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Sunday, January 02, 2011

Extracts from The Sadeian Woman (4)

"Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim." - George Santayana


"The victim is always morally superior to the master; that is the victim’s ambivalent triumph. That is why there have been so few notoriously wicked women in comparison to the number of notoriously wicked men; our victim status ensures that we rarely have the opportunity. Virtue is thrust upon us. If that is nothing, in itself, to be proud of, at least it is nothing of which to be ashamed."

"Mae West’s sexuality, the most overt in the history of the cinema, could only be tolerated on the screen because she did not arrive in Hollywood until she had reached the age associated with menopause. This allowed her some of the anarchic freedom of the female impersonator, pantomime dame, who is licensed to make sexual innuendos because his masctilinity renders them a form of male aggression upon the women he personates.

Mae West's joke upon her audience was, however, a superior kind of double bluff. She was in reality a sexually free woman, economically independent, who wrote her own starring vehicles in her early days in the theatre and subsquently exercised an iron hand on her own Hollywood career... Age did not wither her but only increased her self-confidence until she could actually pretend to be a female impersonator, aided, not desexualised, by the maturity which frees women of the fecundity which is the most troubling aspect of their sexuality...

Garbo and Dietrich... often appeared in drag, which is often reassuring to men, since a woman who pretends to be a man has also cancelled out her reproductive system, like the post-menopausal woman, and may also freely function as a safety valve for homo-erotic fantasy."

"Mailer approvingly quotes Diana Trilling:

None but Marilyn Monroe could suggest such a purity of sexual delight. The boldness with which she could parade herself and yet never be gross, her sexual flamboyance and bravado which yet breathed an air of mystery and reticence, her voice which carried such ripe overtones of erotic excitement and yet was the voice of a tiny child - these complications were integral to her gift. And they described a young woman trapped in some never-never land of unawareness.

... Marilyn’s lonely death by barbiturates, nude, in bed, a death adored and longed for by all necrophiles, is the contemporary death-by-lightning of the sweet, dumb blonde, the blue-eyed lamb with the golden fleece led to slaughter on the altar of the world. You can even see real scar-tissue (from a gall-bladder opetation; the female interior bearing the marks of the intimate, cruel excavation of the scalpel) in the nude pictures Bert Stern took of her the summer before her death. Since a child, she had been steeped in the doctrines of Christian Science...

Monroe was not born but became a blonde; blondeness is a state of ambivalent grace, to which anyone who wants it badly enough may aspire... Fatherless already through illegitimacy, she, heart-struck by the poignancy of her situation, invented for herself a true orphan’s biography of hardship, a childhood spent in orphanages where she scrubbed floors, was beaten, accused of theft, bedded down in windowless cupboards and, inevitably, raped.

These misfortunes add the irresistible dew of suffering to ripeness. ‘I see your suffering,’ says the hero of Arthur Miller’s play, After the Fall, to a woman with a scandalous resemblance to Monroe. A visible capacity for suffering evokes further suffering. She is a past master at inspiring rage and at deflecting it from herself on to her entire sex; is she not a sex symbol, and hence the symbolic personification of her entire sex? After Some Like It Hot was finished, the director, Billy Wilder, told an interviewer that it had been many weeks before he ‘could look at my wife without wanting to hit her because she is a woman’...

The blonde’s physical fragility is, of course, only apparent. She must have a robust constitution to survive the arrows life deals her. Her fragility is almost the conscious disguise of masochism and masochism necessitates an infinite resilience. Nevertheless, the victim proclaims her vulnerability in every gesture, every word, every act; defining herself in the third person...

Monroe, in her major movies, from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to The Misfits, is a Good Bad Girl. The theory of the sentimental image of the Good Bad Girl is that she has all the appearance of a tart and an air of continuous availability but, when the chips are down, she would never stoop to sell herself. Less reprehensibly, indeed, almost commendably - and for a moment we are allowed to admire her misguided generosity - she gives it away for free. But her affairs always end badly, her generosity is always abused, she does not realise her flesh is sacred because it is as good as money. In short, she is the most risible and pathetic figure, the unsuccessful prostitute, living proof that crime does not pay and the wages of sin will be too small to pay the rent. Her poor show as a prostitute, as a business woman, is proof in itself that her heart is made of gold..

It is part of Saint Justine’s baleful bequest that blonde Bad Good Girls always come to bad ends; brunettes and even redheads... have acquired the toughness of Juliette and put their bodies to work actively for them...

The mythic role of the Good Bad Girl is, however, directly at variance with the real facts of her life, as all mythic roles are apt to be. She pretends to be an unsuccessful prostitute but, in fact, she is a very successful prostitute indeed and, what is more, one who does not have to deliver the goods. She sells, not the reality of flesh, but its image and so she makes her living, a successful but imaginary prostitute... She sells a perpetually unfulfilled promise of which the unfulfillment is a consolation rather than a regret. The reality of her could never live up to her publicity. So she retains her theoretical virginity, even if she is raped by a thousand eyes twice nightly."

--- The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History / Angela Carter
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