“It was almost sweet the way they worried about me.”
I recently re-read the Richard Powers book Galatea 2.2 which involves a novelist feeding culture and conversation into an AI protocol and inadvertently trying to shape it into a lost love, while also piling assumption after assumption onto an actual woman for the same purposes, and it struck me, along with this short story by Circe and The Song of Achilles author Madeleine Miller, how important the naming of the stories plays into the understanding of it. For both Powers and Miller, the story is named for the creation itself, not the creator. But then you take something like Goerge Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which I think I will be reading with classes in about a month, and see how it’s reversed. What’s interesting is that for all three of these stories, the creator is not treated particularly sympathetically, while the Creation is, or at least the act of creation is treated suspiciously.
In this story, which is specifically modeled from the Ovid version, Miller places the narrative back in the voice of Galatea, the statue brought to life by the sculptor Pygmalion who created it out of disgust for all those real women walking around with their personalities, selfhoods, and agency. When Galatea too begins to express her own will, Pygmalion imprisons her away from their daughter, where she must decide how to use the life given to her.
Miller specifically tells us in the afterword to this newly published version (the story is about a decade old) that she didn’t know the word “incel” would later become the go-to phrasing for a person like Pygmalion, but she’s happy to add it to the myth.