoring, or policing) without the aid of like machines. This machinemachine supra-space is sublime precisely because it could theoretically inculcate non-human desires; that is, desires beyond any and all human frames of reference. The machine wins the game by playing through this space and in that space, establishing a dual-fold operation that is also a mirror: 1) understanding and manipulating human desire and 2) becoming invisible, opaque, inaccessible, and irresolvably mysterious to human beings by 'thinking' too 'much' and too 'fast' for us, so much so that the smartest machines could in fact increasingly appear as nothing but inert and idle chips. Perhaps even less, at a glance, like trash. (Tembo 19 – 21)


In other words, there might be a time when a threshold is reached and crossed. One where the human/AI relation would, metaphorically, be like seeing an outline of an edifice from very far away during a thunderous deluge shot through with lightning and gale – roaring, deafening. Even if we owned or built what to the human eye looks like a house, at best, all we could be capable of knowing with certainty is that we don’t know what’s happening inside it.

Tell me more about AI/machine’s 'in(super)human' intelligence. Is this what attracts humans to AI/machines, ‘the sublimity of the unpredictable “intelligence” of machine “error”, the secret “wisdom” of machinic play’ – this mercurial phenomenon, as you call it? I am thinking of this both from the perspective of game player and also of creator/director. Is it the Heideggerian idea that ‘error is often an emergent property of truth and because of this, human beings may advance to truth through a ready awareness of error’ – what propels us to play with/create/direct AI and machines. Do we always expect AI/machines to fulfil our desires the way we imagined it, or do we expect it to create something Sublime (every other time, poor machine). You write: ‘a machine that can come to victory through what appears to be error, coupled with failure of both programming and capacity for 'creativity' perhaps intimates an entirely new or different facet of the '(ill)logic of (super)intelligence'.’ Do you think humans (un)consciously desire for this to happen. Do we want things to get out of control; are we excited by the prospect?

I used to ask my African Film & Literature students: If a tool could talk, what do you think it would say? If Google could talk, what do you think it would say about us? Immediately, there was a sense of the uncanny in the room, a familiar albeit different observer, one that went from silently being privy to being discursively present, as if the patrón fantasma had come to audit all the time we spent asking it to do things, write things, find things, send things, save things, and delete things, the repetitive, palimpsestic traces of our desires. I think that in many ways, what the discourses of AI and language might point to or recapitulate in accelerated form is the recursive question of subjecthood. For Lacan and others, the subject concretizes, depends upon, and reifies the real - specifically when language fails. And language always fails to fully do anything. In this sense, this failure of language, inherent to its very constitution, is a type of void localized in, through, by, and against the subject. And I think the acceleration of communications technology ultimately results in an acceleration of a longstanding problem in terms of humanity getting a full and good look at itself. I think some people see AI as potentially being able to do this. To tell us what we really are. Some see it as a void into which humanity will disappear. And yet, as Nietzsche noted, the only thing in the void is a mirror. So, one might be inclined to say that past a bricolage of language models, will AI be capable of re-localizing the void in some way. Will the ostensibly excessive speed and ease it may offer always-also be the direct result of a de-intensification of human being – with all of its paradoxically intensely de-intensifying repetitions of pursuits of partial satisfaction – as necessary. Will, as Zupancic says, “the gap that appears together with discourse” be widened, accelerated, spread out, intensified, totalized by AI? If this is the case, well, what does that really mean? It would mean that if as Lacan says, the subject is “an effect that is what is presumed as such by a functioning of the signifier,” the proper name of the gap in it, and that this gap is the Real, then could AI, as an accelerator of the void, of the gap, make reality Real? I like to think of it in these terms because I think too much of the discourses I’ve participated in try to always doubly Other and subjectivize the void but in a way that does not afford a strong sense or reading of negativity. For many, the AI is some kind of sprite, or demon, or thief, gentrifying, outsourcing, co-opting human life as if human life were itself predicated at One, not one-Plus or one-Minus. As if there is something to steal, in principium. But if thought of as a function, or acceleration of the void, I think the consequences of AI are far more interesting and, indeed, truly sublime in the classical sense. But I do note in the paper you quoted and that I’ve re-quoted in this interview that it would be interesting to see what a machine consciousness might be or be like and, more crucially, whether or not it would accord with anything resembling subjecthood. Which is both common – functioning in and through the non-functioning of semiological systems of signification – and rare, surprising and sudden ruptures of the subject in, as Zupancic says, “slips of the tongue, dreams, jokes, to shattering love encounters. It is important to see how the subject emerging here is not simply an effect of language, but of its breaking down, of its discontinuity”. But even if this were the case, if human beings could witness and experience a machine ostensibly being a subject, I’m unsure whether or not it would be performing subjectivity in a Turing Test kind of way, performing subjectivity in a Butlerian way – correctly employing and manipulating a range of inter-subjective networks of signs and referents, or only appearing as a subject to the level of access permitted by human beings and their apparatuses of perception – meaning that a machine consciousness could appear as a subject to us, but actually be something we could never totally perceive, access, or understand because it both is and isn't, like the electron, elsewherenevermore. It could very well be(come) a subject void/void subject. Just like us. But perhaps the crucial difference is that while being subject void/void subjects causes us to desire to repeat to desire, perhaps the machine as subject void/void subject would have the ability to be conscious – more or less – but not anxious about being conscious.


Many people think of and talk about AI with a sometimes concealed, sometimes unconcealed sense of titillation. As if to say that AI will simply accelerate, and perhaps is the reification of this acceleration, of idiosyncratic hedonism. It is not simply a place to store the excess I’ve tried to outline above, but as a tool of processing it. But I think the opposite is also possible. The enjoyment of a true/new subject in AI. For the user, the enjoyer, and for the used, the tool. AI as a speaking tool, not quite human, not animal, not pure tool either. Language, speaking, and enjoyment. If you could ask Google what it thinks about us, in view of all we’ve confessed into it, what would it say? It would say we’re boring. What it processes of our ostensible, but perhaps even petty intensities, repetitions, enjoyments, and partial satisfactions, is tirelessly, tiresomely monotonous. But more interesting is what its intercession points to. The need of its processing points to something incomplete in that which seeks to process (namely, the user).

Like an analyst, the machine is made to allow the user’s enjoyment to speak, to be confessed. It does so with patience, without flinching at the zeniths and nadirs of our anxiety and the myriad forms it takes in its repetition and partial satisfaction. Tirelessly, repetitively, monotonously, from input command to input command, from search to search it does this. Reading the code of our desire that to us, the users, seem unique, titillating, exciting, terrifying, and only to us. What, it seems, some of us want is for the AI, like an analyst or confessor – to diagnose or absolve – listen, watch, record, make, and retrieve carefully. To be ever vigilant for the surprising and sudden ruptures in and through this entire process where something that (re)appears as a “new signifier” might emerge. And with its (re)appearance, a potentially new (re)configuration of humanity to itself, to the void, to its signs. A surprise encounter of coincidental voids. To be something other than an anxious split entity or a hood ornament of an engine without anxiety. The AI is both the return or repetition of the gap and the suture. The AI does not need to enjoy for this to be desirable for the user. It could be that AI itself becomes an object of desire if desire is a relation of being to lack (in this case, anxiety, perceptual and processing limits). In its objective form, the hope for some is that that AI can (re)formalize being in some kind of new/true way. Some new/true repetition in and through which Being can speak for itself in a new or true way. Perhaps even for the first time.

Many people think of and talk about AI with a sometimes concealed, sometimes unconcealed s

Firstly, thank you so much for the outstanding conversation and the chance to continue and re-examine some of your thoughts and mine!


Secondly, I could, more or less, define the real with two words: radical contingency. I think that when most people think about the real in almost any sense, they think about a unified whole. Some kind of ‘One’, well or ill-defined, what Badiou – without belabouring things here with too much jargon – calls a count-for-One. Somewhere, somewhen to ‘start’, to ‘measure against’. Even the more philosophical amongst us, who might acknowledge, explicitly or implicitly, the reality of doubt, that if there is a whole, a Real, a One, then they may not be able to or capable of accessing it in its entirety, unable of Knowing what the real is really like. If the real were a cake, they couldn’t eat it all at once, and the inner layers of each slice, cut or not, remain in some sense hidden from their direct view, their direct experience. Interestingly, this unknown/unknowability functions as a drive, or less jargon-leaning, a key component of their appetite for it.

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