or The Cruel Mother in Maria Beattys Pornography.
are dreaming," she cried. "Wake Up!" She grasped my arm
with her marble hand. "Wake up" she repeated, this time, in
a low, gruff voice.
essay proposes a theory of womens sexuality and eroticism as conceived
in masochistic screen performances. The essay will center around the work
of Maria Beatty, an internationally renowned masochist performer and independent
filmmaker who works at the edges of the New York porn industry, having
been nurtured by an older generation of performance artists such as Carolee
Schneemann and Annie Sprinkle, and as a professional submissive by the
dominant school of New York dominatrixes. In this essay, the theory of
masochism applies to performance and film aesthetics, and is primarily
derived from recent analyses of Gilles Deleuzes Masochism: Coldness
and Cruelty, an introduction to Von Sacher-Masochs diaries which
was originally published in 1967. Although Deleuzes study has been
developed into a comprehensive film theory for classical narrative film
by Gaylyn Studlar in In The Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich
and the Masochistic Aesthetic (1988), the aim of this essay is to
examine such theory in light of a new generation of filmmakers and theorists,
and the culture of lesbian pornographic short films and videos.
central figure in Deleuzes study is the cruel mother
as a larger than life archetype and proponent of anti-reason who participates
in sexual politics by obsessively carving out new zones of the sexual
body and bodily awareness. The essay will explain masochism
as a gradual surrender to such feminine body sculpting, resulting
in desire which isolates fragments of the body and networks fragments
between shifting erotogenic zones. The slow and ritualized process of
networking zones (through pain and pleasure rituals) is the subject of
Beattys porn repertoire as she represents masochism through stylized,
fetishistic film aesthetics. The mother figure also becomes a central
trope in critiques of psycho-analytical theory such as Teresa de Lauretis
study The Practice of Love (1994). De Lauretis shows that lesbianism
is a sculpting of the body that does not rely on phallic imaginaries.
Mother functions as an absent figure who does not consolidate
the young womans existing body but creates experimental deviations
and alternate zones. This process of disassembling and reassembling the
female body is shown in Beatty lesbian s/m film The Black Glove (1996)
as a peculiarly dark and primeval impulse. Both Deleuze and de Lauretis
believe that such forces may lead to new types of bodily imaging, perception
or even sexual politics. De Lauretis posits that a renewal of the female
body occurs through lesbian desire, a doubling of the lost
maternal body in other female bodies (De Lauretis 1994:25). Female bodies
do not awaken this loss as negativity, but as limitless desire or searching
for zones of the body which seem lost, are conjured up temporarily, then
lost again to fantasy. The essay will show that the body-visions of feminist
and queer scholars such as Tereasa de Lauretis, Luce Irigaray, Elisabeth
Grosz and Judith Butler are cinematically evoked in aspects of Maria Beattys
pornography. As theorists have come up with structuralist definitions
of the body which replace female gender and genitals with bodies as perverse
textualities and sites of construction, Beattys movies show the
ecstasies of pain and pleasure involved in exhibiting processes of construction
--the raw somatic fragments and uncanny debris produced in private acts
of erotic cruelty or societal dismemberment.
proponents of Deleuzes study insist on his presentation of sadism
and masochism as distinctive psychic modes of perversion and cultural
practices. Masochism is no longer seen as a sexual strategy which leads
to sadism, but as one which channels desire into consensual and formalized
modes of performance. Deleuze brought a radical shift to Freudian pschyo-analytic
theory as he viewed masochism as a sexual game and an erotic meditation
on the flawed nature of gender inscription and authoritarian law and order.
Deleuze challenged Freuds essay Beyond the Pleasure Principle,
in which he claimed that sadism and masochism were complementary perversions
operating in one psyche, whereby masochisms tendency to self-destruction
develops a tendency to enact sadistic brutalities against others. Freud
also equated sadism with the emergence of a gendered masculine subject,
which would be more natural development in the male. Deleuze critiqued
Freuds affirmation of a genital sexuality inherited from the father,
and instead celebrated the masochist as a gender-fluid subject who desires
an identification with the mother. Moreover, rather than enacting cruel
compulsions onto others, the masochist develops introspective performance
strategies for the renewal of his/her own sexual identity. Renewal occurs
through an intense process of disorientation and bodily discomfort which
Deleuze calls the "art of destruction". This art of destruction
requires the subject to imagine an altered image of the autonomous body
through formalized rituals of cruelty in which s/he expresses a wish for
reconstruction through identification with the mother (Deleuze 1991: 57-69).
her essay The Birth of Sadomasochism, Catherine Dale summarizes
the general historical and political significance of Deleuzes masochising
principles of contemporary practices of eroticised pain make sadism
morally unlivable and as politically dubious as it was in the eighteenth
century but with the cruelty exercised in two world wars the term
sadist has been reserved for an intonation peculiar to the evil afoot
exclusively in the twentieth century. Conversely, masochism has become
increasingly for the twentieth-century, both formally, with regards
to identification, and ethically, in its relations of power. The nominal
arrival sadomasochism then coincides more accurately with its becoming
ethically, politically, aesthetically and sexually masochism which
borrows the name sadism as an authentic addition to its
fantastic cruelty (Dale s.d.: 6).
then explains that masochism is generally presented as the "most
attractive, palatable and livable of the two perversions." (Dale
s.d.: 6). According to Deleuze, sadist performers act out the death instinct
in demonstrative forms, by multiplying and condensing cruelty; whereas
masochists use contemplative modes of perception and performance which
enact and subvert law and authority. He describes the subversive nature
of masochistic fantasies as follows :
all know ways of twisting the law by excess of zeal. By scrupulously
applying the law we are able to demonstrate its absurdity and provoke
the very disorder that it is intended to prevent or conjure ... A
close investigation of masochism reveals that while they bring into
play the very strictest application of the law, the result in every
case is the opposite of what might be accepted (thus whipping, far
from punishing or preventing an erection, provokes and ensures it.
It is a demonstration of the laws absurdity). (1991: 88)
distinction between sadism and masochism has implications for sketching
performative modes of power exchange in s/m practice, for film and performance
aesthetics, and for a feminist theory of sexuality.
areas of investigation are explored, for instance, in Leoni Knights
video The Father is Nothing, which is an audio-visual experiment
around Deleuzes theory. The masochists longing for the mother
in this video is shown and celebrated through water imagery and an encounter
between a woman and a male-to-female transsexual. The fathers libidinal
economy surfaces in blunt references to fascism; sounds of sirens, masses
calling Sieg Heil, a cadence of goose-steps and leather boots. The polarized
gender vision in this video is Deleuzian, but can also be explained in
reference to Klaus Theweleits study Male Fantasies, which
depicts the event of fascism as a historical consciousness which misrecognizes
feminine forces --the body, bodily waste and fluids, representing
them as dangerously erupting masses. (Theweleit 1986) In The Father
is Nothing, the reference to a history of fascism and patriarchal
excess recedes in the background and becomes a faint memory-image which
flashes by and sporadically interrupts the s/m encounter. This is a love
story narrated from a masochistic perspective in that it reveals a theatricalized
eroticism clearly distinct from the sadist ego-libido.
Studlar explains the masochists longing for the mother as the desire
to approach a dominant figure who is not a substitute for a hidden father,
but a controlling agent and as such the perpetual object of the childs
curiosity. A romanticized depiction of such desire in a more recent lesbian
video, would be Maria Beattys Let the Punishment Fit The Crime (1996), where Beatty appears as a naughty little girl in love with her
mother. The girl steals her mothers make-up kit and applies it to
a hidden collection of dolls; painting the eyes and genitals with nail-polish,
sticking hairpin needles into the bodies in preparation of a sacred offering.
As the girls gaze turns to the mother in anticipation of punishment,
the camera transforms the mother into a suave femme fatale and
a desirable and voluptuous sexual partner. After a long series of repetitive
spanking shots -the core of the pornographic content- we can see the mother
caress her girls behind with a soft powder puff, and calmly smoke
a cigarette. The mother becomes a good mother as she permeates the girl
with love and desire, and carries her through the last stages of sexual
the s/m contract between the lesbian performers, it is stipulated that
the submissive partner surrenders to the dominant female, who performs
the role of a stern but attractive mother. Studlar believes that the mother/dominatrix
directs the subject towards a pre-oedipal life, and "masochistic
desire merges the plenitude of the mother with the subjects need
for suffering." (Studlar 1988: 15) In a search for a dual feminine
role, the masochist fantasizes a good mother who assumes and appropriates
bad mother traits. Studlar adds that the masochists gender is less
important to the perversions basic dynamics, as performance revisits
areas of sexual development which are reminiscent of an infantile bodily
awareness and less dependent on gender identification. (Studlar 1988:
16) Through the subjects identification with the mother and a disavowal
of the fathers patriarchal role, gender identity becomes transmutative.
Studlar explains: "As Deleuze remarks, the masochist believes it
possible to become both sexes. Polymorphous, nonprocreative, nongenital
sexuality undermines the fixed polarities of male and female as defined
by the patriarchys obsession with presence/lack, active/passive,
and phallic genitality." Deleuzes treatise argues that cruelty
is fantasized and sought in the construction of various mother/dominatrix
archetypes, such as the hermaphrodite: "
who creates havoc in
the patriarchal family, inspires the women of the household with the desire
to dominate, subjugates the father, cuts the hair of the son in a curious
ritual of baptism and causes everyone to dress in clothes of the opposite
sex." (Deleuze 1991: 47-48)
this essay will show, masochistic performativity is largely conceived
of as a set of fantasy scenes which the subject holds in suspense and
carefully merges with the actuality of private/public performances, art
works and filmic reproduction. It is important to note that the
mother is not a rigid entity within the performance dynamic. The
mother is rather viewed as an enabling and open-ended sign, an adaptable
character within s/m practices, and a debatable role model within feminist
theory. The mother-figure grew out of a 60s oppositional consciousness
which questioned psycho-analytic theory and patriarchal sex education
models, and which entered film theory to revise theories of eroticism
and gendered agency within the film text and spectatorship. By investigating
the work of recent lesbian pornographers, the essay hopes to modify and
rethink Deleuzes formulation of the masochist aesthetic, as it enters
a world of new technologies, pornography debates, and feminist thinking.
Stage Setup of Masochism: Dungeon/Dreamscreen
masochistic performance, performers are engaged in the exchange of sexuality
and eroticism. Sadomasochisms aesthetic impulse, however, always
works as a kind of anti-art. As Dale observes: "Leather, chains,
masks and handcuffs, common equipment during war, political oppression
and torture, become stylized and fetishized as does the choreographed
performance of many s/m scenes." (Dale s.d.: 16-17) The dungeon is
full of kitsch yet distinguishes itself precisely from a regular prostitution
house in its simulation of stage environments (rather than bedrooms).
The New York s/m house Pandoras Box, for example, consists of a
Medical Room, a Classroom, a Times Square room, a Dungeon, a Virtual Reality
room, and a Versailles room. Inside Pandoras Box, blue velvet-covered
walls open and close like sliding doors and regulate an ongoing traffic
of clients who decide to act out masochistic fantasies inside the different
rooms. Visitors in the Versailles room can get sexual release in ostentatious aristocratic environments, furnished with fireplaces, marble statues,
gilt frames, and brocaded thrones. To the uninformed outsider, Pandoras
box aspires to accommodate the codes of conduct of the upper-class. However,
the dungeon also contains a protocol of subterfuge and enables clients
to act out and reconstruct socially ingrained roles and responsibilities.
famous literary example of masochistic subterfuge would be Jean Genets
play The Balcony (1958), which anticipated the s/m subcultures
growing desire to shatter myths of paternal authority. The satirical patriarchal
stock characters such as the Judge, the Bishop, the General, and the Police,
are juxtaposed with the more complex egalitarian character, the political
revolutionary Roger. Rogers masculinity exemplifies tension between
a world of political activism and a sheltered world of erotic cruelty.
In the final scene of the play, at the height of a Paris revolution, Roger
undergoes an identity crisis and escapes from the streets of Paris into
the s/m house to act out a Chief of Police in the vicinity of an obeying
slave. After his clumsy performance, Roger castrates himself in a paradoxical
attempt to impersonate and annihilate his desire for power. Roger is thrown
out of the s/m house by the proprietress, Madame Irma, who disdains his
lack of performative rigor and his lunatic gesture of self-mutilation
which also stains her new carpets with blood. Rogers tragedy is
presented as the dramatic epiphany of a wavering masculine psyche in the
modern era. A new dimensionality in his queer identity emerges through
his simultaneous impersonation and castration of authority. However, even
though his castration entails a rejection of an oppressive, genital-oriented
culture, he fails to fully impersonate the masochistic art of destruction
and becomes a tragic character.
is similarly attained by male and female subjects, who develop performance
strategies in a search for the mother. Not only does the masochists
disavowal of phallic power calls for the suspension of orgasmic gratification
and symbolic likeness to the father and his law, but such fantasy also
enables a gender-fluid position of voyeurism and spectatorship in cinema.
(Studlar 1988: 16) Studlars theory of subjectivity is ultimately
a film theory which envisages a gender-fluid identity for the film spectator,
and she questions feminist theory and queer theory which assumes a more
rigid gender position for the viewer and the pleasures of film spectatorship.
Studlar is thus one of the first feminist film theorists to have challenged
the theoretical view which excludes the female from the structures of
cinematic pleasure and libidinalized looking. (1988: 45) Studlars
believes that the spectator is inventive and insurrectionary as s/he enters
cinematic viewing strategies to question gender roles and patriarchal
eroticism. Moreover, as Mary Conway shows in the recent essay Spectatorship
in Lesbian Porn, lesbian-produced porn more than any other type
of porn imagines female viewers in ways of constructing cinematic pleasure
perception of sexuality is closely aligned with cinematic spectatorship
in that the masochist constructs a virtual world through which s/he lives
out fantasies which neutralize the real in the imaginative ideal. Studlar
uses the concept of the 'dream-screen': " Through the dream screen - the
formation of the cinematic apparatus as environment - the spectator is
encouraged to play out the ambivalent oral stage conflict of union/differentiation
with the fetishistic substitute for the mother. (1988: 25, 190) Studlar
thus presents the masochistic stage as an environment which mediates between
virtual cinematic screens and material spaces. As will be
shown in the last section of this essay, the masochistic stage as dream-screen
is currently being reconstructed through new virtual technologies such
as home video and Internet.
Cruel Mother in Maria Beattys Pornography
her study The Invention of Pornography, Lynn Hunt claims that pornography
has since its emergence had a paradoxical relationship to democracy. It
was invented in the period of modernity (1500-1800) in response to the
perceived menace of the democratization of culture through forms of mass
communication. Pornography emerged as a legal term denoting selected and
censored publications "... in the context of the careful regulation
of the consumption of the obscene so as to exclude the lower classes and
women." (1993: 9-45) To the present day, it has been a challenge
for women to have access to pornography and the masochistic stages.
flagellation as a masochistic practice, for instance, has for centuries
been recognized by the industries of sex and medicine as a healthy instrument
of erotic stimulation for male recipients. In the 17th century, German
doctor Johan Heinrich Meibaum (1590-1655) wrote the first in a series
of influential treatises about the medical benefits of sexual flagellation,
indicating that it cured the adult male subject of madness, melancholy
caused by unhappy love, erotic mania, skinniness, bodily weakness, but
above all impotence. This idea became institutionalized in the flagellation
house, where male patients would be sent out to be spanked or cured
by female dominants. Ian Gibsons study The English Vice: Beating,
Sex, Shame in Victorian England and After further documents spanking
stories which featured regularly in the British newspapers as a form of
hidden pornography. Needless to say that women, mostly portrayed as dominant
characters within the fantasies, were actually discouraged from acting
out erotic fantasies in newspapers or public s/m houses. Masochism was
still mostly a male invention, although some authors indicated its potential
to arouse female subjects. Take for instance John Clelands porn
classic Memoirs of Fanny Hill (1749) which narrates an intense
encounter between Fanny and the young, impotent Mr Barville. Cleland details
the whipping session and conveys how Fanny herself gets pleasantly aroused
during the session. After a mutual spanking and a nice dinner with Mr
Barville, Fanny is suddenly overcome by "itching ardors" and
"a prickly heat" which makes her shift and wriggle in her seat.
Finally, Mr. Barville helps her get full satisfaction by means of spanking
and full intercourse.
in the 1920s in Victorian England, Havelock Elliss case-study "Florrie,"
narrates the life of a suffragette who pursued feminism in public life
and begged for chastisement and confinement in private life. Ellis as
an early emancipated psycho-analyst taught Florrie how to accept her fantasies
and gradually encouraged her to have her first orgasm through flagellation.
A fully self-authored and persistent spanking fanatic was Edith Cadivec
who wrote her memoirs in Confessions and Experiences and Eros:
the Meaning of My Life (1920-1924). Cadivec gave an explicit account
of her masochism and explained it as a cry for the intense physical touch
and affection of her mother who passed away when she was nine years old.
recent wave of s/m videos such as Maria Beattys cast a new light
on the sexual nature of female masochism. In a stage setup which resembles
a bourgeois parlor, Beatty and her partner Rosemary Delain conceived of
their debut film, The Elegant Spanking (1995). Like most of her
other short films, The Elegant Spanking portrays a childhood memory
and longing for mother-daughter gratification. The film is shot in black
and white, uses a classical spanking setting, and builds towards the gradual
display of naked buttocks, meticulous and repetitive spankings carried
out by the stern mistresss hand, and the submissives sexual
climax. Beatty is dressed up like a servant girl Kitty, who
is naughty as she fantasizes contact with the mistresss bodily fluids.
In a dissolving dream sequence scene, we can see how Kitty steals the
mistresss pearls which the mistress used for masturbation purposes.
The stark black and white contrast in the opening shots of the video brings
to mind a film aesthetic prevalent in silent, expressionist movies. The
repetition of nicely framed eye-shots indicates that Kitty is a voyeur,
who carefully watches her mistresss body and begs for her attention.
Kitty is submissive in the s/m scenario, her point of view shot represents
the unseen director of the masochistic performance and film text. In a
daringly explored tension between nostalgic film composition reminiscent
of the silent film, and an assertive lesbian bodily display, The Elegant
Spanking subverts the point of view shot of commercial s/m pornography.
The stylized mise-en-scène makes reference to older experiments
in photography and film art. Beattys well crafted buttocks
compositions in particular, harken back to underground pornography and
the birth of audiovisual technology in the 19th century. A catalogue of
Nazarieffs collection Jeux de Dames Cruelles Photographies 1850-1960 (1992) shows lesbian spanking scenes which have been integral to the institution
of photography since the mid-19th century. Most pictures zoom in on the
submissives naked and girlish butt cheeks as fetishized body parts.
The two glaring cheeks surrounded by black stockings and white lace petticoats
are an expressionistic black and white contrast which features strongly
in The Elegant Spanking. The oldest classroom punishment scenes
mostly depict the dominatrix participant as an older, uptight woman, while
the submissive is a younger woman. The staging of age difference between
the dominant and submissive partners accentuates the trompe l'oeil character of the flagellation scenes and hides their sexual intent. Browsing
through Nazarieffs collection, one can see a break-down of illusionism
and the emergence of desire and pleasure in the more recent photographs.
Beattys nostalgic films revisit the old-day punishment scenes, yet
also admit to masochisms subversive function and show how partners
have intimate physical contact, and reach mutual satisfaction and orgasm.
masochism constructs an actual/virtual stage for enacting scenarios of
dominance and submission. Studlar shows that a formalized masquerade aims
to control and delay the moment of consummation:
characters with a transformational visual mode of self-definition,
masquerade functions as a performance that controls the enticement
of desire. Through the temporality of masquerade, gratification is
delayed and masochistic suspense is formalized. (1988:70)
Von Sternbergs films for instance, who are the main focus of Studlars
analysis, often portray female characters engaged in role-switching. Studlars
main thesis is that the multiple female roles, stereotypes, and mothering
images allure to the (female and male) spectators masochistic imagination.
Beatty shows a range of female voyeurs and divas in her short films. In
the film The Black Glove (1996), she moves her voyeuristic submissive
persona inside a secluded space and writes a solipsistic narrative which
leads to the dominatrixs torture of her breasts and vagina. The
film opens with a stylized slow motion sequence showing lady-like stiletto
heels tapping into a polished floor. Beatty, tied up from head to heel,
is then delivered to the dominatrixs room inside a soft velvet wrapping. The dream-screen of The Black Glove still resembles The
Elegant Spanking, as the infantile longing for maternal touch
is translated and aestheticized into consensual lesbian role-play. However, The Black Glove shows more clearly how the voyeur brackets the
other into the realm of the private consciousness.
bodily worship of The Elegant Spanking has been replaced by a stainless
steel fetish, a shining pinwheel and surgeons hemostats which are
slowly applied to Beattys submissive body. Before she deprives herself
of all sensory perception by donning a black mask, black lace panties
(her own) are stuffed into her mouth. The camera then zooms into her vagina,
and her white labia are slowly pulled apart by means of other shining
instruments, then to be covered with black candle wax. Towards the very
end of the film, a womans hand with black velvet glove enters the
picture and tempers the cruelty. This absent third player appears as a
shadow on the submissives body, and her voice fills the soundtrack
with siren-like humming and orgasmic sounds. The contrast between soothing
nature sounds and imagery, and candid portrayals of bodily torture, is
crucial to Beattys works. It is explained by the artist as an attempt
to show a painful state of bliss, or the bodily ecstasy following sexual
climax (little death).
With The Black Glove, Beatty sinks deeper into the masochistic
model of filmmaking, because desire is also portrayed as a state of mind
rather than a physical condition. The submissives other
is no longer a living partner but an abstract formal entity. While Beatty
still entertains the mysterious countenance of the mistresses, the film
no longer presents the living womens aura and relationship pangs,
as did The Elegant Spanking. In order to trace Beattys development
from spanking fanaticism in the Elegant Spanking to internalized
masochism in The Black Glove, it is helpful to recall Deleuzes
ideas on coldness and cruelty. Following Freud in Beyond the Pleasure
Principle, Deleuze explains that masochism, death or destructive instincts
are exhibited in the unconscious in conjunction with life instincts. Destruction,
and the negative at work in destruction, always manifests itself as the
other face of construction and unification as governed by the pleasure-principle.
(Deleuze: 30) Deleuze believes that the negative impulse in
masochism strives towards a positive outlet or a redeeming
cycle. Redemption is established through an intense physical ordeal which
intensifies sense-perceptions and transforms them into distorted formal
entities - the art of destruction. In this respect, the masochistic voyeur
envisions a de-humanized sexual experience, or at least explores the tension
between bodily sensations and the body as representation. Deleuze concludes
that there is a fundamentally cruel aesthetic perception process
in masochism in its disavowal and freeze-framing of aspects of reality.
the diaries of Von Sacher-Masoch, Deleuze takes notice of the barons
austere sense perceptions, and how they infringe law and order upon the
has been said that the senses become "theoreticians" and
that the eye, for example, becomes a human eye when its object itself
has been transformed into a human or cultural object, fashioned by
and intended solely for man. Animal nature is profoundly hurt when
this transformation of its organs from the animal to the human takes
place, and it is this painful process that the art of Masoch came
to represent. (1991: 69)
Masoch pledges to surrender his life and luxury to the whims of a Russian
mistress, he reclines in a comfortable chair and exposes the senses as
cruel theoreticians to objects of the decadent environment.
Masoch dissects the environment and tries to give up the distinction between
his bodily sensations and the body as representation. He calls this cultural
state of transmuted sensualism, super-sensualism, and he finds
in inanimate works of art the reflection of his love for women who resemble
cold, marble statues or paintings in darkened rooms. Although Masoch falls
in love eventually and expects to be utterly emotionally hurt by his mistress
Wanda, he makes a first cruel leap between physical s/m personas
and their disembodied reflections. Materially speaking, Masoch gives up
his estate to become a servant, laborer, and slave to Wandas court;
only to be further mistreated, humiliated and finally dumped by the Russian
a process of disavowal of living, organic aspects of sexuality; masochists
aestheticize physicality and create two-dimensional images as fetishes.
As Deleuze writes:
fetish is therefore not a symbol at all, but as it were a frozen,
arrested, two-dimensional image, a photograph to which one returns
repeatedly to exorcise the dangerous consequences of movement, the
harmful discoveries that result from exploration. (1991: 52)
the most obvious connection between Masoch and Beatty can be seen - the
construction of a fetish which initiates the process of desire and becomes
the ultimate incarnation of a formal aesthetic experience.
luring voice and soft fabric (black glove) of the absent woman play an
important role in The Black Glove, as mistresses Morgana and TV
Sabrina apply inanimate and cold instruments to Beattys body - hemostats,
and the rubber mask. According to Deleuze, the coldness of masochistic
art is not the negation of feeling altogether, but the disavowal of sensuality.
Through disavowal, the sexual experience is turned into a state of waiting
and suspense, representing a dormant fusion of the ideal and real in the
masochists fantasy. Waiting divides into two currents: "...
the first represents what is awaited, always late and always postponed,
the second something that is expected and on which depends the speeding
up of the awaited object." (1991: 71) In the Black Glove,
Beatty waits for the absent woman to torture the vagina. There is a tension
delicately maintained between the cold, impersonal application of instruments
by Sabrina and Morgana, and the hot, searing pain of candle wax, the substitute
for sensuality, the reward following suspense.
is read by Deleuze as the desire to formally repeat and reconstruct a
regeneration rite. The deeper the process of desexualization, the more
powerful and extensive could be the process of resexualization. As we
have seen before, the latter upward movement is suggested in The Black
Glove by means of the sounds and the absent third player, whose voice
and softness recall an earth goddess or maternal type. She typifies Beattys
lost childhood and is idealized in the process of waiting, as the other
mistresses prepare her for her candle wax ritual. If a fetish can be defined
as the last object that a child sees before the awareness of the castrated
mother, The Black Glove portrays the maternal glove as fetish.
The black candle, which is shaped like a phallus, is the symbol of the
process of castration (this is an ironic joke of course). (1991: 31)
Deleuze views the death drive as an inherently aesthetic and tragic faculty
of erotic sense perception, Jacques Lacan presents it as a formation of
the ego which is not unique to masochism itself. New Lacanian theorists
have focused on the symbolic nature the death drive and contradicted clinical
psychologists who consider s/m as a painful repetition of a traumatic
experience. Lacan views the subconscious as a form of reason, logic, and
pleasure, governed by signification rather than natural instincts. According
to Richard Boothby in Death and Desire: Psychoanalytic Theory in Lacans
Return to Freud (1991), Lacan theorizes the death drive as a primordial
force of exclusion, a process of alienation which splits the subject from
itself and from the external world through language and symbols. In the
transition from libido to ego, imaginary Gestalts (shapes) act
as a buffer or filter which refuses the transmission of energy.
Lacan, we can approach Beattys cinematography as the fragmented
language which documents the gap between the unconscious and signification.
Her masochistic and solipsistic dream imagery thus becomes symbolic of
the act of communication itself, narrating a process of separation between
parent and child and asserting the primacy of language in the development
of life/art. One could say that Beatty reaches conscious expression only
by means of disguise, distortion and displacement and she replaces the
original lost object of desire with a substitute - the fetish.(Boothby
1991: 202, 80) The next section of the essay will investigate how masochisms
tendency towards fetishism can be understood within a feminist framework.
seven years ago, in her article Daughter of the Movements: The psychodynamics
of Lesbian s/m fantasy, Julia Creet asked herself to what degree
feminism as an intellectual and activist movement had lost its credibility
with a younger generation of women in search of new definitions of sexuality.
Due to feminisms lack of recognition of masochism as a sexual identity,
Creet pronounced a rebellion against feminist modes of public culture:
"The symbolic Mother has come to be the repository of the prohibitions
of feminism ... feminism itself has become a source of approval or disapproval."
(1991: 144) As a supervising symbolic mother, American anti-pornography
feminism in particular, has often denounced womens public sex work
and/or pornographic artwork, thus supporting an alliance with right-wing
In Bad Girls and Sick Boys, Linda Kauffman demonstrates how the 1986
Meese Commission on Pornography appropriated the extremist anti-porn arguments
of feminists Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin to issue extremist
measures against pornographic film and photography. MacKinnon and Dworkin
had negatively defined pornography as "the sexually explicit subordination
of women, graphically or in words." (Kauffman s.d.: 233-243) In the
early 1990s, the Christian fundamentalist Jesse Helms infamous amendment
to the American Senate proposed to censor indecent art depicting
"sadomasochism, homoeroticism, the exploitation of children and individuals
engaged in sex acts." Helms amendment reflected a moral panic
in religious and in feminist circles around pornography, a political development
which has had a disastrous effect on public exhibitions of queer and s/m
sexuality. Gayle Rubin predicted this development in the mid 80s in her
seminal essay Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical theory of the Politics
of Sexuality. Rubin wrote:
is always risky to prophesy. But it does not take much prescience
to detect potential moral panics in two current developments: the
attacks on sadomasochists by a segment of the feminist movement, and
the Rights increasing use of AIDS to incite virulent homophobia.
(in Kauffman 1993: 33)
then suggested that sexually radical communities and their pornographic
works be discussed outside the institutions and discourses of feminism
in order to prevent the construction of a class of women perverts.
Nearly a decade later, in Presence and Desire: Essays on Gender, Sexuality
and Performance, Jill Dolan reiterates that a prevailing feminist
anti-pornography rhetoric ultimately censors deeply layered erotic lesbian
imagery. Dolan wrote: "The Jesse Helmses of the United States arent
the only ones legislating representation from ideologically, morally,
and ethically righteous positions." (1993: 179) A contemporary writer,
sex educator, and porn star, Carol Queen summarizes feminisms
false analysis of pornography in the British magazine Skin Two:
has made the mistake of overestimating its area of expertise, assuming
that because it does a good job in cultural and political analysis
of gender, economics, and power, it can proceed to analyze everything,
including sex ... Some women are deeply damaged by this absence of
support. Others are simply turned off by feminism. For of course most
of us do not eroticize spanking and other pervy joys out of any lack
of self-worth ... How on earth can feminist (and others) imply our
desire for pleasure is a source of weakness or worse? (1996: 87)
positive aura within contemporary womens movements and film cultures
is shown in Sasha Waters Whipped (1997), a documentary which
features three life-style dominatrixes and owners of major
New York dungeons; Carrie Coakley, Ava Taurel, and Sonya Blaze. Whipped focuses on the relationship between the dominatrixes and their male
slaves and highlights their everyday politics and feminist activism. In
one of the most endearing scenes of this documentary, Ava Taurel introduces
a class of women apprentices to the principles of female domination, a
set of coded performance practices which can be applied to private sex
practices or public sex work. The film shows the entire class break out
in laughter when one apprentice hesitantly whips a male submissive in
front of the camera. Taurels workshop teaches women to gradually
accept and embody the role of the mother/dominatrix, to interpret and
act out the role in front of diverse clients, to acquire the technical
skills of bondage and the discourse of humiliation, and to endorse the
fantasy as a material practice in the dungeon and/or in the private imagination.
provocative scenes in Whipped highlight the intricate relationship
between Ava Taurel and her black slave Girard. Whereas Taurel explains
Girards submission as an extravagant craving for affection resulting
from early childhood trauma and brain damage Girard himself shows
his discomfort and dissatisfaction being cast in this role. The film shows
that Taurel and Girard respect and love each other, but are also caught
up in a very rigid masochistic scenario. Whipped then follows the
younger dominatrix Carrie Coakley during her pregnancy and marriage, and
points to her necessity to embody fluctuating feminine roles and responsibilities.
Carrie is shown as a strong woman torn between her radical sex activism
such as leadership in New York Citys organization lesbian
s/m mafia, and a more traditional engagement with her family. Whipped poses ethical and feminist questions around the practices of dominatrixes
by showing their complex search for a sexual identity within supportive
activist womens networks.
order to locate a theoretical framework which can locate the feminist
impulse in s/m sexuality, I will start with the ideas of the French feminist
philosopher Luce Irigaray. Irigaray argues that assertive female sexuality
has been erased or misrepresented in the western philosophical tradition
due to its being rooted in a Platonic illusionistic stage setup.
Irigaray imagines the prisoners in Platos cave as physically and mentally immobile and unable to envision the bodily, dark space, the womb
from which they came: "Heads forward, eyes front, genitals aligned,
fixed in a straight direction and always straining forwards, in a straight
line." (1985: 245) The cave as metaphor has emptied itself from any
relation to the body, as she writes:
mans attributes figure only insofar as they have been made into
statues, immortalized in deathly copies. Any reference that might
have been made to it --if one could only turn around - is from the
outset a formal one. The potency of the enchanter has always
already been captured, made into a corpse by morphology. (1985:
Rose explains in Masculinist Theory and Feminist Masquerade,
that Irigaray describes juxtaposes the masculine morphology as corpse
with a feminine morphology as masquerade. Femininity does
not reverse masculinity, but functions as a series of refusals of and
deviations from masculinity. Speculum of Another Woman investigates
the feminine masquerade as a new bodily discourse. Metaphorically speaking,
the subject has to pass through a looking-glass (speculum) into a new
territory of her own self-representation. The speculum differs from the
Platonic mirror in that the subject is able to self-touch
and to mime modes of femininity. Irigaray imagines a mother-child environment
which gets displaced at the moment of birth, when the child takes exile
from the womb, and the mother is symbolically reconstructed as a space
of absence and transformation. This space becomes an immense space, and
keeps challenging traditional perceptions of gender and the body.
the postmodern arts scene, feminist performance artists have responded
to such ideas when they started to appropriate and parade the mythic functions and living properties of the body and sexuality in experimental
performance works. For instance, Carolee Schneemann in Interior Scroll (1975) pulled a scroll out of her vagina and read aloud a text attacking
a structuralist thinker who misread her body works. In 1991, Annie Sprinkle
douched on stage in preparation of her public cervix announcement
in which, aided by speculum and flashlight, she allowed audience members
to look at her cervix. Feminist theory and performance art has been crucial
to the development of s/m masquerades in lesbian s/m videos.
recent years, Elizabeth Grosz has reinvestigated Irigarays theory
to formulate a new phenomenological view on the body. Grosz rejects the
Platonic idea that the body is a brute, or passive entity, but sees the
body itself as constitutive of systems of meaning. In Volatile Bodies,
she redefines the body using Deleuzes post-oedipal framework of
the Desiring Machine. The body becomes a desiring machine
when it de-humanizes the object of desire and dissolves into surrounding
environments. The subject becomes one with the machine-like apparatus
and senses its merging components as changing, segmented and discontinuous
waves, flows, and intensities.
of aligning desire with the realm of fantasy and opposing it to the real,
the machine stands for positive actualizations of the body within new
refines her theory of the body in the essay Animal Sex: Libido as
Desire and Death. She argues that desire exhibits a logic of its
own and always insists on a certain formlessness and indeterminacy. Grosz
refers to the work of Alfonso Lingis and points to a merging of corporeal
and erotic desire within the body as desiring machine. Lingis distinguishes
between corporeal need and erotic desire, and explains that the latter
craves strategies of pleasurable torment in order to prolong
and extend beyond physiological needs. Desire fragments and dissolves
the unity and utility of the organic body and breaks up the teleological
plans and tasks to perform. The body constantly interrupts the subjects
goal-oriented sexuality, rewriting it as an open-ended and performative
category. Following Lingis, Grosz explains that the other
as object of desire deranges the physical order, harmony and industry
of the subject. The body gets thoroughly confused as it is approached
through diverse organs, zones, surfaces which are jealous of one another
and want to get aroused "... not simply by pleasure, through caresses,
but also through the force and energy of pain. Pain is as capable, perhaps
more so, of inscribing bodies as pleasure. We cannot readily differentiate
the processes by which pleasurable intensities are engendered from those
by which painful intensity is produced." (1995: 289) For Grosz, erotogenic
zones are not necessarily nostalgic reminiscences of a pre-oedipal, infantile
bodily organization; but they are sites-in-construction" ... in the
process of being produced, renewed, transformed through experimentation,
practices, innovations, the accidents or contingencies of life itself,
the coming together of surfaces, incisive practices, inscriptions. (1995:
289) Grosz argues that in order to accept the machinic body as a powerful
category of inscription and intensification, the Freudian hydraulic
model of sexual release, and the internally interlinked faculties of pleasure
and death, need to be revised. The needs and functions of machinic body
merge actuality/corporeality with virtuality/signification and are thus
different from the Freudian and Lacanian model.
the body with machinic environments, filmmakers and spectators are rewriting
masochism inside the culture of lesbian s/m porn, which is accessed by
a growing community of home video and Internet spectators, sex workers,
artists and critics. Writers such as Pat Califia, for instance, successfully
promote the masochistic body as a new setting for auto-ethnography and
female pleasure. In Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex (1995)
Pat Califia comments on new technological constructions of sex and fetishism
in our culture: "The latex fetish is an excellent example of the
way human culture (especially technology) alters human sexuality."
as a psychic mode and cinematic viewing pleasure implies that the original
fantasy of mother-child union remains unconscious and unremembered, and
that gratification is forever postponed, even if reconstructed in the
moment of spectatorship. (Studlar 1988: 21-25) Do lesbian porn films and
Internet sites offer less sublimated narratives for the spectator? They
encourage the spectator to produce and receive pleasure in the making
of masochistic portraits - a new type of cinema and literature which is
constructed in the process of exchanging and discussing private and public
desires. In the introduction to Bodies That Matter, Butler defines
the body as a "process of materialization that stabilizes over
time to produce the effect of boundary, fixity, and surface we call matter".
(Italics in original) (1993: 9) The masochist body can be seen as an artificial
boundary which is produced in an open-ended type of communication, a process
of materialization which renders new meanings in different user contexts,
such as e.g. the cacophony of Internet chatting.
such as Maria Beatty and Pat Califia have modified the masochist aesthetic
through subcultural production and Internet exchange of porn videos, by
encouraging performance participation in live and Internet communities.
Deleuzes theory of masochism precedes his formulation of the desiring
machine and presupposes a separation between the spectator and his/her
projected plane of illusions. This aspect of Deleuzes theory of
masochism was explored by Gaylyn Studlar in her theory of classical narrative
cinema, which envisioned an intensity of experience and imagined role
reversal in the act of constructing eroticism in dark movie theatres.
In this precise moment when conservative censorship is struggling to extend
its surveillance mechanisms from arthouse cinemas to Internet sites, the
sexuality and theory of the masochist body is rewritten by artists and
theorists and rescued from the dark within the less sublimated feminist
and queer screen cultures.
would like to thank Michelle Siciliano and Hélène Frichot
for reading and editing the text. Joseph S. Schaub for ample feedback
from the outset of the masochist project. Herbert Blau and Kathleen Woodward
at the Center for Twentieth Century Studies for their enthusiasm and encouragement.
Joseph Slade and Ruth Bradley for comments on an earlier version of the
text, published in Wide Angle, July 1997.
Among those dominatrixes are Ava Taurel and Carrie Coakley. Maria BeattyÕs
reputation as film producer and director began with documentaries about
performance art: the anthology Sphinxes Without Secrets: Women Performance
Artists Speak Out (1991); The Sluts and Goddesses Video Workshop
or How to Be A Sex Goddess in 101 Easy Steps (1992) in co-production
with Annie Sprinkle; and Imaging Her Erotics (1994) in CO-production
with Carolee Schneemann. The performance art documentary Sphinxes Without
Secrets was produced in response to the National Endowment of the
Arts backlash against sexually explicit art. It brought together several
performance artists such as Lenora Champagne, Ellie Covan, Diamanda Galas,
Holly Hughes, and Laurie Anderson and intended to narrate a womenÕs history
of performance art to counter-act restrictive legislation and censorship.
Beatty was appointed director of this project, which was made possible
with major grants from New York State Council on the Arts, Art Matters,
Inc., and DCTV. BeattyÕs interest in Sphinxes Without Secrets was
to produce (rather than debate) sexual politics and to participate in
culture wars against the American conservative climate. Beatty later started
to produce s/m videos which she decided to finance through her private
sexwork rather than the more censored path of government funding.
This study meticulously dissects pre-war German pop icons, propaganda,
private documents in their repression of the Ôred massesÕ who were associated
with engulfing women, bodily forces, illnesses, and earth spiritualism.
Theweleit explains fascist military rituals as the culmination of elite
male fantasies erected in order to circumscribe a fear of social dissolution.
In Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty, Deleuze distinguishes three
ÔmotherÕ archetypes in Von Sacher-Masoch diaries; an Aphrodite who is
dedicated to love and beauty. She generates disorder and stands up for
the equality of women by attacking patriarchal institutions. The second
is a sadistic type who enjoys hurting and torturing others but is liable
to become a manÕs victim. The third woman represents an ideal mixture
of both, and represents coldness as a disavowal or the intense and nurturing
transformation of sensuality, 52.
Studlar, In the Realm of Pleasure, 32. Studlar also mentions that
Deleuze and Guattari further critique Freudian gender identification in
the evocation of post-gender ÔDesiring machinesÕ in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism
A. Norman O.Brown inspired reading of The Balcony is further outlined
by Lewis T.Cetta in Profane Play, Ritual and Jean Genet (p. 41-54).
Cetta believes that the castration scene evokes the conflict of the desire
of the immortal child for pure, polymorphous play; and the reality principle
which imposes genital organization.
Studlar refers to Laura MulveyÕs seminal essay, ÔVisual Pleasure and Narrative
Although The Elegant Spanking grew out of a collaboration between
Maria Beatty and Rosemary Delain, Beatty was in charge of most aesthetic
aspects of the film making process, imposing composition and editing styles
onto the spanking narrative. Once The Elegant Spanking was launched
into the New York s/m scene and gay and lesbian film festival circuits,
it caused exaltation, raving successes and emotional turbulence in the
life of the producers.
Studlar, In the Realm of Pleasure, 70.
See for instance Louise KaplanÕs Female Perversions: The Temptations
of Madame Bovary for an example of humanist clinical psychology which
denounces cold fetishistic tendencies in the masochist.
Gillian Rose, ÔMasculinist Theory and Feminist MasqueradeÕ, In Nancy Duncan
ed., Body Space : Destabilizing Geographies of Gender and Sexuality (London and New York, Routledge, 1996) 56-75.
See Elizabeth GroszÕs on the ideas of Irigaray, in Jacques Lacan: A
Feminist Introduction, and Judith Butler in Bodies That Matter:
On the Discursive Limits of Sex, 37.
See Gillian Rose, ÔMasculinist Theory and Feminist MasqueradeÕ, In Nancy
Duncan ed., Body Space: Destabilizing Geographies of Gender and Sexuality,
For a description of SprinkleÕs performance, See Chris Straayer, Deviant
Eyes: Deviant Bodies, Sexual Reorientation in Film and Video, 235.
Reflecting on the role of the masochist aesthetic in postmodern arts and
filmmaking, I also refer to Noel BurchÕs lecture ÔThe Sadeian AestheticÕ,
which he delivered at the Rotterdam Arts Festival of 1998. According to
Burch, the cult of de Sade has made an alliance with high modernist abstract
formalist art and avant-garde filmmaking as it encourages the spectator
to enjoy the "optical and formal aggressions which the medium makes possible,
a disinterested, aestheticized approach to the representation of violence."
The cult of de Sade establishes a "particular eroticization of ethics
and politics" in abstract art and writing which stems from the cult of
a self-engendered genius artist who transformed the world and matter into
the fetish artwork. In contradiction to sadism, masochism professes a
different approach to the representation of erotic cruelty and enables
the viewer to identify with the subject matter. Although Burch believes
that such experience can be found in the more "populist" experience of
watching classical narrative cinema, one could also see applications of
the masochist aesthetic in the sensual of femininity and the body in performance
art and lesbian pornography.
See Volatile Bodies : Toward a Corporeal Feminism, 17-18. Judith
Butler similarly rejects the naive "constructionist" corrections of "essentialism"
in the introduction to Bodies That Matter: On The Discursive Limits
of Sex, 1-23.
For a discussion of Deleuze and GuattariÕs desiring machines as a new
feminist model, see Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal
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