Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy [to the] Department of Social Inquiry, College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce, La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia.
Sadomasochism represents both the mark of interdiction and its transgression. The erotic suffering and social ruptures effected by this confrontation are invoked in literature, cinema and subcultural movements. Through a critical approach to sadomasochism as reflected in these cultural forms, this thesis explores the emergence and the promise of transgression as the manifestation of a critical attitude. The thesis analyses this through a series of in-depth studies into sadomasochism in Western culture to illuminate its continuous confrontation with and challenge to norms, moral precepts and laws of social existence. The thesis utilises theories of transgression that exerted a profound influence on French thought of the 1960s and 1970s. For Georges Bataille, and the generation of influential thinkers that followed, the changing horizon of knowledge consisted in the elaboration of a critical discourse on the limits of human subjectivity and experimentations with the possibility of going beyond them. Through engagement with the work of Bataille, Julia Kristeva and Michel Foucault, this thesis interrogates different operationalisations of the concept of transgression. Of particular interest are their critiques of the subject and of Enlightenment rationalism. In consequence, the writings of Kristeva and Bataille enable an analysis of an interior experience that undermines symbolic coherence in order to attain transgression. Additionally, consideration of transgression via the work of Foucault allows for an analysis of contemporary subjects who apply the terms sadism and masochism to their own practices, forging an aesthetics of existence. The thesis argues that from a position of sexual non-conformity – which includes but is not reduced to pleasure – sadomasochism has been the impetus for exploration of new cultural directions, engendering new kinds of social and sexual relations. From this perspective, the subversive and creative potential of sadomasochism is understood as a valid mode of resistance to specific forms of rationality and socially imposed limits.
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