The dominant narrative within Venus in Furs – Severin’s autobiographical text-within-the-text – in its opening scene, presents Severin’s journey within a few pages from a devoted and seemingly public worship of the “cold, cruel” statue of Venus, to the far more clandestine fascination with a procured photograph of Titian’s Venus with a Mirror, to the immediately horrified response to seeing first the statue adorned with furs, and then Wanda, similarly attired. Certainly, the synthetic operation at play here is on one level an entirely uncomplicated function of the Hegelian dialectic that so influences Masoch’s personal philosophy. However, the intermingling of Severin’s horror and desire is what catalyses the parameters of this text’s analysis, from both a Freudian and Deleuzian perspective.
There is a stark immediacy in the fetishistic function within this scene, such that the instigating stimulus for the horrified reaction to the revelation of maternal castration is, in fact, the erotic object of the realisation’s disavowal, which is to say the furs. Accordingly, I am reminded in this encounter yet again of the “dangerous” supplementation of the Symbolic order, that which – through its imposition of language upon the Real which itself lacks nothing, establishes an absence that must now be healed. This horrific encounter soon follows Severin’s rumination, first on Samson and Delilah, and then on the Book of Judith. Interestingly enough, the two editions of Venus in Furs I possess have divertingly distinct translations regarding the beheading of Holofernes: one reads “The Lord hath smitten him by the hand of a woman,” whilst the other: “The almighty Lord hath struck him, and hath delivered him into the hands of a woman.” Accordingly, the uncertainty between these two positions of smiting and deliverance feel entirely borne out in the ambivalence of the encounter, and indeed the novel’s resolution.
Nevertheless, we can interpret in both accounts, a degree to which the role of woman can supplant the classically considered punishing patriarch and, in so doing, can render even capital punishment a source of jouissance for the masochist. From such a perspective, Deleuze’s assertion that the masochistic route toward pleasure is to portray his patriarchal superego, so that it may be castrated by the figure of the oral mother, having both defeated and acquired attributes of the hetaeric and oedipal mothers (whom we might understand as the overtly deistic / Titian-painted Venus, and the marble statue Venus, respectively), is affirmed. Indeed, Severin, speaking to himself so harshly during his flight response indicates the splitting mechanism upon which so much of this process is dependent.
Freud’s “The Theme of the Three Caskets,” which seems so overtly to influence Deleuze’s commentary, in all its cultural critique, makes central two plays of Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice, and King Lear. Assuredly, this scene in Venus in Furs is also highly indicative of a third: The Winter’s Tale. Freud tells us that, ultimately, the third mother is above all “the Mother Earth who receives [the subject] once more…the silent Goddess of Death will take him into her arms.” Yet again, smiting and deliverance are inextricably married. And yet, just as with The Winter’s Tale, here we see a statue come to life. Severin’s demanding fantasy necessitates that a figure of death become a figure of life. Within the vain folly of this prerequisite lies the source of the frustrated resentment that so permeates the relationship between Severin and Wanda.