Notes on Gaylyn Studlar's "Masochism and the Perverse Pleasures of the Cinema'"

First published in Quarterly Review of Film and Video Studies 9:4 (1984): 267-82

Studlar was among the first feminist film theorists to really question Mulvey's major arguments. She also uses a psychoanalytic framework, but she distances herself from the Freudian model; instead, she cites Gilles Deleuze (and long list on 211 of psychoanalytic scholars outside the Freudian framework). Deleuze employs a more comparative literary approach, based on his analyses of the novels of Sacher-Masoch ("masochism") and Sade ("sadism").

Studlar and Deleuze challenge Freudian notions of sado-masochism as complementary perversions. They instead argue that masochism is a model entirely distinct from sadism; masochism is not the opposite counterpart of sadism, as has been assumed in Freudian readings and in more common sexual slang.

Freud argues that masochism works at a fetishistic level: in the Oedipal phase, the male child seeks punishment for wanting genital relations with the mother, and that pain also functions as a substitute (fetish) for those desired genital relations.

Deleuze argues that masochism results not from the Oedipal phase, when the father is most important, but from the pre-Oedipal or "oral" phase, when the all-powerful mother is the most important figure. The child feels an ambivalence toward the mother because she's the love object, but she's also the controller. The fantasy of masochism is to be re-joined with the mother as one, which is a very passive state.

Studlar adds that the pleasure in masochism--and by extension, film spectatorship--is submitting to the figure/image of the mother. But it is also threatening because to regress to the pre-Oedipal stage and merge again with your mother, your sense of self (your separate ego) must die. So this tension between maintaining your distance/self/ego and losing yourself to the image of mother/woman sets up the suspenseful pleasure of masochism.

Freud and Mulvey ignore how submission is a more prevalent and earlier stage of pleasure than Oedipal mastery--for both sexes, so Studlar argues that masochistic spectatorship better defines the "bisexual" way we all--male and female--watch movies.

Different models of fetishism and spectatorship

Mulvey Studlar
Freudian Deleuzian
Oedipal phase, father controls Pre-Oedipal/Oral phase, mother controls
The Male Gaze = Sadistic The Film Spectator = Masochistic
woman = object of gaze
male = active voyeur
male AND female = submissive viewers
fetish = disavow woman's lack and her castration threat fetish = sub for mother's breast/body

Copyright 2007: Virginia Bonner