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Sensational Flesh

Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochism

Amber Jamilla Musser
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Sensational Flesh
    Book Description:

    In everyday language, masochism is usually understood as the desire to abdicate control in exchange for sensationpleasure, pain, or a combination thereof. Yet at its core, masochism is a site where power, bodies, and society come together.Sensational Fleshuses masochism as a lens to examine how power structures race, gender, and embodiment in different contexts.Drawing on rich and varied sourcesfrom 19th century sexology, psychoanalysis, and critical theory to literary texts and performance artAmber Jamilla Musser employs masochism as a powerful diagnostic tool for probing relationships between power and subjectivity. Engaging with a range of debates about lesbian SandM, racialization, femininity, and disability, as well as key texts such as Sacher-MasochsVenus in Furs, Pauline RagesThe Story of O, and Michel Foucault'sHistory of Sexuality, Musser renders legible the complex ways that masochism has been taken up by queer, feminist, and critical race theories. Furthering queer theorys investment in affect and materiality, she proposes sensation as an analytical tool for illustrating what it feels like to be embedded in structures of domination such as patriarchy, colonialism, and racism and what it means to embody femininity, blackness, and pain.Sensational Fleshis ultimately about the ways in which difference is made material through race, gender, and sexuality and how that materiality is experienced.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-9140-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction: Theory, Flesh, Practice
    (pp. 1-30)

    MASOCHISM IS A powerful diagnostic tool. Usually understood as the desire to abdicate control in exchange for sensation—pleasure, pain, or a combination thereof—it is a site where bodies, power, and society come together in multiple ways. It can signal powerlessness, domination, or ambivalence depending on one’s point of view. As such, masochism allows us to probe different ways of experiencing power. Masochism’s rich analytic possibilities stem from its ability to speak across theory and practice, disciplines, and identities. Indeed, masochism’s plasticity is my jumping-off point for this book.Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochismbrings together a divergent...

  5. 2 Specters of Domination: Patriarchy, Colonialism, and Masochism
    (pp. 31-57)

    IN HER 1979 essay “The Meaning of Our Love for Women Is What We Have Constantly to Expand,” Adrienne Rich seems to have directly taken up Michel Foucault’s provocation that S&M is an emergent subculture within the gay world. But in contrast to Foucault’s discussions of creativity, eroticism, and freedom, Rich fixates on violence, power differentials, and self-destruction: “On the other hand, there is homosexual patriarchal culture, a culture created by homosexual men, reflecting such male stereotypes as dominance and submission as modes of relationships, and the separation of sex from emotional involvement—a culture tainted by profound hatred for...

  6. 3 Objectification, Complicity, and Coldness: The Story of O’s Narratives of Femininity and Precarity
    (pp. 58-87)

    FOR A BOOK that has engendered so much commentary,The Story of Obegins unassumingly, with a walk in the park: “Her lover one day takes O for a walk in a section of the city where they never go—the Montsouris Park.”¹ From there the narrative progresses rapidly. René, her lover, deposits O at Roissy, a castle, where she is stripped, penetrated orally, anally, and vaginally and taught how to submit. After her initiation, the narrative ricochets between S&M tableaux and descriptions of O at work. O is given to another lover, goes away for further training, and is...

  7. 4 Time, Race, and Biology: Fanon, Freud, and the Labors of Race
    (pp. 88-117)

    INBLACK SKIN, White MasksFrantz Fanon brings up the popular linkage between blackness and biology several times. At one point, parroting Octave Mannoni, who lived in Madagascar for decades and wrote on blackness, he writes, “To suffer from a phobia of the Negroes is to be afraid of the biological. For the Negro is only biology. The Negroes are animals. They go about naked. And God alone knows.”¹ Later, channeling other popular opinions, he writes, “The Negro symbolizes the biological. First of all, he enters puberty at the age of nine and is father at the age of ten;...

  8. 5 Lacerated Breasts: Medicine, Autonomy, Pain
    (pp. 118-150)

    Viewers hear these words as they watch black-and-white images of a naked man with his legs and arms spread apart and chained to the ceiling and floor of what appears to be a basement recreation room. In the short filmBob and Sheree’s Contract, which is included inSick,a documentary on performance artist Bob Flanagan’s life and death, Flanagan’s oath to Sheree Rose plays over footage of them engaged in an S&M scene. Rose wears trousers and a T-shirt; Flanagan is immobilized by the chains. He closes his eyes while she rubs a cotton ball with alcohol over hos...

  9. Conclusion: Making Flesh Matter
    (pp. 151-184)

    The work of art that Darby English (the first quote) and Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw (the second) describe is one of Kara Walker’s most wellknown and more controversial pieces—The End of Uncle Tom and the Grand Allegorical Tableau of Eva in Heaven. Produced in 1995 and composed of black paper cutouts stuck to a white gallery wall, the work is compelling both for its subject matter and for its effect on the viewer. The black shapes and the work’s title make it clear that it is a tableau about slavery; more specifically, it is a re-visioning of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 185-210)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-230)
  12. Index
    (pp. 231-254)
  13. About the Author
    (pp. 255-255)