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literature

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Sadomasochistic Literature  
 
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Both the medieval traditions of Christian asceticism and Renaissance erotic writings, such as Antonio Rocco's Alcibiades the Schoolboy, were often permeated with sadomasochistic motifs.

Although the French Enlightenment produced the writings of the Marquis de Sade, Victorian London one hundred years later produced the notorious novel Teleny. Twentieth-century French writers, such as Georges Bataille and Jean Genet, explored homosexual S/M themes in influential ways.

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Pauline Reage's The Story of O (1954) made a great impact on lesbian erotic writing, and in fact, today's most influential lesbian S/M organization, Samois, gets its name from the estate of Anne-Marie, the lesbian dominatrix who pierces O and brands her.

The American writer William S. Burroughs in works such as Naked Lunch (1959) crafted a style that combines fantasy and chronicle to document the male and drug cultures of the 1950s. Burroughs gained a lasting literary reputation and made a marked impact on the style of S/M literature in the following decades.

The American Leather Scene

The history of what may be properly termed lesbian and gay sadomasochistic literature is inextricably linked to the history of the American leather scene. The first male leather bar opened in New York in 1955, and the scene grew in fits and starts until around 1970, when the explosion of the bar scene meant that S/M could became a lasting component of gay and lesbian cultural practices.

As readers of Denis Medoc, Gerard Reve, Aldo Busi, and Yukio Mishima can attest, S/M practice and its literature is very much an international phenomenon. Its roots, however, and its most influential manifestations have been American.

Although S/M writing includes drama and poetry, it is as fiction, erotic fiction in particular, that S/M literature has had its greatest success and impact.

Gay Male Writers since the 1970s

Gay male writers have been extraordinarily prolific in S/M literature especially since the 1970s, which saw a veritable boom in underground and above-ground S/M publishing, much of it having to do with the emerging leather scene.

Eliot George's The Leather Boys (1961), William Carney's The Real Thing (1968), and Terry Andrews's The Story of Harold (1974) were three of the earliest novels to explore the lifestyles of the first generations of leathermen. Dirk Vanden's I Want it All (1969) was the first book in a series to document the emerging leather community in San Francisco.

These works helped pave the way for an entire industry of leatherman fiction and erotica. John Rechy's Rushes (1979) is one of the most serious and tough-minded attempts to examine the New York leather scene of the 1970s. More recently, Bill Lee has followed in the tradition of Dirk Vanden by charting San Francisco's leatherman scene in Rogues of San Francisco (1993) and other books.

Some of the best pornographic fiction to come out of the leatherman tradition is by Tim Barrus whose Mineshaft (1984), like Leo Cardini's Mineshaft Nights (1970) before it, describes sexual exploits in the infamous New York S/M palace of the same name.

Phil Andros's Different Strokes (1986) and Jack Fritscher's Stand By Your Man (1987) are two of the best erotic short story collections in this vein.

Larry Townsend is perhaps the most widely read writer of leatherman erotica. His landmark The Leatherman's Handbook (1972) and its subsequent revisions have received wide circulation and interest. Townsend is considered to be one of the most reliable sources for leatherman fiction. Helping to bring S/M out from the underground, Townsend founded his own publishing company that met with success with Dream Master and Other SM Stories (1992).

Characteristics of Leather Fiction

With scenes of bondage and discipline, submission and dominance, leather fiction is a theater of high risk, mastery, and triumph. From pulp porn to the sophisticated novel, the actions most often depicted include whipping, body piercing, tattooing, scarification, hanging, electric shocking, stretching on racks, mouth gagging, imprisonment, suffocation, shaving, burning, clamping, fisting, and bootlicking.

More so than pain, it is suffering that provides the drama for these behaviors that serve as expressions of powerlessness for the player in the bottom role and of power for the top.

The role-playing that is so fundamental to S/M sexual life makes its way into gay S/M fiction as well. Familiar "scenes" have traditionally included warrior-captive, sergeant-private, executive-employee, horse-rider, parent-child, teacher-student, priest-penitent, and doctor-patient.

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