Secondary Conrad

Form Harpham’s One of Us (1996)

Conrad’s oeuvre can be read as symptomatic of Modernism’ uneven development. Lumped together with Flaubert, James, and Joyce because of the defamiliarizing force of abstraction, we could also say that this is because (the English) language does in fact resist attempts to shape it into something perfectly referential…things take on associational force almost by accident rather that design. This is Conrad as the accidental modernist, that graduates into something more coherent with Nostromo in beyond, but then he is already explicit about referential relationships (however complicated) to politics and history.

Conrad’s work can be said to both disturb us and open us up to new horizons, argues Harpham. He does this 1) through the idea of the nation as a potentially unifying anecdote to trade, but nevertheless one that is porous and therefore laboriously constructed 2) through the idea of the sea that simultaneously symbolizes freedom and homelessness 3) through language itself, which becomes capacious grand at the same time that it fails to make a tight system of meaning, or even coherence of imagery.

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Secondary Woolf

Abel on Woolf (1989)

“Narrative…getting on from lunch to dinner,” but in Woolf, characters do live in time, it’s just complicated.

The “tunneling process” as a way of achieving temporal depth–that is, offsetting narrative by means of incorporating the past vertically

 

On Dalloway

Bourton is a pastoral enclave that, within the countries of Clarissa’s psyche, excludes the courtship that would lead to marriage. And even Peter’s courting of her is filtered mostly though Peter’s consciousness and memory.

When Clarissa hears of Septimus’ death, she mourns her loss…this is emblematic of how various characters are used as structural devices for refracting the divided consciousness/history of Clarissa: Sally, Rezia, Septimus, etc.

Dalloway takes the form of a developmental narrative as a way out of mourning/melancholia. Clarissa learns to accept adulthood as a rough compromise with a pre-Oedipal fantasy that can never be inhabited again.

 

To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse widens out the scope, and replaces the developmental narrative with a family romance. So Lily, a surrogate daughter, can recover the image of Mrs. Ramsay, which James represses in his developmental accession to his father’s forms of rationality and which Cam can only access by telling a narrative that runs through the father, disclosing her enclosure within masculinist narratives. Also, the ambiguity of the central character…is it mister or Mrs. Ramsay?…opens up questions of definition and orientation.

Mr. Ramsay’s “speculative philosophy” depends upon the erasure of matter/mater, the purging of the signified that conditions the emergence of the pure, anorexic sign. James follows Mr. Ramsay into this linguistic terrain.

Liliy Briscoe marks out an alternative narrative of painting as process. Importantly, this not a static painting that emerges in a  moment of inspiration, eternal and changeless, but a canvas that bears the mark of its history. She forms a relationship  of intimacy with Ramsay that is silent: “Who knows what we are, what we feel?” We see her a curling into the self that refrains from a linguistic register. The painting also refuses the determinacy of an abstract realms of signification, as toggles between separation and synthesis…the activity of the vertical line is itself a knife edge marking out what is gained and lost in the process of memory formation.  Further, this intersects with the strange timing of her vision: “She had her vision” positions somehow in the past tense, presence removed, etc. This another way of describing a phenomenology of rupture, interruption, etc.

 

Between the Acts

Abel concludes with a very curious reading of Between the Acts and moses and Monotheism. The latter picks up the story of civilization’s emergence by complicating the strict paternal narrative of that early work. The worship of the mother enters between the death of the primal father and the worship of the mosaic God. Civilization emerges when intellectuality wins out over sensuality. [Talk about this in terms of the ban on touching as the conditioned for worshipping…denigration of the body of matter/mater, etc.]

Between the Acts represents a frayed social fabric [Isa saying that we are all dispersed, etc.] and morns the lack of a mothering culture that could act as an alternative: this gives way to a full on fear of paternalism in the shape of Nazism and Fascism [Giles seems eerily like the Nazis he condemns, etc.]

La Trobe tries to convey ten minus of “present time reality” whose absolute dryness is then “douched” by a supernatural rain that returns a (false) sense of collectivity to the crowd that just witnessed that radical fragmentation, etc. Abel argues that this fragmentation finds in answer in the heterosexual eroticism of the closing scene between Giles and Isa…it points forward to pro-creation as the dawn of a new era.

 

Joseph Conrad – Nostromo (1904)

Nostromo

If Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness dramatize the difficulty of narrating a life, confronting that difficulty by dramatizing the various subjective, generic, historical conditions that frame our experience of the world, then Nostromo ups the ante, expanding the palate of narrators (13 main characters) and opening the stage to the history of a continent and the circuits of global trade. Nostromo is “constructed” in ways similar to Jim, but this novel is not so much interested in characterization, as it is interested in how the past becomes present, and the present becomes future, and how all the various characters deal with these historical becomings.

Conrad employs a basic rectangle of characters:

Nostromo   –   Decoud (loves Antonia)

Mr. Gould   –   Monygham (loves Mrs. Gould)

On the top, two men that are killed by the silver. On the bottom, two men who are able to resist that death. On the left, two idealists. On the right, two pragmatists. Acting outside of these rectangle, are the two women, Antonia and Mrs. Gould.

Nostromo the character is a composite of what other characters believe him to be. We see him consistently fail to live up to the idea of the hero–he is literally a “man of the people” to the degree that he becomes subject to the same temptations of the silver.

When the old Garibaldi soldier kills Nostromo (not knowing that he does it), Conrad is showing who the older foams of heroic revolution are not tenable under the new regime of global capitalism.

Discuss the difference between catching a moment out of the stream of time and Mrs. Gould’s beliefe that we need to see the past, present and future within every moment….this is a different way of seeing the relationship between particular events and history in general.

Evelyn Waugh – Brideshead Revisited (1944)

In two parts, framed by a prologue and an epilogue that depict Ryder at war, having returned to Brideshead in order to repurpose it as a military base. Main themes include memory, war, religion, and painting. Sebastian Flight is the lovable drunkard with whom Ryder class in love as a young man at Oxford. But Sebastian slowly goes to waste and exits the novel almost all together. he dies off screen, or does not, one is not sure. His sister, Julia, takes center stage in the second half of the novel. Ryder, now a successful painter of houses and married to Celia, falls in love with Julia while on a boat. They become lovers, but when she returns to the Catholic faith at the end of the novel, Ryder and her (despite both getting divorced for each other) decide not to get married.

Curious book to put into dialogue with The Return of the Solider and other novels that mourn the loss of innocent after World War I. Here, it is War World II that triggers a memory that returns to that pre-war state. The portrait of Oxford is a bit anachronistic, compressing the days of Richards and Empson with the days Pater and Wilde. Anthony Blanche is the token “aesthete,” and Ryder finds himself caught up in a new decadence that will string between the two wars. The wars themselves seem to squeeze together to the degree that intervening years are reduced to a couple of family squabbles: Julia says famously, “I see the past and future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.” Indeed, the finance capital vulgarians like Rex and the regressive Catholics like the Marchamids seem to be the only options for Julia and Ryder: they are therefore both unhappy at the end.

Use the meal with Rex to show the differences between Ryder’s older continental proclivities and Rex’s modernizing impulses, etc.

The novel gives the lie to the narrative that would reconsolidate England after the war. There are folks like Rex, who is similar to the Dalloways in his relationship to industry, his desire to ignore the war. The Marchmaid family, on the other hand, are trying to live an existence that belongs to another century. It isn’t that this lifestyle is unfit for 20th century, but that it in fact self-destructs: modernity must be described as “uneven development” with regard to its secularizing drive, etc.

As the war approaches, there is a moment in which Julia and Ryder, on the boat, no longer speak in their voices, but in the voices of the English who wish to deny that war is coming. They repeat in almost stichomythic fashion a battery of cliches about how the Germans have no money, etc.

Ryder is a painter of architecture. His painting can be seen as a synecdoche for Waugh’s mode of writing. He prefers drawing buildings that show the encrustations of each age–showing how each has made use of the building. Brideshead itself is shown repurposed multiple times, and the closing scene is of a lamp meant to be purely symbolic of epic and tragedy, hanging in a chapel, now burning in prayer for all the solders in France, etc. Relate this to Larkin’s poem “High Windows,” where he claims that each generation needs to find its own limits, and that there is not a single lyric voice that can consolidate their various attempts at self-transcendence.

 

 

Rebecca West – The Return of the Soldier (1915)

Chris suffers from shell-shock and when he returns to his wife and cousin (Kitty and Jenny) he can can’t remember the last 15 years of his life. Instead, he is living as if he is still in love with the lower class Margaret with whom he had a brief but intense relationship before he met his wife. Him and Margaret reconnect, ecstatically, but eventually a psychoanalyst intervenes and they “cure” him (by reminding him of his son that died when a child), which entails both the re-shattering of his youthful dreams and his incipient return to Flanders.

Talk about how the war pentrates domestic space. Not unlike the domestic space described in David Jones In Parenthesis or in Cummings The Enormous Room. Talk about how Fussel recounts the forceful making of English gardens in the trenches, etc…flowers that do not have nutritive purpose…the desire to create a domestic sphere that is impervious to war finds expression in the mirror image: real domestic spaces that are penetrated.

Talk about memory and its relation to trauma. The curing of Chris consonant with the death of love–the death of the object of desire itself. Interpretation in some sense kills that third term (talk about Laplanche)

The world that we thought the war killed is in fact simple another reality that has replaced an existence that was someone even more ideal than the England we thought we had lost, etc.

Talk about Hardy in reverse. In Hardy, his attempt o get into the melancholic modd reveals the impossibility of telling the difference between his current state of loss and the the loss that was always-already a part of his relationship with his wife. here, when the soldier returns (no longer a cause for mourning), the two companions realize that they were only ever substitutes for a love that already been lost. This can in turn be connected to Joyce’s “The Dead.”

The end of Chris’s life is the last day he can remember. Link this to Bergsonian notions of time, memory and durée.

Rather than read the trauma as a stark break with a past life, we can fact read it as revealing a thread of loss that was otherwise repressed. Chris as a young man had a sense of the “imminence of the improbable,” which shell-shock in some ways allows to occur–namely the rebirth of a prehistory that was otherwise consigned to wither away.

summary of Zwerdling on Dalloway

Peter Walsh is historically grounded, but negatively. He is absent from England during the years 1918 to 1923, the years directly following the war, so that he can then comment on the starkness of the change otherwise invisible (or merely impressionistic) to those who have lived through the post-war years.

 

The world in which the Dalloways live and move–the “governing class” ganged in various Imperial projects–is under threat. It is a decadent rather than crescent class. This decadence undercuts the sense that World War I marked some sort of triumph of British civilization: that the death of thousands of men is compensated for by a strong Britain. In the short story from which Dalloway was draw, Clarissa says: “Thousands of a young men died so that things might go on.” But this shows Clarissa to be out of step with her time: thinking that things are still going on dramatizes her ignorance. She is living in the past.

 

Part of this “past” depends not he illusion that the ruling class is not conditioned on what Forster calls “islands of money.” Dinner parties are a “grand deception,” in which food is mysteriously unpaid: “life appears musical” to this class, because they are not bitten by the realm of necessity. There’s is the realm of the Wilcoxes.

 

Septimus is a threat, excluded from Clarissa’s “party” because he refuses to forget a war that everyone is struggling to put behind them. This is part of a larger cultural forgetting that includes turning away from the economic base, one could argue. But it is also because he is uncontrollably, intensely passionate–a challenge to the governing class’s stoicism. The same with Peter Walsh. Though his early socialism is hollowed out and he has become part of the system that he has convinced himself that he is no longer a part of, his passion for Clarissa remains.

 

The novel dramatizes the absorption of these energies. In this way, Woolf attempts to “criticize the social system, and to show it at work, at its most intense.” Perhaps there is also a contribution to changing it, however slight.

Salman Rushdie – Midnight’s Children (1981)

Saleem Sinai, born at midnight on March 15, 1947, the exact time of India’s independence, has (along with 1001 other children born between 12 and 1) magical powers. He uses telepathy to being to hold a conference with all the other children to solve the problems of the new India. He goes through exile in the jungle. Returns and witnesses the “cleansing” of the Jama Masjid slum outside Delhi. His magical powers disappear; he writes this narrative.

Good book to talk about historical fiction in the late twentieth century. He is actively writing himself into history–that is taking, taking up a position of agency in relation to a past that otherwise does not belong to him.

Think about in terms of Jameson’s allegory. Post-colonial literature still values community in which private and public are interpenetrated, even identical. Rushdie would say that this is because privacy is a privilege: it’s ridiculous to think of discreet individuals in India. This stands in contrast to “capitalist” literature that is fragmentary. This isn’t a claim for extra-capitalistic cohesion. Rather, allegory, for Jameson, is able to self-consciously have symbols (like Saleem’s dripping nose) that both dramatize their failure, but hold out cohesion nevertheless. They take on “Benjaminian” utopian functions.

Can also use Bakhtin to talk about the sheer proliferation of characters, magical realism, etc. Can talk about mapping in relation to Naipaul, etc.