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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Feminism in The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

In The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, there are many strong elements of feminism. A particular scene that stands out is when Desiderio and Albertina get lost in Nebulous Time and meat the centaurs. The centaurs are baffled by the appearance of these “two legged” horses. This almost innocent curiosity causes them leads one to stick three fingers in Albertina’s vagina. They are surprised by her animated response which, for some reason, encouraged the entire male herd to penetrate her one by one in a scene of horrific rape. They were entirely unaware of what they were doing, but their actions seemed purely natural. The females took care of Desiderio, however, his experience was one of great physical pleasure. They didn’t harm him. The females simply caressed his sensitive parts putting him in physical ecstasy right where Albertina had suffered so traumatically. Desiderio interestingly points out that it is the centaur belief that it is the fate of women to experience constant suffering. All of the women in the House of Anonymity experience a similar fate. The women are caged as beasts used only for the most abstract sexual pleasures. One woman stands in the cage as a full human, meaning she doesn’t have the animal parts that others do, but she is covered with fresh wounds. This is an explicit statement of the sexual abuse women face by the brutality of man. This idea is further exposed in the peep-show. Women are only used to serve men’s sexual desires and fantasies. There is no sign of love or equality, just lust. We see the effects that this lust has on men through Desiderio. He constantly tries to have sex with Albertina and after being rejected so many times he strikes the woman that he loves with all his soul, thus further demonstrating the power of love and lust. This probably also shows the physical difference that leads to man’s abuse of women’s sexual roles. Angel Carter appears to be exploiting this idea throughout the premise of her novel.


  1. I like your point about Carter's theme of lust with "no sign of love or equality." That is certainly the case with the centaurs, and note what Albertina reveals on page 186--the centaurs and everything they do are the products of Desiderio and Albertina's desires. Albertina's desires take shape in the form of loving caresses for her man, but Desiderio's unchecked lusts become a horrendous gang-rape.

  2. I agree with Tim that the brutality of Albertina's treatment at the hands of the centaur tribe reflects an overt subjugation of and disregard for the humanity of women. There are several examples of women being marginalized and, in many cases, brutalized throughout the novel. However, I would not attribute these portrayals as being solely the manifestation of Desiderio's personal desires. I interpreted several of the "phantoms" as being not the product of one man's desires but a culmination of the collective desire. By this reading, the treatment of women is not the twisted fantasy of one person; it is a reflection of the greater social oppression against women.