The liberation of desire through the means of spoken and silent confession is an equalizing power juxtaposition omnipresent during the first two weeks at Roissy.
I intend to explore Pauline Reages’ The Story of O utilizing a Foucauldian Analysis of the text while implementing Foucault’s theory of the confessing animal in Scentia Sexualis. “The most defenseless tenderness and the bloodiest of powers have a similar need of confession. Western man has become a confessing animal” (Foucault, 59). The tenderness, and power are delivered textually in the forms of love, and self-enslavement. The sexual discourse the reader is offered become, in terms of the confessional, truth. The confessor, and the authority figure in which one confesses their truth to. During the first two weeks at Roissy, there are two truths that are being simultaneously confessed, with equal power, reciprocal between the men and the women. One sex confessing their desire to debase, while the other sex confessing their desire to be debased in order for both sexes to achieve their individual truths. A truth that is power.
The confessional science of sex, according to Foucault’s theory, can be ferreted out of Reage’s novel. The codified methods, which include but is not limited to examination, can be easily observed. The men inspect and examine the women, their bodies and the women’s reaction to this examination enable the men to regulate the confessions of the women. Next, the desires of both sexes inside the chateau, define set behaviors, thus explaining the need for their thorough confessions. The reader then is able to discover something latent inside of the characters, as the men draw it out of the women, and the women out of the men. The reader may then begin to interpret each confession of the sexes, and realize that there is a structured understanding between the sexes in regard to their confession. Finally, the men/masters view the women/slaves confession/desire as part of a procedure to reach a final stage of release.
The truth of the women (slaves), and the truth of the men (masters) inside of the chateau are at once, simultaneously revealed. These truths equate into each of the individuals sexually desired confessional power. They are both interchangeable and conjoined, and without the presence of one, the other would become unpurposed. The women give themselves to the men for the sake of their pleasure, in exchange for their own pleasure, and vice versa. Their powers are homologous. Reage provides the reader with an almost panoptic focus that is maintained on the character O, and her decision to put herself under the complete control of her lover, and his decision to give her to the men at Roissy chateau. O is vouched for, by Rene, and tells her he loves her, and if men inquire if she belongs to him, Rene says ‘yes’. (Reage) […] the individual…authenticated by the discourse of truth he was able or obliged to pronounce concerning himself” (Foucault 58). O’s confession of wanting to please her lover, and that belonging to her lover she knows she will suffer for love. The men, in the position of the authority over the confessor, demand the women to confess their desire in order to achieve their own power […]this is less for our pleasure than for your enlightenment” (Reage).
Reage develops a pattern in O’s development throughout her journey to enlightenment. We are immersed in O’s tension, confession, and ultimately, her release, or her enlightenment. O feels anxious while she awaits instruction or punishment, in solitude left to her own devices, and if she suspects Rene’s love is slipping. Reage uses words like ‘peaceful’, ‘calm’, and ‘loved’ to describe O’s emotional and mental state after passages involving brutal whippings, and penetration of all of her orifices by multiple men. These moments of the story project O’s silent confession of her deepest desire, and ultimately, achieving a release, a pseudo-power in her state of contentedness.
The power that O gives, is in the form of a gift. This gift is a relinquishing of her power over her own body, which provides her with pleasure, albeit at a very high price, but it is an important factor in individual power because she gives it away in the form of a gift. The gifts are given to the women, by their tormentors, but also by them as their willing recipients. “Confession frees, but power reduces one to silence[…]” (Foucault 60). The only utterances allowed to pass through their always open lips, are screams and cries during punishment for some minor infraction, or, specifically if a man is in the mood to torment or flog. The women at Roissy have consented to their silence, limiting their confessions to physical demonstrativeness. Their open mouths, their open legs, their readiness in the front and back, and symbolically, the collars put around their necks by their masters. According to Foucault’s theory of Scientia Sexualis, it is the listener, not the speaker, that holds the power, they are in the position of the authority.
While it is a fairly obvious assumption that the reader could observe the dynamic of power to be wielded solely by the men at the chateau, it is unfortunate that this view would merely encapsulate female submission as epistemologically what women would then be; less than. The feminine power pulses deep inside the womb of their submissive oath of nudity and availability, bloody raised welts, leather collars, and exposed genitalia which offers the most striking silent confession inside the text. “Both collar and bracelets were made of several layers of leather…they had clasps, which functioned automatically like a padlock when it closes, and they could be opened only by means of a small key” (Reage 8). Symbolically, the possessor of the key would have infinite control over the one whom would bear the lock. What the reader must understand is that the women bare their necks, they infinitely offer the very home for such a device.
Although men are in control, power is equal for two main reasons. First, women give themselves as a gift to receive pleasure, men give them their own gift of dominance for their own pleasure, and that of the women’s pleasure. Most importantly is the equality of power that the text and discursive confessions reflect. Whether dominance versus submission, slave versus master, or pain versus pleasure; they both need to be present. They exist in both a shocking and dramatic polar opposition. The chateau is a nondescript, private home, situated on an avenue near the park, yet it holds dark secrets and screams deep inside its belly. Rene is cruel, yet loving. Sir Stephen is brutal, yet gentle. O is willingly possessed, yet filled with a deep desire for love. For Rene, she will do anything to please him, as to please him is to know that she is loved by him. His preference was for her to submit, and her submission was soley for the sake of her lover, Rene. Reage, one might suppose, takes ‘re-gifting’ to an extreme as O’s gift of her body becomes Rene’s gift to the men at the chateau. ’ Rene […]”possessed and enjoyed her through those into whose hands she had been given, by the simple fact that he had given her to them” (Reage 31)
The idea of giving and receiving is a prominent discursive element throughout the text. “The confession is a…ritual that unfolds within a power relationship…one does not confess without the presence of a partner…the authority who requires the confession, prescribes and appreciates it, and intervenes in order to judge, punish…and reconcile…produces intrinsic modifications in the person who articulates it; it exonerates, redeems…liberates, and promises salvation” (Foucault 61-62). “It’s because it’s easy for you to consent that I want from you what it will be impossible for you to consent to, even if you agree…you wont be able not to revolt. Your submission will be obtained in spite of you, not only for the inimitable pleasure that I and others will derive from it, but also so that you will be made aware of what has been done to you” (Reage 32).
The liberation of the truth of the self pumping out its confessional desire flows deep in the veins of Roissy. Desire reveals its truth in the manifold forms of locked doors, rolled dresses exposing bare back sides, or faceless, alien hands upon soft consenting skin. Thus the reader is immersed in a confessional of desire. A confession that, indeed, liberates the individuals simultaneously, freeing binding chains and exposing their truths. The deployment of sexual desire, the act of the mutual exchanges of power, the gift giving and receiving, are all ultimately confessed inside Roissy. The truth embedded in the discourse is at times slippery, yet ultimately it can be handled. Power is in the hands and the minds of both sexes and the achievement of their individual powers come to fruition by means of their confession(s).