This just in from Belgian Japonophile Leopold Adelgonde Hauspie III. I’m afraid I don’t have time to edit it, so I’ll have to post it as is. Please forgive Leopold for any minor grammatical errors and/or infelicitous phrasing (his mother tongues are Dutch, French and German).
Although present-day Japan is often imagined to be a paradise for more unusual forms of sexuality such as sadomasochism, bondage, and fetishism, in the beginning of the 20th century this sort of sexual praxis was anything but flourishing. On the contrary, as we learn from the writings of novelist Tanizaki Jun’ichirō (1886-1965), it appears to have been extremely difficult for people with unconventional sexual proclivities in Japan to obtain the sort of satisfaction they sought. In his semi-autobiographical novella Jōtarō (1914), Tanizaki’s protagonist Jōtarō has fantasies about torture scenes from early childhood. These puzzled and mystified him, and made him feel disgusted with himself, for he believed that he was the only person on earth who was obsessed by such absurd and macabre thoughts. This situation continued until his first year at university, when he coincidentally found a work of Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902). From this work, which doubtlessly was the seminal work Psychopathia Sexualis (first published in 1886), he learned for the first time that his peculiar sexual preference actually had a name, masochism, and that there were countless people like him all over the world. Krafft-Ebing’s work, in other words, helped him to define his sexuality, and provided him, we could say, with a ‘sexual identity.’ Here I would like to examine how exactly Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis may or may not have contributed to Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s formulation and construction of his ‘masochist identity.’Michel Foucault and ‘singular sexualities’
An interesting work with respect to the genesis of Tanizaki’s sexual identity is Michel Foucault’s (1926-1984) ground-breaking and thought-provoking work The History of Sexuality. In the first of the work’s three volumes, The Will to Knowledge (1976, more commonly known as An Introduction in English), Michel Foucault provides an overview of the study and praxis of human sexuality over the last three centuries. His central claim is that the so-called ‘repressive hypothesis’ – the widely held notion that human sexuality in the Western world since the 17th century, and especially with the coming of the Victorian age, has been strongly repressed – presents an incomplete, even distorted picture. Rather than being repressed, Foucault argues, sexuality became the subject of a rapidly expanding discourse, which conversely brought it increasingly under attention. This discourse, he says, was generated through an endless quest for ‘the truth of sex,’ found in confessions, a quest he calls ‘scientia sexualis.’ From it sprang a proliferation of theories, such as Krafft-Ebing’s, on sexuality and its “aberrations, perversions, exceptional oddities, pathological abatements, and morbid aggravations.” (1978:53) This again gave rise to the creation of a motley range of ‘singular sexualities.’
Whereas before the advent of this vast discourse what one did sexually, however unusual, did not define the person one was, one’s sexual orientation now came to be seen as an essential component of one’s identity. Though Foucault says he questions the validity of the ‘repressive hypothesis,’ he obviously does not think that these ‘singular sexualities’ have a liberating effect either. Rather, to him, sex is subject to intricate power relations, and is deployed moreover with the aim of “proliferating, innovating, and penetrating bodies in an increasingly detailed way, and … controlling populations in an increasingly comprehensive way.” (107)
One clear shortcoming of The History of Sexuality is that it focuses almost exclusively on the Christian West, and hardly at any point takes the non-Western world into view. The only instance where Foucault makes an explicit effort to broaden his geographical perspective is when he boldly asserts that the scientia sexualis and the prolific sexual discourse that sprang from it are typically Western phenomena not to be seen anywhere else. What typified other societies, then, was not a science of sex, but an “erotic art.” In this ars erotica, “truth is drawn from pleasure itself, understood as a practice and accumulated as experience; pleasure is not considered in relation to an absolute law of the permitted and the forbidden, nor by reference to a criterion of utility, but first and foremost in relation to itself.” (57)
With these assertions, Foucault obviously finds himself on an unfamiliar terrain. Doubtlessly, his romanticizing portrayal of non-Western societies as a haven for a sexuality that is focused on pleasure and far less inhibited by a discourse of power and knowledge is much inspired by his own dislike of the persistent quest for “the truth of sex” that characterized Western-style scientia sexualis. Nonetheless, I think Foucault was right when he contended that no comparable discourse existed in (pre-contact, we should add) non-Western societies. This implies that these societies neither would have had the well-defined ‘singular sexualities’ as those born out of the Western discourse. Dennis Altman, who researched the dissemination of gay and lesbian identities on a global scale, also suggests the same thing. “Speaking openly of homosexuality and transvestism, which is often the consequence of western influence,” Altman says, “can unsettle what is accepted but not acknowledged. Indeed there is some evidence in a number of societies that those who proclaim themselves “gay” or “lesbian,” that is, seek a public identity based on their sexuality, encounter a hostility which may not have been previously apparent.” (2001:92) Despite the fact, however, that Foucault may be right in saying that comparable discourses and identities were non-existing in other societies, his conception of what does characterize sexuality in these societies instead is clearly erroneous. Furthermore, as Tanizaki’s case will show, the absence of a scientia sexualis does not necessarily have to be advantageous.An astounding discovery
The opening of Tanizaki’s novel Bushūkō hiwa (‘The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi,’ 1932), which centers upon a medieval warrior endowed with the masochistic tendencies that so many of Tanizaki’s heroes have, is interesting in this respect:It is said that the warlord Uesugi Kenshin [1530-1578] loved his young pages. It is said, too, that Fukushima Masanori [1561-1624] followed in the way of the Han Emperor Ai, who cut of the sleeve of his robe rather than waken the boy at his side. Masanori’s proclivities grew more pronounced with age and finally led to his downfall. Nor are Kenshin and Masanori isolated examples. Many strange tales could be told about the sexual lives of men known to history as valiant heroes. Their habits, including pederasty and sadism, arose from the warrior’s way of life and are not for us to censure too harshly. (Chambers 1982: 3)
This passage suggests that since ancient times, Japanese people, like any other peoples, had displayed homosexual, pederastic, sadistic, and so many other "deviant" sexual behaviors. However, Foucault argues that just as such practices did not define the identity of a person in the West before a substantial scientific discourse had appeared, the people who showed this kind of behavior in Japan were not recognized as ‘homosexuals,’ ‘pederasts,’ or ‘sadists’ either. There existed, for example, an age-old practice called shudō – the homosexual love between an older man and a young boy – but never was any such practitioner therefore automatically identified, much less stigmatized, as a ‘pedophile.’ Most sexual behaviors are generally accepted to be, to a very great extent, timeless and universal, but only recently in the West through the formation of a discourse, and outside the West after the adoption of that same discourse, did one’s sexual activities first become an (sometimes the) essential component of one’s personality.
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō was able to label and construct his ‘masochist identity’ by means of Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, one of the most central works in the scientia sexualis Foucault talked about. Needless to say, before his discovery of the work too, Tanizaki had experienced masochistic impulses, but all the same, he certainly was not in the possession of what one could call a public ‘masochist identity.’ Let us first have a look at the way he describes Jōtarō’s mindset before he found out about Krafft-Ebing’s work. His masochistic tastes, we are told, had begun to bud since he was six. When he was ten, his fantasies had grown more and more intense, and came to occupy his mind day and night. This passage leaves no doubt whether they were of a masochistic nature or not:The world of his sweet fantasies was inhabited by boys and girls of all social strata, who became the object of his worship and abused and flogged him to his heart’s content. One time he imagined how a handsome boy of his class, playing Shirai Gonpachi, would sit on his back (he played a coolie) and cut his throat with one stroke. Another time he visualized how in the company of Oyotchan, his fourteen-year-old neighbor girl, he was banished to a remote desert island, where he waited on her as a devoted slave and indulged in being bossed around for the rest of his life. Yet another time, he tried to picture his own dead body, strangled by the maid Osen, the eyes scooped out, and bound to hands and feet. (1914:74)
Unfortunately, as in the Japan of those days there existed no clear notion of ‘masochism,’ no one else seemed to understand Jōtarō’s unusual tastes. Never could he confide his sexual inclination to anyone, nor did he ever have a chance to put his recurring fantasies into practice. Then, at his first year at university, something unexpected took place: “By a coincidence, he happened to lay his hands on a treatise of Krafft-Ebing. How astonished, delighted, and excited he had been! Never before had he experienced such a terrible and violent shock from a book written by human hands.” (1914:76) His amazement is of course understandable, as now he suddenly found out that millions of men all over the world were in the possession of the ‘singular sexuality’ of which he had thought he was the only one to have it. Perusing through Psychopathia Sexualis’ countless case studies, he said it felt as if he could “see his own shadow and hear his own sighs” (77) throughout.
But most important of all for his subsequent literary career was that “now he knew that there were any number of geniuses, Rousseau and Baudelaire to begin with, who had been the slave of the same masochistic desire as his.” (77) This gave Jōtarō, and presumably Tanizaki as well, the courage to divulge his long-kept secret and to profile himself in his work as a ‘Masochisten’ (the German word is written in roman letters in Jōtarō, albeit incorrectly in the plural). It may be no exaggeration to say that Tanizaki’s reading of Psychopathia Sexualis had meant for him the impetus to boldly write about the masochistic, for the common reader sometimes quite unsavory thoughts and actions in the many stories that would follow. In any case, the fact is that from Shisei (‘The Tattooer,’ 1910), the work that brought him his first fame, to Kagi (‘The Key,’ 1961), written four years before he died, almost every single Tanizaki novel had masochism as a major theme.
If we assume that Tanizaki discovered Psychopathia Sexualis in real life at the same point in time as in the novel, then it would have been in 1908, when he was twenty-two years old. The work was translated to the Japanese for the first time in 1894, titled Shikijōkyō-hen, but was immediately banned upon its publication. The next translation, however, only appeared in 1913 (as Hentai seiyoku shinri), two years after he had dropped out of university and one year before he wrote Jōtarō. The version Tanizaki first saw therefore must have been either a reissuing of the first translation, or the second one, though that would mean that the time mentioned in Jōtarō does not correspond to reality. To my feeling, the chances are greater that it was the first translation Tanizaki got into his hands.
One reason to assume this could be that in the twelfth German edition, on which the 1913 translation is based, Krafft-Ebing actually strongly dissuades the use of masochistic themes in literature. Reacting to angry fans of the novelist Sacher-Masoch, who did not appreciate that Krafft-Ebing had coined this sexual perversion after the author of Venus im Pelz (1870), he maintains: “As an author [Sacher-Masoch] suffered severe injury so far as the influence and intrinsic merit of his work is concerned, for so long and whenever he eliminated his perversion from his literary efforts he was a gifted writer, and as such would have achieved real greatness had he been actuated by normally sexual feelings.” (1903:132-33) What Tanizaki did was exactly the opposite: he inundated his works with haughty women, servile men, foot-fetishism, scatology, and many other motifs associated with masochistic perversion. Ironically, it is not unimaginable that it was precisely the graphic and extensively detailed descriptions of psychopathia that fueled Tanizaki’s already rich imagination.Krafft-Ebing and Tanizaki’s Conception of Masochism
Krafft-Ebing in his Psychopathia Sexualis defines masochism thus:By masochism I understand a peculiar perversion of the psychical vita sexualis in which the individual affected, in sexual feeling and thought, is controlled by the idea of being completely and unconditionally subject to the will of a person of the opposite sex; of being treated by this person as by a master, humiliated and abused. (1928: 131)
By comparison, Tanizaki describes Jōtarō’s masochistic proclivities as follows:To put it straight, he was a genuine, magnificent, and incredibly ardent Masochisten. He was a man who not only loved to be humiliated by the other sex, but even considered it the utmost delight in life to be treated as cruelly as possible, to be inflicted the most terrible physical pains. (1914:72)
The difference between the two is that of a scientist and a writer, but what they say is very similar. Jōtarō and other of Tanizaki’s novels abound with details that bear a striking resemblance with descriptions in Psychopathia. The horse-back riding fantasy cited above is one of those, but they are really too many to mention. Whether these various masochistic features were directly inspired by his reading of Krafft-Ebing or had already existed in his mind is now impossible to tell, but what we can state with near-certainty is that Psychopathia helped to situate, understand and give a more definite, distinct form to his masochistic thoughts. It provided Tanizaki, as it were, with a ready-made ‘masochist identity.’ But that is not all; it taught him, moreover, that there existed the possibility of putting these fantasies into practice, and even provided him with specific methods for doing this. Without this foreign impetus, Tanizaki’s fantasies may very well have stayed forever hidden inside his mind, never to be realized in the great short stories and novels he was later to write.
In early 20th century Japan, there was little to nothing that would induce a masochist to write candidly about his sexuality, as there was no widespread, clear-cut notion of masochism or other ‘perverse’ sexualities as sadism or fetishism. In late Edo, there had existed a kind of ukiyo-e woodblock prints called muzan-e, which depicted gory murder and torture scenes. Artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) was particularly known for this art form. An enthusiastic follower of Yoshitoshi who gained a certain amount of fame since late Meiji was Itō Seiu (1882-1961). (Akita 1997: 53-54) Yet, there exists no definite evidence of people who found sexual gratification, actively or passively, in torture or the affliction of pain. Hence it is that, until his discovery of Krafft-Ebing’s work, Jōtarō had reconciled himself with the fact that he would never be able to satisfy his peculiar desires. He said he knew every dark corner of the capital like the back of his hand, but never had he met a prostitute who would understand him, let alone have the audacity to enact the kind of torture plays he longed for. “If only a shining example would have stood up in the so respected Tokugawa period,” the narrator sighs sympathetically, “then maybe he would have been able now to indulge in more unusual delights. With things as they were, he sometimes regretted that he was born in present-day Japan.” (1914:79)
The contrast with the situation in Europe, as far as Jōtarō could glean from Psychopathia, was enormous. Western women – prostitutes in particular – struck him as incredibly dynamic and engaging, and it seemed to take Western masochists not the least trouble to find a co-star to participate in their plays. To his amazement, amidst the harlots that walked the streets of European cities as Vienna, Paris and Berlin, boot-fetishism, flagellation and many other masochistic thrills seemed to be the most normal thing in the world. Using complicated methods and advanced techniques, they complied with every possible request of their clients. Krafft-Ebing wrote himself too that he thought the number of masochists was very large. “The strongest proof of the frequency of masochism,” he remarks in a footnote, “lies in the fact that it openly appears in newspaper advertisements.” (Krafft-Ebing 1928:166)
Such descriptions must of course have seemed immensely appealing in the eyes of a genuine but frustrated masochist like Tanizaki (or Jōtarō). In Itansha no kanashimi (‘The Sadness of the Rebel,’ 1917), his only novel of which he admitted that it was one hundred percent confessional, Tanizaki divulged that in 1911 he had visited a prostitute to seek the fulfillment of his masochistic desire. (Hosoe 2002:22) In précis, very unlike the constraining effects Foucault saw in examples of scientia sexualis such as Krafft-Ebing’s theory, Tanizaki saw in it the possibility to deploy it for his own benefit. For Jōtarō as well, Psychopathia provided the impetus to go beyond the stage of pure masochistic imagination and to attempt to put his fantasies into practice. These attempts in fact are the principal subject of the novel. There are two women, Ranko and Onui, whom he tries to mold into his ideal of a cruel, tyrannical vamp. The ways in which he does this betray, however, certain characteristics that largely escaped Krafft-Ebing’s attention, although they are crucial to the masochistic personality.Departing from Krafft-Ebing
“The distinguishing characteristic in masochism,” contends Krafft-Ebing, “is certainly the unlimited subjection to the will of a person of the opposite sex (in sadism, on the contrary, the unlimited mastery of this person), with the awakening and accompaniment of lustful sexual feelings to the degree of orgasm.” (1928:200) In other words, in Krafft-Ebing’s view, a masochist submits himself absolutely and unconditionally to the whims of a woman, “even to the loss of all independent will-power.” (1928:202) This is a position which Tanizaki, scholar Chiba Shunji (1994:45-48), philosopher Gilles Deleuze, and probably about every masochist in the world would strongly disagree with. Masochists, it has convincingly been argued, are not destitute of willpower at all; quite the opposite – in many cases they are extremely strong-willed egoists, bestowed with very few feelings of compassion for fellow human beings. Tanizaki, to give but one short example, forced his third wife, Matsuko – probably the woman of his life, nevertheless, whom he had worshiped to the extreme in earlier days – to abort the child he had fathered with her. She had been already five months pregnant and they had known it would be a boy. The sole reason Tanizaki gave was that a child would impede his artistic creativity. In Nihon ni okeru Kurippun jiken (‘A Crippen Case in Japan’), a short story written in 1927, Tanizaki explained in no uncertain terms how cruel masochists can be:[M]asochists are egoists. It may happen that they get carried away a bit too far in their games and get killed by accident, but never would they sacrifice their lives for a woman like a martyr. … They appear to worship their wives or mistresses like goddesses, to revere them like tyrants, but the truth is that those are puppets – mere instruments used for the gratification of their peculiar sexual desire. (1927:262)
The egotistical component in Tanizaki’s personality and that of his fictional characters in fact has led critic Hashimoto Minoru to dedicate a whole book, which he paradoxically called Tanizaki Jun’ichirō: sono mazohizumu (‘Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s Masochism,’ 1974), to the, of course, Don Quichotian endeavor to prove that Tanizaki was actually not a masochist, but a sadist.
David Cotter eloquently summarizes the central argument of The Cold and the Cruel, Deleuze’s treatise on masochism: “A sadist does not seek a masochist, and a masochist does not seek a sadist. … Masochism is incredibly subtle, and it works through patient insinuation and manipulation. … A masochist operates from an apparent position of weakness.” (Cotter 2003:4; emphasis in the original – but very convenient) Krafft-Ebing’s crucial mistake is that he fails to perceive this theatrical aspect of the masochist’s behavior, and takes everything he says and does for the whole and unconditional truth. In Nihon ni okeru Kurippun jiken, written thirteen years after Jōtarō, Tanizaki touches upon this peculiarity in terms similar to Cotter’s, and shows that during that interval he had come to understand the theatricality of masochism more clearly. “Needless to say,” he opens the story, “the sort of sexual perverts Krafft-Ebing named ‘masochists,’ are people who find pleasure in being maltreated by the other sex.” (1927:259) He then plunges into the story itself, which is about two similar cases in England and Japan of a masochist murdering his wife. Two pages later, he returns to his clarification of what we are to understand under a masochist:Now, dear reader, there is something I would like to draw your attention to. That is, although masochists love to be abused by a woman, their pleasure is in every respect carnal and sensual, and contains not even a whiff of a psychological component. People will probably say: then don’t masochists enjoy to be ridiculed and played with on a psychological level? Do they feel no pleasure at all as long as they aren’t hit by a hand or kicked by a foot? Of course, that is not entirely the case. The truth about their being humiliated psychologically is that they create such a relation only as a prop, and enjoy indulging in the fantasy that it is real. In other words, it is nothing but a kind of play or a farce. … In short, what gives masochists pleasure is not to become a woman’s slave, but to make it seem that way. If things went beyond appearances, and if they really were to become a slave, they would be annoyed. …The pleasure they indulge in is a result of direct or indirect stimuli of the senses, and has nothing to do with the mind. (1927:261-62)
Of course, a worthy opponent is indispensable for playing out the challenging farcical scripts they have drawn out in their head. However, as there is very little chance to meet a woman who is a genuine tyrant or slave-driver, it follows that they have to teach her the lines of her script, and make her grow into her role, before she can be considered an acceptable co-star. Therefore, as Deleuze lucidly observed, masochists are in essence ‘mentors.’ (Chiba 1993:47) No trouble is spared by them to mold a woman into the perfect actress for their plays.
We can find this sort of ‘initiation’ in the majority of Tanizaki’s novels. In Jōtarō as well, as mentioned earlier, the protagonist makes two such attempts. His first ‘apprentice,’ Ranko, to a great degree acquires the skills necessary to gratify his desire. Though counter to her nature, she bullies him verbally, hits him, and even threatens him with a pistol. However, eventually, the love she feels for him reawakens her congenital good-naturedness, whereupon Jōtarō, disillusioned, begins to look for a new victim. This he finds in Onui, a young woman with a criminal record who shows great potential for becoming the ultimate vamp of his dreams. This time, he is totally successful. Albeit for money, she binds and whips him, puts him into chains, and makes him smell narcotics – all exactly the way he wants it. But then a complication arises: Shōji, a young man with literary ambitions whom Jōtarō had taken as his disciple, gets to know about the masochistic games Jōtarō was at such great pains to keep secret.
This brings us to another sexual prop that is usually present in the makeup of a masochist but is also overlooked by Krafft-Ebing: ‘triolism.’ Triolism means including a third person into one’s masochistic play in order to increase the intensity of one’s pleasure. David Cotter noted that: “[c]uckolding is one of the central rituals of sexual masochism.” (2003:4) Murray and Murrell refer to such a practice as ‘wife-swapping’ (1989:21) Triolism does not necessarily have to involve cuckolding, however. It can also simply mean to be observed in action by a third party, which intensifies the sense of humiliation the masochist is seeking. In Jōtarō both occur simultaneously. Shōji begins a relation with Onui (who was actually his former girlfriend), and even accompanies her while she is executing the grotesque humiliating acts Jōtarō requests. Before long, however, Shōji becomes disgusted with Jōtarō’s and Onui’s corruption, and returns to his life as a model student as before. Frustrated by this, “Onui now beats and kicks Jōtarō in earnest.” (1914:146)
Although the story has thus far proceeded in a leisurely way, being characterized throughout by a very comical tone, the finale is rather precipitous, with a pseudo-didactic ending. Onui eventually robs Jōtarō of all his money and runs off with another man, whereupon Jōtarō, impecunious, returns to his parent’s home and feels remorse over his deeds. The ending obviously leaves something to be desired. It is totally unbelievable and very un-Tanizaki-like that, though Jōtarō had seemed to be heading full speed to his downfall, he should suddenly feel remorse and renounce his masochistic extravagances at once. Adding to this the fact that in none of Tanizaki’s other novels such a denouement can be noticed, I feel inclined to think that, to make up for Jōtarō’s perverse sexual content, he felt compelled, or was actually forced by the censors, to provide the reader with a didactic, would-be cathartic ending.Conclusion
Even if Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis failed to notice certain characteristics of a masochist’s mental constitution, for Tanizaki, it had a huge impact on his life. Thanks to the work, he was not only able to define, and get a feeling of control over, the impulses that had puzzled him and had seemed truly morbid since his youth, he succeeded even in appropriating the narratives and strategies described in its countless case studies for the gratification of his masochistic needs. For him it was a manual, as it were, which freed him from the fetters of ignorance and showed him the way to sexual fulfillment.
To avoid misconceptions, it should however be noted that contrary to a few works such as Jōtarō, Radō sensei (‘Professor Radō,’ 1925) Zoku Radō sensei (‘Professor Radō, the Sequel,’ 1928), and Akai yane (‘A Red Roof,’ 1925), in the majority of Tanizaki’s novels masochism is described in more socially acceptable terms; that is, it is presented through patterns of domination and submission, manipulation and implication, rather than through graphic descriptions of flagellation, bondage, etc. All the same, there have been few writers in history who, from the beginning to the end of their careers, so assertively and consistantly made a showcase of their sexual identity as Tanizaki. It even caused his stories to have never been included in Japanese schoolbooks, despite his indisputable stature as a writer. Furthermore, Tanizaki’s writings doubtlessly also served as a ‘channel’ themselves for the scientia sexualis, transmitting information about masochism and creating a fertile ground for other Japanese to construct and profess a ‘masochist identity.’ To conclude, we can say that the scientia sexualis was for Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, just as Foucault argued, a discourse of power and knowledge indeed, but ultimately it was a liberating discourse, rather than a constraining one.References
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