Essays on Literature, Literary / Textual Criticism, and Pedagogy
Editor: Ollie O. Oviedo, Eastern New Mexico University
Assistant Editors: Royal Prentice, Harvey Stanbrough,
Eastern New Mexico University
The Possession of the Male Body:
Masculinity in The Italian, Psycho, and Dressed to Kill
Texas Tech University
The possessed male body poses a problem for Western culture because possession has so adamantly been troped as feminine. From sexual possession (the heterosexual female possessed by her virile lover) to demonic possession (the possessed witches of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, The Exorcist) to psychic possession (the female hysteric, The Three Faces of Eve), possession is typically an act/state which happens to the female subject. Cultural perceptions of the female body as a lack, which must be filled by a penis, a demon, or another personality, have contributed to an alignment between possession and the female body. While the possessed woman merely underscores cultural stereotypes about the female subject position, the possessed male body potentially undermines stereotypes, placing the "complete" and "full" male anatomy in peril by opening it up to feminine possession. In this essay I examine the possessed male body in an eighteenth-century Gothic novel, The Italian, where the central male character, Vivaldi, is possessed in his experiences of the sublime and in his role as courtly lover, and in two twentieth-century Gothic films, Psycho and Dressed to Kill, in which the male subject is psychically possessed by a feminine personality. While these works come to various conclusions about the anomaly of the possessed male body, they all stress the point that a possessed male subject finds it impossible to recognize himself as aligned with the traditional signifiers of masculinity: he is unable to recognize himself as a self-possessed subject.
I focus on these three texts because the historical periods within which the works were created, though disparate, were ones in which the male body possessed by the feminine had particular cultural relevance. In The Italian, Vivaldi, as courtly lover possessed by Ellena, implicates a reimagining of the male subject and masculinity with the French Revolution, which was viewed by various authors as a feminine possession of the masculine body politic. Radcliffe's attempt to reimagine heterosexual relations is part of the revision of the social order sparked by the Revolution. The feminization of Vivaldi may be read as part of the Revolutionary project: David Punter suggests that "the killing of the father-king and his replacement by a female symbol" ("Parts" 20) was a crucial metaphor for 1790s radicals. The suppression of the Gothic in 1790s reactionary Britain may be related to a fear of the revolutionary potential coded in Gothic texts like The Italian which presents the possession of Vivaldi by the feminine.
The possessed male body also poses questions/concerns endemic to late 1950s American culture. The possession of Norman Bates stands as a reaction to a post-McCarthyist America in which the rigid enforcement of anti-communism frequently meant the assertion of a masculine totalitarianism. As Gordene Olga MacKenzie relates, early 1950s McCarthyism targeted the homosexual (a category which encompassed, like communist, disparate groups, e.g., cross-dressers, transsexuals, transgenderistshence collapsing gender role, biological sex, and sexual preference) as "a 'sexually perverted' bogeyman eager to betray the American government and harm the American family" (41). By the late 1950s however, discomfort with the totalitarian implications of McCarthyism ran high. As Richard H. Pells relates, a common point of agreement among intellectuals and artists in the late 1950s was characterized by an encouragement "to resist the centralization of power, the demands of the organization, the pressures of conformity, the intimidations of the McCarthyites, the diffusion of middle-brow tastes, and the deterioration of cultural standards" (388). Norman Bates's possession stands as a resistance against aligning himself with McCarthyist masculine power, yet, from Hitchcock's perspective, the possessed male body failsin contrast with Radcliffe's viewto embody a new social order. The interior colonization of the American subject due to pseudo-Freudian essentialization and the medicalization of gender and sexuality makes Norman murderous. For Hitchcock, Norman's rebellion is dangerous; yet the dominant order itself emerges as fascist and militaristic.
For De Palma, as for Hitchcock, the possessed male body attests to cultural dis-ease with traditional gender alignments. De Palma perceives this issue through the figure of the transsexual, a victim, as MacKenzie argues, of "an essentialist belief in the power of the genitals to transform personalities and bodies" (13). De Palma explores the possessed male within the context of post-1960s gender roles and the disturbing tendency, among transsexuals and certain trains of feminism, to essentialize gender. Like Hitchcock's Norman Bates, Robert Elliott becomes possessed by a feminine personality in order to resist dominant cultural patterns of masculine behavior. Like Bates's effort, Elliott's effort fails due to the medicalization and essentialization of gender which has pervaded postwar American society.
Radcliffe's attempt to reimagine the male subject is predicated partly on feminizing Vivaldi through his experiences of the sublime. The relationship of the male subject to the sublime is a troubled one, because the ability to experience the sublime places the male subject in a feminine, receptive roleone of being ravished by the transcendental. Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Inquiry Into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, which served as a primary source on the sublime for the eighteenth-century British Gothic, tropes the experience of the sublime as one which breaks down traditional signifiers of masculinity. For Burke, experiencing the sublime places the viewer in a position of being ravished, possessed by God. Burke comments that during an experience of the sublime "if we rejoice, we rejoice with trembling, and even whilst we are receiving benefits, we cannot but shudder at a power which can confer benefits of such mighty importance" (143). Opening himself up to the sublime, the male subject loses his position as possessor and becomes feminine: he must submit "with trembling" to the power of the divine and allow it to penetrate him. In a sublime experience, Burke argues, "we submit to what we admire" (192). Like the traditional image of a woman submitting to the desires of her lover, the image of the viewer experiencing the sublime is one in which the receptor's mastery is undermined and a passive body is possessed by a greater power. In Burke's work descriptions of the sublime are continually sexually charged. For Burke "greatness of dimension is a powerful cause of the sublime" (147). The divine phallus is worshiped through the sublime, resulting in the breakdown of the viewer's sense of wholeness: "but whilst we contemplate so vast an object, under the arm, as it were, of almighty power, and invested upon every side with omnipresence, we shrink into the minuteness of our own nature, and are, in a manner, annihilated before him" (143). Possessed by the divine the viewer experiences le petit mort and loses his sense of unity through annihilation, fragmentation.
Burke's concept of the sublime also poses a challenge to the male subject who experiences it because it psychically possesses him, making him incapable of achieving discursive mastery. Trying to comprehend the sublime, "we go out of our depth. All we do after is but a faint struggle, that shows us we are in an element which does not belong to us" (209). The obscurity which is crucial to Burke's theory of the sublime poses a threat to the traditional male subject who must rely on a méconnaissance of mastery of knowledgethe subject supposed to knowin order to sustain his identity: the foundering in the dark produced by the sublime shatters this reflection. While Burke's deity, which produces the sublime, is a conventional image of the phallus"one, simple and entire" (220)the effect produced on the individual subject by Burke's sublime is one which reveals to him his inadequacy, his lack, is one, in other words, which feminizes him.
Robert Miles argues that the feminine position of the viewer of the sublime complicates its manifestation in eighteenth-century Gothic texts. Miles states that "the eighteenth-century sublime, incipiently psychological, is thus crossed by gender. The masculine stimulus (dilating, filling, stretching) is an expression of power, whereas the viewer is implicitly feminine (is dilated, filled, subjugated, ravished)" (72). Miles suggests that as a result of the gender implications of the experience of the sublime, in texts by male authors it "is more problematic, more prone to displacement, disguise, rewriting or repudiation" (73). I further suggest that even in texts by female Gothic writers, the sublime is most frequently experienced by female characters. In The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), for example, it is Emily St. Aubert who is ravished by the sublimity of the Apennines and the Pyrenees, not Valancourt. It is not until The Italian (1797) that Radcliffe explicitly positions the male subject as a viewer of the sublime. In this novel Radcliffe explicitly places Vivaldi in the feminine position of possessed, ravished viewer of the sublime in order to reimagine gender and heterosexual relations.
Starting as a self-confident aristocrat, he gradually loses that self-sufficiency as his subject position comes to resemble that of the female subject. The first major device Radcliffe uses to change Vivaldi from aristocratic possessor to possessed is the Burkean sublime. While Ellena is also possessed by the sublime, the first character we see experiencing the sublime is Vivaldi. Early in the novel he attempts to get a glimpse of Ellena and is overcome by the scenery and music surrounding him. The narrator states that "the pauses of silence, that succeeded each groan of the mountain, when expectation listened for the rising sound, affected the imagination of Vivaldi at this time with particular awe, and wrap in thought, he continued to gaze upon the sublime and shadowy outline of the shores" (11). The sexual imagery of the groaning mountains and rising sound present Vivaldi as a possessed male subject. During this experience he passively gives in to the sublime and is "overcome" (11).
The novel continually positions Vivaldi as a character who is willingly possessed by the sublime, who willingly gives up his position of masculine mastery for the pleasure of sublimity. Later in the novel, arriving at the halls of the Inquisition, Vivaldi imagines he sees burial vaults of victims "and his whole frame thrilled with horror" (196).1 Vivaldi's possession by the sublime is not an experience which takes him unawares but one which he actively seeks out. Despite Bonarmo's voice of common sense, Vivaldi persists in believing the monk in the vaults of Paluzzi is supernatural. When encountering the monk he is thrilled by the sublimity of the experience and only half-draws his sword from the scabbard (12). Later, while imprisoned in the Inquisition cell, he desires to believe he is being visited by a supernatural figure. The narrator tells us that "when Vivaldi considered the suddenness and mystery, with which the stranger had always appeared and retired, he felt disposed to adopt again one of his earliest conjectures" (317): Vivaldi wants to give up his position of masculine reasonableness for possession by the sublime supernatural.2 Schedoni, a representative of traditional masculine values in the novel, later tells Vivaldi that his "prevailing weakness" is "a susceptibility which renders you especially liable to superstition" (397), both feminizing superstition as weaknessearlier Schedoni has characterized Woman as a "weak and contemptible being!" (178)and making explicit Vivaldi's desire to be possessed by superstitious dread. The fact that Radcliffe frames Vivaldi as a male subject willingly abandoning his role as possessor serves as one means of redefining gender. Throwing aside the mantle of the phallus, Vivaldi can tremble with pleasure in the face of the sublime.
Closer examination of Vivaldi's experiences of the sublime reveals that his sublime differs from Burke's, because whereas Vivaldi is occasionally possessed by a faceless divine (as during his imprisonment by the Inquisition), he is more frequently possessed by Ellena, who serves as the divinity behind his sublimity. In her own experience of the sublime, Ellena clearly follows Burke's model, stating, while contemplating the landscape, "it is scarcely possible to yield to the pressure of misfortune while we walk, as with the Deity, amidst his most stupendous works" (63). Her "dreadful pleasure" clearly arises from being overcome by the divine. Vivaldi's experiences, however, frequently are not motivated by divine possession but by Ellena's image. Gazing at Ellena after their first meeting, Vivaldi finds himself "trembling with anxiety" (6). When he overhears Ellena playing a lute he stands "entranced, and scarcely daring to breathe" (11). Later the narrator tells us that while Vivaldi is in Ellena's house, "every object, on which his eyes rested, seemed to announce the presence of Ellena; and the very flowers that so gaily embellished the apartment, breathed forth a perfume, which fascinated his senses and affected his imagination" (24). As passages such as this indicate, Vivaldi's experiences of the sublime are even more scandalous for the traditional male subject than those outlined by Burke: Vivaldi is possessed not by a conventional, masculine divinity, but by a feminine divinity. Ellena, a female subject raised to god-like status by Vivaldi, possesses him and makes him passively tremble in her presence. The implications of Ellena's class status are relevant here as well. Vivaldi, an aristocrat, the heir to the Vivaldi fortune and name, allows a lower middle-class woman to become his deity and to ravish him through the mediation of the sublime. Although Ellena is later revealed to be of noble lineage, neither Vivaldi nor the reader know this until the last chapters of the novel.
Vivaldi, possessed by woman elevated to the status of deity, falls within the framework of another intellectual tradition which complicates conventional notions of masculinitycourtly love.3 For the male lover, courtly love, or fin amour, with its idealization of and intense focus on the woman, complicates his status as male subject.4 George Kane argues that by the fourteenth century fin amour was the model not only for aristocratic love but also for aristocratic married love (243-44). While the twelfth-century continental model of fin amour posited sufficient distance between the male lover and the woman through the obstacle of adultery, fin amour within marriage threatened to disturb the male subject's identity through the very proximity of the woman. Fin amour within marriage is clearly the model that Radcliffe invokes in The Italian.
Medieval authors' concerns with the "dangers" of fin amour have been pointed out by Elaine Tuttle Hansen. She argues that Chaucer's works frequently address the risk posed by "both the pursuit and the attainment of heterosexual love" (Fictions 68). Hansen suggests that Chaucer displays an awareness that fin amour places the male lover in a feminine position which is "vulnerable, submissive, subservient, and self-sacrificing on the one hand; crafty and duplicitous on the other" ("Feminization" 56). Fin amour, according to Hansen, reveals the "incompatibility of the roles of adult male and true lover in a world where the latter is by definition feminized in one way or other" ("Feminization" 58-59). Thus the male subject placed in the role of lover serves as site where the dominant fiction of masculinity comes into conflict with alternative, feminized versions of masculinity. Whereas Chaucer frequently attempts to undermine fin amour as a valid concept due to the fissure it produces in masculine identity, Radcliffe valorizes this fissure and refuses to allow Vivaldi to resolve the conflict between traditional male subject and male lover which he experiences as a result of falling in love with Ellena.
The traditional means of preserving the sense of masculine wholeness while maintaining the role of male lover is through a perception of the woman in the courtly love scene as the Other who completes the male subject. According to a Lacanian reading of male subjectivity, Woman serves as the Other for the male subject, a place where he projects and disavows his castration. As Elisabeth Bronfen observes, "as the place onto which lack is projected and simultaneously disavowed, Woman is a 'symptom' for the man, his constitutive object of fantasy" (121). Traditional male subjectivity is predicated on the notion of male wholeness and feminine lack. For the male subject the feminine Other both masks and reveals castration: through her difference she stands as, to use Silverman's phrase, "the site at which the male subject deposits his lack" (Male 46); conversely, through her sameness she threatens to reveal to the male subject his own lack, the lack which is a condition of being a speaking subject, a condition of being a signifier rather than an ontological presence.
Critics have perceived the discourse of fin amour as a powerful means of making the woman Other so as to conceal male lack and maintain the dominant fiction of masculine wholeness. In the traditional model of fin amour the male lover views the woman as an Other who will help constitute his stable masculine identityhis sense of wholenesswhich in Lacanian theory is a mechanism of the imaginary. As David Aers argues, the aristocratic male lover "'needs' a woman as a marker of his own subjectivity and worth as an adult knight" (121). Lacan argues that fin amour is a means for the male subject to avoid the recognition that his construction of the woman as beloved is an attempt to cover over his own lack: "for the man, whose lady was entirely, in the most servile sense of the term, his female subject, courtly love is the only way of coming off elegantly from the absence of sexual relation" ("God" 141). According to Lacan, there is no sexual relation because as long as the male subject aligns himself with phallic wholeness he "has no chance of enjoying the body of the woman, in other words, of making love" ("God" 143), because his relationship is one of fantasy, one with the objet petit a rather than with the woman. The very distance of the woman in the original, adulterous model of fin amour promotes the woman as Other.5
Radcliffe, however, historically situated in the midst of renewed debates about romantic love in marriage looks back to fin amour located within marriage. As Lawrence Stone relates, the late eighteenth century was a time in which "for the first time in history romantic love became a respectable motive for marriage among the propertied classes" (190). The attempt to define romantic love within marriage in the 1790s drew on the tradition of fin amour in order to articulate its concern with marriage based on individual love rather than on property or honor. Radcliffe's use of the rhetoric of fin amour in The Italian, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Romance of the Forest, and other works relies on a use of that medieval code as a discourse through which to voice what Stone describes as "the companionate marriage," a marriage coming to prominence in the late eighteenth century which was based on affection and a movement toward "equalizing relationships between husband and wife" (217). Radcliffe thus uses fin amour as a means of imagining the ideal heterosexual union The use of fin amour as a discourse which provides a means of re-defining heterosexuality spans from works as diverse as Keats's "The Eve of St. Agnes" (1820) to Jane Campion's The Piano (1992).
Within the medieval model, fin amour within marriage celebrated a sexual pleasure which was fundamentally at odds with official church doctrine. Further, sexual pleasure can be a means of undermining the exemplary male subject: as Luce Irigaray notes, the desiring male body undermines the phallus with the penis: "once the penis itself becomes merely a means to pleasure, pleasure among men, the phallus loses its power. Sexual pleasure, we are told, is best left to those creatures who are ill-suited for the seriousness of symbolic rules, namely, women" (193; emphasis in original). Although Irigaray is discussing the homosexual desiring male body, I think the model can be extended to the heterosexual male. Freud provides a reading of subjectivity in "The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman," which argues that the positions of heterosexual male subject and femininity are not incompatible. Freud argues that "a man in whose character feminine attributes obviously predominate, who may, indeed, behave in love like a woman, might be expected, from this feminine attitude, to choose a man for his love-object; but he may nevertheless be heterosexual, and show no more inversion in respect to his object than an average normal man" (170). Despite the normalizing tone of Freud's passage, it reveals strikingly the mutability and complexity of gender and object choice and may be aligned with the feminization of the male heterosexual lover in fin amour. The male in fin amour consumed with physical desire for the woman is thus in a feminine position: he values the penis over the phallus. In my opinion, it is precisely a model of feminine yet heterosexual masculinity that Radcliffe is trying to imagine in her characterization of Vivaldi.
Viewing Vivaldi in the framework of fin amour further reveals his status as feminized, possessed subject. Radcliffe's alignment of Vivaldi with courtly lover is made clear in the novel. The Abate at San Stefano tells Vivaldi, "you are a knight of chivalry, who would go about the earth fighting with everybody by way of proving your right to do good; it is unfortunate that you are born somewhat too late" (122). Further, Vivaldi's love for Ellena clearly corresponds to the model of fin amour outlined above. Finding himself in Ellena's house in order to meet Bianchi he almost faints due to the unseen presence of Ellena (24). He is unable to write Ellena a satisfactory love letter and spends the night writing and destroying letters to her (28). In the face of Ellena, Vivaldi is weakened and rendered discursively impotent. Vivaldi himself clearly emphasizes that his love for Ellena does not serve as a means of sustaining his masculine identity but as a means of undermining his sense of mastery: he tells Ellena, "I fear and hope with such rapid transition; every assurance, every look of yours gives such force either to the one, or to the other, that I suffer unceasing anxiety" (152). Unlike the twelfth-century courtly lover, Vivaldi does not seek Ellena as a stabilizer for his ego, but pursues her as someone who undermines his sense of consistency, provoking a psychological reaction of "unceasing anxiety." While Vivaldi elevates Ellena to the heights of a deity, she is not the faceless Other of the twelfth-century courtly love scene, but a real woman whom he plans to marry and whom he sexually desires. Vivaldi's insistent need to marry, and by implication make love to, Ellena is so extreme that he attempts to marry her while she still wears a nun's veil, resulting in his arrest and subsequent confinement in the prisons of the Inquisition. Vivaldi desires not an abstract courtly love mistress, but Ellena as an individual subject.
Possessed by Ellena, Vivaldi loses his traditional male subject position: Radcliffe figures this loss as a positive one which leads to a renegotiation of heterosexual relations. It is only after Vivaldi has been possessed, feminized, that he makes a suitable partner for Ellena. From a Lacanian perspective Vivaldi must recognize his lack in order to be capable of sexual relation. Vivaldi's process of feminization reaches its height during his imprisonment by the Inquisition. Like earlier Gothic heroines, such as Emily St. Aubert, Vivaldi suffers at the hands of patriarchal authority. Kate Ferguson Ellis argues that "to be locked in, denied access to the public world where reputations can be made, not simply lost, where honor can be won, and slights to it avenged, has become coded in Western Europe at the end of the eighteenth century, as the position of the female subject under feudalism" (172). Ellis continues, arguing that being imprisoned "is to lose the signifier of masculinity" (172). Vivaldi's feminized position while in the Inquisition's prisons becomes most explicit when he is literally veiled by the Inquisitors. As he is being moved to a secret interrogation room, the guards "threw over him the same mantle as before, and, in addition, a black veil, that completely muffled his eyes" (325). Vivaldi repeatedly tries to unveil his eyes but the guards replace the veil again and again (328). Vivaldi's veiled helplessness is juxtaposed constrastively with that of the Inquisitors who, hidden behind their cowls, possess a faceless power (331). The veil, an explicit signifier of femininity, places Vivaldi in a situation where he must recognize his lack. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's influential discussion of veiling in the Gothic novel is clearly relevant here. Sedgwick argues that identity in the Gothic novel, anticipating current psychoanalytic theories, is merely a question of signifiers. She argues, "personal identityin the senses we are discussing hereis at no moment inherent in one but is applicableis appliedonly from outside, après-coup, and by a process of visual assimilation or 'seeing as'" (262). By wearing the veil, an item linked at the beginning of the novel and subsequently with Ellena, Vivaldi literally has assumed the identity of a woman.6 This final, dramatic feminization of Vivaldi in the Inquisition prisons points to the difficulties inherent in refiguring male subjectivity: Vivaldi must suffer physical and mental torture before he can meet Ellena on an equal level.
I read the possession of Vivaldi in the novel as a means of creating a male character who can acknowledge his lack and hence make equal heterosexual relations possible. Lacanian theory emphasizes that what our culture calls femininity is merely the basis of all subjectivity. Lack, specularity, exhibitionism, masochism, define the subject per se, male or female. As Zizek argues, "it is the phallus, the phallic predicate, whose status is that of a semblance, so that when we throw off its mask, a woman appears" (Tarrying 189). Zizek also states that "if woman does not exist, man is perhaps simply a woman who thinks that she does exist" (Sublime 75). It is only by undergoing a process of feminization that Vivaldi can throw away the phallic mantle and be an equal partner to Ellena. By imagining a male subject who can, along with Ellena, submit to the power of the sublime (158) and who can give up his role as aristocratic soldier in order to be a lover, Radcliffe goes a long way toward reimagining the male subject and re-envisioning heterosexual relations.7
In a political climate where rigid gender roles were charged with great significance, Radcliffe undermines these traditional roles by feminizing the male subject. In the 1790s femininity, sensibility, sentimentality, and the Gothic were equated in the popular and reactionary mind of British society in the category of revolutionary. As Marilyn Butler notes, in 1790s Britain, the traditional family with its stereotyped gender roles was elevated "as the corner-stone of the social edifice" (94) which was being threatened by a supposedly contagious revolution across the Channel.8 Within this climate Butler sees Jane Austen's reactionary novels indicating their distrust of revolution through their endorsement of conventional heterosexuality: Austen's plots "rebuke individualistic female initiatives, and imply that the consummation of a woman's life lies in marriage to a commanding man" (98). Within this context, the feminization of Vivaldi and valorization of marriage between equals carries a strong revolutionary message: the possessed male body stands as an emblem of a utopian revision of and break from traditional gender and sexual models.
I submit that Radcliffe's feminization of Vivaldi may be read as an example of "radical sensibility," a sensibility which Chris Jones defines as sensibility which "continued to trust to innate emotional response to provide the basis of a beneficial social order . . . it espoused the libertarian ideals of the Revolution, and continued to use the terms of sensibility to criticize British institutions" (69). The reaction against sensibility in the 1790s centered, as Gary Kelly argues, on an attempt to "remasculinize culture" against the feminizing threat of the Revolution (173-74). Radcliffe's ability to understand the possessed male body as a sign of a new social order rather than as an object of horror or scorn is testimony to her ability to imagine a society in which male subjectivity and heterosexuality can function apart from rigid patriarchal structures.
1790s Britain and 1950s America appear initially to be worlds apart. The taboo of femininity as an acceptable attribute for the male subject was heightened in postwar McCarthyist America. The perception of the feminized male subject as Revolutionary Threat in 1790s Britain has a corollary in the perception of the feminized man as communist threat in 1950s America. As MacKenzie argues, the McCarthyist witch-hunt for communists encompassed those who were "suspected of violating mainstream sex or gender roles" (42). As during the 1790s reaction against the French revolution, the postwar fear of communism frequently coded the enemy as a feminine threat undermining the masculine rational order. The fact that Norman Bates emerges as a figure who is presented seriously, rather than comicallya typical representation of the feminine man in postwar society from Milton Berle to Jonathan Winters to Flip Wilson, comedians who contained questions of gender posed by the feminine man through ridiculeattests to an attempt on Hitchcock's part to seriously explore the male body possessed by the feminine and its relationship to a rigidly normalizing postwar America.
Like The Italian, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) uses the Gothic mode to explore the possession of traditional masculinity by the feminine. Norman Bates is psychically possessed by a feminine personality (his mother) which results in a permanent breakdown of masculinity for Norman and a temporary highlighting of the problems attending gender alignment for the other characters and for the audience. The murderous mother who inhabits Norman's male body fragments not only Norman's masculine ego but literally fragments (through slashing their smooth, intact bodily surfaces) the bodies of her victims. Masculinity is replaced by a horrendous femininity in the character of Norman.
Norman's possession is predicated on his desire to believe in the phallic mother. Norman is trapped in an infantile belief that the mother possesses the phallus, and this, the film tells us, is the basis of the psychosis which results in possession of his body by the whole, demanding, murderous mother. Mother's constant berating of Norman indicates who is believed to have the phallus in their household: she mockingly calls Norman her "big, bold boy," indicating her domination in their relationship. When we glimpse Norman's room we see the possessions of a very young childstuffed animals, a small cot, a child's phonographindicating Norman's continual entrapment in the imaginary realm where the mother possesses the phallus.9 Norman's belief in a phallic mother is only infantile, however, because culturally the subject is encouraged to come to believe that the father possesses it. Lacan argues that the refusal of castration is "first of all a refusal of the castration of the Other (initially, the mother)" ("Direction" 267), yet the traditional male subject is predicated on a transference of the infantile belief in the phallic mother to a belief in the phallic father. Norman is psychotic because he cannot make that transference: he continues to desire for the mother to possess the phallus, for the mother to possess him. Through the possession of Norman's body Mother has the penisthe organ aligned with the phallus in dominant cultureand, thus the phallic mother displays the signifiers of femininity along with the culturally-valorized male anatomy.
Norman's desire for the phallic mother results in an uncomfortable alignment between himself and traditional masculinity. Although he denies the mother's castration, he appears to accept his own: the phallic mother forces him into a position of lack. Norman initially emerges in the film as a relief from the traditional masculine characters we have been bombarded with during the first third of the film. Marion's story presents to us negative images of phallic masculinity. Locked in with Marion's perspective, we see Sam Loomis as a man privileging the phallus over the penis, and because our desire is Marion's at this point, we balk at his traditional stance of postponing marriage in order to pay off his father's debts.10 The next male we see in the film, Tom Cassidy, exaggerates traditional masculinity to a grotesque degree. Swaggering, confident, Cassidy thinks he possesses it, and flaunts it. Cassidy's character introduces a substitution of money for phallus which the rest of the film will play on. Obscenely dangling the hundred dollar bills in front of Marion, Cassidy parades the phallic power he possess, the ability to give the paternal gift of a house to his daughter, the ability to "buy off unhappiness" with the illusory wholeness money brings.
Marion seizes the money from "father" Cassidy, making herself into a phallic woman, and setting herself at odds with the traditional gender system.11 Marion's subsequent encounters with male characters point to her renegade status. The policeman who wakes the sleeping Marion appears as a menacing figure: hidden behind dark shades, this representative of traditional masculine authority resembles an SS officerveiled, frightening, phallic power. Further, California Charlie, the fast-talking, cliché-ridden used car salesman harasses Marion, insulting her, telling her that the customer can do whatever he/she has a mind to and "being a woman you will," expressing distrust as she attempts to hurriedly exchange her car, and finally ganging up with the policeman as both cast disapproving looks at her as she drives away. We share in Marion's smirk as she triumphs over the male characters, laughing at Cassidy's imagined comments which link the theft of the money to a theft of the phallus: "she sat there as I dumped it out," and she was "even flirtin' with me!"12 The explicit sexualization of the money voiced by Cassidy, which equates penisphallusmoney, makes Marion's theft even more subversive: she steals the dangling wad of bills and takes it for herself.13
Norman thus emerges in the film in juxtaposition to the negative embodiments of masculinity we have previously encountered, and he appears like an alternative. Norman is a nice, young man who refuses the paternal authority we have seen so abused by Cassidy and the policeman. Marion calls Norman "Mr. Bates," and he says, "Norman Bates," and later, "Norman," renouncing the Name of the Father.14 Norman's strained relationship to language emerges in his discussion with Marion in the parlor. He tells Marion she eats like a bird, then comments that this phrase is a "fal . . . fal . . . falsity": another word for falsity is, of course, fallacy. Norman's uncomfortable relationship with the phallus prevents him from uttering the word. Because he has rejected phallic identification he bears a relationship of lack with languagethe true relationship of all subjects to discourse from a Lacanian perspectiveindicated by his continual stuttering. In the parlor sequence Norman discusses his hobby of stuffing birds, a hobby which he chooses because birds are "passive" and look good stuffed. Norman's clear identification of himself with the birds (he is passive, obeying mother's commands; he eats candy corn in imitation of a bird throughout the film) implies his identification with the "bird" (girl) in the parlor with himMarion Crane. Unlike previous encounters between Marion and male characters, where men tower above her, Norman is positioned on an equal level and the two of them are displayed shot/countershot as symmetrical.15
Unlike The Italian however, Psycho does not figure the feminized male subject as a positive character. His equality with Marion is produced at the expense of his being possessed by a maniacal feminine personality. If the male subject loses his traditional masculinity, a murderer emerges. Significantly, Psycho suggests that the feminized male subject is incapable of sexual relations. Whereas Lacanian theory argues that sexual relations are possible only when the male subject acknowledges his lack, Norman, the lacking male subject, can watch Marion undress, can displace the sexual act through taxidermy (stuffing birds), but he can't literally stuff (fuck) birds (girls).16 The logic of the film suggests that removed from the context of alignment with the phallus, the penis is impotent, yet the film also displays an uncomfortable relationship with the phallus as the equation phallus-knife emerges in the murders.17
Mother's murder of Marion, like all the murders, is motivated by a potential theft of the phallus from her. Rather than reading Marion's murder as a displaced rape, as many critics have done, I prefer to follow the logic of the film and examine Mother's motives for killing Marion, motives which are based on a maniacal desire for power. Norman perceives Marion as an image of wholeness, the sexually, economically, intellectually independent woman. He asks/tells her, "you've never had an empty moment in your entire life, have you?" Mother is jealous of another woman who has it (the phallus), symbolized literally by the money Marion possessesthe phallus stolen from the father. Marion's murder occurs during a celebration of her apparent wholeness. Knowing she can take the phallus, yet deciding to return it, Marion takes a shower in a moment which, as Keith Cohen argues, presents a "sense of exhilaration and wholeness" (153-54).18 Mother strikes against another woman who thinks she has it, attempting to literally transform her into a corps morcelé. In a film where few characters face their mirror reflections, Marion has been seen early in the film contemplating her wholeness in the motel, in her bedroomshe decides to steal the money while gazing at her reflection in a compactbut Mother shatters that wholeness, literalizing the cuts all subjects must go through in order to be a subject within the symbolic order.19 Rather than being penetrated by Norman's penis, Marion is penetrated by the bread knife, wielded by a power-obsessed feminine personality who possesses the body of Norman. Returning to possession of his mind and body after Mother's murder, Norman attempts to cover it up, to allow Mother to possess the illusory phallus. His unconcern with phallic power is indicated by his disposal of the money: the signifier of patriarchy is buried in the swamp in a car bearing the license plate NFB 418Norman (falsity[ph]allacyphallus). Bates is buried. Mother keeps the phallus.
Similarly the murder of Arbogast and the attempted murder of Lila follow this logic. Mother kills not because Norman is sexually aroused (as the psychiatrist argues) but kills when an image of wholeness or mastery appears, kills, in other words, anyone who threatens to possess the phallus she believes is exclusively hers. Arbogast's discursive mastery and his alignment with the law (as private detective) threaten Mother because he is sanctioned authority attempting to stop her renegade possession of phallic power. Mother slashes Arbogast close to the eye, suggesting an attempted castration. Similarly, Lila's life is threatened because like Marion (her sister and double) she is too self-confident and poised, and like Arbogast, too persistent in her role as detective defending respectability. Lila's desire is to save her sister's name, and her relationship with Sam is one of asexual, respectable detective work as opposed to the sexualized one between Sam and Marion.20 Lila threatens Mother because she resembles her too much: a confident, respectable, articulate, strong-willed woman who thinks she has the phallus. The film emphasizes this resemblance strongly in the sequence in which Lila enters Mother's bedroom and is frightened by her own reflection as she finds herself occupying Mother's place in front of the mirror. Lila's attempted murder finally reveals the joke concerning the phallus in the film: no body has it. The alleged possessor of it is a preserved corpse, the personality of which exists only as a voice and psychic presence within Norman.
The tension between traditional masculine authority and Norman's possessed body is emphasized in the psychiatrist's "explanation" of Norman's case. Emerging deus ex machina, the psychiatrist (Dr. Richmond) smugly domesticates Norman's case to fit into a traditional oedipal scenario. As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri have effectively argued, the vulgarized Freudian Oedipus complex has served culturally to reinforce patriarchal norms, producing an "interior" colonization of the subject, reducing all psychic conflicts to "Daddymommyme" (265). Filmed at the height of American vulgar Freudianism, Richmond's explanation neatly places Norman's possessed body into a typical oedipal box.21 Yet, as many critics have noted, Richmond's explanation is far from satisfactory. Although Richmond domesticates Norman, does Hitchcock? Interestingly, the psychiatrist is positioned next to photographs of motorcycle cops (recalling the policeman earlier) and photographs of militaristic lines of policemen. Perhaps his summation of Norman's case is being aligned with the fascism of the policeman seen earlier, a character we are at odds with as viewers. The patriarchal explanation of Norman is revealed as an ideological one predicated on violence and abolition of difference.22 The increasing medicalization of gender which characterized postwar USA relied upon seeking to use psychiatry as a means of inserting male and female subject into their "proper" heterosexual, reproductive roles. The widespread coverage of Christine Jorgensen's "sex-change" operation, and the use of medication, electro-shock therapy, and lobotomies to cure "deviant" gender and sexual behavior attest to a society in which gender and sexual norms were being rigidly enforced through the apparatus of the medical establishment.
Further, logically Richmond's explanation does not completely work. Richmond maintains that Norman kills his mother and her lover because the lover has taken Norman's place. Yet, we see no indication that Norman and Mother have ever been equals. Since Norman's father died, Norman has lived in subservience to the phallic mother: the lover threatened Norman because he threatened to take the phallus away from Mother. Norman tells Marion that his mother's lover talked her into building the motel, adding, "he could have talked her into anything," indicating that the lover threatened to take the phallus from Mother, shattering Norman's infantile belief in the maternal phallus. The building of the motel re-emphasizes the equation moneyphallus as the lover took the money from mother to build a business. Norman does not desire to be the father, desiring instead merely to be under the power of the mother. Zizek comments that "Norman Bates is therefore a kind of anti-Oedipus avant la lettre: his desire is alienated in the maternal Other, at the mercy of its cruel caprice" ("Bold Gaze" 229). Norman's story does not fit the logic of the traditional oedipal scenario Richmond proposes. As discussed earlier, the murder of Arbogast and the attempted murder of Lila cannot be worked into a scenario where a sexually jealous mother eliminates a rival. Richmond's explanation elides the power/gender issues posed by Norman's possessed body.
Psycho poses traditional masculinity as a problem, as we are distanced from and repulsed by the traditional representatives of masculine authority, yet it poses no alternatives. The possessed, feminized body of Norman is impotent, dangerous.23 When the alignment between phallus and penis fails, a murderous mother emerges; when the phallus and penis are aligned, a veiled fascism dominates. Concerns about internal totalitarianism following the revelations about the Stalinist Soviet Union manifested in the Soviet Union's partial repudiation of Stalinism in 1956 became predominant. As Pells relates, in the wake of post-Stalinism American intellectuals "undertook to revise and modify their theories of totalitarian behavior, searching for ways to replace the rigid axioms of containment with a more flexible approach to negotiations' (347). Hitchcock's alignment of psychiatrist and policeman with fascist images of power suggests a growing wariness of American totalitarianism which explains itself away as a defense method against the Soviet threat. Yet unlike Radcliffe, Hitchcock is skeptical of the feminized man as an alternative to hegemony. Norman Bates faces internal colonization in an American culture saturated with pop Freudian psychology and surgical "treatments" for deviance. Norman Bates's possessed body attests to the limitations of 1950s American society, but points to no future cure for its dis-ease.
De Palma uses Psycho as an intertext for exploring gender alignment in late 1970s American society. Like Hitchcock, he explores the effects of the medical establishment on gender and sexuality: De Palma uses the figure of the transsexual for this exploration. De Palma also explores the difficulties of gender alignments and heterosexual relations in post-1960s America. A pop feminism which reduces gender explorations to a hatred of the male body is implicated with the medicalization and essentialization of gender to which the transsexual's plight bears witness.
Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill (1980), using Psycho as an intertext to explore gender through the possessed male body, has provoked heated debates about gender in both academic and popular presses.24 Initially dismissed by many critics as misogynistic, the film has subsequently been analyzed by critics who discern complex engagements of issues of gender and sexuality not only in Dressed but in the whole of De Palma's extant oeuvre.25 I focus on the possessed body of Dr. Robert Elliott, a psychiatrist inhabited by Bobbi, a feminine personality, and how through this character the film aligns the essentialization of sexual difference with murder of the female subject.
Elliott's male body is possessed by Bobbi, a feminine personality who wants to literally take over his body and transform it into a female one through a "sex reassignment operation," to use the words of Dr. Levy. The film frames Elliott's possession within the theory of the transsexual, a person (usually male) who believes he has the "wrong" body: Bobbi leaves a message on Elliott's machine in which she says, "I'm a girl inside this man's body." Transsexuals reinforce the essentialization of gender through their belief in a one-to-one equation between biological sex and gender roles. According to her logic, if Bobbi can castrate Elliott's body and replace the penis with a "vaginal plasti," then she will be a woman. Transsexuals may be viewed as the victims of a society which equates the genitalia with gender behavior. Lacan comments that "transsexuals are the victims of error. They confuse the organ and the signifier. Their passion and their folly consists in believing that ridding themselves of the organ they can also be rid of the signifier which because it sexuates it also divides them" (qtd. in Millot 141). As Lacan suggests, rather than accepting the status of symbolic subject, the transsexual searches for illusory wholeness which he/she believes will be attained by altering the body in order to possess "it" (vagina or penis), the "it" which in American society is invested with the meaning of the subject's whole being. The illusory wholeness promised by pop psychology and "proper" heterosexual love is sought through the sex reassignment operation. Challenging institutional endorsement of sex reassignment surgery as the cure to the transsexual's "disease," Milton Eber comments, "an objective appraisal of available data suggests that gender identity, rather than being fixed and exclusively female [in the male-to-woman transsexual], is more likely an ambiguous identity that the transsexual achieves in a maladaptive technique to resolve intense gender conflicts" ("Primary" 176). Eber discerns that medical understandings of the transsexual have relied on a collapsing of the categories of sex and gender. Thus the transsexual more frequently wishes to be a girl rather than having "a conviction of being a female" ("Gender" 32). Eber asks, "is the transsexual phenomenon a desperate attempt to ward off self-fragmentation, to establish a cohesive self, and to enhance self-esteem? Does the pronouncement 'I am a female trapped inside a male body' represent the wish to establish cohesion in the face of a severe bisexual conflict?" ("Gender" 37). The transsexual may be seen as replicating the view of the dominant order by confusing sex and gender and by searching for wholeness through the sex reassignment operation. Elliott's possession by Bobbi, then, must be understood within the context of the transsexual, a subject who is the victim of crude cultural associations of gender exclusively with biological sex.
De Palma further explores Elliott's possession by a feminine personality within the context of 1970s feminism. Elliott's unconscious desire to become a female stems from a culture which is exploring male/female relations and gender rigorously and, in its most simplistic analyses, equating the male body with negative dominant and violent behavior.26 If, as Lacan argues, the unconscious is outside, a larger cultural discourse within which the individual subject is situated but which "is not at the disposal of the subject in re-establishing the continuity of his conscious discourse" ("Function" 49), then Bobbi, produced by Elliott's unconscious, is a cultural product, not an essential part of Elliott's "being" nor a product of infantile scenarios, but the product of a climate of feminism which tended to reduce gender roles to the same binary logic they had always been subjected to, only reversing them: male=bad; female=good. Apropos of a debate over pornography provoked by an interview with De Palma in Film Comment, Ann Snitow argues that the pornography laws proposed by feminists Catherine A. MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin "throw us back onto the traditional definitions of women as victims, men as lusty marauders. Instead of broadening the possibilities of the culture of sexual imagery, allowing women's subjectivity to emerge at last, such laws close down what is in fact already a wide range of expression, relatively little of it explicitly violent" ("Pornography" 48). Elliott, unable to recognize himself as a man in a culture simplistically labeling male sexuality and the male body as negative, unconsciously produces Bobbi, who will try to castrate him, make him into a woman, and hence make him the politically correct sex/gender. Bobbi emerges as the vulgar, dark side of late 1970s feminism, man-hating, anti-heterosexual (Bobbi murders to prevent male/female sexual relation), essential-minded, repressive, murderous.27 Like transsexuals, certain feminists replicate hegemonic ideas by essentializing gender roles.
Bobbi's murder of Kate Miller is a lashing out against Kate's attempted sexual independence. Kate's murder remains the most controversial aspect of the film, with certain readings which maintain that Kate is brutally punished in the film for straying from her traditional role as wife and mother. This reading argues that Kate's dream seen at the beginning of the film prepares the viewer for Kate's murder, the logic being that overt feminine desire must be brutally silenced by the phallic knife. This reading is a gross simplification of the first third of the film.28 As Kenneth MacKinnon argues, Kate dies because she has trusted a psychotic psychiatrist, not because she has engaged in extra-marital, casual sex. MacKinnon further emphasizes that "those who believe that her dalliance with a stranger indicates a desire to be killed have an ally within the movie. He is Detective Marinomale, foul-mouthed, insensitive, and remarkably aggressive" (148). Examination of Kate's dream reveals that its purpose consists primarily in framing an expression of assertive feminine desire. Kate watches her husband from the shower, directing her gaze to the proper object of her sexuality, then, while masturbating, directing her gaze directly at the audience, displaying overt feminine desire unattached to a particular object, boldly confronting the voyeur/audience member with her desire.29 Laura Mulvey's pioneering analysis of the gaze in film suggests that film provides a medium where the option of "shifting the emphasis of the look" and "varying it and exposing it" is possible (25). While according to Lacanian theory no one possesses the gaze, traditional film has, as Mulvey forcefully emphasizes, aligned the man with the gaze and the woman with the spectacle. Kate is certainly positioned as erotic spectacle in her dream, yet her gaze, which meets ours, suggests a woman who is not being violated by the gaze, but who is knowingly being the spectacle, overtly expressing and revealing feminine sexual desire. Later Kate boldly gazes in the eyes of the taxi driver who watches her and Warren have sex. The voyeur is surprised, confronted by the spectacle who watches, who meets the gaze of the gazer. Lacan argues that the gaze is predicated on a desire for wholeness based on a faceless "shadow behind the curtain" (Four 182). In the act of scopophilia, however, the illusion is broken as "the gaze is this object suddenly lost and suddenly refound in the conflagration of shame, by the introduction of the other": for the voyeur "it is that the other surprises him, the subject, as entirely hidden gaze" (182). Kate's bold gaze breaks the illusion of shadow which can sustain wholeness, and "surprises" us with her desire.
It is against this image of conscious feminine desire that Bobbi strikes as well as against a female subject who has complicated traditional gender roles through her overt pursuit of sexual satisfaction. Bored by her neglectful husband who fucks her in the missionary position while she is still asleep, gives her a perfunctory kiss, and then showers, Kate pursues and is pursued by a man (Warren Lockman) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.30 This sequence emphasizes the changing gender roles between Kate and Warren: smiling at Warren, Kate becomes the pursuer, removing her glove to seduce, but driving him away due to her prominent engagement ring. She pursues him throughout the museum: then he pursues her, and, shocked by his gesture of touching her shoulder while wearing her discarded glove, she pushes him away, then pursues him again. Kate wavers between masculine aggressiveness /overt sexuality and feminine respectability/passivity in this sequence, complicating traditional feminine gender roles.
Kate dies at the hands of a feminine personality who desires to enforce rigid biological/gender equations and who wants to stop overt feminine sexual desire. As Kate gazes toward Warren, who obscenely dangles her glove out a taxi window, the camera pans, aligning itself with Kate's desiring gaze, yet briefly in the foreground of the panning shot, we see Bobbi, cutting Kate's gaze, aligning her murderous one with Kate's sexual one: Bobbi blocks Kate's sexual desire, and eventually slashes Kate because of overt desire which is at odds with both "natural" feminine passivity and Bobbi's hatred of the male body. Leaving Warren's building, Kate realizes she has left her engagement ring in his apartment. She returns to floor seven (where she "got lucky") and finds not luck nor heaven, but the hell of Bobbi who slashes her with a razor. After the initial slash on the hand, we see Kate's murder played out in the elevator mirror, suggesting that Bobbi is not slashing Kate as an individual female subject, but is more concerned with slashing her as representationa desiring female subject who has violated traditional gender codes. Bobbi, the product of uneasiness with changing gender roles and surface-level feminist hatred of the male body, emerges to punish a woman who privileges heterosexual desire over her respectable role as wife and mother. Elliott, horrified by the male body in a historical moment when masculinity and negativity were being aligned, naturalizes his masculinity as his penis: when it expresses desires (becomes erect), Bobbi emerges out the unconscious to punish that body by displacing its desire onto the woman who has sexually aroused Elliott. Also, Bobbi, who essentializes femininity in the way Elliott essentializes masculinity, must strike at a woman who is not being "womanly" enough, who has abandoned her family for sexual satisfaction.31 In an attempt to achieve the "cohesive self" described by Eber, the male-to-woman transsexual sometimes castigates women who try to step outside traditional gender roles. This is what Bobbi does to Kate, and what she will try to do to Liz. Thus it is not the filmmaker who punishes Kate, but a psychotic psychiatrist, overwhelmed by essentialist notions of gender which the film does not endorse.
Charles Shepherdson argues that in the sex reassignment operation "the surgeon works with a conception of anatomy that presupposes a 'natural' version of sexual identity, thereby foreclosing the question of sexual difference" (171; emphasis in original). As Shepherdson maintains, insofar as those who seek the operation accept this definition of anatomy they too foreclose the question of sexual difference. Thus Bobbi's murder of Kate and attempted murder of Liz represent attempts to elide the questions of sexual difference and gender identity raised by these characters.
As Kate dies, she gazes at Liz, a gesture which links the two characters but which is cut by Bobbi and her phallic razor, the razor that attempts to cut complicated systems of gender through a literal mutilation of the body. Liz reaches out to touch Kate's extended, bleeding hand, but touches instead Bobbi's open, blood-stained razor.32 Liz replaces Kate as the potential victim of Bobbi, and through her character, even more forcefully than through Kate's, a non-essentialized and overtly sexual femininity emerges in the film.
Liz's character associates gender with the masquerade. Joan Riviere's concept of "womanliness as masquerade" argues that there is no difference between the masquerade of femininity and what is seen as "natural femininity": "the reader may now ask how I define womanliness or where I draw the line between genuine womanliness and the 'masquerade.' My suggestion is not, however, that there is any such difference; whether radical or superficial, they are the same thing" (38). One particular scene in Dressed emphasizes the contrast between Liz's (and the film's) view of femininity as masquerade and Elliott/Bobbi's belief in an essentialized femininity. Using a split screen, the film juxtaposes Elliott, who watches a Donahue episode in which a transsexual is interviewed, and Liz, who talks to her stockbroker and employer, then makes-up in order to meet a trick. Elliott's position is aligned with the transsexual, whose image he watches intensely, discussing gender as an essential matter. The transsexual did "macho" things until he realized he was a woman trapped in a man's body, then he desired to transform his body into a female one in order to restore gender/biological "normality." The transsexual tells Phil Donahue that he and other transsexuals "tried real hard" to be conventional men, but when that failed, they decided to become conventional women. This episode of Donahue, like the popular representations of transsexuals in general as discussed by MacKenzie, reinforces the dominant order by reinforcing the notion that "individuals with penises are supposed to develop masculine gender identity and gender roles and choose individuals with vaginas for sex objects. Individuals with vaginas are expected to develop feminine gender identities, feminine gender roles and choose only individuals with penises for sex objects" (113). While Elliott is absorbed in a discussion which reflects his own views about gender, Liz ignores the telecast, which is also playing in her apartment instead, making up, making herself into a woman for her male customer. Liz, unlike Elliott, recognizes that gender is a position one assumesa masqueradenot a biological matter.33 Liz can be masculine (discussing her stock market investments on the phone) and feminine (dressing extravagantly, making up) at will: she is beyond the essentialist logic of Elliott/Bobbi. Liz is continually being seen dressed sometimes in masculine clothing and sometimes in feminine clothing: she wears masculine pajamas after Peter saves her in the subway, feminine clothing to meet her tricks, masculine jeans and T-shirt while she and Peter watch the film he has made, and feminine clothing at the close of the film as she wakes from her nightmare.
It should be noted, however, that late twentieth-century society allows female subjects to assume masculine and feminine positions (through clothing, careers, personal relationships, hobbies, etc.) yet rarely allows a definition of a male subject who can be feminine: feminine clothing is barred for mainstream male subjects, except for comic effect; masculine passivity is still viewed as a weakness; househusbands exist but are sneered at. Thus Elliott/Bobbi's essentialist logic stems from a society which allows women to be masculine but not men to be feminine. Daniel R. Harris notes that the fashion of androgyny "is severely restricted from the outset by the fact that it is a fashion to which men and women have unequal access: it is much easier for a woman to be androgynous than a man" in a culture which "officially sanctions female experimentation with gender, whereas no comparable tradition exists in popular culture for men" (74-75). Harris discusses what he labels "effeminacy" in men apropos of the homosexual male subject, but his theory can incorporate heterosexual men as wellin fact any man who finds himself at odds with traditional masculinity. Harris notes that the effeminate man "is not so much imitative of women as he is non-imitative of men, for the state of effeminacy is characterized by complete inattention to gender, a kind of forgetfulness of one's duty to uphold the rituals of fellowship" (75; emphasis in original). If, as Harris maintains, seriously adopting a feminine position is taboo for the twentieth-century homosexual male, it is equally, if not more taboo, for the heterosexual male who, locating himself with the traditional sexuality, is more forcefully culturally coerced into upholding "the rituals of fellowship." When Bobbi attempts to kill Liz in the subway, she hides between subway cars behind a sign reading "riding between cars is prohibited." Bobbi wants to stop Liz from "riding between cars"adopting both masculine and feminine characteristics, a position which is barred to Elliott: Bobbi emerges to brutally revenge the gender flexibility allowed Liz but taboo for Elliott.
Furthermore, like Kate, Liz is a woman who expresses overt sexuality, working as a prostitute, yet not being tormented by Puritanical guilt over her profession. She is a heterosexual prostitute who is not exploited by patriarchy, a woman Bobbi, as a manifestation of a dark reductive feminism, cannot assimilate into her world, so she must eliminate her.34 The attempt to ban pornography as a violation of women's civil rights which found expression in Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin's proposed laws centers around a reductive sloganism: "porn is the theory, rape is the practice." De Palma challenges MacKinnon and Dworkin's position directly in Body Double (1984), where Holly Body, a porn star, emerges as an independent, level-headed, non-exploited figure.35 Ann Cvetovich notes Holly's refusal to be scripted into Jake's fantasy of male hero rescuing female heroine, arguing that this refusal pinpoints "the impotence of the [traditional] American male and the potential for a feminist resistance" (160). Like Liz, Holly, because sex is her profession, achieves a kind of transcendence of sexual and gender norms, a transcendence Bobbi, with her vulgar feminism, cannot achieve.
Liz is aided in her pursuit of Bobbi as murderer by Peter, a character who presents a positive image of masculinity in the film and works to reclaim masculinity/heterosexuality from the essentialist logic of Elliott/Bobbi. Like Psycho, Dressed presents us with a series of negative male characters from Kate's insensitive second husband Mike; to Warren who irresponsibly infects Kate with venereal disease; to Liz's trick, "Ted from out of town," who flees the murder scene and responsibility; to Detective Marino who represents a grotesque exaggeration of traditional masculinity; to Elliott, himself, a male subject so unable to live with the realignments of gender/sexuality which occurred in the 1970s that he fragmentstraditional male characters in the film are unsympathetic and cruel.36 Peter, Kate's son, emerges as the only positive male character in the film. Like Norman Bates, Peter is the sensitive, feminized male who treats women on an equal level (he never condemns his mother or Kate for their actions) and can accept female subjects who are both sexual and "riding between cars," displaying masculine and feminine characteristics. Our first glimpse of Peter occurs when Kate interrupts him tinkering with a science project and jokingly asserts that he should name the invention "a peter." Peter attempts to redesign the male subject, to create a peter which can replace the phallus, a male body which can be acknowledged as possessing just a peter (penis) and not the symbolic wholeness of the phallus. Peter is suspicious of traditional masculine authority, expressing anger at his father's death in Vietnam, refusing to turn to Marino for help with the investigation, distancing himself from his boorish stepfather, and playing on his marginal status as a "grief-struck kid" in order to discover his mother's murderer. Peter, unlike the marginal Norman, is not psychotic. Free from oedipal tyranny, he is able to accept a male body and feminine characteristics in a way that Elliott cannot.37 Peter, literally the filmmaker in the film, as he builds a camera to film Elliott's patients, represents an alternative masculinity, one which can be possessed by feminine traits, but one which, unlike Elliott's need not be literally psychically possessed in order to adjust to late 70s-early 80s gender roles.
Significantly, however, while Peter is a positive character, he is also strangely asexual. Like Psycho, Dressed cannot imagine the feminized male as sexually active. While Elliott's inability to reconcile the male body and changing gender roles produces a murderer, Peter's adopting of both feminine and masculine positions results in asexuality. Thus toward the end of the film when we see Peter, unlike Elliott, able to distinguish literal castration from figurative castration as he listens to Liz graphically describe a sex reassignment operation, he is not horrified, but interested; however, Peter, as figuratively castrated male subject, contra Lacanian logic, seems incapable of sexual relations. There is a tentative movement toward heterosexual relations between Peter and Liz as Liz stays with Peter at his house while Mike is away and Peter embraces her after she wakes from a nightmare of the essentialist Bobbi still threatening her subjectivity; nevertheless, at the end of the film the viewer comes away with the impression that Liz and Peter's relationship is one of equals, though asexual equals.38 Seemingly, few works can imagine a feminized male subject who is also sexual. Deleuze, in his study of the male masochist, suggests that the male subject who is horrified by traditional masculinity frequently distances himself from genital intercourse, because, in our culture, that act is framed as one of male dominance/female submission. Deleuze argues that the male masochist, attempting to redefine masculinity, must distance himself from "the genital sexuality inherited from the father" (100). However, heterosexual genital intercourse is neutral in itself: only when read in a culture which codifies the body as the natural site of gender is the primal scene one of violence and domination. Peter, while working all night on his "peter," cannot yet penetrate Liz as he is caught in the prison of traditional readings of the primal scene. He does not want to perform a "wham-bang special" on Liz as Mike does on Kate. Dressed to Kill, however, at least presents the possibility of an alternative masculinity in the young Peter who revises marginal masculinity as positive, not psychotic. Further, the film locates the "disease" of psychosis in a traditional representative of masculine authority which splits rather than locating it in the marginal male subject. Additionally, Dressed explicitly reveals the "disease" of psychosis manifested in a male body possessed by a feminine personality as the product of cultural dis-ease with gender roles. Peter tentatively works on his experiment, rebuilding the male subject, but there are still glitches in that experiment.
The male body possessed by the feminine attests to fissures in modern conceptions of rigid gender roles in 1790s Britain, 1950s America, and 1970s America. For Radcliffe, the possessed male body at least tentatively embodies utopian possibility. For Hitchcock and De Palma, the possessed male body is a symptom of rigid gender and sexual codes which do not account for historical and psychic realities. The possession of the male body by the feminine in these three works ultimately centers around the problematic of a new, feminized masculinity and its relationship to heterosexual relations. Radcliffe re-imagines the male subject through Vivaldi, who can be possessed and hence is on a level equal to Ellena's subject position. Her utopian project, however, closes prior to sexual consummation: can Vivaldi be feminized and still be an effective heterosexual lover? Hitchcock answers an emphatic no to this question: Norman's penis, removed from the sanctioned authority of the phallus, is impotent. De Palma, like Radcliffe, attempts to re-envision a male subject who can recreate masculine sexuality outside of the authoritarian bonds of traditional masculinity, but De Palma, also, like Radcliffe, closes the narrative prior to sexual consummation between the "new man" and the woman. After experiencing her nightmare of Bobbi's brutal reinforcement of gender norms, Liz at first pushes Peter away, then embraces him, tentatively accepting him as a new male subject who can accept her appropriations of masculine and feminine positions and her overt sexuality, but not, like Marino, label her as "whore," and not, like Bobbi, see her as a usurping "blonde bitch." Liz's acceptance of Peter is tentative, as is our acceptance of him. Peter is sympathetic, but not erotic: as viewers we do not invest pleasure in his character. Silverman argues that any re-configuration of masculinity must "libidinally valorize" male lack (Male 87). Like Liz, we come from Dressed to Kill thinking Peter is a "nice kid," but we do not see him as an erotic alternative to the traditional male subject.
I would like to thank David Leon Higdon, Bruce Clarke, and John Samson of Texas Tech University and Antony Oldknow of Eastern New Mexico University for their help in the preparation of this article.
1Burke discusses "real calamities" as producing a more heightened sense of the sublime than represented ones: "choose a day on which to represent the most sublime and affecting tragedy we have . . . [then] let it be reported that a state criminal of high rank is on the point of being executed in the adjoining square; in a moment the emptiness of the theater would demonstrate the comparative weakness of the imitative arts" (120).
2April London argues apropos of Udolpho that superstition is gendered as feminine in that novel and that the ending implies "that female susceptibilities have an anarchic power only when removed from the curb of male reason" (46). If London's argument is accepted, then Vivaldi's superstition is an explicit coding of his character as feminine. In The Italian, unlike in Udolpho, "male reason" is hollowed out from within: it is the emerging male subject who is infected/possessed by superstition.
3Tori Haring-Smith notes Vivaldi's connection to the courtly lover, stating, "the Gothic hero is like the courtly lover who worships a woman but waits until she accepts him before making any sexual advances" (51).
4There is a critical tendency to use fin amour rather than "courtly love" as the term to designate a particular discourse of love which broke with the models of antiquity. Fin amour, as Roger Boase points out in The Dictionary of the Middle Ages, is the discourse in which medieval writers would have recognized their works as participating (667).
5Elizabeth D. Kirk argues that the tradition of fin amour "portrays a masculine experience, or the dream of one, in which a man sees in the excellence of a woman a revelation of what he is not but can become, and must become to be admitted to her world" (264-65; emphasis in original). The male lover's relationship is thus with a fantasy of his potential wholeness rather than with a woman. This idea corresponds with Freud's discussion of the narcissistic lover who loves in the other "what he would like to be" ("Narcissism" 47), setting up the other as the ideal ego.
6Several critics have discussed Vivaldi's feminization at the hands of the Inquisition. Margaret Anne Doody credits Radcliffe as the first novelist who "assumes, quite calmly, that men can be afraid" (571). Doody reads this as a revision of late Renaissance conventions of "masculine control in an orderly universe" (571). Punter argues that "the masculine discourse" of conspiracy and the Inquisition informs The Italian, and reads the opposition between the Inquisitors and Vivaldi as one between "patriarchal and individualistic family-structures" (Literature 95-96). Miles notes that Vivaldi's position in the Inquisition prisons illustrates that "men, as much as women, are the objects of an institution it is possible to see as simply patriarchy writ large" (176). Susan Wolstenholme implies a feminization of Vivaldi by opposing the "visual hiding" of the Inquisitors with the exhibitionist role Vivaldi is forced to perform in front of them (31). Katherine M. Rogers sees Vivaldi's feminization as a flaw in Radcliffe's characterization which reveals Radcliffe's fantasies rather than "the real nature of women and men" (23), a position I clearly disagree with as I read Vivaldi's feminization as a deliberate attempt to re-envision the heterosexual male subject.
7Mary Laughlin Fawcett discusses Radcliffe's criticism of conventional heterosexual relations as "wounded or murdered" (493). Syndy M. Conger sees Radcliffe's use of sensibility in male and female characters as an attempt to achieve "greater concert" between men and women (116), and labels The Italian as "the utopian vision of the feminine sentimental ethic" (144). In contrast to these critics David Durant labels Radcliffe a conservative who "suggests that the only solution to the problems of adult existence lies in returning to traditional, conservative values" (520). Durant discusses Udolpho and sees Valancourt as another version of St. Aubert. In The Italian, however, Vivaldi cannot be read as another version of the fathers we see in the novel: he is radically opposed to his own father, the Marchese, and to Schedoni, and the Count di Bruno, the only presumably positive father figure is not developed as a character at all.
8See Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France for a troping of the Revolution as feminine disease. See also Conger for further discussion of the radical nature of the ethic of sensibility Radcliffe endorses.
9Raymond Bellour argues apropos of Norman's infantile desire that " a terrifying play on words (suggested, rather than made explicit, in the film) connects this chain [phallusbirdfetishmothereyeknifecamera] to the omnipotence of infantile desire turned toward death: Mommy, mummy: the mother's body fetishized to death, so to speak, becomes the body that murders" (324; emphasis in original).
10In Robert Bloch's novel on which the film is based Sam has the choices of bankruptcy or working off the father's debts: he "respectably" chooses to work off the debts (24). Further, he postpones marriage to Mary (Marion's character's name in the novel) because, he says, "when we get married, I want us to have a decent home, nice things" (26). Like the traditional male subject he staves off pleasure for respectability. Hitchcock emphasizes that we are set up in the film to identify with "the girl's problem" (Truffaut 206). See Robin Wood (Films) and Silverman (Semiotics) for further discussion of audience identification with Marion. While "audience" as a monolithic category cannot account for all viewers, I am assuming that Hitchcock's deliberate attempt to make the viewer identify with Marion's position is successful. See William Rothman for a contrary position, one which maintains that "we wish neither to be nor to marry Marion Crane" (254). Rothman believes that Hitchcock distances the viewer from Marion's perspective.
11Keith Cohen argues that Marion's symbolic castration of Cassidy "casts Marion as a figure of the woman with the phallus: she has seized the object earlier denoted as male and the token of patrimony" (152). Rothman states that "money spells manhood to Cassidy" (259). The spelling of Marion's name reflects a masculine version of the name Marian, suggesting the masculine assertiveness and desire for mastery which characterizes aspects of her character.
12As several critics have pointed out, Marion's smirk is mirrored later by the final smirk of Mother's displayed on Norman's face: both represent the self-satisfaction of a woman who believes she has the phallus.
13It should be kept in mind, however, that Marion does steal the money in order to lead a respectable, married life with Sam. Hitchcock calls Marion "a perfectly ordinary bourgeois" (Truffaut 211). Yet, unlike Sam, she does privilege sexual desire over respectable waiting: the money is her means to have regular access to Sam's body. She steals the phallus to get access to the desiring penis.
14Zizek notes that while Marion's desire is "under the sign of the Father," Norman "is entrapped into the mother's desire not yet submitted to paternal law" ("Bold Gaze" 228). I would argue that rather than the mother's desire being "pre-symbolic," as Zizek does, that the phallic mother in Psycho is within the symbolic, but not situated in a traditional way. Mother functions through language, yet she associates femininity with power and mastery and masculinity with impotence. Discussing Bruno in Strangers on a Train, Robert G. Goulet remarks that his character "manifests the psychotic's distorted view of the symbolic order. He has been given a name . . . 'Bruno,' but he has not accepted the Name of the Father, the subjectivity that comes with recognizing the limitations set by patriarchal edict" (248). Norman, like Bruno, refuses the Name of the Father, but unlike Bruno is heterosexual, not homosexual. Note also that Marion refuses Sam's patriarchal name, registering as Marie Samuels, transforming his first name into a surname.
15As George Toles notes, this produces the effect of the two characters as "mirror images" (642).
16Bloch's novel makes this point even more clearly as we are directly told that Norman is impotent. Donald Spoto notes the word play on "stuffing birds" (425).
17There is critical division as to whether Hitchcock endorses patriarchy or opposes it. Basing her reading on Bellour's insights, Barbara Klinger argues that Psycho "is aligned with the requirements of the family and the law" (54). Vittorio Giacci reads Hitchcock's films as endorsing heterosexual "normality." Peter Biskind reads Psycho as indicative of a swing to the Right in American politics through its "repudiation of the matriarchal family, the domineering mother, the absent father, the sexually promiscuous, pushy young woman who deserves what she gets, and the feminized momma's boy" (341). Many critics see Hitchcock as questioning and even openly opposing patriarchy: see Cohen, Goulet, Sander Lee, Wood ("Male Desire"), and Silverman (Semiotics). Zizek perhaps most forcefully argues for a Hitchcock who "contaminates" the ideological norm before restoring it ("Bold Gaze" 226).
18Bloch's novel also emphasizes Mary's (Marion's) sense of unity: prior to her murder Mary thinks of herself as "seven feet tall" before she gets in the shower (49). Apropos of Hitchcock's film, Rothman argues that in the shower Marion can act "as if there were no world outside or as if she had never been born into it" (294): Marion, like Norman, relies on the infantile fantasy of the whole, phallic mother for comfort.
19See Toles for a discussion of the use of mirrors in the film. See Bellour, Cohen, Silverman (Semiotics), Spoto, and Zizek ("Bold Gaze") for discussions of "cutting" in the shower scene. Hitchcock's note to shot 116 emphasizes the importance of the cutting effect: "an impression of a knife slashing, as if tearing the very screen, ripping the film" (qtd. in Spoto 419).
20Klinger notes that Lila and Sam are framed in "totally asexual, non-romantic terms" (52). Johann M. Schmidt labels Sam and Lila as "a travesty of the diegetic couple" (21).
21Susan Jihrad argues that the character of the mother "merged easily with the vulgar Freudianism of the late Fifties, when mothers were suddenly found to be the root of all evil" (33). Silverman argues that "Norman's Oedipal crisis is played more as farce than melodrama" (Semiotics 212), and certainly Bloch's novel makes the vulgar Oedipal scenario obvious, even showing Norman reading text books which discuss it. Schmidt says of Bloch's novel that it is "embarrassingly pseudo-Freudian" (18).
22Wood has pointed out correlations between Psycho and fascism, arguing that the film is grounded in "the age that witnessed on the one hand the discoveries of Freudian psychology and on the other the Nazi concentration camps" (Films 122).
23Wood argues that Hitchcock's films call into question "our culture's concept of 'potency' (masculinity), with the insupportable demands it makes on men and women alike" ("Male Desire" 223).
24I prefer to see De Palma's use of Hitchcock as intertextual rather than derivative as his most hostile critics do. While many critics adopt a position similar to mine, perhaps William Fisher argues the case most forcefully: "It is clear, however, that DePalma does not invoke or quote Hitchcock in these sequences in an effort to ridicule him, not, usually, to invite evaluative comparison, but rather, it seems, in order to fashion a kind of language whose elements are gleaned not from social experience in an older sense of the term (where it is conceived as real interpersonalpolitical, psychological, or moral relations which are 'reflected' or 'reflected on' in cultural representations of the cinema) but in a sense in which cinematic experience is itself a shared social experience, and whose elements are complex, dense spacesif you like, akin to, once again, Eliot's objective correlativewhich carry with them collective associations" (17). In this sense Dressed does not imitate Psycho, but, rather, attempts to draw on the shared experience of Psycho as part of late-twentieth-century American society. De Palma's use of Hitchcock can be seen, therefore, as postmodern. See Ann Cvetkovich for a discussion of De Palma's relationship to the postmodern.
25See Ken Eisen, George Morris, Stanley Kauffman, Alan M. Dershowitz ("Pornography") for reductive analyses of Dressed as misogynistic. While not explicitly labeling the film as misogynistic, Norman G. Gordon and Annruth Gordon argue that the film's "core fantasy" is that "female sexuality and male aggression are inextricably combined" (283). Similarly, Gordene Olga MacKenzie reductively and superficially argues that the film reinforces stereotypes about transsexuals. MacKenzie states that "in the same vein, films like Psycho, Dressed to Kill, Murder by Moonlight and The Silence of the Lambs disproportionately portray transgenderists and cross-dressers as 'berserk murderers' on a rampage. This demeaning and inaccurate stereotype of the male-to-woman transgenderist 'dressed to kill' reflects the cultural fear that the 'dressed to kill' transgenderist will annihilate the bipolar gender system" (106). MacKenzie's comments here rely upon grouping together different films and presenting a superficial reading of the messages sent by these films. See Kenneth MacKinnon and Laurent Bouzereau for summaries of the initial, vehement, feminist backlash against the film. For more sophisticated analyses of the portrayal of gender in the film and in De Palma's work in general see Cvetkovich, Robin Wood (Hollywood), Wayne Stengel, Wendy Steiner, Robert E. Wood, Sagri Dhairyam, and MacKinnon.
26Cvetkovich discusses De Palma's exploration of feminism in Body Double. See also MacKinnon. Cf. also an earlier De Palma film, Sisters (1973), for a more explicit exploration of feminism and the limitations of a reductive feminism which despises the male body and heterosexuality.
27Notice that Elliott is portrayed as consuming popular culture: he watches Donahue. Perhaps his conception of feminism is derived from a popular view of the feminist as man-hating, one which has some basis in truth, but which grossly oversimplifies 1970s feminism. Similarly, his watching of Donahue encourages essentialist notions of the transsexual as one who must have sex reassignment surgery in order to be "normal." MacKenzie comments that "televised transsexuals often inadvertently stigmatize other transsexuals. Ms. Terry, a surgical male-to-woman transsexual, mayoral candidate and a frequent guest on the talk show circuit, spread the cultural gospel of gender and sex biopolarity. A profound believer in the medical model, she left audiences with the misconception that transsexualism was a hormonal medical problem" (113).
28Dershowitz, for example, argues that De Palma's films support the agenda of the Moral Majority because they argue that "the punishment for promiscuous sex is death and disfigurement" ("Pornography" 33). While Dershowitz is not a professional film critic, his reading neatly captures the initial and popular feminist reaction to the film. Rebecca Bell-Metereau brilliantly summarizes these readings: "some of the critics who have been most vehement in attacking the film [Dressed] as anti-feminist would have pounced on Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal as cannibalistic . . . the film's detractors have, for the most part, examined the surface content of the film, but few have commented that the film is charged with intentional irony and self-conscious parody" (187).
29MacKinnon argues that there is ambiguity about Kate's gaze, that the audience can view the bold gaze as directed at her husband. Yet, the close-up which reveals Kate's gaze, with the absence of the husband in the composition, produces the effect of Kate showing usnot her insensitive husbandher desire.
30The interior shots in this sequence were actually taken in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
31Wood notes that Elliott is "horrified by his own masculinity" (Hollywood 146). Carol J. Clover's analysis of the horror genre, with which Dressed has a strong link, Psycho being seen as the first expression of the modern horror genre, argues that "pornography, in short, has to do with sex (the act) and horror with gender" (189). While Clover dismisses Dressed as punishing feminine sexuality, her discernment of complex engagements of gender issues can be seen in "high" horror films like Dressed as well as in the "low" slasher films she analyzes at length.
32MacKinnon argues that Kate and Liz "recognize in each other their closeness" which is blocked by "the image of Bobbi, a grotesque version of femaleness" (150).
33See Wood (Hollywood) and Stengel for alternative readings of this sequence.
34For a sampling of a feminist analysis which views prostitution and pornography as always enforced positions for the female subject, see Dorchen Liedholdt, who attempts to establish that all female porn stars are victims of dominant males ("Pornography" 37-39).
35Porn star Annette Haven served as an advisor for Body Double and was originally cast in the role of Holly before Melanie Griffith replaced her (Dworkin 35-45). Bouzereau argues that through characters like Liz and Holly "De Palma implies that prostituteswho acknowledge and control their own sexualityare less vulnerable to manipulation and danger than the insecure, confused, sexually frustrated housewives and career women" (14). He further notes that "their objective view of sex saves their lives" (128).
36Interestingly, De Palma aligns Warren with Ted Kennedy. When Kate writes a note to Warren, we see an issue of Time magazine on the desk which reads "Teddy chips away." The apparent irresponsibility of Chappaquiddick (addressed directly by De Palma's Blow Out  ) is linked with the irresponsibility of Warren. Warren Lockman may also suggest another notorious womanizer, Warren Beatty.
37Steiner notes that Peter is "identified from the start with male sexuality . . . [and] is at the same time the only sympathetic male in the film" (392).
38Wood comments on the asexuality of Peter and Liz's relationship, arguing that we are given no logical explanation for the
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