In the psychohistorian Lloyd deMause’s biographical account of Ronald Reagan, he describes how Reagan, who feared his alcoholic father, who used to kick him with his boot, and unconsciously wished him dead, was terrified at playing a movie role where he would lose his legs because this came too close to his own fear that he deserved to be castrated, both for unconscious hatred for his father that he linked to the fact of his father’s demise and for such things as sexual desires, getting married and having children. According to deMause, Reagan was obsessed with bleeding and mutilation, and so frequently watched the movie where he played a role where a sadistic doctor would remove his, his daughter’s boyfriend’s, legs in some effort to master the experience, that his wife referred to that, boredom at having to watch it yet again, as cause for their divorce. Reagan resolved this castration fear, according to deMause, when he decided that communism was the great social evil. “As for many Americans, anti-communism was for Reagan a perfect solution for his parricidal wishes. It solved the problem of his guilt for his father’s death by putting his disturbing wishes into the communists. Without being consciously aware of why, he found that his new anti-communist activities made him feel better, saying to himself, in effect, “It’s not me who wants to kill daddy. It’s the commies who want to destroy all authority. And if I fight them, I’ll be able to control my own wishes in them.”
I’m wondering if it is possible that Wolfe, born in a generation where he’d of had similar childrearing experiences as Reagan, was trying to resolve castration feelings himself, through his fiction? (Reagan was also massively phobic towards enclosed spaces, had terrible fears of being entombed, which we note surfaces as a particular phobia of Able’s which he expresses when he has to descend on down into Muspel in his last trip down there and which may unconsciously had something to do with why he decides to let Svon and Toug go alone into castle Utgard, a space which ends up terrifying Toug for it being masses of heavy stone all around him.) If it was similar to Reagan’s then it would mean castration, mutilation, bleeding, would be associated in Wolfe’s characters when they feel they may be responsible for the death of a parent-character whom they unconsciously wished dead, and for becoming sexual and independent.
Severian ends up lame, Silk too, as well as later mutilated, with cuts all over his arms, Weer begins diagnosed as mentally ill, Green, in a mental hospital for alcoholism, Latro with memory difficulties for having head a head wound, Chris begins his by being savagely raped, Grafton with his identity–his passport–taken away, Able by beginning under a terrible curse. Severian may actually have hated his torturer masters for his being obliged to please them, a need which may have prevented him from straightforwardly admitting that he would like to know the freedom of something other than guild life. The hate he might have had for himself, for the evil ostensibly in himself, may have been expressed for him in his leg wound, a castration, for leaving them behind and getting to know it regardless. Thecla may have served to carry that wound for him, in her self-wounding, and so too his dog, Triskele, whom he meets, castrated of a leg, until he felt nerved to carry it himself. Thecla could serve as an other who is himself, as some “self-other,” for her desiring the same sort of freedom that Severian possessed but which his unconscious suppressed for him.
Silk obviously holds a lot of hate for Maytera Rose who for him and everyone around her is a more excruciating source of terror than perhaps even the revolutionary (see for example Silk’s description of the effect Rose’s sniffs had on people), but she serves as that torturer’s device for Silk in that his secret hatred of her as his mother-replacement may activate that part of him that despises himself for that hatred, hence his being wounded, being castrated, by a wounded leg. Silk obtains that wound in trying to vanquish the feminizing influence out of him by doing something–breaking into Blood’s heavily guarded mansion–that would prove him not a milksot, his great fear, and so for desiring freedom from her into the masculine, the castration. Rose ends up dying shortly afterwards. So too for this, his feeling he deserves castration, because he might have felt his own suppressed wishes for her demise was responsible for her death. (Rose of course castrates herself from her son by naming him simply a bloody appendage she must discard, for her having lost access to her goddess’s favour in humiliating her by choosing another lover and a child over her. Nettle’s mother, given the name she chose for her daughter, which signified something one should reject, may have acted out of the same motivation.)
Silk also, in spurning Maytera Rose, enables himself to explore his own desires for sex, and part of the infliction of castration owes to Silk’s also discovering lust, lust for a woman, when he leaps into bed with Hyacinth. The reason the emblem of a boy’s emerging sexual desire in Peace is the figure who has her arms severed off, that is, the statue of Aphrodite, may also have something to do with the protagonist’s desire to inscribe it in a figure who’d simultaneously carry the castration many boys who’d felt despised by their mothers would feel in the awakening of this desire, as he has told us he did, even as he longed for her, returning to her home again and again after her parents left him for Europe. In the 19th-century, the fact that she was “art” assisted in boys feeling less guilty, as the protagonist informs us:
“Since she was a genuine piece of ancient art, you see, it was possible to put her picture in ‘family’ books, even during the most repressed period of the Victorian era. Thus she became a secret erotic stimulant for a whole generation of little boys—all over the world. Many men retain a lifelong interest in the things that stirred them as children.”
To more moderns, who, less fearful of sexuality, would be able to acknowledge that this art is obviously also erotic stimulant, the fact that she carried the price of more squarely admitting to “sin” in her being castrated of arms, also surely helped make her acceptable.
Able corrects and challenges the goddess Parka. He wants an identity she doesn’t define for him. For this, Parka castrates him by cursing him to love a near insane woman he was doomed until the end of his adventures, of being in her control. He doesn’t experience physical castration, but other lives, full of promise, do–Parka cuts their lives short in snipping off their life-strings to fashion Able’s bow. Able isn’t physically castrated, but his henchman, Pouk, who dumps his middling life to have a chance of sharing in a glorious one, is without an eye; Toug, a later squire of Able’s, loses his voice just when he expresses his desire to join Able in his great adventures as well. Uns is being rescued out of his perverse need to obtain power by doing mother better than she could do herself, that is, being mother to a child, and he begins handicapped, with a broken back. Do they carry “castration” for Able, for a time sparing him his own?
Seawrack begins without an arm, and the Mother may have, like the father in “Hero as Werewolf” was trying to do for his daughter, in his letting her get away from him and know life as a wife and mother, been genuinely offering her freedom for her ongoing efforts to please her and keep her company, but for representing “freedom,” the same freedom Horn feels in leaving his wife for what will prove a long tour of revenge against her where he tastes pleasures that will mock her and which she will never have herself, she begins wearing the castration the main protagonist feels he deserves. (The werewolf, who owing to the father’s generosity, obtains a bride, also in the end ends up castrated, losing a limb owing to his biting it off, thereby punishing himself for leaving his mother completely behind him for a wife.)
Ern, in Interlibary Loan, doesn’t begin castrated–he doesn’t lose the passport that is the beginning of Land Across‘s Grafton’s entrance in his novel, but Grafton was on a tour of pleasure, both for himself and as a source for others for his being a travel writer, while Ern is already someone living about as close as a human can to being a funeral urn in that every day in his locked-up existence he presumes he soon could be incinerated into dust. Home Fires‘ Skip doesn’t begin with a wound, his wife carries it, but he’s already castrated for agreeing to be the woman in the relationship, the one, that is, who kept the home fires burning. Still, as with all characters who nevertheless are seeking a greater freedom, there’s a tokoloshe, a dark spirit, after him, hoping to mutilate him, as Severian in the end is mutilated by his. Sorcerer’s House‘s Bax doesn’t begin castrated either, but he’s also agreed to never grow up. He’s stayed in the safe spot of always being a student his whole life. But this is not his fate, as he will borrow on his father’s presence and authority to become a wizard, leave his mother forever, and adventure into dangerous lands. He pretends to always be thinking of others–“Have you thought of that? I have never sought to do you harm, and have done my best to keep my misfortunes from reflecting upon you. I would help you, if I could, any time that you needed help”–but has his own needs in mind. So, as with Silk’s bravely deciding not to relent to Maytera Rose and to pursue his own life, represented in his not giving her the pear she desires but keeping it all to himself for once, a tokolosche is after him, a representative of the castration he feels he deserves, in his brother’s extended search to kill him.
Wounds, castration wounds, may be carried in others in that text; they may exist precisely to carry such wounds. Bax sees Martha’s friend who had her leg ripped off by a werewolf. Martha is Bax’s mother, the mother who abandoned both he and his brother when they were infants, and though he pretends at having no hatred of her, his very real unconscious hatred of her and his suspicion he deserves castration for it may be carried in the bloody mutilated mess of her best friend that made Martha go hysteric. It’s dispersed elsewhere to keep himself intact until he can feel he’s somehow made amends sufficiently, so when they have their chance at him, like all Severian’s enemies have their chance at him, and like all those who’ve carried Able’s mutilations have their chance at him (1), they’re no longer in such spirit to mutilate and kill him. They maybe even see him as their saviour, which indeed is Able’s–all the people coming to him to have their wounds healed may now be allowed to reflect back on Able his own desire for them to carry these wounds, because the realm is temporarily under patriarchal control and will ultimately relent to matriarchal control–Horn’s–his wife is not in mood to castrate him in the end, or not much in mind–and Severian’s–Urth has Severian as someone who more overtly is moved about by controllers than someone who left confinement behind him–fate. The bloody mutilated mess of Nettle’s first child Sinew after an inhuma gets at him, and the extended hysteria that caused her, also we note carried both Horn’s unconscious desire to mutilate his wife for her abandoning his own needs for love in her focus on her new child, and his feeling that he himself deserved mutilation for possessing this desire. Sinew carries this wound, then afterwards, Seawrack, until Horn feels some immunity to reprisal for having repaired his mother’s anger at him for leaving her in his obtaining an eye for someone he’s displaced his mother onto, Maytera Marble, thus reversing the narrative of a child denying a mother by having a child–here a Horn-representative–sacrifice herself for her mother, and in resurrecting Silk, the figure who in end transformed his abandonment of Maytera Rose into his being faithful to his actual mother, who wanted much better things for him than what those imposter “bitches” admittedly conspired to keep him at.
DeMause argues that Reagan resolved his feeling that he deserved castration by projecting this “guilty self” onto other people, onto Communists. This may explain why in Wolfe’s later works he keeps certain categories of people who are beyond redemption, those who simply need to be killed and stomped out. Many readers talk of the inhumi as mosquitos, and this may have a lot to do with Horn ultimately framing the inhumi so they aren’t what they could be, people who already can possess some surprising virtue and are means to populate the world with thousands and thousands of more Silks, simply in having Silk serve as breeder for them, give blood to them, as he was willing to serve for the populace of Gaon, and rather are those who when you get lucky and winnow down their numbers in a terrible mass blood-fight, it’s time for happy marriages, a better future, happy departures, and cheer. Time for good fishing! as it were. And this may be why the Angrborn, though defined in the text as those who received no love at all in their lives by being rejected at birth by their mother who despised them, and whom “love” never seeks out as it is ostensibly supposed to do but rather collects in some chamber in teasingly cruel near proximity to them where visitors, people emotionally better off than the Angrborn, retrieve it for themselves, are mostly kept as those one is likewise pleased to see eviscerated in a “great battle” and as a presence so polluting of the land that a hero buried in their territory would be thereafter defined by such taint. Though Wolfe is capable of angling these turns as if they were themselves signs of evil, of wicked sudden rejection and denial, maybe because he himself needed his own “Communists” who are carriers of his own ostensible evil, in these later series of his he only plays in showing that any prejudice against them is unearned for their ability to be as well surprising carriers of virtue, like King Gilling is with his momentarily being an emblem of unselfish devotion, or Fava is in momentarily being a daughter to be proud of, or as Krait for awhile is in his being a son who could be a friend, for example. They become instead exceptions to the rule, not breakthroughs that show what could be. And ones that can’t be counted to remain that.
(1) What I am arguing here is a sense that all those whom Able cures are actually those the narrative forced “castration” onto in order to help spare the main protagonist, Able, making him to some extent the cause. Lynnet, Vil, Bold Berthold, Glyff, Pouk, all bear wounds to spare Able, and it is for this his healing them feels like a crime, that is, not because it is him making use of powers forbidden to him, but because it pretends him as a saviour when they come to him as unwilling bearers of what he can’t have affiliated with him… as villain. This would require much more exploration to “prove,” but for me there is a sense in all these wound-bearing people close to Able are coming to him not simply for healing but to square accounts, and so his being provisioning towards them recalls instances in Wolfe’s novels where in the end the main protagonist gives to injured parties who more overtly represent the rightfully aggrieved, for instance Agia in New Sun and Bax’s brother George in Sorcerer’s House.
Making of a Fearful Leader. Lloyd deMause.