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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Never-Before-Seen Mirror in Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

The past 3 summers, I participated in a two-week trip into the Rocky Mountains or Grand Canyon with 90 other high school students. For many of us boys and girls, it was our first real experience without brushing our teeth every day, meticulously working our hair, and showering every day. I remember the first appalling reaction by many of my fellow students, including myself, when we first saw our reflections in the mirror upon our return from the wilderness. Living in a society used to mirrors, many of us stared sort of in awe and definitely surprised at ourselves that we let our hair, initially appalled at how we saw ourselves after days without seeing our reflections in a mirror or in the glare of glass windows.
Desiderio undergoes a similar experience, yet in many ways opposite to what we understand and experience in normal life. While we are used to looking in mirrors and often times judging something about ourselves based on the reflection, Desiderio never had seen a complete reflection of himself because the Minister broke all the mirrors around him “because of the lawless images they were disseminating” (12). Desiderio had grown not to judge himself because the only reflections he could see were fragments of his physical self; in other words, the broken mirrors left our hero with a broken picture of himself he had learned to disregard.
When Desiderio encounters complete, whole mirrors filled with the sexually desiring eyes of the Acrobats of Desire, he succumbs to the agony of judgment. Never before viewing himself wholly, he now sees “eighteen and sometimes twenty-seven and, at one time, thirty-six brilliant eyes” repeated by the mirror’s own reflections (117). He compares his judgment not to his own experiences, but to the judgment of Saint Sebastian because he, unlike the modern reader, has no experience judging himself from a mirror’s reflection. Unlike the students who expect to judge appearance when they see their reflections, Desiderio expects nothing from his own experiences (for he has none with unbroken mirrors) and instead assumes condemnation like Saint Sebastian. “Stuck through with the visible barbed beams from brown, translucent eyes”, Desiderio becomes paralyzed temporarily before the Acrobats’ rape (117).

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