Coldness & Cruelty: Deleuze on Sacher-Masoch

My copy of Masochism, by Deleuze is quickly turning neon with highlighting. Here are a few beautiful passages to ponder deeply on:

What is the meaning of the meeting of violence and sexuality in such excessive and abundant language as that of Sade and Masoch? How are we to account for the violent language linked with eroticism? In a text that ought to invalidate all theories relating Sade to Nazism, George Bataille explains that the language of Sade is paradoxical because it is essentially that of a victim. Only the victim can describe torture; the torturer necessarily uses the hypocritical language of established order and power.” (p. 17)

Think about how torturers never actually speak of torture but use euphemisms: special rendition, stress positions, enhanced interrogation techniques, exploiting human ‘intel’… and earlier, there was ‘putting the prisoner to the question’, ordeal by fire, by water, relaxing the tongue.

Sade’s descriptions are specific and detailed. Like a person recounting what has happened to him or her during torture: I was hung by the wrists, they attached electrical clips to my testicles, they held my head under the water until I thought I was going to drown, etc.

What does that tell us about Sade’s writing? Angela Carter, Octavio Paz and Giles Deleuze all, in one way or another, speak about Sade ‘revealing’ a reality that already exists. Using the metaphor of explicit sadism to confront a society with its own excessive cruelties. Sade writes his women into oblivion because that is where they are at this point in history.

“The acts of violence inflicted on the victims are a mere reflection of a higher form of violence to which the demonstration testifies.” (p. 19)

* * *

It would appear that both for Sade and Masoch language reaches its full significance when it acts directly on the senses.However, the work of Sade and Masoch cannot be regarded as pornography; it merits the more exalted title of ‘pornology’ because its erotic language cannot be reduced to the elementary functions of ordering and describing.” (p. 17 – 18)

I’m not sure how I feel about the word ‘pornology’. The logos part makes sense to me but I feel it is a bit lazy, since the ‘pornos’ part inevitably refers back to sex involving commerce.

* * *

Further along, Deleuze begins to dig past the language and into how it constructs the roles of the sadist and the masochist.

“In every respect, as we shall see, the sadistic ‘instructor’ stands in contrast to the masochistic ‘educator’. (p. 19)

As he goes on, what begins to emerge from his reading is a different view of not only the sadist and the masochist, but how they interact with their opposites.

The sadist’s satisfaction is not dependent on the corruption of the victim. The victim is simply an object, a tool, a canvas onto which sadistic acts are painted. But the masochist requires, in Masoch’s work, the corruption of his sadistic mistress. She does not start out with a taste for inflicting pain or humiliation. She is seduced into the enjoyment of it, educated as to how it is done by Masoch.

This has given me a lot to think about in the construction of not only masochistic but, to a certain extent, submissive characters in erotic fiction. I am invited to view them as corrupters of a sort. It’s an interesting concept I plan on exploring in my writing. I’m eager to see what it does to the way a reader identifies with the character.


4 Thoughts on “Coldness & Cruelty: Deleuze on Sacher-Masoch

  1. Really interesting perspective. I’ve wondered about this myself. To what extent is the masochist seeking to push the sadist deeper into that role and why? Is there a thrill in watching them lose control?

  2. This is so interesting; I’ve been thinking aboutit since last week. I think I really need this book.

  3. I’m sure your school library has it.

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