Mar 162014

Mileaf, Janine. Please Touch: Dada & Surrealist Objects After The Readymade. Dartmouth College Press, 2010

As I’ve observed before, there’s a relative lacuna in BDSM history, between the Victorians and the post-WWII era. The first half of the 20th century is relatively undocumented, though I have found a few exceptions.

Man Ray, Woman in Bondage, c1930

Man Ray, Woman in Bondage, c1930

Artist and photographer Man Ray made several sadomasochistic photos in his career in the 1920s and 1930s. He was also a devotee of the works of the Marquis de Sade, and made portraits of the Marquis. Man Ray was one of many artists of the time interested in “the primitive”, taking inspiration from aboriginal people around the world, and seeking truth through extreme mental and physical states.

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Jul 192013

McInnis, Maurie D. Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade. University of Chicago Press, 2011

Group of African slaves sitting, waiting for sale, white men in background.

Slaves Waiting for Sale, by Eyre Crowe

This is an excellent work as a reference from the Virigina slave trade in the 1850s. The author includes all kinds of “you are there” details, including clothing and architecture.

Built around work of British artist and journalist Eyre Crowe, who travelled in America in the 1850s as secretary to author William Thackery on a lecture tour.

Crowe read Uncle Tom’s Cabin before he saw any actual slavery, but was moved by it. (Pg.4) Purchased from street book merchant, also selling Thackery’s books. Crowe was “properly harrowed” by the book. (Pg. 19)

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Dec 292012

Ray’s still in the hospital and it’s Ana’s birthday. There’s very little kink content in chapter 18, even less than the Aspen chapters.

I could take this opportunity to discuss how a D/s relationship should handle the intrusion of a real life crisis like the serious illness of a family member, but I wouldn’t call what Ana and Christian have a D/s relationship. It’s really a marriage that occasionally has BDSM play. There isn’t an overarching agreement that regulates their interaction. Ana has been more involved in their BDSM interactions, but this particular plot thread is very slow. We’re in the last third of the book three, and their BDSM relationship is still in the very early stages.

If you’re interested, Ray wakes up when Ana reads the sports section to him.

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Dec 262012

I think EL James ran out of good ideas a while back, and now she’s just throwing random plot developments at us. To wit: Ray, Ana’s step-father, is now in hospital. What follows is boiler-plate medical drama.

I also think that someone should have told EL James it is okay to use scene breaks more than she does, because after the call about Ray, we get a couple of pages on the logistics of Ana informing her work superiors and leaving her office. At least Christian is understanding and supportive when he finds out about this.

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Apr 122008

Graydancer’s Ropecast includes part one of an interview with Master K, who provides the most plausible account I’ve found so far of the history of Japanese bondage (shibari or kinbaku) and its relationship to the Western/American BDSM tradition. K says there was a cross-pollination between John Willie, of Bizarre fame, and the Japanese bondage subculture in the early 1950s, with Willie’s books being distributed in Japan (legally or by piracy?) and Willie having access to books and magazines from Japan. He also says the modern Japanese bondage culture grew out of several influences: kabuki theatre, the military tying technique of hojojutsu, the use of tying as a form of physical and psychosocial torture, the use of tying in many other aspects of Japanese culture, including religion. It makes more sense to me that it would come from multiple sources, and go through an evolution that parallels the Western sadomasochistic tradition.

When non-Japanese talk Japanese rope bondage, the discourse often revolves around issues of authenticity, and there’s a certain jockeying for status in who has the most access and understanding of the “real” thing, complicated by the distance, language barrier and general insularity of Japan. It’s hard to separate this from Orientalist discourse of the erotic, exotic Far East. Graydancer makes a point of sidestepping this issue by calling what he does “Japanese-style rope bondage”

Addendum: Part 2 of the Master K interview

Addendum: Now the complete Master K interview has been posted.

Dec 272007

Finke, Michael C. and Carl Niekirk. One Hundred Years of Masochism: Literary Texts, Social and Cultural Contexts Rodopi, 2000

Noyes, John K. The Mastery of Submission: Inventions of Masochism Cornell University Press, 1997

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch needs better literary representation, even though he’s been dead for more than 100 years.

I still have yet to find any of his books that have been translated into English, other than Venus in Furs. There’s a whole shelf of books on Sade, both biographical and critical, but comparatively little on Sacher-Masoch. (Granted, Sade’s life was very well documented and also tied intimately to the history of the French revolution.) Here’s a guy who, in his life, was the next big thing in German literature, the successor to Goethe (who had his own penchant for self-orchestrated suffering, incidentally.)

And then Richard von Krafft-Ebing was rude enough to coin the term masochism, while Sacher-Masoch was still alive. Romanticism collided with science; science won. Whatever Sacher-Masoch’s literary accomplishments, all were forgotten, and he would be known to future generations as merely a lunatic and a sexual deviant. His ex-wife published her memoirs in 1907, further stamping him as a wife abuser.

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Dec 112007

GJ Barker-Benfield, The Culture of Sensibility, 1996 University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226037142

I finally got through The Culture of Sensibility, which focuses on the transformation of post-Restoration England and how that affected class and gender.

New wealth flooded into England, creating a solid middle class and a market for consumer goods, the “nation of shopkeepers.” When men met for business, they had to convince each other they were not thugs who would rob each other. Thus, they created manners and rituals to regulate interactions. The irony is that the wealth that made all this “civilizing” possible came from the Atlantic slave trade.

At the same time, natural philosophers like Isaac Newton and John Locke presented a new, secular model of human nature, that of sensibility. Human beings were born as blank slates and created through their experiences, which affected their nerves. Nerves were how people felt and experienced things, and if a person’s nerves would do the right things, they would feel appropriately in response to stimulus. To observe a suffering person would induce feelings of sympathy (not empathy) in the observer and naturally create a desire to help that person. Indeed, an observer of greater sensibility might feel more distress than the person who is actually suffering.

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Nov 022007

After waiting way too long, I finally rented Bret Wood’s film Psychopathia Sexualis. It’s definitely an odd film, but worth seeing in studying our history of sexuality. Psychopathia Sexualis was a very important book in the evolution of sexuality in general and kink in particular, the first book to put the words “sadism” and “masochism” together.

Wood’s film is a set of interconnected vignettes, dramatizing the case studies Krafft-Ebing collected as well as inferred scenes. They’re shot in a style intended to suggest the early days of silent film, as if some German expressionist had tried to make a film version in the 1920s.

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