The mind is naturally after pleasure, or so it is generally assumed; but the pursuit of pleasure must be restrained by the demands of reality. Happiness, we think, consists in being well-adapted to reality, it consists in being well-adjusted. We must be integrated into the social world by being economically fruitful and by being politically active or aware in some manner. The happy life is the life well-adjusted to the needs and demands of our 21st century urban and capitalist civilization.
These are the thoughts of Rafael Winkler, Professor in Philosophy from the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Prof Winkler was delivering his inaugural professorial address on 03 June 2021 at Kingsway, Auckland Park Kingsway campus. The topic of his address was: “A reflection on pleasure and sexuality in Sade, Freud and beyond”. A part of his inaugural presentation also appeared this week in the Mail & Guardian here.
Prof Winkler examined the link between sexuality, pleasure and religion by looking at several authors, in particular at Sade, Bataille, Teresa of Ávila and a few others. “The aim is to try to make sense of what pleasure is all about. This is not without significance if it is true that this is what the mind naturally pursues,” says Prof Winkler.
He highlighted several paradoxical conclusions that seem to follow from certain observations and claims, in particular, that the ‘utmost pleasure’ signifies a state of delirium or temporary extinction of the ego, or a state of ecstasy that exceeds our powers and that seem to crush us. “How can we understand this strange phenomenon, that when pleasure is pushed to the limit it seems to turn into its opposite, into something unendurable and terrifying? Are we to conclude that this is what we are ‘naturally’ after? How can we make sense of that?,” posed Prof Winkler.
The main areas of Prof Winkler’s research is to set up this paradox and to try to think it through in different ways in relation to language and the law. His research and teaching interests include post-structuralism, phenomenology, German Idealism, epistemology, and early modern philosophy.
Prof Winkler received his PhD from the University of Warwick in 2007. After completing a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the University of Dundee in 2008, he held temporary teaching posts at various universities in the UK (Nottingham University, Nottingham Trent University, The Open University) until taking up a permanent post at UJ in July 2012.
Prof Winkler is firmly convinced of the truth of an observation Martin Heidegger once made to his students. “He once said of Aristotle: “He lived, he worked, and he died.” His point was that an author’s biography is of no consequence, only his or her thought – a point that Prof Winkler attempts to inculcate in his students at the start of each of his courses. The first thing he always tells his students is this: ‘I don’t want you to tell me in your assignment where the philosopher was born or what she’s had for dinner; evaluate her thought and tell me whether it has any merits.”