Interrupted… Bal and Higgins & Silver

Bal, Mieke. Looking In: The Art of Viewing. Amsterdam: Overseas Publishers Association, 2001.

…rape makes the victim invisible. It does that literally-first the perpetrator covers her-and figuratively-then the rape destroys her self-image, her subjectivity, which is temporarily narcotized, definitively changed, and often destroyed. Finally, rape cannot be visualized because the experience is, physically as well as psychologically, inner. Rape takes place inside. … The need to listen to survivors then, becomes doubly urgent, as the only way to reach a solution to the juridical dilemma rape represents. (Bal 100)

…rhetoric, by shaping meaning, constructs reality through the construction of the meanings it offers reality to work with. That is to say, the rhetorical analysis does not stand in opposition to the real issue of rape. Rather, it partakes of it, the rhetorical figurations helping to construct the views of rape dominant in the culture in which the rhetorical discourse or image functions… (Bal 101)

“…the problem of how to view rape and how to act upon that view is far from being solved” (Bal 108 ).

But what is the point of discussing rape through paintings and novels? For one thing it is important because these works are public, intersubjectively available for scrutiny; but is it really possible to move back and forth between the real issue of real rape and the representations of fictional rapes in ‘high’ art? The crux of this problem is the relationship between meaning and experience. Analyzing such a relationship might shed light on my ongoing appeal to empathy with the victim of rape. (Bal 110)

This next is exactly what Weber is doing with his novels, I think. Or at least the rape act as revenge, as publication. Not the victim’s response, because that is not Honor’s response.

…it is crucial that we recognize that besides being violent and aggressive, rape also has the following characteristics: first, rape is a language, a body language. It speaks hatred caused by fear and rivalry. As a speech act, it is the “publication,” the public appropriation, of a subject. It turns the victim into a sign, intersubjectively available. The speech act of rape signifies the arbitrary relationship of sign to meaning… Therefore, the primary meaning of rape for the perpetrator is revenge, a crime of property; the victim becomes anybody’s property because she is no longer one man’s. Second it is important to remember that the goal of rape is the destruction of the victim’s subjectivity, a destruction necessitated by the problematic self-image of the rapist. This destruction is accomplished by the alienation from self that ensues as a result of the experience of hatred being spoken in one’s body by means of another’s, by forced contiguity. As a consequence of the semiotic nature of rape, the victim, a member of the semiotic community in which the rape takes place, understands and internalizes the message of annihilation absolutely. She is destroyed, hence unable to participate in semiosis anymore. Just as her body has become appropriated, so too her semiotic competence has been usurped and her semiosis becomes the other’s. As a consequence, the most characteristic result of rape is the victim’s agreement with the rapist’s hatred of her. The victim is not only (109) blamed by others, she also blames herself, because she is not addressed, not spoken to, but spoken. (Bal 109-110)

In the following quotes, I find that the works I am examining do pretty much the opposite of the expectation and findings by Higgins and Silver. It is not that I disbelieve or doubt them. I do not. I think, though, that my preference is for a more accurate presentation of rape as violation. I neither read nor remember assaults which are as described by Higgins and Silver. Also, I suppose, my understanding of silence by sexual assault survivors is quite different from how Higgins and Silver would interpret those same silences. However, these quotes would be more useful to say “This is what has been done; this is not what I have found” than to prop up my work.

So they show that I have entered a conversation, even if I disagree with their conclusions.

Rape and Representation. Eds. Lynn A. Higgins and Brenda R. Silver. New York: Columbia, 1993.

“…who gets to tell the story and whose story counts as ‘truth’ determine the definition of what rape is. Focusing on the tales told (or not told) by voices within texts, by authors, and by critics… ” (Higgins and Silver 1).

“…analyses of specific texts, when read through and against each other, illustrate a number of profoundly disturbing patterns. Not the least of these is an obsessive inscription-and an obsessive erasure- of sexual violence against women…” (Higgins and Silver 2).

“How is it that in spite (or perhaps because) of their erasure, rape and sexual violence have been so ingrained and so rationalized through their representations as to appear ‘natural’ and inevitable, to women as to men?” (Higgins and Silver 2).

“One of the feminist strategies… is to show how art and criticism share the well-documented bias of rape law, where representations of rape after the event are almost always framed by a masculine perspective premised on men’s fantasies…” (Higgins and Silver 2).

Over and over in the texts… rape exists as an absence or gap that is both product and source of textual anxiety, contradiction, or censorship. The simultaneous presence and disappearance of rape as constantly deferred origin of both plot and social relations is repeated so often as to suggest a basic conceptual principle in the articulation of both social and artistic representations. Even when the rape does not disappear, the naturalization of patriarchal thinking, institutions, and plots has profound effects: just as victims of rape often end up blaming themselves, the texts … present women telling stories that echo or ventriloquize definitions of rape that obliterate what might have been radically different perceptions. (Higgins and Silver 3)

Again, I think they have chosen works which support their belief system. I am not saying those works do not exist. They do. What I am saying is that there are other works which support the woman’s right to own, describe, and tell about her assault or, at least, portray the assault with significant horror and distress that it is obviously bad.

“…rape and rapability are central to the very construction of gender identity…” (Higgins and Silver 3).

“What are the rhetorical strategies whereby rape gets represented in spite of (or through) its suppression? Equally important, what happens to women who go public about their violation? If they escape the dominant fate of silencing and erasure, what price do they pay?” (Higgins and Silver 4)

Again, “dominant” fate? This may have been true in earlier years and it is still true in many places, but it is no longer true in 2009 in the United States. Would I think it was still the dominant fate in 1993? Perhaps. But no longer.

But the act of rereading rape involves more than listening to silences; it requires restoring rape to the literal, to the body: restoring, that is, the violence-the physical, sexual violation. (Higgins and Silver 4)

On page 5 they talk about “rape and silencing,” but they are meaning a silence imposed from without, not a silence imposed by the survivor. That is a very different kettle of fish.

How rape becomes institutionalized:
“… shifts the emphasis from writing the victim to the institutional discourses in which rape occurs…. each of these discourses provides a context for reading literary representations of rape and each one is shown to “frame” the rape victim by rationalizing violence against women…” (Higgins and Silver 6)

(Speaking of the Honor Harrington series by David Weber) I think that Honor here felt that she was in an institution that would not listen to her. It was not the Navy, but the aristocracy. She did not speak, but they tried to get her to. Weber makes it clear in other places that there were rapes going on, Georgia’s too, which are not punished by the courts. So Honor’s would have been, but she was right in that the aristocracy outside the Navy would subvert the rape onto the survivor.

“By actively confronting rape at the level of literary texts these essays become a force of resistance and change” (Higgins and Silver 8).

Yes, that I can agree with.

Who is speaking has a great deal to do with whether or not the victim, most commonly but not always a woman, is believed and whether a case will be made against the assailant. The nature of the ‘who’ evoked here includes more than gender: race, class, the sexual history of the victim, the relationship (8) of the victim to the perpetrator (e.g., whether he was a stranger or an acquaintance), all play a role in whether a ‘rape’ is perceived to have occurred. (Higgins and Silver 8-9)

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