California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: June 24, 1999
Faculty on the Site.
The Story of O as a Fairy Tale
Essay responds to and was inspired by Anderson's review: L.A. Times Book Review by Kenneth Anderson, who "teaches law at American University": "The Erotics of Virtue", p. 3 of Book Review section on June 20, 1999.
Recently, in a piece on the Christians and the Lions we questioned the measurement, the definition of arrogance and hierarchy, with a view to looking at the special context evoked in the academy by the arrogance and "bullying" (Duncan Kennedy's phrase) of the academic hierarchy.
Anderson seems to have considered that possibility. First, his definition of a fairy tale comes close to that of Louise Bernikow in Among Women: He says: "[T]he fairy tale is not fundamentally a morality tale, in the sense of cautionary moral preachment, as "Story of O" is not a morality tale. The fairy tale (say, "The Juniper Tree" or even "Hansel and Gretel") is rather a nearly unmediated account, first, of the irremediable aggression and cruelty within human beings, brought squarely to the surface and, second, of the imperfection and indifference of the world itself, prior to its restructuring by categories of morality."
This is a dismal picture of the stories we are wont to tell our children. But then some of the stories are pretty dismal, too. Our reproach is attenuated by the fact that they are, after all, children's stories. Bernikow points out how the stories were softened for the King's court from Grimm's horrible accounts. (Chapter 2 of Among Women)
Kennedy relates this aspect of the fairy tale to O's objective of essentially denying autonomy, denying self responsibility in simply passively accepting the trials of violence in the hope that each trial will lead to such abysmal suffering and depths that she will no longer have to choose to consent to this abusive treatment; it will simply be imposed upon her, and she will be safe from responsibility. This is an interesting approach to why one might not flee such abuse, if what one seeks is refuge in the strength of another.
This is the point at which Kennedy brings in the concept of the "virtues associated with heirarchy: "Mercy and forgiveness . . . virtues that cannot be conceptualized without reference to status and hierarchy, higher and lower . . . Mercy is "bestowed" upon someone, higher to lower, as everyone knows. . .While in traditional societies those hierarchies are often permanent features of the social order--the king, the priests--in contemporary society, they are more typically ephemeral or at least formally unacknowledged, if not denied outright."
And hence, cults, for those who seek them. The cult of sado-masichism, or any other cult which claims the hierarchical power to bestow mercy.
More to come. . .