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

Carrie Watterson

Barthes is not, however, necessarily mistaken in his identification of the process of castration being played out within the character of Sarrasine; he is only mistaken in his understanding of the process. Sarrasine's castration is not manifest in his sexual failures per se, but in the ultimate failure of his infantile and impossible desire for female perfection. Barthes appears to mistake his own aversion for the taboo of physical castration as sexual transgression in the extreme for a philosophically defensible position. Zambinella serves as the moment that Sarrasine is forced to recognize the impossibility of dyadic union with the perfect eidos of Woman. Sarrasine was not castrated by Bouchardon's overprotectiveness; he rejected a sexual liaison with a mortal woman (Clotilde) in preference for the artistic ideal constructed within the sphere of the imaginary, a composite of perfect parts but not accessible as a whole woman in the realm of reality. Barthes recognizes Sarrasine's fragmented construction of Zambinella into an image of imagined perfection, but fails to connect this fact to Sarrasine's failure to resolve his psychological castration. Sarrasine is unable to accept desire as absence or the infinite meaning of the signifier; he cannot face the writerly work necessary to uncover beauty in imperfect humanity. He, therefore, accepts his death without conflict or regret.

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