Lesbian Desire Rewrites Venus in Furs: Monika Treut and Elfi Mikesch’s Seduction: The Cruel Woman

  • Barbara Mennel


Monika Treut and Elfi Mikesch’s feature film Seduction: The Cruel Woman (Verführung: Die grausame Frau, 1985) tells the story of Venus in Furs anew, contextualizing it in the history of perversions on the one hand and contemporary cinema and performance art on the other. The film represents a striking appropriation of masochistic aesthetics by lesbian directors a century after Sacher-Masoch created Venus in Furs. Treut and Mikesch’s explicit references to Sacher-Masoch’s novel resituate masochistic aesthetics in a discourse of feminism and lesbian sexuality of the mid-1980s. The film’s explicit portrayal of sadomasochism led to production scandals, as well as attacks by West German audiences, politicians, and journalists at the time. The West German women’s movement ignored Seduction, whereas the newly emerging transnational queer cinema movement embraced it. I read these diverging reactions to the film as symptomatic of the status accorded S/M in the 1980s and 1990s when it became the linchpin in debates between self-declared sex radicals and so-called “anti-pornography feminists.”1 This chapter revisits the debate in the context of this study of masochistic aesthetics in order to tease out the rhetorical and narratological constructions that undergird the debate’s negotiations of power and sexuality.


Queer Theory Oedipus Complex Film Festival Commodity Fetishism Dominant Woman 
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© Barbara Mennel 2007

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  • Barbara Mennel

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