Feb 192011

Murray, Thomas E. & Thomas R. Murrell The Language of Sadomasochism Greenwood Press, 1989

This book is a glimpse of the North American scene circa 1989, only a few years before the Internet provided a widespread, anonymous channel for communication. The authors say they had great difficulty getting anybody in the Scene to talk to them at all, and those who did were highly suspicious. It’s interesting to see that only 22 years ago, the scene was this underground and secretive. Nowadays, post-Internet, the scene is vastly more overt.

The historical overview includes some interesting tidbits, including a masochistic passage from ancient Egypt: “Oh! were I made her porter, I should cause her to be wrathful with me. Then when I did but hear her voice, the voice of her anger, a child shall I be for fear” (pg. 8) There’s also the note that Petronius’ Satyricon talks about courtesans dedicating whips, bridles and spurs as votive offerings to Venus.

However, as I’ve noticed is common in such historical overviews, these are a collection of anecdotes without a unifying historical theory. This is the kind of research I want to surpass, by presenting a historical theory of sadomasochism.

The glossary was less interesting than I thought it would be. Most of the information came from personal ads in newspapers and magazines, where language was condensed for economy and euphemized to escape prosecution. Some of these were not printed in commercial publications, but posted on literal bulletin boards at adult stores. I can remember Mack’s Leathers in Vancouver in the early 90s had such a board, full of hand-written personal ads. This mode of communication seems to have become as obsolete as the candlestick telephone.

There are also a few gaps in the glossary. The authors were baffled by the reference to “John Norman” in one personal ad, even though the Gor novels have been published since 1960s.

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