Jul 152012

Ana wakes up with Christian gone again. She meets his housekeeper, Mrs. Jones, and goes into another jealous snit over nothing.

Why does Christian only have attractive blondes working for him? And a nasty thought comes involuntarily into my mind – Are they all ex-subs?  I refuse to entertain that hideous idea.

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Feb 242012

Special Victims Unit has always been the black sheep of the Law & Order franchise, with a tendency towards ratings grabs with has-been guest stars and clumsy discussions of issues. With last night’s episode, “Hunting Ground”, something has definitely changed in its treatment of violence towards women.

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Dec 302010

Nussbaum, Felicity. Torrid Zones.

Lee, Debbie.  Slavery and the Romantic Imagination.

Richard Burton postulated the “Sotadic zone”, in which male-male sexuality was normal and accepted south of certain latitudes. This equation of sexuality and geography was a common subtext of 18th and 19th century discourses, and still prevalent today. Sexuality was equated with other cultural traits, such as sloth versus industry, reason versus emotion, and these traits were equated with particular geographical regions. (Nussbaum, Pg. 8-9) “Androgynous, transgressive, ‘monstrous,’ lesbian, and working-class women – indigenous and colonizing women – are all linked metaphorically to bawdy women and are located on the fringes of respectability akin to brute savagery.” (Nussbaum, pg. 10)

It wasn’t only men who “exploited” the imaginative space of the Orient for sexual purposes. Daniel Defoe’s Roxana (1724) imitates the Turkish slave women she sees on her Grand Tour in her dress and dancing, gaining power and agency via performing as “England’s caricature of the Turkish harem woman” (Nussbaum, Pg. 35) at masquerades. Likewise, Lady Montagu’s description of Turkish baths had a strong frisson of lesbianism. (Nussbaum, pg. 139)

Our modern conceptions of normal gender and sexuality were still being sorted out at this point in Western history. Homoerotic relationships between women were seen as part of initiating women into sexuality with the eventual goal of heterosexuality and marriage. “Same-sex desire, initiation into heterosexuality through homosexuality, or bisexual activity [in women] did not fix sexual identity but instead influenced public opinion of a woman’s character that was itself defined by the visible–that is, by cross-dressing or by publicly acceptable intimacy between women.” (Nussbaum, Pg. 147) (Cf. the Brittany-Santana relationship in Glee. Kurt goes through agony because of self-identification as gay despite a lack of actual sexual experience, while Brittany and Santana freely screw around but maintain their performance of normative gender as cheerleaders)

Another way people related to the African or Oriental slave was by acts of imagination, notably for our purposes in Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) (Lee, pg. 34) He cites the example of imagining ourselves into a suffering slave on the rack, feeling his bodily experience.

Could the true experience of suffering be conveyed to the person who had not literally suffered so? Or did it only fall into stereotype?

Abolitionist poems relied so heavily on stereotypes that it is impossible to imagine the movement without the standard register of diseased ships, growling captains, clamoring crews, greedy planters, lush tropical isles, shackled slave men, and dejected slave women grabbing after their children. Although these images all had some basis in reality, writers invoked this cliched catalog for some specific reasons. Like dinnerware and sugar bowls, stereotypes existed through duplication and thrived through mass consumption. The etymology of the word stereotype, in fact, refers to the printing plate used to reproduce many copies of the same material, and therefore emphasizes how abolitionist poets who employed the slave mother stereotype were in the business of sentimental reproduction.

Lee, pg. 212

You could also apply that to pornography, mass production of familiar types. Mary Prince’s slave narrative The History of Mary Prince (1831), describes her beating in great detail (Lee, Pg.215), but she also stops several times in her narrative to say her suffering is “too, too bad to speak in England” (Lee, Pg. 216). This recalls Harriet Jacobs’ difficulty getting her own un-expurgated slave narrative published a few decades later. Prince (who dictated her story that was transcribed and edited by others for abolitionist purposes) keeps “intruding” into her own story, reminding the reader of the actual person who experienced this and preventing the usual free flow of identification between author and text.

Mar 182010

Praz, Mario. The Romantic Agony Meridian, 1956. First published 1933. Google Books

I think people tend to use the terms Romantic and Gothic interchangeably. I tend to use the Gothic as the underside of the Romantic, the cynicism to the humanism. BDSM comes from the Gothic, the parody/critique of the Romantic. This requires delving into the history of the Romantic, which like Praz’ book, is big, sprawling, disorderly and largely written in French and Italian.

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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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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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Jan 212008

Bruhm, Steven. Gothic Bodies: The Politics of Pain in Romantic Fiction University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994

You’d think a book with a title like Gothic Bodies would have entries for “sadism” or “masochism” in the index, but it doesn’t. Sade is name checked a few times, but Sacher-Masoch isn’t. Then again, Bruhm is interested in the English Romantic/Gothic period of the late 18th and early 19th century. It starts out with Eugene Delacroix’ Orientalist painting The Death of Sardanapalus, based on the myth which was the inspiration for Byron’s play, which in turn was a profound influence on Hannah Cullwick before she met Arthur Munby.
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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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