Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Ultrafeminine Verisimilitude" or "chicks ain't perfect"

“A bristling pubic growth rose to form a kind of coat of arms above the circular proscenium it contained at wither side but, although the hairs had been inserted one by one to achieve the maximal degree of verisimilitude, the overall effect was one of stunning artifice. The dark red and purple crenellations surrounding the vagina acted as a frame for a perfectly round hole through which the viewer glimpsed the moist, luxuriant landscape of the interior” (Carter 44).
From a feminist perspective, Exhibit One: I HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE, which Desiderio finds in the old blind man’s exhibits, presents an intricate framework of concepts. The luxuriant landscape mentioned above is expounded upon and glorified, but it is later revealed to be the grounds of Dr. Hoffman’s castle, within which desire is farmed to support actions Desiderio deems to be wrong. And with words like verisimilitude (a mere semblance of truth) and artifice (a trick or contrivance), the reader senses that the idealistic images of juicy fruit and luxuriant landscape are frauds. The dream of idealized sexual womanhood, Carter suggests, is an empty dream to which we often aspire. Battlements and castle-like structures are also references repeatedly to suggest the aggression and fervor men go through to achieve the fraudulent dream. Overall it is a craftily constructed perversion of idealized feminism.

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

1 comment:

  1. Fourty-four pages into the text, and we already have what (to me) is one of the novel's most significant passages. First, I think it is telling that Carter chooses to make this exhibit the first one. Indeed, life begins in the female womb, and so too (Carter seems to suggest) does desire. The passage celebrates the female form: "Here endlessly receded before one's eyes a miniature but irresistible vista of semi-tropical forest where amazing fruits hung on the trees, while from the dappled and variegated chalices of enormous flowers the size of millstones, perfumes of such extraordinary potency that they had become visible to the eye exuded as soft, purple dew" (44). Thus, Carter depicts the vagina as a fertile, rich, life-giving orifice complete with wild life and fruit. The exhibit title is a universal one: all human's are born here. But while the vaginal canal is depicted as bright and fertile, the region behind the "central valley" holds "the misty battlements of a castle" (44). This depiction represents a complete dichotomy to the first portion of the "exhibit." The castle is "dim," "sinister," and "its granite viscera housed as many torture chambers as the Chateau of Silling" (44-45). Thus, I read this passage of the embodiment of the femme fatale and/or vagina dentata. More significant however is the complete subversion of the idea of the female anatomy as the birthplace of life. Carter essentially replaces the cervix with a castle. And she depicts it militaristically. What is protected inside the castle? And why are there "battlements" around it? We could read this exhibit as the "craftily constructed perversion of idealized feminism" as Gabe asserts. But we could also read is as the essential acceptance of a feminism that removes women from the idealized role of mere child-bearer. Perhaps by removing the significance of the actual reproductive portions of the anatomy and replacing them with a defensive "castle," Carter attempts to signify the woman's sexual organs as a liberating center of pleasure rather than a reproductive "luxurious landscape" (44).