Ariel – Incest and Child Sexuality (Part Three)Posted by Infinite Tasks
[Part Two concluded by pointing out: "If we are to seriously consider the question of childhood sexuality, how can we do that without knowing what the children think or feel? We have no way to gauge how freely they are engaging in these activities and how much is coercion or a feeling of inescapability." We are all truly indebted to Ariel for her three-part post, concluding here, and for taking up some of the issues from Letters that none of us will soon forget, even if we don't always know how best to analyze and understand them. -IT]
This brings us back to freedom. The question of freedom, much like the questions of morality and desire, is an oft-talked about one in anarchist circles, so I won’t linger here long, but for our purposes the essential question is: How can one be sure they are making “free” decisions? This is a question left unanswered in Letters. Not only is it unanswered; Perlman seems to think it’s not a question worth considering, given that he never even attempts to address this subject in any way except through Sophia, and that’s only to show us how repressed and reactionary Sophia is to judge Tina and Ted’s relationship.
In Yara’s case (unlike Tina’s), she was raised in a nuclear family unit, and attended a normal school. Her life looks externally much more like a traditional model, with a clearly defined hierarchy and power dynamic. Yara was raised with people in charge of her. Part of her rebellion is unlearning that, right? Actually, according to Mirna, Yara is the only one who has nothing to unlearn.
“We were all deformed by a world of doctors, police and prying old women. Yara was the only one who knew that by killing the devil inside us, we killed ourselves and she couldn’t help but know because there was nothing inside her but the devil.”
But how do we know she’s not just being another Sophia? I mean she’s following awfully closely in her own mother’s footsteps, much like Sophia. Is Yara even the one who tells us she views the world this way? Even more importantly, why is none of this commented on by Perlman? Is he totally unaware of the similarities between the child of a political revolutionary (Luisa) and a personal revolutionary (Mirna) following the footsteps of their parents fairly closely? And even more so in that case of Yara than Sophia. I mean, Luisa is manipulative sure, but does she do anything like this:
“Yara and I both leaped at [Vesna] and pulled her to bed. The devil drove both of us. We showed her what her father would do to her as soon as he returned. We both turned her and kissed her lips and hugged her until I felt a horrible paralysis flowing through her trembling, freezing body.”
Oh and don’t forget this little gem from way back in the Sixth Letter:
“’Show me, Yara. Come here next to me. Come on, Yara. That’s it. Now lie down. Pretend you’re on the mountain top. Lie still. Pretend we’re alone. Now who am I?’ [...] There’s another silence. Then Yara pleads, ‘You’re hurting me mommy.’ [...] ‘Pretend hard! There, Vesna, lie still. I’m your father. How does that feel, Vesna? And that? Is this how you like me, Vesna?’ ‘No I don’t! I’m not Vesna!’”
Plus, that healthy interaction ends in Mirna hitting Yara so much that Yarostan runs in to save her.
Mirna’s Hidden Authority
Next up on the shining roster of wonderful Mirna actions is when Zdenek realizes Mirna actually faked her catatonic state:
“Zdenek is the only one without tears on his face. He gets up and exclaims, ‘That was a nasty trick Mirna! That whole elaborate performance just to get your daughter to admit her share of the guilt!”
The newest exchange on the mountain top is also extremely cringe-worthy. It’s a great example of how Yara’s “independent” activity is actually often instigated by Mirna. Mirna is the one who was fighting with Yarostan about his standpoint on Titus (among other things). It’s she who links this viewpoint with “repression of his own desires.” Then presumably she and Yara go off to scheme about what to do about Yarostan. Yara tells us that “Mirna promised to take me on an outing today,” and when Yarostan agrees she shouts, “I knew you weren’t what she said you were!” Once actually on the mountain top, Mirna likewise initiates the activity between Yara and herself, not to mention the fact that Yara is extremely drunk. I illuminate the drinking aspect because as we know there are all sorts of competency and accountability issues related to drinking. I won’t touch any of those arguments with a ten foot pole, though, as they are another extremely emotional topic for many people, myself included. However, this interaction is not really helping Yara’s case as someone who is really acting completely of her own volition in my eyes.
What was it that Zdenek says about Vesna again?
“The only thing wrong with Vesna was that she grew up in a house between her sister, her mother, and her grandmother.”
Given this environment I personally wouldn’t put a lot of stock in Yara’s ability to be truly autonomous, either. I’m not saying she isn’t free, merely that we aren’t given enough information to know that she certainly is. This is also where I want to chime in about Mirna’s consent/boundary problems. Of course we find them really frustrating and offensive. I sure as hell do. But again, I don’t really think having a conversation about that is interesting. I mean, we can all agree that she is behaving in a pretty fucked-up way, right? Soooo…. what’s there really to say? I find Mirna’s actions much more interesting to consider when we place them in the context of her as a mother, an authority figure. How do her actions affect the competency, the cognitive ability, of her children to recognize other people’s needs, boundaries, and desires? In other words – with Yara being raised by a person who behaves this way, would she truly be able to recognize or understand another person’s desires if they are contrary to her own?
From Yara to Tina
Let’s go back to Tina. Tina is ostensibly liberated, right? Tina was raised as if she had agency and the ability to make her own decisions. I mean, when we are first introduced to Tina, we don’t know how old she is, and are not led to believe she is different in age from Sophia or Sabina. This is actually a common plot device for Perlman. He tells you rather major details significantly after a character is introduced in order to make you realize your preconceptions of this character, which were based on nothing other than your own prejudices. Tina’s relationship with Ted should ostensibly then offer less qualms for the average reader, right?
I mean, think of how judgmental Sabina is about what she considered Sophia’s prudishness. Over and over again, Sophia is called narrow minded and pathetic for feeling uncomfortable about a sexual relationship between Ted and Tina. We are to side with Sabina. However, as we found out in the Eighth Letter… Tina and Ted never were sexually intimate. This rescinding of Tina and Ted’s relationship doesn’t feel that natural. I can’t really square this with the rest of the book. Ted and Tina’s relationship, had it taken place, would have a been a great way to show Sophia’s growth. Already by the end of chapter 8, she hates Ted a little less. If Sophia had accepted Ted even in face of his socially-condemned lifestyle choices, she would really be on her way to being “unenslaved.” It also would be a wonderful relationship to challenge us, too. But since Ted and Tina were never together, we never have to consider the idea of a youth-adult (competent, capable of taking agency and making her own life decisions) making the decision to sleep with an adult-adult (someone many years older than her but with shared interests and lifestyle choices). And, as we now know from the book’s concluding pages, Tina’s peculiar character and behavior bring up all sorts of weird and even unresolved questions! Like, Perlman almost seems to be espousing a biological determinism argument in her behavior that I find totally crazy!
I keep talking about how Mirna is praised as a “true revolutionary” and that, ultimately, she skates by without too much criticism. I’ll wrap up with a few quotes. In regard to the mountain-top escapade Yarostan says:
“My own ‘education’ in political ’schools’ has not done much to help me understand this undercurrent, but Mirna’s and Yara’s ‘insane behavior,’ as well as your letters have recently made me suspect more was happening than I was able to see.”
Those ironic quotes around “insane behavior” seem to show he considers those same actions anything but. The single actual-rebuttal of Mirna’s version of the Vesna situation (as opposed to Yara’s earlier comments which were not an active counterargument) is one measly paragraph long. It’s back in the Eighth Letter after Mirna goes on a long rant about how Vesna’s death was really cause by her repressing her desires. Yarostan writes:
“I’m half asleep. I try to repeat what she’s saying in my own words. ‘Yara convinced you your desires were natural, whereas the guilt, the shame, the denial of desires were alien to you and to Vesna as well. I’m not sure I agree–’”
Then the subject gets changed. At the beginning of the Eighth Letter Yarostan says “the genuine rebels in my life have been Jan and Mirna,” and later when asking truly interesting questions about desire, he holds Mirna and her desires up as the standard by which to judge ourselves. He says “We’re not asking Mirna’s questions.” It’s true that Mirna gets yelled at a bit, and Yarostan even says, “I’m not trying to exaggerate the lucidity of my two comrades.”
There is a lot more discussion of Mirna that can be had by the conclusion of Letters, and I hope you’ll keep in mind my feeling about – and criticism of – Perlman’s endorsement of Mirna and Yara!