Mar 022012
 

Williams, Tennessee. “Desire and the Black Masseur” Tales of Desire New Directions, 2010. Originally published 1948

Dipping into the “literary figures who wrote kink” well, we find Tennessee Williams’ short story, “Desire and the Black Masseur.” A meek man wanders into a steambath, gets pounded and later killed and literally eaten by an African-American masseur. The end.

As a narrative of homoerotic interracial masochism, it works pretty well. The fact that the masseur is not named and only identified as “the Negro” means that is isn’t exactly racially progressive, but this is a story of fantasy, of a masochistic desire for regression and annihilation.

The narrative suggests that the drama of Burns’ masochism and the sadism of “the Negro” is a kind of cosmic drama of revenge and redemption for slavery and racism. I wonder if there’s a parallel between this story and, say, the race and gender subtext of Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs and other works: the white, Christian man submitting to the (possibly Jewish) woman.

You could say there’s two kinds of masochistic scenarios: one which goes against the dominant flow of power in society (e.g. this story, Venus in Furs) and the other which follows the dominant flow of power (e.g. Story of O), though the last case may subvert the dominant paradigm. E.M. Hull’s The Sheik does both: female submitting to male, white colonizer submitting to Oriental colonized (who turns out to be an Englishman anyway).

The subversive element may be secondary and optional to the experience of masochism, but it does render masochism more visible and legible.

Jack Fritscher’s commentary on the story, emphasizing the difference between Burns’ initial passivity and his later active surrender and submission.

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