Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A World of Cutlures

"My nostirls were full of mingled stench of horses, of the smoke from their pine wood torches, of the perfumed oil with which the women dressed their hair, of blood, of semen and of pain; the very air thickened and grew red. And though Albertina was the object of rape, the males clearly did not know it was a rape. They showed neither enthusiasm nor gratification. It was some form of ritual..." (180)

Carter, Angela. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. Penguin Books: New York, 1972.

When I first read this passage I was shocked. First at the picture painted of Albertina being raped by several men and second the fact that the "centaur" man didn't realize what they were doing nor did they think it was wrong. Within the "centaur" society it seems to be normal to rape women, but in the society we live in we think rape is something horrible. It is normal in their society, because they have made it normal. By making it a ritual or tradition makes it normal within their eyes. This ultimately represents the differences between culures around the world. Every culture has its own beliefs, traditions, languages, and many other things we might find offensive or wrong. That's why it would be impossible to have a universal 'moral code' through the world. Everyone sees things differently.


  1. Upon reading this passage in the novel, I experienced the same shocking image in my head. It was an image that we find hard to picture in the society that we live in today, just as you say. But, I would argue that Carter is trying to deliver another message with this passage. The way she presents the the people committing the rape as half animal and half man or as centaurs was in fact the most intriguing thing to me. It seems she is commenting on the animalistic characteristics of man. She takes such an emotion filled act as sex and dumbs it down to a mere act that MUST be done to carry out a ritual. This is Carter commenting on man's internal desire for sex, and woman's inability to do anything about it because our society places them in the submissive role. Later on, we see the women centaurs, who are also half man half animal, caressing Desideiro in a very sensual and non forceful way. Which is Carter again commenting on the societal norm for women to be soft and caring, and submissive to men.

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  3. I might argue that Carter is showing the folly of supposing the subjectivity of morality. In the context of the whole story, we are shown that Desiderio chooses the side of Reason in the end. Though rape may be tolerated within the community and be morally acceptable within their religious tradition, its ethically wrong to harm another human being without provocation. Ethics allow one to examine situations rationally outside the context of religion, and allow humans to escape religious bigotry and intolerance. The moment is clearly traumatic--and I'm not sure that I can agree that rape can be justified in any culture--no matter if its culturally acceptable. It's important to note that racism was at one point culturally acceptable--though clearly wrong. Rape is abuse, both physical and psychological, and lowers the self-esteem of the victim.

    If anything, this scene seems to be a commentary on sex and rape fantasies--deviant sexual experience rather than the justification of an extremely harmful and traumatizing event. Albertina desired the sexual experience of rape, subconsciously, but I doubt she ever would have chosen rationally to embrace the experience. Carter herself is an avowed Freudian, and I think her idea of the subconscious underlies a large portion of her writing.

  4. In keeping with the cultural analysis that most of the above people have worked with, I would like to note the centaurs' perception of their own humanness. Unlike us, they hold their horseness as holy and civilized, while they perceive their humanness as lowly and disgraceful. They rape Albertina because they think she is unhorse (similar to being unhuman in our way of thinking). This culture, therefore promotes a rigid class structure in which the lowest members are treated terribly, with this treatment being given religious support. I believe that Carter is not supportive of moral ambiguity. Instead, she asks us if it can ever be justified to torture and violate others.