Very interesting discussion going on in the comments for my last post on Amanda Knox & Joyce Carol Oates on the treatment of rape, about rape and how it's tied to sexuality. At first I deferred the idea that rape was connected to sex, or even sexuality, it was the Susan Brownmiller feminist in me, whose "Against Our Will" I teach in my women's studies classes. But this was of course denying what I really think, in the fear of seeming too anti-feminist. I felt I was being called a bad feminist, which maybe I am (maybe I am? Andrea Dworkin would take away my membership and give an extra one to Joyce Carol Oates.)
Because in reality I'm quite interested in rape as it's portrayed in our culture, how rape has been eroticized in literature. Rape as derived from the Greek raptus, "to seize," a crime of property, Zeus was carried away, he was turned into animals. Rape derived from "rapture." Yet I tell my students in no-nonsense tones. Rape=bad. When a woman says no, it means no. Rape as a form of terrorism and control. Which of course I mean. And I believe. I need to separate here my interest in narratives from my interest in the event. The event of murdering=bad. I am against murder and cruelty. I in fact don't eat any animals or animal products. But I read Sade and Bataille. I am also against fathers molesting their daughters. And I read Artaud's Les Cencis (I read so much of literature, what is so much of the canon but fathers fucking their daughters?)
However. I am reading Kristeva's essay on the abject, which in my mind I'm tying to sexuality, as well as Mary Douglas' anthropological text Purity and Danger, and I'm realizing - I'm interested in the impure. Poetic language is the language of the impure, the transgressive. The language of incest, Kristeva writes. I am interested in writing literature - and reading literature - that transgresses these boundaries. I am not a pure Second Wave feminist. I know what Susan Brownmiller writes about rape. She writes that Little Red Riding Hood is a rape parable (this I too believe, although I would alter that, and say that Little Red Riding Hood is a sex parable, as is Sleeping Beauty, many of the rest). I write about this in an upcoming essay for Make magazine, entitled "Slapping Clark Gable," examining female masochism and my erotic attachment to the rape, or ravishment scene (two sides of the same coin as portrayed on film) in Gone with the Wind as well as in Streetcar Named Desire (the essay is basically about Vivien Leigh):
And does Blanche DuBois really want Stanley, her ape? The rape scene: Stanley wants to debase the Queen of England.
Perhaps Little Red Riding Hood craves the wolf.
Susan Brownmiller points out that Little Red Riding Hood is a rape parable. That my desire to have men with large hands and brute force - the Stanley Kowalskis, the Rhett Butlers - is part of a victimization mentality I've been indoctrinated into since childhood.
I'm not denying this last part. That the erotics of female masochism has something to do with representations of sexuality in romance novels, bodice-rippers, film (and interesting too how bodice-rippers' sales soared around the same time as the Second Wave, anyone know anything to read about this?). That the erotics of female masochism also has to do with gender indoctrination of passivity. But in my writing I'm interested in picking this apart, of dismantling this. What if Little Red Riding Hood wants the wolf? This I write to as well in O Fallen Angel: "Maggie loves the wolf, yes, Maggie loves the wolf/The hungry boys with their wolfy eyes and wolfy teeth that leave a trail of inconvenient hickeys." (This is from memory, dont' know if it's right). My Maggie is tainted, broken, traumatized, but she desires, she wants so desperately. To me the most liberating aspect of Freud is that he gives us permission to desire what we desire. Even if it's taboo, we want what we want.
So I'm interested in exploring I guess postfeminist libertinism, the problematics and contradictions of it. As opposed to seeing men as just victimizers, and women as victims, I am interested in women who are erotically attached to the idea of being victims, how this deals with gender, how this is also embedded in our culture All these narratives and fantasies of female masochism and violence. So impure and conflicted. And not all sex is intimate. Like that the sexy-hot ravishment scene in Gone with the Wind is actually modeled after Margeret Mitchell's memories of domestic violence, sublimated, eroticized, as we can do with violence. Our erotic fantasies can often be a way of dealing with our experiences of trauma, our family romances. Doesn't Sylvia crave the men in black and the Meinkampf look, and the love of the rack and the screw, too? Sarah Kane writing Cleansed after Roland Barthes' line: Being in love is like being in Auschwitz. The tortured love of Erika in Jelinek's Piano Teacher, of Anna, both masochists. Erika too the upright feminist who at home wants to be deeply humiliated, to be forced into the passive, silent position. And how love can be found through the S/M relationship, even if it's incestuous love, violent love, perverse love (which is what Under the Shadow of My Roof is About). Even if there's no safe word. Belle de Jour. The Night Porter. Doesn't Scarlett O'Hara with her cat eyes the morning after fall madly in love with her rapist? I think of Toni Morrison at the end of The Bluest Eye, writing that Cholly, the father-rapist, really did love Pecola, the daughter he impregnates so brutally. But that there are all different types of love. Hateful people love hatefully, violent people love violently, etc. That has always really stuck with me. And love, love can be violent, can be cruel, can be dehumanizing, can be terrible. And we are all tainted and broken and deeply fucked up. We are products of a culture that is tainted and broken and deeply fucked up.
I am not saying from a feminist perspective these ideas aren't problematic, but my notion of feminism is not pure. I am a messy feminist. And I think that's where I have the biggest issues with Joyce Carol Oates. She is a pure feminist, a 70s feminist, she doesn't explore or critique or dismantle a woman's agency or her role in her own sexuality.