Most of this is the usual Paglian absurdity, ideological grudges and self-promotion, but she does make a few good points about history and context in the academic study of BDSM.
…Despite its defects, this book [Playing on the Edge: Sadomasochism, Risk, and Intimacy ] contains tantalizing possibilities for a more flexible approach to gender studies. At times, [Staci] Newmahr uses theater metaphors like “social scripts,” derived from Erving Goffman, the great Canadian-American sociologist whose work in such pioneering books as The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life(1959) was one of Foucault’s primary and deviously unacknowledged sources. Newmahr intriguingly describes SM as “improvisational theater,” where “observers drift from scene to scene” and where the performers must act as if the audience is not there.…[Danielle J.] Lindemann [in Dominatrix: Gender, Eroticism, and Control in the Dungeon ] should have investigated the genre of performance art as it developed from the 1960s and 70s on (thanks to Joseph Beuys, Yoko Ono, Eleanor Antin, and Bowie), which would have given her a superb cultural analogue. She notes pro-dommes’ ability to “create environments” and separately draws a very striking parallel to the Stanislavski theory of actors’ total identification with their characters…
All three books under review betray a dismaying lack of general cultural knowledge—most crucially of so central a work as Pauline Réage’s infamous novel of sadomasochistic fantasy, The Story of O, which was published in 1954 and made into a moody 1975 movie with a groundbreaking Euro-synth score by Pierre Bachelet. The long list of items missing from the research backgrounds and thought process of these books is topped by Luis Buñuel’s classic film Belle de Jour (1967), in which Catherine Deneuve dreamily plays a bored, affluent Parisian wife moonlighting in a fetish brothel. Today’s formalized scenarios of bondage and sadomasochism belong to a tradition, but poststructuralism, with its compulsive fragmentations and dematerializations, is incapable of recognizing cultural transmission over time.
These three authors have not been trained to be alert to historical content or implications. For example, they never notice the medieval connotations of the word “dungeon” or reflect on the Victorian associations of corsets and French maids (lauded even by Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell). It never dawns on Weiss to ask why a San Francisco slave auction is called a “Byzantine Bazaar,” nor does Newmahr wonder why the lumber to which she is cuffed for flogging is called a “St. Andrew’s cross.”
To analyze the challenging extremes of contemporary sexual expression, one would need to begin in the 1790s with Sade, Gothic novels, and the Romantic femme fatale, who becomes the woman with a whip in Swinburne’s poetry and Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings and turns into the vampires and sphinxes of late-19th-century Symbolist art, leading directly to movie vamps from Theda Bara to Sharon Stone. And where is Weimar Berlin in these three books? Christopher Isherwood’s autobiographical The Berlin Stories, set in a doomed playground of sexual experimentation and decadent excess, was transformed into a play, a musical, and a major movie, Cabaret (1972), which has had a profound and enduring cultural influence (as on Madonna’s videos and tours). The brilliant Helmut Newton, born in Weimar Berlin, introduced its sadomasochistic sensibility and fetish regalia to high-fashion photography, starting in the 1960s. Weimar’s sadomasochism and transvestism as portrayed in Luchino Visconti’s film The Damned (1969) helped inspire British glam rock. Nazi sadomasochism was also memorably re-dramatized by Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling in Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter (1974).
Where is the Velvet Underground? The menacing song “Venus in Furs,” based on Sacher-Masoch’s novel, was a highlight of the group’s debut 1967 album. On tour with the Velvets that same year, Mary Woronov did a dominatrix whip dance with the poet Gerard Malanga in Andy Warhol’s psychedelic multimedia show, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Other SM motifs have woven in and out of pop music: a brutal bondage billboard on Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip for the Rolling Stones’ 1976 album, Black and Blue, was taken down after fierce feminist protests; dominatrix gear and attitude were affected onstage by Grace Jones, Prince, Pat Benatar, and heavy-metal “hair” groups like Mötley Crüe.
I was very disappointed to see Xaviera Hollander go unmentioned. That vivacious Dutch madame’s feisty memoir, The Happy Hooker (1971), detailing her bondage and fetish services, sold 15 million copies worldwide. But there is no excuse whatever for the absence in these books of Tom of Finland, whose prolific drawings of priapic musclemen formed the aesthetic of gay leathermen following World War II. And the most shocking omission of them all: Tom’s devotee, Robert Mapplethorpe, whose luminous homoerotic photos of the sadomasochistic underworld sparked a national crisis over arts funding in the 1980s…
In the west, Apollo and Dionysus strive for victory. Apollo makes the boundary lines that are civilization but that lead to conven tion, constraint, oppression. Dionysus is energy unbound, mad, callous, destructive, wasteful. Apollo is law, history, tradition, the dignity and safety of custom and form. Dionysus is the new, exhilarating but rude, sweeping all away to begin again. Apollo is a tyrant, Dionysus is a vandal.