Anatomical Dismembering & The Tragic in Monsieur Venus

For this blog entry, I’d like to hint the themes of the anatomical dismembering, the aggressiveness and cruelty (or what one could call ‘the pure pathos of suffering’), and the tragic in Monsieur Venus. In doing so, I will compare Rachilde’s Monsieur Venus with some literary topoi coming from Ancient Greece, namely the tragic destiny of Antinous and Euripides’s The Bacchae in which Pentheus faces a particularly dreadful fate, somehow reminiscent of that of Jacques, since he gets dismembered and beheaded by his own mother while he was spying on a bacchanalian revel taking place near Thebes. In addition, in the play Dionysus forces Pentheus to cross-dress, exactly in the same fashion as Raoule ‘transgenders’ Jacques in Monsieur Venus. 

In Monsieur Venus, Raoule might be seen as the guarantor of a certain type of knowledge. She gives Jacques hashish and books (see the end of the chapter IV and the beginning of chapter VII) rendering thus his mind more open and more malleable for the metamorphosis/transformation she wants him to undergo. Raoule wants to shape Jacques’ mind to match it, as it were, with the tremendous beauty she sees in him (thus the link with the myth of Pygmalion. See Ovid’s Metamorphoses, X).

From a hermeneutic point of view, Raoule could be seen as a symbolic representation dangling an initiatic knowledge before the subject (Jacques), who had been hitherto ‘innocent and pure.’ She is also the one who will introduce and initiate Jacques ‘into the wicked mysteries of Venus.’ More generally, however, Raoule and Jacques could be construed as some archaic imagines (see imago) that could be traced far in the past, namely, in Ancient Greece.

Jacques could be construed as the archetype of the scapegoat (see Antinous who sacrificed himself to please Hadrian, his emperor and lover, or Pentheus in The Bacchae who got dismembered by his own mother during a Pagan revel) whereas Raoule is a sort of daemonic force at work (see Agave in The Bacchae, who was “mad and possessed by Bacchus” and killed her son “not by her own strength, for the god had put inhuman power in her hands.” Verses 1120-1130 in Euripides V). Yet it is true that Raoule did not strictly kill Jacques. She did even worst: she emasculated him. This is very clearly stated when Jacques comes back drunk from a brothel at the end of chapter XIV:

Je viens de chez ma soeur, dit-il d’une voix saccadée… de chez ma soeur la prostituée… et pas une de ces filles, tu m’entends? Pas une n’a pu faire revivre ce que tu as tué, sacrilège!…

In other words, and as it is the case for Agave in The Bacchae who “proudly exhibits her thyrsus with the head of Pentheus [her son] impaled upon the point,” Raoule clearly possesses masculine features. She could be seen (just as Agave), as a close literary representation of the psychoanalytical notion of “phallic mother” denoting then the associated concepts of castration (figuratively construed as an anatomical dismemberment) and transgendering/cross-dressing. M. de Raittolbe is rather the genuine embodiment of the symbolic father (the big other, or, object grand A in Lacanian terminology): he is the one who beats Jacques up for moral reason (Raittolbe has a normative function). He is also the one who penetrates literally Jacques with a sword and kills him at the end of the book (Raittolbe has a prohibitive function; he holds the ‘life or death right’). To that peculiar extent one could see Raittolbe as being the rightful foil (the ‘complement’) of Raoule who does not possess ‘the main manly feature’ (cf. Jacques at the end of chapter XIII: “Raoule, tu n’es donc pas un homme? Tu ne peux donc pas être un homme?”)

But why in hell does Jacques have to go through all these sufferings? Why are Raoule and Raittolbe so cruel towards him? What is the meaning of this dreadful Pagan setting in the last chapter of Monsieur Venus? Perhaps these things might denote the materialistic and quite wicked idea according to which one could reach a certain type of ecstasy through a secular process consisting in trying to merge (a) Eros (the self-preservative/sexual/life instincts) and (b) Thanatos (ego/death instincts) within the same activity/ritual. This could be a possible explanation for the S&M relationship existing between Jacques and Raoule. From this, the concept of cruelty associated with that of suffering should be envisioned as a sort of metaphysical challenge underlying a possible psychological transformation, which would be triggered by the coexistence and the intensity of antithetic feelings experienced at once by a sole subject, that is (a) joy and pleasure and (b) terror and pain. The overcoming of the opposites into a third term (or Sublimation, German: Aufhebung) should indeed be somehow construed as a mystical experience (Greek: ἐπιφάνεια). -R.C.


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Filed under Week 3 Reviews: Rachilde

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