Friday, April 4, 2008

"UNREALITY" in The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

About halfway through class on Wednesday, I began to get a little discouraged. It seemed all we were talking about, in response to Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, was race/stereotypes. Don't get me wrong: I don't mean to say that these are not important issues in the book. However, there are so many other things to talk about! Thus, I think we got to John's point (I think it was his), that the book is about the perversion of reality, WAY too late in the class. In fact, I wanted to mention it about 20 minutes before he did, but I didn't want to interrupt the flow of discussion (and perhaps I should have). Nevertheless, Professor Brewer's question (I cannot remember what it was, now) provided an excellent point of departure, and if no one else brought up "unreality," I was going to. Thankfully, John DID bring it up.

It is interesting that—before we started talking about the (unreality) machine and its effects—we spent so much time on race. What is it about those two chapters about indigenous peoples of Africa and America that brings out this topic? Why, when we could talk about all the other perversions, and, yes, even stereotypes, did we focus so much attention on race and racism? It seems our Wabash educations and our own specific identities have conditioned us to be sensitive of race, which is good under most circumstances but not, necessarily, for the purposes of discussing this particular book. I think that, to discuss this book properly, we first have to recognize the perversion aspect, and THEN discuss why that element is important TO the racism in the book. What does Carter's use of unreality vs. reality say about racism? Is it supportive of a NEGATIVE attitude TOWARD racism, or does it SUPPORT racism (the latter of which seemed to be the only question we entertained on Wednesday)? Carter does not seem to be prejudiced in any OTHER section of the book, does she? So why these two?

What about on page 16, when Desidero goes to the opera and sees all the peacocks? Animalization comes to mind. Another example is when Desiderio sees his mother as a "fat, white owl" (26). There are more, but I think that is enough. My point is that there are plenty of other instances where Carter portrays people as animals, less than human, etc., and many of them are NOT in the two chapters on indigenous peoples. I thought we would talk more broadly about these themes, rather than talk almost exclusively about racism itself.

Finally, another theme that I was sure we would get to is the panopticon, or voyeurism. We have already talked about this theme in class, quite extensively, and I was sure someone would mention it; so I will do it now. The following is one such instance of a panopticon-like gaze: "[...] on the window-ledge itself, I would have been visible to any watcher in the square as if it had been daylight and, when I let the blind fall with a faint rattle, the sound provoked a volley of knocking on the door so I knew the guard was wakeful" (63). There is another example on page 65. I find it interesting that Carter uses the panopticon here, as it reinforces the idea that ANYONE could see the prisoners/subjects in the panopticon, not just guards/doctors/etc.

What else can we talk about in relation to this book?

1 comment:

Nyx said...

I think your blog is really interesting! this article reveals the cultural and social conditionning regarding the study of the novel with the other students. I am currently studying this book for my masters, if you're still interested in it, I'll give you my opinion! Are you still posting for this blog? see you :-)