Search results

The Case of J. Sheridan Le Fanu‘s ‘Carmilla’

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.

Gothic Studies
Wordsworth and Bowen

least to their own satisfaction). The difficulty is in explaining these crucial factors of animal existence to those beings – those animals – that don’t have the equipment (the language, the developed body) to comprehend. The adult’s world, according to Laplanche, is ‘a world of signification and communication’ which ‘swamp[s] the child’s capacity for apprehension and mastery’. The adult’s messages – whether verbal or, more commonly, gestural, vocal, embodied – constitute ‘enigmatic signifiers’ for the child. They are enigmatic, according to Laplanche, though – and

in Ignorance
Abstract only
Literature and agnoiology

This book argues that ignorance is part of the narrative and poetic force of literature, as well as an important aspect of its thematic focus: ignorance is what literary texts are about. The author argues that the dominant conception of literature since the Romantic period has involved an often unacknowledged engagement with the experience of not knowing. From Wordsworth and Keats to George Eliot and Charles Dickens, from Henry James to Joseph Conrad, from Elizabeth Bowen to Philip Roth and Seamus Heaney, writers have been fascinated and compelled by the question of ignorance, including their own. The book argues that there is a politics and ethics, as well as a poetics, of ignorance: literature's agnoiology, its acknowledgement of the limits of what we know both of ourselves and of others, engages with the possibility of democracy and the ethical, and allows us to begin to conceive of what it might mean to be human.

Elisabeth Bronfen and Beate Neumeier

are ‘undead’ in Eric Santner’s definition of the term. ‘Undeadness’ describes the continued vitality of a symbolic form that outlasts its original conditions of legibility; ‘the symbolic forms in and through which this life is structured can be hollowed out, lose their vitality, break up into a series of enigmatic signifiers, “hieroglyphs” that in some way continue to address

in Gothic Renaissance
Middlemarch and Great Expectations

, there is a sense that in their desperation to know each other, now, in their desire finally to know what the other is thinking, feeling, to achieve a longed-for decipherability of the always enigmatic other (the ‘enigmatic signifier’ – to coin a pun 32 – that the other person always remains to us), consciousness is transferred on to nature, projected on to and as a storm. But it is not of course the characters, the fictional people, who effect this transformation, this projection: it is Eliot herself. The projection of emotion on to the landscape may be read as, in

in Ignorance

Centre, Shanghai, China. 62 Chung Kuo Cina, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni (1972; Milan, Italy: RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana, 2007), DVD. Over the years, Chung Kuo has been largely forgotten or mistakenly dismissed as a benign travel documentary. Recent exceptions include insightful discussions of Chung Kuo in Homay King, Lost in Translation: Orientalism, Cinema, and the Enigmatic Signifier (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010); Jerome Silbergeld, “Photography Goes to the Movies: On the Boundaries of Cinematography, Photography, and Videography in China,” in

in Above sea