Is sex originally bad, as Freud said

Evil is a woman

"Walk into the menagerie, / you proud gentlemen, you women lusting for life / with hot lust and with cold horror / to look at the inanimate creature / tamed by human genius."

The woman as an inanimate being, as a degenerate beast and cruel predator, as a wild but also beautiful animal: this vocabulary is familiar to the male audience around 1900. The arguments range from Nietzsche's popular saying that one should not go to women without a whip, to Weininger's diagnosis of the threat to civilization posed by the instinctual nature of women, but also Freud's analysis of the moral instability of hysterical women. In them, philosophers, psychologists, physicians and, last but not least, the poets of the late 19th century expressed their irritation, and even fear of being foreign to the opposite sex. It is a lust for fear that is characterized by the abysmal ambivalence between fascination and disgust: a fascination with the seductive diversity of the obscure object of desire and a disgust for the destructive inhumanity of this animal, if not elemental force of nature.

The American literary scholar Bram Dijkstra, who teaches comparative literature at the University of San Diego in California, is a specialist in these divisions in the image of women at the turn of the century. His book "Idols of Perversity", which has meanwhile become canonical for art, cultural and literary scholars all over the world, which unfortunately still awaits its German translation, has explored all dimensions of these fantasies in literature and art of the 19th century: of the fallen angels and consumptive or madly dawning death goddesses of the Pre-Raphaelites to the nymphs and nannies of Victorianism to the vampires, maenads and sphinxes of Symbolism. For him, all these phenomena of collective male fantasies are symptoms of a female sexuality experienced as threatening. It is a new black continent, which is occupied discursively by the so-called lords of creation, on the one hand to create the ideal of the female nature in need of redemption, the soulless femme fragile, and on the other hand to fight the afflictions of the unrestrained mischief of the hostile femme fatale.

In his most recent book "Evil is a Woman: Male Violent Fantasies and the Fear of the Weeping Sex" (in the original actually: "Bad Sisters. The Threat of Female Sexuality and the Cult of Men") Dijkstra continues his analysis of the horror image of women. However, the emphasis is placed even more decisively on the Manichean basic structure of masculinist gender thinking, i. H. the attempt to exile all evil in the feminine nuisance, which is called projection in psychology. The assumption of female abnormality not only legitimizes the violence inflicted on her, it also relieves men of responsibility for their own perversions: Evil is always and everywhere, just not in the man, but always outside, in the other, in the woman.

At the same time, Dijkstra is now concerned with double evidence, namely that such projections have not ceased to dominate the image of women, and that the "gynocide" directed against the opposite sex has shifted to the racially oriented scene of the "genocide". This thesis of the affinity between misogyny and fascism is not new. For the German-speaking area, Klaus Theweleit has already made this thesis plausible in his standard work "Männerphantasien". Like him, Dijkstra turned not only to literature but also to mass media such as film, which had flourished since the beginning of the century, in order to consciously jump over the border between high and low culture, i.e. between art and colportage, also in literary sources.

The Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek, for her part a specialist in misogyne monstrosities and a. The inventor of the bon mot of women as a "cholesterol bomb" once established that women are "the little one next to their picture". The production of this large, monstrously inflated caricature of female existence is what interests Dijkstra. The literary and popular visual media also spread the delusions that the sciences - above all the blossoming anthropology - formed of the opposite sex in the 19th century. In the metaphors of the scientific languages, which for him - to put it somewhat casually - do "the dirty work of ideology", the complex figures of thought condense into simple templates and clichés, which then regulate social perception, i. H. - spoken to Niklas Lumann - reduce complexity. In this sense, the horror images of the feminine function as vamp, vagina dentata, whore, spider, tigress, etc .: namely to simplify the complex relationships between the sexes and to identify the dangerousness of sexual desire in the deadly nature of women and, moreover, in Jews close:

The images and metaphors from the early years of this century still permeate our minds. The social ideology of evolutionary inequality, rapidly disseminated by prejudicial interpretations of Darwin's ideas, became our "collective unconscious". It was part of the sexual mythology of popular culture. The female vampires of gender antagonism turned out to be shape shifters. Their presence justified practically all forms of brutality, domestic violence and mass murder. The genocide monster grew out of the arrogance of science in the early 20th century. "

With this point of view, Dijkstra also follows the work of the American literary and cultural historian Sander Gilman, who also examined the connection between medical-anthropological ideas of sexuality and their return in literary phantasms and specifically established the connection between theories of femininity and anti-Semitism. As with Theweleit, the cause of the sexual and racial disquiet is named as a dissolution of the boundaries between the sexes, which - as Dijkstra then calls it - "images of the masculine woman and the effeminate Jew", whose unholy alliance confers the identity of the Aryan man shake looking. A similar phenomenon of the dissolution of boundaries is already haunted by the representation of the feminine itself in the form of the uncanny effect of indistinguishability between good and bad women. Evil has its face of horror, as Dijkstra describes it in his presentation of the film "A Fool There Was" with Theda Bara in the leading role of the vamp:

The WOMAN appears in the door. Her searing eyes - white sparks of anger in raven-black caves - illuminate her ice-cold beauty: the creature consumed by wild sin. The mesmerizing power of her gaze and her cold, possessive arrogance immediately drive the wavering figures of man and woman apart. "

What is referred to here as the WOMAN - in capital letters - is the original woman, not the Eva woman slipped from Adam's rib and subjugated, but Lilith, the man's original comrade, who was created at the same time. Because she did not want to submit, she was cast out and only returned as the strangler of the children, the sworn enemy of all family ties, just as an evil sister, but best known as the snake in paradise. But what she as such instilled in all Evas of this earth as the poison of her feminine morning gift was the art of disguise: femininity as a masquerade. And this art was not only practiced in the splendid plumage of feminine charms that are supposed to beguile the man, but also in the camouflage of Lilith as Eva, in order to camouflage her deadly claws all the better in sheep's clothing of womanly innocence and virtue.

The most prominent example of Dijkstra cited for this is of course Fritz Lang's "Metropolis", where long before the postmodern discussion of cloning, a robot built as a male-murdering monster takes on the outward form of the virgin, innocent daughter-wife Maria, in order to make the man's world all the more fatal through this deception To draw the abyss of their own desires. Because no treatment of the motif of the evil woman clarifies the origin of the threat better than this phantasm of the artificial android woman built by men. The diabolical energy that animates the dance of death of the female monster puppets comes from the devil's laboratory of the male will to power itself. Dijsktra also shows how the male defensive formation immediately closes again against this intrusion of evil into the interior of heroic self-consciousness, in that the father of the androids in "Metropolis" is clearly characterized as a Jew and thus as a non-man, as a conspirator of the evil woman . [What the author neglects, however, is the script's relation to the literary model of the novel "Eve of the Future" by Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, where the machine woman - as in the classic "Pygmalion" saga - is idealized Positing the good versus the wicked feminine is constructed.]

It remains crucial that not only the men fall victim to these vampire women, but also the good, the pure women. The cinema was able to give these fantasies a special plasticity. On the other hand, Dijkstra ignores the prehistory in the ancient and medieval witch cult and especially in the gothic novel and all the femmes fatales of the so-called "Black Romanticism" of Mario Praz's groundbreaking study. As he emphasizes, the verb "vamping" is used as a term for anti-social sexual behavior by women in modern everyday language:

Legions of future cinema vamps now competed against the "virginal" wives of the middle-class film household. The angels of domestic grace, whose job it was to lovingly care for an endless line of roaming husbands, were gradually being pushed to the periphery of feature films. They paved the way for a new category of female predators who had nothing in mind but to seduce civilized men and business people. "

At the same time, the new generation of Hollywood vamps is moving the active role of bad women more into the foreground, which in the novels of the 19th century was even more in the hands of men. Bram Stoker's "Dracula", for example, only creates the monsters through his bite, which in turn then seek their victims, only the relatively unknown novel by Le Fanu "Carmilla" knows an authentic vampire, although there are romantic pre-forms among others. at E.T.A. Hoffmann, who revive an age-old mythical connection between female cannibalism and pregnancy. What is more important to Dijkstra is the delightfully detailed description of the destruction of the vamp. H. the ritual piercing of the heart with the help of a sharpened stake and the cutting off of the head, acts that leave nothing to be desired in terms of sexual clarity:

As Freud had already made clear, the actual location of the vagina dentata of the vampire was the head. The ritual castration of the woman, the cutting off of her phallic tooth, the clitoral circumcision, therefore had to take place in the form of decapitation. "

As here, in the examples examined, evil is generally shown as a foil of legitimation for the unrestrained enjoyment of the destruction of the female body and its potential for pleasure. Dijkstra's material is limited to the Anglo-American language area, so the ruling epoch is that of Victorianism, but here, too, features can be recognized that determine what is known as naturalism in Germany. One should think above all of the hopeless amalgamation of psychological and physiological motifs, as found in the standard works of the turn of the century, for example. B. Lombroso's "Woman as a criminal and prostitute" and, last but not least, Gourmont's "Physics of Love" show the latter in particular once again brings together all the myths of female dominance in the sexual, from the praying mantises devouring their males after the act to the ubiquitous leitmotif spiders, who suffocate their victims in agony. In German literature, too, Dijkstra would have rediscovered this fascination for an image of nature as a realm of female cruelty, especially in Gerhard Hauptmann, who repeatedly described the man's fall to the saint, who turned out to be a soulless whore.

This naturalism also serves to reduce complexity. Not only that the most complicated social communication contexts are cut through with recourse to quasi-irrefutable natural laws like Gordian knots, wild-growing analogy conclusions can also be surrounded with the paint of material evidence. Dijkstra picks out a particularly drastic example of such a blood-and-soil ideology: the alchemical connection of blood with sperm and the phantasm of oral sexuality. Medicine around 1900 is by no means the first time to deal with the relationship between vitality, sexuality and body fluids, which has been discussed since antiquity, but now superstition and natural science are merging to form a pseudo-materialism. The male semen is confirmed in its mythical role as elixir of life, as logos spermatikos, by physiological theories of a distillation of blood in the male sexual system, which makes sexual intercourse with women appear as a weakening of this original potency. For this way of thinking, the most perfidious form of this sucking out of male power was the kiss, whose primary appearance of tender affection gives way rather to the archetype of the "embracing of a primitive, regressive-female emanation of nature, a spider, a praying mantis" as deadly fellatio:

Although there has been heated controversy over the subject in the medical establishment, it has been recognized by consensus that the seed possessed potent nourishing properties unrelated to its reproductive function. What was meant were the life-giving qualities of the blood - whose "most refined distillate" was the seed, after all. Initially, scientists collected evidence of this in folkloric and primitive medicine and particularly emphasized the notorious spermatophages from the insect kingdom. Then they declared seminal fluid to be a powerful tonic for many forms of female "hysteria" - especially in cases of anorexia in adolescence. "

This apparently provided an explanation for the irreconcilable antagonism of the sexes, which referred the anatomical fate of the female castration complex diagnosed by psychoanalysis even more fundamentally to a female lack of being. At the same time, feminine desire, which in this light appears as vampirism, becomes incompatible with a procreative community of the sexes. As Dijkstra shows using the example of Freud's Dora analysis, the hysterical desire of women is directed solely to the selfish appropriation of male potency and therefore shifts to oral sex as a quasi-masturbatory enrichment by the male victim:

Perhaps no other account of the equation of semen, capital and blood has been more celebrated than Freud's "Fragments of an Analysis of Hysteria." [...] A predator in the making like Dora therefore had to be assumed to have a far more complex motivation in order to make their raids less seductive for their analyst. As a result, Freud developed - once again proving himself to be a man of his time - a specific analogy between semen and wealth and thus marked the point of transmission of Dora's repressed oral desire. "

What gains plausibility again against the current historical background of the Monica Levinski affair is already laid out in the phantasmatic contexts of the late 19th century. Elfiede Jelinek sums it up in a catchy formula: The evil woman wants to desire, not give birth. The men at the turn of the century saw this deadly desire of women lurking in the heart of the dark continent - as in Joseph Conrad's novel of the same name, in Rider Haggard's novel "She" or Edgar Rice Burrough's "Tarzan" - throughout the history of evil - as in Griffith's monumental film "Intolerance" - or behind the mask of a "baby vamp" as in Fitzgerald's "The Beautiful and Damned". And again and again it is the weak man who is lured and emasculated by the strong man-woman, whereby the boundaries are fluid with regard to the second level of meaning of racist stereotypes. Dijkstra shows this transition from misogyny to anti-Semitism using film examples such as Murnau's Nosferatu and Pabst's "Lulu", but also using the sexual clichés of C. G. Jung's archetypes.The latter in particular is for him an example of the bias of thinking in metaphors, which on the level of the popular media allow the killing of both female and racial monsters to be experienced as the liberation of humanity from the threatening element of the archaic, refusing, underworld nature hostile to humans and their culture and prepare the Manichaean delusions of the National Socialist Götterdämmerung:

The images of the sexual woman were now combined with ideas of the "predatory feminization of the lower races". Domination and submission are the cornerstones of any dualistic system. To kill the vampire who refuses to be controlled is to kill death, to reclaim the immortality that she stole from us. "

Bram Dijkstra has reconstructed the stories of this man's madness with a lot of punchlines and - despite the sometimes bumpy translation - is an exciting read. Certainly one sometimes wishes for a little more depth and misses cultural-critical differentiation such as that between sex and gender or between the woman as a partner, as a fetish and as a daughter-child woman. But Dijkstra also failed to revisit many of the motifs developed in Idols of Perversity. However, whether the pragmatism expressed in the best American tradition is justified, namely that working on the myth would banish the monsters of misogyny and Nazism, remains more than doubtful.