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When Story of o topless dress was first published over 50 years ago, Story of O rapidly gained a notorious reputation for its remarkably frank portrayal of masochistic sexual fantasies and rituals. Banned throughout the world and written under a pseudonym, the character of O and her unknown creator became mythologised in acres of print that were subsequently devoted to the slim novel.
However, relatively little attention has been paid to the development of the character of O herself. This article examines the extraordinarily accurate portrayal of cognitive dissonance in the character of O, as she is subjected to increasingly humiliating experiences during the course of the novel. As a case study in cognitive dissonance, Story of O is all the more remarkable for being written four years before Festinger first published his theory. Historical background Although it has now obtained classic status as an erotic novel, Story of O was not originally written to be published.
The content was largely dictated by the gauntlet Paulhan threw down when he insisted that women were incapable of writing powerful erotica like the Marquis de Sade, whom he greatly admired Bedell, Aury created a violent, gothic world of dungeons and masks; the interminable whippings relieved by orgies with bondage and sodomy. At the Chateaux Roissy, men are the supreme masters of the women who dress in saucy wench corset dresses, modified to allow unfettered access to their breasts and genitalia. Even eye contact with the men is punished with severe beatings.
Story of o topless dress is quickly initiated into the Roissy rituals and accepts, seemingly without question, all the pain and humiliation that come her way over the next weeks, including a prolonged spell strung up in a dungeon, before she is finally collected and taken home by her lover. Aury produced two endings for the floundering tale. In the first, O has lost all human identity. We leave her masked, scarred and naked on a leash at a party, as a free sexual resource for all the guests to use as they wish.
To which he gave his consent. However, whilst the language may not have been shocking, the sadomasochistic acts themselves were enough to attract the interest of the censors. Although the novel was never officially banned in the UK, the censorship laws allowed the authorities to confiscate the novel and forbade its distribution. Sociologists may be able to explain why D. However, in an important sense, Aury was scuppered from the start in her endeavour. The Marquis de Sade wrote about his own fantasies, so he was easily able to convey the sexual pleasure his characters felt when they were inflicting pain, degradation and annihilation.
Although her character O describes in great detail what is happening to her, she very rarely tells the reader how this makes her feel. It is as if Aury does not know how to articulate the sexual pleasure that O is getting from her repeated humiliations. The theory of cognitive dissonance was first proposed by Festinger to for the observation that forced compliance in a situation often le to an apparent change in opinion.
He noted that whilst it was possible for an individual to hold two conflicting beliefs, this state was psychologically uncomfortable and that people strive to develop new thoughts or modify their existing beliefs to reduce the amount of dissonance or conflict between their cognitions.
In his classic experiment, students who had been made to do a boring task for little reward rated it as more interesting than those who had been well compensated for their time. Festinger argued that the former group experienced dissonance, and so modified their beliefs about the task, rating it as more interesting in order to justify the amount of time they had spent on it. Cognitive dissonance can be manipulated experimentally in the laboratory in studies like these, but is also seen in everyday situations.
Rather than reject the original belief, new beliefs in cult members represent an attempt to accommodate both the original belief in the imminent demise of the universe and the fact that the world is still here. Aronson and Mills developed the cognitive dissonance theory further by introducing the concept of the effort justification paradigm. In a series of experiments they demonstrated that cognitive dissonance is often reduced in social interactions by coming to like what you are suffering for.
As a psychological case study, the character of O is a perfect example of this paradigm. At the beginning of the novel O is delivered to a chateau, blindfolded, bound, stripped, raped and sodomised by four men, tied to post and whipped. Moments later she repeats the phrase again, twice no less, forcing the words out whilst gagging during an enforced act of fellatio.
ificantly, she almost always re-declares her love following the introduction of each new cruel and unusual punishment. The accuracy of the portrayal of cognitive dissonance and the process of the effort justification paradigm is remarkable on two counts. Firstly Aury wrote the novel at least four years before Festinger published his theory.
It seems unlikely therefore that she was writing from her direct experience of cognitive dissonance in a physically sadomasochistic relationship. The theory of cognitive dissonance continues to be an active area of study within cognitive and clinical psychology domains. It has been used to explain and treat a of self-destructive behaviours including compulsive gambling Patterson et al. Stice et al. Whilst sadomasochistic practices have been the subject of extensive psychological study, to date the approaches taken have been almost exclusively psychodynamic in nature, with the occasional nod to sociological or forensic explanations.
None of the explanations afforded by these models were well supported by their study. The authors conclude that it is the power play that lies at the heart of sadomasochistic sexual practices, rather than the giving or receiving of pain.
This theory readily lends itself to exploration within a cognitive psychology framework, but as yet, sadomasochistic practices have received little serious attention from cognitive psychologists. Refenences Aronson, E. The effect of severity of initiation on liking for a group.
Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 59, — Bedell, G. I wrote the story of O. The Observer. Cross, P. Understanding sadomasochism: An empirical examination of four perspectives.
Journal of Homosexuality, 50, 2—3, — Dworkin, A. Feminist Studies, 2 1— Festinger, L. A theory of cognitive dissonance. When prophecy fails. Loumakou, M. Aiming at tobacco harm reduction. Harm Reduction Journal, 3, McNally, A. Motivational Interventions for heavy drinking college students. Psychology of Addictive Behaviour, 19, 79— Patterson, J.
Neuropsychological performance, impulsivity, and comorbid psychiatric illness in patients with pathological gambling undergoing treatment at the CORE Inpatient Treatment Center.
South Medical Journal, 99, 36— Stice, E. Dissonance and healthy weight eating disorder prevention programs. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, — Already a member? Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber. About Write Advertise Archive. Search form. Eye on fiction: The psychology of O Sallie Baxendale looks at a psychological case study in literature.
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