David S. Reynolds’ “Mightier than the Sword”

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Aug 302011

It started with a vision of torture.

According to Harriet Beecher Stowe, the genesis of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, arguably one of the most influential books in history, came in Feburary 1851 when she attended communion service. After taking the bread and wine and thinking of the Last Supper and the Passion, a vision hit her, “blown into her mind as by the rushing of a mighty wind.”

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Jun 012011

Blassingame, John W. The Slave Community Oxford University Press 1979

Blassingame’s psychological study of Atlantic society has a tangential relationship to the evolution of BDSM. What it does give is insight into slavery as it was seen by whites, and particularly the distortions whites lived with in order to make the peculiar institution work.

The three archetypes, derived from white literature and folklore, are Jack, Nat and Sambo.

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Mar 092011

In the early years of the 16th century, to combat the rising tide of religious unorthodoxy, the Pope gave Cardinal Ximinez of Spain leave to move without let or hindrance throughout the land, in a reign of violence, terror and torture that makes a smashing film. This was the Spanish Inquisition…

Monty Python

I’ve only seen clips of the notorious Goodbye Uncle Tom (IMDB, Wikipedia, Google Video), an Italian pseudo-documentary that purportedly shows a recreation of the antebellum South with a focus on slavery. I decided to review the whole thing, and rented the director’s cut on DVD, which is not dubbed into English.

There are startling, horrifying spectacles recreated in this film, beginning with the horrors of the Middle Passage and running through the process of sale and labour, a perverse initiation narrative. There are periodic rapes and other abuses and mutilations. The overwhelming impression is an homogenous mass of brown humanity, undifferentiated by sex or age. How exactly they managed to get so many extras willing to be naked is beyond me.

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Feb 242011

Clotel is an 1853 novel written by escaped slave William Wells Brown. This is a classic abolitionist novel, much like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and it also borrows from the sentimental novel with separated lovers and broken-up families. It’s rather anecdotal and melodramatic, but it does explicate the idea that the institution of slavery creates misery, and furthermore, that this is not restricted to blacks.

It does give a good sense of what life was like in the ante-bellum South:

“Yes,” interrupted Huckelby [an overseer of slaves]; “them’s just my sentiments now, and no mistake. I think that, for the honour of our country, this slavery business should stop. I don’t own any, no how, and I would not be an overseer if I wern’t paid for it.”

(Were there amateur slave overseers?) I can easily imagine some white person in the ante-bellum South saying that with a mild shrug. It indicates just how entrenched the peculiar institution was in the culture of the South, so much so that people who didn’t care for it still couldn’t really do much.

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Dec 302010

Martin, Charles D. The While African American Body. Amazon

There’s a “missing link” I still need to find, the historical point at which people started thinking about white people as slaves. I found it, or one point of it, in the eroticized parodies of mid-19th century slave narratives published in the late 19th century. I still need to find more evidence to strengthen this point, where black shades into white.

Martin’s book explores this strange borderland between the races. Europeans were fascinated by “white negroes” or “leopard children” in scientific or entertainment venues, which could be Africans with conditions like albinism or vitiligo, or Africans in partial or total whiteface, or white people with partial blackface. The separation of the sign (“white skin”) from the signified (the social construction of “whiteness”) was both fascinating and terrifying, particularly to new American immigrants who were not secure in their “whiteness”.

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Nov 092010

“Cool is conservative fear dressed in black.” Bruce Mau

On the last day of the Leather Leadership Conference 2010, I wore a red corduroy collared shirt in preparation for the flight home. It very quickly became apparent that how much I stood out in a sea of men and women in black t-shirts.

Sometime around 1820, black clothing for men came as a fad, but it never went. After the flash of men’s attire in the 18th century, the black or dark suit became the standard wear for all men in Europe, and even more so in the United States; Charles Dickens was considered something of a fop for his colorful attire when he crossed the Atlantic. There are several reasons for this: the new cult of masculinity as sober and rational, the Victorian cult of mourning, the rise of the Calvinist-capitalist bourgeoisie.

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Sep 162010

Here are the post I’ve made on the Circlet Press Livejournal group to promote Innocent’s Progress.

Sep 142010


The Innocent’s Progress and other stories is now available for download at the Circlet press site.

From the publisher:

In a steampunk society where sex is ritualized and marriage is sacred, the slightest misstep can bring your world tumbling down. In this collection, Peter Tupper explores the many facets of a time that never was, and a society that is all too familiar. Rich in eroticism, and immersive in its detail, The Innocent’s Progress and Other Stories is a sterling example of what steampunk can be.

In an unnamed place, in a time that never was, sex is elevated as high as ritual, and can be had for the price of a theater ticket. In The Innocent’s Progress and Other Stories, Peter Tupper explores the many facets of a complicated, sensual, and, in many ways, rigidly conservative society. Here, we are given passes to a theater of fantasies; we are allowed into the labyrinthine world of steam-powered workhouses; and we are given glimpses into the minds and mettle of the kind of people who survive in such a world.

I’m also hosting an author chat on the Circlet Press Livejournal group for the next few days.

Aug 252010

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast features a great spoken essay on slavery in history. While it only loosely ties into this blog’s topic, it is a good primer on just how huge a phenomenon slavery is and how profound an effect it had on American and European history. The eroticized view of slavery in BDSM fantasy and practice is just one, minor epiphenomenon of slavery.

Aug 132010

A friend in Rostock, Germany, is producing and directing a stage play based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s classic (or it should be) novel of male submission and female domination, Venus in Furs, or Venus im Pelz.

The play stars Dino Gebauer as Severin and Meike Faust as Wanda, and directed by Florian Dedio. There are two shows, on September 11th and 15th.

Wish I was in Germany, and could understand German.

I’m glad to see this kind of project as I believe Sacher-Masoch is much neglected as a historical and literary figure, and his work deserves wider exposure and his life more academic study. For a man whose name was attached to an entire realm of human behavior and emotion, he is curiously forgotten. Freud’s two essays on masochism make no mention of Sacher-Masoch or his work