29 Nov 2019

The bloody chamber by Angela carter:

The bloody chamber is a book of short stories. Today our reading group met in Forres and we had a really stimulating discussion. The short stories are justly famous in the literary world for their take on feminism and for how they usurp the usual patriarchal fairytale genre.

Others have used psychoanalytic ideas to explore the meaning in the stories – including Kristeva’s use of Lacan’s notion of abjection Here, and the idea of symbolic castration Here.

And, the story has even inspired kitsch punk rock:

Here I also use Lacan’s ideas on the formation of a never fully self-aware human subjectivity, a process that takes place through symbolic castration. This is a complex idea.

The formation of human subjectivity through symbolic castration:

Briefly put: a human only becomes a subject, or is able to achieve a sense of self (that is always inadequate and only ever partial), by repressing his/her desire for the mother, and turning to the father’s authority, in the form of a social symbolic language that determines moral values for what is good or bad. This requires a subjection to the Law of the Father, which in order to maximise the sense of identity achieved, becomes not just a desire for the father’s authority but an affirmation of the father’s power over the subject by turning that desire for desire by the father into a felt demand for subservience to the Father, or in social terms, subservience to the (here, patriarchal) cultural laws of society. This is a process known as symbolic castration.

I focus on one story: The Lady of the House of Love. Using Lacan – I see here a story of the development of subjectivity in a patriarchal society, where the female vampire represents an aspect of the potential psyche-to-be, that is pre-subjective, and unruly, perverse, troubled, destitute and where the other aspect is the potential aspect of psyche required (with the potential) to provide the (always failing) solution – the aspect that will accept the offer of, or demand of sex, the demand to be effectively castrated and to hand over the reigns of power to the social – the Law of the Father, and will accept Lacan’s version of castration, to become a human subject – here, portrayed by the young man, ‘donning the armour’ of his identity as a soldier, that goes to war to fight and die for his country.

There is a collision here between two time dimensions: the eternal of the vampire (of perpetual dissatisfaction and jouissance – the painful pleasure of sex, consumption of a sex object, here blood, that requires sacrifice – pain, distress and more hunger; and the earthly time of man: the innocence of a child (the soldier), the vampire as the female (so, is this is a feminist take on The Law, where the power is possessed by the female?): at the same time she is one, (perhaps feminine?) aspect of human sexuality; the troubled, experiencing an insatiable hunger, and desiring the desire of the other at the same time. This pre-subjective ‘lawless’ state, is in a limbo between the union with her own mother, and castration by the father – a limbo which also contains the innocent virginal pre-subjective naive child (the soldier).

The story moves on, and, post- castration the eternal desire for the union with the (m)other has died, or is repressed – the presubjective is dissolved (dissolution after death through ‘wisdom’); and in its place, after ‘the kiss’, a sexual act, or castration, the (patriarchal) man is constructed, left now ‘wise’ – knowing, where before he was unknowing, but only knowing that which is being arranged for him in the earthly social world he lives in, his ordained role as soldier, and his death in war.

This is less a feminist tale, than a tale to illustrate the tragedy of patriarchy, where patriarchy requires the construction of a kind of manhood out of the (sexual) appropriation and destruction of the lawless feminine aspect of the psyche within.

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