Early on in the gospel of Saint John, a nightly conversation takes place. A Pharisee named Nicodemus sneaks out in the night in order to have a conversation with the controversial Rabbi, Jesus. Affirming Jesus uniqueness as a miracle worker he seems to be curious about what message this Rabbi preach. In order to reveal his teaching, Jesus answers the Pharisee with the famous words: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” Independent of context, even for a first-century Pharisee this statement has something nonsensical over it, something ungraspable. In order to make sense out of this, Nicodemus replies, “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”.
This question from the Pharisee, regarding the possibility of a second birth is, as we shall see, something Deleuze also grapples with. His work Coldness and Cruelty is a literary study and psychoanalytical reading of the Austrian writer and journalist Leopold Sacher-Masoch (1836-1877). Masochs name, forever linked to the term Masochism, the M in BDSM. Coldness and Cruelty is an attempt to overcome a common misconception regarding the relationship between Sadism and Masochism. That Masochism is a simple inversion of Sadism, instead what is argued for is to analyze masochism as a singular order in itself - the order of Masoch. In this context, Nicodemus question regarding the possibility of entering the womb a second time might seem arbitrary, but according to Deleuze, The final objective of Masoch's work expresses itself in the myth that embraces both Cain and Christ. Deleuze points to the masochistic strife in itself, as a means to an autonomous and parthenogenetic rebirth. The parthenogenetic, being the biological term for asexual reproduction, stands for a conception of the new man inside the symbolic order of the self. What is pointed to in this text is how Deleuze finds in Masochism an alternative, hermetic, concept of the second birth.
The most famous work by Masoch is Venus in furs. An erotic novel, yet without falling into the category of pornography, rather being what Deleuze calls, a pornological text. Masoch unveils an hidden order, making him the founder of the specific erotic discourse - Masochism. The main character in Venus in furs, Severin, is the dramatic hub used by Masoch in order to describe the masochistic as such. Severin lives in an enigmatic relation to the concept Woman and the image of the Mother. Rejecting both his biological fathers decrees and his biological mothers tenderness, he instead indulges in veneration of Venus, the symbol and representation for the ultimate feminine principle. This revolt against the symbolic order, the rejection of the biological mother and father, leads Severin on a quest to write a new story, using his own body and soul. And, when in the novel, by matter of accident a woman named Wanda finds a picture of Venus and a poem in a book borrowed from Severin, a relationship starts to form. Wanda, a self-proclaimed pagan, living in a what she calls a christian world falling into decay, identifying more with the Grecian woman then the contemporary ideal. This identification leads to Severins transference of his veneration of Venus onto Wanda, and a master-slave relationship starts to develop, including physical punishment and mental punishment, culminating in signing a contract in which total obedience (even changing his name) is demanded. Always in the name of love on both parts. However, here is not the place to go into a more detailed exposition of the novel. The above will have to suffice for our continued reading of Deleuze.
As stated above, Deleuze argues for a unique formal logic of Masochism, what he calls the order of Masoch. In short, the formal logic of Masochism is about overcoming the father by transferring the function of the father - the punishment - onto the mother. Thereby creating an androgynous, double-sexed “paternal” figure. The mother’s love is expressed by the punishment of the father. The image of the mother is not a univocal image but needs to be separated into three in order for this to work. The first mother is the biological mother, the primitive, uterine, hetaeric mother. The second mother is the oedipal mother the image of the beloved, who becomes linked with the sadistic father as a victim or an accomplice. The third mother is the oral mother. The order of masoch is a rejection of the first, and the second mother, Deleuze sees beyond all sensation or feeling, a third aspect, the triumph of the oral mother and the abolition of the father‘s likeness. The Masochistic act conveys this Masochistic dramaturgy. The Masochist uses his body and soul to act out a story, demanding the woman-as-master to incorporate, and re-enact, the oral mother as master, thereby creating a new symbolic order, denying any affinity of the self to either the biological or symbolical father. The Masochistic act expiates the genital sexuality inherited from the father, and obedience to the oral mother gives the female master the father-as-law function.
But this break with the symbolic order is a dangerous enterprise. Always running the risk of being exposed, always fearful of the aggressive return of the father. To safeguard against the fathers return, the Masochist needs a defense mechanism. Something that can safeguard his world of fantasy and symbols. Thereby preventing both real and hallucinatory return of the father. The procedure constantly used in Masochism is the contract. By the juridical contract, a disclaimer is written into the symbolic order, by this means the Masochist tries to exorcise the danger of the father and to ensure that the temporal order of reality and experience will be in conformity with the symbolic order, in which the father has been abolished for all time.
This abolition of the father and triumph of the oral mother leads to the consequent birth of the new man. Here Deleuze chooses to use a religious symbology, even going as far as calling the masochistic act the real apostasy. Apostasy, as in breaking with the religious order, because in the order of masoch becoming a man is to be reborn from the woman alone. Being born without the father means placing oneself outside the symbolic and religious order. To undergo the second birth means rejecting the pressure of the father on the self, and is therefore also a form of self-castration. The self-castration ceases to be an obstacle and instead becomes a precondition of its success since it is equated with a second, autonomous and parthenogenetic rebirth. The apostasy alluded to earlier is however not a mere negation of Christianity, it is rather a different interpretation of the crucifixion. The abolition of the father in the Masochistic act is mirrored in the crucifixion event. Christ is not the son of God, but the new Man; his likeness to the father is abolished, he is "Man on the Cross, who knows no sexual love, no property, no fatherland, no cause, no work... " The Masochistic drama is a self-crucifixion, a strife ultimately to become as castrated as Christ on the cross. Or, as Hegel, quoted by Zizek, puts it, what dies on the cross is not the son but the father himself. Thereby meaning the symbolic father, the paternal image, in the son. This Hegelian line of thought is picked up by Deleuze who affirms that it is not the son who dies so much as God the Father, that is the likeness of the father in the son. This death-of-god theology sees the death of the father as the prerequisite for the new birth. A second birth. The father must die in the self in order for the new man to be born. According to Masoch the Virgin Mary who by putting him on the cross, carries on the aim of the mother-goddess, the great oral mother. It is she who ensures the parthenogenetic second birth of the son in his resurrection. This is the Masochistic Mariology.
However, since the initial question was a quote from the Gospel of John, let us end this text where we started. The gospel of John has a story, absent in the synoptics, depicting the moment before Christ's final breath. Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother and her sister, as well as Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” So from that hour, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-28). Is there something going on here that Masoch and Deleuze do not take into account? Why did Jesus before his death, say to his mother, Woman here is your son?. In a symbolical sense transferring his own mother to the disciple. Did not a new symbolic order at that moment become instated? Before the death of the son (and the symbolic father), the mother where already symbolically transferred. The son hands over his mother, the disciple thereby receiving a new mother, a form of second birth on behalf of the disciple. The disciple is therefore in a relationship to Jesus by sharing the same mother. The son's death then becomes the triumph of both the father and the mother, symbolically paving the way for the disciple's rebirth in the son.
The order of masoch is about the parthenogenetic birth, the birth of the self from the self. But Jesus answered the question from Nicodemos saying “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh is born of flesh, but spirit is born of the Spirit. Do not be amazed that I said, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Jesus does not point to the parthenogenetic new birth, that somehow the self can push oneself over a threshold by the means of different practices. Instead the Johannine rebirth means to open oneself to the outside, to the water and to the wind. Thereby opening for the possibility of being swept over a threshold previously ungraspable. This rebirth comes from above not from below. You are from below; I am from above. The masochist can only follow a line to a its limit, but to break over the threshold a contract is needed. The masochistic parthenogenetic rebirth does not involve the exterior. Instead, from within, using the contract, it tries to push the self over a threshold. However, Venus in furs ends with Wanda breaking the contract, switching position with a man, thereby letting the father return. The contract could not save, only give the appearance of a rebirth. The Johannine rebirth on the other hand means to submit to the external, to the water and to the wind, receiving the mother given by Christ. Thereby the Johannine rebirth by water and wind is truly a rebirth. An entering into a new assemblage, becoming a new creation.