Vesta, the Phallic Woman
The Vestal, like the shaman, was sexually ambiguous. She dressed as half bride, half wife. She was a consecrated virgin, married to the state, who ensured fertility. She was a woman with the legal status of a man. The Vestal was considered capable of mediating between the human and the divine precisely because she was poised in transition between all permissible social roles—she was simultaneously maiden, wife, and man, sterile and fertile, virgin and phallic.
Abduction is a mediation between imagination and speech. The imaginative thinker must, therefore, be ambiguously positioned between the permissible psychic roles of masculine speaker and feminine jouissant . "He" becomes an imaginative thinker only if "she" is captured by imagination. The initiate became a Vestal only through captio . Perhaps abduction is described in the language of sexual relations because it is a sexual relation. Is it marriage as well as rape?
The great goddess Vesta was the epitome of the Phallic Mother: she was the most virginal and sterile of all Olympians but was addressed as
Mother and granted fertility. Mythographers tell us that Vesta had no myths other than her identification as the oldest Olympian entitled to priority in reverence and sacrifice over all other gods. Unlike the other classical divinities, Vesta was rarely directly depicted; instead she was symbolized by her flame, the fire stick, and a ritual phallus. The myths of her priestesses were limited to accounts of their miraculous impregnation by a phallus which would appear within the flame that was the manifestation of the goddess.
But was Vesta, like the Lacanian Woman, really so beyond language that she could not even be spoken of? Our knowledge of Roman religion comes entirely from Roman men—Roman women did not write and Roman men did not know Roman women's rites. What we do know is that Roman women worshiped mysterious silent goddesses who were hidden from men. The Vestals officiated at the most important religious holiday in the Roman calendar: a festival that was so mysteriously feminine that no man, male animal, or even male image could be present—a festival in honor of a deity that was so powerfully feminine that men were not even told her name but referred to her only as the "good goddess." But was
she also nameless to women? Did they know the "good goddess" as Vesta, or by some other name? Was she really mythless, or did the Vestals make their enjoyment eloquent and sing her exploits in their seraglio?
And so let us remember that even though those of us who are positioned as women might speak in the masculine voice when we practice law, this position might also give us different access to the unconscious. Lacan wanted us to believe that this different access, enjoyment , is necessarily silent. But Lacan's point is not that the Feminine does not or cannot speak but that the legal community of fathers cannot allow themselves to listen because masculine subjectivity is created by the insistence that the Woman does not exist. Because the possibility of the Feminine is created by her prohibition, the tighter the Masculine clasps his hands over his ears, the louder the feminine voice.
Lacan insists that she was silent all along. Yet this may only mean that she has not yet spoken or that we have not yet listened.
As feminists we must strive to rewrite the Feminine—or write her for the first time. We must emphasize that the myth of castration is imaginary . It is a myth both in the negative sense of delusion and in the affirmative sense of a story we tell to give meaning to our lives. Unmediated relations with others cannot be a forever lost and infantile state which we can only mourn precisely because this state never existed. We did not even become individuals with the potential for relationship until the moment of mediation. In Hegelian terms, to return to our unmediated state is to regress to the lonely abstraction of free will. To eliminate contradiction is to eliminate movement and growth—the desire to achieve the union with the lost primeval Feminine in the real is Thanatos . Yet to stay at the level of simple mediated relationships identified by psychoanalytic theory is to remain at the inadequate, unsatisfactory, and "cold-hearted" level of abstract right. The Feminine as unmediated relation is, therefore, a desire, a dream, and an inspiration. The Feminine will never be re covered because she has not yet come into existence. She will be a creation, like the subject.
At this point perhaps all we can say is that abductions from the male position are not unique or inevitable. But will we ever be able to make our jouissance eloquent? Will there ever be a moment when we unbind the virgo and loosen her gag so that she can cease to be fasces, virgin, matron, or man, and speak as Amata —the Feminine beloved and violated, yet unconquered?