Through a close analysis of Isaac Julien's short film The Attendant, this essay argues that sadomasochistic sex practice ought to be understood in temporal terms, as a play of pause against surprise, suspension against shock. In The Attendant, Freeman contends, Julien rethinks S/M precisely this way, thereby linking it with the possibilities of film as a particularly indexical, intercorporeal medium for shocking and reorganizing the senses. This rethinking of screen as a kind of skin in turn enables Julien to confront sadomasochistic role playing, in which players take up the signs and tools of historically specific injustices such as the Inquisition, the Holocaust, and especially the transatlantic slave trade. Rather than condemning this kind of role playing--especially as it takes place between black and white men--Julien offers sadomasochism as an embodied way to feel historical or to engage viscerally with the past. He thereby opens up new registers for taking in and taking account of the historical, registers that refuse to concede pleasure in the name of trauma, which has been treated as the more properly political affect by most criticism.
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Elizabeth Freeman; Turn the Beat Around: Sadomasochism, Temporality, History. differences 1 May 2008; 19 (1): 32–70. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-2007-016
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