I was recently delighted to hear about an academic reading group on BDSM History (CARAS) in the USA, and excitedly joined. As many of you are aware this is an area I've been working in for years, undertaking original research and uncovering the original material wherever I can to bring it up from the "underground". Whether that's so-called forbidden books, artwork, letters and ephemera, beyond just the well-regarded and "classic" texts on BDSM (such as beyond Leopold von Sacher Masoch's Venus in Furs and Marquis de Sade's work for example which are already well-known of).
A few of those involved in leading the group are doggedly of the belief that masochism only came about with Leopold von Sacher-Masoch and Kraft-Ebing's term 'masochism'. Ignoring all other material to the contrary which pre-dates it by years and centuries, which are not included in the History of BDSM group, they locate masochism as if a highly specific historical phenomenon of its era. And while there are absolutely fascinating aspects to the era of 19th Century sexology, this is not where masochism as desire / psychology in people came about, but only the term "masochism" was coined for "it". (Just as Troth's Knavery of Astrology (1680) tells us that there is "a neat invention of flogging..." - it's not that flogging was only invented in 1680, but rather the term. Nor did Miley Cyrus invent bum dancing with her 2013 MTV Awards twerking, and one could look at New Orleans 1980s bounce music scene twerking or much further back to other "bum dances" in time.)
One can only hold such a position of masochism only existing from 19th Century if one regards only the "classic texts" of major male figures, and ignores all else. There are plenty of materials that evidence it is not a historically specific phenomenon only invented by Kraft-Ebing (Psychopathia Sexualis, 1886) from Masoch by his book 'Venus in Furs' (1870).
While I would agree that the term "masochism" and the book by Sacher-Masoch were influential on how those with particular desires and psychologies INTERPRETED / FRAMED their own desires, it didn't invent the desire/psychology but only the name it and frame it in a particular way.
Indeed I would argue that the psychiatrist and popular definition of masochism focus and skew on particular elements which misinterpret or misdefine what for me are the important characteristics of the psychology/desire.
HOW MASOCHISM DEFINITION MIS-DEFINED / MISUNDERSTOOD "IT"
From 12 years of professional and lifestyle exploration of the topic, and from now large scale survey data gathered from participants, keep bringing me back again and again to the pressing and impressing of weight, and overpowering / beating down / subjugating / piercing / rebuking with various specificities to the forms wanted by some to recreate the "thing" that made such impression on them in the first place (usually in childhood).
Hence my preference to now use a term "thew" in my new book (in progress):
noun - a bondsman, a slave, a servant
From Middle English thewen, from Old English þēowan, þȳwan
"to press, impress, force, press on, urge on, drive, press with a weapon, thrust, pierce, stab, threaten, rebuke, subjugate, overpower, crush, push, oppress, check", from Proto-Germanic*þewjaną ("to enslave, oppress"), from Proto-European *tūk- (“to beat”). Cognate with Old High German dūhen (“to press, press down”), Middle Dutch duwen, douwen (“to push, press, force”).
The pressing / impressing nature and enjoyment of weight (whether by physical body weight, impact play, trampling, strangulation etc) is well-conceived of by Leopold von Sacher Masoch himself in his invocation of the anvil. The person receiving is subject to the hammer (as-metaphor) coming at them.
Interestingly, fascinatingly, they (so-called) "masochists" do not merely "take it", the inertia of the anvil rebounds transferring energy. Time and time again in professional sessions and in writing by masochists, they talk of the action and reaction. Action-and-reaction. Listen to the words they write - they are telling us something.
ANVIL METAPHOR: Force applied - Action-and-reaction
The "clues" then were all there, in Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 'Venus in Furs', but they were also there in numerous other materials predating him. However what fascinated psychiatrists was the apparent perversity of someone enjoying pain, (which goes against the "pleasure principle") and this became the inordinate (over) focus - on pain.
What didn't get enough weight of consideration, in my view:
* Piercing / stabbing (with penetration / punctuation effect)
Let's listen again to the words of Sacher-Masoch, he writes:
"I became aware first of the mysterious affinity between cruelty and lust, and then of the natural enmity and hatred between the sexes which is temporarily overcome by love, only to reappear subsequently with elemental force, turning one of the partners into a hammer and the other into an anvil."
(Emphasis my own, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch "Choses Vecues" Revue Bleue, 1888; reproduced in Masochism 1991 Zone Books, New York, p.276)
He's trying to tell you of the ELEMENTAL FORCE, and you dear theorists and psychiatrists are not listening.
The metaphorical (and I want to say universal ) masochist, or "thew" in my wording, perceives the powerful object/other and challenges them or bumps them to:
Do me. Thew me. Squish me. Crush me. Whip me. Hit me. Cane me. Trample me. Strangle me. Squish me. Torture me. Tease me. Pierce me. Fuck me. Spit on me. Rebuke me. Crush me. Ravish me. Vanquish me.
Some with particular specificity which goes to the original childhood impression characteristics, the original "ravissement". (Do it like this,
on me.) Other masochists more flexible in method of "thewen".
I came to this word today, frustratingly trying to refocus you on the "bit" that matters, to explain it to you (the hostile academic who believe in 19th Century masochism).
I didn't want to use just the term "trauma" as it's loaded and interpreted and associated with negative experience and with damage. It's not that this isn't true or possible but there is Wonder also, something that came through our daily existence; like a meteor shower streaming through the sky - streaming and sublime - that impacts - and leaves a crater(s) and fall-out.
And depending on where you put your focus; wondrous and/or sublimely powerful / destructive, changing the landscape of your life.
I played with word possibilities - discounted choosing "trauma", considered the term "peak experience"(s), and immediately I then went to "ravissement", in French. And it fit like a jigsaw puzzle piece, clicked together.
The word came to me from Marguerite Duras and her book "
Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein" (which I have only read in English).
Was "ravissement" used by my French slaves or masochists ever in session in Paris in late 2009-2010 era? I don't know and quite possibly, I don't want to discount that possibility.
I have just reordered the English out-of-print Duras book to remind myself of that moment and how it is portrayed by Duras for Lol Stein. I was going to write to explain it is not a BDSM moment, of a couple kissing at a ball - the character's partner for the ball night and it's effect on her, frozen and in ravissement, but then I realised it "IS" a BDSM moment. Shit it is (mind my language). It's an emotional cuckolding.
Action de ravir, d'enlever de force.
Fait d'être ravi transporté au ciel.
Le ravissement de saint Paul.
The action of "ravir" verb - to delight, to enchant, to wrest (from wrestle), to enrapture, to entrance, to rejoice, to rape, to torture, to abduct, to bereave, to elate.
Image: Ravissement de Proserpine (
1708-1733) Etching after François Girardon published by Bernard Picard, British Museum #
Remove all positive or negative connotations from this and approach all the terms with open mind and neutrality and pause to judgment.
Pause there in this place.
You are now - paused - in masochist potential. (By all means correlating with Reik "suspense factor" cited in Deleuze "Coldness and Cruelty" p.75, and Deleuze discussion of frozen quality and suspense on p.34.)
And to add in religion, and you are now transported to the sky.
(Call that sub-space if you wish - call that what you like. Described by different people in different cultures and different eras, describing the same thing.)
This is why the stories retold by masochists involve elemental force of ravissement effect in a childhood (often) experience:
A disciplinarian school punishment caning. A domestic discipline punishment by a parental or other figure. A sexual assault. A schoolyard physical / verbal / psychological bullying. A sister and her friends stomping / trampling. A caught in utter humiliation. A cuckolding. A medical operation experience. Teasing and denigration of having a small penis. And so on.
A further point.... The submissive is moved in this experience to bow down to authority and contemplate the wondrous power and submit to the sublime powerful figure-of-force, in generalised terms.
The masochist - remember though - is the anvil. Saying bring it on, do your worst, and bounces back energy force, action-and-reaction. (Consider fight-flight-freeze + deflect
In a a variety of individual dynamic relations which vary by person and inter-personal dynamic - whether bratting, smart arse, sassing, (mock) resisting, swearing, provoking, encouraging more of the elemental force:
"Whip me, I beg of you, it's a joy to me!"... "hurt me in earnest", "if you love me be cruel to me".
(Leopold von Sacher Masoch 'Venus in Furs' (1870) and in my edition Masochism 2013 New York, Zone Books p.186)
And as I looked to find the former passage, beside it on the adjoining page unexpectedly as I didn't recall it, p.187 of Venus in Furs
"her cruelty fills me with rapture".
x Anne O Nomis
Date of essay / blog post: Tuesday 10th August 2021
Acknowledgments to the CARAS group and the academic claimed "invention of masochism" by Masoch & Kraft-Ebing, and open hostility to my work in the 7 am Sunday my time class and ignoring all the pre-Masoch era artifacts, writings, ephemera & artwork. This is my perhaps masochist anvil return serve of energy force. Wink.
To summarise: The term "masochism" merely put a term to a thing which long-existed and been a specialization of the Dominatrix craft profession. And in my view the framing of "masochist" as defined overly-focused on pain rather than weight / elemental force and rebounding energy proposed in the anvil and fight-fight-freeze options the technical "deflect" of taking energy coming at them and bouncing it back. And masochist discussion also often misses the significance of the "ravissement" state.