Cenobites as polyphonic embodiments of superego in Clive Barker's The Hellbound Heart
"Outside, somewhere near, the world would soon be waking. He had watched it wake from the window of this very room, day after day, stirring itself to another round of fruitless pursuits, and he'd known, known, that there was nothing left out there to excite him. No heat, only sweat. No passion, only sudden lust, and just as sudden indifference. He had turned his back on such dissatisfaction. If in doing so he had to interpret the signs these creatures brought him, then that was the price of ambition. He was ready to pay it."
.....from Frank in The Hellbound Heart.
The Hellbound Heart is Clive Barker's gothic tale about the pursuit of unfathomable pleasure through Lamarchband's box going awry, and the deformed Cenobites, which are semi-human creatures mutilated by excessive body-piercings, would be emancipated once the puzzle-box is solved, to torment the trespasser with excruciating pains like Pandora's box in Greek Mythology. The trespasser Frank is a lecherous occultist whose life has descended into a state of abjection after tasting various perverse form of carnal pleasure, and his fleshes are torn into fragments and re-incarnated into a wretched figure with feeble human resemblance. Thus Frank seeks to resuscitate his human flesh by the aids of his brother's wife Julia, who uses her sex appeals to prey male wooers for Frank, whose secretive reincarnation are exposed to the Cenobites after the murder of his brother. Forever as ever, no one could ever make his escape from the Cenobites.
I shall interpret Hellbound from four perspectives:
1. Edge Allen Poe has brought up the idea of "spirit of perverseness" in his short story The Black Cat, and that is a potent force of morbidity propelling humans into brutal deeds. In other words, the spirit of perverseness is an archaic presentation of Lacanian jouissance. Abjection, according to Kristieva, is "the place where meaning collapse," and Goth is product of abjection which leads toward the reckless pursuit of jouissance. Here we have Frank and Julia, who're the abject figures who practice this extreme form of pleasure through violence. Contrary to the slasher genre, the victims here are all men who cannot resist the power of female sex, and Julia, as a jaded but beautiful housewife, protests the idea of female domesticity through her pursuit of jouissance. Julia even refers the doomed room where the uncanny Frank dwells as a "deadwoman's womb" in which she finds great soothing comfort of darkness. Julia here shall be Zizek's the dame who subjectifies her fate (Zizek's interpretation of femme fatale in Film Noir), and it is her decision of reviving Frank into human fleshes that enables the happenings of those tragic events because she wishes to have Frank as her kept lover. In a nutshell, woman here has a great personal agency.
2. Gothic fiction is usually a representation of the demons within human unconscious, and it liberates taints within the unconscious where "meaning collapses." In Hellbound, Cenobites are the embodiments of the subconscious inversion of Christian theology on crime and punishments. In Christianity, there're two attitudes toward sinners: rehabilitation and retribution. Rehabilitation is for the morally redeemable in the superstructure of moral hierarchy. On the contrary, retribution is for the unrepentant in the infrastructure. Retribution is what Cenobites inflicts upon those despicable sinners: Frank and Julia, who are punished in a series of sadomasochistic manners. Frank's slaughter of his own straight-laced brother is an implication of Biblical story of Cain and Abel, and Frank is seized again by the Cenobites after his murder of his good-natured brother.
3. The story of Barker's Hellbound is rendered through a "polyphonic" perspective, and it applies the visages from various protagonists in each chapter. Simultaneously the presences of various Cenobites in different gruesome forms shall formulate a Bakhtinian Carnival. According to Bakhtin's idea on "the carnival of polyphonic truth" in Problems of Dostoevsky's Art, the carnival invents "thresholds" where genuine dialogue becomes possible after the monophony gets shattered. Goth in postmodern stage is an apolitical aesthetic expression, "abandoning any credible historical grasp upon its object " (Baldick and Mighall). The grotesque Cenobites, rendered through polyphonic narrations, shall perform a post-gothic carnival for the reader with great relish, and audience would side with Cenobites to practice their duties of Superego and punishes the un-just with gratifying gore in an apolitical postmodern way, which rejoices pain as pleasure!
4. After The Hellbound Heart being adapted into the movie Hellraiser, the engineer Cenobite's become the figure of Pinhead, which has been highly fetishized into the Gothic Habitus(idea barrowed from Bourdieu's Habitus), which is a collective conceptualization of the images we see and the things we do as Gothic in the discourses of American Popular Culture.