Aren’t the Real “Rapists” The Traditional Systems Of Belief In The Immanent Sinfulness Of Sexuality While An Artist Is A Detective Of Our Cultural Unconscious?

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Hans Bellmer, ”Poupee”

“Yak! How terrifying! How disgusting! Why to make something like this at all? Why to even show this to people? It is pure perversion in action, pure sadism toward children and women. It should be punishable even to call something like this an art!”

We don’t know is the girl (represented here as a doll) was raped or sexually seduced. In both cases it is a criminal offense. But look attentively at the victim’s gaze. There is no trace of fear and horror in response to what was perpetrated against her by the rapist or seducer. Instead, we feel in her eyes an internal despair and hopelessness that is eating away her soul. For an artist to try to carry viewers from immediate emotional reaction on tortured body and invoke in them deeper – more contemplative response can be a sign of genuine care about children who were sexually violated.

Of course, sexual violence, especially against children is a monstrous deed. But, according to Bellmer, there is something even more monstrous – it is the feeling harbored by too many adults cross-culturally that the sexually abused girls of the age referred to here by Bellmer (she has small but articulate breasts and is “obviously” pregnant) were somehow participated in and even co-responsible for having fallen into premature sexual experience.

At this point Bellmer forces us (some of us more consciously than others) to confront the unpleasant reality that status of an obvious victim in the situation we find ourselves involved by observing his girl-doll, is in a bizarre way split – the more indignantly we react on the girl’s victimization (the more aggressive our feelings against the perpetrator are) the more we also (unconsciously or semi-consciously) feel that the victim was somehow a participant in the crime against her. Our immediate “vengeful” reaction against a “monster-criminal” is somehow “balanced” by our prejudicial sub-current feeling about the girl. So, we end up with having both as objects of our righteous indignation, and this double hate provides us with an extra-pleasure from aggressive judgmentalism which rare people are free from.

Bellmer’s daring analysis of what could really happen with the girl is that the torture she has experienced can be really self-torture as a result of the sadistic hate she has met from her relatives and other adults after actual rape or seduction. Bellmer’s experimental thinking in his “Poupee” is first separating in what the viewers can see here, sexual abuse from physical abuse of sadistic nature, and, secondly, sexual abuse from masochistic psychological complications in the victim after abuse took place. In other words, the shock Bellmer puts all of us, the viewers, through when we see this work, is determined by the mixture of the two realities – sexual abuse of a minor and the sadistic psychological abuse of a girl which took place as a result of her “indulging in forbidden sexual act”, that made her to commit acts of self-mutilation. When we see Bellmer’s “Poupee” for the first time we unconsciously perceive what can be a premature sexual act as a physical abuse/violation of the girl’s body. In our perception sexual transgression becomes equal to physical torture. We, adults, tend to perceive early sexual experience of youngsters as a sado-masochistic episode – we are prone unconsciously to consider early sexual experiences as a pernicious perversion – as violating our nature by our premature perverse impulses.

The girl can be feeling an unbearable guilt and blame herself for what’s happened with her. She punishes herself in a very extreme way (attempting to sew up her vagina and by pulling something like a rosary with a little cross through her mouth). This taking on herself the guilt for what is done to her is rather a typical reaction of abused children or battered women vis-à-vis their abusers. Bellmer’s poupee-girl is pregnant, and she irrationally tries to sadistically punish the two erogenous zones of her body condemned by religious fanaticism and fundamentalism, be that of the Christian or of Moslem origins. To look at the girl torturing herself because traditional belief system with its dogmatic and deeply emotionally rooted misogyny has suggested to her that she is the carrier of Eve’s guilt, is almost unbearable, even though Bellmer represents the girl as a poupee (doll).

But why Bellmer in this and many other works represents women and girls as dolls? Why, for example, in this work he didn’t represent an abused and violated girl as such – without dressing her up in a metaphor of a doll? Let’s look again at the very construction of Bellmer’s doll – the impression is that she is, indeed, dressed into her body, and that this body is something like a second nature to her. The “Doll“ is the woman/girl’s another body which her rapist has transformed her into, but the admirer of her appearance, the artist and… our unconscious in general do something similar on the subjective psychological level. Ultimately, the doll is the materialized appearance of the body. In this sense fixation on the appearance of the object (taken as an item/thing for consumption) is always transformation of the human being into a doll as a metaphor. Object of sexual or aesthetic obsession/consumption is always a doll. We all tend to indulge in taking another human being on the level of its perception as a pure sexual object, often – with fetishistic elaboration. And this psychological transformation of the human being into bodily surface can lead to crime, but it can stop on the level of perception and lead to sexual impression or obsession or to aesthetic/artistic contemplation.

Misogynist position of religious fanaticism transforming the woman/girl into a sadistically punished doll is then a variant of sadistic-rapist sensibility. On the other hand, by analyzing similarity between a rapist or a torturer with an artist and aesthete we understand deeper the very dissimilarity inside this similarity – the criminal transforms another human being into a doll – into an appearance and its fleshy support (doll as an artificial body, as an object “for me”, “at my disposal”), while the artist looks for metaphorical “incarnations” of human being (for the doll as a second human body); he looks at the doll as an experimental model of the human being he needs in order to better understand how humans are prone to perceive other humans. In this sense Bellmer’s dolls are metaphors of the transformation of human being into consumerist object or into artistic artifact.

The suffering pregnant girl torturing herself for surrendering to sex is a doll not only for the abuser but for the artist and the viewers of his art. But the prototypical abuser is our very perception of other human beings if it is not sublimated by the psychological strategies of de-dollization (when we make an effort to return to other human beings in all their independence from our projections). The intellectual artist is not an aestheticized “criminal” who repeats what the criminal does “in his own mind” and in the sublime realm of his art. He is rather like a “detective” who in his imagination imagines what can be the criminal delusions in order to understand it better and share this understanding with us. Bellmer forces us to sublimate our perception of his doll from the paranoid-sadistic (quasi-criminal) level (our first interpretation of what happened with the girl-doll) to the aesthetic/analytical one (that critically focuses on cultural archetypes and linguistic clichés determining our immediate, not too reflective reactions on the world, and that through understanding of our nature distances us from it).

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Hans Bellmer (1902 – 1975)