Illegitimate, unfathered, unfinished

October 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

Name & seed determine the course of lineage; a daughter is she who will one day betray the sacrosanct family name — for many, that name is a word more sacred than the word of god. Survival & longevity, “generation — & thus genealogy — has long been understood as men’s business” (1), Valeria Finucci takes as the starting point for the argument in “Maternal Imagination & Monstrous Births”. Whether the source or the effect of this “business” association, it happens that man’s might & the male creative capacity prospered at the cost of the female. The genius of manhood became “a performance to register on the body of the next generation” (2). It was the mythology of male dominance that was passed along & called culture ; monstrosity was all that did not play along with this performance, including — as Aristotle famously sees it — women.

Childrearing is as much a game of resemblances as is art. All failed representations of the husband are abominations — again, woman is taken for perfidious. “To punish her, her behaviour is pathologized: the imposter she produces is called a monster, monstrous because the mother is monstrous or monstrous because the child is unstamped, that is, illegitimate, unfathered, unfinished, mismatched, misrelated, & miscegenated” (61). [The near-universal value placed on likeness, then, should come as no surprise. Neither that artistic realism is used as a technology in defence of systematic order.]

The scenario is a familiar one. “The father rules: from the most biological element (a ‘proper’ seed) to the most aesthetic or philosophical one (a ‘proper’ mind), a normal foetus bears all over the imprint of the one whose presence at the time of engendering could, however, never be proved after the fact” (48). Unprovability is a condition of power, Finucci almost says. & she would be right to. Flexibility, the malleability of position & circumstance are garnered; legitimation is the choice of faith after doubt — it is usually registered as fact & birthright instead. Of course, legitimation does work on the same principles as fact: the accumulation of evidence, verification by wide-spread vocalisation, & its recording & propagation.

Another condition of might from uncertainty is its uncorporeal aspect; that it is not quite tangible suggests it may be from a different sphere which has overcome the earthly toils of the body. From here, we find people can be in awe of excellent intelligence, associated with the surmounting of corporeality &, more generally, with masculinity. Sexualized masculinities taper off for some time from the popular imagination while the feminine erotic continues to peak.

For much of human history, the intellect was all that was understood of psyche; it was taken for the whole of psychology. It was viewed as a simple matter, portraiture was satisfying & popular. For too long the correspondence between physiognomy & character was taken for granted [taught & reinforced by/in narrative also], so that it became almost enough to be male to be accepted for nothing less than bright & celestial. Physiognomy was never kinder than to the man who could perform well the manhood registered from generations past.

Misinception was taken for a serious biological problem in antiquity & in the early modern world. “A rebellious female seed was just as problematic as a weak male one, because at best it would be responsible for engendering a female child & at worst a monster” (51). Both the sexual behaviour during inception & the daily practices & labours while pregnant were considered to effect the outcome of a foetus seriously. This hasn’t changed today. What is more remarkable is the role of imagination: extreme devotion toward an admired icon during pregnancy, it was believed, could mould the features of the child into those of the figure represented. It was even accepted that such creation by imagination alone was powerful enough to influence the colour of the child’s skin! Unfaithful wives would focus all their energies on their cuckolds so that the offspring may resemble the husband. “Children, in short, bore the mark of their mother’s hysterical or promiscuous desires” (58). Believing this, women were subjugated to the strictest observation even outside the critical term of pregnancy so as not to encourage bad practices. The sex became measured against flaws, virginity prized.

When the bearing of a monster is taken for guilt & not misfortune, birthing one becomes an act of shame. The fate of monstrous births is no secret any longer, it does not surprise. “The killing of the monster establishes, in short, the importance of a properly gendered man & a properly gendered woman in social relations & the value of controlling the anticipated disruptions generated by female sexuality” (69). The sign of the defeated monster is more deeply rooted in the hegemonic retention of patriarchal order than we might at first think. This monster is not just womankind, but all threats of disarray & derailed paths.

Paolo Uccello — "Saint George & the Dragon", the National Gallery of London (c. 1470)

Paolo Uccello — “Saint George & the Dragon”, the National Gallery of London (c. 1470)


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