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Chapter Two: The affective force of the dream: the auto-da-fe in Melmoth the Wanderer.

"I am convinced that a real victim of an auto da fe (so called) never suffered more during his horrible procession to flames temporal and eternal, than I did during that dream," declares Alonzo in Charles Robert Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). (24) This is a remarkable statement, especially considering that when Alonzo has the dream, he is sleeping in one of the dungeon-like cells of the Spanish Inquisition and may be in danger of becoming a real auto-da-fe victim himself. In the nightmare, which comprises the space of one full page of text, Alonzo has been condemned to death as "an apostate monk and a diabolical heretic." Through a sort of self-differentiation, he watches himself while he is marched into a grand amphitheatre. "Amid the ringing of bells, the preaching of the Jesuits, and the shouts of the multitude," he is chained to a chair facing the crowd. But for a moment, as he looks on, the person in the chair becomes Juan, his brother, who at this point in the waking narrative is dead. Juan begs for mercy, clinging to him and shrieking, "Save me, save me." But the ceremony continues, and through a passage of protracted suffering and extraordinary detail, the flames engulf Alonzo:
  My eyes ... melted in their sockets;--I opened my mouth,
  it drank fire,--I closed it, the fire was within,--and
  still the bells rung on, and the crowd shouted, and the
  king and queen, and all the nobility and priesthood, looked
  on, and we burned, and burned! (182)

Alonzo is awakened by the sound of his own screams, only to find before him Melmoth the Wanderer, a demonic figure who has been visiting his cell late at night. At this point in the novel, Melmoth's supernatural capacity for bypassing the guards and entering Alonzo's locked cell has already begun to attract the attention of the authorities. Having inexplicably entered the cell and now standing before the newly awakened Alonzo, Melmoth takes advantage of the terror that the auto-da-fe dream has inspired in the inmate, offering to free him in exchange for his soul (183, 409). Until this moment, Alonzo has withstood the trials of the Inquisition and the fearful presence of Melmoth with unwavering courage. In fact, when he recalls his imprisonment earlier in the narrative, he remarks on his initial fortitude: "Great emergencies certainly inspire us with the feelings they demand.... I believe so it fared with me,--the storm had risen, and I braced myself to meet it" (174-75). However, the intensity of the nightmare overcomes his capacity to endure further suffering. Upon awakening, he collapses at the feet of his tempter: "With an impulse I could not resist,--an impulse borrowed from the horrors of my dream, I flung myself at his feet, and called on him to 'save me'" (183).

The foremost effect of Alonzo's dream is this impulse. This contrasts sharply with the prolonged, analytical deliberation that follows Lovel's vision in Scott's Antiquary. Although Alonzo's nightmare resembles a premonitory dream insofar as it pertains to a potential future, it neither issues from a benevolent spirit nor conveys a clear message. Moreover, unlike the stereotypical literary dream, the vision of the auto-da-fe does not merely reflect the surrounding narrative, but rather seeps into it with startling affective force. Despite the predominance of the representational approach in nineteenth-century oneirocriticism and twenty-first-century dream scholarship, the impact of this dream rests not in the interpretation of signs, but in its intensity. Informed by theories of affect, then, Alonzo's nightmare will serve as a point of departure for exploring the affective potential of nineteenth-century British dream-fictions, with a focus on those in the Gothic mode.

Dreaming Intensity

What many would trivialize as "only a dream" renders involuntary an action that Alonzo would normally consider unthinkable. On an impulse "borrowed from the horrors of [a] dream," a man who has striven to adhere to his moral code in the face of coercion, oppression, and even torture suddenly implores an unfeeling, demonic figure to save him (183, 76, 105, 111). The irresistibility of this horror-induced impulse suggests that it precedes conscious awareness or decision-making, positioning it in the realm of affect. In "Feeling, Emotion, Affect" (2005), Eric Shouse describes affect as an experience of "intensity" that is "always prior to and/or outside of conscious awareness" (par. 15). Although the terms "affect," "feelings," and "emotion" are often used interchangeably, the non-conscious quality of affect differentiates it from feelings, which are "personal and biographical," and from emotion, which is "the projection/display of a feeling" (pars. 3, 4). Whereas emotion can play a performative role in social interactions, the social encounters are themselves embedded in pre-personal, "non-conscious experience[s]" of affect, or "intensity" (par. 5).

Just as the sensation of horror precludes Alonzo from weighing the consequences before flinging himself at Melmoth's feet, the non-conscious immediacy of affect precludes dialectical reasoning. Gilles Deleuze (1978) characterizes affect as a "mode of thought insofar as it is non-representational" ("Spinoza" 2). Following Platonic logic, representational interpretation displaces reality onto the referent or at least shifts it to another sign. Plato's allegory of the cave illustrates the mediating effect of representation by positing a cave in which the inhabitants can only experience objects or sounds through their shadows or echoes (186-88). Or as Deleuze writes, "All signs are signs of signs" (Plateaus 112). In contrast, affective intensity does not pass through a process of signifying deferral. As Brian Massumi notes in Parables for the Virtual (2002), affect operates as "an unmediated experience" rather than as a decodable signifier (2). According to Massumi, even the mediation of matter-of-fact language diminishes affect. "Matter-of-factness dampens intensity," he states, citing an empirical study that monitored children's physiological responses to varying versions of a short film about a melting snowman. The most intense response coincided with the silent version of the film, likely because it did not disrupt their affective experience. Conversely, the children responded the least to the version in which a voice-over narrated the scenes as they occurred, ostensibly because the simple narration actually "interfered with the images' effect" (86).

Dreams are uniquely capable of evoking this non-conscious intensity. The very experience of dreaming is contingent upon inhabiting the "unconscious state or condition" of sleep ("Sleep, n."). This state suppresses dialectical analysis; the dreamer cannot perform an interpretive analysis of the dream while he is dreaming it. While asleep, the dreamer undergoes an experience of intensity that is not mediated by representational analysis. Besides the typical dream, though, experiences such as daydreams, hypnagogic dreams, lucid dreams, hallucinations, hypnotic trances, and dreamlike waking realities are similarly predicated on privileging immediacy over representation. (25) Numerous types of dreams and dreamlike states suspend analytical reasoning to a greater or lesser degree, thereby impeding the dampening effect of mediation. Moreover, these dreams and dreamlike states share a perceived emphasis on the imagination, likely the chief faculty associated with dreaming in the long nineteenth century. For instance, to daydream is "to transport (oneself) imaginatively" ("Day-dream, v."). And as the first chapter of this thesis details, the scientific texts of this period frame the dream in terms of the "sleeping senses" and the "deceptions of the imagination when reason drops the reigns" (Newnham 165; Scott 131). Nineteenth-century dream studies present these "deceptions" as synonymous with the dream's sense of immediacy and along with it, the dreamer's suspension of disbelief (Scott 131).

This suspension of disbelief plays a role in the intensity of dreams. While Alonzo is dreaming, he never questions his ability to view himself from afar; the sudden appearance of his brother, who is dead in the waking reality of the novel; the presence of actual, visible demons; or the coalescence of temporal and eternal flames that the presence of these demons suggests. Instead of attempting to rationalize these details, Alonzo is simply affected by their intensities. In this way, the dream foregrounds the primacy of affect. Along similar lines, the narrator of Scott's Antiquary asserts that when a dreamer is feeling fearful, the affect will "summon up before [his] mind's eye the object of [his] fear" (100), and Erasmus Darwin (1796) observes that "when you dream under the influence of fear, all the robbers, fires, and precipices ... arise before you with terrible vivacity" (45). This is remarkably consistent with Sarah Ahmed's recent findings in the field of affect. Ahmed (2004) maintains that "when there is no external object" to explain an affect such as pain, then "people tend to construct imaginary objects or weapons to take up [its] empty place." An example of this phenomenon is the expression "I feel like I have been stabbed by a knife" (27).

In addition, affective intensity has a physiological component, as in the involuntary physical response to music (Gilbert par. 9). The irresistible impulse that overcomes Alonzo's willpower is akin to this type of response (Maturin 183). According to Jeremy Gilbert (2004), the involuntary movement that accompanies music highlights the "force" of "non-significatory affective power" (par. 9). It is noteworthy that nineteenth-century dream studies posit the physical and affective aspects of dreams in similarly related terms, since as I discuss in the previous chapter, these texts relate the physical state of the dreamer to the intensity of the dream. One example of this is the identification of the nightmare on the basis of a sort of paralyzing fear that these scientific studies term "incubus" (Dendy 22; Macnish 73). (26) Incubus occurs when the negative affect evoked by a nightmare diminishes the capacity of the dreamer to move. The dream becomes a nightmare when "the individual feels as if his powers of volition were totally paralyzed" (Macnish 73).

Dreaming Potential

One could draw a connection between the paralytic incubus that reportedly accompanies the nightmare and the diminution in Alonzo's capacities following his nightmare of the auto-da-fe. Deleuze references the capacity for action as he theorizes affect through an inflection of the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza:
  Spinoza will engender all the passions, in their
  details, on the basis of these two fundamental
  affects: joy as an increase in the power of acting,
  sadness as a diminution or destruction of the power
  of acting. ("Spinoza" 8)

An affective "encounter," which Spinoza terms an "occursus," can act as either a positive force or a negative force. Whereas good encounters are empowering, a "bad encounter" diminishes and destroys, "[meaning] that the body which is mixed with mine destroys my constituent relation, or tends to destroy one of my subordinate relations" (6).

When Alonzo undergoes an occursus during his nightmare, it takes place through the transmission of affect. Affect transmission occurs when the intensity of one "real or virtual" body influences the intensity of another; "one intensity is folded into another" (Shouse par. 14). When Alonzo's brother, Juan, becomes the prisoner awaiting punishment in the dream, the suffering of this virtual body has an affective impact on Alonzo. Moreover, when Juan pleads for mercy, the person whom he is addressing is Alonzo: "The next moment the figure was that of my brother Juan, who clung to me, shrieking, 'Save me, save me.'" The affect transmission that occurs during this dreamt experience can only heighten Alonzo's anguish.

During the nightmare, Alonzo also transmits affect to himself through a sort of self-differentiality. He not only undergoes the terrors of the auto-da-fe, but simultaneously witnesses himself undergoing them. His description of this nightmare reveals the intensity that this evokes. "This horrible tracing of yourself in a dream," he says, "This haunting of yourself by your own spectre, while you still live, is perhaps a curse almost equal to your crimes visiting you in ... eternity" (182). In Feeling in Theory (2001), Rei Terada explores a sense of self-differentiality that influences emotion. In contrast to "affect," which she accepts to be "unconscious and pre-reflexive," she contends that "auto-affection" and "full-blown emotions" respond to "the representationality of mental representations as such" (18). According to this logic, Alonzo would feel emotion by representing that emotion to himself. But in the dream, auto-affection takes the form of literal self-differentiation. Alonzo experiences the dream as two distinct bodies, and while already suffering, he transmits additional negative intensity back to himself.

Unsurprisingly, the auto-da-fe dream becomes a negative occursus for Alonzo, reducing his capacity to remain optimistic (182). According to Deleuze, sadness drives the belief that "everything is wretched" because negative affect diminishes the capacity to engage in positive affective encounters ("Spinoza" 11). Pleading to be saved from the horrors of the Inquisition may be the only action of which Alonzo is capable when he awakens from the nightmare. In this respect, Deleuze emphasizes the Spinozan concept of ethics as capability. "[Spinoza] never asks us what we must do," writes Deleuze, "He always asks what we are capable of, what's in our power, ethics is a problem of power" (10).

One need not be at the mercy of every chance encounter, though. According to Deleuze, it is possible to move beyond this point by gaining an understanding of the causes of various affects. These "notions" are not "abstract ideas," but "literally rules of life" that allow one to gain possession of his own "power of acting" ("Spinoza" 13). Alonzo demonstrates this capacity when he first discovers that he has been imprisoned in a cell of the Inquisition. He reassures himself that he has "nothing to fear from the Inquisition" by reasoning that his only crime--attempting to escape from the convent where he had been unjustly coerced into taking vows--does not technically fall under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition (175). This approach coincides with the philosophy of Spinoza, who according to Antonio Damasio (2003), encourages "overcoming a detrimental affect ... by overpowering it with a stronger positive affect, one triggered by reason" (11-12).

In A Thousand Plateaus (1980), Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari expand on this power, or "potential" of a "body." They write,
  We know nothing about a body until we know what it can do,
  in other words, what its affects are, how they can or
  cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the
  affects of another body, either to destroy that body or to
  be destroyed by it, either to exchange actions and passions
  with it or to join with it. ... (257)

These varying capacities comprise the "power (puissance) of acting," also termed the "range of potential" ("Spinoza" 3; "Notes" xvii). Other descriptors for potential are "the force of existing" ("Spinoza" 3), the "capacity for existence," the "capacity to affect or be affected," and the "capacity to multiply connections that may be realized by a given 'body'" ("Notes" xvii). The occursus that takes place through Alonzo's dream has a negative effect on his potential, although ultimately, he does not enter into an agreement with Melmoth (183). The immediate effect of the nightmare on his potential is actualized through the desperate, self-destructive act of turning to a cruel, demonic figure whose "preternatural glare" and inexplicable knowledge of "events and personages beyond his possible memory" has already inspired "an indefinable mixture of curiosity and terror" in Alonzo (176-77). (27)

This occursus not only diminishes Alonzo's potential, but threatens to change his overall make-up as well. Deleuze and Guattari term the latter type of alteration a "change in assemblage" (Plateaus 438). The assemblage, which comprises "the unconscious in person," can undergo a change upon the crossing of a certain threshold (36). For instance, an alcoholic might "change assemblage" at a certain threshold and become capable of resisting alcohol (438). For Alonzo, the change of assemblage that would result from accepting Melmoth's offer would be dire. At the end of the novel, Melmoth reveals that the incommunicable condition that he has been offering to "wretches in their fearful hour of extremity" is "the promise of deliverance and immunity" from their current problems on the "condition of their exchanging situations with [him]" (409). Although Melmoth exerts preternatural abilities and has an extended life span, his compact with "the enemy of souls" has resulted in his "[separation] from life and humanity by a gulph impassable" (408, 245). In fact, Melmoth's status as a "disinherited child of nature" diminishes his capacity for affect transmission. When one character attempts to form an emotional connection with him, she "endeavors [in vain] to read a human feeling in those eyes of stone" (245). Exchanging situations with Melmoth would entail an almost complete diminishment of potential, a perilous threshold that Alonzo would not have approached were it not for the affective force of his nightmare.

Schizophrenizing the Dream

"The crowd shouted, and the king and queen, and all the nobility and priesthood, looked on, and we burned, and burned!" says Alonzo of the end of his nightmare. Although he is the one who has been condemned to die, the multitude of spectators seems to burn along with him (182). This passage recalls Deleuze and Guattari's characterization of the unconscious as "fundamentally a crowd." They argue that the self is "polyvocal" rather than stable, unchanging, and single-minded (Plateaus 29). Polyvocality, in the form of intensifying "multiplicities of multiplicities," creates a "single assemblage" (34). In Anti-Oedipus (2009), Deleuze and Guattari describe these multiplicities as a form of schizophrenization. Favoring this schizophrenized, polyvocal unconscious, they argue against the representational analysis that is typified by the fixed oedipal signifiers of Freudian dream interpretation. They posit, "Wouldn't it be better to schizophrenize ... the domain of the unconscious, so as to shatter the iron collar of Oedipus ...?" (53).

In many ways the dream, as conceptualized by nineteenth-century texts, lends itself to this sort of schizophrenization. Although supernatural literary dreams tend to be revelatory, either requiring symbolic interpretation or imposing the dialectical mediation of an utterance, they can also establish the dreaming state as a polyvocal realm of the unconscious. (28) As I mention in the previous chapter, ghosts, deities, fairies, demons, and other entities can influence and even enter into such dreams. (29) These visitations can expand on multiplicities, vary intensities, and induce occursus. When Alonzo recounts his nightmare, he suggests that Melmoth or a supernatural figure like him might have been responsible for it: "The genii, or the demons of the place seemed busy in the dreams that haunted me" (182).

Pre-Freudian dream studies of the long nineteenth century characterize the dream in terms that evoke the concept of schizophrenization. According to these texts, the dream is a state of disorder and disordering in which imagination overpowers dialectical thought, as I mention in the first chapter. This coincides with the idea of schizophrenization, as Deleuze and Guattari write that the "multiplicity ... was created precisely in order ... to escape dialectics" (Plateaus 32). Dream studies of the long nineteenth century also associate the dream with insanity, calling to mind the very term schizophrenization. Macnish writes, "A dream may be considered as a ... delirium" (45). Some causes of the "delirium" of dreaming emphasize the influence of the imagination; "an excited imagination" and the "deceptions of imagination when reason drops the reigns" are two of them (Macnish 45; Perkins 105; Scott 130). Similarly, Alonzo remarks on the associations of thought made by the imagination while one is dreaming: "Our thoughts in dreams wander" (182).

"One of the essential characteristics of the dream of multiplicity is that each element ceaselessly varies and alters its distance in relation to the others," write Deleuze and Guattari (Plateaus 30). Along these lines, nineteenth-century dream studies emphasize the non-linear, adialectical, and otherwise varied aspects of dreams. Some of these include the "illusion of dreams," the "apparent expansion of time" (Macnish 60), how "time and space are annihilated," how "two severed lovers may be made happy," how "we behold the absent" and how "we converse with the dead" in dreams (Lang 3). Moreover, the flights of fancy of the dreamer have the potential to construct multiple associations of ideas, which are typified by their "Wildness and Inconsistency" and their "deviation" from "correct" thinking (Hartley 385; Newnham 163).

Through these dreamt deviations from linear, dialectical reason, Alonzo's auto-da-fe dream seems to evoke somewhat rhizomatic associations: Alonzo is the terrified prisoner, the crowd, and his brother's executioner; and he is not himself, but he is himself, and his brother is him, and the fire becomes him and the crowd (182). (30) Deleuze and Guattari describe the rhizome as a root-like system of multiplicities, in contrast to an arborescent system, which operates by the binary logic of dialectics and representations (Plateaus 8). During dreams, flights of fancy can become Deleuzian lines of flight, transporting the dreamer out of the rigidly imposed, hierarchical, arborescent context of totalizing dialectical principles and into dynamic, constantly changing, interconnecting associations.


The dream is a contested space in terms of representation and affect. Although dreams seem invariably to call for interpretation, the unique capacity of the dream for affective intensity warrants exploration. Symbolic interpretation not only overlooks, but further, obscures affect. If matter-of-fact analysis dampens intensity, and dialectical interpretation diminishes the sense of immediacy implicit in the dreaming state, then these representational approaches must fail to contend with the dream on its own terms. Such hermeneutics overlook the primacy of affect in the experience of dreaming and reterritorialize the dream by reducing it to the role of the fixed signifier. Although representational interpretation can be useful, this chapter affirms the advantages of taking into consideration the affective intensity that the dreamer undergoes. As Alonzo's dream of the auto-da-fe reveals, taking into consideration affective experience can create new lines of flight through the text. Moreover, the pre-Freudian, nineteenth-century scientific conceptualization of the dream as the realm of a disordered and disordering imagination, combined with the potential for multiplicity in the form of visiting ghosts, angels, and demons in the preternatural literary dream, suggests that one can approach nineteenth-century Gothic dream-fictions in terms of the schizophrenized unconscious. This chapter will inform the rest of the thesis, as I further explore the changing role of affective force in the development of Gothic dreams throughout British literature of the long nineteenth century.

(24.) An "auto-da-fe" is "a religious ceremony demonstrating commitment to Catholicism held by the Spanish or Portuguese Inquisition prior to the punishment of prisoners, such as ... heretics." But the term became associated with the punishment, coming to mean "the execution of a sentence of the Inquisition; esp. the public burning of a heretic" or simply "a public humiliation, condemnation, or punishment, esp. by a mob" ("Auto-da-fe, n.").

(25.) Although this thesis takes into consideration these dreamlike states, the term "dream" will usually refer to the typical dream, which for twenty-first-century scholars, accompanies sleep.

(26.) Originating in the preternatural figure believed to visit dreams, the incubus is defined alternately as "a feeling of oppression during sleep, as of some heavy weight on the chest and stomach; the nightmare" and as the "evil spirit or demon [that descends] upon persons in their sleep. ..." ("Incubus," n.).

(27.) A similar scene, but in relation to a positive, joyful affect and an increase in capacity, appears in Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (1866): "How it happened [Raskolnikov] did not know. All at once something seemed to seize him and fling him at her feet. He wept and threw his arms around her knees" (520).

(28.) In terms of considering the dream an unconscious realm, Henri Ellenberger's The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970) and Lancelot Whyte's The Unconscious Before Freud (1960) affirm that the dream was considered a realm of the unconscious even before the publication of Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams (1899).

(29.) Many dreamers of the long nineteenth century considered it possible to have supernatural dreams, as I discuss in the first chapter, and this certainly plays a role in the literature of the time. In The Castle of Otranto (1764), the late eighteenth-century text by Horace Walpole, supernatural figures visit dreams to convey direct, even detailed messages; of the two dreams in Clara Reeve's The Old English Baron (1777), one is symbolic, and one more straightforward; Ann Radcliffe's The Romance of the Forest (1791) and The Italian (1797) as well as Walter Scott's The Antiquary (1816) imply supernatural influences while leaving ambiguity; and Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796) features a couple of dreams induced by a demon as a means of manipulation.

(30.) The rhizome "brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states," as it is "an acentered, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system" (Plateaus 21).
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Publication:Library Philosophy and Practice
Date:Jul 1, 2013
Previous Article:Chapter One: Through the lens of the antiquary: conceptualizing the nineteenth-century dream.
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