Brief Notes on: Deleuze, G.  'Coldness and Cruelty', (published with  Sacher-Masoch, L.  'Venus in Furs')  Both are combined in a volume called Masochism (1991) New York: Zone Books.

Dave Harris

I'm not going to offer full notes on this commentary by Deleuze, but offer instead a brief set of notes about what the main themes are, at least for me.

Much of the early part of Deleuze's contribution is taken up with offering criticisms of the characteristics of masochism as offered by Freudians, including Freud himself.  One major criticism is directed at the argument that masochism is just the inverse of sadism, so that we can talk about a sadomasochistic syndrome.  Deleuze makes methodological points about this interpretation, and I pick them up in chapter V: Deleuze says that the analysis offered by Freudians is not concrete and empirical enough, that the syndrome is described by combining abstract elements which are then supposed to be transformed into each other.  Instead, we need to look at 'the total concrete situation, the specific world of the perversion' (58), and to avoid preconceptions, especially in the form of an etiology.  Freudian accounts lose their explanatory power when they are abstracted and combined like this, for example 'modes of equivalents and translation are mistaken for systems of transition and transformation'.  This seems to be about the only case where Freud sanctions this kind of combination -- perhaps because Kraft-Ebbing did it first.

In particular, the analysis of masochism reveals some important limitations with the whole Freudian schema, which sees the father as playing the dominant symbolic role in the formation of the personality.  Paternal dominance probably dominates sadistic perversions, where fathers enlist daughters, and mothers are rejected as representing soft, non-virile. meek forms of nature.  By contrast, in masochism, the whole thing turns on different mythical versions of the mother, roughly 1. primeval prostitute, who generates disorder and threatens manliness; 2. the sadistic woman at the other end of history, who allies and equates herself with man to become vigorous and active; and then 3. the ideal woman for Masoch, an intermediate type, cold and severe, but also loving and gentle, 'cold-maternal-severe, icy- sentimental-cruel' (51). 

Fathers can appear to be important, but that is a methodological artefact: abstract elements can be combined in a number of ways. We need to appreciate  'the total concrete situation, the specific world of the perversion' (58).  However, we been misled because the symptoms have already been understood, before Freud, by 'a preconceived etiology'.  By seeing things as prematurely connected, we lose their explanatory power, for example the specific effects of castration and guilt.  Later, Freudians were to be misled by the emphasis on the father.

There are some important implications for Freud and for the Freudian notion that the father always represents the Law or the symbolic order.  In masochism, the symbolic order is experienced as 'intermaternal...  in which the mother represents the law' and generates the symbolism which masochists can use.  The man does appear, but as a rather mysterious third party in the fantasy, which will eventually have real consequences in Venus..., In bringing back reality as it were.  It is often the case, apparently, and this is attributed to Lacan, that objects which have been abolished on the symbolic plane reappear in the real, or in hallucinatory versions of the real.  Thus the mysterious figure of the Greek man reappears in Venus in a way which ends the fantasy, and turns the hero toward sadism - it is not that the masochist has reverted to sadism, but rather that the masochistic fantasies have been disrupted and can only be replaced by hallucination [of the real].  Later we are told that a third party is needed as a compound figure, so that he can idealize and stand for the masochistic new man.  Such ambiguous figures are often required in fantasies, Deleuze tells us, to mediate between extremes, and this is what the masochist has to do to mediate between primeval and sadistic modern women as above.

We see that women here are playing all the parts, so to speak, and the effect is to banish the father altogether in sexual fantasy and desire: the father is 'canceled out, and his parts and functions distributed among the three women' (63).  The feminine is fully self-sufficient lacking in nothing, and in the fantasy, this permits women to play a number of roles.  In fact, real mothers are also disavowed, but in favor of a more 'positive' and ideal role.  However, the fantasy depends on a symbolic order in which these three women can appear, 'the language of myths, which is therefore essential to masochism' [and so is the language of theatre, it might be argued]. The father is canceled out because the 'good oral mother'[the intermediate stage in myth] takes over the functions of the father, so that the three mystical women together constitute the whole 'symbolic order.  Hence for masochists, the mother represents the law, generates the symbolism through which the masochist can express himself (63).  Indeed, the father threatens to disrupt the masochistic fantasy, involving a 'complex strategy' (65) to protect the world of fantasy—the contract with the female partner.  Women are given full rights so that the father can be abolished, so,  ironically, the rational contract permits the return of mythical figures of the three mother images. This means that when the masochist is being beaten or humiliated, it is actually the father that's being beaten, while the masochist prepares for a rebirth 'in which the father will have no part'(66) [as in he becomes a new man?].

Apparently, there is some 'fundamental structure of fantasy in general' (66) which turns on playing off two opposing series or margins.  Masoch refers to his approach as '"supersensualism"' (69), where there is a break with more natural or animal experience, producing pleasurable pain [like a kind of deferral of gratification?] .  The senses become abstracted or 'theoretical'.  It becomes possible to form relationships with statues, marble women.  This is quite different from Sade's aesthetics where animal-type sensuality dominates and becomes a matter of movements, often endless or repeated movement as in pornography, something 'mechanically grounded' (70).  For masochists, there is a more detached aesthetic [blimey! the high aesthetic as in Bourdieu!]  and this comes over as a central place for waiting and suspense, again not just that simple matter of experiencing pain as pleasure as if that was all one syndrome.  Later we are told that masochism is not unique and does not have a specifically masochistic fantasy (72).  Here, it is the notion of the uterine mother and the oedipal mother [the first and third mythical variants] which helps develop the oral mother as containing resonances [sic] from the other two.  The oral mother borrows the sexual prostitution function from one, and the sadistic function and interest in punishment from the other.  The good mother is a neutral substitute [and this is referenced to some letters written by Masoch].  In this way femininity lacks nothing and there is no need for of the real father - here the absence of a penis is irrelevant to the possession of the phallus.  Both masochism and sadism involve some elements of both conventional sexualities, but in different ways - 'the masochist is hermaphrodite and the sadist androgynous'(68).  Again this means that they are not interchangeable as opposites.

Pain, punishment and humiliation are not pleasures in themselves but 'necessary prerequisites to obtaining gratification' (71).  Pain makes gratification possible, and pleasure must wait, and this extends into a 'an indefinite awaiting of pleasure and an intense expectation of pain' (71).  This extends again into 'waiting in its pure form', which is itself gratifying, as shown in the accounts in Masoch about the pleasures of waiting for things, like having a tooth pulled out. A masochist 'believes that he is dreaming even when he is not', requiring a disciplined stance towards fantasy, whereas sadists need to believe that they're not dreaming.

Masochism is an example of '"culturism"' (76), art, but also with a strange juridical element in the contract.  There is still an element of naturalism, since 'it is essentially the work of art and the contract that makes possible the transition from a lower nature to the great Nature, which is sentimental and self conscious', and again there are differences with sadism: Sade is more interested in motion and mechanism to reveal primary nature, and institutions rather than laws [including those of contract], including secret societies.  For sadists, the state of immorality 'is one of perpetual unrest, resembling the necessary state of insurrection' (78) which is required to produce proper republicanism [there is quite a lot of interesting stuff on how this sort of extension works, how an interest in contract leads to a broader support for law, and even to the support for rituals to maintain and make sacred the law.  This is pursued in chapter VII].

There's a certain amount of humor in masochism [turning on this distinction between humor and irony again.  I find it difficult to grasp because pointing out humorous unintended consequences is irony for me.  Irony for Deleuze, however involve some appeal to a higher order or principle that cancels out or contradicts things that were seen as previously binding --an example, from Wikipedia I think, although it might be Deleuze, turns on Socrates arguing that the virtuous obey the law, only to find that he was expected to obey the law too and kill himself after being found guilty].  Masochists can attack conventional laws by twisting them, say by carrying them to excess, observing the very letter of the law, and pretending that therefore the law justifies the perverse results.  We see this when masochism develops the opposite pleasures to what might be expected, so that whipping provokes an erection rather than preventing it, or shows that punitive laws should be understood as leading to entitlement to enjoy the pleasures that are forbidden.  We can now see that the 'temporal succession' of pain and pleasure does not mean that the one causes the other: rather, the 'contents' have been reversed, so that being forbidden to enjoy something is taken as the need to go ahead and enjoy it.  There are other examples of this sort of humor, including pointing to the humorous consequences of waiting and suspense, and 'the masochist is insolent in his obsequiousness' (89) [and mocking the role of the father as we shall see].

There is an implicit criticism of contract theories of law and social relations as well, since laws exceed contracts between 2 individuals, and extend rights to others.  They are indeterminate.  We see the dilemmas in Masoch's actual contracts [examples of which are given in an appendix] which become increasingly strict, almost anticipating that the law will dilute them.  Again we see a caricature, an 'excess of zeal, the humorous acceleration of the clauses, and a complete reversal of the respective contractual status of man and woman' (92), a demystification of the contract that gives the woman ultimate power, even though it has been initiated by the victim.  This carried over into Masoch's politics, with a 'humorous attitude' to the revolutions of 1848 that suggested that a new Tsarina, a supreme female leader, should be installed by contract.

The victim gains from this contract, by excluding the father and giving the job of exercising the law to the mother.  This produces a reversal of the normal threat of castration.  When associated with mothers, 'it then makes incest possible and ensures its success' (93) [strange argument here which I do not entirely follow, apparently, the threat of castration by mothers involves the notion of a second birth which dispenses with the father's role altogether.  It also apparently explains the masochistic liking for '"interrupted love"'.  Certainly, the fantasy permits sexual activity as incest,  in fantasy anyway, and somehow as second birth -- as a non-Oedipal man? ]

It's easy to see how this will lead to ritual, as a part of fantasy [but not solidaristic ones as I had thought --they may have this Durkheimian role, of course].  Three kinds of rites appear in particular in Masoch's novels, associated with hunting, agriculture, and regeneration and rebirth, and these are tied to more specific elements: the fur is a trophy of the hunt, the sentimentality and fecundity links to agriculture, and rigor is associated with a regeneration [I'm probably missing something here because I have not read the actual novels, which are cited in support, 94 -97.  They seem to make this link in particular between pain and regeneration and rebirth, and how men need to be made through torture and ritual.  We're told later that interrupted love represents castration, [a much kinder representation] and far from being an obstacle to or punishment for incest, actually acts as a precondition of it, 100.  Apparently rebirth deprives sexuality of its genitality --so reborn as an exponent of the high aesthetic, almost reborn as a BwO -- hence the discussion of masochism in A Thousand Plateaus, of course].

Overall, masochism is a phenomenon of the senses in material terms, and a function of feeling or sentiment in moral terms.  There's also 'the superpersonal element' (101) which is about the triumphs of the oral mother, the abolition of the father, and the birth of the new man.  These themes appear not just in bodily masochism but in 'formal masochism' or  'dramatic masochism', which might emphasize particular aspects, material or sentimental for example.  Overall, 'the symbolic order of masochism' remains and specific contracts are contained within it.  Indeed, this modern form of sexuality 'corresponds to the oldest rites once enacted in the swamps and the steppes'(102).

Chapter IX consists of a detailed critical discussion of Freud's theories, especially on the connections between sadism and masochism.  Roughly, for Freud masochism arises when aggression against the father is turned upon the self, sometimes, involving either infantile fear, or feelings of guilt once the superego is formed.  However, this does not apply very well, since the involvement of the superego actually involves desexualization of aggression, as in the ideal resolution [sublimation?] of the Oedipus complex.  If anything, the superego is aggressive towards the ego, but this is not masochism.  Masochism resexualizes the ego, avoiding feeling guilty, but still wanting to be punished, as a means to achieving sexual gratification.  We also have to remember that masochistic pleasures resolve guilt but as a preparation for sexual pleasure.  We need some further material connection between erotic arousal and the particular link with pain.  Again this is not the same as sadistic interest in pain.  There's a necessary 'mechanism of projection through which an external agent is made to assume the role of the subject' (106), and this enables resexualization.  Freudian accounts would see masochists as wanting to identify with mothers and become sexual images for fathers, seeing that this would also involve necessary castration, so being beaten is an acceptable alternative.  The role of the mother is a kind of repressed homosexual choice.  However, these processes of projection actually  point to differences between masochists and sadists, even for Freudians.  There is a methodological criticism of Freudian theory here when it tries to reconcile the stories of sadists with those of masochists, which only produces a third story which is inadequate to explain either (108).  Another key difference in masochism is its formal and dramatic nature, and again this is a gap unexplained by Freudian synthesis.

Chapter X continues with a discussion of Freud on the death instinct.  It is preceded by considerable praise for Freud and his 'masterpiece' Beyond the Pleasure Principle.  For Freud, there are no exceptions to the pleasure principle, but there is something which falls outside it, something beyond it.  Philosophically speaking, we can argue that principles govern particular fields, but to argue that involves 'a second order principle, which accounts for the necessary compliance of the field with the empirical principle' (112).  That is implied necessarily in the claim that empirical life is dominated by pleasure and pain, but the normal pleasure principle cannot act as this transcendental one, cannot explain its own foundations.  Freud wants to invent some general notion of the 'binding of excitation' that takes particular forms, both an energetic and a biological component.  This sort of binding can be generalized into the pleasure principle, but, if so, it clearly involves the notion of repetition.  This repetition only involves the problem of foundation or ground again, however – how did it emerge?  What happened before the instant of the binding?  In a way, the notion of repetition points to something that eliminates it [something 'eternal', outside it or before it?].  Freud suggested something groundless preceded the ground, Thanatos, the [energetic]  eliminator.  This is confused in Freud's writing, however in its complexity, seeing repetition as both beneficial and demonic, eros and thanatos both as combined and as qualitatively separate (114).  Freud eventually develops a transcendental motion of synthesis to include what is before during and after a repetition.  In actual experience, repetition follows the principle, and we repeat what we found to be pleasurable or anticipate to be pleasurable.  At the philosophical level, however eros is always linked with thanatos, with thanatos supplying energy and eros binding it. 

This helps explain the important argument about the 'defusion of the instincts'(116) in Freud: how the ego and the superego connect in different ways to manage or desexualize.  This can bring about two results, one dominated by the narcissistic ego, a form of 'functional disturbances' the second demonstrating 'the power of thought in the superego', producing sublimation.  Both involve a certain liberation of erotic energy.  However, there might be a further alternative, Deleuze thinks, operating with a permanent split between ego and superego, and this is what Freud called the perversions.  They cannot be explained in terms of a simple functional disturbance.  Here there is considerable desexualization first, followed by resexualization, not sublimation, with sexual energy preserved in a different form.  The first process involves a necessary coldness, the apathy of the sadist or the fantasy of the masochist, with the latter as far more creative, involving even things like property or money.  The connection between pain and pleasure had never been understood before, and had been seen as some sort of pleasure for the gods, or as  enjoyable to a particular person who inflicts it or the one who suffers it, but this downplays the importance of the actual process of resexualization, whether this is ceaseless activity and accumulation in sadism, or suspense and freezing in masochism.  The pain should be understood as a manifest content of the perversion only, with far deeper pleasures like reiteration and destruction for Sade.  Repetition in Sade takes on a pleasure of its own, as an ideal in its own right, more important than just gaining pleasure in the conventional way.  Coldness is linked to comfort, but the connection with pain has to be thought out: pain 'has no sexual significance at all' (120) but represents the desexualization stage, liberating repetition, and leading to a resexualization of the pleasures of repetition.  'In sadism no less than in masochism there is no direct relation to pain: pain should be regarded as an effect only' (121).

Freudian accounts argue that the superego of the sadist is particularly weak, so it acts on others,
but the overwhelming superego in masochism turns it against the ego and not against the other.  However, if we actually look at masochism it's clear that the ego is 'only apparently crushed by the superego' (124).  Masochism actually involves 'insolence and humor…  Irrepressible defiance and ultimate triumph'.  The masochist uses an apparently weak ego to manipulate the female partner into playing the role.  It is probably the superego that is weak, and has to be projected onto the woman, externalized - but this is done only to make it derisory.  It is sadists that have overwhelming superegos that are so strong that they dominate identity, and have to find external egos,  running wild, expelling the person's own ego.  This is ironic in that deleuzian sense, because it is really his own ego which is projected outwards.  This explains the 'pseudo masochism' which we find in sadism and which offers superficial similarities.  Masochism is different: the superego remains but appears derisory.  In practice it has been disavowed.  Again the father is disavowed representing  'both genital sexuality and the superego as an agent of repression' (125).  This is humor for Deleuze, making the superego appear as a  precondition, but really reflecting 'a triumphant ego' (126).  Again this can appear as a 'pseudosadism'. 

The superego is still needed in sadism to keep destroying something outside of itself repetitively, somehow adding them up in order to 'transcendent towards an Idea of pure negation'(127), and this is precisely like the 'cold purity of thought in the superego', desexualization.  This is seen in the constant mixture of description of sexual activity with various speculative speeches and political statements in Sade.  In masochism disavowal leads instead to suspense directed at the 'incarnation of the ideal'.  The ego is not destroyed but suspended: its imagination remains and indeed is liberated instead of the negation of the sadist.  The superego is challenged, and urged to give birth to an ideal ego, one that's timeless and liberated from superego.  Castration is seen as important and relevant in this process.  However, disavowal like this is not just the form of imagination, but 'nothing less than the foundation of imagination, which suspends reality and establishes the ideal in the suspended world' (128).  What disavowal does is to desexualize in masochism.  Even the phallus is desexualized, by being transferred to the mother and becoming something that operates a neutral energy.  Rebirth here involves a '"new Man devoid of sexual love"'.

Overall, masochism offers a story about how the superego was destroyed and what happened afterwards.  The story is not always complete. In full, it starts with three women in myth and the triumph of the oral woman.  The individual himself intervenes by making a contract with a woman.  Father is rejected, especially his sexuality and his repressive authority, in favor of the contract.  Instead of an established superego, 'the institutional superego'(130), there is a contract between the ego and the oral mother.  Death is reimagined as second birth, parthenogenesis.  In the narcissistic ego proper, the mother stands for death more straightforwardly: there are also connections with Biblical stories about Eve and Cain,  Jesus and the virgin Mary, so there's also a notion of the death of god here.  In the masochistic variant, this leads to a resexualization so that pleasures can continue to be enjoyed. Sadism's story is different, relating how the ego is beaten and expelled, how the superego is therefore unrestrained and models itself on the father, how this activity of the superego does not lead to a moral character, but is turned up on the external victims who represent the rejected ego.  Elements of the thinking superego persist as in the writings of Sade himself.  Death assumes the notion of 'fearful thought'. 

There are a number of ways therefore to link violence and cruelty to sexual behavior, but one syndrome cannot be transformed into another.  In order to argue that both sadism and masochism are the same, we have to miss out some of the components, or even ignore differences between superego and ego, for example.  Common symptoms are identified, often using analogy and approximation.  Instead, symptoms should be treated as indications of several possible diseases.  In particular, 'it's necessary to read Masoch' (133).  Instead of offering an etiology, 'the scientific or experimental side of medicine', we should be doing symptomatology, 'its literary artistic aspect'[compare with the notion of a symptomatic reading in Althusser].  We must avoid 'splitting the semiological unity of a disturbance, or uniting very different disturbances under a misbegotten name, in a whole arbitrarily defined by non specific causes'(133-4).  Thus sadomasochism is 'a semiological howler'(134). 

The argument is summarized on page 134 as 11 propositions.  If we follow these we can see both  a clinical and literary differences between Sade and Masoch:

(1) sadism is speculative - demonstrative, masochism dialectical - imaginative; (2) sadism operates with the negative and pure negation, masochism with disavowal and suspension; (3) sadism operates by means of quantitative reiteration, masochism by means of qualitative suspense; (4) there is a masochism specific to the sadist and equally a sadism specific to the masochist, the one never combining with the other; (5) sadism negates the mother and inflates the father, masochism disavows the mother and abolishes the father; (6) the role and significance of the fetish and the function of the fantasy are totally different in each case; (7) there is an aesthticism in masochism, while sadism is hostile to the aesthetic attitude; (8) sadism is institutional, masochism contractual; (9) in sadism the superego and the process of identification play the primary role, masochism gives primacy to the ego and to the process of idealization; (10) sadism and masochism exhibit totally different forms of desexualization and resexualization; (11) finally, summing up all these differences, there is the most radical difference between sadistic apathy and masochistic coldness.

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