Rajaram Zirange Head, Postgraduate Department of English, Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University Yashwantrao Mohite College,
After her Heroes and Villains, Angela Carter comes back again to the imaginary landscape and bizarre kind of communities in her novel The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman. Her purpose, in this novel, here is to deconstruct the positive laws of science or the metanarrative of reason which she does by creating Dr. Hoffman, a poet-physicist, whose aim is to liberate desires by setting the unconscious free. As in Heroes and Villains, in this novel also, Angela Carter creates an American city, which is under siege and which faces Great War unleashed by the unreality principle of Dr. Hoffman, who has infiltrated the city’s reality with strange unreal images which come out of mirrors and mix with the people appearing to be very real. This war, as one realizes, is fought between two philosophical speculations, between reason and passion. Though the novel appears to resolve this conflict in the end in favour of reason, the passion dominates most of the narrative.
Angela Carter’s Heroes and Villains, The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman and Passion of New Eve are categorized as speculative fictions, which interrogate the Enlightenment aspects of binarism, rationality, patriarchy, time and truth as well as identity. She tries to achieve this through the process of defamiliarization as she creates imaginary cities and communities. It is quite noticeable that Angela Cater turns towards postmodernism in these novels since she presents possible worlds for the purpose of subverting the Enlightenment thought.
In her letter to Lorna Sage, Angela Carter mentions that Hoffman is ‘dialectic between reason and passion, which it resolves in favour of reason’. (Palmer, 1987, 197). On account of its dialectical nature, this novel is full of philosophical arguments related to the reality principle and pleasure principle, reason and passion or imagination, as it is alternately called in the novel. Dr. Hoffman, who represents the pleasure principle, is bent upon creating the world ruled by desire and passion and breaking down the ordered world of reason. In her ‘Notes for a Theory of Sixties Style’ (republished in Nothing Sacred), Angela Carter states, ‘The pleasure principle met the reality principle like an irresistible force encountering an immovable object and the reverberations of that collision are still echoing about us’. (Carter, 1982, 84). It is already seen that this pleasure principle is operative in her early fiction, in her presentation of the surface level of life of the characters like Honeybuzzard, Joseph and Lee.
Angela Carter uses science fictional mode to interrogate reality in these novels. In this novel, Carter combines quasi-scientific mode with speculation, posing a question, what if – these were such a community, or such a war and such conditions and conflict. This speculation takes her fiction to the realm of fantasy which contradicts reality but reality is also there because it is being negated. She uses fantasy in these novels to subvert reality, which she achieves by putting familiar elements within the framework of quasi-scientific or futuristic context of the world created by her.
In this novel, Angela Carter uses terminology and expression of advanced technology and a style which necessary for science fictional mode. ‘The desire machines’ of Dr. Hoffman serve
as the scientific novum which helps to categorize this novel as science fiction. However, the emphasis of this novel is on the epistemological argument against the master narratives, their power and authority. It examines the relationship between reason and unreason, reality and illusion, light and darkness. Dr. Hoffman destroys time by playing tricks with watches and clocks, so that ‘no one should share structure of time with others’. He creates images ‘along the obscure and controversial borderline between the thinkable and the unthinkable’. (Carter, 1972, 26). This war between reason and unreason, reality and illusion is the subject matter of this novel. As one of the major characters, the Minister of Determination says, the novel typically serves to subvert reality making ‘the cells of imagination run wild’, causing ‘the cancer of mind’. (Carter, 1972, 26).
The story of this novel runs like this. An anonymous south American city is under a siege of the forces of unreason unleashed by Dr. Hoffman, a professor of metaphysics, who would like to liberate desires, making use of advanced technology to employ erotic energy for giving realistic manifestation to the individual fantasies. Opposed to this chaotic programme of Dr, Hoffman, is the Minister of Determination, the de facto ruler of the city, ‘a man of calm and reason’, who is described by the protagonist of the novel, Desiderio, as ‘not a man but a theorem, clear, hard, unified and harmonious’. The Minister employs Desiderio to find Dr. Hoffman and destroy him and his machinery to bring the city to its normalcy and order. Desiderio is chosen because he is the one not affected by the illusions created by Dr. Hoffman. Desiderio who undertakes the mission to find Dr. Hoffman and destroy his desire machines is a half-breed, of European father and Indian mother.
The novel is narrated by Desiderio, as an old man, many years after the events narrated in the fiction. It is the account of his journey, full of strange adventures, surrealist landscapes, bizarre communities and erotic experiences. Desiderio, the agent of reason, is already enamoured of the ambassador of Dr. Hoffman, who was actually his daughter Albertina, disguised as a man, who came to meet the Minister of Determination, demanding a kind of unconditional surrender of the city.
Desiderio begins his journey meeting a peep-show proprietor who was once a tutor to Dr. Hoffman. His peep-show contains miniature samples of Hoffman’s creation, representing scenes of sexual degradation and mutilation, which are supposed to control and direct the libidinal images in the war against reality. Accused of a murder of a girl, Desiderio manages to escape to the world of the River People, who speak kind of sing-song language. But they also turn out to be cannibals, who believe that they could imbibe knowledge in the head of Desiderio if they eat him. Desiderio barely escapes and joins the peep-show again, which is destroyed in an avalanche. The avalanche destroys the peep-show samples, which Dr. Hoffman uses to create images and the world is now into Nebulous Time, which is chaos of time and space. In this way, desires and dreams mix with actuality. This is followed by Desiderio’s meeting with a Dracula- like erotic-traveller, the Count, his slave, Lafleur, who is actually Albertina again, disguised as a boy. The Count is drawn in the likeness of Marquis de Sade, a sexual libertine, and takes Desiderio through cruel erotic experiences. In the world of Nebulous Time, the Count and Desiderio come across the community of Centaurs – half human and half horses. Later on, the Count, Lafleur and Desiderio are condemned to death, but Lafleur (Albertina) and Desiderio escape by a helicopter sent by Dr. Hoffman. The action of the novel culminates into confrontation of Desiderio and Dr. Hoffman as well as his daughter. Dr. Hoffman’s plan is to put Desiderio and Albertina in one of the cages, where their eroto-energy would fill the world and Dr. Hoffman would be able to invade the city to liberate it from the power of reason. Desiderio realizes how the whole world is at stake and manages to kill both, Dr. Hoffman and his daughter, thus saving the world from the chaos of unreason and desire.
Subverting the Reality Principle:
Desiderio meets the peep-show proprietor who is virtually a mouthpiece of Dr. Hoffman.
He is blind and keeps changing the pictures that he exhibits in his show. These changes are at random. There are no rules to govern it. Desiderio notes:
‘I often watched the roundabouts circulate upon their static journeys. ‘Nothing’, said the peep- show proprietor, ‘is ever completed, it only changes’. As he pleased he altered the displays he had never seen, murmuring: ‘No hidden unity’. … The fairground was a moving toyshop, an ambulant raree-show coming to life in convulsive fits and starts whenever the procession stopped, regulated by the implicit awareness of a lack of rules’. (Carter, 1972, 99)
The world of the peep-show running without any rules is the antithesis of the world of the minister where rules are necessary to distinguish reality from unreality. For Dr. Hoffman, this distinction is meaningless. According to him, the human imagination constructs reality and is not capable of separating the authentic reality from the constructed one. This is typically the postmodern condition. The representations in the multi-media, T.V. shows and cinema, even advertisements construct reality rather than reflect it. The peep-show proprietor tells Desiderio what Hoffman’s another teacher, Mendoza claims and what Hoffman has actually done: ‘Mendoza … claimed that if a thing were sufficiently artificial, it becomes absolutely equivalent to the genuine …. Hoffman refined Mendoza’s initially crude hypothesis of fissile time and synthetic authenticity and wove them together to form another mode of consciousness altogether’. (Carter, 1972, 102-03).
This is a postmodern world where the boundaries between the artificial and real seem to be dissolved. Dr. Hoffman claims to have the ability to make people perceive ideas or desires with their senses. It means that ‘everything that can be imagined can also exist’. (Carter, 1972, 97). Dr. Hoffman’s desire machines, unleashing the eroto-energy, create havoc in the city threatening normal life. The city in flux is greatly confused as the world of ‘waking and sleeping’ are mixed up. It is noted as:
Dead children came calling in nightgowns, rubbing the sleep and grave dust from their eyes … pigeons lollopped from illusory pediment to window ledges like volatile, feathered madmen, chattering vile rhymes and laughing in hoarse, throaty voices, or perched upon chimney stacks shouting quotations from Hegel …. I often glanced at my watch only to find its hands had been replaced by a healthy growth of ivy or honey suckle which while I looked, writhed impudently all over its face, concealing it.
This surrealistic presentation shows what kind of revolution Dr. Hoffman intends to bring about. It is a revolt against the limits imposed by time, by reality and the ordered world of reason. The purpose of Dr. Hoffman is to undermine the ‘traditional’ and ‘mundane’ life and introduce ‘a riot of desires’ hidden in the unconscious. To fight these unreal elements, the Minister first designs Determining Radar Apparatus which sends out laser rays to detect and then destroy these elements. Angela Carter introduces gadgetry of ‘reality testing laboratory C’ to fight the desire machines of Dr. Hoffman. However, Dr. Hoffman is able to overcome this obstacle. The Minister answers this with his computer network and the programming of names and functions of the things in the world.
The conflict between the Minister of Determination and Dr. Hoffman is characterized by Desiderio as ‘a battle between an encyclopedist and a poet, for Hoffman, scientist as he was, utilized his formidable knowledge only to render the invisible visible ….’ (Carter, 1972, 29) and the Minister wants to pin down everything according to his theory of ‘names and functions’. He constructs an immense computer centre to formulate a procedure to calculate ‘the verifiable self- consistency of any given object’. His reality principle consists of collecting factual data concerning everything and also set up an information retrieval system. However, the illusion of
unreality does not cease. The artificial fire burns down the Cathedral which stands for the city as a symbol of sobriety, ‘its symmetry expressed the symmetry of the society’. However, the ambassador of Dr. Hoffman claims that in the philosophy of Dr. Hoffman ‘the world exists only as a medium in which we execute our desires. Physically, (and) the world itself, the actual world
… is formed of malleable clay …’. (Carter, 1972, 43).
Angela Carter juxtaposes the world of reality and that of imagination and thereby brings out the opposition between the two worlds. Dr. Hoffman’s ambassador accuses the Minister of denying asymmetry, which cannot be destroyed. According to the ambassador, the Minister’s attempt to straitjacket reality (into symmetry) is like murdering the imagination.
Intertextual Weaving in The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman
Angela Carter’s fiction cannot be fully understood and enjoyed without taking into
account a variety of references to the other texts in it. There are a number of allusions and parallels to the other texts, fictional as well as philosophical, in this novel also. It is the story of the journey of its protagonist, Desiderio who goes in search of Dr. Hoffman who is responsible for polluting his city, the citadel of reason. In a way, this novel is, therefore, rewriting the story of Oedipus Rex. Like Oedipus, Desiderio finds the source of pollution and destroys it, but, like Oedipus, he, too, has to suffer. His victory deprives him of his Albertina, whose memory haunts him and leads to his regret of the loss of the world of his desires, the world of fantasy he lived with her.
The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman is written in the old picaresque tradition, in which a wandering hero encounters many adventures and escapades. However, the more significant allusion in this novel is to Plato’s Republic. Like Plato, the Minister of Determination stands for reason, law, structure and restraint while Dr. Hoffman stands for imagination, freedom of desires and the resultant anarchy or chaos. Plato sought to banish poets from the ideal republic because according to him, the poets, through their poetry, subvert reason and reality and make people indulge in their passions. Dr. Hoffman intends to give free rein to desires and passions and therefore, the Minister of Determination would like to keep him out of his city.
There is an allusion to the theory of 20th century linguistic philosopher, Ferdinand de Saussure, who pointed out that the linguistic signs and their signifieds are arbitrarily related. In the world of Dr. Hoffman also, the signs and signified have the most arbitrary relationship. In the world of the Minister, there is no obscurity about the word and the object it refers to. There are clear boundaries, rules and hierarchical relationships. Nevertheless, in the world of Dr. Hoffman, boundaries are blurred. There are shadowy impressions and one can create multiple meanings according to one’s imagination.
Desiderio’s life among the River People is an idyllic interlude with Rousseauistic community which proves not to be very innocent. Similarly, the encounter of Desiderio and the Count with the African Tribe is also a subversion of the Rousseauistic myth of a ‘noble savage’ community. After the peep-show is destroyed in an avalanche, Desiderio travels with the Count and his servant Lafleur who is Albertina disguised as a male-servant. The character of the Count is modeled on the Marquis de Sade, the French libertine known for his perverse sexual life and his valet, Latour. The Marquis also reminds us of Dracula. The narrow escape of Desiderio and Lafleur i.e. Albertina from the Cannibalistic African Tribe takes them away into the world of the Centaurs. The Centaurs remind one of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, in which Gulliver finds himself among the hoyhnhnyms in the land of horses; however, the hoyhnhnyms, in this novel, are far better than the Centaurs.
Desiderio comes across women who appear to have masculine orientation. For example, his portrayal of Mammie Buckskin in the circus, is a freak woman who styles herself after ‘Hollywood western heroes’, the gun-slingers like Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday and John Wesley
Hardin. She always wears a gun at her thighs. She is supposed to have killed a man and is imprisoned in the West.
Apart from this, there are references to the musicians and writers as well as to the regions, especially in Europe and Africa which bring back the fantasy to the world of reality. Desiderio’s dreams and hallucinations of refer to Freudian concept of repressed desires. The community of the River People and the African Tribe remind us of anthropological studies of well-known anthropologist, Levi-Straus.
Angela Carter’s use of intertextuality is not merely name-dropping. When she refers to the other texts and stories, she suggests different readings of them. She brings in Rousseau to subvert his idea of ‘noble savage’. The land of Centaurs goes beyond just a parallel to Gulliver’s Travels. Carter uses the trope to comment on the masculine domination in that community. The surrealist descriptions of landscapes and the characters like the Count and Mammie Buckskin remind one of the surrealist painters.
Feminist Preoccupations in The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman:
From Angela Carter’s point of view, gender is a relation of power. She distinguishes
between biological sex and social gender. To become woman is to play a secondary role, then one could be officially or biologically a man because according to the relation of power, to be feminine is to be weak and to have masculine role means to be strong. This relation of power may change. The reversal of the feminine and masculine is possible. In her novels, Angela Carter appears to deconstruct the normative construction of gender relations. Woman, with capital letter, is the male-centred representations of woman, while ‘women’ are representations of femininity.
The story is narrated by Desiderio, a gendered male, who begins his quest for the enemy to be destroyed, from his own masculinist and a bourgeois affluent city. His society is unaware of its limitations and therefore, easily falls prey to the workings of Dr. Hoffman’s imagination and unleashed repressed desires. In this male-centred narrative, ‘Woman’ is only the object of male desire. She occupies the traditional object position meeting the need of the hero, regulated and exploited by the male characters and facing the violence. In her non-fictional writing, The Sadeian Woman, Angela Carter asserts that, the acts of violence:
‘reawaken the memory of the social fiction of the female wound, the bleeding scar left by her castration, which is a psychic fiction as deeply at the heart of western culture as the myth of Oedipus … Female castration is an imaginary fact that pervades the whole of men’s attitude to ourselves, that transforms women from human being into wounded creatures who were born to bleed’. (Carter, 1979, 43).
This novel illustrates how erotic violence is perpetrated on woman with a purpose to keep secure the male position as the subject. In the narration of sexual exploitation and violence, Angela Carter uses the tradition of pornographic fiction. Pornographic novels are normally written with female narrator but Carter purposefully uses the male narrator point of view appropriating the subjectivity of man to describe the male-sexuality. Apparently, this strategy appears to bar women from taking the subject position. However, the apparent masculine narrative point of view benefits neither male reader nor the female reader of this fiction. Desiderio’s sexual experiences involve a number of rapes, mutilations of women, even sodomising of the hero himself as well as of Albertina, the desired woman. It is impossible for a male reader to get any vicarious pleasure out of this narration because he cannot identify himself with the hero. The women represented in the House of Anonymity visited by Desiderio and the Count are, as Desiderio says:
‘… when I examined them closely, I saw that none of them were any longer, or might never have been, woman. All, without exception, passed beyond or did not enter the realm of simple
humanity. They were sinister, abominable, inverted mutations, part clock work, part vegetable and part brute’.
The women, Desiderio encounters are thus dehumanized objects of desire. Even among the River People, the idyllic tribal community, primitive and naïve, women are made sexually desirable by manipulating the private parts of the girls. The African Chief of the tribe of Amazons has an army of women warriors who are also dehumanized by clitorodectomy, taking away their capacity for any human feelings. The Amazons are the destructive mothers of male fantasy. The ‘mother-myth’ of woman is, thus, debunked by the African Chief but in the place of a good mother, another myth is constructed very opposite to it. Both the myths are, thus, socio- culturally constructed. Woman may be revered or reviled according to the masculinist strategy in the system of patriarchy. Angela Carter tries to subvert the master-narrative about woman by presenting women through male erotic desire. When the Count and Desiderio go to the brothel in The House of Anonymity, they are made to wear clothes which cover them entirely except their genitals and then they are taken to the Bestial Room, where dehumanized women are put in the cages. In the community of Centaurs also, the Centaurs believed that women are born to suffer and so they are ‘ritually degraded and reviled’. (Carter, 1972, 176). One can see that throughout this novel, there are instances of violent misogyny. Angela Carter’s intention is to subvert male- centred, patriarchal presentation of femininity and repulsive male-sexuality. Since man’s self- representation is achieved through woman as the ‘other’, Carter deconstructs this view by exaggerating the exploitation and objectification of woman.
Carnivalesque Element in The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman:
Angela Carter’s fiction contains Rabelaisian figures or characters and events which create
laughter and introduce playfulness. In this novel, grotesqueries and rabelaisian figures as elements of carnival find expression in the course of narration because the Doctor, with his desire machines and mirrors is able to create hallucinations, which appear quite real to the people in the city. Desiderio, sitting in the Opera House watching a stylized performance of The Magic Flute, suddenly becomes aware of the whole auditorium ‘full of pencocks in full spread who very soon began to scream in intolerably raucous voices, utterly drowning the music …’. (Carter, 1972, 19). Desiderio notices that everyone in the gallery is wearing a peacock green skull and a feathered fan behind. Desiderio recalls how the dreams of other people invade your bedroom, how memories of the past wait ‘to greet us at the foot of the bed’ and dead children came ‘calling in nightgowns, rubbing the sleep and grave dust from their eyes’. (Carter, 1972, 22). The building and townscapes swell ‘to enormous sizes, women in states of pearly heroic nudity … might be seen parading beneath their parasols …’ (Carter, 1972, 23) and Desiderio also, recalls that:
‘The pigeons lollopped from illusory pediment to window ledge like volatile, feathered mad men, chattering vile rhymes and laughing in hoarse, throaty voices or perched upon chimney stacks shouting slogans from Hegel. The river ran backward and crazy fish jumped out to flop upon the sidewalks or springing out of the river, turning into white rabbits’. (Carter, 1972, 23).
The peep-show, the fairground with its roundabouts, a moving toyshop, children with their filth-caked faces, Mammie Buckskin and her sharp-shooting performance and the whole life of the fairground people are all the elements of carnivalesque. The life of Desiderio among the River People and later the life with the peep-show proprietor constitute a carnivalesque interlude in the quest of adventure.
The arena of the nine acrobats is a marvelous realm where weird music of a flute is being played by a veiled child. The acrobats create all kinds of images, amounting to an abstract, geometrical dissection of flesh. The strangest spectacle is, one of them, Mohammed, takes his head from his neck and the acrobats began to juggle with that until, ‘one by one, all their heads
came of and went into play’. They even dismember their limbs one by one – hands, feet, forearms and thighs. The peep-show proprietor relates this carnivalesque effect to the persistence of vision.
The carnival of the peep-show contains not only the strange acrobatics of the nine Arabs, but quite a few outrageous, erotic obscene samples of shows. Angela Carter uses these carnivalesque elements and the idyllic landscapes as a part of her unique defamiliarization technique.
Gothic Scenes, Characters and Magic Realist Landscapes:
Angela Carter’s magic realist style of writing makes her use gothic elements in her
fiction. The House of Anonymity which the Count and Desiderio meet is:
‘a sprawling edifice in the gothic style of the late nineteenth century, that poked innumerable turrets like so many upward groping tentacles towards the dull, cloudy sky and was all built in flouring, red brick’. (Carter, 1972, 166).
The Count and Desiderio were given two pairs of black tights, which cover ‘their body except their genitals’. And the soft waistcoats given to them are made of ‘the tanned skin of a young Negro virgin’. Their outfit emphasizes their maleness, but utterly dehumanizes them. There are smartly dressed monkeys, which function as ‘living Candelabra’. The sofas are made of living lions, the armchairs are actually brown bears, and the tables are ‘hyenas, running about and yelping and carrying glasses, decanters and bowls of salted nuts’.
The Count himself is the gothic character. In his ‘black cloak and craggy, arrogant profile’ he resembles Count Dracula. By his own admission, he lives only to negate the world. He is extremely cruel and bloodthirsty and learns the art of torture from a Chinese imperial executioner. The women in the cages are the grotesque forms of the idea of female. The whole House of Anonymity is a horror house of surreal erotica.
However, the escape of the Count, Desiderio and Lafleur in a ship does not turn out to be escape at all, because the captain of the ship discovers that they are criminals and they are imprisoned to be handed over to the Determination Police. When the ship is attacked by the pirates, they have a little reprieve, but a hurricane takes them to the African coast, where the African Tribe awaits them ‘with the dreaded African Pimp, lusting for revenge over the Count’. This encounter with the cannibal tribal is another gothic episode. The Count is thrown into a boiling cauldron but he expresses devilish delight in his own horrible end.
There is another gothic spectacle in the land of the Centaurs, in the world of Nebulous
‘Strange vegetation like pain trees, tall cactus plants with snow white bosses and red knobs giving out sweet milk, and strangest of all, a tree firmly rooted with four legs above which there is a skeleton of a horse with its entrails visible, which is a mythical tree of the land of Centaurs, and a place of worship’. (Carter, 1972, 171).
The Castle of Dr. Hoffman is a Teutonic Heritage, a gothic structure, on the top of a hill, surrounded by a deep chasm, over which there is a wooden bridge. There are equally bizarre paintings showing Trotsky composing the Erotica Symphony while Van Gogh writing Wuthering Heights. The speculative genre has given the author a free play of imagination. Though the narrative style is realistic, providing minute details of the scene and people, it is the world of Hoffman’s magic, which requires to suspend disbelief.
Mixing of Genres in The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman:
Angela Carter has made use of the sub-genres like fairy tales, gothic romance in her
realistic mode of representation, which she finds essential for her themes and purpose. This is one of the devices of postmodern fiction to question the master-narrative. In this novel, she explores pornography, the gothic, fairy tales, horror films and even anthropological tribal
communities harking back to Rousseau and Levi-Strauss. She engages her fiction in subverting patriarchal system and also the modernist Enlightenment and Rationality. Besides, she refuses utopian myths of society and subverts them in her fiction to challenge the established notions. Like Jewel’s wandering tribe of the Barbarians in Heroes and Villians, in The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman, there are the idyllic communities of the River People or the community of Centaurs, where the social systems do not allow any scope for individual thinking. They are shown to be closed societies enmeshed in their belief, rituals and social practice. The picaresque genre used by the author, takes her protagonist through a variety of adventures and escapades. The picaresque form makes her fiction episodic and loose yet it suits her purpose to encode diversified situations, events and experiences.
Angela Carter uses the trope of pornography to show dehumanization of women. However, her critics seem to fail to see that her pornographic descriptions create disgust and horror rather than titillate sexual feelings. Desiderio himself is disguised and horrified to see the objectified and dehumanized women in cages, who have no human feelings. Their being in cages transforms them in monsters.
The journey of Desiderio is full of fairy tale adventures with monsters and miraculous escapades. But, this is an adult fairy tale mixed with horror, romance and sex against the background of gothic landscape. Angela Carter makes use of fairy tales because she needs an alternative to social realism. And this mixing of genres serves her to comment effectively on the present society, its myths and practices.
The novel follows the structure of a quest story, like the myth of Oedipus, but unlike Oedipus, Desiderio’s quest becomes directionless as he is diverted by his desires and seduced by Dr. Hoffman’s daughter Albertina. He is also not single-minded like Oedipus because in spite of his undertaking the quest at the bidding of the father-figure of the Minister, he is not fully on the side of reason. He is already marked for seduction, with the imperatives written on his windowpane in lipstick: ‘BE AMOROUS! BE MYSTERIOUS! DON’T THINK, LOOK!’ (Carter, 1972, 31). His quest is, therefore, diversified and he is manipulated by the illusions created by Dr. Hoffman. However, these digressions are an authorial technique to introduce strands of horror stories and myths of communities. She weaves into them various aspects of female and male sexuality and objectification of woman in the patriarchal societies.
The scientific Novum that Carter uses in the novel is the Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman which send out a series of seismic vibrations to disrupt the conventional time and space equations upon which the rational world of the city is built. The journey of Desiderio takes him to the strange land and strange people. The Centaurs, for example, are the aliens like the Martians in the other science fictions. Similarly, the River People is an isolated primitive community, which has very different socio-cultural set-up. Describing scientific methodology of Dr. Hoffman, the Peep-show proprietor explains:
‘First theory of Phenomenal Dynamics …. …the universe has no fixed substances and its only reality lies in its phenomena …. Second theory of Phenomenal Dynamics: only change is variable …. The third theory of Phenomenal Dynamics: the difference between a symbol and an object is quantitative, not qualitative’. (Carter, 1972, 117).
The Doctor’s methodology contains a weapon of images. Besides, he has invented a virus which causes a cancer of the mind so that the cells of imagination run wild. The Minister of Determination also has his own pseudo-scientific and technical devices to counter the Doctor’s unreal substances. He has a huge computer centre.
However, Angela Carter’s fiction rises above the science fictional trope because it has, at its centre, a metaphysical question, a theme related to two contending forces of reason and
imagination, a question of how to order the human society. She does not take a definite stand, but tries to show the weaknesses of the present system.
Angela Carter’s Critique of both Enlightenment and Postmodern Aesthetics:
Angela Carter is generally understood to be a postmodernist feminist writer. She takes
every opportunity to subvert Enlightenment thought, and the established metaphysical thought. However, in The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman, she does not appear to take sides in the war between the positivist laws of science and the postmodernist liberatory opposition to the positivism. The protagonist, Desiderio who is at the centre of this war, is aware of the two positions. He knows that his Minister represents conservative common sense, as well as Marxist claims to be scientific, emerging historically out of positivism. Dr. Hoffman represents liberty of imagination as well as capitalist control of desire through the help of media. The city under the Minister is masculine, with its ‘serge-clad’ bureaucracy, while Dr. Hoffman intends to feminize the city, making it beautiful with his ‘irrational, riotous imagination’. Logical reason is opposed by Dr. Hoffman’s imagination through forces of mass media. Desiderio is the agent of reason, by being a male protagonist but he is attracted towards Albertina, the daughter of Dr. Hoffman who is out to defeat reason. Albertina is sometimes disguised as male but she is female in representation, the dream or alter-ego of the agent of reason. Desiderio is neutral between the two forces but he is vulnerable to the charm of imagination and desire represented by Albertina.
Desiderio realizes that, if ‘Hoffman was satanic’, his master, the Minister, was also ‘tainted with such insouciance, the power to subvert the world’. (Carter, 1972, 34). In other words, the Minister and the Doctor are like brothers, both craving for control of the world. The forces of modern Enlightenment and the postmodern liberation opposed to it, are part of the world one lives in. The excess of reason can result into boredom and sterility. Like Marianne in Heroes and Villians, Desiderio also reacts against such an excess. He regards Dr. Hoffman as Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods, or like Faust, who craved for knowledge. But, the world Dr. Hoffman offers is made up of different worlds like – the River People, the world of the Centaurs and the African tribe, or the world of a Libertine like the Count, which is a really chaotic situation.
There comes the turning point in Desiderio’s life (and also for Angela Carter): Though Desiderio was infatuated with Albertina, he kills her and her father because he thinks of humanity, which would become utter chaos if the Doctor and his daughter, through their extreme postmodernistic ideas, are allowed to rule the world. And to rule the world is precisely the aim of Dr. Hoffman, not just liberty that Albertina talked about in her meeting with the Minister. Desiderio, (and of course, Angela Carter) thus, make his choice, rejects the chaotic extreme postmodern position. However, at the same time, Angela Carter shows the weaknesses of the Enlightenment view, of the extreme positivism, which denies imagination.
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