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Nancy J. Holland WHAT GILLES DELEUZE HAS TO SAY TO BATTERED WOMEN I first remember being introduced to the concepts of sadism and masochism by ajoke my father (a psychologist) told: a sadist marries a masochist and, when they arrive at their honeymoon suite, the masochist describes in detail all the things the sadist should do, at which point the sadist replies, "You'd like that, wouldn't you?" There is a basic paradox here, which Gilles Deleuze accuses the joke of ignoring, but which I always understood it to be illustrating: "a genuine sadist could never tolerate a masochistic victim."1 A related paradox appeared in a series of articles in the April 1989 issue of Ms. magazine that dealt with the Hedda Nussbaum/Joel Steinberg case. While focusing on the undeniable fact that Nussbaum was a severely battered woman completely under the sway of the man who eventually beat their illegally adopted daughter to death, there was also a persistent suggestion that there was some relationship between this tragedy and sado-masochism. Indeed, one article was a confession of the author's own introduction to mild sado-masochism and experience of exploitation (although not clearly physical abuse) at the hands of a charming cocaine addict.2 Both Hedda Nussbaum herself and an alert reader tried to point out the problem in later letters: "Sadomasochism is a form of consensual sexual behavior from which both individuals receive gratification," the letter writer said, and to conflate it with battering is just another case of blaming the victim.3 What I will examine in this article is how the three themes of consent, pleasure, and victimization are interwoven in the traditional account of what is called sado-masochism. I will show one way in which that account is (mis)applied to the problem of battering, and how the three themes Philosophy and Literature, © 1993, 17: 16-25 Nancy J. Holland17 are separated into two distinct strands in Deleuze's recently rereleased work on masochism, "Coldness and Cruelty." Finally we shall see how this separation of sadism and masochism can help to develop a more accurate account of the third phenomenon ofbattering. In the first two sections I will focus, as Deleuze does, primarily on traditional texts and the literary works of Sade and Sacher-Masoch, and so will recapitulate the usual male, abstract focus of these discussions, albeit with a critical eye.4 In the last section, however, I will rely more on the Ms. articles on the Nussbaum/Steinberg case, as well as on personal experience, so the discussion there should become more woman-centered, if also more anecdotal. But I am convinced that theory is not an innocent player in this story and so the story cannot be untold without a theoretical exorcism of theory itself.5 What does "theory" tell us about sado-masochism? In "The Sexual Aberrations" in Three Essays on the Theory ofSexuality (1905), Freud notes that a distinction can be made in theory between "algolagnia," which refers to taking pleasure from pain (one's own or another's), on the one hand, and sadism and masochism, which also involve elements of subjection and humiliation, on the other. He then traces sadism back to the innate aggressiveness of male sexuality ("a desire to subjugate") and "the need for overcoming the resistance of the sexual object [i.e., a woman] by means other than the process of wooing," i.e., apparently, by raping her.6 One wonders what the reproductive utility of subjection and humiliation is supposed to be here, but, in any case, Freud clearly conceptualizes sadism as a natural instinct gone awry. He also notes that a "violent attitude to the sexual object [i.e., a woman]" is not really a perversion, that honorific being reserved for "cases in which satisfaction is entirely conditional on the humiliation and maltreatment ofthe object" (p. 48). Since it is in some sense "natural," sadism is the primary phenomenon , with masochism a secondary perversion in which sadism is, for several, generally Oedipal, reasons turned around on oneself. What especially intrigues Freud at this point in his thinking is the traditional belief that sado-masochism is a single phenomenon in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 16-25
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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