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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tween masks. The modern pursuit of self-realization has not led to sexual happiness, because assertions of selfhood merely release the amoral chaos of libido. Freedom is the most overrated modern idea, originating in the Romantic rebellion against bourgeois society. But only in society can one be an individual. Nature is waiting at society's gates to dissolve us in her chthonian bosom. Out with stereotypes, feminism proclaims. But stereotypes are the west's stunning sexual personae, the vehicles

sexual anxiety of these myths. In the North American Indian version, says Neumann, "A meat-eating fish inhabits the vagina of the Terrible Mother; the hero is the man who overcomes the Terrible Mother, breaks the teeth out of her vagina, and so makes her into a woman."19 The toothed vagina is no sexist hallucination: every penis is made less in every vagina, just as mankind, male and " female, is devoured by mother nature. The vagina dentata is part of the Romantic revival of pagan myth. It is

forward. But Greek artists wanted their work to breathe and move. What was unchanged for thousands of years in Egypt leaps to life in a single century. The muscles curve and swell; the heavy wiglike hair curls and tufts. The smiling kouros is the first fully free-standing sculpture in art. Strict Egyptian symmetry was preserved until the early classic Ratios Boy, who looks one way while shifting his weight to the opposite leg (fig. 13). In the broken record of Greek artifacts, the Kritios Boy is

this will not limit woman's achievement, that is, her action in male-created social space. But it must limit eroticism, that is, our imaginative lives in sexual space, which may overlap social space but is not identical with it. Nature's cycles are woman's cycles. Biologic femaleness is a sequence of circular returns, beginning and ending at the same point. Woman's centrality gives her a stability of identity. She does not have to become but only to be. Her centrality is a great obstacle to man,

seem static and bland. Not only could respectable women not pose at leisure, but there was the Plotina effect: a lady confines herself to one persona. Decorum means expressionlessness. Spenser and Shakespeare throw all this out the window. They love imperious, volatile women. England was governed by a charismatic spinster who boxed the ears of her nobles and bashed ale flagons into tabletops. Her chief minister Lord Burghley said the queen was "more than a man and (in truth) sometimes less than a

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