Romance with Discipline
by C. Margery Kempe
I gave a paper at the Popular Culture Association Conference last week called, “Knocking from Inside: Forging Strength through Pain in V for Vendetta and The Story of O” and it seemed to go over well in the BDSM/Kink area panel, despite the fact that I was the only panelist who turned up. (O_o) The title comes from a Rumi poem about struggling with your own constrictions:
I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens. I have been knocking from the inside!
But at a romance panel the next day I was disturbed to hear a lot of negative attitudes toward the erotic. One speaker described the arc of Fifty Shades‘ narrative as starting out as ‘BDSM’ and then ‘becoming romantic’ — as if it were not possible to have romance in anything but a vanilla relationship. I don’t know if the ignorance or the arrogance annoyed me more.
O’s voyage is one of self-discovery, but it’s also one that allows her to finally love without being dependent on her lover, as she is at the start of the book. When he sends her to the chateau in Roissy to undergo ‘training’ her only concern is pleasing him. She needs repeated assurances that he loves her, that he is pleased with her. But with all the floggings and bondage, she begins to transform and find a peace within herself:
And yet nothing has been such a comfort to her as the silence, unless it was the chains. The chains and the silence, which should have bound her deep within herself, which should have smothered her, strangled her, on the contrary freed her from herself. (38-9)
Pauline Réage [the pen name for Dominique Aury] herself seemed to find a powerful release from writing the book and discovering the truths which lay inside her heart, truths she had not heretofore acknowledged. Her essay “A Girl in Love” which is usually packaged with the otherwise lamentable follow up Return to the Chateau (which may have been penned by her lover and not Réage herself) demonstrates this power:
“The girl was writing the way you speak in the dark to the person you love when you’ve held back the words of love too long and they flow at last. For the first time in her life she was writing without hesitation, without stopping, rewriting or discarding, she was writing the way one breathes, the way one dreams.” (Return 7)
I have found this happening more and more in my writing as I stopped fearing what I could write or whether I could write and just wrote without censoring the thoughts that arose. Anything can exist on the page. It can also be edited or simply tucked away if it doesn’t fit into a coherent narrative. But the more we refuse to hold ourselves back, the more truthful our living. What exciting things can happen.
Even love. Are you still knocking from the inside?