Thursday, February 18, 2010

Freud, the horror genre and "vagina dentata"

Just look at this. I said to myself back at the beginning of February, it's a new semester! That means, Katharine, you best be writing on that blog of yours a lot more than you did in the Fall, because you're only taking three seminars so you'll have allllll this time on your hands! No reason to not be writing every day on every topic you find interesting! You can DO IT!

And now just look at me. An entire week and a half has passed since my last entry. So much for staying focused.

Well, actually, I have been quite focused. Like, 180 pages of reading a week focused. I've been focused on so many papers and articles and books that don't require me to enter The World Wide Web™ in order to read them that I haven't been taking what I've been reading and moving my thoughts and ideas into cyberspace. And since my boyfriend will be in New York this weekend (starting tomorrow night! *doeslittledance*), odds are I won't even be doing much thinking about class at all. So here's an attempt to rectify my extreme inactivity.

The title for my Sexual Personae class this week is "Exploitation!" with the readings including an interview with subversive filmmaker Doris Wishman and a brief history of sexploitation films from the book Incredibly Strange Films, as well as two chapters from the text The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis by Barbara Creed. The latter two chapters on a feminist look at Freud and Lacan and how their psychoanalytic theories can be applied to the horror genre are certainly a refreshing piece of psychoanalytic feminist film theory for someone who is quite burnt out on Laura Mulvey's defeatist attitude toward the helpless gaze inflicted upon women in cinema.

Creed is able to turn Freud's ideas of the castrated female - a quite passive and pathetic figure that, in Lacanian terms, represents "lack" due to her absence of a phallus - into an object that inspires fear in the male not because she represents the possibility of castration, but because she represents an active, potential figure who can castrate. For Creed, the female is seen as the castrating, not the castrated, with this fear of the castrating female usually established through the idea of the toothed vagina, or vagina dentata. The depiction of vagina dentata in many filmic forms - the mouth of a vampire, for instance, or the shark's mouth in Jaws, or the blood flowing from a hallway (The Shining), or Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors - represents this fear of the castrating female, for the victims in almost all cases are primarily male. Some of the characters she notes as castrating female characters - the mother in Psycho, the story of Medusa and her head of snakes, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct - had never taken on this dimension for me before, and I found it completely fascinating.

I thoroughly enjoyed her refusal to accept Freud overlooking the possibility of the female as castrating as opposed to castrated. Although, I do believe that her analysis does not do enough to challenge Freud's insistence on positioning the child figure as almost consistently male, never completely pursuing the idea of what a female child's process of identification might be upon the first sight of her father's genitals, and how this works into the concepts of viewing herself as either castrated or capable of castrating - or of being injured or lacking, or otherwise empowered.

I remember reading an essay in one of my mother's old issues of Bitch magazine that discussed a different aspect of women characters in the horror genre that has always stuck with me, but I am not quite sure where - or if - it fits in with Freudian concepts. This analysis I read positioned women in horror films not in the almost empowered(1) roles as a castrating figure, but as weak and easily possessed figures because of their vaginas, because of this orifice that allows possession by a foreign entity. In the case of The Exorcist or Poltergeist it is a demon or a spirit that possesses a female character, presumably because she is more susceptible due to her cavernous absence between her legs. With films such as The Evil Dead the forest literally enters one of the women as tree branches snake along the ground, raping and thus possessing and turning evil the female character through their entrance into her vagina. There was also something in the Bitch article about a menstruating woman, and how being a virgin in a horror film affects the outcome of the female character's ultimate conclusion, but I can't seem to remember the nuances. If anyone can point me in the right direction, or still has a copy of that magazine (*coughcough* Mom?) please, let me know. As for now, let me just say I highly recommend reading Creed. Those of you who are far better versed in the horror genre will probably get a lot more out of it than I did.

(1) This is not to imply that I believe the violent act of castration is empowering, or any violent act for that matter. I'm simply saying that this idea of the woman not as castrated - as in Freud - or as "lacking" - as in Lacan - but instead as in possession of the possibility of castrating allows the female to assume a far more active role because it is a far more frightening one for the male, therefore giving the female the slight upper hand in a formerly oppressed relationship to the male figure.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is my first visit here, but I will be back soon, because I really like the way you are writing, it is so simple and honest