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ABSTRACT This essay utilises a theoretical feminist approach to explore the depictions of gender, sex, power and feminism in the fairytales of Angela Carter, arguing that her work promotes a non-evasive ethic that tackles issues of denial and repression. The first chapter tackles the tensions between gender identities and sexuality, arguing that Carter’s work tests the limits of such representational boundaries. The second chapter argues that a greater comprehension of a female subject’s darker sexual aspects can potentially liberate her from patriarchal scripting, that facing the ‘shadow’ is a crucial step towards insight and selfgovernance. The third chapter argues that an awareness of binary systems and the transgression of such polarities constitutes a non-oppositional ‘underworld’ perspective. Overall, the nature of interrogating and potentially breaching intellectual absolutes and limitations will hopefully be of interest in a feminist context. Introduction The writings of Angela Carter can be perceived as having many facets, edges and secret spaces. They have often rightly been figured as paths for tackling the issue of sexuality and the recognition of gender as a performance-based activity. Her work partially attempts to unveil the social constructs of masculinity and femininity, and the sexual currencies and taboos attached to them. Many critics have entered the labyrinthine debate concerning the writings of Angela Carter and the positive or negative influences her work has had on feminist discourse. This essay of three chapters will take a feminist theoretical approach in exploring the fairytales of Angela Carter, with a general focus on The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, comparing and contrasting various feminist explorations of the material. The first chapter will argue that there are similarities and differences between our conceptions of sexuality and gender, and that a radical deconstruction of gender-types and a re-imagining of female heterosexuality is promoted in Carter’s tales. The second chapter will explore the ‘darker’ side of heterosexuality and the power-relations between men and women, arguing that Carter’s tales explore how the female subject might collude with the patriarchal scripting of her sexuality and identity, and that an awareness of how this occurs can be potentially liberating for the female subject. The third chapter will argue that a non-evasive ethic is evident in Carter’s tales, and that her writings consistently tackle taboo subjects of repression and denial, suggesting a non-oppositional ‘underworld’ perspective that favours the transgression of binary systems. Gender and Sex – noticing the tensions Carter’s interest in the complexities of sex and power, coupled with her provocative rhetoric, appears to make many critics uncomfortable. To this essayist it is Carter’s fairytale-themed writings, especially The Bloody Chamber, that seems to attract the most interesting criticisms. Patricia Dunker is suspicious of the fairytale itself and expresses a belief that using such a hetero-sexist paradigm somehow entraps the author. Dunker claims that ‘Carter envisages women’s sensuality simply as a response to male arousal. She has no conception of women’s sexuality as autonomous desire’. Here we might argue that for a heterosexual woman, especially one interested in penetrative sex, might not her sexuality be in some way connected to male arousal, especially if she is considering sleeping with him? This is not to belittle Dunker’s unease at some of the more disturbing elements in The Bloody Chamber, but, as Linden Peach perceptively suggests, the tales are: not only explorations of women’s sexuality but of the ways in which men have sought to control that sexuality, of how both men and women need to reconfigure their sexualities, and of the commodification of women as ‘flesh’. The aspects of Carter’s writing that explore this gender-as-performance scenario have many antecedents. The psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lancan proposed a realm of decentred and fictional human
because the female subject must necessarily use this strategy in an abstract world of ideas. with high living and compliments’. Later we are informed that her face ‘was acquiring. We can see how. Palmer goes on to say that Carter ‘represents woman as puppet. dragging her hair ‘sluttishly across her face’. surfaces and images. instead of beauty. exquisite. but. then. Like Dunker. Irigaray’s work predates Butler’s and concentrates on the masquerades of various feminine identities that are products of masculine scripts and roles. a little. twitched at the sight of myself’. It is this quality. that Patricia Dunker senses in The Bloody Chamber. although I was a woman. Beauty’s time with the Beast makes her strangely aware that she ‘was learning. To elude or subvert this male scripting of the female subject Luce Irigaray proposes a stratagem of resistance that she terms ‘playing with mimesis’. In this way. We can see this blurring of gender identities in many of Carter’s texts. still. the female subject avoids the essentialist trap of trying to access some authentic femininity that might exist beyond this social construction of gender. where a more heroic playing with mimesis comes to the fore and Palmer states that the . including Shadow Dance and The Magic Toyshop. anything that suggests a natural or transcendent gendered-self. Palmer suggests that the women in Carter’s early texts submit to what Irigaray calls ‘the dominant economy of desire’. most dramatically in The Passion of New Eve. Palmer comments in an essay: ‘How can we differentiate a woman who is passively enacting a male-defined image of femininity from one who is subversively ‘playing with mimesis’?’ This tricky question of credibility can be levelled at Angela Carter herself. This unveiling of the socially-constructed fictions of gender is a process that has found much currency in feminist theory and is largely associated with the work of Judith Butler and Luce Irigaray. many women born spend their whole lives in just such imitations’. I was now also passing for a woman. an absurd ‘ideal femininity’. It is a criticism that is often levelled at Carter’s earlier work. She comments broadly: ‘I think the masquerade has to be understood as what women do in order to recuperate some element of desire. The character of Beauty has such an interest in ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’. none of which are ‘real’ or ‘natural’. how to be a spoiled child and that pearly skin of hers was plumping out. It is a lens through which Carter’s work is at least partially illuminated. Robert Clark and Patricia Dunker for its ‘lack’ of overt political resistance. Irigaray’s view of mimesis is not without its problems. In this decentred. I would suggest. This kind of mimesis has been criticised by writers like Palmer.identities. During her sexual ‘relationship’ with the sadistic Zero she notes her own mimesis: ‘I was tense and preoccupied. to participate in man’s desire. because these ideas have helped promote the ascendancy of patriarchy and have impaired general criticalthinking. but at the price of renouncing their own’. begins with Melanie standing in front of a mirror and exploring her teenage sexuality. both masculine and feminine. at the end of her adolescence. one soaked with fairytale imagery. As Paulina Palmer and other critics have argued. possibly the least radical of Carter’s Beauty and the Beast interpretations. expensive cats’. if not a possible acquiescence then at least a disturbing interest in male scripting of female desire. It is the acting out of these roles by the female subject that garners most of Irigaray’s attention. It is a problem that Palmer believes inherent in Carter’s writing up until Nights at the Circus. The latter novel. But in Carter’s work there does seem to be this complex fascination with the patriarchal scripting of female desire that Patricia Dunker alludes to. postmodern novel the transsexual Evelyn/Eve character comments on the strangeness of being surgically transformed into a ‘masturbatory fantasy’ and she tells us: ‘the cock in my head. This is a strategy of employing parody and excess in mimicking patriarchy-defined feminine identities and thus exposing them as artificial and inauthentic. performing scripts assigned to her by a male-supremacist culture’. a resistance to these false truths might promote a genuine empowering of the female subject. In the work of Angela Carter as a ‘problematic’ feminist there can be seen this desire to avoid a hard-line acceptance of idealism or essentialism. a lacquer of the invincible prettiness that characterises certain pampered. and a recognition that a female subject independent of patriarchal scripting exists in the first place. as well as the female characters that populate her fiction. she argues. if the woman is indeed vampirised through this erroneous belief in her natural passivity. Both women were influenced by Lacanian psychoanalytical theories.
My earrings turned back to water and trickled down my shoulders. a mere glamour that she happily shrugs off. but the accoutrements of her fictional femininity reveal themselves to be water. in this sense. all the skins of a life in the world. despite having reservations with Carter’s work. that it deconstructs and reconstructs ideas concerning narratives and human identity. if not deconstructing ‘the’ couple as such. and in The Bloody Chamber as elsewhere there are characters that face their darkest conceptions about what constitutes ‘the other’ and are somehow both masculine and feminine as a result. where the protagonist tends to the Duke who is locked in a painful liminal zone between identities. an equal to the male Beast. He seems both . In The Bloody Chamber the reader gains access to a collection of lenses that are not just rewritten fairytales but are multidimensional stories about fairytales.character of Fevvers ‘engages in an exuberant version of it’. but that is a much-desired physical act and not a constraining and limited social fiction. doesn’t she need his erect phallus to complete her experience? Doesn’t the man need her wet vagina to similarly complete his experience? I only use such language to make a point. Or as the French theorist Julia Kristeva argues in Strangers to Ourselves: By recognising our uncanny strangeness we shall neither suffer from it nor enjoy it from the outside. certainly begins to renegotiate the terms on which they meet through her speculation that a sincere exchange of affection between the sexes is possible. sexual desire and transformation are all keenly explored. If I am a foreigner. we must not forget the physical realities of life that Carter herself was so obviously interested in. we can see the genuine radicality that is suffused in ‘The Tiger’s Bride’. there is an implication in Palmer’s essay that Carter’s earlier work embodies a lack of some kind – that this mimesis is an insubstantial shadow-play and that Carter falls short of her original intentions. The foreigner is within me. hence we are all foreigners. This is an argument that is deeply resonant with ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ as well as the tale of ‘Wolf-Alice’. Sarah Gamble implies this. I shrugged the drops from my beautiful fur. Yes. as it were. then there are no foreigners’. one that is sensible and valid. though it is strange and disquieting. when she argues: It is not until the stories in The Bloody Chamber that Carter. is up for grabs. perhaps due to her gothic fascination with phallocentric ideologies. but the fact of sex is not. However. if a heterosexual woman intends to fuck a man she desires. this mechanical need for male and female genitalia during heterosexual encounters does not mean that there should be a fixed social identity for either women or men. When read against ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’. Despite the importance of such gender deconstructions. women and men often enjoy fucking each other. The mythologies surrounding sex are definitely ripe for reinvention. Not only does the heroine discover her own innate animalism. Masculinity and femininity. Carter explores a host of reciprocal roles that attempt to move beyond scripted notions of gender identity. in which the nature of power-relations. and Carter gleefully celebrates the significance of the meta-gendered or transgendered subject. and left behind a nascent patina of shining hairs. In The Bloody Chamber. Perhaps the reason that Carter so excels at this kind of shadow-play is because she is acutely interested in the nature of story-telling and her works are often tales about stories. ‘Representational limits are what Angela Carter’s fictions consistently test. But as Elisabeth Mahoney suggests. Yet. Although The Bloody Chamber is largely concerned with the seductions and controls of heterosexuality there are many tales in the book that are equally concerned with the performance aspects of both masculinity and femininity. This is perhaps the greatest strength of the book for those that care to see. especially those associated with questions of sexual difference and identity’. As the heroine of ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ explains in Carter’s strangest version of the Beauty and the Beast tale: And each stroke of his tongue ripped off skin after successive skin. To put it somewhat crudely. and presents depictions of a certain ‘conscious artifice’ through which these ideas can be laterally viewed. where Beauty and the Beast stroll through a garden in a drift of petals like a ‘normal’ romantic couple.
a form of magic that does not align itself with the myths of nature or essence. Or we might argue that if we repress Eros it can return as Thanatos – the death instinct. it is akin to what the Greeks called Eros. in the infinite canvas of fiction. then it is the brother of death and not the principle that will save us from it. It can be a sexuality that is decentred and thus potentially liberated. now he lies writhing on his black bed in the room like a Mycenaean tomb. The Bloody Chamber does not offer the advice ‘just lie down and take it’ to the heterosexual female. fanged rose I plucked from between my thighs’. a process that ushers the female subject into the House of Rational Magic that constitutes adult creativity and sexuality. then perhaps Carter is proposing an initiation into a certain internal shamanism. Angela Carter takes naked pleasure in exploring the limits of mimesis. David Punter argues that channelling sexuality into conventional white-washed forms ‘is repressive and. If we figure patriarchy as a social shamanism of an external and limiting kind. through ethical transgressions that recognise the indeterminacy of meaning and identity. As the researcher James Hillman eloquently argues in his perceptive book The Dream and the Underworld: If we follow this notion of Eros. Initiation Rites – facing your demons The Bloody Chamber can be seen as a primarily heterosexual initiation ritual. the fact that there are fractures and contradictions in her writings? It seems Carter herself would have balked at clean-cut easy answers to such questions. It is a subtle. She recognises voices from the past and marginal themes. in . if anywhere. and bleeds. I would suggest that Carter’s writings attempt to liberate sexuality and consciousness. a motif that returns in ‘The Lady of the House of Love’ when the female vampire informs us of ‘the dark. as in ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ or ‘Wolf-Alice’. male and female at this stage: an aborted transformation. with all its polymorphous qualities. is crucial to the persistence of desire and thought’. and rather than confining or prescribing female identity she utilises fairytale tropes in order to shape new and inclusive identities. and the allusive dreamlike quality of her prose. the mingling and oppositions of their voices. that she can then use in her relationship with men and with herself. desire and decentred identity in many of her stories. howls like a wolf with his foot in a trap or a woman in labour. As Elaine Jordan argues in her essay ‘The Dangerous Edge’. the mistress of the iconic poet Charles Baudelaire. in the end. and between the thinkable and the thing thought of. one composed of power-relations masquerading as natural truth. Nor is it conversely aggressive like the fanged rose in ‘The Erl-King’. There would be a closer bond between what goes on in dreams and a love that fulfils itself in darkness. the ‘abyss between desire and its satisfactions. highly dangerous. Female sexuality is not naturally passive. Jeanne attempts to move beyond her prescribed role as mystical muse. an incomplete mystery. Could it be her skill and acuity as a teller of tales that accounts for ‘problematic’ aspects that critics like Clark. I would suggest that Carter is interested in enlivening and recuperating the fairytale genre – and the feminine myth – as much as she attempts to deconstruct and demystify it. This is evident from the sheer pleasure she takes in sensuous descriptions of the gothic. [in] that it is a denial of Eros and that Eros so slighted returns in the form of threat and violence’. Carter discusses the tensions that move between Baudelaire and Duval. This pleasure that she takes is nakedly erotic as well as intellectual. Angela Carter seems deeply interested in possibilities of transformation and indiscreet states of being in The Bloody Chamber.self and other. or perhaps an identity that has its centre. the occasional complicity of her heroines. intelligent tale. Instead it offers the female subject an opportunity to create a synthetic or individualistic identity based on fragments and associations of whatever she deems appropriate. since desire and power often possesses a transgressive quality. Dunker and Palmer have noticed in her work. a gendered ‘vase of darkness’ filled with ‘black light’. In the title-story of the Black Venus collection Carter attempts to flesh out the character of Jeanne Duval.
like a racehorse before a race. and only through this binary can they exist unnoticed. or the possible masculine architect of such ‘feminine’ images. This seems to be a very important though misunderstood key in unlocking Carter’s work and the power it possesses. We can see this vividly expressed in the title story. unveiling the actions of one must necessarily destabilise the actions of the other. then men do it also with a counterpart scripting of male desire – in these instances both sexes are flirting with a polarised phallocentric mythology. you’re nothing but the furious invention of my virgin nights. one that excites a dark interconnection of signs and motifs within her own psyche. One must also comprehend that such a melancholy femininity cannot exist without its demonic counterpart. even when such an agency might appear on the surface latent or collusive with the patriarchy it attempts to subvert.’ . and it cannot sustain itself by evasion and repression’. In The Bloody Chamber the female subject encounters all the alluring and horrid phallocentric myths that constitute patriarchal social shamanism. or sado-masochism. Aidan Day comments on this in his perceptive book Angela Carter – The Rational Glass. and she notes: He in his London tailoring. rather it suggests agency – a desired sophistication in understanding the tropes of those myths. If women sometimes collude with patriarchal scripting of female desire. yet also with a kind of fear. After leading her to his garish mirrored bedroom he strips her naked without any tenderness. for I felt both a strange. In Lucie Armitt’s evocative essay ‘The Fragile frames of The Bloody Chamber’ she references the critics Elaine Jordan and Merja Makinen. as at the opera. If during this process of self-reinvention a female desires to flirt with patriarchal myths this does not mean that she is passive. He argues that a ‘rational and ethical self is central to Carter’s programme in The Bloody Chamber collection. approaching his ‘familiar treat with a weary appetite’. one must understand the horrors and allures of feminine identities created by patriarchal coercion. where genuine is synonymous with self-made and active. refusing to give us clearly defined answers’. To be a genuine female subject. Both are fictions that live primarily within. bare as a lamb chop. Lucie Armitt suggests this when she comments at the end of her essay: ‘Taking a leaf out of her own protagonist’s book. with close attention paid to the interiority of the female subject. Carter attempts to fearlessly explore these themes in The Bloody Chamber. As Marianne informs her barbarian lover Jewel in Carter’s post-apocalyptic novel Heroes and Villains. and says of them. I was aghast to feel myself stirring. ‘You. I would suggest this is the power that Carter sensed in being able to take hold of the narratives that govern women’s lives and their interactions with men.the intangible bodies of psychic images. the very phallic masculinity that appears so powerful and controlling. Since they are internal polarities. During a contentious scene in Carter’s version the young heroine notices her attractions to the Marquis that she has recently wed. She does not evade herself and is perhaps rewarded with insight. And. impersonal arousal at the thought of love and at the same time a repugnance I could not stifle for his white. and the reader is geared with some insight as to why these myths were perhaps so alluring even when they clearly restrained and limited her. ‘They acknowledge the role these tales fulfil as textual explorations of the genuine complexities that confront even the most assertive of heterosexual women under patriarchy’. This non-evasive ethic is something that Carter seems to promote at all times. The next day we were married’. rather than a simply passive response to the Sadeian unpleasantness of the Marquis. Most pornographic of all confrontations. for the first time in my innocent and confined life. Thus there is a downward love. As she informs us earlier in the tale when she is given a ‘cruel necklace’ by the Marquis: ‘And. when I had first seen my flesh in his eyes. Here we might argue that the heroine intuits that her husband is merely a vehicle. and not only an Eros stretching itself towards the horizon of others. heavy flesh She notices her arousal and that it is impersonal. she. I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away. One must understand the allure of passivity. fulfilling some interior mythical dimension. it affords us our sanity. Carter flirts with textual danger on her own untamed terms. in part a reworking of Charles Perrault’s version of the Bluebeard tale. especially men they desire. I would suggest it is fruitful to acknowledge our shadows. […] And I began to shudder.
at the level of storytelling itself. or within the interconnected lenses of the book itself? The logic of the book is not phallic or linear. or to the fiction of the passive feminine? Is it unacceptable to explore this attraction. coded in ways they do not fully understand. Perhaps it is the presence of these themes that so disquiet critics like Dunker. It is the little-girl-in-peril motif. and create new texts that borrow whatever is needed from the old myths to provide elucidation. These images dwell within the psyche. by their sexual fantasies. is a beautiful method that Carter uses to signify the relationship between ideas of the self and the other. The interlocking nature of The Bloody Chamber can help to off-set this entrapment by bringing us face to face with some of the reasons why it occurs and how we might unknowingly collude with our own psychic slavery. as mediated social constructions with purpose. images. like the contents of the coffin. that Angela Carter finds so interestingly abhorrent. whether that purpose is sinisterly conscious or blithely unconscious. a tissue of poetic associations that could be described as a gyroscope of shifting lenses. This does not necessarily mean that Carter is reinscribing female disempowerment or adding to the phallocentric mythology. We must return to old texts and read them with contextual differences. By demystifying the Marquis or the Wolf in fictional terms Carter is thus able to destabilise their power-centre at the source. especially when the manifesto is one of general emancipation. Clark and Palmer. Without this exposure heterosexual women and men might be liable to feel corrupted. by their own will-to-power. Carter must first have them present in some identifiable form. the ‘heterosexual fucking as rape’ implications. It is the same with apparently passive female characters. The interlinked frames in The Bloody Chamber. through fiction? I would suggest that it is not. nurtured or questioned by our imaginations. It is a reflexive non-linear reason that holds the tales together. I feel. It is this arrangement that allows us to see themes deconstructed. and create the monolithic fiction of the masculine as an almost supernaturally-sexualised predator. even if she senses in herself a gothic attraction and interest in such ideas. Lucie Armitt utilises Julia Kristeva’s conceptions of the abject when she suggests that abjection is ‘a particularly useful concept to apply to any metaphoric narrative. Sarah Gamble reiterates Margaret Atwood’s essay ‘Running with Tigers’ when she suggests that The Bloody Chamber is ‘best understood as a kind of fictional companion volume to The Sadeian Woman. for it constitutes an exploration of the same predator/prey equation that preoccupies the de Sade study’. Carter would claim. can the female subject ever really be contained within patriarchy. These unquestioned violent motifs serve to terrify both female and male subjects into intellectual passivity. and especially to a mode of writing which. like these tales. prides itself on the interrogation of apparently impenetrable limits’. she is borrowing as much from patriarchy as she needs to make her ideas intelligible and engaging. its reasons and limits. indeterminate process. only precariously encased within the larger frame of the whole. or freedom and control. as well as the repetition of motifs and the reoccurrence of character-types. Or as Armitt elaborates: In other words. and while its goals include self-knowledge and the ability to reason it is not the reason of an apollonian day-world sort. To put it another way. this multiplicity of interconnecting frames is. decentred and revivified in ways that are disturbing and perhaps useful. . Therefore. As a whole. This is what Carter is doing. To expose Bluebeard or the Wolf. Is it unacceptable to be attracted to Bluebeard or the Wolf. for it is there that the myth gains or loses its power to entrance. Discussions concerning the actual fragility of the male phallus and problems of impotency only serve to furnish us with intellectual insight.The Bloody Chamber is largely concerned with exposing the supposedly ‘natural’ wisdom and codes of canonical fairytales as false. One of the key themes in The Bloody Chamber concerns the female subject courageously confronting the horror of the ‘rape-scenario’ that is perhaps implicit in fairytales and patriarchal masculine-feminine discourse. between violence and desire. entrapped by their dark psychic content. symbols and motifs from one story turn up in another in a way that reiterates and reworks the concerns of a previous vignette. Perception is a shifting. but to undercut the power of such a pathological myth we must return to the canvas of stories. if we fear or detest certain stories then we must question them and re-imagine them at ‘ground zero’. so to speak.
it usually transcends their protective bounds. James Hillman encapsulates this kind of decentred. As . and it crucially acknowledges such a patriarchy as a constellation of illusions. […] We see the hidden connection between what had hitherto been oppositions. versus the patriarchal identities of wounded-self that are usually offered for women to act out like eidolons. If we are familiarised with gender and power relationships when we are children. as Atwood suggests. a consciousness that has traversed the underworld successfully. and are just as powerful when we return to them again as socially-constructed adults. and sees it as a way towards healing or re-imagining the self. as critics like Patricia Dunker and Robert Clark have maintained. In this odd realm Angela Carter gives form to the tensions of the remade identities of self. conjunction and the identity of opposites mean the simultaneous perception by the perspectives of life and death. those initiated into the place below the world must attempt to unite or transgress binary systems. non-oppositional perception. metaphorical perception. if we can face our shadows. The persona can then return to the over-world with a liberating insight. or a descent into an underworld of images where egoist consciousness is not always in control. she comments insightfully: What Carter seems to be doing in The Bloody Chamber – among other things – is looking for ways in which the tiger and the lamb. and that is its death. then there is only one absolute material opponent to any position in life. Carter comes down firmly on the side of the remade self because it is. Perhaps for Carter. or the tiger and lamb parts of the psyche. we are saying that ‘death’ is the way through the opposites. must eventually comprehend why certain things are simultaneously seductive and controlling to the psyche. for although it flirts with the fairy-tale genre’s own spatial trappings. even if this potential is sometimes latent or ‘lacking’. can reach some sort of accommodation. Simple ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ idiom is not enough to successfully traverse this realm of the dead. In an underworld scenario the uncertain persona. This salient connection to the underworld and its gothic. akin to the tarot card called ‘The Hanged Man’. often through fairytales. for it is this level of perception from which our mythologies and social interrelationships must arise. If we deliteralize that statement. it is the self-regulation of any position by psyche. then those stories are loaded with significance and potential in terms of our maturation. concerning self-responsibility and the acknowledgement of our shadows. As Lucie Armitt highlights: It is perhaps this masochistic dynamic that takes us to the world of the Gothic. the ferryman who must be paid with silver for safe passage across the River Styx. ‘Running with Tigers’. the natural and the psychic. or mask of ego. that is. Angela Carter’s writing is filled with fairytale tropes that have a liberating potential. it makes selfhood a unique and vibrant thing if we can achieve some kind of synthesis or androgyny at the level of storytelling. It is a willing oblation. willing-sacrifice resonances should be brought into relief here. In Margaret Atwood’s essay on Carter’s work. to perceive the artificiality and co-dependence of opposites. We could draw parallels with the Greek myth of Charon. since we are all male or female impersonators. a willingness to experience a measure of melancholy and uncleanliness as a toll for entering the netherworld and gaining valuable insight. Thus it takes on the quality of an initiation rite. by non-literal. but in The Bloody Chamber it is constellated into this very unique hall of mirrors or Chinese boxes arrangement. a form less easily encompassed by formulaic convention. In this sense. He argues insightfully: If we do speak in terms of opposites. The young heroine realises this during her final confrontation with the wolf in ‘The Company of Wolves’. in this context. phantom images of the underworld. It understands the ways it colludes with or subverts the roles and relationships thrust upon it by phallocentric mystification.Underworld Perspectives – reinventing the Self There is wisdom contained in much of Carter’s prose. In fact.
This concept of the underworld implied by scholars like Hillman and Kristeva is always interrelated with our perceptions. It is a unification of opposites and a sexual initiation that recognises ‘the other’ as part of the self in the dream of consciousness. these paradigms. Once the world has been turned topsy-turvy by transgression into the carnivalesque. I would suggest that Hillman’s concept of nonoppositional perception is something far greater than what she is referencing. purely relational (for Freud through penis envy. rather than an unchanging aspect of a text or ourselves – and it does not play safe. This does not mean that such a patriarch is needed. or of an indeterminate ‘postmodern’ sensibility. Conclusions . both past and present. only that Carter is perceptive enough to sense the feeling of ambiguity or loss that might remain once a system is overthrown or seen through. believe the intellectual transgression of all absolutes is a profound and necessary tool in negotiating more inclusive concepts of sexuality and identity. facing each other ‘in a wild surmise’. Therefore. a way of relieving social tensions. for Lacan through the lack of the phallus. as the limits and dissatisfactions of an underworld transgression. despite its controlling or monstrous qualities. and we might argue that a certain cynicism with her own proclivities meant that such questions were never too far from her awareness. in the fiery wake of her own discarded clothing’. Elisabeth Mahoney makes a highly interesting point that might be useful here. and is perhaps more closely aligned to the controlling paradigm than it might appear at first glance. resulting in the young heroine sleeping soundly ‘between the paws of the tender wolf’. or an acquiescing to male desire on the part of the female subject. as intelligently discussed by Jane Miller in her book Seductions: Studies in Reading and Culture. due to its ‘initiation’ quality and its underworld aesthetic. I would suggest this scene is not a rape. I suspect it is a far more dangerous and transformative perception than Bahktin’s concept of the carnivelesque. and that psychoanalytic theories ‘posit feminine desire as enigmatic. Perhaps we might figure this idea in another way. Perhaps we might briefly discuss Mikhail Bakhtin’s concepts of the carnivalesque. Such influential psychoanalytic perspectives on feminine desire have prompted feminist theorists and cultural practitioners to rethink. and its limits in figuring the underworld. This is especially true of The Bloody Chamber. or Bruno Bettelheim’s view of fairytales as deep unchanging archetypes that are purely positive and safe. It is the non-oppositional perspective from which we might perceive. the universal signifier)’ and she goes on to argue: Such models suggest that women are unable to articulate their own desires and remain trapped as objects of masculine desire. and can it be explained away as patriarchy sanctioning occasional transgressions to defuse political discontent and to edify its power-base? While Miller’s arguments have a strong political resonance. we might return to find that the controlling paradigm remains much the same as when we left it.Carter describes: ‘she knew she was nobody’s meat. including James Hillman and Julia Kristeva. as the ‘other’ of the male gaze. She notes how feminine sexuality is dominantly coded as a lack of something. if not altogether repudiate. The form of the fairytale in the way Angela Carter utilises it lends itself to this exploration of blurred and overlapping identities. How do we then apply the insights gained during our time in such a realm? In connection to this we might also argue that the Feast of Fools was an authorised Dionysian revelry. But once a subject has traversed the underworld and has found insight. published towards the end of her career. Is the concept of the underworld as figured by James Hillman simply a version of Bakhtin’s carnivalesque? Is it a masculine sleight-of-hand that ultimately denies the female subject. She laughed at him full in the face. At the end of The Magic Toyshop we could argue that Melanie and Finn are left feeling strangely bereft without a governing patriarch. she ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire. what then becomes of her when she returns to the over-world? Carter attempts to explore these important questions in Nights at the Circus and Wise Children. in defence of the underworld perspective as an internal strategy to evade repression and denial of our darker aspects. and like fairytales themselves it contains both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ polarities. we might consider that many scholars.
as self-conscious beings gifted or cursed with the capacity for language. Trev (eds. subversion and transgression created by women throughout history. so too is the thing described also changed. in all its multiplicity. both in art and politics. we must necessarily discuss ourselves into existence both externally and internally. We might consider that a heterosexual perspective is not the only one that can be used to analyse Carter’s work. Feminism (London: Longman. Mikhail. Lucie. Meanings change. 1988) Black Venus (London: Chatto and Windus.). Flesh and the Mirror: Essays on the Art of Angela Carter (London: Virago. 1994) Bakhtin. in Joseph Bristow and Trev Lynn Broughton (eds. 1995) The Bloody Chamber – and Other Stories (London: Vintage. identity and power. 1986) Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (London: Virago. 1985) American Ghosts & Old World Wonders (London: Vintage. Margaret. Femininity. Angela. ‘The Fragile Frames of The Bloody Chamber’. 1982) Heroes and Villains (Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1991) Bristow. in Lorna Sage (ed.). The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (Harmondsworth: Penguin. or fairytales in general. or simply a queer reading of Carter’s texts with regards to sexuality. and like all things they rely on interrelationships for their meanings. Bruno. The Infernal Desires of Angela Carter (London: Longman. 2006) The Magic Toyshop (London: Virago. Mass. ‘Running with Tigers’. trans. Perhaps an application of queer-theory might garner some useful insights in this regard – the complexities of same-sex relationships as figured in fantastic literature. nor have they ever been singular. The term ‘patriarchy’ itself is mutable.If we were to connect all the instances of resistance. I would argue that if the language for describing something changes. Joseph and Lynn Broughton.T. as is ‘feminism’. Bibliography Armitt. 1994) . Shadow Dance (London: Virago. might this interconnection form a counter-argument or a parallel tract to official history that is both reflexive and aggressive – an underworld of suppressed or denied experience? Perhaps through economic and cultural dominance the voices of patriarchy are heard loudest but they are not the only voices. 1997) Carter. The Infernal Desires of Angela Carter: Fiction.: M. Helene Iswolsky (Cambridge.I. and I would suggest that this is the power of an underworld perspective – a politicised and open-minded stewardship of ourselves. Press. 1981) The Passion of New Eve (London: Virago.). 1997) Atwood. Rabelais and His World. 1992) Bettelheim. Within that paradox lies an immense source of creative power because. There have always been other voices and other interpretive strategies.
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