Twilight -Post 2- : Death, the Maiden, and the Ego-Skin
The “light-er” side of Twi-light reveals the importance, in the fantasy genre, of the matrix of “supernatural proximity.” It is represented here by the vampire world. These new millennium vampires get involved with human beings, are not afraid of light, do not all eat human flesh, do not sleep in coffins and are sensitive to environmental issues. Their turn-of-the-century pop looks (sculpted hair, coloured contact lenses, vintage clothes) would make count Dracula turn green with envy. Proximity provides the readers with the possibility of playing on a whole range of positions, allowing them to travel through simulated universes, where reality is different by only a single change of rules that authorizes all sorts of discrepancies: here, immortality makes it possible to revisit mortality.
The supernatural universe lets the heroes test the limits of the very feeling of being in love (loyalty, fidelity, sexuality,…) while not taking all the implicit risks. They can rediscover the vocabulary of mad, romantic love, as expressed by Edward Cullen in particular: “I’ve never wanted a human’s blood so much in my life” ; “You’re like my own personal brand of heroin.” When he admits: “I still don’t know if I can control myself,” he touches on an intimate fear that many an adolescent can relate to.
This proximity is even more stressed, symbolically, by the post-mortem “slough” of Bella, who passes from this world to the other look-alike one, without abandoning it completely (she stays in touch with her werewolf friends and her father). She assumes completely her powers when she leaves behind her first skin within which she was feeling so uncomfortable. The saga is actually characterized throughout by an unusual focus on the skin, its plasticity, its temperature, its gloss, etc. Psychic health is strongly associated with physical balance and with the integrity of the person, —which is reminiscent of the notion of the “Ego-skin,” dear to Donald Winnicott and revisited by Didier Anzieu. Supernatural proximity allows the exploration of psychic spaces and mental containers associated with the body at the very moment when the image of the body undergoes spectacular plastic transformations with pre-teen Lolitas and Ganymedes (weight, height, breast growth, muscular development, menstruation,…).
The media matrix investigated by means of the vampire world is indeed a cognitive form of the Ego-skin, as it relates to attachment (or the lack thereof). Attachment seems to have been badly disrupted in Bella Swan’s case, the ungainly and unlikely heroin who transforms herself from an ugly duckling into an attractive cygnet. She does not see herself as a Belle in spite of the recurring proofs provided by others. This bad self-image seems to be traceable back to the detachment of her parents, their divorce acting as an initial rupture that configured the script of her feeling of inadequacy and perturbed her process of self-actualisation. She goes through several additional ruptures which are so many accumulated horrors for a young teenager: a major move, the final school year, a new high school …
In dealing with her dysfunctional family (the child takes charge of the mother and the father), Bella is confronted much too early to the management of her independence. She also has to confront her parents and their problematic sexuality at the same time as hers … The disruption of the divorce is doubled by a territorial disruption, —the move from a warm climate to a cold one, from the sun to the rain, leaves behind the circle of more and less intimate friends. In such isolation, no wonder she is tempted by death and fantasy. The potential world that she invents for herself is the inverted mirror of her reality: vampires mate for life and divorce is not part of the equation (they are the ideal family, self-selected, without blood relation and yet connected by blood); Edward is the eternal learner, who is forever taking his final exams and accumulating diplomas …
Twilight can be read as an updated version of “death and the maiden,” the medieval metaphor that emerged in an era of turmoil where people were orphaned early and de-territorialized and migrated often. In the Renaissance, the young virgin enters “a danse macabre” with death, that associates skin to skin contact skin with the discovery of eroticism as a point of no return (the experience after sexual orgasm is also called “petite mort,” as energy seems to reach a low ebb). Here, the macabre is not loaded with anxiety, morbidity is sublimated without angst: the after-life looks strangely like life, with less pressure from daily functions (feeding, cooking, remaining clean) and more pleasure from psychic powers. It combines with a desire of the adults not to age and with an attraction for eternal youth, suggested by the victory of love over death.
Such a representation of the complexity of women’s puberty can be tantalizingly seductive for young readers, with all the range of the sexual choices that Bella is presented with, in the various forms of “skin to skin” contact: from the coldest — the vampire, to the warmest, — the werewolf. It confirms the emergence of a secret, nocturnal emotional life, hidden from the adults who do not know how to assume their own in broad daylight. It also shows the need of a potential space of suture and not rupture, that is confirmed in the last volume of the series where Bella is literally “sown together again” (and revamped) by Edward Cullen. Her power reveals itself as that of an enveloping thought, since it turns out that she can be a shield, a protective envelope. Her newly-gained control over her Ego-skin is such that she can use it as an armour to protect herself and all her people from the psychic powers of the other vampires. Her ego-skin joins finally with her thinking Ego as she reaches maturity (symbolically, in the vampire world, she is reborn at 19, past the threshold of childhood).
The cognitive engagement which Twilight fosters in many young girls must not be disdained or neglected as it is revealing of certain maladjustments of the self-assembly process at work with today’s youth —in doing so, it is also disturbing for the adults whose youth-like behaviour does not contribute to the stability of their values. The brain develops then its last dimensions, that allow for self-control, in particular for the full bloom of “the norm of internality” — a self-steering system that makes it possible for a person to find his/her own system of global positioning, an internal GPS as it were. The interaction with the others and the environment is essential to achieve such a stage, as Bella discovers by meeting closely with radically different families and worlds. If the personal engagement of the author, Stephanie Meyer, with the Mormon faith, comes along with a very conservative vision of the role of women as expressed through Bella’s ethical position (apology of abstinence, pro-life, girl power,…), it is however challenged by the dilemma of Edward’s ethical position, less traditional than his partner’s in many respects. The fantasy genre allows for these two paradoxical universes, without god and with too much god, to mix in a relatively merry vision of the after-life.
The usual sociological explanation of the success of fantasy in the current young culture is therefore not convincing enough: it would be an escape in times of recession, a quest for the « happy ending » in times of crisis. The cognitive perspective allows for a subtler take on the subject: the engagement brought about by media sets an ethical dilemma for adolescent choices and enables the revision of the logics of their ethical positioning. Fantasy, as a potential space, is a transitional genre, as Winnicott would define it, “an area for transitional experience to which internal reality and external reality both contribute simultaneously.” Supernatural proximity comes to a clearer light by the rest of his explanation: “This area is not contested as it is not required to be anything else but a place of rest for an individual engaged in the endless task of maintaining internal reality and external reality separated and yet connected at the same time.” In the vampire world, the heroin literally has eternity in front of her to do so !
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