Australian Journal of Cultural Studies
Vol. 1 No. 2, December 1983

FEARFUL ASYMMETRY: Three ways of deriding difference

Marion Campbell

The difference between entities (prose and poetry, man and woman, literature and theory, guilt and innocence) are shown to be based on a repression of differences within entities, ways in which an entity differs from itself. ( . . . ) The 'deconstruction ' of a binary opposition is thus not an annihilation of all values and differences, it is an attempt to follow the subtle, powerful effects of differences already at work (Barbara Johnson: The Critical Difference).

The more violent the formal assertion of symmetry in textual play on sexual difference, the greater the display of its failure—or so it seems in these two attempts to stop the dance of difference: Cinderella as pizza and 6-pack, the 'Australian feminist' as lump of lard with a razor blade. Perhaps the uneasy juxtaposition of these readings by an unintended female will serve to query the specificity of Australian phallocentric anxiety.

Hérodiade is not Salome

The superficial anecdote of a textual project which spanned Mallarmé's life was to be what did or did not occur between the head of St. John the Baptist and the dancer's body—not Salome's but Hérodiade's. Hérodiade was to remain in an exquisite state of self reflexivity ratified by the 'hero's' lucid gaze. Hérodiade, the text, was to remain unfinished, a potential drama, refusing to be collapsed into the allegory of Beauty-Meets-Intellect envisaged by the twenty-three year old, prematurely married 'because we all need someone to make our tea', underpaid English teacher. Cartesian solipsism and phallogocentricity are easy charges to make against the young writer, who in his pursuit of the 'Demon of Analogy', dreamt up resonant superimpositions like these, perhaps predictable enough for the cynical reader of Western literature:

+ ve		-ve
Male	vs	Female
Mind	vs	Body
Seer	vs	Seen
Mark	vs	Blank
but then ...
Solar	vs	Adamantine

It could also be easily said that the proto-'deconstructionist' was already at work in the choice of the heroine's name (why Hérodiade? 'I want this name, red and dark like a burst pomegranate'), disabling from the beginning the ideal symmetry of these correlations,


deferring for ever their symbolic summation as textual unit. Hérodiade is not Salome: it was, it seems, the name of the threatening m-other which could generate this text. Hero-diade, hero-dyad this heroine is hero with that possibility of relayed internal division to be staged by the disembodied gaze of the Saint at the moment of decapitation. The eyes were to have it, revenge castration with this violation, consecrate the otherness of the female body by turning its interior into spectacle and through a display of its inner reciprocity, authenticate the integrity of virile intellect. Before this intervention, Hérodiade is literally repliée sur elle-m┬Éme folded, in upon herself. Primarily narcissistic. It seems that it is up to the Saint's gaze to act like a paper knife, like an ideal reader, to per-form Hérodiade, to realize the in-scission, to reveal the secret of the pleats between the blanks, around which Same mirrors Same, to show that where nothing is everything might be. A necessary intervention in the body which has arbitrarily claimed him. The nexus of his sublimely travelling glance is to be the fault-line around which her body mirrors itself: breast by breast, lip by lip, thigh by thigh. Inseminated thus, exceedingly replete, the body, like a book, is to re-pleat around itself, having constituted en abyme a spectacularly adequate response to the virile position. Like the book asserting its unity through a play of reciprocated absences, this body is to be scrutinized and ratified as the same-unto-itself by the male.

Nothing will have taken place but the place: the blank site testified. Being subject to that specular incitement, Hérodiade is realized as whole, the whole reduction of difference performed by the Saint a symmetrical formation around the nothing reflecting his all, proving that he was well and truly where he should have been: his head severed from 'former discords with the body' at the apogee of solar flight, his gaze perfecting a pivot around which her symmetry can be displayed: one breast, and then the other: this thigh, then that...But why pivot, why alternate...This body charged with difference resists arrest in a stabilizing synthesis of itself and the other. What has been effected is not an acquiescence to his law, a simplified construction of the other as integrated entity, it is rather the 'difference within'. From the beginning, she has been hero and heroin phallic and vaginal, virgin and violated, eater and eaten, singular and plural, mineral and vegetable, adamantine and amorphous, same and different, mobile and immobile, necessary and arbitrary.

héro	rôde (wander about) 
éros	dia (schism) 
rose	dia (mant) (diamond)
eau (water)	o!

Quel pivot, j'entends, dans ces contrastes, à l'intelligibilité? Il faut une garantie - La Syntaxe-

(What pivot, I understand/intend, in these contrasts, for intelligibility. A guarantee is needed - Syntax-)


To exploit the possibilities of the name of the phallic mother (Hérodiade as a cluster of semes), to activate their differential potential in what Mallarmé called a 'total expansion of the letter', a radical upheaval of syntax was necessary. He soon learnt 'with terror' from these poetic experiments with the text as orchestrated anagrammatization of a matricial word, that this involved the suppression of the monsieur, that 'I' was a variable function of spatio-temporal position, that repetition always activates difference (as in the polysyllabic Symbolist rhyme), that the imposition of syntactical and metrical constraints sets off the other 'music'.

'L'alternative qui est la loi' (Alternation which is the law). Finally it is oscillation between alternatives—whether this pivot be called syntax, the pleat between the pages or the intimate division within the female body—which is maintained as the law and not their resolution in quiescent synthesis. The law is not the code assuring the maintenance of phallocentricity and the mastery of the unitary ego. Rather, it is the principle of poetic pleasure. By giving precedence to the letter, the 'deconstructionist' within the symbolist disabled the aesthetics of textual unity. Hérodiade, the text, like the dancer's body, was always to resist phallologocentric mastery, remaining incomplete, the dance of difference always virtually exceeding the symmetrical formations which would arrest it.


The imposition of symmetry as guarantee of phallologocentric control produces quite different results in a current 'Australian' riddle on the Cinderella theme. The riddle seeks its effects, which are violent, in a strategy of semiotic delinquency: most of all through the receiver's enforced re-reading of the fairy-tale of which it claims to be a revision. It is thus already a Cinderella different from it and her/self that I have to review as pre-text for the riddle: What is the perfect Cinderella? . . .

Cinderella's mother only dies in order to effect a necessary split between the good and the bad. The 'good mother' must eventually be internalized by Cinderella if she is to find acceptance within the patriarchal order, if she wants a proper name conferred upon her. But this moment is deferred: the 'good mother', the donor who will help Cinderella find access to the perfect other, handsome dark male and powerful, is kept in abeyance in the Sky as Fairy God Mother. Cinderella's father also conveniently dies in order to teach Cinderella a lesson: she learns in his absence the evils of a matriarchal regime. She must take on her interim identity as Cinder-ella, she who is defined by her lack, empty, exhausted, sleeping by the cinders of the male absent hearth, subject only to the imposition of the Step-Mother. In the French (Perrault's version), Step-Mother, Belle-Mere also means Mother-in-Law. The wife's links with her own mother are a notorious problem which perhaps explains partly the hostility in vested in this figure in the tale. The Step-Mother is however not presented as lawful, not evidently having been married by the father


for the purpose of reproduction. Cinderella, her name thus literally in ashes, is presented as downwardly mobile. In fact she is incessantly mobile, doing all the physical work for Evil Mother and Ugly Sisterhood. She identifies in serfdom with the heterogenous population of the Basse-Cour, the farmyard, literally the Low-Court. Perhaps, however, she takes too much compensatory pleasure in her association with the varied farmyard species: mice, dogs, cats, hens and birds.

Meantime serious questions are being raised at Court regarding the maintenance of Royal Patrilineage. A male heir must be produced but the Prince, much to the dismay of the King's Counsellors has shown no sign of desire, has failed to be aroused by any suitable maiden hitherto brought before him. Interestingly enough, the King and the Grand Archduke interpret this absolute repression of heterosexual desire as signifying its boundlessness and decree that a ball be held to which all the maidens of the kingdom be invited. Interestingly enough too, ugliness seems to be correlated with a maternally promoted expression of libido in the female and the Ugly Sisters cannot be dispatched quickly enough to the ball. Cinderella is also permitted by the Step-Mother to come if she can perform a quick act of transvestism and thus market her proletarian brand of 'sexual difference' as gender recognizable by an aristocrat. Try as they might to help her, however, Cinderella's pseudo-donors of the basse-cour, the mice, cannot do it legitimately: they steal ill-matched bits and pieces to make a costume whose heterogeneity is instantly recognized as transgressive by Step-Mother and Ugly Sisters. It is when Cinderella is weeping over her total physical penury, reduced to nothing as she is by the Evil Mother's total repudiation, that the Fairy God Mother materializes. With her wand she effects the following well-known transformations:

 6 mice......6 horses
 heterogeneous costume......unified toilette for the ball

This with the provision, however, that Cinderella respect the mirror-edge of midnight; any transgression of this interdict and she will fall back into the basse-cour. Midnight is the pivot maintaining dissymmetry of binary opposition between the legitimate sublimated expression of desire and the repressed heterogeneous drives. But Cinderella has apparently a low degree of competence within the symbolic order, is decidedly not numerate and exceeds the midnight hour. The twelfth stroke rings a cry from her: O Ciel! O Heavens! O my Fairy God Mother! O my weak super-ego . . . She is caught on the last of the palace steps with the realization of her inner difference as scandal, as total cultural schizophrenia: Cour/Basse Cour, one foot serving class/one foot aristocrat . . . The coach, vehicle of her upward mobility is reconverted into the most ignoble of foods, the pumpkin, real farmyard stuff. There is still some hope however, for


this Cinderella, who without the Name-of-the-Father, in the midst of matriarchy is nothing. Thanks to her Fairy God Mother, she has retained one slipper of vair (not verre, glass, but rare squirrel skin). Thus straddling the poles of her difference (Fairy God Mother/Evil Step-Mother, Cour/Basse Cour, Cultural/Natural, Homogeneity/Heterogeneity) she must learn the scandal of inner dissymmetry. Locked in her attic room, she must recognize her lack, the profound humiliation of her being, see that she is in rags, deride the pretence of her feet at taking her to real pleasure: she only seemed to have a ball. As Freud said, the little girl sees . . . that mice are not horses and that pumpkins don't get her anywhere without patriarchal intervention.

She must iron out those crinkles within, literally de-ride this patchy self, impose sameness on these alternatives. Her identity is after all at stake: if she can learn that 1 + 1 = 2, and make her feet match, she will gain specular endorsement from the male. Cinderella must know that her foot is small- she must see that this clitoral pretence at pleasure is a phase to be abandoned and that to be acceptable, she must acquiesce to its transferral to the vaginal sheath. This resolution to have such a transferral effected by the King's envoy, by the Messenger of the Law will save her. It is Cinderella's renunciation of that teeming, heterogeneous basse-cour within which earns her the key to the chamber in which she has been imprisoned.

The Ugly Sisters of course are too ready to usurp this right. This imposition is quite visible, the pretence enormous; their feet are far too big. When Cinderella humbly tends her foot, however, and allows the Grand Archduke to try the shoe on her, it becomes evident that the shoes 'certainly make a pair'. With symmetry thus restored and ratified, it is clear that Cinderella can legitimately constitute a unified mirror in which the Prince can recognize his desire.

But this Cinderella is somehow unsatisfactory, imperfect. She doesn't pay sufficiently for her transgression, she goes too far of her own accord, hangs onto her internal difference for too long; both in the excess of her desire (exceeding midnight) and by escaping the Prince, she effectively poses a threat to that order. She escapes him without declaring her identity, leaving neither name nor address; she escapes into a-nomia, a-topia, breaks the Patriarchal Law as mediated by the Fairy God Mother. In any case, this is the implication of the riddle's answer:

A sheila who fucks and sucks until midnight and then changes into a pizza and a 6-pack.

What is retained, transformed, deleted? What is the difference here which might incite young Australian men to ask the riddle and explain the embarrassed mirthless response it elicits from the male receiver? Midnight is retained as the pivotal hour, the hour when transgression becomes transformation into a difference which escapes, exceeds patriarchal stabilization. Midnight exceeded implies asymmetry between heterosexual reproductive coupling and that


unknown dark continent where what women really want makes its elusive claims; midnight transgressed is a lapse into the unnameable As a reading, the riddle is violently transgressive in itself, seeking a release in laughter through the display of what is 'really repressed in the fairy tale. From the Prince's point of view, Cinderella (she whom he could not name) was pleasure deferred in order to be legitimated. Through its focus on Cinderella's mode of escape (coach + 6 horses—pumpkin + 6 mice—pizza + 6 pack) the riddle implies that for her the real disappointment came when those six white horses were reconverted into mice. Had she escaped from the palace with them, she would have really 'had a ball'. Midnight becomes here also a perverse downward mirror inverting the legitimate 6 (the half-night before) into 9 which exceeds it—the figure which seems to haunt the riddle is 69, overwhelmingly the legitimate with the illegitimate, returning the 'repressed' of the dance to the AM. side of midnight.

By displacing the site of Cinderella's transformation to the vehicle of her would-be escape, the riddle not only insists on this as transgression, but by the implied massive cannibalistic repression, effects a total deletion of the identification sequence whereby Cinderella accedes to social recognition. The indefinite article (a sheila) similarly insists on the maintenance of anonymity as a necessary condition for 'perfection' to be achieved. This modern Cinder-ella (she-la) of the gang-bang (implied by six/sex-pack) is presented as a pure, perfectly reproducible, bi-valvar aspirating machine, and yet it is suspected that something exceeds this simple disposition around two holes. This vagina dentata serves perhaps too actively, too enthusiastically. Like Cinderella, it might take things too far. The deletion of the direct object confers intransitivity upon the verbs (sucks and fucks) and thus displays the anxiety of threatened phallic identity. This 'liberated' activity, although a pre-requisite for the implied gang-bang, must be unambiguously punished—outlawed, if phallic identity is to be maintained. Unlike Cinderella, who must learn numeracy the hard way if she is to enter the legitimate regime of reproductive sexuality, this reified sheila is declared 'perfectly' reducible to exchange value as punishment for her in difference, suspected as being in excess to the service given. This labouring Cinderella not only produces a surplus which will restore the male somatic capital, she must learn absolute redundancy when midnight strikes: she must 'change into something more comfortable' for the pack of six. She who would eat will be eaten, she who would drink will be drunk . . .

That this 'surplus', this excess is due to an inner heterogeneity a failure of symmetry, is exhibited by the transform sheila sucks and fucks—pizza and 6-pack. The pizza is fast food (Cinderella was too fast) and unifies on a dough base, the most heterogeneous of ingredients which apart from the virtual constants, tomato and mozzarella, can be replaced and combined at will by the consumer. (There


is ironically perhaps some vestige of Cinderella's nominal non-identity retained in the implied 'mozzarella'.) Despite the rhetorical attempt at subjugation to symmetry (mid-night, sucks and fucks, pizza and 6-pack), or rather, all the more because of it, the difference within, the heterogeneity undermining symmetry as confirmation of sameness, is strikingly displayed. Heterogeneity is manifest on the left of the equation by the slip of a letter (s-f) and survives on the right in the uneasy symmetry of pizza and 6-pack (visibly heterogeneous popular fast foot vs visibly homogeneous popular drink—inferred to be beer in the Australian context). These differences might well be played out for pleasure but must be massively censored at the same time for the restitution of the penile code in all its integrity.

One of the interesting aspects of this riddle is the pleasure it seems to want to exhibit in combining markers of cultural difference into the one act of derision. In the Australian context, pizzas are most commonly available in American style, one of the effects of Australia's neo-colonialization through multi-national investment. Six-pack, rather than 6 stubbies or tinnies is a relatively recently adopted Americanism. The juxtaposition of these terms (as 'perfect' mid-night 'munchies' after such expenditure) with 'sheila' suggests an imperfect subordination of the cultural 'other' to the Australian identity. The riddle also takes its pleasure in anachronism, in the visible difference between feudal sexual mores and sexual practice in contemporary post-industrial capitalist society.

Rhetorically, sexually and culturally, the riddle imposes formal symmetry while displaying the pleasure and anxiety of asymmetry. Through a strategy of derision, it affects indifference to the 'difference within'. But the riddle is a dialogic structure of question and preformulated response. As such, it also effects a massive repression by deriding the difference between sender and receiver. To give the 'right' response, the Australian Oedipus risks identification as culturally 'mixed-up' and as potentially castrated. And if the receiver is a woman? . . .

A lump of lard

The riddle was presented to me with this difference, however, as being an 'anti-feminist' 'joke' by a young middle-class white Australian male. Intrigued by the work it expends in claiming indifference to female sexuality and by a suspicion that the riddle was used as a screen for the teller's anxiety about the feminist, I asked a sample of six Australian men what they conjured up when I said 'Australian feminist'. The following was the most remarkable in its display of anxious derision: Er . . . A lump of lard in overalls . . . er . . . with a razor blade from one ear. Semiotic delinquency is derided as being an aggressive but unconvincing disruption of conventional codings of sexual difference.


These putative attributes of the 'Australian feminist' constitute an 'ungrammatical' syntagm, a juxtaposition in the one message of item from different codes (culinary, vestimentary, cosmetic). The 'feminist' is denounced as being literally, categorically wrong: a ridiculous, heterogeneous mix. It is this heterogeneity which is rhetorically punished by a formal attempt at homogeneity and a certain symmetry. What is at stake here is not only the witch's arrogation of distinctive markers of masculinity but that she should conceal, in the loose 'masculine' overall, salient indices of bodily symmetry (breasts, buttocks). Visible evidence of her inner homogeneity being denied, this is vengefully fantasized as 'lard'. This culinary metaphor (lard: rendered fat, especially from the abdomen of a pig not edible in itself—adjunct to food) indicates that 'feminists' find more severe symbolic punishment than those other potential 'castrators'. Hérodiade, she who requested the Saint's head on a plate, is 'pomegranate'; Cinder-ella/She-la reduced to pizza and 6-pack. This 'feminist' is not only lard, but 'a lump of lard'—congealed in a white amorphous mass since she refuses my gaze. I will affirm that I wouldn't desire her anyhow: I will refuse to realize her inner schism around which she might reflectively confirm herself as my other. That asymmetry is coded as resistance to specular investment by the male is not only manifest in the categorical heterogeneity (lard, overalls, razor-blade) but by the aggression of the image selected: the razor-blade from one ear. Imbalance as threat is simultaneously asserted and denied: the miniature cutting blade is derided as being uselessly appropriated by the 'feminist'. These claims to difference don't fool me, the definition implies, any feminist whether Australian or not is a lump of lard (sameness-unto-herself stressed by the alliteration and isometry) overall. Overall, they are all the same: lesbian transvestites, pseudo-punks (even the razor-blade in the ear idea was appropriated from ludic punk machismo, I was assured by this male informant) and all basically act out the politics of SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men). Their 'equipment' is not only trivial but also meaningless. Hérodiade, Cinderella/Mozzarella, the Lump of Lard with a Razor Blade . . . What do these texts have in common, what the difference? The only way to stop the dance of difference is to pirouette out of the scene of writing or else to invoke in conclusion, that deus ex machina, the transcendental, unifying Phallus.

Murdoch University

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