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Ethos

A Melanesian Pygmalion: Masculine Creativity and Symbolic Castration in a Postcolonial Backwater

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Abstract

Abstract In the early 1990s, a piece of folk theater was created by a Sepik male cult. A kind of Melanesian Pygmalion story, the new show brought a beautiful woman to life, a woman who answered the desire of which “her” creator had been deprived. Like Pygmalion's woman, “she” acknowledged her creator's emasculation while celebrating the enduring spectacle of “his” art. The new show exemplified that in the Sepik, some marginalized, or subaltern, men were imagining their gender around a void that I argue took the symbolic shape of the Lacanian signifier, a castrated phallus. Attachment to waning enchantments of, and entitlements afforded by, precapitalist masculinities, and the diffidence this attachment entailed about modernity, precipitated an ambivalent subject. Men longed for their signifying virility, mostly lost, but never really possessed in the first place, by inventing objects of desire. These objects simulated the continued presence of the symbol of their wounded masculinity, a symbol whose meanings were contradictory. The objects embodied disaffection and disconnection from modernity as well as a pleasure men took from what they created. “Woyon's Mother” was a mode of masculine creativity that constituted one-half of an ambivalent answer to postcolonial modernity in Papua New Guinea. [creativity, masculinity, Lacan, postcolonial Papua New Guinea, Sepik, Murik]

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