The Haunted Vagina by Carlton Mellick III
Eraserhead Press, 2006
At the heart of this compelling tale (with its title and its cover image) is a fetish of the other—in this case, an Asian woman. Her promise is that she’s fun, simple, provocative and oh so cute. But there’s a twist. Her vagina is haunted. So the when the narrator, Steve, whose lack of variation allows us to assume he must be white, crawls inside her, he discovers a sad twisted world. To explain the situation to himself, he runs through a multitude of possible explanations (many of which are standard Sci-Fi scripts) before finally arriving at the correct one, the orientalist explanation:
Perhaps, a long time ago, in Asia, where Stacy [whose vagina we are in] was born, there was a village that had too many people but not enough food. Perhaps this situation went on for so long that evolution had to step in and do something about it. Perhaps a few mutant females were born, each containing fertile worlds in them. Worlds that many villagers can move into. Worlds that could sustain several villages. And all that would be needed is to feed and protect the female hosts of the worlds.
The weight of this passage is significant. In an otherwise playful book how does this serious sounding passage fit? If anything, the change in tone, with its undecided “perhaps,” leaves us with a stain that cannot be erased, one that is not definite enough to argue against. But in the absence of any other further explanation, we then proceed as though this explanation were enough.
Much of the book to this mid-point is mostly cute mundane normalcy, except for the text surrounding her vagina. But in the vagina, things turn upside down. Whereas only Stacy’s vagina was inexplicable, here Steve is the normal one and his beloved Stacy becomes an anchor, a theoretical point (as he never sees her again) when he clings to his thoughts of her in order to orient himself in this alien landscape.
But wait, like a Russian doll, not only is there another woman inside Stacy, this alien woman kidnaps Steve to keep him from leaving. This nameless woman changes him, seducing him through crazy pheromones he can’t handle. He transforms into one of her species, so much so that he eventually decides to stay and be with this other woman instead of Stacy whom he loves!
So let us unpack this situation. We find that inside this white-washed Asian woman with a honkey name is a super-exotic, super-erotic other woman (named Fig, an inhuman name), who pulls the white man into her world and indoctrinates him. Together they live inside the vagina having awesome, uncontrollable sex, frolicking naked, alone, in what otherwise is a devastated village devoid of people. Is that a happy ending? But we can tease out more here. So in the interest of completeness, what killed almost everyone else in this village?
Cancer (as Fig claims). Of course, a modern intrusion. But is that so fantastic about this intrusion being modern? Stacy was in fact an orphan, so when her family and village was otherwise destroyed (not just the one inside her, but also the one she was from), she was adopted by Americans…African Americans. So you can be sure she is still pure, uncorruptedly herself, untainted by white parents. She still gets to be other without being other. Her real world reality is a mystery, as Mellick writes, “Stacy was forever cut off from the truth.” So we too, are cut off from the truth, left to our own devices (or at least Steve’s devices) to decipher the truth of Stacy’s vaginal world.
An easy reading is to categorize this as a story of “yellow fever” as expressed by cynics who would claim that white men only want Asian women so as to dominate their culture. Expressed in Hollywood, many movies about the Asian world have a white man being more Asian than anyone else, winning the Asian woman, preserving the culture despite the modern capitalist machine destroying the native culture. Last Samurai comes especially to mind, as Tom Cruise comes to Japan as a westerner diseased by war, made whole by Japanese culture even as Japan tears itself apart with modern weaponry. Incidentally, this story has the same structure as The Haunted Vagina.
In a way, this story actually serves as a critique of yellow fever, turning stereotyping into tragedy. While Stacy ultimately decides this uniqueness is unimportant, Steve comes to an opposite conclusion. The setup is as follows: The specter of this vague Thai-ness, the ghost that haunts this ethnically pure Asian woman who is otherwise as American as any white American woman, is this horrendous other who competes with Stacy and wins. While Stacy has had other lovers before Steve, that ghostly voice attains its own identity to become a spectacle, an exotic treat that Stacy eventually dismisses as meaningless in order to get on with her life.
[Stacy] stayed in college until she was thirty, becoming somewhat a legend on campus. Near the end of her college years, she started going to goth parties and charging money to all the little goth boys and girls to listen to her vagina for a few minutes. There would be lines out the door to see her. Eventually, a rumor went around that it was all fake. She just had some kind of wireless speaker inside her playing tape-recorded noises. Nobody believed her after that. She was no longer dating any of the college kids, since they were all so young, so there was no one who had gotten intimate enough with her to back up her story. And she didn’t care to prove it to them. A few guys still paid to listen to her vagina, but once she realized they were just doing it to rub the sides of their heads between her legs, she stopped doing it completely.
It’s significant that she tries to monetize on this voice first, before she is rejected as being a liar and then treated as a sex object. But the fact that this voice comes from her vagina, and that she tries to profit from it, says more about what we should think about exotic natures than it does about her. After all, the book is fictional. She is constructed as the active party, so we project onto her and not onto the population of the campus, which serves as a neutral background. Even if Stacy stopped selling herself after realizing that she was prostituting herself, as an experience, she matches a meaningless detail about herself (something that just “happened to her,” she was born with) as meaningful only as a profit motive. This recalls how signifiers that have no signified, as we do not know the meaning of Fig inside of Stacy, that Fig may be a figment, reflects back to us the universal positions we impose on meaningless contingency. In other words, our first reaction to something unknown says more about us than it does about a given situation. It’s no joke, for example, this vagina madness started for Stacy in college (the place of miss-romance that serves as a back drop to the American spirit of extended childhood romantic-comedies):
[S]he ended up getting drunk and sleeping with some wannabe Beat poet English major. She warned him about having a haunted vagina, but that only turned him on. After they screwed, he said that it was the most amazing thing he’d done. They dated for a while, and he worshiped her vagina. He told all of his friends about her and even had them listen to the voices through her pants. All of them thought she was brilliant. She brought magic into their worlds. She was proof that their drunken philosophical discussions of rebellion against reality were somewhat correct. And when she got bored of her boyfriend, she moved on to one of his friends. And when she got bored with him, she would move on to another. All of them treated her like a goddess.
In this way we see that Stacy, who possesses an unexplainable phenomenon in the world, is a catalyst for freedom in meaning making. Stories are constructed from events that are chained. The relationship of these chains describes the limit of what can be acceptable qua real. These limits of acceptability are evidence of the transcendental limit of what is synthesizable, of what is always present, of what is universal. This forced experience of the limits of meaning come about because new experiences force us to organize the appearance of the new with the very structures we can’t see, because we “see” those structures all the time, in how they affect us and shape what is allowed. This is what Alain Badiou means when he calls being a “void,” that the acknowledgment of the void (that is otherwise omnipresent in its absence) allows these story worshipers their “drunken philosophical discussions of rebellion against reality” to create any story. The any story comes about because the vaginal voice is a null signifier, an unincorporable contingency, acting as a bare connector for any kind of connection to be made of it. Any derived story that links the vagina voice in a chain must always be “somewhat correct” because the novelty of that contingency is always undecidable . The vaginal voice, belonging to another world must always be incoherent in-itself, as that voice offers no legitimacy within this world for us to decide upon its place in this world. In other words, Stacy inadvertently gave these college kids the “philosopher’s stone,” in the sense that they can create reality with it. So it’s logical that they started to worship her as a goddess.
As an interesting segue as the desire to reform material reality through pure muster of semiotic thought, these philosophers do two things:
1) They show us what they think is important, either material access or cultural signification.
2) Making the most useless thing into the most useful thing at will demonstrates absolute control, that if you can make this leap in value you can make anyone do anything else.
This had the (un)surprising effect of proving that cultural signification is not as absolute as one might think. The rise of the age of Reason, which coincided with many philosophers seeking a material philosopher’s stone, sought to eliminate bad cultural signification. Ironically, the age of Reason first leads us to worship gold as pure value, before it is replaced by money and then fiat money. Money takes the place of the philosopher’s stone’s legendary ability to choose what reality we should live in, as capitalism becomes the vehicle to determine the kind of environment we collectively transform the earth. And in this sense, Mellick III is absolutely correct: having a mysterious contingency like a haunted vagina, if inexplicable enough, allows them an experience of the unnameable, one that is more valuable than cash, which is what Stacy did in college, until a lie spread up around her, normalizing that experience. Those English majors with their freedom of storytelling were basically getting high off of the indiscernible in Stacy’s vagina. This is starting to make Stacy sound like an actual prostitute, in the sense that she valued money the most, which fits us back into “yellow fever” stereotype because it blames an Asian women for being experienced as extra-sexual by the white man qua null subject. Null subjectivity is much like a “void” (in a quasi-Zizek way, devoid of being anything, even a subject) that allows us to access to the transcendental. When faced with a contingency that we have not encountered, we only experience that contingency through the structures of the transcendental. In other words, we realize a character through the unknown only via whatever features we happen to gleam, even if those features are arbitrary because our experience of the unknown is partial, incomplete and indiscernible. This is the nature of stereotyping – that we package others through generic characterization that relies heavily on whatever features we select.
So what is the modification of this stereotype of Stacy that allows us to jump from bizarre comedy to tragedy?
We might expect to dislike Stacy, but then we are pushed into feeling bad for her. What was maybe horror, or comedy: the ridiculous skeletons, the non-sequitur actions (that Stacy vores Steve because she wants to see where that skeleton that emerged out of her came from), and the unexplainable events and encounters, we suddenly have to feel for Stacy. When Steve tells Stacy he will stay, Stacy cuts off the phone, hurt and distraught (and jealous) that Steve would chose to stay, to love and be responsible for this Fig(ment), that by refusing to join her in the real world and just live comfortably in her vagina, Steve shows that he really only loved Stacy for her Asian identity.
In other words, Steve’s literal diving into Stacy’s vagina (also called vaginal vore in 4chan slang), and then being exposed to an inexplicable situation forces Steve to reveal the structures that already structure his own view of Stacy.
In the absence of any explanation, Steve fills us in about her history. Note that this history is only formed through the connection to her vagina, her mysterious being, has this Asian-ness that is so deformedly not even Asian anymore as to be alien, haunting her “subjectivity.” Like the English majors who got high off her mystery, Steve forms a convenient truth about Stacy, one that corners her without any input from her. Despite Steve’s constant lamentations that he loves Stacy, he still abandons her. Steve literally loves what he sees in her, the fantasy world he gets to have sustained by her vagina. Steve comes to love what Stacy is, which is another way of saying that he loves what Stacy is not. This negative love is expressed when he demonstrates that he doesn’t care about her. This final judgment ends the story, when he inevitably hurts Stacy as he gets away with hurting her as she has no recourse (effectively reducing Stacy into a crying voice over a dying cell phone, like the incoherent voice in her vagina that opened this story). The story then must end, in the sense that nothing will ever change from this point on. Steve realizes that not only can he can live in Stacy, in endless enjoyment in her vagina, but he can also continue ad infinitum in her daughter’s vagina and her daughter’s daughter’s vagina. In other words, Steve decides he can’t leave (with the excuse that he’s trapped in her daughter’s vagina) only when he simultaneously realizes that he can reap endless vaginal enjoyment. In this way, we come full circle. Via the meaningless mystery of Stacy’s vagina, Steve uses his fantasy to extract surplus enjoyment of Stacy’s vagina. While Fig is the little nothing that Stacy comes to dismiss as meaningless, we also come to witness the final placement: Steve is the other haunting Stacy’s vagina.
And perhaps that is the real horror: That we can have inanely structured experiences that are highly arbitrary, but no one will disbelieve them as long as things go as we like.