I, Qassandra

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) - Screenshot - Winged Skeleton

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) – Tennessee Williams (Gore Vidal, Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

united states, 1959, 114 Minutes, Black & White, 01:54, English
The Void
a queer-friendly / women-friendly Lacanian Reading

Who is Sebastian? truly? We may never know what is in the void that is being wrapped here by all those witnesses, as unlike the protagonist of another film that tries to color his dead protagonist, Citizen Kane (1941), Sebastian of Suddenly, Last Summer is never fully seen on the screen. We see all kind of body parts, but never his face. A devoured entity that doesn’t really add up to someone like in the case of Charles Foster Kane, and sometimes seems as a fable, as a tool to make others, especially two women, exist. As you know, Lacan said that the woman doesn’t exist. Mrs. Venable, Violet – his mother, is bothered with exactly that: “After all, I’ve buried a husband and a son. I’m a widow and a… Funny, there’s no word. Lose your parents, you’re an orphan. Lose your only son and you are… nothing.”[1] Violet was merely a tool for Sebastian, and after her debilitating stroke, he replaced her with his young attractive cousin Catherine (following his mother’s suggestion, said Catherine). And then, suddenly, that last summer, he died. Now, both women are struggling to define their being against him and against each other. The problem is those two truths can’t coexist.

Most people tend to refer to this film as a queer movie, as Sebastian is clearly a homosexual, hidden in between the Hays Code-censored lines. “The movie version of The Celluloid Closet brilliantly cuts these scenes with images from James Whale’s The Bride Of Frankenstein to make its point. The youths pursuing Sebastian might as well be villagers with rakes and torches. The monster must be destroyed. And, by the standards of the 1950s, monsters don’t come any more vile than Sebastian. To drive this point home with a sledgehammer, he is presented like a monster from a Universal horror film – we see the back of his head, an arm dangling on the side of the frame, his legs on the beach, his outstretched arm reaching out for help from the center of the devouring mob. Sebastian’s face is never seen; it is as if he is too horrible to be shown to a civilized audience.”[2]

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) - Screenshot - Sebastian Devoured

A struggle for truth is almost a stranger to genre films and yet, this is what I see in this movie, which is not only a horror gothic movie, but also a detective movie with the protagonist doctor-detective is suddenly called to attend a new client and get a mission from her, which he interprets quite differently from what she meant, as he is a knight of science and, therefore, of truth, and at the end of the movie he gathers all characters together for the final reveal, as in Agatha Christie’s novels. Many describe a detective in this genre as a mastermind of the mind, take Sherlock Holmes for example. So why not use a real doctor of the mind – a psychiatrist, or to be exact, his brother – the neurosurgeon. The benefit of using this kind of a professional is not just due to his profound understanding of the mind that may help him find the truth, but rather because this exact proficiency may also enable him to simply eliminate the truth, or so she thought, by this new invention in medical science – lobotomy.

Who is in charge of the truth, of the memory of a deceased. Probably the one who benefits from it the most. Or has the money to pay for it. Mrs. Venable has so much wealth and power, and yet she feel as if she’s nothing. She has to turn herself into someone – she has to invent truth. Not just her personal truth, but to build a factory for making truth, or rather choosing which intolerable truth to eliminate – a new ward of the destitute Lions View State Asylum dedicated for neurosurgeries – i.e. lobotomy procedures. Isn’t God supposed to be in charge of that. Well, she might well see herself as one, getting down to earth in this elevator: “Sebastian always said, ‘Mother, when you descend…it’s like the goddess from the machine.'” The inspiration, she explains, is “The emperor of Byzantium, when he received people in audience… had a throne which, during the conversation… would rise mysteriously in the air… to the consternation of the visitors. But as we are living in a democracy, I reverse the procedure. I don’t rise. I come down.”[3] Indeed, she is very democratic, madly democratic…

Then I thought that this outrageous idea wasn’t that outrageous anymore in the 2000s, as the science fiction television series Dollhouse (2009), “revolves around a corporation running numerous underground establishments (known as ‘Dollhouses’) around the globe that program individuals referred to as Actives (or Dolls) with temporary personalities and skills. Wealthy clients hire Actives from Dollhouses at great expense for various purposes, including heists, sexual encounters, assassinations, expert counsel, and all manner of unique experiences.”[4] OK, this is a dystopian drama aiming, like this movie, to warn us against playing with people’s brains and the consequential exploitation involved, while exploring this idea in much broader way, but it may also allude to the fact that, unlike the 1950s which sought one truth as part of the “back to order” trend post-WWII, the 2000s have already begun dealing with the numerous alternative truths we can choose from today. But let’s go back to the 1950s.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) - Screenshot - Solution gathering

You see, when no two truths can coexist, the holder of one is sane and the holder of the other is mad. A factory of truth can only be in a madhouse, but then they say that mad people are there because they were exposed to the Real’s ultimate truth, something a Neurotypical can’t cope with. Maybe lobotomy will ease their situation. Or indeed ours. As they the ones who are not believed, as also implied by the sign in Catherine’s room in St. Mary monastery asylum reads “thou god seest me” from Genesis 16:13, telling the story of Hagar. ‘You are a God who sees me’ and the rest of the verse reads “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” that some may revise as “Have I even seen Him here and lived after He saw me?”[5] God knows the truth, but can Catherine lives after she tells the truth to Violet? On the other hand, it might be just a case of megalomaniac wealthy manipulator empty women living in a world of her own, meaning: completely mad. Or a villainess, maybe. Are villains all mad. So, why people follow them… Are all villains playing with the truth, or do they hold an alternative of their own. Are they always aware of their lies.

The triangle of missing sides of mother, son and father, clearly alludes to God, not just the Christian one, but the one in the theories of Jacques Lacan and his disciple Julia Kristeva. But first, let me ask you who the missing sides are. Are they the deceased father and son, or the very alive mother, the woman who doesn’t exist, that feels as if she’s nothing. There’s extensive writings about God in this respect, so I’ll only pinpoint a certain aspect that caught my eyes. First, let’s read again the text itself. It is Mrs. Venable who declares that “I was going to say my son, Sebastian, was looking for God. But I stopped myself because I thought you’d think: ‘What a pretentious young crackpot.’ Which Sebastian was not. This is something I’ve never told anyone before. Something so strange, so terrible. Forgive me if I sound quite mad, but it’s true all the same. Sebastian saw the face of God.”[6] And then she goes on to describe their trip to the Galapagos following Melville’s description of the Encantadas (the enchanted ones), where they witnessed something not as charming as the one Melville wrote about, but “that terrible sight” of “all alive, all alive… as the new-hatched sea turtles made their dash to the sea… while the birds hovered and swooped to attack… and hovered and swooped to attack. They were diving down on the sea turtles… turning them over… to expose their soft undersides… tearing their undersides open… and rending and eating their flesh.” Sebastian, unlike Violet, believed this is the face of God: “And when he came down the rigging, he said, ‘Well, now I’ve seen Him.’ And he meant God.” But Violet couldn’t believe that: “…’No, no, those are only birds, turtles, not us.’ I didn’t know then it was us. That we are all of us trapped by this devouring creation. I couldn’t, wouldn’t face the horror of the truth…”[7]

Following is a Lacanian-Kristevian reading that I want to partially disprove later on:

Another reflection of metonymy in Williams’s language in Suddenly Last Summer is the displacement of the father figure with the God image that has a great impact in constituting/destroying identity. Most of Tennessee Williams’s works resonate powerfully with the theme of God or the God image – both as the God of love and God of Wrath (Siegel, 2005, p. 538). A quick survey of Williams’s dramas and their projections of God and the God image infers a cruel image of God, implying psychological complexes and struggles in early childhood.

Here the God image is strongly associated with the pre-historic father experienced in early childhood. Adler affirms that the image of God in psychoanalysis resonates with an unresolved identity formation that is hidden in the word of God (1977, p. 138). In the play the image of God is a metaphor for “The-Law-of-the-Father” as in Lacan’s prehistoric father, before the mirror stage. Lacan believed that authoritative images like God act as an “incarnation or delight of [the] symbolic” (Grosz, 2005, p. 68) that function to install the child within the scene of subjectivity and discipline him/her: the image “accelerates the identification of the subject to the symbolic realm” (Fritscher, 1961, p. 27). The symbolic act of searching for God connotes Sebastian seeking a great ruling and governing power to fill the Name of the Father as an identifier. Mrs. Venable explains that Sebastian “was looking for a clearer image of God because he hasn’t yet been identified with a God-like father (rather than a God-like mother) to establish his subjectivity. He is still in the realm of the ruling mother who connotes death and madness, the one who babbles and describes herself and her son as a couple. The symbolic elements of the play lend further support to this idea when in his search for such an image, Sebastian goes to the beach and observes flesh eating birds. The sea is a symbol of nature and nature symbolises the mother, but what attracts his attention on the beach is not the sea but the sky full of flesh eating birds and turtles, “which are the symbols of masculinity” (Taylor, 2006). Surprisingly, the birds are birds with no legs which connote the defection and depletion of the whole picture of masculinity in Sebastian’s mind. [8]

The researchers here go even further with Kristeva abject notion and assume Sebastian’s conversion:

Catherine presents madness (Ohi, 1999, p. 41) and this is confirmed in the text by her confinement to the asylum and her babbling language and how she took over the function as object of desire: for madness and chaos are features of the mother who according to psychoanalytic theory is the object of desire for the mal-abjected child. However, surprisingly, although madness is attributed to Catherine, it is even more attributable to Mrs. Venable. Hers is a feminine madness as the object of desire (as death) who acted as bait to fulfil her son’s homosexual desire. Mrs. Venable, the obsessive mother, connotes a motherly feminine madness that leads the son to her realm which promises violence of both social norms and psychological development. This is why Thompson (2002) asserts that “Sebastian’s homosexuality results from a mutually exploitative and symbiotic relationship that he shares with his mother”. Catherine on the other hand evoked the heterosexual desire in Sebastian and they started a heterosexual connection, a connection that rendered Sebastian unable to write any poems in his last summer. Sebastian’s separation from his mother in his last journey and the substitution of mother for Catherine is another indication of a metaphorical death of the maddening, feminine, mothering desire. The transition from mother to Catherine that connotes the love from one’s self to another allows Sebastian to move on from the narcissistic stage that is marked by his homosexual desire and loving of self to the symbolic stage, that is manifested by heterosexual desire and love for Catherine. For narcissism, as Lacan puts it, is self- love: “It’s one’s own ego that one loves in love, one’s own ego made real on the imaginary level” (Lacan, 1988, p. 142). Kristeva (1982) further develops the concept by suggesting that the narcissist is “delightfully and dramatically condemned to find the other in the same sex only” and accedes to homosexuality. Accordingly, love of self is libido and preserving the pre-symbolic, whereas love towards another facilitates the move to the symbolic. In other words, if abjection is akin to “spitting” out the self to move on to the symbolic, then narcissism on the extreme contrary would represent merging and drowning within the self.[9]

Oh dear… this is quite interesting way of putting it, but No. Sebastian never had any heterosexual relationship with Catherine. She wasn’t His object of desire, but of the boys he wanted her to seduce for him. “I was procuring for him. Sebastian was lonely, doctor. That empty blue jay notebook got bigger and bigger. So big, it was big and empty… like that big, empty, blue sea and sky. And before long, when the weather was warmer and the beach so crowded… he didn’t need me anymore for that purpose. The ones from the free beach climbed over the fence or swam around it. So now he let me wear a decent dark suit. I’d go to a faraway end of the beach and write post cards… and letters and keep up my third person journal… till it was time to meet him outside the bathhouses on the street. He would come out… followed. Who’d follow him? The hungry young people that climbed over the fence from the free beach. He’d pass out tips among them, as if they’d all… shined his shoes or called taxis for him.”[10] Clearly, Sebastian showed no interest in her anymore, after she helped him get his objects of desire and do what he did with them in the bathhouses… So, he let her remove the seducer attire and let her assimilate in the crowd. Then she completely loses her sense of existence, so to speak, and was referring to herself again in third person. As if one can grasp his existence only if he serves as someone’s object of desire.

If Sebastian is growing up of his mother’s imagery order’s narcissistic phase toward the symbolic order’s Name of the Father, in his case this means encountering the devouring God of Wrath, i.e. death. If Sebastian saw God that day, on the verge of death, in the way RM Rilke describes the encounter with The Open, Catherine desires that God would see her, as the sign in her room at St. Mary’s implies. Whether God is present for women, without the mediation of men… it is yet to be found, as here she eventually reclaims her recollections and is heard because of a man, she transforms herself to be his object of desire by fixing her hair and wearing her fine dresses from Paris. Would he accept her as his lover or annihilate her completely by performing a lobotomy on her. Then she will lose not only her mind but also her looks, the visual attributes of her function as an object of desire: “Where will you cut my brain, doctor? In front? Or further back? I suppose I’m to have my head shaved. It seems like a waste. I just had my hair fixed this morning. Then to have it all cut off right after it.”[11]

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) - Screenshot - Catherine on the Beach

But why it is all about Sebastian – he is not there, he doesn’t exist. What about the two women in his life – are they only subjectified against him. Or objectified. What is their functions in the world. And why is their existence overshadowed by the possibility of elimination by madness. Why can’t the mother let go of her memories and fantasized reality, and why can’t Catherine have a memory at all, whether by amnesia or by lobotomy. What is between memory and existence, and being. And having subjectivity. Being a subject. Maybe now they are measured against another men – the detective doctor. He was initially hired to maintain Violet’s fantasy, due to her wealth. Then he follows his desire and re-inflates his doppelganger’s object of desire by proxy. Does Sebastian really mature to be the doctor. They are connected in Mrs. Venable mind: “… ‘When I’m gone, it will be yours to do whatever you please with.’ Meaning, of course, his future recognition. You’re very like him, doctor. -ln what way? -Because you, a doctor, a surgeon… …are dedicated to your art. Yes, to your art. It is an art, what you do. Using people the way he did. Grandly, creatively. Almost like God. -I’m afraid my art is to help. Not to use, but to be used. -Well, it comes to the same, doesn’t it? I mean, in the end.”[12] Will the practical heterosexual Dr. Mind, sorry, Dr. Sugar (the meaning of his Polish name Cukrowicz), be able to offer those women order and purpose for being… Funny enough, in real life, not only the playwright, like his embodiment in the drama, were gays, but also the actor who plays the good doctor….

When Sebastian failed to produce a poem that last summer, was it because art is a sublimation of desires, which he has no need to repressed when his mother was away. And why did he died there. Having been detached from the goddess mother and her restricted boundaries, did he went for the God-father. No, this doesn’t seem to be the case, as the name of the father is the law, which would have confined his raging desires. No, Sebastian went for the Real. When Mrs. Venable said that Sebastian saw the face of God – she meant something like seeing Zeus in all his glory, something a human can’t survive (see the case of Semele). This is why Catherine, who also saw God there, lost her mind and asked from god to stay alive, as Hagar did. Because when you see God, he also sees you.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) - Screenshot - Zeus Grotto & Pool
Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) - Screenshot - Zeus Pool

two sides of the same pond of mind – the raging Zeus vs. the garden of earthly delights

It seems there is one complicated term which can help us decipher the events in this film: Jouissance. Following Freud’s Principal of Pleasure, the subject’s constant desire to break through the pleasure principle towards the Thing and a certain excess jouissance is called death drive; thus jouissance is “the path towards death.” However, Lacanian theory asserts that “the speaking being [or the writing being] has to use the signifier, which comes from the Other. The signifier forbids the jouissance of the body of the Other. Complete jouissance is thus forbidden to the one who speaks, that is, to all speaking beings. This refers to a loss of jouissance which is a necessity for those who use language and are a product of language. This is a reference to castration, castration of jouissance, a lack of jouissance that is constituent of the subject. This loss of jouissance is a loss of the jouissance which is presumed to be possible with the Other, but which is, in fact, lost from the beginning.”[13] Those foundational concepts can already establish a connection between Sebastian’s lack of writing and his death, as writing sublimated his death drive, thus protecting him, while conversely his desire to have some Jouissance, led him give up his writing, when his controlling mother was no longer at his side. At the same time, Catherine, when out of the jouissance game, started writing, referring to herself in third person, until she was thrown back into it, big time.

But there is more to it. Considering Perversion, the Lacanian theory argues that “the Pervert imagines him-/herself to be the Other in order to ensure his/her jouissance. The perverse subject makes him-/herself the instrument of the Other’s jouissance through putting the object a [object of desire which we seek in the other] in the place of the barred Other [castrated Other], negating the Other as subject. His/her jouissance comes from placing him-/herself as an object in order to procure the jouissance of a phallus, even though he/she doesn’t know to whom this phallus belongs. Although the pervert presents him-/herself as completely engaged in seeking jouissance, one of his/her aims is to make the law present. Lacan uses the term père-version, to demonstrate the way in which the pervert appeals to the father to fulfil the paternal function.”[14] Who is the pervert here, Sebastian or Violet, or is it a folie-a-deux. Clearly we can crown the manipulative yet overly nurturing mother as the pervert when she acts as her son’s partner and procures young boys for him, enabling his homosexual pervert act (pervert according to Lacan). “The pervert assumes the position of the object-instrument of the ‘will-to-enjoy’ (volonté-de-jouissance), which is not his own will but that of the big Other. The pervert does not pursue his activity for his own pleasure, but for the enjoyment of the big Other. He finds enjoyment precisely in this instrumentalization, in working for the enjoyment of the Other.”[15] Sebastian can be seen here in a way as the big Other, as he is the writer, the reader, the one in charge of language. Is he also responsible for the Law – that is questionable, but maybe, as he is the temple of knowledge who swept his mother to be exposed to pieces of knowledge she finds hard to swallow. This is also reflected in the bizarre triangle of mother-father-child. Violet dropped her husband out of her life without a hitch:

– She gave up everything for Sebastian. Even her husband.

– What was Mr. Venable like?

– Mr. Venable was a good man… but dull to the point of genius. That was Sebastian you just heard talking. He would’ve said that, and it wouldn’t have sounded cruel. When I talk like him or when Aunt Vi talks like him, we sound heartless. And we’re not really. Though we do terrible things.

– What do you consider terrible?

– Aunt Vi let her husband die because of Sebastian. Killed him, some people thought.

– How, killed him?

– One summer, Sebastian decided to give up the torments of this world… and become a Buddhist monk. That was in Tibet in the Himalayas. He shaved his head, was given a wooden bowl to beg rice with and was happy. Till Aunt Vi came.

– Why? What did she do?

– Lived in a hut, even took vows, or whatever women do in such countries. Anything to be near him, to get to him, to make him come home. While they were there, word came. Mr. Venable was dying. He had to see her.

– And she chose to stay?

– She chose to let her husband die alone. If you’d known Sebastian, you’d understand how she had no choice… how none of us ever had a choice, once Sebastian had decided we were… to be used.[16]

So was it Sebastian or Violet who decided to have a couple-like relationship, to produce children-like poems written during their annual summer journeys after 9 months of preparations, like a pregnancy. It was Violet who testified that “I gather the poem was hard to deliver. Even with me. Without me, impossible.”[17]

When the perverse subject of Violet is replaced with the neurotic subject of Catherine, we have a problem, as “the neurotic subject does not want to sacrifice his/her castration to the jouissance of the Other (Écrits, 1977).”[18] Catherine doesn’t feel comfortable in the transparent bathing suit Sebastian made her wear. Thus, without the support of the Mother-Goddess (imaginary mother or symbolic God-like “father”) they both enter a psychosis state, which in Sebastian’s case leads to his demise.

“In psychosis, jouissance is reintroduced in the place of the Other. The jouissance involved here is called jouissance of the Other, because jouissance is sacrificed to the Other, often in the most mutilating ways, like cutting off a piece of the body as an offering to what is believed to be the command of the Other to be completed. The body is not emptied of jouissance via the effect of the signifier and castration, which usually operate to exteriorise jouissance and give order to the drives. Shreber describes a body invaded by a jouissance that is ascribed to the jouissance of the Other, the jouissance of God.”[19] This in a sense echoes not only the most horrific death of Sebastian, where his body was shredded to pieces, but also his desire to see God or the Real, the ultimate truth. “In his seminar of 1959-60, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Lacan deals for the first time with the Real and jouissance. Although the Real of the 1960s is not the same as his use of the Real in the 1980s, the first concepts emerge in this seminar. Here jouissance is considered in its function of evil, […] which is ascribed to a neighbour, but […] dwells in the most intimate part of the subject, intimate and alienated at the same time, as it is that from which the subject flees, experiencing aggression at the very approach of an encounter with his/her own jouissance.”[20] This is exactly what happened to Sebastian, who tried to flee the boys, not realizing they would kill him and let him experience his ultimate jouissance of God.

Catherine, whose psychotic state also involves language problems, doesn’t stop writing completely like Sebastian did, but started babbling, as the Lacanian lalangue, and loses her memory, which, in a way, also equates to a loss of words. “The practice of psychoanalysis with the psychotic differs from that of the neurotic. Given that the psychotic is in the position of the object of the Other’s jouissance, where the Uncontrolled action of the death drive lies, what is aimed at is the modification of this position in regard to the jouissance in the structure. This involves an effort to link in a chain, the isolated, persecuting signifiers in order to initiate a place for the subject outside the jouissance of the Other. Psychoanalysis attempts to modify the effect of the Other’s jouissance in the body, according to the shift of the subject in the structure. The psychotic does not escape the structure, but there can be a modification of unlimited, deadly jouissance.”[21] Catherine, who, like Sebastian has a death wish – we witness her attempting to jump into the hall of mad women (and being rescued at the last minute) – is given a truth serum, to help her find her language. Yet, this serum is not meant to lead her to the ungraspable truth of the Real, but rather to truth that can be articulated through language in the Symbolic order. As she declares at the end of the movie: “She’s here, doctor. Miss Catherine’s here.”[22] Again, referring to herself in the third person. Creepy! When is it really her. In what condition is she herself and in when is she merely a reflection of a men. I would assume that paradoxically she’s truly herself when she is expressing herself in the third person as she becomes also the Other through which she exists.

This is a quest for the truth, not just for being able to speak it, but to make sense of it all. As this is a detective story, there is a mystery to be solved and a suspected perpetrator to be punished. Is Violet, Mrs. Venable, who instigate this investigation, right with her accusation of Catherine for Sebastian death, when she claims that she didn’t know how to keep him alive, that she spreads horrible, hideous immoral stories about Sebastian and ruins his chances for future recogniztion and therefore must be stopped and punished by lobotomy, or is she herself the perpetrator, the pervert mother who didn’t let her son go, who is now has to be punished with a stroke, losing her appeal, i.e. her usefulness, and degraded to the point of grasping herself as “nothing” while others see her as mad (but get along with her whims due to her wealth). The mystery surrounding Sebastian’s death is sadly not being solved in a clear and smooth manner, as although the solution is presented to us in the form of a flashback, that we the viewers mostly perceive as the ultimate truth (according to genre conventions), this flashback might well be an hallucination of Catherine as it presents all kind of gothic symbols, some taken from Sebastian’s garden, like the winged skeleton, and others seems to be products of her imagination, like a skeleton momentarily replacing an old lady she encounters in her way. Moreover, the small table next to which Mrs. Venable sits, has only one leg, shaped like a knot, hinting at the entanglement of Violet’s life and personality. And then, I always wonder why detectives are on a quest to find someone else’s truth… is it because we’re all interconnected in some way and your truth is eventually also my truth. My orderly world.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) - Screenshot - Zeus Pool

As detective stories mostly offer concise solution that affirms a worldly order, gothic stories may often leave an open ending for you to ponder and question the world beyond truth and order. It is not Violet who seeks order and a solution here. Maybe Catherine and her doctor. As Violet and her Sebastian are nurtured by perversion, she lives among Sebastian’s garden of curiosities, tending to the Venus’s flytrap, a praying plant she nicknames Lady, which during winter months has to be feed with flies when it must be kept under glass. A garden of uncertainties and darkness: “It’s unexpected. Like the dawn of Creation. It was Sebastian’s idea. Part of his lifelong war against the herbaceous border. Not unlike a well-groomed jungle and, frankly, a little terrifying. So was Creation. So is Creation”[23] – the playground for explorations of mind and art, where order is not to be entered, where civilization is left out. Catherine testifies that “Sebastian said truth is at the bottom of a bottomless well.”[24] They’re indeed maximalists… like the Real, but still Violet holds a snobbish fantasy at the end of the movie, where her mind is clearly baffled as she addresses the doctor, as if he were her son: “Of course God is cruel. We didn’t need to come to the Encantadas to find that out, did we? No, we’ve always known about Him. The savage face He shows to people… and the fierce things He shouts. It’s all we ever see or hear of Him now. Nobody seems to know why. The difference is… we know about Him, the others don’t. That’s where we’re lucky.”[25]

As if they could handle the Real, why then, they have to use people for that. So much so, that Catherine naively ponders: “Isn’t that what love is? Using people? And maybe that’s what hate is. Not being able to use people.”[26] It seems she depicts preciously the difference between the response of the perverse subject and the neurotic subject to Sebastian’s hunger for attention, with a pinch of guilt for not being able to take upon herself the perverse part, for not being able to endure the advances of a married man and let herself be raped. This was right after telling the doctor of Violet deserting her husband to die alone for Sebastian (see above). “If you’d known Sebastian, you’d understand how she had no choice… how none of us ever had a choice, once Sebastian had decided we were… to be used.”[27] If Sebastian is ever to be considered a monster, it is not because of being a homosexual, but for being a selfish, self-centred, cruel abuser.

Based on a long one-act play by the same name, it was first performed in 1958, along with Something Unspoken, on a double bill entitled Garden District, after the affluent New Orleans neighbourhood in which it is set. Tennessee Williams spent 40 years of his life in this city and many of his plays are taking place there. Few other autobiographical details are to be found here. His sister, Rose, was a victim of the lobotomy procedure: diagnosed with schizophrenia, she was prone to what was called sexual babbling while institutionalized. This was partially the result of a very Puritan upbringing. When she accused her father of rape, her mother signed the papers for Rose to have a lobotomy. The operation silenced Rose and left her incapacitated for life.

Williams may have some acquaintance with psychoanalysis theories and may have been familiar with Freudian early thoughts of the matter, but the Lacanian thoughts brought here for our analysis are much later than the play. As this was not a direct influence upon the writer, this analysis may be taken with a grain of salt, as a product of our time, reflecting the jungle of alternative truths in which we live.


[1] Suddenly, Last Summer’s Script in scripts.com, p. 5.

[2] Michael D. Klemm, Who’s Afraid Of Sebastian Venable? (Posted online, December, 2008).

[3] Suddenly, Last Summer’s Script in scripts.com, pp. 4-5.

[4] Dollhouse (TV_series) in Wikipedia

[5] Translations from: https://www.bibleref.com/Genesis/16/Genesis-16-13.html

[6] This citation is from the movie. (Suddenly, Last Summer’s Script in scripts.com p. 14) The play reads: My son was looking for…[Stops short: continues evasively–]… all right, I started to say that my son was looking for God and stopped myself because I was afraid that  if I  said  he  was  looking  for  God, you‟d  say  to  yourself, „Oh,  a  pretentious young crack-pot!‟ All poets look for God, all good poets do……….. I mean for a clear image of Him. (Williams, 1958, p. 21 in Hezaveh, Leila & Low Bt. Abdullah, Nurul & Yaapar, Md Salleh. (2014). Revitalizing Identity in Language: A Kristevan Psychoanalysis of Suddenly Last Summer. GEMA Online Journal of Language Studies. 14. 1-13. 10.17576/GEMA-2014-1402-01.)

[7] Suddenly, Last Summer’s Script in scripts.com, pp. 15-16.

[8] Hezaveh, Leila & Low Bt. Abdullah, Nurul & Yaapar, Md Salleh. (2014). Revitalizing Identity in Language: A Kristevan Psychoanalysis of Suddenly Last Summer. GEMA Online Journal of Language Studies. 14. 1-13. 10.17576/GEMA-2014-1402-01.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Suddenly, Last Summer’s Script in scripts.com, pp. 53-54.

[11] Suddenly, Last Summer’s Script in scripts.com, p.36.

[12]  Suddenly, Last Summer’s Script in scripts.com, p. 9.

[13] Jouissance, in nosubject.com (the quote and above)

[14]  Perversion section in Jouissance, nosubject.com

[15] Perversion, in nosubject.com

[16] Suddenly, Last Summer’s Script in scripts.com, p. 24.

[17] Suddenly, Last Summer’s Script in scripts.com. p. 38.

[18] Jouissance, in nosubject.com

[19] Jouissance, in nosubject.com

[20] Jouissance, in nosubject.com

[21] Perversion section in Jouissance, nosubject.com

[22] Suddenly, Last Summer’s Script in scripts.com, p. 61.

[23] Suddenly, Last Summer’s Script in scripts.com, p. 6.

[24] Suddenly, Last Summer’s Script in scripts.com, p. 48.

[25] Suddenly, Last Summer’s Script in scripts.com, p. 61.

[26] Suddenly, Last Summer’s Script in scripts.com, p. 25.

[27] Suddenly, Last Summer’s Script in scripts.com, p. 25.

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