Are There Any Lesbians in the film Henry and June?

David Mertz (1991)

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An interesting question, perhaps, is contained in the title; but then one may also ask, more precisely, "How many?" We will quickly multiply the number of possible answers by at least a few hundred. For a start, there are four -- or better, five -- candidates for being lesbian in the film. We will detail these, and their respective claims below. Next, there are at least several ways of saying what a lesbian is. Under some or most of these definitions, lesbians are said to be "women;" and again, under some or most of these definitions, their "lover(s)" are said to be "women." However, what a "woman" is is a rather tricky question, as readers are certainly aware. One can think of at least half of a dozen answers to this question which are each plausible and plausibly distinct from each other; but then, one can also think of many theories which give different answers on what it is to be a "woman" loving versus a "woman" loved -- most of which don't even need mention that old Platonic canard. Cross-cutting all this, the word `lover' which we have mentioned certainly lends itself to more that one definition.

Let us do a quick bit of mathematics. Who are the lesbians in the film? It seems that, depending on what theory one likes, the answer for each candidate is independent of the answer for the others. That is, we have, for the five candidates, 25 possible combinations of lesbians. Next, even ignoring differences in possible definitions of `lesbian', We have claimed at least six possible definitions of `woman' -- but that needs to be squared to include the possible difference in the definitions of "woman as subject" and of "woman as object." Finally, let us say, conservatively, that `lover' may mean at least three possible things. All this puts a bottom limit of three thousand four hundred fifty-six on the number of possible papers which might follow.

The reader has rolled her eyes by now; and has, perhaps, let out a sigh of irritation. This little parlor trick with numbers surely, to her mind, shows nothing about the serious questions which exist about the relations between (artistic/cultural) representation, sexuality, gender, and such like matters. Even the post-moderns, who praise multiplicity so much, are no more than bored by something so banal as multiplication. But perhaps there is a hint of a purpose in this parlor trick. After all, is it not usually addition by which societal formations are combined rather than by multiplication? Do we not, for example, usually speak, on the left, of adding together such things as patriarchy, capitalism, homophobia, etc. in order to arrive, theoretically, at that grand amalgam of oppression we call the USA? Perhaps the sleight-of-hand in those first couple paragraphs hinted at a new sort of combinatorics to be found in the pages to follow.

The Candidates.

The film Henry and June portrayed four significant "female" characters (we place the word `female' in scare quotes because part of the problem of this paper is to question what the word can mean). Two additional female characters appeared in the film, whom we do not term `significant' -- although it should be admitted that these two both appeared on screen about as much as one of the characters whom we term `significant', and that, further, one of those whom we do not term `significant' had spoken lines while one whom we do so term did not. We believe that all other women who appeared on screen at all were extras rather than actors, or at least had such small parts as to be reasonably excluded from consideration (not, of course, that we should assume that they were, for example, "heterosexual" either -- we can simply say nothing about them).

The non-candidates. Why, first of all, does the author consider every "woman" who so much as appears on screen at all, even if briefly? It would be more usual not even to consider the "insignificant" characters about whom no question arises. However, certain of the theories which will be discussed will claim that there is something essentially gendered and/or essentially sexual about every representation; and, after all, nothing makes it on to the screen "accidentally." If, for example, every gaze is a male gaze -- if women use their eyes for something fundamentally different than what men use theirs for -- then even those characters who are seen in only the most fleeting glimpse are nonetheless seen from a gendered perspective (which does not answer the further question whether they are also seen as gendered and/or sexualized).

First non-candidate. A maid is portrayed in the film who a) knows about certain sexual acts/relations portrayed; b) is Catholic; c) is alarmed at certain sexual acts/relations she believes to exist, and may or may not be alarmed also at those which we the audience "know" to exist. She is not, however, portrayed as being involved in any sexual acts/relations (nor is the possibility specifically excluded) -- other than insofar as the act of observing or being aware of sexual or gendered acts may itself be a sexual or gendered act; but insofar as this may be true, she is not portrayed in a principally different position than that in which we, the audience, actually stand. We shall, hence, take the maid to fall under the same consideration as the audience.

Second non-candidate. One of the main characters, June, has a female "lover" outside of the main scene of the film (in NYC, rather than in Paris). We view this "loved" woman only indirectly. She is presented only through the imagination/memory of the title character, Henry, which we experience in visual and auditory images; and through the spoken words of other characters, mostly June. She is portrayed, that is, only in the presentation of an act of observation which is clearly intended to be homologous with the act of observation which we film viewers engage in. This portrayal may or may not completely or correctly reflect our acts as film viewers, since we only see the male observer seeing, and only see the female observer talking. Whether this difference in what the film viewers see reflects a different way in which genders observe -- or whether, indeed, such a claim is actually made by the film makers -- is an issue to which we will return. Let it suffice for now that the homology between our own gaze and that gaze we gaze at suffices to allow the consideration only of the sexuality and gender of the audience. Our assumption, for the moment, will be that whatever conclusions we reach about the audience will apply willy-nilly to the character Henry in his observing of the "lesbian" acts/relation between June and her (NYC) "lover."

The four possible lesbians in the film are Anäis (Nin), June (Miller), the prostitute who looks like June, and the prostitute who looks like Anäis (neither of the latter two are given names in the film, which presents a slight problem for what to call them: they shall be referred to according to whom they symbolically substitute for, i.e. `June's alternate'). In addition, a possibility arises with the audience. Perhaps it is possible that there is a lesbian in the audience (though during one of the showings we saw, a certain "lesbian" concerned with this question of "who is a lesbian" walked out of the film -- need we name names?). Of course, to be bluntly literal, if there is one lesbian in the audience of the film then there are probably several -- but the question which really arises is of the possibility of there being any lesbians in the audience, not of the absolute or relative number of them. A flat-footed reader could, of course, point out that in a certain sense there are most certainly lesbians in the audience; but we think this misses the point a bit. The point is that what constitutes a "woman" as a lesbian is perhaps very different from, or even opposite to, what constitutes her as a subjectivity which gazes. So we're told, frequently enough.

The subtext, or subplot, of the film, around which these possibilities arise, is as follows. Whether this text is more or less important to the film as a whole than are other features is not a matter on which the author holds any particular opinion. Henry comes to Paris. Anäis meets him and feels a sexual desire for him. June joins Henry in Paris. Anäis feels a sexual desire for her, which may be, in large part, an extension of her desire toward Henry (she has one fantasy in which June has a penis). June leaves Paris. Henry and Anäis have many sexual acts together (this may or may not be incidental to the relevant subtext). Anäis visits, with her husband, the brothel where the prostitutes who look like her and June work; and June's alternate and Anäis' alternate put on a sexual "exhibition" for Anäis (with her husband watching also). After the alternates perform a variety of tribadic acts, in an obviously "heterosexual" style, Anäis tells June's alternate to "stop acting like a man." The alternates then have cunnilingus, with June's alternate (who is larger, and looks more "masculine") taking the "active" role and Anäis' alternate "receiving" the act. The words in scare quotes are not quite right, but they do carry the conventional meanings given to the sexual positions. We are meant to judge by their facial expressions that the alternates enjoy the latter act more. June comes back to Paris. Anäis and June start to sexually "pet" each other, but any further sexual acts are interrupted by facts external to this subtext. Then the film is over.

Pornography and the "male" gaze.

Here is a very peculiar fact: In the USA, most representations of women engaged in sexual acts with each other, or with themselves, are viewed for purposes of arousal (or listened to, read, etc.) much more often by men than by women. The reason why this is so peculiar is that processes of "identification" just cannot explain it. One can easily imagine that "heterosexual" men would be able to see images of women engaged in "heterosexual" acts with other men and find an erotic identification in positing themselves as the man represented. Such a identification could be of the nature of: "That man is engaged in that sexual act, and I, being, like him, a man, could similarly be engaged in that sexual act." Indeed, this is clearly an identificatory process which does occur. However, images of women engaged in sexual acts with other women are probably consumed by men, for erotic arousal, in greater quantity than are those images of "heterosexual" acts which were mentioned. While it is by no means impossible, or even implausible, that essentially the same identificatory process occurs between these men and one or more of the women represented, this process simply cannot explain the predominance of this type of image. What makes this predominance paradoxical is that, apparently, two (or more) women engaged in a sexual act "do not need a man" thereby -- and hence there is no represented sexual relation in which a male viewer should be able to imagine himself having a place.

Several explanations for the "male" arousal in observing "lesbian" acts present themselves. According to a certain Freudian story, men (and women) come to see their mothers as lacking something; namely, the possession of mom's object of desire. This mythic object ("the Phallus") comes to be represented by a penis, which a male child sees himself as possessing (however tenuously). Through this process, the story goes, male sexual desire comes to be defined by the possibility of fulfilling mom's desire with the use of a penis -- or the desire of her later substitutes. Let us call this the `Freudian explanation'. An adult, sexual (and heterosexual) male sees a lack, an unfulfilled desire, when he sees a woman; and he wishes, through a sexual direction of the drive, to fulfill her unfulfilled desire through sexual intercourse with her, wherein she comes into temporary possession of his penis. In viewing an image of a woman, this man sees such a lack, and such a lack is simply accentuated by her portrayal as sexually aroused -- and nothing could better demonstrate her sexual arousal than her actually engaging in a sexual act. However, if a man is portrayed in the same image, then the woman (or women) portrayed in the image are no longer lacking anything which the viewer might potentially fulfill, since the man portrayed is already filling this lack.

According to another story (not contradictory of the first story), there is a overwhelmingly prevalent convention in the media and arts to portray women when they portray (hetero)sexual acts. Let us call this the `empiricist explanation'. When heterosexual acts are portrayed in film and images (and also, largely, in literature and song), the portrayal is from a male point of view. Typically, the camera looks over a man's shoulder on to a woman's face -- most particularly at the stylized "moment of climax" (a peculiar thing, unquestionably, that in film heterosexual couples always both have orgasms, and always at the same moment). According to the empiricist explanation, observers are able to perform an induction from the series of film and literary representations they view to the conclusion that all images of women aroused are, so to speak, "shot from over a man's shoulder." When an observer accustomed to seeing these androcentric (in the narrowest and most literal meaning -- or, perhaps `androlocal') images sees an image directly portraying only women, she or he nonetheless inserts an imagined "male shoulder" into the frame of the picture. We use both pronouns in the previous sentence most deliberately: it must, under this theory, really be both men and women who take on, by empirical induction, an androcentric viewpoint. The empiricist explanation, although at first appearing less fundamental than the Freudian one, in reality goes further towards making the claim that it cannot be a "lesbian" observing sexualized images of women.

The claim, then, which was mentioned at the end of the previous paragraph: every pornographic image of a woman (or of a man?) is an image which supposes a male viewer. Furthermore, according to those who make this claim, any such image cannot really be an image of a "lesbian" act because it always has immanent within it a lack which demands for its fulfillment that a man enter the frame. This claim, or a subspecies of it, is one made by some feminists -- and by a large number of distinctly anti-feminists -- within the "anti-pornography camp." Those who make this claim -- let us call it the "essential androcentrism of pornography" claim -- often find theoretical support in one or both of the two explanations which were sketched above. As is obvious, this claim entails that the conclusion of this paper be, "there are no, and could be no, lesbians in the film Henry and June, neither on screen nor in the audience."

Other uses for eyes.

Let us focus, again, on the Freudian explanation. If men (or someone) see by seeing a lack, then those who are their abstract negation must see by seeing presence. This is not yet anything near a determinate negation -- so the Hegelian credo against it is in force -- but we may make several comments on seeing presences. First, this is not far from certain anti-porn -- mostly "lesbian" -- ideologies which claim that what lesbians do is somehow not "objectify" their "lovers." They treat them as whole persons, and not as single sexual aspects, according to this faith. `Objectify' as used here has a somewhat special sense which is not entirely clear, but which clearly has something to do with conceptions or stereotypes about sex. However, if we take the notion of seeing presences fully into account, we will also take `objectify' in a fully Kantian sense. Those whom we do not objectify we do not view as objects in the world having such "hidden" lacks as causal connections to the world and substantial existence. This is not meant as a reductio ad absurdum, however, as the second point will, perhaps illustrate.

Second, all representational art is an art of lacks or absences. For example, any painting showing perspective brings a viewer to mentally insert a dimensionality into the painting which she knows is "lacking" in the two-dimensional frame; and any portrait showing a right profile brings a viewer to imagine the left profile which is only an absence within the portrait. What is represented in realism is represented as inadequate and lacking -- at least as we are taught to see these things. Certain non-representational art may not be an art of absences. Abstract-expressionism would be a bad example, since one is taught to see in it artists' emotions; but perhaps Jackson Pollock paintings are an adequate example. Or perhaps, in a very different way, Vassily Kandinsky is not a painter of absences (this author does not think Kandinsky's inherited theory of the relations between human emotion and color-form vitiates this possibility, since he never supposed the relation to be representational). We cannot discuss herein these particular artists, but let us allow that at least a possibility is presented by them of another way of seeing which does not see absences(1).

What is a lesbian, anyway?

Let us make a start by excluding most definitions of this word, `lesbian'. Simply saying that "a lesbian is a woman who loves women" is itself enough of a conundrum to occupy us for a while. For a start, and simplistically, we should observe that the word `love', in this context, certainly has something to do with sex; we should throw out all those senses of the word which do not carry any such meaning. But what does the word `love', suitably defined, have to do with sex? Letting the word refer to sexual acts is at once both too much and not enough. On the one hand, even "women" who do not engage in "lesbian" sexual acts may be "lesbians" in the common sense manner of having sexual desires exclusively for "women." On the other hand, "women" who do engage in sexual acts with each other may do so in a manner which only is meaningfully a "sexual act" in relation to a male scoptophile -- even if they do so in private, and not in front of a camera. Let us attempt, for the moment, the narrowest, and least inclusive, reading of the word `love' we can find, so that we may find, perhaps, at least a stable tool with which to identify (some) lesbians. Let us require that `love' must be taken in the sense of "a sexual act engaged in with the true `object' of one's desire."

Well then, what is a woman?

Several theories come to mind, and theories, like many things, carry deceptive proper names. All the theories to follow, perhaps, agree on the point that a woman is not a man; but this agreement is a most specious thing, since the manner and meaning of not being a man differs greatly between them. Many more theories than are presented could be, and no claim is made that these are the best, the most representative, the most popularly held, or even the most interesting.

The Julie Simpson theory. Gtmenders(2) are clusters of traits. Gtmenders are assigned on the basis of biological sex, which is determined, at least socially, by outward genitalia. Having had gender determined at birth (or before) by naive empiricists (i.e. their parents who look at their genitals), women or men get certain sexual and economic roles and behaviors regularly prescribed differentially, and hence get different self-conceptions about these roles and behaviors. Although the particular roles assigned to gendered persons are completely socially contingent, genders must be two in number since that is, after all, the number of biological sexes out of which we can form gender classifications. Besides, every society has a need for a normative heterosexuality in order to biologically reproduce itself; and the binary categories of gender are necessary for this imperative to make sense. The relation between genders, once removed from their basis in sex, is not structural, and is theoretically symmetrical (not, of course, "practically" symmetrical in the sense of economically symmetrical, and so on). That is, each gender is a positive pole around which traits cluster. Although the terms `man' and `woman' are often taken as antonyms, the actual traits each referent takes on are not opposites, but simply different. To this theory, a lesbian is not anything in particular, merely someone with the feminine cluster of traits who loves someone near the same cluster. Of course, given the heterosexual norm around which the genders are formed, a lesbian is a relatively unlikely thing -- but this is a question of probability only, not of logic.

The Karen Adkins theory. To be is, firstly, to be a man. A man is a person, sui generis, and being woman is simply a derivative way of being. These categories (of gender) are social, though, not psychological in the fashion of the Lacanians and so many others. It is not a question of the psychological centrality of the category of Otherness around which the concept of woman is formed, and into which each of us inserts herself either on the side of presence or that of absence. It is instead a question of social fringes. Just as there could not be slaves without masters, there could not be women without men. The converse, however, in neither case applies: there could be masters without slaves, and men without women. In explaining the gender of sexuality, the Adkins theory reverses the Freudian thing. Rtmather than explaining the essential feminine genderedness of sexual objects (vis-a-vis their "lack"), we are given an essential masculine genderedness of sexual subjects. Since it is social persons who have sexual desires and act sexual acts, it is those who "assume the male position" who do so. For this theory, a lesbian is an impossible thing, at least if it refers to anything beyond genitalia. Since at least one person in every sexual act must be acting as a man does, there can be no sexual act between "women." There is actually a certain freedom given by this theory, however. Since everyone can act as a man does, and since it matters not a whit theoretically with whom we have our sexual acts, we are freed from restrictions on our sexual choice -- the theory can contain no prescriptions on what we must do (unlike Freudianism, and so many other theories). Another name under which the prescription of this theory travels is `androgyny'.

The Humbertoldi-Whorf hypothesis. Gtmender is a linguistic category. Indo-europeans have two genders; or in many cases three, but where three, only two are typically genders of persons. Bantus have many more -- fifteen in Swahili, for example -- three or more of which are always genders of people. Since the structure of consciousness is wholly a consequence of the structure of language, a consciousness which divides the world with gender as a fundamental split must emerge from a language which speaks gender. And indeed, gender certainly is an absolutely fundamental category for us Indo-europeans -- as fundamental as those other well-known linguistic categories: "space," "time" and "object." Just as those consciousnesses which speak languages (such as Hopi) which lack the words for "space," "time" and "object" -- or, better, replace them with other words -- lack such concepts, a language without categories of "gender" would be spoken by consciousnesses without the concept of them. Just as many political battles are fought over the utilization of fundamental linguistic categories such as "space" and "time" -- for example, in struggles over the geographic demarcation and division of space, or over the Taylorist industrial regulation of time on the shop floor -- so also are political wars waged over the utilization of the category of gender (need we actually name some? -- childcare, wage-differential, reproductive rights, rape are a few). But none of these struggles over the concrete utilization of linguistic categories are necessarily, or even likely, struggles against the categories themselves. Rarely do workers protest the speed up of an assembly line through a call for an elimination of the Indo-european category "time;" and even more rarely do feminists protest against inequitable wages though a call for an elimination of the category "gender" (Indeed, it is difficult for us Indo-europeans to understand what sense could be made of such a call). We do not claim that linguistic categories, even the most fundamental ones, do not change; nor still less that history is anything more than the history of class-struggle. But it is extremely rare that a political stuggle which comes to cause a change of such a fundamental category can have its meaning contained in any individual, or even collective, synchronic consciousness.

In application to the topic of this paper, the Humbertoldi-Whorf thesis has a sharply politicizing effect. The thesis synchronically fixes the gender categories around which the meaning of "lesbian" has been given, but simultaneously denies any fixedness in the empirical or practical application of the categories. Certainly the reactionaries (such as Sigmund Freud or Andrea Dworkin) may continue their claim that one of those "women" in the frame, or in front of it, must actually be a "man." But it also remains possible to fight for an application of the categories according to which all the "women" are women.

The Jeremy Barris thesis: Lacan's big thing (say `thaaayng'(3)). Although we must confess that our first reflex is to gag when we have this thing in our throat, we will push on to the thrust of the theory. Perhaps there is a seminal idea in there somewhere which we can succeed in teasing out. Desire always involves the posit of a lack -- a lack of something, the Phallus, which was a fraud to start with, but a lack, nonetheless. This lack can be posited on either side of the sexual act; or rather, it must be posited simultaneously on both sides, but in different ways. Sexual desire contains a lack which is actually the lack of a lack. Mom lacks the object of her desire, and in order to imagine we can fulfill it we must imagine we lack this lack, for we could not have the object she lacks if we too lack it. From the "masculine" side we find that the something which we have which is the lack of a lack is the Phallus -- or a penis (which is not a vagina). Then, having found and named our masculine lack of a lack we must find a desire which lacks what we have, since, after all, our lack of a lack was found in order to fulfill a lack which lacks our lack of a lack. Ipso Facto, goes the masculine deduction, a woman must be a person who lacks our lack of a lack -- for who else could it be. From the "feminine" side we find that what we have is a lack which is the lack of a lack of a lack (a vagina), since according to those who tell us what we have, that presence (which is a lack) which men have which mom lacks is a lack we lack. Structurally, this thing allows more possibilities than have the other theories we've discussed.

We can first notice, that a sexuality which saw presences which were not actually those absences which were the absences of absences (a sexuality which was Egyptist rather than Impressionist) could not be a sexuality which saw genders -- at least not those two old genders: female and male. Those two genders which are so familiar are the genders of those who lack a lack, or who lack this lack of a lack. Not that such an Egyptist sexuality might not be an awfully good thing, but it certainly could not be a "lesbian" sexuality if our definition of a lesbian ("A woman who loves women") can still be accepted. We cannot say yet whether any sexuality of the candidates might actually be the one mentioned, but this possibility stands open as the most interesting one encountered. On the other hand, even if what we see in sexual images is a lack, that does not restrict the possible sexual relations within and to the image too much. It may be that the viewer of "lesbian" images thinks he has that lack of a lack (the Phallus) which the "women" in the image lack -- and indeed there surely are such viewer who have penises, but also there are such viewers who have vaginas. Both "men" and "women" may stand in this "masculine" relation to "lesbian" images, since what made sexuality possible for either was an original positing of a lack of a lack of what mom lacks. Just because "women" are later told that they lack this lack of a lack does not mean that the do not also lack mom's lack -- there are just simply other ways of lacking a lack than having a penis (though "the Phallus" is just simply this lack of a lack -- which we all have). This is still a "masculine" relation to the images, however. A more subversive relation would be one where a viewer takes a "lesbian" image to show the basic fraud to the idea that what a "woman's" lack lacks is that "masculine" lack of a lack: the Phallus which is the penis. Instead, a subversive "woman" simply lacks as she likes, lacks what she wishes to lack. There are as many lesbians in the film as there are subversives who show the fraud of the Phallus (how many is this? We'll return to this).

The Alison Brown provocation. Gtmender is transvestism. It is a fraud we put on by wearing certain clothes, adopting certain facial expressions, walking certain ways, etc. Let us make a distinction within transvestism, however, between "simple transvestism" and "transsexuality." Of course, those who usually call themselves TV's and TS's know these are two different things -- but only some would agree with the particular manner of distinction to follow. Let us say that "simple" transvestites put on a fraud which is formally deceptive; while transsexuals put on a fraud which is formally "truthful." In any case -- as TV's and TS's know better than anyone -- there is no possible representational or causal connection between form of appearance and the "truth" of gender (for if there were, a transsexual could not have been born in the body which s/he was). Every form of appearance (whether voluntary, such as makeup and dress; semi-voluntary, such as physical build; or involuntary, such as genitalia) makes a specious, and completely fraudulent claim to "represent" gender. But some of us believe that the claim made by our outward appearance is "true," though this truth is in no way indicated or represented, nor is the true "truth's" claim made, by outward appearance; and some of us believe the claim is false. While some of us gain our greatest pleasure in that most delicate joy, deception, others of us gain our pleasure from that most rarified form of deception called "truthfulness."

Sexual choices, insofar as they are pure kinds (though no real person is ever so pure) are not two in number as is often said -- male or female and/or homosexual or heterosexual -- but are sixteen in number, in a society such as ours which allows just two social genders. There are those who fraudulently dress as men in order to "represent" their male gender who have sex with those who fraudulently dress as men in order not to "represent" a male gender; there are those who fraudulently dress as women in order not to "represent" a female gender who have sex with those who fraudulently dress as women in order to "represent" a female gender; there are those who fraudulently dress as women in order not to "represent" a female gender who have sex with those who fraudulently dress as men in order not to "represent" a male gender; and there are thirteen other permutations which we do not list, but which the reader can easily imagine. Of course, if one insists on fetishizing genitalia then one will say that on each side of the types of sexuality we have mentioned there are at least two types of people. That is, for example, while there are those with male genitalia who fraudulently dress as men in order not to represent their male gender, there are equally those with female genitalia who fraudulently dress as men in order not to represent their male gender. If this canard is admitted then sexual choices are sixty-four in number. Of course, it can be added that there have always been a few of those who dress in gendered attire, not in order to perpetuate a fraud about the truth or falsity of gender, but simply in order to be able to achieve a goal (for example, "women" who have dressed as men, not in order to fraudulently claim the "truth" of their female gender, but simply in order to be allowed passage through a particular geographic area).

What is a lesbian? A lesbian is someone with any of many different sexual choices and gender identities. How many lesbians are there in the film under discussion? We may say there are more than five, and perhaps many more. At least the five candidates are lesbians, though most may be several. The audience, certainly, according to this provocation, contains not one, but many kinds of lesbians. But within the frame several different lesbians are often seen within the same character. For example, Anäis, when she first imagines herself having sex with June, is a "woman" who loves a woman who fraudulently wears a female body in order to "represent" a male gender. The rarified deception (the "truth") of the imagined June is her male gender -- she has a penis. However, in order to represent this "truth," June must wear a female body. However, later -- after Anäis has seen through the particular fraud which was involved in the "exhibition" she watched -- Anäis is a "woman" who loves a woman who wears a female body either in order to "represent" her female gender or in order not to "represent" her female gender (we need not try specify which). Further, we have not said with what purpose Anäis wears her own female body, or whether this purpose changes within the film. Our point is simply that the film under discussion represents many different lesbians in many different ways.

The Conclusions.

As we have shown, there really are no lesbians in the film Henry and June, despite the film-makers' best attempts to put them into the film. The film-makers' consciousness of the dilemma of the essential androcentrism of pornography is not in itself sufficient to overcome such an essential bias in film representation. As we have mentioned, the brothel scene where an "exhibition" is put on is an obvious effort to overcome the androcentrism mentioned. By having Anäis recognize the androcentrism of the exhibition -- in which women are presented as possibly sexual only in relation to men, even if the men may be only vicariously present -- the film-makers attempted to overcome this androcentrism. However, the level at which the film-makers (and perhaps Anäis Nin herself, in her book of the same title as the film) make this critique is far too superficial. They suppose that it is simply the particular sexual acts and positions involved in androcentric pornography which makes it androcentric. At a certain naive level this criticism is correct -- women portrayed in pornography are typically placed in "heterosexual" positions -- but it supposes that androcentrism is confined to certain arrangements of limbs, and does not extend to the basic psychic composition of sexualized and gendered beings. Of course, after Anäis tells the prostitute to, "stop acting like a man," the latter changes sexual acts -- and engages in one that is, perhaps, statistically more frequent among lesbian than heterosexual lovers. But the prostitutes' "lesbian" sexual act is still an act which is observed, and which is performed to be observed. This act -- existing to be observed -- still contains implicit within it an essential lack of the symbolic Phallus. Since these women depend on an observer who socially represents the Lacanian "law of the father," they are not, and cannot be, represented as whole sexual beings, but only as beings lacking something they can not supply themselves. Physiologically Anäis may also not have a penis (and some of the audience does not), but as an observer she claims to be able to fulfill a sexuality which women by themselves cannot fulfill. Indeed, insofar as women are ever "exhibited" it is always in the context of this of this same implicit androcentric claim, and is not as lesbians. Our critique of the male gaze allows us to seperate out those women in the film who are lesbians from those who, though engaging in sexual acts with women, engage in acts from a fundamentally masculine perspective. In particular, Anäis and the audience both stand on the side of the essentially male viewer, whatever their physiological "sex." The other characters, June, the two prostitutes -- and June's NYC lover, by the same token -- although being drawn into a system of male (hetero)sexuality when they become objectified by representation, are in themselves, and in their sexual relations to each other, lesbians. As Lacan has observed, the origin of signification comes with the mythological "transcendental signifier," the Phallus. Anyone claiming the power to understand signification is, at heart, assuming a male power. A relation to an image can only be mistaken for a relation to a thing (if indirect) if one assumes the "truth" of the Phallus; that is, if one assumes one has the Phallus, and hence the power of signification. Although persons of both biological "sexes" sometimes claim this mastery, it is only in the structural role of the male gender that they make this claim.

It is exactly this claim mentioned above which differentiates Anäis and the women in the audience from the other women in the film. Anäis (and the audience) claims such mastery, the rest do not. Anäis has sexual fantasies which are shown to us in terms of full visual and audial images, where the rest of the women characters act out their sexual passions solely through sexual actions (including, for example, facial expressions). A representation of sex, however, makes a claim to mastery of signification which a mere (non-representational) action does not. Three further observations accentuate this contrast between Anäis (which includes the audience) and the other characters. First, as we mentioned June's NYC lover is shown to us in two different ways. When shown through a male observer, Henry, she is "fully" represented in audio-visual imagery; when shown through a female observer, June, she can only be spoken about, and then only hestitantly and vaguely. A woman observing makes no claim to be able to "master" and re-present what she sees -- not so with a man. On this Anäis is clearly on the male side -- indeed, the whole film is based on a book she wrote. Second, Anäis is, like Henry, a writer. Not only is this another general claim to mastery of signification, but, specifically, Anäis, like Henry, claims the mastery necessary to write a book about -- and hence "master" -- June. Anäis claims a "male" ability to control the representations of women; she claims, particularly, to be identical to Henry in her ability to represent. Third, even in relation to the "actual" sexual acts shown on screen, Anäis stands in the observer's position. She watches -- and even "commands" -- the women carrying out their various sexual acts. Every women other than Anäis (and the audience who think they are in a position to understand) makes no such claim, in any form, to be able to re-present sexual acts -- they merely engage in them without representation. Only these other women are truly "lesbian."

Anäis is the character in the film Henry and June who most clearly indicates the possibility of a truly lesbian sexuality. While we cannot claim tout court that all the other candidates mentioned are still constrained within a heterosexist sexual norm, neither can we show that any of them have completely escaped it. In brief, the "masculine" relation to sexuality which Anäis escapes is, as we have discussed, one which constructs the lack within feminine desire as a lack of that particular lack which is represented by the penis (the `Phallus' is the general name, absent its physiological token). Desire, insofar as it is constructed in a female subject must have followed this particular phallic etiology. Most women, probably, do not ever develop a desire which goes beyond a desire in relation to the Phallus -- except in the most trivial way of psychically following a linear series of displacements from the Phallus to objects which serve in every way as the substitute for the Phallus. Even women who have sex with other women do not necessarily do so in a manner which takes their partner for anything but another representation of the phallic principle. A true "lesbian" sexuality, however, would be one which completely severed the linear series of displacements from the Phallus, and inserted a completely new object of desire with no connection to the series of phallic substitutes. To write language which has been written in this paper previously: a "lesbian" sexuality would involve a transvaluation of values rather than a mere re-evaluation of particular objects.

Anäis carries out just the kind of transvaluation necessary to create a "lesbian" sexuality in the course of her character's development within the film -- indeed, this very exodus is the main story told in the film. While the film does not preclude the possibility that other characters have carried out such a transvaluation, neither does it actually show them carry it out (though there are some hints given for June in the way she talks of "becoming innocent"). At first, Anäis is clearly governed by "the phallic law" -- she does, after all, only imagine sex possible with June if June is imagined with a penis. However, Anäis' comment to the prostitutes at their "exhibition" to "stop acting like a man" shows that she has conceived of the possibility of rupturing the series of displacements from the Phallus, and of inserting, voluntarily and in a life-affirming manner, whatever lack one wishes. When she later has sex with June we are to assume that she has chosen June as the lack she wishes to insert as object of her sexual desire, not because of some unconscious displacement, but freely and voluntarily. The scene in which she has sex with her friend, Eduard, further shows this new sexuality of voluntary choice -- though Eduard is a man, she chooses him, not as belonging to the male gender, but as a singular sexual partner. This is precisely what a "lesbian" sexuality is: a sexuality of singularities rather than of gendered types.


1. A system of homologies can be seen within the matrix of artistic and "moral" ideas which have been discussed. First, it seems obvious enough that what is really being discussed with the idea of "a different use for eyes" is a different system of valuation at a fundamental level -- as opposed to simply a change in values. This will clearly remind us of Nietzsche's two value tables: those of Good/Bad and Good/Evil. To gloss the two tables we may point out that the former is a direct valuation, while the latter is only a refractory valuation. Where the "master" says "I am good," and "you are bad" follows only as a corollary, the "slave" says, "You are bad, therefore I must be good." For the slave, what poses as the positive term of the value table (in purely grammatical terms, even -- "how good?" is a "neutral" question while "how bad?" is a "loaded" question) is only arrived at by the negation of the negative term.

The same is true of the notion of "presence" which can be found in representational art. A presence in representational art (and, indeed, there is always something within the frame) always contains a whole system of absences implicit within it. This type of presence is always a refractory and indirect one. "Impressionism" which is popularly misconceived of as a painting of surfaces is a painting of presences only in the refractory "slave morality." Dimensionality, for example, in it is reduced to a minimum, but such a reduction is only possible in relation to the possibility of representing an absent dimensionality, it is not a complete "overcoming" of the possibility of dimensionality. Impressionists are the petty yea-sayers and donkeys of the world, who simply affirm everything without the possibility of denying them. They are like Christians, who simply universalize the refractory concept of "good" without eliminating its trace in the negation of evil.

The path to a possibly different sort of presence passes through that art form almost universally called "Cubism," but better called by its earlier name, "Egyptism." The better name itself signifies what is going on in the art form. Rather than simply abstractly negate, never successfully, the forms of perspective of realist art, as in Impressionism, Egyptism returns to a specific and determinate non-perspectival form which is not a possibility or inevitability within any kind of dialectic, material or ideal, but is rather a specific historic event which can return. Similarly, for Nietzsche, the Ubermensch is not a better human who negates particular human faults, but is a different kind of being who overcomes humanness by contingently becoming like the actual historical beings who valued differently. Egyptism is not yet Jackson Pollock, but it presents a possible path to him (as, indeed, the actual historical path led).

2. The capital letters `G' and `R', the letter combination `PG', and the letter/number combinations `PG-13' and `NC-17' are trademarks of the American Ratings Board. The letter `X', however, is not trademarked, and may be used by anybody without permission of the Board. It was because of this lack of trademark, in part, that the rating "X" was eliminated, and the insanely specious rating "NC-17" was introduced. Of course, had it not beein for the new rating and its historical importance of being the first "NC-17" film, I may well never have seen the film discussed in this paper.

3. A joke seems appropriate here: Anna Freud, at the age of four, was having a certain amount of difficulty understanding some of the finer points of her father's theories. She queried her father on one of them, "Daddy, I'm having a hard time understanding part of the psychoanalytic theories you've been telling me about. I don't quite understand what the difference is between a penis and the Phallus." Freud, the good pedagogue that he was, decided that rather than merely tell his daughter about this distinction, he would show her. So Siggy unbuttoned his pants and pulled out his penis, "This, Anna," he said, "is a penis." "Oh, I see," Anna said catching on, "so a penis is just like the Phallus, only smaller."

By the way, forgive the crudeness with which the Lacanian theory is presented, but we can find no better way to present it (and is Lacan's own lecture titled "The Freudian Thing" -- from which we derive our section title -- really any different).