By Loraine Haywood
In a theological fantasy, Saint Teresa testifies to her piercing by an angel while in the convent in Avila. Film viewers would be familiar with Bernini’s statue, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, as a representation of this encounter, from the film, Angels and Demons (Howard 2009). This sculptural orgasm is a representation of her experience as the desiring subject obsessively seeking union with God. Her experience as a human reality can be compared to an obsessive fandom, as she encounters the divine.
Like a filmic ecstasy of Saint Teresa, an episode of the television series, The Musketeers, called “Knight takes Queen” uses the setting of a convent for an encounter with the play of desire. Santiago Cabrera plays Aramis the lover of Queen Ann in a union that re/places man as God. The image of Santiago in the filmic fantasy stirs up desire in viewers supported by images and interviews on the internet in displays of religious paratextual power. In an interview with the cast of The Musketeers the look is called “The Seductive Stare.” There are also images of Santiago Cabrera in his costume staging the fantasy figure of Aramis in ‘imago dei’ for paratextual consumption. This encounter with the abyss of the other’s gaze, is a violent encounter with the traumatic real of desire, and the vulnerability of the human being “in the spectral netherworld of fantasies” (Žižek How to Read Lacan 59).
In this piece, I argue that fans desire religious paratextual engagements as encounters with “imago dei,” the image of the actor as religious icon. The paratext allows for an encounter with the actor that subsumes them into the secret and the vision that constructs an ecstasy sustaining obsessive fandom. The circling of the gaze involves the filmic image as textual construction of the object cause of desire. This is amplified by the religious paratext in that it reveals the embedded trauma of an encounter with “the stare” as being “pierced by fire”. This addition to the cannon of the series is like The Book of Revelation, intended for the believer as an initiation into the higher mysteries.
No longer the exclusive domain of prophets or seers, such as John the Revelator on the Isle of Patmos, users of various technologies can conjure images. The Biblical revelations of past, present, and future in shared codes (Thompson 1) are parallel domains with the internet, no longer in the exclusive sphere of the divine as a part of religious practice or their practitioners. Viewers of various media engage in theological practice by seeing visions and receiving revelations, the encounters with a divine gaze by the look of the desiring subject. The viewer has unlimited access to all types of media and streaming, making religious the paratexts that support what Michael O’Neill calls the “televisual text” (O’Neill).
Saint Teresa’s encounter with the divine illuminates the functioning of the religious paratext outside “the word.” Saint Teresa testifies that to engage in an experience outside “the word” is the overwhelming encounter with God’s divinity that she describes as being pierced by fire. Categorised as a mystic, her visions were an engagement with the divine secret in Christian fantasy constructions of God in the mysterious sexual penetration of her body and spirit. Jacques Lacan used this experience to translate feminine desire in human reality and it is useful in understanding the relationships of power in direct revelations encountering the gaze of God.
The religious practitioner, considered as a fan of God, can be equated with fandom for an actor considering how fans often treat the actor’s image in a God-like way. The theological parallels in these experiences have entered the realm of imago dei – the image of God, an encounter with perfection in the image, beautiful, and terrifying due to its intensity. There is something in ‘the look’ that highlights human vulnerability in the gaze or the look of the other. This is an encounter with the divine; human beings as the image of God, as Slavoj Žižek explains: “Someone like me, but also the elusive absolute” (How to Read Lacan 45).
Encountering these Biblical Master narratives, and religious practices, will be explored using the psychoanalytical theory of Jacques Lacan and the filmic psychoanalysis of Slavoj Žižek. I will engage with the theological experience of paratext in contrast to the experience of the doctrine or “the word” of the script. As an example of the scripted “word” The Musketeers (2014-2016) episode “Knight takes Queen,” will be considered as filmic canon. The series as “the word’ or script, and its paratextual references on the internet, particularly “Learn The Musketeers’ Seductive Stare,” and the still of Aramis (Santiago Cabrera) will be explored. This follows Gerard Gennette’s forms of literary paratext that are the foundation for other applications of his theory in film studies for example. The viewer becomes entangled in a religious paratextual engagement with the “imago dei” of the actor: revelations mediated through technologies that unveil the divine image of desire.
The Religious Paratext – The Seductive Stare
Nothing brings the desired object (or the object of desire) closer than the paratext when viewed as a religious engagement. The image in this sense is man as he becomes divine because it is a direct revelation with the subject Santiago Cabrera rather than Aramis in traces of the messianic secret (Aslan 132). The mediated images and the revelation of the secret support the filmic text, an encounter with the flesh that is behind “the word” as the script spoken by actors.
Supporting the series, The Musketeers is a plethora of YouTube videos and stills that show the cast. A series was made called “Secrets of The Musketeers” as a set of insider previews and interviews. One iconic image of the romantic hero, Aramis (Santiago Cabrera) in costume, stands out and acts as a support for a video called “The Musketeers’ Teach the Seductive Stare.” These function as religious paratexts, outside of the series itself but they are teaching us how to desire the image of man as God—a vision of hypostatic union, the human with the divine. The themes in the Book of Revelation involved the mystery or unveiling the designs of God on behalf of believers and promoting their view of the world. In the religious paratext, a personal engagement that is more than the doctrine of the script is now possible.
Paratext “demands that viewers stretch beyond the time and space of their initial viewing to try to make sense of what they have seen” (Mittell 30). Jason Mittell’s ideas of orientation are not limited to discussion platforms because religious paratexts are viewers attempts to orientate themselves as desiring subjects. The trauma of desire is to find a way to tell the story, explain the impenetrable mystery (Žižek Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture 49). This is where the paratext appears to fill in the gap by revealing the workings of the actor’s craft and simultaneously engaging with the object of desire.
Religious paratexts are direct encounters with the cast members as “imago dei” in revelations where the viewer is addressed by the actors spoken out of character. This religious paratextual type of recognition creates for the viewer a way to exist for the other, this is particularly true of the YouTube interview, “The Seductive Stare.”
“The Seductive Stare” as religious paratext engages the viewer in “imago dei” in an encounter with the power of the gaze or the look. This constitutes a form of engagement “being caught in the Other’s jouissance” (Žižek The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity 59), the overwhelming presence of the actor as God-figure. This is further enhanced by a promo still image on YouTube “Meet Aramis” that engages as seductive icon that is immaculately conceived for fan worship. The religious paratextual power of “The Seductive Stare” is that it is reinserted into the text of the series as a deliberate referent: In season 1 episode 2, Porthos and Aramis meet with Queen Ann. Porthos says to Aramis, “You know you were giving her ‘the stare.’” Aramis replies, “What stare?” This is blurring the lines between the world of the series and the revelations in the religious paratext. You have to be familiar with The Musketeers as a text and the paratext of “The Seductive Stare,” to understand the accusation Porthos makes. This structures the meaning of the engagement of “the stare” that Aramis gives the Queen as an inside secret of the paratext interpolated into the text that redoubles the meaning.
These mediated images are now recognised as constituting an opus (Stanitzek 27), encompassing a set of compositions that are instructing viewers on how to engage with the main textual elements of the series. However, rather than just constituting an opus or appendage to the text it is an insight not afforded to the viewer via the series. This is particularly true of “The Seductive Stare.” The “imago dei” is a communion that supports the fantasy and arouses sexual desire in the encounter. The inside information related outside of the scripted performance gives a personal insight to the viewer. “The Seductive Stare” was what was behind the veil of the television appearance, a revelation directly from the actors themselves, outside the script or “the word.” This is the illusive search for “what is in the image beyond the image… the invisible obstacle, that distorting screen” (Žižek The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity 62, 67) that both grants and denies access encircling the filmic text.
Lacan’s Psychoanalytic Approach to the Mystics: Fandom, Fantasy, Desire and Žižek
To engage in the paratext is the traumatic nature of the gaze measured in effects on the viewer as a falsifying access to the actor (Žižek The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity 67). The religious paratext, however, transcends the filmic screen as a sacred communion felt in the body. Like Saint Teresa’s fantasy encounters, the religious paratexts for The Musketeers are pseudo religious encounters engaging in feminine jouissance encountering the male gaze of God. Saint Teresa in her sexual ecstasy is an encounter with feminine jouissance, the enjoyment in the image of God as she fully gives way to her desire. On face value, the convent is more celebrated for its repression of earthly passions, but desire is the main focus of religious worship. Encountering god in the real of her desire, Saint Teresa experiences the pleasure in pain of god’s divine revelation: his presence and absence.
Lacan seeks to understand these mystics, such as Saint Teresa, through psychoanalysis and he categorises the mystic who experiences a type of jouissance that goes beyond (the phallus). Lacan asks: “And why not interpret one face of the Other, the God face, as supported by feminine jouissance?” (Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the Ećole Freudienne 147). Saint Teresa describes her experience of an encounter with the divine in explicitly sexual terms: “I saw in his hands a golden spear… this he thrust several times into my heart…leaving me on fire… the pain was so great that it caused me to utter several moans…” (ARAS).
In terms of Saint Teresa, is not hers the ultimate female fantasy for a passionate obsessive “fan” – God was her life’s obsession. God is real to her and the fantasy lived up to her expectations. Lacan says: “…you only have to go and look at Bernini’s statue in Rome to understand that she’s coming, there is no doubt about it” (Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the Ećole Freudienne 17). Saint Teresa engaged in fantasy constructions of God that gave her faith its reality, but more importantly gave her access to feminine jouissance denied to her in an exclusive abstinence. But is Christianity really about denial?
Žižek claims, building on the argument of G.K. Chesterton, that the ultimate Christian dream is “the pagan dream of pleasurable life” (“The Violence of Fantasy” 275), to transgress the commandments. But he goes further by stating that Christianity offers the perfect scapegoat in Christ—you can “indulge in your desires without having to pay for them” (Žižek “The Violence of Fantasy” 276). Žižek claims this is the lesson of the paradox of Christianity, the desire that encircles the Catholic figure of the priest or nun as “the bearer of sexual wisdom” (“The Violence of Fantasy” 275). Taking his evidence from The Sound of Music (Wise), he declares that Maria “returns to the monastery, unable to deal with her sexual attraction” (Žižek “The Violence of Fantasy” 276). The Mother Superior occupies the space that delivers the exhortation to seek for the Baron who will satisfy the cravings of sexual union with god that had eluded her in the monastery. Žižek says:
The uncanny power of this scene resides in the unexpected display of the spectacle of
desire, which renders the scene literally embarrassing: The very person one would
expect to preach renunciation turns out to be the agent of the fidelity to one’s desire
(“The Violence of Fantasy” 276).
These desires are formed by the Christian fantasy and the filmic fantasy in which we see the gendered God that holds the phallus. God is absent but present in man as created in God’s image. Žižek explains: “Desire is a metonymic sliding propelled by a lack, striving to capture the elusive lure: it is always, by definition, ‘unsatisfied’ susceptible to every possible interpretation” (“‘In His Bold Gaze My Ruin Is Writ Large'” 228).
Žižek gives the most in-depth analysis of desire and jouissance considering:
“… desire of the other … can thrive only insofar as the Other remains an
undecipherable abyss, the Other’s jouissance indicates its suffocating proximity…
(The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity 61).
The jouissance of the paratext is my jouir: “enjoy” plus “the right to enjoy something” (Žižek The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity 61). The jouissance and desire in the religious nature of the paratext is my right to enjoy my lack in an imaginary wholeness of the image. Desire is both conscious and unconscious. Dylan Evans reiterates Lacan’s claims that “unconscious desire is at the heart of human existence… and unconscious desire is entirely sexual” (Evans 36). Cornel Sandvoss claims that “television and cinema – also draw on fans’ more narrowly romantic and sexual desires” (Sandvoss, Youngs and Hobbs 48).
“The Seductive Stare” is an example of Gerard Gennette’s public epitext in that the author aims at the public (344). The fact that desire in the viewer is the clear intention of the author of the series is revealed in the paratexts. It grants access to the evidence of a manipulation. It teaches us how the television series employs the seductive stare against viewers as a trap for their gaze. The paratext is a revelation that explains and frames “the text’s genre, tone, and themes” (Gray 2).
One of the themes of the text in “Knight Takes Queen” is the male protagonist as “he articulates the look and creates the action” (Mulvey 20). This articulation of the look is manifest in Saint Teresa’s encounter where God takes possession of the woman and creates her fantasy, just as Aramis takes Ann and creates her fantasy- a child. From Saint Teresa’s account the convent is a site of highly sexualised encounters and “Knight Takes Queen” is no exception.
Loraine Haywood is an Honorary Associate Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle, Australia, where she also completed her Master of Theology. She is an interdisciplinary Higher Degree Research Candidate in Classics, Human Geography, and Film. Her research focus includes embedded trauma and psychoanalytic geography, as outlined by Paul Kingsbury and Steve Pile. She has contributed to the Theology and Game of Thrones volume for the Theology, Religion, and Pop Culture series.
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