The Veiling of Homoerotic Desire in Roland Barthes' S/Z

Carrie Watterson

Balzac introduces Sarrasine as a child of "unusual turbulence," (S/Z, 91) yet Barthes seeks evidence of femininity even in the child's active pursuit of violent confrontation. Sarrasine's predeliction for fighting is only a small part of his willful rebellion against the constraints of his Jesuit education: he brings about his own expulsion through repeated overt acts of blasphemy. Yet, in these instances, Barthes draws attention away from Sarrasine's active and often transgressive behavior. Barthes places Sarrasine in the passive position in relation to the castrating Bouchardon by explicitly disregarding Sarrasine's complicity to channelling his transgressive and sexual energy into his art.* Barthes' placement of Sarrasine on the passive pole of his castration axis is absurd given his active pursuit of Zambinella, his attempted rape of her, and his successful kidnapping. He actively maintains his psychological state of denial through repeatedly silencing Zambinella's attempts to reveal the truth and by maintaining a state of denial over Zambinella's castration after he has been told everything. He is not the passive pawn of a maniacal plot: Zambinella desperately wishes that the charade would end from the very beginning and repeatedly attempts to discourage him. Even while Barthes comments on the action of the hero, he maintains his own blindness to the flaw in his categorization of his passivity: these active and the rather ponderous effort required on the part of Sarrasine to maintain the fantasy do not cause Barthes to qualify his passivity, as he does with Zambinella and Mme de Rochefide.

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