ISSN : (Online)
DOI : http://dx.doi.org/10.14354/yjk.2004.21.87
Yeats and Woman: Male Narcissism and Its Dilemma
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.