Lot's Daughters: Sex, Redemption, and Women's Quest for Authority

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“Neither cultural study nor literary criticism exactly, though bursting at the seams with both, this daring book comes across as a literary criticism of culture, brilliantly retelling one of the deep, untameable stories of those primal transgressions that form and deform us. In a rolling novelistic voice of its own, it narrates a tale of intergenerational desire incestuously conceived by the brain of the Hebrew scripture upon the unconscious body politic of western familial order-only to be passed down centuries later through the revelatory

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Overview

“Neither cultural study nor literary criticism exactly, though bursting at the seams with both, this daring book comes across as a literary criticism of culture, brilliantly retelling one of the deep, untameable stories of those primal transgressions that form and deform us. In a rolling novelistic voice of its own, it narrates a tale of intergenerational desire incestuously conceived by the brain of the Hebrew scripture upon the unconscious body politic of western familial order-only to be passed down centuries later through the revelatory glosses a Joycean Victorianist with a neo-Darwinian sense of evolving possibilities for human need, in particular for the release of the woman from within the law of the father and its violated taboos. The author of Comic Faith and Erotic Faith carries us this time from Lear's heath to Clinton's Oval Office, and across the media of painting and film as well as print, in a gripping episodic testament of broken faith, violated psychic contracts, and redeemed filial chances. Archetype, parable, syndrome, paradigm, you name it, but in any case haunting us still, the Lot Complex is tracked into modernity, with exhibits from Austen to Woody Allen, in an arresting narratology of human desire itself. By any measure, a sweeping achievement.”—Garrett Stewart, University of Iowa
“In this wise, humane, passionately argued and eloquently written book, Robert Polhemus uncovers the incestuous father-daughter "Lot complex" at the core of western Judaic-Christian culture. Ranging from the Bible to Freud to Woody Allen, from Shakespeare to Mary Shelley to Lolita, from the Brontes to Shirley Temple to Bill Clinton, Polhemus persuasively argues that Lot's daughters have been transformed over time. They should be seen, not as the victims of patriarchy, but as the procreators of an increasingly powerful ‘daughterland.’ This is a book that every father, every daughter, should read.”—Anne K. Mellor,Professor of English and Women's Studies, UCLA

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Neither cultural study nor literary criticism exactly, though bursting at the seams with both, this daring book comes across as a literary criticism of culture, brilliantly retelling one of the deep, untameable stories of those primal transgressions that form and deform us. In a rolling novelistic voice of its own, it narrates a tale of intergenerational desire incestuously conceived by the brain of the Hebrew scripture upon the unconscious body politic of western familial order-only to be passed down centuries later through the revelatory glosses a Joycean Victorianist with a neo-Darwinian sense of evolving possibilities for human need, in particular for the release of the woman from within the law of the father and its violated taboos. The author of Comic Faith and Erotic Faith carries us this time from Lear's heath to Clinton's Oval Office, and across the media of painting and film as well as print, in a gripping episodic testament of broken faith, violated psychic contracts, and redeemed filial chances. Archetype, parable, syndrome, paradigm, you name it, but in any case haunting us still, the Lot Complex is tracked into modernity, with exhibits from Austen to Woody Allen, in an arresting narratology of human desire itself. By any measure, a sweeping achievement."—Garrett Stewart, University of Iowa

"In this wise, humane, passionately argued and eloquently written book, Robert Polhemus uncovers the incestuous father-daughter "Lot complex" at the core of western Judaic-Christian culture. Ranging from the Bible to Freud to Woody Allen, from Shakespeare to Mary Shelley to Lolita, from the Brontes to Shirley Temple to Bill Clinton, Polhemus persuasively argues that Lot's daughters have been transformed over time. They should be seen, not as the victims of patriarchy, but as the procreators of an increasingly powerful 'daughterland.' This is a book that every father, every daughter, should read."—Anne K. Mellor,Professor of English and Women's Studies, UCLA

"We know the reason powerful men hook up with younger women: because they can. But in his dazzling new book, Rob Polhemus asks a far more provocative and unnerving question: what do young women want from older men? Linking the Bible and the Brontes, Lewis Carroll and Chelsea Clinton, Shirley Temple and Linda Tripp, Lot's Daughters explores timeless territory with a new and spellbinding map."—Regina Barreca, Professor of English Literature and Feminist Theory, University of Connecticut. Author of They Used To Call Me Snow White But I Drifted and co-author of I'm With Stupid: One Man, One Woman, and 10,000 years of Misunderstandings
Between the Sexes Cleared Right Up
.

"Traipsing through so many field of inquiry allows Pohemus to find Lot's daughters at the core of modern consciousness' . . . . Though dense and rigorous, Polhemus's book is quite lively: general readers with an interest in any of the figures discussed will be intrigued."—Publishers Weekly

"Lot's Daughters is not (or not merely) an academic unpacking of text. Its material includes paintings and movies and scandals—an exciting array of opportunities, from Midrash to Monicagate, each offering an answer to the eternal, critical question: what do you young women want?"— New York Times Book Review

Kathryn Harrison
Lot's Daughters raises consciousness of a permanent and morally ambiguous fact of life. Reading Polhemus will make it difficult to enjoy a novel, watch television or follow the lives in People magazine without remembering the complex he identifies. He's that rare teacher whose class you don't cut because what you get isn't information but an essential way of seeing the world around you.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Before Humbert had his Lolita, Lot had his daughters. In this provocative volume, Polhemus, chair of Stanford's English department, uses the "disreputable Bible story of father-daughter incest" as a lens to understand family and gender relations through the centuries. He casts a wide net over literature (Joyce and Shakespeare), art (Durer and Rubens), psychology (Freud and his famous study of Dora), show business (Shirley Temple and Woody Allen) and politics (Bill and Monica) to argue that the power dynamic between younger women and older men-"in which daughters fall in love with their father's lives and older men are tempted by the intoxicating power and promise of youth"-is integral to our society. Traipsing through so many fields of inquiry allows Polhemus (Erotic Faith) to find Lot's daughters "at the core of modern life and consciousness": a "Lottish spectre of incest" haunts Charlotte Bront 's Jane Eyre, for example, while Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives puts it all out in the open (it concerns a man having a secret affair with a 20-year-old and was made while Allen was himself having a secret affair with his then wife's adopted daughter). Though dense and rigorous, Polhemus's book is also quite lively: general readers with an interest in any of the figures discussed will be intrigued, and if the book beats its singular note a bit too long, it does so cleanly and fervently. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Polhemus (humanities, Stanford Univ.; Erotic Faith: Being in Love from Jane Austen to D.H. Lawrence) takes the incestuous biblical tale of Lot and his daughters and creates a theory he calls the Lot Complex. The complex describes the mutual attraction between older men and younger women and the relationship between fathers and daughters. Polhemus thus shows how an ancient myth is perpetuated in social history and popular culture. Using literature (Shakespeare, Austen), classical art (Durer, Rubens), Freudian theory, and contemporary figures such as Shirley Temple, Woody Allen, and Mia Farrow, Polhemus shows the Lot Complex at work. He also shows that this complex has changed over the last two centuries as women have become empowered and the older male is no longer women's only venue to power. The most interesting chapter traces the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal through the prism of the complex. Though original, this book is somewhat obtuse as it is grounded primarily in literary criticism instead of a purely sociological perspective. An optional purchase for public libraries but recommended for academic libraries, particularly with a women's studies or women's literature collection.-Cathy Carpenter, Georgia Inst. of Technology, Atlanta Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804750516
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 1/3/2005
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 456
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert M. Polhemus is Chair of the English Department and Joseph S. Atha Professor in Humanities at Stanford University.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction : the Lot complex 1
Pt. I The heritage of Lot and his daughters
2 Telling examples : the growing authority of Lot's daughters 21
3 Faithful interpretations : Lot and his daughters from the Bible to the reformation 48
4 A family museum : visions of Lot and his daughters 72
5 Embracing the daughter : the riddle of Lot, Shakespeare, and the English heritage 90
Pt. II Generating and representing modern daughters of Lot
6 Reflections from the cave : Jane Austen's 'Mansfield Park' and Mary Shelley's 'Mathilda' 113
7 The cave and the mask : the Brontes 141
8 The maiden tribute : Lot's daughters through the Victorian looking-glass 197
9 The Lot of Freud and Dora 217
10 Shirley Temple : the daughter as childstar 253
11 Woody Allen and Mia Farrow : Lot in the era of deconstruction 281
Pt. III Lot's daughters at the millennium : Potomac testaments
12 Complex darkness : Carolivia Herron and 'thereafter Johnnie' 343
13 The impeachment of Lot : the Clintons, Lewinsky, and Tripp 368
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First Chapter

lot's daughters

sex, redemption, and women's quest for authority
By Robert M. Polhemus

STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2005 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8047-5051-3


Chapter One

Introduction

THE LOT COMPLEX

Now follows the text about Lot and his daughters. It perplexes both the Jews and our own people, and causes them to ask many questions. Our fathers generally passed it over, either because they were hindered by other endeavors or because God so directed it. -Martin Luther

I. Back to the Source

Let me begin by reviewing the shocking old story that haunts modern life and literature and has worked to make us what we are.

To seek his own good and avoid family strife, an ambitious young owner of herds heeds the advice of his wise uncle, a heaven-blessed nomad leader, that they part. The nephew heads for fertile country and moves into a rich city. God-fearing, well-meaning, but worldly-a compromiser-he dwells and prospers with his wife and daughters among wicked men in a thriving but doomed community. Meanwhile, the aged uncle is visited by divine messengers who tell him, first, that his barren old wife will miraculously conceive a child, and, second, that God means to destroy the bad city where his nephew dwells. The uncle, however, thinking of his relative, pleads and bargains with God to sparethe place.

Two angels, posing as men, do come to observe the nephew's city, notorious for its evil ways. He rushes to welcome them, bowing and scraping, and presses them to take shelter, knowing that the men of the town, wild for "strange flesh," will try to ravish the visitors.

He is right. A violent horde masses around his house. The townsmen demand that he give up the two strangers so that they can know and use them. Frantic, terrified, believing his sacred duty to God requires him to defend his guests, he improvises a desperate plan. Wheedling, he calls the men "brothers" and tells them if they leave his two guests alone, he'll give them his own daughters to use sexually. Caught up in choosing what he sees as the lesser of evils, he opts to sacrifice his own female flesh and blood, and he chooses, for God's sake, the safety of his visitors and his sacred duty of hospitality over the life of his girls.

But the townsmen scream that he has no right at all to tell them what to do; they mean to break into his house, do what they want-rob, rape, or kill whomever they like. Then they maul him and try to force entrance. At this point, the two archangels reveal their power, rescue their host, pull him inside, and blind the men of the crowd, leaving them outside, stunned and groping to get in. God, the angels say, has now passed judgment and will obliterate the place. They tell the man to take his family and get out right away. He tries to rouse his prospective sons-in-law, but they laugh, doubt his story, and think him ridiculous. In the morning, the two divine visitors tell the man again to hurry up and take his wife and daughters and flee. The man delays, but the angels grab him and the three women and whisk them out of the city. The voice of the Lord tells them to escape for their lives, head for the hills, and under no circumstances look back.

Soon God unleashes a rain of fire that burns up their former home, the people in it, and all the surrounding cities and land. The man and his daughters are spared, but his wife disobeys the command, look backs at the searing destruction, and then hardens into a pillar of salt-a bitter monument of death. She becomes a part of the suddenly arid, dead landscape-female flesh turned into a geological fossil.

Perspective switches momentarily to the righteous uncle. This patriarch-safe and removed-gazes out from high ground, watching the whole plain and its cities go up in smoke. His survival casts irony over all that follows. The nephew and his daughters have no idea that anyone else survives the holocaust.

Surrounded by ruin and horror, the man and the two girls, desperate refugees, flee to the mountains where they find a cave to live in. In flat contrast to their final hours in the city, when, in a panic, their father treated them as sex objects to trade, the young women now become decisive, action-taking subjects; it's their father who becomes a thing to manipulate. The daughters look to the future. Thinking the rest of humanity has been obliterated, the elder conspires with the younger to save the race. Their father is old, she says, and there are no other men left to mate with. It's up to them to begin repopulating the world by seducing him-to "preserve the seed of our father," she says.

But that means incest. Together, it seems, they must take responsibility for species survival by breaking the law and mating with their sire. The situation between father and daughters is completely reversed from what it was in town. Then he sought to dispose of their sexuality to preserve life. Now, they seek to control and manage his sexuality for what they determine to be the general good, no matter what he thinks or wills. The plotting older daughter assumes that the incest taboo is so powerful that their father would not rationally choose to have sex with them. Therefore they must overwhelm his inhibitions. On successive evenings, they ply him with wine, get him drunk, and then each-the older on the first night, the younger on the second-lies down naked in the cave with the oblivious man. They both get pregnant by him and have sons from whom two peoples spring (people destined to be scorned by the uncle's seed). That's the tale. After two nights of drunkenness and venery, nothing more is ever heard of the father, nor, after they give birth, of his daughters.

The story, of course, is scriptural-mainly from Genesis. The man is Lot, that morally equivocal, bumbling, God-struck, put-upon, incestuous founding father-the patriarch, so to speak, in the closet (more precisely, in the cave). The uncle is Abraham, whose wife becomes the postmenopausal mother, Sarah; the petrified, nameless woman of salt is Lot's wife; the city is Sodom; the crowd of men are Sodomites; the punishment-like the punishment of Hell-is fire and brimstone; the once-fertile land is the land of the Dead Sea (also known as the Sea of Lot); and the conspiring, incestuous girls are Lot's daughters, whose respective issues are the Moabites and the Ammonites-nations alien to Israel. But scriptural history makes the elder daughter the mother of Moab, and thus the ancestor of the virtuous Moabite daughter Ruth, whose canonized Book of Ruth shows how the sexual relationship between a father-figure and a younger woman can be redeemed, legitimized, and blessed. From Ruth eventually descends the great poet-king David, the wise Solomon, the House of David, and, hence, in the Christian Bible, the genealogy, family, and holy figure of Jesus Christ, the incarnated Word. Thus the scandalous Lot family may be seen not only as figures representing the disreputable history of heathen, marginal peoples-outsiders, others-and the repressed incestuous history of human civilization and its origins, but also as the indispensable generating agents of female subjectivity, the integration of peoples, catholic sensibility, moral redemption, and even of Holy Scripture itself.

II. Defining the Lot Complex and Disovering its History

Stories as well as people have their biographies, and it's the vibrant life of the Lot's daughters narrative I want to tell. In it, I find the origins of what I call the "Lot complex," a dynamic configuration of wishes, sexual fantasies, fears, and symbolic imagery that has worked to form generational relationships and structure personality, gender identity, religious faith, and social organization. By the term "complex," I mean a convergence and drastic condensation in human psychology of personal and social experience, images, drives, motives, and impulses that can be seen both to form and represent a pattern. A "complex"-as I use and define the term-is constituted out of the interaction between members of different generations and the history of adult-child relationships. As an organized and organizing group of ideas, memories, and powerful unconscious feelings, a complex serves to shape the psyche-its emotions, attitudes, and behavior. I don't claim that the Lot complex is universal, but I do argue that, given the similarity of certain historical, psychological, and biological conditions, it is general and prevalent, and I contend that in modern times especially, the evolving Lot story permeates imaginative life.

The Lot complex, as I read it in nineteenth- and twentieth-century culture, features the drive or compulsion to preserve, adapt, and/or expropriate the traditional paternal power to sustain, regenerate, define, represent, and transmit life and civilization-the patriarchal seed of culture in history. It thus plays a central part in the high drama of the change in the status of women and the liberation of female aspirations. Future-oriented, Lot expresses the agonizing demand to sacrifice the past, as you can read in Jesus's famous command, "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32)-the succinct biblical verse that popularized Lot and the Lot complex in the minds of millions. "Remember Lot's wife," an oxymoronic command, means you must give up the past with its memories to which you are wed-the past which has mothered you-and make yourself ready, under any circumstances, to give birth to the future. "Remember Lot's wife" is an injunction to look to the past so that you will not look to the past, but forward. It offers a logical contradiction, a "double bind"-always remember to forget-and makes the ability to accept and live with that contradiction the key to the preservation and flourishing of humanity.

In Lot the father-daughter relationship becomes indispensable in the making and preservation of culture, but Lot, with its image of young females conspiring to take power and act also contains the seeds for transforming that patriarchal culture. The Lot story includes wish-fulfilling symbolic projections, unconscious longings, resentments, fears, rationalizing defense mechanisms, conflicts, and transgressions of both fathers and daughters-of both women and men.

It's a perplexing myth whose meanings have always been contested. Why is this incest canonized in Scripture? What impact has it had on human consciousness? How does it work on people? Did Lot and his daughters do right or wrong? Readers from the beginning have wondered about it and differed. Full of ambivalence and irony, the problematic Lot-Scripture often gets repressed in religious history, but, like the repressed, it always returns-old wine in new vessels.

What you can see figured in Lot are desires that shake the world: the desire for immortality through progeny; the desire to continue life under any conditions; the desire for sexual pleasure without guilt or responsibility; the desire of women to control the action of men to whom they traditionally have been subject and take an active role in determining fate and history; the desire of men to preserve themselves, conquer time, remain potent, and keep on wooing the future.

My subject, therefore, turns out to be a very large one, but my approach and the structure of this book are quite simple. In Part I, Chapters 2-5, I identify and lay out the rich heritage of this biblical narrative of incest, with its major historical and cultural implications. In Part II, I look closely at some important, representative modern daughters of Lot-both real and fictional-and the male figures whose relationships with them generate conceptions of the way we live now and might in the future. There, in Chapters 6-11, I discuss the lives and significant Lot stories of Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Lewis Carroll and William Stead, Sigmund Freud and his "Dora," Shirley Temple, and Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. In Part III, the concluding section, I end with two recent, substantial Lot's-daughters narratives set in the modern Mecca of power, Washington, D.C. These Potomac testaments, one by the African-American writer Carolivia Herron and one featuring Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp, and Chelsea and Hillary Clinton, make clear the full power-personal, political, and global power-that the evolving Lot complex still holds in the imagination of the world at the turn of the century.

Overall my main aims are (1) to stress the comparatively underestimated importance of father-daughter, older male-younger female relationships in history, particularly in the last two centuries of developing female ambition and progress for women; (2) to explore, as a test case, the complex ways that an important literary text from the past goes on living in social history and popular culture by showing how the effects and aesthetic processes of Lot over time can and do work on the human imagination-how, that is, a specific, written narrative can fuse indelibly into unfolding history, individual lives, and works of art; and (3) to make clear the historical reasons and ideas that would cause James Joyce, one of the true anthropological geniuses of the twentieth century, to end his last book with the voice of the dying mother merging into and becoming the regenerating voice of the daughter. In light of gender history and social flux, remembering Lot's daughters as well as Lot's wife becomes an urgent matter, but such remembrance of things past keeps on taking new meanings and forms.

III. A Grid Through Which to View the World

The patterns, figures, and imagery of Lot have such explanatory power for reading the history of human relationships that-especially for times and texts concerned with women's subjectivity, the emergence of once marginalized people, and the nuances of social and familial power-shifts-they can form a useful grid through which to view the world. And the Lot complex can help redress and clarify the pervasive influence of the Oedipus complex and myth with its inherent narrative biases stressing male desire and action. Like Oedipus (with which it clearly has much in common), Lot brings together diverse ancient legends and living impulses. Oedipus features unwitting patricide and the intercourse of son and mother; Lot features the divinely ordained death of the wife and mother and the intercourse of father and daughters.

Continues...


Excerpted from lot's daughters by Robert M. Polhemus Copyright © 2005 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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