- In the Name of Love: Women. Masochism, and the Gothic
Michelle A. Massé's In the Name of Love: Women, Masochism, and the Gothic is a response to two questions posed explicitly—Are Gothic novels masochistic? and "Why do feminists still use Freud?"—as well as to two implicit questions—What is the etiology of masochism? and What is the prognosis?
To Massé, certain Gothic texts "internalize and replicate the dynamics of oppression": Pauline Réage's The Story of O and Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca present "object relations that reproduce the beating triangle" in Freud's "A Child Is Being Beaten." (Even their readers become complicit.) Other Gothic texts such as Jane Eyre, Atwood's Lady Oracle, and Naylor's Linden Hills resist masochism by playing out the trauma caused by the prohibition of female autonomy (and therefore of identity in the real world), through repetition whose function it is to recognize that trauma. The Gothic can be self-sabotaging: it points to its own eventual cure. The answer, then, to Massé's first question is yes, only if we grant that works that repudiate "masochistic fantasy" are masochistic.
Massé assumes that masochism is a cultural construction, produced primarily by Western culture's gender arrangements (which the Gothic reflects, shapes, and resists). She is admirably determined to show that "women are taught masochism through fiction and culture," that "masochism's causes are external and real," and that individual masochistic psychodramas are "part of a larger cultural production of discipline and punishment." Yet, even as she blasts Freud for constructing the female fantasy in "A Child Is Being Beaten" in a way that feminizes masochism, Massé employs Freud's beaten/beater/ spectator triangle as her paradigm of a masochistic economy to test out which of the three positions Gothic heroines occupy. For psychoanalysis "helps us to understand the Gothic's emphasis upon masochism as a key issue in feminine identity." We might be tempted to think that Massé relies on Freud because he passes along useful (albeit misogynistically contaminated) cultural paradigms. But Massé also regards "the linkage of love and dominance" as "psychological" and reiterates Jacqueline Rose's warning against a lopsided stress on the social at the expense of the psychic (which Rose of course regards as constitutively violent)—all of which implies an etiology distinct from her strenuously made cultural construction argument.
Vaguely conflating women at varying levels of suffering, Massé wants "us" to realize that we "might awaken some day from the Gothic nightmare that is our own as well as our culture's." She seeks the abolition of sadomasochistic hierarchies; to this end she presents her study as a contribution to understanding, [End Page 995] in Jessica Benjamin's words, "how domination is anchored in the hearts of the dominated." But the formidable question of domination's appeal remains unanswered, if not unanswerable: for one thing Massé does not address sufficiently the challenging, complicating, crucially relevant issue of desire. Packed with useful references (I picked up a wealth of information from this study, for which I am grateful to Massé), and at many points captivating, In the Name of Love confused me conceptually in ways that precluded my fullest engagement.