“In Hoffman’s novella, Olimpia is an object both created and destroyed by the world of men. The main part of the story tells of Coppelius—part alchemist, part magician, part mad-scientist—who, with the assistance of Professor Spalanzani, creates a life-like automaton that they pass off as the latter’s daughter. The scheme is designed to beguile and entrap the innocent and the one such is the young artist Nathanael. In a critique of the Romantic artistic temperament itself, Nathanael leaves his fiancé Clara as she no longer acts as a mirror to his passions, ironically, calling her a ‘damned lifeless automaton!” before running to his new love Olimpia…She is an inherently Gothic figure as she is not only an uncanny double to a real human—she replaces Clara—but she is also a mirror image of the artist himself. This sees her as not just ‘manmade’ but, in her role of Doppelgänger, as being literally made of Man…Olimpia is a manifestation of this degeneracy while acting as a conduit or mirror to pass it on or reflect it onto other men.
It is hardly surprising then that, as the story reaches its climax, she is literally torn apart by these forces trying to control her or remake her in their own image…
The construction of Olimpia’s femininity is worth examining further as it informs much of the uncanny status of her recurring afterlives. Her womanliness is purely a product of male, patriarchal domination seeing her appearance being created by men for the consumption of other men… Jeffrey A. Brown observes that women and robots can be seen to occupy a very similar status within patriarchal society as a ‘standardized, consumable and indeed replaceable form.’ …
Elissa Marder takes this idea even further and back to the foundations of western civilization in Greek mythology, specifically to the story of Pandora. In Marder’s reading Pandora, the ‘first woman,’ was fabricated by Hephaestus and so was ‘a manufactured product…an android, a robot, or a replicant.’ Further, she speculates that Pandora’s ‘maternal’ jar could be understood as a ‘mechanical reproduction’ of the womb rather than as its representation, which simultaneously posits that the manufactured female body is innately duplicitous in its emptiness, even more so when it looks like a living human, as when Olimpia takes the place of Nathanael’s biological fiancée and future bearer of his children. This mechanical doppelgänger symbolically castrates the young man casting such ‘women’ as inherently evil.
…Huyssen himself sees the urn—the vessel she appears from to perform her dance—as the found of Robot Maria’s second birth, but by introducing Pandora, this becomes a rebirth beyond male control. Although she draws the male-gaze, she uses it for her own ends, constructing her as an active agent in the disruption she causes and not just a puppet or mannequin of male desire.
..The T-X robot [of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines], as with Robot-Maria, should be genderless, a point accentuated by the fact it is able to change its shape at will, yet it is marked at all stages as feminine, even when only its ‘skeleton’ is left.
…Unlike T-X, Ava [of Ex Machina] is never mistaken for a human—everyone involved knows that she is a machine—but she is able to learn and manipulate human emotions….Ava’s femininity is interesting as, like all robots, she should be without gender, but her creator has given her a typically female build…Yet the narrative shows that Ava has modified her own looks and her ways of interacting with Caleb from monitoring the porn sites he surfs from his work computer—this last part is important as it suggests that Ava is able to ‘send’ her consciousness out into the internet. The film does not explore this aspect very much but it means that she is potentially hugely powerful and yet choose to remain in her ‘human’ body. This sees her having a form of individual agency that creates a very specific relationship between herself and the male gaze and male control.”
-Simon Bacon “Remaking Olimpia: Agency and the Gothic Afterlives of ‘female’ Automata” in Gothic Afterlives: Reincarnations of Horror in Film and Popular Media edited by Lorna Piatti-Farnell
“This gives us an idea of the reverence in which Bast was held by her worshippers, and clearly exemplifies her dual nature, embracing both sun and moon, and all that was symbolized by them to the Egyptian mystic, especially the essential unity of the light proceeding from them both. As the Cat sees in the darkness, so the Sun which journeyed into the underworld at night saw through its gloom. Bast was the representative of the Moon, because that planet was considered as the Sun-god’s eye during the hours of darkness. For as the moon reflects the light of the solar orb, so the Cat’s phosphorescent eyes were held to mirror the sun’s rays when it was otherwise invisible to man. Bast as the Cat-moon held the Sun in her eye during the night, keeping watch with the light he bestowed upon her, whilst her paws gripped, and bruised and pierced the head of his deadly enemy, the serpent of darkness. Thus she justified her title of the Tearer or Render, and proved that it was not incompatible with love.
The Vulture which represented Mut (the World-Mother and great female counterpart of Amen-Ra), also appears in connection with Bast where the latter is considered as a member of the Egyptian Trinity that is recognized by the composite name of Sekhmet-Bast-Ra. This figure well illustrates the extraordinarily complicated nature of the goddess, for it depicts a man-headed woman with wings springing from her arms. And the symbolism is further complicated by two vultures growing from her neck, and lion’s claws that arm her feet.
To emphasise the lunar symbolism, the Cat is often represented with a crescent upon its head, but Plutarch would have us make no mistake. He points out that the Cat, from ‘its variety of colour, its activity in the night, and the peculiar circumstances attending its fecundicity’ is the proper emblem of the moon.
In reference to this last matter, the Egyptians stated that the Cat brought froth at birth, first one, then two, afterwards three kittens, and so on, adding on e at each later birth until she reached seven. So that she brought fourth twenty-eight young altogether, correspond to the several degrees of light which appear during the moon’s revolutions.
In chapter CXXV of the Book of the Dead, the deceased in his petition to the gods of the Underworld pleads his knowledge of a word of power.
‘I am clean of mouth and clean of hands,’ he says; ‘Therefore let it be said unto me, “Come in peace; come in peace” (12), for i have heard the might word which the spiritual bodies (sahu)* spake unto the the Cat (13) in the house of Hapt-re.’
What the mystic word is we are not told. But it is recorded that the gods of their own volition sometimes gave to mankind the knowledge of their secret names by which they might be evoked.
Here the Cat would seem to be Isis in her feline for as Bast. The ‘mighty word’ is, therefore, probably the secret name which she conjured from Ra on that occasion when, by means of a magical spell, she created a serpent whose bite caused him an agony she alone could cure. Ra had many names, but it was his hidden title that Isis sough, and finally forced from the suffering god. This name with all the supernatural powers its possession conferred passed from his breast to hers, still concealed from all other gods, even as it was from men. The legend of Ra and Isis was probably an effort to explain the newly accepted Chaldean doctrine that since even the gods were subject to law, it was possible for the man who gained knowledge of law to bend the higher beings to his will. Isis herself had shown the way. The Alexandrian writers say that the Egyptians claimed to be able to constrain the gods to obey their wishes, and messiest themselves to sight. The god could not resist the effect of their evocations and magic formulae if he would called by his true name. ‘They not only called the god by name,’ says M. Maury, ‘but if he refused to appear they threatened him.’
In the terrible ritual of the Taigherm (described in Chapter XVI) we may see the fruit of such impiety; probably the same doctrine underlay many of the feline scarifies called for in the practice of Black Magic. But when considering the motives of these it must always be borne in mind that the gods and angles of an earlier religion are the demons of the creed that supersedes it, and suffer a progressive degradation in the popular conception which finally results in the formation of a third variation of magic, frankly diabolical. The magician, reared in the prejudiced outlook of the new creed, sees devils in the ancient gods; but evokes them by means of the ritual of the old religion and sells his soul to obtain occult power form them. An example of such magic is provided in the religion of Yezidis, or ‘Worshippers of Satan.’ Though fully recognising the Magian dualisms, the sect pays homage only to the principle of evil.
Probably much of the magic of the Middle Ages was of this origin, and my be traced to an impious abuse of older theogonies. We propose to follow these decade developments in he chapter dealing with the position of the Cat in witchcraft.
The wonderful religion of the ancient Egyptians, like other creeds, was evolved from crude commencements. Originally this people had no conception of a soul. Life was a breath, a fluidic motive power which vanished suddenly when its possessor fell into that state which we call death, characterized by the absence of breath and movement, the cessation of consciousness, the corruption of the flesh, and final destruction for the body. The three first mentioned phenomena constantly occurred without bringing about the state of death, as in sleep, hypnotism, catalepsy, swooning, etc., in which, after a varying lapse of time the individual returned to life.
The only apparent difference between deep unconsciousness and death is that when the latter takes place decomposition follows. It was therefore an obvious inference from observed facts that if tit was possible to prevent decomposition, life would return tot he body, as it did when the sleeper awoke from his dreams.
Thus the Egyptians reasoned that death ought to be considered as a merely temporary suspension of life which might be remedied by the resources of magic, if these were applied before decomposition commenced. Hence their practice of mummifying and embalming the corpse, and employing magic ritual or Mysteries.
Although we are accustomed to-day to think of the moon, when personified, as feminine in gender, in many ancient religions it was represented by a masculine or hermaphrodite deity, and its association with a goddess was a development from the older idea.
We have already noted that the cat-headed goddess Bast is the feminine aspect of the creator-demiurge Ptah, the most ancient of all the gods. ‘The divine and primordial intelligence and wisdom,’ ‘He who is self-existent,’ the ‘Giver of Life.’ Ptah, as the primitive Egyptian conception of the personified sun, is said to have generated The Sacred Bull, Apis, the symbol of fecundity in Nature, by a ray of light. His name signifies ‘He who opens,’ and is suggestive of his dual functions as God of Life, and God of Death, the Opener of the dark prisons of the womb and of the tomb. Not only as the representative of the Sun, but also because of tis connection with Bast the cat was a secondary symbol of Ptah. In later Egyptian allegory, Osiris usurped the place of Ptah as the god of Life and reproduction, and, though a sun-god, was said to inhabit the Moon. Plutarch describes and Egyptian festival, entitled ‘The Ingress of Osiris into the Moon,’ which has a phallic significance. And in a Louvre papyrus referring to the supposed influence of the Moon on generation, we read: ‘Couplings and conceptions abound when he (Osiris-Lunus) is seen in Heaven on that day.'”
“When the god is alone with the females the sexuality is not overt but latent, if we grant that the swirling dances of young and lovely superhuman women have sexual overtones. When the satyrs too are in the scene they show by their arousal and their behavior that they are not indifferent to their companions. By the second quarter of the fifth century t hey are usually no longer shown with erections and are generally less enthusiastically indecent in their actions. Perhaps it is worth remarking on what we all take for granted–there are only male satyrs. Even a detumescent satyr next to a woman or nymph embodies male sexuality.
The god, meanwhile, is never shown in art as involved in the satyrs’ sexual shenanigans. He may dance, he may drink, but he is never paired with or shown taking any interest in any of the female companions of his rout. He is not shown with an erection, but then the gods almost never are, except for a single goat-headed Pan chasing a shepherd boy and the semi-iconic pillars of Hermes we call herms, which are shown with phalli at the right height in the archaic and early classical periods.* What has not been remarked, as far as I know, is that before the change to a preference for a beardless Dionysus, the god’s member is rarely shown, even at rest, though examples can be found…[even] when he wears a shorter chiton his lions remain hidden.
But even though Dionysus, like all Greek gods, could be violent and dangerous, one suspects that the more characteristic images for the Greeks were the terrified Dionysus who takes refuge in the bosom of Thetis and the cowardly, if comic, figure who ‘gilds’ his elegant Ionic gown when confronted with the Hound of Hell in Aristophanes’ Frogs.
Two images may provide us with an appropriate conclusion: one is that of the embodiment of the epicene style of modern pop culture, the male leader of the pop group, who for all the violence of music, gestures, and words is neither traditionally masculine nor yet effeminate. To the established order he may be a threat but not to the adoring young, especially the young women. There is a fascination but also a certain horror about such a figure, who cannot be placed and straddles or crosses boundaries. The other image is that Dionysus in the Bacchae, who draws Pentheus over a boundary as the king is lead to make himself in to a bakkhe. In that play is the there not some of this chilling fascination about Dionysus, too, whose gender puzzles Pentheus and who moves quietly between the raucous world of the male and the female?”
*’…The aesthetic preference for the small penis must also have been a factor. The large penis and thus the phallus were comic and grotesque, inappropriate for beautiful and powerful gods….’
The Lathing (Vol. 3 of the Circo del Herrero Series) Synopsis:
[Smack dab in the Bible Belt’s buckle, Vulcan arranges His pagan pieces. The tribal casinos are nothing but referential backdrop for His latest hustle. The gods have all paid to play. They’ve offered up parts of themselves to help make “The Game”—some more than others—but their chimeric incarnations are not where they place their bets. It is the human players they gamble on. The gods know the game is rigged but that’s half the fun, figuring out just what Vulcan has pre-programmed— how it works—how they, too, might cheat.
And like the gods, some Automata think they’ve found the secret mechanism that makes it all tick. Other Automata, however, are not so sure. They choose opposing humans—humans with flaws and sins so much like their own. Those they pick show less about the beings they’ve become than the ghosts that still haunt and possess them…
THE LATHING is the final attestation of the Narrator and the Editor—the final volume in the CIRCO DEL HERRERO series. In it, once-gods may find forgiveness and be made whole again if they pick the winning team. Automata may find a self that is worth knowing and saving. But the humans, well, they were just lucky the game found them before Death did. They’ll live just a little while longer before finding something truly worth dying for. At the end of it all is glory and godhood and possibly a cat.]