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Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty & Venus in…

Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty & Venus in Furs

by Gilles Deleuze, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

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Venus in Furs was transparent and predictable...
The Deleuze analysis of sadomasochism was fairly interesting, although grounded in the psychoanalytic tradition (Freud is mentioned quite a bit, for instance). So, if you're looking for an essay examining sadomasochism, especially from a theoretical and psychoanalytic perspective, at least read the Deleuze text. I honestly thought (and I read Deleuze before Venus in Furs) that Venus in Furs would be more suspenseful, more exhilarating; at some parts, I found myself annoyed with Severin. ( )
  MephXV | Mar 27, 2016 |
This volume reprints the masochistic literary paradigm Venus in Furs, but prefaced to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's novel is a theoretical essay by Gilles Deleuze, Coldness and Cruelty, of about the same length as the Masoch text. I read the volume cover-to-cover following the page numbers, but I think I would advise other readers to take on the Masoch first, and then the Deleuze.

The unnamed narrator of Venus in Furs (Masoch himself?) begins by relating a dream to his friend Severin, who responds by presenting him with an autobiographical manuscript, so that the story of Severin's amorous enslavement forms the body of the novel. The novel is vivid and fast-moving, and I would count it a pleasure to read regardless of one's sympathy or antipathy for the characters and their behavior. To the extent that there is sex, it is not at all explicit. What is described is the intimate context of the relationship, along with the participants' emotional reactions. Those should fire the reader's imagination to the extent that one takes away the impression of a highly salacious account. At the end, Severin, now an abusive tyrant over his wife, claims to have been "cured" of his desire for subjugation, but the narrator expresses some ambivalence on the judgment.

As for Masoch's own views, these are somewhat clarified and confirmed by a set of appendices: an autobiographical essay on a formative childhood experience that parallels one described by Severin in the novel, a pair of contracts in which Masoch subjugated himself to his partners, and a fragment of memoir by his wife that details their curious encounters with someone who may have been Ludwig II.

The Deleuze text is decidedly less entertaining, but certainly has some value. He is at pains to criticize what he calls the "sadomasochistic entity," i.e. he disputes the functional overlap and identity of sadism with masochism, insisting instead that the two phenomena transpire on different planes and concern themselves with different objects. As I digest his thesis, masochism is the carnal application of dialectical imagination, while sadism is that of critical inquiry. "In trying to fill in the gaps between masochism and sadism, we are liable to fall into all kinds of misapprehensions, both theoretical and practical or therapeutic" (109). Deleuze discusses and argues with the relevant theories of Freud, Reik, and Lacan. I am reasonably persuaded by the essay, although I think it may overstate its case with a measure of polemical absoluteness.
3 vote paradoxosalpha | May 25, 2013 |
"Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather/Whiplash girlchild in the dark/Comes in bells, your servant, don't forsake him/Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart." The Velvet Underground performed "Venus in Furs" in their 1967 self-titled album. The song was about the novel of the same name, written in 1870 by an Austrian history professor named Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Many more people have heard of the psychological condition than read his book, although this might change with the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey. Venus in Furs is a literary ur-text, a book that establishes a genre and its conventions. (The Lord of the Rings is an ur-text of the epic fantasy genre.)

Masoch's name is forever linked with another erotic philosopher, the Marquis de Sade. The nineteenth century German sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing linked the two writers together when he used the term sadomasochism to describe a particular sexual peculiarity involving pain and power. Krafft-Ebing wrote Psychopathia Sexualis in 1886 and inventories over 200 case studies. This work is the reason people lump together Masoch's work with Sade's, despite each author espousing radically different philosophies and writing styles. Masoch's style is more symbolic and impressionistic, lacking the verbal crudity and explicitness of Sade.

Venus in Furs is the story of a man named Severin and his desire to become the slave of Wanda. Masoch planned the novel as part of a larger work called The Legacy of Cain. (Unlike the works of Sade, most of Masoch's works have not been translated.) In a book length essay entitled Masoch: Coldness and Cruelty, French philosopher Gilles Deleuze explains how masochistic fantasies occur throughout Masoch's work, but these scenes were linked to ethnic rituals and patriotic sentiment. Masoch lived in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a multiethnic monarchy that had been ruled by the Hapsburg dynasty since the sixteenth century. In his other works, Masoch wrote about the empire's various ethnic minorities.

The central narrative is what makes people uncomfortable. Not only does Severin reduce himself to the status of slave, but also he does so willfully. The term slavery should be properly qualified in this context. In the world of Venus in Furs and in the BDSM community at large, slaves and masters are roles. Temporary and theatrical, Severin makes him a slave through her signing a contract. Unlike the torture porn of Fifty Shades of Grey, which exists more within the Sadean universe, Severin and Wanda create ritualized tablueas. Deleuze relates how these scenes have the frozen quality of photography, then a burgeoning technology.

What is one to make of a situation where an individual willfully dehumanizes him or herself? It is a tricky subject, investigated by psychologists and literary theorists. However, unlike chattel slavery or international sex trafficking, these contractual situations have a definite termination. It is also another means for individuals to receive personal satisfaction. The discomfort comes when readers or self-righteous politicians feel the need to judge Severin's kinks. Just because his desire to be enslaved superficially resembles America's peculiar institution doesn't make it morally wrong like American slavery. In fact, connecting the two is both intellectually dishonest and inaccurate. (America's fetish for sexual regulation, repression, and oppression is causing enough heartache and hypocrisy this election cycle.)

So what does Venus in Furs tell us about being human? Masoch illustrates the linkages between power and desire. One should not prejudge the predilections of others, except where health and minors are concerned. Being human also means that some of our fellow beings don't automatically desire to be the dominant figure. Some, like Masoch, desire to be the subservient member of the scenario. But one shouldn't see this behavior as existing in a psychological vacuum, since Masoch tied his literary works with his commitment to championing the rights of ethnic minorities within the Austro-Hungarian empire. With Venus in Furs the personal is the political.



2 vote kswolff | Sep 21, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gilles Deleuzeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sacher-Masoch, Leopold vonmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Sacher-Masoch, Leopold vonmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0942299558, Paperback)

In his stunning essay, Coldness and Cruelty, Gilles Deleuze provides a rigorous and informed philosophical examination of the work of the late 19th-century German novelist Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Deleuze's essay, certainly the most profound study yet produced on the relations between sadism and masochism, seeks to develop and explain Masoch's "peculiar way of 'desexualizing' love while at the same time sexualizing the entire history of humanity." He shows that masochism is something far more subtle and complex than the enjoyment of pain, that masochism has nothing to do with sadism; their worlds do not communicate, just as the genius of those who created them - Masoch and Sade - lie stylistically, philosophically, and politically poles a part.Venus in Furs, the most famous of all of Masoch's novels was written in 1870 and belongs to an unfinished cycle of works that Masoch entitled The Heritage of Cain. The cycle was to treat a series of themes including love, war, and death. The present work is about love. Although the entire constellation of symbols that has come to characterize the masochistic syndrome can be found here - fetishes, whips, disguises, fur-clad women, contracts, humiliations, punishment, and always the volatile presence of a terrible coldness - these do not eclipse the singular power of Masoch's eroticism.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:58 -0400)

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2 editions of this book were published by Zone Books.

Editions: 0942299558, 094229954X

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