- Abjected Landscapes: Crossing Psychogenic Borders in Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve
I had reached the desert, the abode of enforced sterility, the dehydrated sea of infertility, the post-menopausal part of the earth…. I am helplessly lost in the middle of the desert, without map or guide or compass. The landscape unfurls around me like an old fan that has lost all its painted silk and left only the bare, yellowed sticks of antique ivory…. I had reached journey’s end as a man.—Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve 187
Through frustrations and prohibitions, this [maternal] authority shapes the body into a territory having areas, orifices, points and lines, surfaces and hollows, where the archaic power of mastery and neglect, of the differentiation of proper—clean and improper—dirty, possible and impossible, is impressed and exerted. It is a “binary logic,” a primal mapping of the body that I call semiotic.—Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror 72
Urban spaces, pastoral scenes, dehydrated desert landscapes. Presented in literary topoi, these geographical spaces have long lineages.1 Literary landscapes lead the reader across unfamiliar territory, armed only with an authorial compass to mark hitherto unanchored cardinal points. We are, in effect, strangers travelling through imaginary geographical spaces. In Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve, we become estranged from our three-dimensional reality and pulled into a world that is inhabited by foreignness. We become exiles in her imagined places where the borders of subjectivity become fluid, unstable, and, in a Freudian sense, decidedly unheimlich (uncanny). We are forced to cross the border where the foreigner resides. By “confronting the foreigner,” says Julia Kristeva in Strangers to Ourselves, “whom I reject and with whom at the same time I identify, I lose my boundaries,” no longer able to contain and explicate experiences within a structured phallogocentric discourse (187). Our [End Page 73] “psychotic latencies,” which are held in check by the law and language of the father (le loi et le nom du père), are thus reanimated when the borders of language and patriarchal authority are breached. Our subjectivity is never complete, always fluctuating between the symbolic and the irruptions into language of the semiotic. Literary language can, and frequently does, provoke a crisis of identity, and these moments of fluctuating subjectivity mirror our universal exile from the very heart of language and reanimates these latencies. Fear drives these crises in subjectivity and, more specifically, a primal fear of the loss of the maternal function.
To become a functioning social subject who moves through the three-dimensional world in accordance with the law of the father, the subject must first separate from the mother figure and agree to follow in the father’s linguistic footsteps toward socialization. To do this the child must not only abject the mother, but also perform a necessary matricide. To be able to name the mother, to “find” her again in the symbolic, the child must consent to lose her. “I have lost an essential object that happens to be, in the final analysis, my mother,” says Kristeva, but by abjecting the maternal figure, “I have found her again in signs … I can recover her in language” (Black Sun 43). The abject maternal body enrages the (male) subject as it is a constant reminder of his origins. How can he form a subjectivity if he was once expelled (like a jettisoned abject object) from his mother’s body? To imagine it induces horror and psychosis. Better to abject the mother—turn the maternal container into a terrifying devouring body to safeguard his “clean and proper” self (Kristeva, Powers 72). Better yet, abject all female subjectivity; hurl the feminine across the subject/object borders. To imagine the mother, to desire her unifying coalescence is to be filled with rage and fear. The female body is cast into exile, a foreigner existing within a symbolic landscape; spoken for, spoken about, and estranged from the language of the father.
Carter intended The Passion of New Eve, published in 1977, to be a “feminist tract about the social creation of femininity” (“Notes” 71). Three decades on, it has lost none of...