“’Do you believe’, said Martin, ‘that men have always massacred each other as they do to-day, that they have always been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates, brigands, idiots, thieves, scoundrels, gluttons, drunkards, misers, envious, ambitious, bloody-minded, calumniators, debauchees, fanatics, hypocrites, and fools?
‘Do you believe’, said Martin, ‘that hawks have always eaten pigeons when they have found them?’
‘Yes, without a doubt’, said Candide.
‘Well then’, said Martin, ‘if hawks have always had the same character why should you imagine that men may have changed theirs?’” - excerpt from Candide, Voltaire
“We cooperate effectively with strangers because we believe in things like gods, nations, money and human rights. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money and no human rights—except in the common imagination of human beings.” - excerpt from Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
Humankind is different from any other species in the way in which we collectively agree to believe in stories and myth. Is is through this fictitious belief that humans are able to cooperate on large scales; this scale has increased so much that now, nearly every country on Earth is able to abide to the same monetary system, a universal time-zone, a global acceptance that the Earth is in fact round and a credence that companies can exist as their own legal entities – even the idea of human rights is a fiction. The primary or objective reality can be classed as what is physically around us; as in, here is a rock, a tree, I am sitting at a table and outside it is raining. The secondary reality, which we at times abide to even more so that the primary, is founded on fable. Specifically in regards to the female body, this dual reality can be problematic.
In Voltaire’s Candide, the hypocrisy of religion can be viewed through the feminist critical perspective which is displayed through religious men, especially leaders, who see women as nothing more than sexual objects. The objectification of women is something that can be seen in a myriad of religious and non-religious art throughout the centuries. This ‘male gaze’ with regards to religion and the ‘imagined order’ is something I want to further explore as all of these elements are linked inextricably. The female body represents youth, fertility, beauty; it is (although less so now) necessary for the propagation of mankind and yet is simultaneously discarded, sexualised, abused and exhibited. To what degree has the continual debasement of the female body and intellect been a result of a natural order, or rather a strictly acquiesced fantasy borne through religious story-telling? Harari believes it is the latter. In John Berger’s Ways of Seeing he uses the example of Adam and Eve, the “first nude... They became aware of being naked because, as a result of eating the apple, each saw the other differently. Nakedness was created in the mind of the beholder. The second striking fact is that the woman is blamed and is punished by being made subservient to the man (Unto the woman God said, ‘I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee.’) In relation to the woman, the man becomes the agent of God.” As this depiction of the ‘moment of shame’ has been continued throughout history, the woman transcends from being “not naked as she is. She is naked as the spectator sees her.”
“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense” - Mark Twain