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.
Barnes said: ‘God, children know something they can’t tell;
they like Red Riding Hood and the wolf in bed!’ 33
Freud’s theory of the primal phantasies is central
to an understanding of this scene. According to Freud, the primal
phantasies involve three of life’s major mysteries. Where did I
come from? Whom do I desire? Why am I different? Laplanche and Pontalis
point out that the primal phantasies directly
called, of support.
The ‘matrix of
desire’, the symbolic circulations that the death drive underpins
and undermines, can never maintain its constancy however, repeatedly
interrupted as it is by the drive, ‘that radical force, usually
fixed and fixating, which surfaces in a catastrophic or ecstatic