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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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In Steve Abbot's Holy Terror (1989), a kind of gothic romance with some S/M themes, masochistic submission is linked to romantic love when the main character falls for eyes that say: "We know what you want even more than you do."

A cross between Nabokov's Lolita and Mann's Death in Venice, Gilbert Adair's Love and Death on Long Island (1980) is a witty expression of the impossibility of fulfillment, and the humiliations associated with passions for young boys.

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Sadistic erotic relationships between sons and real or imagined fathers permeate the gay novel. In Will Aitken's Terre Haute (1989), Jared McCarthy's father punishes him for masturbating to Physique magazine.

This association of older men and pain is a frequent theme in European novels. Neons, by the French writer Denis Belloc, tells the story of a young man whose father's death and his subsequent life with an abusive stepfather pattern his adult masochism.

Several well-known Spanish novels have also associated youth and masochism, including Juan Goytisolo's Forbidden Territory (1985) and Realms of Strife (1986) and Terenci Moix's The Weight of Straw (1990).

In Confessions of a Mask (1958), the well-known Japanese writer Yukio Mishima autobiographically depicts his youthful identification with St. Sebastian.

As one of the few American playwrights to write about S/M for the stage, Robert Chesley has devoted much of his work to criticizing S/M for reinforcing gay self-hatred. Night Sweat (1984), for example, is a frank argument against the masochistic thrust of much of gay life.

Lesbian Sadomasochism

Nowhere has the ideological content of S/M literature been more rigorously scrutinized than in the debates within radical feminism concerning the ascendancy of lesbian S/M.

With the founding in the late 1970s of Samois, a lesbian feminist S/M advocacy group, lesbian S/M has been on the defensive to distinguish its practices from the kinds of misogyny associated with male violence.

In volumes such as Against Sadomasochism (1982) and Unleashing Feminism (1993), radical feminists associated with the antipornography movement have argued that sadomasochistic activity among lesbians stems from and perpetuates violence against women. In this context, lesbian S/M literature is seen to recapitulate and reinforce the oppressive structures of patriarchal society.

The volume of lesbian S/M writing Coming to Power (1981) was a pioneering attempt to make a case for consensual S/M. The anti-S/M movement has consistently denied the possibility that consent between partners legitimizes acts that would otherwise be oppressive. It has argued that the kind of distance from patriarchy that true consent requires is unavailable to those who practice S/M.

Lesbian S/M literature, in its effort to combat the impression of false consciousness, has been extraordinarily innovative in finding ways of understanding S/M that are compatible with feminism.

Pat Califia

The most important lesbian S/M author is Pat Califia who has established herself as one of the most innovative of all S/M writers. The very act of writing S/M literature is, for Califia, a political gesture, a commitment to fighting onslaughts from both the right-wing and from antipornography feminists. An attack against those who try to ban or control knowledge of S/M, her fiction attempts to break the rules and stretch the boundaries of lesbian aesthetic practice.

Her short story collection Macho Sluts (1988), which includes the much-acclaimed story "The Calyx of Isis," includes nonlesbian scenarios as well as vanilla (non-S/M) sex. Her novel Doc and Fluff, which tells "the distopian tale of a girl and her biker," is a witty exploration of the difference between S/M practice and misogyny.

Unlike much of gay male S/M literature, Califia's fiction has responded to the AIDS crisis in positive and imaginative ways. Seeing herself as a kind of "tribal storyteller" intent on shattering S/M's reliance on well-worn "scenes," Califia never hesitates to make didactic statements concerning the role of trust, consent, honesty, and above all, imagination in lesbian sexuality. Literature, for Califia, is the best way for S/M to exert its own radical potential.

Artemis Oakgrove

As it does in much lesbian S/M fiction, goddess-worship makes its way into the light-hearted Doc and Fluff in the form of the High Priestess Raven. The goddess is a key figure in the notable novels of Artemis Oakgrove, the author of the trilogy The Raging Peace, Dreams of Vengeance, and Throne of Council (1984).

An eccentric piece of fantasy literature, Oakgrove's Throne trilogy contrasts sharply with her Nighthawk, a novel about "dangerous inner-city women" featuring a gang of black butches and a white slave girl.

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