According to Alain Roger, a philosopher, art continually references nature and continually denaturalizes it. When we look at art, then, we should be looking for the methods of denaturalization: "In whatever manner it operates, art always proceeds by denaturalization. But this is in turn covered by two opposing forms: by excess or default. The same support, such and such a part of the body, for instance, could, according to the place and the epoch, be made the object of a dilation or as well a reduction, which can go as far as annihilation. Nature erased, or hyperbolized. This is what we see, in a fashion particularly spectacular, in the artistic treatment of vulvas.”
Roger makes his case by going far back as we can go in finding representations of the vulva – he goes back to 30,000 BC and the first “Venus” statuettes found in many digs, such as Laugerie Basse. Roger believes that there is a structural constant here – when the statuette depicts the vulva, it dilates it and abolishes the face. Sometimes the whole head is reduced to a bump.
Roger contends that the whole figure of the woman is ithyphallicized – made into the semblance of an erect penis, “as if “nature”, being thus exhibited, must, at the limit, be denatured in its Other, as if the vulva can only accede to the view in annihilating the vultus, on the one side, and in ithyphallicizing itself, on the other. Nothing, or the Phallus.”
Roger ties this observation to the myth of Baubo. I’ve already mentioned Vernant’s essay on Baubo in a post written in 2007 (how time flies!). Baubo made Demeter laugh by raising her skirt and showing Demeter her privates. Baubo is associated with Gorgo and another Greek monster figure, Mormo. Vernant speaks of a genital face – a sort of folding of the body, or rather, a repetition of or projection of the genitals upon the face. And vice versa: “In place of the vulva, a vultus! This is what made Demeter laugh: a vulva, but vultuary, a turgid, congested, phallic face. She burst out laughing for this, this simulacra, his facetious facies, this fallacious phallus. One could, of course, hold to a much shorter reading: Demeter burst into laughter because, as Aristotle says, “the laughable is a part of the ugly”, especially if one recalls that, in the Parmenides, “the hair, the mud, the dirt” justly make up a part of the laughable, the “geloia”.