Below is the abstract I submitted for the Carter conference. In the end I decided that the best contribution that I could make to the conference would be via my studio work, as my area od specialist expertise. I screened the video 'I get it 5 times a day', and discussed how Carter's literary construction of a complex gaze speaks to the work, in relation to female narcissistic pleasure.
The Narcissistic Erotic: Negotiating Pleasure in The Male Gaze in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber
The imagery in Angela Carter’s short story The Bloody Chamber is both rich and opulent, and disturbingly gruesome. It is such stark contradictory concepts in the nature of Carter’s writing that lead Alison Easton to warn the feminist reader against ‘Identifying cosily’ (2000:4) with the story’s characters. The uncomfortable nature of the identification offered to the reader is evident in the narcissistic fantasies of the young bride in the story. As she searches for the, as yet undiscovered, erotic self in the eyes of the ominous and towering figure of ‘bluebeard’ there is a tension, of both sexual excitement and fear of the unknown. In this paper, I will examine the narcissistic pleasure offered to the female reader in this text, employing feminist film theory’s psychoanalytic structuring of the gaze in relation to gender. Gaylyn Studlar challenges Laura Mulvey’s seminal text Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema in which a male viewer subjects the female to a sadistic gaze. Studlar proposes that visual pleasures in the cinematic tend rather towards the masochistic, for both male and female viewers. How does this re-theorization of the classic gaze allow a reading of the literary construction of looking in Carter’s short story? In particular, the narcissistic pleasures offered to the female reader via an identification with the young bride, that resembles Mulvey’s original positioning of the female in relation to the cinematic gaze. This paper will probe whether pleasure in Carter’s difficult imagery can be accounted for by Studlar’s masochistic aesthetic. Carter percolates the male desire of de Sade through the agency of a female erotic subjectivity explicitly in The Sadeian Woman and more covertly in The Bloody Chamber via the young bride. In The Bloody Chamber the gaze is inscribed not simplistically as male or female, sadistic or masochistic, but as a complex relation of reflections of the look:
“ When I saw him look at me with lust, I dropped my eyes, but in glancing away from him, I caught sight of myself in the mirror. And I saw myself, suddenly, as he saw me”(Carter, 1979:11.). Ultimately the question that I will ask is, when the narcissistic pleasure in being the object of the male gaze is performed through a female erotic subjectivity how/is the masochistic potential of the position transformed?