Between Identification and Desire:
Both psychoanalysis and conventional romance narratives are discourses that depend on, and reproduce, a dialectic of past and present; reading the present against the past produces implicitly a notion of the temporal as advancement. For each discourse, to move in time is to progress from a state of flux to a state of stability. What is ‘before’, as Butler notes above in relation to psychoanalysis, is what is discarded; subsequently that which is delegitimized through narratives of Oedipalization and romance. The present is established as ‘real’ only in relation to a past that has been othered, reworked and reconfigured to give eminence to the present of identity. In psychoanalysis the theory of the psychic life of the individual is dependent on this linear perspective, the trajectory from the undifferentiated pre-Oedipal realm to the notion of self (Freud), from the prelinguistic to the subject in language (Lacan). Yet in neither psychoanalysis nor romance fiction is the past successfully contained, closed off, hermetically sealed. The past returns to haunt, to ghost the present and disturb the familiarity of ‘home’. My interest here is in the paradox that while teleological mapping characterizes the form and intelligibility of each of these narratives, the appeal of returning and repetition offers a form of pleasure that is never fully contained. In
Rebecca, despite the narrator’s profession to the contrary, ‘we’ are continually going back, returning, because the appeal of what is prohibited is often stronger than the appeal of the ‘present’ limits of conformity. In this article recent debates in queer theory concerning subjectivity and reading, sex and gender, are used to read the genre of romance fiction, focusing in particular on Du Maurier’s Rebecca as an exemplary text of returning. My argument is that although narrative structures, particularly of romance, work to contain possibilities normatively, such as sexual object choice, in order for this to appear precisely as both choice and destiny necessitates the textual exploration of other possibilities. In romance fiction the most substantial part of the text is concerned with other potential outcomes on the way to closure (heterosexuality, marriage), and the retrospective ordering of events as the legitimate path through these murky woods is often the final moment of clarification and enlightenment. The pleasures of the meandering path are the concerns of romance fiction. Certainly in Rebecca, the text is dominated by the girl’s fascination with, and arguably desire for the ghostly image of Rebecca, to be repressed by the narrative mechanism only with some difficulty (Light, 1984). The appeal of the genre then is in part the pleasure of transgression on the way to conformity; (the fantasy of) memory above presence.