Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Deleuze's "Masochism" and the Heartbreak of 'Waiting.'

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Deleuze's "Masochism" and the Heartbreak of 'Waiting.'

Article excerpt

Gilles Deleuze's theory of masochism insightfully illuminates Ha Jin's novel Waiting; at the same time, Jin's novel indicates a problem with Deleuze's fairly rigid separation of masochism and sadism. This essay argues that Waiting supports Deleuze's position, but also that Deleuze's theory needs to be further developed and refined.

In his lengthy essay "Coldness and Cruelty," Gilles Deleuze explores the phenomenon of masochism. Deleuze objects that philosophers have paid much attention to the Marquis de Sade and his writing but have virtually ignored Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, presuming that a familiarity with Sade's writings will also inform us about masochism. This is not the case, Deleuze argues, and Sacher-Masoch's writings make this clear, both in their portrayal of masochism and by means of their distinct style. Deleuze's "Coldness and Cruelty" is published together with Sacher-Masoch's novel Venus in Furs. (1) In "Coldness and Cruelty," Deleuze attacks the common assumption that sado-masochism is a unitary phenomenon; to the contrary, he puts forward a theory of the distinctiveness of masochism. In this essay, I support Deleuze's insistence on the specificity of masochism; additionally, however, I show that the novel Waiting by Ha Jin reveals the sadistic tendency that inheres in masochism. In Deleuze's view, the "theatre of masochism" is distinct; it entails specific scenarios. But constructing such scenarios involves control and domination, and therein emerge the violations characteristic of sadism--the very violations that Deleuze considers incompatible with masochism.

"Coldness and Cruelty" systematically refutes the idea that sadism and masochism are intertwined, or even that they are two sides of the same coin. Deleuze is here consistent with the anti-Hegelian position he takes in many of his other works (for example, Nietzsche and Philosophy), where he strongly opposes notions of opposites interacting to form dialectical syntheses. Deleuze insists on the absolute autonomy of masochism and sadism. He cites the--in his view stupid--joke about the masochist who says to the sadist "hurt me" and the sadist who--of course--says "no." Deleuze insists that a masochist would never seek a sadist; neither would a sadist look for a masochist. A masochist seeks not an actual sadist or even someone who acts like a sadist, but someone who will complement his desire. Masochism and sadism themselves are not complementary. Masochism constitutes a realm unto itself, with corresponding figures, props, and processes. In Deleuze's view, masochism and sadism are mutually exclusive and, at the same time, asymmetric. Deleuze argues against Sigmund Freud's and Theodor Reik's views that masochism is sadism turned against oneself, and that sadism is masochistic insofar as the sadist identifies with the victims. The conglomerate "sado-masochism" is a pseudo-phenomenon, in Deleuze's view, one that stems from sloppy thinking. Sado-masochism may sometimes be observed, he acknowledges, but it is not a condition; rather, it is a vague symptom of something more precise. One would be similarly mistaken, Deleuze argues, to regard fever as itself an illness rather than an indication that an illness is present and yet to be determined.

The goal of Deleuze's "Coldness and Cruelty" is to explicate the specifics of (male) masochism. Whereas a sadist seeks to violate his victims repeatedly, and to violate them over and over again, a masochist seeks the "perfect" person--according to Deleuze, the perfect woman (contrary to many of his other works, Deleuze here presumes heterosexuality) whom he can fashion into his ideal partner. The masochist attempts to form this perfect partner by forging an alliance with her through a contractual agreement. An entire context must be constructed in order for masochistic practice to unfold. Deleuze writes: "There is no specifically masochistic fantasy, but rather a masochistic art of fantasy" (72). …

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