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
as psychopathology, a clear and present symptom of
neurotic, compulsive behavior. Thus the familiar spectre of addiction haunts the
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
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
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
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 resistance.9
Cyberporn, more aggressively than other contemporary mass-public languages
(advertising, network news, Hollywood film), translates subjective desires and
fantasies into objective, often unstable, "published
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
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
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
attachments, and fantasies thus derive from "universal History," not just
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
The Original PicPost, a porn site that records in a typical month over 25 million
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
: 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
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
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
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 violence.
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
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
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 masculinity.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Perhaps it is male Gen-Xers and Gen-Nexers, the ones logging in the most
who are truly getting the porn they deserve. Larry
Flynt's decision to move seven major publications on-line (including
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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, alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.amateur.female 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
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
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
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 audience.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Masturbation is thus a moment of eroticized
at once world-shattering and world-creating since it
involves playing out on the body a wished-for reality.84
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
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
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
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
); 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
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 identifications.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
--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 masochism."106
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
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
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
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
for Young, it is a schizoid kind of love that is also pornographic in nature, "the
quintessence of a pregenital, part-object relationship."115
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:
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
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
• 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
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
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 Disney.com)--to 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
NudeFreedom.com. 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
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
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
• 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
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 pleasure.128
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
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
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
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
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.
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
SexHound specializing in this service) and
"counter" programs, both of which generate "toplists" ranking adult sites by traffic.
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 instrumentality.
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
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
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
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
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 email@example.com.
Copyright © 2000, Michael Uebel and The Johns Hopkins University Press , all rights reserved. NOTE: members of a subscribed campus may use this work for any internal noncommercial purpose, but, other than one copy sent by email, print, or fax to one person at another location for that individual's personal use, distribution of this article outside of the subscribed campus, in whole or in part, without express written 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, 1996).
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.
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 cyberspace.
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, 115.
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.
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): 277-324.
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): 1262-86.
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 : 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 himself?
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," 44.
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 http://www.swoon.com/swoon/news/9703/news_970301.html.
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.
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 Mainstream").
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: 275-78.
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.
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, 1987).
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, alt.binaries.pictures.candid.beach, alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.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.black.amateur.females, a.b.p.e.black.amateurs, 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 a.b.p.nospam.post-yourself-nude.
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 masochism.
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 forms--interest.
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.
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.
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.