foucault on sadism’s relationship to western rationality (1961)

Sadism is not a name finally given to a practice as old as Eros; it is a massive cultural fact which appeared precisely at the end of the eighteenth century, and which constitutes one of the greatest conversions of Western imagination: unreason transformed into delirium of the heart, madness of desire, the insane dialogue of love and death in the limitless presumption of appetite.

Sadism appears at the very moment that unreason, confined for over a century and reduced to silence, reappears, no longer as an image of the world, no longer as a figura, but as language and desire. And it is no accident that sadism, as an individual phenomenon bearing the name of a man, was born of confinement and, within confinement, that Sade’s entire oeuvre is dominated by the images of the Fortress, the Cell, the Cellar, the Convent, the inaccessible Island which thus form, as it were, the natural habitat of unreason.

It is no accident, either, that all the fantastic literature of madness and horror, which is contemporary with Sade’s oeuvre, takes place, preferentially, in the strongholds of confinement.

— Michel Foucault, from Madness and Civilisation

mary reid kelley – you make me iliad

Filmed in 2011 at Mary Reid Kelley’s home and studio in Saratoga Springs, New York, the video artist and painter discusses her video work “You Make Me Iliad” (2010). In researching the lives and experiences of women who lived during the first World War, Reid Kelley was struck by how few first-hand accounts she was able to uncover. Mary Reid Kelley explains her attempts to reconstitute an experience that would have otherwise been lost to history by creating an imagined narrative involving a prostitute, a soldier, and a medical officer.

In black-and-white videos and drawings filled with punning wordplay and political strife, Mary Reid Kelley presents her take on the clash between utopian ideologies and the realities of women’s lives in the struggle for liberation. Performing scripted narratives in rhyming verse— featuring characters such as nurses, soldiers, prostitutes, and saltimbanques—Reid Kelley playfully jumbles historical periods to trace the ways in which present concerns are rooted in the past.

Watch an excerpt from another of Reid Kelley’s works, Sadie the Saddest Sadist on Reid Kelley’s website.

mary-reid-kelley_101146821464.jpg_x_1600x1200Sadie, the Saddest Sadist (7 minutes, 23 seconds), 2009, is set in Great Britain in 1915, according to a free booklet that includes the video’s lyrics. The title character, a munitions worker, wants to learn a trade “so [she] could be a traitor.” She meets Jack, a sailor (played by Reid Kelley in drag), and with “passions inflamed,” she requests rousing war stories. His sung reply: “Calm down sweetheart / Britannia rules the waves.” In pledging herself to him, she offers her “surplus devotion,” and after their off-camera tryst, she sings, “The stains on my sheets / will come out with some lemon / I know that you care / by these Marx on my Lenin.” Live action alternates with stop-motion animation in which dancing refrigerator magnet-style letters spell out the dialogue or toy with it, as when “surplus devotion” is anagrammatized into “spurs devolution.”…

… Reid Kelley’s interest seems to be primarily in historical material, expressed in details such as the patriotic flyers that hang on the walls behind Sadie and Jack when they meet, which urge citizens to conserve food and to fight for king and country. Her fine ear for popular verse makes Reid Kelley’s work rich fun for those who are, as Jack describes himself, “verbally inclined.”


the woman in my life – playing with the concept of the feminine



Grabbing my identity by the throat has allowed me to play with other identities in the space of play and performance. Being more secure in how I identify in terms of gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation has allowed me the freedom to explore my boundaries: what I’m comfortable with and how far I can push myself.

Up until two years ago I found the feminine cloyingly repulsive and unnatural. My mother’s attempts to feminise me always left me feeling exceedingly uncomfortable, and I clearly remember the hideousness of my matric dance outfit and how I felt like a drag queen, and yet not, because it was an enforced drag, not the drag that stems from a place of play and a sense of security in one’s own gender.


Playing the Femme Fatale, I

Since beginning the photographic project of documenting my play with gender, I have experienced conflicting emotions and reactions to placing myself within a feminine frame. Firstly, I found myself approaching the feminine from the space of play, experimentation and boundary testing. The idea of donning the feminine has been more exciting and less frightening, and I’ve truly had fun with and loved the experience of seeing the photographic results. The artistic process has thus been very revelatory and enjoyable.


My Greta Garbo Moment

The physical experience, the experience of my self apart from the artistic process, has been difficult. I’ve been able to perform the feminine to the extent of playing with costume, props and make-up, but have been unable to perform feminine characteristics, behaviours, mannerisms and poses. Along with the wigs, dresses and shoes, I am still visited by those old feelings of intense discomfort, a sense of not being me, of having an otherness enforced on me. Even in the privacy of my own home with only me to witness my transformation, I am unable to express a femininity that stems from me rather than the costume. One interesting thing, though, is that when I’m playing the feminine and photographing myself, I’m able to smile (almost unable not to), while in my other self-portraits smiling feels unnatural and uncomfortable. In the blurb to this blog I say that, “I approach other spaces through fearlessly exploring inner space.” Sometimes the exploration is more brave than fearless. A lot of the time my performances touch a nerve, pointing to something I still need to investigate further, approaching it more carefully in my next encounter with it. Because sometimes when staring into the looking glass, it’s not only unexplored selves that stare back. Sometimes there are demons.


Not Gay as in Happy, Queer as in Fuck You

Looking back on these photos and experiments, I’m very happy with the results, because they denote a bravery that was previously unavailable to me; a sense of adventure I never had; and, a sense of playfulness I’m so grateful to have found.



© Germaine de Larch Images. First published on