Matthew Lewis and the gothic horror of obsessional neurosis.
Consistent with most obsessional neurotics, Tony Shalhoub's "Monk" often finds himself in a self-made paradoxical situation. For instance, he obsessively inspects public equipment--mailboxes, parking meters -just to make sure the world is functioning properly. However, this inspecting, in turn, causes him to reach for a handi-wipe in order to remove any germs from his hands. Both actions, nonetheless, stem from the same cause. He neurotically opens the mailbox to make sure no envelopes have been prevented from dropping into the box, and he touches the parking meters either to make sure they are functioning or because he obsessively needs to touch x amount (usually an even number) of parking meters while passing by because in his twisted mind this wards off anxiety. And he wipes his hands free of germs because those germs might bring a certain amount of unwanted distress into his life. Both actions are obsessive attempts, using the language of psychoanalysis, to keep the Other from enjoying at his expense. They are both attempts to appease the Other (figured as he who is controlling the order of the universe), so that the Other does not terrorize poor Monk by throwing the universe out of joint. (1) Although Monk only superficially utilizes obsessional behavior to gain a few laughs, which the audience enjoys at Monk's expense, obsessional neurosis seems to play a deeper structural role in Matthew Lewis's Gothic narrative.
The Psychic Origins of Gothic Terror and Horror
The 1790s mark the period of the mature development for the English Gothic novel. Tantalized by the possibilities she found in Horace Walpole's inaugural and immature Gothic romance, Ann Radcliffe focused in her Gothic fiction primarily on what she found to be the more sophisticated literary devices of terrifying scenes and mysterious occurrences. Her writing cuts through the chaotic supernatural display of The Castle of Otranto in an attempt to salvage the "explained supernatural" as the only device necessary for the genre. By creating terrifying scenes whose full explanation was deferred until the end of the novel, she crafted hysterical narratives, if you will, where sense was completely severed from affect. In this manner, Radcliffe's narratives thematically and subliminally point to their own inability to "say it all." Begrudgingly influenced by the works of Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis attempted to improve on a genre that he felt did not go far enough. As far as Lewis was concerned, Radcliffe's novels basically cheat the reader in the end. She is able, through her use of suspense, to lure the reader into a captive state only to pull the rug out at the last minute by displaying the rational reason behind the supposed supernatural occurrences that the reader finds so intriguing. His literary reaction to Radcliffe parallels a nineteen-year-old man's reaction to being rebuffed by a woman. Radcliffe, in a sense, teases, tantalizes, and leads on young Lewis only to deny him his desire in the end. Lewis, therefore, decides to write his own Gothic novel in order to do without the Other sex. Like the true obsessional neurotic, he will search for what he wants without involving the Other's desire.
The Monk goes to the opposite extreme of Radcliffe's narratives. Where Radcliffe appears to hold everything back, Lewis's novel offers everything in its obscene presence. His technique turns the Radcliffean terror of suggestion into the horror of demonic rape, incest, and murder. According to Fred Botting, Lewis describes "in lurid detail the specters that Gothic fiction had previously left to the superstitious or explained away" (76). In so doing, Lewis disregards and often even parodies the sentimentality found in Radcliffe's work. Borrowing from the crassness of German writers like Lorenz Flammenberg and Karl Grosse, Lewis offers the reader a pornographic Gothic in which the previously ambiguous supernatural is now given in all its obnoxious presence. What was formerly left hidden, half-revealed, and suggested now takes center stage in the sensationalism of excess. Where Radcliffe's narratives did not give enough, Lewis's novel simply gives too much. Radcliffe refined and perfected the one aspect of Walpole's inaugural Gothic novel that she felt worth salvaging, and Lewis resurrected and cultivated another aspect of Walpole's narrative for which he felt a strong affinity. Together they split Walpole's work--castrated it, if you will--and developed it into its mature generic status by the end of the century. (2)
Lewis's reaction to Radcliffe's Gothic and his development of Walpole's Gothic machinery can be explained by the Freudian structure of obsessional neurosis as a strategy of dealing with a foundational lack, keeping in mind that aesthetic productions, especially overtly sublime ones, are always a means of demarcating the contours of some lack in our symbolic economy. According to Bruce Fink's distinction between hysteria and obsessional neurosis as the two forms of neurosis, the breast in breastfeeding is the sight where the infant initially has all its immediate needs satisfied. At first the infant considers the breast as merely part of himself. (3) It is not, of course, until separation from the mother that the infant realizes that its main source of satisfaction comes from a source outside itself. Once this separation happens in the development of the infant's life, it realizes that the breast can never be possessed in the same unimpeded manner again. Therefore, the object that now is lacking becomes eroticized. How the infant deals with this initial loss, this separation, how the child finds a substitute for the mother and thereby completes the Oedipus complex, determines the difference between the obsessional neurotic and the hysteric --the difference between being aligned on the masculine or feminine side of sexual difference. For the hysteric, separation is overcome as the subject constructs herself as the erotic object that substitutes for the loss suffered by the Mother, or the Other. In fantasy, she becomes that which can complete the Other. This is why the hysteric's desire is always the desire of the Other. Radcliffe's narratives illustrate this structure by creating worlds that are in themselves incomplete and inconsistent. The universe that the Radcliffean Gothic heroine inhabits is a world of the "non-all" (to use the terminology of Jacques Lacan), an open-ended universe that creates an unsettling effect on both characters and readers. (4) In the end, Radcliffe's strategic use of the "explained supernatural" illustrates how the incompleteness that allows for even the surmising of something supernatural is inherent to and endemic to our symbolic economy itself.
The obsessional, however, tries to compensate for his initial loss in another way. Separation is overcome by the obsessional by eroticizing the breast itself as the object that functions as the cause of his desire. This fantasy allows the belief that the object, which is now eroticized, can reproduce the original plentitude of satisfaction. But, as Fink notes, the obsessional refuses to acknowledge that the breast is part of, or comes from, the Other, or bears any relation to the actual woman who becomes his sexual partner. This is why on the masculine side of sexual difference in his formula of sexuation, Lacan writes masculine sexuality with his matheme for fantasy ($<>a, the lacking subject in relation to the fantasmic object that causes him to desire). The man aims for the woman but only comes up with the object. This, I will argue, is the role of the supernatural objects within the horrific narrative of Lewis. Since feminine sexuality is "non-all" in relation to the signifier, Radcliffe offers narratives that structurally cannot offer it all. Since masculine sexuality strives for it all and only comes up with the object, Lewis's narrative begs to be read as offering supernatural objects in all their vulgar presence as materializations of the more definable enjoyment associated with the obsessional neurotic. The supernatural entities and horrific gore scattered throughout Lewis's Gothic novel aesthetically represent libido outside the body. Since in hysteria one is confronted with affect without sense, without any reason for the affect (the repressed returns on the body), Radcliffe's use of terror as a supposedly supernatural fear where one is frightened without knowing what one is frightened of works perfectly in delimiting a feminine Gothic aesthetic. Since in obsessional neurosis one has meaning without affect (the repressed returns in thought), Lewis tidies up any confusion or indeterminateness in his story line by giving the reader an actual supernatural realm. His narrative lacks the refined suspenseful tone of Radcliffe's because, by offering the supernatural in all its unbelievable existence, Lewis's narrative remains virtually without affect. Once the narrative establishes a supernatural realm, wonder becomes obsolete and irrelevant. The characters and readers simply know immediately why such strange things happen.
According to Fink, the obsessional neurotic, through his obsessively ritualistic performatives, "attempts to neutralize the Other" (130). The Other is precisely what the obsessional negates in his infantile endeavor to sever the breast from she whose breast it is. The obsessional's erotic object, his petit a, is the objective correlate to the Other's desire. It at once covers over and exposes the Other's desire. The obsessional's compulsive behavior is initially geared toward regulation of the Other's desire and inevitably geared toward regulation of the Other's enjoyment. For the neurotic, obsessional actions are an attempt to create an existence that is so regulated by routine that all room for accident is eliminated. Whenever an obsessional is exposed to the desire of the Other in a forceful manner, he invariably slips into the mode of compulsive behavior. This is precisely what happens to Freud's most famous obsessional, the Rat Man, when he encounters the "Cruel Captain." After hearing about the excessive enjoyment the Captain obtains from horrifying types of torture, the Rat Man turns any of the Captain's requests into tormenting internalized demands. According to Fink, "the obsessional is shaken up by such manifestations of the Other's desire, and can no longer successfully nullify or neutralize the Other and his dependence on the Other" (131). Rather than face the abyss of the Other's desire, the obsessional will tend to read the emptiness of the Other's desire as a demand. In this manner, the unfathomable desire can be materialized into something tangible. But this tangibility is almost always something horrifying. (5)
The mother as a desiring figure is situated at the center of the nodal complex of the obsessional. This desire is precisely what the obsessional attempts to regulate by choosing to see the breast as his object. The obsessional's fantasy schema ($<>a) allows the obsessional to remain fundamentally ignorant of the Other as desiring. This structure can be seen at work in an incident in the personal life of Matthew Lewis. Laurie Langbauer tells of an amusing and potentially terrifying incident within the Lewis household. This incident revolves around a novel that caused an even bigger scandal than The Monk. After The Monk was published, the Lewis family was thrown into more disgrace than The Monk could ever cause. It seems Matthew Lewis's mother penned a novel of her own. When this terrible fact reached Lewis, he implored his mother to suppress her novel. According to Langbauer, "Lewis warns his mother of the injuries publication of her novel would cause: his father would be shattered, his unmarried sister left an old maid, his married sister disgraced in her husband's family, and Lewis himself would have to flee to the Continent" (94). Langbauer suggests that Lewis objects to his mother's authorship out of a fear that it would overshadow his own. But more importantly, Lewis fears his mother's writing will threaten her role as a mother. In other words, her writing makes her inconsistent with the signifier "mother"--the signifier that represents her for Lewis. Lewis's horror is not so much over the simple fact that his mother has penned a novel, but, rather, over the fact that her writing opens up the space of her desire beyond her desire for him as son--the very space that horrifies the obsessional. Lewis even writes to his mother that he always considered female authors as half-male. (6) Because of her authorship, Lewis's mother begins to appear to him as some sort of unnatural, if not supernatural, being.
In "Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis," the Rat Man tells Freud that his neurosis began as a young boy when he looked up his governess's skirt. Charles Melman notes that what the Rat Man saw up this skirt must be the cause of his neurosis. The Rat Man describes this incident himself:
My sexual life began very early. I can remember a scene during my fourth or fifth year. (From my sixth year onward I can remember everything.) This scene came into my mind quite distinctly, years later. We had a very pretty young governess called Fraulein Peter. One evening she was lying on the sofa lightly dressed, and reading. I was lying beside her, and begged her to let me creep under her skirt. She told me I might, so long as I said nothing to any one about it. She had very little on, and I fingered her genitals and the lower part of her body, which struck me as very queer. (10: 160)
The Rat Man in fact saw two things up F. Peter's skirt: the feminine sex and nothing. In other words, the Rat Man at an early age was confronted with the feminine sex as a question--a fundamentally unplumbable question. What he saw was so unfathomable that it could only be dealt with through conceptualization. Therefore, according to Melman, the lack that the Rat Man encountered becomes transformed, through his obsessional regulation, into an object that designates the lack as such, as a positivization of the very inability to demarcate it (131). The devastating lack which the Rat Man sees gets transformed into a crime he committed. Therefore, when the Rat Man later encounters the excessive enjoyment of the "Cruel Captain," he stands accused, to himself, of a crime he must correct, or those he loves--his father and beloved--will meet an untimely death. It appears that, for the obsessional, the only way to curb the Other's desire and to keep the Other's enjoyment at bay is to convince oneself of the omnipotence of thoughts. Once confronted with something out-there beyond his control, the obsessional relies on the security that his thoughts affect reality and that he can control these thoughts up to a certain point. This self-torturing, this pleasure in suffering, is the paradoxical manner in which the obsessional enjoys.
Because this fundamental lack that constitutes the Other's desire is so anxiety-producing, the obsessional will do anything to transform this unfathomable desire into a demand. As long as the obsessional is faced with a demand, he can directly face what confronts him. The unfathomable obscurity that readers and characters confront in Radcliffe's narratives is the specific aspect of her literary technique that Lewis reacts against. When Lewis complains that Radcliffe, through her use of terror, refuses to take her sensations far enough, he is complaining about his own confusion when confronted with what he thinks is the enigma of woman. To make up for the lack of pain, the lack of the graphic, and the lack of horror in Radcliffe's Gothic world, Lewis offers the reader a supernatural machinery with more substance. He, much like the obsessional, essentially transforms what Radcliffe's novels lack into supernatural objects. By giving the reader the supernatural in all its presence, Lewis virtually eliminates any of the obscurity associated with the desire of the Other for both the readers and his character.
As with Otranto, The Sicilian Romance, and the Gothic novel in general, the preambulary remarks of The Monk play a vital part in the novel's textual machinery. Even though Jacques Derrida has formulated the manner in which prefaces, or what he calls the hors livre, haunt texts in ways that go beyond offering outside assistance to the reader, the preambulary remarks in Gothic novels, which are themselves part and parcel of the Gothic textual convention, may play a more substantive role than in most literary genres because Gothic novels deal primarily with haunting. Walpole uses his two authorial prefaces to first pretend that his novel is a translation of an ancient Italian manuscript and then to write a mini dissertation on the literary benefits of combining ancient and modern romance. First he attempts to mask the absurdity associated with his novel's immaturity, and then he attempts to illustrate precisely how this absurdity is really a sophisticated philosophical and literary engagement. Radcliffe, in The Sicilian Romance, also uses her authorial preface to strategically situate her novel in the late sixteenth century in supposedly superstitious Italian society. Since prefaces logically precede the text proper and are contained somewhat before the beginning of the text, outside of the text, they play the role in the Gothic tradition of that which has been left out--repressed, if you will. The material that makes up these Gothic prefaces is not so much neither within nor without the novel proper as much as it is extimate (to use a Lacanian term) to the text. (7) These prefaces are external to the text and also its most intimate aspect. This is also true for Lewis's preambulary remarks to The Monk.
Lewis's preface consists of a poem in imitation of Horace. This poem, as the first thing the reader is greeted with, is a sort of ode to the very novel that the reader is about to read. The first stanza consists of the author's initial nervousness about publishing his now finished manuscript. Even though he is hesitant about letting go of his production, the author understands his personified book's desire to stand amongst the "big boys" in the windows of London's prestigious bookseller's shops. The second stanza further pronounces the author's deepest fears and anxiety in letting his book out into the world. (The book's maturation obviously parallels that of the nineteen-year-old author).
Go then, and pass that dangerous bourn Whence never Book can back return: And when you find, condemned, despised, Neglected, blamed, and criticized, Abuse from all who read you fall, (If haply you be read at all) Sorely will you your folly sigh at, And wish for me, and home and quiet. (3)
It seems Lewis, as author, is grudgingly willing to let his "hideous progeny go forth," as Mary Shelley will allow many years later, but not without the warning that it is potentially dangerous out there. Unlike Shelley, who in her preface to Frankenstein feels that to release her novel, her creature, into the public bodes dangerous for society, Lewis's hesitation stems from his fear that this public offering may prove catastrophic for his novel and himself. Lewis is apparently overly concerned with the potential retaliatory abuse the public may heap on his literary production. In his words of advice to his young novel, he seems to feel the questionable nature of public response.
In the third stanza of the prefatory ode, Lewis attempts, by "assuming a conjuror's office," to forecast his novel's reception: "Soon as your novelty is o'er, / And you are young and new no more, / In some dark dirty corner thrown, / Mouldy with damps, with cobwebs strown, / Your leaves shall be the Book-worms prey" (3). According to Lewis's lines, the long-term future of his novel appears rather bleak. The reader will notice that the very position in which Lewis puts his novel following public reception--in some dark corner eaten alive by worms--is the very place and position the Monk Ambrosio ends up in at the end of the novel after Satan casts him from Old Testament heights. This would lead the reader to suspect that Lewis's novel, The Monk, is figured through its own character of the Monk, making the novel about nothing other than its own public demise. If Ambrosio--a character who goes from public fame to public infamy in a matter of four-hundred and forty-two pages--is a figure for The Monk itself, one could speculate that Lewis may have attempted to write a novel that is so solipsistic that it would never need public release. Lewis, in a sense, writes a novel about the cruelty of public recognition so as to force any public complaints onto themselves. Public complaint against The Monk could only be public complaint about public complaint. In this sense, Lewis writes a novel that boldly attempts to nullify the Other, to nullify any potentially hostile audience.
That Lewis, much like the obsessional, fears the Other's desire (the public's unknowable reaction) is testified to in the rest of his prefatory ode. Stanzas four and five articulate the author's own character which otherwise would not accompany the novel. This is done, it appears, primarily to let the public know a little something about the author in order to ward off any hasty criticism. He mentions how he is graceless and dwarfish in stature, extreme in loving and hating, neither rich nor poor, and poor in judging. The author finally notes how he is "In friendship firm, but still believing/ Others are treacherous and deceiving" (4). After explaining various personal characteristics, the author professes his fundamental distrust of others, specifically those others who constitute the public reception of his novel. Since he cannot forecast the desire of the public--how they will react to his work--the author views the Other as potentially evil in nature. The unfathomable nature of the Other's desire is so frightening for the author that he transforms it, through his ode, into a supernatural personified demand by his own book to be published.
In the Advertisement to the novel, Lewis continues his attempt to tame the Other's elusive reaction. The Advertisement is wholly designated for the author's recognition of plagiarism within the novel. Admitting that the narration's basic idea came from the story of Santon Barissa, that the myth of the Bleeding Nun is not wholly original, that the Water-King story comes from Danish legend, and that the Belerma and Durandarte section derives from Spanish poetry, Lewis hopes to counteract any potential criticisms rooted in charges of plagiarism. But by pointing out the more or less obvious literary borrowings of The Monk, Lewis opens his text up to more scrutiny. His borrowings from Jacques Cazotte's Devil in Love and Schiller's The Robbers are not accounted for. It appears that Lewis feels if he claims some plagiarisms, he will be either excused for others or they will go unnoticed. He ends his Advertisement by claiming innocence: "I now made full avowal of all the plagiarisms of which I am aware myself; but I doubt not, many more may be found, of which I am at present totally unconscious" (6). Interestingly enough, Lewis uses the term "unconscious" here in its proper Freudian fashion. What is unconscious in Lewis's novel is to be determined in the Other, in its reception. The truth of what Lewis intends to write in The Monk can only be determined "out there" in the desire of the Other. Its truth, in other words, is determined in how it is received, following Lacan's rather cryptic claim that the letter always arrives at its destination (Seminar II 205). This is precisely the one thing that gives Lewis as author anxiety. The very tact that he cannot control the meaning of his novel--the very fact that the Other determines its merit--gives him the creeps. Both his prefatory poem and his Advertisement are articulated not only to expose this anxiety but to curb the public's desire. He is surreptitiously attempting to turn the unfathomable obscurity of public reception into an object that will tend to read his novel the way he sees fit, especially if this prefatory material constitutes a joke on the young author's part.
There is also a rather out-of-place scene in the middle of Lewis's novel where, once again, the narrative reveals the horrible fear of public reaction to the novel. Shortly after arriving back in Madrid after his supernatural bout with the Bleeding Nun, Raymond comes home to find his page Theodore completing a poem. Raymond decides to indulge himself as a critic over the young boy's fresh literary creation. After reading the poem, Raymond assures young Theodore that his writing pleases him very much but warns him that, since he is already in his personal favor, his criticism is tainted. This warning is then followed by a dissertation on why one should not waste one's time in composing verse:
An Author, whether good or bad, or between both, is an Animal whom every body is privileged to attack; For though All are not able to write books, all conceive themselves able to judge them. A bad composition carries with it its own punishment, contempt and ridicule. A good one excited envy, and entails upon its Author a thousand mortifications. He finds himself assailed by partial and ill-humored Criticism: One Man finds fault with the plan, Another with the style, a Third with the precept, which it strives to inculcate; and they who cannot succeed in finding fault with the Book, employ themselves in stigmatizing its Author. They maliciously rake out from obscurity every little circumstance, which may throw ridicule upon his private character or conduct, and aim at wounding the Man, since They cannot hurt the Writer. In short to enter the lists of literature is willfully to expose yourself to the arrows of neglect, ridicule, envy, and disappointment. Whether you write well or ill, be assured that you will not escape from blame. (198-9)
Immediately following this diatribe, Raymond proceeds to lay some harsh criticism on young Theodore's use of rhyme and confusion of metaphors. But the reader can sense that Raymond's criticism is Lewis's own auto-criticism when it turns to the topic of plagiarism. Echoing The Advertisement, Raymond lets Theodore know that "most of the best ideas in his poem are borrowed from other Poets, though possibly you are unconscious of the theft yourself" (200; italics added). Raymond continues by excusing such unconscious plagiarisms when they occur in "a work of length," but not when they occur in a shorter piece like young Theodore's twenty stanza ballad. Lewis is, of course, making excuses through his characters for the potential criticism that awaits him. He seems to believe that if he acknowledges certain faults in his own young writer's literary production, the public will relax its ridicule of the young Matthew Gregory Lewis's work.
In The Advertisement, Lewis acknowledges some of his more overt plagiarisms and thereby nullifies them as plagiarisms. But he also neglects to mention others under the guise of unconsciousness. It seems what he neglects to mention most of all are his borrowings from contemporary German writers. There's no doubt that the general tone and topic of The Monk is heavily influenced by the fashionable style of the Sturm und Drang writers in Germany. But when Lewis pilfers scenes directly from Goethe, Schiller, Weber, and Flamenberg, he is at least careful enough to set some of these lifted scenes in that small part of the novel that takes place in Germany. So even though he does not directly acknowledge his debt to these German writers whom he hopes little know of, he does manage to pay them some homage by not completely lifting them out of their homeland, as if it is not really plagiarism if he does not rip them from their soil. But by situating some of these purloined scenes in Germany, Lewis is also indirectly tipping off the reader to their original source. Like the true obsessional neurotic, Lewis is almost begging to get caught by figuratively writing his own guilt into his novel's topography. (8)
At the outset of his "criticism of criticism" dissertation, with which he confuses young Theodore, Raymond cautions the budding poet that his criticism may be worthless because Raymond himself is not very experienced in the writing of poetry: "'Your little poem pleases me very much,' said He; 'However, you must not count my opinion for any-thing. I am no judge of verses, and for my own part, never composed more than six lines in my life: Those six produced so unlucky an effect, that I am fully resolved never to compose another'" (198). The attentive reader will recall those six lines of poetry composed to unlucky effect from Raymond's encounter with the Bleeding Nun recorded forty-three pages earlier in the novel:
Agnes! Agnes! Thou art mine! Agnes! Agnes! I am thine! In my veins while blood shall roll, Thou art mine! I am thine! Thine my body! Thine my soul! (155-6)
In this scene in which he thinks he is pronouncing marital vowels to Agnes, who is disguised as the legendary character of the Bleeding Nun in order to escape the confines of her jealous Aunt's castle, Raymond is actually pledging his love to the actual supernatural Bleeding Nun. After the immediate carriage wreck and his subsequent rehabilitation--during which he is haunted every night by the spectral nun--it is no wonder Raymond resists poetic composition. For this six-line poem--composed at the moment when he was taking Agnes unlawfully beyond the realm of parental or religious law, and perhaps soiling her reputation--appears to be what caused the chaotic events that followed. In other words, bringing Agnes outside the rule of law unleashes something beyond words. Raymond is literally faced with the Other's desire without any proper restrictions. Agnes, situated in limbo between being a "daughter," a "nun," or a "wife," poses a threat that within Raymond's imagination can only take a supernatural form. Just as his poem, when delivered, unleashed the chaos of the Other's desire, poetic composition, according to Raymond's argument with Theodore, can only unleash the unfathomable fury of the public's potential ill will, unless it is kept to oneself.
The Desire of the Gothic Other
The novel proper opens with a semi-comical scene set during a Catholic mass in Madrid. As Leonella and her niece Antonia search the overcrowded church for seating, the two young cavaliers Don Lorenzo and Don Christoval are taken aback by Leonella's female voice. However, when they see that the voice they are enchanted by belongs to the old squinting red-headed Leonella, they simply ignore it and resume their conversation. But immediately their attention is once again seized by another feminine voice, this time by that of Leonella's niece. Her voice, as described by the narrator, resounds with "unexampled sweetness" (9). But it also belongs to a woman worthy of Lorenzo's and Christoval's chivalric attention. Before we know her name, the narrative carefully describes how Antonia appears to the two young cavaliers: as a collection of partial objects. A beautiful and symmetrical neck, long fair hair, a below middle size figure, a carefully veiled bosom, a delicately proportioned foot, and a thickly veiled face all together give us something short of Antonia. But, as far as the narrative is interested in the desire of the cavaliers, especially Don Lorenzo, we are given an ample description of what they see. The face itself remains covered almost as if the narrative is letting the reader know that while Lorenzo may desire the woman, he only approaches the partial objects of his fantasy.
But a page or so later, after he has made repeated attempts to engage Antonia in conversation, only to be given short one-word replies to his questions, Lorenzo is confronted with something beyond his fantasy object: "By this time He had discovered that his Neighbour was not very conversable; But whether her silence proceeded from pride, discretion, timidity, or idiotism, He was still unable to decide" (10-11). Within a page or so of the narrative Antonia, through the imagination of Lorenzo, has transformed from partial object of desire to a question. As the rest of the chapter will testify, Lorenzo, who at first is attracted to this object of his desire, is confronted with horrific feeling of being exposed to the Other as desiring--the very unfathomable openness that the obsessional attempts to ward off with his compulsive practices.
As the scene proceeds, the two women learn from the cavaliers the reason the church is so overcrowded on this Thursday, of all days. It appears Ambrosio, Abbot of the monastery and the most famous orator to speak in Madrid in years, is going to take the pulpit. His fame is behind the crowd's enthusiasm. He has even been dubbed "The Man of Holiness." He has spent his entire thirty-year life in complete seclusion, only recently facing the public during his awe-inspiring sermons. When "The Man of Holiness" approaches the pulpit, and the crowd gets a first glance at such embodied righteousness, Antonia feels "a pleasure fluttering in her bosom which till then had been unknown to her, and for which She in vain endeavoured to account" (18). Lewis uses the language and imagery of Radcliffe to illustrate the opening of limitlessness. But Lewis's narrative will react to it in a wholly different manner. Once this unfathomable feeling is exposed, coupled with the fact that Antonia exists as an enigma for Lorenzo, the reader is told that during Ambrosio's pious and damning sermon "his voice at once distinct and deep was fraught with all the terrors of the Tempest, while he inveighed against the vices of humanity, and described the punishments reserved for them in a future state" (19; italics added). (9) As soon as Lorenzo is exposed to the potentially unfathomable desire of Antonia, he is insensibly confronted with a pious sermon that warns one of the potential dangers of such desires. The Monk's voice carries all the terrors of the Tempest that Radcliffe displays in various heroines' disastrous flights of terror. But most of all, Ambrosio warns about the possibility of eternal destruction--the very destruction embodied in the Other's enjoyment. One must pray and repent, keep an unsullied conscience, in order to keep this potentially catastrophic enjoyment at bay.
Freud, of course, makes the connection between obsessive actions and religious practices in his essay bearing that title. Obsessive practices, whether compulsive hand washing or continuous circling of the same neighborhood block in one's car, possess the identical ceremonial quality as religious rituals. According to Freud, obsessional ceremonials have to be carried out by the obsessional in the same manner in a regular routine: "These activities give the impression of being mere formalities, and they seem quite meaningless to us. Nor do they appear otherwise to the patient himself; yet he is incapable of giving them up, for any deviation from the ceremonial is visited by intolerable anxiety, which obliges him at once to make his omission good" (9: 118). The intolerable anxiety that the obsessional is exposed to approximates the horror of the Other's enjoyment. If the obsessional deviates from his ritualistic compulsive actions, the order these regulative actions give to his life collapses. And if this order collapses, the obsessional fears he will be exposed to numerous accidents that paradoxically approach the Other's purpose. "The Other is out there to harm me, but as long as I appease him with my regulatory obsessional actions, it will leave me be. Any time I lapse in my actions, I am somehow and mysteriously once again drawn to the attention of the Other and its unfathomable desire." The divine justice of the Other's desire, as far as the obsessional is concerned, appears very close to the Freudian superego. This is perhaps why Lacan insists, "Christianity naturally ended up inventing a God such that he is the one who gets off (jouit)!" (Seminar XX 76).
As soon as Lorenzo is marginally exposed to the incompleteness of the universe in the form of the enigma of Antonia, he is bombarded with superegoic warnings emanating through the Monk's pious sermon. That Lorenzo is deeply affected by this exposure together with the sermon is corroborated by his dream immediately following the evacuation of the Church. While waiting to visit his sister, who is a nun at the adjoining convent, Lorenzo fuels his melancholy within the solitude of the now empty church and abandons himself to the delusions of his fancy: "He thought of his union with Antonia; He thought of the obstacles which might oppose his wishes; and a thousand changing visions floated before his fancy, sad 'tis true, but not unpleasing" (27). While in this state of contemplating his conflicting desire, Lorenzo falls asleep and dreams about a fantastic nightmare wedding with Antonio, where during the ceremony she is abducted by what is described as a "gigantic Unknown," only to flee to heaven without ever consummating the marriage (27-28). With the exception of the Monk's summoning of the superego in his sermon, this dream sequence is the first evocation of the supernatural in the novel. The unknown entity that rushes between Lorenzo and the utterly delightful Antonia is an oddity indeed. This initial supernatural manifestation of The Monk appears situated somewhere between Radcliffean terror and Lewis's use of horror. There is definitely an objective existence to this supernatural entity, but this object remains not wholly differentiated. Prior to the dream, the Monk conjures up the terror of the unfathomable, and within the dream this terror begins to assume shape. But since a dream is less an objective reality than it is a subjective reality, the enigma's ontological certainty remains in doubt. But what is not in doubt is the influence of the Monk's sermon on Lorenzo's obsessional conscience. The question Lorenzo is faced with when confronting Antonia mixes with the excessive piety of Ambrosio's speech to produce an unknown figure hovering between terror and horror.
Because the Monk's sermon opens Lorenzo up to the possibility of the unfathomable desire of the Other, Antonia as enigma retroactively begins to turn into something horrific in the dream--the locus of Lorenzo's desire. In other words, the unknown gigantic creature figures as the devouring desire of Antonia. It acts as a hyperbole of the "blush of pleasure" that glows upon her cheek when she sees her Bridegroom in the Church during the dream. Her potentially unfathomable desire is so overwhelming for Lorenzo that he finds himself "involuntarily" advancing to the altar, unable to disobey her command. Being the obsessional he is, Lorenzo appears to be already transforming Antonia's terrifying, incomprehensible desire into a horrific demand that he can at least either comply with or resist. This is the reason for the enigmatic aspect of this unknown figure in the dream. It is itself situated in limbo somewhere between the two aspects of the frightening: terror and horror. By the end of the dream, when Antonia is split between the hellish whore, who is in the clutches of utter enjoyment figured as the Unknown, and the holy virgin arising to heaven, Lorenzo has already made the choice typical of the obsessional neurotic. A true obsessional can only have carnal relations with a whore and can only be in love with a virtuous virgin. And this imaginative split of Antonia into a whore and a virgin actually gets played out by Lewis's narrative through the split in Lorenzo himself activated in the separate but loosely connected story lines of the lecherous monk Ambrosio and the chivalrous Raymond de las Cisternas.
The Split in Gothic Obsessional Desire
In "A Special Type of Choice of Object Made by Men," Freud maintains that, up until the time of psychoanalysis, the depiction of the necessary conditions for loving which govern people's choice of an object has been left to creative writers, who make the demands of the imagination conform to reality (11: 165). Writers possess the ability to be sensitive to hidden impulses and to draw on their own unconscious wishes in depicting their portraits of these "necessary conditions for loving," but they are also, according to Freud, under the additional necessity to produce intellectual and aesthetic pleasure--a necessity which prevents the creative writer from reproducing the stuff of reality unchanged. Accordingly, they must isolate portions of reality, remove disturbing associations, and tone down the whole. Moreover, according to Freud, "they can show only slight interest in the origin and development of the mental states which they portray in their completed form" (11: 165). The Gothic novel, however, works at the margin of Freud's claim. By utilizing the supernatural in all its infantile associations, the Gothic novel attempts, however indirectly, to express in the form of literary enjoyment what is beyond the pleasure principle. In this vein, The Monk illustrates the disposition and object choice formulated by the obsessional neurotic.
In his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Freud maintains that the neuroses are the negative of perversion. When, during the course of development, a child reaches the mature genital stage of sexuality, the polymorphous perversions that dominated its sexuality up until that point undergo repression. The neurotic's perverse tendencies do not, however, fully disappear. Rather, they are, in a sense, repressed, making the neurotic unconscious of them. A neurotic, therefore, is a neurotic to the precise extent that he dreams he is a pervert; his perversions are wholly relegated to fantasy. When any repressed perverse tendency resurfaces as out of conformity with one's fantasy screen, a neurosis is brought about. According to Freud, "a great shock in real life will perhaps bring about a neurosis even in an average constitution" (7: 171). Darian Leader illustrates this basic Freudian idea through a comical story:
A young man goes on a date with a woman he has met only briefly before. While they are dining in an elegant and expensive restaurant, his urbane conversation is interrupted when the lady reaches over and puts his fingers in her mouth. Yet the result is not a night with Eros but rather a two day stay in the hospital: the man is simply not built for encounters which don't fit with the frame of his phantasy. His libido was redirected to generate unbearable stomach pains. The woman here is not included in the sexual knowledge of the man: she stepped outside his conscious and, probably, unconscious, set of rules for how a partner behaves. He simply couldn't know what she was going to do. (22)
When confronted with the desire of the Other in this unexpected manner, the obsessional reacts with revulsion. Because he is primarily concerned with his own fantastic object, he simply cannot deal with that desire which breaks the frame protecting his object.
Following Freud's argument, a normal sexual life is only assured when there is an exact convergence of the two currents directed toward the sexual object (7 : 207). These two currents are the affectionate current and the sensual current. The affectionate current, the one originally aimed at the mother, comprises what remains of the infantile efflorescence of sexuality. When the obsessional divorces the object that originally satisfied him--his mother's breast--from the mother in order to compensate for his loss, he forever severs his affectionate feelings for his mother from his erotic and sensual feelings for the object. In other words, the obsessional neurotic has a difficult time loving the same object that he has eroticized. Love and sex become irreconcilable within the same object. This is the precise deviation that makes the obsessional not feel normal. The affectionate currents, or ego drives, aim at a person, but the sensual currents, or sexual drives, do not have a person as their object. They are structured around the various erotogenic zones of the body that have privileged erotic value (Leader 18). Normality would be the result if these two could be aimed at the same object. But, because the obsessional is a neurotic subject, and therefore castrated, (10) directing his sexual drives at the object of his affection, his mother, is prohibited to him because of the incest barrier.
Leader maintains that at this point two things can happen. First, a mother substitute can be found in order to preserve the apparent assimilation of the two drives: "The result of this first alternative is that a relation is maintained involving both love and desire directed towards the same partner" (19). In other words, a normal sexual life can be established. But this normality rests on shaky ground. For, as Freud maintains, a shock can induce the second alternative, the alternative that determines obsessional neurosis. If the subject cannot assimilate the love and the sexual drives toward the same object, the object itself becomes double: "One woman is loved in an idealized way and another is desired sexually. The loved woman cannot be a sexual object while the sexual object incarnated in the second woman cannot be loved" (Leader 19). The object of the obsessional's desire is split between the wholesome virgin and the demanding whore.
This, in a sense, is the situation in which Lorenzo finds himself in the first chapter of Lewis's novel. He initially finds Antonia to be a woman who can finally assimilate these two currents of his desire. His uncle has been after him for a while now to finally find someone to marry. And initially Antonia appears to be the perfect one. But shortly thereafter, when Antonia displays a confusing and erotic desire of her own for the monk Ambrosio, Lorenzo experiences his dream of the Unknown. It is easy to reconcile this Unknown that wells up to terrify Lorenzo with guilt as the maternal superego. The guilt displayed in the signifiers scripted on the Unknown's forehead--"Pride, Lust, Inhumanity"--betray Lorenzo's doubt about giving his affectionate current over to some one other than his mother. As Leader claims, incestuous dreams are usually a response to the presence of a new love object:
One of Freud's patients dreamt that he was having intercourse with both his mother and his sister: Freud remarked to him that he must have been very much in love with a girl at the time of the dream. The key here is that all the unconscious knows about women is a collection of traits drawn from the mother, for example, "to belong to another man," "to have a certain color hair," and so on. When a woman is found who satisfies these criteria, there is nevertheless something more--she exists as a reality beyond the collection of preconditions, a reality for which nothing can possibly prepare the man. In the unconscious, beyond the image of the mother, the woman exists only as a gap, as a lack of representation. (21)
The Unknown is, then, a thinly disguised figure for the Other's desire, something unfathomable into which the obsessional would rather not lose himself.
The dream displays Lorenzo's inability to properly align his affectionate and sensual currents. The Unknown, which returns in this dream as the confluence of the affectionate and sensual feelings he once supposedly had for his mother, marks the return of the repressed. What returns in this neurotic dream is the supposedly outgrown perverse desire for the mother; perversion returns in the neurotic's dream. Lewis purposely characterizes this Unknown, this return of the repressed, as "gigantic" as if it is the return of the gigantic specter that haunted the perverse narrative of The Castle of Otranto. What so artlessly haunted Walpole's immature novel on the same level as the narrative reality returns in Lewis's novel on the level of the dream. Lorenzo's dream, in a sense, harkens back to some sort of pre-genital stage because repression forces enjoyment to return in roundabout ways.
In Radcliffe's narratives, the supernatural shows up only as the affect produced by the narrative. In Walpole, it shows up on the same level as the everyday reality. But in Lewis's narrative, the supernatural, at least in this first occurrence, shows up in a dream as the location where what is in excess of reality finds its place. In conformity with a masculine sublimation, Lewis constructs a narrative that symbolizes the real object, that object which is excised from the normal narrative field. Or, to put it in Kantian terms, The Monk, with all its horrifying actualities, attempts to articulate that which is an exception from the phenomenal field itself. Where Radcliffe's narrative is haunted by its own otherness, Lewis's narrative constructs something other than it that then haunts its interior.
This first supernatural occurrence in Lewis's novel--the terrifying Unknown erupting in Lorenzo's dream shortly after perceiving Antonia as a desiring subject--causes, I would argue, Lorenzo to wake up from his dream precisely so he can keep on dreaming, as Lacan said apropos of the father in Freud's dream of the burning child (The Four Fundamental Concepts 56-60). In other words, Lorenzo, and the novel itself, wakes up in order to avoid confronting the real of his desire in his dream. If dream-life is where the real is housed as the return of the repressed, then waking-life offers one an escapist adventure into fantasy. From this first supernatural happening, one centered more around terror than horror, the narrative spins off into two almost mutually exclusive narratives which interrogate the obsessional defensive doubling of the object that accompanies his confrontation with the desire of the Other. These two narratives of Ambrosio/Matilda/Antonia and Raymond/Agnes, between which Lewis depicts Lorenzo biding his time, are fantastic accounts indirectly depicting Lorenzo's mutually exclusive currents of desire: the affectionate and the sensual.
The Monk's two narratives, which have always confused commentators, revolve around Ambrosio's interest in the virgin and Raymond's interest in the whore. These two characters, which enter the narrative just prior to Lorenzo's dream, carry out the two conflicting paths of Lorenzo's desire in the dreamlike sequence of the novel. In a sort of wild psychoanalysis, one could say Ambrosio has a mother complex and Raymond has a prostitute complex. Ambrosio's role in Lorenzo's dream narrative is to force his sensual current into the path of his affectionate current. In other words, Ambrosio's excessive actions are the result of his impossible endeavor to find an erotic object that will conform to the ideal. Raymond, on the other hand, attempts, through the parallel narrative, to find love in his erotic object. The catastrophic results of both narratives illustrate in a hyperbolic manner the utter despair the obsessional neurotic faces when confronted with the conflict between love and libido.
Ambrosio's attempt to elevate the erotic object to the level of the ideal begins shortly after Lorenzo's dream. While meditating in his monastic cell immediately alter his much-publicized sermon, Ambrosio reflects on his moral superiority. He views himself as the unique possessor of an untainted soul. But while in this megalomaniacal mood, Ambrosio begins to feel the same doubt concerning his moral constitution that Lorenzo expressed about him in the previous chapter. Confronted with Antonia's confused praise of Ambrosia immediately following the monk's sermon, Lorenzo had reacted with a bitter invective about how this holy man has not proved anything until he leaves his seclusion and enters the world of temptation. Until he undergoes a trial of temptation, Lorenzo adds, his holiness cannot be taken for granted. Ambrosio's self-doubt, which is really a rearticulating of Lorenzo's doubt, makes the pious monk wonder if he could survive an ordeal of temptation. When he eventually decides to use his fame to get women, Ambrosio turns to his painting of the Madonna and realizes the futility in such an endeavor: "As He said this, He fixed his eyes upon a picture of the Virgin, which was suspended opposite to him: This for two years had been the Object of his increasing wonder and adoration. He paused, and gazed upon it with delight" (40). The possible objects of temptation that Ambrosio might encounter by going out into the world could never, it appears, live up to his dear ideal woman. By his own logic, Ambrosio is impervious to the temptations of his sensual currents, his sexual drives, because no erotic object can fit into the literal frame of the ideal. The Madonna as ideal not only reveals Ambrosio's model woman as mother, but it shows his ideal as that which he once possessed long ago. When he mentions to himself his desire to "press with his lips the treasures of that snowy bosom," he is articulating a desire to regain that original satisfaction lost through maturation. Only now his original satisfaction has become, as evidenced by the framed portrait, an imaginary satisfaction. Much like the man in the restaurant with severe stomach pains, Ambrosio can only become interested in a woman who fits his previously established fantasy frame. And since this frame contains an ideal, something that cannot be found on earth, the monk cannot reconcile his two mutually exclusive currents.
Shortly after learning the truth that little Rosario--the novice and constant companion of the monk's--is really a woman named Matilda who disguised herself as a novice in order to penetrate the monastery solely to be close to her love, Ambrosio has a revealing dream where he brings his portrait of the Madonna to life with a kiss. Once again, the reader is exposed to a return of a similar scene from Otranto. Although quite a common conventional trope within the Gothic tradition, the portrait coming to life takes on a substantial dimension within this scene of Ambrosio's dream. What existed on the plane of reality in Walpole's narrative is located here in the dream realm where desire plays itself out. This return of a Walpolean scene from the original Gothic novel also marks the return of an original satisfaction, the satisfaction once provided by an over-proximate relation to the mother.
This dream sequence further blends the image of Matilda as erotic object with the Madonna as love object. Prior to Ambrosio's exposure to the shocking news that Matilda herself commissioned his portrait of the Madonna as a portrait of herself, therefore turning herself into his love object without him ever even meeting her, he already makes this maneuver himself. Later when Ambrosio does learn the truth about the origin of the portrait, it only conforms to and confirms his prejudicial favor for Matilda. When the truth of the portrait's commission is revealed, the real and the ideal begin to overlap:
[Matilda] started at the sound, and turned towards him hastily. The suddenness of her movement made her Cowl fall back from her head; Her features became visible to the Monk's enquiring eye. What was his amazement at beholding the exact resemblance of his admired Madona [sic]? The same exquisite proportion of features, the same profusion of golden hair, the same rosy lips, heavenly eyes, and majesty of countenance adorned Matilda! Uttering an exclamation of surprise, Ambrosio sank back upon his pillow, and doubted whether the Object before him was mortal or divine. (81)
Immediately following Ambrosio's first actual sighting of Matilda's face, she reveals the secret behind her connivance. She, of course, arranged a painter to paint a portrait of her as the Madonna. And she further arranged it to be sold to Ambrosio.
When Ambrosio is confronted with the doubt concerning whether this object is divine or mortal, he is confronted with the Platonic repulsion brought on by the realization that his ideal is itself only a fantasy. Ambrosio also resists the truth he is confronted with and, therefore, believes that he has found his ideal in the real. His dream confirms as much:
But the dreams of the former night were repeated, and his sensations of voluptuousness were yet more keen and exquisite. The same lust-exciting visions floated before his eyes: Matilda, in all the pomp of beauty, warm, tender, and luxurious, clasped him to her bosom, and lavished on him the most ardent caresses. He returned them as eagerly, and was on the point of satisfying his desires, when the faithless form disappeared, and left him to all the horrors of shame and disappointment. (84)
This deferred satisfaction will, of course, turn out to be the perennial feature of Ambrosio's desire. Because of the incongruity of his two currents, any object will be inadequate. At this point, Matilda appears to have completely blended with the ideal image of the Madonna. Where before Ambrosio's dream consisted of an intimate encounter with Matilda alongside another with the Madonna, this dream, which only consists of an encounter with Matilda, displays the fusion of Ambrosio's two currents. He, it seems, has found a perfect mother substitute. But, as Lewis reveals, this fusion can only be a dream.
Later when Ambrosio meets Antonia--who is to become his second incarnation of the ideal woman--for the first time, he compares her to Rosario, Matilda's masculine character. From here Matilda falls from grace, and Ambrosio searches for another virgin to approximate the ideal. He even convinces himself that his feelings for Antonia are completely different than those he harbored for Matilda. No provocations of lust or voluptuous desires rioting in his bosom taint his feelings for this new love object. To thwart the guilt associated with the violation of his priestly vows, Ambrosio persuades himself that this new love is more pure, filled with the sentiments of tenderness, admiration, and respect. His recent transgressions were merely the fault of a temptress: "Matilda gluts me with enjoyment even to loathing, forces me to her arms, apes the Harlot, and glories in her prostitution. Disgusting! Did She know the inexpressible charm of Modesty, how irresistibly it enthralls the heart of Man, how firmly it chains him to the Throne of Beauty, She would never throw it off" (243-3). It appears that the more Matilda shows a desire of her own, the more Ambrosio repulses in horror. As Matilda becomes more active in her relationship with the Monk, she mysteriously becomes more and more demonic, more and more some evil force enjoying at Ambrosio's expense. He eventually looks upon his portrait of the Madonna and tears it to shreds while screaming, "The Prostitute!" (244).
The Monk's subsequent excesses of passion conducted under the rubric of pious respectability are well documented. With the assistance of Matilda's magic looking glass, Ambrosio is able to see Antonia dressing in her own private chamber. An obvious parody of the framed portrait of the ideal Madonna, this magical and impossible view soon inspires Ambrosio with all the lustful desires he once possessed for Matilda. Thanks to Matilda's sorcery and some minor assistance from a demonic force conjured up in the catacombs beneath the monastery, the pious monk kills Elvira, Antonia's mother, and eventually entombs Antonia within the sepulcher which joins the monastery to St. Clare's convent. Having Antonia where he wants, Ambrosio rapes and kills her to prevent getting caught for his criminal activity, only to find out in the end the incestuous nature of his crimes. It turns out all along that Elvira was the Monk's long-lost mother and Antonia his own sister. It also turns out that Ambrosio found the ultimate erotic object in the image of his mother after all.
Unlike Ambrosio, whose love is inspired by the image of the Virgin, Raymond's desire for his love object, in the parallel narrative, is inspired by the image of a harlot. According to Raymond's own first-person narrative, while lounging around Lindenberg Castle in Germany with Agnes, Lorenzo's sister, Raymond thumbs through her sketches and becomes fascinated with one that "represented a Female of more than human stature, clothed in the habit of some religious order. Her face was veiled; On her arm hung a chaplet of beads; Her dress was in several places stained with the blood which trickled from a wound upon her bosom. In one hand She held a Lamp, in the other a large Knife, and she seemed advancing towards the iron gates of the Hall" (138). Upon Raymond's query, it turns out that Agnes's little sketch represents the Bleeding Nun, a legendary specter who supposedly haunts the interior of the castle. While the monk was originally inspired by a framed ideal, Raymond's framed image is far from the virtuous virgin. This terrifying female of more than human stature represents the Other as desiring, the very object Matilda becomes later in the novel when she becomes loathsome in Ambrosio's imagination. The image of the Bleeding Nun with a rosary in one hand and a bloody knife in the other represents the paradoxical portrait of a woman who is both virtuous and ruthless, a representation that can only appear to the obsessional as otherworldly. The Bleeding Nun, according to legend, appears every May 5th for one hour to haunt the castle. During the interim, her soul rests uncomfortably in a locked chamber of the castle.
When Raymond and Agnes decide to elope, they use the legend of this Bleeding Nun as a cover. Since the Nun, according to legend--a legend Agnes puts no credit in--appears every May 5th at midnight, walks through the castle, and exits through the front gates, Agnes will simply disguise herself as the Nun, and, when everyone in the castle is expecting the specter, she will simply exit through the gates and meet Raymond on the other side. In this manner, Agnes can escape the jealousy of her Aunt and the inevitable residence in a convent that is her terrible destiny. But, of course, something devastating happens on that fateful night. It turns out that this disguised specter is no disguise after all. Raymond has eloped with, and made his vows to, none other than the actual specter of the Bleeding Nun. Once the specter enters the carriage Raymond has provided for their escape, the carriage bolts like a bat out of hell until it inexplicably crashes a few minutes later some four hundred miles away. When Raymond regains consciousness the following morning and sees the carnage around him, he is at a loss as to the whereabouts of his beloved Agnes.
It appears Raymond did not quite know what he was in for. By eloping with Agnes, he was bringing her out into a realm where, by all Gothic standards, she would be considered a whore. No longer under the confines of the signifier "daughter" and not yet under the convent roof, Agnes, and Raymond along with her, would have to exist, much like the Radcliffean runaway heroine, in a domain of lawlessness. Raymond must have had an inkling of this when Agnes previously warned him that if they eloped she would be under his protection and he therefore had to do right by her. It is sate for Raymond to desire Agnes when she is under the control of her aunt. Since a union is impossible while she is under her aunt's roof, Agnes exists almost as an ideal. But once freed from the tyranny of both her aunt and the nunnery, Agnes could only appear as the unlawful desiring harlot that the Bleeding Nun once was. Once exposed to the Other's desire in the form of Agnes out-of-bounds--not tied to a signifier--Raymond reacts much the same way as Darian Leader's stomach-ailed obsessional. Raymond, while convalescing from his injuries caused by the carriage crash, is visited every night by the specter of the Bleeding Nun. This continues until the Wandering Jew figure opens (or closes) Raymond's eyes to the supernatural aspect of Agnes's desire. He explains to Raymond how Beatrice, the historic Bleeding Nun, once scandalized all Bavaria "by her impudent and abandoned conduct" as a prostitute and atheist (173). Until the Other's desire is seen as supernatural in nature, it will remain an object of terror. But once it is sublimated to a realm beyond by the Wandering Jew's narrative, it can be viewed as a disgusting object of horror.
The reader can begin to sympathize with Raymond's obsessional guilt when Agnes is later interred pregnant in the sepulcher of the convent St. Clare by the Prioress. Because Agnes was impregnated by Raymond while she was a nun at St. Clare's, the Prioress determines to hide the scandal caused by this "whore" in order to save her convent's reputation. In captivity, Agnes sadly clings to her maggot-covered stillborn infant, which is being devoured by insects. Agnes, who started as a disguised Bleeding Nun, only to be mysteriously replaced by the actual Bleeding Nun, herself becomes, in the end, a bleeding nun chained up in the confines of the underground catacombs. The obsessional lesson for Raymond: mess with the forces of the supernatural, and they shall enjoy at your expense. It seems, by all obsessional belief in the omnipotence of thoughts, that since Agnes masqueraded as the Bleeding Nun, since she ridiculed this legend, the legend itself became literalized to her detriment.
These two mutually exclusive narratives are only loosely held together by Lorenzo, the "hero" who maintains only a tangential role in the novel. However, in the end, their merging in the sepulcher of the monastery inventively allows for the merging of Lorenzo's two conflicting obsessional currents. Because Antonia is killed, and because Agnes is in need of care, the reader is introduced to the character of Virginia. Lewis artfully casts Virginia in the role similar to Isabella's in The Castle of Otranto. Here, however, Lewis throws in a twist. Virginia, who becomes Lorenzo's substitute love object following the gruesome death of Antonia, only appears at the time of Antonia's demise. It appears that since Lorenzo can no longer have his virgin in reality--she exists, as Ambrosio's narrative demonstrates, only as an ideal--he can at least have her in name. Virginia may not be an ideal virgin like the Madonna or Antonia, but she will be one at least at the level of the signifier. Lewis portrays Virginia at the end of the novel as an opportunistic figure; she cares for Agnes only because she thinks her faux benevolence will win some points with Lorenzo. She is far from virtuous. It cannot be an accident that Lewis gives this character the name he does. She is a perfect amalgamation of the framed images of the Madonna and the Bleeding Nun. In the happy ending of the Gothic novel, Virginia is the obsessional's compromise formation of the conflicting desire between the affectionate current and the sensual current.
Even though Lewis's novel may affect the reader with scenes of grotesque horror, this horror must be seen as already emerging out of a deeper anxiety, as an escape from something much more terrifying--the fact that there is nothing instead of something, as pointed out by the narratives of the Radcliffean school of terror writing. Lewis may assume he made an advance with his particularly masculine use of Gothic horror; however, his narrative, like the obsessional, creates an external sublime object of horror to cover a terror that has no external cause. Oddly enough, the lacking supernatural machinery of Radcliffe's Gothic universe becomes for Lewis its most monstrous and frightening dimension.
Botting, Fred. Gothic. London: Routledge, 1996.
Conger, Syndy. M. Matthew Lewis, Charles Robert Maturin and the Germans: An Interpretative Study of the Influence of German
Literature on Two Gothic Novels. Salzburg: U of Salzburg P, 1977.
Derrida, Jacques. Dissemination. Trans. Barbara Johnson. Chicago: U of Chicago R 1981.
Fink, Bruce. A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and Technique. Cambridge: Harvard UR 1997.
Frank, Frederick S. The First Gothics: A Critical Guide to the English Gothic Novel. New York: Garland, 1987.
Freud, Sigmund. The Standard Edition of the complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Ed. & Trans. James Strachey. 24 vols. London: Hogarth, 1955.
Gamer, Michael. Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000.
Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental concepts of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1977.
--. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book H: The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-1955. Trans. Silvana Tomaselli. New York: Norton, 1988.
--. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX: Encore. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York: Norton, 1998.
Langbauer, Laurie. Woman and Romance: The Consolations of Gender in the English Novel. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990.
Leader, Darian. Why do women Write More Letters Than They Send?: A Meditation on the Loneliness of the Sexes. New York: Basic Books, 1996.
Leclaire, Serge. "Jerome, or Death in the Life of the Obsessional." Schneiderman, 94-113.
Lewis, Matthew. The Monk. New York: Oxford, 1980.
Melman, Charles. "On Obsessional Neurosis." Schneiderman, 130-38.
Miller, Jacques-Alain. "Extimite." Lacaniana Theory of Discourse: Subject, Structure, and Society. Eds., Mark Bracher, et al. New York: New York UP, 1994.74-87.
Parreaux, Andre. The Publication of The Monk: A Literary Event, 17961798.
Paris: Didier, 1960.
Peck, Louis F. A Life of Matthew Lewis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1961.
Radcliffe, Ann. "On the Supernatural in Poetry." New Monthly Magazine and Literary, Journal 16 (1826).
Schneiderman, Stuart, ed. Returning to Freud: Clinical Psychoanalysis in the School of Lacan. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1980.
Williams, Anne. Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995.
(1) In psychoanalysis, the Other is more or less virtual. For the obsessional neurotic, the Other is that fantasmic entity who keeps everything in order and in line. The Other is therefore that entity that the obesessional neurotic serves through his ritualistic behavior. The obsessive conjures up this Other in his own mind as the entity he needs to please in order to prevent this entity from making everything come crashing down. When an obsessive obsessively straightens the fringe of his area rugs, for instance, he is both attempting to placate this Other and to avoid the Other's notice. For if the Other does not notice him, it cannot harm him. The obsessional does not want to waken the Other's unplumable and unquenchable desire.
(2) In her posthumous essay "On the Supernatural in Poetry," Radcliffe draws a helpful meta-distinction between these two types of fear. She maintains, through a dialogue between Mr. S and W., that writers "with whom certainty is more terrible than surmise ... must be men of very cold imaginations" (149). Where horror narratives offer a positive object of fear (a ghost, Satan, a corpse, a bleeding nun), terror narratives create only an anxiety-producing atmosphere where uncertainty and suspense rule. Radcliffe writes,
Terror and horror are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes and nearly annihilates them. I apprehend, that neither Shakespeare nor Milton by their fictions, nor me. Burke by his reasoning, anywhere looked to positive horror as a source of the sublime, though they all agree that terror is a very high one; and where lies the great difference between horror and terror, but in the uncertainty and obscurity, that accompany the first, respecting the dreaded evil? (149)
She continues by pointing out that even though Milton uses the term "horror," he actually engages in the aesthetics of terror precisely because the supposed horror is only seen through glimpses of obscurity and great outlines. Because Milton does not distinctly picture forth his scenes of horror, he opens up a space of wonder in the reader's imagination. In fact, Radcliffe further points out that one can escape the anxiety which accompanies the obscurity of terror when one can "ascertain the object of terror." In other words, by positivizing the uncertainty which accompanies the dreadful feeling associated with terror, one brings this apprehension within the more comforting realm of comprehension. In the end, Radcliffe appears to be suggesting that horror narrative, much like obsessional neurosis, is a compromise formation.
In Radcliffe's time, this distinction between Gothic terror and horror was also strongly argued by the Marquis de Sade (108-09). Today many critics have accepted Radcliffe's distinction. See Botting (10), Frank (xxxvi), and Williams (73).
(3) I will follow the tendency of reality by referring to the obsessional neurotic in the masculine.
(4) See Seminar XX. Although Lacan's formulas of sexuation do not necessarily correspond directly to hysteria and obsessional neurosis, there is a great deal of overlap.
(5) To show how the obsessional's fantasy substitutes a for the Other, therefore nullifying the Other, Serge Leclaire recounts an amusing tale--what amounts to a psychoanalytic "urban myth"--of the perfect psychoanalytic session for an obsessional:
It concerns an analyst of great renown, who hour after hour is generous to receive and to listen to his illustrious clients. One day he was a little weary and did not get up from his easy chair. A charming secretary, used to this, ushered each patient out at the end of his session. It was five o'clock, and the obsessional who was lying there was speaking a great deal. When the session was over, the patient, particularly satisfied with himself, concluded with these words: "I think this has been a good session." Then, echoing the words habitually spoken by the analyst, he added, "We are going to leave things there." He looked at the therapist, who appeared to be colder than usual; he seemed to be asleep. But no, he was very pale, really cold. The patient was concerned and summoned the secretary, who became agitated. They called in a colleague, who ran right over, listened, and said that the analyst had died three hours earlier. (95)
The obsessional is most likely not willing to come to analysis by his own volition. For the very presence of the analyst, as the Other who knows, horrifies the obsessional. Even if the obsessional does eventually come to analysis, the initial preliminary meetings where analyst and analysand face each other is almost unbearable. The Other is too present. But if the obsessional does manage to survive the preliminary meetings, he is much more likely than the hysteric, who depends on the Other's desire, to enjoy his sessions on the couch speaking to blank wall and ignoring the Other. The point of Leclaire's psychoanalytic "urban myth" revolves around the literalization of the death of the Other. There is, perhaps, nothing more satisfying for the obsessional than this death. Therefore, the obsessional in Leclaire's little tale feels like his session was particularly good because the Other was absent. The analysand was literally left in the room for fifty minutes alone with his fantasy. Since there was no one there to punctuate his free association, he was never forced to confront the horrifying unfathomable desire of the Other.
Leclaire tells another story about a patient of his who is compulsively overcome by the word "crocodile" during a session one day. He remembers a documentary film in which a crocodile that appears to be asleep, floating in the water, suddenly leaps out of the water and swallows a fisherman faster than one can imagine. Leclaire realizes that for his patient, playing dead can permit one to eat the Other (96). Obsessionals, in fact, especially hypochondriacs, constantly act like they are dead precisely so the Other will not kill them and, thus, enjoy at their expense. This is why Leclaire formulates the notion that "the obsessional structure can be conceived of as the repeated refusal of the possibility of one's own death" (107). Death, as the ultimate harm the Other can enact on the subject, the ultimate form the Other's enjoyment takes, is primarily what the obsessive, through his compulsive actions, attempts to ward off. Lacan even formulates the fundamental question of the obsessional neurotic as "Am I alive or dead?"
(6) Half-man/half-woman is the very Freudian definition of hysterical desire: "Am I a man or a woman?" One might even conclude from this bit of Lewis household gossip that only an hysterical woman could give birth to an obsessional son. The obsessional, indeed, fears the unsatisfied woman.
(7) According to Freud, only English carries a term that closely approximates the meaning housed in the German word das unheimlich. Because of a lack of any adequate approximation in French, Jacques Lacan invented the neologism extimite. He uses his newly created word in Seminar VII when sketching the parameters of his notion of das Ding. The term is only briefly used as a condensation of an "intimate exteriority" (139). But earlier in the Seminar, while discussing the difficulty in representing the topology of das Ding, Lacan claims that das Ding is located at the center only in the sense that it is excluded. In other words, "in reality das Ding has to be posited as exterior, as the prehistoric Other that it is impossible to forget--the Other whose primacy of position Freud affirms in the form of [...] something strange to me, although it is at the heart of me, something that on the level of the unconscious only a representation can represent" (71). In Freud's words, that thing that is both strange to me and at the heart of me is precisely what is familiar and old-fashioned that has become alientated through the process of repression--the uncanny.
Jacques-Alain Miller is most responsible for the further elaboration of Lacan's concept of extimite. In his essay so titled, Miller explains that extimite (extimacy) designates, for Lacan, the problematic manner of the real in the symbolic. Further, this term allows Lacan, and psychoanalysis in general, to avoid the "common ravings about a psychism supposedly located in a bipartition between interior and exterior." With this term Lacan proposed to show how the exterior is present in the interior. For instance, within the analytic experience, the most interior (the intimate) takes on a more than normally obvious exteriority. Transference--by projecting the fantasy screen onto the site of the Other, in this case the analyst--dramatically displays how what is most intimate to the subject takes on an exterior significance. In "The Transference" Seminar Lacan illustrates this aspect of the analytic experience through Plato's Symposium. Alcibiades compares Socrates to a plain box that encloses a precious object (agalma). Of course, for Lacan the precious object that Alcibiades attributes to Socrates is really the object most dear to Alcibiades himself. Through a sort of transferential relationship to Socrates, that which is most intimate to Alcibiades comes to be located in the essence of Socrates--what is in him more than him. But, of course, this object is, for Lacan, that which is in Alcibiades more than Alcibiades--his objet a, his object cause of desire. Following this logic, Miller claims that extimacy should not be seen as the contrary of intimacy. Extimacy is obviously something more; it is an actual combination of the intimate and the exterior. "Extimacy says that the intimate is Other--like a foreign body, a parasite" (76). In this sense, Miller maintains that the extimacy of the subject is the Other. He quotes a relevant question from Lacan's essay "The Agency of the Letter": "Who, then, is this other to whom I am more attached than to myself, since at the heart of my assent to my own identity it is still he who agitates me?" (172). This quote is used by Miller to justify his further claim that the extimacy of the Other is tethered to the vacillation of the subject's identity to itself. Whenever the Other is flattened out in order to be understood as something tangible--as in Christianity with the concept of "neighbor"--there is an attempt to nullify extimacy. One chooses the signifier over what is its own inconsistency. Following Lacan, there is no Other of the Other, so the signifier is inadequate to the Other of extimacy. Rather, "jouissance is precisely what grounds the alterity of the Other when there is no Other of the Other" (79). Since the law of the signifier implies that one can always be substituted for the other (and this is what symbolism does), it is hopeless in representing enjoyment as the zero-sum of signification. It is a denial of the realm of the real in the heart of the symbolic.
(8) For more on Lewis's literary borrowings and possible plagiarisms, see Peck (292-3), Conger (12-125), Parreaux (26-31), and Garner (73-79).
(9) Even though Lewis is supposedly poking fun at and criticizing the religious practices and excesses of Catholicism, his description of the Monk's sermon (monks do not give sermons) with all its fire and brimstone better approximates certain Protestant practices.
(10) Neurosis is the mark of castration.
University of Texas-Pan American
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Studies in the Humanities|
|Article Type:||Viewpoint essay|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2005|
|Previous Article:||Dying brides: anti-Catholicism and the gothic demonization of fertility.|
|Next Article:||"Wondrous material to play on": Children as sites of Gothic liminality in The Turn of the Screw, the innocents, and the others.|