Volume 50, No.2 - Summer 2004
Editor of this issue: M. G. Slavėnas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2004 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


Algis Mickūnas
Ohio University, Athens

A survey of depictions of the feminine, and above all feminine beauty in the great texts of Western tradition reveals an absence of seriousness. This is not to say that such texts purport to treat the matter lightly; to the contrary, the galaxy of writings analyzing and dissecting this beauty is inordinate. And yet it is the analytical dissection that abolishes its presence and force. The analytic assault on it disarms and robs it of its irresistible attraction and awesome danger. Indeed, penetrating analyses may be the easiest way of covering over and disarming a given phenomenon. Yet precisely the preoccupation to cover and hide, to subject it to rules and prohibitions, is what reveals its presence.1 The most serious depictions, therefore, are an avoidance and hiding of the most troubling. This may be the case with the force of the feminine. Does this force reflect another dimension that is so overpowering, so terrible, that it has to be hidden, purified, and subdued to the extreme?2 Indeed, this essay contends that Western philosophy, from Plato through Kant, has depicted feminine beauty and power not only one-sidedly, but also in ways that attempted to insure their timidity and "purity." Can philosophy, its efforts to transcend the fleeting, the material, the phenomenal, and the erotic, ever concern itself seriously with the force of what is feminine?

Given this question, the force of the feminine and female beauty can hardly be grasped without a set of complex cultural relationships. The latter will be seen as reflective constituents that manifest the very force of, and the efforts to hide, what is true of the feminine. The notion of reflection will have to mesh more closely with the ways that it appears in cultures and not as it is constructed by a presumed external, "objective," pure, and unpolluted posture. While such constructs are culturally available, they may be merely, in the final analyses, unsuccessful efforts designed either to cover over or to escape from the feminine and the force of female beauty.

The articulation of this terrible beauty in the context of cultural reflectivity, calls for the limitations of our claims and prejudgments that locate reflection in the subject. No doubt this is valid for the modern West's depiction of the subject. But not all traditions and, indeed, not all periods within a specific tradition maintain this conception. The task of this essay is to decipher major modes of reflection and the gender with which they are usually associated. The association will not be taken in any ontological sense; i.e., gender will not be regarded as some natural source, causing a specific mode of reflection, and thus a designation of what is feminine in an "eternal essence."

Cultural studies reveal that reflection, even the modern Western type, assumes one event or activity as either supervening over or subtending-pervading other events. This means that such events are articulated in diverse ways and need not be anthropomorphic. If there are modes of reflection which reveal human shape, they will not be given any preeminence. We shall exclude metaphysical questions of whether cultural modes of reflection are instituted consciously-deliberately or are founded on some adduced theories of psycho-physiological compulsion.3 The reason for the exclusion of such considerations is dictated by methodological requirements of strict adherence to cultural phenomena. The emphasis on such adherence is called for to point out that even explanations of reflection might be an aspect of a socio-culturally accepted mode of reflection, having no necessary universality. It would be theoretically and methodologically misleading if this essay took for granted the symbolic conceptions uncritically as if they were "transcultural." They too are a part of a given culture and must be located within cultural parameters. Taking the claims of some of the more radical turns of text analyses, such as those of the "deconstructionists," it becomes essential to show that even such radicalism has its cultural location. This placing of phenomena (including texts) as functions of a complex cultural field is one of the fundamental methodological principles employed both by phenomenology and hermeneutics. The difference between the two is that the former employs this methodological prerequisite explicitly and the latter implicitly. Within the context of this essay, even deconstructionism constitutes a specific mode of reflection in a specific cultural field.

Signs of Reflective Submersion

The most encompassing mode of this reflection consists of the signs of "return to the origin." The return has a specific requirement: dissolution of the separated individual into life, the original maternal energy. As origin, she is the reflective dimension which does not function signatively as would a concept or an object, but exercises a magnetic pull, an all pervasive attraction against whose temptations the individual must guard. The pull to dissolution is commonly manifested by the feminine: as the queen of heaven and earth, she cannot be resisted. Most desired, she is also the most terrible. The hetaera, loved and despised for her attraction, was enshrined: Samiramis, Kandake, Dido, Cleopatra, Verma, Shakti are manifestations of life-giving forces. Her beauty is no longer one of appearance. The latter is a mere artifice of allurement, a momentary mask that some cultures would require either to lower or intensify the presence of her force. The latter is the very beauty of life-giving and renewing and may appear as procreative drive and erotic attraction.

All that she produced, nonetheless, she threatens to engulf, take back, devour and dissolve. All that attractive beauty, the promise of life and joy, is coupled with a terrible submersion. She is the cradle, the womb, the origin of all the formations and transformations - a sustenance. She carries the lust for birth, fruitfulness, and the dark mystery which never yields itself to light.4 This mystery pervades the sacral fruitfulness, and the calls to song and rite, orgy and celebration. Whenever we attempt to decipher the origin, we encounter depths into which we are inextricably drawn. Here we meet the cults of creation and not salvation. Ancient Dionysian rites call for no salvation. The signs are those of theatrics, superfluity, metaphor, disregard for norm, but there are no signs of distance, appeal, supplication, and non-participation. It is a pantheism in which all growth is a force of reverie. Eros is here divine and all divinities are erotic, with all their fatal attractions. In a fundamental sense, her fruitfulness as all life was and had to be intertwined with the sacral, and her beauty had to be celebrated in awe and reverence. Every act of fruition had to be of cosmic significance, a nexus with the powers of fruition of the world. Through the maternal, the human is an extension, prolongation and an enhancement of the vital forces; the exchange of powers between the human and the cosmic events is taken for granted. Thus the acts of Eros and libido are not yet erotic or sexual in the modern sense, but participate in a cosmic vivifying. Here the sexual act is a self-dissolving sacrifice, designed to empower life and not to exhibit ascetic self-denial.

The reflectivity that is here present is the pull of dissolution, and not of transcendence that promises an escape from the dangers of the terrible beauty. One's sexuality here is not destined to make one separate, satisfied, singular, in the exclusivity of one's singular partner, but is constituted by the submergence in the vital-living; this reflection yields no distance. This is how the signs of sexual self-emulation should be read; i.e., the orgiastic cults in which the priests or seers sacrifice their phallus. The loss is not an ascetic surrender for achieving transcending reflection, but is a vivification of the origin which pervades all fruitfulness. The rescinding reflection is an identification with the origin into which one merges. For example, the great festival of Astare in Hieropolis, reveals rows of males castrating themselves in a wild reverie in honor of the goddess; the priests of Cybele did the same.5 And these were not ascetic performances, where one felt guilty, where one had a kind of vulva envy in the face of the goddess of fertility. They were inner reflections of the vital-maternal attraction: a dissolution of any singular function was a convergence into, and a spread of, strength across all living process.

What is peculiar about these and similar depictions is that the sacral was not only erotic, but more fundamentally, vital and anti-singular. Even the erotic was not privatized, attributed to a singular personality. The orgiastic reverie is, after all, a choiceless intermixture, an anonymity of personalities, enacting at random - prepersonal but not problematic. There is no search for individuality or individual salvation. The individual is only a reflective mode which, in its orgiastic engagement, comprises a way of communicating without a distance, of being one with. Thus a sin in the reverie is the askesis, the loyalty to one person, the lack of vitality and fruitfulness. The holy appears as the urwhore, rejected by Lutherine asceticism without understanding this phenomenon. The rule of this reflection is a non-possessive call for self-abandonment: Surrender yourselves to one another, with as many as possible, as often as possible. Woman should not belong to one and dry up; eroticism, here, is not love or libido, but a breakdown of the limits of singularization and exclusivity. Every woman is hetaereric and so is every man when he serves sacral life, the power of Shakti. Her beauty is bewitching and pervaded with the deepest wisdom. The bewitching beauty that cannot be resisted and into which the singular dissolves, is not feared, not yet terrible, but most welcome and desired. Only when the individuating consciousness appears, cloaked in masculine signs, does this beauty become both irresistible and terrible.

The dissolution of personal individuation is visible in the Persian celebration of Anaitis, when for five days all civic services and duties are suspended and each person is free to be with any person without restrictions. During the nocturnal tumult each woman is Anaitis and every man is her servant. At the end of the festival, man is sacrificed symbolically; it is not his person that is sacrificed, but his power of fruition. There were races between naked men and women and, when one caught the other, the act of consummation in honor of the divinity was immediate. Customs, such as giving up virginity to the entire public and not to one person, reflect the vital participation and inner reflection of life. It could be said with justification that at this depth marriage, which sin-gularizes, is against the vital sacrality. In numerous places, the bride had to atone for marriage by sleeping with every guest before she could consummate her marriage with the bridegroom. This reflective turn is the source of hetaerism, where the maidens at the temples were signs of dissolution of all rules, individuality, and inhibition. Indeed, after years of temple service, they were sought as brides by kings and princes; they were regarded as most worthy. Even the daughters of kings vied to be a part of hetaerism. Their beauty appears precisely with the erotic power, reflecting an exuberant turn of the singular toward a dissolution into the all pervasive pulse of mother life.6

The striving toward the release from selfhood is reflected in melting reverie, and various functions are regarded as means for the attainment of dissolution: wine, dance, song. It is no accident that Dionysus is a divinity of wine, eroticism, and orgiastic reverie. The excitement brought about by wine, dance, has a disruptive effect, leading to dissolution. All such means are reflective upon the region of vitality. The characteristic state in this sacrality is an intoxication, a loss of the senses and a shifting of consciousness away from self-awareness. In the grip of ecstasy, the word rises to chant and the step to dance. The Eros of Dionysus originates with dance, music and reverie; it has an accepted reflective power of dissolution of personality and a breakdown of cohesion. At the erotic level, every singular act, every effort to maintain an individuality, flows, breaks up and leads on, i.e., becomes diacritical without a hold; but such erotic acts are not yet sufficient to reflect the hold of the vital, the pre-erotic, which does not break up into a debris of scattered and disconnected wallowing, but inevitably manifests a presence of positivity, of a vitality that dissolves singularity. The very movement of dissolution is the terrible, reflecting, at the same time, an inescapable beauty and power of attraction, an inability to assume an individuated consciousness. At this vital reflective juncture one finds a total positivity, a persistence, a sacral origination, a presence, an insistence.7 Although the postmodern tradition uses eroticism as a sign of differentiation and deconstruction, it fails to grasp eroticism as a reflection upon a background of positivity without distance. This rescinding reflection opens eroticism not as frustration, sublimation, lack of fulfillment, a cry signifying negativity as a difference from the signified; rather it reflects a presence of positivity where fulfillment is not a calculated gratification of singular desires to be savored and verbalized, but a yielding to a pull pervading the erotic. Such calculations would be a transcending reflection that opens a moment of negativity and an effort to deconstruct the feminine erotic. Yet such an effort is a constant failure in face of the pull of vital positivity. One may well suspect that the deconstructive practice is a last effort by patriarchy to purify the terrible beauty of the maternal domain. It is this transcending reflection that allows one to posit eroticism as a force of differentiation in a postmodern West.8 The rescinding reflection derails the transcending movement of negativity through music, rhythm and dance, eliciting the madness of pulsating powers. There is pervasive evidence suggesting that Indian music, appearing to the Western ear as monotonous, is in fact monotonic and manifests rescinding reflection, showing a monism of immersion, melting and depersonalizing. Essentially speaking, erotic reflectivity, sacral ritual, musicality, and intoxication, show the melting presence of positivity and vitality. Shamanism is perhaps one of the more salient modes of this reflective intimacy with the secrets of the origin. At times, it is expressed in terms of the classical Greek meaning of poiesis as an active production, not a leisurely occupation.9

Poiesis includes various activities, specifically those of feminine shamanism. The feminine is more potent in healing, in mastering natural forces, in visions and visionary advice to the community. These functions are not simply medical but cathartic and sacral. Even if the practices of the seers parallel medical magic; they are much more. The medicine is protective. The female shaman is not only a goddess of battle, but also protects the hero in the future with her forward vision. Thus heroic and shamanic literatures cannot be separated in any strict sense. Without the protectress, he cannot return to life. Facing nether enemies, evil spirits, reflecting powers pervading singular life, the hero depends on female shamanic reflectivity that is intimately familiar with the moods of such powers. They are both vital and erotic, and cannot be conquered from outside. But she knows how to establish working agreements with them. She senses the environment to be more than what appears directly and reflects this more. She recognizes that there are forces which are beyond human ken, yet she also senses that these forces are not just out there but also pulsate through the all. These forces are sensed to be intimately feminine and dangerous. The feminine is seen to be closer and more attuned to such forces, indeed, a disguised manifestation of them.10

The name shaman stems from Sanskrit shamana, a non-Brahman ascetic. This immediately splits into a "householder" (grihasta) and a homeless wanderer (sramana).11  Homelessness, as a condition for salvation, later became a Buddhist cannon. Despite this, it has been shown that in all shamanism the feminine is primordial. Indeed, in places such as Siberia, there is a view that woman is a shaman by nature and hardly needs any instruction. This is to say, woman is much more rooted in the arche. The feminine is a sign of periodicity and the cosmological cycles; being a source of rebirth through the endurance of pain and in face of death, she reflects intimately the silent presence of the origin and can protect all with her healing presence. Matram, matrix, materia, the source, are personified by the feminine, and female vital and erotic beauty.

The other side is the female blood lust, the gruesome rituals and demands for heads, for torn flesh and fierce dissolution. It can be called "death mask," in which an important female demands to be adorned by someone's head. In Iban the fest of the war god is postponed (Singalang Burong) because his daughter demands to be adorned with a head for the fest. The head then is "honored" in numerous rituals; the females dance around the head and "honor" the fallen "hero," demanding more heads. This phenomenon appears in numerous guises and places. The Dionysian women were not averse to blood lust and head hunting. In India, Nepal, Tibet and even Southeast Asia, the divinities are adorned with death heads. Thus shamanism reflects not only the dissolution into the vitality of strength, into the enduring presence, but also into the vitality of the presence of the terrible. Indian goddesses, such as Ilbis Kysa, who were also initia-trixes, are ambiguous. They dance not only on defeated demons, but also on defeated husbands. Even love is regarded as a love battle in a dance which is an intricate play of Maya. Here the great Kali, the Mahakali, has created the world in a love-play and thus is a world-player, Lalita. The Mahakali is protectress-destructress in one; she rules over time, Kala, specifically over the destructive period of time, kali-yuga. She is the power of maya and ties all to her desires. Here one finds the extensively used metaphor of spinning and weaving of destinies of life and death.12
The modes of reflection upon the vital and its constant presence suggested above, is given in forms of poetics, encompassing all rituals, songs, musicality and sayings. Thus the lady shamans are themselves songstresses or are accompanied by a songstress whose enchanting songs (canto, cantado, carmen, charmer, charm) make visible and audible the vital intricacies in a direct sense of living through. Here we find the great vulva as a sage (seer), who can call up the spirits with "know ye more?" and then announce this knowledge. The accompanying song is not yet quite poetry, nor is it literature; but, as part of the shamanic rite, it is a way of reflecting the origin and drawing the participants into its intimacy by at least a minimal charm, Latin carmen.13 The song is a reflection which, at the same time acts upon the reflected as a vital force, as an inescapable immediacy, whose terrible beauty one cannot escape. One needs only to recall Odysseus.

The intimacy is reflected by poetic sayings; the latter are depictions of the way from within the intricacies of the vital, the origin. The way metaphor is one of the most pervasive means of rescending reflection. The great songstresses, the feminine sages, know the appropriate sayings which reveal the way.14 Such sayings are not descriptions of directions, but encompass every activity and attitude, in every situation and in the face of anything. Indeed, the source of poiesis and the sayings is feminine. The latter knows the way and in one manner or another is present as a guide. Every great hero has his guiding and cunning counterpart, exemplified by Odysseus and Athena, and Tristan and Isolde, among others. The greatest protection is needed to return on the way home to the pulsating security of the living. The way is a mode of reflection most suited for deciphering the interconnections between the origin and the female shaman, and how she assumes the function of a protectress.

But the protectress must know the word of the way, and the word does not work in isolation; it only works in the context of shamanic poiesis. The latter is a unity of rhythm and melos, a singsong recitation with its own vital power. The sound, the tone, is regarded as the origin of the universe. Thus Kali, as the great mother - Mahasakti, dressed only by space, carries a wreath of death masks around her neck which are "toning signs." In another way the aum, as the first tone, is the creative toning of the cosmos. Indeed, this kind of musical toning is understood all the way to Tristan and Isolde; her siren-like musicality is disruptive, yet her unity with Tristan is consonance which turns to out be morality. Even such a "rationalist" as Boethius still spoke of morality as musical, requiring musical practice. Kali extends to Sarasvati and the latter is a counterpart of Sophia. She is prior to all creation. Her creative instrument is the vina, able to resound all tones (sabda). Her name also means a river, as in a stream of song. She is wisdom and learning and knows the flow of words. The toning rhythm is the way of the attractive and terrible beauty, possessing erotic allurement and bewitching dissolving.

There is yet another form of reflexivity in shamanism: the ability to transform into other life forms. At times the form of transformation is theatrical, i.e., masked dances, mimicry, and stylized comportment; and at times it is regarded as taking place in the life of the shaman; she takes flight as a bird, or attacks as a tigress. What occurs here is a reflection of the vital upon itself: every event is vitally interconnected in the origin to such an extent that it reflects all other events, and can become all other events.15 The source, the mother, can yield every form and yet is not exhausted by any of them. Of course to be drawn into the origin, the protecting and encompassing pulse, is to be abolished, and only then invincible. Behind one is the mother, the protectress. Even metaphysicians such as Schopenhauer knew this: the dissolution of the will makes me invincible.

The invincibility does not rest with an application of right rules on a specific event in order to master it, but belongs to a precise ritual. In case of disease, the attack is not frontal, but "insinuating." The mastery requires entry into and complicity with the event, becoming the event, by doing what it does and outdoing it in accordance with its own ways. This again requires poiesis in its basic ritualistic and dancing way. Such a way is a reflection on the "hidden will/' which is recounted not in choices but in melodies and dances. The history of such a will should not be written along choices, ends-means, but in terms of excitements, cunning, insinuation, entrapment, tensions, charms, music, implorings, explosivity, and indeed the "material" side, the "maternal" substance. Modern psychology, apart from a few daring souls such as Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky, has covered over this history of the will, and has made it into a prose, into an ascetic transcendence of the force of life. Yet the ritualistic, self-dissolving and cathartic will, is also willing and forming. This is the reflective immediacy prior to prose. The latter is a mere shadow of the alluring beauty of the former.

Vital power comes from her, and thus she is superior to him; she courts him, and stands next to him in battle. This cannot be regarded as physical power, but as Shakti, an intimate power that insinuates and defeats by an inner reflection. In erotic images, this power takes two paths: the banning, the taboo, the ascetic, and the holiday demand of erotic encounter and surrender. In Burma, Nat-Shamanism has become an outlet against the weight of Buddhist asceticism. The Nats and their female shamans are seen as having a wild marriage, without any respect for the rules of proper marriage. They not only teach the young to be erotic, but also the art of war. Thus the she-shaman is initiatrix of the young and assumes highest status as Sophia, as Prajnaparamita or Tara. Even Parmenides, guided by the sun maiden, is moving toward the goddess to receive instruction about truth and deception. One should be cognizant that Parmenides is a mystes and is engaged in a shamanic journey. His Proomion as poesis, is a journey within shamanic tradition. Thus his ennoia (thought knowledge) is also pronoia, a pre-vision; both originate in shamanic experience. In Hebrew, there is Chokma; she is there by his side before the world and during its creation. Without these ladies the world would not be what it is. Since the Greek, Buddhist, Hebraic, and other wisdom ladies are not dry twigs of impotent logic, their episteme is an adventure, a psycho-physiological trip from which one does not return unshorn, lured by its enticements and intensities, and fearful of its dangers. One must learn that wisdom and courage are in love with one another. This Sophia motif is expressed in Mahayana Buddhism; it is related to cosmology, where Buddha is the father and Prajnaparmita the mother; yet it is she who is "complete wisdom" and is depicted both grammatically and pictorially in feminine gender.16 This is Shaktistic gnosis. The male must open up to the feminine without restrictions, in order to allow the abolition of the transcending and impotent reflection, and become pervaded by the broad patience, vitality, and healing of the feminine. Her beauty is not some pious look, an image of innocence, but a self-rejuvenating and indefatigable vitality.

The protectress and the initiatrix have their counterpart in their blood lusting carnage. Thus, the shamans are more feared than loved. They are simultaneously foreboding, intriguing and dangerous: What is the hottest fire? The sense of a woman between two men. What is faster than wind? The thought of a woman between two men. In a tantric text we ask: Which man knows the heart of a woman? The answer is offered to us: Only Shiva knows the heart of a yogin; but who, after all, is Shiva? The blood lust appears in such figures as Ilbis among the Yakut. Ilbis means bewitchment, magic, deceit, lust to kill, in brief, "carnage." Most figures capable of initiating maladies are depicted in shamanic literature as female. The unholy and its harbingers are her signs. Yet, peculiarly, it is the feminine that can counteract this carnage. The shaman is a revenge for suppression during her lifetime. The revenge is understandable in light of the suppression of matriarchy by patriarchy and its hierarchy. The misdeeds of Medea are not just her doing; Jason is equally guilty. Thus, she can drive one to madness and revenge, but can also neutralize such drives and bring about peace. In turn, the blood lust can be transferred to the male, leading to wars and carnage. This reflective rescindence wreaks havoc with the male effort at reflective transcendence. Among numerous examples would be the efforts of Shiva to perform tapas, to transcend and detach from the "terrestrial enticements," only to find Kama as the force that troubles him; and finally, he has to submit to life and return to the feminine embrace.

The female shamans are regarded as young and unwilt-ing, as vital and irresistible, yet revengeful. Thus the very efforts to abolish them were drastic, as witnessed in medieval Christianity. But even burning could not abolish their vitality and return for revenge.17 What is equally interesting is that even wars are the enticements of the feminine. The magnetic Helena, Gullveig and Mayana, are reasons for war. Here the feminine is idealized as holy, bright, adored; and yet she causes and sanctions war. We read in Sophocles that Aphrodite is not only Kypris, but, among many other names, she is an incessant power and strife without end, maddening storm (Lyssa manias) and forceful demand. She is also Hades. More fearsome is Dojoji appearing in a Noh Play. She is nymphomaniacally pursuing a Buddhist monk, who runs and hides under a sacred bell. The bell, as a sign of pure manly teaching, should protect him. Yet the bell sinks on top of him and she, turning into a python, coils around it and melts it with her heat, cooking the monk.
Obviously, there is a continuous struggle between reflection of rescindence and transcendence. The rescinding reflection is one that is concerned with the immersion, surrender to the "logic" of life with all of its storms and vicissitudes, a beauty that is equally soothing-inviting and terrifying-dis-solving. This reflectivity appears in figures that do not teach a logic of analysis, but a logic of participatory experience, with nothing guaranteed except being sullied by life. The Buddhists and the Hindus have fascinating and graphic depictions of this domain, with all of its entrapment^, rewards and punishments. The signs of feminine force and beauty point to such a life.

Transcending Reflection

One of the first signs of this reflection is a specific kind of sacrifice distinguishable from the fructifying sacrifice. The transcending sacrifice has at least two moments: placation, and the surrender of something to which one is extremely attached. Such forms comprise a movement away from dissolution and submersion in the immediacy of life. In placation, one does not aim at atonement for guilt; rather it is power -lessness in face of some inescapable force, some attraction. Here the taboo is beyond good and evil, yet is, at the same time, an all-pervasive dimension which reflects across everything that is to be avoided. Sacrifice, here, is a way of projecting a defense against being submerged, drawn in and incorporated by irresistible beauty. In some cases, this form of sacrifice can turn to radical virulence and call for the sacrifice of those who manifest this beauty, although the latter will be marked as demonic, decadent, and evil. They must be purified by diverse means.18 The purifications are signs of the efforts to enhance and maintain transcending reflection bent on providing a way of detaching from the allurements of the erotic and vital beauty and its threats. Such efforts appear mainly in prophetic and patristic mythologies. This may include sacral secularisms, such as Marxism, technocratism and historicism, all proclaiming that the immediacy of living must be sacrificed for some vision of the future, of the good, the true, and valuable.

Transcending immediacy reflects various facets, including the inadequacy of the world, the society, their fallen state, their unholiness and darkness, the need to violate, hide them and to sacrifice them for the sake of the transcending movement. Such rituals reveal the fascination, the attachment to the dissolution by rescindence. To establish edicts, laws, prohibitions, and rules, is to establish an extremely strong attachment to, and recognition of, what one attempts to transcend. Every detail of the rescinding danger is reflected in laws and prohibitions. The laws offer an opposite movement to the "ways" that comprise the reflective understanding of the shamanic domain. Thus, she allows transcendence insofar as there is a way back to life. The transcending reflection reveals an escape from the dimension of dissolution, reflects all the traps by positing prohibitions and edicts. The prohibitions reflect what is there as dangerous and inaccessible. Thus, the escape demands, as mentioned above, the sacrifice of the very traps that are constantly enticing. The violent mortifications of the flesh of mideastern religions, such as Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, and their Eastern Orthodox extensions, are a few examples of this movement. It seems that this form is one of reflective immediacy; the law, the prohibition, is written in the flesh, is functioning in its immediacy of excising the enticements. A peculiar limit is imposed on this reflective immediacy: only one side of dissolving rituals is allowed: the painful. While in such rituals both pain and pleasure, joy and suffering are intermingled at an ultimate level of intensity and fire, in the transcending edicts only the pain of excising should be appreciated.19 Here the joy is one of release from and in face of obedience to the law.

A milder form of transcendence is an ascetic sacrifice. In this form, the human does not give what he has or has power over, but rather forgoes and negates possessions, desires, or passions that he has or might want to have. Here one encounters fasting and celibacy, monasticism and isolation. Here arise various tensions between the being, which transcends the sensuous life and calls for ascetic practice, and the dimension, which contains the plenum of solicitations to be surrendered. What seems to be the logic of this tension pervades various reversals of a precarious balance that can topple at any moment. The attractions that one must surrender, will have to be designated negatively as "evil, low, or hateful." The transcendent being, as a reflective relief, will then be regarded as "lovable, good, high," and at the same time revelatory of the hateful negativity of the dissolving domain of maternal bewitchment.

This designation can become virulent and destructive of the solicitous domain in order to become totally free from it. It can also endanger the being of reflective transcendence turning it into an object of hate and deprecation for demanding sacrifices and ascesis. Thus one lives an ambiguity. She, the erotic fiend, wants to devour me, to dissolve my uprightness, my self. She must be resisted, and any giving in, a most desirable way out, becomes attached to an ambivalence: wanting and rejecting, and hating the very attraction and simultaneously the very need of rejection of both, the rescinding and transcendence. It is pain, yet in the transcendence of it, it is a sweet pain of revenge, a sacrifice which is worthy because it is thought that, in the denial of the attraction, the other is punished, pained and is either moved to assume reflective transcendence upon her own degradation or must be destroyed. She will be seen and will have to see herself as ugly and sinful. This is the juncture at which morality emerges, teaching only the feminine, the virtues and prohibitions, which man has already inscribed in his flesh and has shown his worth. Now, she must become beautiful and pure in terms of his designation.

One such inscription afflicting the feminine is a settled marriage, a monogamy in which she is coded with prohibitions for herself and for others. This had two reflective moments: first, a rejection of the all pervasive dissolution, the earthy pull, and second, its restraint, limitation, and transcendence. This comprises a shift leading to a reversal of reflection. What once reflected reverence, reverie, holiness and wholesome beauty, is now being restricted and sacrificed, not as something that would enhance fruitfulness, but as something that is lower. Patriarchy is this limiting and lowering. The maternal-feminine origin is no longer celebrated, and her wisdom is deflected by a transcending reflection: the once terrible beauty of hetaera becomes an ugly, polluting prostitute, selling herself in order to obtain a dowry.

This shift is expressed in mythologies when the change occurs away from the stress on origin and toward an emphasis on salvation. Salutary transcendence is the reflective moment that not only rejects, but also demonizes the origin, the maternal and the vital. The she-fiend holds him down, back, entrapped in a sway of dissolution, playful reverie without a name. Her terrible beauty is demonized. Was it not the reverend James Baker who proclaimed that the lady entrapped him by being a servant of the demonic? The ascetic salvation is a movement from mythos to logos, from immersion in the cosmic sway to the metaphysical logocentrism of univocality, restriction and limitation.

Contemplation, as one mode of reflection, practiced by such mythological figures as Shiva, is most revealing. In masculine depiction, Shiva is striving to liberate himself by transcending the immersion in the maternal dissolution. The guiding signposts along the way of this move are disattachment, nonparticipation, purity, and science. Yet one must recognize that the signposts signify two structures: first, a singularization, centering on some univocal signs such as soul, mind and spirit, all being substantial yet pure, untainted by the dissolving flesh, and second, a convergence with, metaphysically speaking, purity itself, pure light, pure bliss, and a purity that goes beyond such descriptions. One encounters here the entire Platonic tradition of pure beauty and all the purification means that sway through monasticism and pure scientific rationality. The dissolving Eros, the beauty of the sensuous, the vital are mastered, subdued and dismissed. And yet it returns to reflect the pallor of the transcending purity in the rituals of rebirth, in the deadly sacrifices for salvation, in rites of rejuvenation, in the rising from the dead, and the ejection from the Earth's womb.

In some cases, the salutary reflection requires degradation. The ejected son is not what gives rebirth; the Earth, the dark tomb, allows him to emerge into the light. And he is a promise of a transcending disattachment of the soul from the taints of the Earth. Here, in the cases of such sons as Jesus, Gilgamesh and others, the very birth is ascetic, untainted by the soil of passion; the father did not even touch the mother. It may be said, in all fairness, that he was equally afraid to be drawn into the sway of dissolution, the loss of the transcending asceticism. And the son? He too is pure and lives ascetically. Indeed, he is the sign of transcending reflection and demands asceticism of everyone. The son is not the one who gives rebirth, lends attractiveness and erotic reverie. Reborn by ejection, by extraction from Mother Earth, he is a transcending reflection, destined for a world of askesis. This salvatory move abandons the rescinding reflectivity to its nether demons of kama, eros, passion, and libido. All that is voluptuous, passionate, tempted and tempting, wild, luscious and growing, all that is entangled is signified with a stigma of foreboding and forbidding.

The patristic-prophetic conceptions, reflecting upon the reverie of life a salvific release, were equally signs of conquest of the feminine by the masculine. The pagans, such as the Greeks, mixed the two reflectivities for a long time. What is of note is an appearance of signs of an increasing restriction of the maternal principle. Hetaerism is being replaced by the cult of marriage: Demeter slowly turns into a goddess directing the feminine eros along the paths of marriage. Indeed, her cult turns into a state holiday, when married women must "abstain" for nine days. This asceticism is foreign to the mother cults. Coextensive with such restrictions one discovers the disruption of Dionysian reveries by Orphic mysteries, where the birth from corporeity is degraded, where the soul is divine and merely imprisoned in the body. The body is a "grave" of the soul and the latter can be "liberated" from the prison only through askesis. It has been documented that the Orphic tradition extends its history all the way to Romanticism, revealing the two moments of reflectivity in a constant tension.20 Be that as it may, there emerges a striving to reflect upon and transcend the reverie, the erotic corporeity. The creative origin is being shifted toward salvific purity. The cultic orgiasticism is transformed from an erotic dissolution into a sort of decadent pastime of the Roman hero. Regarding the erotic reverie, he is biologically cynical.

By transcendent reflection, yielding pure episteme and practical sophistication, we know how things are and how they work. Although the female might show up at spring-Easter rites, Mary is already regarded as a "natural creature," mortal and fallible. Chrysostom was no longer held back from calling her "despicable as all women," while Epiphanus and Nestor are firmly set against any mother-Mary cult. In this context, the verdict of Luther against some of the papal rites is completely understandable. How can one make Mary divine: a most gruesome superstition. Calvin concurred. Here is a turn to Paulinism and prophetic-salvific reflectivity of transcendence. The erotic flesh is a dirty, although biologically unavoidable duty. Here all reverie was replaced by barren walls and a stern mien. Punishment without warmth, boring and dull, ascetic, extending the medieval monasticism across entire populations.

This is the consequence of the transcending reflection in its salvific form, denigrating everything in face of a presumed "higher unity." This salvific transcendence has two forms, one religious, and the other secular. Both seem to converge in the effort to extricate from the Origin, the source, the material and to attain salvation in a future "higher state."


Supplication is a religious conception while melting into unity is an erotic one. This eroticism appears in religion when one wants to melt either into an origin or into a transcendent unity. Conversely, in order to achieve a distance and retain an identity in face of the object of attraction, one engages in a supplication that elevates the desired entity and lowers the one who is the supplicant. This is a dual reflectivity involving both the transcending and the rescinding movements. The love of the supplicant is attended by an ambiguity that mixes love and fear, and even hate, attraction and rejection. It might take on strong ascetic form which, while attracted, wants distance in order to avoid being engulfed in the "flames."

The eroticism of supplication in the West appears in a very intense form in the twelfth century. As far as can be determined it emerged at the papal palace of Avignon. It spread throughout Europe leading to the mannerisms of gallantry and reached its banal state in Rococo. In historical annals, this cultural form of mixed reflection was designated as Minne (courtly love). Seen for so long with disgust, the feminine is suddenly elevated to an object of supplication to such an extent that the male saw his value as stemming only from this elevated being. She became a goddess after centuries of being a demon, a disruptress. In their love lyrics, men addressed their "beloved" in terms which regarded the male as a slave and vassal of a lady. Even emperors and kings were no exception. This seems to be a reflective compensation, always requiring the origin from which transcending reflection would acquire its impetus.

But what origin? What form did it assume in order to be accepted? She is not the force, the dissolving reverie and rebirth of life. She is untouchable. Some examples can be offered. Jaufre, an aristocrat, in love with a baroness of Tripoli, has in fact never seen her. This is regarded as the "true love" of detachment, where the beloved is loved the more she is removed from the lover. Thus the priest Andreas wrote about this kind of love by differentiating between amor and drudaria, and thus detached the "genuine love" from the "love of melting." One does not love if one is shaken by passion.21 In the Leys d'amors (laws of love), stemming from the fourteenth century, it is most inappropriate for the supplicant to ask for a kiss from his lady. After all, a kiss requires an embrace, and the latter is erotic, leading not only to the rescinding reflectivity, but also to the "loss of genuine love." As Peirol suggests at that time, one should doubt that in such an embrace the lover still loves genuinely. Of course, marriage too must be rejected as a place of love. There cannot be genuine love between marital partners. As Fauriel points out, if a man were to behave toward his wife like a knight toward his lady, he would be acting counter to marriage. This is to say marriage was not rejected because one advocated free love, but because of the rejection of the love of immediacy and unity. The greater the distance, the greater is her pure and elevated beauty. The terrible beauty is made impotent. In fact, the minne love was usually the love of some lady who was married, thus enhancing the maintenance of the distance required of dual reflectivity.

Although one finds here a "salvific" and "pure" motive that would characterize the transcending reflection, one also discovers a reflective movement toward the now "safe" eroticism, signifying a beauty that is safely distanced. This safety is seen in the elevation of Mary who, till then, was still regarded as Theotokos (mother of god), and now she becomes Madonna and thus loses her erotic attraction. From maternal, birthing feminine, she is transformed into a reflecting point which shines with the "purity" of the transcending and distant reflective move. She is no longer a force of nature and nurture, but a counterpoint of salvific reflectivity. What one finds is a movement in which there appears at once a divinization of eroticism and eroticizing, albeit safe religiosity and even metaphysics. The Madonna cult, with erotic supplication, coupled with the distance to the feminine, reveals the dual reflectivity of being saved from and by the pure beauty of the feminine. This, of course, is very different from the Mary reverence of earlier periods, when maternity, birth and rebirth were more influential. After all, the maternal goddess is approached by women as an equal and a natural force, while the supplicant relates to the Madonna as a man to the untouchable. Indeed, no woman painted the Madonna and no woman invented the convent.

The melting contains both forms of the salvific principle: in the cultic eroticism it reflects the terrible beauty of the maternal attraction and resistance, feminine encompassment and the fear of loss of the self, a deindividuating reflection, while in the supplication it yields itself to the encompassment and seeks the attachment from a distance. Although the latter seems to be safer, it nonetheless constitutes a positive negation and a source of demonization of the feminine. One expression of this attraction to the feminine encompassment and yet maintenance of a safe distance is mysticism. One seeks salvation not by supplication to a divinity, but by an effort to melt into it. Such an ecstatic melting is an expression of a deflected and yet a safe mode of reflecting the attachment to the maternal origin. Thus the mystical salvation is a search from a hidden place for the origin. Transcendent reflection of mystical unity becomes the obverse of the unity of the origin. This is the ambivalent logic that allows divinization and demonization of feminine beauty. She can become a purified object of adoration, or a polluted source of debasement.

The mystical melting motif appears quite obviously in mass reveries, where the so-called religious fervor reaches such an exalted pitch of unity with the one that it turns into an erotic orgy of the feminine origin. Thus mystical religiosity with its salvific unity fulfills itself in the erotic unity of the origin. One reflects the other. This reflection appears among the Indian sects of Shakti and Cainonya, in the Judeo-Christian Sarabaists, (4th to 9th centuries), the Nikolaists, Adamites, Valesianists, Kinites, the Koenigsberger Pietists (18th century), Foxians of Hydesville, England (1901), the theocratic Unists, in America. If this indicates anything, it is the salvific mysticism in the form of transcending reflection, which nonetheless culminates in the irresistibility to the eroticism of the origin and the rescinding reflection.

The complexities of the reflective layerings that comprise the ambivalences and shifts of the feminine beauty from the most attractive, yet most terrible, to the purest, and yet remotest, are fivefold. First, it is essential to note the constitution of the rescinding domain and the way it is reflected by various figures. Second, one must decipher the figures and metaphors that reflect transcendence. Third, the transformation of rescindence into transcendence, such that the rescinding characteristics are attributed to the transcendent figures, and the transformation of transcendence into rescindence, in a way that shows the "decaying process of the absolute." Fourth, the shifts of the reflective metaphors required for the deciphering of the transformations in step three. Fifth, articulating the most fundamental reflexivity, which allows transcendence to reveal rescindence and conversely.


The reflective interplay lends various parameters within which confines the feminine beauty, both as a force of dissolving attraction and a purified distance, plays out its destiny. The Western patriarchal tradition has a tendency toward transcending reflection, deflecting the terrible beauty of the feminine by nonparticipation, ideality of law, purification, individuation, monasticism, and celibacy. While there are rescinding movements in some Western mythologies, such as mysticism, materialism, and above all psychoanalysis, such movements tend toward purification along the characteristics of transcendence. In this sense one can understand the appearance, in this century, of various counter movements which are "speechless," although they present us with the rescinding domain: cynicism, flaunting of the flesh, negative dialectics and even consumerism, with its submersion in the sea of materialism, i.e., maternity (the words mother and matter have the same origin). Every materialist is a seeker of dissolution into the maternal rhythm, pulse, and security. This is not a wish to return to the womb, but a broader design of rescinding, the pull toward dissolution. Its appearance in numerous guises is a sign that transcendence in our age might also become a reflection on rescindence, a reflection whose shape is yet to be deciphered.

Some discussions in semiotics have indeed confirmed the two reflective moments and their variants. Following Merleau-Ponty, for example, one has located a pivot constituting a shift from sense to nonsense, and from nonsense to sense. The signs which function as sense deploy structures with coordinates, maintaining the objects at a distance, transcendent in appropriate places and times: in front-future, behind-past, up-good, down-bad, left-right, peopled by formal codes of appropriate attunement, attire, deference, hierarchical status. Yet these signs are constantly haunted by an over-determination, a superfluity that disrupts the intentional univocality of signs. This superfluity is a source of metaphorical deviation that never succeeds in reasserting the univocality, which deconstructs and postpones a signifying function leading to the dissolution of such a function. The signifying distance, the transcending intentionality, collapses under the weight of imagery which does not represent, does not stand for, instantiate deployed objects; but becomes immediate, obsessive, insistent, firing images and phantasms that constitute a melting body without a world, without significance. A French example is eroticism. Within a semiotics of signs, Eros signifies, has its intentions: an aim at an object, another human, a divinity, even the reproduction of the species -functional, a starlet's manipulation of her assets across the stage, some sirenical solicitation of a hero, garb hiding little for the imagination on the beach, an ecstatic vision; and yet it also functions to dissolve the distances, the signifying deployment, the various attractions, and becomes whispers, breaths, gropings, a spreading of images that are unproductive of world. Images that chase one another, decomposing any signifying posture, melting the unitary being into a swamp of breath, moisture, insinuating into all crevices that abolish hierarchies, good and evil, gods and demons. It is a carnalization that haunts the precincts of signifying signs and exposes them to a pivot toward immediacy, bodiness, covered and obsessed with a firing and dissolving flood of phantasms - a melting and vivifying presence.

1. Sloterdijk, P., Kritik der Zynischen Vernunft (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1983), 222.
2. Daly, M., GynjEcology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978), 180f.
3. Ibid., 180.
4. Gimbutas, M, The Civilization of the Goddess (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), 222 and 256.
5. Schubart, W., Religion und Eros (Munchen: C. H. Beck'sche), 1944), 43.
6. Ibid., 60ff.
7. Levinas, E., Otherwise Than Being, A. Lingis, tr. (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981), 85.
8. Smith, D. E., "Woman's Perspective as a Radical Critique of Sociology," in Feminism and Methodology, S. Harding, ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 84-97.
9. Durante, M., "Untersuchungen zur Vorgeschichte der Indogermanischen Dichtersprache," in Indogermanische Dichtersprache, (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1968), 211.
10. Muehlmann, W. E., Die Metamorphose der Fran (Berlin: Reimer Verlag, 1984), 139ff.
11. Ibid., 64.
12. Durante, M, op. cit., 226.
13. Muehlmann, W., op. cit., 81.
14. Durante, M, op. cit., 211.
15. Gebser, ]., The Everpresent Origin, Barstadt-Mickunas tr. (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1984), 45.
16. Muehlmann, W., op. cit, 22.
17. Daly, M. op. cit, 292.
18. Ibid., 180.
19. Lingis, A., Deathbound Subjectivity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), 168.
20. Rehm, W., Orpheus; Der Dichter und die Toten (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1972).
21. Devereux, G. Ethnopsychanalyse cotnplementaristes (Paris: Flammarion, 1972).