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An Ode to Compulsion

Eleni Papazoglou

An Ode

The simple things. The small ones. They make me feel content. It starts behind the eyes and it travels towards the back of the head. I can feel it growing, tingling, taking over my whole skull. I can feel it in my fingers too, in my shoulders that are now lowering, in my back that has the urge to straighten. A silent moment of pleasure.


And then it starts again. First slow, once again small—I tell you it’s the small things—from the corner of my eye, or the tip of my finger, or my toe, or something that didn’t feel right, it gains ground, building in my lobes, another weird pleasure, my neck tensing, it is urgent now, I cannot not deal with it, of course I need to deal with, maybe—well I am already dealing with it.


  1. the action or state of forcing or being forced to do something; constraint

  2. an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way


You came into my life disguised. I was taught you, but maybe you also came natural. In multiple forms. You were called efficiency. They praised you. I learnt to appreciate you too, one summer when my grandmother was teaching me to fold bedding properly for the first time. Soft, big things turning smaller, tighter, manageable: she was in total control. Movements in order equalled objects in order. I was in awe. When we finished, I stared at the wardrobe with the bedding while lavender tickled my nostrils: floor to ceiling, strictly folded bed sheets stacked in a pastel spectrum. Perfection. I quickly realised that ordering was a transferable skill through which menial tasks approached with zeal became seminal output and confirmation of worth. I discovered dishwashing, piling, cleaning, rope coiling. Then came collecting, archiving, cable management, digital file management, and then labelling, storage solutions and excel sheets, scheduling and directories. Organisational behaviour management makes me salivate.

I never would have guessed that you are linked so tightly to my idea of home. Maybe it’s just my medial forebrain bundle [1] looking for a quick fix. Or a method of creating an enclave where monomania is subdued. I can blink slowly. Harmonious. Congenial. Tolerant. House-proud. A good woman: a gendered model of reward-based behaviour flowing through my neural pathways. But you have outgrown the domestic. Translating flawlessly into emotional and affective labour, you have become an instinct of social responsibility transforming ‘I want to’ into’ ‘I have to’ 1-100. When I started working, I was not surprised to find out that I enjoy administrative tasks. I was (and still am) attracted to positions of assisting and facilitating: to fixate with the basal while others manage the frontal. Scrubbing away my lack of experience with care and dedication. I was also not shocked when I realised that it was primarily women that took on those tasks [2]: acts of gendered performance unfolding on the daily.

But I refuse to accept the reasoning for such the idea of woman as empty vessel: passive, insubstantial, waiting to be actuated. My understanding resonates with the thoughts of the hydrofeminist Astrida Neimanis who supports that female sensibility is one of fluidity [3], adaptability and connection [4].

‘Water as body; water as communicator between bodies; water as facilitating bodies into being. Entity, medium, transformative and gestational milieu.’ (Neimanis 2017)

But, oh order, I still enjoy you!

You are a facilitator! You self-stimulate! You are part of my body of water. I also call you intuition; unprocessed, unrefined. Sometimes annoying, rough, urgent! I take pride in you still. You ‘…activate a neural system whose natural function is to compute the survival value or utility of present stimuli and to help orchestrate responses toward those inputs [5].’ Nothing but a system for a better life really. Sounds like an advert of our neoliberal age of weaponised sensibilities. Shame. I didn’t foresee that the enjoyment of cleaning light switches would be political. But it feels like everything is everything: and so, in my head, instinct, compulsion and efficiency are in a tightly knit bundle, just like the one in my brain that controls my sense of pleasure. The one that makes me both fluid and rigid. The tide in my body.

I won’t lie; I am forever grateful for the neural fibres that travel from the septal area into my forebrain. Never just a lick and a promise. You play with me! What is enough? Is there enough? Sometimes we play together, but usually you play with me: convinced, confined, happily restrained. I let you take care of me. When I don’t submit I lose again, merely by deserting consistency, refusing to accept the care.


I have fond memories of fainting. Standing in a crowd. I felt it growing, tingling taking over my olfactory regions. Familiar feelings, unfamiliar context. A sense of no control but not anxiety. Weirdly calm, I can still feel the soft smirk marking my face. Another moment of mute satisfaction.

In motion.

Yet not in control.

Weight overwhelmed my joints. Knees first. Then hips, then lower back, shoulders, neck. Fluid. The floor was comfortable. I was comfortable. The tide was low. Harmonious. congenial. tolerant.

[1]  It is commonly accepted that the medial forebrain bundle (MFB) is a part of the reward system, involved in the integration of reward and pleasure. Electrical stimulation of the medial forebrain bundle is believed to cause sensations of pleasure.

[2]  Whirlpool Forums > Archive > Jobs > I swear only woman can get admin jobs!

[3]  One could think that I find the metaphor of water unnerving due to the disordered fashion in which hydrogen bonds are continuously being formed and reformed. But quite the opposite: water, just like order is clean, has urgency and agency, and adapts.

[4] Neimanis, Astrid (2012) “Hydrofeminism: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water” in Undutiful Daughters: Mobilizing Future Concepts, Bodies and Subjectivities in Feminist Thought and Practice, eds. Henriette Gunkel, Chrysanthi Nigianni and Fanny Söderbäck. New York:Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

[5]  Waraczynski, Meg A. (2006)  ‘The central extended amygdala network as a proposed circuit underlying reward valuation’ in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews Volume 30, Issue 4, 2006, Pages 472-496

October 2018.

A recent graduate from the Royal College of Art, Eleni Papazoglou is a London-based research designer concerned with affect and embodiment of the social. Her work explores the relationship of the unit to the network in the realms of sport, work and politics through video, performance, curation and writing.