With the final book of the Twilight Saga coming out on Saturday [woo hoo!!], Laura Miller takes a critical look at the immensely popular glurge. She correctly notes that Bella’s extreme lack of personality makes her a Mary-Sue-shaped costume which the typical fan, a young teenaged heterosexual girl, can climb into so that she can have virtual smoochies with Edward:
She is purposely made as featureless and ordinary as possible in order to render her a vacant, flexible skin into which the reader can insert herself and thereby vicariously enjoy Edward’s chilly charms…Edward, not Bella, is the key to the Twilight franchise, the thing that fans talk about when explaining their fascination with the books.
I picked up on the primacy of Edward a few entries back when I talked about Twilight as fan fiction par excellance. Author Stephenie Meyer says on her Web site that she’s "in love" with Edward. She doesn’t talk about how compelling Bella’s character is; instead she details her fascination with Edward, which suggests to me that she uses Bella only as a conduit to the fantasy vampire of her dreams.
Rephrasing her point about Edward as the focus of the series, Miller goes on to say:
Even to a reader not especially susceptible to its particular scenario, Twilight succeeds at communicating the obsessive, narcotic interiority of all intense fantasy lives. Some imaginary worlds multiply, spinning themselves out into ever more elaborate constructs. Twilight retracts; it finds its voluptuousness in the hypnotic reduction of its attention to a single point: the experience of being loved by Edward Cullen.
I myself have experience with both types of imaginary worlds. The one my sister and I created began with superpowered self-insertion characters, Leah J and Leah E, back when we were about 6 or 7. A decade later, despite the sheer amount of movie and film characters and plots we had ripped off and incorporated, the Kings’ universe was an original, intergalactic, multi-generational creation, powered by cheerfully additive inventiveness and an over-the-top sense of parody.
By contrast, I also have a personal imaginary world where there are four characters, including a version of myself. The characters quadrangulate amongst themselves, adding layers upon layers to their personalities and interactions. While the Kings developed genealogies and extensive travelogues over the years, my four characters develop brooding, nuanced interior monologs and complicated feelings for each other. The Kings turned outward; my four characters turn inward. They run on meditation and re-examination of the past.
While the multiplicative world of the Kings runs on humor and finds its strength in energetic invention, the involuted world of the four characters runs on internal examination, plumbing of the psychological depths. The Kings signify endless, abundant expansion, the sheer joy of creating complexity just because there is an unbounded canvas. By contrast, my world of four characters simplifies and concentrates the experience, internalizing it and making it stronger by leaving it undiluted. All of this is to say that multiplicative universes tend to impress you with their breadth; they are rapids, swift rivers that will carry you far, far away. Reductive universes tend to impress you with their depth; they are wells with undertows that suck you down.
Miller concludes that the masturbatory navel-gazing — the reduction to the pleasure of being worshipped — represented by the Twilight series is deleterious. She likens the feminine fantasy of being adored by a superficially perfect, devoted, stone-cold god to being weakened vampirically. The wanking fantasy of awaiting rescue lurks in the shadows, waiting to suck women back into pre-feminist atavism.
The traditional feminine fantasy of being delivered from obscurity by a dazzling, powerful man…turns out to be a difficult dream to leave behind. Vampires have long served to remind us of the parts of our own psyches that seduce us, sapping our will and autonomy, dragging us back into the past. And they walk among us to this day.
I’m ambivalent about her conclusion. It’s moralistic, judgmental and negative, suggesting that Twilight readers are stupid, uncritical and retrograde in their attraction to the series. I’ll agree with the uncritical nature of many fans [including my very own anonymous flamers who posted on my Twilight entries after having clearly failed to pay attention to my reasoned analyses]. I refuse, however, to judge the entire imaginative project of the Twilight series as inherently harmful. The raw creative capacity behind it, the self-soothing and idealistic power of dream fulfillment, the stimulation of sexual fantasy — nothin’ wrong with that. Methinks, though, that Stephenie Meyer, like Sarah in Labyrinth, jerks off to a perverted vision of male desirability: a glittery, manipulative, abusive asshole called Edward in Twilight and Jareth in Labyrinth.
Sparkly dudes can dazzle you, trying to distract you from their essential coldness and emptiness. While Bella fails to realize that Edward is basically a glittering gravestone, Sarah points out to Jareth the truth of his character. He is a miserable, power-hungry, conniving wretch. No matter how much she pumps him up, he remains at base small and scared. She stops masturbating to the terrible thrills of domination provided by the Jarethian part of her psyche. With her statement — "You have no power over me" — she claims power over herself and balance in her life. Bella, unfortunately, prefers to spooge all over Edward’s shoes, then lick them clean. She believes this to be empowering and fulfilling. Unlike Sarah, she does not recognize that true fulfillment comes not when you are a reactive dipwad at the mercy of your uncontrollable urges, but when you know your self and your desires, naming them and accepting them, getting out of the jerk-off closet of the oubliette or the untethered heinous trip of the bubble ballroom and into the real, difficult, multi-dimensional, rambunctious, imperfect world.
4 more days till Breaking Dawn!!
Hmmm…I don’t think anyone will respond to this.