Bathetic masochism and the shrinking woman
This essay examines the privileged position given to masochism in some recent critical-theoretical work and argues that a controversy of size is often involved in recalibrations of subjectivity. The masochist is frequently described as a shrinking subject who paradoxically has the potential to function on a grand scale. I track questions of size through certain radical accounts of subjectivity, arguing that such spatial thinking has a complex relation to female subjectivity, which has a long history of being imagined (and stigmatised) as an inherent propensity to smallness and masochistic self-diminution. As a case in point, I address the recent Fifty Shades novels, which romanticise masochism as a shrinking of the female subject accompanied by an increase in her orgasmic and consumer power. The gender-specific implications of shrinking here highlight the potential bathos, or failure, of a radical re-calibration of size effected through masochism. Bathos is seen as an effect of disproportion and I explore the ways in which gendered conventions bathetically ‘shrink’ female subjects. Finally, I argue that a valorsiation of masochism might reflect the disappointment of certain radical aspirations and demonstrate expansive hopes of transformation shrinking into bathetic adaptation.
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