If it is characteristic of the seductress that she turns herself into an appearance in order to disturb appearances, what is characteristic of that other figure, the seducer?
He too turns himself into an illusion in order,to sow confusion, but curiously, this illusion is part of a calculation, with finery giving way to strategy. Now if a woman's finery is also strategic, a calculated display, is not the seducer's strategy a display of calculation with which to defend himself from some opposing force? A strategy of finery vs. the finery of strategy...
Discourses that are too sure of themselves - as with strategies of love - must be understood differently. Though completely "rational," they are still only the instruments of a larger fate, of which they are as much the victims as the directors. Doesn't the seducer end up losing himself in his strategy, as in an emotional labyrinth? Doesn't he invent that strategy in order to lose himself in it? And he who believes himself the game's master, isn't he the first victim of strategy's tragic myth?
Consider the seducer's obsession with the girl in Kierkegaard's Diary of the Seducer. An obsession with an inviolate, still asexual state, a charmed state of grace. And because she is graced, one must find grace in her eyes, for like God she possesses a matchless vantage. As a result, because naturally endowed with all seduction, she becomes the object of a savage challenge and must be destroyed.
The seducer's calling is the extermination of the girl's natural power by an artificial power of his own. He will deliberately undertake to equal or surpass the natural power to which, in spite of all that makes him appear as the seducer, he has succumbed since the beginning. His strategy, his intention and destination are a response to the young girl's grace and seductiveness, to a predestination that is all the more powerful because unconscious, and that must, as a result, be exorcized.
The last word cannot be left to nature: this, fundamentally, is what is at issue. Her exceptional, innate grace (which, like the accursed share, is immoral) must be sacrificed by the seducer, who will seek with all his skill to lead her to the point of erotic abandon, the point at which she will cease to be a seductive, that is, dangerous power.
The seducer by himself is nothing; the seduction originates entirely with the girl. This is why Johannes can claim to have learned everything from Cordelia. He is not being hypocritical. The calculated seduction mirrors the natural seduction, drawing from the latter as from its source, but all the better to eliminate it.
This is also why he does not leave anything to chance, the girl being deprived of initiative, a seemingly defenseless object in the game of seduction. She has already played her hand before the seducer begins to play his. Everything has already taken place; the seduction simply rights a natural imbalance by taking up the pre-existing challenge constituted by the girl's natural beauty and grace.
Seduction now changes its meaning. Instead of being an immoral and libertine exercise, a cynical deception for sexual ends (and thus without great interest), it becomes mythical and acquires the dimensions of a sacrifice. This is why the "victim's" consent is so easily obtained. In her abandon she is, in a sense, obeying the commands of a divinity who wants every force to be overturned and sacrificed, be it that of power or that of a natural seductiveness, because all force, and that of beauty in particular, is sacrilegious. Cordelia is sovereign, and is sacrificed to her own sovereignty. The reversibility of sacrifice constitutes a murderous form of symbolic exchange; it spares nothing, not even life itself, nor even beauty or seduction, which is its most dangerous form. In this sense, the seducer cannot claim to be the hero of an erotic master plan; he is only the agent of a process that goes far beyond him. Nor is the victim entirely innocent, since, as a beautiful and seductive virgin, she is in herself a challenge which can only be met by her death (or her seduction, the equivalent of her murder).
The Diary of the Seducer is the script of a perfect crime. None of the seducer's calculations, none of his manoeuvres fail. It all unfolds with an infallibility that is neither real nor psychological, but mythical. The artifice's perfection, the apparent inevitability that guides the seducer's actions, simply reflects, as in a mirror, the perfection of the girl's innate grace, and the inexorable necessity of her sacrifice. This doesn't result from any specific person's strategy. It is fate, Johannes being only its instrument and, therefore, infallible.
There is something impersonal in every process of seduction, as in every crime, something ritualistic, something supra-subjective and supra-sensual, the lived experience, whether of the seducer or his victim, being only its unconsious reflection. Dramaturgy without a subject. The ritual execution of a form that consumes its subjects. This is why the piece takes on both the aesthetic form of a work of art and the ritual form of a crime.
In the end, Cordelia is seduced, delivered to the erotic pleasures of a night and then abandoned. One mustn't be surprised at this, nor consider Johannes, in line with' bourgeois psychology, a hateful person. Seduction, being a sacrificial process, ends with a murder (the deflowering) - though the latter need not have taken place. For once Johannes is certain of his victory, Cordelia is, for him, dead. It is the impure seduction that ends in love and pleasure, and is, therefore, no longer a sacrifice. Sexuality might be reexamined in this light, as the economic residue of seduction's sacrificial process, not unlike the residual portion that in ancient sacrifices was left to circulate within the economy. Sex then would be merely the discount or balance of a more fundamental process, a crime or sacrifice, which fails to attain total reversibility The gods take their part; humans share what's left.
The impure seducer, a Donjuán or Casanova, dedicates himself to the accumulation of this residue. Flying from one sexual conquest to another, he seduces for pleasure without attaining what Kierkegaard considered the "spiritual" dimension of seduction - where the challenge pushes the woman's seductive resources and powers to their limit, so that, in accord with a carefully laid plan, they can be turned against themselves.
The intrigue whereby Cordelia is slowly dispossessed of her powers, makes one think of the innumerable rites for the exorcism of female powers which can be found throughout primitive societies (Bettelheim). To cast out women's power of fertility, to encircle and circumscribe that power, and eventually simulate and appropriate it, is the purpose of the couvades, the artificial invaginations, excoriations and scarrings - all the innumerable symbolic wounds (up to and including the initiation and institution of a new power: political power) for suppressing the females' incomparable "natural" advantage. One might also consider ancient Chinese ideas on sexuality, according to which the male, by maintaining the orgasm in suspense, draws into himself the power of the female yang.
In any case, something has been given to women that must be exorcized by a deliberate campaign to dispossess her of her powers. And from this "sacrificial" perspective, there is no difference between feminine seduction and the seducer's strategy: they both involve the other's death and mental spoliation, the other's abduction and the abduction of his or her power. It is always the story of a murder, or better of an aesthetic and sacrificial immolation since, as Kierkegaard suggests, it always occurs at a spiritual level.
Concerning the "spiritual" pleasure of seduction.
The scenario of seduction is, according to Kierkegaard, spiritual. It demands a certain spirit in the eighteenth century sense, that is to say, intelligence, charm and refinement, but also in the modern sense of the Witz or stroke of wit.
Seduction never plays on the other's desires or amorous proclivities, this being vulgar, carnal, mechanical and, in short, uninteresting. Everything must respond by subtle allusions, with all the signs enmeshed in the trap. Thus the seducer's artifices reflect the girl's seductive nature, as though the latter was part of an ironic stage production, a deception made to measure, to which she would, effortlessly, come and be caught.
It is not, therefore, a matter of a frontal attack, but of a diagonal seduction that glides like a (brush?) stroke (and what is more seductive than a stroke of wit?), with its vivacity and economy, and its use of the same duplicated materials, to use Freud's terms. The seducer's weapons are the same as those of the girl, but turned against her; and it is this reversibility that gives the strategy its spiritual appeal.
It has been said, and justifiably so, that mirrors are spiritual - the reflection itself being a stroke of wit. For the mirror's spell does not lie with the fact that one recognizes oneself in it -in itself a rather appalling coincidence - but with the ironic and mysterious stroke of such a reduplication. Now the seducer's strategy is precisely that of the mirror. That is why, ultimately, he doesn't deceive anyone, and why he never deceives himself: for the mirror is infallible (if his manoeuvres and snares were taken from outside, he would undoubtedly commit some error).
Consider another stroke of this type, worthy of being included in the annals of seduction: the same letter written by two different women - and written not out of perversity, but from a transparency of heart and soul. Both le tters contain the same amorous emotions, these emotions are real, they each have their own quality. But the latter must not be confused with the "spiritual" pleasure that emanates from the mirror effect produced by the two letters, and between the two women, which is, strictly speaking, a pleasure of seduction. It is an entirely different, livelier, more subtle rapture than love. The emotions born of desire can never equal the exuberant, secret joy one experiences when playing with desire itself. Desire is simply a referent like any other, which seduction immediately betters and transcends, precisely by virtue of its its spirit. Seduction is a stroke: here it short-circuits the two recipients in a kind of imaginary overprinting, wherein desire perhaps confuses them. At any rate, this stroke confuses desire, renders it indistint, producing a slight giddiness that proceeds from a superior indifference, and from the laughter that undermines its still too serious entanglement.
To seduce, then, is to make both the figures and the signs - the latter held by their own illusions - play amongst themselves. Seduction is never the result of physical attraction, a conjunction of affects or an economy of desire. For seduction to occur an illusion must intervene and mix up the images; a stroke has to bring disconnected things together, as if in a dream, or suddenly disconnect undivided things. Thus the second woman is irresistibly tempted to rewrite the first letter, as if a temptation could function autonomously and ironically, as if the very idea could be seductive. A game without end, in which the signs participate spontaneously, as if from a continuous sense of irony. Perhaps the signs want to be seduced, perhaps they desire, more profoundly than men, to seduce and be seduced.
Perhaps signs are not destined to enter into fixed oppositions for meaningful ends, that being only their present destination. Their actual destiny is perhaps quite different: to seduce each other and, thereby, seduce us. If such is the case, an entirely different logic would lie behind their secret circulation.
Can one imagine a theory that would treat signs in terms of their seductive attraction, rather than their contrasts and oppositions? Which would break with the specular nature of the sign and the encoumbrance of the referent? An in which the terms would play amongst themselves within the framework of an enigmatic duel and an inexorable reversibility?
Suppose that all the major, diacritical oppositions with which we order our world were traversed by seduction, instead of being based on contrasts and oppositions. Suppose not just that the feminine seduces the masculine, but that absence seduces presence, cold seduces hot, the subject seduces the object, and to be sure, the reverse. For seduction supposes that minimum reversibility which puts an end to every fixed opposition and, therefore, every conventional semiology. Towards an inverted semiology?
One might imagine (but why imagine it, when it occured in ancient Greece) that gods and mortals, instead of being separated by the moral abyss of religion, sought to seduce each other and, indeed, maintained no other relations but those of seduction. Moreover, perhaps all the major distinctions we use to decipher the world and confine it within its prison of meaning, those between, for example, good and evil, or true and false - all the terms that have been so carefully distinguished at such enormous costs of energy - have not always succeeded. The real catastrophes, the real revolutions always consist in the implosion of one of these two-term systems. A universe, or fragment of the universe, then comes to an end - though usually this implosion occurs slo wly, the terms being gradually worn down. At present we are witnessing the slow and simultaneous erosion of all the polar structures, and the movement towards a universe that is losing the very dimension of meaning. Disinvested, disenchanted, and disaffected - the end of the world as will and representation.
But this neutralization is not seductive. Seduction pushes the terms towards each other, and unites them at a point of maximum energy and charm; it does not blur them together in a state of minimum intensity.
Now suppose that wherever relations of opposition presently exist, relations of seduction are put into play. Imagine a flash of seduction that causes the polar or differential, transistorized circuits of meaning to melt? There are examples of of a non-diacritical semiology (that is to say, a non-semiology). The elements of the ancient cosmogony, for example, did not enter into structural relations of classification (water/fire, air/earth, etc.): they were not "distinctive" elements, but "attractive" elements that seduced each other: water seduces fire, water seduced by fire.
Such seduction is still quite strong in the duel relations of non-individualized castes and hierarchies, and in the analogical systems that preceded our logical systems of differentiation. And no doubt logical sequences of meaning are still worked over by analogical sequences of seduction - like an immense flash of inspiration that, at a single stroke, brings opposites together. Beneath meaning lies the secret circulation of seductive analogies.
We are not, however, dealing with a new version of universal attraction. The diagonals or transversals of seduction may well break the oppositions between terms; they do not lead to fused or con-fused relations (that's mysticism) but to dual relations. It is not a matter of a mystical fusion of subject or object, or signifier and signified, masculine and feminine, etc., but of a seduction, that is, a duel and agonistic relation.
A mirror hangs on the opposite wall she does not reflect on it but the mirror reflects her
The seducer's strategm will be to merge with the mirror on the opposite wall in which the girl is reflected. She does not give it a thought, but the mirror is reflecting on her.
One should distrust the humility of mirrors. The humble servants of appearances, they can reflect only the objects that face them, without being able to conceal themselves. The whole world is grateful to them (except in death when, for this reason, one veils them); they are the watchdogs of appearance. But their faithfulness is specious, for they are waiting for someone to catch himself in their reflection. One does not easily forget their sidelong gaze. They recognize you, and when they surprise you when you least expect it, your time has come.
Such is the seducer's strategy: he gives himself the humility of the mirror, but a skilful mirror, like Perseus' shield, in which
3. S0ren Kierkegaard, Diary of the Seducer, appended to Either/Or (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1971) p. 311.
Medusa found herself petrified. The girl too is going to fall captive to the mirror that reflects and analyzes her without her knowledge.
He who does not know how to compass a girl about so that she loses sight of everything which he does not wish her to see, he who does not know how to poetize himself in a girl's feeling so that it is from her that everything issues as he wishes it, he is and remains a bungler; I do not begrudge him his enjoyment. A bungler he is and remains, a seducer, something one can by iio means call me. I am an aesthete, an eroticist, one who has understood the nature and meaning of love, who believes in love and knows it from the ground up... I know, too, that the highest conceivable enjoyment lies in being loved... To poetize oneself into a young girl is an art, to poetize oneself out of her is a masterpiece, (pp. 363-64)
Seduction is never linear, and does not wear a mask (that is vulgar seduction) - it is oblique.
...what weapon is so sharp, so penetrating, so, flashing in action, and hence so deceptive, as the eye? You feint a high quart, as fencers say, and attack in second... The moment of the feint is indescribable. The opponent, as it were, feels the slash, he is touched! Aye, that is true, but in quite a different place from where he thought, (p. 314)
I do not meet her, I touch only the periphery of her existence I prefer to arrive a little early and then to meet her, if possible, at the door or upon the steps as she is coming and I am leaving, when I pass her by indifferently. This is the first net in which she must be entangled. I never stop her on the street; I may bow to her, but I never come; close to her, but always keep my distance. Our continu al encounters are certainly noticeable to her; she does indeed perceive that a new body has appeared on her horizon whose orbit in a strangely imperturbable manner affects her own disturbingly, but she has no conception of the law governing this movement; she is rather inclined to look about to see if she can discover the point controlling it, but she is as ignorant of being herself this focus as if she were a Chinaman, (pp. 336-37)
There is another type of indirect reverberation: hypnosis, a sort of psychic mirror in which, once again, the girl is reflected without her awareness, under someone else's gaze:
Today my eyes have for the first time rested upon her. Someone has said that sleep can make the eyelids so heavy that they close of themselves; perhaps my glance has a similar effect upon Cordelia. Here eyes close, and yet an obscure force stirs within her. She does not see that I am looking at her, she feels it, feels it through her whole body. Her eyes close, and it is night; but within her it is luminous day. (pp. 360-61)
This obliquity of seduction is not duplicity. Where a linear movement knocks against the wall of consciousness and acquires only meager gains, seduction has the obliquity of a dream element or stroke of wit, and as such traverses the psychic universe and its different levels in a single diagonal, in order to touch, at the far end, the unknown blind spot, the secret that lies sealed, the enigma that constitutes the girl, even to herself.
Seduction has two simultaneous moments, or two instants of a single moment. Her entire character, all her feminine resources must be mobilized, and simultaneously suspended. It is not a question of surprising her in the passivity of her innocence; her freedom of action must be in play. Because it is by this freedom, by its movement - and by the curves and sudden twists imparted to it by seduction - that she must, seemingly spontaneously, reach that point where, unbeknownst to herself, she will be lost. Seduction engages a fate; and in order for it to be realized, she must be completely free, but in her freedom she must reach out, as if somnabulistically, towards her own fall. The girl must be plunged into this second state which reduplicates the first, the state of grace and sovereignty. And this second, somnambulistic state must be sustained, so that a passion, once awakened and intoxicated with itself, slips into the trap fate has set for it. "Her eyes close, and it is night, but within her it is luminous day."
Omissions, denials, deflections, deceptions, diversions and humility - all aimed at provoking this second state, the secret of true seduction. Vulgar seduction might proceed by persistence, but true seduction proceeds by absence; or better it invents a kind of curved space, where the signs are deflected from their trajectory and returned to their source. This state of suspense is essential: it is the moment of the girl's disarray before what awaits her, even as she knows - and this is something new and already fatal - that something awaits her. A moment of high intensity, a "spiritual" moment (in Kierkegaard's sense), similar to that in games of chance between the throw and the moment when the dice stop rolling.
Thus the first time he hears her give out her address, he refuses to remember it:
I will not listen to it, for I do not wish to deprive myself of surprise; I shall certainly meet her again in life, I shall recognize her, and perhaps she will recognize me... If she does not recognize me, if her glance does not immediately convince me of that, then I shall surely find an opportunity to look at her from the side. I promise that she will remember the situation. No impatience, no greediness, everything should be enjoyed in leisurely draughts; she is marked out, she shall be run down. (p. 312)
The seducer is playing with himself. At this point it is not even a ruse, with the seducer being the one delighted at the seduction's deferment. This, the pleasure of the approach, should not be slighted; for it is in this interval that he begins to dig the pit into which she will fall. It is like fencing: one needs a field for the feint. Throughout this period, the seducer, far from seeking to close in on her, seeks to maintain his distance by various ploys: he does not speak directly to her but only to her aunt, and then about trivial or stupid subjects; he neutralizes everything by irony and feigned pedanticism; he fails to respond to any feminine or erotic movement, and even finds her a sitcom suitor to disenchant her of her love. To keep one's distance, to put her off, to disenchant and deceive her, to the point where she herself takes the initiative and breaks off her engagement, thus completing the seduction and creating the ideal situation for her total abandon.
The seducer knows how to let the signs hang. He knows that they are favourable only when left suspended, and will move of themselves towards their appointed destiny. He does not use the signs up all at once, but waits for the moment when they will all respond, one after the other, creating an entirely unique conjuncture of giddiness and collapse.
When she is in the company of the three Jansens she talks very little, their chatter evidently bores her, and certainly the smile on her lips seems to indicate it. I am relying on that smile. Today I went to Mrs. Jansen's. I half opened the door without knocking... She sat alone at the piano... I might have rushed in, seized the moment - that would have been foolish. ...She is evidently concealing the fact that she plays... When sometime I can talk more confidentially with her, I shall slyly lead her to this point and let her fall into the trap. (pp. 338-9).
He has not reached the vulgar diversions, the bits of libertine bravura, the erotic whims (which will occupy an increasingly large part of the story, with Cordelia hardly ever appearing except beneath a lively, libertine imagination: "To love one alone is too little; to love them all suggests the lightness of a superficial character; but to love as many as possible... What pleasure! What a life!") He has not acceded to the frivolous seduction which is not part of the "grand game" of seduction, with its philosophy of obliquity and diversion. The "grand" seduction may make its way secretly along the same paths as vile seduction, but will play them as suspense or parody. Confusion is not possible: the one is a game of love, the other a spiritual duel. All the interludes only accentuate the slow, calculated, and inevitable rhythm of "high" seduction. The mirror still hangs on the opposite wall, even if we are no longer aware of it - and time in Cordelia's heart is on the march.
The process seems to reach its lowest point with the seducer's betrothal. Here one has the impression of having attained a point of extreme numbness, where the seducer pushes the subterfuge of disenchantment or dissuasion to an almost perverse degree of mortification. And one has the impression that, as a result, Cordelia's spirit is broken, her femininity run down, neutralized by the illusions that surround her. The moment of the engagement - which "has so much importance for a young girl that her entire soul can be fixed on it, like that of a dying man on his last will" - this moment, Cordelia will live without understanding, deprived of every reaction, muzzled, circumvented.
One word, and she would have laughed at me, one word, and she would have been moved, one word, and she would have fled from me; but no word crossed my lips, I remained stolidly serious, and kept exactly to the ritual. As regards my engagement, I do not boast that it is poetic, it is in every way philistine and bourgeois. So now I am engaged; so is Cordelia (so is Cordelia!) and that is all she knows about the whole matter, (pp. 370-71)
It is all a kind of ordeal, as found in initiation rites. The initiated must pass through a phase that marks his or her death, not as pathetic suffering, but as nothingness, as emptiness -the final moment before the passion's illumination and the erotic abandon. In a sense, the seducer adds an ascetic moment to the aesthetic movement he imparts to the whole. -
Generally I can assure any girl who entrusts herself to me a perfect aesthetic conduct: only it ends with her being deceived... (p. 375)
There is a sort of humour in the fact that the engagement coincides with the apparent disappearance of all that was at stake in the seduction. What in the bourgeois vision of the nineteenth century constitutes a joyous prelude to marriage, is here an austere initiation into the sublime ends of passion (which are, simultaneously, the calculated ends of seduction) by the somnabulist passage across the deserts of betrothal. (Don't forget that the engagement was a crucial moment in the life of many a romantic, including Kierkegaard, but also and more dramatically of Kleist, Hölderlin, Novalis and Kafka. A painful moment of seemingly endless frustration, the almost mystical passion sustained by the engagement was perhaps (let us drop all talk of sexual impotence!) a matter of suspension, of a suspended enchantment, haunted by the fear of sexual or matrimonial disenchantment.)
However, Johannes continues to live the invisible dance of seduction, even as his objective and its presence appear to have faded. Indeed, he will never live it more intensely, for it is here, in the nullity, in the absence, in the mirror's face that its triumph is assured: she cannot but break off her former engagement and throw herself into his arms. All the fire of her passion lies revealed, just beneath the surface, in its transparence. He will never again find it as beautiful as in this premonition, for at this moment the girl still remains predestined - which will no longer be the case once this moment is over.
Now the giddiness of seduction, as of every passion, lies above all with its predestination. The latter alone provides that fatal quality at the basis of all pleasure - that stroke of wit, as it were, which ties, as if in advance, a movement of the soul to its destiny and its death. Here lies the seducer's triumph. And here, in the invisible dance of the betrothal, one is able to see his knowledge of seduction, of true seduction, as a spiritual economy.
My relation to her is that of an unseen partner in a dance which is danced by only one, when it should really be danced by two. She moves as in a dream, and yet she dances with another, and this other is myself, who, in so far as I am visibly present, am invisible, in so far I am invisible, am visible. The movements of the dance require a partner, she bows to him, she takes his hand, she flees, she draws near him again. I take her hand, I complete her thought as if it were completed ¡in herself. She moves to the inner melody of her own soul; I am only the occasion for her movement. I am not amorous, that would only awaken her; I am easy, yielding, impersonal, almost like a mood. (p. 376)
Thus seduction is presented in a single movement as:
- a conspiracy of power: a sacrificial form.
- a murder and, ultimately, a perfect crime.
- a work of art: "Seduction considered as one of the Beaux-Arts" (like murder, to be sure).
- a stroke of wit or flash of inspiration: a "spiritual" economy. With the same duel complity as a stroke of wit, where everything is exchanged allusively, without being spelled out, the equivalent of the allusive, ceremonial exchange of a secret.
- an ascetic form of a spiritual, but also pedagogical ordeal: a sort of school of passion, a simultaneously erotic and ironic maieutics.
I shall always acknowledge that a young girl is a born teacher, from whom one can always learn, if nothing else, how to deceive her - for one only learns this best from the girls themselves... (pp. 382-83)
Every young girl is, in relation to the labryinth of her heart, an Ariadne; she holds the thread by which one finds his way through it, but she has it, without herself knowing how to use it. (p. 396)
- a form of duel or war, an agonal form. It never takes the form of violence or a relation of force, but of a war game. In it one discovers the two simultaneous movements of seduction, as found in every strategy:
So now the first war with Cordelia begins, in which I flee, and thereby teach her to triumph in pursuing me. I constantly retreat before her, and in this retreat, I teach her through myself to know all the power of love, its unquiet thoughts, its passion, what longing is, and hope, and impatient expectation... She will gain courage to believe in love... She must never suspect that she owes this freedom to me... When she at last feels free, so free that she is almost tempted to break with me, then the second war begins. Now she has power and passion, and the struggle becomes worthwhile to me.
Let her forsake me, the second war is just beginning. .. The first war was a war of liberation, it was only a game; the second is a war of conquest, it is for life and death, (pp. 379-80)
The stakes are all organized around the girl as mythical figure. Both adversary and objective in this many-sided duel, she is, therefore, neither a sex object nor a figure of the Eternal Feminine - the two great, Western references to woman are equally foreign to seduction. And there is no more an ideal victim or ideal subject (the girl and her seducer respectively), than there is an executioner and victim in a sacrifice. The fascination she exercises is that of a mythical figure, an enigmatic partner, a protagonist equal to the seducer in this almost liturgical realm of challenge and duel.
How different from Les Liaisons Dangereuses! In Laclos the woman to be seduced appears as a stronghold to be taken, in the manner of the military strategy of the period - the strategy may be less static than before, but the objective remains the same, her surrender. The Presidente is a fortress to be besieged, and she must fall. There is no seduction here - only siegecraft.
Where there is seduction is not in the relation between seducer and victim, but in that between the seducers, de Valmont and Merteuil, who share a criminal conspiracy by interposed victims. Similarly in the Marquis de Sade, there is only the secret society glorifying in its crimes, while the victims are nullities.
There is none of the subtle art of the turnaround which already appears in Sun-Tseu's Art of War, or in zen philosophy and the oriental martial arts. Or as here, in seduction, where the girl, her passion and liberty, are very much .a part of the strategy's unfolding. "She was an enigma that, enigmatically, possessed in her its own resolution." 1
In this duel, everything turns on the movement from ethics to aesthetics, from a naive to a conscious passion-.
So far I should call her passion a naive passion. When the change comes, and I begin to draw back in earnest then she will really muster all her resources in order to captivate me. She has no way to accomplish this except by means of the ;erotic, but this will now appear on a very different scale. It then becomes the weapon in her hand which she swings against me. Then I have the reflected passion. She fights for her own sake because she knows that I possess the erotic; she fights for her own sake in order to overcome me. She develops in herself a higher form of the erotic. What I;taught her to suspect by inflaming her, my coldness now teaches her to understand, but in such a way that she believes she discovered it herself. Through this she will try to take me by surprise; she will believe that her boldness has outstripped me, and that she has thereby caught me. Then her passion becomes definite, energetic, conclusive, logical; her kiss total, her embrace firm. (p. 406)
The ethics is formed of simplicity and naturalness (including the simplicity of desire), of which the girl's naive grace and spontaneity are a part. The aesthetics is formed of artifice, the play of signs - it is seduction. Every ethics must resolve itself into an aesthetics. For Kierkegaard's seducer, as for Schiller, Hölderlin, or even Marcuse, the passage to aesthetics is the highest movement granted the human species. But the seducer's aesthetics is quite different: it is not divine and transcendent, but ironic and diabolical; it does not have the form of an ideal, but of a stroke of wit; it does not go beyond ethics; it is deflection, inflection, seduction, and transfiguration, as realized by the mirror of deception. This, however, is not to say that the seducer's strategy is perverse; it is a part of that aesthetics of irony which seeks to transform a vulgar, physical eroticism into a passion, and stroke of wit.
I have noticed that she always calls me mine when she writes to me; but she lacks the courage to say it to me. Today I begged her to do it, with all the insinuating and erotic warmth possible. She started to do so; an ironic glance, indescribably swift and brief, was enough to make it impossible for her, although my lips urged her with all their might. This mood is entirely normal, (p. 419)
Erotically she is completely equipped for the struggle, she fights with the darts of her eyes, with the command of her brows, with the secretiveness of her forehead, with the eloquence of her bosom, with the dangerous allurement of the embrace, with the prayer of her lips, with the smile on her face, with all the sweet longing of her entire being. There is a power in her, an energy, as if she were a valkyrie; but this erotic force is in turn tempered by a certain languishing weakness which is breathed out over her. — She must not be held too long at this peak... (p. 419)
Irony always prevents the mortal emotional demonstrations that anticipate the game's end and threaten to cut short the untried possibilities held by each of the players. Seduction alone can deploy the latter, but only by keeping things in suspense, by an ironic clinamen, and by that disillusion which leaves the field of aesthetics open.
Sometimes the seducer has his weaknesses. Thus it happens that in a surfeit of emotion he launches into a panegyric to female beauty in its infinite divisibility, detailed in its minute erotic variations (pp. 423-24), and then assembled into a single figure, within the heated imagination of an inflamed desire. A vision of God — but immediately taken up and turned around in the imagination of the Devil, in the cold imagination of appearances. Woman is man's dream — God, moreover, drew her from man when he was asleep. She therefore has all the traits of a dream, and in her, one might say, the diurnal scraps of the real combine to form a mirage.
She awakens first at the touch of love; before that time she is a dream. Yet in her dream life we can distinguish two stages: in the first love dreams about her; in the second, she dreams about love (P- 425)
The end comes when she has given herself fully She is dead, she has lost the grace of her appearance and become her sex; she becomes a woman. For one last moment. "[W]hen she then stands decked out as a bride, and all the magnificence of her attire pales before her beauty, and she herself turns pale..." (p. 431), she still has the splendour of appearances — but soon it will be too late.
Such is the metaphysical lot of the seducer. Beauty, meaning, substance, and above everything else, God are ethically jealous of themselves. Most things are ethically possessive; they keep their secrets, and watch over their meanings. Seduction, being on the side of the appearances and the Devil, is aesthetically possessive.
After the final abandonment (Cordelia abandons herself, and she is immediately abandoned), Johannes asks himself: "Have I been constantly faithful to my pact in my relation to Cordelia? That is to say, my pact with the aesthetic. For it is this which makes me strong, that I always have the idea on my side... Has the interesting always been preserved?" (p. 432). Merely to seduce is interesting only in the first degree; but here it is a matter of what is interesting in the second degree. This doubling is the secret of the aesthetics. Only what is interesting about the interesting has seduction's aesthetic force.
In a sense, the seducer strives to have the girl's natural charms rise to and shine in the world of pure appearances, i.e., in the sphere of seduction — and there destroy them. For most things, alas, have meaning and depth; but only some of them rise to the level of appearances, and they alone are truly seductive. Seduction lies in the transformation of things into pure appearances.
That is how seduction is realized as myth, in the giddiness of appearances, just before being committed to reality. "Everything is symbol; I myself am a myth about myself, for is it not as a myth that I hasten to this meeting? ...Drive now for dear life, even if the horses drop dead, only not a single second before we reach the place." (p. 439)
A single night, and it's all over. "I hope never to see her again." She gives everything and falls, like those countless virgins of Greek mythology who were transformed into flowers, and thereby achieved a vegetative and lugubrious grace, the echo of the seduction grace of their first life. But, adds Kierkegaard's seducer cruelly: "...the time is past when a girl suffering the pain of a faithless love can be changed into a sunflower." (p. 439) And in a still more cruel and unexpected manner: "If I were a god, I would do for her what Neptune did for a nymph: I would change her into a man." (p. 440). In a word, the woman does not exist. Only the girl exists by the sublime nature of her state, and the man, by his power to destroy her.
But the mythical passion of seduction does not cease to be ironic. It is crowned with one last melancholy stroke: the ar rangement of the interior that will be the setting for the lovers' abandon. One last moment of suspense as the seducer brings together all the scattered lines of his strategy and contemplates them as though before death. What should have been a triumphant setting is already no more than the doleful site of a defunct story. Everything in this house is reconstituted so as to seize hold of Cordelia's imagination at a stroke, at that final moment when she is to be toppled. There is the cabinet in which they met, with the same sofa, the same lamp, the same tea table, as it was all "purported to be" yesterday, and is here today, by virtue of an exact resemblance. On the open piano, on the music-rest the same little Swedish melody — Cordelia will enter by the door at the back. Everything is foreseen: she will discover all the scenes they lived together recapitulated. The illusion is perfect. In fact, the game has reached its end, but the seducer reaches new heights of irony by bringing together all the threads he has woven since the beginning in one last display of fireworks, which is, at the same time, a parodic funeral oration to their consummated love.
After which Cordelia will no longer appear, except in several desperate letters, that open the story, and even her despair is strange. She was not exactly deceived or dispossessed, but spiritually diverted by a game whose rules she was not aware of. She was played with, as though under a spell. She has the impression of having been, without realizing it, the trophy in some very intimate and devastating plot, the object of a spiritual abduction. In effect, she was robbed of her own seduction, which was then turned against her. Hers is a nameless fate, and the stupor that results is different from mere despair.
Such victims were of a quite distinct nature. ...There was no visible change in their appearance; they maintained their customary relationships, as respected as ever, and yet they were changed, almost inexplicably to themselves... Their lives were not like those snapped off or broken, but they had become introspective; lost to others, they vainly sought to find themselves, (p. 303).
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