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

Carrie Watterson

Continually undressing his model, the sculptor Sarrasine anticipates Freud, who (apropos of Leonardo) identifies sculpture with analysis: each is a via di levare, or clearing away. Returning to a gesture of his childhood (he whittled the pews in order to carve clumsy figures), the sculptor tears off La Zambinella's veils to get at what he believes to be the truth about her body; for his part, the subject Sarrasine, through repeated snares, proceeds ineluctably toward the real condition of the castrato, the void which is his center. This dual movement is that of the realist ambiguity. The Sarrasinean artist tries to undress appearance, tries always to get beyond, behind, according to the idealistic principle which identifies secrecy with truth: one must thus go into the model, beneath the statue, behind the canvas. . . . This impulse, which leads Sarrasine, the realistic artist, and the critic to turn over the model, the statue, the canvas, or the text in order to examine its back, its interior, leads to a failure­to Failure­of which Sarrasine is in a way the emblem: behind the canvas Fenhofer envisions there is still nothing but its surface, scribbled lines, an abstract, undecipherable writing, the unknown (unknowable) masterpiece which the inspired painter ends up with and which is in fact the signal of his death: beneath La Zambinella (and therefore inside her statue) there is the nothingness of castration, of which Sarrasine will die after having destroyed in his illusory statue the evidence of his failure: the envelope of things cannot be authenticated, the dilatory movement of the signifier cannot be stopped. (S/Z, 122-123)

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