Published: May 1, 2003 By

Dynamos are women
Round with the first sweet swelling
Of a new mother’s milk.

— Macknight Black, “New Mother,” 1929

[1]   In 1940, Clarence Holbrook Carter produced a painting that disturbed him. In fact, War Bride (figure 1) Clarence Holbrook Carter, War Bride, 1940was so unlike his previous work that he was reluctant to exhibit it. As the artist recalled, after receiving F.B.I. clearance, he had gone on an official tour of a Pittsburgh steel mill with the City Solicitor: “The mills were going full blast and it made a great impact on us.” That night he had a “very vivid” dream in which he painted a picture of the mill. When he told his wife about his dream the next morning, she suggested that he paint it. At the same time, some of the “girls” in Carter’s senior painting class at the Carnegie Institute of Technology were “getting married before the boys would be leaving to go into the coming war,” and the artist later claimed that this reality “got mixed” into his dream about the steel mill, which had now become a wedding “sanctuary” (Carter, “War Bride,” 107).

[2]   Despite his doubts about the painting, which he initially titled Bride in a Mechanized World, he did show it in the Pittsburgh Art Association exhibit at Carnegie Institute, and even though it was reproduced in the newspaper, he “still was not sure” about it. A few years later, the New York Times art critic Edward Alden Jewell visited Carter’s studio. When the artist told Jewell that he had been asked to submit a work for the Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art (1943) at the Whitney Museum, Jewell suggested that he send this painting and that he should change the title to War Bride. As Carter remembered, Jewell predicted that it would “be a hit,” and “it was” (Carter “War Bride,” 107). Indeed, in an Art Digest review of a January 1944 exhibition in which the painting was shown, Margaret Breuning reminds her readers that War Bride had “caused something of a sensation at the recent Whitney Annual” (8). Art Digest capitalized on this popularity by featuring a reproduction of the painting on the issue’s cover.

[3]   What was it about this painting that troubled Carter so, that caused Jewell to single it out and change the title, and that made it so popular with the public? At the center front of the picture plane stands a white woman with blond hair. She wears a short-sleeved white dress and a wreath of white flowers over a long white transparent veil–a virgin bride on her wedding day. She is seen from the back and is cut off at the hips, thus no face to individualize her, no legs to suggest mobility. She stands in the center of an aisle in what appears to be a sanctified space, suggested by the stillness of the scene and the red glow emanating from the back of the picture plane. Before and to the sides of her are huge metal rollers, the monumental machinery of the steel mill. Despite such a compelling juxtaposition, scholars have explained this painting simply by labeling it surrealistic or by referring to the machine aesthetic. Little attempt has been made to analyze the relationship between the woman and the steel mill, even though the composition and the title of the painting suggest an imminent union between the two–a mating of the bride with technology, the female body with war, as signified by the machine.

[4]   Carter was not the first American to combine these two themes–the modern element of the machine and the traditional element of the organic body. In fact, Americans had long attempted to reconcile the two by humanizing the machine and mechanizing the body. According to Leo Marx, it was a Philadelphia merchant by the name of Tench Coxe who first linked machine technology to nature. In a series of speeches during the summer of 1787, Coxe argued that when the factory system is transferred from England to the United States, it is redeemed by contact with nature and rural values. Coxe classified the entire universe as a “mechanism.” He believed that mechanization was not artificial, but “inherent in ‘nature,’ both geographic and human” (Marx, 160-61). In other words, human beings are a form of machine.

[5]   In the nineteenth century, machine technology became intertwined with the concept of Manifest Destiny, with notions of progress, and with the egalitarian promise of American democracy. Railroads and steamships captured the public imagination, and inventors became national heroes. Machines held the potential of abundance for all citizens and more free time to spend on leisurely or intellectual pursuits. This utopian promise captured the imagination of writers. In “Passage to India” (1868), Walt Whitman actually views technological progress as a spiritual goal:

A worship new I sing,
You captains, engineers, explorers, yours,
You engineers, you architects, machinists, yours,
You, not for trade or transportation only,
But in God’s name, and for thy sake 0 soul (306).

[6]   Like Whitman, the philosopher and historian Henry Adams linked the machine to the spirit. Moreover, he characterized the machine/human dialectic in terms of the “feminine.” In his 1905 essay, “The Dynamo and the Virgin,” Adams describes his visit to the Gallery of Machines at the Great Exposition in Paris, where the power of the forty-foot dynamos captivated him, appearing to him a “symbol of infinity,” a “moral force, much as the early Christians felt the Cross” (380). Adams considered this force to be a feminine one, similar to that possessed by the ancient Venus and the Christian Virgin. Adams does not separate Woman from the machine; indeed, Woman is the force that animates it. For Adams, it is only through the spiritual energy that is Woman that the machine commands awe; without Woman, it is mere technology. Adams thus seeks to humanize the machine by imbuing it with the spiritual–the powerful, yet comforting, “feminine” force associated with the Virgin Mother.

[7]   Although Adams’ essay could be read as an attempt to ameliorate fear over the unleashing of technological forces, as an attempt to reconcile two colliding worlds, the Victorian and the modern, it could also be understood in terms of the traditional equating of the feminine with nature and the masculine with society and its laws. As such, the essay would function not only to feminize, to naturalize and thus subdue the machine, but to contain feminine power within the confines of the masculine, within the machine as the signifier of phallic order and rigidity. Although using the physical apparatus of the modern machine, Adams has actually created a metaphor for the traditional Victorian woman, whose sexual desires were to remain “armored” within.

[8]   At the turn of the century, traditional American constructions of masculinity were being threatened. Not only had industrialization transformed the workplace, creating an abundance of low and mid-level white collar jobs with little chance of advancement, but women were entering the labor force in increasing numbers, thus “feminizing” the work environment, the arena in which traditional notions of manhood had been upheld. Fear grew that men might become “overcivilized,” that they might take on traits of the domestic sphere–the realm of “luxury, ease, and idleness” (Rotundo, 251). This did not bode well for a construction of masculinity based on the frontier myth–the tough, independent American male, symbolized by the pioneer and the cowboy. Therefore, in an attempt to bolster physical masculinity, the cult of sports and the outdoors movement arose; manhood strove to strengthen the wall between men and women, to keep the feminine from encroaching on the male body.

[9]   Like other men of his time, Adams recognized a “feminine power,” perhaps even feared its threat. What better way to negate the menace of real women than to strip them of what Adams considered to be their inherent strength–their sexual, reproductive capacity–and then elevate this power to the realm of the spiritual, so that the feminine becomes a disembodied essence, one that can be mated with the masculine machine. Now Woman is merely a mechanical bride, and as such, is rendered as nonsexual as the Virgin Mother; castration is no longer a threat.

[10]   A key to the unconscious mechanisms at work here can be found in Male Fantasies, Klaus Theweleit’s investigation of the collective fantasies of officers in the German Freikorps, as revealed through their autobiographies, diaries, novels, and letters. Theweleit is interested in these men in terms of the rise of fascism in Germany. However, he also suggests that fascism could be the “norm for males living under capitalist-patriarchal conditions,” and that, indeed, there may be no “boundary separating ‘fascists’ from ‘nonfascist’ men” (27). Patriarchy may have simply used fascism to “ensure its own survival” (89). Although I do not mean to suggest that Adams was a fascist in an active political sense, his “fantasies” do exhibit parallels with those of the Freikorps officers. In fact, as I will argue, Carter’s War Bride and the other American cultural texts I will discuss also exhibit parallels, thus providing more evidence for Theweleit’s suggestion that masculine identity under patriarchal capitalism may be different only in degree, not in kind.

[11]   According to Theweleit, masculine identity in patriarchal-capitalist societies Francis Picabia, Portrait d'une jeune fille américaine dans l'état de nudité.is dependent upon “flight” from the “feminine.” Within male fantasies, women are divided into two types diametrically opposed to each other: the mother figure–the “pure” woman who protects, and the proletarian whore–the “castrating” woman (63-138). In “The Dynamo and the Virgin,” Adams metaphorically transforms real women, women who bear the threat of castration due to their attempts to claim masculine power, into the mother-protector, a woman who cannot castrate because she has no visible body; her “essence” has been encased in steel.

[12]   The machine/woman fantasy also appeared in the work of the New York Dadaists. In Portrait d’une jeune fille américaine dans l’état de nudité, 1915 (figure 2), Francis Picabia presents Woman as spark plug–a “portrait” that bears no resemblance to the organic body. Like Adams, Picabia presents Woman as “spark,” the energy that animates the machine. However, Picabia is also responding to a European artistic tradition in which the female nude played a central role. That the machine had come to play a similar role is revealed in the following quote from Paul Haviland, which appeared in the issue of 291 that immediately followed the issue in which Picabia’s drawing appeared:

Man made the machine in his own image. She has limbs which act; lungs which breathe; a heart which beats; a nervous system through which runs electricity. The phonograph is the image of his voice; the camera the image of his eye. The machine is his “Daughter Born Without a Mother.” That is why he loves her.

Not only can Man create Woman through art, but now he can create actual beings without the help of real women. Like God, he can breathe life into inanimate matter, as well as reign over both his creations–Woman and Machine.

[13]   This equation between Woman and Machine reaches its peak in the 1920s and 1930s, the era known as the Machine Age, but also the period in which the New Woman demanded greater sexual freedom. The New Woman has been traced to the 1870s, but after American women obtained the right to vote in 1920, this figure came to be seen as an even greater threat to the existing social order, to the distribution of power, and thus to the established boundaries between the genders. Because the New Woman rejected marriage and motherhood in favor of career, she was often accused of being “unnatural,” yet armed with the psychoanalytic theories of Freud, these women insisted on the separation of sex from reproduction (Smith-Rosenberg, 245-46). And although women had increasingly made advances in gaining independence from the domestic sphere and in achieving societal and political power, it was not until the 1920s that women finally broke free of the severe restraints of Victorian clothing and gained greater knowledge of and access to birth control. The debate over women’s liberation shifted to the female body, to the glamorous, single, and sexually independent flapper.

[14]   The flapper is an ambiguous figure. On the one hand, she signifies freedom–bobbed hair, short skirts, and loose undergarments. Yet on the other, she is characterized as politically irresponsible, concerned only with her own pleasure, replacing concern over political and economic rights with concern over rights to sex, alcohol, and tobacco. Indeed, the New Woman of the twentieth century differentiated herself from her nineteenth-century counterpart by prioritizing the “right to sexual experimentation and self-expression” (Smith-Rosenberg, 284). Alice Kessler-Harris has argued that the flapper was “allowed” to thrive in return for “limited economic and sexual freedom,” that the “image was meant to guarantee only peripheral involvement in the task of earning a living.” Yet she also maintains that the “flapper image” did contain the “seeds of every woman’s freedom,” encouraging young women to escape their father’s houses (226). Even though the sexual reputations of these young women exceeded the reality in most cases (Fass, 268), it was the threat of unbridled female sexuality that pervaded traditionalist concerns.

[15]   Along with the flapper came the new custom of “petting.” As cultural critic Floyd Dell wrote in 1930, this practice “both shocked and bewildered” the “patriarchal male,” who had been “accustomed” to dividing girls into two categories, the “chaste” and the “unchaste.” Although he had always had his “uses” for these two categories, he does not know how to treat this new “intercategorical modern girl.” Indeed, Dell maintains that to the “patriarchal mind,” this modern girl is the “most frightful of all possible perversities” (169).

[16]   Therefore, it would seem that in order for patriarchy to continue, this modern woman would have to be categorized and contained. Georges Lepape, Vogue cover, 1 May 1928In fact, the construction of the body of the flapper through the machine aesthetic may have functioned to relieve male anxiety. The ideal body type becomes angular rather than curved–breasts and buttocks are denied. A 1928Vogue cover by Georges Lepape illustrates this ideal, in its equation of an elongated, rectangular female body with the skyscrapers of the New York skyline (figure 3). This image also represents the new emphasis on cosmetics. Previously a sign of disrepute due to the use of face powder and rouge as a means by which prostitutes identified themselves, by the 1920s, cosmetics had become linked to modernity–the flapper was a “painted woman.” The cosmetics industry played a crucial role in this gender construct, promoting ideal types that could be attained through cosmetic means and using movie stars as models of made-up perfection. Many women wanted this artificial Art Deco look, this modern face. Not only did they enamel and lacquer their faces and fingernails, but they plucked their eyebrows, machine-set their hair in waves and dips, and went “platinum” through chemical means.

[17]   The extreme to which Clay Campbell, "Girl of the Future"this machine-like veneer could be applied appeared in a 1939 Life magazine article entitled “The Girl of Yesterday . . . The Girl of Tomorrow,” which traces the ideal beauty of the typical college-age “girl” from an 1890 composite statue, through photographs of Beauty Queens between 1919 and 1938, to Life‘s own photographs predicting how the girl of the future will appear. Life had asked “Hollywood’s experts on girldom,” Clay Campbell and Milo Anderson, to “project their own imaginations into the future.” These studio dress designers then constructed their fantasies upon the bodies of two Hollywood starlets. Campbell’s girl wears “wire eyelashes,” a “lacquered wig,” and metallic picks in her hair, her “indelible lipstick lasts for weeks,” and a “make-up foundation of heavy oil protects her skin” (figure 4). Anderson’s creation dons a celluloid hat, just like a “Greek warrior” (figure 5).

[18]   Milo Anderson, "Girl of the Future"Although women embraced the use of cosmetics as an emblem of modernity and thus of their rejection of traditional mores, it is not so clear how this new female aesthetic functioned within the collective male unconscious. Terry Smith has called Art Deco streamlining an “imagery of androgyny,” the fusion of the phallic machine with womb-like curves, which functioned to resolve gender conflicts (380). The futuristic projections of Campbell and Anderson also suggest physical inaccessibility. These women can be viewed, but not touched. To do so would be uncomfortable–wire eyelashes, lacquered hair, metal helmet, sharp projectiles. Furthermore, they do not seem to be made of flesh and blood; they are de-sensualized, enveloped within an artificial veneer, their boundaries sharply delineated, their pores sealed.

[19]   Theweleit claims that when new “behaviorial possibilities” appear that threaten traditional forms of power, a “compulsion for new things” is produced within the dominant group, which then disguises these new things as rebellion (323). Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari term this process “reterritorialization,” the mobilization of dominant forces in order to prevent new possibilities from creating new freedoms (34-35). Therefore, when women threaten to break free of their prescribed social role, patriarchal capitalism invents a means by which women can be led to believe they are rebelling, when indeed, they are still being subjugated. Thus the cosmetics and fashion industries, certainly part of the patriarchal-capitalist system, could sell the idea of physical liberation, yet contain that liberation within the realm of “beauty.” Any desire for political, economic, and social gains on the part of women could be channeled into an obsession with external appearance, an obsession aided by magazines and Hollywood. The image of liberation compensated for the reality of oppression.

[20]   But what about the machine? According to Theweleit, men use women as “raw material” for “shaping the images and setting the boundaries” that are so necessary to secure male “domination.” Because women are excluded from processes leading directly to the production of surplus value, they remain less “sharply defined,” more “malleable.” Consequently, the “productive force” of Woman, her association with nature, becomes something like a “reserve army,” which can be called into service whenever men in power feel threatened (323). As “nature,” women’s bodies are deconstructed and reconstructed according to male fantasies and desires; they are objectified and controlled, even when exalted. Although patriarchy requires the subjugated female, capitalism also requires the subjugation of the entire objective world, which includes nature as well as the means of production. As Calvin Thomas argues, the “single element” that unites capitalism and patriarchy in the objectifying process of “reification” is “the passivation of women into objects of exchange and the denial of their status as active, speaking, desiring subjects” (95). Both Woman and Machine must be made to appear under the control of Man, again, even when exalted. For example, in his 1929 poem “Wheel of a Corliss Engine,” Macknight Black lauds the machine through the metaphor of Woman:

Curve of steel
Lovely as the veins’ flowing
In the deep arc of a girl’s breast,
Hushed as her breathing, shaken
By loyalties like hers,
Clean swell
Of power naked and lonely
As a pale bosom in the night (36).

The machine is like a girl, a “pale” girl, one who is alone at night and thus pure. She is no threat. Neither is the machine that also stands “lonely” in the night; it is as passive as Woman, waiting for Man. Like Woman, the machine is forced into a representational function; both serve as raw materials against which the male ego can be constructed.

[21]   This intertwining of “raw materials” also surfaced in theater, as exemplified by the Rockettes. Formed in 1925 in St. Louis, and originally known as the Missouri Rockets, the dance troupe was brought to New York by Roxy (Samuel Lionel Rothafel) in 1932 and renamed the Roxyettes. When Roxy moved the troupe to Radio City Music Hall in Rockefeller Center in 1933, he changed their name to the Rockettes. Chicagoans to Build Theater for Ziegfeld–Signs Contract for 44-story Building–To Establish Mid-West Centre for Glorification of the American Girl–NEWSPAPER HEADLINE," The New Yorker, 1929This troupe was composed of sixty-four female dancers, all between 5’4″ and 5’7″ tall. A chorus line without a script, the Rockettes functioned purely as display, the display of a process–a synchronized high-kick that emulated machine motion while simultaneously exposing the women’s genital areas.

[22]   In “The Mass Ornament,” the Frankfurt School theorist Siegfried Kracauer compares the chorus line to the capitalist production process, which seeks to “destroy the natural organisms” that it regards as a “force of resistance.” According to Kracauer, the chorus girl, like the factory worker, is no longer an autonomous individual, but an assembly of parts, whose “life components have been drained of their substance.” Like the “hands in the factory,” the legs of chorus girls have become merely the “abstract signs of their bodies” (68-69, 74). Indeed, the extent to which a chorus girl’s legs define her identity is evident in a 1929 Al Freuh cartoon for The New Yorker (figure 6), in which a design for a skyscraper in the shape of a woman’s leg is proposed as a theater for Florenz Ziegfeld, another chorus line “producer.”

[23]   Kracauer downplays the issue of gender, however, when he characterizes the “bearers” of the “ornaments” as the “masses,” rather than women, and when he states that these “constellations of Girls” have “no meaning outside of themselves” (68). In fact, the chorus girl had its antecedents in the “ballet girl” and the burlesque dancers of the nineteenth century, female performers whose primary function was to attract men to the theaters. In addition, many of the ballet dancers had been driven to the stage out of poverty, and it was well-known that many worked as prostitutes. Therefore, I would argue that chorus girls do have a meaning outside of the ornament. They carry the taint of the prostitute, the woman for sale, if not for sex, at least for the gaze. Indeed, the high-kick of the Rockettes was derived from the can-can, a “naughty” French dance in which the women flashed their underwear, which in turn was based on the earlierpolka-piquée, in which no underwear was worn at all. However, what differentiates the Rockettes from these earlier counterparts is that their movements have been mechanized, thus somewhat de-eroticized, although not “sexless,” as Kracauer claims (67). These “girls” are still “bad.” They represent the proletarian whore, the castrating woman. Yet they can be contained, controlled by the choreography of the producer, the gaze of the spectator, and the geometric aesthetic of the machine.

[24]   Whether pure mother or proletarian whore, the female body must be contained. According to Theweleit, it is not just the fear of castration from which men seek protection, but the “flow” that is associated with the female body, the “stream” that threatens to dissolve the male ego. However, Theweleit maintains that men desire this dissolution as much as they fear it. They desire to be reunited with the Mother, to regain that utopia of symbiosis that characterizes the pre-Oedipal mother-child relationship, that blissful state that Freud termed the “oceanic,” and which he defined as a feeling as if “belonging inseparably to the external world as a whole,” a sensation he associated with religious sentiments (“Civilization,” 64). Thus, although men desire death of self through mystical fusion with the Mother, they must struggle to maintain their ego boundaries in order to function as men within patriarchal-capitalist societies. It is here that any line separating fascist from non-fascist men begins to break down, for it is the difficulty of one’s individual struggle that varies–a factor structured by differing social, cultural, and familial factors–not the struggle itself.

[25]   The duality of desire and fear is also evident in attitudes towards the machine. The machine had long been praised in utopian terms, and it was often referred to as America’s new religion. The worship of the machine as the embodiment of feminine power also continued. Eugene O’Neill’s 1929 play,Dynamo, includes a scene in which the male protagonist, Reuben, compares the machinery in a hydroelectric power plant to a religious “idol,” describing it as a “great, dark mother,” the signifier of “life” itself. In fact, he claims that “if you could only get back into that . . . then you’d know the real God!” (126) Reuben, a minister’s son, holds himself responsible for the death of his mother because he had abandoned her and rejected her Christian faith. The other woman in his life is Ada, who is both an atheist and a “harlot,” a “painted flapper” whom his mother hated. The play closes with Reuben shooting Ada, so as to kill her without touching her flesh. Purified of the bad woman who had defiled him, he is now worthy of reunification with his mother, with the Mother, with God; he flings himself at the dynamo, dying in order to “get back” into that “electric” flow of which all life is a part.

[26]   Miss TechnocracyDuring the Great Depression, some saw the machine as the means by which society could restructure itself. The critic Louis Mumford argued that the machine had come to represent order in the modern world, replacing the role previously held by God (326). Sheldon and Martha Cheney claimed that they could “glimpse the community of tomorrow as a place unified and harmonious,” one “coordinated, artist-determined, machine-realized” (3). Howard Scott preached his Technocracy creed, in which he argued that technology and science could bring about a utopia, a society of harmony, security, abundance, and leisure. However, in order for these ideals to be realized, society would have to conform to the needs of the machine, rather than vice versa. Furthermore, this transformation of the superstructure would have to be supervised by an elite group of scientists and engineers. Technocracy had a huge following in 1933, a craze that even resulted in a “Miss Technocracy” (figure 7). Here, the notion of the machine as a mechanism of societal regulation is enacted upon the body of Woman; nature’s flow is forced to come to order.

[27]   On the other hand, cultural anxieties over the machine also surfaced. Indeed, the technocracy fad died because some critics considered it a threat to democracy; others held the machine responsible for the massive unemployment of the Depression (Akin, 149-170). Sherwood Anderson even considered the machine a threat to manhood. In his 1931 bookPerhaps Women, the author acknowledged that the machine had become the country’s new religion, but he feared that this “superhuman” power threatened to strip men of their individuality and their dignity. According to Anderson, man is “too small” before the machine, “it makes him feel inferior” (46), John Vassos, "Mechanophobia–The Fear of Machinery," Phobia, 1931it humiliates him; however, women are less affected because they are more practical–they simply take the money men have earned and spend it on goods produced by the machine. Consequently, modern America is ruled by machines and women. The “imaginative world” of men has given way to the “factual age” of women, who are “great consumers” with a “passion for possession” (55-56). Modern men have lost their “maleness,” and if they do not rediscover it, they will have to “live like bees in a feminine world” (58).

[28]   In 1931, the designer John Vassos wrote and illustrated Phobia, a book composed of a series of “modern” phobias, including “mechanophobia” (figure 8), the fear of machinery. Vassos attributes mechanophobia to a feeling that one cannot adjust to a world in which the machine is a symbol of power. Yet he claims that man

cannot resist the unholy fascination the machine has for him, and his unconscious desire for death leads him repeatedly to the proximity of these agents of destruction. But the fear that possesses him as he stands before . . . the whirring belts and wheels of a factory . . . is a fear that he will not be able to resist the overwhelming urge to throw himself into the maelstrom of flying steel and so escape the hideous nightmare of life in a world ruled by mechanical creatures he can neither understand nor compete with (61-62).

[30]   But what of the woman in the painting? [29]   Is this the sensation that viewers experience when they gaze at Carter’s War Bride? Do they both fear and desire union with the machine, a union that signifies their destruction, as indeed, it destroyed O’Neill’s Reuben? Vassos’ text, which was written with the assistance of psychopathologists, is obviously dependent on Freud’s notion of the death drive. Freud formulated the death drive as a means to explain the compulsion to repeat behaviors that seemed in opposition to the pleasure principle, which he defined as “an avoidance of unpleasure or a production of pleasure” (Beyond, 3). According to Freud, the death drive is an instinct, an urge to return to a state of inorganicism. That we do not all rush into suicide is explained by the “self-preservative sexual instincts” and the binding of instinctual impulses to the more dominant pleasure principle. However, this impulse towards death is always present, always seeking discharge (Beyond, 43-46). Perhaps War Bride brings these impulses closer to the surface, makes them more difficult for the pleasure principle to control.

 Clarence Holbrook Carter, Girls I Have KnownTheweleit speaks at length about the fear of Woman as a fear of the dissolving of ego boundaries, hence self-annihilation. Therefore, Woman signifies death; however, as “womb,” Woman also represents reproduction, thus life. We saw this duality of life and death in the feminine dynamo of O’Neill’s play. Carter also treads on this theme in paintings in which he depicts Woman as inanimate, yet to which he gives titles that suggest life. In Girls I Have Known of 1933 (figure 9), Carter presents a series of mannequin busts displaying hats in a store window. As with War Bride, there is something both attractive and repellent in this image. The title suggests that these are real women with individual identities, yet the image is that of lifeless decapitated heads with nearly identical painted-on faces. In his 1940 Tech Belle (figure 10), Clarence Holbrook Carter, Tech Bellean artist’s mannequin is clothed in a dress decorated with a bow and roses, markers of femininity. She is seated before a table holding a glass of wine and a book, which, of course, she cannot drink nor read. The painted face with raised eyebrow insinuates life, yet she is clearly dead, machine-made. There is no chance that she will move on her own. She is at the mercy of the male artist whose signifiers surround her–easel, frame, canvas, and brush.

[31]   Life and death were constant themes throughout Carter’s career. By his mid-teens, he had already lost two younger sisters and his father, tragedies that Carter claimed taught him that “life and death are both important and that man must always reconcile the two” (Carter,Retrospective, n.p.). This sense of loss is evident in Great Plantations Nevermore of 1941 (figure 11), Clarence Holbrook Carter, Great Plantations Nevermorein which Carter returns to the use of the artist’s mannequin, this time as a symbol of agrarian death. The mannequin sits upon the brick walls of a factory, its chest ridden with bullets and its hands holding a sprig of cotton. Dark clouds fill the sky above the mourning figure, whose head is draped in the manner of the Virgin Mother. A more “human” past, signified by agriculture, is being sacrificed to the demands of industry, represented by the smoke stacks of the factory. Moreover, human resources are being offered up to the bullets of war, a theme reminiscent of War Bride.

[32]   Human sacrifice is suggested in War Bride through the placement of a soft, organic, flowing female figure next to the hard, resistant, metallic surface of machine parts, a juxtaposition that evokes a sense of dread, even danger. Surely the bride would be no match for what awaits her; she would be crushed beneath its might, her bodily remains splattered upon the gigantic rollers of the steel press. Indeed, the red background glow is not only evocative of fire, but of blood. Within this scenario, the bride marries the machine–she dissolves into it, and they become one. Carter invites the viewer to share the bride’s fate, for her stance echoes that of the spectator who stands before the painting. Yet rather than identify with her, a viewer may instead displace fear of the machine onto her, thereby forcing her to serve as the sacrificial victim/Virgin who appeases the machine/God. She is thus the fetish that disavows castration, ameliorating anxiety.

[33]   It is difficult to determine Carter’s conscious intent regarding meaning, for he disavowed agency by displacing responsibility for the painting’s production onto his wife and its new title and exhibition onto Jewell. He also claimed that the image was simply the creation of his unconscious, a dream fragment that resulted from the mixing of his lived experiences. Yet his original title, Bride in a Mechanized World, suggests his belief in a conflict between the two, between the body and the machine, the traditional and the modern. Indeed, the juxtaposition of the two motifs is “uncanny,” defined by Freud as the rendering unfamiliar that which is familiar in such a way as to create horror or dread. Freud linked the uncanny to repressed infantile complexes, such as the castration complex and womb fantasies. He claimed that the “psychical reality” of the uncanny is the result of the “actual repression of some content of thought and a return of this repressed content” (“Uncanny,” 248-249). The uncanny is the return of the repressed–perhaps a desire to return to the womb, to oneness with the Mother, which results in a feeling of homesickness, of nostalgic desire. Indeed, War Bride invites the viewer to come home, to surrender to the phallic Mother, where the mysteries of life and death abide. Re-absorption into the mother–the loss of identity, the death of self–is the price one pays, pre-Oedipal bliss the reward. Perhaps it is for this reason that Carter termed the space in the painting a “sanctuary,” for death could be considered a refuge, a safe haven from the alienating forces of modernity. Likewise, marriage promises safety and security through union. Thus, for wartime women viewers who may have identified with the bride in the painting, Carter’s image could have carried positive connotations, reminding them that marriage may protect them, provide them legal, physical, and economic sanctuary.

[34]   Yet it is difficult to fix the painting’s meaning. War Brideseems to hover at the threshold of desire/fear and separation/unity; like a fetish, the image is both anxiety-producing and soothing. Indeed, one could even argue that Carter reassures the viewer by freezing the bride in a moment of anticipation, or perhaps fear. He does not let the machine touch her, nor she the machine. In fact, the triangular shape created by the veil serves to anchor the bride in a stable position. In this scenario, she never progresses down the conveyor belt to the steel press, down the aisle to the altar. She is suspended in a state of virginity, a bride with no groom, a woman whose sexuality has been contained within a transcendental rather than a physical marriage, like the Virgin Mother. As Luce Irigaray argues, the virginal woman is “pure exchange value.” Her physical body “disappears into its representative function,” that of signifier of future exchange between men. Thus like other commodities, she does not exist as an entity unto herself, but has taken on a form appropriate to exchange. She is merely a disembodied “envelope.” However, once “deflowered,” she will be taken off the market and “relegated to the status of use value,” the reproductive machine that supports the social order (186). Indeed, the bridal gown signifies the reproduction of bodies, which are necessary to the production and operation of machines, even though such bodies are at times displaced by them. The waging of war also requires the reproductive female body, for it is the producer of male bodies, the maiming and killing of which is war’s primary objective.

[35]   During the early years of the Depression, the marriage rate had plummeted to its lowest rate ever, due in part to men’s fears over whether or not they could provide for a family. The postponing of marriage led to increased anxiety over the possibility of sexual transgression. Educators, clergy, and other professionals warned young people to keep their sexual impulses under control until such a time as they could afford to marry. Many Americans even advocated government subsidies for young people who felt they needed financial assistance in order to wed (May, 39-40). Unmarried women were not only considered a threat in terms of sexuality, but also as possible replacements for male workers in industry. During the Depression, married women were pressured to stay out of the job market, so that there would be enough jobs for men, who were expected to support families. In fact, married women were often the first to be dismissed when layoffs began. Despite these measures, fear existed throughout the decade that employers would replace male workers with cheaper female labor in order to reduce costs. Indeed, many women chose to remain unmarried in order to keep their jobs, even if it meant living “in sin” (Milkman, 27-48).

[36]   The marriage rate did not begin to rise significantly until 1940. Between 1940 and 1943, more than a million more couples married than would have been expected in “normal times.” For some, marriage offered hope of deferment; for others, a hasty wedding meant more time together before the husband entered the military. An economic boom also enabled more couples to marry, as did government financial support for soldiers and their families. Furthermore, the 1940s saw the median age at first marriage for women reach an all-time low of 20.3 years (Hartmann, 164-165). Societal fears over premarital sexual activity were alleviated. The war functioned to contain women through marriage.

[37]   Unlike previous examples I have discussed, the woman inWar Bride is not mechanized; she is not armored. Perhaps she does not need to be. Carter’s bride is not the proletarian whore, the castrating woman, but the pure mother, the transcendental woman. Moreover, as Virgin, Carter’s female figure is contained within a sexual economy predicated on the exchange of women. She is a commodity, as is the machine, and like the machine, her role is that of reproduction. Indeed, Carter’s composition evokes the womb, as well as the wedding sanctuary, the religious symbolism evident in the gargoyle-like figures that flank the canvas and in the cruciform shape created by the bride and the steel press. However, this bride has no husband; she has sacrificed him to war, as will countless other women. In fact, the metal rollers flanking the bride are not unlike the coffins that thousands of actual brides will soon be welcoming home. These war brides will become war widows. It is this “feminine” spirit, this sacrificial act on the part of “good” wives and mothers, which will drive the War Machine, just as Adams’ Virgin was the force that fueled the Industrial Machine. Adams transformed bodily streams into mechanical energy; Carter freezes them in a shroud of whiteness. Now the machine can be fully unleashed in the service of war–it no longer needs to be humanized and subjugated through fusion with the feminine, with nature. As Carter once wrote: “The powerful blast cannonading from the furnaces” is “as dramatic as any battlefield” (qtd. in Trapp, 22). Indeed, with war, the machines can explode without the threat of releasing any bodily fluids, any streams, save “soldier blood.” As Theweleit argues, war is the legitimate “flow” within the male collective unconscious, the means by which men release those desires for fusion that they have fought to keep under control. The mills can go full blast, and the drive to death can begin.


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