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  • The “Lost” Subject of Middle-earth:The Constitution of the Subject in the Figure of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings
  • Gergely Nagy (bio)

One of the greatest things about The Lord of the Rings is that it takes language seriously,1 and it does so in more than one sense. The text contains a variety of linguistic and stylistic registers in elaborately wrought rhetorical structures which often "cluster" around characters or points of the narration, frameworks which characterize one figure or one situation, charging these textual foci with a great depth of poetic reserve. It also takes poetic and stylistic convention seriously: Tolkien's use of different literary traditions, styles, and modes of writing has often been noted.2 But in this remarkable awareness of the centrality of language, The Lord of the Rings also places emphasis on the source of the linguistic utterance, the forces that produce language—the speaking subject on the one hand, and the frameworks inside which that subject is situated on the other.3

The speaking subject of Middle-earth is somewhat different from that of the "real world"—as is only fitting in a fiction which is itself radically different from "consensus reality." For one thing, Tolkien's medieval(ist) point of view is constantly visible in the background suppositions of meaning-production in Middle-earth: the subject in this world is part of a basically theological hierarchy (as in a medieval world model),4 where knowledge and meaning are available in "levels." The further one is from the "theological core" (which does not even appear in The Lord of the Rings in an explicit form, and only once implicitly5 ), the more mediators his/her knowledge will have passed through: the more opaque the surface, the more obscure the meaning. But meaning is always there: there is a theological guarantee which is existent (for it is a fact in Middle-earth), though it might be removed and unavailable directly. The fact that we ourselves do not subscribe to this world model, however, does not mean that the fiction of the subject The Lord of the Rings presents is irrelevant: it is exactly the inaccessibility of this guarantee which the novel problematizes. Where, how, in what processes does meaning emerge in such a world—and how can Tolkien use the speaking subject to thematize not only the individual's acts of meaning-production, but also the ways in which these individual acts again cluster into (communal/traditional) representations, and evolve their own meanings?

The Lord of the Rings is about the role of language, more precisely, the [End Page 57] role of storytelling, in a world where meaning is guaranteed—but this guarantee is forever invisible, there and not there at the same time. For those who know it is of little help: indeed much of the book is about how the hopes placed in this focus of meaning dwindle and seem to disappear. No doubt Tolkien himself saw this as a basically religious model of the world.6 Certainty is knowledge; but knowledge, in its turn, is only transmitted in language, spoken or written, which might possess different degrees of authority (and come from different frameworks of communication) but cannot demonstrate it palpably. Models of meaning production (defining the ways individual meanings are conceived of as "knowledge," and the sources and commonly accepted authorities that authenticate these systems), therefore, depend on the subject,7 and its relation to traditions of knowledge and representation; and this effectively puts the question of the subject, the user of language and tradition, the mediator of knowledge, into the foreground.

One of the most revealing of Tolkien's characters as far as subjectivity, language, and their relation are concerned, is certainly Gollum. This degenerate hobbit, whom the reader, along with Frodo, hates and pities, clearly pinpoints stages and elements of the constitution of the subject and provides as concepts for the examination of the process of this constitution (and deconstitution) language, body, and desire. These three terms are supplemented by the aspect of power when Gollum is placed (and looked at) in the web of social and moral relationships; his relations to the Ring and to...


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pp. 57-79
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