Freud: The Secret Passion

freud-pasion-secreta-1962-psicoanalisisFor those interested in a more visual example of how Freud worked in his theories, I really recommend this film by John Huston in 1962, with an original script written by Jean-Paul Sartre. The film is faithful to the facts and of a high quality; it shows very clear Freud’s beginnings and the reaction of his society. Enjoy!

Why does Freud matter?


Freud has been highly criticised by both conservatives and liberals either for being too explicit in his discoveries or too critique in his conclusions. Nowadays it is mainly criticised to be ‘politically incorrect’ whatever it may be. Indeed his ‘sexual theories’ to say so are not precisely in agreement with what is today widely accepted: homosexuality, ‘sexual liberation’, and so on. For example, to argue that a promiscuous man is more likely to become a pedophile, or that to be homosexual is to be a narcissistic are two things one cannot openly say in the street. If we look now at the most conservative part of society, it is possible to note how neglected female hysteria is as a consequence of sexual dissatisfaction within marriage. These two ideological visions of Freud’s theories are at least high unfair.

Whatever Freud said and whatever one thinks of, Europe owes a great deal to Freud. His investigations meant a completely new world to both science and humanities, and they show the root of an important number of psychological issues; not to mention that he is the father of psychoanalysis, and of a deeper understanding of sexuality. Freud was a great observer of the human mind and behaviour, and a brave man who was not afraid of his contemporaries. He faced lots of child-abuse cases within a bourgeois society and dared to dive into the human soul.

Literary studies are as well in debt with him. I would like to synthesise how can be Freud’s theories used into the literary field:

1. Aesthetics: Psychoanalysis opened the world of dreams and, particularly, its own logic. 20th century is full of artistic examples of a dream aesthetic (Kafka, Schnitzler, Dalí, Hitchcock, Welles, Brecth, among others). Freud’s influence cannot be mislead for those who approached especially the first part of the century.

2. Characters: Psychoanalysis has enhanced the understanding of literary characters and their relationships beyond the limits of the 20th century. Specially important are the familiar relationships to be approach, in many cases, from a Freudian perspective.

3. Art: The relationship between art and the artist acquires a more existential and sexual perspective; as well as the relations between sexuality, beauty and desire.

4. Sexuality: Explorations in the field of literary representations of sexual issues are facilitate by Freud’s studies on sexual behaviour which were pioneer. A quite complete analysis of all kind of sexual experiences was openly explore by Freud.

5. Unconscious: Terms such as ‘conscious’, ‘unconscious’, ‘sub-conscious’, ‘repression’ are properly born through Freud’s practice of psychoanalysis. These concepts complete the understanding of human behaviour especially in unhealthy cases.

6. Body: Literary representations of the body can be approach metaphorically, that is, as a physical representation of the mind or illness. Freud advances further postmodern theories of the body and its relationship to the illness and the text such as those of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault.

7. Childhood: The importance of early experiences in life has result to be a key point in general psychology until now.

I think the seven points above are the most important. Generally speaking, psychoanalysis has brought a deeper understanding of the relationship body-mind, and it is not at all surpassed by any other posterior theory, it is perfectly complementary to a kind of more scientific studies. Freud deserves, as any important thinker, a high consideration.

Materiality and Corporeality: The Body in Popular Fiction and Visual Culture

“Contemplating the Male Body: From Aesthetics to Sexual Pleasure in Homosexual Literature”. Materiality and Corporeality: The Body in Popular Fiction and Visual Culture. University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, 6 June 2013.

In this paper I analyse the representations of male bodies in André Gide’s The Immoralist (1902), Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (1912) and D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love (1920), with a particular focus on the perception with which the perceiving subject beholds the body. The male body is often turned into a voyeuristic spectacle when it is described in elaborate detail and perceived by an attentive subject whose gaze enjoys the contemplation of the object-body. On the one hand, the bodies that are objectified in that manner become objects of aesthetic contemplation. On the other hand, however, they also become potential sources for sexual pleasure. This article investigates the ways in which perceptions of male bodies are aestheticized and/or eroticised in these texts.

From the Aesthetic to the Sexual Gaze (IV)

2007BM5740_michelangelo_david_plaster_castThe ImmoralistDeath in Venice and Women in Love all share a strong presence of the visual field, which places them at the birth of a new culture in the first part of the twentieth century: the culture of vision. Detailed descriptions, especially of the human body, anticipate what will be central in the new seventh art. The pleasure of looking gains prominence as it becomes part of a new popular visual art that is much more culturally extended than painting ever was. But it is not so much in the fact of seeing where most of the pleasure is felt as it is in the object presented to the gaze: the human figure. Laura Mulvey, in her analysis of cinema, argues:

‘The cinema satisfies a primordial wish for pleasurable looking […] the conventions of mainstream film focus attention on the human form. Scale, space, stories are all anthropomorphic. Here, curiosity and the wish to look intermingle with a fascination with likeness and recognition: the human face, the human body, the relationship between the human form and its surroundings, the visible presence of the person in the world’. (‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ 4)

However, cinema was born from a new technological context that led to a new conception of art and the human being. Visual pleasure is not free of a massive superficial valorisation of aesthetics, which reduces art, and with it the human body, to mere exhibitionism. Walter Benjamin argues, in ‘The Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, that modern art has replaced the cultural value of art with exhibitionism; therefore, the work of art has no meaning in itself, but rather acquires significance insofar as it acquires a function, in this case, the function of being exhibited: “[through] the absolute emphasis on its exhibition value the work of art becomes a creation with entirely new functions, among which the one we are conscious of, the artistic function, later may be recognized as incidental” (619-20). If then, as Mulvey argues, the human body has become a source of artistic pleasure in the current epoch, it is also not free from becoming a mere instrument, and that is the danger Benjamin refers to when he says that the human figure has become the centre of a cult, since “its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order” (634).

The aesthetic value of the human being calls for a rebirth of the artistic sense in contemporary society beyond the significance of technology. The three texts here analysed express a necessary sensibility towards the human figure’s ability to arouse wonder in the reader. The gaze can only be surprised by discovering the unique and by avoiding endless mechanical reproduction. The historical moment when these novels were written is not unimportant, since they give testimony to both aesthetic and human value, reminding, as Plato’s Prophetess does, that “such a life as this, my dear Socrates, ” exclaimed the stranger Prophetess, “spent in the contemplation of the beautiful, is the life for men to live […]” (The Banquet 103).

From the Aesthetic to the Erotic Gaze (III)

tumblr_luetpht2nO1qjbn98o1_500The relationship between Robert Birkin and Gerald Crich in Women in Love introduces the importance of the gaze in this analysis.[1] All three novels have sight as the central sense involved in contemplation. Both aesthetic and sexual contemplation depend primarily on the gaze of the beholder, who gives a particular meaning to his object. In Women in Love, the beholder of the male body in the scenes here analysed is not always the same, but rather alternates between the narrator and Gerald. In the chapter “Fetichist”, Gerald’s is the most prominent gaze which rests upon the male bodies:

‘Gerald looked at him, and with a slight revulsion saw the human animal, golden skinned and bare, somehow humiliating. Halliday was different. He had a rather heavy, slack, broken beauty, white and firm […] And Gerald realised how Halliday’s eyes were beautiful too, so blue and warm and confused, broken also in their expression. The fireglow fell on his heavy rather bowed shoulders, he sat slackly crouched on the fender, his face was uplifted, weak, perhaps slightly disintegrate, and yet with a moving beauty of its own.’   (Women in Love 64)

In this same episode there are other similar descriptions, especially from Gerald’s perspective, which emphasise the presence of a beautiful male body through the use of colour adjectives that produce powerful aesthetic contrasts: “golden coloured body with black hair” (65), “Birkin, white and strangely ghostly, went over to the carved figure of the negro woman in labour” (65), “the Russian golden and like a water-plant” (65). The most powerful contrast is achieved through opposing the white male bodies to the black female statue, and it is by means of this pictorial scene that an artistic gaze is provoked in the reader, who is the one who can properly behold the totality of the depiction. This gaze, however, is constructed through Gerald’s perspective, the one who is more powerfully looking at the different parts of the scenario. He is also the one who realizes about the African statue, which later makes the colour contrasts clearer:

‘Gerald looked round the room […] there were several negro statues, wood carvings from West Africa, strange and disturbing, the carved negroes looked almost like a foetus of a human being. One was a woman sitting naked in a strange posture, and looking tortured, her abdomen stuck out […] the strange, transfixed, rudimentary face of the woman again reminded Gerald of a foetus, it was also rather wonderful, conveying the suggestion of the extreme of physical sensation, beyond the limits of mental consciousness’. (61)

Unlike The Immoralist and Death in VeniceWomen in Love powerfully channels the gaze of the reader through the characters. In the passages cited above, Gerald’s sight is more an instrument for presenting an aesthetic disposition to the reader’s gaze than an aim in itself; in other words, the aesthetic pleasure is addressed to the reader, who can become wholly conscious of the scene as a whole, rather than to Gerald, who only perceives parts of it. However, both Michel and Aschenbach fully enjoy the visions of Bachir and Tadzio respectively, while the reader is more involved with Michel’s and Aschenbach’s perceptions and not with their objects of beauty. These objects are mediated by the sight and emotions of their beholder, and it is precisely this mediation that is left to the reader, who has no direct access to the object, to enjoy.

 In Women in Love, the sexualized gaze appears through a different but still interesting mechanism. If in the previous analysed passage of this novel the beholder of the male bodies was properly the reader (through Gerald’s perspective), there is another scene which is presented to the reader through the narrator’s vision. This scene shows Gerald’s and Birkin’s naked bodies as they are involved in friendly wrestling. Since both characters are involved in the action, neither of them is able to describe the scene as a whole; therefore, a complete vision can only be achieved through the narrator’s gaze. If before Gerald found himself to be at a distance from Birkin, this distance is now overcome. Contemplation is now replaced by pure action, and is, as in Michel’s case, a fetishistic gaze on each other’s bodies. If the contact between the two bodies arouses any pleasure it can only be of a sexual kind. According to Carolyn M. Jones, the act of wrestling means a breakdown of older forms in Birkin’s and Gerald’s relationship and the establishing of new ones (69), which can also be represented through a new sexualised gaze. However, if between Gerald and Birkin the distance of the voyeuristic gaze is overcome, it still remains between the narrative voice, the reader, and the scene of the two bodies. The narrator and the reader behold a male spectacle, they are voyeurs of a scene described in sexual terms. But there is neither voyeurism nor exhibitionism amongst those enacting the scene:

‘So the two men began to struggle together. They were very dissimilar. Birkin was tall and narrow, his bones were very thin and fine. Gerald was much heavier and more plastic. His bones were strong and round, his limbs were rounded […] they became accustomed to each other, to each other’s rhythm, they got a kind of mutual physical understanding […] they seemed to drive their white flesh deeper and deeper against each other, as if they would break into a oneness’.   (Lawrence Women in Love 234)

This quote exemplifies the narrator’s perspective and the mutual gaze of the narrator and the reader on the scene, as well as the lack of awareness of the whole scenario on the part of the characters. The narration here fully invites the reader to take pleasure in the scene. Linda R. Williams, in her book Sex in the Head, argues that the male spectacle finds often no audience within Lawrence’s work itself (72), however she makes no reference to the non-fictional reality, the reader, who is truly the audience in such cases. In The Immoralist or Death in Venice, however, a fictive spectator also appears together with the male spectacle. It is notable that Williams ignores the reader when she considers the gaze in Women in Love. She claims the function of the female characters’ gaze is to introduce the male spectacle in the framework of a heterosexual relationship between the viewer and the object, and thus avoids a homosexual gaze between men (99). However, the two scenes analysed in this essay indicate the opposite. In the first case, Gerald is the one who sees the male bodies, and in the second case, the narrator is the first spectator; through them both, the reader, who can be considered as an abstract presence without a particular gender, becomes a spectator as well. Therefore, even if it can be argued that Lawrence experiments with a gender split, it does not explain the whole of his work.

[1] Important analyses about the function of the gaze in Women in Love include the studies by Linda R. Williams (1993) and Earl Ingersoll (1994).

From the Aesthetic to the Erotic Gaze (II)

veniceIn Death in Venice, Aschenbach experiences a similar situation to that of Michel. During his holidays in Venice, Aschenbach reconsiders his previous life as an artist and his conception of art, under the inspiration of the young Tadzio, who becomes the representation of Beauty with his young and well-proportioned body. Unlike Michel, Aschenbach dedicates a long time to the contemplation of Tadzio and his reflection about beauty, and it is not until almost the end of the novel that he experiences a rebirth in himself. This process is analysed by the narrator from a Platonic perspective, regarding beauty as a powerful force which can be both divine and dangerous. Classical references appear starting with Aschenbach’s first encounter with Tadzio:

 ‘With astonishment Aschenbach noticed that the boy was entirely beautiful. His countenance, pale and gracefully reserved, was surrounded by ringlets of honey-coloured hair, and with its straight nose, its enchanting mouth, its expression of sweet and divine gravity, it recalled Greek sculpture of the noblest period; yet despite the purest formal perfection, it had such unique personal charm that he who now contemplated it felt he had never beheld, in nature or in art, anything so consummately successful’ (Mann 219).

The artistic reference behind Aschenbach’s reflections on Tadzio’s beauty is the perspective of the Classical Age. Indeed, Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus (370 BC) is quoted at Aschenbach’s most crucial moment, that is, shortly before he becomes aware of his own desire for Tadzio. Hence, the Phaedrus introduces the debate about the two sides of Beauty, those of divine contemplation and human temptation, just when Aschenbach finds himself at a crux between them. In fact, Aschenbach’s approach to Tadzio’s figure is similar to Plato’s approach to beauty as an image of God or divinity. Moreover, in The Banquet (380 BC), Plato affirms through the figure of Diotima that “love is the desire of generation in the beautiful, both with relation to the body and the soul” (92). Love, then is love for the generation of beauty and not of the beauty itself (The Banquet 93), a fact related to Aschenbach’s artistic production, and especially to what he writes upon seeing Tadzio. The narrator relates how Aschenbach “embraced that noble figure at the blue water’s edge, and in rising ecstasy he felt he was gazing on Beauty itself, on Form as a thought of God […]” (Mann 237), and later on, the narration continues: “And Socrates, wooing him with witty compliments and jests, was instructing Phaedrus on desire and virtue. He spoke to him of the burning tremor of fear which the lover will suffer when his eye perceives a likeness of eternal beauty” (Mann 238).

However, the aesthetic vision is not completely free from arousing sensual pleasure and the temptation to turn the latter into the predominant focus. The narrator in Death in Venice reminds Socrates’ warning about how beauty can be a path either to the spirit or to debauchery:

‘[…] do you believe, dear boy, that the man whose path to the spiritual passes through the senses can ever achieve wisdom and true manly dignity? Or do you think rather (I leave it to you to decide) that this is a path of dangerous charm, very much an errant and sinful path which must of necessity lead us astray?’  (Mann 264)

Arthur Schopenhauer formulates the dilemma in these terms: “How is it possible for us to take pleasure in an object when this object has no kind of connexion with our desire?” (155). Schopenhauer argues that in beauty what is perceived is the Platonic Idea, the essence, and this perception abolishes the human will, which is the source of all pain. Therefore, aesthetic pleasure resides mainly in a negative act, i.e. the inability to suffer. The abolition of the will implies that of desire, because the subject is unable to want (Schopenhauer 155-6). However, Plato attributes the capacity of suffering to the beholder of the beautiful: ‘In this state of mingled pleasure and pain the sufferer is perplexed by the strangeness of his experience and struggles helplessly; in his frenzy he cannot sleep at night or remain still by day, but his longing drives him wherever he thinks that he may see the possessor of beauty’  (Phaedrus 58).

Moreover, if love is love of the generation of beauty, the contemplation of it engenders desire and action, a desire to eternally live in the presence of beauty, and thus to actively seek it (Plato The Banquet 93-4). As a consequence, aesthetic contemplation easily arouses desire in the subject even if, as Schopenhauer argues, the beholder takes pleasure from the contemplation of an essence. Indeed, there is a process in which, starting with the discovery of aesthetic pleasure in a human figure, the gaze approaches a threshold after which it will encounter a sexualized body. At this point, if the distance between the beholder and its object remains, the act of viewing becomes a substitute for the sexual act. The importance of sight at this crucial moment introduces the topic as analysed by Freud in his work “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality”. Freud considers the “optical impression” as the starting point for sexual arousal (69). Indeed sight is –as Plato holds in both Timaeus (65) and Phaedrus (57)– the primordial human sense, through which a first curiosity towards the outside is born. Moreover, sight awakes in men the desire for love (Phaedrus 57) and the pursuit of beauty. For Freud it means a longing for sexual union with the object of beauty, which in turn becomes identified with the sexual object. Admiration of the human figure is what Freud calls artistic sublimation, and belongs to an intermediate state between an initial attraction by such a figure and a completion of the sexual act (“On Sexuality: Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” 69). However, if there is no sexual act properly speaking, but instead the sight substitutes for this pleasure, then it is possible to talk about exhibitionism and voyeurism.

Unlike Michel, the character of Aschenbach in Death in Venice never achieves a close relationship with Tadzio, his sole object of beauty. The distance between the two men reinforces the act of seeing, which remains predominant throughout the whole novel. If in Michel’s case there is an evolution towards sexual consummation suggested at the very end of the novel, Aschenbach finds no other pleasure beyond that of contemplation.

The crucial moment for Aschenbach’s gaze arrives at almost the end of the novel, when he seems to glimpse Tadzio’s smile; Aschenbach’s “eyes met those of the returning absentee –and in that instant it happened that Tadzio smiled: smiled at him” (Mann 244). It causes an immediate reaction in Aschenbach, whose desire is completely aroused: ‘And leaning back, his arms hanging down, overwhelmed, trembling, shuddering all over, he whispered the standing formula of the heart’s desire –impossible here, absurd, depraved, ludicrous and sacred nevertheless, still worthy of honour even here: “I love you!” (Mann 244).

Aschenbach experiments contradictory feelings; he is now on the threshold of a new gaze that expresses a different approach to Tadzio. From this point on, Aschenbach’s and Tadzio’s eyes will meet again, and Tadzio’s awareness and passivity will suggest a pleasure in being looked upon. A similar scene takes place when Aschenbach “ventured to steal a glance at Tadzio, and as he did so he became aware that the boy, returning his glance, had remained no less serious than himself […]” (255). Because a physical encounter never takes place between the two, sight becomes the predominant sense as a source for sexual pleasure. An indication of the sexual importance of these meetings is brought out by Aschenbach’s Dionysian dream:

‘It began with fear, fear and joy and a horrified curiosity about what was to come […] from far off a hubbub was approaching, an uproar, a compendium of noise, a clangour and blare and dull thundering, yells of exultation and a particular howl with a long-drawn-out u at the end –all of it permeated and dominated by a terrible sweet song of flute music […] they were himself as an orgy of limitless coupling, in homage to the god […] his very soul savoured the lascivious delirium of annihilation’ (Mann 259-61).




From the Aesthetic to the Erotic Gaze (I)

Eastman Johnson (American painter, 1824-1906) Negro Boy 1860The following posts will analyse how the contemplation of a beautiful body arouses sexual pleasure within the field of either homophilia or homoeroticism.

In The Immoralist (1902), the healthy state of the bodies where Michel finds beauty has, among other episodes, autobiographical reminiscences. Gide suffered from tertiary syphilis and anaemia during his childhood, something to keep in mind when appreciating the important link between health and beauty in his novel.  Michel’s weak and sickly physical state is aesthetically contrasted with the robust and healthy bodies of African boys, as well as with the exotic setting surrounding him. Michel describes his experience of seeing the young Bachir as follows: “When he laughed, he showed his pure white teeth. He licked the cut blithely; his tongue was pink like a cat’s. Ah, how well he looked. That is what I fell in love with –his health. This small body was in beautiful health” (The Immoralist 26).

Michel is aware of the physical presence of Tunisian boys, who awaken a desire for life and health in him; after the scene quoted above, Michel declares “I had started to love life” (The Immoralist 26), and only then does he firmly decide to improve his state of health. Beauty as represented by a healthy body means for Michel a redemption that is both physical and spiritual. Chapter III is mainly dedicated to Michel’s body, as a means of demonstrating how important physical recuperation is for the rest of his being. The body is an expression of Michel’s interiority, as can be seen throughout the novel, via the respective changes that his body and soul suffer. There is a complete evolution from a disharmony between Michel’s body and inner desires to a harmony between them. His physical appearance changes during the act of discovering himself. There are several references to Michel’s perception of his own identity, starting at the very beginning of the novel, such as “knowing myself so little” (16), “I didn’t know who I was” (24), “was this finally the morning when I was to be born?” (34) “I had a strange moment of self-revelation” (38), “did I know myself?” (43), “from now on, he was the one I intended to discover: the authentic being […] I myself –had tried to suppress” (43), until almost the middle of the novel when Michel quotes “a new self! A new self!” (44). It has been the presence of aesthetically pleasing bodies which has lead Michel to a rebirth.

While Michel is coming to a realisation about his new and authentic self, he experiments “a strange moment of self-revelation” (Gide 38). In the presence of another Arab boy Michel questions himself for the first time about his fascination with young boys:

 ‘Moktir, the only one of my wife’s favourites who didn’t annoy me (perhaps because he was good-looking), was alone with me in my room. Until then I had liked him only moderately, but his dark, brilliant eyes intrigued me. I developed an inexplicable curiosity about him, and began to watch his movements carefully’.                                                                          (Gide 38)

From this point on, words related to the semantic field of the beautiful decrease in favour of terms more linked to that of sexuality, such as “good-looking” (38), “handsome” (61), “attracted” (67) or “passion” (115). In the scene quoted, Michel’s gaze is scrutinizing and consciously looking for satisfaction. It is clearly a “voyeuristic view”, as John Ellis points out: “the voyeuristic look is curious, inquiring, demanding to know” (47). Later on, Michel realises that Moktir was aware that he was looking at him. His colleague Ménalque tells Michel that Moktir “realized you were watching him in the mirror and he caught your eye in the reflection” (Gide The Immoralist 77). It is significant that Ménalque is one of the triggers for Michel’s becoming self-aware of his desire, since Ménalque can be interpreted as a parallel figure to that of Oscar Wilde in Gide’s own life. Indeed, the encounter between Gide and Wilde in North Africa was decisive for Gide’s decision to embrace homosexuality (Sheridan 76). Moktir responds to Michel’s gaze, and even if the novel gives no indication of his feelings at this moment, the fact that he is seen while stealing a pair scissors and does not change his behaviour suggests that he knows what kind of action is taking place. Moktir does not fear being accused by Michel, in fact, he exhibits his own body as he hides the scissors “inside his burnous” (Gide The Immoralist 77).  In the whole novel there is no other pleasure for Michel than these moments of voyeurism; he finds no pleasure in his sexual relations with his wife. This parallels Gide’s own experience, for he considered women to be spiritual-love companions with whom sexual pleasure was difficult to enjoy (Sheridan 62). Therefore, the act of looking at male bodies becomes the greatest source for sexual pleasure. There is in Gide’s life an earlier testimony to such a pleasure. In his autobiography, Gide writes how “the sight of Idrac’s Mercury […] threw me into a stupor of admiration, out of which Marie had the greatest difficulty in arousing me” (If it Die… 50).

The second part of the novel shows the settling of Michel’s new self, and this fact implies a definite change in his own gaze. Michel’s enjoyment of the male body becomes less contemplative and tends subtly towards action. The presence of a gorgeous boy does not startle his sight as before, and he is already familiar with the pleasure that is linked to this kind of vision. Now, Michel seems to seek something more than mere contemplation. Such an experience is made possible by Charles, the son of one of Michel’s workers. Michel describes Charles as “a handsome fellow, so blooming with health, so lissom and well-made” (Gide The Immoralist 61). Unlike with the Tunisian boys, Michel will have a close relationship with Charles, who will be helpful for Michel’s business, and in turn this situation will allow them to spent time together in different activities. This activity breaks the contemplation and introduces action into Michel’s appreciation of the male body; in other words, the voyeuristic view becomes a “fetishistic process”, which Ellis defines as “the abolition of looking itself: bridging the gulf that separates viewer and object” (Visible Fictions 47).

Why the Rule of Metaphor? days ago, I made a comment on the title of the English edition of Paul Ricoeur’s La Métaphore Vive. Well, for those interested  here is the answer of Robert Czerny, the translator; a very nice and welcomed answer. I copy here our respective emails:

Dear Robert,

I wish to make a comment on your title translation (The Rule of Metaphor).
I think La Métaphore Vive is a fantastic theory of hermeneutics at the opposite side of the question of “rule”. If there is something far away from the meaning of “rule”, or “norm”, that is the theory of Paul Ricoeur concerning linguistics. Even a first sight to the words “rule” and “living” shows something wrong with these two words, something unlikely. Indeed Ricoeur is concerned with the most intuitive sense of meaning; the one  blooming at its very perception, which is alive. There is no sense of rule in Ricoeur’s theory of metaphor but sense of endlessly becoming; newness; creation; life. Until some point, rule is death, or at least there is a very first intuition to join rule with lack of creativity, that is, with compliance, uniformity, conservatism, death.
What do you think of that? Why not just a translator like The Living Metaphor?
Best wishes,
Aina Marti
Dear Aina, you are absolutely right about the title.
In fact, I explain the curious title in the third paragraph of the translator’s foreword (I assume it is still there, but perhaps some publishers have removed it – it was in the first edition). The explicit reference to Aristotle is the main clue. I could have added that “Therefore the ‘rule’ is that there is no rule!” but that would be like explaining a joke, and explained jokes are painful.
This humorous, almost oxymoronic title had Paul Ricoeur’s approval. I had the privilege of getting to know him (and his wife) personally in the Fall of 1972 and Fall 1973. He asked me to do the translation in late Fall 1973. He had a good sense of humour, and he liked the irony of the title. (One might also say, the error of the title, if one takes it literally.) Charles Reagan, who has written on Ricoeur, also questioned the title along the same lines as yourself. These are the only two objections I have heard.
Needless to say, I agree with all you say about metaphor according to Ricoeur: blooming, newness, creativity… That is why I added the subtitle (also with his approval – it does not exist in the French) that mentions “creation of meaning in language”.
How did you get to know this book? How does it fit into your interests, studies or work?
With best wishes, Robert

Practical Information on Ricoeur’s Theory Today

paul chez lui, dans la salle 2(2)For those interested in Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutics and aesthetics, I am glad to show you important projects in which Ricoeur gives a significant base to see how the last research projects develop, especially in the realm of aesthetics.

Moreover, there is emerging a great bibliography source on Ricoeur in cooperation with Sorbonne University and L’Ecole d’Haut Etudes:

All that just shows how important the influence of this philosopher was and is; all kind of contribution will be very welcome for the academic world.

Baroque Gaze in Woolf’s Between the Acts

Theatre-MysteryIn 1940 Virginia Woolf finished Between the Acts, a novel close to The Waves and very clearly belonging to her last years in style and narration. Indeed, Woolf’s last novels are characterised by a strong presence of symbolical meaning and language, a very intuitive perception of the world, something which brings her narrative close to Ricoeur’s understanding of the text as a world to be deciphered by means of words and images. Very symbolical and metaphorical as well as very modernist, Between the Acts is a work within a work, more exactly, a play inside a novel.

The meaning of this novel is more apprehensive by intuition than by logical thought, and the interrelation between the play and the novel belongs, I dare to say, to a metaphysical realm. The whole book describes, or re-describes -using Ricoeur’s concept- the meaning of a single day where a play takes place. The play is a historical one, and it shows the  Elizabethan England, that is, the English Golden Age -calling to some world’s conception; and it is displayed between the wars, in 1939. What is put on stage is life in a fictional realm and in the real one, where the reader finds himself. While the novel’s characters are looking at the stage, the reader is looking at them and beholding the whole scene of looking as a theatre. The sense of scenario is strongly presented to the reader, and it implies a sense of volatility, illusion, in the very least, falsehood. Woolf killed herself a year after writing this novel, and it is very interesting to see how the sense of spectacle permeates the text. In A Sketch of the Past, an autobiographical text written by Woolf during the years 1939-40, she outlines the feeling of being in the world as a spectator, as an outsider. Between the Acts expresses this feeling metaphorically presenting life as a play and making of both, the characters and the reader, spectators; she is sharing her existential experience.

Fiction becomes here the only possible world to create a pre-experience of suicide, of despair. A whole day has become a pageant, and this day is linked to the world through the historical moment represented in the play. The idea of being on the stage so properly of the Baroque epoch comes into play in 1940, where death and futileness were present again in a sense of decadence. Shakespeare and Calderon de la Barca make this point central, life is a stage, however, the difference resides in the extension of the drama: in the Golden Age it was cosmological, in Modernism it is individual. It is Virginia Woolf who is properly experimenting her existential inconsistency, and her novel involves daily characters in a normal day. It is daily life what becomes nonsensical, the individual existence is affected by a non-real experience -maybe this same feeling led Walter Benjamin to write The Origin of German Tragic Drama in 1925. But baroque authors were concerned with a world vision theory, so to say, not with a personal experience of annihilation.

Ricoeur and his Wonderful Worlds

PAUL_RICOEUR_2__c__louis_MonierThe Rule of Metaphor is a betraying translation for La Métaphore Vive (1975), a fantastic theory of hermeneutics at the opposite side of the question of “rule”. If there is something far away from the meaning of “rule”, or “norm”, that is the theory of Paul Ricoeur concerning linguistics. Even a first sight to the words “rule” and “living” shows something wrong with these two words, something unlikely. Indeed Ricoeur is concerned with the most intuitive sense of meaning; the one  blooming at its very perception, which is alive. There is no sense of rule in Ricoeur’s theory of metaphor but sense of endlessly becoming; newness; creation; life. Until some point, rule is death, or at least there is a very first intuition to join rule with lack of creativity, that is, with compliance, uniformity, conservatism, death. The translator for the English edition argues: “I have offered The Rule of Metaphor because of its metaphorical suggestiveness.” Well, I wonder if the word “rule” suggests creativity to anyone, which actually means that this writing will probably end in a claiming letter to this intuitive translator.

Coming back to Ricoeur’s living metaphor, one of the most interesting points of this theory is how language is pushed beyond its limits. Metaphor, says Ricoeur, is the expression of a new reality unable of being referred to with ordinary language. In contrast to the theory of substitution according to which metaphor beckons the same reality with other words, Ricoeur argues how metaphor goes beyond it creating another realm of experience, something which escapes common consensus. Thus, every act of reading will be a “possible world”, a new reality whose meaning is not conventional but alive, new; therefore there are no established words to refer to this realm of existence but the new creation of meaning which metaphor allows. The subject is of course totally involved in the deciphering of the metaphor, and it is following the personal mode of being in the world that the metaphor, or the text, shows its meaning.

Metaphor increases the cognitive field, knowledge, but also the affective realm of existence. Feelings as well are involved in the new search for meaning because metaphor produces images through words that provoke feelings. Here the aesthetic field is linked as well to metaphor through the image or icon. Ricoeur argues how in the image the verbal and non-verbal expressions meet each other causing a new meaning which refer to a new reality. Metaphor shows this encounter of the word and the image in a synthesis which actually creates the new concept. Both the word and the image belong to different domains, but both together configures the thought and expand it with new meanings made up by new unions.

Every meaning a reader gives to a text blooms as a new garden in the field of the understanding; human creativity is an infinite source of creation and meaning which actually is a potential new world in the sense of apprehension of reality. The gaze of the subject again shows its power when referring to the reality, both internal and external, as meaning is able to change the perception of the world, and thus, the whole being in the world of one self.

Still Something to do

Asian-Ballet-Watercolor-Painting-360x480thIn 1928 Virginia Woolf was concerned about women, money, and writing. Her essay A Room of One’s Own is an attempt to analyze the situation of female writers through the history of literature, and to figure out why they are far less in number than men. Even if for many the reasons concerning such situation could appear clear enough, there is one particular reflection in Woolf’s thoughts far from being solved, even thought of, eighty years later she put it into words.

Among the women writers Woolf cites Jane Austen is one of the most acclaimed by her. It is not because of being better than, for example, Charlotte Brönte, but because of the mode in which she wrote, that is, completely free from male conventions. In fact, Woolf is looking for something purely feminine, a mode of being in the world as a woman, not as a woman according to a patriarchal society, which is still where we still live. “The book has somehow to be adapted to the body”, that is an interesting statement, and it shows how Woolf was thinking about the essence of being woman or man and their corresponding artistic expressions. She was not so far from Barthes’ The Semiotic Challenge or The Pleasure of the Text considering the writing as adapted to the author’s mind or physical expression; at the very least, as a living entity. This self-expression is what Woolf found in Jane Austen and not in other female writers:

“They [Jane Austen and Emily Brontë] wrote as women write, not as men write. Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they alone entirely ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue -write this, think that. They alone were deaf to the persistent voice, now grumbling, now shocked, now angry, now avuncular, that voice which cannot let women alone, but must be at them, like some too-conscientious governess, adjuring them”

It is exactly that which gives freedom to a woman to be a woman, instead of trying to put oneself within the male paradigms in order to be accepted or considered. The book should be adapted to the body, and it can be applied to other realms of the existence. That is what part of Feminism has lost: her own body. Instead of it, it has been the male body what has been defended every time some woman has tried to become a man. Part of the results from Feminism in the Twentieth Century have been to adapt the woman to a male society, instead of adapt society to the female body.

The Touch of Him


“The touch of him,” said Connie.

“That’s it, my lady, the touch of him! (…).”

H.D.Lawrence has usually been considered as an erotic writer, and as a misogynist, and I wonder what does it mean. Lawrence does not simply write erotic scenes, he is concerned with sexuality in an existential manner; and he is not simply a misogynist when he is able to display women’s concerns in their love relationships with such accuracy. Indeed, if Lawrence understood something it was the woman -strange enough for a man to sink into a female’s heart.

For Lawrence, sexuality conformed an important part of the human life and it meant something for him.  He does not literally describe physical contact, but he goes beyond it trying to get a deeper meaning usually through the metaphor. There is something fulfilled in the sexual encounters so needed for the person as other aspects of his or her reality. Lawrence’s characters use to experience their body as a very integrated part of their souls, and it communicates part of his being, especially, through sexuality. In Lawrence’s works, men and women should note a physical compatibility between them to find a complete meaning to their love relationships. In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Connie’s husband paralysis becomes as well her own, and she submerges herself into a lifeless world. Connie’s rejection of her active sexuality implies that of her truly self and need for life. The interesting point in Lawrence’s analysis is that he relates the personal experience of his characters’ sexuality with their self. Mr Chatterley for example is a man of business and industry; he owns mines, machinery, he is hard and cold -like Gerald in Women in Love. However, Connie does not deal well with the technical world, but with the natural life. This difference between them two separates them, and it finds a corresponding expression in their respective sexuality. Lawrence uses to critique the negative effects of industry upon nature and the human being, and it is normal to find in his works negative associations with the industrial man. Mr Chatterley represents infertility with his paralysis and impotence; he is away from nature, from his and his wife’s biological being. But Connie lives suffocated under the industrial business of her husband, until she meets a worker of her husband’s properties.

Lady Chatterley’s lover represents the contact with nature and primitivism for both his low status and his life in the woods. Their meetings take place in the hut, which is actually a very primitive space compare to the Chatterley’s mansion. Nature is the surrounding of their sexual desire, and it means life and fecundity. Connie feels properly like a woman when she fulfils her sexuality, something very important for Lawrence who considered the heterosexual complementation as source of life and energy. The sexual descriptions have the function of outlining the male and female reactions to each other, and their mutual necessities only to be satiated with each other. Connie needs him to touch her to find her complete womanhood, and he needs her to kill his loneliness. That is why penetration is always described as an entrance into her; the references to the inside are important as they reach a spiritual meaning, a mutual completeness.

Our Body, Our Language

dancing,women,art,dance,painting,womans-59550cc39b7428ffade728ba4e533455_h_largeSince the second half of the nineteenth century is possible to see in the history of literature an increasing prominence of the human body and its importance. It was Freud who put into words the relation between our interiority and our body and clearly talked about an interpretation of the physical signs to know our inner problems. The body talks, indeed, as we are a human unit, and it is a pity to see how nowadays medicine is just concerned with the physiological. A lot of health problems have their origin somewhere deeper within us but the fashion today is to cut off what is superficially wrong and, of course, the problem usually comes again later on. Well, the main problem in our medical system is that humanities have absolutely no importance and we find doctors with no idea of what a human being is beyond his or her flesh. But this digression was not my intention.

Coming back to literature, I would say Zola is one of the most important authors concerned with the body reactions to our own actions. In fact, Thérèse Raquin and Laurent after killing Camille do not present spiritual regret but physical regret, to say so. It is a very interesting point how, even when a person could have lost all his or her feelings, the body remains and expresses through illness the consequences of an action. They do not ‘feel bad’ but they feel ill, terribly ill until the point of desiring death. That is what Zola does wonderfully, he experiments with the most physical part of the human being and this part talks as well.

In a more linguistic approach, it is excellent the work of Roland Barthes and even of Michel Foucault regarding the language of the body. Barthes, in The Semiotic Challenge finds a correlate between the body and the language and argues how illness belongs to the language of the body. Foucault in The Birth of the Clinic presents a similar approach regarding the sign found both in the body and the language. It is possible to read a human body as it is possible to read a text and until now the most wonderful example I can give of is Barthes’ The Pleasure of the Text. Barthes establishes a parallel between the textual and the human eroticism and seduction. Language and body are extremely related in this case but they are so indeed in a lot of situations.

Lawrence is another author dealing with the language of the body and between bodies. Most of his female characters feel their sexual needs as something which goes beyond the physical and expresses itself in the whole person, something similar happens to Thérèse Raquin. The awakening of the body has consequences all over the psyche and soul of the character and the process of attraction starts with a physical communication which usually is expression of something deeper. When the body is able to express the truly personality of the person harmony is likely to appear.

Conference: Nineteenth- Century Aetiologies, Exoticism, and Multimodal Aesthetics

“Uncanny Aesthetics in Kafka’s America or The Man who Disappeared”. Nineteenth- Century Aetiologies, Exoticism, and Multimodal Aesthetics Conference, Liverpool University, Liverpool, 2 April 2013.

This paper analyses the aesthetic creation of the Uncanny in the narrative of Kafka, especially in his novel Amerika, first published in 1927. The paper argues how the Uncanny can be perceived through the descriptions the main character does of the closed spaces or buildings which appear in the novel. The subjective perception of Karl Rossmann is linked to his unconscious and indicates a presence of the ‘unintentional return’ of a threat, in this case the threat of being expelled once and again which justifies his endless wanderings in America.