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HOLY SHIT PEOPLE, IT'S NOT BAD ENOUGH WE'RE GETTING AN UTENA EXHIBITION RIGHT NOW

THEY. ARE. MAKING. A. NEW. MUSICAL. NEXT. YEAR. START LOSING YOUR SHIT RIGHT NOW

#1 | Back to Top10-21-2009 06:47:07 AM

Etrangere
Rose Smilee
From: Paris
Registered: 10-22-2006
Posts: 134
Website

[Long] Utena's Revolution or la Fin de l'Ancien Régime Romantique

Back when I first finished watching Utena and joined the utena usenet group, I wrote a short essay on some of the themes in Utena. Anyway at some point I decided I wanted to repost such things on my journal so I searched back for it, but when I reread it it looked all horribly vague and badly written, so I ended up rewriting it entirely and it thus became much, much longer. Some of the stuff on this essay are of the painfully obvious variety, and some are me reaching a bit. It's definitely written for an audience of people who have watched the series and is quite spoilery. Anyway I hope you guys will like it. If someone feels like correcting my bad English, I won't resent it and will be quite thankful instead.


Utena's Revolution or la Fin de l'Ancien Régime Romantique

One of SKU's most fascinating feminist critique is the study of the role of power and inequity in human relationships – especially but not only romance between me and women – and the harms it cause to people. Some of it is explored through the core political concept of Princehood and Revolution.

The Prince

    "This device paints the illusion of fairy tales for those with naive wishes in their hearts who say they wish something eternal existed, who say they wish the power of miracles existed. But, there's no place higher than this room. This room is the summit of Ohtori Academy, and of the world." – Akio Ohtori

We are given two images of what being a Prince means in SKU.

On the one hand we have the ideal symbolized by Dios, the Prince that was, and which Utena aspires to become. This is a romantic as well as noble figure : the Prince is both a knight in shining armor, a rescuer of damsel in distress, and even a savior who selflessly sacrifice himself to save others (at which point note that he's at his most childlike); but he's also the representation of the male love interest, the Prince Charming that sweeps a young woman off her feet and makes her into a Princess. SKU comments on how this romantic fairytale which is very much the narrative given to young girls and boys in mainstream culture ties the gender to those roles. A princess is by definition female, passive and in distress. A prince is by definition male, active and saving her. Every time people comment on Utena's desire to be a Prince by saying that she cannot because she's just a girl, the show problematize it. That's not all, Utena's Princely role is also challenged because she also desires her own Prince, which means she should be a Princess, and therefore passive, in that pink Rose Bride dress that Akio gives her in the Upside-down Castle. As if a girl cannot both be a heroine and a (heterosexual?) sexual and romantic being at the same time. This Prince however is an ideal, belonging to the realm of archetypes and stories. In the real world, there was never such a Prince.

On the other hand, we have Akio, fallen Prince, who embodies the Prince as a creature of power. Like the ideal Prince, this realist Prince is dual. Akio is both the highest authority on the campus – the Acting Chairman – and a seducer whose capacities of sexual manipulation seem endless. A Prince doesn't only refer to a character in a fairytale, it's also the figure of the autocrat, reminding us of Machiavel's essay on pragmatic statecraft. A meaning that is also underlined to us by Anthy's mention of cantarella, the poison said to have been used by the Borgias. Cesar Borgias – the historical figure that Machiavel's Prince is centered upon – and Lucrezia Borgias are a pair of siblings that is not difficult to parallel with Akio and Anthy.

The topic in SKU, however, isn't government, so this political lexicon is used in order to convey the concept of the role of power – concrete, pragmatic and abusive power – in romantic relationships, and how it is tied even at the heart of our fairy tale ideals. So the Prince isn't just the idea of a romantic savior, he's also the suzerain that demand obedience of all – a Prince knows no equal. If he wins a Princess hand in marriage, it is not just because she's beautiful, it's also because half of her father's kingdom goes with this marriage – much like Akio is Kanae's fiancé in order to wield her father's power on the campus as Acting Chairman. Our concept of romance, of personal relationship and of sexual desires, are highly unequal – even as ideal. And this inequity is, in many ways, what spurs the Duelist in action, to seek to revolutionize the world.

The Duelists : On the Origin of the Inequality of Men

    "I understand. I suppose you have no choice but to revolutionize the world." – Souji Mikage

We can analyze the reasons why the Duelist fight in many interesting ways, for the purpose of this essay I want to especially look at the way it is rooted to their relationship with one important person. For Saionji his on-and-off best friend Touga; for Miki his sister Kozue; for Juri her best friend, betrayer and secret subject of love Shiori; and for Nanami, her brother Touga. In SKU all those relationships, regardless of whether they are romantic in nature, are sexualized and therefore interesting to look at from a perspective of a problematic Romantic Ancien Regime.

All of those relationships have suffered a degradation in time from a moment the Duelist remember with rose tinted glasses; and because of that are a cause of much frustration. They feel like they lack power, control on the other person who are so dear to them. One of the main reason they fight in the Duels is to try to get back to power to be equal – or superior – to this person.

This is most clear with Saionji, which outright tells us he needs Anthy and Eternity in order to catch up to Touga and sooth his inferiority complex. Nanami also clearly feels that Touga is escaping her and that she needs to duel to maintain a close relationship to him and continue feeling superior to all the girls Touga sleeps with. And despite her own impressive standing and usual self confident, Juri also doesn't feel like she is up to even confess her love to Shiori. Miki never quite avows himself that he's searching for a Kozue substitute in Anthy, but the fact that Kozue's sex adventures are outside of his control and disapproval, and the fact he decides to duel in order to prevent Anthy from being similarly outside of his control certainly fits the theme.

The frustration from inequality in relationship is even more obvious in the Black Rose Duelists. They all (aside from Kanae) have a relationship to one of the Duelist who are clearly, to them, special, superior people they cannot quite reach. Kozue cannot maintain a close relationship to her brother so turn to antagonizing him on purpose in order to retain his attention; Shiori feels inferior to Juri which is the reason why she tried to get a man she thought Juri wanted in the first place, and finding out Juri actually was in love with her doesn't help out; Tsuwabuki is too young compared to Nanami and not quite to the comparison with Touga; Wakaba never feels quite as special as Saionji, Utena or Anthy; Keiko is just one of the girls in love with Touga and constantly humiliated and used by Nanami.

Mikage as well, fell in love with Tokiko, but found out she was out of his reach when he witnessed Akio kissing her. As for Ruka, he clearly knows he has no chance with Juri and mainly wants to even the field for her by releasing the power Shiori has over her.

We're left with Touga, who's he one character whose reasons for dueling are never really explored. In the Shadow Girls Play his reasons are merely given as 'the Power of Revolutionize the World'; power, nakedly and without delusions of it being anything else. I'm inclined to see the part of the SKU movie which shows Touga as a child raped by his adoptive father as canon for the SKU series because it ties in interestingly with Touga's later attitude to sex as a mean of power (both in how he expresses his power over the girls in the campus, and how he seeks more power from Akio by sleeping with him) as well as his being already so cynical as a child when he finds Utena in the coffin. In any case, Touga's quite clear about wanting power, more power, regardless of his already quite elevated status, whether it is because he feels entitled to it or some kind of inner wound.

So the Duelists fight for power, for control, and the Prize they all seek would be for them a mean to regain the power they feel they've lost over this one person, a way to rekindle a more equal relationship. Many of the problems in inequity in their relationships can also be rooted in problematic gender and romantic models : for example Saionji never feels as strong and in control as the traditional male role assigns him to be, which he overcompensates by being so aggressive and abusive to Anthy. All the Duelist in their various ways, project this desire for power onto Anthy. The Rose Bride, because she is submissive to the Victor and because she is the key to unlock the Power of Dios.

The Rose Bride

    "Girls...girls are all like the Bride of the Rose in the end." – Anthy Himemiya

a. Princesses & Witches

The figure of Anthy the Rose Bride is probably the most fascinating and complex of SKU. Like the Prince, the Rose Bride is a dual creature, but unlike the Prince, she isn't divided between a fairytale and a realistic role, instead her two aspects reflect the contradiction of the role of women as it is constructed by society, Madonna and Whore : idealized as long as she complies to a specific submissive role which does not allow conflict, reviled as a manipulative temptress anytime she tries to claim agency for herself; and always defined through the lens of the sexual desire men feel for her.

On first aboard, the Rose Bride is like a princess – except without any of the perks – she is the damsel awaiting rescue, the prize to be won by dashing Duelists, she is passive, polite, obedient and quiet in demeanor, beautiful of course, bonding with plants and animals like a Disney Princess, good with cleaning and keeping the room tidy but not, the one exception, good with cooking – probably because cooking is even more strongly a reminder of the role of the Witch always at her cauldron so that when Anthy cooks she unleashes a curse. The Rose Bride however doesn't enjoy any respect for her status and doesn't have any authority of her own like a princess would. She is a mockery of the role of Princess. This is both because Anthy herself is mocking the Princesses that used to take the Rose Prince away and because Anthy is ever to be punished as the Witch.

In the Rose Tale we are told Anthy is the Witch because "women who can't be princesses have no choice but to become witches", in other words, all women who are not wanted, desired, seen as good enough by men, are to be seen as dangerous, spiteful, malevolent creatures. All women who do not comfort to the role that patriarchal society would give to them as women, are to be rejected and punished, aren't worth considering for anything else. A Witch is still seen as powerful, but in fairy tales she only ever uses it in jealous way against the younger princess; she never uses power in order to rule the land like the dark aspect of the Prince, only to deprive others of what they think is legitimately theirs – like the Princesses think the Prince is theirs. She has power, but only as a threat – so that the people are justified to punish her endlessly. Anthy being the Witch in SKU, is an expression of her being the ultimate scapegoat. She's the Witch, she poisons wells and cast curses. Everything that goes bad is always her fault, and she's always, endlessly being punished for it, slapped by almost everyone on Ohtori and suffering the pain of the Thousand Swords of Hatred. Anthy isn't innocent, she does act in small and big acts of malice to get back at the people she doesn't like. She targets Nanami, especially, who is so Princess-like and similar to Anthy in many ways; and she manipulates the Duelists in order to orchestrate the duels alongside Akio; but most of the hostility she receives goes well beyond and happens before any of her petty acts. For women, as well, if they sidestep outside of the role society give them, they are punished way beyond the harm their infractions may have caused. And when something wrong happens to them, society is quick to ask 'what did you do to deserve it?' instead of blaming the perpetrator.

b. Exchanges of Women

Alongside those dual aspects of the Rose Bride, what is the most unique, specific aspect of the Rose Bride is that she is won in the Duels. In other word, the Rose Bride is constantly passed from Duelist to Duelist, without stated regard for her own will, to become Bride of whoever is strongest this time.
This also is a reflection of the role women are given in society. In the field of Anthropology, Claude Levi-Strauss in The Elementary Structures of Kinship talks about how one of the universal structure of culture is defining how women are exchanged by family groups along specific rules creating kinship systems. The necessity to exchange women is the origin of the taboo of incest : women need to be unavailable to their own brothers so they can be free to be given as wives to another family group. And by creating those ties, other things, ideas and goods, dowries and bride price, are exchanged between family groups : alliances of power and wealth are thus created. Historically, this has been especially true amongst members of the class of power, aristocrats and princes.

Thus the Rose Bride is always given, by Akio, to the Duelist with promise of a luxurious dowry in the form of the Prize they hope to win, in order to help him manipulate them. Like Lucrezia Borgia, who was betrothed twice before she was thirteen and wedded three times in order to advance the political ambitions of her menfolks. Many rumors also cast Lucrezia in a very Witch-like role, with suspicion of poisoning her husbands; and many rumors of incest also surround her.

The way men are exchanging women for their own profit and power is underlined a few ways in SKU through the series : as already mentioned, there is Kanae, who is given by her father to Akio, resulting in Akio's position of power in the Campus. Nanami also, when Touga plays the role of giving her the ring to make her a Duelist, pimping her to Akio's games in order to advance his goal of winning against Utena. The way Saionji's rivalry with Touga expresses itself by focusing on Anthy, also, is a reminder of this objectification of the Rose Bride as a prize : Saionji seeks to win Anthy because she's a proof of status and power.

Obviously the tie to the incest taboo isn't to be taken literally with Anthy, who plays the role of Rose Bride at the same time as she is still sexually involved with her bother unbeknown to her Victor. However the role that the motif of incest in SKU can still be better understood by this idea. In all three pair of incestuous or pseudo-incestuous siblings, the natural bond between the two siblings precludes on them joining with other people. Anthy prevented Dios from risking himself for the Princesses. Nanami looks up to Touga as the ideal man, and therefore no other men can compare; and in return she shows herself very possessive of Touga. Kozue is jealous of Miki as well, and uses Miki's own less conscious jealousy in order to maintain some control on him while all her boyfriends have no importance to her heart. Only if they let go of this sexual possessiveness toward their sibling can they start forming connection with other people in society. This is formulating in a very Freudian way, the girls fixate on their elder brothers as an ideal of manhood – of Princehood – to play with the idea of romance before moving to the real thing, at least with Nanami, the least truly incestuous of the sisters. For Kozue, who rejects her parents' authority and the idea of society ("we're wild animals"), this is a more difficult step to make. This also echoes the imagery of the chick and the egg, and of the necessity of growing up into adulthood that also underlay a lot of the thematic of SKU, although this is a bit beyond the scope of this essay.

c. Goddess of fertility

In general, women's sexuality must be controlled by men, whether it is her father, brothers or husband, in order to control the flow of power that comes from them. In SKU, sex is never just a cigar, it's always a mean to gain power onto someone. All manipulations in SKU are heavily tied to seduction, from relatively innocent ones, to more nefarious power plays. Touga, Mikage, Ruka, Kozue and Akio especially all use their sex appeal in order to control both women and men, and seduce characters or taunt them into doing what they want them to do. So does Anthy, of course, under order of Akio.

Anthy's power as sexual, and the Power of Dios tied to her, is reinforced through the series in many ways, but the most frequent one is the entering the Duel arena sequence, which is a series of symbols about female sexuality. The Forbidden Forest looks like an inverted female pubis; the gate which must be open by turning it wet; the spiral stairs reminding us of a strand of DNA (especially obvious in the second ED); and the dual arena which is suggestive of labia seen from profile. All the roses and the many motives of roses in the series are also, of course, a symbol for female sexuality and genitals. In many ways this indicates that under the guise of Dios, Eternity, Shining Things, Miracles that the Duelists get distracted with, the real goal of the Duels are the Rose Gate (and the Gate requires water, no phallic sword, to be opened), Anthy, the power of women's sexuality.

http://i17.photobucket.com/albums/b67/Etrangere/utenaessay.jpg

Woman's sexuality is a source of power because without it there is no reproduction. A Prince is one because he is born from another Prince, and he seeks a Princess so they'll live happily ever after and more importantly, will have many children one of which will one day inherit the kingdom. Without childbirth, there is no dynasty of Princes, and in an anthropological vision as well, the system of inheritance, determining who's a legitimate heir for wealth and status is essential to society's structures. Therefore men must control women's sexuality, much like Akio must control the Rose Bride in order to keep playing everyone like puppets on the campus.

In SKU this is only hinted at, the most direct way in which the story addresses the idea is the episode Nanami's Egg, a lengthy metaphor of a girl's first menstruation which also addresses girl facing the responsibility of motherhood in the way Nanami deals with the egg, considering both nurturing it with joy and care, and abandoning it when her brother reacts negatively to the possibility of her being a teenage mother. Actually Touga's reactions in Nanami's Egg – besides hysterically hypocritical – very much address the way men seek to control women's sexuality as capacity of reproduction : forbidding Nanami to express a lesbian sexuality that would prevent her from the reproductive role assigned by Patriarchal society; but also forbidding Nanami from reproduction outside the norm of a marriage-alliance decided by the men. The episode also ties the whole event to the idea of reincarnation, which thematically opposes the idea of Eternity, the stasis of the coffin that the Duelist seek to maintain and escape from at the same time and which, in the end, we learn is Anthy's punishment : eternal pain. In the entering the duel arena sequence, also, while the images are of yonic symbols, the lyrics talk mainly of the idea of reproduction, birth and death :

    Birth records
    Baptismal records
    Death records
    […]
    My own birth,
    Absolute birth,
    Apocalypse
    A wet-nurse and a midwife in a dark desert


Beyond the Rose Gate is Anthy's own power of fertility, in other word, her power of growth. Growing roses and growing beyond an egg into adulthood. Not the Eternity of immobility, but the continuity of cycles of evolutions and revolutions.

Revolution

    "It's alright now. Please go on playing make-believe 'Prince' in this comfortable little coffin forever. But I must go." – Anthy Himemiya

Like 'Prince', revolution is a word with a highly political tonality. Unlike 'Prince', it does not remind us of anything related to fairytale and romance, so it stands even more at odd in the context of the series, mystifying the viewer and begging for an explanation. The French frequently used in SKU, as well as the 18th century style of the Student Council uniforms, and even the rose and gender bending motifs all play to bring in mind the famous old manga Roses of Versailles set during the French Revolution of 1789. Thematically, Roses of Versailles also plays onto the problem of love between people of different social standing, and the way that women are alienated and oppressed in society and either forced into alliances not of their choosing for dynastic reasons, or forced to discard the role of a woman altogether with their desire for love along the way. The main characters eventually love in spite of societal barriers they face, but all die tragically in the revolution that destroys the old order of the world.

With this in mind, I believe that Revolution in SKU refers to the idea of unmaking the romantic ideal of relationships based upon the conceits of Princes and a Princesses; and forging a new, more equal ideal for romantic relationships and friendships. The concept of Prince is revealed as an utter failure, both in ideal and in reality. It was a failure in Dios because people overly relied onto his capacities as a Prince to solve their smallest problems to the point of driving him near death with exhaustion whereupon Anthy had to step in to remove him. It is a failure in Akio because no matter how seductive he is, he is manipulative, selfish and abusive. It is also a failure in Utena. Her initial attempt at Princedom, she eventually admits was conceited : in order to feel noble and cool as a Prince, she needed Anthy as a Rose Bride, as someone subservient and needing rescuing, but without realizing Anthy's real need and pain throughout. When she really steps up selflessly to be a Prince to Anthy and manages this way to open the Rose Gate, she still fails to grab Anthy's hand.

Yet Utena succeeds, not as a Prince, but as a Revolutionary, by inspiring Anthy to step up herself out of her subservient role as the Rose Bride and save herself. Thus, together they destroy the archetype of the Prince and the Princess and are on their way to create a new, more equal ideal as friends and soulmates. Their example also manages to help all the Duellists break from their fixation on their idealized memories and move on toward smashing their own coffins. This is the Revolution in SKU.

Last edited by Etrangere (10-21-2009 02:11:26 PM)


Yes. You shouldn't be suspicious of Anthy. Her big brother is your watching. There is no war in Ba Sing Se. ~ Dalbun

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#2 | Back to Top10-21-2009 11:37:16 AM

DerJakob
Miki Molester
From: Eugene, OR
Registered: 10-21-2009
Posts: 31

Re: [Long] Utena's Revolution or la Fin de l'Ancien Régime Romantique

This is exactly a sort of discussion I was looking for! I have to work for  a bit, but anticipate a thoughtful response later! emot-biggrin


"The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism."
-Walter Benjamin

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#3 | Back to Top10-21-2009 01:43:32 PM

DerJakob
Miki Molester
From: Eugene, OR
Registered: 10-21-2009
Posts: 31

Re: [Long] Utena's Revolution or la Fin de l'Ancien Régime Romantique

So there are a million things in here I could respond to, but I'm really interested in your remark about Touga's motives.

"We're left with Touga, who's he one character whose reasons for dueling are never really explored. In the Shadow Girls his reasons are merely given as 'the Power of Revolutionize the World'; power, nakedly and without delusions of it being anything else."

But that you mentioned Freud is exciting, because I would think about exploring Touga using Lacanian psychoanalysis; namely, that the subject (Touga) seeks not to destroy the father/phallus, but rather to emulate it. Lacan posits that the child, in an attempt to possess the mother, does not seek to kill the father and replace him, but rather to emulate and surpass him, thus attracting the mother's attention. If what you're saying is correct - which in many cases I would say it is - then women (mother figures, especially the reproductive imagery surrounding Anthy) and especially Anthy are the objects that Touga wishes to possess. If Anthy is his ultimate goal, which would make sense considering that she is the sozusagen and sogennant key to the power of Dios, and it is her power of growth and fertility that makes this so appealing, then, like a father, Akio captures her attention and is the object of her desire. Touga, in this sense, wishes to possess the maternal figure (Anthy) by emulating and surpassing the paternal phallus (Akio). It doesn't take a genius to see the gargantuan phallus on Akio's tower, and that he lives at the top only speaks further to his position as the phallus itself. Touga, like a child and rival, seeks both Akio's admiration and secret weakness. (This harken's to Nietzsche's philosophy of friendship in "Thus Spake Zarathustra.")

In failing to defeat Utena, Touga completely loses power as a possible phallus; Utena, the female, comes far closer to attaining the same status as Akio in the phallic sense; that is, Anthy begins to desire her rather than Akio. Of course her mind is not completely changed, and this has of course to do with the fact that Anthy gave up her freedom of choosing a phallus when she gave her prince eternal life. It is not until Utena takes her place as the victim of the thousand swords (all also phalli, suggesting ever more Anthy's role as a maternal figure, though nothing is born of these relationships) **Note: This is something else I want to explore: an image of Anthy as the only woman** that Anthy can escape her role. However, what may be incredibly eerie about this is that she does not actually escape her role. Utena, by revolutionizing the world, assumes the role of the phallus: Akio is dethroned, perhaps even castrated, and Utena becomes the new ideal that Anthy desires. If this is the case, and Utena is dead, then Anthy leaves Ohtori in search of something that cannot be, and is still a slave to the phallus. This is a terribly fatalistic viewpoint, but read this way, definitely makes sense. And if so, does Utena truly liberate anyone, or does she simply fulfill the Oedipus model and become the new phallus? Is there, even within SKU, any escape from this cycle?

I'm being polemic for the sake of it, but that's the whole idea. SKU wouldn't be interesting if there were only one reading or understanding of it. Like any great work (and I would go so far as to call SKU a Gesamtkunstwerk), the interpretations are a thousandfold.


"The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism."
-Walter Benjamin

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#4 | Back to Top10-21-2009 01:59:48 PM

Etrangere
Rose Smilee
From: Paris
Registered: 10-22-2006
Posts: 134
Website

Re: [Long] Utena's Revolution or la Fin de l'Ancien Régime Romantique

DerJakob wrote:

So there are a million things in here I could respond to, but I'm really interested in your remark about Touga's motives.

"We're left with Touga, who's he one character whose reasons for dueling are never really explored. In the Shadow Girls Play his reasons are merely given as 'the Power of Revolutionize the World'; power, nakedly and without delusions of it being anything else."

corrected for typos, because I KEEP FINDING THEM arrrrrghhh.

But that you mentioned Freud is exciting

Err, thank you, but I think mentioning Freud in a Utena essay is pretty... conventional, really.

because I would think about exploring Touga using Lacanian psychoanalysis; namely, that the subject (Touga) seeks not to destroy the father/phallus, but rather to emulate it. Lacan posits that the child, in an attempt to possess the mother, does not seek to kill the father and replace him, but rather to emulate and surpass him, thus attracting the mother's attention. If what you're saying is correct - which in many cases I would say it is - then women (mother figures, especially the reproductive imagery surrounding Anthy) and especially Anthy are the objects that Touga wishes to possess. If Anthy is his ultimate goal, which would make sense considering that she is the sozusagen and sogennant key to the power of Dios, and it is her power of growth and fertility that makes this so appealing, then, like a father, Akio captures her attention and is the object of her desire. Touga, in this sense, wishes to possess the maternal figure (Anthy) by emulating and surpassing the paternal phallus (Akio). It doesn't take a genius to see the gargantuan phallus on Akio's tower, and that he lives at the top only speaks further to his position as the phallus itself. Touga, like a child and rival, seeks both Akio's admiration and secret weakness. (This harken's to Nietzsche's philosophy of friendship in "Thus Spake Zarathustra.")

Ooooh, that's an interesting reading. That definitly fits with how Touga reacts to Akio in many ways, also he's pretty dismissive of Anthy-as-herself, though I guess he still see capturing her as valuable for the sake of gaining her power so I guess it works.
What do you make of Touga's desire for Utena in this reading?

In failing to defeat Utena, Touga completely loses power as a possible phallus; Utena, the female, comes far closer to attaining the same status as Akio in the phallic sense; that is, Anthy begins to desire her rather than Akio. Of course her mind is not completely changed, and this has of course to do with the fact that Anthy gave up her freedom of choosing a phallus when she gave her prince eternal life. It is not until Utena takes her place as the victim of the thousand swords (all also phalli, suggesting ever more Anthy's role as a maternal figure, though nothing is born of these relationships) **Note: This is something else I want to explore: an image of Anthy as the only woman** that Anthy can escape her role. However, what may be incredibly eerie about this is that she does not actually escape her role. Utena, by revolutionizing the world, assumes the role of the phallus: Akio is dethroned, perhaps even castrated, and Utena becomes the new ideal that Anthy desires. If this is the case, and Utena is dead, then Anthy leaves Ohtori in search of something that cannot be, and is still a slave to the phallus. This is a terribly fatalistic viewpoint, but read this way, definitely makes sense. And if so, does Utena truly liberate anyone, or does she simply fulfill the Oedipus model and become the new phallus? Is there, even within SKU, any escape from this cycle?

I don't quite I agree with your lattest, fatalistic conclusions. As I tried to demonstrate in the essay, Utena fails as a Prince, in other word, she fails as a Phallus. During the finale, Akio tries to use Utena's inner sword to open the Rose Gate and Utena's sword breaks, the door remaining unopened. It's only when Utena cries/sweats over the Rose Gate that it finally opens. Water, a definite feminine symbolism (and the images playing counter to it is Akio drinking up a glass of liquid, sucking water up instead of giving it like Utena). So in my mind, Utena doesn't replace Akio's role as a phallus, she proposes a new role that doesn't maintain such brutal relationships between males and females.

I'm being polemic for the sake of it, but that's the whole idea. SKU wouldn't be interesting if there were only one reading or understanding of it. Like any great work (and I would go so far as to call SKU a Gesamtkunstwerk), the interpretations are a thousandfold.

Nah, I agree there can be a whole lot of readings of the series, that's what makes it such a great anime.


Yes. You shouldn't be suspicious of Anthy. Her big brother is your watching. There is no war in Ba Sing Se. ~ Dalbun

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#5 | Back to Top10-21-2009 02:19:12 PM

DerJakob
Miki Molester
From: Eugene, OR
Registered: 10-21-2009
Posts: 31

Re: [Long] Utena's Revolution or la Fin de l'Ancien Régime Romantique

Etrangere wrote:

I don't quite I agree with your lattest, fatalistic conclusions. As I tried to demonstrate in the essay, Utena fails as a Prince, in other word, she fails as a Phallus. During the finale, Akio tries to use Utena's inner sword to open the Rose Gate and Utena's sword breaks, the door remaining unopened. It's only when Utena cries/sweats over the Rose Gate that it finally opens. Water, a definite feminine symbolism (and the images playing counter to it is Akio drinking up a glass of liquid, sucking water up instead of giving it like Utena). So in my mind, Utena doesn't replace Akio's role as a phallus, she proposes a new role that doesn't maintain such brutal relationships between males and females.

Your point is totally valid, but I suppose what I was saying is that yes, Utena definitely revolutionizes the world: she, as a woman, usurps the phallus's power and defeats (castrates) it (Akio). However, if viewed in the Lacanian sense (which I'm only doing here for this reading; normally I prefer philosophy over psychoanalysis), she does nothing to change the cylce. If she is the final object of Anthy's desire, then all she has done is dethrone and replace the phallus. That's not to say that absolutely nothing is changed. Obviously with Anthy gone Akio has no power and the entire dueling game is at an end. But insofar as Utena becomes the object of Anthy's (the mother's) desire, she is only a new phallus in the same game. This is a Lacanian reading, though, and could be debunked by anything else. emot-keke


"The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism."
-Walter Benjamin

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#6 | Back to Top10-21-2009 03:21:07 PM

brian
Atlantean Singer
Registered: 10-22-2006
Posts: 588

Re: [Long] Utena's Revolution or la Fin de l'Ancien Régime Romantique

One major quibble. Anthy can't cook. In fact that point is made repeatedly. She is pure ornament.

OTOH I really like your explanation of the symbolism behind all the apparent incest.

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#7 | Back to Top10-21-2009 03:23:48 PM

Etrangere
Rose Smilee
From: Paris
Registered: 10-22-2006
Posts: 134
Website

Re: [Long] Utena's Revolution or la Fin de l'Ancien Régime Romantique

brian wrote:

One major quibble. Anthy can't cook. In fact that point is made repeatedly. She is pure ornament.

More accurately, when she does cook, it causes an explosion that swaps her body with Utena's. Hence my saying that when she cooks, she's casted in the role of the witch who causes weird things to happen emot-keke

OTOH I really like your explanation of the symbolism behind all the apparent incest.

Thank you!


Yes. You shouldn't be suspicious of Anthy. Her big brother is your watching. There is no war in Ba Sing Se. ~ Dalbun

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#8 | Back to Top10-21-2009 05:47:58 PM

Lightice
Azure Paleontologist
From: Finland
Registered: 10-21-2006
Posts: 1255

Re: [Long] Utena's Revolution or la Fin de l'Ancien Régime Romantique

Etrangere wrote:

More accurately, when she does cook, it causes an explosion that swaps her body with Utena's. Hence my saying that when she cooks, she's casted in the role of the witch who causes weird things to happen emot-keke

She does cook - snacks. Shaved ice, takoyaki (or what was it - I can't remember), stuff like that. The implications to me are that the stuff she can do well doesn't have true substance, that it's impersonal and not very healthy, which opens up another layer of symbolism, in my opinion.


Hei! Aa-Shanta 'Nygh!

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#9 | Back to Top10-22-2009 01:21:12 AM

MissKosmic
Juri Jeerer
From: Oregon
Registered: 12-01-2008
Posts: 40
Website

Re: [Long] Utena's Revolution or la Fin de l'Ancien Régime Romantique

Truly one of the best SKU essays I've read in ages, I wish I could hug you! school-eng101

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#10 | Back to Top10-22-2009 06:23:58 AM

Etrangere
Rose Smilee
From: Paris
Registered: 10-22-2006
Posts: 134
Website

Re: [Long] Utena's Revolution or la Fin de l'Ancien Régime Romantique

Lightice wrote:

She does cook - snacks. Shaved ice, takoyaki (or what was it - I can't remember), stuff like that. The implications to me are that the stuff she can do well doesn't have true substance, that it's impersonal and not very healthy, which opens up another layer of symbolism, in my opinion.

I guess I didn't count serving snacks as cooking, but I like your interpretation too.


MissKosmic,
Thank you! emot-smile


Yes. You shouldn't be suspicious of Anthy. Her big brother is your watching. There is no war in Ba Sing Se. ~ Dalbun

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#11 | Back to Top10-22-2009 09:32:46 AM

DerJakob
Miki Molester
From: Eugene, OR
Registered: 10-21-2009
Posts: 31

Re: [Long] Utena's Revolution or la Fin de l'Ancien Régime Romantique

Etrangere wrote:

What do you make of Touga's desire for Utena in this reading?

I see his desire for Utena as a totally superficial means to an end, really, in almost any reading. She's the only thing blocking his path, and with her removed (or under his control), he would have a much better chance at surpassing Akio, (though we all know Touga would never have the balls to open the coffin). Though the homoerotic tension between Touga and Akio can't be ignored, he's still another "child" trying to emulate the "father" and possess the "mother." The homoeroticism, however, plays very much into an exaggerated form of this desire and emulation; that is, by forming an erotic bond with the figure he wishes to overthrow, he may create sympathy in that figure for his cause (and thus open up a weakness). This is only possible, however, if Touga can defeat Utena, which he cannot, and is therefore left impotent.


"The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism."
-Walter Benjamin

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#12 | Back to Top10-22-2009 11:58:31 AM

Etrangere
Rose Smilee
From: Paris
Registered: 10-22-2006
Posts: 134
Website

Re: [Long] Utena's Revolution or la Fin de l'Ancien Régime Romantique

DerJakob wrote:

Etrangere wrote:

What do you make of Touga's desire for Utena in this reading?

I see his desire for Utena as a totally superficial means to an end, really, in almost any reading. She's the only thing blocking his path, and with her removed (or under his control), he would have a much better chance at surpassing Akio, (though we all know Touga would never have the balls to open the coffin).

I think that reading works for most of the series, but by the last Arc Touga grows up a bit beyond that. He actually genuinely (thinks that he) is in love with her/wants to help her, I think, even if he's still too entitled in the way he goes at it and full of clumsiness and sexism. And I say that as someone who hates the Touga/Utena pairing emot-smile

Though the homoerotic tension between Touga and Akio can't be ignored, he's still another "child" trying to emulate the "father" and possess the "mother." The homoeroticism, however, plays very much into an exaggerated form of this desire and emulation; that is, by forming an erotic bond with the figure he wishes to overthrow, he may create sympathy in that figure for his cause (and thus open up a weakness). This is only possible, however, if Touga can defeat Utena, which he cannot, and is therefore left impotent.

That definitely describes Touga/Akio's relationship quite well... although it makes me disliking Lacanism quite a bit deal because way to be heterosexist XD


Yes. You shouldn't be suspicious of Anthy. Her big brother is your watching. There is no war in Ba Sing Se. ~ Dalbun

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#13 | Back to Top10-22-2009 12:26:21 PM

DerJakob
Miki Molester
From: Eugene, OR
Registered: 10-21-2009
Posts: 31

Re: [Long] Utena's Revolution or la Fin de l'Ancien Régime Romantique

Etrangere wrote:

DerJakob wrote:

Etrangere wrote:

What do you make of Touga's desire for Utena in this reading?

I see his desire for Utena as a totally superficial means to an end, really, in almost any reading. She's the only thing blocking his path, and with her removed (or under his control), he would have a much better chance at surpassing Akio, (though we all know Touga would never have the balls to open the coffin).

I think that reading works for most of the series, but by the last Arc Touga grows up a bit beyond that. He actually genuinely (thinks that he) is in love with her/wants to help her, I think, even if he's still too entitled in the way he goes at it and full of clumsiness and sexism. And I say that as someone who hates the Touga/Utena pairing emot-smile

That's a possibility, but even if he thinks he's genuinely in love with her, it could very well be a delusional reaction to cognitive dissonance; that is to say, the guilt of robbing Utena of her power (and thus all of her desires/dreams) could be reconciled if he possesses her or at least makes himself think that he cares for her. I see this in his relationship with Saionji as well. While Touga is his rival, he forms a (sometimes homoerotic) bond with Saionji in order to expiate those feelings of guilt that he may have for crushing his dreams. A sort of, "Well, you can rely on me, even though I stole everything dear to you and took away your chances of ever achieving your dreams."

Etrangere wrote:

DerJakob wrote:

Though the homoerotic tension between Touga and Akio can't be ignored, he's still another "child" trying to emulate the "father" and possess the "mother." The homoeroticism, however, plays very much into an exaggerated form of this desire and emulation; that is, by forming an erotic bond with the figure he wishes to overthrow, he may create sympathy in that figure for his cause (and thus open up a weakness). This is only possible, however, if Touga can defeat Utena, which he cannot, and is therefore left impotent.

That definitely describes Touga/Akio's relationship quite well... although it makes me disliking Lacanism quite a bit deal because way to be heterosexist XD

Speaking as a young gay man, I see nothing genuine in the relationship between Akio and Touga and therefore have no problem viewing it as another means to an end. I don't know what Lacan would say about the relationship, but the way I analyze it, Touga is a manipulative opportunist through and through, no matter how much he might appear to mature throughout the series.


"The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism."
-Walter Benjamin

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