Sunday, April 6, 2008

Mamie Buckskin in The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

In lieu of the heated and time-consuming discussion of race in class last time, I'm afraid we never got to talk about a queer/gender analysis of this book which I think could have been particularly interesting.

While there are other situations one could examine in the book that deals with either of these themes, one character I found particularly interesting was Mamie Buckskin, a member of the traveling carnival that we meet in the chapter entitled "Acrobats of Desire."  Mamie is identified as a sharpshooter who sexually prefers women.  "She was a paradox--a fully phallic female with the bosom of a nursing mother and a gun, death-dealing erectile tissue, perpetually at her thigh" (108).  This passage tells us that something is not right about Mamie, she is paradoxical because she is both masculine and feminine at the same time, she does not fit the mold of how a woman should act, of her 'proper' gender role.  Not only that, but we understand that Mamie also likes Desiderio because he does not fit the typical assertive, powerful gender role of a man.  "She took a great liking to me for she admired passivity in a man more than anything . . ." (109).  To say she defies the norm may even be putting it lightly.

Ultimately Mamie is a part of this carnival of freaks and other extraordinary individuals that, from the point of the view of the puritans in the last town they visit, are hopelessly damned (115).  Desiderio even repeats this idea among the last lines of the chapter when he states, "Saints and damned had died together . . . " (119-120).  It is not hard to imagine that the town-folk would think Mamie is damned because she sexually prefers women in conjunction with her defiance of typical gender roles.  It may have had something to do with her act in an American burlesque house where, pretending to be a cowboy, she shot all the clothes of her beloved mistress "whom she had abducted from a convent" (109); of course, they probably did not know that story, but it is still a good ground for damning a person.

What does everyone dying together at the end of this chapter have to say about Mamie however?  Does this show that, despite her unconventionality, she is no more damned than the supposed saints who die right along side of her?  Of course being damned would refer to her afterlife which we are not given any insight into, but surely the mass death has something to say about the fundamental equality of the sinners and the saints, especially since it was nature that killed them (through which God has been known to act).

No comments: