Jul 082009

Schick, Irvin C. The Erotic Margin: sexuality and spatiality in alteritist discourse 1999. Link

Schick makes one point very clear at the outset: don’t simplify Orientalism into “West=male/Orient=female”. There are too many alternate ways of characterizing the two civilizations. Some saw the West as a vulnerable female sexually threatened by the masculine Orient. Female Western visitors to Turkey or Persia sometimes saw the lives of Oriental women as having more agency and autonomy. Writers from all over the political spectrum have used the (fantastic, largely imaginary) harem as an allegory of society. TE Lawrence say Oriental men as masculine role models. These portrayals were driven by everything from anxieties and fears to confusion to “outright self-loathing.”

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Jul 072009

Fiedler, Leslie A. Love and death in the American novel 1966.Link

In Fiedler’s book, it all comes from Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa: Lovelace and Clarissa are the encounter of the male principle and the female principle, the aristocracy and the newly risen bourgeoisie, reason and sentimentality. Everything from the romance paperback to sadomasochistic pornography is the distant, debased descendants from Clarissa, the first modern novel.

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May 272009

Lively, Adam. Masks: Blackness, Race and the Imagination Oxford University Press, 2000. Link

The history of BDSM is not about straight lines. There is no one perfect point of “pure BDSM” from which everything else flows, no perfect authentic moment. Instead, there’s an endless series of mirrors, masks and myths. The persistent myth of the “ancient European slave training houses” is the sign of a yearning for certainty in a subculture that has always been about an aggregation of individual fantasies.

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May 132009

Ms. Muze’s guest post on Let them eat pro-SM feminist safe spaces has an intriguing theory about the idea that BDSM is a symptom of the lessening of the class division in society, and thus less sexual access to lower status people.

We have a solid literary record stretching back at least three hundred years of a culture where women were expected to maintain their virtue through chastity, young men were expected to engage in casual sex, and there was plenty of kinky porn. Probably those things have been true much longer; it’s my personal knowledge of literary history that goes back only that far, not the existence of kinky porn. If “women”, by which we mean middle- and upper-class women, were all going to their marriage beds virgins, who were these guys fucking?

The servants. Prostitutes. Poor girls. These are the people de Sade was routinely accused of abusing and molesting before he was imprisoned. The people who over and over again in literature and historical record are raped, knocked up, “ruined” and cast aside by men of a higher social class who would never dream of laying an improper hand on their social peers.

We now have a culture where young men are taught to view young women of their own class as sexual commodities, while a few generations ago they would have been brought up to view their female peers as the “angels in the house” whom they might love or marry and the lower class women in their lives as sex objects who they might fuck, with or without consent. A man growing up today learns to look to his girlfriend/wife to play out violent fantasies that he might once have satisfied with a prostitute or not at all.

This cultural shift gives us a lot of great things – sexual agency! safe, sane, consensual kink! birth control! – but with it we have all inherited some of the risk that used to belong more clearly to women on the fringes of respectable society. It’s not BDSM, or its watered-down aesthetic leaking into mainstream porn, that contributes to a culture of rape.

There is a complex relationship between real “rape culture” (e.g. pre Civil War South) and the theatrical performance of such.

Apr 212009

Here’s the full quote from the previous post, from Adam Lively’s Masks.

[T]he poor African is … fair game for every minstrel that has tuned his lyre to the sweet chords of pity and condolence; whether he builds immortal verse upon his loss of liberty, or weaves his melancholy fate into the pathos of a novel, in either case he finds a mine of sentiment, digs up enthusiasm from its richest vein, and gratifies at once his spleen and his ambition.

Richard Cumberland, Introduction to Henry (1795)

Cumberland’s derisive tone show that this was written when sentimentalism was no longer a valid idea.

Apr 182009

Todd, Janet. Sensibility: an Introduction Methuen, 1986

The cult of sensibility only lasted a few decades, starting in the early 1700s, peaking around 1750 and pretty much discredited and ridiculed by the 1790s, no longer a part of politics or serious novels, but consigned to the lower, often feminized strata of literature and society. Sensibility decayed into mere sentimentalism, generally an insult, but an underlying them in Victorian melodrama, and for our purposes in works like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as when Little Eva dies in classic sentimental style.

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Apr 072009

Hartman, Saidiya V. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Centry America Oxford University Press, 1997 Google Books Amazon

I’m still looking into the relationship of real-world slavery and BDSM slavery.

Hartman starts her (?) book by quoting a letter from noted abolitionist John Rankin to his slaveholding brother, struggling to convey the horrors of slavery. He employs shock tactics to get through the reader’s comfortable remove, “to rouse the sensibility of those indifferent to slavery”.
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