Corporeal feminism: gendered bodies in Angela Carter's the Passion of New Eve.
The Passion of New Eve is rendered as "Carter's most subversive novel", as Lindsey Tucker points out, "an attempt to textualize the truly indeterminate and fluctuating directions of gender construction" (11). For example, critics like Elaine Jordan, David Punter, Alison Lee, Heather L. Johnson, Lucie Armitt, Aidan Day and Sarah Gamble offer different ways of re-reading The Passion of New Eve, bringing to the fore the discussion of the re/deconstruction of gendered subjectivities. Taking into consideration the fluid structure of gender construction, however, this article provides a new interpretation of the gendered body in terms of the imbrication of gender performativity with "corporeality".
Before considering The Passion of New Eve in more detail, it is necessary to examine the critical context of recent discussions of corporeality. Feminist theories of the body scrutinize both ontic and epistemic structures of the body by challenging the trenchant patriarchal assumptions about both material and discursive status of the female body. Underlining the division between two schools of feminism about the body, however, Janet Price and Margrit Shildrick claim that "other feminist writers have developed theory that is explicitly embodied and insistent on the centrality of the material body; while yet others, influenced by poststructuralism and postmodernism in particular, have put into question the giveness and security of the so-called natural body, positing instead a textual corporeality that is fluid in its investments and meanings" (1). From this discussion on the body, "corporeal feminism", associated with Australian feminist theorists, such as Elizabeth Grosz, Vicki Kirby, Moira Gatens, Gail Weiss, and Elizabeth Wilson, have emerged, suggesting a new approach to the body. In general, corporeal feminism draws more attention to both textuality and materiality of the female body simultaneously rather than just discursive or biological status. In Volatile Bodies, a ground-breaking corporeal feminist text, Elizabeth Grosz remarks that "[t]he body is regarded as the political, social, and cultural object par excellence, not a product of a raw, passive nature that is civilized, overlaid, polished by culture. The body is a cultural interweaving and production of nature" (18). Importantly, in her argumentation, the interaction of nature and culture plays a considerable part in the constitution of the body; that is, the human body is not at all a biological entity, but rather a socio-cultural "matter" enmeshed in the world. In this respect, "corporeality" refers to "the material condition of subjectivity" (Grosz, Space 103). For corporeal feminism, corporeality signifies the materiality of the body shaped by discursive practices. In this argument, the body is regarded as "a kind of hinge or threshold: it is placed between psychic or lived interiority and a more socio-political exteriority that produces interiority through the inscription of the body's outer surface" (Space 33). Both "inscriptive" body and "lived" body produce a fluid corporeality; that is, corporeality is conceived both as "a surface on which social law, morality, and values are inscribed" and as "the lived experience of the body, the body's internal or psychic inscription" (Space 33). So conceived, material and textual corporeality constructs a specific self-identity, a particular subject in terms of specific cultural production. According to Grosz, "[a]s pliable flesh, the body is unspecified raw material of social inscription that produces subjects as subjects of a particular kind' (Space 32)(emphasis original). On this view, it is of great importance to understand the embodied self in The Passion of New Eve in terms of textual and material corporeality. What makes this novel meaningful for feminist corporeal theory is that the novel is centrally concerned with the "interplay of text and physicality which posits a body in process, never fixed or solid, but always multiple and fluid" (Price and Shildrick 6). Carter sets out to demythologise the familiar representations of gendered corporeal identities by reflecting on the corporeal performativity of the body in the novel.
Furthermore, corporeal feminism has drawn attention to the significance of gender and gendered bodies in relation to the social construction and the materialization of the body. Obviously, gender is deemed as a concept shaped by discursive norms. For Grosz and Judith Butler, as Abigail Bray and Claire Colebrook suggest, "the body is a crucial site of gender constitution" (36). Corporeal feminist scholars attach more importance to the discursive structure of gender and sexual difference, considering gender as a sociocultural construct. The reason for this is that it is from Rene Descartes onward that the body is relegated to an inferior status and is explicitly linked with the feminine regarded as lacking, mindless, passive, and inert. In this sense, the female body has become "the site for feminist reinscriptions and symbolic reappropriations of woman's subjectivity" (Braidotti 248). Essential to feminist argumentation of the female corporeality is an understanding of gender and sexuality. In her ground-breaking book, Gender Trouble, Judith Butler propounds a radical consideration of sex/gender binary opposition which constructs, regulates and controls female subjectivities in the society. What Butler contends is that gender is constructed through the iterative discursive norms that are social, medical, political, technological, and economic. In conjunction with other social categories, such as race, class, and sexuality, gender is an effect of iterative stylized acts which are performative. In this context, "gendered" body is only constructed as "gendered" through the stylized repetition of acts which are regulated by historical, social, and cultural discourses (Gender 179). The effects of these regulatory norms attach new meanings to gender. More to the point, gender becomes performative through the repetitive acts and performances (Gender 178), which Butler calls "gender performativity". Consequently, the gendered body is constituted through this performativity. This discursive performativity is not at all enough for embodied subjects in Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve.
On this view, Butler contends in Bodies That Matter that the materialization of gendered bodies is produced as the effect of power. It is at the intersection of power/knowledge or discursive formations which are cultural, social, political, economic, medical and technological that gendered bodies are installed and materialized. In Butler's contention, the material body can be only accessed through discourse which is always already gendered. Hence, the material body already becomes discursive and gendered. Unlike corporeal feminist theorists such as Grosz, Kirby, and Braidotti, Butler supports the radical social constructivism, focusing on the discursive production of the material body that is sexed. However, as mentioned above, feminist corporeal theory underlines the view that the fleshy material body already exists, that is, the corporeal body has an ontological status constructed by discursive norms. That's why this article suggests a corporeal performativity of bodies that are both textual and material, inscribed and lived. In this regard, Angela Carter breaks down the ontological stability of corporeality in the novel by emphasising corporeal performativity and gender fluidity. This destabilisation poses significant challenges for the female body and opens new avenues for considering gender beyond Butler's theory of gender performativity and hegemonic discourses.
Angela Carter dexterously questions "the idea that all of the things around us are constructed rather than natural but also invites us to ponder why they are made in the way they are-and, by extension, to ask ourselves why they are the way they are, or indeed why they are at all" (Cavallaro 6). In this sense, the concept of "corporeal performativity" offers an interesting angle on The Passion of New Eve, which is so essential to the understanding of the formation of gendered bodies. Julie Sanders notes that "[f]rom The Passion of New Eve to the twinned and constantly swapped identities of Wise Children, Carter was fascinated by the constructed nature of social and gendered identity" (119). Carter makes fundamental comments under the article title "Notes from the Front Line" on the way in which the readers need to evaluate Carter's approach towards the conceptions of gender and femininity. Firstly, she argues that "we were truly asking ourselves questions about the nature of reality" (37). The question Carter posed is whether the real is artificial or not. She is concerned with whether the reality is actually real or artificially constructed when she points to "my own questioning of the nature of my reality as a woman (38). In this article, secondly, she continues: "How that social fiction of my 'femininity' was created, by means outside my control, and palmed off on me as the real thing" (38). Obviously, these statements support the idea that gender/ed identities and bodies are discursively and corporeally constructed. This process is itself performative. What is important to note is that Carter, Butler and corporeal feminist scholars reveal the process of the formation of gendered corporeality. As Sarah Gamble points out, "the elaborate games that Carter plays with gender identity in this text [The Passion of New Eve] means that the nature of both femininity and masculinity is subjected to critique" (Fiction 90). Not only does Carter present a critique of the culturally constructed bodies, but also she provides quintessential angles on artificiality, human corporeality, masquerade, cross-dressing, androgyny and transgenderism.
In The Passion of New Eve Angela Carter examines "the specific historical and socio-cultural contexts for the construction of gendered subjectivities" (Munford 8) (emphasis original) by means of diverse corporealities of Eve/Evelyn, Tristessa de St Agne, Mother, Leilah/Lilith and Zero. First, it is significant to take into consideration the gendered corporeal metamorphosis of Evelyn/Eve in the novel. At the beginning of the novel, Evelyn, the misogynist and misanthropist Englishman, comes to New York City from London to work at a university. When arrived, "in New York I found, instead of hard edges and clean colours, a lurid, Gothic darkness that closed over my head entirely and became my world" (The Passion of New Eve 6). This darkness of the city is implicitly connected with the gendered and raced corporeality of a black woman, Leilah/Lilith, later in the novel with the black, monstrous body of Mother. The dark atmosphere here supports the recurrent images related to womb/tomb/grave/cave throughout the novel. Later, Evelyn encounters a Czech soldier called Baroslav, who states that "'[t]he age of reason is over'" (The Passion of New Eve 9). Conspicuously, this soldier symbolises the derailment of rationalism in that he performs alchemy through magic and science like Mother. This critique of rationalism and technology again comes to surface in the practices of Mother, because for Carter, science, technology and rationalism are important tools to objectify and commodify the female body. In Volatile Bodies, as Grosz suggests, in Cartesianism, the body is scrutinized in three ways: first, "the body is primarily regarded as an object for the natural sciences" (8); second, the body is seen "in terms of metaphors that construe it as an instrument, a tool, or a machine" (8); third, "the body is commonly considered a signifying medium, a vehicle of expression" (9). In the light of the abovementioned statements related to Cartesianism, the body has often been structured in terms of dichotomies. In corporeal feminist theory, the prime concern is to disrupt the entrenched notions and norms of science concerning physiology of the body, to shatter the stratified thoughts of philosophy on the Cartesian body. In a similar fashion, Carter deconstructs this idea of Cartesian body, creating constructed corporealities of Eve/Evelyn and Tristessa in the novel.
In addition, the motif of hermaphrodite is of great significance to a questioning of androgyny in relation to material and textual corporeality in the novel. In the apartment of the Czech soldier, there is a poster which is loaded with various meanings: "There was a seventeenth-century print, tinted by hand, of a hermaphrodite carrying a golden egg that exercised a curious fascination upon me, the dual form with its breasts and its cock, its calm, comprehensive face. (Coming events?)" (The Passion of New Eve 9). The narrative voice implies something related to the gendered corporeal metamorphosis of Evelyn/Eve. The image of hermaphroditism re-emerges in chapter 9 at a time when Evelyn/Eve and Tristessa have intercourse in the sterile desert. The interrogation of embodied essence and projected self is as such:
[E]very modulation of the selves we now projected upon each other's flesh, selves-aspects of being, ideas-that seemed, during our embraces, to be the very essence of our selves; the concentrated essence of being, as if, out of these fathomless kisses and our interpenetrating, undifferentiated sex, we had made the great Platonic hermaphrodite together, the whole and perfect being to which he, with an absurd and touching heroism, had, in his own single self, aspired. (The Passion of New Eve 144-5)
The single body of Evelyn/Eve and Tristessa forms a perfect corporeal self without any trace of genders. As Claire Colebrook explicates the concept of gendered performativity in Gender, "the self is nothing more than a series of actions-a performance" (211). In this sense, this hermaphroditic self is a performance, a corporeal performance. When we look at the corporeal performativity of Tristessa, a Hollywood movie actress, the constructed illusory image of the body comes to surface in relation to the male body of Tristessa. In particular, in an interview with John Haffenden, Carter explains why she created this character:
In The Passion of New Eve the central character is a transvestite movie star, and I created this person in order to say some quite specific things about the cultural production of femininity. The promotion slogan for the film Gilda, starring Rita Hayworth, was 'There was never a woman like Gilda', and that may have been one of the reasons why I made my Hollywood star a transvestite, a man, because only a man could think of femininity in terms of that slogan. Quite a number of people read The Passion of New Eve as a feminist tract and recoiled with suitable horror and dread, but in fact there is quite a careful and elaborate discussion of femininity as a commodity, of Hollywood producing illusions as tangible commodities-yet most of that was completely by-passed. (The Passion of New Eve 85-6) (emphasis mine)
In this sense, the feminine body of Tristessa is formed through the projected images of Hollywood movies. Tristessa's corporeality is marked as "gendered" by means of cinematographic reflection on the screen. In the narrative Tristessa is described in such words: "Tristessa. Enigma. Illusion. Woman? Ah! And all you signified was false! Your existence was only notional; you were a piece of pure mystification, Tristessa" (The Passion of New Eve 2). In the novel there is an ongoing disruption of the causality between corporeality and ontology and gender. This is valid for Eve/lyn, Tristessa, and Leilah. In the text Tristessa "had been the dream itself made flesh though the flesh I knew her in was not flesh itself but only a moving picture of flesh, real but not substantial" (4). It appears to support the idea that Tristtessa's gendered corporeality is both textual as a female and material as a male. Underlining the textuality of the body, the narrator, Evelyn/Eve, expresses the illusiory body of Tristessa by stating, "[b]ody, all body, to hell with the soul" (3). Tristessa, "the very type of romantic dissolution, necrophilia incarnate" (3), aligns textuality with materiality of his/her body. That is, Tristessa's corporeality is a meeting point constructed through the specific social, cultural and historical discursive structures, as well as lived vicissitudes he goes through as a male. It is through the images of photographs, advertisements, and magazines that Tristessa's gendered body is produced. This inscription of cultural and social and visual power upon Tristessa's corporeality signifies that the specific discursive structures are vital elements in producing the gendered body. The narrator notably emphasizes the idea that Tristessa is a cultural artefact due to the fact that "now I was disillusioned with her when I discovered she could stoop to a pretence of humanity" (4). This acting and false appearance of Tristessa is of utmost importance to the understanding of gender as performative. Butler highlights that "in imitating gender, drag implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender itself-as well as its contingency (Gender 175) (emphasis original). Tristessa as a drag displays the constructedness of gender, and drag highlights the fact that it is a cultural artefact moulded by the heterosexual matrix. The masculinity or femininity of Tristessa is a social fabrication based on corporeal acts like Evelyn/Eve's masculinity. In the novel, Evelyn/Eve's comment upon the corporeality of Tristessa is:
You were an illusion in a void. You were the living image of the entire Platonic shadow show, an illusion that could fill my own emptiness with marvellous, imaginary things as long as, just so long as, the movie lasted, and then all would vanish. This world had never been sufficient for you; to go beyond the boundaries of flesh had been your occupation and so you had become nothing, a wrath that left only traces of a silver powder on the hands that clutched helplessly at your perpetual vanishings. (107)
The fleshy situation of Tristessa takes place only after he/she meets Evelyn/Eve in the glass mausoleum. The inscribed body combines the lived body in the corporeality of Tristessa there. The imitation of woman's acts turns out to be "authentic" in Tristessa's case. It is worth remarking that "the sufferings she had mimicked with such persuasiveness they had achieved a more perfect degree of authenticity than any she might have undergone in real life" (The Passion of New Eve 119). However authentic his/her gestures are, Tristessa is a self-created, self-constructed ersatz. Tristessa "performs" womanliness in such a real way that he/she becomes a fetishized image. It is stated that
her own shadow, worn away to its present state of tangible in substantiality because, perhaps, so many layers of appearances had been stripped from it by the camera - as if the camera stolen, not the soul, but her body and left behind a presence like an absence that lived, now, only in a quiet, ghostly, hypersensitised world of its own. Even her terror had a curiously stylised quality; she acted it out with absolute conviction but I cannot tell whether or not she experienced it. (119-120)
Tristessa wears varied masks to obfuscate his/her another socially sanctioned gender. Tristessa is "the perfect man's woman! He had made himself the shrine of his own desires, had made of himself the only woman he could have loved!" (The Passion of New Eve 125). Both Evelyn/Eve and Tristessa are social and cultural artefacts constructed through the quotidian material reality. As Grosz points out, the body "must be regarded as a site of social, political, cultural, and geographical inscriptions, production, or constitution. The body is not opposed to culture, a resistant throwback to a natural past; it is itself a cultural, the cultural, product" (Volatile 23). Thus, Evelyn/Eve is amazed at "the authenticity of Tristessa's womanhood" by noting that "Tristessa, the sensous fabrication of the mythology of the flea-pits. How could a real woman ever have been so much a woman as you?" (125). The surface falsity of Tristessa turns out to be his/her authentic gender identity. As he/she remarks in the novel, "when the years passed and my disguise became my nature, I no longer troubled myself with these subterfuges. Once the essence was achieved, the appearance could take care of itself' (138). In fact, this fabricated essence is by all means an illusion, for, as Carter expresses, the essence is a kind of appearance. As Sarah Gamble underlines, "theatrical illusion is displayed in all its artifice and it is in the act of acknowledging it as an illusion that we arrive at the reality of life" ("Something" 48). The theatricality of Tristessa opens up new spaces for disrupting the illusory nature of corporeality. In The Passion of New Eve, what is emphasised is that "[f]lesh is a function of enchantment. It uncreates the world" (144). This offering is exemplified in a passage stated by Evelyn/Eve from the novel: "I had become my old self again in the inverted world of the mirrors. But this masquerade was more than skin deep. Under the mask of maleness I wore another mask of femaleness but a mask that now I never would be able to remove, no matter how hard I tried, although I was a boy disguised as a boy again, like Rosalind in Elizabethan Arden" (129). Obviously, both inscribed body and lived body produces Eve/Evelyn's corporeality as such.
Besides the gendered corporeal performance of Tristessa, the character of Leilah/Lilith, after all, reflects the typical roles of femininity when she encounters Evelyn/Eve in New York City. As Evelyn/Eve points out, Leilah/Lilith is "a girl all softly black in colour-nigredo, the stage of darkness, when the material in the vessel has broken down to dead matter. Then the matter putrefies. Dissolution. Leilah" (10). She is a performance artist, and the fictiveness of her femininity like Evelyn/Eve and Tristessa reflects the idea that gender is an effect of corporeal performative significations. Leilah/Lilith "was unnatural, she was irresponsible. Duplicity gleamed in her eyes and her self seemed to come and go in her body, fretful, wilful, she a visitor in her own flesh. Her skin was like the inside of a glove" (23). As is indicated, the flesh is tangible but at the same time contingent. As Anne Enright notes, "[s]kin is the substance that turns 'meat' into 'flesh.' It transforms the brute and mortal, and births it into the sexual and deathless world of sign" (38). Leilah/Lilith's skin is akin to "meat" when she dons her apparatuses in her theatrical performances. The theatricality of femininity is explained through Leilah/Lilith's gendered performative corporeality. The essence of her gender is already constructed, and her corporeal surface already becomes a gendered surface refigured by iterative corporeal acts. The image of the mirror in her apartment indicates that the fabricated, inscribed self is different from the tangible, lived body:
I would lie on her bed like a pasha, smoking, watching, in her cracked mirror, the transformation of the grubby little bud who slumbered all day in her filth; she was a night-blooming flower. But, unlike a flower, she did not grow beautiful by a simple process of becoming. Her beauty was an accession. She arrived at it by a conscious effort. She became absorbed in the contemplation of the figure in the mirror as, in any degree, herself. The reflected Leilah had a concrete form and, although this form was perfectly tangible, we all knew, all of three of us in the room, it was another Leilah. Leilah invoked this formal other with a gravity and ritual that recalled witchcraft; she brought into being a Leilah who lived only in the not-world of the mirror and then became her own reflection. (The Passion of New Eve 24)
Significantly, her non-corporeality in the mirror is only a theatrical and performative illusion. Her fictive self in the mirror is a fabrication which might reflect Evelyn's hedonic fantasies. Leilah/Lilith's corporeality becomes "gendered" through significations of Evelyn/Eve's desires and fantasies, cosmetics and costumes:
All the delights of the flesh available in one institution of bone and muscle. The finicking care she used to give to the creation of this edifice! Applying the rouge to her nether lips and the purple or peony or scarlet grease to her mouth and nipples; powders and unguents all the colours of the rainbow went on to the skin in the sockets of her eyes; with the manual dexterity of an assemble of precision instruments, she glued on the fringe of false eyelashes. Topiary of her hair she would sometimes thread with beads or dust with glinting bronze powder she also applied to her pubic mound. Then she sprayed herself with dark perfumes that enhanced rather than concealed the lingering odour of sexuality that was her own perfume. (25)
The corporeality of Leilah/Lilith is a sociocultual artefact which is moulded through theatrical acts, costumes and make-up. In "Introduction", Lorna Sage points out that "Carter's people are constructs in any case, not born but made" (24). Leilah/Lilith is a material fabrication out of illusory feminine myths. Leilah/Lilith embodies both artificiality and reality. She has fleshy corporeality, but in her performances she turns out to be "her ritual incarnation, the way she systematically carnalised herself and became dressed meat" (The Passion of New Eve 27). She becomes a fetishized corporeality like Tristessa in her theatrical performances.
When we return to corporeal performativity of Eve/Evelyn, geographical inscription has great effect on his/her corporeality. The desert, like New York City, is personified as "the abode of enforced sterility, the dehydrated sea of infertility, the postmenopausal part of the earth" (The Passion of New Eve 36). In fact, the world is seen as the body as is indicated in these sentences: "The earth has been scalped, flayed; it is peopled only with echoes. The world shines and glistens, reeks and swelters till its skin peels, flakes, cracks, blisters" (37). The corporeality of the city and desert is created through these images. Another image supporting the idea that gender/ed metamorphosis will take place in the desert is a bird. It is important to remark that "it was a bird. [...] it was at once-the Bird of Hermes, the bleeding bird of the iconography of the alchemists; now the great, white, beautiful bird turns to dead and putrefying matter". (40). This "an instantaneous metamorphosis" (40) is valid for Evelyn/Eve and Tristessa in the text. Carter's desert imagery here indicates the imbrication of "passive" body of desert with lively bird in the transformation of Eve/Evelyn's corporeality.
In this corporeal desert, Evelyn/Eve is kidnapped by the feminist guerrilla warriors, The Women. The Women lead Evelyn/Eve to Beulah, "the place where contrarieties exist together" (45). For Evelyn/Eve, Beulah seems to be an inner city like a womb/tomb/cave. The leader of this constructed matriarchy is Mother, regarded as "a chthonic deity, a presence always present in the shaping structure of dream. She is a holy woman, it is a profane place" (43). This militant feminist group is constructed by Mother, the scientist and the goddess. "Beneath this stone sits the Mother in a complicated mix of mythology and technology" (44). Conspicuously, Carter critiques material and discursive power structures, especially mythical archetypes and technological intervention as is understood from the aforementioned sentence. By means of these myths and technology, especially cosmetic surgery, the corporeality of Evelyn/Eve undergoes a "gendered" metamorphosis:"The plastic surgery that turned me into my own diminutive, Eve, the shortened form of Evelyn, this artificial changeling, the Tiresias of Southern California, took, in all, only two months to complete" (68). The plasticity and artificiality of the feminine body is emphasised throughout the narrativization of Evelyn/Eve. Notably, as a consequence of this technological intervention Evelyn is surgically transformed into New Eve with a new synthetic flesh. Mother, who is "the Great Parricide", and "the Castratrix of the Phallocentric Universe" (64), castrates Evelyn/Eve with a knife. The artificial corporealities and constructedness of gender are prevalent in Beulah, too. Evelyn/Eve points out that "[t]his room was quite round, as if it had been blown out, like buble gum, inflated under the earth; its walls were of a tough, synthetic integument with an unnatural sheen upon it that troubled me to see, it was so slick, so lifeless. Everything in the room had a curiously artificial quality, though nothing seemed unreal, far from it" (46-7). Commenting upon this artificiality, Evelyn/Eve thinks about his/her discursively constructed corporeality. Evelyn/Eve feminine body is produced not only by discursive mechanisms such as Hollywood films and magazines in which Tristessa St Agne is the best example of femininity, but also by material, technological implantation and transplantation. Above all, this biotechnological intervention to which Evelyn/Eve's flesh is exposed is by no means enough to be a "woman". In Beulah, his/her flesh is moulded by the specific discursive social engineering so that she could become "a perfect specimen of womanhood" (65). When we return to Judith Butler's conceptualization of gender performativity, she argues in Gender Trouble that
[t]he parodic repetition of gender exposes as well the illusion of gender identity as an intractable depth and inner substance. As the effects of a subtle and politically enforced performativity, gender is an "act", as it were, that is open to splittings, self-parody, self-criticism, and those hyperbolic exhibitions of "the natural" that, in their very exaggeration, reveal its fundamentally phantasmatic status. (187)
This "phantasmatic" status becomes materialised when Evelyn/Eve is in Zero's harem. As iterative acts and gestures, he/she begins to "perform" his/her gender corporeally: "[M]y manner became a little too emphatically feminine. I roused Zero's suspicions because I began to behave too much like a woman and he started to watch me warily for signs of the tribade" (98). It is significant to underline that gendered corporeal performativity of Evelyn/Eve turns out to be a self-parodying performance, a spectacle, a performative theatricality of his/her femininity as can be observed in Tristessa's nature of femininity. As Butler remarks in Undoing Gender, "it is through the body that gender and sexuality become exposed to others, implicated in social processes, inscribed by cultural norms, and apprehended in their social meanings" (20). Evelyn/Eve's corporeality undergoes this kind of "gendering" process through corporeal suffering and social engineering performed by the matriarchy of Mother and the patriarchy of Zero. What the above quotation underlines is that the idea that "gender is performative is not simply to insist on a right to produce a pleasurable and subversive spectacle but to allegorize the spectacular and consequential ways in which reality is both reproduced and contested" (Butler, Undoing 30). As Carter interrogates the reality and artificiality of the feminine flesh in the novel, the text itself paves the way for this kind of literary criticism related to the conceptualization of gendered corporeal performativity.
More important, Evelyn/Eve's "natural" sex is surgically transfigured, and throughout his/her journey he/she copes with the hardships she encounters. In doing so, she displays the artificial and performative nature of his/her gender through his/her corporeal performativity. Evelyn/Eve tells of her corporeal experience as follows: "This intensive study of feminine manners, as well as my everyday work about the homestead, kept me in a state of permanent exhaustion. I was tense and preoccupied; although I was a woman, I was now also passing for a woman, but, then, many women born spend their whole lives in just such imitations" (97). It is from this context that Evelyn/Eve's becoming-woman takes place through such gendered corporeal performances. From corporeal feminist angle, the feminine body might be perceived as an object inscribed upon by the outer discursive power structures, and as a lived body constructed by psychic inscriptions. Grosz states that "[b]odies speak, without necessarily talking, because they become intextuated, narrativized; simultaneously, social codes, laws, norms, and ideals become incarnated" (Space 35). In this respect, in The Passion of New Eve, Evelyn/Eve points out that "I am a tabula erasa, a blank sheet of paper, an unhatched egg. I have not yet become a woman, although I possess a woman's shape. Not a woman, no; both more and less than a real woman. Now I am a being as mythic and monstrous as Mother herself' (79). Mother's ideal image gets embodied in the corporeality of Evelyn/Eve. Nevertheless, this process of Evelyn/Eve's becoming-woman takes place when his/her corporeality interacts with other bodies, such as Zero's castrated corporeality. The cultural, social and historical inscriptions are written upon his/her corporeality through corporeal suffering, corporeal beatings of Zero the poet during his/her gendered metamorphoses. As a dehumanized subject in the novel, Zero is an oppressor raping, abusing and torturing his wives. As Charley Baker suggests in "'Nobody's Meat:' Revisiting Rape and Sexual Trauma through Angela Carter", Zero is "the ultimate personification of misogyny, almost to the extent of becoming a caricature" (77). This misogyny ends up with brutalising his wives. As for his corporeality, Zero "had only the one eye and that was of an insatiable blue; he covered his empty socket with a black patch. He was one-legged, to match, and would poke his women with the artificial member" (82). The castrated corporeality is complemented with the artificial organ. This prosthetic corporeality, indeed, reinforces the brutal situation of Zero in the sense that his virility is only reinvigorated through the brutal acts. What is more, the corporealities of his women, Marijane, Sadie, Apple Pie, Tiny, Betty Boop, Betty Louella and Emmeline are regulated by Zero's corporeal acts: "They all bore the angry marks of love bites on the exposed flesh of throat and neck" (85). Claire Colebrook underlines the idea that the body "forms itself through power, achieving both its specifity and its sex through actions and relations to other bodies" (220). Evelyn/Eve's corporeality is produced through these kinds of experinces in his/her journey. His/her inscribed and lived corporeality becomes gendered as result.
Evelyn/Eve's corporeality draws more attention to the question of whether his/her body has its own agency to perform sexual difference. In Beulah, she undergoes psychosomatic processes to be a perfect woman. In this process, Evelyn/Eve states that "the programming began and, wonder of wonders, old Hollywood provided me with a new set of nursery tales" (68). The new flesh of Evelyn/Eve turns out to be an apparatus moulded through Hollywood simulated images of women. Carter shows us how the hegemonic discursive structures like Hollywood have a great influence on one's flesh and how it is projected upon the formation of gender. He/she comments,
I don't know if the movies were selected on purpose, as part of the ritual attrition of my change in ontological status: this is what you've made of women! And now you yourself become what you've made ... Certainly the films that spun out a thread of illusory reality before my dazed eyes showed me all the pain of womanhood. Tristessa, your solitude, your melancholy Our Lady of the Sorrows, Tristessa; you came to me in seven veils of celluloid and demonstrated, in your incomparable tears, every kitsch excess of the mode of femininity. (The Passion of New Eve 68)
The interrogation of ontological status of the feminine corporeality reflects the idea that your appearance or body image might be artificial and illusory. As Butler argues in Bodies that Matter, the materialization of the body takes place through significations, performances and signs (67-72). That is to say, the body as a matter is only an effect of powerful discursive mechanisms regulating human corporeality according to heterosexual matrix. Evelyn/Eve is obviously concerned with the appearance owing to the fact that everything in Beulah is only a surface. He/she points out that "your essence were hung up in a closet like a dress too good to be worn and you were reduced to going out in only your appearance" (The Passion of New Eve 69). Indeed, in her writing entitled "People as Pictures", which she examines the traditional Japanese tattoo art, irezumi, she notes that "the essence is often the appearance" (383). In the novel, Evelyn/Eve states that "this unfleshed other whom I was had not the slightest idea how to utilise the gadgetry of her new appearance" (The Passion of New Eve 79). Clearly, his/her corporeality is an artificial costume moulded on his/her body. Evelyn/Eve is "involved in ideological games wherein reality is considered a mere by-product of textuality" (Cavallaro 82). However, Evelyn/Eve's body is both material and textual in the novel as this article argues. In the psychosomatic condition, Evelyn/Eve feels an estrangement towards his/her gendered body:
[W]hen I looked in the mirror, I saw Eve; I did not see myself. I saw a young woman who, though she was I, I could in no way acknowledge as myself, for this one was only a lyrical abstraction of femininity to me, a tinted arrangement of curved lines. I touched the breasts and the mound that were not mine; I saw white hands in the mirror move, it was as though they were white gloves I had put on to conduct the unfamiliar orchestra of myself. (71)
The ontological destabilization of Evelyn/Eve is reinforced as a consequence of plastic surgery. This ontological disruption enables him/her to be accustomed her new skin which is artificially engineered like his/her vagina implant. As Rebecca Munford states, "she is concerned with the re-location, rather than the Jis-location of the subject" (10). The re-location of Evelyn/Eve takes place after he/she experiences the corporeal vicissitudes in the novel. In The Passion of New Eve, Evelyn/Eve highlights the fact that "[t]o be a man is not a given condition but a continuous effort" (60). The gendered metamorphosis of Evelyn/Eve gives his/her a corporeal void:
I was literally in two minds; my transformation was both perfect and imperfect. All of New Eve's experience came through two channels of sensation, her own fleshly ones and his mental ones. But at length the sense of having been Evelyn began, in spite of himself, to fade, although Eve was a creature without memory; she was amnesiac, a stranger in the world as she was in her own body--but it wasn't that she'd forgotten everything, no. Rather, she had nothing to remember. (The Passion of New Eve 74)
His/her gendered metamorphosis at first seems to be ambiguous, but he/she ultimately gets accustomed to her new embodied self after meeting Tristessa. At the denouement Eve transgresses the boundaries of gender with her new corporeality by sailing to new life.
Reading The Passion of New Eve through corporeal performativity opens a textual space for the disruption of social and cultural norms regarding Cartesian dichotomies and its discourses of objectification, sexualized commodification, mythification and fetishization of the fe/male body. Placing corporeality in the context of both matriarchy and patriarchy, Carter provides a new gender critique for the constitution of corporeality in the novel, suggesting that both inscribed body and lived body co-produce fluid corporeality that is already gendered.
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|Author:||Yazgunoglu, Kerim Can|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2015|
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