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Desiring Brotherhood


being ‘beside oneself’” (Silverman, 1992: 263). In the novel,

Penderton’s masochistic ecstasy enacts a transgression of

individuality, brings about a grotesque transformation of the self,

and catapults the body to reach that level at which the divine might

be glimpsed.

Moreover, Penderton’s masochism concludes with his sadistic

treatment of Firebird. Upon finally bringing Firebird to a halt and

dismounting, he “broke off a long switch, and with the last of his

spent strength he began to beat the horse savagely. . . . The

Captain kept on beating him. Then at last the horse stood

motionless and gave a broken sigh” (McCullers, 2001c: 355). This

sadistic frenzy is set against an affective amalgam of shame,

frustration, agony, loneliness, alienation, powerlessness,

unworthiness, and abjection. After abusing the horse, Penderton

“sank down on the ground and . . . looked like a broken doll that

has been thrown away” (355). Sobbing aloud, he remembers his

lonely boyhood; brought up by five old-maid aunts, he “had never

known real love” (355). Descending from the antebellum southern

aristocracy, Penderton’s family members were planters in Georgia

before the Civil War. However, the family had fallen on hard times:

“Behind him was a history of barbarous splendor, ruined poverty,

and family hauteur” (355). Besieged by an avalanche of ignoble

feelings, Penderton abuses the horse and experiences vicarious pain

and vulnerability from the act. As Bersani has noted, sadism is

defined in Freud’s “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes” as a

“masochistic identification with the suffering object” (Bersani,

1986: 41). In other words, rather than enacting an expansion or

mastery of the “I,” Penderton’s sadism is the result of an

identification with his suffering victim and a desire for self-

shattering experience that tears down ego-boundaries and releases

the individual into a kind of bliss, or masochistic





For the reversibility of roles in S/M and the permeability of the boundaries

separating the two, see Bersani’s essay “Shame on You” (2011) and his book


(1995, especially 77-112 in his provocative and fascinating study of