Magazine for Sexuality and Politics

The Club as Church

A column about the societal function of clubbing

Tessa Morgan

It's already been ages since I added someone I had met on Tinder to my Facebook page. While briefly skimming through his Facebook profile, I noticed that he likes to go clubbing on Sunday afternoons in one of Berlin's better-known clubs and that he had posted on Facebook that he regularly goes to church. How is all of this meant to be understood?

Is the modern collective experience of dancing in techno clubs a way of transcending the oppression of the world of work? Is it a new ritual whereby "repressive desublimation," as Marcuse puts it, finds yet another form of expression?

Clubbing is celebrated and is often associated with the consumption of drugs, including LSD, liquid ecstasy, even cocaine and its cheaper variant speed and, of course alcohol. Especially in techno clubs, the entire experience is not so much about flirting. People are there mainly to dance, to simply turn themselves off, as if the brain could simply be switched off, as if the essence of the mind could be negated: because it already always is Something and not Nothing. The sensual experience then becomes stylized into the necessity of refueling yourself after having become depleted from the stress of everyday life. You’re literally beamed off into another world by means of the high doses of pleasure you’ve taken in.

While sublimation can take on various forms, such as directing your sexual libido to other social spheres such as art and culture, friends, sports, and hobbies, sublimation in techno clubs becomes neither liberated nor shifted. It is rather the case that it keeps on being directed into repressive forms that make people feel more content, since they can then go on to making a confession in the collective experience that comes rather close to making the kind of confession you might make at church, that is, if you actually happen to still go to church.

Already in the 1970s, Foucault described in his work The History of Sexuality how the secularization in the 19th century did not take place at all in the way most people think it did. He showed, for instance, that forms of ecclesiastical confession actually found their way into other spheres of life: people confess their lifestyle to their doctor, to friends, to parents, to their therapist and to their co-workers at work. Confession in this secular sense thus provides a way of guiding souls and directing consciences. By giving themselves over to music, people can get rid of their bad conscience of being part of what capitalist society reproduces and solidifies anew, although they also feel the negative side of it. By means of the collective experience of dancing, they focus their attention on their sensual experience in order to get rid of their complicity in the excesses of social anti-humanism in the presence of others. Thus, going to techno clubs becomes a pleasurable experience and also a way of cleansing a certain guilt that has become simply cruel in the mirror.

P.S. And this is also the reason why we’re all so eagerly awaiting the re-opening of the clubs in Berlin.

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