Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Try to See It, Try to Feel It:
The Body in the Text ~ Part 1

Thinking Through the Body
Jane Gallop
New York: Columbia UP, 1988
180 pp.

Throwback Book Review from my Lit Crit Days

Feminist politics and psychoanalytic theory are two indicators, determiners even, of both the cultural and the textual fate of the body. The politics of the personal has become the primary mechanism for bridging the gap between public and private life, for healing the chasm of the mind / body split. Such a stance acknowledges the potential for ill - being in this time - honored division and fosters reunion through the energetic juxtaposition of psychoanalysis and politics, politics and art, representation and psychoanalysis. These two texts, by Jane Gallop and Laura Mulvey, seek to establish the political reality of the body in narrative, the body in art, the body in film. Thinking Through the Body and Visual and Other Pleasures share a documentary quality, in so far as each is a sort of tribute to the evolution of feminist theory. Gallop's work is a "collection of essays, written over a decade from the mid - seventies to the mid - eighties" (3); and Mulvey's is a compilation of articles "written between 1971 and 1986, a fifteen - year period that saw the Women's Movement broaden out from a political organisation into a more general framework of feminism" (vii). While Mulvey, in her developmental history of film, feminism, and the avant - garde aesthetic, is committed to telling "The story of the fate of the body in feminism . . . the body [as] a site of political struggle (xii), Gallop commits herself to bringing "public discourse, knowledge, and meaning into the intimate space of love and the body" (3).

Writing through the body is Gallop's technique, as her various chapter titles and subtitles suggest: "The Anal Body, " "The Student Body," "The Female Body," and -- more specifically -- "Lip Service," "Fingernails," and "The Prick of the Object." Through thought - provoking manipulation of the body's synechdochical appearance in the text, Gallop attempts to solve that most inscrutable of puzzles, "The Bodily Enigma," a phrase she attributes to Roland Barthes. Looking at the body as signifier and "the signifier as enigma," Gallop opens "the physical envelope" of the body to reveal the connection between critical thinking and "our bodily givens" (13). She says that because of writers such as Freud, Barthes, and Sade who "were all doing critical thinking connected to the body . . . I dared make connections between my work and 'my memories, my sexuality, my dreams.'" In this opening chapter, she looks at Barthes' treatment (in Sade, Fourier, and Loyola) of Sade's 120 Days in Sodom. Both men have produced texts which reveal, ultimately, the fragmentation and inconsistency of the body, the body's enigmatic subordination to the mind and to the world of "man-made meaning." Embodies but not contained -- this is the physical reality of the subject, confronting the abstract notion of the disembodies consciousness, challenging and defying "the rational categories that would contain and dominate it" (18).

There are two more essays on Sade in Thinking Through the Body, and three more on Barthes. Grounded in Barthes' The Pleasure of the Text, "The Perverse Body" is an excellent discussion of moralism and political responsibility. Gallop's essay explores passions, politics, and pleasure. She distinguishes the politics of pleasure from the pleasure of politics, insisting that the two must necessarily play off of each other in a sort of ideological jouissance. She locates the common ground between Barthes' project and feminism, and seeks to ascertain the politically correct feminist position for one who who only read but in fact takes "great pleasure" in Barthes' atopical and sexually neutral texts. Although Barthes "is an author who never talks about sexual difference, who never sexually differentiates his erotic objects when he describes them," she finds The Pleasure of the Text to be "potentially friendly to feminism" and convincingly reduces "the scandal of its atopicality by subordinating [her] pleasure to some feminist idea" (157, 106, 109).

In "Beyond the Jouissance Principle" she summarizes Barthes' definition of jouissance as "shocking, ego-disruptive, and in conflict with the canons of culture" (121), comparing and contrasting it with plaisir. The essentially disruptive nature of jouissance is similar to the the disorderly quality of what Gallop sees as "truly sexy" in the work of the Maruis de Sade: " . . . the little details that exceed the vast enterprise of categorization and systematization characteristicof the libertine philosopher. It is those details in Sade that are truly sexy, which is to say disorderly and disconcerting" (48). Oddly though, Gallop's focus in "the Student Body" is on the "persistence of classification by age group" in Sade's Philosophy in the Bedroom (45). Rather than analyze the disorienting details that sting, prick, and exceed order, she dwells on those which actually compose categories and systems -- how many girls there are, how many boys, how old the masters are, and how old the students, in what order (boy, girl, boy, girl, etc.) the various sodomies have progressed, and so forth. Her academic numerology and compulsive figuring is not as much fun as it should be. In the book's introduction, she recalls being asked ten years ago "how a feminist could work on Sade" and confesses that "I was unable to give a coherent or convincing answer" (2). Unfortunately, neither "The Student Body" nor "Sade, Mothers, and Other Women" offers the long - awaited answer to that question. Nowhere does she manage to convince as succintly as Angela Carter does in The Sadeian Woman exactly why Sade's work is, or should be, of particular significance to women -- "because of his refusal to see female sexuality in relation to its reproductive function," because he "offers an absolutely sexualised view of the word . . . [treating] the facts of female sexuality not as a a moral dilemma but as a political reality." Carter concludes that "He was unusual in his period for claiming rights of free sexuality for women, and in installing women as beings of power in his imaginary worlds. This sets him apart from all other pornographers at all times and most other writers of his period" (Carter 1, 27, 36). Though Gallop's text outlines an efficacious politics, she fails to convey the extent to which Sade portrays the relation of discourse to sexual inequality and politics.

As a female role model, Gallop takes Adrienne Rich, who asks "women to enter the realm of critical thought and knowledge without becoming disembodies spirit, universal man" (7); and from Rich, Gallop gleans the concept of thinking through the body. Gallop reads Rich's Of Woman Born and Barthes' Roland Barthes par roland barthes as two texts which blur the boundary between public and private by combining theory and autobiography. She explains that her reliance on the established foundations of Barthes' French post - structuralism and Rich's American feminism was crucial to the creation of the present text, which she calls a "retrospective volume" of essays" "I found myself adding autobiographical bits, not only, I hope, because I tend toward exhibitionism but, more important, because at times I think through autobiography: that is to say, the chain of associations that I am pursuing in my reading passes through things that happened to me" (4). Rich's challenge to eschew disembodiment is not only the one taken up by Gallop but the one which she offers to the reader as well. In order to conjoin our lives and our knowledge, to think through our bodies, Gallop requests that we read, as she has written, through the body. And the body we are asked to read through first is Gallop's very own.

Although at one point she questions Rich's attempt to raise "'the blood on the tampon' . . . to the level of theory" (53), she herself stops to recall a time ("a semester between my course work and work on my dissertation") when she was in the habit of growing her fingernails long, painting them "blood red," and the "unwittingly [digging them] into the fleshy portion of my thumb." Quite inexplicably, she connects the unconsciousness of this mannerism, as well as the deliberation with which she grew and decorated her nails, to the fact that she was at that time "reading Lacan's Ecrits from cover to cover" (148). Thinking Through the Body is peppered with enough of these intimate anecdotes to more than pique the reader, voyeuristically or otherwise. Each essay opens or concludes with an explanatory history of its inception and development. This format provides the setting necessary for the inclusion of what Gallop affectionately terms "autobiographical bits."

Some of the essays are asides from the dissertation, one is a scrapped chapter, others were originally read as conference papers; one, "Snatches of Conversation," was written when she was "just out of graduate school, unemployed and broke, living back home with my parents. I wrote this paper in my adolescent bedroom, trying to block out both my literal and my intellectual parents in order to to think" (88). Several years later, compiling the present collection and unable to find her original unedited version, she "recalled having given it to a man I was, in those days, trying to seduce. I got up the nerve to phone; he still had his copy" (87). Cumulatively, these explanatory narratives detail an evolutionary history of Gallop's sexuality and academic maturation process which is indeed at times decidedly exhibitionistic. She follows the precedent of her own Reading Lacan, a book about thinking through the mind, in which she includes for the reader's benefit documentation of her personal history in and out of therapy.

In addition to the fingernail episode, we are treated to the knowledge that whereas Rousseau's Julie moved Gallop to tears, the works of Sade moved her to masturbate; that during her mid - twenties she had a series of affairs with unavailable men, all of whom were thirty - six year old (more numerology!); and that she has dedicated published texts to three of her close friends from graduate school. I am not convinced, even with due respect to the given contexts, that Gallop has successfully raised these revelations to the level of theory (unless it is that of the affective fallacy). Not startling in themselves, they seem at first misplaced in a book of critical theory, displaced as it were from some other more appropriate text.

For example, she introduces the essay "Why Does Freud Giggle When Women Leave the Room?" with a preface called "The Triangle of the Base" which explains that the article "had its origin in my relation to two men who were centrally important to me in graduate school" (310. One of these, her dissertation director Jeffry Mehlman, she acknowledges as a source for the paper. To the other, Alex Argyros, she attributes the idea for the title ("Why Goes Freud Giggle"), yet she concludes that he has been suppressed: "There is no mention of Argyros in the present text" (32). By virtue of not being mentioned, then, his name appears (and this happens to him again in a later chapter, see pages 89 - 90). Ambiguously enough, she elaborates upon his presence in the very next paragraph: "Argyros had been a student with me in graduate school; Mehlman was also his dissertation director. Argyros and I had lived together as best friends and lovers. Structurally, Argyros was my brother, Mehlman our father" (32). Why does this seem like exhibitionism? Can that lone word, Structurally, possibly raise to the level of theory the description of this "triangle" of acquaintances? Perhaps so.

Gallop aligns her role as daughter with her struggle as a feminist thinker, taking both a Lacanian and a Freudian view of her "desire to speak from the father's place . . . to be textually alone with the father" (21, 32). Nor does she fail to explain that the struggle is more than historical, ideological, or metaphoric: "This is not a commentary on the real men Mehlman and Argyros -- both of whom took me quite seriously as a scholar, neither of whom seemed to want me to leave the room -- but upon a structure which threatened to exclude me despite my having gotten myself into the room, despite any man's intentions toward me" (32, emphasis added). Comprehending the stance of the female student in the male dominated academy, she says of her own position in this structure that "I looked in at a homoerotic world . . . trying to imagine being an academic speaker as a woman (71, emphasis Gallop's). She arrives by way of her autobiographical triangle at one of the root problems of feminist theory; and from this point she expands upon both the negative Oedipus complex (the boy's desire to murder his mother and marry his father) and the familiar Oedipus as it was played out first in her own experience, then in her reading of Freud's inability to think or laugh through the female body.

Looking at Freud's favorite "famillionairely" joke as a case in point, Gallop identifies the "analogical gratification" and "homological acquistion" inherent to the Freudian joking process, then extends these factors to the myth / fantasy of heterosexuality -- which exists, like the joke, "in an economy of homology, analogy" (34, 37). These thoughts conclude an especially strong two - part chapter on Freud, entitled, appropriately, "The Anal Body." In the first essay, "The Seduction of an Analogy," Gallop reads Freud as a literary text, looking "not so much [at] his knowledge of subjectivity as [at] the imprint of his own subjectivity upon his pursuit of knowledge" (5). Like Barthes and Rich, Freud manages to combine theory and life story, memories, dreams, and intimacies, particularly in his historical novel concerning the life of Moses. Gallop compares this fiction to"all those points throughout his work where Freud notes that his writing resembles a work of the imagination" (6). The themes of seduction and analogy introduced in this essay likewise sustain "Why Does Freud Giggle When Women Leave the Room?" The clarity with which she explicates Freud can be attributed to an approach that she claims is inevitable; she later asserts that "every psychoanalytic critic writes in an identification with Freud" (136). Certainly any reader in search of psychoanalytic enlightenment will appreciate the proficiency with which she writes and thinks through those two fathers, Freud and Lacan, and reads through Barthes (the uncle of "Textual pleasure and its wilder cousin textual ecstasy" 106). Although she begins Chapter 5 ("the Body Politic") lamenting her lack of proficiency in French, she opens up The Law of the Fathers with the sill of a true translator, presenting the complexities of these often ambiguous texts as absolutely accessible.

"The Body Politic," a two - part chapter which pays "Lip Service" to Luce Irigaray (guess which lips) and examines "The Perverse Body" as found in Roland Barthes, opens with an autobiographical segment entitled "Dressing Anxiety." Here Gallop describes the clothes she wore to what she considered the first truly "prestigious" conference in which she participated: "spike heels, seamed hose, a fitted black forties dress and a large lack hat" (91 - 92). The theory behind this description? The poetics of the body as it is mediated through textuality and how to stylize the body as it is apprehended poetically and rendered politically. "Poetics of the body" is a dichotomous concept; the word body signifies self while poetics signifies other. Body is familiar and feminine, the Mother; poetics suggests detachment and masculinity, the "Name - of - the - Father" (93). A poetics of the body yields only expression while "poiesis," the term Gallop prefers, is the creation of the body. Metaphor is poiesis, psychoanalysis is poiesis, and experience is -- or should be -- poiesis.

Satisfied with her creation -- her poiesis -- of the body, Gallop says of her "sartorial" appearance: "The fit between the papaer and the look, the text and the performance, was articulated unconsciously, and it worked" (92, emphasis added). Eventually, with one modification, this is the same conclusion drawn by the reader who muses over the inclusion of such personal and personalized bits of "masturbatory guilt" (91) and "snatches" of detail from the private life of Jane Gallop. The fit between the text and the performance, between the critical theory and the intimate details, between the knowledge and the life -- whether it is exhibition or information, its articulation is unequivocally conscious, and it works.

Strains of seduction and analogy penetrate Gallop's mode of creating and, once again, thinking the body. Drawn to "the imaginary impression of female analogy" articulated by Luce Irigaray's This Sex Which Is Not One, Gallop claims to have "immediately felt the seduction of anatomical reference" (93, emphasis added). In "Lip Service," Gallop explores the dilemma of anatomical referentiality -- the body itself, the woman in herself, female sexuality in itself, the thing itself, we women ourselves. In what register do these configurations exist? If the pronouns are reflexive, are the bodies referential? Gallop fears that it may be provincial and backward to read referentially, and she locates in American feminist literary criticism an embarrassing inability to imagine a poetics of the body, finding instead "a naive reduction of literature to an image of the real word" (93).

Given the problematic juxtaposition, described above of body / poetics, such a resistance is understandable; Gallop calls it the acute "tension between a feminist investment in the referential body and an aspiration to poetics" (95). The practical assimilation of these terms requires the founding of a new poetic order, "the poiesis of a new body," such as the one created in the language of Irigaray (96). In Irigaray's presentation of anatomical signifiers, Gallop sees the potential for a "a real, unmediated body available outside the symbolic order" (93). If the body is not only spoken about but also speaks, if it reads and writes as well as being read and written, then it is the body of a poetic, speaking subject. Thus, "entry into the poetic order is itself made possible through the stickiest of dealings with some extratextual body" (94).

Of particular interest to Gallop is Irigaray's emphasis on the female genital lips, her "vulvomorphic logic" which stands in marked contrast to the received wisdom of the phallomorphic logic governing modern and post - modern writing. Irigaray posits a "referential illusion" which names the sex that is not one but two, not singular but plural, and implies the possible coexistence of modernist poetics with a signifier that is inherently multiple yet unmistakably referential (95). This metaphor for female sexuality supersedes the modernist insistence upon the nonreferentiality of language and is consistent with comtemporary culture's aspirations to plurality. Gallop concludes this discussion insisting on the political, as well as the feminist, efficacy of developing a poetics of the body which is complexly referential rather than nonreferential.

In addition to looking at the "serious" work of theorists like Luce Irigaray, Eugenie Lemoine - Luccioni (in "Phallus / Penis: Same Difference"), and Annie Leclerc (in "The Other Woman"), Gallop also considers two women writers of "popular" appeal who were "rewriting the body in the mid - seventies": Shere Hite and Nancy Friday (7). Strangely enough, in "Snatches of Conversation," she has brought together The Hite Report and My Secret Garden, products of the "public female discourse on women's sexuality," with a novel of the eighteenth century, Denis Diderot's Les Bijoux indiscrets (72). What unites the three texts, as Gallop aptly illustrates, is their shared "conviction that sense can be make from women's eroticism: and their common fantasy of "bringing woman's hidden powers into the open where they might be harnessed" (72). Gallop explains that upon its initial publication, nearly half of "Snatches" was deleted by editors who found it "too much about sex rather than language" (87). But happily, in this, her own retrospective collection, she has been able to include the unexpurgated version, thoroughly original and illuminating, complete with lesbian fantasies, pop sexology, and seductive analogy. A pleasant and pleasurable surprise, this essay rests on the deconstructive underpinning that the sexual body is emphatically real, "textual, mediated, interpretable" (90).

The final chapter of Gallop's book, "Carnal Knowledge," comprises three explorations of the embodied subject's appearance in art. "A Good Lay" legitimates Freud's role as art critic; "The Prick of the Object" determines, with Barhtes' help, the sexual element of art and photogrpahy; and "The Other Woman" looks closely at a series of artistic depictions of women writing (plates of the prints in question are included: one by Mary Cassatt and three Vermeers). The entire chapter concerns itself with the psychoanalytic criticism of art. Gallop describes what could be called the jouissance, the ecstatic and erotic engagement, of the viewer's encounter with the "forbidden, powerful, desiring, and embarrassing" quality of artistic subject matter (138). What is "truly sexy" about this exchange is not contained within the subject's perception of the object but is instead characteristic of her authentic encounter with the object's power" (141). to understand why these encounters are so disorderly and disruptive (so truly sexy) requires an "erotic and aggressive engagement" (146).

It is at this juncture of psychoanalytic criticism and art that Jane Gallop's Thinking Through the Body meets Laura Mulvey's Visual and Other Pleasures. In explanation of her own theoretical stance, Gallop says: "To face a work of art, or any other sort of object, with the identity of psychoanalytic critic, is to offset one's sense of uncertainty, ignorance, and insufficient understanding with the authority of a body of knowledge, a history of connoisseurship that traces back to Freud's knowledge" (136). While Gallop professes her possible illegitimacy, her lay status, as an art critic, Mulvey, expert film theorist and critic of artistic practice, explains in her foreword that "These problems [the question of the woman's body in the realm of representation] clled out for the vocabulary and the concepts of psychoanalysis" (xii - xiii). As accessible as Gallop's are Mulvey's applications of psychoanalytic theory, her renderings of Freud, Lacan, and Kristeva. Like Gallop, Mulvey questions the appropriateness of placing women beyond pleasure, beyond jouissance, beyond the phallus.

. . . to be continued on next post . . .

Visual and Other Pleasures
Laura Mulvey
Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989
xvi + 201 pp.