Artist: Jules Eugene Lenepveu
Photo: K. Carr, taken at the Pantheon, Paris.
Next her fall did not cease accelerating, reaching the bottom of abjection’s crucible: that stake and that charred carcass before the obscene gaze of the populace. It was level zero, where a benign transmutation was to begin…From then on, her glory would of course burst forth.
Michel Tournier, Gilles et Jeanne
What constitutes heroics in our time? In metamodernist terms, heroes and their works are conflated with the categories that validate them, which vary widely, dependent on cultural locus. One person’s hero is another’s terrorist. As globalization expands, the “world” seems smaller; our collective cultural heroes are harder to define in expanding and technologically enhanced virtual arenas. Who makes us (as a collective culture) feel saved? History indicates that our most potent fellow humans with the power to convert, aid, inspire and figuratively or literally save are also targets of hatred and misunderstanding; sometimes they are imprisoned or executed to save us from the cusp of real change. Their respective mythologies can be manipulated to represent almost anyone or anything. Duality, imbued in human nature, is at the heart of this paradox. I return to Donna Haraway’s sociopolitical myth of the cyborg, to relate a story about a teenage girl who was a visionary and soldier; who was executed as a heretic and apostate; later exonerated, beatified, and made the patron saint of France. Joan of Arc is very much a national hero. She is also my hero, her presence vining spectrally around the periphery of, occasionally entering visibly, my visual and written work.
The copious trial transcripts provide a better sketch of Joan than nearly any other individual in the early part of the fifteenth century, and yet the distortions in translation across languages, cultures and eras (not to mention the agendas of historians) leave us with an altered image. Cinematic interpretations, and other fine art renderings visually and narratively augment our perception of the maid from Domremy. There are no visual reproductions of her from her own time except for one margin drawing by a scribe who never actually saw her. She is represented as a composite, a hybrid of description, imagination and interpretation. Haraway posits that “by the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism: in short, we are cyborgs.” Joan of Arc was prophesied to come forth from the Bois Chenu and save France. This prophecy, widely known when she was a child, could have influenced her “voices” that insisted upon her remaining a virgin, resulting in her first ecclesiastical trial at age 13. At seventeen, she is instructed by her voices, presumed to be saints, to cut her hair, dress as a man, and seek an army from king-in-waiting Charles VII. She is gender contradiction, at a time when gender anomalies could be construed as criminal. In fact, or so the records indicate, she was not yet menstruating, but was reported (by her page) to have a well-formed female body. It could be argued she embodied a certain gender ambiguity. I would like to argue further that Joan is a predecessor of the myth of cyborg: a medieval cyborg, a cyborg hero(ine).
My reasons for this argument are practical as well as metaphoric. Practically speaking, Joan re-imaged as proto-feminist, doesn’t quite work until it is superimposed there by dint of contextualization. The primary sources from which all accounts of Joan are based (her court transcripts) do not indicate an interest in promoting women as soldiers, warriors, or any other position of authority. She was on a mission from God to save France. The scholars and theorists writing about Joan today are reluctant to suggest that Joan might actually have been directed by voices of angels for the higher purpose of representing a heroic proto-feminist that women could preserve as an example of strength and bravery. In my adaptation of the cyborg myth, divine intervention via time travel is as likely as Joan conversant with the saints. In a metaphoric sense, the hybrid, irreverent and speculative modes of the cyborg need Joan as a predecessor. If, as Haraway asserts, “Michel Foucault’s biopolitics is a flaccid premonition of cyborg politics,” then Joan is the un-sexed gender (de)constructed hero of the cyborg myth.
My interest in Joan is multifaceted. Joan spoke to me in Rouen and told me to make art about her. This heretical claim is beyond the reach of the legal system in contemporary Western society; rather, it provides a means of “borderlinking” with Joan. I have always had deep abiding interest, as an artist and scholar, in the sacred and profane, feminist metaphysics, gender constructions, and murdered girls. I am very much against
mal-aligned power structures, patriarchal constructs, historical and contemporary exploitations of power disequilibrium. I am intrigued by psychoanalyst/writer/artist Bracha Ettinger’s idea of “matrixial borderspace” and how an individual’s borderspace can be transgressed, transmuted and shared. In Ettinger’s exploratory writings on trauma and identity, coupled with her accompanying visual work based on blurred processes and linked writings and memory, she suggests a link may be forged across cultures and boundaries of time, reintroducing a sense of (dys)corporeality into theories about art and meaning. The significance of Joan, to me, is a link between the cyborg and the spiritual, a link that transcends time. The armor plated yet vulnerable soldier, the gentle, sexless shepherdess-cum-warrior on a killing mission for God. This fusion of blind obedience (to one’s inner voices despite societal norms or standards) and doubt constitutes a hybrid mind, the kind a cyborg might have.
The armor Joan wore is a touchstone of cyborgian identity. Her attire was necessary to her mission, and yet, central to the charges leveled against her. Transvestism was not a serious crime, though it was cited in the bible as being offensive to God; but the fact of her rebellious mode of dress was a way for her judges to associate her wearing of men’s clothing with the angelic voices that commanded her, thus linking her to idolatry.
The cropping of her hair and donning of masculine attire took place prior to seeking audience with Charles VII, so later images of Joan with flowing hair and gown under a breastplate of armor is a fabrication, perhaps stimulated by male fantasies of allowable female power. However, she did not attempt to disguise that she was a woman, and at no time represented herself as a man. Ambiguously gendered perhaps, by design or by nature, but not in denial about the facts of her sex. Cruelly, Joan’s burning at the stake was halted, so the crowd could see that she was a “real” woman, and this final posthumous humiliation, so unnecessary and vicious, is redemptive in the eyes of her judges:
The moment of revealing Joan’s sex (in every sense), let us repeat, serves to assert to the crowd that the mystery of the woman, like that of the devil himself, will always let down its veil, reveal its disguise, once the church has reimposed psychic as well as social order.
Interesting to note that Joan’s contemporary and fellow soldier at Orleans, Gilles de Rais, a self-confessed mass murderer and torturer of children, as well as devil-worshiper and heretic was also burned at the stake. Rais was burned only superficially then removed from the fire before it could disfigure his body, and buried in hallowed ground. Class and wealth can explain this shocking double standard, but further, he did not threaten the church with claims of divine congress. A claim to divine access (by a woman, especially) could unravel the very seams the church patriarchy had sewn so tightly.
In the end, the church elders and Joan’s secular executioners could not kill her, because like a cyborg phoenix, she lives on with “historical resiliency,” as Emily Apter has pointed out in her chapter on Joan of Arc, where she discusses Joan’s “monstrous subjectivity” and her “feminized ego revealed in all its psychic armor.” She is a modern, mechanized feminist icon. Haraway writes, “there are …great riches for feminists in explicitly embracing the possibilities inherent in the breakdown of clean distinctions between organism and machine and similar distinctions structuring the Western self.” Joan was a conduit between corporeal and spiritual planes, in bodily transmission with agents of divinity. If Joan can be experienced across time through introspection and identity, the shared trauma has transformative powers. As Haraway looks to two particular sources of material to imagine further configurations of a “potentially helpful cyborg myth,” I am trying to envision a cyborg built from a subjective archetypal feminist hero in conjunction with the languages of art-making: verbal, non-verbal, but in realms of feminine borderspace, the intuitive place of subliminal fire.
 Tournier’s fictional passage used as an epigraph for chapter six, “Father, Can’t You See I’m Burning?” in Francoise Meltzer’s For Fear of the Fire: Joan of Arc and the Limits of Subjectivity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), p 213.
 Some notable examples, political and religious: Jesus of Nazareth, Robert Kennedy, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Phoenician princess Jezebel, Martin Luther King, Baha’u’llah, Jean-Paul Marat.
 On the primary source documents, Francoise Meltzer states “The [Guillaume Manchon] manuscript has numerous inaccuracies: most of the original French, jotted down by the scribe, had been thought lost, and much of the Latin translation is fragmented or inaccurate.” Until the 1950’s, when scholars studied the alternate Orleans transcript, testimony, including that used in her canonization, was “a combination of fragments of the Latin and French.” Francoise Meltzer, For Fear of the Fire: Joan of Arc and the Limits of Subjectivity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), p.119-120.
 Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” from Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), p150.
 Deborah Fraioli, “The Literary Image of Joan of Arc: Prior Influences,” Speculum 56 (1981) 81 1-30.
 Henry Ansgar Kelly, “Joan of Arc’s Last Trial: The Attack of the Devil’s Advocates,” in Bonnie Wheeler and Charles T. Wood, eds., Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc (new York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1996), p 205.
 Jean II, duc d’ Alencon, in spite of claiming no “carnal desire” for Joan, thought her breasts to be “beautiful,” from “Transvestism and Idolatry,” Wheeler, Wood, eds., Fresh Verdicts, p 51. This information was originally culled from Regine Pernoud’s The Retrial of Joan of Arc: The Evidence at the Trial for Her Rehabilitation.
 Haraway, 150.
 I am citing this passage in the forward of Bracha Ettinger’s The Matrixial Borderspace, written by Judith Butler, to illustrate the kind of pre-linguistic borderspace at which I could know on a psychic level, Joan of Arc: “We have to ask about historical losses, the ones that are transmitted to us without our knowing, at a level where we cannot hope to piece it together, where we are, at a psychic level, left in pieces, pieces that might be linked together in some way, but will not fully “bind” the affect. This is part of the work of borderlinking that Bracha writes about, and it is, in her view, prior to identity, prior to any question of construction, a psychic landscape that gives itself as partial object, as grains and crumbs, as [Bracha] puts it, as remnants that are, on the one hand, the result, the scattered effects of an unknowable history of trauma that others that precede us have lived through and, on the other hand, the very sites in which a new possibility for visual experience emerges,…from the scattered and animated remains of a continuing, though not continuous, trauma.” Bracha Ettinger, The Matrixial Borderspace (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), p. ix
 Ettinger writes: “When metramorphosing with the artwork, you may unexpectedly find yourself in proximity to an event, as if you had always been potentially sliding on its margins. You are threatened by this potential proximity, yet at the same time compelled by a mysterious “promise of happiness” (Nietzsche’s description of beauty) offered by the encounter, a promise to refind in jointness what had faded away and been dispersed, but on the condition of accepting matrixial vulnerability to the non-I, since your own desire is the effect of borderlinking to others’ trauma…The artwork extricates the trauma of the matrixial other from its time-less-ness and integrates it into the lines of a matrixial time. The beauty effect conveyed by a matrixial gaze allows the wit(h)nessing of with-in nonvisible events to emerge inside the field of vision and transform you.” Ettinger, The Matrixial Borderspace, p.148.
 Ettinger, 192-4.
 I am referring specifically to doubts at the close of her trial, causing her to temporarily denounce her claims to direct correspondence with saints and angels, and sign a recantation. Her reversal and subsequent male dress caused a fourth charge to be levied against her: relapsa, or relapsed idolater. See: Meltzer, For Fear of the Fire,188-9.
 Deuteronomy 22:5.
 Susan Schibanoff does a thorough job of explaining the subtleties of why and how Joan’s judges were able to distort the information so that her cross-dressing became a manifestation of idolatry. See “Transvestism and Idolatry” in Wheeler, Wood ed., Fresh Verdicts, p. 46-7.
 For discussion of Joan’s suspected amenorrhea, see Marina Warner’s Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism (New York: Knopf Publishing, 1981), p 19-21.
 Meltzer, 206.
 Meltzer, 186.
 Emily Apter, Continental Drift: From National Characters to Virtual Subjects (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), p. 46. Accessed first as a reference in Melzer’s chapter, “Fear of Fire: Death and the Impossible,” in For Fear of the Fire, p. 206.
 Haraway, 174.
 Susan Schibanoff quotes articles from Joan’s trial transcripts in “Transvestism and Idolatry” in Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc: “St. Catherine and St. Margaret have appeared to the said woman who saw them in the flesh. And every day she sees them and hears their speech; and, when she embraces and kisses them, she touches them and feels them physically. She has seen, not only the heads of the said angels and the saints, but other parts of their bodies, whereof she has chosen not to speak. [Joan] has uncovered, knelt and kissed the ground where they walked, and has consecrated her virginity to St. Catherine and to St. Margaret, when she embraced and saluted them. And she has touched them bodily and felt them…” The author cites the translation of W.P. Barrett, The Trial of Jeanne d’Arc.
 Ibid, 174. In Haraway’s case, she is fusing “constructions of women of color and monstrous selves in feminist science fiction.”
Apter, Emily. Continental Drift: From National Characters to Virtual Subjects. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.
Ettinger, Bracha, The Matrixial Borderspace (Theory Out of Bounds). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. Print.
Friaoli, Deborah, “The Literary Image of Joan of Arc: Prior Influences,” Speculum 56 (1981) 81 1-30. Print.
Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print.
Meltzer, Francoise, For Fear of the Fire: Joan of Arc and the Limits of Subjectivity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. Print.
Warner, Marina, Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism. New York: Knopf Publishing, 1991. Print.
Wheeler, Bonnie and Wood, Charles T., eds. Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc. New York: Garland Publishing Co., 1996. Print.