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Demystification and sacrificial thinking: violence in Terenci Moix's Mon mascle.

Demystification and Sacrificial Thinking: Violence in Terenci Moix's Mon Mascle by Arthur J. Hughes

Terenci Moix prefaces Mon mascle with an epigraph from Sade's Juliette, ascribing to the concepts of justice and religion the masking of an inherently violent human nature that delights in carnage and bloodshed. Mon mascle's graphic descriptions of ritual sacrifices and daily cruelty portray a world paralleling a Sadean ideology where violence rules unchecked. However, a close reading based on Rene Girard and Walter Burkert shows that it is this violence that enables the formation of the cultural identity of a society whose internal coherence recognizes the structural importance of profaning the sacred. Moix's text can be read as a recommendation for Catalan identity to assume its demystified Spanishness and the violence implicit in its sacrificial thinking.

In Violence and the Sacred Rene Girard proposes two useful terms for under standing religion: sacrificial thinking, he notes, masks the role of violence in establishing and maintaining religion (and all mechanisms that repress and o divert violence), while its opposite, demystification, exposes religion's violent origins and renders untenable the abstractions employed by sacrificial thinking. (1) Sacrificial thinking, in Girard's view, is the thought process by which a system is deemed transcendent enough to justify itself as a legitimate social means of curtailing violence, while at the same time constituting itself into that very transcendent quality. Girard equates this mysterious and obfuscating mechanism with religion, suggesting that both preventive systems (ritual sacrifice) and curative ones (judicial system) can be considered religions in so far as they depend on this reasoning as a means of justifying their existence (Violence, p. 23). By its very nature, sacrificial thinking is based on a violence that successfully shrouds its own nature once the instituted system appears justified and legitimate: it hides both the violence underneath its own rational process as well as that of the system chosen by a society. By preparing the conditions for an acceptance of a particular method of restraining violence, sacrificial thinking validates the choice of a particular institutional form as the best of all possible worlds. Sacrificial thinking, according to Girard, is what draws a veil over the subject of vengeance and prevents genuine demystification from taking place. (2)

Girard uses the concept of demystification to refer to the process of unravelling the mysticism that surrounds both preventive and curative measures. Demystification exposes the origins in sacrifices and vengeance of all systems aiming at curbing unrestrained violence. In other words, demystification exposes sacrificial thinking. Unmasking the purely arbitrary nature of the preference for one system over another results in a state of relativity in the evaluation of legitimate and illegitimate forms of violence which, Girard believes, leads to a return of unrestrained violence:

As soon as the essential quality of transcendence--religious, humanistic, or whatever--lost, there are no longer any terms by which to define the legitimate form of violence and to recognize it among the multitude of illicit forms. The definition of legitimate and illegitimate forms then becomes a matter of mere opinion, with each man free to reach his own decision. (Violence, p. 24)

Although demystification leads to constantly increasing violence, this violence, Girard goes on to say, is 'perhaps less "hypocritical" than the violence it seeks to expose, but more energetic, more virulent, and the harbinger of something far worse--a violence that knows no bounds' (Violence, pp. 24-25). Terenci Moix's novel Mon mascle (3) is an example of how a demystified religion leads to more violence but, contrary to Girard's prognostication, does not necessarily generate limitless violence. Furthermore, religious demystification does not necessarily preclude the need for sacrificial thinking, as Girard suggests. In Moix's novel, the two concepts work together to create an alternative social construction where violence, rather than being a force to be feared and repressed, is transferred from the sacred realm and relocated in the profane world. Mon Mascle's establishment of a transcendental value, based on the pragmatic and aesthetic uses of violence, places limits on acceptable violence. By a series of arbitrary choices based on sacrificial thinking--Evil as the supreme good, embodied in masculine perfection-violence and destruction become subjected to the ideals of Evil and masculinity, and establish their own limits. Thus, demystification, to be successful, must make use of a form of sacrificial thinking that exposes its own basis in violence or risk the danger of substituting one form of violence for another.

Mon mascle narrates the story of Gerard, a Breton pop singer, who describes his arrival in and eventual escape from an alternative world that exhibits an advanced stage of culture and technology side by side with human sacrifices and acts of extreme cruelty. Kidnapped while on holiday in Minia, a small desert town in Egypt, Gerard awakens in a fantastic parallel world where a religion based on Evil promotes the rule of masculine power, whose virtues are violence, cruelty, and pain. Gerard is groomed to become the new co-god Nbj'nepu-ra, whose annual death ensures fertility and the rebirth of life. In his role as the representative of the Divine Epsamon, Gerard must acquire the ideology of virility that requires a physique capable of inflicting and enduring all types of pain and torture, a cult that has given rise to a race of Aryan titans. (4) Through a painful indoctrination process Gerard comes to accept the ethos and practices of his new society. However, upon learning that he is destined to be sacrificed, Gerard escapes from this new world and is interned by his Irish manager in a Swiss clinic for the mad rich. He eludes his guards, escapes from the clinic, and returns to Minia, from where he narrates his story, reiterating his desire to return to Mon Mascle and resume his role as Nbj'nepu-ra, in spite of the certain death that awaits him on his return.

Since its publication, Moix's novel has elicited a wide range of responses from critics in their effort to interpret and categorize it within the context of Catalan literature and identity. Among the critics who coincide in signalling the novel as a break, a rarity in the corpus of the contemporary Catalan novel, Pere Gimferrer emphasizes the tension between realism and fantasy, suggesting that the former is more characteristic of Catalan (and Moix's) narrative than the latter. (5) In his prologue to the Castilian edition of the novel, Gimferrer suggests that Moix's novel is a rarity even within the European context in spite of its patent similarities to Sade. Though he accepts the obvious metaphorical implications of the text, Gimferrer downplays these in order to highlight the aesthetic qualities of Moix's writing: 'pare Moix el proposito decorativo es central' (p. 8). Thus the themes of cruelty, violence, eroticism, and religion are subordinated to a style designed to evoke the dreams and fantasies of the author's childhood and adolescence. (6) Paradoxically, Gimferrer does not see in Moix's 'narrative de imaginacion' any reference to the question of Catalan identity and culture, in spite of the insightful comment suggesting that this style is the 'cara oculta' of his realist narrative. Gimferrer's comments make sense viewed in the context of the equation 'fer art = fer patria' that Kathryn Crameri identifies as characteristic of both the modernista and post-Civil War periods in Catalan literature. (7) Given the critical consensus of a realist postwar Catalan narrative, we can extend Crameri's equation to 'fer realisme = fer patria', with the result that the rupture Gimferrer and other critics attribute to Moix's narrative style comes to be read as a separation from 'fer patria', or the question of Catalan identity. In disrupting the notion of a homogeneous and representative Catalan narrative, Mon mascle highlights what Arthur Terry describes as an oversimplification of the smooth evolution of Catalan narrative. (8) The view that the transition from one literary epoch to another is unproblematic is as much an attempt to establish a continuous national identity as it is to establish a literature, particularly in the case of Catalonia, where literature and national identity have been linked since the Renaixenca--the vertebrating axis of catalanisme, in the words of the poet Bru de Sala. (9)

Placed within the context of a cosmopolitan world, the novel suggests a critique of global trends and a preoccupation with a more universalized human nature rather than with the localized structures of a particular community's identity, albeit the writer's own. The novel's portrayal of a violent and cannibalistic world presented through a lens of pop culture, kitsch, and camp appears far removed from a realist representation of Catalan culture-that is, what might be considered 'fer patria'. Indeed, the totally cosmopolitan nature of the novel, without a hint of Catalan or Spanish input (the narrator is Breton, his interlocutor and manager are Greek and Irish respectively, his companions are Americans, the novel is located in the Egyptian desert and a parallel fantasy world), only lends itself to a reading of Catalan culture and identity by extrapolation. This gives credence to Gimferrer's unintended depiction of Moix's text as the unconscious of realist Catalan narrative, i.e. the unconscious of Catalan identity. It is within this context that the novel's dedication to the Catalan literary critic Joaquim Molas serves the strategic purpose of signalling the text's 'queer' insider and outsider status. Moix's dedication plays on the identity of his text ('no es allo que sembla, ni es allo que pot semblar' (p. 5)) by stating that its very ambiguity is what makes it Catalan. (10) This suggests that the superficially cosmopolitan nature of the text as well as its content--a violent masculine world based on a religion of Evil--can be read as a reflection of Catalan culture, despite the lack of material points of contact. The novel's literary identity is a function of appearances and the negation of those same appearances. (11) The narrator's pointed comparisons of Gerard's role as a pop icon and that of Nbj'nepu-ra as a religious icon hint at the link between popular culture and religion, between the profane and the sacred, and by extension between high and low culture, through the mediation of violence. Mon mascle is thus an invitation to see a contemporary Catalan identity shorn of its masking pretences.

Following Gimferrrer's suggestion, it is possible to read Moix's novel as an allegorical rendering of a Catalan culture kidnapped and forced to reinvent itself by a masculine-oriented and violently sadistic Francoist Spain. Gerard's forced re-education is a description of the violence done to Catalan culture as it undergoes espanolizacion under the Franco regime, an initial distaste that soon becomes habit (such as Catalonia's bilingualism), leading to an eventual predilection for espanolismo. In this reading, Gerard's escape from Mon Mascle and subsequent attempts to return mark the death of Franco and detail the difficult relationship that exists between Spanish and Catalan cultures even after the end of the dictatorship and a return to an autonomous Catalan Generalitat. Oriol Pi-Sunyer describes the emergence of an alternative left (Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds: ICV) within Catalan nationalist politics as a result of the 'growing disenchantment of a [Catalan] people caught between the power of conservative peripheral nationalisms and the hegemony of espanolismo even after the Transition to autonomy'. (12) This restatement of the conflictive nature of identity (as always opposed to some 'other') may be seen as what is germane to Catalan culture: the inescapable fact of its dependence on Spanish culture given their common origins and forced association over centuries, as well as the use of Spanish culture as a means of contrast for purposes of a nationalist political agenda. The (re)assertion of a Catalan culture and identity has its basis in sacrificial thinking: that one form is to be preferred over another. That this entails violence is inevitable and should be openly recognized. Thus the religion of catalanitat becomes demystified and admits its links with and dependence on its Spanish 'other'. (13)

In addition to demonstrating his erudite and eclectic knowledge, Moix's quotations from the sixteenth-century Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno and the Marquis de Sade reinforce the cosmopolitan nature of the text's inspiration. In common with the works of these two philosophers, Mon mascle presents a heterodox view of religion that attempts to unmask its hidden structures in order to create a more objective basis for social relations. Moix establishes a link between the novel's content and the two 'philosopher-villains', to use Pierre Klossowski's term, (14) suggesting that Bruno is a precursor to Sade in spite of the centuries that separate them. The epigraph from Sade's Juliette ou les prosperites de vice that prefaces Moix's novel ascribes to the concepts of justice and religion the function of masking an inherently violent human nature that delights in murder and bloodshed and calls into question the nature and function of violence in Western society:

De temps immemorial enca, l'home ha trobat plaer vessant la sang dels seus germans, i per tal d'acontentar-se ha disfressat la seva passio criminal sota la mascara de la justicia o de la religio. Pero la seva finalitat sempre ha estat 1'insolit plaer que li produeix matar. (Mon mascle, p. 7)

Moix's use of this epigraph suggests the intention of depicting a world where violence holds sway unchecked by the institutions of justice and religion, a novel that imitates Sade's parody and critique of social values. Mon Mascle is an entire society predicated on masculinity and violence as opposed to Sade's insertion of a subversive culture within the broader society. However, a close reading of the text shows that this violence is not gratuitous; it is neither aimed at unmasking the hypocrisy of social values nor motivated by the egotistic desire for pleasure in all its forms prominent in the Sadean text. Rather, violence is part of a social structure whose internal coherence questions its nature and role in human lives, especially when taken to its limits. On an initial reading, the text's graphic description of the different violent acts appears to imitate Sadean violence in all its forms, with the exception of the sexual transgressions prominent in Sade's works. However, Moix's novel portrays religion in a light diametrically opposed to Sade's views: violence emanates from religion itself and is directed towards the objectives of Evil. Paradoxically, the end result of both strategies produces a conflation of the sacred and the profane spheres: in other words, the emergence of Georges Bataille's sovereign subject, the individual who overcomes all limits and converts transgression into an internal possibility of the same limits. (15)

In addition to sharing broadly similar conclusions about the nature of violence and its role in sacrifice, the works of Walter Burkert and Rene Girard provide support for the Sadean epigraph that prefaces Mon mascle. Burkert suggests that the violent nature of humans can be explained by the duration of the Palaeolithic age--some two to three million years--during which our ancestors were primarily engaged in devising and perfecting their hunting skills. Based on this premiss, he concludes that 'We can understand man's terrifying violence as deriving from the behavior of the predatory animal, whose characteristics he came to acquire in the course of becoming man.' Even more categorical is his observation that 'civilized life endures only by giving a ritual form to the brute force that still lurks in men'. (16) If we replace the polarizing word 'disguised' ('disfressat') with a more neutral one such as 'rechannelled', Sade's view of violence, though a partial one, becomes a reasonable description of the evolution of humanity's violent nature and of the strategies employed to keep it in check.

Rene Girard's Violence displays a similar reformulation of Moix's epigraph. Girard proposes the view that violence is inherent in human nature and is mimetic; that religion (or ritual sacrifice) and the judicial system, two evolutionary extremes in the control of human violence, attempt to divert and control inherent and mimetic violence. Girard sees the modern judicial system and primitive religion as basically similar in two aspects: in the use of violence to quell violence, and the use of sacrificial thinking (Violence, p. 11). While Girard's theory provides a better explanation of the function and importance of human sacrifices and other acts of extreme violence in Mon mascle, it does not help clarify the relation between religion and sacrifice in Moix's novel, nor the role that violence plays outside ritual sacrifice and religion. If religion aims at suppressing and diverting violence, as Girard claims, it is almost impossible to explain a religion that does not restrain but rather encourages and celebrates violence, reflected in the meditated acts of cruelty exhibited in many aspects of daily life in Mon Mascle. Institutional and interpersonal violence is better explained using Girard's concepts of demystification and sacrificial thinking, though not in the way or for the goals he proposes. Gerard's desire and attempts to return to the pervasive violence of his new society show the new perspective resulting from contact with a demystified religion: it allows open recognition of the structuring role of violence in daily human activity.

As with many of the social structures of Mon Mascle, religion is a reflection of Western society, in this case of traditional Christianity. The cosmogony of this parallel world comprises a creator god, good and bad angels, eternal life, and socially codified conduct. However, Mon Mascle's creator is the god of Evil, whose struggle with and triumph over the god of Good brings man into being. As part of the creation contract, man is enjoined to violence and destruction as his guiding principles:

Al Mon Mascle, els angels damnats son signe de bonesa i els angels bons son signe de pecat; la serp es vida que no to aturador: aixi comenca el mon, m'ensenyen ara, i l'home fou creatpel Mal, forca que sublima la feblesa innata de l'home i el repta a atenyer 1'acte titanic de la destruccio. (Mon mascle, p. 76)

The inversion of good and bad parallels the opposition of weakness and strength. Evil is strength while Good is weakness. The arbitrary choice of Evil in Mon Mascle's creation myth is based on sacrificial thinking, as arbitrary as the choice of Good in our world. On the basis of this election is structured the entire culture and identity of their society. However, Mon Mascle's choice of Evil links this transcendent quality with violence, thus exposing its own arbitrary nature. Gerard explains that the name of the god Epsamon means 'masculine power' (Epsah) 'that is hidden' (Amon), aligning the qualities of strength, evil, and destruction with masculinity. Interiorization of evil and destruction (violence) in Mon Mascle's religion eliminates the need for ceremonies designed to curb the very same. If violence and destruction are to be welcomed and practised as part of being masculine, it stands to reason that the proliferation of violence will be viewed as the fulfilment of masculinity, one of the basic tenets of Mon Mascle religion. Rather than the less hypocritical attitude to violence that Girard sees as a result of demystification, the acknowledgement by Mon Mascle's religion of its origins in carnage and bloodshed removes the need for justification. Girard's theory on violence is based on the assumption that violence is to be feared, and that all societies go to extreme lengths to avoid its occurrence and recurrence: sacrificial thinking is postulated on the perverse nature of violence. Where violence is celebrated as the raison d'etre of man, masking it is rendered unnecessary and demystification becomes automatic.

The link between violence and the sacred, for Girard, is a direct one: 'Violence is the heart and secret soul of the sacred' (Violence, p. 31), from which it follows that ritual sacrifices do not require specific reference to a divinity to be sacred (p. 258). In a religion structured on Evil, it is striking to note the absence in Mon Mascle of religious sacrifices in the strict sense. There are no sacrifices offered to the god Epsamon or his co-regent Njb'nepu-ra that would point to sacrificial crises, surrogate victims, and their role in averting violence. The absence of such expiatory sacrifices, usually offered to a divine being, undermines the idea of an exteriorization of violence. Though religious sacrifice per se is absent, ritual sacrifices, remarkable for their extremes of violence, are prominent in Mon Mascle. The stated motive of these ritual sacrifices are the ideals of masculinity and physical perfection, ideals that are arbitrarily chosen to represent the transcendence of Evil. The violence involved in achieving these cultural traits transfers ritual sacrifice from the realm of the sacred and subjects it to a totally profane function: creating perfect physical bodies. This creation is achieved through the destruction of less perfect bodies; cultural identity becomes possible through the sacrificial thinking that destroys the imperfect 'other', and justifies the institutional choice. The abundance of violent acts suggests a state beyond transgression, an excess of the limits required to confine violence to the sacred (Erotism, p. 68).

Mon Mascle celebrates violence in several ways, chief among which are the rituals of infanticide and patricide. In the former, named the 'Festa de la Purificacio de la Raca', parents of children with physical defects offer up their offspring for sacrifice. The definition of imperfection here encompasses a wide range:

Els sacrificats d'aquella nit en deurien set realment un rebuig: impossibles de ser inclosos en una raca que hom volgues perfecta. Els noiets ja rostits patien de faltes fisiques forca evidents [...] faltes que podien set un dit mes curt que 1'altre, una mirada guerxa, el cap desproporcionat, una orella massa grossa i, naturalment, 1'estretor de les espatlles o del pit (sabem que les lleis estetiques del Mon Mascle son taxatives pel que fa a 1'amplada minima de les espatlles o del pit dels seus subdits). (Mon mascle, p. 54)

The objective of this practice, suggested by the 'Purificacio' of the title and later confirmed by Astor, Gerard's guide and mentor in Mon Mascle, is eugenics; it is intended to rid this society of physical defects and contribute to the creation of a perfect race. At first sight, the offspring sacrificed fulfil Girard's definition of the sacrificeable victim: they embody insider-outsider characteristics, members of the community but sufficiently different to make them alien because of their physical defects. However, the text's stated objectives for this ritual exclude the possibility of their being surrogates for an original murder, whose substitution by a sacrificial victim and ritual re-enactment constitute the elements of sacrifice (Violence, p. 102). The concepts of race and purification bear obvious overtones of a nationalist ideology, where bloodlines and physical features become important aspects of cultural identity. An obvious problem for this racial-purity approach, without conceding its justification, is the situation of the sacrificeable victim, the member of the community that has both insider and outsider features. Within a demystified religion, the prevalence of violence provides an easy solution; where the society hides the violence of its sacrificial thinking from itself, insider/outsider characteristics call into question the unity and purity of cultural identity.

A more significant difference from the Girardian model is the extremity of the violence of this ritual: the sacrificed children are condimented, roasted, and eaten alive by their progenitors and their guests in what appears to be ritual cannibalism. The tenuous nature of filial relationships in Mon Mascle explains the cruelty of this practice: male children are raised by the State, which decides the future profession of each according to his capabilities. The absence of close bonds in no way mitigates or eliminates the extreme violence of ritual cannibalism, underlined by the fact that the sacrificial victims are required to be aware until the very end of being eaten:

Mentrestant, els convidats tallaven mes carn dels cossos dels noiets impurs, pero sense afectar cap organ vital, ja que era part essencial del pathos exigit a la cerimonia que els sacrificats restessin vius fins a 1'ultim moment: calia que fossin ben conscients que eren devorats. (Mon mascle, p. 56)

If cannibalism is an extension of ritual sacrifice whose aim is to ward off violence, to be effective, the victim must first be killed so as to expel the threat of violence that hangs over the community, and then eaten (Violence, p. 277). For Girard, cannibalism also points to an original event--the execution and ingestion of a mythical hero--which is commemorated in subsequent ritual sacrifices after a substitution has been effected. The victims in this strange feast, as Fernandez aptly points out, (17) are not heroes but the rejects of society. Thus if ritual cannibalism aims at integrating the heroic qualities of the victims into their ingestors, the 'Festa de la Purificacio' fails to meet this standard, thereby falling short of one of the requirements of ritual sacrifice according to Girard.

Mon mascle's description of ritual infanticide stresses the need for the victim to remain alive for as long as possible while being ingested. It is difficult to see these child victims as surrogates, arbitrarily chosen to deflect violence away from the original target and end the chain of violence. While this reasoning fits the scapegoat model in the case of a single victim--that is, where only one child is sacrificed--the fact that all physically unfit children (and other social misfits) are sacrificed in one ceremony either implies an original murder whose magnitude can be satisfied only by the wholesale sacrifice of scapegoats, or multiple original murders (Violence, p. 269). A more satisfactory hypothesis would seek elsewhere the motivations for a ritual that combines torture, sacrifice, and cannibalism. (18) The logic of such a practice derives from Mon Mascle's structuring principle of creation wherein the nature of man is determined by a will to violence and destruction. Not merely content with acts of violence, the rituals of Mon Mascle seek a double consciousness of violence through the tacit participation of the sacrificial victim. The mutual embrace of violence by sacrificer and sacrificed enhances its value and reaffirms the society's commitment to the principle of Evil. Subsequent analysis of daily practice will show that this ethos of violence and pain is a sine qua non of all initiation rites, determines social class and role, and justifies masculine hegemony in its relegation of females (weakness) to an inferior status. (19)

Patricide, the other of the two sacrificial rites, is based on a requirement in Mon Mascle of obligatory death for all citizens on attaining the stipulated age of fifty years. This sacrifice is carried out in the 'Temple de la Fi Viril', where the victims are crucified with jewel-encrusted nails, their praises sung, and honours heaped on them:

Els crucificats eren ciutadans lliures, alguns d'ells de l'alta noblesa, que no feien sino acomplir com cal les lleis basiques del Mon Mascle. Venien al temple de la Fi Viril per tal d'acabar-hi els seus dies amb la dignitat i l'honor escaients a aquells qui no tenien cap cosa de que avergonyir-se: aquells qui havien merescut l'honor ciutada de la Fi Viril perque havien complert tots els seus deures civics i racials al llarg d'una vida que s'havia d'acabar a 1'edat de cinquanta anys. (Mon mascle, p. 34)

It appears contrary to common sense that the reward for an honourable and productive life should be crucifixion. This incoherence is resolved through the linguistic denotation of a cultural practice that points to religious ideology. As the name implies, 'la Fi Viril' is the embodiment of violence and masculinity taken to its extreme: death. In this sense 'Fi Viril' becomes the process whereby the distinguished citizen further demonstrates his masculinity by going beyond the usual limits of pain and torture into death. This interweaving of the linguistic and the cultural serves both as a justification of social practice and as a means of distinguishing 'la Fi Viril' from other types of death such as through punishment, accidents, or dishonourable acts. The distinction between 'bad' violence and 'good' violence observed in 'la Fi Viril' participates in the ambiguousness characteristic of the sacred (Violence, pp. 265-66). The only allusion to religion in this ritual sacrifice is found in the designation of the place of sacrifice, 'temple', whose connotations with the sacred are belied by the description of the underground cave where it is carried out:

en un des revolts que feia aquell laberint de toques, vam anar a raure en un passadis mes llarg que tots els altres, cofat per una volta tota ennegrida a causa del fum, i a cada banda del qual hi havia un gran nombre d'atletes crucificats. (Mon mascle, p. 34)

Although the choice of crucifixion as the method of putting to death resonates with sacred overtones, it should be remembered that it was a common punishment in ancient Rome and acquired spiritual overtones only with the advent of Christianity. In the context of Mon Mascle's pastiche-like civilization--a blend of baroque, Renaissance, Roman, and Greek features in architecture, statuary, apparel--the use of this form of torture does not carry more weight than the use of Sebastian's statue to represent Epsamon (Mon mascle, pp. 49-50). Even though the sacrifice of senior citizens is a service to the rest of society, the aim of this sacrifice is the conservation of the traits of physical perfection, on a par with the ritual murder of children with physical imperfections. In both cases, the lack of a transcendent motive for the sacrifice negates the religious nature implicit in ritual sacrifice. Ritual sacrifice in Mon Mascle is religious to the extent that it promotes masculine perfection, which is enjoined by Evil, the creator force of the world.

While they display extremely violent aspects, and would therefore qualify as sacred, the two sacrificial rites examined above show characteristics that point away from the correlation Girard establishes. The similarities of extreme violence, a tacit complicity of the victims with their sacrificers, as well as the multiplicity of victims killed in the same ceremony, suggest an interiorization of violence. In both cases the natural violence is enhanced by ritual cruelty, the means by which the participants reclaim complete ownership of a force that might be considered exterior to themselves. Violence, these acts seem to say, is not outside us but totally and utterly under our control. Extreme violence displaces it from the sacred and incorporates it into the everyday world.

Fear of homogeneity, another reason Girard cites as a vital motive for sacrifices, does not apply either to ritual infanticide or to patricide. (20) The exact opposite is achieved by the two rituals: murder of flawed children produces people who are more alike as far as perfection is concerned by eliminating the source of differences, while the elimination of the elderly succeeds in closing the generation gap in Mon Mascle, further diminishing the differences between the different age groups. Thus, infanticide and patricide in Mon Mascle produce homogeneity, do not exhibit an arbitrary choice of surrogates, studiously reject the sacred, carry within them the potential for reprisals, and refer back to the same original act of violence. These facts lead to the conclusion that a demystified religion, freed from the restraints of sacrificial thinking, seeks as many pragmatic opportunities to celebrate violence as possible, but within limits that do not endanger the survival of that society. Gerard provides an insight into this non-perpetuating matter-of-fact acceptance of ritual violence:

Havien estat educats des de petits en la idea d'una perfeccio fisica que no podia decaure amb el pas dels anys; i ells ho havien acceptat potser des d'abans de neixer, perque aixi estava escrit, des del principi de totes les histories, als llibres que forjaren la grandesa del Mon Mascle. (Mon mascle, pp. 34-35)

The two rituals actually strengthen the cultural bonds between the surviving members of the populace, owing to the homogeneity that results.

Gerard's training and indoctrination on arriving in Mon Mascle provide a clear picture of the process of integrating violence in daily practice. His participation in several of the violent activities required of his role as Nbj'nepura becomes a measure of the success in assimilating these practices. The first test is an initiatory rite carried out in the religious atmosphere of 'la gran basilica de la Fi Viril, al bel mig de la qual hi ha l'enorme estany de foc i, mes enlla, l'altar de Cobra' (p. 36). Gerard is tied in a spread-eagled position while the 'Summe Sacerdot de Cobra' slowly passes a red-hot dagger over the length of his entire body as a prelude to inserting the tip of the dagger into his rectum. The description of this ritual stresses two aspects of how violence is enhanced with cruelty: his prone position does not allow him to see what is being done, while the slowness of the process intensifies the anticipation of pain. It is interesting to note here Girard's view of rites of passage as a means of conjuring the threat to the cultural order, and thus the inclusion of such rites within the realm of the sacred. (21) But more pertinent is the notion that cultural identity can be assumed after the fact, and that one need not be born in a particular society to be a genuine member. The enhanced cruelty of Gerard's intiation is perhaps a reference to the initial violence that permits cultural identity to be established. It also points to two basic conditions of acceptance--of not having physical defects and not being over the age of fifty--both of which are marked with violence.

After he recovers from this test, Gerard goes through activities that extend his tolerance of physical pain through daily flagellation, exercises in the martial arts, as well as classes in the history, laws, and theology of Mon Mascle. So well does Gerard assimilate these lessons that he becomes immune to pain, both his own and that of others. Two instances clearly demonstrate his progress in this indoctrination: his active participation in the torture and killing of Avitachi, the captured spy who tried to help him escape from Mon Mascle, and his ordering of the torture of Astor for not complying satisfactorily with his demands for information. Gerard's physical endurance parallels a development in self-awareness of mental changes:

M'adono per primera vegada que els meus musculs, un dia inexistents (com demanava la moda masculina dels anys seixanta, l'androginisme, quasi feminisme, que als meus fans els agradava de veure en mi), son ara masses de ferrro distribuides al llarg i a l'ample d'un cos que es dilata i es torna suau com el marbre, i alhora tan rotund. No earn, no earn desenvolupada a traves de 1'exercici, sing ferro trempat en 1'ordre contundent que fa tant de mi com del men cos una fortalesa inexpugnable, un bastio que ja no traira, amb la seva feblesa d'abans, els desigs que la meva voluntat nova comenca plantejar-se. (Mon mascle, p. 120)

The practice of cruelty in the violence of daily activities reflects Mon Mascle's espousal of Evil as a moral principle. The ideology of masculinity that this moral principle buttresses can be explained by the link that Burkert makes between the hunting process in prehistoric times and the structuring of sexual roles in society. (22) If males have assimilated violent behaviour as a result of the millions of years perfecting their hunting skills, which is what differentiates them from females, Mon Mascle celebrates masculinity as the supreme ideal by means of an exaggerated violence and, by implication, the positive perspective on the infliction and suffering of pain. This process can be schematized as follows: Evil [right arrow] Masculinity [right arrow] Violence [right arrow] Pain. Though Evil does not necessarily lead to a masculine ideal, nor is masculinity logically linked to violence, Mon Mascle logic draws attention to the arbitrariness that underlines the choice of founding values in social construction. As Girard points out, this seeming irrationality is part of religious thinking and only appears so to the modern mind (Violence, pp. 49-56). What does make sense in the rationalizing process, however, is the link between violence and pain. If violence is good, so must be pain, and this explains not only the ritual patricide and infanticide mentioned earlier, but also the physical training Gerard undergoes in his transformation process. It is only after recovering from his initiation that Gerard learns from Astor this reasoning behind the ritual:

Estava iniciat en el ritu sagrat del dolor, que tot ho sublima, que endureix tothom, i ja nomes ern quedava iniciar-me en el ritu de la violencia i del mal que ho poden dominar tot. Entremig hi havia el Dogma de la Crueltat, que fortifica l'home, li treu vulnerabilitat i l'apropa a la justicia impassible dels dous de la Forca Mascla. (Mon mascle, p. 41)

An examination of ritual sacrifices in Mon Mascle shows that while violence, its control, and rechannelling may be at the root of religion and social order, this premiss is only viable if we accept the view that violence leads to the destruction of social order, and is to be avoided at all costs. As Girard himself notes, our contemporary judicial system is also based on violence, the only difference from ritual sacrifice being the establishment of an independent authority whose verdict is usually unquestioned, thus eliminating the threat of escalating violence (Violence, pp. 15, 22). However rational this system is, it is still based on the concept of revenge, of doing violence to the guilty party, which seems to us more rational than the arbitrary choice of a scapegoat. Mon mascle demonstrates how social order can be built on the recognition of the inherent nature of violence in humans, part of the goal that Sade sets out to demonstrate in his Juliette and Justine novels. This is achieved when religion is demystified and sacrificial thinking loses its hold on the minds of humans. In other words, admitting man's inherent aggression and providing channels for its overt release might be a salutary form of controlling violence. For one thing, it takes the mystery out of a force that seems to dominate our thinking and the basis of most of our social behaviour; for another, it is easier to set limits on acts when they are typified and codified. Girard rightly states that demystification forces the question of the legitimacy of violence; what is deemed acceptable or unacceptable violence revolves around the transcendent values chosen to place limits on acts of violence. In the case of Mon mascle, Evil is chosen as the transcendent value whose arbitrarily chosen ideology, masculinity, defines the limits of violence. This explains the sacrifice of children with defects, failed military recruits, and 'old' men, and provides the rationalization of relegating women to the lowest rung of the social ladder.

Though Mon mascle is an example of a less hypocritical attitude to violence, it does not follow the latter part of Girard's prediction. Violence in Mon Mascle, though pervasive, has boundaries and regulations, and the ritual sacrifices performed by its citizens, while serving to reinforce the practice of violence, at the same time clearly define those limits. This concept is perhaps best illustrated by what Burkert calls the 'antithetical relationship', (23) wherein acts of violence call attention to and demarcate the limit of death. With reference to Mon Mascle, pervasive acts of violence by themselves function antithetically to establish and reinforce boundaries. The very presence of ritual sacrifice and violent acts signals both the methods chosen as well as the desire of the community to survive. Ritual, as Burkert notes (pp. 25-26), can persist in a community only so long as it does not threaten that community with extinction. Mon mascle can therefore be considered a case where human sacrifices, rather than serving as a preventive measure that limits violence to the sacred and thus restricting its occurrence, celebrate a demystification of the traditional objectives of religion and sacrifice. In a sense, human sacrifices introduce violence into the profane realm with so quotidian an insistence that it loses its aura of mystery and becomes commonplace. We can see in this 'profanation' a contradiction of the sacredness that Girard attributes to violence. At the same time, it exhibits a sacrificial thinking that arbitrarily justifies this system, but which contradicts Girard's exclusionary point of view by exposing its own basis in violence.

As noted at the beginning, Moix's novel can be read allegorically as Francoist Spain's kidnapping and re-education of Catalan culture and identity. The protagonist's abducted body becomes the site of cultural conflict as he struggles to reconcile this new identity with pre-Mon Mascle beliefs. If we replace Mon Mascle with Spain, religion and its attendant violence in the former provide a metaphor for the role played by linguistic unity in the latter. The Francoist use of violence in legitimizing the choice of Castilian points to the arbitrariness of its origins and explains the concerted efforts aimed at suppressing all forms of non-Castilian linguistic manifestation. Gerard's assimilation into his new world is facilitated by the fact that languages in Mon Mascle are mutually intelligible: the different languages (French, Italian) are merely dialects restricted to certain professional castes (pp. 74-75). Gerard's escape from Mon Mascle symbolizes the return to an autonomous Catalan government still haunted by the sojourn in the old regime. In mimetic parody, Catalan identity is based on a reversal of the linguistic violence exercised by the former authority, albeit in a metaphorical manner. In the literary realm, this violence is underscored by the opposition of high and low culture, exemplified by Gimferrer's observation of the two sides to Moix's works: a realist style in consonance with the contemporary trend of Catalan narrative (as in Crameri's reference to 'fer patria'), which contrasts with the fantastical or imaginative nature of texts like Mon mascle, the unconscious or underside of Catalan nationalism. Seen in this light, demystification unmasks and recognizes the attractiveness and inherent 'Spanishness' of Catalan culture and identity, while calling attention to the pastiche nature of that same 'Spanishness'. A complementary reading reveals linguistic normalization of Catalan as the sacrificial thinking whose violence needs to be made transparent and justified as a transcendent good, notwithstanding its arbitrary nature. A demystified Catalan identity and its attendant sacrificial thinking, in much the same way as in religion, impose their own limits on the violence to which they subject the communal body to ensure the survival of the community.

(1) Rene Girard, Violence and the Sacred [hereafter Violence], trans. by Patrick Gregory (Baltimore:

Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), pp. 6-11, 24-25.

(2) Girard also makes the caveat that demystification may end up as sacrificial thinking if it does not remove the mystification permeating the nature of sacrifice or the judicial system (Violence, P. 24).

(3) (Barcelona: AYMA, 1971).

(4) The many references to race and physical perfection in Mon mascle suggest a critique of Fascist and totalitarian ideologies, an approach I explore in my unpublished manuscript entitled 'Sovereignty, Violence, and Transgression'. However, what is more interesting is the novel's suggestion that all exclusionary paradigms have their basis in violence, whether externalized as in the case of Fascists or internalized in the case of modern neo-Fascist movements.

(5) Pere Gimferrer, 'Prologo', in Mundo Macho, ed. by Pedro Manuel Villora (Barcelona: Planeta, 1998), PP 5-9 Gimferrer's prologue to the Castilian version of the novel states: 'Asi, si la tan esperada El sexe dels Angels se anuncia como una obra de caracter realista, en Mundo Macho Moix da rienda suelta a la imaginacion, tan parcamente representada en las letras catalanas en el momento en que La torre de los vicios capitales sena1o la tumultuosa irrupcion de nuestro autor en la escena publica. [...] Mundo Macho debe considerarse una autontica rareza, no so1o en la historia de la novela catalana, sino pura y simplemente en la actual novela europea' (pp. 6-7). Commenting in the same vein, Joan Triadu, La novella catalana de postguerra (Barcelona: Edicions 62, 1982), pp. 221-28, suggests that it is not only Mon mascle but all of Moix's literary production that opens up a breach in a post-war Catalan novel dominated by realism: 'La historia de la novella catalana de postguerra empren el darter tombant amb l'aparicio de Terenci Moix, entre 1968 i 1971. Per primera vegada en les seves narracions llargues o novel-les breus [...] no sols s'obre una esquerda sino un gran esvoranc en la construccio del realisme predominant en la novel-l a catalana fins aleshores' (p. 221). The inside jacket of Col-lecio TROPICS' 1971 edition reads: A11o que podem assegurar es que tenim a les mans una novel-la d'un genere sense precedents en la literatura catalana de tots els temps. Temem que res no podria evitar que el lector s'hi trobi embolicat com en una xarxa feta d'interes creixent, de sorpresa constant, d'enlluernaments alternats amb ofuscacions i, fins i tot, amb dures proves per a la seva sensibilitat' (emphasis added).

(6) Ramon Buckley, La doble transicion (Madrid: Siglo XXI, 1996), p. l00, disputes the aesthetic centrality Gimferrer ascribes to Moix's novel. Buckley sees the choice of a rock star protagonist as a moralistic reflection on Moix's society, era, generation, the 1968 revolution, the discovery of the body, and the meaning of history.

(7) Language, the Novelist and National Identity in Post-Franco Catalonia (Oxford: Legenda, 2000), pp. 26-27.

(8) A Companion to Catalan Literature (Rochester, NY: Tamesis, 2003), p. 151.

(9) Xavier Bru de Sala, 'Literature i literatures', in Segones reflexions critiques sobre la cultura catalana, ed. by Josep Gifreu and Norbert Bilbeny (Barcelona: Departament de la Cultura de la Generalitat de Catalunya), pp. 95-116.

(10) In 'Una nota aclaridora' to his novel Sadistic, esperpentic i adhuc metafisic (Barcelona: DOPESA, 1976), p. 15, Moix states that the principal theme of Mon mascle is Power, in spite of its Sadean appearance: 'Sadistic, esperpentic i Adhuc metafisic forma una de les parts d'allo que, encara informalment, 1'autor voldria considerer una trilogia del sexe. No ho fou, malgrat les aparences, La Torre dels Vicis Capitals, ni certament Mon mascle, novella que-tambe malgrat les aparences--tenia el Power com a tematica principal.'

(11) I have suggested in an unpublished manuscript 'Literary Cross-Dressing' that Moix's use of formal structures implicitly (and at times explicitly) subverts textual and human identities, an example of which is the title Nuestro virgen de los martires, where the dissonance produced by the juxtaposition of the masculine possessive with the feminine association of virginity is resolved in the body of the transgendered formerly male protagonist of the novel.

(12) 'Catalan Politics and Spanish Democracy: The Matter of Cultural Sovereignty', in Contemporary Catalonia in Spain and Europe, ed. by Milton M. Azevedo (Berkeley, CA: Gaspar de Portola Catalonian Studies Program, 1991), pp. 1-20 (p. 16).

(13) Josep-Anton Fernandez reads Mon mascle's masochistic violence as Moix's disavowal of Catalonia's cultural castration on the one hand, and a symbol of his perverse relationship with the Catalan literary canon on the other: 'Postmodernism and the Masochist Aesthetics', in Another Country: Sexuality and National Identity in Catalan Gay Fiction, MHRA Texts and Dissertations, 50 (Leeds: Maney and MHRA, 2000), pp. 73-100.

(14) Sade my Neighbor, trans. by Alphonso Lingis (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1991) P 13.

(15) Georges Bataille, Erotism, Death and Sensuality [hereafter Erotism], trans. by Mary Dalwood (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1986), pp. 164-76.

(16) Walter Burkert, Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth, trans. by Peter Bing (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983), pp. 17, 45

(17) Another Country, p. 83.

(18) Burkert provides a more convincing explanation of cannibalism by establishing a direct correlation between the nature of the social bond and the violence of the ritual: 'The closer the bond, the more gruesome the ritual. Those who swear an oath must touch the blood from the accompanying sacrifice and even step on the testicles of the castrated victim. They must eat the meat of the victim as well, or at least the [sigma][pi][lambda][alpha][gamma][chi][nu][alpha] [vital organs]' (p. 36, emphasis added).

(19) In Mon Mascle contact with women, classified as 'la Bestia Anomenada Dona' and occupying the lowest rungs of society, is restricted to procreation during the Diades de la Reproduccio', when they are brought in from their animal-like existence in the wilderness on the outskirts of the capital Lur.

(20) According to Girard, the elimination of differences brings about a sacrificial crisis in the primitive mind, which can be seen as a general offensive of violence directed against the community (Violence, p. 56).

(21) Gerard's initiation is particularly rich in its implications for a Girardian analysis of the 'monstrous double'. It is similar to some examples cited in Violence where prisoners of war (i.e. outsiders) are integrated into a community for a period of time only to be sacrificed later. They thus participate in the marginal quality that makes them eminently suitable as sacrificial victims. On the other hand, the victim's condition as monstrous double requires that the initiation rite be performed on the outskirts of the community, i.e. within the realm of the sacred. Gerard's initiation does not occur outside the community but in the 'gran basilica', which minimally fulfils this requirement for sacred space. However, the practice of inserting a dagger in the rectum is not limited to initiation rites, given the fact that Gerard applies it to Astor as punishment in another space, diminishing its importance as a means of avoiding a sacrificial crisis.

(22) Burkert suggests that Palaeolithic hunting not only ingrained violence in humans, which led to the origin of ritual and eventually religion, but also set the stage for the differentiation of sexual roles (Homo Necans, pp. 17-18).

(23) Homo Necans, p. 21.


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Author:Hughes, Arthur J.
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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