An Experimodern Coda To Human Sexuality


Outside of the world of grunts, moans and softpink insertions, mainstream cinema is another way in which our desire is conditioned. Popular English film frequently uses American actresses as the love interest of the protagonist (see the films of Richard Curtis). This stems from two factors; firstly the collapse of the British Empire, and a national guilt about England's colonial past has meant that the traditional role of the sexual Other, which would previously have been created through the fetishizing and exoticization of women from far-off climes, must instead be transplanted onto someone of less controversial and exploitative racial and national background, yet still someone in whom the repressed sexual character of the English psyche cannot be found. When this is coupled with the options for Anglo-American dual-funding possibilities, the use of an American actress becomes an obvious asset. However, the offshoot of this is that generation of English men are behaviourally conditioned to find American women attractive – the horror of a sexuality lived vicariously through Hugh Grant...

If pornography teaches us how to fuck, cinema teaches us who to fuck. The film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” in 2007 to describe a cinematic character who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures” (Rabin, 2007), most specifically, the female lead characters in films such as Elizabethtown, 500 Days Of Summer and Garden State, “an archetype...that taps into a particular male fantasy: of being saved from depression and ennui by a fantasy woman who sweeps in like a glittery breeze to save you from yourself, then disappears once her work is done” (Rabin, 2014). Rabin disowned the term earlier this year, no doubt due to the internet's general inability to deal with any of the interesting issues it brings up, primarily, what is it about the way in which these manic, pixie characters act that might make them an object of desire for a certain type heterosexual male (impulsivity, naivety, lack of self-consiousness, child-like appearance, often less intelligent – perhaps the manifestation of a latent desire for sex with children?) and secondly, what effect these films might have in conditioning desire in the viewer?8

Rabin's analysis of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope in cinema - “it makes women seem less like autonomous, independent entities, than appealing props to help mopey, sad white men self-actualize” (Rabin, 2014) echoes not only with Laura Mulvey's analysis of how women in narrative cinema essentialize a dichotomy between spectacle and narrative in which “What counts is what the heroine provokes or represents... In herself the woman has not the slightest importance”9 (Mulvey, 1989, p. 19 – quoting Budd Boetticher), but also with musicologist Susan McClary's ideas about gendered aspects of the construction of sonata form.

In sonata, the principal key/theme clearly occupies the narrative position of masculine protagonist; and while the less dynamic second key/theme is necessary to the sonata or tonal plot (without this foil or obstacle, there is no story), it serves the narrative function of the feminine Other. Moreover, satisfactory resolution – the ending always generically guaranteed in advance by tonality and sonata procedure – demands the containment of whatever is semiotically or structurally marked as “feminine”, whether a second theme or simply a non-tonic key area.
(McClary, 2002, p.15).

McClary points to the specifically and stereotypically male construction of sexuality and pleasure that marks out the structural form of symphonic sonata-form works, also pointing out that this structuring still lingers on in contemporary composition (McClary, 2002, p. 113). Yet the thundering orgasmic climaxes of Beethoven's symphonies not only point to a sexuality projected as metaphor and embedded into the work, but a stasis in our own sexuality. McClary's pioneering approach to the sexuality semiotically entombed within musical form caused us to change our musicology, our music, but not our sexuality from which the metaphorical language of the construction stems from. If music metaphorically embeds elements of our sexuality then surely our sexuality must change first in order to lead that of the music? As a friend of mine said to me – the problem with still being able to enjoy and relate to Woody Allen films is that it means that humanity hasn't evolved since they were made.

In Experimodern composition techniques, it might at first seem as if the solipsism of the subject under capitalism has displaced the Other; yet the Other's relation to the self as a feminized element which must be subdued is still in place. Rather than being projected outwards onto the sounding plane of the composition, the stratification and codification of desire in Schenker's diagrams carcinomatically spews outwards to become the toolbox of feminizing mathematical techniques against which the male composer ploughs the brute force of their intuition.10 Here the technical foundations of experimodernism, unthinkingly projected as material-organizer, negate any liberatory potential and become the catafalque of musical patriarchy. A progressive art does not spring from a feminized Other, but can occur as the result of the direct application of formal procedure in a way which circumvents gendered metaphor – applied not in an indirect way to sexual symbolism already escaped from the body – but further down, at the very point of libidinal emanation; a foot clamped down on the base of the firehose of desire, precipitating a pressure-rupture that explodes into arcing whitewater rainbows, erupting into the white noise of a sexuality ripped from conditioned reflex and embedded as a clawing and merciless undercurrent let loose through our art.

McClary suggests changing our composition – I suggest changing our sexuality and our desire.

8As a side note, none of the articles about this trope have mentioned Lars And The Real Girl (2007), one of the most brutal attacks upon the representations of women in American independent cinema. The film follows an identical formula to many of the recent films in which the “manic pixie...” trope occurs (even down to individual scenes mirroring those of other films, specifically those in which Lars takes Bianca to places from his childhood). The film as with many of these other movies in which this trope occurs is ostensibly about a shy, slightly depressed introvert in a boring job, whose life is turned around through the catalytic presence of the female character. Yet here, the traditional female role is replaced by that of a non-speaking sex doll and the film is still able to function, saying much about the role of female agency within the majority of these films.

9See the description of Lars And The Real Girl, above.

10 RT: I seem to remember reading an account of your work ... in which you seemed to say that the pre-existent grid of possibilities was almost like a wall you had to bang your head against, a sort of blockage that had to be broken through in order to create...
BF: … I believe that one has an unformed mass of creative volition. On the other hand, in order to realize the creative potential of this volition one needs to have something for it to react against. And therefore I try to set up one or more (usually many more) grids, or sieves, a system of continually moving sieves. (Ferneyhough, 1995, p. 252)