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Roundtable on “Miss Emily After Dark” What’s in a Hymen? Richard Godden University of California, Irvine MUCH OF THE CONSIDERABLE FORCE OF THOMAS ARGIRO’S ARGUMENT depends upon the double meaning of key terms: on, that is, the capacity of “necrophilia” to contain “negrophilia”; even as “a yellow glove,” on a “dark” faced man, elicits epidermal hesitation; and a three-fold “in and out,” allied to “the Negro man” who passes through a “back door” while carrying a prominent “basket,” triggers proliferant innuendo. In puns, as in instances of innuendo, the triggering sign yields a split referent, produced by the release of two terms from one, whether by oral affinity or sexual inference. Which is to say, a second term slips by way of a nudge and a wink or a shared sound from a first, releasing the seemingly mistaken from the chosen, the apparently unknown or unexpected from the known, while promoting a tenuous need to motivate their implausible connection. Should we seek (in a readerly species of “Surely not!”) to excise what we have heard, along with the offending second term, even as its excess deposits a semantic residue, our decision will necessarily leave an occultation—evidence of the choice not to see and know, not to show and tell. It would follow that the once heard never falls entirely silent, and that a reader, subject to the sign’s duplicity, becomes in turn a split addressee, one who, in this instance, must preserve the “negro” in the “necro” and the “orifice” in the “back door.” D. A. Miller, addressing homosexual connotation in the visual medium of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), makes a useful general case for the essentially connotative work of sexual punning, and of innuendo more generally: Connotation . . . excites the desire for proof, a desire that, so long as it develops within the connotative register, tends to draft every signifier into what nonetheless remains a hopeless task. Hence the desire assumes another, complementary form in the dream (impossible to realize, but impossible not to entertain) that connotation would quit its dusky existence for fluorescent literality, would become denotation. Every discourse that speaks . . . homosexuality by connotative means alone will thus be implicitly haunted by the phantasm of the thing itself. . . . Whenever 468 Mississippi Quarterly homosexuality is reduced . . . to a problem of being able to tell , this will-to-see never fails to make itself felt. (123) Miller’s “will to see” problematizes Argiro’s crucially connotative case. Let us suppose that the essay’s considerable sensitivity to Faulkner’s calculated linguistic duplicity results in a sustainable recasting of potential narratives as they gather around the issue of Emily Grierson’s sexual activities within the closed house of her father. The supposition that Emily conducts an affair with Tobe necessarily complicates her presumed relations with Homer Barron. Set in Argiro’s new context, Emily’s courting of, or being courted by, a Yankee foreman who announcedly “like[s] men” and who covertly may be black, begs questions beyond those raised by Argiro. Let us suppose that Barron is a “passing” homosexual; would not his “admission” at the “back door” by Tobe (after a period of absence from both Emily and the town), at least queer the question of for whom he knocks? Once queered, that question begs a further question concerning the nature of his death; the who did what, to whom, and for why that necessarily drives the larger narrative. Given the provenance of connotative evidence (as we strain “to see” into the dark house), I would point out that the ladies who watch and “whisper,” over the comings and goings, do so (twice) from behind “jalousies.” The sound of “jalousie,” (a “slatted blind”), prompts “jealousy,” particularly given that the verb “jalouse,” (from the French “jalouser,” “to regard with jealousy”) enters English (albeit in an archaic form), as meaning, “to suspect that a thing is so; to surmise; to guess.” To accord with Argiro’s arguments would be to translate the Grierson home into a phantasmal locus of sustainedly promiscuous possibility, apt sight for the jealous surmises of those who (like the narrator) study the case. Not least among the guessed promiscuities would be the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 467-474
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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