'One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star'- Nietzsche
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Miscellaneous articles and essays

It is fair enough to acknowledge Carl Plasa’s sharp point that Tennyson’s poem, “The Lady of Shalott,” is “a text whose operations are profoundly equivocal.”[1. Carl Plasa, “Cracked from Side to Side: Sexual Politics in ‘The Lady of Shalott,’ <ital>Victorian Poetry</ital> 30.3-4 (1992): 247-63.] Freudian (psycho sexual), Jungian (archetypal), socioeconomic, phenomenological, feminist – all are fair approaches to the bogglesome questions that the poem presents, and, of course, as we’ve learned during the evolution of literary theory, such different approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but are, rather, facets of a single thought-jewel.  Though Tennyson has long been one of my favorite poets, “The Lady,” was never one I gave much thought to, (I’ve previously essayed on “Tears, Idle Tears”) and I return to him now (gladly enough) after some 25 years, having to acknowledge a significant development in the way I “see” texts in general and “The Lady of Shalott” in particular. With years of more reading and having absorbed more “culture,” this poem has many more resonances and insight bursts than I’d formerly appreciated. In reading “The Lady of Shalott” this time, for instance, the Lady’s world of shadows recalls Plato’s allegory of the caves, where reality of true being is merely a shadow play on the wall before humans chained to their rigid positions.  I think, too, of the Edenic Curse, Eve throwing it all away as a result of innocently giving into wayward temptation; I think of Wagner, his mythological Ring Cycle, the moment when Siegfried awakens to consciousness as the result of hearing birdsong, just as the Lady awakens to her own consciousness at the sound of Lancelot’s transposed lark’s cry (and, the inversion, Siegfried going to the rescue of a Shalott-like figure on a kind of island that is rung with fire); and, there is the reverberation of Narcissus and Echo, and, back to Wagner again, the question of Tristan and Iseult.

And, of course, in LitCrit’s latest incarnation, there is reader response theory to consider, the relation of the text to the reader, and of the reader to the reader and of text to text. Paradoxically, in relation to “The Lady of Shalott” this approach makes the Lady not only ‘profoundly equivocal’ but perhaps jungly with overgrowth and perhaps impenetrable.  Consider, first, the physics of the eye itself, which already inverts what it sees for the brain, and the mirror that already reverses what is seen, so that spatial orientation is already a challenge to master, long before it’s all turned into a circus by the lion-taming of critical analysis and the trapeze work of acrobatic dialectics, gaze reflecting gaze. Add in the divisions of the self, the endless mystery of self in relation to selves.

And, finally, the task of understanding is certainly not made easier (or, perhaps, it is!) by Tennyson’s need to produce two distinct and significantly different versions of his narrative poem.

Given such daunting (and, in my case at least, somewhat hallucinogenic) givens, maybe it’s best to start with a structural and methodological consideration of the poem itself  and the poet’s technique, which may or may not be clue-ful in understanding this amazing poem. First, there is the form and structure to consider: Tennyson gives us four parts, which are essentially four stages of narrative development; each part consists of nine-line stanzas, with four stanzas in part 1 and 2 (setting and introduction of principal characters), five stanzas in Part 3 (climax), and seven stanzas in the original Part 4 (denouement)[2. In the 1842 version Tennyson edits out a stanza, resulting in only six.]; the stanzas alternate between iambic tetrameter and trochaic tetrameter lines; the rhyme scheme for each stanza is <b>aaaabcccb</b>; there are very few complex rhymes (usually mono-syllabic and simple vocabulary), although there is considerable additional internal rhyming as well; plenty of soothing soft consonance and evocative alliteration; and, there is often syntactical clause-cloaking woven into the lines before a subject and predicate appear.

The development embodied in the four parts is fairly straightforward in each version.  In both the 1833 and 1842 versions we provided a Part 1 that introduces the idyllic (“greensheathed daffodily,” “sunbeam-showers”), virtually animistic (“willows whiten, aspens shiver”), and the paganistic “fairy Lady of Shalott.”  in Part 2, we learn of the Lady’s apparent fate to weave a colourful narrative tapestry of life, as seen through an obscuring mirror, and with an implicit curse should she choose to stop. Importantly, Part 2 ends with the Lady observing  newlyweds (“about to consummate”) and lamenting her fateful malaise for the first time. Part 3 introduces a jaunty Lancelot riding alone on a road and downstream along the river toward Camelot. Crucially, this part ends with Lancelot tootling “tirra lira,” which turns out to be epiphanal music to the ears of our Lady  4 describes the Lady’s casting inside the loom and tapestry and, essentially, going in pursuit of Lancelot, a peculiar, sexual-mystical journey that leads to her demise. And here, in the lust lines, we find the most startling difference between the versions, with the Lady having the final mystical words in the 1832 rendition and Lancelot closing it out in the later version with his far briefer and seemingly more cryptic words.

The alternating metrics of the stanzas, the rhyme scheme, as well as the tetrametric abridgment of the lines (pentameter would slow its performance down ever so slightly), the sounds and images, the simple vocabulary that avoids static or stalling, even the minimal human utterances that would require readerly dialectical engagement, all suggests a driving, meandering and mesmerizing river-like flow that connects the island of Shalott physically and figuratively to Camelot between Shalott and Camelot is the ever-changing, never-ending river, which the two realms share.  This is a very effective technique and, for me, a wonderful musical composition to perform in the head. This is, of course, not all that could be said about the construction and technique of the poem, but it is enough for now, representing a kind of adumbration of the narrative’s play.

It’s more important here to examine the poem’s themes, motifs and intentions, and how these differ in each version, than it is to fall in love with the sound of Tennyson’s entrancing, but almost-distracting music.  The great contemporary Victorian cultural scholar Peter Gay once said, with erudite precision.

Perceptive historians have noted more than once that Queen Victoria

  was not a Victorian, in the same sense.  Freud was not a Freudian. 

They are not responsible for the myths that have woven around their

names.[3. Peter Gay, The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud: Education of the Senses, Oxford, 1984, p.4.]

Such myth-making out of the ashes of reality is, of course, a constant problem for the very reasons that “The Lady of Shalott” illustrates, for, after all, which, in any one gaze, is the myth and which the reality (do you see a vase or a face?)?  But the point here is simply that, at least as far as this Tennyson poem goes, the poet is, like Victoria, not a Victorian. First, this is true because Tennyson’s first version of the poem pre-dates Victoria’s ascension to the throne in 1837, although his later version of the poem seems to be in reaction to that ascendancy and its implications.  But, first, before fleshing out how this lyrical leopard changed its spots, it’s worth briefly considering the seemingly dominant critical response to the first version.

I own that I have been stunned by the contemporaneous portraitures of “The Lady of Shalott,” many of which, such as those by John William Waterhouse, William Holman Hunt and Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, et al., emphasize clearly middle class women and their looms, which certainly connotate middle class domestication, as well as the rise of the great industrial mills of Mammon. Or else they depict Romantic over-boat images of a longing Lady, evoking dreamy expectations downstream, and the like.  Such artistic idealizations tell you something (I’m not sure what) about the readers and receivership of Tennyson’s work and their mythologizing tendencies. I have been equally taken aback by what seems to me an equally facile critical positing of the poem as a fundamental representation of the paradox between the necessary co-existence of the free-minded artist and societal order. Plasa puts it succinctly when he writes,

Far from being mutually exclusive, what Tennyson’s poem conversely

  demonstrates is that art and life, the aesthetic and the political, are fully

  interwoven the involvement in the social world which is symbolically

  the destination of the Lady in the poem is, from the first, a condition at

  which the poem has already arrived. [4. Plasa, p.248.]

There are these facets, of course, but such visions have not earned the right to dominate the critical space in which this ‘profoundly equivocal’ poem flits in and out of, like a simile that smiles and likes.  I like what Erik Gray says in relation to the notion of artistic “free will” as it applies to this poem. He writes,

The Lady of Shalott” depicts art as almost a parody of this ideal.

  The Lady submits her will, not to a “transcendent aw, “but to a

  curse.  She demonstrates admirable willpower in breaking the

  inertia of her original state, but exerts if toward a consciously

  imperfect aim. [5. Erik Gray, “Getting it Wrong in ‘The Lady of Shalott,’” Victorian Poetry 47.1 (2009) 45-59.]

But while I believe Gray’s analysis is an important on the rather Romantic application of free will in this instance.  I would still question whether “free will” even applies to the workings of this poem, or, if it does, whether it is, indeed, animated toward a transcendent figuration rather, as I would argue, toward a decadent but liberating process.

For what explodes around me like mental mortar shells are rather concerns and questions.  I see the aforementioned structural texture of the poem – its short lines, linguistic simplicity, weaving syntax, winding rhythms – creating a hermetically sealed organic whole. This is further reiterated by the fact that the only names mentioned in the poem are Shalott, Camelot and Lancelot, with binding rhyme endings: – ott, -ot, and -ot. Shalott and Camelot  and notes, with a pagan “faerie” Lady associated with one and the legend of Arthur and his chivalry code associated with the other. But not just places, but idealized realms. Idealized, but, as it turns out, not eternal. And in this poem Lancelot comes between both realms and, intentionally or not, ends up destroying both aspects of the Romantic – the Shalott that reaches back into the ancient and animistic past, and the Camelot that reaches forward into a future that will include Galahad and the Grail and the rise of orderly Christendom.  After all, the Lady is clearly seduced by Lancelot’s tootling and Lancelot has has or will (we don’t know what historical stage of Camelot we’re dealing with here) seduce the queen of Camelot.

What’s more, it’s interesting to note and consider that Shalott flows downstream to Camelot, already as a kind of mysterious giver of life value (water). It’s worth noting, too, that the reapers have the only other human voices in the poem(s) and that they use their words to both acknowledge the existence of the Lady to affirm her natural primeval context.  It is also worth noting that the reapers work from morn to night tending to barley- the manna of the day, providing food, alcoholic beverage, and medicine. The reapers (and Camelot commoners). Therefore, have no fear of the Lady’s mysterious ways and wind songs. Contrast this to the fear that pours out of the burghers and knights and assorted “well-fed wits” of the inner circle of Camelot, who “crossed themselves for fear” and who clearly do not recognize and cannot affirm her contextual power.  All of them except, of course, Lancelot.

I am further puzzled by Tennyson’s version endings where, in the original, he gives the final eloquence words to the Lady and, in the other, such oblique words to the knight.  What does it mean for one version to affirm what amounts to, in one important respect, an act of feminist liberation – the “this is I” of 1832, a condition that did not exist just several lines earlier, when she was seemingly fated to be, like a prototypical Emily Dickinson telling “all the Truth but telling it aslant, “ or some latter day Sylvia Plath not freed by the Truth, and not happy about its telling?  Instead, in 1842, we get an almost dismissive “she;s got a pretty face.” But maybe the answer here is in Tennyson’s own words to his son, Hallam, who records his father’s concerns about the “Victorian” condition of England and, by imperial inference, the world. Regarding the state of chivalry (and Tennyson’s beloved Idealism), Hallam’s father says,

When I see society vicious and the poor starving in great cities,

  I feel that it is a mighty wave of evil passing over the world. You

  must not be surprised at anything that comes to pass in the net

  fifty years.  All ages are ages of transition, but this is an awful

  moment of transition. [6. Hallam Tennyson, Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir, Leipzig, 1899, pp. 119-120. ]

Thus, we see Tennyson absorbed by the question of change, of the organic whole that encompassed by the pagan and chivalric realms under stresses that is also instructive, in continuing his conversation with Hallam, what he sees happening to the feminine Ideal as well:

Especially do I want people to recognize that women of our

  western hemisphere represent the highest type of women,

  greatly owing to the respect and honor paid to them by men,

  but that the moment the honor and respect are diminished,

  the high type of woman will vanish. [7. ibid.]

So, clearly for Tennyson, the days of chivalry, which informed manners and the social order are in the poet’s rear view mirror and a scantily-clad Carmen with the clacking castanets is hitch-hiking up ahead. 

Tennyson’s ‘weaving and unwinding’ of his text and contexts actually served to reinforce a view of the poem I had been chewing on and which made sense to me.  When I read the second version of the poem, I see a kind of seduction fantasy taking place, ironically along the lines of how Freud was describing hysterical neurotic women in the late 1890’s.  First, I don’t see it as irrelevant that the Camelot the Lady sees does not include a mention of Arthur or Guinevere, the realm’s wife and Lancelot’s mistress. This is exactly what happens in seduction fantasies. Secondly, the Lady first utters “I am half-sick of shadows” following her camera obscura vision of two newlyweds messing about in the riverside shadows: again sexual fantasy terrain.  Next Lancelot goes by on the road along the river, an act probably repeated in the past, given his Arthurian role. Tennyson provides a very attractive image seemingly designed to tempt the Lady’s gaze.

A red-cross knight forever kneel’d

To a lady in his shield

That sparkled on the yellow field,

Beside remote Shalott. (P3, S1, L 78-80)

And this is followed by all that gleaming, jingling, merry, jeweled saddle, well-hung horn, muscular steed, all that steady rhythm, and sexual images like, “The helmet and helmet feather”/Burn’d like one burning flame together” followed almost immediately by “starry clusters…bearded….trailing light…” so that when Lancelot finally utters his magical spell-breaking, curse-ensuing, “tirra lira” – well, a girl can only take so much.

And what of Lancelot’s simple utterance, tirra lira (“tirra lirra, tirra lira” in the original)? Apparently, it derives from Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, and is spoken by the rogue Autolycus, who uses it to describe the sound of a lark, presumably ascending. And what of the name, Autolycus, which translates to “the wolf itself”? And what of the lyric, especially repeated twice in succession in the earlier version, a musical interlude which has a decidedly cunnilingual aspiration to its tongue-giving mechanics?

This utterance ties Lancelot to Autolycus.  But is not Lancelot already ‘the rogue’ itself, threatening the integrity and order of Camelot with his selfish, wolfish sexual consumption of the queen? (Is not Lancelot’s conquest the very vanishment of the high type of woman Tennyson prophesied above?) Would not Shalott have seen, in her endless weaving, Lancelot’s catastrophic transgression with the queen? So, already quivering in fantasy, is it any wonder the Lady dropped everything, what with lust looming, and went in pursuit of her idyllic idol”?  She drops the web (hymen), “the mirror cracked from side to side,” because she’s given up her virginity. Shalott hops in the shallop and slides down the river that is, like her woven narration, endless and ever-changing, and pursues her man until the light of day goes out. Then she lies down in her casket boat, having inscribed it, like a tombstone, with “THE LADY OF SHALOTT,” all the while, all through Part 4, she lets out a slow, low moan that is part “carol,” partly “mournful, holy.” One might say she died alright, but in the ironical style of a fallen Shakespearean character.  It is no wonder to this reader that assorted celibate knights and all the “well-fed wits” were horrified such feminine free verse. And then along comes the one knight who is unafraid, the wolf, the cad, the murderer (Gareth and Gaheris?), the psychopathic Lancelot, who may very well have heard that moan somewhere before, and who merely says essentially, ‘just another pretty face,’ and half-heartedly pays lip service to God’s merciful grace, knowing all along that grace is only conferred upon sinners and not usually required for dead pretty faces in flowing white dresses. Of course, in fairness to the blessed knight, the Lady may have been some kind of transfiguration of Guinevere, who famously ran away in shame, following Arthur’s death, and famously swore that Lancelot would never look upon her face, while alive, again, but ends up residing over her death rites, beholding her face again.

Naturally, I have only scratched the surface of what Tennyson’s intentions might have been in vising and re-vising this poem. I tend at present to lean toward Carl Plasa’s experience of the poem as sexually-political, and is a more mainstream sociological read- marriage and the role of women, etc – than my somewhat more extreme Leda-consents-to-the-swan take on the poem.  However, I expect I’ll be examining many more facets of this gem before my reading career is finished.


Gay, Peter. The Bourgeois Experience:Victoria to Freud: Vol. 1 Education of the Senses.  Oxford University Press. 1984.

Gray, Erik. “Getting It Wrong in ‘The Lady of Shalott,’” Victorian Poetry 47.1. 2009

Malory, Thomas. La Morte de Arthur. Project Gutenberg. Accessed at http://www.samizdat.gc.ca/arts/lit/malory/morte darthur1.pdf 

Plasa, Carl. “Cracked from Side to Side”: Sexual Politics in “The Lady of Shalott,” in Victorian Poetry, Vol. 30. No. ¾. Centennial of Alfred Lord Tennyson: 1809-1892 (Autumn/Winter, 1992)

Tennyson, Alfred. “The Lady of Shalott,” 1833 and 1842 editions combined. The Camelot Project at the University of Rochester. Http://mseffie.com/assignments/shalott/shalcomb.html

Tennyson, Hallam. Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir. Leipzig. 1899.

Note: Essay written for an assessment for a unit at Deakin University Term 1, 2008. Not my best stuff, although my trademark turn of phrase and humor shine through on occasion.


     So much has been written about Shakespeare’s Hamlet that it behooves me to beg the reader’s indulgence in any claim I may make that I have something new to say regarding the mystery of a play which has been described as akin to the Mona Lisa, or “the Sphinx of modern literature” (Jones,1949,22). No doubt the reader is far more advanced in his scans of critical interpretations than I. Nevertheless, like most everyone else who reads Hamlet seriously and passionately, and owning that such readings may be through a personal system of interpretive filters built up over a lifetime of my own tolerated ‘slings and arrows,’ I will attempt in these next several pages to tie down and ‘interrogate’ (think Abu Ghraib, if it helps you picture my intentions) some of my own concerns regarding Hamlet’s character development that have come out of my many readings of the play, in and out of academia. And, in accordance with the requirements of the course, and freely acknowledging their benefit to this study, I will attempt to differentiate my own views by comparing them to some degree with a few core aspects of the so-called psychoanalytical approach to Hamlet. Namely, I will review the Freudian approach to Hamlet’s dilemma, while acknowledging that there are other ways of reading Hamlet that don’t necessitate his secret desire to sleep with his mother, including many post-modernist disobfuscations. My own reading, for instance, will look at Hamlet’s three dispositions developed in the play, namely his melancholy disposition, his antic disposition and his fatalistic disposition. My own thesis, no doubt shared by many, is that Hamlet’s malaise went beyond a simple Oedipal complex, though it may have included that, but was also quite likely the first existentialist creative work ever written, deeply and necessarily imbued with moral relativism and the terror of true agnosticism.

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The question as to whether or not Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy: Out of the Spirit of Music is a work of optimism or pessimism is a trick question with a paradoxical answer. On the one hand, Nietzsche’s tract is steeped in the profound pessimism of Arthur Schopenhauer’s reductive world view; but, on the other hand, Nietzsche shares his life-affirmative take on human experience as an aesthetic phenomenon. Similarly, though Socratism brought an “optimistic dialect” to tragedy, for Nietzsche such a movement was lethal to the play as an aesthetic experience, and, therefore pessimistically viewed by the self-styled re-valuer of all values. Despite that, Nietzsche looks toward Richard Wagner’s work which, early on, shows signs of providing a re-birth to music, in general, and tragedy, in particular. In the following essay, I will briefly discuss the origin of music and its role in tragedy, especially the use of dithyrambs and the chorus. I will also examine the role of the Dionysian and Apollonian dichotomy in tragedy. Finally, I will argue that Nietzsche was, at last, as a philosophical position facing up to the human condition, largely optimistic, as anyone who dreamed up an ubermensch would need to be.

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    In the following brief essay I will analyze three reversioned fairy tales–“The Bloody Chamber,” “The Company of Wolves,” and “Wolf-Alice”– included in Angela Carter’s collection titled The Bloody Chamber (1979). I will employ two principal methods for analysis: first, the psychoanalytic model, espoused by Bruno Bettelheim (1979), in which fairy tales are seen as useful to children (and to child-rearing) because of the symbolic working out of underlying oedipal conflicts, which act as psycho-social cautionary tales; second, the postmodernist approach of Julia Kristeva, with particular emphasis on her notions of the “abject” and “intertextuality,” the former which acts as a bridge back to the Freudian approach to Bettelheim, and the latter more closely aligned with contemporary views of culture theory. I will also introduce some critical rebuttals to both Bettelheim and Kristeva, while arguing that the role of fairy tales has evolved to the point of symbolic extinction, and that, in fact, Carter’s tales operate as both a reversion and a critical rebuttal in their own mode. But first a brief summary of the views of Bettelheim and Kristeva, followed by a summary of each Carter tale, and then how Bettelheim and Kristeva’s views apply to the chosen tales.

    Louise (Lu) Lasson, a clinical social worker and licensing specialist in New York City, recently sent me an email in which she bemoaned the fact that state license exams for social workers “still ask questions about Freud and Erickson.” To this, she says: “Give it up people and move into the present!” Lu knows from her decades in the field that the psychoanalytic approach to the kinds of problems she sees is outmoded, given the continuing deinstitutionalization of the nuclear family (in the West) and, while nostalgically cogent as backgrounding, virtually useless in practice. I thought of Lu and her quibbles with The Tradition as I began to consider Bruno Bettelheim’s assumptions regarding childhood and ego development out of the ashes of the id/superego conflagration and its relevance to the fairy tale tradition, in general, and to Carter’s provocative ouevre, in particular. In general, states Bettelheim (1979, 214),

each child in his development must repeat the history of man, real or imagined. We are all expelled eventually from the original paradise of infancy, where all our wishes seemed to be fulfilled without any sort of effort on our part. Learning about good and evil—gaining knowledge—seems to split our personality in two: the red chaos of unbridled emotions, the id; and the white purity of our conscience, the superego….Adulthood can be reached only when these inner contradictions are resolved and a new awakening of the mature ego is achieved, to which red and white coexist harmoniously.

So, this is Bettelheim’s view of children’s literature in a nutshell. Within the literature we will find embedded symbols which point to the conflict of the child’s becoming. But it is difficult for a contemporary reader who has been fed (sometimes forcibly so) a steady diet of post-modernist theory to proceed unalarmed by Bettelheim’s Judeo-Christian language—the allusions to the Garden and Adam and Eve and the Tree of Knowledge and Paradise Lost; the equating of knowledge with the acquisition of “good and evil”; the easy simplicity of duality between id and superego, and the resolution of this conflict in a kind of triadic dialectic reminiscent of Hegel (thesis<>antithesis<>synthesis). In the above passage Bettelheim also fusses about the colors red and white, but mostly, in this case, because he is referencing Snow White. Still, the simple universal symbolism is halting.

    Compare Bettelheim to the more active and modern Kristeva, with her complexity that makes room for values that are other than Judeo-Christian (even essentially opposed to the J-C hegemony). How otherworldly, vis-a-vis Bettelheim, is her language. Listen, as she speaks of one of her key concepts, “abjection” (1982, 4):

It is thus not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite. The traitor, the liar, the criminal with a good conscience, the shameless rapist, the killer who claims he is a savior. . . . Any crime, because it draws attention to the fragility of the law, is abject, but premeditated crime, cunning murder, hypocritical revenge are even more so because they heighten the display of such fragility. He who denies morality is not abject, there can be grandeur in amorality and even in crime that flaunts its disrespect for the law – rebellious, liberating, and suicidal crime. Abjection, on the other hand, is immoral, sinister, scheming, and shady: a terror that dissembles, a hatred that smiles, a passion that uses the body for barter instead of inflaming it, a debtor who sets you up, a friend who stabs you. . . .

Herein we find the sinister dread of horror—the hallucinatory paranoia that leaves one momentarily breached by a kind of intimation that the self is little more than a constellation of impulses and desires being drawn toward a black hole of total annihilation of self. So, we are talking two distinct voices when we offer up a fairy tale for further fathoming.

    Take the story of Bluebeard, for instance. Perrault himself says that the moral of this story is: “Curiosity, in spite of its appeal, often leads to deep regret. To the displeasure of many a maiden, its enjoyment is short lived. Once satisfied, it ceases to exist, and always costs dearly”(1889). Obviously, this moral is a bit of a puzzlement to the modern reader, given the ending. Albeit, “several” unlucky wives have had to pay the price beforehand. But, in reality, it all comes down to the newlywed having a couple of martially-trained brothers who arrive in the nick of time. To the modern reader, this is not a tale of broken trust and fatal curiosity, but one of psychopathology and entrapment.

    Yet, according to Bettelheim (1979, 302), it’s a simple process: “However one interprets “Bluebeard,” it is a cautionary tale which warns: Women, don’t give into your sexual curiosity; men, don’t permit yourself to be carried away by your anger at being sexually betrayed.” To arrive at this interpretation, Bettelheim has had to do some magic tricks. Bluebeard’s previous wives’ deaths and the unnecessary proffering of a key are not considered, because, one guesses, Bettelheim is determined to see self-serving symbols, along the lines of an Edenic fall from grace, where reality would suffice. It could be argued that the young girl gave into her sexual curiosity on her wedding night—literally. Instead, Bettelheim sees the secret room as the maiden’s curiosity into the husband’s sexual proclivities, which, as it turns out, are better off being left alone, because of their perversity. And the idea that another part of the moral is that husband’s should see that wives entering into secret rooms as sexual betrayal is, frankly, bizarre.

    With Kristeva, we see an interpretation along the lines of her notion of “abjection” in relation to the events of Bluebeard. The key event, as it were, is when the young newlywed enters the secret forbidden chamber and discovers the bodies of the previous wives. For Kristeva, this moment when the bride discovers the body parts and responds partly in deepest “terror”, and yet, partly in erotic fascination is indicative of a response to the abject, the Thing-presence without name, that is neither I nor Other, and yet real and there.

    This powerful presence is much easier to obtain in Angela Carter’s collection of reversionary fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber. Here, fully aware of the short-comings of Perrault’s patri-central version, with title centering on the male (although the moral is about what the female learns), Carter draws up a completely subversive vision of the tale which first changes the title to “The Bloody Chamber,” the opening tale of the collection, to indicate where the decisive action of the story takes place, while also suggesting the sexual surrender of the young bride. Carter changes the point of view from an objectifying third person to first person from the bride’s take on events. The language is heightened, contemporialized, lyrical and ironic, at times reminding one of the best of Nabakov and Poe. The brothers are relieved of their protective services and replaced with a saving matriarch, who puts a bullet through Bluebeard’s head. But, again, as the title suggests, the key focus is the chamber of horror.

    If Kristeva is right (1982), and we first experience abjection in our separation from the mother, then Carter’s tale is truly a tale about abjectivity. The young bride, Saint Cecilia (a brilliant parallel reversion of the Catholic patron saint of music, whose own legend has a chamber, secrets and a bloody ending), separated from her mother for the first time and given over to the material male presence (for which she seems to have limited previous oedipal experience, as no mention of father is made) is ripe for the experience of carnal revelation of the forbidden bloody chamber. The abject figures the bride discovers in the secret room exist between two worlds—that of self and the Other—in a dimension you might call undinal. The bride interacts in this realm with fear and repulsion, but also with a kind of erotic fascination, as when she describes the room thusly: “And yet enough, oh more than enough, to see a room designed for desecration and some dark night of unimaginable lovers whose embraces were annihilation.” (28) Sex working toward orgasm often has this dirty annihilative quality. The abject Kristeva describes seems placed in that interstice that comprises orgasmic and horrific, good and evil, the mind-body problem solved in one fell swoon. One could spend many hours examining the details Carter embellishes Perrault’s tale with, but Carter rightly puts the emphasis on the chamber—how she gets there (curiosity) and how she attempts to cover up (hiding the key) are functional, even mechanical, but it is how she responds to the “secret” that determines what she already has inside herself. Despite its lyrical beauty, “The Bloody Chamber” seems to be a fairly straightforward subversion of patriarchal power, not only in the absence of Cecilia’s father, the deletion of the two brothers as saviors in the end, the ultimate execution of the chief powerful male, and Cecilia’s choosing to sleep with the blind male piano tuner, but also in the matriarchal rescue, which suggests, along Kristevan lines a reunion with the mother and transcendence of the abject.

    Carter continues her subversive ways in the tales “The Company of Wolves” and “Wolf-Alice.” Both stories are reversions of the Grimm classic, “Little Red Riding Hood (Little Red Cap)”, although the latter story also combines thematic elements from Through the Looking Glass and “Beauty and the Beast.” If the Grimm tale can be seen as a cautionary tale about little girls trusting strange men, then Carter’s “The Company of Wolves” moves to a new level of subversion altogether. First, Carter addresses the reader or listener (for it reads like an oral tale) directly as “you” and spends several paragraphs of building admonishment, with such lines as “The wolfsong is the sound of the rending you will suffer, in itself a murdering”(104) and “Fear and flee the wolf; for, worst of all, the wolf may be more than he seems”(105). It is at this point that Carter has the narrator cites several examples of wolf evil-do, including their murder of “a mad old man who used to live by himself in a hut halfway up the mountain and sing to Jesus all day” (111). The narrator’s language has the tone and tinge of some miner telling campfire tales (“the sensible girl dried her eyes and found herself another husband not too shy to piss into a pot “), except that notion is throttled by lyricism and a vocabulary (“Commonplaces of a rustic seduction”)which tear the narration apart at the ‘seems’. Carter’s Red Cap is, like some sexually avaricious high school virgin, is tough: “She has her knife and she is afraid of nothing.(114).” Carter romps through Red Riding Hood like some thespian-philosopher on the set of a Marx Brothers send-up of Wuthering Heights.

    Bruno Bettelheim predictably saw the Grimm tale as symbolic of individuation, budding sexuality, and it “takes up some crucial problems the school-age girl has to solve if oedipal attachments linger on in the unconscious, which may drive her to expose herself dangerously to the possibility of seduction” (1979, 170). But Bettelheim sings his Freud like the mad old man singing Jesus in Carter’s version and is critically devoured by the reversion. In Carter’s tale, full of casual, almost-comical cruelty, the girl can hardly wait to be “eaten” by the wolf. As for Kristeva, Carter seems to have turned the critic’s notion of “intertextuality” into a full-blown ha’ penny opera in this tale, with so many intertwining influences present that the text seems to have its own life. I believe Kristeva would be hard-pressed to make a case for the “abject” here.

    “Wolf-Alice,” the last story in the Carter collection, tells the story of a young feral girl found by nuns next to the “bullet-riddled” body of her mother. The wolf-girl “inhabits only the present tense, a fugue of the continuous, a world of sensual immediacy as without hope as it is without despair” (113). Carter also introduces the Duke, a cannibal and necrophiliac who casts no image in the mirror. The nuns half-heartedly try to raise the child and, after they give up too easily, deposit the girl at the door of the Duke, thus subverting the idea of good and evil by having innocence handed over to the devil by the maidens of Jesus. The Duke is having a bad “here” day, existing neither wholly in the material world, nor in that of the spirit. Still, he appears to be a good father, showing if not love then non-threatening acceptance in his pastoral care. Bettelheim could be the Duke, raising the girl-wolf out of her pre-symbolism and with his meager ministrations allowing her to take shape into the first intimations of a human self:


When she curled up among the cinders, the color, texture and warmth of them brought her foster mother’s belly out of the past and printed it on her flesh; her first conscious memory, painful as the first time the nuns combed her hair. She howled a little, in a firmer, deepening trajectory, to obtain the inscrutable consolation of the wolves’ response, for now the world around her was assuming form. She perceived an essential difference between herself and her surroundings that you might say she could not put her finger on–only, the trees and grass of the meadows outside no longer seemed the emanation of her questing nose and erect ears, and yet sufficient to itself, but a kind of backdrop for her, that waited for her arrivals to give it meaning. She saw herself upon it and her eyes, with their sombre clarity, took on a veiled, introspective look. (118)

Here, the world waits for her meaning-giving: existence preceding essence. And because of her innocence of the horrifying, she is not undone when the undine Duke walks past her with a human leg plopped over his shoulder. Later, after he is ambushed by justice-seeking townspeople with silver bullets and alluring wolf-howls, she returns the favor of promoting selfhood by licking his wounds, which results in the final image of the Duke’s face appearing in the mirror. This tale has both Kristeva’s “abject” and her interlocking of culture pieces she calls “intertextuality”.Certainly, we can consider her opening orphaned situation one abjectivity, in both a literal sense and in Kristeva’s sense of being separated from the mother. She, too, like the Duke exists in a state that is neither “here” nor “there”. It is no surprise that they must rescue each other from indeterminancy. And, as with “The Company of Wolves,” the narrative is resplendent with iconoclastic cultural-linguistic echoes that border on parody of form. Kristeva and Carter could have been best friends.

    So, we see in these reversionary Carter tales how the very notion of reversions can take on a self-consciousness that undermines the very structure it is intended (or not) to reinforce. Carter’s prose is lyrical and expansive, Romantic and existential, and transcending the usual power traps of gender duals. Bettelheim’s Freudian decidedly shows its age in an analysis of such reversions. Julia Kristeva, however, has more to salvage. But the essential point here is that Carter’s fiction has theoretical subversion built into it, the tales are both reader-centric and reader-opposed (I..e., they fall way from readerly certainty as you go on their journey) they point to a fresh, new horizon where literature has not been before.



Bettleheim, B 1979, The uses of enchantment and importance of fairy tales, Vintage, New York.

Carter, A 1979, The Blood Chamber and Other Stories, Penguin, New York and London.

Kristeva, J 1982 Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez, Columbia University Press, New York.

Lasson, L 2008, “Subject: Base Touching,” email message to John Hawkins delivered on 04/06/2008 and accessed at john@cagedtechnology.com.

Perrault, C and Andrew Lang (trans.)1889 (1697), “La Barbe bleüe, “Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités: Contes de ma mère l’Oye, Longmans, Green, and Company,
London, accessed online on June 5, 2008 at: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/perrault03.html.


A Question of Pathographies
The following book review/essay was turned in for a course I took at Deakin University, Semester 1, 2008, for the unit: The Other Side of the World: The Literature of Sadness
In the following brief essay I will evaluate Irving Yalom’s treatment of pain and depression in his novel When Nietzsche Wept. Principally, I will consider what seems to ail the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, according to available biographical data, as well Yalom’s special interpretation of those ailments through his character-therapist Josef Breuer (Nietzsche and Breuer never actually met). I will argue that the purpose of this pathographic novel is for Yalom to interrogate, from the point of view of a therapist, some of Nietzsche’s most potent themes, such as ‘the
death of god’, ‘eternal recurrence’, ‘becoming’, ‘overman’, and ‘amor fati’. In this sense, Yalom’s novel is as much about his technique as a therapist as it is about the psychological health of the philosopher he vicariously befr iends. But first a brief synopsis of the novel is appropriate.
When Nietzsche Wept takes place mostly in Vienna in 1882 and is written from the point of view
of Josef Breuer, the eventual progenitor of psychoanalysis. The time frame is at the end of Friedrich
Nietzsche’s middle period of writing, notable for his famous breakup with friend Richard Wagner, as
well as his introduction of two themes that would be crucial to his later work: ‘eternal recurrence’ and
‘the will to power’, both which he alludes to in The Gay Science (1882). The novel opens with Lou
Andreas-Salome, a pioneering feminist, psychologist and thinker, interrupting Breuer while he is on
holiday in Venice rapt by erotic reveries of Bertha, a former patient. Lou implores him to treat Friedrich
Nietzsche, whose ailments, including migraines and nausea, have “exhausted the medical resources of
Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.” (6) She tells him that the treatment she seeks is not for his physical
ailments but for his suicidal “despair.” (9) Though extremely reluctant to help, Lou’s charisma and
“uncommon beauty” seduces him (Breuer, we learn, is prone to such feminine seductions), and finally
agrees to treat Nietzsche with his “talking cure” (which will become the cornerstone of
Thus does the character Lou act as a catalyst to get the fable going. Afterward, the story really
dwells almost exclusively on a limited plot and a small cast of characters who are overshadowed by the
star duet of Breuer and Nietzsche. So, though we learn more about Bertha B. (aka, Anna O. of
psychoanalysis fame) and Lou Andreas-Salome, and their relationships to Breuer and Nietzsche,
respectively, as near femme fatales, in the end, the story is really about the imaginary talks between
Breuer (Yalom) and Nietzsche just prior to the latter’s publication of his most strident writings and
subsequent descent into madness. The novel deals with two concepts central to psychoanalysis: Eros
and Thanatos, or the life instinct and the death instinct, the one which is usually responsible for all our
deepest yearnings, the other usually responsible for all our deepest fears. As we see later in Freud’s
writings (Civilization and Its Discontents, The Future of an Illusion, especially), it was the human
inability to consciously cope with the ramifications of these principles which would ultimately,
according to Freud, lead to human self-obliteration. But, since the novel pre-dates Freud, care must be
taken in retro-fitting the fable with later developments, as Eros and thanatos, though the evident topic
of conversation between Breuer and Nietzsche, was then only a philosophical line of speculation.
Indeed, it is Yalom’s intention to show how Nietzsche’s iconoclastic dialectics influenced the
development of psychoanalysis.
So Breuer is dispatched to help Nietzsche with his despair. But Nietzsche’s thoughts seduce
Breuer and he is not certain that Nietzsche isn’t justifiably in despair, given the ontological vision he
relates to Breuer. However, in an almost-humorous take on transference, Breuer first seeks counsel
from Nietzsche regarding his obsession with Bertha. While riding in a carriage on their way to
Simmeringe Haide, a cemetery that will will be central to their discussions, Nietzsche tells him, “What
did we learn yesterday if not that your relationship to Bertha is unreal, an illusion woven from images
and longings that have nothing to do with the real Bertha?” (240) This illusory object is what Freud
would later call ‘the Thing’. (1957, 13) In the graveyard, Breuer continue their walk-the- talk, with
Nietzsche probing Breuer about a “cemetery dream” he had, asking him to recall the dream’s details
and consider possible meanings. The conversation evolves toward a realization, Nietzsche pressuring
Breuer with, “The paradox, your paradox, is that you dedicate yourself to the search for truth but
cannot bear the sight of of what you discover.” (247) Nietzsche then tells Breuer that he must learn to
“Die at the right time,” (247) Breuer asks, as you would, “What does that mean?” (247) And Nietzsche
tells him, in essence, that his obsession with Bertha is a symbol of his inability to be free in his own
life. Nietzsche poses a “thought experiment” for Breuer to consider, which is to picture the “eternal
recurrence” of all things and what implications that would have for his present life. After working
through the implications, realizing that Nietzsche does not mean immortality, but freedom-in-the-now,
following his bliss, as it were. By accepting the terror and freedom of the eternal recurrence, one can
achieve “amor fati.” (282) In the end, Breuer realizes from this that he yearns to be free of his marriage
and this new understanding prepares him to divorce.
The Simmeringe Haide conversations are crucial to the development of the novel’s point—a
therapist’s inspired attempt to show the reader some of the delusional mechanisms that guide human
behavior, including that of renowned thinkers, such as Breuer and Nietzsche. In his just released self-
help book, Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death (2008), Yalom makes explicit what his
agenda is in relation to Nietzsche: “Nietzsche claimed two ‘granite’ sentences that were hard enough to
stand the erosion of time: ‘Become who you are’ and ‘That which does not kill me makes me stronger.’
And so they have, both having entered the general vernacular of therapy.” (104) The former sentence is,
of course, exactly what Nietzsche is telling Breuer in the cemetery, and accepting one’s freedom leads
to ‘amor fati’ and the understanding implied by Nietzsche’s second stone sentence.

Implicit in the graveyard deconstruction of Breuer’s obsession with Bertha is that one must
overcome Eros—in order to be able to overcome Thanatos. In other words, most people, ‘the herd’,
never get beyond neurotic obsessions similar to Breuer’s. Attachments to things and people enslave
consciousness. (Strictly speaking, this is a Buddhist-sounding concept.) But beyond even that
enslavement to Eros, once set free, we struggle with the terrifying realization of our mortality. Yalom
sums this terror lyrically and poignantly in Staring at the Sun:
The phrase “Remember me” always moves me. In my novel When Nietzsche Wept, I
portray Nietzsche wandering in a cemetery, eying the scattered tombstones, and
composing a few lines of doggerel that end,

          Till stone is laid on stone
          And though none can hear
          And none can see
          Each sobs softly, remember me, remember me

So this helps explain the symbolic and narrative function of Simmeringe Haide. It also expresses the
deep grief we feel for our own mortality and sheds some understanding on why we willingly avoid
freedom and its dangers. Not long after this fabled meeting with Breuer, in real time, Nietzsche will
pen Thus Spoke Zarathustra, his self-esteemed magnum opus, in which his fictional prophet
Zarathustra utters such lines as “one must still have chaos within oneself to be able to give birth to a
dancing star”(17) and “a poor ignorant weariness that does not want to want anymore: this created all
gods and afterworlds” (31). Anxiety wears us down and we lose our chaos to the delusional obsessions
that keep us from facing our freedom and overcoming the terror of death. “[T]he most powerful factor
was my identification of the right enemy,” Breuer tells Nietzsche, “Once I understood that I must
wrestle with the real enemy—time, aging, death—then I came to understand that Mathilde is neither
adversary nor rescuer, but simply a fellow traveler trudging though the cycle of life.” (282) This is what
Nietzsche has taught Breuer, and what Nietzsche and Breuer have taught Yalom, and what Yalom
teaches me.

If we were to divide Yalom’s novel, the first part ends up being about curing Breuer of his
malady before he can cure Nietzsche of his. This is, of course, standard procedure. All
psychotherapists must first undergo hours and hours of psychoanalysis before they are allowed become
licensed therapists. Thus, Nietzsche paradoxically acts as a proxy therapist to Breuer, so that the latter
can turn around and help Nietzsche. Now, just as Nietzsche has helped Breuer overcome his Eros
problem vis-a-vis Bertha (and his wife, Mathilde), leaving him in the position to face and slay the
greater monster, Death, so, too, will Breuer then turn around and help Nietzsche see that his obsession
with Lou Andreas-Salome is symptomatic of his own failure to identify and accept reality.
Earlier Nietzsche had remarked to Breuer that it was paradoxical to be truth- seeker who avoided

his own findings, so Breuer turns the tables on Nietzsche in what could be called the second part of the
novel. In a long section toward the end of the novel (290-302), Breuer first coaxes Nietzsche to see
how he has created an illusion out of Lou in the same way that Breuer had with Bertha (and Mathilde).
Finally, after much rationalizing, Nietzsche gets it: “Over and over I am haunted by one fear…despite
my bravado about being the posthumous philosopher, despite my certitude that my day will come,
despite even my knowledge of eternal recurrence—I am haunted about the thought of dying alone.”
And he adds, “The only one who filled this hollowness was Lou Salome.” (296) But this does not
make Nietzsche weep. Despite this understanding, Nietzsche has yet to set Lou free from his erotic
attachment. With further coaxing, Nietzsche suddenly begins to sob. (298) When asked why he is
sobbing, Nietzsche tells Breuer it is because he has never before expressed his feeling of loneliness,
and yet, he adds, “at the very moment when I, for the first time in my life, reveal my loneliness in all its
depth, in all its despair—at that precise moment, loneliness melts away!” (300) Furthering, the happy
ending, a few minutes later Nietzsche weeps again when he realizes how lucky he has been to have
found such a friend in Breuer. The therapist invites him to stay, but Nietzsche intimates that his
“destiny is to search for truth on the far side of loneliness” (301), and with that hug and separate,
leaving Breuer with thoughts of a new psychoanalysis and Nietzsche in a reverie of Zarathustra.
Like Nietzsche, Yalom sees the despair in the face of death as the great abyss which the human
race does its best to avoid thinking about, and, in this fictional account, even Nietzsche struggles with
it. Thus, in Yalom’s hands, Nietzsche-on-the-couch becomes a kind of Ur-patient suffering intensely
from the kind of existential nausea that is at the heart of the contemporary human condition. Ultimately,
Nietzsche thought sanity was rare: “Madness is rare in individuals–but in groups, parties, nations, and
ages it is the rule” (1989, 156) Nietzsche, who would have despised T.S..Eliot’s Christian weariness,
would have agreed with the poet’s observation: “human kind / Cannot bear too much reality.” (Four
Quartets, I, 44-45) Sangsara, the Buddhists call it. In Staring at the Sun, Yalom discusses the affliction
of modern man. In his real therapy sessions, he uses Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence as an ‘experiment’
in his treatments of patients. Ultimately, the novel is a kind of therapeutic projection of Yalom
interpreting Nietzsche with a view to gleaning his therapeutic value in an existentialist world. The
terror of death is as Julie Kristeva says a black sun (1989) that, says Yalom, everyone needs help
weeping out to get over.
Eliot, TS 1948, Four Quartets, Harcourt, New York.
Freud, S 1957, ‘Mourning and melancholia’, in J Strachey et. al. (trans.), The standard edition of the
complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, vol. XIV (1914-1916), Hogarth Press, London.
Kristeva, J 1989, Black Sun: depression and melancholia, in L. Roudiez (trans.), Columbia University
Press, New York.
Nietzsche, F 1974 and W Kaufmann (trans.), The Gay Science, Random House, New York.
Nietzsche, F 1978 and W Kaufmann (trans.), Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Random House, New York.
Nietzsche, F 1989 and W Kaufmann (trans.), Beyond Good and Evil, Random House, New York.
Yalom, I 2008, Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death, Wiley, San Francisco.
Yalom, I 2005, When Nietzsche Wept, HarperCollins, New York.

Note: This essay was written for  Contemporary Australian Fiction unit at CQU, Australia, Sem 1, 2007. Apologies for typos  and occasional font issues, as using an OCR can mess with formatting.


The Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously stated that “you cannot step into the same river twice”: While there is a source and an outlet to the sea, the river itself is moveable, alive, changing — never the same. Everything in the universe is like that river, he argued — always in a constant state of flux. Applied to history, Heraclitus’ observation would suggest that there is no event from the past we can point to and say We know it l with certainty. As Heraclitus’ descendants, the deconstructionists would have it, all texts are ambiguous, and every event is a text. We look out at a landscape and read it, but the I person standing next to us and looking out will not be stepping into the same text. In David Malouf’ s Johnno, such ambiguity plays an important role not only as a meta-narrative overlaying the pseudo-memoir Malouf has written, but more importantly in the specific conclusions and actions resulting from the choices his literary characters make in reading the Australian historical landscape and wading into her sustaining myths. In this brief essay, I will discuss the characterizations Malouf appeals to in Johnno in constructing his own fictional Australia, and argue that the work is a deconstructive analysis of mythmaking in Australia, as well as a romantic homage to that tradition in its own right. In addition, as a point of comparison, I will take note of relevant myth-wading in Peter Carey’s My Life as a Fake.

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Note: Another of my scanned essays turned in for my unit in Contemporary Australian Literature at CQU, Australia, Semester 1, 2007.

MyLifeAsAFake saidheyward-cover

 Topic Question Being Addressed: “Myths and legends tell us something about ourselves that we might not be prepared to say straight-faced. And yet, if Benedict Anderson is right in suggesting that our sense of any community is only ever imagined, a contemporary re-imagining of Australian myths and legends is not only an improbable reworking of the past, it is also a rnis-recognition of the ways in which identity functions.” Discuss with reference to My Life as a Fake and one other text.


One of the more fascinating theses to come out of relatively recent modernist history studies is that proposed by Benedict Anderson (1983) as he considers the rise of global ‘nationa1ism’. The by-product of the Industrial Revolution, with its emphasis on the technological and technique, combined with the rise of secularity, and the universal establishment and dissemination of “print-capitalism”, nationalism arose as an articulation of a more mechanistic consciousness. A nation “is imagined,” Anderson argues, “because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” (1) This image is a composite of the vernacular fused with – more national legends and myths that together form an approximation of objective identity on a par, even exceeding at times, the power of subjectivity. In addition, says Anderson, a nation is not only “imagined”, it is imagined as a community because “regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship.” (2) Of more specific literary interest, Anderson sees the novel as having a central role in the formation of that imagined national affinity, being a principle vehicle for the re-telling and reiteration of the image boundary, and thus helping vested interests reinforce the manufactured mantras of Mammon.

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Back in 1990 I was pursuing a master’s degree in English at the University of Mass., my alma mater.  Below is a scanned copy of a paper I turned in for Bob Crossley’s Scientific Romance course in the Fall of 1990.  I later became a Research Assistant for Crossley as he wrote his biography of Olaf Stapledon.  Bob’s course remains to this day one of the greatest highlights of my academic career.  Some great reads. He is still there. (617-287-6701)


Full document available at Scribd below.

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Sketch for a thesis (no grade, discussion only)
Doubt-Desire in the Technological Age
John Hawkins
Fall 1985, RPI
‘Since Copernicus,` Nietzsche wrote in 1887, ‘man rolls from the center into “x.” Few of Nietzsche’s contemporaries had the scope to comprehend the full significance of this declaration, just as there were few ears that would listen and comprehend the meaning of Nietzsche’s Madman declaring “God is dead” in the marketplace of 19th century consciousness. Laughed at, the Madman would cry, “I’ve come too soon,” before making
his hasty and melancholy retreat back into the depths of unconsciousness. But today, nearly a century later, we feel the full profundity of the Madman’s words and are becoming at least partially cognizant of their meaning.
Today only the half-conscious Fool or the “civilized barbarian” (ie,technocrat) chooses to ignore the depth’s of the world’s turmoil. We seem to have finally arrived at a place in history that is diametrically opposed in spirit to the long~idealized Golden-Age, in which the basic human doubt-desire dialectic was resolved in the centrifugal force, the
outward-projecting movement of Golden Age consciousness: the conflicts arising out of man’s relationship to nature were expressed as a constellation of anthropomorphic symbols which gave his life meaning. But in this our reductive Technological Age the doubt-desire dialectic is resolved or, rather, it is dissolved in the centripetal movement of an overly rationalized, overly explained natural world that no longer provides man with meaning because it no longer needs to be doubted.
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