by John David Ebert
“…how with shrinking hands he cut the incision in his thigh and carried him in his man’s womb, father and gracious mother at once, and well he remembered another birth, when his own head conceived, when his temple was big with child, and he carried that incredible unbegotten lump until he shot out Athena scintillating in her armour.” –Nonnos, Dionysiaca, Bk. 1.6-10
For Lacan, the Phallus existed on all three of his registers: on the level of the Real, the phallus is precisely the biological organ which we term the “penis.” But at the level of the Imaginary, the Phallus is a fantasy that the infant identifies with in order to impress his mother. He wishes to be the Phallus for her, the thing that keeps her interest focused on him and away from the Father. But in order for the individual to be properly initiated into the Big Other of society, a symbolic castration must take place, in which the individual realizes that he cannot be the phallus for the mother and that he must accede to the paternal authority which Lacan terms the Name of the Father. For him, the Father is sacrosanct, and the Phallus at the level of the Symbolic Order is precisely his authority. It’s a bit like Greek initiation into the Academy.
Lacan, however, completely ignored the vulva. For him, it had no metaphysical valency whatsoever, but I would suggest that the vulva, too, exists on all three registers: on the level of the Real, it is the pink, fleshy vagina that is the gateway and portal for all entities into this world; but the imaginary vulva is what I term the “metaphysical vulva” and it is not a physical thing at all, but a metaphysical reality that, once appropriated, accedes to the Symbolic Order of a society as a creative signification.
It was Heidegger who invented the so-called “metaphysical age” which he saw as beginning with Plato and continuing all the way down to Nietzsche–an age which Derrida termed “logocentric,” since meaning was firmly anchored in Transcendental Signifieds that were actually, in some way, “out there” and which could be reached by the Knower through a long, Hegelian pilgrimage through the Stations of the Cross, as it were, to match one’s concepts with their ultimate quilting points. All the metaphysical concepts of the metaphysical age, were, according to Lacan, anchored to what he called “quilting points,” and when slippages occurred–i.e. when a signifer came unglued from its signified–a psychosis could result, thus thrusting the individual back out of the Symbolic Order and into that swamp of images, myths and phantasies which he termed, dismissively, the imaginary order.
But it was Peter Sloterdijk who pointed out that the metaphysical age–in which the Paternal Authority reigned supreme–was preceded by a pre-metaphysical age, in which the ruling archai that governed the imaginary significations of a society were all gynocentric, to use Bachofen’s terminology. The signifiers were mythic and firmly rooted in the authority of the Great Mother. The vulva was her primary icon, for it was the source of all life and the ultimate signifier of all gateways to the Underworlds of initiation into her various Mysteries.
Heidegger’s metaphysical age, however, did not begin with Plato, but actually with Homer, and its primary characteristic was an appropriation of the metaphysical vulva from the Goddess and a dethroning and discrediting of her powers. Zeus claims the metaphysical vulva from the goddess and uses it to give birth to Athena, the goddess of wrath and Reason, from out of his skull–which has to be cloven open by the axe of Hephaestus. When Zeus gives birth to Dionysus, likewise, by retrieving his embryo from the shattered ruins of Semele and having it stitched into his thigh, he appropriates it again. (And note that when Hera parthenogenetically gives birth to the smith god Hephaestus, she attempts to reclaim the metaphysical vulva, now, however termed “the paternal vulva” in the metaphysical age [which includes Karl Jasper’s Axial Age and its various prophets–all men–who give birth to the Logos from out of their own skulls, where the paternal vulva now lies]).
Even the Jews got in on the game, for Moses and Homer are equally the architects of this age: when Yahweh takes the rib from the side of Adam and causes Adam to give birth to Eve, it is the paternal vulva at work once again, just as it is when the Christian God gives birth to Christ as the Logos from out of his own mind and appropriates the biological body of Mary as his vessel with which to do so. She, a virgin who never knows the pleasures of the phallus on the plane of the real, actually becomes an instance of the paternal vulva. The “Magnificat” in which she accedes to the Paternal Authority by saying “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” is really a way of saying, “My vagina will become the gateway of your will.”
In the Medieval epoch, the spear wound inflicted upon the side of Christ on the Cross was specifically meant to refer to the paternal vulva with which Adam gave birth to Christ. Here is an image of the vaginal wound from a fourteenth century psalter made for the Duchess of Burgundy:
Which brings us to the artwork of the new German artist Morpheus Lunae, in whose painting entitled “Folds VI: The Breaking Part,” he has perfectly compressed the image of the Crucifixion–a dead Transcendental Signified–with the paternal vulva. Myth is all about compression. It is actually the reverse of psychoanalysis, which attempts to decompress such images and sort them out and, especially in Lacan, to lift them out of the swamp of the imaginary register and transform them into the linguistic signifiers of the symbolic register, thus freeing the hapless patient from what Slavoj Zizek once derided as “the Plague of Fantasies.”
Fantasies, however, are not a plague. They are composed of images in the form of mythic compression of signifiers that have been densely interwoven as messages from deeper oracular zones within us. Each one of us, that is to say, contains a miniature Delphic Oracle within us from whence these mythically compressed images arise and which function as messages to us. Learning to read and decipher them is what straightens people out. Crushing and dismissing them via the Lacanian L-shcema is a complete failure to listen. Lacan comes to the Delphic Oracle like Apollo and kills its Python, thus wiping it out with his phallic sun rays. No more messages from the maternal vulva, but only from the Name of the Father, which is simply another name for the Paternal Vulva.
The paternal vulva is currently working out the final stages of the metaphysical age through science, in the form of in vitro fertilization, cloning, genetic engineering and test tube babies. These are all concretizations of the mythic vulva of the goddess now appropriated by Father Science. Indeed, there is currently a struggle going on for possession of the metaphysical vulva, and this forms the subtext of films such as the Alien and Blade Runner movies which do, indeed, come to us from the level of the imaginary. As James Hillman pointed out, they do not need to be translated into logocentric concepts in which their multiple meanings and ambiguities are crushed in the Name of the Father. Derridean sliding of signifiers, in which meaning proliferates like the heads of the Hydra, is the more apt image here.
What does the paternal vulva mean? The German artist Morpheus Lunae invites us to consider it through the process of aesthetic arrest before a single image which compresses multiple meanings into it. It is currently the hidden signifier of our culture, and the battle for its possession is the ultimate and final outcome of Heidegger’s metaphysical age.
I foresee a great future for Morpheus Lunae, who is following in the tradition of such great European surrealists as H.R. Giger and Zdzislaw Beksinski.
The art of Morpheus Lunae may be purchased here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MorpheusLunae
And his Patreon page is available here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/folds-vii-viii-v-11587750