Perversion in Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty

Catarina Pombo Nabais


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.


about the author(s)

Catarina Pombo Nabais

Catarina Pombo Nabais received a PhD in philosophy from Université Paris VIII, Vincennes—Saint-Dennis, with the thesis “L’Esthétique en tant que Philosophie de la Nature: le Concept de Vie chez Gilles Deleuze. Pour une Théorie Naturelle de l’Expréssivité. Regards sur la Littérature” (2007), under the supervision of Jacques Rancière. She is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre of Philosophy of Science of University of Lisbon (CFCUL), was Head of the CFCUL Science and Art FCT Research Group from 2008 to 2014, and since 2014 is Head of the CFCUL Science-Art-Philosophy LAB. She is the author of Deleuze: Philosophie et littérature (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2013).

info & contact


University of Lisbon, PT


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