Back to Black
I am quarter-way through the book and I can’t suck it up any more. Perhaps my psyche is not desensitised to what is euphemistically dubbed “mummy porn”. The banal clichés, the one-dimensional cardboard cut-out characters, the deeply disturbing objectification of the human body.
My impression after a very brief foray into the murky darkness was that this could be a clunky attempt at a Revenge Tragedy so popular in Elizabethan and Jacobean eras where the absolute corruption of power had gruesome and inhumane consequences. This could be a loss of innocence and a tale of redemption of two very wounded, self-absorbed characters, set against the steel and concrete urban landscape. I will never know.
What intrigues me is how this chunkily-written, best-selling trilogy taps into something that reverberates in the dark undertow of the collective consciousness. The puer fantasy so powerful in the West – especially the American psyche is certainly spelt out loud and crassly clear: youth worship, instant gratification, materialism, the stock-in-trade Mills and Boon template – Alpha Male meets virgin who succumbs to his brutish charm. What troubled me was this portrayal of a shadowy world where power is concretised into sordid fetish and where the stench of pain lingers like stale cigarette smoke.
The Vampire has come back to inhabit the new collective zeitgeist. The Vampire Archetype is certainly embodied in the lifeless personae of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey as they enact the ritualistic dance – bondage, discipline, dominance, submission. Power – and the misuse of power. This age old motif was evident in the Harry Potter books, where the powerless became powerful, and where magic was used for good – and for ill. Victim turned Persecutor.
When our power is usurped or corrupted, we may stray into the mire where Victim and Persecutor enact their macabre dance of madness. The frequency of childhood abuse in psychopaths would suggest that the “sins of the fathers” are indeed visited upon future generations. Early humiliation and victimisation is often re-enacted. Not everybody who is subjected to corporal punishment, or abused cruelly as a child has psychopathic tendencies, though many of us carry these feelings inside us. When we feel powerless we must create the illusion of power in the most ruthless way. A psychologist friend of mine told me that she has an increase of young female clients who have read the book and now wish to experience bondage, submission – and emotional disconnection.
Satan appears in ever changing forms. There will always be willing souls who wander into the darkness, to dwell there, lifeless wraiths. Those who mistake pain for love, who give up their will or attempt to usurp the will of someone else, passively make a “pact with the devil”. Apparently, Fifty Shades of Grey deals with great wealth, synonymous with power, as the dark side of human sexuality, the dark of the soul: the templum of the astrological 8th house. As above so below. The perfect design of the cosmos echoes these archetypal themes as Pluto (god of the Underworld) and Uranus (primordial sky god) to reveal what lies hidden beneath the lean veneer of equality and respect between men and women.
Like Mr Grey and Miss Steele, the outer planets are not concerned with morality. Uranus devoured his children and Pluto was a rapist. These two planets were in conjunction in the sixties, seeding the sexual revolution, the civil rights movement in America, apartheid in South Africa, appalling atrocities in Vietnam, and stormy weather in Kennedy’s Camelot. Now something darker has emerged out of the clash of these two Titans as they face off in a tense square – exact again next month. It is evident in the sombre clouds of discontent that gather on the economic and political horizon. It is evident in the pathological motif of Fifty Shades of Grey.
Our vapid heroine, Anastasia Steele is reading Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, first published in 1891.
“Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?”
“All like ours?”
“I don’t know, but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound – a few blighted.”
“Which do we live on – a splendid one or a blighted one?”
“A blighted one,” says Tess.
Times were different then for men and for women. And yet, what has really changed in a world where we still hunger for power? Where we cling-wrap our frozen hearts? I wonder if the painful irony of the tragically short life of Tess and the dark theme of Victim, sacrifice and patriarchal power will ever occur to the vacuous Anastasia Steele.
Teilhard de Chardin said: “someday, after mastering the winds, tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of sexual love. Then, for the second time in history, we shall have discovered fire!” When we naively make a pact with darkness, sign away our souls in the blood of our own arrogance, our addiction to the tyranny of superficial thrills, we will never know the exquisite heat of fire. Our soulful lives will inevitably be dappled with shadows – those parts of our psyches that we ignore or repress. And yet if we wish to live authentic lives we will have to give up our pretence of ignorance. We must be discerning about who – and what we allow into our world. We will have to pause to consider how our diet of thoughts, words and images may desensitise, dehumanise, rob us of our own fire. Instant gratification of an anonymous fuck leaves us starving for intimacy and lasting love. How our quest for power, the wicked games we play with one another, catapults us over the precipice of integrity, where we lie, redundant, in a wasteland of isolation.
Have we wandered so far into the Twilight Zone that we have forgotten the voices of those that stood in the sunlight with flowers in their hair? Has the hope, the idealism, the vision of a better world faded to Shades of Grey? Last word must go to Tess in her innocent naiveté: “A strong woman who recklessly throws away her strength, she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away.”
Amy Winehouse sings Back to Black