Oct. 18 notes and questions


1.  Take careful note of the extent and nature of Elizabeth’s shame and defensiveness upon discovering Darcy’s humiliating disparagement of her family; what does and doesn’t embarrass her and why?

2.  Note also that in his proposal to Elizabeth Darcy dwells at length on the degradation this attachment to her family would imply for him.  Is it possible to read this otherwise than as obnoxious?  By the end of the novel Darcy will be cast as worthy of Elizabeth’s esteem, so a question to bear in mind as you proceed is whether he changes, she changes, or neither change but instead this is just a case of mixed messages and confused, incomplete communication.

3.  By contrast, Austen says that Elizabeth, in the face of such an insult, actually harbors some concern about hurting Darcy’s feelings.  Is this not to paint her as ridiculously saintly?

4.  One question I think the foregoing issues hinge on is whether a paradox of love is being papered over here, namely that what makes Darcy’s behavior insulting is, according to Austen, also finally what proves it to be an authentic expression of love.  Love is true when it causes us to overrule what seems in our rational self-interest.  But the question is why this must involve mortifying humiliation for Elizabeth; could Austen have made the same point about love without subjecting the Bennet family to such contempt?

5.  Does Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth have any special authority by virtue simply of being a letter?  how would it affect the credibility of what he says there if he’d communicated in person by mouth?  Consider also the fact that what Darcy writes overturns so much of what everybody has said not just about himself and Wickham but also about herself and her family (for instance whereas before reading the letter she blamed Darcy for Jane’s loss of Bingley, afterwards she adopts Darcy’s view that her family’s to blame).  One might suppose that written language, being more abstract and explicit than spoken language is therefore only that much more removed from the gravitational force of Burkean inertia, but it is precisely the compelling effect of such force that Darcy’s letter seems to exert on Elizabeth.  So is Austen making any larger point about a difference between written and spoken language?  could a defense of the novel, of her own writing, also be in play here?


1.  What does it mean to speak of a second death?  the distinction returns to Freud’s death drive, and attempts to account for the fact that, on the one hand, there is a space carved out within the comprehensible world of meaning, i.e., the symbolic order, for death, but on the other hand the death drive posits an underlying force hostile to meaning per se, i.e., a second death which is the “radical annihilation of the symbolic texture through which the so-called reality is constituted.” (150)  This distinction also echos the distinction we discussed last week in Zizek’s claim that “desire is itself a defense against desire.”  Do the duality of death and that of desire boil down to the same thing?

2.  What is the argument behind these ‘echoing’ claims of Benjamin and Lacan:  “The concept of the historical progress of mankind cannot be sundered from the concept of its progression through a homogeneous, empty time” and “development is nothing but a hypothesis of domination” (160).  Do you agree?

3.  What does Zizek mean by Benjamin’s “creationist materialism”?


1.  Why does Kierkegaard say that to accuse another is to accuse oneself?  (381).  Why according to Kierkegaard will the man of faith speak to God only of grace and never of justice? (386)

2.  What Kierkegaard says about echoing reminds me of a line from Shelley’s “Defense” (which you’ll read soon):  “poetry is the image of life in its eternal truth.”   It’s an essentially paradoxical claim to discover  infinity in the finite.  But Kierkegaard’s and Shelley’s claims actually seem to hinge on collapsing any distinction between finite and infinite:  on discovering the eternal truth of temporal life as such. So Kierkegaard says that “God is actually himself this pure like for like, the pure rendition of how you yourself are….God’s relation to a human being is at every moment to infinitize what is in that human being at every moment” (384).  So infinity seems to be introduced not as a separate order of reality from the finite world but rather as the sheer form itself of “echoing,” “imaging,” mirroring or poetically re-presenting the latter.  So Kierkegaard continues:  “externality [i.e., the finite, temporal world] is too dense a body to be the echo, and the physical ear is too hard of hearing to discover eternity’s repetition” (385).  Here it is hard not to think of “The Grecian Urn”‘s “unheard melodies,” and “more endeared ear of the spirit” that hears “ditties of no tone.”

So is Kierkegaard’s argument about faith translatable into an argument about poetry?  For instance, could Kierkegaard’s interpretation of the words of John, “let us love one another,” and of Jesus’s words, “be it done for you as you have believed,” be taken as argument about poetry?


1.  Explain the distinction between Erfahrung and Erlebnis. How does this relate to the distinction in the “Concept of History” between “homogeneous, empty time” and “time filled by the presence of now?”

2.  Why does Benjamin say that Proust’s concept of the memoire involuntaire “bears the traces of the situation that engendered it”? (316)

3.  What does Benjamin mean by the phrase “the experience for which exposure to shock has become the norm” (318).  Is there something paradoxical about speaking of “shock” as a “norm”?

4.  Explain how Baudelaire’s “A une passante” exemplifies the experience for which exposure to shock has become the norm.  Is something like Kierkegaardian faith, love, echoing in play here?


Notice how supersaturated with negations this sonnet is.  Wordsworth seems to set himself against everything “external” in a manner akin to Kierkegaardian faith, even the externality of the sonnet itself, which seems to communicate what it would say only by contrast with what it does say.   So how does Westminster Bridge compare with Baudelaire’s “A une passante” as 1) a reflection on the decay of experience in the modern urban environment, and 2) a reassertion of a new kind of poetically integrated “filled experience of the now” within that degraded environment?

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21 Responses to Oct. 18 notes and questions

  1. Madeline Fuchs says:

    (I really wasn’t hoping to be the first to respond – but here goes)…

    My response is to Zizek’s discussion on the two deaths – this response is posed as more of a question and less of a response to your question, Professor Earle (hope that’s alright).

    I would first like to point out Zizek’s use of the Tom and Jerry cartoon and also that of video games in his discussion of the two types of death. Although I think that these examples helped to explain to me the concept of the two types of death (so clearly actually, for once I get it) – I am a little hesitant to applaud Zizek’s discussion. Really? We’re going to pyscho-analyze a children’s cartoon? I don’t know if I necessarily would do the same; however, this comparison did help his discussion.

    A question I would like to pose about this notion of the two deaths – returning to a bit earlier in the text when Zizek uses the example of being dead, and then REALIZING that we’re dead (inevitably causing the absolute death). When reading about the natural death (part of a cycle) and then the absolute death (destruction of that cycle), I can’t help but to compare that binary with that of body and soul/mind. Can we read into this theory on two deaths as first, a death of the body, and then second, a death of the soul?

    Any thoughts? – I’m going to keep reading and see if maybe I totally missed the answer altogether, and it’s right in front of me.

    • Vlad Cristache says:

      The way I understand it is that to experience the second death you have to die both in reality and in the symbolic order.

      It’s irrelevant whether our body dies first or our symbolic identity (what you called ‘mind’) dies first. One can be ‘between the two deaths’ if one experiences either of the above. For example, the paradigmatic case of the ‘symbolic identity’ dying first is Antigone. She’s cast out of her symbolic community and is therefore symbolically dead – she is outside of desire and is pure drive – but she’s still alive (physically). A vampire or zombie might be the ‘monster’ version of this. In our world, a Guantanamo Bay prisoner comes pretty close.

      On the other hand, a good example of the body dying first is Hamlet’s father. He can’t quite die until his accounts are settled, until it’s symbolically recognized how he died. In our world, it can be argued, there are many in that position of being between the two deaths and physically dead: not only those that we still remember (Shakespeare himself, for example) but also those we’ve forgotten, the oppressed, because the symbolic order itself is founded on them. Like an iceberg where the ones in our collective memory are the part above the water and the ones oppressed (that we’ve forgotten) are the part under the water. Hence Zizek’s postulation that a revolution can either lead to “redemption” where those that were oppressed and forgotten have their deaths symbolically inscribed and their accounts thus settled; or “apocalypse” where the oppressed face their second death – they die to the point whether they can no longer be redeemed.
      [However, it’s interesting that the “redemption” and “apocalypse” coincide. A settling of accounts is another type of second death.]

      It is important to note that the point of the first death is that it leaves something uncanny behind, something that doesn’t allow us space for creating something new but rather leaves us stuck within the same coordinates. In the case of the death of the ‘body’ the ghost perpetually hangs around us, not letting us continue our lives. The point is that once it dies, we don’t merely continue our lives as they were before: a part of us dies, and leaves space for something new, for “new forms of life ex nihilo” (Zizek 149). The same is the case with a ‘symbolic’ death: instead of ghosts we have vampires and zombies hanging on to us, not letting us go. We therefore have to find a solution: in order to kill them we have to save them, so to say. In some sense we have to kill the very position that the oppressed (those that are thrown out of the symbolic order, immigrants-without-papers for example) occupy, and thus have them die a second death, in order for us to get rid of the uncanny feeling they saturate us with. But in order to kill the position they occupy we have to have a revolution, we have to invent something new “ex nihilo” to change the entire system that creates that position, that relies on some being oppressed.

    • Maddie, I imagine you have realized by now that only a question can answer a question without the gaping potentional to mislead our own or an other’s impersonally narcissistic perspective. Any answer that’s not also open, like a question, can be viewed as idealized democracy, or the coveted but impossible second death: a necessary illusion, it presupposes agreements and consolidation in an arbitrary/subjective and, without qualification, misleading way. And yet symbolic history inevitably exists, we’ve just gotta be critical and careful. (That being said I’m not going to answer your question…)

      Continuing though along with that thought trajectory but dealing with the Zizek question that seems to set up a parallel between the second death and the culmination of a fantasy:

      (“There is a space carved out within the comprehensible world of meaning, i.e., the symbolic order, for death, but on the other hand the death drive posits an underlying force hostile to meaning per se, i.e., a second death which is the “radical annihilation of the symbolic texture through which the so-called reality is constituted.” (150)) This distinction also echos the distinction we discussed last week in Zizek’s claim that “desire is itself a defense against desire.” Do the duality of death and that of desire boil down to the same thing?)

      I reflect (looking at what’s around page 166-7) that as it is not possible to create something from nothing (As Bruce Ellis Benson reflects, in all creations one must always rework that which they have existing to them, bringing various “elements together…in a way that transforms those elements.” Or, consider the first law of thermodynamics, “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change forms.”) and so the second death must be like the goal of the coming of the Jewish messiah or like the goal of the flightless kiwi bird: a goal that is necessary but impossible or even undesirable to fulfill.

      The symbolic perspective, although only presenting us anything truthful through its negative with exceptions and deformations, requires the impossible positive (necessary fiction) of the concept as a meeting point to shared reflection. (i.e. Of course political systems never work as their ideal suggests, and yet we want some sense of agreement and order)

      The more personalized version of a reflection on the second death comes with a look at desire: of course a reality won’t live up to the fantasy, and yet we need the reality for the fantasy to organize our self and desires.

      • Alyzee Lakhani says:

        I think the “duality of death and desire” DO boil down to the same thing:

        The death of the body is not the goal of the death drive, which “presents an underlying force hostile to meaning”, precisely because the death of the body does not ensure the subject’s release from the network of signfying notions that it (consciously) lives in. As Prof. Earle wrote, there is “already a space carved out” in the symbolic order for death – that is, we assign the phenomena concepts (result of aging, “freak” accident, peaceful endings, beginning of a new life invisible to us). If the death drive is really against all this signification, the kind of death it would be seeking is the second one, one that ends and destroys the symbolic order. Nothing can be said to interpret this kind of death as it would be removing its appeal to the death drive. I guess the death drive craves an end to fantasy, desire (even for that of death) and the network of all our meanings.

        Hamlet’s father had the first death and not the second; I wonder if its possible to achieve the second death without achieving the first, not just by a condition that takes away ones ability to talk, think and signify, but to actually bewilder the symbolic order and not deal in it. I suppose just taking human form and being seen makes a person “in” the signifying network, and any “deviant” activities of his would be framed by the symbolic order.

      • Alyzee Lakhani says:

        cont’d from above/or below post:

        The desire as a defence against desire is at first glance a Life/Continuation/Pleasure principle it is a defence against the absence of the Thing which constitutes (the second) desire. So while the death drive is not the same as the pleasure principle, they are both organized and mobilized by the absent Thing. Achieving the second death would not upset the pleasure principle or “first desire”, but would do away with the need for it, by destroying the symbolic order. As this is not achievable, as Aron points out, the two drives might appear to be in conflict, one looking for the pleasure of distraction from its perpetual hunger for the Thing, the other looking to end the whole system that ever removed him from the Thing, or perhaps even looking for a place beyond the desire for the Thing.

      • Vlad, what you wrote was very clear and I thought it was interesting to think about your account of the second death as a necessary fiction. I realized though that I wasn’t so clear about the significance of the idea that you can’t make something from nothing to my argument. The second death seem to imply that a state of nothingness would be brought about. I think the idea Zizek discusses in saying that all incidents are stored and those not imbued with meaning now will arbitrarily gain significance when they’re second death comes is related to the inability to have an actual second death because then wouldn’t there necessarily be a third death?

        I think what Benjamin writes contributes to the idea of things inevitably being tied to past things:

        “The past carries a secret index with it, by which it is referred to its resurrection. Are we not touched by the same breath of air which was among that which came before? is there not an echo of those who have been silenced in the voices to which we lend our ears today? “

  2. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    Haha! Madeline I totally feel the same about being the first one to post! But I haven’t gotten to Zizek yet so I can’t respond.

    I was just going to explain Kierkegaard’s take on faith. For the Christian, God will judge you in your own court so to speak. We are all culpable, but we cannot receive forgiveness if we don’t offer it. One example I have heard many times is to think of an angry, resentful person whose arms are crossed in a pout rather than embracing their enemy with arms open– they cannot receive God’s embrace whilst their arms are crossed against others. It’s simply impossible.

    That sort of brings me back to the comments I made last week about Zizek’s article on the barbarism of the modern multi-cultural west. I dunno if anyone read them, but the point I made was that Zizek had gotten the Christian understanding of “love thy neighbour” completely out of context with the actual scriptural reference and turned it into a — “hey let’s all just be nice to each other.” The “love thy neighbour” reference was about the parable of the good Samaritan. “Love thy neighbour” is part of a larger commandment about which a pharisee asked Jesus. The full commandment was “Love the Lord your God with are your heart, soul, mind, and strength– AND YOUR NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF.” Your neighbour being, As Jesus illustrated in the parable, all our fellow men regardless of their class or religion or race or personal defects. This is because, to love your neighbour IS to love God as God’s image is in all men (and women too obviously). And to love God in all men is to be open to God’s love too. But if you close yourself off from men by setting yourself apart form them in judgement or accusation you also necessarily set yourself apart from God. For the Christian it is through our love of our neighbour that we show our love for God. We cannot do one without the other.

    The interesting thing that occurred to me is the manner in which Elisabeth Bennet realises her mistake about Darcy. it really proves Kierkegaard’s point. From the very moment her pride was wounded by Mr. Darcy’s refusal to dance with her she was determined to illustrate his character according to her own prejudices. She was bent on examining the “speck” in Darcy’s eye and was totally blind to the “log” in her own. When she read the letter however she realised that the pride and conceit, the blind prejudice, and selfish disdain for the feelings of others of which she accused Darcy were actually all completely applicable to her own behaviour. She had willfully believed the truth of everything Wickham told her and delighted in it even!

    The same is true of the folly of her family. They are all so busy laughing at, judging, and delighting to despise those around them that they make themselves completely ridiculous. No one but Jane is disposed to think the best of as many people as she can whilst humbling herself, and her reward is that she is well thought of and loved by all and eventually wins her man without sacrificing her modesty. If mischief comes of her not being too open about her feelings for Bingley it is because she and Bingley are cut from the same cloth and he was humble enough not to assume that she would be in love with him simply because he was rich and handsome. So they were at the mercy of their more material relatives who wouldn’t just leave well enough alone.

  3. Natassia Orr says:

    It seems like Benjamin is arguing that part of the value of shock, like the value of the absurd or uncanny, is that it encourages a certain pattern of thought. Freud argues that “the acceptance of shocks is facilitated by training in coping with stimuli, and, if need be, dreams as well as recollection may be enlisted.” (162) To mediate the shock, to cushion the impact on the subconscious, the mind constructs some sort of narrative, taken either from memory, or imagination.

    The best way I can explain this is with an example. I was walking home one day when I saw a chair sitting in a tree. I was (understandably, I think) surprised and confused by this. At first I tried to remember a situation where I has seen or read of something similar that could explain why a chair would be in a tree. Nothing that I could remember could explain it. When memory failed, I found myself imagining how the chair came to be in the tree. I imagined the people who had put it there, I imagined why they had chosen to do so, I imagined where the chair had been before. It is this kind of imaginative thinking that Benjamin argues is conducive to poetry, and it is contingent on shock. If the chair had been somewhere common place, I wouldn’t have imagined a narrative around it.

    In that respect, I don’t think it’s paradoxical for shock to become the norm. There are many ways to be shocked. If we take shock to be (at least in part) something that is not usual, there are necessarily more things that shock us than that do not shock us. When one goes out in search of a variety of things that are shocking, the pattern of though, the creation of narrative, becomes the norm. It becomes easier to create an imaginative narrative structured around the situations that arise in life.

  4. Arin Vaillancourt says:

    I see everyone is talking about this subject already! Brilliant! I’m not alone in my heistation to “applaud Zizek’s discussion” as Madeline says. Woot.

    Death itself is laid out in ambiguous terms here; the beginning of the chapter explains how in some way, trying to even encapsulate ein Ding into words is a death. A murder of reality is committed through symbolizing ein Ding, in other words the “thing itself is more present in a word, in a concept, than its immediate physical reality”(Zizek, 145). So am I murdering the second death by trying to wrestle it into a symbolic order? By trying to understand it, rationalize it, and create some giant metaphor in order to assign it to terms I can relate to, am I not murdering it’s physical reality?

    The name of this section is also intriguing, for when we imply that death can happen multiple times, then we are also essentially saying that there is a rebirth, which for me Zizek did not make very clear (or he might have and I’m just too thick to realize he did). His example with Napoleon was laid out in this view of “two deaths”, his first defeat was his first death, and his second only happened because he did not have the good sense to realize that he was dead. However, I cannot exactly agree with the way Zizek lays out this example. Yes, Napoleon suffered a huge defeat, but he came back. He was re-born into his glory and the famous quote “If any of you will shoot your Emperor, shoot him now” now lives on in infamy. Of course no one shot him when he proclaimed this, and I like to imagine that there was some dramatic shirt ripping and a well-played “fall” to the knees. Napoleon was eventually destroyed completely, and this is where Zizek believes his second death comes into play, he now realized his grave was made, he just needed to stay put and let the mourners throw the dirt on him. However, must we always view the first death with a negative connotation, does it not imply a cyclical nature which in and of itself is a rebirth and therefore positive?

    I choose to view the first death as a rebirth, the rebirth may not produce anything positive or stimulating, as is the case with Napoleon, but I do not believe this to be the case with every instance of first death. One could even say that we experience more than one symbolic death; that our personae are forever dying under the pressure of severe trauma and in order to cope with a new existence we recreate another persona to replace the old one. Does reinvention of oneself not count as a symbolic death of the past? If this is so, how many times has Madonna died? What about Eminem? His entire musical career has been made out of failure and then achievement. A symbolic death followed by a rebirth. His last two albums “Relapse” and then the following “Recovery” imply this cyclical nature of symbolic death and rebirth. Eminem has “died” numerous times, but he continues to go on and produce more music of varying degrees of success. Thoughts?

    I’m also including a link to Eminem’s new single “No Love”, and I think this song embodies my understanding of the first death as I choose to view it, as a symbolic death followed by a rebirth. Warning, if you are offended easily, please do not view this video, as it is extremely explicit.

  5. Carmel Ohman says:

    Re: Austen questions #2 & #3

    Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth is certainly obnoxious when read in the context of the novel’s governing symbolic order. Darcy flouts convention by stripping his proposal of all pretense, of the “drapery of life” (Burke 12) to which Austen’s other characters pay careful heed. One could argue that “true love” necessarily exists above and beyond social standards – that it transcends the convoluted web of social expectation that binds the majority of the population. From this perspective, love is a universal force akin to that of fate. It is a force that bows to nothing, but rather creates an order of its own to which lovers are prostrate. When Darcy speaks of the “necessity of relating [his] feelings” (130) – specifically, when he says “The necessity must be obeyed” (130) – he is functioning in the context of love’s symbolic order rather than society’s. Love’s symbolic order requires that he thrust himself beyond the threshold of rational choice into a realm of Dionysian passion. The idea that this man, usually so concerned with preserving the social hierarchy, would cast order aside in the name of fervent love is infinitely romantic and, in my mind, trumps the offensive nature of his words.

    Upon learning of Darcy’s affections, the fact that Elizabeth feels “at first sorry for the pain he [is] to receive” (125) is hardly saintly. Her sympathy does not stem from a place of genuine concern, as it would in a character like Jane. It seems to me that this initial reaction rather betrays a hyper-awareness of Darcy’s social station… of his being accustomed to having his own way given that “he has better means of having it than many others” (121). For a character who has embodied “class-transcending heroism” (Earle Sept. 14th), who has in fact consciously endeavored to “reason away” (143) vanity and pride, it seems that Elizabeth is susceptible to the same character flaws that she condemns in others. As Rhiannon pointed out, Elizabeth’s conscious disdain for Darcy, and the social inequality that he represents, is “a log in [her] own eye” (Kirkegaard 383). If her sense of pride has escaped the reader so far, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

    Through Free Indirect Discourse in the proposal scene, Austen also underlines that Elizabeth “could not be insensible to the compliment of such a man’s affection” (125). “Such a man” in this context has nothing to do with Darcy’s character, but everything to do with what Marx would call his “exchange value.” Once again, Elizabeth’s hypocrisy is brought to light. In this context, in fact, we are forced to reconsider even the origins of her dislike for him. The fact that she was so grossly offended by his initial rejection as to cultivate a lasting resentment shows that she was somewhat invested in the idea of him – that her interest had been peaked by the “report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year” (8).

  6. Mandy Woo says:

    Both Wordsworth and Baudelaire begin their poem with the concept of “mass of the departed” (Benjamin 168) or something similar to Zizek’s “hollow frame of desire” (Dr. Earle). The difference here is that the frame is “the agitated veil” (Benjamin 168), and instead of desire as being outsourced to material objects, desire is outsourced to personhood. The personification of earth does this: “Earth hath not anything to show more fair” (Wordsworth line 1) or that there is something like an ultimate fantasy, the pinnacle of what can be seen or recognized in being and so the statement is put to us in negation and in rejection of externality (Dr. Earle). The street, too, is personified to show that this type of outsourcing is “screaming all around me” (Baudelaire line 1) as a furor without penetration and possibly owned by others which in contrast “deafen[s]” both the narrator and the woman, who is in mourning for the “crowd” (Benjamin 169) a community that is not emotionally fulfilling and shows experience in decay (Dr. Earle).

    Wordsworth’s “City” (4) is Baudelaire’s “woman” (3). Both are described as wearing “like a garment” (Wordsworth 4) “[t]he beauty” (Wordsworth 5) of the particular instance of time the narrator is experiencing, in other words, the “experience of the now” (Dr. Earle). The woman “with fastidious hand/ Raising and swaying festoon and hem” (Baudelaire 3-4) is someone the narrator does not presume ownership over. She, “with her statue’s limbs” (Baudelaire 5), is like the “silent, bare [city] […] Open unto the fields and to the sky” (Wordsworth 5-7) and the narrator is caught within their embrace: “And there was I, who drank, contorted like a madman,/ Within her eyes – that livid sky where hurricane is born” (Baudelaire 6-7). There is a thirst for experience to inform poetics and poetics to inform experience. Once the poem is written, however, there is a “pleasure that kills” (Baudelaire 8) the writer into “a calm so deep” (Wordsworth 11).

  7. Raquel Baldwinson says:

    Kierkegaard says, “You yourself are a guilty party—to accuse one another is to accuse yourself” (381). What does this mean?

    Kierkegaard uses a story to explain: a criminal steals some goods, and these goods are then stolen from him. In accusing his robber of wrongdoing, however, he is forced to confront a major barrier to justice—the knowledge that he himself is a robber. The moral is “We are all tragically flawed. To judge someone else is to allude to our own moral inadequacies.”

    But we’ve heard this before… So I think the value of this notion is not that Kierkegaard is rehearsing the old idea of human fallibility; I think the value is in his theoretical model of the conscience.

    He sets out early in the chapter to declare conscience as the topic at stake: “What is conscience? In the conscience it is God who looks at a person; so now in everything the person must look at him” (381). Kierkegaard defines conscience as the location in the human where God watches and from which all justice stems. Again, not from above, but from here and now. To approach God one must confront God’s form within oneself. The space between God and the person disappears.

    What has happened is that the Thing is here. At once there is a paradoxical distance from the ideological approximation of the Thing and a formal closeness—collapse even—between the Thing and oneself. The conscience is the form the Thing (in this case God) takes in the person. An infinite sublimity is made local through psychoanalysis’ conscience and Christianity’s God. Kierkegaard concludes: “God’s relation to a human being is at every moment to infinitize what s in that human being at every moment” (384).

    How convincing is this notion that infinite sublimity is close at hand? Can we maybe discuss what the conscience is?

  8. Vlad Cristache says:

    Re: Austen #4 and #5, and Benjamin #1.

    An instance of true love overruling and even offending rational self-interest is that of Darcy offending the Bennets. Mrs. Darcy: the mother incessantly striving to secure the wealth of her children, perhaps neither rational nor self-interested, is the one that would have Elizabeth marry Mr. Collins, would have someone else obey rationality and self-interest. Obey the big Other, the desire-economy, exchange value! Obey me, she cries. Mr. Bennet has no more reason to be excused at certain moments, Darcy tells us (and Elizabeth). Didn’t he, Mr. Bennet, suggest that our heroine too should try to find a suitor, preferably Mr. Wickham? Had Elizabeth declared her love for the officer beforehand, we could perhaps excuse Mr. Bennet (without further analysis of less obvious symptoms of the disease discussed above).

    The Bennets (Mr., Mrs., and the ladies) join together with Darcy in separating Jane from Mr. Bingley. They are the two sides of the screen door between the star crossed lovers. The parallel is with Elizabeth: she is the screen door between Darcy and himself. She splits him. Shatters him. Until he loses the consistency so typical of rationality, the self-interest which assumes there is coherent self in the middle of it all, like a magnet, like a mouth that needs to be fed – hence interest.

    Coherence on Darcy’s part can only be attained in a letter. The letter serves as a point of stability. It embodies an exchange, it embodies the screen door between Mr. Darcy and himself: Elizabeth. Elizabeth, the paragon of consistency. Ironic is that once she reads the letter she dissolves. She too is split. As though the letter – the screen door between Darcy and himself – were indeed a mirror of herself. And this is the first time she’s seeing the wrinkles, pimples, and lack of colour in her own character.

    But this comes only after a reading and re-reading of the letter. Slowly. Just as Darcy had probably “studied too much for words of four syllables” when he wrote it, he perhaps required for Elizabeth to read it four words at a time. Only so could she understand his actions, her own, and Mr. Wickham’s. And only a letter provides this opportunity. And our opportunity, as readers: that of seeing Liz’s own prejudice un-fold. The fact that she reads Darcy’s letter so quickly the first time around goes hand in hand with Caroline’s own prejudice when she deems Darcy’s writing to be uncommonly fast.

    So too we find a screen door between “Erfahrung” and “Erlebnis.” The rulers and the oppressed. Homogenous empty time and nunc stans. Rational self-interest and love. The existence of the latter in each respective situation, its possibility, is both the other side of the former, and the screen between the former and itself. The oppressed are both those that are buried by the rulers and the very splinter in their core. The abject that both forms me, against which I identify myself, by which I have a self-identity, and that which always threatens to dissolve my identity. Nunc stans then, the moment of the now, splits homogenous time, it is a crack in it. We must look carefully, as though at something anamorphic, in order to detect this pure now, the ghosts of the oppressed, the hidden “objet petit a”: the cracks in the edifice of the history made by the winners. We must internalize the split “out there,” and force ourselves to turn away in shame when we look at history, and look at it from the side.

  9. Lauren Weatherdon says:

    My interpretation of Benjamin’s distinction between Erfahrung and Erlebnis is as follows…

    Erfahrung can be understood as a collection of life experiences which function cohesively, in a similar manner to that of the historiographic recollection of “homogenous and empty time” (Benjamin XVII). As such, the collective Erfahrung does not respond well to division – its individual moments are lost in favour of the overall, recorded “story” (though it cannot by any stretch of the imagination be referred to as ‘complete’), each subsequent memory becoming lost amongst those which precede and follow.

    Erlebnis, on the other hand, is characteristically marked by those moments that, while not documented (in the case of historiography) or consciously noted, are lived through and leave “memory trace[s]” or “memory fragments” (Benjamin 160). They exist as distinct entities, which are involuntarily relived when the possessor of such memories (unbeknownst to him) meets with a material object which arouses the sensation of the subconscious memory (Benjamin 158). If, as Benjamin suggests, such fragments “are ‘often most powerful and most enduring when the incident which left them behind was one that never entered consciousness’” (Benjamin 160), then the historical materialist’s endeavour to focus on a particular moment in time – one which has, until his attempt, been left in the “subconscious” of history – would insight a sensation / an awareness equivalent to that of the sensation provoked by the “memory trace.” Thus, by recollecting the forgotten, the historical materialist offers the opportunity to “[organize] the reception of stimuli which [were] originally lacked” (Benjamin 161-62) (or, in the case of the historiographer who empathizes with the victors of history, purposely omitted). The historical materialist delights in urging the recognition of the sensation(s) associated with a moment in time—“the presence of now”—, hoping to abolish the “atrophy of experience” (Benjamin 159) which accompanies the “homogenous, empty time” of the never-ending chain of historical conformism.

  10. Tina says:

    Everyday I’m fascinated by the philosophical depth of Austen’s P&P as we dig in deeper and deeper into the chapters! I’m going to take a stab on these questions – they are highly interesting and dare I say, fun! (spoken from a girl who scans the pages and reads only the bits with Darcy’s name printed on…)

    S/N: Carmel and Rhiannon, AGAIN I am highly impressed and fascinated by what you have to say about P&P. 🙂 I basically absorb your knowledge like a sponge and applied it to have I am now writing below.

    Letters and letter-writing is a subtle motif in P&P. Consider how Elizabeth micro-scans and micro-analyses every letter she receives by reading it over and over again to the extent of her memorizing them, and along the way picks up on tiny details such as tone and emotions – e.g. she sees through Jane’s seemingly happy and benevolent facade and realizes that she’s actually very anxious and unhappy about having been “dumped” by Mr. Bingley. Letter-writing is a highly private and personal affair. It’s an only outlet of privacy and solitude for our principle characters Darcy and Lizzie whenever they wish to seek refuge from insipid characters such as Mrs. Bingley and Mr. Collins. Darcy himself is constantly bent-over scribbling a letter for Georgiana, perhaps in a bid to avoid Mrs. Bingley’s shameless flirtation. Letters can best represent the person in his current state of mind and emotion. And when you have people like Elizabeth micro-analysing every letter she received to death, it becomes increasingly hard for the letter-writer to conceal your true self in the form of a letter. Letters give you power. There is no space for opponents in this arena, no voices to drown you out. It’s the only chance of privacy for our two main characters to interact, communicate and eventually, fall in love.

    The written language is much more explicit in the sense that it is much more raw and honest. Darcy’s letter is without the usual swaggering contempt and coolness that he adopts when socializing with people beyond his inner circle – it’s reasonably fair to say that in his letters he is much more honest and open, particularly because he’s arguing in defense of himself; to clear his name after all the misinformed accusations that Elizabeth has made against his name. He is emotional, for once, hardly the same cool and arrogant man he’s often pretends to be. (s/n: even before that, you’ll see he breaks his collected appearance several times when in conversation with Lizzy) And that, I think, is what breaks down Elizabeth’s imagined construction of him – his vulnerability, emotions and reason clashes with the effigy (of Darcy) she has so happily erected in her mind. (Wickham supplies the fuel for the flames)

  11. Amy Miles says:

    Austen comments several times over the course of the novel on the difference between written language—which she treats as being a solitary experience—and spoken language, which is associated with society. Darcy’s letter is definitely one of the most significant of these comments. I was confused when I first read this passage: after being so vehemently prejudiced against Darcy, why would a letter make Lizzy so drastically re-examine her actions? Had Darcy told her the story of Wickham and Georgiana, and his part in separating Bingley and Jane, would the outcome have been significantly different? I think that there are a few interesting things going on here, but I’m going to focus my comment on the idea that the written medium (be it a letter or a novel) brings and element of choice to the reader. We constantly admire the deftness with which Austen describes the social structures of her time, and one that she frequently expounds upon is the uncomfortable, inescapable conversation: between Lizzy and Darcy as dance partners, between Lizzy and Mr. Collins, between Lizzy and Lady Catherine. Social niceties of the time enforce these encounters, and prevent any easy extrication. In presenting his defence to Lizzy in a letter, which he knows she may choose not to open at all, given the events of the previous day, Darcy acknowledges that it is Lizzy’s choice that gives meaning to the encounter. He can, indeed, have no way of knowing her actions, beyond hoping that his request (“Will you do me the honour of reading that letter?”) will be motivation enough. For Darcy, therefore, this particular encounter exists on an extremely different plane from the previous one—where his proposal had been immediate, and he had felt assured of Lizzy’s response, the encounter represented in the letter exists in a liminal space of interrupted communication: he has given his words, but has no way of knowing whether or not they have completed the task for which they were set.

    Of course, Lizzy opens Darcy’s letter almost immediately, and the effect it has on her is profound. Removed from the immediacy of Darcy’s presence, Lizzy’s reactionary prejudices (as Burke describes prejudices, or templates for interaction) are illuminated, if not completely disarmed. I think that it is vital here to note that this is the first time Lizzy has had to evaluate Darcy while she is alone, rather than in the company of others. Austen here seems to be making a further comment on the value of the written word as a replacement for actual society (as Mary says, “I should infinitely prefer a book”). Elizabeth finds truth in Darcy’s words because she allows herself to consider them outside both her own prejudices and the prejudices of her social circle, something that only the solitude inherent in Austen’s conception of the written word has the ability to achieve.

  12. Lindsay Vermeulen says:

    On Wordsworth –

    Both poems are troubled by general decay of the contemporary city, most clearly the noise. Baudelaire states this positively, by referring directly to it, saying “The deafening street was screaming all around me.” Wordsworth states it negatively, by making positive comments about the city in the absence of all its usual noise and snog.

    They differ in that Baudelaire finds a positive subject for a poem from within the “decayed” world of the city. The woman, while her silence and stiffness set her apart from the noise and contortion of the surrounding landscape, is still a part of the urban landscape. Wordsworth is struck by the beauty of the city only in the absence of everything that establishes it as a city – the crowds, noise, pollution and perhaps most importantly, the interference of man. He is comforted to find the river flowing for itself instead of being used by people.

    The rapidity of life in the city means that new experiences are happening constantly and overlapping each other. I find this lends new importance to “the moment,” beauty being found in the subtleties of a scene lasting a split second, almost like a photograph. Rural life is more like a painting, somehow slower and outside the flow of time. Baudelaire captures this moment and this woman in typical photographic fashion, the speed and frozen moment of time encapsulated in the image of the lightning flash and the hurricane. Wordsworth has ruralized the cityscape a bit, capturing it in slow descriptive brushstrokes when it is behaving least like a city.

  13. Kellie Gibson says:

    On P&P #5…

    There are so many pros and cons to either writing a letter or speaking to someone face-to-face. A fact-to-face encounter can be extremely intimidating and ergo a difficult arena to gather one’s thoughts and emotions properly (as Mr. Darcy admits he was not ‘master enough of [himself]’ {134}). It allows for interruptions to be made, causing the conversation to veer where maybe it wasn’t intended and many instances where a re-evaluation of argument is necessary before stating aloud. On the other hand, it allows for the person you are speaking with to look at your face and judge a level of sincerity – most people have certain tells, and the better you know them, the easier they are to read.
    A letter lets the author expresses exactly what they want to and gives them the chance to re-write, and even re-re-write in order to get it right. It also only gives away as much or as little as is wanted. A letter does not allow the recipient to question what is written. And, as we lit majors should know, the written word holds a whole host of meanings. This is partly why Elizabeth reads and re-reads the message from Mr. Darcy – she is trying to get any and all meanings from it, while also running the risk of eliciting meanings that are not there.
    The fact that Mr. Darcy writes Elizabeth a note cements the idea of his absence as more powerful than his presence. He does not need to prove anything by being there. His mere words on a page speak loudly enough for him. He has such authority that what he writes is law.

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