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.

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).

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.


The Human Beast in Thérèse Raquin

thereseA Zola’s novel hardly leaves anyone indifferent; he is the artist par excellence of the darkest human side. It is not just in his topics and characters, it is in his narrative style as well where Zola depicts brutality in a very brutal way: without judgement. There is no the slightest moral voice in his work to relief the reader of the tragedy, instead, the reader is trapped in a hopeless world completely alone without finding an accomplice in the narrator. That is what makes Zola especially terrible, his objective display of the human beast.

Such a thing as a ‘good character’ is impossible to find in Thérèse Raquinthere are just evil and less-evil characters  in the Parisian novel. No one is free or innocent, all of them are accomplices in some way or another of the murder of Camille, even Camille himself. All the characters present in the novel are especially concern with themselves, their own interests, which lead them to cause unfair situations in an endless chain of guilty. Surviving is the main objective for each one until the only possible way to do so is suicide. Death freed Thérèse and Laurent of their crime remorses after months of mutual hate and misbehaviour. Camille, Madame Raquin, Thérèse and Laurent are all victims and guilty; even secondary characters can be accused of selfishness looking just for self-satisfaction. The characters’ descriptions and the atmosphere of the novel is quite animalistic. The word ‘animal’ to design desires or feelings is used repeatedly for Thérèse and Laurent and it is full of animal similes which refer to their bodies as well. Sexuality between the lovers is mainly aggressive and even masochistic, it is just of an instinctual kind.

The adulterous affair between Thérèse and Laurent corresponds actually to that of Rougemont’s theory in The Love in the Western World. After committing the crime killing Camille, Thérèse’s husband, Laurent and Thérèse cannot feel attract to each other any more. Moreover, they will progressively hate each other after their marriage, which was the goal killing Camille, until ending in death. Indeed, the adulterous affair is exciting because of the obstacle, it is the romantic love which is thrilling and such a thrill is possible due to the obstacle, in this case, the husband. Passion was possible for the lovers because of their consciousness of braking the rule and their passion needed always an obstacle, otherwise, it dies. No passion lasts forever and there is no passion in marriage actually after a certain time. Marriage is not properly the place for sexual passion, this one should be found outside ‘conformity’. The problem then with passion is that neither every obstacle lasts forever, so death is the last solution and, Rougemont would say, the lover’s most secret desire. Death is the only obstacle which remains forever and which feds lover’s ‘love’. Thérèse and Laurent can just kill themselves because they have discovered that marriage’s happiness was a mirage, they needed Camille to find the passion. And actually the only scene of relief in the whole novel is at the very end, when they decide to commit suicide:

‘Suddenly Thérèse and Laurent burst into tears, and in a final breakdown fell into each other’s arms, as weak children. Something gentle and tender seemed to awaken in their breast. They wept and said nothing, thinking of the sink of filth in which they had been living and would go on living if they were cowardly enough to remain alive. And then, as they remembered the past, they felt so weary and sick of themselves that an immense longing for rest an oblivion came over them. They exchanged one last look, a look of gratitude in the presence of the knife and the glass of poison. Thérèse took the glass, drank half of it, and gave it to Laurent, who finished it in one gulp. It was as quick as lightning. They fell on each other, struck down instantly, and at last found consolation in death.’

Upcoming Conference On the Epistolary Genre

Yours Sincerely: The Rise and Fall of the Letter
28-29 June 2013
Manchester, United Kingdom
The tradition of communication through correspondence can be traced far back in the annals of ancient history, but the rise of technology is daily changing the face and format of the letter. This conference will explore forms of correspondence as they have evolved from simple letters between friends and literary personalities and their shared experiences to revelations, through correspondence, of scientists, statesmen and celebrities. It will also look at the language used in the traditional letter, the email, the text message and the tweet as well as the constant change and development in this form of dialogue from the past and into the future, examining related fields and the letter in its historical and literary contexts. Papers are sought from all disciplines, including but not limited to literature, history, anthropology, psychology, philosophy and other social sciences and arts. Proposals are sought for 20 minute papers. Possible themes may include (but are not limited to):
The changing language of digital correspondence
Victorian women writers
Challenges of editing letters
Evidential value for biographers, historians
19th century letter writers
20th century letter writers
21st century letter writers
Use of letters as a device in fiction
The epistolary novel
The lasting value of digital correspondence as an archival or primary source
The future of letter writing
Abstracts of 250-300 words (for a 20 min paper) should be sent via email to librarian@theportico.org.uk or assistant.librarian@theportico.org.uk by 1st April 2013.
Selected papers may be invited for inclusion in an academic collection of essays following the conference.
An exhibition surrounding the theme of the conference will run from 11th June to the 26th of July at The Portico Library and will tie in with Quarry Bank Mill’s ‘Best Wishes’ exhibition which begins in April and extends to the rest of 2013.

Eastern European Hamlets at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London

hamlet-dorobantu-dan-vivianThe panel discussion on Eastern European Hamlets will address the question of how the staging of Shakespeare’s Hamlet develops a socio-political potential in different cultural contexts in Eastern Europe post-1989.
On the basis of an interdisciplinary discussion between literary criticism, translation studies and performance analysis, the following questions shall be addressed during the discussion panel: What are the mechanisms of appropriation of Hamlet within different cultural contexts in Eastern Europe post-1989? How do such appropriation processes influence a self-understanding of Eastern Europe as the so-called ‘new’ Europe and how do they construct cultural identities? Does a phenomenon such as anEastern European Hamlet exist?
We are happy to announce that the panel will feature Prof. Dr. Boika Sokolova, Dr. Nicoleta Cinpoes, Dr. Marta Minier, Dr. Aneta Mancewicz, Dr. Sonia Massai, Dr. Duška Radosavljević and Alexandra Portmann, presenting on Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian, Polish, Lithuanian and Yugoslav Hamlets respectively.
Due to limited space, we would be very grateful if you could register online for the event:http://easterneuropeanhamlet.eventbrite.co.uk

Study Day at Oxford





Friday 26th April 2013, Worcester College, Oxford

Organised by
Jennifer Rushworth, Worcester College, Oxford, and Richard Mason, King’s College London

We are pleased to open the Call for Papers for an upcoming postgraduate study day especially dedicated to graduate students working on Proust. The aim of this venture is to encourage dialogue and collaboration between current students of Proust and to gain a greater awareness of trends at the cutting edge of Proust studies. Since postgraduate study in the humanities can often be an isolated affair, the motivation behind this study day is that of enabling discussion and the sharing of ideas within a friendly and informal environment, and the establishment of a network of early-career Proustians for the purposes of future events and research.

Papers, in either English or French, should be a maximum of 20 minutes and should aim to present a significant aspect of the speaker’s current research, however provisional or tentative. New theoretical approaches to Proust, as well as any other aspect of Proustian research (sources, intertexts, and so forth), are particularly welcome.

Please email 250-word abstracts (text only, no attachments please) by 1st March 2013 to both jennifer.rushworth@worc.ox.ac.uk and richard.mason@kcl.ac.uk. Please remember to include your name, affiliation, and thesis title.

There will be a registration fee of £10 payable on the day to cover the costs of organisation and refreshments.

Time in European Modernism

clock-screen01 CFP MDRN conference 1: Time and Temporality in European Modernism and the Avant-Gardes (16-18 Sept. 2013)
Call for papers
Time and Temporality
in European Modernism and the Avant-Gardes (1900-1950)
16-18 September 2013 – KU Leuven, Belgium
This three-day conference aims to canvass the breadth and depth of the issues of time and temporality in European modernist writing and classic avant-garde literature.
It has often been argued that so-called “high” modernist and avant-garde writing were perhaps the first to investigate in detail the problems of time and temporality. As a result, reflection on both issues in (“new”) modernism and avant-garde studies abounds. To date, however, we lack a systematic understanding of the different forms and functions of time and temporality in the writing from the period. It is this lacuna the present conference aims to fill. We are particularly interested in (general as well as innovative case-based) considerations of modernist and avant-garde writing and practices that tackle one of the following questions:
  • How was time represented? What genres, techniques and means were deployed to evoke time?
  • In what ways was the literary representation of time influenced by (changes in) other media and art forms?
  • Which temporalities (bodily and natural time, mechanical and machine time, private and public time, etc.) were evoked and how did they interrelate?
  • How was the flow of time conceived (teleological, multilayered and -directional, cyclical, etc.) and what temporal regimes (for example, favoring the present, past or future; continuity and tradition or rupture and revolution) were at work in modernism, the avant-garde, and cognate phenomena like the so-called arrière-garde? What hitherto ignored temporal modes require further scrutiny?
  • What were the ramifications of modernist and avant-garde conceptions of time for the practice of reading, the history of the book (classics, pockets, …), and more generally for the social and cultural legitimation of literature?
  • What other (perhaps less well studied) discourses (physics, biology, engineering, philosophy, etc.) informed literary reflection on time and temporality and how were insights from these other discourses translated in literary practice?
  • How was time experienced and what were its implications for our understanding of the modern body, identity and subjectivity?
  • Were there noticeable variations in how time was dealt with in modernist and avant-garde writing in different parts of Europe (and beyond)? What, more generally, were the implications of the views of time for the understanding of space and place (in writing)?
  • Does the conception of time change in the course of the period 1900-1950, and, if so, what are the (social, literary, philosophical, …) conditions of emergence and consequences of these changes?
We welcome paper and panel proposals before 15 February 2013 on these and other questions crucial to any mapping of the literary timescape between 1900-1950. By analyzing in-depth how modernist and avant-garde writing reflected on time and change, we ultimately aim to explore the ramifications of these ideas for the literary historiography of the period.
Proposals are welcome from individuals, and from panels of three or four. We especially welcome panel proposals and prefer panels where members are drawn from different institutions, preferably across national boundaries.
Panel proposals should include the following information.
  1. Title of panel
  2. Name, address and email contact of Panel Chair
  3. A summary of the panel topic (300 words)
  4. A summary of each individual contribution (300 words)
  5. Name, address and email contact of  individual contributors
  6. Short biography of all contributors, incl. main publications and areas of expertise
Individual proposals should include the following information.
  1. Title of paper
  2. Name, address and email of contributor
  3. A summary of the contribution (300 words)
  4. Short biography of the contributor, incl. main publications and areas of expertise
Guided tours of the Husserl archive at KU Leuven will be offered to delegates upon request. A conference website is under construction. With proposals or any further questions at this stage contactsascha.bru@arts.kuleuven.be.

Postgraduate Conference: Ghosts in the Flesh


Ghosts in the Flesh

24th-25th May, 2013 – University of Kent, Canterbury

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Esther Peeren, University of Amsterdam

While ghosts in the dominant Western tradition have often been associated with other-wordliness or liminality, the aim of this conference is to critically examine discourses and texts which emphasise the corporeality and physicality of ghosts and the ghostly. Allowing ghosts to occupy the centre rather than the periphery challenges – and allows us to reconsider anew – a number of key oppositions such as: life and death, inside and outside, corporeality and incorporeality, self and other, present reality and past memory, and so on.

This commitment to thinking the reality of the incorporeal can be clearly identified, for example, in the Stoic turn in twentieth century French thought. The ancient Stoics developed a form of materialism which admitted four “incorporeals” into their ontology – place, time, the void, and “expressibles” (linguistic sense or meaning). While being the proximate surface-effects of material or corporeal causes, “incorporeals” were seen as filling out the dimensions of the cosmos, itself a single surface expanding and contracting to the rhythm of bodily actions and passions. These incorporeals were considered as having almost zero being or substance, yet they were required to complete the Stoics’ materialism. For Deleuze, the Stoics were thus the first to “reverse” Platonism – the ideal world of Forms no longer seen as transcendent and as now nothing more than an incorporeal lining co-extensive with the sensible world – with the corporeal and the incorporeal neither simply the cause nor the effect of the other.

Perhaps it is psychoanalysis which develops this hypothesis the furthest. Psychoanalysis considers castration – the infant’s awareness of the mother’s lack of a penis – as constituting a deadlock in the infant’s reality. This deadlock is displaced in part thanks to the development of the phantasm – literally a ghost – a psychical structure composed of de-personalised memories, a kind of death through which the infant must pass in order to further its psychical development, and thanks to which the infant can re-connect with the materiality of reality.

Psychoanalysis emphasises the importance of memory in the present, and we should consider memory as a privileged site of the ghostly. More generally, Derrida’s concept of “hauntology” – which refers to the state of the spectre as neither being nor non-being – argues for the existence of the “present” as inseparable from that of the “past”, an individual or society’s past as both revenant and out-of-joint, and as essential to one’s continued survival in the present.

Bearing in mind lines of argumentation such as these, we wish to explore questions of ghostliness and in/corporeality in a number of fields, including but not limited to the following:

  • Ghosts in Literature and Cinema (Gothic Literature and its critiques, Magical Realism, the double)
  • Virtual Reality and Digital Arts (virtual space, digital performance theory, MMO RPG’s, simulation games)
  • Memory and Architecture
  • Memory and Archaeology or History
  • Theatre (repetition, embodiment)
  • Philosophy and Theology (mind-body dualisms and their critiques, “difficult atheism” in continental philosophy)
  • Critical theory (psychoanalytic theory, literary theory)

Please send abstracts (350 words) and a short bio-bibliographic note to skepsi@kent.ac.uk by 22nd February 2013.
The conference is organised by Skepsi, a peer reviewed postgraduate journal based in the School of European Culture and Languages at the University of Kent and funded by the University of Kent.

Nature and the Expression of the Feminine

bathers-two-nudes-in-an-exotic-landscape-1905Kate Chopin, the American female writer during the last 19th Century, presents a a very suggesting atmosphere in her great novel The Awakening. Indeed, the first part of the novel is settled in Grand Island, a place which seems to be catch by a mysterious and spiritual environment. The novel is full of symbology: birds, music, dreams, the sea, the moonlight, are some of the elements which appear repeatedly. The dreamlike atmosphere is present most of the time in Grand Island, and with it, the references to “sleeping” and “awakening”, as metaphors for the acquisition of self-consciousness and the birth of a new self, remind psychoanalysis, especially, The Interpretation of Dreams. 

Women have a prominent place in the story establishing between them peculiar relations. The friendship between Edna and Mademoiselle Reisz, for example, is close to be that of master and disciple. Mdm. Reisz is an old and unconventional woman, she’s gifted with the piano, and knows the secrets of Edna’s heart. She seems to light up Edna’s new way to arrive at her new self, and she also advises her of the difficulty of the task:  “The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies.” But Edna is not just an artist is a woman who wants to live like an artist and to get her own income. In contrast to Adèle Ratignolle, who is a wonderful wife and a charming mother, Edna represents the New Woman of the turn of the century. Her position is thus between Mdm. Reisz, a pioneer, and Adèle, a traditional woman. Neither the former nor the latter lack in attractiveness, and in fact, Edna is moving around these two figures. Mdm. Reisz possesses independence while Adèle is beautiful and fertile.

It could be interesting to analyse the relation between the symbology and the female characters of the novel. The moon has been traditionally linked to the feminine,the sea, as Langer affirms, is a powerful expression of life which can be associated to female fertility (it is interesting to see how it appears in several novels with strong connections with women), music and dreams are both mysterious and they suggest an intuitive mode of knowledge. The list could go on.

“The Awakening”, a feminine metaphor

woman-in-a-mirror-theo-van-rysselbergheThe Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899) has been seen as a novel of adultery, as for example, Madame Bovary, but I don’t really think that the main problem of Edna- The Awakening‘s main character- is a matter of love. Edna is much more than a problem of  satisfactory marriage, she incarnates the history of women in the Western society. Edna is introduced to the reader reflecting a problem of identity, her unhappy marriage is just a parcel of such problem. Edna doesn’t know neither who she is nor where’s her place in the world. At the beginning of the novel, the reader finds Edna as a wife concerned  about her husband, trying to do her best to get a peaceful home. However, something is awoke within herself while listening a piano concert; here music plays a significant role. I’m currently working on this topic in my research, that’s the influence of music in the souls, and especially in the novel of adultery. By now, I’ll go on  with the idea that music, and later, her relation with Robert, make her conscious of herself, of her inward. I’d say the sea plays a role here as well, but that’s another topic for another moment. Thus, adultery is just a tool through which she becomes aware of her whole life, and it’s from this point she decides to change. The next step is painting, so art. She loves painting but she had never before taken it seriously. Painting is the first expression of her awareness. I find it a very interesting point; she becomes more and more herself through her artistic expression, I think that’s another point to analyse: how art is related to self-consciousness. Finally, she becomes independent, she earns her own money and buys an apartment. At this point, her love relations aren’t so important, that’s the reason I think adultery isn’t the main point in the novel. Instead, we can se how Edna acquires consciousness of herself as a woman in society (the title itself refers to an awakening) which corresponds to the history of the independence of women. I guess the important point in such a history isn’t sex or money but consciousness, and through it, inner-freedom.

Europe in War

I wouldn’t recommend anyone to read Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger who was not interested in a kind of “war report”. In fact, Jünger wrote his war diary during his four years in the World War I and he gave us a piece of faithful events without space for feelings or emotions. This lack of “humanity” has been the cause of several critics,which, like Walter Benjamin, accused Jünger of complicity with the idea of “cult of the war”. The mere fact of describing war events instead of showing a personal experience or an inner-reaction lead some part of the critics to see in Jünger’s narrative a pure “war for war’s sake”.

But before going on, let us see what’s written about war in female fictions. Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway shows some male consequences after being in the World War I. Woolf, as in general all women writers of this period, focuses on the consequences of war on human relations. In fact, the general is unable to react to her wife’s demands with any kind of empathy, he’s completely out of question in his returning to London. The main problem is that he can’t express himself what is going in his inner-self. And that, I guess, is the point: the lack of expressivity of the emotions. Woolf’s general, like Jünger, don’t talk about anything which is not outside themselves. The general becomes mad, but his madness is a kind of frustration because of his past experience and it’s related to the breakdown between war what he feels and what he achieve to say. The reader of Woolf knows the female side of the war and feels the destruction of the relationships between women and men. The female suffering, in contrast with Jünger’s, is narrated by an over-expression.

Therefore, I’d say both narratives are coherent with each other even if being so different in style and form. They complement both views which I find a quite interesting topic to analyse.