Pleasure as Subversive Action

Andrew Cooks

..."the other important joke, for me, is one that's usually attributed to Groucho Marx; but, I think it appears originally in Freud's Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious, and it goes like this - I'm paraphrasing—um, 'I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.'" (Woody Allen in Annie Hall)  

This self-deprecating and amusing quip is, like a lot of humour, a potent commentary on human experience…but also of pleasure. Do you agree?

After questioning various manifestations of pleasure, we will use experience (personal and collective), texts and sensory evidence to chart what pleasure might be; what pleasure means; and how (different) states of pleasure can be subversive.

How does pleasure feature in our daily or hourly or even moment by moment life? Does identity, tribal instinct or simply 'belonging' affect our understanding of and experience of pleasure? Do different environments or situations make us more or less aware of our ‘pleasure’ (for example, architecture, music, mapping, language, political energies and discourse, sanity, tribalism, nationalism etc)? Memory (collective and personal)?

Can language be a tool of pleasure?

What is use-value?

Finally in this twenty-first century against a background of anxiety, upheaval, distrust, tribalism and aggression—human and natural—and amidst the discourse(s) of globalism, can pleasure be a source of pleasure for its own sake and can it be a tool for subversion?


What is pleasure and how do you know?
Do you ‘trust’ pleasure?
If you do, why?
If not, why not?

Is pleasure taken seriously? By whom and why? Or why not?

Pleasure is by nature fleeting. It is seductive and seduction is born of desire and fueled by surprise which is such a wonderful—and wonder-filled—delivery system).

Seducer or seduced?

In this workshop we will play with pleasure; posit and plan the ways that its very nature makes it possible to hide in plain sight; for pleasure to preclude preconceptions and prejudices.

To be—in a word—subversive.

Day 1: What is Pleasure
Using the readings as a starting point we will discuss: what is pleasure and how do we know? what gives you pleasure? one person’s pleasure might be another person’s what? always? sometimes? is there collective pleasure? examples? what is the relationship of pleasure and duration? how long can pleasure last?

Trust—why is there a cultural mis/dis-trust of pleasure? everywhere?

Task: wander the area immediately around Ufer (say no further than 15 minutes walk in any direction) and gather/make/collect three “pleasurable” things to bring back to the group, share and discuss

Discuss what we’ve collected.

What is subversive?

Task: bring something tomorrow morning for a “pleasurable” communal class breakfast (be prepared to discuss what you’ve chosen and why).

Day 2:
A late breakfast feast.

Siesta—in praise of idleness! After a good meal, a rest: to ruminate, relax, recollect, radiate…to idle, idol, idyll

Task: make a pleasure itinerary for yourself around the Ufer campus and document it as befits your intention(s).

The senses: smell, touch, taste, sound, sight…why put sight which we humans so privilege last?  
Nothing…no thing…what is this? Can we make no/thing?

Task: work on your itinerary presentation
Task: think of a writer who gives you pleasure—how and and why?

Day 3:
Presentation and discussion of of itineraries. Is this subversive? How? Why?

Language—can pleasure in language be subversive - how?
Playing with language, with words; how they sound; how they look on the page or in space; how they roll off the tongue; how they meet; how they co-mingle, congregate, collapse, coagulate, constipate, collaborate, castigate, con, connive, concentrate, cushion, cuss, comfort, consternate,  cadge, cage, collide, collude, cultivate, cut, cast, create, command, contaminate, contrive, calm, calcify, catch, cry, craze, cruise, cream, cram, crate, crack, cradle, charge, channel, change, chop, chip, chew, check, chide, cheat, caprice, caress…

Task: write a pleasurable paragraph - that is, take pleasure in the writing. Will we sense your pleasure and if so, what effect will it have on us?

Required Reading
Pleasure as Subversive Action Reader
Some readings (excerpts from) to be available as a PDF:
Russell, Bertrand. In Praise of Idleness
Ackerman, Diane. A Natural History of the Senses
Thurman, Judith. Cleopatra’s Nose
Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text
Duchamp, Marcel. The Green Box
Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. Tastes of Paradise
Aftel, Mandy. Fragrant - the secret life of scent
Dickinson, Emily. The Gorgeous Nothings
Morrison, Van. Coney Island
Fioretos, Aris. The Grey Book
Various works/texts on Beauty, florid abundance, Persian carpets and Gardens

Materials students should bring to class
Students bring their own tools, i.e. cameras, powerbooks, sketch pads. 

pleasure, action, subversive, humor, use-value


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