In a world jumping from one environmental or social crisis to the next, for the 2024 Biennial of Digital Imaginaries, we are giving food for thought to the place pleasure has in our daily life. How can we find sources of joy and delight despite the everyday challenges we face?
French philosopher Michael Foessel distinguishes two forms of pleasure. First, we have “satisfaction-based pleasures” where we seek to fulfil a pre-existing desire. These are the most frequent and common, relating to things we experience day to day, like food, culture, sex. Then there are “event-based pleasures” which are not preceded by a desire since they are pleasures that cannot be predicted in advance. These pleasures open up our imaginations through real experiences. This is what makes them subversive at their core: before experiencing them, we wouldn’t necessarily think them imaginable, so the lived experience of the impossible becomes possible. It’s a pleasure that on top of all else exceeds our expectations or takes a previously unthought of direction, a moment where we experience an alternative world order.
Given the current state of emergency, the definition of pleasure and immediate satisfaction is far from anodyne and can, indeed must, be explored. Our desires as well as our practices reveal our contradictions, yet re-examining the question of pleasure opens up the possibility of imagining future worlds we desire to live in.
Indeed, the question of pleasure is closely linked to the question of ethics, because the choices we make which cause sadness have implications for our individual and collective well-being.
In Ce qui ne peut être volé (What Can’t Be Stolen), Cynthia Fleury and Antoine Fenoglio present the “Verstohlen Charter”, a German term meaning “stealth”. The philosopher and the designer speak about the need for preserving what makes the essence of a “good life”, otherwise known as the common good, vital good, essential need, capacity, capability, universal or inappropriable. According to the philosopher, safeguarding these spaces is important in order to take care of ourselves and others, restoring our ability to take action.
An eminently political notion previously explored by French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault, pleasure is often used as a means of political control whereby social norms dictate which forms of pleasure are acceptable and which are not. What’s more, Foucault pointed out that pleasure and desire are often instrumentalised to justify oppressive practices, such as male domination or economic exploitation. Conversely, it also demonstrates how pleasurable experiences can be harnessed as a means of resistance and subversion against oppressive social norms.
In the digital age, the question of pleasure is even more significant, because it is manifested through personalised recommendation algorithms. These algorithms tailor pleasurable experiences to individual tastes and preferences, but they can also serve to underscore existing biases and prejudices.
Faced with the multitude of issues that this raises, we want to address this subject in a multidisciplinary and critical way. We wish to explore the different facets of pleasure in the digital world, exploring how they connect with the social, political and ethical challenges of our time.
We shall examine this from different perspectives: