Posts Tagged ‘Catholicism’

I had decided, as an adjunct to Bataille’s Erotism, I would read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but, given vampirism’s relationship with sexuality and Catholicism, the side project mushroomed into something of its own accord. For the next couple of posts I’ll be unpacking various texts surrounding Dracula, starting, of course, with Stoker, then moving on to Coppola’s 1992 film, Guy Maddin’s silent ballet: Dracula; Tales from a Virgin’s Diary, Nadja, and finally, Dodie Bellamy’s The Letters of Mina Harker. As usual, though plot isn’t at the forefront of my concern, it shall however be revealed as I discuss the more alluring pieces of these texts.


Vampires are neither dead nor alive. They are undead, or, Undecidable: a puncture in the Life/Death dichotomy, waffling between life and death, undermining and subverting hierarchical order, marking and signifying the structures and limits to binary oppositional thought. The desire to kill a vampire is not to abolish the hedonism vampires represent, or rather, suffuse (restoring straitlaced Victorian prudishness), but, as Derrida suggests, to return the world back to a system of order.

Just as humans are driven to love they’re also driven to die.

That being said: it’s not death we abhor, it’s chaos.

Vampires as figures, as myths, had been around for centuries before Stoker’s creation of Count Dracula in 1897. Based partly on Vlad Ţepeş/Vlad the Impaler/Vlad Dracula the warrior prince of Wallachia, partly on the aristocratic and charismatic nosferatu in John William Polidori’s The Vampyre, partly from Varney, the Vampyre by James Malcom Rymer, but mostly Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 Carmilla, the story of the gorgeous and charming vampire Countess Mircalla posing as Carmilla, and her fatal tryst with the lonely, ingénue Laura.

Dracula is an epistolary novel, meaning, it’s told entirely through journal entries and letters. So just as Dracula has no reflection in the mirror, the narrator(s) cannot reflect him either. He is never recorded in “real time.” The reader can only see (experience) him through misty and unreliable subjective memories, the veils of anecdote.

Dracula exists only as an afterthought.

But an afterthought our male characters are Hell-bent to destroy.

Though the Count is only in a small fraction of the text, his presence can be felt through out. His specter permeates the entire narrative in the negative, through negative space He is what is not being said like a shadow to the action, walking death, a toothsome vagina in which our characters boldly traverse to protect their women, their livelihood, their sacred act of procreation, the God-given right to penetrate a nonthreatening toothless vagina, manhood intact, in control, on top of the hierarchy, Missionary-style.

That fine line… Sex is Life / Sex is Death.

“With [Dracula’s] left hand he held Mrs. Harker’s hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white night-dress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man’s bare chest which was shown by his open dress.” Stoker. Dracula.

Each time we engage in the act of sexual intercourse, the brain goes through a moment of cognitive dissonance. On an unconscious level we wish to clone ourselves, live forever, but, obversely, we also want to obliterate ourselves, become one with the flow of the continuity of Being, dissolve into the great cosmos. We wish to fertilize, create another life, another death, pass along the existential torch to an unnamable baby, our pleasure centers are teeming with abundance, stretching at the seams, tumescent to the point of rupture. Then the crown of jouissance erupts, explodes in a paroxysm, annihilating our egos, our wills, sometimes, even our sight. In orgasm, we are our bodies, nothing more. We are simply here. Pure Being, like a dish of mold. In orgasm, the state, the quest of Eros is fulfilled, blowing open a door for Thanatos to slip into.

Percy Bysshe Shelley refers to the orgasm as “the wave that died the death which lovers love.”

La petite mort. A miniature death, a taste.

With each passing night, as Dracula visits Lucy, draining her of her life-blood, she experiences a miniature death as part of herself leaks out, passes from her body to his lips. Giving one’s life, the ultimate act of eroticism that parallels the sacrament.

“Life is always a product of the decomposition of life.” Georges Bataiile Erotism: Death and Sensuality.

A simple formula. The life cycle. It’s fascinating and horrible when it’s disrupted, when natural laws and social taboos are violated. Dracula combines the two Christian taboos of sex and death. He transgresses his own humanity and rises to the level of a god through steeping to the rung of a carnivorous animal; a sexual predator romanticizing the moment of death; eating the kill, not the meat. The victim is stripped of her clothes, her identity, and her will. She is under a spell, in a trance, hypnotized to a Bacchanal frenzy, begging for defilement. Her hymenal neck is penetrated, her life-blood is drained, satiating his hunger, giving him life. Sustaining his existence.

“In Dracula, vampirism is—to be pedestrian in the extreme—a metaphor for intercourse: the great appetite for using and being used; the annihilation of orgasm; the submission of the female to the great hunter; the driving obsessiveness of lust, which destroys both internal peace and any moral constraint; the commonplace victimization of the one taken; the great craving, never sated and cruelly impersonal. The act in blood is virtually a pun in metaphor on intercourse as the origin of life: reproduction; blood as nurture; the fetus feeding off of the woman’s blood in utero. And with the great wound, the vagina, moved to the throat, there is, like a shadow, the haunting resonance of the blood-soaked vagina, in menstruation, in childbirth; bleeding when a virgin and fucked. While alive the women are virgins in the long duration of the first fuck, the draining of their blood over time one long, lingering sex act of penetration and violation; after death, they are carnal, being truly sexed. The women are transformed into predators, great foul parasites; and short of that, they have not felt or known lust or had sex, been touched in a way that transforms being—they have not been fucked.” Andrea Dworkin. Intercourse.

Dworkin, of course, is arguing that once women taste the forbidden fruit of lust they become demonized, sex-crazed monsters, femme fatales, Sirens, Lilith, and therefore, must be destroyed. Women are supposed to be submissive, passive, pale and weak, tight-laced, painted, primmed and demure. Lucy, in other words. Not Mina, because Mina is the New Woman, a partner in every sense, but still devout and dedicated to both God and her husband. “Ah, that wonderful Madam Mina! She has man’s brain – a brain that a man should have were he much gifted – and woman’s heart,” gushes Dr. Van Helsing, who also had said:

“She is one of God’s women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist – and that, let me tell you, is much in this age, so skeptical and selfish.” Van Helsing, Stoker.

Mina is the epitome of the perfect Victorian woman. She represents all that Dracula threatens to destroy. To play devil’s advocate with Dworkin, one can argue that Stoker was a feminist. He even heralds some queer themes. And while I do commend Stoker for being ahead of his times concerning issues of gender and sexuality, essentially Dracula is still a heteronormative text. With the Count, his fangs, his cock, as the fundamental patriarch. Logos shrouded in Eros.

Vampirism, the great, sharp, protruding fangs are symbolic for the phallus, while the pale, heaving necks supplant female genitalia. Thus gender roles are flipped when Jonathan Harker is seduced by the three vampire women. He writes:

“I was afraid to raise my eyelids, but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes. The fair girl went on her knees, and bent over me, fairly gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the supersensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited – waited with beating heart.” Jonathan Harker, Stoker.

Just as Victorian society feared a sexually aggressive, predatory, sexually assertive female, Jonathan Harker is both attracted and repulsed by the women vampires (just as Mina is to Dracula). But still, Stoker reversed the gender roles, yet in doing so, maintained the power structured of the traditional binary opposition: Light vs. Dark. Good vs. Evil. Cock vs. Cunt.

bell hooks writes on this branch of feminism, where women become men to assert equality and enact dominance, in her book Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations, Chapter 2: “Power to the Pussy: We Don’t Wanna Be Dicks In Drag.” Using a photograph of Madonna brandishing a strap-on dildo climbing on top of Naomi Campbell, hooks argues that though Madonna as a name, a symbol has become synonymous with Girl Power and rebellion, taking the amaranthine mother, the holy virgin, and subverting that name, Madonna, to extrapolate the virgin/whore dichotomy of our culture. Instantly, Madonna was a hero to feminists, but, ultimately, hooks says, she only claims power by adopting masculine traits and genitalia. For Madonna, there is no power to the pussy, just a claim that pussies can be dicks too. (Though, an essential step in the sexual revolution and women’s equality––that can’t be dismissed––however, feminists should move beyond this line of thinking and reclaim their pussies as powerful in and of themselves. Reappropriation is more powerful than imitation. ‘Tis why I love Écriture Féminine.)

“The whole business of eroticism is to strike to the inmost core of the living being, so that the heart stands still. The transition from the normal state to that of erotic desire presupposes a partial dissolution of the person as he exists in the realm of discontinuity… In the process of dissolution, the male partner has generally an active role, while the female partner is passive. The passive, female side is essentially the one that is dissolved as a separate entity. But for the male partner the dissolution of the passive partner means one thing only: it is paving the way for a fusion where both are mingled, attaining at length the same degree of dissolution.” Bataille.

All victims of vampirism are cunts. The cunts are subsumed into the vampire, who, while in the throngs of ecstasy, forget themselves, devolve into pure predators, whose orgasm is life-affirming, as the victim’s orgasm is more of a L’appel du vide: a desire, a drive to leap into the abyss.

Because, as we all know, a cunt is a void and all voids need to be filled (ravaged).

Such is order.

Such is the state of being’s irreconcilable and oppressive loneliness, our own fundamental isolation. We try to fill that hole. We throw food into it, clothes, cars, football, narratives, anything that can be fetishized, loved. We even try to fuck our way out of it, fuck ourselves to the brim. I’ve heard pregnancy helps ease the pain. I expect that when one carries another, nihilism shrinks as a new purpose becomes so immediate and obvious. (A philosophical way to look at postpartum depression?)

“Beings which reproduce themselves are distinct from one another, and those reproduced are likewise distinct from each other, just as they are distinct from their parents. Each being is distinct from all others. His birth, his death, the events of his life may have an interest for others, but he alone is directly concerned with them. He is born alone. He dies alone. Between one being and another, there is a gulf, a discontinuity.” Bataille.

This gulf, Bataille says, is hypnotic, meaning, we are hypnotized by our own deaths. The “Death Drive” in Freudian terms; “Being-Towards-Death” in Heideggarian.

So both Lucy and Mina are drawn to Dracula. They want him to touch them, to feed them and feed off of them. They welcome it L’apel du vide Lucy, the compliant female, the perpetual virgin, especially. Mina is more reluctant. She’s disgusted with Dracula, she hates and detests him, but she doesn’t quite fear him, she pities him, and though this baffles her, she’s drawn to him, she wants him, and he already has her:

“My revenge is just begun! I spread it over centuries, and time is on my side. Your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them you and others shall yet be mine – my creatures, to do my bidding and to be my jackals when I want to feed.” Dracula, Stoker.

Dracula is a god. A Dionysus figure,  a murderous parasite, raw sexuality, hedonistic, red-blooded, animalistic, sadistic, father of death and carnal lust. His existence will corrupt the Victorian sensibilities, he will demolish and massacre the sacred order of life, the Christian hierarchy of things.

Dracula is a god that must be sacrificed.

For the love of God.

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Jennifer Michael Hecht on doubt, from Doubt:

Like belief, doubt takes a lot of different forms, from ancient Skepticism to modern scientific empiricism, from doubt in many gods to doubt in one God, to doubt that recreates and enlivens faith and doubt that is really disbelief. There are also celebrations of the state of doubt itself, from Socratic questioning to Zen koans; there is the sigh of the world-weary, the distracted hum of the scientist, and the rant of the victimized. Yet with all this conceptual difference there is a narrative to tell here: doubters in every century have made use of that which came before.

*Of course, as always, there is a spoiler alert.*

Essentially, metaphorically, this is the premise of Doubt, the play by John Patrick Shanley. And while I haven’t read the play, nor seen it performed, I did immensely enjoy the film, that Shanley directed, starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Hoffman as Fr. Flynn opens the narrative with a sermon on doubt. He talks about the importance of uncertainty, the strength, the faith that grows within it, then blossoming beyond it. “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty,” he says. Flynn is progressive, modern. He believes the school should incorporate a couple secular songs in their Christmas pageant.

Sister Aloysius is a strict, uncompromising conservative nun. She is also the principal of Saint Nicholas, and the children fear her as much as they fear hell. She, of course, opposes both change and Flynn. But she is not the antagonist. Nor is Flynn the protagonist, for that matter. I would argue that those generally clear-cut roles oscillate between the two characters throughout the entire play.

Again, Hecht:

Great believers and great doubters seem like opposites, but they are more similar to each other than to the mass of relatively disinterested or acquiescent men and women.

We are introduced to Aloysius in Sister James’ classroom. James is a naïve nun with a sunny disposition, and though she isn’t a particularly strong character, she is the ipso facto protagonist. Sr. James is having trouble controlling her class when Aloysius walks in. The children, of course, then sit up straighter, take their fingers out of their hair, and pretend to pay attention to James’ dissection of Kennedy’s famous speech. “The only thing to fear,” she says with Aloysius standing hard, stoney-faced in the back of her classroom, “is fear itself.”

Fear is what holds everyone back. There is not a single character in this narrative that isn’t afraid of either God or Aloysius or both. And they all seem to be afraid of themselves.

Later, at a most uncomfortable dinner, Aloysius rings a bell then asks, tells the other nuns to keep an eye on Fr. Flynn. Something doesn’t seem right to her. In other words, she doubts him. The nuns housing quarters are run like an ancient monastery: there is little talking and if any, it’s about the Lord, the Bible, morality, or a sermon. This compared with the boisterous priests’ quarters, where there’s laughter, music, and wine.

It would be easy to dislike Aloysius, to resent her primitive conservatism, but here and there moments of unexpected tenderness are uncovered. Another nun, Sister Veronica, a much older nun, is losing her sight as well as her memory. Aloysius does everything she can to ensure her safe-keeping at the school, encouraging the other nuns to help her walk, eat, and relax; to hide her condition. She is protecting Veronica from the Church that serves her. This both shows her distrust in the Church (which is very much different and separate from God) and her distrust in men, as “men run everything.”

Aloysius is frustrated with the patriarchy. The structure of the church is arranged to keep men in power. Even as the school principal she is not the supreme authority; she has to answer to the priests. In a scene where Aloysuis calls Flynn to her office, to question him as if he were a child in her school, both Aloysius and Flynn begin standing. He uses this as an opportunity to sit in her chair behind her desk, thus reminding her that he holds the power.

It’s 1964 and change seems to be on everyone’s tongue and this is best illustrated with the school’s first black student, Donald Miller.

Donald’s first appearance has him doubting himself, asking another altar server whether or not he thinks he’s fat. Donald is insecure about being black, outcasted, abused, and overweight. He doesn’t make many friends and, possibly because of that, or because he expresses interest in becoming a priest, Flynn befriends, and therefore, protects him.

“The little sheep lagging behind is the one the wolf goes for,” Aloysuis says.

We watch Aloysius and Flynn through the curious, absorbing eyes of Sr. James. We see Aloysius’ fear mongering and her deep suspicion of everyone around her. And we see Flynn behaving oddly, stuffing a child’s undershirt in his locker, calling Donald to his office where he comes back sulking and smelling of alcohol.

James reports all this to Aloysius, who takes this as proof of what she was already suspecting: Flynn is sexually abusing Donald Miller. With this evidence, Aloysius moves beyond doubting Flynn into disbelieving him. Later, she says it was the way a child recoiled from his touch that led to her certainty.

When asked, Flynn has a reasonable explanation. Donald was caught stealing wine, and when confronted, because of his outsider situation, Flynn tells Donald to keep this a secret, because if anyone else found out he would then have to be removed from altar serving, something neither Flynn, nor Donald, nor Donald’s parents want. But Aloysius runs a draconian ship. She removes the boy from altar serving in hopes that the truth will then unearth itself.

No one is happy with this outcome.

The next Sunday, Flynn delivers a sermon about the sin of gossip. He tells a story about a woman who regrets and wishes to repent her gossiping. The priest had told her to Bring a pillow up to her roof, cut it open, then retrieve all the feathers that blow about in the wind. When the woman laments how impossible her task was, that she couldn’t retrieve every feather, the priest then says, such is the metaphor of gossip.

Flynn’s reputation is at stake, and where there is no evidence, yet still certainty, gossip lies.

Flynn is just as certain of his innocence, and thinks he is a force of good for the school, that he’s emulating the Bible’s focus on love. That children need to be taught with compassion, not with fear and discipline. James initially agreed with Flynn, but the more she speaks with Aloysius the more doubt plagues her mind. It’s as if she distrusts her own naïveté.


There was belief before there was doubt.

James is caught in between two extreme, uncompromising forces. She wants Flynn to be innocent, but his word is not enough. It certainly isn’t enough for Aloysius, whom Flynn accuses of holding a witch hunt. All the evidence stacked against him can be reasonably explained, and is, but still, Aloysius doesn’t believe him.

Again, it would be easy to believe Flynn’s innocence, that Aloysius is in fact holding a witch hunt, but there are other signs and symbols for the audience that make us doubt Flynn as well. For example, while Flynn is a progressive character, he is also eccentric. In his first scene with the children, he scolds a child for having dirty fingernails (this is the scene Aloysius sees the child recoil from his touch). Then later, in gym class, he stops the game to tell all of the children the importance of clean fingernails, to which then he reveals his own, and they’re long, like a woman’s (“but it’s okay because they’re clean”), and as the camera zooms in on them, there’s something disconcerting about them. Then, in Aloysius’ office, the fingernails come up again, and he defends himself, saying that he likes them long, but quickly Aloysius snaps, telling him, in effect, to just cut them, to fix it, or make it right. He cowers at this, as if he knows keeping such long fingernails is wrong. We’ve seen him thus far demonstrate to her his authority, but here he doesn’t. He could do the same, after all, long fingernails aren’t a crime, or a sin, they’re just eccentric, however, it is apparent by the way Hoffman acts that Flynn feels shame.

Aloysius has contacted Donald’s mother. Ms. Miller arrives as Aloysius is listening to a compact radio she confiscated from one of the children, illustrating that she isn’t as stuffy and against change as her reputation suggests.

Miller keeps repeating how grateful she is that the St. Nicholas accepted Donald, and that he just has to make it until June, because then he will be graduating from a good school and can then move on to a better high school where he won’t be picked on. Aloysius then brings up Fr. Flynn. Miller expresses how happy she is, and how lucky Donald is to have such an educated man looking out for Donald, as his father is abusive enough that Ms. Miller fears for his life.

Miller doesn’t believe Flynn has molested her son, though her language suggests that even if he did, it is the price that Donald has to pay for a better education, that maybe it’s all right somehow. Miller is a woman rattled with fear, more afraid of rocking the boat, causing trouble, than her son’s well being. Miller begs Aloysius, if she wants to get rid of Flynn, just do it, but please, leave her son out of it because otherwise his father will kill him.

Aloysius keeps her word and continues the game of cat and mouse with Flynn.

Flynn and Aloysius then hold a second meeting, but this time without James, their mediator, or witness. They buck propriety, and the rules, to have this meeting alone, behind closed doors. Aloysius says she had spoken with the nuns of his previous parish and knows the real reasons behind his leaving. Flynn becomes irate that she broke the chain of command and insists she call the priests. She tells him to resign with a leave of absence or suffer exposure. As he doesn’t want the latter, he resigns, but then, instead of punishment, he is promoted to a larger church with a larger school, and Aloysius is disciplined from breaking the chain of command.

In the final scene, Aloysius and James are seated on a park bench. Aloysius admitted she lied about contacting another nun, that the lie would not have worked if he were innocent. His reaction was proof of his guilt. For Aloysius, Flynn’s resignation was his confession, but James doesn’t think it was worth it to lie, to sin. Aloysius then tells her that in pursuit of righting a wrong, there is a price, and that lie was the price to protect the children in her parish.

Then, suddenly, Aloysius breaks down. “I have doubts!” she exclaims. Her façade crumbles and she cries.


Within the mixed, increasingly skeptical community, something new arises: a committed, ardent belief, where the idea of doubt is written into the idea of the religion. Here expressions of doubt can feel threatening very quickly, because the feeling of lost certainty and the pain the accompanies it are now very well known. The moral abyss, the friendless world, seems to be the common state of those outside the community, people swagger with the pride of the independent but also bemoan their fate, compete like animals, abuse drugs, commit violence, and generally invite upheaval into their lives. Those who make a belief commitment reject this and call back to a period of unquestioned belief–but belief has grown much more self-conscious and the group often feels it must consciously police its membership against doubt.

The film ends with uncertainty, or a certainty that one can never be certain of anything. Chaos reigns. Everything isunanswered. The audience debates.

“Life is unfair,” as Kennedy once said.

There is no order, no rules to strictly adhere to. Change will always be on the horizon.

Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman were fantastic. Their acting was subtle and complex. I could see how a lesser troop of actors could sway the audience, persuade them one way or another, but to do so would misinterpret the play’s point.

The quotes from Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book are my relation to the play, not hers. Doubt is a history of doubt. Its full title reads, Doubt; a history. The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson.

Howard Zinn says of Doubt, “Jennifer Hecht’s romp–lighthearted but serious–brings to life an awesome array of figures in philosophy, science, and literature, in a way that is wonderfully engaging.”

I would strongly recommend both Hecht’s book and Shanley’s film.

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Philip Pullman’s latest fiction opens with a caveat.

The story I tell comes out of the tension within the dual nature of Jesus Christ, but what I do with it is my responsibility alone. Parts of it read like a novel, parts like a history, and parts like a fairy tale; I wanted it to be like that because it is, among other things, a story about how stories becomes stories.

At a press conference, he also succinctly defended his right to shock, his right to write.

Nobody has the right to stop me writing this book.

Already, Pullman is anticipating the onslaught of religious complaints, the outcries of people clamoring to have his work banned, burned, suppressed. He is, of course, no stranger to offending the religious. He is an open atheist and a great deal of his fiction supports his beliefs. He’s been quoted as saying, “I hope the wretched Catholic church will vanish entirely.”

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is another volume in the Canongate Myth series which also features Margaret Atwood’s retelling of the Odyssey’s Penelope and Jeanette Winterson’s take on Atlas and Heracles. But Ron Charles has a point, if you’re going to retell Greek mythology people are mildly amused, but “if you fiddle with Jesus, people begin collecting dry sticks.”

Pullman splits, he literally twins the abstraction of Jesus Christ into the strong leader, the charismatic preacher Jesus and the weaker, more innovative pencil-pusher Christ. Pullman’s goal is to retell the Gospels of Jesus, replacing all supernatural miracles with hyperbole and misunderstanding. For example, a man comes to Mary claiming to be an angel. He beds her then leaves. Though Mary believes him to be an angel, it is more likely he is a farmhand taking advantage of a very young, naïve married woman. This is one of many liberties Pullman takes regarding Catholic doctrine.

Jeanette Winterson reviews Pullman in the London Times, beginning with a brief précis of Gnosticism, which, she says, is a doctrine of dualism that splits the human condition into a pure, holy spirit and a corrupt, tainted body. “Salvation is through knowledge (gnosis) of this composite self.”

The once suppressed Gnostic text gone DaVinci Code, The Acts of Thomas, has Judas as Jesus’ twin. Judas who still betrays Jesus, but then Brown has him sacrifice himself in order to save his brother.

This view of Gnosticism is directly in line with Logocentricism: the search for the one Truth, the privilege of the spoken word over the written, and language as a fundamental expression of reality.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ plays with this fallacy.

We live in a binary world of opposites. We find them comforting.

(When I say we, I of course, mean some, as feminists have been in an uproar over this binary structure. And they should be.)

According to the psychoanalyst Harry Stack Sullivan, a child splits her perception of her mother into anxious and non-anxious states. The scowling, angry, punishing mother is bad, while the good mother is caring, kind, loves unconditionally. Eventually, the child learns to predict whether the good mother or the bad mother approaches her through facial expressions, vocal intonations, etc. But in time, the child discovers that the arrival of those foreshadowing images hinges upon her behavior. This is where a sense of self evolves.

But still, often there is a dichotomy in our sense of self, and in our sense of others.

This is why the twins trope has been so prevalent in literature. Winterson:

The twin motif is a binary that allows us to look at aspects of the self within the self that are uncomfortable, contradictory or disowned. The twin motif is stretchy enough to include the Jekyll and Hyde problem, where the good self secretly harbours the bad self — the Jungian Shadow that we often deny but that must eventually be met and integrated for psychic wholeness, resolving the dualism of our natures.

As Pullman said, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is supposed to represent the dual nature of Christianity. Even though he transforms Jesus Christ as myth into a historical Jesus, one without superstition or dogma, Pullman still stresses the good message of universal love and compassion. He’s saying that the theology, the magic are what vilify the church.

This is where the “scoundrel” Christ comes in. He thinks that Jesus’ message would best be absorbed if they were to turn his teachings into a business.

I can see it so clearly, Jesus! I can see the whole world united in this Kingdom of the Faithful – think of that! Groups of families worshipping together with a priest in every village and town, an association of local groups under the direction and guidance of a wise elder in the region, the regional leaders all answering to the authority of one supreme director, a kind of regent of God on earth!

Though Jesus rejects both his brother and his ideas, Christ surreptitiously follows him and records all of his teachings. But a mysterious stranger approaches Christ and urges him to alter Jesus’ sermons for the sake of Truth. “There is time, and there is what is beyond time. History belongs to time. In writing of things as they should have been, you are letting truth into history. You are the word of God.”

This is Pullman reminding people that recording history and retelling history changes history. That one cannot tell a story without the lens of subjectivity. That magic can arise from misconstruction. Like he said, this is a story about how stories become stories. This is why, I think, Pullman chose to write this text very plainly, with Orwellian precision.

Just as Orwell wanted to present 1984 with as much objectivity as possible, Pullman stripped his prose bare of any adjectives, adverbs, devices, metaphors, allusions, convolutions, mystifications, manipulations, and disorder. His language, therefore, is simple and clear.

Winterson complains about this; she complains about a lot that I disagree with. I think she misses Pullman’s point, almost completely. It’s not to retell the Gospels of Jesus to illustrate how strong and important women really were, it’s not to consider Jesus as miracle-worker so we can all ponder the what-ifs of bending natural law. She also complains that the book isn’t literary enough, it’s not artistic enough. Pullman’s point is to show that the Gospel of Jesus is just a story. To remind that it is simply a myth. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is an atheistic representation of probability. He took the Canongate assignment and made it political.

Religion is a hot-button topic, and it should be.

Church and state are separate. The secular humanists therefore see religion as a political issue, the religious don’t even see it as an issue, they see it as a way of life. And until they agree to keep their beliefs and their opinions away from our laws, then this is a battle that we must, as a nation, encourage at every turn to debate. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is an excellent catalyst to get the discussion rolling, and I think it would be wise to make this book part of the high school canon.

*Artwork by Andrew Zig Leipzig. Who also is responsible for DH Krahn‘s bottle design, which is a spectacular gin founded by an ex boyfriend of mine.

Note: I do find it interesting that Winterson critiques Pullman so when she wrote for the same series. I’ve added Weight; the Myth of Atlas and Heracles to my wishlist, but if anyone has read it I’d love to know what you think of it.

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I want to analyze, unpack, read between the spaces of my writing. I want to explain the way I write.

Kathy Acker says, “Within the realm of realism lies the assumption that language mirrors all that isn’t language, right? A table. That’s what a narrative is about: telling what is or should be. A narrative mirrors reality… Why bother with the lie of realism? Why bother being so miserable, so reductive, when one could play?”

Why bother mirroring reality? When art can soar away from reality. Create another reality. Its own reality. Why must a narrative merely be a story? Why can’t it move beyond simple plot and exposition. Why must every word be tethered to a sentence and unable to fly outside of the text it happens to reside in?

Take these two lines from a text:

Mea Culpa

The Venus Effect.

(The plot, after which, is a scorned woman who cuts her hair off.)

Mea Culpa. Latin for “I’m guilty.”

The Venus Effect is a reference to Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus, who lies with her back faced to the viewer and looks at herself through a mirror Cupid is holding, but, and what’s important, is that her face, her gaze, her blurred image focuses directly on the viewer. Both vanity and sex are evoked. Maybe even Velázquez himself.

But, the Venus Effect plus Mea Culpa, the greater comparison would be from Paganism to Judeo-Christianity. Much like Las Dos Fridas, I envision one line as traditional and in pain, while the other is stronger, evasive, and beautiful. Both lines function as the introduction to a teenage girl, who, like the Rokeby Venus, introduces herself to the reader by looking in a mirror.

There is a preference of Venus over Mary in this teenage girl’s mind, and there’s shame for feeling that way. This guilt causes a bipolar response. She swings back and forth from appreciating her body to hating her body. Though not in a biblical way – she doesn’t think she’s dirty or impure, inferior to man – but in a perfectionist’s way. While she may be as good as a man she’s afraid of her body not being good enough for him.

She’s afraid of being ugly, unfuckable, but feels guilty for being bodaciously fuckable.

They are both sides of the same coin.

The mirror, of course, reminiscent of Alice Through the Looking Glass, namely the looking glass itself, which reflects, holds both the thing and its counterpart. In Alice, a logical one and an illogical. As if everything reflected in the mirror had another side. That together, both the thing and its image, represent   the whole. What Acker is saying is that there is a difference between the signifier (word) and the signified (what the word represents).

There are some things that language cannot describe. There are emotions, feelings, and thoughts that get lost in the translation from inside one’s head to their tools of communication. I could not possibly attempt to describe what love is. Who can? That’s why there’s vague proverbs and analogies. Love is a battlefield. Love is

A realistic depiction would call for long pauses explaining everything. It would be like Tristam Shandy.

And sometimes some narratives don’t want to explain everything. They want to make allusions to something and move on. Allusions are fun. They’re playful. A literary game for the reader.

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