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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...

Thursday, April 22, 2010


"In the structuralist paradigm as developed by Lévi-Strauss in Les structures élémentaires de la parenté--whose limitations are dissected by Bataille in one of the sharpest chapters of his book [Erotism]--"incest" is simply the violation of marriage rules. Implicit in this binarism is that what is not a violation is legitimate and therefore unproblematic. Durkheim’s ambiguous and never fully analyzed notion of the sacred is reduced to precisely what Durkheim insisted it could not be reduced to: the opposition between "right" and "wrong" sexual relations. But, as Bataille makes clear, sexual relations are always transgressive. Marriage as a rite of passage is not simply a permitted move in a game; it is the conferral of a right of transgression..."-- Eric Gans, Originary Thoughts on Sexuality, the online journal of ANTHROPOETICS.

If even "right" sexual relations are a transgression, as Bataille clearly *does* argue in his 1957 book EROTISM, then what is being transgressed against? Clearly, although there have many marriages in which one or both of the spouses were coerced into marital bliss, many were not so coerced and so did not transgress against either the will of the spouses or the will of the community.

I may be taking Bataille into something more like the territory of object relations with my own answer, but it seems evident to me that the only constant transgression is that of one body interacting with at least one other body so as to violate the integrity of both, as Bataille says here:

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

In this essay, I essentially agreed with this statement insofar as both sex and violence could both be broadly defined as transgressions of somatic boundaries. However, I also said Bataille was guilty of over-identifying the two modes of human action, and suggested that the Hegel-influenced theories of Francis Fukuyama could be used as a corrective. Bataille was strongly influenced by Hegel but I don't think he ever made any attempt to crossbreed his theories of transgression with Hegelian recognition. Such a cross-pollination might prove an interesting project but I won't pursue it here.

Now, while I critiqued Bataille for over-identifying sex with violence, I've also said that the two do intersect in literary narrative in a variety of ways. Thus I
don't have to draw a hypothetical dividing line between the phenomena as I did with the literary associations of juvenility and of adulthood. The domains of literary sex and violence are better seen as two intersecting circles, where some parts overlap and others do not. At the same time, while it may be a murky matter to sort out where the two modes disassociate themselves in the psyches of real people, in literature it's a good deal easier. In literature, when sexuality and violence do intersect, one tends to dominate over the other in a pure narrative sense. Thus, if one pairs these two classes of dominance with those in which there's no meaningful intersection at all, one gets four classifications of the two modes:


Each of the illustrations featured in the previous post illustrates one of these classes. In showing distinctions between these categories, I'll be relying on both narrative and significant values (see this essay for definitions) to support my distinctions. Hopefully, though all such interpretations are somewhat subjective, by looking at both I can avoid the sloppy one-on-one equivalences asserted by Freud-influenced elitists, who come up with howlers like, "Duh--hh, da supahhero's big muskles I think looks like some sorta toigid pinnis, so dat proves supahhero's is gayboys!"

First up is an example of erotic violence: the cover of DETECTIVE COMICS #203, in which the villainous Catwoman has somehow trapped Batman and Robin into performing in a cage alongside a handful of big cats. Plainly both this comics-cover and the story it advertises-- originally marketed to juvenile readers-- is meant to emphasize the heroes' peril in this sticky situation, both from the big cats and from Catwoman's whip. It would certainly be possible to frame an alternate version of the cover in which there was only a violent threat: indeed, the cover of issue #9 of DC's 1970 JOKER title shows the Joker cracking a whip at Catwoman in a similar circus-y situation, but because the Joker isn't dominantly seen as a sexual icon, I'd argue that JOKER #9 is non-erotic violence (though not interesting enough to be my chosen example for same). But because the established mythology at the time of this 1954 comic continually emphasized a romantic tension between Batman and Catwoman-- that's the narrative value-- the scene (which isn't in the story) takes on a significant value of "battle of the sexes," which is certainly one motif within the story proper (a reformed Catwoman returns to crime because she wants to challenge Batman again). We cannot know if the adult raconteurs who crafted the story (Edmond Hamilton and a "Bob Kane" ghost) were aware of the S&M associations of the whip, particularly when it's wielded by one gender against the other, but if they did they may've assumed that the scene would "tease" readers into buying the comic even though, being 1954 juveniles, they might not know consciously why the scene seemed appealing. All of the violence in the cover and story is of course "clean" violence, but some "dirty" symbolism does find its way in.

In earlier posts I've assailed Dirk Deppey's attack on this comic for its supposed decadence, so I won't repeat my earlier arguments here. I've reread SUPERGIRL #14 (2007) a couple of times and still find that the narrative by Joe Kelly and Ian Churchill is purely about two super-chicks fighting each other, with Batgirl trying not to fuck Supergirl but to cut her bloody head off. Patently the argument that reads this scene sexually is one that ignores the narrative values of the story, and how they are expressed, in order to force the imagery into a Freudian lockbox that doesn't reflect what happens in the story. Perhaps if Batgirl were stabbing Supergirl with one sword, a Freudian could rejoice at seeing yet another confirmation of the female gender's secret desire for a phallus. But Batgirl's using two swords to cut off Supergirl's head doesn't make much sense as a displaced sex act. If Supergirl was a male, one might buy into the Freudianism "head=phallus" motif, but if the subject of the beheading doesn't even have a phallus, then maybe, just maybe, her head is just a head, and the only reason Batgirl has her legs locked around Supergirl's waist is to set her up for being sliced up by the magic crystals growing from Supergirl's back. Thus the significant value to be derived from the narrative has more to do with setting up Supergirl's X-MEN-style anxiety over her body's freakishness than with suggesting girl-on-girl sex.

SWAMP THING #34's story "Rites of Spring" (Moore/Bissette/Totelbein) features about the most non-violent sexual encounter one can imagine, since the sex act is abstracted into an interweaving of minds rather than bodies. The narrative concept is that because Swamp Thing doesn't have a penis, he uses one of the hallucinogenic fruits growing on his vegetable body to give his human love Abby an ecstatic ride into his enhanced consciousness. Thus the mind-sex scenes in ST #34 bear kinship with those Hollywood sex-scenes which depict the literal sex-act as a flurry of abstract movements, with lots of touching but no hint of one body actually entering another body. I imagine that a simplistic Freudian would read the significant value of this story as an instance of "castration anxiety." But since the sex-scene takes place in a story that hypothesizes that all living things possess energy-fields to which Swamp Thing and Abby are both attuned, it's more accurate to the narrative to see "Rites of Spring" as a celebration of Jungian energy/libido in all things. In addition, to the extent that Swampy does "put" his consciousness "into" Abby, he doesn't function as a castrated male in narrative or significant valuations.

Finally, from Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN, we get an encounter of superheroes in which the "fighting" really is all about sex, as Superman and Wonder Woman have themselves a super-shag that shatters icebergs, knocks down airplanes, etc. Previous to this encounter Frank Miller seems to take great pleasure in overturning Wonder Woman's "porcelain saint" image, portraying her as a hard-bitten man-hater who continually busts Superman's balls (figuratively) because she realy, really wants them inside her. Whether Miller subscribes to the notion of female castration anxiety I don't know, though I wouldn't be surprised given some other Freudianisms in his past works. It's a little harder to talk about narrative or significant values in TDKSA because it's something of a jumble of Scenes Frank Miller Thought Would Be Really Cool. Still, all the violence-in-real-sex that we see elided in the SWAMP THING scene and its congeners comes roaring back with a vengeance here. Of course even rough sex is still sex first and violence second, and the super-shag does result in a super-kid who may or may not have a certain Oedipal relationship with her super-dad. Notably, her name is the same as Superman's mother, while Batman's female sidekick, "Catgirl," dons a costume plainly (to the reader) modeled on that of Catwoman, Batman's old flame.

However, that particular extrapolation of significant values leads me into a deeper delving than I can cover here. Possibly an essay on the aforementioned critique Bataille made of Freud's incest complex will allow for more attention to this type of transgression.

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