Medusa’s infamous stare reduces all who come near her to stone. I can imagine that such power at certain points of my life might have been useful, but for a woman previously as passionate and intimately involved as Medusa, this punishment is peculiarly designed to entomb her as much as her victims. She is building her own grave yard through her abject power to destroy animation and any sign of vitality in her neighbourhood!
Medusa kills off any capacity for response from anothers, for reciprocity. This could be read as a trope for failed intimacy or interaction. Are we all ‘Medusa like’ at times in our relationships or do we know of Medusa like behaviours?
If Medusa becomes a label for some illness, some psychological as much as physical disability then what illness have we found in Carol Ann Duffy’s rereading of this enduring monument to sterile disarray? I will think about this as I have not time today to take this further but somehow it seems relevant and may account for the poem’s pathos too.
Spectatorship is profoundly ironical here!
I once asked a student about this abject horror surrounding conversion to stone and she felt that it was the absence of any escape into life’s cycle of life and decay that made this power such a terrible punishmnet for Medusa as well as her victims. Dr Who’s superb episode ‘Blink’ also revised the Medusa tale showing how its resonance remains, an unfinished journey into stony impotency.
What I wonder happens if you become stone? Do you die? But if it is just death than is this power of Medusa any more interesting than death by more conventional violence? There must be something specifically terrible about stoniness and I would imagine that this is because a conversion to stone is a form of living death. Suspended animation. A paralysis for the spirit as much as for the body. A sterile faithlessness and abscence? The very abscence of the resurrection story so prevalent in much of Carol Ann duffy’s poetry.
And this makes me wonder further that if the Gorgon is killed, then does this signify release for all her victims? Release into life again or at the very least release into a conventional death that allows decay and recycling of flesh into dust and the earth.
Duffy insightly reveals Medusa as a victim. A victim of a Godddess more powerful and more vindictive than Medusa herself, for what can Medusa do but look for connection in a world defiantly disconnected from her fate?
Medusa’s historical fate to reign queen of abjection and emasculation is emotively revised by Carol Ann Duffy in this arresting poem from The World’s Wife. Debate surrounds the original ‘rationale’ behind Medusa’s vindictive desire to turn all who come across her to stone. Some sources declare her a woman violated and wronged, others a woman punished for her irreverent libido. All agree however that it is the ‘heroic’ connivance and resourcefulnes of Perseus with his pragmatic use of a mirror which bring her reign of stony terror to an end. Pathos in the original versions is significantly diluted or absent. She inevitably deserves her decapitation and then exhibtion on a male shield, ironically protecting him from all he encounters. She becomes a mere servant of male potency, a woman punished and gone ‘mad’- truly her head is thus a metonymical warning against female transgression.
This poem however rescues Medusa from patriachal history. She emerges a tortured, besotted, distrustful romantic, whose trust has been destroyed by her relationships with ‘men’. Fear of being let down, of being betrayed , rather than innate malignancy is thus the origin of her rage, a rage then metamorphoised into one of mankind’s greatest terrors- the serpent.
The deployment of the dramatic monologue gives Medusa a voice both self-loathing and darkly comic. She is speaking from a place universally regarded as repulsive. For how can we forget our primal terror of the serpents crawling about her head? Such an image brings only anxiety and physical disgust: she is the very embodiment of the later associations with the bible and the Fall; the very reason we will suffer and stray., cast out into a world often dark and obscure. ( more later. therapy-stone, recurring trope In Duffy)
The Woman in Black
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