Matt Foley. Haunting Modernisms: Ghostly Aesthetics, Mourning, and Spectral Resistance Fantasies in Literary Modernism.
Ann Radcliffe memorably distinguished between "terror" and "horror" as tools of the storytelling trade: "The first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them." Obscurity and indistinctness, the glimpse rather than the grasp--these, she argued, enforce the half-conscious recognition that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our rationalizing philosophies. Terror is the gateway to revelation, and the ghost, not the monster, its meaning-bearing, life-altering, avatar.
For Radcliffe, Shakespeare's old King Hamlet is the key example. The same is true for Jacques Derrida, whose 1993 Specter of Marx relied a good deal on Shakespeare's enigmatic haunter for a twentieth-century valedictory to the passing/ presence of the ethical ideal of nineteenth-century socialist revolution. Derrida's reading produces a deconstructionist "hauntology," a philosophy of incertitude in which the ghosts of past sureties and implied futures make the consciousness of haunting not only the condition of human "being" but a potentially productive condition. Matt Foley rightly finds this analysis appropriate to the "ghostly impasses" of thought and experience that appear in modernist writing, as the ontological certitudes of reason and progress collapse in the haunting presence of the Great War.
The whole notion of mourning Marx as one of the "lost" in the great wars, like the fictional Septimus Smith or the real Anne Frank, is interesting enough to keep one reading Haunting Modernisms despite the sometimes taxing vocabulary of Derridean hauntology and those in conversation with it: Lacan is prominent here, along with Kristeva, and Zizek, Bergson, Levinas. Inevitably, in a work which calls multiple authors to its argument, some cherry-picking of texts and passages occurs, yet Foley makes it worth learning more about the lesser works of Wyndham Lewis and Ford Madox Ford, worth the fighting with him about what's emphasized in his chapters on Eliot and Woolf, worth listening to him on Lawrence as well.
In Foley's account, Wyndham Lewis turns to mordant skepticism to accommodate the loss of humans and human certitudes, Elizabeth Bowen to hallucinatory "resistance fantasies." T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf deploy a shield of aesthetic reticence over their ghostly glimpses of a consoling unity, community, transformational epiphany of transcendence which is always-already-passing, or else, to use the vocabulary of hauntology, necessary but "impossible." Only Lawrence is different from these artists of the impasse; writing in the "prophetic tradition," he sees a way forward, believes that something radically "new" will emerge.
Derrida is not troubled by the "excess" of his own Gothic vocabulary, but Foley is, for like the modernists, he sees "the Gothic" as connoting both the low-rent alleys of twentieth-century mass readership and the high-rent districts of the Burkean "sublime," even the controversial domain of the "religious." Lawrence is not troubled by any of these proximities, nor by reticence: his strong suits are bold contrast, metaphoric excess, incantatory incoherence, and Whitmanesque self-contradiction.
Not all of us see old Hamlet's ghost as a simple meaning-giver. And some deconstructionist readers of Derrida's hauntology resist what they see as the "messianic" tone and teleological thrust of hauntology's hospitality to the ghost of Communism. Foley too. Haunted Modernisms' compelling demonstration that the "ethical apparition" of Gothic and Shakespearean tradition is surprisingly, if sometimes dimly, alive in much modernist writing, nevertheless sees most of the writers' ghosts still trapped in a purgatory which is sheer punishment, not the purge and release of which old Hamlet speaks.
For Foley, modernism's "engagement with haunting" moves between the two poles of "excess" and "ethics," a dryly insistent immersion in striking or even "pugilistic" images of real and metaphorical deadness wrestling with a faint inkling of imperishable liveliness, a ghostliness potentially "recuperative" about what is lost, but subject to a fall into the simple sentimentalism of Dickensian child-deaths. His second chapter convincingly reads this wrestling in poems by Richard Aldington and Ford Madox Ford.
His chapter on Elizabeth Bowen sees the Irish novelist working a similar territory with respect to subjectivity itself, exploring characters stuck in the impasses that occur "when fantasies of self-fashioning fail," or petrified by the internal battle between the superego and the "thrall of desire." Bowen's ghost stories crystallize this process most vividly. In the sly Christmas story "Green Holly," the desiring ghost and the once-engaged Army Intelligence man are sucked briefly into each other's fantasies on a bleak December 24th, and the man emerges with the protest that he is just "himself' after all. Hardly the "epiphany" promised in the Dickensian version of the ethical apparition.
The chapters on Eliot and Woolf emphasize their reluctance to offer the epiphanies of the ethical apparition, their greater engagement with the "purgatorial" and "anti-elegiac" models of haunting. For Foley "The Wasteland" offers no exit from the purgatorial world of equally haunted dead and alive, a reading which requires that the glimpse of transcendence in the spectral speech personified in the last section as "the Thunder" be re-read, interestingly, as the solicitation to vengeful mass slaughter sometimes dramatized in Renaissance tragedy as "thunder." And the dialogue of the speaker and the "familiar compound ghost" in "Little Gidding," he stresses, deflects consolation or illumination, for they "may not comprehend, may not remember" what is said. We may approach but not reach clarity, let alone radical transcendence: a kind of Zeno's paradox.
Likewise, the reading of Mrs. Dalloway foregrounds the "impasse" between the traumatized Septimus Smith and the mute ghost of Captain Evans, a hallucinatory encounter that results only in the transmission of an incommunicable message. It ignores the novel's final encounter between Clarissa and the ghost of the dead Septimus, corporeally present in the "imprint" of male buttocks on a chair seat, which does gesture at epiphany, a message-received from the ethical apparition: "A thing there was that mattered.... This he had preserved ... He made her feel the beauty, the fun."
It is only in Lawrence that Foley discovers the beauty, the fun, what Lawrence calls the non-rational belly-centered "blood consciousness" and "second soul" of humans, and dramatizes in the epiphanic awakenings of his fictional men and women to the gift of their own corporeality. This corporeality, experienced as erotic enjoyment, is certainly in itself "a thing that matters": for Lawrence as for Lacan, it is also the threshold of an enjoyment, even an enjambment, with a shared embodiedness that reaches through otherness to being itself, the "jouissance of being."
Rupert Birkin dreams this jouissance as a "star balance" between himself and his lover, and between humans and the non-human. Foley reads it in Aaron s Rod, where trees "like ghosts" breathe with the protagonist, "faintly moving ... walking in the small wind," hinting/haunting of access to "lost human ways of feeling and of knowing," both corporealities comfortably breathing/walking boundarylessly.
Foley argues astutely that Lawrence's way of confronting the deconstructionist "impossibility" both of productive or non-purgatorial mourning and of the imprisoning abstractness and attenuating evasiveness of orderly speech was to rely on this "estranging language of corporeality." Lawrence draws the reader into an encounter with blood and flesh, of freakishly dead aliveness and life-giving "lapsing," freedoms that kill and subjections that flower and fruit, crucifixions and resurrections that hammer past metaphor to raise gooseflesh ... or occasionally, laughter. One thinks of Gerald Crich's "genial" response to one of Birkin's flights: "It sounds like megalomania, Rupert."
Inevitably, and shrewdly enough, the culminating reading here is not of the many-hued novels but of the 1926 short story "Glad Ghosts." Here the specters are not only "real" but both receive and communicate the "lost human ways of knowing." The story takes place mostly at a post-war dinner party at a country house which has its own ghost, and one of the guests brings another, in a "compound ghosting" which awakens the lost "faculties" of all the participants.
Like Shakespeare's old King Hamlet, the ghosts bring an unspoken hauntological demand--for the lost jouissance of the body that confers full humanity, and ultimately fertility. Lord Lathkill and Carlotta have lost their children; Col. Hale can't bring himself to sleep with his second wife. Hale believes his dead first wife's ghost forced him to marry again, seeking to "live in my body" through the medium of his second wife. As the dinner guests debate the ghost's meaning it becomes clear that she actually seeks her own bodily-way of knowing, lost in their dead/deadening marriage. The ghost's demand/desire produces a Lawrentian "lapsing" of polite conversation into music and dancing, reasoned debate into "mad sanity." Col. Hale bares his breast in welcome to the first wife's ghost, and goes finally to the bed of his second wife, with the ghosts satisfied and all the participants subtly "quickened" as well.
Nine months later two children are born to the two young women, with both couples celebrating, while the narrator, too soon restored to first-consciousness reasoning, remains uncertain whether the visitor he received in his own bed that night of general flowering was a cosmic compound ghost, a dream construction of his own, or one of the two married women.
The ghost story is a genre hospitable to the extremities of this compound ghost who somehow confers and receives body, restoring the living bodies' lost spirit. On its last page "Glad Ghosts" even restores the rationalist and authoritarian mother of Lord Lathkill to life in the here and now, freed of the spiritualism game she has been practicing, with its melancholic immersion in the science of the dead. The story may vex Foley's theoretical reticence about religion with its talk of crucifixions, resurrections, worships, but there is enough poly- and post-religious language there to give weight to his demonstration of the way Lawrence instinctively backs away from the conflation of the spectral with disembodied "soul," either Platonic or Christian. Lawrence does boldly represent modernism's stark sense of deadness, dead ends, lost futures, entrapping escapes and unreal transcendences. But for Foley, it's the novelist's insistent vitalism that strikes the contemporary radical and ethical note he admires in Derrida's Of Hospitality (2000): "Let us say yes to who or what turns up, before any anticipation, before any determination, before any identification ... a human, animal, or divine creature, a living or dead thing." "Religious," even "messianic" or not, Lawrence unmistakably says yes.
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|Publication:||D.H. Lawrence Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2017|
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