Russian linguistic theorist, Mikhail Bakhtin, describes the carnival as a time containing a universal spirit of "revival and renewal" which dominates over the official order of the world (Bakhtin, 1965, pp. 7-8). In his book, Rabelais and His World (1965), Bakhtin explains how this 'carnivalesque' freedom of spirit creates a "second world" of laws and social hierarchy (Bakhtin, 1965, page 6); this escape from the usual, or official way of life, causes a breakdown in authority. During this period of instability, social status can be transformed; Bakhtin suggests that the beggar can become rich, the fool can become wise. Social status becomes accessible and therefore, arguably, equal. Through the transformation in social status from the beggar to the King and vice versa, the carnival to be seen as representing a counter-cultural and almost satirical movement; ironically providing the beggar with a presence, but also, presenting the King as grotesque as the beggar. In direct relation to Bakhtin's theory of the carnivalesque creating a "second world", I feel that theatre and puppetry do the same. During the Renaissance period, the theatre and the carnival merged within the Venetian carnival. The typically theatrical costumes and masks were adopted during carnival time but also as a day-to-day accessory. As with masquerade balls associated with the traditional 15th Century carnival, the stage enables the individual to lose inhibitions and adopt a different persona. Again, this breaks down social standing and challenges the status quo.
In this essay, I am going to discuss the ways in which Angela Carter's work challenges authority using the notion of the carnivalesque. More specifically, I will be discussing Carter's The Magic Toyshop (1967), Nights at the Circus (1984) and Wise Children (1991), plus a selection of short stories from Burning your Boats (1995). More importantly, however, I will assess the extent to which this subversion helps to define the gendered and sexual identities of the female protagonists and other central characters.
In terms of challenging authority, the notion of 'identity' plays an important role. Identity is a term used to define a person as an individual; characteristically speaking, for example, we can be seen as competent or incompetent, honest or dishonest. However, beyond these more variable factors lie the biological factors (such as age, gender and race) that provide a
generalised image of who we are, mainly based on stereotype and ideology. Take gender, for example, the binary oppositions and duality within language mean that when a woman is labelled an 'irrational' being the man adopts the opposing 'rational' label. This labelling and categorization of the individual immediately places the subject within a linguistic, but also social, hierarchy; the negative connotation of the 'irrational' allows the rational (and therefore the male) to be superior. In relation to the above, I am going to discuss the extent to which Carter breaks down patriarchal hierarchy using the carnival, theatre and puppetry; I will also assess the extent to which this empowers and creates the female identity (both a physical/literal and psychological identity).
The Grotesque Body-
Fevvers (Nights at the Circus)
For Bakhtin, the essence of the carnivalesque is represented through the grotesque body. Within the carnival, the grotesque body is the ultimate transgressive and satirical state; in this way, Bakhtin's theory of the grotesque body helps creates a union between the corporeal and social hierarchy. Bakhtin's definition of the term 'grotesque' defies a singular, unified meaning;
The essence of the grotesque is precisely to present a contradictory and double-faced fullness of life. Negation and destruction (death of the old) are included as an essential phase, inseparable from affirmation, from the birth of something new and better (Bakhtin, 1965, page 62).
The grotesque body presents a multiplicity of conflicting ideas relating to both the cycle of life and death, but importantly, also, rebirth. To help clarify this, Bakhtin argues that the grotesque body is presented through the lower bodily stratum; primarily, through the bowels and the phallus (the "second body/world", Bakhtin, 1965, page 317), and then the mouth and the anus. It is in these areas of the body where the metaphysical boundaries, between the body and other bodies and the body and the world, are broken down; this "second body", one in-between the body and the outer world, is created. Through acts such as copulation, eating, drinking, urination, excretion (etc.) the body transgresses its own literal boundaries. The cycle between the elimination of matter (through sweat, urine etc) and the consumption of matter (eating, pregnancy etc) connects directly to the cycle of life, death and rebirth with its connotations of the acceptance of the new and elimination of the old.
Even as her name suggests, the central character of Fevvers in Nights at the Circus (1984) is not a stable, singular character. As a pun of the word 'feathers', Fevvers' name mirrors the way in which her character rejects conventions and the officialdom. Fevvers' character is exemplary of Bakhtin's satirical grotesque body; immediately, even on the first page of the text, the reader is introduced to her exaggerated characteristics. The central male character, Walser, describes how, "She [Fevvers] ripped off six inches of false lash from her left eyelid with an incisive gesture and a small, explosive, rasping sound" (Carter, 1984, page 3). The use of the word 'explosive' allows Fevvers' transgression to become repulsive as it suggests a lack of care and a lack of feminine grace. The vivid description of the 'explosive rasping' sound provides an almost onomatopoeic image for the reader. In this section of text, although the lashes are false, Fevvers literally transgresses her body's physical boundaries with the elimination of the unwanted matter. However, the removal of her eyelashes, like the male phallus on the grotesque body, form part of what Bakhtin would call the 'second body'. The substitution of the feminine eye in place of the phallus suggests rationality over instinct; as the phallus responds to impulsive (sexual) desire, whereas the eye can be seen as associated to clairvoyance, judgement and authority. This exchange between the phallus and eye can also be seen as what Bennett and Royle argue as 'deconstructive feminism' (Bennett & Royle, 1995, page 158); where the binary oppositions, and therefore hierarchy, of sexual difference are inverted. Like here, for example, the typical gender labels of the 'rational' male and 'irrational' female are inverted; Fevvers becomes the rational and therefore superior being and the male is subservient, acting purely on lustful impulse.
However, the excessive "six inches of false lash" that Fevvers possesses not only reiterates the extremity of her character, but is also her downfall. In this way, Fevvers becomes a grotesque parody of femininity. Carter uses this to place commentary on the falsehood of the female gender; Fevvers represents femininity to the extreme with her eyelashes, and later, during her theatrical performance with, "her face, thickly coated with rouge and powder so that you could see how beautiful she is from the back row of the gallery" (Carter, 1984, page 17). Here, her beauty is not through her female body but the way her appearance conforms to the male perception of what is beautiful. It is important to mention here, the male gaze of the female is objectified; Fevvers' attractiveness is without subjectivity. In this way, Carter presents a male gaze as one of similar to a pornographer's, where the male gaze controls the female's behaviour; if a female wants to be seen as attractive they must comply to the male gaze. Luce Irigaray illustrates this point in his critique on sexual difference; he calls this parody a "masquerade of femininity" (Irigaray, Porter & Burke, 1985, page 134). What Irigaray means by this, is that a woman because enters a "system of values that is not hers [the male symbolic order], she can only 'appear' and circulate only when enveloped in the needs/desires/fantasies of others, namely, men".
Like Fevvers' literal 'mask' of makeup, her character is hiding under phallocentric system and opinion. Taking into account Irigaray's theory, at the beginning of the novel, Fevvers appears to be under masculine influence and literally hides underneath her excessive mask of femininity.
On the other hand, Carter can be seen to physically remove Fevvers' false mask/eyelashes to reveal the true female body underneath. This links directly with Sigmund Freud's theory of 'The Uncanny' (1919). In Freud's theory, the eye also represents the grotesque; Freud expands upon this, however, and states that in a study of dreams and myths, "anxiety about one's eyes, the fear of going blind, is often enough a substitute for the dread of being castrated" (Freud, 1919, page 352). This develops a connection between male castration and the true female eye that Fevvers reveals here. On the surface, Fevvers appears feminine to the extreme. However, her underlying real character can be symbolically interpreted as a feminist threat of castration, or male disempowerment.
Using Bakhtin's notion of the carnivalesque, Fevvers' extremity of character satirizes the feminine body. It is easy for the reader to assume that Fevvers' success as a half-human half-bird aerialist is due to her acceptance of her subservient "feminine masquerade" (Irigaray, Porter & Burke, 1985). However, interestingly, Carter inverts this subversive role by how Fevvers ultimately fools the male world by manipulating her feminine disguise. In this instance, however, the removal of her eyelashes can be seen as Fevvers revealing the (symbolically) honest eye and can be seen as Fevvers' attempt to remove her 'feminine masquerade' and present Walser with her genuine identity/female body. Ultimately, through her transgression and parody, Fevvers represents a matriarchal presence and uses the patriarchal system for her own betterment. The carnivalesque allows Fevvers' the possibility of equality and power. Interestingly, at the end of the novel, Fevvers comes around full-circle; in section one (London) she is a international star, by part two (St Petersburg) she almost falls victim to Grand Duke's advances, and by the end, (through her confession "I fooled you!") she is ambiguously re-born as a liberated woman (either without her false persona/wings or no longer virginal); mirroring the carnivalesque cycle. Using the carnivalesque, Fevvers emerges as a figure of matriarchal dominance; Carter uses Fevvers' grotesque femininity and success to satirize the typical assumption of the female body as reliant and simpleminded.
Otherness and The Panoptic-
Tiffany (Wise Children)
The adherence to common norms and values (or consensus culture) is also associated with the notions of authority and power. In today's society, we live under constant fear of the 'Other' or invasion of otherness on many different levels; for example, with homophobia, or even with the criminal. Often the masses persecute these groups and justify this persecution with the claim that their actions are 'unnatural'. This relates to Michel Foucault's work on the panoptic prison. In the panoptic prison, the way in which the prisoner is constantly under fear of observation mirrors the way in which the individual in society is watched (under CCTV, for example). As Foucault states, the Panopticon works by "induc[ing] in the inmate a state of consciousness and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power" (Foucault, 1985, page 212); the fear of discovery as a deviant/ 'Other' acts as a deterrent from any such activities.
Carter plays with this idea of otherness with the character of Tiffany in Wise Children. When the reader is first introduced to Tiffany's character, she is shown to be a stereotypically subservient female under the gaze of the fictional male audience. Underneath the panoptic lens of the cameraman and audience, where the individual retains a level of conscious self-control and restrained character, Tiffany is the prisoner of male authority. This feminine subordination is highlighted by the stereotypical way that Tiffany is described as singing on the game show "because she fell for [Tristram, the presenter], head over heels", but also the way in which she possesses a "five year old's smile" (Carter, 1991, page 40). In both of these instances, Carter appears to be an deliberately mocking the way women are often referred to as child-like (with its negative connotations of naive and dumb) and seen as emotionally reliant upon males.
However, Carter subverts the panoptic effect and overturns male authority. The phrase "head over heels" takes a new meaning, no longer the commonly associated "head over heels [in love]" but Carter turns to its traditional meaning of a cartwheel; with its carnivalesque connotations of the 'topsy-turvy'. Carter explains that previously, "no sooner did poor little Tiff set eyes on him than she fell". Tiffany is shown as a fallen woman prostituting her independence and female identity to masculine dominance (Carter, 1991, page 36); the symbolic attire that Tiffany later sheds on screen also reiterates this. When Tiffany strips bare, she has broken away from the state of consciousness (under the panoptic effect) and becomes unconscious and seemingly irrational. Although, it could be argued that this reiterates her subservience as she becomes the typically irrational female. As argued by Sue Vice, carnival time is characterised by "moments of death and revival, of change and renewal" (Sue Vice, 1997, chapter 4). Again, this reiterates the oscillate movement of the carnival with the continual cycle between life, death and re-birth that are metaphorically represented in the cartwheel. In this way, Tiffany can be seen as a carnivalesque example of change or rebirth. Tiffany's subservient feminine identity dies (with the removal of her feminine clothes) and she is reborn as a different, stronger woman; this is shown when Dora comments,
The touch of the fur gave her some of the strength of the animal, she came back together, again. She seemed to grow before our very eyes; she didn't come back to herself, exactly, but to someone else who was in perfect control" (Carter, 1991, page 47).
Here, Tiffany becomes animalistic, but ultimately, more realistic and in control.
Wearing simply an American footballer's shirt, French knickers and purple stilettos, Tiffany symbolically represents a male-possessed woman. The football shirt represents Tristram's literal occupation of her body, whereas the knickers and stilettos are results of the panoptic-effect, as the authority that controls Tiffany and tells her to dress sexually for the male gaze. It is the male authority/gaze that allows only the sexualized and subservient female to become theatrically successful. Tiffany is shown to be, "wobbl[-ing] something chronic on those purple shoes" (Carter, 1991, page 43), suggesting that she is not stable or comfortable with her sexualized persona. With Tiffany's harsh removal of the stereotypical heels (page 43), Carter also presents another interpretation of the metaphor 'head over heels' here; Tiffany literally chooses her physical female self/identity ('head') over the masculine perception of the femme fatale ('heels'); this is ironically and humorously shown when the heels that she kicks off hit the shins of Tristram (who can be seen as a personified figure of male authority), and she emerges as a new woman. Tiffany theatrically uses the masculine/panoptic lens to turn things upside-down for herself and break free of male authority.
Consensus Culture and Aesthetic Value
In A Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays (1981), Bakhtin's discusses his linguistic theory of "dialogism". Although Renate Lachmann suggests that Bakhtin can be considered as a social outcast in Soviet culture (Lachmann, 1989, page 116), Bakhtin's commentary on the dominant culture and its relationship with language helps to demonstrate Carter's rejection of authority. To simplify Bakhtin's argument, Bakhtin suggested that there are constant dialogic tensions within language (and therefore within social authority) between the "centripedal" and "centrifugal" forces/ voices. The centripetal forces push towards the central closure of, what Bakhtin terms, "monoglossic" dominance whereas the centrifugal forces push for a "heteroglossic" voice (Bakhtin, 1981). For Tony Crowley, the Bakhtinian monoglossic voice "represents [a] version of the pure Adamic language in which the world and word meet [as] the result of the desire for purity" (Crowley, 1989, page 71); it is this seemingly unquestionable purity that monoglossia claims that enables its voice to be seen as a superior and a singular authority/ideology. The most extreme way to exemplify Bakhtin's idea here is to think of monoglossia as a kind of totalitarian authority (or in Bakhtin's case, official Soviet culture) claiming to hold a singular truth. Heteroglossia, on the other hand, presents a multiplicity of voices, presenting a more representative and democratic force. Bakhtin's preference for the novel as a heteroglossic genre his theory has a counter-cultural element, through its empowerment of individual status. This relates directly back to Bakhtin's theory of the carnivalesque by its creation of, and defiance of, hierarchy. The tensions between the centripedal and centrifugal forces can be seen as a struggle to gain authority/status, as with the decentring in the carnival.
Intertextuality and plagiarism, within texts, can be seen as representing a heteroglossic voice; not only does the author want to express their own voice but also another's. It has been suggested by many literary critics that, traditionally, authors collaborated and plagiarised others people's work (even the likes of Shakespeare). Nowadays, however, there is value placed upon the authenticity of the text. Similarly, it has been argued by many, the use of intertextuality in a text lessens the aesthetic experience for the reader; this, again, ties into Bakhtinian theory by how aesthetics is based upon the monoglossic belief in 'purity' and origin. This also ties into my above point in the previous chapter (surrounding Tiffany and the male gaze), the monoglossic belief that the aesthetics of woman is purely construction of the femme fatale, and not the true female body.
Carter frequently uses intertextuality in her work, famously with her references to Shakespearean work in Wise Children, therefore challenging aesthetic authority. This intertextuality allows a duality to form within the text between the text and the sub-text (or arguably context). The dual layering of the text almost metaphorically enables the reader comparison between the two elements. This allows the reader the knowledge, and therefore authority, to extract a more detailed reading (in line with the author's original intent). On the other hand, it could be argued that although Carter challenges the literary status quo here (with her use of intertextuality), Carter can be also be seen to remove the reader's interpretation, and therefore also the reader's voice, by her instillation of meaning.
In The Magic Toyshop (1967), Carter makes intertextual reference to Charles Perrault's fairy tale Bluebeard (Carter, 1967, page 198). Again, Carter plays with the notion of authority by challenging the voice behind narration and storytelling by placing authority within the realm of the fantastical fairy tale world. Traditionally speaking, folktales were orally narrated from memory; therefore the story's content was subjected to change from person to person. This fragmented multiple narrative can be seen as mirroring Bakhtin's heteroglossia. More importantly, however, are the implications that Bluebeard has in challenging patriarchal authority. In the story of Bluebeard the reader is faced with a strongly patriarchal relationship between Bluebeard and his wife; this is exemplified through his forbiddance of her to enter a particular room in his castle, although she possesses the key. The key, in the story, can be seen as symbolic of authority/power within the marriage. Ultimately, the wife uses the key and becomes empowered and liberated. The folktale of Bluebeard can be seen as linked with the biblical story of The Garden of Eden. Even in this biblical story, Eve is presented as the weak female who succumbs to temptation and is punished for eating for the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The female is ultimately punished for her longing for knowledge and status. Similarly to the wife of Bluebeard who cannot resist looking into the locked chamber. Taking this connection into account, it is possible that Carter is making comment on the way in which ideological and patriarchal hierarchies are embedded into many myths and fairytales. As Carter states in 'Notes from the Front Line', "I am interested in myths [...] because they are extraordinary lies designed to make people unfree" (Carter, 1983); Carter offers to change this stand point by allowing the strong, knowledgeable and independent female identity to retain presence in Bluebeard and The Magic Toyshop.
In many ways, it can be said that Bluebeard mirrors The Magic Toyshop, with Melanie's liberation from her oppressive and abusive Uncle. In both texts, the key/door symbolically represents the female presence literally moving through from the subservient female into the role of the individual female. This new female presence allows a shift in roles and social hierarchy. By making this intertextual reference, Carter gives the reader one of the many clues that hint towards the final liberalisation and independence of Melanie's character.
Carter also uses puppetry to raise the issue of aesthetic value and its relation to consensus culture. In 'The Loves of Lady Purple' in Carter's Burning Your Boats (1995), the central female puppet Lady Purple is portrayed as having;
Glass rubies in her head for eyes and her ferocious teeth, carved out of mother o' pearl, were always on show for she had a permanent smile. Her face was as white as chalk because it was covered with the skin of supplest leather [â€¦] her beautiful hands seemed more like weapons because her nails were so long, five inches of pointed tin enamelled scarlet (Carter, 1995, page 43).
Here the materials used to create the puppet are of the highest quality and value, allowing the puppet to ascribe to the rules of human aesthetics. The puppet is given an almost human quality by the great detail to features, and again, by its adherence to conventional ideas of beauty. The image is also highly superficial in the sense that although the puppet is made from seemingly natural products (for example, her "skin of [â€¦] leather") the puppet is an artificial construction. The personification of the puppet becomes transgressive in this way; it goes beyond the conventional role of the puppet and tries to become biological.
However, by the end of the short story, Carter presents the reader with a "tautological paradox" (Carter, 1995, page 51). With the kiss of death with the puppeteer, the puppet transforms into humanistic form. Carter comments upon this suggesting that, "had the marionette all the time parodied the living or was she, now living, to parody her own performance as a marionette?" (Carter, 1995, page 51). With the paradox here, Carter places commentary on the human race as a construction under the laws of aesthetics. The use of the word "performance" suggests a lack of natural enactment and again links with the falsehood of aesthetics; Carter questions the proverb "beauty is in the eye of the beholder"? Ultimately, both sides of the paradox are the same. In this way, Carter can be seen as suggesting that humans that aspire to be beautiful under the laws of aesthetics are quite simply 'puppets' controlled by capitalist demand for consumerism and a thriving economy. This hypothetical question, along with the male identity of the puppeteer, makes the reader think about the way in which aesthetics (as part of capitalist society) are carved out of male hands. Therefore, the death of the puppeteer represents the death of male consumerism and objectification of women.
Mirrors and the Gothic Double
Mirrors are often used in carnival literature to blur the boundaries between reality and fantasy. The duality of the subject and its reflection enables the mirror to present many issues surrounding identity. Within the carnival and circus, Carter frequently uses mirrors to create ambiguities and different levels of reality. In Wise Children (1991), Dora often describes mirror images and reflections of her and her twin sister, Nora. At the beginning of their theatrical career, Dora describes, "the mirror in Miss Worthington's front room showed two times two Chance girls, us and our reflections, doing high kicks like trick photography in flesh and blood" (Carter, 1991, page 60). Carter's suggestion of the "flesh and blood" behind the trick photography suggests a carnivalesque 'second world/life' (as Bakhtin would call it), where anything is possible. Here the mirror imagery tricks the reader into a false sense of reality by how it multiplies the twins. As Dora suggests, the mirror is like 'trick photography' as it is unclear whether the reflections are Nora or Dora; in this way, the twin's characters are shown to lack any real identity or defining substance. It is purely the underlying, hidden characteristics (that the media does not show) that distinguish them as different beings. From a feminist perspective, this infers that there is no true female identity as females are objectified. The "flesh and blood" also suggests that the real substance lies beyond the mirror's reflection within the camera and mirror that creates the illusions.
It could be argued that Nora and Dora are feminist interpretations of the 'gothic double' or 'doppelganger'. The carnivalesque mirror reflection of Nora and Dora reiterates this by allowing the double/twins to be doubled. Catherine Spooner (2004) argues that, in Western literature, the "rise of the double is clearly initially die to the emergent notion of the individual in modernity" (Spooner, 2004, page 129); however, this emergence of the individual was primarily within the male gender. Spooner suggests that due to the consolidation of the female identity through the feminist movements of the twentieth century, this has led to a later influx of female doubles (Spooner, 2004, page 129). Throughout the novel, there are many references to Nora and Dora as identical but, paradoxically, also asymmetric. For example, on the twin's seventeenth birthday, Nora and Dora switch clothes. Under her disguise, Dora (with consent from Nora) copulates with Nora's boyfriend (Carter, 1994, pages 85-86). Dora, as Nora's 'double' or mirror image, presents an almost incestuous, carnivalesque relationship. The mirror, again, literally transgresses the norms of officialdom and presents a world void of conventional rules. Nora and Dora's similarities are shown to go beyond characteristics and physical appearance. On page 74, Dora describes how they both started and finished their menstrual cycle at the same time, "although we are asymmetrical, in many ways, we always, funnily enough, came on in unison every time since that first time" (Carter, 1991). Again, although suggested as coincidence, this reinforces their world as rational and in unison. This coincidence breaks down the boundaries between the twin's reality and fantasy. The twins are suggested to be the same being with the same biological clock and appearance, but ultimately lead separate lives.
Unlike traditional doubles, Carter does not allow each side of the double to be easily labelled 'good/evil'. Instead, Dora appears the quieter and more jealous type, whereas Nora is more outgoing and sexual (. Carter breaks down the traditional gothic double to suggest that the primary concern with identity is not dual, but multiple. The use of "two times two", as oppose to simply stating four, allows the reader a clear image of how the duality of the twins is doubled; the way in which the girls are identical and multiple is almost like a production line of femininity, where individuality is broken down. The mirror suggests that every female is placed under the same lens/mirror and it is only the exteriority that counts. Therefore, Carter can be seen as counteracting Spooner's theory. Unlike Spooner, Carter suggests that the gothic double does not hold a connection with the emergence of the individual, but instead, reductively breaks down female identity into too rationalistic labels and boundaries. Like many instances throughout the novel, Carter breaks down the idea of duality and presents a multiplicity. Again, linking with my earlier ideas of Bakhtin and 'dialogism', Carter rejects a singular, unified authority/ideology.
The mirror becomes associated with the theatrical world, femininity and vanity. Like Tiffany's cameraman that I commented upon earlier, on Tiffany's (and now, Nora and Dora's) side of the glass, Carter suggests that there is a falseness about this level of rational, conscious level of reality and that the other side of the glass contains a more unromantic, irrational and carnivalesque reality. The use of the almost mathematical-sounding "two times two" description of the twins reiterates the idea of Dora's rational understanding of her world; everything is calculated and scientific. This relates to Jacques Lacan's psychoanalytical theory on the formation of the self. In his work, 'The Mirror Stage [...]' (1977), Jacques Lacan places commentary on the formation of the self in response to the mirror. Lacan argues that when the subject first looks into the mirror, as an infant, the subject learns that they have ultimate control over their body. This identification with the imago creates a "symbolic matrix in which the I is precipitated in a primordial form" (Lacan, 1977, page 2). What Lacan means here, is that the imago in the mirror (or 'Ideal-I', as Lacan identifies it) becomes something superior to aspire to. In this way, the subject is always striving to become the perfect self. In relation to Nora and Dora's mirror image, both of the twins are constantly striving to become rational beings, in control of their surroundings and as successful as the Hazards. The duality of the twins within the mirror offers a universal narrative on the Westernized world.
This 'second world' is something that Carter covers more thoroughly in 'Flesh and the Mirror', where she can be seen as making direct commentary on Ferdinand de Saussure's semiotic theory in Course in General Linguistics (1916). To simplify, Saussure argues that there is no relationship between a word (Saussure termed this as the "signifier") and the concept it represents (the "signified") (Saussure, 1916 page 7); there is no connection between the word "ocean" and the 'Real' ocean. This creates a gap between the symbolic order and the Real world. The symbolic order presents a different level of reality, a rational level of consciousness where everything we see we understand, due to the signifiers and values that we place on objects. In 'The Flesh and the Mirror', Carter presents the mirror as the gap between the two different levels of reality; the rational and the Real. The rational female is described as puppet-like, until she looks into the mirror. The Real image she sees in her reflection represents spontaneous desire and nature; this is shown through her impulsive infidelity (Carter, 1995, page 70). However, the narrator also describes how the reflection on the other side of the glass is the puppet she is controlling. Carter reiterates her puppet symbolism here, on the rational side of the mirror the female feels in control but it is in fact her puppet double on the Real side of the glass that has any movement. Here, female power is ultimately broken down. The sense of rationality that the symbolic order achieves is not liberating but oppressive. The female describes the effect of this in the mirror as, "I could see myself perfectly well on the other side of the glass" (Carter, 1995, page 69). In this way, the female identity is shown as alienated and blurred underneath the male symbolic order but defined and liberated within the mirror/Real.
A summary of my analysis
Although Carter is well renowned for her feminist writings, she approaches feminism from a different angle to many feminist authors. Whereas many feminist writers would not place their female protagonists under such masculine influence (for example, how Fevvers works in a brothel and the Chance twins are always wanting their father's acceptance/approval), Carter uses this male influence and turns it around on its head using the notion of the carnivalesque. For example, the use of the grotesque body presents the character of Fevvers as excessively feminine; this allows her character to appear underneath the masculine gaze but overturns this using the feminine parody. Fevvers as a form of parody turns the masculine gaze upon itself and Fevvers is shown to use this to gain female presence in a predominantly male theatrical world. However, the character of Tiffany does not appear to manipulate the "feminine masquerade" (as Irigaray calls it) but alternatively shreds her feminine identity under the male lens to become reborn into a stronger female body.
It is important to explain the difference between the 'female body' and the 'feminine identity'. These are two key terms I have used throughout my analysis. The feminine body is the perception and values of femininity that the symbolic order places upon the female body (a psychological state). The female body is what Saussure would call the 'Real' underlying identity (a physical, biological state) the liberated female body that is subject to its surroundings. Within the symbolic order, the female body strives for the 'Ideal I' (as Lacan would argue) which includes the male perceptions and values of aesthetics and femininity. Within the 'Real' world, the female body is irrational and responds to desire and impulses (such as those that the central protagonist of 'Flesh and the Mirror'').
The use of puppetry in Carter's work highlights the way in which identity is alienated in modern day consensus culture. The values of aesthetics are objectified, and therefore unrealistic and unobtainable. Carter tries to break away from these conventional systems to reveal a true underlying 'female identity' (a state where the female retains a biological and psychological identification).
Throughout all of Carter's work there is a rejection of singularity and duality, and a push for multiplicity. Carter rejects the female as a singular concept constructed from femininity. The use of the mirror symbolically presents the tensions between the 'centipedal' and 'centrifugal', the feminine and the female. Overall, Carter embraces the feminine identity, the female body and the female identity as different prgressive stages within her texts. Like the carnivalesque cycle, the protagonists can often by recognised as developing throughout the novel; beginning as a feminine identity, discovering and rejecting their irrational female body and then being re-born into the multiple female identity (for example, Fevvers in Nights at the Circus). Although typically Carter can be viewed as feminist author, my reading reveals her texts as pertaining to a theme of female empowerment and self-discovery (coincidently, often at the downfall of men).