Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Liberal Arts (M.L.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Humanities and Cultural Studies

Major Professor

Scott Ferguson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Amy Rust, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Maria Cizmic, Ph.D.


psychoanalysis, masochism, courtly love, feminist film theory, French cinema


In this project, I examine the relationship between female masochism, performance, and spectatorship in Michael Haneke’s film La Pianiste (2001). The film stages a relationship to sexuality that structures the subject’s excruciating negotiations with the other as always mediated by the law, the letter, or the body as instrument, which is allegorized by the protagonist’s occupation as a piano teacher. In my analysis, I identify the ways in which the film paradoxically offers a critique of mediation’s effect on the feminine position while encouraging viewers to confront the possibility that desire is only possible through these mediations. Contributing to feminist theory and psychoanalytic film theory, I foreground the way in which the film’s complex portrayal of female masochism produces indeterminacy via masochistic spectatorship. Ultimately, I argue that the unmarked position of feminine masochism, which is historically, psychoanalytically, and literarily reserved for male subjects, challenges the spectator to take enjoyment into account when approaching mediations of violence and sexuality.