Perversion in Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty

To understand the way Deleuze thinks about perversion is to understand the specificity he sees in masochism—its difference from sadism. It is to understand how he reads Masoch from the critical point of view, showing that Masoch takes the phantasm as a genuine double of the world and how literature therefore arises as its ideal realisation. Sade creates a literature of reason, of the cold thought where rigorous demonstrations show that reasoning itself is violence, that demonstration itself is violence. Obscene descriptions give the sadistic the power of showing themselves apathetically all-powerful. Masoch is the inventor of the phantasm, the author of the imagination that multiplies the denials as a proceeding of his art of suspense. He denies reality in order to incarnate, in suspense, the dialectic ideal phantasmé. He proceeds by multiplication of the denial as an ascending path towards the intelligible. He creates pedagogical trials of initiation to this path in order to reach his ideal. Sade’s obscene language and detailed description, on the one hand, and Masoch’s suspense and suggestive setting, on the other, both serve to conjugate literature and sexuality—this is, both clinical and critical plans.

Among Deleuze’s work, Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty has perhaps the most clinical literary approach, in which critical aspects cannot be understood without their clinical mirror. This book is an experience of reading the art of the novel as a perverse affair. Deleuze always considers Sade and Masoch to be major writers, so literature becomes a thought on the world’s epiphanies and novelistic configurations. In this book, for the first time, Deleuze gives a clinical function to artistic creation and takes a writer as an example of the intrinsic link between literature and life, of what he will say lately: literature as a health affair. And all the analysis of Masoch’s and Sade’s literature is done within a conception of the phantasm as dark precursor.

Life Must First Imitate Matter

This is a small exhibition of sculptural experiments-in-progress in mixed media, including phosphorescent honey, paper, and plaster. The works touch on the themes of double affirmation and “couples and coupling” in the thought of Deleuze by focusing on two of his “cold creatures of resentment,” Ariadne and Venus.

Both Venus and Ariadne are identified with astrological phenomena. Transits of Venus are among the rarest of predictable astronomical phenomena, the last one occurred on 5 June 2012. In mythological accounts, Ariadne’s crown is set as the small constellation of stars, Corona Borealis, visible in the Northern Celestial Hemisphere. My small experiments trace the intricate pattern of Venus transiting the sun, as well as Ariadne’s metamorphosis into a constellation of stars—her luminous rebirth of “perpetual virginity.”

Deleuze describes how Masoch’s Venus initiates a flow of desire, characterised by waiting and suspense becoming a plenitude of “physical and spiritual intensity.” Images thicken and slow. They gather as frozen reflections in the tain of a mirror or lens. In the frozen silence of the steppe and other geographic and celestial cartographies, “woman and animal become indiscernible.” Bringing these two ideas together one might think of Mallarmé, who describes “a quarrelsome and agonising frame, of a mirror hung up in the back (of a room), with its reflection, stellar and incomprehensible, of the Ursa Major,” a constellation depicted as a bear in celestial cartographies. The mirror forms the zone of indiscernibility between human, animal, and stellar anatomies as reflected in the linguistic structure of the sonnet itself. Matter reflects life as life reflects art.

In another night sky, Ariadne’s lament of abandonment dissolves into lightness as she draws closer to Dionysus. The architectural burden, of carrying and bearing the weight of Theseus’s labyrinth, gives way to the radiant and sonorous labyrinth of Dionysus. Ariadne acquires “small ears: the round ear, propitious to the eternal return.” The labyrinth becomes the ear, the circle, a ritornello, or a ring of shimmering stars. Venus and Ariadne offer a techne that functions as a practice for living. While a wound or misfortune embodied is not always visible, the opposite is true for the “splendour and brightness which dry up misfortune.” If we understand the “splendour and magnificence” of the event as the luminous yet mysterious moment of “the immaculate conception,” as Deleuze writes in The Logic of Sense, then we see that life is not something that happens accidentally to us. When purely expressed, the event “signals and awaits us” as one might imagine a pregnancy to come, the unborn, as it were. Untangled from their own suffering and resentment, Ariadne and Venus become regenerating organisms, perpetually affirming the potentiality of life. This is their luminous style, their “great and rare art.”

By mapping Ariadne and Venus through the thought of Deleuze, I experiment through art, exploring how following a thread of light, a flow or movement of matter, a vibration or trembling, one may discover patterns, rhythms, and velocities for living.