notes & questions for Oct. 12

Austen

1.  “your Ladyship can hardly expect me to own it” (110).  These words of Elizabeth to Lady Catherine seem to signal a certain turning of the tables insofar as here Elizabeth is claiming something like Darcy’s prerogative of dignified silence in respect to Darcy’s own aunt.  Is Austen in fact changing how Burkean inertia is defined in the world of the novel, from being a matter strictly of noble “property,” blood and land, to instead being a matter of….  what?

2.  The following is written by the omniscient narrator but it doesn’t seem neutral:  “[Lady Catherine] examined into their employments, looked at their work, and advised them to do it differently; found faulty with the arrangement of the furniture, or detected the housemaid in negligence; and if she accepted any refreshment, seemed to do it only for the sake of finding out that Mrs. Collins’s joints of meat were too large for her family” (112).  Is the narrator chanelling the perspective of a particular character?  on the basis of what evidence would we answer? and if so whose?  What would it mean that the narrator would take sides at this moment?

3.  Vol. II, chap. 8 offers another remarkable meta-conversation (or conversation about conversing; like Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s conversation while dancing at the ball); here Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam talk about Darcy’s manner of talking as if Darcy were not there.  Are we supposed to find this humiliating for Darcy?  why/why not?

4.  In this same conversation Elizabeth rejects Darcy’s explanation for his reserved manner by developing an analogy between conversation and music; he suggests that he is constitutionally aloof, whereas she suggests that he could learn to be more social just as she could learn better fingering technique at the piano.  This analogy seems especially significant for a number of reasons, including:  1) Elizabeth emphasizes that practice is a voluntary discipline, implying that, in Burke’s terms, the inert properties Darcy has by inheritance, his noble blood, estate and physical stature, may not be enough, that he might also have something important ‘actively’ to learn; 2) Lady Catherine herself also makes a big deal about learning music, and indeed immediately takes up precisely the question of fingering Elizabeth had spoken about (so are importantly contrasting views of music at issue here?); 3) Darcy’s reply is (typically) obscure, but it emphasizes that he takes Elizabeth to mean something that particularly binds the two of them:  “We neither of of us perform to strangers” (117).  Describe the different types of performance that Darcy, Elizabeth and Lady Catherine respectively have in mind and the extent to which these do and don’t overlap.

5.  The conversation between Darcy and Elizabeth in chap. 9 is fascinating because it’s so opaque (or, again, obscure); could its ambiguity suggest something of what the prior chapter called “performance?”  What is the point of the whole question of how distant from home the newly wed settle?  there must be some unspoken subtext to this question, especially when Darcy draws close and says “you cannot have a right to such very strong local attachment.  You cannot have been always at Longbourn” (119); what is the unspoken meaning with which these words are so charged?

6.  Elizabeth says that Charlotte’s choice of husband was unwise but prudential (118); what does unwise mean here?  And what’s the significance of the fact that, although Elizabeth has such a low opinion of Charlotte’s wisdom, it is precisely Charlotte who deciphers the truth of Darcy’s feelings for Elizabeth before Elizabeth does?  Is Austen suggesting that Elizabeth’s prejudice distorts her judgment of Charlotte no less than of Darcy, that Charlotte is wise in a way Elizabeth hasn’t recognized?

Morton, “Dark Ecology”

Morton writes against what he calls the illusion of “ecomimesis,” of pretending to integrate with nature even while speaking of it as an object:  the beautiful soul is precisely the fantasy of transcending this conflict.  For Morton truly ecological experience and art must “intoxicate and render inoperative the belief that there is a ‘thing’ called nature that is ‘out there’ beyond us” (183).  There is clearly an echo of Rousseau’s and Zizek’s ‘forced choice’ here.  According to Morton it is only a somewhat “painful” “melancholy” and “noir” aesthetics of “dark ecology” that makes us aware of our implication in forced choices.  So he says that “now is a time for grief to persist, to ring throughout the world.  Modern culture has not yet known what to do with grief” (185).  but the paradox is that “we can’t mourn for the environment because we are so deeply attached to it–we are it” (186), so “dark ecology is based on negative desire rather than positive fulfillment.  It is saturated with unrequited longing.  It maintains duality, if not dualism….Unable fully to introject or digest the idea of the other, we are caught in its headlights, suspended in the possibility of acting without being able to act.  Thus is born the awareness of the intensity and constraint of critical choice.  Reframing the beautiful soul is a profound environmental act” (186).  How do the poems “I am” and “The Fly” figure this?  Is Oothoon, affirming a resurgent desire in the wake of rape, an apt figure of this?

Zizek

“desire itself is a defense against desire:” (132)  beneath the signature, provocative/annoying, paradox/claptrap is an important idea we discussed a little last time:  to gain a critical perspective on a fantasy is not to dissolve its form but to demystify its content, which actually means precisely holding onto its form:  the emptiness of the fantasy, which is to say the fantastic status of the fantasy, is manifest as such only in that empty frame or skeleton of the hollowed out fantasy as fantasy.  Hence “the paradoxical intermediate role of fantasy:  it is a construction enabling us to seek maternal substitutes, but at the same time a screen shielding us from getting to close to the maternal Thing–keeping us at a distance from it.  This is why it would be wrong to conclude that any empirical, positively given object could take its place in the fantasy-frame.”  Should this happen, Zizek says, fantasy, desire lose their shape and coherence and we’re overtaken by nausea, effectively traumatized. 

Bersani

Explain what Bersani means by a “discipline of impersonal intimacy:”  a pleasure “in being ‘reduced’ to an impersonal rhythm” that “doesn’t satisfy conscious or unconscious desires; instead, it testifies to the seductiveness of the ceaseless movement toward and away from things without which there would be no particular desire for any thing, a seductiveness that is the ontological ground of the desirability of all things.”  Is this analogous to Zizek’s hollowed-out frame of desire?

Bersani proceeds to suggest that this crystallization of the materiality of things independently of egoistically possessive relations to them unlocks an analogously postindividual experience of desire as the substrate of thinghood per se.  How and why does this discipline of impersonal intimacy herald for Bersani an “ecological ethics…in which the subject, having willed its own lessness, can live less invasively in the world,” making it “not only imperative but natural to treat the outside as we would a home”?  How does this relate to Morton’s “dark ecology?”

Wordsworth

“We are Seven” is ironic in the sense that the poet presumes the girl could know nothing of death whereas the girl demonstrates an expertise in death that the poet lacks.  So the poem is just as much about what she knows as what he doesn’t.  But what is the significance of the fact that this knowledge/experience/wisdom of the girl’s is framed in terms of ‘being seven?’  the figure of a number seems like an oddly impersonal and abstract way to articulate a special intimacy with death, no?

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25 Responses to notes & questions for Oct. 12

  1. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    I assume the question behind the question (so to speak) about “We are Seven” is pertaining to the possible symbolism for the 7 deadly sins?? That was my first thought with regard to the precise number, or better (and more likely) the seven sacraments? I’m guessing…

    Personally I was considering the theme of permanence vs impermanence in Thel– and the Keats poems for that matter. It seems beyond debate to the child in “We are Seven” that the siblings who are dead are still are permanent in creation–they have not ceased to exist. They lack of animation, visible presence, and above all changeability– but not existence as whole persons.

    When we consider the example of Freud’s little boy who played “gone” the subject of object permanence is something that babies–all people– seem to need to learn and yet are infinitely delighted in. The child of “We are Seven”, perhaps because she has not reached that rationalising stage of her life, as the poet has, takes for granted this permanence of people in her life regardless of their ability to be animated, changeable or present visibly. Part of who she is is bound up in who they are–hence the term “we.” She has not come to a point in her life of dissecting the human experience of existence into the spiritual, mental, and physical. Or her individuality identity from the identity of others for that matter…

    • Arin Vaillancourt says:

      I really like your response to this Rihannon, it helped clear up some things about this poem for me. I can’t help but think that maybe the number is not so important, or more precisely the symbolism of that number. Like last week we tried to analyze the number of kisses Keats had in the la Dame poem, but there was a note saying that the number had no relevance. It was just for stylistic purpose. So are we wrong in asking if there is any meaning in this number? Did Wordsworth choose seven because it rhymes with heaven and so many other words? Did he choose it because it sounded like a good amount of children to have? I do not know, but I am choosing to see it how you said, in terms of permanence versus impermanence. I do not place importance on the number because the number is essentially irrelevant except in an empirical sense. I also do not believe it is meant to be callous or impersonal in the view of the little maid either; it is just how she relates to us in a way she knows we understand.

  2. carmelohman says:

    In response to “We Are Seven” …

    While this may seem like an interpretive stretch, seven is a prime number, meaning it is divisible only by one and itself. I doubt that Wordsworth had this in mind when he wrote the poem, but having said that, it seems relevant in that the little girl refuses to divide her brothers and sisters into categories of Living and Dead. She and her siblings exist as a single “unit,” one which either exists as a whole made up of seven little sub-units or doesn’t exist at all. She does refer to her brothers and sisters in groups of two, as well as to “John” and “Jane” individually, therefore showing some surface awareness of their independence as beings. I feel that any sense of independence is nullified, however, by her constant use of “us” and “we,” not to mention by the similarity of the names “John” and “Jane.” Ultimately, the fact that the “unit” of siblings is made up of distinct organisms seems unnecessary to her, because she perceives these organisms as being inextricably bound to one another. But what binds them? I think that, in posing that question, we lay ourselves open to the true horror of this poem. It strikes us that the siblings are bound not only by ties of family or companionship. They seem bound by some obscure force, one that sends chills down our spines because it flouts the ubiquitous view of death as separation. The narrator is obviously grappling with this concept when he yells: “But they are dead; those two are dead!/Their spirits are in heaven!” (65-66). With no regard for our conventions, this force erects a bridge between the worlds of the Living and the Dead, granting the little girl an untimely knowledge of death and leaving us feeling uneasy and exposed. For me, at least, it is primarily this anonymous binding force which lends the poem its air of eerie, otherworldly horror.

    As an observation, it seems to me that Wordsworth’s first stanza refers to the “unit” of children rather than the little cottage Girl in particular:

    ——–A SIMPLE Child,
    That lightly draws its breath,
    And feels its life in every limb,
    What should it know of death? (1-4)

    By describing the unit as “A SIMPLE Child,” Wordsworth emphasizes the singularity of the entity. By using “it” rather than “he” or “she,” he dehumanizes the children in the eyes of the reader and reduces them to components of a larger being. The little cottage Girl’s appearance, all sweetness and delight, clashes with this dehumanization and makes her strange, confusing words all the more distressing, as both the narrator and reader struggle to reconcile the contrasts.

    • Alyzee Lakhani says:

      Carmel, I find your reading of “We Are Seven” so insightful, especially in that you see the “true horror” of the poem in the little girl’s confidence in the seven’s unity in spite of Jane and John’s death(s), that she sees life and death as a continuity, rather than as contraries. In her eyes, there is not Being versus Non-Being, but only Being in its different forms, each one equal to the other; and if distance is equal to togetherness, where is the cause for mourning?

      Paradoxically, perhaps her insistence that “death” doesn’t mean “gone”, hints at a suggestion that “life” may not mean “here”. The challenge to these binaries is rattling. If being alive and together is no different from being dead and apart, is our apartness in life being emphasised in the poem? Perhaps in continuing thinking of her siblings as existent, she is making the statement that in death and separation, her siblings are as close to her as their individual subjectivities allowed: not very close at all. Instead of this apartness being a cause of bitterness or grief, the little girl has nothing but acceptance for it, and does not indicate that she would have it any other way.

      Perhaps speaker’s insistence that “those two are dead!” betrays his own sense of horror. Why is he trying to convince a little girl that her complacency is wrong and that she should be grieving? I am sure he is trying to restore more than just the numerical accuracy of seven becoming five in the symbolic order. The little girl inhabits both the symbolic and the Real with apparent ease and without the trauma of the speaker who, embedded in the symbolic order, hears her uncanny view of the world.

      The little girl eating her porridge at her brother and sister’s graves would especially create a feeling of revulsion and nausea in the speaker, as she is treading dangerously close to the boundary between life and death, nourishment and decay (which itself is nourishment for smaller life forms). The speaker’s attempt to sway the little girl from her belief is also an attempt to convince himself that her belief is false, to have her knowledge in his conscious mind is too much for him to bear. He abjects her view because it threatens the separation of conscious and unconscious knowledge that he needs to maintain to remain complacent in the symbolic order.

      Is the little girl allowed to have her view because she is still a (rather isolated) child, yet to become integrated in the symbolic order? In juxtaposing the two views in the poem, are we being encouraged to carry the trauma that that the speaker is trying to rid himself of? Would carrying the trauma have a social/artistic purpose, as Adorno suggested in his essay?

  3. Natassia Orr says:

    The thing that struck me most about the poem, is that when asked how many sibling she has, the little girl answers that they are “seven in all” (15), yet only numbers off six children: “two of us at Conway dwell, And two are gone to sea. Two of us in the church-yard lie” (19-21). Assuming that she is counted among the children who live at Conway, one child remains unaccounted for. Yet the little girl remains adamant that there are seven of them–not four, not five, not six. When trying to impose a rules and order or, in this case specific categories, in the life of the little girl, we reach an impasse. Is she also counting the siblings as a whole (i.e. two in Conway, two at sea, two buried AND the seven children existing as a unit, as per Carmel’s reading)? Is she counting the mother as one of the siblings, blurring the authoritative boundaries between parent and children? Is there a seventh metaphysical presence that lives among them? Has something unspeakable happened to the seventh child, so that he or she is still counted among the seven, but his or her state cannot be alluded to? The argument between the child and the narrator (there are seven children versus there are five children) is recreated in the reader (there are seven children versus there are six children). The poem seems to be reflecting not only on the issues of classifying the children in terms of living and dead, but the issues of classifying them at all. Because of the age of the “SIMPLE child” (1), we assume that she is ignorant, but we are reminded, through the constant reckoning of the children, that the little girl knows something that she is refusing to tell us, that she knows something we don’t.

    • Tina says:

      I was fascinated by your theories, but I believe it’s like this: 2 have moved to Conway, 2 are away in sea, 2 dead, and the little girl lives alone with her mother in their church-yard cottage next to the graves.

  4. Vlad Cristache says:

    In response to Austen.4:

    In this passage, Austen establishes three different general attitudes – that is, attitudes that apply to both playing music, sociability, and even politics. Darcy’s attitude, as the Professor has already noted, is one of inertia, he is involved in a discourse of talent (116). This discourse, which includes the idea that one is either born with a skill or not, makes of Darcy a typical aristocrat, or we may even say monarchist – the type that may believe in rule by divine right. Elizabeth, by contrast, involves herself in the discourse of “practice makes perfect”: if one converses enough or dances enough at balls, or practices the piano enough, one can become as good as anyone else. Therefore, while Darcy’s discourse is almost a “Catholic” one (of talent, or divine right), Elizabeth positions herself in a Protestant discourse which puts hard work side by side with success.

    A third attitude, expressed by Lady Catherine, is an almost totalitarian one, one necessarily involved in a discourse of the Master. The Lady’s opinion on piano playing is that it is best to have a “London master” (117) – that skills are neither god-given nor self-acquired, but necessarily taught by a superior. However, it is also a matter of “taste,” as she points out when she compares her Anne to Elizabeth, which means that it is also a matter of class. We must not reduce her comment on taste to Darcy’s “Catholic” belief in talent, but must be aware that, unlike talent, taste can also be taught or acquired, and it is this type of taste that the Lady is referring to. Finally, it is obvious that the Lady’s attitude toward music extends toward all other areas of life: she believes that people need a Master to survey the organization of someone’s house (as she does to Charlotte) or someone’s life (as she does to Mr. Collins). In fact, the Lady is merely upholding her own rank and position as a Master (note that she later gives Elizabeth advice on playing the piano despite the fact that she is not a “London master”).

    When Darcy says “We neither of us perform to strangers” (117), he’s making a very observant comment. What he’s noticed is that although Elizabeth involves herself in a “Protestant” discourse, and he in a “Catholic” discourse, they both are at a certain distance from these types of discourse. In other words, the terms in which Darcy talks involve him in a “Catholic” discourse, but the content of what he says is precisely that he doesn’t have the talent, that he is a misfit (wouldn’t be regarded very highly) in the discourse he’s part of. The same is true of Elizabeth since she herself doesn’t practice the piano. Therefore, Darcy’s comment means, first of all, that he and Elizabeth are at a disability, are misfits. We can extend this to say that they are either not aware of or willingly ignore what Lady Catherine holds up: the discourse of the Master: what they “should” do. We have to interpret the word “strangers” here in its full Zizekian power; it means the big Other, the one who I believe is watching my every step although I don’t know where he is or who he is. “Strangers” is the lump of people that I do not know, the homogenous mass that I haven’t rationalized, but which still has power over me because I know that its numbers outweigh the numbers of “acquaintances” on my side. It is all the people that walk by and upon whom I project my self-criticism: Why are you looking at me that way?

    It’s also interesting to note – and it gives evidence of Austen’s absolute brilliance – that what happens in the discussion also happens spatially. Austen attempts to embody the very argument that’s being made: Elizabeth and Darcy are both, as I’ve explained, on the edge of the discourse of the Master (of the big Other) that Lady Catherine upholds, just as they are at the edge of the room, next to the piano and a bit further from Lady Catherine’s dominating presence. This is precisely why Lady Catherine feels the need to interrupt and reassert her dominance and her discourse, which the two (eventual lovers) almost escape. The question is, by not obliging to Lady Catherine’s wishes at the end of the novel, do they completely escape the discourse? To push my question from last week further: is love one way of escape from the discourse of the Master?1

    Finally, by establishing Lady Catherine as the necessary supplement to the opposite of Darcy and Elizabeth’s inability – the ability to perform for strangers – Austen has already anticipated and brought objections (or revealed the truth of) George Simmel’s concept of sociability, described by Leo Bersani in “Sociability and Cruising.” Simmel’s utopian sociability can only work if it happens within the discourse of a Master. If there’s someone or something that we’re always-already afraid of offending by becoming contaminated by our desire (39), or disagreeing with the idea that a conversation should break off without tragedy (40).

    Notes:
    1. In Alain Badiou’s philosophy, love does indeed qualify as an Event, and therefore as an escape from the state of things (the reigning discourse).

  5. I’ll write a proper comment in a bit, but the last sentence is Volume II, Chapter II has Darcy’s first name in it. (If you hadn’t already found it Maddie.)

  6. Natassia, I’m curious why you assume the seventh child is living at Conway.

    Rhiannon, I agree that the children who are dead haven’t ceased to exist. Line 52 describes Jane actively dying: “And then she went away.” Jane, at least from the little maid’s perspective, still exists as she did, as an identity imposed upon a web of human and even non-human interactions. In life, this ego exists as a consolidated physical body. In death, the ego of the deceased individual remains in the minds of others. (Think Zizek’s discussion of the “primal baptism”) This consideration may seem obvious but I think Wordsworth wants us to attempt to identify with the non-conventional perspective of death as akin to someone going to live on the other side of the world (before mail and airplanes, etc).

    The number seven, as a specific amount, is a tricky detail about which to make any definitive speculations. Carmel, I liked the idea that seven, as a prime number, is only divisible by one, and itself. Once it comes to exist, it can’t be anything but itself in all its totality. It is not only the sum of its parts and yet it isn’t divisible into its parts. In terms of the perspective of the little maid, I think it’s interesting to note that in the universe, there are six directions (up, down, left, right, forward and back) and one inert position. This position of inaction that the little maid inhabits is central to reflection and perhaps is meant to parallel the readers’ perspective upon considering the poem.

    Perhaps also, in terms of the biblical creation myth of seven days, the seven children demonstrate how things can be revealed or created (we can come to know that which we don’t know that we know) but that things can’t definitively be destroyed or re-hidden (we can’t come to unknow that which we know we know). The seven children came to be (like in Zizek’s discussion of descriptivism vs anti-descriptivism) and from their “primal baptism” as seven, they can change in content, but not from the form of that identity.

  7. sorry, I should have been more specific, check out page 99 and 100 in the Zizek book and think about “seven” as the gold that Zizek uses as an example. In this sense for the little maid, seven comes to mean what the man in the poem thinks five means. Seven is five.

  8. Mandy Woo says:

    Bersani’s discipline of “impersonal intimacy” (60), that is, a pleasure “in being ‘reduced’ to an impersonal rhythm” (47) that “doesn’t satisfy conscious or unconscious desires; instead, it testifies to the seductiveness of the ceaseless movement toward and away from things without which there would be no particular desire for any thing, a seductiveness that is the ontological ground of the desirability of all things” (48) is the state of living in suspension without achieving gratification (48). Living in this way is analogous to Zizek’s hollowed-out frame of desire as “[r]hythm is what remains when content is stripped away” (46). By “renouncing possession” (47), sociability creates another world, a “shadow world” (46) “co-ordinating our desire” (Zizek 132), where “the consequence of being less than what” not who “we are” (Bersani 47) is that there is happiness in something other than self as defined by others (47).

    Bersani uses Foucault’s observation that knowledge acquisition has become “nonascetic” (Bersani 62), that is, a process of passivity in the practice of acceptance, of taking what is given to point out that the discipline of “impersonal intimacy” (60) circumvents self-sabotaging attempts to satisfy the desire of others (Zizek 134). But the problem remains that acquiring knowledge from some “center […] seems” more, but is really not, “seductive than our innumerable and imperfect reappearances outside” (62) in the margins. In other words, an “[i]ndividual experience of desire” (Dr. Earle) is the desire of community. The individual sacrifice for the group manifests in a “will[ing of] its own lessness” (Bersani 62) because individual “reappearances” (62) do not matter, only “liv[ing] less invasively in the world” (62) or in a central version of knowledge does. Since ecology, after all, is the relations between the (post)individual and their surroundings, it is “not only imperative but natural to treat the outside as we would a home” (62) because “less[ness]”, appearance, and “reappearance” (62) are defined by “outside” (62) knowledge after all.

    If this “haunting by mind(s)”, this type of “thinking of interconnectedness” where your mind, your pleasure, your pain is not your own reaction is what constitutes for “care” (Morton 184), then the negation of that aforementioned statement is macabre (184) and what Morton calls “dark ecology” (185). Morton goes on to say that “ecological ethics” (Bersani 62) gives permission for the postindividual to “stay with” melancholia (Morton 186-187). The impetus to leave it eliminates the knowledge of the “frameless formless thing” (197) and leaves us in the “claustrophobi[a]” (196) of predetermined matrix.

  9. Lindsay Vermeulen says:

    re: Austen #3

    Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam’s “meta-conversation” reveals a great deal about the relationships of the parties present. Elizabeth addresses herself to Colonel Fitzwilliam, but limits the subject of the discussion to Mr. Darcy. It is almost as though she is looking sidelong at him; perhaps subconsciously considering him as a potential romantic match. In any case, she is keeping him involved in the conversation in an almost flirtatious manner. Her conduct here reminded me of Miss Bingley’s strategy earlier at Netherfield, when while “taking a turn about the room” with Elizabeth she addresses herself to Elizabeth while referring to the present Mr. Darcy in the third person.

    Mr. Darcy addresses himself to Elizabeth, and condescends to reveal intimate details about his personality. He takes the time to construct a rebuttal of her attack on him, indicating that he regards her on more equal footing than she may assume, and that he cares about her opinion of him.

    Colonel Fitzwilliam addresses himself to Elizabeth, and clearly seeks to remove Mr. Darcy from the conversation, going to far as to reply to her “Shall we ask him why…” with an “I can answer your question without applying to him.” He intends to come out of his friend’s shadow and may even regard him as a rival for Elizabeth’s affections.

    I do believe Elizabeth intends to humiliate Mr. Darcy to a certain degree. She is flaunting her prowess in the realm of quick witted social interaction, a domain in which he has been found wanting. She has had her pride wounded by him (when he claimed she was not good-looking enough to tempt him to dance) and now finding the opportunity to return the favour, she savagely exposes his own weaknesses.

    However, I do not think the reader is intended to find Mr. Darcy humiliated; he conducts himself in a gentlemanly and very human fashion despite the intended slight. In this passage the reader is permitted to glimpse Mr. Darcy’s true nature and motivations more clearly than Elizabeth is able, since she sees him still through the lens of pride and arrogance which she attached to him on their first meeting. I might go so far as to suggest that in this scene the reader may find Elizabeth humiliating herself, both by ill-treating a gentleman who has her best interests at heart and by unconsciously employing such a transparent flirtatious device as was previously used by Miss Bingley.

  10. Lauren Weatherdon says:

    To continue with the discussion of Austen’s novel…

    Mrs. Collins’ wisdom differs greatly from Elizabeth’s, with the former evidently adhering closely to the “prudential” scruples so highly valued in her society. Perhaps Charlotte’s recognition of Mr. Darcy’s interest is purely coincidental, having been trained to seek out beneficial alliances – particularly on behalf of her friend. Like Mrs Bennet, Charlotte would fabricate the possibility of interest for her dear friend whenever an eligible bachelor stood in the vicinity. She considers Colonel Fitzwilliam as a potential suitor, too; her focus is not so exclusively devoted to Mr Darcy and his feelings. Certainly, the accompaniment of love would be preferred, but ultimately incidental in a society which prioritizes economic betterment and class standing. Furthermore, Charlotte would recognize that the class difference between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth would be impossible to overcome without love – thus, she seeks out whatever is necessary to make the match.

    That said, Elizabeth does overtly accuse herself of being “wretchedly blind” (137) after the revelation which accompanies Mr Darcy’s letter. She is incapable of viewing the match between Charlotte and Mr. Collins in an optimistic light, being obstinately opposed to the ‘practicalities’ of such a union. Her prejudices and pride lead her to automatically misjudge Darcy’s obscurity as a ‘tell’ for his despicable character: her discussions with Mr Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam, as well as with Darcy himself, attempt to delineate his actions into something explicable (with her bias necessarily leading her to a negative interpretation). She does not realize that Darcy is not putting on an act at all. Rather, he refuses to “perform” according to society’s demands: as he tells Elizabeth, “We neither of us perform to strangers” (117).

    This, then, is why Darcy holds such disdain for Mrs. Bennet (and her girls), for Lady Catherine and her “ill-breeding” (115), and for his admirer, Miss Bingley: their “performances” are shallow and debasing. Instead of illustrating their talents through “practise,” as Elizabeth swears by, the women endeavour to promote themselves through talk, without credibility (we are never told of Lady Catherine or Miss Bingley actually playing the piano or singing). While Darcy recognizes Elizabeth’s flaws, he also respects her subtle (and occasionally blatant) disregard for society’s expectations. He admires her for her ability to interact with a society constructed upon falsity, while still upholding her individuality and, at times, playfully “professing opinions which in fact are not [her] own” (116) – in short, he admires her for her action. Whereas Charlotte embodies Simmel’s idea of sacrifice, living as individual who “has to fit [her]self into a whole system and live for it” (Bersani 46), Elizabeth rejects the philosophy. Charlotte truly does find happiness “in not being entirely [herself], in being ‘reduced’ to an impersonal rhythm” (Bersani 47), while Elizabeth plays with such appearances but does not succumb to reduction. Zizek (and Lacan) would identify Elizabeth as the perfect example of hysteria, of the discrepancy between desire and demand: her voiced opinion, according to Darcy, does not equate her true sentiment and desire. This is demonstrated through their meta-conversations, which address the artifice of social etiquette; the very discussions themselves act as a parody of such performances, while simultaneously attempting to undermine them. Ironically, it is social decorum itself that prevents Darcy and Elizabeth from speaking openly to one another, which would thereby remove the existing misunderstandings.

    Just a quick (and obvious) comment: the divergence of meaning which occurs during the discussion of music gives the appearance of two (or perhaps three?) distinct conversations. The layered meaning involved in the debate between Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy and Elizabeth emphasizes the farcical nature of Lady Catherine’s parrot-like “What is it you are talking of?” (115), as well as her subsequent comments which miss the metaphoric and nuanced nature of their conversation entirely.

    • Alyzee Lakhani says:

      Lauren, your analysis of Elizabeth as being resistant to “not being entirely [herself], in being ‘reduced’ to an impersonal rhythm” (Bersani 47) helps me understand why Elizabeth was reluctant to fall into the “pure relationality” that I argue Darcy is trying to set in motion during their conversation about distances.

      I get the impression that Elizabeth is keeping up her defenses in resisting the play of sociable form that Darcy is offering. By clinging to her individuality, she resists Darcy’s offer of the ‘conversational dance’, more pleasurable for its form than its content. Would you say that Elizabeth is resisting convention in doing so, by not entering that temporary relational bond? I think the offer Darcy is making Elizabeth in this conversation is different from the marriage offer that Mr Collins made Charlotte, even though both of them invite the other to ‘reduce’ oneself to relationality, and not only because the latter is a permanent offer. While Mr Collins’ offer totally obliterates any value he has for Charlotte’s personality (especially since she was the third to receive his offer within the week), while Mr Darcy’s offer to Elizabeth retains a value for her individual opinion [“You cannot have a right to such a very strong local attachment. You cannot always have been at Longbourn” (119).] , even if he encourages her to perform an opinion that may not be her own for the sake of relational (“conversational”) intimacy.

      Does this make any sense?

  11. Madeline Fuchs says:

    Thank you Aron – I’ve finally seen where Fitzwilliam pops up – still not sure how I really feel about the name.

    I would like to respond to the questions on Pride and Prejudice for this week, specifically the first question, addressing Elizabeth’s response to Lady Catherine. It seems that these “turning of the tables” really shows off Elizabeth’s (I am forcing myself to not write Jane everytime I want to address the main character) defiance to social expectations (and why she is just so perfect for Darcy). I feel at this moment, we can draw successfully from the Zizek reading from this week. Lady Catherine’s interrogation and disapproval of Elizabeth’s background and childhood, are evident examples of the Other placing us in particular identities. Lady Catherine knows her particular way of life, and of those around her, and therefore judges everyone accordingly. Vlad you spoke of Lady Catherine’s privileging of a Master in all walks of life, and I agree with your reading. Lady Catherine supports the idea of submitting to the desire of the Other in signifying and identifying yourself. Elizabeth shows defiance here in that she does not submit to this identity of the other, instead she continues to defend her own upbringing and how it pleased her and sufficed. I would pose the question here, however, that although it appears Elizabeth is not submitting to the desire of Lady Catherine as the Other, by not obliging her and her theories, is it possible that Elizabeth is submitting herself to another Other? Possibly that of Darcy?

  12. Alyzee Lakhani says:

    Re: Austen (5) – Darcy and Elizabeth’s conversation about distances.

    Darcy and Elizabeth’s dialogue about the distance of Longbourn from Huntsford is an unexpected dip into intimacy (initiated by Mr Darcy) during their otherwise rather clipped and formal conversation. It occurs after “Elizabeth…was now determined to leave the trouble of finding a subject [to talk about] to him” (118). In this moment, Elizabeth is pronouncedly cool and reserved while Mr Darcy must endeavor to engage her. I think his strategy of doing involves a) deliberately voicing an opinion which Elizabeth cannot agree with [Charlotte’s “easy distance” from her family], and b)showing curiosity about her attachment to her home, but doing so by making a rather cocky statement that implies his knowing something about Elizabeth that she herself doesn’t know: “You cannot have a right to such a very strong local attachment. You cannot always have been at Longbourn” (119). The latter assertion is begging to be verified or contradicted, and is an invitation for Elizabeth to detail just how she feels about her home (and by extension, how she would feel about leaving it – a question which might influence her response to any proposal Darcy might make to her.

    The repeated emphasis on “You” separates Elizabeth from her family and Hertfordshire in a way that suggests Darcy would not make the above claim about the other Bennet sisters. If this conversation had continued beyond Eliazbeth’s look of surprise, she would have asked Darcy to substantiate his claim: “And what about me makes you so sure of that?” Darcy’s claim of knowledge about Elizabeth’s deeply personal attachments is an attempt, I think, to gain knowledge of them, and thereby grow closer to her. It is significant that Darcy “drew his chair a little towards her” (119) as her said the words, heightening the intimacy of their already private conversation.

    It is also important to note that in making the above speculative assertion, Mr Darcy is extending an invitation to Elizabeth to be more like himself (unattached), or admit that she already is, like him, one that favours a free-er, more private life, unimpeded by the intrusions of family and unwanted society (this is how I imagine Darcy’s life at Pemberley – I am sure he enjoys an abundance of privacy there). He does not identify with the small society of Hertfortshire, and assumes that Elizabeth – who has shown through her frank opinions and actions, to be a deviation from the norm of Hertfortshire and from that of her sex – does not identify with Hertfordshire society very much either. In Darcy’s thinking 50 miles is a “very easy distance” (118), he implies that he would want to visit family and friends only very sparingly, while his personal life and preferences would take centre stage. For Elizabeth, half a day’s journey is a lot to undertake a few times a week (as often as she saw Charlotte before the latter’s marriage) and so the distance seems an inconvenient one, especially if seen from the perspective of the other Lucases who saw her every day. Darcy’s statement shows that he is certain of finding some evidence of Elizabeth’s feeling apart and unattached from Hertfordshire, as he imagines she is. When Elizabeth does not admit any familiarity with such an idea (as conveyed by her look of surprise), Darcy is disappointed, gives up his search for sharing intimate ground with her, and is more than a little embarrassed for having sought any: “The gentleman experienced some change of feeling; he drew back his chair, took a newspaper from the table, and . . . said in a colder voice ‘Are you pleased with Kent?’ ” (119).

    The “calm and concise” (119) conversation that ensues marks Darcy changing his focus from being trained singularly on Elizabeth to being casually dispersed between newspaper and automatic, familiar conversation – one driven by a bored decorum rather than by desire for intimacy and a willingness to explore its unfamiliar terrain.

    This passage also relates to Bersani’s essay; even the short exchange involving their disagreement about distance, Darcy and Elizabeth were engaged in the “rhythmical play” (Bersani 40) that Bersani calls a characteristic of sociability. While Darcy’s other conversation starters on p.118 were closed, so to speak, by Elizabeth’s response, the disagreement about distances resulted in a kind of enjoyable push and pull that furthered the conversation topic but seemed charged with an emotion that might have little to do with the content of their conversation. In inviting Elizabeth to admit her detachment from Hertfordshire society, Darcy was bringing into their interaction, as Simmel calls it, “a freedom from bondage” (40), inviting Elizabeth to fall into a “rhythm” with him which would blur the differences between Elizabeth and Darcy and heighten the difference between those two and the wider society. This way of interaction “at once curb[s] individuality and serve[s] it” (40); these are features of what Bersani calls the pleasure of sociability, where “pure relationality” (40) is the pleasure and goal of the interaction.

    I guess my question is: Does Elizabeth reject Darcy’s intimation of “pure relationality” because it requires a peeling away of some kind of decorum? I wonder if she would have been as reluctant to admit her feelings about Hertfortshire had the two been in the midst of a crowd, instead of alone in the Collins’ parlour, unknown to the Collinses? Had Mr Darcy not vindicated himself from his perceived ill treatment of Wickham, Jane and herself at this time, would Elizabeth have not balked at such an invitation to closeness?

  13. Alyzee Lakhani says:

    oh sorry so much of my post is in italics – i haven’t figured out how to use them HTML tags yet…only the “you”s of Mr Darcy’s speech were meant to be italicised.

  14. Alyzee Lakhani says:

    typo alert!

    in my last sentence I mean to say “Had Darcy vindicated himself from his perceived ill treatment…” and not “not vindicated”.

  15. Tina says:

    I like the number seven in the poem, mainly because the ‘7 siblings’ motif occur frequently in some of my best-loved books: Archer’s Goon (Wynn-Jones), Sandman (Gaiman), and who can forget, The Secret Seven (Blyton). The seventh child is always endowed with some special/bizarre/freakish ability such as lycanthropy or the ability to be better and smarter than any of her older siblings. The little girl in Seven shows profound insight into the subject of death and departure.

    The speaker distinguishes the living and the dead by matter and physical state – spirits do not count. His is a cold and nonchalant approach that we so commonly adopt when we are faced with death outside of our physical space: there were a hundred casualties during the civil unrest in elbonia, big whoop. This is our defense mechanism.

    For the little girl, this is different. She has grown up with these people. They exist inside of her physical realm (the cottage house) in terms of memories and experiences. The deceased may be gone but they still live inside of her physical realm. Gosh, she sings, plays and dines with them. What about the older ones who have moved out into the big big world to carve a life for themselves? They too are out of her space, probably never to be seen again (if they never write back). It’s quite natural that she should choose to see her siblings as SEVEN, never as four or just two. It’s hard for the speaker to accept this, especially when he has never even met her siblings before.

    So in Zizek-speak, the girl has effectively created a fantasy realm within the radius of her church-yard cottage – a space to call her own. The girl struggles to cope with the pain of departure – siblings moving out of her space, so she immortalizes them in the number seven. Like Rhiannon pointed out, it’s always we, we, we. We are seven. The little girl exists in twilight (eating porridge after sunset with the dead) and achieves jouissance by eking out pleasure from imaginary conversations with her 2 dead siblings who are entombed (imprisoned?) in her inner-conscious. As “a simple child”, she cannot control the departures in her space. But what she can control (and this she guards fiercely) is her ability to define, to enforce the number SEVEN, such that there are no pain and departures in her happy little twilight zone.

  16. Raquel Baldwinson says:

    I want to sort of respond to Mandy’s post on Bersani and Zizek. Mandy argues that the two takes on desire are analogous. I agree and I feel like Dr. Earle’s question rhetorically directs us to this conclusion. So I’m going to focus on teasing out a distinction between the two.

    They both look at the interpretive possibilities of the “problem” of desire. Desire is an unresolved, unsatisfactorily negotiated space that separates one from the Thing (often casted as subject and object). The ideal (or “ego-ideal”) imagines a “convergence of the twain” (see what I did there?) (Bersani 53).

    Zizek and Bersani both try to hang out in this inbetween state. Zizek recognizes desire as a vessel that can never be filled. If it were possible to fulfill desire, then the discrepancy between the person and the Thing would converge as the distinguishing forms would need to collate. This would be traumatic because it would be a total ontological crisis (Zizek 132).

    But Bersani writes like a visionary… or an advocate. His posture alone contrasts with Zizek’s theory of negativity. He seems to promote sociability and cruising (hanging out in limbo) as though it is an epistemologically valuable exercise. He idealizes desire because it is a way of stepping outside of regular social relations (Bersani 60). Thus it becomes a tool that mobilizes the act of being in a way that has never really been done before. Bersani then uses this idea to suggest an improved ethic (62). This is hardly consistent with the negativity of Zizek. Is it?

  17. Arin Vaillancourt says:

    In response to Austen number two:

    I could be completely wrong, but I consider the narrator to be a blend of Austen and Elizabeth, it is Austen with the sting of Elizabeth’s character. We all know Elizabeth can be “a silly girl”, as is evident with her liaison with Mr. Wickham, and by the fact that narrator lacks compassion for Mr. Wickham’s situation. We tend to pity Wickham in the beginning because we feel with Elizabeth, but the narrator does not hold a decided opinion on Wickham for we would not have been given Jane’s voice of reason to counteract Elizabeth’s blindness otherwise. The narrator also does the same with Mr. Darcy, we are told he is “the proudest man in the room”, and we are given plenty of evidence to say his is an all around disagreeable person, but as the novel delves deeper we change our opinion of Darcy because the narrator and Elizabeth examine him more thouroughly. The narrator writes with the wisdom and wit of Mr. Beckett, but with a decidedly feminine bias on that wit. No man would care about such intimate details as the narrator cares to relate to us, nor give them such importance, as we can see with the lady Catherine excerpt. The character of the narrator parallels with the BBC version of the novel as well, for there is no narrator in the film, so Elizabeth must say the very famous opening line “”It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”(Austen, 1). So we may assume, that the narrator channels some part of Elizabeth, but is not entirely of her character, for the narrator lacks the faults of character Elizabeth has. We are subject to the narrator’s thoughts and opinions, and when the narrator holds a bias for or against a certain character, we are therefore more likely to hold the same biases. The narrator gives us a decidedly unflattering picture of Lady Catherine’s character with little snippets like the one above and direct quotes with snide commentary from either Elizabeth or the narrator. Literature does the hold the same restrictions has journalism, there is a point to having an opinion in this novel. Austen is trying to lure us over to her side of the fence with this tantalizing text; her characters are meant to sway us to her opinions and her biases. Since the narrator has an opinion, it is like we are given another character in the novel, one that is omniscient, but one that chooses to reveal what suits her agenda.

  18. Today’s discussion reminded me of this quote by t.s. eliot:

    We die to each other daily.
    What we know of other people
    Is only our memory of the moments
    During which we knew them. And they have changed since then.
    To pretend that they and we are the same
    Is a useful and convenient social convention
    Which must sometimes broken. We must also remember
    That at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.
    T. S. Eliot, The Cocktail Party (1949)

    It would also be interesting to explore the way God is described in the Old Testament, as “I am that I am”; and how in Christianity, all idenity must be derived from God, and is based on his existence. To be seperated from God is to lose your identity, to become nothing, “I am nothing” as King Lear would say (I think). In connection to the poem “I am” it seems that to say ” i am” is a prerogative of a god, because for a human to say that seems to lead only to a chaos or despair; as in, for a human to completely seperate and define his existence seems impossbile, or useless in achieving happiness. The desire to be a god, to live forever, is the desire to say “I am”. But if individualism is not the solution to this identity crisis, perhaps art is?

  19. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    I wondered if anyone else caught the possible God-reference in the words “I am”

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