Decorating, covering, uncovering or otherwise altering the human form in accordance with social notions of everyday propriety or sacred dress, beauty or solemnity, status or changes in status, or on occasion of the violation and inversion of such notions, seems to have been a concern of every human society of which we have knowledge. This objectively universal fact is associated with another of a more subjective nature—that the surface of the body seems everywhere to be treated, not only as the boundary of the individual as a biological and psychological entity but as the frontier of the social self as well. As these two entities are quite different, and as cultures differ widely in the ways they define both, the relation between them is highly problematic. The problems involved, however, are ones that all societies must solve in one way or another, because upon the solution must rest a society’s ways of “socialising” individuals, that is, of integrating them into the societies to which they belong, not only as children but throughout their lives. The surface of the body, as the common frontier of society, the social self, and the psycho-biological individual; becomes the symbolic stage upon which the drama of socialization is enacted, and bodily adornment (in all its culturally multifarious forms, from body-painting to clothing and from feather head-dresses to cosmetics) becomes the language through which it is expressed.
The sexual acts that Delany describes also involve, and create, forms of affiliation between people. These affiliations are grounded in bodily pleasures, in the pleasures of sharing, and in the multiple ways that people can find mutually enabling forms of contact. It’s a vision of both bodily desire, and human sympathy or being-together, that seems to me in an odd way more reminiscent of the utopian socialist Charles Fourier than it is of Freud. Each person’s particular twists of desire are what enlivens him or her, without having to be “accounted for,” or matched to any norms—so that they are entirely singular and autonomous to but also with the open, outward-looking potentiality of creating affinities with other people who have similar and/or complementary desires (someone who likes to drink piss meets someone who likes to piss in other people’s mouths; and in turn they meet someone else who likes to watch this…). With all these singularities of desire, nobody is ever drearily “the same” as anybody else; but also, with the widening circles of these singularities, everyone is likely to find at least some other people with whom to share at least something that moves, excites, or arouses them. It is in the midst of such continual fluctuating action that Eric and Shit, and also some of the other couples or threesomes (or more-than-threesomes) that we meet in the course of the novel must negotiate, both their primary emotional relationships with one another, and their sexual-emotional engagements, of various longer or shorter durations, with other people as well.