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Escape and constraint: Female desire and narrative bondage in aeschylus' oresteia and peter greenaway's the cook, the thief, his wife and her lover.

I. Narration and Performance: Show or Tell?

Comparing an ancient tragedy with a (post)modern film seems something of an exercise in futility. As Mary Whitlock Blundell, who works on Plato but co-wrote an article on the Iliad and Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven remarked once, "so Unforgiven is really the Iliad. So what?" Her frustration stemmed from the difficulty in articulating the significance of the persistence with which certain themes and tropes appear and reappear in different literary guises. "Universal appeal" is obviously too reductive an explanation, excluding, among other things, all but a singular concept of the reading or viewing subject. Ancient drama is a particularly thorny bedfellow for the medium of film because of the vast difference in the two types of performance and visual media in which they are and were presented. So what?

My approach to this problem derives from my work on narrative. I was particularly interested in these two texts because they illustrate very boldly, in mythic proportions and vibrant metaphors, the role of narrative in the gendering of social relationships (Mulvey). In so doing, they contribute to certain larger cultural narratives--in this case, that of the "woman of danger"--that Mieke Bal calls "ideo-stories":

An ideo-story is a narrative whose structure lends itself to be the receptacle of different ideologies. Its representational makeup promotes concreteness and visualization. Its characters are strongly opposed so that dichotomies can be established. And its fabula is open enough to allow for any ideological position to be projected onto it (11).

The ideo-story is taken out of context and circulates as a popularized version--what Bal calls a "coherent reading"--that does not take account of the ambiguities or slippages within the texts from which it is derived, and it is not my thesis that the Oresteia or The Cook, The Thief His Wife and Her Lover (hereafter Cook, Thief) belong to such a category. What is interesting about them is the transcultural similarity of the mythemes they deploy, which, abstracted from their context, can become any one of a number of variants on the "deadly female" story of popular culture. The most striking similarity between the two texts, one that has important political and ideological implications for the ideo-story to which they contribute, is the position that the different narratives assign their female characters with respect to themes of sexuality and justice. These themes are crucial to the ideostory, as the "deadly female" must both lure and kill. (1)

I have largely ignored issues of performance in order to be able to make isomorphic arguments about each of the texts. Although we cannot see the Oresteia as it was seen at the time of its original production, Peter Greenaway's own emphasis on the theatricality of his film, as discussed e.g. by Ronald Bergan, suggests interesting ways in which a modern staging of the Oresteia might be achieved. Much has been said about the phenomenon of visual narrative in cinema, but here again I will limit my arguments, though not so strenously. Greenaway's films in general demonstrate the tension between narrative and tableau, which in Cook, Thief can be located between, for example, the looming Frans Hals painting that dominates the back wall of the restaurant, and the theme of retribution, which Greenaway has himself described as a major interest of the film. This latter concern, predominant in both ancient and modern text, illustrates what Hayden White has located as the ability of narrative to make not just sense, but particularly moral sense in the world. The workings of justice and those of narrative run parallel. Though both texts owe a great deal to their visual effects--and here a parallel can be drawn between the painting-justice pairing in Cook, Thief and the connection in the Agamemnon between the purple tapestries upon which Clytemnestra forces Agamemnon to tread and the retribution she exacts from him--their underlying mythoi reveal a concern for progression through closure, which Teresa de Lauretis has suggested serves male ideological purposes as it suggests the gendered quality both of narrative and of justice (154 n.70).

II. Of Cannibalism, Women, and Retribution

Let me briefly recapitulate the plot of each of these dramas in order to give a basis for reference and comparison. The Oresteia, comprising three plays, opens With the Agamemnon, in which Agamemnon returns home from Troy with Cassandra, a captive princess, as part of his booty. The Chorus has been making ominous references to past events: his killing of Iphigenia, his own daughter, to receive a favorable wind for sailing to Troy before the war; his wife's infidelity; and the whole bloody history of the family, which has included infanticide and cannibalism as revenge tactics against adultery. When he arrives, Clytemnestra kills both him and Cassandra, stating as part of her motivation the murder of their daughter. She asks that the family demon, which has manifested itself as an ongoing cycle of familial murder and revenge, be now laid to rest, and states her intention of ruling together with her lover, Aegisthus.

Part two, the Libation Bearers, sees Clytemnestra murdered by her son Orestes, returned home from exile and restored to his sister Electra. Plagued by Furies for his matricide, he visits Delphi to ask Apollo for purification, and receives the answer that he must go to Athens. The title of Part three, Eumenides, refers to the Furies who are appeased by the tribunal convened by Athena and Apollo to try Orestes. The case turns upon whether he is guilty for having avenged his father by killing his mother. The jury is hung, and the final vote goes to Athena, who invokes her affinity with the masculine to vote for Orestes, thereby judging his crime less heinous than that of Clytemnestra. Orestes is acquitted, and a new system of justice--trial by peers--is installed at Athens.

Cook, Thief opens with a great flourish of red curtains set atop a framework that clearly represents the substructure of a theatrical space. It depicts the abuse enacted by the Thief upon his Wife, and takes place in a sumptuous restaurant where the Cook, sympathetic to the Wife, allows her to carry on an affair with her Lover, whom she meets in the restaurant during the first third of the film. The Thief, Albert Spica, is a big baby, wealthy but boorish, peevishly violent, and eager to acquire status through the refined qualities of his Wife, Georgina, who alone of the retinue he regularly brings to the restaurant can appreciate the gastronomic genius of the Cook, Richard. The Lover, Michael, is by contrast is a mild mannered collector of rare books who allows Georgina to take the lead in their sexual relationship. When Albert discovers Georgina's affair, he murders Michael at his home, a book repository, by forcing paper down his throat and into his nose until he suffocates. Georgina visits Richard in her g rief and asks him to cook Michael, to which he reluctantly consents. With his help, Georgina then stages the final scene of the film. Wearing a garment that resembles a large net, she presents the magnificently roasted Michael to her husband as an anniversary surprise, and forces him to eat a bite. "Cannibal," she remarks, after she shoots her husband, and a chorus of ominous cellos ushers in the closing credits.

This final scene draws together the important metaphors of the film, which tells a story of vengeance through a narrative of taboo, transgression, and female sexuality. It is also the scene which most clearly marks the film as a retelling of Aeschylus' Agamemnon--one that reinvigorates interpretation of that text as it enlists a similar cast of metaphors but deploys them differently. Ultimately, both dramas explore the ramifications of justice enacted by a female character through the medium of her sexuality and desire. The role of the female within a system of justice becomes also a narrative issue, as the machinations of justice mirror those of narrative: both exist as a series of events linked by a chain of cause and effect. Like a bad narrative which cannot achieve the tight points of climax and denouement, the "eye-for-an-eye" system of justice that characterizes the Agamemnon and the Choephori cannot achieve closure, and hence significance. But Aeschylus does wind up the story at the end of the Eumenide s, by changing its rules. The end of the Oresteia is not the end of the story that begins in the Agamemnon but rather the beginning of a new story that has a different system of justice in mind. There is no resolution to the story of the Agamemnon, and Clytemnestra, its primary agent, is banished at the end of the trilogy by a complex dismissal of her desire, which can also be read as the dismissal of her considerable control over the narrative. Within the logic of the Oresteia the narrative must be wrenched loose from Clytemnestra's grip in order to achieve satisfactory closure. In Greenaway's film, however, female desire is accorded the possibility of directing the course of the story to its conclusion and perhaps even beyond. In order to explore the relationship between the two female characters, and their different narrative positions, it is important to understand the organization and function of some of the key metaphors common to both stories.

First, the issue of cannibalism figures large. A violation of cultural taboo, cannibalism also metaphorically represents the perpetual cycle of retribution. The dreadful scenes of infanticide and cannibalism in the Agamemnon, which are provided by Cassandra as flashbacks during her "mad scene," are in Greenaway's film divided between the spectacle of the roasted Lover and the near-killing of a small kitchen boy with whom the Wife has a maternal relationship. There is another division in the film within this presentation of the cannibalism taboo: it is Albert who almost kills a kitchen boy for running food to Georgina and Michael as they are holed up in his library-apartment, but it is Georgina (through the agency of Richard) who presents Michael as food. In both dramas, then, the agent of infanticide is the male of the household: Atreus, in the killing of Thyestes' children; Agamemnon, in the killing of Iphigenia; and the Thief, in the (near) killing of the kitchen boy. (It might be noted as a cultural aside that the modern drama, though violent and revolting in the extreme, balks at infanticide, where the ancient drama goes all the way--even if only in flashback.) In the Agamemnon mythology, the crime against the cannibalism taboo is also perpetrated by the male, Atreus, who serves to the unwitting Thyestes his own children. But in Greenaway's film, it is Georgina who perpetrates the crime in forcing her husband into the act of cannibalism. In Greenaway's production, then, the broken taboo functions as the ultimate act of vengeance, with the actual killing of Albert eclipsed by Georgina's final pronouncement: "Cannibal." Unlike the Agamemnon, which suggests that this act was only one in a series of crimes for which no ultimate and final punishment exists, the audience of Greenaway's production is made to feel as if justice has (literally) been served.

In both dramas, a female protagonist takes justice into her own hands, but with very different results. In the Agamemnon, Clytemnestra carries the day, but not for long. The infernal machine of vengeance will grind on, fuelled by the broken taboos--intrafamilial murder as well as cannibalism--until another system of justice is put in its place. Clytemnestra stands for the old, unworkable system, which is why even Athena votes against her at the end of the trilogy. In Greek mythology, women always take out the trash. Greenaway's film, on the other hand, lets Georgina get away with murder. But there is another dimension to the drama that informs the relationship between female characters and systems of justice: the role of female desire in the workings of retribution.

In both dramas, an important catalyst for female action is the infidelity of each female character to her spouse. It is true that the film presents a different scenario of infidelity than does the play, as Clytemnestra is not driven to revenge by the murder of her lover. In this sense, the difference between the film and the play is that of a dramatization of private versus public motivation: Clytemnestra's ostensible reasons for killing Agamemnon have public ramifications, whereas Georgina nurtures a private grievance. Yet one motive is common to both characters, and that is the desire to escape the constraints put upon them by the opposite sex. As Winnington-Ingram has pointed out in his essay "Clytemnestra and the Vote of Athena," Clytemnestra wants revenge for the death of her child, but more importantly for the shame she felt at her inability to stop Agamemnon from committing the crime. This aspect of the relationship between the two comes out most clearly during the homecoming scene, where Clytemnestra feigns a fawning, inferior status and Agamemnon humiliates her in front of the assembly gathered to greet him: "Offspring of Leda, guardian of my house/your speech matches my absence;/for you have drawn it Out at length. But to give me/fitting praise, that is an honor that should come from others" (914-16). (2) In Greenaway's film, the restricted role of the female is played out as the modern story of an abusive relationship. Clytemnestra, then, possesses private motivations embodied in her desire to escape the constraints of her sex, just as Georgina may be argued to possess public motivations, as her act of revenge, like Clytemnestra's, represents the global force of righting the wrong which her husband has committed against the world at large.

When Clytemnestra emphasizes Agamemnon's culpability in sacking Troy, particularly his desecration of the temples there, she is not wrong. She is only misguided in thinking that she can act as the arbiter of justice and get away with it. Greenaway, by contrast, gathers the whole cast at the end of the film to witness Albert's punishment, while as if to vindicate Georgina's action he foregrounds those characters who have suffered from Albert's violence. Both dramatists yield to their female protagonists the arbitration of justice, a role which takes on both cosmic significance as the essential ingredient for establishing social order, and narrative significance as the means of directing the course of the story.

III. Monstrous Women

In each drama, then, sexuality and justice interact to formulate the foundation of social order: gender is revealed as a crucial element in the machinations of justice, and justice becomes an essential component in the discourse of power. Within the structure of the two dramas this discourse circumscribes the sexuality of the female protagonist in different ways. In the Agamemnon, it subjugates and finally banishes Clytemnestra's sexuality, whereas in Cook, Thief it appears to empower and vindicate Georgina's. The position of female sexuality within the structure of power differs radically as a result of two different epistemes of gender, and this position in turn affects the narrative status of the feminine. Clytemnestra wants what Georgina apparently gets: to be the end of her own story. She expresses this desire in her ill-fated attempt to strike a bargain with the forces of vengeance, personified by Clytemnestra as "the demon of the Pleisthenids." This demon, a metaphor for the infinite cycle of revenge a nd retribution, also acts as a metaphor for a story that has no end, or a desire that can achieve no satisfaction, such as Peter Brooks describes in his essay "Freud's Masterplot." At the end of the Oresteia an end is arbitrarily assigned, in the form of a new system of justice. (3) This system does not eliminate the wrong done by Orestes in committing matricide, it sublimates the wrong for the purposes both of a workable social order and narrative closure, as Froma Zeitlin suggests. Clytemnestra, earlier a major narrative agent, becomes a lost element of the plot whose subversiveness has been neutralized by her progressive dehumanization. This process takes place in the sphere of her sexuality.

From the outset, we learn that there is something amiss with Clytemnestra's sexuality in the Watchman's description of her "man-counseling heart" (10). The Chorus furthers this depiction, referring to her speech about the fall of Troy as "wise" and "prudent like a man's" (351). These positive, rational characteristics lose their desirability because they exist where they do not belong, and the woman who possesses them must at the same time lose any firm hold on her gender. Initially ambiguous, Clytemnestra's sexuality grows gradually more perverse as the play progresses: her frequent reference to the male-female opposition in the dialogues with the Chorus calls attention to this change in her sexuality. In addition to the attention given the gender divide, Clytemnestra often describes herself as a "bitch," evoking Helen's self-blame and remorse in the Iliad for the destruction which her sexuality has caused. The Chorus also refers to her triumphant speech over the body of Agamemnon as "barking." Since Helen a lso features fairly prominently in the Agarnemnon, both because of her role in the Trojan war and as Clytemnestra's sister, the danger of Clytemnestra's own eroticism is enhanced.

With the murder of her husband, Clytemnestra completes her metamorphosis into a kind of sexual chimera, becoming, in the language of the Chorus, an "evil crow" (1472) and a "spider" (1492, 1514). As a result of this depiction of the feminine, Clytemnestra transgresses the boundaries of both gender and species (she becomes both a man/woman and a woman/ animal). Having usurped the qualities of the male throughout the play, her sexuality becomes so perverted that she derives sexual pleasure, normally life-affirming, from the death of both her husband and Cassandra. But Clytemnestra's dangerous sexuality, which threatens the possibility of satisfactory closure to the story, is ultimately neutralized, along with the old, unworkable system of justice, by the exculpation of Orestes, and is the more acceptable for her transformation into a monster.

Georgina's desire to cook her lover and serve him to her husband might be interpreted as a perverted method of revenge, in the same way that Clytemnestra's revenge upon her husband turns her into a monster. Up to this point in Greenaway's film, food represents the procreative and nurturing aspect of human life: it connects directly with sexual desire, as the lovers' frequent rendezvous in the kitchen demonstrate. Pleasure in food and ability to nourish oneself is equated with a healthy sexuality which has the power to express itself in ways which do not degrade or cause suffering. Georgina possesses both the ability to enjoy her food and to express her sexuality, albeit furtively. Both Richard and Michael nourish her appetites in ways which allow her to become mistress both of her sexuality and position within a male hierarchy (the unsavoury group of Albert and his henchmen, with whom she is forced to dine).

Albert, on the other hand, can satisfy neither his appetite for food nor for sex. Though he claims his passion is food, the table activity in which he most often engages is uncivilized conversation: language, in other words, takes the place of unsatisfied desire. But he cannot even pronounce the names of the French dishes that he doesn't really eat, and, as C. Barchfeld points out, has no palate for the culinary refinements that are Richard's specialty.

If Albert is ignorant of the means of self-nourishment, the punishment of his victims demonstrates his perversion of nourishing others. The film opens with him forcing a debtor to eat the excrement of the dogs who live outside the restaurant; the bleak, dirty exterior of the restaurant itself with the two tucks of meat and fish, which Albert brings and which Richard leaves to rot, represents the reverse of healthy nourishment. He forces his subordinates to eat food that makes them sick, and he revels in taunting them with descriptions of unfamiliar, stomach-turning dishes.

Albert does not really love or understand food at all, as his final say on the subject shows: "What do I care? It all comes out as shit in the end." In the same way, he does not comprehend or take pleasure in his own sexuality. Married to Georgina, often crudely referring to his desire for her and to their sexual exploits, he turns out to be a homosexual, as Georgina relates at one point: "He doesn't like sex ... well, at least not with me, not with women." This aspect of his sexuality is a secret which he fiercely protects, and from which he can derive no satisfaction. What sexuality he does express mirrors his self-expression through food--just as he makes his victims eat unnatural things which disgust and degrade them, he makes Georgina insert painful objects into her vagina while he watches in a degrading sexual ritual from which neither party derives pleasure. Trapped in a cycle of frustrated desire, as well as by the homophobia implicit in his misogyny and sadism, Albert tries to direct the course of ev ents by brute force, and the course of the narrative by incessant talking--his is by far the largest speaking role in the film. But his conversation, like his desire, is empty, and achieves nothing.

In contrast to the Agamemnon, which presents female sexuality as a threat to the male power structure that must be expelled by force of becoming harmful and perverted, Greenaway's film validates and empowers it, allowing it to exist by and for itself. Georgina is also sterile, as she tells Michael in front of Albert during their one public meeting. The sterile woman is typically a useless burden (the "spinster" stereotype) if not somehow monstrous or mad (Blanche Dubois). But Georgina's sterility actually enhances her sexual desirability; as she tells Michael in front of the table of diners, and to Albert's horror, "Being infertile makes me a safe bet for a good screw." In this respect, she represents a challenge to Lacan's theory of the woman-as-phallus, or signifier of the desire of the other. Freud (132) argues that a woman adopts a number of strategies, such as flirtatious behavior and narcissism--i.e. "feminine characteristics"--, to compensate for her symbolic castration. Lacan ("The signification of th e phallus" 290) then concludes that in seeking access to what she does not have, namely the phallus, she actually gives up the very femininity that makes her what she wants to be--the object of desire. Georgina's sexual organs are doubly castrated, as they are both female and inoperative. They represent the lack of a lack. She therefore cannot be the phallus (or object of desire), a position she cheerfully renounces in the outspoken revelation about the status of her fertility. Throughout the film, she acts as the focalizer for the unfolding narrative of desire.

Georgina's method of revenge combines all the elements of food, sex, and power in a final gesture of feminine sexual enfranchisement that is aided and abetted by men (Richard, his waitstaff, and even the dead Michael). Her revenge mirrors that which her husband exacted from Michael: he killed Michael by stuffing his favorite book page by page down his throat. Georgina kills her husband by forcing him to eat the results of his work--the body of her lover. But the parallelism does not make a pervert or tyrant out of Georgina. Her revenge ends the horrible cycle of unnatural ingestion and egestion which Albert perpetuates, using the vehicle of her sexual liberation as the instrument of retribution upon her repressor. The film exculpates Georgina's action with the precise integration of all these elements, making of justice and retribution a perfectly circular system which confers both personal and public satisfaction. Georgina takes her own revenge, as well as the revenge of everyone else who has been harmed by her husband.

This re-invention of the Agamemnon myth inverts the connection between food and justice which the ancient drama proposes. Food in the Agamemnon is dangerous, with feast-dishes potentially comprising the most unspeakable ingredients, and leads to the unending cycle of familial murder, which is represented in human terms by Clytemnestra's perverted female sexuality. In Cook, Thief the double nature of food is presented: its ability to delight and nourish, or rot and nauseate. Albert embodies the latter quality, Georgina the former. Unlike Clytemnestra, whom the Chorus assumes must have eaten "evil food nurtured by the earth" or drunk a "drink sprung from the flowing sea" (1407-08), perverted food for a perverted crime committed by a perverted sexuality, Georgina receives nourishment for her erotic desire, vengeance, and hunger from haute cuisine.

The story of Georgina's desire, unlike Clytemnestra's, interacts with the other metaphors of the plot in such a way as to free itself from its initial constraints. From the moment that she transgresses with Michael, Georgina takes control of the narrative economy by appropriating the power of the phallus--her very first sexual encounter with him sees her unzipping his fly as he stands in sexual surrender on a toilet seat. (4) It could be argued that her grip on the phallus is figured even earlier, in her cigarette-smoking habit that her husband hates. At the end of the film, it is the penis of her roasted lover that she encourages her husband to taste first, as if literally to force down his throat the signifier of power, law, and order--the symbolic realm to which he himself has imperfect access. His wife, on the other hand, wields the phallic symbol (the gun) which is the final vehicle for Albert's destruction. Yet Georgina has not become desexualized or bestialized in this process, as her conversation with the Cook after the death of her Lover makes clear: when she asks Richard to describe what he saw her and Michael doing, in order to make it seem real again to her, he describes their actions in terms of the reciprocity that characterizes what we recognize as a healthy sexual relationship. Georgina may be on top, but she has not become a sexual pariah.

IV. The Net is You

Finally, though, does Georgina become the mistress of her own story? Does her literal appropriation of the penis give her access to the symbolic, to language? Does her desire escape narrative constraints, taking her beyond the limit of phallogocentrism? The metaphor of the net, arguably the most active and compelling of both dramas, would suggest not. In the ancient drama, Clytemnestra ably wields the net in its capacity both as a weapon and as a metaphor for her own persuasive language--hence, by extension, as a metaphor for the plot which she orchestrates. But Clytemnestra, although she directs much of the action through rational intelligence and foresight, is finally undone by a deficiency in the same area: she cannot see that she too must fall victim to the inexorable working of retribution, and that she is not the end of the story. She too ends up trapped in the net. Georgina, on the other hand, ends up wearing the net as the piece de resistance of her many outlandish costumes. While the image of the fem ale wearing the net suggests a greater degree of choice, the fact is that the net still constrains her like a corset, and unfurls behind her so far that its limit is scarcely discernible.

The net of language, and hence of desire (if we follow Jacques Lacan's argument in "The signification of the phallus"), is the one irreducible factor in both of these texts. While Georgina is accorded intradiegetic power to transcend the constraints of her gender, take revenge on her male oppressor, and thus bring all the narratives suggested by the film to a close along with her own, the film simultaneously emphasizes her dependence upon the narrative. At one point, Albert notices Michael reading at his table, and drags him over to meet Georgina, whom he says shares an interest in books. Georgina and Michael speak for the first time, though they have already had sex. Later, after another sexual interlude, Michael tells Georgina about a character in a film he says he has seen, who is silent for the first hour and a half. Michael is riveted, because, as he says, "anything could happen." Then the character speaks, which Michael says "spoils everything." When Georgina worries that this means he will lose interes t in her, he says "it was only a film." Georgina, however, has missed the point of the story. The threat does not come from the possibility that she cannot hold Michael's attention, it comes from the fact that she was never in the picture in the first place. (5) Michael's story is not about the presence or absence of heterosexual desire, which would accord a role to Georgina, but about male access to signification. His experience with the film represents a pre-linguistic and narcissistic fascination broken by language, articulated by Lacan ("The agency of the letter") as the child's encounter with the name-of-the-Father, which positions him within the symbolic economies of both language and desire.

The story thus works as a code for the "real" situation between himself and Georgina (although not the one that she envisions), but this mise-enabyme also works as a frame: like the frame of the shot that captures them, Michael provides a story frame for their love affair in which Georgina is afraid of losing her place. The scene provides a foreshadowing of the conversation Georgina has with Richard, in which she persuades him to cook Michael, and in which she asks for an account of their sexual activities:

G: What did you see?

R: Georgina!?

G: I want to know. Nobody else knew but you. Everyone else pitied me-even you pitied me. But now-how can. I know that he loved me if there were no witnesses?

R: If you loved him that doesn't seem to be a very necessary question.

G: Yes it does. Tell me what you know.

R: What I saw was what you let me see.

G: Of course it was--how could I know that it was real--unless someone else was watching. Tell me what you saw or are you ashamed to tell me?

R: No. I saw him kissing you on the mouth--on the neck ... behind your ear ... I saw him undressing you. I saw him kissing your breasts. I saw him putting his hands between your legs.

G: And what did you see me do?

R: I saw you kiss him on the mouth. I saw you lying under him on the floor of the pantry. I saw him take you from behind. I saw you take his penis in your mouth. I saw you...

G: Do lovers always behave like that?

R: My parents behaved like that.

G: They did? You saw them?

R: ... and lovers in the cinema behave like that.

G: No, that doesn't count.

R: ... and in my fantasies ... lovers always behave like that. (Greenaway 87).

This scene reminds us forcefully that Georgina, far from being her own narrative agent, provokes the desire for many other narratives, in particular, of course, the Oedipal one ("My parents behaved like that"). She herself is watched, by Richard as well as the viewer, and she demands that gaze as part of her own access to self-knowledge. Significantly, she equates seeing with knowing, but accords Richard the power over both, as well as providing him with access to fantasy. Georgina herself is represented as knowing nothing of the Oedipal drama, as she appears surprised at Richard's revelation, and is dependent upon him to trace the movement of desire/representation/knowledge for her: parents/Oedipus to movies to fantasies.

The middle stage, "lovers in the cinema," could be taken to mean either lovers in the movie theater or lovers on the screen. Either way, Richard describes a process of scopophilia that is prompted by a display of mediated desire and engenders the desire of the viewer. In the first scenario, the lovers are aroused by cinematic images, perhaps images of lovers, and this in turn prompts the desire of he/Richard who watches them. In the second, the viewer/ Richard, is himself aroused by the images on the screen. This scopophilic stage yields to that of fantasy. Representation and fantasy thus cater to male desire and consign Georgina to being the narrative occasion, not the agent. She can therefore only desire to have it retold to her, as Teresa de Lauretiis claims happens to the masochistic 0. in The Story of 0. when she sees the picture of the woman being whipped (151).

In the Agamemnon, the Chorus expresses in the first ode (174f.) the sentiment "pathei mathos," or "through suffering, learning," by which they appear to mean that "man cannot escape the punishment imposed by Zeus upon a crime; what he does, he must pay for," as Denniston and Page (85) indicate. By using three different variants of the root phren, Aeschylus emphasizes that Zeus imposes the kind of justice that teaches men "rational, logical, symbolic thought" (Goldhill 27), but does so in a choral ode that yields itself to no clear interpretation. The chorus is unhappy at Agamemnon's long absence, the disorder of power relations in the royal house, and the circumstances of Agamemnon's departure--the killing of his daughter to receive a favorable wind for sailing to Troy. It follows its "pathei mathos" pronouncement with a highly elliptical account of the murder, in which blame is difficult to assign. Was Agamemnon exercising a free choice, or did Artemis make him do it? As Goldhill demonstrates, the chorus exp resses the maxim as "a conclusion of their search for clarity in narrative in a generalisation, a pattern, a model for narrative, 'has authority,' kurios echein; Zeus has 'laid it down', thenta" (28, my transliteration of the Greek). The Chorus thus recognizes the foundation for the narrative of narratives, the metanarrative of justice that is erected (or laid down?) by the Zeus, the absolute father of gods and men.

Clytemnestra knows many things, and her command over language is exemplary in the Agamemnon. At the end, when her lover Aegisthus finally appears and attempts to take credit for the usurpation, his language breaks down in the face of the Chorus's defiance. He is reduced to threats of physical violence, but she restores the balance of language, concluding with the words "thus holds the word of a woman, if anyone deems it worthy to understand" (1661). "Understand" is rendered in Greek with the infinitive "mathein": the same root as the "mathos" of the Chorus' maxim above. Clytemnestra thus calls for a place in the narrative, a space for a woman's word in both a judicial and linguistic structure that will ultimately banish her as surely as Athena sides with the male offspring because of her own masculine nature, inherited as a result of her unusual birth from Zeus' head.

The judicial narrative of the Oresteia thus cannot incorporate Clytemnestra's use of language, but banishes it as corrupt. What can be known at the end of the trilogy is dependent upon her death and the system that comes to be as a result of it. Agamemnon is redeemed by that system, but Clytemnestra can only haunt it as an absence, to which her ghostly appearance at the beginning of the Eumenides gives testimony. Though they both came to "understand through suffering," the difference between her and Agamemnon is that his suffering and understanding are recuperated and made meaningful within the narrative that leads to justice--to everyone's understanding--at the end of the trilogy. Hers become the Other of narrative, the irrational or blind system of justice, that must, in the form of the Furies, be brought to a reconciliation--an understanding--by Persuasion invoked by Athena (885f.).

What does the ending of Cook, Thief tell us about the position of the female in a narrative/judicial economy? Georgina is constrained by the net, but she has the gun. She is sterile, so she has no avenging son. She orchestrates the means of revenge and forces Albert to eat Michael, but accuses him of cannibalism. The sequence of the last actions in the film are important, as Georgina kills Albert before calling him a cannibal--an order of events that disrupts an expected narrative continuity. To make him eat, then name his crime, then kill him, would seem to make more sense. But the order as it stands leaves Georgina alone at the forefront of the frame, pronouncing, as it were, the last rite. The image of the cannibal, emphasized by this last pronouncement, binds together the elements of food, sex, and narrative that have received such emphasis in the film as a whole. Albert and Michael are rivals, their relationship mediated by the body of Georgina. Georgina and Michael become lovers both because of their in terest in books and their appreciation for haute cuisine. Albert thus kills Michael by stuffing his books down his throat, and Georgina kills Albert (not quite literally) by stuffing Michael down his. Her last word shows that she thinks the cannibalism the important part of her revenge, but like Clytemnestra and her plea-bargain with the demon of her House, she has mistaken the end of the story. Cannibalism involves the recycling of human flesh, or metaphorically, the story. Georgina is trapped, as surely as she is in the net, outside of a realm in which she can signify herself in a judicial, and, by extension, narrative system.

In an interview given to Die Zeit, Greenaway expressed his identification, as an artist, with Richard in the film ("Der Koch, das bin selbstverstandlich ich")--an identification that he describes as "self-evident" (Barchfeld 160 n.3). Like Richard, then, Greenaway is the one who knows because he sees, and what he knows he communicates with his (male) spectator, as the film in Michael's description did for Michael. Georgina is not the one who achieves justice, nor is she liberated by it. It is Richard who has directed the plot of this drama as the creator of the menus that form the intermittent "chapter" titles between acts. The course of justice that this film traces belongs properly within a male narrative economy, in which the woman exists, first, as the object of transference: from Albert's ungoverned spew of language to Michael's silent world of books. She is the conduit between language use that has and has not properly internalized the Law; hence the organizing principle of narrative passes through her live body much as it does through Clytemnestra's dead one. But she herself is excluded from the transfer. Seeing Michael's books for the first time, she wonders what good they can do him, as he cannot eat them. Her words doubly show her ignorance: of the contents of the books, and the fact that Albert will indeed make him eat them.

Georgina makes Albert's words come true as she forces him to make good on his threat to eat her lover. But in order to do so she is dependent upon the artistry of Richard, through whose hands all the elements of the plot (food, sex, death) must pass in order to achieve resolution. She acts, but he watches. In this sense, Georgina remains a tool in her male creator's narrative kitbox, though she is perhaps better cleaned before she is put away. Like her grand-ancestress Clytemnestra, she shows us the possibilities and limitations of female desire within both a judicial and a narrative economy, as well as our desire for the story of that desire, metaphorically re-arranged, but in many respects unchanged across time and technology.

V. How Not to be a Woman

The net in both of these texts is a proficient signifier of the power of narrative to keep cultural and ideological norms alive and operative. This is not to suggest that either the Oresteia or Cook, Thief are so "dumbed-down" as not to admit of a range of interpretations, or be wholly circumscribed by received codes, but rather that their usage of the net image, in conjunction with the narrative role they assign their female actants, expresses the transference that rakes place between a text and the cultural context into which it is received. Although their cultural contexts are very different, the structuring of the narratives and the assignment of gender positions within them are remarkably equivalent. Women do not tell in these stories, but are the embodiment of the desire to tell and be told. And bad girls make better stories--they represent through their overt sexuality the drive that powers the narrative. Of course, they usually die or are overthrown or humiliated, and this does not happen to Georgina. But she has already ceded her power to know and to tell to her male accomplice, the cook/auteur. Significantly, the great Hals painting has been removed from the wall of the dining room, as if to indicate that the tableau part of the narrative/tableau split has shifted on to Georgina herself; outlandishly dressed, her face framed by feathers, stock still with the smoking gun as the camera circles around her, the cooked Michael, and the dead Albert, while the spectators (male, with the exception of a female victim of Albert's random violence) enjoy the closure provided by a perfectly circular, cannibalistic plot.

I said that I had chosen these two texts because they showed how narrative establishes gender relations, and I have suggested that where the narrative entraps women, so will the ideo-stories whose feeding ground is "culture." Is it possible to be the object of narrative and avoid the appropriation of "coherent reading"? The end of Cook, Thief is more ambiguous on this point, though I argue that it suggests female characters cannot. The Oresteia is more bluntly pessimistic. I find a reading of the two of them together compelling, because of their joint demonstration not only of women as object of the narrative and of the gaze, but also of the system of justice. Their power to enact justice is disabled by their position as the locus of some combination of desire and fear, and this phenomenon directly addresses many of the problems that are literally engendered by the legal system today, the Clinton scandals being the obvious example. The genealogy of this problem has affiliations with many other cultural artifa cts whose history it is important to trace, narrative and film being just two. As a classicist, I argue that history and philology give us more with which to "think" the problems presented by the highly topical epistemologies of cinema and psychoanalysis.

Holly Haynes is currently Assistant Professor at New York University. She is finishing a book entitled Making Believe: Narrative and Ideology in Tacitus' 'Histories'. Although she works primarily on Latin imperial prose, her interests include Platonic philosophy, psychoanalytic and Marxist theory) and film theory. She has articles in progress on the relationship of temporality to tyranny in Seneca's Thyestes, and Pliny's Letters as a generic statement about the meaning of freedom of speech under the principate.

Notes

(1.) A particularly topical form of this story is that of the ruthless female executive: cf. (e.g.) Indecent Exposure or Fatal Attraction. Against this prototype, I would read the eponymous heroine of Ally McBeal who represents the effort to show that female executives can he charmingly dippy and highly moral (i.e., posing no threat to male ego-ideologies), as well as effective in the courtroom to boot (albeit usually as the second in command to a senior, male, partner of her firm.) Her friend and roommate, who holds a position of greater authority in the justice system in her role as D.A., is portrayed as a sassy African-American with an extremely high libido and a proficiency in kickboxing. In more than one episode, she is depicted as causing harm or embarrassment to male characters, although the situations are usually more problematic than those depicted in the films mentioned above.

(2.) All translations and line numbers are from Lloyd-Jones's translation.

(3.) But see Goldhill (245) for the difficulties and ambiguities of the word dike, commonly translated as "justice," at the end of the trilogy. He argues that the "telos of closure is resisted in the continuing play of difference" (283). Nonetheless, the Eumenides does not "resist the telos of closure" with Clytemnestra acquitted, but rather the male of her line. For my argument, this fact makes all the (continuing play of) difference.

(4.) For a critique of the feminist position that takes the psychoanalytic view of the phallus as pure signifier, not connected with the penis, see Doane ("Woman's Stake"); Butler ("The Lesbian Phallus"). For my argument, it is important that ultimately the two be related.

(5.) See, for example, Doane ("Femininity as Absence").

Works Cited

Bal, Mieke. Death and Dissymmetry: The Politics of Coherence in the Book of Judges. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988.

Barchfeld, Christiane. Filming by Numbers: Peter Greenaway. Tubingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1993.

Bergan, Ronald. "Food for Thought." Films and Filming 420 (October 1989): 26-9.

Brooks, Peter. "Freud's Masterplot." Reading for the Plot. Cambridge: Harvard U P, 1984.

Butler, Judith. "The Lesbian Phallus and the Morphological Imaginary." Bodies that Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993.

de Lauretis, Teresa. "Desire in Narrative." 'Alice Doesn't': Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984.

Denniston, J. D. and Denys Page, ed. Aeschylus' Agamemnon. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1957.

Doane, Mary Ann. "Caught and Rebecca: The Inscription of Feminity as Absence" and "Woman's Stake: Filming the Female Body." Feminism and Film Theory. Ed. Constance Penley. New York: Routledge, 1988. 196-228.

Freud, Sigmund. "Femininity." The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 22. London: Hogarth Press, 1933.

Goldhill, Simon. Language, Sexuality, Narrative: The Oresteia. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984.

Greenaway, Peter. The Cook, The Thief His Wife and Her Lover. Paris: Dis Voir, 1989.

Lacan, Jacques. "The signification of the phallus" and "The agency of the letter in the unconscious or reason since Freud." Ecrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977.

Lloyd-Jones, H. Agamemnon. London: Duckworth P, 1979.

Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" and "Changes: Thoughts on Myth, Narrative and Historical Experience." Visual and Other Pleasures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. 14-28; 159-76.

White, Hayden. "The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality." Critical Inquiry 7.1 (Autumn 1980): 5-27.

Whitlock Blundell, Mary and Kirk Ormand. "Western Values, or the People's Homer: Unforgiven as a Reading of the Iliad.": Poetics Today 18.4 (Winter 1997): 533-69.

Winnington Ingram, R. P. "Clytemnestra and the Vote of Athena." Studies in Aeschylus. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983.

Zeitlin, Froma. "The Dynamics of Misogyny: Myth and Mythmaking in Aeschylus' Oresteia." Playing the Other: Gender and Society in Classical Greek Literature. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996.
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Date:Mar 22, 2000
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