Welcome to The Valve
Login
Register


Valve Links

The Front Page
Statement of Purpose

John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Advanced Search

Articles
RSS 1.0 | RSS 2.0 | Atom

Comments
RSS 1.0 | RSS 2.0 | Atom

XHTML | CSS

Powered by Expression Engine
Logo by John Holbo

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

 


Blogroll

2blowhards
About Last Night
Academic Splat
Acephalous
Amardeep Singh
Beatrice
Bemsha Swing
Bitch. Ph.D.
Blogenspiel
Blogging the Renaissance
Bookslut
Booksquare
Butterflies & Wheels
Cahiers de Corey
Category D
Charlotte Street
Cheeky Prof
Chekhov’s Mistress
Chrononautic Log
Cliopatria
Cogito, ergo Zoom
Collected Miscellany
Completely Futile
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
Conversational Reading
Critical Mass
Crooked Timber
Culture Cat
Culture Industry
CultureSpace
Early Modern Notes
Easily Distracted
fait accompi
Fernham
Ferule & Fescue
Ftrain
GalleyCat
Ghost in the Wire
Giornale Nuovo
God of the Machine
Golden Rule Jones
Grumpy Old Bookman
Ideas of Imperfection
Idiocentrism
Idiotprogrammer
if:book
In Favor of Thinking
In Medias Res
Inside Higher Ed
jane dark’s sugarhigh!
John & Belle Have A Blog
John Crowley
Jonathan Goodwin
Kathryn Cramer
Kitabkhana
Languagehat
Languor Management
Light Reading
Like Anna Karina’s Sweater
Lime Tree
Limited Inc.
Long Pauses
Long Story, Short Pier
Long Sunday
MadInkBeard
Making Light
Maud Newton
Michael Berube
Moo2
MoorishGirl
Motime Like the Present
Narrow Shore
Neil Gaiman
Old Hag
Open University
Pas au-delà
Philobiblion
Planned Obsolescence
Printculture
Pseudopodium
Quick Study
Rake’s Progress
Reader of depressing books
Reading Room
ReadySteadyBlog
Reassigned Time
Reeling and Writhing
Return of the Reluctant
S1ngularity::criticism
Say Something Wonderful
Scribblingwoman
Seventypes
Shaken & Stirred
Silliman’s Blog
Slaves of Academe
Sorrow at Sills Bend
Sounds & Fury
Splinters
Spurious
Stochastic Bookmark
Tenured Radical
the Diaries of Franz Kafka
The Elegant Variation
The Home and the World
The Intersection
The Litblog Co-Op
The Literary Saloon
The Literary Thug
The Little Professor
The Midnight Bell
The Mumpsimus
The Pinocchio Theory
The Reading Experience
The Salt-Box
The Weblog
This Public Address
This Space: The Fire’s Blog
Thoughts, Arguments & Rants
Tingle Alley
Uncomplicatedly
Unfogged
University Diaries
Unqualified Offerings
Waggish
What Now?
William Gibson
Wordherders

Monday, August 28, 2006

Modernist Autobiography: Part I of … However Long It Takes Me

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 08/28/06 at 11:12 PM

[X-posted to the Acephalous]

I’m not the type who normally thinks about identity, mostly because interrogations of it analyze novels designed to be interrogated by people interested in identity.  (I also greet poems written to be read by New Critics with a full-mouthed yawn.)  But as I delve into the depths (such that there are) of realist and naturalist literature, I find myself pining for the playful attempts to stabilize identity performed by British, Irish and American modernists. 

Take the whole modernist infatuation with "autobiography," which I scare-quote for obvious reasons.  What, for example, does Joyce hope to accomplish in the final chapter of Ulysses?  To what genre does "Penelope" even belong?  Is her lengthy internal monologue a stab at "autobiography"?  She narrates her life, questions the import of certain pivotal moments, and attempts to ground her desires in a personality her countrymen would recognize.  She attempts, in short, to think herself into a preexisting subject position.  Transgression is what she does, not who she wants to be.  Which critical mode best accounts for her self-duplicity?  Can we also bring it to bear on other modernist "autobiographies"?  (Or is this entire line of inquiry wrong-headed?  Should we consider her wholly a Joycean construct?)

In The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas—whose cover emblematizes what this discussion addresses—Gertrude Stein writes:

About six weeks ago Gertrude Stein said, it does not look to me as if you were ever going to write that autobiography.  You know what I am going to do.  I am going to write it for you.  I am going to write it as simply as Defoe did the autobiography of Robinson Crusoe and she has and this is it.

Can you imagine jamming more into a single word than Stein manages to stuff into "simply"?*  Stein wants to obscure the obvious here in such a way as to draw attention to it; but she can no more write the autobiography of Alice Toklas than Daniel Defoe can write the autobiography of the fictional Robinson Crusoe.  Perhaps Stein meant to allude not to Crusoe, but Alexander Selkirk, the castaway whose four years stranded on the island of Juan Fernandez is thought to be Defoe’s model.  Only Stein knows Toklas intimately, whereas Defoe depended on the accounts of Edward Cooke and Woodes Rogers. 

I know what you’re thinking: "No one would actually confuse the two, so why press the point?"  I press because I care ... and because otherwise brilliant writers have confused these modes in meaningful ways.  In Moments of Being, Virginia Woolf wrote

So [Crusoe] proses on, drawing, little by little, his own portrait, so that we never forget it.

The emphasis is mine, and you can guess its import.  I inserted "Crusoe" in that sentence because the italicized phrase vanquishes the idea that the antecedent of "he" is "Defoe."  What happened here?  What confused Woolf?**  I would argue that she missed what Stein, with her unsubtle pronomial slippage in the final sentence there, exploited in the passage I quoted earlier:

I am going to write it as simply as Defoe did the autobiography of Robinson Crusoe and she has and this is it.

Stein records herself declaring her intentions, then switches back into Toklas’ voice.  In lieu of a conclusion, however, I will leave you with a suggestive (not to mention my favorite) passage from Stein’s Everybody’s Autobiography:

Identity is funny being yourself is funny as you are never yourself to yourself except as you remember yourself and then of course you do not believe yourself ... you do not really believe yourself why should you, you know so well so very well that it is not yourself, it could not be yourself because you cannot remember right and if you do remember right it does not sound right and of course it does not sound right because it is not right.  You are of course never yourself.

The title alone should indicate why it piqued my interest.  Tomorrow, I’ll discuss this passage, Woolf’s "A Sketch of the Past," Walter Benjamin’s "The Storyteller," and Emile Benveniste’s Problems in General Linguistics.***

* yes I said yes I can Yes.

** Admittedly, these were unfinished essays published posthumously, so she may have caught the slip in future edits.  Still, the slip itself is significant enough to warrant attention.

*** And unlike most blog-promises, I’ll live up to this one.  Why should you believe me?  I’ve already written it.  So this isn’t a promise to do more work—which should never be believed, especially of a blogger—but a promise to post what I’ve already written.


Comments

She narrates her life, questions the import of certain pivotal moments, and attempts to ground her desires in a personality her countrymen would recognize.  She attempts, in short, to think herself into a preexisting subject position.  Transgression is what she does, not who she wants to be.

I beg your parsnips. But where does she do this? You may be attributing a singular direction to her intentions that is just not there in the text. Unless I’m missing it, which is certainly possible. But perhaps a case could be made that she tries to think herself into such a position and also escape it at the same time? And what would be so unusual about that anyway?

By Thers on 08/29/06 at 12:56 AM | Permanent link to this comment

But perhaps a case could be made that she tries to think herself into such a position and also escape it at the same time?

Well, a case could be made, and I admit to not having made it yet.  That said, I think the “playful” in “playful attempts to stabalize identity” addresses this question.  I’m not speaking to its effectiveness here so much as its intent; the way Molly dives back into history; recalls her life; considers whether her activities that day made her a “bad wife” and whether she ought to fix Leo breakfast; &c.  What I mean is, she’s tortured by the drift and attempting to fix herself to, well, something.  Such, at least, is what I’m going to argue.

Not that it’s effective, merely that it’s attempted.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 08/29/06 at 02:46 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Emile Beneveniste

You are a fundament of wonderment, SEK. Beneveniste! Where-how’d you find out about him? But he did all that stuff about . . . .

By Bill Benzon on 08/29/06 at 06:20 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott, sure. I can accept that she’s trying to fix herself into something; I just don’t see how that something is “a preexisting subject position,” or not entirely, anyway.

I admit that I’m also confused by whose intent you mean here, Joyce’s or Molly’s. Do you mean Joyce is trying through Molly to stabilize his identity, or stabilize “identity” as a concept, or do you have in mind Molly’s intent in the chapter to stabilize her identity? If both, what’s the relationship? Or do I just need more coffee...?

By Thers on 08/29/06 at 11:38 AM | Permanent link to this comment

We don’t ask these kinds of questions about Anna Livia Plurabelle. Or do we? I have become ever more skeptical about any naturalistic intention in Ulysses. It may be a joke.

By on 08/29/06 at 01:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

bob, don’t you think there’s a difference between the narrative of modes of Ulysses and FW, such that one invites this sort of “naturalist” investigation?

Thers, actually, I think you’re in the spirit of it.  I’m moving towards a discussion of the way Joyce constructs an “autobiographical” voice; that is, a particular style which “authenticates” even fictional autobiographies, such that people comb “Penelope” for clues to Nora’s life, &c. 

Bill, I know, I know, he’s a student of Saussure, and Barthes is a fan...but I think his model wonderfully accounts for the way the modernists were playing with pronouns.  I was introduced to him in a class on memory and narrative I took with James Olney.  We read Benveniste alongside Becket’s Not-I and The Unnamable, and I’ve always thought that, its general unapplicability notwithstanding, it’s a beautiful way to frame how these problems were tossed around in the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 08/29/06 at 02:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

. . . its general unapplicability notwithstanding . . .

Who said anything about unapplicabity? I think his treatment of personal pronouns worthy of serious consideration. I also think it’s old and needs to be redone, but, hey, that’s my stock thought about a lot of stuff. I quote him as an epigraph to First Person: Neuro-Cognitive Notes on the Self in Life and in Fiction.

By Bill Benzon on 08/29/06 at 03:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

”...such that one invites this sort of “naturalist” investigation?”

Yes, but that is why I mentioned jokes. I don’t know, I just asked myself if the stream of conciousness really depicted the way people actually think. Especially with all the variance among chapters. The internal monologues are pretty different in Proteus and Ithaca. If not, why do I think so? If Joyce is not actually depicting a “person”, but trying to make me think I see one, what exactly is he doing and why? Besides having Joyce-fun.

Especially since you have the schema and styles and all the other stuff in Ulysses. Now I have only read Malcolm Lowry, and so may be ignorant, but it felt to me like Lowry was doing something very different in “Under the Volcano”, for instance. Something actually more like what Joyce was presumed to be doing in Ulysses, but wasn’t.

By on 08/29/06 at 06:40 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t know, I just asked myself if the stream of conciousness really depicted the way people actually think.

Whenever I am teaching Joyce, I make a point of prohibiting the phrase “stream of consciousness” from our discussion. It is shorthand that may have had value once upon a time, but now blocks analysis and abridges understanding.

By CR on 08/29/06 at 09:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m with CR here; the discussion of the different representations of internal monologue is far more productive, esp. since “stream of consciousness” implies a lack of authorial consciousness, almost as if the author, Plato-like, channels the muse with reckless abandon (and no skill).

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 08/29/06 at 09:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m with CR and Scott.

Also, check out this article by Eleanor Rosch, (semi-famous) cognitive scientist (and Buddhist):

http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/Rosch_97.html

By Bill Benzon on 08/29/06 at 10:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

You need to explain what you mean by this:

Take the whole modernist infatuation with “autobiography,"

I don’t see how it applies to Ulysses at all or modernist fiction in general.

By on 08/29/06 at 10:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Add a comment:

Name:
Email:
Location:
URL:

 

Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below: