Prof discusses masochism in imperial Japanese culture

Princeton Professor Christine Marran spoke last night at the Kelly Writers House.

The Daily Pennsylvanian
April 12, 2002

Princeton Professor Christine Marran spoke last night at the Kelly Writers House.

Princeton Professor Christine Marran spoke last night at the Kelly Writers House.

The Daily Pennsylvanian

"How to be a Masochist and Not Get Castrated in the Attempt."

The surprising title of Princeton Professor Christine Marran's talk left room for elaboration, and she did just that at the Kelly Writers House last night.

Speaking in front of an intimate gathering of 15 students and community members, Marran discussed the effects of male masochism and imperialism in the 1970s on Japanese culture.

The talk was a collaboration between Theorizing and the Kelly Writer's House. Theorizing is a group that was founded five years ago, unaffiliated with the University, in an effort to "bring faculty that students did not interact with on a regular basis" to Penn, according to member and third year Ph.D. candidate Monica Popescu.

Marran discussed the change of focus in Japanese literature and film from the "poison woman" who tortured her lovers to the male lovers themselves, who were masochists.

Marran also directly compared these masochists -- submissive males who found sexual gratification from physical abuse -- to the colonization that has been a central part of Japan's long history.

"We think of masculinity when we think of empires," she said.

Responding to the themes that Marran spoke about, second-year graduate student Sayumi Takahashi noted that "the whole topic of imperialism, colonization is very, very hot right now."

"What her talk sort of uncovered is is that a lot of people in Japan really struggle with this issue," she said, referring to the cultural baggage of imperialism that the Japanese face.

In explaining the title of her speech, Marran related the story of a "poison woman" cutting off her lover's penis and carrying it around for three days before being stopped by police, commonly referred to as the "February 26 Incident."

Marran asserted that the use of aggressive women who dominated males throughout Japanese film and literature "is important to articulating Japanese nationhood" and is used "to pose a kind of anti-imperial stance."

To Marran, masochism "isn't really about anxiety and guilt and so on," which contrasts with the view that masochism is a centrally psychoanalytical topic.

Masochism is "really about sustaining desire without the payoff of pleasure," Marran said, and it is seen as being "part of the structure of normal... relations."

Organizers of the event said they were pleased with the interest of the audience in Marran's talk, and Popescu noted that the turnout for such events is usually small.

"It's meant to be rather intimate" in order to encourage discussion, she said.

Also sponsoring Marran's talk with the Kelly Writers House were the Program in Women's Studies, Slought Networks and the Graduate Student Associations Council, as well as the departments of History, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and Comparative Literature and Literature Theory.