Femme Fatale

Sky           -        Earth
Father       -        Mother
Culture      -        Nature

Daemonic archetypes of woman, filling world mythology, represent the uncontrollable nearness of nature. Their tradition passes nearly unbroken from prehistoric idols through literature and art to modern movies.

The primary image is the femme fatale, the woman fatal to man. The more nature is beaten back in the west, the more the femme fatale reappears, as a return of the repressed. She is the spectre of the west’s bad conscience about nature. She is the moral ambiguity of nature, a malevolent moon that keeps breaking through our fog of hopeful sentiment.

The femme fatale is one of the most mesmerizing of sexual personae. She is not a fiction but an extrapolation of biologic realities in women that remain constant.

[Camille Paglia]
Sexual Personae, p.13

I have been speaking of assaults of male on female. But some of The Faerie Queene’s boldest sexual aggressors are the licentious femmes fatales [...]

Their greatest power is in womblike closed spaces, in bedchambers, groves, and caves like the leafy grotto of Homer’s Calypso, where the male is captured, seduced, and infantilized. Spenser’s great word for such places is “bower,” both garden and burrow. Embowerment is one of The Faerie Queene’s primary processes, a psychological convolution of entrancement, turning the linearity of quest into the uroboros of solipsism.

Spenser’s femmes fatales tempt their male victims and paramours away from the pursuit of chivalric honor into “lewd sloth”—languid indolence and passivity [...] The rule of The Faerie Queene is: keep moving and stay out of the shade. The penalty is embowerment, sterile self-thwarting, a limbo of lush pleasures but stultifying passivity.

[Camille Paglia]
Sexual Personae, p.187-9

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Sky-cult / Earth-cult

Sky           -        Earth
Father       -        Mother
Culture      -        Nature
Apollo      -        Cybele
Mono        -        Poly
Light         -        Dark

Tragedy’s inhospitality to woman springs from nature’s inhospitality to man. The identification of woman with nature was universal in prehistory. In hunting or agrarian societies dependent upon nature, femaleness was honored as an immanent principle of fertility.

As culture progressed, crafts and commerce supplied a concentration of resources freeing men from the caprices of weather or the handicap of geography. With nature at one remove, femaleness receded in importance.

Both the Apollonian and Judeo-Christian traditions are transcendental. That is, they seek to surmount or transcend nature. Despite Greek culture’s contrary Dionysian element, which I will discuss, high classicism was an Apollonian achievement. Judaism, Christianity’s parent sect, is the most powerful of protests against nature. The Old Testament asserts that a father god made nature and that differentiation into objects and gender was after the fact of his maleness.

Judeo-Christianity, like Greek worship of the Olympian gods, is a sky-cult. It is an advanced stage in the history of religion, which everywhere began as earth-cult, veneration of fruitful nature.

The evolution from earth-cult to sky-cult shifts woman into the nether realm. Her mysterious procreative powers and the resemblance of her rounded breasts, belly, and hips to earth’s contours put her at the center of early symbolism. She was the model for the Great Mother figures who crowded the birth of religion worldwide.

[Camille Paglia]
Sexual Personae, p.8-9

Men, bonding together, invented culture as a defense against female nature.

Sky-cult was the most sophisticated step in this process, for its switch of the creative locus from earth to sky is a shift from belly-magic to head-magic. And from this defensive head-magic has come the spectacular glory of male civilization, which has lifted woman with it. The very language and logic modern woman uses to assail patriarchal culture were the invention of men.

[Camille Paglia]
Sexual Personae, p.9

The male has to will his sexual authority before the woman who is a shadow of his mother and of all women. Failure and humiliation constantly wait in the wings. No woman has to prove herself a woman in the grim way a man has to prove himself a man.

Man’s metaphors of concentration and projection are echoes of both body and mind. Without them, he would be helpless before woman’s power. Without them, woman would long ago have absorbed all of creation into herself. There would be no culture, no system, no pyramiding of one hierarchy upon another.

Earth-cult must lose to sky-cult, if mind is ever to break free from matter.

[Camille Paglia]
Sexual Personae, p.16, 19-21

Women have borne the symbolic burden of man’s imperfections, his grounding in nature. Menstrual blood is the stain, the birthmark of original sin, the filth that transcendental religion must wash from man.

The Bible has come under fire for making woman the fall guy in man’s cosmic drama. But in casting a male conspirator, the serpent, as God’s enemy, Genesis hedges and does not take its misogyny far enough.

The Bible defensively swerves from God’s true opponent, chthonian nature. The serpent is not outside Eve but in her. She is the garden and the serpent. Anthony Storr says of witches, “At a very primitive level, all mothers are phallic.” The Devil is a woman. Modern emancipation movements, discarding stereotypes impeding woman’s social advance, refuse to acknowledge procreation’s daemonism.

Nature is serpentine, a bed of tangled vines, creepers and crawlers, probing dumb fingers of fetid organic life which Wordsworth taught us to call pretty.

I contend that the premenstrual woman incited to snappishness or rage is hearing signals from the reptilian brain. In her, man’s latent perversity is manifest. All hell breaks loose, the hell of chthonian nature that modern humanism denies and represses. In every premenstrual woman struggling to govern her temper, sky-cult wars again with earth-cult.

[Camille Paglia]
Sexual Personae, p.11-12

Happy are those periods when marriage and religion are strong. System and order shelter us against sex and nature. Unfortunately, we live in a time when the chaos of sex has broken into the open.

Paganism recognized, honored, and feared nature’s daemonism, and it limited sexual expression by ritual formulae. Christianity was a development of Dionysian mystery religion which paradoxically tried to suppress nature in favor of a transcendental other world. The sole contact with nature that Christianity permitted its followers was sex sanctified by marriage. Chthonian nature, embodied in great goddess figures, was Christianity’s most formidable opponent.

Christianity works best when revered institutions like monasticism or universal marriage channel sexual energy in positive directions. Western civilization has profited enormously from the sublimation Christianity forced on sex. Christianity works least when sex is constantly stimulated from other directions, as it is now.

No transcendental religion can compete with the spectacular pagan nearness and concreteness of the carnal-red media. Our eyes and ears are drowned in a sensual torrent.

Male aggression and lust are the energizing factors in culture. They are men’s tools of survival in the pagan vastness of female nature.

[Camille Paglia]
Sexual Personae, p.25-26

In psychology, philosophy, and art, classical Greek imagination sought, in Eduard Fraenkel’s words, “λóγος, ratio… the intelligible, determinate, mensurable, as opposed to the fantastic, vague, and shapeless.”

The Apollonian, I said, is the line drawn against nature. For Harrison, the Olympian gods are patriarchal betrayers of earth-cult and mother nature. The chthonian is her test of authenticity and spiritual value. But I say there is neither person, thought, thing, nor art in the brutal chthonian. It was, ironically, the west’s Apollonian line that produced the matchless Jane Harrison.

[Camille Paglia]
Sexual Personae, p.73

In addition to his present preference, the Bantu has a list of priorities, in his conception of a higher standard of living, which contains many non-economic goals.

A fairly typical list of such priorities might run thus: food, sex dalliance, joking with one’s friends, a bicycle, music and dancing, a radio, leisure to go fishing. Any list such as this, with its high priority for non-economic and basically leisure activities, does not provide the constantly expanding material demands that are the motivating force in the West’s economic expansion.

Nor is the African’s strongly socialized personality, which shares all its successes and wants with others and constantly yearns for the social approval obtained by sharing income with kinfolk and friends, capable of supporting any economy of private selfishness and individual capital accumulation that became the basis for the industrial expansion of the West.

[…] Western methods might work if native peoples could acquire some of the more basic attitudes that have been the foundation of Western progress.

For example, the victory of the West in World War II was attributed to our capacity for rationalization and for scientific method. These in turn rest on the most basic features of the Western outlook and traditions, on the way in which our cognitive system categorizes the world, and the value system we apply to this structure of categories.

But our cognitive system is derived from our past heritage, such as our Hebrew ethical system, the Christian heritage (which strangely enough made us accept the reality and the value of the temporal world at the same time that it placed our final goal, achievable through behavior in the world of the flesh, in the eternal world of the spirit), and the lessons of Greek rationalism with its insistence on dealing with the world in a quite artificial system of two-valued logic based on the principle of identity and the law of contradiction.

Non-Western peoples who do not find in their own system of cognition any acceptance of the rules of identity or of contradiction do not see reality in terms of two-valued logic, and must make an almost impossible effort to adopt the West’s natural tendency to rationalize problems.

On this basis, they find it difficult either to rationalize their own emotional positions and thus to control or direct them, or to rationalize (which is to isolate and analyze) their problems and thus to seek solutions for them.

Africans, for example, unless they have been thoroughly Westernized, do not make the sharp distinctions we do between the living and the dead, between animate and non-animate objects, between deity and man, and many other distinctions which our long submission to Greek logic have made almost inevitable to us.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, ‘The New Era,’ p.752

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