By Cristina Santos
Paper given at the 6th Global Conference on Madness, Oxford University (2013)
Abstract: Audre Lorde, in her essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” describes the erotic as an intrinsically female source of power that “has often been misnamed by men and used against women” and moreover that the erotic becomes “confused, the trivial, the psychotic…”. Inspired by and departing from Lorde’s essay, I will explore the tenuous relationship between madness and eroticism through the case study of the Bloody Countess Elizabeth Bathory.
Bathory, a 16th century Hungarian noblewoman, killed and bathed in the blood of 600 virgin girls. In examining Bathory’s sense of the erotic one comes to note that she is only able to “feel” a connection to her self in her acts of sexual perversion, torture and murder. I argue that Bathory’s desensitization to “normal” life experiences fuel her pursuit of the female power of the erotic as an example that supports the patriarchal view of the danger of the female erotic as female power.
In fully embracing her desires Bathory feeds her sense of megalomaniacy thereby engaging in a sense of power of the erotic which is not curtailed by the normative socio-cultural roles. Does Bathory’s megalomaniacy cause a distortion of the personal erotic that leads to a distortion of the self into pornography and obscenity as evidenced in her actions? Does the lack of feeling for the other and the more desperate desire for power make her acts of violence more obscene?