Books And Literature: June 1991
The Confessions of Wanda Von Sacher-Masoch
(Available at Raunch Records)
If you are looking for a novel filled with erotic narratives and graphically detailed descriptions of “kink” sex, then you may find Wanda Von Sacher-Masochs’ Confessions to be a disappointment. True, Wanda’s husband was the man for whom the sexual practice of masochism was named, but the sexual indiscretions of Leopold Sacher-Masoch are secondary to the tale of Wanda’s triumph over the male dominated society of her time.
Taken from a world of poverty to live with a man who was an emotional pauper, Wanda recounts the story of their ten years together, knowing all the time she would be discarded by Sacher-Masoch and forced to make her own means. Sacher-Masoch was an extremely talented writer but was void of feelings for others. He lived his life from passion to passion: when one passion dies on him, he would find a new one to replace it. “If he was looking for help where he should have at least sought it, this came from the absolute lack of morality that characterized him. Could one hold him responsible for such a lack—for a natural defect, one might almost say— of this sort?
Through Wanda, the reader gets a look at the life of Sacher-Masoch as well as an overview of the social conditions of the later 1800’s, especially in regard to women. That Wanda is touted by the publisher as the first “feminist” is fairly accurate. She gives the first written record of a woman rejecting male institutions, such as marriage, and male domination as a whole, opting instead to care for her child alone, by her own meager means. Wanda becomes an archetype for modern feminism by merely telling the facts of her life and their outcome—she is more happy to live alone than to live with men who would degrade and use her to satisfy their whims. Casting off her shackles, which happen to be fur coats in her case, Wanda sets herself free and shows other women the way to liberate themselves.
That this book is written by a woman also gives it a different, more accurate perspective. In traditional literature there are women such as Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary and Sister Carrie, who are literally ruined and driven to their deaths when rejected by the men they love. Wanda’s story shows these characters to be perhaps wishful thinking on the part of male society and a way for men to further keep women “in line.” These pathetic characters are role models for the women of their times, showing them what happens when they are disobedient to the male hierarchy and how their lives will come to no good if they do not remain in their “place.”
But then came Wanda, a woman of truly unique character and integrity, who remains true to herself and her children only. She finds little comfort and peace with her husband. She is forced to seek out “the Greek” with whom she will have an affair to satisfy her husband. She is dressed in costly and uncomfortable furs and has to beat her husband as well to keep pace in her home.
The Confessions of Wanda Von Sacher-Masoch are as revealing as they are repulsive, but ultimately, it is Wanda who gains the reader’s sympathy and admiration at being able to have survived and overcome such cruelty. She does not hold a grudge or become a bitter human being, but lives in enjoyment of her new found self worth. “My story is over.”
Very rarely does a fictional novel accurately depict a decadent lifestyle that exists within the framework of a modern society, American Psycho is a disturbing, yet very poignant story that is quite representative of the last decade of the “Me Generation” in America.
Brett Ellis has created the definitive icon of the Wall Street subculture, a young man named Patrick Baterman, who is seemingly obsessed with all aspects of the young urban professional lifestyle. There is little deviation from the course of this accepted existence, thus leaving no room for the imagination. American Psycho is a study in conformity and how the overwhelming desire to belong within a structure begins to stifle individuality.
Brett Ellis has composed his tale in a first-person narrative that is maddening. The reader exists within the story as a constant companion, seemingly nestled in Patrick Bateman’s conscience as a confessional. The conditions of this are on par entering a play after intermission, then leaving prior to its conclusion; one observes the characters in their actions without any knowledge of their background or motivation.
When Bateman’s character begins to lose stability, it becomes apparent then that wasn’t any stability to begin with. There is no explicitable drive, therefore the murders he commits are not of a misogynist nature. They are against humanity itself. The complete mutilation of his victims physical existence is the result of Patrick Batman’s desire to inflict pain. There is no explanation, nor need there be. Patrick Bateman simply exists to do so.
Perhaps the hardest thing to understand is why one would create such a story without an explanative history preceding it. American Psycho simply does not need one. There are those who have existed within our society, such as Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac Killer, that are without definitive biographies. Such legends are made reality only by the crime left in their wake. Though it is fictional literature, American Psycho is perhaps the closest explanation one ever have for such brutality.
For more from the SLUG Archives:
Concert Review: A New Beginning
Musician Tips: Equalization