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In essays on the subject of centricity, I've most often used the image of a geometrical circle, which, as I explained here,  owes someth...

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I wrote in THYMOS part 3 that Bataille's vision of the "sensuous frenzy" underlying both sex and violence in real life is useful for analyzing the way both are presented in literature, but that Bataille tended to over-identify the two modes of human action. I propose here to show specific theoretical ways in which they differ, referencing the post-Hegelian ideas of Frank Fukuyama.

His book THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN (1992) was exclusively about sociohistorical theory, with little if any reference to literary matters. Nevertheless, I find Fukuyama's reworking of ideas from both Hegel and one of his interpreters Alexandre Kojeve to have admirable application to literary studies.

As mentioned before, Fukuyama's re-defines Plato's *thymos* as a spectrum of esteem ranging from how an individual seeks his own esteem from others to the way whole societies seek such validation. He then provides a dualistic schema as to how differing versions of thymotic action manifest in society. One version is "megalothymia," whose prefix means "great or exaggerated," and the other is "isothymia," with a prefix meaning "equal:"

"Megalothymia can be manifest both in the tyrant who invades and and enslaves a neighboring people so that they will recognize his authority, as well as in the concert pianist who wants to be recognized as the foremost interpreter of Beethoven. Its opposite is isothymia, the desire to be recognized as the equal of other people. Megalothymia and isothymia together constitute the two manifstations of the desire for recognition around which the historical transition to modernity can be understood." (The End of History and the Last Man, p. 182).

Before going into the matter of how Fukuyama's thymos-categories apply to sex and violence, I'll cite how one of my earlier essays touched on the common ground between sex and violence, both real and literary:

'Though I agree with Deleuze in his distinctions between sadism and masochism, I think that both Freud and Deleuze are guilty of over-intellectualizing the somatic aspects of these sexual syndromes...I would emphasize more the aspect of bodies clashing against bodies, which IMO is the main reason that either activity summons up associations of sexual excitement."

I believe Bataille was thinking along similar lines when he wrote:

"In essence, the domain of eroticism is the domain of violence, of violation"-- Bataille, EROTISM, p. 16.

There is certainly a somatic sense in which sex resembles violence, which is the principle reason why Freudians in particular have associated the two. But Bataille concentrates too much on the somatic similarity, the arena of an eros that may include the "sensuous frenzy" to destroy an enemy as much as the frenzy to consummate the sex-act.

This is where Fukuyama's formulations about thymos provide a theoretical guide to steer one clear of the rocks of Freudianism.

While there are ways in which sexual partners can attempt to "assault" one another-- ways which include, but are not confined to, rape-- sex is dominantly isothymic, in that sex usually requires some modicum of cooperation. Violence, then, dominantly conforms to Fukuyma's megalothymic mode insofar as it usually involves a struggle of at least two opponents in which one will prove superior to the other, though in rare cases fighters may simply spar with no intent of proving thymotic superiority.

If one is first aware of the very different ways in which human beings seek esteem and validation in real life, it would seem no great step to recognize when a given literary scene primarily connotes nonsexual violence, as is the case with Dirk Deppey's example of superhero decadence. Even if I admit the possibility that a physical struggle between two women is more likely, within American culture, to be infused with fetishistic sexuality than a fight between two men, I continue to object to Deppey's statement that this or any similar scene *must* interpret the dominantly violent tone of the scene as one indicative of some buried abnormal sexual urge on the parts of the creators of the scene or the audience for which the scene is intended.

There are many, many ingenious methods by which creators can suggest sexuality through acts of violence, transforming isothymia into megalothymia, with Norman Bates' shower-stabbing scene remaining at the top of the list. But with the scene in SUPERGIRL #14 I still contend that its "fuckdoll" scene, as Deppey chooses to term it, is megalothymia through and through, and that his mis-identification is merely a transparent attempts to traduce the audience being criticized.

Fukuyama's formulations would be even more useful as a means of deconstructing the "violence-read-as-displaced-sex" readings of Noah Berlatsky that I've critiqued earlier. But in that case Bertlatsky has the advantage, for I just don't have the time to re-analyze everything he's analyzed. My suggestions that it is possible to undertake such a massive corrective project will have to suffice for the present.

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