Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Arkady Plotnitsky

Committee Member 1

Dan Smith

Committee Member 2

T.J. Boisseau

Committee Member 3

Sandor Goodhart


This dissertation seeks to understand eroticized violence by analyzing sadism and masochism as models of modern masculinity and power. I look at the literature and theory of male sexual sadism and masochism as “artefacts of art” as metaphors of male subjectivity expressed across vast and interdisciplinary cultural fields of cultural expression (Bersani, Freudian Body 5). Best understood as an aesthetic formation, masochism shows how cultural formations of subjectivity and sexualized violence are a modern for m of power that operates by means of subversion and can tolerate its own castration. As a metaphor of modern masculinity, de Sade’s sadism shows how sadism is banal, naturalized, and based in an endless vacillation between arrogance and a guilty conscious. Both of these forms of male power and erotic masculinity show an anti-romantic vision of heterosexual coupling lacking in mutuality and based in domination and totality. In male sadism and masochism, the female-other is a conceptual object of potential subjectivity whose existence serves to substantiate the authority of the unified male subject. Female sexual sadism conflates love with cruelty as a method of self-annihilation and self-discovery; her goal is to become an unrecognizable other that mirrors and perverts the operations of masculine eroticism aimed at female domination. Uncovering female sexual sadism as a cultural form of female-authored sexuality, I seek to articulate how masculine domination becomes erotic in the female imagination by conflating love and cruelty in romantic ideals of heterosexual love in Western culture by locating the principle of difference and division between sexes.