Masochism, Sexual Freedom, and Radical Democracy: A Hermeneutic Study of Sadomasochism in Psychoanalytic, Sociological, and Contemporary Texts
Ramsour, Paul J.
This dissertation is a genealogical examination of the construction, representation, and disputation surrounding the meaning of sexual acts identified under the rubric of sadomasochism. I argue for an enlargement and expansion of the question, "What is masochism and what it means" and suggest that the polysemic text of contemporary S/M be accorded a measure of interpretive understanding in the light of a liberal, humanistic, and democratic notion of sexual freedom. The analysis begins with the descriptions of masochistic and sadistic behaviors initially identified and portrayed within the discourses of psychoanalysis and criminology. I argue that the disparate and distinct literatures and behaviors of masochism and sadism make the struggle for consensus about meaning nearly impossible. The study therefore proceeds with the analysis focussing primarily on texts (both literary and social) in which the operative category is masochism. The genealogy then advances to evaluation of mid 20th century attempts by various sociologists to establish the meaning of masochism, concentrating chiefly on the practice of S/M among gay men. Social science begins to direct attention away from exclusively pathological behavior, instead investigating those who incorporate S/M practice into well-adjusted personality patterns. Through participation in safe, non-coercive, mutually satisfying S/M practice, the complementary goals of social affiliation and erotic pleasure are shown to be achieved. In the final section I analyze and critique descriptions of the progression of masochism into a fully realized, though fragmented and decentralized assemblage of movements in the contemporary gay male milieu. Finally, I suggest that this search for affiliation and transcendence within contracted limits be granted as much tolerance and understanding within the tradition of radical democratic freedom as are other more traditional forms of sexual expression.