Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome

By Amy Richlin | Go to book overview

her grandfather Helios, who incarnates a sadistic model of instrumental use of her children for her own selfish ends, clarifies the problems facing the feminist theorist of representation. Jason describes Medea as a monster, Skylla, and critics have noted the extent to which she takes on the attributes of masculine heroism in her action. She must either kill her children or be a laughingstock--there are no other choices available to her. The only victory is achieved by becoming masculine, and it is a self-punishing victory at that. Who gives her those choices? To the extent that we are in the same culture, what are our choices? To beat men at their own game, or to validate the feminine? The terms facing her and us seem to be binary oppositions-passive/active, female/male. Without another term, we are doomed to continue the annihilation of our progeny.

In tragedy after tragedy, we see the female defined as sexual, possessed of a desire that destroys. When women are active and assertive like Clytemnestra and Medea, that sexuality is masculine and makes its object in turn a feminized victim; they usurp the phallocratic subject's privilege of pornography. The women who adopt the values of the culture--Antigone, Deianeira, and Phaedra--yield their place to the dominance of men. The effect is to bolster up the masculine and to justify cultural control of female desire. If in current times pornography (along with film) is shaping male sexuality and its design for what is feminine, tragedy worked in an analogous way in antiquity. Does this mythology and body of material not work in the same way today?

There are two congruent triangles at play in antiquity (and, though in different form, today): one of exchange and one of representation. The triangle formed by men exchanging women in marriage uses women to form and solidify relationships between men; that triangle is often visible in the plots of these plays ( Deianeira/ Hyllos/ Heracles; Phaedra/ Hippolytos/ Theseus; Clytemnestra/ Orestes/ Agamemnon-Apollo). In marriage and the representation of gender, women, despite their resistance, are subordinated to relations between men. It is not merely the use of women that is at stake but a construction of their sexuality--necessary for procreation--as dangerous. That sexuality is contained by male control of the circulation of women and at the same time by male control of the circulation of representation. This brings me to another triangle, that among author, text, and audience. Here, I would argue, the audience is made masculine, asked to identify with the male protagonist, and in this way is put in relation to the author and the text. Through this experience masculine subjectivity is established. Tragedy participates in a pornographic structure of representation, accomplishing the solidification of the male subject at the expense of and through the construction of the female as object.


NOTES
1.
Laura Mulvey argued in an early piece that sadism demands a story, thereby likening all narrative to pornography; Teresa de Lauretis draws an analogy between that position and Lotman's paradigm in which woman is positioned as obstacle, boundary, and limit for a mobile hero ( de Lauretis 1984: 118-19). Does Lotman's typology hold true for tragedy, or

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