Academic journal article The Cormac McCarthy Journal

"White Pussy Is Nothin but Trouble": Hypermasculine Hysteria and the Displacement of the Feminine Body in Cormac McCarthy's Child of God

Academic journal article The Cormac McCarthy Journal

"White Pussy Is Nothin but Trouble": Hypermasculine Hysteria and the Displacement of the Feminine Body in Cormac McCarthy's Child of God

Article excerpt

Apprehension over the status of white men in post-sixties American culture- the era in which "high" Fordism decays and the period that Cormac McCarthy emerges as a published novelist-refers most directly to the political effects of feminism correlating with the changing tides of capitalism. "Second wave" feminism was a response to the polarized social and economic gender roles which "monopolized American culture during the domestic revival that followed World War II" (Savran 170). Such reified gender demarcations, assured within culturally restricted principles of order and hierarchy, then promoted the "male [domestication] and [rationalization] of women," to ensure that "feminine" would remain a synonym for "submissive," in contrast to the potency of the muscular working male, utilizing his body as a righteous testament to his authoritative, autonomous manhood (Savran 170). In turn, however, while manufacture-based capitalist methodology had routinely recognized the public sphere as an exclusively male domain, the increasingly seditious sites of convergence among gender processes and late capitalist economic circumstances affirmed an ever closer alignment of the feminine with mainstream culture, and, in so doing, ruptured those regulatory fictions that consolidated and naturalized socio-economic, phallocentric supremacies. Issues surrounding men and masculinities significantly shifted because of this contingency, and the transfiguration of the sex role paradigm in the 1970s to apply more immediately to questions of masculinity exposed the many traits that used to constitute and thus legitimize the male gender's hegemonic status, as a series of politically sanctioned and socially practiced mechanisms of oppression.

The heretofore-impervious masculine desire for "recognition and definition through conquest" respectively "marked" contemporary men as "hysterical" (Robinson 1). The active male role thus lost its rugged clarity, as the traditional means by which men had defined their manhood were now recognized as symptoms of a multiplicity of psychopathologies. American men were, as a result, no longer encouraged to show initiative or to exert their independence in a favorable way. Instead, the precarious capitalist economy that had begun to take shape during the 1970s displaced the white male into a corporate arena that no longer offered a clear sense of what manhood meant. Contemporary American authors such as McCarthy, then, disclose a corollary master narrative of white male decline "clothed in the language of crisis," and embrace a "vocabulary of pain and urgency" so as to foreground the historical, social, and economic decentering of what was formerly considered the normative in American cultural imagination (Robinson 1). McCarthy's third novel, Child of God (1973), is of particular relevance; for, while often undervalued in comparison to the author's later Western fiction, this Southern parable of the sad and sordid murderous necrophiliac, Lester Ballard, effectually embodies the malady of modern masculine disenfranchisement, consistently imbricated in the tension between social consciousness and the material world.

Set in 1960s Sevier County, East Tennessee, Child of God introduces the rise of the newly liberated female presence as a directly emasculating threat over the protagonist, Lester Ballard, and his claim to a formerly dominant order of hegemonic manhood. For Ballard, the articulation of female sexual autonomy, assertively contesting "[he] ain't got nothin [women] want," serves to defuse the hierarchical binary opposition continually appropriated as a means of male definition (74). Such disregard for female sexuality as nothing more than an immediate menace to a prototypical authoritarian masculinity results in Ballard's serial relegation of female objects of desire into victims that must be possessed as corpses for necrophiliac sex. In this manner, McCarthy directs Ballard's murderous misogyny as a means to a practical, sexual end, adopting the theme of necrophilia so as to stress the reality of women as sexual property, and the extent to which man uses "objects" to know himself at once as man and subject. …

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