Gothics Enigmatic Signifier
The Case of J. Sheridan Le Fanu‘s ‘Carmilla’
in Gothic Studies
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This article proposes a reading of Le Fanu‘s ‘Carmilla’ in relation to the ideas of the French psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche, particularly Laplanche‘s notion of the enigmatic signifier. Laplanche refigures the inauguration of human sexuality as a failure on the infant‘s behalf to meaningfully translate the enigmatic messages received from the adult world, which, Laplanche argues, are freighted with unconscious sexual meaning. Unable to fully metabolise these enigmatic signifiers, the infant is prone to trauma, as the un-translated residues of the adults address sink into the unconscious to form powerful unconscious fantasies that continue to trouble the subject. A parallel is drawn here with Laura‘s relationship with the mysterious but alluring Carmilla, whose enigmatic desire both fascinates and repels Le Fanu‘s narrator from the moment of Laura‘s childhood trauma but whose enigmatic language remains indecipherable. Carmilla herself is finally seen as the allegorical figure of the Gothic itself: profoundly enigmatic and potentially traumatising.

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