The Art and Genius of Anne Hébert: Essays on Her Works : Night and the Day Are One

By Janis L. Pallister | Go to book overview

Toward a New Definition of Eroticism:
Anne Hébert's Kamouraska

MICHÈLE ANDERSON

In Kamouraska eroticism is associated with freedom—an ambivalent freedom that is won at the price of violent rebellion against a puritanical society. For Elisabeth d' Aulnières-Tassy-Rolland, the nineteenth-century protagonist, this freedom is short-lived: a passionate love affair that leads to the violent murder of her first husband, Antoine Tassy. As the self-conscious, first-person narrator of a play within the novel, Elisabeth takes a psychic journey into the past, recounting and reliving events of her childhood and youth. Her narrative is characterized by a conflict between nature, represented by eroticism and animal imagery, and civilization, with its traditional, oppressive gender roles.

Eroticism, according to Georges Bataille's definition, is associated with violent transgression of "civilized" taboos (Bataille 1962, 40–54).1 Bataille states that eroticism entails a "process of dissolution" in which "the male partner has generally an active role, while the female partner is passive" (17). In his philosophical analysis from a male point of view, Bataille claims that eroticism implies violence or "a violation bordering on death" (17). Bataille sees eroticism as a transition from "discontinuity" (the self-contained, "normal" state of being) to "continuity" with a being outside the self. For Bataille the ultimate continuity is in death; hence his implication of violence in eroticism.

Jessica Benjamin finds that Bataille's ideas are based on the Hegelian master-slave relationship. She indicates that Bataille places man in a dominating, controlling role. The erotic union, although its goal is transcendence for both persons, is one of domination and submission, in which the woman, as victim, "performs the function of breaking her discontinuity, of risking death, for both of them" (Benjamin 1983, 285).2 Benjamin relates the polarity of the erotic male-female, domination-submission pattern to the development of gender identity in our culture. She explains the objec

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