nov. 8 notes and questions

DON’T FORGET:  FIVE PAGE DRAFTS DUE MONDAY

Austen

1.  When Lady Catherine reveals her investment in marrying her daughter to Darcy she assumes a perhaps surprising likeness to Mrs. Bennet; are there other ways in which the two characters are analogs?  what might Austen’s point be in drawing similarities between these two?

2.  “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?” (237).  How are we supposed to view this remark of Mr. Bennet’s?

3.  Comment on how Darcy’s discovery of Elizabeth’s love for him is narrated:  “Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eye, she might have seen how well the expression of heart-felt delight, diffused over his face, became him…” (239).

4.  To the question of when he originally fell for Elizabeth Darcy says,  “I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”  Then Elizabeth herself steps in to explain:  “I interested you because I was so unlike them [i.e. the “women who were always looking for your approbation” and who “disgusted” you]” (248).  Is this a picture of two of the key aspects of love we’ve been discussing, that it’s compulsive and perverse?

5.  Zizek says that the true nature of the two characters is determined precisely by how they negotiate their illusions about one another (67); in Nietzschean terms, absent those illusions, they could not have become who they are.  Explain how truth could be a function of illusion.

6.  To the question of when she fell for Darcy Elizabeth emphatically jokes that “I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley” (244); does this joke cut too close to the bone?

Vermeule

1.  Why is the “modernist esthetic…incompatible with a moral point of view” (153)?

2.  Why does Vermeule claim, in spite of this, that “human psychology is inevitably moral psychology,” that “even self-recognition means facing the pressure of someone’s claims on you” and that such “moral anxiety” is “a version of the sublime” (153-4)?

3.  What difference does it make to think of God “not as a legislator or exemplar” but as “‘full access’ social agent especially interested in moral questions” (162)?

Keats

Odes are traditionally addresses to the gods of some kind, sung in praise, supplication and/or beseeching.  Keats’s odes are addressed to an electic set of god-like things.  The order in which they were written is a matter of some controversy but according to one chronology the odes are addressed:

  1. [To a mood (indolence) (which we’re not reading)]
  2. To a goddess (psyche)
  3. To a nightingale
  4. To an urn
  5. To an emotion (melancholy)
  6. To a season (autumn)

1.  In his letter on the “Vale of Soul-Making” Keats argues that salvation requires “the medium of a world like this;” in other words, the soul isn’t otherworldly but strictly a function of worldly existence.  A great way to think about Keats’s odes is as worldly media of soul making:  aesthetic experiences through which something like soul gets generated.  The most tangibly worldly of the entities to which Keats’s odes are addressed are the nightingale and the urn, whereas the one that is most recognizably ode-like and concerned with salvation is the Ode to Psyche.  So a good general question to ask is what do the odes to psyche, nightingale and Grecian urn do differently? All present an image of immortality in one way or another; but do the various images of immortality have different implications?

2.  In light of Keats’s critique of Christianity in his letter on soul-making, is his talk of worship in Psyche to be taken literally?  is he proposing a kind of religious practice here?  what could it mean to worship in a church of the mind?  wouldn’t this be at odds with Keats’s insistence that the soul is rather worldly rather just spiritual?

3.  A large section of Psyche is repeated; what is the significance and function of this repetition?  does this give it a ritualistic form?

Shelley

  1. what does Shelley mean when he says: “We want the creative faculty to imagine that which we know; we want the generous impulse to act that which we imagine; we want the poetry of life:  our calculations have outrun conception; we have eaten more than we can digest” (1195)?
  2. What exactly does he mean by calling poets “the unacknowledged legislators of the world;” what do they legislate and how? Why aren’t they acknowledged?  Do you agree with Shelley that “reason is to imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance” (1185)?
  3. Why does Shelley say that “in the infancy of society every author is necessarily a poet, because language itself is poetry” (1186); and “poetry is never more to be desired than in periods when, from an excess of the selfish and calculating principle, the accumulation of the materials of external life exceed the quantity of the power of assimilating them to the internal laws of human nature.” (1195)?
  4. Explain this passage:  “The great secret of morals is love, or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own.  A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of this species must become his own.  The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause” (1191).
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26 Responses to nov. 8 notes and questions

  1. Carmel Ohman says:

    In response to Shelley #4 …

    Last class, Professor Earle talked about the wall that exists between a person who is in the throws of suffering and all others who might attempt to sympathize with that person’s plight. Most of us have felt that unbridgeable gap – whether we were the ones suffering or the ones in the uncomfortable position of offering our sympathies. Picture a scenario like this: you’re having coffee with a friend (let’s call him Frank), chatting, laughing, enjoying the moment. Frank’s phone rings and you turn your eyes to your foamy latte for a second or two. But when you look up again, Frank’s face has dropped, his eyes have grown red rims, and his cellphone is lying open in his lap. Confused, you touch his arm and say “What’s wrong?” But in this moment, the two of you have been thrust apart. Frank’s mother has died, or his grandfather, or he’s failed his SATs; something has transported him out of that shared moment and into a realm of pain that is altogether personal. In this instant, Frank can only experience “the present” through a matrix of suffering.

    So what do you do? In the seconds that sent Frank plunging into another dimension of experience, you were gazing contentedly at the bubbles in your drink. Let’s not pretend that you could take the same leap of feeling that your friend did. What might happen, though, once your mind adjusts to the change in atmosphere, is one or some of following: (assuming that Frank has not yet snapped out of it and told you what happened) you might try to imagine what the problem might be; these imagined possibilities might evoke sympathetic feelings in you; you might recognize his body language, seeing it as a sign of sadness, trauma, etc. and formulate a response with these symptoms in mind; you might imagine how he would like you to react; or you might imagine how you would like him to react if the situation were reversed. This is hardly a comprehensive list of possible human reactions, but these hypothetical thoughts do point out the key role that imagination plays in the sympathetic process. In a situation like this, you cannot feel anything without fumbling around in that abstract attic of experience and possibility that is your imagination, and without hopefully stumbling across something that you can identify with. Because the “bad thing” isn’t happening to you, you have no other reference point.

    Without a doubt, some people are more “prone” to sympathy than others, and this is part of Shelley’s point. Those people in whom the imaginative seed grows strong also have the strongest sense of morality, and the largest capacity to love. By “enlarg[ing] the circumference of the imagination” (1191), poetry establishes a breeding ground for imagination, a faculty which in turn promotes morality. Defining morality, however, is a tricky business.

    • Aron says:

      I’m having trouble posting this so hopefully it doesn’t show up a bunch of time but:

      Dealing with Shelley’s 2nd and 3rd question, I think that Blake’s ‘Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ comes in handy, not only to explicate what he means but to simplify (or complicate) and affirm. In a conversation Blake’s narrator has with Ezekiel and Isaiah in Plates 12-13 (in which he discovers that these prophets didn’t speak to “god” in the conventional religious sense, but rather wrote from a place of “honest indignation” with an active disregard for consequence) they discuss the nature of reality (“everything possible to be believe is an image of truth.” (Blake 8)) asserting that reality is legislated by imagining something to be true, beyond our rational minds’ (arbitrary though seemingly concrete) understanding:

      “Then I asked: does a firm perswasion that a thing is so, make it so?
      He replied, All poets that it does, & in ages of imagination this firm perswasion removed mountains; but many are not capable of a firm perswasion of any thing.”

      According to Blake and Shelley, “in ages of imagination” (Blake 13) or “in the infancy of society every author is necessarily a poet, because language itself is poetry” (Shelley 1186) That is to say that in times when people were aware of the power of language–that it reifies potentially prolifically, that it functions to represent the world of Things and actual experience within the speculative space of our individually rationalized sense of the impossible-to-symbolize ‘real’ world, that it, like god or the bible, has the “absolute power of deciding outcomes, [think of master-narratives like Darcy’s letter and Austen’s conscious free indirect discourse]…[that] imagination… has set the limits and the terms…” (Vermeule 153) of reality–that in such times, or in times of such awarenesses, language not only represents but also creates that which we understand as a thing even if it is only actually the representation. (Vermeule 152: “…experience takes shape only though textual repetition.”)

      Remember the Hegelian idea that Zizek discusses when he’s looking at the two deaths, that when “reality is symbolized, caught in a symbolic network, the thing itself is more present in a word, in its concept, than in its immediate physical reality.” (Zizek 131) Considering this, the person who decides what word gets put to what thing/idea/space/relationship/etc. is actually presenting the superlatively present and accessible reality to his/her listener/reader.

      In later ages when language became less consciously reformative, except to Poets, human’s got caught in the other’s (often religions) signifying network in which an other’s imagination becomes the basis for another individual’s paradigm and that individual falls into “a strange automatic order disturbing his natural homeostatic balance.” (Zizek 132)

      So the idea that a thing can be more present in the word than in the physical reality is super problematic if the word (“…responsible for the power of assimilating them to the internal laws of human nature” (Shelley 1195)) is insufficient when it comes to trying to symbolize that which is beyond such a network, the “accumulation of the materials of external life” (Shelley 1195). At such a time, people who are conscious of the way language functions, people who know god is dead, people who are comfortable as master narrators, people who can reform language to include things we now can hardly imagine or process, namely, poets are to be desired.

      • boearle says:

        excellent synthesis. but i’m not sure that when shelley speaks of the “accumulation of the materials of external life” he’s referring to something beyond the symbolic network but, on the contrary, an order of calculated, objective reality that the imagination has failed to work through or “digest”.

  2. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    In answer to no.4 about P&P I wonder if the compulsiveness of love and the so-called “perverseness” are actually two aspects of the same thing in Darcy’s case. I tend to think of the compulsive nature of love as the unconscious, unintentional onset of an emotion. First comes interest or curiosity and then admiration and then what CS Lewis called “Eros” (Cristina, you know what I’m talking about, right?)–but it may happen suddenly or over a long period of time and there’s really no telling when you went from one state to the next. You’re too preoccupied with the person in question to be objective.

    “Perverseness” seems to do with what particularly attracts or repels a person with reference to cultural or habitual expectations. In Darcy’s case we call his love “perverse” only because Elizabeth does not possess some of the material recommendations that Regency society deem the most desirable in a spouse– ie money or status. He wants her because, by the rules of his society he /shouldn’t/ want her. So I would argue that Darcy’s attraction to what he’s not supposed to find attractive is actually still a kind of compulsion–if indeed this was all that he found attractive.

    However, she did possess a quality that the others did not, which was that she did not appear to want his attention. There was a distance there that I think the heart craves, because in spite of our compulsive nature we also need to be transformed by our relationships– in order to be /free/ of our compulsions. I would not call this “perverse.” Is it compulsive as well? I’m not sure. I don’t think so. Or, at least it seems different from the compulsive reaction against the expectations of society or the habitual pursuit for material cultural ideals. It implies that what the lover desires is desire itself. Because that desire requires the lover to change himself?

    Oddly enough Mr. Collins is the one who introduces this phenomenon. When he proposes to Elizabeth, he comments that she is only refusing him to increase his desire– he seems aware of the phenomenon, but he is completely clueless as to its purpose in relationships, which is to transform both lovers for the better.

    The void between two people, who are unsure of each others’ feelings, forces them, in a creative effort, to bridge that gap– to break out of their compulsive, self-involved habits and try to communicate to each other in a new language. Which is why Elizabeth comments that if desire or love is not strong “one good sonnet will starve it away entirely”(31)

    So I very much appreciated Zizek’s take on the book (sorry Arin)– I thought he illustrated very nicely the point :”Only the “working-through” of the misrecognition allows us to accede to the true nature of the other and at the same time to overcome our own deficiency,”(67). Which by the way is exactly the kind of thing Kierkegaard is talking about: “Brothers, let us love one another,”–“like for like” and what Keats means when he says that a world of pains and sorrows is necessary for the creation of a soul– we need to suffer the attacks on our autonomy that love affords us to grow from mere “sparks of intelligence” into god-like creatures.

    • boearle says:

      very nice but i don’t totally follow why you correlate compulsion with self-involvement. it would seem to me that compulsion and perversion represent breakdowns of the self; i.e. self-dissolution. indeed that’s what you’re praising about them, isn’t it?

      • Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

        Well I referred to “compulsions” as self involved insomuch as we allow them to rule us without question I suppose– to dictate our personality. This isn’t to say that every natural feeling ought to be rejected on the basis that it is compulsive and therefore self-involved. I merely meant that when we refuse to meet people in the middle somewhere– to bridge the gap– because we’d rather see things exclusively our own way and insist on sticking to our own compulsive /habits/, THAT is self-involved. Falling in love is a compulsion that isn’t necessarily self-involved– insisting the relationship play out according to your own rules is– does that make more sense? When we react to our compulsions with self-dissolution that’s the opposite of self-involvement.

    • Alyzee Lakhani says:

      I find these ideas intriguing Rhiannon. Maybe you can tell me if I’ve understood correctly:

      -Darcy falls for Elizabeth because of his “compulsion” that attracts him to what society disdains as a good spouse, and maybe because she wasn’t interested in his attentions.

      -Underlying this “compulsion” is a non-compulsive/self-aware desire to change/improve oneself by taking the difficult road instead of the easy one.

      When you say the heart craves the “distance” like Elizabeth’s distance to Darcy, do you mean that in choosing Elizabeth, Darcy is setting himself up with an object he never can/ and never desires to possess (the submission and approval of)? I think this reading works really well because of Darcy’s gratitude to Elizabeth’s candour to him when he proposed: “What do I not owe you [Elizabeth]! You taught me a lesson…[If it hadn’t been for you I would still be spoilt and overconfident]” (241). Darcy is pleased that Elizabeth’s sharp words spurred him to change himself, become more self-aware and at better peace with himself.

      Do I have your reading right?

      I think its significant that Elizabeth’s retort after his 1st proposal is in some ways unfair, especially since she reacted very differently to his subsequent letter, which expressed more dislike of Elizabeth’s family. In other words, Elizabeth is not really an impartial judge of character so why is Darcy taking her word for truth, when he could pass her off as one with wounded pride? Is it because if she is his jury and disapproves, he has to undertake a more intensive project of self-change? He knows that Elizabeth habitually sets herself apart from others in the room and prides herself on knowing character – is she (among other things) a tool he wants to keep himself self-aware? I think, to him, it might be a bonus that Elizabeth is not an impartial judge, as it is only a partial judge that could continue to find fault in another.

  3. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    Hey Vlad– there’s your Orthodox theology of theosis coming out 😉

    “theosis is becoming by grace what God is by nature” (St. Athanasius). This can only be achieved in community (by forming and maintain relationships) and through the struggle that affords us.

    http://orthodoxwiki.org/Theosis– if you happen to be interested…

    • Vlad Cristache says:

      Thanks Rhiannon. I’ve done some research on it (although haven’t read a single book about it) a while back. I must admit it’s a wonderful concept. Too bad for the sucker Catholics who get stuck with “original sin.” 😛 At the same time, there are certain problems with it: namely its “reward” basis, the fact the it participates in a certain economy, etc. In other words, I agree with it as long as “God” in this context is something indeterminate, so that we’re never sure if we’ve attained such a theosis. Kind of like Kant’s empty (merely formal) “categorical imperative.”

  4. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    I’m no theologian so I won’t argue with you, but if you’re actually interested then you’re better off asking someone who actually knows. What do you mean by “reward basis”?–I don’t disagree, I just don’t understand.

    The way I understand the concept, it’s really more a way of life rather than something to be attained– you can’t just get it and have it. It’s something you work at your whole life– it’s a participation in what Christians call “the age to come.” But don’t take my word for it. I know of it– not all about it. I just thought it was sort of relevant to the readings.

  5. Vlad Cristache says:

    Re: Shelley # 2 and 3

    It is in these of Shelley’s lines that I find some freedom “beyond the attitude principle” that Professor Earle put forward in “a note on forced choice/love of fate.”

    I’ll begin explaining the freedom that I believe Shelley argues for in a roundabout way, through Nietzsche. In “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense,” Nietzsche’s general argument is that language qua language is metaphorical and therefore lies/falsity/inauthenticity are inherent to it – that it cannot be neutral, like the sciences wish it to be. Nietzsche characteristically is implying that one shouldn’t pine over this limitation of language but rather uphold it and perform it. The main point to take away, however, is the metaphorical basis of language. Shelley partly sees the same thing: he claims that “in the infancy of society […] language itself is poetry” and, elsewhere, that the language of poets “is vitally metaphorical; that is, it marks the before unapprehended relations of things, and perpetuates their apprehension” (1186). The crucial difference between his account of language and Nietzsche’s is that he limits what I called “the metaphorical basis of language” to “the infancy of society” and to “poets.” A good way to understand this, and with the risk of simplifying Shelley too much, is that although (non-poetical) language is metaphorical it consists of dead metaphors, whereas the language of poets (et al.) consists of “actual” metaphors, ones that “mar[k] the before unapprehended relations of things.” In the fantasy space that Shelley puts forward of an “infancy of society,” language wasn’t yet developed (or old) enough for there to be any dead metaphors; that is, all of language was metaphorical in the way that a poets’ language is metaphorical.

    The dichotomy between reason and imagination, then, is that between recycled/dead metaphors and new metaphors. Pre-existing concepts and new concepts. Of course, this doesn’t explain the crucial effect that the latter has on the former: namely, it is its foundation, its substance, its prime mover. We cannot merely escape this problem by locating the importance and foundational quality of “new metaphors” in the past (like I did before), since Shelley is arguing that poets are vital “now.” Shelley’s argument is therefore more paradoxical than it first appears. If imagination is synthetic, it means that it brings the disparate elements of the world together through metaphors, but this would imply that it stabilizes our understanding of the world instead of innovating it. In other words, does the imagination and poetry push our understanding of the world into chaos and negativity (and therefore creativity) or into order? This is the point which I claim Shelley doesn’t make clear in his discussion.

    Either way, it is clear how poets are foundational to language and to our understanding of the world: they are the only ones that can provoke any “progress” or “innovation” (through new metaphors), and the only ones that can make sense of the world in language (through synthesis in metaphors). The two steps that need to be taken, then, from this statement to Shelley’s own statement that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” is to invoke Kant’s basic insight that our “understanding of the world” is/creates the world – in other words that the world doesn’t exist outside of our understanding of it – and Lacan’s insight that there’s nothing outside of language – that the world’s building-blocks are words. Finally, there’s the question of acknowledgement that Shelley seems to dwell on for most of the essay: here we can merely tell him how wrong he is to defend poetry in the first place: poets wouldn’t be what they are without occupying the position of “l’etranger” or “the Other.” Trying to get poets acknowledged as the legislators of the world destroys their efficacy.

    Back to the question of freedom: if then, we have any freedom it’s that of being poets. That of risking a position of madness, of mixing words that haven’t been mixed. But we shouldn’t then attempt to categorize ourselves as “geniuses”: the ability for poetry has not so much to do with our “sensibility” as with our locus in the world. And insofar as we can’t determine our locus we don’t have freedom, but insofar as we choose to play with the boundaries of our locus we do. In other words, this chair in a certain classroom is my “locus.” I can’t choose any other. The point of view that we’ve been criticizing so far is that of a person who says: “but you can just get up out of that chair whenever you want. You can quit the class or move into any other chair.” But what you notice is that in fact you always come back to the same chair. And then you say: if it wasn’t for the rest of the world… What you really have freedom to do, I claim, is not only to say “this is my locus and I can have no other” or “I take full responsibility for sitting here” but also to sit in the chair however you like, even upside down. That’s poetry.

    • Vlad Cristache says:

      Also, the Zizek reading made me think of the BSS song “Romance to the Grave” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uggPrZ2_nDQ), with the epic lines: “When I’m right I’m always wrong beneath the wise/ When I’m wrong I’m always right to breathe the miles.” And back to Shelley: words that don’t fit together, that bring together disparate things.

    • boearle says:

      i think shelley’s point is that the world has become all too understandable, excessively rationalized and calculable. but knowledge untethered from imagination is, from an existential rather than epistemological perspective, essentially arbitrary and chaotic. so shelley would mitigate the existential chaos by making what we *merely* know something that we also and more profoundly imagine.

      • Vlad Cristache says:

        But I still see a paradox there: a world in which we have knowledge but no intuition is both “too understandable, excessively rationalized, and calculable” on the one hand and “essentially arbitrary and chaotic” on the other.

      • boearle says:

        it’s the paradox that’s integral to enlightenment on adorno/horkeimer’s account: the unity of abstract knowledge depends upon the radical contingency and arbitrariness of the “specimens and materials” that knowledge organizes.

  6. Madeline Fuchs says:

    In response to question 1 and 2 on Vermeule’s “God Novels.” I didn’t read the questions for this reading until after I had completed it, and I was happy to see that there was one addressing these series of quotations, because I had also highlighted them as I was reading. I can’t say that I really have an answer to these questions, but I can try to shed some more light on what Vermeule is attempting to convey in these couple paragraphs that seem to completely contradict themselves.

    When he writes that “a modernist esthetic is incompatible with a moral point of view”, I understood it in the sense that in modernist esthetics we are unable to properly view the truth because we are so consumed by so many different influential factors. The example h uses is of the elderly novelist being unable to “find her way back to the scene as it really happened” because there have been “so many layers of memories, drafts, and snippets of other texts.” All of these factors have complicated her remembering of this particular scene, and therefore, as Vermeule suggests, creating amoral fiction.

    This exact point though is put into question less than a full paragraph later, when Vermeule writes “the attempt to write amoral fiction – like the attempt to be amoral – is doomed by the fact that human psychology is inevitable moral pscyhology.” From this, I am able to draw two conclusions. Either a) the elderly novelist at the end of Atonement has failed in her writings altogether or b) we can only be amoral when we are trying to moral and fail to do so? (That last conclusion is a little incomplete).

    I’d like to end my comment, however, on addressing Vermeule’s use of McEwan’s novel Atonement as an example in his theory on God Novels. Although I haven’t read Atonement (heard enough about it though, and saw the movie – cheating, I know), I’m not sure if it is a fair example to show a “social novel” that is also a God novel, because the entire time the narrator is consumed with atoning for the terrible things she has done in her life. It seems almost like a conflict of interest in that the narrator is striving so hard to achieve morality and to feel less guilty, and wouldn’t that be the overarching effect in the novel? I realize that this may sound dumb considering the whole point is that the novel is consumed with morality, but isn’t the narrator’s obsession with her own morality too selfish? Or is that the point?

  7. Lauren Weatherdon says:

    Just some thoughts regarding my initial reaction to Vermeule’s “God Novels”. . . I agree with Madeline’s comment (to paraphrase) that modernity has obscured our vision of ‘Truth,’ and I love the reference to the “many layers of memories, drafts, and snippets of others texts” in Atonement — I think this works well, in a way, with Benjamin’s “irretrievable picture of the past” (V)(“On the Concept of History”)… that multiple narratives derived from experience overlayed with reimagined memory inhibit our ability to access ‘Truth’—or, at least, the nearest version.

    My understanding of Blakey Vermeule’s assertion that “a modernist esthetic . . . is incompatible with a moral point of view,” when read in light of her subsequent comment that “human psychology is inevitably moral psychology” (Vermeule 153), is that morality is not so much incompatible with modernity as it is problematic. Whereas morality previously existed as the predominant motive of humanity, it has since been diluted: ‘conduct novels’ are not as prevalent as they used to be. Vermeule indicates that the “view of many modern writers . . . [is] that they alone shoulder the burden of too much freedom since they cannot match their predecessors’ confidence in a properly morally ordered world” (Vermeule 161), emphasizing this notion that morality has been ‘dethroned,’ as it were, from its pedestal. While morality is intrinsically present within any analysis of human psychology (and within any novel), it is no longer assumed that an individual is motivated by a strict, moral guideline. Nietzsche would identify this as due to the absence of an “intellectual conscience”:

    . . . the great majority of people does not consider it contemptible to believe this or that and to live accordingly, without first having given themselves an account of the final and most certain reasons pro and con, and without even troubling themselves about such reasons afterward. (Nietzsche 2)

    This, perhaps, illustrates why it is that “[t]o the God novelist, moral anxiety is a version of the sublime” (Vermeule 154), as this anxiety induces a search for the obscure Self—it demands attention to the intellectual conscience that has been cast aside.

    The notion of God as a “final guarantor of full access to social information” (Vermeule 149) reminds me, in part, of Kierkegaard’s Works of Love. If the author is—within the realm of the novel—“God,” then this possession of “full access” requires that the author enforce the laws equally and deservingly upon all of the characters: “God looks impartially at all and is wholly and completely what you want to make him only in part” (Kierkegaard 381). This is different than identifying the God figure as merely “a legislator or exemplar” (Vermeule 162) in that it indicates direct involvement, a ‘hands-on’ approach – “God” not only exemplifies and instates the laws of conduct, but also takes interest in how things ‘play out.’ Functioning as a “‘full access’ social agent” (Vermeule 162) the author performs this role of omniscient mediator, involving himself (or herself) in all interactions.

  8. Natassia Orr says:

    On Question 5 for P&P

    In physics, knowledge can be taken as the possession of truth. Since physics is ultimately a quest for knowledge, the questions of what can actually be known is a point of interest.

    Earlier in the 20th century, there were two major arguments about the limits of knowledge. One was that a being of sufficient intelligence can know something with absolute certainty, but that humanity had not yet reached that stage. The other was that nothing could ever be known beyond a shadow of a doubt, but that one could be so certain that it may as well be true. For example, it is impossible to prove that reality actually exists using the laws of physics, but we are (in general) so convinced by the existence of reality that it may as well be true. These arguments are why scientists often say that a theory can never actually be proven, only disproven. (Modern physics, incidentally, tends towards the second argument. Think of Heisenberg uncertainty, where certainty in knowledge of position and momentum of a particle are necessarily inverses of one another, because of the very nature of subatomic particles.)

    The same sort of problem arises when negotiating social interactions. Like Vermeule says, people can make inferences and reasonably good guesses at what other people are thinking, but one cannot ever actually know with certainty. Yet the ability to recognise that others think is necessary. Vermeule points out that the characters (Don Quixote, and others) who don’t reflect, don’t make an attempt to understand the thoughts of others, are functionally insane. To function in society, one has to take one’s guesses, one’s illusion of understanding, and treat it as if it were true.

    The possession of truth is an illusion. Like so many other things we’ve discussed in this class (the fantasy, for example), absolute truth can be pursued, but never actually obtained.

  9. boearle says:

    well put; but i’m not sure i see the distinction between ‘treating illusion as if it were true’ and the ‘functional insanity’ of those who are oblivious of the necessity of illusion. it seems that acknowledging this necessity means accepting an important difference between illusion and truth, no?

    • Natassia Orr says:

      I’m not sure what you mean exactly when you say “this necessity”. Do you mean the necessity of creating an illusion, or the understanding that the illusion is an illusion?

      For Vermeule, “functional insanity” seems to be being unable to create the illusion, to understand that other people actually think. Take Pride and Prejudice. It would be socially insane to think that Wickham and Lydia run off with nothing in their head, that Mr. Darcy’s intervention lacks ulterior motive. One has to recognise that they have thoughts and motivations.

      To interact socially, you have to make assumptions about other people’s thoughts and motivations. Before Jane can decide what to about her situation, she has to guess about Bingley’s motives for cutting ties with her. As Mr. Darcy later reveals, Jane’s guesses were incorrect; however, the realisation that she is incorrect is not actually necessary to function in society. Very useful, but not actually necessary. Elizabeth imagines that she is a good judge of character. She functions much better when she realises that her illusions about Darcy’s motivations are false, but she can still function in society without understanding that she is not a perfect judge of character because sometimes she will be right: he initial illusion that Bingly is in love with Jane is spot on.

      Despite Elizabeth’s misreading of Darcy, there is a fundamental level at which the illusion MUST be taken as true to have a meaningful social interaction. Take the question “Do you understand this statement?” which is often implied but rarely stated. To even ask the question assumes a positive answer–that is the illusion, that the answer is positive. Without assuming a positive answer, its impossible to go anywhere. It’s like assuming reality is real: you can never actually know that you have been understood, you can only know that you haven’t (like if someone answers the question by saying “giraffe” or whatnot). While at “higer levels” illusion can be taken as illusion, at this kind of fundamental level illusion can be treated AS IF IT IS truth. At this sort of basic level, if your illusion isn’t true, it doesn’t actually matter: there is literally nothing you can do about it.

      Have I explained myself better, or have I worked myself into a paradox?

      • boearle says:

        i think you’re exactly right; it seems to me you’re describing what zizek discusses in terms of hegelian speculative propositions like ‘the spirit is a bone.’ the point to emphasize is that there is a world of difference (in terms, again, of formal complexity) between treating an illusion *as if* it were truth and treating it as truth. my personal feeling is that lydia is capable only of the latter.

  10. Mandy Woo says:

    The repetitions of Keats’ Psyche (lines 31-35) and (45-49) move the history of “Soul-making” (“Vale of Soul-Making) from that of pagan gods of Olympus (25-30) to Christian one (38-39) and shows that the “pale-mouth’d prophet dreaming” (35, 49) is a mantle that kills the soul as an “otherworldly” (Dr. Earle) device because there is a difference made by Keats between soul and mind, which he also states in the letter on Soul-making.

    What is being worshiped in each system is made clear in the wince-inducing line “Vesper, amorous glow-worm of the sky” (27). The image of the evening star should be an “image of immortality” (Dr. Earle) but as a “glow-worm” (27) it is put in awful, oscillating motion and so immortality itself is grounded in the passing of time. To try to fulfill but be denied “shrine[,] grove[,] oracle[,] [and] heat” (34) is to be denied linear chronology’s palindrome of (Christian) “shrine” as (pagan) “grove” (pagan) “oracle” as (Christian) “heat”. This denial is deserving of a praise made in lament, “O brightest [up to and including this moment of time]!” (36). In a critique of Christianity, Keats argues it is the “latest-born and loveliest vision” (24) that aims to fulfill the compulsive quality of linear chronology like its predecessor and does not acknowledge the possibility of its own “retire[ment]” (40) in “holy” methodology (38-39). Time has passed and it is “too late for antique vows” (36) or the rituals that promise creation of soul. The pun in “Too, too late for the fond believing lyre” (37) of “lyre” for liar calls attention to “the falsity of his/her own subjective position” (Žižek 67). Keats calls on this system to recognize “thy lucent fans [are],/ Fluttering among the faint Olympians” (41-42). For followers of the system to “make a moan” (44) or even “delicious moan” (30) is a sound that is possibly of pain and could just as easily be a performance.

    The fourth stanza begins with an assertion of affirmation:

     Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane
      In some untrodden region of my mind,
     Where branchèd thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain,
      Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind (50-53)

    A “fane” (50) or feign where the spiritual “pines” (53) are replaced by “branch[es]” of the “pleasant pain” of “thought” (52) that is rooted in the ground of “mind” (52). This worldly tree is anticipated in the third stanza where is “I” used (43), the space where Keats “see[s], and sing[s], by my own eyes inspired” (43) and whose soul is “own[ed]” (43) by the world.

  11. What difference does it make to think of God “not as a legislator or exemplar” but as “‘full access’ social agent especially interested in moral questions” (162):
    I am immediately reminded of this quote from the Gay Science:
    “How is it then that I have never encountered anybody, not even in books, who approached morality in this personal way, and who knew morality as a problem, and this problem as his own personal distress, torment, voluptuousness and passion?”(Nietzche II.345)

    So maybe viewing God in this way is part of our process in trying to deal with, as Nietzche put it, the value of the command “thou shalt”; the value of “that most famous of all medicines which is called morality”. We had to go through a process, first the God novel, then the amoral novel (in which we realized that amorality is incompatible with human nature) and now we can approach morality in that personal way?

  12. Tina says:

    My response to the P&P question #1:

    Lady Catherine and Mrs. Bennet are indeed an unlikely pairing! Well for starters, both these formidable matriarchs (Lady Catherine with her vast fortune and Mrs. Bennet her knack for emotional blackmail) are the very obstacles that prevent Darcy and Elizabeth from getting together. Darcy must overcome his dislike of Mrs Bennet – her materialism and air-headedness is reflective of the lower middle class society that she comes from. Elizabeth herself must fend off Lady Catherine, this stereotypical obnoxious and arrogant member of the aristocracy. These two women have always been the most vocal in their disapproval of the potential union between Darcy and Elizabeth – Lady Catherine stresses the importance of “investment” (keeping the aristocratic class and wealth pure from the grubby hands of the middle class) while Mrs. Bennet represents the middle class in her dislike of the aristocrat’s seemingly obnoxious and standoffish way. I believe that these two characters are Austen’s way of saying that love is an emotion that cannot be contained within the constraints of class status. Darcy and Elizabeth’s only outlet for true and honest communication, away from the nosey-parkers and catty women, is through letter writing or during one of their many ambles in the open grounds away from the mansions.

  13. Alyzee Lakhani says:

    In response to Vermeule 1 and 2

    From this reading I gather that the modernist esthetic involves a relaxation of morality allowing for a multitude of points of of view, since values of good and bad are relative. A narrator with a “moral point of view” to mean one that takes what is Good and Bad for granted and assumes his readership agrees – there is moral security all round, and the narrator doesn’t have to concern himself with *building* a system of goods and bads.

    Vermeule argues that this position is the one that a God novelist is faced with: the author feels ” the unbearable pressure of other minds” especially when attempting to write amorally. Even when all claims of Good and Bad are abandoned, the narrator feels the oppressive need to account to some higher power, even if this “higher power” is only self-consiousness: “even self-recognition means facing the pressure of someone’s claims on you” (154).

    This last quote implies that the self recognizing itself is the most anxiety-producing witness of oneself. The “unbearable pressure of other minds” is an externalization of an internal self-awareness. The “moral anxiety” the God novelist feels is the anxiety of creating a world for others whom the novelist feels equal to – he can’t feel superior to others as such a feeling goes against the modernist esthetic that acknowledges an intense variety of POVs, and also that one cannot really know another’s point of view. This is especially true for the novelist in Atonement who’s mistake was that she assumed the knowledge of the others’ POVs.

    I guess the source of the “moral anxiety” plaguing the God novelist is the fear of doing wrong to an other while “let[ting] the one controlling consciousness push its way forward” (153). This could be read as the fear of the opacity of others’ POVs, which is especially pronounced in an amoral world.

    I think that there is a paradox in opting for amoral fiction – it isn’t really an amoral choice to do so. There is some imagined good in writing amorally, and the decision to do so is rooted in a humanist sort of morality that wants the points of view to come out that were unwelcome previously because they were immoral. In a sense, writing amorally is freeing one’s characters (and onself) from the oppression of moral codes. I guess it would be expected then that the amoral writer is concerned with misrepresenting the truth, as the novelist in atonement did.

    Does this make any sense?

  14. Lindsay Vermeulen says:

    Re: P+P #6

    I think Austen intends this joke to do one of two things:

    A: highlight to the reader that this was NOT Elizabeth’s true motivation in love, and so she is comfortable joking about it. It does seem a logical thing to be suspicious of, especially since that WAS the time at which her opinion of him was improving at hyperspeed. Even Mr. Bennet, who knows Elizabeth quite well and respects her, takes it as a possibility that she is motivated by material gain in her choice of husband, evident when he notes that she will have more fine carriages and things than Jane, but….. really, Darcy is such a tool, Lizzy! Come on!

    or B: Acknowledge that Elizabeth is aware that it kind of looks like she fell for his taste and money, and needs to contradict it (via confirming it sarcastically) in order to feel better about herself. She certainly feels a need to be respected by Jane, and this sort of awkward throwaway comment provides a form of relief and peace of mind for both Jane and Elizabeth by confronting the elephant in the room and laughing it off.

    So, the either the joke is really far from reality even though the reader might be inclined to think otherwise, or it DOES cut a bit close to reality and is yet another instance of Elizabeth trying to laugh off the things she finds uncomfortable in herself and others, due to a penchant for “the ridiculous,” as she puts it.

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