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A book of repulsive Jews?: rereading 'Nightwood.' (Djuna Barnes)

In some fifteen years of pushing Djuna Barnes's novel Nightwood at people, I have discovered that those who love it are pulled through the long obsessions of its middle sections by a matching obsession, compelled by some personal connection, some instant commitment to those characters and that world, some identification we often can't explain or justify. Elizabeth Meese speaks to this point in her recent book (Sem)-Erotics: "When I first read Nightwood, I was a lesbian without knowing it. But I recognized a world in it - a scene over the edge, the night world of the different, my world. I wonder if a lesbian exists who didn't, at one time or another, begin here. An obscurity, exciting and terrifying."(2) I have been reading Nightwood since I was an undergraduate - since, in fact, the year in which I was gently told that Barnes, as a "minor cult writer," would be an inappropriate subject for an honors thesis. There was much of the book I didn't understand, but simply allowed to ripple darkly somewhere over my head. (There still is.) I didn't think any of the characters were, or were intended to be, pitiable freaks, a reading to which I still hold. But I'm also not sure I understood that many of them were, as my father once delicately put it, "non-heterosexual persons."

What drew me into the book at that time was not the lesbianism (my own ideas about sexuality at that time being fairly unimaginative) but rather Felix's buried history as a despised Jew, and his various accommodations to it - the attempts to escape, to hunt "down his own disqualification," to "dazzle his own estrangement," that only bury him more deeply, exile him further both from what he loves and what he hates about the history of the European diaspora (9, 11). As an interested but half-educated and basically undevout assimilated Jew, I knew only that the Holocaust had presented me with an imaginative paranoia and pessimism about history that I could see non-Jews did not share. Felix's confrontation with the tragedies of Jewish history and the paradox of national identity for the Jew initiated my involvement with the novel. So I've been puzzled since by assertions that the Jewish parts of the novel are just a "cover story," an attempt to confuse the censor and deflect attention from the novel's "real" subject matter (that is, homosexuality and lesbianism). I've also been confused by references to the novel as "anti-Semitic," as in Jane Marcus's assertion that the novel's treatment of Jews "triumphs over its own anti-Semitism."(3) I wanted to see if I could go back and justify that earliest empowering reading, or whether it was a naive misreading my older (Ph.D.'d and politicized) self needs to correct. I should warn you that this essay contains more questions than answers.

As my title indicates, Jews in Nightwood raise some of the same questions as the female grotesques of Barnes's early poetry. How much sympathy can we discern in her stance when she draws on the same storehouse of image as do some of the most virulent attacks on Jews and lesbians in the twentieth century, and when she discusses them so clearly from the outside looking in?(4) In a very rare use of the first person outside of dialogue, the narrative voice situates itself socially as a non-Jew:

[Felix] was not popular, though the posthumous acclaim meted out to his father secured from his acquaintances the peculiar semi-circular stare of those who, unwilling to greet with earthly equality, nevertheless give to the living branch (because of death and its sanction) the light bend of the head - a reminiscent pardon for future apprehension - a bow very common to us when in the presence of this people. (8)

Who are "we"? Does this grudging, ambiguous "bowing down" on the part of the dominant culture - a bow which Felix, in his last appearance, will return exactly - indicate that the novel's stance toward him and toward Jews generally is a pitying and parodic half-tolerance?

There is much on the level of plot and character to give the Jewish reader pause. When Felix first appears, this unattractive, heavy-featured moneylender and "dealer," whose overeagerness for social acceptance makes his clothes always absurd and whose presence is unwelcome everywhere except among circus freaks, is not exactly what one would wish to see in one's mirror. Is the plight of the Volkbeins a simple and inevitable result of the oppression of Jews in the diaspora? Or does it grow from their own desperate and misguided attempts to hide who they are, to hunt "down their disqualification" (9), to be not simply real Austrians but barons and baronesses - in short, to "bow down" and thus to rise? Is Felix a victim of history, or a pure case of what Proust would call snobisme?(5)

Third, Nightwood contains a fair amount of what Felix calls, I think negatively, "dogma" (32): programmatic claims, often but not always placed in the mouth of the Doctor, simple declarative statements about THE Jew, THE Christian, THE Irishman, THE invert, etc. - in short, essentialisms. These seem to draw in particular a naturalized set of immutable distinctions between "the Christian" and "the Jew," those ideal types of modern history.

Such claims have an epigrammatic force - have the form of maxims or universal truths - although when examined directly they are often (I think deliberately) cryptic to the point of unintelligibility. (My favorite is "Rome was the egg, but colour was the tread" [86] - it could be Stein. Susan Lanser speaks in another context of "maxims of uncertain intent."(6)) Essentialisms now make us justifiably suspicious, for reasons one might trace back negatively to Hitler or positively to Simone de Beauvoir. Here are some examples: "A Jew's undoing is never his own, it is God's; his rehabilitation is never his own, it is a Christian's" (10); "the doctor remarked that the Jew and the Irish, the one moving upward and the other down, often meet, spade to spade, in the same acre. ... |All right, Jews meddle and we lie, that's the difference, the fine difference'" (31); "Something of this emotion came over Felix, but being racially incapable of abandon, he felt that he was looking upon a figurehead in a museum" (37-38).

Why this insistent, almost pedagogical taxonomy? Why this rhetoric of up and down, of salvation and damnation, of death and resurrection? How also are we to understand the direct inscriptions of Christian faith in the novel, the Catholic practices of the doctor, Robin's conversion, the assertion that "By temperament Nora was an early Christian" (51)? Is this simply part of the decor of decadence, like the ecclesiastical furnishings of the home of the Baron de Montesquieu (the original of Proust's Charlus) and of the Paris rooms Barnes shared with Thelma Wood? Or is there a deeper argument here in favor of a particular route toward holiness and salvation? Is Robin's plaster virgin a metaphor, or is she really the mother of God? How is religious belief - particular religious beliefs and practices - intertwined with racial and ethnic determinisms? Cultural power is definitely at issue here, but how?

One clue may be the occurrence in the novel of another set of essentializing maxims, parallel in form, which apply to sexuality in general and to male and female homosexuality in particular. Here are just two, both uttered by the Doctor: "We go to our Houses by our nature - and our nature, no matter how it is, we all have to stand - as for me, so God has made me, my house is the pissing port" (90); "The doll and the immature have something right about them, the doll because it resembles but does not contain life, and the third sex because it contains life but resembles the doll" (148). Both Julie Abraham and Jane Marcus have linked Barnes's treatment of Jews to her treatment of gay men and lesbians, Marcus under the rubric of a "modernism of marginality," Abraham under the sign of history, of an attempt to write a history of outsiders to place against the exclusionary history of the official record, which silences both these and other oppressed groups.(7) I would like to follow up on both these views, but also complicate them. Felix's appearance in Nightwood's opening pages embeds all the novel's deviants deeply in twentieth-century European social history, yes, but more specifically, in a semiscientific, highly ideological discourse about racial origins and racial destinies.

Most modernist arguments about race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, whether sympathetic or unsympathetic to the claims of oppressed groups, grounded their assumptions in "biology." There was no fully articulated cultural alternative to these assumptions, or rather, the alternatives were worse: the answer of organized religion and the state that social deviance was sin - a curable or punishable weakness of the will; the view of some religious institutions that religious differences merely indicated that some people were ignorant or wrong, and could be cured through conversion; and so forth. Eve Sedgwick has argued compellingly for a fully historicized view of the debate between essentialism and social constructionism that now seems so central to our understanding of sexuality and of race; while I can't provide a full history of these matters here, I will try to avoid the trap of blaming Barnes and others for not anticipating the liberationist theories of the 1970s and 1980s.

Some context may help. Looking very schematically across the varied terrain of what we now call "modernism," I'd like to pull out two ways that Jews get thematically "used" by writers who either aren't themselves Jewish or don't primarily identify as Jews. The first is the use of Jews as scapegoats in an excoriation of what is wrong with modern culture; the Jew becomes the Other against which the writer's poor beleaguered ego must struggle to establish itself, the ruins against which he must shore his fragments, the tribal language he must purify, the debased culture he must clean up. Even if we leave out Pound - dropping the lowest grade, so to speak - we must still face T. S. Eliot's "Rachel nee Rabinovitch / [who] tears at the grapes with murderous paws," and so on.(8) (One might add the way Willa Cather and Edith Wharton casually drop in an occasional Jew when they wish to allude quickly to debased, commercialized values.) My personal favorite among these scapegoats is Robert Cohn, who opens Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises in much the same way that Felix opens Nightwood. Cohn is a rather hateful, rather effeminate, rich Princeton Jew whose inferiority complex has led him to take up boxing and writing and an arrogant posturing which Hemingway opposes to the real" masculinity of the castrated hero.(9)

But Jewish characters can also function, as they do in Joyce's Ulysses and throughout the work of Proust, as sympathetic outsiders whose linguistic and social positioning - both part of, and apart from, the dominant cultures in which they live - enables the authors to develop largescale analogies to other cultural out-groups and also to the figure of the Artist with a capital A. (Joyce is most interested in illuminating the Irish experience, Proust in exploring the position of the male homosexual.) I would place Nightwood in this second, more sympathetic group, not least because, as Jane Marcus has pointed out, this book about Others gives us barely a glimpse of the One, and so seems to include no vision of the "normal."(10) But what I want mostly to underline here is that, for the second group as much as the first, Jewishness seems inextricably wedded to sexual deviance or ambiguity. Bloom's masculinity seems vulnerable to dissolution in the "Nighttown" episode; and Proust, of course, returns again and again to Jews in the extremely complicated opening of Sodom and Gomorrah, where he speaks famously of the homosexuals as a race maudite (accursed race), parallels the case of Oscar Wilde with that of Dreyfus, and returns endlessly to metaphors drawn from natural history.(11) Proust seems particularly concerned throughout his work with the homosexual who doesn't wish to admit he lives in Sodom, with the Jew who is entirely accepted in high society until some turn of phrase or some overpassionate defense of Dreyfus undoes him. Even as the types of homosexuality multiply and divide in his work, to the point where Sodom's open secret is everywhere present in endless variety,(12) there seems (for men, though maybe not for women) to be some unchangeable, apparently inherited and inescapable, core of identity which in the end will "come out." Homosexuality works as an ethnic or racial sign, much like Jewishness.

My argument is not that Barnes "borrowed" from Joyce, though she, too, includes both a Jew and an Irishman among her central characters; nor that she "borrowed" from Proust, though the parallels are many and though she called Ladies Almanack a "neaptide to the Proustian chronicle."(13) Rather, I think all these authors inescapably participated in an ongoing European discourse about "race," "heritage," "heredity," "degeneracy," which was entirely legitimated, even by those who were called degenerate by it, and whose persecution under the Nazis it would soon be used to justify.

It may not be obvious to us why there should be a link among Jews, effeminacy, and sexual deviance. I am beginning to see that this equation has its roots in an essentialist discourse about race and eugenics whose father is probably Darwin, whose most famous grandson is Hitler, but whose practitioners in between included both the infamous Viennese anti-Semite and misogynist Otto Weininger, the pioneering spokesman of homosexual liberation Magnus Hirshfeld, and such more ambiguous figures as Havelock Ellis and Sigmund Freud.(14)

There is a certain cultural logic to the pairing of Matthew and Felix, homosexual and Jew. Even as we debate these issues today, both Jewish identity and homosexuality hover uneasily on the boundaries between nature and culture, between given and chosen selves. Can one cease, by an act of will, to be a Jew? Is one born or does one become gay? At least before poststructuralism arose, the biological determinants of femaleness, maleness, and blackness might have seemed (visually) obvious. But for the Jew or the homosexual, possibilities of conversion and/or of "passing" were part of the very construction of modern identities. In a sense, Jews, lesbians, and male homosexuals were marginal cases of marginality, as Proust brilliantly demonstrated.

Can one cease, by an act of will, to be a Jew? Hitler thought not, and Nightwood, with its repeated reference to "racial memories," "impermissible blood," racial incapacity, "sensitory predicament," seems to agree, in spite of Felix's "preoccupation" with the dominant European culture to which he, his father, and his son will never be able to belong (2, 3, 38, 5, 119). History is literally in his blood, and blood will tell, in the third generation: the young Guido's abnormalities, holy though they may be, make him an example of "bad heredity" straight out of a eugenics tract."(15)

Is one born or does one become gay? The Doctor seems to think he knows, both for himself and for others, when he speaks of the invert, the third sex, when he calls himself "the other woman that God forgot" (143), "the Old Woman who lives in the closet" (138), a "permanent mistake" (132), and when he says "the more you go against your nature, the more you will know of it" (162).

Am I to blame if I've been summoned before and this my last and oddest call? In the old days I was possibly a girl in Marseilles thumping the dock with a sailor, and perhaps it's that memory that haunts me. The wise men say that the remembrance of things past is all that we have for a future, and am I to blame if I've turned up this time as I shouldn't have been, when it 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? (90-91)

Even without the Proustian reference, this seems a pretty clear example of Ulrich's theory of the third sex as a woman trapped in a man's body, or vice versa. Matthew is almost a mirror image (or a parody) of Radcliffe Hall's Stephen Gordon, and pleads for tolerance on the same grounds. 16 And Matthew applies the same logic to Robin, "a girl who resembles a boy" (136); when Felix asks why Robin married him, the Doctor responds with a parable of "the horse who knew too much ... in mourning for something taken away from her in a bombardment ... that something lay between her hooves" (113). Robin is additionally implicated in a discourse about evolution: she seems sometimes to be almost an animal, a child, preconscious, without human memory - trapped in a too-early stage of evolution as the younger Guido is trapped in a belated one. Barnes uses the word "malady" (32), speaks of "cures," and also uses, of Hedwig, Robin, and the Doctor, the word predicament (5, 15, 74), in which I hear not only "the mess they have gotten themselves into" but also "physical basis," "the mess heredity handed them."

On the other hand, there is Nora, who has apparently no "predicament," fixed evolutionary positioning, though (like all three generations of Volkbeins) she does have a "preoccupation." "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). In her extremity, she asks the Doctor, "What part of monstrosity am I that I am always crying at its side!" (142). The Doctor tells her, not that she should have been a man, but that she should have been a mother (101). She "experienc[es] the inbreeding of pain" (129) - "inbreeding" being a genetics term. Yet throughout, she remains a bit of an exception, a dissenter, unsure how the Doctor's pissoir experiences apply to her rather different kind of love. Often, she simply seems not to be listening to him, but to be hearing her own story in her head, "in a smaller but more intense orchestration" (52). Perhaps the novel is saying that not all women who love women are congenital inverts, or that lesbians differ significantly from homosexual men in their nature and experiences, or that lesbians simply differ from one another in important ways - certainly Nora's almost religious faithfulness, Robin's tortured heterogamy, Jenny's parasitism are sufficiently distinct to keep us from reading the lesbian as a monolithic Other. Barnes does not give an alternative to the eugenic discourse; but perhaps Nora's silences and tangents indicate that the explanations it provides are incomplete.

I think we can see the Doctor as the voice of sexual (and racial) theory in the novel.(17) He is, after all, both a sort of a doctor and a sort of a priest, and these are the two master discourses of sexuality in modern times, the two discourses through which gay people's experience of themselves has been given back to them in language, constructed for them through language. Of course, the same two discourses - the priestly and the medical - have been invoked to "prove" the inferior "nature" of the Jew as well.

Barnes had a lot of reasons to be suspicious of the liberatory claims of sexual theory. We first encounter the conjunction of prophetic religious language with a sexual or eugenic "program" in Ryder, in Wendell's Old Testament vision of himself as a patriarch, the founder of "Wendell's race."(18) As Marie Ponsot has shown, that novel explicitly critiques the cruelty of such rhetoric and its involvement in the sexual subordination of women.(19)

However, Mary Lynn Broe tells us that Barnes and her companions at Hayford Hall were fascinated by what Broe calls a "eugenics textbook" - presumably a call to improvement of the female race. Broe calls this fascination a misreading.(20) But such misreadings of sexual theory as empowering were not uncommon. Modernism is full of these embarassing moments, which don't just occur in the work of men. Eugenics ideology pops up in the oddest places. Mina Loy's "Feminist Manifesto" includes the dictum, "Every woman of superior intelligence should realize her race-responsibility by producing children in adequate proportion to the unfit or degenerate members of her sex."(21) H. D.'s Notes on Thought and Vision depends heavily on an essentialist discourse about bodily determinism not that far from the theories of Havelock Ellis and Remy de Gourmont on which her male counterparts staked their poetic identities.(22) In fact, H. D.'s reverence for Freud, the Master, might be a bit like Felix's discovery of the Doctor's theft, an itch which feminist criticism has been trying to turn into a pearl. Margaret Sanger's adoption of a rhetoric of racial self-improvement is another example.(23) Perhaps feminists of the future will look back on our generation and wonder what we saw in Lacan.

My point is simply that we shouldn't be smug about our escape from the master discourses. Sociobiology is still a respected academic approach, and political rhetoric still demonizes teenage pregnancy in the inner city as an "epidemic." Also, even social constructionists need origin stories. Vera Whisman, a sociologist working at New York University, has been collecting autobiographical accounts from lesbian and gay New Yorkers, and has found that, while most of them declare either that their sexuality is "natural" or that it is "chosen," each tells a story with some elements that partially contradict and complicate this overall "thesis statement."(24)

I'd like to conclude with one of the troublesome passages about Jewish identity from the opening of Nightwood. This passage can perhaps be read as an allegory or explanation of the way the novel itself puts the Volkbeins, and Jewish history generally, into discourse within a text that both is and isn't "really" about something else.

A race that has fled its generations from city to city has not found the necessary time for the accumulation of that toughness which produces ribaldry, nor, after the crucifixion of its own ideas, enough forgetfulness in twenty centuries to create legend. It takes a Christian, standing eternally in the Jew's salvation, to blame himself and bring up from that depth charming and fantastic superstitions through which the slowly and tirelessly milling Jew once more becomes the "collector" of his own past. His undoing is never profitable until some goy has put it back into such shape that it can again be offered as a "sign." A Jew's undoing is never his own, it is God's; his rehabilitation is never his own, it is a Christian's. The Christian traffic in retribution has made the Jew's history a commodity; it is the medium through which he receives, at the necessary moment, the serum of his own past that he may offer it again as his blood. In this manner the Jew participates in the two conditions; and in like manner Felix took the breast of this wet nurse whose milk was his being but which could never be his birthright. (10)

This passage still troubles me. It still seems to indicate that Felix will never be able to write his own story or even remember his own history, that Jewish culture is doomed to be sold and resold, and that assimilation - which will never really work-is nonetheless the best the Jew can hope for. And I'm not sure whether Barnes disapproves; we can see the novel in which this passage occurs as itself a Christian discourse, "trafficking" in, or at best "collecting," the "commodity" of Felix's history, and documenting his "undoing," his "retribution," under the eyes of an approving God.

But the passage can also be read as a statement about the relationship between the Other and the One, couched in both religious terms (rehabilitation, retribution) and medical ones (serum, blood). Without (damned) Jews, Christ would have had no one to save; without Jews there could be no Aryans; but also, without Christians (and the history of persecution), "Jewish history" would not be or mean what it does. This equally gloomy, but more politicized, view of the European predicament would situate the speaker of this paragraph, and the novel as a whole, at some ironic and embittered distance from the Christian and "scientific" master discourse of the Doctor.

While Jews then still lack an authentic discourse of their own within Nightwood, they may occupy a position similar to Nora's with respect to her own lesbian experience. Hoping to learn more about her own preoccupation - for which she can find no language - she is told only of the Doctor's predicament. She is described as "one of those deviations by which man thinks to reconstruct himself" (53) (the Other as thought by the One). But her initial objection to the Doctor's discourse - "You argue about sorrow and confusion too easily" (2l) - is played out in the long silences that place her alongside the Doctor's master discourses, not inside them.

The last time the Doctor speaks to Felix he admits several times to having been wrong or a liar; and he is the next to vanish, leaving Felix and Guido, Nora and Robin, to get on with working out their own inchoate and incomprehensible salvations. Nightwood ends, not with metalanguage, but rather with Robin; the enigma theory has not been able to reduce and control. Jews and other Others could only become visible, at that historical juncture, against the background of ultimately unsatisfactory master discourses; but these discourses could not entirely contain their stories, and Nora and Felix have survived them to speak, powerfully and inarticulately, to Elizabeth Meese and to me.

One question I haven't had space to take up here is how all this may relate to modernism - to an avant-garde conception of subjectivity as disunified or problematic. Scholars of modernism, and modernist writers themselves, often assert that modernist techniques such as fragmentation and deliberate opacity are intrinsically antidogmatic. Others respond that this very assertion about the advanced politics of a revolutionary style can itself act as a ruse of power. (See, for example, Rachel Blau DuPlessis's The Pink Guitar for a much more nuanced argument.) We need to think about where Barnes falls here, to argue her individual case on its own textual merits, but also to decide crucial theoretical questions about who determines the political valence of readings, and where, and how, and why.

The Wandering Jew can be either a monstrous grotesque of anti-Semitic folklore, or a haunting and political evocation of displacement and homelessness, accusing by its very survival the immorality of the "master race." I can't answer, definitively, the questions with which I began. I do continue to find Nightwood an interesting and thoughtful and complicated book about the Jewish (and the homosexual) predicament in twentieth-century Europe. But any reader's final answer to my initial question will have a lot to do with her preexisting theories about reading, about meaning, about modernism.


(1) Djuna Barnes, Nightwood (New York: New Directions, 1946), 116-17; hereafter cited parenthetically. (2) Elizabeth A. Meese and Karla Jay, (Sem)Erotics: Theorizing Lesbian Writing (New York: New York University Press, 1992), 46. (3) Jane Marcus, "Laughing at Leviticus: Nightwood as Circus Epic," in Silence and Power: A Reevaluation of Djuna Barnes, ed. Mary Lynn Broe (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991), 229. (4) Compare for example the poem "From Fifth Avenue Up," in The Book of Repulsive Women:

See you sagging down with bulging

Hair to sip,

The dappled damp from some vague

Under lip.

Your soft saliva, loosed

With orgy, drip.

A recuperative reading of these lines may be possible (I don't have space to attempt that here), but at first glance this portrait is simply-repulsive. (5) Possibly Barnes chose Vienna purposely as Felix's "home" (if that word applies). Turn-of-the-century Austria, and Vienna in particular, seems to have housed a contradiction: many powerful and wealthy assimilated Jewish families (such as that of Wittgenstein) held considerable cultural and political esteem and authority; yet anti-Semitism was both virulent and perfectly respectable. See Ray Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius (New York: Viking Penguin, 1990); Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for Our Time (New York: W.W. Norton, 1988); Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin, Wittgenstein's Vienna (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973); Carl E. Schorske, Fin-de-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979). I am also indebted to Jenifer Ward and Susan Figge for my understanding of this issue. (6) Susan Sniader Lanser, "Speaking in Tongues: Ladies Almanack and the Discourse of Desire," Silence and Power, 156-68. (7) Jane Marcus, "Laughing at Leviticus," and Julie L. Abraham, "|Woman, Remember You': Djuna Barnes and History," Silence and Power, 221-51 and 252-70 respectively. (8) T. S. Eliot, "Sweeney among the Nightingales," Complete Poems and Plays: 1909-1950 (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1962), 35. See also Rachel Blau DuPlessis, The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice (New York: Routledge, 1990). (9) Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926), especially 3-24. If I had space, I would argue that Pound, Eliot, and Hemingway all routinely use lesbians and homosexual men as Others in related ways. (10) Marcus 223 and passim. (11) Marcel Proust, Sodome et Gomorrhe (Paris: Gallimard, 1954), especially 7-44. (12) For a fuller and more sophisticated discussion of these points, see Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, "Proust and the Spectacle of the Closet," Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 213-52; and J. E. Rivers, Proust and the Art of Love: The Aesthetics of Sexuality in the Life, Times & Art of Marcel Proust (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980). (13) Djuna Barnes, "Foreword," Ladies Almanack (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), [3]. (14) Sources about this discourse include Jeffrey Weeks, Sexuality and Its Discontents: Meaning, Myths, and Modern Sexualities (New York: Routledge, Chapman, and Hall, 1985); and Phyllis Grosskurth, Havelock Ellis: A Biography (New York: New York University Press, 1985). (15) Nancy Levine has pointed out to me that Guido's abnormalities are explicitly couched in the language of aristocratic, and especially royal, degeneracy, as when the Doctor predicts early in the novel that "the last child born to aristocracy is sometimes an idiot" (11). Ironically, this last Volkbein catastrophe seems to confirm the elder Guido's lies about his ancestors and validate Felix's obsession with the "great names of History" in an almost Lamarckian proof! It may also be a nascent class critique, like the parallel drawn early in the novel between the "real" aristocracy and the circus aristocracy whose names appropriate and parody the "great" names. But such class critique is not necessarily opposed to eugenics discourse, which it may in fact buttress, as in Hitler's later idealizing of the German Volk. (16) See the final pages of Radcliffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness. Stephen Gordon rather melodramatically sacrifices her lover, Mary, so that Mary may find heterosexual fulfillment and "normal" happiness, after fortifying her courage to do so by attending a Catholic Mass (in Paris, as it happens). The novel's last paragraphs describe "A voice like the awful, deep rolling of thunder; a demand like the gathering together of great waters. A terrifying voice that made her ears throb, that made her brain throb, that shook her very entrails, until she must stagger and all but fall beneath this appalling burden of sound that strangled her in its will to be uttered. [paragraph] |God,' she gasped, |we believe; we have told You we believe ... We have not denied You, then rise up and defend us. Acknowledge us, oh God, before the whole world. Give us also the right to our existence!'" (ellipsis in original). This prayer is of course legitimated by the novel's insistence on the congenital - not chosen - nature of Stephen's "inversion." For further comparison of the treatment of lesbianism in these two (stylistically very different) novels, see Julie L. Abraham, Damned, and Carefully Public: Modern Lesbian Narrative (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, forthcoming). (17) Jane Marcus has suggested (233) that the Doctor parodies Freud; I agree, but find the parody a very dark one. Overall, I differ from Marcus's very challenging reading of Nightwood mainly on the (quite subjective) issue of tone; I find the novel less "rabelaisian" and "hilarious" than she, though equally complex and potentially subversive. (18) Djuna Barnes, Ryder (Elmwood Park, IL: Dalkey Archive, 1990), especially chap. 46. (19) Marie Ponsot, "A Reader's Ryder," in Silence and Power, 94-112. (20) Mary Lynn Broe, "My Art Belongs to Daddy: Incest as Exile, the Textual Economics of Hayford Hall," in Women's Writing in Exile, ed. Mary Lynn Broe and Angela Ingram (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 41-86. (21) Mina Loy, "Feminist Manifesto," reprinted in The Last Lunar Baedeker, ed. Roger L. Conover (Highlands: The Jargon Society, 1982), 270. (22) H. D., Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: City Lights, 1982). (23) See Linda Gordon, Woman's Body, Woman's Right: Birth Control in America, rev. ed. (New York: Penguin, 1990), and Angela Davis, Women, Race and Class (New York: Random House, 1983). (24) Nancy Robertson, personal communication.
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Author:Altman, Meryl
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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