To Exist in Pleasure (A Non-manifesto Manifesto)
Some things before I start: This essay is a response to a class critique of Ketzia Schoneberg’s work on 7/23/21 at the Pacific Northwest College of Art and a reading assigned by visiting faculty Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz, “The Great Caliban: The Struggle Against the Rebel Body” from the book Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici. (Plus a bunch of other stuff floating around in the ether.) Ketzia has graciously provided pictures of her work for inclusion in this essay. Also this is not a scholarly essay, and she and I are classmates, so I am just going to call her Ketzia. If this were something a little more formal, I would refer to her as “the artist”, “Schoneberg”, or “Ms. Schoneberg”. But it’s not, so I won’t, but you can assume all my respect is present when I write her name.
Essay: What does it mean for women to exist in pleasure? Discussions about pleasure are often limited to things of a sexual nature, and while birth control and the sexual revolution ostensibly led to more sexual freedom, in actuality it meant that women were more sexually available but not necessarily experiencing increased pleasure in the act. But what about nonsexual pleasures of the body? We aren’t supposed to enjoy eating, even though food tastes good and it is so fun to sit down with others and eat and gossip and laugh. Sleep? Sleep is for the lazy, the sick, the unproductive. The feel of sun on our skin or a quick embrace are just moments between checking our instagrams and figuring out what to feed our families and then pondering how to annotate our software without explicitly stating that the person who wrote the original version was a dumbass. There is no time to loll about eating bon bons and just enjoying being in and having a body. Especially if you are gay, or non-cis gendered, or disabled, or fat, or ugly, or old, or not white. But even if you are the prettiest white girl in the world, you aren't really supposed to enjoy living in your beautiful body. Because you exist to provide pleasure, and if you cannot, or do not want to, then what use even is your body? (It would never occur to some that our bodies could be of utility only to ourselves.) And what about nonphysical pleasures? The stray erotic thought about a mildly filrtatious acquaintance. The more prolonged thoughts about our attentive partners. The beauty of a Bouguereau painting (even if you know you are not supposed to like him and maybe a little bit because of it.) The challenge of playing a German board game with a partner who keeps kicking your ass. Reading a 1930’s murder mystery and not really caring who dunnit, but digging its vibe anyway. Who has time for all this pleasure that exists only for itself and not as a tool to make us more productive, sexier, or more important? [For really reals, the above paragraph is hyperbolic. Lots of women enjoy food, sex and detective novels. But we know we’re not supposed to, especially not in anything but short, isolated moments. We’re certainly not supposed to exist in prolonged states of pleasure.]
“Eating it All Up” by Ketzia Schoneberg (5 works out of 12)
Eating it All Up
Luncheon on the Grass
These paintings are about pleasure both experientially and in subject matter. What a luscious field of color to play around in. Under no circumstances does art need to be beautiful in order to be interesting, and there are plenty who say that it should be above such things entirely, but I say BRING IT ON. After being in social isolation for a year and a half, I want some hot pink please. I think we’ve all earned it. I want to roll around in these colors. I want to just sit with them and enjoy the space for a bit. (Lest you think my love has no critical faculties, I’d say That Much and Luncheon on the Grass are the weakest of the five. For reasons I shall address, it’s important that the women and animal figures live on different planes, but the forms merge a bit in these ones. There’s too much going on.)
But let me tell you what I see (which may not be at all what Ketzia intended). I see these women existing in a state of pleasure. There is no one to perform for; they are simply living in their bodies with the enjoyment that doing so can contain. And they exist together and separately with the animal figures. If you look closely, you will notice that none of the women and animals are really on the same plane. Even in Eating it All Up, they only seem to be looking at each other; their eyes do not really meet. I know absolutely nothing about Kabbalah other than Ketzia has an interest, so I looked up “Jewish animal spirits” on the internets and Mr. Wikipedia did provide. (I will take a moment to remind you this is not a scholarly essay and I can cite Wikipedia if I want to. I did go to another source as well, but I am not going to name it out of spite.) Nefesh habehamit is the animal soul in humans that gives life to the body and seeks out pleasure. (Which I guess is bad. Whatever. Also, my understanding of this is rudimentary at best.) The women and the animals in these paintings both exist as bodies and as spirits. Together and not together. But not pleasure seeking to my eyes, instead existing in pleasure, which seems a bit different to me. They do not need to look outside themselves for delight; everything they need is within themselves.
Also, I had a dream about this critique before we had it in which Ketzia and I talked about the sexual nature of Wayfinding where it looks like the woman is about to go to town on that shamanic rattle. During the real time critique, the suggestion was made that Ketzia make the sexual undercurrent text instead of subtext. Maybe even have the animals and the women get down more explicitly. I dunno. I think the transgression of pleasure is not just in the physical act of sex, but the experience of it at all in any form. We are expected to constantly discipline our bodies to exist in the world as employees, as mates, as mothers. There is not even room for many of us to opt out, let alone pursue comfort or bliss. To just exist happily in a body. To have some fun. But you know, I am not Ketzia’s mom, and I cannot tell her what to paint. If she wants to make colorful sexually explicit animal/human paintings, I guess I will just have to write another essay.
Mini Manifesto: EAT CANDY. HAVE SEX. LISTEN TO GOOD MUSIC. LOOK AT SOME ART. LIFE IS SHORT AND A LOT OF IT SUCKS. HAVE SOME FUN ALREADY. TRY NOT TO BE A JERK WHILE YOU’RE DOING IT.