Sacher masoch

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journal of the theoretical humanities volume 9 number 1 april 2004

acher-Masoch (1835–95) was born in Lemberg, Galicia, and was of Spanish and Bohemian descent. His family held official positions in the Austro-Hungarian Empire; his father was director of police in Lemberg. The theme of the police will haunt the work of Masoch. But above all the problem of minorities (Jewish,Little-Russian, etc.) will be one of his principal sources of inspiration. Masoch participates in the grand tradition of German Romanticism. He conceived his work not as perverse, but as generic and encyclopedic: a vast cycle which was to constitute a natural history of humanity, under the general title The Legacy of Cain. Of the six envisaged parts (love, property, money, the state, war, death), only thefirst two were finished. But right from the beginning, love for Masoch could not be separated from a complex with cultural, political, social and ethnological elements. Masoch’s tastes in amorous matters are well known. Muscle appeared to him as an essentially feminine substance; he wanted the woman he was in love with to wear furs and carry a whip. This woman is never sadistic by nature; rather, sheis slowly persuaded and trained for her role. He wanted to be bound to her by a contract with precise clauses; one of these clauses, for instance, required him to dress up as a servant and take a new name. He had a desire for a third party to intervene between him and the woman he loved, and he acted to make this happen. Venus in Furs, his most famous novel, presents a detailed contract. Hisbiographer Schlichtegroll and Krafft-Ebing reproduced other examples of Masoch’s contracts (cf. Psychopathia Sexualis 238–40).2 It is Krafft-Ebing who, in 1869, will give the name of masochism to a perversion – to the great displeasure of Masoch himself. Sacher-Masoch was by no means an auteur maudit. He was honoured,


gilles deleuze translated by christian kerslake
feted and decorated. He was celebrated in ˆ France, receiving a triumphant reception and the Legion d’honneur, and was feted in the ´ ˆ Revue des Deux Mondes. But he died saddened by the neglect into which his work had fallen. • • • When one’s name is given, whether one likes it or not, to a disorder or disease, it is not so much that one is supposed to have invented it but that one has“isolated” the disease, distinguished it from cases with which it had up until then been confused, by determining and grouping the symptoms in a new and decisive manner. Aetiology depends first of all on good symptomatology. Symptomatological specificity is primary; the specificity of the causal agent is always sec-

ISSN 0969-725X print/ISSN 1469-2899 online/04/010125–09 © 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd andthe Editors of Angelaki DOI: 10.1080/0969725042000232441

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from sacher-masoch to masochism
ondary and relative. One might therefore regret that in the case of Masoch the specialists on masochism should be so little interested in the contents of his work. In general they are content with a symptomatology which is a lot less precise and a lot more confused than what can be found in Masochhimself. The unity that has been claimed for sadism and masochism has only multiplied the confusion. There as elsewhere, a poor determination of symptoms has led aetiology in unproductive and even inaccurate directions.3 Comparing the work of Masoch with that of Sade, one is struck by the impossibility of any encounter between a sadist and a masochist. Their milieus, their rituals are entirelydifferent; there is nothing complementary about their demands. Sade’s inspiration is first of all mechanistic and instrumentalist. Masoch’s is profoundly culturalist and aesthetic. It is when the senses take works of art for their objects that they become masochistic for the first time. It is through Renaissance paintings that the power and musculature of a woman wrapped in furs is revealed to...