front cover of Contract With The Skin
Contract With The Skin
Masochism, Performance Art, and the 1970s
Kathy O'Dell
University of Minnesota Press, 1998

Places masochistic performance within a social and historical context.

Having yourself shot. Putting out fires with your bare hands and feet. Biting your own body and photographing the marks. Sewing your own mouth shut. These seemingly aberrant acts were committed by performance artists during the 1970s. Why would anyone do these things? What do these kinds of masochistic performances tell us about the social and historical context in which they occurred? Fascinating and accessibly written, Contract with the Skin addresses such questions through a reconsideration of these acts in relation to psychoanalytic and legal concepts of masochism.

O’Dell argues that the growth of masochistic performance during the 1970s must be seen in the context of society’s response to the Vietnam War and contemporaneous changes in theories of contract. She contends that the dynamic that exists between audience and performer during these masochistic acts relates to tensions resulting from ruptures in the social contract. Indeed, as the war in Vietnam waned, so did masochistic performance, only to reemerge in the 1980s in relation to the “war on AIDS” and the censorious “culture wars.”Focusing on 1970s performance artists Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, Gina Pane, and collaborators Marina Abramovi´c/Ulay as well as those with similar sensibilities from the late 1980s onward (Bob Flanagan, David Wojnarowicz, Simon Leung, Catherine Opie, Ron Athey, Lutz Bacher, and Robby Garfinkel), O’Dell provides photographic documentation of performances and quotations from interviews with many of the artists. Throughout, O’Dell asks what we can do about the institutionalized forms of masochism for which these performances are metaphors. Contract with the Skin is a provocative guide to this little-studied area, and offers new ways of thinking about performance art and artistic production.

front cover of Mimesis, Masochism, and Mime
Mimesis, Masochism, and Mime
The Politics of Theatricality in Contemporary French Thought
Timothy Murray, Editor
University of Michigan Press, 1997
In the first collection of its kind, Timothy Murray brings together writing by leading French thinkers on the political effects of theatricality on theater, film, literature, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. In addition to recently translated work by Cixous and Deleuze, the collection features English translations of essays by Althusser, Derrida, Durand, Fanon, Féral, Foucault, Girard, Green, Irigaray, Kristeva, Lacoue-Labarthe, Lyotard, and Marin.
Mimesis, Masochism, & Mime provides a welcome theoretical contribution to recent theories of performance and to the development of French cultural studies. Its emphasis on the politics of theatricality lends unprecedented focus to French theorizations of the body, gender, sight, screen, voice, territoriality, otherness, and diversity. In so doing, the volume provides an intellectual context and theoretical blueprint for future work in the cultural study of mimesis, masochism, and mime. The collection highlights the importance of theatricality to the theory and practice of aesthetics as well as to French debates over patriarchy, absolutism, and metaphysics. In turn, wide-ranging analyses provide a range of approaches to the politics of identity, feminism, marginality, and postcoloniality. Timothy Murray's introduction makes clear the theoretical context of the volume, and situates the book in relation to recent Anglo-American debates over realism, multiculturalism, and identity politics.
The contributors are especially helpful in linking varying political accounts of ideology, philosophy, and psychoanalysis to historical and contemporary work in performance, film, and video. Astute commentaries on Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Artaud are combined with fascinating analyses of more recent mixed-media performance, from the European stage (Duras, Théâtre du Soleil, Bene, and Strehler), to the site of North American performance (Snow, Mabou Mines, Wilson, and Rainer).
Mimesis, Masochism, & Mime provides a stunning account of the political importance of theatricality to contemporary French thought and will be welcomed by readers in French studies, theory, theater, cultural studies, film, women's studies, aesthetics, and psychoanalysis.
"The essays . . .are judiciously chosen, accurately justified, wide in range within the dispensation of post-structuralist thought--that is, they touch on everything from the question of origins to the libidinal economy of performance to post- Brechtian staging to the ineliminable shadow play of tragedy through its ideological demystification by schizoanalysis to feminism in the theater." --Herbert Blau, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Timothy Murray is Professor of English at Cornell University and former Editor of Theatre Journal. He is the author of Theatrical Legitimation: Allegories of Genius in Seventeenth-Century England and France and Like a Film: Ideological Fantasy on Screen, Camera, and Canvas.

front cover of Throw Yourself Away
Throw Yourself Away
Writing and Masochism
Julia Jarcho
University of Chicago Press, 2024
Proposes that we can best understand literature’s relationship to sex through a renewed focus on masochism.
In a series of readings that engage American and European works of fiction, drama, and theory from the late nineteenth through the early twenty-first centuries, critic and playwright Julia Jarcho argues that these works conceive writing itself as masochistic, and masochism as sexuality enacted in writing. Throw Yourself Away is distinctive in its sustained focus on masochism as an engine of literary production across multiple authors and genres. In particular, Jarcho shows that theater has played a central role in modern erotic fantasies of the literary.  
Jarcho foregrounds writing as a project of distressed subjects: When masochistic writing is examined as a strategy of response to injurious social systems, it yields a surprisingly feminized—and less uniformly white—image of both masochism and authorship. Ultimately, Jarcho argues that a retheorized concept of masochism helps us understand literature itself as a sex act and shows us how writing can tend to our burdened, desirous bodies. With startling insights into such writers as Henry James, Henrik Ibsen, Mary Gaitskill, and Adrienne Kennedy, Throw Yourself Away furnishes a new masochistic theory of literature itself.

front cover of The Trouble with Men
The Trouble with Men
Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power
David Shields
The Ohio State University Press, 2019
David Shields’s The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power is an immersion into the perils, limits, and possibilities of human intimacy. All at once a love letter to his wife, a nervy reckoning with his own fallibility, a meditation on the impact of porn on American culture, and an attempt to understand marriage (one marriage, the idea of marriage, all marriages), The Trouble with Men is exquisitely balanced between the personal and the anthropological, nakedness and restraint. While unashamedly intellectual, it’s also irresistibly readable and extremely moving. Over five increasingly intimate chapters, Shields probes the contours of his own psyche and marriage, marshalling a chorus of other voices that leaven, deepen, and universalize his experience; his goal is nothing less than a deconstruction of eros and conventional masculinity. Masterfully woven throughout is an unmistakable and surprisingly tender cri de coeur to his wife. The risk and vulnerability on display are in the service of radical candor, acerbic wit, real emotion, and profound insight—exactly what we’ve come to expect from Shields, who, in an open invitation to the reader, leaves everything on the page.

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