Monday, October 09, 2006

Castration

The "decapitation as castration" idea has come up, and damned if it doesn't bug the living shit out of me.

The idea basically seems to go that your identity, personality, and power is all contained in your head. Therefore, losing your head makes for a particularly degrading death because your body's been separated from all of that. It's equated to castration because that's an obvious loss of potency.

To look at a decapitation scene and call it symbolic castration is awfully backwards to me.

You see, the underlying attitude is that castration is a loss of identity, life, or power. Its root lies in the hypermasculine society that devalues all femininity. It hinges on the belief that the very worst thing possible is not to have a penis. It's an idea from a society that places all value and power into the male sexual organ. The same sort of logic that considered sperm the "Seed" -- the carrier of all that was needed to make a person, while the womb was simply soil to grow a person in. In this mindset, he penis holds your personal power and identity, so losing it is like losing that heavy thing on your shoulders that happens to hold your mouth, eyes, face and brain. Castration is a symbolic decapitation.

Castration's equivalent for a woman is actually becoming barren -- which is what happened to Black Canary in The Longbow Hunters. Another symbolic decapitation.

Decapitation itself is not a sexualized or gendered death.

While the preferrred execution method of criminals in some cultures, decapitation is a warrior's death when it happens on the battlefield. The shame associated with such a death is the shame associated with losing a battle. And yes, a sexism and castration parallel can easily enter into it. In such an instance, the victor holds the severed head of his enemy in his hands and declares that his opponent was weak and soft, like a woman, because (according to a hypermasculine culture that equates strength with masculine prowess) loss in battle can be attributed to either being a manly warrior up against someone who far outpowers them, or a pathetic, effeminate creature not suited to the manly arts.

When a female character's death occurs by decapitation, in the heat of battle, the nature of the death is non-gendered because decapitation is a non-gendered warrior's death.

It's one thing, of course, to find sexism by focusing on the reasoning why, or the reaction of the other characters to this death. However, to focus on the method of death itself, and how humiliating and degrading it is and connect that with castration when it is a death that occurs no where close to the sexual organs, and occurs on a battlefield rather than a traditional women's setting, comes dangerously close to the attitude that one's identity, personality and power lies in one's sexual organs. It also, when all the shame connected with a death in this matter comes specifically from losing the battle and not one's gender role, comes infuriatingly close to equating "loser" with "woman."

That particular line isn't crossed by simply engaging in the intellectual exercise, and going through a Freudian reading of the text. The line's crossed when it seems like its coming not from analyzing someone else with Freud's theory, but when the analysis is shown by someone wit the attitude that "women" = "weak." It's the difference between an objective eye seeing that something "could be taken this way", and a fanatical devotion to "must be taken this way" to the point that all evidence to the contrary is rationalized away.

That would be is where the blinding rage wells up.

When the attitude of an analyst overcomes an analysis of an attitude, it becomes a bit difficult to debate the fine points of Freudian theory.

(Oh, and thanks, Revena, for the input on this post)

24 comments:

  1. "The same sort of logic that considered sperm the "Seed" -- the carrier of all that was needed to make a person, while the womb was simply soil to grow a person in."

    Really? 'cause I thought that pre-Modern people considered women to have everything to do with offspring, which is why Henry VIII kept executing wives for failing to "produce" a boy. Maybe I was wrong, or maybe the two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

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  2. Hale -- You missed Orestes, didn't you?

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  3. Yeah, medieval belief was that the sperm delivered a little fully-formed human being--the homunculus--into the womb, where it would grow into a baby.

    Henry VIII was somewhat post-medieval, and there may have been some differences in pre-renaissance belief on the subject. I seem to recall, though, that the humours were thought to have an effect on the gender, and so a woman who didn't keep her humours balanced would be at fault for producing the wrong gender. But that part may be way off, and it's not like there's ever been much consistency in the treatment of women. How else do you explain the Goddess/Property duality of chivalry?

    Nice analysis, Ragnell. Castration's about the last thing to come to mind when I think of decapitation.

    And it's nice to see a non-gendered death on the battlefield, in stark contrast to Phantom Girl's impaling.

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  4. Okay, I've thought and considered, and I do not see that decapitation symbolises castration in any way beyond the level of "a thing's a phallic symbol if it's longer than it's wide".

    Apart from anything else, I would have thought that the biggest horror of castration would be the loss of masculinity while a person was still alive. Impotency is hardly a big deal to a corpse.

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  5. Well, here's my thinking, however dense and possibly nonsensical it might be...

    I don't think I was trying to reduce decapitation in of itself as always being symbolic castration or degrading, but I think it's a mistake to assume it's always noble or dignified, even if on a battle field. As tamora pierce noted in my post, treating it like a soccerball or impaling it on something (where, I bet, the Devilance example keeps coming from) isn't dignified at all. The three examples (where I assume this post derived from) all were one-sided, and not done in by the quick cut of the blade, but by hands. These aren't framed as epic warrior or samurai battles. Pantha, for example, jumps at Superboy Prime from behind calling him stupid, and he kills her in retaliation with one accidental punch, then cries about how he didn't mean to do it. That's hardly a dignified warrior's death. That it's an "accident" and extended so long to show the head roll along to display SBP's strength, I think, makes it sexist under your example of being "up against someone who far outpowers them" and "pathetic, effeminate creature not suited for the manly arts." And note no one died before her, so she has the ignoble "honor" of the first to get themselves killed. The next deaths occur after SBP has lost his "innocence" and is meaning to do damage , with all his strength. Trajectory has her power cut out by someone else and is left to be killed with no way to resist. That's not dignified either, since it's back to "not suited for manly arts" unless she has what Lex provided her with.

    For a while I've been trying to read Lacanian psychoanalysis, and from what I understand, while Lacan does draw from Freud, castration in Lacanian terms isn't related to biology. Rather, it's a symbolic process of cutting off one's "jouissance" (roughly transalted as "enjoyment" and also "having the right to/pleasure of) and the recognition of lack.

    Viewed in the Lacanian sense, Tragectory's death is symbolic castration, because Luthor, by cutting off her powers, cuts off her jouissance (established by her desire and drive to be a speedster hero) and the recognition of lack (her depowered state, her failed dreams) is shown with her decapitation. So it is with Mongal, losing her power to Mongul, and so it is with Pantha, losing her power (as a tough fighter, showing her "not suited to the manly arts") to SBP (and maybe the jouissance of a complete origin :P). Slavoj Zizek wrote that castration is an exchange where the subject gets nothing in return and is made into an object - hence Pantha into her head and a plot device, Trajectory into her head and as Lex's martyr. He also argues it's a "renunciation of a renunciation," we have three characters who were renouncing traditional gender roles (Mongal as a ruler; Pantha as a tough smartalek who never did take to the role as a "mother"; Trajectory's ambition to be a Flash) and here are deaths to renunciate that.

    So I don't think calling decapition a symbolic castration is necessarily backwards. I don't see where I'm connecting Mongal, Pantha, or Trajectory's identity, personality and power, or a "weakness" or losing to their sexual organs. Rather, I've been seeing it from that Butler quote about those who don't adhere to traditional gender roles being punished for it - in this case, a presumption of power and agency punished through symbolic castration (losing power and active agency) of three characters all by a particular death. And I'm trying to work out why that is.

    I'm kinda confused by your reasoning behind it and please forgive me if I totally misrepresent and mangle your arguement... since castration, in the literal Freudian sense, is rooted in the anxiety of the penis being cut off and losing potency and agency, the only way to express female castration is through her fertility?

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  6. Well, there goes most of that proposed essay for Revena's Carnival... :P

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  7. Hi Jlg,
    You asked, the only way to express female castration is through her fertility?

    There's an interesting flip side to this, too, in horror/vampiric texts like, say, Stoker's Dracula. When the intrepid heroes cut off Lucy Westenra's head, it becomes a "symbolic castration" because she has become a vampire, i.e. the seat of her power (of course in Freudian/Lacanian terms figured as masculine) has moved upwards, to her head and mouth.

    You also said, and the recognition of lack (her depowered state, her failed dreams) is shown with her decapitation

    But according to Lacan, she is already lack because she's a woman, no? I'd read this as her body becomes completely abject: she is already a woman (abject, leaky, potentially maternal body) and then she is decapitated, which means insides come outside (blood and such) and she is more abject, i.e. completely shunned from her society and The Father (Lex Luthor).

    You also said, Rather, I've been seeing it from that Butler quote about those who don't adhere to traditional gender roles being punished for it - in this case, a presumption of power and agency punished through symbolic castration (losing power and active agency) of three characters all by a particular death. And I'm trying to work out why that is.

    Which Butler quote? Because for Butler, the punishment is usually symbolic: expulsion from the community, forced to exist as Other. And the discipline is completely Foucault (because as I see it, Butler, like so many of us, follows in the great Foucault tradition): disciplining one's self (the purpose of the Panopticon, no?). Again, I don't know which quote you're talking about, but Butler's theory revolves around the idea that sex and gender are created through the repetition of stylized acts. These repetitions are unconscious, i.e. we're completely unaware we're doing them, no?

    I agree that traditionally, in the Freudian sense, decapitation has been read as symbolic castration, but I don't know if it translates to the female body. The male body is rooted in the brain (the mind of the traditional, stereotypical Cartesian mind/body split), while the female body is traditionally rooted in body (the body of the split).

    I usually have a rule against theory before coffee and eight a.m. ;) But I will say that reading her decapitation through a French feminist lens would be *very* interesting. i.e., What Would Irigaray Do?

    Sorry if anything's incoherent! There's that coffee thing, and I'm ABD, so it's been a while since I've sludged through Lacan :)
    Ciao,
    Amy

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  8. Hm.
    I said, I agree that traditionally, in the Freudian sense, decapitation has been read as symbolic castration, but I don't know if it translates to the female body. The male body is rooted in the brain (the mind of the traditional, stereotypical Cartesian mind/body split), while the female body is traditionally rooted in body (the body of the split).

    What I mean is that Freud and Lacan follow in this great masculinist tradition, so they see the male and female bodies split along these lines. So I don't know if translates to the female body because this line of theory doesn't give the female that sort of power.

    I *personally* think it's total balderdash.

    Must stop posting before coffee!
    Ciao,
    Amy

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  9. Folks, this? This is awesome.

    Sorry, just any time Freud and Lacan and Foucault (Foucault!) are being bounced around over comics, I get a little giddy.

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  10. "Sorry, just any time Freud and Lacan and Foucault (Foucault!) are being bounced around over comics, I get a little giddy."

    We are smart!

    Ragnell, I fear you have lost me with the Orestes reference. Henry VIII married his sister?

    And Tom, the idea that men are (literally) shooting tiny little people (in addition to being REALLY creepy) goes a long way towards explaining the attitudes of some toward contraception and abortion, though I doubt most them recognize the origin. Plus, I might've known that no matter what, some way would be invented to blame whatever went wrong on the woman, kind of like how twins (presumably non-identical) were considered to be proof of the mother's infidelity.

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  11. I agree that decapitation in comics isn't symbolic castration. At the very least, the post-Lacan theory is exactly backwards; a modern audience doesn't really see a castration as a person's head being separated from their body, they see it as the body being separated from the head. It isn't that Pantha has been reduced to a body without a head -- she's been reduced to a head without a body.

    I don't know your spoiler policy, but compare the various decapitations in Alan Moore's Miracleman -- in one case, the head is removed from the body intact, resulting in the overwhelming impression that what has been done is to remove the person's ability to walk, talk, affect the world, etc. In at least three other cases, a person's head is destroyed - variously reduced to paste above the jawline, squished, or burned to ash. In each of those cases, the impression isn't that the person has been castrated, but that their entire identity is gone.

    If you see a decapitation as removing a person's body from their head, rather than the other way around, it's a castration, but only trivially. The person's package is gone, yes, but so is the rest of their ability to act. (Lacan would say that removing the ability to act is itself castration, but that makes the whole thing tautological and stupid.)

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  12. Amy - I think you're touching on something in your comments that's very interesting. Ragnell and I talked for a pretty lengthy span the other night about where the decapitation/castration thing comes from, and I was thinking about and drawing from a number of essays and papers that I've read and written that use that trope, and yet it didn't occur to me until I read your comment that I can't think of any critical works that I've read (and I know I haven't written any) that deal with a woman being decapitated.

    I think that's largely due to a combination of the theorists themselves working in a masculist tradition, and the material being analyzed being pretty damn phallocentric, itself (my area is biblical lit. Yeah). So, there doesn't seem to me to be a reason why one couldn't apply Freudian tropes to a woman's decapitation, but I've never really seen it done.

    Which raises an interesting possibility - if we view the decapitation/castration thing from a perspective that basically goes "only men can be symbolically castrated through decapitation, because Freud implies that only men have enough power to begin with for symbolic castration", does that mean that decapitating a woman actually signifies that her power status is higher?

    I mean, that's just silly. But then again, it kind've isn't, you know?

    Hale - Ragnell is talking about Athena's speech at the end of the Oresteia Trilogy by Aeschylus. The Goddess of Wisdom claims that mothers aren't actually related to their children, and that they're basically just providing a place for the baby to grow for a few months, where the father is supplying all of the actual baby material.

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  13. I think you're wrong about this. Castration is usually about removal of testes. Losing a penis is the equivalent of losing a clitoris, causing a total loss of sexual pleasure from genitals.

    Men lose their testicals because of cancer but can receive prosthetic replacements and hormone treatment. Sex would still be possible.

    As for decapitation, I've never thought of it as castration. Loss of a head means death for most living things. I think I first heard of decapitation when I was kid in terms of the French Revolution and then from hearing about a gruesome car accident.

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  14. Jon makes an interesting point. On occasions in comics where decapitation does not kill the character, where is it that we see the life remain?

    In 52 we see Red Tornado rebuilt from his head (and some very unlikely looking subsititute parts), in Secret Six Robotman is still conscious and arguing - but only in the form of a head.

    Villain characters have been reduced to a head, or in some cases just a brain (which is a logical extreme) and come back, but when has there ever been a story about a character who regenerated from another body part? Off the top of my head I can only think of Leeloo in The Fifth Element.

    Of course there's Wolverine and Lobo, who both appear to be able to get better from anything up to and including total disintingration. But I'm not sure they really count. Their destruction can never be considered as anything more than a temporary inconvenience so I don't see that it could have any symbolic value.

    I would love to see a villain with a whole row of Wolverine heads on spikes, though. Every time he grows another one, lop it off and add it to the collection.

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  15. Hi everyone,
    I've had coffee, and it's after noon. That doesn't mean fiddlesticks for my coherence, however, so do bear with me.

    Tom said, Folks, this? This is awesome. Sorry, just any time Freud and Lacan and Foucault (Foucault!) are being bounced around over comics, I get a little giddy

    :) I truly believe that if we treat comic books As Great Literature (i.e. talk about them in conjunction with Foucault and Butler and Lacan and Irigaray and Kristeva) then they will be treated As Great Literature. So let's do it more, yeah? :)

    ***

    And R said, Amy - I think you're touching on something in your comments that's very interesting. Ragnell and I talked for a pretty lengthy span the other night about where the decapitation/castration thing comes from, and I was thinking about and drawing from a number of essays and papers that I've read and written that use that trope, and yet it didn't occur to me until I read your comment that I can't think of any critical works that I've read (and I know I haven't written any) that deal with a woman being decapitated.

    I can't think of any either, except maybe Freud's Medusa essay, and a few that touch on Lucy Westenra's decapitation. I'll dig through my files later today and see what I can come up with (I have a whole folder on "snaky women" criticism, in which we find issues of female decapitation).

    I think that's largely due to a combination of the theorists themselves working in a masculist tradition, and the material being analyzed being pretty damn phallocentric, itself (my area is biblical lit. Yeah).

    I'm Victorian; I feel your pain ;)
    What I find so very interesting about some of the early feminist theorists is that they, too, fall prey to the masculinist ideologies. Irigaray is one of the few critics in the early years that I can think of that rejects phallocentrism and attempts to define feminine power through female biology, rather than its lack of male body ("This Sex Which Is Not One," specifically). Wittig does some of the same, but she's less body-oriented than Irigaray.

    So, there doesn't seem to me to be a reason why one couldn't apply Freudian tropes to a woman's decapitation, but I've never really seen it done.
    Which raises an interesting possibility - if we view the decapitation/castration thing from a perspective that basically goes "only men can be symbolically castrated through decapitation, because Freud implies that only men have enough power to begin with for symbolic castration", does that mean that decapitating a woman actually signifies that her power status is higher?
    I mean, that's just silly. But then again, it kind've isn't, you know?


    I don't think it's silly at all. Let me make sure I follow you. You're saying that because decapitation for men is a symbolic castration, i.e. a symbolic removing of power, and that decapitation for women is neither symbolic nor symbolic castration, but the actual physical removal of her seat of power, then it places her head (the mind of the body/mind split) in a higher position of symbolic and literal power? i.e. because her decapitation isn't symbolic, it has a more awesome resonance in the power structure?

    The flip side is also a possibility, though: that because the decapitation has no symbolic resonance, then it is a complete lack, a nothingness, and since it lacks meaning, it must have no power to start with.

    I think the pull away from symbolic castration is the right move, and in particular, I've been mulling over Ragnell's point re: Black Canary's infertility (and beyond that, Linda Park West's miscarriage that damaged her and kept her from getting pregnant again). That feels like demonstrating real power over women, a female equivalent to symbolic castration, if you will.
    Whew! Now I've got to get back to work ;)
    Ciao,
    Amy

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  16. Eep, go to class, and things rush right by me!

    Marionette: The Doom Patrol's Elasti-Girl was apparently regrown from her skull by the Chief.

    Amy: Yeah, the Lucy Westernra example, I think, is what I'm trying to aim for. The "seat of power" moves somewhere else, since these are characters not really adhering to traditional gender roles. Pantha refused to settle into maternal role with Baby Wildebeest, so her power isn't with that area. Mongal and Trajectory's are in the physical/social power they have. So talking about being castrated from fertility doesn't really apply. (I wish I had my Lacan book with me right now, there was something in it about "masculinity" and "femininity" being structures... he doesn't seem to really belive in or deal with the physical/biology as Freud does.)

    As for Trajectory's lack, I don't think Lacan would she's in a state of lack because she's a woman (if I remember correctly, he argued it was a process any sex could go through, since both have experienced the fundamental loss with the mother). I think killing her is the real act of castration since that realizes the lack of her powers, being unable to avoid harm from a supervillain. And also the lack of being able (the jouissance) of ambition and acheiving her dream of being a Flash.

    I took the line I'm thinking of from Butler from her essay on gender as a social perforance. I'd argue that her argument works well for fiction and art, since Theodor Adorno argues something that lines up pretty well. Butler's repeated stylized performances are reflected in the arts, which Adorno argues (at least for mass culture) can sneakily present ideological messages. Like Adorno's example of the concept of the "purity" of women being an "invariable of popular culture" and the cliche of the "nice girl" always getting married. Or having sex in a horror movie will kill you. Adorno's hidden ideological messages are just Butler's social perforances acting in the medium. And since comics are getting gorier, the symbolic punishment ends up being more than being ostracized (well, Pantha never really fit in with the Titans and was in limbo for a while with her family) or being an Other (though I wonder if turning evil would counts as being forced to exist as an Other...).

    Jon and Marionette: Except I think the crucial thing in Marionette's examples is that they can recover, they haven't really been castrated since they can get their power back. The lack is gone once the head is reattached. The robots' heads still have some agency, Pantha's doesn't.

    I'm not so sure on the idea that people see castration as body-from-head being separated rather than head-from-body. The head is figured as the center, so the head is not only powerless it's now helpless. Although it's not like Pantha's body is never shown, it's in the background when SBP is crying about how he didn't mean to do it, if that means anything. And Mongal (and Pantha in the Titans IC tie-in, I think) is shown right when the head is leaving the body.

    R: I'm not sure about it signifying the woman's power status is higher - Mongal, Pantha, and Trajectory are taken out pretty easily and are outmatched. It's not in the context of, say, an epic, grueling, drawn out battle that results in the tradition of taking the fallen's head. And note that the Good Superboy or E-2 Superman, presented as heroes and virtuous and achieving something (Conner doesn't have a lack of identity for one, proving himself as the legitimate Superboy) weren't decapitated.

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  17. "Hale - Ragnell is talking about Athena's speech at the end of the Oresteia Trilogy by Aeschylus."

    And me, a liberal arts major.

    (Hangs head in shame)

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  18. Amy - Medusa, of course, is monstrous, which is part of why Freud spends so much time building up his ideas using her as an example. It's possible that other 'snaky women' (and that's an awesome folder to have, btw. The constructions of snake-women, bird-women, and cat-women always fascinate me) could be read as more monstrous/ungendered than feminine, too. Which could effect the way one assigns gendered meanings with decapitation (or anything else).

    Of course, women with perceived access to "phallic" power are basically all "monstrous" when viewed through a Freudian lense, so maybe that's irrelevant in this discussion. ;-)

    You're saying that because decapitation for men is a symbolic castration, i.e. a symbolic removing of power, and that decapitation for women is neither symbolic nor symbolic castration, but the actual physical removal of her seat of power, then it places her head (the mind of the body/mind split) in a higher position of symbolic and literal power? i.e. because her decapitation isn't symbolic, it has a more awesome resonance in the power structure?

    That's basically where I was going, yeah!

    The flip side is also a possibility, though: that because the decapitation has no symbolic resonance, then it is a complete lack, a nothingness, and since it lacks meaning, it must have no power to start with.

    *nod* Yes, I can see that, as well.

    I think the pull away from symbolic castration is the right move

    I was very intrigued at the possibility at first, but I'm now thinking that it's (symbolic castration) too problematic to build an analysis around all by itself. I wish we could answer the "What Would Irigaray Do?" question, though - I think the exploration of narratives that are about, in part, super-powered/super-powerful women using a variety of theoretical approaches could yield some very interesting results.

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  19. With decapitation, in comics isn't it just shorthand for "this person is really dead"? I suppose the debate about 'head without a body' vs. 'body without a head' is interesting, but when I see Pantha's head rolling down the lane, I think "Won't be seeing her anymore" first and foremost. It's meant to be permanent.

    Disintegration is not proof of death- they could have just teleported. Shot? Can get better. No pulse? Android decoy, nonhuman nervous system, etc.

    Decapitation = We really really mean it. Dead. Nobody survives this.

    Castration = This is not a code-approved book. Let's shock and horrify our (largely male) audience.

    As far as decapitation in the real world, by Tudor England this was how nobles and the rich were killed (it was quick!), commoners and the poor were not permitted to be executed this way. They had to be hanged, which was slow on purpose. Usually, nobles who were killed another way were those convicted of treason (punishment: disemboweled while alive, forced to watch your entrails burned before you, then drawn and quartered, then your remains burned.) I would assume that the rich and nobility would have the highest-dignity execution style in the value system of the time. We see this in the French Revolution, where it was a really big deal to execute Citizens in the same way that was formerly reserved for Kings and Queens (automated guillotine instead of a hand-axe.)

    Villain characters have been reduced to a head, or in some cases just a brain (which is a logical extreme) and come back, but when has there ever been a story about a character who regenerated from another body part?

    The Chief, from about two Doom Patrol reboots ago (regrown from a head). Cliff Steele/Robotman also was a 'brain in a jar' who LOST HIS BRAIN, which was an interesting twist. Lobo. Wolverine. Metamorpho. The Metal Men. Martian Manhunter has had limbs and even his head blown off a lot, but he has an amoebalike physical structure. Basically, all the super-healers and those with fluid-state bodies.

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  20. Hi everyone,
    Jumping in again as I wait for my water for my tea, and then back to the diss...

    R said, among many other smart things, I wish we could answer the "What Would Irigaray Do?" question, though - I think the exploration of narratives that are about, in part, super-powered/super-powerful women using a variety of theoretical approaches could yield some very interesting results.

    We should do it, no? I think it would be a lot of fun, actually, and she would definitely translate better to super-powered women than Freud or Lacan. And re: monstrous women, couldn't superpowered women be considered monstrous as well? As in, not just having access to phallic power, but also being mutants, aliens, etc.? I'm thinking of the DC villain whose hair is a weapon. Anyone have a name for me? I think she's... a nazi??? I can't remember!

    ***

    And Jlg said, among many smart things, I took the line I'm thinking of from Butler from her essay on gender as a social perforance. I'd argue that her argument works well for fiction and art, since Theodor Adorno argues something that lines up pretty well. Butler's repeated stylized performances are reflected in the arts, which Adorno argues (at least for mass culture) can sneakily present ideological messages.

    I'm not familiar with Adorno's read of Butler, and when I get a free moment, I'll look it up. Thanks! The problem with using Butler in performativity, however, is that everyone misread Gender Trouble and almost everyone misread Bodies That Matter, and applied Butler to performativity, which isn't what she was really saying at all.
    Now from what you're saying, you and Adorno are *using* Butler as a lead-in into your own discussion of performativity, which is just Very Smart, and I salute you.

    You also said, Adorno's hidden ideological messages are just Butler's social perforances acting in the medium. And since comics are getting gorier, the symbolic punishment ends up being more than being ostracized (well, Pantha never really fit in with the Titans and was in limbo for a while with her family) or being an Other (though I wonder if turning evil would counts as being forced to exist as an Other...).

    So that's Adorno's read of Butler's theory as it relates to punishment? I can see that. As the gender troubles become more troubling, the punishments become bigger and badder.

    re: Lacan, I just bow before your knowledge :) It's been a long, *long* time since I did Lacan, and there has been a lot read since then. I'm more of a French feminist girl, myself (and I always imagine the conversation between Lacan and Irigaray when she tells him off--it's my own personal academic geeky fantasy), or mainly, a Foucault and Butler girl. And, you know, it's been a *really* long time :)
    Ciao,
    Amy

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  21. Amy: Actually, I'm just taking part of Adorno's critique on the Culture Industry and splicing it in with Butler's theory. They seem to make similar arguments on culture. Given how Adorno was big on the workings of ideology, I think he would match up with Butler's theories. The cliches he mentions, like the "nice girl" always getting to be married, are repeated stylized acts that promote certain gender roles. Kinda also like how Team shows and comics always have a "Girl" character that always has certain traits, behaviours, or storylines. Characters who don't follow the "right" roles and rules meet some fate or are convinced to change.

    About the monstrous women, I don't know if it applies to all superheroines. Power Girl may have access to "phallic power," but I think her power and strength as a character can be undermined if she's being used for fanservice. Since she can still be subject to the male gaze (she's not going to pop out of the page and beat the reader for ogling her), the threat is deflected. However, for really "monsterous" characters like Pantha and Marrow, who have that threatening access to phallic power, they can't be easily be made into safe fanservice. I think it's telling they tried to "soften" them up with stereotypical "feminine" devices - they gave Pantha a kid who thinks she's his mother; they made an ugly Marrow beautiful.

    The Lacan stuff is just from all the critical classes and books I try understanding, so it's a bit fresher in my mind. Also, I'm a big Zizek fanboy. :) I need to read up more on Irigaray, it sounds like one of those great critical clashes.

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  22. Hi Jlg,
    You said, The cliches he mentions, like the "nice girl" always getting to be married, are repeated stylized acts that promote certain gender roles.

    Hm. I'm going to have to go and read Adorno now and look at this. I'm not sure how cliches are repeated stylized acts, because in Butler, the acts are unconscious. We are given the title of "boy" or "girl" the minute we're born and wrapped in a pink or blue blanket, and then the rest of our lives, we repeat "girl" or "boy" ad nauseum. But we're never quite aware of repeating those acts of "girl" or "boy." So you're saying that Adorno's saying that *fiction* performs stylized repetition of acts?
    Must. Read. Adorno!
    :)

    About the monstrous women, I don't know if it applies to all superheroines. Power Girl may have access to "phallic power," but I think her power and strength as a character can be undermined if she's being used for fanservice. Since she can still be subject to the male gaze (she's not going to pop out of the page and beat the reader for ogling her), the threat is deflected.

    But every woman is subject to male gaze, no? Even the monstrous women. In fact, the argument has been made that monstrous women are created in fiction *in order to be tamed*. Power Girl is just as monstrous, but she's been "tamed" already, i.e. she's a team player and has embraced the S patriarchal family.
    Of course you're absolutely right; her threat is contained because she isn't going to pop someone in the mouth, but if she, say, pops an ogling man in the mouth in the book, there's transference there.

    Also, I'm a big Zizek fanboy. :) I need to read up more on Irigaray, it sounds like one of those great critical clashes.

    Oh, Zizek. :) So not my cup of tea, if you haven't noticed! Definitely do read Irigaray; you'll really love her. She's loads of fun; maybe not as fun as Cixous but then, who is?

    Thanks so very much for such a lovely critical discussion! I've been out of coursework for a few years now, and I've missed this ;)
    Ciao,
    Amy

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  23. With decapitation, in comics isn't it just shorthand for "this person is really dead"? I suppose the debate about 'head without a body' vs. 'body without a head' is interesting, but when I see Pantha's head rolling down the lane, I think "Won't be seeing her anymore" first and foremost. It's meant to be permanent.

    Bingo. This is the most underappreciated reason why death has been getting more and more brutal in superhero comics - Because backward-looking nostalgia-ridden fans and creators simply will not let things lie, if you want someone to die and actually stay dead - for their death to actually mean something - you have to go scorched earth on them, or some Captain Yesterday will revive them as soon as your back is turned. And half the time they'll do that anyway whatever you do. Fans/readers don't like to acknowledge this reason, of course, because it would mean admitting they bear partial responsibility for the situation.

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  24. Amy: Yeah, for example one quote from him: "The repetitiveness, the selfsameness, and the ubiqity of modern mass culture tend to make for automatized reactions and to weaken the forces of individual resistance." That sounds a lot like Butler's theory: morals and lessons and plots are repeated and the automized reactions and acceptance of the ideology behind it all are similar to the unconcious repetition of gendered acts.

    I'm not so sure the monsterous women are always subject to the male gaze, because there seems to be a moment when the monstrousness breaks it, like Marrow's disfigurement, or peaking under Pantha's mask when she's pissed or in her "beast mode." As for Power Girl, unless it's as a subversive or direct comment on the reader's gaze, the reader still occupies a privleged position to the action. He could ignore the message, too. :P

    Thank you for a great discussion too, it's fun. :)

    R. Donovan: The problem I have with the "dead must be dead forever!" argument is that well, writers and editors do stupid things sometimes. Kill characters for a shock or dumb reason, or to make their bad guy look real dangerous without doing any real work. And of course it's always selective too: people will demand death mean something and no one ever be resurrected, yet they count their lucky stars their favorites came back before the window closed. I'm sure the original writers would've wanted Hal Jordan or Oliver Queen or Colossus or Jason Todd or Bucky to stay dead so their deaths meant something.

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