13. Dec 2019
Bogna Konior: Determination from the Outside: Stigmata, Teledildonics and Remote Cybersex / ŠUM#12
In 1928, at the age of 23, Faustyna Kowalska had her first experience of stigmata:
When I experienced these sufferings for the first time /…/ I saw a great brilliance and, issuing from the brilliance, rays which completely enveloped me. Then suddenly, I felt a terrible pain in my hands, my feet and my side and the thorns of the crown of thorns /…/ There is no outward indication of these sufferings /…/ The fire of Your love burns in me.
She lived in a simulation of sadomasochism, designed by an ardent God who always kept his hand on the “fast-forward” button and called it love. Throughout her twenties—she died at thirty-three—she frequently lay immobile in her bed, hallucinating. Once she was visited by a pack of demon dogs that wanted her dead, threatening to tear her to pieces. She replied that if that was her Lord’s will, let it be, because she was a bad, bad sinner. The air around her had teeth, and she never knew when it was going to bite. When she had a vision of a soul trapped in the fires of the purgatory, she’d say, “Take me instead of them! Make me suffer instead of them!” For this, she’d been made a saint later. But mercy was a half-forgotten friend of Faustyna’s. To any honest reader of her Diary, it should be plain that she was jealous. “Let me take on the suffering of others so that you continue to look at me, so it is through me that you look at anyone.” She’d never doubted that pain was a sign of attentiveness, that it made for a special bond. She believed that she alone was able to handle the pain of souls both alive and dead, that God trusted in her with deliberation. When other nuns taunted her, calling her a conceited narcissist who veiled her ego in faux martyrdom, she noted in her diary, “My lips were sealed. I suffered like a dove, without complaint.” A pain so splitting that by the end of her life she could often not bear to lay her head down on a pillow was simultaneously a sweet kind of torture, melting reality away, opening up another one. Pain was the shadow cast by the ethereal body of her lover, Jesus, to whom she was proudly obedient. Stigmata was the most intimate kind of pain because it was a direct simulation of what he had experienced, one body physically simulating another body, as close to coitus as it could get under the circumstances. Her relationship with Jesus was spiritual, physical, and erotic:
Suddenly, I saw the Lord Jesus near me, He graciously said to me, All that I created for you, My spouse, and known that all this beauty is nothing compared to what I have prepared for you in eternity.
I heard these words from the Host: I desired to rest in your hands, not only in your heart.
Then Jesus spoke these words to me: I have been waiting to share My suffering with you, for who can understand My suffering better than My spouse?
Up to ninety percent of all stigmatics are women. These mystical visions are often—although the Church speaks only sheepishly about this—erotic, heavy with descriptions of physical ecstasy found in pain, and expressions of an all-consuming, obsessive love for Christ, a lover that is withheld, unavailable but that cherishes them above all others. Faustyna’s stigmata were of the hidden type. They did not manifest externally, but they sang candied songs of love in her veins. She believed pain—and pleasure—should be hidden because it was intimate; outwardly manifesting stigmata only drew attention to the afflicted, it was like having sex in public. Instead, silent sensations settling on her body formed invisible evidence of pain, the highest form of erotic pleasure. Stigmata, one body channelling another. This non-dischargeable, processual type of erotics was traceable only from the inside of the body, but nevertheless caused by an external determinant. Faustyna did not know when he—it—would start dismantling her. When it did, she took pleasure in knowing that no one could tell from simply looking at her.
2019. Some other Faustyna, now sitting under bright neon sings in an outdoor food court, waiting for her order of spicy crab with deep-fried garlic and rice noodles. Maybe we found her, on a rainy day, in an arcade. Or maybe she’d stepped out of the sweet-smelling no-space of a shopping mall, followed by the softs sounds of K-pop, with a scent of cherry in her hair. In her bag, there is a device. Or maybe it is already on her body, maybe underneath her cotton shirt, or clipped onto her earlobe, masked as a piece of jewellery. Wrapped around her waist, underneath her dress. Between her legs. Perhaps she is wearing sunglasses that only gently vibrate behind her ears. Maybe she has the remote today, but more probably, she’s left it with someone else. She moves through her city without cultivating any type of paranoia, although what happens to her body is contingent on who has that remote. It might bring her pain, or pleasure, or what lies between: stigmata. One body channelling another. Sensations visible only from the inside, but caused by an external determinant.
Teledildonics are technologies for remote sex. They could be wearable silicone pieces of sensing jewellery that can transmit the sensation of touch and breath to the wearer when activated. Svakom’s Siime is a vibrator-camera connected to wi-fi and an app, which allows you to take photos from the inside of your body and send them to someone else. OhMiBod’s Lovelife Krush is a biofeedback tool that works through Bluetooth for women who use toys for pelvic pain relief so that they can monitor the tension in their muscles in real time on an accompanying monitor. There is also a teledildonic Fleshlight, KIIROO Onyx, which you can connect to KIIROO Pearl, a vibrator with capacitive rings that allows your touch to be transmitted to the user of the Onyx, and vice versa. Depending on the reach, you can stay home with your toy and give your partner the remote. Or you can go outside, knowing that they can activate the device from somewhere else. Expect the unexpected. “There is no outward indication of these sensations but the fire of Your love burns in me,” to paraphrase Faustyna.
The term “teledildonics” first appeared in 1974 in Computer Lib/Dream Machines by Theodore Nelson, his love letter to a personal computer, but only rose to prominence with the work of Howard Rheingold entitled “Teledildonics: Reach out and touch someone”. What did these men imagine when they thought about these tools? A lightweight full-body stocking that fits neatly and effortlessly, and a head-mounted display that melts one reality away to reveal another. Inside the suit, an army of intelligent sensors clinging to the body like drops of water resting on cold skin, vibrating, caressing. On the World Wide Web, tactile sensations travel through data links. In this virtual reality, you have a lifelike double and you can feel the texture of silk, wood, flesh. But this body works differently, as “there is no reason to believe you won’t be able to map your genital effectors to your manual sensory and have direct genital contact by shaking hands. What will happen to social touching when nobody knows where anybody else’s erogenous zones are located?” A decade after that, in the early 2000s, Barbara Creed points to two different directions for cybersex: with a machine and, “what is predicted to be at least 30 years away /…/ sex with people who are not present”. Her idea of the latter draws on the conception of teledildonics as a predominately visual medium. Creed, a film theorist versed in psychoanalysis, saw in this type of teledildonics the fulfillment of cinematic voyeurism. Visual fantasies would no longer be mass produced, but custom made. Pleasure would be based around anonymity on the web, which allowed for repressed desires to emerge effortlessly. Isolated in your head-mounted display, you would not be ashamed to ask for what you truly wanted. This idea of pleasure is based around the eyes, and sight takes the centre stage. But Creed had also already assumed that “touch may come to assume the primacy now accorded to the visual. Some players may construct scenarios that displace voyeurism together as a dominant source of pleasure.”
Indeed, today’s teledildonics can be found in the fields of augmented reality, wearable tech and robotics rather than virtual fantasies. A team led by Daisuke Yukita in Japan, for example, is prototyping a cute “lollipop device for remote oral interaction”, the Teletongue. It consists of two lollipop-shaped devices—one that records licking and the other that vibrates accordingly in the mouth of the receiver. Perhaps dreams of immersive virtual reality are still there as afterimages, flares in the eye of the beholder, but today, remote sex is not about entering a separate dreamworld. Tactility still travels through data links but does not circulate in another dimension. It seeps through to the everyday life, augmenting our interactions with other humans and with machines. “Virtuality” is a grater and what we call “real life” are the holes in it, we sieve ourselves through it, one does not exist without the other. Two humans no longer need to be physically in the same room to touch each other.
While J. G. Ballard wrote in 1984 that with cybersex “we are getting a whole new order of sexual fantasies” and Claudia Springer claimed in “The Pleasure of the Interface” that teledildonics would be a completely novel experience for humanity, at least some of it echoes Faustyna’s exploits. It wouldn’t be without precedent to take an older form of mediation in order to understand new media. In Zeros and Ones, Sadie Plant does just that, writing about weaving as a proto-cyberspace, and of femininity itself as a primordial form of mimicry that constitutes the ontology of modern computational simulations and artificial intelligence. Similarly, stigmata is a model for media like teledildonics because it allows us to think about sensations like pain and pleasure caused by a determination from the outside. What is thinking about technology if not thinking about an inhuman determination from the outside acting on humans even though it was humans who initially produced it? In the past, the determination from the outside was God, a force beyond human affairs even if humans originally gave birth to it. Faustyna had sex with the man in the clouds. Today, we are having sex with the cloud and our stigmata are wireless.
In her experience of communion, Faustyna describes herself as distributed, decentred, dissolved: “I felt the separation of my spirit from my body. I felt totally immersed in God. I felt I was snatched up by the Almighty, like a particle of dust, into unknown expanses.” Both pain and pleasure, especially when they are induced from the outside, dissolve subjectivity and in turn erase and assert the boundaries of the body in relation to the inhuman determinant. This dissolution is as sought after by some as it frightens others. “[He] fell into the prison of his own flesh,” writes William Gibson in Neuromancer, describing the despair of coming back to the confines of the body after surfing the cyberspace. While this desire to let the body melt away is often mistakenly called “patriarchal”—an overused word by now—writers who explicitly wanted to advance lesbian erotics, such as Monique Wittig or Jeanette Winterson, also dealt with such technologies of dissolution. Winterson: “Myself in your skin, myself lodged in your bones, myself floating in the cavities that decorate every surgeon’s wall.” Wittig: “Each drop of your blood spurt from your arteries striking m/y arteries vibrates through m/e.” For them, intense desire dissolves us, disassembles our body, and this is good. Like Faustyna, they like taking clichés such as I can’t live without you to extremes, allowing love to disrupt basic constructions such as agency or the self. If you follow someone to the end of the world because you love them, well, the potential for violent transformation is there. Something might collapse. The chain of causality shakes in its foundation. Stigmata is one body channelling another, falling apart, reassembling.
And if your lover is in no particular place? Our bodies today are spread over a number of apps, each limb tended to by another wireless device, a piece of a body on the phone, a recording of a body on a website. A disembodied voice on your lover’s smart watch. The body needs to be pieced together like a puzzle across all of our appliances. Stimulation comes from everywhere, each street brimming with erotic possibilities if seen through an app that scans the metropolis for willing partners, human or machine. Coitus is never the only way to experience it; in fact, we are talking here about the erotic superposition of bodies, cities, and tools. Long-distance relationships are normalised on volatile markets, where working commitments take precedence over romantic needs and our true loyalty is, in the end, to our own pleasure and fulfilment, and to capital. A growing number of women in monogamous long-distance relationships live like nuns, experiencing erotics from the outside, disembodied and spectral rather than with a flesh-and-blood partner. Some prefer technical erotics and await the arrival of sex robots. Machines spread our phantom bodies over the globe, opening it up to titillation, annihilation, de-subjectification, livestreaming us. Sexuality needs to adapt. Paul Virilio was enraged by this kind of erotics allowed by remote-control tools, writing that
what was till now still “vital”, copulation, suddenly becomes optional, turning into the practice of remote-control masturbation /…/ [Current] innovations /…/ have actually managed to interrupt coitus, to short-circuit conjugal relations between opposite sexes, with the aid of biocybernetic (teledildonics) accoutrements using sensor-effectors distributed over the genital organs.
Old-school Freudian paranoia? If coitus and ejaculation, the disposal of possible life inside someone who has the power to actually make it, are the only thing that allows men to get on with their lives without obsessing about death, the withdrawing of this option calls for a proper meltdown. In a psychoanalytic reading, men, themselves not able to give life, are forever reduced to hysterically wanting to deposit it into women, who can reverse death and therefore give some order to chaos. But our bodies are becoming detached from their reproductive function, oriented towards remote pleasures and pains rather than procreation. This is why in Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Biotechnology and the Mutations of Desire, Luciana Parisi welcomes ways of thinking about sexuality beyond human sexual reproduction, beyond the obsession with renewal and the fear of death, and towards a paradigm of sexuality where humans are just one cog in the machine of erotics. Bacteria, technologies, humans, all splitting themselves, scattering themselves in the information age, re-defining erotics to mean dissolution.
“O my Creator and Lord, my entire being is Yours! Dispose of me according to Your divine pleasure and according to Your eternal plans.” What is our inhuman determinant today, the one that dissolves us according to its own plans? It’s the market itself. Parisi’s optimism around distributed sex contrasts with contemporary takes on networked, fluid societies ordered by the inhuman logic of the economy that has no regard for human needs (or lives). Some say this fluidity has become an even tighter form of control than the old, hierarchical model of God presiding over the affairs of men. Of many ways in which we’d expected the “cyberspace” to revolutionise sexuality, apps like Tinder augment the physical space, providing an available lover at your fingertips. As Solange Manche writes, this is not about freeing people from social conventions, but synchronising them with the erotic pulse of the economy:
If my only desire, and thus my whole being [under neoliberalism], is to be an efficient employee, I have to move with the rhythm of capital accumulation. I have to become liquid myself if I am to mobilize for capital. I have to always be available and always ready to respond to the fluctuations of the market. Tinder, then, allows me to function as the perfect employee in a liquid market. I can choose to have sex at moments that do not hamper me [as a worker].
Capital, an inhuman determination from the outside, although (maybe) started by us, produces alien erotic effects in our bodies. We could imagine that teledildonics could become a way to validate the fact that volatile markets often draw couples apart, making it the new normal that we do not have “body to body” encounters with our lovers. “What’s the problem if you can have sex with them online?” your boss asks, annoyed when you try to negotiate a contract that would let you move your partner to a new place of work. In this way, long-reach teledildonics could be to long-distance relationships what mindfulness workshops are to precarious contracts. You can now prioritise being a good worker without worrying about choosing a job over the relationship—in the end, you can still enjoy wireless intimacy with your lover.
But the real potential of teledildonics is not as mediators of our increasingly fraught relationships with other humans. Thus far, the markets re-route human desire within detached, scattered, fluid but still recognisable forms. We’re one leg in, one leg out. But how long until capital truly has the remote, until what humans had started ends up somewhere that they could not have predicted? What if these signals could be automated or activated by a different than human intelligence? How many times do you need to have sex with a machine to stop caring who its operator is and start caring for the machine itself? In 2019, another Faustyna waits for the input. Her lover is not Jesus. Her lover is capital, making her body volatile, fluid, scattered across remote control devices. “With Him I go to work, with Him I go for recreation, with Him I suffer, with Him I rejoice; I live in Him and He in me. I am never alone, because He is my constant companion. He is present to me at every moment.” Something else is making love to all of us now.
Bogna Konior is a writer, a lecturer in new media and digital culture at the University of Amsterdam, and a postdoctoral fellow in Interactive Media Arts at NYU Shanghai. She tweets @bognamk. More at www.bognamk.com.
 KOWALSKA, Faustyna. Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul, Misericordia Publications of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, 2012, p. 795. Note that I use the original, Polish spelling of her name throughout the text.
 Ibid., p. 126.
 Ibid., p. 158.
 Ibid., p. 160.
 Ibid., p. 348.
 CARROLL, Michael, Catholic Cults and Devotions: A psychological Inquiry, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989, pp. 80–84.
 All of these toys are mentioned in NIXON, Paul, “Hell Yes!!!: Playing Away, Teledildonics and the Future of Sex”, in: NIXON, Paul, DüSTERHöFT, Isabel (ed.), Sex in the Digital Age, Routledge, pp. 205–207.
 NELSON, Theodore, Computer Lib/Dream Machines, Microsoft Press, 1987; RHEINGOLD, Howard, “Teledildonics: Reach out and Touch Someone”, in: WASKUL, Dennis (ed.), Net.sexxx: Readings on Sex, Pornography, and the Internet, Peter Land, 2004, pp. 319–324. Note that the Rheingold essay was first published in Mondo 2000, no. 2, 1990, pp. 51–54.
 RHEINGOLD, “Teledildonics”, p. 321.
 CREED, Barbara, Media Matrix: Sexing the New Reality, Allen & Unwin, 2003, p. 123.
 Ibid., p. 126.
 LIBERATI, Nicola, “Teledildonics and New Ways of ‘Being in Touch’: A Phenomenological Analysis of the Use of Haptic Devices for Intimate Relations”, in: Science and Engineering Ethics, no. 23/3, 2017, pp. 801–823.
 YUKITA, Daisuke, ASSILMIA, Fathima, ANNDHINI, Nadira, KAEWSERMWONG, Dolhathai, “Teletongue: A Lollipop Device for Remote Oral Interaction”, in CHEOK, Adrian, DEVLIN, Kate, LEVY, David (ed.), Love and Sex with Robots: Second International Conference, LSR 2016, London, UK, December 19–20, 2016, Revised Selected Papers, Springer, 2017, pp. 40–50.
 Ballard is cited in CREED, Media Matrix, p. 115; SPRINGER, Claudia, “The Pleasure of the Interface”, in: Screen, vol. 32, 1991, pp. 303–323.
 PLANT, Sadie, Zeroes and Ones: Digital Women + the New Technoculture, Fourth Estate, 1997.
 KOWALSKA, Diary, p. 439.
 GIBSON, William, Neuromancer, Ace, 1984, p. 6.
 Cited in MOORE, Lisa, “Teledildonics: Virtual Lesbians in the Fiction of Jeanette Winterson”, in: GROSZ, Elizabeth, PROBYN, Elspeth (ed.), Sexy Bodies: The Strange Carnalities of Feminism, Routledge, 1995, pp. 110, 111.
 VIRILIO, Paul, Open Sky, Verso, 1997, pp. 104–105.
 PARISI, Luciana, Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Biotechnology and the Mutations of Desire, Continuum, 2004.
 KOWALSKA, Diary, p. 440.
 Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker, for example, draw our attention to how past dreams of non-hierarchical and de-centred spaces have become the new mode of power, allowing it to penetrate our lives even more completely than before. (GALLOWAY, Alexander, THACKER, Eugene, The Exploit: A Theory of Networks, University of Minnesota Press, 2007)
 MANCHE, Solange, “Tinder, Destroyer of Cities – When Capital Abandons Sex”, in: Strelka Mag, 20/09/2019, https://strelkamag.com/en/article/tinder-destroyer-of-cities-when-capital-abandons-sex?fbclid=IwAR1ytoqgnXpBqv4AWx5wraU5mIBu9KQM7WoTRuZGKaTfOuZpQO38u_sPsAU
 KOWALSKA, Diary, p. 317.