Speaking in Tongues: Deceptive Stories about Sexual Deception

by Wendy Doniger
Speaking in Tongues: Deceptive Stories about Sexual Deception
Wendy Doniger
The Journal of Religion
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Speaking in Tongues: Deceptive Stories about Sexual Deception

Wendy Doniger / University of chicago

All over the world, people tell stories in which a man or a woman (or a god or an animal) secretly or magically replaces someone else in bed. The basic themes take on many different forms, and express many different meanings, in different retelling throughout the world. There are Rachel and Leah, and Tamar and Judah, and (I think) Ruth and Naomi in the Hebrew Bible; Amphitryon and Narcissus in the Greek and Roman tradi- tions. There are Isolde and Brangene in the medieval European tradi- tion, and all those Tristans. There are the masquerades in Boccaccio, and in Chaucer. There are sexual masquerades in so many Shakespeare plays, especially Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure. There are the nineteenth- century Gothic doubles in English literature (The Woman in White, Dorian Gray, and Dracula). And then there are the sexual doubles in contempo- rary films (Tootsie, Yentl, Dead Ringers, The Return of Martin Guerre). What Shakespearean scholars call "the bed trick" is a theme that apparently never loses its appeal.

These stories are inherently paradoxical, for our double is not us. By definition, it is where we are not, and therefore things happen to it that do not happen to us. Moreover, mirror images and shadows are not ex- actly the same as the figures that they "double." Mirror images are in- verted, and shadows are colorless (or a darker color), shape-changing, and often not there (this quality of discontinuous existence being what, according to Otto Rank, made shadows natural metaphors for the soul).' What is it, then, that makes us say that the double is "the same" as the person who is doubled? I would like to explore this question, and the implications of the various responses that it might inspire, by considering the development of the oldest variant that I know, the ancient Indian story of Samjna.

See Otto Rank, The Double: A Psychoanalytic Study, trans. and ed., with an introduction, by Harry Tucker, Jr. (New York: New American Library, 1971). O 1994 by The University ofchicago. All rights reserved. 0022-418919417403-0002$01.00

This is a deeply religious story. For, in addition to human questions about incest, stepmothers, rejected children, and unwanted husbands, the Samjna story raises theological questions about the origin of the hu- man race and human death, about appearance and reality, about the rela- tionship between male and female divine powers, and about the nature of the relationship between humans and the divine. The metaphysical question of the origin of the human race is posed in the fate of Saranyu's second son, Manu. And the metaphysical question of death is posed in the mythology of Saranyu's first son, Yama.


The story of the Sun and the Shadow (Vivasvant and Chaya) is told in nuce in the Rg Veda, composed in Sanskrit in Northwest India, ca. 12001000 B.c.E.,~ where it belongs to the class of Vedic literary endeavors which are styled in the Vedas themselves "riddle or charade" (brahmodya or brahma~adya).~

As the later Indian tradition attempts to unlock the rid- dle of Samjna, it draws upon many deep-seated, often conflicting, ideas about human and divine sexuality and masquerade. In a variant in the Markandeya Purana (ca. 250 c.E.), the story is retold in full detail, in the context of the genealogy of the universe (which precedes this episode) and of the human race (which follows from it):

Samjna married Vivasvant, the Sun, and bore him a son, Manu, the lord of crea- tures; then she bore him twins, Yama, the king of the dead, and his sister, Yami [or Yamuna]. But she was repulsed by the heat of the sun and afraid of his semen1 energy. She looked at her own shadow [Chaya] and said, "I am going away to my father's house. Please stay here and be kind to my three children, and do not speak of this to my lord." The Shadow said, "Even if I am dragged by the hair, even if I am cursed, I will never speak of your intention, 0 goddess. Go where you wish."

When Samjna heard what her shadow said, she went to her father's house and remained there for some time, though he advised her to go back to her husband. Eventually, she took the form of a mare and went away.

Meanwhile, the Sun, thinking that the Shadow was Samjna, begat in her two sons and a daughter [i.e., another Manu plus Yama and Yami?]. The first son was the equal of the Manu who had been born before, and so he was called "Manu of

Rg Veda,ed. Max Miiller (London, 1980-92), 10.17.1-2. For a complete translation of this text and the following Puranic version, see Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Hindu Myths (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975), pp. 56-70. For an analysis, see Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 164-203.

Maurice Bloomfield, "Contributions to the interpretation of the Veda 111: The Marriage of Saranyu, Tvastar's daughter," Journal of the American Oriental Society 15 (1893): 172-88, here p. 172.

the Same Kind" or "Manu Born of the Look-alike" [savami].But the Shadow did not behave as affectionately to the first-born children as Samjna had behaved to them, who were her own children. Manu put up with this in her, but Yama could not bear it. He threatened the shadow Samjna with his foot, and she cursed him: "Since you threaten with your foot the wife of your father, your foot will fall off." Then Yama and Manu went to their father and Yama said, "Mother shuns us, the older sons, and favors the two younger ones. I lifted my foot toward her, but I did not touch her body with it, and she cursed me. I do not think she can be my mother, for a mother does not behave badly even toward badly behaved sons." His father said, "It is impossible to make the words of the wife of your father fail to come true, but I will do you a favor, because of my affection toward you. Worms will take flesh from your foot and go to the surface of the earth. Thus her words will come true, and you will be saved."

Then the Sun realized that the Shadow was not the true mother. He went to Samjna's father, Tvastr, the blacksmith of the gods, who trimmed away his exces- sive energy, and then he took the form of a stallion and approached his wife, who had taken the form of a mare. When she saw him approaching she feared it might be another male, and so she turned to face him, determined to protect her hind quarters. Their noses joined as they touched, and the seed of the Sun entered the nose of the mare, engendering in her the equine twin gods called the A~vins.~

In this text, this story of the Sun and the Shadow introduces the section known as "The Glorification of the Goddess" (Devimahatmya), one of the earliest and still one of the most important texts of the worship of the Goddess, Devi. This is a most significant move, for it comes at a moment when the dominant (male) Sanskrit tradition was just beginning to incor- porate into its texts the corpus of stories about female divinities (god- desses) who had long been alive and well and living in the non-Sanskritic, vernacular traditions. In aid of this appropriation, the old Vedic myth (about a goddess, Saranyu, who was no longer worshiped even in the Rg Veda,5 and a sun god who was worshiped both in the Rg Veda and at the time of the Puranic text) serves as a bridge to, and perhaps a validation of, the new Puranic myth (about a goddess, Devi Mahishamardini, who is just beginning to be worshiped).

The goddess is named Samjna, which means, significantly, "sign" or "image" or "name," and her surrogate is her chaya, her mirror image or shadow-a creature who is her opposite either in inversion (the mirror image) or in color (the shadow). Her son Manu (presumably Manu the son of Vivasvant, Vaivasvata) is born first, and of the same mother as are the twins. Then another Manu is born, Manu Savarni, and, presumably, another set of twins. The subsequent development of the text indicates

Markandeya Purana (Calcutta: Bibliotheca Indica, 1890), pp. 103-5; O'Flaherty, Hindu Myths, pp. 66-70. Translations are mine unless otherwise indicated.

See O'Flaherty, Women, pp. 149-65.

that we are the descendants of the second Manu, not the first. The name of the second Manu is a pun: "Manu of the Same Kind" or "Manu Born of the Look-alike" (.savami); that is, if it is simply descriptive, he himself is a double, but if it is a matronymic, his mother is the double.

The mortality and/or the mutilation of the Sun (and, more significantly, the son of the Sun) is a pivotal point of the myth: some texts argue that Samjna, herself a goddess, left the Sun because he was inadequate for her (crippled and mortal) and some that she left him because he was too glori- ous for her, resulting in his mutilation. The pun or riddle about the foot, together with the mutilation that it so vividly describes, is a recurrent theme in this corpus; recall, for example, the Sphinx's riddle for Oedipus ("What goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet in the evening?"). In Sophocles' play, as in the story of Yama, the muti- lated foot is a synecdoche for the mortality of the body as a whole (like Achilles' heel); and in the Greek play, as in the Hindu myth, the child is mutilated as a result of having double mothers. The Sanskrit text actually conceals a triple pun, for "foot" (pada; cognate with Latin pes, pedes; French pied; and English "foot") also means a measure of poetry (as it does in English), and the trick of the poem is what saves Yama's foot.

The mortality of Yama is closely related to the nature of his brother Manu, the ancestor of the human race. The first wife bore Manu and the second wife bore a double of Manu. Thus we are descended not only from a shadow mother but from a shadow Manu, as well. And Manu's mother is doubly unreal, for the name of the first wife means "the sign" or "the image" or "the name," and the name of the second wife means "the shadow." Samjna is the Signifier. (Her name contains the verbal root

jna, cognate with the Greek gnosis, and sum, cognate with the Greek sun, Latin con; she is thus the co-gnoscente or connoisseur). Since the word or name is the double of the thing or person, Samjna is her own double from the start. And perhaps it is relevant to note here that chaya in Sanskrit also means a commentary on a text. Thus if Samjna is the text, Chaya is the commentary; if Samjna is the dream, Chaya is the secondary elaboration. Moreover, Samjna may also be a riddle term for Sandhya, a name of the Dawn; the doppelganger woman is then evening twilight, and the Sun has two wives6 The parallels between Samjna and Sandhya are striking: each is the wife of the Sun, ambivalent and incestuous.' Moreover, both of them also designate linguistic symbols: just as "Samjna" means "sign" or "image" (as we shall see), so "Sandhya" becomes the term for the "twi-

Herman Lommel, "Vedische Einzelstudien," Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 99 (1949): 225-57, 243-57 for Saranyu-Samjna. 'Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, The Darker Side of Dawn, Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collec- tions, vol. 94, no. 1 (Washington, D.C., 1935).

light speech" of later Hindi poetry, a speech marked by riddles, inver- sions, and paradoxes. Yet, ultimately, Samjna ("the sign") and Chaya ("the shadow") are mere reflections of the energy of their husband, the Sun, a powerful astronomical image of male domination. (Here it is relevant to recall that, in both the Vedas and the Puranas, the Sun was the object of worship and Samjna was not.)

But as anthropogonies, these stories are saying more than this. It is surely significant that, in so many myths of this type, the children, usually twins, are abandoned by the mother. The myths seem to be saying that we, the descendants of Manu, are the children of the image, children of maya, not the children of the real thing.8 It embodies the Vedantic view that we are born into illusion, live in illusion, and can only know illusion.


Before turning to our more general analysis, let us consider one particu- larly revealing parallel to the story of Samjna, the Gnostic story of Sophia, whose name means "knowledge" and whose domain, gnosis, is, as we have seen, cognate with the name of Samjna. In moving from Vedic and Pura- nic texts to Gnostic texts we are shifting not merely languages but aca- demic genres since the different questions that scholars of Indology and Gnosticism have chosen to ask about these two very different sets of texts have led to the development of radically different disciplines. But for the purposes of this essay, I have chosen to disregard these differences and to focus on the similarities that I personally see in the texts, bringing my own set of tools (Indological, structuralist, etc.) to Gnostic texts that are generally regarded as the bailiwick of scholars who do not usually reach for the same tools to crack their codes. I hope that the reader will be willing to bracket [epochz] these methodological concerns in order to cut to the chase: the goal of mutual illumination of homologous structures.

Sophia is the key to a Gnostic mythology in which carnal knowledge is deconstructed in favor of spiritual knowledge. The particular incidents involving the doubling of Sophia may be viewed as offshoots of the basic Gnostic contention that God himself is a double, and that we are all the children of a better God than God.

Trouble begins in the divine pleroma when Sophia desires to know the Father without the embrace of her consort; as a result she produces an abortus, made of her passion, which becomes the stuff of creation. Even- tually a lower version of Sophia is produced, Achamoth, a twin on the

See Stella Kramrisch, "Two: Its Significance in the Rgveda," in Indolopal Studies in Honor of W Norman Brown, ed. Ernest Bender (New Haven, Conn.: American Oriental Soci- ety, 1962), pp. 109-36.

lower level, who unites with the Demiurge and the Savior to produce h~manity.~

In the end,I0 Achamoth will leave the lower realm, return to the Pleroma, and receive the Savior as her bridegroom in the divine bridechamber.'

Another transformation of the theme occurs in other Gnostic texts: when the evil archons prepare to rape Eve, she splits Sophia off from herself (as she does in other Gnostic texts, for other reasons); Eve then stands behind a tree and watches, laughing, while the archons rape So- phia, thinking that they have Eve.I2 One of them even rapes the reflected image of Sophia in the water, and as a result of this act certain classes of beings are engendered.13 In one text, Eve becomes a tree, as part of her masquerade to escape being raped.14 Elaine Pagels, following Bentley Layton and Birger Pearson, sees this as an allusion to the Tree of Life in Genesis, but also as an echo of Wisdom as a "tree of life" in Proverbs 1-4.15 And she remarks, "Partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge reveals to the man and the woman the secret truth-the antithesis be- tween sexual and spiritual knowledge-that the archons tried to obliter- ate." l6 And Pagels goes on to illuminate the irony in this "knowledge":

The archons, responding with their characteristic error, go to meet Norea in or- der to seduce her. Their ruler declares to Norea, "Your mother Eve came to us"- sexually (Hyp. Arch. 92, 20-21). But Norea challenges them all, for, in her view, it is a case of mistaken maternity. She attacks them where they are most vulnerable; again they are confusing sexual with spiritual knowledge: "You did not know my mother; instead, it was her female counterpart that you knew (Hyp.Arch. 92, 2325)." Having raped the femaleplasma, they imagined that they had "known" Eve. Norea declares, however, that they never "knew" her, since she is "known" only spiritually. Norea sets them straight: having mistaken her mother's identity, they mistake hers as well.I7

Ptolemy, on Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 1.1.

lo Ibid., 1.7.1.

" See the ritual of the bride chamber in the Gospel of Philip. I owe these citations from Gnostic texts to John Gager, who first made me aware of them when I lectured on this subject at Princeton on November 4, 1985, and then gave me the precise references in a letter of November 5. And to Ioan Culianu I owe the Manichean parallels: Franz Cumont, Recherches sur le Manichiisme (Brussels: H. Lamertin, 1908), 1 :54-68.

l2 On the Origins of the World, 2.4.1 13 ff.; Hypostasis of the Archons, 2.4.89 ff.; The Nag Hammadi Libraly in English, trans. J. M. Robinson (Leiden, 1977), pp. 152-60. l3 Corpus Hermeticum (= Poimandres) 13 ff.; see similar reflections in The Apocryphon of John (2.1.4 ff.) and Hypostasis of the Archons 87 & l4 Hypostasis of the Archons 89, 25-26. See also Birger Pearson, "She Became a Tree . . . ,"in Images of the Feminine, ed. Karen L. King (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988). l5 Elaine Pagels, "Pursuing the Spiritual Eve: Imagery and Hermeneutics in the Hypostasis of the Archons and the Gospel of Philip," in King, ed., pp. 187-206, here p. 196. l6 Ibid., p. 197. Ibid.

For, as Pheme Perkins points out, the rape is ultimately meaningless; "The 'spiritual Eve' remains untouched by the lust of the powers, who can only defilelimpregnate her shadow." ls

For though "knowing" is a euphemism for the sexual act in many lan- guages (all ultimately deriving from the biblical Hebrew usage and ex- tending into biblical Greek as well: when the angel tells Mary that she is going to have a baby, she replies, "How can that be, since I do not know a man?"),Ig the myths demonstrate that people often literally do not know who they are in bed with. The Rabbis say that since "to know" in Hebrew means both "to love" and "to have sex with," just having sex with some- one is not really "knowing" that person. It may well be that it is because men have given most of our texts their final form that those texts speak primarily of a woman being entered and known, and of a man as having (carnal) knowledge of the woman; the man is the knower of the woman- as-field (of knowledge, and of progeneration), just as the Hindus speak of the soul as the knower of the body-as-field (ksetrajna). In these texts, the man goes inside the woman's head as well as inside her body,20 and in this sense he claims to know more about her than she, who cannot enter him, knows about him. But the inadequacy of this formulation is often demonstrated by the very text that makes it in the first place: all that the man learns is a lie: she can conceal a number of things, including her very identity, by virtue of that very passivity that was to give him the advantage in knowing.


Why is the question of knowing the other expressed through a story about the bed trick? It is, I think, because the sexual act is the most "dou- bling" and "undoubling" of acts. Where all other doubles split into two, sexual doubles split into one. That is, there are all sorts of reasons, sexual and nonsexual, for an individual to proliferate personalities, but in the sexual act, the opposite happens: two become one, as the double (the couple) coalesces into the one "beast with two backs."21 The myths of sexual doubles represent this tension between the urge to diverge and the urge to merge.

Moreover, the sexual act is simultaneously the most deceptive and the

Pheme Perkins, "Sophia as Goddess in the Nag Hammadi Codices," in King, ed., pp. 96-1 12, here p. 110. l9 Luke 1:34: "Pos estai touto, epei andra ou gignosko?"

See Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Other Peoples'Myths: The Cave of Echoes (New York: Mac- millan, 1988), chap. 1, for the myth of the sage who goes inside the hunter, in the Hindu embodiment of this metaphor.

Iago uses this phrase to Brabantio, in Shakespeare's Othello (1.1.117).

most truth-revealing of human acts. People are more deceptive about sex than about anything else. We lie to ourselves about who our partners are and who we are. As Lord Henry remarks, in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, "When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one's self, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls romance."22 And later, in response to Basil's remark that "Love is a more wonderful thing than art," Lord Henry retorts, "They are both simply forms of imitati~n."~~

Yet, despite all the lies that surround it, there is a brutal honesty in the sexual act. Bodies do not lie. Thus, the Hindus believe that a god or demon who masquerades as someone else in bed is compelled to take his own true form when he loses mental control and hence inadvertently turns off the current from the magic projector in his mind; this happens when he sleeps, gets drunk, gets angry, dies, or makes love.24 If there is veritas in vino, there is surely veritas in coitu. It is the outer trappings that lie; at the still heart of the sexual storm is truth, for some people their only truth.

This, then, is another paradox, compounding the paradox of the double that is both us and non-us: the sexual act is simultaneously the most deceptive and the most truth-revealing of human acts.


Language and metaphor are the instruments of deception in the mythol- ogy of sexual masquerade. Women are riddles throughout this corpus, but they are also riddlers. We have noted in the myth of Samjna the riddle of the mortal foot that is also the meter of poetry and the riddle of the woman who is the Signifier, and we have noted a parallel with the Sphinx's riddle, which wins Oedipus his throne but costs him his happi- ness. The riddle is itself a double, often turning on the double meaning of a word or a phrase: the trick is to find out what the second meaning is, to identify the surrogate-which is also the point of so many of the

22 Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, ed. Donald L. Lawler (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988), p. 200.

Z3 Ibid., p. 212.

24 Thus, when the demon Jalandhara impersonates Siva and attempts to seduce Siva's wife, Parvati, he sheds his seed and she immediately recognizes him. See Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Shivar The Erotic Ascetic (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), pp. 185-86. And when the demon Adi impersonates Parvati in order to seduce Siva, he resumes his own form when he simultaneously consummates the sexual act and dies. See ibid., pp. 186-90. There is also a cluster of signs that are always present to reveal the true nature of a god, if you look closely: unlike mortals, gods do not sweat or blink, their garlands do not fade, there is no dust on their clothes, and their feet do not quite touch the ground.

stories of sexual masquerade. Samjna embodies the riddle of the relation- ship between the Sign and the Shadow, the Text and the Commentary.

The truth of myths is, like the sexual act itself, a two-edged sword, for they are both liars, and they are both truth tellers. The form and content, the myth and the masquerade, converge: the story and the sexual act are the two great doublers. Masqueraders pretend, and stories pretend, and yet their pretenses ultimately provide a kind of truth that is otherwise un- attainable.

Franlois Flahaut has commented on the relationship between narrative and sexuality: "Every human being has two umbilical cords: one, made of flesh, is cut at birth; the other, even before conception, weaves a person into language. But not only can this second cord never make up for the cutting of the first, it is itself an ambiguous, or paradoxical, umbilicus: it connects only by keeping apart; it plunges each person into the immense universe of meaning only at the price of an irrevocable break. . . . Fictional narratives are one of the forms of compromise (sexual life is an- other, and the most basic) which seek to reduce this paradox."" The par- adox of linguistic alienation argues that the original unity of languages (in Eden) was shattered at the time of the tower of Babel; narratives seek to heal that break, when one person tells a story and the other says, "Yes, I understand; that's my story, too." But, the deconstructionists argue, we never do understand another person's story. Similarly, the paradox of sexual separation argues that when the (Lacanian) umbilical cord is cut, we are separated from our mother; sexual union seeks to heal that break, when one person joins physically with another (and so, Genesis tells us, a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they are one flesh). But then the sexual partner may abandon you just as your mother did or turn out not to be the person you think he or she is.

When these two paradoxes of linguistic and sexual alienation, the tower of Babel and the paradox of sexual separation (from the mother), are simultaneously addressed in narratives about sexual life, the form (the narrative) reinforces the content (the image of the sexual act). In myths about sexual doubles, the two paradoxes converge and attempt to heal one another, as narrative and language themselves may emerge as substitutes for the lost object of love.26 But they may, rather, tear the rift even farther apart, language tearing away at sexuality and sexuality at language.

The truth of sex inheres, in the most literally superficial level, in naked-

25 Franrois Flahaut, "Imagination and Mythology in Contemporary Literature (Tolkien, Lovecraft) and Science Fiction," in Mytholops, ed. Yves Bonnefoy and Wendy Doniger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991),2:790.

26 I an indebted to Mark Krupnick for this formulation.

ness: we see one another uncovered. But, as Nietzsche pointed out, na- kedness is the best mask, and there are other sorts of truth, more cultural than natural, associated with sex, such as words cried out at the moment of passion, the moment of truth. Indeed, many traditions record the theme of what Sanskrit poetics calls the namaskhalana ("stumbling on the name"), the awkward situation that arises when a man calls out the name of one woman when he is making love to another woman. In this case, words betray the truth, while the physical act lies (in implying a monoga- mous love). The crying out in the act of love, a naked cry that may at first appear to be as primitive as speech-acts can be, is nevertheless a cultural fact; the inarticulate coital cries give way to the name, a culturally con- structed entity.

Of course, speech is also an event; the telling of the story is itself an event, which requires to be told. Within the stories themselves, the speech-act recurs in opposition to the sexual act and the tongue as a sex- ual organ in opposition to the eye as a sexual organ. In Indian texts dat- ing from ca. 800 B.c.E., the great phallic God, Indra, sends his grandson to seduce a demoness named "Long-tongue," to immobilize her through sexual intercourse so that Indra can kill her by piercing her with his phal- lic thunderbolt." "Long-tonguen's long tongue reappears as the lolling tongue of the deadly goddess Kali on many icons, a female phallus, but it is also the organ of language ("tongue," or langue, in the sense both of "part of the mouth" and of "language," as in "mother tongue"). So, too, the phallus itself, as Lacan tells us, is a word, a "tongue" in the other sense of the word. Indeed, one Sanskrit word for the penis is linga. (It would be wonderful if linga were related to the French langue, or to the Latin lingua, or even to the Spanish-American slang term, lingo, but I fear this cannot be.) Now, the primary meaning of linga (according to the standard Sanskrit dictionary of Sir Monier Monier-Williams) is "a mark, spot, sign, token, badge, emblem, characteristic"; it then means "any as- sumed or false badge or mark, guise, disguise." The idea that a sign is, ipso facto, a deception is worth noting. And linga also means "proof, evi- dence; . . . a sign of guilt, corpus delicti." But its narrower meaning of "the sign of gender or sex, organ of generation" is further narrowed to "the male organ or Phallus (esp. that of Siva)" or "the image of a god, an idol."28 The sign of universal sexuality is linked with the sign of a particu- lar god, Siva, in texts that argue that all human beings are naturally de-

nJaiminiya Brahmana, ed. Raghu Vira and Lokesh Chandra, Sarasvati Vihara ser., vol. 31 (Nagpur, 1954), 1:90-91. See Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Tales of Sex and Violence: Folklore, Sacrifice, and Danger in the Jaiminiya Brahmana (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), pp. 101-3.

28 Sir Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1899), S.V. linga.

signed to be the worshipers of Siva and his wife Parvati; the clear proof of this is the fact that all men have the linga, and all women the pinda (the vagina, the image of Par~ati).~~

Moreover, in logic, Monier-Williams continues, the linga is "the invariable mark which proves the existence of anything in an object" (as in the proposition "Where there is smoke, there is fire," where smoke is the linga). And, finally, in grammar, linga means "gender." 30 Thus the ancient Hindus recognized the primacy of sexuality in human life as the distinguishing sign, the physiological equivalent of the signs of grammar, evidence, deception, and, more significantly, di- vinity.

R. Howard Bloch, in The Scandal of the Fabliaux, notes that, among the many sexual tricks depicted in medieval French stories, the dirty story itself is the greatest trick of all. People use tricky speech to accomplish their sexual ends; the genitals and the tongue are conflated, and genitals (dismembered and animated) often literally tell tales. As Bloch remarks, "It is not the desiring body that generates the tale which merely reflects it, but the tale which produces desire and which can even be held respon- sible for the desire for narrative. . . . There can be no difference between the desire so often expressed in sexual terms on the level of the theme and the desire for the story it~elf."~'

In other words, these are not merely stories about sexual tricks; they are stories about stories. They use dirty sexual tricks to say something about the dirty and deceptive tricks of lan- guage. The central event is not necessarily the cuckolding but the clever words that the woman tells to conceal the cuckolding. And the excitement that we experience in hearing the story is an excitement about the lan- guage-the desire to hear the story-more than the desire for the sexual act described in the story.

The desire for narrative of which Bloch speaks owes a great deal to the writings of Roland Barthes, particularly to S/Z, which Mark Krupnick has called "the greatest of modern literary-critical exegeses of masquerade, Barthes' S/Z, his virtuoso 200-plus pages on a 40-page story of Balzac called Sarr~sine."~~

At the level of narrative, a young (naive) Frenchman named Sarrasine goes to Rome, where he falls in love with the great op- era diva, La Zambinella, unaware that Italian opera "women" are actually castrati, and he is "castrated" (and killed) when he learns the truth. The story of Sarrasine is told by a would-be lover to a lady who asks for the

2g Skanda Purana (Bombay, 1867), 8:18-19.
30 Monier-Williams, s.v. linga.

R. Howard Bloch, The Scandal of the Fabliawc (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

1986), pp. 103, 109. 32 Mark Krupnick, personal communication, May 1992.

story ("I want to know now"), to which the storyteller replies, "You haven't yet given me the right to obey you when you say: 'I want to.'" Barthes's gloss of this reply is: "If you give yourself to me, I will tell you the story: tit for tat: a moment of love in exchange for a good story33 . . . the truth in exchange for a night of love, a narrative in exchange for a body."34 Thus the "desire for narrative" appears here as a contract that is the inverse of the contract of Scheherezade: the story is told by a man to a woman, and the story causes, rather than prevents, his "death" (cas- tration).

Moreover, within the story that the lover tells the woman, sex and speech once again intermingle, this time in the seductive voice of the castrato. Sarrasine, the man in love with the castrato, remarks to himlher, "That angelic voice, that delicate voice would be an anomaly, coming from any body but yours." And Barthes comments: "If Sarrasine were reading what he says, he could no longer pretend his pleasure in the castrato was a mistake or a sublimation; he himself formulates the truth, the truth of the enigma, of La Zambinella, of himself. To the cultural code under which the castrato is a counterfeit of woman and the pleasure he can create an anomaly, Sarrasine replies that the union of the adorable voice and the castrated body is

Barthes has much more to say about the erotic, and deceptive, use of the voice: "An erotic substance, the Italian voice was produced a contram'o (according to a strictly symbolic inversion) by singer without sex: this in- version is logtcal, . . . as though, by selective hypertrophy, sexual density were obliged to abandon the rest of the body and lodge in the throat, thereby draining the organism of all that connects it."36 Thus the story plays upon the use of the voice, and of words, as an aphrodisiac: as we learn from Cyrano de Bergerac, as well as from everyday Irish blarney, the voice is a most potent sexual double. The tongue, in this context, is far dirtier than the genitals. This is upward displacement of the sort noted not by Freud but by Claude Lkvi-Strauss, when he remarked on the ways in which men exchange women in the same way that they ex- change words: "That the mediating factor, in this case, should be the women of the group, who are circulated between clans, lineages, or families, in place of the words of the group, which are circulated between individuals, does not at all change the fact that the essential aspect of the phenome-

33 Roland Barthes, S/Z: An Essay, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974), p. 86; originally published in French as S/Z (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1970).

34 Ibid., p. 212.

35 Ibid., p. 176.

36 Ibid., p. 109.

non is identical in both cases."37 And the connection between language and sex was noted before LCvi-Strauss by Bronislaw Malinowski, in con- versation with his Trobriand Islanders: "Mokadayu, of Okopukopu, was a famous singer. Like all of his profession, he was no less renowned for his success with ladies. 'For,' say the natives, 'the throat is a long passage like the wila (vagina), and the two attract each other.' 'A man who has a beautiful voice will like women very much and they will like him.' Many stories are told of how he slept with all the wives of the chief in Olivilevi, how he seduced this and that married woman."38 There is, therefore, an intimate connection between sexual masquerade and (artificial) lan- guage, more particularly the genres of opera and myth. The knowledge that the myth transmits is, in part, self-validating; it transmits the knowl- edge of its own truth. But these myths also deconstruct their own truth and tell us that language, in which myths are inscribed, is a lie. Thus they tell us about the deceptive nature of knowledge itself, both sexual knowledge and the fragile knowledge transmitted by language.


But the most important statement made by this corpus of myths concerns the deceptivity not of language but of God. For the linguistic and psycho- logical issues addressed by these myths are framed by underlying, often implicit, theological issues. Many of the stories in which gods are the char- acters turn out to be largely about human problems. But, in contrast, many of the stories about human beings raise truly theological questions. After all, humans often ask theological questions, and gods are often all too human, as Nietzsche would have said. Both psychological and theo- logical questions may be asked of the same myth. It is not the case that one can ask psychological questions only of "realistic" myths and theolog- ical questions only of "fantastic" myths.

Indeed, as Rank has pointed out, psychology and theology divide the turf of the soul, which he regards as the basis of the concept ofthe double, very neatly between them: "In the original duality of the soul concept, I am inclined to see the root of man's two endeavors to preserve his self and to maintain the belief in its immortality: religion and psychology. From the belief in the soul of the dead in one form or another sprang all

37 Claude Ltvi-Strauss, "Language and the Analysis of Social Laws," in his Structural An- thropology, trans. Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf (Harmondsworth: Pen- guin, 1963), p. 61. See Dan Sperber's penetrating critique of this formulation in "Claude Lkvi-Strauss," in Structuralism and Since: From Lhi-Straws to Dewida, ed. John Sturrock (Ox- ford: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 19-51, here p. 23.

38 Bronislaw Malinowski, Sex and Repression in Savage Society (Chicago: University of Chi- cago Press, 1985), p. 98.

religion; from the belief in the soul of the living, psychology eventually de~eloped."~~

But, as Rank points out, there is an essential difference between the assertions of ancient religion and modern psychological lit- erature: where the ancient texts represent the Double as a symbol of eter- nal life, a way of escaping death, modern literature sees the Double as a symbol of death itself.40 Death, doubling, and deception intersect throughout this corpus of myths: the gods trick mortals into accepting the substitute and, therefore, dying. They cheat Yama, and he dies.

The theological level of the mythology of sexual masquerades con- fronts such themes as a god who becomes incarnate as a man (masquer- ades as a man), often to get into a woman's bed, or of God splitting into good and evil,4l or of God creating man in his image, as his double. It also involves the complex question of sacrificial doubles: the scapegoat who is beheaded instead of the sacrificer,42 the stone that takes the place of Zeus in the belly of Chronos (indeed, all the Greek myths of substitu- tion and ruse),43 the lamb that substitutes for Christ in the Eucharist. Throughout these myths, we would do well to ask of each particular story, What is the source of deception? The self? The partner? God? In India, as the myths of illusion (maya) teach us, it is indeed God. In Islam, the substitute mother (Hagar), regarded as the mother of the Arabs, poses another sort of problem; some have solved this dilemma by arguing that Sarah rather than Hagar was in fact the mother of the Arabs.

For a psychologist, the human concerns provide a logical and psycho- logical warp on which the theological versions are woven, but for a theo- logian, the philosophical problem is the warp, the psychosexual problem the weft woven onto it. Thus sex may be a metaphor for god, but god may also be a metaphor for sex. The psychological and theological concerns of the myth stand as metaphors for one another, like the Escher drawing of the hand drawing the hand drawing the hand. They intersect at the point of abandonment: the terror of being abandoned, by the human agents, first the mother and then the wife, and then by god. The human experi- ence of the abandoning mother or wife and the theological hypothesis of an abandoning god (otiose, absconditus, or Deist) reinforce one another. Two lovers make one, just as the child with the mother makes one, and

S9 Otto Rank, "The Double as Immortal Self," in his Beyond Psychology (New York: Dover, 1958), pp. 62-101, here p. 74.

40 Ibid., p. 66.

41 See C. G. Jung, Answer to Job, trans. R. F. C. Hull (London, 1954).

42 Wendy Doniger and Brian K. Smith, "Sacrifice and Substitution: Ritual Mystification and Mythical Demystification," Numen 36, no. 2 (December 1989): 189-224.

43 Nicole Loraux, "The Origins of Mankind in Greek Myths: Born to Die," pp. 90-95, and Jean-Louis Durand, "Sacrifice in Greek Myths," Durand, pp. 122-127, both in Greek and Egyptian Mythologzes, comp. Yves Bonnefoy, trans. under the direction of Wendy Doni- ger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

the loss of the lover and the loss of the mother preshadow the loss of the god who abandons humankind.

For the god or goddess in these myths is otiose, a layabout: like a police- man, she's never there when you need her. Or she is absconditus, hidden, vanished, like a criminal with the loot: when you need her, she is feasting with the Ethiopians or (like Baal in the contest with Elijah, in 1 Kings 1827) temporarily indisposed: "And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, 'Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked."' "Pursuing" is the King James euphemism for the much more insulting suggestion of the Hebrew text: "~hitting."~~

The abandoning mother behaves like God in the Deist argument: God made the world and then left it here for us, without him to run it, a watch with no watchmaker-and, the myth adds, leaving us to the mercies of the substitute. In India, the otiosity of god is also expressed through the erotic metaphor of viraha: the longing for a lover (often an adulterous lover) from whom one is separated. God is not with us, the poem says, because he is making love to some other woman instead; god (Krsna, for instance), doubles himself for his various women and comes to you with some other woman's lipstick on his collar (or the Hindu equivalent: the scars of her nails on his back). The hymns to Krsna, which praise viraha as the most intense relationship that one can have with the deity, share the attitude of the Blues: "How can I miss you when you never go away?"

If we view the human concerns as the logical and psychological base from which the theological versions were derived, we are following in the footsteps of the ancient school of interpretation that we call Euhemerism, which argued that all myths developed in this way: from a "rational" core of legend about human heroes there developed an "irrational" overlay about gods. And by attempting to unravel this unfortunate process, the Euhemerists rationalized the myths: that is, they took stories ostensibly about the gods and made them (back) into stories about humans. Freud may be regarded as a latter-day Euhemerist when he argues that stories that appear to be about god are really about your father. The interpretive process of rationalization (regarding the supernatural as derived from the natural) argues that the myth itself has irrationalized, turning what is rational (observable human behavior) into what is irrational (unobserv- able divine behavior). But we can also see the opposite process at work in our stories. That is, theological questions are posed: What is god like? How did the human race begin? And in order to answer these questions, human images, human concerns, are projected into the divine world.

44 The Hebrew word, szyn, is treated more clearly, though still euphemistically, by the Jewish Publication Society of America: "he is gone aside."

The meanings of the myths, however, must be sought not merely in the superficial anthropomorphic forms and quasi-human events but in the darker questions that are posed. While irrationalization may indeed oc- cur in mythology (ideas about men and women being transformed into myths about gods and goddesses), the opposite process (what I would call "rationalization") is equally common and important, when ideas about gods and goddesses are translated into myths about men and women.


The myth of the double is an attempt to prove the existence of the soul. The religious implications of the double may be further realized when we ask, first, what is real and what unreal in each of these stories and, second, whether the shadow is death or life. Some myths of sexual mas- querade assume that life is real, the body is real, and the shadow or the soul is an unreal intrusion into that reality. In this more secular view, the shadow represents death and is feared, or the shadow may stand for the natural imperfections that make an individual human endearing, the scars and signs of age on the body of someone that one really loves. Such texts assume that the body is more important than the soul, that the vis- ible form (the body) is the person, and the invisible form (the soul) is not. Many of these myths argue that carnal knowledge is the only knowledge that we have, that all the essential moments of human life are remem- bered only in the body, not in the head, just as we remember how to tie shoes or play the piano.

But other texts assume that the body is unreal, at least in the Buddhist sense that it will not last forenel; and posit an immortal soul that is real. In this second, more religious view, the shadow represents the eternal soul, the perfect ideal that the actual person never realizes, and is courted as a vehicle of immortality. Such myths say that the soul, not the body, is the person. And all the effort that is taken in setting up the masquerades that abound in these myths, the elaborate devices and ruses and tricks, implies that only that woman's body, the body that one is not allowed to have, will do, rather than the body to which one has sexual rights.

The Rg Veda expresses both views at once, in speaking of the Creator: "His shadow is immortality-and death."45 Plato argued that we are all shadows, and many myths seem to express the idea that the human crea- ture is god's shadow; we may see this implied in the tale of Samjna. But many humanistic and atheistic books about religion, like Freud's Totem and Taboo and Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, create myths that ex- press the opposite idea: that god is our shadow. The basic tension is be-

45 Rg Veda 10.12 1.2; O'Flaherty, The Rig Wda (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1980), p. 27.

tween physical love, which is the same for all objects and subjects, all heads and bodies (all cats are gray), and romantic love, which singles out an individual person as the only one you can love, body and soul. But different cultures view this tension in different ways, and myths often express both sides of the paradox at once: this is the power of the ambigu- ity of myth.

We might also distinguish between traditional mythological forms of these stories, which emphasize those basic human moments, indeed al- most animal moments, that are the same for all bodies, and the more romantic or literary versions, which emphasize the more cultural mo- ments where the head does the remembering-the moments of personal- ity, education, logic, and, above all, speech, when, like French structural- ists, we identify ourselves with our heads. The conflict between nature and culture, love and duty, that provides the tension in these stories rein- forces the opposition between romantic and traditional views of love. In fact, we might distinguish between three separate forces operating in these stories: romantic ("One person is everything to me"), traditional ("I have one person for sex and another for something else"), and biological (male: "I need to put my sperm in lots and lots of places"; female: "I need a male to stay and protect my young").

And a myth can subvert one pole of any of these oppositions for the other, temporarily or permanently. Thus, in the courtly literature of vari- ous cultures (such as medieval Bengal, Europe, and Japan), the anti-code becomes the code; adultery is endorsed, but so is marriage, often in the same myth. So, too, in the mystic traditions, social disorder (adultery) often leads to the disclosure of the sacred, but ultimately, as Max Weber demonstrated, these charismatic figures and moments are routinized in order to survive in society. Both the central ideal and the subversive ideal are expressed in the same story. Sometimes the story may begin with subversion but end by capitulating to the traditional paradigm; some- times the reverse. The myth, like the interpreter, walks a tightrope.

Most myths assume that one can assume the body of someone else in a masquerade without assuming the soul contained in that body. In certain versions of the Ramayana, it is said that Ravana cannot take the form of Rama in order to seduce Sita because if he did so he would get Rama's memory traces along with his form, and so he would stop being Ravana: "Someone said to Ravana, 'You are taking various magic forms in order to get Sita. Why don't you take the form of Rama sometime and then approach Sita?' Ravana said, 'When I think of Rama, how can I think of such a common thing as another man's wife! And so how can I take the form of Rama?"'46

46 Srisriramakrsnakathamrta1.181.

In a way, the emphasis on the physical identity of doubles is an argu- ment against the visual: it demonstrates that we are wrong to judge by appearances. When two people look alike, we are forced to distinguish between them by searching for more subtle, more profound, signs of identity. Thus, in more traditional versions of the myth of sexual doubles, such as the tale of the wife of the Sun and her shadow, all that binds the doubles together is their appearance; everything else-feelings, personality, voice-is different. But in the variants of the myth of sexual mas- querade where the wife masquerades as the harlot (the tale of Tamar, for instance), the person really is the same, but looks different. These are more than two variants on a theme; they are two very different ap- proaches to the problem of human identity-and divine identity.

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