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Higgins
08-07-2008, 09:47 PM
The topic is using one character type as a stand-in for another at some point in a story. The intersection of the social definition of roles and the fictional use of roles is also considered. My earlier version of this thread discussed using Femmes Fatales as substitutes for Atheists, but the topic is much larger as my reading of Ian Hacking suggests (see his essay "Making up People" in Historical Ontology reviewed at
http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=1369 )...

(for the earlier thread see http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=111790 )

Apologies in advance for a possibly difficult topic. I plead that the
moderators consider several options:
1) lock or remove immediately or
2) line up and cast doubt on my sincerity and competence

But I ask that moderators consider not doing the following:
1) line up and cast doubt on my sincerity and competence and then
2) lock the thread before I can reply

I realize my prose can be opaque. That's clear. I have been trying to introduce difficult topics in small peices rather than all at once...but this seems to cause some pretty negative responses at least in moderators. On the other hand it is also clear that one can say perfectly simple things such as "For people who are writing and know little about the mental processes of an given type, a character with different, but equally socially (negatively) acribed characteristics can be either consciously (or unconsciously) used as a stand in and then altered (or not) later."
Foucault describes a similar substitution of the poor or insane for Lepers as leprosy became rare in Europe. One needed an outcast category.

So in stories (as in reality) one type of deviant or outcast or scape-goat or hunted witch or communist or diseased person can stand in for another.

I have suggested that it might be instructive to apply this principle to Atheists who have a deviance of an indefinite kind ascribed to them and use the femme fatale, who has a similar indefinite deviance ascribed to them, as a possibly useful or heuristic substitute at some point in a story.

My earlier attempt raised some strong objections, which I will quickly answer:

To Medievalist: I do have a point
To Coloradoman: The puzzles you raise are the puzzles inherent in Medievalist's characterization of me...you're right...they don't make sense
To Veinglory: a comparison may seem inane, but still have a constructive point.

Sincerely,
Higgins

Ruv Draba
08-07-2008, 11:51 PM
I found it funny and inane and enlightening at the same time. I also think it's a legitimate design/critique technique. Here's why.

Cliche obscures intent, and tropes choke original thought. Prejudice populates our stories with opinion rather than observation. I'm not just talking about the prejudice that falls under the 'Political Correctness' aegis, but all the prejudice that turns up in TV tropes: plumbers with poor language skills, fat building superintendents etc...

Humour is the enemy of cliche, satire is the foe of trope, and parody fights prejudice. If you render a cliche parodically you sometimes see through the window-dressing of cultural bias to the core of the idea. Inappropriate substitution is a technique of satire.

Around the corner from my home a woman runs a psychotherapy/counselling practice that uses humour to get you unstuck. She has some promotional material about how it works: You bring your childhood traumas and adult anxieties to her and she gets you to parody them. She makes you put marbles in your mouth until you speak with a lisp, or pretend to be a duck with the same problem or whatever. Apparently it's very successful.

I suspect though that what makes it successful isn't the humour. I think that the humour is a relaxing and enjoyable side-effect of a deeper cognitive process: a sort of creative substitution test that falsifies our prejudices and challenges our unchallenged assumptions.

In this context, I think that Higgins' idea has a lot of merit. If we use the femme fatale (or any other character concept based on role) to explore a role-driven character that we don't understand, we can strip away the cultural bias about the role and just leave the motivations.

In a WIP I have a story about a 15 year old Afghan boy who's planning to murder a local warlord. I have a lever-arch folder full of research on Afghan culture, geography, economy, history, politics which I've been compiling over the last week. But that's all research on setting. It doesn't necessarily build me a credible 15 year old Afghan boy because every boy is different.

Weak character design would take TV tropes about Afghan people, clad them in a pakol and chapan for cultural verisimilitude and charge ahead. By the beard of the Prophet, if I did that, then substituting my character Tofan with Juliette the 36 year old Film Noir femme fatale assassin (dressed in the same clothes) would probably blow it apart pretty quickly. :)

The substitution wouldn't necessarily give me a single insight about Tofan himself, but it would make me realise that he's not his round woollen hat, or his ankle-length striped coat, or his Pakistani-made Kalashnikov. It would make me realise that a boy with an assault rifle about to commit his first murder handles it very differently to a femme fatale doing the same. It would make me realise that while the femme fatale rubs herself boredly against the rock she's hiding behind for hours, a 15 year old boy will be likely daydreaming or playing with his gun. It's when I get those insights that I have the character in its situation and not simply the trope.

In writing this, I realised that I'd given Tofan a saved, half-smoked cigarette as a prop while he was waiting to commit his murder. The cigarette is a TV trope for boredom and sophistication of course, while a half-cigarette suggests some poverty. It was when I put that cigarette in Juliette's mouth that I realised: femmes fatale don't save cigarettes. They smoke a few elegant puffs and then discard them. And Tofan would smoke his cigarette down to his fingertips as soon as he got it. :) I've decided to give him a bag of cigarette stubs that he's been collecting. Thank you Juliette, and thank you Higgins. :D

aka eraser
08-08-2008, 12:46 AM
For some reason, I'm reminded of what Laurence Olivier said to Dustin Hoffman about the latter's method acting while filming Marathon Man. Hoffman's character was to be haggard and tired, so he went without sleep for a couple-three days, starved himself and nearly made himself ill.

Aghast, Olivier said: "Dear boy, why not just act? It's ever so much easier."*


*Paraphrase

KTC
08-08-2008, 12:52 AM
I looked at the previous thread too...trying to figure out why someone would go to all this trouble. I just don't get it. I wish I did...but I totally don't.

donroc
08-08-2008, 01:09 AM
So many words, so little said, or in my case understood.

ColoradoGuy
08-08-2008, 01:34 AM
I don't have any objection to the topic. I simply did not understand what you were getting at in the other thread. I have no objection to difficult language, per se, but I do want to get the sense that the author is actually trying to explain himself to me, rather than just monkey with me. And Higgins, my friend, it seems to me that more than occasionally your prose is more complicated than it needs to be.

Anyway, your statement:

So in stories (as in reality) one type of deviant or outcast or scape-goat or hunted witch or communist or diseased person can stand in for another.
. . . actually seems pretty noncontroversial. Of course it can. Ruv gave you some straightforward examples. Got some others in mind besides the femme fatale and an athesist? Like Medievalist, I don't find that one particularly compelling.

donroc
08-08-2008, 01:36 AM
Precís anyone?

LaceWing
08-11-2008, 11:03 AM
Ah. I was thrashing to find just the right thing to read, and am now reminded that I've been putting off a dedicated reading of Howard Bloom's The Lucifer Principle, which has much to say about the scouting function of outliers in the social organism to seek out dangers and opportunities. Groups require these scouts/outcasts/deviants. Individuals will fit themselves to these roles, he says, when they see the group's need for such.

AMCrenshaw
08-11-2008, 11:13 AM
I want to press this business about the femme fatale, because I've already given it some thought. OK? :)

From wiki:

"A femme fatale (plural: femmes fatales) is an alluring and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations. She is an archetypal character of literature and art. Her ability to entrance and hypnotize her male victim was in the earliest stories seen as being literally supernatural, hence the most prosaic femme fatale today is still described as having a power akin to an enchantress, vampire, female monster or demon."

Here is a link to "Christabel" by Coleridge. I will posit that Geraldine, in this poem, according to the convenient definition provided by Wiki, is one of the first femme fatales (if Eve herself isn't considered one by certain traditions). And she is a rebel against God and nature and is a God unto herself, which is--at least in some traditions-- what Adam and Eve were deceived into believing in the first place, and what invariably some religious traditions claim about atheists (that they believe they are Gods themselves).

http://etext.virginia.edu/stc/Coleridge/poems/Christabel.html

Essentially, when you consider the rebellious nature of Satan (or the one who believed himself a God-- or at the very least a King in opposition to the Christ) a clear picture of Geraldine as a spiritual seductress emerges. No less that she is un-natural herself. In the rhetoric of the Romantics, of course, nature served as a timeless realm, through which we could, individually, hear God speak to us. Now what Geraldine poses, of course, is an un-natural way, a way against what is natural, a way that corrodes the capacity to commune with God, and that way inevitably leads to the corruption of the soul because the person who has been seduced into this un-natural way has no communion with God or with nature.

I am going to switch gears now, and move into American literature. One of the more household names in American literature is Edgar Allan Poe, so to mark his influence should lead the point to its conclusion.

First thing that most literary critics tend to agree upon is the fact that Poe (along with Hawthorne) began what we know now as the mystery genre [Murders in the Rue Morgue is, I think, the most obvious example]. To be quick, Poe combined elements of the macabre with overwhelming atmosphere and plots that were told inside-out. And there was a detective. I'm done for now.

The trope of the supernatural (or, in terms of Christabel, the un-natural superimposed upon the natural) in Poe's fiction combined with the otherness of any deviant creature, such as a psycho-murderer, gave way to pulp-fiction in which common enemies and obstacles were femme fatales. See A Swell Looking Babe by Jim Thompson for an example. That novel explores and satirizes what is clearly a McCarthyistic (anti-communist, anti-atheist) view.

* * *

But all this is to say that the "naming" of the femme fatale considering its emergence in history has everything to do with a symbol substituting what is presumably a real thing or a desired deviant in such a given point in time (a supernatural enchantress then, an atheist communist in the 60s)...

AMC

Higgins
08-11-2008, 06:50 PM
In a WIP I have a story about a 15 year old Afghan boy who's planning to murder a local warlord. I have a lever-arch folder full of research on Afghan culture, geography, economy, history, politics which I've been compiling over the last week. But that's all research on setting. It doesn't necessarily build me a credible 15 year old Afghan boy because every boy is different.

Weak character design would take TV tropes about Afghan people, clad them in a pakol and chapan for cultural verisimilitude and charge ahead. By the beard of the Prophet, if I did that, then substituting my character Tofan with Juliette the 36 year old Film Noir femme fatale assassin (dressed in the same clothes) would probably blow it apart pretty quickly. :)

The substitution wouldn't necessarily give me a single insight about Tofan himself, but it would make me realise that he's not his round woollen hat, or his ankle-length striped coat, or his Pakistani-made Kalashnikov. It would make me realise that a boy with an assault rifle about to commit his first murder handles it very differently to a femme fatale doing the same. It would make me realise that while the femme fatale rubs herself boredly against the rock she's hiding behind for hours, a 15 year old boy will be likely daydreaming or playing with his gun. It's when I get those insights that I have the character in its situation and not simply the trope.

In writing this, I realised that I'd given Tofan a saved, half-smoked cigarette as a prop while he was waiting to commit his murder. The cigarette is a TV trope for boredom and sophistication of course, while a half-cigarette suggests some poverty. It was when I put that cigarette in Juliette's mouth that I realised: femmes fatale don't save cigarettes. They smoke a few elegant puffs and then discard them. And Tofan would smoke his cigarette down to his fingertips as soon as he got it. :) I've decided to give him a bag of cigarette stubs that he's been collecting. Thank you Juliette, and thank you Higgins. :D

I like the imagery of the boy with the AK-47 or 74 (I'd use the -74 with the smaller bullets and less kick...but perhaps the boy is a purist, he wants a little extra range, accuracy and punch) and his cigarettes.
I'm not so sure a warlord makes such a good first target...but then I'm always for ghastly ambiguities. Maybe he kills a cousin and has to get out of town and join a less kin-based and more religious and mercenary group.
Yep...how does one start on the road to being an outcast?
With the possibly fatale femme...you never quite know. What exactly is Lauren Bacall's character in To have and Have not doing exactly? It ain't quite murder so she's not quite a femme fatale...though she does say, "Men like that are like shooting fish in a barrel."
Apparently a certain amount of fatalite is okay in dealing with fascists, as you can see from To have and have not and Notorious. I can't think of a Hollywood movie where a girl gets points for manipulating commies. Maybe all the writers who could manage that (ironically) got blacklisted? Maybe the femme fatale got included in the scheme of values and types of people/characters with the deviants who run massive non-fascist totalitarian regimes...which seems confusing. Maybe that's my fault or maybe it actually happened in a confusing way.

Higgins
08-11-2008, 09:49 PM
For some reason, I'm reminded of what Laurence Olivier said to Dustin Hoffman about the latter's method acting while filming Marathon Man. Hoffman's character was to be haggard and tired, so he went without sleep for a couple-three days, starved himself and nearly made himself ill.

Aghast, Olivier said: "Dear boy, why not just act? It's ever so much easier."*


*Paraphrase

Never really liked Olivier. But I never saw him on stage. Okay he was a good cinematic King Lear in the end when he really was (ironically) quite old....when D. Hoffman could have asked if being old made it easier to play King Lear. Certainly Olivier's Hamlet movie from the '40s is pretty bad.

So yes. We could just insist that Duerer stick to drawing and leave the woodcuts and engravings to the professionals.

Or insist that we know exactly what's going on in the engraving here (in terms of archetypes or myths or engravings or method acting?). I'm sure we've all seen it all already. We know the story and it should not be exhausting or make us ill:


http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/08/07/arts/24348323.JPG

Higgins
08-11-2008, 10:02 PM
I want to press this business about the femme fatale, because I've already given it some thought. OK? :)

But all this is to say that the "naming" of the femme fatale considering its emergence in history has everything to do with a symbol substituting what is presumably a real thing or a desired deviant in such a given point in time (a supernatural enchantress then, an atheist communist in the 60s)...

AMC

There's always Judith, a divinely-inspired femme fatale. Ouch:

http://www.discovery.mala.bc.ca/web/martinar/Judith/Image2.gif

Ruv Draba
08-11-2008, 11:09 PM
Howard Bloom's The Lucifer Principle, [8<] has much to say about the scouting function of outliers in the social organism to seek out dangers and opportunities. Groups require these scouts/outcasts/deviants. Individuals will fit themselves to these roles, he says, when they see the group's need for such.A fair call - and a job often undertaken by the promethean/trickster role in myth. And femmes fatales too often explore doing the unthinkable.

On the substitution side of things, the substitution of an in-group role with an out-group member (and vice versa) is often a vehicle of parody and humour. E.g. Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire, or half Eddy Murphy's cinematic work. A lot of the humour there involves introducing unthinkable faux pas that cut through the pretensions of the in-group and incidentally solve social dilemmas.

The substitution of out-group with out-group seems to feature less, but I notice that Matt Groening does it on occasion. E.g. the shunned, penurious, neurotic and incompetent crustacean Dr Zoidberg in Futurama (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Futurama) offers an antijudaean parody of near Shakespearean proportions. Or in The Simpsons, small retailer Apu Nahasapeemapetilon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apu_Nahasapeemapetilon) sometimes gets cast into the role of other out-groups when Groening's parodying other works. In Groening's work, out-groups generally amplify problems rather than creating or solving them. Their reactions often evince amoral opportunism that nevertheless fails to improve their original condition.

Ruv Draba
08-11-2008, 11:47 PM
I like the imagery of the boy with the AK-47 or 74 (I'd use the -74 with the smaller bullets and less kick...but perhaps the boy is a purist, he wants a little extra range, accuracy and punch) and his cigarettes.The Chinese make a very capable short-barrelled -47, which you can stroll across the non-border with Pakistan and buy second-hand from the Smuggler's Bazaar in Darra Adam Khel for around US$200. It's the dream weapon for your average Afghani boy, though Tofan (my MC) has the Pakistani knock-off of the Chinese knock-off of the Soviet weapon. It's made in a factory owned by the Afridi tribe at the rate of hundreds per day, and was bartered outside Kandahar for some truck-parts belonging to his Uncle Spin whom Tofan hates. It has a longer barrel that gets almost red-hot when you empty a whole magazine. Like every other Aghani boy, Tofan is a conoisseur of guns and the poor workmanship mildly embarrasses him, even while ownership excites him as his first true mark of manhood - much like an American teen kid's first car. He has to conceal it to avoid some hard questioning by his family.




I'm not so sure a warlord makes such a good first target...but then I'm always for ghastly ambiguities. Maybe he kills a cousin and has to get out of town and join a less kin-based and more religious and mercenary group.
Yep...how does one start on the road to being an outcast?This isn't Sandbox, but there's an odd [I]femme fatale angle here that I thought I'd share. Here's what I have so far.

Your father dies in a bombing accident at a wedding, and your mother and her six kids have to live with his brother Spin and his two wives. Spin marries your mother as a necessary formality, but treats you like dirt, and you spend your time at a madrasa (religious school), and on the ruined streets. You hate your uncle for being alive while your father isn't, but you're indebted to him too. You envy him the wealth that lets him own the truck that moves the opium that lets him earn his wealth... and the fact that he moves in a circle of local warlords with their satellite TVs and their Toyota 4x4s and their AK-47s.

You become an ashna (boy-lover) to a lieutenant not because you're gay but because women are segregated and that's how things are done. He sees you on Thursdays - the day before the Muslim holy-day, and he gives you gifts of cigarettes and clothes which you can then parade to the envy of your cousins. Although homosexuality is a capital crime, it's very common too; nobody asks how you came by these gifts. The officially acceptable and unquestioned excuse is that you are being 'tutored in reading and writing' by the local lieutenant. (Here lies the possible twist on a femme fatale angle that I'm still working through)

At some point you find that the local warlord has done something to outrage you to a coldly murderous fury. You're a Pashtun so it probably involves your honour or your family's honour - or perhaps a tenet of Islam or the Pashtunwali honour code that you hold very dearly. Whatever fuss you made about it has resulted in you no longer being an ashna, so you're back to gathering discarded cigarette-butts off the streets to pick out the unsmoked tobacco to make new death-sticks to sell. Almost certainly your Uncle Spin knows about the warlord's transgression, but has swallowed his pride for the sake of wealth and good relations. Almost certainly, your planned murder is to shame your Uncle, defend your honour, avenge having been set aside, and to prove your manhood in a single fell swoop.

Almost certainly, it will get you killed.

Higgins
08-12-2008, 09:29 PM
I want to press this business about the femme fatale, because I've already given it some thought. OK? :)

From wiki:

"... the most prosaic femme fatale today is still described as having a power akin to an enchantress, vampire, female monster or demon."

Here is a link to "Christabel" by Coleridge. I will posit that Geraldine, in this poem, according to the convenient definition provided by Wiki, is one of the first femme fatales (if Eve herself isn't considered one by certain traditions). And she is a rebel against God and nature and is a God unto herself, which is--at least in some traditions-- what Adam and Eve were deceived into believing in the first place, and what invariably some religious traditions claim about atheists (that they believe they are Gods themselves).

http://etext.virginia.edu/stc/Coleridge/poems/Christabel.html

Essentially, when you consider the rebellious nature of Satan (or the one who believed himself a God-- or at the very least a King in opposition to the Christ) a clear picture of Geraldine as a spiritual seductress emerges. No less that she is un-natural herself. In the rhetoric of the Romantics, of course, nature served as a timeless realm, through which we could, individually, hear God speak to us. Now what Geraldine poses, of course, is an un-natural way, a way against what is natural, a way that corrodes the capacity to commune with God, and that way inevitably leads to the corruption of the soul because the person who has been seduced into this un-natural way has no communion with God or with nature.


The trope of the supernatural (or, in terms of Christabel, the un-natural superimposed upon the natural) in Poe's fiction combined with the otherness of any deviant creature, such as a psycho-murderer, gave way to pulp-fiction in which common enemies and obstacles were femme fatales. See A Swell Looking Babe by Jim Thompson for an example. That novel explores and satirizes what is clearly a McCarthyistic (anti-communist, anti-atheist) view.

* * *

But all this is to say that the "naming" of the femme fatale considering its emergence in history has everything to do with a symbol substituting what is presumably a real thing or a desired deviant in such a given point in time (a supernatural enchantress then, an atheist communist in the 60s)...

AMC

What strikes me as odd about both the femme fatale and the stock figure of "the Atheist"...is that both are considered "unnatural"...which just seems too good not to be a bit Freudian -- where what is scary about the unheimlich (the uncanny) is precisely that it is a bit too homey or heimlich or canny. So the Atheist personnifies anyone's natural mental states, some semblance of which have to be allowed even in a fanatically pious mind if the mind is to remain somewhat coherent and comprehensible to its spiritual occupant. So the Atheist is always there pointing the way to a few minor ego-reality adjustments -- perhaps of the most minimal nature: tie your shoes, don't say your name is Jehovah-Maximus-MegaGod's Fiend-buddy etc....and the unnatural resentment that this insistence on homey or canny coherence is reflected in the portrayal as the megalomanic Atheist.
Similarly with the femme fatale. An attractive woman minding her own business provokes the idea that minding that business somehow requires others be ensnared peripherally -- because a peripheral viewer feels ensnared. The potentially fatal results are a communal delusory fantasy of those excluded from her business as a resolution of a conflict that is as much all in the mind of the peripheral participant as the megalomania of the Atheist is a result of people's delusory dealings with the rational coherence of their own minds. So in common or archtypal fantasy the natural desire for a naturally desirable woman is turned into an unnatural supernatural encounter with dangerous results and the natural tendency of one's own mental states to maintain coherence is seen as unnatural megalomania.
The images/archtypes/fantasies are powerful precisely because they are based on common delusions about relating to one's own actual mental states (but not your desire to submit completely to the will of Mister CosmicMegaJehovah) and to others who ensnare your desire (but not you entirely, leaving you conflicted).

Higgins
08-12-2008, 10:50 PM
Here is a link to "Christabel" by Coleridge. I will posit that Geraldine, in this poem, according to the convenient definition provided by Wiki, is one of the first femme fatales (if Eve herself isn't considered one by certain traditions). And she is a rebel against God and nature and is a God unto herself, which is--at least in some traditions-- what Adam and Eve were deceived into believing in the first place, and what invariably some religious traditions claim about atheists (that they believe they are Gods themselves).

http://etext.virginia.edu/stc/Coleridge/poems/Christabel.html

Essentially, when you consider the rebellious nature of Satan (or the one who believed himself a God-- or at the very least a King in opposition to the Christ) a clear picture of Geraldine as a spiritual seductress emerges. No less that she is un-natural herself. In the rhetoric of the Romantics, of course, nature served as a timeless realm, through which we could, individually, hear God speak to us. Now what Geraldine poses, of course, is an un-natural way, a way against what is natural, a way that corrodes the capacity to commune with God, and that way inevitably leads to the corruption of the soul because the person who has been seduced into this un-natural way has no communion with God or with nature.

AMC

I'm not sure how timeless Romantic nature was. They seem obsessed with setting their tales in the Middle Ages when things were Gothic enough for people to have weird sex or something. So I read Christobel...and I don't see Geraldine as much of a femme fatale. It might have been better for Coleridge if she had been...she seems to indicate the end of his ability to be deeply inspired. The Muse Geraldine comes calling and it looks like Coleridge/Christobel is not really up to it. IT's not really Geraldine's fault at all. Coleridge misses the uncanny muse...
Of course Coleridge does go on to translate German Naturephilosophie into English in a way so literal as to amount more or less to a bit of plagerism here and there...but the first blush of Romanticism is over. The critique of science and the advent of nationalism and monsters and the forging of Shampoo in the Finnish Epic and femmes who are not quite fatal enough starts reving up to get stuck in a lot of wet laundry:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/83/JWW_TheLadyOfShallot_1888.jpg/788px-JWW_TheLadyOfShallot_1888.jpg (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/83/JWW_TheLadyOfShallot_1888.jpg)

Ruv Draba
08-13-2008, 06:46 AM
What strikes me as odd about both the femme fatale and the stock figure of "the Atheist"...is that both are considered "unnatural"...which just seems too good not to be a bit Freudian -- where what is scary about the unheimlich (the uncanny) is precisely that it is a bit too homey or heimlich or canny.I think you're saying that they're scapegoats - just as Promethean figures and tricksters are often scapegoats in fiction, and as out-groups are frequently blamed for social ills in the fiction that calls itself politics.

There's some truth in that I think. The Atheist as portrayed in some religious commentary is Doubt (I'm not convinced) so concentrated that it passes beyond Skepticism (My belief is hard-won) into Nihilism (I have faith in nothing) or Cynicism (I have faith only in corruption) - and thereby incurs the fallacy 'You wanted it and so you caused it'. (Anyone got some nice Latin for that one?)

But doubt is not endemic to atheists of course, and neither are skepticism, nihilism or cynicism -- they're a dynamic part of human psychology and everyone experiences something of them some of the time. [Personally I don't think that atheists are emblematic of any of them except possibly skepticism.]

An attractive woman minding her own business provokes the idea that minding that business somehow requires others be ensnared peripherally -- because a peripheral viewer feels ensnared.
The femme fatale seems to come in two varieties: the deliberate, manipulative sort (Mata Hari, Judith, Salome) and the unconscious and often doomed sort (Eve, Elektra, Nikita, Lolita.. even Tess of the D'urbervilles). The deliberate sort use everything they have to achieve their ends. Whether they're heroines or villainesses depends largely on our viewpoint - whether we're part of the business, or being given the business as Phillip Marlow might have put it. :) They appear in everything from war movies through to Jackie Collins books. They have broad and near-universal appeal.

Unconscious femmes fatales seem to divide audiences though. In men they can engender conflict between Patriarchal Protector and Lustful Conqueror mind-sets and meanwhile capture various Freudian family dynamics. For female readers (or at least the ones I know), their appeal seems to be their innocence, vulnerability and hidden potenza. If you ever wanted to pick an archetype that captures gender issues in fiction you'd be hard put to pick a stronger one than the unconscious femme fatale.

This archetype is never responsible for its condition but always seems to magnify whatever problems occur. To what extent is it culpable for its innocence or ignorance? To what extent is our sympathy deserved? To what extent are these questions even legitimate? It's easy to get up an argument on this stuff. :)

Before tying it up, I should mention that a femme fatale doesn't have to be femme. Men have their lethal out-groups too. Romance is full of devastatingly handsome, innocent-seeming but ultimately manipulative guys, and we occasionally see innocent idealistic boys causing mayhem too. But these roles aren't usually what we think of for L'hommes fatales. We think more of vampires and other byronic monstrosities. They're typically self-aware bad-boys - often burdened with their own morality, but sometimes not.

From an auctorial perspective, out-groups are distressingly easy to flatten. Often our protagonists and their helpers have complex and visible motives, but what about our antagonists and contagonists*? We often concern ourselves more with how our out-groups operate than why they do so.

* A term used by Phillips and Huntley of Dramatica fame to describe the characters who distract the protagonist/complicate the plot. Out-groups are often cast into antagonist or contagonist roles.

Thinking about this some more, I believe that there are three dimensions in which out-group substitution might produce insight:

Replacing archetype with archetype can help strip away the out-ness and see the character beneath (as with Tofan, my MC);
Trading seductions and coercions (e.g. Mata Hari with Dracula, Salome with Conan, Boudicca with Lecter), can help to explore the possibilities in antagonistic and contagonistic character dynamics;
Replacing self-aware and culpable characters with innocent and ambiguous characters or vice versa (e.g. Eve with Lolita or Tess with Judith) helps explore moral shading and audience sympathy, avoid needless scapegoating, and challenge auctorial bias - both in our own writing and in what we critique.That's all I got for now. :)

AMCrenshaw
08-13-2008, 04:03 PM
I'm not sure how timeless Romantic nature was. They seem obsessed with setting their tales in the Middle Ages when things were Gothic enough for people to have weird sex or something. So I read Christobel...and I don't see Geraldine as much of a femme fatale. It might have been better for Coleridge if she had been...she seems to indicate the end of his ability to be deeply inspired. The Muse Geraldine comes calling and it looks like Coleridge/Christobel is not really up to it. IT's not really Geraldine's fault at all. Coleridge misses the uncanny muse...


The timeless-ness I was referring to is one that contradicts, I suppose, usual conception of timeless-ness. It's a timeless-ness in which time can always reach into the future and the past at the same moment. Wordsworth might have done this better than Coleridge. But the important thing was that this was timeless-ness was only possible through Nature, and nothing else. Memory, for example, could only exist because of its place in Nature. That's all I meant, really.

As far as Coleridge missing the uncanny muse, I feel that might be up for interpretation. It seems that the uncanny repetition in this poem would almost dictate that he tried to evoke the uncanny, even if he failed. And perhaps my reading of this poem included too much of that intention (even if he hadn't known what the uncanny was). But I think it's very clear that Geraldine is the Other that breaks one cycle and begins another, more un-natural one. She doesn't seduce Christabel alone, remember. And I think it's also very clear that Geraldine, to Coleridge/the narrator, is more or less Christabel's seductress, a Satan character, with "evil" ends. As Ruv put it, "'You wanted it and so you caused it'." Whether or not these ends are actually evil is of course not a substantial question here. It is what is perceived as "evil", as "other", that matters.

AMC

Medievalist
08-13-2008, 06:50 PM
I looked at the previous thread too...trying to figure out why someone would go to all this trouble. I just don't get it. I wish I did...but I totally don't.

There's nothing to get. It's Gertrude Stein, all the way down.

donroc
08-13-2008, 07:01 PM
The Oakland Award?

Higgins
08-14-2008, 12:06 AM
I looked at the previous thread too...trying to figure out why someone would go to all this trouble. I just don't get it. I wish I did...but I totally don't.


So many words, so little said, or in my case understood.


Precís anyone?


There's nothing to get. It's Gertrude Stein, all the way down.


The Oakland Award?

I dreamt the other night that I met G. Stein and E. Husserl in paradise and this is what they told me:

Every act of experience, whatever it may be that is experienced in the proper sense as it comes into view, has eo ipso, necessarily, a knowledge and potential knowledge having reference to precisely this thing, namely, to something of it which has not yet come into view. This preknowledge is indeterminate as to content, or not completely determined, but it is never completely empty; and were it not already manifest, the experience would not at all be experience of this one, this particular, thing. Every experience has its own horizon; every experience has its core of actual and determinate cognition, its own content of immediate determinations which give themselves; but beyond this core of determinate quiddity, of the truly given as 'itself-there,' it has its own horizon. This implies that every experience refers to the possibility--and it is a question here of the capacity of the ego--not only of explicating, step by step, the thing which has been given in a first view, in conformity with what is really self-given thereby, but also of obtaining, little by little as experience continues, new determinations of the same thing.
And of course: "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose if there is a there there or even a horizon."

See http://www.husserl.net/concepts/concept_page.php?concept_id=26

donroc
08-14-2008, 12:55 AM
Did I miss that in Finnegan's Wake? :D

Medievalist
08-14-2008, 03:30 AM
I dreamt the other night that I met G. Stein and E. Husserl in paradise and this is what they told me:]

That's all right; we'll always have Oakland.

KTC
08-14-2008, 03:33 AM
smart people. Pffft.

Higgins
08-14-2008, 04:15 PM
Did I miss that in Finnegan's Wake? :D


That's all right; we'll always have Oakland.


smart people. Pffft.

It's just a harmless, possibly not very good, translation of one of Husserl's "Cartesian Mediations"...Not Finnegan's wake and not something "pomo"....just fairly ordinary bad, opaque, translated German prose.