Professing * Reflecting

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Shiraz, Suitors, Shields

Perseus & Medusa
Originally uploaded by dr. medusa.
. . . so the Shiraz led to crazy good sex with one of my best friends who has somehow become a suitor (and now a lover)--a turn of events that has left me too flustered to blog. I hope that this flustered = no blogging pattern does not continue, because a) such "random" events followed by such fluster seem to "happen" quite a bit in my life, and b) I often know about or even plan these events so that I can then claim a "flustered"position, and c) we really can't call that flustered or "becoming confused" since it is really not a passive thing at all; so d) actively planning to put myself into a confused position can not be used as an excuse for not blogging or for anything at all (although I use it all of the time).

More on that later. Have to get back to the second great mirror scene. Actually, looking at this particular scene might help to explain the above nonsense.

Why is the story of Perseus and Medusa ultimately a great mirror scene? Again, according to the basic tenets of Great Scenes, I don't need to explain. But, again, since I am not Harold Bloom, I will say why I think it deserves attention (and I will try not to use the Kabbalah, even though it's an excellent mystification technique for which I applaude Bloom).

The great scene under consideration is basically the murder scene--Perseus catching sight of Medusa in the shield, whacking her in the throat, and cutting off her head. How can I call this a "scene"? It's dramatic and it's visual. Yes, it's been translated into the directly visual in the occassional B-movie or Saturday-morning cartoon (a lovely, informative introduction into socialization for the kiddies, right?), but it is also conjured as a scene in "non-visual" forms. The Romantics, for example, got a particular kick out of it. In short, it's a scene because it is about sight and seeing (or seeing without seeing).

I want to freeze-frame the moment when Perseus catches sight of Medusa in the mirror, which in this case is a shield. Perseus has borrowed the mirror/shield from Minerva for the express purpose of killing Medusa. Minerva is pissed at Medusa for banging Neptune on her temple floor. Actually, in most versions, Neptune rapes Medusa, but this is of no consequence in the mythology. The woman is made the monster--literally--when Minerva changes Medusa's golden curls into snakes. Whereas the beautiful Medusa may have figuratively been able to kill or to turn to stone anyone who looked at her, the monstrous Medusa has the literal power.

This puts both the pursuer, Perseus, and the pursued, Medusa, in a bind. I am more interested in Medusa's bind. Medusa can look at Perseus without being harmed. Her gaze, at least from her perspective, is not dangerous. She, however, is left looking at a dead body or a body made of stone. While these bodies might be spectacular for a moment, they are ultimately empty of life. I don't see this Medusa as a beautiful and laughing uber-woman (vis-a-vis Cixous) but more as a "bored-now" specatator (vis-a-vis Evil Willow in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"). But, if we refuse to consider her position as one of a feminist survivor or of an evil superhero, we can perhaps better see what meaning these bodies hold. The bodies hold one of two (or both) meanings for Medusa: 1. I looked at them, so they died/turned to stone; or 2. They saw me, so they died/turned to stone. I like (maybe for personal reasons) the second one better. I also like the turns-to-stone aspect of Medusa's gaze better than the killing aspect. The variations in the story--Medusa's gaze petrifies or kills--are treated casually by most critics, maybe because the difference seems minimal. I think the difference is important. Medusa gets to gaze upon her pursuer all she wants, before and after he's petrified. Trouble is, once he looks directly at her, all she has to work with is a petrified shell. So, the real problem for Medusa is the pursuer seeing her, not her seeing the pursuer.

Let's look at it from Perseus's perspective, which is our point-of-view in the scene. Perseus does get to look at Medusa, albeit through a shield. In the reflective surface of that shield, he sees her looking at him. More importantly, he sees her. He sees her, and he--back turned--kills her. His point of contact is the throat (which contains her monstrous voice), and the final blow removes her head (which contains the offensive stare). Which--her sight or his--is more distressing? In this moment they share in the mirror, his sight--his ability to see her--is more significant. Think of the shield as a mirror. Perseus looks in the mirror and sees not himself but Medusa. At this moment, Medusa not only gets to see Perseus, but she also gets to see Perseus seeing her. Next thing she knows, she's without a head. For Medusa, seeing someone see her = death. For Perseus, seeing Medusa has always meant his own death. He needs the mirror to survive. If the thing in the mirror is not him, he needs to kill it.

If Medusa had mirrored Perseus's mirror with her own mirror--if she had shielded herself from view and reflected back Perseus's own reflection--she would have survived. As it turns out, she lets Perseus see her. Fatal error? Sure. Her only means, as a monster, by which to share an intimate (intimate in terms of seeing and being seen and seeing oneself being seen) moment with someone, however fatal that moment may prove? Fucked-up but exactly right.

So that brings the scene back to me, my Shiraz, my suitors and my shields. I have named myself "Professional Mirror" and "Medusa," because I see myself as both. A mirror who mirrors rather than letting anyone see her. Dr. Medusa and not just plain Medusa because the Ph.D. helps me think through and talk about my personal dilemma via fancy theory and from a safe (in terms of really revealing myself) academic position. In my personal life, my Shiraz lets me let go of my defenses so that I can let myself reveal myself. Revealing myself--even through the haze of a wine buzz--is not easy. That's where my suitors step in. My preferred suitors are thorough-going narcissists. My shield is their mirror. As long as I mirror back their own reflections to them, everyone is safe. But, like Medusa, I often slip and want a moment of intimacy--that moment of seeing and being seen and seeing myself being seen. So far, that moment of intimacy has been a mirror scene exactly like the one I describe between Perseus and Medusa. Except I don't die. But they do go away, and the whole anxiety of intimacy is neatly avoided. I do, however, get it for a moment.

But, to be honest, I am tired of replaying that one moment. Bored now. Not evil-bored like Willow but lonely-bored. What does border on evil (which, by the way, I don't believe in except in the most banal sense) is that I think I will fuck things up with anyone who really sees me and wants to keep on seeing me. Best-friend-turned-suitor-lover (have to think of a pseudonym) is no Perseus. He, being my friend for so long, sees me and has seen me in all of my (what I perceive to be) monstrousness. To complicate matters, he does not see me as a monster at all. All of this being seen terrifies me. So far all I have done with the fear is to claim a passive flustered position. But I do know that I wanted this to "happen," even to some extent made it happen. And I do know that my desire is now waning. Maybe I need "the moment" to be the mirror moment even more than they do?



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