The Veiling of Homoerotic Desire in Roland Barthes' S/Z

Carrie Watterson

The symbolic field is not that of the biological sexes; it is that of castration: of castrating/castrated, active/passive. It is in this field, and not in that of the biological sexes, that the characters in the story are pertinently distributed. On the side of active castration, we must include Mme. de Lanty, Bouchardon (who keeps Sarrasine away from sexuality), and Sappho (a mythic figure threatening the sculptor). On the passive side, whom do we find? the "men" in the story: Sarrasine and the narrator, both led into castration, which the former desires and the latter recounts. As for the castrato himself, we would be wrong to place him of necessity among the castrated: he is the blind and mobile flaw in the system; he moves back and forth between active and passive: castrated, he castrates; the same is true of Mme. de Rochefide: contaminated by the castration she has just been told about, she impels the narrator into it. (S/Z, 36)

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