The Revolutionary Unconscious: Deleuze and Masoch


Both of Gilles Deleuze’s texts on masochism, 1961’s “From Sacher-Masoch to Masochism” and 1967’s “Coldness and Cruelty,” reflect a certain ambiguity—or at least the appearance of one. They emphasize the distinction between Masoch’s writings, as the literary elaboration of a fantasy, and the clinical entity, the “disorder or disease” (“Sacher-Masoch” 125) that Krafft-Ebing and Freud called “masochism.” As one would expect, Deleuze was critical of the constitution of this clinical entity, and his criticisms were often based on the divergence between “masochism” and Masoch’s works. However, the significance of this distinction, and these criticisms, is perhaps not what one might initially expect—at least insofar as one expects to find Deleuze using Masoch to oppose the clinical construction of masochism in principle. Indeed, one does not have to read far into “From Sacher-Masoch to Masochism” to find evidence that such an expectation is likely to be disappointed. Immediately following the text’s short biographical introduction, Deleuze remarks that “[w]hen one’s name is given, whether one likes it or not, to a disorder or a disease,” it is because “one has ‘isolated’ the disease, distinguished it from cases with which it had until then been confused, by determining and grouping the symptoms in a new and decisive manner” (125). The clear implication of this is that, Masoch’s own displeasure notwithstanding, his clinical readers in fact recognized a key aspect of his literary achievement.

Read Article On Muse