Madonna on television. “Like a Virgin,” she sings in her tiny, mechanical-doll voice. The teen idol of the moment, with exposed belly button and cross hanging from the ear. Bringing together the pornographic with the religious, simultaneously channeling two images that have demonstrated their staying power in Western imagination: the mother (Madonna, Mary, virgin mother of God) and the whore. This ambiguous figure is a testimony to the spirit of the 80s, with all its extraordinary genius for recuperation. So, young lady, you no longer wish to play the role of the mother, nor that of the vamp? Well then, rather than having to choose between one or the other, you can become both at once. Trade in your identity, for better and for the same. First for yourself, the femme fatale. An a-morph, without a shape of her own, without a body…
Before the small screen, we are suddenly overcome with nostalgia for the 70s. A creeping sense that women with spirit and brains have, once again, been cast aside. Where is the feminism in all of this? Has our great dream fallen to pieces? Have we already moved into the post-feminist phase, as we hear more and more often declared nowadays? Isn’t this triumphant return of the sex symbol precisely a symptom of the difficulty of creating a collective consciousness among women that is able to bridge the generations?
The main problem is that consciousness — in both senses of the word, as understanding of self and world and as faculty of judgment — has traditionally been the privilege of men. Wasn’t consciousness symbolized for millennia by the sun, associated not only with intellectual illumination but also with “civilization, ethics, and all that is great in being,” whereas women have always remained on the side of the moon, nocturnal values, and the unconscious? Feminist consciousness then is precisely this move towards the conscious: towards perception, the recognition of oneself as woman and, consequently, of women’s common reality. Consciousness is the ability to set oneself to the side, to move from I to we, to transform one’s moral judgment as an individuelle into an ethical judgment and a historical consciousness. It is the ability to see that the culture in which one lives has nothing objective about it, but rather rests on the repression of women as a genus.
The oppression and exploitation of women — to return to the vocabulary of the 1970s — isn’t immediately visible in the social order; it is camouflaged. One has to look at the canvas attentively to see it, from a specific, oblique angle. Only by looking at it from such an angle does the condition of women become clear. I like to think of feminist consciousness as the consciousness of anamorphosis.
translated by Erica Weitzman
This excerpt from Louise Dupré’s “Four Sketches for a Morphology” in Theory, A Sunday is posted with permission from *belladonna. Watch for excerpts from Theory, A Sunday to come over the next six weeks and save the date, October 16th, for a celebration of Quebec Women’s Writing at Concordia University. More to come, and please, we welcome comments, discussions, elaborations and entanglements below.
 Chevalier, Jean & Alain Gheerbrant. Dictionnaire des symbols. Paris: Robert Laffont/Jupiter, 1982. 895.
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