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A Defense of Masochism

av Anita Phillips

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642321,013 (2.6)Ingen/inga
A provocative cultural expose of masochism which has now entered society's mainstream after centuries of being taboo.

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This book deserves to be much better known. I discovered it very much by accident, and had not seen any references to it. I found it beautifully written, with an elegant style. Phillips has not aimed it at a 'popular' audience, and this is probably why it makes no attempt to present 'examples' of masochism, which always attract readers in a 'Sunday Newspaper' way. But what she says makes really good sense, and it would be great to think that it will assist in the liberalization of people's critical views of the sexuality of others (or even of their own). The inclusion of pain in consensual sex is a natural consequence of the nature of sex itself, as a highly sensual phenomenon. Pain is simply a logical extension of sensuality. [Phillips doesn't mention the phenomenon of tickling, which can also be painful, but there are surely links.] The problem with erotic pain is that it seems too close to punishment pain, illness pain, or accident pain, and it thereby becomes a source of embarrassment and disapproval. For those genuinely interested in understanding their erotic urges and sensations, and for those willing to accept hitherto perceptions of perversion as normal, this book will provide a banquet of ideas and inspiration. ( )
1 rösta CliffordDorset | Dec 2, 2008 |
I've read much on the subject of masochism, from simple erotica to more complex psychoanalytics. Naturally, when I came across this book, I was intrigued. There has been no shortage of discourse on the why's and wherefor's of masochism, but I had not seen an outright attempt at a defense. To be sure, it would be a difficult and problematic undertaking (years of taboo combined with the very personal nature of the subject).

And, indeed, there are problems from the outset.

The author begins her "defense" not with an attempt at understanding, but by openly attacking sadism (which may seem an unusual thing for a masochist), calling sadism "...a sullen, resentful apathy punctuated by bursts of self-pitying rage" and "... the story of great pathos and even failure". While it would be difficult to discuss masochism without discussing it's antithesis, sadism, the author appears to have either confused sadists with other "deviants" (such as dominants), or isn't as knowledgeable as she would like to appear.

Sadists, she claims, need to be "literally" on top, which just ins't accurate. While sadism and dominance often do coincide, there are plenty of masochistic dominants (dominants who order their "subs" to tie them up, hurt them, etc.) and still more sadistic submissives (submissives who often take great pleasure in torturing other submissives). It's obvious that some of the author's ideas just doesn't hold up unless she lumps these two seperate urges (sadism and dominance) into one malevolent category.

Making this even more confusing is her portrait of masochists as dominants (while earlier claiming dominance as the pathetic territory of sadists). Masochists, she claims, are manipulative. While not searching for someone keen on inflicting the pain they want, they search out those who are weak, who are willing to be molded into what the masochist wants. This sort of convoluted thinking doesn't help the author in her mission of defense. She may be able to confuse herself by talking in circles, but any reader of even average intelligence will be irritated quickly.

The author also makes some pretty strong assumptions. The one that stuck out the most is her assertion that sadists and masochists cannot get along (much less form a lasting relationship). The theory being that sadists are disgusted by masochistic desires, and that sadism rides on non-consent (i.e. a sadist cannot find fulfillment in consensual violence). While I can't say whether or not sadistic pleasure can exist in a consensual form (does consent even come into play, or is it merely the violence in and of itself?), there is no logical backing for this idea and, in fact, comes off as nothing more than a knee-jerk dislike of sadism.

It's clear that the author has no basis for her masochism-as-light ideals without first painting sadism as the darkness that it stands out against. This doesn't make a stable foundation for her defense, which is nothing more than sleight of hand.

The author consistently glorifies masochism, even going so far as to call it "the offspring of art". This endeavor presents an even greater ptoblem, as we continue to live in a world where many deviant sexual behaviors (especially sadism and masochism) will never be looked on favorably. It appears the author realizes this and, in a sad effort to "save" masochism from sticks and stones, proceeds to offer sadism up as the sacrificial goat.

Another irritation is the author's contempt and condescension of so-called "vanilla" relationships (relationships free of "kink"). The author exhalts kinky relationships while denigrating vanilla, or traditional, relations. It's counterproductive to alienate "the other half" while simultaneously trying to defend a certain lifestyle to those very people (or, to put it as Milton would have, to justify the ways of kink to man). And it just comes off as pompous and self-serving.

The research done by the author (which doesn't appear to be much), is pick-and-choose. She vilifies Kraft-Ebbing for even bringing masochism under the scrutiny of psychology, and verbally spits on him for classifying it as a disorder. However, she applauds Freud for his neatral tone, and later dismisses the few negative views as if they don't exist in any meaningful way in the context of the whole.

I do appreciate that the author gives appropriate cautionary statements in the closing paragraph to the introduction:

"The way this book is writen is highly subjective" and
"Masochism is no tale of heroism" (unfortunately, every other word she utters in the book seems to try and convince otherwise)

It's important to keep those two statements in mind while reading. The books is titled "A Defense of Masochism", but the first statement above more than alludes to the fact that this is simply *one person's* view of the subject. Certainly, and given all the misinformation I find in the book, this book can defend no one but the author and her personal views. Every masochist has their own reasons for their desires, and they don't need the less-than-shatterproof "defense" (diatribe would be a better word) offered up by the author. In fact, due to the alarming amount of assumption and misinformation, the book may do more harm than good to understanding masochistic desires, and further the breach in between "kink" and "vanilla".

Underlying all of this is the nagging suspicion that the author is embroiled in her own internal struggles with her masochistic desires, and her "defense" is for the benefit of no one other than herself.

In the end, it remains that the only true defenses of masochism are written by those very people settled in the enjoyment of it, absent of the need to defend their desires. ( )
1 rösta 9days | Aug 10, 2008 |
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A provocative cultural expose of masochism which has now entered society's mainstream after centuries of being taboo.

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