Her head, with its handsome and austere mask teetering ponderously on the bull-like pillar of her neck, was as big and as black as Marx’ head in Highgate Cemetery; her face had the stern, democratic beauty of a figure on a pediment in the provincial square of a people’s republic and she wore a false beard of crisp, black curls like the false beard Queen Hatshepsut of the Two Kingdoms had worn. She was fully clothed in obscene nakedness; she was breasted like a sow – she possessed two tiers of nipples, the result (Sophia would tell me, to my squeamish horror) of a strenuous programme of grafting, so that, in theory, she could suckle four babies at one time. And how gigantic her limbs were! Her ponderous feet were heavy enough to serve as illustrations of gravity, her hands, the shape of giant fig leaves, lay at rest on the bolsters of her knees. Her skin, wrinkled like the skin of a black olive, rucked like a Greek peasant’s goatskin bottle, looked as rich as though it might contain within itself the source of a marvellous, dark, revivifying river, as if she herself were the only oasis in this desert and her crack the source of all the life-giving water in the world.

Her statuesque and perfect immobility implied the willed repose of the greatest imaginable physical strength. The sweetness of her regard implied such wisdom that I knew, at first sight, there was no way in which I could show her my virility that would astonish her. Before this overwhelming woman, the instrument that dangled from my belly was useless. It was nothing but a decorative appendage attached there in a spirit of frivolity by the nature whose terrestrial representation she had, of her own free will, become. Since I had no notion how to approach her with it, she rendered it insignificant; I must deal with her on her own terms. Although her arms were the paradigm of mothering, the offered me no refuge; that women are consolation is a man’s dream. Her fringe of breasts allowed me no place where I could lay my head – they were not meant for my comfort, only for nourishment, and was I not a full-grown man?

And in that belly, rich as a thousand harvests, there was no treacherous oblivion for me for, at birth, I’d lost all right of re-entry into the womb. I was exiled from Nirvana forever, and, faced with the concrete essence of woman, I was at my wit’s end how to behave. I could not imagine what giant being might couple with her; she was a piece of pure nature, she was earth, she was fructification.

I had reached journey’s end as a man. I knew, then, that I was among the Mothers; I experienced the pure terror of Faust.

And she had made herself! Yes, made herself! She was her own mythological artefact; she had reconstructed her flesh painfully, with knives and with needles, into a transcendental form as an emblem, as an example, and flung a patchwork quilt stitched from her daughters’ breasts over the cathedral of her interior, the cave within the cave.

I was at a shrine.

She spoke.

Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve (1977)

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