Hybrid embodiment and an ethics of masochism: Nella Larsen's Passing and Sherley Anne Williams's Dessa Rose.
We will pause briefly here to mark the moments in the political economy during which these novels were published, 1929 and 1986. These dates fall within a progression which spans the twentieth century from Taylorism-Fordism to a globalized regime of flexible accumulation. In these increasingly globalized regimes of accumulation, specific populations are targeted for "incorporation" into the "world-system." The incorporation of the African American population, and that of other decolonized peoples, has been undertaken, however imperfectly, in a post-1914 and specially in a post-1945 global economy of North American ascendancy.
In the incorporation of different peoples into a global economy, racism operates through what Wallerstein calls an" 'ethnicization' of the work force," a process which adjusts different "human genetic and social pools" to the "hierarchical needs of the economy" at different times and in different places (Balibar 33-34). Perhaps Deleuze and Guattari come closer to the phenomenon being addressed here in their assertion that racism operates "by the determination of degrees of deviance in relation to the White-Man face" (178); that is, the deviance from the physiognomy of whiteness. Commenting on the above passage from Deleuze and Guattari, Michael Hardt suggests that we speak of racist practice "not in terms of exclusion but as a strategy of differential inclusion" (146).
This strategy measures "degrees of deviance" along a chromatic slide, and this graded chromaticism seems to be based on a measure of mimetic efficacy. Differential inclusion inevitably seems to include those whose approximation of the physiognomy of whiteness has attained a degree of mimetic efficacy through markers of race and class. The incitement to approximation is pervasive, but equally pervasive is the imperative of distance and difference. Differential inclusion includes those whose degrees of deviance are muted through mimetic approximation, but whose deviance or difference never becomes undecipherable, as undecipherable difference always provokes extreme anxieties. These are strategies for the management of otherness in a regime of globalized flexible accumulation, strategies which locate otherness contiguously on a differential grid of heterogeneity, as inalienably he same and indisputably other.
In such a space, in which bodies are subject to a polymorphous incitement to approximate a physiognomy or topography of whiteness, we observe a proliferation of images of racial approximation. In Toni Morrison's work alone, we find figures of racial approximation in a succession of characters like Geraldine, Maureen, Helene, and Jadine, and Nella Larsen's Passing extends this line to Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry. If these figures are projected outward as hybrid embodiments of otherness, Clare has, in fact, become indistinguishably other. While characters like Geraldine and Helene seem to be figures of false consciousness and alienation, Clare Kendry is too conspicuously cultivated, her role too deliberately performed for her to be understood in these terms.
Clare Kendry's passing, to be sure, is predicated on a crossing over into otherwise barricaded economic zones. Reflecting on the past, she tells Irene, "'Then, too, I wanted things'" (40-41). With "'all things considered'" in her present circumstances, she reflects scandalously that "'it's even worth the price.'" With a casual "'Of course,'" she offers the provocatively realistic, if often elided, banality that "'that's what everybody wants, just a little more money, even the people who have it,'" since "'money's awfully nice to have'" (44). This is the other side of Jadine's remark that poverty is "'not being free'"; "'it's a prison, poverty is'" (171). (2)
Although there is a strong case to be made for the political economy of passing, it alone cannot account for the process of othering involved. To her assertion, "I wanted things," Clare adds, "'I knew I wasn't bad-looking and that I could "pass"'" (41). As Deleuze puts it, "The thrust of Marxism was to define the problem [of power] essentially in terms of interests"; however, "in terms of investments, whether economic or unconscious, interest is not the final answer; there are investments of desire that function in a more profound and diffuse manner than our interests dictate" (Foucault, Language 214-15). This is not to say that "interest" and "desire" are necessarily antagonisitc, because "we never desire against our interests, because interest always follows and finds itself where desire has placed it" (215). Although we may want to qualify what may seem to be the priority of desire in such a formulation, "interests" and "investments" do not operate discretely. The political economy of passing cannot be sep arated from its economy of desire.
Nella Larsen's Passing is, of course, about racial boundaries, but it is also about desire. It has been recognized, belatedly, that the book is about latent lesbian desire and that in it racial transgression is itself eroticized. But the novel also presents a performance of masochistic desire, in which Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry play out mistress-masochist roles. And as an enactment of masochism, too the novel is unusual.
The literature on masochism is overwhelmingly concentrated on the figure of the masochist, and, more generally, "the bulk of the [literature] (erotic, psychoanalytic, and political) that gets written about S&M focuses on the masochist" (Weinberg 130). The mistress, by comparison, embodies a "peculiar and extremely rare feminine 'nature' "(Deleuze 42-43), and investigations of the figure of the mistress have been equally rare. Masoch's narratives, to be sure, use a third-person point of view, but it is consistently aligned to that of the masochist. In such a context, what is exceptional about Nella Larsen's Passing, read within an economy of masochism, is that the narrative point of view is filtered through that of the mistress, Irene Redfield. The novel explores the eroticization of dominance. Although the title of the novel directs our attention to Clare Kendry, we participate in her transgression, at a second remove, through Irene's voyeuristic participation in, and control of, Clare's performance. Larsen i nvestigates the "peculiar and extremely rare feminine 'nature'" of a mistress who eroticizes racial transgression within an economy of masochistic desire.
Masochism is a complex subject of specialized investigation and of popular iconic representations, and it would be useful, at the outset, to indicate the restricted usage of the term here and to sketch out what explanatory potential may be derived from such a usage. Although we may later want to qualify some of Gilles Deleuze's assertions, in order to be clear about the specific content of the performance of masochism, it is useful at this point to acknowledge that "there is between sadism and masochism an irreducible dissymmetry" (68). "It is a mistake," he explains, "to think that [the mistress] is sadistic or even pretending to be so" (42). Deleuze rejects the common assumption that "the character who does the beating in masochism is the father" (60); rather, "what is beaten, humiliated and ridiculed in [the masochist] is the image and the likeness of the father" (66). The mistress and the masochist, (3) then, reciprocally enact a carnivalesque degradation of the law of the father.
The enactment of masochistic desire is a performance of history, and masochism is a synchronic enactment of diachrony. To put it in Foucauldian terms, masochism enacts the mutation of power from punishment to discipline. This historicity finds its most condensed and poetic form perhaps in the masochistic fetish, which is a device of discipline but simultaneously contains the memory of punishment. It is the sign of the rupture between punishment and discipline. Mistress and masochist do not attempt to locate an outside to power, and they do not transcend power relations but perform entirely at the level of immanence. It is by "the very strictest application of the law," by an "excess of zeal" in adhering to the law, that the masochist, "insolent in his obsequiousness," converts a prohibitive and punitive procedure of law into a process of pleasure (Deleuze 89). Through the performance of masochistic desire, mistress and masochist prepare for the "abolition of the father's likeness and the consequent birth of t he new man" (101).
Perhaps most significant in the birth of this "new man" is the emergence of new desires and a new human body, the dissipation of its organicity and its technological hybridization, its prosthetic augmentation. Masochistic desire and masochistic bodies are governed by the logic of metonymy, and as we will see, this prostheticized body is subject to a scopic seizure and segmentation which are registered in anatomical enumerations. In addition to segmenting and enumerating body parts and their prosthetic augmentations, the logic of metonymy foregrounds the body as surface. The masochistic body is not invested with depth, but is a device, an instrument, and in Foucault's words, the masochist aims to "make use of every part of the body as a sexual instrument" (Politics 299)
In Passing, the economy of masochistic desire is intimately related to passing as Irene "eroticizes Clare's racial trespass," as she "desires the trespass that Clare performs" (Butler 276). And this economy of desire can be traced in the construction of Clare Kendry as transgressive other. The text, filtered through Irene's perspective, returns again and again to Clare Kendry, who is represented as a hybridized and prostheticized body produced in the syntax of a series of anatomical enumerations and prosthetic augmentations. She has "gold hair," a "tempting mouth," "ivory skin," "luminous...arresting eyes," and "black lashes" (45). Clare is "exquisite, golden, fragrant, flaunting, in a stately gown" which falls to her "slim golden feet"; her "glistening hair" rests on the "nape of her neck"; her eyes "sparkl[e] like dark jewels" (134-35). After Clare falls from the sixth floor of a building, what remains with Irene is the "soft white face," the "bright hair," the "scarlet mouth," the "dreaming eyes," the "car essing smile," "the gallantry of her pose, the ringing bells of her laughter" (210).
These enumerations, and the others, adhere strictly to surface, and these surfaces are peculiarly burnished as the body is segmented into hair, neck, mouth, eyes, skin, feet which are luminous, golden, glistening, sparkling, bright. Even at this level of syntax, however, the masochistic body is augmented by a defiance which is conveyed in a series of contradictory terms. The burnished body of the masochist is augmented by "disdain" and "flashing scorn" (6), by "soft malice" (7), by "mockery" (29) and "polite insolence" (45). This body, subjected to discipline, returns the "look of surveillance" (4) by mimicking, with an "excess of zeal," the disciplinary gaze cast upon it. By the "strictest application of the law," this body mimics disciplinary power and produces, with "polite insolence," the rebelliousness of the masochist's submission.
While racial transgression or hybridity is eroticized, hybrid desire is simultaneously exoticized as Irene deploys a colonial vocabulary to describe Clare as "exotic" (46). This simultaneous eroticization and exoticization involves both intimacy and estrangement. Clare has "no allegiance beyond her own immediate desire" (5); she is "utterly strange and apart" (69). But while she is "too remote," she is simultaneously "very familiar" (22). She is both "strange and compelling" (44). The "quality of feeling" that Irene tries to isolate in Clare "that was to her strange, and even repugnant" (118), is located at the level of a hybridized desire.
Hybridity consistently evokes a vocabulary of simultaneous attraction and repulsion. Irene uses this language in her discussion of passing with Brian and of interracial attraction with Hugh Wentworth. About passing, she comments that "'we disapprove of it and at the same time condone it. It excites our contempt and yet we rather admire it. We shy away from it with an odd revulsion, but we protect it'" (97-98). The image that triggers the conversation between Irene and Hugh is the dancing couple, Clare and Ralph Hazelton, a "nice study in contrasts": "Clare fair and golden, like a sunlit day. Hazelton dark, with gleaming eyes, like a moonlit night" (137). Irene associates this "other attraction" (138), with "a kind of emotional excitement," with "something strange, and even, perhaps, a bit repugnant," "something so different" (139). Even the words excites contempt suggest that hybrid desire is a site of intense ambivalence, marked by both revulsion and excitement. This body is both other and same, and the impe rceptibility of difference can become a source of anxiety, as Clare becomes "dangerous" (44). The vocabulary Irene uses to describe Clare, then, is identical to that which she uses to describe interracial desire. It is as if Irene would explain her own response to Clare when she explains interracial attraction to Hugh.
Just as Clare performs the "polite insolence" of the masochist's submission, Irene performs the disciplinary role of the mistress. Irene, like Geraldine and Helene, plays technician of discipline in her home, in relation to Brian and her sons. Brian Redfield is agitated by an "old, queer, unhappy restlessness," a "craving for some place strange and different" (84). He "ache[s] to go somewhere else" (176), that "remote place of his heart's desire" (108). And this desire for an elsewhere articulates itself in that "strange, and to [Irene] fantastic notion of Brian's of going off to Brazil, which, though unmentioned, yet lived within him" (100). (5)
Irene, however, has weathered the crisis, the "storm and strain" (101) that this inassimilable desire has caused their relationship. She has made "strenuous efforts to repress" this restlessness (84). Disregarding "his dislike and disgust for his profession and his country" (101), she has "insist[ed] that he stick to his profession right there in New York," and he has "never spoken of his desire" since then. For Irene, "his success proved that she'd been right," that "it had been best"; she takes comfort in the "life which she had so admirably arranged for them all" (100). While this desire, designated in all its palpability as "the thing," "still had the power to flare up," Irene decides that "it would die," it would have to be "banked and smothered." She would have "only to direct and guide her man," and she puts a "plan" into place (102). Irene insists that "she wanted him to be happy," but "it was only in her own way and by some plan of hers for him that she truly desired him to be so" (108).
Brian's desire for an other, his restlessness for an elsewhere, is subjected to Irene's discipline. In relation to Brian, Irene assumes a disciplinary function, and the terms used to describe this function are drawn from a managerial vocabulary. She "arrange[s]," "direct[s]," "guide[s]," "plan[s]," and "manage[s]." She insists on the "easy monotony" (107) and the "pleasant routine of her life" (188). In other words, the text plots the trajectories and the collision of two series, a managerial series and a trajectory of desire which is plotted through Brian's "restlessness," his "craving" and "ach[ing]."
After Clare befriends the family, Brian's restlessness revives, and Irene thinks, "If I only knew what it was, I could manage it" (155). And on that fateful evening, as Irene prepares herself for a party, she finds out. Her reaction, as Brian informs her that he has invited Clare, is one of "fierce anger that had blazed up in her." Brian's response to this fierceness is a quick jerk of the head, "brows lifted," and a "little straightening motion of the shoulders" which was "that of a man drawing himself up to receive a blow." This quick exchange of words and succession of gestures reveal that it is "Clare Kendry! So that was it!" (161). (6)
Clearly, the series of terms used to describe Clare converges with the series that describes the trajectory of Brian Redfield's desire. If Clare is described as strange and remote, Brian's restlessness drives him toward "some place strange and different," "somewhere else," that "remote place of his heart's desire," and this desire for an elsewhere is contained in the sign "Brazil." Irene, however, is undeterred. She wants only "to keep undisturbed the pleasant routine of her life"; she wants only "to direct for their own best good the lives of her sons and her husband" (200).
Irene's managerial propensities and her insistence on routine are predicated on her desire for security; "to her, security was the most important and desired thing in life" (200). This desire is exacerbated toward the end of the novel when, even if "she couldn't be sure that she had ever truly known love" for Brian, she still "meant to keep him," "still intended to hold fast to the outer shell of her marriage, to keep her life fixed, certain" (201). The terms that signal Irene's libidinal investments--routine, security, fixity, certainty-seem to extend her managerial and disciplinary function, so that reversing the circuit that Deleuze installs between interest and desire, we might say that, for Irene, desire "always follows and finds itself where [interest] has placed it." These terms also suggest her alignment to patriarchal law, her attachment to the law of the father. Even if Clare does to some extent "educate" Irene, and even if Irene is herself drawn toward the "dangerous" desire embodied in Clare, this residual attachment to the law, as we shall see, asserts itself implacably at the end of the novel.
The managerial function that Irene assumes in relation to Brian merges with this libidinal investment in the law of the father. Irene seems faintly conscious and anxious about the transexualization of her disciplinary function. In her very disavowal that Brian, though "extremely good-looking," was "not, of course, pretty or effeminate," she seems anxious about violating normatively gendered aesthetic attributes. It is as if his subjection to her disciplinary measures may signal the absence of a virile masculinity. The quickly qualifying and anxiety-ridden "of course" indicates that, for Irene, his masculinity has to be rapidly recuperated from any trace of the feminine. In fact, only the "slight irregularity of his nose" and the "marked heaviness of his chin" "saved him" from "prettiness" and "effeminacy," and he is reassuringly, and "in a pleasant masculine way, rather handsome" (93).
But to return for a moment to that fateful evening-after the revelation, Brian, feeling "admonished," lingers at the door and they continue a flirtatious exchange, maintaining a semblance of normality. Stunned and impatient, Irene is described in a transsexual metaphor: "Within her she felt a hardness from feeling, not absent, but repressed. And that hardness was rising, swelling. Why didn't he go? Why didn't he?" (163). The metaphor here, and in the novel more generally, suggests that, in relation to Brian, the managerial function that Irene assumes merges with her libidinal investment in a masculinized authority. The political economy of Taylorist managerialism is articulated here with a specifically masculinist economy of desire, as Irene's ascension to managerial power is stamped by the phallic.
While Irene's managerial function in relation to Brian is clearly gendered, the text does not explicitly eroticize this function. (7) Her disciplinary function, in relation to Clare, however, is thoroughly eroticized, and when Clare meets Irene after a separation of twelve years, self and other are caught in an erotic shuffle of subject-object positions. Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield perform this eroticized choreography of subject-object positions, which is a playing out of the roles of masochist and mistress. (8)
The eroticization of the relation between Clare and Irene is both formal and thematic. The extensive anatomical enumerations indicated above, for example, are consistently filtered through Irene's "voice." The onset of these enumerations is typically signaled by phrases that introduce free indirect discourse, as Irene "recall[s]" (45), as Irene "remember[s]" (134). This syntactical obsession with repetition and enumeration, then, plots the trajectory of Irene's desire. The eroticization of this relation is pervasive, and it is characterized by a caressing, a lingering, which forms a counterpart to the simultaneity of attraction and repulsion. This lingering on the threshold of desire indicates both its inadmissibility and its persistent incitement. To use Deleuze's terms, although her "interest" dictates that she consolidate her family relations, her "investments of desire" draw her toward assuming, even if tentatively, the role of mistress. Irene is "curious" (36); she is "possessed of an uncontrollable curi osity" (81). Irene is drawn by the "caress" of her eyes (47), by the "caress of Clare's smile" (127). She is captivated by the "seduction" of her smile (48); she finds Clare's voice "so appealing, so very seductive" (52). And she lingers, in spite of herself, in Clare's presence.
The syntactical register of this desire is supplemented discursively by a central scene of confrontation between Irene and Clare. In this scene, they negotiate the ethics and the practice of Clare's racial trespass, but if Irene "eroticizes Clare's racial trespass" (Butler 276), this negotiation is also about the ethical and practical parameters of such an eroticization. Within an economy of masochism, this entire exchange can be read as a drafting of the masochistic contract and, as such, as an articulation of a masochistic ethics. Clare describes how, in anxious anticipation of Irene's letter, she went to the post office every day and how everyone there was "beginning to think that I'd been carrying on an illicit love-affair and that the man had thrown me over" (116). In response to Irene's suggestion that she should not "risk" coming to Harlem, she responds plaintively, "'You mean you don't want me, 'Rene?'" In the course of the discussion, Irene adds that it is "'not just the right thing,'" that "'it's da ngerous'" (117), that "'it's not safe'" (118), that "'it isn't wise'" (119), and she tells Clare, "'Do, please, be reasonable'" (129). To all of which Clare responds incredulously, "disdainfully," with "faint derision" (120), but also "almost plaintively" (119), with "tears that ran down her cheeks" (120), even if few women "wept as attractively as Clare" (121). She conveys "something groping, and hopeless, and yet so absolutely determined" (129).
Clare, then, must persuade Irene not only to permit her to perform this trespass but also, by this permission, to participate in it herself. This "persuasive function" (23), according to Deleuze, is that of the masochist who "needs to educate, persuade and conclude an alliance with the torturer." The basis of masochism in "contractual relations" (20) is embodied in the masochist contract which implies "his ability to persuade, and his pedagogical and judicial efforts to train his torturer" (75). Although the letters in Passing do not resemble the documents in Masoch, they do imply Clare's "ability to persuade," and Irene's failure to respond to one of these letters precipitates their discussion above. This discussion is a negotiation of their contractual relation, which "presupposes in principle the free consent of the contracting parties and determines between them a system of reciprocal rights and duties" (77). (9)
The eroticization of their relation involves their negotiation of a set of ethical and practical constraints. Irene first appeals to the moralistic and the decorous (the "right thing"), but in the face of Clare's derisive incredulity, she then moves to a more utilitarian calculation (it's "not safe," be "reasonable"). The negotiation centers around the "risk," "danger," and "safety" of their mutual participation, which, as we shall see also in Dessa Rose, are important elements in an ethics of masochistic desire. While we can read into this discussion an ethics of masochism and the risk inherent in it, Irene is tenuous and not very convincing in her objections. At the end of this fifteen-page sequence, the text definitively registers Irene's consent and complicity: "She gave in" (130).
The consent of the mistress, however, is always fraught, as Deleuze makes especially clear in his reading of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs. More generally, he writes, "In all Masoch's novels, the woman, although persuaded," is uncertain about her ability to play mistress: "She may prove inadequate, either by overplaying or by falling short of expectations." Thus the contrary responses, "'I am afraid of not being capable of it'" and "'Beware, I might grow to enjoy it"' (21). Of S&M, Foucault similarly says that it resembles a "chess game" which involves "winning" and "losing": "The master can lose in the S&M game if he finds he is unable to respond to the needs and trials of his victim. Conversely, the servant can lose if he fails to meet or can't stand meeting the challenge thrown to him by the master" (Politics 299). The mistress for Deleuze occupies a position between two extremes, between the hataeric and the sadistic, and she plays mistress with a "mixture of fear, revulsion and attraction" be cause she is uncertain about "whether she will be able to maintain her prescribed role" or whether "she might at any moment fall back into primitive hetaerism or forward into the other extreme of sadism" (50).
If the performance of masochism, as we have seen, involves a degradation of the law of the father, then the displacement of mistress or masochist from the scene of masochism means a lapse into, or a residual survival of, the law of the father. This failure, as Deleuze puts it, is always the "risk inherent in educational undertakings" (21). As we recall, Irene's response to the proposition of Glare's transgression is at first not only curiosity but, in fact, a "mixture of fear, revulsion and attraction." And the conclusion of Passing, like that of Venus in Furs, indicates a failure of the masochistic ritual. Venus ends with the "aggressive and hallucinatory return of the father" (64), and Wanda, the mistress, "behaves like a sadist" (49) (10)
When Clare's husband, John Bellew, by coincidence, meets Irene with her friend Felise, he realizes that Irene is black (183), but she decides not to inform either Clare or Brian about this meeting. Irene is bent on "prevent[ing Bellew] from finding out that truth" about Clare's racial identity (203) because that might result in their separation. Irene wishes Clare to continue passing; that is, continue the performance in which she herself has a part and over which she has some control. Irene is gripped by an anxiety that, "if Glare were free" (187), "if Clare was freed" (202), it would be, of all things, "the one she did not want" (187) because then "anything might happen" (202). But Bellew does find out, and the performance of eroticized transgression between Irene and Glare is disrupted by the "aggressive return of the father," the "roar of John Bellew's voice" (207) as "he pushed past them all into the room and strode towards Clare" (208). At the moment m which Irene decides to kill Glare, "One thought pos sessed her": "She couldn't have her free" (209). (11)
Venus in Furs ends with the return of the Greek, who sadistically whips Severn and disrupts the economy of masochism. Similarly, in Passing, the return of John Bellew disrupts the masochistic performance of eroticized transgression. Irene's residual attachment to the "security" of the law reasserts itself. She has tirelessly arranged a space of security and safety within the parameters of the law, and when threatened by its dissolution, she fiercely defends it. So it is with both "terror" and "ferocity" that she "laid a hand on Glare's bare arm" (209). Both books end with the failed education of the mistress and her reversion to the law and with the punishment of the masochist. But in a novel in which the eroticization of domination and submission and the eroticization of "racial trespass" are intimately connected, the failure of the masochistic ritual is also a failure of the transgressive urge. (12)
In Passing, the mistress-masochist positions are played out in the private space of family and friendship. In Sherley Anne Williams's Dessa Rose, these positions are cast in a public space, against a larger historical landscape. Like the compressed evolutionary time that structures Franz Kafka's "A Report to an Academy," the temporal structure of Dessa Rose offers a compressed representation of shifting modalities of power. And like the shift in regimes of power in Kafka's "In the Penal Colony," the shift from punishment to discipline, and from sadistic to masochistic economies of desire, informs the structure of Dessa Rose.
The novel is organized into a brief Prologue and Epilogue and three sections--"The Darky," "The Wench," and "The Negress"--each consisting of two chapters. It begins with slavery and punishment, revolt and death, arrest and execution, and the first section, "The Darky," consists of a confrontation and an interrogation of Dessa by Adam Nehemiah. (13) Power is spectacular. It is spatialized vertically, organized chromatically, and this hierarchical spatialization is logocentric in its opposition between orality and literacy.
Nehemiah and Dessa first confront each other in Sheriff Hughes's cellar, where Dessa is confined, pregnant, and awaiting execution. When Dessa responds with a defiant "flick of her eyes" to Nehemiah's threat of a whipping, he "str[ikes] her in the face, soiling his hand and bloodying her nose" (24). After this initial meeting, their meetings are regularized, as "they sat under the elm, the darky chained as usual, Nehemiah stripped to his shirt sleeves" (35), inciting her to speech, typically by "nudg[ing] her with the tip of his boot" (31). Like "schoolteacher" in Toni Morrison's Beloved, Adam Nehemiah, is a "teacher man" (65), an "expert" in the "management" of slaves (25), who sits on a chair under an elm with a "pad and pen on his knee." Dessa, sentenced to die and awaiting execution, with "manacled hands" and "leg irons" on her ankles, sits "near him on the ground" (30).
In this vertical and chromatic spatialization of subject-object positions, the genuflected body is caught in a punitive regime of sadistic desire. Williams's short story "Meditations on History," of which this first section of the novel is a revised version, refers directly to this desire, as Nehemiah observes how Dessa "looks in the sun. For a moment today as I watched her I could almost imagine how Vaungham allowed her to get close enough to stick a knife between his ribs" (259). But the novel, too, records how Nehemiah is "oddly arrested" because he finds Dessa's "face so expressive" (33), how he "relaxed himself" when he sees Dessa smile and show a "flash of even white teeth between the thick, long lips" (36). Nehemiah observes how Dessa's appearance changes as they move from the cellar to the sunshine: The color of her skin changes from an "ashen black" to the "color of pekoe tea, a deep lustrous brown that even in the shade glowed with a hint of red" (32). Similarly, "he could smell her, not the rank, f eral stink of the cellar, but a pungent, musky odor that reminded him of sun-warmed currants and freshly turned earth" (34). And more explicitly, during his pursuit of some escaped slaves, he anticipates "a bed" and "something to warm it when we get back" (69).
In addition to the instruments of punishment and confinement--the chain, the manacles, and the leg irons--Nehemiah wields the instruments of literacy--the "pad and pen." Having established a reputation as an expert in the management of slavery with his first book, The Masters' Complete Guide to Dealing with Slaves and Other Dependents, Nehemiah interrogates Dessa to produce material for his second, The Roots of Rebellion in the Slave Population and Some Means of Eradicating Them (16-17). As Dessa speaks, Nehemiah is "bent over the pad on his knee, his hand propelling the pen across its surface in intricate movements" (45), writing "quickly, abbreviating with a reckless abandon, scribbling almost as he sought to keep up with the flow of her words" (32). The role of literacy in a regime of punishment is made clear by Dessa's remark that no one would ask Boss Smith, the overseer, for anything because that would make him "note you," and "the onliest way Boss Smith know to note you is with that whip" (32).
In contrast to Nehemiah's furious scribbling, Dessa's "humming or moaning" (23) seems to him "an absurd monotonous little tune," "nothing but moaning" (30). In fact, Nehemiah's "drowsiness [is] compounded" by her "monotonous melody," which seems to him "like a natural part of the setting, like the clucking of the hens or the lowing of the cattle" (48). Dessa, however, is able to differentiate intricately between the different elements of this music:
A rooster crowed; the conch sounded. Dimly, so softly at first it might have been the echo of her own crooning, she could hear the people assembling for work, a mumbled word here, the chink of a hoe, the clunk of one implement hitting against another. A warbled call soared briefly above the dawn noise; sometimes this signaled the beginning of a song, one voice calling, another answering it, some other voice restating the original idea, others taking up one or another line as refrain. (62)
Dessa then begins to recognize some of these voices: a "nasal soprano," a "full-throated voice that skipped from baritone to soprano in a single slurring note," a "clear tenor that ascended to falsetto and yodeled across the dawn" (62-63). At this point, "on impulse," Dessa begins to sing "her raspy contralto," and after a "momentary silence," the "tenor answered gliding into a dark falsetto." As "other voices joined in," her voice "blended with theirs in momentary communion" (63).
That the content of the songs is, of course, Dessa's imminent escape becomes clear in the progression from "How long will it be?" (63), through "Oh, it won't be long" (64), to "Good news, Lawd, Lawd, good news / My sister got a seat and I so glad / I heard from heaven today" (66). As the slaves sing these last verses, Nehemiah, leaving the plantation in search of a maroon settlement of escaped slaves, hears only something "rather interesting and pleasing to the ear" (67).
The second section, "The Wench," shifts from punishment to discipline. As Dessa later reflects, the bed in which she wakes up in the second section, "that bed was grave and birthing place" (214-15), the end of one regime and the beginning of another. Even if the performance of discipline itself occurs in the third section, this second section gives way to disciplinary modalities of power. The vertical and chromatic spatialization of the scene of power is replaced by images of racial intimacies. The spectacular is displaced by the scopic. Like the textual proliferation of the hybrid body in Passing, images of hybridity and racial intimacy proliferate in the second section of Dessa Rose. Dessa and Ruth Elizabeth, alias Rufel, at first view each other with hatred and suspicion, and while their antagonism is abated through this section, the images of hybridity are attended by both intimacy and anxiety. These images are not constituted as moments of transcendence but are compelled by materialist motivations of exi stence. As Ada explains, "'We runned away,'" and "'she let us stay here; she need the he'p. Man gone; slaves runned off'" (122).
When Dessa wakes up in bed with Rufel, "she almost suffocated in her terror" (120), and "sometimes it seemed to Dessa that she was drowning in milky skin, ensnared by red hair" (123). Rufel, too, is "shocked, almost outraged" that she should find Nathan "handsome!" She is "outraged to hear herself compared to the wench" (147). And she "shuddered," thinking of herself as "Mammy's child," a "pickaninny" (132). Their antagonism in this section centers around the materiality of the punishment that has been inflicted on Dessa's body. Nathan tells Rufel that "'they lashed her about the hips and legs, branded her along the insides of her thighs'" so as not to "impair her value" (143). She responds variously, "'She must have done something pretty bad,'" "'I bet she was making up to the master'" (145), and "'I know it's more to this than you telling.'" Even if Rufel "flushed hotly" at the "image of herself inspecting the wench's naked loins" (147), "yet, almost of its own volition, her hand reached to draw back the co vers from the darky's body" (149).
Rufel's "inspection" of Dessa's body--her "bottom," her "loins," her "pubic region" (166)--serves primarily as a confirmation of her past, as a validation of her narrative and that of all the fugitive slaves on Sutton's Glen. Like the masochistic fetish, which is the sign of rupture between punishment and discipline and which contains within it the memory of a regime of punishment, Dessa's body here literally bears the inscription of punishment. (14) As this section prepares for the shift from punishment to discipline, from sadistic to masochistic desire, the segmented object-body of the masochist bears the mark and contains the memory of punishment, as it is inducted into a regime of discipline. Its segmentation and dismemberment are simultaneously remembrance and induction. (15)
In addition to this confrontation between Dessa and Rufel, images of transgression and racial intimacy are pervasive in this second section. As "wet nurse for a darky," Rufel likes to observe "the contrast between his mulberry-colored mouth and the pink areola surrounding her nipple, between his caramel-colored fist and the rosy cream of her breast" (106). Here, then, a "nice study in contrasts" is represented, not by the dancing couple, Clare and Ralph Hazelton, but by a mother-infant image.
This image is then explicitly related to a second image of the hybrid: When Nathan and Rufel make love, "Nathan [is] the color of eggplant, a rich, velvety blue-black; beside him, Rufel's skin [takes] on a pearly glow" (171). When Dessa walks in on them, it is "like seeing [Rufel] nurse Mony for the first time all over again" (175). The representation of the sexual relationship between Rufel and Nathan is, however, displaced. Of the entire sequence of eight paragraphs, only the first and the last refer to the lovers, the other six representing Nathan as slave and Miz Lorraine as Mistress (167-71). The intimacy between Dessa and Rufel, then, is deferred by a series of displacements, by a mother-infant image, and by free interracial and heterosexual desire, which is then displaced by heterosexual desire between mistress and slave. In this series of displacements, it is as if interracial heterosexual desire serves as an alibi for interracial lesbian desire.
However, in the compressed structure of Dessa Rose, which fictionally exploits extraordinary circumstances, masochistic desire is collapsed into a regime of punishment. While the scene between Miz Lorraine and Nathan is not one of sadistic desire, race displaces gender as a marker of power differentials, and Miz Lorraine, as white, slave-owning mistress, is clearly dominant. She chooses slave lovers as a way of "ensuring their silence" and because "this was what Miz Lorraine wanted: to be in control" (170). And as masochist, Nathan reflects, "It was the terror, he knew, that made it so sweet" (171). This, then, is a masochistic scene collapsed into a regime of punishment. That the representation of the intimacy between Rufel and Dessa arrives, by a series of displacements, at a scene of masochistic desire anticipates the performance of masochism between Rufel and Dessa in the third section.
In the second section, we are already made aware that "'Harker got a plan'" (162), but in the third section, "The Negress," this plan is expedited and put into action. (16) The first chapter of the third section may be read as a drafting of the masochistic contract and an ethics of masochistic desire and the second as a performance of that desire. (17) The first chapter provides the motivations for the performance of masochism. Primary among these is the "aggressive return of the father," the possibility of FitzAlbert Sutton's return. To Dessa, Nathan explains that "'if he come back,'" "'he just as likely to lay claim to us and sell us all right back into slavery'" (186). Introducing the plan to Rufel, Nathan begins with a preliminary, "'What going to happen when the master come back here?'" (161). He then suggests that "'we don't have to be here when he come back'" (162). Rufel reflects that, should he return, Bertie would "enslave them. He didn't believe in sassy negroes or smart negroes or free negroes" (1 61), and she remembers the "peculiar, high-pitched screaming" of a "darky under the lash" (148). Like the "roar of John Bellew's voice" which disrupts the performance of masochism in Passing, Sutton's return is the contingency against which the "plan" is introduced. It is conceived against the encroaching threat of the law of the father, against the threat of the father's punishment. The plan or script of masochism offers an alternative, defiant, and subversive possibility. In both performances the (white) father is conspicuously absent. (18)
The novel then provides the material motivations for the performance of masochism. As we have seen above, Rufel's husband, Bertie, has abandoned the plantation and "she need the he'p." The fugitive slaves "just knew how to work; they didn't know how to direct it, to set it up from plant to harvest of all the crops. And this is what Harker could do." The result is that "the crop that year was looking to be double what they had harvested the year before" (194-95). When Nathan proposes the "plan" to Rufel, he adds, "'That'd be five thousand cash dollars for you'" (162), and she considers this against the possibility, "if Bertie were dead" (166). Harker's plan is based on mutual advantage: "This deal benefit her same as it do us" (197), and his assertion that whatever they decide to do is "going to take money" (202) plays a role in convincing Dessa to play slave maid to Rufel's mistress.
Just as Nella Larsen's Passing is unusual in representing the perspective of the mistress, so too Dessa Rose, read within a masochistic framework, offers a rare insight into the relationship between masochism and the reality of specific configurations of power. Dessa Rose foregrounds this relationship in the third section, especially in the last chapter, by locating the performance of masochism within a regime of punishment. The possibility of Rufel's regression into the law of the father, like Irene Redfield's, constantly threatens to disrupt the masochistic economy and return to the regime of slavery. This possibility throws into relief the relationship between the performers of masochism and their relations to the regime of slavery.
In Foucault's words, masochism involves an "eroticization of power, the eroticization of strategic relations"; this is not a "reproduction, inside the erotic relationship, of the structures of power" but rather an "acting-out of power structures by a strategic game" (Essential 169). While masochism does not reproduce the structures of power--that is, while it would be entirely inadequate to assume that the relationship between the performers of masochism and the structures of power is reproduced in masochism--it would be equally inadequate to assume that this relationship is entirely dissolved in masochism. This is not to say that relations of domination in the "structures of power" are "reproduced," but that they are refracted by the artifice of masochism--sometimes inverted, sometimes distorted. The mimicry of power does not reproduce the structures of power, but the mimetic program of masochism does exploit the sign value of the indices of power and sometimes even exaggerates them.
The point here is not only that an economy of desire cannot be entirely abstracted and severed from the political economy and from the larger social-political-economic complex but also that the allocation of subject-object positions is variously inflected by the relation each performer bears to this complex. As a mimicry of the power to punish, masochism bears the relation that mimicry bears to that which it mimics. Playing out the subject position, the mistress, as we have seen, bears a particularly complicated relationship to power. Thus the contrary responses "'I am afraid of not being capable of it'" and "'Beware, I might grow to enjoy it.'" Thus also, we might add, certain instances where the markers of race can serve as alibis for gender.
When the plan calls for a "real white person"--that is, for Rufel to "play the master"--Dessa appreciates the material constraints of their position, but she does not "trust her" and tries to make the others see "how dangerous it was trusting" her (183). Dessa decides "not to put [HER] freedom in no white woman's hand" (185). Derived from the historical context of racial slavery, Dessa's initial resistance to the plan, then, turns around issues of danger and safety, trust and treachery, freedom and bondage. The issues of risk, danger, trust, mutual consent, and reciprocity are, as we have seen in Passing also, important elements in an ethics of masochistic desire. The allocation of subject-object positions, here mistress-maid positions, is historically inflected by each woman's relation to the prevailing regime of power. Through negotiation of Harker's "plan," the group can script the performance of masochism, but it is also subject to the prevailing configuration of power.
That an economy of desire cannot be sealed off from the prevailing regime of power is perhaps best illustrated when Dessa, referring to both Harker's plan and the affair between Rufel and Nathan, asks, "'We going work our way West... on our backs?'" (180). Dessa reads the power relation between Rufel and Nathan as an iconic representation of Rufel's relation to all the fugitive slaves on Sutton's Glen, and Harker's "plan" to intervene in the political economy of slavery is here eroticized as "work[ing] ... on our backs" and read as a script of masochistic performance. Inverting the conventionally gendered postures of heterosexual copulation, Dessa recognizes that race can serve as an alibi for gender and confers dominance on Rufel's whiteness. As the displacement of their sexuality by that between Miz Lorraine and Nathan indicates, Rufel's relation to Nathan reproduces the relation between mistress and slave. Dessa does not dismiss the economic imperative, but she recognizes the complicity of the economic and the erotic, of "interests" and "investments."
That the masochistic script is superscribed by the prevailing configuration of power is also suggested by what may be read as a prologue to the performance of masochism. The novel records an initial transaction of power between Rufel and Dessa, without which the plan cannot be implemented. After Dessa calls Rufel "Miz Ruint" (172), Rufel makes it clear that she would not cooperate unless Dessa "begged pardon for calling her out her name" (193). Dessa is aware that the others assume she "was the only one could play the maid," and although another woman could have played the part of maid, "I was the one Miz Ruint was putting it on; I was the one had called her out her name" (197). And when Ada suggests that her affront could get all of them "put off the place" (175), Dessa reflects that Rufel "could make us all leave," that "she was white and it was her place" (177). After a period of recalcitrance, although Dessa "wouldn't say no sorry" and "wouldn't beg no pardon," she "apologized for being rude" (207).
While masochism is "only" a performance of discipline, "only" a mimicry of punishment, it is articulated within the reality of certain configurations of power. This reality of power is perhaps caught in Foucault's analogy between S&M and a "chess game" (Politics 299) or perhaps in Pat Califia's assertion that this is the kind of "sex that tests physical limits within a context of polarized roles" (Weinberg 130). Even if, properly speaking, it precedes the actual performance, the transaction of power between Rufel and Dessa reminds us of this tension, this contestation, in the performance of masochism. The contestation of power in the political-economic complex is preserved sometimes in a perverted and inverted form, sometimes in a mitigated and distorted form in the masochistic performance, and Rufel's relation, for example, to the prevailing regime of power, that "she was white and it was her place," is not entirely dissipated. (19)
This contestation between Rufel and Dessa continues even after the performance begins. When they spend a night at the plantation of a Mr. Oscar, Rufel and Dessa have an argument about a dress that Rufel wants ironed for the evening, a green dress "cut low cross the bosom" (216), one that Dessa thinks is more provocative than what the "plan" allows for. In the midst of this exchange, one of Mr. Oscar's slaves walks into the bedroom with the tea and, quick to seize the moment, Rufel issues the imperative," 'Iron this, Odessa,'" adding with some relish, "'Guess I wear the shawl, too.' And she throwed that cross my arm, too." The banal exchange here foregrounds an important element in an ethics of masochistic performance, that the illusion must be maintained even when, perhaps especially when, one of the performers introduces an innovation that deviates slightly from the script. Dessa concedes, with the observation that Rufel is "acting like she didn't have to go according to plan; she could correct me but I wasn 't posed to say nothing to her" (217).
The roles of mistress and maid are assigned by the exigencies of the plan which calls on Rufel, as a "real white person," to "play the master." To be sure, the enactment of masochistic desire involves a development of intimacies, but power relations must be preserved as a condition of possibility. As Dessa puts it, "You can't do something like this with someone and not develop some closeness, some trust" (225), a "closeness" that develops, partly, with Dessa's realization that "the white woman was subject to the same ravishment as me" (220). At the same time, however, Dessa reflects, "This was a white woman and I don't think I forgot it that whole, entire journey" (237). The mitigated power relations played out in the mistress-maid positions of masochistic performance are caught in Dessa's comment "I served her, yes, but she didn't treat me the way I had seen some treated" (231).
The final chapter puts on an extravagant performance of discipline, a "flirt[action]," as Dessa puts it, "with bondage" (211). The masochistic fetish, and, more generally, the performance of discipline, invokes and contains the memory of punishment. Dessa observes that "we was seeing ourselfs as we had been and seeing the thing that had made us" (228). This section, particularly, collapses the two historical moments of punishment and discipline. The group performs discipline surreptitiously within a regime of punishment, and this involves traveling into an anterior time of punishment and simultaneously performing the present time of discipline, or traveling into a future time of discipline while remaining in the present time of punishment. This palimpsestic scripting of two moments, the artifice of the masochistic ritual, affords a distancing which makes possible "seeing ourselfs as we had been." The art of masochistic performance, collapsing the regimes of punishment and discipline, foregrounds its historici ty.
Once the simulation begins, the troupe puts on an extravagant performance, costumes and all. Masochism is a form of mimicry-that is, a mimicry of the law-and mistress and masochist together perform a carnivalesque degradation of the law of the father. This is what accounts for the exuberance of the masochistic performance in this section of the novel. Dessa, acknowledging that "Miz Lady was good," recognizes that "all that bat the eye and giggle was just so much put-on now, and it give me a kick to see how she used these to get her way" (226). For Dessa, the transition from one regime to another is real. Here she begins "another part of [her] education" (214), the part that she "had missed as a field hand" (215). Realizing that "there was a lot more to being a lady's maid than I had thought" (217), she learns that "there was slips and stays and shifts and hose and garters, petticoats and drawers" (218). And Rufel buys her dresses, bandannas, underwear, shoes, and stockings, the "most clothes [she had] had in [her] life" (221). At the end of the escapade, Rufel and Dessa wait for the rest of the group, "and while we waited, we shopped" (235). For Dessa, crossing over from agricultural production as a "field hand" to the sphere of consumption, shopping is a new experience, and as she remarks, "My eyes didn't get enough of looking" (236), "my eyes was just dazzled" (235).
If the compressed structure of the novel represents the shift from punishment to discipline, in this last chapter, the mistress-maid positions in a disciplinary regime seem to be consolidated by the juxtaposition of two events which end the novel. The first interrogates the relationship between Rufel and Dessa, between mistress and maid, when Rufel opens up the possibility of their being "friends" and triggers a violent reaction from Dessa. While Dessa "wanted to believe I'd heard the white woman ask me to friend with her," she cautions herself that" 'fiend' to her might be like 'promise' to white folks" (240-41). In fact, Dessa "want[s] things back like they was"--"her Miz Lady and me the one she was partnered with in the scheme" (240).
If the performance of discipline contains within it the memory of punishment, this performance of mistress-maid positions is further consolidated as the content of this memory threatens to disrupt these positions. The content of this memory, repressed through the second and third sections of the novel, returns in the last few pages in the person of Adam Nehemiah. Outraged at Rufel's talk of friendship and trying "not to slam the door" (239), Dessa walks into the street and is apprehended by Nehemiah: "All a sudden, a hand clap me on my arm and jerked me around" (241). Although Dessa feigns innocence, she knows that Nehemiah has "track me down like he owned me, like a bloodhound on my trail" (247) and that this is a moment of mutual recognition: "I knowed him. He knowed I knowed him; and he grinned" (241).
The return of Nehemiah threatens to dispel the subject-object positions of masochistic performance. Just as a "sadist could never tolerate a masochistic victim," so too a "masochist [could never] tolerate a truly sadistic torturer" (Deleuze 40-41). These assertions reinforce the "irreducible dissymmetry" (68) which, as we have seen, Deleuze installs between sadism and masochism. Even here, though, we might note that he qualifies his assertion by suggesting that the mistress becomes intolerable only if she is "truly" sadistic. And we have had occasion to qualify the "irreducible dissymmetry" by recognizing the relationship between masochistic performance and the "structures of power," by recognizing that mistress and masochist may exploit the sign-value of the indices of power in order to carry out the mimetic program that underwrites masochistic performance. To be sure, however, the memory of punishment must be contained, in the sense that it must be restrained within the performance of masochism. And we shou ld be clear that the embodiment of "truly" sadistic desire must be excluded. Rufel must identify Dessa as her slave in order to free her. Dessa knows that, "friend or not, best she could do for me then was to prove I wasn't nothing but her slave" (252). Their very lives depend on their abilities to perform these subject-object positions.
The "scheme" that Rufel and Dessa are "partnered" in is, of course, the scheme of masochistic desire, the scripted subject-object positions of mistress and maid. Williams ends the novel with the "aggressive return of the father" in the person of Nehemiah, but this time, instead of a disruption of the performance, mistress and maid perform their roles and banish the father by the sheer competence of their performance. Although the "Epilogue" informs us that "Ruth went East and we all come West" (259), the novel effectively ends with the juxtaposition of two images, the first of Nehemiah, "down on his knees, scrambling amongst them papers" (255) and the second of Dessa and Ruth in a scene of cautious camaraderie: "That night we walked the boardwalk together and we didn't hide our grins" (256).
Toni Morrison has addressed female friendship among black women at some length, and more specifically she has commented on the reason that Sula's friendship with Nel cannot be sustained when Sula sleeps with Nel's husband, Jude. If "women really didn't care about sharing these things," (i.e. their men, among other things), Morrison comments that "everything would just crumble--hard. If it's not about fidelity and possession and my pain versus yours, than how can you manipulate, how can you threaten, how can you assert power" (Naylor 578). In a different context, what Foucault finds important in masochism is "the possibility of using our bodies as a possible source of very numerous pleasures" (Essential 165). But what is involved in the pursuit of these new pleasures, even if he speaks specifically of a "gay style," is the invention of new styles of existence, a new art of living, new relationships, new friendships; that is, a creative and innovative production of social reality (Politics 292). In fact, he spe aks of the "common fear" of the "as yet unforeseen kinds of relationships that many people can not tolerate" (Politics 301).
Both Morrison and Foucault are referring to the privileged economy of desire, and Morrison's "everything" signals the awareness that this privileged economy of heterosexual, genital, reproductive, monogamous desire is intricately related to, and even sustains, social, political, and economic structures. This is the reason that these new and "unforeseen" relationships, these new desires, arouse a "common fear" and cannot be tolerated; this is why these new desires may interrogate the distribution of "possession" and "power"; this is why these desires may disturb the distribution of privilege, and "everything would just crumble--hard." This is not to locate desire outside of power, for "there is no longer an outside to power" (Hardt and Negri 58). Rather, as Foucault points out, power is a "machine in which everyone is caught, those who exercise power just as much as those over whom it is exercised" (Power 156).
The possibility of a friendship between Dessa and Ruth must be placed in this context of new pleasures, new relationships, new friendships. Whether it is Sula and Nel, or Dessa and Ruth, these "unforeseen kinds of relationships" begin to articulate a new erotics and a new ethics, a new and innovative production of social reality. The novel ends by projecting a new practice of living and the possibility of concerted action. But this practice is formulated entirely within the relations of power. The last section of the novel makes two things clear. These new "friendships" and these new desires will not be evacuated of power relations, which will have to be rigorously negotiated. And the practice of living will have to be formulated in terms of competent practice.
(1.) Frederick Winslow Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management in 1911, but he started and did much of his work in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. About the installation of the assembly line, Henry Ford comments that "the idea came in a general way from the over-head trolley that the Chicago packers use in dressing beef" (81). Ford dissociates himself from Taylor here, but the consistency of the procedures used in a whole new ergonomics legitimates the hyphenated usage of "Taylorism-Fordism" which stretches, then, from the last decades of the nineteenth century well into the twentieth. Taylorism and Fordism constitute a new ergonomics, but more broadly, they contribute significantly to the twentieth-century culture of the United States. In fact, Antonio Gramsci claims that "Americanism and Fordism" represent an effort "unmatched in history" to create "a new type of worker and of man" (302). Whatever we make of Gramsci's reading of Taylorism and Ford ism, it Is clear that he re cognizes that economies of desire must be synchronized with the political economy, that the "new type of man" "cannot be developed until the sexual instinct has been suitably regulated" (297).
(2.) Clare is the daughter of Bob Kendry, a janitor who "had been brought home dead, killed in a silly saloon-fight" when she was fifteen years old (5). Irene recalls an image of Glare as a young girl, "sewing pieces of bright red cloth together, while her drunken father, a tall, powerfully built man, raged threateningly up and down the shabby room, bellowing curses and making spasmodic lunges at her" (4). "'You can't know, 'Rene,'" Glare says, reflecting on her childhood. "'I used almost to hate all of you. You had all the things I wanted and never had had'" (41).
(3.) I use the term mistress-masochist partly because this unit, in Deleuze, corresponds to a female-male heterosexual unit. But this fundamental domination-submission unit is, of course, variously constituted.
(4.) The phrase is Benita Parry's. See "Problems in Current Theories of Colonial Discourse" 41.
(5.) In a novel published in the same year, and one which also takes passing as its subject, Jessie Fauset's Plum Bun, Brazil is figured as a space of relative freedom for black people. Whether the Portuguese are a race "notoriously devoid of prejudice against black blood" or not (265), the novel ends with a Brazilian man, Anthony Gruz/Cross, himself passing as white in New York, and Angela Murray/Angele Mory being reunited in Paris.
(6.) Deborah McDowell argues that Irene imagines an affair between Glare and Brian and "project[s] her own developing passion for Clare onto Brian" (xxviii), and Judith Butler, using a similar psychoanalytic vocabulary of "deflect[ion]" and "rerouting" of desire, states that the affair is "never confirmed and, so, may be nothing other than an imaginary conviction on Irene's part" (276). Aside from the fact that so much in the novel is "never confirmed," and In contrast to the assumption that Irene serves as a "classic unreliable narrator" (McDowell xxiv), I read Irene as a competent reader of the signs around her. Whether the affair is imagined or real does not affect my reading here; Irene's belief that it is real motivates her subsequent actions.
(7.) Judith Butler writes that to recognize Irene's desire for Glare "is not to discount the possibility that Irene also desires Brian, but there is very lime evidence of a passionate attachment to him in the text. Indeed, it is against his passion, and in favor of preserving bourgeois ideals that she clamors to keep him" (277).
(8.) Deborah McDowell points out that "many critics have missed the significance of the erotic attraction between Irene and Glare" (xxvii). But what we may also have missed is that the novel is about the eroticization of dominance. Irene is driven by a disciplinary urge, and as Irene turns away from Brian and toward Glare, the novel explores the bisexuality of the mistress in an economy of masochism. Somewhat like Pat Califia, who "identif[ies] more strongly as a sadomasochist than as a lesbian," Irene is Interested in the erotics of domination, whether heterosexual or lesbian. And like Califia who, "if [she] had a choice between . . . a vanilla lesbian and a hot male masochist, [would] pick the boy" (Weinberg 130), Irene too, turning from a vanilla heterosexual male to a female masochist, seems to be motivated as much by an erotics of domination as she is by the gender of the masochist.
(9.) This essay is part of a larger project that traces the simultaneous developments of power and desire. The development of modalities of power from sheer domination through hegemony and interpellation to disciplinary panopticism is complemented by a mutation of desire from sadistic to masochistic desire. It Is interesting here that Deleuze's language, describing the masochistic contract as one which "presupposes" the "free consent" of the participants, resembles Gramsci's articulation of hegemony, "which presupposes a certain collaboration, i.e. an active and voluntary (free) consent, I.e. a liberal, democratic regime" (271). He elsewhere speaks of the "'spontaneous' consent of the masses" (266) and of "government with the consent of the governed" (257).
(10.) Deleuze reminds us, however, that "it is remarkable" that in Venus "the reversal should only occur at the end of the [masochistic] enterprise" (39).
(11.) An alternative reading of Glare's death is Judith Butler's. Butler (280) reads the death as "accidental" and Irene's part in it as "ambiguous." My reading is based on two types of textual evidence. The first is that, at a certain point toward the end of the novel, Irene considers the possibility "If Glare were free," which quickly leads to the possibility "If Glare should diel" (187). This sequence of thoughts from her freedom to her death is repeated, in inverted form, at the scene of Glare's death: Irene "laid a hand on Glare's bare arm" and "she couldn't have her free" (209).
The second is a sequence of images and statements excerpted below: "Glare stood at the window" (208); Irene "laid a hand on Glare's bare arm" (209); if Irene "could only put from her memory the vision of her hand on Clare's arm!" (211); "she had thought of nothing in that sudden moment of action" (211); "there had been her hand reaching out towards Clare" (212).
(12.) In the many African American novels which address passing in the early twentieth century, it is often biraciality that cannot be accommodated. The trajectory of transgression is always harassed, harried, traumatic, finally seeking a "return," a home. So Brian can assure Irene that "'they,'" those who have taken to passing, "'always come back'" (96). While some of the reasons given for this return home are essentialist, it is more remarkable that so many writers should have transgressed the policed boundaries of race and gender.
(13.) In "The Stories of O(Dessa)," Mae Henderson provides an historical note: "The name of Williams's character, Adam Nehemiah, reverses the name of Nehemiah Adams, a Boston minister who wrote a proslavery account of his experiences in the South" (304n20).
(14.) Perhaps because the literature on masochism disproportionately "focuses on the masochist" (Weinberg 130), the fetish is usually an anatomical segment of the body of the mistress or its prosthetic augmentation. In Dessa Rose, the titles of the three sections--"The Darky," "The Wench," "The Negress"--suggest the point of view in each section--Nehemiah's, Rufel's, and Dessa's. In the second section, then, as in Passing, we have the perspective of the mistress. When Rufel reaches to "draw back the covers" from Dessa's body, she realizes with astonishment, but also with some satisfaction, that "this wench was afraid of her," and she is "calmed by the wench's fear" (150). As a mistress, Pat Califia exercises her "right to possess intimate information," and getting this information is the "beginning of [the masochist's] submission" (Weinberg 132). Similarly, "shedding [the masochist's] clothes while [she] remain[s] fully dressed" establishes her dominance (133).
(15.) The juxtaposition of punishment and discipline in Dessa Rose is represented through an extraordinary story of escaped slaves finding refuge on Sutton's Glen, so that the marks of punishment are still visible on Dessa's body. In Kindred, although Octavia Butler does not really thematize discipline in contemporary California, it is worth noting that every time Dana comes back from the second decade of the nineteenth-century South, she bears physical marks of her existence there: "My blouse was stuck to my back. It was cut to pieces, really, but the pieces were stuck to me. My back was cut up pretty badly too from what I could feel. I had seen old photographs of the backs of people who had been slaves" (113).
(16.) To put it briefly, the plan consists of some of the fugitive slaves playing as Rufel's slaves, being sold at different places, escaping, and meeting up with the group again, to continue their journey through the South.
(17.) The details of what we can think of as an ethics of masochism are worked out in the masochistic contract. After noting the four elements of masochism that Theodor Reik identifies--fantasy, suspense, demonstration, and provocation--Deleuze comments that "it is curious that Reik, no less than other analysts, neglects a fifth factor which is very important: the form of the contract in the masochistic relationship" (75). This contract does not, of course, always take the form of a document but can be negotiated, as I have been suggesting in Passing and Dessa Rose, over an extended conversation.
(18.) We recall that it is not the father who inflicts pain in masochism. In fact, masochism is enacted against the "possibility of the father's aggressive return," and within the parameters of masochistic performance, the "father has been abolished" (Deleuze 66). Deleuze refutes Theodor Reik's assumption that the "father or his representative [is] hidden behind the figure of the beating woman." Also commenting more generally perhaps on the psychoanalytic penchant for the "subterranean," Deleuze points out that if "even a psychoanalyst of Reik's insight" insists on "hidden" meanings, he would have to be "far more specific about the meaning of 'hidden'" (58).
(19.) What must be preserved is the contestation of power, the "chess game," the testing of limits. Like the other historically constituted props of masochism--whips and boots and collars and cuffs--race, class, gender, and sexuality also enter the masochistic scene as historically constituted metaphors of power differentials. The permutations and combinations of race, class, gender, and sexuality yield variously constituted masochistic couples, heterosexual and homosexual, gay and lesbian, racially homogeneous and racially heterogeneous, and so on.
What remains constant is the contestation of power, and needless to say, were the mistress, unlike Rufel, to be, for example, black, we would have to offer a different explanation only for how blackness would function as a metaphor of power. This is the case, for example, in Malcolm's description of those white men who "couldn't seem to recover quickly enough from their last whipping" to visit a "big, coal-black girl" and "cringe on their knees and beg and cry out for mercy under that black girl's whip" (119).
More generally, black women writers have published several contemporary fictional reconstructions of slavery, Dessa Rose, Kindred, Beloved, and Corregidora. Perhaps most fundamentally, these writers offer analyses of power and desire and the unflinching conviction that desire cannot be evacuated of power relations.
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Biman Basu is Assistant Professor of English at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. His work has appeared in Callaloo, College Literature, MELUS, Ariel, and Diaspora, and he is currently working on a book-length manuscript entitled The Commerce of Peoples: A Reading of African American Literature, from which this article is drawn.
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|Publication:||African American Review|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2002|
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