Severin

Fiction / Rachel Levy

 

:: Severin ::

I.

Sev­erin is a char­ac­ter in a nov­el. He is a Gali­cian gen­tle­man and landown­er. He is thir­ty years old, a smok­er. He is sex­u­al­ly inex­pe­ri­enced. He craves eggs, soft-boiled, and likes to press his face against stat­ues. He likes stat­ues. He loves fur. He dab­bles in poet­ry and sci­ence. He col­lects ani­mal skele­tons, stuffed birds, and plas­tic cats. He does not want to be hanged by a woman, so he trains women. He rests his chin in his hands. His hands are del­i­cate­ly veined. Accord­ing to his neigh­bors, Sev­erin is dan­ger­ous and odd. He has zero friends, unless you count the nar­ra­tor of the book. Sev­erin and the nar­ra­tor are best friends. They smoke cig­a­rettes at Severin’s estate. They talk about lit­er­a­ture, domes­tic vio­lence, and the fig­ure of the cru­el woman. The cru­el woman ambles roughshod over the grass­es in the art­works of wealthy het­ero­sex­u­als of Euro­pean descent. Sev­erin con­fess­es to the nar­ra­tor. Once he used sci­ence to bring the cru­el woman to life. Like the wife in the block­buster film Bride of Franken­stein (1935), the cru­el woman was ill-suit­ed for love.

For exam­ple: The cru­el woman chains Sev­erin to a thick wood­en rod. Then she orders a man of Greek descent to engage Severin’s body in a whip­ping with­out Severin’s con­sent. In addi­tion, she breaks up with Sev­erin while his body is still attached to the thick wood­en rod. She refus­es to have pen­e­tra­tive sex with Sev­erin. No, they nev­er have pen­e­tra­tive sex. The absence of pen­e­tra­tive sex is demor­al­iz­ing to Sev­erin, and yet it helps him to devel­op a polit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion which posi­tions him favor­ably on the job mar­ket. I will elab­o­rate.

What doesn’t kill you births a more vir­u­lent strain of your kind,” writes Friedrich Wil­helm Niet­zsche. Niet­zsche is a Ger­man bach­e­lor who rejects the com­pan­ion­ship of peo­ple, pre­fer­ring an assort­ment of hand-held fire­works and domes­tic tools, such as sparklers and a ham­mer. He is famous for his vir­ginal mus­tache. You aren’t allowed to touch it! Oh, Niet­zsche. While Sev­erin is attached to the thick wood­en rod, he is over­whelmed and close to death on account of the man of Greek descent who is whip­ping his body. Fast for­ward a few days, and Sev­erin is on hol­i­day in Rome tap­ping the virtues of socioe­co­nom­ic sta­tus to process the trau­mat­ic roman­tic expe­ri­ence. In short, Sev­erin endures. He per­se­veres like Queen Mab and push­es the hazel­nut car­riage of day labor­ers through the har­row­ing tun­nel of the absence of maid­en­hood, dip­ping into the fam­i­ly cof­fers to buy him­self a ration of the most exquis­ite cocaine. Lat­er, in the heat of an Ital­ian night­club, Sev­erin snatch­es a neon glow­stick from a les­bian! Then he is danc­ing. Sev­erin dances to express his sense of humil­i­a­tion and loss. It isn’t long before Severin’s danc­ing draws the atten­tion of a well-con­nect­ed group. In a qui­et vel­vet cor­ner, nes­tled in the rear of the night­club, the group plies Sev­erin with liquor and a flight of hens stuffed with sur­pris­ing fla­vor com­bos like cheese and nuts. Sev­erin swears the group to secre­cy. Then he shows them the blue­prints for orga­niz­ing soci­ety along strict hier­ar­chi­cal lines. They decide to get brunch after. The morn­ing is dewy and bright, veined with sil­ver tor­rents. It’s beau­ti­ful! My god. It’s beau­ti­ful. Sev­erin is cry­ing now. He is slob­ber­ing. He’s chok­ing a lit­tle. It’s just so. So. Beau­ti­ful. He com­mits right then and there to join the fight for men’s rights. In due time, he inher­its his father’s estate. That’s how Sev­erin evolves into the polit­i­cal per­sona we know and love today.

Sev­erin owns clas­si­cal paint­ings. Sev­erin owns impor­tant books. Sev­erin owns top-qual­i­ty cig­a­rettes. There’s also a silk-clad thingy, plump in a bodice, walk­ing on stilt­ed doe’s legs through­out the cor­ri­dors of Severin’s estate. The silk-clad thingy car­ries a plat­ter of boiled eggs and meats. As not­ed above, Sev­erin is an active par­tic­i­pant in the men’s rights move­ment. The author uses plain lan­guage to com­mu­ni­cate Severin’s iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the fig­ure of the tyrant on both a per­son­al and polit­i­cal lev­el. For these rea­sons and oth­ers, the naïve read­er might be tempt­ed to con­clude: “Well, there you have it! Severin’s a tyrant. This is a tyran­ni­cal book!” But the com­plex­i­ty of the text threat­ens oth­er­wise. For exam­ple, when the silk-clad thingy presents the plat­ter of boiled eggs and meats, Sev­erin reacts in an unex­pect­ed man­ner. He is over­come by anguish because the eggs are not cooked to his lik­ing. The eggs are hard-boiled, but Sev­erin prefers soft-boiled eggs. His pref­er­ence for the soft-boiled egg sub­verts the log­ic of tyran­ny.

I will elab­o­rate.

Through­out the his­to­ry of the West, tyrants have pre­ferred to asso­ciate them­selves with hard objects. Since there is no rea­son to assume this pref­er­ence does not extend to eggs, the read­er spec­u­lates that it is the nat­ur­al ten­den­cy of the tyrant to choose the hard-boiled egg over the soft-boiled egg. If Sev­erin were actu­al­ly a tyrant, then he would have wel­comed the hard-boiled egg into the sen­si­tive inner-mouth space of his head. Sev­erin does not wel­come the hard-boiled egg into the sen­si­tive inner-mouth space of his head.

The author of the book out­fits Severin’s sen­si­tive inner-mouth space with the trap­pings of a bachelor’s boudoir. The boudoir is lined from floor to ceil­ing in the rich­est pink vel­vet. Ever since read­ing the book, I have caught myself sali­vat­ing at the thought of spend­ing the after­noon in Severin’s mouth. One day in the future, after I’ve put in my time and ascend­ed some of the rungs, I hope to take an entire week­end. I’ll bring along a nov­el, plus sev­er­al of my col­leagues and friends! We’ll dis­course on lit­er­a­ture, ethics, and the nec­es­sary exclu­sion of some groups from the pub­lic sphere. Unable to pre­vent our hands from caress­ing the walls, we’ll wipe our fin­gers on the thick pink sur­face. Then the room will begin to vibrate, and a deep-throat­ed purring will fill up our ears.

In addi­tion, and it goes with­out say­ing, the tyrant’s pref­er­ence for the hard­ness of hard-boiled eggs, and for hard objects in gen­er­al, evokes the turgid­i­ty of the phal­lus when it is erect. This thrilling detail con­nects to a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion held by tyrants the world over: the dis­avow­al of cas­tra­tion. The tyrant does not under­stand that he is cas­trat­ed. But what about Sev­erin? Does Sev­erin under­stand that he is cas­trat­ed? Sev­erin absolute­ly under­stands that he is cas­trat­ed! For exam­ple, before Sev­erin real­izes he must devel­op a method for train­ing women in order to pre­vent women from hang­ing him, he takes orders from a woman. For this rea­son and many oth­ers, Sev­erin is not your typ­i­cal tyrant. Sev­erin is a good per­son.

Grant­ed, this book is a com­pli­cat­ed book due to the fas­cist over­tones. Sev­erin open­ly lays claim to tyran­ny. Sev­erin sup­ports his claim to tyran­ny via action. In one scene, for exam­ple, Sev­erin threat­ens the silk-clad thingy with domes­tic vio­lence because the eggs have not been cooked to his lik­ing, but every­body knows that in the old­en days Europe was unseem­ly. The Sov­er­eign put peo­ple to death. He didn’t under­stand that he was cas­trat­ed. Before cast­ing judge­ment, I ask that you con­sid­er the fol­low­ing: Has Sev­erin ever tried to con­ceal his unsa­vory polit­i­cal com­mit­ments from the read­er? No, Sev­erin has not. In fact, Sev­erin has always been incred­i­bly open and hon­est about the most trou­bling facets of his per­son­al­i­ty. His forth­right­ness is com­mend­able in and of itself. In return, we owe Sev­erin a sim­i­lar debt to hon­esty.

Let us strive to be hon­est. It feels good to be hon­est.

II.

Hon­est­ly, my mem­o­ries of Sev­erin are grim. I didn’t like him. We met as grad­u­ate stu­dents in a mid­dling cre­ative writ­ing pro­gram out west. The school no longer exists. It was cheap­ly affixed to the side of a moun­tain. Weak­ened by drought and fire, it even­tu­al­ly suc­cumbed to grav­i­ty and was qui­et­ly shed like a scab. Nobody noticed it was gone.

Sev­erin was a ter­ri­ble writer and an emo­tion­al­ly manip­u­la­tive per­son­al­i­ty. High on phi­los­o­phy and art, he could reor­ga­nize the world just by glanc­ing at it. I still remem­ber how much it hurt to get caught up in his line of sight. I had to go and lie down. If I acci­den­tal­ly sat across from him in a sem­i­nar or work­shop, then I’d be knocked out for days. “Influen­za,” I said. I was always say­ing that. I couldn’t stand him, and yet we were friends. That’s how friend­ship worked in school. Then it was over. Sev­erin and I fell out of touch. The school fell off the moun­tain. Yeah, I’ve thought about reach­ing out. Because I wish I could tell him that the whole time we were friends, I was busy despis­ing, him. Sev­erin, I despised you and every­thing you stood for. I’m sor­ry about that. The truth is, and I know this now, I despised myself. I despised the sight of me, and you wouldn’t allow me to turn away, you nev­er allowed me to turn away, and so I was in tremen­dous pain pret­ty much all of the time. I was a per­son caught in the throes of pain. I’m not like that any­more, Sev­erin. I’ve matured. I’ve learned to empathize with your point of view. I’ve even incor­po­rat­ed your pub­li­ca­tions into my teach­ing and schol­ar­ship. I’ve tapped your book like a keg, Sev­erin, and fun­neled its life force straight into my career. Thank you, Sev­erin, for giv­ing life to my career! Thank you for giv­ing life to my career! Thank you, Sev­erin! Thank you!

Okay. To be hon­est. To be total­ly and com­plete­ly. Hon­est. For a minute I thought we could be friends, real friends. Sev­erin and I, we had a lot in com­mon. What hap­pened was he caught me in the act. Past mid­night. Star­ry sky. Dark, dry air. Cold. Out west. High up on the side of a moun­tain. In the cen­ter of cam­pus, on the lawn of the admis­sions build­ing, there’s a stat­ue of a beau­ti­ful woman ringed by ever­greens. She’s one of the wives of the founder of the state reli­gion, the first wife or the main wife, and I’d wrapped her, beau­ti­ful stat­ue, head to toe, in toi­let paper that I stole from the stu­dent union.

You have to under­stand. I’ve always been drawn to the wife in Bride of Franken­stein. But before she’s opened. When her body and her head and her face are wrapped up in gauze. Gift for a mon­ster. I want her or I want to be her or I’m already who she is but I don’t like being me so I’ll wait it out. I’ll just wait and see. What’s under­neath.

Yeah, so. I’d wrapped the stat­ue of the founder of the state religion’s wife in toi­let paper, and I was, you know. Wor­ship­ping her. I was wait­ing. Wait­ing to see. Show me. Show me. I pressed my face against the paper cov­er­ing her skirt. Show me. That’s when Sev­erin intrud­ed, his arms full of furs.

You like stat­ues,” he said.

Why lie. At a time like this. “I do.”

You wrap them in toi­let paper.”

Yes.”

That’s queer.”

Yes.”

You’re queer.”

Yes.”

I like stat­ues, too,” he said. “I drape them in furs.”

I see. You’re also queer?” 

I am.”

Good. That’s good.”

We must stick togeth­er,” he said.

Okay.”

He took me back to his place.

Kind of a shit­ty place. There were room­mates. Every­where. But what­ev­er. They were already asleep. Some cats, too. I don’t like cats. It’s okay. We’d worked out a plan. First, we’d both take off our clothes. Next, I’d drape myself in furs and Sev­erin would wrap him­self in toi­let paper. Then we’d just. I don’t know. See what hap­pened. We had a six-pack. A six-pack. He had some cig­a­rettes. I like cig­a­rettes. So. Let’s see. We’ll just wait and see. Where the night takes us.

Sev­erin hand­ed me an ermine stole and a sheep­skin muff. He pushed me into the bath­room. Closed the door. I was alone. Bath­room was a lit­tle shit­ty. No. Yes. Shit streak­ing the seat of the toi­let. Shit rim­ming the tub. Shit on the mir­ror. Shit stain­ing the grout of the tile. Hairs col­lect­ing along a streak of shit. Pok­ing right up to God like aspara­gus. Okay. Here I am. What is a stole and what is a muff? I know what I look like. I’ve looked plen­ty of times. It’s fine. Some­one should look like this. Some­one should’ve looked like this. What the fuck. Do you want to know? Do you want to know what a per­son looks like? When they are wear­ing a stole and a muff? I already told you. I despised the sight. I got low. Then I got low. I was sit­ting on the floor. Like Bar­bie. Legs straight out. What did they want? My atten­tion. No, I don’t want to hold them. Sev­erin was talk­ing. He was explain­ing how to care for his cats.

What?

His cats. He told me to watch his cats. Over Christ­mas break. Hel­lo. Keep up.

Pay atten­tion.

Give them food and water,” he said. “More impor­tant­ly, get to know them. Spend time with them. That’s cru­cial. For­get to feed them, and they’ll sur­vive. For­get to touch them? They’ll fuck­ing die.”

That can’t be right.

Okay. This is Severin’s bed­room. The win­dow was frosty. Frost is beau­ti­ful. Frost is beau­ti­ful. I need to throw up. I need­ed to throw up. Christ­mas gifts, every­where. Sev­erin had been shop­ping. Now he was tak­ing his time. Pack­ing a bag. He was gonna miss his flight. Then there was that cat at my feet. Roost­ing on an open mag­a­zine. Pink. It was pink. I didn’t know you could get them that way.

Which one is sick? Deleuze?”

I didn’t say that. Please. I didn’t. Is that what he calls his cat? I shouldn’t have come here. I should nev­er have come. I need­ed to throw up. I need­ed to throw up. I need­ed to. I had a knife. Okay, I had a knife. I had a knife. I hat­ed when think­ing hap­pened like this and I could see myself on the out­side. I hat­ed that. She was hold­ing the knife, and then, I see, she cut a gash in her throat. She stood over the cat, the pink cat, just to bleed on it for a minute. She just bled on it? Yeah. Soon she was gonna drop. She was gonna drop. She was gonna drop. Don’t let her drop on the cat. It was pink. The cat. But why was it pink? I don’t know! Stag­gered. She stag­gered. She dart­ed for the book­case. She was look­ing for the book he liked the best. Which one did he like the best? The one where they slan­der the trees. They hat­ed trees, Deleuze and Guat­tari. Ass­holes. She tore a page from the book, crum­pled it up and fed the blos­som to the gash in her neck. She didn’t throw up. I nev­er threw up. It’s like I didn’t get how to do it. Do you under­stand?

Talk­ing. Sev­erin was talk­ing. He said the cats aren’t called Deleuze and Guat­tari, not any­more. He renamed them. He renamed his cats. Yeah, he was always doing that. Giv­ing them new names. 

Why?”

Sev­erin shrugged. He sat down on the edge of the bed, crossed one leg over the oth­er. What was he wear­ing? Indoor soc­cer shoes? I want a pair. I want­ed a pair.

Just tell me which one gets med­i­cine.”

The pink one.”

The pink one. The pink one. No.

No, no, no.

What do you mean, no?” he said.

I mean, who has a pink cat?

I mean, no.

No, no, no, no.

Look,” said Sev­erin. Then he was up again, orbit­ing the bed­room. He was col­lect­ing the Christ­mas gifts in a gigan­tic paper bag. “It’s been a long day. I shopped. I wrapped. I packed. I’m about to fly across the coun­try.” He stopped at the foot of the bed, hoist­ed a duf­fel over his shoul­der. “And now I need to explain the con­cept of a joke to you?”

She couldn’t get a read on his face. I couldn’t see it either. The sky was a snake. It sloughed off the skin of the sun. Dark. It was dark.

III.

Now for a review of the lit­er­a­ture. Some peo­ple argue that this book is a trans­gres­sive book because it fea­tures Sev­erin. Sev­erin is a cas­trat­ed mem­ber of the rul­ing class and an aspir­ing poet with an impos­si­ble desire for sub­mis­sion. Oth­er peo­ple argue that this book is a sub­ver­sive book because it fea­tures Sev­erin. Sev­erin is a cas­trat­ed mem­ber of the eco­nom­ic elite and an aspir­ing poet with a para­dox­i­cal dream to end cap­i­tal­ism. Plus, there are sev­er­al per­sua­sive argu­ments that call for label­ing this book a queer book due to the super­abun­dance of fur gar­ments, which are gay. My take on the sit­u­a­tion is rad­i­cal. I believe it is wrong to argue about books. Even though I spend Christ­mases with con­ser­v­a­tive col­leagues and keep in touch with an elder­ly men­tor who still sub­scribes to the impos­si­ble dream of a white eth­nos­tate, I believe that each and every mem­ber of the depart­ment is free to choose a lit­er­ary her­itage; I choose to join in the strug­gle to pre­serve the rights of the most impor­tant books of Euro­pean civ­i­liza­tion.

Ever since the dawn of the birth of the French per­son Roland Barthes, we have under­stood the col­lege class­room to be an amphithe­ater for bear­ing wit­ness to plea­sure. Barthes worked hard in the pub­lic sphere to devise a reper­toire of ges­tures for tes­ti­fy­ing to plea­sure with­out expli­cat­ing the text. He man­aged to con­duct his life’s work in silence. Total silence. It was impor­tant that Barthes stay qui­et. He didn’t want to spook the jouis­sance. The jouis­sance is skit­tish. It darts like a doe into berry bush­es. Some­times, at school, we coax the doe to the cen­ter of our cir­cle.

Thanks to Barthes’ hard work, we’ve devel­oped a cer­e­mo­ny for gath­er­ing ’round, open­ing our books, and point­ing at plea­sures that can nei­ther be described nor ver­i­fied. What does this mean? I will tell you what it means. It means the unspeak­able qual­i­ty of our ped­a­gogy is the con­di­tion for a rad­i­cal, intel­lec­tu­al faith. Stud­ies have shown that TAs of faith lead health­i­er, hap­pi­er, more inte­grat­ed lives. They’re able to make do on their stipends, with a lit­tle some­thing left­over for the week­end. They out­per­form their peers on the job mar­ket. When they com­pose the for­ma­tion of the sacred cir­cle with their bod­ies at school, the plea­sure touch­es friends touch­ing books list­ed on the syl­labus, rein­forc­ing the mis­sion of the uni­ver­si­ty.

High up. The sky is a snake: it sloughs off the skin of the sun. Dark. It’s dark. In the once-vibrant city of Cher­nobyl, the snow is falling. We must be care­ful, vig­i­lant, and ten­der. Because there are schol­ars who set traps in the snow and the berry bush­es.

They aren’t real­ly schol­ars.

They aren’t even read­ers.

They are bull­ish fur traders whose thick thighs rub snag­gles into off-brand stock­ings! Ambling roughshod over mass graves of frost-bit­ten grass­es! Spook­ing the plea­sure, which leaps like a doe, to impale its soft, soft self on the crys­talline edges of the berry branches—dead! She’s dead! Dead. Dead. Dead.

Sev­erin lights a cig­a­rette.

The nar­ra­tor lights a cig­a­rette. The nar­ra­tor perus­es Severin’s col­lec­tion of ani­mal skele­tons, mil­i­tary hard­ware, and plas­tic cats. Oh, Sev­erin!

Accord­ing to the details of his biog­ra­phy, Sev­erin belongs to the rul­ing class. But what about the nar­ra­tor? Who is the nar­ra­tor of the book? Well, the narrator’s sta­tus is ambigu­ous. He employs a valet to grab hold of his arm whilst he is sleep­ing. The valet whis­pers the word “Hegel” into the narrator’s ears. The inti­ma­cy of the ges­ture sug­gests that these two men are cut from sim­i­lar cloths. If they are not, then we are def­i­nite­ly deal­ing with a class-trai­tor sit­u­a­tion, which is incred­i­bly thrilling and admirable. The nar­ra­tor and his valet are not bio­log­i­cal broth­ers, and yet they man­age to coex­ist in a quiv­er­ing jel­ly dome called “broth­er­hood.” There­fore, struc­tural­ly, the nar­ra­tor and his valet are broth­ers. They are broth­ers.

Let us pan out.

Sev­erin, the nar­ra­tor, the valet, and the read­er each occu­py dif­fer­ent posi­tions along the socioe­co­nom­ic spec­trum. Despite these unfor­tu­nate mate­r­i­al cir­cum­stances, they have all uploaded them­selves into the exact same tra­di­tion of arts and let­ters. Theirs is the sort of mixed cama­raderie that gar­ners harsh jeers from the mem­bers of the old­er gen­er­a­tions. But is it not true that the most impor­tant books dis­rupt the laws of bour­geois deco­rum?

Sev­erin laughs. He lights the cig­a­rette.

The nar­ra­tor laughs. He lights the cig­a­rette.

When the silk-clad thingy presents the plat­ter of boiled eggs and meats, Sev­erin dis­cov­ers that the eggs have not been cooked to his lik­ing, and he sub­jects the silk-clad thingy to the threat of domes­tic vio­lence. The silk-clad thingy flees like a freaked robot on bent doe’s legs. That’s the cue for Sev­erin and the nar­ra­tor to con­tin­ue their con­ver­sa­tion.

Okay. No more pre­tense.

We are friends, yes?

Then allow me to touch you where you need to be touched.

You are a per­son deserv­ing of your life.

I’ll say it again.

You are a per­son deserv­ing of your life.

There was once some­thing sharp and damnable resid­ing in the folds of your per­son­hood, but it’s been lov­ing­ly rewrit­ten or redact­ed at school. Wish it well. Let it go.

Today is the day you sub­mit your dis­ser­ta­tion.

You’re doing what’s right, seek­ing gain­ful employ­ment. It goes with­out say­ing that you’ve suf­fered and per­se­vered. The strug­gle was real, but it helped you to devel­op a polit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion which will grant you a favor­able posi­tion on the job mar­ket.

I will elab­o­rate.

You haven’t hurt any­one.

You haven’t hurt any­one.

You have want­ed, and your want­i­ng makes you pre­cious, but you have not tak­en what you want by force. You haven’t hurt any­one.

You are a peach.

You’re a lamb mosey­ing home on pointy lit­tle feet!

Munch­ing clovers.

Mov­ing slow­ly.

You can afford to move so slow­ly.

Because it feels good to be you.

You’re home­ly and hos­pitable.

You’re inhab­it­able.

You feel good.

You feel so good.

This feels good.

Come. Now is the time to act. Let us not look back on this day and won­der why our eyes were con­tent to be sep­a­rat­ed, stuck in their own jel­lied heads. Lone­ly.

This feels so good.

Forg­ing thick­er bonds.

Build­ing bet­ter bod­ies for whis­per­ing the word “Hegel.”

For shar­ing the word “Hegel.”

Whilst sleep­ing.

Don’t wor­ry, you haven’t for­got­ten how to sleep.

You’re sleep­ing now.

The sky is a snake. It sloughs off the skin of the sun.

Dark.

The way is dark.

Dry air.

High up.

Ringed by ever­greens.

Qui­et. Be qui­et.

Come to us on your hands.

Use your fin­gers to find it.

The pin­hole, the punc­ture.

Grac­ing the skin of the birth­day bal­loon.

That rides on the night of the sky tucked deep deep inside, deep inside the fold of your lit­tle lone­ly lit­tle lone­ly life.

Let it go.

The scream­ing.

It is the sound of the starter.

On its cue, on its cue.

Let us.

Let us let us let us shed our flesh and shed our flesh and and and pool our resources.

Fig. 1. Bride of Franken­stein. Direct­ed by James Whale. 1935. Screen­shot by the author.

 

From the writer

 

:: Account ::

This sto­ry is a satire of lit­er­ary schol­ar­ship. A fic­tion­al essay about Venus in Furs. I draft­ed it while I was in grad school because I want­ed to fig­ure out why they were ask­ing me to inter­pret overt­ly reac­tionary works of lit­er­a­ture through the­o­ret­i­cal frame­works that claim (when tak­en at face val­ue) to sub­vert, decon­struct, or queer struc­tures of pow­er. Much of the schol­ar­ship on Venus in Furs exem­pli­fies that con­tra­dic­tion. Exudes a pathet­ic ener­gy that’s bor­der­line hagio­graph­ic. Casts Sev­erin as the patron saint of sub­ver­sion. Claims he har­bors a rad­i­cal desire to under­mine every­thing from het­eropa­tri­archy to cap­i­tal­ism itself. Part of my dis­com­fort had to do with the hypocrisy of affirm­ing the anti-cap­i­tal­ist pose of a pro­fes­sion that was active­ly con­tribut­ing to my exploita­tion and immis­er­a­tion. It’s dis­hon­est. Dumb. I don’t like to be dumb. I don’t like to hurt myself. Hate it more when my will­ing­ness to do so is praised. Also, the schol­ars’ ver­sion of Sev­erin is just wrong. It’s noth­ing like Masoch’s ver­sion. You should read Venus in Furs. I read Venus in Furs, obses­sive­ly, for the same rea­son I read Eich­mann in Jerusalem. It’s obvi­ous. Why does it have to be so obvi­ous? That’s why it feels humil­i­at­ing. To adopt the schol­ar­ly pose. It’s too obvi­ous. Masoch’s Sev­erin is a proud mem­ber of the eco­nom­ic elite. He’s an avowed sup­port­er of men’s rights, a con­nois­seur of Euro­pean cul­ture, a dis­grun­tled incel. Throw in the fact that most of Venus in Furs con­sists of Sev­er­in’s man­i­festo, which fix­ates on the degrad­ed sta­tus of the straight white guy, and there you have it: Severin’s a TERRORIST. And I’m a satirist. I’m a satirist, hard­core. Some­times I wor­ry that I haven’t spo­ken gen­uine­ly about any­thing, myself includ­ed, in years. But then I ban­ish the thought. Writ­ing this account has been dif­fi­cult. This is my sev­en­teenth attempt. I’m try­ing. I am. So. I draft­ed this stu­pid sto­ry, a grotesque par­o­dy of fas­cist schol­ar­ship. Then I didn’t know what to do. With myself. I don’t know what to do with myself. I was dis­il­lu­sioned with it, my fic­tion. It was dead, lack­ing in stakes. I need­ed to revise. I sat down to revise. I had YouTube stream­ing in the back­ground (aca­d­e­m­ic pre­sen­ta­tions on masochism) because I was hop­ing I’d hear some­thing I’d want to lam­poon. I heard this one thing. I end­ed up tak­ing it seri­ous­ly. How does the philoso­pher put his body where his pen is? I decid­ed to give it a try, to put my body in the way of the sto­ry while I was writ­ing it. It meant tak­ing masochism seri­ous­ly. Which felt like a big deal. Because I’m a sadist. But I took it seri­ous­ly. Used my pain to craft a nar­ra­tive. To fab­ri­cate an aes­thet­ic. I gave my stu­pid sto­ry a wound. That’s part II of my sto­ry, the wound. The mate­r­i­al. I want­ed to make it vis­i­ble. You don’t have to like it. Hon­est­ly. You don’t.

 

Rachel Levy is a found­ing edi­tor of Dregi­nald mag­a­zine and the author of A Book So Red (Cake­train, 2015). Short fic­tions appear in Atti­cus Review, Black War­rior Review, DIAGRAM, Fence, Tar­pau­lin Sky, West­ern Human­i­ties Review, and oth­ers. The recip­i­ent of an NEA Fel­low­ship in Prose, Levy is cur­rent­ly an Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish and Cre­ative Writ­ing at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary Wash­ing­ton in Fred­er­icks­burg, Vir­ginia.