The Effigy Of The Seductress Cold Seduction
ally loves or desires the person seduced, but at a deeper level (or a more superficial level if one will, in the superficial abyss of appearances) another game is being played out, unbeknownst to the two protagonists who remain mere puppets.
For seduction, desire is a myth. If desire is a will to power and possession, seduction places before it an equal will to power by the simulacrum. In forming a web of appearances seduction both sustains this hypothetical power of desire and exorcizes it. Just as for Kierkegaard's seducer the girl's naive grace, her spontaneous erotic power is merely a myth, which is sustained only so that it can be annihilated (perhaps he loves her, but in the suprasensual realm of seduction the girl is but the mythical figure of a sacrifice); similarly, for the seductress, the power of man's desire is a myth that she uses in order to both evoke and destroy it. The seducer's artifice, directed at the girl's mythical grace, is fully equal to the seductress' artificial reworking of her body, which is directed at the man's mythical desire. In both cases the mythical power, whether the power of grace or desire, is to be reduced to nothing. Seduction always seeks to overturn and exorcize a power. If seduction is artifical, it is also sacrificial. One is playing with death, it always being a matter of capturing or immolating the desire of the other.
Seduction, by contrast, is immortal. The seductress, like the hysteric, wants to be immortal and live in an eternal present - much to everyone's astonishment, given the field of deception and despair in which she moves, and given the cruelty of her game. But here she survives because outside psychology, '•meaning or desire. What destroys people, wears them down, is the meaning they give their acts. But the seductress does not attach any meaning to what she does, nor suffer the weight of desire. Even if she speaks of reasons or motives, be they guilty or cynical, it is a trap. And her ultimate trap is to ask: "Tell me who I am" - when she is indifferent to what she is, when she is a blank, with neither age nor history. Her power lies in the irony and elusiveness of her presence. She may be blind to her own existence, but she is well aware of all the mechanisms of reason and truth people use to protect themselves from seduction; and she is aware that from behind the shelter of these mechanisms they will nonetheless, if handled correctly, let them selves be seduced.
"I am immortal," in other words, relentless. Which is to say that the game must never stop, this even being one of its fundamental rules. For just as no player can be greater than the game itself, so no seductress can be greater than seduction. None of the vicissitudes of love or desire can be allowed to break this rule. One must love in order to seduce, and not the reverse. Seduction consists of finery, it weaves and unweaves appearances, as Penelope weaved and unweaved her tapestry, as desire itself was woven and unwoven beneath her hands. For it is appearances, and the mastery of appearances, that rule.
No one has ever been dispossessed of the power associated with seduction and its rules, this fundamental form. Yes, women have been dispossessed of their bodies, their desires, happiness and rights. But they have always remained mistresses of this possibility of eclipse, of seductive disappearance and trans-luscence, and so have always been capable of eclipsing the power of their masters.
But is there a feminine figure of seduction or, for that matter, a masculine figure? Or is there but one form, variants of which crystallize around one or the other sex?
Seduction oscillates between two poles, a pole of strategy and a pole of animality (and thus ranges from the most subtle calculation to the most brutal physical suggestion) which we associate with the figures of the seducer and the seductress respectively. But doesn't this division mask a single form, an undivided seduction?
With animals seduction achieves its purest form, in that the seductive display appears instinctual, immediately given in reflex behaviours and natural finery. But for all that, animal seduction does not cease to be perfectly ritualistic. In this sense, animals are the least natural of beings, for with them artifice
- the effects of mascarade and finery - is at its most naive. It is at the heart of this paradox, where the distinction between nature and culture is suppressed in the concept of finery, that the analogy between animality and femininity plays itself out.
If animals are seductive, is it not because they are strategic elements in a campaign to deride our pretensions to humanity? If the feminine is seductive, is it not because it too thwarts our claims to depth? The frivolous has a power of seduction which concurs with that of the bestial.
What we find seductive in animals is not their "natural" savagery. For that matter, are animals really characterized by savagery, by a high degree of contingency, unpredictability, or impulsiveness, or on the contrary by high degrees of ritualized behaviour? The same question can be posed for primitive societies. The latter were once seen as close to the animal realm, and indeed, in a sense, they are: for they share a common disregard for the law, tied to high levels of observance of fixed forms, whether in their relation to their territory, other animals or men.
Even in their dances and bodily ornamentation, their animal grace is a product of a series of observances, rules and analogies, which makes it the opposite of natural chance. All the prestigious attributes associated with animals are ritual traits. The "natural" finery of animals is similar to the artificial finery of humans, who, one might add, have always sought to incorporate the former into their rites. If there is a preference for animal masks, it is because animals immediately appear as ritual masks, as a play of signs and a strategy of finery - as is the case with human rituals. The very morphology of primitive rituals, their furs and feathers, gestures and dances are a prototype of ritual efficacy. That is, they never form a functional system (reproduction, sexuality, ecology, mimicry - the postulates of an extremely impoverished ethology reworked and corrected by function-alism), but an ostentatious ceremony for mastering signs, and a cycle for seducing meaning, where the signs gravitate irresistibly around each other so as to reproduce themselves as if by magnetic recurrence, resulting in dizziness, a loss of meaning, and the sealing of an indestructible pact amongst the participants.
Generally speaking, "rituality" is, as a form, superior to "sociality". The latter is only a recent, and not very seductive form of organization and exchange, one invented by humans for humans. Rituality is a much larger system, encompassing the living and the dead, humans and animals, as well as a "nature" whose periodic movements, recurrences and catastrophes serve, seemingly spontaneously, as ritual signs. By comparison, sociality appears rather impoverished: under the sign of the Law it is capable of bringing together only one species (and even then...). By contrast, rituality succeeds in maintaining - not by laws, but by rules and their infinite play of analogies - a form of cyclical order and universal exchange of which the Law and the social are quite incapable. ¡
If we find animals appealing and seductive, it is because they remind us of this ritual arrangement. They do not| evoke a nostalgia for the savage state, but a feline, theatrical nostalgia for finery, for the seduction and strategy of ritual forms which transcend all sociality and which, thereby, still enchant us.
In this sense one can say that, with seduction, 'one "becomes an animal," or that female seduction is animal-like, without implying some sort of instinctive nature. For one is saying that seduction is profoundly linked to body rituals ;which, like all other rituals, serve not to establish a nature and uncover its law, but to set up appearances and organize their cycle. Not that female seduction is ethically inferior. On the contrary, it is aesthetically superior. It is a strategy of finery, j
Men, moreover, are never seduced by natural beauty, but by an artificial, ritual beauty - because the latter is esoteric and initiatory, whereas the former is merely expressive. And because seduction lies in the aura of secrecy produced |by weightless, artificial signs, and not in some natural econoniy of meaning, beauty or desire. !
The claim that anatomy (or the body) is not! destiny is not recent, but was made far more stridently in all societies prior to our own. Rituals, ceremonies, raiments, masks, designs, mutilations and torture - all in order to seduce..J the gods, the spirits, or the dead. The body was the first great medium of this immense undertaking. For us alone does it take on an aesthetic, decorative character. (With its true character thereby de nied: the very idea of decoration implies a moral denial of all the body's magic. For the savages, not to mention animals, it is not decoration, but finery. And a universal rule. He who is not painted is stupid, say the Caduveo).
We might find the forms disgusting: covering the body with mud, deforming the the skull or filing the teeth in Mexico, deforming the feet in China, distending the neck, or making incisions in the face, not to mention tattoos, jewelry, masks, fine raiments, ritual paintings, or even the bracelets made from tin cans worn by present-day Polynesians.
The body is made to signify, but with signs that, strictly speaking, have no meaning. All resemblance has vanished, all representation is absent. The body is covered with appearances, illusions, traps, animal parodies and sacrificial simulations, not in order to dissemble, nor to reveal (a desire, say, or a drive), nor even just for fun (the spontaneous expressiveness of children and primitives). What is involved here is an undertaking that Artaud would have termed metaphysical: a sacrificial challenge to the world to exist. For nothing exists naturally, things exist because challenged, and because summoned to respond to that challenge. It is by being challenged that the powers of the world, including the gods, are aroused; it is by challenging these powers that they are exorcized, seduced and captured; it is by the challenge that the game and its rules are resurrected. All this requires an artificial bluffing, that it to say, a systematic simulation that troubles itself with neither a preestablished state of the world nor bodily anatomy. A radical metaphysics of simulation, it need not even concern itself with "natural" harmony. In the facial paintings of the Caduveo, the facial features are not respected; the design's diagrams and symmetries being laid across the face from one end to the other. (Our makeup submits to the body as a referential system, in order to accentuate its features and orifices. But does this mean that it is closer to the nature of desire? Nothing could be less certain).
Something of this radical metaphysics of appearances, this challenge by simulation, still lives in the cosmetic arts and the glamour of modern fashion. The Church Fathers were well aware of this, and denounced it as diabolical. "To be attentive to one's body, to care for and paint it is to set oneself up as a rival of God and contest His creation." This stigmatization has continued ever since, but is now reflected i in that other religion, that of the subject's liberty and essential desires. Our entire morality condemns the construction of the female as a sex object by the facial and bodily arts. The female is no longer denounced by God's judgment, but by the dictates of modern ideology, for prostituting her femininity in consumer culture, and subjecting her body to the reproduction of capital. "Femininity is woman's alienated being." "Femininity manifests itself as an abstract totality, devoid of any reality it can call its own, a product of the discourse and rhetoric of advertising." "The woman flushed with her beauty masks and perpetually fresh lips no longer lives her real life," etc., etc.
In opposition to all these pious discourses, we must again praise the sex object; for it bears, in the sophistication of appearances, something of a challenge to the naive order of the world and sex; and it, and it alone, escapes the realm of production (though one might like to believe it subjected to the latter) and returns to that of seduction. In its unreality,,in the unreal defiance of its prostitution of signs, the sexual object moves beyond sex and attains seduction. It again becomes ceremonial. The feminine was always the effigy of this ritual, and there is a frightful confusion in wanting to de-sanctify it as a cult object in order to turn it into a subject of production, or in wanting to rescue it from artifice in order to return it to its own "natural" desires.
Woman is well within her rights, and is indeed forming a sort of duty, in studying to appear magical and supernatural. It is necessary that she should astonish and bewitch. Being an idol, she must be gilded and adored. She must therefore borrow from all the arts the means of raising herself above nature, the better to subjugate hearts and stir souls. It matters very little that her tricks and artifices should be known to all, provided that their success is certain and their effect always irresistible. Such considerations provide the artist-philosopher with a ready justification for all the practices employed by women of every period to lend substance and, so to speak, divinity to their fragile beauty.
An enumeration of these practices would be interminable. But to confine ourselves to what our contemporaries vulgarly call "the use of cosmetics," who can fail to see that the use of rice-powder (so stupidly anathematised by our candid philosophers) has the object and result of banishing from the complexion the blemishes which nature has outrageously sown there, and of creating an abstract unity in the texture and colour of the skin; and that this unity, like the unity produced by the sculptor's chisel, brings the human being directly nearer to the statue - in other words, to a being that is divine and superior? As for the lampblack that outlines the eye, and the rouge that emphasizes the upper part of the cheek, the planned result of these - although their use arises from the same principle, the need to transcend nature - is to satisfy an exactly opposite need. The red and the black represent life - a life surpassing and exceeding that of the nature. The black frame around the eye makes the glance stranger and more penetrating; it makes the eye more distinctly resemble a window open on the infinite. The red blaze on the cheek further enhances the brightness of the eye, and lends a woman's lovely face the mysterious passion of a priestess.
Charles Baudelaire, "In Praise of Cosmetics"2
If desire exists - as modernity hypothesizes - then nothing must interfere with its natural harmony, and cosmetics are hypocritical. But if desire is a myth - as seduction hypothe-
2. Charles Baudelaire, "In Praise of Cosmetics" in My Heart Laid Bare and Other Prose Writings (New York: Vanguard Press, 1951) pp. 63-64.
sizes - then nothing can prevent it from being put to use by signs, unrestrained by natural limits. The power of signs lies in their appearance and disappearance; that is how they efface the world. Cosmetics too are a means of effacing the face, effacing the eyes behind more beautiful eyes, cancelling the lips behind more luxuriant lips. This "abstract unity that brings the human being nearer to a being that is divine," this "life surpassing and exceeding nature" about which Baudelaire speaks, results from a simple artificial stroke that suppresses all expression. Artifice does not alienate the subject, but mysteriously alters her/him. Women are aware of this transformation when, in front of their mirrors, they must erase themselves in order to apply their makeup, and when, by applying their makeup, they make themselves into a pure appearance denuded of meaning. How can one mistake this "exceeding of nature" for a vulgar camouflaging of truth? Only falsehoods can alienate the truth, but makeup is not false, or else (like the game of trans-vestites) it is falser than falsehood and so recovers a kind of superior innocence or transparency. It absorbs all expression within its own surface, without a trace of blood' or meaning. Certainly this is challenging, and cruel - but who is alienated? Only those who cannot abide this cruel perfection, and cannot defend themselves except by moral repulsion - and they are wrong. How can one respond to pure appearances, whether hieratic or mobile, without first recognizing their sovereignty? By taking off the makeup, tearing off the veil, or enjoining the appearances to disappear? How ridiculous! An iconoclast's Utopia. There is no God behind the images, and the very nothingness they conceal must remain a secret. The seduction, fascination and "aesthetic" attraction of all the great imaginary processes lies here: in the effacing of every instance, be it the face and every substance, be it desire -. in the artificial perfection of the sign.
Undoubtedly, the best example of this is to be found in the only important constellation of collective seduction produced by modern times, that of film stars or cinema idols. Now the star, even if a man, is feminine; for if God is masculine, idols are always feminine. And in truth, the biggest stars were women. They were, however, no longer beings of flesh and desire, but transexual, suprasensual beings, around whom crystallized stern rituals and a wasteful profusion which turned them into a generation of sacred monsters, endowed with a power of absorption equal to and rivaling the real world's powers of production. They were our only myth in an age incapable of generating great myths or figures of seduction comparable to those of mythology or art.
The cinema's power lives in its myth. Its stories, its psychological portraits, its imagination or realism, the meaningful impressions it leaves - these are all secondary. Only the myth is powerful, and at the heart of the cinematographic myth lies seduction - that of the renowned seductive figure, a man or woman (but above all a woman) linked to the ravishing but specious power of the cinematographic image itself. A miraculous conjunction.
The star is by no means an ideal or sublime being: she is ar-tifical. She need not be an actress in the psychological sense; her face is not the reflection of a soul or sensitivity which she does not have. On the contrary, her presence serves to submerge all sensibility and expression beneath a ritual fascination with the void, beneath the ecstacy of her gaze and the nullity of her smile. This is how she achieves mythical status and becomes subject to collective rites of sacrificial adulation.
The ascension of the cinema idols, the masses' divinities, was and remains a central story of modern times - it still counterbalances all political or social events. There is no point in dismissing it as merely the dreams of mystified masses. It is a seductive occurrence that counterbalances every productive occurrence.
To be sure, seduction in the age of the masses is no longer like that of The Princess of Cleves, Les Liaisons Dangereuses or Diary of the Seducer, nor for that matter, like that found in ancient mythology, which undoubtedly contains the stories richest in seduction. In these seduction is hot, while that of our modern idols is cold, being at the intersection of two cold mediums, that of the image and that of the masses.
This latter seduction has the spectral whiteness of the heavenly stars, after which they are so appropriately named. The masses have been "seduced" in the modern era by only two great events: the white light of the stars, and the black light of terrorism. These two phenomena have much in common. Terrorist acts, like the stars, "flicker:" they do not not enlighten; they do not radiate a continuous, white light, but an intermittent, cold light; they disappoint even as they exalt; they fascinate by the suddeness of their appearance and the imminence of their disappearance. And they are constantly being eclipsed as they each try to outdo each other. ;
The great stars or seductresses never dazzle because of their talent or intelligence, but because of their absence. They are dazzling in their nullity, and in their coldness - the coldness of makeup and ritual hieraticism (rituals are cool, according to McLuhan). They turn into a metaphor the immense glacial process which has seized hold of our universe of meaning, with its flickering networks of signs and images; but at the same time, at a specific historical conjuncture that can no longer be reproduced, they transform it into an effect of seduction.
The cinema has never shone except by pure seduction, by the pure vibrancy of non-sense - a hot shimmering that is all the more beautiful for having come from the cold.
Artifice and non-sense, they are the idol's esoteric face, its mask of initiation. The seduction of a face purged of all expression, except that of the ritual smile and a no less conventional beauty. A white face, with the whiteness of signs consecrated to ritualized appearances, no longer subject to some deep law of signification. The sterility of idols is well-known: they do not reproduce, but rise from the ashes, like the phoenix, or from their mirror, like the seductress.
These great seductive effigies are our masks, our Easter Island statues. But do not be mistaken: if once, historically, there were throngs hot with adoration, religious passion, sacrifice and insurrection, now there are masses cold with seduction and fascination. Their effigy is cinematographic and implies a different sacrifice.
The death of the stars is merely punishment for their ritualized idolatry. They must die, they must already be dead - so that they can be perfect and superficial, with or without their makeup. But their death must not lead us to a negative abreac-tion. For behind the only existing form of immortality, that of artifice, there lies the idea incarnated in the stars, that death itself shines by its absence, that death can be turned into a brilliant and superficial appearance, that it is itself a seductive surface...
Continue reading here: The Ironic Strategy Of The Seducer
Was this article helpful?