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Self / Same / Other

Playing the Texts, 5


Series Editor
George Aichele

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Self/Same/Other
edited by
Heather Walton & Andrew W. Hass

Sheffield
Academic Press

Copyright 2000 Sheffield Academic Press


Published by Sheffield Academic Press Ltd
Mansion House
19 Kingneld Road
Sheffield SI 19AS
England

Printed on acid-free paper in Great Britain


by Bookcraft Ltd
Midsomer Norton, Bath

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data


A catalogue record for this book is available
from the British Library
ISBN 1-84127-018-0
ISBN 1-84127-019-9 pbk

Contents
List of Contributors

Parti
Introduction
Re-visioning the Subject in Literature and Theology
Heather Walton

10

Part II
Re-visioning Self and Other
REMEMBER ME! Traces of the Self as Other in Seventeenth-Century
English Devotional Poetry
Helen Wilcox

20

The Nostalgia of Adieux


Andrew W. Hass

34

'Curse God and Die': The Bible as Other in


Sylvia Plath's 'Lady Lazarus'
Amy Benson Brown

45

Part III
Re-visioning Subjectivity
The Psychospiritual in the Literary Analysis of
Modernist Texts
Sandra Chait

54

Listeners on the Stair: The Child as Other in


Walter de la Mare
Hugh S. Pyper

70

Self and Mystical Rebirth in H.D.'s Trilogy


Roberta Quance

83

SELF/SAME/OTHER

J.B. Pontalis and the Adolescent Self


Frederick;. Ruf

97

Part IV
Re-visioning Gender
Writing on Exiles and Excess: Toward a New Form of Subjectivity
Pamela Sue Anderson

106

Female Heterologies: Women's Mysticism, Gender-Mixing and the


Apophatic
Kitty Scoular Datta

125

Ethical Alterities?
Philip Leonard

137

PartV
Re-visioning the Sacred Text
Jacob, Esau and the Strife of Meanings
Christopher Burdon

160

The Skull beneath the Skin: Light Shadow Reading in the


Valley of Dry Bones
JanTarlin

175

The Blighted Palimpsest of Tess of the d'Urbervilles


Catherine Lanone

183

Transcending the Other-Self


Maaike de Haardt

194

Index of References
Index of Authors

209
211

List of Contributors
Pamela Sue Anderson is Reader in Philosophy of Religion, University
ofSunderland, UK.
Amy Benson Brown was formerly visiting Professor at the State
University of West Georgia and is now a freelance writer in Atlanta, USA.
Christopher Burdon is Adult Education Officer in the Diocese of
Chelmsford (Church of England), and the author of 'Stumbling on God'
and The Apocalypse in England'.
Sandra Chait is Lecturer in African Literature and Academic Counsellor for the Program on Africa in the Department of Undergraduate
Education at the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.
Maaike de Haardt is Catharina Halkes Professor in Feminism and
Christianity at the Catholic University Nijmegen and is Senior Lecturer in
Women's Studies in Theology at Tilburg Faculty of Theology, both in the
Netherlands.
Andrew Hass is Lecturer in Literature and Religious Studies at The
Honors College, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, USA.
Philip Leonard is Lecturer in English in the Department of English
and Media Studies at The Nottingham Trent University, UK.
Hugh S. Pyper is Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at the Department
of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Leeds, UK.
Frederick J. Ruf is Associate Professor within the Theology Department of Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA.
Kitty Secular Datta was formerly Professor of English at Jadavour
University, Calcutta. She was Fowler Hamilton Visiting Fellow at Christ
Church, Oxford, 1988-89 and is now a Researcher Fellow in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Westminster College, Oxford,
UK.

SELF/SAME/OTHER

Jan Tarlin is a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Division of Religion's


Hebrew Bible Program at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has
taught at Emory College, Candler School of Theology, The Atlanta College of Art and Montana State University-Bozeman, US.
Heather Walton is a lecturer in the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.
Helen Wilcox is Professor of English Literature, Department of English,
University of Groningen, The Netherlands.

Parti
Introduction

Heather Walton
Re-visioning the Subject in Literature and Theology

In her series of war-time poems, 'Trilogy',1 the poet H.D. locates herself
amid the blitzed ruins of a passing civilization. Inhabiting this place she
declares that among the broken debris she has experienced an uncanny
intuition of the return of a sacred presence. She makes explicit the link
between this haunting and the poetic vision that is being reborn within
her own wounded subjectivity. While fully acknowledging the mundane
violence of her times, H.D. performs the revisionist work of marking the
death of old forms and refiguring the fragments into strange new patterns. This creative task is simultaneously a political act and also a reconstruction of her psyche, for the foundations of both interior and exterior
worlds lie in pieces.
Several decades later the poet Adrienne Rich envisages a similar forensic task for the poet who would inspire re-vision. In her famous poem
'Diving into the Wreck', she presents a ghastly picture of patriarchal culture as a sunken vessel which has become a burial ship for those who
perished within it. The 'diver' descends to retrace the contours of the
wreck, to view the damage that was done and the 'treasures that prevail'.2 Rich's poet-diver becomes transformed from human agent to an
underwater creature in order to provoke a cultural sea-change.
Both H.D. and Rich are commonly referred to as revisionist poets and
their work interpreted as an attempt to create something rich and
strange out of a symbolic order that has become deathly.3 However,
there is a sense in which the function of literature is always to provoke
re-vision. Poesis works to make unfamiliar established and conventional
meanings, and the metaphor transforms that to which it also refers. Such
perspectives on the work of writing are not new and have been
1. H.D., 'Trilogy' in The Collected Poems: 1912-1944 (New York: New Direction
Books, 1983), pp. 505-612.
2. Adrienne Rich, 'Diving into the Wreck', in Diving into the Wreck: Poems
1971-1972 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1973), p. 23. See also her famous essay 'When
We Dead Awaken', in On Lies, Secrets and Silences: Selected Prose 1966-1978 (New
York: W.W. Norton, 1978).
3. See, for example, Alicia Ostriker, 'The Thieves of Language: Women Poets and
Revisionist Mythmaking', in E. Showalter (ed.), The New Feminist Criticism: Essays
on Women, Literature and Theory (London: Virago, 1986), pp. 314-38.

WALTON: RE-VISIONING THE SUBJECT

11

rehearsed in many different forms over the centuries as the essays in this
volume make clear. They re-emerge with particular intensity in the light
of this century's holocausts. The question can poetry be written after
Auschwitz stands in painful contrast to what Helene Cixous describes as
the imperative to locate the metaphor in the place of suffering; this
becomes the literary compulsion to transform unspeakable things into
poetry. This work is necessary to ensure both that the awful smoking
silence retains its sacred place and that what is strangely alive can be
recovered from destruction.4 When literature is viewed in this frame it is
seen, not as the support of cultural order, but as its perpetual undoing
and remaking. Emphasis shifts away from what is communicated in the
text towards the unutterable loss it amplifies, and literature assumes the
mystical task of making readable a silence. In recent years critical theory,
transformed by poststructuralist thinking, has made an accompanying
turn in a similar direction.
Commenting upon the revelation of Paul de Man's record of complicity with fascism, the Jewish scholar Shoshona Felman asserts that his
ferocious embrace of deconstruction should not be interpreted as an
evasion of personal and historical responsibility. She reads it rather as an
acceptance that we face the impossibility of making interpretive sense
of an 'unredeemable scandal of injustice and injury'5 in which we are
unavoidably implicated. Felman suggests that, alongside other poststructuralists, de Man is pointing to the necessity to locate the work of reading among the ruins. While a 'flight to theory' can certainly become an
effective means of retreating from political responsibility it is also the
case that poststructuralism represents a profound challenge to humanist
values and enlightenment rationality. These are identified as having
formed the ideological medium in which the violence of modern times
is deeply rooted.6 Modernism's tragedy is judged to be a direct consequence of the repression of alterity, and poststructuralists have insisted
that attention to what has been lost, silenced or repressed offers the best
hope of regeneration. This assertion has provoked fundamental rethinking of the nature of the critical task and the ethical responsibilities of
critics. Similarly theology is being challenged to revisit the catacombs
4. Cixous's reflections on this subject are discussed in Catherine MacGillivray,
'Introduction: The Political Is (and the) Poetical', in H. Cixous, Manna to the Mandelstams to the Mandelas (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), pp. vii-ix.
5. Shoshona Felman, 'After the Apocalypse: Paul de Man and the Fall to Silence',
in S. Felman and D. Laub, Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis and History (Condon: Routledge, 1992), p. 164.
6. See Annelies van Heijst, Longing for the Fall (Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1995),
p. 218.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

and begin its work again from the place of the dead.7
This collection of essays originated in papers given at the eighth
international conference on literature and theology, The Trace of the
Other,8 which addressed the increasing emphasis upon alterity in the
cross-disciplinary study of literature and theology. They are arranged in
four sections corresponding to four key arenas of contemporary debate.
The boundaries between each section are themselves fluid and open to
'deconstruction'. Distinctions are made in order to demonstrate the
wide scope of the re-visioning that is currently taking place.

Re-visioning the Other


The first section of the book explores the encounter between the self
and the other. The work of Emmanuel Levinas has been particularly
significant in shaping poststructuralist thinking on this theme. His call
to discern in the 'face of the other'9 not self-likeness but irradicable
strangeness makes possible the imagining of an ethics based upon difference rather than solidarity. Such an ethics rejects the attempt to draw
the other into the territory of the same and celebrates a journey beyond
the confines of the self towards that which challenges identity at its core.
For Levinas, it is the desire for the other which calls the self into being
as it journeys beyond its own territory into a strange land.
Levinas is Jewish and his work is an extended reflection upon the rise
of fascism and its legacy. His thoughts constitute a philosophical protest
against the dark thread in humanist thinking which culminates in efforts
to eradicate those elements which appear to lie outside the bounds of a
possible incorporation into the common identity of the dominant group.
Out of his opposition to totalizing political and philosophical systems he
discerns in the desire for the other the possibility of encounter with the
sacred Other. The strangeness of human meeting deepens into the mystery of encounter with the divine.
The work of Levinas is woven from a religious inheritance in which
the face of God is both hidden and sought out. He uses the Abrahamic
motif to describe the formation of the self through a journey into an
unknown place. No destination is achieved and there is no possibility of
7. See, for example, Carl Raschke, Theological Thinking: An In-quiry (Atlanta:
Scholars Press, 1988), Charles Winquist, Desiring Theology (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1995) and Walter Lowe, Theology and Difference: The Wound of
Reason (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993).
8. Held at Westminster College in Oxford, September 1996.
9. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority (trans. A.
Lingus; The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1979).

WALTON: RE-VISIONING THE SUBJECT

13

return. These images of encounter with an alien God stand in stark contrast to the continuum between God, man and brother imagined in liberal religious thinking. The essays in this section of the text all explore
the notion that the self is constituted through a mysterious meeting with
what lies beyond its bounds. This 'Other' inspires both desire and the
fear of self-annihilation.
Helen Wilcox presents an analysis of the impulse towards self-memorialization in seventeenth-century poetry. She demonstrates how, in
devotional writing in this genre, the self looks towards the divine Other
to constitute the passageway through death by conferring a new identity
upon the subject; 'a redeemed or other self, which nonetheless keeps
her temporal identity stored within'.
Andrew Hass reflects upon W.H. Auden's loss of faith in clear solutions to cultural crises and his move towards a liminal threshold of withdrawal where the self becomes vulnerable to the approach of the Other.
Was his move an act of cowardice or does the post-holocaust world
need to seek out the same purgatorial space as an open threshold to an
uncertain future?
In Amy Benson Brown's essay the audacity of constructing identity
from encounter with the other is explored in relation to Sylvia Plath's
decision to write 'as a Jew' and employ the Bible as intertextual other.
While Plath achieved a remarkable power through this process its
ambivalence is recognized. Brown speculates that the poet who acts as
'medium' of the other may herself be brought to silence.

Re-visioning Subjectivity
Psychoanalysis has functioned as one of the most serious challenges to
the concept of the rational, unitary and stable self from which all else in
humanist thinking gains its bearings. In its Lacanian form the subject is
seen as constituted by a primordial loss as a result of a necessary separation from the body of the mother. Having relinquished the plenitude of
the maternal sphere and entered into the world of speech the subject
nevertheless remains vulnerable to the incursion of the repressed other;
a fearful chaotic power from beyond language that perpetually haunts
human existence.
Woman theorists such as Julia Kristeva10 and Helene Cixous11 have
further elaborated upon the repression of maternal alterity upon which
10. Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (trans. Leon Roudiez;
New York: Colombia University Press, 1988).
11. Helene Cixous, Souffles (Paris: des femmes, 1975).

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

the subject is founded in subjection to the 'name of the Father'. In so


doing, they have repeatedly emphasized that the interior spaces of subjectivity are socially constructed and that culture itself bears the same
marks of trauma and repression that are to be observed in the formation
of personal identity. Kristeva, in particular, has creatively linked the work
of Lacan to the materialist writings of Bakhtin12 in order to investigate
the radically dialogical nature of the 'subject in process'.
Such themes are not strange to literary or religious writing. Many confessional texts display the anxiety of a fragile subject on the edge of
chaos confronted with an uncanny presence it both desires and fears.
Literature which explores the passageways between the adult and the
child is particularly effective in expressing the existence of an/other self
within whose influence may be either creative or disruptive.
The essays in this section reflect upon these themes. Sandra Chait
offers an analysis of the impact of psychoanalysis upon modernist literary texts and constructs a Lacanian reading of religious themes in the
work of Antonia White. Hugh Pyper reflects upon the disturbing use of
the child's vantage point in the work of Walter de la Mare. He demonstrates how this uncanny vision unsettles adult perspectives and questions whether Freud's rationalizations of such experiences should be
subjected to further theological scrutiny.
In her essay on the theme of mystical rebirth in the work of H.D.,
Roberta Quance makes a similar case for allowing theological readings to
deepen the conversation between literature and psychoanalysis. She
argues that it is impossible to understand H.D.'s debt to Freud in her
revisionist critique of his theory without acknowledging the significance
of the religious symbolism through which she expresses her ideas.
The section concludes with an essay by Frederick Ruf upon J.B. Pontalisa psychoanalyst become a novelist. This work presents an intriguing picture of adolescence as a 'social state' marked by conflict but also
able to adapt to transition. Ruf suggests the current postmodern climate
represents such an adolescent phase between worlds in which fluidity
and change are possible.

Re-visioning Gender
Luce Irigaray, echoing Heidegger, has asserted that if every epoch has a
central question, then sexual difference is the defining concern of our
12. See her early works: Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language (trans. M.
Waller; New York: Colombia University Press, 1984) and Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language (trans. Leon Roudiez; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1980).

WALTON: RE-VISIONING THE SUBJECT

15

age. She goes on to argue further that 'sexual difference is probably the
issue in our time which could be our salvation if we thought it
through'.13 What she is pointing to here is more than the facts that
women's rights are being powerfully articulated and that female identity
is being reconceived. It is also the case that 'the feminine' has assumed a
key place in contemporary debate. In the work of Lacan, Derrida and
Lyotard it has come to signify the last unconquered territory outside
philosophical regulation from which it is possible to speak a new
word.14 The feminine is ripe for discursive exploration, something
greatly desired in the barren exhaustion at the end of the modern age.
Many feminists have protested against the annexing of this rhetorical
space by male theorists.15 Others have celebrated the creative potential
represented by this feminization of theory.16 Kristeva powerfully
employs the image of woman's cultural exile to comment upon fissures
and crises in the symbolic order.17 Irigaray herself sees in the turn to the
feminine a challenge to construct a new symbolic order in which difference is celebrated rather than obscured. She elaborates upon Levinas'
early use of the feminine as the most important signifier of alterity and
insists that sexual difference is the best guarantee of heterogeneity that
can be imagined.18 It inscribes eradicable difference at the centre of our
understanding of what it means to be human. It also becomes, for
Irigaray, the mysterious pathway through which the divine can enter
and transform human life. For her the new advent of 'woman' is also the
advent of a divine who is not foreign to the female flesh. She discerns
the approach of a 'sensible transcendental' and declares that the present
moment offers a remarkable opportunity for the 'remaking of immanence and transcendence through this threshold which has not been
examined as such: the female sex'.19
13. Luce Irigaray, An Ethics of Sexual Difference (trans. C. Burke and G. Gill;
London: The Athlone Press, 1993), p. 5.
14. For a full discussion of this use of the feminine by male poststructuralist thinkers see Alice Jardine, Gynesis: Configurations of Women and Modernity (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1985).
15. See for example, Teresa de Lauretis, Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film and Fiction (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1987), p. 33.
16. This is the position taken by Judith Butler in Bodies that Matter: The Discursive Limits of Sex (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 23.
17. For an interesting discussion of this recurring theme in Kristeva's work see
Anna Smith, Julia Kristeva: Readings of Exile and Estrangement (Bristol: J.W. Arrowsmith, 1996).
18. Luce Irigaray, 'Questions to Emmanuel Levinas', in Margaret Whitford (ed.),
The Irigaray Reader (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991), pp. 178-89.
19. Irigaray, An Ethics of Sexual Difference, p. 18.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

The essays in this section explore the impact of Kristeva and Irigaray's
re-visioning of gender difference. Pamela Sue Anderson shows how Kristeva, as a novelist, presents an image of the female intellectual as a perpetual outsider. In so doing Kristeva makes the symbolic order work to
reveal its own violence and absences and uses literature as a site of personal and social lament.
Kitty Scoular Datta and Phil Leonard follow Irigaray in exploring
sexual difference as a signifier for alterity. Datta shows how within the
mystical tradition the adoption of gender positions in contradiction to
those culturally assigned becomes a vehicle for reflecting upon the
'abyss of the inexpressible'. Leonard follows Irigaray's rereading of Levinas and explores the manner in which she challenges the assumed correspondence between divinity and masculinitymaking possible new
horizons for theological thinking.

Re-visioning the Sacred Text


One of the most important movements in poststructuralist critical theory
is the attempt to re-vision the former binary opposition between word
and matter. The body and the text are reconceived as signifying systems
in creative association with each other.20 The text has been re-examined
as a material product which displays how power is exercised, meaning
negotiated and difference contained. The body is similarly re-viewed as
being 'inscribed' with cultural meaning. While the body and the text
both are subject to rigorous interrogation, they also retain a quality of
unknowability.21 They belong to the world of 'real' historical relations
and they appear to display coherence of formbut they also point beyond themselves to the disintegration of meaning, silence and death.
Such re-visioning has transformed understandings of the nature of
sacred texts. In his celebrated work on literature and theology, Breaking
the Fall, Robert Detweiler envisages religious communities re-writing
sacred texts of tradition or generating new ones on the body. Such texts,
he suggests, have three forms: 'those written on the body in/as pain,
those circulated between bodies as pleasure and those circulated

20. See Helene Cixous, 'The Laugh of the Medusa', in D. q (ed.), Literature in the
Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 318-26.
21. Katherine Stockton describes this as 'real body mysticism'. See her account of
this phenomenon in poststructuralist writing in God Between Their Lips: Desire
Between Women in Irigaray, Bronte and Eliot (Stanford, CA: Stanford University
Press, 1994).

WALTON: RE-VISIONING THE SUBJECT

17

amongst bodies as worship'.22 The phrase 'on the body' is a prepositional pun. It points to marks, usually violently inflicted, upon human
bodies that function as inscriptions. It also refers to literary texts that
carry the narratives of those markings. When reading these 'sacred texts'
renewed attention is paid to the marks of the body in the text and to
which bodies are rendered silent or incoherent in the narrative. The
trace of the divine in Scripture is sought in those material points of ambiguity, ecstasy and pain to which the text bears witness. There has also
been a renewed interest in the way in which the inscription of moral
and religious codes upon human bodies can result in the deformation
and destruction of the living flesh.23 Finally, there has lately been an
emerging interest in the body subject to death as both the guarantor and
confounder of meaning.24
In this final section of the book, Chris Burden disputes interpretive
efforts to make a reconciliation between Jacob and his brother Esau the
focus of the disparate narratives of conflict and betrayal in the Genesis
stories. He further argues that the image of a bodily night-time struggle
which is not resolved has been neglected as an important symbol of
human encounter with the divine. Jan Tarlin makes creative links between the dead bodies in the text of Ezekiel and the funeral rites practised by women who are denied other 'religious' work. Catherine Lanone
shows how Thomas Hardy makes manifest in the figure of Tess the human body as a palimpsest of social and religious power. The final essay
by Maaike de Haardt calls for an abandonment of the romantic fiction
through which dying is viewed as a benign natural process. She calls for
renewed theological attention to literature that closely follows the
unravelling and disintegration of a human body.

Sea Changes
It would be foolish to attempt to draw definitive pointers towards future
trends in the study of literature and theology from the diverse essays in
this collection. What they reveal is both the wide variety of ways in
which the exploration of alterity is being pursued and the extent of the
re-visioning currently underway in literature and theology.
22. Robert Detweiler, Breaking the Fall: Religious Readings of Contemporary
Fiction (London: Macmillan, 1989), p. 46.
23. See, for example Elizabeth Bronfen, Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity
and the Aesthetic (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992).
24. Jacques Derrida's The Gift of Death (trans. David Wills; Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1995) represents a major challenge for theological thinking on this
topic.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

Out of the contemporary ferment of ideas arise important choices for


religious readers. It is clearly possible to welcome poststructuralism's
effective challenge to liberal humanism as an opportunity to reclaim
older visions of divine and human encounter. This may entail a powerful
re-reading of the tradition. Alternatively it may result in a retreat away
from contemporary uncertainties and new investment in beliefs and
values that were significant prior to the modern era. There is a danger
that the renewed interest in alterity might thus prove little more than an
opportunity to rearrange the fragments of modernity into well-worn patterns and reinstate old gods in the temple once again.
When H.D. recorded her visions concerning the return of a sacred
presence to the ruins of her culture she was at pains to stress that this
divine figure carried a book that was both inscribed and new. There can
be no wiping clean of the palimpsest of history. Nevertheless, the sacred
text 'is our book; written or unwritten'.25 Its pages are our pages and on
them it is possible to record a tale told differently.

25. H.D., Trilogy', p. 571.

Part II
Re-visioning Self and Other

Helen Wilcox
REMEMBER ME! Traces of the Self as Other in
Seventeenth-Century English Devotional Poetry

When I am laid in earth, may my wrongs create


No trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
(Henry Purcell)1

1.

At the end of Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas (1689), the abandoned queen Dido sings one of the most famous laments in English
musical history, 'When I am laid in earth'. The haunting setting of Nahum
Tate's text rises over a chromatically descending ground-bass and reaches
its passionately simple climax in the declamation of the words 'Remember me' to a single note, insistently repeated. Even as Dido's bodythe
harmony impliesis lowered for burial, and her 'fate'as the text goes
on to suggestis forgotten, yet the memory of Dido as a person is poignantly but triumphantly asserted in the melody with its echoing phrase
'Remember me'. The dramatic effect is stunning; there is no more to be
said. The phenomenon of the memorialized self is unequivocally the
closing focus of the opera.
Dido's cry of 'Remember me' is one of the most concise and vivid
expressions of a desire to be remembered which may be widely discerned in English culture of the late sixteenth and the seventeenth century. The very same words which Nahum Tate gave to Purcell's Dido
had been given by Shakespeare to Old Hamlet's ghost almost a century
earlier: 'Adieu, adieu, adieu! remember me' (Hamlet, I.v.91).2 This terse
command ends a richly rhetorical speech by Hamlet's troubled father's
ghost, but it is precisely and only these simple words, with their overtones in this context of an avenging duty, to which Hamlet himself has
1. Henry Purcell and Nahum Tate, Dido and Aeneas (ed. Margaret Laurie and
Thurston Dart; Borough Green: Novello, 1974), pp. 70-71.
2. William Shakespeare, The Riverside Shakespeare (ed. G. Blackmore Evans et
al\ Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974). All other quotations from Shakespeare are taken
from this volume.

WILCOX: REMEMBER ME!

21

to 'swear' his commitment. Like Old Hamlet, many of Shakespeare's


other characters are concerned with their own future in the memories
and actions of others, whether they be recalled in speech (as in Othello),
or in the stones of a monument (in, for example, Antony and Cleopatra) or in the 'sweet pangs' of love itself (Twelfth Night, II.iv.l6). The
Elizabethan and Jacobean sonneteers, including Shakespeare, knew the
difficulty of remembering or 'immortalizing' an individual; the memory
can all too easily fade, just as a name traced in the sand is washed away
by the waves in Spenser's Amoretti Ixxv.3 The seventeenth century nevertheless witnessed an increasing fascination with the preserving of
memories, particularly in textual inscription. This is the period, for example, of the first real flourishing of autobiographical writing by both men
and women,4 driven not only by the urge to inscribe an individual life in
words but also by the new and parallel imperatives of history-writing.
After the English revolution of 1642-49, personal and 'official' history
may be seen to merge in works such as Lucy Hutchinson's Memoirs of
the Life of Colonel Hutchinson and Clarendon's True Historical Narrative of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England.5 The 'passion, rage
and fury' of the civil wars were much less immediate by the time Clarendon's History was published, 6 but the leading characters in that furious
historical drama, including Clarendon himself, were fixed and memorialized in the verbal portraits of his account.
The seventeenth century was not only an era of increasing self-consciousness in the sphere of political and personal experience; it was also
an age in which the influence of Renaissance humanism could still be
seen, particularly in the largely secular desire to lock the self in the
memories of others. Robert Herrick's mid-seventeenth-century 'Pillar'
poems, for example, are based on the classical model of a memorial pillar, but in his case they are made of words and not stones. The great
enemy, time, is not to be overcome by any hope of an afterlife, as in a
3. Edmund Spenser, Poetical Works (ed. J.C. Smith and E. de Selincourt; Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 575.
4. See Betraying our Selves: Forms of Representation in Early Modern Texts
(ed. Henk Dragstra, Sheila Ottaway and Helen Wilcox; London: Macmillan, 2000);
Michael Mascuch, Origins of the Individualist Self: Autobiography and Self-Identity
in England, 1591-1791 (Oxford: Polity Press, 1997); and Sheila Ottaway, Desiring
Disencumbrance: The Representation of the Self in Autobiographical Writings by
Seventeenth-century Englishwomen (Groningen: Groningen University, 1998).
5. See Lucy Hutchinson, Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson (ed. James
Sutherland; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973); and Achsah Guibbory, The Map
of Time (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986).
6. Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, The True Historical Narrative of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England (London, 1702-1704).

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

specifically Christian context, but by the power of a poetic monument.


In their struggle against time, the middle stanzas of Herrick's 'His Poetry
his Pillar' (1648) imply that there is no other way to achieve immortalityor to be avenged, or to have one's loves and loyalties honoured
than through such a linguistic memorial:
O Time that cutt'st down all,
And scarce leav'st here
Memorial
Of any men that were!
How many lie forgot
In vaults beneath,
And piecemeal rot
Without a fame in death?
Behold this living stone
I rear for me,
Ne'er to be thrown
Down, envious Time, by thee.
Pillars let some set up
(If so they please);
Here is my hope
And my pyramides.

The 'living stone' of his verse is Herrick's 'Memorial', which will outdo
'envious Time', and his insurance against the oblivion of forgotten
vaults; poetry, he suggests, is the great pyramid which will ensure that
he is remembered in the featureless landscape which his contemporary
Marvell called the 'Deserts of vast Eternity'.8 The almost symmetrical
syntax of Herrick's line 'I rear for me' encapsulates the poem's selfmemorializing action: the first person subject begins the phrase, while
the self as object, 'me', closes it.
A few years before the publication of Herrick's 'Pillar', the devotional
poet George Herbert had also included a monument in verse in his collection of lyrics entitled The Temple (1633). Herbert's The Altar' was,
by contrast, intended as a means of ensuring that God, rather than his
own self, would be perpetually remembered:

7. Robert Herrick, Cavalier Poets: Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew, Sir John
Suckling and Richard Lovelace (ed. Thomas Clayton; Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1978), pp. 57-58.
8. Andrew Marvell, Complete Poetry (ed. George deF. Lord; London: Dent, 1984),
p. 24.

WILCOX: REMEMBER ME!

23

A broken A L T A R , Lord, thy servant reares,


Made of a heart, and cemented with teares:
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workman's tool hath touch'd the same.
A H E A R T alone
Is such a stone,
As nothing but
Thy pow'r doth cut.
Wherefore each part
Of my hard heart
Meets in this frame,
To praise thy name.
That if I chance to hold my peace,
These stories to praise thee may not cease.
O let thy blessed S A C R I F I C E be mine,
And sanctifie this A L T A R to be thine.9

The material from which this poetic edifice is made is, as in Herrick's
'Pillar', 'living stone'. However, in Herbert's verse this matter is identified as the metaphorical 'stones' of the individual heart, hardened with
sin. Although the poet 'reares' this altar (using the same verb as Herrick
does to describe their poetic act of building) and cements it with his
tears of repentance, the creative 'pow'r' is unequivocally shown to be
God's, while the speaker's aim is to 'hold [his] peace'. Whereas Herrick's pillar is inscribed with his own name, Herbert's altar makes possible the repeated resounding of God's.
Although the memorialized individual may be one of the obsessions of
the early modern period, the contrast between Herrick's and Herbert's
poems suggests that the instinct to remember the self was perhaps a predominantly secular one. Unlike Dido or Old Hamlet or Herrick, the religious writer on the whole seeks to remember God rather than the
speaker's own self. The focus of devotional poetry, we would expect, is
on God, the divine other, while the human self, holding its 'peace', is
silenced. Is there, then, no place for the cry of 'Remember me!' in English devotional writing of the early modern period?

2.
The logic of Christian devotion would seem to encourage the denial and
even the letting go of the self. Is it really the case, however, that the individual 'soule in silence'10 is the ironic prerequisite for devotional writ9. George Herbert, The English Poems of George Herbert (ed. C.A. Patrides;
London: Dent, 1974), p. 47.
10. Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, and Sir Philip Sidney, The Psalms of Sir

24

SELF/SAME/OTHER

ing, as Mary Sidney implied in her translation of Psalm 62? Do the words
of prayers, poems, meditations and sermons from the early seventeenth
century paradoxically embody an absence or forgetfulness of the self? If
we take a closer look at some of the devotional writing from this periodwhich was, after all, the era of protestant self-discovery with an
associated flourishing of devotional poetry and prose from all denominational groupswe may discover a considerable amount of self-memorializing. Herbert himself, for example, recommended in his handbook for
country parsons, The Priest to the Temple (1652), that when 'preaching
to others' the parson 'forgets not himself, but is first a Sermon to himself, and then to others'.11 Herbert goes out of his way to point out to
the parson that he is his own first object and first congregation; the self
is to be remembered and used, not ignored and forgotten. Interestingly,
the context for this active remembering of self is not posthumous, but in
the midst of life; furthermore, the person doing the remembering is not
the listener, family or friends, but the parson himself. 'Remember me' is
transformed, in this context, from a command for others in the future
into a duty for the self in the present. The individual is being turned into
an object lesson for that same personor, to put it another way, the self
is providing its own otherness.
In religious patterns of thought, the relationship of self and other is
profound and complex, as this entire volume bears witness. The individual self operates in the sphere of the overarching otherness of the
divine; in daily devotional experience, however, individual identity is
multiple, so that the speaking self encounters the fallen, or perhaps
redeemed, self as a more immediate other. In his poem 'Miserie', Herbert complains about the follies and errors of human beings, analysing
them and their obstacles to holiness, but only in the last line does he
express the realization: 'My God, I mean my self.12 The speaker cries
out to his God with startling immediacy that this other, this typical human about whom he is railing, is in fact himself, stumbled upon, as it
were, by accident. The inability to escape from this self is one of the
many meanings of the poem's title, 'Miserie'; remembering the self can
be a source of despair, even as it is part of the process of salvation. Here
we begin to see a difference of motivation, too, between secular and devotional rememberings. The urge to be remembered in the secular context implies, as Heirick made painfully clear, the overcoming of time
Philip Sidney and the Countess of Pembroke (ed. J.C.A. Rathmell; New York: Anchor
Books, 1963), p. 142.
11. George Herbert, The Works of George Herbert (ed. F.E. Hutchinson; Oxford
Clarendon Press, 1941), p. 255.
12. Herbert, The English Poems, p. 116.

WILCOX: REMEMBER ME!

25

and forgetfulness, while the parallel desire, or duty, to remember in a


devotional setting suggests a way of self-understanding andpotentially
redemption. The memory, as St. Augustine observed, is a 'vast court'
in which 'meet I with myself, and recall myself.13
John Donne's writings, and life, provide some fascinating instances of
the two predominant aspects of early seventeenth-century devotional
'recall': the calling to mind (OED, 'remember' 1), and memorializing
(QED, 'remember' 2), of the self. In his collection of prose Devotions
upon Emergent Occasions, written during and after a serious illness in
1623, Donne analyses his own self, body as well as soul, as the text of
his meditations: 'I have cut up mine own Anatomy, dissected my selfe,
and they are gon to read upon me'.14 Donne's devotional activity is
characterized as self-anatomy, the careful dissection of his being; the
writing of his Devotions is, then, a means of putting together or reconstituting that selfhood.15 The process of remembering is, according to
Donne's metaphor, not only a calling to mind of the subject, but also, in
the literal sense of the word, a 're-membering' after dissection or dismembering. In the days before his actual death in 1631, it could be said
that Donne reversed that sequence of events, attempting to remember
himself before the disintegration brought about by mortality. He commissioned a portrait of his wasted body lying in his funeral shroud16 so
that he could be his own memento mori\ Donne's final contemplation
consciously recognized his dying body as both self and other, familiar
and estranged. In those last moments, Donne achieved a remarkable critical perspective with regard to the identity he was about to relinquish.
After his death, the same portrait of the dying Donne was used on his
memorial in St Paul's Cathedral, thus combining in one intriguing example the process of actively remembering oneself with that of being
remembered by others. Donne knew only too well the importance of
the role of memory in devotion, particularly since remembering was
known in the Augustinian and Ignatian traditions (in which Donne was
brought up) as the active assembling and using of sensory experience, as

13. Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine (trans. E.B. Pusey; Edinburgh
and London: Thomas Nelson, n.d.), p. 228.
14. John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (ed. Anthony Raspa; Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1975), p. 46.
15. See Helen Wilcox, ' "The birth day of my selfe": John Donne, Martha Moulsworth and the emergence of individual identity', in Amanda Piesse (ed.), The Making
of Sixteenth Century Identity (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999).
16. See R.C. Bald,/ofcw Donne: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970).

26

SELF/SAME/OTHER

well as the storing of knowledge.17 In his meditative poem 'Goodfriday,


1613', Donne speaks of the crucifixion scene as being 'present yet unto
my memory',18 and in a sermon on Psalm 38.3, 'A Psalm of Remembrance', he informs his congregation that 'The art of salvation, is but the
art of memory'.19 He urges the listeners not to defer the business of
remembering, though he is well aware of the vulnerability of the human
memory as well as its devotional usefulness: 'There may be enough in
remembering our selves; but...many times we are farthest off from our
selves; most forgetfull of our selves'.20 Sometimes, too, being 'forgetfull'
of the self in devotion is a way of avoiding the discomfort of remembering. Herbert's lyric 'The Sinner' is a reminder of one of the reasons
why it is often painful for the devout speaker to make use of memories:
Lord, how I am all ague, when I seek
What I have treasur'd in my memorie!
Since, if my soul make even with the week,
Each seventh note by right is due to thee.
I find there quarries of pil'd vanities,
But shreds of holinesse, that dare not venture
To shew their face... 21

One problem with consulting the ironically termed 'treasury'of the memory can be the nature of that which one discovers there; the speaker
here is physically and spiritually affected ('I am all ague') at finding mere
'shreds' of goodness among the 'quarries of pil'd vanities' stored away in
his memory. The remembered self is, to his great grief, little more than
an accumulation of sins. Herbert's poem offers a way out of this depressing cycle of rememberings, since it is also possible for the space of
memory to be filled by God himself:
Yet Lord restore thine image, heare my call:
And though my hard heart scarce to thee can grone,
Remember that thou once didst write in stone.22

The closing reference is to the Old Testament 'tables' of stone on which


the ten commandments were 'graven' (Exod. 31.18) but also recalls the
stony heart of 'The Altar', the sinful resistant stones which could be
17. See Augustine, The Confessions, and Louis L Martz, The Poetry of Meditation
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954).
18. John Donne, The Complete English Poems of John Donne (ed. C.A. Patrides;
London: Dent, 1985), p. 456.
19. John Donne, The Sermons of John Donne (ed. Evelyn J. Simpson and George
R. Potter; 10 vols.; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1953-62), II, p. 73.
20. Donne, The Sermons, II, p. 74.
21. Herbert, The English Poems, pp. 58-59.
22. Herbert, The English Poems, p. 59.

WILCOX: REMEMBER ME!

27

transformed into a monument of praise.23 The speaker in Herbert's 'The


Sinner' urges God to make the connection between three things: this
request to 'remember', his own poem 'The Altar' from earlier in his
sequence of lyrics, and the scriptural past. God is, in fact, being asked to
make active use of his memory. While the struggling speaker is frustrated by the inadequacy of his own memory and its contents, he arrives
at two solutions. Godwho functions to humans as the great other
can be present in the human being's own memory and transform its
contents; at the same time, the human speaker perceives that he himself
can feature as the other in the memory of God.

3.
The cry of 'Remember me' is thus not simply the desperate last request
of the seventeenth-century individual in a secular context; nor is it only
the duty of the religious writer encountering the self as other in the process of devotion. The longing to be remembered is also the believer's
prayer to God. The very phrase 'Remember me' is biblical in origin:
Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my
good deeds that I have done for the house of my God;
Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy;
Remember me, O my God, for good.
(Neh. 13.14,22,31)

The third of these invocations to the divine memory is particularly interesting: 'remember me...for good'. The act of remembrance can have
undesirable results, so the outspoken request here is to be remembered
specifically 'for good', in several senses: the supplicant asks to be remembered for good deeds done, and for a good outcome, and for the
good of God, and out of the goodness of God, and, simply, for ever. The
richness of this passage highlights the complexity of the concept of
remembrance: its motivation, its purposes, its consequences, and, paradoxically, its own potential transience.
The range of meanings and intentions implied in the request that God
should remember is expressed throughout the Bible but particularly in
the Psalms, as in the following verses from the twenty-fifth Psalm:
Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for
they have been ever of old;

23. 2 Cor. 3.3; Herbert, The English Poems, p. 47.

28

SELF/SAME/OTHER
Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness' sake,
O Lord.
(Ps. 25.6, 7)

This passage reveals that it is not only in the secular context that the
request to remember is contained within fixed limits. Purcell's Dido
urges, 'Remember me, but ah! forget my fate', but the divine memory,
too, is envisaged as selective. The Psalmist cries, 'Remember not the sins
of my youth', and among Purcell's most famous sacred anthems is a
setting of the words 'Remember not, Lord, our offences'.24 The focus of
Psalm 25 on God's rememberingor not rememberingmade it a
particularly popular psalm in the seventeenth century, and one of the
most interesting paraphrases of it may be found in the commonplace
book of Lady Anne Southwell (1626). The verses quoted above are translated in her manuscript as follows:
Thy loving kyndness lord
thy mercies manifold
recal to mind which thou di[d]st power
on mee in tymes of ould
fforgett my sines of youth
of faults no notice take
but lord in mercye think on me
even for thy goodness sake.25

This paraphrase is most revealing of the idea of divine remembrance,


since it chooses two new phrases to replace the cry of 'remember me'
which occurs so frequently in this passage as rendered by the Authorized Version (1611). Instead of the request to 'remember' the speaker,
God is urged here to 'recal to mind' and 'think on' her, confirming the
association of memory with the active calling up of images to the mind
and deliberate meditation upon them. The process of 'forgetting' is also
more graphically suggested in Southwell's version; after the first time of
asking, 'fforgett my sines of youth', the second introduces a new verb
'no notice take'where the Bible uses only 'forget'. To take no notice
is to realize that the sins are there but not to be influenced by them; to
forget, on the other hand, would seem to suggest a total reversal or denial of memory. Southwell's paraphrase signifies faith in God's selective

24. Henry Purcell, A Purcell Anthology (ed. Bruce Wood; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 18-21.
25. Lady Anne Southwell, The Southwell-Sibthorpe Commonplace Book (ed. Jean
Klene, CSC; Tempe, AZ: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1997), p. 10.

WILCOX: REMEMBER ME!

29

memory but leaves a question mark beside the divine willingness to


wipe out the past completely.
Both the Bible and its poetic paraphrase agree, however, in perceiving
the ability to remember only favourable things as an essential element of
the 'tender mercies' of God. In fact, the notion of a God who is unable
to forget or overlook human transgression is a bleak one indeed. As
Donne's terrified speaker in Holy Sonnet IX argues, some believers
count on God's remembering them, whereas he will 'thinke it mercy, if
thou wilt forget'.26 However, the boldest call on God's active and
creative memory is found in the Bible, coming from a sinner who can
nevertheless still ask to be rememberedand thereby forgiven. In the
Gospel account of the passion, two thieves are crucified with Jesus, one
on either side of him, and while one rails at Jesus for not saving himself
and them, the other says to him, 'Lord, remember me when thou comest
into thy kingdom' (Lk. 23.42). Here the wish to be remembered is shown
to be more than an expression of despair; it is in itself an act of faith.
The Scriptures not only demonstrate the importance of remembering
in the spiritual context; they also provide the means and the opportunity
for the devotional self to be remembered in its other, sometimes idealized, form. As Herbert wrote in his sonnets on 'The Holy Scriptures', the
Bible is a kind of mirror, 'the thankfull glasse,/That mends the lookers
eyes'. Reading the Bible is a process of self-recognition (and self-transformation) in the stories of others:
in ev'ry thing
Thy words do finde me out, & parallels bring,
And in another make me understood.27

Many devotional poets of the period 'understood' themselves by the


extended typology of seeing their own reflection in the words of the
Bible. The mid-seventeenth-century poet Elizabeth Major discovered
herself made other in St Paul's reassurance that 'we are...heirs of God'
(Rom. 8.17), which she adapted into an anagram of her own name in
one of her sonnets:
Elisabeth Major. Annagram: OI am a blest Heir
What? an Heir and blest, my soul! what honor's here
To a poor subject! Draw near my soul, draw near
With Songs of Praise, let low born thoughts expire,
Let love-inflamed zeal break out as fire
26. Donne, The Complete English Poems, p. 440.
27. Herbert, The English Poems, p. 77.

30

SELF/SAME/OTHER
Into the praises of the King of Kings,
Soar thou above these low inferior things:
Try how the wings of faith will rise above
The towering Eagle, or the mounting Dove:
What? an heir and blest! Doth not this eccho ring,
Shall I do ill, and Heir to such a King?
O no, assist me, Lord, then I shall flie
Sins soiled ways, and to my self shall die;
But live to thee, in whom I'm Heir and blest,
28
Till thou transport me to thy eternal rest.

The poem, headed by the author's name, is almost a memorial tablet, a


devotional equivalent to Herrick's pillar of commemoration. As her
name is re-spelled in the exclamation 'O I am a blest Heir', her memorialized self is remade at the very moment that the scriptural passage asserts
that she is no longer a slave but a child of God. This new self, formed
from the letters of her earthly name but expressing a newly discovered
heavenly hope, commits herself to leaving the old Elizabeth Major
behind: 'then I shall flie / Sins soiled ways, and to my self shall die'. The
reborn self cannot quite relinquish the oldthe anagram still bears its
tracesbut in perceiving the old self as other she dissects and re-members her identity as a complex emblem of divine potential.
The actions of memory witnessed in this poem are an epitome of the
creative processes involved in remembering. The poem's original inspiration is the Bible, a text remembered and reworked more than any
other in this period, and in whose words and types Herbert, Major and
their contemporaries recognized themselves.29 Using the scriptural
'eccho', Major inscribes herself in the sonnet, paradoxically as a means
of recording or remembering herself even as she lets go of her selfat
least of her old self, represented by the name Elizabeth Major. The scriptural text paraphrased in the title provides, through the wordplay of an
anagram, a new identity, a redeemed or other self, which nonetheless
keeps her temporal identity secretly stored within its letters. She seeks
the loss of her self in the God 'in whom I'm Heir and blest', but the
poem as a whole still asserts a distinctive and energetic self. Ultimately,
this whole selfnamed and nameless 'heir'will be remembered by
God as the scriptural passage promises; God's memory deals not only
with the past but stretches into an eternal future.

28. Elizabeth Major, Honey on the Rod (London, 1656), p. 193.


29. See Ghana Bloch, Spelling the Word: George Herbert and the Bible (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1985).

W1LCOX: REMEMBER ME!

31

4.
There is an important sense in which memory in the context of devotion
is mutual. If the aim of the individual is to be remembered, then this can
just as well be achieved, Donne suggests, by remembering God. In his
description of memory in a 'Sermon of Valediction', Donne shows it as a
two-way process:
[Memory is] the Gallery of the soul, hang'd with so many, and so lively pictures of the goodness and mercies of thy God to thee... And as a well
made, and well plac'd picture, looks always upon him that looks upon it;
so shall thy God look upon thee, whose memory is thus contemplating
him, and shine upon thine understanding, and rectifie thy will too.

Donne first persuades his listeners that God should be actively remembered by the believer, especially bearing in mind that the memory is
already full of signs of the providential acts of God which can be beneficially contemplated like pictures in a gallery. The memory is an enormous resource for devotion, as Donne suggests with the metaphor of a
gallery or museum and as St Augustine celebrated with his metaphors of
the 'great receptacle of my mind' and 'the fields and spacious palaces of
my memory'.31 As the Psalmist insisted, the use of the memory is a
crucial part of praise: 'Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his
benefits' (Ps. 103.2). Secondly, Donne depicts in his imaginary gallery of
the memory a scene of mutual contemplation: 'so shall thy God look
upon thee, whose memory is thus contemplating him'. As the human
individual is busy remembering God, so God is remembering, and in the
process, improving, the individual.
What is it that God is being asked to remember when he remembers
the individual believer? As the biblical passages have made clear, God is
rarely asked to remember wickedness, or the transitory elements of life;
it is always, in fact, the potentially redeemable other within the believer
which it is hoped that God will harbour in the divine memory. Above all,
the speakers in devotional writings tend to remind God of the presence
of Christ in them, in an attempt to ensure that what is remembered is
not the flawed human but the divine image in which they were created.
As Donne daringly argues in another of his sermons, the realization that
the self is taken over by God is 'a true Transubstantiation.../ is not I
that live, not I that do any thing, but Christ in me'?2 By his choice of
30. Donne, The Sermons, II, p. 248.
31. Augustine, The Confessions, pp. 226, 228.
32. Donne, The Sermons, VI, p. 209.

32

SELF/SAME/OTHER

the word 'transubstantiation', Donne fearlessly confronts the most controversial of all Reformation debateswhether the Eucharist is a sacrifice or a memorial.33 Uniting the two main strands of active rememberingin space and in timeDonne implies that the Christ within him
is made present as well as memorialized. Quoting St Paul (Gal. 2.20: 'Yet
not I, but Christ liveth in me'), Donne reminds his congregation that
behind and within the T, grammatically as well as spiritually, is 'Christ
in me'. Deftly relocating the transforming power of God from the altar of
the sacrament to the altar of the self (recalling Herbert's desire to unite
self and Christ in his poem 'The Altar'), Donne asserts that the real miracle of 'transubstantiation' has nothing to do with bread and wine but
everything to do with the human soul.
The prayer 'Remember me', therefore, may be seen as a request for
the self not only to be held dearly in the divine memory, but also to be
re-membered as, and in, Christ: 'for we are members of his body, of his
flesh, and his bones' (Eph. 5.30). The actions of memory thus form a full
circle since, while the human believer wishes to be remembered by
God, at the same time God, as Christ, is remembered in the individual
human. In one of his early sermons, Donne very appropriately uses the
metaphor of a carved memorial in describing the presence of God's
image in human form:
So then the children of God, are the Marble, and the Ivory, upon which
he workes; In them his purpose is, to re-engrave, and restore his Image.

The 'children of God' are God's engraved memorials, walking monuments to his creation and preservation of humanity. The link between
image, memory and inscription echoes the closing lines of Herbert's
lyric 'The Sinner', quoted earlier, in which he asks God to 'restore' the
divine image and in doing so to 'remember that thou once didst write in
stone'.35 In Herbert's case, the request to be re-membered in God's
image is made in a spirit of penitence, recalling that plain stonerather
than marble or ivoryis also the matter of a hard human heart.
It could be argued, in conclusion, that just as stone is an essential prerequisite for the process of carving a memorial, so the conscious calling
to memory of the self is a necessary preliminary stage in devotion and
redemption. Herbert's 'Altar' may not be a pillar to himself (in contrast
to Herrick's 'Pillar'), but it is undoubtedly a pillar of himself in that the
33. Stephen Greenblatt, 'Remnants of the Sacred in Early Modern England', in
Subject and Object in Renaissance Culture (ed. Margreta de Grazia, Maureen Quilligan and Peter Stallybrass; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 337-45.
34. Donne, The Sermons, III, p. 193.
35. Herbert, The English Poems, p. 59.

WILCOX: REMEMBER ME!

33

stones from which it is constructed are those of his own heart. The
memorialization of self as otherwhether as an object of personal contemplation, or as envisaged as remembered by God, or as transformed by
and into the image of Christis a recurring strain in early modern English devotional texts. It is, we might suggest, the religious counterpart to
the fascination with remembrance, which is repeatedly inscribed in secular texts from the period. The strategies for devotional remembrance
are also similar to those with a more worldy aim; Herbert's altar is,
ironically, more of an T-shaped pillar than Herrick's secular equivalent,
and the anagram of Elizabeth Major's name draws attention to her
earthly self even as it celebrates the discovery of another, eternal, identity. However, what is clearly different about the devotional texts is the
mutuality of remembrance in the Christian context. Making God 'present' to the memory by meditation36 ensures that the meditator is present in the divine memory. This mutual remembrance ultimately breaks
down the distinctions between self and other (the remembering, and the
remembered self) and between self and the divine other into which it is
transformed. The memorialwhether a textual or a spiritual 'transubstantiation'represents a merging of the self, the self as immediate
other, and the all-inclusive divine other, into one whole.
The Bible speaks of redemption as mutual knowledge: 'then shall I
know even as also I am known' (1 Cor. 13.12). On the evidence of the
early modern texts considered here, a parallel may be claimed: the devotional self remembers even as it is remembered, and is thereby in the
fullest sense re-membered. The thief who cried out from the cross
'Remember me' was given by the dying Christ, according to the Gospel,
a confident reassurance of bliss: 'Today shalt thou be with me in paradise' (Lk. 23.43). The very act of asking to be remembered gives access
to eternity.

Note:
With thanks to members of my seminar at the Religion and Literature
conference (Westminster College, Oxford, 1996) and colleagues in the
Groningen Cultural/Historical Circle (1998) for their constructive comments on earlier versions of this paper.

36. Donne, The Complete English Poems, p. 456.

Andrew W. Hass
The Nostalgia of Adieux

In 1939 W.H. Auden said goodbye to his homeland England. With


Europe on the brink of a second major war, he left on a boat for America. Whatever the reasons for this move, manifold and complex as they
were, they generated a chorus of scathing disapproval and condemnation from the literary elite back home, many of whom had seen Auden as
the champion voice fora new political art, a new literary activism, whose
Marxist leanings would countervail the advancing fascism in Spain and
the ill-boding fascism of Germany. But Auden had done with political sloganeering and ideological gestures, all of which had proven ineffectual.
Art as a political rostrum was a misdirected vocation. And those who
espoused it were no more transforming than the laissez-faire attitude on
the street. The literati of England had become 'a cosy parish life of gossip and inconsequence',1 so he left them behind. As his boat sailed into
New York's harbour, he stood on a threshold, but one which had very
little to do with geography, and even less to do with political allegiance.
For ultimately Auden was shifting the emphasis of his art; more, he was
shifting the emphasis of his entire being: politics were to give way to
religion and the 'common man' to the Self. He was about to re-embrace
Christianity, and with it, an entirely new depth to his creative work. An
'old self was being put off, and a 'new self assumed, in that classic Pauline phrase. Except that, for Auden, there was something of the threshold
that would always remain.
In that great period of transition from 1939 to 1940, Auden's work
reflected this liminal state at its most pronounced and vivid. In a semiautobiographical piece of aphorisms and astute, if sometimes sententious, observations, The Prolific and the Devourer, never completed and
published only after his death, Auden set down his thoughts concerning
the relationship between politics, religion, and art, and his intellectual
and personal reorientation from the political to the religious sphere. To
a friend he had said 'it is just a new Marriage of Heaven and Hell that I

1. Charles Osborne, W.H. Auden: The Life of a Poet (New York: M. Evans and
Company, 1979), p. 178.

HASS: THE NOSTALGIA OF ADIEUX

35

am doing',2 referring to William Blake's great work from which the title
is drawn. He did not mean he was writing his own Christian heresy, by
which to reformulate the traditional theology of the Church. He meant
rather he was situating himself within that theology's frame, but at the
precise and necessary frame of the threshold. In the actual work he
wrote:
Paradise is a state of harmony of understanding. We are always entering
paradise but only for a moment, for in the instant of achieving a harmony
we become aware that the whole which had previously seemed the limit
of our consciousness is in its turn part of a larger whole and that there is a
new disharmony to be reconciled.
This awareness that paradise must be continually lost, that if we try to
remain in it Paradise will turn into Hell, is the pain of Purgatory, La nostalgic des adieux.

It is here, at this moment of longing for what we cannot possess, where


art invites us into a new place of reception, and challenges our perceived notions of the Self.
Blake might seem like a strange beacon under which to return to
Christianity. There is something more subversive in a work like The Marriage of Heaven and Hell than there is evangelical. Indeed, Auden himself would later describe Blake as a Christian heretic. But it was not the
orthodoxy or the unorthodoxy that attracted Auden to Blake at this time,
but Blake's ability to see that the artist as creator is always stuck on a
threshold between Heaven and Hell, or, in the creative act, will tend
wittingly or unwittingly to merge the two.
In the Blakean view, this merger takes place because creation is itself
implicated in a Fall, whereby the creator, the prolific, creates according
to their own image, always and necessarily. Thus Auden opens his The
Prolific and the Devourer.
Not only does Man create the world in his own image, but the different
types of man create different kinds of worlds. Cf. Blake: 'A fool sees not
the same tree that a wise man sees'.4

In Blake, the prolific creator, the Poetic Genius, also creates Heaven and
Hell. Unrestrained Imagination, as opposed to constraining, devouring
Reason, is behind all the creative force and energy of existence, including the realm of the gods. But, says Blake: 'Some will say: 'Is not God
2. Edward Mendelson, 'Preface' to W.H. Auden, The Prolific and the Devourer
(Hopewell, New Jersey: Ecco, 1976), p. vii.
3. W.H. Auden, The Prolific and the Devourer (Hopewell, NJ: Ecco, 1976), pp.
37-38.
4. Auden, Prolific, p. 3.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

alone the Prolific?' I answer: 'God only Acts & Is, in existing beings or
Men'.5 This apparently blatant anthropomorphism of the Divine, or conversely, divinization of human imagination, serves only to outline in bold
the creative acting spirit, which, in always creating in its own image, cannot help but create the contrarieties existent within itself, contrarieties
that, in Blake's understanding of things, are necessary for any progression. As much as imagination and reason stand opposed to one another
in any one being, so do the prolific and the devourer, so too Heaven and
Hell, and so too, ultimately, the human and the divine. Whoever tries to
reconcile these two opposing sides, as religion does, 'seeks to destroy
existence', Blake claims.
But with great irony, that is precisely what Blake the poet does: he
marries Heaven and Hell, he marries the human and the divine. Satan
becomes the Messiah, and the Messiah Satangood and evil trade
places. And thus Milton, a true Poetic Genius, wrote at liberty only when
he was writing of the Devil, and not of God, Christ, or the realm of heavenly angels, since in seeking to reconcile the ways of God to humanity,
he destroys or devours the very Christian God he intends to justify by
out-creating God in God's contrary. Satan steals the show. This for Blake
can be summed up in that theologically troubling question of the famous
'Tyger' poem in Songs of Experience, posed to the tyger itself: 'Did he
who made the Lamb make thee?'
Although Auden never espouses such a radical theology of creation,
he does at least see that Paradise is always in some sense lost if we remain in it, that we must say goodbye to Heaven to keep it from becoming Hell. Thus we enter a purgatorial threshold, where we pain at the
nostalgia for what has been lost, yet move forward in a hope of regaining it. This insight Auden transfers to many different levels. In the unfinished The Prolific and the Devourer, he aligns the artist with the Prolific
and the politician with the Devourer, and sets them off against each
other under the notion that to the artist 'a general idea must be capable
of including the most contradictory experiences', while to the politician
'simplicity and infallibility' are an idea's greatest virtues, subtlety and
irony its greatest drawbacks.6 With this distinction, the Prolific ought
never to mingle in the Devourer's domain, or the artist, like Milton,
might end up with their contradictions championing the enemy's cause.
So Auden leaves behind the 'heaven' of a socialist or Marxist idealism,
5. William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1975), p. xxiii. Also, 'Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human
breast' (p. xx).
6. Auden, Prolific, p. 22.

HASS: THE NOSTALGIA OF ADIEUX

37

and emigrates to the contradictions of purgatorial experience better


suited to the artist, where, ironically, religion is close at hand. But this
religion is as yet neither a Heaven nor a Hell, for it is tied up, as in Blake,
with the creativity of artists:
If anyone chooses to call our knowledge of existence knowledge of God,
to call Essence the Father, Form the Son, and Motion the Holy Ghost, I
don't mind: Nomenclature is purely a matter of convenience. Matthew
Arnold was wrong in saying that poetry was a substitute for religion,
because religion is simply the way in which we live and poetry is not a
substitute for life. But no religious dogma, i.e., no organisation of our emotions about life, can be anything but poetry...7

Here we see one clearly on the threshold of a Christianity, but a Christianity corresponding primarily to historical and social forces. 'The Fall',
Auden had said pages earlier, 'is repeated in the life history of each individual, so that we have a double memory of Eden, one from personal
experience, and one social-historical. These two memories are not
always identical'.8 In the question-and-answer form of the final section of
The Prolific and the Devourer, Auden's self-confessing manner regarding his changing belief is cast in social-historical terms: the uncompleted
text stops abruptly with questions about political involvement and
pacifism, for example. But in the long poem 'New Year Letter', written
in the early months of 1940, and published in a volume in which some
of The Prolific and the Devourer was incorporated as annotations or
notes to the poetic text,9 Auden moves to a more individual experience
of the place between Heaven and Hell. This is not to say he is any more
or any less revealing about his own personal belief, but that he shifts
emphasis from the gulf between politics and art to a gulf at the core of
the human Self.
In the prose version of Prolific, Heaven is a general place of harmony
of understanding, Hell a general place of fear and denial. Heaven
becomes a Hell when one tries to maintain the harmony, the very mandate of politics. So fascist regimes become places of incarnate evil. In the
poetic version of 'New Year Letter', Heaven and Hell are more specifically states of Being and dictates of the Will, Heaven where Being may
'play/With Eternal Innocence/In unimpeded utterance', Hell
the being of the lie
That we become when we deny
The laws of consciousness and claim
Becoming and Being are the same,
7.
8.
9.

Auden, Prolific, p. 82.


Auden, Prolific, p. 36.
Published in America as The Double Man, 1941.

38

SELF/SAME/OTHER
Being in time, and man discrete
In will, yet free and self-complete... 10

This psycho-theology, of which Auden was particularly fond at the time,


woolly though it tended to be, was his attempt to get at a more internal
or existential understanding of the processes at work within himself and
his age, as influenced particularly by his reading at that time of Pascal
and Kierkegaard. This decidedly existential turn begins to emerge in
'New Year Letter' precisely where, in Part III, religion takes its stand
over against the ethical and the aesthetic (as modelled on Kierkegaard's
tripartite categories).11 But Blake's guiding principle is still at work, for
Being's Heaven easily turns to a Hell when it tries to linger in its conceived Paradise: 'perfect Being has ordained/It must be lost to be
regained'.12 This loss of the SelfMiltonic, Blakean, Kierkegaardean all
at onceis a willing loss of the will to remain in a static state of Being,
by advancing always to the threshold of a suffering yet sufferable place
of dynamic creativity between Heaven and Hell, the 'purgatorial hill' of
Becoming:
We cannot, then, will Heaven where
Is perfect freedom; our wills there
Must lose the will to operate.
But will is free not to negate
Itself in Hell; we're free to will
Ourselves up Purgatory still.. .13

Thus purgatory becomes for Auden a space where selfhood is willfully


reinventing itself through its contrarieties, caught as it is between fear
and certainty, doubt and faith, unorthodoxyand orthodoxy, both socially
and religiously. It is a place of 'movement' which cannot help but be
heretical, 'Since over its ironic rocks/No route is truly orthodox', as we
move with 'Our faith well balanced by our doubt', with a 'reverent frivolity' that leads, as we continually leave behind one place for another, to
the 'sad nostalgia des adieux\14
Auden's biography of the 1939-40 period accords well with these
liminal themes of loss and reinvention. With Europe passing over the
10. 'New Year Letter', from W.H. Auden, W.H. Auden: Collected Poems (London:
Faber & Faber Ltd, 1976), pp. 221-22. Copyright 1940 and renewed 1969 by W.H.
Auden. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.
11. See, for example, an early and brief study, Edward Callan, 'Auden's New Year
Letter: A New Style of Architecture', in Monroe K. Spears (ed.), Auden: A Collection
of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1964), pp. 152-59.
12. Auden, Collected Poems, p. 221.
13. Auden, Collected Poems, p. 222.
14. Auden, Collected Poems, pp. 223-24.

HASS: THE NOSTALGIA OF ADIEUX

39

threshold of war, he reinvents his Self and the focus of his art in America. There, in a long poem whose subtitle bears the threshold of a new
year ('January 1'), he writes of the purgatorial nature of Being, becoming
what it ought to be in a threshold state between Heaven and Hell. This
state leads him, ironically, towards Christianity, but a Christianity which
is also liminally balancedsomewhere between Catholicism and Protestantism. 'I think the Catholics and the Protestants were both right and
both wrong', he wrote earlier in The Prolific and the Devourer. 'Worship an undfur sich is not an action or a belief, but the state of mind
necessary in order to do anything successfully whether by oneself or in
association with others, i.e., a state of interest and love'.15 And so his
purgatory becomes a curious mixture of Catholic expiation and Protestant individualism, while his worship, when he eventually returned to
the Church, was in the form of high Anglicanism, as one might predict.16
These themes might even be transferred to his romantic life, so that, as a
recent biographer has suggested, the lines about Paradise as a state of
harmony which had to be lost, written during a 'honeymoon' trip with
his new young lover, Chester Kallman, reflected the punctured bliss of
homosexual romance brought about by Kallman's insistent
philanderings and infidelities.17 Everywhere Auden turned at this time,
he found himself saying goodbye to one thing or another, to one person
or another, suffering in his private ironic purgatory, in an continual
effort to reinscribe his self-identity, to drive his cart and his plow over
the bones of his own dead past, to use Blake's proverbial imagery.
Thus the chief features of his theological belief were set in place at
this time, and were to resurface, despite a more direct espousal of Christian 'nomenclature', throughout the rest of his art and his life. Paradox,
irony, reverent frivolity, reticence as the true orthodoxy, loss of Self to a
fertile thresholdthese were the marks of his religious temperament.
But they go beyond biography and private religion, for they address the
nature of Self as it stands vis-a-vis the other, an other which always problematizes the private space, and carries implications to a public, or cultural, or theologicalthat is, some kind of relationallevel. These implications Auden continually sought to voice in more than simply personal
15. Auden, Prolific, p. 83.
16. Osborne writes: 'Asked solemnly by a friend to state his theological position,
Auden replied, "Liturgically, I am Anglo-Catholic though not too spiky, I hope. As for
forms of church organization, I don't know what to think. I am inclined to agree with
de Rougemont that it will be back to the catacombs for all of us. As organizations,
none of the churches look too hot, do they? But what organization ever does?"' (W.H.
Auden, p. 202).
17. Richard Davenport-Hines, Auden (London: Heinemann, 1995), p. 195.

40

SELF/SAME/OTHER

terms or points of reference, and often recurred to the Narcissus myth


(myths by definition being unbiographical, though not necessarily unhistorical) as a means of manifesting this modern dilemma of the Self with
all its vast yet poignant repercussions.
Two poems stand as bookends to this threshold period of Auden's history, both which utilize the imagery of Narcissus. One was written in
April of 1939, and is entitled 'They'. The other was written in late 1940
or early 1941, and is entitled 'Alone'. The one anticipates the coming of
foreign and hostile armies onto the barren space of one's own territory;
the other questions the nature and ability of the Self to love outside of its
own internal and private domain. The two poems bridge neatly the political and corporate concerns of the early years with the more inward and
existential concerns of the later years.
'They' begins with the question 'Where do they come from?', 'they'
being those 'whom we so much dread', or
Terrible presences that the ponds reflect
back at the famous, and, when the blond boy
bites eagerly into the shining
apple, emerge in their shocking fury...18

Here the narcissistic reflection, bound as it is with the imagery of the


Fall, reveals a society looking upon its own evils, ones which we cannot
describe as remote and alien, but which move knowingly towards us, to
be consummated in an eventual marriage where no blame can be directed upon the other, because the other has now become one flesh
with our own remote and fruitless Selves. It is in such a union between
the 'us' of what we think we are and the 'them' of what we actually are
that
the barren must wish to bear though the Spring
punish; and the crooked that dreads to be straight
cannot alter its prayer but summons
1
out of the dark a horrible rector..19

If, as the poem's final line states, 'even our armies/have to express our
need for forgiveness', it is because our enemy is as much, if not more,
ourselves as it is any alien force, and it is in lying with our own ugly
demons, the 'tawny and vigorous tiger', recalling Blake's 'tyger', that we
conceive a self-awareness that can lead to the straighter path we think
we ought to dread. That his path turns out to be a 'horrible' Christianity,
18. 'They', from W.H. Auden, W.H. Auden: Collected Poems (London: Faber &
Faber Ltd, 1976). p. 253. Copyright 1945 and renewed 1973 by W.H. Auden.
Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.
19. Auden, Collected Poems, p. 255.

HASS: THE NOSTALGIA OF ADIEUX

41

where forgiveness and hope ultimately lie, is only hinted at in the poem.
But it makes clear that the starting point is a public self-reflection where
the other in the pond's reflecting surface shocks us into an acknowledgment that the 'they', however dreaded and punishing, may very well engender 'our' salvation. (This an uncomfortable notion for a world heating up for war with itself.)
In 'Alone' a few years later, the same conclusion is reached but
through inverse means. In the privatized world of the lover, the poem
opens:
Each lover has a theory of his own
About the difference between the ache
Of being with his love, and being alone:
Why what, when dreaming, is dear flesh and bone
That really stirs the senses, when awake,
Appears a simulacrum of his own.20

Here the interior Self is seeking answers to why the void of being alone
is not ultimately eliminated by even those we possess in love, and why
these are more alive in thought and dreams than in reality, where they
seem only a poor reflection of ourselves. In the next stanza Auden once
again draws on the Narcissus myth:
Narcissus disbelieves in the unknown;
He cannot join his image in the lake
So long as he assumes he is alone.

For this self-obsessed youth, knowledge exists only within and of himself. As long as he is oblivious to Echo and the nymphs around him, he
cannot, ironically, unite himself to the very image which captures him,
his own. Here again, the inability to see the reality of one's Self, the reality in this case that the Self is not alone, prohibits one from true selfawareness and self-possession. Thus the poem ends:
Whatever view we hold, it must be shown
Why every lover has a wish to make
Some other kind of otherness his own:
Perhaps in fact, we never are alone.21

The 'some other kind of otherness' is in contradistinction to the otherness of one's own Self. As the myth of Narcissus has always shown, we
continually face an otherness within ourselves. Self is always fractured
20. 'Alone', from W.H. Auden, W.H. Auden: Collected Poems (London: Faber &
Faber Ltd, 1976), p. 312. Copyright 1941 and renewed 1969 by W.H. Auden.
Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.
21. Auden, Collected Poems, p. 313.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

by its own ability to self-reflect. It is only in seeing clearly this fracture, a


knowledge which Narcissus himself does not possess, that true otherness, and the possibility of relationship, can be fully perceived and
appropriated. Even if in this fracture sits our demons, our Calibans, as
Auden will later portray in The Sea and the Mirror, it is only at such a
moment of recognition when we can truly love. And thus 'Alone' ends
with the statement, paradoxically qualified ('Perhaps, in fact'), that 'we
never are alone', since our fractured selves, when we turn and face
them, give us away.
We return to the lines of 'New Year Letter', which chronologically fall
midway between 'They' and 'Alone': 'But perfect Being has ordained/It
must be lost to be regained'. These lines echo of course the great Christian paradox, that one must lose one's life to find it, here in Auden
broadened to include the civic, romantic, psychological and existential
levels of Being. We must say goodbye, adieu, to the paradisal states of
our Being in order truly to preserve our Being, for Paradise cannot hold.
And this recognition, of the fractured Self, of the necessity to take leave
of the Narcissistic self-containment and myopia, the Heaven with the
easily-sprung trap doors to Hell, places us at a purgatorial threshold,
where we ache with a nostalgia, the pain of going back to where we
cannot go. 'So many have forgotten how/', Auden wrote in October of
1939, 'To say I Am, and would be/Lost, if they could, in history'.22
Adieu leaves us under the lintel of 'I Am', at the doorpost of Now, straddling all the prolific uncertainties that reside there.
As much as all the adieux of Auden's 'now' in 1939-40 hearkened back
to former times of certainty and safety, the adieux of today, with the
horrific war of 1939-45 now standing blaringly in the way, hearken to
death and destruction on an immeasurable scale. Our nostalgia is forever
discoloured by the atrocities of a genocidal history. And this history is
our history: not some fascist aberration of an ulterior civilization, but a
product of indigenous ideas, cultivated in our own philosophical and
cultural soils. Our adieux have as much to do with our death, the goodbyes of Western Being, society and civilization, as they do with any
Utopian or paradisal conjuring of Being's abode. This Auden foresaw, at
times with prophetic clarity. But his move to Christianity contravened
the spirit of the age, for the adieux would also come to have as much to
22. 'Another Time', from W.H. Auden, W.H. Auden: Collected Poems (London:
Faber & Faber Ltd, 1976), p. 276. Copyright 1940 and renewed 1968 by W.H.
Auden. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.

MASS: THE NOSTALGIA OF ADIEUX

43

do with the death of God, the God who seemed so often implicated,
whether ecclesiastically or theologically, with this black and devouring
Zeitgeist of the modern project. Our late-twentieth-century postmodern
reaction has been a response to these adieux, to the goodbyes of both
Heaven and Hell, finding, in trademark fashion, the implosive mechanism at the core of adieu, the a-dieu, the farewell of God, the negation
of God, the taking leave of God's own Being. If there is any nostalgia
here, it is not a mat du pays for some lost abode of the divine, but an
ironic ache for a God lost altogether.
Lost altogether? Not quite. We should not say that postmodern nostalgia is so glib as to dismiss anything outright, least of all notions of God.
For as some would contend, this nostalgia has in recent times become
more of a passion, a passion very much for a God, and one certainly not
lost, even if it is not particularly found either. If Jacques Derrida is any
measure,23 it is a God very much resident within, or in between, or
before, the adieu. In Derrida's Donner la Mort (The Gift of Death) he
discusses Emmanuel Levinas's use of the term adieu in relation to death.
'What is the adieu? he asks. 'What does adieu mean? What does it mean
to say "adieu"?' He offers three possibilities for this common French
word: a 'salutation or benediction given', perhaps even at a 'moment of
meeting'; a 'salutation or benediction given at the moment of separation,
of departure, sometimes...at the moment of death'; and the 'a-dieu, for
God or before God and before anything else or any relation to the other,
in every other adieu'. He concludes: 'Every relation to the other would
be, before and after anything else, an adieu.'24
Derrida's thoughts here are set within a very complex analysis of
death, involving Levinas, Heidegger and others, and are not done justice
with selective quotations. But what is important to see, even in this
gross truncation, is that saying adieu is no dismissive remark even within postmodern discourse. Indeed, it is within postmodern discourse, so
fond now of the liminality which Auden had presaged, that the nostalgia
of adieu takes its acutest form, as it brings us to the threshold of existence and non-existence, as it circumscribes not simply a separation, but
the separation we call death, which, as Derrida is trying to point out, is
lying, necessarily and constitutively, in the very notion we call 'other' or
'otherness', a notion itself inherent in the converse, the idea of 'meeting'. Hence it is lying then before (in the double sense of 'prior to' and
23. And for John Caputo, he is the measure, as his latest book makes forcefully, at
times lyrically, clear: The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without
Religion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997).
24. Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death (trans. David Wills; Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1995), p. 47.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

'in front of) God, or our notions of God, the ultimate Other. And in this
space, the space of the adieu or a-dieu, the Self finds itself anew, as it
gives itself over to the other. What other? 'Whom to give to?', we might
ask with Derrida. This is indeed a threshold question for us, having
crossed over into a new millennium. But if the theme of Self-abandonment in the space of separation, which can just as well be a space of
meeting, a threshold place of departure and arrival, is at all current and
vital, Auden's move, despite all its then detractors, cannot be so easily
dismissed. For it opens us up to a renewed theology of the Passion, a
passion of adieu. As Auden would write years later, with a typical measure of reverential uncertainty:
Meanwhile, a silence on the cross
As dead as we shall ever be
Speaks of some total gain or loss,
And you and I are free
To guess from the insulted face
Just what Appearances He saves...25

25. 'Friday's Child', from W.H. Auden, W.H. Auden: Collected Poems (London:
Faber & Faber Ltd, 1976), p. 676.

Amy Benson Brown


'Curse God and Die': The Bible as Other in
Sylvia Plath's 'Lady Lazarus'

Sylvia Plath's life makes a gripping story: early death of a father, brilliant
academic achievement, dramatic mental illness and, of course, the infamous marriage to a famous poet. Two facts stand clear in every version:
she worked incredibly hard at her art and died by her own hand. Unfortunately, the second fact often eclipses the first, the primary fact of her
commitment to her art. Thus, Plath's fabulously eclectic poems have
been mapped primarily against the discourse of psychoanalysis and the
various texts of her own life story, mainly her journals and other narratives about her by relatives and colleagues. Although many of these biographically based studies are illuminating, much remains to be done to
map how Plath's speaking Tthe grid of the selfemerges through
confrontation with the grid of (an)other. The textual 'other' that has
been most neglected is the Bible. While they are often overlooked amid
the rampant heteroglossia of her late work, biblical references actually
rise in frequency and significance as Plath wrote her best poems in the
last year of her life.l
Even as a young writer Plath's articulation of ambition and authority
depended upon a generalized language of divinity. In a diary entry at age
seventeen, she names herself '[t]he girl who wanted to be God' even as
she anxiously recognizes that being a 'girl' means that her power will be
'classified and quantified'.2 In later journals, the male literary giants of
I would like to thank Alicia Ostriker, Martine Brownley, Linda Wagner-Martin and
Jane Kalbfleisch for their readings of versions of these ideas.
1. Nancy Hargrove counts that 70 out of the 224 poems in Plath's Collected
Poems (ed. Ted Hughes; New York: HarperCollins, 1992) contain biblical references,
'Christian Imagery in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath', Midwest Quarterly 31:1 (1988), pp.
9-28 (26).
2. Sylvia Plath, Letters Home: Correspondence, 1950-1963 (ed. Aurelia Schober
Plath; New York: Harper & Row, 1975), p. 40. Hereafter cited parenthetically. Immediately preceding this declaration is an admission of a fear of marriage and a desire to
avoid the traditional role of homemaker. Thus, this fear of classification is a recognition not just of mortal limits but also of societal restrictions on women's achievements.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

the day appear as 'those god-eyed ones'. This tendency to metaphorize


literary authority in tropes of divinityto make, as Plath herself admitted, a 'necessary' religion of writingis epitomized in Plath's inscription
of her own volume of Auden's Collected Poems: 'I have found my god in
W.H. Auden'.3 Such general literary worship evolves into specific analogies between literary and biblical authority when Plath represents her
own efforts to construct a speaking T. For example, Plath describes
herself as 'one mortal imperfect Eve with a fierce full rightness...corresponding to the ecstasy experienced by the starving saint on the desert'
(Journals, pp. 76-77). The occasion for this purple prose was nothing
other than a $100.00 check from Harpers for three poems, '[signifying',
in Plath's own words, her '[f]irst real professional acceptance, God, and
all the possibilities' (Journals, p. 77). That acceptance letter from Harpers marks not only her entry into the public, literary arena of the 'godeyed ones' but also her entry into the Bible: this appropriation and
revision of Eve as a prophetic figure of her own authorial identity anticipates her later raids on the Bible for writing personae. In her mature
work, the literary ambition of the 'girl who wanted to be God' is
inscribed through a shifting cast of transformed biblical characters, from
the speaker of 'Ariel' (whose name means 'God's lioness'), to the grieving Virgin of 'Mary's Song', the outraged 'acetylene Virgin' of 'Fever
103', and of course the 'Lady Lazarus'. If the central project of Plath's
most significant work is, as many critics have suggested, the construction of an authorial self through language, the revision of that self is inextricable from an engagement and revision of the Bible.4
As the most obvious example of Plath's use the Bible as intertext,
'Lady Lazarus' appropriates the Gospel's story of Lazarus's resurrection
by using the revisionist's hermeneutic of suspicion, a mode of reading
that mistrusts the power dynamics of the original text. Plath's refusal of
3. For the 'god-eyed ones', see The Journals of Sylvia Plath (ed. Frances McCullough; New York: Ballantine, 1982), p. 78, cited parenthetically hereafter in the text.
On writing as her religion, see Hargrove, 'Christian Imagery', p. 4. And Plath's tribute
to Auden may be found in her edition of The Collected Poems of W.H. Auden (New
York: Random House, 1945) located in her library in the Sylvia Plath Collection at
Smith College. My thanks go to the librarians of the Ruth Mortimer Rare Book Room
for their assistance with Plath's personal library.
4. This idea that the central project of the late work is the construction of an
authorial identity is key to the theses of Susan Van Dyne's examination of Plath's
revisions of many types of narratives in Revising Life: Sylvia Plath's Ariel Poems
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993), Stephen Axelrod's psychoanalytic reading in The Wound and Cure of Words (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Universit
Press, 1990) and Toni Saldivar's discussion of the Gnostic imagination in Sylvia Plath:
Confessing the Fictive Self (New York: Peter Lang, 1992).

BROWN: 'CURSE GOD AND DIE'

47

a male trinity in 'Fever 103' is more forcefully cast here as an indictment


of authority that allies medical and religious figures with male Nazis:
'Herr God, Herr Lucifer'. 'Lady Lazarus' is a dramatic monologue that
casts Lazarus as female rather than male, her death as self-inflicted rather
than natural, andJesus as Satanic death-camp physician rather than divine
healer. All this enables the appearance in the final stanza of an enraged
woman who seems to seek revenge for the despising of female flesh in
both the Gospels and contemporary culture.
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.5

Just as Plath's 'Mary's Song' draws on the horrors of the Holocaust to


rewrite the pieta, so 'Lady Lazarus' draws on Holocaust imagery to resurrect this closing figure who suggests both the victims of the death camps
and the famous biblical whore, the Magdalene with her magnificent
hair.6 I hope to show that the revisioned voice of Lazarus and the Magdalene, however, depends on yet another biblical subtext. The transformation of Lazarus is shaped by another cross-gender identification of
the female speaker with the sufferings of Job. Where the use of Lazarus
is obvious and fashioned though a hermeneutics of suspicion, the use of
Job is subtle and crafted though a hermeneutics of desire, a way of reading based on identification of the reading and writing self with the
'other', a text of the Hebrew Bible in this case.
This conflict between suspicion and desire proves very fertile in this
poem, producing a speaker that seems to occupy several different subject positions at once. This layering of speaking selves serves to heighten
our awareness of the seemingly contradictory fact that the speaker is
defined by language even as she makes her most audacious assertion of
agency, her claim of self-resurrection. Speaking as Lazarus and as a Holocaust victim, echoing Job, and evoking the figures of the phoenix and
the Magdalene all at once, this voice underscores the fact that she is
'constituted by language', that she is 'produced' within 'a given network'
of discourses. As Judith Butler points out, though, this production is not
necessarily static or stifling. This constitution by language may open the
discourses engaged to 'resignification, redeployment, subversive citation

5. Sylvia Plath, 'Lady Lazarus', from The Collected Poems (ed. Ted Hughes;
London: Faber & Faber, 1981; New York: HarperCollins, 1992). Reprinted by permission of Faber & Faber Ltd and HarperCollins.
6. I owe this 'sighting' of the Magdalene to Alicia Ostriker's insightful reading of
this manuscript in draft stage.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

from within', and '[a]gency is to be found precisely at these junctures


where discourse is renewed'.7 Thus, Plath's most memorable and distinctive voice emerges though this subtle and layered confrontation with
discourses conventionally marked as 'other' to a female, secular, nonJewish writer.
Though Plath was not affiliated with a church as an adult, there is
evidence that the Bible was meaningful to her, particularly the story of
Job. Linda Wagner-Martin, one of Plath's best biographers, notes that
Plath was reading the book of Job in 1959, just three years before the
composition of Lady Lazarus.8 Plath also admits in a journal entry to finding 'great peace' in that book of the Bible.9 An early influence may also
have given Plath a special affinity for Job. Plath's English professor in
1954, Alfred Young Fisher, had published a commentary on Job a decade
earlier. As a senior in college, Plath wrote a large number of poems as
assignments for Fisher, even dedicating her senior collection to the professor she called 'My Favorite Maestro'.10
Textual correspondences also link Plath's dramatic monologue with
Job's lament (chs. 16-17 in the King James Version). Despite the seeming incongruity of Lady Lazarus's side-show theatrics and Job's somber
complaint, the 'stripped' condition of her body and soul uncannily mirrors the forced divestment of Job of all his earthly possessions.11 The
speakers' very breath seems to be drawn from the same source. While
Job declares,
My breath is corrupt, my days are extinct,
the graves are ready for me (17.1)12

Lady Lazarus predicts her 'sour breath/Will vanish in a day' because,


7. See Judith Butler's argument in Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical
Exchange by Seyla Benhabib, Judith Butler, Drucilla Cornell and Nancy Fraser (New
York: Routledge, 1995), p. 135.
8. Linda Wagner-Martin, Sylvia Plath: A Biography (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), p. 157.
9. Journals, p. 292.
10. See Wagner-Martin's biography for information on Plath's dedication of her
project to him, p. 118. Some of the poems from this era are published in the juvenilia
section of The Collected Poems, and an editorial note there remarks that the manuscripts bear Fisher's 'profuse and detailed comments' and that Plath often followed
'his textual suggestions', p. 299.
11. It was Elizabeth Swados's reading of as Job a tragic clown that made me first
suspect an echo of Job's tragic voice in Lady Lazarus's parodic one; see 'Job: He's a
Clown', in Out of the Garden: Women Writers on the Bible (ed. Christina Buchmann
and Celina Spiegel; New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1994), pp. 204-20.
12. All biblical quotations are from the King James Version.

BROWN: 'CURSE GOD AND DIE'

49

Soon, soon the flesh


The grave cave ate will be
At home on me.

Even Plath's figuration of grave as domestic site, as 'home', compresses


Job's ironic location of death's decay within a trope on family: 'I have
said to corruption, Thou art my father: and to the worm Thou art my
mother' (17.13-14).
Structural similarities also point to Job as a revisioned subtext of 'Lady
Lazarus'. Although Job's losses are not self-inflicted, he is diminished to
the point of death twice by losses of family, property, and health, and
each time makes, like Lady Lazarus, an amazing 'comeback in broad day'.
It would seem that Job, like the Lady, has a 'call' for doing it 'so that it
feels like hell'. Furthermore, by casting God and Lucifer as ruthless Nazis
in her poem, Plath only foregrounds the collusion of God with Satan that
underwrites the plot of Job. The frame narrative of the biblical text
clearly states that Job's trials result from a bet between God and Satan
(Job 1-2). Finally, the roots of Plath's construction of audience in 'Lady
Lazarus' may lie in Job's hostile relation to those who witness his
spectacle.
Lady Lazarus's despising of the 'peanut-crunching crowd' that 'shoves
in' to gawk at her echoes Job's bitterness toward the 'mockers' who surround him and 'gape with open mouths' at his condition (17.2; 16.10).
Yet Job, like Lady Lazarus, needs his sorrow to be self-revelation, to be
public spectacle, praying that the earth never 'cover' his 'blood' and that
his body be a 'byword of the people', stirring the 'innocent.. .against the
hypocrite' (16.10; 17.6-8). A draft of 'Lady Lazarus' contains the crossedout line: 'there aren't many like me/who do it publicly'.13 Job, too, did it
publicly, and it is in the social and communal nature of self-revelation
that the two biblical intertexts of 'Lady Lazarus' merge. In Plath's poem,
this function of Job's body as public sign of injustice merges with the
function of Lazarus's body as a public sign of the divinity of Jesus. The
Lady Lazarus who manages her own resurrection in the final moments of
the poem thus appears as an avenging goddess, at once a sign of divine
injustice and of feminine, supernatural power.
However, the speaker's threat to 'eat men like air' rings hollow. It is
overshadowed by her self-mockery, her self-portrayal as victim throughout the poem. In the same diary entry that declares herself 'the girl who
wanted to be God', a young Plath vows 'never to be so blinded that I
cannot.. .mock myself as I mock others' (Letters Home, p. 40). Self-mock13- Smith manuscript, in the Sylvia Plath Collection, Mortimer Rare Book Room,
Smith College.

50

SELF/SAME/OTHER

ery in 'Lady Lazarus', the undercutting of her own assertion of power,


may be linked to audience, particularly to a reformulation of the function of audience in Job. Susan Van Dyne has shown that the drafts of
'Lady Lazarus' reveal that the speaker's voice came into being in opposition to an antagonistic male audience, a figure who in early drafts
resembles Plath's own husband, Ted Hughes, and who in later drafts is
abstracted to 'Herr God, Herr Lucifer'.14 While the revision of autobiographical material, the story of the self, is certainly key to the emotional
intensity of this poem, the revision of the biblical intertext, the story of
an other, provides a significant structural element. The hostile audience
seems in the drafts of 'Lady Lazarus' to mirror the function of Job's
'mockers' as exemplified by his own charming spouse, who sneers: 'Dost
thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God and die' (2.9). Job of course
refuses this advice and perseveres, but that commandto curse God
and diespeaks to the very essence of Lady Lazarus's monologue which
concludes with her vengeful threat and her ascension (or evaporation)
into thin air. I propose that Plath re-contains the integrity of her speaker's voice by unifying the split in Job between dramatic speaker and
mocking audience into her single parodic dramatic monologue. Internalizing the mocking voice of the hostile audience in her own parodic performance drives Lady Lazarus, however, to undercut the staying power
of her own voice.
This undercutting of voice is further complicated by other strains in
Plath's heteroglossia, particularly her use of the language of the Holocaust. Simply put, the very layering of subject positions from which the
Lady speaks not only fuels her audacious monologue but may also contribute to that monologue's ominous conclusion. The very thing that
bolstered and energized her subjectivity ultimately undercuts its sustainability. The layering of subject positions finally causes a critical displacement of meaning that stems from a confusion of reference. Every reader
leaves this poem with the sense of witnessing a battle, and the closing
threat of eating 'men like air' seems to target a male enemy. Clearly, the
Holocaust tropes are used to figure a woman's anger at gender atrocity.
Despite most readers' sense of Lady Lazarus's anger as specifically feminist, the wrongs that motivate the speaker are never directly named.
Especially striking is the absence of an explicit articulation of gender
critique. The universal sense that this is a poem of sexual battle, in fact,
is incongruous with the actual rhetoric of the poem. This representational paradox stems from a confusion of subjects as the figure of the
14. Susan Van Dyne, 'Fueling the Phoenix Fire: the Manuscripts of Sylvia Plath's
"Lady Lazarus"', Massachusetts Review 24.2 (1983), pp. 395-410 (399).

BROWN: 'CURSE GOD AND DIE'

51

Holocaust victim is used to present the figure of a violated, wronged


woman. While the title presents a female speaker, Lady Lazarus's own
descriptions present herself as 'a smiling woman', 'the same identical
woman', or as a Jewish Holocaust victim: with 'skin' 'Bright as a Nazi
lampshade', a 'face', like a 'fine/Jew linen', and a self like a 'pure gold
baby'. In other words, I suggest that the speaker's gender identity is not
consonant with her Jewish identity. This is not to say that the Jewish
figures here are inherently male or female, because they, in fact, are
overtly neither: gender is simply not foregrounded in those tropes. The
'ash', the 'cake of soap', the 'wedding ring' evoke the 'Flesh' and 'bone'
of a human victim of Nazi atrocity, but this body bears no expressly
gendered marker. This fact points to an entanglement here of tropes of
ethnicity and the subject of gender. Plath may have adopted this representational strategy due to difficulties in claiming and articulating anger
directly. As critics have shown, she struggled with her rage over gender
inequities and saw anger, as Woolf did, as a 'problem' for a woman
writer who would be great, the girl who would be god.15
The representation of gender violence and oppression through Nazi
violence, however, contributes to the poem's powerful effect. While
Plath has been criticized as a non-Jew for appropriating Holocaust imagery, this appropriation of the identity of the 'other' actually raises a
different kind of representational problem. Though the entanglement of
the subject of gender in Holocaust tropes underscores the historical role
of some uses of Christian rhetoric in both misogyny and anti-Semitism,
this poem also bears out James Young's claim that Holocaust tropes
exert their own organizing power in a poet's imagination.16 Thus, Lady
Lazarus's identification as a Holocaust victim exacerbates the self-erasing
strain of heroic martyrdom that drives her public performance, like Job,
of her losses.
In conclusion, while Plath's revisionary engagement of the Bible in
her late work places her in the company of other feminist biblical revisionists, like Emily Dickinson, H.D., and her own contemporary, Anne
Sexton, her use of the Bible at once bolsters and destabilizes the construction of her speaking T. The layering of subject positions, this collaboration of all the 'others' upon which Lady Lazarus's dramatic monologue depends, seems to ultimately require the silence of the voice that
briefly speaks through them.
15. On gender and anger, see Axelrod, The Wound and Cure of Words, p. 101;
Alicia Ostriker, Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986), especially ch. 4; and Van Dyne, Revising Life, ch. 1.
16. James Young, ' "I May Be a Bit of a Jew": The Holocaust Confessions of Sylvia
Plath', Philological Quarterly 66.1 (1987), pp. 127-47 (139-40).

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Part III
Re-visioning Subjectivity

Sandra Chait
The Psychospiritual in the Literary Analysis of
Modernist Texts1

At the age of fifty, Antonia White still struggled unsuccessfully to reconcile the two major forces in her life with the teachings of the Catholic
Church. In her 4 August 1949 diary, she wrote, 'I am religious: I am
highly sexed. But I am always trying to castrate myself.2 White was
hardly unique among modernists in having battled with the Church's
polarized positioning of religion and sex; many Anglo-American Modernists in the first half of the twentieth century textually investigated the
received mores of sex and institutionalized religion.3 In fact, the spirit/
flesh binary dilemma has been a staple of Western writing in English
ever since Chaucer's pilgrims, wending their Christian way towards Canterbury, entertained one another with stories of salacious wit.4 In every
literary period, poets and writers have sought to understand the conflicting desires of flesh and spirit. However, the topic assumed particular
relevance and urgency in the modernist period when the parallel development of psychoanalytic thought and theological modernism enmeshed
such desires in new and intricate ways.5 They challenged earlier per1. Unless otherwise specified, I use the term 'modernism' to refer specifically to
literary modernism, i.e. those texts published between the closing years of the nineteenth century and the 1940s which broke away from traditions and conventions to
experiment with language, to investigate new forms and styles, and to explore race,
gender, and humankind's place and function in the universe.
2. Antonia White, Antonia White: Diaries 1926-1957, I (ed. Susan Chitty; New
York: Viking, 1992), p. 217.
3. D.H. Lawrence, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, H.D., to name a
few.
4. At the end of 'The Parson's Tale', Chaucer, fearful for the state of his own
soul, renounces all the tales that were 'sownen into synne'. 'Many medieval authors
feared eventually that they had offended God, and quieted their consciences in the
same way by retracting what they had written', Chaucer: The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (ed. RT. Davies; London: George G. Harrap, 1953), p. 195. Although, today, theological modernism is understood generally to refer to
any criticisms of traditional Christian theology, at the end of the nineteenth century, it
described specifically the movement within the Roman Catholic Church to bring
Catholic beliefs more in line with contemporary and scientific thinking. This move-

CHAIT: THE PSYCHOSPIRITUAL

55

ceptions of good and evil and of the God-image itself and, in so doing, as
I shall show, rendered the subject spiritually fractured and thus particularly suited to the psychospiritual approach I wish to propose for reading the trace of the Other in the text.
In the first place, within the cultural context of Nietzsche's repudiation of institutional religion, theological modernism's emphasis on the
immanence rather than the transcendence of God shifted the focus of
religion to humans themselves.6 It offered avant-garde writers of the
time a signifier, if not exactly empty of the institutionalized signified, at
least spacious enough to allow for personal and creative interpretation.7
For, if God were immanent as a presence within, the writer's concept of
the deity and her relationship to it, including her morality and sexual
behavior, were to a large extent individual. Thus, the whole question of
the relationship between physical and spiritual desire became one of personal truth, something vouchsafed to the individual as private, spiritual
illumination. When it came to matters of the flesh, therefore, writers, like
D.H. Lawrence, who experimented with the light/dark, good/evil concepts of conflict-dualist religious traditions, could manipulate these binary ideas to suit their own convictions. Subjectivity, personal intuition
and spiritual evolution were key words in this developing conversation
and writers, brought face to face with their own alterity, plumbed the
depths of their minds in search of individualized answers. The stress
ment, by its support of modern science, its criticism of the Bible, and its demand that
Catholics be allowed to make their own, individual decisions on moral questions,
angered the traditionalists who believed in the absolute power of the Church and that
of the Pope as well. So when, in 1907, Pope Pius X condemned the movement and
declared theological modernism heretical, its leaders, Father Alfred Loisy of France
and Father George Tyrrell of England, were excommunicated. Only in 1943 did Pope
Pious XII, through his encyclical 'Divino Afflante Spiritu', open the way for biblical
criticism in Catholicism.
6. God's death, as purported by Nietzsche, signified the death of the sacred only
as a transcendental authority. The sense of the sacred remained and modernist
authors continued to search for the experience ofnuminosum, those feelings elicited
in the face of what Rudolph Otto describes as the mysterium tremendum, that
which we desire but do not understand. Eugene Webb, The Dark Dove (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1975), p. 137. Of course, many modernists found that signified in art itself, which in its
abstraction and its supposed non-contingent truth appeared to its practitioners and
readers alike as completely pure. With its correlation to timelessness and universality,
its sense of unity, wholeness and permanence, it mimicked the very characteristics
which had given religion its ineluctable appeal. Virginia Woolf, for example, sought
unifying truth in the aesthetic moment, seeing that moment of harmony and insight as
providing a way out of the existential chaos that threatened her generation, a string of
such moments, which shaped that chaos into meaningful ontological order.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

placed by theologians such as George Tyrrell on the inevitability of contradictions and perplexities in our understanding of God's ways convinced writers further that religious interpretations need be meaningful
to the individual alone. Thus, in spite of the doctrine of papal infallibility
in effect since 1870, many of the men and women of literary modernism
sought to remedy their existential alienation in relation to organized religion by exploring the personal spiritual within.
The notion of'personal' and 'within', however, bore ramifications during the modernist period unknown to earlier writers and brings me to my
second point about the particularity of this period. Freud had introduced
his ideas about the unconscious and many modernist writers were not
only conversant with his theories but personally had undergone treatment at the hands of psychoanalysts. H.D., for example, an analysand of
Freud himself, bore witness to her clinical experience with him in revealing texts like 'The Master'.8 Such writers knew the extent to which the
'personal' lay outside the conscious control of the subject and thus
suspected the self in the context of religion to be similarly fragmented
and split. 'One's neurosis can get into one's religion, too', Antonia White
wrote in her 1945 diary, thus extending to the spiritual that revisioning
of subjectivity so characteristic of the modernist period (p. 183). For
personal religion, whatever its theological claims, which are not at issue
here, shared a common bed in the unconscious and its contours, therefore, could be colored by influences beyond the writer's awareness. As
we know from The Future of an Illusion, Freud claimed religion to be a
universal obsessional neurosis, for he had noted from his clinical experience the unconscious re-enactment of repressed childhood illusions and
fixations into the realm of the spiritual.9 Granted, in his view, this interconnectedness betrayed a soul suffering from illusion and delusion, nevertheless he did credit the unconscious life of the psyche with influencing religious behavior and belief, and concluded that the role a child's
parental relationship played in its psychosexual development extended
also to its spiritual life.
Since Freud's claims, the connection between the practice of religion
and family dynamics has been further developed and refined by subsequent psychoanalysts up to this very decade. Irrespective of the absolutism or non-absolutism of the deity, theorists from Erik Erikson and
Donald Winnicott to Christopher Hollas, Heinz Kohut and James Jones,
8. Louis L. Martz (ed.), H.D.: Selected Poems 1912-1944 (New York: New Directions, 1983), p- 101.
9. Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion (ed. James Strachey; New York:
Norton, 1961), p. 55.

CHAIT: THE PSYCHOSPIRITUAL

57

to name just a few, have brought to our attention the ways in which
religious beliefs can be influenced by the same unconscious desires that
direct our earliest psychosexual experiences. They have established a
connection between the two realms and shown desire and its affects to
be linked, whether through projections, displacements or transferences,
with the God-image in the psyche. While each has suggested specific
variations on this theme, oedipal, ego, and object relations theorists alike
attest to the common ground, the unconscious, in which both our earliest love relations and those of our religions become shaped and formed.
To Winnicott, for example, religion represented an intermediate space
between reality and the imaginary, a space of illusory experience which
belonged both to subjective and objective reality.10 In this third space,
Winnicott claimed, we manipulate illusion, interacting with transitional
objects, just as we once did in our childhood psychic experience with
mother, father, and early love-objects (p. 176). Like Freud, Winnicott
perceived this illusionary activity as one which we would eventually outgrow and assumed that with maturity would come the gradual decathecting of the deity to some other transitional phenomenon which would
serve our developing needs and consciousness better. Unlike Freud,
however, Winnicott understood the process of manipulating illusion not
as a pathology but an activity necessary for the healthy development of
theself(p.ll).
Other object relations theorists, building on Winnicott, went even further. The Jesuit priest and psychoanalyst, William Meissner, claimed
man's capacity for illusion as 'the most significant dimension of [his]
existence' and suggested that this capacity allowed him to shape according to his own internalized experience 'the image of a divine being, a
godhead for himself.11 He argued that even though the individualized
image came into contact with shared communal beliefs, it remained personal and unique, evolving in relation to the child's internalized relationships to specific objects, which derived from developmental experience
(p. 17). Over time, through integration of such internalized elements into
'credal systems, dogmatic formulations, doctrinal assertions, etc.', one's
beliefs became 'inextricably linked with the forces that sustain a consistent and coherent sense of personal identity' (p. 18). Thus, the ego's
sense of itself and its concept of God were seen to derive from the same
intermediate space, both representations dependent on the subject's internalized experience of their relationships. For Meissner, however, the
10. D.W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 1-6.
11. William Meissner, Psychoanalysis and Religious Experience (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1984), pp. 14, 17.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

God-representation never became decathected, never lost meaning, even


as it was discarded or put aside (p. 179). Instead, it remained always
available for later processing so that an experience of intense joy or
deep sorrow, for example, might elicit it once again (p. 179).
More recently, James Jones, professor of religion and a clinical psychologist, has focused on the relationship between our image of the
deity and that of the self. 'A person's relationship with what he construes as sacred or ultimate serves as the transferential ground of the
self.12 The subject's very pattern of interacting with his deity is a transference of the dynamics of those earliest experiences relating with transitional objects that have shaped the self. In a process similar to the psychic transference experienced in an analyst's rooms, the subject transfers the emotions, reactions, and behaviors, experienced in the relationship to his mother, father, or other primary love-object, to the ultimate
love-object of his spiritual quest, his God, 'Himself. He responds to his
God and interacts with Him along psychic grooves already deeply etched
in the unconscious from childhood experience with earlier objects of
his love. The most obvious example of this pattern of transference would
be the authoritarian-raised child who, accustomed to punishment for the
slightest insubordination and to the bestowal of love only in response to
obedience to the parental figure, lives in fear of an authoritarian God's
slightest displeasure. Such a subject, hungering for that love, might
spend a lifetime propitiating God or alternatively rebelling against a God
seen as judgmental and without sympathy. The subject's ability to play
out a problematic relationship and perhaps, with maturity, to resolve it
in other situations with other love-objects, modifies the nature of the
interactions with God as well. Thus, we constantly reshape and color
our relationship with the Ultimate. If our neuroses prevent us from dealing with the conflicts of our human interactions, we become stuck in a
problematic relationship with our God as well.
From an ego theorist perspective, however, we never cease trying to
renegotiate this interaction. Heinz Kohut points out that the inherent
human condition of relatedness drives us to continue forever searching
for those empathic resonances that affirm our notions of self.13 According to Kohut, that is why transference happens. Christopher Bollas speculates, however, that we transfer, project or displace because we are
looking for a transformational experience, whether in relationships, in
12. James W. Jones, Contemporary Psychoanalysis and Religion: Transference
and Transcendence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), p. 64.
13. H. Kohut, How Does Analysis Cure? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1984), p. 21.

CHAIT: THE PSYCHOSPIRITUAL

59

art or in religion.14 We want 'to recollect an early object experience, to


remember not cognitively but existentiallythrough intense affective
experiencea relationship which was identified with cumulative transformational experiences of the self (p. 17). It is this anticipation of being
transformed by an object, he writes, that 'inspire(s) the subject with a
reverential attitude towards it' and leads him to think of it in terms of
the sacred (pp. 16-17).
While I have obviously only touched on the subject of religion within
various kinds of psychoanalytic theory, my point is to show that despite
a growing discussion emerging in that discipline on that subject, this
aspect of psychoanalytic work remains largely unused by literary critics.
With the exception of Jung's explication of mythical archetypes and
more recently Julia Kristeva's notion of the goddess Mother, the interconnectedness of the personal and spiritual in the psyche remains for
literary critics largely overlooked territory. The entire psychoanalytic system may have been built on the notion of the psychedefined as the
concept of 'the soul' by Plato prior to the first Christian centurybut as
a hermeneutic tool in literature, psychoanalysis has been limited mostly
to the secular. If, however, we were to open ourselves to both sides of
the coin of psychoanalytic theory, drawing beyond the realm of consciousness for our understanding of the spiritual subject as well as the
secular, the discipline might have much to offer literary analysis. Certainly, the revisioning of spiritual subjectivity in this fractured way,
whether of the author or of the characters in the text, can provide
another dimension for reading the trace of the Other in the text. Along
with the historical and theological context of the fiction, the psychospiritual presents an additional perspective on a subject's particular
vision of the Ultimate. As an analytical tool, it gives us the means to delve
beyond the God of institutionalized religious discourse and to attempt to
reach into the spiritual unconscious for an understanding of the individualized God of the author's personal construction. By entering into the
writer's or the character's internal space, her space of illusions, as it
were, the critic, like the analyst, can explore first-hand the psychic interactions and affects which contribute towards the subject's relationship
with the sacred.
In using the existent spiritual dimension of psychoanalytic theory in
this way, the critic also may reap other unexpected insights. For one,
the method can serve to illuminate common literary cruxes in modernist
writing, such as internal tensions, contradictory claims, and conflicting
14. Christopher Bellas, The Shadow of the Object (New York: Free Columbia
University Press, 1987), p. 17.

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desires. The ambiguous messages about religion sensed in Djuna Barnes's


Nightwood, for example, may be opened up by application of such
theory. The psychospiritual also can clarify specific problems, such as
the use of tropes which suggest radically other metaphoric or metonymic
significations, for instance, Barnes's 'dog', particularly as it appears in
the final altar scene in that same text.15 It can expose too the dialectic
between the sacred and the profane. Emily Coleman's Shutter of Snow,
for example, in which Marthe Gail perceives herself as a female Jesus
Christ with breasts that she demands her husband 'kiss...to [his] death',
reveals hidden semantic depths derived from internalized psychosexual
experience.16 Finally, working backwards from the subject's relationship to and notion of the Ultimate, the psychospiritual can provide further insight into the unconscious construction and shaping of the subject himself. The working of the unconscious plays itself out in both
dimensions, and the dialectic in which it engages constitutes a process
that continues throughout a lifetime.
For the modernist period particularly, and for the reasons I have
given, I suggest a recovery and reclamation of the psychospiritual connections established in such theories and their application to the literary
text. In order to illustrate the efficacy of such a psychospiritual application, I propose to take one such theory, that of Jacques Lacan, and apply
it to a modernist writer, Antonia White. In doing so, I shall make use of
those aspects of his psycholinguistic theory which deal with the Other
and in particular with woman's jouissance in relation to it.17 Although
Lacan has claimed 'the Other is not to be read as God', he simultaneously
has admonished those who understand him as having established that
God does not exist of being 'a little hasty' in their understanding.18 In
effect, Lacan's Other exists in language; it exists in the being of signifiance, that shifting of language from which the Other and, in turn, the
15. Djuna Barnes, Nightwood (1936; New York: New Directions, 1961).
16. Emily Coleman, The Shutter of Snow (1930; New York: Virago, 1986), p. 160.
17. Jacques Lacan, Merits: A Selection (New York: W.W. Norton, 1977), pp. x-xi.
Lacan's Other with a capital 'O', his grand Autre, is never defined; the reader is supposed to develop an understanding of the concept of the Other in the course of its
use. However, the big Other is related to and is differentiated from his small other, his
petit a, which developed out of the Freudian 'object' and Lacan's own exploitation of
'otherness'. Unlike this small other which belongs to the imaginary, the Other can
be found in the symbolic.
Lacan's jouissance is also hard to pin down since it cannot be translated from the
French exactly. It signifies 'enjoyment' with a sexual connotation, but goes beyond
the pleasure principle as described by Freud.
18. Jacques Lacan, Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the ecole freudienne
(ed. Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose; New York: W.W. Norton, 1985), p. 140.

CHAIT: THE PSYCHOSPIRITUAL

61

phallus, must claim its Truth. For Lacan, the Other has no Other and like
'the woman' crossed out, 'the Other' exists under erasure (0), leaving its
trace from which we envision It, shaped to contours projected by our
experience in relating to imaginary others. As elusive as is this God as a
concept for a psychospiritual framework, it nevertheless works linguistically in throwing light on the unconscious desires which govern the
relationship to that very personal, individual God whose traces can be
found in the text.
I have chosen Antonia White as my example because of her own
experience with Freudian analysis, as well as for her familiarity with
Catholic Church teachings and the writings of the religious modernist,
the expelled Jesuit, George Tyrrell. But most importantly, I have chosen
her for her own courageous efforts to explore textually the complicated
relationship between her sexuality and her religion. Although she never
succeeded in grasping the real herself, and for most of her life suffered
sexual problems, her texts nevertheless contain all the material needed
by the critic to trace the disorder in her unconscious that complicated
both her sexual life and her relationship to her God.19 By applying
Lacan's psycholinguistic framework to her work, we will see how
White's father served as objet petit a to her desire for the Other, his
phallus by metonymic projection conveying to her image of the Other
all that which she associated with Cecil Botting, namely his authoritarianism, his cruelty, and also that which she perceived as his dangerous
sexuality.

A Psychospiritual Reading of the Spiritual Unconscious


in the Texts of Antonia White
A psychospiritual approach requires, first, a psychobiographical exploration of the internalized early childhood experience of the author as
evidenced in her texts and, secondly, a tracing of that experience as it is
transformed in the realm of the spiritual. Now, as far as the first is concerned, White's early life reads as a blueprint for Lacan's concepts of the
imaginary and the symbolic. As a precocious child, she stepped easily
into her father's symbolic world of law and order, but a particular
trauma in her fourth year complicated her ability to keep these registers
19. Lacan, Gaits, pp. ix-x. The real is the third term in the registers of the imaginary and the symbolic. It is neither one nor the other, but is linked to both, is beyond
words and cannot be explained. 'The real is the impossible.' It is the 'umbilical cord
of the symbolic', which appears in language but can never be grasped. It appears as
contradiction and disruption in the language of the symbolic.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

apart. In that year, which she considered her most formative and to
which she devotes no less than 14 chapters of her autobiography in As
Once in May, her father, Cecil Botting, the Head of the Classics Department at St Paul's School taught his bright daughter to read and write.20
When she wrote on the dining-room wall, however, he threatened to
pull down her knickers and strike her bare bottom with a ruler (p. 244).
White describes Cecil as wedging her in between the furniture in his
study, his face flushed, his eyes glittering with anger, but then adds disconcertingly that he wore 'a curious one-sided smile as if he were in
some way pleased, as well as angry', and that when he finally spoke, 'his
voice was unexpectedly quiet' (p. 244). She writes that the thought of
her 'most secret and shameful areas' being exposed bare 'to the person
[she] most revered, and not even accidentally, but by his own hand, was
so shocking that [she] felt that [she] should never survive such shame'
(p. 245).
While on the surface such an incident might not seem traumatic, its
resonance within White's unconscious may be judged by the frequency
with which she spoke of the shock that occurred to her in childhood
and which she blamed for her later writer's block. What is more, White
implies that the incident elicited some sort of sexual awakening in her
for, while still accounting for her fourth year in As Once in May, she
describes a clandestine love affair she carried out with a certain childhood friend, Gerard, on the nursery floor just outside of her father's
study (p. 311). 'By touching the most secret part of my body which I
knew it was rude to touch', she claims, she could reproduce alone the
same tremor that Gerard had induced in her while holding her in his
arms (p. 321). She then imagines herself producing the feeling by running through the street naked, an activity which occurred frequently in
White's dreams, perhaps suggesting that the author required forjouissance a certain amount of fear related to sexuality, a behavior pattern, I
suggest, with possible links to the earlier episode in the father's study, as
described above (p. 321).
To go back to the scene with Gerard, even if the reader were to dismiss the child's description of her sexual experience as illicit thrill in
imitating the grown-ups, White's later textual insertion of a snake into
the childplay suggests an obvious authorial attempt to introduce sexual
innuendo and to suggest the titillation of discovery by her punitive
father/god (p. 334). In any case, White seems to imply by linking these
two scenes a precocity that registered at a sexual level as well as intellectual, suggesting a connection between language and desire that opens
20. Antonia White, As Once in May (ed. Susan Chitty; London: Virago, 1983).

CHAIT: THE PSYCHOSPIRITUAL

63

up an intriguing possibility within Lacanian psycholinguistics. For, if


White's subjecthood is acquired at the age of one through the spoken
language, her precocious acquisition of the written language at four,
rather than at, say, six or seven, coincides with her own self-described
sexual awakening in relation to her father. What this means then is that
incestuous desire and writing, specifically personal writing, became intricately connected and that the one interfered with the other, creating
the writer's block from which White claimed to have suffered her entire
life (Diaries, 8). Her writer's block, therefore, may be thought of as constantly recurring castration anxiety, as a deferring back to that earliest
experience of sexual punishment that took place in her father's study at
the age of four. It was then that the repression of incestuous desire
became 'fixed' in writing. For if White's earlier spoken language suppressed any desire she might have had for the wholeness experienced
with her mother prior to language, her written language situated that
desire, now transferred to the father, squarely within the letters on the
page. Although, like the spoken word, the written too must negotiate
the gaps between its signifiers and signifieds, its very fixidity on the page
allows for a scrutiny akin to that afforded a butterfly specimen. Pinned
to the page, the fictional Claude Batchelor, for example, can be mutely
examined, dissected and even altered. Writing about her plans to focus
on her father in The Lost Traveller, White asserts her right to place him
under the microscope: 'I want him\ she writes, dismissing her earlier
focus on Frost in May's Nanda and her convent education, '[his] life is
finished: can be examined. I will not be afraid of him anymore. It is pure
accident that we were father and child. I have a right to look at him, yes,
sexually too' (Diaries, 6 January 1935).21
The textual instances of that two-way desire abound. In The Lost Traveller, for example, Claude 'kissefs] [his daughter] goodnight, more lingeringly than he ha[s] done for many months, stroking her hair' (p. 115).
His kiss, it so happens, comes directly after his admission to Clara that
'now and then, I try to fancy how it would be if you and I were not
father and daughter' (p. 113). He imagines them meeting, 'you and I in a
lonely tower. I don't know why a tower. And by some spell, we have
forgotten our own identities' (p. 113). Given the obvious Freudian connotation of 'tower' and White's years of psychoanalysis with Dr Dennis
Carroll, it is difficult to dismiss the incestuous desire in the text.22 No
21. Antonia White's series of novels, the Frost in May Quartet, is comprised of
Frost in May (1933; New York: Virago, 1982), The Lost Traveller (1950; London:
Virago, 1979), The Sugar Home (1952; London: Virago, 1979), and Beyond the Glass
(1954; London: Virago, 1979).
22. White underwent three periods of analysis or therapy in the course of her life:

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matter to what degree Cecil Betting's imago, even after his death, held
taut the reins of his daughter's writing, neither he nor she could fully
control its signification. It is true that her art depended entirely on his
paternal approval and that he rejected her, as John does Nanda in Frost
in May, when he discovered his daughter's sexually explicit writing
about 'unknown vices'. He even controlled the way she wrote, constantly correcting her backhand script. But, as with the signification of
her writing, even the style itself reverted to kind whenever the sexual
conundrum raised its head. For example, in a 28 June 1938 diary entry,
she matter-of-factly applies a Freudian approach to her relationship with
her father, surmising that she couldn't have had sexual intercourse with
him because '(a) he didn't want it' and '(b) I couldn't have endured it
without mutilation' (Diaries, p. 140). But then, without any warning,
she breaks out suddenly into a tantrum of rage and self-will that is mirrored in the writing itself. 'Yes I will write backhand in spite of my
father I WILL WILL WILL. Couldn't even writefilthy dirty beastly old
manthe way I WANTED toWell I will. You'll see. I spit on your
corpse' (p. 140). No obvious textual connection exists between the two
parts, but the latter section degenerates into a handwriting which
White's daughter, Susan Chitty, claims was 'quite alien to Antonia's usual
small neat style' (p. 141).
Now, given this intricate relationship in her unconscious between
incestuous desire and writing, when White's father converted to Catholicism and sent his schoolgirl daughter to the Convent of the Sacred Heart
at Roehampton, Antonia took with her all the intertwined sexual/textual
complications that she and her father held in common. At the convent,
policed by nuns who insisted on the mutual exclusivity of religion and
sex, White, like Nanda of Frost in May, was able to compartmentalize
her life and act the dutiful and virtuous daughter to her father and her
God. However, such obedience tripped on the sexual mores of the
name-of-the-father as represented by the Catholic Church and patriarchy.23 White stumbled at that place of the Other, which is also the place
of God, the place where the phallus registers as transcendent signifier
and White's father's phallus, I suggest, as the objet petit a signifying
back metonymically via the discourse of the Church to that signiflance
the first, 1935-38, she undertook with the Freudian Dr Dennis Carroll after her breakdown, following the publication of Frost in May; the second, in 1947, with Dorothy
Kingsmill, a psychologist; the third some time after 1957, with a Dr Ploye (Diaries,
P-8).
23. Lacan, Merits p. xi. Lacan's name-of-the-father (nom-du-pere) refers to the
symbolic father and the life of Law, not the real father, nor the imaginary father (the
paternal imago).

CHAIT: THE PSYCHOSPIRITUAL

65

which Lacan sees as the third term in woman's jouissance.24 White


transferred to the Catholic God all the love, fear and desire she
associated with her father, the very Latin in which she had been
instructed by him smoothing her transition into the faith and providing
as it were the emotive string that connected the Church and ultimately
God back to her own father. In the unconscious projection of her sexual
emotions from father to God, she inevitably transferred the language of
one to the other, so that even when she believed herself to be
expressing herself religiously, the presence of the sexual revealed itself
in the text.25 Thus language betrayed White. It exposed the real at that
Lacanian hole through which the subject, by means of repression and
loss, enters the symbolic register. What we find in White's texts, therefore, is a religious discourse articulated on a sexual unconscious and, further, a sexual discourse, though never explicit, that revealed its yearnings as spiritual.
The examples of White's textual slippages are numerous. So entwined
did such dualities become in her own mind that in her poem, 'Sed
24. Lacan, Merits, p. xi, pp. 166-71. Lacan insists that the objet petit a remain
untranslated, thus giving it the status of an algebraic sign. Desire for it, however, is
really *d6sir d'autre chose', and men and women search endlessly in this metonymic
fashion for the original object of desire which, of course, can never be obtained. It is
this autre chose which lies outside of man's reach and beyond signification that for
Lacan is associated with the spiritual, though he will not name it God. He suggests,
however, that it is a third term in woman's experience of jouissance beyond the
phallus.
25. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book 111 The Psychoses
1955-1956 (ed. Jacques-Alain Miller; trans. Russell Grigg; New York: W.W. Norton,
1993), pp. 145-49. Lacan abandoned the word 'projection' as an explanation for delusions and their genesis, claiming it only as a description of the ordinary 'imaginary
transitivism of children' for whom no distinction exists between, for example, hitting
the other and believing that 'he hit me'. This latter forma 'normal mechanism'
which Lacan describes as simply jealousy by projection differs from that of delusional
subjects, whom he suggests actually do know 'something about the very thing (they
don't) want, in some sense, to know anything about'. The difference lies in knowledge, but Lacan offers no alternate signifier to distinguish the projection of such delusion, hence my quotes. Certainly White knew something of her 'repressed' in that
while she did not act on it in the performative sense of living out her fantasy, she textually intimated that a real existed and lay at the heart of her sexually informed idea
of the sacred. The real had tangled the sacred and the profane, and while its identity
lay out of reach of her unconscious, outside of symbolization, she acknowledged its
effects, namely her confusion. 'There are two kinds in me', the narrative T addresses
her God in the poem 'Sed Tantum Die Verbo', 'So tangled in my heart/I know them
not apart,/Nor which, in craving need,/I call Thee in to feed' (Antonia White,
Strangers [London: Virago, 1981], pp. 157-59).

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Tantum Die Verbo', for example, she could call on God to 'plunge' into
her soul 'Thy divining rod, the two-edged/sword' that He might 'Strike
to my source; cleave, one me with the Word' (Strangers, pp. 157-59)
Like Nanda in Frost in May, White could not keep her mind 'properly
gloved and veiled' when addressing God the father and her discursive
slippage revealed the extent to which the Ultimate represented for her
an eroticized and material God (p. 45). Jouissance and signifiance,
always inseparable, abound. Nanda's 'thinking about religion', for example, 'was a secret, delicious joy', while to Clara, 'Religion had become
part of her most secret life...deeply concerned with one aspect of the
mysterious creature' (Frost, p. 19; Traveller, p. 47). White has an 'intimate experience' when she takes the host in her mouth during Communion and when the sexual Miss Hislop of the short story 'The Exile'
steals the Blessed Sacrament from the Church, running away with it in
her mouth and examining it afterwards on her wooden table at home,
the affect is startlingly and sacrilegiously sexual (Strangers, p. 102). Such
slippage, however, does not all lie in the realm of the religious; hierophany exists too, the sacred appearing within the profane, though in
much fewer discursive incidents. When Clara in The Sugar House receives a letter of best wishes from her father the first morning of her
honeymoon, she experiences a sense of 'absolution for a sin she ha(s)
forgotten to confess' and, in the only seduction scene in her novels,
Clara's would-be lover, Marcus Gundry, standing at the mantelpiece,
puts a taper to the candles 'with the slow, careful movements of an
acolyte' (p. 129, pp. 234-35).
The intimate entwining of the sexual and the spiritual in her unconscious proved a source of extreme anxiety and guilt for White. She lived
in terror of becoming a 'bride of Christ' even as she yearned to experience jouissance. In Frost in May, after Nanda perceives her friend
Theresa receiving the sacrament with a look of 'strained and expectant
ecstasy' on her face, she dreams of her 'lying dead in our Lady's chapel,
wearing her first Communion dress and a gilt paper crown', a worm
issuing from her mouth (pp. 84, 101). The sexual implications of the
dream are obvious: the communal dress and gilt crown make of Theresa
the bride of God the King, the worm emerging from her mouth suggestive of the phallus and the death in sexual ecstasy that results from conjugal bliss with God. Even White's naming of the would-be postulant
after St Theresa, whose rapt look of ecstasy caught by the artist Bernini
in his well-known sculpture which Lacan describes in his Seminar XX as
jouissance beyond the phallus, indicates further the sexual/religious
conflict, eros and agape, with which White dealt (Lacan, Feminine
Sexuality, p. 147). In the Lacanian context of the Other representing the

CHAIT: THE PSYCHOSPIRITUAL

67

third term in woman's jouissance, White's perception of Theresa's


ecstatic death is inevitable. With her father and her God both sharing the
Other's place, she can envision no other spiritual love than that which is
the product of incest, and therefore of death. Although she spent a good
deal of her time trying to keep the sexual and the spiritual apart in her
conscious life, when, after her unconsummated first marriage, she fell in
love with the Scottish officer, Robert Legg, in whom both elements combined, her carefully protected ego shattered. Legg and White's uncanny
relationship fictionalized in Beyond the Glass involved telepathy and
clairvoyance, but when their intimacy acquired sexual electricity,
White's protagonist Clara could not handle the pressure and she descended into madness. The positioning, in White's 1928 short story The
House of Clouds', of a discussion by Helen of the difference between the
Virgin Birth and the Immaculate Conception as the penultimate text
before her mental collapse, would seem to confirm that it is a sexual/
religious crisis which has occurred (Strangers, p. 45). White was institutionalized in Bethlem Royal Hospital from 1922 to 1923 and, in both the
short story and the novel which depict her experience there, language
breaks down. Conscious and unconscious mix interchangeably and, in
that in-between place where the real lies beyond White's grasp, the
sexual and the religious become one and in doing so reveal their link to
her father. In 'House of Clouds', when Helen sees her father, dressed 'in
a brown habit, like a monk', she becomes distraught, and when he
moves towards the bed to kiss her, 'a real physical dislike of him
choke[s] her, and she pushe[s] him away' (p. 47). In the similar account
in Beyond the Glass, Clara 'whirl[s] her arms and shriek(s)' at her father,
'Don't touch me... Don't touch me...I won't marry you... I belong to
Richard' (p. 203) In his monk's habit representing God and his Church,
the father brings his daughter face to face with the ungraspable and, in
her encounter with it, linguistic walls collapse and language flows interchangeably on either side. Signifiers no longer signify within the context
of the name-of-the-father, and absence has become present. Le grande
Autre has refused signifiance to thephallus and Helen sees herself as the
Virgin Mary conceiving immaculately as God, Her Father, leaves bruises
on her thighs.
Helen and Clara's return to 'sanity', like White's herself, coincided
with the return of their ability to write. By re-entering the symbolic,
White in a sense relived the experience of metaphoric castration and, I
suggest, buried under the layers of linguistic imperatives the very knowledge that had been the core of her experience of mental chaos, namely
the sexual connection between herself, her father and her God. Thus,
although she longed to escape the panopticon prison of her own mind,

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her mental health depended on the maintenance of the patriarchal


order. Her entire subjecthood, as it were, was an effect of the symbolic,
and so she could only maintain her position as subject/author able to
criticize that system's working as long as she continued to function
within it. If she criticized it too excessively, however, and excavated that
which the system suppressed, she ran the risk of destroying not only the
system but herself as a being who speaks and acts. Given her situation,
her only escape lay in the chaos of madness in which she would be free
to express her desires, but such expression would be relegated as meaningless. Unwillingly complicit in the system then, White pragmatically
protected herself even as she dared to challenge the structures on which
it was based.
Through analysis, she did come to recognize, as she wrote to Peter
Thorp, the 'projection' onto God and His Church of the love/hate and
submission/rebellion aspects of her neurosis about her father.26 She
never was able, however, to grasp her 'projection' of her own incestuous desire for him onto her God. Lacan claims that something is always
known of the repressed, but if White knew, she did not trust in God's
benevolent love to forgive her such a 'sin'. Her God remained always
possessed of the same 'destructive' love as that of her father, and 'the
hardest article of faith for [her] to swallow', she wrote to Thorp, was
that 'God love[d] human beings' (Hound, p. 104). She described God as
'a selfish tyrant' for 'having created the world solely for his own glory'
and was 'revolted and impatient with [his] jealousy' of 'human affections' (p. 73). Sexual love, therefore, whether from her father or from
her God, terrified her even as she desired it, and she never overcame
this product of the entwined workings of her psyche. In her letters to
Thorp, she anguished over the Church's teachings about sex, but could
not bring herself to turn her back on the institution. The pull of the
Church, she wrote revealingly to Thorp, 'is like one's native language,
and although one may have become denationalised, one cannot help
26. Antonia White, The Hound and the Falcon: The Story of a Reconversion to
the Catholic Faith (London: Virago, 1980), p. 160. An interesting correlation exists in
White's epistolary relationship with Peter Thorp. She carried on a flirtation, possibly a
seduction, reminiscent of her relationship with her father. In writing to Thorp about
the Other, she became infatuated with the older, married man, a Jesuit priest by training, who took the role of her spiritual mentor (Lyndall Hopkinson, Nothing to Forgive: A Daughter's Story of Antonia White [London: Chattus & Windus, 1988],
p. 160). Thorp's age, his gentlemanly manner, his criticism of her writing and thinking, plus his implying that her love for him preceded his for her, provided White in
her forties with discursive lures that elicited a pattern of behavior familiar from the
days of her childhood.

CHAIT: THE PSYCHOSPIRITUAL

69

reverting to it and even thinking in its terms' (flound, p. 1).


White's relationship with her God, as now can be seen, signifies on a
very unique personal and individual level. The application of Lacanian
psychoanalytic theory to her texts reveals the psychic dynamics of her
interaction with her God and offers a reading that provides signifying
depth to the textual expression of her spirituality. Since the unconscious
for Lacan also functions as a language, by accessing that of White
through her autobiographical characters, the language of the Church in
her texts can be shown to reveal a layer different than that vouchsafed
by the institutionalized discourse. Together with historical, societal, and
cultural influences, the spiritual unconscious or the psychospiritual can
thus be seen to contribute another dimension to the fragmented subject's relationship to the Ultimate.

Hugh S. Pyper
Listeners on the Stair: The Child as Other in Walter
de la Mare

Walter de la Mare is an author who articulates with a peculiar intensity


the sense of estrangement inherent in childhood, an estrangement which
is fundamental to any consideration of otherness in that it is the root of
our adult perceptions. In this regard, his work raises profound and disquieting spiritual questions which sit uneasilyand I use that word
advisedlywith the Christian theological tradition to which he himself
had a complex and ambivalent relationship. Here is the problem which I
hope to address in the present chapter. If there is a conflict between
these aspects of de la Mare's work and the received Christian account of
the world, must one make a choice between the two, or is there a way
in which the Christian vision can be enriched by de la Mare's perceptions?
It is as a poet for children that de la Mare is now best remembered,
but his large output includes copious poetry for adults, essays, reviews, a
series of remarkable anthologies, short stories both for children and
adults, his exquisite novel for children, The Three Royal Monkeys, and
three unique novels, one of which, Memoirs of a Midget, is a minor classic. For our present purposes, however, I want to begin by referring to a
relatively little known collection of short tales which appeared in 1924:
Ding Dong Bell. It contains three stories, related by the fact that they
are set in graveyards. All contain numerous epitaphs composed by de la
Mare himself. In each of them is a sense, which de la Mare can conjure
as few others, of disquiet, seldom so tangible as actual fear. It is hard to
capture such a subtle but pervasive flavour, but perhaps its essence can
be detected in this brief epitaph which occurs in the first story 'Lichen':
Ifthou, Stranger, be John Virgin, then the
Corse withinunder is nameless, for the Sea
so disfigured thy Face, none could tell
whether thou were John Virgin or no:
Ay, and whatever name I bore

PYPER: LISTENERS ON THE STAIR

71

/ thank the Lord I be


Six foot in English earth, and not
Six fathom in the sea.1

This conjures an eerie scene, an effect dependent on the strange use


of the fluidity of pronouns. Imagining ourselves standing in front of the
stone, we are put to question our own identity. Each of us as reader is
directly addressed, and addressed as 'Stranger'. Our own unexpected irruption into the story is demanded and then politely but clearly brought
to our attention. A name is suggested to us: 'John Virgin'.2 Either we
recognize it with a shock, if it is our name, or, more likely, the name
removes us from the position of the addressee to that of overhearer,
stranger, trespasser into the dialogue between stone and the single reader to which it addresses itself. Then into this encounter is summoned
'the corse withinunder': the dead body beneath the stone. The stone
speaks, so it transpires, on behalf of the voiceless, and, we learn, one
who is perhaps nameless, because faceless. The name itself, 'John Virgin', becomes detached, floating between the figure of the reader addressed and the disfigured body. Is John Virgin alive or dead: is he the
reader, or the voiceless one for whom the stone speaks?
The uncertainty flows on, as the pronouns turn once more to the second person: 'thy face'; 'none could tell whether thou were John Virgin
or no'. There is a logical absurdity here which, however, speaks a more
profound truth about the precariousness of identity than many a rigorous analysis. The one who reads the stone is addressed as if he were the
faceless corpse found at sea. None could tell what name to give that
corpse; his face, his body had become unreadable. But who then can tell
who John Virgin is and whether he is alive or dead? Can even John
Virgin? As passing strangers happening on the stone in a graveyard, we
are left knowing only that we are not John Virgin and that we have read
a private communication not addressed to us. We are now made aware,
however, that John Virgin may still walk among us, perhaps one day to
happen on his own tomb, perhaps gone, never to return and read this
word addressed to him alone. The continued presence of the stone over
the grave may testify either to his presence, in the form of the faceless
body, or to his absence, in that he has never returned, or at least never
1. Walter de la Mare, Ding Dong Bell (London: Faber & Faber, rev. edn, 1936
[1924]), p. 37. Reprinted by permission of The Literary Trustees of Walter de la Mare,
and the Society of Authors as their representative.
2. The name itself is allusive. 'John', the commonest and therefore least individual of English forenames, and 'Virgin', the innocent, unstained, combine to make a fit
name for the nameless. Is there also an echo, however, of that John who was assigned
to the Virgin as her son at the foot of the cross?

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in his own name, to rectify the mistake. Perhaps the time-worn stone
indicates that, if not here, he lies under a stone elsewhere in a place
where he was himself a stranger.
But we are also left with the disturbing possibility that we too may
happen one day on such a stone, the evidence of some strange misapprehension of which we are not awareor, more disquieting still, that
we may one day lie beneath such a stone, our name unknown, unable to
speak as witnesses to our own identity. Most unsettling of all, we are left
with the possibility of identifying ourselves with the impossible double
figure de la Mare has so subtly conjured up: the dead man who reads his
own epitaph.3
We, of course, are readers not of the stone, but of de la Mare's story,
at a further remove, but yet for us too, troubling possibilities are stirred
and linger which bring us to read ourselves into the place of the unknown, unidentifiable, unnameable stranger. Whatever effect it is that de
la Mare has just wrought upon us, it seems a prime example of what
Freud attempts to account for in his reflections on das Unheimliche, the
uncanny.
Freud's essay on the uncanny4 is a much discussed but rather misunderstood piece which displays many of his most characteristic vices and
virtues. It begins with a reading of Hoffman's 'The Sandman' which
reveals a deeply reductionist trend in Freud's thought as he wilfully
rewrites the story to make it a fantasy about castration. In the rest of the
paper, however, he somewhat hesitantly ventures into a series of perhaps incompatible but highly suggestive analyses of the uncanny as a literary phenomenon. In particular, he returns several times to the link between the uncanny and death. Death, he says, is the ultimately unthinkable. The unconscious is incapable of comprehending any negation, let
alone the negation of its own being which death represents. Thus, however rational we may profess to be about the inevitability of death, all of
3. Characteristic of de la Mare is that this distillation of the uncanny is followed
by an abrupt yet convincing modulation to the major key marked by the change from
prose to verse, to the direct speech of the corpse using the unambiguous pronoun T,
and to the mood of rejoicing in the solidity of English earth. This transition is oddly
satisfying, oddly conventional and yet still shot through with a light of mystery, albeit
this time a clear shaft rather than the ambiguous mist over the first four lines. For all
his ambiguity, there is a foot on the ground with this writer, and his almost oversensitive reaction to the sounds and colours, textures, tastes and smells of the natural
world counterbalances, but also heightens, the disturbing effect of his writing.
4. Sigmund Freud, Das Unheimliche, first published in German in 1919 in Imago
5, pp. 297-324; English translation, 'The Uncanny', in A. Dickson (ed.), The Penguin
Freud Library. XIV. Art and Literature (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1985), pp.
335-76.

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us retain what he calls a 'primitive' or 'infantile' conviction of our own


immortality, and of the immortality of others. Freud makes a significant
distinction when he argues that this belief is not repressed, because it is
not an event or memory that has to be hidden. Rather, it is surmounted^
as we reach the ideal of the rational view of life which Freud sees as
maturity. If, however, we are put in a situation where these primitive
beliefs may seem to be vindicated, we experience the sense of the
uncanny as our carefully constructed rational system is undermined by
the confirmation of our deepest instinctual beliefs.
Freud describes this as a conflict between what he calls 'psychic
reality' and the actuality of the world. As an example, he tells us that it
could happen that a rational man be put in a situation where he might
say, 'So the dead do live on and appear on the scene of their former
activities!'6 On turning to Freud's essay on Jensen's Gradiva7 we find
there an anecdote of just such an event happening to a doctor who for a
fleeting moment was convinced that the new patient who had entered
his surgery was a woman who had died some years previously. Only at
the end of this anecdote does Freud finally admit that the doctor was
himself. His coyness reflects his discomfort in admitting that for once, he
momentarily allowed psychic reality to overcome the empirical reality of
what he knew to be possible. The uncanny, he says, arises when we feel
this boundary to be overstepped. Put another way, the uncanny testifies
to the brief awakening of the sleeping child within us.
In Das Unheimliche Freud moves on, with many a disclaimer, from
this repressed confession of his own susceptibility to the uncanny to
look at the uncanny effects of writing. There is, he says, much more
scope for the uncanny in literature than in life because anything is
possible to a writer. He then goes on to explain the seeming contradiction that events which might evoke the feeling of the uncanny in life can
be perfectly acceptable in a work of fiction. What is crucial is that the
writer can set the rules of what passes as normal in his fictional world.
So in fairy stories, transformations which would boggle our minds if we
were actually to witness them pass unquestioned because the parameters of the acceptable have been redrawn. Writers who want to produce
the effect of the uncanny, then, may pretend to be working within the
bounds of common reality and yet introduce impossible events. Such
5. The verb Freud uses in German is iiberwinden which carries connotations
both of overcoming by an effort of will and of 'growing out of something.
6. Freud, 'The Uncanny', p. 371.
7. Sigmund Freud, Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's 'Gradiva', first published
in German in 1907 by Heller (Leipzig and Vienna); English translation in Dickson (ed.),
Art and Literature, pp. 33-118. The anecdote referred to can be found on p. 95.

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writers, Freud says, can trick us, but ultimately leave us unsatisfied.
There is, however, a further step which can be taken:
the writer has one more means which he can use in order to avoid our
recalcitrance and at the same time to improve his chances of success. He
can keep us in the dark for a long time about the precise nature of the
presuppositions on which the world he writes about is based, or he can
cunningly and ingeniously avoid any definite information on the point to
the last.8

Few writers, it seems to me, exemplify this cunning more subtly than
de la Mare. He continually puts his readers into the condition of what
Freud calls 'reality testing' by evoking the 'infantile' sense of animism,
the 'life' within the dead and within objects and animals. Freud, of
course, expects us to surmount these feelings by subjecting them to the
iron test of reality. De la Mare, on the other hand, constantly questions
the nature of reality and of the one who claims to know it. For him, the
perceived world of material reality is no world, but a mask, where alien
sensibilities are constantly on guard and where seeming shifts vertiginously.
Psychoanalytic critics could, of course, dismiss de la Mare as a writer
more than usually given to regressing to this world of infantile fantasy.
On this account, his ambivalence over and fascination with the dead represents a refusal of mature rationality which ties in with his fascination
with and impact upon children and the child's view of the world, a
world peopled with half-heard and half-understood presences. The
reader's fascination with his works in turn is a product of the skill with
which he evokes those childlike beliefs we have surmounted. To surrender to his spell, however, is, in Freud's terms, to surrender the hardwon discipline of mature, rational, scientific understanding. It may be
that the current relegation of de la Mare to the status of a children's
writer and the neglect of his works for adults reveals the unconscious
working of a similar reaction in the general readership.
But this dismissive rationalism belies the fact that Freud himself,
despite his protestations, not only devotes considerable space to the
discussion of the uncanny but, as we have seen, shows a susceptibility
to it rather at odds with his own disclaimers. He seems to waver at
crucial points over his own ability to distinguish between what is real
and what is not, to admit to something beyond the borders of what he
considers possible. This raises the alternative possibility that the view of
reality which is used to counter these childish insights may itself the
defensive construction, a bulwark against the incursion of the unimag8.

Freud, 'The Uncanny', p. 374.

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inable, against a realm in which as children we roamed much more


freely.

Some support for this view can be found in the verdict of Bruno
Bettelheim:

The interesting thing is that in rejecting [fairy tales] I followed the psychoanalysts, who should have recognised how deep these tales really are. But
in a strange way, Freud and his followers are really afraid of the unconscious. They say it contains the mainsprings of our strength, but somehow
they all shied away from it, even Freud. Before him we did not know what
it was...so we did not defend ourselves against it. Freud taught us what it
is all about and I guess instead of teaching us how to use it, he taught us
how to live without it. As any other prophet, his teaching bore its own
defeat within it.9

The difference between de la Mare's understanding of childhood and


Freud's is encapsulated in a paragraph from the former's essay on 'Rupert
Brooke and the Intellectual Imagination':
Children, it may be agreed, live in a world peculiarly their own, so much
so that it is doubtful if the adult and the habituated can do more than very
fleetingly reoccupy that far-away mind and heart. So too, the world of the
grown-up is to children an inexhaustible astonishment and despair. They
brood on us. [...] They are not bound by their groping senses. Facts to
them are the liveliest of chameleons. Between their dreams and their realities looms no impassable abyss. There is no solitude more secluded than a
child's, no absorption more complete, no insight more exquisite, and, one
might even say, more comprehensive.

The resonances with Freud's concerns are clear, though the inferences are contrary. The childish insights which Freud calls upon us to
surmount de la Mare sees as more comprehensive than those of adults.
There is no hard and fast line to be drawn between psychic and empirical reality in his view. The senses themselves are only inadequate
pointers to reality according to de la Mare, but it is at least arguable that
the sensibilities of children are more acute, and therefore more informative, than those of adults. In any event, the operation of the imagination
is an essential part of our comprehension of what Freud means by
empirical reality. The dichotomy thus becomes a false one.
However true this may be as a general statement, the passage quoted
above speaks of a particular experience of childhood. Note the key place
9. Quoted from a letter to Carl Frankenstein in Nina Sutton's Bruno Bettelheim:
The Other Side of Madness (London: Gerald Duckworth, 1995), p. 423.
10. De la Mare's essay, given as an address at Rugby School in 1919, was first
printed in that year by Sidgwick and Jackson, London. The quotation comes from the
revised edition in Pleasures and Speculations (London: Faber & Faber, 1940), p. 175.

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that solitude occupies in this description. It is no accident that de la


Mare's anthology of memories of childhood, Early One Morning,11 has
as the title of its second chapter 'Solitude'. Throughout his work, de la
Mare's children are the children of the nursery, the children whose
world is literally apart from the adult, a world of snatches of music from
the glittering parties down below, of listening on the stairs, children
alone in the gardens of great houses. This sense of the difference, the
strangeness of the adult world for the child is a recurrent theme. His is
no sentimental view of childhood. At times, it leads him to record a
sense of estrangement which recalls the merciless brittle clarity of Ivy
Compton-Burnett in her portrayals of powerless but extraordinarily
perceptive and penetrating children in the oppressive world of the late
Victorian middle class. As de la Mare put it in an essay on Hans Christian
Andersen, his view is that children are 'praeternaturally practical and
crafty pigmies in the world of dull tyrannical giants into which it has
pleased God to call them'.12
Note here how he homes in on the discrepancy in size between children and adults to betoken the child's awareness of its powerlessness
and yet its ability to perceive more and differently from the 'dull giants',
its strangeness to an adult world into which it has arrived unbidden.
However atypical the nursery-bound childhood just outlined, particularly
to present-day readers, here at least is an experience all of us have
shared. All adults have known what it is to be two feet high in a world
designed for those over five feet tall, a world where literally we do not
fit. At least one factor in de la Mare's choice of the midget Miss M. as the
heroine of his Memoirs of a Midget is that her size, and her praeternatural perceptiveness, echo those of the children he is fascinated by. Miss
M. knows herself to be a stranger, a freak, in an already constructed
world fitted to those of larger size and coarser perceptions.
By the same token, all of us also know what it is to enter into a world
where conversation is already occurring above our heads, literally and
metaphorically. De la Mare makes this point when he describes children
thus:
Gullivers in Brobdignag, they are debarred from many of its inhabitants'
social, practical, intellectual and emotional affairs. Its conventional language is for the time being beyond their use, if not beyond their understanding... 13
11. Walter de la Mare, Early One Morning in the Spring: Chapters on Children
and on Childhood as it is Revealed in Particular in Early Memories and in Early
Writings (London: Faber & Faber, 1935).
12. De la Mare, Pleasures and Speculations, p. 18.
13- De la Mare, Early One Morning, p. ix.

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This sense of a world already in motion, where the inhabitants seem if


not hostile, at least indifferent, or perhaps more accurately otherwise
preoccupied, and of a conversation already in full swing into which one
is an interloper, is at the heart of de la Mare's account of childhood. Yet
this also opens possibilities for the child. When W.H. Auden in his appreciative introduction to his selection of de la Mare's poetry14 describes de
la Mare as an Ariel rather than a Prospero, he explains that he means that
de la Mare is a poet who recalls the peculiarly childlike gift of
responding to language as experience rather than as a means of interpreting experience. This does not stem from the fact that children are
more imaginative than adults. Auden argues that it is rather the case that
society equates maturity with logical realism. In a society which valued
fantasy, children would seem quaintly practical. What is characteristic of
the child is rather its openness. The bounds between the real and the
fantastic are not yet certain. This arguably gives children the opportunity
to be more in touch with what is 'really' going on than would a restricted
empiricism.
This openness to having one's sense of reality stretched is as least as
much associated with wonder as with fear in de la Mare. This is particularly clear at points where the topic of death is explicitly cited. There is
a memorable moment in Memoirs of a Midget when Miss M as an impossibly tiny child first confronts death:
As one morning I brushed past a bush of lads' love (or maidens' ruin, as
some call it), its fragrance sweeping me from top to toe, I stumbled on the
carcass of a young mole. Curiosity vanquished the first gulp of horror.
Holding my breath, with a stick I slowly edged it up in the dust and surveyed the white heaving nest of maggots in its belly with a peculiar and
absorbed recognition. 'Ah ha!' a voice cried within me, 'so this is in wait;
this is how things are': and I stooped with lips drawn back over my teeth
to examine the stinking mystery more closely.15

Fear is overcome by curiosity, or indeed wonder. There is even an


echo of this in Freud's own account of his uncanny experience, although
in his writings on the subject, as we have seen, he seems to repress this
wonder through the fear of the collapse of his hard-won empiricism. 'So
the dead do live!'not a note of horror, but rather of recognition,
almost, indeed, a peculiar exhilaration.
This note is caught particularly in 'Winter', the last of the three stories
14. W.H. Auden, A Choice ofde la Mare's Verse (London: Faber & Faber, 1963).
15. Walter de la Mare, Memoirs of a Midget (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1982), p. 20. The book was first published by Collins, 1920. The Oxford edition is
introduced most perceptively by Angela Carter.

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in Ding Dong Bell. It recounts a simple, almost cliched, incident of the


narrator's encounter with an otherworldly being in a graveyard. Its style,
however, epitomizes de la Mare's literary artfulness in conjuring the
subtleties of reaction which we are treating here. The narrator describes
his sense that the air of the graveyard 'seemed to be astir with sounds
and shapes on the edge of complete revelation', a state perhaps reminiscent of the young child overhearing adult conversation. His reaction to
this is given in a memorable phrase which catches the nuance we have
sought in Freud's words: 'A curious insecure felicity took possession of
me'.16 In this state, however, the narrator is suddenly aware of an alien
presence.
Consciousness seemed suddenly to concentrate itself (like the tentacles of
an anemone closing over a morsel of strange food), and I realised that I
was no longer alone. Butand of this I am certainthere was no symptom of positive fear in the experience. Intense awareness, a peculiar physical ominous absorption, possibly foreboding; but not actual fear.

What most strikes the narrator, however, is the reaction he appears to


evoke in the apparition. 'The fixed open gaze answering mine suggested
that of a child confronted with a fascinating but repulsive reptile.' The
narrator becomes the object of this gaze, the root of which de la Mare
suggests, in a typical piece of erudite drollery, is the same as that which
led Beau Nash in his regulations of the fashionable Pump Room in Bath
in 1709 to relegate children and elderly ladies to a second bench, with
the explanation that they were 'past, or not come to, Perfection'. The
narrator becomes aware of his own failure to pass muster in this being's
apprehension. It is this sense of being Other to the Other which it seems
to me that de la Mare conjures so memorably.
We could instance among many others, his poem, 'The Little Green
Orchard',18 where the child knows that 'someone is always sitting
there', whispering and watching in the little green orchard. The atmosphere again is not one of fear or menace, rather of an awareness of
otherness, of being the object of attention, neither hostile, nor friendly.
Throughout de la Mare's work, there is a constant emphasis on the
perception of being perceived. 'The Listeners' itself, his most famous
poem, which suggests the title of this paper, concentrates on the throng
of silent listeners whom the traveller calls to witness the fulfilment of his
unspecified pledge. As children, and he suggests, as adults too, we are
16. De la Mare, Ding Dong Bell, p. 122.
17. De la Mare, Ding Dong Bell, pp. 132-33.
18. Complete Poems of Walter de la Mare (London: Faber & Faber, 1969), p. 164;
first printed in Peacock Pie (London: Constable and Son, 1913).

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listeners to and watchers of lives and events which we cannot participate in. In turn, we are listened to and watched by others whose purposes we do not fathom.
It is in this way that he takes us a step further than Julia Kristeva, who
uses the concept of the uncanny in her Strangers to Ourselves to speak
of the other as 'my own and proper unconscious'.19 The stranger
becomes my malevolent double, but as a manifestation of the inner
strangeness of the self to itself. De la Mare leads us to reflect not just on
our sense of the strangeness of the other but to grasp how strange we
may seem to that other. It is not just a matter of the nature of our
perceptions but how we deal with being perceived. To realize this may
indeed reflect and affect the relation of the self to the self and such an
introspectively reductive account of these relations can be postulated,
but at the risk of short-circuiting the reality of whatever is not the self.
Kristeva herself suggests this interpretative dichotomy when she writes
'uncanniness...is a destructuration of the self that may either remain as
a psychotic symptom or fit in as an opening toward the new, as an
attempt to tally with the incongruous'.20 Such openness to incongruousness is where this discussion may intersect with Christian theology.
In this regard, it is noteworthy that Freud explicitly removes the
miracles of resurrection in the New Testament from the category of the
uncanny.21 His argument is that miracles form an acceptable part of the
biblical story world. To accomplish this he must consign the biblical
texts to the realm of the fairy tale so that the issue of testing the stories
against the reader's experience is side-stepped. He must also, however,
ignore the repeated expressions in the text of the surprise, disbelief and
hostility which the miracles evoke in their spectators. In this he forms
an unlikely counterpart to those who through too glib a belief, too easy
an acceptance of the stories as historical truth, also remove any sense of
the uncanny from the reading of the text by accepting the raising of the
dead without taking into account its defiance of universal human experience. Either way, this exemplifies the way in which readers seek to
insulate themselves from the sense of the uncanny in the New Testament which is part and parcel of its claim that something radically new
and radically Other broke into human history.
But it is that very sense of the uncanny which de la Mare can hone in
us. It means that the text is putting to the question our certainties about
19. Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves (trans. L. Roudiez; New York: Harvester/
Wheatsheaf, 1991), p. 183.
20. Kristeva, Strangers, p. 188.
21. Freud, 'The Uncanny', p. 369.

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the possibilities in the world, and what is possible for ourselves. The
influence of the text spills out into the world of our daily reality. That
we can be seen as Other is a realization to which we must come to
appreciate our common otherness as human beings, and to comprehend
the depth of reconciliation necessary to bridge and retain that gap. The
wonder and terror of God's presence in the book of Job, the Apocalypse, the Transfiguration, can be illuminated by de la Mare's insistent
questioning of our ability to encompass the possibilities of our experience.
De la Mare's own attitude to Christian orthodoxy is hard to pin down.
He had a great love of the English Bible, and both his prose cadences
and his imagery reflect this. Indeed, he published a set of retellings of
biblical stories for children,22 which, however, is one of his more
disappointing books. In his concern to maintain both the dignity of the
language and to expunge any sexual motivation even from stories like
that of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, he produces versions which are a
hybrid of the fustian and the bland. Here he seems to silence just that
childlike awareness of the danger and excitement of presence which
Auden saw as his gift. His very reverence for biblical language means
that it ceases to be an experience for him.
On the other hand, his writing is saturated with one biblical theme in
particular: Eden as lost paradise for which the yearning is never sated.
Describing the experience of the child in de la Mare's work, his friend
Forrest Read writes:
So it might have been with some unrecorded child of Adam wandering
near the impenetrable hedges of Eden, alone, always hoping to find an
entrance to that place where he once was happy, but from which, he
knows not why, he is now banished. While out of the tree, the snake, his
father's enemy, watches him with unblinking eye.25

But the nostalgia for Eden is not Christianity, it is paganism. The


inhabited woods and rivers of de la Mare's world speak of the presences
Christianity has done away with. 'Great Pan is Dead', as the oracle
lamented. No child can, or should, remain two feet high. Growth, maturity, allow for opportunities and possibilities the child cannot grasp.
The dark side of this vision of the otherness between the child and the
adult world is expressed with great concision in Stevie Smith's poem 'To
Carry the Child'. In it she warns of the trouble that attends those who
retain childlike perceptions into adulthood. The adult part knows and
22. Walter de la Mare, Stories from the Bible (London: Faber & Faber, 1929).
23. Forrest Read, Walter de la Mare: A Critical Study (London: Faber & Faber,
1929), p. 175.

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despises the defencelessness of the child, while the child despises the
'man-of-the-world, the frozen' of adulthood. The child nonetheless has
'fingers of strength to strangle the man alive'. The poem ends:
Oh it is not happy, it is never happy
To carry the child into adulthood.
Let children lie down before full growth
And die in their infanthood
And be guilty of no man's blood.
But oh the poor child, the poor child, what can he do
Trapped in a grown-up carapace
But peer outside his prison room
With the eye of an anarchist?24

Perhaps this is also what Freud fears; the child as murderer of the
man. The alternative seems to be that the adult either becomes the
prison-house or the tomb of the child.
The New Testament in its own way acknowledges these dilemmas. In
1 Cor. 13.11, Paul makes it plain that childish things are to be put aside.
Those who retain the child's perception at the expense of learning the
language of the adult world may indeed labour under a handicap of vulnerability. This may seemingly contrast with Jesus's admonition to his
followers to become as little children (Mt. 18.3). But to become as a
child is not to remain as a child; indeed it presupposes that his hearers
are no longer children. The Christian vision is not the bleak one of the
child in the adult world of Smith's last stanza, nor of the melancholy
waif lurking at the bounds of Eden in de la Mare.
The injunction to become as little children rather summons the
reawakening in us of the openness of childhood which allows us to make
the move to learn to speak the language of adult engagement without
being frozen into the defensive restrictions of what passes for the adult
world. To move from childish babble to speech is in one sense a restriction but in a much deeper sense a way to liberation if the childlike sense
of the 'insecure felicity' of engagement with other human beings and
the ultimate otherness of God is not lost in hidebound convention.
De la Mare may seem at times to hanker for a retreat from adult reality
into a limited childish world, a flight to Eden. Freud's stern stoicism
would have us ensure that that child will be buried within us. As adults,
then, we would surely represent the tomb of the infantile, with, however, its indelible epitaph displayed in our surmounted beliefs. Our adult
24. Stevie Smith, The Collected Poems ofStevie Smith (London: Allen Lane, 1975),
pp. 436-37. Reprinted by permission of the The Stevie Smith Estate.

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selves gaze on the tomb of the child we once were, but uncannily, we
still bear the name and the memories of that child as we gaze upon it.
Yet were that child to turn its gaze on us, what would it see? What we
are now is other to the child that we were, other to the openness of its
gaze. In the uncanny vision of that child rising again to stand beside us
gazing in its turn on our epitaph is perhaps a salutary message in the
true sense, a window onto what it might mean to become as little children.

Roberta Quance
Self and Mystical Rebirth in H.D.'s Trilogy

Although critics have devoted a great deal of attention to H.D.'s Trilogy


in recent years, it has been mostly to clarify the revisionary mythmaking
in the text orto explore the implications of H.D.'s dialogue with Freud.1
With only a few exceptions, they have not gone deeply into its mysticism, with which critics are uneasy,2 or perceived that its revisions of
myth are allied to a mystical end.
In part, perhaps, there is some terminological confusion here. As I use
the term, 'mysticism' refers to the various religious practices that teach
and/or record the effort on the part of the self to achieve union with a
1. On revisionary mythmaking see Susan Gubar, 'The Echoing Spell of H.D.'s
Trilogy^ Contemporary Literature 19.2 (1978), pp. 196-218; Susan Stanford Friedman, Psyche Reborn: The Emergence of H.D. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
1987 [1981]); Rachel Blau DuPlessis, H.D.: The Career of That Struggle (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1986); Albert Gelpi, 'H.D.: Helen in Bethlehem, Hilda in
Egypt', in Albert Gelpi, A Coherent Splendor: The American Poetic Renaissance
1910-1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 253-320; Jeanne
Larsen, 'Text and Matrix: Dickinson, H.D., and "Woman's Voice"', in Temma F. Berg,
Anna Shannon Elfenbein, Jeanne Larsen, and Elisa Kay Sparks (eds.), Engendering the
Word: Feminist Essays in Psychosexual Poetics (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
1989), pp. 244-61. Dianne Chisolm argues that H.D.'s work in general revises Freud.
See her H.D. 's Freudian Poetics: Psychoanalysis in Translation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 1992). Susan Edmunds's Out of Line: History, Psychoanalysis, and
Montage in H.D.'s Late Poems (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994)
explores connections between H.D.'s Trilogy and the work of Melanie Klein.
2. Eileen Gregory in H.D. and Hellenism: Classic Lines (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1997) has noted an 'aversion' (p. 133) to this topic. One exception is
Peter Revell, who devotes a chapter to H.D. in his Quest in Modern American Poetry
(London and New York: Vision and Barnes and Noble, 1981). A sympathetic account
of H.D.'s mysticism as social drama can be found in Adalaide Morris, 'Signalling:
Feminism, Politics, and Mysticism in H.D.'s War Trilogy', Sagetrieb 9, 3 (1990), pp.
121-33. A recent analysis by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, 'H.D.'s Self-Fulfilling
Prophecies: Theologies of the Family Romance', in their study Letters from the Front.
I. No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), pp. 166-207, places H.D.'s work within a specifically Protestant devotional tradition and, ironically, undoes many of the valuable
insights in Gubar's earlier article, which notes the mystical tradition behind some of
H.D.'s symbols.

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Divine Ground.3 The word has, however, been associated very loosely
and sometimes even used synonymously in criticism of H.D. with the
ideas of regeneration and renewal of the self or psyche. This already
betrays a psychoanalytic bias. 'Mysticism' is taken to mean any fusion of
the subject and object into a greater whole that would result in psychic
integration. If we add that any such integration is imaginary, we come
close to Freud's description of the religious impulse in general as an
'oceanic feeling'.4 This blurring of the meaning of mysticism with fantasy
makes it possible to assimilate a (revisionary) Freudian reading of H.D. to
certain feminist goals. Broadly speaking, the argument that emerges runs
as follows: in seeking a symbolic reunion with the Mother (the object)
through myth or through Freudian analysis, H.D. as a subject experiences a rebirth. This entails a poetic rebirth as well.
Criticism along these lines has produced crucial insights into H.D.'s
work, to which this essay is indebted. But it has a blind spot where
H.D.'s religious convictions are concerned and particularly her faith in
the experiential quality of mysticism. For H.D. this holds for the pagan
mysteries as well as for Christian traditions. Evelyn Underbill (a contemporary of H.D.'s) asks us to bear in mind that all mysticism should be
taken as 'an experience of Reality, not a philosophic account of Reality'.5
That experience involves a harmonization of the self with a transcendent
order, the accomplishment of which is often figured as a New Birth.
Because Trilogy has not been seen in this light, some of its key symbols and the implications of its structure are out of focus. And H.D.
seems more of an eccentric than she really is.
For example, as salient an aspect of the text as the ending has been
blurred. H.D. closes the third and final book of the trilogy, The Flowering of the Rod, with a Nativity scene in which Kaspar, one of the three
Magi, offers Mary and her newborn child a gift of myrrh:
she said, Sir, it is a most beautiful fragrance,
as of all flowering things together;
but Kaspar knew the seal of the jar was unbroken,
he did not know whether she knew

3. See Aldous Huxley, whose syncretistic definition I have adopted, in The Perennial Philosophy (New York: Harpers & Brothers, 1945).
4. See Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents (trans. James Strachey;
New York: W.W. Norton, 1961 [1930]), pp. 17-18.
5. Evelyn Underbill, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of
Man's Spiritual Consciousness (London: Penguin, 1974 [1911]), p. 455.

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the fragrance came from the bundle of myrrh


she held in her arms.

There follows immediately the place and date of composition of the


text: 'London, December 18-31, 1944'.6 It would seem reasonable, then,
to expect readers to deal with the implications as an ending for the
entire trilogy of what is clearly a Christmas scene: why is H.D. rewriting
the story of Christ's birth? Yet critics have largely skirted the issue. Susan
Gubar, while tacitly acknowledging the significance of the Nativity, is
uncertain how to read the identification of the newborn child with
Christ, which she believes the reader will supply: 'Not-naming the child,
H.D. tells a tale that could lead to a "different" future or that might result
in the "same" recycling of the past'.7 The problem is that for Gubar's
revisionary, feminist reading to turn out right, the 'bundle of myrrh'
ushering in a new world after the war should be a girl, or, at least, not
be Christ. (One reader has suggested that it is a punning way of saying
Mary.)8 Gubar has assumed that the story H.D. is retelling has a messianic or, one might say, exoteric import. And, her analysis implies, it
would be more in line with feminism if one were able to imagine that
H.D. were postulating a feminine saviour. But H.D., she finds, is ambiguous here. For still another reader, the nativity scene is a 'comic moment
of baby-swapping' when, instead of the Christ-child, we get just myrrh
or another Mary (Magdalene), that is, a messiah who is the Virgin's lesbian lover.9
I believe there is another way to read the concluding scene in H.D.'s
trilogy. But it will entail at least going over briefly what I see as the basic,
mystical aim of the poems as a whole. And that will require us to keep
clearly in view that we are being told what earlier mystics would have
called the story of a soul. In the last analysis all the revisionary mythmak6. All quotations from Trilogy are taken from H.D. Collected Poems 1912-1944
(ed. Louis L. Martz; New York: New Directions, 1983; Manchester: Carcanet Press,
1984), copyright 1982 by The Estate of Hilda Doolittle. Reprinted by permission of
New Directions Publishing Corp. and Carcanet Press Limited. I refer to the books by
the initials of each title and by poem number.
7. Gilbert and Gubar, 'Self-Fulfilling Prophecies', p. 204.
8. Larsen, Text Matrix', p. 250.
9. Edmunds, Out of Line, p. 84. The mythico-religious dimension of Trilogy gets
the shortest shrift yet in Edmunds, who does not consider traditions H.D. was steeped
in. Thus, she does not acknowledge the fact that Christ has traditionally been seen as
feminine. On the question of lesbian desire in the vindication of Mary, the reader may
see Ruth Vanita, Sappho and the Virgin Mary: Same-Sex Love and the English Literary Imagination (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), esp. ch. 1, 'The
Marian Model', pp. 14-36.

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ing in the text leads to this end. In other words, Trilogy gives us simultaneously the story of the self s quest for unionor reunionwith the
Divine Other at the same time that it seeks to uncover a feminine concept of the Other.
The first book in the trilogy, The Walls Do Not Fall, announces the
need to search through ruins for abiding spiritual values, to seek out
those walls of the psyche which have weathered all historical accident.
(Freud had likened the psyche to a city such as Rome whose earliest
walls were still intact, and it is not too much to suppose that H.D. is
paying him homage here.)10 In a characteristic superimposition of time
and place, the text moves from the Egyptian ruins at Luxor and Karnak
to the ruins of London after the Blitz. As she urges others (we readers) to
accompany her in her search, the poet advises us of the method she will
follow: history will be taken as a 'palimpsest/of past misadventure'
(WDNF, 2), a text in which one can discover that 'there are things under
other things'.11 In particular, there is a writing beneath the present cultural 'text'; another, older writing which has been erased to make way
for the new but which can still be discerned by a diligent reader. H.D.'s
palimpsest, as we know, has to do with the history of religious thought
in the West, in which the central role of mother goddesses has been
nearly effaced. But this does not mean that her quest is simply intellectual or simply aesthetic, or that it is motivated by theological concerns.
Insofar as H.D.'s text strains after the expression of experiences which
she professes to have had and which, presumably, others may have, too,
it claims a place in the mystical tradition.12
In this regard it is important to note that the poet hankers after what
she calls 'oneness lost' (WDNF, 30). Now, there are several ways to interpret this sense of loss, all of which are implied. Neo-Platonist mystical
doctrine teaches that all souls were once part of a divine unity to which
10. This was pointed out in Chisolm, Freudian Poetics, p. 42.
11. H.D., Tribute to Freud (New York: New Directions, 1984), p. 21. This edition
includes 'Writing on the Wall' (1944) (from which the quotation is drawn) and
'Advent' (1948). Both texts refer to H.D.'s period of psychoanalysis with Freud during
the years 1933-34. 'Advent', however, unlike the other text, was assembled with the
aid of a notebook from 1933.
12. As Kevin Hart observes in The Trespass of the Sign: Deconstruction, Theology
and Philosophy (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 182: 'Our knowledge of mystical experience is textual, and on the basis of textual experience alone
one cannot judge if a text refers to a lived experience or to another text about such
experience, if the writer is a practicing mystic, a theorist, or both'. Of course, the argument cuts both ways. It is not possible to rule out experience as source or aim
either.

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one returns upon death.13 Christian mystics speak, alternatively, of a


'unification' of the personality as one of their goals, by which they mean
the centering of the personality in Godand a decentering of the personality with respect to the empirical ego.14 In H.D.'s text, 'oneness lost'
is, too, the condition in which the poet finds herself when there is a
'reversion to old values', a kind of temporary 'madness' (WDNF, 30).
Thus, in seeking for spiritual values which have been effaced, she is after
a lost unity of the self with the Deity, an 'at-one-ment', to borrow
Rudolph Otto's expressive phrase.15 A feminist perspective has taught us
to read these words as an expression of desire for a pre-Oedipal oneness
with the Mother, but this is only one dimension of the wish, only one
way to translate itand it comes too close to Freud's terms to do justice
to H.D.'s dissenting views. To preserve the mystical character of the
text, we need to see that, given the traditions in which she works, her
lost unity may refer either to a time before birth, a time before consciousness of oneself as a separate being, or a time before relapsing into
the mundane self, exiled from an ecstatic encounter with the divine. To
insist on the mystical aspect of the goal of at-one-ment, is to acknowledge pragmatically the 'reality' of an experience it names as well as to
bring to bear the textual precedents for the terms in which it is
described.
To this end one ought to look closely at poem 13 of The Walls Do Not
Fall. It recalls a vision the poet experienced in the company of others of
a 'Presence' whose effect on her was like that of an initiation:
The Presence was spectrum-blue,
ultimate blue ray,
rare as radium, as healing;
my old self, wrapped around me,
13. Porphyry (AD 233-304?), for example, believed that the soul wished to return
to the divine perfection from which it fell upon entering the sublunary world, like a
bee who wished to return to its hive. See his De antro nympharum, an allegorical
treatise on Book 13 of the Odyssey. H.D.'s library included, according to Friedman
(Psyche Reborn, p. 319, n. 11), a well-marked copy of William Loftus Hare, Mysticism
of East and West (London: Jonathan Cape, 1923), which treats of the Neo-Platonists.
See p. 294 and also pp. 275-76.
14. For an introduction see Underhill, Mysticism. Also helpful is William Johnston,
The Still Point: Reflections on Zen and Christian Mysticism (New York: Fordham
University Press, 1970), pp. 54-55.
15. Quoted in Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World (trans. Montgomery Belgion; New York: Schocken Books, 1983 [1940]), p. 155. This book, first
published in French in 1939 as L 'amour et I'Occident, was revised and reissued later
in English in 1956. Friedman notes that H.D. regarded the book, of which she owned
every edition, as 'her Bible' (Psyche Reborn, p. 309 n. 30).

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was shroud (I speak of myself individually
but I was surrounded by companions
in this mystery)...

The vision alluded to here is in retrospect healing insofar as it fosters a


metamorphosis of the self. Its effect is to turn the old self into a 'shroud',
a mantle at once protective but deciduous, meant to be cast off as a new
self comes to light. H.D. refers to the event ambiguously as a 'mystery'; a
little further on, however, she makes it clear that by this she means
something like the ancient mystery cults which enjoined secrecy on
their initiates. She identifies all of the participants as fellows in a rebirth,
through, perhaps, what was an intuition of origin in the Mother ('we
know each other/by secret symbols'; *we nameless initiates,/born of one
mother, // companions/of the flame'). In retrospect, the fact that blue is
Mary's (and Demeter's) traditional color is significant.
At-one-ment is not to be confused with achieving an identity or a
clearly delimited sense of self. In fact, in the passages preceding the
poet's complaint of 'oneness lost', imagery of brokenness suggests that
having a (social) identity in and of itself is not the point. On the contrary, its loss, however traumatic, can be the prelude to growth:
Splintered the crystal of identity,
shattered the vessel of integrity... (WDNF, 21)

There comes a time to 'begin a new spiral', 'a new span of time in which
to grow', to 'be cocoon, smothered in wool,/be Lamb, mothered again'
(WDNF, 21). The god who calls the poet to this fresh start is Amen, an
Egyptian father-god represented as a ram who swallows his child: 'let
your teeth devour me,/let me be warm in your belly', she pleads; '[let
me be] the sun-disk,/the re-born Sun' (WDNF, 22). Although he is the
Father, he is also figured here as a Christ-like Mother from whom a Son
may be reborn.16 In other words, H.D. reads an Egyptian god in Christian terms and posits herselfbreaking free of genderas his twiceborn child.
Here, by digging a bit, can be found the key to a mystical reading of
Trilogy. And it is no accident that there is a paradox involved. For the
basic aim of the Christian mystic and, in H.D.'s revisionary view, as we
shall see, that of the Eleusinian mystic as well, is to put off the old 'man'
16. Edmunds, Out of Line, pp. 43-44 contends that two ancient Egyptian creation
myths are being conflated here, one dealing with the sun god who is reborn nightly
from the sky goddess and another dealing with Aten, 'the only faintly male solar god',
whose emblem is the sun-disk. Edmunds analyzes this motif in terms of Melanie
Klein's theories about aggression between mother and child.

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in order to put on the new, and that is paradoxical: it means that the old
self with its old identity must die in order for there to be a rebirth which
is held to be a foretaste of the soul's access to immortality. In the Christian tradition the promise of such a transformation of the personality is
founded on the words of Christ as set down in John 12.24-25, where the
germination and growth of a seed into a full ear of grain is thought to
allude not only to the fate of the saviour himself but also to his followers' experience of conversion: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of
wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears
much fruit'. The secret sprouting underground of the 'grain of wheat',
on a mystical rereading, becomes a metaphor for the falling away of the
believer's old self to give way to the new.
If H.D. remembered this text, however, she did not hesitate to give it
her own peculiar reading. In her Notes on Thought and Vision (1919),
an early discussion of the spiritual life, she too employs the imagery of
the seed to speak of the soul. But she arrives at her Christianity by way
of the (older) Eleusinian mysteries, which exploited the symbolism of
the yearly return of the ripened grain and the promise it may have held
for the initiate of the soul's immortality.17 H.D. speaks of the soul as a
seed in the body:
Because the spirit, we realise, is a seed. No man by thought can add an
inch to his stature, no initiate by the strength and power of his intellect
can force his spirit to grow.

On the other hand:


He can retard its growth by neglect of his body because the body of man
as the body of nature is the ground into which the spirit is cast.
This is the mystery of Demeter, the Earth Mother. The body of the
Eleusinian initiate had become one with the earth, as his soul had become
one with the seeds enclosed in the earth.
No man by thought can make the grain sprout or the acorn break its shell.
No man by intellectual striving can make his spirit expand.

Her closing remarks, which center on Christ, can only be understood as


a reworking of the Gospel of St John:
Christ and his father, or as the Eleusinian mystic would have said, his
mother, were one.18
17. C. Kerenyi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter (trans. Ralph
Manheim; New York: Schocken Books, 1977 [1967]).
18. Notes on Thought and Vision and The Wise Sappho (intro. Albert Gelpi;
London: Peter Owen, 1988 [1982]), p. 52.

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There in a nutshell is the basic argument for H.D.'s Trilogy. For at the
same time that we are called upon to grasp the mystical, Johannine
intent of H.D.'s wordsthat 'Christ' stands for the seed or the soul as
much as for the holy childwe must see that the ground into which the
seed is cast or, rather, in which it is 'enclosed', is, according to the
mythic logic H.D. finds in Eleusis, the body of the mother. In saying the
seed 'breaks' within the earth, then, H.D. draws an analogy closer to that
of birth, in the sense of one body emerging from another, than to that of
death or sacrifice.19
If we turn back now to Trilogy, we will see that the first book is studded with images which suggest how much such a transformation of the
self is desired. There the poet claims that she and her companions are
dragging the forlorn
husk of self after us...

or struggling to break free of an older way of being:


we pull at this dead shell (WDNF, 14)
Although the metaphors are no longer 'seed' and 'ground', they echo
the Gospel motif of transformation. Thus, when the poet regrets
'oneness lost' she is referring in context to the reversals one is bound to
experience on the way towards a rebirth or, as H.D. puts it, 'the bad
moments', of 'old will, old volition, old habit' (WDNF, 14), when the
possibility of begetting 'self-out-of-self,/selfless,/that pearl of great price'
seems exceedingly remote. It is at times like that that she longs to be
'egg in eggshell' (WDNF, 4). The images in the first book of the worm
spinning its own shroud ('for I know how the Lord God/is about to
manifest, when I/the industrious worm, spin my own shroud'WDNF,
14) or of a winged creature emerging from its cocoon ('for even the air/
is independable,/thick where it should be fine/and tenuous/where
wings separate and open'WDNF, 43) span both ends of this interior
cycle of what has been traditionally called death and rebirth. Similar
images have been used by Christian mystics. St Teresa, for example,
whose works H.D. may well have known in translation, uses the analogy
of the silkworm and the butterfly to speak of the activity of the soul as it
prepares to receive Christ.20
19. This may be the distinction H.D. makes in Tribute to Freud when she reflects,
'I must be born again or break utterly' (p. 54).
20. See Interior Castle (trans. Allison Peers; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961),
for example, 'Fifth Mansions', ch. 2: 'And now let us see what becomes of this silkworm, for all that I have been saying about it is leading up to this. When it is in this
state of prayer, and quite dead to the world, it comes out a little white butterfly'

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In St Teresa, however, the 'little butterfly' that hatches will annihilate


itself out of love for Christ; like countless other mystics, she follows an
ascetic path, and in its self-denial this path diverges from H.D.'s. But she
introduces also the immanentist ideamore congenial to H.D.that the
soul has an intricate inner architecture in which to house the Other:
seven mansions ormoradas, in the seventh and most beautiful of which,
Christ shall dwell when the soul has achieved contemplative union. This
is like H.D.'s conviction that there is a beehive in the soul, a city of the
spirit, wherein the seeker, or the 'householder, each with a treasure'
(WDNF, 36) can find a hoard or store, a honeycomb, of nourishment.
The archaeologist Marija Gimbutas has argued that the honeycomb is
an ancient symbol of regeneration associated with Neolithic goddesses.
Among the Greeks it reappears in Crete where a cult of the bee goddess
arose; the shrine to Aphrodite at Eryx in Sicily, where the cult spread,
featured a golden honeycomb. Honey itself for the Greeks has complex
metaphorical meanings spanning both life and death, as it was linked to
sexuality (generation), healing, embalmment, and even poetic and oracular speech. It is thus a particularly apt symbol for the several senses in
which H.D. envisages and experiences a rebirth.21 She uses the image at
first to figure a fleeting recollection of the divine, from which the
self draws nourishment, like a bee in the hive in the winter: 'we would
feed forever/on the amber honey-comb/of your remembered greeting'
(WDNF, 29); but later in the third book, the honeycomb symbolizes an
inner wealth which the individual can find by returning home: 'resurrection is a sense of direction,/resurrection is a bee-line,/straight to the
hoard and plunder,/the treasure, the store-room,/the honeycomb'
(Flowering of the Rod, 7). And the poet identifies herself as one of a
'swarm' of bees (FR, 7) who are, we may suppose, returning to their
hive, like the contemplatives whose rapt soulsaccording to Porphyry
will return to a Neo-Platonic heaven.
In both instances we have a metaphor for an enrichment of the self
that Christian mystics have explained, along Augustinian lines, as a process of deification. Now, the mystical aim may be figured as a movement
outward toward the Other, beyond the self, emphasizing a transcendent
(106). See also pp. 105-106 and, for the culmination of the allegory, 'Seventh Mansions', ch. 2, p. 215: 'for it is here that the little butterfly to which we have referred
dies, and with the greatest joy, because Christ is now its life'.
21. Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess (London: Thames and Hudson,
1989); Uberto Pestalozza, L'^ternel fminin dans la religion me'diterraneenne (trans,
and preface Marcel De Corte; Brussels: Latomus, 1965 [1954]), pp. 36-37; PietroPucci,
Hesiod and the Language of Poetry (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1977), pp. 19-29.

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order, or, as H.D. suggests, a movement inward, a going back 'home',


emphasizing an immanentist conception of the Divine which draws upon
the traditional notion that God has made the soul, in George Herbert's
words, 'a stately habitation'. It is to the latter that H.D. refers when, in
Tribute to Freud, she alludes to what were evidently lines from the
Bible that had made a deep impression upon her: There was another
Jew who said, the Kingdom of heaven is within you'. She was thinking
of Luke 17.20-21 (in the King James Version): 'Seek not for the Kingdom
of God. The Kingdom is within you.'22
It is interesting to note, and it says much about how H.D. viewed
Freud, that she alludes to this text in Tribute as if to contrast the words
of two Jews who had been influential in her personal growth: both
Freud and Jesus. Freud, she remarked, had 'shut the door on transcendental speculations or at least transferred this occult or hidden symbolism to the occult or hidden regions of the personal reactions, dreams,
thought associations or thought "transferences" of the individual human
mind'. For Freud the Kingdom of God would be a projection of unconscious needs. For H.D., specifically, it might mean coming to terms with
an unconscious wish for union with her mother, for Freud believed that
the 47-year-old bisexual poet had not made the conventional adolescent
shift to love of the Father.23 Reading between the lines of H.D.'s Tribute,
however, we see that H.D. is not willing to reduce occult symbolism to
personal relations; on the contrary, she believes such symbols point to
the reality of a transcendent order. (Her thinking here has been likened
to that of Jung, about whom, however, H.D. claimed to know very
little.)24 Freud, she says, had written of the promise of life in the
hereafter dismissively: it was, he said, 'the last and greatest fantasy, the
22. See H.D., Tribute to Freud ('Writing on the Wall), p. 104. In an early letter to
John Cournos, H.D. had recalled the same lines: 'I would be lonely but for the intensity of my so-called "inner life". "The Kingdom lies within you. Seek you first the
Kingdom and all these things shall be added unto you".' This is quoted in Barbara
Guest, Herself Defined: The Poet H.D. and Her World (New York: Doubleday, 1984),
p. 81. It should be noted that in recent editions of the Bible, this translation is no
longer considered correct. The text now gives to understand that the Kingdom is
'among' you.
23. See H.D., Tribute to Freud, p. 44 and p. 136.
24. See John Walsh, 'H.D., C.G. Jung, and Kusnacht: Fantasia on a Theme', in
Michael King (ed.), H.D. Woman and Poet (Orono, Maine: University of Maine, 1986),
pp. 59-65. Elie G. Humbert in L'homme auxprises avec I'inconscient: Reflexions sur
I'approche jungienne (Paris: Retz, 1992), p. 119, observes that, for Jung, images of
Goddivine images in generalare not products of individual desire but projections
of an objective pysche. They are parental archetypes whose correspondence to actual
deities cannot be guaranteed.

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gigantic wish-fulfilment that had built up, through the ages, the elaborate and detailed picture of an after-life'.25 H.D. accounted for this positionwhich 'he may even have believed'by turning Freud into a kind
of culture-hero who stoically refused the luxury of religious belief so
that all human powers could be directed toward the here and now. It is
immediately after these reflections that she turns her attention to the
words of 'another Jew'.
My point is that the effect of immediately citing Jesus in this way is to
relativize Freud's views. It is to suggest that H.D. read Freud allegorically, that she spiritualized him, setting his theory of the unconscious
within a religious framework which was firmly in place by the time she
called on him.26 She used the language of mystical rebirthdrawn from
Neo-Platonism, ancient mysteries, hermeticism, Christianity properto
make connections between the inner reality Freud had discovered and
the person she already was, daring once more, as Susan Stanford Friedman noted of H.D.'s use of other writers on myth, to 'abandon the
Enlightenment lens'.27 Therefore, although we sometimes find her describing her analysis with the same metaphors as the ones she uses to
evoke her sense of impending transformationin Freud's office, she felt,
she says, as if she were in a 'chrysalis'28she believes that the experience is helping her to find her mother and to grow spiritually.
To summarize: The Walls Do Not Fall turns on the idea of an inner
quest whose goal is to remake the self in harmony with the divine. Book
2, Tribute to the Angels, takes us further along the path by presenting
the seeker's vision of female godhead. According to Luce Irigaray, the
idea of a goddessof god in a female imageis essential for women, if
they are to possess, as men have always possessed, an image of their
perfected subjectivity.29 A feminine concept of deity would provide a
needed source of self-love for women. H.D. finds such an image of
25. H.D., Tribute to Freud, pp. 102-103.
26. More evidence for this can be found in a letter H.D. wrote to her companion
Bryher in 1933 in which she claims that Freud was 'the present-day Jesus who wishes
to rationalize the miracle' (quoted in Janice S. Robinson, H.D.: The Life and Work of
an American Poet (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981], p. 280). Gerald L. Bruns has
defined allegory as 'the redescription, in one's own language, of sentences from an
alien system of concepts and beliefs'. See his Hermeneutics Ancient and Modern
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), ch. 4, 'Allegory as Radical Interpretation',
pp. 83-103 (83).
27. Friedman, Psyche Reborn, p. 308, n. 13.
28. H.D., Tribute to Freud ('Advent'), p. 177: 'Before I leave, I fold the silver-grey
rug. I have been caterpillar, worm, snug in the chrysalis.'
29. See 'Femmes divines', in her Sexes etparents (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit,
1987), pp. 69-85.

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female godhead in Mary, once the Mother of God has been restored to
the earth;30 it is a necessary prelude to her recasting of the traditional
goal of mystical birth in the Other; now there is to be a rebirth in the
(M)0ther.
H.D.'s Lady proves to be a threshold figure who manifests herself in
nature, marking a point where there can be a breakthrough to the supernatural world. As if to emphasize the passage from one world to another,
H.D. situates an epiphany of the goddess in a limen: 'we crossed the
charred portico,/passed through a framedoorless/entered a shrine;
like a ghost,/we entered a house through a wall' (TA, 20). The in-betweenness of the place makes her and her companions unsure of whether 'we were there or not-there' (TA, 20). Then, characteristically for
H.D., the break between worldsas one passes from nature and finitude
to the supernatural, where rebirth is possibleis re-figured as blossoming: 'we saw the tree flowering;/it was an ordinary tree/in an old garden-square' (TA, 20). And so, before her Ladywho is 'Our Lady' but
who predates Christianityactually appears to her in a dream (TA, 25),
she has been 'announced' in the vision of a charred tree that has miraculously survived the war: 'burnt and stricken to the heart; was it maytree or apple?' (TA, 19).
The manifestation of female godhead in a tree means that there is one
profound sense, one very literal sense, in which we can say that Mary
(or, in traditional terms, a redeemed Eve) is the model for H.D.'s Lady
and this must be perceived in order to follow the logic of the second
and third books of the Trilogy.
The early Fathers of the Church developed a series of biblical types
for the Virgin from passages in the Old Testament which they interpreted as prefiguring the birth of Christ. One of these types is known as
the Tree of Jesse, the source for which is Isaiah 11.1 (Et egredietur
virga de radice lesse, et flos de radice eius ascendef). In the early
Middle Ages this apparently phallic text gave rise to church iconography
found all over Europe which often featured the Virgin prominently at
the top of Christ's family tree.31 This may account for the way H.D.
30. Many scholars have argued for this connection by focusing on one particular
mother-goddess (Demeter, Cybele, Isis, Astarte). H.D., it seems to me, presents a syncretistic version based on Mary's roots as an earth goddess. Pamela Berger in The
Goddess Obscured: Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1986) shows Mary in this light.
31. Arthur Watson, The Early Iconography of the Tree of Jesse (London: Oxford
University Press, 1934). On goddesses and trees see E.O. James, The Tree of Life
(Leiden: EJ. Brill, 1965), pp. 163-200. Curiously, another name for the may-tree is the
hawthorn, which is associated with a famous apparition of the Virgin in France, at

QUANCE: SELF AND MYSTICAL REBIRTH IN H.D.'s


assimilates the Lady, tree and cross in the lines in which she describes
the epiphany, 'This is the flowering of the rood,/this is the flowering of
the wood' (K4, 23). In H.D.'s poem, however, the Lady appears by herself, independent of any masculine relation, leaving open the possibility
that any follower might be her child or spouse ('But the Lamb was not
with her/either as Bridegroom or Child;/her attention is undivided;/we
are her bridegroom and lamb'TA, 39). That she manifests herself in a
blooming tree, finally, may be taken as an affirmation of the goddess's
immanence (as opposed to the burning bush of transcendence, which
implies the surpassing of 'feminine' Nature).
If we follow the logic of the biblical type, we will be prepared at the
end of Book 3 of Trilogy to see the Christ-child as the flower blossoming
at the end of the rod, that rod which symbolizes the stock, or mother,
the materia from which all creatures came 'in the beginning.' Mother
and child together are implied in the figure. The logic is at bottom the
same as that which has linked Mary to myrrh (a tree) and led readers to
suggest that the Christ-child also is myrrh. (To this could be added the
imagery of oyster shell and pearl which earlier stood for the Kingdom of
Heaven [WDNF, 4] but which could also be seen as a figure for the
Virgin Birth, begetting without human aid.)32 Readers have repeatedly
pointed to the rod of the third book as being Aaron's rod (Num. 17.1-8),
but what they have forgotten is that in the exhaustive exegesis of the
Church fathers Aaron's rod too was taken as a type of the Virgin.33 Thus
H.D. closes the final book of her trilogy with a Nativity scene that is an
entirely different take on the medieval tradition of Christ's cross as the
flowering rood. By implication now it is the Lady, or the Virgin, who is
the Tree of Life and not the crucified male deity.
But whose birth from a tree is (Adonis-like) being celebrated here? In
the final scene of The Flowering Rod we notice that neither Mary nor
Christ is named directly. Susan Gubar has insisted that this strategy of
what is now the Gothic cathedral of Notre Dame de 1'Epine, and with lesser-known
sites in Spain. The hawthorn is the first-blooming tree in spring. See William A. Christian, Jr, Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981), pp. 35-36.
32. This symbolism has been noted generally by Ruth Vanita in Sappho and the
Virgin Mary, p. 51. See also p. 255 n. 35 , where she identifies the oyster and pearl as
the central image in 'Notes on Thought and Vision', signifying 'the body that makes
and remakes the spirit'.
33. Cf. Robinson, H.D.: The Life and Work, p. 222; Gubar, 'Echoing Spell', p. 209;
or Gilbert and Gubar, 'Self-Fulfilling Prophecies', p. 197. Aaron's rod flowered with an
almond blossom when it was left overnight in the tabernacle, indicating thereby that
God had confirmed him as his priest. See Watson, Early Iconography, p. 2.

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not-naming makes it possible to imagine that the newborn infant is not


necessarily a male. The fact that Mary is not named would also, of
course, make it possible to imagine a different identity altogether for the
child's mother. What I would like to suggest, in either case and in view
of the mystical reading of Trilogy I have put forth here, is, in the first
place, that there is no contradiction at all between the child's being the
Christ-child and the child's being a girl. As for the identity of the mother,
it would be well to recall an insight of Freud's, which H.D. may have
fashioned to her own purposes. Noting that H.D. herself had been born
in a town called Bethlehem, Freud had said, not the obvious, that Jesus
had been born in Bethlehem but that 'Bethlehem is the town of Mary'.34
H.D.'s text culminates in a complex revision of what all mystics in the
Christian traditionorthodox or hereticalhave taken as their goal: to
be reborn in the image of Christ, to continue the incarnation in themselves. The 'one secret, the greatest of all' says Coventry Patmore, who
placed the text of the Tree of Jesse as an epigraph to The Rod, the Root
and the Flower, 'is the doctrine of the Incarnation, regarded not as a
historical event which occurred two thousand years ago, but as an event
that is renewed in the body of everyone who is in the way to the fulfilment of his original destiny'.35 As a mother, H.D. was also, no doubt,
keenly aware that there was a possibility open to hersymbolicallyof
occupying both positions at once, that of mother and child, in the
mystical figure of the flowering rod. By reading the final scene this way,
I believe we do justice to the dual movement in Trilogy, to restore the
luster of the Divine to women by reclaiming Mary's old genealogy and to
remake oneself in that same image. The self is both pearl and mother-ofpearl.

34. H.D., Tribute to Freud ('Advent'), p. 123. This had been pointed out by Robinson, H.D.: The Life and Work, p. 327.
35. Coventry Patmore, The Rod, the Root and the Flower (ed. and intro. Derek
Patmore; London: The Grey Walls Press, 1950 [1895]), p. 124.

Frederick J. Ruf
J.B. Pontalis and the Adolescent Self

In the late twentieth century, if we are interested in cultural manifestations of religion, we are largely interested in how various aspects of culture perform a religious function. If an aspect of culturea political
party, a birthday party, a painting by Turner, or a scribble by my daughteris to be religious, then it needn't be so by its Christian roots or by
its relation to the dharma, let's say. Rather it is religious by performing
the function long performed by institutions, objects, beliefs, and persons
that are explicitly religiousthe function of providing humans with orientation in their lives.1 Culture is religious by enabling us, as William
James said, to 'front life': by providing us with orientation; that is, by
answering three crucial questions: who we are, where we are, and where
we're going.2 Having answersor imagining answersto those three
questions enables us to 'front life' by telling us what the word 'life'
means, where our 'front' is, and what sort of a being has a 'front' in the
first place. Culture surrounds us, inundates us, permeates us with orientations, so that we cannot see a chair or hear its scrape or feel the air
without there being communicated an urgent or casual message concerning who we are, where we are, and where we are going.3
Given who we have become by the end of this century, perhaps the
most poignant of the three questions of orientation is the first: the
1. I draw this notion of the religious function of orientation from Gordon D.
Kaufman who traces it back, himself, to Erich Fromm and, ultimately, Kant. See Gordon D. Kaufman, The Theological Imagination: Constructing the Concept of God
(Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981); Immanuel Kant, 'On Orientation in Thinking', in Kant (ed. Gabriele Rabel; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), pp. 168-70; Eric
Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950),
Chapter 3.
2. William James, The Letters of William James, II (ed. Henry James, Jr; New
York: Longman, 1920), p. 122.
3. In two works I have analyzed the orientation performed by literary style. See
Frederick J. Ruf, The Creation of Chaos: William James and the Stylistic Making of
a Disorderly World (New York: State University of New York Press, 1991) and idem,
Entangled Voices: Genre and the Religious Construction of the Self (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1997). Both provide a detailed examination of the casual and
implicit orientations that are provided by culture.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

answer to the question 'Who am I?' or, in more general terms, 'What is
the self?' Postmodernism has especially troubled this question and its
many answers by providing us with its own orientation, one that is, in
fact, ^//sorienting. As Mark Taylor puts it, there has been a 'death of the
self, [a] disappearance of the I, [a] decentering of the subject, and [an]
end of man'.4 Nietzsche's death of God seems far easier to get used to
than this second death. And if the death of God meant, as Nietzsche
wrote, that 'we have left the land and embarked, we have burned our
bridges behind usindeed we have gone further and destroyed the land
behind us'a profound disorientation, indeed, as the past hundred-odd
years have shownthen what will this more recent death of the self
mean?5 What can it mean that there is no longer a self?
There is, of course, no shortage of suggestions, most of them involving the other and a dissolving and refiguring of the dichotomy of self and
other. Certainly in theology, Taylor and Charles Winquist provide powerful possibilities, either by, as in Taylor, seizing upon dissemination
'Which effaces every stable center and thereby decenters all subjects',
by placing 'the deconstructed subject...in the midst of multiple and
changing relations';6 or, for Winquist, in the more internal 'other' of
what he likes to call the 'incorrigibilities' of body and mind that confront
and confuse and fracture the self, giving rise to 'intensities'.7
But if we are interested in ways to imagine the self in light of the postmodern disorientations, I would like to suggest a rather traditional means
of presenting itthe literary genre with the particular mission of providing the model for the self, autobiography. Moreover, what might be
of special value is an autobiography by a member of the profession that
came into being after Nietzsche's death of God (dare I say, because of
his death of God?), the profession with the particular cultural charge of
imagining the self and then, interestingly enough, caring for it: psychoanalysis.
J.B. Pontalis is not just a psychoanalyst; he is co-author (with J. Laplanche) of perhaps the most authoritative reference work in that field,
The Language of Psycho-analysis? He is also a senior editor with
4. Mark C. Taylor, Erring: A Postmodern A/theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 136.
5. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (trans. Walter Kaufman; New York: Vintage Books, 1974), p. 180.
6. Taylor, Erring, p. 135.
7. Charles E. Winquist, Desiring Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1995). See especially chs. 3 and 4.
8. J. Laplanche and J.B. Pontalis, The Language of Psycho-analysis (trans.
Donald Nicholson-Smith; London: Hogarth Press, 1973).

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99

Gallimard and editor of two series at that press. He was the student of
both Sartre and Lacan. He is, then, an authority: he might be said to
represent how the culture sees the self. If so, it is fascinating and important that his 1993 autobiography, Love of Beginnings, is, as Janet Garner
Gunn might say, 'unruly'.9 It is far from being an attempt to present the
chronological mastery of the self, which is the tradition of autobiography.10 Pontalis's autobiography is a wandering through a collection of
concerns and events; it 'ignores chronology', as Pontalis says, 'and...is
very incomplete'.11
Most succinctly, we might say his autobiography presents the life of
the self as a 'sack', as Pontalis himself says of the memory. 'What does
the sack of memory hold', he asks, 'the sack which is so full of holes?'
Pontalis's answer: 'Accidents'.12 Instead of mastering the self through
the dominance of self-narrative and presenting a unified and cohesive self
that is, in the expression so dear to narrative theologians, 'coherent and
intelligible', Pontalis gives us a self that is a sack, with holes, and filled
with accidents. I would like to concentrate upon these three to flesh out
this particular postmodern 'self.
First the 'sack'. We can learn a great deal from the formal aspects of a
piece of writing, from the orientation implicit in its style, its genre, its
organization. A particular sort of self speaks or is depicted. Pontalis's
autobiography does not start at the beginning, nor does it proceed to an
end. There is a chapter about a Turner painting, that chapter (and the
painting) metamorphosing into a rendezvous with an unnamed lover in
London. There is a chapter about obsessive scribbling in a diary. A chapter(of only 123 words) about falling. A chapter about his daily telephone
call from his mother. So the book (and the self) is a collection, lacking
the firm order of a chronology or of the development of character or
intellect. And yet there is no suggestion of 'randomness' in this collec9. Gunn criticizes much literary discussion for concealing the 'strangeness' and
'unruly behavior' of autobiography. Janet Garner Gunn, Autobiography: Toward a
Poetics of Experience (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982), pp. 1011.
10. Roy Pascal speaks for the traditional view of autobiography when he defines
the genre as 'the reconstruction of the movement of a life, or part of a life, in the
actual circumstances in which it was lived... [It] imposes a pattern on a life, constructs out of it a coherent story. It establishes certain stages in an individual life,
makes links between them, and defines, implicitly or explicitly, a certain consistency
of relationship between the self and the outside world'. Roy Pascal, Design and Truth
in Autobiography (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, I960), p. 9.
11. J.B. Pontalis, Love of Beginnings (trans. James Greene with Marie-Christine
Reguis; London: Free Association Books, 1993), p. xv.
12. Pontalis, Beginnings, p. 125.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

tion; it is no mere 'heap'. Even the contents of a sack has orderheavy


things on the bottom; those lighter or more recently placed inside on
the top. This postmodern self is not absurdist. Some aspects matter
paintings, rendezvous with lovers, diaries, falling, telephone calls: they
constitute the self. By presenting the self as a 'sack', Pontalis rejects
most traditional orders (of chronology, of personal or intellectual development, of interpersonal relations), and presents a looser and more
occasional order. It makes no essentialist claims, about itself or others. It
is also alluringly banalthe sack. But more on that later.
Now let us look at the 'boles' of the self, that is, the ways in which the
sack of the self has holes. Pontalis's book does have one quite conventional characteristic: like Augustine's autobiography (among innumerable
others), it is organized in part according to his education. The 'H school',
his elementary school, his lycee, his courses with Sartre and Lacan, his
psychoanalytic training, his period as a teacher of philosophythese
provide some structure to the sack's contents. The difference between
Pontalis and Augustine is that there is no greater education taking place,
no formation of the self so that it learns what true education is, and so
that it emerges in the image of its masterful teacher. That, in fact, brings
us to the issue of 'holes'.
In the 'H' school, his elementary school, and his lycee, in particular,
he is initiated into semiotic systems, into languages, into their dominance
and their appeal. With all postmodernists, Pontalis shares the preoccupation with the social systems of codes and markers that are wholly constructed and wholly engulfing. But unlike some postmodernists, he both
loves and hates those languages:
Sometimes.. .1 feel in subtle harmony with this miniature universe, I find a
pure aesthetic quality in it: no corpulence, nothing superfluous. What if
there were in all this an eroticism of appearances! Here I am, seduced: we
are beautiful self-regulating machines, we are functional and vigilant.
Moods are dissolved, disorders and stirrings of unknown origin soothed.
What a delicious calm!13

That is the participation in language at its best. At the other end is his
loathing for language, his resentment of its dominance, its hegemony:
Everything pulls me away from belief, from adherence to a cause, to a doctrine, to a discourse which claims to dictate rules, to establish authority,
political discourse being only the model for the genre. I'm suspicious of a
way of thinking that, while denying that it does so, has an answer for
everything and holds its own uncertainty at bay. At the heart of this reticence, I find the refusal to identify a language with truth.14
13. Pontalis, Beginnings, p. 8.
14. Pontalis, Beginnings, p. 84.

RUF: J.B. PONTALIS AND THE ADOLESCENT SELF

101

Language weaves Pontalis's sack, and there is a strange kind of erotic


pleasure that he takes in the ways that language functions'no corpulence, nothing superfluous!' But the sack of the self also contains holes
because the self not only loves language but hates it, too: Pontalis is not
only erotically held by language, he falls from it. The combination of
love and hatred of language constitutes the 'torment' he experiences.
The self is not the steady confluence of languages, as it tends to be in
Taylor or any others who focus on dissemination; instead it is a more
roiling confluence, with rips, whirlpools, the maelstrom, though all are
small. The self is in a continuous process of rupturing. The 'sack' is
ripped.
To move on to the 'accidents' of this particular postmodern self, it
isn't fluid imagery that Pontalis uses to present the selfWilliam James
already did that in the 1880s. It is something much more strikingand
again banal. The H School sits him and other five-year-olds at a green felt
table, 'like a table at a board meeting' in its confidence that the language
he and the other children were entering would continue through the
corporation boards, government commissions, law firms and diplomatic
postings.15 But an arbitrary grading system introduces, he says, a
metaphorical 'wobble' into the table. At his lycee he loves the 'fluid and
varied life', but he finds himself longing for 'useless and above all clumsy
gestures'.16 He loves not his teachers' eloquence but their 'verbal and
gestural tics'.17 I have to confess a great fascination with those small
'accidents': wobbles, clumsy gestures, tics. And I believe that they contain the nature of this particular postmodern self.
Each is a small, awkward movement that reveals that the mechanism
does not function with utter fluidity. It may be impossible to escape language, but we can notice small areas in which it momentarily fails, in
which it is flawed. Not that we can finally, then, escape and live free, in
the romantic fantasy. No, what is remarkable about Pontalis is that, without illusions of escape or authenticity, he cherishes that which seems so
uncherishable: clumsiness.
One of his examples is having words fail in a session of analysisfeeling tripped up from what had been an 'assured verbal activity', as he
says.18 It's similar to what most teachers have encountered, too: in my
first year of teaching, Jimmy Pigg asked me a question I just could not
understand and I stood, saying 'ummm' for long, long minutesand yet
15.
16.
17.
18.

Pontalis, Beginnings, p. 5.
Pontalis, Beginnings, p. 8.
Pontalis, Beginnings, p. 14.
Pontalis, Beginnings, p. 85.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

I knew his was an intelligible question. The embarrassment, the sense of


being out of balance, the fear. We usually think of such occurrences as
moments to get past, and we hope never to return to them. We hope to
outgrow them. It is striking and odd to encounter someone who values
clumsiness and who wants to make it a crucial aspect of who we are.
So what do we have? Who is this self, this weave of linguistic material
that is both aesthetic and full of holes, love and hate, and makes clumsy
gestures? I can't help seeing it as a particularly adolescent self. And I
wonder if there isn't a rather thorough affinity between the postmodern
imaginings of the self and adolescence. I say this realizing the pejorative
connotations of adolescence, but by no means do I wish to hold the
postmodern self up to ridicule (though I don't decline the pejorative
connections, either). Isn't the adolescent self, in fact, a powerfuland
valuableway to imagine ourselves? Doesn't it incorporate an awareness of our own strangeness, a defiance of absolutes, a willingness to
experiment, a delight in cacophony, an emotional vulnerability, an awkwardness in the established ways of the world, a confrontation with a
multiplicity of ruptures, a frank and confusing encounter with desire?
But let's consider what psychologists say of adolescence. First, they
consider it a 'disturbed state;' in fact, Irving Weiner declares that adolescents 'display symptoms that, in an adult, would suggest psychopathology'.19 Erik Erikson sees the chief characteristic of adolescence to be
the questioning 'of all samenesses and continuities relied on earlier' in
life.20 This disruption seems to have two aspects in Erikson's view.
There is the 'selective repudiation' of the previous, child's self, along
with the 'readiness to isolate and, if necessary, to destroy those forces
and people whose essence seems dangerous to one's own'.21 On the
other hand, there is the need to find a 'niche' that will enable the
adolescent to establish a 'bridge' between the old self and a new one.22
It is as the result of these tensions that we see (and remember) the
familiar construction of the adolescent:
labile and unpredictable behavior, lack of commitment, semideliberate
experimentation with dangerous or deviant behavior, and experimentation
with fantasy and introspection, the latter involving conscious awareness of
many thoughts and impulses that are ordinarily repressed by adults.23
19. Irving Weiner, Psychological Disturbance in Adolescence (New York: John
Wiley & Sons, 1970), p. 41.
20. Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society (New York: W.W. Norton, 1950), p. 261.
21. Erikson, Childhood and Society, p. 264.
22. Erikson, Identity: Youth and Crisis (New York: W.W. Norton, 1968), pp. 15658.
23. Weiner, Disturbance, p. 44.

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103

This is very close to the construction of the self performed in Pontalis's autobiography. Pontalis is as acutely aware of the fraudulence and
authoritarianism of social constructionsof semiotic systems, 'languages'as Holden Caulfield. It is in his recollection of the injustice of
an arbitrary grading system, and his rejection of the exclusive claims of
either school or vacations at his grandmother's ('I see an abuse of power
in the notion that a single place could claim to contain everythingI
suspect a totalitarian annexation!').24 Above all his 'repudiation...of
sameness and continuity' appears in his suspicion and rejection of the
claims of language. He says of his actual adolescence that 'there was
nothing to invent, other than a few minor variations on the syntax of
tasks and days', and he adds that 'this shift towards being detached
without being able to be caught or attached elsewhere, this shift that
makes me lose my moorings without giving me map and compass in
exchange...! have gone on experiencing'.25 It is a repudiation (he continues) of 'language [when it] claims to be absolute master and is ignorant of what it is heir toa succession of deaths and murders'.26 Like a
long succession of adolescents, Pontalis is an 'impotent rebel', a 'nomad,
a deserter'.27 And language like childhood and the adult world is a
'beautiful absent stranger'.28
Erikson's 'niche' has its parallel in Pontalis's 'hollows', perhaps the
most striking concept in his book. He needs (and achieves), he says, a
'refuge.. .like the hiding-place children find in the hollow of a cave or of
a hedge'.29 The hollow is the 'shift towards being detached without
being able to be caught or attached elsewhere';30 it is what enables him
to pull away from 'adherence to a cause, to a doctrine, to a discourse
which claims to dictate rules, to establish authority';31 it is the reminder
of the 'deaths and murders' in language.32 The wobble, the clumsiness
and the ticthe 'accidents' that fill the 'sack of memory'indicate that
semiotic systems are imperfect and unable to totalize; that they are
hollow. The holes in that sack are its hollows, as well. They are safe
places, apart; though they are also dangers, for we fear, Pontalis says,

24.
25.
26.
27.
28.
29.
30.
31.
32.

Pontalis, Beginnings, pp. 5, 64.


Pontalis, Beginnings, pp. 81-82.
Pontalis, Beginnings, p. 85.
Pontalis, Beginnings, pp. 7, 17.
Pontalis, Beginnings, p. 18.
Pontalis, Beginnings, pp. 24-25.
Pontalis, Beginnings, p. 82.
Pontalis, Beginnings, p. 84.
Pontalis, Beginnings, p. 85.

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that they are bottomless holes and not hollows.33 'Hollows', Pontalis
memorably declares, 'are the breathing of my life. As for death, it's a
hole'.34
Erikson's 'labile and unpredictable behavior' or Weiner's 'symptoms
that, in an adult, would suggest psychopathology' are predicated upon
adolescence being a stage and one that passes. They are written from
'further on'. If I am correct about Pontalisthat he provides us with a
model of the self that is significantly adolescentit does not 'move on',
and much the same could be said of Mark Taylor, endlessly erring (and
currently playing with body piercings and tattoos), or Charles Winquist,
in quest of intensity.35 And since so many intellectual movements have
laid claim to maturity, the postmodern claim is not only exasperating but
refreshing. Like adolescents, themselves, of course.

33. Pontalis, Beginnings, p. 84.


34. Pontalis, Beginnings, p. 86.
35. Mark C. Taylor, Hiding (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

PartIV
Re-visioning Gender

Pamela Sue Anderson


Writing on Exiles and Excess:
Toward a New Form of Subjectivity

1. Introduction
In writing on exiles and excess Julia Kristeva offers us material which is
both dangerous and transformative for subjectivity. Essentially in Kristevan terms, exiles can achieve a privileged perspective from which they
can recognize the trace of otherness, while excess is that trace which
exiles can discover beyond identity, that is, as the otherness which has
been repressed and marginalized.1 My contention is that Kristeva's writing on exiles and excess has particular relevance for the transformation
of subjectivity: it requires risking any static form of gendered identity.
As a Bulgarian postgraduate in 1977 Paris, Kristeva writes in French
on exile; she speaks as a new type of female intellectual. In a succinct
passage, her writing anticipates much of what I hope to convey in this
paper, and much of what Kristeva herself comes to portray in one of her
novels. So consider the English translation of this passage from 1977:

1. Julia Kristeva, 'A New Type of Intellectual: The Dissident' (trans. Sean Hands),
in Toril Moi (ed.), The Kristeva Reader (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), pp. 292-300
(originally published as an editorial in Tel Quel 74 [Winter 1977], pp. 3-8). In the editor's words: 'In her description of the new politics of marginality, she indicates how a
move away from the purely verbal level of politics (mentioning colour, sound and
gesture as alternatives) would mobilize the forces necessary to break up the symbolic
order and its law. The article, however, does not reject law and society; rather it
hopes for a new law and a different society. Drawing on the experience of marginality
and exile, whether physical or cultural, the intellectual can still spearhead a certain
kind of subversion of Western bourgeois society... In addition.. .Kristeva here gives a
brief and lucid outline of her analysis of the position of women within the symbolic
order' (Moi, The Kristeva Reader, p. 292).
In sharp contrast to Toril Moi's view, Margaret Atack more than ten years later is
far less persuaded by Kristeva's account of the subversive role of the intellectual,
finding it lacks originality as well as veracity; see Atack, 'The Silence of the Mandarins:
Writing the Intellectual and May 68 in Les Samourais', Paragraph: A Journal of
Modern Critical Theory, Special Issue: 'Powers of Transgression/Julia Kristeva', ed.
Anne-Marie Smith, 20.3 (November 1997), pp. 240-57.

ANDERSON: WRITING ON EXILES AND EXCESS

107

You will have understood that I am speaking the language of exile. The
language of the exile muffles a cry, it doesn't ever shout. No doubt it is for
this reason that it produces symptoms which, when written by me (as
either signifier or signified), are of course, personal, but also inevitably
become symptoms of the French language. Our present age is one of exile.
How can one avoid sinking into the mire of common sense, if not by
becoming a stranger to one's own country, language, sex and identity?
Writing is impossible without some kind of exile.
Exile.. .involves uprooting oneself from a family, a country or a language.
More importantly, it is an irreligious act that cuts all ties, for religion is
nothing more than membership of a real or symbolic community which
may or may not be transcendental, but which always constitutes a link, a
homology... The exile cuts all links, including those that bind [her] to the
belief that the thing called life has A Meaning guaranteed by the dead
father. For if meaning exists in the state of exile, it nevertheless finds no
incarnation, and is ceaselessly produced and destroyed in geographical or
discursive transformations. Exile is a way of surviving in the face of the
dead father, of gambling with death, which is the meaning of life, of stubbornly refusing to give in to the law of death.2

To explore the relevance of what Kristeva calls 'the language of the


exile' (in the above) for a transformation of one's gendered identity, I
will divide my paper into three parts. First, the longest part will focus
upon the form and content of her second novel, The Old Man and the
Wolves originally written in French in 1991.3 It is a highly relevant novel
for understanding the changing forms of our psychic and material lives.
The novel shows us how the forms of human lives change at points of
temporal and spatial transition, especially at the boundaries to the world
of a new age.
Second, I will consider the connections of The Old Man and the
Wolves with subjects' experiences of mourning in terms of lost love,
especially in the psychic life of women (such as Kristeva herself). On the
one hand, there is symbolically speaking 'the mourning at the death' of a
loving figureeither within the terms of the Christian religion,
symbolizing the death and resurrection of the Son of God, or within the
terms of 'the death of God', resulting from the loss of belief in a loving
God the Father. On the other hand, there is the particular mourning of
the central female character in The Old Man and the Wolves, Stephany
Delacour, for the death of her own father; in turn, mourning recalls the
figure of a loving 'imaginary father', with both maternal and paternal
qualities, at the beginning of individual prehistory before the infant has a
2. Kristeva, 'A New Type of Intellectual', p. 298.
3. Kristeva, The Old Man and the Wolves (trans. Barbara Bray; New York:
Columbia University Press, 1994; French original 1991).

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sexual identity. The notion of 'the imaginary father at the beginning of


individual prehistory' will be discussed critically further on. Yet at this
stage the imaginary father should be understood in psycholinguistic
terms, as the figure in a crucial moment of the formation of subjectivity:
this figure initiates the dissolution of the bond with the maternal body,
before the child can become a speaking subject and so take up their
identity within the symbolic order.4
Third, the shortest and final part will confront the psycholinguistic
account of Kristeva herself as an exile. As a female intellectual, she
writes as an exile and on exiles. But, at the very same time, she writes
on excess in love and passion. 'Excess' in Kristeva's language of exile
means the residue which exceeds the categories of a social-symbolic
identity; excess is that which threatenseven rendering impossible
the static identity of subjects. For this reason, Kristeva offers an account
of subjects-in-process, in which the boundaries of subjectivity are not
static.5 And so we find Kristeva writing passionately, in The Old Man
and the Wolves, about the metamorphoses of human subjectivity which
occur at the transition from one age to another.
An early indication of the relevant message in Kristeva's novel suggests that a philosophical exploration of what is excessive in our psychic
life as particular and general subjects will reveal a global world suffering
the loss of mediating figures of love. Most importantly, there is violence
in the loss of a loving, maternal/paternal figure who could make possible
the successful assimilation of individual subjects into society and language. After the loss of the imaginary figure who ideally enabled the
maturing child or subject to move successfully into a linguistic world,
Kristeva's novel portrays the banality of evil; this banality results from
the dissolution of the line between good and evil (delineated by this
symbolic order).
My focus in this paper will, gradually, move from Kristeva's fiction to
Kristeva's life; so the reader moves from her highly metaphorical novel
with several levels of meaning concerning human identities, death and
life, to her personal and intellectual autobiography which could reveal a
transformative potential. The most urgent question is, can the potential
for the transformation of subjectivity be realized, as suggested by Kristeva, by exiles in excess?
4. Julia Kristeva, 'Stabat Mater' (trans. Leon S. Roudiez), in Moi (ed.), The Kristeva Reader, pp. 160-86.
5. Interestingly Luce Irigaray also acknowledges excess as that which renders
impossible either masculine or feminine identity as an onto-theology, i.e. as a foundation for all being; cf. Irigaray, This Sex which is Not One (trans. Catherine Porter;
New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 78.

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2. A Novel of Unstable Identities, Evil and Metamorphoses


The epigraph to The Old Man and the Wolves is from the Latin poet
Ovid: 'I resolved to tell of creatures being metamorphosed into new
forms.' Frequently citing from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Kristeva's novel
recalls, while recording anew, vivid pictures of the ways in which the
transformations of subjectivity are driven by fear and hatreddue to a
loss of belief or love. Equally such fear could be due to a dissolution of
both, for instance, in the loss of belief in a loving father. In part one of
the novel, Kristeva presents the psychic life of an aging male intellectual:
'the Old Man' who is a father and professor of Latin. In parts two and
three, Kristeva explores the psychic life of the female investigator-analyst: Stephany Delacour who, as a marginal figure, plays the role of a
lover and a grieving daughter. Each of these charactersmale and
femaleexperience the dissolution of boundaries in especially acute
and specific ways. The reader of Kristeva's The Old Man and the Wolves
finds that dissolution results not only from violence and death, but
equally from a blurring of the boundaries between good and evil,
between ethics and the loss of human embodiment. As the novel progresses the 'faces' of women and men increasingly appear on the bodies
of wolves; so the reader knows their bodies have been changed. Human
forms are changed into wolves who, then, symbolize the loss of boundaries; in this case, they lose the ethical distinctions which should characterize human incarnation.
To catch a glimpse of the way in which the metamorphoses take
place, listen to the Old Man in the novel as he thinks to himself and then
speaks about the invasion of the wolves. This becomes a sinister invasion insofar as the human subjects refuse to acknowledge anything
'disagreeable':
experience had taught him that when you tell some people something disagreeable, they think they're doing you a favour if they contradict you. The
fact was that when he saw gray-coated sharp-nosed carnivores slinking
singly or in packs through houses and gardens or ferreting in closets, he
saw them wearing people's faces and heard them uttering human speech.
Some were white and swift and highly bred. Others were more like halfstarved curs from the highlands. But they were all from the frozen north
and the steppes, and they were all ravenous and without mercy. They
would eat carrion if they must, but they preferred a living prey.

[In speaking out, he exclaims:]


6.

Kristeva, The Old Man and the Wolves, p. 7.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER
'You [may] talk about domesticating [wolves]... A few thousand years ago,
perhaps. But now?... No, you're turning into wolves yourselveswild
beasts fighting against one another. I don't recognize you any more.'7

This novel about invading wolves is set in a fictional, Eastern European


city, Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara also has affinities with a megalopolis in
America or possibly in Western Europe. Santa Barbara, then, represents
both the barbarity of the collapsed, formerly Communist cities of Europe
and the vulgarity of modern consumer societiesin the end, each face
the banality of evil. Kristeva questions 'whether the destruction of totalitarianism is truly a renewal or only a masquerade of the old, a ruse': 4s
the old regime really dead, or is it masquerading under a new nomenklatura more smoothly attuned to the image-making process than the
previous one, greedy for money but yet incapable of creating it and
managing it?'8
This fictional, yet historically significant city is compared to the declining Roman Empire:9 here history does not unfold in a definite manner;
and the characters do not embody stable identities. Kristeva achieves the
comparison to ancient Rome by having the Old Man as the retired professor of Latin refer to Ovid. In the first part of the novel, one can hear
the Old Man thinking about Ovid's insight concerning human metamorphoses at the time of the great empire's decline:
[The Old Man] saw.. .transition in the changing shapes that filled the pages
of Ovid, transforming an incestuous girl into a sweet-smelling shrub, a
murderess into a bitch, an egoist into a flower, an amorous sister into a
river, a group of randy ladies into trees, a king into a woodpecker, a town
into a heron, Caesar into a starbut not yet a man into God. For while the
changes that took place in Ovid were punishmentsor, at the very least,
tokens of disapprovalthe being who imposed them seemed to take as
much pleasure in the obloquy of the offense as in its chastisement. Was his
intention to wipe out the sin, or to immortalize it?

In such a time of transition there is no transcendent, omnibenevolent


God. Instead the gods like humans offend; and so they too are metamorphosed into other shapes. But if the gods change, then there can be
neither order nor forgiveness.
7. Kristeva, The Old Man and the Wolves, p. 9.
8. Kristeva, 'Interview: The Old Man and the Wolves', in Ross Mitchell Guberman (ed.)///<z Kristeva: Interviews (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996),
p. 168.
9. There is an underlying analogy here with Sofia, Kristeva's home city in Bulgaria (as part of a 'subtext'), and Byzantium or Constantinople, a capital city of the
Roman Empire.
10. Kristeva, The Old Man and the Wolves, pp. 16-17.

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111

Similarly instead of finding order, the reader of The Old Man and the
Wolves finds fragmentation: the narrative of Kristeva's novel is broken
up by a multiplicity of codes and voices. The oscillating narrativethat
is, from the recording of psychic lives to detective storyas well as the
duplication and dissolution of character's identities, all together present
the experience of contemporary culture in a process of metamorphosis.
The novel's story unfolds by revealing the increasingly hideous nature of
a culture in its transition from goodness and order (back) to corruption
and disorder. At the same time, the novel enacts the drama of excessive
passion in the psychic and material lives of the Old Man and Stephany
most of all, but in addition, in the lives of two, other central characters:
Alba and Vespasian. Alba is the at-one-time favourite, long-devoted student of the Old Man; but after marrying Vespasian, a doctor who refuses
to believe in the existence of wolves, Alba falls into a life of deadening
hatred; accepting the banality of evil Alba not only comes to hate her
husband, but in the end, seems to be an accomplice in the murder of the
Old Man.11 Above all, Kristeva's metaphors'the Old Man' and 'the
wolves'give fragile form to the psychic inscriptions that border on the
unnameable.
The subtext to Kristeva's use of metaphor is Marcel Proust's account
in the third volume of his The Remembrance of Things Past. In Proust's
words,
An image presented to us by life brings with it, in a single moment, sensations which are in fact multiple and heterogeneous... what we call reality
is a certain connexion between these immediate sensations and the memories which envelop us simultaneously with them...a unique connexion
which the writer has to rediscover in order to link for ever in his phrase
the two sets of phenomena which reality joins together...truth will be
attained by [the author] only when he [she] takes two different objects,
states the connexion between them...and encloses them...within a metaphor.12

The central metaphor in Kristeva's novel is the wolves, but the figure of
the Old Manthe fatheris perhaps more problematic. It should be
explained that there have been numerous criticisms of Kristeva's use of
metaphor elsewhere. Admittedly the object of this criticism is more
frequently the maternal metaphor. The metaphor of 'the mother' runs
the dangers of reinstating an ontotheology; this includes the danger of
creating a new religion of women on the basis of the mother being
11. See n. 27 below.
12. Kristeva, 'Interview: The Old Man and the Wolves', p. 164; cf. Marcel Proust,
The Remembrance of Things Past (trans. C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin;
3 vols.; London: Chatto & Windus, 1981), pp. 924-25.

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fundamental to all other meaning.13 But the duplication of identities of


'the father' metaphor, as a recurring trope of resemblance, obviously
faces similar dangers. Perhaps the figure of the Old Man should be
treated instead as metonymy only, that is, as a mere trope of relation.
Nevertheless, the fundamental issueno matter which figurerests with
the question of whether the nature of the trope is strictly linguistic, with
no ontological import, in both its formation of the subject and its
expressions of the subject's longing for the loving maternal/paternal,
pre-Oedipal figure as fundamental to all being, that is, to human existence. If strictly linguistic the problematic metaphorswhether of 'the
(archaic)14 mother' or 'the Old Man'may then be mere metonymy,
avoidingthe charge of ontotheology. Supposedly the linguistic (as opposed to its ontological) use of the metaphorical figure would not establish that, by analogy, a personal God is the unchanging foundation of a
gendered identity.15 Instead subjectivities would be constituted in a
13. See nn. 5 above and 14 below. Also see: Domna Stanton, 'Difference on Trial:
A Critique of the Maternal Metaphor in Cixous, Irigaray and Kristeva', in Nancy K.
Miller (ed.) The Poetics of Gender (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp.
161-5; Marilyn Edelstein, 'Metaphor, Meta-Narrative, and Mater-Narrative in Kristeva's
"Stabat Mater"', in David Crownfield (ed.), Body/Text in Julia Kristeva: Religion,
Women and Psychoanalysis (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992),
pp. 27-52. However, the role of metaphor in Kristeva is not always clear, and even her
early critics acknowledge this:
As the trope of similitude, metaphor affirms the verb to beA is (like) B
or the notion of 'being as', and thus has an ontological foundation...
Derrida concurs with Heidegger that 'the metaphorical exists within the
metaphysical and represents a religious construct'...
The hidden ontotheology of the maternal metaphor is ignored and implicitly denied by [the] exponents of la difference feminine, even though
they oppose essentialist and religious thinking... Concurrently Kristeva
cautions feminists against the 'naively romantic' belief in identity... The
feminist assertion of being, she states, is theological: 'women must stop
making feminism a religion' (Stanton, 'Difference on Trial', pp. 161-62).
14. See the reference to the 'archaic' mother in the next footnote.
15. Kathleen O'Grady, 'The Pun or the Eucharist', Literature and Theology, 11.1
(March 1997), pp. 93-115. According to O'Grady:
The symbiotic union between the child and the maternal container is disturbed by this third element, not a person, but a non-anthropomorphic,
social and linguistic representation of the love that the archaic mother
expresses for someone outside the mother-child dyad. Despite their names,
neither the archaic mother, nor the imaginary father are gendered subjects, since sexual awareness does not occur prior to the emergence of the
oedipal ego. Rather, the third party is someone for whom the mother expresses desire, someone other than the child and it is this ternary

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113

linguistic process, by both metaphors and metonymies: that is, the gendered identities of subjects would displace themselves as one name
resembles and relates to another. This process takes place in the novel
as the identities of characters and narrators (author/authored) duplicate
and dissolve.
In an interview about The Old Man and the Wolves, Kristeva explains
that the first part, The Invasion', represents the twilight of the gods,
that is, the end of an era of theistic belief. This twilight in turn is given
meaning in the second part, 'Detective Story', which shapes the plot
into an ethics of knowledge: knowing ought to involve acknowledging
evil.16 In fact it seems that no one's life is beyond the banality of this
evil. Finally, in the third part of the novel, 'Capriccio', the reader recognizes Stephany Delacour as a successful analyst insofar as she succeeds
at imposing a diary form upon the mystery in the novel, while exposing
the need for a solution to a crime. As the detective-analyst, Stephany discovers that the Old Man has been murderedand knows that she ought
to unravel the truth about (who committed) this murder.17 Thus the
novel begins in a negative, confused universe; it is, next, transformed
into a detective story; and ultimately, the reader sees Stephany holding a
careful vigilance over death: in the end, this vigilance provides the decisive resistance of life against death and psychosis.
The character of Stephany, in the end as a daughter-journalist-detective-analyst, adds the distinctive Kristevan, psychoanalytic dimension to
the novel. With Stephany, Kristeva suggests that the maladies of our
souls ought to be investigated and cured. And this gives another indication that the ethical message of psychoanalysis constitutes an ethics of
knowledge: if we can know that evil exists, then it should be confronted: and this confrontation can begin as soon as we come to know,
or become aware of, an interior space which reveals our relationship to
otherness outside and in ourselves. As Kristeva reflects,
[Stephany's] subjective experience, her sensibility as a woman, a child, a
lover is a veritable counterweight to death and hatred. If Stephany is able
to undertake this investigative work and confront crime, it is because she
doesn't ignore her personal experience, because she is plunged to a point
of rapture, and not without cruelty, into the pain that mourning imposes
on us: mourning for her own father, until then repressed, awakens on
the occasion of the Old Man's mourning... Without this interior space,
structure that diverts the homogeneity between the mother-child entity
(O'Grady, 'The Pun or the Eucharist', pp. 101-102).
16. Kristeva, Interview: The Old Man and the Wolves', pp. 165-66.
17. Kristeva, The Old Man and the Wolves, pp. 176-78, 183.

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sculpted out by mourning but given shape by other erotic upheavalsfor
mourning is an eroticism full of undulations, without the smooth
visage of joyno working-out of truth is possible. No investigation, no
knowledge.

In the light of Kristeva's own fundamental presuppositions, the Kristevan novel must involve psychoanalysis; and in The Old Man and the
Wolves the analyst is a woman who, precisely as a woman, can be especially sensitive to the personal experience of loss. This is 'analysis' from
the Greek for 'dissolution'. The dispersal of boundaries happens through
analysis and yet, more creatively here, through allegory. The very boundaries which constitute identity, notably the boundaries between the
interior and the external worlds, would seem to collapse. The Old Man
and the Wolves is anchored in pain, as Kristeva explains (in the same
interview), 'to which allegory aims to give significance without fixing
it...having it vibrate, in an oneiric way, according to each reader's personal framework of ordeals and choices'.19 Without a doubt, the allegory
is built on the wolves as metaphor: 'the wolves are contagious; they
infect people to the extent that one can no longer make out their human
faces: they symbolize everyone's barbarity, everyone's criminality. They
finally signify the invasion of banality, which erases the entire criterion
of value amid the racketeering, corruption, wheeling and dealing [of a
world of enterprise money]'.20 Kristeva makes more radical an idea
presented by Hannah Arendt earlier in the twentieth century: evil has
become banalever more ordinary.21

3. The Novel and the Transitions in the


Subject's Psychic Life
Allow me to develop this last statement about the banality of evil. In particular, I will consider the writing on evil in the novel: evil will be linked
with excess. If evil is ordinary, if it is so banal that no one escapes it, then
why are exiles crucial to the Kristevan analysis/allegory of evil? There
appears to be significance in (imagining) the marginality of exiles. Exiles
have a privileged perspective from the margins insofar as they remain on
the edge of speech, of community, of consciousness. Exiles can possess
an epistemic view which sheds light upon the banality of evil that is

18. Kristeva, 'Interview: The Old Man and the Wolves', p. 166.
19. Kristeva, 'Interview: The Old Man and the Wolves', p. 164.
20. Kristeva, 'Interview: The Old Man and the Wolves', p. 165.
21. See Julia Kristeva, Le genie feminin (Paris: Editions Fayard, 1999). This is her
biography of a female intellectual, Hannah Arendt.

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eating away at the centre of a social-symbolic order.22 Exiles experience


evil as a particular form of oppression; at the same time, they offer a
potential perspective from which both the oppressor and the oppressed
can mutually recognize their respective culpability.23 In other words, a
new perspective can be gained from the standpoint of excessthat is,
by thinking from the residual of love and passion which appears
excessive.
What, more precisely, does marginality contribute to either the knowledge or the transformation of the subject and its other? Kristevan psycholinguistics may not have an explicit, epistemological answer. Yet at
the very least Kristeva follows post-Hegelian philosophy in implying that
marginality can offer a new standpoint on good and evilfor an 'ethics
of knowledge'. Even if she offers no solution to social oppression, Kristeva persists in seeking the ethical and epistemological significance of
the exile's borderline experiences. On the margins of literary and cultural experience, subjects can discover the excessiveness of passion
which has been excluded by the dominant social-symbolic order; potentially, excess can reveal the values which have been missed or lost. Writing on exiles and excess became the vital focus of Kristeva and her
poststructuralist contemporaries in the 1970s: they sought to overcome
the narrowness of vision which allows (the invasion of) evil and threatens death. Kristeva had already placed herself on the boundaries of
thought in the late 1960s when she began writing in Paris.
In another interview Kristeva describes retrospectively the beginning
of her own intellectual life with her contemporaries in Paris, asserting
that: 'By focusing on excessesavant-garde writing, psychotic states,
hallucinatory or oneiric states, sexualities, marginal and rebellious groups
we made passion into the unexpressed side of normalcy'.24 In
psycholinguistic terms,

22. For relevant critical discussion on epistemic privilege, see assessments of


feminist standpoint epistemology; cf. Sandra Harding, 'Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology: 'What is Strong Objectivity'?', in L. Alcoff and E. Potter (eds.) Feminist Epistemologies (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 49-82; Bat Ami Bar On, 'Marginality and
Epistemic Privilege', in Alcoff and Potter, FeministEpistemologies, pp. 83-100; Pamela
Sue Anderson, ' "Standpoint": Its Rightful Place in a Realist Epistemology\Journal of
Philosophical Research (forthcoming).
23. See the discussion of the dialectic of master and slave in G.W.F. Hegel, The
Phenomenology of Spirit (trans. A.V. Miller; Oxford: Oxford University Press Paperback, 1977), pp. 111-19.
24. Julia Kristeva, 'Julia Kristeva Speaks Out', in Guberman (ed.) Julia Kristeva:
Interviews, p. 259.

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scription [writing] and writer invest in language in the first place precisely
because it is a favorite objecta place for excess and absurdity, ecstasy
and death. Putting love into words,25 and this stresses the utterance more
than the prepositional act...necessarily summons up not the narcissistic
parry but what appears to me as narcissistic economy. Such and such
loving speech that we view as being in a state of uncertainty and
metaphorical condensation reveals the continuity of the narcissistic economy, and this includes the 'insignificant' love experience that does not
dare express itself differently from what is on the surface, does not venture to seek its logic beyond the looking glass where lovers bewitch each
other. Because it thus speaks love's painful but also constituent truth, that
scription attracts us.

Consistent with the above terms, The Old Man and the Wolves puts
experiences of love into words, especially writing about those experiences of passion which fail to embody love.27 The Old Man and the
Wolves is 'a place of death': it is the writing of the ecstasy and grief
which surround an other's death. Love and death, excess and absurdity,
render the overall theme of this novel: mourning. Mourning represents a
crucial transition within the subject's psychic life; it is a moment at
which boundaries begin to dissolve in relation to the other who has
died. The Old Man becomes the Other in a sense not fully nameable; he
is, as already stated, the professor of Latin, but he is also named Septicius
Clarus and Scholasticus. And yet the Old Man remains foremost the
loving father who faces violence and death. In contemporary literary
circles, a father's love and love for the father may not be a popular
theme in writings on gender. However, we must at this stage be clear
that in her novel-writingin creating this allegoryKristeva is in fact
mourning her own father's death. Her aim is to represent the transformative potential of love for the father: this love is meant to serve as an
antidote to the barbarity of the city, Santa Barbara.
Crucially, love for the father is an interior experience which the
woman author/analyst, as a daughter, lays bare, as if it were a secret and
as if it were behind her passion for life. The Old Man is not a hero, not a
master, and yet Stephany (or is it Kristeva?) ties her dream to the enigma
of the Old Man. He is in a sense a man of sorrows, even a Christ-like
25. Cf. Julia Kristeva, The Samurai: A Novel (trans. Barbara Bray; New York:
Columbia University Press, 1992), pp. 1-2, 130-31.
26. Julia Kristeva, 'Throes of Love: The Field of the Metaphor', in Kelly Oliver
(ed.), The Portable Kristeva (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), p. 162; cf.
Julia Kristeva, Tales of Love (trans. Leon S. Roudiez; New York: Columbia University
Press, 1987), pp. 267-68.
27. We see this especially in Alba and Vespasian who end in a marriage of deadening hatred; cf. Kristeva, The Old Man and the Wolves, pp. 56-60, 71-76.

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figure; he suffers because of the world's evils; while fully aware of 'the
wolves', he is eventually overtaken by these figures of evil; he is the
innocent victim of the invading inhumanity. It is, then, highly relevant
that, in her own interpretation of the subject's relation to the father
figure, Kristeva insists: 'What needs to be done under these circumstances is to prepare a place for possible law, and I might also say that it
involves new images of atheism that fit the situation we are experiencing, at the end of a world'.28
The novel's persistent message becomes clear: the ethical import of
psychoanalysis in a world of illusion and transience is that we need love
and its ordering principles for a certain autonomy as ethical subjects.
This message implies that we are able to achieve a crucial, ethical relationship for subjectivity between ourselves and an Other. But note if,
like Kristeva, we follow after Jacques Lacan, Emmanuel Levinas and
Jacques Derrida, then the Other can never be adequately represented, so
it is only the trace of otherness, of that which always remains beyond,
which calls us to an ethical relationship and so, also, to love.29 In the
words of the journalist-detective-analyst, Stephany: 'Atheism, which is
said to be inaccessible to women, who are always in quest of illusions,
that is, of a father-mother lover, opens up for the one who is inhabited
by the desert bequeathed her by the dead father. The choice is henceforth restricted and dangerous. Seeking childhooda kind of madness.
Or wanderingindependence played over and over again'.30 In the
words of the novel's narrator:
It's a well-known fact that Stephany Delacour is a confirmed traveler; the
Old Man himself knew that. Sometimes I tell myself that the thought of it
might have lightened his last moments, but I'm quite ready to admit this is
selfish and presumptuous, because the dying think only of themselves, or
of nothing. With the exception, perhaps, of my father, who, like the Old
28. Kristeva, 'Interview: The Old Man and the Wolves', p. 170.
29. Implied here is Emmanuel Levinas's account of the trace of the other,
especially as taken up by feminist philosophers after Jacques Derrida. For the crucial
links to a feminist account of the ethical relationship to the Other, see Drucilla Cornell, 'Where Love Begins: Sexual Difference and the Limit of the Masculine Symbolic',
in Ellen K. Feder, Mary C. Rawlinson and Emily Zakin (eds.), Derrida and Feminism:
Recasting the Question of Woman (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 161-206, esp. 16263, 178-80, 197-200. For more background on employing the Derridean 'trace' to
signify the maternal body, see Ewa Ziarek, 'At the Limits of Discourse: Heterogeneity,
Alterity, and the Maternal Body in Kristeva's Thought', Hypatia 7.2 (1992), pp. 91108; Martha J. Reineke, Sacrificed Lives: Kristeva on Women and Violence (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), esp. pp. 23-24, 171, 174, 214 n. 6.
30. Kristeva, 'Interview: The Old Man and the Wolves', pp. 170-71; cf. Kristeva,
The Old Man and the Wolves, p. 175.

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Man, was not of this world and so was able to take an unusual view of it.
Unless that's just another illusion on the part of a daughter holding back
her tears and half dead with anguish in the dark night of courage that
people call a journey.31

In the preceding, Kristeva portrays her notion of a subject-in-process:


the very most we can be are subjects in the process of change. As psychoanalyst, she insists that we can become aware of illusions and ceaselessly give them up. But notice, too, there is something very distinctive
about both Stephany's and Kristeva's words (above) in terms of their
female gender. Stephany suggests that atheism is 'said to be inaccessible
to women', while Kristeva refers to 'just another illusion on the part of a
daughter'.
If the larger picture of Kristeva's writings was investigated, however
briefly, with regard to female gender it would become readily evident
that Kristeva maintains a strong focus upon the material body of the
mother. In particular, her work of 1980 translated into English, Powers
of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, presents an original argument concerning the hatred towards the figure of the mother which becomes
evident in the abjectionthat is, expulsionof all traces of her body,
personally and culturally.32 Kristeva argues that this apparent hatred of
femininity is in truth evidence of a more fundamental struggle which
emerges at a time when a boundary is being constituted between subjects inside and outside; the boundary created between infant and
mother is merely the first indication of the process of forming subjectivity. To understand more fully this metamorphosis of subject identity
from infant to adult, Kristeva turns to the imagination. The imagination
functions in Kristeva's material and linguistic account of the subject-inprocess. Ultimately it is the creativity of the imagination in the formation
of subjectivity which leads Kristeva to write on exiles and excess.
Kristeva connects the imagination to instinctive drives. The function
of the imagination becomes evident in the imaginary stage of psychic
development. First of all, the infant creates a form for or before an
object. So in learning to conceive of an independent object the infant
creates the form of breast to distinguish the mother's milk from itself. In
separating itself from the maternal body the nascent subject must, next,
prepare for the eventual identification with non-objectseventually with
words; the infant must be able to identify with words in order to survive
31. Kristeva, The Old Man and the Wolves, p. 175.
32. Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (trans. Leon S.
Roudiez; New York: Columbia University Press, 1982). For another of Kristeva's
important works on the maternal body, see 'Stabat Mater' (French original, 1976), in
Moi, The Kristeva Reader, pp. 160-86; cf. Reineke, Sacrificed Lives, pp. 170-77.

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as a subject. But before the complete identification with language, there


must be a privileged founding moment for the formation of the subject's
identity. So, then, the figure of the imaginary father is created as the
crucial third term between mother and child. The figure of the imaginary
father provides a mysterious externality that allows the initial distinction
between inside and outside to be established. At the same time, this
mysterious figureboth maternal and paternal in its functionsdissolves
boundaries and borders between one identity and another. The literary
theorist Anna Smith captures the distinctive significance of this founding
moment, especially as it is articulated by a woman:
It is significant that the moment of dissolution initiated by a loving fatherfigure is articulated by a woman...the various forms of confusion of identity that Kristeva frequently refers to may in turn be viewed as a kind of
trope for the woman who wishes to be an intellectual. Woman's different
relation to her body and her unique capacity for bearing children have
afforded her a different relation to cultural and social discourse. So when a
woman wishes to both participate in intellectual discourse and to retain a
sense of her female singularity... In Kristeva's case this problematic
seems to shape itself around wanting to argue with the master thinkers
of philosophy while retaining a feminine autobiographical signature.
What results is an almost unthinkable paradigm that only avoids out
and out confrontation between 'masculine' mind and 'feminine' body
by appealing to a transference or metamorphosis that is.. .linguistic. Yet
it is precisely because of its unthinkable nature that the figure of the
female intellectual may be able to illuminate the contemporary experience of the collapse of boundaries and limits precipitated by the death
of god and the failure of the notion of the transcendent.

In the above, it is claimed that Kristeva appeals to a metamorphosis


that is linguistic. But bear in mind that in terms of Kristevan psycholinguistics, language is the condition for all possible meaning and value. If
linguistic metamorphosis can avoid the polarization of 'masculine' mind
and 'feminine' body, then perhaps Kristeva's writing can render possible
the unthinkable: that is, the female intellectual.

33. Anna Smith, Julia Kristeva: Readings of Exile and Estrangement (Bristol:
J.W. Arrowsmith, 1996), pp. 188-89 (italics added). Smith also asks a significant critical question, 'how does the analyst or intellectual discriminate between the transformative impulse towards open systems expressed in [Kristeva's] Tales of Love and the
destructive effects of primary hatred we find in her most recent novel, The Old Man
and the Wolves'? The possibility of endless regression is a real one' (Smith, Julia
Kristeva, pp. 189-90).

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4. The Female Intellectual as Exile:


The Transformation of Subjectivity
In this final part, I would like to establish that Kristeva's own experiences as an exile are both informing her novel and informed by her
intellectual writings on excess. But this dialectical relation with her writing is simultaneously fascinating and worrying, especially in writing on
excess. As stated in the introductory part of this paper, excess is the
residue which exceeds the categories of the social-symbolic orderand
in this case, it is love which is excessive. To illustrate this, let us consider the relation between Kristeva's experience of lost love and the
novel's presentation of mourning, as well as the relation between her
intellectual reflections on exile and her later experiences.
First, notice the way in which Kristeva's experience seems to inform
the theme of mourning in the novel. In an excerpt from the interview
with Kristeva in 1989 concerning her return visit to her country of
origin, Bulgaria, she describes a significant encounter:
President Mitterand...asked me to accompany him on his presidential trip
to Bulgaria. And it was completely overwhelming. I went...
Mitterand wanted to go to religious places to show that he is for a
plurality of consciences and not for communist ideology, which totalizes.
And so in the crypt of the Alexander Netzky church we saw this gentlemen singingit was not a mass; it was a concert of religious musicand I
waved at him. Mitterand asked of me, 'Who is that gentleman?'
I said, 'He's my father.'
'But I absolutely must see him.' They met one another. And then they
talked about the role of art, of faith for the freedom of the individuals, of
the power of art and of song in religious rites. That lasted only ten
minutes, but everyone was delighted. And I was happy to give a gift like
that to my parents. I have the sense of having abandoned them a little. This
was extremely important to me because it was a way of giving homage to
the humility and the exemplary ethic of my father, and also of protecting
him from the authorities of the country, because he was having a great
deal of trouble obtaining a passport to travel to France... And above all,
since he died...[shortly after, in] completely barbarous conditions, this
was my last meeting with him. It remains something very luminous.34

The analogy between Kristeva's own experience and the allegory making
up the novel is now obvious. Kristeva's relationship to her father and to
his death in Bulgaria, in barbarous conditions, constitute the real life subtext to The Old Man and the Wolves. Could we say this allegory, then,
34. Julia Kristeva, 'Cultural Strangeness and the Subject in Crisis', in Guberman
(ed.), Julia Kristeva: Interviews, pp. 50-51; cf. pp. 140, 258.

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signifies Kristeva's process of working through her father's death? It


would appear to signify a form of mourning. Yet it is more: this allegoryas constitutive of a symbolic relationis the very condition for
her writing.
Second, to recognize this condition for Kristeva's writing on excess,
consider her earliest intellectual reflections on exile. She writes that
'exile already in itself.. .involves uprooting oneself from a family, a country or a language... Exile is a way of surviving in the face of the dead
father.. .which is the meaning of life, of stubbornly refusing to give in to
the law of death'.35 It is important to notice that this last statement by
Kristeva on exile comes from the same essay written in 1977, from
which I quoted at the outset of this paper. Note the dateit is some
twelve years earlier than her reflections on the actual death of her father
in 1989-90.36
Hence the point is that Kristeva not only lived symbolically the death
of the father in the language of the exile, but in an uncanny manner
anticipated the actual death of her father in her intellectual writings. In
comparing her earlier reflections on the language of the exile in 1977 to
her 1989 interview, one could say that Kristeva exhibited a virtual foreknowledge of her last 'reunion' with her father in Bulgaria, just before
his death. But whether one believes in such foreknowledge or not, both
the actual and the imagined were necessary for her writing The Old Man
and the Wolvesboth are equally necessary for writing which collapses
boundaries and so transforms subjects' identities.
Furthermore, the dissolution of boundaries in mourning has a particular resonance for the exiled woman. In her 1977 writing Kristeva already
acknowledges this:
A woman never participates as such in the consensual law of politics and
society, but, like a slave promoted to the rank of master, she gains admission to it only if she becomes man's homologous equal. A woman is
trapped within the frontiers of her body and even of her species, and consequently always feels exiled both by the general cliches that make up a
common consensus and by the very powers of generalization intrinsic to
language. This female exile in relation to the General and to Meaning is
such that a woman is always singular, to the point where she comes to
represent the singularity of the singularthe fragmentation, the drive, the
unnameable. This is why philosophy has always placed her on the side of
35. Kristeva, A New Type of Intellectual', p. 298.
36. The interview with Kristeva concerning her trip to Bulgaria originally took
place in 1989, but she was asked some follow-up questions in 1990 for the publication of the interview. It would appear that her father died in either late 1989 or 1990;
cf. Kristeva, 'Cultural Strangeness and the Subject in Crisis', pp. 35-58.

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that singularity37that fragmentation prior to name or to meaning which
one calls the Daemon.38

The subtext for the above, 'for philosophy's placing woman on the side
of singularity', is Hegel's passage in The Phenomenology of Spirit on the
' "woman" as the eternal irony of the community'; and Hegel illustrates
this irony with the role of Antigone in the ancient Greek myth about
burial rites. Hegel represents 'woman' in Western philosophy as both
necessary and threatening (as daughter) for the family.39 The implication
is that Kristeva herself manages a double exile in her role in mourning,
as a woman and an intellectual writer.
To conclude, I would propose that Kristeva has sought to speak
marginalization in the language of the exile, and not to accept the dangerously banal language of so-called common sense. In novel-writing
especially, Kristeva discovers the right to speak excess as the language
of the exile. This is language which ceaselessly produces and destroys
meaning in spatial and linguistic transformations; in speaking excess,
meaning exists. Unless those who are marginalized by culture can speak
their marginalization, they remain trapped in narcissism. Instead of
regressing to childhood or retreating in silence, the marginalized must
claim their autonomy as subjects-in-process; but this choice necessarily
leads to a journey of excess; and this journey involves going back to the
passions which have been excessive, and going forward to the expressions of these passions in a new language, with new laws. Those who
choose to recognize marginality can speak experiences of exile in terms
of excess, since even that which has been excluded by culture (the
unconscious) is always already potentially linguistic. Nevertheless, Kristeva also remains fascinated by the psychic and cultural boundary-states
in which language fails the marginalized. Kristeva defends this fascination by pointing to its significant function in the psychoanalytic process
of transference:
We are no doubt permanent subjects of a language that holds us in its
power. But we are subjects in process, ceaselessly losing our identity,
37. See the discussion of woman in Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, pp. 28889; cf. Kristeva, 'Cultural Strangeness and the Subject in Crisis', in Guberman (ed.),
Julia Kristeva: Interviews, p. 45.
38. Kristeva, 'A New Type of Intellectual: The Dissident', p. 296. Note that
'Daemon' in ancient Greece initially meant spirits of the dead who ensure fertility, yet
Daemon gradually came to stand for the 'gods' like Dionysus who were attractive in
an uncanny, potentially dangerous way.
39- See n. 37 above; cf. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, p. 288; Pamela Sue
Anderson, A Feminist Philosophy of Religion: The Rationality and Myths of Religious Belief (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1998), pp. 190-91.

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destabilized by fluctuations in our relations to the other, to whom we


nevertheless remain bound by a kind of homeostasis. By postulating this
eclipse of subjectivity at the dawn of our life, by sensing a hiatus in subjectivity in moments of intense passion, the psychoanalyst...places exorbitant confidence in the power of transference and interpretive language,
knowing from experience that they are capable, once recognized and
hence named eclipse and hiatus of the subject, of reestablishing the provisional unity of that subject and thus of preparing it for the further trials set
by the life process of the passions.40

Transference in the above account can be understood, in the light of the


rest of this paper, as another term for metamorphosis. In other words, if
successful, transference could achieve a transformation of subjectivity.

5. Conclusion
Kristeva's distinctive account of transference as transformation means
that, not only are we 'subjects in crisis...[who] live in permanent crisis'41 but in 'crisis' lies the greatest possibility for human subjectivity.
Kristeva as a woman, novelist and psychoanalyst confronts the inevitable
irony: continual crisis is the basis of renewal for subjects whose
linguistic identities are caught up in a life process.42
Admittedly, we might still wonder about the dangers of this permanent crisis. I mean, how doindeed shouldwe function as exiles? And
what about the real-life exiles who do not achieve renewal, for example,
the psychotic, the criminal, the so-called deviant and possiblyto be
more specificthe battered wife who, however different, all remain in
their real, abjected forms of exile?43 How can such exiles signify the
meaning of marginality for themselves, let alone for us? To be honest,
Kristeva offers no certainty that, in the end, exile and excess will bring
about a new form of subjectivitynot even the certainty that a new
form of gendered identities will be achieved. Instead the only real hope
in Kristevan psycholinguistics is that as subjects destabilized by changes
in our relations to others, we can discover through the mediation of
meaning in language that the other lives within us. But here, remember
that the trace of otherness, of that which always remains beyond, can
40. Julia Kristeva, In the Beginning was Love: Faith and Psychoanalysis (trans.
Arthur Goldhammer; New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), p. 9.
41. Kristeva, 'Cultural Strangeness and the Subject in Crisis', p. 37.
42. Kristeva, 'Cultural Strangeness and the Subject in Crisis', p. 42.
43. This certainly seems to be the decisive doubt concerning Kristeva presented
by Edith Wyschogrod in Saints and Postmodernism (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1990).

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call us to an ethical relationship and so, also, to love. Thus it is that, in


the mediation of writings on exiles and excess, Kristeva seeks to express
love and passion as 'the unexpressed side of normalcy'.44

44. Kristeva, 'Julia Kristeva Speaks Out', p. 259. For other relevant essays by and
about Kristeva, see: Guberman (ed.), Julia Kristeva: Interviews', Oliver (ed.), The Por
table Kristeva; Kelly Oliver, Reading Kristeva: Unraveling the Double-Bind (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993); Smith, Julia Kristeva, Reineke, Sacrificed
Lives.

Kitty Secular Datta


Female Heterologies: Women's Mysticism,
Gender-Mixing and the Apophatic

How far are recent accounts of women's mysticism from the Middle
Ages onwards true to the complexities of its surviving texts, whether
they be hagiographical (and largely written by men) or personal (and
composed by women themselves)? From the work of recovery and
interpretation done by social and literary historians of the medieval
period, in particular by Caroline Walker Bynum, there has emerged a
typology of women's mysticism as embodied and visionary. This emergence is manifest in the concern with eucharistic devotion, with imitation of Christ's sufferings, and with bridal communion in terms of the
Song of Songs, turning to advantage the masculine identification of
women with bodily and affective life rather than the intellect and theological wisdom.1 The contrast between the stable life of the convent and
the more risk-laden experience of the beguine or third-order laywoman
1. Caroline Walker Bynum's 'Women Mystics and Eucharistic Devotion',
Women's Studies 11 (1984), repr. Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone Publishers, 1991)
is seminal; 'And Woman His Humanity: Female Imagery in the Religious Writing of the
Late Middle Ages', in Caroline Walter Bynum, Steve Harrell and Paula Richman (eds.),
Gender and Religion: On the Complexity of Symbols (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986),
pp. 257-89, makes more of women's 'almost genderless' or androgynous selfhood in
religious writing. Also important are Caroline Walter Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies
in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Los Angeles: University of California
Press, 1982); C.W. Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of
Food to Medieval Women (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987); The
Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1995). Grace M. Jantzen, Power, Gender and Christian Mysticism
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) makes a less nuanced use than Bynum
of the typology to argue a women's mysticism distinct from men's; see also Sarah
Beckwith, Christ's Body: Identity, Culture and Society in Late Medieval Writings
(London: Routledge, 1993). Barbara Newman's 'Some Medieval Theologians and the
Sophia Tradition', Downside Review 108 (1990), pp. 110-30, is corrective; see also
Barbara Newman, Sister of Wisdom: Saint Hildegard's Theology of the Feminine (Los
Angeles: University of California Press; Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1987); and Barbara
Newman, From Virile Woman to WomanChrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and
Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1995).

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has further been linked to differences in the temper of mystical


expression. Though a sense of the Other is implied in much of this historical work, it has been articulated more directly in the psychologically
oriented interpretation of mysticism by French feminist writers.2 This
essay examines how far socio-historical and psychoanalytic approaches
confirm one another, and how far they need to be supplemented by a
renewed theological attention to the significance of the apophatic for
those women whose language moves across gender-boundaries and into
the abyss of the inexpressible.
Interpreters of Hadewijch or Mechthild of Magdeburg or Marguerite
Porete have pointed out how they move easily from a Trinitarianism of
the Father and the Son to a feminine embodiment of Love as the essence
of both revealed godhead and their own ideal selves.3 On the other hand
they may also pass beyond gender into that language of ineffability
available to them particularly in the contemplative writing of St Bernard
of Clairvaux or in the Victorines through their interest in Dionysius the

2. Luce Irigaray, 'La mysterique' (1974) in Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other
Woman (trans. Gillian C. Gill; Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985), pp. 191213; Luce Irigaray, 'Divine Women' (1987), in Luce Irigaray, Sexes and Genealogies
(trans. Gillian C. Gill; New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), pp. 57-72, and
Julia Kristeva (see n. 22 below).
3. Recent translations are Hadewijch, The Complete Works (trans. M. Columba
Hart; Classics of Western Spirituality; London: SPCK, 1981); Susan Clark (ed.),
Mechthild von Magdeburg, Flowing Light of the Divinity (trans. Christiane Mesch
Galvani; New York: Garland Publishing, 1991); Marguerite Porete, The Mirror of
Simple Souls (intro. and trans. Ellen L. Babinsky; New York: Paulist Press, 1993);
Romana Guarnieri (ed.), Marguerite Porete, Le mirouer des simples dmes/Margaretae Porete, speculum simplicium animorum (ed. Paul Verdeyen SJ; Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis, 69; Turnhout: Brepols, 1986).
Recent interpretation includes Louis Bouyer, Figures mystiques feminines (Paris:
Editions de Cerf, 1989); Saskia Murk-Jansen, The Measure of Mystic Thought: A Study
of Hadewijch's Mengeldichten (Goppingen: Kiimmerle Verlag, 1991); Michael L.
Sells, Mystical Languages of Unsaying (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994),
ch. 7, 'Porete and Eckhart: The Apophasis of Gender'; Frank Tobin, Mechthild von
Magdeburg: A Medieval Mystic in Modern Eyes (Columbia, SC: Camden House,
1995); Newman, From Virile Woman to WomanChrist, ch. 5, 'Le mystique courtoise: Thirteenth-Century Beguines and the Art of Love'; Amy M. Hollywood, The Soul
as Virgin Wife: Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Meister Eckhart
(Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995); Saskia Murk-Jansen, 'The Use of
Gender and Gender-Related Imagery in Hadewijch', in Jane Chance (ed.), Gender and
Text in the Later Middle Ages (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996), pp. 5268; Saskia Murk-Jansen, Brides in the Desert: The Spirituality of the Beguines (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1998).

DATTA: FEMALE HETEROLOGIES

127

Areopagite.4 This 'ineffability' had by the early thirteenth century


become also the chosen language of women intent on disengaging
themselves from the world or from merely institutional concerns to
pursue an inner life in obedience to their sense of the transcendent
Other.
What have been called Hadewijch's 'leaps into a fertile unknown'5 are
expressed in both verse and prose:
In the intimacy of the One,
These souls are pure and inwardly naked,
Without images, without figures,
As if liberated from time, uncreated,
Freed from their limits in silent latitude.
Mengeldichten 17, 93-108
Or, from her twentieth letter, 'Here I stop, henceforth incapable of
locating the end or the beginning, or any point of reference that can justify words'.6 The same Hadewijch, however, wrote other poems exploring cataphatic imagery for the divine Other, and a series of Visions tied
to liturgical occasions and biblical texts. In these language is not at a
loss, yet transgresses the rational distinction of categories in a number of
characteristic ways producing surreal effects comparable to the visionary
images in illuminated manuscripts.7 Hadewijch uses bodily language to

4. Babinsky (trans.), Mirror, pp. 226, 229, 230, and Murk-Jansen, Brides in the
Desert, pp. 63, 68-69, 80-81, refer to literary indebtednesss to Cistercian and Victorine
writers; Bouyer, Figures, pp. 23, 36 mentions Richard of Saint-Victor. Robert S.
Lerner, 'The Image of Mixed Liquids in Late Medieval Mystical Thought', Church History 70 (1971) pp. 397-411, notes influence of Bernard, De diligendo Deo 0. LeClerq,
OSB and H.M. Rochais, OSB [eds.], S. Bernardi opera [8 vols.; Rome: Editiones Cistercienses, 1957-77], III, p. 143) on the transformation of human affection into God's
will, 'melting away by some ineffable means' and its influence on Beguine mysticism,
which developed it in more extreme form.
5. The phrase is Danielle Regnier-Bohler's. See her 'Literary and Mystical Voices',
in Christiana Klapisch-Zuber (ed.), A History of Women in the West: Silences of the
Middle Ages (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1992), p. 478.
6. Regnier-Bohler, 'Literary and Mystical Voices', p. 478.
7. See Judith H. Oliver, Gothic Manuscript Illumination in the Diocese of Liege
(c. 1250-c. 1330) (Leuven: Peeters, 1988), pp. 112-19 on women patrons, some of
them beguines; Jeffrey F. Hamburger, The Rothschild Canticles: Art and Mysticism in
Flanders and the Rhineland circa 1300 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990),
pp. 164-67. See also Jeffrey F. Hamburger, Nuns as Artists: The Visual Culture of a
Medieval Convent (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1977); and The Visual
and the Visionary: Art and Female Spirituality in Medieval Germany (New York:
Zone Books, 1998).

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express spirit, the topos of the 'spiritual senses' established since Origen
and Augustine, but in her use presses against its physical limits. As
Michael Sells has put it in Mystical Languages of Unsaying, 'A tension is
engendered in which metaphors are stretched and ultimately shattered
under the demand for a union beyond that which language can
convey'.8 Further, Hadewijch deliberately allows images to collide
against contrary imagesif Love is dew and flowing spring, it is also fire
and helland explains why she uses them: they are 'Forever insufficient
but resonant of eternity'.9 It is necessary to short-circuit any consolation
which falls short of the ineffable, any pleasures of the spiritual way
sought for their own sake rather than as means towards Love's fruition.
The crossing of gender-boundaries is only one of the strategies of dislocation to prevent misapprehension of the inexpressible as solely human,
not divine.
Hadewijch could thus on occasion use mirror-images of the feminine,
such as her stanzas on the nine metaphorical 'months' in which Christ is
inwardly formed in her before his coming to birth; or her startling line, 'I
suffer, I strive with height,/! suckle with my blood', which reverses the
more common feminization of Christ suckling his children from his
wounded side, itself quite startling to those unused to it.10 But she is just
as given to presenting herself in knightly terms of courtly love, with a
feminine Love as the high object of noble male pursuit whose service is
itself a purgative way.11 The secular poetry of courtly love had already
8. Sells, Mystical Languages, p. 125.
9. Columba Hart, Hadewijch, pp. 352-58. Murk-Jansen, Brides in the Desert,
p. 55, translates the hell section:
Forever to be in unrest,
Forever assault and new persecutions,
To be wholly devoured and wholly engulfed
In her (Love's) unfathomable nature,
To founder in incandescence and cold every hour
In the deep high darkness of Love,
This exceeds the pains of hell.
He who knows Love and her comings and goings
Has experienced and can understand
Why it is truly appropriate
That Hell should be the highest name of Love.

10. Columba Hart, Hadewijch, pp. 345-50, 351. Douglas Gray's 'The Five Wounds
of Our Lord', Notes & Queries 208 (1963), pp. 131-32, refers to drinking from Christ's
side in Angela of Foligno, Gertrude of Helfta, Mechthild of Helfta, the English Lofsong
and Latin poems. Clark (ed.), Mechthild von Magdeburg, Flowing Light, 6.24 is another example.
11. This has been well discussed by Newman and Murk-Jansen. It reverses the

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129

before her time moved across gender in addressing the lady as midons
(meus dominus, 'my Lord'). Hadewijch, by feminizing Christ as Love,
reverses the processit is the devotee who is maleand shocks into
recognition of the spiritual level of meaning through the impossibility of
the literal.
There are different angles from which such mixing of gender-language
may be interpreted. One may be tempted to see it as the claiming of
male ground by the woman who feels herself unconfined by the boundaries her society has set her, and as a refusal to be confined within the
ecclesiastical categories of behaviour which limited the expression of
love to this or that. Or, more fundamentally, gender-mixing can be seen
as the expression of the divine as a totality (gheheelheit was Hadewijch's
word) and of the divine call as an entry to range within that totality.12
Michael Sells has pointed to Marguerite Porete's perception, rather like
Hadewijch's, of a feminized God, and to Eckhart's envisioning of God as
both giving birth and begetting.13 For all these writers, and for Ruusbroec who to an extent followed them, entry into the life of the Trinity
was both loss, annihilation of the ordinary phenomenal self, and participation in a numenal dynamism for which all metaphors of human creativity and relation were legitimate.
Hadewijch was not the first woman writer to use the inexpressibility
topos. Hildegard of Bingen wrote of holy women, 'No earthly excellence
can express you; You are encircled in the embrace of divine mysteries',
in a Hymn to Virgins, a poem characteristically almost symboliste in the
fluidity of its imagery.14 Yet her composition on the joy of Mary at
Christ's conception, Ave generosa, is among treatments of this theme
feminization of the soul by St Bernard and other male contemplatives, discussed by
Bynum,/ess as Mother, ch. 4, 'Jesus as Mother and the Abbot as Mother'.
12. Clark (ed.), Mechthild von Magdeburg, Flowing Light, 'Introduction', p. xiii,
is a typical statement of the first view, for gheheelheit see G. Epinay-Burgard, 'L'influence des Beguines sur Ruusbroec', in Paul Mommaers and Norbert de Paepe (eds.),
Jan van Ruusbroec: The Sources, Content, and Sequels of his Mysticism (Mediaevalia
Lovaniensa, 1.12; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1984), pp. 68-85 (82); H.W.D.
Wekeman (ed.), Het visioenenboek van Hadewijch (Nijmegen: Dekker & Van de
Vegt, 1980), pp. 159-77, 'Het dertiende visioen', 11. Ill, 140-48, 295.
13. Sells, Mystical Languages, pp. 151-53 (and p. 285 n. 19), pp. 168-74, 194-95.
At pp. 204-205 he challenges Bynum's distinction between men and women mystics.
14. From the hymn Nobilissima viriditas, que radias in sole ('O most noble
greenness who shines in the sun'), quam nulla terrena excellentia comprehendit, tu
circumdata es amplexibus divinorum mysteriorum, in Barbara Newman (ed. and
trans.), Saint Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia: A Critical Edition of the Symphonia
armonie celestium revelationum (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), pp.
218-19.

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unusually embodied: Venter enim tuus gaudium habuit (Tor your


womb had joy'), Viscera tua gaudium habuerunt...O mater omni
gaudii ('Your flesh had joy... o mother of all joy'), Nunc omnis ecclesia
in gaudio rutilet ('Now let the whole church flush with joy').15 In the
unstructured flow of her Latin and the strange conjunctions of her
imagery within a free melodic line of great originality Julia Kristeva
would doubtless find signs of the semiotic, that expressive capacity
which she has linked to the close originary dwelling in the mother as the
basis of human lyricism. St Augustine had found inexplicable and disturbing the 'secret association' (nescio qua occulta familiaritas)
between emotion and musical expression (rooted by Kristeva in the preverbal maternal bond), and had considered its pleasures in need of control when sought for themselves, but hallowed in God (Confessions, X,
33).16 Hildegard's view of the senses was similar. What she, like some
later women, created was a feminized ideal paradoxically expressing the
disjunction between flesh and spirit at the human level and their
reunion in the divine. According to this ascetic mind-set the language of
sexuality might be used only to express transcendence: only thejouissance of Mary or the saint, the innocent Other of one's feminine self,
might be imagined freely.
To understand how women's mysticism entered French postmodernist discourse involves seeing how provocative were Jacques Lacan's
remarks in his seminar discussion of 1972-73, 'God and the Jouissance
of jfa Woman', in which he spoke of 'one face of the Other, the God
face, as supported by [a] feminine Jouissance' which is 'beyond the phallus', and drew attention to 'Hadewijch d'Anvers, a Beguine' and to St
15. Newman, 'Medieval Theologians', pp. 122-23, no. 17. Compare Newman, Sister of Wisdom, p. 181, on Mary's birth-wounds, turned by God to 'all modes of music
in all blossoms of melody', from 'Life of St Rupert'. This may refer to the angel's promise of a sword wound at the Annunciation, as Hildegard believed, in orthodox fashion,
that Christ was born painlessly through Mary's side. Adam of Saint-Victor's Latin
Annunciation hymns refer characteristically to this, and are much less physical. See
Digby S. Wrangham, The Liturgical Poetry of Adam of Saint-Victor, II (3 vols.; London: Kegan, Paul, Trench & Co., 1881), pp. 36-45.
16. 'Secret association' is the early seventeenth-century rendering by William
Watts. Henry Chadwick, St Augustine's Confessions (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1991), translates 'a mysterious inner kinship'. Among Julia Kristeva's many statements
on this theme, 'Reading the Bible' (1993), in Julia Kristeva, New Maladies of the Soul
(trans. Ross Guberman; New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), p. 120, articulates well the effect of this kind of writing: The maternal is a promised land if you are
willing to leave it, an object of desire if you are willing to renounce and forbid it; the
maternal is delight as well as "murder", an inescapable "abject" whose awareness
haunts you'.

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Teresa of Avila as mystics who experienced ecstasy yet 'knew nothing


about it'.17 He might bypass these women writers' texts in considering
their inwardness, but Luce Irigaray, in 'La Mysterique' (1974) did not.18
Instead in a spectacular essay which is at once a remarkably inclusive
rehearsal of mystical topoi and an interpretation of them in orgasmic
terms poised between metaphor and embodiment, she implies that in
their own wholly feminine and untheoretical way some women have
known not nothing but everything about jouissance, and have expressed it in 'the only place in the history of the West in which woman
speaks and acts so publicly'. Lacan had already been struck by what the
Abbe Rousselot had called St Thomas Aquinas's 'physical theory of love'
in his consideration of proper self-love, that 'everything that is for our
own good will, by dint of that fact, be jouissance of the Supreme Being'.19 This becomes in Irigaray (as of course in her mystical sourcetexts) the self-surrender to the divine approach in the dark passages of
inwardness, 'passive waiting, unpremeditated abandon... Refusal of any
willed, concerted activity that could stand in the path of grace', received
as a transverberating fire, sweeping in an 'excess of excess'. Expression
needs a multiple conjunction of oppositesfire and ice, summer and
winter, midday, midnightyet also nakedness, simplicity, a loss of the
soul's attributes in meeting God beyond attributes, 'the abolition of all
power, all having, all being that is found elsewhere and otherwise'.20
Irigaray now skillfully introduces other mystical themes into her metaphorical narrativerealization in reflection that one has experienced the
love between Father and Son in one's own inner being, the sense of a
body-soul split, abjection, social ostracization, perverse identification
with other outcasts, yet survival through the mutual mirroring gaze exchanged with the wounded Son, and descent into the abyss of the
'fathomless wound' to find 'rest in herself/God' where the inner is also
the transcendent.21 She ends with another familiar paradoxthe Good
is both within and yet needs to be received.
17. English trans, in Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose (eds.), Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the 6cole freudienne (London: Macmillan, 1983). See pp. 13748; pp. 145-47.
18. See above, n. 2.
19. Mitchell and Rose (eds.), Feminine Sexuality, p .142.
20. Irigaray,'La mysterique', pp. 193-96.
21. Irigaray, 'La mysterique', pp. 197-201. Amy M. Hollywood, 'Beauvoir, Irigaray,
and the Mystical', Hypatia 9 (1994), pp. 158-85, notes that Irigaray misses the crossing of gender-boundaries by women mystics (so that their language does not simply
arise from bodily experience) and sees Irigaray as replacing 'God with the body as the
always unattainable and unnameable other towards which language tends'.

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Irigaray's account is rich in apophatic resonances, which qualify the


historians' concentration on embodiment, suffering and vision; yet she
obviously does not lose these themes either, and indeed makes their
veiled eroticism explicit. What emerges is rather a more complex characterization of the mystical as an 'immanent transcendence', trembling
between identity and difference, self and Other, and calling for paradoxical, oxymoronic expression. Latent in her discourse is also the crossing
of gender in the French feminine dme ('soul') whether the mystic is
male or female, and in 'the most female of men, the Son'; but to make
more of the masculine origins of this language or of women's transgression into masculine language would have muddied her argument in its
Lacanian context. Her interest is, all told, in the otherness of the feminine self and its physical-spiritual discovery rather than in the Otherness
of God, that surplus within/beyond mystical language; yet both are
acknowledged. More than that, her mystical narrative, however impressive as an anthologizing tour de force, is her own invention, with no
specific reference to source-texts, and leaves unanswered some questions about the relation of mysticism to suffering. Can this narrative,
however, be called exclusive to women? By including Ruusbroec and
Eckhart in her epigraphs, alongside Angela of Foligno, she implies that it
cannot. Yet her rehearsal of themes is certainly apposite to Hadewijch
whom Lacan specifically mentioned, as it is to Mechthild of Magdeburg
and Marguerite Porete with whom Hadewijch shares an extremity and
an apophatic urge which challenges the historians' paradigm.
While presenting a maternal base for articulated ecstasy, Julia Kristeva
as a practising psychoanalyst has been as much or more concerned in
her writing with the importance of a space of mourning for the necessary loss of that maternal connection in the formation of proper self-love
(or 'narcissism', in Freudian-Lacanian terms) and with the Other of abjection emerging symptomatically when this space of separation has not
been given due place in self-formation.22 Yet unlike Irigaray she is nowhere concerned with medieval women's mysticism, but rather, in Tales
of Love, with the male construction of Mary's maternality and with Hildegard's contemporary the 'maternal' St Bernard. On his 'Cistercian mystique' she bestows the highest philosophic praise for its giving 'autho22. Kristeva makes important reference to the Other and religious language in her
essays 'Stabat Mater' (1976), in Tales of Love (trans. Leon S. Roudiez; New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), pp. 243-63, and 'Women's Time' (1979), Signs 7.1
(1980) (trans. Alice Jardine and Harry Blake), pp. 13-35. See also Julia Kristeva, Powers
of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (trans. Leon S. Roudiez; New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), and Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia (trans. Leon S.
Roudiez; New York: Columbia University Press, 1989).

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133

rization to be ideally egoistic, to mirror oneself in a God who loves and


joys', 'immanent in our nature, carnal and greedy though it may be', and
also authorization to love with 'the passion of the body wrenching
itself, and, as a condition ofjouissance in the Other, to painfully admit a
lack which she elsewhere in her argument calls a wound, 'open, gaping,
mortal, because deprived of a One', the emptiness of separation, 'the
barely covered abyss where our identities, images and words run the risk
of being engulfed'.23 Here 'the Other' is 'to be understood not as a pure
signifier but as the very space of metaphorical shifting'.24 Kristeva's
account of mystical language, in Tales of Love and elsewhere, is particularly valuable in its recognition of how it relates to different stages of
self-growth, so that this 'metaphorical shifting' may express loss or
absence on the way to a desired jouissance, uncertainty and pain, as
well as the mysterious juncture of 'the body and the name...not only
placed on the same level but fused in the same logic of undecidable
infinitization, semantic polyvalance brewed by the state of loveseat of
the imagination, source of allegory'.25 (This on the style of the Song of
Songs.) Tales of Love is at once a psycho-history, an analysis, or series of
analyses, and a critique of Western civilization through major cultural
texts and their languages, indicating problems attendant on the modern
loss of the Other as Ego-Ideal. It is in this frame that Bernard gives what
she considers the 'most adequate and powerful means to define man's
being as lover', 'satisfying drive-impelled narcissism while raising it above
its own realm' towards 'the other, others', both divine and social.26
Within Kristeva's frame only one woman mystic does eventually
appear, Jeanne Guyon, mother, widow, and autobiographer, a late
seventeenth-century follower in the apophatic line to which Marguerite
Porete made a particular contribution (though Kristeva makes no reference to her feminine forbears).27 The 'pure silence' of interior prayer
chosen by Mme Guyon, the refusal of images and the incarnational
except for worship of the Christ-child, a sublime peace through annihilationthese Kristeva describes as 'transformation of the Self into an
unnameable nothingness, without sight or thought, and yet glorious in

23. Kristeva, Tales of Love, pp. 42, 121, 167-68.


24. Kristeva, Tales of Love, p. 38.
25. Kristeva, Tales of Love, p. 90.
26. Kristeva, Tales of Love, p. 167. 'Man' here includes 'woman'. Whatever the
differences she recognizes in men's and women's experience, mysticism is not
involved in her perception of difference.
27. Kristeva, Tales of Love, pp. 297-317, 'A Pure Silence: The Perfection of Jeanne
Guyon'.

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the knowledge that it is within the Other's love'.28 Like Porete (who was
persecuted and eventually burnt at the stake in 1310) Guyon came
under Rome's censure. They both conceived of themselves as 'deified';
and for both these 'contemplatives of the void' written language 'remains
a site of pleasure' in which they were prolific. In Kristeva's view , they
lived on the 'border between the not-yet-Self and the Other: the verge of
narcissism, of the emptiness that laps against the ideal'.29
Recent scholarship has acknowledged the strong evidence of Eckhart's
debt to Porete's language, and has discovered how her forbidden text
survived inquisition and was translated into English in monastic circles.30
In the early sixteenth century Marguerite Queen of Navarre took up her
language of negation in a poem translated by Queen Elizabeth
as a girl.31 Sir Thomas More's direct descendant, the Benedictine nun
Dame Gertrude More, found the same language a means of affirmation of
personal integrity against intrusive formalist authority.32 Mme Guyon
should not be seen as an excessive singularity, but as one of a line.
Kristeva leaves her readers to make connections with her discussion
in 'Stabat Mater' of the alternative routes for women, as wives, 'the selfsacrifice involved in becoming anonymous in order to pass on the social
norm' which she calls 'legalized' masochism, or the 'exacerbated
masochism' of the nun and martyr.33 Is this not where Irigaray's narrative also ends, with the proliferation of modes of bodily or mental suffering, the wound as the place of imagination? Apparently it was male
hagiographers who particularly dwelt on features of physical pain and
masochism in saintly women's lives, of which Mme Guyon as a devout
Catholic could hardly have been unaware, together with the horrors of
28. Kristeva, Tales of Love, p. 302.
29. Kristeva, Tales of Love, pp. 307, 311.
30. The essays in Bernard McGinn (ed.), Meister Eckhart and the Beguine Mystics
Hadewijch of Brabant, Mechthild of Magdeburg and Marguerite Porete (New York:
Continuum, 1994) build on work done earlier by Herbert Grundmann, Religious
Movements in the Middle Ages (trans. Steven Rowan; Notre Dame: University of
Notre Dame Press, 1995 [1935, 1961]); and by Edmund Colledge OSA and J.C. Marler,
' "Poverty of Will": Ruusbroec, Eckhart and The Mirror of Simple Souls', in
Mommaers and van Paepe (eds.),/# van Ruusbroec, pp. 14-47.
31. Marguerite de Navarre, Le miroir de I'dme pecheresse became Elizabeth I's
The Glasse of the Sinful Soule (1544) published by John Bale in 1548. See Marc Shell,
Elizabeth's Glass (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995).
32. See my 'Women, Authority and Mysticism: The Case of Dame Gertrude More,
1606-1633', in Sajni Mukherji (ed.), Gender and Literature: Essays Presented to Professor Jasodhara Bagchi (Calcutta, 2000). Dame Gertrude's sources were Walter
Hilton, The Cloud of Unknowing, and the Rhineland mystics.
33. Kristeva, Tales of Love, pp. 258, 260.

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135

visionary dementia in seventeenth-century France.34


One is left with the question, can different roads to interpretation
the psychoanalytic, the social, the theologicalbe reconciled both
among themselves and with facts on the ground? For women is the
apophatic a suppressive symptom (as Kristeva tends to imply) or is it a
powerful way of dealing with attempts to subdue them to a structuring
of the ideal to which they perceive no relation? For Porete the peace of
self-annihilation in an immanent transcendence was worth dying for, and
Guyon was imprisoned in the Bastille. From the thirteenth to the seventeenth century one component of the apophatic was withdrawal from
the Church marketplace and its works of merit and asceticism; another
was the denial of a selfhood constituted as chiefly abject and penitential;
still another a cessation of anxiety over personal salvation. Historically,
the apophatic has emerged in its more extreme expressions when the
Church has been prepossessed with its own doctrinal subtleties, with
ritual and administrative structures, and with external distinctions for
sanctity. All these forms of power and human exertion of will are given
up in the gesture of aneantissement. One such moment was at the
beginning of the fourteenth century; another at the beginning of the sixteenth, with Luther's assertion of faith against works; and it has been
recognized that Luther was indebted to German spiritual writers with a
strong apophatic element.35 It is possible that we are now in another
period when the apophatic is coming into its own.
A strong case has lately been made for seeing apophasis as a release
for women from the understanding of an appropriate women's spirituality as grounded in suffering.36 The extremity of its development in the
cases of Porete and Guyon may suggest the extremity of inner contradiction, pain and grinding effort they were overcoming in themselves or for
34. Amy M. Hollywood, 'Suffering Transformed: Marguerite Porete, Meister Eckhart and the Problem of Women's Spirituality', in McGinn, Meister Eckhart, pp. 87113, has made this point particularly strongly to qualify accounts of women's bodily
suffering which she argues may have been invented by externalizing women's references to internal emotional pain.
35. Like Luther, Porete was drawn to the problem of justification before God.
Babinsky, in Porete, Mirror, ch. 9, translates the French text 'qu'a grand peine le juste
est sauve' as 'The just are saved at great pain'; but the text seems to echo 1 Pet. 4.18,
'The just are scarcely saved'. Neither Porete nor Guyon liked so-called 'works of
merit'. Cf. Porete, Mirror, ch. 16, 'This daughter of Sion desires neither masses nor
sermons, neither fasts nor prayers'; and Guyon, Moien court et tres facile de faire
oraison (ET: A Method of Prayer) (trans. Dugald Macfadyen; London: James Clarke &
Co., 1902), ch. 23, on the mistake of preaching at people, or loading them with 'a
thousand precepts for outward exercises'.
36. Hollywood (n. 3 above) makes a case for this reading.

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others through the engulfment of their nothingness in the living Other,


and the language of freedom, peace and equality they gained in consequence.37 Yet though the major focus of their meditation is not identification with the crucified Son, neither Beguine writers nor Mme Guyon
excluded the acknowledgement of pain and vulnerability. In Guyon's
mystical economy of silent mental prayer, before a resurrection comes
willed death.38 In Mechthild of Magdeburg or Hadewijch, absence of the
beloved is itself the place of pain, a desert of longing.39 The failure of
language may register a range of states of mind, from infinite sadness
through self-reflective waiting to recognition of the divine image in
herself, and blissful rest, in which the self lives 'invisible and dim' in the
'deep but dazzling darkness'.40 A more nuanced reading of apophasis,
even in Porete and Guyon, in conjunction with other instances of mystical unsaying, is needed in order to chart its range of significance; and
here Kristeva's interpretation of linguistic means to veil gaps and emptiness would be valuable if it allowed stronger positive recognition of
what an apophatic turn may mean.41

37. See Sells, Mystical Languages, pp. 194-99.


38. Guyon makes this clear, but also emphasizes that she had seen, in monks
weighed down with formal practice, that mental prayer brought 'a spring of life...a
gift of prayer... and inward fruition of the presence of God' (trans. Macfadyen, Method, p. 187).
39. Murk-Jansen, Brides in the Desert, pp. 96-112, is strong on this theme.
40. The words are Henry Vaughan's in his poem 'The Night' (1655), in Louis L.
Martz (ed.), George Herbert and Henry Vaughan (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1986), p. 397. Mechthild von Magdeburg, Flowing Light, 1.40, p. 21 is a good example of the divine image in the self as inexpressible.
41. The contemporary theologian Sarah Coakley, in her coupling of admission of
vulnerability with silent prayer, shows a way forward for both men and women in giving this due recognition. See Sarah Coakley, 'Kenosis and Subversion: On the Repression of Vulnerability in Christian Feminist Writing', in Daphne Hampson (ed.), Swallowing a Fishbone? Feminist Theologians Debate Christianity (London: SPCK,
1995); and Elaine Williams's interview with Coakley, Times Literary Supplement, 17
May 1996, p. 20, which puts her thought in contemporary social context. The President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, Reconciled Being: Love in Chaos (London: Arthur
James, 1997), pp. 61-63, and passim, also represents a powerful statement on the
place of silence in the quest for reconciliation.

Philip Leonard
Ethical Alterities?

Is she fact or is she fiction?


Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus

If recent theoretical inquiry in the humanities and social sciences has


had among its overriding concerns the relationship between identity,
representation and reality, then Emmanuel Levinas must be seen as one
of its key proponents. Constantly seeking a passage out of the violences
of rationality, Levinas seeks a path away from the notion of 'being' that
pervades Western thought. This attempt to move away from the idea of
'being' persists throughout his work, and various terms and concepts are
used to signify a difference which cannot be reduced to identity: time,
dia-chrony, Infinity, other, alterity, illeity, otherwise, beyond, ethics, anarchy, there is, and exteriority are introduced at different points to signify a non-present and unrepresentable transcendence. This essay, however, will consider Levinas's contribution to the reconceptualization of
difference in recent critical theory by focusing on the relationship
between two further signifiers in the Levinasian lexicon, 'God' and 'the
feminine'.
This essay will begin with a discussion of the various responses to
theological issues that can be found in Levinas's work. After outlining
Levinas's comments on sexual difference (as well as some of the
responses to these comments), this essay will then examine the way in
which Luce Irigaray, like Levinas, retains some form of transcendental
subjectivity or divine hyper-essentiality, not in order to reinstitute prevailing secular relationships, but to reinvest the connections between
the divine, the symbolic, and the sexual.

1. A Setting Sun
Levinas's remarks on transcendence depart significantly from some of
the more emphatically counter-theological arguments that have emerged
in theory and philosophy during the last hundred years. The most notorious of these arguments (because of its intensity as well as its resurgence in post-war French thought) can be found in Friedrich Nietzsche's
atheistic antihumanism. The argument that an apocalyptic moment

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occurred during the nineteenth century, that at some point God died, is
one that recurs throughout Nietzsche's texts; The Gay Science, for example, proclaims:
The greatest recent eventthat 'God is dead', that the belief in the Christian god has become unbelievableis already beginning to cast its first
shadows over Europe. For the few at least, whose eyesthe suspicion in
whose eyes is strong and subtle enough for this spectacle, some sun seems
to have set and some ancient and profound trust has been turned into
doubt; to them our old world must appear daily more like evening, more
mistrustful, stranger, older...how much must collapse now that the faith
has been undermined because it was built upon this faith, propped up by
it, grown into it... This long plenitude and sequence of breakdown,
destruction, ruin and cataclysm that is now impending.

Decadent, apocalyptic, prophetic, dramatic, brutal: we discover here


Nietzsche's virulently atheistic voice proclaiming the end of one
episteme and announcing the beginning of another. Gone is the faith in
the highest of all values, God, and with this loss there follows the disintegration of all other certainties, such as consciousness, reason, progress
and man. For Nietzsche, the re- or trans-valuation of theological value
results in the rethinking of the human; the devaluation of God directly
results in the devaluation of man.
Maintaining this interpretation of Nietzsche's atheistic antihumanism
is not, however, as straightforward as it may seem. Writing in a style that
is unsystematic, fragmented, contradictory, discontinuous and aphoristic, Nietzsche questions both the formal and the conceptual conventions
that mark philosophical speculation. This preoccupation with style is
tied to Nietzsche's treatment of the relationship between discourse and
identity, and he implies that while it is possible to announce the end of
humanism, metaphysics and Christian faith, this would not in itself bring
about a general annihilation of all established values. In spite of losing
legitimate power over the secular and human world, the Christian God
has retained his transcendent status and continues to govern principles,
rules, values and ends. In a similar sense, Nietzsche claims in Twilight of
the Idols, 'we are not getting rid of God because we still believe in grammar'2 suggesting that the persistent adherence to the idea of transcendental signification is symptomatic of a more widespread faith in metaphysics. This qualification is evident throughout Nietzsche's writings on
the departure of God and this ambivalence accounts for the impossibility
1. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (trans. Walter Kaufmann; New York:
Vintage, 1974), p. 279.
2. Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (trans. R.J. Hollingdale; Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968), p. 5.

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to read these texts as anything other than polyvalent and heteroglossic.


Immediately after his proclamation of God's extinction in The Gay
Science Nietzsche crucially adds the caveat that only the few ('the
suspicion in whose eyes is strong and subtle enough for the spectacle')
can perceive God's demise, and he further adds that 'The event itself is
far too great, too distant, too remote from the multitude's capacity for
comprehension even for the tidings of it to be thought of as having
arrived yet' .3
A similar ambivalence can be detected in Levinas's comments on theological issues. Throughout his work, Levinas continually attacks 'metaphysical', 'positive', or 'cataphatic' theologythe kind of theology that
relies on the copula 'is' (God is light, love, truth, justice, reason, perfection, and so on), the kind of theology that conflates the notion of a God
in and for itself with a God represented in an anthropomorphic and
ontotheological dialectic of identification. But in spite of this onslaught
against metaphysical, rationalist, and positive theology, Levinas significantly refuses to proclaim the demise and dissolution of God. Instead,
Levinas responds to the notion of divine transcendence in at least three
different ways. The first can be detected in his 1963 essay 'The Trace of
the Other'. In this essay Levinas reiterates his argument that 'Western
philosophy coincides with the disclosure of the other where the other,
in manifesting itself as a being, loses its alterity',4 but he further argues
that a specific instance of this appropriation and destitution of difference
is to be found in theology. He writes: 'The God of the philosophers,
from Aristotle to Leibniz, by way of the scholastics, is a god adequate to
reason, a comprehended god who could not trouble the autonomy of
consciousness, which finds itself again in all adventures, returning home
like Ulysses'.5 Levinas here claims that conventional theology is marked
by the home-bound peregrinations of Ulysses (rather than following the
path away from the domicile in the exilic and centrifugal trajectory of
Abraham) because it hastily and violently reduces God to rational categories, to the familiar and to the same.
Second, it is also possible to discern a more apocalyptic tone in his
work on the nature of divine transcendence. For example, Otherwise
than Being poses the question, 'would not the bankruptcy of transcendence be but that of a theology that thematizes the transcending in the
logos, assigns a term to the passing of transcendence, congeals it into a
3. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, p. 279.
4. Emmanuel Levinas, 'The Trace of the Other' (trans. Alphonso Lingis), in Mark
C. Taylor (ed.), Deconstruction in Context (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1986),
p. 346.
5. Levinas, 'The Trace of the Other', p. 346.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

'world behind the scenes'?'6 By identifying the 'bankruptcy' of a certain


kind of transcendental thinking Levinas here suggests that whenever
'beyond being' is thematized or signified a self-immolating meconnaissance occurs in theology. By trying to designate the undesignatable and
say the unsayable, metaphysical theology introduces an irreducible
excess that dissimulates the idea of God as presence. Resembling The
Gay Science, Otherwise than Being therefore seems to claim that theology's misconceptions will inevitably result in the disintegration of a logos
which seeks simultaneously to locate identity and difference.
Third, this interpretationthat metaphysics is at an end or that theology immolates itselfis not without problems. Nietzsche's claims regarding the dissolution of theology are complicated in The Gay Science by
the acknowledgment of the fact that this dissolution 'has not yet reached
the ears of men'. A similar ambivalence is apparent in Levinas's writings
on theology. While he certainly proposes that the veracity of transcendental and representational theology has died, Levinas nonetheless recognizes that conventional ideas about God remain. Just as Nietzsche
claims that God and grammar collaborate in the perpetuation of metaphysics, so Levinas argues that God is a 'civilizing force'7 and suggests
that if the West continues to cling to the principles of civilization (reason, order, economy), then legitimation by a super-essential and sublime
being will always be necessary.
Permeating Levinas's work, therefore, is a notion of divine transcendence which simultaneously critiques cataphatic theology, proclaims the
end of metaphysics, yet remains within the orbit of onto-theology. It is
this polymorphic and polyvalent relationship with divine transcendence
that accounts for Levinas's refusal to adopt a straightforwardly nihilistic
atheism. At the same time as claiming that 'the God of the Bible does not
have meaning, that is, not properly speaking thinkable',8 Levinas also
reintroduces God as 'already breaking up the consciousness which aims
at ideas',9 a God who is 'neither an object nor an interlocutor' but
whose 'absolute remoteness, his transcendence, turns into my responsibility...for the other'.10 In contrast with the appropriative violences of
positive or cataphatic theology, Levinas argues for an ethical or 'respon6. Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence (trans. Alphonso
Lingis; The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981), p. 5.
7. Emmanuel Levinas, 'A Religion for Adults', in Sean Hand (ed. and trans.), Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism (London: Athlone, 1990), p. 11.
8. Emmanuel Levinas, 'God and Philosophy', in Alphonso Lingis (ed. and trans.),
Collected Philosophical Papers (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1987), p. 154.
9. Levinas, 'God and Philosophy', p. 160.
10. Levinas, 'God and Philosophy', p. 165.

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141

sible' conception of God as a transcendence escaping all nomination, all


sanctification, for 'a God not contaminated by Being'.11

2. 'The Very Quality of Difference'


With Levinas's constant discussion of theological matters the mask of
schematic phenomenological enquiry begins to slide into cultural commentary, and this slippage occurs further with the remarks on sexual difference that also punctuate his texts. One of Levinas's earliest references
to sexual difference can be found in the discussion of eros in Existence
and Existents. Eros here, for Levinas, marks a moment of radical futurity
which goes 'beyond the possible' and devastates the interiority of a narcissistic, sui generis subject. Significantly, Existence and Existents portrays the erotic encounter between self and other as an encounter
between two disparate and differentially structured genders: 'the plane
of eros', Levinas states, 'allows us to see that the other par excellence is
the feminine, through which a world behind the scenes prolongs the
world'.12 Appearing only momentarily (rapidly disappearing behind
Levinas's concern with the economical ordering of time and identity),
the feminine is here characterized as a theatrically concealed site ('a
world behind the scenes') and is given a position of exteriority.
In the preface for the republication of 'Time and the Other' in 1979
this depiction of the feminine as a specific form of alterityan alterity
incommensurable with other forms of transcendenceis restated. Over
thirty years after his earliest use of 'the feminine' to signify an unsignifiable otherness, Levinas retrospectively observes:
Femininityand one would have to see in what sense this can be said of
masculinity or of virility; that is, of the differences between the sexes in
generalappeared to me as a difference contrasting strongly with other
differences, not merely as a quality different from all others, but as the very
quality of difference.13

Exceeding quantification, comparison, and identification the feminine is


persistently presented in Levinas's writings not only as one among many
differences, but becomes instead an otherness par excellence, a hyperdifference supremely exceeding all other characterizations of alterity.
11. Levinas, Otherwise than Being, p. xlii.
12. Emmanuel Levinas, Existents and Existents (trans. Alphonso Lingis;
Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1988), p. 85.
13. Emmanuel Levinas, 'Time and the Other', in Time and the Other and Additional Essays (trans. Richard A. Cohen; Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1987),
p. 36.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

A number of interpretations of these remarks on the feminine have


been offered by commentators on Levinas. One of the earliest and most
notorious of these can be found in a footnote to Simone de Beauvoir's
The Second Sex. Beauvoir here traces the division between man as
'Absolute' or 'Subject' and woman as 'the Other', and claims that 'E.
Levinas expresses this idea most explicitly in his essay Temps et
l'autre\u By repeating this differentiation, Levinas 'deliberately takes a
man's point of view', and his theory of the feminine 'is in fact an assertion of masculine privilege'.15 Levinas, according to Beauvoir, sanctions
a conceptual and cultural tradition which confers upon men a transcendental status (in which man 'achieves liberty only through a continual
reaching out towards other liberties'),16 and contrastingly positions
woman as 'immanence' or 'stagnation'.17
Less indicting are some of Derrida's responses to Levinas's remarks on
'the feminine', and, indeed, in places Derrida's claims about 'woman'
and 'the feminine' seem to correspond with Levinas's comments on
sexual difference. In Spurs, for example, Derrida argues that because
women have systematically been excluded from philosophical enquiry
and from cultural institutions 'woman' escapes the logic of truth and
essence. Instead, 'woman' must be reconceived in terms of non-identity,
simulacrum and non-essence; for Derrida, 'There is no such thing as the
essence of woman because woman averts, she is averted of herself;18
'There is no such thing as a woman, as a truth in itself of woman in
itself.19
Derrida pursues a similar argument in 'Choreographies', an interview
in which Derrida replies to the topological question 'what is the place of
woman?' with another question:
Why should a new 'idea' of woman or a new step taken by her necessarily
be subjected to the urgency of this topo-economical concern (essential, it
is true, and ineradicably philosophical)? This step only constitutes a step
on the condition that it challenge a certain idea of the locus [lieu] and the
place [place] (the entire history of the West and of its metaphysics) and
that it dance otherwise.20
14. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (trans. H.M. Parshley; London: Picador
1988), p. 16.
15. Beauvoir, Second Sex, p. 16.
16. Beauvoir, Second Sex, p. 28.
17. Beauvoir, Second Sex, p. 29.
18. Jacques Derrida, Spurs: Nietzsche's Styles/Eperons: Les styles de Nietzsche
(trans. Barbara Harlow; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 51.
19. Derrida, Spurs, p. 101.
20. Jacques Derrida, 'Choreographies' (trans. Christie V. McDonald), Diacritics 12
(1982), pp. 68-69.

LEONARD: ETHICAL ALTERITIES

143

To circumvent the problems of topology, 'Choreographies' resists the


reduction of women to an unassailable unchangeable and domesticated
site within established categories of sex and gender. While these remarks
on the non-truth and non-identity of 'woman' in Spurs and 'Choreographies' bear a resemblance to Levinas's notion of a feminine exteriority,
it is not until the conclusion of 'Choreographies' that Derrida's tone
becomes strikingly Levinasian. Asking himself 'what if we were to
approach here...the area of a relationship to the other where the code
of sexual marks would no longer be discriminating?' Derrida concludes,
'The relationship would not be a-sexual, far from it, but would be sexual
otherwise: beyond the binary difference that governs the decorum of all
codes, beyond the opposition feminine/masculine'.21 Out of the contradictory construction of a femininity which is both fetishized and disavowed by phallocentric cultures Derrida discovers the possibility for a
different codification of sexuality. And, like Levinas, Derrida describes
this transfigured sexuality as both 'beyond' and 'otherwise'.
This sense of a shared agenda on sexual difference is lost when, in a
number of incursions into Levinas's description of feminine exteriority,
Derrida highlights some of the questionable suppositions made by Lev
inas. 'Violence and Metaphysics', Derrida's earliest essay on Levinas, sets
in motion the problem of the feminine in Levinas's work by way of a
remark in Joyce's Ulysses: in Joyce's remarks on Hellenism and Hebraism
Derrida discerns an example of 'feminine logic'22 which is absent from
Levinas's Totality and Infinity:
'Woman's reason. Jewgreek is greekjew'. On this subject, let us note in
passing that Totality and Infinity pushes the respect for dissymmetry so
far that it seems to us impossible, essentially impossible, that it could have
been written by a woman. Its philosophical subject is man (y/r).23

In other words, Levinas expropriates 'woman's reason' from the realm


of the feminine: he invokes an exteriority which can only be described
as the counterpart of phallogocentrism, yet frequently refers to exteriority, the excessive, the Infinite, by way of masculine pronouns.
'Choreographies' pursues this question of the feminine in Levinas's
work by considering his reading of Genesis in the essay 'And God Created Woman'. Contesting the idea that the account of creation unequivocally gives primacy to men, Levinas states that: 'The creation of man
21. Derrida, 'Choreographies', p. 76.
22. Jacques Derrida, 'Violence and Metaphysics: An Essay on the Thought of
Emmanuel Levinas', in Writing and Difference (trans. Alan Bass; London: Routledge
& Kegan Paul, 1978), p. 320, n. 92.
23. Derrida, 'Violence and Metaphysics', pp. 320-21, n. 92.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

was the creation of two beings in one but of two beings equal in dignity:
difference and sexual relations belong to the fundamental content of
what is human'.24 For Derrida this is a 'marvellous reading'25 of Genesis,
but still raises certain problems. Apparently reinscribing a sexually
amorphous humanity as the object of creation, Levinas persistently
conceives this humanity in terms of masculine traits. Thus, Derrida
argues, Levinas,
maintains sexual difference: the human in general remains a sexual being.
But he can only do so, it would seem, by placing (differentiated) sexuality
beneath humanity which sustains itself at the level of the Spirit. That is, he
simultaneously places...masculinity (le masculiri) in command and at the
beginning (the arkbe), on a par with the Spirit.26

Examples of Levinas placing masculinity 'at the beginning' proliferate:


Totality and Infinity states that: 'The absolutely other is the Other. He
and I do not form a number... Over him I have no power';27 paternity
becomes the structure of identity and difference par excellence, 'The I
breaks free from itself in paternity without thereby ceasing to be an I,
for the I is its son';28 in the 1968 essay 'Un Dieu homme' Levinas claims:
'Infinity is unassimilable alterity... He is He [// estll\, Illeity';29 Otherwise
than Being further develops this notion by stating that 'Illeity lies
outside of the "thou" and the thematization of objects. A neologism
formed with il (he) or ille, it indicates a way of concerning me without
entering into conjunction with me'.30 In contrast with his characterization of the feminine as 'the absolutely contrary contrary' or as 'the very
quality of difference' Levinas here seems to be saying that alterity takes
on the guise of an 'inexpressible' masculinity. It is this contradiction that
24. Emmanuel Levinas, 'And God Created Woman', in Annette Aronowicz (ed.and
trans.) Nine Talmudic Readings (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), pp.
168-69. Cf. Levinas's similar claim that 'Perhaps...all these allusions to the ontological
differences between the masculine and the feminine would appear less archaic if,
instead of dividing humanity into two species (or into two genders), they would signify that the participation in the masculine and in the feminine were the attribute of
every human being'. Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with
Philippe Nemo (trans. Richard A. Cohen; Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press,
1985), p. 68.
25. Derrida, 'Choreographies', p. 72.
26. Derrida, 'Choreographies', p. 73.
27. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority (trans.
Alphonso Lingis; The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981), p. 39.
28. Levinas, Totality and Infinity, p. 278.
29. Emmanuel Levinas, 'Un Dieu homme?,' in Entre nous: Essais sur le penser-aI'autre (Paris: Grasset, 1991), p. 74.
30. Levinas, Otherwise than Being, p. 12.

LEONARD: ETHICAL ALTERITIES

145

concerns Derrida in 'Choreographies': rather than reconceptualizing


sexual difference, Levinas's work repeatedly reduces sexual alterity to
the same phallic and masculine-centred order that it supposedly challenges.
These misgivings are articulated at greater length in Derrida's 'At This
Very Moment In This Work Here I Am'his second extensive essay
(after 'Violence and Metaphysics') devoted to Levinas. Interestingly, this
text tries to displace its own truth-value and unsettles the conventions of
linear argument. In place of a unified and single exploration of Levinas's
work, Derrida's essay is a dramatic dialogue, an excursus, or what he has
called in another context a 'polylogue (for n + 1femalevoices)'.31
With multiple and heterogeneous sites of utterance this text shares certain formal features with Derrida's other plurivocal texts written 'in the
feminine', such as 'Pas' and Cinders. Each of these texts is constructed
around a plurality of voices which express different (often contradictory
and contestatory) ideological and theoretical viewpoints. 'At This Very
Moment', then, presents conflicting voices which (to borrow metaphors
employed by Derrida in his essay) 'unsew' and 'unbind' the fabric of
philosophical exposition and argumentation.
In terms of Levinas's work 'At This Very Moment' unsurprisingly performs a double reading which on the one hand questions the alignment
of ethical alterity with a specifically masculine notion of otherness. For
example, perhaps the most energetic intervention in 'At This Very
Moment' takes up the claimtangentially outlined in 'Violence and
Metaphysics'that Levinas inhabits and reproduces a virile metaphysical
language. An 'obligated female reader (lectrice obligee)' asks 'How can
one mark as masculine the very thing said to be anterior, or even foreign,
to sexual difference?'32 Levinas's work is preoccupied with disclosing an
unnameable and unassimilable difference and attempts to describe a prediscursive milieu in which an ethical responsibility between nonidentified 'existents' disperses the validity of ontological categories.
Alterity is, as one commentator observes, 'incognito'33 and would thus
presumably not take on the characteristics of a sexually identified subject. However, as Derrida's 'female reader' points out, Levinas's sexual
ization of alterity is certainly problematic, but these problems are exac31. Jacques Derrida, 'Restitutions', in The Truth in Painting (trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 256.
32. Jacques Derrida, 'At This Very Moment in This Work Here I Am', in Robert
Bernasconi and Simon Critchley (eds.), Re-Reading Levinas (London: Athlone, 1992),
p. 3940.
33. Alphonso Lingis, Deathbound Subjectivity (Bloomington: Indiana Universit
Press, 1989), p. 138.

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erbated when Levinas attributes phallic characteristics to what he elsewhere describes as either a non-sexual or feminine alterity.
On the other hand, 'Derrida's' female voice in 'At This Very Moment'
traces an unwitting disruption of the prevailing sexual order in Levinas's
work. Derrida claims that, despite reinforcing a number of questionable
assumptions about sexual difference, Levinas's work implicitly invokes a
non-masculine alterity. In a dense though crucial passage, the 'female
reader' of Levinas claims that:
The effect of secondarization, allegedly demanded by the wholly-other (as
He), would become the cause, otherwise said the other of the wholly
other, the other of a wholly other who is no longer sexually neutral but
posed.. .and suddenly determined as He. Then the Work, apparently signed
by the Pro-noun He, would be dictated, aspired, and inspired by the desire
to make She secondary, therefore by She (file)?4

In other words, Levinas's failure to refer neutrally to an ineffable 'contrariety' signals the enclosure of his putatively transgressive theory within a
structure which privileges specific sexual traits and particular gender
characteristics. But by disclosing the non-exterior status of alterity as
illeity Levinas also, Derrida argues, reveals the necessity of something
other than a phallic economya 'she \Elle\ lying beyond structures of
identification and order. In this manner, then, Levinas's work paradoxically reveals the haunting of phallogocentrism by an inconceivable and
unspeakable revenant of 'the feminine'. Reading against the grain of an
apparently contradictory account of difference, Derrida observes that
the work of Levinas (E.L.) carries a feminine signature (Elle)?**

34. Derrida, 'At This Very Moment', p. 43.


35. On the homonymity of E.L. and Elle, see also Simon Critchley, ' "Bois":
Derrida's Final Word on Levinas', in Bernasconi and Critchley (eds.), Re-Reading
Levinas, p. 170. Derrida's tracing of a heterogeneous non-order of sexual difference
through Levinas's work does, of course, open itself to criticism: Margaret Whitford
for example, argues that: 'Derrida's attempt to write like a woman appears more like
an incorporation of, or at least an attempt to incorporate, women's discourse... When
Derrida attempts to write like a women, it is still from his position as a man.' Margaret
Whitford, Luce Irigaray: Philosophy in the Feminine (London: Routledge, 1991), p.
132. Less indicting is Spivak's belief that Derrida's description of women as nonessential subjects, constituted in and by a network of signs, values, and classifications,
is supported by some unacceptable representations of woman as mannequin,
simulacrum and reserve: 'the woman who is the "model" for deconstructive discourse
remains a woman generalized and denned in terms of the faked orgasm and other
varieties of denial'. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, 'Displacement and the Discourse of
Woman', in Mark Krupnik (ed.), Displacement: Derrida and After (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 170.

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3. Eros and the Caress


An engagement with Levinas's equation of alterity with 'the feminine'
which shares a number of concerns with Derrida's work is developed at
several points in Irigaray's work. In Irigaray's main essays on Levinas
'The Fecundity of the Caress: A Reading of Levinas, Totality and Infinity
section IV, B, "The Phenomenology of Eros" '(published in Ethique de la
difference sexuelle in 1983), and 'Questions to Emmanuel Levinas' (published in Critique in 1990)certain similarities with Derrida's 'Choreographies' and 'At This Very Moment' are noticeable. On the one hand,
Irigaray reads Levinas's exposition of a feminine exteriority as a liberation narrative which counters the restricted and closed sexual economy
of 'men-amongst-themselves', while on the other hand she also finds a
number of complicities between Levinas's work and prevailing features
of a phallic and patrilineal culture. As Tina Chanter observes in ethics of
eros:
If Levinas provides a model for Irigaray's rethinking of the question of
sexual difference by giving an account of a relationship in which the other
can retain alterity without being reduced to the neutral categories of the
same.. .his philosophy still falls short of an ethics of sexual difference.36

In general, 'The Fecundity of the Caress' is sympathetic with Levinas's


tracing of a derelict transcendence through an ethical, non-appropriative
eroticism. More specifically, Irigaray's essay is concerned with the connection between Levinas's description of the 'exorbitant ultramateriality'37 of eros and his claim that 'The simultaneity or the equivocation of
this fragility and this weight of non-signifyingness [non-significance],
heavier than the weight of the formless real, we shall term femininity' ,38
With this coupling of the feminine with what Levinas also describes as
infinity, otherness, or alterity there is, according to 'The Fecundity of the
Caress', a critique of totality which profoundly unsettles the prevailing
order of gender and identity because it avoids a speculative appropriation of all difference.
Irigaray's own contestation of sexual structures corresponds in places
with Levinas's description of the feminine other as a non-site outside of
and beyond metaphysics. Following Levinas's call for a respect for
otherness 'The Fecundity of the Caress' observes: 'letting the other go
36. Tina Chanter, ethics of eros: Irigaray's Rewriting of the Philosophers (London: Routledge, 1995), p. 222.
37. Levinas, Totality and Infinity, p. 256.
38. Levinas, Totality and Infinity, p. 257.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

while dwelling and persevering, such is the wager that the beloved must
make'.39 It is with this idea of 'the beloved' (or 'woman as lover',
amante40) that Irigaray simultaneously takes up and transforms Levinas's
theory of a feminine exteriority. In contrast with Levinas, who describes
the destabilization of binarized metaphysical codes, concepts and
structures by an intrusive and inconceivable other (the feminine),
Irigaray extrapolates from the binary framework of presence and
absence, self and other, masculine and feminine, a liminal and interstitial
'woman as lover' who is neither inside nor outside sexual order. Whereas
Levinas's model suggests that the feminine occupies a position of passive
exteriority, Irigaray argues that the subordinating construction of the
feminine within amorous relationships (as 'the loved one', aimee, rendered passive by 'the lover', amanf) is incontestable, but that the position of woman as lover (which is neither wholly active nor wholly passive) signifies a slippage in binarily sexualized subjectivity. While the
definition of 'the amorous couple as lover and loved one already assigns
them to a polarity that deprives the woman of her love',41 Irigaray's
notion of the woman as lover opens the path out of this constitutive
opposition and sites the feminine as an 'Unforseeability bordering on
alterity, beyond one's own limits'.42
Irigaray's subsequent essay on Levinasthe concise collection of
interrogations entitled 'Questions to Emmanuel Levinas'is more equivocal. Instead of treating Levinas's notion of the feminine largely as an
insurgent and counter-phallogocentric approach to sexuality, Irigaray
argues, as Margaret Whitford points out, 'that his work has not gone far
enough'.43 'Questions to Emmanuel Levinas' partly confronts the same
39. Luce Irigaray, 'The Fecundity of the Caress: A Reading of Levinas, Totality and
Infinity section IV, B, "Phenomenology of Eros"' (trans. Carolyn Burke), in Richard A.
Cohen (ed.), Face to Face With Levinas (Albany: State University of New York Press,
1986), p. 254.
40. A translation of amante differing from that offered by Burke is given in Margaret Whitford's English version of 'Questions to Emmanuel Levinas'. Here 'amante'
is translated as 'woman as lover', 'aimee' as 'beloved', and 'amant' as 'male lover'.
Luce Irigaray, 'Questions to Emmanuel Levinas' (trans. Margaret Whitford), in
Margaret Whitford (ed.), The Irigaray Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), pp. 185-86.
41. Irigaray, 'Fecundity of the Caress', p. 247.
42. Irigaray, 'Fecundity of the Caress', p. 251.
43. Margaret Whitford, Introduction to section III, The Irigaray Reader, p. 159.
From the same position Carolyn Burke claims that Irigaray 'extends Levinas's emphasis on the ethical relation with the other to the question of sexual difference'. Carolyn
Burke, 'Romancing the Philosophers: Luce Irigaray', in Diane Hunter (ed.), Seduction
and Theory: Readings of Gender, Representation and Rhetoric (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 233- Cf. Cathryn Vasselu's argument that: 'After having

LEONARD: ETHICAL ALTERITIES

149

problems as those identified by Derrida, but Irigaray also circumvents


the problems that Derrida runs into when interpolating his essay with a
'female reader'. In the first of her questions to Levinas, Irigaray directly
addresses the problem surrounding his theoretical point of enunciation:
Is there otherness outside of sexual difference? The feminine, as it is characterized by Levinas, is not other than himself... The feminine is apprehended not in relation to itself, but from the point of view of man, and
through a purely erotic strategy, a strategy moreover which is dictated by
masculine pleasure [jouissance] ,44

Here Irigaray confronts a general and a specific malaise underpinning


the construction of sexual identity. Just as sexuality has always been
constituted within the parameters of a male bodily order, so, Irigaray
maintains in this first question, Levinas construes 'the feminine' and
'eros' in terms of a masculine economy of pleasure. For Irigaray, Lev
inas's remarks on eros exemplify 'the culture of men-amongst-themselves',45 a culture where men govern the nature of all erotic, amorous
and sexual experience. Writing from a diegetic rather than a mimetic
position (engaging 'in a powerful, necessary, and compelling feminist
critique of Levinas which speaks with a woman's voice'46), Irigaray
begins to avoid the problems underpinning Levinas's account of sexual
difference.
After highlighting these issues, Irigaray embarks on a questioning of
Levinas which has a number of intertextual resonances with Derrida's
'Violence and Metaphysics'. Just as Derrida finds Levinas guilty of using
an established discourse to describe exteriority, infinity and alterity, so
Irigaray accuses Levinas of providing non-ethical substitutions for the
other. But in contrast with 'Violence and Metaphysics', which is mainly
concerned with resituating Levinas's work in a tradition of empiricist
and transcendental thought, 'Questions to Emmanuel Levinas' considers
the way that the consolidation of cultural conventions in Levinas's work
is effected through a series of gender specific concepts. One obvious
example of this occurs in Totality and Infinity, where paternity is given
the status of a displaced and double relationship. A similar formulation
occurs with Levinas's notion of fraternity, where, 'the I engendered
come into such close proximity with the alterity of the feminine other, Irigaray
accuses Levinas of effacing her... She rebukes Levinas for reducing the beloved to a
passive femininity, whose alterity he turns from to claim his own infinity'. Cathryn
Vasseleu, 'The Face Before the Mirror-Stage', Hypatia 6 (1991), p. 149.
44. Irigaray, 'Questions', p. 178.
45. Irigaray, 'Questions', p. 178.
46. Critchley,' "Bois"-Derrida's Final Word on Levinas', p. 188 n. 12.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

exists at the same time as unique in the world and as brother among
brothers'.47 With paternity and fraternity there are, according to Levinas,
dislocations of totality; marking a self which has meaning only through a
relationship with another person, these cultural phenomena throw into
crisis the notion of a stable singularity which dominates Western
theories of subjectivity. But, Irigaray warns, inscribing difference
through exclusively masculine relationships cannot produce a disinterested indication of ethical prediscursivity because, of course, such
notions as paternity and fraternity invest the ineffable ethical realm with
orthodox gender distinctions.
What Levinas does not see is that the locus of paternity, to which he
accords the privilege of ethical alterity, has already assumed the place of
the genealogy of the feminine, has already covered over the relationships
between mothers and daughters in which formerly the transmission of the
divine word was located.

What concerns Irigaray in 'Questions to Emmanuel Levinas' is that 'the


genealogical economy of patriarchy'49 overrides the maternal genealogy
in Levinas's work, even though the latter would seem more credible as
part of a critique of totality which would also break down restrictive sex
and gender classifications.
Irigaray's questions also return to Levinas's 'Phenomenology of Eros'
in order to explore eros and the caress in Levinas's writings. For Levinas
the failure of the caress to grasp and encompass the other signifies a
movement towards alterity and infinity but for Irigaray this leads to 'the
obliteration of the woman as subject desiring along with man as subject'.50 Leading from an inside implicitly characterized as masculine to an
exteriority which is categorically portrayed as feminine,51 the caress in
Totality and Infinity becomes an active interior masculine sexuality
which is imposed upon an entirely passive feminine otherness. Although
Levinas maintains that the outstretched hand of masculine desire fails to
grasp its erotic object, Irigaray points out that Levinas not only names
47. Levinas, Totality and Infinity, p. 279.
48. Irigaray, 'Questions', p. 182.
49. Irigaray, 'Questions', p. 186.
50. Irigaray, 'Questions', pp. 185-86.
51. Perhaps Levinas's sole equation of the inside, interiority or the same with
masculine traits occurs in a reasonably recent, though frequently unacknowledged
text: 'the possibility even of a reversal, in the reality of the Real, of the masculine persistence of the self in its being, in a free responsibility for the Otherthe possibility
of love and, thus, of justiceis it not in listening to the suggestions of our book, that
femininity is even in the Human'. Emmanuel Levinas, Preface to Catherine Chalier, Les
matriarches (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1985), p. 8.

LEONARD : ETHICAL ALTERITIES

151

the unnameable, but that in this process of nomination he also renders


any female imaginary inconsequential.
Between 'The Fecundity of the Caress' and 'Questions to Emmanuel
Levinas' Irigaray demonstrates an ambivalence towards Levinas's critique
of sexual and symbolic orders. Irigaray challenges the economy of the
same in Western thought just as Levinas attempts to overturn metaphysics and rethink sexual identity. Irigaray acknowledges this correspondence during an interview:
All the philosophers I've mentioned [Nietzsche, Heidegger, Hegel, Levinas,
and Derrida] except Heideggerare interested in feminine identity and
sometimes in their identity as feminine(s) or as women... Turning back
toward the moment at which they seized sociocultural power(s), are men
seeking a way to divest themselves of these powers? I hope so52.

However, Irigaray is equally careful to note the possibility that such a


divesting of privilege could simply disguise a consolidation and recuperation of dominant systems of thought. In a different interview she
claims:
What I am able to say without any hesitation is that when male theoreticians today employ women's discourse instead of using male discourse,
that seems to me a very phallocratic gesture. It means: 'We will become
and we will speak a feminine discourse in order to remain the master of
discourse'. What I would want from men is that, finally, they would speak
a masculine discourse and affirm that they are doing so53.

Absent from Levinas's work is this recognition that in his work masculine discourse returns at the very moment of its disruption. Despite
developing a notion of the feminine as an unsettling, pre-ontological,
pre-discursive other, Levinas's texts, it becomes evident with Irigaray,
fail to address a basic issue of cultural identity.

4. Genesis and Genre


Irigaray extends her questions beyond the generalities in Levinas's writings on eros and sexual difference by considering Levinas's assimilation
of philosophy and theology and his characterization of God as a masculine subject. Although Irigaray is fairly vague about exactly which of
52. Luce Irigaray, interview in Alice Jardine and Anne Menke (eds.), Shifting
Scenes: Interviews on Women, Writing and Politics in Post '68 France (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1991), p. 101.
53. Luce Irigaray, 'Luce Irigaray', interview with Lucienne Serrano and Elaine
Hoffman Baruch, in Janet Todd (ed.), Women Writers Talking (London: Holmes &
Meier, 1983), p. 243.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

Levinas's texts concern her, one obvious example of this masculinizing


of God can be found in Levinas's close reading of paternity in the
Talmud. First defined in Time and the Other and developed in Totality
and Infinity to designate the encounter between identity and difference, Levinas reconfigures this notion of paternity in an essay entitled
'And God Created Woman', a commentary on the Talmudic tractate
Berakhot. Taking Rab Nahman's question 'Why, in 'The Lord God Made
Man' (Gen. 2.7) is 'made', vayitzer, written with two yods?'54 Levinas
extracts from the account of creation a theory of sexual difference in
which man and woman are given a separate and specific identity. The
two yods in vayitzer denote the creation of a humanity that is not singular, but consists instead of two discrete components. Levinas: 'to create
a man it was necessary to create in one creature two. They were two in
one.'55 Moreover, this 'two' can be described as two genders:
The meaning of the feminine will thus become clear against the background of human essence, the Isha from the Isb. The feminine does not
derive from the masculine; rather the division into feminine and masculinethe dichotomyderives from what is human.56

Levinas here argues, by way of a close reading of grammatical minutia,


that Genesis and its Talmudic cipher promote specific and different
gender identities. Similar to Irigaray's anti-relativizing, non-comparative
theory of sexual difference,57 this account of creation in the Old Testament seems to avoid, Levinas would have us believe, the violent correlation of equal yet disparate entities.
Despite this valorization of a difference without hierarchy, Levinas
additionally contends that the Talmud chronicles an inconsistency
between God's creation and the physical manifestation of man and
woman:
From the beginning he wanted two separate and equal beings. But that
was impossible; this initial independence of two equal beings would no
doubt have meant war... To create a world, he had to subordinate them
one to the other. There had to be a difference which did not affect equity:
a sexual difference and, hence, a certain preeminence of man, a woman
coming later.
CO

54. Levinas, 'And God Created Woman', p. 161.


55. Levinas, 'And God Created Woman', p. 165.
56. Levinas, 'And God Created Woman', pp. 167-68.
57. 'Equality between men and women cannot be achieved unless we think of
genre as sexuate fsexue'J and write the rights and duties of each sex, insofar as they
are different, into social rights and duties'. Luce Irigaray, 'Equal or Different?' (trans.
David Macey), in Whitford (ed.), The Irigaray Reader, p. 33.
58. Levinas, 'And God Created Woman', p. 173.

LEONARD: ETHICAL ALTERITIES

153

The hinge that connects divinity and secularity, Levinas here argues,
appears to be held together by a prioritization of the paternal genealogy:
in spite of describing an ambivalence in the construction of gender
positions, biblical and Talmudic tales of creation refuse to acknowledge
the existence of the feminine either as a creation of God or as a social
phenomenon.
This reading of paternity in the Talmud produces further problems,
Irigaray suggests. According to Irigaray, Levinas's formulation of difference as paternity refuses to step outside the paternal genealogy which
denies women both property and a proper name, and Irigaray similarly
questions Levinas's description of paternity as the God-man relation.
Despite Levinas's questionable claim that his commentary is an objective
and disinterested interpretation of Berakhot ('I am not taking sides;
today, I am commenting'59), Irigaray believes that Levinas's transgression
of sex and gender classifications is a limited transgression: 'The assertion
that the other is always situated within the realm of the father, of the
father-son, God-man relation...seems to me to belong to the imperatives
of the metaphysical tradition.'60 Although Levinas argues for a God who
transcends the thematizing violence of metaphysical theology, Irigaray
claims that this transcendence is simply a masquerade, is itself caught up
in metaphysicality, and that Levinas 'scarcely unveils the disfigurements
brought about by onto-theology'.61
A more suitable response to the 'disfigurements' of ontotheology
would, Irigaray argues, consider the correspondences between the systematic exclusion of women from spiritual, sexual and symbolic identity. Although Levinas argues that the ethical relation is evident in divine
transcendence and amorous carnality, he seems reluctant to consider
the relationship between both. He states in De Dieu qui vient a I'idee,
for example, that ethical responsibility begins with agape rather than
eros: 'A relation without correlation or a love of the neighbour which is
a love without eros. For the other man and from there to God.'62 For
Irigaray, this refusal to recognize the fecund dialogue passing between
the divine and the carnal, between agape and eros, leaves the feminine
without a transcendence and without a God. Moreover, this separation
explains Levinas's disenchantment with mysticism:
In so far as I am acquainted with him, Levinas has little taste for mysticism.
What is the link between this lack of interest and his conception of sexual
59.
60.
61.
62.

Levinas, 'And God Created Woman', p. 170.


Irigaray, 'Questions', p. 183.
Irigaray, 'Questions', p. 184.
Emmanuel Levinas, De Dieu qui vient a I'idee (Paris: Vrin, 1986), p. 13.

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SELF/SAME/OTHER
difference? In other words, is mysticism not linked to the flesh in its sexual
dimension [comme sexuee\t But outside of any mysticism, who is God?
What is God? What is the point of flesh without mysticism?... To exploit
the woman as reproducer, depriving her of her desire as a virgin-daughter
or as a woman?63

By describing the caress as a form of ethical encounter,64 Levinas sets


in motion the connection of the sacred with the erotic. By tying ethical
transcendence to both the human body and to the trace of God, he
draws upon the tradition of Christian mysticism that would unite the
carnal with the divine. But, in contrast with the more Nietzschean
developments that were emerging in post-war French thought (developments exemplified by Foucault, Deleuze, Klossowski and Bataille), Levinas refuses to consider the ethical encounter as both erotic and sacred.
Rather, his rejection of mysticism reinscribes a distinction between
amorous carnality and divine transcendence and, for Irigaray, he fails to
consider the fact that more conventional brands of metaphysical theology have always been supported by an equation of the human body
with the divine. (A telling passage from Thomas Aquinas's Summa theologica illustrates this point: 'Holy Scripture fittingly delivers divine and
spiritual realities under bodily guises...holy Scripture delivers spiritual
things to us beneath metaphors taken from bodily things.'65 This passage
exemplifies Aquinas's commitment to the entire tradition of religious
thought which believes that the object of creation [Ish, man, in the first
instance] bears a similar appearance and similar characteristics to God.
Thus, metaphysical and transcendental infinity is already represented in
terms of the human in Aquinas's canonical theology and this
anthropomorphism becomes exacerbated, for Irigaray, when divine spirituality is characterized physiologically, with man occupying a privileged
position of proximity to God66.) By failing to consider the strongly
gendered foundations of theology, and, as a consequence, by consigning
eroticism to a non-theological form of transcendence, Levinas augments
the paternal affinity between God and men and once more denies
women a spiritual and metaphysical identity.
To remedy this condition Irigaray claims that it is necessary to extend
63. Irigaray, 'Questions', pp. 186-87.
64. See Levinas, Totality and Infinity, pp. 256-66.
65. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, I (trans, and ed. Thomas Gilby; Cambridge: Blackfriars, 1964), pp. 33-35.
66. It is not surprising to read Aquinas's explicit statements on women: 'Such is
the subjection in which woman is by nature subordinate to man, because the power
of rational discernment is by nature stronger in man'. Aquinas, Summa theologica,
XIII, p. 39.

LEONARD: ETHICAL ALTERITIES

155

the discursive and conceptual horizons within which the divine and
identity are defined. Recommending a restructuring of conventional
notions and representations, so that women can have a bodily and a
transcendental identity, Irigaray reappropriates the empirico-transcendental doublet that Foucault challenges in The Order of Things. Resurfacing as the 'sensible transcendental', this doublet is semantically
redefined by Irigaray: she problematizes the restricted and repressive
metaphysics of phallogocentrism, but does so by continually reinventing
the sensible and transcendental, the physical and metaphysical condition
of women. Thus, This Sex Which Is Not One' and Marine Lover designate female sexuality with the biologism 'lips'\Je, tu, nous endorses
juridical and legislative frameworks; and / Love to You appeals for an
idea of nature that would acknowledge sexual difference. While the use
of these concepts seems to repeat the essentialist errors of patriarchal
culture, Whitford, in Luce Irigaray: Philosophy in the Feminine, argues
that a process of mimicry is at work in Irigaray's worka mimicry which
provisionally restates existing terms in order to overcome the restricted
horizons of phallogocentrism and to represent a female specificity. This
process is, for Whitford, best understood through the notion of the
'sensible transcendental', which,
is a movement which can operate in two ways, first to break up the imaginary formations which have become too constraining, and provide an
interlocutor to enable the male subject to shift his position; second, to
function symbolically as 'home' for women while they seek to build and
create a different place for themselves in the social order. The sensible
transcendental is offered, I think, as a horizon in which we are all implicated67

What needs to be noted is that this alternative horizon does not simply
apply to the reconfiguration of women's physiological status; with the
idea of the sensible transcendental Irigaray also attempts to reconceive
the relationship between the feminine and the divine. For Chanter, This
includes...a reassessment of religious symbols and imagery, and the
development and elaboration of women-identified religions that recognize female divinities'.68
As a part of this reassessment (and in contrast with Kristeva's claim
that, The portrayal of the maternal in general and particularly in its
Christian, virginal, one reduces social anguish and gratifies a male
being',69 Irigaray draws upon 'the maternal' in order to arrive at alter67. Whitford, Luce Irigaray, p. 144.
68. Chanter, ethics oferos, p. 174.
69. Julia Kristeva, 'Interview', in m/f5/6 (1981), p. 167. Cf. Kristeva's claim else-

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

native theological horizons. To challenge the exclusive paternal alliance


between men and God, she recommends that a maternal genealogy be
realized between women and a God in the feminine. Taking the principal thesis of Ludwig Feuerbach's Essence of Christianity, that 'Consciousness of God is self-consciousness, knowledge of God is selfknowledge',70 Irigaray points out that 'Women, traditionally mothers of
God, lack their own God (or gods) with which, individually or as a community, to attain a specificity of their own'.71 Divine Women picks up
this same premise: 'To set up a genre/gender [genre], a God is needed...
To become it is necessary to have an essence or a genre/gender
[genre]...as a horizon.'72 The result of this dialectical imperative is that
women, in order to attain a separate identity and subjectivity, need to
establish a theology in the feminine. According to Irigaray, women can
only achieve an alternative status when all dimensions of the sociosymbolic orderincluding the theological dimensionhave a feminine
counterpart. Divine Women most clearly advances this sentiment:
We need a feminine trinity. But without a divine which suits her, woman
cannot accomplish her subjectivity according to and within an objective
which corresponds to her... To become a woman, to accomplish her
feminine specificity, woman needs a god.73

Irigaray therefore argues that God has to be redefined if women are to


achieve a specificity and a subjectivity which is not subordinated by a
privileging of the phallus or by a paternal genealogy which prioritizes
the proximity of man to God. Only when the horizons of theology are
capable of accommodating sexual difference will women's identity come
into being.
where that religious discourses occasionally contain ecstatic transgressions. 'Stabat
Mater', for example, claims that an entropic transferral of ecstasy into self-representation is evident in 'the maternal', site of revelatory experience for Augustine, Bernard
of Clairvaux and Meister Eckhart, an 'ambivalent principle' which 'stems from an
identity catastrophe that causes the Name to topple over into the unnameable that
one imagines as femininity, non-language or the body'. Julia Kristeva, 'Stabat Mater'
(trans. Leon S. Roudiez), in Toril Moi (ed.), The Kristeva Reader (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), p. 162.
70. Ludwig Feuerbach, 'Man and Religion' (trans. George Eliot), in Bernard M.G
Reardon (ed.), Religious Thought in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridg
University Press, 1966), p. 95.
71. Luce Irigaray, 'Women, the Sacred and Money' (trans. Diana Knight and Margaret Whitford), Paragraph 8 (1986), p. 11.
72. Luce Irigaray, Divine Women (trans. Stephen Muecke; Sydney: Local Consumption Occasional Papers no. 8, 1986), pp. 3-4.
73. Irigaray, Divine Women, p. 6.

LEONARD: ETHICAL ALTERITIES

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There is therefore continuity and discontinuity between the writings


of Levinas and Irigaray. Both draw upon some conventions of theology
in order to unsettle the foundations of cataphaticism: just as Levinas rein
vests God with a newcounter-metaphysicalsignificance, so Irigaray
rewrites the symbolic and gendered status of the divine. A further intersection between Irigaray and Levinas is evident in their equal distance
from the kind of prophetic and catastrophic thinking that is associated
with Nietzsche. According to one reading of Nietzsche, the dissolution
of transcendental theology triggers the death of humanism, but Levinas
maintains that this apocalyptic pronouncement is somewhat premature.
God has not died, he argues, because the institutions, social structures,
discursive frameworks and cultural forms that have been generated by
ontotheology remain firmly in place. Irigaray takes this argument further
by claiming that the proclamation of man's ruin (the corollary of God's
demise) is untimely and inappropriate since the phallocratic and androcentric order of humanism still occupies a position of dominance, and
can even be discerned in Levinas's work. With greater vigilance than
Levinas, Irigaray refuses prematurely to declare the end of ontotheologythe man/God dyadand attempts to move beyond Levinas's
ethics of difference towards an ethics of sexual difference.

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PartV
Re-visioning the Sacred Text

Christopher Burdon
Jacob, Esau and the Strife of Meanings

The development of a canon of Scripture serves both to include and to


exclude.1 On the one hand, a collection as diverse as the Hebrew and
Christian Bibles gives rise to an almost limitless range of interpretation
and rewriting. The 'original' textitself very probably the outcome of
much tradition, elaboration, contention and editingbecomes the pretext for an astonishing variety of exegesis and performance in the varied
cultures and reading communities for which it serves as Scripture. The
optimistic and liberal-minded might see this as a 'fusion of horizons'
between text and reader, the more cautious and the more bold alike as a
going 'over the top' of the horizon where the text is left behind. Either
way, Scripture has been infiltrated into the promiscuous and inclusive
world where human subjects inherit or discover or construct or contend
for their identities. The communities that interpret or perform Scripture,
perhaps even the bulging and prolific canon itself, have become a beth
hamidrash or 'home of searching', where meaning aboundslike
Rabelais's Renaissance Abbey of Thelemes, with the inscription above its
gate, 'Do what you will'.
On the other hand, the faith communities which used and eventually
authorized the writings of the canons were concerned to set limits to
any bulging, to exclude as well as to include. It is not my concern here
to examine how this process took placein the case of the Hebrew and
Christian Bibles, during the first three or four centuries of the Christian
eraor to assess the relative parts played in it then by theological argument, liturgical custom, power struggles and the definitions of group
identity.2 Rather, I wish to look at the ways those factors are still at work
in the reading of canonical texts. I will suggest that their very status as
Scripture encourages a definition of the subject over against the 'other',
a definition which militates against the inclusivity of interpretation
otherwise encouraged.
1. An earlier version of this paper was published in The Expository Times 109
(1998), pp. 360-63. I am grateful to the Publishers (T. & T. Clark Ltd) for permission
to adapt it.
2. For a recent survey of issues underlying canon formation, see John Barton, The
Letter and the Spirit: Studies in the Biblical Canon (London: SPCK, 1997), pp. 1-62.

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161

The process of exclusion is a satisfaction of the lust for certitude that


is far from being restricted to so-called 'fundamentalist' groups. If it is
underwritten by synagogue or church or God, then the certitude seems
all the more unassailable. But expressing it in these terms may make the
process seem too cerebral. There are other lusts at play, not least the
lust for heroes. For I know, whether or not I admit it, that many of my
desires are unsatisfied and are likely to remain so, and that the same
applies to my group or nation. Our own status as coherent and achieving
subjects is vulnerable, and the hero may be the answer to that fragmentation of experience and incompletion of the subject. Contemporary
real-life heroes can disappointall too soon we discover that the footballer beats his wife or the politician takes bribesbut the mythic hero,
the character clearly delineated against the enemy or other, the subject
of the story that moves to closure, he (occasionally she) it is who can
construct or restore our own identity as subjects. And if such a hero performs not just with the ephemeral authority of Hollywood but with the
supernatural authority of the Scripture that authorizes your community,
if moreover he is your physical or spiritual ancestor, then (as John
Newton sang of the Zion inhabited by the true believer) 'what can shake
thy sure repose?'
It is questionable, though, how far the 'heroes' of the Hebrew Bible
are such rounded and fully constructed subjects (let alone morally
admirable ones) compared, say, with Odysseus. Within the texts there
are gaps and jolts, which cry out for the narrative and theological fillings
they have so generously received, but which at the same time resist any
one delineation of their subjects.3 Nowhere is this more evident than in
the stories of Jacob in the book of Genesis. He enters the world as a
grasping brother (Jacob 'the Heel') and ends his life in exile as a grumpy
old man. Yet his status as 'Israel'the father of the people of God, even
himself the nation and (illegitimately?) the Christian Churchmarks him
out as representative and heroic subject, as do the adventures by which
he wrests or receives the blessing of God. In these vivid adventures
Jacob contends with a succession of other subjectsbrother, father,
uncle, angels, Godmost of whom he vanquishes. What selfhood could
be more unassailable than that of a name given by God? But the very
3. For the famous contrast between the Genesis and Homeric narratives, see
Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1953), pp. 1-20. On the 'gaps' within
biblical narrative, see further Meir Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative:
Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1985), pp. 186-229; Daniel Boyarin, Intertextuality and the Reading of
Midrash (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), pp. 39-56.

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name 'Israel' means (in one of the interpretations provided by the text)
one who strives with God; and the victories of Jacob often seem hollow,
the 'blessing' rather unsatisfactory, and the ongoing strife perhaps a
querulous one for his own or his descendants' identity.
I shall focus on the account at the heart of the 'Jacob cycle' of the
patriarch's return from his long stay with Laban to face his estranged
brother Esau (Genesis 32 and 33). Within the larger canonical framework Jacob is the hero, Esau the outcast; and, having outwitted his
uncle, Jacob certainly seems to be returning home in triumph, leading a
caravan of wives, children, servants, flocks and herds, boasting the
'blessing' he snatched from his father and his brother. Yet it is hardly
possible to read the five episodes in these two chapters without sensing
the hero's weakness.4 Far from being a 'knight of faith' like his grandfather Abraham, far from being a magnanimous gentleman as the feared
Esau is revealed to be, Jacob is ill at ease, nervous before the unknown
Other he must facewhether that Other be the brother he has treated
so callously from the womb (32.8, 12; 33.3, 10), or the God of his
fathers (32.10, 31) or the mysterious 'ish ('man') who wrestles with him
at the ford (32.25). He finally faces his brother as an absurd figure,
parading his great retinue yet limping from the wound imposed by his
night-time antagonist and then prostrating himself on the ground before
Esau. Do these stories of Presence (Hebrew panim, face) and Blessing
(berakab) hang together, or does the looming otherness of the forces
Jacob contends with actually serve to dispel presence, blessing and
coherence? Is there really a 'subject' to the stories at all, let alone one
who can serve as a moral example or father of the nation?
Seeking what I deemed a humane theology of presence and blessing, I
first proposed a reading of these two chapters which seemed to be narratively, psychologically and theologically coherenteven, in a rather
homiletic way, to tell a story of religious progress through the subject
Jacob. Moving on from the encounter with angels in the first episode,
which harks back to his vision on first leaving his homeland (Gen. 28.1022), Jacob's strategy and religion in the second episode are ones of prudencethe use of a show of strength, of bribes, of prayer and mediation
to avoid Esau's vengeance. This is shattered in the third episode by a
religion of violent encounter with the hidden god at Jabbok, from
which Jacob graduates in the fourth episode to a religion of forgiveness
4. The 'episodes' into which I am dividing the narrative are: I. Gen. 32.1-3
(Mabanaim); II. 32.4-22 (preparation for meeting); III. 32.23-33 (Jabbok); IV. 33.111 (meeting); V. 33.12-20 (parting). References to Genesis 32 follow the verse num
bering of the Hebrew Bible: for that used in most English translations, subtract one.

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163

when he 'sees the face of God' in his brother's welcome. What then is
the God of Israel, what his presence or his blessing? First, an unseen
presence announced by angels; then an alien and nameless presence
attacking in darkness, from which Jacob nevertheless concludes that he
has been at Peniel and 'seen God face to face'; finally, a gracious but
fully human presence, immanent in the estranged brother. The enemy is
friend and the agon is past in a community of reconciliation, a radically
kenotic, Blakean religion of Divine Humanity. As brothers and sisters we
have reached the twilight of the idols and can leave behind Bethel and
Peniel, our priestly systems and almighty demon-gods.
Yes, I still find this attractive. But a pall is cast over such a humane
fulfilment by the fifth episode, which I had ignored. Jacob does not
respond to Esau's effusive welcome in kind. While Esau calls him 'abi
('my brother') he persists with 'adoni and 'abdeka ('my lord' and 'your
servant') and with the ritual giving of his present. In what seems like a
slip of the tongue, Jacob calls his 'present' to Esau a 'blessing'his
rninbab becomes his berakab. But whose berakab? the one wrested
from the night-time antagonist? or the father's blessing stolen long ago
(the law of primogeniture now reasserting itself)? or the mere material
bribe of Jacob's ostentatious minbab? And this gift of the long-contested
blessing is left hanging in the air, for it is a very nervous sort of reconciliation. It is followed not by the sharing of flocks and herds and the healing of old wounds around the fire, but by parting', for with a feeble
excuse Jacob declines his brother's offer to 'set out and go on' together,
and the two go off in opposite directions. They are separate nations,
meeting again in Genesis only for their father's funeral. To see the whole
story, with J.P. Fokkelman, as the answer to Jacob's prayer of 32.12,
fulfilled in his 'renunciation of deceit and violence for the sake of the
blessing', is to impose a moralizing or theologizing closure on a story
that is much more fraught with ambiguity and conflict, indeed with continuing deceit and violence as the tale of Jacob continues.5 And I must
make the same judgment on the humane and liberal reading I had
attempted.
Forgiveness of the (br)other is not so easy; nor can the human
embrace yet contain or supersede or vanquish the dark divine presence.
Even if the angelic religion of Bethel is past, it seems that the religion of
divine humanity cannot yet be owned. Conflict with the Other (the
5. J.P. Fokkelman, Narrative Art in Genesis: Specimens of Stylistic and Structural Analysis (Studia Semitica Nederlandica, 17; Assen: Van Gorcum, 1975), pp. 22628. Fokkelman's preceding analysis of the Leitworter and puns in the story is,
however, astute.

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divine?) continues to haunt our narratives and religions and subjectivities, just as the wounding but blessing enemy-god continues to haunt
Jacob. 'I have seen Elohim face to face yet my soul has been delivered',
he says, implying that the Other remains other, neither destroying with
irresistible force (or grace) nor absorbing in mystical union, and even
withholding its name. But can we call thisfor Jacob or for ourselves,
even in encounters with claims to be Penielsthe 'presence of God'? Or
is the presence, the face (panirri), veiled in the darkness? The Peniel
encounter takes place before dawn, so in what kind of light can Jacob
claim to 'see Elohim face to face'? Is this hidden face of God after all
then a projection of the subject's conflict with the human Other, in
enemy brother or nation or in one's own psyche?
Historical, narrative and theological interpreters of the stories have,
for different reasons, contended with this otherness by adopting an
implicit submission to a heroic reading. This may work insofar as the
interpreter constructs the subject Jacob by isolating the various Others
he encounters. Some of the gaps can be plugged in a particular hermeneutical style and within a particular episode: in opposition to Laban,
say, or to Esau, or to Elohim (God), Jacob can perhaps be grasped. But
then one returns to the text and peers beyond the episode; and the
subject of the narrative as a whole is too dispersed to provide such
certitude or heroism. This is especially true of the powerful episode III
(the encounter with the 'ish at the Jabbok).6 The historical critic investigates its probable origins in a folk-tale of a river-demon and its partial
adaptation by the 'Yahwist' narrator.7 The theological critic finds in this
episode, unlike the all-too-human stories that surround it, a mysterious
and primitive theophany: the 'ish is no man but an angel, or God himself
(as Jacob hints, 32.31), or Christ, or perhaps Jacob's own alter ego or
dark side, and from the encounter can be drawn religious or moral
depth. The narrative critic forgoes any historical or theological concerns
but pursues the Jabbok story's internal structure, drawing out its strange
gaps and reversals, as most impressively in Roland Barthes's reading.8
6. Surveys of the history of interpretation of Gen. 32.23-33 are given by William
Miller, Mysterious Encounters at Mamre and Jabbok (Chico, CA: Scholars Press,
1985), see especially the summaries, pp. 114-17; 136-38; and by John Rogerson,
'Wrestling with the Angel: A Study in Historical and Literary Interpretation', in Ann
Loades and Michael McLain (eds.), Hermeneutics, the Bible and Literary Criticism
(London: Macmillan, 1992), pp. 131-44.
7. For example, C. Westermann, Genesis 12-36 (London: SPCK, 1986), pp. 51221.
8. R. Barthes, 'The Struggle with the Angel', in R. Barthes, ImageMusicText
(London: Fontana, 1977), pp. 125-41.

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What is troubling about such interpretations, for all their diverse


insights, is not just their dislocation of the complete narrative but their
relegation of Esau/Edom, the human (br)other, to the role of outcast or
to no role at all. Reading the whole five episodes as a narrative not just
of presence and of blessing but of otherness means taking Esau seriously
and perhaps proclaiming with William Blake and against the thrust of
the Hebrew and Christian canons, 'Now is the dominion of Edom'.9 It
dissolves certainty about the discrete heroic subject, and it demands a
reading stance that is agonistic and apocalyptic.
This is a difficult thing to do, for however agonistic the stories of
Jacob and Esau, however agonistic Jacob himself, he and they are placed
in the metanarrative of the Bible and of the communities that give
authority to it. And those communities and their canon celebrate the
dominion of Jacobwhether the dominion be the land of Canaan or the
city of God, whether Jacob be the people of Israel or the true Church. At
the end of the story or in its continuation or in what it portrays typologically there is fulfilment: the presence shared, the blessing handed on
and the Other dispelled.
The fulfilment can be that of national conquest, the obliteration of
Edom/Esau or its antitype, as in the Book of Obadiah, where the ancient
conflict of brothers comes to life in the political and military conflict of
their respective descendants in the writer's own generation. In Obadiah's
'vision', God's vengeance against 'Mount Esau' and vindication of 'Mount
Zion' are announced as punishment for 'the slaughter and violence done
to your brother Jacob... there shall be no survivor of the house of Esau;
for the LORD has spoken'.10 A similar fulfilment is hinted at many centuries later (probably fourth or fifth century CE) in the midrashim that
present Jacob as moral and national hero and Esau as degenerate alien.
Here there are clear limits to the rabbis' customary multiplicity of
interpretations; for throughout the interpretation of these two chapters
(in Bereshith Kabbah 75-79) Jacob is the hero Israel, and the rabbis are
concerned to differentiate him and his special merit from the Other
that is, from Esau, or Rome, or the Gentiles, or the angels. Reading texts
as always in conjunction with other texts, the rabbis juxtapose Jacob's
prayer for deliverance with the earlier prophecy of Esau's 'serving his
brother' (Gen. 27.40) and with the later vision of the arrogant horn that
9. W. Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, pi. 3.
10. Obad. w. 10-18. But contrast the ambiguous and apparently anti-Jacobic
oracles of the earlier prophet Hosea (12.2-6). On the interpretation of the Jabbok
story within the canon, see further Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology (2
vols.; Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1965), II, pp. 325-26.

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is to arise and be vanquished by the glory of Israel (Dan. 7.8).11 Thus


Torah, apocalypse and midrash join forces to assure the community that
it will be liberated from the evil empire of Rome. Esau is 'that wicked
man' (76.9)his wickedness being demonstrated in characteristic ways,
if at some distance from what any historical or narrative critic would see
as the purport of the text. Why, for instance, is Jacob's daughter Dinah
not mentioned when he parades his children before his brother? Because
the wise father had hidden her in a chest so that Esau would not lust
after her. Similarly, Esau's 'wandering eyes' are the reason for Joseph's
being placed in front of the beautiful Rachel (78.10). In this midrash
there are various identifications of the 'ish who wrestles with Jacob,
though, as throughout Jewish tradition, he is an angel and cannot be God
himself. Perhaps he is the malevolent 'angel-prince of Esau' (77.3). But
whether the angel is seen as good or evil, Jacob is indubitably greater, as
the one who 'prevails'. So the closing of the Peniel episode with the
rising of the sun engenders a characteristic contrast between Jacob/Israel
and Esau/Gentiles:
Said R. Berekhiah, 'The sun was shown only to heal him, but as for others,
it merely gave light'. R. Huna in the name of R. Aha: 'The sun served to
heal Jacob, but it burned up Esau and his commanders. Said the Holy One,
blessed be he, to him, "You are a sign for your children. Just as the sun
served to heal you, but it burned up Esau and his commanders, so your
children will find that the sun serves to heal them but to burn up the
nations"' (the references are to Mai. 3-20 and 3.19 respectively).

Again, when the brothers meet, the midrashists contradict the original
text directly by denying that Jacob gives any obeisance to Esau: the
sevenfold prostration is to God, since it could not be to the wicked Esau
(78.8). Nor could Esau 'kiss' his brother, so by the change of a consonant (nasaq to nasafe) he is made to 'bite' him, and their mutual weeping is explained by the pain this encounter gives to Esau's teeth and to
Jacob's neck.
The rabbis of this period usually attribute Jacob's triumph to his
extraordinary merit. In this, as in the denigration of Esau, they are followed by the broad stream of Jewish interpretation, as represented for
instance by the medieval Rashi's commentary.12 The earlier Christian
rabbi Paul, however, interprets the conflict more theologically. Jacob
11. J. Neusner (ed.), Genesis Rabbah.. .A New American Translation (Atlanta:
Scholars Press, 1985), III, parashah 76.6. Further references in the text are to
Neusner's numeration.
12. Cf. Rashi's comments on the wickedness of Esau at Gen. 32.6, 11, and on the
'noble conduct' of Jacob at 32.28.

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and Esau are not human characters so much as signals of God's purpose
of election (Rom. 9-10-13). Jacob is loved and Esau hated, and God's
sovereign decree cannot be contested. The twist, however, is that in
Paul's reading the election is not of the carnal descendants of Jacob but
of his spiritual descendants in the Gentile Church. Such a pattern is
maintained in traditional Christian interpretation of the brothers, though
later theologians are less reticent than Paul and often as imaginative as
the rabbis in elaborating the laconic portrayal in Genesis. So even Calvin,
the most emphatic follower of Paul's theology of predestination, presents the reprobate Esau as 'imperious and ferocious' and the elect Jacob
as a 'holy man.. .completely carried away with the ardour of supplication
to God'. As in the midrash, Jacob's sevenfold prostration is to God rather
than Esau, while the latter's embrace of his brother is a mere temporary
respite of his cruelty engineered by God's grace.13
Calvin's older contemporary and fellow-reformer Luther also followed
a traditional Christian typology in his lectures on Genesis of 1542-44.
But he enlivens and humanizes the biblical narrative by presenting Esau
as well as Jacob as a true Christian. The hero is 'the holy patriarch Jacob',
a type of the Churchthat is, for Luther, the true Church of faith in
Christ, not of works or papacy.14 The returning Jacob is 'an illustrious
and very practical high priest, who rescues and saves so many souls
from Mesopotamia with the pure doctrine and worship of God' (p. 124).
Through him can be learned the lessons of true faith, of prayer, humility
and mortification.15 Esau, on the other hand, when Jacob prepares to
meet him, is filled with 'arrogance and smugness'. 'His flesh rejoices in
the losses and miseries of his neighbour', as Luther imagines him cherishing his own wealth and power and despising the 'blessing' that has
merely taken his brother to service of the idolatrous Laban (p. 98). But
by the power of God and the prayer of Jacob (and in contrast to 'the trivialities of the Jews') Esau is truly converted. God has blessed the triumphant Jacob at Peniel; 'but his brother Esau has experienced such a
change that he not only does not want to harm him but even wants to
help, love, and be good to him. His anger has been changed into brotherly kindness' (p. 156). So when Esau declines Jacob's gift Luther comments,
13. J. Calvin, Genesis (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1847), pp. 187, 190,
206-207.
14. Luther's Works. VI. Lectures on Genesis 31-7 (Saint Louis: Concordia Press,
1970), p. 87. Further page references in the text are to this edition.
15. On Jacob's ceaseless and anxious prayer, cf. Lectures, pp. 113; 123. On humility and mortification, cf. pp. 121; 152-53- On Luther's interpretation of the Jabbok
episode, see further Rogerson, 'Wrestling with the Angel', pp. 133-34.

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I think that Esau was truly changed in his heart, although he had a very just
cause for hatred and indignation. For the blessing rightfully belonged to
him as the firstborn, but he was a great man, a fine, brave man, undoubtedly instructed in the doctrine and sermons of Isaac and the other fathers
among whom he was brought up, and he learned to curb his evil desires.
Then, too, this procession drawn up to please him was an additional factor, and likewise the struggle and prayer of Jacob. Finally, there was the
government of God, and all of these things drove his heart to forgetfulness
of the wrong he had suffered (p. 170).

In the embracing and weeping and fraternal love is demonstrated 'that


glorious and true Israelitish victory, by which through prayer and the
struggle of faith the will both of God and of man is overcome' (pp.
l67f.). Esau, it seems, is an evangelical 'godly prince', recognizing in
Jacob the true Christian. And Luther's theology of the 'two swords' in
church and state is perhaps shown by his concern to demonstrate that
Israel is never actually subject to Edom, the blessing never surrendered
despite Jacob's fraternal obeisance (pp. 161-3). Luther expounds a combative faith in God which lays claim to the promises of baptism, despite
all the appearance of God's hostility or of the weakness of the true
Church:
He wrestles with [the Church] and conducts Himself like an adversary and
enemy who wishes to forsake, cast away, and indeed destroy her. For if
you carefully consider the state of our church, we seem to have nothing
but the pure Word and the sacraments, and we have an infinite number of
adversariesprinces, nobles, citizens, domestics, and pupils [a revealing
list!], and finally our own flesh which we carry about with us (p. 147).

In the wrestling with God or Christ at the ford the Jacobic-Lutheran


church is experiencing the divine disciplining which is really 'playing
with him in a kindly manner.. .pure signs of most familiar love' (p. 130)
that engender love and reconciliation in the other.
Luther's reading, both subjective and theological, is strongly taken up
in Charles Wesley's hymn 'Wrestling Jacob'. This dramatic monologue is
insistently christological, its climax being in the wrestler's discovery that
his antagonist is Jesus, whose name is Love. Its richness lies in its intertextuality, and more particularly in the plurality of its subject, who is
Jacob and Wesley and St Paul and the Christian singer or reader, repeating four times:
Wrestling I will not let thee go,
Till I thy name, thy nature know.

The wrestler begins by asserting that 'I need not tell thee who I am',
namely a sinner. But in a sense the discovery of the Other's identity in

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169

the night is also a re-creation of the subject's own identity as a justified


sinner. It is the latter which is revealed by the rising sun:
'Tis Love, 'tis Love! Thou died'st for me,
I hear thy whisper in my heart.
The morning breaks, the shadows flee...
The Sun of Righteousness on me
Hath rose with healing in his wings.
Withered my nature's strength; from thee
My soul its life and succour brings.

But such a fulfilment and reconciliation is possible only by a twofold


omission on Wesley's part. First, he ignores the corporate dimension of
'Jacob', whether as Israel or as Church: his subject may be the patriarch
or the poet, the apostle or the singer, but he is incontrovertibly an individual, and the political and ecclesial ramifications of the story are ignored in this celebration of personal faith.16 Secondly, Wesley restricts
his narration to the story of the night and dawn at Peniel. For all the
richness of his allusions to other parts of Scripture, there is no mention
of Esau or even any eighteenth-century avatar of Esau. 'My company
before is gone,/ And I am left alone with thee'; and the company, let
alone the fraternal threat, are heard of no more. Rather, at the end, and
in strong contrast to the opening of Genesis 33, Wesley's redeemed
Jacob has left conflict behind:
Lame as I am, I take the prey,
Hell, earth and sin with ease o'ercome;
I leap for joy, pursue my way,
And as a bounding hart fly home...

('home' being heaven). The limp is the only reminder left of the darkness and wrestling, of the subject's fragmentation and the unease of
physical and fraternal existence. All otherness of God or of brother is
overcome as he triumphantly repeats 'Thy nature and thy name is Love'.
The various readings sketched above are built on the assumption that
Scripture speaks with authority, and they all instinctively adopt Jacob as
heroic subject. Some, like Obadiah and the rabbis, posit a sharp differentiation between the subject and the other, celebrating the victory of
Jacob. Some, like Luther and Wesley, celebrate the reconciliation or
even union of subject and other. But something of a resistance to either
kind of fulfilment is seen in traditional Christian mystical theology,
where-as on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapelthe fingers of Adam and
God do not quite meet. For the anonymous English teacher of contem16. The same is true of Hopkins's powerful individualistic reworking of thejabbok
story in 'Carrion Comfort'.

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plation knowledge of the Other is possible only by entering the 'cloud of


unknowing'. For St John of the Cross the meeting of bride and groom is
only en una noche oscura. For Gregory of Nyssa the face of God is invisible to Moses since God is the one who 'goes ahead'.17 Such witnesses
by mystics to the trace of the Other clearly disrupt the mediations of
conventional religion (episodes I and II of our story); but they also imply
limitations to a narrative or theology of incarnation or fulfilment (episode IV). Eschatology cannot yet be realized, the human embrace cannot
yet contain the dark Presence. The apophatic tradition of prayer and
interpretation involves not just reticence in speaking of God: it means
also that the desiring and experiencing subject is herself in fragments,
undergoing purgation.
Again, shunning mysticism but like Wesley writing within a radical
theology of grace, Karl Earth referred to the Peniel story and the impossibility of seeing God's face except as his enemy: only in resistance is the
encounter with grace a reality.18 To say, then, 'Thy nature and thy name
is Love' without first sensing the face as hostile is vacuous and sentimental. Seeing the other face to face in the dark is what happens in the
wrestler's grip or with the bayonet at your throat:
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in the dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.19

If we speak seriously of othernesslet alone of transcendencewe


speak of violence. And the Genesis story makes strong hints with its
wordplay of an association between the enemy god and the enemy
brother (32.31; 33.10). Jacob prays for deliverance from 'the hand of my
brother' (32.12); but the actual recurrence of the verb nsl ('deliver') is at
his deliverance from Elohim (32.31). Again, in Jacob's nervous soliloquy
before nightfall (32.21) there is repeated reference to his own and Esau's
facesin various forms the wordpanim occurs no fewer than five times
in thirteen words. Yet the one he seespantm 'el-panim is the enemy at
the ford at night; and ironically when he does approach Esau in the
morning it is hardly eyeball to eyeball (whether in hostility or reconciliation) since he prostrates himself to the ground seven times. When presumably he does meet his brother's eyes there is no telling whether it is
with joy, with terror, or with shifty Jacobic cunning. The statement 'I
17. The Cloud of Unknowing, ens. 3-6; St John of the Cross, 'The Dark Night',
stanza 1; Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, 2.219-55.
18. K. Earth, Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), I, part 2, p. 339.
19. 'Strange Meeting', in The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen, (ed. C. Day
Lewis; London: Chatto & Windus, 1963), p. 36.

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have seen your face as one sees the face of Elohim' (33.10) is indeed an
amazing one; but is it (as I first read it) the celebration of a fraternal religion of forgiveness and incarnation, or rather the fearful recognition of
endemic conflict between brother and brother, between nation and
nation, between man and Elohim? Is the embrace of Esau as constricting
and wounding as the hold of the 75/7?
Living face to face, in the immediate presence of the god or the
brotherthat is the hard thing. Elohim is left behind in the darkness,
Jacob 'passes on slowly' to Succoth while Esau 'turns back' to Seir. And
the narrative seems to peter out in a kind of reversion to the conventional religion of prudence and mediation. Jacob builds altars (33.20;
35.7) and even returns to Bethel. It seems that, as elsewhere in the Genesis stories, the ultimate blessing is the very practical one of reboboth,
the 'broad spaces' needed so that your presence and your flocks do not
impinge on your neighbour's (cf. Gen 26.17-22). For these are stories
about peoplesthe namings and the warrings of Israel and Edom, the
seeking and losing of dominion. Inherited systems such as primogeniture
are subverted by the voice of the Other, but the subversion itself is
unravelled by the lure of berakab', and as there is not enough blessing to
go round neither conquest nor forgiveness seems to be attainable. The
political and personal outcome is uneasy, as it is for the tribes of today's
world. Are they to shrug their shoulders and slouch off to their Succoths
or Seirs, ducking the agon of seeking blessing? Or can we achieve a
political or ecclesial praxis that creatively affirms the presence of the
Other without pushing that affirmation to some system or fulfilment that
puts the Other in his place?
Yet once the darkness of the river god and the light of the human god
(the face of El and the face of Esau) have been injected into the narrative
they cannot be expunged. The faces still haunt the all-too-human Jacob
with his dysfunctional family, and they still haunt the readerthough
each may be held at arm's length in reading and in praxis, as apocalypse
and Utopia respectively. Within the biblical canon and within history the
antagonist of the Jabbok continues to queer the pitch for limping Israel,
as does the enemy neighbour Edom or Esau.20 The new name given at
Peniel is still incomplete, perhaps ironic. For the 'isb, who is in some
sense the 'face of Elohim', withholds his own name, a name that is presumably part of the meaning of Israel's name. Even when, much later in
the Pentateuch, the holy name is revealed to Moses, it is in a sense no
20. So Gerhard von Rad speaks of the 'wonderful transparence' and contemporaneity of the Jabbok story as symbol of Israel's struggle with its God (Genesis: A
Commentary [London: SCM Press, 9th edn, 1972], pp. 34, 320).

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name: YHWH, who will be who he will be. If identity itself is so fraught,
how can forgiveness be given or blessing enjoyed? Thus the story of
acute reversals, blessings stolen, families deceived, struggles in the night,
is not resolved: despite the narrator's interpretation of the name Israel
(32.29) there is no victory for Jacob. As Barthes's structural reading
of the struggle with the angel shows, expectations are reversed, with
the weaker defeating the stronger.21 Genesis 33 is even more unsettling
for the reader expecting a heroic patriarch. The previous reversal announced to the twins' mother and activated by Jacob the Heel in his
theft ofbekorab and berakah (Gen 25.23-34; 27.1-40) is itself reversed.
The younger serves the elder, referring to himself repeatedly as 'abdeka
and bowing down before the gracious Esau and pressing on him his
berakah. As David Clines comments, 'Jacob serves everyone; no one
serves Jacob. So much for the blessing'.22
So was Blake right all along'Now is the dominion of Edom'? But it's
not so simple. A reversal perhaps (though it could be just another cunning plan of Jacob's); but even in apocalypse there is no reversal to end
all reversals. As Blake writes in the next line of The Marriage of Heaven
and Hell, 'Without contraries is no progression'. Blake's own extraordinary proclamation of a religion of Divine Humanityboth apocalypse
and forgiveness, both face of El and face of Esauis itself not a triumphant or canonical synthesis but a call to continued agonistic living
and writing. Agon, as Michael Fishbane comments, is the 'dominant
motif and 'the recurrent thematic emblem of the [Jacob] cycle as a
whole'.23 But, even if the blessing of God is at stake, why should the
struggle lead to closure? All dominion and power is to be undone, and
the undoing will never perhaps be done.
The same combative kind of writing has long been detected in the
book of Genesis, despite its incorporation into a canon of sacred history.
Even if the attributions and assumptions of the documentary hypothesis
are open to question, it clearly recognizes the wrestling between different theologies and national identities that is going on in the text we
have; and even if the 'P' or 'R' strand is thought to have imposed the
eventual form, that form bears many cracks. A highly speculative but
stimulating reworking of the documentary hypothesis undertaken by
Leslie Brisman sees what is normally called the 'J' source as not the ear21. Barthes, 'Struggle with Angel', pp. 134-38.
22. D.J.A. Clines, What Does Eve Do to Help? And Other Readerly Questions to
the Old Testament (JSOTSup, 94; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1994), p. 61. Cf. M. Fishbane
Biblical Text and Texture: Close Readings of Selected Biblical Texts (New York:
Schocken, 1979), p. 52.
23. Fishbane, Biblical Text and Texture, p. 45.

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liest but the latest voice in this battle for narrative dominion, calling it
'the voice of Jacob' the cunning twister of conventional 'Eisaacic' theology and story-telling. For Brisman, Jacob's struggle at Peniel and 'the
very important pseudoetymology of Israel as 'striver with El' suggests
that strife with this 'ish may represent Jacobic strife with the Eisaacic E
and the text over which he presides'.24 If the text is in whatever sense
seen as contemporary, if its readers are engaged with it rather than simply appropriating it or submitting to it, then such revisionist or haggadic
narration is unstoppable. Neither the midrashists nor the prophet Hosea
(12.2-6) seem to have been inhibited from such creative rewriting.
'From the oral to the written, and from the book to canonicity, and from
canon to midrash, represents a continuous process'.25
But not a smooth process. It is agonisticfailing to order the presences and blessings that haunt these stories and letting them instead
continue their struggle one with the other. And seeking refuge, meaning
perhaps, in the gaps and silences that intersperse the scriptural and lived
stories. In the silence may lurk the awareness that the Logos cannot be
grasped, perhaps that the Logos does not exist, so that utterance is vain.
But silence too is ambiguous. Ihab Hassan, in his subtle examination of
modern and postmodern literature in The Dismemberment of Orpheus,
speaks of the 'two accents' of silence arising from the breakdown of language and narrative in the twentieth century. One is 'the negative echo
of language, autodestructive, demonic, nihilist'; the other 'its positive
stillness, self-transcendent, sacramental, plenary'.26 The latter is clearly
akin to the silence of traditional Christian negative theology or apophaticism, to the nada, nada, nada of St John of the Cross and the silence of
R.S. Thomas's empty churches. And Hassan seems to suggest that the
utterers of the postmodern silence have the choice between apophaticism and nihilism: 'Playing their stringless lyres, modern authors enchant
us with their twin melodies, and we dream of bright life or unspeakable
sleep'.27
The recognition of the gaps and the silence, the awareness of our
incompletion as experiencing or believing subjects, can mean we have
reached the place of unspeakable sleepof an uncrossable gulf and a
parting of the waysand that we should therefore abandon any search
24. L. Brisman, The Voice of Jacob: On the Composition of Genesis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), p. 88; cf. pp. 9-18.
25. S. Sandmel, 'The Haggada within Scripture\Journal of Biblical Literature 80
(1961), p. 122.
26. Ihab Hassan, The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Toward a Postmodern Literature (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2nd edn, 1982), p. 248.
27. Hassan, Dismemberment, p. 4.

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for forgiveness or communion. But if those same silences can be the


germ of 'bright life', and if that life is to be more than dream, it can be
the space, the rehoboth, for the darting of the spirit between text and
text, between brother and sister, between Father and Son. What is no
longer sustainable is any stasis, any achieved conquest: insofar as the
name Israel refers to 'striving', that desiring and strife must be read
henceforth as for the present and future, not as past victory.
The poet or citizen or religious believer who seeks to express presence or blessing faces the temptation to turn such striving into stasis,
haggada into metanarrative. For if there has been some Peniel, some
encounter with the violent Other, then the temptation may be to hasten
to fulfilment and closurewhether in a cherishing anamnesis of Presence or in a reductionist denial of it, whether in a conventional distancing of Presence or in a complacent and humanistic domestication of it.
The challenge rather, and the way to an authentically religious poetry or
praxis, may be the polemical juxtaposition of at least these three 'faces'
or traces of the Otherthe angelic presence and traditional altar of
Bethel, the violent presence and darkness of Peniel, and the human
presence and embrace of Esau. And the 'subject' of such encounters is
likely to be as restless as Jacob himself and his restless, nameless God.

Jan Tarlin
The Skull beneath the Skin:
Light Shadow Reading in the Valley of Dry Bones

Mainstream Biblical Studiesprimarily a Protestant enterprise, though


one that has been known to co-opt scholars of other stripes as wellhas
perpetuated itself in large part by elaborating a discourse that tries to
foreclose as completely as possible on all traces of the Other. I'm using
'Other' here in a double sense: in a broad, general sense to cover the full
range of that which is strange, alien or uncanny; and in a narrower sense
to specify those persons who constitute the margins, fringes, or outside
of the community from within which the biblical scholar writes.
The consolidation of Biblical Studies as a critical scholarly discipline in
eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Germany was, to a large degree,
effected by the exclusion of subjects (both the human and thematic
varieties) categorized as unsuitable for enlightened Lutheran table talk.
Perhaps the most glaring founding exclusion for the discourse of Biblical
Studies was the exclusion of the Jewish Other, banished as a degenerate
trace of the glory that was ancient Israel lingering to haunt the liberal
Christian project of claiming the Bible for modern rationality. Hardly less
important was the exclusion of women from the ranks of a scholarly
guild that established an identity for itself not unlike those of male secret
societies in traditional cultures. From the perspective of the 1990s, we
can also begin to see the shaping effects that the exclusions of peoples
of color, gays and lesbians, and the economically disprivileged from the
Biblical Guild have had on the discourse of Biblical Studies.
The exclusion of the social and cultural Other from the discourse of
the Biblical Guild is, however, the mirror image of another founding
exclusion with equally profound repercussions: the exclusion of the
Otherness of the Bible itself. In both its form and its subject matter, the
Bible is a pretty odd collection of pretty strange stuff. Literarily, the Bible
is an abrasive juxtaposition of unlike genres, divergent points of view,
and conflicting ideologies. The behavior of its characters, human and
divine, is consistently odd, frequently troubling, and often terrifying.
None of this should be particularly surprising, since the Bible is nothing
if not the story of the ceaselessly repeated encounter with the strange,
the alien, the uncannywithin and without.

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Yet it is precisely this Otherness that the discourse of mainstream Biblical Studies is designed to tame. The search for sources, editors, redactors, scribes, and scribal errors is an attempt to produce a Bible submissive to modern rationality, a Bible that can be explained: a Bible fit for
polite enlightened company. This Bible has, in the last few decades,
come under attack as traces of the Other have reasserted their visibility
in and around it with ever increasing power.
I refer, of course, to the eruption within the Biblical Guild itself of
social and cultural Otherness in the forms of Jewish Studies; of feminist,
liberation, and queer hermeneutics; and of postmodern theory that has
broken with enlightenment culture. This eruption has brought with it its
specular double: the eruption of the Otherness of the Bible. In the hands
of strangers, the Bible reveals its strangeness.
Mainstream Biblical Studies cannot contain this upheaval by implementing a strategy of 'add and stir'. What is underway is a full-scale
return of the repressed: a negation of the founding exclusions upon
which the identity of the discipline of Biblical Studies as we know it is
based. The traces of the Other that are resurfacing in the disciplinary discourse cannot be dissolved and blended smoothly into the established
scholarly mix; they insist on stubbornly retaining their Otherness and
disturbing the Guild's banquet.
The results of this disturbance cannot be predicted, but a glimpse of
the direction in which things are moving may offer itself through the
medium of parable. The literal definition of the parabolic gesture is: to
throw one thing beside another. Perhaps by throwing things beside each
other that do not seem to belong together, I can mime the current disturbance in the field of Biblical Studies and thereby provide it an opportunity to further clarify its form and trajectory. My parable will throw a
text from the prophet Ezekielhimself a frequent (if not entirely willing) maker of parables at the command of a highly disturbing God
beside a late-twentieth-century work of feminist anthropology: The Last
Word: Women, Death, and Divination in Inner Mani by C. Nadia Seremetakis (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991).
The text from the book of Ezekiel that serves as the first term of my
parable is Ezek. 37.1-14the famous vision of the valley of dry bones. I
have chosen this passage because it provides an instance in which a text
with a powerful charge of Otherness and the uncanny has been spectacularly tamed by the dominant discourse of Biblical Studies. To make
the text fully available for parabolic use, I will insert it here in the NRSV
translation.

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177

The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit
of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of
bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the
valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, 'Mortal, can these bones
live?' I answered, 'O Lord GOD, you know.' Then he said to me, 'Prophesy
to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.
Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you,
and you shall live. I will lay sinews upon you, and cause flesh to come
upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall
live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.'
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied,
suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone
to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come
upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, 'Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to
the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath,
and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.' I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on
their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, 'Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel.
They say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off
completely." Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord
GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves,
O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall
know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up
from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you
shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that
I, the LORD, have spoken and will act, says the LORD' (Ezek. 37.1-14,
NRSV).

Now, the standard reading of this text within mainstream Biblical


Studies is as a vision of Israelite national renewal, one later appropriated
by Pharisaic Judaism and by Christianity as a literal promise of the resurrection of the dead and individual immortality. This reading is based on a
linear, sequential, holistic approach to the text in which the end subsumes all that has come before. Just as the bones, sinew, and flesh are
transformed by the breath into a living nation that renders the fragments
out of which it was made invisible, so too the power of reading is
deployed to cause the fragments of imagery that constitute the text to
disappear into a totalizing vision. The valley filled with disarticulated
skeletal remains; the eerie clattering reunion of those remains; the relayering of the skeletons with sinew and flesh; the valley filled with sinewed, fleshed, but still very dead corpses, all disappear into a triumphal
vision of national renewal.
The practices of reading that foreclose on what is strange and Other
in Ezek. 37.1-14 are so fundamental not only to the discipline of Biblical

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Studies but to the dominant mode of Western literacy that we take them
for granted. Yet that is precisely why we should pause to question them.
Is the logical, sequential construction of a holistic vision the natural form
of the reading process, or is it a form of reading with a particular social
location and pedigree?
Anthropologist C. Nadia Seremetakis has concluded that:
There can be no holistic experience at the margins [of society], only the
creation of refuge areas that provisionally assemble the holistic from fragments in order to intervene in the public structure of domination. The
experience of discontinuity and break prevails in the margins. The myth of
holism and continuity is the ideological creation of 'centers' and dominating groups (The Last Word, p. 2).

Reading a text in the way that Biblical Guild conventionally reads


Ezek. 37.1-14 is, then, to read from the center of society with the eyes of
privilege. To read all traces of the Other out of a text in pursuit of unity
and closure is to reproduce the basic structures of the ideologies of the
socially dominant in both the practice and the product of reading. When
those at the social margins begin to develop their own practices of reading, however, they produce, not totalizing visions, but provisional assemblages of fragments: assemblages that intervene in the unity and solidity
of the public structure of domination by their very provisionality and
discontinuity, by their structural openness to the Other.
My parable of the current disturbance in the field of Biblical Studies
will work itself out by throwing a reading practice from the margins of
the modern West next to Ezek. 37.1-14. I want to know what kind of
assemblage this reading practice might make of Ezekiel's vision of the
valley of dry bones. I want to know how that assemblage might intervene in the dominant discourse of Biblical Studies.
The kind of reading I have in mind is precisely one that takes skeletal
remains as its texts; it is practiced by the community of rural Greek
women from whose experience Seremetakis drew the conclusions that I
quoted above. These women are unlikely to be well acquainted, or even
acquainted at all with the book of Ezekiel. Many of them are illiterate;
their relations with the Greek Orthodox Church are generally perfunctory and often frankly hostile. They do, however, possess a highly developed interpretive discourse about death in general and about skeletal
remains in particular. This discourse, moreover, is a direct consequence
of their marginal position both within their own society and in relation
to modern Western culture. The discourse of the women of Inner Mani,
an isolated peninsula of the Peloponnese, should, therefore, be capable
of generating some very interesting disturbances in modern North American and Western European readings of an ancient Israelite vision of the

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179

valley of the dead. A close look at these disturbances should reveal


something useful about the more general displacements now being generated by the return of the trace of the Other in the discourse of Biblical
Studies.
The women of Inner Mani stand in relations of subordination and marginalization to the official concentrations of power in their world: the allmale clan councils, the Church, and, in more recent times, the state and
the medical profession (Seremetakis, The Last Word, p. 2). Yet there is
one sphere of human existence in which Inner Maniat women have
absolute and unchallenged control: the care of the dead (exclusive of
the church funeral). The primary duties that women perform in this
sphere are the improvization of elaborate biographical laments for the
deceased that are the central feature of mourning rituals preceding the
funeral, and the exhumation and secondary disposal of the deceased's
bones, three or more years after burial. The exhumation includes divinatory practices in which the moral character of the deceased (often
significantly different than his or her public identity) is read off the condition of the bones.
Clearly these activities give women the power to discern and define a
dimension of reality quite different from that in which judgment and
decision making are male prerogatives. For Inner Maniats, male power is
exercised in the realm of 'the instrumental, which is concerned with the
control of immediate situations, things, and events, and therefore with
the organization of the present' (Seremetakis, The Last Word, pp. 21920). Women's power is the power of looking 'beyond the immediate
and the apparent' and interpreting 'absence and the invisible' (Seremetakis, The Last Word, p. 220).
According to Seremetakis, this unofficial interpretive power is exactly
a function of Inner Maniat women's exclusion from official institutional
power. Women's power is, therefore, bound up with their status as what
Inner Maniats call 'light shadow people'.
The big shadow personality is one who is fully engaged with the social
order and particularly with its relations and institutions of power. The light
shadow person, in contrast, is someone who is peripheral to secular social
life, a personality that appears disengaged and marginalized (Seremetakis,
The Last Word, p. 219).

But disengagement and marginalization from the social order and its
institutions and relations of power are not synonymous with nullification
as a cultural agent. Far from it.
'Not to implicate oneself in the visual and material immediacy of the
everyday world, one must look elsewhere. This is the predilection of the

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light shadow person that connects this figure to the practices of divination, dreaming, mourning and...exhumation' (Seremetakis, The Last
Word, p. 220). For the purposes of this parable, it will be what Inner
Maniat women discern through the practice of exhumation that will be
of central concern.
Seremetakis observes that:
[A] cynical wisdom [originates] in the domain of exhumation... Exhumation, by exposing the bones, exposes the finality of the social self, and, as
an accumulated experience, it becomes the exposure of the bones of society. .. [An] ironic derealization of all social order and normative constructs originate[s]...in the material contact of exhumation [original
emphasis]. Exhumation defamiliarizes the entire social order for women...
The exposure of bones metaphorizes the invisible and the outside whose
entry disinters and then decenters the given anchorages of social life (Seremetakis, The Last Word, pp. 218-19; 223).

For Inner Maniat women, the very act of exhuming the bones of one's
dead kin cuts loose the anchorage of social life in the embodied human
self while what can be read in those bones has the potential to loose
their community's moorings to the authoritative (male) narrative of its
history. Only the separation of the dead from their bodily remains
allows those remains to be read; the absent dead use their own bones as
a medium or inscription through which they communicate with the living (Seremetakis, The Last Word, p. 194). Indeed, the completeness or
incompleteness of the transformation of body into bone is precisely the
text the dead author provides for their female survivors to read. Bones
that have been completely purified of flesh signify a virtuous life that led
to an easy, complete departure from the bodily realm; bones with decomposing flesh still attached are marked by a guilt that has prevented the
dead from fully extricating themselves from their embodied condition.
The gathering, washing, sorting, arrangement and storing of each and
every bone, down to the tiniest fragment, gives the women performing
the exhumation a radical experience of death as a material reality that
defies the common sense assumptions that stabilize the social world.
The exhumers directly encounter the transformation of the dead from
human body to 'artifactuaT bones and the displacement of the selves of
the dead to an unknown realm beyond the bodily (Seremetakis, The Last
Word, pp. 194-95). This encounter shatters the illusions on which the
coherence of the social world is based: the solidity of the embodied
human self and the stability of relationships between such selves.
If the process of exhumation undermines the structures on which the
social world is built, the reading of the bones that accompanies it has
the power to negate the authoritative meanings that have been attached

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to those structures. Bone reading can displace the valuations of persons


and events promulgated by the big shadow males who dominate the
Inner Maniat social world with light shadow insights: insights that may
already have begun to develop in the media of other female discourses
such as gossip, dream and ritual lamentation. For example, Seremetakis
reports the case of a couple who seem to have appeared unremarkable
to the big shadow eye but in the light shadow world of rumor were
accused of the murders of their adult son and daughter. Bone reading
subsequently validated these accusations (Seremetakis, The Last Word,
pp. 191-95).
At the exhumation of this couple's son, his bones were found to be
clean of flesh. On the blank forehead of his skull there appeared to be
inscribed four rows of Greek capital letters. Though the village priest
refused to read these letters for the illiterate exhumers, the simple existence of this mute text was sufficient to add substance to the rumors.
When the couple themselves were exhumed, their bones were found to
be covered with blackened, stinking, decomposing flesh. Light shadow
hermeneutics allowed the women who participated in these exhumations to reread the couple's big shadow identities as parents, grandparents, and village elders to reveal them as violators of the most basic
social bonds. In this way, the material reality of death and the discursive
reality of malignant secrets combine to disabuse Inner Maniat women of
the shared illusions and authoritative fictions that hold the social world
in place.
Inner Maniat women have literally come face to face with the skeleton
in the closet of all human societies: the Other world that has to be
excluded in order to give our social worlds the illusion of stability,
orderliness and rationality to which we so desperately cling. Seeing their
social world in the eerie light of this other dimension, Inner Maniat
women acquire ironic double vision: the disappointed wisdom of the
cynic. They see that entwined with the dearly bought coherence of the
social world is all that has been excluded from polite society in the
name of good order. Further, they see that it is this excluded Other that,
according to an uncanny logic of its own, somehow conspires to corrupt
or purify, polish or pulverize, all that seems so solid in 'the surface organization of the present'. The Inner Maniats call this uncanny logic
moirathe power of fate. We might call it the return of the repressed.
How might one possessed of such cynical wisdom and ironic vision
read Ezek. 37.1-14? What would the events in the valley of dry bones
look like to light shadow eyes? Seen through such eyes, the vision of
renewal and resurrection, the promises of exile's end, never cease to be
haunted by the bones and corpses from which they are constructed.

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Renewal, hope, and promise are inextricably entwined with the shadow
of death.
And just as neither death nor resurrection is accorded self-sufficient
finality when viewed from the margins, neither are persons or nations
endowed with perfect unity or absolute boundaries. Neither 'the whole
House of Israel' nor the individuals who make it up are unified, self-possessed entities. Rather, both nations and individuals appear as strange
admixtures of bone, sinew, flesh, breath, human prophecy, and the will
of a deity whose ways are not our ways. Moreover, these elements, when
viewed with ironic double vision, seem to be moving through time and
space on trajectories of their own, quite irrespective of their momentary
conjunction in the form of person or nation. This reading of Ezek. 37.114 asks us to hold in tension the powerful truths of resurrection, renewal
and national ingathering with the equally powerful sobering knowledge
that neither persons nor nations ever attain full, final, completion or
integrity, and that renewal and resurrection are always provisional.
This exercise in parabolic reading suggests that the time has arrived
when those of us who practice Biblical Studies must ask ourselves what
it would mean to study and teach biblical texts with their bones showing. Is it possible for the discourse of Biblical Studies to incorporate the
perspective of cynical wisdom without neutralizing its Otherness? Reciprocally, can Biblical Studies, or, for that matter, any other academic discipline, fully include its own provisionally, multiplicity and fragilitynot
to mention the radical strangeness of its subject matterand still survive?
Further, this parable provokes the question of what a big shadow
white, male, heterosexual biblical scholar is doing offering a light shadow reading of a biblical text in an academic volume? Am I simply indulging in a particularly insidious version of the 'add and stir' strategy for
containing resurfacing traces of the Other in my field? Or, is it possible
for me to really let my work be haunted by Inner Maniat women, an
ancient Israelite prophet, a feminist anthropologist, or an uncanny Deity?
Can I find a way to make my work in Biblical Studies not the consolidation of my privileges into an embodiment of authoritative knowledge,
but, rather, the exposure of the skull beneath my skin?
That this essay concludes with a series of unanswered questions is a
consequence of its parabolic form. Parables bring large questions into
sharp focus while affording only fleeting, indirect glimpses of inchoate
answers to them. In this way, parables serve as provocations to practice:
the only medium in which the answers to the questions they raise can
be fully worked out. Using parable to greet the traces of the Other now
resurfacing in the field of Biblical Studies is a first step toward elaborating a scholarly practice transformed by this return of the repressed.

Catherine Lanone
The Blighted Palimpsest of Tess of the d'Urbervilles

'God's not in this heaven: all's wrong with the world!'1

Just like Tess's famous 'blighted star', Angel Clare's desperate Nietszchean outcryboldly rewriting Browning's most famous linemay be
construed as an accurate reflection of Hardy's own view of the world.
Barren Christianity and society obviously bear the brunt of the blame for
tragedy; yet sensuous pagan nature is constantly inverted into a bleak
post-Darwinian mechanical process crushing human beings as it goes
along. The 'confusion of many standards',2 the meaningful instabilities,
should delight deconstructionists. David Lodge calls Hardy an 'in spite of
novelist', famous for bad writing, convoluted abstract sentences, contrived plots pruned to fit a ready-made sense of doom; yet for all that,
the intense bleakness ofjude or Tess obviously retains a rare haunting
poetical quality.
Part of this ambivalence, and also of the lingering fascination, may be
that Hardy's language remains essentially dialogic.3 The religious recantation4 does look like a badly erased palimpsest, fighting, questioning
and responding to what it seeks to eradicate. One has to read side by
side the naive cliches of the poem 'The Oxen'in which the miracle of
the bull kneeling at Christmas might perhaps still be witnessedand the
ironic fable of the fiddler and the bull in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, where
the animal turns out to be the true Christian, and the man a secular
1. Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d'Urbervilles (London: Dent, 1984 [1891]), p. 246.
2. Bernard J. Paris, ' "A Confusion of Many Standards": Conflicting Value System
in Tess of the d'Urbervilles^ Nineteenth Century Fiction 24 (1969), pp. 57-79.
3. I use here Bakhtin's concept as David Lodge defines it: 'The words we use
come to us already imprinted with the meanings, intentions and accents of previous
users, and any utterance we make is directed towards some real or hypothetical
Other.' In this case, the latent Other may well remain the Christian religion. See David
Lodge, After Bakhtin: Essays on Fiction and Criticism (London: Routledge, 1990),
p. 21.
4. Of course 'the letter killeth', as is shown for instance by Sue's shift from
intellectual emancipation to sexual martyrdom; yet both Sue and Jude suffer when
they are expelled from the ancient church where they were engraving the Ten Commandments.

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trickster (a fiddler chased by a bull tricks the animal by playing a Christmas tune; the deceived bull kneels, and the fiddler manages to run
away).
Beliefs may be the stuff jokes are made of, but ominous linguistic
traces of Christianity still form for Tess 'a straitjacket of symbolic
forms'.5 The plot then seeks to question, recast and redefine feminine
identity in terms of culturaland sexualdifference. For all its melodramatic, sensational impact, the topic of the fallen woman, with its paraphernaliaseduction, bearing an illegitimate child or even murder matters less than Hardy's re-visioning6 of such material, questioning the
taboo of virginity, and challenging the boundaries of a monolithic language fraught with cultural and religious parameters. Hardy attempts to
subvert traditional dualities (victim/aggressor, rape/fantasy, good/evil) as
he charts the pains of loss, dissolution and fragmentation, once Tess
attempts to step beyond the masks of the innocent and the sinner. We
shall see how most tokens of Christianity are subverted into a male rhetoric of power, while Tess struggles to identify herself as a subject within
this repressive monologic ideology. Yet beyond the obvious debunking
of Christian patriarchal culture both text and characters are pierced and
warped by traces of lost faith, aporetically exploring the literal absence
of God.

1. The Fallen Word


Charlotte Thompson points out in Tess a rich web of religious allusions:
'It has a biblical word for every occasion, but especially the occasion of
guilt, which it can label efficiently, if not accurately.'7 Tess's body is
5. Jacqueline Rose, Sexuality in the Field of Vision (London: Verso, 1986),
p. 157.
6. The seduction scene is deliberately erased, as if the narration adopted the
victimized position of the silenced woman. There is only one allusion later to a
woman heard crying in the woods, which is congruent with the presentation of Tess
as a girl with a woman's body but still a childish mind at the time. We are led to
imagine a sense of disgust and mental rejection combined with a degree of physical
curiosity and partial response, so that what we have is not rape and/or seduction, but
rape masquerading as seduction, hence Tess's later sense of loathsome confusion.
Such a treatment foreshadows Kristeva's analysis of abjection in The Powers of Horror, and seems to me more complex, ambiguous, interesting and modern than most
feminist critics would have it.
7. Charlotte Thompson, 'Language and the Shape of Reality in Tess of the
d'Urbervittes", in P. Widdowson (ed.), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (London: Macmillan,
1993), p. 112. Thompson lists most of those biblical references, including the crown
of thorns and the tree of knowledge.

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185

constantly rewritten as the signifier of temptation and corruption. Alec


of course treats her as a sexual toy, but more surprisingly Tess distances
herself from her own body, the 'fleshy tabernacle' she seems to inhabit
by mistake, and which she deems unfit for daylight after her fall, when
she roams the countryside by night. Though ostensibly a free thinker,
Angel too borrows 'robes from the Scriptures'8 which hardly ever fit
Tess, for instance when he performs a rather dubious miracle by merely
switching texts to establish his wife's innocence: 'Was not the gleaning
of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abi-ezer?' (p. 332). In
many ways the episode with Angel might be construed as a map of
abjectionto use Julia Kristeva's conceptcharting the dramatic reversal from idealization of the woman to degradation. Whether explicitly or
implicitly, the motif of Mary Magdalen runs through the novel. Tess
gives us her own version of sin and renunciation, when she considers
her own face as an abject signifier of temptation and attempts to erase it.
As she walks towards Flitcomb Ash, she clips her eyebrows and wraps
her face tightly, till she looks like a mere 'mommet of a maid' (p. 271),
or a blank text registering only pain, silence and absence.
For all the characters (including Tess herself) the vision of the eponymous heroine is shaped by textual parameters which relegate her true
identity to the outer edge of experience, to the realm of the unnamable,
which may be why so many readers have found her such a tantalizing,
elusive character, with her ever-present luscious eyes and ripe peony
mouth, her keen mind open to sensations, yet so very cut off from her
own sexuality.
Therefore religious allusions no longer function either as clues to a
clear vision of the self, or as tessera, those worn-out cliches which
Harold Bloom compares to the fragments of pottery once exchanged by
the members of a cult as tokens of recognition. The sharp fragments
here cut to the quick, yet cannot be fitted into some meaningful jigsaw
puzzle. The compulsive references distort a reality which they cannot
match; the text maps for instance the river Froom as 'the pure River
of Life shown to the Evangelist' (p. 99), yet that perspective is heavily
tainted by Tess's own exhilaration and sense of rebirth as she reaches
Talbothays. Instead of giving valuable clues to the self, religion creates
semiotic instability; ready-made formulae corrupt the characters' experience and perceptions, providing but misleading identifications or moral
and phenomenological justifications.9 The quotes from the Bible slip
8. Thompson, 'Language and the Shape', p. 113.
9. 'In the minds of these compulsive interpreters, reality becomes contorted to
fix ancient stereotypes.' Thompson, 'Language and the Shape', p. 113.

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easily into the text, as opposed to the more self-conscious intertextual


allusions to Greek mythology. Perhaps ultimately the text rejects mystical blueprints but transmutes the 'passion' motif, creating its own profane pilgrimage towards death, shaped by the parodic inversion of iconic
elements, like the Annunciation, the Fall or the cathartic baptism, crucial
steps which shatter Tess's fight for recognition.

2. The Fall of Jack Durbeyfield


The first episode will turn Tess from maiden to lady, and seal her fate.
The sense of social displacement is enhanced by the strategy of textual
displacement, for she is not the one favoured with pseudo-divine
disclosure.
In the beginning was the 'Word': instead of the eponymous maiden
the title led us to expect, the novel opens on a broad-church parson
preaching on a lonely lane his own twisted version of the book of Revelation. His 'wandering tune' (p. 1) does not bode much better than the
biased gait of the drunken man he patronizingly addresses. Time and
again in the novel official members of the Church abuse their position of
linguistic power to indulge private whims. Here, Parson Tringham pompously discloses the Name-of-the-Father, not God but Sir Pagan d'Urberville, triggering through performative information a lethal (and belated)
mirror stage:
'And where do we raise our smoke, now, parson, if I may make so bold; I
mean, where do we d'Urbervilles live?'
'You don't live anywhere. You are extinctas a country family' (p. 3).

A parodic horseman of the Apocalypse, the antiquarian is here indeed


looking for an absent face, in terms vaguely reminiscent of Levinas's
quest for a trace of the Other, the ethical perception of God's nonphenomenal face. But the face Tringham finds is not a transcendental
absence, but merely a decayed palimpsest, the ancient nose and chin of
the d'Urbervilles, a little debased, still engraved within Durbeyfield's
coarse features, a metonymy of his alienation (just like the spoon and
seal, or the degraded 'wounded' name, fallen from 'ville' to 'field').
Immediately Durbeyfield enacts the revelation, 'How are the Mighty
Fallen', by drunkenly sinking onto the ground, becoming from crown to
toe a mere trace and effigy of himself, foreshadowing the statues of
Kingsbere.

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187

3. Stealing the Words of Men


Thus from the beginning the Church is connected with one mode of
textual identification, that is, naming. The new name will have more
consequences over Tess's life than over her father's, for the dual name
becomes a way of encoding her identity. While Alec, the usurper, contemptuously calls her Durbeyfield, stressing her social inferiority, Angel
will cling to d'Urberville, comparing his wife's face with paintings and
reading it as a palimpsest of moral decay.
The next ritual which is thwarted by the Church is the famous baptism scene, or lack thereof, as once more Hardy questions the power of
the Church to write or cross out salvation and identity as it pleases.
Obviously the scene is based on a number of pathetic cliches. Tess is
haunted by stock images, imagining that her child will be toasted by
devils, adding to the picture 'many other quaint and curious details of
torment sometimes taught the young in this Christian country' (p. 89).
While repeating what she remembers of the baptism ceremony, she is
transfigured by her 'ecstasy of faith', glowing with an uncanny light in
the midst of her kneeling brothers and sisters. Finally the baby is buried
at night 'at the cost of a shilling and a pint of beer to the sexton, in that
shabby corner of God's allotment where He lets the nettles grow'(p. 93),
for although the vicar recognizes the baptism as valid, he adamantly
refuses to give the child a proper burial (should you let any lay person
botch the job you might ruin the trade). The ironic projection of divine
will (and deliberate abjection) on human social boundaries degrades the
Almighty God, from the totally Other than human, into what David Lodge
calls 'a cynically careless smallholder'.10
Though bound to arouse the reader's emotional response, the scene
was deemed too shocking to be included in the serial publication. Tess
faces here the repression advocated in the Name of the Father, both her
own father who refuses to let the vicar in, and God himself, as He speaks
through the men of his Church. Fighting back, the girl enters the Symbolic order as a speaking subject. She will not accept the erasure of
the unnamed baby, and she registers the infant's birth, life and death,
through the performative act of naming, symbolically writing ritual traces
with the cross or the flowers she leaves in the jar of Keelwell marmalade. Tess obviously crosses spiritual boundaries when she utters prayers not meant for a woman's voice, or when she disrupts with her traces
10. D. Lodge, Tess, Nature and the Voices of Hardy', in R.P. Draper (ed.), Thomas
Hardy: The Tragic Novels (London: Macmillan, 1991), pp. 175-88 (180).

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the social otherness of the unkempt corner in the churchyard, with the
nettles as signifiers of guilt, doom and oblivion. Through her child, Tess
thus manages to give a name to her own experience, 'sorrow' instead of
guilt.
The scene reaches a quality of tragic emotion beyond mere melodrama. Perhaps simply because the vicar's coldness in the scene is not
merely conveyed by his words, stressing the dilemma of a mere tradesman, but by an icy signifier of erasure, a gap through which meaning
takes place. While trivial characters are given picturesque names in the
novel (like Car, the Queen of Diamonds), the vicar is not named, contrary to Parson Tringham or Angel's brothers. Thus he is reduced to a
mere function, the obtuse signifier of a repressive institution; but the
whole scene is indeed about baptizing and naming. The lack of name
radically fractures the scene as the vicar, who will not accept that the
baby has been named, is stripped of his own identity by the narrator.
The blank becomes here the unredeemable trace of otherness. The unmanning of the vicar is carved by the verbal transgression of the woman,
while her wrists, scarred by stubble during the harvest, bear the stigmata
of fate.

4. The Man with the Pot of Paint


Another instance of ominous encoding through excessive gap occurs
just after Tess has left Alec, her seducer, and a nameless good Samaritan
offers to carry her basket for her, perhaps kindly to relieve her from her
emotional burden. But the deceptive concern of the unknown 'cheerful
friend' (p. 77) soon gives way to what Jean-Jacques Lecercle calls a scene
of 'linguistic violence'.11 Working 'for the glory of God', the man soon
stops to paint frightening religious verses along the way, and produces a
paradigmatic text which embeds Tess's experience into a larger cultural
discourse, manipulating the runaway woman into a reluctant reader-receiver. Tony Tanner points out that the vermilion paint and the capital
letters create a moment of 'graphic crudity', where the quotes stand out
like Braille: THY, DAMNATION, SLUMBERETH, NOT' (p. 76) or the unfinished 'THOU, SHALT, NOT, COMMIT'(p. 77). Tanner concludes that
the scene reaches beyond mere religious caricature; just as in Hardy's
poem The Convergence of the Twain' the iceberg and the Titanic
silently drift towards each other, the encounter follows here the mysterious logic of inevitability. Indeed the helper turns into an Inquisitor, as
11. See J.-J. Lecercle, 'The Violence of Style in Tess of the d'Urbervilles\ in Widdowson (ed.), Tess of the d'Urbervilles, pp. 147-56.

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189

the 'fiery letters' are 'crushing, killing' the scarlet woman. But the violence of the evangelical graffiti in the garden springs from the neurotic
impulse to add an excess of signifiers, rather than from the stock-andtrade language. The man's activity is entirely obsessive: 'I have walked
hundreds of miles this past summer, painting these texts on every wall,
gate and stile in the length and breadth of this district' (p. 76). In this
compulsive mapping and encoding, no blank space should be spared; no
sooner does he spot 'a nice bit of blank wall up by that barn standing to
waste' (p. 76) than he must cover it. The commas function both as an
excess of gaps and as a visual weapon, the 'punctum'12 stabbing the girl
and making sure each word 'penetrates' her with 'accusatory horror'.
The rest of the scene conveys a similar degradation and abjection of the
female body, the man boasting that his 'hottest ones' would make her
'wriggle'. Interestingly enough the man does not drop his h's but his t's,
or rather one t ('painting these texts', 'believe that tex', 'not but what
this is a very good tex' [p. 76]) so that his dialect blurs the distinction
between sex, Tess and text, coining one perverse signifier, 'tex'. The
compulsive need to inscribe the coarse pattern on the wall as a substitute for the temptress's body turns Tess once more into a 'dangerous'
woman, reminiscent of Alec's recurrent perception of her: 'I must put
one thereone that will be very good for dangerous young females like
yerself to heed' (p. 76). Once again, the Symbolic order of religion is
perverted into textual harassment, adding a variation to the familiar pattern of the red stain on blank tissue, a displaced trope for the rape
which was shrouded in mist and reverie in the previous chapter. The
use of the comma here both enhances and transcends the 'graphic
crudity' of the encounter, by providing a visual puncture as the trace of
the other, unrepresentable male domination.

5. In the Name of the Father


For the soiled woman religion becomes the mirror which shatters the
self. In this 'vortex of summons and repulsion',13 abomination and sin
are the boundaries drawn by culture to eradicate female speech. Though
the text focuses on Tess's lovely mobile mouth, that mouth is often
struck dumb. Indeed Tess remains wordless when confronting the man
12. R. Barthes calls 'punctum' the small immaterial detail which paradoxically
endows a photograph with meaning, creating a strong emotional response in the
spectator, as if he or she were stabbed by the detail. See Roland Barthes, La chambre
claire (Paris: Gallimard, Le Seuil, 1980).
13. J. Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (trans. L.S. Roudiez
New York, Columbia University Press, 1982), p. 1.

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with the pot of paint; instead of an articulate vindication she can utter
but a naive, childish denegation once she has left the man: 'PoohI
don't believe God said such things!' (p. 77). Though tropes of excess
threaten Tess and turn her into her own Other, according to Kristeva's
definition of abjection, she fails to fight convincingly the patriarchal discourse of religion.
For religion is degraded into a specifically male chain of meaning.
Curiously enough, the primitive, indefatigable man with the vermilion
pot writes in the name of God but also of another father, Mr Clare:
"Twas he began the work in me' (p. 77). And this tiresome evangelist
will return, still nameless, to greedily listen to yet another dubious convert, Alec d'Urberville, who suddenly appears in a dramatic coup de theatre in the guise of a Latter Day Saint, also inspired by Mr Clare, and
recanting his association with lewd wanton women before urging his
fellow men towards salvation.
The staging of the scene clearly signals the dangerous inversion, as J.-J.
Lecercle points out, illuminated by the halo of the winter sun, the
would-be Angel of Annunciation attracts towards the barn the mesmerized woman who is clearly no Virgin. Laura Claridge14 suggests that the
quotations from the Bible may here undermine the character of Tess.
Perhaps Tess does indeed fail to practise charity towards Alec when she
ironically alludes to the 'spirit of the Sermon of the Mount'. However,
Alec's whole speech brims over with frustration and self-pity, and the
'conversion' seems nothing but another equation between religious imagery and warped displaced aggression. When Tess proudly alludes to
her husband's doctrine, she may well be trying to appropriate the power
of words, and to fend off Alec with a masculine speech substituted for
her own female powerlessness and silence.
Paying lip service to God, Alexander soon forces the 'temptress' to
swear a pledge of release on a stone, a holy relic he does not even
believe in. The unstable landmark, of course, turns out to be a proleptic
foreshadowing of the gallows rather than an emblem of salvation,
emphasizing the perverse twist given to all traces of religious otherness
in the novel. Tess will only erase the scarlet letters branding her as a
temptress with yet another bloody puncture, which for her at least
erases all other memory of seduction.
14. L. Claridge, 'Tess: A Less than Pure Woman Ambivalently Presented', in
Widdowson, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, pp. 63-79. L. Claridge claims that, like Angel,
Tess ironically fails to practice the charity she preaches towards Alec, until she
compels him to resume his role as a predator. Perhaps Tess should acknowledge that
Alec's desire is indeed deeply sincere, if nothing else. But it is hard to believe that her
lack of charity, rather than Alec's wanton hypocrisy, should seal her fate at that point.

LANONE: THE BLIGHTED PALIMPSEST

191

Thus the tight vice crushing the heroine is not simply the oscillation
between Alec and Angel, both miscast as villain and saviour, complete
with three-pronged fork and fire on the one hand, harp and fair hair on
the other. Tess is also trapped both by determinism and by the net of
pervasive religious cliches projected on her. She cannot escape from the
Name-of-the Father, whether d'Urbervilles on the one hand, stamping as
her destination the tombs of Kingsbere, or Clare, breathing abjection
over her alienated body. For although the narrator claims the elder Mr
Clare would have forgiven Tess had she seen him, all his surrogate emissaries speak against her, whether his sons, the man with the pot of
paint, or Alec himself (who during his brief conversion compulsively
follows her in order to 'save' her). As the agent of the Law, full of Low
Church self-denial and dedication, eulogized as a new Calvin or Luther,
Mr Clare initiates and propels the signifying chain, discarding the flesh,
yet prompting an unhealthy obsession with it. Significantly when Angel
proudly brings home some black puddings15 from the dairy, his parents
immediately give them away to a poor drunkard, in a typical gesture of
warped self-denial which erases the fleshy communion offered by their
son. Scarred by the puritanical teachings of his father, Angel's rebellion
is only skin-deep, equating a return to pagan sensuousness with a
fetishistic cult of virginity which certainly outdoes Catholicism itself (a
neurotic impulse towards sublimation which foreshadows Sue injude
the Obscure).

6. Tess's Blighted Eden


As Tess's body is constantly read as a text spelling either temptation or
purity, Hardy comes close to the definition of a 'feminist' writer given
by Maggie Humm,16 since he ponders over the ideological character of
femininity as defined by religious and narrative conventions, and attempts to substitute the possibility of a shifting instability to those maiming universal concepts. Angel's ambivalent role in particular deconstructs any mawkish melodramatic reading. Hence the recurrent motif of
the Fall, which is not simply used to debunk the Victorian archetype of
the Fallen Woman after the ambiguous rape/seduction scene. The regeneration offered by Angel is cruelly deceptive, and the text keeps rewriting Eve's temptation in the garden of Eden, whether Tess is offered
strawberries out of season by Alec or heavy ripe blackberries by Angel.
15. Compare the sexual symbolism of the pig injude the Obscure.
16. See Maggie Humm, Border Traffic (Manchester: Manchester University Press,
1991), p. 4.

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The lush and sensuous paradise of Talbothays is already tainted. Repeatedly Tess and Angel are compared with Adam and Eve as they walk
before the sun rises, transfigured into ethereal ghostly figures, with prismatic dewdrops hanging from their eyelashes. But Tess's mouth is akin
to a snake's, and the purity is as much a pathetic fallacy as Tess's projection of Christian guilt on the indifferent landscape during her pregnancy.
In an unforgettable scene Tess drifts across the garden of Talbothays,
mesmerized by Angel's harp. Yet her dress is stained by cuckoo spittle,
slug slime, crushed snails, while the white blight on the apple trees
(what else!) prints in her soft flesh 'madder', blood-like stains.

7. Sublimation
While dealing with seduction and the transmutation of white sap into
the bloody ciphers of doom, Hardy does not simply criticize the hypocrisy of Alec or the ruthlessness of Angel. He presents us with a world
ruled by the likes of Alec d'Urberville or Farmer Groby. Yet its most
tragic feature is less the ache of modernism than the simultaneous
yearning for sexual tolerance, equality, and for the immanence of a spiritual order. Both Angel and Tess fail to shed their distorted moral perceptions. Tess is hoodwinked by the pattern of redemptionshe trusts
blindly in confession, penance and forgiveness, not realizing that her
husband is not punishing her for a while, but has simply abandoned
her.17 The truest moment of anguish and re-vision may occur when her
idolatrous sense of love and identity is torn to shreds by the monstrously
alien eyes of the polar birds watching her at Flintcomb Ash, as if the only
remaining trace of the Other opened the loopholes of cosmic emptiness
rather than the path of transcendence.
Stonehenge, the dark temple of the winds, may offer a pagan antithesis transcending the Christian scale, yet the poetic sacrifice on the warm
stone may seem less convincing than the endless study of sublimation,
the perversion of human love substituted inadequately for the lost
transcendental quest for Christian belief. Whether Tess worships Angel,
or Angel turns Tess into a mere spiritual abstraction, love is twisted into
sublime disembodied Otherness. Love for the vanished man or woman
appears as the substitute for 'Agape'.
17. The other very strong scene is of course the moment of the confession which
is not actually heard by the reader, as if it had been rubbed out by the blank between
two Phases. Once again, in this moment of ultimate Otherness rather than hypocrisy,
the 'essence' of things changes, rather than the appearance, as the honeymoon turns
into hell (the hearth becomes evil and devilish as Angel performs the 'irrelevant' act
of stirring the fire, simultaneously crushing the embers of his heart).

IANONE: THE BLIGHTED PALIMPSEST

193

In a similar way Thomas Hardy's poetic world is haunted by unquiet


ghosts and bewitching traces of absence. In one poem a woman kisses a
blank wall, where once someone drew the shadow of her son, before it
was whitewashed. The shadow of the shadow is buried, yet she 'turns/
To him under his sheet of white'.18 The search for visual mnemonic
traces left by a sublimated other (especially a dead lover) stamps Hardy's
poetry. In 'The Voice', the speaker's body becomes the disembodied
trace of the lost woman's presence. The enunciation has become as hollow as the haunting whisper of the wind at the place of remembrance;
the semi-colon, after Thus F, carves out the 'am' of identity, dissolves
the speaker's self amid the deadly leaves and the immaterial wind
coming 'through', that is, from beyond.
Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.19

Thus religion builds in the text its problematic, dynamic, 'dialogic'


tension, leading from a coercive code to a problematic pilgrimage, a
conversation in the wilderness with absence. The Fall from the Scriptures calls for a liberation, resisting theological definitions which merely
hurl (female) sinners into hell. Yet it also dooms man to a nostalgic
haunted world. Both narrator and characters are compelled to evolve
within the mental framework of religion, yearning for transcendental
perfection even when they think they have most discarded it, like Angel
Clare. This enhances rather than mars the bleak rhythmic intensity of
Hardy's later novels, as they openly display the struggle with a language
which is flawed, diseased by the trace of the Other.

18. Thomas Hardy, Selected Poems (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1993),


p. 159.
19. Hardy, Selected Poems, p. 74.

Maaike de Haardt
Transcending the Other-Self

She was floating along with Brother Ass, thinking that soon they would be
parted, and she smiled at the impossible thought, for how could one be
separated? Where, without breath, would Laura be?
May Sarton

In this essay I shall discuss the relation between the body-self and identity. In doing so I will focus upon situations of illness and dying, as these
are the situations in which the supposedly harmonious nature of this
relation is strongly contradicted. As a theologian I am especially interested in the theological factors that influence the complexity of the relation between body and identity. For that reason I shall focus in particular upon theological thinking on death, where we might expect to find
some significant insights related to this problem. Subsequently I shall
look for a way to understand, as well as to deal, with these complexities
through a reading of May Sarton's A Reckoning as a possible source for a
transforming theology of finitude and death. Feminist theologians have a
preference for the vehicle of indirect communicationthe language of
stories, poetry, songs, rituals and of playful humour, in the processes of
deconstruction and demystification of the theological 'hegemonies of
truth' (Foucault), as Dianne Prosser MacDonald observes.1 As she further
notes, critical analysis, as a dismantling of oppressive and repressive
truths, is not enough and is only one part of the theological task. The
other part, according to MacDonald, is the gathering of the sensual
remainders that are included within this speaking or writing of 'indirect'
messages:
not for the construction of a new system, but for a glimpse of an aesthetics
of existence spawned by the eros of co-creative relation. It is these remainders that set the architecture of religious truth aflame, and that resist the
violence and counter violence of structures of binary opposition to become
themselves the 'originary sites' of a new theological imagination.2

1. Dianne Prosser MacDonald, Transgressive Corporeality: The Body, Poststructuralism and the Theological Imagination (Albany: State University of New York
Press, 1995), p. 142.
2. Prosser MacDonald, Transgressive Corporeality, p. 142.

DEHAARDT: TRANSCENDING THE OTHER-SELF

195

Without denying that there are all kinds of questions concerning the
use of 'other sources' in theological discourse, I am convinced that these
contemporary sources, these vehicles of indirect communications, possess transformative power and therefore I am inclined to call these originary sites 'glimpses of transcendence'. As I will show in my reading of
Sarton's novel, these glimpses of transcendence create spaces for a
renewed reflection on the Transcendence and on the relation between
the Transcendence (God) and the body-Self, identity, finitude and transience.

1. The Theological Context


In feminist theology there is a strong emphasis on transforming what is
called 'the life-denying otherworldliness of Christianity'. For this reason
all kinds of dualistic thinking are criticized. This 'otherworldliness' appears the most explicit in theological reflection on death and afterlife.
Therefore, Rosemary Ruether asserts: 'The question is not whether men
and women share the same mortality; it is whether women have the
same stake in denying their mortality through doctrines of life after
death'.3 In this statement she formulates what seems to be for feminist
theologians the core problem with classical theology of death, namely,
its strong emphasis on immortality and afterlife. Almost every feminist
theologian, regardless the differences among them, agrees with the analysis/judgment that Christian theology denies finitude and death.4 Some
even say that this applies to all Western culture. Catherine Keller observes: 'We all face death. But although the pressure of finitude is, if anything, a universal condition, the constructions of that finitude, even as
finitude, are not'.5 What is more: 'As a paradox this denial may express a
3. Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-talk (Boston: Beacon Press,
1986), p. 235.
4. Here I only mention a few works: Mary Daly, Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist
Philosophy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984); Rita Nakashima Brock, Journeys by Heart:
A Christology of Erotic Power (New York; Crossroad, 1988); M. Condren, 'Patriarchy
and Death', in Janet Kalven and Mary Buckley (eds.), Women Spirit, Bonding (New
York: Pilgrim Press, 1984), pp. 173-89; Grace Jantzen, 'Do we Need Immortality?',
Modern Theology 1 (1984), pp. 33-44; R. Radford Ruether, New WomenNew Earth:
Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation (New York: Seabury, 1975). For an extensive study on feminist reflection on death see: Maaike de Haardt, Dichter bij de dood:
Feministisch theologische aanzetten tot een theologie van de dood (Zoetermeer:
Meinema, 1993).
5. Catherine Keller, Apocalypse Now and Then: A Feminist Guide to the End of
the World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), p. 85.

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more profound failure of our culture, the failure to affirm life on this
earth, in these bodies'.6
Expressed in a schematic, and therefore somewhat exaggerated, form,
it is said that the theological basis of this classical thinking requires 'a
doctrine of God's absolute transcendence that correlates with a theology
in which this earth, this body and this life are despised, and in which the
spiritual goal is to transcend the flesh and its desires and to seek a life
after death in which the limitations of finitude are overcome'.7 In this
theological model carnality is equated with sin, and death is God's punishment. Women, nature and body are the icons of this despised carnality, sin and death and they all need to be subdued.
Against this thinking feminist theologians stress that death is an indefeasible or natural part of life and that we must learn to love this life that
ends in death. It is not to say that feminist theologians explicitly deny
the possibility of individual or collective survival. However, they all are
very persistent in stressing that you should not live your life in light of
such a possibility, no more than it should be a theological concern to
speculate on the possible 'eternal meaning of life', let alone that this
should become the focus of the religious message. They strongly criticize a theology in which sin is related to death and the body, and in
which the dominant conception of the relation God-human is highly
dualistic; we are faced with an anthropology that fails to deal adequately
with contingency and finitude, with illness, decay and with death.8 In
my view two elements are being contested in dominant theological and
anthropological thinking. First, the preponderantly negative, but at least
highly ambivalent attitude towards the embodied condition of human
existence per se. Secondly, the specific way in which dualistic patriarchal theology deals with the inevitable 'limits of life', namely, that these
limits should be overcome.9 This has led to an attitude which I would
call 'transcending by negation' and it is this attitude that became determinative for the complex and highly ambivalent attitude towards the
body and for the relation between body and identity. For is it not the
6. Carol P. Christ, Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to the Goddess (Boston: Beacon Press, 1987), p. 214.
7. Christ, Laughter, p. 217.
8. See for instance the already mentioned works of Ruether and Christ, but also
Daphne Hampson, Theology and Feminism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990);
Ann O'Hara Graff (ed.), In the Embrace of God: Feminist Approaches to Theological
Anthropology (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1995).
9. Rebecca Chopp, The Power to Speak: Feminism, Language, God (New York:
Crossroad, 1991), p. 119; Sharon D. Welch, A Feminist Ethic of Risk (Minneapolis:
Fortress Press, 1990), pp. 153-80.

DEHAARDT: TRANSCENDING THE OTHER-SELF

197

sinful body that is sign and site of decay and death, as well as sign and
site of the liminality of all human agencies? What is more, is it not close
to the heart of Christian belief that in the end finitude and death are
overcome?
In criticizing this theological thinking and in rejecting traditional
eschatology, feminist theologians have so far mainly employed critical
analysis.10 What strongly is opposed in feminist theology, as in other
liberation theologies, is not death in general but untimely death, death
caused by all kinds of injustice or 'unjust' structures.11 Feminists emphasize the connection between classical doctrines and the impossibility
of formulating a life- and body-affirming theology. With regard to the
body, feminist theologians share the contemporary interest in the body
and point out the symbolic importance of the (women's) body in relation to creation, to immanence, to redemption; they stress the goodness
of sexuality and the embodied character of every religious experience
and knowledge. The celebration of women's bodies therefore is an important act of self-affirmation and establishes an autonomous religious
identity. Not only the early feminist dictum 'Our Bodies/Ourselves' is
affirmed,12 but the religious meaning of this affirmation too: 'i found god
in myself.. .and loved her fiercely', is a much quoted motto of Ntozange
Shange.13 Whenever dying and death are spoken of as the natural end of
life (as opposed to a violent or unjust death), it is called 'good' or
'inevitable' or a 'process of growing' without any references to the (often
painful) materiality of the dying body.14 Without denying the relevance
10. An exception should be made for the work of Valerie Saiving. See her 'Our
Bodies/Our Selves: Reflections on Sickness, Aging and Death', Journal of Feminist
Studies in Religion 4 (1988), pp. 117-27.
11. See my conclusion in Dichter bij de dood.
12. As reads the title of one of the famous books of the early women's movement:
Boston Women's Health Collective, Our Bodies/Ourselves (New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1977).
13. Shange's quote comes from her play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered
Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf(New York: Macmillan, 1977).
14. See the already mentioned works of Ruether and Christ. However, both of
them never define nor problematize their important concept of finitude and they both
seem to suppose that affirming finitude and death is a simple matter. Other feminist
theologians, for instance Mary Grey and Carol Ochs, agree with Ruether and Christ in
their view on finitude, but they regard death as a special moment of growth and/or
self-actualization. Mary Grey, Redeeming the Dream: Feminism, Redemption and
Christian Spirituality (London: SPCK, 1989); Carol Ochs, Women and Spirituality
(Towota: Rowan & Allanheld, 1983). We also find this approach to death as a journey
of (ultimate) growth, in some male theological reflection on death. For example,
L. Boros, Mysterium mortis: Der Mensch in der letzten Entscheidung (Olten: Walter

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

of this project for political as well as theological reasons, it seems clear


to me that the proud statement 'my body, myself is strongly contradicted by the experience of all kinds of bodily inconvenience in everyday life. For that reason this way of speaking has evoked my distrust.
How is it that we so strongly affirm the body and the importance of the
body on the political and theological level, and at the same time almost
completely neglect the inevitable and often 'inconvenient' ordinary bodily experiences? How are we, as feminist theologians, dealing with transience, finitude and liminality as we come across them in their bodily
manifestations as illness, suffering in dying, and all other forms of bodily
changes? Do we really abandon the attitude of 'transcending by negation' or are we, in spite of our intentions, reproducing it? I come to the
same conclusion as Caroline Bynum at this point. In surveying all the different scientific fields and approaches where 'the body' is debated, she
observed that the referent of 'the body' is diverse and not at all clear.
Moreover, 'the body that eats, that works, that dies, that is afraidthat
body just isn't there'.15 Therefore my question is: on what conditions is
it possible to 'celebrate the body' as feminist theologians and contemporary philosophers suggest, while at the same time account for the fact
that this body can suffer and will eventually decline and die? How do we
think about the ever-changing and unavoidable finite body without falling into abstractions that have nothing to do with the living body? In
other words, how do we think again the relation between body and
identity?
It is at this point that I turn to May Sarton's novels Reckoning. In this
novel Sarton tells the story of Laura Spelman's life between the moment
she hears she has terminal cancer and her death.16 She wishes to die in
her own way, with as little medical intervention as possible. In the few
weeks between the last winter snow and the first signs of spring, Laura
draws up the balance of her life: 'It is then to be a reckoning' (10). The
novel describes the intense and painful process and struggle of dealing
with herself, her illness and her imminent death which are strongly
intertwined with her reflections on life, on what it means to be a
woman, her struggle to come to terms with the complexity of her
relations with her mother and daughter, and her connection with her
old childhood friend. The memories of her marriage to Charles, who
died three years earlier, are comforting because they represent a
Verlag, 1962), Karl Rahner, Zur Theologie des Todes (Freiburg: Herder, 1958).
15. Caroline Bynum, 'Why All the Fuss about the Body? A Medievalist Perspective', in Critical Inquiry 22.1 (1995), pp. 1-33 (1).
16. May Sarton, A Reckoning (New York: W.W. Norton, 1978). All quotations are
from the Norton paperback edition 1981.

DEHAARDT: TRANSCENDING THE OTHER-SELF

199

harmonious period in her life. In marrying Charles, she escaped her


mother's high expectations. With him she led an 'ordinary life' and was
happy. But now that Laura is dying, all her unresolved questions surface
in a new light and are bound to and seen from the perspective of her
questions and struggle to deal with the fact that she is ill and dying. Only
by facing both sets of questions can she live her journey into death.

2. Fear and Acceptance


The message of her forthcoming death alternately scares Laura and gives
her the sense of 'a blessed state', a situation she cannot put to words.
Laura's first reaction to the fact that she is dying is to compare death
with 'being born, falling in love, bearing a first child...always there is
terror first' (p. 10). 'Death must be the other great adventure, the way
through somewhere just as birth is. I felt terribly excited' (p. 19). In this
initial confrontation with her disease and reflection on her death, her
body seems to play no role at all. She is without pain, she can still eat
and enjoy a drink. However, in facing the fact that she is dying, she
experiences fear. This fear has different manifestations and diminishes
only gradually. Furthermore, it is never directed at death itself.
At the beginning of the novel, Laura's fear refers to her uncertainty of
how to deal with the sense of doom she expects from her children, her
sisters and others: she doesn't want to have to handle their fear of her
dying, nor their interference in her death. She is also anxious about
giving up her autonomy and being dependent on a nurse. Her reflection
and reliving of the important relations in her life also makes her fearful.
In the face of all these complex, unresolved and too complicated issues,
Laura wonders 'whether she had the courage' (p. 10). However, all this
fear and uncertainty does not prevent Laura from thinking her death as a
great experience. When she tries to formulate how she is experiencing
her situation, she realizes she can't put it into words. Here, as in other
scenes, the story is explicitly on the boundary between what can and
cannot be said. 'I want to do it well. It sounds crazy, but when I first
heard I was lifted up on a wave of wild excitement, of joy' (p. 43). From
the beginning Laura wants her dying to be an adventure she can plan in
her own way. Without exactly knowing what that means she is determined to die at home, with as little medical care as possible. It is clear
that, at the beginning of the story, Laura has a vision or an idea of dying
as journey, a kind of ultimate growth or wholeness; a kind of ultimate
and beautiful harmony between mind and body as, so it is suggested,
one sometimes experiences in love or work (p. 218). Laura's vision
appears to be an illusion, which is soon disturbed, mainly because it is

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

impossible to hide her illness from her children and sisters. She cannot
prevent them from getting upset. Moreover, 'it is hard to contemplate
beauty when you are about to throw up' (p. 103). The first time she
wakes up feeling really ill, her initial terror becomes more real.
Now she was terribly afraid, not of death as much as of dying, of getting
more and more ill, of pain. She could feel the beads of sweat on her
forehead... Fear, she supposed, was as much a part of all of this as a fit of
coughing. It will pass, she told herself, look at the light, the blessed light
(p. 88).

However, there were times when the adventure of dying and the journey to death lost their appeal:
Not death but dying brought the panic, the process now beginning its
inexorable course inside her lungs. How did one deal with that? Was the
whole of her being dying or only a part of it? And could she hold that part
of her insulated against the rest? Mind, heart, whatever she, the person
might be? (p. 25).

Dying appeared to be much harder than she had imagined.


It is striking that Laura does not think of her death as fearful, loathsome or absurd. The fact that she will die soon as well as the notion of
death itself is simply accepted by Laura. In a lot of male writing,17 we
find the opposite view, which is also reflected in many theological
works. For most European theologians, acceptance of death is impossible in the light of the Christian interpretation of death. Even when they
accept mortality on anthropological grounds, they speak of the absurdity
of death, the curse of death, and contrast this with the Christian understanding of death.18 Also absent in Laura's thoughts are the traditional
Christian images that surround death, although Laura did have a Christian upbringing. She never relates her illness and death to sin or punishment, no more than she thinks of her dying in relation to an afterlife
or a personal God. This appears to support the feminist claims that, for
many women, being finite is far less a problem than for many men.
Women may tend to have a more affirming way of dealing with death
and women appear far less preoccupied with the question of individual
survival than men.
Nevertheless, the novel A Reckoning shows a far more complicated,
17. See, e.g., the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Ernest Becker, The Denial of
Death (New York: The Free Press, 1973).
18. For example, Edward Schillebeeckx, 'Leven ondanks de dood in heden en
toekomst', Tijdschrift voor theologie 10 (1970), pp. 410-54; E. Jungel, Tod (Stuttgart:
Kreuz-Verlag, 1971); A.R. van der Walle, Tot bet aanbreken van de dageraad:
Gevecht op leven en dood (Averbode: Altoria, 1984).

DEHAARDT: TRANSCENDING THE OTHER-SELF

201

ambivalent, and ambiguous way in dealing with finitude, death and dying
than the same feminist theologians would usually consider. In reading
the novel it becomes clear that finitude and death are no abstract or
plain concepts simply to be affirmed, any more than great adventures,
journeys or moments of growth, but processes which are gradually and
with difficulty enacted in and through the body.

3. The Body: Terrifying Other and Indefeasible Self


In this process it is Laura's body that destroys not only the idea of death
as an adventure but also the vision of the wholeness of dying. Her body
sometimes seems to be the most terrifying and undeniable other and, at
the same time, the most terrifying and undeniable self. It is the condition
of her body that causes the confusion of her sense of self and therefore
her identity. For example, when Laura tries to formulate why dying is
much harder than she initially thought, she says: 'I do not believe we
wish to leave our bodies, perhaps it is that. Mine is of very little use to
me now, but' (p. 218). Once again she realizes it is impossible to put
her complex and confusing experiences into words. In another scene,
while Laura is having her lungs drained, she is confronted not only with
the decay of her body, but also the distastefulness of this process: 'It
would be an awful shock for him [her son] to see those bottles filling up
with the dark-orange fluid. She dreaded it herself, the visible sign of corruption' (p. 221). Sarton writes about these scenes of physical disfigurement in a sober, clinical way. Her simple descriptions of this visible transience lend not only to a certain credibility without appealing to a false
compassion, they also enlighten the complexity and ambiguity of Laura's
experiences of her body. In this case, it is the feeling that your body has
failed you, together with the awful and public display of this failure, that
causes the ambivalence in the relation of the T to 'the body'. Laura experiences a third confusing element in the relation between self and body
while undergoing a medical treatment in the hospital. The impersonal
and sheerly technical, body-centred treatment, makes her think of herself as 'a bundle of nothingness being taken nowhere'. It gives her the
feeling that her 'identity reaches zero. Soon, she thought, I shall forget
my name' (p. 212). This lost of identity is caused by the way other people relate or do not relate to the person Laura: they only relate to her
body, or they relate to her only as 'a body'. Perhaps the most confusing
moments are when Laura experiences herself as living in two separate
places, the body and the not-body that she calls her Self. It is important
to note that the strongest and most explicit division between self and
body, and therefore most confusing for her sense of identity, is not

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SELF/SAME/OTHER

caused by others, but by Laura herself. Her naming of these experiences,


as well as their threat to her identity, changes throughout the story.
I read these forms of separation of self and body, confusing as they
are, not as ways of negating the body, but as a way for Laura to deal with
or relate to her sick and dying body itself. Throughout the novel we find
two different sets of images in which Laura expresses the ambivalent
and sometimes anxious relation to her body. These images are an indication of the degree of estrangement or separation between self and body.
The first is one of distinction but not of complete 'otherness' or separation. Here she uses the image of 'Brother Ass' when she is speaking of
her body. This friendly image, probably derived from St Francis who
called his body Brother Ass, does indeed make a distinction between the
self and the body, yet without denying the relation between the two.
The body, seen as brother, remains in the family, so to speak, although it
is not 'human'. 'Was Brother Ass, her body, from now on going to intervene in any pleasure?', she asked herself at one of the first attacks of nausea (p. 118). But it is still this Brother Ass she will have to hobble along
with, in the same way as with Mary O'Brien, her nurse (p. 146). Even in
the end of her life, this trustful distinction between her self and her
body stays with her: 'She was floating along with Brother Ass, thinking
that soon they would be parted, and she smiled at the impossible
thought, for how could one be separated? Where, without breath, would
Laura be?... All flesh is grass Brother Ass' (p. 239).
Far more threatening to her identity is the image of the body as a
machine. When her body make her life 'extremely uncomfortable', Laura
uses the machine image.
Laura felt now completely detached from her body. It was, she considered,
simply a piece of machinery that was running down. But how could the
separation be made? How could she find herself without this machine that
laboured for breath and rejected food and sent her into misery with the
coughing? It could not be tamed. It could not be cajoled (pp. 213-14).

The terror is more than undermining her identity. She not only feels
dissociated from her body, but she also wants to dissociate from her
body which is making her life so miserable. Separation, however, is impossible and she realizes she cannot find herself without 'this machine'.
The body, whatever its condition, is a prerequisite for the self. In a
moment of resignation, she decides the only solution is to reject this
wayward body as irrelevant (p. 214). When she fails to negate her body,
to completely separate herself from her body, the only course left is to
deny her body the power to determine her identity, her self. The use of
the 'machine image' allows her to relinquish responsibility for the body's
own journey, which the self cannot control. On the other hand, accept-

DEHAARDT: TRANSCENDING THE OTHER-SELF

203

ing this inevitability diminishes her loss of identity and, paradoxically,


reinforces Laura's self.
Laura's physical condition, as we have seen, leads to what I would call
'identity anxiety', a kind of mental stage full of uncertainty and chaos, in
regard to her own identity. This seems to be an inevitable effect of her
illness. This kind of identity anxiety should be firmly distinguished from
the better known expression'pangs of death', 'agony of terror', or 'threat
of non-being', which we find in psychoanalytical, philosophical or
theological literature. Here, it is not death itself, nor mortality in general,
nor the unbearable idea of your own death, that is the object of this fear.
Neither it has anything to do with Tillich's threat of the contingency of
our temporal and spatial being.19 Identity anxiety has to do with the
uncertainty of who or what ultimately determines your being, personality, or subjectivity. It is a set of issues in relation to the changing, dying
body. Will I/myself/the person I am, disappear in death, in the disappearance of my body? Perhaps a more important or urgent question is:
What or who is this I/self/person? What constitutes my identity? Is death
and dying a fundamental threat to my identity?
These are not speculative or theoretical questions, but they are unavoidable when the statement 'my body/myself becomes unbelievable
as well as undesirable. At the same time, these anxious questions show a
more or less conscious knowledge of the insoluble bond between the
sense of self and the body.
For Laura, the only way to deal with her deteriorating body, with the
unsafely, chaos and uncertainty, is to transform these threats to her
identity into a self-affirmative act. The metaphors of 'Brother Ass' and
the 'machine' are expressions of the ambivalent feelings and the paradoxical character of a body dying: they name the threat and the real
feeling of estrangement from yourself and, at the same time, they transform these threats into self-confirming experiences without losing the
bond with the body.
In my view, this simple story expresses, more impressively than any
theoretical expose ever can, a process of 'transcending by affirmation'.
Only by facing and naming the identity-threatening and uncontrollable
reactions of the body, is Laura able to keep her Self as an embodied self
together. In the affirmation of the indefeasible singularity of her self and
her body she can escape the loss of identity, yet this is an affirmation
that needs reconfirmation all the time.

19. See notably his The Courage to Be (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952).
For a feminist critique of his view, see Welch, A Feminist Ethic, p. 160.

204

SELF/SAME/OTHER

4. Transcending the Other Self:


Originating Space for Others
The points at which Laura activates her 'bodily imagination' and overcomes the threatening of her Other-self are closely related to points
where others people intensify this experience. When Laura decides to
regard her body as irrelevant, 'I am getting through with my carcass, Jim.
It is not much use anymore, is it?' (p. 214), she accepts that she needs
help: 'I see that some part of this journey I can't do alone after all' (p.
214). Only then is she able to receive the compassionate reactions of
those who are around her. These reactions give her a 'sense of presence'
that even include her body. This empowering 'sense of presence', or
sense of transcendence, is not an intellectual or verbal affair, but happens through the body: when they hold her hand, comb her hair, and
even when her nursewithout Laura asking for itputs some lavender
behind her ears. It is this sensory perception that brings the change:20
not what they say, but their voices, pleasant and gentle; not their medical actions but their touch and care. This physical contact is so powerful
that even the rejected body cannot resist. 'It was an intimation of something larger, she could not think about yet' (p. 214). These experiences
do not alter the sick and weak condition of her body, but they are a turning point. Her primary wish to detach from her body and from other
people has disappeared. She not only realizes that she 'couldn't do it
alone', but for the first time she experience a fundamental connectedness: 'Thanks Jim. I never knew what it meant before that we are all
members of each other' (p. 215).
This change could only happen after Laura realized that she has to
give up her independence. She has to face the fact that she no longer is
the only director of her life. 'Things were out of control' (p. 214). Her
body, as well as the way other people react and relate to her are both
beyond her power. She cannot direct the non-relationality she encounters, nor the care or love. In reflecting on her very strong desire to
detach from others, Laura says she expected it would bring her salvation. This didn't work out because, as she says, 'somehow we are in our
bodies' (p. 22). Here she uses the inseparable way she relates to her
body as an analogy for the unavoidable and inseparable way of relating
to others. She calls this positive experience a kind of revelation: 'When I
20. Inez van der Spek explicitly points out the sensory dimensions of these
glimpses of transcendence. See her A Momentary Taste of Being: Female Subjectivity, the Divine and the Science Fiction of James Tiptree,Jr (Utrecht: n.p., 1996),
pp. 239-46.

DEHAARDT: TRANSCENDING THE OTHER-SELF

205

gave up trying to do it alone, a lot of light flowed in' (p. 220). It opens
her up to experience her self as an integrated identity, despite the
ambiguities of her body and the ambivalence of her unresolved past and
relations. However, even this experience does not last forever and it
cannot prevent her feeling lost again, estranged from her body and her
self.
But if she was a stranger here [in her own garden], where was home? And
who was she herself now? The real panic was a loss of identity, for she
seemed inextricably woven into her body's weakness and discomfort, into
struggling sick lungs. What essence was there to be separated from her
hand, her flesh, her bones? Laura lifted her hand, so thin it had become
transparent. Is this I? This leaf-like thing, falling away, this universe of
molecules disintegrating, this miracle about to transform into nothingness?' (pp. 233-34).

There is no answer at that moment and only the everyday routine of


visits and tea seems to calm Laura and break the intensity of her feelings.
The same fluctuation in feeling applies to Laura's anxiety about death.
When breathing becomes harder and harder, and she can hardly walk on
her own, she wonders: 'If only the body were as simple as a flower,
opening and fading in an hour or two. For the body it seemed such a
long, intricate process by comparison, whole galaxies of molecules
slowly transforming themselves into what? Going where?' (p. 225). But
then terror strikes. When Mary, her nurse comes in, she expresses her
fear.
'I don't know how to let go. I don't know what is happening to me. I am
scared, scared of the dark.' Mary answered: It's all right. The sun is just
rising.' It was not an answer, but in a way it was. For the moment the
words held a true promise: whatever happened the sun would rise'
(p. 225).

Her panic ebbed only to come back later that day. In these last days,
even after her fundamental change, she is constantly up and down
between feelings of anxiety, fragmentation, loss of identity, need to control, on the one hand, and feelings of harmony, trust, openness, and letting go, on the other. She realizes that the living can help the dying only
up to a point. She gradually becomes aware that their presence could be
very comforting and make it possible for her to let go. 'There was
nothing now, no silent thread to hold her back. She had only to let go,
let the tide gently bear her away. She felt light, light as a leaf on a strong
current' (p. 254).

206

SELF/SAME/OTHER

5. Glimpses of Transcendence
The process of Laura's relation to her body and the points of transformation and transcendence have a parallel in her relations to other people.
For the process and the act of dying, of letting go, in all its confusion,
disintegration and pain, takes place within a context of relations. Only
when Laura is able to deal with her body dying, is she able to accept that
she cannot do it alone, to accept that she can no longer control her life
and her relations with others. Only then is she able to give up her independence and acknowledge her need for help. To be vulnerable and
open, to be fully receptive to yourself and others, entails a sensitivity
that invites new experiences, which I would indicate as 'glimpses of
transcendence'. It seems no coincidence to me that at this point we find
'traditional' religious words and symbols to describe these experiences,
even when the contexts of these words utterly differ from their traditional Christian context. As Laura said: 'It's been a kind of revelation.
When I gave up trying to do it alone, a lot of light flowed in' (p. 220). It
gave her insight into a kind of cosmic connectedness, which she
expressed with the bodily metaphor (for that fact, a metaphor heavily
loaded with Christian connotations), that 'we all are members of each
other'. Identity in this respect is beyond the dualistic opposition of autonomy and self-loss/self-sacrifice. To relate to others is not to lose your
autonomy, or yourself, but is to find a larger self that is connected to the
whole of the cosmos.21 Identity in this respect is also beyond the mindbody dualism. By transgressing her ego-boundaries, Laura's identity becomes firmly rooted in her dying body. But there is more: by transcending her body in affirmation, Laura partakes in a reality suddenly
more immediate, and yet more whole, and more intimate to her own
being then she ever experienced before. At the same time this reality
transcends her. The same applies to her relating to others: 'It was an
intimation of something larger'. These experiences resemble the theological descriptions of experiences of 'presence' which are interpreted
as religious and which refer to the Transcendent or to God.
However, other than in traditional theological imagination and
reflection, this sense of presence, these glimpses of transcendence, and
experiences of cosmic connectedness do not oppose transcendence/
God to the finite body; on the contrary, they encompass the body. More
precisely, only in the experience of the body to be encompassed does
this presence become manifest. For Laura, the personal, male God of her
21. See Catherine Keller, From a Broken Web: Separation, Sexism, and Self
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1986).

DEHAARDT: TRANSCENDING THE OTHER-SELF

207

childhood had gradually became an empty universe. She had a vague


view of the cosmos as a kind of rational design in which each element
has its own, unique place. After her 'revelation', this cosmic universe got
a new dimension and a new content in which light, connectedness, gentleness and a loving presence were central characteristics, even though
she could still be afraid, throw up, or even be unable to talk. This 'revelation', then, originates space for reflection on what counts as theologically relevant.
For me, reading the novel creates a space and at the same time
demands for a renewed thinking of the divine and of finitude in its relation to the divine. In the beginning of this contribution, I pointed out a
connection between transcendence, a construction of finitude and the
limits of life, in which finitude and death, as the ultimate limit, necessarily should be overcome. In this narrative an alternative construction of
finitude is revealed, and this immediately affects the images of the divine
and 'transcendence', in such a way that established masculine and 'divorced' transcendent images of a/the Other fade away. Instead, all kinds
of separations are abolished, yet without losing the identities of the
different parts. There is no question of a cosmic muddle, no negation of
proper boundaries and differences. This novel strengthens the contention that theological reflection on 'the immanence of the divine', or an
'immanent transcendence', should receive more radical and systematic
attention. The same applies in my view to the binary opposition transcendence-immanence. However, I cannot fully agree with Sharon Welch
when she says: 'Divinity is not a mark of that which is other than the
finite. Grace is not that which comes from outside to transform the conditions of finitude. Divinity of grace, is the resilient, fragile, healing
power of finitude itself.22 After all, Laura was able to transform or transcend the conditions of finitude, yet not by negation but by affirmation.
What is more, the reality of her pain, chaos, uncertainty and her identityanxiety needed to be named as well as transcended, to create the space
to affirm the integrity and identity of her dying body, of her self.23
Therefore I would prefer to name the Divine as the 'power of presence'.
A presence that extends over the signs and sights of finitude, that is,
over the body dying. A presence that is thoroughly materialized and that,
in fact, only matters in its matter. Such an approach inspires renewed
reflection on the meaning of incarnation. We have just begun to chart
the far-reaching theological and anthropological insights, generated by
these new sources of theological imagination, without exactly knowing
22. Welch, A Feminist Ethic, p. 178.
23. See my Dichter bij de dood, pp. 256-61.

208

SELF/SAME/OTHER

where they will take us. However, theologians can not ignore the dangers and the damages of a monological religious truth any longer. The
recognition of the transformative powers in this and other novels,
poetry, or rituals, are too exciting and too strong to be resisted.

Index of References

OLD TESTAMENT
Genesis
2.7
25.23-24
26.17-22
27.1-40
27.40
28.10-22
32
32.1-3
32.4-22
32.6
32.8
32.10
32.11
32.12
32.21
32.23-33
32.25
32.28
32.29
32.31
33

33.1-11
33.3
33.10

152
172
171
172
165
162
162
162
162
166
162
162
166
162,
170
170
162,
162
166
172
162,
162,
172
162
162
162,
171

33.12-20
33.20
35.7

162
171
171

25.7
38.3
62
103.2

Exodus
31.18

28
26
24
31

26

Isaiah
11.1

94

Numbers
17.1-8

163,
164

164
169,

170,

Nehemiah
13.14
13.22
13.31

95
27
27
27

Job

1-2
2.9
16-17
16.10
17.1
17.2
17.6-8
17.13-14

Psalms
25
25.6

49
50
48
49
48
49
49
49

27,28
28

Ezekiel
37.1-14

176-78,
181, 182

Daniel
7.8

166

Hosea
1.2-6
12.2-6

173
165

Obadiah
10-18

165

Malachi
3.19
3.20

166
166

NEW TESTAMENT
Matthew
18.3

81

Luke
17.20-21
23.42
23.43

Romans
8.17
9.10-13

92
29
33

1 Corinthians
81
13.11
13.12
33

John
12.24-25

89

29
167

2 Corinthians
3.3
27
Galatians
2.20

32

Ephesians
5.30

32

210

SELF/SAME/OTHER
OTHER ANCIENT REFERENCES

Midrash
Ber. R.
75-79
76.6
76.9
77.3
78.8
78.10

165
166
166
166
166
166

Christian Authors
Augustine
Confessions
10.33
130

Gregory of Nyssa
The Life of Moses
2.219-55
170
St John of the Cross
The Dark Night
1
170

Index of Authors

Alcoff, L. 115
Andersen, H.C. 76
Anderson, P.S. 16, 115, 122
Arendt, H. 114
Aronowicz, A. 144
Atack, M. 106
Auden, W.H. 13, 34-44, 46, 77
Auerbach, E. 161
Axelrod, S. 46, 51
Babinsky, E.L. 126, 127, 135
Bakhtin, M.M. 14, 183
Bald, R.C 25
Barnes, D. 60
Barth, K. 170
Barthes, R. 164, 172
Barton, J. 160, 189
Baruch, E.H. 151
Bataille, 154
Beauvoir, S. de 142
Becker, E. 200
Beckwith, S. 125
Benhabib, S. 48
Berg, T.F. 83
Berger, P. 94
Bernard of Clairvaux, St 126, 129, 156
Bernasconi, R. I45i 146
Bettelheim, B. 75
Blake, W. 35-40, 165, 172
Bloch, C. 30
Bloom, H. 185
Bollas, C. 56, 59
Boros, L. 197
Bolting, C. 61,62,64
Bouyer, L. 126, 127
Boyarin, D. 161
Brisman, L. 173
Brock, R.N. 195
Bronfen, E. 17
Brown, A.B. 13
Browning, R. 183
Brownley, M. 45

Brims, G.L. 93
Buchmann, C. 48
Buckley, M. 195
Burden, C. 17
Burke, C. 148
Butler, J. 15,47,48
Bynuin, C.W. 125, 129, 198
Callan, E. 38
CalvinJ. 167, 191
CaputoJ. 43
Carter, A. 77, 137
Caulfield, H. 103
Chadwick, H. 130
Chait, S. 14
Chalier, C. 150
ChanceJ. 126
Chanter, T. 147, 155
Chaucer, G. 54
Chisholm, D. 83,86
Chitty, S. 64
Chopp, R. 196
Christ, C.P. 196, 197
Christian, W.A., ;r 95
Cixous, H. 11, 13, 16
Claridge, L. 190
Clark, S. 126, 128, 129
Clines, DJ.A. 172
Coakley, S. 136
Cohen, R.A. 148
Coleman, E. 60
Colledge, E. 134
Compton-Burnett, I. 76
Condren,M. 195
Cornell, D. 48, 117
Corte, M. de 91
Critchley, S. 145, 146, 149
Crownfield, D. 112
Daly,M. 195
Datta, K.S. 16
Davenport-Hines, R. 39

212

SELF/SAME/OTHER

De la Mare, W. 14, 70-72, 74-81


Deleuze, R. 154
Derrida, J. 15, 17, 43, 117, 142-47, 149,
151
Detweiler, R. 16
Dickinson, E. 51
Dickson,A. 72,73
Donne, J. 25,26,29,31-33
Dragstra, H. 21
Draper, R.P. 187
DuPlessis, R.B. 83
Dyne, S. van 46,49-51
Eckhart, M. 129, 132, 134, 156
Edelstein, M. 112
Edmunds, S. 83,85,88
Elfenbein, A.S. 83
Eliot, T.S. 54
Epinay-Burgard, G. 129
Erikson, E. 56, 102-104
Felman, S. 11
Feuerbach, L. 156
Fishbane,M. 172
Fisher, A. Y. 48
FokkelmanJ.P. 163
Foucault, M. 154, 155
Fraser, N. 48
Freud, S. 14, 56, 57, 72-75, 77, 79, 81,
84, 87, 92, 93, 96
Friedman, S.S. 83, 87, 93
Fromm, E. 97
Gail, M. 60
Galvani, C.M. 126
Gelpi,A. 83,89
Gilbert, S.M. 83,85
Gimbutas, M. 91
Gray, D. 128
Grazia, M. de 32
Greenblatt, S. 32
Gregory, E. 83
Grey, M. 197
Guarnieri, R. 126
Gubar, S. 83,85,95
Guberman, R.M. 110, 115, 120, 122,
124
Guest, B. 92
Guibbory, A. 21
GunnJ.G. 99
GuyonJ. 133-36

H.D.

10, 14, 18, 51, 54, 56, 83-88, 9096


Haardt,M. de 195
Hadewijch 126-30, 132, 136
Hamburger, J.F. 127
Hampson, D. 136, 196
Hand, S. 140
Harding, S. 115
Hardt,M. de 17
Hardy, T. 17, 183, 184, 187, 193
Hare,W.L. 87
Hargrove, N. 45
Harrell, S. 125
Hart, C. 128
Hart, K. 86
Hass,A. 13
Hassan, I. 173
Hegel, G.W.F. 115, 122, 151
Heidegger, M. 14, 43, 151
Heijst, A. van 1 1
Herbert, G. 22-24, 26, 27, 29, 30, 32,
33, 92
Herrick, R. 21-24,30,33
HildegardofBingen 129,130
Hilton, W. 134
Hoffman, Y. 72
Hollywood, A.M. 126, 131, 135
Hopkinson, L. 68
Hughes, T. 50
Humbert, E.G. 92
Humm, M. 191
Hunter, D. 148
Hutchinson, L. 21
Huxley, A. 84
Hyde, E., Earl of Clarendon 21
Irigaray, L. 14-16, 108, 126, 131, 132,
134, 137, 147-57
James, E.G. 94
James, W. 97
Jantzen, G.M. 125, 195
Jardine,A. 15,151
Jensen, 73
Johnston, W. 87
Jones, J.W. 56,58
Joyce, J. 54, 143
Jung,C.G. 59,92
Jiingel, E. 200
KalbfleischJ. 45
Kallman, C. 39

INDEX OF AUTHORS

213

KalvenJ. 195
Kant, I. 97
Kaufman, G.D. 97
Keller, C. 195,206
Kerenyi, c. 89
Kierkegaard, S. 38
King,M. 92
Klapisch-Zuber, C. 127
Klein, M. 83
Kohut,H. 56,58
Kristeva, J. 13-16, 59, 79, 106-11, 11324, 126, 130, 132-36, 155, 156,
184, 185, 189
Krupnik, M. 146

Milton, J. 36,38
Mitchell,;. 131
Moi,T. 106, 108, 118, 156
Mommaers, P. 129
More, G. 134
More, T., Sir 134
Moms, A. 83
Mukherji, S. 134
Murk-Jansen, S. 126-28, 136
Navarre, M. de 134
Neusner,J. 166
Newman, B. 125, 126, 128-30
Nietzsche, F. 55, 98, 13740, 151, 154,
157

Lacan, J. 14, 15, 60, 61, 64-66, 68, 69,


99, 117, 130-32
Lanone, C. 17
LaplancheJ. 98
LarsenJ. 83,85
Laub, D. 11
Lauretis, T. de 15
Lawrence, D.H. 54,55
Lecercle,J.-J. 188,190
LeClercqJ. 127
Leonard, P. 16
Lerner,R.S. 127
Levinas, E. 12, 43, 117, 137, 139-54,
157, 186
Lingis, A. 140, 145
Loades,A. 164
Lodge, D. 183, 187
Lowe,W. 12
Luther, M. 135, 167-69, 191
Lyotard,J.F. 15

Ochs, C. 197
O'Grady, K. 112,113, 171
O'Hara Graff, A. 196
Oliver, J.H. 127
Oliver, K. 116, 124
On, B.A.B. 115
Opera, S.B. 127
Osborne, C. 34,39
Ostriker,A. 10,45,47,51
Ottaway, S. 21
Otto, R. 55,87

MacDonald, D.P. 194


Major, E. 29,30,33
Man, P. de 11
MarlerJ.C. 134
Martz, L.L. 26,56, 136
Marvell,A. 22
Mascuch, M. 21
McAleese, M. 136
McGinn, B. 134, 135
McLain, M. 164
MechthildofMageburg 126,132,136
Meissner,W. 57
Mendelson, E. 35
Menke,A. 151
Miller, N.K. 112
Miller, W. 164

Paepe, N. de 129
Paris, BJ. 183
Pascal, R. 99
Pascal, 38
Patmore, C. 96
Patmore, D. 96
Pestalozza, U. 91
Piesse,A. 25
Plath, S. 13,45-51
Pontalis, J.B. 14, 98-101, 103, 104
Porete, M. 126, 129, 132-36
Potter, E. 115
Proust, M. Ill
Pucci, P. 91
Purcell, H. 20,28
Pyper, H. 14
Quance, R. 14
Quilligan, M. 32

Rad, G. von 165


Rahner,K. 198
Raschke, C. 12
Rashi 166
Rawlinson, M.C. 117

214

SELF/SAME/OTHER

Read, F. 80
Reardon, B.M.G. 156
Reder, E.K. 117
Regnier-Bohler, D. 127
Reineke, MJ. 117, 118
Revell, P. 83
Rich, A. 10
Richman, P. 125
Robinson, J.S. 93,95
Rochais, H.M. 127
Rogerson, J. 164, 167
Rose,J. 131, 184
Rougemont, D. de 87
Ruether, R.R. 195-97
Ruf, FJ. 14,97
Saiving, V. 197
Saldivar, T. 46
Sandmel, S. 173
Sarton, M. 194, 198, 201
Sartre, J.-P. 99
Schillebeeckx, E. 200
Sells, M.L. 126, 128, 129, 136
Seremetakis, C.N. 176, 178-81
Serrano, L. 151
Sexton, A. 51
Shakespeare, W. 20
Shange, N. 197
Shell, M. 134
Showalter, E. 10
Sidney, M., Countess of Pembroke 23,
24
Sidney, P., Sir 23
Smith, A. 15, 119, 124
Smith, S. 80, 81
Southwell, A., Lady 28
Sparks, E.K. 83
Spears, M.K. 38
Spek, I. van der 204
Spenser, E. 21
Spiegel, C. 48
Spivak, G.C. 146
Stallybrass, P. 32
Stanton, D. 112
Sternberg, M. 161
Stockton, K. 16
Sutton, N. 75
Swados, E. 48
Tanner, T. 188
TarlinJ. 17
Tate, N. 20

Taylor, M.C. 98, 104, 139


Thomas, R.S. 173
Thompson, C. 184, 185
Tobin, F. 126
ToddJ. 151
Tyrrell, G. 56,61
Underbill, E. 84,87
Vanita, R. 85,95
Vasselu, C. 148, 149
Vaughan, H. 136
Wagner-Martin, L. 45,48
Walle, A.R. van der 200
Walsh, J. 92
Watson, A. 94,95
Watts, W. 130
Webb, E. 55
Weiner, I. 102
Wekeman, H.W.D. 129
Welch, S.D. 196, 203, 207
Wesley, C. 168, 169
Westermann, C. 164
White, A. 14, 54, 56, 60-63, 65-69
Whitford, M. 15, 146, 148, 152, 155
Widdowson, P. 184, 188
Wilcox, H. 13, 21, 25
Willians, E. 136
Winnicott, D.W. 56,57
Winqist, C.E. 98
Winquist, C. 12, 104
Woolf, V. 51, 55
Wrangham, D.S. 130
Wyschogrod, E. 123
Yeats, W.B. 54
YoungJ. 51
Zakin, E. 117
Ziarek, E. 117