Volume 9 Issue 2
Volume 9 Issue 2
Edited ByLindsay Deputy Editor: Smith, Alan Sinfield, Jean US Associate Editor: Howard
Edition 1st Edition
First Published 1996
eBook Published 4 August 2005
Pub. location London
Pages 184 pages
eBook ISBN 9780203986219
SubjectsLanguage & Literature
Deputy Editor: Smith, L. (Ed.), Sinfield, A. (Ed.), US Associate Editor: Howard, J. (Ed.). (1996). Textual Practice. London: Routledge, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203986219
First published in 1995. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan Abstract The article focuses on Bakhtin’s early essays and fragments, written in 1919–24 and translated into English under the titles
Situated on the borderline between a religious and an aggressively secularized culture, straddling both territories, Bakhtin— like Dostoevsky, his hero—is not at home in either of them. It is precisely this liminal position and the symptomatic tensions it produces, which enables him to engage with the Mobius strip of ethics and subjectivity. Keywords: Bakhtin’s early works; Kristeva; subject (self); meta-physics; Dostoevsky; modernity; answerability
family, a nation, civilized mankind). In this case, the axiological position of the other within me is authoritative for me; he can narrate the story of my life and I shall be in full inner agreement with him. So long as my life proceeds in indissoluble unity with the collective of others, it is interpreted, constructed, and organized…on the plane of another’s possible consciousness of my life; my life is perceived and constructed as a possible story that might be told about it by the other to still others (to descendants). My consciousness of a possible narrator, the axiological context of a possible narrator, organizes my acts, thoughts, and feelings. (AH, 153) It is only an intimate, organic axiological participation in the world of others that renders the biographical self-objectification of a life authoritative and productive; only such participation strengthens and renders nonfortuitous the position of the other in me—the possible author of my life. (AH, 155)
J.Hillis Miller Abstract Speech act theory, as inaugurated by J.L.Austin’s How to Do
writing always includes the moment of dispossession in favor of the arbitrary power play of the signifier and from the point of view of the subject, this can only be experienced as a dismemberment, a beheading, or a castration…. It is no longer certain that language, as excuse, exists because of a prior guilt but just as possible that since language, as a machine, performs anyway, we have to produce guilt (and all its train of psychic consequences) in order to make the excuse meaningful…. The narrative [of Rousseau’s Confessions] begins to vacillate only when it appears that these (negative) cognitions fail to make the performative function of the discourse predictable and that, consequently, the linguistic model cannot be reduced to a mere system of tropes. Performative rhetoric and cognitive rhetoric, the rhetoric of tropes, fail to converge.
the apostrophe, the ‘you’ which, interrupting the silence of what is hidden and does not speak [le ‘tu’ qui, interrompant le silence de ce qui est tu], brings to birth, engenders, and provokes, calls but in truth recalls [appelle mais en vérité rappelle] the ‘he’ into being. For that act is not only an appearance that seems to give rise to [semble se donner] sexual difference, it is not simply active or decisive, creative or productive. Reading as much as it writes, deciphering or citing as much as it inscribes, this act is also an act of memory (the other is already there, irreducibly), this act enacts [cet acte prend acte]. In calling you back, it remembers. [En te rappelant, il se rappelle.]
to assimilate entirely, to leave their parents’ generation behind, to leave Europe behind—because, of course, their Europe, their Russia, their Austria, was a place of oppression, pogroms. So it’s incredibly hard to get even any information from them. But whether or not my knowledge of their decision, unconscious or conscious, to suture over all of that plays a role in my thinking about displacement, is hard to say. Later I became conscious of their difficulty, but not from them. PN: In Motion Sickness you have the narrator say, ‘It will probably be my fate not to learn other languages but to speak my own as if I were a foreigner’ (M, 51). There’s a question that the novel keeps raising about access to other languages, other codes, with a parallel sense of being alienated in one’s own. LT: I think it’s the frustration one feels being born into one’s body, and one’s body politic. I’m always amazed when people can move from one culture to another and adopt the customs of another culture. Some people can do this, some people can really transplant themselves. I don’t think I could. PN: The attention you’ve shown to cosmopolitan experience strikes me as somewhat unusual in writers of your generation. Perhaps it ties you more to a slightly earlier group—Burroughs, the Bowleses and others—for whom Europe was an indispensable reference point, not to say an escape route? LT: I was certainly interested in them, but before that I was fascinated by the period of the teens and the twenties, by the expatriate groupings in Paris, London and Zurich. Anyone fleeing. I suppose the desire was first to leave home, and then discovering that home is bigger than family, than your own tribe—that it includes the nation. That was something I contended with. PN: What do you think you gained from the metropolitan cultures of London and Amsterdam that you wouldn’t have found in your native New York—or, indeed, in other American cities like San Francisco or Chicago? LT: I think I needed, with my insecurity about writing, just to be in another place. To survive. All the otherness around me allowed me to express my difference, my Americanness. It was easier to be an American in a way and to find my own language in the midst of people who weren’t. The paradox is that you come closer to discovering what home is when you’re far away from it. And how it influences you so you can try to break from it, because at least you see it. PN: This was the period of the Vietnam war and its aftermath, of course, so there’s also the question of being an outsider politically.
LT: It was a very heady, weird time—traumatic—after all those assassinations. It was extremely disturbing sometimes. PN: The motifs of travel, movement, the journey, the quest have a central place in your work. I was reminded of the way travel also figures in Jane Bowles’s fiction. She describes it as ‘a sensation that lay between suffering and enjoyment’ and she adds that for her character Lila, ‘it had a direct connection with her brother’s lies’— it’s as if the ambivalent feelings occasioned by travel have some fundamental relation to fiction. LT: In a way writing, like travel, is uncomfortable. Even if you get pleasure from it, and I do, the desire to do it also probably comes from tremendous frustration and a peculiar kind of displacement that you want to pin down. I don’t actually find travelling that enjoyable, but on the other hand I have a greater fear of stasis. I mean I have a real fear that if I sit in my apartment, for a very long time, I’ll lose any kind of perspective I have, that I really won’t be able to see my thoughts at all. They’ll simply be the wallpaper everything else is and I’ll just accept everything. My fear is that I’ll just accept all the ways in which I’m limited because I won’t any more see them as limits. You begin to recognize your limits when you’re up against the unfamiliar. PN: In Motion Sickness, you use a quotation from Julia Kristeva as an epigraph: ‘The expatriate represents, in fact, the normal state of an average citizen in this last part of the 20th century.’ Why is that notion so suggestive for you? LT: Because of issues around alienation…and the alien nation within. I was trying to turn a so-called anti-anti-travel novel [sic] into something that’s really about the place you’re in. Turning it on its head. I wanted to turn it all around and say, OK, here’s this travel business, but you can think about this differently. You can think that where you are is also not a secure place to be, and that you’re maybe feeling as uprooted as somebody who’s not in their own country. I mean, think about all the different populations in America who aren’t exactly served by that system. PN: You remember Orwell’s essay ‘Inside the whale’ on Henry Miller. He argues that expatriates always have a superficial sense of what’s going on, a limited perception of the place they’re in. LT: In England I cringe when they talk about something I’ve done as ‘expatriate’. I think Oh my God I’ve written an expat novel. There’s something really hideous about that. I think part of why I’ve done what I’ve done is an in-your-face thing. There’s a real distrust in the States of people who choose to live somewhere else. They’re losers, they can’t make it. Whatever the Romantic
tradition used to be at the turn of the century, that no longer exists and more and more people don’t understand why you would even want not to live in the United States. And I think that’s probably going to increase. PN: You often use tourism and movement as figures of desire in your work. In Motion Sickness, for example, the narrator says of her relationship with Zoran that ‘We’re best when we’re in motion. Which is probably why we fuck most of the time’ (M, 104). But the title of the novel is Motion Sickness, and mobility seems to be shadowed by forms of fixity—‘National identity is like armor’, the narrator concludes at one point (M, 127). Are there positive and negative forms of tourism? The novel does at one point refer to ‘a true tourism in which you would find yourself outside your homeland, and outside your body, and see yourself with emotional vividness, as you can’t, and in the roles you play to others…’ (M, 120–1). LT: Obviously I’m being ironic about calling it a ‘true tourism’. It’s not that you find yourself, but that you can look at yourself. When you go somewhere else and see new things you’re also trying to be a different person in a new place. Of course you can’t ever do that really. But what you keep hoping for is getting outside yourself, your country…so that in a way you wouldn’t exist. That may be a ‘positive’ form of tourism. (laughs) PN: What exactly is the ‘sickness’, then? LT: I think that any desire indicates lack. If you say ‘I want’, even if it shows some sort of agency—that the ‘I’ wants something—it also indicates that you don’t have what you want at the time. So there’s this curious movement between these two poles of desire and lack, which obviously come out of each other. I think in the same way we move because we want some kind of satisfaction; on the other hand, the desire for movement may be the product of an unbearable and never-ending kind of sickness, which is that you can never fulfil all the need for motion that you’ve got. PN: Motion Sickness seems to express something like the situationist sense of drift—there’s a reference to the idea of the dérive at one point (M, 149)—but at the same time that sense of abandonment is very ambivalent. ‘When longing’s absent, when I feel no specific desire for anything, anything I can name, I vacillate, feel determined, content or empty’ (M, 193)—isn’t that kind of ambivalence actually rather different from what the situationists had in mind? It seems to inform much of the speculation about desire and identity which runs through your work.
LT: Yes, I think so. You move between and among all those different states. In a way desire, libido, that sort of drive, that energy— without it you probably wouldn’t do anything. But when you have it, when you’re experiencing it very, very strongly, so that it’s pushing you in all sorts of ways, you’re also at its mercy. You can feel content, maybe, in the moment when you’re not feeling that, but you’re also in a static state. You may have a period of equilibrium but you’re always going to head toward a state of disequilibrium. PN: There are several moments in Cast in Doubt where Horace finds himself ‘without or separate from desire’; ‘Indeed I felt blank’, he says (C, 141). LT: Yes—a desire not to desire. I’m working on a story now in which a woman likes to watch pornography. But to say ‘I like this’, or to say ‘I want to see this’, means that those things are not in her life. That’s the implication. That’s why nobody wants to be caught wanting. We’re filled with desires, but you’re not supposed to say that you have them. Because if you have them, it means that you’re lacking. At the ICA panel on Straight Sex, Lynne Segal in November talked about female heterosexual agency in so-called straight sex that everybody agrees is not so straight. Later all I could think about was that implied in the term ‘I desire’ is its own negation, a negation of agency. If you desire then you have a problem. But you can always say, ‘I wanted him and I got him.’ PN: But he wasn’t good enough! LT: Then I wanted someone else! PN: Can we go back to your first book, Haunted Houses? I gather the title comes from a passage in H.D.’s Tribute to Freud where she says that ‘We are all haunted houses.’ At the end of the novel that haunting is described as ‘A bad feeling that someone or something is never going to let you alone’ (H, 206). What kind of someone or something were you trying to get at in this novel? LT: I guess it’s a question of personal history, psychological history, of one’s family, which never leaves you alone. The idea that you can be completely free of that is bogus. Moving from personal history into public history, your present is always inflected by your past. I believe one can move, with a lot of psychological work, further away from the neurosis of the family, but perhaps never completely. PN: There’s certainly a lot of interest in this first book in forms of recollection and repetition. The young women in the novel fear they will repeat the lives of their mothers, and it’s as if the
conventions of feminine behaviour are felt with the intensity of some sort of trauma. In other words, there’s a memory of something you haven’t experienced directly… LT: Being a woman is a memory I haven’t had. It’s a cultural memory. It’s extremely interesting that you pick this up because I think the way in which we’re constructed as men and women is pretty violent. It’s active, it’s constant…. I remember reading about one of the early transsexuals who would say that it was very hard work being a girl, making sure that he did all of the right things… PN: The idea that a gendered identity takes work connects with some of the things Judith Butler has been writing about recently. She talks, for example, of gender as something ‘tenuously constituted in time’ through ‘a stylized repetition of acts’. LT: Absolutely. I wonder if she also read people like Garfinkel, Sacks, and Goffman. Because that was their point, that this wasn’t something simple, that doing gender was hard work. PN: Perhaps this is where we get some sort of connection between gender and being haunted by memories which come from somewhere else? I mean it’s your mother being feminine that you remember. Similarly, in The Madame Realism Complex, ‘Paige suffers mainly from reminiscences’, a phrase which refers us directly to Freud on hysteria. How did this psychoanalytic theme develop in your thinking? LT: I came to Freud because a number of people in my extended family were being analysed in the fifties. Later, when I went to college in the mid-sixties I saw a psychotherapist who was a Freudian, not an analyst but who was taught by Freudians. I think my first way in was through practice, and then I began reading some Freud and arguing with my male psychotherapist about penis envy. Reading Juliet Mitchell’s Psychoanalysis and Feminism was extremely important for me. And then there was film theory—Laura Mulvey, Peter Wollen, and others. PN: May I ask, in parenthesis, how you came upon the Madame Realism persona? Why ‘Realism’? LT: She’s not a persona. In 1983, I got a phone call from somebody asking me to contribute to a Surrealist magazine. I thought that that was idiotic, I thought people going around thinking they’re Surrealists is crazy. Then I began thinking about Meret Oppenheim whom I’d interviewed in Paris in ’73, then in New York in ’78. I thought about how she had talked about being only twenty-one when she made the Fur Tea-Cup and Saucer, and how Max Ernst was her lover and she left him because she didn’t want to be influenced by him. There was the problem of young women in the
Surrealist movement, how difficult it was for them. ‘Madame Realism’ was a retort to Surrealism. It really doesn’t have to do with realism. PN: Going back to Haunted Houses, the three female characters seem almost permeable with each other. The reader finds it hard to pull them apart. LT: That’s what Paul Bowles said too. He said it was like a Russian novel, that he couldn’t keep them apart, but that he liked that. It was deliberate. In so many novels characters were pitched against each other, to represent so many different ideas, and then there would be a clash. Lawrence is the perfect example of that. I was interested in the social as well as the psychological, how these interpenetrated. I thought if you took a particular moment you could find girls being turned into girls and there would be a lot of similarities, questions about virginity, their mothers, their fathers. So, yes, they would be as much like each other as unlike each other—maybe more so. It was so confusing to me I had to make a chart to remember the characteristics I had given to Emily, Jane or Grace. PN: There’s something similar about character in Motion Sickness… LT: Yes, in the ‘I’ being unnamed, but I wanted to do the opposite there, which was to go from characters who never met each other, as in Haunted Houses, to ones who constantly meet. I wanted to play with that happening and see if I could get away with it. PN: One major theme of the book seems to be summed up in a quotation you give from Simone de Beauvoir: ‘It is a strange experience for whoever regards himself as the One to be revealed to himself as otherness, alterity.’ That awkward passage from self to other seems to provide one of the main dynamics in your narratives. LT: I think I’m more comfortable with ‘identity’ than with ‘self’. There’s something historically about ‘self’ that assumes one owns it. With ‘identity’ or ‘subjectivity’ you have the sense that it’s shot through with others already. There’s something very painful about Haunted Houses and not painful about Motion Sickness. There is the anxiety of recognizing how really unstable your identity is in Motion Sickness. When you meet others on the road, your relation to yourself can change. Haunted Houses is more painful because the girls are trying to achieve some identity, as if they’ll be able to. By the time I wrote Motion Sickness, my sense was that there was no use in trying. You’re not going to achieve a stable existence, but that’s not so terrible in a way. It might make you sick, though, once in a while, because of that motion.
PN: It reminds me that in the story called ‘Madame Realism’, the narrator decides that ‘Anything can be a transitional object. No one spoke of limits, they spoke of boundaries. And my boundaries shift, she thought, like ones do after a war when countries lose or gain depending on having won or lost’ (MR, 39). The reference to Winnicott’s concept of ‘transitional objects’ seems to have a relevance to your sense of how fiction operates—perhaps as (to use another concept from Winnicott) a ‘potential space’ somewhere between psyche and world where a certain ‘play’ can take place? LT: In criticism you always have to make one argument, and you have to support that argument against other arguments. In writing a novel or a short story there are arguments going on too, but there you have the possibility of different voices and different characters. You don’t have to argue as if there’s one truth, or one way to see something, you can allow for a lot of ambivalence. In some way writing fiction for me is about anxiety and being extremely insecure, and having between me—and maybe this is Winnicottian—between me and the world a space where I say, this is not me, and it is me, ambivalently, but this is also not Truth. PN: Motion Sickness suggests that national identity is like armour; in Haunted Houses are we meant to conclude that gender is similarly a kind of defence and constraint? LT: Yes, I think I very much felt that when I wrote Haunted Houses. All my books are in a way about limits, and about fighting those limits. Haunted Houses definitely was about the limits of gender and of being a girl, how you took it on, how you wrestled with it; then with Motion Sickness it was national identity and nationalism. But you never want to celebrate your limits, you don’t want to celebrate being an American, to celebrate being a woman. That’s making a virtue out of something that’s neither a vice nor a virtue. It’s a given. You’re born into something and it’s a matter of what you do with that. PN: Relations between self and other seem to be played out visually a lot of the time—in Haunted Houses, for example: ‘there was a chance of being looked at, which was better than being spoken to: it was as if she were being taken, unaware and involuntarily, and not taken’ (H, 62). LT: Being looked at—again this would be an interesting argument that pornography is not rape—looking at something and having a fantasy is different from being thrown into the bushes and raped. This could also lead into a discussion about aspects of female desire and whether a woman’s desire to be looked at is passive or active. I tend to feel those terms, ‘passive’ and ‘active’, are—well,
talk about permeable! There’s a way, oddly enough, that you can be very active in being looked at. Being extremely aware of that. It’s not a position of powerlessness. Women like to look too. PN: The gaze, of flirtation or voyeurism, seems bound up with another major theme of this novel, which is the artificiality of gender. Early on, Grace is warned against promiscuity by her brother: ‘“You did it when you were my age,” she said. “I’m a guy,” he said, “it’s different.” “Fuck difference,” she said’ (H, 37). The novel as a whole seems to ‘fuck difference’ in its play with forms of androgyny, transvestism, and so on. Would that be the right place to put the emphasis? LT: In the sense of a binary division. It’s a very hard thing to discuss. I’m such an anti-essentialist that while I recognize that there is difference, what that means will always be unknown for me. Why hierarchies come into being, how those kinds of differences are arrived at. And while you don’t know, there’s the area you can play. The space in which our ignorance of why things come to be the way they are can also give us the room and energy to fuck around, not to accept things for what they are. PN: The characters are haunted by the seemingly absolute forms of sexual difference then? And the novel seems to gesture toward an opposite idea of gender as fiction. Your references in the novel to Susan Sontag’s essay on Camp reminded me that she had proposed some of these ideas well before Judith Butler and others. Sontag says, for example, that ‘the most refined form of sexual attractiveness…consists in going against the grain of one’s sex’; and she defines Camp as ‘the triumph of the epicene style. (The convertibility of “man” and “woman”, “person” and “thing”).’ How important were these ideas to Haunted Houses? LT: Haunted by difference, yes, and also by the possibility of agency. ‘Camp’ was a revelatory essay for me. Unfortunately Sontag pulled back from those concerns. You would have felt from that essay that in the seventies she could have been a very sophisticated feminist. But she wasn’t, and in fact I think she’s something of an anti-feminist. Those kinds of ideas were important. The first gay male friend I had was when I was eighteen. I thought of feminism and gay liberation as working the same terrain. To me at that point it was all about not accepting what you were being handed on the sexual platter—what roles. PN: There’s a passage from Andy Warhol which you quote in one of your new pieces called ‘Love Sentence’: ‘Once you see emotions from a certain angle, you can never think of them as real again.
That’s what more or less has happened to me.’ Has it happened to you? LT: How do you deal with love? Is it a limit, or is it something that’s so explosive it’s not a limit? This thing we feel to be unique when we experience it is so common. Warhol did have love affairs. He did in the last years of his life live with somebody, I believe. I think the kinds of questions you set for yourself around what you’re feeling can stop you from just being able to throw yourself into it. Also, there’s the problem of emotional repetitiveness. PN: There’s a related interest here in breaking with conventional forms of narrative. In one of your later stories, Madame Realism writes in her notebook: ‘Beware of premature closure’ (MR, 147), and this distrust of narratives which are driven by a need for endings is already there in Haunted Houses. LT: Yes, that’s right. PN: And a lot of this depends on how you think about memory. Haunted Houses offers at least two different views: Jane, for example, thinks that ‘there was just as much invention in versions of the past as in what’s written about the future’ (H, 100), while Jimmy wonders whether ‘remembering things keeps you from thinking new thoughts’ (H, 103). LT: I don’t think you have a choice between these two. Memory is in fact very active. A sociologist who read Motion Sickness in manuscript said he was disgusted by it because the narrator was so passive. And I said what do you mean ‘passive’? She thinks all the time. PN: ‘Grace thought her time in bars would lead to something but Lisa said she shouldn’t expect anything to lead to anything’ (H, 146). In Motion Sickness you describe a fight as ‘much less conclusive’ than a prizefight or a baseball game—‘It’s much more like fiction’ (M, 21). How does this inconclusiveness relate to the narrative desire to connect one thing with another? LT: They’re in bed together. You wouldn’t have that desire to connect one thing with another unless there was all this inconclusiveness. Again, it’s the absence of an ability to make a conclusion that draws you to want to make connections. PN: That recalls Gertrude Stein’s comment about any assemblage of heterogeneous things already containing implicit narrative links. LT: I’m sure she was influenced by the Kuleshov experiment in film, that when you edit, you can put images together and no matter what, the viewer makes connections. Take what Tarantino does with narrative in Pulp Fiction. I began to think of it as a kind of time-line being stretched, and the end, what kind of end is that?
They just walk out a door. It’s circular, begins again. It’s a very complicated handling of narrative. Going back to that fight in Motion Sickness, it has an ending in the sense that the two men separate, but who is the winner? You know that they’re in a relationship with each other, but the question of who won or lost will depend on the version of the story you’re going to hear from each of the participants. What does it mean to come to a conclusion? Jouissance, I suppose. Coming to a conclusion. PN: In ‘Madame Realism’, we’re told that ‘stories do not occur outside thought. Stories, in fact, are contained within thought. It’s only a story really should read, it’s a way to think’ (MR, 108). The point seems to be that narratives shouldn’t be locked up in a distinction between true and false, but are actually ways of articulating ourselves. LT: Yes, I was trying to take narrative out of the realm of untrue, irrelevant, not profound…. Some people say ‘I never read a novel, I read theory’, and so on. The same people might argue against a high/low split but say they don’t read novels. You could say the novel’s an old form; with the computer why should people read stories and novels? I wanted to argue that any form you use represents a way of thinking, ideas. Do you read things only because you identify with them or can you disidentify with them too? PN: One of the interesting things about these stories is the connection you seem to pursue between narrative and the familial, the Oedipal. ‘All ideas are married’, says Madame Realism (A, 105), and in the story called ‘Absence Makes the Heart’, the death of the father seems somehow connected with the idea of the Woman as solitary and mystified—‘Her reluctance must be read as a mystery, a deception from one whose own creation was exampled in the stories he loved’ (A, 69). It’s not immediately clear to me whether the loss of the father signals the failure of narrative or freedom from it. LT: What if the loss of the father, her recognition of him as now symbolic, in fact enables her to see herself in the story, a story that men have of her? PN: She becomes the narrator instead of being just the Woman? LT: That’s right. It’s like saying: you’re placing me in the story in certain ways but I have needs, I have desires. I’m the subject of my own story, I’m not just the object in your story. PN: There’s a passage in Motion Sickness where the narrator remembers her father’s voice: ‘It’s my father’s voice at the Leaning Tower, distracting me just the way he does when I eat veal
parmigiana and it sticks in my throat because I know how much he loved it. I’m eating for two, if indeed I’ve incorporated him a la ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ (M, 69). I keep coming up against this network of references in your fiction: the loss of the father, the idea of mourning as a lump in the throat impeding communication, and above all a sense of resulting perplexity and confusion. It seems important that Paige’s harrowing recollection of her father in ‘To Find Words’ leads to her feeling ‘lost at sea and cast in doubt’ (MR, 25). It’s a question of narrative again… LT: Writing is always about loss in some way. Maybe for me my father’s loss became the loss that took in all loss, which made me want to write in the beginning. But there’s a way in which death is too easy, because death is everyone’s conclusion. Death is the closure that’s never closure. Because even if someone dies there are those alive who remember him or her. So the impact of that person’s life is still felt in the people living after. I’m thinking about the AIDS epidemic. There’s nothing conclusive about death except that it’s something we all do. That’s the curious thing about the paradox of using death—in a way I know that whenever I put death in my work it’s the most vital thing to do, because we all feel so connected to it. PN: In interviews you’ve often talked about Cast in Doubt in terms of a collision of modernist and postmodernist perspectives. Does the difference again have to do with conceptions of narrative? LT: I wanted to do many things in that book, including figuring out how to tell a story that reflected on story-telling and on how we read stories. PN: It does seem that Horace can only reach a sense of self by seeing himself as a character in a story. There’s a curious passage where he says ‘While I accept the Greek version of destiny, or fate, as in tragedy, when one’s end flows from one’s flaws, from hubris, I abhor the idea that one’s life is fated’ (C, 160). But the Greeks couldn’t dissociate those ideas, and are you suggesting that Horace ultimately can’t either (his novel is, after all, called Household Gods…)? LT: That is a strange passage. I think I wanted, because I was playing off the Greek material, the notion of an inevitability, certain things set in motion, from x to y to z. But as a modernist, Horace also wants to think about progress and about his own ability to insert himself in the story and make a change. There’s a certain kind of optimism in that, but it’s confused. He’s confused by two kinds of narrative, the narrative of inevitability and the narrative of change.
PN: Horace is caught up in this web of imagined plots, whereas Helen and Gwen function with ‘no plan, no plot’ (C, 160), they pursue no ideal or truth, they are a ‘new breed’ (C, 147). Again it seems relevant that Horace tries to understand Helen in terms of ‘some family tragedy’ (C, 97), and that the graffiti in her room reads ‘OEDIPUS WRECKS’. Has the ‘new breed’ achieved some sort of freedom from the Oedipal guilt-trip? LT: This is from Horace’s point of view… PN: He’s trying to embed them in an Oedipal plot that the reader can see they somehow evade. Especially in Helen’s case because she does disappear. LT: She disappears and we don’t know what her history is. We do know in the sense that everyone has a father or mother, we know there’s an Oedipal drama. Can we avoid that? No. The question is how do you work with that in a story. How conscious of that are you in your own story-telling and in your life? PN: Horace says, ‘I also believed that in our souls we were in deep and profound unity…she was, I assumed, like me’ (C, 148). But the reader knows they really have nothing in common, and Horace’s fantasy about Helen’s ‘special androgynous quality’ (C, 148) is actually more Platonic than it is postmodern… LT: One of the problems in Horace’s life is that he would believe that he should not experience any kind of lack. He would think that there was a wholeness there for him to have. Whereas, in my mind, a Helen or a Gwen would understand that that’s always an illusion. Let’s say, no cure. PN: Are you suggesting some sort of fundamental difference between this fantasy of androgyny—as original, prior to sexual difference— and the sort of thing Warhol and the Factory explored? Gwen, for example, ‘admires Warhol precisely because of the falsity of his work, which actually makes it true, to her way of seeing and thinking, which is not mine’ (C, 155). LT: I subscribe more to a notion of bisexuality than to one of androgyny. I was also trying to think about homosexuality not as a fixed sexual position, so that a man who was a homosexual could also have desire for a woman at some moment, just the way a heterosexual man might have a desire for homosexual experience. Desire is pretty wild, and can move around, and be very unsettling. Horace wants to think she’s androgynous rather than thinking that he might be more bisexual—unfixed—than he thinks. In other words, rather than seeing it—instability—in himself he’s seeing it in her.
PN: We’ve talked quite a bit about narrative; maybe we should think too about tone and about your exploitation of particular figures of speech. Cast in Doubt is tonally rich, of course, but that’s partly parodic. Other books, particularly Haunted Houses, seem to cultivate a certain lack of tone; sometimes the style reminded me of forms of naturalism. Whole passages of flat, short sentences which made me think of Dos Passos in the way one thing or event is simply placed against another. An emphasis on the local and contiguous rather than on some overall structure or plot, perhaps…? LT: I don’t think of the style of Haunted Houses as flat. It’s angular, sharp. The edges between sentences are tough—take no prisoners. The structure too is angular—three characters who never meet, three chapters for each of the five sections, no greased transitions. I was interested in how gaps make meanings, how juxtapositions work. I’m always involved in that, pushing one set of ideas up against another. That’s maybe what you think of as naturalistic. And all that makes strange disturbances. Haunted Houses is grimly funny sometimes. Motion Sickness is more fluid, playing off a stream of words, associations; its structure is almost circular, with the first chapter, to my mind, a trailer for the upcoming feature. Cast in Doubt is arch, even toying with being precious. The structure is filled with holes, anxious ones. Each work is supposed to have its own integrity. PN: And the style is always aware of itself, of the effects it’s aiming for. At first glance it just seems witty, but there’s another layer where you start stripping away the cottonwool of metaphor: ‘She chooses a piece of silverware as if it were a weapon. But she does not attack her food’ (A, 106). This kind of effect reminds me of Brecht’s advice to his actors, to speak their lines as if they were bracketed within quotation marks. LT: Books are made of words, characters are made of words. I like to call attention to that. To me it’s pleasurable. It’s like watching a movie. If the film-maker isn’t using the camera well, using that medium as if there weren’t a camera, or if the editing isn’t really interesting, what are you watching? You’re not actually watching something that’s taking advantage of the medium. PN: What I called ‘bracketing’ is also something that I think you’ve explored in your work with film. In an interview about Committed you say that you ‘used certain narrative codes but then veered away from them sharply and used other, more avant-garde ones— deliberately going back and forth.’ There’s certainly an emphasis
in the movie on construction—of image, identity, of power—which is deeply unsettling… LT: It’s very disturbing to recognize how constructed things are and to find yourself in a set-up you never made. In Committed, Frances Farmer is shown as trapped in different narratives or languages— family, love, law, psychiatry, femininity. That’s why I was attracted to her life. She was a tragic, famous figure, her plight was dramatic but not really unusual. How do you get to all that, as a writer or film-maker, and make it extreme, let’s say, visible and visceral, which we wanted to do? One way is to upset the delivery system, the codes. PN: In the same interview you observe that ‘A very important effect of feminism on psychoanalysis has been in talking about the institution as being descriptive rather than prescriptive.’ You go on to say that the discovery that ‘through speaking you can undo things, has made a big difference’. That seems to tie together your various interests in psychoanalysis, film and language, and to set up the narrative and stylistic techniques we’ve talked about as a means of ‘undoing’ things. Could you comment on that ten years on, in the light of what you have written since that interview? LT: I’m less certain now about what can be undone, though I still believe in talking and writing, making things or unmaking them if possible. Seeing ideas as descriptive not as prescriptive is still important to me. That’s why I’m against censorship and interested in offensive jokes. I’m using them in the novel I’m working on now, No Lease on Life. I’m questioning notions of outer and inner, public/ private, how each of us—how I—exist in a framework in which we are affected, bombarded, by the world, and still manage to think, feel, have our own worlds. Writing becomes more important to me even if it sometimes feels more futile. (laughs) More feudal. University of Sussex
Jo-Ann Wallace Abstract This article argues that ‘the child’ and ‘childhood’ function as points of aporia and anxiety in the field of subject theory and it
Harriet Quest Abstract This essay considers the similarities in the arguments of Wollstonecraft’s second Vindicaton and More’s Strictures of 1799,
unworthy of the attention of a highly cultivated intellect; but this is the false estimate of a shallow mind. OEconomy…is not merely…the shabby curtailments and stinted parsimony of a little mind, operating on little concerns; but it is the exercise of a sound judgement exerted in the comprehensive outline of order, of arrangement, of distribution; of regulations by which alone well-governed societies, great and small, subsist…. A sound oeconomy is a sound understanding brought into action; it is calculation realized; it is the doctrine of proportion reduced to practice; it is foreseeing consequences, and guarding against them; it is expecting contingencies, and being prepared for them. The difference is, that to a narrow-minded vulgar oeconomist, the details are continually present…. Little events and trivial operations engross her whole soul. (VIII, 5–7)
Filming Shakespeare in a cultural thaw: Soviet appropriations of Shakespearean treacheries in 1955–6
Laurie E.Osborne Abstract Though most critics of Shakespearean film know the work of
punishment, like Antonio, escape to freedom, as all failures of trust are forgotten in the celebration of the reunited family. However, Twelfth Night offers no place for and no appropriation of guilt. Given the complex Soviet response to their own victimization, Otello proved the more compelling film. Keywords: Shakespeare; film; Othello; Twelfth Night; Russia; Stalin