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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

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Friday, December 19, 2008

STHENOSADISM

In THEORY OF SADISM I wrote:

'one can schematize the respective attitudes [of sadists and masochists] so: the pure sadist wants to actively inflict his power/strength upon others without opposition; the pure masochist wants to have the power/strength of others inflicted upon him, albeit under controlled conditions. I prefer the term "strength" to the now-dated term "phallic power" employed by Freud and Deleuze, since the former term does not limit itself to the phallically-endowed gender.'

Thus I linked the human tendency to admire strength and/or power that characterizes sthenolagnia to the general concept of sadism. Under this general concept I subsume both syndromic and non-syndromic ("casual") sadism, for from an outsider's perspective it is almost impossible to separate one type of dynamization from the other: to separate the roar of the Roman colosseum's crowd as they watch a real victim eaten by a lion from the roar of a moviegoing crowd as they see a fantasy-villain blown into a thousand pieces. That they are logically separable, though, I believe I've demonstrated.

Though sthenolagnia proper can arise from the demonstration of strength in a non-aggressive context, I define sthenosadism as an affect (whether temporary or lasting) that focuses only upon strength used in an aggressive context. If nothing else such a liminal concept might avoid the logical problems of the Legman-Wertham formulations, in which the reader of any violent entertainment is conceived to be such a vulnerable vessel that exposure to any kind of violence has the power to warp him beyond the pale of normality. The model of sthenosadism at least puts forth a continuum in which most of these readers of said violent entertainment simply shrug off their effects as "only a movie/comic book/etc." while only a few internalize the violence into their own psyches.

Sthenosadism also works better than the Freud and Deleuze formulations re: sadism and masochism, in that both authors tended to characterize "power" as essentially "phallic." By making this distinction, both authors overdetermined the content of sadistic fantasy as a product of one real-world differentiation. That differentiation-- that boys are almost always stronger than girls-- supposedly means that "power" is unilaterally conceived in terms of "the phallus." Yet to a child in the so-called "pre-Oedipal" phase, both of his parents are irresistably stronger than he/ she is, and both for the same reason: because they are as giants beside the stature of the child. I'm sure few children are slow to realize that the mother is usually the giant of lesser stature, but in contrast to Freud I see no reason why that would make a child of either sex conceive power in terms of maleness. Philip Slater's book on Greek mythology/psychology has some pointed remarks on the shortcomings of Freud's male-centered system, and how considerably it overlooks the imposing nature of the mother. Deleuze sometimes seems to verge on making some similar point, but in the end he too falls victim to Freud's phallocentric preoccupations.

Unlike the Freud-Deleuze conceptions of sadism and masochism, then, the conception of sthenosadism would cover all possible permutations of power-fantasy, be they:

Male-over-female
Male-over-male
Female-over-female
Female-over-male

In addition, this schema would applicable whether or not the budding young sthenosadist were casual or obsessive, or even male or female. In my next essay (the one that was *supposed* to follow up on the Heidi McDonald remarks), I hope to bring this all to a rousing conclusion.

1 comment:

Gene Phillips said...

A quick addenda/refinement:

Though I wrote "power/strength" as if the two were covalent, I now think that there are power-fantasies within the sadism sphere that do not have the air of sthenolagnia to them. A geometrical description might show "sadism" as one separate sphere, "sthenolagnia" as another, and "sthenosadism" as a circle partly overlapping both.

Many of Sade's tormentors, for instance, may be in positions of power, but they are personally unprepossessing, and so in those cases the sadistic fantasy involves only the will to power, but not the demonstration of superior strength,esp. through combat.