Angela Carter's Flesh and the Mirror-A Few Critical Notes

 
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اشترك في: 20 نوفمبر 2006
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نشرةارسل: السبت مايو 26, 2007 6:45 pm    موضوع الرسالة: Angela Carter's Flesh and the Mirror-A Few Critical Notes رد مع اشارة الى الموضوع


[b]Angela Carter's Flesh and the Mirror: A Few Critical Notes [/b]


In her short story, Flesh and the Mirror, Angela Carter describes an 'apparently accidental' sexual encounter as if it has always (i.e., already) been a 'necessary practice'. Her thereby protagonist, she suggests, seems to anticipate, in association with it, a sense of guilt which, in her own impressions, she has already expected and perceptually pictured within herself. Thus the 'event' appears to have happened to her, when it has eventually happened, with a certain 'peculiar normalcy'. That is as if was, as the heroine reflects, some enigmatic fate that was creeping unto her life since the beginning of the night. She, that is to say, seems to have felt, once she met that stranger, what should, eventually, be passing between herself and him. She manifests that in the apprehension that one must 'pay the price for the way [one] live[s]', and that what she was near to getting through was a form of a trap, a vulnerable position life put her in. "I was", so her monologue floats about, "in reality at risk- I had fallen through one of the holes life leaves in it", then she conceives of such holes as being "peculiar holes" which consist of "entrances to the counters at which [one] pay[s] the price of the way [one] live[s]" (Carter, Angela, Flesh and the Mirror, The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories- p. 366).

The context of the narration is that of the sadness of a lover (the heroine/the protagonist) who did not find the beloved one waiting for her, as expected, at the airport when she arrived to a Japanese city. Narration thereby goes into detailing how she 'stumbled' unto the 'perfect stranger' on whom she appeared to 'avenge' the absence of her beloved.

She, and this is my present point (and, probably, the story's central theme), does not seem to feel any shades of guilt about her sexual encounter with that 'perfect stranger'. She, as she said, has searched for that within herself but could not find any hints towards it. Yet she could, at the same time, see that this was not because her love, for her beloved one, was no more there as a reality for her. On the contrary, she says, certain indications of it were all appearing to be there. She carefully searched herself for all those indications and acknowledged their being all in there: "I watched myself closely for all the signs and, precisely upon cue, here they were! Longing, desire, self-abnegation, etc. I was racked by all the symptoms". But she points out that (and here is the main contradiction, and 'pathos', in her situation) "even so, in spite of this fugue of feeling, [she] had felt nothing but pleasure when the young man [the stranger] who picked [her] up inserted his sex inside [her] in the blue-movie bedroom". She mentions, in this connection, that guilt only 'grew' within her later and when she realized that she had not felt any apparent guilt at the time of the encounter. And then she wonders: "Was I in character when I felt guilty or in character when I did not?" She was "perplexed" by this situation/questioning and "no longer understood the logic of [her] own performance", for, as she had later re-assembled the 'scene', "her script had been scrambled behind [her] back", "the cameraman was drunk", "the director had a 'crise de nerfs' and been taken away to a sanatorium", and her "co-star had picked himself up off the operating table and painfully cobbled himself together again according to his own design!", something which, she cynically commented, all "had taken place while [she] was looking at the mirror", then she exclaimed: "imagine my affront"! (ibid, p. 367).

To what extent can a person be 'acting out scenes' in his life? Is there any clear line that could, in all of the cases, be drawn between 'doing' some thing, or another, 'naturally' and 'acting it out' in the sense of the theatrical, or dramatic, role-playing?

These questions are frequented by the sense that Angela Carter's primary character (which, I suspect, could only be herself), in Flesh and the Mirror, does not, in the relevant situation, seem to be able to demarcate a clear border between what she genuinely does and what she does as a 'role' that 'life' somehow (i.e., contingently) 'fosters upon her'.

The situation here is that there seems as if there is that character (heroine) on the one side and there is the wide, and over-powering, contingency of human existence on the other side. And this suggests that sometimes confusion enters into one's life and one then seems not to be on the ground where one could feel clear about how one relates to the situated on-goings of the world in which one, at such moments (times), could be involved. At those moments (or times) one appears to lose the internal (i.e., affective and inward) power of distinction and to be, thus, left on the psycho-spiritual blank- or 'the world's' lurch. And that, effectually, happens when, more or less, the realm of the superficially sensual, the pragmatic and the superficially immediate takes one over and so almost eclipses much of that which is more deep and transcendent within oneself. One then, that is to say, does not, as the character in question, finds anything, in one's self, that would support one as a person who knows and who, actually, lives, in wholeness, the value and worth of what one feels and thinks at the deeper, and real, level of oneself. Otherwise one would not, like Angela Carter's heroine, go through the kind of emotional scepticism that Angela Carter artistically develops throughout the whole consistently (i.e., intentionally and deliberately) structured body of her story. For that story is a trick, a device of literary images of 'flesh and mirrors' that hides behind them a hollow woman and a hollow lover. The 'weeping on the streets', that is to say, cannot impress unto me that the passion of that woman (that 'heroine') is a genuine passion, for she does not, in/with that very weeping, seem seriously to question herself why she does not feel guilty in association with what she did with that 'accidental stranger'. She, again, seems to practise such questioning only experimentally, for she soon simply waived it away as a perplexity which she cannot resolve. Hence her reference, in this connection, to her relevant situation as a role in a play behind which she sees no script, no director, no cameraman and no plot.

This story could partially be interpreted as a story of a woman who is, at the given moments at least, living in self-deception. She seems, particularly at the instants of her 'accidental flight' with the stranger, to exist in a rather matter-like (i.e., object-like) existence. And her 'flesh ', which she practically has been involving in that act, then seems to become no longer 'hers' in the sense of its being lived alive in passion. This is manifested in that her scene with the man in respect has, eventually, been reduced to just a mere scene: an act that is performed in the objectivistic sense prima facie. It is right that the heroine claims that she has felt, in her accidental sexual intercourse with 'the stranger', 'nothing but pleasure'. But that pleasure might, I suspect, not mean anything but the objective appreciation of some theatrical performance that one is, more or less, an onlooker to. What is thereby involved might, in this respect, not be basically different from the sense of the objective satisfaction a pragmatic manager might feel as he is watching, while a cigarette is dangling from the edge of his mouth, the degree of the progress of some processions that should precede a social/business party over which he is to preside.

Some may say that this analogy between the woman and the manager is not quite correct. Those may point out that there is a certain distinction between the two cases in question. That difference, they may explain, precisely lies in that the 'objectivity' of the story's heroine is suggestively comparable to a certain form of what might be conceived of as 'cynical observational-ism', while that of the manager is, more or less, a serious-faced objectivity, for he is a pragmatic, and not cynical, observer. But this distinction, I say, only belongs to the 'spirit' that each of the two parties is characterized by in assuming the attitude she or he would assume. So it still means that though the backgrounds (the premises) of the actions concerned are clearly varying yet the basic 'attitudes' with which they are commonly underlined are the same, or at least similar, in their broad character: they are both, more or less, two forms of 'objective observational-ism'.

Angela Carter's heroine might hereby remind one, in its objectivistic
character, of Sartre's waiter in the café. For Sartre's waiter-in-the-café could, without difficulty, be conceived of as an 'objective observer' in the common sense in which that heroine is. What the waiter does, that is to say, is a 'perfect' performance in which he 'loses' himself in a way parallel to that in which she does- though the contexts and sequences are clearly different…. Compare, in certain aspects, this Sartrean description, in Being and Nothingness, of that waiter with what I have earlier extracted from Angela Carter's short story and you may have a particular 'feel' of what I am now saying:

[[color=indigo]size=12][[size=12]size=12]"Look at this waiter who is serving us. His gestures are lively, insistent and a little too precise. He comes to get his orders a little too quickly, he bends down a little too readily; his voice, his glance are a little too solicitous. Now he is coming back with the drinks, imitating in his walk the inflexible rigour of an automaton, carrying his tray with an agility of a conjurer, keeping it in a state of precarious equilibrium which he restores by a flick of his wrist and arm. His whole manner is a performance. His movements are linked together like the parts of a mechanism, even to his expression and his voice; he affects the incredible neatness and swiftness of inanimate objects. He is play-acting, he is enjoying himself; what is his role? Whom is he impersonating? The answer is simple: he is impersonating a waiter in a cafe". [/size]
[/color]

I think that what Angela Carter says about her heroine echoes something of what Sartre says about his waiter-in-the-café. That is, of course, without the 'ontological postulations' with which Sartre associates his description of his café's waiter in Being and Nothingness. For in both of Angela Carter's short story and Sartre's description there is the theme of the contingency of human life in its aspect which indicates that role-acting could often displace real life. That is in a sense within which the one who is 'caught up' in it may not be able to distinguish one's part-playing character from one's real character. But such contingency is taken, in Sartre's case, to its ultimate extent and has been claimed, in his thinking, to be something 'ontological' and something absolute. [/size]


Swansea, 1994 [revised in March 2007!].


Ibrahim Jaffar.


References;

1. Carter, Angela, Flesh and the Mirror, The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories, edited with Introduction by Malcolm Bradbury, Penguin Books, London, 1988.
2. Sartre, Jean Paul, Being and Nothingness, trans. by Hazel E. Barnes, introduction by Mary Warnock, Methuen & Co Ltd., London, 1974.





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