Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson

Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson

Language: English

Pages: 718

ISBN: 0679735798

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


From ancient Egypt through the nineteenth century, Sexual Personae explores the provocative connections between art and pagan ritual; between Emily Dickinson and the Marquis de Sade; between Lord Byron and Elvis Presley. It ultimately challenges the cultural assumptions of both conservatives and traditional liberals. 47 photographs.

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sin-stained emergence from the birth canal is close to the chthonian truth. But excretion, through which nature for once acts upon the sexes equally, can be saved by comedy, as we see in Aristophanes, Rabelais, Pope, and Joyce. Excretion has found a place in high culture. Menstruation and childbirth are too barbaric for comedy. Their ugliness has produced the giant displacement of women's historical status as sex object, whose beauty is endlessly discussed and modified. Woman's beauty is a

daemonic Coleridge. Tragedy is the most western literary genre. It did not appear in Japan until the late nineteenth century. The western will, setting itself up against nature, dramatized its own inevitable fall as a human universal, which it is not. An irony of literary history is the birth of tragedy in the cult of Dionysus. The protagonist's destruction recalls the slaughter of animals and, even earlier, of real human beings in archaic ritual. It is no accident that tragedy as we know it

in Greek literature, makes a splash in Rome. Martial and Horace record real-life tribads, Balba, Philaenis, and Folia of Arminum, with her "masculine libidinousness." There are lesbian innuendos about the all-woman rites of the Bona Dea, crashed by Publius Clodius in drag. Lucian's debater condemns lesbian acts as "androgynous passions" and calls dildos "infamous instruments of lust, an unholy imitation of a fruitless union."29 Rome's sexual disorientation was great theater, but it led to the

movement into the future, a progressive or Providential design climaxing in the revelation of a Second Coming, is a male formulation. No woman, I submit, could have coined such an idea, since it is a strategy of evasion of woman's own cyclic nature, in which man dreads being caught. Evolutionary or apocalyptic history is a male wish list with a happy ending, a phallic peak. Woman does not dream of transcendental or historical escape from natural cycle, since she is that cycle. Her sexual maturity

illumination. In Greco-Roman terms, it is a coy, labored style. Wise Chaucer, putting roses in the cheeks of medieval asceticism, opposes absolutism and extremism in all things. But the idealizing Apollonian mode is absolutist and extremist from the first architectural overstatements of Old Kingdom Egypt Western greatness is unwise, mad, inhuman. Revolutionary Spenser puts the eye into English poetry. Horace's theory that a poem should be like a picture was much discussed in the Renaissance. But

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