The Buddha believed that the person “who is free from pleasure knows neither grief nor fear.” In the Biblical tradition, pleasure often receives a negative interpretation. The Book of Proverbs states “He that loves pleasure shall be a poor man.” Ethical hedonism is most associated with the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (342-270 BCE) who taught that our life’s goal should be to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. The theory of the ‘hedonic paradox’ holds that pleasure seekers end up unhappy
Pleasure can be induced artificially with drugs most directly with opiates such as morphine and heroin that block dopamine inhibitors. While these chemical interactions correlate with pleasure and happiness they do not define what pleasure and happiness are.
Aristotle defines the human being as an individual substance of a rational nature. This substance not only reasons and thinks, it also desires. Desire may in fact be the foundation of what drives us. Desire is such that it can never be satisfied. Desire always desires more. The person is also an enjoying substance that seeks out nourishment. We can be nourished by many things. Of course, as we seek our nourishment and the nourishment of our desires the elements of stupidity, ignorance and close-mindedness are never far away.
We may define the body as that which enjoys itself. Enjoyment is the property of the living body. To be alive means that a body is something that enjoys itself. Enjoying means, that one person’s body enjoys a part of the other person’s body. The Buddhists compare desire to honey on a razor blade. Yes, the honey is sweet and pleasurable, but the pain is there alongside the pleasure. The analogy of the honeyed razor blade leads us to the notion that pleasure is a lure or a trap.
Pleasure involves the lure. A lure is a device or decoy for attracting animals. The lure captures and traps. To lure is to entice and invite. Lure from the Gothic world lathon means to tempt and seduce. The Other is seen as a trap that eventually reveals itself when it is too late.
The lure to work properly has to appear luscious. Luscious is what is juicy and sweet. What is luscious is toothsome. It tastes so good we could sink our teeth into. It is also aromatic tempting us with its fragrance and smell. Once we bite into pleasure it is too late.
Luscious is related to lust from the Gothic world lustus, which means craving and intense desire. The lure is lurid. Lurid is what causes us horror and revulsion. That which gave us pleasure now gives us horror.
The lurid is what is gruesome. It turns our stomach with revulsion. Human beings are fascinated by the lurid. I imagine it is the same force that compels us to bend our necks as we are driving past the scene of an accident. We slow down to take a look. The lurid has often been placed on display. Roman citizens walked past victims of crucifixion on the main roads out of town. They gathered to watch death in the arena. The Aztec priests carved the beating hearts out of human sacrifices.
The question that we can begin to answer here is simply this: Are we lures for the other. How do we bait, catch, and then devour each other?
Every specific thing may become a device that yields its pleasure to someone. This is to say that human beings find their pleasure in many things. Often these pleasures are perverse because they cross the line. Per-Verse means to cross the line of what is normally acceptable. One website called Dressing for Pleasure sells fashionable and functional blindfolds and masks. It offers collars that lock. Wood and mental bondage devices and furniture. Clips and rings. Leather, rubber and rope harnesses. Leather, latex and spandex hoods. Restraints and cuffs. Nylon, cotton and nasty ropes. Pleasure in its masochistic forms has a specific discipline that couples itself with pain.
Desire according to the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan “is propped up by a fantasy.” Desire seeks not how things are but how we want them to be. The question that best leads the subject to the path of desire is “chez vous”– What do you want? Extended, the question becomes — What do you want from me? What do you want the other to give you? Desire is always a lack for Lacan: we seek what we do not have and yet we should not cede our desire.
The Epicureans argued that true pleasure is not momentary and fleeting. True pleasure endures. Pleasure consists in an absence of pain rather than positive gratification. For the Epicureans, pleasure consists in the serenity of the passions and the health of the body. This is what carpe diem originally meant. Now it has come to mean—do whatever you wish, enjoy yourself—find the now, do not worry about the future. Such pleasure often leads to disappoint. We seek seconds of intoxication—a brief space where our system floods with oxycontin—the body’s natural pain-killer. It is little wonder that Percocet is one of the most abused prescription drugs today. We attempt to fill the cracks and voids rather than see how they cannot be filled. It is destructive to fill these spaces with what is marketed to us as the cure-all for unhappiness. To believe this is the case is to become further enslaved within a system that promises emancipation only to tighten the noose.
We seek the thrill in a pill only to end up on the table in the morgue. But the Viagra keeps us hard even in death as the pleasure of the overdose is pursued by soccer stars, rock stars, movie stars and regular everyday junkies. It seems that pleasure is the rough road. The Epicureans were describing a smoothly paved road. Carpe diem means: find meaning, find your vocation and calling, create your own world beyond the violence imposed by the fantasy of the image
There is something troubling about pleasure even as it cheers us, delights us, exhilarates us to the point of gratification and bliss.
To gratify means to make someone pleased. The Latin gratus means pleasing and thankful. What is it in pleasure that gives thanks or causes us to give thanks? When we thank someone for giving us pleasure what do we actually means when we say thank-you?
One can say, you please me, charm me, delight me, gladden me and amuse me. Isn’t this to say that I find my satisfaction, my enjoyment, my contentment, my pleasure and delight not in you but in and through your mouth, your tongue, your lips, your genitals, your clothes, your perfume, your money?
To exhilarate is to bring the cheer out. We like people that are invigorating, exciting and thrilling. We may scream like idiots when we see movie stars, actors, celebrities, believing them to perhaps possess the secret to the meaning of life; a golden anus that does not excrete.
There is something I find hard to trust in people who are overly manic and happy; especially if such happiness is a diversion. The desire for pleasure often carries with it a profound sadness. A diversion is something intended to draw attention away. Diversions are distractions. A distracted person is confused and is always already traveling on a detour going nowhere. It is as if pleasure makes us feel fresh for 10.5 seconds. Calculated over a lifetime, the pleasure provided by an orgasm does not amount to very much time. The pursuit of pleasure is an exercise in expenditure with little return.
The opposite of delight is dismay. In its extreme form, dismay becomes horror. To be dismayed is to be alarmed, disappointed and discouraged. Pleasure can contain all these things. Usually after pleasure one may remark, “What, that’s it? That’s all?” All pleasure ends prematurely. Pleasure may dismay us. The opposite of dismay is encouragement. No amount of encouragement seems to cancel out the consternation, anxiety or alarm that pleasure engenders. We wish pleasure to last forever. It is in this desire to make pleasure last forever that we are caught just like the rat the keeps pressing the lever to stimulate the pleasure center in its brain. Many keep pressing the snooze button in a desire not to wake up.
An alarm issues a warning and the warning is simply this: pleasure is not what it seems to be. How do we wake each other up to the realization of what pleasure is not.
One must never cede one’s desire according to Lacan. By not ceding or dropping out, we create our own kingdom. The alternative is to remain in the other’s trap. As Gilles Deleuze argued, “If you are caught in the dream of the other you are fucked.” Pleasure then, is not about “who cares what happens.” Pleasure as carpe diem is about deeply caring. This care is found even as one takes a last breath—on their own terms.
Carpe diem is not about seeing the world as a playground—it is already a pain ground. It is not about addiction or developing a habit. Pleasure is not about the bit that controls you. It is about being in control while knowing, to cite the words of Portuguese Nobel prizewinner, Jose Saramago, we “can never reach the horizon before our eyes.” This fact does not prevent us from sailing. The ship on this voyage must be our own.
How many of us are stowaways on journeys we do not want to be on because they are not our own? Carpe diem is a high price. It cannot be purchased with credit, so the alibi and the excuse come to the forefront: I want to but…, I cannot, I want to…but how can I? Carpe diem means to transgress boundaries so that we may reach our potential. To be potent means to be powerful. Wisdom gives such power. To have it means not to be impotent, not to be fooled. It may mean to be misunderstood—others cannot comprehend—others do not appreciate.
Carpe diem means to live without the comprehension of others; to live without appreciation and applause. The pleasure here is not about the drinking binge or the ecstasy rave. The physical level always leads to disappoint—“I waited twenty years for this…?” The carpe diem I am describing is based on vocation where one lives one’s life as a work of art.
To be confronted with what carpe diem holds out is to be confronted with one’s self. To short circuit the board, we have been plugged into. To take a stand who in the words of Jesus who said that such facts can move mountains. We must push to where we must be. Carpe diem means to celebrate life even as you are dying. This remains for me the thing to learn.
This quest requires new paths of authenticity and autonomy. Carpe diem means becoming who you are—in Nietzsche’s words “You will always break out of all graves.”