lundi 18 janvier 2010

Happiness through Suffering

Simultaneously sado-masochism was being constructed by medical and legal sexology discourses as the ultimate model of what Foucault termed the “proliferation of perversions” that defined the bourgeois disciplinary society and its “medicalization of sin” (1). Combining the attraction of the disciplined body that pervaded schools, armies, hospitals and factories with laicization of Puritan rituals of expiation, sado-masochism was the epitome of the abnormal and the “perverted”, therefore redefining guilt-ridden sexuality. Krafft-Ebing`s study of “sadism” (lust for murder and related appearances up to cannibalism) and its strange counterpart, “masochism” in his Psychopathia sexualis (1886) presented them as polar opposites, often linked to fantasy and involving very specific scenarios that involved some sort of fetishism.

S. Freud´s Three Essays on the Theory of Sex (1905) took on this polarity and described both “disorders” of the libido as a result from an incorrect development in the early childhood psyche, the child’s sadistic (non-sexual) impulses being too severely censored and leading to feelings of guilt and shame that turn into self-harm and an introjection of the aggressive energy. Through the sexualization process of the Oedipus, this impulses became charged with sexual energy often leading to active fantasizing or transmutation into symbolic forms around fear of punishment for acting out sexual desires. In this early model the psyche is inherently sado-masochist, whereas in “A child is being beaten”, sadomasochism is related to a gender divide that makes sadism (a sexual “turning out” of masochism) a Darwinian male attribute, the perverse coupling of both poles being a regression in the face of castration anxiety (2).

Freud uncovers three phases in the genesis of what he labels a feminine fantasy. The first phase, non-sexual, expresses the wish that her father would beat another child of whom the subject was jealous (siblings, etc). In the second phase, entirely unconscious, this wish has been changed into the fantasy of being beaten by the father, accompanied by masochistic pleasure. In the third, conscious phase the father has been replaced by a teacher or person of similar standing and the child being beaten is now a stranger (often a boy because of the subject’s repression of the incestuous wishes). The beating is both a punishment (for the incestuous genital wishes) and a regressive sexual substitute (for those wishes). (3)

In later theory (“The economic problem of masochism”) the infantile sexuality model is reversed as sadomasochism comes to protect the individual from the death instinct by diverting it outward (sadism) or binding it either internally or to a pregenital object through cathexis (masochism). On a more general level it has been signaled that Freud’s topography of the mind is constructed around relationships of domination and submission. While Havelock Ellis definitely popularized the binomial structure of S&M, the gender divide was further widened by Austrian psychoanalyst Helene Deutsch who explores Feminine masochism and its correlation with frigidity (1930), defining masochism, narcissism and passivity as the three vital tendencies in the sexual life of a woman. As in the Spicy Horror magazines and “monster features” this natural female sexual masochism was the ideal counterpart of the “brutalization” of the sadist male.

That same year Erich Fromm published his Studies on Authority and Family, equating Freud with Marx in order to understand the rise of Nazism and describing the “authoritative-masochistic character” as a “special case of a much more common mental mindset” produced by the economic structure of authoritative society (anticipating the disciplinary model of Foucault), softening fears by leaning against a mightier power and the absorption in this power. Against this idea of S&M as “fear of freedom” and symptom of a social illness, mildly equated with homosexuality, the masochist and psychoanalyst Theodor Reik defended Happiness through Suffering (1940), seeing “social masochism” as a “normal” development phase that helps to keep aggressive und anti-social drives under control.

(1) M. Foucault La volonté de savoir, Histoire de la sexualité, v. 1, Paris, Gallimard, 1976).
(2) Freud, S. "Sadism and Masochism." The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud. Ed. A. A. Brill. New York: Modern Library, 1938. 569-71).
(3) See also On Freud's "a Child Is Being Beaten", International Psycho-Analytical Association, Yale University Press, 1997

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