Tag Archives: secret

Charles Darwin – The Origin of Species (1859)

Important topics:

The difference between natural selection and sexual selection. Gets taken up by Mill in On Liberty to distinguish the role of government: on the one hand, the rigorous respect for individual growth, and the processes of selection which occur through discourse and conversation.

Species vs. individual: Darwin refuses the fixed category of a species. It is merely a name for a set of creatures that resemble one another. This will trouble, eventually, the division between man and animal.

The tiny sublime: in Darwin, the sublime becomes infinitesimally small: “Natural selection can act only by the preservation and accumulation of infinitesimally small modifications, each profitable to the preserved being.” This follows the extended discussion of domestication, the visible  and invisible, man’s ability to see or not, etc. Connect to the broader topics of the secret: small, inhering in change, transformation. Connect this to the larger topic of transition, historical, aesthetic and otherwise. Also connect to the opening of Daniel Deronda, where the “author” claims that the “beginning” of any story is arbitrary because the units of experience can be cut up into infinitely tiny pieces, thus making the discovery of some originary cause impossible.

The domestic: good way to start a conversation about domestic fiction more broadly. Written in 1859, so in the midst of later Dickens (Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations) and the same year as Collins’ Woman in White. Darwin’s argument is that man can select for the purposes of domestic farming, but that no man can see the processes of “natural” selection. “Man can act only on external and visible characters: Nature cares nothing for Appearances, except in so far as they may be useful to any being” (65).  As evidence, he shows that domesticated animals revert back to a state of nature when released into the wild, returning to certain instinctual patterns that are inexplicable within the parameters set by human understanding.  Interesting to talk about Wuthering Heights as presaging this work on domestication.

“Perfection” – argues, just as Ruskin does in The Nature of the Gothic” that nothing in nature, nothing living, can be held to the standards of human or aesthetic perfection: nevertheless, these processes recur as the very thing judged according to the beautiful…and as constitutive of that very beauty.

Geological record: as an imperfect text that tells the history of mankind extending beyond mankind, in languages that are not our own. Relate this to the cathedral of Notre-Dame.

The Tree Of Life as an analogy for the development of the world–i.e. dead branches fall off, new ones replace them, and the tree keeps growing. Connect this with the notion of perfection and the aesthetic more generally. What is metaphor accomplishing for Darwin? How does this relate to wonder? How does the shift the conversation from worries about the dry and mechanical, to one of beauty and wonder.


Thomas Huxley: “a mass of facts crushed and pounded into shape, rather than held together by the ordinary medium of an obvious logical bond.”

Cathy Gallagher on The Body Economic: distinguishes between bioeconmic plots (how political economies circulate Life) and somaeconomic plots — how accounts of pleasure and pain, unhappiness, desire, exhaustion, etc. stimulate bio plots and are in turned transformed by them. Central paradox: “the social body is growing old precisely insofar as the actual demographic proportions of the society are increasingly weighted towards youth, since, under optimal conditions, each generation would be twice as large as the generation preceding it. For Malthus to make sense, the body/society homology needs to be considered as a body/society opposition.”

George Levine: distinguishes Darwin studies from Literary Darwinsimsm; among other points, talks about hwo Darwin inspires wonder and not dry mechanical reducitonism. Everything signifies beyond itself, infinitely but immanently.

Jean Rhys – Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)

A “rewrite” of Jane Eyre, this novel tells the back-story of Bertha Rochester (Antoinette Cosway) before she is locked in the attic at Thornfield. Antoinette is a white creole living in Jamiaca, the daughter of a slave-owner and a mother who is purportedly crazy. Her nurse/maid  is Christophine, who plays a similar roll to St. John Rivers (neither novel can fully contain their stories). At a young age, Antoinette’s house is burnt down, following the Emancipation of slaves. After a brief sejour in a convent (her mother has moved to the countryside) her step-father Mr. Mason “provides for her” by arranging a marriage between her an unnamed man from England, presumably Mr. Rochester. He narrates the second part of the novel, which tells of their marriage that goes through a honeymoon phase before souring completely. Rochester has married for money, and now he feels the burden of having what some angry quack has called a “madwoman.” He readily adopts these fears, believing that Antoinette, Christophine and the entire Jamaican landscape harbor the secret that will destroy him (the secret turns out to be nothing other than the violence of colonial slavery). Antoinette, whom he violently renames Bertha, want shim to love her, so has Christophine (who practices the magical obeah) give him a “love potion” that makes him sick.  Ant moves with Christophine to some place in the countryside where she attempts to recover from an illness. The third section opens with Antoinette now narrating. She is in England, being nursed and jailed by Grace Poole. She  assaults he step-brother Richard Mason after he does not “recognize” her. She then burns down the house, but not before seeing herself in the mirror as the ghost that haunts Thornfield Hall.

As re-writing of Jane Eyre, the political consequences of Rhys’ novel cuts both ways. On the one hand, it gives a face and history to a character that, in the original, was merely a “madwoman in the attic” that needed to be repressed for Jane’s emergence as chaste, moral, properly feminine, etc. But Spivak argues, convincingly, that such an argument appropriates the form of individualization that radical feminism, and critique more generally, should unsettle or reject. In Spivak’s reading, Bertha self-immolates so that Jane can emerge as the individualized feminist heroine  of European literature. The true Other, Christophine, remains outside this circuit of Western literature, the dialogue between literary feminists, because she is not just a white Creole, but a servant that is displaced from her home country Martinique from the very beginning.

Interesting endpoint for looking at the trope of the looking-glass. Antoinette sees herself in Tia just as the latter the latter throw a rock at her head. She herself in the eyes of the other. What are the ethical stakes of this identification. How does it differ from the self-recognition that occurs at the end of the novel, where Antoinette sees herself as the necessary sacrifice for the emergence of Jane Eyre/Jane Eyre? Connect to Wilde’s comments on cracked looking-glass, Joyce on cracked looking glass, and deKoven on mirrors, water, etc.

Mother-daughter text – Rhys’ novel is the daughter text that seeks to be the mother text. Compare to Zadie Smith’s rewriting of Howard’s End.

Literary history – the patronymic in the form of English literature is eaten away as Rochester scans the decaying book collection at the old mansion.

Narration – Rochester granted the role of narrator for all of second part. Does this render him sympathetic? Perhaps. Talk about the novel as Antoinette’s “quest” for a voice. The opening section’s voice is able to ventriloquize the thoughts of the town itself…the voice of the third section has fully imbricated itself into a text that has already been written. How qualified is that power of writing? Connect to the emergence of Stephen’s voice at the end of Portrait.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari – A Thousand Plateaus (1980)

“How do you make yourself a body without organs?”

The BwO is the field immanence of desire, the plane of consistency specific to desire (with desire defined as a process of production without reference to any exterior agency, whether is be a lack that hollows it out or a pleasure that fills it in. (154)

The chapter alternates between descriptions of extreme sadistic and masochistic violence and descriptions of “courtly love” and the “caress.” The idea here is to level out desire, so it is no longer defined in terms of lack and fulfillment, but in terms of intensity. Thus, “the slightest caress may be as strong as an orgasm; an orgasm is a mere fact, a rather deplorable one, in relation to desire in pursuit of its principle” (156). Systems that would constrict desire are associated with the “organism,” which is the real enemy of the body, not organs. The body si opposed the organization of its organs called the organism, which Deleuze associates with significance and subjectification.

Yet Deleuze also calls for an economy of “practice”:

You have to keep enough of the organism for it to reform each dawn; and you have to keep small supplies of significance and subjectification, if only to turn them against their own systems when the circumstances demand it, when things, person, even situations, force you to; and you have to keep small rations of subjectivity in sufficient quantity to enable you to respond to the dominant reality. Mimic the strata. (160)

The BwO always risks suicide if deterritorializing flows go too far, resulting in too severe destratification of the body.  It is necessary to experiment, test, try–it is necessary to “taste.” The danger is not so much in the quality of objective mediation, but in  its quantity. Going too far risks becoming a negative line of flight, destroying the subject. Keeping “small rations of subjectivity” is a form of respect, of ethics.

“The BwO is desire; it is that which one desires and by which one desires” (165). This connects with Levinas’s work on “proximity” and the elemental. Both are overturning psychoanalytic systems of signification that constrict the flows of desire.


“Becoming-Intense, Becoming Animal, Becoming imperceptible…”

This chapter attempts to answer this question: How can we grant reality to a becoming that never fully “becomes”?

Becomings-animal are neither dreams nor phantasies. They are perfectly real. But which reality is at issue here? For if becoming animal does not consist in playing animal or imitating an animal, it is clear that the human being does not ‘really’ become an animal any more than the animal ‘really’ becomes something else. Becoming produces nothing other than itself. We fall into a false alternative if we say that you either imitate or you are. What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes.

The chapter makes the claim that bodies should be defined in terms of their affective capacity–which is directly linked to the process of becoming:

We know nothing about a body until we know what it can do, in oter words, what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the affects of another body. (257)

Interesting in terms of the “bottom” limit of affect–that which precedes the subject’s formation: not a subject that can “affect,” but a cross-section of affects that constitutes. Becoming-animal is affect itself.

This leads into a very interesting section on secrets–the secret’s mode of becoming is from the internal form of concealment, a finite secret, to an infinite form of the secret that secretes in public. “The more the secret is made into a structuring, organizing form, the thinner and more ubiquitous it becomes” (289). This could be used to conceptualize forms of reading (and of writing, and of subject formation) that seek to maintain the secretiveness of the secret, rather than transform it into public knowledge. The secret that is not content to take the form of it container, but attempts to make its own form. Henry James accomplishes this, according to D and G.


Charlotte Brontë – Villette (1853)

Boring. Lucy Snow, after spending time with her cousins “Brettons” and Polly, and caring for a dying Mrs. Marchmont (gets some money from her husband in the end), leaves England and goes to a school for girls in Villette, France. Mme Beck runs the place and M. Paul Emmanuel is the main Professor. She meets Dr. John, who is actually Graham Bretton. He is in love with bitchy Ginevra Fanshawe, but gives her up eventually and has a brief friendship-affair with Lucy. But he eventually marries Polly, and the two are very happy. She falls in love with M. Paul, but not before having a lot of strange encounters with a shadowy nun who turns out to be Ginevra’s lover in disguise. Beck and Pere Silas, a creepy Catholic priest, both try to prevent the marriage (jealousy and moralism being motives). Lucy wakes one night and has a crazy opium trip while walking around the town of Villette. She eventually is given a new school by Paul, but he leaves for the West Indies and most likely dies, though the ending is ambiguous. Awful, boring book. Ugh.

Psychology – Secrets don’t drive plot, but are rather meant to indicate psychological aberrations, etc. Question whether this is different in degree or kind from the withholding of secrets in other narratives (since it is always being told retrospectively, there is always some withholding involved). At any rate, it’s clear that character supercedes plot in this novel. This relates to more general themes of concealment. Relate to Fosco’s discussion of the perfect crime, Sherlock Holmes deliberate withholding of evidence from Watson (likewise Sergeant Cuff), and draw final contrast with Jane Eyre, in which Jane finds out things at the same time as the reader.

Negative construction of hope – Look both at the passage about being home with her family (one might as well believe that it was a happy time…track how the tenor of the metaphor shifts from being a ship to being on a ship)

Also, in the end, it’s the ship that we are allowed to believe makes it back to England but KNOW has actually crashed with M. Paul on it. What is the status of hope, knowledge, and belief, especially in the context of a book about faith, etc.

A deliberate playing with conventions – note the three different story lines in which Graham, John, man who sees Lucy to girls home, can all be a part. Lucy withholding her knowledge that it IS Dr. John is crucial for the preservation of these plots.

Why is it called Villette? A primitive form of the objective correlate, in which a neatly defined gepgraphical space is necessary to contain the otherwise boundless movments of a psychological ego. Yet, when Villette is “discovered,” some sort of congruence between self and world is withheld entirely.

Surveillance (Beck, Paul, Lucy herself) compare this to Jane’s capacity to be a spectator