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literature

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

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Sadomasochistic Literature  
 
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Historical settings and stories of war are popular in gay male S/M fiction. For example, Aaron Travis's Slaves of the Empire (1992) charts the exploits of a fugitive gladiator and his slave boys. Charles Nelson's The Boy Who Picked the Bullets Up (1981) follows a medical corpsman in Vietnam.

Christ-like persecution themes, as in Paul Binding's Kingfisher Weather (1989) and Joseph Caldwell's In Such Dark Places (1978), are common, as are prison narratives such as Robert N. Boyd's Sex Behind Bars (1984). The best scatological writing includes Tides of Lust (1973) by the sci-fi writer Samuel R. Delany.

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The Master-Slave Relationship

One of the most frequently explored dimensions of S/M sexuality explored in gay fiction is the master-slave relationship. For example, in John Preston's notable novel His Entertainment for His Master (1986), an erotic theater is assembled for a select audience.

John Preston's Mister Benson

Preston's Mister Benson (1980), whose success was followed with a collection of energetic short stories I Once Had a Master (1984), is a classic of modern S/M fiction. The book was first serialized in Drummer magazine in the mid-1970s to great appeal and, unlike so much of underground S/M writing, is still available in print.

It charts a master-slave relationship between Aristotle Benson, a wealthy, educated topman and his younger slave Jamie, whose youth and inexperience literally enslave him to his master. The novel illustrates the ways in which S/M practice, as a theatrical force, can permeate the aesthetics of the novel.

The link between pleasure and pain and the eroticism associated with delayed gratification inform the narrative structure of the novel.

The novel opens with Jamie waiting around in a disappointingly "pseudo" leather bar for the "five longest minutes in [his] life." The reader is slavishly forced to join him as he impatiently waits for Mr. Benson, an authentic S/M master, to show interest in him. At the end of the novel, Mister Benson celebrates the transformative power of performance in S/M and the performative nature of S/M identity:

It seems to me that I've had a hand in creating this man who is now my slave/lover/brother/possession/recruit/masochist. He wasn't this person before me. He is something more since me. And there, as far as I'm concerned, is the magic of SM. The kid that was Jamie knew he had to change and he decided to trust me to change him.

As Mr. Benson and Jamie, top and bottom, become implicated in each other's sexual identity, the novel form finds itself aptly suited to describe the complex interrelationship between their S/M identities and desires. Jamie's sexual identity is dependent on the role he plays in Mr. Benson's dramatic scenarios. It remains, in short, a kind of fiction.

Experimental Fiction

The complex nature of S/M fantasy life has given rise to some remarkable experimental fiction such as Tim Barrus's novel Genocide (1988) and Aaron Travis's short story collection The Flesh Fables (1990).

Aaron Travis's The Flesh Fables

Like Preston, Travis explores the construction of sexual identity, but he does so in a sophisticated mixture of naturalistic chronicle and gothic fantasy that confuses the master-slave power dynamic. In stories such as "Blue Night," the polarized identities of sadist and masochist break down as the slave's submission becomes a way of asserting his power and masculinity.

As in much recent gay male S/M literature, masochism in "Blue Night" becomes the locus not of weakness but of power. By emphasizing the mutuality and interdependence of the S/M dynamic, masculinity is preserved for all participants as a sign of individual power and autonomy.

Less Positive Views of Sadomasochism

Of course, not all literature dealing with S/M celebrates its cathartic and redemptive powers. In many gay novels, sadistic pleasure is had at the expense of reciprocity, and masochism is viewed as a form of gay self-hatred and powerlessness.

Gay murder mysteries, such as Tony Fennelly's Glory Hole Murders (1985), often associate sadomasochism with deadly risk.

Dennis Cooper's Frisk (1991) comes at S/M from a critical standpoint exploring the permeable boundary between fantasy and reality, ecstasy and horror.

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