Androgyny and derivatives

The life of Henry Darger was spent between the pages of a book he was writing and illustrating over the years. He called it realms of the unreal and were his only reality, where he found the meaning of his existence in his redemptive role or guardian of the hosts of girls who daily fought against evil forces. When Darger died and his landlords found those intimate epics, one of the questions that incited his paintings was why the girls had penises. The responses of the neighbours are really naïve: poor boy, probably he didn’t know the female anatomy.

Rebis - le bastart
Rebis

If we consider the metaphysical significance that the androgynous has had since the beginning of time, as reflected in the history of religions, as representing the primordial unity, the male and female principles merged into a single spiritual being (cosmogony Brahman, Gnostic Christianity …), we suspect that Darger hermaphroditism maybe symbolize some kind of seraphic perfection. His hermaphrodite infants often have butterfly wings, inhabitants of Edenic gardens that adults profane over and over with bloody orgies.

Mircea Eliade talked of coincidence of opposites to define the universal conception of the primal gods as the confluence between goodness and wickedness, sun and moon, earth and sky. That totality ambivalence is fragmented producing the humanity. The gender split arrives with the fall: Adam and Eve, but also the separation into two halves of the spherical beings, as Aristophanes explain (via Plato), that were living on earth until they provoked the Wrath of the Gods.

Divine androgyny is common in Hinduism, in the pre-Hellenic Greece (Aphrodito Cyprus, Dionysus …), in Aztec cosmogony (Ometéolt) … based on the idea of male and female energy flows that alchemy will adopt for rebis symbol, the androgynous, the supreme duality.

Experts see this duality (the union of sulfur and mercury) in the couples painted by Bosch inside transparent ovals, in the center panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights. Bosch represented here the alchemical marriage of male and female forces, perfect fusion before Original Sin.

Hieronymus Bosch, the garden of earthly delights - Le Bastart
Hieronymus Bosch – The garden of earthly delights (detail)

Divine androgyny is common in Hinduism, in the pre-Hellenic Greece (Aphrodito Cyprus, Dionysus …), in Aztec cosmogony (Ometéolt) … based on the idea of male and female energy flows that alchemy will adopt for rebis symbol, the androgynous, the supreme duality.

Experts see this duality (the union of sulfur and mercury) in the couples painted by Bosch inside transparent ovals, in the center panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights. Bosch represented here the alchemical marriage of male and female forces, perfect fusion before Original Sin.

Beside the epitome of androgyny as an ideal, it exits another synonymous word that nevertheless is filled with almost opposite meanings: hermaphrodite, since Ovid coined the term to explain the metamorphosis of a young boy pursued by a passionate nymph, the term connotes hypersexuality.

Facing the asexual androgynous, celestial presence, spiritual purity, the organ proliferation that suggests hermaphrodite promise new erotic possibilities that will be explored by the decadent literature during the late nineteenth-century: in the A Rebours muscular acrobat Miss Urania, or in transvestism resulting a magnetic bisexuality, in Mademoiselle de Maupin.

Arthur Zaidenberg, miss urania in a rebours from J.K.Huysmans - Le Bastart
Arthur Zaidenberg – Miss Urania in À rebours, from J.K.Huysmans

In this novel, Gautier delves into the psychology of that lady who starts using the disguise as a game but ends up losing the concept of the boundary between genres, feeling her nature mutating into a “third sex”. Everybody fall in love with her but her androgyny prevents her to feel a complete satisfaction with one or another sex.

Thanks to the Roman marble copies we know the place occupied by the hermaphrodite in the artistic imagination of ancient Greece: hermaphrodites pursued by fauns, lying on soft beds, languid in their morbid forms that reveal the harmonious coexistence of male and female attributes, where the graceful nymphs coupled with a curly haired beardless Antinous.

sleeping hermaphrodite, greek original from louvre museum - Le Bastart
Sleeping hermaphroditus – roman copy from century II B.C. greek original, Louvre Museum

Balzac seems to be contemplating these statues when he describes Serafita, that being “whose fiery eyes and high forehead looked like a boy of seventeen”; “An inner light colouring Serafitus same as alabaster objects internally illuminated. […] His body, thin, fragile as a woman, appeared to be a weak nature but it actually had a strength similar to its desires. […] Her hair, curled by the hand of a fairy, floating through the air, completed the vision of its air attitude. […] The Serafitus skin had a dazzling whiteness […] with that majestic and natural gravity we usually admire in the higher beings […] Everything in that marble figure, breathed strength and rest. “

Eliade considers that Serafita is the last that maintain a sacred conception of the androgyny as pseudo-human perfection. Balzac’s character describes himself as an outlaw, away from heaven and earth, but he crystallizes a new state of consciousness that overcomes the binary simplicity.

pier paolo pasolini , teorema - Le Bastart
Pier Paolo Pasolini – Teorema

For the other Serafita assumes an angelic quality that reminds us of Teorema protagonist, the mysterious guest that Pasolini use to fail the moral parapets of a bourgeois family. Each of its members is overpowered by the physical and spiritual beauty of the young man who uncovers a Pandora’s box of hidden desires, feelings of guilt, dissatisfaction, madness and hypocrisy.

The androgyny duality is a constant in the universal imaginary. The sanctity and lust live in it, like in the evil goddess painted by Gustave Moreau’s, inspired by biblical characters. In the Moreau universe the men are feminized and women are imbued with supernatural charms that anticipate the femme fatale figure. In Samson and Dalila’s painting the roles seem to switch: the male body lying as odalisque is submit to the female figure, whose Adonis face instils a Greek melancholy.

The seductiveness of the androgynous is often intended to reveal to others their own truth, but not everyone is prepared to listen to it. The androgyne archetype as an instrument of self-knowledge is maintained over time, although according to Eliade the symbol is degraded after Balzac, losing the magic-ritual component.

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