With wit, grace, and theoretical rigor, Phillips ventures into the black vinyl depths of masochism and reclaims it. In Phillips's view, the very concept of masochism has been misunderstood for some years now, stripped of import and culturally defused in a way that benefits no one. Her "project," as she defines it, means rescuing masochism from —its identity as a sickness, as something pathological, and setting it back into the context of diverse human experience and artistic creativity." To do so, Phillips, editor of the British journal Interstice, takes an erudite approach, reconsidering the literary history of the term and its gradual perversion by an army of psychiatrists. From her perspective, masochism cannot be equated only with the death drive—it has too much to do with life. Perhaps her most compelling argument focuses on the link between creativity and masochism, in which she connects the intricacies of creative sublimation to the complexities of masochistic desire. And all artists, Phillips dares to suggest, are masterful masochists. In her definition, the term doesn—t apply to sexual practice so much as to a desire for self-shattering experience, anything that tears down ego-boundaries and releases the individual into a kind of bliss, or jouissance. And masochists, she writes, are adept at seeking out such experiences, taking in the whole life-and-death cocktail: hardship, pain, pleasure, ambivalence, ecstasy. Phillips makes insightful connections, using her intelligent, conversational prose style to defuse complex ideas. Although Phillips does go so far as to explain the very stylized rituals of S/M exchanges, her purpose is merely to emphasize their symbolic import, not to reduce masochism to an acceptable form of kinkiness. Instead, she hopes to simply take the pejorative sting out of the word, and examine the way in which masochism can infuse a single individual with multiple possibilities. A fascinating argument for the power of masochism to integrate Eros and Thanatos, dark and light, desire and its inevitable loss.
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