restricted access Dead Fathers: The Logic of Transference in Modern Narrative (review)
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Reviewed by
Nina Schwartz. Dead Fathers: The Logic of Transference in Modern Narrative. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1994. x + 200 pp.

Nina Schwartz brings the heavy guns of psychoanalytic theory ( Zizek, Lacan, Hegel, Freud) to bear on ambivalence toward dead fathers in four modernist texts: Heart of Darkness, The Wings of the Dove, The Sun Also Rises, and A Room of One’s Own. In examining structures of repetition, Schwartz argues that “such repetition frequently occurs on the oedipal model, in which those with less power, resisting authority, end up forming their own authority on the model of the simultaneously hated and loved parental precursor.” Slavoj Zizek’s connection of “psychoanalytic theory and ideological analysis” enables an interpretation of literary modernism’s “rejection of politics, history, and social responsibility [End Page 914] . . . as a symptom, a particular manifestation of the ‘reaction formation,’ Zizek discusses as intrinsic to culture itself.” For example, critical emphasis on the alienation of the subject has caused critics to “overlook much of modernism’s equally important alignment of the subject with conventions of cultural discourse.” Thus, in discussing Heart of Darkness, Schwartz challenges the readings of those who see Marlow as simply revealing “the large-scale brutality of the colonialist enterprise” by stressing that Marlow is unable “to free himself from the assumptions that provoke the Company’s activities.” Kurtz, who “really is the subject who knows,” functions as Marlow’s double, but when Marlow realizes that Kurtz has “used his voice to claim his bond to the jungle rather than to repudiate its hold on him,” Marlow, through a negative transference, “protects himself from the personal significance of Kurtz’s degeneration.” Though Marlow “repudiates the institutional power of the Company and the uncontrolled personal power of Kurtz, . . . he fails to see how his own self-construction repeats the form of both.”

Henry James’s awareness of psychosomatic illness, especially in relation to his sister Alice’s chronic illnesses, encourages a similar reading of Milly Theale’s unnamed illness in The Wings of the Dove. Having seemingly inherited a sense of death as “a family tradition,” Milly punishes herself with illness because she alone has survived. She learns from Susan Shepherd the power of money and how it “is a means of imposing one’s will,” as is her illness. Schwartz reads Milly as “an author of the others,” emphasizing Milly’s aggressiveness. In these terms, being “a dove,” as Kate Croy has called her, is “to strategically work one’s will by seducing and then appropriating the desire of the other who remains convinced of his or her actual authority.” Schwartz finds that the characters in The Wings of the Dove demonstrate James’s “frequent doubling of generosity and aggression in his work” which suggests his “understanding of the desire, the will to power, that constitutes human love.”

In The Sun Also Rises Schwartz finds inscribed “the existential redemption of death and impotence within a dynamic fundamental to Western culture: the masculine oedipal complex and its institution of what Lacan calls the dialectic of castration and desire.” Jake Barnes’s power is achieved by evoking in Brett Ashley a desire that he cannot fulfill. Schwartz wisely comments that “[t]he success of this relationship depends precisely on its capacity to withstand the threat of satisfaction.” [End Page 915] Aficionados may reel at the Lacanian reading of the matador-bull relationship as a “bizarre sexual parody” but would agree that the bullfight is a crucial scene in what Schwartz has wittily titled “A Cock and Bull Story.” In presenting her argument that “the narrative demonstrates. . . the lack of any real foundation to the idea of manliness,” Schwartz provides a provocative addition to the current crop of gender-oriented readings of Hemingway.

In her treatment of A Room of One’s Own Schwartz rejects the reading of Woolf’s conception of androgyny as the “harmonious fusion of any male and female principles in the individual,” seeing the term as pointing instead to “the existence in the mind of a fundamental principle of otherness.” In the end, Woolf emerges as “the heroine of my narrative of modernism” because “the speaker not only denies...