Conversational Castrationby Brandon Edmonds, illustration by Jason Bronkhorst / 08.11.2010
Some women are impossible to talk to. Any number of reasons make them so: irresolution, dullness, different values. The woman I’m thinking of won’t be reading this. I’m confident whatever I do doesn’t interest her in the least. She’s an expert at conversational castration. You’ll be telling her something, enjoying her attention, and she’ll drop you, mid-speech, actually turn away – before you’re done. It’s shocking each time. I’ve asked other males in her company and they’ve experienced it too.
Jacques Lacan, a psychoanalyst, asserted: ‘there is no sexual relationship’. He may have meant men and women never get to the bottom of each other – no matter how intimate we imagine ourselves to be. Mutual misunderstanding is more accurate than a term like ‘love’ since there’s a radical experiential discontinuity between the sexes. Walk in on a garrulous group of the opposite gender and feel the beat of silence at your arrival confirm that chasm. He also wrote ‘desire is the desire of the Other’. I want you (to want me). My desire is fired by imagining yours. Reciprocation is happiness. Consent is all. Zuma’s multiple wives transfixed the British tabloids earlier this year because the hyper-virile figure of a man sustaining that much desire riles the orthodoxy of Western gender equality. How can so many women be sincerely committed to one man? It was a post-imperial opportunity to outline yet again an exotic strain of ‘untamed’ African customary difference. Carry on Polygamy!
Trapping and enticing the desire of the desired has material effects. Real consequences. Tangible outcomes. Babies. Cars, clothes, haircuts. Rhinoplasty. The Taj Mahal. Contracts like marriage. Even murder.
In the proto-John Waters B-picture The Honeymoon Killers (1970) an Italian lothario seduces and marries (then kills) aging widows and spinsters who are revitalized by the fantasy of winning a stud’s desire – blind to the unlikelihood, to their own lost looks and sagging bodies, all too eager to succumb. It’s a honey trap. Take the more recent/much celebrated Pixar indictment of late capitalist waste and under-employment Wall-e (2008).
A clunky Crusoe-like bachelor robot spends the movie heroically trying to focus the gaze of a sveltely superior vastly advanced sublimely indifferent feminine robot on himself. Earning her desire, no doubt a metonymic stand-in for ‘saving Mother Earth’, becomes synonymous with returning humanity to ethical agency.
Masculine anxiety around being worthy of her desire abounds in contemporary film from Wes Anderson’s self-doubting Salinger knock-offs, to ‘bromance’ comedy (which tries its best to shirk her entirely), to The Social Network (2010) which almost convincingly suggests the urge to develop Facebook was a way for Mark Zuckerberg to prove what a mistake a girl made dumping him!
We’re now in a better position to explain why our ‘conversational castrator’ discontinues her interest. Or are we? On one level she’s clearly refusing to be seduced. If desire really is ‘the desire of the Other’, she’s saying, ‘uh-uh, no thanks Other, I refuse to be taken in by you. I will not listen. I will not allow myself to be surprised, charmed or enlightened. I’m not interested’. She is pointedly exempting herself from the play of desire. Which really got my attention of course. And suggests another level.
It’s entirely possible the look-away, the interest-drop, is an extension of the game. A way of provoking desire. Seeming unattainable etc. I don’t think so though. This seems incidental. Having a man interested in her is probably no longer novel. She’s so steeped in the mechanics of seduction, being attractive and often hit on, that she may be short-circuiting interaction to pronounce her own erotic fatigue. Which makes her even more alluring! And the plates keep spinning.
I’m assuming she has an attention span. That the abrupt disconnect isn’t involuntary. Or just plain rude. Which could well be the case. I’m also tempted to go on about ‘post-feminism’ and gender slippage – the sexual adoption of traditionally masculine behavioural traits: how young women apparently party with the reckless abandon imputed to young men these days. Binge drinking. No strings coitus. Is she just aping a dude? Has she simply adopted habitual male indifference to female expressiveness? Does it make her a pioneering post-feminist, or a bitch? Ha!
The next time I see her I’m going to try and hold her attention. No matter what it takes. I’m convinced there’s a subject out there that’ll captivate her. Maybe it’s as simple as firing questions. When was the first time you brushed your teeth with your finger? Have you ever driven with your eyes closed? Maybe it’s courtship rituals in early Florence or the back catalogue of Maria Callas. Maybe it’s physics or Glee. Who knows?
Tell us your suggestions. We’ll make a game of it. I’ll try the best ones on her and see how long it takes for the guillotine to fall!