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Voicing Trauma: Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea and Djuna Barnes's Nightwood in Resistance to a Masculine Modernism BY ALEX FIXLER A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida In partial fulfillment for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the Sponsorship of Miriam Wallace Sarasota, Florida May 2012
ii Acknowledgements I would like to thank my parents, Karen and Richard Fixler, and my sister Eliza Fixler, for their unwavering and infinite support my who le life long, and for always being so excited when I came home for visits this year even though I totally disrupted their routine. This thesis would be a much bigger mess if not for the support of Miriam Wallace, who consistently provided inspiring advice and rock solid psychic encouragement. Much thanks and love also to Molly Barnes for aiding so much in the development of my young brain, to Maria Vesperi for starting me off on the right foot in my college career, to Alec Niedenthal for reading and compli menting and brilliantly critiquing the entire thesis out of the pure goodness of his heart, and to Katie Scussel and Maddy Ringold Brown for feeding me all the love I have needed to survive since kindergarten.
iii Contents Acknowledgements ii Introduction1 Wide Sargasso Sea : Heterosexual Brutality in a Colonialist Homosocial Economy9 Nightwood : Gendered Body Politics of Trauma29 Conclusion .49 Works Cited...61
iv VOICING TRAUMA: JEAN RHYS'S WIDE SARGASSO SEA AND DJUNA BARNES'S NIGHTWOOD IN RESISTANCE OF A MASCULINIST MODERNISM Alex Fixler New College of Florida 2012 This thesis investigates feminist resistance to a traditionally masculinist modernism in Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea and Djuna Barnes's Nightwood in terms of the expression of trauma within literature. In chapter one, I discuss Wide Sargasso Sea 's prot agonist's experience of trauma at the hands of heterosexuality and British structures of colonialism and primogeniture. In chapter two, I examine Nightwood 's depictions of "queer" femininity as they are supplemented by themes of unconscious trauma. Rathe r than attempt to resolve these traumas, the novels resist patriarchal structures of modernism by rejecting unities of plot or form. Miriam Wallace Division of Humanities
1 INTRODUCTION This thesis investigates certain angles of feminist resistance to a traditionally masculinist modernism in Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) and Djuna Barnes's Nightwood (1937). These books implement concepts of trauma, pain, and loss to illustrate the potential of modernism to simultaneously pinion or overlook women, and to be transformed for the purpose of freeing them from its own fetters. I deal first with Wide Sargasso Sea although it was published almost thirty years after Nightwo od in order to organize them thematically rather than chronologically. For one thing, Wide Sargasso Sea 's considerations are strictly heterosexual, and I think the element of queerness in Nightwood enhances the gendered considerations of the book. Also, Nightwood 's narrative is perhaps more experimental. Sources of pain in Wide Sargasso Sea are more clearly explicated in their causality, which makes it a better medium for introducing the functions of complicated concepts. It is also important to note that because of the date of its first publication (1966) and its somewhat radical dealings with style, content, and politics, Wide Sargasso Sea is frequently considered a postmodern or post colonialist novel I would add, though, that however we might fo rmally categorize the book according to its immediate context, its engagement with (and reaction to) modernism is in many ways significant 1 To begin with, in her preface to the Norton Critical Edition of the text, Judith L Raiskin points out that "Jean Rhys first mentions working on what was to become Wide Sargasso Sea in October 1945" (Raiskin ix). Having come so closely on the heels of a modernism in 1 In my interpretation I don't mean to de emphasize postcolonialist readings, but rather to point out that there is likely something to be gained from also thinking of it as a direct response to modernism from one of its expatriates.
2 which Rhys developed the bulk of her oeuvre, and from which she had been on hiatus for more than two de cades, it is not unreasonable to consider the novel in relation (or as a direct retaliation) to the culturally enormous artistic period that preceded it 2 It seems likely that her response to modernism is related to her experience as a practitioner of it, and to the ways she did or didn't engage with the ideals of "high modernism" as they were manifesting at the time. Marianne DeKoven, in her article "Modernism and Gender," examines different ways that modernism came to distinguish itself as a movement In Marxism and Modernism Eugene Lunn lists some of the most important of those features: aesthetic self consciousness or self reflexiveness, simultaneity, juxtaposition, or montage (I would add fragmentation); paradox, ambiguity and uncertainty; dehumani zation and the demise of subjectivity conceived as unified, integrated, self consistent Bradley and McFarlane, in their influential Modernism attribute to modernist form abstraction and highly conscious artifice, taking us behind familiar reality, breaki ng away from familiar functions of language and conventions of formthe shock, the violation of expected continuities, the element of de creation and crisis (DeKoven 175) Almost all these elements can be identified within the novels Their usages, howev er, often have extremely sinister undertones that in many cases almost seem to struggle against themselves from the start And although many of these descriptors can also be applied to postmodernism, it seems in some ways more effective to qualify their o ccurrences here as resistance to the structure of modernism as it affected society's 2 We m ight solicit further confirmation of this consideration in the idea of the title's originating from Ezra Pound's reductive poem from 1912, "Portrait d'une Femme,": "Your mind and you are our Sargasso Sea/No! there is nothing! In the whole and all, / Nothi ng that's quite your own./Yet this is you." (DeKoven 178)
3 victims, rather than to simply align the book with a discretely other movement. 3 My understanding of a "feminist" modernism, as it works in these two novels, depends on t heir efforts to locate the inadequacies of a traditional version of modernism in terms of personal experiences with suffering and embodiment. It indicates that the effort of modernism to transcend or aestheticize pain is essentially an attempt to elide th ings that are actually deeply traumatizing. If modernism works to replace pain with art, trauma argues that pain cannot be eliminated in the face of art. Trauma Studies examines the effects of trauma on individuals and populations using lenses from across a range of disciplines. Often Trauma Studies programs are dedicated to improving the lives and coping capacities of survivors of catastrophe and genocide. The study of trauma in literature most frequently applies to historical and postcolonial fiction. However, trauma is also visible in many other kinds of novels, though it is not always immediately obvious as such. The distinction between large scale and private, personal trauma is important to feminist theorists, who note that trauma that is not on a macrocosmic scale is often not considered trauma at all. It is important, then, to study the implications of the concept as a whole. Cathy Caruth, a leading expert on trauma, describes a traumatic event as being inassimilable in the moment that it takes place. Those who experience it are afterward subject to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is defined by "repeated, intrusive hallucinations, dreams, thoughts or behaviors stemming from the event, along with numbing that may have begun during or after the experience, and possibly also increased arousal to (and avoidance of) stimuli recalling the event" (Caruth, Trauma 4). The exceptional thing about trauma is the way 3 Postmodernism's goals as an entity, though certainly, and perhaps even primarily, concerned with resisting modernism, do not always feel harmonious with the particular breed of specific indignatio n and desperation for expressional clarity that Wide Sargasso Sea tries urgently to communicate
4 its event cannot be "assimilated or experienced fully at the time, but only belatedly, in its repeated possession of the one who experiences it. To be traumatized is precisely to be possessed by an image or event" (4 5). In other words, it is the temporal disjunction of pain reactions, displacing an experience from its origin and then forc efully recurring it to its victim for time indefinite. When an inassimilable experience is pushed into the unconscious, it will later force its way into the daily lives of those whom it inhabits. This means that, "for those who undergo trauma, it is not o nly the moment of the event, but the passing out of it that is traumatic; that survival itself in other words, can be a crisis (9). Laura S. Brown, in her article "Not Outside the Range: One Feminist Perspective on Psychic Trauma" examines the question of sexual and domestic trauma. The DSM III, when it introduced the terms of diagnosis for PTSD, defined the criteria for traumatic events by typifying the victim as someone who has "experienced an event that is outside the range of human experience" (DSM 2 50). This inherently excludes recurring personal traumas that act on an individual as "a continuing background noise rather than an unusual event" (Brown 103). Although more recent volumes of the DSM have broadened this criteria, public opinion still tend s to belittle instances of repetitive or familiarized personal traumas in the face of what is immediately unusual and grotesque. This kind of mass, catastrophic trauma, though no less worthy of attention and sympathy, is defined by the range of what is n ormal and usual in the lives of men of the dominant classTrauma is thus that which disrupts these particular human lives, but no other. War and genocide, which are the work of men and male dominated culture, are agreed upon traumas; so are natural disaste rs, vehicle crashes, boats sinking in the freezing ocean. (101) In other words, "Real' trauma is often only that form of trauma in which the dominant group can participate as a victim rather than as the perpetrator or etiologist of the trauma" (102). A
5 feminist analysis takes into consideration the constancy of trauma, and even the threat of trauma, that has extreme effects on the lives of women and minorities when their personal lives are constructed so as to make them subject to abuse on a daily basis. One prominent facet of many modernist works is a preoccupation with personal identity, and the struggle with conventional society as an obstruction to spiritual fulfillment or the satisfactory fashioning of the self. To this end, modernist writers were particularly concerned with developing new, unconventional uses of form as a means of breaking the bonds of social constraint. Since, for the most part, literary modernism is defined by the collection of white male authors (and, largely, protagonists) wh o prevailed in establishing its foundation, this kind of experimentation with form preeminently manifests as a non marginalized person's struggle with his social identity, and the search for a "true" self that is ostensibly buried amidst chaos and angst am idst a hostile or ridiculous society. Female characters in these texts are typically treated very differently, as images rather than people, receivers of identity rather than explorers or creators of it (Albertine, for example, in Proust's Remembrance of Things Past [1913 1927]). Barnes and Rhys undermine this structure in different ways, but ultimately both focus on the tremendous pain and loss that results when supposedly emancipatory modernist ideals are applied to the case of a marginalized people. T heir own engagements with the disruption of customary language usage take dissimilar forms from each other, but have similar effects. Djuna Barnes expresses loss through opacity, which Victoria L. Smith, in her article "A Story Beside(s) Itself: The Langu age of Loss in Djuna Barnes's Nightwood ," characterizes as "outlin[ing] a loss of access to history, to language, and to representation in general for those consigned to the margins of culture" (Smith 194). Barnes's descriptions of female characters are so highly unusual as to be almost incomprehensible, despite
6 their being absolutely, densely specific. Rather than accepting flat definition from an external source, the characters remain rich, nonlinear, and impossible to pin down for summary's sake. Jean Rhys also obscures the centrality of her female characters, but she does so by way of minimalism and fragmentation. Her female protagonist is defined almost not at all by observable personal characteristics, but by her expressions of desperation, hopeless ness, and yearning. Both authors work to reclaim the prescribed feminine identity by destroying it Barnes's characters defy definition through an onslaught of specification, and Rhys's illuminate the emptiness at the core of a projected feminine image. Bo th novels are also highly emotional characters suffer brutality and manipulation at the hands of their partners and society at large. They are abandoned, deceived, and left without means. In Nightwood emotion is buried in dense language, which implies a sorrow so complex as to be practically incommunicable. In Wide Sargasso Sea it is cut short by extreme frankness, which rings of shock and provides no direct commentary. In both cases, though, the muted quality of emotional language ultimately functions to emphasize the pain that speaks for itself, rather than to confuse or distract from it. It is agonizing, and it is unabating. Without climax, according to technical laws of trauma, this pain ought to neutralize or work itself out. Instead, it acts as a constant state of melancholia for female protagonists in the novels, working against them at all times, and always impossible to integrate. This form of pain cannot be reduced to any one causal instance or single traumatic event. Rather, it is the pro duct of a buildup of constant displacement and lack of fulfillment, resulting in a long term state of mourning that we can arguably identify as melancholia. Juliana Schiesari, in her study of Freud's gendering of melancholia, characterizes this state
7 wh erein a subject acts as if he or she were mourning some loss whose exact nature remains, nonetheless, and to all concerned, obscure and nameless. Whereas the mourner has no trouble pointing to what needs to be mourned, the melancholic either cannot easily explain the source of her or his feelings or, if one can point to a concrete loss, the melancholic reacts or overreacts to it in an obsessional' wayit can be seen as pathological precisely to the extent that, as a state, it is opaque rather than self evi dent. (Schiesari 38) She tracks the appearance of this condition throughout Western culture, noting that the "grievous' suffering of the melancholic is a gendered one, an eroticized nostalgia that recuperates loss in the name of imaginary unity and that also gives to the melancholic man (the homo melancholicus ) a privileged position within literary, philosophical, and artistic canons" (11). She also points out that more romantic associations and critical acclaim are attributed to melancholic works from men, and that the (cultural) expression of women's losses is not given the samerepresentational value as those of men within the Western canon of literature, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. Thus, oftentimes, a woman's lament, grievance, or suffering is s een as the everyday' plight of the common (wo)man, a quotidian event whose collective force does not seem to bear the same weight of seriousness' as a man's grief. The value of his' grief would lie, on the other hand, in its uncommon or unparalleled exp ression, which is to say that his loss' is transcoded once again as a privileged suffering that all too often displays (and belies) the desire for a transcendent relation with the world, a transcendence of difference (whether social, sexual, ethnic, or li nguistic). (13) Melancholia, then, is a great asset to male artists, but relatively ineffective for women, whose inability to "transcend" is not even recognized as any real plight "the discourse of melancholia legitimates that neurosis as culturally ac ceptable for particular men, whose eros is then defined in terms of a literary production based on the appropriation of a sense of lack, while the viability of such appropriation seems systematically to exclude women" (15). Barnes and Rhys appropriate lack in a different way. Their characters, rather than attempting any kind of transcendence of the world, desperately seek any kind of oneness with it. This pain is based on general exclusion
8 rather than discrete losses. These authors articulate a feminized sense of the concept of melancholia, promoting the articulation of unnameable pain in a way that recognizes the exceptional nature of "everyday" suffering in those who must exist in a world that refuses to recognize their humanity as legitimate. Finally, both authors use an ambiguously dramatic (dis)engagement with place to highlight issues of marginalization. Barnes's characters travel to a great number of places, but even when they are physically settled they are uneasy with their setting. Place is also a loaded concept in Wide Sargasso Sea as Antoinette's personal connection with her own home is gradually destroyed, and she is eventually uprooted to a house in London that is filled with terror, and which she can never leave. Characters in both novels f ail to ever be comfortably situated in a place, despite constantly searching for home. This pervasive sense of unbelonging works to advocate for the disenfranchised. Ultimately, my thesis is built on the idea that "commonplace" or domestic, everyday trau mas are still entirely real traumas, and that these should not be assigned a lesser value in comparison to traumas suffered more publicly by a wider (or, probably, simply more visible) range of people. It is this principle upon which I found my use of the concept in order to analyze the feminist potential of Djuna Barnes's Nightwood and Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea I do so by studying the way symptoms of trauma are manifested in style, and by discussing the evidences of trauma within the plot, particula rly as they are exhibited in relation to the traditional modernist movement. Finally, I examine the way these novels attempt to "speak the unspeakable" as a means of feminist resistance and liberation.
9 CHAPTER ONE: WIDE SARGASSO SEA : Heterosexual Brutality in a Colonialist Homosocial Economy Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea uses trauma as the backbone of its investigations into heterosexual and homosocial relations, spiritual and physical displacement, and human emotion. It aids in the derivation o f new usage for traditional modernist tropes (such as resistance to societal prescriptions, dramatically ambivalent relationships with particular environments, and distortional play with chronology and theme), pushing them to work in unusual ways to emphas ize the plight of the subjugated. Rhys uses the character of Mr. Rochester as a vessel and agent for pure trauma. Rhys appropriates and refashions the character of Bertha Rochester from Charlotte Bront 's Jane Eyre Bertha is the protagonist's love inter est's mad wife from the West Indies After having been locked in his attic for years, she burns down the house and commits suicide by jumping off the roof Wide Sargasso Sea works as a kind of prequel to Jane Eyre but changes the story radically by advoc ating for the mad wife, whose real name in this story is Antoinette 4 It tells of her troubled childhood in Jamaica, and relates the sequence of their marriage and her descent into psychosis Though in Rhys's world madness does run in Mrs Rochester's fa mily, in Antoinette's particular case it is effectively forced upon her by her cold husband, who married her for her 4 R McClure Smith, in an article about the Textual Unconscious in Wide Sargasso Sea discusses the way the book functions as an anti novel: "For while Wide Sa rgasso Sea pays respectful homage to Jane Eyre it is primarily a critique: the previously silent madwoman speaks, and in the process exposes and inverts the patriarchal and colonialist presumptions and value systems around which the thematics of the precu rsor text coalesce" (Smith 115). Smith examines some of Rhys's letters to demonstrate her indignation regarding the derogatory stereotyping and silencing of the West Indian wife in Bront 's novel
10 money, refuses to acknowledge her personal humanity, and tortures her emotionally He ascribes madness to her by conflating it with emotio n, and uses it to rationalize his abuse This degradation finally imposes legitimate madness The book is sharply critical of the racist and brutally patriarchal system that dominates its plot Marianne DeKoven discusses the interactions between art an d society as they work in modernism, and calls attention to a Marxist rejection of the way that Modernism, with its notoriously resistant complexity and its rarefied religion of art, is often thought of as the antithesis to representation of the threat/pr omise of radical political and cultural change: in fact, it is thought of as a retreat from, or rejection of, the failed, degraded, violent world of twentieth century society and politics Many Marxist criticshave condemned Modernism not only as an evasio n of the moral political imperative of engagement with the life of society, but also as the ultimate representation of, or capitulation to, the alienation and dehumanizationresulting from capitalism's cultural distortions (DeKoven 175) That evasion is acknowledged and censured throughout the novel This censure is, I think, one of the primary sites of Rhys's resistance to modernism as an overbearing and masculinist movement She overturns the idea of a righteous struggle against society (though not tw entieth century society; the book is set in the 1830s) through reversal Instead of rejecting a perverse society, the women and the colonized people they live among are continually, and viciously, rejected by the surrounding community of English colonists who find West Indian society to be perverse. In fact, this English population actively seeks female inhabitants out, apparently for the sole purpose of consuming and then spurning them This calls attention to the reality that the purposeful abandonment of social engagement is unthinkable for those whom a dominant group has taken captive as dependents. It indicates that, in fact, this kind of scorn fueled abandonment is in many
11 ways a willful and violent blindness that dooms and dehumanizes the human su bjects it has designated as objects. Those who are in a position to feasibly repudiate "society" are its constituents, i.e. the ones who designed and created its structures In other words, those who represent the dominant culture are the only ones who c an afford to be critical of it; the only people who can actively question it are the same people who are instituting it. One of the most revelatory agents for this aspect of the narrative is the perspectival shifting between Antoinette and her husband (who is never explicitly named in the book, but for purposes of clarity will henceforth be referred to as Mr Rochester) The story is always told in first person form About one third is narrated by Antoinette, and the rest is told by Mr Rochester We hea r about Antoinette's childhood from her perspective, and then the duration of her marriage is almost entirely documented by Mr Rochester, except for one desperate incident in the middle and the period of her confinement to the attic in England. Both acco unts serve to emphasize the distress suffered by Antoinette, at the hands of her husband and the social constructions that have bound her to him Shifts between the two narrators create a subtextual understanding of the novel's portrayal of gender relatio ns Depictions of femininity are defined primarily by imposed experiences of extreme fear and helplessness, false perceptions of madness, and colonial parallels Antoinette's narration at the beginning creates a foundation for her persona, helping the re ader to plot the course of events and feelings leading up to her marriage, and establishing her thoughts and experiences as unquestionably "sane", valid, and important Part One chronicles her youth in Jamaica, which is primarily characterized
12 by poverty a nd isolation She lives with her mother, Annette, her ailing younger brother Pierre, and a few slaves who chose to remain with them after slavery became officially illegal Her father, a plantation and slave owner, was quite wealthy but his death and the failure of his plantation has left his family destitute in a hostile environment Their bourgeois white neighbors are contemptuous toward them because of their poverty and because Antoinette's mother originated from Martinique 5 They are also hated by t he black Jamaicans for their past prosperity from slave ownership Their isolation is acute, and Antoinette watches her mother struggle with loneliness: "I got used to a solitary life, but my mother still planned and hoped perhaps she had to hope every tim e she passed a looking glass" (Rhys 10). Annette's psychological distress drives her to reject Antoinette, who begins to fear her mother for her eccentric behavior and pointed coldness Eventually Annette remarries, to a colonist named Mr Mason The fam ily is saved from starvation and restored to wealth, which breeds discontent among their black neighbors Mr Mason is entirely insensible of this discontent, speaks freely of his plans to import unpaid labor in front of his black servants, and when he no tices evidences of resentment, insists that "[t]hey're too damn lazy to be dangerous" (19). He ignores, trivializes, and laughs at the complaints of his wife and her pleas to leave the island He discounts her (and his stepdaughter's) experiences of threa t because he won't acknowledge the humanity of black people enough to recognize their justified resentment 5 Martinique was a French colony and so was considered a r ival to the English run colony in Jamaica. (Rhys/Raiskin footnote #2, pg 9)
13 of his imperialist attitudes Meanwhile, their hostility directed at the two women begins to increase Antoinette begins to roam the estate, seekin g solitude to avoid threat I went to parts of Coulibri that I had not seen, where there was no road, no path, no track And if the razor grass cut my legs and arms I would think It's better than people Black ants or red ones, tall nests swarming with white ants, rain that soaked me to the skin once I saw a snake All better than people. (16) Though Annette continues to insist on their departure from the island, Mr Mason persists in dismissing her until one night their house is burnt down by a large group of black Jamaicans Pierre dies, and the family flees the island Annette immediately descends into madness, and is sent to live with abusive caretakers, where she dies some years later Antoinette is raised in a convent, where she lives in relat ive peace until being removed by her stepfather and reintroduced to society When Mr Rochester's reign begins, it is, appropriately, his interpretation that is dominant for almost the entire rest of the book His narration is incomplete, representing onl y his own interpretations of Antoinette's experience This approach is quite effective in demonstrating the extent to which her individual humanity is perpetually denied When her voice is lost, so is her capacity to have a hand in a reality over which s he has any control Rochester's portrayal of himself is confessional the accounts of his thoughts and feelings are so candid as to make his character definitively repulsive For example, he relates a conversation between himself and his wife, in which sh e tells him that all her happiness has come to depend on his love, and that he could kill her with a word, "Now, when I am happy Would you do that? You wouldn't have to kill me Say
14 die and I will die You don't believe me? Then try, try, say die and I wi ll die" (55). His answer is telling: "Die then! Die!' I watched her die many times In my way, not in hers" (ibid). The implication here is "la petite mort": the orgasm Though "his way" masquerades as kinder than her own, it proves him in fact to be more patronizing than generous He decides what's good for her, providing her with a death that he has fashioned, and which, he knows, makes her more of a slave to him than before: "Very soon she was as eager for what's called loving as I was more lost and dr owned afterwards" (ibid). Still, while the death he is giving her is not the death she asks for, his violence and personal detachment are evident in what he divulges next: I wonder if she ever guessed how near she came to dying In her way, not in mine I t was not a safe game to play in that place Desire, Hatred, Life, Death came very close in the darkness Better not know how close Better not think, never for a moment Not close The sameYou are safe,' I'd say to her and to myself "Shut your eyes Re st (56) His impulse to indulge her is no indulgence at all He desires not her happiness, but his own release In the meantime, he removes her further from himself in his attempts to soothe her He tells her she is safe at the peak of her danger, and it is this false assurance that creates the happiness that will undo her His "way" of death is the sexual, and his manner of implementing it demonstrates the brutality of heterosexual relations in the novel. 6 Dealings with death in this novel take a dif ferent form than we will see later in 6 The nature of heterosexual violence in the book is not only emotional, either, though this is only once mentioned, when Christophine has an accusatory discussion with Rochester: "I know more than any doctor. I undress Antoinette so she can sleep cool and easy; it's then I see you very rough with her eh?'" (Rhys 91) His intimate physical abuse,
15 Nightwood where death acts as a driving source of life it manifests in other ways here because of its explicitly heterosexual orientation, in which sex is a force of violence; sex works only as an agent of imperial death. Death is an exhibition of power, rather than a crucial component of life. His internal monologue during this conversation, in fact, reveals that "As for the happiness I gave her, that was worse than nothing I did not love her I was thirsty for her, but that is not love I felt very little tenderness for her, she was a stranger to me, a stranger who did not think or feel as I did" (55). The reader has, by now, become familiar with the one sided nature of the relationship Antoinette trusts her h usband with her own life, both directly literally and spiritually : she trusts him to enrich her inner life, and to care for and honor her feelings as a companion Her emotional well being depends on it He, on the other hand, hardly identifies her as a h uman being, though he pretends to for the sake of her devotion From the very beginning of their union, he distrusts her, considering her ethnically a stranger, to which he ascribes her unfathomable persona He, like the colonists who introduced him, con siders anyone from the West Indies to be racially inferior, and he places her in that category almost the first time he scrutinizes her "I watched her criticallyShe never blinks at all it seems to me Long, sad, dark alien eyes Creole of pure English de scent she may be, but they are not English or European either" (39). This is the first instance of, or precursor to, his later outright suspicions that she is not entirely white He fears and scorns all the black people he associates with, and though, is presented as a sidenote, projected in a more tangible and violent way by his psychological sadism.
16 the reader understands that his wife is, to him, always an object since she is not European he can possess her because her version of humanity is unrecognizable to him The only way he can make sense of her difference from him is to read that difference as a racial one. Antoinette's trauma, then, is a double alienation both gendered and racialized. She is a white Creole who cannot be comfortably culturally situated anywhere. He will consider her feelings only when it's easy, and especially when he can fool him self with distortions As she introduces him to the Dominican countryside where they are to spend their honeymoon, he refuses almost all her attempts to acquaint him with the landscape and its accommodations He sulks to himself about the climate and his own estrangement until she convinces him to drink some mountain water "Looking up smiling, she might have been any pretty girl and to please her I drank It was cold, pure and sweet, a beautiful colour against the thick green leaf" (42). He brings himself to trust her offerings because he has chosen to view her as an English girl, and so momentarily allows himself the pleasure from which he has so far withdrawn due to his unfamiliarity with its form Throughout his narration we are confronted with his fai lure to regard her as a person with whom he might relate in a respectful way He most frequently compares her to a child or an alien This dynamic is an analogous amplification of the criticisms of colonialism that make themselves evident throughout the book, via the slave owning men who insist that the West Indian natives are either incapable of violence for being inhumanly lazy, or persecute them for fear of their cultural differences Men who understand nothing of
17 their lives or customs repeatedly ch aracterize them as negligible or dangerous objects These men exploit them for their resources, and demean them as they destroy their livelihoods This is mirrored in Antoinette's relationship with her husband, 7 who has married her for her money, uses he r as he sees fit, and refuses her any sense of personal agency Man becomes the colonizer of woman She is a human and the reader is aware that her feelings are gigantic and real, but he thinks of her as an alien resource We see how she is considered pr operty by his compatriots as well; his father orchestrated the marriage simply to find a source of income for his younger son, insensible to the rumors he'd heard of the family's trauma and instability Antoinette's stepfather's relatives, too, are eager for the marriage, presumably so that she, a liability, might become someone else's responsibility Rochester recounts his memories of their relationship before the wedding the morning before it took place, she'd changed her mind because she'd noticed Roc hester laughing at her, and her stepbrother Richard Mason became hysterically enraged about the decision Rochester manipulated her into compliance with lies, and the memory of her resistance recurs to him at the discouraging peak of their marriage: I wo uld look at her for long minutes by candlelight, wonder why she seemed sad asleep, and curse the fever or the caution that had made me so blind, so feeble, so hesitating Had she given way to that man Richard's arguments, threats probably, I wouldn't trust him far, or to my half serious blandishments and promises? In any case she had given way, but coldly, unwillingly, trying to protect herself with 7 We also see a similar dynamic between Annette and Mr. Mason in Volume I though he marries her for her beauty and not her money, he belittles her fears regarding social relations in Jamaica despite her having lived on the island for years and his having only recently arrived. His position of power lends him the authority to trivialize and ignore her impatience to leave, and so she is the only one to anticipate the retaliation that yields the death of her son and her own psychic ruin.
18 silence and a blank face Poor weapons, and they had not served her well or lasted long If I have forgotten caution, she has forgotten silence and coldness (54 55) From this angle, the relationship resembles a lapsed political arrangement She, fallen prey to the ravaging happiness of a counterfeit love, has ceased self defense He, feeling affection for he r and concerning himself (passively) with her spiritual welfare, has failed to maintain the proper distance for adequate control She is deceived in believing the marriage to be an emotional partnership He has internally defined it as a political negoti ation, positioning himself as the dominant party responsible for maintaining order and ensuring his profit at her expense In fact, she also serves as an object of his political negotiations with other men he allows these men to define the nature of his marriage. He is, as he sees it, swindled into the partnership to begin with by Antoinette's stepbrothers, and thus forced into an unbalanced relationship with them. He also succumbs to blackmailing from a man named Daniel who demands money for the "infor mation" he provides Rochester about his wife, which threat ultimately leads to the demise of the marriage. Profit, in fact, is for Mr Rochester the driving force of the entire sequence of events Rhys intersects themes of colonialism and social anxiety ; their conjunction clarifies the injustice bred by Rochester's character and, more broadly, the implications of conventional manifestations of social disaffection within modernism Although Antoinette is clearly and thoroughly dominated by Rochester, alt hough he plays an active role in securing the marriage for himself, and although he goes out of his way to reject genuine intimacy with his her and to be wary of his physical environment, he is
19 permanently convinced that every aspect of his life is determi ned by a collusive societal imposition that is intent on hemming him into a life of shame and alienation Having apparently forgotten he'd needed to convince Antoinette to marry him, we find him thinking bitterly of her at the beginning of the honeymoon, and of his father for arranging the marriage to begin with: the woman is a stranger Her pleading expression annoys me I have not bought her, she has bought me, or so she thinksDear Father The thirty thousand pounds have been paid to me without questio n or condition No provision made for her (that must be seen to)I have sold my soul or you have sold it, and after all is it such a bad bargain? The girl is thought to be beautiful, she is beautiful And yet (41) This is another example of heterosexual brutality as defined by homosocial political interactions between men. In truth, Rochester is angry with his father and brother for arranging the marriage, but Antoinette is the one punished for this anger even though she is only the product of a settleme nt between men. Rochester is, of course, a pawn in the service of British primogeniture, forced to marry so his father's inheritance can rightly be given to his older brother, but he also profits from the marriage in the sense of money and potential heirs In this sense, he can be understood as a victim, but he is also complicit as an active participant in the homosocial economy. It is difficult to reconcile his assertion that Antoinette believes she has purchased him with the pleading expression on her face There is also a cruel contradiction in his refusal to allow her any "purchase" of him when he has acknowledged such unflinching ownership of all her money and property He designates himself as an item of commerce, but it is really she whose soul ( and entire person) was sold by her family The transaction is completely unbalanced and all in his
20 favor, and yet Rochester insists upon his own victimization at the hands of the person whom he is exploiting, of his father, and of money itself He also describes the wedding scene in which he, the ever melancholic automaton, fulfills his prescribed role It was all very brightly coloured, very strange, but it meant nothing to me Nor did she, the girl I was to marry When at last I met her I bowed, smile d, kissed her hand, danced with her I played the part I was expected to play She never had anything to do with me at all Every movement I made was an effort of will and sometimes I wondered that no one noticed this I would listen to my own voice and ma rvel at it, calm, correct but toneless, surely But I must have given a faultless performance If I saw an expression of doubt or curiosity it was on a black face not a white one (45) Rochester reproaches his European contemporaries for failing to notice his utter disinterest, and for obliging him to exert himself to feign investment in an event that makes him feel bored and isolated At the same time, he faults Antoinette for failing to play her own part Stripped of his commentary, this description is extremely revealing He fails to notice that his "efforts of will" make him complicit in the social schema that he disdains Antoinette's unwillingness (or, more probably, inability) to exert them also might, in an alternate universe, have appeared to h im a refreshing refusal of public pandering Separately, however, the paragraph also contains disturbing implications about the power structure of social rebellion His "efforts of will" insinuate his obscured freedom to choose to exercise them Her res erve, on the other hand, is not suspicious in the eyes of a community that expects nothing from her but passivity Rochester, who, unlike her, will profit from the union, has more liberty to defy the social pressure he affects to scorn, but never thinks t o do so She, however, is trapped without recourse
21 His interior monologue admits to having tricked the fight out of her, and so we may presume that, resigned to her inevitable marriage, she can find no will to employ Rochester's rancor increases wit h the story's progression By the end of the book he has come to hate everyone he knows, and his wife bears the brunt of it She is, as he sees it, the imposition that society has assigned him, and he goes to great lengths to get retribution It is prett y clear, however, that his own stubbornness and brutality has deprived him (and everyone in his power) of, if not happiness, at least peace This makes for a complicated reconstruction of the ostensible social liberation proposed by modernism's rejection of mainstream society Rochester, who thinks himself forcibly estranged and degraded by society from all directions, is in fact a figurehead of oppressively masculine authority Antoinette is the object of this authority, and she depends upon it both fin ancially and emotionally Stripped of her personal resources, she has no choice but to submit to complete immersion in the circumstances she is given Thus, Rhys politically situates the modernist trope of social disdain 8 to point out the malevolent unde rtones present in the assumption that anyone may simply and easily choose to ignore, defy or actively rage against society in an unrestrained pursuit of pure freedom and art Such assumptions require a blindness to the potential consequences that 8 It is, of course, more complicated than this the age of modernism was populated by a great number of activist artists and it was perhaps its attempt to transcend the political that sometimes provided its greatest political success. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms defines modernism as "A revolutionary movement encompassing all of the creative arts that had its roots in the 1890s, a traditional period during which artists and writers sought to liberate themselves from the constraints and polite conventions associated with Victorianism" (307). Since the novel is set in a Victorian (or slightly pre Victorian) era, this description situates our passage well.
22 can fall on the heads of those of its members who are not privileged enough to successfully struggle against it The expression of emotion in the novel is characterized, to a large degree, by trauma manifested in form, and infused with the question of madness as it is ascribed to female characters. Antoinette's passion is interpreted by Rochester as insanity: "She'll loosen her black hair, and laugh and coax and flatter (a mad girl. She'll not care who she's loving). She'll moan and cry and give herself as no sa ne woman would or could. Or could (99). The climax of the plot occurs in Part II, after Rochester has become so suspicious of Antoinette that he has ceased to pretend to love her, and her desperation drives her to Christophine to seek an obeah's cure. It is her use of the potion (which Rochester believes to be poison) that yields the apex of his brutality. Her visit with Christophine is a seven page interruption in which the narrative suddenly shifts back from the perspective of Rochester to her own. Th is switch illustrates her last struggle for the control of her own fate in an attempt to force him to love her in the way her life depends upon. We have, for a brief moment, a view into her own mind, with her emotions represented by herself again. Her de speration is clear: "I have been too unhappy, I thought, it cannot last, being so unhappy, it would kill you" (66). There is an interesting narrative technique introduced during the final conversation between Rochester and Christophine. For about a page an d a half, each segment of Christophine's dialogue is followed by an italicized response in parentheses: you make love to her till she drunk with it, no rum could make her drunk like that, till she can't do without it. It's she can't see the sun any more. Only you she see. But all you want is to break her up.' (Not the way you mean, I thought ) But she hold out eh? (Yes, she held out. A pity)
23 So you pretend to believe all the lies that damn bastard tell you.' (That damn bastard tell you) Now every word s he said was echoed, echoed loudly in my head. So that you can leave her alone.' (Leave her alone) Not telling her why.' (Why?) No more love, eh?' (No more love) You bring that worthless girl to play with next door and you talk and laugh and love so t hat she hear everything. You meant her to hear.' Yes, that didn't just happen. I meant it. (I lay awake all night long after they were asleep, and as soon as it was light I got up and dressed and saddled Preston. And I came to you. Oh Christophine. Oh Phee na, Pheena, help me.) (92 93) It's unclear who the speaker of these interruptions is. At first it seems to be Rochester, but we also have unspoken interjections from him that are not italicized. The final one is clearly Antoinette, but the progression from the clearly enunciated statements at the beginning, to the repetition of significant phrases, to the desperate memory at the end, seems almost to communicate shared thoughts and feelings. It is also the last we hear directly from Antoinette before h er transplantation to the attic in England, the last we hear before she descends into utter confusion. This echo format provides the primary source of emotional evidence, by bringing the most important parts of the accusation repeatedly into the forefront The choice of which sections to repeat also highlights the visceral, immediate outpouring of sentiment for which there can be no adequate commentary. The lack of clarity about whose thoughts are whose also suggests that Rochester is connected to Antoine tte in such a way as to fully understand the causality of her feelings and behavior, but insists anyway on depicting her as conniving and mad because it better suits his purposes.
24 We see this empathy without sympathy from him again in the moments before t hey leave Granbois for good. He attempts to apologize, and she glares at him. He feels his own dormant hatred responding to hers, and he resolves then to drive her into the ground. I said it, looking at her, seeing the hatred in her eyes and feeling my own hate spring up to meet it. Again the giddy change, the remembering, the sickening swing back to hate. If I was bound for hell let it be hell. No more damned magic. You hate me and I hate you. We'll see who hates best. But first, first I will destroy your hatred. Now. My hate is colder, stronger, and you'll have no hate to warm yourself. You will have nothing. I did it too. I saw the hate go out of her eyes. I forced it outShe was only a ghost. A ghost in the grey daylight. Nothing left but hopelessn ess. Say die and I will die. Say die and watch me die. She lifted her eyes. Blank lovely eyes. Mad eyes. A mad girl. (102) In this instant, he finally says "Die." He recognizes the absolute force of his anger, and commits consciously to the decision to destroy her. This is when her madness truly begins: when he ascribes it to her. He writes it onto her. He defines her madness by her emotion: "I'll watch for one tear, one human tear. Not that blank hating moonstruck faceAlways adieu If she too says it or weeps, I'll take her in my arms, my lunatic. She's mad but mine, mine Antoinetta I can be gentle too. Hide your face. Hide yourself but in my arms. You'll soon see how gentle. My lunatic. My mad girl" (99). Mad if she does and mad if she doesn't, she chooses not to yield. And as a consequence of this choice, she becomes truly mad. Rochester's language here is simultaneously tender and sinister. In her official madness, in her failed final effort to resist, she has become, almost, a child. He has mad e her his ward in one moment, at his will.
25 Both characters have an extremely complex relationship to place. 9 It seems to define, determine, and underscore external events for Rochester in a linear way, whereas for Antoinette it is a more reciprocal intera ction. She seeks comfort and belonging from her environment, which it can provide if she feels settled, but this localized sense of security is always upset in conjunction with distressing life events, and the places themselves seem to spit her out. We s ee this pattern repeated again and again, beginning in her childhood. Waking from a bad dream, she calms herself by remembering she's home. "I lay thinking, I am safe. There is the corner of the bedroom door and the friendly furniture. There is the tree o f life in the garden and the wall green with moss. The barrier of the cliffs and the high mountains. And the barrier of the sea. I am safe. I am safe from strangers" (16). When her mother remarries, the family leaves town while Mason has repairs done on th eir estate. Antoinette views the changes upon her return with a sense of foreboding. "Coulibri looked the same when I saw it again, although it was clean and tidy, no grass between the flagstones, no leaks. But it didn't feel the same" (17). Soon afterward the house burns down and Antoinette spends her adolescence in a nunnery, to which she also becomes attached, and from which she is wrenched by her stepfather into her marriage. 9 The relationship between modernism and place is not entirely straightforward. Timothy Oakes, in the abstract to his article "Place and the Paradox of Modernity," demonstrates the conflict thusly: "Modernism, it has been claimed, devalued place as a relevant vehicle for understanding social change. This paper, however, contends that in fact place has been a particularly significant terrain for representing the experience of modernitythe vision of place derived from the literature discussed can serve as a template for examining the contemporary cultural dynamics of socioeconomic tran sformation and restructuring, and is advocated here as a basis for evaluating the cultural politics of place in terms of the contradiction and paradoxwith which people continue to engage the changes swirling around them" (509).
26 Their honeymoon, and most of the rest of the book, is set in Granbois, Domin ica. She believes her marriage off to an auspicious start, because they are in her childhood vacation home. "Don't you like it here?" she asks Rochester. "This is my place and everything is on our side" (44). He, on the other hand, feels oppressed by the landscape. "Everything is too much, I feltToo much blue, too much purple, too much green. The flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near" (41). He can't handle being in a place that might give her any kind of advantage over him. Later, during a more comfortable phase of the marriage, he describes the bathing pool as "a beautiful place wild, untouched, above all untouched, with an alien, disturbing, secret loveliness. And it kept its secret. I'd find myself thinking, What I see is nothi ng I want what it hides that is not nothing.'" (52) This desire to consume and devour feels, again, distinctly heterosexual. It is difficult not to associate his pronouncement with what we know of his attitude toward his wife, though it's posed as somethin g more benevolent. We know he thinks her a disturbing, mysterious alien, and the potential secrets of her intricacy at once fascinate and repulse him. He demands too much of his environment, ignoring the depth of what lies before him and wishing to own w hat cannot be safely revealed by force. So, for Rochester, place acts as a reflection of his own mind, though he thinks it instead an active determinant of his situation. His feelings toward the Dominican landscape are reactionary. For the most part, he considers it a sinister force to be met with extreme skepticism. Antoinette, in her quest for domestic peace, tries always to embrace her environment as a friend. She says, about Granbois, "I love it more than anywhere in the world. As if it were a pers on. More than a person" (53). At the same time, she recognizes that its effect is equally dependent on things happening around her, that it is not actually a
27 controlling agent. We see the split in their attitudes concisely represented during a conversatio n in which Rochester tells her, "I feel very much a stranger hereI feel that this place is my enemy and on your side." She responds, "You are quite mistakenIt is not for you and not for me. It has nothing to do with either of us. This is why you are afra id of it, because it is something else. I found that out long ago when I was a child. I loved it because I had nothing else to love, but it is as indifferent as this God you call on so often" (78). She knows her ultimate displacement is Rochester's fault, and not that of Granbois. "I loved this place and you have made it into a place I hate. I used to think that if everything else went out of my life I would still have this, and now you have spoilt it. It's just somewhere else where I have been unhappy, and all the other things are nothing to what has happened here" (88). To Rochester, Granbois has always been an enemy. Its victory is his despair: the sadness I felt looking at the shabby white house I wasn't prepared for that. More than ever before it strai ned away from the black snake like forest. Louder and more despearately it called: Save me from destruction, ruin and desolationBut what are you doing here you folly? So near the forest. Don't you know that this is a dangerous place? And that the dark for est always wins? Always. If you don't, you soon will and I can do nothing to help you. (100) And so he leaves the island, taking his wife with him. Again we see Rochester making a classically modernist move: he believes that if he can free himself from p lace, transcend it, he will be delivered. He must make his history, his unhappiness, and his context all invisible. This escape comes at the price of his wife's well being, but he is insensible to everything standing in his way. Her comfort in life has always been primarily derived from a connection to place, and this connection has always been taken from her. Again he rejects; again she is rejected.
28 Rochester, having freed himself from place, has removed himself from the story. He never again appear s on the scene, while Antoinette is locked in the attic of a manor he never visits. He exists somewhere outside of time, while she is trapped in a desolate hell of it. This microcosmically summarizes the dynamic of their relationship as a whole, and also helps to illuminate a statement about the repercussions of modernist efforts to free art from the context of life. This effort is enacted in the plot, and applied to the life of Mr. Rochester. While he, through brute force and selective thinking, is abl e to achieve his desired results, she must submit to the consequences of being legally and emotionally bound to a man who is unwilling to commit to all aspects of reality. Wide Sargasso Sea then, uses themes of gendered and racialized domestic coloniali sm in an exploration of trauma as it acts as a political force at play with modernist aesthetics.
29 Chapter Two: Nightwood : Gendered Body Politics of Trauma Djuna Barnes's Nightwood uses themes of psychic pain, physical and emotiona l displacement, and ultra specific dealings with identity to explore the radical potential of modernist tropes in a study of social justice and personal fulfillment for the non traditional body. Although feminism does not seem at first glance to provide t he main foundation for issues of marginalization in Nightwood the examination of queer 10 and feminine identities are presented as inevitably intertwined. This produces a chain of effects in the way of externally imposed abjection, the inability ever to fe el comfortably situated or "at home," and the resulting emotional pain, which structurally resemble the implications of the more strictly heterosexual considerations of Wide Sargasso Sea Many critics agree that the narrative centers around a distinct no tion of need, displacement, and pain of loss, in other words and that this notion is always tied, in varying manifestations, to the situation of the body. Victoria L. Smith notes that the "narrative shapes itself around a blank space, an absence, that out lines a loss of history, to language, and to representation in general for those consigned to the margins of culture because of their gender, sexuality, religion, or color an awful fate indeed" (Smith 194). Susana S. Martins locates the primary force of Ba rnes's prose in the idea of radical literary loss (in this case, a deliberate and illustrative loss), in the recognition of "a certain freedom from regulatory categories of identity (like lesbian') in the play among signifiers, in the slippage between mas k(s) and performer. It is in that slippage, in that 10 Although current academic usage of term post dates the book, its implications of broader non heteronormativity seems a more appropriate description of the book's considerations than, say, "gay."
30 space, I suggest, that Barnes locates desire" (Martins 123). In this chapter I will identify and analyze the functioning of instances of loss, pain, and displacement in order to locate the way marginaliza tion is highlighted by Nightwood in a project of truth seeking and recognition. Nightwood 's main characters are Robin Vote and Nora Flood (a lesbian couple whose relationship goes drastically sour in the middle of the plot), Dr. Matthew O'Connor (an ille gal gynecologist who desperately regrets having been born male), and Baron Felix Volkbein, Robin's abandoned husband, whose secret Jewishness founds in him an obsession with history and Christian aristocracy. All characters struggle with the disjunctions of their identities as incomplete in their "natural" state, and search fruitlessly for fulfillment from a world unwilling to offer it. This inability to align with any idealized identity or state of being is represented textually by a simultaneous use of opacity and extreme specificity, creating new images to illustrate the lack of room for these characters within any stereotype. Smith suggests that "[t]he performance of loss in the excesses of Barnes's text its torrential and Byzantine language coupled wi th its relative unconcern with plot offers a strategy for recuperating what has been unspeakable, including the women, and especially the lesbian, subject" (Smith 196). Perhaps one of the most important and telling examples of this technique is Barnes's rather uniquely dissociative descriptions of her female characters. We don't know anything about Nora's or Robin's physical appearances, except that they are both tall. Rather, women are almost always associated with other life forms, like plants or anim als. When we are first introduced to Robin, she is in a faint. We learn of her disheveled posture, and then she becomes a kind of earthly spectacle:
31 The perfume that her body exhaled was of the quality of that earth flesh, fungi, which smells of captured dampness and yet is so dry, overcast with the odour of oil of amber, which is an inner malady of the sea, making her seem as if she had invaded a sleep incautious and entire. Her flesh was the texture of plant lifeAbout her head there was an effulgence a s of phosphorus glowing about the circumference of a body of water as if her life lay through her in ungainly luminous deteriorations the troubling structure of the born somnambule, who lives in two worlds meet of child and desperado. (Barnes 34 35) Her femininity is represented here as solely and entirely bodily her full body is represented by the fungal, probably vaginal smell that she exudes. This natural imagery extends to capture, paradoxically, the essence of a dry sea. We also catch our first gli mpse of her spiritual displacement, which is discharged from her body even (or essentially) through her unconsciousness. We meet her in a sleep, which is extremely appropriate for the distracted and wandering nightlife that later comes to define her chara cter. Robin, unobserved, maintains no consistent or substantial personality outside her perpetual aimlessness. For other people, however, she functions always as the incarnation of projected desire. Felix, at first, views her as the unmoving image of t he mystically aristocratic past he's always desired: The woman who presents herself to the spectator as a "picture" forever arranged is, for the contemplative mind, the chiefest danger. Sometimes one meets a woman who is beast turning human. Such a person 's every movement will reduce to an image of a forgotten experience; a mirage of an eternal wedding cast on the racial memory; as insupportable a joy as would be the vision of an eland coming down an aisle of trees, chapleted with orange blossoms and brida l veil, a hoof raised in the economy of fear, stepping in the trepidation of flesh that will become myth; as the unicorn is neither man nor beast deprived, but human hunger pressing its breast to its prey. (37) It is interesting that this vision of woman based on stillness and mirage, is associated with beastliness, particularly since Robin, more often than not, is described as
32 some kind of animal. She is, during a moment of betrayal, "smiling sideways like a cat with canary feathers to account for" (10 3). She is "outside the human type' a wild thing caught in a woman's skin, monstrously alone, monstrously vain" (146). Barnes overturns and exploits the trope of the association of women with domestic animals by turning Robin into a beast to demonstrate t he way humanity is stripped from a woman who is coerced into accepting the position of the passive, the tapestry, the domestic, which ideal is impossible to ever fully inhabit. Her identity is the incarnate example of extreme potential effects of such a p rojection. She is a beast: destructive, vampiric, and totally unaccountable for her actions. She "can't put herself in another's place,' she herself is the only position'She knows she is innocent because she can't do anything in relation to anyone but herself" (146). She, as an animal, demonstrates the way idolatrous dehumanization can backfire on its perpetuators besides stripping her persona, it eliminates her sense of responsibility to others. She is, in fact, almost literally an animal. Jenny P etherbridge, the lover who poaches Robin from Nora, tells Felix that Robin "always lets her pets die. She is so fond of them, and then she neglects them, the way that animals neglect themselves" (115). Her neglect is animal rather than human, because she i s animal. Her neglect of pets equates her to them. She affects and is affected by them on a deeply intuitive level. When Nora and Robin meet, they are sitting next to each other at a circus, and are soon driven out of the show by a strange event: as on e powerful lioness came to the turn of the bars, exactly opposite the girl, she turned her furious great head with its yellow eyes afire and went down, her paws thrust through the bars and, as she regarded the girl, as if a river were falling behind impass able heat, her eyes flowed in tears that never reached the surface. At that the girl rose straight up. (54)
33 This moment of apparent communion between Robin and the lioness is alarming and meaningful to both of them. The lioness seems to empathize. Her t ears are trapped because her non human body lacks the means to express pain. We notice something similar in Robin her half of the anguish in her relationship with Nora is never expressed. Nora has an unstoppable flow of words with which to describe the e xperience, but Robin's thoughts are almost always invisible to the reader. She has fewer than five lines of dialogue in the whole book, and yet her character is crucial to the story's plot. "Each description of Robin is a displacement; she signals desire in that she becomes nothing more than a series of metaphors and metonymiesRobin is the catalyst for remembrance, in herself unimportant but significant in what she provokes" (Smith 200). This should remind us of Felix's first encounter with Robin. He con cludes, immediately, that "[s]uch a woman is the infected carrier of the past: before her the structure of our head and jaws ache we feel that we could eat her, she who is eaten death returning, for only then do we put our face close to the blood on the li ps of our forefathers" (Barnes 37). She is a beast, she is living decay, and the blankness of her character allows Felix to believe the past, which he covets so dearly, to have composed her. Robin is form without content, except for that which is ascribe d to her. The identities of secondary female characters are almost just as conventionally inscrutable. Their femininity, too, is conflated with and impacted by externally assigned attributes, allowing nothing but subtext to be used in the interpretation of character introductions. We meet the Duchess of Broadback only once, at the beginning of the novel, as she discusses a past lover. This fact is immediately juxtaposed with her desexualization at the hands of her circus uniform:
34 She seemed to have a s kin that was the pattern of her costumeThe stuff of the tights was no longer a covering, it was herself; the span of the tightly stitched crotch was so much her own flesh that she was as unsexed as a doll. The needle that had made one the property of the child made the other the property of no man. (13) We see, here, the book's first example of a woman whose life is bound to an image of her femininity. Though she speaks of a sexual past, for Felix "[i]t was with the utmost difficulty that he could imagin e her mixed up' with anyone, her coquetries were muscular and localized" (12). Her voice, her own testimony, is obscured by her body and occupation. Jenny Petherbridge's persona is also extremely and specifically corporeal. Barnes provides us with more information about her appearance than any other female character, and yet the descriptions are anything but conventional, serving primarily to illustrate her relative lack of successful personhood. She had a beaked head and the body, small, feeble and f erociousthey did not go together. Only severed could any part of her have been called "right." There was a trembling ardour in her wrists and fingers as if she were suffering from some elaborate denialHer body suffered from its fare, laughter and crumbs, abuse and indulgenceShe writhed under the necessity of being unable to wear anything becoming, being one of those panicky little women who, no matter what they put on, look like a child under penance. (65) Jenny, too, is regularly compared to an animal though the analogy perhaps serves a more direct purpose. She is a magpie, nervous and thieving. She is "the bird, snatching the oats out of love's droppings" (100), "one of those who nip like a bird and void like an ox" (138). Robin was made a beast, b ut Jenny was born a bird. She is an agent of loss rather than a sufferer of it. In this case, the use of animal metaphors works to designate an antagonist rather than to indicate a crisis of identity. In all cases, however, it seems
35 that a crucial eleme nt of identity in this novel is the particular manifestation of, and associations with, one's embodiment. One of the strongest components of loss in Nightwood is in the pervasive sense of displacement that all characters experience. Smith draws from Juli ana Schiesari's examination of the gendered implications of Freud's theory of melancholia as "the internalization of and identification with a lost object that produces an excessive narrativeMelancholia seems a tool superbly suited to understanding Barnes 's narrative and her production of the self, particularly if we grant that women (and other others') can, in part, recognize their losses even if the dominant culture refuses to" (Smith 196). The concept of melancholia is, to a certain extent, also based on the feeling of an unclear loss, in which the lost object is unknown to its mourner. 11 This helps to explain the wandering dysfunctionality of Nora and Robin they are both American in Europe, and although they spend some time in America too, no place eve r feels home enough to be real. Their being American is also significant when we consider Felix's immediate response to the question of the nationality of his ideal wife: "With an American anything can be done" (Barnes 39). We know that Felix's most passi onate desire is to have a son in whom he can instill his fervor for the legacies of European nobility, and so an American wife makes a perfect target "his desires imply that European culture sees America as a 11 "For Lacan, aphanisis of being' comes through the loss of and separation from the m other, a loss whereby the subject assumes lack. For Lacan, all subjects undergo this lackMy concern, however, as I situate myself within and without a Lacanian model, is as followsgiven that we have all lost the original object (the mother), nonetheless this lack, which works as a transcendental sign to that lost object (referent), may on a general level appear, like original sin, to equalize and democratize men and women in that we would all be castratedYet would not desire also function in terms of how great, or how meaningful, one's desires are? Is there not some difference between the desires of common folk and the desires of an empowered elite?" (Schiesari 27).
36 country without a past, newly written and capab le of being imaged in various ways" (Smith 198). This brings us back to the idea of Robin as a kind of "blank page", or simply an empty foundation awaiting the creation of others. However, the connotations of America apply not only to Robin, but also to a ll the queer characters in the novel. Nora, Jenny, and the doctor are all American. Considering it in this context, it seems that America works as an extension of this concept of loss. These characters miss a history they never had. Culturally unrooted and sexually marginalized, they can find no roosting place, physically or psychically. Nowhere is this clearer than in Robin's introduction of herself to Nora. It is one of fewer than five instances of her speaking at all in the book, and it makes expli cit the only thing we know of her separate from the projections of others: "After a pause the girl said, I'm Robin Vote.' She looked about her distractedly. I don't want to be here.' But it was all she said; she did not explain where she wished to be" (B arnes 55). She identifies herself immediately with displacement. The manifestation of Robin's displacement throughout the book, though obviously rooted in pain, also serves as her greatest resistance to the imposition of fantasy from her lovers. As they build ideas about their relationships and what she will provide, she remains distant and passive. Eventually, she begins to wander the streets, moving further away and staying away incrementally longer, until finally she leaves for good, retributively sha ttering her unwanted avatar. Although Nora is also in some ways guilty of creating a false Robin, their relationship seems more reciprocal than the others. Nora's aim is to create in herself the one thing Robin so crucially lacks: a home. At first they travel a bit: from Munich, Vienna and Budapest into Paris. Robin told only a little of her life, but she kept repeating in one way or another her wish for a home, as if she were
37 afraid she would be lost again, as if she were aware, without conscious know ledge, that she belonged to Nora, and that if Nora did not make it permanent by her own strength, she would forget. (55) And so they build a home. They try to eliminate their displacement with objects meant to symbolize their stability. In the passage of their lives together every object in the garden, every item in the house, every word they spoke, attested to their mutual love, the combining of their humoursWhen the time came that Nora was alone most of the night and part of the day, she suffered fro m the personality of the house, the punishment of those who collect their lives together. Unconsciously at first, she went about disturbing nothing; then she became aware that her soft and careful movements were the outcome of an unreasoning fear if she di sarranged anything Robin might become confused might lose the scent of home. (55 56) This section implies that, for the truly lost, there can be no home. Attempts to root their abstract selves in tangible objects are fruitless. Robin is an exile by her essence. For Nora, it is as though the home she built has begun to reject her. She, too, has been an exile all along. She is, at first, introduced as a kind of personified America. Looking at her, foreigners remembered stories they had heard of covered wagons; animals going down to drink; children's heads, just as far as the eyes, looking in fright out of small windowsThere is a gap in world pain' through which the singular falls continually and forever; a body falling in observable space, deprived of the privacy of disappearance; as if privacy, relentlessly away, by the very sustaining power of its withtdrawal kept the body eternally moving downward, but in one place, and perpetually before the eye. Such a singular was Nora. (50 51) History breeds in her image, and she has no escape, although the history she represents to others feels alien to her. "The world and its history were to Nora like a ship in a bottle; she herself was outside and unidentified, endlessly embroiled in a preoccupation without a problem" (53). She is excluded from a world that recognizes her only as its channel. As a channel, she can have no place in the world, but must present a distant view of it. This
38 is particularly poignant when we consider America in the same vein as does Felix all its history is based on transition. Nora, as an image of America, recalls travelers in dire situations in the quest of a permanent settlement. America in this sense is hardly even a real place, but only a site of danger, dislocation, imposit ion, and vulnerability. It is a place for the displaced and the empty, or, as the doctor says, "The French are disheveled and wise; the American tries to approximate it with drink. It is his only clue to himself. He takes it when his soap has washed him t oo clean for identification" (90). Jenny, becoming aware of the home they have built, decides to take Robin for herself "she was a squatter' by instinct" (68). Jenny, too, is unsituated, and she resorts to thievery to build her home. Her walls, her cup boards, her bureaux, were teeming with second hand dealings with lifeShe lived among her own things like a visitorShe stopped, fluttering and febrile, before every object in her house. She had no sense of humour or peace or rest, and her own quivering un certainty made even the objects which she pointed out to the companyrecede into a distance of uncertainty, so that it was almost impossible for the onlooker to see them at all. (66) Jenny's mode of displacement is complicated. She is the novel's most e xplicit antagonist, perhaps because of her betrayal of her kind. She, too, was born "wrong," but rather than legitimately seeking fulfillment (or virtuously languishing without it), she steals it from others who need the same thing. "She has a longing for other people's property, but the moment she possesses it the property loses some of its value, for the owner's estimate is its worth. Therefore it was she took your Robin" (98). Spiritual wholeness, then, cannot be obtained by crook. Jenny creates nothing but only depreciates the value of other people's building materials. She perpetuates an almost Hegelian exchange it's the belonging of the things to someone else that makes them
39 valuable to her; when she appropriates them for herself they areemptied o f meaningful content. She is a succubus of significance, causing it to evaporate by separating it from its context. The relationship between Nora and Robin is an attempt on the part of the two women to build a singular self, in order for each to be able t o psychically situate and locate herself in the other. They are, though, still and always doomed to exile. Robin seems to be from another world entirely sometimes, going about the house, in passing each other, they would fall into an agonized embraceso strained together that the space that divided them seemed to be thrusting them apart. Sometimes in these moments of insurmountable grief Robin would make some movement, use a peculiar turn of phrase not habitual to her, innocent of the betrayal, by which N ora was informed that Robin had come from a world to which she would return. (58) Despite their best efforts, the most they can achieve is further displacement. "Robin's absence, as the night drew on, became a physical removal, insupportable and irrepar able. As an amputated hand cannot be disowned because it is experiencing a futurity, of which the victim is its forebear, so Robin was an amputation that Nora could not renounce" (59). The attempt to satisfy a loss creates more loss, and their identities a re impacted by the separation. The impossibility of finding "home", for the marginalized person, is represented by their dynamic. Robin, though she can't help but wander, is still trying to stay put. She goes out because she can't help herself, but being away from the "home" of Nora is painful: as her eyes moved over the facades of the buildings, searching for the sculptured head that both she and Nora loveda quiet joy radiated from her own eyes; for this head was remembrance of Nora and her love, makin g the anticipation of the people she was to meet set and melancholy. So, without knowing she would do so, she took the turn that brought her into this particular street. (60)
40 Both her leaving and her pining seem to be largely unconscious she is walking trauma. Trauma seems, for most characters in the novel, to be an active determinant of all aspects of existence. 12 It is expressed largely through melancholia, and the constant mourning for a lost object, which is often identified as self loss, which is then often communicated in the form of incoherency. Characters mourn for a loss they cannot remember and could perhaps never identify. This kind of pain is located in the narrative in linguistic and plot related obscurity, which is represented by a large r metaphor; namely, the night. The night, or the Night (as I will refer to it henceforth) is a concept introduced and organized by the doctor. It encompasses most everything painful and perverse. Creatures of the Night are driven by their dissociated, unconscious depths. It is also a force of contagious death: "Night people do not bury their dead, but on the neck of you, their beloved and waking, sling the creature, husked of its gestures. And where you go, it goes, the two of you, your living and her dead, that will not die; to daylight, to life, to grief, until both are carrion" (89). The doctor describes its inhabitants as such: And it's the same with girls,those who turn the day into night, the young, the drug addict, the profligate, the drunken and that most miserable, the lover who watches all night long in fear and anguish. These can never again live the life of the day. When one meets them at high noon they give off, as if it were a protective emanation, something dark and muted. The light doe s not become them any longer. They begin to have an unrecorded look. It is as if they were being tried by the continual blows of an unseen adversary. They acquire an unwilling' set of features. They become old without reward, the widower bird sitting sigh ing at the turnstile of heaven, Hallelujah! I am sticked! Skoll! Skoll! I am dying!' (94) 12 (I mean trauma, here, in Laura S. Brown's inclusive sense of the word, incorporating a continuing background noise rather than an unusual event" [Brown 103]).
41 The Night is the carrier of those who must operate from a place of danger, sadness, and mental obscurity. The young, the addicted, the reckless, the heartbroken these identities are fueled by dissociation and the desperate lack of personal fulfillment. It is interesting that the doctor identifies these personalities as "girls," since we know that the Night is a concept that can be applied to anyone he, in fact, identifies with it himself. 13 He, to a certain extent, serves as a kind of narrator for much of the novel's happenings. In one particular twenty page near monologue, he interprets Nora's experience with Robin and frames it in this language of the Night. He seems like a liaison between women and expression we know that more than anything he wants to be a woman: "am I to blame ifit was a high soprano I wanted, and deep corn curls to my bum, with a womb as big as the king's kettle, and a bosom as high as the bowsprit of a fishing schooner? And what do I get but a face on me like an old child's bottom is that a happiness, do you think?" (91) Here we have yet another example of melancholia at work in the desperate pining for something one never had, can neve r have. Juliana Schiesari describes Lacanian melancholia as a differential lack that can never be filled, for it is the condition of the subject's sense of itself, of its beingAnd this lack of being, this primordial lack that is a decentered center prop els the subject into desire, a desire motivated by the impossibility of ever achieving a fixed point, of even recuperating the original lost object (the mother). Neurosis would thus occur as an obsessive and necessarily doomed desire to fix or find plenitu de, to recover an absolute presence in this absence. (Schiesari 27) 13 "Have I not shut my eyes with the added shutter of the night and put my hand out?" (Barnes 94)
42 Still a man, the doctor is more able than his female counterparts to articulate their own lived experiences, 14 although his accounts are not clear either. He is asked many questions, and gives no straightforward answers. Nora asks, for example, what will happen to Robin, and he answers: "To our friendswe die every day, but to ourselves we die only at the end. We do not know death, or how often it has essayed our most vital spirit. While we are in the parlour it is visiting in the pantry" (96). He, delivering the densest segments of narrative, attempts to reify the intangible effects of trauma as a constant mental state. While the Night is inarguably bound up with pain, trauma, and dea th, there is also a clear sense of it as a life force, or even as a plain reason for living. We are full to the gorge with our own names for misery. Life, the pastures in which the night feeds and prunes the cud that nourishes us to despair. Life, the per mission to know death. We were created that the earth might be made sensible of her inhuman taste; and love that the body might be so dear that even the earth should roar with it. Yes, we who are full to the gorge with misery should look well around, doubt ing everything seen, done, spoken, precisely because we have a word for it, and not its alchemy. (83) This passage is loaded with significance in terms of the nature of existence, and the call for justice. Life is "nourished" by anguish, sustained by it The individual experience is crucial, if all persons are overwhelmed by their "own names for misery." The 14 Schiesari comments on the imbalanced situation of the gendered expression of grief: "the discourse of melancholia legitimates that neurosis as culturally acceptable for particular men, whose eros is then defined in terms of a literary production based on a sense of lack, while the viability of such appropriation seems systematically to e lude women" (Schiesari 15). "[T]he question to ask is how and in whom the fact of castration is assuaged and recuperated, how and in whom, lack is not dismissed but taken seriously, how and in whom lack is viewed not as a deficiency but as something enabli ng" (29). The doctor, whose maleness is not for him enabling, is still viewed as male by the world around him, and so it is naturally he who feels capable of even attempting to verbally legitimize the suffering of himself and his peers.
43 implication is that those who are miserable are the most deeply connected to the true nature of life. Those who are miserable have access to, and are the ones most capable of articulating, this misery in order to express it to their oppressors, to demand the earth be made "sensible of her inhuman taste." The doctor also calls language into question, asking the miserable to be skeptical of the utte rable, which can represent situations without communicating substance or quality. Pain in its purest form is unutterable, because it is beyond what can be resolved or named in any straightforward way. Language is blind to its own context and composition, and so those who truly know misery as reality are wise to distrust their surroundings, especially as they are constructed by language. This is not to advocate for any kind of linguistic nihilism, not to treat language as a useless phenomenon, but only to point out its unreliability in trying to communicate this kind of discretely insensible loss. The best way to characterize such loss is in the description "melancholia," which leads almost always to incoherency, because the simplicity of linguistic coher ency cannot adequately recover such a loss. We can conceive of the determining power of the unknowable in terms of Nora's preoccupation with Robin: "Then,' Nora said, it means I'll never understand her I'll always be miserable just like this.'" (85) Los s is the substance of this novel the unutterable and the incomprehensible are the loci of truth and integrity, and through its engagement with opacity, Nightwood works to indirectly illuminate that which cannot be clearly told. The characters' accounts ar e given to obscurity, because those who identify closely with pain are the least likely to linguistically reduce its experience. The doctor encourages the search for thorough expression by way of examining the obscure from every angle:
44 Do things look in t he ten and twelve of noon as they look in the dark? Is the hand, the face, the foot, the same face and hand and foot seen by the sun? For now the hand lies in a shadow; its beauties and its deformities are in a smoke there is a sickle of doubt across the c heek bone thrown by the hat's brim, so there is half a face to be peered back into speculation. (85) We are asked to acknowledge the existence of that which is not immediately evident, to "think of the night the day long, and of the day the night through or at some reprieve of the brain it will come upon you heavily an engine stalling itself upon your chest, halting its wheels against your heart; unless you have made a roadway for it" (84). This is a plea to acknowledge all of experience to feel and inte ract with trauma, to know it intimately, but also to remember, when it envelops you, that life extends beyond it. If a voluntary connection can't be made, the unconscious will make it on its own terms. To accept and explore the unconscious aspects of pai n is to share in its power, and perhaps even to have a hand in shaping it. Those who approach the doctor for comfort use him as an interpreter, but as a secondhand observer, he can only do so much. 15 He works to reify the experiences of the others, and it interferes with his own personhood. "I talk so much because I have been made so miserable by what you are keeping hushed. I'm an old worn out lioness, a coward in my corner; for the sake of my bravery I've never been one thing that I am, to find out what I am!" (173) This returns us to considerations of the 15 Smith points out the power dynamics emphasized by the use of the doctor as a kind of narrator for the plot: "Barnes plays on the Western cultural legitimacy of melancholia, for she appropriates the male voice of the melancholic in using the doctor as a mouthpiece, who in t urn hyperverbalizes what he has only partial rights to Nora's losses. Nightwood mimes male privilege by and in the character of the doctor, who is supposed to have knowledge yet is also disempowered. Barnes thus effectively works both sides of the street, illustrating multiple levels of disempowermentAt the same time, Nightwood reconfigures the terms of melancholia, so that Barnes speaks as the melancholic and her text reclaims the position of loss for Nora, for homosexuals, and, by extension, for marginal ized groups whose losses of history are effaced." (Smith 202)
45 personal as political the individual is the only one capable of accurately depicting her own truth (though, as we see, she often isn't capable) and it is in this depiction that visibility can be foun d. Expression, we see, is a search for justice, but cannot on its own be a source of resolution. Resolution, in fact, is likely not even possible in this world, which is what makes it melancholic. The Night must act as a driving force of life; melancho lia must be inevitable, because entire fulfillment, or total connection with the "original loss," can only be death. The doctor, trying to relieve others of their pain through his expression of it, is only saddled with their Night: Do you know what has ma de me the greatest liar this side of the moon, telling my stories to people like you, to take the mortal agony out of their guts, and to stop them from rolling about, and drawing up their feet, and screaming, with their eyes staring over their knuckles wit h misery which they are trying to keep off, saying, Say something, Doctor, for the love of God!' And me talking away like mad. Well, that, and nothing else, has made me the liar I am. (135) Guts indeed. We learn here, and everywhere, that the Night is an embodied creature, impacting the body as well as the mind of its channel. It is embedded in human skin [o]ur bones ache only while the flesh is on them. Stretch it as thin as the temple flesh of an ailing woman and still it serves to ache the bone and t o move the bone about; and in like manner the night is a skin pulled over the head of day that the day might be a torment. We will find no comfort until the night melts away; until the fury of the night rots out its fire. (85) The flesh is the Night th e bone its human vehicle. We expect the skeleton to serve as the basis of motion. It is the hardest and most solid part of the body, as well as the organizer of its organs and the foundation of the flesh. It supplies the joints that are used to move. But trauma resides in the skin, which is only sustained on the living. A
46 skeleton alone is less than a corpse; skin and the memories of the flesh are integral to life. Body and psyche, then, are necessarily inseparable. This is why trauma is so specificall y linked to the situation of the body. The body cannot ever be entirely shared or communicated, and so the experience of pain evolves according to the unique corporeality of its owner. This also serves to illustrate why private, "small," domestic, and pe rsonal traumas must be emphasized when placed alongside more obvious, widespread incidents such as war and natural disaster. That which is experienced alone, by a single self, cannot hope to be publicly understood without the voice of that self. If heali ng and justice depend on the communication of trauma, the experience of the marginalized body must be shaped, reified, and shared by its inhabitant. This is consequential when we consider the concept of "art for art's sake" which, though the phrase is ro oted in earlier thought, is important to more conservative senses of modernism. We can draw an important analogy here, using the idea of form as the sole supplier of content alongside the idea of body as separate from the mental and emotional experience. Barnes, here, refutes any advocation of apolitical artistic purity by way of this work, which is comprised of obviously sophisticated and intricate form, and also has content that is inarguably political. If we view the body as pure form, we must ignore the content of the skin. If skin is pain and content, the purely formal body can only be the skeleton, the skinless body. The skeleton is a container for life, but can hold no lived or living content without skin. To idealize the skeleton as pure form, we must repress the pain contained by the skin that distinguishes a living personhood. The skin contains the fire of life that is inevitably rotted out by the fury of the Night in the process of necessarily death driven living. The Night, itself, is cont ent. Its content is, as we
47 know, that which is largely inexpressible and, at once, that which requires expression. Its fury is the consumptive and inexorable drive toward death, but also the primary source of meaning and life. The fantasy of escape from pain is the fantasy of re entering the womb. Night is pain is life. It is characterized by detachment and unconsciousness, which suggests that those who reject content (or find it only in form) can be, at best, simply unaware of its presence. Art for ar t's sake seems, in this context, almost an attempt to control death in the search for artistic transcendence. This can only be a false struggle, since the drive to create discrete boundaries between content and form, and body and mind, serves only to make invisible the plight of those who, by virtue of their bodies, have been driven almost entirely into the shadow of the Night. Form deprived of personal, political content, works to make invisible that which it refuses to contain, and this kind of revision ism, I think, is the breach of ethics that the narrative of Nightwood aims to combat. This idea is repeated throughout the doctor's crucial monologue, particularly when he recounts an argument he'd had had with a man at a bar regarding the topography of t he sea: "But,' said one fellow, it's the face that you tell by.' Faces is it!' I screamed, the face is for fools! If you fish by the face you fish out trouble, but there's always other fish when you deal with the sea. The face is what anglers catch in the daylight, but the sea is the night!'" (93) Here we are, again, confronted with the visible body's facial failure to include the "other fish" hiding in the depths of unconsciousness, which are incompatible with patterns based only on aesthetic, or super ficial, prominence. The point, then, of expression, garbled and incomplete as it may (must) be, is not to achieve transcendence or fulfillment, but rather to give voice to trauma as a driving force for both life and death. It is in the exploration of thi s idea that Nightwood resists formal,
48 experimental versions of modernism that depersonalize specific manifestations of trauma and instead work to elevate it into a formal, broadened sense of universal suffering with "the gendering of melancholiathis split between a higher valued form understood as male and a lower valued one coded as female" (Schiesari 15). Barnes situates trauma within the living body in a dedicated opposition to the possibility of art as an escalation of the political beyond the scale of the personal.
4 9 CONCLUSION I have just examined the ways in which Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea and Djuna Barnes's Nightwood create an interplay between the concepts of modernism, trauma, and feminism. Wide Sargasso Sea calls into question the heterosexual brutality of a homosocial economy, using themes of displacement, alienation, and emotional violence. Nightwood uses these same themes in different ways to highlight the marginalization of unconventional sexuality, the clash between prescribed feminine identity and the actual living woman, and the necessarily interdependent relationship between life, death, and pain in the unconscious. Both have complicated narratives and plots that seem to indicate the general sens e of futility surrounding women's pursuits of self expression or psychic wholeness. And both, I argue, engage with the problem of how "the misunderstandings of Modernism began at the start, began with the ambition of writers and artists to set the terms by which they would be understood, where this often meant setting the terms by which others would not qualify for understanding" (Michael Levenson 2). Their primary weapon against the injustice served by this conception of modernism is deep engagement wit h trauma, filtered through a distorted lens of this same modernism. It is voicing the futility of their search for unity that provides resistance; it is the commitment to publicizing what was meant to be invisible; it is the drive to express what is most inexpressible (personal trauma), that renders this a particularly feminist modernism.
50 Michael Levenson, in his introduction to the Cambridge Companion for Modernism discusses the failure of any one public sense of modernism to emerge in a unity, althoug h there can still be found certain common devices and general preoccupations: the recurrent act of fragmenting unities (unities of character or plot or pictoral space or lyric form), the use of mythic paradigms, the refusal of norms of beauty, the willing ness to make radical experiment, all often inspired by the resolveto startle and disturb the public. (3) We can recognize many of these elements in both of my chosen works, and it is possible to locate the way these tropes were used in such ways as to p lace a political burden on readers, rather than try and raise them to a level of apolitical artistic transcendence. For example, both narratives certainly contain fragmentation in a way that implies a missing unity, although this unity can never be achiev ed because of the cultural displacement of the characters. Antoinette is locked into a treacherous and emotionally violent marriage constructed by a patrilineal British society, and her love for her cruel husband keeps her in a state of constant psycholog ical unrest. Barnes's characters know their potential for unity lies only in death, and in the meantime they are sustained in life by the unconscious forces of the Night, a symbol of perversion and displacement. Both, too, refuse norms of beauty or are r efused by them. Antoinette is acknowledged to be physically attractive, but her beauty is invalidated by her racial "impurity," which demonstrates a reversal of classical modernist refusal of norms. Barnes's women, too, are discordantly aligned with beau ty, particularly in the expression of their physicality through animals. The resolve to startle and disturb the public is communicated in both novels by the dark sense of hopelessness dominating their plots, and this works, in particular, to make inarguab ly visible the presence of gendered injustice in modern life and art.
51 An important means of resistance in the books comes in the form of a particular engagement with history, which is significant when we consider this in terms of the crucial role of hist ory in modernism as proposed and developed by Ezra Pound. Leland Peterson, in his "Ezra Pound: The Use & Abuse of History," describes Pound's attitude thusly: artistic considerationswere of more importance to the young Pound than an explicit political, social, or philosophical statementLikewise, Pound's attitude toward history was disinterested; from a study of the past, he observed that the human situation could be improved, though he was no believer in utopias; one went to history not to find panaceas for the presenthis attitude toward history was largely disinterested andhe was mainly concerned with the enduring values and monuments of civilization as subjects for poetry with which "you cannot argue." (Peterson 35) Rhys and Barnes oppose this pers pective by situating their characters in contexts of historical conflict or somehow outside history. Antoinette is a poor white Creole daughter of an ex slave owner, and she has no understanding of her life in a broader political context. She understands little of the racial or class tensions surrounding and affecting her, except insofar as they confront her in individual instances of physical danger or emotional affront. For instance, as a child she is called a "white nigger" by her (black) best friend in an argument that ends their relationship, and views the exchange only as an interpersonal one she takes her friend's (unwittingly) structural analysis personally, i.e., as a comment on her behavior and person rather than as a commentaryon the status of the white Creole minority after emancipationshe has no grasp of the historical and ideological barriers that separate classes in West Indian postslavery society. Her personal is not political. (Carine M. Mardorossian 1073). Likewise, Antoinette has a structurally problematic understanding of the black Creoles among who she was raised. She interprets their resentment of her family, for example, as
52 pure malice. When she loves them, it is only as her servants and caretakers. The narrative fails to re ctify her assumptions in any explicit way. Antoinette's general racial ignorance creates a problem in the reader's understanding of her character it certainly makes her less sympathetic on many occasions. However, I think this works deliberately to hig hlight the political significance of naturalizing or aestheticizing one perspective at the expense of its context. Indeed, in contrast to Jane Eyre whose authoritative ideology is consistently and unambiguously that of the narrator focalizer (the older Jan e), the ideological position of the narrating Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea is neither transparent nor centralthe novel offers a narrator focalizer whose own limited knowledge and problematic values highlight her unreliability as she is shown desperatel y trying to patch together the fragments of her disintegrating worldthe text not only invokes the natives' effaced socio historical context and agency (independently and even in spite of the speaker's intention), but it also exposes how slavery as a histo rical event gets constructed and assigned meanings by the colonizer's discourse. (1075) Antoinette's confused representations of racial relations leave the actuality of the dynamic struggling to speak for itself, which illustrates the way incomplete, sel ective, or ostensibly "apolitical" accounts of history tend to distort and misrepresent the actually crucial elements of a situation that are presented only as periphery. If accounts of history are communicated only by a dominant mouthpiece, they may be p ortrayed as apersonal and apolitical, which treatment is potentially reductive, insufficient, and irresponsible. Barnes's dealings with the problems of history are perhaps more clear her characters are explicitly disenfranchised by their positions on t he pyramids of cultural, religious, and sexual hierarchy. They are also actively associated with confusions about the distinction between myth and history, as we see, for example, in one of the doctor's monologues:
53 We may all be nature's noblemenbut thi nk of the stories that do not amount to much! That is, that are forgotten in spite of all man remembers (unless he remembers himself) merely because they befell him without distinction or office or title that's what we call legend and it's the best a poor man may do with his fate; the otherwe call history, the best the high and mighty can do with theirs. Legend is unexpurgated, but history, because of its actors, is deflowered. (Barnes Barnes 15) The implication here is that, although in the eyes of natu re humans may all be equally noble, culture designates its noblemen and grants them the power of determining what, of history, is to endure as truth. Messages of real political significance are often relegated to the domain of mythical allegory, and thus aestheticized beyond the point of practical recognition. Victoria L. Smith notes that [t]he doctor distinguishes between unofficial and offical history; the former is intact, while the latter is deflowered,' marred and no longer innocent. His speechals o invites the question who is doing what to whom. History, in the way the doctor refers to it, implies a kind of conservatism and empowerment (at least for the high and mighty), as well as a traditional sexual coupling. It follows that the narrative of the lovers Robin and Nora, with which much of Nightwood is concerned, falls outside the purview of official history, just as Felix's story does, since their histories are not part of the dominant cultureThe Jew and the homosexualget written out of history, each in a specific way. (Smith 97). This makes an important point about Nightwood 's engagement with the concept of history as a crucial element of the foundation and development of high modernism. In this view, artistic representations of history can ne ver be truly "disinterested," any attempt to reject the "utopian" efforts of interested history (by legitimizing only that which is on a broad enough scale to remain prominent in the public eye) is actually advocating for the perpetuation of the dominant version of history. This, in itself, is utopian and interested. In this way, high modernism undermines its own goals with the tools it uses to silence those who are otherwise excised by public history.
54 A useful concept for understanding the plight of the marginalized characters in both novels is explicated in Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror which designates and expands on the philosophical meaning of abjection. To be abject, in this sense, is to exist in the space between subjecthood and objecthoo d. An abject creature is denied subjectivity, but also is not quite an object, because it is largely illegible and so cannot be classified as any particular thing. Abjection, or what is abject the jettisoned object, is radically excluded and draws me tow ard the place where meaning collapsesfrom its place of banishment, the abject does not cease challenging its master. Without a sign (for him), it beseeches a discharge, a convulsion, a crying outit is a brutish suffering that "I" puts up with, sublime an d devastatedI endure it, for I imagine that such is the desire of the other[it is a] something' that I do not recognize as a thing. A weight of meaninglessness, about which there is nothing insignificant, and which crushes me. On the edge of non existen ce and hallucination, of a reality that, if I acknowledge it, annihilates me. There, abject and abjection are my safe guards. The primers of my culture. (Kristeva 2) Abjection allows for a person's continued survival after humanity has been refused, in a state of existence that is comprised only of incoherent and desperate suffering. It provides an alternative to the reversal of the idea of transcendence 16 which reversal is crucial to survival if we understand transcendence, and the end of suffering, as death. To be reunited with the "lost object" of melancholia, in the Lacanian sense, would indicate complete oneness with the mother, likely achieved by the act of crawling back into the womb. For life's sake, transcendence must be rejected. It is counte red by the abject, which insists on endurance, protecting its sufferer from the death of total objectification. It demands its own expression, though it is "ejected beyond the scope of the tolerable, the 16 I mean this not exactly in the sense of transcendence vs. immanence the reversal I mean would probably manifest as an absolute grounding of self in the physical body to the point of becoming an object, as opposed to my framing of artistic transcendence as an aesthetic surpassing of human suffering.
55 thinkable" (1). It allows for the preservation and representation of the repulsive characters are stuck in their situations, and so abjection insists on its place within art. Abjection, in this sense, is homologous with my interpretations of the functioning of trauma in Nightwood and Wide Sargasso Se a It, representing the grotesque and unutterable, gives form to "that conglomerate of fear, deprivation, and nameless frustration, which, properly speaking, belongs to the unnameable" (35). Kristeva identifies language as the projection of the life force that is insufficiency, or desire: "when a subject confronts the factitiousness of object relation, when he stands at the place of the want that founds it, the fetish becomes a life preserver, temporary and slippery, but nonetheless indispensable. But is n ot exactly language our ultimate and inseparable fetish?" (37) Language works as a substitute for fulfillment, rather than as an agent of its achievement: "Through the mouth that I fill with words instead of my mother whom I miss from now on more than ever I elaborate that want, and the aggressivity that accompanies it, by saying (41). The ending scenes in both novels demonstrate an absolute succumbing to trauma, abjection, and inexpressibility. In the last chapter of Wide Sargasso Sea Antoinette has been confined to an attic of her husband's house in England, and she has lost all sense of chronology or coherence. All that remains of her narrative are her decontextualized recollections of suffering. She has been consumed by her traumas, which compris e her now entirely. She remembers, in a rapid fire and seemingly randomized series of paragraphs, her last moments of passion with her first love, patronizing visits from scheming family members, and the moment when her husband banished her personal ident ity ("Names matter, like when he wouldn't call me Antoinette, and I saw Antoinette
56 drifting out of the window with her scents, her pretty clothes, and her looking glass." [Rhys 107]). She is now physically and utterly displaced into an England that, for he r, extends no further beyond the house in which she is captive. "I open the door and walk into their world. It is, as I always knew, made of cardboard" (107). Stripped of agency, humanity, and the opportunity or ability to rationally communicate, she embra ces the death that is her only escape. Her transcendence of language is the action of death, and she activates it with a violence that refuses invisibility. Her language is death, and this death is her final resistance. She burns down Rochester's house, f linging herself from the burning roof. Antoinette rejects the abjection assigned to her by her husband with the only resource she has left: the wordless repossession of her body, which comes at the cost of that body's destruction. This chapter is extremel y compatible with Kristeva's discussion of the interplay between narrative and abjection: when narrated identity is unbearable, when the boundary between subject and object is shaken, and when even the limit between inside and outside becomes uncertain, t he narrative is what is challenged first. If it continues nevertheless, its makeup changes; its linearity is shattered, it proceeds by flashes, enigmas, short cuts, incompletion, tangles and cuts. At a later stage, the unbearable identity of the narrator a nd of the surroundings that are supposed to sustain him can no longer be narrated but cries out or is descried with maximal stylistic intensity (language of violence, of obscenity, or of a rhetoric that relates the text to poetry). The narrative yields to a crying out theme that, when it tends to coincide with the incandescent states of a boundary subjectivity that I have called abjection, is the crying out theme of suffering horror. In other words, the theme of suffering horror is the ultimate evidence of such states of abjection within a narrative representation. If one wished to proceed still farther along the approaches to abjection, one would find neither narrative nor theme but a recasting of syntax and vocabulary the violence of poetry, and silence. ( Kristeva 141) Antoinette's "narrated identity," constructed in the linguistic terms of the master, is in an unbearable state of less than humanity and failing consciousness. At its apex, she loses all sense of time, and her narration is delivered in fra gments by the recurring memories of
57 painful events whose contexts she can no longer remember (this, stylistically, resembles our understanding of trauma as manifested by the forced entry of material from the unconscious into conscious life). She cries out, and, being rejected still, travels further along the path of abjection to the violent poetry of her silent death. Nightwood 's conclusion, too, reveals an ultimate failure in the characters' searches for coherent identity or relational fulfillment. Leadin g up to the book's final scene, Nora and Robin have long been separated. Nora has returned to her house in America, where she lives with her dog. Robin is also in America, where she lives with Jenny Petherbridge, but refuses to settle down. She wanders c loser and closer to where she knows Nora to be, and ends up one night in a chapel in some woods near Nora's house. Nora's dog, sensing Robin's presence nearby, becomes frenzied and runs out of the house toward the chapel where Robin is sleeping. Nora cha ses the dog to the chapel, where she crashes into the door and is knocked unconscious. Inside, Robin gets onto her hands and knees and confronts the dog, who is terrified. They have an aggressive and animalistic faceoff, and then are united in mutual surr ender: she began to bark also, crawling after him barking in a fit of laughter, obscene and touching. The dog began to cry then, running with her, head on with her head, as if to circumvent her; soft and slow his feet went padding. He ran this way and tha t, low down in his throat crying, and she grinning and crying with him; crying in shorter and shorter spaces, moving head to head, until she gave up, lying out, her hands beside her, her face turned and weeping; and the dog too gave up then, and lay down, his eyes bloodshot, his head flat along her knees. (Barnes 170) Robin, here, embraces her abjection. She fully assumes the role of animal that has clouded her identity throughout the book, abandoning at last her human subjectivity. She rejects language in favor of a physical, intuitive expression shared with and witnessed only by the non human extension of the lover in whom she failed to locate her own
58 humanity. Nora, senseless just outside the door, has missed the only real instance of her beloved sub ject object's self pronouncement. The book ends in a moment of absolute dejection, self effacement, and intimate loss. Audre Lorde, in her essay "Poetry Is Not a Luxury," proposes that the writing of women works as the way we help give name to the namel ess so it can be thoughtAs they become known and accepted to ourselves, our feelings, and the honest exploration of them, become sanctuaries and fortresses and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas, the house of difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action. (Lorde 126) Though these books seem to discourage any hope for meaningful change, this discouragement is in itself a significant feminist activity, because of the form in which it is expressed Working from inside the domain of a masculine modernism, Barnes and Rhys undermine the sexist underpinnings of that project by using it to propel into its forefront the way "women have had to experience cultural scripts in their lives by suffering them in their bodies" (Susan Gubar 251). Gubar, in her analysis of Isak Dinesen's "The Blank Page," mentions the longstanding tradition of the treatment of femininity within literature as a canvas for the idealized or grotesque imaginings of men, who appropria te the task of creating representations of woman and, by dominating artistic movements, silence the self defining creative efforts of actual women. This model of the pen penis writing on the virgin page participates in a long tradition identifying the aut hor as a male who is primary and the female as his passive creation a secondary object lacking autonomy, endowed with often contradictory meaning but denied intentionality. Clearly this tradition excludes woman from the creation of culture, even as it reif ies her as an artifact within culture. (247)
59 Thus, a feminist treatment of modernism would, first and foremost, extricate the penis from the pen by placing it in the hand of the female self, and have her write herself onto whatever surface best suits her intentions. Catherine Malabou's "Understanding of Difference" suggests the possibility of a feminist revolution of language: in [t]he possibility of detecting, in writing itself or behind it, another rhythm, another economy than its own, the possibility of allowing for a different understanding of essence essence as change and metamorphosisThe feminine' would then perhaps be that which, even within writing, carves out another body than that of writing, a body that refuses to allow itself to be erased by the very erasability of the trace. (Malabou 121) Hlne Cixous defines this process as [a]n act that willbe marked by woman's seizing the occasion to speak hence her shattering entry into history, which has always been based on her suppression To write and thus to forge for herself the antilogos weapon. To become at will the taker and the initiator, for her own right, in every symbolic system, in every political process. (Cixous 351) And, though Kristeva expresses doubts about the capacity of lan guage for true expression, she pronounces that "the most normal solution, commonplace and public at the same time, communicable, shareable, is and will be the narrative. Narrative as the recounting of suffering: fear and disgust and abjection crying out, t hey quiet down, concatenated into a story" (Kristeva 145). This definition of narrative allows its use as a tool for personal healing, and any insecurities about language actually increases its relevance to these particular texts. A large part of the stru ggle for these characters is based on the obstruction to their self expression, and so expression itself must be channeled as a demand for expression. Narrative provides a public outlet for this demand and search for self, allowing writers to solidify rep resentations of struggle in a place outside themselves.
60 Nightwood and Wide Sargasso Sea though their protagonists do not themselves portray empowering metamorphoses of femininity so much as the devolution of particular females at the hands of trauma, none theless engage in the process of a feminist transformation of writing by refusing to allow the erasure of a specifically female representation of trauma within modernist literature. By exploring the social causes of gendered violence in the frame of moder nist literature, Barnes and Rhys shine an accusatory spotlight on a modernism that has built and perpetuated false images of femininity. They reconstruct from the source a stolen femininity by insisting on the validity of female voices within art. The e ndings of both novels are thus, I believe, also their political climaxes. They depict explosions of abjection, during which the absolute inexpressibility of trauma is expressed as such It is in this expression the expression of futility, rather than t he achievement of expressional tautology that these novels display their liberatory capacity. They legitimize the immense struggle of invisible histories that are not "enduring" or universally monumental and so are otherwise suppressed by the convention s of high art. They take history from the mouths of the victors, identifying the structural causes of artistic violence and the dissolution of the female subject. They resist the impersonal aestheticization of personal pain. They negate a transcendence that is not only lethal but exclusive, promising salvation only for the powerful. They call for justice in the form of visibility, by way of the transformation of art.
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62 Levenson, Michael. Introduction. Cambridge Companion to Modernism Ed. Levens on. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 1 8. Print. Lorde, Audre. "Poetry Is Not A Luxury." The Future of Difference Ed. Eisenstein &Jardine. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. 125 127. Print. Malabou, Catherine. Changing Difference Trans. Carolyn Shread. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011. Print. Mardorossian, Carine M. "Setting up the Subaltern: Silences, Stereotypes, and Double Entendre in Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea'." Callaloo 22.4 (1999):1071 1090. JSTOR. Martins, Susana S. "Gender Trou ble and Lesbian Desire in Djuna Barnes's Nightwood'". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 20.3 (1999): 108 126. JSTOR. Murfin, Ross C., and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2009. Print. Oa kes, Timothy. "Place and the Paradox of Modernity." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 87.3 (1997): 509 531. JSTOR. Peterson, Leland D. "Ezra Pound: The Use and Abuse of History." American Quarterly 17.1 (1965): 33 47. JSTOR. Raiskin, Judith L.. Preface. Wide Sargasso Sea By Jean Rhys. 1966. 1 st ed. New York: Norton Critical Additions, 1999. ix xiii. Print. Schiesari, Juliana. The Gendering of Melancholia Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992. Print.
63 Smith, R. McClure. "I Don't Dream Abou t It Any More': The Textual Unconscious in Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea'." The Journal of Narrative Technique 26.2 (1996): 113 136. JSTOR. Smith, Victoria L. "A Story beside(s) Itself: The Language of Loss in Djuna Barnes's Nightwood." PMLA 114.2 (1999). 194 206. JSTOR