The Abject Object: Avatars of the Phallus in Contemporary French Theory, Literature and Film

The Abject Object: Avatars of the Phallus in Contemporary French Theory, Literature and Film

The Abject Object: Avatars of the Phallus in Contemporary French Theory, Literature and Film

The Abject Object: Avatars of the Phallus in Contemporary French Theory, Literature and Film

Synopsis

This book addresses representations and constructions of masculinity in crisis in contemporary French culture by way of two important concepts - the phallus (largely but not solely in incl. Lacanian senseincl.) and abjection (Kristeva). Scrutiny of these concepts informs readings of a number of texts - literary (Bataille, Adamov, Doubrovsky, Houellebecq, Rochefort, Angot) and cinematic (Ferreri, Eustache, Godard, Noe, Bonello) - in which the abject phallus is a significant factor. The texts chosen all describe or stage crises of masculinity and mastery in ways that suggest that these supposedly beneficent qualities - and the phallus that symbolizes them - can often be perceived as burdensome or even detestable. Abjection is a widely-used concept in contemporary cultural studies, but has not hitherto been articulated with the phallus as emblem of male dominance as it is here. The volume will be of interest to those working in the areas of French, gender and film studies."

Excerpt

On the very day I began writing this book, newspapers were full of the story of two Germans who had arranged to meet so that one could kill and eat the other. This rendez-vous, set up via the Internet, began with the ‘eatee’‘s penis being amputated and fried with garlic, despite which the two men were unable to finish their meal. the court found the instigator guilty of manslaughter rather than murder since his victim had given consent to being killed for the specific purpose of being eaten. It is less the breach of the taboo on cannibalism – probably second only to that on its close relation incest, and almost certainly less often violated nowadays – that ought to detain us here than the simultaneous desire and incapacity of the participants to begin their feast with what was clearly at once the most appetizing and the most forbidding item on the corporeal menu.

A better illustration of the central thesis of this book would be difficult to find. That thesis, to be explored through a range of recent French theoretical, literary and cinematic texts, is that masculinity, the ostensible domain of the phallus, inexorably dwells under the sign of its own abjection. What Phil Powrie terms ‘the crisis of masculinity which had begun in the 1970s with the advent of feminism’ (Powrie, 1997: 8) is a well-attested phenomenon in contemporary Western cultures, often seen as a response to the return of the repressed Other that is woman. Masculinity challenged, masculinity distressed, masculinity tormented is a central feature of the modern-day gender landscape, and the texts to be examined here all copiously attest to it. They also, however, do something more: they locate that challenge, that distress, that torment at the heart of masculinity, perhaps even indissociable from its very constitution. Lacanian psychoanalysis, with its notorious assertion that ‘il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel‘ (Lacan, 1975: 21) and its deployment of the term ‘phallus’ in a manner that at once speaks to masculinity and undermines its claims to supremacy, will be one of the starting-points for my examination of

‘There is no sexual relationship.’ (This is generally taken to refer to Lacan’s supposed reduction of woman to a ‘mere’ symptom of man; but the very existence of a ‘symptom’ might be thought sufficient reason to regard masculinity as potentially if not inherently pathological – a view that will loom large in what is to follow.)

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