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  • Of Female Chastity and Male Arms:The Balkan "Man-Woman" in the Age of the World Picture
  • Aleksandra Djajić Horváth (bio)

In his essay "The Age of the World Picture," Martin Heidegger described the modern age in terms of its essential phenomena, that is, science, technology, culture, the death of gods, and the art of experience (Erlebnis). The nineteenth century and its last decades in particular were characterized by rapid flourishing of these phenomena, with the metanarrative that science and visual objectification could master a world that was coming into existence through the gaze of the Western man. Heidegger claimed that the fundamental event of the modern age was the conquest of the world as a picture, the structured image that was a creature of human production. Scientific exploration of human sexuality, closely intertwined with both the gaze into the dark continent of human psyche and with the eyeing and measuring of foreign bodies, cultures, and lands, played an important role in the process of creating the picture of the world as a whole and as governed by a system, one achieved through a "new art of government" at whose center lay the art of taxonomy.1

Through taxonomy, human beings were redefined as analogous to animal and plant species, and human sexuality in particular was exposed to scrutinizing attempts to classify, dissect, and control, the middle class constructing its identity through definitions of self and other, of normalcy and deviance, of imperial and colonial, as well as of social center and periphery. Female sexuality fell under special observation and control, while the split discourse of the virginal and libidinal continued to symbolize the representation of women in fin de siècle Europe. Yet the age was also characterized by a deep fear of sexual deviancy in all persons that resulted [End Page 358] in works such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), which provided a detailed psychiatric classification and analysis of sexual disorders. The particular brew of sex and culture also found its expression in increased interest in the sexual practices of other peoples, resulting in the appearance of the discipline now known as ethnosexology.2

This article analyzes how the panoptic fin de siècle Western gaze "translated" the figure of the Balkan man-woman, an armed female-to-male cross-dresser lurking in what was then considered the periphery of the European continent, the Dinarides Mountains of the western Balkans.3 It examines how the image of that "female honorary man" from tribal pastoralist communities of Montenegro and northern Albania was refracted through a Western eye heavily imbued with a bourgeois sexual ideology as well as [End Page 359] how gender transgression was situated in the wider travel narratives of the crossing of national, linguistic, religious, cultural, and sexual boundaries and of entering the ambiguous realm between Us and Them that marks the traveler's imaginary.4

Two texts give invaluable accounts of personal encounters with the man-woman, one German, one Serbian, both dating to the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was a period when imperial boundaries in the Balkans were in flux. The Ottoman Empire was receding, the Habsburg Monarchy advancing into the Balkans as far as Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the first independent Balkan national states were appearing and trying to catch up with European societal and cultural values.5 Western representations of the man-woman were significantly dissimilar from those of "cultural insiders," primarily because the former brought in highly sexualized "translations" of the social practice of gender change among the tribal populations of the western Balkans that differed from the nonsexual indigenous views of the man-woman's role and identity.

In this reading of the two texts, I rely not only on the travel accounts of the Balkans from this period, mainly Austro-Hungarian, many of which only mention in passing the man-woman, but also on the reverberations between the observer and the observed and on Michel de Certeau's idea that the "travel narrative is a text of observation haunted by its Other, the imaginary … [and that] in this way it corresponds to its object—a 'culture' haunted by its 'savage' exteriority...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-3605
Print ISSN
1043-4070
Pages
pp. 358-381
Launched on MUSE
2011-05-18
Open Access
No
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