Masochism and literature, with reference to selected literary texts from Sacher-Masoch to Duras
The introductory section of the thesis puts forward a view of the usefulness of the concept of masochism in studying literature, arguing that the tendency has been inadequately formulated by psychoanalytic theory. It refers to debates within gay studies, feminism, psychoanalysis and literary studies to contextualise the argument of the thesis. The first chapter analyses Freud's key essay on masochism, 'The Economic Problem of Masochism' (1924) and appraises other theoretical contributions which have discussed the relation of masochism to artistic creativity. It goes on to critique the feminist view of women's masochism as reflecting patriarchal relations, and examines Jungian perspectives which focus on the notion of an imitatio Christi. Chapter two contrasts a Christian view of suffering with that of psychoanalysis. It examines Simone Weil's life and ideas in the light of a sublimatory or moral masochism, and looks at the 'agonic' thought of Unamuno. The historical moment at which the term masochism was coined is the focus of the opening part of chapter three. Sacher-Masoch's novel Venus in Furs is analysed, referring to Deleuze's commentary which emphasises the death instinct. Sacher-Masoch's untranslated novel, Die Seelenfängerin, is also discussed. Chapter four deals with Michel Leiris's L'age d'homme, analysing the central themes of masculinity, the risk inherent in literary creativity and the sacred element in masochistic self-exposures. The final chapter on works by Marguerite Duras examines a novella, L'homme assis dans le couloir, describing the process of reading as a form of masochistic introjection. It then looks at La douleur to focus on a masochistic, feminine rite of passage. A discussion of La maladie de la mort locates a shattered solitude within masochistic desire. The thesis concludes by proposing a more nuanced dialogue between psychoanalysis and literature, by emphasising the importance of an exploratory women's writing, and suggesting the need for a more consciously masochistic body politic.