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Intellectually, I don’t really have any taboos. Or at least, there are no limits to what I am willing to admire in the literature of sexuality. I have always found virtually anything provocative and satisfying and, on the other hand, very little upsetting or abject. It’s the elimination of boundaries and the practice of liberty in the realm of erotic imagination that affords the keenest revelations. Thus, I’m a practicing heterosexual (well, most of the time), who nonetheless likes gay and bisexual sexually-explicit literature as well as bestiality, necrophilia, transgender imagery, inter-generational sex, psychoanalysis, continental philosophy, fetishism, etc. None of these interests have had much effect on my more intimate pursuits in the real world (well, most of the time), but as far as literature and the life of the endocrines goes, permanent revolution — as Trotsky described it — seems to be the best approach.I wasn’t always this way. Like most kids from the suburbs my early training in the literature of the sexually-explicit was confined to period sex manuals spirited away from various adults — The Sensuous Woman, The Joy of Sex, and page 28 of The Godfather — manuals whose cabalistic secrets I pored over with the intensity of a hermeneuticist. When you’re ten or eleven, words like “vulva” or “orgasm” or even “blowjob,” seem impossibly mysterious. Anyway, I had no idea of the catholicity of my tastes in these things until I was away at college and studying, among other things, literary criticism. This was during the heyday of deconstruction, when theorists like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes were in vogue, and Semiotext(e), the Columbia university-based magazine of postmodernity, was at the peak of its sway. In 1981, Semiotext(e) published an issue called “Polysexuality,” devoted, as the title would suggest, to the idea that sexuality is a continuum, not a structuralist economy of either/or’s or do’s and don’ts. Among its contributors were William Burroughs, Jacques Lacan, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, and such venerable pornographers of the past as Klossowski, Bataille, Verlaine, Rimbaud (these last two in a collaboration entitled “The Sonnet on the Hole in the Ass”) and Anonymous, that heavyweight of the field.

“Polysexuality” didn’t avoid a single sexual expression that I could think of, then or now: bondage and discipline, incest, necrophilia, coprophagy, etc. And many of its essays, befitting the intellectual intensity of its contributors, were excruciatingly exact in their depiction of these practices. For me, it was a tremendous eye-opener. I read it the way other people read techno-thrillers or romance novels. Not only did I interpret “Polysexuality” as an act of political rebellion (that such work would be published is itself political), and as a philosophical investigation (what is sexuality, and what separates it, at its most arcane, from other human endeavors?), but it was also a tremendous turn-on. Especially the pieces relating to theory. I was also, however, quite dizzy with the language of case histories. (I never felt the same about Freud’s Dora or Little Hans after “Polysexuality” — they seemed, in that context, patently sexualized. It’s no surprise, therefore, that such debased examples of erotic literature as Penthouse‘s “Forum” now seem to me reminiscent of the style and language of the Freudian case history.) No question about it: the intellectual revelation is closely related to the orgasm. At least the boy model of the orgasm. The life of the mind and the pursuit of sexual expression are often one and the same.

My favorite piece of all in “Polysexuality” was called “M.” It concerns a happily married man who subjected himself to the most baroque expressions of masochism. And it follows here. The life of a writer or reader or intellectual, I’m trying to suggest, is always about liberation. Don’t allow any social or economic force to abridge or coerce or limit in any way your own expressions of sexuality, as you would not allow any other speech act to be limited. Be free, consider every possible point of view, the ones that horrify, the ones that delight, the ones that you refuse to admit delight you, and thereby know yourself.   -RM

M. [Mr. M.’s Story] by Michel de M’UzanFrom “Polysexuality” an issue of Semiotext(e)

Mr. M. was sixty-five when he came to me for the first time. A radiologist colleague of mine discovered him after he had consulted her about a hemoptysis which proved to be of a short-lived duration. My colleague examined him and made a careful inventory of all traces indicating perverse practices: she discussed his state with him and advised him to see me. Mr. M. acquiesced at once, remarking that his case might be useful to others with the same perversion as his. He also admitted that by agreeing to consult me, he might also be hoping for an opportunity to be humiliated, and at the same time to better understand his curious status. His curiosity about himself had never been satisfied: he had read all there was on the subject of masochism and had always been disappointed in his findings. Actually, many other factors played a part in his decision to see me as I shall indicate later on.

Mr. M.’s appearance and habits were those of a calm and collected person. He was extremely careful to conceal his perversion from those around him. He had been a highly skilled technician in radioelectricity before his retirement. His employers held him in such high esteem that he was able to obtain special working conditions, and in particular arrangements affecting his hours and his vacations. He loathed the idea of personally exerting any form of authority or of holding a commanding position and considered both giving and receiving orders to be sure ways of losing his freedom! He was very fond of this freedom which involved long, solitary walks during his holidays. He lived in a small suburban cottage with his adopted daughter and her husband. In short, his daily existence was singularly devoid of any moral masochism.

But what a contrast between these outer appearances and his naked body! Provided that certain thresholds be exceeded, quantitative considerations and intensity factors can modify the qualitative aspect of a phenomenon and its sense. Going on the assumption that masochistic practices are no exception, I shall describe them in detail and thus possibly modify certain conceptions of masochism.

To begin with, Mr. M.’s body, except for the face, was almost completely covered with tattoos: “All big cocks welcome,” and laterally, with an arrow, “Big pricks enter here” on the buttocks; in front, in addition to the penises tattooed on his thighs, one found the following impressive list: “I’m a slut,” “I like it up my ass,” “Up with masochism,” “I’m not a man, I’m not a woman, I’m a slut, I’m a whore, I’m fuckmeat,” “I’m an ambulating shit-house,” “I love swallowing shit and piss,” “I love to be beaten all over, and the harder, the better,” “I’m a slut, give it to me up the ass,” “I’m a whore, use me like a female, I’ll make you come but good,” “I’m the stupidest cunt around, my mouth and my asshole are for big pricks.”

Mr. M.’s scars and marks of torture were equally startling. His right breast was literally absent, having been seared with a red-hot iron, pierced by sharp objects and torn off. His navel was a sort of crater: molten lead had been poured into it which was prevented from spattering out (as it would have done because of rivulets of sweat) by introducing a red-hot metal rod into the lead. Thongs of flesh had been cut along his back, through which hooks were passed so that Mr. M. could be suspended while a man penetrated him. His small toe was missing: it had apparently been sectioned with a hacksaw by Mr. M. himself, acting on the orders of a partner. The bone surface was rough even after the amputation and he had filed it even. Needles had been pushed almost everywhere into his body, even into the thorax. His rectum was enlarged, “so it would look like a vagina.” Photographs were taken during this process. It is interesting to note that none of these tortures were followed by the slightest suppuration, even after foreign bodies, such as needles, nails and pieces of glass had been inflicted on his body. The daily ingestion of urine and excrement over a period of time did not cause any apparent upset. The internist asked Mr. M. to show him various “instruments of torture” boards imbedded with hundreds of needles, a wheel full of phonographic needles with a handle that was used to beat him. Lastly, and most remarkably, Mr. M.’s genitalia had not been spared.

Many phonograph needles were imbedded in the testes as the x-rays revealed. The penis was blue all over, perhaps as the result of india ink injected into a vein. The tip of the glans had been slit with a razor blade so as to widen the orifice. A steel ring of several centimeters in diameter had been permanently affixed to the tip of the penis, after the prepuce had been made into a sort of cushion filled with paraffin. A magnetized needle was imbedded in the penis itself, which I dare say bordered on black humor since the penis could “deviate” the needle of a compass, thereby asserting its power. Another ring, but removable this time, girded the base of the penis and the scrotum.

All of this could easily be verified. The tortures mentioned above left definite traces which incontestably proved that Mr. M. was not lying. And yet (should I attribute this to a defensive attitude on my part?) I sometimes doubted the accuracy of certain unverifiable facts without being able to justify my doubts in any way. Why should he lie about certain details when others were undeniably true? I cannot say, and yet I had vague doubts concerning in particular what he related about his wife and a specific case of aggressive acting out.

Her death, caused in no small amount, one feels, by the tortures she had endured, had a profound effect on M. He was overcome by depression and developed pulmonary tuberculosis in his turn, but was completely cured after two years spent in a sanitarium.

His masochistic practices, which had completely ceased during this period, began anew. Especially with men he picked up since the relations with his former partners had rapidly dwindled to nothing. He married a second time but the marriage soon ended in divorce: his second wife was a prostitute whom he had selected in the hope of finding an experienced partner. The fact that she was a prostitute and a procuress put M. in danger of being exposed if she were arrested for her illegal activities and he wanted to avoid that possibility at all costs. He also intimated that his wife’s lack of morality shocked him. He legally adopted the young girl who was their maid during their brief marriage. M. was forty-six or forty-seven at the time. It was then that his perverse activities ceased altogether. From then on, he lived completely within the framework of the family life he had created and to which he was very much attached. Nothing of his singular past was known to the persons involved. Correspondence was practically the only contact he maintained with his real daughter. He told me that he did not think she was masochistic, “except for the fact that she had ten children.”

M. described his parents as having been very considerate and kind to him. He was an only child and his parents were not young when he was born. His mother was very affectionate; his father was a little more rigid. M. was very attached to both of them and gradually grew quite close to his father in particular. His father followed M.’s progress at school quite closely but without being overly severe. All of this is very ordinary, one might say. Nevertheless, M. at four years of age had seen a little girl in his neighborhood eating her excrement. He even remembered her name. He said that “I was disgusted. But later on it came back to me.” Another time during our talks he made the following statement about a book he had read on Fakirs: “At first I thought it was horrible. But later on it came back to me.” The appearance early in life of erogenous masochism — often cited by writers on the subject — was verified in M.’s case: His practices began when he was ten years old. He became aware of his punishment-seeking penchant and his attraction to urine at boarding school. He went through a short period during which a certain repugnance apparently held him back, but when this was over his masochistic practices started in earnest and grew in importance. After being sodomized by a monitor, he became the target of maltreatment by his classmates, the sexual aspect of which is obvious. His classmates, however, often backed off, not daring to actually commit certain deeds: they dared not, for instance, push needles through his arm themselves but would give him orders to do so. In sexual “games” he would always assume the female role. As he said, “I was really the local slut. And it satisfied me.” After his marriage his masochism developed to its fullest. M. and his wife, although engaging as I have stated in normal sexual activities, were at the same time indulging in shared masochistic relations: “I liked it when she made me suffer, and she liked it when I made her suffer.” Then came the idea of incorporating another person into their activities. One person, then two, shared their sexual existence for three years.

If one considers the development of this case, it seems definite that constitutional factors weighed heavily in the balance: M. married his cousin who had begun her masochistic practices when she was eleven years old (she would stick needles under her fingernails) long before they knew each other. In addition, M. was twenty-one when he discovered that his father (who had just died and whose correspondence he was examining) probably had masochistic tendencies as well. Other than this important constitutional factor, the fact that M.’s masochistic tendencies ceased between his forty-fifth and fiftieth year is to be noted. At the beginning of this period he still had a few homosexual encounters but soon all perverse practices ceased completely. And yet, a most curious thing deserves consideration: M. still had fairly frequent nocturnal emissions after erotic dreams that had become perfectly heterosexual in nature and less and less masochistic. M. told me that in his dreams he was with “a voluptuous woman with whom my sexual activities were close to being normal.” He added that “my interest had died out; I had evolved; If I can judge by my dreams, I had become normal again.” (It is a fact that his earlier dreams were strictly masochistic.) Thus M.’s masochism described a veritable curve starting from just before the moment the clinical signs appeared — the constitutional factor which M. himself finds very important — to the point where the perversion ceased. For a long time — right from pre-puberty — his perversion seems to have been the sole actor on stage. But if one considers the fact that later on M. had been capable of engaging in parallel, normal sexual activities which occupied his dreams as he got older, one can say that the perversion, intimately linked to M.’s destiny, was added, as it were, to his “normal” sexuality to meet an economic need — at least one may suppose this is the case. Developments of this kind have prompted me to prefer the term “masochistic movement” rather than masochism.

M.’s case also reveals that the phenomenon of physical pain and its mysterious ability to trigger erotic pleasure and orgasm is not what certain specialists have claimed it to be. Theodore Reik, for instance, claims it is terror and anxiety which are associated with pleasure and then with orgasm: M.’s case disproves this, indicating clearly that pain itself is the trigger. The basic link between the intensity of the pain and the intensity of the orgasm underlies everything M. described and at times mentioned openly: “On the whole, it was pain that triggered my ejaculation.” This explains the characteristic attitude of the masochist who constantly demands that his partner increase the pain. M. was quite aware of this outbidding. Fear of pain would be absent from him and it was his sadist partner who would back off because of the extreme nature of his demands: “At the last moment, the sadist always backs off.” It appears moreover that pain has a double function: on the one hand it apparently acts as a catalyst for sexual arousal: on the other hand it would seem to increase sexual excitement and push it to its climax while losing its own specificity. In this sense, pain has no boundary. “Every inch of my body could be aroused through pain.” This would indicate an extreme mutation of the body’s sensitivity. Yet pain in itself was not the ultimate leisure. It was but a means. M. made the distinction very clearly: “At first, and on the spot where pain was applied, it hurt, but then I got an erection. More pain, and still more, and the feeling of pleasure gradually became sharper, clearer. Ejaculation occurred when the pain was at its most intense. After ejaculation, there was pain again and it hurt.” This aspect of pain as a means was identified by Freud in The Economic Problem in Masochism, where he posits that, in the case of masochism, physical pain and unpleasure are neither ends in themselves nor signals, but means to attain a goal which is always pleasure. M. did not only demand that his tortures be increasingly painful, but that they be prolonged, suspended, resumed, and diversified. In this respect he is a good adept of Freud who says in Civilization and Its Discontents: “When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things.” M. had mastered the art of producing contrasts, i.e. increases and decreases in the quantity of stimuli within a given period of time. These ideas of time and quantity give us definite information which can throw some light on the mysterious connection between physical pain and pleasure. From M.’s endless search for pain, we can logically infer an equally endless need for pleasure. M. orchestrated the brutal tortures inflicted on him in order to obtain the keenest possible pleasure. He undoubtedly experienced “the feeling of happiness derived from the satisfaction of a wild instinctual impulse untamed by the ego.” One would be incorrect in assuming, however, that M. was free to desire or to refuse that joy. The paradox is that it was forced upon him. In a sense he was condemned to pleasure and this is why his case is so difficult to unravel. Suffer the worst torments to obtain pleasure under absolute compulsion: such was M.’s destiny for the greater part of his life.

In the same way that M.’s reactions to pain were different from what is generally accepted, his relations with others were unorthodox in various ways. It is well known that most specialists stress the masochist’s quest for humiliation. I would add that this is particularly true when the importance of physical pain in itself is minimized: torture is seldom very horrifying, the genitalia are not subjected to mutilation, pain does not go beyond a certain threshold, etc. M.’s case shows that this is not true and that ever-increasing physical pain was actually sought for. However, it is obvious that although pain and humiliation belong to two different registers, the fact that torture is inflicted of necessity by another party establishes a most intimate link between them. And how did M. live this correlation? According to him, what he craved for was above all the abasement of his personality. To achieve this “veritable moral suicide” every means was valid the moment M. and his wife “were really two slaves of two lovers.” Every means, i.e. in addition to the tortures, the simplest slap or obeying orders to indulge in coprophagy, which apparently enabled him to prolong the “psychical pleasure” after ejaculation. The homosexual side of all this was, according to M., another means to humiliation, as he felt that homosexual practices were tantamount to insults. Witness these phrases M. got a partner to order him to inscribe on his skin so his moral decay could be seen: “I gave the impression I was an invert which I was not out of pleasure, but out of humiliation. I experienced no physical satisfaction, it was all on the moral plane.” M. depicted himself as having a pressing need to be humiliated — homosexuality was only an instrument to this end and a means to completely destroying his will. Certain expressions kept recurring in his speech such as: disregard of the will, total annihilation of the will, the will existed no longer, abolition of the will, etc. This trait undoubtedly concealed something despite the general tone of his discourse which, on the whole, was restrained and free from dramatic effects. Nevertheless there was something a trifle too strong in this insistence on renouncing his will “for the benefit of the person who was in command.”

To be more precise, he really renounced nothing at all: first, he was the one who wanted the erotic relationship to exist; second, as soon as it was terminated he resumed his freedom vis-a-vis those persons who supposedly held him in bondage and he did not allow any further servitude to occur. M.’s deeply concealed assertion of total power was matched by his overweening pride which could be glimpsed whenever he described the hideous tortures he had undergone. He felt he was almost unique: only one person he knew of, who lived in a cage bristling with sharp points, had ever surpassed him. He said the only reason he was reticent about performing even more drastic mutilations — such as amputating his penis — was the fear of medical or legal complications and the problems involved in hemostasis. It was also his immense pride and his scorn for his partners which prompted his remark that “the sadist always backs off.” The sadistic student who shared M.’s life and his wife’s was supposed to be all-powerful: he gave orders that had to be obeyed — and yet he was in fact looked upon as utterly worthless. M. claimed that he himself did not exist as a subject but that he simply embodied the sadist’s fantasies. He claimed that he had very little real existence of his own. And here he hoodwinked his interlocutor for he was very definitely expressing a desire: the desire that the other person proceed in such a way as to negate M.’s existence. He was ready to submit to any kind of investigation since reticence was totally foreign to him and indeed literally inconceivable: to show any reticence would have meant to exert his will and therefore cancel himself out. Thus the interlocutor or the partner found himself in the paradoxical situation of being stripped of all power of speech and desire. And so the masochist, behind the facade of a dramatic assertion of his nothingness, actually subdued the sadist by forcing him to assume the role which he, the masochist, appeared to assume. The total power that M. conferred on his partner was an utter mockery. I personally believe that the perverse masochist is not totally unaware of his deep-seated attitude. In any case, he cannot resist letting it be glimpsed or guessed at. The bondage to which the sadist is condemned by the masochist is, in part, so opaquely veiled that one might consider it to be the last word on the whole matter, while another bondage must in fact be concealed, which holds prisoner the masochist himself.

This feature was first published on NERVE in 1997.