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Yeats and Woman: Male Narcissism and Its Dilemma

Ilhwan Yoon

Abstract

Yeats suffered greatly from the love affair with Maud Gonne but particularlyfrom the contradiction that she manifested. The poet devoted his love and poems toher in vain. But the contradiction is not peculiar or unique problems to Yeats butall men in Western patriarchal tradition. Indeed women for men are figuringsimultaneously as madonna and whore, angel and beast. Because the woman has thepower to provoke the tumult of desire in man and to gain over him through thedesire, the men is afraid of being weaken by her, infected with her feminity and ofthen showing himself incapable or castrated. The fact that woman from aphallocentric viewpoint appears to be castrated is as reassuring for men as it isalarming. On the one hand, he projects her as lack and sees himself completed inher, thus confirming male hegemony. On the other hand, the so-called castratedwoman can reflect back to man a dangerous paradox: if she had been castrated,then his own possession of a penis was in danger by her. In order not to be aparalyzing threat, a woman must have phallic attributes and must become the phallicwoman idealized beyond sexuality. The phallic woman is thus fantasized by the manas a defense against castration anxiety. Representation of the phallic woman, hebelieves, protects him against doubts about his masculinity. Making her like a manconserves the man’s narcissism.
The ambiguous nature of the woman is well presented in Yeats’s “Presences.”Here Yeats categorizes the woman as archetypes “harlot,” “child,” and “queen.” Andtheir seductive “rustle of lace or silken stuff” evokes a contradictory femalenessover which he has no rights and which can move rapidly from vulnerable toruthless, even turning that very vulnerability into a disturbing power over him. In“A Bronze Head,” the woman representative of Maud Gonne remains mysterious and inaccessible, overflowing the ‘images’ and ‘forms’ in which he tries to captureher. In “No Second Troy,” Yeats blames Maud Gonne for her violent politicalaction, perhaps because she cannot be desexualized, idealized, or fetishized fully ashe wishes. One of the reasons that Yeats is desperate to prevent the woman frombeing involved in the politics is that for Yeats the ideal form of a woman wouldnot allow for difference to infiltrate the idealized autonomy. In this sense Yeatsprays for his daughter to be the woman with nature of mindless organic spontaneityand for her bridegroom to bring her to a house of custom and ceremony.
The idealization of the woman as nature into civilization, however, will notentirely do because it inescapably exposed to the fearful power of death. As Freudargues in Civilization and its Discontents, Eros’s sublimation of the nature intocivilization inevitably exhausts its power, which leaves it vulnerable to Thanatos thatthen threatens to destroy the social order one has so laboriously constructed. Thedilemma of sublimation is well explicated in Yeats’s “Mediations in Time of CivilWar“ where he perceives the conflict between insistent demands of death drive andthe inhibitory requirements of civilization. “Leda and the Swan” shows that thephallic civilization is born together with the brute power of violence and destructionthat is to threaten all the social orders.
By desexualizing, idealizing, or sublimating the woman, the man may reduce thehorror of castration. But his attempt is radically self-defeating and self-undoing, forthe more he sublimates her, the more likely she becomes the destroyer of idealorders. Because of this paradox, the woman remains ontological aphoria to Yeats.

예이츠와 여성: 남성적 나르시시즘의 모순

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