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Kaja Silverman

Related: feminist film theory - masochism - psychoanalysis - film theory

Kaja Silverman argues for masochism against Mulvey's sadism in cinema's erotic viewing, and draws attention to the strong possibility of the secret identification of males in the diegesis (and audience) with the suffering female object. --Kenneth MacKinnon, 2001


Kaja Silverman received her B.A. in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara in l970; her M.A. in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara in l972; and her Ph.D. from Brown University in l977. She taught at Yale University, Trinity College, Simon Fraser University, Brown University, and the University of Rochester before joining the Rhetoric Department and the Film Studies Program at the University of California at Berkeley in l991.

Professor Silverman currently writes and teaches courses in the areas of psychoanalysis, phenomenology, post-structuralist theory, film studies, feminist theory, and theories of racial difference. She has also worked on, and maintains an active interest in, queer theory, cultural studies, and the nineteenth and twentieth century novel. She is the author of numerous articles, and the following six books:

World Spectators (Stanford University Press, 2000) Speaking About Godard (New York University Press, l998; with Harun Farocki) The Threshold of the Visible World (Routledge Press, l996) Male Subjectivity at the Margins (Routledge Press, l992) The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema (Indiana University Press, l988) The Subject of Semiotics (Oxford University Press, l983).

Christian masochism

Kaja Silverman has described this tradition of pain and suffering as "Christian masochism," [1] which she recognizes as a strain of masochism identified by Theodore Reik in Masochism in Modern Man (1941). [2] This masochism, Reik's brand of "moral" or non-erotic masochism [3] in which the subject tortures itself, Silverman sums up as an economy of desire in which "demonstrativeness," the gaze, revolutionary fervor, and "suspense" all come into play in fantasies that revolve around and emerge from the tortured body of Christ:

[In Christian masochistic fantasy,] the external audience is a structural necessity, although it may be either earthly or heavenly . . . the body is centrally on display, whether it is being consumed by ants or roasting over a fire . . . [and] behind all these 'scenes' or 'exhibits' is the master tableau or group fantasy--Christ nailed to the cross, head wreathed in thorns and blood dripping from his impaled sides. What is being beaten here is not so much the body as the "flesh," and beyond that sin itself, and the whole fallen world. (197)

Extending Silverman's definition, I would argue that Christian masochism works on both non-sexual and highly sexual levels, from the virtually non-erotic "moral" Christian masochism and Christian masochism combined with erotic (in this case) male masochism. The subject can move freely within this range, exhibiting various degrees of eroticism within the Christian masochist's network of fantasy. [4] --Lisa Starks via http://enculturation.gmu.edu/1_2/starks.html [Dec 2005]]

Male Subjectivity at the Margins (1992) - Kaja Silverman

Male Subjectivity at the Margins (1992) - Kaja Silverman [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

In her provocative new book, Kaja Silverman offers a bold new look at some masculinities which deviate from the social norm. Male Subjectivity at the Margins brilliantly reads male filmmakers, novelists and literary cinematic characters who position themselves more as "women" than as "men" and in so doing surrender male power and privilege. Silverman writes about male masochism, homosexuality, exhibitionism from a sympathetic point of view, arguing that these so-called "perversions" can be better undrstood from a political perspective rather than a moral one. In fact Male Subjectivity at the Margins maintains that their practitioners represent, at least potentially, allies for feminism. Silverman pursues her argument through a range of literary and cinematic texts, including Wiliam Wyler's classic The Best Years of Our Lives , the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the novels of Henry James, T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. --via Amazon.com

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