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Friday, August 19, 2011

Review: Snow Flower And The Secret Fan;The Inscription of the Body

Official Site
Oh what a gorgeous film this is. Wayne Wang is the director and he never disappoints. Ebert doesn't like it much but I like to read him anyway so maybe you will too. The official site tells you much more.

BFF Best Friends Forever now was named lao tong in the 19th century. With parents' consent,  two girls with good astrologically compatible signs were paired often before birth. It resonates with the two Elizabeths - John the Baptist's mother and Mary's mother, both of whom desired a child desperately as they aged and prayed together for God to grant their wish, depicted in Giotto's murals in  the chapel in Padua.
Your lao tong is a serious  relationship and was considered for life, no matter what changing circumstances intervened decreed by fate. Two women bound for life in a man's world. Nu shu, a secret language was invented by women, forbidden an education, to communicate their secret heart to their Other in this world of men. Only a handful of women now know this language and it threatens to be lost. Ebert misses all this but then he is a man, so understandably. He confuses it with lesbianism which it is not. All cultures must have rituals and institutions where women interact with other women and men with men. In the middle east, men get together to decide whom their sisters, cousins, aunts, will marry - who they will fuck. Deleuze describes the homo-erotic aspect of this in his book Anti-Oedipus. I hope all this is enough to interest and inform you about this movie. But none of this is my interest, because it is the binding of the feet, the bound feet that has riveted my attention. Because this is a specific and ritualized Inscription of the Body. And the body is never - never - inscribed without the Inscription of the Mind accompanying it. But it is known as the Inscription of the Body after Nietzsche's The Genealogy of Morals, where he lays out TORTURE as the necessary and sufficient condition for the dawning of human consciousness. Torture is required to inscribe MEMORY in the mind of primal unthinking and without language early humanity. Nietzsche acknowledges the ghastliness of the practice of torture as he tells us of its necessity.

Foucault will take torture up in his Discipline and Punish and elaborate its presence today in ensuring normality, normal behavior in both mind and body, in his 1974 Lectures on  Abnormal at the College de France. By the time you have followed Nietzsche and Foucault you will observe it everywhere in body language, in novels, in films, and you will never be free of it again. To inscribe the body is to inscribe the mind at the same time.   This is why human rights is not going to make a dent on the symbolic practice of genital mutilation of young girls to inscribe on their bodies and on their minds the excruciating torture and pain connected with sex.

Stephenie Meyer has made the Inscription of the Body a central theme in Twilight. Bella's heart races, it splutters, it stops, it restarts, her stomach clenches, her knees weaken, she swoons, she blushes, she stammers, she trips, she falls, and then in New Moon when Edward leaves her, all this is shut down, her mind is shut down, and she becomes the Deleuzean Body Without Organs. So I hope my readers are on the same page now with this Inscription of the Body.

The two young girls in the film are played in the 19th century and the present time by the same actresses. Wang keeps switching back and forth. One comes from a wealthy family and the other from a poorer one. The mother of the poorer child determines to ensure her daughter's prosperous future by binding her feet. This starts the day she is born. It continues as long as she grows. The torture is excruciating, relentless, unending and she is left with tiny stubs that cripple her for walking. She must be helped or carried as an adult. She spends much of her childhood in unending pain, her mother tosses in bed as she hears her daughter cry. But the mother deprives her daughter and herself of all compassion, pity, love, concern in her obsession to make her daughter's feet so perfectly bound that she will be married to an aristocratic son of a ruling family. Her face endures the torture without it marring her expression or her beauty. So we are witnessing a girl/woman who has endured unbelievable torture for all her growing life to avoid a primitive existence, in order to marry a wealthy and distinguished man from a ruling family. The perfection of the bound feet determined the quality of the husband. The miniaturization of the feet are the prized possession. We see a young woman, who has never run or walked any distance, who has a precarious sense of balance, totally dependent, who has been deprived of all love and affection, except from her beloved lao tong.

She marries and her new husband touches her first by kissing her feet, acknowledging the suffering she has undergone to be worthy of becoming his wife. She withdraws. She will never know any real physical pleasure, and will only submit to give birth to sons and serve her mother-in-law, who also has bound feet, is jealous, will not let her communicate with her lao tong. The older woman is a tyrant. But the older woman has endured the same Inscription of the Body and Mind and then we see its real purpose within the rituals of this culture before Chairman Mao. Lily will always serve her mother-in-law before anyone. She will always want the approval of this cold woman who is like her own mother. She will forever be trying to get too little too late. She serves her mother-in-law before her own children, with whom she is cold. Her only love is Snow Flower, her lao tong.

And so we see how this brutal Inscription of the Body holds up the entire aristocratic family, freezing it from change, determining its loyalties and practices, ensuring the care of old mother-in-laws by the accompanying practice of crippling the mind and the emotions. One can only imagine the horror of a girl child enduring this, and her emotional crippling as she suffered and suffered and suffered in an emotional void.

The American Quaker from Philadelphia, William Hinton was in China during the Cultural Revolution in the mid 1960's spending the year in Ox Bow Village, telling about it in his book Fanshen, (turning about), while the peasants there went through the Cultural Revolution change. One older woman with bound feet at last liberated but crippled went and worked in the fields, attended all the meetings and proclaimed her freedom at last. I wonder.

At the end of Reading Bel Ami Through Marx, Foucault, Baudrillard and The Inscription of the Body is another horrifying example of The Inscription of the Body.

I am nowhere near finished with this theme.

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