Saturday 19 March 2011

"a virgin with no legs to leave me, no arms to hold me, no head to talk to me"

1934 Magritte Le Viol 72x54 cm
The following is Susan Gubar's interpretation of Magritte's painting (above) in her article "Representing Pornography: Feminism, Criticism, and Depictions of Female Violation" (1987). Do you have a different take on the image?
Endowed with blind nipples replacing eyes, a belly button where her nose should be, and a vulva for a mouth, the female face is erased by the female torso imposed upon it, as if Magritte were suggesting that anatomy is bound to be her destiny. That the face associated with the body is sightless, senseless, and dumb implies, too, that Magritte may be subscribing to the view of one of William Faulkner's fictional surrogates, a man who celebrates the feminine ideal as "a virgin with no legs to leave me, no arms to hold me, no head to talk to me" and who therefore goes on to define woman generically as "merely [an] articulated genital organ."
While an anatomical surprise turns the female into a bearded lady, the articulation of the woman as genital organ makes her inarticulate, closing down all of the openings that ordinarily let the world enter the self so that Magritte's subject seems monstrously impenetrable or horrifyingly solipsistic. Paradoxically, even as it fetishizes female sexuality, Le Viol denies the existence of female genitalia, for the vulva-mouth here is only a hairy indentation. In this reading of the painting's title, the represented figure-robbed of subjectivity and placed on display like a freak-deserves to be raped: this is the only consummation which will penetrate her self-enclosure and, given the humiliation of her fleshiness, it is all she is good for. When the female is simultaneously decapitated and recapitated by her sexual organs, the face that was supposed to be a window to the soul embodies a sexuality that is less related to pleasure and more to dominance over the woman who is "nothing but" a body.

(p. 722) (Please note that the discussion of the painting continues for a couple more pages.)

The following images are also mentioned:

René Magritte : Tenant L’Evidence Eternelle, 1938.
La Philosophie dans le Boudoir, c.1947


1 comment:

  1. Perceptions of reality
    Reality of perceptions
    How can we take
    Surrealism at face value
    Given its dreamlike transformation

    Juxtaposition is not enough
    Photoshoping is not enough
    Collaging is not enough
    Like poetry
    The Surreal is revealing
    Of Paradox and the ineffable

    Surprising us
    startling us
    Revealing what we know
    And don't know
    Melting our perceptions
    Melting our conceptions
    Opening the drawers
    Of our unconscious
    To the symbolic meanings
    We prefer to ignore

    And Sexuality
    What a scary place
    To expose with art
    Say or show the wrong images
    And the negative accusations fly

    But an artist must be brave
    To show us who we are
    To show us what we won't see
    What we can't see
    This is where the artist lives
    This is where the artist dies
    This is where the artist arrives
    After exploring deeper and wider
    Where we have not been
    And mostly don't want to go

    And if there is no criticism
    The artist has failed
    For going over edges
    This is forbidden
    This is Taboo
    This is the artist's work
    To show us ourselves
    In a new way
    That takes us too
    Over the edge
    Back to a new reality



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