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m e t a p h o r s
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Dr. Jyanni Steffensen

If one were to construct an order of the feminine mythic, then one need only return to Freud's discourses on female sexed subjective development. In Freud's narratives the idea of "penis envy" for girls could not be said to be repressed. It is to the contrary, a ubiquitous, if not universal, characteristic of the pre-oedipal female phallic stage. Summarising the Freudian discourse of normative female development, Naomi Segal writes:

Motherhood is the goal of female development; but only via a series of losses, relinquishing the preferred erotic organ (the clitoris), the first-desired parent and, finally, the wish for a penis, in favour of a compensatory desire for a child from father or husband.18

One can see quite clearly that a symbolic order which reproduces rigidly segregated sexual differences and normative "feminine" hetro-sexed subjectivity for women represses the clitoris, desire for the maternal body, penis envy, and female homosexuality. Although Freud attributed "penis envy" to all girls this envy of the paternal organ must be successfully repressed on the tortuous oedipal journey for girls toward a culturally appropriate adult form of female subjectivity.

However, in Freud's Three Essays up until the 1924 revisions, it can be assumed that before the integration of pre-oedipal component drives under the primacy of the genitals in the service of reproduction, auto-erotic (active pleasure seeking) oral, anal, genital (clitoral and penile), and epistemophilic activity was the same for boys and girls.19

It is also obvious from Freud's 1915 construction of the sexual theories of children that epistemophilic activities in children produce different results for boys and girls. Boys assume that everyone has a penis. Girls to the contrary can see the difference between genitals and their respective values very easily and immediately fall into penis envy and fantasise being boys themselves. Girls who refuse to give up the wish for, or fantasy of, acquiring the missing organ one day are marked by Freud as suffering from a "masculinity complex." These female subjects in Freud view tend toward feminism and homosexuality. In 1924 Freud added to the Three Essays a "phallic" stage of infantile genital organization in which its difference from adult genital organisations is marked by the primacy of the phallus. In the symbolic order of adult sexuality, for both sexes, only two genitals, the penis and the vagina, come into account (SE 19: 142). The clitoris as a primary signifier of adult female sexuality is repressed in the symbolic organisation of adult sexuality. One would expect then, within the framework of Sofoulis' reading, that in feminine sublimations in cultural productions not only would the paternal organ be fantasmatically appropriated but that the missing clitoris would also be re-appropriated as a leading metaphor for technocultural production and as a signifier of sexual desire. This trajectory is already discernible in Freud's narratives on the masculinity complexes of female homosexuals. On this path to female homosexuality, re-read by Elizabeth Grosz, there is a disavowal of women's castration, a refusal to acknowledge the symbolic meaning of sexual difference. The girl will continue to identify with the phallic mother and may see the father as another embodiment of the status of the mother. In refusing to acknowledge her difference from the phallic position, the female homosexual retains her pre-oedipal masculinity and maternal love-object. For Freud, female homosexuals refuse the normal path to femininity via acceptance of castration and the transfer of libidinal cathexis from mother to father (via penis envy). They retain her pre-oedipal phallic (active) sexuality and retains the maternal figure as a model for later object attachments. In other words she retains the clitoris as her primary sexual organ and continues to love maternal figures. In this fantasmatic scenario, both mother and daughter could be said to be signified as phallic (powerful) and the clitoris is dragged into the symbolic order as a primary signifier. Insofar as this fantasmatic scenario could be said to endow female subjects with the magical phallus as well as retain the clitoral signifier, then the female subject could be said to be signified in part-object (Kleinian) terms as a cunt-prick.20This is not to suggest that VNS' multiple scenarios can be, or should be, read in exclusively lesbian terms. It is to suggest that the re-writing and re-reading of paternal-maternal signifiers does not necessarily have to be arrived at through re-imagining (in reverse) masculine sublimation in cultural production in Kleinian terms. The groundwork for girls' fantasmatic "masculinity complexes" (phallic appropriation) and refusal to repress clitoral signification at the same time is already inherent in Freud's discourses on female homosexuality.

VNS Matrix frequently and explicitly evoke cunt metaphors: "we are the modern cunt", deploying "pussy" as a form of greeting as in "Salutations, pussy." Bodily organs and technical processes including cultural and technological production are resignified by this witty foursome - proclaiming themselves as "mercenaries of slime," as "cybercunts" - as extremely wet. References to female genitals and bodily secretions figure significantly in this context both metaphorically in the feminine sublimations in technoculture ("we make art with our cunts") and in the re-writing of female sexed subjective and libidinal investments ("I slide into her"). All New Gen can be read as a re-invention, a re-visioning and reconfiguration of (mutating) female subjectivities. The "cunt" signified scenarios are not deployed as sites for the production or reproduction of maternity or symbolically inscribed motherhood for women. They are redeployed as a site for the construction of libidinal pleasures, in sex, in horizontal rather than oedipal (vertical) relationships, in technological production, in sexy technology - a feminised and feminist erotics of technocultural production and politics. Cyberspace in VNS terms is re-appropriated from a symbolic order of masculine rationalist high-tech domination and recoded as feminine. The name of the game, in VNS appropriations of future languages, is "in-filtration and re-mapping the possible futures outside the (chromo)phallic patriarchal code." In this imaginative game of infiltration and subversion, of Big Daddy Mainframe, of masculine techno-production and its discourses, VNS appropriate paternal organs, spermatic metaphors, and metaphors of viral infection as well as those references on female genitals and bodily processes. The DNA Sluts are imaged as sort of pumped-up barbie dolls ("muscular hybrids") with great laser beams shooting from their genital area. These may be read as magical phalli (undecideably clitoral or penile). Spermatic and penetrative metaphors are utilised in imaging the mutating female subject as a virus which infiltrates/ impregnates the techno-body of Big Daddy's imperialistically and militaristically deployed data banks.

What VNS and other feminist cultural producers give form to is a textuality based in Irigarayan metaphors of flow, of sliding into, in addition to metaphors of penetration and cutting up. Mythical magical female phalli allow for the spermatic option as well. Irigaray argues for a space to elaborate a new language for women which enjoys the fluidity of the imaginary and refuses to be subsumed in a fixed and closed symbolic realm. This new imaginary/symbolic register in feminist formulations might include Sofoulis' concept of the mythical, a terrain of representation in which ambiguous, transgressive, and impure signs regularly occur. "Slime" is mobilised by VNS Matrix as a recurring and insistent signifier. Within the context of the virtually real Game Girl adventure to infiltrate BDM one is told: "You will be fueled by G-Slime. Please monitor your levels. Bonding with the DNA Sluts will replenish your supplies." (VNS, Game Girl). In their "Cyber-feminist Manifesto" VNS describe themselves as "the future cunts" and "mercenaries of slime", appropriating Irigaray and re-writing Kristeva's theories of abjection elaborated in The Powers of Horror.

VNS Matrix's deployment of the concept "slime" can be read as the signification of sexual desire within a oral fantasmatic which nonetheless also articulates the symbolic separation/differentiation of female sexuality from the mother/child scenario. In their Manifesto, the foursome write that: "the clitoris is a direct line to the matrix, VNS Matrix, terminators of the moral code, mercenaries of slime, go down on the alter of abjection, probing the visceral temple we speak in tongues." Referencing Kristeva's theory of abjection ("we go down on the alter of abjection") VNS construct a textual scenario of oral sex ("probing the visceral temple we speak in tongues"). "Probing the visceral temple . . . in tongues" might be also be read as an evocation of either heterosexual or lesbian cunnilingus. It might also be read as "French kissing" within the signification of erotic practices for any sexuality. "Probing the visceral temple" might be read as penile/vaginal penetrative hetero-sex or digital/vaginal (hetero- or lesbian) sex; or as lesbian dildonics; or as the spermatic probing of magical orifices (mouth-cunts) by gamegirls with magical phalli. "We speak" suggests a re-articulation, a re-signification of sexed subjectivity and subject positions within the symbolic/imaginary as queer. Bodily secretions, slimy substances are what fantasmatically and metaphorically permits movement between sexualities.

alpha bar

VNS Matrix Alpha Bar, 1993

On another of the conceptually Deleuzian plateaus in this game - the Alpha Bar - one might become complicit in a construction of female sexuality articulated in a seductive female voice. The voice, to which the spectator/player gains access through the individually intimate mechanism of headphones, could be said to simulate both "phone-sex" and "dildonics" a favoured cyberpunk terms for computer or virtual sex. One eavesdrops in a way on a seductive female voice persuading Circuit Boy - the "dangerous techno-bimbo" - to let himself be "buttfucked." Not only is sexuality and desire signified through polymorphous bodily organs but also through deconstructed sexual practices, sexualities and sexed subject positions. One might say here too that symbolic order differentiation between various sexualities and sexual practices is breached. The seductive and spermatic (through the ear) female voice entreats "Circuit Boy. I know you're there. I can sense you. Let's strip you of your defences. Show me your algorithms now. Circuit Boy. Come here. Come and let me buttfuck your cute little chrome-plated ass, honey. I want you. Circuit Boy. I'm waiting." What one could say with any certainty is that the goal of this proposed coupling is not "motherhood" although in terms of technocultural production for the future it might suggest some fruitful metaphors. The scenario suggests homo-erotic (both male and female) practices and well as hetero-erotic practices - i.e. girls with magical phalli or lesbian dildonics. The female phallic/seductive subject could be a girl with a dildo, with a magic phallus, or a fantasmatic homosexual boy. Circuit Boy might be "feminine" (a girl in this scenario), a girl/boy and the seducer might be read as a girl/boy too. What VNS' writing opens up are re-combinable and open possibilities of the signification of subjectivities and sexualities.

As de Lauretis insists, the elaborations of conscious and unconscious fantasies into images and narratives (the scenarios, scripts and stage settings) of the subject's desire - initially shaped by parental fantasies and subsequently refashioned with material from the external world - are cultural myths and fantasies open to historical and cultural changes. The fantasies of origin are cultural myths that have a powerful hold in subjectivity. They are however not eternal truths, but historically and culturally structured as well as structuring each subject's history. Fantasies, like cultural myths, can be transformed along with historical and cultural change. Representations of the origins of sexuality are seen by de Lauretis as both private and public forms of fantasy that are open to reconfiguration.21 What my reading of VNS Matrix's hypertext suggests is an intervention into, and an imaginative restructuring of the fantasies and discourses which underpin masculine technocultural production in feminised and feminist terms. It can also be read as an imaginative restructuring of the fantasies and cultural myths which underpin the positioning (discursive and otherwise) of female (and male) subjectivity and sexuality. One might say that VNS have put a cunt (or a spanner) into the phallocratic techno-cultural reproductive machine.





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