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Theory & Event - Volume 3, Issue 4, 1999
Michael Uebel | Toward a Symptomatology of Cyberporn | Theory & Event 3:4
Toward a Symptomatology of Cyberporn
3:4 | © 2000 Michael Uebel
Machines are social before being technical.1
The skin trade it seems has gone electronic. In the third week of
1996, W. H. Smith's, England's largest book vendor, removed all the
pornography from their magazine racks. Their explanation: there is
virtually no demand for the stuff. While we might be tempted to
speculate on the role politics played in W. H. Smith's decision, rather
we should see in their apparently disingenuous explanation the truth of
contemporary porn consumption: that demand for it is in fact virtual.
The virtual realityof porn today is that, with about 70,000 sex-related
Web sites generating as much as 15% of an $8 billion industry in the US
alone, the contours of its demand, consumption, and enjoyment are
radically shifting. As magazine gives way to digital image, new lines of
access to cyberporn are generating new forms of eroticism, new
affectivities, new relations.
Kimberly Young and Alvin Cooper, a psychologist and a psychiatrist
respectively, are among the first to study systematically on-line sexual
behavior. Most researchers, Young and Cooper among them, approach
cybersex2 as psychopathology, a clear and present symptom of neurotic,
compulsive behavior. Thus the familiar spectre of addiction haunts the
electronic frontier.3 However, the close discursive proximity of
researchers who elucidate the psychic and social dangers of cybersex and
those who warn against the dangers of more conventional porn serves as a
register of just how uncritically cybersex is assumed to be just like
its progenitors.4 All too frequently it is assumed that
cyberpornography, while it may be differently disseminated, perfectly
replays the key problems feminism in particular has for a long time
identified with porn consumption: it produces fantasies of control, the
real life consequences of which are obscured; it is a conduit to and
expression of violence; and it fixes subordinates into the position of
fetish object.5 As socio- and psychopathology, all porn functions in
this view as a mirror of the dark side of power relations, for porn sets
in motion fantasies whose virtual support is found in ritualized
practices and fixations, primarily of a sadistic sort.6
The new fantasmic dimensions of cyberpornography are my focus in
this essay. It is my contention that, as the media of mass-circulating
porn are changing, as bits and binary codes replace glossy centerfolds,
fantasy is being activated in novel ways. Cyberspace is installing a new
regime of sexual representation and, with it, tactical modes of
dreaming, thinking, and acting. The pornographic image, more than ever,
occupies the interspace bridging private fantasy and mass public
disposition.7 As the Web becomes increasingly constructed as the
imaginary reference point of the public, we begin to recognize our own
desires as they are re-presented to us in the media senssuround. "Even.
. . the most perverse among us," Michael Warner observes in another
context, "could point to his or her desires or identifications and see
that they were public desires, even mass public desires, from the moment
that they were our desires."8 Yet at the same time that we observe our
desires (pre)scripted in and by the grand historical metatext of late
technocapitalism, we are discovering that there are points within the
metatext, like cyberporn, which hold the promise of strategic
Cyberporn, more aggressively than other contemporary mass-public
languages (advertising, network news, Hollywood film), translates
subjective desires and fantasies into objective, often unstable,
"published dreams."10 This translation into objectivity of the
pornographic imaginary is a crucial aspect of its productive cultural
function. If conceiving the desires cyberporn produces as separable from
the scripts, the enunciated laws, such porn calls into existence, is
impossible, then we do well to follow Foucault in replacing the strict
"law and sovereignty" of sex with an open "technology of sex," a
multiple, positive technology of desire.11 Such a positive technology of
desire opens the possibility of directing our attention to the specific
ways the postmodern apparatus of cyberporn produces, rather than just
regulates or prohibits, desires. Although Clinton and Congress, law
enforcement, the press (witness its singular obsession with "child
porn"12 ), conservative public-interest organizations, and certain
professionals in the health industry continue to frame their discussion
and assessment of cyberporn in terms of control and interdiction,13 I
want here to establish a counterdiscourse of sorts, one informed by
Deleuze and Guattari's formulations of desire as a machinic and, we
shall see, potentially masochistic production in order to ground a new
approach to cyberbodies, especially those offered up for pornographic
How, then, does a counterdiscourse of technological desire, a
symptomatology of cyberporn, proceed? It begins by assuming, along with
Deleuze and Guattari, that individual and social symptoms (e.g.,
addiction, sadism, masochism, sexism) are unintelligible except in their
relationship to one another, where it then becomes a matter of
specifying how the sexual libido invests the social field. Indeed, in
one of their sharpest attacks on classical psychoanalysis, Deleuze and
Guattari took aim at what they perceived to be a stubborn refusal to
imagine psychic subjectivity in relation to collectivity.14 According to
their analysis, traditional psychoanalytic thinking understands little
or nothing of the way systems such as capitalism and patriarchy
relentlessly rework the texture of the unconscious. Psychoanalysis can
only crush the content of the unconscious under the weight of
prefabricated statements that always relate back to the oedipal family
and its pious signifiers (incest taboo, castration threat, the Law of
the Father).15 However, considering subjectivity from the point of view
of its production, insist Deleuze and Guattari, allows for an analysis
of the economy of desire in multiple universes of reference. Thus the
family and the Freudian "complex" are replaced by a network of multiple,
or schizophrenic, desires functioning within a "machinic arrangement," a
field of discourses (economic, political, aesthetic, and so on) lacking
any "axiomatic homogeneity."16 Desires, love attachments, and fantasies
thus derive from "universal History," not just Mommy/Daddy.17
A symptomatology of cyberporn must take up precisely this notion of
the historical creation of private desire, analyzing desire in terms of
the "unexpected, unheard-of universes of possibility" that the encounter
of man and machine generates.18 Guattari's shorter writings on "Popular
Free Radio" and "Entering the Post-Media Era" reflect a powerful
optimism for the microrevolutions of subjectivity enabled by new
telecommunication technologies.19 Mass communications, he maintained in
1979 (years before the mass-marketed PC and over a decade before the
Web), are developing in two directions at once: toward hyperconnected,
hyperconcentrated systems of control, which homogenize popular
opinion,20 and toward "miniaturized systems that create the possibility
of a collective appropriation of the media," providing channels of
communication among and "to minorities, to marginalized and deviant
groups of all kinds."21 To the extent that technological advancements in
what Guattari termed "the age of planetary computerization" have shown
him to be right on both accounts, there is, I believe, a need to explain
how current technologies are suspending subjects between the two,
between a melancholic "control society" and a utopic "post-media age."
This state of suspension, of being between the crushing rocks of
capitalism and the whirlpool of machinic deviancies, is the very
condition of postmodern consumers of cyberporn. It is a condition at
once attractive, dangerous, perverse, and unavoidable.
Cyberporn is revolutionary in the sense that it has made a
disruptive cultural appearance, radically altering the ways men consume
porn. Abandoning a more traditional, rhetorical understanding of
revolutionary events, which implies only "redundancy, circularity,
predictability, even a sense of stasis," brings us closer to Deleuze and
Guattari's "molecular revolution," a project of "mutation," which,
according to Bernardo Attias, produces something unpredictable,
something truly other or without place in the normal order of things.22
Both a product and an agent of mutation, cyberporn thus reveals its true
otherness as a sign of the utopic. The "nowhere" (or now-here) of porn
in cyberspace shares with other politicized and narrativized utopic
spaces, such as those described and theorized by Louis Marin, deep
tendencies to resist univocal meaning and to remodel desire. By
installing both a reactionary politics and a liberatory aesthetics,
cyberporn's effects occur "in the distance between contradictory
elements," in this way becoming "the simulacrum of the synthesis, while
yet signifying the contradiction that produced it."23 The simulacral,
"in-between" condition of cybersex consumption figures it as a practice
both produced and dissimulated by the representations within which it is
generated, including not only private desires and obsessions, but
political projects and social resistances.
Perhaps nowhere is there a better model for the symptomatological
method of interpreting individual desires and social formations than
Deleuze's studies of masochism, most notably "Le Froid et le Cruel."24
In this essay, he sets aside clinical issues of etiology and therapy, in
order to study the "pornological" sign system in its specific formal
aspects, in what he calls its discursive symptoms. Taking Sacher von
Masoch's Venus in Furs as a case study, Deleuze shows how the
psychoanalytical symptoms of masochism are indissociable from Masoch's
literary technique. While at this time we'll defer--itself a
quintessentially masochistic practice--our discussion of the specific
symptoms of masochism, in their relation to cyberporn consumption, I
would direct our attention to Deleuze's insistence on the linkage
between masochism as a mode of living and masochism as a political act
of resistance. Masoch the author became identified with the perversion
not because he "suffered" from it, but rather because, as Deleuze put
it, he created a new picture of it "by linking masochistic practices to
the place of ethnic minorities in society and the role of women in those
minorities: masochism becomes an act of resistance, inseparable from a
minority sense of humor."25 The historical truth of contemporary male
masochism, its status as a minoritarian political praxis, is, we will
see, tied to the way it sexualizes power relations, condensing them, and
then redeploying them across the male body at the points of its
connection to technology.
Several recent writers on the poetics and politics of masochism
have contextualized masochistic subjectivity in relation to historical
events as varied as fin-de-siècle European colonialism, interwar French
theory, post-war American masculinism, and 70s avant-garde performance
art.26 Reading these accounts together, one is struck by the exigency
with which writers, artists, philosophers, and activists have
rearticulated masculine identity in masochistic terms. Indeed, if
redefining masculinity in terms of, or as a tautology for, masochism
constitutes the deep grammar of modern cultural manhood, then it is in
the mass-consumption of particular cultural events, from Forrest Gump27
to The Original PicPost, a porn site that records in a typical month
over 25 million hits,28 that we may discover men's most urgent attempts
to reconstitute themselves and their world. The ways in which
cybertechnologies have enabled the easy and massive consumption of
pornographic imagery are, I believe, symptomatic of multiple crises in
male identity. The mode of porn consumption in the current digital age
appears radically different from the traditional mode famously described
by psychoanalyst Robert Stoller29 : the "pornographic script" seems now
less an undoing of trauma, frustration, or conflict (in other words, the
conversion of pain into a fantasy of triumph) than its "perverse"
supplement, that is, the eroticization of human disappearance within a
technology of bodily discipline and self-punishment. No longer strictly
an "erotic form of hatred" (of the other), but a form of masochism, the
new pornographies eroticize the machine and, in so doing, force us to
rethink the sexualizing and fantasizing of power relations. Porn is
mutating into what Stoller himself called "a tougher pornography."30
I am attempting here a revaluation of pornography and its
criticism, tied specifically to the way cyberporn accommodates a
masochistic fantasmic relation to power. Approaching the case of
cyberporn from a schizoanalytically-inflected perspective illuminates
how cyberporn activates fantasy, rather than neutralizes it, as
important antiporn discourses have claimed. For Catharine MacKinnon and
Jessica Benjamin, for example, the mechanism in porn for destroying
fantasy and desire is to evacuate the space of virtual symbolization.31
Indeed, for MacKinnon, it does not make sense within the pornographic
scene to talk about desire at all, since men belong to the erotic image
in relations of masturbation and abuse rather than looking or
fantasizing.32 Yet it may be in the very fantasmic economy of male
pornographic desire, as remodeled by cyberdom, that we discover the most
insidious strategies of misogynist pleasure and social abuse. In short,
cyberporn should sensitize us to (male) perversion as an open field of
psychic as well as social meaning. An affirmative answer to Lacan's
exotic question now seems fully plausible: "Can one say, for example,
that, if Man [L'homme] wants Woman [La femme], he cannot reach her
without finding himself run aground on the field of perversion?"33
One perversion in particular, masochism, is fast becoming the
dominant modality of consumption given the way contemporary pornographic
technologies organize the psyche. Meanwhile, men's "back-lashing" has
become an indispensable element of fantasy, an attempt to compensate and
even atone for sadistic social impulses. Cyberporn offers nothing less
than a fantasy scene for self-flagellation, wherein men, having
internalized, however partially or imperfectly, feminist modes of
recognition, try to defeat their own aggressive impulses.
Cyberpornographic masochism is thus an expression of eroticized
historical and social guilt. The question here is: what has happened to
men that they feel compelled to behave in nonthreatening, even
nonheroic, ways? While a full answer lies well beyond this essay, I
would suggest provisionally that it has to do with an ideal image of
masculinity to which men feel constant pressure to measure up and from
which they feel increasingly alienated.34 It also involves an ideal
image many men experience as imperiled by the punitive regime of
technocapitalism. Men's siege mentality spans from the liberal, whose
most visible sign is the "sensitive man syndrome," to the reactionary,
whose perfect emblem is the paranoid masculinity portrayed on screen,
again and again, by Michael Douglas. These masochistic mentalities are
accommodated in cyberporn, as nowhere else on a mass-cultural scale.
Men exposed to 30 or so years of the discourse and political
effects of feminism are men who, for one reason or another, know it is
unacceptable to evince the outright patriarchalism that was part and
parcel of American social life until feminism asserted itself.35 What
results is a tension between the "enlightened" consciousness of the
American male at the end of the 20th century and a patriarchal
sedimentation so old it is indissoluble. This tension is then reconciled
fantasmically through a masochism that, on the face of it, seems to
involve a forfeiture of dominance, but that in fact is nothing other
than a compensatory mechanism, one that, at the level of fantasy, allows
for the restoration and consolidation of masculine power. Let us be
clear: the postmodern male is unwilling, and often unable, to assume the
sadistic role MacKinnon has assigned to the masculine subject generally
in a patriarchal society, but, through masochism, can achieve the
semblance, the affectivity, of that power without having it linked to
Laying the foundation upon which to examine the centrality of
masochism in the affective experience of cyberporn, Part One considers
how masochism, in important respects, is not a forfeiture of power, but
an attempt to recuperate it within different social and libidinal
economies. Masochism is hardly a new social and psychic phenomenon, and
it may indeed, as several social critics assert, comprise the
"everyday,"36 but only rather recently, with the proliferation of
cyberporn, has it become, I submit, fully visible as a (predominantly
masculine) tactic of power predicated upon power's disavowal.37 The
meaning of contemporary power has been twisted according to a
masochistic logic: if you cannot cast yourself into the role of the
victim, then you are unworthy of being considered powerful in the first
place. Cyberporn throws into relief, by providing a compensatory fantasy
for, the absence of mastery most men experience within their social and
economic roles in patriarchal technocapitalist society.
Part Two examines the cultural prominence of "amateur" pornography,
tying it to Gen-X (and Gen-Y) sensibilities and perversities in order to
construct a kind of limit case for how we might conceptualize postmodern
male masochism. My symptomatological analysis of cyberporn, here and in
the next section, privileges form over content, in the attempt to
analyze how and why cyberporn is delivered and consumed and what
cultural contours it assumes. For I read masochism as more a problem of
the ego (and hence culture) than of the private libido.38 It originates
in cultural fantasies of hostility and defiance, rage and boredom,
fantasies which change their tack in response to social anxiety, guilt,
and identification with the victim.
Part Three examines what kind of male subject advanced porn
technology is producing. Here I consider the formal dimensions of
cyberporn consumption in terms of how a masochistic subject is called
into being through his technological relation to the image. Masochism,
according to Pat Califia, the author of Macho Sluts, is "high technology
sex,"39 and it is within technology that masochism is recoding not only
libidinal relations and identities but also political ones. The way men
access, view, and identify with pornographic images has undergone a
revolution in the last several years, due largely to Web technologies
which, I argue, are now an inseparable part of the porn image itself. By
analyzing three constitutive components of cyberporn--the contract, the
image, and the viewing apparatus--I point to how the Web channels
political energies along with data, holding out the promise of an
alternative existence that contests cultural imperatives concerning
I. Masochism in Postmodern Man
The term masochism has become over the last decade or so an
especially charged one in cultural criticism,40 and is an inveterately
slippery one in psychiatric and psychoanalytic discourses,41 so it will
be helpful to specify both the term itself and my critical angle on it.
Its force as a critical term, I would contend, has become rather
attenuated, and, as this essay dramatizes, I am deeply skeptical that
any single theorization of masochism can ever prove adequate to the task
of opening up critically intricate cultural events, like cyberporn. If I
can illuminate some of the nodal points within and between multiple
theories of masochism as they are deployed in different fields of
analysis (psychoanalysis, cultural and critical theory, film theory, and
gender politics), then it should be evident that masochism itself is a
particularly flexible, even necessary, form of cultural critique. As we
will see, it is in this context that Deleuze makes one of his most
valuable claims: "[The masochist's] apparent obedience conceals a
criticism and a provocation."42
A framework for thinking about the psychic and political dimensions
of perversion and masochism must begin with the premise that, together,
the perversions constitute a set of practices and fantasies that share a
very specific structural feature, namely, the mechanism of disavowal.43
Disavowal is at base a coping strategy, a story told to oneself with a
fixed plot: "I know, but all the same. . . ."44 It is a tactic that
allows one to inhabit a contradiction through simultaneously acceding to
and defending against one's sense of reality. In a state of disavowal,
the perverse subject suspends his or her capacity to distinguish between
reality and fantasy, thereby warding off the significance of an
unpleasurable reality. Otto Fenichel calls this mental suspension
pseudologia fantastica, the attempt to convince oneself that the senses
can deceive, so that if it is possible unreal things are real, then it
is also possible that real things, painful things, are unreal.45 The
essential point is that the subject uses disavowal to avoid challenging
some cherished fantasy, not that the subject inhabits a pure fantasy
world. Laying claim to the interspace between fantasy and reality,
disavowal is an ingenious contestation of reality in the hope for its
replacement. Disavowal, Deleuze writes in "Coldness and Cruelty,"
"should perhaps be understood as the point of departure of an operation
that consists. . . in radically contesting the validity of that which
is: it suspends belief in and neutralizes the given in such a way that a
new horizon opens up beyond the given and in place of it."46
It may well be the analytic language of perversion that provides
the sharpest articulation of what are assumed to be emergent postmodern
pathologies.47 Indeed, we might put it this way: the use of disavowal is
actually encouraged by new technologies and media, where so-called
"virtual realities" conveniently have the effect of reassuring ourselves
that the defects of material reality are only illusory. Notice, however,
that I am underlining a perverse attitude that allows the subject to act
as if he lacked the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality, over
against a psychotic orientation in which the subject submits to a total
hallucinatory substitution for reality.48 Even cybersex junkies know the
difference between what is "real" and what passes for a simulacrum of
it; but, in order to build a solid defense against a threatening
reality, they must compulsively suspend their capacity to make such a
distinction. This state of suspension in which they place themselves
offers a retreat from reality only to the extent that an alternative
reality is fantasized over against, in dialectical relation to, the
troubling one. Reality is not given up, but is placed in suspension in
the hope of remodeling it.49
Masochism might seem to us at odds with the goal of perversion to
remodel reality since masochists appear to court painful reality,
refusing to substitute for it a more pleasant one, preferring instead
suffering and abjection. Masochists do indeed reconstruct for themselves
a potentially self-destructive, guilt-ridden, and socially regressive
reality, but they do so in accord with a fundamentally utopian impulse,
one whose force is proportional to the technological advancement of
culture. Theodor Reik--incidentally, the key theorist from whom, along
with Lacan and the never-named Jung,50 Deleuze derives his understanding
of masochism--declared masochism "unmistakably the most important
culturally" among the usual perversions, precisely because it is the
chief register of culture, developing conterminously with it: as culture
progresses, masochism increasingly becomes a psychic necessity.51 But,
as I think Reik himself rather presciently points out, masochism is fast
evolving beyond its status as a psychic necessity to become something of
a mental luxury, a political choice (though not available to all)
replacing what had once been diagnosed strictly as a psychic condition
simply suffered by desiring subjects beyond their own will. Despite its
status as luxury, masochism has become no less urgent as a tool for
reimagining the self and the social. We should therefore abandon the
limited notion of the masochist as a self-destructive subject, one to
whom something is done, or on whom something is perpetrated. The
masochist stands as an idealizer, a revolutionary who seeks after a
utopic condition that is never merely or only libidinal.52
Like any tool for change, however, masochism can be put to both
progressive and regressive uses, deployed as a political tactic for
utopian change and, conversely, for cultural entrenchment and even
gender violence. As the case of cyberporn dramatizes, these two aims of
masochism are not mutually exclusive; indeed, they are interanimating,
yet the utopic aspect is rarely emphasized. This aspect, paradoxically,
depends upon the masochist calling into being the very Law, the limit or
penance, that ostensibly prevents him from achieving his ideal,
thwarting what Lacan calls his "will to jouissance." To those outside
the politico-libidinal matrix of Master/Slave it looks as though the
masochist installs himself in a position of utter subordination, thereby
blocking access to his own enjoyment. But from within, the masochist
reveals the truth of symbolic power: submitting to the exact letter of
the law, exaggerating its obscene dimension, turns the meaning of
regulation into its opposite. Reik's example is instructive: Austrian
railroad workers, complaining of low wages and long working hours, go on
strike, only they do not walk off the job, but rather carry it out with
increased conscientiousness and punctuality, following the railway
board's myriad bureaucratic regulations to the letter. The result is a
total paralysis of train traffic; trains can neither arrive nor
depart.53 In libidinal economic terms, the railroad workers are able to
convert the unpleasure of their working conditions into a kind of
pleasure through radical obedience to the law.
Extreme submission, by closing the gap between the law and its
realization, has precisely the effect of revealing the fantasmic support
of the law in its full inconsistency.54 Thus at the core of masochism,
Reik argues, resides a state of "passive resistance," a term that
immediately evokes similar strategies for social change such as the
hunger strike, sit-ins, and related forms of non-violent passive
protest. Masochism, given its primary function as defiant submissiveness
("victory through defeat" is Reik's famous formula), must be
conceptualized across the bounds of the sexual or the erotic, into the
social. When deployed to expose the inconsistency of cultural protocols,
masochism becomes fully political, a strategy of resistance, wherein
"the masochist is a revolutionist of self-surrender."55
II. Getting the pornography one deserves: commodity masochism and the
meaning of amateur cyberporn
People in many, if not most, cases do not get the pornography they
deserve, or the pornography one might imagine.56
Perhaps it is male Gen-Xers and Gen-Nexers, the ones logging in the
most time on-line,57 who are truly getting the porn they deserve. Larry
Flynt's decision to move seven major publications on-line (including
Barely Legal, Chic Online) marks his commitment to the Gen-X
demographic, an earlier sign of which was his launching in August 1996
of the now-defunct magazine Rage. Described by its creators as "Wired
meets Spin meets Details,"58 Rage attempted, with its "cyber-influenced"
design and its hip themes and imagery (tattooed and pierced models, for
example), to appeal to a generation that has been there, done that and
whose deep cynicism (a chief component of which is irony) fuels its
taste for cultural indelicacies.59 While it can be argued that Gen-X
consumers are to a large extent self-conscious ironizers, and possess
therefore a more or less steady awareness that their own alternative, or
transgressive, desires are always already somebody else's, such an
awareness, to corporate America's glee, only refuels the market.60 Their
retro-fitted commercial desires help animate the obscene monster that
Zillah Eisenstein calls the "cyber-media complex of corporatist
capital."61 And indeed it is all about corporate capital (even--or,
especially--in the case of so-called "amateur" cyberporn): witness the
Wunderkind of on-line porn, Seth Warshavsky (age 24), CEO of the adult
Internet Entertainment Group, who saw 1998 company revenues in excess of
$50 million.62 One recent look at the money luring newcomers into
cyberporn ventures concludes that "the Web is changing the landscape of
the pornography industry--transforming what was once perceived as a pit
of sleaze into something almost respectable and even cool."63 If
obscenities have become global, as Eisenstein suggests, they have also
become, especially for the generation consuming and producing them, in
various ways "cool."64
The porn industry's emergence out of the sleaze pit into the "cool"
mainstream is due I think in no small part to the creation and wild
expansion of the "amateur" genre.65 Amateur porn, produced at first by
people outside the industry, took off in the mid-eighties with videos of
bedroom performances that were then often compiled and distributed
through swap-and-buy services such as Susan's Video Exchange.66 When the
corner video store started renting amateur vids, commercial porn was
quick to respond to what it regarded as a threat, and began producing
its own amateur films (with series titles like "America's Raunchiest
Home Videos" and "Homegrown Videos"), most of it now falling into the
categories "pro/am" and its stylistic outgrowth "gonzo," both immensely
popular forms that feature female newcomers performing with male porn
veterans. To judge by Adult Video New's rental statistics, the genres
gonzo, pro/am, and amateur do extremely well, dominating the top twenty
along with so-called "couple's porn." What these forms have done more
than anything else is reconfigure, at the level of consumption, the
aesthetic expectations and visual desires of the consumer. The slap-dash
hand-held camera style of true amateur porn was recycled by commercial
companies to become something of a new mode of production offering fresh
possibilities for fantasies of identification and spectation. Amateur
porn and its reincarnations offer a flight from artificiality,
accomplished precisely by what is not presented on screen: fantastically
scripted plots, siliconized hard bodies, and high-production gloss. The
attractiveness of amateur porn is its apparent proximity to the lives of
the spectator, a proximity that, I will suggest, gives rise to a
masochistic identificatory relation.
In the world of cyberporn, the very sign of "cool" is amateur
exhibitionism, that is, average women, often billed as "your neighbor,"
posting nude pictures of themselves, usually on self-created web pages
that require monthly memberships (a subscription fee typically of about
$10/month). Amateur sites now rank among the most visited of porn
websites and among the largest alt.binaries newsgroups (in fact, often contains the greatest
number of posts of any erotic pic group, on average, 10K daily). One
sign of amateur cyberporn's cultural visibility, especially among the
crucial 18-34 demographic, is a spate of articles running in such
magazines as Details and Cosmopolitan, where self-produced and
self-marketed erotica is "cool." Neofeminist writer Lily Burana, for
example, is quoted as describing the amateur cyberscene as a kind of
"Revenge of the Nerds, but naked. . . it's a goofy but cool thing."67
Ever since video porn came to play an active role in the lives of
romantically-linked couples--in the absence of sound market research,
estimates of the couples share of the market (video rental and
pay-per-view services like in-room Spectravision) run as high as 30
percent--the image of the typical porn consumer has shifted from the
furtive raincoater to the well-adjusted couple. That a stigma no longer
attaches to porn rental and consumption should alert us to the changes
underway around the image of the solitary cyberporn user (and, by
extension, the cyberporn producer). Indeed, amateur cyberporn, as it is
being described and even promoted in Gen-X segments of the popular
press, aims directly at undoing the anxiety meant to be evoked by
imagery like that of the infamous cover of Time magazine ("Cyberporn"; 3
July, 1995), where a naked man, with arms and legs wrapped around his PC
monitor, melts into his computer. At work in this image is a chain of
anxieties, all linked by a basic fear of losing one's subjectivity to
the machine--to the degree that human interaction and desire for warm
flesh no longer are desirable or necessary.
Yet for a Gen-X constituency, shifts in terminology are contesting
mainstream media's anxiety over pornography in the digital age, in ways
that signal porn's new "cool" caché. In the case of amateur cyberporn
(especially), the hype over porn addiction has been translated into the
thrilling language of fan adoration, and the dangers of the solitary
interface have become the pleasures of real interactivity, or, as we
will speculate in a moment, interpassivity. In "Why I Strip Online,"
Kris (a.k.a. The Shy Exhibitionist) told Cosmopolitan that she is not at
all worried about the occasional "scary e-mail" she receives among the
"dozens of fan letters a day from men and couples telling [her] how
excited [her] pictures make them feel."68 On-line exhibitionism is, in
Kris's words, "sexually tantalizing--it's foreplay." If you listen to
them, amateur exhibitionists' real pleasure derives not only from being
the object of admiration, but from being in control of the relationships
they develop with adoring fans through e-mail, live chat, webcams, live
streaming video, and even custom video tapes.69 Renee, whose site has
been up since December 1996, describes her relationship to a mass
audience in terms of what cybertheorists now refer to as "public
privacy"70 : "It's like watching a thousand guys walk by and look at
you, only you have this invisible wall that lets you be in control.
Millions of people are experiencing you, but all of them are doing it in
private--you know, one-on-one."71 Renee, we should notice, is not merely
enjoying the control that comes with the Web's supposed anonymity, but
rather she is exercising mastery over the visual relationship she
maintains serially with each viewer, thereby refusing to become the
voyeuristic object of many.72 While cyberporn, if anything, intensifies
the solitary interface anxiously pointed to as a sign of addiction, it
also reconfigures it, so that implicit in any relationship with an
amateur cyberpersonality is a degree of submission on the part of the
Amateurs construct for their mass audiences an intimate portrait of
their lives that transcends images of their nude bodies. Above all, they
are marketing a personality, one that they make available not only
through the pictures on their website but through more interactive
channels such as email, chat, and video. Many amateurs, for example,
claim to answer their own email, and pride themselves on doing so. The
fantasmic parameters of any interactive cyberrelationship are fully
determined by the exhibitionist herself, and to these her fans must
submit. Her construction of herself as a subject is something with which
admirers at all levels of involvement (from website members to casual
porn surfers) must come to terms.
The imperative of submission, however, reveals the dark double or
shadowy supplement of interactivity, viz., the "interpassive" character
of cyberfantasy. Slavoj Zizek, in his recent anatomy of the dynamics of
fantasy, explains the relatively new psychic importance that attaches to
interpassivity, an importance equally social and one deeply dependent, I
would underscore, on advanced technologies such as the VCR, video porn,
and the Web.73 As the obverse of interactivity, interpassivity describes
a transferential relation to an other who is supposed to enjoy (by
proxy); to enjoy, then, is to do so passively, through the other.
Cyberporn, especially in its amateur form, functions less to excite the
user to masturbation (though, needless to say, it does that) than to
install the user into a visual relationship in which merely observing
how (much) the other enjoys--enjoys, that is, her exhibitionism, her
objectness--in the user's place is pleasure enough. In fact, this
displacement of enjoyment on to the other is a defensive maneuver,
undertaken to disavow the threats posed to the subject when he imagines
himself passive: "what is unbearable with my encounter with the object
is that in it I see myself in the guise of a suffering object: what
reduces me to a fascinated passive observer is the scene of myself
passively enduring it."74 Interpassivity, like the libidinal strategies
of perverse disavowal generally and masochism specifically, is a way of
simultaneously identifying with and repudiating the object, the other,
in order to resist the effects of passivization.75
Although Zizek does not acknowledge the aggressive edge of
interpassivity, we should read the expulsion of passivity and its
displacement on to the other, if only to imagine what such passivity is
like (to play at being passive like the proverbial Wall Street exec who
pays his mistress for a good lashing76 ), as serving nothing other than
an underlying fantasy of domination. In Masochism in Modern Man, Reik
stresses that male social masochism is intertwined with, indeed powered
by, a revenge motive wherein men seek control over women. This little
remarked upon dimension of Reik's treatment of social masochism goes to
the heart of male fantasy and practice, where "there is a covibration of
an aggressive and violent note. The woman appears as a subdued,
suffering being, dependent on the man's will."77 An intense misogyny
lies just below the surface of the masochist's posture of
instrumentality, his enjoyment through the other. But turning the self
into an instrument of the other's pleasure also has the salutary effect
of fending off or absorbing violence, which is only ever delayed, as
Deleuze emphasizes, through the mechanism of suspense.78 Anticipation,
holding off (sadistic) gratification, and placing oneself in temporary
or staged situations where such gratification is impossible, are closely
related masochistic strategies for evacuating violence. As I suggest in
the next section, the truth of pornography may hinge upon exactly what
its most committed and thoughtful critics affirm--that is, porn
consumption replicates, or itself constitutes, violence against
women--but refuse to explain in terms of its contradictory function in
absorbing or staving off male hostility. What if the use of porn
paradoxically constitutes the most convenient, desperate, sincere, and
radical attempt to defend against violence toward women even as it
perpetuates it?79
Or, more to the point, what if cyberporn is pornography's ideal
form precisely because it stages a renunciation of one's own power or
sadism, followed by the enjoyment of its exercise through the other?
Amateur cyberporn allows for the achievement of aggressive impulses
through the pornographic other by means of encouraging, indeed
structuring, contractual relations to it that are predicated upon a
heightened suspense factor. (In Part Three, I isolate three key forms
this suspense factor assumes.) The mediated relationship that fans
cultivate with their amateur on-screen "star" is one that takes place
over extended and rhythmical time. Immediacy becomes an illusion
provided by the medium itself: images, ready for down-loading when the
next installment is put up on the site (as promised at regular
intervals, usually a week), function as the signs of the adored model's
real, even interactive, presence.
But the relationship to the cyberimage is not only or merely
simulacral--its "reality" is a physical or bodily one enacted in tune
with the time it takes for an image to load onto the browser or with the
interval between the last picture installment or email. The suspenseful
relationship to the amateur model, who presumably is all the while
working to correspond to your fantasy (e. g., maybe she's wearing the
lingerie you sent--at her request!--for her next shoot), gets played out
as a rhythm on/of the body itself. I refer, of course, to the act of
masturbation while fixated on the computer screen. This single reflexive
act perfectly condenses the logic of masochism: one's own body becomes
the next-best substitute object for the absent other, so that in the act
of masturbating, one becomes both subject (the doer) and object (the
done-to). Behaving autoerotically is a way of mastering anxiety that
depends then upon making exactly the kind of substitution I claim
operates within the hostile logic of masochism; viz., aggressivity gets
fantasmically displaced on to the other as if to say, borrowing Reik's
formulation, "That's what I would like to do to you if only I were able
or allowed to!"80 Masturbation, as distinguished from the resulting
orgasm, has long been treated in classical psychoanalysis as a belated
way of mastering anxiety or intense impressions,81 while orgasmic
end-pleasure is, paradoxically, a source of unconscious anxiety, a loss
of control, which in rare cases can be so severe that it manifests
itself as an intense feeling of disintegration and disorientation.82
Masturbation is thus a moment of eroticized anxiety,83 at once
world-shattering and world-creating since it involves playing out on the
body a wished-for reality.84 No one apparently does this more
successfully than the perverse subject: "By achieving orgasm in a
reality consistent with his view, the pervert confirms, solidifies, and
obtains over and over again, the conviction that reality is actually as
he needs it to be," such that "in the moment of orgasm a world that may
be delusional is affirmed."85 Masturbatory relations to cyberporn can
thus constitute a kind of utopic rejection of the patriarchal imperative
to seduce and "man-handle" real women.86 The pornographic sexual
experience is less a gratifying substitute for "real" sex, than a
politically compensatory (and contradictory) remaking of subjectivity in
relation to the protocols of patriarchy and capitalism.
Libidinally, the cool delusion of cyberporn is a function of its
ability to hold out the possibility of an alternative world, opening a
line of escape from a condition in which unbearable feelings of
powerlessness coexist with the prerogatives of power that patriarchy
bestows.87 For its coolness, cyberporn seems to depend upon offering
some reprieve from the push and pull of boredom and rage (the poles of
the Gen-X psyche), or, more precisely, upon resolving the tension
between these two seemingly unrelated impulses. The antagonistic unity
of boredom (a condition resulting from under- and overstimulation) and
rage (a mix of fury and desire, sometimes in response to real
powerlessness) is necessitated and sustained by the (typically) male
experience of an intensely felt disproportion between interior
volatility and the outer world's indifference. Cyberporn's "cool"
installs in the male subject's imaginary the antidote, however imperfect
or temporary, to an unpleasant surfeit of anxiety or tension
(aggressivity, guilt, pain) by offering a "creative sublimation" that
transcends the deadlock of rage and boredom by splitting the subject.88
The cool excitement of cyberporn belongs properly to a perverse scenario
in which the obsessive search for the most satisfying images, the
"coolest" web sites or "hottest" pics, affords pleasure only to the
extent that the spectator can simultaneously identify with the other of
his fantasies and disavow the full implications of such an
identification, as is dramatically the case with "girl next door"
amateur porn.89
It was none other than sexual expert Dr. Ruth Westheimer who
articulated a version of this identificatory dilemma in response to a
number of questions she has received from (mostly) women troubled by
their partner's inordinate interest in cyberporn.90 In Dr. Ruth's view,
the men will either become quickly bored (ultimately with all sex) or
fall into excessive use. The "tragedy" for the woman involved is that,
either way, she ceases to be the object of the man's desire, which ends
up directed elsewhere or diminished entirely. The simplicity of Dr.
Ruth's response orients us to the intricate truth of the new
technologies of sex: cyberporn fashions a subject who is captivated by
the way it so smoothly manages desire, balancing out surplus and
deficit. In other words, through its controlled use, the image energizes
the subject's failing desires, while through its uncontrolled use, the
image defeats libidinal exorbitance.
The viewer of cyberporn therefore must negotiate the oscillation of
his desire and his boredom, by relating to the cyberimage in two
contradictory, yet mutually reassuring, modes of consumption: 1) the
image energizes desire by introducing into public space the subject's
dreams and fantasies. It validates the existence of ideal sexuality
somewhere (as Jean Baudrillard sees it, this is traditional porn's ruse:
it says, in effect, "there is good sex somewhere, since I am its
caricature"91 ); and, 2) the same image, by being less than real (or, in
its excess and its repeatability, too real), removes the impossible
burden of living up to any ideal, thereby making sex "safe" (again).92
It is not difficult to see how the logic of cyberporn, dependent upon
the simultaneous and dialectical expression of desire and its ruin,
ratifies masculine sexual authority at the same time it reveals that the
image (of the woman) cannot act as guarantor since there is always
present an element of the hyperbolic or the unreal that militates
against the authentication of mastery.
In this way, on-screen fantasies and the fantasmic bodies of
cyberporn confront male eroticism with the breaching of its own limits
at the same time that they haunt the subject with the (nevertheless
curiously reassuring) possibility that his very eros will short-circuit
or backfire, turning back punitively upon himself. In the alt.binaries
newsgroups where most on-line porn is found, single images are quite
often posted as part of a larger "flood" of pictures, so, for example, a
set of a hundred candid pictures of female Mardi Gras revelers might be
labeled by the poster the "Show Us Your Tits Flood." The term "flood" of
course dramatizes a peculiarly male anxiety--the threat of being
invaded, of being territorialized from without.93 Something of a risk is
unavoidably present in the collection of and identification with a
stream of cyberporn images, yet it is a risk that can conveniently
enough be eradicated in the very act of the image's consumption. This
neutralizing of the threat of invasion, let me hint now, is but one
strategy by which new modalities of porn consumption become intensely
perverse. Cyberimages, in their sheer number and variety and in the
modes by which they are organized and flood in, construct a constantly
shifting field of attractions, and, as I will argue in section three,
self-negating masochistic identifications, such that no on-line porn
maven, I surmise, can remain for long a strict fetishist. Electronic
eros militates against fetishistic fixation by encouraging at every
moment the formation of an array of desires, pleasures, and
In their "rage against the machine," Gen-Xers, who nevertheless
constitute the very model for consumption, steer between hard-core
fetishism and masochism, searching for some reprieve from the
overwhelming multiplication of consumer choices faced every day under
advanced technocapitalism.94 Bombarded by products that are marketed as
choices, their search for relief would seem doomed, were it not for a
rather ingenious strategy. The best way to cope seems to consist in
submitting to two imperatives: to focus or restrict consumption, perhaps
in the name of faithfulness to a particular brand name or self-denial
(dieting, for example), and to attempt to open oneself up to the widest
range of possible sensations and consumer experiences.95 Looking at the
several hundred erotic alt.binaries groups, for example, one is struck
by the way they dramatize the massive multiplication of interests and
tastes that are becoming increasingly more specific. While together they
accommodate a very wide range of interests, new individual groups are
constantly emerging that cater to ever more specific desires.96 This
impulse toward hyperspecialization, toward fetishization if you will,
might be read as a sign of consumers' enhanced power and freedom to
manipulate the world of commodities.97 Those, for example, attracted to
amateur cyberporn or to the Rage models are unanimous in their
resistance to the homogeneity imposed on aesthetics and bodies by the
mainstream porn industry (e. g., Playboy and Vivid Video).
To what extent does amateur porn constitute a way of contesting
market imperatives in a cyberspace overflowing with erotic merchandise?
Social theorists who find individuals' capacity to divide the world into
meaningful, fetishizable units merely a ruse of technology under
capitalism include Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio, Slavoj Zizek, and,
most notably, Adorno and Horkheimer, all of whom have diagnosed machine
culture as having direct and damaging effects upon the subject's
capacity for pleasure and illusion. In their views, as functionality
supplants desire, as simulation pushes out metaphoricity, and as
virtualization replaces the reality principle, the libido, not to
mention the ego, undergoes massive remodeling. Put plainly, desires and
expectations are now unavoidably perverted. Indeed, Adorno and
Horkheimer draw attention to how almighty capitalism renders its
subjects masochistic insofar as they come to anticipate and desire their
own submission.98 Though less pessimistic on the whole than his
Frankfurt School colleagues, Marcuse also observes that capitalist
culture transforms healthy instincts and desires into "false and
destructive" impulses, "due to the false forms into which their
satisfaction is channeled." These false pleasures, forms really of
"repressed self-abandon," lead inevitably, according to Marcuse, to
"masochistic subjection."99
If we grant that capitalism is sadistically and masochistically
structured, it does not necessarily follow that masochism equates with a
lack of power, as many critics, otherwise sensitive to the social,
economic, and political inequalities rampant under capitalism, tend to
conceive it.100 Almost universally masochism is paired dialectically
with sadism, as if the two, like Marx's classes, keep history in motion.
I would, however, resist the neat alignment of sadism with power
(capitalism, patriarchy) and of masochism with powerlessness (the
working class, femininity) not only because I hold the non-essentialism
of these psychoanalytic categories, but because I am unconvinced that
anything resembling a dynamic or symbiotic relation of sadism and
masochism is even possible.101
We do well to recall here Deleuze's dismissal of the
complementarity of sadism and masochism. In "Coldness and Cruelty,"
Deleuze depicts the "unrealistic" scenario in which the masochist
encounters the sadist: the truth is that neither would tolerate the
other since each participates in a "secret project" committed to
abolishing the other's power.102 It is preeminently a question of
incompatible fantasies. From the point of view of psychoanalysis, Victor
Smirnoff corroborates this view of the masochistic scene: "There can be
no possible sadistic-masochistic meeting: the sadist only accepts to be
the tormentor of an innocent and protesting victim; the masochist can
only be the victim of a reluctant executioner malgré lui."103 The
masochist's status as victim, Smirnoff continues, is self-willed, a
product of his own power, "the power of endowing the executioner with
the obligation of playing the role of a master, when indeed he is only a
slave, a creation of the masochist's desire."104 This contractual power
of the masochist over the master is the final, and most compelling,
reason for refusing the logic of powerlessness often implicated within
the masochistic stance.
The strategy by which Gen-Xers are negotiating their place in the
ever-intrusive commodity field--with its "push" technologies and
"extreme advertising"105 --might best be characterized as a masochistic
one. Gen-X modes of consumption seem to me, as I suggested earlier,
emblematic of the intertwined strategies of self-denial and of immersion
in the flux of commodities. Both are masochistic grabs at power through
paradoxical means: controlled abstinence aims to invigorate flagging
desires, whereas immoderate consumption aims to stem the overflow of
desire. The trick again is to strike a balance between deficit (boredom)
and excess (rage). At another level, both involve a simplification of
consumer choice, one through self-restraint or fixation and the other
through the ordeal of submitting to the unrestricted flow of goods. It
is the latter that most interests me, for here satiation promises an
antidote to itself: excess consumption wards off commodity saturation.
Consumption assumes a defensive function at the very moment it
paradoxically involves a submission to "extreme" marketing. In other
words, that capitalism produces masochistic subjects is not the whole
story since masochism itself operates as a defense against the pressures
of capitalism. Perhaps all we can say is that the cyclical violence of
capitalism, the fact that it has you coming or going, puts in front of
us a new malady: commodity masochism is coming to replace commodity
fetishism. We might even begin to mark the primacy of the former, as
Deleuze does, by affirming that "fetishism belongs essentially to
To shop till you drop--or to surf the Web until slowed up with
repetitive stress syndrome--constitutes a strategy of resistance as well
as an admission that capital, the commodity, has triumphed.107 This
contradiction informs cyberporn consumption as well, where a shift in
the logic of advanced technocapitalism is taking place around amateur
porn, which, by foregrounding the person(ality) as commodity, is
seemingly putting real people back into subjective, interactive
relations. The big Other of cybercapital now wears the thousand faces of
its amateur performers and entrepreneurs. Whereas traditional forms of
porn, marketing the woman as object to be consumed, have the rather
paradoxical effect of removing her from subjective circulation, thus
transforming her into the impossible commodity-object, cyberspace now
provides the appearance of women recirculating in culture. Images appear
in amateur picture groups tagged with subject lines like "Real
ams--could be your neighbor?"; or, very commonly, images are posted with
a request for acknowledgement: "Comments on my wife/(ex-) girlfriend are
welcome." This is undoubtedly a kind of electronic traffic in women, one
whose homosocial deployment, rather than validating masculinist power,
renders it momentarily vulnerable. It is as if men are taking the risk
of circulating a split-off aspect of their identity, one open thereby to
both approach and reproach.108 On the other side of homoerotic approach
and validation arises the possibility that your girlfriend could be
dismissed as ugly.
The perverse extreme of this--when porn pros, erstwhile "impossible
objects," sell their bodies for sexual encounters to any punter with the
cash--has already been realized in cyberspace. Nici's Girls, offering
romantic sessions by the hour with porn film legends across the country,
has radicalized the masochistic relation to porn: outside of the gaze of
the intrusive camera, which sets up the illusion that, in its absence,
real sex would be occurring, real enjoyment can never crystallize. In a
crucial sense, sex with a pornstar can only ever be a limited source of
pleasure since "real" pleasure depends upon the camera, that ostensible
spoiler of the scene, for its validation. In other words, private
pleasure counts only once it has been registered by the other. Take away
the mediated pornographic scene, the scripted eye of the camera (the
other), and unspoiled private pleasure becomes impossible. The
masochistic instrumental approach to sex, performed "from an external
distance, as an externally imposed task, not just 'for the sake of
it,'"109 is the fantasmic core of cyberporn, laid bare when prostitution
is contracted for on-line.
III. Disappearing Mas(o)c(h)ulinity: Cyberporn's Challenge to Culture
Sexual "deviates" enigma, and it is the future of culture
that they are challenging us to decipher through their obsessions.110
Recent commentators on the cultural-libidinal condition of
cybersex, what Mark Dery calls "robo-copulation," have tended to equate
electronic eros with the death drive, seeing the jouissance of
erototronics as inextricably bound up with fantasies of bodily negation
or ego transcendence. Thus, for Claudia Springer, "sex is being replaced
by computer use, which provides the deathlike loss of self once
associated with sexual pleasure."111 Now a kind of disappearance act,
sex it seems has become fully pathological in the age of intelligent
machines. Dery underscores the grave danger of mechano-eroticism: "the
scariest of these pathologies eroticizes the machinery of death." The
projection of the sexual onto technology is, he claims, at its heart
Strictly psychoanalytic accounts of cybersex, indeed the few that
there are, converge around another, though intricately related, issue:
that of psychical regression. Norman Holland, Robert Young, and Slavoj
Zizek all point out that what cybersex does, above all else, is debase
human sexuality through the encouragement of fantasies, specifically
fantasies of uninhibited desire. This unchecked desire can manifest
itself variously: for Zizek, it is a regression to the polymorphous
perversity of primordial narcissism113 ; for Holland, it is a male
pornographic fantasy of docile, machinic women114 ; and for Young, it is
a schizoid kind of love that is also pornographic in nature, "the
quintessence of a pregenital, part-object relationship."115 All three
see the wired universe as the space of post-Oedipality, a world no
longer reliant upon paternal authority. In their account, to take refuge
in virtualized sex is nothing other than an avoidance of an unbearable
super-ego injunction, the very obligation the intersubjective other, or,
in the Lacanian account, the superegoic command to "Enjoy!," places upon
the subject. Thus Holland terms the PC "a permissive parent"; Young
views it as a veritable "postmodernist supermarket of satisfactions";
and Zizek finds in it "the end of sexuality."
The language used to talk about cybersex, as I mentioned at the
essay's outset, is invariably that of addiction: the lure and hook of
cybersex is that one's relationship to the computer is more fulfilling
than a relationship to a sexual partner. The warning signs of addiction
are broadcast by the popular press, and, it would seem, by the cybersex
industry itself: A brilliant ad for the adult interactive CD-ROM game
"Fuzz Buzzers: The Ultimate Sex Toy Challenge" depicts a sultry woman in
the foreground lamenting that her boyfriend, shown in the background
engrossed in the computer game, won't come near her anymore. The only
text other than the game's title is her lament: "Since my boyfriend
began playing that interactive FUZZ BUZZERS game, our relationship is
the pits! We don't go out anymore, he doesn't eat or sleep, and he's
quit his job at the post office! He's become a virtual robot! How can I
compete with FUZZ BUZZERS' hot, multi-level, sexual action? It leaves
nothing to your imagination! Gosh, I wish I was fully interactive too!"
The girlfriend's complaint that her partner has become a virtual
robot because the game "leaves nothing to your imagination" is perhaps
the most crucial insight linking the problem of addiction to that of
pornographic consumption. The problem is not really that the boyfriend
is addicted, even addicted to sex; the problem is that he is incapable
of becoming addicted to sex with a real live woman, a woman who
ironically wishes she were "fully interactive." His interactive computer
relationship has meant the demise of his genuinely interactive, or
intersubjective, human relationship. This is understandable in strictly
libidinal terms: instant gratification, as psychoanalysis has repeatedly
insisted, obviates desire for the love object, precisely because once
obstacles are cleared away the illusion that, in their absence, the love
object would be directly accessible crumbles. The illusion of
inaccessibility is needed as a way of concealing the impossibility of
ever attaining the object. Destroy this illusion, and desire is ruined.
This is clearly a problem for technocapitalism, whose vitality depends
upon instant gratification and the continual reanimation of desire:
[I]n contrast to the standard situation in which the very
inaccessibility of the object, the fact that the object is "hard to
get," guarantees its reality; the availability of the object is paid
for by its de-realization, by the frustrating experience that "this
(what we get) is not that." So the big enigma is: how, through what
kind of limitation of access, will capitalism succeed in reintroducing
lack and scarcity into this saturation?116
The predicament of capitalism--that the logic of instant gratification
actually smothers desire and devalues the sought-after object--would
seem to be most acute in electronic commercial transactions, such as
those conducted via the Web, where there appear to be few, if any,
obstacles to attaining what you really desire. Indeed, the press has yet
to tire of stories in which a nine-year-old buys wine on the Web or a
bargain-hunting housewife "stumbles" across a B&D porn site while
browsing for leather outlets. But I wish to suggest that this seemingly
unrestricted world of commodities and fantasies is always already,
especially in the case of cyberporn, "reterritorialized" according to a
masochistic logic of deferral, suspension, and obstruction.
It is precisely in the space between fantasies of total access and
the reality of material, or physical, limitation that masochism is
reterritorializing desire. So to Jessica Benjamin's claim that porn
marks a sharp disjunction between fantasy and reality,117 I want to add
that this disjunction represents itself a fantasmic construction called
into being by new forms of electronic praxis. Cyberporn, it seems to me,
renders this disjunction, between symbol (of desire) and reality, itself
an active part of the fantasy production. This is a realm where sexual
fantasy is driving technology at the same time technology is shaping
fantasy. Mike Saenz, the creator of adult software such as Virtual
Valerie and Donna Matrix, declares aphoristically, "lust motivates
technology." Given the number of technological innovations directly
attributable to Websex businesses, such as combined streaming video and
interactive chat, password management and credit card fraud control,
Saenz's claim seems perfectly reasonable.118 But I aim, in the following
symptomatological analysis of three key formal aspects of the subject's
relation to cyberporn (the contract, the image, and the viewing
apparatus), to justify turning the aphorism around, so that "technology
motivates lust." Cybertechnology reinvents the ego, inscribing it with
new relations of pleasure and pain, activity and passivity.
• The contract: this, of course, is Deleuze's remarkable
contribution to understanding the psychodynamics of masochism as defined
by their form rather than their content. Deleuze is in full agreement
with Reik concerning the power of the masochist, whose tactics of
provocation subvert the law by paradoxically adhering to it perfectly.
Through exaggerated submission to the law, the masochist obtains what
the law itself prohibits or restricts.119 The masochist's power, then,
derives, from his validation of the symbolic power of the contract he
signs into existence. Deleuze stresses that "the contract actually
generates a law, even if this law oversteps and contravenes the
conditions which made it possible."120 The law is thus both the
instrument and the target of transgression, and its relation to
strategies such as disavowal, humor, and suspense is clear: the
scrupulous application of the law to its fullest consequences is
actually a way of reducing the law, of demonstrating its absurdity,
"through the downward movement of humor."121 Kafka was the master of
this kind of attack on the law, an attack undertaken to lay claim to the
law's inherent pleasure, a pleasure the law is supposed to prohibit.
Anyone who has surfed even the front pages of porn websites cannot
help but be struck by the contract that awaits electronic signature by
clicking in agreement--or disagreement (an act that sends you to places
like its terms. The contracts range from the rather
brief (5 or 6 conditions), like that of Marcelle's Place on the Web, to
the prolix (30 or more conditions), like that allowing access to Usually, to gain access to a porn site requires at
least affirming that you are 18 or 21 years old, that you are not
violating local or community standards by using the site, and that you
understand any unauthorized duplication and redistribution of the site's
material constitutes a violation of copyright. Often there is embedded
among the legal conditions one or two that are more generally political
in nature, requiring you to affirm that you subscribe to the principles
of the First Amendment and believe that adults are constitutionally
guaranteed the freedom to view and read what they wish without
governmental interference. Nearly all sites shift the responsibility for
safe-guarding explicit sexual imagery from children over to the
consumer, either by writing it into the contract or advertising by
banner the several blocking or filtering technologies available. It is
clear, of course, that cyberporn vendors are attempting to protect
themselves, against prosecution by the government and potential abuses
by their customers, but the contractual alliance between site owner and
viewer has become more than quasi legal protection. It has become an
indispensable component of the viewer's own fantasy and pleasure.
By claiming that without the contract pleasure in cyberporn is
diminished if not eradicated, I mean to signal a Lacanian formulation
according to which, as Deleuze summarizes it, "the law is the same as
repressed desire. The law cannot specify its object without
self-contradiction, nor can it define itself with reference to a content
without removing the repression on which it rests. The object of law and
the object of desire are one in the same, and remain equally
concealed."122 The law, as embodied in the cyberporn contract, conceals
the fact that its symbolic value is not to ward off virtual trespassers
as much as it is to encourage a kind of masochistic pleasure in the law
itself. Traversing the contract on the way to porn is a direct enactment
of the formal preconditions of masochistic pleasure; that is, the real
pleasure here is not that found in its punitive authority per se--for
example, the liability of accessing a porn site from one of 22 US states
named on the NudeFreedom contract--but the pleasure made possible by an
exaggerated submission to the threat of punishment. The masochist is
truly, as Deleuze characterizes him, "a logician of consequences,"123
for he subjects himself to the guilt of forbidden pleasure before
violating the law.124 What the cyberporn contract does, in effect, is
stage a turning upside down of guilt: the masochistic porn viewer's
guilt derives not from any relation to the law that the contract evokes,
such as anxiety over transgressing or operating at the margins of
legality--indeed, the contract itself is nothing but a "joke," something
at once gravely serious and absurd--but it derives rather from a
relation to the law that transcends the contract. Through the formal
structure of the contract, Deleuze observes, "the law now ordains what
it was once intended to forbid; guilt absolves instead of leading to
atonement, and punishment makes permissible what it was intended to
The law that transcends the contract and to which the porn user
submits is nothing other than the feminist imperative not to
fetishistically subordinate women. By clicking through the contract, the
user now transfers his investment in the symbolic power of patriarchy
over to that of the "despotic woman." He invests the law in the very
object of his misogynist enjoyment, and in this way achieves a
short-circuiting of the symbolic authority of patriarchy. That the
contract marks a momentary formal triumph over patriarchy, in the name
of some tacit recognition of feminist authority, is what makes it
compelling and pleasurable, and all the more self-shattering.
• The image: its content no longer arouses; the process by which it
is delivered does. It is often claimed, especially by so-called
"anti-antiporn" theorists, that pornographic images per se do not
arouse, that instead systems of signification and complex fantasies
do.126 While it is true that porn images are never simple means to
gratification, that they are arousing to the extent that they can be
mobilized within complex fantasy scenarios, it is also true,
increasingly so, that enjoyment is coinciding with the modes of
consumption. Porn can no longer be viewed as a mere masturbation prop, a
passive form on to which fantasies are projected again and again.
Desire, instead of being coupled to objects or to fantasies, is first
coupled to the technology that stages the erotic scene.
Desire and technology have come together not because the Web
accelerates the achievement of desire to the point of its destruction,
the direct result of having collapsed the virtual space of
symbolization, but rather because the Web in fact exacerbates the delay
and frustration that are necessary components of desire. The cyberporn
image is, in short, a suspenseful one, a kind of striptease act that
takes place every time an image loads on to the Web browser, pixel line
after pixel line, from top to bottom. The instantaneous image, even if
it were a technical possibility, will never be a libidinal possibility,
for pleasure in the cyberimage is one derived from expectation, from the
wait endured as the "right" image finally loads. The delay that the
masochistic consumer of porn suffers is not therefore the cost of
achieving some greater pleasure later (though it appears to be, due to
capitalism's structuring of desire in this way), but a sign that desire
and pleasure are not always coextensive, that it may be possible, as
Deleuze and Guattari write, to lay claim to a joy that "is not measured
by pleasure."127 Delay and suspense, in other words, break the continual
flow of desire normally experienced as pleasurable, in order to
introduce a new register of jouissance poised between anxiety and
When Reik and Deleuze identified the "suspense factor" as one of
masochism's constitutive elements, he drew attention for the first time
to the masochist's untimely work of displacement with respect to
enjoyment. Masochistic suspense, or what he also calls "expectation,"
displaces pure pleasure with an anxiety-creating one, in order to
produce in anticipation the very anxiety that is troubling the subject
in the first place. It is a question therefore of mastering time, of
converting, through fantasy, the experience of a future traumatic event
into a present one.129 This then is the paradox of the masochist: he
both avoids the object of anxiety and he courts it, arranges for its
execution. The wired porn-user subjects himself to "floods" of
electronic images less to recover the authority to look, forbidden him
in places such as the workplace, or to compensate for the everyday
assault of unwelcome or "intrusive" images upon him, than to anticipate,
and thereby master, the risk, humiliation, guilt, and distress of
looking at women in a postfeminist age.130
• The viewing apparatus: web technologies, instead of making access
to the pornographic image quicker and more direct, have been rigged to
do precisely the opposite. Just a few years ago, "lust-crazed surfers,"
Andrew Leonard observes, "had to toil long and hard before locating the
orgasmic aid of their desire," and today, even though "one need hardly
break a virtual sweat" to find porn sites advertising "Free pics!,"
surfers have to work even harder.131 Porn sites now, some 30% of which
are estimated to be content-free, are little more than ads for other
sites, electronically "booby-trapped" with blind links and pop-up
consoles and windows designed to gain hits and to send the surfer to
other sites. This practice, known as "click-through farming," marks a
relatively new development in advertising strategy, supplanting the old
banner system, where one "click-through," that is, the act of
mouse-clicking on an ad banner, might pay as much as 15 cents for
sending a potential customer to a specific site. Now, if you hit a
so-called free site, full-page ads that look like tables of content pop
up, or new browser windows open spontaneously in dizzying layers,
sending you to several other sites (try, for example, to open a pic of
"Britney Spears Naked!!!" at this site). Attempts to close the windows
only generate more of them, including JavaScript-launched "consoles"
that linger long after the original site has been left. The race to
close windows faster than they pop-up is on. Clicking on thumbnail
images or buttons on a slick console page that might offer "amateur
orgy" or "naughty schoolgirl" images, instead of linking you to any
images, will send you to another site, whose URL, normally appearing in
the browser's status bar, has been obscured by a JavaScript program. And
should you decide you have had enough, and exit the original page, an
exit console will pop up which usually points surfers back to the first
site. Trapped in a loop, surfers return to the original site again and
again without realizing it.
Capitalism would seem, through the non-linear paths its
techno-trickery are creating, to be channeling desire away from the
ostensible "product," the image. Webmaster for Butts-N-Sluts, Brian
Muir, claims that, rather than alienating potential customers, exit
console loops, or "circle-jerking" as insiders call it, actually turn
weary surfers into paying customers. In the hypercommercialized Web,
desire is never straightforwardly a matter of attaining satisfaction,
but is predicated upon the exacerbation of frustration and upon the
delay that is now built into the viewing apparatus. Furthermore,
cyberporn, and by extension the surfer, are numerically monitored and
measured at every click: a surfer's searches end in "hits" that are
tabulated by click-through tracking software (made by companies like
WebSideStory and SexHound specializing in this service) and "counter"
programs, both of which generate "toplists" ranking adult sites by
At the same time that cyberporn achieves its economic vitality and
longevity through limiting access to itself, making sure that the object
remains under the sign of lack, it converts masculinity into "a
prosthetic reality," which, according to Homi Bhabha, functions as "an
appendix or addition that, willy-nilly, supplements and suspends a
'lack-in-being.'"132 Spectatorship, as well as consumption, becomes a
matter of passivity and self-abandonment, whose masochistic dynamics
neutralize violence: "Violence against the other is finally just an
inadequate substitute for the dispossession of oneself. The reflections
of masochistic spectacle create a space of superfluity, of violently
heightened ambivalence, in which every exercise of power gets lost."133
Cyberporn, by intensifying the instabilities of phallic masculinity,
renders phallic desire a kind of alienated work whereby the
body--measured, monitored, delayed--is conceptualized primarily in its
Cyberporn is thus never merely "consumed"; it creates the
possibility for fantasmatically remaking the world. Mass-circulating
porn enunciates fantasies that elaborate a logic of masochistic desire.
Moving beyond cyberporn as an artifact is to engage directly with the
ways it creates certain effects, material and fantasmatic. While
cybertheory, along with psychoanalysis, has tended to dismiss
pornography, as instrument and sign of regression, I am less concerned
with directly challenging this position than with refocusing it,
reorienting it to the very thing these same theories generally assert is
an indispensable element of the pornosexual imagination--namely, the
possibility of moving or being moved toward some alternative reality.134
As Guattari writes, "a fantasy when it operates does not do so as a
fantasy that represents a content, but as something that puts us in
motion, that brings out something that carries us away, that draws us
on, that locks us onto something."135 Cybersex technologies are setting
up especially seductive fantasies, whose presence modify our very
reality--not only our reality-sense, or principle.
Last and Open Lines of Thought
My patient was very emphatic that a satisfactory sexual life was
impossible in America.136
There are pleasure values. . . that have not yet been discovered.137
1. Cyberporn makes fantasies objective, and, in doing so, opens up
lines of becoming. A rethinking of mass-consumed porn suggests that it
is less a flight from reality (that is, pure neurosis) than an active
remodeling of reality. In disavowing reality, cyberporn attempts to
replace it, to clarify it. It may be worth considering here the role of
psychosis, or the schizo-mechanism, which, in the case of Victor Tausk's
famous Influencing Machine technofantasy, seems to constitute a
historically-determined and active response to the increasing complexity
and "virtuality" of the machine.138 Cyberpornographic, or porn-inspired,
hallucinations become, similarly, temporary windows to an alternative
reality. The increasingly mechanized world becomes the scene for
delusional alternatives to passivity, at the same time it demands of the
subject absolute passivity.
2. To rethink the place of masochism within mass fantasy is to
confront the problems of guilt, social harm, and the evasion of
responsibility. Porn's indisputably misogynist structuring of fantasy
would seem to put before us this situation: masochism is driven by guilt
over the harm done to women in fantasy and deed, and perhaps even more
so by guilt over the failure to create the political mechanisms by
which, and the social conditions in which, misogyny would disappear.
Cyberporn encourages a certain masculinist fantasy of freedom from guilt
that only fuels more porn use. Undertaken to evade guilt and disavow
power, masochism reveals that, as a utopic impulse, its pleasures are
available strictly to those who have power in the first place.
3. Trading "flesh for fantasy" (as the Billy Idol song has it) is a
contractual transaction whereby the masculine consumer trades away a
legacy of control and subjectivity, only to recover an even stronger
legacy.139 Masochism, not sadism, is now the surest route to power.
Furthermore, subjectivity, as it becomes increasingly an appendage of
technology, installs masochism as the erotics of what Lacan so astutely
calls "a fading of the subject." The masochistic scene
mobilizes--through the contract, the image, and the viewing
apparatus--"subjective disappearance as a productive force, a kind of
identity machine," as John Noyes has put it.140 Its ideal form
approximates the practice of "nomadic" disappearance that Sylvère
Lotringer has described in a conversation with Baudrillard as "a more
lively way of disappearing" than what he terms "the organic (death)."
Disappearing into the pornomatrix always entails the possibility of
vanishing "like nomads, in order to reappear somewhere else, where one
is not expected,"141 poised to lay claim to a new affectivity that masks
its own virulence.
Michael Uebel is an assistant professor of English at the University
of Kentucky, where he teaches medieval literature. He is co-editor of
Race and the Subject of Masculinities (Duke UP). He is working on a
project entitled "The Ethics of Masochism." He can be reached at
Copyright © 2000, Michael Uebel and The Johns Hopkins University Press ,
all rights reserved. NOTE: members of a subscribed campus may use this
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permission from the JHU Press is expressly forbidden.
This essay was conceived in a graduate seminar I taught in the
Communication, Culture, and Technology Program at Georgetown University,
to whose participants I owe a special thanks: Kate Bishop, Mark Sample,
Claudia Siervo, and John Stiver. Since then, I have incurred extravagant
debts to the intellectual generosity of the following people, a couple
of whom I have only known electronically: Mark Adair, Maurice Apprey,
Virginia Blum, Anne Allison, Bruce Fink, Shannon McRae, Terry Harpold,
David Waldner, Martin Irvine, Vance Smith, Jeffrey Cohen, Matt
Kirschenbaum, and Susan Stryker. Presented before the Social Theory
Committee at the University of Kentucky, the paper received comments
that will for a long time challenge me to think more broadly, and
deeper, about the subject of masochism's social value; thanks to my
colleagues Wolfgang Natter, Steven Mangine, John Pickles, Dana Nelson,
and David Miller. In this and other projects, two people have held me to
especially high standards of intellectual rigor and political candor:
Debra Morris, who is a model of engaged, responsible criticism, and
James Hurley, who is a model and most articulate spokesman for all
things perverse.
1. Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, trans. and ed. Séan Hand (Minneapolis: U of
Minnesota P, 1988) 39.
2. A term I'll use at times somewhat broadly, before coming to focus on
on-screen computer images and the fantasies they generate for
heterosexual men. By the broad term "cybersex," I mean an erotic
relation to digitally-mediated, -produced, -transmitted, or stored
representations or enactments of human sexuality. Erotic relations may
include, though are not limited to, "tiny sex" (erotic chat, MUDing),
CD-ROM "interactive" adult gaming, and, above all, down-loading,
viewing, and masturbating to on-screen binary images found on websites
and in newsgroups. Interestingly, to enjoy "cybersex" can mean to take
up any one of three subject positions (singularly, serially, or
simultaneously): passive viewer, active producer, and "interactive," or,
as we will see, following Zizek, "interpassive," participant-observer.
3. See Ann Weinstone, "Welcome to the Pharmacy: Addiction,
Transcendence, and Virtual Reality," diacritics 27 (fall 1997): 77-89.
See also note 4.
4. Part of the problem here is viewing cyberporn through the lens of
sexual deviancy without rethinking the changing parameters of deviancy
itself. Dealing with the (then) relatively new phenomenon of cybersex,
sociologists and psychologists were faced with just this problem. A
representative sociological view is Keith F. Durkin and Clifton D.
Bryant, "'Log on to Sex': Some Notes on the Carnal Computer and Erotic
Cyberspace as an Emerging Research Frontier," Deviant Behavior: An
Interdisciplinary Journal 16 (1995): 179-200. A representative
psychological view is John Suler, "The Bad Boys of Cyberspace: Deviant
Behavior in Online Multimedia Communities." An out-patient treatment
program for sex offenders, a group including six adults addicted to
cybersex, is briefly described in John E. Bingham and Chris Piotrowski,
"On-Line Sexual Addiction: A Contemporary Enigma," Psychological Reports
79 (1996): 257-58. The concern about on-line addiction, though, is
mainstream. Articles and news reports appear almost weekly. Identifying
the signs of net addiction is a national concern dating to around the
middle of 1996, when articles started appearing in computer magazines.
See Carolyn Jabs, "Fatal Distraction? Learning the Signs of On-line
Addiction," HomePC (May 1996): 66-78. Just a year later, a mental health
disorder called Pathological Internet Use (PIU) is floated (by Kimberly
Young), and around the same time the portentously named Sandra Hacker, a
Cincinnati mother who allegedly locked her three children in a foul room
while she surfed the Net, was diagnosed with Internet Addiction
Disorder. See Associated Press, "Woman Diagnosed with Net Addiction
Disorder", (June 16, 1997), USA Today.
5. See for instance, Diane Butterworth, "Wanking in Cyberspace," Trouble
& Strife 27 (Winter 1993): 32-36; Nicole Nolan, "Sex and the Single
Geek," This Magazine (May/June 1996): 25-9; and Sue-Ellen Case, The
Domain-Matrix: Performing Lesbian at the End of Print Culture
(Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1996) 88-89.
6. I do not mean to suggest that feminism is univocal on the porn
question. My endorsement of the strongest critiques of porn's sadism (as
in MacKinnon) comes with the significant qualification that such sadism
is wrapped for male heterosexual porn consumers in a
historically-determined masochistic fantasy. Nor do I believe that porn
is itself homogenous. I see it as inciting pleasure and danger
alternately. It is within queer readings of the porn film that this
ambivalence has been most sharply articulated. See John Champagne, "Gay
Pornography and Nonproductive Expenditure," in his The Ethics of
Marginality: A New Approach to Gay Studies (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota
P, 1995) 28-56; and Richard Fung, "Looking for My Penis: The Eroticized
Asian in Gay Video Porn," in How Do I Look? Queer Film and Video, ed.
Bad Object-Choices (Seattle: Bay Press, 1991) 145-68.
7. The pornographic image is, in this sense, truly a "published dream,"
as Berkeley Kaite has put it. The porn image, Kaite explains, is a
"dream-text as symptoms of a larger structure" (Berkeley Kaite,
Pornography and Difference [Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995] viii, ix).
Whereas Kaite stresses the discoherence of text and structure
themselves, I wish to emphasize in this essay one--not the only--
"perverse" center around which masculinist culture organizes itself.
Though the terms in which pornography is described as political need to
be constantly rethought as technology is changing, this essay assumes
that all pornography is fundamentally political. A smart case for the
pornographic as political is made by Laura Kipnis, Bound and Gagged:
Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America (New York: Grove P,
8. Michael Warner, "The Mass Public and the Mass Subject," in The
Phantom Public Sphere, ed. Bruce Robbins (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P,
1993) 242.
9. I use the collective "we" to signal my belief that
pornography--straight and queer--holds out the possibility of retraining
our desires in ways that are not necessarily always in sync with
cultural imperatives or norms concerning what is useful, productive, and
beneficial. Along these lines, see Champagne, Ethics. My focus in this
essay is the heterosexual male consumer of cyberporn, a figure treated
monolithically by critics on both sides of the porn debate, and whom I
hope to reconstruct as a--not the--guide to the range of sexualities and
subjectivities within, and called forth by, the complex and
unpredictable regime of pornographic representation.
10. See n. 7.
11. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, trans.
Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1978) 90.
12. Coverage of the traffic in child porn is almost daily.
13. The terms are invariably those of protection (of kids), censorship,
and rights (defending them, having them taken away). See, for instance,
Jonathan Wallace and Mark Mangan, Sex, Laws, and Cyberspace (New York:
Henry Holt, 1996) and Mike Godwin, Cyber Rights: Defending Free Speech
in the Digital Age (New York: Times Books, 1998). In both books,
cyberporn functions as the paradigmatic case for analyzing the
conditions for the possibility of freedom and free thought in
14. As Guattari puts it succinctly: "The most singular and personal
factors have to do with social and collective dimensions. It is stupid
to imagine a psychogenesis independent of contextual dimensions, but
that's what psychologists and psychoanalysts do" (Félix Guattari,
Chaosophy, ed. Sylvère Lotringer [NY: Semiotexte, 1995] 13). I do not
believe, nor did Guattari I would venture, that all psychoanalysts
ignore the social and collective context of psychic phenomena. Such a
belief would be a misreading of Reik, the very figure whom Deleuze (and
Guattari) depend on for a theory of masochism.
15. The most famous case of paranoia in psychoanalytic history, that of
Freud's Daniel Paul Schreber, served for Deleuze and Guattari as the
paradigmatic case of psychoanalysis's systematic effacement of the
social and political contents of psychic disturbance. What does it mean
to ignore the racial and historical ravings of Schreber, in favor of
oedipality? See Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley et al. (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota
P, 1983) 11-19 passim. Freud's case study is "Psycho-analytic Notes on
an Autobiographical Account of Paranoia" (1911), in The Standard Edition
of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey
(London: Hogarth, 1958) 13: 3-82; hereafter cited as SE. Eric L.
Santner's masterful treatment of the Schreber case in light of its
reflection of the crisis of authority endemic to German modernity must
be mentioned here. See his My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul
Schreber's Secret History of Modernity (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1996).
16. Félix Guattari, Chaosophy, 41.
17. Paraphrasing Deleuze, from the interview "In Flux," in Chaosophy,
18. Félix Guattari, "Entering the Post-Media Era," trans. Chet Wiener,
in Guattari, Soft Subversions (New York: Semiotexte, 1996) 110. "A
machine," Guattari writes in another context, "treats you like a
machine, and the essential thing is not what it says, but the sort of
vertigo of abolition that the fact of being 'machinized' provides for
you. With people dissolving and things passing unwitnessed, one abandons
oneself to a guilt-free world" ("The Poor Man's Couch," in Soft
Subversions, 163). The implications of this statement on the
cinematographic apparatus have, I think, important implications for
thinking about the utopian potentials of identifications made in and
across cyberspace.
19. See Guattari, "Popular Free Radio," trans. David L. Sweet, in Soft
Subversions, 73-8; "Entering the Post-Media Era," in Soft Subversions,
106-11; see also, "Regimes, Pathways, Subjects," trans. Brian Massumi,
in Soft Subversions, 112-30. I should point out that Guattari is
consistently more optimistic than Deleuze. When asked by Antonio Negri
whether he thought if communism, in the control or communication
society, could take "the form of a transversal organization of free
individuals built on a technology that makes it possible," Deleuze
replied that it was perhaps possible, but that, at any rate, "it would
be nothing to do with minorities speaking out." Deleuze goes on to
underscore the need to "hijack speech" in order to elude control.
Capitalism is of course the primary obstacle to any such hijacking. See
Deleuze, "Control and Becoming," in Negotiations, 1972-1990, trans.
Martin Joughin (NY: Columbia UP, 1995), 169-76.
20. Mark Slouka has characterized the new electronic communities in
these terms in his War of the Worlds: Cyberspace and the High-Tech
Assault on Reality (New York: BasicBooks, 1995), 87-107.
21. Guattari, "Popular Free Radio," 73.
22. Bernardo Alexander Attias, "To Each Its Own Sexes? Toward a
Rhetorical Understanding of Molecular Revolution," in Deleuze and
Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy, and Culture, ed. Eleanor
Kaufman and Kevin Jon Heller (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998) 104.
23. Louis Marin, Utopics: The Semiological Play of Textual Spaces,
trans. Robert A. Vollrath (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press
International, 1984) 11.
24. See Deleuze, "Coldness and Cruelty," in Masochism (NY: Zone Books,
1989), 9-138. The problem of masochism occupied Deleuze for almost
thirty years; I will be drawing as well on his other essays and
statements on the subject: "De Sacher Masoch ou masochisme," Arguments
5, no. 21 (Jan.-Apr. 1961): 40-6; "Mystique et masochisme" (interview
with Madeleine Chapsal), La quinzaine littéraire 25 (1-15 Apr. 1967):
12-13; "Re-presentation of Masoch" (orig. pub. in Libération, 18 May,
1989), trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco, in Deleuze, Essays
Critical and Clinical (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997), 53-55.
25. Deleuze, "On Philosophy," in Negotiations, 142.
26. See, respectively, John K. Noyes, The Mastery of Submission:
Inventions of Masochism (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1997); Carolyn J. Dean, The
Self and its Pleasures: Bataille, Lacan, and the History of the
Decentered Subject (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992); David Savran, Taking It
Like a Man: White Masculinity, Masochism, and Contemporary American
Culture (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1998); and Kathy O'Dell, Contract with
the Skin: Masochism, Performance Art, and the 1970s (Minneapolis: U of
Minnesota P, 1998).
27. See Savran, Taking It Like a Man, 298-308, where he argues that the
film, then number five on the all-time list of box-office blockbusters,
bolsters and excuses hegemonic white masculinity and brutality under the
guise of new, sensitive maleness (the masochist). The restoration of
masculinity, Savran claims, can only occur on the condition of its
triumphant sacrifice.
28. I am relying on adult web site statistics provided by WebSideStory.
29. See Robert J. Stoller, Perversion: The Erotic Form of Hatred (New
York: Pantheon, 1975), esp. ch. 5, "Pornography and Perversion," 63-91.
See also Stoller, Observing the Erotic Imagination (New Haven: Yale UP,
1985), and Pain and Passion: A Psychoanalyst Explores the World of S&M
(New York: Plenum, 1991), esp. 31-50.
30. "A tougher pornography is required these days to sustain the risk,
the attack on one's sensibility, that is needed for excitement. It is
not so easy now for voyeurs to live dangerously" (Stoller, Observing the
Erotic Imagination, 86).
31. MacKinnon's and Benjamin's views are more or less consistent, though
Benjamin will insist that it is "not the violence of the images
themselves but the closing of the space between the object and its
representation in order to compel a reaction that makes the pornographic
different from full symbolizing" (Jessica Benjamin, "Sympathy for the
Devil: Notes on Sexuality and Aggression, with Special Reference to
Pornography," in her Like Subjects, Love Objects: Essays on Recognition
and Sexual Difference [New Haven: Yale UP, 1995] 207).
32. See Parveen Adams, "The Truth on Assault," in her The Emptiness of
the Image: Psychoanalysis and Sexual Differences (New York: Routledge,
1996) 57-69.
33. Jacques Lacan, Television: A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic
Establishment, trans. Denis Hollier, Rosalind Kraus, and Annette
Michelson (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990) 37-8.
34. For a fine historical account of American men's anxiety, see Michael
Kimmel, Manhood in America: A Cultural History (New York: Free P, 1996),
esp. 291-328.
35. This is not to blame feminism (or women), but to recognize one of
the forces unshaping contemporary masculine identity in its turn toward
the anxious and the masochistic. For an anlysis of the cultural forces
that are disfiguring men's lives, see Susan Faludi, Stiffed: The
Betrayal of the American Man (New York: William Morrow, 1999).
36. See Lynn S. Chancer, Sadomasochism in Everyday Life: The Dynamics of
Power and Powerlessness (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1992) and John
Munder Ross, The Sadomasochism of Everyday Life (New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1997), according to whom, "much--if not all--of man's
heterosexuality is fated to become sadomasochistic" (168).
37. The logic by which "power is perpetuated by self-mutilation" is
briefly, but brilliantly, read by Nick Mansfield, Masochism: The Art of
Power (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997), esp. 21-5, 98-102.
38. Sandor Ferenczi, writing in 1909 on abstinence movements and social
reform projects, was the first to discuss the transference of unpleasure
to the field of external reality, to new social fields, as a way of
working out anxieties, conflicts, and pains. The problem, he says, is
that transference often miscarries, and so psychosis and perversion are
turned to as the more effective defense mechanisms. In my reading, the
Web is one such new social field. See Sandor Ferenczi, "Introjection and
Transference" (1909), in his Sex in Psychoanalysis (New York: Basic
Books, 1950), 35-93.
39. Pat Califia, "A Secret Side of Lesbian Sexuality," in S and M:
Studies in Sadomasochism, ed. Thomas Weinberg and G. W. Levi Kamel (New
York: Prometheus, 1983), 135.
40. The prominence of masochism in cultural criticism owes to its
auspicious origins in film theory, much of which aims directly at
countering the dominant fiction of the masculine sadistic and
fetishistic gaze. A genealogy should begin with Gaylyn Studlar,
"Masochism and the Perverse Pleasures of the Cinema," Quarterly Review
of Film Studies 9.4 (fall 1984): 267-82. Two important works follow:
though not film criticism per se, Leo Bersani's TheFreudian Body:
Psychoanalysis and Art (New York: Columbia UP, 1986), or more
specifically, three incandescent pages in the book (pp. 38-40), is a key
text along with Gaylyn Studlar, In the Realm of the Senses: Von
Sternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic (New York: Columbia
UP, 1988). Important elaborations are: D. N. Rodowick, The Difficulty of
Difference: Psychoanalysis, Sexual Difference, and Film Theory (New
York: Routledge, 1991), Kaja Silverman, Male Subjectivity at the Margins
(New York: Routledge, 1992), Carol J. Clover, Men, Women, and Chainsaws:
Gender in the Modern Horror Film (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992), Steven
Shaviro, The Cinematic Body (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993), and,
in relation to porn specifically, Linda Williams, Hardcore: Power,
Pleasure, and "the Frenzy of the Visible" (Berkeley: U of California P,
1989), esp. 184-228. For a recent assessment of the place of the
masochistic trope in film studies, see Paul Smith, "Eastwood Bound," in
Constructing Masculinity, ed. Maurice Berger, Brian Willis, and Simon
Watson (New York: Routledge, 1995), 77-97.
41. In psychoanalysis, masochism has evolved from a sexual perversion to
the kernel of generalized (and social) neurosis, as in the theory of
Karen Horney, for example. On the difficulty of defining masochism and
on the various uses of the concept within psychoanalysis and psychiatry,
see Robert L. Sack and Warren Miller, "Masochism: A Clinical and
Theoretical Overview," Psychiatry 38 (Aug. 1975): 244-57; and William I.
Grossman, "Notes on Masochism: A Discussion of the History and
Development of a Psychoanalytic Concept," Psychoanalytic Quarterly 55
(1986): 379-413. On masochism's origin in Sacher-Masoch, see Gertrud
Lenzer, "On Masochism: A Contribution to the History of a Phantasy and
its Theory," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1 (1975):
42. Deleuze, "Coldness and Cruelty," 88.
43. To certain readers, it is perhaps politically expedient to affirm
that perversion (and its human agent, the pervert) is not a term of
stigmatization, but rather an analytic category that refers to
particular ways of thinking and fantasizing (as I outline broadly). The
perverse nature of all sexuality is a given within Freudian and
post-Freudian theorizations. Perversions, it seems to me, are dominant
drives which manifest themselves more at certain historical moments than
others. They are, in other words, subject to constant reinvention.
44. This formula is famously articulated by O. Mannoni, "'Je sais bien.
. . mais quand même': le croyance," Les temps moderne 19 (Jan. 1964):
45. See Otto M. Fenichel, ThePsychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1945;
New York: W. W. Norton, 1996), 529. See also Lee Grossman, "'Psychic
Reality' and Reality Testing in the Analysis of Perverse Defences,"
International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 77 (1996): 509-17.
46. Deleuze, "Coldness and Cruelty," 31.
47. Two psychoanalytic questions are relevant here: Robert M. Young asks
"Is Perversion Obsolete?" and concludes that, perhaps more than ever, it
is a useful and necessary category (print version in Psychology in
Society 21 [1996]: 5-26); Julia Kristeva asks "Does the soul still
exist?" and concludes that is imperiled by a world bent on overwhelming
us with images to the point that symbolization is difficult and, for
some, now impossible. See her New Maladies of the Soul, trans. Ross
Mitchell Guberman (New York: Columbia UP, 1995).
48. The distinction is an important one, for it marks one of my
disagreements with cybercritics like Mark Slouka and Neil Postman, who
warn against technology's utter substitution for reality. Neurosis and
psychosis do indeed interweave as psychic strategies, and it is crucial
to understand that both aim at replacing a disagreeable reality with one
that is more fulfilling of wishes, but that they take different routes.
Perversion, the third major category of psychic disorder along with
neurosis and psychosis, is a particularly circuitous route to
satisfaction. The classic statement on neurotic and psychotic
replacements of reality is Sigmund Freud, "The Loss of Reality in
Neurosis and Psychosis" (1924), SE 19: 183-87. A very provocative
reading of perversion as a psychotic mechanism is Mark Adair, "A
Speculation on Perversion and Hallucination," International Journal of
Psycho-Analysis 74 (1993), 81-92.
49. Remodeling can assume violent and even self-destructive forms. When
recently a man in Issaquah, Washington, shot his computer, was he
attempting to destroy a piece of material reality or of cyberreality--or
50. Jung is never cited in "Coldness," but in Deleuze's earlier essay on
Masoch, Jung is acknowledged as the source of his ideas on
parthenogenesis, or the second birth. See Deleuze, "De Sacher-Masoch,"
51. Theodor Reik, Masochism in Modern Man, trans. Margaret H. Beigel and
Gertrud M. Kurth (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Co., 1941) 264; cf. 383.
Masochism, Reik explains, "bends in the same direction as the culture
development," and is always "conditioned by psychic forces representing
cultural interests" (385).
52. The masochist, writes Deleuze, "questions the validity of existing
reality in order to create a pure ideal reality, an operation which is
perfectly in line with the judicial spirit of masochism" ("Coldness and
Cruelty," 33). For Reik, masochism, when it assumes the form of a mass
fantasy for oppressed groups, constitutes a politically idealized
suffering in the name of future rewards (see Masochism, 321-22). See
also Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, "Perversion and the Universal Law,"
International Review of Psycho-Analysis 10 (1983): 293-301, where she
associates "historical ruptures which give an inkling of a new world"
with the dynamics of perversion (293). Neither Reik nor
Chasseguet-Smirgel are endorsing masochism--indeed, far from it--rather
they are underscoring its force as cultural fantasy.
53. Reik, 108; see also 154-59.
54. This both subverts and supplements (in the Derridean sense) the law,
according to Slavoj Zizek, The Plague of Fantasies (New York: Verso,
1997) 72-5.
55. Reik, 156.
56. Jennifer Wicke, "Through a Gaze Darkly: Pornography's Academic
Market," in Dirty Looks: Women, Pornography, Power, ed. Pamela Church
Gibson and Roma Gibson (London: British Film Institute, 1993) 70-71.
57. As of late August 1998, just over half the population between the
ages of 16 and 34 are on-line (compared to 17% of people aged 50 or more
[still a remarkable statistic]); 57% of the 79 million people on-line in
the US and Canada are men, and gender parity is fast approaching.
Nielsen Media Research is now tracking net population. An active on-line
survey concerning sexuality and the Net, with over 34,000 respondents
(73.4% aged 18-30) as of 9/20/99, shows that 57.3% have down-loaded
erotic images, 50.9% have read on-line sex stories, 32.7% have
masturbated while on-line, 29.1% have masturbated to down-loaded
material, and 9.2% have posted erotic images.
58. Tad Floridis, "Generation XXX," 1-2 March, 1997, found, though no
longer available, at
59. That one of the creators of South Park, Trey Parker, is also the
director and star of the ironic porn industry spoof Orgazmo (Rogue
Pictures, 1998; rated NC-17) is not at all surprising given the cultural
overlaps of porn and Gen-X attitudes, among which is a fantasy of
control, where the manipulation of cartoon figures and porn performers
coincide. As Todd Krieger notes, "for Parker and Stone, working in porn
is remarkably similar to working on South Park. 'The nice thing with the
kids is that you can put them in a little bag at the end of the day,'
says Parker. And porn stars? 'Not that much different. They already get
fucked and they're not like, "I don't want to do that, I'll look
s-s-s-s-s-stupid." I mean, c'mon, they've had anal sex close-ups'" (Todd
Krieger, "Cannibalism, Pornography, Mental Disabilities, et cetera,"
Spin 14 [March 1998] 68).
60. See Mark Dery, "Trendspotting: I Shop, Therefore I Am," in his The
Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink (New York: Grove
P, 1999) 181-89; and, for an argument about how consumer culture
actually creates countercultural cool, see Thomas Frank, The Conquest of
Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism
(Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1997).
61. Zillah Eisenstein, Global Obscenities: Patriarchy, Capitalism, and
the Lure of Cyberfantasy (New York: New York UP, 1998) 10.
62. See Janelle Brown, "Has the Web Made Porn Respectable?". Articles on
the "revelation" that "Sex Sells" abound. See, to cite another, Michelle
Rafter, "Adult Sites Reveal Web's Profit Potential".
63. Ibid., italics mine; according to the same article, Mark Tiarra, the
owner of a corporation (TiarraCorp) that lists, sells, and builds adult
sites, "estimates that at least 70 percent of all Web porn sites are
being produced by people who have no experience in the porn industry."
64. In order to focus on the technological formation of social
masochism, I will leave to the side another, though crucial, feature of
amateur porn's "cool," namely, its place in capitalism as lucrative
start-up ventures, where porn becomes space for true entrepreneurial
spirit, especially at a time when capitalism itself is becoming
increasingly integrated and networked. The image of the amateur porn
entrepreneur as economic outsider, who combines transgression with
entrepreneurial spirit, is particularly powerful (and arousing in its
own right), as several of the amateurs themselves attest (see Mark
Stuart Gill, "The Click-On Girls," Details [May 1997]: 172-77, 199).
65. Other important factors are the rise and the popularity of "couple's
porn" (like that produced by Vivid) and porn's assimilation into
Hollywood. Porn superstar Jenna Jameson sees this as the opportune
moment to cross over to Hollywood film: "Nowadays it's kind of a cool
thing to have adult stars in other movies. It's the right time for
someone like me to hit in Hollywood" (qtd. in Joel Stein, "Porn Goes
66. See Laurence O'Toole, Pornocopia: Porn, Sex, Technology and Desire
(New York: Serpent's Tail, 1998) 180-81. Interestingly, Avedon Carol,
co-founder of Feminists Against Censorship, believes that the
development of amateur porn was led by women (see 180). The same claims
are made for Web porn, led by early entrepreneurs like Danni Ashe and
"the original explicit Internet amateur" Wild Rose.
67. Gill, "The Click-On Girls," 174.
68. "Why I Strip Online," as told to Robyn Brown, Cosmopolitan (November
1997) 168. Her site is down. Amateurs feel particularly safe from their
mass audience, not because they are anonymous, but because they are "too
real," too personal. The one-on-one private relationship they imagine
developing with their audience actually protects them; as amateur
Bethany puts it, "a stalker is going to go after a woman he's forced to
fantasize about in a vacuum. Jodie Foster doesn't return your calls, so
you shoot the president to get her attention. . . . But I'm a little too
real on the Net to become the object of an obsessive fantasy" (qtd. in
Gill, "The Click-On Girls" 177). These women construct themselves as
subjects, not objects.
69. Webcams and streaming video are among the latest technologies
enabling amateur exhibitionists to appeal to mass voyeurism. The world
of webcam exhibitionism is exemplified by AmateurCam and The Nose's
HomeCAMs page, which lists 1103 cams (as of 4/24/1999). An example of
24-hour streaming video is Venus Cam.
70. On thinking the "public private," see Alvin Gouldner, The Dialectic
of Ideology and Technology (New York: Seabury, 1976) and, indebted to
Gouldner, David Lyon, The Electronic Eye: The Rise of Surveillance
Society (Cambridge: Polity, 1994).
71. Renee, qtd. in Gill, "The Click-On Girls," 177.
72. In this sense, the voyeur and the exhibitionist, like the masochist
and the sadist, cannot live in complementarity, since each is vying for
control. In the case of amateur porn, the exhibitionist triumphs
precisely because of the way technology conditions the relationship. The
"invisible wall" is not anonymity; it is the technology that obtrudes
the subjects.
73. See Zizek, Plague of Fantasies, 111-19. The VCR and porn (see 125
n.29) are Zizek's examples.
74. Zizek, Plague of Fantasies, 116.
75. The history of masculinity in America is largely the history of
men's reactions to passivization, from the anxious "self-made man" of
the Industrial revolution to the "angry white males" of the digital
revolution. See Kimmel, Manhood in America and Savran, Taking It Like a
Man. Of course, what I find most interesting is the consistent
deployment of masochism as an antidote to passivity. Masochist Samuel
Steward, who in 1949 agreed to be one of Alfred Kinsey's filmic
subjects, recalls around that time developing his own theory about "s/m"
(Kinsey, by the way, coined the term s/m): "S/M involved--I thought--the
Search for the Hero, who had been lost to the modern world; it concerned
the quest for the symbol of what was left of the world's masculinity. I
felt that the factor of maleness was vanishing" (84). Steward had three
corollary theories: "the speed-up toward matriarchy" (Momism); "the
growth of automation, which with its computers and high-tech machinery
was chewing up the domination of the male"; and "the bursting of the
first atom bomb" (84-5; see Samuel M. Steward, "Dr. Kinsey Takes a Peek
at S/M: A Reminiscence," in Leather-Folk: Radical Sex, People, Politics,
and Practice, ed. Mark Thompson [Boston: Alyson, 1991] 81-90). Kinsey
listened to Steward's theories, "waggled his hand," and said, 'Perhaps
these things will bear looking into'" (85).
76. Though Zizek produces the example of the Wall Street masochist (see
Plague of Fantasies 117), he leaves uninterrogated its misogynist and
classist dimension, what I argue is at the core of the fantasy. An
account of the masochism of rich, "powerful men," as told by a
dominatrix, is related by Paul Theroux, "Nurse Wolf," The New Yorker
(June 15, 1998): 50-63. Nurse Wolf relates this masochist's fantasy,
which I think is particularly revealing of the relation between men and
women assumed in masochism: the fantasy "of a man whose role-playing
takes place entirely in an office, undoubtedly based on his own. 'He is
the only man who's left in this all-woman company. . . He has done
something wrong. He's wrongfully accused of sneaking a glance at a
woman. He's presented with an ultimatum about losing his job, not for
making an obscene gesture but just for this glance. It's dress-down day.
A complaint is filed. It's all women. They say, "No man should be
allowed to do this." He has a choice--get fired and lose all his
benefits and money and everything or agree to be a slave'" (58). Through
fantasy, the masochist plays the subordinate corporate role he thinks
women ought to play.
77. Reik, Masochism in Modern Man, 210. This crucial aspect of Reik's
argument (esp. 197-204) is not much remarked upon (Savran [Taking It
Like a Man], for example, appears surprisingly to have missed it).
Reik's description of the fantasy of dominance at the core of masochism
(see also 253) is convincing, but it should be noted that when he hints
at the real social origins of male masochism, which in 1940 he posits is
exemplified by the sadistic or despotic American woman (read Mom), he
loses sight of the fantasmic significance of imagining that such an
emasculating phallic woman exists at all (see 210, 214). Reik is of
course anticipating here the similar arguments of pundits like Philip
Wylie, Generation of Vipers (New York: Rinehart, 1942) and "The
Womanization of America," Playboy (Sept. 1958).
78. The idea of the defensive function and general significance of
suspense in masochism is originally Reik's; see Masochism in Modern Man,
180-81. It is a matter of defending against aggressivity, one inherent
in all libidinal transformations, but especially, according to Lacan, in
partial drives (perverse and regressive ones). See Lacan, "Aggressivity
in Psychoanalysis," 25.
79. What if, indeed; from a feminist perspective one can argue it makes
little or no difference. But I risk going out on this argumentative limb
for many reasons, one of which is to attempt an answer to the real
enigma of why porn use is at all enjoyable, often compulsively so, for
so many men. If porn were consumed primarily as a way of reasserting
patriarchal domination in the real world (that is, it works to continue
dominance already exercised or power already enjoyed), I am convinced
that there would be much less interest in it. But if its consumption
works to recuperate a sense of power through fantasy, in response to a
perception of threatened or dwindling power, then compulsive porn use
becomes more intelligible. A provocative account along the same lines is
Alan Soble, Pornography: Marxism, Feminism, and the Future of Sexuality
(New Haven: Yale UP, 1986), where he argues that an account of porn
consumption needs to come to terms with the way men face, under everyday
capitalism, the same masculinist power that women do.
80. Reik, Masochism in Modern Man, 179. Reik does not mention
masturbation here, but on the next page does suggest that in this
reflexive phase, "the ego's retreat into the position of frustration"
amounts to its having "been thrown back to the auto-erotic line" (180,
cf. 333).
81. See Fenichel, Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis, 75. Like
perversions, masturbation is a way of dealing with conflict or anxiety
through play. See also Leonard Shengold, "Symbols and the Symbol of
Telephoning," in his "Father, Don't You See I'm Burning?" Reflections on
Sex, Narcissism, Symbolism, and Murder: from Everything to Nothing (New
Haven: Yale UP, 1991), 83-93, where Shengold discusses the case of a man
who engages in phone sex in the attempt "to reverse his role from the
passive to the apparently more tolerable active one" (85).
82. See Sylvan Keiser, "Body Ego during Orgasm," Psychoanalytic
Quarterly 21 (1952): 153-66. In Leo Bersani's view, masturbatory
ejaculation inaugurates a moment of passivity or surrender; it provides
a lesson "about the rhythms of power" that irrevocably tie maleness to
passivity. For Bersani, masochistic sexuality is a (masculine) survival
strategy. See his Homos (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1995), esp. 102-3.
83. See René Laforgue, "On the Eroticization of Anxiety," International
Journal of Psychoanalysis 11 (1930): 312-21. The exploitation of anxiety
for erotic purposes treated in this early essay serves as a crucial
frame for understanding masochism.
84. See also Freud, Totem and Taboo (1913), SE 13: 84.
85. Kurt Eissler, "Notes on Problems of Technique in Some Psychoanalytic
Treatments of Adolescence: with Some Remarks on Perversions,"
Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 13 (1958): 240, 242.
86. See Soble, Pornography, 84, who references, on this point, Barbara
Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from
Commitment (Garden City, NJ: Anchor, 1983) 125-6. Soble provocatively
suggests here that all pornography can be understood in terms of "a
revolt against the male sex role," not just, as Ehrenreich argues,
"male-submissive sadomasochistic pornography" (84 n.81). I take the even
more radical view that all new electronic porn is masochistic in form.
87. Erich Fromm's analysis of masochism is relevant here; see his Escape
from Freedom (New York: Rinehart, 1941), esp. 136-206. Fromm reminds us
that, while masochism offers a "forgetting of self," some reprieve from
the burdens of freedom, it is ultimately a doomed strategy: it always
leaves the subject caught in new suffering.
88. Jessica Benjamin's formulation of porn's solution to rage and
boredom is the point of departure for my reflections, though I will
place, especially in the next section, much more emphasis on the
symbolic dimensions of such a solution and on the formal process of
symbolization itself. See her helpful reading in "Sympathy for the
Devil," 200-201. The term "creative sublimation" is borrowed from Zizek;
the splitting of the subject, or the mechanism of disavowal, as the
"very ingenious solution" to anxiety or danger is treated in Freud's
unfinished "Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence," SE 23:
89. Berkeley Kaite, for example, has suggested that the porn consumer is
one who "flaunts his identification" with a female body that offers
simultaneously castratedness and phallicity. See Kaite, Pornography and
Difference, 59-60.
90. See the Q&A's on Dr. Ruth Online!, especially "Does he have a
pornography addiction?" and "Husband loves porno".
91. Jean Baudrillard, Fatal Strategies, trans. Philip Beitchman and W.
G. J. Niesluchowski (New York: Semiotext(e), 1990) 61.
92. Pornography consumption, according to classical psychoanalysis,
controls sexuality in just this contradictory way. See Fenichel,
Psychoanalytic Theory, 351.
93. See Brian Pronger, "On Your Knees: Carnal Knowledge, Masculine
Dissolution, Doing Feminism," in Men Doing Feminism, ed. Tom Digby (New
York: Routledge, 1998), 69-79, where he uses a self-described
Deleuze-Guattarian toolkit to "create the energy to pry apart masculine
desire" (70); on the masculine anxiety of invasion and being overwhelmed
as it relates specifically to the Net, see Robert M. Young, "Primitive
Processes on the Internet." The classic statement is still Klaus
Theweleit, MaleFantasies, vols. 1 and 2 (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P,
94. We are left to explain the prevalence and appeal(?) of Gen-X
advertising: it seems so perfect a representation of imperatives
governing enjoyment and consumption under advanced capitalism. Witness
Cinn-a-Burst gum ("Chew till it hurts" [!]), Spree candy ("It's a kick
in the mouth"), Pepsi One, 7-Up ("Are U an Un?"), The Gap, Mountain Dew,
and Chevy S-10 commercials.
95. I am placing some ideas of Anita Phillips (and others) into a
dialectical relation with one another. I am indebted to her provocative
arguments in A Defence of Masochism (London: Faber & Faber, 1998); see
esp. 138-39.
96. Amateur newsgroup cyberporn includes, but is not limited to, the
following subgoups: alt.binaries.nospam.plumpers.amateur,,, a.b.p.e.amateur.d (a discussion
only group), a.b.p.e.amateur.facials, a.b.p.e.amateur.female,
a.b.p.e.amateur.male, and,, a.b.p.e.exhibitionism,
a.b.p.e.exhibitionism.public, a.b.p.e.girlfriend, a.b.p.e.girlfriends,
a.b.p.e.voyeurism, a.b.p.e.voyeurism.hidden-camera, a.b.p.girlfriend,
a.b.p.girlfriends, a.b.p.girlfriends.ex, and
97. See the analysis of this aspect of modernity and its effects on the
creation of pornographic culture in Bernard Arcand, The Jaguar and the
Anteater: Pornography Degree Zero, trans. Wayne Grady (New York: Verso,
1993), esp. 147-65.
98. "Before the theological caprices of commodities, the consumers
become temple slaves. Those who sacrifice themselves nowhere else can do
so here. . . . The masochistic mass culture is the necessary
manifestation of almighty production itself" (Theodor W. Adorno, "On the
Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening," in The
Essential Frankfurt School Reader, ed. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt
[New York: Continuum, 1982] 280).
99. Marcuse, "On Hedonism," 189.
100. See, for example, Chancer, Sadomasochism in Everyday Life and
Reconcilable Differences: Confronting Beauty, Pornography, and the
Future of Feminism (Berkeley: U of California P, 1998), 200-28. Despite
Chancer's insistence on the non-essentialist nature of sadomasochism
(see, for instance, Reconcilable, 215) and her acknowledgements that
masochism and sadism follow paradoxical social protocols, she
consistently casts men, and by extension, patriarchy, into the role of
sadist, a role which structures women's self-subordination. There is no
doubt that masochism does correspond to the inequity and stratifications
of social experience in modernity. But I question, following Deleuze and
much psychoanalytic thinking, the terms in which she frames such social
dynamics, particularly, her tendency to posit a s/m dynamic or
symbiosis, which is for her "a virtually axiomatic premise," namely
"that every masochist implies a sadist, every sadist a masochist" (see
Reconcilable, 216-20). By the way, this tendency to equate sadism with
violent power and masochism with powerlessness is a mainspring of some
of the earliest feminist polemics against sadomasochism. See, for
instance, Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis, ed. Robin
Ruth Linden et al. (San Francisco: Frog in the Well, 1982).
101. Thus the drawback of using the term "s/m" has always seemed to me
clear: "sadomasochism" implies a dyadic coupling of forces that,
strictly speaking, can never take place. It further implies an isometric
relation between the two. Of course, the boundaries between sadism and
masochism are porous to the extent that movement between the subject
positions of sadist and masochist is a well-established feature of
perversion, and "sadomasochism" does convey something of this, but
whether or not we need the term "s/m" when we're speaking analytically
is debatable. Too often "sadomasochism" is used to mean simply
102. See Deleuze, "Coldness," 40-43.
103. Victor N. Smirnoff, "The Masochistic Contract," in Essential Papers
on Masochism, ed. Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick Hanly (New York: New York UP,
1995), 68.
104. Smirnoff, "Masochistic Contract," 69.
105. Push technologies are applications used with web browsers that
permit content providers to "push" or broadcast content to the user.
(Wired magazine even hailed this technology as the replacement of the
browser itself.) The user selects the type of information she wants, and
the application retrieves the information from the Web. Push
technologies are, however, more than just personalized search tools;
they can generate very precise consumer profiles and serve target
marketing. Extreme advertising is the term for all those high-energy TV
commercials that typically feature sky-divers and -surfers,
skate-boarders, and snow-boarders. See the cover story "Extreme Cool"
for Entertainment Weekly (June 28, 1996).
106. Deleuze, "Coldness and Cruelty," 32. Indeed, Freud himself, in the
analysis of a case of foot fetishism, held that fetishism "appertains as
a subspecies to masochism" (Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic
Society, ed. Herman Nunberg and Ernst Federn [New York: International
Universities P, 1975) 4: 245.
107. The consumer's reliance on credit cards--surely a masochistic
economic strategy--has always struck me as both a mode of disavowal,
hence resistance (to one's economic reality under capitalism), and a
complete capitulation to capital in one of its most devastating
108. Another aspect of masculine passivization, this involves projective
identification., a fantasy of translocation where the self or aspects of
the self becomes "an object for exploratory or defensive purposes"
(James S. Grotstein, Splitting and Projective Identification [Northvale,
NJ: Jason Aronson, 1985] 123). My thanks to Jeanne Provost and Rebecca
Weaver for this insight.
109. Slavoj Zizek, Plague of Fantasies, 181. I am indebted to Zizek's
formulation of pornography's paradoxical proof of the unrepresentability
of the sexual act (see Plague, 171-91).
110. Sylvère Lotringer, Overexposed: Treating Sexual Perversion in
America (New York: Pantheon, 1988) 23.
111. Claudia Springer, "Sex, Memories, Angry Women," in Flame Wars: The
Discourse of Cyberculture, ed. Mark Dery (Durham: Duke UP, 1994) 162.
112. Mark Dery, Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century
(New York: Grove P, 1996) 223; 225. On the pornographic scene in general
as "driven by the death drive" and "inseparable from the fantasy of
transcendence" (130), see Drucilla Cornell, "Pornography's Temptation,"
in her Imaginary Domain: Abortion, Pornography, and Sexual Harassment
(New York: Routledge, 1995) 95-163.
113. Slavoj Zizek, The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and
Related Matters (New York: Verso, 1996) 193.
114. Norman Holland, "The Internet Regression."
115. Robert M. Young, "Primitive Processes on the Internet."
116. Zizek, The Indivisible Remainder, 190.
117. See Benjamin, "Sympathy," 175-6.
118. See the early statement by John Tierney, "Porn, the Low-Slung
Engine of Progress," The New York Times (Jan. 9, 1994): 17-18.
119. "Le masochiste se sert de la loi. . .pour obtenir précisément le
plaisir que celle-ci défend. Nous avons de nombreux exemples de
détournement de la loi par soumission feinte ou même exagérée" (Deleuze,
"De Sacher Masoch," 43).
120. Deleuze, "Coldness and Cruelty," 77.
121. Ibid., 88. On the masochistic strategy of humor, see Reik,
Masochism, 79-80; and Lucile Dooley, "The Relation of Humor to
Masochism," The Psychoanalytic Review 28 (1941): 37-46.
122. Deleuze, "Coldness and Cruelty," 85.
123. Ibid., 89.
124. Freud explores the possibility of the existence of "criminals from
a sense of guilt," an idea he had raised earlier in the "Wolf Man" case
study (published later, however, in 1918) in terms of masochism. See
Freud, "Some Character Types Met with in Psycho-Analytic Work" (1916),
partic., the section "Criminals from a Sense of Guilt," SE 14: 332-33.
125. Deleuze, "Coldness," 102.
126. See for example, Elizabeth Cowie, "Pornography and Fantasy:
Psychoanalytic Perspectives," in Sex Exposed: Sexuality and the
Pornography Debate, ed. Lynne Segal and Mary McIntosh (New Brunswick:
Rutgers UP, 1993), 132-52.
127. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism
and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P,
1987), 155. Cf. Deleuze, "Re-presentation of Masoch": "pleasure
interrupts desire, so that the constitution of Desire as process must
ward off pleasure, repress it to infinity" (53).
128. Cf. Judith Butler: porn is the "erotic exploitation" of a tension
between the fantasmic and the real that suspends action, such that
"pornographic action is always suspended action" ("The Force of Fantasy:
Feminism, Mapplethorpe, and Discursive Excess," differences: A Journal
of Feminist Cultural Studies 2.2 (1990): 113).
129. See Reik, Masochism in Modern Man, 95-147.
130. Timothy Beneke raises the possibility that porn use is tied to
men's feeling victimized by intrusive images, such that porn functions
"as a kind of revenge against women's putative capacity to arouse
through appearing sexy, revenge against the pain caused by intrusive and
stolen images, revenge against women's sexiness itself" (see
"Pornography, Sexism, and Male Heterosexuality," in his Proving Manhood:
Reflections on Men and Sexism [Berkeley: U of California P, 1997],
73-112, quote on 85). I read the vengeful control men achieve through
porn as part of a masochistic strategy, not, like Beneke, as simply an
exercise by which men feel superior to sexy women.
131. Andrew Leonard, "Pornutopia Lost."
132. Homi K. Bhabha, "Are You a Man or a Mouse?" in Constructing
Masculinity, 57.
133. Shaviro, Cinematic Body, 62.
134. Murray S. Davis, Smut: Erotic Reality/Obscene Ideology (Chicago: U
of Chicago P, 1983), offers a provocative phenomenological account of
the everyday and the erotic as distinct realities, and since, according
to Davis, sex is "a reality-generating activity" (10), porn use offers
the possibility of moving out of the everyday.
135. Félix Guattari, "A Liberation of Desire," trans. George Stambolian,
in Soft Subversions, ed. Sylvère Lotringer (New York: Semiotext(e),
1996) 60.
136. James Glover, "Notes on an Unusual Form of Perversion,"
International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 8 (1927), 20.
137. Reik, Masochism in Modern Man, 129.
138. See Victor Tausk, "The Origin of the 'Influencing Machine' in
Schizophrenia" (1919), Psychoanalytic Quarterly 2 (1933): 519-56. The
idea that machine psychosis functions defensively is explored by Paula
Elkisch, "Significant Relationship between the Human Figure and the
Machine in the Drawings of Boys," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 22
(1952): 379-85; Paula Elkisch and Margaret S. Mahler, "On Infantile
Precursors of the 'Influencing Machine,'" The Psychoanalytic Study of
the Child 14 (1959): 219-35; and Alan Sugarman, "Deanimated Transitional
Phenomena in Paranoid Conditions: The 'Influencing Machine' Revisited,"
Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic 48 (Sept. 1984): 418-26. On the wider
cultural manifestations of the IM delusion as defense against passivity,
see Stuart S. Asch, "The Influencing Machine and the Mad Scientist: The
Influence of Contemporary Culture on the Evolution of a Basic Delusion,"
International Review of Psycho-Analysis 18 (1991): 185-93. Asch
concludes the essay by suggesting that current IMs, found in electronic
culture, are the new sites where the persecutory demands of others,
predicated as they are upon the passivity of the subject, can be
defended against.
139. This is a power dynamic I explore in the case of strip clubs; see
my "Strip Culture," JPCS: Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and
Society (fall 1999): 322-25.
140. Noyes, Mastery of Submission, 219.
141. Sylvère Lotringer, "Forget Baudrillard," in Jean Baudrillard,
Forget Foucault (New York: Semiotext(e), 1987) 76; cited in Noyes, ibid.
... The developmental importance, psychodynamic impact, and motivation for masturbating to pornography are well researched (Carvalheira et al. 2015;Diorio 2016;Goren 2003;Garlick 2012;Kaestle and Allen 2011;Kwee and Hoover 2008;Lillie 2002;Staehler and Kozin 2017;Strager 2003;Uebel 1999;Wood 2011;Yule et al. 2017). These studies, recognizing the ambivalence and changing nature of sexual expression and increased masturbatory practices, rarely discuss the intimate relationship between sexual fantasy and image and how image may be replacing fantasy. ...
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This article explores the interplay of fantasy and image in male solitary masturbation in the virtual age. Online pornography has drastically changed the intimate relationship between the hand and the penis. The case of a 17-year-old boy and his excessive use of Internet pornography is used to highlight pornography’s impact on a person’s well-being and neurology. A brief exploration of three histories of masturbation shows how the discourse on masturbation often serves political agendas and addresses the central role of sexual fantasy in the practice. Sexual fantasy is explored through the research of British psychoanalyst Brett Kahr. To examine the significance of the eye in pornography, philosopher Michael Taussig’s concept of “the eye as the organ of tactility” is discussed. The essay concludes by offering a framework for discerning whether masturbating to images might be disordered or not. Fantasy, which is nonvisual sexual arousal, can relieve a person from the tyranny of the eye and of compulsive masturbation.
... Beyond a political economy and geopolitics of technical change, a political technology of the social body and a corresponding regime of morality is also emerging, in which our understanding of the 'subject' itself is being reconfigured (see Hillis 1999aHillis , 1999bUebel 1999). Felix Guattari (1991: 18) has called this 'the fabrication of new assemblages of enunciation, individual and collective' -in which actors and scales of action are no longer only governments and nation-states, but complex assemblages that go well beyond the military industrial complex of the 1950s and 1960s and multi-national corporations of the 1980s and 1990s. ...
This book provides an essential insight into the practices and ideas of maps and map-making. It draws on a wide range of social theorists, and theorists of maps and cartography, to show how maps and map-making have shaped the spaces in which we live.
... Yet with cyberporn and in the ways the Internet and new media are inscribed within many discourses (and only for some in use/access) of everyday life, the discursive and ontologic engagement with machines/media apparatuses signifies a difference from other types of metaphysical and pornographic experiences. As Michael Uebel (2000) writes, there is a pressing " need to explain how current technologies are suspending subjects…between a melancholic 'control society' and a utopic 'posts-media age' " (p. 6). Uebel's fascinating essay " Towards a Symptomatology of Cyberporn " draws from Deleuze and Guattari's conceptualizations of desire and masochism to argue that cyberporn is a formation of postmodern, sexualized publication of desire, " condensing them, and then redeploying them across the male body at the points of its connection to technology " (p. ...
This article presents theoretical considerations based on cultural analysis approaches to studying pornography and sexuality as a means of starting to suggest a new agenda for cyberporn research. By bringing to the forefront concepts of how subjectivity and sexuality are produced within the computer/Internet apparatus, I hope to diversify the focus in cyberporn research away from social science approaches and pre-Foucaultian assumptions of the subject which obscure understandings of new media and cyberporn use. Through a summary of visual culture studies and reception studies of pornography, I argue that cyberporn must be understood as contingent within the encoding and decoding processes and discourses of sexuality (Foucault) in which it is produced and consumed. My focus here is the home office/terminal as the site of reception/cyberporn use. While there is potential for a great variety of cultural analytic approaches to the study of cyberporn and how new media use influences sexuality, I end with specific suggestions for researching cyberporn reception in the home.
Critical Psychology in Flanders can easily be considered as virtually absent. But what is the true bearing of that expression virtually absent? Does it mean, almost absent but not yet fully absent? Are there perhaps some critical germs to be discerned? However, instead of searching for those particular instances of some criticality in psy-Flanders, I will try to show in this paper that it is perhaps more interesting to move from the supposed virtual absence to the issue of virtuality as such and to argue that absence plays a central part in it. That is, I shall, starting from the particular Flemish situation, make a short survey into how psychology as such (in a universal way) can itself be said to be paradigmatically close to the virtual. The specific virtual absence of critical psychology in Flanders can thus be used to come to an understanding of the psy-complex in these late-modern times.
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American Literary History 14.2 (2002) 389-411 Le vice ame´ricain: to judge by the profound intellectual, if not libidinal, interest in masochism nowadays, it would seem that, despite the claims of classical sexology, this so-called vice is no longer the supreme cultural property of the British. Iwan Bloch's outrageous (or is it?) remark in Sex Life in England (1901) that "in no land has the passion for the rod been as systematically developed and cultivated as in England" (191) has undergone translation into a contemporary, and distinctly, American academic idiom: in no land has the passion for the rod been as systematically examined and theorized as in America. Doubtless the very positing of national forms of masochism tells us little about masochism as an unmistakable set of bodily practices. Instead the utility of imagining something like an American masochism is tied to the way it signals the existence of historically conditioned fantasies, all of which in turn structure the libidinal attraction and psychic reward of a wide range of corporeal acts, from asceticism to pain to bondage. What I wish to consider here are the ethical and political fantasies supporting not only the culture of masochism in America but also the very study of masochism. Two questions then: Why, to ask along with the authors under review, does masochism appear as a prevalent cultural fantasy at some times rather than at others? And, thinking self-reflexively through the authors, what makes masochism such a compelling object of study now? Study of the rod and of the passionate uses to which it is put reveals above all that the genealogy of masochism in America is an exquisite register of cultural anxieties, particularly sensitive to the frequently reactionary manner in which sex and politics interanimate. The label "masochist" is never neutral, politically or morally, whether applied to women or to men, whether framed within or outside of clinical discourse. And although no study of masochism could ever be objective, that is to say descriptively pure, it is striking just how politically charged most studies are. The study of masochism functions as the nodal point at which the political fantasies, intellectual interests, and libidinal investments of the investigator all coalesce and are given forceful expression. The fifties and sixties are exemplary decades when theories of sexual and social masochism masked political agendas. Whereas detecting the ideological bent of the massive attention paid to masochism by psychoanalysis, an interest peaking in immediate postwar America, is rather complex work—involving, for instance, assessment of the theoretical and therapeutic advances in psychiatric war medicine and analysis of their political agendas —it is relatively easy, say, to identify the slant of mass-market sleaze fiction, in its heyday roughly from the late fifties to the early seventies, a body of literature more often than not purporting to offer "psychosexual" case studies of the phenomenon. Sleaze fiction, at least by comparison, seems ideologically transparent since it is a genre so clearly fixated upon threats to traditional white masculinity. Studies of masochism in the sixties appear to have responded to a quite specific anxiety—the fear of sexually liberated women. A pseudoacademic interest in forms of male masochism then prevailed, with dozens of mass-market paperbacks offering titillating "case histories" (the genre's buzzword) of the dominant female, a figure, judging by her frequent appearance on the covers of popular men's magazines (see Figs. 1 and 2), otherwise consigned to the fantasmic realms of exoticism and militarism. Sleaze with a scientific veneer, these mass-market paperbacks attempted to address men roughly between the ages of 18 and 45 in order to warn of the consequences of their crumbling masculinity. Ralph St. Clair's hysterical (in both a clinical and colloquial sense) The Man-Eaters (1967) announces on its...
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Pornography, Technology, and Moral PanicsNetporn and Alt PornAmateurs AboundMethodological ChallengesLocal and GlobalReferences
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Cyber child pornography is an increasingly visible problem in society today. With the growth in home Personal Computer (PC) usage and more readily available access to the World Wide Web over the past decade, child pornographers have found a convenient venue for sharing horrific pictures of children being sexually abused. Also, police and lawyers around the globe have found that detecting and prosecuting cyber child pornographers have become onerous chores, often with a high failure rate of placing perpetrators behind bars. The methods currently employed by law enforcement officers to combat cyber child pornography may be considered to be primitive and inefficient. In this paper, we review the major social, legal, and technological issues facing citizens, lawmakers, and the police regarding cyber child pornography. We also propose a new technological approach for combating online child pornography. In particular, we propose a source address reputation system based on Bloom filters and a novel classification system utilizing a stochastic weak estimator, coupled with a linear classifier. We believe that our proposed method for identifying offensive online material would be attractive to law enforcement globally, because it can be implemented with acceptable overheads.
In May 2008, the Supreme Court addressed whether the government can regulate the ownership and distribution of virtual child pornography. U.S. v. Williams marked the first time the Court directly addressed the concept of pandering virtual child pornography. This article examines the Court's decision in U.S. v. Williams and the relative importance of its holding. In U.S. v. Williams, the Supreme Court upheld an act of Congress targeting the business people behind the child pornography market. Restricting the sale of both real and virtual child pornography is essential to combat the various problems surrounding its existence, which include policing its creation and distribution on the Internet as well as the connection between child pornography and subsequent sexual offenses against children.
'Why in this enlightened day would one choose to entitle a work Perversion, a term that is becoming passe? The great research published in the last decade or two has taught us that aberrant sexual behavior is found in other species, is ubiquitous in man, and is the product of brain and hormonal factors that can function independently of anything we might call psyche. Then too, their findings make researchers regret society's moral stance that sexual aberration is unnatural-sinful-and the repressive social action that follows. Thus, in ridding ourselves of the concept of perversion, we have the tempting combination of good research serving a humane cause. Yet it is the author's contention, explored in the body of this book, that perversion exists. The connotations of the word are unpleasant and have a flavor of morality and therefore of free will that is antiquated in these days of science and determinism. It is to avoid such connotations that the softer terms "variant", "deviation," or "aberration" are used.
Diacritics 27.3 (1997) 77-89 It has become a truism to say that virtual reality (VR) is addictive. Case, the protagonist of William Gibson's Neuromancer, dreams of connection to the net like a junkie jonesing for a fix. In Jeff Noon's novel Vurt, you get to cyberspace by tickling the back of your throat with addictive, government-produced feathers. Verity of Kathleen Ann Goonan's Queen City Jazz sports nanotechnology implants that compel her to enter virtual worlds into which she sinks with feelings of deep bliss. As in Vurt, in Pat Cadigan's Synners, everything's an addiction: cyberspace, people, rock and roll. But let's move away from fiction. Graphic cyberartist Nicole Stenger, a self-professed neo-Platonist, writes, "[a]nd what if the passage to a new level of humanity actually meant abolishing indeed the natural one, or at least some part of it? . . . Will it not require immense effort to recover from this enhancement of the senses, from this habit of perfection? [Stenger 57]. Michael Benedikt, editor of Cyberspace: First Steps, deems VR "a new and irresistible development in the elaboration of human culture and business under the sign of technology" [1; my emphasis]. Ad copy for "Origin," a VR game, reads, "You must die to learn how to live. . . . Death is not an option. It's an addiction." And an article in the New York Times titled "The Lure and Addiction of Life on Line" displays a graphic of a bespectacled male, tapping away at a computer located inside of a panopticon-sized rendering of a globe to which the avid user is happily chained [see Asciu]. From advertisements to scholarly texts, it is difficult to find any writing about VR that does not engage in and, as I will argue, rely upon the rhetorics of addiction. William Gibson dubbed cyberspace a "consensual hallucination." That was 1984. In 1996, critic Robert Markley rechristened VR "a consensual cliché" [56]. Surely, the "addictiveness" of cyberspace contributes to the sense of tired familiarity. My question is this: Why does cyberspace have to be addictive? What work is addiction doing in discourses of virtual reality? In this essay, I'm concerned with the production of what might be called hyper-real transcendence. Jean Baudrillard, in his influential schema "three orders of simulacra," identifies a first, "natural" order in which "a transcendent world, a radically different universe, is portrayed . . . in contrast to the continent of the real" [309]. I propose that a third-order, hyper-real, transcendence has survived the collapse of the distance between the model and the original. This transcendence relies on rhetorics of disembodiment, immortality, and extra-human reproductive and generative powers within virtual spaces. Such spaces include scholarly and technical essays about VR or cyberspace, science fiction, advertisements for VR games, VR game narratives, and other advertising copy that borrows from current discourses of virtuality. My discussion takes place in a field crowded with talk of the death of logocentrism and the end of phonocentric culture. Derrida has written that "scientific language [e.g. computer code] challenges intrinsically and with increasing profundity the ideal of phonetic writing" [Grammatology 10], the logocentric relation of voice to mental experiences. Baudrillard writes mournfully that the "third-order" world of simulated simulacra, of hyper-reality, leaves "no room for any kind of transcendentalism" [310]. Baudrillard and Derrida write with differing affects of the same effect -- the waning or death of the foundation of Western notions of transcendence. In this tradition, transcendence commences with the penetration of the self by a supra-enlivened Other, whether that other be a king, a god, nature, the voice of logos, the Law, or an abstracted version of vitality itself. Particularly, I question the persistent coupling of rhetorics of transcendence with rhetorics of addiction. My initial point will be that following the established Western logocentric tradition, rhetorical relationships of addiction between VR users and VR narratives are the "software" with which hyper-real transcendence is produced and sustained. In other words, VR demands, as the price of transcendence, that the user become of the medium, of the other, through a relationship of compulsion, penetration, repetition...
Masochism is an attempt to elude anxiety and to gain self-esteem through a "flight forward" to meet pain and punishment necessary to the ultimate attainment of pleasure. Pain itself is not sought; it is merely an obstacle to prospective pleasure. Phantasy is the source of masochism; it is supported by suspense which postpones or destroys the end pleasure as the masochist becomes more ascetic. A third feature is the demonstrative component or provocative exhibitionism. The intermediate and end phases of masochism are sadistic in nature with aggression turned towards the ego and the execution of punishment ceded to another person. Social and sexual masochism are different expressions of the aggressive and erotic urges of sadism; they have become masochistic through direction of the ego toward a passive subject. Sexual masochism brings about sex gratification through pain and punishment; social masochism rehabilitates the ego by resolving social anxiety through punishment. The essence and aim of masochism is "victory through defeat." (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
This is an extraordinary collection that goes to the heart of Lacan's theory and the controversy that has surrounded it. The main text is a transcript of a provocative filmed interview with Lacan that was aired on French television in 1973. The second half of this illuminating volume, . . . includes the "dossier on the institutional debate." The papers it comprises—such as the July 1953 report from the president of the International Psychoanalytical Association [IPA], Heinz Hartmann—document some of the controversy that swirled around Lacan for the last thirty years of his teaching, including his expulsion from the IPA in 1953, his "excommunication" in 1963, and his key responses in the form of letters and talk. For anyone hoping to understand the institutionalization of Freudian thought and the challenge Lacan represents, this is an essential work. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)