Whipping your way through Pompeii

I went to Napoli a few days back. The first two days I did nothing except lie in bed and cough and shiver. Ate breakfast cereal for dinner the second day because all the shops and restaurants had closed when I woke up. Anyway, I was determined to get to Pompeii, so I stayed an extra night and headed out on the third day. 

I could probably say something thoughtful about the flagellation scene at the Villa deii Misterii, but right now I don’t have the nodes. Or the lobes. My brain hurts already: I’m not going to try to think. 

Anyway, here’s a loving couple engaged in an apparent spanking, taken from the wall of the underground baths. 

When your lover (or slave; it’s hard to tell in Roman art) complains the water’s cold…

The really fascinating image from Pompeii, that I should really write about, when I’m not so fucking sick, is this one. (This was an incredibly awkward picture to take, by the way.)

Many think the woman being whipped in the first scene is the woman dancing in joy in the second. That’s certainly my take.

For now, it’s time to have breakfast, pack my bag and head to the airport.

A library of filthy books 2: The bdsm case


These are the top two shelves of the (mostly) bdsm bookcase. It starts with Taschen reprints of Eric Stanton femdom fantasies. And a shiny gold book of historical erotic photos, most of which don’t have any bdsm relevance, but it’s there to be with the rest of the Taschen books. There’s safety in numbers. As the mathematicians say.

Then Sade, Sacher-Masoch, “Walter” and his secret life (I’ve read it all, so you don’t have to: god, that man was a terrible writer), then various books of Victorian porn, and a few samples from pre-Victorian times. 


The next two shelves are mostly 20th century bdsm erotica, plus two of the 50 Shades books, which I picked up off the free book exchange table at the local rail station. Plus a few non-fiction books. The wiry brass couple fucking on the upper shelf are from Mali. And the stocky fellow with a thick (but short) erection on the lower shelf is a piece of Saami art, from Lappland.

bottom-shelvesThese are the two bottom shelves. On the left of the upper of these two shelves, there’s one of the very few actually valuable books or series I own. Those three volumes are the bibliographies of Henry Ashbee, possibly better known as Pisanis Fraxi. The Index Liber Prohibitorium, or Index of Forbidden Books, and its two successors. First editions, from Victorian times.

The very bottom shelf has various books of erotic art, including bdsm art, like the works of Guido Crepax and Milo Manara.

The thing with a Playboy Bunny Symbol is the complete set of Playboy from the 1950s, on CD-ROM. I’d get the collection for the 1960s as well, but I’ve never seen it in this format. I wouldn’t bother with the 1970s, though Robert Anton Wilson was still editing and writing there at the time. But it was an important and stylish literary mag, for a while. 

The duck? He’s a reed duck decoy, First Nation art from the Canadian prairies. He’s got no business being there amongst the sex books in particular. But the duck, he just wanted to be there.  Maybe he’s a mallard: they – unlike most other birds – actually have a penis.

And you need a duck, don’t you, if you want to write a rhyming poem about sex.

I was walkin’ down the road an I met a little duck.

He said, “How are ya, human, you look down on your luck?”

I said,”I saw that sexy Sally, tried to slip my nip inside her tuck;

She told me nobody loves me an I’ll never get a -” And so on.

Anyway, that’s the Concavity of Depravity, where Cinderella posed, waiting for her Prince. (Who did come.)  


Cinderella has naming rights, for various reasons. She tells me the whole room is the Library of Depravity, and only the sex books section is the Concavity of Depravity. That seems fine to me.


Psychoanalytic wibble about bdsm 3: Michel Foucault!

Uncle Fester

Uncle Fester

“From the moment that Sade delivered its first words and marked out, in a single discourse, the boundaries of what suddenly became its kingdom, the language of sexuality has lifted us into the night where God is absent, and where all of our actions are addressed to this absence in a profanation which at once identifies it, dissipates it, exhausts itself in it, and restores it to the empty purity of its transgression.”


That’s from Michel Foucault’s Aesthetics: Method and Epistomology.

That’s nicely gaseous, but Sade didn’t really mark out the language of sexuality. It’s a really stupid claim to make, and you’d only make it if you knew that your fans were all flying with their bullshit-detectors switched off.  

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

Nor can you really say that the language of sexuality lifts us into the night where god is absent. After all, people who believe in gods don’t think their gods, or the one they believe in, are absent, while people who don’t believe in gods may not be worrying much about the absence of other people’s god’s.

Not when they’re getting busy with the language of sexuality.

But when he wrote about the profanation that at once identifies the absence of God, dissipates the absence of God, exhausts itself in the absence of God, and restores the absence of God to the empty purity of the absence of God’s transgression, Foucault raised a really interesting question: when you translate French foutaise into English bullshit, how can you tell if the two meaninglessnesses are the same?

(I dunno. Ask a swan.)



Psychoanalytic wibble about bdsm 2: Deleuze & Guattari!

Continuing our series on complete vacuous wibble on bdsm by Freud-inspired writers from twentieth century France, this one is concerned with “masochism”. Take it away, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari!

D & G: Delouse is on the left, demonstrating the 1970s French idea of a comb-over, Guattari, on the right, accessorises

D & G: Deleuze is on the left, demonstrating the 1970s French idea of a comb-over. Guattari, on the right, accessorises

“What is certain is that the masochist has made himself a BwO [Body without Organs] under such conditions that the BwO can no longer be populated by anything but intensities of pain, pain waves. It is false to say that the masochist is looking for pain but just as false to say that he is looking for pleasure in a particularly suspensive or roundabout way. The masochist is looking for a kind of BwO that only pain can fill, or travel over, due to the very conditions under which that BwO was constituted. Pains are populations, packs, modes of king-masochist-in-the-desert that he engenders and augments .”

From A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, The Althone Press, London, 1988, page 152.

Leaving aside the question of whether things like “king-Masochist-in-the-desert” actually mean anything, and the question of whether it means anything to say that pains are modes of king-masochist-in-the-desert, there’s a bigger problem when D & G talk about “masochism”.

Particularly nasty weather! "Leda and the Swan": photo by Ralph Gibson

Particularly nasty weather! “Leda and the Swan”: photo by Ralph Gibson

In their writings, words like “sadism” and “masochism” are sometimes used to mean “resemblance to the character or works of Sade, or Sacher-Masoch”, and sometimes used in some of the many other common meanings, some of which have something to do with sexual desires and tastes and some of which do not. Deleuze and Guattari slip from one meaning to another without ever indicating what either word is intended to mean at any particular moment.

But once you’ve written that a body without organs can only be populated by pain waves, and you didn’t immediately groan and delete it, then it hardly matters what you think you mean.

Oh bugger it, let’s have another hot swan.

"Ahh, tickle your arse with a feather," shouted Zeus. Sculpture by Igor Zeinalov

“Ahh, tickle your arse with a feather,” ejaculated Zeus. Sculpture by Igor Zeinalov

Psychoanalytic wibble about bdsm: 1 Jacques Lacan!

I’m nearly finished revising the bdsm book. So I’ll be a bit busy for a couple of days, getting it done. I’ll be back to Raylene’s story shortly. I know it’s stopped at a dramatic moment, but we’ll get there.. 

In the meantime, and for your amusement,  here are three pieces of utter wibble written about bdsm by French writers of different Freudian schools. We never asked them to. Anyway, let’s start with Jacques Lacan! 

Leda fucked by Zeus, having transformed himself into a swan. Little-known fact: swans have penises.

“How can those terrified fingers push/  The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?”  Leda fucked by Zeus, who’d transformed himself into a swan for the purpose. Little-known water-fowl fact: swans have penises. (So, by the way, do mallards, including Donald Duck. Lucky Daisy.)

“One might think that Kant is there under the pressure of what he hears too closely, not of Sade, but of that mysticism that is Sade’s home, in the sigh that chokes at what it foresees, to have seen that his God is without figure: Grimmigkeit? Sade says: Supreme Being in spitefulness.

But pfutt! Schwärmereien: black swarms, we drive you out, to return you to the function of the presence of the Sadean ghost.”

That’s from “Kant avec Sade”, by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Any paragraph of it is much like any other. 

“Grimmigkeit”, by the way, means ferocity, while “Schwärmereien” means rapturous or fanatical intensities, but is a pun on “Schwärmen”, meaning swarms. There may also be an allusion to “Schwänen” (swans), as black swans are celebrated in philosophical circles for disproving the proposition that all swans are white. Lacan was celebrated for his wit, in Lacanian circles.

Lacan preserved Freud’s incoherent definition of “sadism”, failing to distinguish between sexual practices and violence enacted for non-sexual reasons.

The psychoanalyst as James Bond villain: Jacques Lacan

The psychoanalyst as James Bond villain: Jacques Lacan

Lacan’s own career offers an example of this confusion. Lacan treated his followers with contempt that was, arguably, justified by the quality of the work they admired, but in addition he mentally and physically abused vulnerable patients, which is perhaps less forgivable. Lacan’s abuse escalated to open, violent beatings of mentally ill people.

Other psychoanalysts described Lacan’s assaults on patients as “sadistic”. 

In reality it’s unlikely that Lacan derived any sexual satisfactions from beating his patients. He was not a “sadist”; he was simply an unpleasant bully whose violence went unchecked because he headed a cult.

One picture of Lacan is enough for any blog. So let's go out on a picture of a prick: swan's penis. Pfut, indeed!

One picture of Lacan is enough for any blog. So let’s go out on a picture of a prick. A swan’s penis. Pfutt, indeed!


Great moments in science: giving electric shocks to masochists

We’ve had two posts on the psychoanalyst Dr June Rathbone, and her textbook on “Masochism”. The book’s mainly interesting for its over-the-top hostility to the people she chose as her topic.

Still, if someone who was attracted to or practiced bdsm ever needed counselling or psychiatric help, and they went to a therapist whose ideas about bdsm were shaped by Rathbone’s book, then they’d be likely to be harmed.

Still, you can do even worse than that sort of bigotry. My favourite contender for the Great Moments in Science series is some early work by John Bancroft.

Stoned elephant. Of stone.

Stoned elephant. Of stone.

He turned his attention to one of those great scientific questions we’ve all wondered about, lying awake late into the night. Like, “Can you kill an elephant with LSD?”

That one was solved by a Dr Richard West, then working on some extremely dodgy projects for the CIA.

The answer was, “Yes, but it takes one fuck of a strong dose.”

But I digress.

"The safe word is Bzzzzzzzttttt..."

“The safe word is Bzzzzzzzttttt…”

Anyway, Bancroft’s question was different:

“If you give masochists ‘aversive therapy’ to cure their sexual orientation, are you going to cure masochism, or are those pervy masochists just going to get off on the electric shocks?”

This one’s been solved too. Bancroft’s team found that masochists, just like everyone else, generally dislike getting electric shocks. So they didn’t actually pick up an electrification fetish.

So aversive therapy could proceed. 


That was early in John Bancroft’s otherwise distinguished career. I’d expect he finds that project pretty embarrassing now, if he ever thinks of it.

And he’s done some good and progressive stuff on increasing understanding of a range of minority sexual tastes. 

I shared a taxi with him once, on the way to dinner at some conference in Scotland, and it crossed my mind to ask him about that study. But it would have been rude, and anyway I was too star-struck. He’s actually one of the good guys.

Explaining bdsm again: ah, Freudians…

It’s often said that bdsm is roughly where homosexuality was fifty or sixty years ago, in terms of social, political and media acceptance.

Rathbone’s textbook on bdsm, Anatomy of Masochism, definitely supports that idea. If anything, it’s more hostile, more overtly bigoted about the sexual desires of others than most psychologists would have been about gays and lesbians in the 1950s.

As well as coming up with a bizarre list of “causes” for bdsm, as seen in yesterday’s post, Rathbone also provided a helpful checklist of the distinguishing characteristics of “sadomasochists”.

Aw, not Nazis again. I hate those guys!

Aw, not Nazis again. I hate those guys!

You can sum up our personalities, we perverts, as being steeped in rigidity, fantasy, infantilism, hypocrisy, passivity and tension, also deceptiveness, pathological selfishness, and authoritarian politics. Did I say authoritarian? Well, Rathbone thinks it’s more a matter of our peculiar tendency towards Nazism. 

To Rathbone, it’s not just that all bdsm relationships are dysfunctional, it’s that bdsm is almost the only cause of relationship dysfunction. She wrote, “When a ‘love’-relationship is not loving, it is usually sadomasochistic.” 

Anatomy of Masochism’s bigotry is so overt and so intensely hostile that – as you can see – it’s essentially comic.

Still, it’d be an unlucky person who needed information and advice about their bdsm desires, and sought those things from a doctor or therapist whose perception of bdsm was guided by Rathbone’s book.

What causes bdsm? A Freudian knows!

So we’re picking up where we left off, in the series in which various scientists and psychologists try to come up with explanations for why some people are weird enough to like bdsm.

We had Karl Abraham’s theory that our bdsm desires are caused by teething. I wrote about that charmingly bonkers theory here: http://preview.tinyurl.com/nt54dmq
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And we had the team who studied “sadists” by dissecting the brains of dead axe murderers. Read it and weep! http://preview.tinyurl.com/mufu5h3
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June Rathbone, PhD

June Rathbone, PhD

But those guys are lightweights, since they offer only one explanation for bdsm each.

As far as I’ve found, the record holder, for the most – and I think it’s fair to say the craziest – explanations for bdsm is Dr June Rathbone, in her 2001 textbook Anatomy of Masochism.

Dr Rathbone dispenses bdsm explanations like a party magician gives out balloons.

For example, Dr Rathbone explained that we bdsm perverts suffer from “incomplete individuation”, by which she means that, having failed to develop as human beings, we avoid intimacy for fear that our personalities will be swamped by closeness to another person. We stave off intimacy by turning aggression outward if we are ‘sadists’, inward if we are ‘masochists’.

In addition, we are addictive personalities hooked on the endorphin rush of pain.

Moreover, we are stuck in Freud’s anal stage, unable to achieve normal sexual release because for us “the anus and buttocks are more erotogenic than the genitals.”

We also have Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, a hereditary condition involving “mental retardation, self-mutilation, and sudden aggressive behaviour.”

We probably also had a childhood fetish for rubber or plastic. Comic books are also to blame, and so is science fiction: “the mindless ruthlessness of most sci-fi is identical with the sadomasochistic compulsion to win at any price … and, when ingested in a steady diet, can only help to create or reinforce such a mind-set.”

Superhero comics are certainly to blame...

Superhero comics are certainly to blame…

Finally, Rathbone blamed bdsm on superhero comics, especially the body-revealing costumes. Also, Tom and Jerry cartoons. The weirdest thing was, she doesn’t blame rock music or marijuana.

You’ll have noticed that if you like bdsm, then Dr Rathbone doesn’t like you much, to an extent and level of intensity that goes well beyond mere bigotry. You’ll also have noticed that she’s a Freudian believer, taking seriously things like “the anal stage” and such.

There’s a connection between those two facts, which we’ll come to shortly. 

How to study doms: Lift out their brains and slice them up

Another in the Great Moments in Science series.

Research carried out in the 1980s attributed “sadism” to brain damage. The basis was a research project whose study group was dead men who, when they were alive, had committed murders involving dismemberment. The funny thing was that the murders didn’t necessarily have any sexual motive at all, so it was a very strange leap of … logic? or something else, perhaps bigotry … to link it to bdsm.  

Ah, the Abnormal brain. Let's use that one!

Ah, the Abnormal brain. Let’s use that one!

Anyway, the study involved slicing up the brains of dead men who’d committed genuinely horrific crimes, and reporting on structural and other abnormalities. They found that murderous insanity often was linked with brain damage, and they published their results as “Sexual sadism: Brain, blood and behaviour.” (In 1988.)

The observation that murderous insanity may be related to brain damage is not startling; generalising this finding to what they called “sadists” is, on the other hand, not only not science, it’s completely off-the-scale bonkers. 

It’s like studying heterosexuality by taking CAT scans of serial rapists. And they wouldn’t do that: why, that would obviously be silly.

In the teeth of perversion

It’s time to share a Great Moment in Science.

One explanation for bdsm desire was supplied by Dr Karl Abraham, one of Freud’s disciples. It’s a snappy little theory, and we’ll get to it in a second. 

These days, if somebody says, “Freud said…” or “According to psychoanalytic theory”, I hear the equivalent of “My astrologer tells me…” I try to be polite and not roll my eyes, and I wait till it’s over before returning the conversation to something sensible.

But Freud was taken terribly seriously for much of the twentieth century, which is probably the most interesting thing about psychoanalysis: it gave us the business model and many of the doctrines for scientology and similar movements/cults.

By carring the typed correspondence in her teeth, the masochistic subject achieves complete dental sexual satisfaction.

“By carrying the typed correspondence in her teeth, the masochistic subject achieves complete dental sexual satisfaction.”

Anyway, Abraham’s idea was that what he called “sadomasochism” was caused by teething. You see, babies focus on their mouths during teething, and because eating is both enjoyable and destructive they associate the oral aggression of biting their rusks with sexual pleasure.

Abraham knew that babies take sexual pleasure from eating because Freud had ruled that eighteen-month-old babies locate their sexual feelings in their mouths, and if Freud said it, then it must be true. (This is what being a disciple means.) 

It followed that babies whose teething was unusually difficult or unusually enjoyable become “sadomasochists” in later life.

And that, my kinky brothers and sisters, is where we come from. And people who had braces on their teeth are all into bondage.

Abraham’s sadomasochistic teeth should, by rights, be resting in the lumber room of science along with phrenological heads and homeopathy kits, but as recently as 1992 a pair of psychoanalytic dentists – yes, I know; they were psychoanalytic dentists – claimed to have carried out anatomical analysis of the jaw muscles and teeth that supported Abraham’s sadomasochistic teeth theory. 

Anyway, Karl Abraham’s kinky teeth march on. The show’s never really over. 



Captain Jack Harkness: Who sees a screwdriver and thinks, ooh, this could be a little more … sonic?

The Ninth Doctor: Well, who sees dentists, and thinks, they really need to be  a bit … psychoanalytic?