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Thoroughly imbued with an affective cocktail composed of

shame, pain, pleasure, ambivalence, and ecstasy, Penderton then

encounters the young private Williams naked in the woods. Lying

on the ground and weeping aloud, Penderton is suddenly aware of

someone near him:

He [Williams] was completely naked. His slim body

glistened in the late sun. . . . The naked man did not

bother to walk around his [Penderton’s] outstretched body.

He left his place by the tree and lightly stepped over the

officer. The Captain had a close swift view of the young

soldier’s bare foot: it was slim and delicately built, with a

high instep marked by blue veins. (McCullers, 2001c: 356)

Baring his back, Penderton is rendered in an utter degradation that

is quickly charged with erotic intensity. Long after Williams leaves,

Penderton dwells “on the pure-cut lines of the young man’s body”

and at last realizes that he feels for Williams a “hatred, passionate

as love, [that] would be with him all the remaining days of his life”


Later in the novel, Penderton’s infatuation with Williams

grows to such an intensified degree that he feels “an aching want

for contact between them of some sort.” He visits the stables where

Williams is assigned to work “as often as he could reasonably do

so.” Obsessively in love, Penderton suffers exquisite torments:

When the Captain knew in advance that he would meet

the soldier, he felt himself grow dizzy. During their brief,

impersonal meetings he suffered a curious lapse of sensory

Foucault and Freud). In his defense of S/M, Bersani celebrates its formation of a

new economy of bodily pleasure that destabilizes Oedipalized sexuality. Here is

what he has to say about Foucault’s discovery of the radical potential in S/M:

“For Foucault, gay S/M

partly due to the frequent reversibility of roles in gay

S/M, partly as a result of the demonstration S/M provides of the power of


has ‘helped to alleviate this problem’ [i.e. being the passive partner in

a love relationship is in some way demeaning] by empowering ‘a position

traditionally associated with female sexuality’” (Bersani, 2011: 92).