Você está na página 1de 19
The Politics of the Strong Trope: Rape and the Feminist Debate in the United States

The Politics of the Strong Trope: Rape and the Feminist Debate in the United States Author(s): Sabine Sielke Source: Amerikastudien / American Studies, Vol. 49, No. 3, Gewalt in den USA der 1960er und 1970er Jahre (2004), pp. 367-384

Published by: Universitätsverlag WINTER Gmbh

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41158073 .

Accessed: 18/05/2014 22:04

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

.

information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. . Universitätsverlag WINTER Gmbh is collaborating with JSTOR

Universitätsverlag WINTER Gmbh is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Amerikastudien / American Studies.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 131.123.1.227 on Sun, 18 May 2014 22:04:49 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

ThePoliticsofthe StrongTrope:

Rape andtheFeministDebateintheUnitedStates

SabineSielke

ABSTRACT

Taking offfromthe proliferation offeministdiscourseon rape since 1970, this essay examines howAmericanculturetalksaboutsexualviolenceand explainswhy, inthelattertwentiethcentu-

ry,rape achievedsuch

ically Americanrhetoricof

thatthisrhetorichas

intheculturalconstructionof

significance as a trope of

power relations. Tracing theevolutionofa specif-

explore theculturalwork

rape backto thelate eighteenthcentury, I

performed and argue thatthe representation of rape hasbeena major force

sexuality,gender,race,ethnicity,class,and,indeed, nationalidenti-

ty. Provokedin partbycontemporary feminist criticism,my workalso challenges feminist posi- tionsonsexualviolence byinterrogating themas part ofthe history inwhich rape hasbeena con-

venientandconventionalalbeit troublingtrope forotherconcernsandconflicts.

TheUnitedStatesas

"Rape

Culture"?

TheFeministDebate onSexualViolenceRevisited

Sexualviolencehas always been a centralissueof feminist debate, whether

nineteenth-century reform

more implicitly, as in

movement activists, or explicitly, as

onetakesa closerlookatthediscussionsonviolence against womenthatAmeri- canfeministcriticismhas generated inthelastthree decades, one thing becomes

blatantly evident:in thecontextofAmericanfeministcriticismafter 1970, vio-

lence against womenseemsto

violencewasanother pressing concernforfeminismandsexualviolencewasrec-

ognized as

dominatethedebatesfromthelate1960stothemid-1990s.

the

writing and speeches

in

of

today'srape-crisis discourse. However, if

Whiledomestic

figure almost exclusively as rape.

part ofa continuumofviolence againstwomen,1rape has tendedto

Thus,during thefinaldecadesofthetwentieth century feminist discourse, onthe

has reduceda broad

spectrum of systematic and systemic violence

including varioussocialandeconomicdiscriminations-tosexual

opposed

beginning ofa develop-

one hand,

against women-

violence.On theother hand, thedominantfeministdebatehasalsoredefined rape

as an actof violence, andthis redefinition, we needto recall, is indeeda central

achievementofUS-Americanfeminism. However, the conception of rape as anact

to a sexualact- also marksthe

ofviolence-as

ment which, to mymind, isnot beyond criticism.Theredefinitionof rape as anact

1 Cf.Liz Kelly, '"It's Happened toSo Many Women':SexualViolenceas a Continuum (1)" and "'It's Everywhere': SexualViolenceas a Continuum (2)," Surviving SexualViolence (Cambridge:

Polity,1988) 74-112.

This content downloaded from 131.123.1.227 on Sun, 18 May 2014 22:04:49 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

368

SabineSielke

ofviolenceisanachievementbecausefortoo

toa

as a sexual act,

tionthat rape is a natural expression ofmalesexualdesireandan actofsexand lust. Bycontrast, classictextsofthedebatesuchas Kate Millett'sSexualPolitics

(1969),

miller'slandmark-text Against OurWill: Men,Women, and

SusanGriffin's essay"Rape, theAll-AmericanCrime" (1971) andBrown-

longrape mere peccadillo.Separatingrape as an expression ofviolencefromintercourse

Susan Brownmiller,amongothers,objected tothe predominant no-

hadoftenbeenminimized

Rape (1975) see rape

notas a sexually motivated act, butas a formof

litical power; in fact, as

primary mechanismofmale

temporary feministissuealso emerged inthe1970sbecause"controloverone's

body and sexuality becamea

One crucialeffectofthis politicized notionof rape wastherevisionof rape laws

reforms,instigatedby

the

as a dominantcon-

oppression, social control, and po-

themost significantexpression ofmaledominanceanda

supremacy.2Consequentlyrape

major areaforconcernandactivism"atthattime.3

early

rape Michigan in 1974,

1970s.These

law

addressedboththedefini-

inCanada andtheU.S. inthe

passage

ofnew

rape

statutesin

tionofthecrimeandthecourt procedures.4By theendofthe 1970s,though, the

2 Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (1969; London:

Virago,1977); Susan Griffin,"Rape, theAil-

as a crimeofviolenceand power,

revolutions,setting it apart

American Crime,"Ramparts 10.3 (1971): 26-56; Susan Brownmiller,Against Our Will: Men,

Women, and Rape (New York: Simon,1975).Redefiningrape

Brownmillerin turnalso limited rape to contextsof riots,wars, and

from daily life. Among themost significant textsofthefeministdebatealso

ThePolitics ofRape:

and Cassandra Wilson,eds.,Rape: TheFirstSourcebook for Women (New York:NewAmerican Library,1974); Susan Griffin,Rape: ThePolitics of Consciousness (New York: Harper,1986); Su-

san Estrich, Real Rape (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987); Liz Kelly,Surviving Sexual Violence

(Cambridge:Polity,1988);

ElizabethBrauerholzand MaryKowaleski, SexualCoercion:A

andPrevention (Lexington:LexingtonBooks,1991). Valerie Smith,"Split Affinities:The Case of Interracial Rape," Conflicts in Feminism, ed. MarianneHirschand Evelyn FoxKeller (New York: Routledge,1990) 271-87.

belong Diana Russell,

TheVictim's Perspective(New York:Steinand Day,1974); NoreenConnell

Robin Warshaw, / NeverCalled It Rape (New

York: Harper,1988);

SourcebookonIts Nature,Causes,

The

Michiganlaw,upon

whichotherstatesmodelledtheirreform bills, includedthe following

(penetration) and attemptedrapeby

Rosemarie Tong,Women,Sex, andtheLaw [Totowa: Rowman

charges were applicable to a husbandwhoassaultedhiswife

either party had filedfordivorceor

longer hadto establishthevictim'sresistance (Temkin

changes in subsequent re-

changes: It displaced thedistinctionbetween 'simple'rape

"a ladderof offences, each ofwhichis describedas criminalsexualconduct" (JenniferTemkin,

"Women,Rape, and Law Reform,"Rape, ed. Sylvána Tomaselliand Roy Porter [Oxford: Basil

Blackwell,1986]16-40;28; cf.also and Allanheld,1984]92-93). New

whenshe was

legal separation

(Temkin28). In court, the prosecution no

28, see also Tong96-97).

history as

semen,pregnancy, or diseasecouldbe introduced (Temkin28). The

formsandother jurisdictions included makingrape laws (as opposed to justsodomylaws)appli-

cable to male victimsas well

Praeger,1984]370), reformofrules requiring corroboration (Tong104),

tionary instructions given to

lawstolaws prohibiting assault (Tong112-13) andtoreducethe

Cf.alsoJohnD 'EmilioandEstelleВ. Freedman, IntimateMatters:A HistoryofSexuality inAmer-

livingapart fromhimand

Strictruleswereinstituted governing theuse ofthevictim's prior sexual

evidence (Tong106).Only hersexual history withthedefendanthimselforthe origin of

(Tong

91

as wellas Sue Bessmer, TheLaws ofRape [New York:

andlaws

penalties for rape(Tong114-15).

governing cau-

juries(Tong105-06). In some jurisdictions, reformsassimilated rape

This content downloaded from 131.123.1.227 on Sun, 18 May 2014 22:04:49 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Rape andtheFeministDebate intheU.S.

369

notionof

critique.Objecting to the separation of sexuality and

noninsistedon

violence.For her, as

tive, canentaila lotof force," andtheuseofforce or, as she

vasionofthe

"isnotlesssexualfor being violent.To theextentthatcoercionhasbecomeinte-

gral tomale

isviolent."5"Ifwe

between rape and intercourse, sexualharassmentandsex

eroticism,right whereitis."6IntheworkofMacKinnonand Dworkin, thislinehas

infactdissolved:underthe given social conditions, Dworkin claims, heterosexual

intercourseis

put itin

while pornography, as Robin Morganfamously

rape

as a formof oppression andcontrolwasitself subjected to a new

power, CatharineMacKin-

the convergence of sexuality, ortobe exact, ofmale sexuality and

forAndrea Dworkin,"acceptablesex, in the legalperspec-

putsit, the "penile in-

so MacKinnon insists,

vagina," is pivotal tomale sexuality."Rape,"

sexuality,rapemay evenbe sexualtothe degreethat, and because, it

separate violencefrom sexuality," she argues, "weleavetheline

roles,pornography and

alwaysrape.

And

originallyquitemarginal, it

in

acknowledged as part ofa

rape"9 as

JoggerRape Case (1989)

1977, isthe theory,rape isthe practice.7

Whilethisso-calledradicalfeminist position was

early1980s,rape

hasbeen

eventually tookcenter stage and fundamentally affectedthe concept of rape

feministcriticism.Sincethe

continuumofviolence against womenthat ranges fromthe inscription ofconven- tional gender rolesacross misogynist or obscene speech to tortureandmurder.8

As a consequence, innumerablecases ofsexualharassmentand "date

wellas prominent incidentssuchas theCentralPark

werecovered by theAmericanmedia during the80sand90s.Thedebateeventu-

ally culminatedintheclaimthattheUS is a "rape culture"10-a claimwhichmis-

Zea (New York: Harper,1988) 314.Women'ssexual history remainsan issuein rapetrials,despite

thefactthatthereformsof rapelaw, firstmanifested by the

igan in 1974,

dence,restricting ittothe relationship withthedefendant.

haveestablishedrules governing theuse ofthevictim's prior sexual history as evi-

passage ofnew rape statutesinMich-

5

Catharine MacKinnon, Towarda Feminist Theoryof theState

(Cambridge: Harvard UP,

P,1987) and MacKinnon,

1989)173, 172.See also Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse (New York:Free

SexualHarassment ofWorking Women:A Case of SexualDiscrimination (New Haven:Yale UP,

1979) 218-20.

Catharine MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified: Discourseon Life and Law (Cambridge:

Harvard UP,1987) 86-87.

TakeBack the Night: Women

on Pornography, ed. Laura Lederer (New York: Morrow,1980) 134-40.

Many Women':SexualViolenceas a Con- Continuum,"Surviving Sexual Violence

(Cambridge:Polity,1988)74-112; as wellas Kelly, "The ContinuumofSexual Violence,"Women, Violence, andSocial Control, ed. JalnaHanmerand MaryMaynard(AtlanticHighlands: Human-

itiesP

tinuum"and "'It's Everywhere': Sexual Violenceas a

7

Robin

°

Morgan,"Theory andPractice: Pornography and Rape,"

On thisissuecf.Liz Kelly "'It's Happened to So

International,1987) 46-60.

9 According to The OfficialSexually Correct Dictionary and Dating Guide (New York:Vil-

theterm"date rape" wascoinedin1982 by Ms. magazine writerKarenBechhofer.It

frameofreferencein many Eu-

The

term "rape

culture"is used in sociological studiesto differentiateso-called "rape-

fromcountries where,according to official records,

lard,1995),

is a concept thatdue to theabsenceofa "datingsystem" lacksa ropeancountries,includingGermany. 10

prone" countries (such as theUnited States)

rape is a relatively rarecrime ("rape-free"countries). See Peggy Reeves Sanday'sessay"Rape

This content downloaded from 131.123.1.227 on Sun, 18 May 2014 22:04:49 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

370

SabineSielke

leadinglysuggests that rape

rapeexcessively thaninculturesthat deny theoccurrenceofsexualviolence.

occursmore frequently in a culturethattalksabout

rapepartlyresulted, at leastin part,

speech and imag-

Only

Thisrather comprehensive definitionof

froma tendency, dominantinthe debate, todiminishandblurtheboundariesbe-

tween acts, ontheone hand, and speechacts, ontheother.Hate

Wordsin

es of violenceare violent acts, MacKinnoninsistsin herbook

1993,11 thus putting forthan argument thatusheredinnot only debatableformsof

"sexualcorrectness"12and censorship,13

feminism gone toofar?" consequently becamethe question moreandmoreoften

voicedeven bysupporters offeminist agendas.14

people awareofboththe degree and

the culturaland individualeffectsof sexual violence, feministdiscoursehad evolved rape as "themaster metaphor, for defining theviolationofwoman bypa-

triarchy."15Employing a strongtrope foran effective politics,however, canwork

only as long as

crucialtomethatwenot only talkabout rape, butalsoreflectaboutwhatwetalk

aboutwhenwetalkabout rape.

buta considerablebacklashas well."Has

So whathad happened? Intentto make

that trope doesnotloseitsmomentumandforce.Andthusitseems

Why TalkabouttheRhetoricof Rape?

Being a scholarof literary andculturalstudiesI the phenomenon thatSusanEstrichcalled"real

inhow

experiencechanges oreven destroys theirsenseofself.NorwasI concernedabout

whetherwe can

fromso-called "rape free countries," as

wasnot guided in

rape." I

my research by

wasnot really interested

inthecourseoftheir lives, orhowthistraumatic

many women getraped

reallydistinguish theUnitedStatesas a "rapepronecountry"

somescholarsinfactdo.16 My interestwas

and the Silencing ofthe Feminine,"Rape, ed. Sylvána Tomaselliand

Blackwell,1986) 84-101.It has been adaptedby feministcriticismto suggest a culture's general

tendency to oppress women. See, for instance, Emilie Buchwald, Pamela

Roth,Transforming a Rape Culture (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions,1993).

Fletcher, and Martha

Roy Porter (Oxford: Basil

11

1Z On theissuesee Debating SexualCorrectness: Pornography, Sexual Harassment, Date Rape,

Catharine MacKinnon,Only

Words (Cambridge: Harvard UP,1993).

andthePoliticsofSexual Equality, ed. Adele M. Stan

(New York: Delta,1995).

13 See Sarah Crichton, "SexualCorrectness:Has itGone Too Far?"Newsweek122 (1995): 52-

64; Marcia Pally, Senseand Censorship: The VanityofBonfires(New York:AmericansforConsti-

tutionalFreedomandFreedomtoRead Foundation,1991); Sabine

tweenArtand

Pornography:Censorship andthe Representation oftheSexual Body,"Democracy

and theArtsintheUnited States, ed. Alfred Hornung, ReinhardR. Doerries, andGerhardHoff-

mann (München:Fink,1996)

Sielke,"Drawing theLineBe-

287-98.

14 Two examples of such critique are ChristinaHoff Sommers, Who StoleFeminism?How

Bonilla, "CulturalAs-

Ought toBe a Crime,"Policy Review66 (1993): 22-29.

15

MarxistFeminist Figurations ofthe Literal," Dia-

WomenHave Betrayed Women (New York: Simon,1994)

sault:WhatFeministsAre

Doing to Rape

Warren BeattyWarner,"ReadingRape:

critics133 (19S3):12-32; 13.

16 See Sanday.

and Margaret D.

This content downloaded from 131.123.1.227 on Sun, 18 May 2014 22:04:49 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Rape andtheFeministDebateintheU.S.

371

geared towardthediscourseofsexualviolenceorwhatI cametocall"therhetoric

of rape," a rhetoricwhichI deemto be

asked myselfwhy fromthe1960sonwardAmericanculturein general andAmer-

icanfeministcriticismin particular havetalkedso

about

lence?How hasAmericanculturelearnedtotalkabout rape? And why hasfemi-

nism, at a timewhenit

culturalconstraintsand inscriptions, ata timewhenitmeanttoliberatea

edlyother, subversivefemale sexuality fromsexual

coursethattendsto resituatethefemale subject inthe position ofthevictim-a

discourse, inother words, thattosome

es

historically, in fact,nationallyspecific. I

insistently, ifnot obsessively,

Whatculturalworkis being achieved by thisrhetoricofsexualvio-

attempted to

recoverthefemale body fromthedebrisof

suppos-

oppression,practised a dis-

degree reassertsthe verygender differenc-

firmly inscribed?

rape.

that nineteenth-century culturehadso

rape"

to thelate

In orderto answerthese questions we havetore-tracetheculturalfunctionof

eighteenthcentury- whichis whatI willdo in

this"rhetoricof

the following, ata

stand why late twentieth-century Americanfeministcriticismand

beenso preoccupied withmattersofsexualviolence.And only inthis way can I

explainwhymy workonviolencehasbeen

spectivesyet

Americanfeministcriticismitselfis

specificdiscourse, a discoursewhichhas employedrape

thedebateofratherdiverse cultural,social, and political conflicts.In fact, a close

analysis ofthehistorical trajectory ofthediscourseofsexualviolencemakesevi-

dentthatthe trope of rape has

socialhierarchiesor political dominance.On the

"rhetoricof

establishand subsequently stabilize parameters ofdifferencesuchas

ethnicity,class, andnation.Late nineteenth-century cultural practices in particular

madeuse ofthe trope of rape toevolvenotionsofraceand gender whichinform

oursenseofothernessand

bateofthelate

thesenotionsofdifference.Andthisis why I thinkwe may as wellbe

the peak

behindus. BeforeI re-tracetheAmericanrhetoricof

of"date rape" debatesand"TakeBackthe Night Marches"ismeanwhile

very accelerated pace.17Only inthis way, I argue, canweunder-

politics have

provoked and inspiredby feminist per-

has had to considerably distanceitselffromtheseviews.Afterall

part ofthis historicallygrown and nationally

as an effective trope for

rape"images and

onlyrarely been appropriated forthe fightagainst

contrary, in the history ofthe

repeatedly servedto

figures ofsexualviolencehave

gender,race,

sexuality to

this veryday. The Americanfeministde-

twentieth-century, I would claim, furtherreinforcedandcemented

happy that

rape,though, I needtomakea few

rape"

from"real rape," I do

project a

biasbe-

I meanto

separateappearance from 'reality,' nordo

general remarks.WhenI distinguish the"rhetoricof

notmeanto

tween

hand, andthe empiricism ofthesocial

tinctionbetween rape

rape,

produces the particular cultural significance ofsuchviolencebecauseit

andevaluates rape andeven determines, toa certain degree, howsuchviolations

supposedlyimpressionisticperspectives of cultural studies, on the one

sciences, ontheother. Byinsisting ona dis-

meantounderlinethatitisthetalkabout

andits rhetoric, I

the "putting intodiscourse"ofthe phenomenon ofsexualviolencewhich

interprets

17 Fora complete accountof

myargument, see Sabine Sielke,ReadingRape:

TheRhetoric of

SexualViolenceinAmericanLiteratureand

Culture, 1790-1990 (Princeton: Princeton UP,2002).

This content downloaded from 131.123.1.227 on Sun, 18 May 2014 22:04:49 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

372

SabineSielke

aretobe punished. Thereforeitis the

theactualincreaseofinstancesof rape that generated thesensethattheUS is a

"rape

proliferation of rape

discourseratherthan

culture."

Atthesame time,however, wehaveto acknowledge thatthe experience of rape

sexuality,pain,

anddeath-

is a phenomenon which-notunlike experiences of

tendstoresist representation.According to narratologist Mieke Bai,rape

cannotbe visualizednot only because"decent"culturewouldnottoleratesuch represen-

tationsof the "act" butbecause rape makesthevictiminvisible.It does that literally

figuratively- the rape destroys herself-

image, her subjectivity, whichis temporarilynarcotized,definitelychanged andoftende-

stroyed.Finally,rape cannotbe visualizedbecausethe

psychologically, inner. Rape takes place inside.In this sense,rape is by definition imag-

ined;

adequately"objectifiable."18

itcanexist only as experience andas memory, as image translatedinto signs, never

first-the perpetrator "covers"her- and then

experienceis,physically, as wellas

The

also

physicalpain and psy-

canbe communicatedas text

rape is not simply one of

only, I argue thatthecentral paradigm ofa rhetoricof

rape

canbe broken, thatwecanandshouldreadtheviolencebackintothetexts.Since

silencesthemselves generatespeech, thecentral paradigm isratherthatof rape, si-

lence, and refiguration.Byrefiguration I do meanallformsofmediation by which

theactual phenomenon of rape

and silencing, as feministcriticism suggests, thus insinuating thatthissilence

chicviolation- escaperepresentation,yet that rape

veryfact,though, thatthe physicalexperience of rape resists representation

explainswhy the figure of rape

hasbeenso

politically effective.

suchas

Presuming withBal thatcentral aspects of

rape-

istransformedintodiscourseandthus necessarily

rape as wellas on rape

as re-

not

simplyreflect, butrather stage and

by. At best, read-

they areoverdetermined

transfigured.

figuration we acknowledge thattextsdo

dramatizethehistoricalcontradictions

ings of rape

thus produce a text's self-knowledge;they alsoevolvea new knowledgepertaining tothe ideological necessitiesofa text'ssilencesanddeletions.19

metonymy, such

substitutionisbasedon

connections alonghorizontal,temporal linesand has thereforebeen

withrealism. Metaphor,bycontrast, substituteson thebasisofresemblanceor analogy, andcreates semantic,spatial links along a paradigmatic, vertical line, of- ten suggesting(poetic) truth-value.Due tothese asymmetrical,hierarchical, com- plementary ratherthan exclusory, rhetorical processes at work,20readings of rape cannotbe reducedtothe study ofa motif.Norwoulditsufficetorecover"theun-

of

Ifour readings focuson refigurations

thereforerevealnot merely thelatenttextinwhatis manifest, and

Refiguration works byway of displacement andsubstitution.In

relation,association, or contiguity, whichforms syntactical

associated

18 Mieke Bal,

"Reading WiththeOther Art,"Theory Betweenthe Disciplines:Authority/Vi-

sion/Politics, ed. MartinKreiswirthandMarkA. Cheetham (Ann Arbor:U of MichiganP,1990)

135-51; 142.

19

I am indebtedhereto Peter Storey'schapter on "Althusserianism," An Introductory Guide

toCultural Theory and

Popular Culture (Athens: U of GeorgiaP,1993)

110-18.

zu Barbara Johnson,"Metaphor,Metonymy, and Voicein Their Eyes Were WatchingGod, A

World ofDifference(Baltimore: Johns HopkinsUP,1987)155-71; 155.

This content downloaded from 131.123.1.227 on Sun, 18 May 2014 22:04:49 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Rape andtheFeministDebateintheU.S.

373

speakableaspects ofthe experience of rape"21byforegrounding the"violenceof

representation,"22 andthusreinstallonthelevelofrhetorictheviolencechoked by

the story line.Such

lence,yet tendsto ignore the particular culturalfunctionsandthe historicallyspe-

cific meanings texts assign to sexuality andsexualviolence. Readingrapefigura- tively, as rhetoric, wecanfollowthe symbolic tracesofviolation instead,exploring

itsfunctionwithinthestructureof

rativesas wellaswithintheconstructionofindividualandcommunalidentities. Such correspondences betweenaestheticsand politics canbe probed becauselit- erary textsandtheformationofculturalidentitiesinvolvesimilar processes ofre-

larger culturalnar-

practice couldbe applied to anytext; itevolves systemic vio-

particularliterary textsand

figuration. Like metaphors, identitiesare structured against difference (of race,

class,gender,ethnicity, and age,

overcoming ofdifference byidentity."23 Yet evenif identity subordinatesdiffer-

encetothedemandsof

thesamein spiteof, and through, thedifferent."The "logical structureoflikeness"

is consequently characterized by a "tensionbetweensamenessanddifference"24 andconstructionsof identityrequire boththe assignment andthesubordinationof

difference.Therhetoricof

es are beingascribed, victimsandviolators othered, set off, whilethe

assigns differenceremainsunmarkedandunlimitedinhis possibilities.25

for instance) and "directedtowardthe

gradual

likeness,"[t]o

see the like," PaulRicoeur argues, "istosee

isoneof many discourses by whichsuchdifferenc-

subject who

refiguration

unspeakable into figures of speech

rape

The structurallikenessof processes of identity formationand

into art,

transformthe

makesthe analysis of literary texts particularlyproductive inthiscontext. Literary

textstranslate pain

whosestructureandfunctionboth disfigure and bespeak theirculturalwork. They tellstoriesandtranslatetalesofviolationinto nationallyspecific, cultural symbol-

and conclusivenarratives.As such,they bothformand interferewiththe

ogies

cultural imaginary.Why,however, should literary discoursebe the privileged me- diumforan analysis oftherhetoricofsexualviolence?Unlikethediscoursesof thesocialandnatural sciences, literatureiscentralherenotso muchbecauseithas

allowed marginal voicestoenterintotheconversationon

ality atan earliertime.Literature may haveaccommodated"other" perspectives,

buttheirothernesshas nonethelessbeenchannelledand limited by theinstitu-

tionalframesinwhich theyappeared. Likewiseweno

faithin the powers offictionand its particular aestheticsto

conflicting cultural forces, orassumethat literary textsare generically more"tell-

gender,race,

andsexu-

longer sharethe (formalist)

represent and level

21 Bal 137.

I

referheretothe essay collectionTheViolence ofRepresentation: Literatureandthe History ofViolence, ed. NancyArmstrong andLeonardTennenhouse (New York: Routledge,1989).

23

David Lloyd,

"Race under Representation," Culture/Contexture: Explorations in Anthropol-

ogy and LiteraryStudies, ed. E. ValentineDaniel and Jeffrey M. Peck (Berkeley: U ofCalifornia

P,1996)249-72; 257.

24

Quotedin Lloyd 256. Lloyd himself partly relieson the

argument thatColetteGuillauminmakesin "Race and

Nature:The System of Marks, theIdea ofa Natural Group andSocial Relationships," FeministIs-

sues8.2 (1988): 25-43.

This content downloaded from 131.123.1.227 on Sun, 18 May 2014 22:04:49 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

374

SabineSielke

ing" thanotherdiscoursesandthus manage tosubvertandcrumblecultural hege- monies.In fact, antebellumAmerican literature, for instance, was subjected to ge- nericconstraintswhichtendedtoreduceratherthan expand itsthematic range, if compared withotherculturaldiscourseofthetime.

However, the analysis of literary textsis particularlyrevealing fora study focused

on therhetoricof rape, because

byway

seemingly consensualviewson

takingmy cluefromLouis Althusser, I holdthat literary(rape)

and produce 'deformed'answerstothehistorical

questionsthey steer away from.Thus

'symptoms' ofa problemstruggling tobe posed,"26 suchas the problem of sexuality

and race, forinstance.At thesame time, fictional texts, andmodernistand post-

modernisttexts27in

historicity oftheir (rape)

the meaningstheyassign tosexualviolence. Echoing and playingupon their pre-

texts,theyrefigurate,re-present,re-politicize, andthus re-interpretprevious liter-

aryinterrogations of rape

intoa traditionof

interferewith.At thesame time, we haveto

bring toour inquiries of

are

difference.

representation-

(some)literary texts conclusively narrativize and,

'naturalize'sexualviolenceinto

of

dispellingcontradictions,manage to

gender,sexuality, andtheworldat large. Inthis way,

narrativesboth give

answerstothe questionstheypose

readingrape

alsoinvolves deciphering "the

particularbyway ofaninsistent intertextuality,foreground the

the possibilities of

rhetoricandtheconstraintsas wellas

andsexual violence, andinthis way inscribethemselves

a tradition theysimultaneously rememberand

acknowledge thatthe questions we

rape

and

readings of rape,

literary texts-suchas issuesof

motivated,mediated, andframed by

our present concernsabout

identity and

andtraditiontellus

Accordingly,

the texts, their textuality,temporality,

asmuchaboutthemselvesas aboutthe ways inwhichwe project ourselves.

appropriation ofthe rapetrope as a

literary aestheticsand

politics of rape,

WhatI am arguing isthatinorderto fully understandthecultural significance of

meansoffeminist politics, weneedtore-

the

memberhow rape hasbeen represented overtimeandwhatculturalfunctions rep-
resentationsofsexualviolencehavetakeninthecourseofAmericanculturalhis-

tory. In examining the

thatthe meanings thatculture assigns tosexualviolenceevolvefroman

betweenconstructionsofcultural parameters of

representation. As a conse-

gender,race, and class) quence, this interplay has

monitoring our perception and interpretation ofreal rape.

reading therhetoricof

contradictionsthat crystallize in

andcontradictionsthatfeminist theory has tended, atleastin

we becomeaware

interplay

identity anddifference (such as

ideologies, cultural anxieties, and

and their specific formsof

rape,

we alsorevealthe

generated ideasabout gender,race, andclasswhich keep

At thesametimein

representations of rape- ideologies,anxieties,

part, to perpetuate.

26 Storey 113.

27

Using a hyphen between "post" and "modern," I

synchronicity

meanto

suggest a particularunderstanding

of post-modernity whichdoes notwantto limitthetermto a particular aesthetics.RatherI take

a culturalcondition which, like any other era, is characterized by whatErnst

post-modernism as

Blochcalledthe

orMisfits? Nonsynchronism,Subjectivity, andthe Paradigms of LiteraryHistory,"Making Amer-

ica: TheCulturalWork ofLiterature, ed. Susanne (Heidelberg:Winter,2000) 215-33.

ofthe non-synchronic.

Rohr,

On thisissuecf. Sielke,"(Post-)Modernists

Ernst-Peter Schneck, and SabineSielke

This content downloaded from 131.123.1.227 on Sun, 18 May 2014 22:04:49 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Rape andtheFeministDebate intheU.S.

375

Towarda History oftheAmericanRhetoricof Rape

Tracing theAmericanrhetoricof

rape

fromtheendofthe eighteenth totheend

ofthetwentieth centuryhighlights howmuchthisrhetorichascontributedtothe

culturalconstructionof

theformationofculturalandnational identity.Why,however,begin withthe eigh-

teenth century? The enlightened late eighteenthcentury not

two genres centraltoAmerican literaryhistory, thenovelandtheslavenarrative.28

Italsowitnessed paradigmaticchanges inthe conceptions of sexuality,gender, and

the body,29changes thatmanifestedthemselves prominently inthe representation

ofthefemale body.30 More particularly, boththeseductionnovelandtheslavenar-

rativeintertwinetherhetoricofsexualviolencewiththediscourseonraceandthe

earlyrepublic.Consequently, thereasonfor addressing thenovelofseductionand theslavenarrativefirstisnotthatthisiswhereAmericanliterature begins; rather

thisiswhereAmericanliterature begins totakeon

sexuality,gender,class, andethnicdifferenceas wellas to

only sawtheriseof

particular functions.

I

willreduce highlycomplexprocesses to theirmostfundamentalculturalef-

say,though, thatlate eighteenth- and

early nineteenth-

challenged racialized conceptions

"coquette,"yet inno-

opposed

fectshere.31It is safeto

century Americanliteratureboth produced and

of sexuality andsexualviolence.Withitssentimentaltalesof

cent, women fallingprey to reckless villains, theseductionnovel

acknowledged

the vulnerability ofthewhitefemale subject whileat thesametimeit

newlyenlightened notionsof womanhood,containingsexuality withintheinstitu- tionof marriage, and preparing fortheVictoriancultoftrue femininity- foran

28 While literaryhistory tracestheAmericanseductionnovelback to Samuel Richardson's

Pamela (1740) undClarissa (1747-48),NancyArmstrong, in turn, tracesthe

the captivity narrative.Like

heroinetransformsfromsexual object to subject ofherown

firmsthe individualas author.Cf.

English novelbackto

Richardson's epistolarytexts,Armstrongargues, whereinthevictim/

writing, the captivity narrativereaf-

American LiteraryHistory 4.3 (1992):

Armstrong, "The

American Origin of the

386-410.Itshouldalso be notedthattheslavenarrativeis a

EnglishNovel,"

hybrid morethana

earlierstudiessuchas Stephen Butterfield'sBlack

Massachusetts P,1974) which"demonstratedthe paralleldevelopment oftheslavenarrativewith

colonialand

ography: A TraditionWithina

AfricanAmerican autobiography see also William Andrews, "TheFirst Century ofAfro-Ameri-

can Autobiography: NotesTowarda Definitionofa Genre," To Tella Free Story(Urbana: U of Illinois P,1986) 1-31.

early federal autobiographies,journals, and diaries" (Black Women Writing Autobi-

genuinely AfricanAmerican genre. JoanneM. Braxton, for instance, refersto

Autobiography in America (Amherst: U of

Tradition [Philadelphia:TempleUP, 1989]6). On

thefunctionof

29 This

change of paradigm has been argued, for instance,by Thomas Laqueur,Making Sex:

Body and Gender from theGreekstoFreud (Cambridge: Harvard UP,1990).

30

Cf.Peter Brooks,Body Work: Objectsof DesireinModernNarrative (Cambridge: Harvard

UP,1993). óL

myargument, see chapter oneof Sielke,ReadingRape (2002)

and Sielke, "Seduced and Enslaved:Sexual Violencein AntebellumAmericanLiteratureand Contemporary Feminist Discourse," The Historicaland PoliticalTurnin LiteraryStudies, ed. Winfried Fluck, REAL 11 (1995): 299-324.

Fora moredetailedaccountof

This content downloaded from 131.123.1.227 on Sun, 18 May 2014 22:04:49 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

376

SabineSielke

idealthatitselfisfundamentaltotheriseofthe"black rapist" as a central figure in

late

body longhistory,going backto theBibleand

slavenarrativesauthored by(former) femaleslaves- narrativestold

of rapegenerally conceivedas

as

antebellumtextsthuscastbothwhiteandblack femininity intermsof property re-

guilt."32 While

lationsand

be im-

muneto such

consequently been

nineteenth-century The transformationoftheblack

Americanculture.

intoan iconofdeviant sexuality has a passingthrough theslavenarrative.In

bysubjects

rape "surfaces obliquely,"

seducers-thethreatof

Saidiya Hartman putsit,

"and only as the captive confessesher

physicalviolation, black women,however, wereassumedto

violation, their injuries deemed negligible. Black femalenesshas

Jogger

poignantly shows.On April20,1989, a 29-year-old whitefemale jog-

engendered "as a conditionofunredressed injury."33

Thisin factholdstrueto this veryday, as theinfamous"CentralPark

Rape Case"

ger-an

Manhattan-wasfoundinCentral Park, near102nd Street, herclothes torn, her

skull crushed, herleft eyeballpushed back

surfacewrinklesofherbrain flattened, herbloodreduced by 75 percent, her vagi-

ofutmostbru-

talitysupposedly undertaken by

actual perpetrator hasbeen arrested, weknowthatthecase was

ceivedat the time,34interpreted in accordancewiththefamiliarnarrativesthat

Americanculturehas evolvedand

thousandsof rapesreported that year, someofwhichlacked nothing in

includingone,

Fort TryonPark," couldever register ina

universally understoodtobe news," JoanDidionwritesin"Senti-

investment banker, as itturned out, at SalomonBrothersin downtown

through its socket, thecharacteristic

beating and gangrape

Hispanicteenagers. Nowthatthe

entirely miscon-

nafilledwithdirtand twigs- thevictimofa

sixblackand

keeps repeating.Accordingly, none of the

brutality,

decapitation ofa blackwomanin

story offered by the

a week

later,"involving thenear

similar way.35

"[CJrimes are

mental Journeys," herbrilliant reading ofthe case, "totheextentthat theyoffer,

however erroneously, a story, a lesson, a highconcept."36 The

JoggerRape

encounteroftotal strangers in

center upon the (gender) issuesinvolvedin thesexual

emphasizes,interpreted thecase as a conflictbetweentwo partiesclearly distin-

guishedbyrace,ethnicity, andclass:on theone hand,

keep the city's realitiesat a safe distance, towhomtheviolationofthe young ur-

ban

can Americanswho consideredthe treatmentof theviolatorsas yet another

professionalsignified thelossofsacrosanct territory; ontheother hand, Afri-

Case is an old andwellestablishedone:

rape, we are assured, is an

whitesaffluent enough to

publicparks.Accordingly, media coverage didnot

violation,but, as Didion

32

SaidiyaHartman, "SeductionandtheRusesof Power," Callaloo 19.2 (1996): 537-60.

M Hartman556.

34 In thefallof2002thecasewas reopened,eventuallyturning overtheconvictionsoffivemen

found guilty inthe case, afterMatias

hadcommittedthecrimeandhadactedalone.

Reyes, a

convicted rapist and murderer, confessedthathe

35 Joan Didion, "Sentimental Journeys,"AfterHenry(New York: Simon,1992)253-319; 255.

Notinthe News," NewYorkTimes29

36

See also Don Terry, "A Weekof Rapes: The Jogger and28 May 1989: 25, 28-29.

Didion255-56.

This content downloaded from 131.123.1.227 on Sun, 18 May 2014 22:04:49 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Rape andtheFeministDebateintheU.S.

377

lynchingcampaign, a kindof rape

draws upon a wholecultural registergenerated inthecourseoflatenineteenth-

century interracialconflictsandnational identity formation.So howdidthis regis- terevolve?

initself.Thediscursivesceneofthecrimethus

Whilelate

eighteenth to mid-nineteenth-centurypretexts turnedthefemale

body. The

crucial figure inthe processes ofremasculin-

body

discoursedirecteditsattentiontowardthe previously indistinctmale

black

izationand (national)identity formation during thetransitionoftheAmerican

nationfromVictorianismto

erthe dominant,overdetermining linewithintheAmericanrhetoricof

so-called "myth oftheblack rapist" iscentraltothese processes.According tothe logic oftheso-called"Southern rapecomplex"37 the presumed sexualviolationof

point of meaningproduction, late nineteenth-century cultural

intoa focal

body, in particular, becamea

modernism,processes which generated whatI consid-

rape.

The

oftheSouth during Reconstruc-

Page's

Red Rock

pictures the rape

human being that everybody had agreed to

singletiger-spring," as "blackclaws"

rape

scenariodisclosesthis symbolic

white beautyby a blackbeast equalled the 'rape'

tionand legitimized retaliation throughlynch violenceandthecontinuousdisem-

powerment of the black male. Throughout ThomasNelson

(1898),38 for instance, Southernwomen embody thesacredelementoftheante-

bellumSouth. Likewise, inTheClansman (1905), ThomasDixon

victimMarionLenoir- "the one

love"39-as aniconofcommon morality andsocialconsensus.Wherewhitewom-

South, their alleged violationmutilatestheSouthern bodypoli-

en

tic.40 Projecting Marion'sravishmentas "a sinking intoa "softwhite throat," Dixon's

significance. In fact, itliteralizestheauthor's metaphor forthe

whichlikenstheconditionsunder "Negro rule"to "[t]hesight oftheBlackHand

on

the complex relationsbetweenblackandwhite men;42 hersacrifice"on thealtar

of

postbellumSouth,

throats."41The figure ofthewhitewomanthus displaces

symbolize the

[Southernpeople's]

outraged civilization" legitimizesretaliatory attacks.43 and unliketheAfricanAmericanvictimof sexualviolation-

Accordingly-

white rape victimsneversurvive and, likeOvid'sandRembrandt's Lucrecia,pre-

37 Cf.W.J. Cash,

38

39 Thomas Dixon, TheClansman:An HistoricalRomance of theKu KluxKlan (Lexington: UP

TheMind of theSouth (1941; NewYork: Vintage,1991).

Page,

RedRock:A Chronicle of

ThomasNelson

Reconstruction (Albany:N.C.U.P.,1991).

of Kentucky,1970) 254. SincetheReconstruction régime, as BennMichaels

tempt to colonizethe South, the

arguesconvincingly, was readas an at-

politics ofwhite supremacy is fundamentallyanti-imperialist.

"[S]ubjected to the

greatest humiliationof moderntimes:theirslaveswere put over them-,"

writesThomasNelson

and preserved thecivilizationofthe

White Folk," Literatureandthe Body:Essays on

Page

for instance, thearistocraticSoutherners "reconquered theirsection

Anglo-Saxon"(1).

Michaels, "The Soulsof

Populations andPersons (Baltimore: Johns Hop-

Cf.WalterBenn

kins UP,1988)185-209, and"Race

intoCulture:A Critical Genealogy ofCultural Identity," Crit-

Inquiry 18.4 (1992): 655-85.

ical

41

42

449-67; 462.

43

Dixon324.

Dixon 304, 276.

RobynWiegman, "The Anatomy of Lynching," Journal of the HistoryofSexuality 3.3 (1993):

This content downloaded from 131.123.1.227 on Sun, 18 May 2014 22:04:49 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

378

SabineSielke

fersuicideto a lifewiththestainand stigma ofcontamination.In

triggerspoliticalchange: theriseof the

termed "Negrorule," andthereinforcementof Anglo-Saxonsupremacy andtrue (white) womanhood.The very blanksandblind spots ofantebellumfiction per-

(white) female sexuality thus

prepared the ground fora

(black-on-white)rape

turaltransformation.Ifone reads

rhetoricof

Harper, SuttonE.

Moody, italsobecomesevidentthatthisdominantrhetoricof

product of highly conflictualand stylistically varied-naturalistandrealistas well

as sentimental-discourseswhichconflatemattersof race,class, andnationhood

withissuesof

this way,rape

KKK, thedestructionof whatDixon

tainingparticularly to the (black)

male

body

and

supposedly 'realist' literary discoursethatestablished

Page

and

andthe specter ofthe rapist 'other'as central tropes ofcul-

Dixon,though, in dialogue withthe

rapeprojectedby their contemporaries Frank Norris, FrancesE.W.

Griggs,UptonSinclair, Edith Wharton, and William Vaughn

rapeis, in fact, the

gender and sexuality.

Partlyowing tothe overdetermining racialfractureofAmericancultureandso-

ciety, alltheseauthors employ the figure oftheracialized 'rapist' otherand

sexual aggression and

betweendifferentclasses. Discriminating violatorandvictimon thebasisof race,

class,ethnicity as wellas gender, the'realist'rhetoricof rape

courseofdifference. Dramatizing crucial social,cultural,sectional, andnational

conflicts, thisdiscourseevolvedfictionsor

ity thathave subsequently achievedtruthvalueandthat keepinforming feminist

perspectives on

turn-of-the-centuryliterary texts exposes

identity formationina timeoftransition.Most particularly, the'realist'rhetoricof

rape

alizesin figuresrelating to thecrisisofhomo/heterosexualdefinition (as inNor-

ris's McTeague[1899]

the gender divide (as in Page's