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Mediation's sleight of hand: the two vectors of the Gothic in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Frankenstein advances bipedally, oscillating in tone--one fantastically optimistic step followed by one of deep despair--an ambulation that mirrors the novel's thematic oppositions, announced, for instance, when the creature wonders about fire, "How strange, I thought, that the same cause should produce such opposite effects!" (1) Or about humans, "Was man, indeed, at once so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base?" (89). The foundational readings of George Levine and Mary Poovey argue that with Frankenstein Shelley criticizes the Promethean ambitions of her contemporaries. Poovey writes that Shelley portrays Promethean desire "not as neutral or benevolent but as quintessentially egotistical," and concludes that, for Shelley, the imagination is "an appetite that can and must be regulated--specifically, by the give-and-take of domestic relationships." (2) Both Poovey and Levine contrast romantic values with sentimental values and position the Gothic in the mode of critique. Recently, however, Frances Ferguson seconded William St. Clair's suggestion that Percy Shelley's anonymous review of Frankenstein "be taken as an authoritative statement of what [Percy] and Mary Shelley regarded as the meaning and message of the work." (3) The review places blame not on the Promethean hero but on the arbitrariness of sentimental attachments, claiming that "[T]oo often in society, those who are best qualified to be its benefactors and its ornaments, are branded by some accident with scorn, and changed, by neglect and solitude of heart, into a scourge and a curse." (4) Thus, for Percy Shelley, Frankenstein faults not romantic egoism but rather the cloistered judgments of the sentimental. These contrary readings lend credence to Lawrence Lipking's attribution of a moral ambivalence to the novel. He writes, "Should Walton give up his dreams? Should nature be left alone? Is ambition the source of evil? The novel firmly answers Yes and No." (5) But rather than a moral ambivalence, here, I argue that in Frankenstein Shelley sets a Gothicized sentimental against a Gothicized romantic in a double-directional critique. She critiques the utopian spirit in the genres of both the romantic and the sentimental by Gothicizing her two heroes, treating both Frankenstein and his creature as the fallen angels of conflicting value systems and setting the two against each other as antagonists. (6)

Except for Robert Walton, who never encounters the antagonists together alive, Frankenstein and his creature have no mediator, a sign that, although the story is cluttered with media--letters, journals, books, gestures, songs--there may in fact be no happy medium between the two. While Frankenstein is likely the most mediated novel of all time--its various incarnations slipped almost immediately away from Shelley--it has also been read by Ellen Moers, U. C. Knoepflmacher, William Veeder, Anne Mellor and others as intimately personal. (7) It began with the collaborative and competitive play of friends, and also with the solitary play of a dream. These proliferating vacillations are odd considering how much of the novel concerns middle states of being. Frankenstein ought to be the paradigmatic novel for what W. J. T. Mitchell called "medium theory." Mitchell writes that theory is "beginning always in the middle of things," (8) and his description of medium theory likewise begins in the middle, with Fredric Jameson's assertion that theory supplants philosophy "at the moment it is realized that thought is linguistic or material, and that concepts cannot exist independently of their linguistic expression." (9) To this Mitchell adds a corollary, that it is "a small step, one I'm sure Fred would assent to, to note that thought is not just 'linguistic or material' but mediated by what Raymond Williams calls material practices." (10) This small step, in fact, introduces a significant change to his medium theory. Not simply theory that operates in the middle of things, "somewhere between the general and the particular," it becomes theory that theorizes the middleness of things and the thingishness of the middle. Media become the medium; the middle is extruded to cover the totality. (11) The small step past Jameson elides the doubleness of the "or" in the phrase "linguistic or material." Alternates now register only as an appositive chain: linguistic, i.e. material, i.e. material practices. The equivocation vanishes. Registering the disappearance, we notice a technique, one that Jameson uses to collapse the apparent duality between a concept and its expression and to map the two realms onto a single continuum characterized by an intermediary. (12) Frankenstein, however, in its failure to mediate, in the escalation of its antagonism, insists on the stubbornness of that or. It demonstrates the refusal of that or to disappear even in the midst of a middle that has been extruded to cover the totality.

Two Vectors of the Gothic

Frankenstein was written at a moment when matter could no longer be easily dismissed as inert extension. Invisible and active across distances, the forces of gravity, magnetism, and electricity showed matter to be dynamic rather than inert. In 1777 Joseph Priestley wrote that "Since matter has, in fact, no properties but those of attraction and repulsion it ought to rise in our esteem, as making a nearer approach to the nature of spiritual and immaterial beings, as we have been taught to call those which are opposed to gross matter." (13) For Priestley, dynamism allowed the natural philosopher to avoid a fallacious duality between gross matter and immaterial spirit. Matter itself was already inspirited. Reluctant to multiply causes unnecessarily, Priestley suggests a continuum between the elementary forces of attraction and repulsion and the yea and nay of thought, and argues that vibrations in the sensory nerves give matter "a capacity for affections as subtle and complex as any thing that we can affirm concerning those that have hitherto been called mental affections." (14) Thought then would be a material efflux, passing from the simple fluctuations of sensation to the more ornate varieties of our passions and further onward to the systematic truths and falsehoods of reason, all the while remaining firmly within the material realm.

Priestley disparaged his contemporaries, such as William Wollaston, who worried that a vehicle of the soul--an "intermediate material substance" between the immateriality of thought and the materiality of the body--was required in order to reconcile "things so discrepant in their nature as a pure immaterial substance, and such gross matter, as that of which the human body and brain are composed." Priestley argued against the existence of such a vehicle, calling it "nothing more than taking the eidolon of the ancients, or the popular ghost of all countries" and "making it a kind of body to something of which the ancients and the vulgar had no idea." (15) Priestley casts aside the vehicle of the soul as semi-substantial shuttle between matter and spirit and collapses the duality altogether. He identifies an intermediate characteristic, force and its fluctuations, and redefines matter in such a way that the intermediate stands for the whole. He obviates the need for a vehicle of the soul by defining the whole continuum with the intermediacy of the vehicle. The division of the self ceases to be the result of two separate essences wedded together and becomes instead simply another example of the complexity and internal division that is evident everywhere in nature.

When Marshall Brown writes that "the gothic begins neither as a revolutionary anti-society nor as an irrational anti-nature, but rather as the provocation to exploring a deeper, more complex humanity," (16) he traces the source of the Gothic to psychological impulses rather than to any social ideological construct and relies on a vector of influence similar to Priestley's--a vector with an initial point at the material body and a terminus in thought. Like Priestley, Brown gives matter priority, conceiving of cultural production as derived from matter post factum. However, by portraying cultural production as an exploration, Brown calls attention to the reflexivity of the process. The head of the vector turns back on itself. Thought contemplates the material from which it is made. It attempts to comprehend itself in terms of its material origins, which, as origins, determine it in such a way that the self sees itself as necessarily other. For Brown, consciousness is presence and the genre's ghosts are the inchoate desires of the body's deeper humanity. Likewise, David Punter writes that "by the body we may be all too easily contaminated." He refers to the infection as "originary" and suggests that "we need to find a fomi of being which carries all the terrifying weight of infection while eschewing the bodily; thus the haunting; thus the nature of the ghost." (17)

Priestley's materialist solution, the internally divided self, shares features with Freudian psychology. Psychology mimics Priestley's vector when it suggests that the individual is motivated by unconscious drives that find expression in more conscious actions; as, for instance, when Sigmund Freud asserts that psychology ought to see "somatic processes" as the "true essence of what is psychical," (18) or that "the ego is in the habit of transforming the id's will into action as if it were its own." (19) Like Priestley, Freud characterizes life by the fluctuations of opposing forces. "The analogy of our two basic instincts extends from the sphere of living things to the pair of opposing forces--attraction and repulsion--which rule in the inorganic world,"(20) and "both kinds of instinct would be active in every particle of living substance." (21)

Robert Miles acknowledges the conjunction of Gothic studies and psychology, writing that the Gothic has become "embroiled within a larger, theoretically complex project: the history of the 'subject,'" and identifies an area of "broad agreement" that the Gothic represents a self in "a condition of rupture, disjunction, fragmentation." Yet, for Miles, the consensus reading "does not go far enough." He writes:
 The Gothic does represent a disjunctive subject, but these
 representations are in competition with each other and form a mode
 of debate. Gothic formulae are not simply recycled, as if in the
 service of a neurotic, dimly understood drive; rather, Gothic texts
 revise one another, here opening up ideologically charged issues,
 there enforcing a closure. (22)


Slipping from "represent" to "representations," Miles migrates the Gothic disjunction from the self to ideology and shifts what is represented by the Gothic from the psychological to the social. He distances the Gothic from the body's physicality, aiming to restore conscious effort to the genre's writings. Instead of an efflux from a "neurotic, dimly understood drive," the writings should be "regarded as a series of contemporaneously understood forms, devices, codes, figurations, for the expression of the 'fragmented subject.'" (23) For Miles, revision, understanding, and cultural discourse form the elements of Gothic writing, a formulation that reverses Punter and Brown. Rather than spirit haunted by the residue of the body, here the embodied individual is presence and the attenuated influences of ideology are its ghosts.

For an account of this reversal, we can turn to William Godwin who, like Priestley, also collapses the duality of matter and spirit, arguing that an "accurate philosophy" leads one "to question the existence of two classes of substance in the universe" and "to reject the metaphysical denominations of spirit and soul." Godwin, however, collapses the duality not by elevating the status of matter as Priestley did. For Godwin, in fact, it is possible "even to doubt whether human beings have any satisfactory acquaintance with the properties of matter." (24) Unlike Priestley, whose intermediate substance was material sensation, Godwin's intermediary is sociocultural. Because "the actions and dispositions of mankind are the offspring of circumstances and events," education, he argues, determines "the characters of men ... in all their most essential circumstances." (25) Godwin means the term education to apply broadly, in "the most comprehensive sense that can possibly be annexed to that word," such that its closest contemporary equivalent would be ideology. Godwin specifies that the term includes three broad categories of influence: political education, "the modification our ideas receive from the form of government"; direct education, those "impressions which [one] intentionally communicates"; and "the education of accident," impressions that are received "independently of any design." (26) Thus Godwin's vector moves in the opposite direction from Priestley's: its initial point is in the broad influences of the sociocultural and its terminus is individual experience.

A vector reversed in this manner would support theories of the Gothic in which ideological tremors give rise to and condition the features of individual works. For instance, Miles links the Gothic to the revolutionary crisis in France and its aftershocks in England, explaining a marked shift in the Gothic as a reaction to the Reign of Terror. FJe describes the political terrors that were plaguing the English in consciously ghostly terms--"English revolutionary violence was the great unmentionable that could be expressed only through displaced representations" (27)--and he writes about culture in exactly the same way one speaks of the ghosts of the passions. Fie writes that "[b]y definition" cultural fashions "refer to the ephemeral, to that which comes and goes" and yet they are also "profound because they key us into movements and changes deep within the culture." (28) E. J. Clery likewise gives an ideological account for the Gothic, noting the "historical coincidence of the expanding taste for commercial fictions of the supernatural and the project of a supernaturalised theory of capitalism." (29) She argues that the "resistance to representations of the marvellous, with their illusory, irrational appeal, coincides with anxiety over the escalation of 'unreal needs.'" Thus the Gothic for Clery becomes the "ultimate luxury commodity, produced by an 'unreal need' for unreal representations." (30) Clery's articulation preserves the reflexivity that we are accustomed to as the vector of influence curls back on itself. She writes that "the literature of terror arose in the late eighteenth century as a symptom of and reflection on the modern." (31)

The ideological vector finds its psychological representative in Jacques Lacan. For both Lacan and Godwin the subject is cultural rather than somatic. Lacan writes that "the displacement of the signifier determines the subjects in their acts" and "that, willingly or not, everything that might be considered the stuff of psychology, kit and caboodle, will follow the path of the signifier." (32) Both he and Godwin insist that feeling is thoroughly saturated by ideology. Godwin declares that none of man's inclinations are "inaccessible through the medium of his reason" and that "passion is so far from being incompatible with reason that it is inseparable from it." (33) Similarly, Lacan writes: "Indeed, needs have been diversified and geared down by and through language to such an extent that their import appears to be of a quite different order." (34)

These two ways of understanding the Gothic, represented by its two vectors, lead to the conclusion that the individual is haunted by two ghosts: the ghosts of ideology and the ghosts of psychology. Each has a different seat; the endocrine system is not a system of beliefs. So while there has been a tendency to shift away from explaining the Gothic on psychological grounds towards explaining it on seemingly more sophisticated ideological grounds, noticing the mirrored logic of the two explanations restores the duality that each tries to overcome.

This unresolved duality inherent in the Gothic helps us to understand why Frankenstein's many readings, as Marshall Brown concludes, often succeed but "do not satisfy." He lists an array of interpretations:
 Critics have found it a more or less direct representation of
 Shelley's biography, a reckoning with the ideas of her parents, a
 fable of the role of women, an allegory of the unconscious, a
 critique of family or social structures, an indictment of political
 tunnoil, or of scientific discovery, colonialism, economic theory,
 capitalist enterprise, or literary production. (35)


Halfway through his list, Brown pivots on the phrase "critique of family or social structures," shifting from interpretations that read the novel as psychological expression to the various ideological interpretations of the novel. The two vectors of the Gothic help us to see these interpretations not as the excesses of literary criticism, its fashions and follies, but as the result of a dualism inherent in theories of the Gothic. Rather than canceling each other out, the various interpretations seem to require each other. Psychological and ideological readings attempt to incorporate one another by denying the other its logical grounds and, thus, they generate an area necessarily outside the interpretation.

Frankenstein helps us to see how these two vectors of the Gothic function with respect to one another. The two vectors can be aligned with the genres of the romantic and the sentimental: the materialist vector with the romantic, and the ideological vector with the sentimental. The materialist vector originates in the bodily impulses, it travels upwards towards conscious thought at which point the head of the vector turns back to contemplate its origins. The ideological vector originates with the sociocultural and travels down towards individual experience, at which point it too turns back on its origins. The origins of both vectors are alike in that each begins in a state of fragmentation and rupture, and each moves towards the localized consciousness of the individual. Each vector collapses the duality of matter and spirit by supposing that it describes the whole continuum of human experience. Because of this fantasy of completeness, each in a sense feels the influence of what it cannot acknowledge and projects this influence onto a terrain unsuited to it. In his earliest days, Frankenstein bears the characteristics of the sentimental while the creature, in his earliest days, bears the characteristics of the romantic. Over time, each tries to master the principles of the opposing vector, each provokes a Gothically violent response, and each becomes disordered by the painful haunting of the other. Looking at the novel this way shows not only the unmediated duality of the two vectors but also helps identify the Gothic distortion that results from this lack of mediation.

Frankenstein and the Two Vectors

Struggling with the confused sensations of what he calls "the original era of my being," Frankenstein's creature becomes a dramatic representation of how knowledge stabilizes the flux of existence, how understanding renders routine what otherwise would be an ever-changing flow across the sensorium (76). Of that time he reports, "No distinct ideas occupied my mind; all was confused. I felt light, and hunger, and thirst, and darkness; innumerable sounds rung in my ears, and on all sides various scents saluted me," and that, as he began to distinguish one from the other senses, his "mind received every day additional ideas" (77). Here Shelley, like Priestley, imagines reason as developing out of and stabilizing sensation and the passions that sensation provokes. The creature reflects on the difference between wet and dry wood and learns how to preserve his fire; he experiments with cooking his food and discovers that "the berries were spoiled by this operation, and the nuts and roots much improved" (78). His investigation of the material world and its relation to the passions reveals thought submitting to the judgments of the body: spoiled and improved, in this case, are judged on the tongue, and, as such, the judgments can be considered the result of sensation. The creature's precocious autodidacticism correlates with his preternatural physicality. Likewise, his love for the De Lacey family appears under the influence of music "sweeter than the voice of the thrush or the nightingale" (81). He loves the De Laceys for their beauty and their sweetness, characteristics that cross cultures--just as the love of Safie and Felix crosses cultures--because they are grounded in materiality. When he applies the same critical impulse that he used to distinguish spoiled from improved to judge his own body, he cannot at first believe that he is the "monster" reflected in the still water and feels "the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification" (85). The head of Priestley's vector turns back.

At the same time, however, the music's improvement on birdsongs and the creature's improvement of the nuts and berries imply a freedom from and a mastery over materiality. His masterful mind--one that can read and reflect on Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther and Milton's Paradise Lost and learn from those works the poignancy of pathos--reflects and reconsiders the mastery of his body. He learns that the De Lacey family's unhappiness cannot be reduced to physical pain, that it must have some other cause, and he understands that cause, at first, physically. Observing the kindness and affection of the De Lacey family, he feels "sensations of a peculiar and overpowering nature" and withdraws from the window where he watches "unable to bear these emotions" (81). Shelley emphasizes, as the creature switches from calling the feelings sensations to calling them emotions, not only the intensity of the feelings, but their qualitative difference from physical desires: the creature says the feelings were "such as I had never before experienced, either from hunger or cold, warmth or food" (81). The physical sensation points beyond physicality and produces in him an intense desire to understand these sentimentalities.

The creature's increasing understanding of social discourse, however, only magnifies his unhappiness. Reflecting a Rousseauian conception of love as perniciously possessive, he reports that his observations of the De Lacey family "rather increased than satisfied the desire I had of becoming one of my fellows" (90). (36) While the material components of love--beauty, sweetness--seem, for Shelley, to be universal, the ideological components fail to match. (37) Love relies on the sentimental bonds of community and therefore cordons off an area that resists integration. The creature underscores the proprietary nature of love when he complains: "The gentle words of Agatha, and the animated smiles of the charming Arabian, were not for me. The mild exhortations of the old man, and the lively conversation of the loved Felix, were not for me" (90). Mere knowledge of love does not satisfy. Love must be had. Safie may cross cultures, but to do so she leaves her father and trades one alliance for another.

The ideological component of love offers a counter explanation of why the creature is an outcast, namely, that the social has, as the creature's first encounters suggest, its own cloistered interests. It asserts its prerogatives over those of the individual and maintains an antagonism towards the unknown. Yet the creature develops a different explanation for why others fear him. Indeed, there are two potential root explanations why a "fatal prejudice clouds their eyes" and why, "where they ought to see a feeling and kind friend, they behold only a detestable monster" (100): either the prejudice has a social source, the prejudice clouding beforehand judgments that could be otherwise, or it has a physical source, the body failing to see beyond natural standards of beauty. With his request that Frankenstein make a companion for him, the creature chooses the physical explanation: he identifies his body as the ultimate source, reasoning "one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me" (107). Although he has felt indirectly that the body cannot provide an adequate account of the social, by demanding that Frankenstein create an equally deformed partner for him, he reduces ideological judgments to a materialist core, as if community is ultimately biological similarity.

The inward projection of a social judgment onto the somatic is characteristic of a Freudian materialist incorporation of the ideological. Freud projects the cultural onto the material when he writes that the ego ideal is "the expression of the most powerful impulses and most important libidinal vicissitudes of the id," positing that in the ghostly inheritances of the id "are harboured residues of the existences of countless egos; and when the ego forms its super-ego out of the id, it may perhaps only be reviving shapes of former egos and bringing them to resurrection." (38) So while Shelley takes pains to show that difference can be accepted across ideological boundaries--it is a polyglot narrative after all--the creature, who mastered the "godlike science" (83) of language and sought to turn that mastery into love, despairs of acceptance and promises to destroy his body on the pyre. As in Freud, the hostile judgments of the social sphere and the aggressiveness which results from those judgments become "entrenched ... in the super-ego" as a self-destructive impulse, which "often enough succeeds in driving the ego into death." (39) The creature explains to Walton, "when the images which this world affords first opened upon me, when I felt the cheering warmth of summer, and heard the rustling of leaves and the chirping of the birds, and these were all to me, I should have wept to die, now it is my only consolation" (170). Afflicted by the antagonism of the sentimental, the material world loses its allure for the creature, and those sensations, which had been holistic pleasures, fail to be satisfying enough to counter the internalized social rejection.

Above, I associated the fragmentation of the Gothic self with the multiplicity found at its origins, a complexity in one case of passions--arising as Hogle would have it from "the multiplicity of the human body ... a corps morcele rooted in and susceptible to fragmentation"--and in the other, of discourses--"the very flux of energy that made society possible" (quoting Musselwhite). (40) Now, however, with the projection of the unacknowledged onto a terrain hostile to it, the fragmentation and rupture of the Gothic self may be thought of, not as the product of a multiplicity alone, but also as the result of the attempt to reconcile an unresolved duality, a duality that in its exile reasserts itself as all the more haunting.

A similar trajectory, grounded in the opposing vector, appears in Frankenstein's story. Unlike the creature, who begins his tale by recounting the confusion of his physical sensations, Frankenstein orients his narrative ideologically and grounds it in the domestic. He reports that his family was "one of the most distinguished" in Geneva and that his ancestors were "counsellors and syndics" (21). He couples this ideological privilege and its concomitant duties to a sentimental plenitude that combines domestic tenderness with an education made up of amusements rather than labors. "No youth could have passed more happily," says Frankenstein, with such "indulgent parents" and "amiable" companions (24). From this initial position, Frankenstein strives to understand materiality and in so doing threatens the ideological security that was his birthright.

For Priestley's vector, an attunement to materiality leads to a stabilizing rationality; for Godwin's vector, kindness is the attunement that stabilizes the fragmented interests of the social. When "numerous mischances" ruin the merchant Beaufort, Frankenstein's father responds with dutiful kindness that buffers the hardships and indignities of penury. Kindness also acts as an ideological filter, offering the possibilities of non-biological alliances (such as taking in Justine Moritz) and securing a measure of security against a tribalism hostile to difference. The blind De Lacey asserts that humanity is essentially sympathetic, saying that "the hearts of men, when unprejudiced by an obvious self-interest, are full of brotherly love and charity" (100). Formulated this way, the socius is defined as broadly charitable, undermined only by the self-interest of aberrant individuals. Early in the narrative, Shelley flags Frankenstein's aberrance by his preoccupation with the ancient authors of natural philosophy. Alphonse Frankenstein's failure to address his son's curiosity with kindness--he calls the Cornelius Agrippa that Victor reads "sad trash" and "a waste of time" (25)--further cements that aberration.

Kindness however is an imperfect solution to the vicissitudes of embodiment and the inevitability of death. Late in life, after years of service, Alphonse acknowledges his mortality by marrying, hoping to bestow on the state "sons who might carry his virtues and his name down to posterity" (21). Unlike his son, Alphonse is content to allow persons to stand in for each other in succession like signifiers, secured by the name that inhabits the body and crosses its material boundaries--or as Lacan writes, "insofar as the signifier--you perhaps begin to understand--materializes the agency of death." (41) Frankenstein, prompted by the death of his mother, pursues a materialist solution to death and decrepitude, attempting to secure his sentimental plenitude, not in disembodied language, but in gross matter. And just as the creature's forays into the social make him acutely aware of his own sentiments, Frankenstein's manic attention to his creature's materiality generates an awareness of his own body, which becomes increasingly troubled. He describes his quick pulse, his palpitating arteries, aching eyes, shivers, and excessive trembling (41-42). He feels his "flesh tingle with excess of sensitiveness" and his body at last gives itself up to a "nervous fever" (43). Shelley portrays this psychological nervous disturbance as an eruption of the body, an attack whose only salve is the kindness Clerval shows in attending to Frankenstein's illness. While he was assembling and animating the creature, Frankenstein resists the influence of his family--"I wished, as it were, to procrastinate all that related to my feelings or affection until the great object, which swallowed up every habit of my nature, should be completed" (38)--an isolation from the sentimental that prefigures and precipitates the serial loss of his loved ones.

After the death of his brother William and the servant Justine, Frankenstein labels as "insurmountable" his isolation from the rest of society: "But busy uninteresting joyous faces brought back despair to my heart. I saw an insurmountable barrier placed between me and my fellow-men; this barrier was sealed with the blood of William and Justine" (122). For Shelley, the kindness and attentions of domestic relationships affirm one's connection to the society at large. In addition, the culpability Frankenstein feels for William and Justine's death echoes the responsibility that Alphonse expected to share in his son's endeavors. The shared responsibility for the actions of others has an intermateriality similar to that of the signifier. The detachment of the action from the actor and the detachment of the name from the individual are both modeled on the paternal claim. Lacan suggests that a paternalist basis for law and language is necessary when he writes: "For the phallus is a signifier, a signifier whose function, in the intrasubjective economy of analysis, may lift the veil from the function it served in the mysteries." (42) The real phallus must exist beforehand in order that it may be raised to the status of signifier by giving up its materiality. The loss of the real (the threat of castration and real material death) opens the possibility of signification and, in turn, conditions the Real: "For it is the signifier that is destined to designate meaning effects as a whole, insofar as the signifier conditions them by its presence as signifier." (43) While Freud maps the ideological back onto a materialist vector, Lacan, identifying the phallus as the transcendental signifier, maps the somatic onto the ideological vector. (44)

Elizabeth Lavenza, Frankenstein's betrothed, points out the potential violence inherent in the shared responsibility of ideological action (or in Lacan's phrase meaning effects) when she describes the collective action taken against Justine in the name of justice:
 When one creature is murdered, another is immediately deprived of
 life in a slow torturing manner; then the executioners, their hands
 yet reeking with the blood of innocence, believe that they have
 done a great deed. They call this retribution. Hateful name! When
 that word is pronounced, 1 know greater and more horrid punishments
 are going to be inflicted than the gloomiest tyrant has ever
 invented to satiate his utmost revenge. (62)


Freud traced the state's reservation of certain prerogatives to the biological prohibition of the father against incest. For Freud, law removes certain actions as individual possibilities and transforms them into a legal exercise of ideological principles: "you may not do all that (the father] does; some things are his prerogative." (45) Like Freud, Elizabeth sees the government's claims about the justice of its action as a fiction that transfigures individual antagonism--"men appear to me as monsters thirsting for each other's blood" (69)--sanctifying official murder as a "great deed" (62). For Lacan, however, there is no crime of murder before the prohibition, no natural law prior to the father's law, which is fundamentally a function of signification. It is as a signifier that murder gives the action its meaning; the hangman's term retribution gives his action a different meaning; so too the contemporary term capital punishment gives the action a meaning. To believe that all three are one and the same action, described in three ways, is to fall victim to what Lacan calls "the realist's imbecility" or, in comparable terms, the materialist's imbecility. (46) Lacan snares the materiality of the action and returns it to the ideological.

The permeation of materiality by ideology is a necessary condition for the formation of groups beyond the biological. Without ideology there would be no space for Justine to enter into her adopted family. Yet the ideological vector refuses to acknowledge any stable space outside of ideology, as Elizabeth fears when she exclaims, "Alas! who is safe, if she be convicted of crime? I rely on her innocence as certainly as I do upon my own" (57). In the exercise of law against Justine, Shelley exposes a second counterfactual to De Lacey's assertion that the hearts of men are "full of brotherly love and charity" (100). Not only may hearts be prejudiced by an "obvious self interest" (100) but brotherly love is only for those considered fraternal, a status that, once transfigured into an ideological principle, depends on good standing within the community.

The ideological defines itself by both inclusions and exclusions. Like the two biological instincts, in Freud, that operate on the limits of the ego, the ideological forces of kindness and antagonism operate on the limits of community. Frankenstein rationalizes his destruction of the female creature--whose humanity he cannot quite acknowledge (47)--by imagining that he is acting against his own interests in favor of the broader claims of mankind as a whole: "Had I a right, for my own benefit, to inflict his curse upon everlasting generations?" While a new female would complete the pair, generating new standards for love in a society that would banish the fatal prejudice by enculturation, it would do nothing to alleviate the prejudice outside of the new socius. Instead it would create a nation apart, one that Frankenstein imagines would be seen as "a race of devils," and would pass the antagonism between Frankenstein and his creature to a grander stage (128).

After Elizabeth's murder, Frankenstein, alone in the world, wanders into the cemetery where his family is buried and where "the spirits of the departed seemed to flit around, and to cast a shadow, which was felt but not seen, around the head of the mourner" (154). At the family tomb, he pledges to live on in order to see to the destruction of the creature and for resolve calls on "you, spirits of the dead; and on you, wandering ministers of vengeance" (155). Rather than the endless iteration of the name--a process by which individuals stand in for each other in succession--the real material beings are preserved in memory. Frankenstein, who brought life out of matter, dies with the ghostly consolation of what Walton calls "the offspring of solitude and delirium": dreams in which he holds conversations with his loved ones, believing in his delusion that "they are not the creations of his fancy, but the real beings who visit him from the regions of a remoter world" (160). At the moment the narrative describes, the reality of his loved ones is, of course, a delusion: the material beings are dead and gone. Fiowever, in the narrative's retelling--by Frankenstein and then Walton--the loved ones are, in a sense, able to visit from a remoter world. The narrative draws them from the world of the symbolic, where they are transfigured and imbued with meanings absent from the material realm.

For each vector of the Gothic, Wollaston's vehicle of the soul--that semi-substance which joined the separate realms of matter and spirit--is subsumed, vanishing even as its neither/nor state comes to define the whole. Theories of mediation, whether materialist or ideological, use the same mechanism to collapse the duality of matter and spirit. By characterizing the whole as intermediate, they obviate the need for an intermediary. Following this double exorcism, on account of the doubleness of the mediation, the duality reasserts itself. The failure of mediation to banish its dualities raises the question of how the two realms, both fully characterized by mediation, interact. If the interaction is characterized as stimulation, then once more the materialist vector represses the ideological; if the interaction is characterized as communication, then the ideological vector represses the materialist. As Frankenstein suggests, however, the double repression allows each unacknowledged vector to remain an unassailable source of freedom.

Postmodernism, Mediation, and the Two Vectors of the Gothic

In "The Mysteries of Postmodernism," Alex Link argues that Jameson's dismissal of the Gothic is a symptom of his anxiety about the generally gothic character of the postmodern: "Jameson's delineation of the postmodern, is, in one sense, driven by and structured around what, for Postmodernism, is an unspeakable generalisation of the Gothic." (48) The generalized indeterminacy that Link alludes to is an effect of the contemporary insistence on a thoroughly mediated material realm. When the indeterminacy of Wollaston's vehicle of the soul comes to characterize all materiality, its ghostly properties carry over as well. In the postmodern period, according to Link, anything is "a plausible phobic object." (49) While Lucie Armitt has argued that if a postmodern gothic can be anything then it is effectively nothing, (50) Link counters that her "nothing" ought to be replaced by "everything" because "Postmodernism explodes the Gothic as a fixed, specific, and localisable genre only to find itself awash in the resulting, all-pervasive dust of the Gothic itself." (51)

Even as the Gothic thoroughly permeates the postmodern, there are nonetheless, as Link points out, two different readings of the postmodern: Lyotard's and Jameson's. While both Lyotard and Jameson are critical of the stability and unity of traditional conceptions of the self, favoring fluidity, multiplicity, and fragmentation, their critiques have the opposed valences of the two vectors. Lyotard gives an ideological interpretation of the postmodern, rooting his reading in Wittgenstein's language games and writing that "a self does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before." (52) Like Godwin, Lyotard minimizes the importance of the biological conditions of life in favor of the ideological, "even before he is bom, if only by virtue of the name he is given, the human child is already positioned as the referent in the story recounted by those around him." (53) Furthermore, Lyotard detaches what he calls "the 'crisis' of scientific knowledge" from its relations to production, writing that the crisis was "not bom of a chance proliferation of sciences, itself an effect of progress in technology and the expansion of capitalism. It represents, rather, an internal erosion of the legitimacy principle of knowledge." (54) Jameson, on the contrary, gives a materialist rendering of the postmodern. He refers to it as a "thunderous unblocking of logjams and a release of new productivity that was somehow tensed up and frozen, locked like cramped muscles." (55) He asserts that the economic is prior to the political, that production is prior to power, and that a Marxian social psychology "must above all insist on the psychological concomitants of production itself." (56)

From a theoretical standpoint, these two postmodernisms rely on models describing the interoperability of the economic base and ideological superstructure that are likewise marked by these directional vectors of mediation. Mitchell links his conception of mediation to the one Raymond Williams developed in Marxism and Literature: "Media are not just materials, but (as Raymond Williams once observed) material practices that involve technologies, skills, traditions, and habits." (57) In Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, V. N. Voloshinov labels the ideological vector's intermediary with the word pair behavioral ideology, which he defines as "the whole aggregate of life experiences and the outward expressions directly connected with it." (58) Like the opposing vectors, the intermediacy of each word-pair can be traced to a different source: practices become material, behaviors become ideological. Material practices and behavioral ideology both create an intermediate unit by attaching activity (practices or behaviors) to a form of non-activity. Theories of mediation fail not because they are not true, but because they assume that, in their intermediacy, they have incorporated the other and describe a totality.

Neither Victor Frankenstein nor his creature has left us. The double-directional critique is not only a critique of value systems, of the romantic or the sentimental, but also a critique of total media. The suppressed existence of the opposing vector gives the lie to the exclusivity of each, even as, like antinomies, the claims of each appear consistent when judged according to its own point of view. Jameson hints at this antinomic structure:

"The identification of the base-superstructure dilemma with the old mind-body problem does not necessarily debunk or reduce the former, but rather restages the latter as a distorted and individualistic anticipation of what turns out to be a social and historical antinomy." (59) The term antinomy, however, leaves a sense that there can be no communication, no stimulation across realms. Better would be to register the Gothic as the effect of this lack of direct influence. Material principles cross ideological boundaries, and ideological principles cross material borders. Each, from the opposing unacknowledged sphere, undermines the status of the other; each respectively undermines the stability of matter and meaning. The Gothic may be thought of as the fear that haunts our cherished values, our cherished instincts, and thus, it is a source of freedom, an outlet, an escape, without which we would be enslaved to our beloved. Thus our fears as much as our loves are also an education, also a practice, and, as freedom must be to be truly free, at times also a trap and a ruination.

Augustana College

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--. "Frankenstein as Neo-Gothic: From the Ghost of the Counterfeit to the Monster of Abjection." In Romanticism, History, and the Possibilities of Genre, edited by Tilottama Rajan and Julia M. Wright, 176-210. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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Mishra, Vijay. The Gothic Sublime. Albany: SUNY Press, 1994.

Mitchell, W. J. T. "Medium Theory: Preface to the 2003 Critical Inquiry Symposium." Critical Inquiry 30, no. 2 (2004): 324-35.

--. What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Moers, Ellen. "Female Gothic." In The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel, 77-87.

Musselwhite, David. Partings Welded Together: Politics and Desire in the Nineteenth-Century English Novel. London: Methuen, 1987.

Priestley, Joseph. Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit. New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Poovey, Mary. The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and fane Austen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

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Veeder, William. "The Negative Oedipus: Father, Frankenstein, and the Shelleys." Critical Inquiry 12, no. 2 (1986): 365-90.

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Williams, Anne. " 'Mummy, possest': Sadism and Sensibility in Shelley's Frankenstein." In Frankenstein's Dream. Praxis Series, Romantic Circles. Accessed 2 October 2012. http://www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/ frankenstein/williams/williams. html.

Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

(1.) Mary Shelley, The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, vol. 1, Frankenstein, ed. Nora Crook (London: Pickering & Chatto, 1996), 77. Hereafter cited parenthetically by page number.

(2.) Poovey. The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 123. Levine, " The Ambiguous Heritage of Frankenstein," in The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel, eds. George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1979), 3--30.

(3.) St. Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 358. Ferguson writes, "Frankenstein, in other words, is less a novel about character than about the effects of society on character," in "Generationalizing: Romantic Social Forms and the Case of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas 8, no. 1 (2010): no.

(4.) Quoted in St. Clair, Reading Nation, 358.

(5.) Lipking, "Frankenstein, The True Story; or, Rousseau Judges Jean-Jacques," in Frankenstein, ed. J. Paul Hunter (New York: Norton, 1996), 330.

(6.) Jerrold Hogle argues that the Gothic is that "by which Romantic texts are most thoroughly haunted" and proposes that we think of the Gothic as "a sort of dark Romanticism," in "The Gothic-Romantic Relationship: Underground Histories in 'The Eve of St. Agnes,'" European Romantic Review 14, no. 2 (2003): 210. For Janet Todd the Gothic haunts not the Romantic but the sentimental, acting (to repurpose Hogle's temi) as a sort of dark Sentimental (The Sign of Angellica [London: Virago Press, 1989]). Todd uses the metaphor of mutual containment to describe a similar mixture of genres in Ann Radcliffe's novels: "The gothic must remain within the sentimental romance or else it can become sensational and horrific like Lewis's Monk. But the sentimental must also be contained in the gothic, the obscure, the slightly distanced" (256). The concentric frame structure of Frankenstein--in which the narration passes from the explorer Robert Walton to Frankenstein to Frankenstein's creature to the core narrative of the De Lacey family--suggests a similar counter-containment strategy. Looking inward from the novel's outer rim casts each of the frames as a quest for knowledge; looking outward from the novel's sentimental core casts each as a love story. Love and knowledge are bound structurally as center and circumference. While Radcliffe's novels, however, are "a judicious mix" (256) of the sentimental and the Gothic, Shelley's Frankenstein pits sentimental against romantic. Rather than functioning to contain potentially dangerous tendencies in either genre, the Gothic in Frankenstein heightens their latent violence, pitting each against the other and binding the two together. Anne Williams similarly suggests that Frankenstein be read as a hybrid, which she identifies as a mixture of a Male and Female Gothic, "'Mummy, Possest': Sadism and Sensibility in Shelley's Frankenstein," in Frankenstein's Dream, Praxis Series, Romantic Circles, accessed 2 October 2012, http://www.rc.umd .edu/praxis/frankenstein/williams/williams.html. For an account of the how elements of the romantic emerged as a response to the socioeconomics of the Gothic, see Michael Gamer, Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

(7.) See St. Clair for an account of the impetus that stage productions of Frankenstein lent to its successive editions, as well as for the assertion that in "Victorian times, even when Frankenstein was not in print and when there was no play on the stage, the story was alive in the nation's memory." See also Ellen Moers, "Female Gothic," and U. C. Knoepflmacher, "Thoughts on the Aggression ot Daughters," in The Endurance of Frankenstein', William Veeder, "The Negative Oedipus: Father, Frankenstein, and the Shelleys," Critical Inquiry 12, no. 2 (1986): 365-90; and Anne Mellor, Romanticism and Gender (London: Routledge, 1993).

(8.) Mitchell, "Medium Theory: Preface to the 2003 Critical Inquiry Symposium," Critical Inquiry 30, no. 2 (2004): 332.

(9.) Jameson, "Symptoms of Theory or Symptoms for Theory?," Critical Inquiry 30, no. 2 (2004): 403.

(10.) Mitchell, "Medium Theory," 332.

(11.) Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin likewise turn to Jameson on this point (56-58) and derive this definition of a medium: "a medium is that which remediates. It is that which appropriates the techniques, forms, and social significance of other media and attempts to rival or refashion them in the name ot the real," Remediation: Understanding New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999), 65.

(12.) As Jameson writes in Postmodernism, "it is because culture has become material that we are now in a position to understand that it always was material" (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991), 67.

(13.) Joseph Priestley, Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit (New York: Amo Press, 1975). 17

(14.) Priestley, Disquisitions, 84.

(15.) Priestley, Disquisitions, 104, quoting William Wollaston, The Religion of Nature Delineated (London: Printed for J. Beecroft, J. Rivington, et al., 1759).

(16.) Brown, The Gothic Text (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 50.

(17.) Punter, The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day (London: Longman, 1980), 2.

(18.) Freud, An Outline of Psychoanalysis, trans. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1949),

(19.) Freud, The Ego and the Id, trans. Joan Riviere (New York: Norton, 1962), 19, my emphasis.

(20.) Freud, Outline, 19.

(21.) Freud, The Ego and the Id, 38.

(22.) Miles, Gothic Writing 1750-1820: A Genealogy (London: Routledge, 1993), 2--3.

(23.) Miles, Gothic Writing, 3.

(24.) Godwin, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Morals and Happiness, ed. F. E. L. Priestley (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1946), 1:25.

(25.) Godwin, Enquiry, 1:26, 45.

(26.) Godwin, Enquiry, 1:45-46.

(27.) Miles, Gothic Writing, 56.

(28.) Miles, Gothic Writing, 59-60. Similarly, Jerrold Hogle writes of the Gothic as having a primarily ideological source: "What was it about the Gothic as the nineteenth century began that made it an attractive site for such vitriolic projections of what was fearfully fragmentary and culturally 'othered'?," "The Gothic-Romantic Relationship," 206.

(29.) Clery, The Rise of Supernatural Fiction: 1762-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 9.

(30.) Clery, Rise of Supernatural Fiction, 7.

(31.) Clery, Rise of Supernatural Fiction, 10. Fredric Jameson, likewise, argues for literary criticism as a symptomology not of the individual but of the social: "Literary forms (and cultural forms in general) are the most concrete symptoms we have of what is at work in that absent thing called the social" ("Symptoms of Theory," 407).

(32.) Lacan, "Seminar on the 'Purloined Letter,'" in The Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida & Psychoanalytic Reading, eds. John P. Muller and William J. Richardson (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), 43-44.

(33.) Godwin, Enquiry, 80-81.

(34.) Lacan, "The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire," in Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: Norton, 1977), 297.

(35.) Brown, Gothic Text, 183. Cf. Jerrold Hogle's list of the many potential social energies--"all the betwixt-and-between, even ambisexual, cross-class, and cross-cultural conditions of life the Western culture 'abjects,' as Kristeva would put it--" that Frankenstein's creature embodies and distances, 11 Frankenstein as Neo-Gothic: From the Ghost of the Counterfeit to the Monster of Abjection," in Romanticism, History, and the Possibilities of Genre, eds. Tilottama Rajan and Julia M. Wright (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 186.

(36.) Distinguishing between physical and moral love, Rousseau claims that moral love is more pernicious because it gives desire "its distinctive character and focuses it exclusively on a single object, or at least gives it a greater measure of energy for this preferred object," Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "Second Discourse," the Discourses and Other Early Political Writings, ed. Victor Gourevitch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 15$.

(37.) In "On Love," Percy Shelley writes, "If we reason we would be understood; if we imagine we would that the airy children of our brain were bom anew within another's; if we feel, we would that another's nerves should vibrate to our own, that the beams of their eyes should kindle at once and mix and melt into our own, that lips of motionless ice should not reply to lips quivering and burning with the heart's best blood. This is Love. This is the bond and the sanction which connects not only man with man, but with every thing which exists. We are born into the world and there is something within us which from the instant that we live and move thirsts after its likeness," "On Love," in Shelley's Poetry and Prose: Authoritative Texts, Criticism, eds. Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat (New York: Norton, 2002), 503-4. Like Mary, Percy identifies love with sensation, another's nerves vibrating sympathetically; and like Mary, who has Frankenstein's creature attempt to imitate "the pleasant songs of the birds" (Frankenstein, 77), Percy extends this form of love to all material beings. The material form of love, which connects one with all that is, conflicts with the ideological component that "thirsts after its likeness."

(38.) Freud, The Ego and the Id, 32, 35.

(39.) Freud, The Ego and the Id, 54-55.

(40.) Hogle, "Neo-Gothic," 186. David Musselwhite describes the root of the creature's monstrosity as a social heterogeneity similar to the heterogeneity of the body's passions, which are both the condition of the body and also a sign of its instability: "The Monster is all that a society refuses to name, refuses even to make nameable, not just because its very heterogeneity, mobility, and power is a threat to that society but, much more importantly, it is the very flux of energy that made society possible in the first place and as such offers the terrible promise that other societies are possible, other knowledges, other histories, other sexualities," Partings Welded Together: Politics and Desire in the Nineteenth-Century English Novel (London: Methuen, 1987), 59.

(41.) Lacan, "Seminar," 38.

(42.) Lacan, "The Signification of the Phallus," in Ecrits: A Selection, 275.

(43.) Lacan, "Signification of the Phallus," 275.

(44.) For an alternate account of how Lacan bears on Frankenstein see Vijay Mishra, who suggests: "Frankenstein takes this as a threat to his own person and accepts the Gothic double entendre stoically enough. What the Monster is in fact saying is, I shall displace you on your wedding night, I shall dislodge the place you occupy, I will usurp the place of the signifier. All this makes sense in a Lacanian psychoanalytical economy, since the signified below the signifier/signified algorithm is always threatening to usurp the stronger position of the signifier. But in usurping that position, the 'detour' the Monster, as signifier, must take is to kill the woman whom Frankenstein will not recreate, as a female monster (resurrecting the dream he had on the Monster's creation) for him," The Gothic Sublime (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994). 222.

(45.) Freud, The Ego and the Id, 30. See also in the same work: "It is like a displacement a turning round upon his own ego. But even ordinary normal morality has a harsh restraining cruelly prohibiting quality. It is from this, indeed, that the conception arises of a higher being who deals out punishment inexorably," 56.

(46.) Lacan, "Seminar," 40.

(47.) Disposing of her remains, he says, "I almost felt as if I had mangled the living flesh of a human being" (132).

(48.) Link, "The Mysteries of Postmodernism, or, Fredric Jameson's Gothic Plots," Gothic Studies 11, no. 1 (2009): 73.

(49.) Link, "Mysteries of Postmodernism," 72.

(50.) Armitt, "Postmodern Gothic," in Teaching the Gothic, eds. Anna Powell and Andrew Smith (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 84.

(51.) Link, "Mysteries of Postmodernism," 73.

(52.) Jean-Franfois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 15.

(53.) Lyotard, Postmodern Condition, 15.

(54.) Lyotard, Postmodern Condition, 39.

(55.) Jameson, Postmodernism, 313.

(56.) Jameson, Postmodernism, 316.

(57.) W. J. T. Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 198. When Mitchell writes "material practices," he emphasizes one half of the word pair as a way of marking its intermediacy. In other contexts he might have to emphasize the materiality of the practices, because in truth the two terms, if they are to be anything but an oxymoron, must be equal in their interpenetration. In Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), Williams suggests that "The concept of 'superstructure' was then not a reduction but an evasion" that resulted from bourgeois materialism's failure to understand the "material character" of the social and political order, and therefore "failed also, but even more conspicuously, to understand the material character of the production of a cultural order," 93.

(58.) Like Godwin, Voloshinov denies the importance of material sensation--"there is no such thing as experience outside of embodiment in signs"--in order to emphasize the pervasiveness of the sociocultural force, language. The ideological vector's initial point, what Voloshinov calls the "organizing ... center," is "not within (i.e. not in the material of inner signs) but outside. It is not experience that organizes expression, but the other way around--expression organizes experience," Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, trans. Ladislav Matejka and I. R. Titunik (New York: Seminar Press, 1973), 85, 91.

(59.) Jameson, Postmodernism, 326.
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