Textuality and the Riddle of Bisexuality: A provocative interlude with Balzac and Felman

Artist’s rendition of “The Girl With The Golden Eyes”

Using Shoshana Felman’s analysis of Honore de Balzac’s work, “The Girl with the Golden Eyes,” which helps answer her question, “What is femininity — for men?” — mean for women?

This work is actually a provocative erotic riddle, specifically addressing the question of sexual difference. The main character apprehends the vision of a woman whom he thinks is the most adorable feminine woman he has ever met. What strikes him the most about her visage is “her two eyes, as yellow as a tiger’s eye, gleaming as gold, living gold, brooding gold, amorous gold, gold that wants to come into your pocket….She is the very essence of woman, an abyss of pleasure whose depths may never be sounded: the ideal woman.”

This main character of the novel is Henri de Marsay. Taking into consideration the time period (1835) where men were the only people who possessed any kind of “real financial income,” Felman interprets this symbolism for the sign it represents. Namely, that gold is a reflective material of light and thereby becomes the mirror in which Henri can see himself. Thus, the “golden eyes” of femininity are fundamentally a mirror in which the male sees himself, and Henri can contemplate his own idealized self-image so as to admire himself. As we see in Henri’s impression of her response to him, “Judging from the expression on her face, she seemed to be saying: “What! you are here, my ideal, the being I have thought of, I have dreamed of night and morning!”

In Feldman’s interpretation from her book, she writes:

“The golden brilliance of the girl with the golden eyes is fascinating, says Henri, because it is an amorous gold that wants to come into his pocket.” Paradoxically, gold as the metaphor of the utmost value is an image, at the same time, of possession and of appropriation, through which the ideal woman is again reduced to a mere object, whose sole function is to be possessed and owned by man. But the metaphor evoked by Henri of the gold that wants to come into his pocket is even more ambiguous than that, since, carrying a clear erotic connotation suggestive of the sexual act, grants the golden eyes of femininity a phantasmic masculine — phallic — role. Ironically enough, femininity itself thus turns out to be a metaphor for the phallus. To the extent that the girl with the golden eyes is here viewed by Henri as the tool for his purely narcissistic satisfaction, Henri’s desire for the ideal woman can be said to be a sort of masturbation fantasy [erotic automata?]: his own phallus is indeed the prize he seeks.”

In much the same way as, in the prologue of this novel, gold was said to be ruling principle of the social classes and social division was determined by how much gold was owned. “…A principle of domination and of heirarchy, so the golden phallus in the story is beckoning from behind the mask of a woman’s beauty, is to be wishfully recuperated and restored to it’s proper place: man’s pocket.”

This is precisely my interpretation of certain forms of homosexuality, if not all forms, is the creative recuperation of lost territory from early childhood. This ideal woman is of course an illusion but one that may be rooted in abuse and neglect, or even poverty, of the maternal figure. And of course the “cure,” if one decides that is, in fact, what one needs, can be found in the developmental task of mourning “the lost perfect mother”. Thus, the girl with the golden eyes is thus the very name of woman and of femininity as a fantasy of man because the nurturing ideal feminine was never experienced and must be mourned. Thus, the theory of the “dead mother” and theories of matricide. Felman further writes:

“Defined by man, the conventional polarity of masculine and feminine names woman as “a metaphor of man.” Sexuality, in other words, functions here as the sign of a rhetorical convention, of which woman is the signifier and man the signified. Man alone has thus the privilege of proper meaning, literal identity: femininity, as signifier, cannot signify itself; it is but a metaphor, a figurative substitute; it can but refer to a man, to the phallus, as it’s proper meaning, as it’s signified. The rhetorical hierarchization of the very opposition between the sexes [sexual difference] is then such that woman’s difference is suppressed, being totally subsumed by the reference of the feminine to masculine identity.” This academic information of intellectual knowledge of erudition helps explain why some men’s wives look like “arm candy” as the golden mirror of the man’s golden phallus. Thus, men who define themselves by the woman they select are seeking the imaginary reflective “golden eye” to identify and signify them as “worthy phallus.”

But let’s hypothetically entertain other possibilities. How about when a woman beholds, in a man, the feminine ideal? What if she’s sees in his visage the soft feminine features from the lost territory, a territory that she rightfully deserves but was never given due to trauma, abuse, and/or neglect? And is it this masculine possessing femininity an ideal in male selection that sets up the scaffolding for a desire, in a woman, a desire that wishes to satisfy her fantasy from the lost territory of early childhood, “the nurturing mother” and owned bisexuality? Or how about when an older man, in the sexual act of pedophilia, selects the ideal feminine in young adolescence males? What important connections can be made with these scenarios? Is it the triangulation of the Mother-Father-Self in narcissistic satisfaction which idealizes the lost terrain of Oedipus, which to begin with is a fantasy construction. That the signifier (masculine phallus) possess the signified (femininity) and is it a reflective mirror of the man desiring his own phallus in a modified version of this same bisexuality?

We know a lot of women love homosexual men because they possess a femininity about them that may call us back, in creative fashion, to the recuperation of the lost territory, the lost perfect mother who can be our ideal love?

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Karen Barna

I am a Targeted Individual suffering electronic harassment. I write about gender difference and object relations and feminism. I am Gen. X