Online Magazine of the Visual Narrative - ISSN 1780-678X
Madame Lamort and the ultimate Medusa experience
Author: Trees Depoorter (FWO researcher)
Abstract (E): This paper takes a closer look at the "Medusa experience". First, some points in Jean Clair's Méduse, in which he follows Medusa as a theme throughout the history of art, are examined. Being a creature with an essentially double nature, Medusa has in different eras been an emblematic object of either fright or fascination. Secondly, two possible approaches to Medusa (standing for 'otherness') are discussed: a direct confrontation (frontality) versus a mediated one (detour). Yet, a rigid opposition (immediate experience - negotiated representation) does not seem to hold.
Abstract (F): Ce texte contient une étude approfondie de "l'expérience Méduse". Tout d'abord nous examinons quelques aspects de la Méduse de Jean Clair, chez qui la figure de la Méduse est avant tout un thème propre à l'histoire de l'art. La Méduse, qui est une créature à caractère essentiellement double, a été à plusieurs moments de l'histoire l'objet emblématique soit de la peur, soit de la fascination. Ensuite nous traitons les deux approches possibles de la Méduse (comme symbole de l' " altérité radicale ") : la confrontation directe (ou frontale) versus la confrontation médiée (ou le détour). Toutefois, il ne semble pas y avoir d'opposition rigide entre " expérience immédiate " et " représentation négociée "
Keywords: Medusa, otherness, (dis)continuity, horror, beauty, suddenness, history of art, the uncanny, experience - representation, immediacy - indirectness
1. 'Madame Lamort'
Denn das Schöne ist nichts als des Schrecklichen Anfang,
den wir noch grade ertragen, und wir bewunderen es so,
weil es gelassen verschmäht, uns zu zerstören.
Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich
(Rainer Maria Rilke, Duineser Elegien:7)
Rilke claims that human beings are not able to stand the very sight of beauty. In this aspect, beauty resembles the most extreme horror: "Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich". Does Rilke's assertion hold, and - if so - in what way or to what extent? How can this junction be conceived? To try to formulate an answer to these questions, I will focus on another, yet similar case: Medusa.
1.1. Medusa as a 'Doppelwesen'.
Much like angels, Medusa essentially appears to be a "double-natured creature" (in German this is called a 'Doppelwesen'). The only mortal of the Gorgon sisters, she belongs to various orders, to two worlds, to both sexes. Like the angels, Medusa unifies horror and beauty. She is "la Belle" but also "la Bête", she abhors and yet fascinates, she is an object of fear and no less of desire, of sexuality as well as of deadliness. According to Jean Clair, Medusa incarnates two faces of the human psyche in an exemplary way: on the one hand, she stands for the civilised, enlightened, seductive side, on the other the primitive, the obscure, the horrible. Chaos and order, ratio and madness. Like Orpheus who lost his Euridice forever, or the wife of Lot who tragically turned into a salt pillar, Medusa expresses the desire of human beings to watch, and at the same time the deadly sanction following that act (petrifaction or "medusation"). She summarises the problematic theme of the gaze. It is noteworthy that in different versions of the ancient myth of Medusa, it is sometimes the sight of her - her 'being gazed at' by a spectator, while at other times it is the gaze of Medusa herself, her 'looking at' a spectator that petrifies.
Clair has studied the different forms of appearance of Medusa throughout the centuries. Even when she seemingly disappears from the surface of cultural expressions (e.g. during the Middle Ages, or in very recent modern art), she keeps haunting our (art) representations as an emblem (as a unity of 'fascination/horror'). Throughout history, this fundamental dualism of Medusa's nature has been subject to several "dé-doublements". Depending on the moment or the era, different aspects of the representations of this figure are emphasised. Jean Clair outlines two distinctive tendencies, which could be identified as two 'paradigms' of a transhistorical Medusa experience.
1.2. Medusa in times of 'manierism'.
In times of restlessness and confusion, in agitated periods of cultural transition, in moments of decadence and manierism, when man has the feeling of being overwhelmed by the chaos of the world, by nature experienced as radically a-human, it is Medusa's horribleness which first and foremost inspires our imagination. She embodies imbalance and deviation (at those moments): Medusa's gaze is not only the mythical ability to derange organised living substance ('petrification'), but it rather represents 'dislocating power' in general. In these periods we notice for example, that, precisely in Medusian figures, death and sex  , vulva and phallus tend to blend in a confusing mixture. It is not to be wondered at then, that according to the Freudian interpretation, the head-with-snakes represents the female sex, while at the same time the snakes stand for male organs. Medusa's decapitation by Perseus could then be interpreted as a kind of castration.
C'est dire qu'"elle" est un peu "il", et même plus qu'un peu: elle possède l'aspect terrifiant de l'hominité, cette épouvante que suscite la force phallique vitale, indissociable de l'effroi que provoquent la castration et la mort. (Kristeva: 37)
In her petrifying, mineralising effect, Medusa expresses a 'process of naturalisation of man', in which nature 'looks at' and 'captivates' powerless human beings, rather than the opposite. Here, the experience of 'being seized', of a "saisissement" is central.
Medusa's face spontaneously re-appears each time when the normal order of things is reversed and chaos dooms. At this point, a political dimension  enters the realm of the aesthetic. (See also Hertz) Clair draws attention to this aspect in his discussion of the consequences of the guillotine, during the years following the French Revolution. The effect of the guillotine is just the same as that of Medusa's sight - "la mort en un clin d'oeil" - literally and metaphorically. Analogous to the Medusian theme, the guillotine became "sexualised' (remarkably, the guillotine used to be nicknamed "maiden" in England, "la veuve" in France), which entails the same double connotation of fascination and shudder, sexuality and death. And the parallel goes further: the images of the executioner, holding the freshly cut head of the conquered king out to the people, strikingly resembles the representations of Perseus in those days (with the hero triumphantly holding Medusa's head high into the air). According to Clair, all these gestures have a certain charged or sometimes even exorcising, function, particularly in times of malaise. It is for instance by no means a coincidence that the prevailing fashion of nobility in the days subsequent to the Revolutionary terror used to be a (rather uncanny) mimesis of the victims at the scaffold, reminding of a morbid kind of group therapy. One could notice, for example, a macabre emphasising of the naked neck, by a thin red string tied around it, as if to evoke an image of decapitation. To certain bals masqués, only relatives or close friends of a person who had died on the scaffold were invited, and the noblemen there performed a kind of dance with wobbling heads, imitating the movements - to and fro - of a guillotined head landing in the basket of the executioner.
1.3. Medusa in times of 'classicism'.
In times of continuity, by contrast, moments when man has the impression of dominating the worldly chaos and is convinced of being able to control it by his reason, one can observe the opposite movement: not a naturalisation of man, but an "anthropomorfisation" of nature. Hence, the representations of Medusa indeed become more human, more stylish, and more feminine. She is domesticated until she has become an amiable woman, stylised into an ornament or an amulet to keep away bad spirits: "figure de l'épouvante, elle repousse l'épouvantable" (Clair: 75). On the other hand, she is sometimes caricaturised into a grotesque, laughable figure. By humanising Medusa's image, her powers are exorcised and reversed, and - once tamed - they are put to use for man's own ends and thus instrumentalised. Jean Grenier notes that heroes took over the "horrifying" traits of Medusa. At this point, Medusa no longer can be seen as an incarnation of fear (i.e., the fear of disorder and uncertainty), but on the contrary, she is a sign of the self-sufficiency of the human logos and of man's ordering capacities.
In sum, one can claim that in the sediments of history two alternative and alternating "Medusa images" have been formed: one that stems from the impression of continuity, another that is based on the experience of discontinuity.
Yet, these two faces of Medusa always co-exist as well, continually debunking one another. Clair talks of a "réversibilité" in the Medusian "dispositif" (Clair: 179): throughout the centuries, opposite elements within the Medusian topos (seing/being seen, man/woman, Perseus/Medusa…) are highlighted, in a cyclic, oscillating movement.
1.4. Medusa and 'otherness'. Uncanniness and suspicion.
Analogous to these two continuously crossing paradigms, one can also distinguish two different ideals of beauty. Since Medusa has always functioned as a personification of (seeing) the other, either "homeomorphic" or "heteromorphic beauty" is bestowed on her, depending on the sensitivity. In the former case, beauty has to do with the recognition of the same in the same, in the latter case, a fascination of "the other" is the central key. At this point, the relation with the topic of the uncanny, as well as with psychoanalysis, becomes evident.
Jean Clair has made this clear when he talks about the theme of Medusa during the period between 1870 and World War I. In this era, which roughly coincides with the conception and elaboration of psychoanalysis, Medusa appears explicitly as herself for the last time. According to Clair, this reappearance of Medusa is linked to the figure of Narcissus. Under the influence of, among other things, the development of photography and the reproducibility of representations, people began to experience a kind of "disorientation of the self". Repetition or doubling of the image no longer confirmed identity, but problematised the very idea of recognition. The mirror function seemed to have become untrustworthy. 'Narcissus' - so to speak - no longer saw himself reflected, but someone else, 'another'. In this fin-de-siècle world where reflections and source no longer coincided, the usual sense of order changed into a growing feeling of chaos and panic. Narcissus had become Medusa. The fatal frontality of Medusa blended with the compulsive frontality of Narcissus. That what used to be completely self-evident (the self, the I, one's mirror image) now suddenly turned into a disquieting blank, and this estranging experience of a déjà vu that one does not recognise, instigated fear - fear of monstrosity, of death, of that which is totally unlike yourself, but ought to be well-known. The most familiar became the most unfamiliar: that is an experience of "inquiétante étrangeté", of the uncanny, as well as a typical fin-de-siècle motif (for example to be found in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray). Psychoanalytically, this was translated and explained as follows: the automatism, proper to the repetition compulsion, does not convey the pleasure of being caught in perfect transparance (the dream of homeomorphy), but a nauseating understanding of death, the experience of 'the Other'. Desire should not be seen as a constructive, but rather as a destructive, disorganising, dislocating force - so Freud "discovered" at the turn of the century.
So, still according to Clair, modern man no longer recognised himself in the returning of the same. This was - and still is - expressed in modern art by subjecting the (female) body to all sorts of disjointing, disassembling and reassembling acts. In the story of E.T.A. Hoffman, Nathanael, as a little boy, sneaking behind the curtain, was caught by the Sandman, and subsequently subjected to horrible tinkering with his body - he has not been "the same" ever since. In similar fashion, in modern art the human body has lost its integrity. This brings a certain aspect of Medusa to the fore, which will be essential for an understanding of the "Medusa experience". Medusa appears so appalling to us, because she exposes this 'radical alterity' which we hide ourselves.  She discloses that within ourselves which looks at us, but does not look like us, she thrusts unfamiliarity into our very I, in the organisation of our proper substance (our body), in our familiar forms of appearance. Therefore she can be seen as an emblem of the dialectical relation between the same and the other. Medusation is nothing but being 'seized' when the same is recognised in the other, or the other in the same. The uncanny as well is charactarised by such an intrinsic duplicity (and therefore the possibility of a double reading).
Indeed, this approach to the uncanny fits into a typically 19th- and 20th- century quest for authenticity and the accompanying attitude of suspicion (i.e., an almost methodical form of suspicion aimed at everything that was trusted in previous times: reason, truth, the self, progress, God, freedom and equality, science…).  The relation between suspicion and the uncanny is ambiguous. On the one hand, suspicion ensures 'beforehand' that a confusion of the proper and the unfamiliar will not take place at all (because 'the familiar' is always already suspiciously kept at a distance and thus preventively de-familiarised), but this entails that the uncanny can not even occur. On the other hand, the systematic practice of suspicion produces another effect: the continual taking distance from the familiar can become an even more "authentic" attitude  , which immediately brings about the possibility of interpenetration of the 'strange' and the 'proper' (in other words: "Perhaps the suspicion is not mine, perhaps my suspicious mind is only being dictated, maybe I am being "suspect"?"  ). In that way, the uncanny becomes once again possible, more specifically - extra uncanny? - in the attempt to exorcise the uncanny itself. All this is in tune with Schelling's definition of the uncanny to which Freud refers in his essay: the uncanny as that which "in effect" should have remained hidden, but has nonetheless come to light.
2. The ultimate medusa experience
Jean Clair has written a rather unsystematic, rhetorical, associative kind of art historical chronology of circulating experiences of Medusa. In this second part, I would like to outline a typology of and a chronology within the "Medusa moment" itself. I will emphasise some formal as well as matter-related aspects of the Medusa experience, quite aside from any historical context. Analogous to Clair's two paradigms, one can distinguish two possible Medusa experiences. It goes without saying that these are not to be taken 'literally': they operate as metaphors for certain general human experiences.
2.1. The frontal Medusa experience.
The first Medusa experience I will discuss is the frontal one, experienced by all creatures who have tried to catch a direct glimpse of 'Medusa' - resulting in actual 'Medusation'. A Medusa experience in fact always implies a confrontation. It means that one affronts oneself with something dreadful, something of which the sight/gaze is extremely threatening. The starting point is anxiety. (Ultimately, it does not make any difference whether or not this is actually a kind of "castration anxiety", as Freud has explicitly claimed - what matters here is the sequence inaugurated by this dread.) In a frontal confrontation with Medusa, or more generally, with radical otherness, i.e., the completely unexpected, unknown, unwanted or incomprehensible, the "terror" of that moment can be understood in two ways. On the one hand, it can be content-related, as the instant of seeing something frightening, of witnessing horror; on the other hand, in a formal way, there is an experience of fright, the act of being frightened (being "scared to death"). A sudden "halt" occurs, a standstill, a paralysis of the self (petrifaction), a punctuation of temporal experience (or at least a sharpening of the victim's awareness of the now). This overwhelming oppression causes an immediate modification (the condition before the confrontation can in no way be compared to the state following it). A frontal Medusa experience is, in fact, a metaphor for dis-continuity and as such, it fits with Jean Clair's transhistorical paradigm of representations of Medusa in times of malaise and restlessness, times in which - as we have seen - the aspect of Medusa's terribleness is emphasised.
Frontality is fatal. It puts an end to the continuous steady flow of life - hero or no hero. Frontality means a breaking point, a caesura, an exceptional condition in which normal rules and regularities no longer hold (as in: one does not "normally" turn into stone in the twinkling of an eye, just like that). What ensues this critical instant of fright(ening), is a return to a normalised predicament (i.e. a state of being/staying petrified), although this "normal condition" is totally incomparable with the "normality" preceding the Medusa moment. From a formal perspective  , the frontal Medusa experience can be characterised by "suddenness". If something is abrupt or sudden, it means it can not be fitted into the usual schemes, into our Lebenswelt or expectations (even in spite of the preceding fear, for a Medusian sight/gaze is so horrible that it exceeds any fearful representation). Suddenness is an indication of the/an other, a sign of that which hinders integration - much like a literal medusation would affect your integrity (that is, the integrity of your bodily 'normalcy', of your living and moving self).
In a collection of essays (Plötzlichkeit), Karl Heinz Bohrer uses the notion of "suddenness" as a heuristic device. In discussing a number of "Plötzlichkeit-Denker" like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Scheler, Schmitt, Benjamin, Bohrer tries to relate the category (of experience) and (temporal) modality of suddenness to the aesthetic. (Bohrer: 43) Since suddenness does not presume a metaphysical notion of substance, but should rather be understood as a transcendental category of perception, and since the aesthetic is linked to suddenness, beauty - according to Bohrer - no longer has to yield under the pressure of legitimacy. In some ways reminiscent of Clair's observations about different attitudes towards the theme of Medusa, Bohrer states that in the course of history different stances towards 'the sudden' can be identified. For example, where Clair recognises a growing attention for Medusa bound up with the theme of Narcissus and a general malaise and disorientation of the self, at the turn of the twentieth century, Bohrer too spots a "Krise des Kontinuitätsgedankens und der nicht mehr als sebstverständlich genommenen Realität." as well as a dramatising of 'suddenness'. (Bohrer: 65) Very briefly, I would like to go into Bohrer's discussion of Kierkegaard's observations on this subject. Within the theological context of Kierkegaard's thought, suddenness becomes demonised. In Der Begriff Angst, Kierkegaard writes "das Dämonische ist das Plötzliche". Suddenness, for him, is essentially a characteristic of the appearance of Satan, of Mephistopheles. Therefore, the experience of the sudden/satanic can most successfully be conveyed to a spectator in mimic rather than a verbal way. Nothing can be as "grauenvoll" (dreadful) as silence. The mimic act can express suddenness, but that doesn't imply that the mimic is to be identified with the sudden as such:
In dieser Hinsicht hat Ballettmeister Bournonville grosses Verdienst durch die Darstellung, die er selbst von Mephistopheles gibt. Der Horror, der einen ergreift, wie Mephistopheles durchs Fenster hineinspringt und in der Stellung des Sprunges stehen bleibt! (Kierkegaard in Bohrer: 48)
For Kierkegaard, the characteristic effect of being "struck" by a "sudden fright" is dumbfoundedness, which is in fact nothing else than another version of "saisissement", the paralysis or petrifaction mentioned above in the context of a frontal Medusa experience.
2.2. The indirect Medusa experience.
The second kind of medusa confrontation is the indirect one, the detour. In the original Greek myth, Perseus, temporarily invisible (with divine help), is able to sneak up to Medusa astutely using his shiny polished shield as a mirror. Thanks to this reflecting piece of armour, he can watch Medusa in a roundabout way, without turning into stone by her sight/gaze. He chops off her head and puts it in a bag at once. During his adventures on the way back, he uses her still petrifying snake-head several times to defeat his enemies. Back home, it enables him to defend the honour of his mother and of his country, but eventually he has to give Medusa's head to Athena. Ever since, Athena - the virgin goddess of both thought and reason, as well as battle and war - wears Medusa's chopped-off head on her helmet as a fright-inspiring emblem.
In the third chapter of Méduse, Jean Clair has interpreted the heroic tale of Perseus' triumph over Medusa as follows: one should never attack 'the Other', chaos, … in a frontal way. He calls this "the lesson of culture". Medusa's decapitation by Perseus is seen as an image of the structuring of knowledge and of a process of identification: in taking away the head of the Other, we gain our own reason. The detour of the "figurative" enables us to make "the dreadful and frightening" more concrete and to detach ourselves from it. As for Clair, this is the ultimate goal of every education: "Se rendre invisible à l'autre pour en supporter la présence en nous, ce serait là la finalité de toute éducation." (Clair: 60) Those who are most adept at this activity of 'exorcising' are called "heroes", or - more contemporary - "artists". In other words, culture consists of becoming a "master of fear", just like Perseus used to be. According to Clair, triumph over Medusa entails the founding of a new order, a new regularity. He stresses the remarkable fact that Athena finally appropriates the symbol of Medusa, as well as the fact that she, the incarnation of the most "typical" aspects of human nature (thought and struggle) hides herself behind the face of otherness, behind that which petrifies, blinds or maddens.
The chronological structure of the indirect medusa experience commences, like the frontal one, with fear. The thought of this monster, the very eventuality of her sight/gaze remains just as dreadful. However, this fear is not succeeded by a frontal, hence not a fatal confrontation: 'the Other' is caught without ever really being seen. All sorts of mediations are brought into play (a mirroring shield, an opaque bag) to make sure a vis-à-vis does not take place, and indeed, to truly become "master" of the situation. This cunning 'having everything under controle' of the detour Medusa experience fits Clair's second transhistorical Medusa paradigm. In this scheme, predominant in times of classicism, quietude and self-assuredness, Medusa is humanised, and her seductive and feminine side rather than her threatening dimension is being stressed (i.e. the "other" side of Medusa as a "double-natured creature").
Formally, 'suddenness' or a punctuating emphasis on the moment has nothing to do with this kind of experience, with this indirect confrontation with otherness. Actual medusation - petrifaction or "saisissement" - does not occur either. Yet, a real Medusa experience has taken place, a definite "handling" of Medusa. From a formal point of view, Perseus's "trouvaille", i.e. Clair's "lesson of culture" implies a switch in attitude, a transition from the range of experience to the scope of "mental representations" or ideas (in German: Vorstellungen). Of course this representative dimension already germinates in the moment of fear, preceding the actual Medusa confrontation, inasmuch as fear is inspired by some indefinite mental representation/idea of what a future medusean confrontation might stand for. In a frontal face-to-face preceding fear-inspiring representations are swapped for an experience of 'the real thing', but in an indirect encounter with Medusa representations are in fact multiplied. Perseus will never know the way Medusa 'really' looks, the only thing he can tell are his own projections. At the most, he will (be able to) conjure up anything he can imagine about it - exactly like anybody else who didn't dare a direct confrontation. He always has to "think it along". Instead of 'suddenness' as a formal category of experience, here we have an 'as'-structure as a formal category of representation. The 'real' Medusa of an indirect confrontation is always 'conceived of as', 'thought of as'. This 'as'-structure can stand for 'as' meaning 'just like' (to imagine as.), or for 'as' meaning 'as if' (dealing with the reflection in the shield or with the bag as if it contains the Other, the monster), as well as for the figurative use of 'as' in comparisons or metaphors (since these are just as much negotiated, mediated and therefore indirect).
2.3. Medusa as metaphor?
The question remains to what extent the Other is actually 'seen'/experienced in the case of a frontal Medusa experience, since no possibility of reflection or processing is left afterwards. Is it meaningful to speak of 'seeing something', without a clear awareness - coming along - of 'having seen' (a Vorstellung of that something, following that moment)? In the frontal situation, only a brief sudden sight/gaze occurs, and subsequently, the 'observer' is petrified in a wink of an eye (yet, what can "subsequently" mean in that case?). Did the inhabitants of Pompei ever know what came over them, not having enough time to realise they were being overwhelmed - and petrified - by the forces of nature (i.e. otherness)? This would imply that the other as such cannot in any case be conceived, directly nor indirectly. But then how can we know whether anything which is radically other exists at all? By its effects, or its traces?
These observations lead me to formulate some reservations concerning the efficacy of the image of Medusa as a metaphor for 'radical alterity'. The image is not flawless insofar as it leaves very little room for nuance or gradation (in the experience of the other). Moreover, one may wonder how much 'experiences' and 'representations' are interdependent and permeate each other (a relevant question and cause for confusion also in the context of the uncanny). Probably there are no such things as purely unmediated/immediate experiences, just as much as representations can never be completely indirect, for every reflection in a mirror / representation / mediation is "experienced" as well. (there is absolutely no convincing argument to hold the 'original' object of reflection as ontologically superior to the image itself, quite the contrary). Nevertheless, the two Medusa experiences discussed in this paper can be meaningful or interesting - as limit cases: "ideal" without a doubt, but enlightening and instructive too, since this mythical 'thought experiment' indeed enables us to make some distinctions. Thanks to the metaphorical strength of the Medusa story we are allowed to sketch a meaningful duality, without being forced to conclude to a radical dualism.
So, one could roughly state that in an indirect Medusa confrontation, the other is never really seen or experienced (either out of a healthy distrust or out of a sensible caution - always beforehand), although it always really 'is' present 'as' representation. That way, one can never be 'seized' or 'struck' unexpectedly by paralysing experiences. Moreover, the very possibility of an experience of the uncanny is undermined, since no disturbing confusions of the familiar and the unfamiliar are likely to occur (inasmuch as the unknown is caught in mirror projections or bags). Not a being seized by, but a seizing of Medusa. Reasoning, very much like 'suspicion', seems to bring along the same neutralising effect concerning the experience of the uncanny.
"Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich" - Rilkes assertion indeed seems to hold within the reckless realm of immediate experiences, yet in the looking glass world of mediating and mediated representations, in an important way, it does not.
Bohrer, Karl Heinz. (1981) 1998. Plötzlichkeit. Zum Augenblick des ästhetischen Scheins. Frankfurt a/M: Suhrkamp.
Bourdin, Dominique. 1993. "Tête de Méduse." Psychanalyse à l'université 18.71: 55-76.
Clair, Jean. 1989. Méduse. Contribution à une anthropologie des arts visuel. Paris: Gallimard.
Freud, Sigmund. (1940) 1952. "Das Medusenhaupt" Gesammelte Werke. Schriften aus dem Nachlass. Eds. Anna Freud e.a. London: Imago.
Freud, Sigmund. (1919) 1952. "Das Unheimliche." Gesammelte Werke. Eds. Anna Freud e.a. London: Imago.
Herz, Neil. 1985. "Medusa's Head: Male Hysteria Under Political Pressure." The End of the Line. New York: Columbia UP.
Kristeva, Julia. 1998. Visions Capitales. Paris: Parti Pris.
Rilke, Rainer Maria. (1923) 1997. Duineser Elegien. München: Taschenbuch.
Trees Depoorter is an FWO-researcher at the department of philosophy at the V.U.B., where she currently is preparing a Ph.D on the exceptional.
 Rilke: 29, l. 2
 Clair draws attention to an interesting historical fact, i.e., that in the Ancient World Medusa used to be treated as a sort of "sacred prostitute", whereas in our Jewish-Christian tradition she is preferably seen as a figure of absolute evil: lust, evil and death became one, and Medusa as a female represents "the evil sex".
 I.e. in a rather broad sense of the term 'political' as that which concerns, influences or is influenced by 'public life'.
 Not only Jean Clair, but also J.-P. Vernant stresses this: ". le masque monstrueux de Gorgô traduit l'extrême altérité, l'horreur terrifiante de ce qui est absolument autre, l'indicible, l'impensable, le pur chaos: pour l'homme, l'affrontement avec la mort, cette mort que l'oeil de Gorgô impose à ceux qui croisent son regard, transformant tout être qui vit, se meut et voit la lumière du soleil en une pierre figée, glacée, aveugle, enténébrée." (Bourdin : 70)
 See. Martin Jay's Downcast eyes. The denigration of vision in 20th century French thought, where French "anti-ocularcentrism" is said to be based on a "widely shared distrust" (Jay: 588).
 "Authentic" has no moral connotations here, it merely indicates a certain modality, an ontological status or at most a measure of 'impact'. Moral truthfulness has nothing to do with this relation between suspicion and the uncanny: only ontological or epistemological 'trustworthiness' is at stake (although this can very well have moral consequences).
 By something other than myself or unknown/unknowable to myself: the Zeitgeist, the will to power, god (occasionalism), hidden economic determinants, evolutionary tendencies, the autonomous working of my brain cells or my unconscious (both of which I can call 'my own', but which I cannot experience as such), etc.
 When I say 'formally', I mean that the actual object (or subject) of a Medusian confrontation does not really matter as long as you look at it in a formal way: the feminine sex, the mother, absolute ugliness, absolute evil, an abstract category as 'the Other', or a particular monster with a head full of snakes… All of these 'instances' only appear as objects of a Medusian experience because of a number of shared formal characteristics, e.g. causing sudden fright or paralysis (petrifaction, dumbfoundedness, rigidity as a "phallic erection",…).
Trees Depoorter is an FWO-researcher at the departement of philosophy of the V.U.B. She is working on a Phd on "the exceptional".
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