Academic journal article Pynchon Notes

Re-Stenciling Lesbian Fetishism in Pynchon's V

Academic journal article Pynchon Notes

Re-Stenciling Lesbian Fetishism in Pynchon's V

Article excerpt

V. is an important text for anyone interested in recent attempts to theorize female fetishism. "V. in Love," the last overtly "Stencilized" of the novel's historical chapters, tells the story of the abortive love affair between a fifteen-year-old dancer, Melanie l'Heuremaudit, and a mysterious patroness identified only as the lady V. Viewed from the perspectives of the members of Melanie's theater circle, this relationship is the object of numerous pseudo-Freudian speculations connecting fetishism, narcissism and lesbian desire. Eventually these speculations are mirrored both in the musings of the story's ambiguous teller, Herbert Stencil, and in the commentary of the unnamed narrator who appears to supersede Stencil's narratorial role in the final third of "V. in Love." By the end of the chapter, which depicts Melanie's death by impalement the night of her premiere, the relationship between the young dancer and V. has been implicated in a grand conspiracy between lesbianism, fetishism and death:

      If V. suspected her fetishism at all to be part of any conspiracy
   leveled against the animate world, any sudden establishment here of
   a colony of the Kingdom of Death, then this might justify the
   opinion held in the Rusty Spoon that Stencil was seeking in her his
   own identity. But such was her rapture at Melanie's having sought
   and found her own identity in her and in the mirror's soulless
   gleam that she continued unaware, off-balanced by love; forgetting
   even that ... their love was in its way only another version of
   tourism; for as tourists bring into the world as it has evolved
   part of another, and eventually create a parallel society of their
   own in every city, so the Kingdom of Death is served by
   fetish-constructions like V.'s, which represent a kind of
   infiltration. (411)

This provisional explanation of the chapter's events has received convincing, and contrary, interpretation from critics operating within different veins of poststructuralist thought. Hanjo Berressem accepts the authority of this passage and treats it as support for his argument that Pynchon's novel "fictionalizes Baudrillard's vision of a fully simulated subject." According to Berressem, "V. in Love" is a nightmarish dramatization of Baudrillard's history of the body, whereby the semiotic progress of the fetish's "staged castration" is revealed in the reduction of the woman to a mannequin, or a pure signified of sexuality (53, 58). (1) Alec McHoul and David Wills, on the other hand, reject the historical progression implied in the narrator's commentary, relying on a Derridean understanding of the fetish as a deconstruction of natural origins, "a supplement, both replacing and adding to" (182). By their reading, the discourse on fetishism in "V. in Love" precludes any attempt to pinpoint V. as a stable term in a male/female binary. Both of these interpretations, however, miss--either by preserving the psychoanalytic focus on fetishism as an exclusively male perversion, as does Berressem, or by neutralizing the gendered perspective on fetishism entirely, as do McHoul and Wills--the challenge Pynchon's portrayal of lesbian fetishism poses to the psychoanalytic prohibition of women from fetishistic practices. Published in 1963, V. anticipates by nearly twenty years the theoretical project to define a distinctly female fetishism.

Freud, Female Fetishism and "V. in Love"

That project, which has its roots in the work of Sarah Kofman in the early 1980s, (92) finds its chief target in Freud's de facto exclusion of women from the practice of fetishism. Freud's definitive essay of 1927 presents the fetish as a phallic substitute, constructed by the male and offered as a supplement to the female body, rendering it tolerable as an object of desire. The need for this supplement is rooted in the fear of castration experienced by all males on first glimpse of the female genitals. …

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