“Nothing is true. Everything is permitted”: the sexual journey of Druuna, by Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri
What to say about Druuna, created by Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri? That she is the dream-woman incarnation of every nerd, geek and otaku? Since her first appearances in Métal hurlant and Heavy Metal magazines, Druuna entered the erotic imagination through stories that mix science fiction and pornography.
In the album Druuna X, Serpieri explains that he created Druuna from a series of personal experiences, such as watching a woman emerging naked from the sea on the beach he was on, using the body and features of Valerie Kaprisky, an actress in the film La Femme Publique, as a model for his heroine's anatomy, as well as using the Native American facial features he was used to when drawing western stories.
If the creation of Druuna can be seen as a montage of several female references, we can observe the same principle applied to the narratives, which include influences from films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, The Abyss, Terminator, Total Recall, and science fiction authors like Bradbury, Asimov, Anderson, Heinlein, Herbert, Simak and Zelazny. Hence, the dystopian character that characterizes the saga of Druuna, whose sexual content only becomes explicit from volume 3, Carnivora, on, where we can see some scenes with almost explicit sexual penetration. Thus, throughout her adventures, Druuna is exposed to various types of sexual acts, ranging from consensual to non-consensual. Focusing only on non-consensual sex, some critics tend to claim that Druuna is aestheticizing rape, since Serpieri uses his skill in drawing anatomy to associate beauty with sexual violence. Such a statement focuses only on the character Druuna, forgetting that male characters are also represented as beautiful and almost always suffer a brutal death associated with sex.
As Druuna is the heroine, she has to survive - unlike some of her partners - with resilience and, at times, with pleasure, the obstacles that arise in front of her. And let us keep in mind that she doesn't have any superpowers, except those of her femininity and beauty, as Serpieri himself explains: “All the contrast comes from the psychology of (…) Druuna, the only true human being in the story. She is used to describe what human beings are: tormented indeed, but possessed of values. They are people, not anonymous entities, numbers. Druuna is not a heroine. She is a woman, with her complexities, an ordinary woman, a contemporary woman. (…) The woman, psychologically, represents the future of the man. But it is also another side of humanity, just like man.
Death and the Maiden
Dominion of Violence
The fact that Druuna survived the Morbus Gravis, an allusion to the AIDS epidemic, which broke out in the 1980s and claimed some of Serpieri 's personal friends, unscathed, makes clear the relationship between sex, death, violence and beauty, which Georges Bataile synthesized thus: “the domain of eroticism is the domain of violence, the domain of rape”. Under the dominion of violence, “death pulls us out of the obstinacy that we have to see the discontinuous being that we are, endure. Only violence can thus bring everything to light, violence and the unspeakable disorder that is linked to it!” Now, in the pages of Druuna, there is a lot of sex and violence and, thanks to the naturalistic way Sarpieri drawings are almost porographic, the reader is hypnotized and excited by the Drunna’s curvilinear forms.
Your Little Devils
In this context, the non-consensual sex to which Druuna is subjected to and from which she emerges triumphant, with statements such as “Forgive me, maybe we could live together. Your little devils gave me a lot of pleasure, you know? I don't know how much drugs were responsible for that... But I can assure you that it was a wonderful experience”, causes controversy among critics, who see in these actions a relativization of rape and, therefore, blame Sarpieri 's work for a possible harmful influence on the male readers of the magazines the work was published in.
Plato's The Republic
Before stating that art can generate serious results in a mind that is not very stable, it is necessary to reflect that any situation, regardless of whether or not it belongs to a work of art, is likely to have some influence on this type of human being. If we hold art responsible for the evils that occur in the world, we will follow the principles that Plato defended in the tenth book of The Republic, which proclaimed the expulsion of poets from the city for lying and not contributing to the good education of young people. We will, therefore, not be in a democratic society, but in a totalitarian one, where the right to expression belongs only to those in power.
Everything is permitted
The rapes that Druuna suffers and rejoices in, of course, can only occur in a world of fiction, where, according to William S. Burroughs, quoting Hassan I Sabbah, “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted”. To be shocked by the joy of a heroine who is raped is to forget, therefore, that what one reads is a work of fiction and to defend the exclusion of works where similar situations occur, it is to embrace the ideology of totalitarian regimes.
Ricky Gervais' defense of the right to joke about topics such as rape is not just justified by the fact that jokes are meant to overcome bad things, but by some cultures being able to differentiate the tragic that occurs in everyday life from the tragic that is represented in an engraving.
Object of Desire
According to Patrick W. Galbraith, “if the otaku perceives that the object of desire is fictional, and desires it precisely because it is fiction”, this happens because he is able to conceive “a totally imagined space with no correspondent in the everyday world”, a space of perfect fiction... deliberately separated from everyday life” (Saito Tamaki, Otaku sexuality, 2007, p. 227). Thus, laughing at or being excited about what is grotesque or what goes beyond moral parameters is not something restricted to Druuna.
As Higuchi Kazutaka: “The 1837 color printed book Hana ikada by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) is one of his most famous erotic works, alongside titles such as Chinpen shinkeibai, of 1839, and Hana goyomi (Flower Calendar), of 1835. In one image in this book (Fig.40), a man has lured an innocent young woman to an assignment at a teahouse, where he tries to seduce her. Although the young woman is shown as resisting, neither her expression nor the way she pushes the man away has the power of complete refusal and we are led to imagine that sexual intercourse will follow.
Fig.40. A design from the 'Hana Goyomi (Flower Calendar)' series (c.1835) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Closer to Shunga
In pictures such as these, although there is coercion in evidence, at the time, they were considered to be comically erotic stories and, therefore, fell within the then permissible boundaries of 'laughter'”. In the Western world, we could cite the work of Martin van Maële, which is based on the ambiguity between condemnation and laughter. If ambiguity is one of the traits that allows defining the fictional, Druuna 's pleasure in being raped confirms this characteristic, as it leads us to bring Serpieri 's work closer to shunga who have rape as a theme, and to artists such as Martin Van Maële (Fig.43), at the moment when the artist's right, far away from Plato's The Republic, treads the lands where "Nothing is true. Everything is permitted”.
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