"How strangely knowledge comes to us"


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"How strangely knowledge comes to us" Thomas Hardy and the limits of representation
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vi, 212 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Menocal, Alexander
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English thesis Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF
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Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1992.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 208-211).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Alexander Menocal.
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University of Florida
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I wish to dedicate this dissertation to my friend, John

Leavey, for his inexhaustible generosity and his diligent

support, and to my close friend, Ali, in gratitude for her

love and the brilliance of her imagination.


I should like to thank everyone on my committee for

their support and counsel. First, my thanks go to my

director Professor John Leavey, who has taught me the

importance of a certain demanding form of reading and

circumspection. I thank Professor Dan Cottom for his

avuncular counsel, his friendship, and tireless assistance

in helping me become a better writer and reader. My thanks

go to Professor Elizabeth Langland for her strong support

and counsel. My thanks go to Professor Robert D'Amico for

his encouragement and questioning. I thank Professor

Alistair Duckworth for his questions and support. And my

thanks go to Professor John Perlette for his questions and

encouragement. Special thanks go to my close friend, Sam

Kimball, who has always been a source of amazing insight

and limitless kindness. My deepest thanks go to my parents

and brother, in gratitude for their many sacrifices and

love. And above all, my thanks go to my close friend, Ali.




. iii






INTRODUCTION .. ........

The Demand of Realism and Truth. .. .
Notes .. .




Notes. . . .

Sincerity: The Demand to Challenge and
Question . .
When Techniques Replace the Authority of
Providence . .
Sympathetic Appreciation .
The Rejection of Closure in Sincerity .
The Gift of Intuition. .
A General Truth is Difficult to Grasp. .
Critical Responses . .
Notes. . .

Notes . .. .

WORKS CITED ... ........ ...


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. 105

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. 206

. 208

. 212





Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Alexander Menocal

May, 1992

Chairman: John P. Leavey, Jr.
Major Department: English

This dissertation demonstrates how nineteenth-century

British realism is guided by the demand to represent the

world of "ordinary life." This demand, which authorizes the

realist project and defines the place of literature in

relation to the world, is both a formal and a social demand,

a call for a just representation of the world and for social

responsibility. Only by responding to this demand can

realism show that it is responsible and not a product of

prejudice or dogma. In addition, although this demand

enjoins realism to record only what it discovers in the

world of "ordinary life," it also sanctions realism's

discovery of a universal or general truth within the diverse

experiences composing the world of "ordinary life." The

desire for universal truth, however, is compromised by the

necessity to represent the demand that gives rise to

realism. In other words, this demand is not only the cause

of realism but also the effect of realism, something realism

itself represents as demanding.

Part 1 explores how some nineteenth-century writers and

twentieth-century critics respond to and read the demands of

realism. A crisis of representation, I argue, motivates

realists to view their project as demanding. Although

realists feel compelled to represent the world of "ordinary

life," they also contend that any representation of reality

is conditional. Despite the conditional nature of their

representations, realists do not question the foundation of

their project--the demand of realism. In fact, it becomes

necessary to integrate the question of the formal into the

question of the moral. The nature of the language of

realism then appears as the medium of morality.

Part 2 considers how Thomas Hardy in particular

responds to this crisis. Hardy proposes that the crisis of

representation can be suspended in the setting of the

interview, where two parties can meet face-to-face to sort

out the truth from a host of misrepresentations. The

interview, however, fails to function as a sanctuary. In

order to counter this failure, Hardy proposes that two

strategies are necessary to respond to the demand: a

sincere and conscientious representation and a reflective





Before judgment occurs, the process of
assimilation must already have taken place.
--Nietzsche, The Will to Power 289

When realism vaulted the world of ordinary life to its

preeminence, this life inspired tremors of wonder in its

literary cartographers as it was made to disclose the

extraordinary features of its landscape. No longer

presupposed as the background of activity, ordinary life

seemed to call out for inspection, to enjoin realists to

take it into their view. Proposed by many as the ground of

activity, ordinary life itself, however, in realism was in

need of a ground. The truth of ordinary life for which

realism was searching was not simply rediscovered in some

unforeseen place. Rather, the topography of this truth was

undergoing a thorough reconfiguration. New voices were

beginning to be heard, for instance, from hitherto

unacknowledged pockets of society. Exceptional cases became

the rule. In all of this, realism, as it was understood by

many Victorian writers, aspired to an unprecedented sense of

transcendence, one very different, however, from the

romantic idealizations against which realism is often set.

For one thing, while tethered to a quasi-empirical

representation of the world, realism would claim for itself

a basis in a sociology or psychology of the "individual," a

figure that could at once illustrate the most ordinary and

extraordinary, the most universal and yet most idiomatic

qualities. Meanwhile, social and literary conventions

principally derived from traditional models of authority

practically lost their circulating power. Even when there

seemed to be a growing fascination with the

particularization of experience, even when widespread

anxiety at the excess of significant detail replaced this

fascination, even when this social chorus seemed to splinter

into a terrific din that signified at once mobility and

prostration, even when realist writers perceived the

historical changes taking place around them as a crisis or a

loss of order--there remained the imperative to seek out the

truth of ordinary life and respond to its enjoinder. Be true

to the truth of ordinary life, be responsible to this truth,

says the imperative, for truth demands it.

No doubt much of this has been said already. In fact,

an almost random search of contemporary criticism on realism

would likely reveal that contemporary critics tend to define

realism in terms of a crisis and a demand, or some

comparable moral or ethical scheme. These defining terms

recall the ways nineteenth-century writers define realism,

as if to say this critical language has been bequeathed to

contemporary critics by nineteenth-century writers. But as

some characters in Austen's Sense and Sensibility quickly

learn when they must execute the terms of an inheritance,

one's goods are not always one's own. Likewise, one might

say contemporary critics are less in possession of an

explanation of realism than they believe as long as they

adhere to the terms of this inherited language. Rather

than possessing these terms, contemporary critics are

possessed by them; indeed, they are their appointed

custodians. All of this takes on added importance due to

the self-conscious or self-critical sophistication

contemporary critics impute to nineteenth-century writers.

For contemporary critics and nineteenth-century writers

alike tend to leave unexamined the defining terms of realism

despite all their supposed self-consciousness about them.

If the terms and gestures that coalesce in the demand of

realism remain unexamined, they will continue to exercise an

almost sacred authority over critics. In other words, these

terms and gestures, relations and definitions, will seem

demanding and invariable.

The argument presented in Part 1 contains three

sections. I begin by examining how 19th-century realists

perceive themselves as working within a crisis of

representation. This perception is based on the recognition

that the existing forms of representing their world are

incapable of responding to the social changes underway in

their world. Although realists will strive to replace these


obsolete forms with ones more responsive to their world and

its exigencies, the crisis of representation that envelopes

them cannot be overcome, since realists will regard the new

forms of representation as temporary, limited.

Realists, however, will conceive of a way to transcend

this crisis of representation. They will regard their

project--responding to the exigencies of their world--as

necessary and demanding. In this way, realists can justify

their representations of ordinary life while maintaining

that their representations remain within the crisis. What

supposedly constitutes a limitation to realist

representations, i.e., the crisis, serves as the foundation

for the very mode it appears to obstruct. Realists imagine

this crisis, I argue, in order to lend their representations

the appearance of being necessary, moral, and responsible.

For realists will assert that they are merely responding to

a necessity, rather than simply replacing one aesthetic

order with another or one set of conventions with another.

They are responding to a moral as well as a literary demand.

Willfulness evaporates before the demands of necessity and

responsibility, the responsibility to represent their world

in an unbiased manner. Moral responsibility, then, becomes

a criterion of authorship. In short, the perception of a

crisis of representation gives rise to the necessity of

becoming a responsible writer. Consequently, even while

realists declare that their representations cannot overcome

the crisis of representation, the value and authority they

attribute to morality and responsibility, to responding to

the demand to represent their world, transform their

representations into expressions of a necessary and

demanding truth. These demands and necessities, I argue,

are the effects of realism and not its causes.

In order to make their representations binding,

realists will argue that truth and morality dictate

realism's aesthetic innovations. Without this moral

component, realism's formal innovations might be incorrectly

judged as purely an aesthetic matter rather than an

ineluctable expression of a demanding truth. To have it

otherwise would render realism's truth and formal

innovations dependent on the vicissitudes of subjectivity.

Realism, I argue, will claim that its innovations are

formally neutral. This neutrality will allow these formal

innovations to appear transcendent and simultaneously self-

evident. Therefore, there is no excuse for refusing or

disputing the demands of realism and the truth it discovers.

In addition, since these formal innovations constitute a

response to a demanding truth, realists will be able to

argue that they are merely deferring to an ineluctable

representation, a representation that forbids rejection, a

representation that is morally binding. Hence, I argue that

any opposition to these formal innovations will be construed

as an affront to morality and to a necessary and demanding

representation. Any opposing representation of reality will

be interpreted as defective, flawed. As a result, a

writer's responsibility to the representation of his or her

world can never be refused, for to write about one's world

in the language of realism means writing a demanding truth.

In the third part of my argument, I examine how Hayden

White reads the demands of narration in historiography.

White contends that historiographical writings are motivated

by a desire to impose narrative coherence on the reality

they represent. Like realist writers, historiographers

claim that their historical narratives respond to a demand

and a crisis. For White, being alert to this language of

necessity enables one to examine the desires that underwrite

the discourse of a discipline and to criticize its belief in

the existence of a proper mode for representing events. In

short, White's essay, "The Value of Narrativity in the

Representation of Reality," sets out to demystify the

strategies of appropriation and the appeals to propriety

that create the illusion that what one is narrating is

necessary and morally demanding. White's essay is

significant for another reason. It warns one of the dangers

in seeking a simple solution to the question of a demanding

representation. White's cautions notwithstanding, I argue

that the question of morality continues to appear as an

ideal in his essay.


Order is then denounced within order.
--Jacques Derrida, "Cogito and the History of
Madness" 35

Dissatisfied with some of the prevai-ling but

critically shortsighted definitions of 19th-century realism

circulating in the late 1970s, Jonathan Arac sought to

expand this labile notion of representation by suggesting a

definition of realism that would acknowledge the self-

critical sophistication of the authors of the period and the

social significance and the specific cultural interests and

desires that are said to be the cachet of realism. Writing

in his Commissioned Spirits about Dickens's career, Arac

states that in his study of Our Mutual Friend and Martin

Chuzzlewit, realism will mean "two things primarily--the

author's wish to specify comprehensively the major concerns

of his age and the author's critical recognition that there

are no literary modes wholly adequate to the task."l

Realism, for Arac, responds to changed social relationships

and pressures requiring the invention of a mode of writing

that is suitable to the task of expressing these social

changes. Yet realism also recognizes that this mode of

writing actively participates in the construction of the


reality it means to represent. But while "old perceptual or

organizational techniques and modes" were replaced, the new

forms were perceived to be no more "permanent" than their

precursors (CS 65). Hence, realism was beset with an

epistemological and aesthetic dilemma:

In realism, the imagination is always at a crisis,
passing judgment on the inadequacy of old forms
for the urgencies of the moment. Within this
crisis of rejection, however, there is .also "the
imagination's new beginning," in which the realist
must in his turn say yes, it is good, to the new
ordering that has given its shape, its possibility
of closure and of fixity, to the work offered to
that demanding moment. (66)

This rich and complex definition of realism merits

careful inspection because, while Arac sets out to analyze

the procedures that determine the forms according to which

significance is regulated, the defining terms of realism lie

unexamined. Arac's emphasis on realism's capacity to create

the possibility of order in a work, "its possibility of

closure, of fixity," corresponds with the definition of

realism one finds in a long line of literary critics. Arac

and others, such as Leo Bersani, Tony Tanner, Susan Stewart,

and Fredric Jameson, to name a few, understand the function

of realism in terms of strategies for establishing order and

coherence, as "strategies of containment," to borrow Fredric

Jameson's phrase. Arac himself refers to realism's order-

making demands as an effort to "'contain' new forces" (9):

"To achieve and define its external relations, its place in

the world, literature had to undergo much internal


reorientation. It had to make new forms in order to

contain the mobility of its age in a new totality" (9). For

Arac this practice of containment is not characterized by

repression; it does not manifest itself as a force of

negation and prohibition. Instead, Arac's sense of

containment is apparently indebted to Foucault,

particularly to Foucault's analysis of the relationship

between power and knowledge as a positive value, as a force

of production rather than one of prohibition.2

Yet this definition poses problems, too, especially the

problem of a continued, uncritical adherence to the terms

and values honored by nineteenth-century writers in their

conception of realism. Through this problem, as it comes to

light in Arac's work, we can see how twentieth-century

critics of Victorian realism fail to consider the fact that

realism is justified according to an idealization like

"demand," and that this failure leads to the assumption that

a line can be drawn to limit an analysis of realism to a

determined place without questioning the motivation for this

assumption and its effects and, more important, how the

fulfillment of this assumption depends on the repression of

forces of resistance.

According to Arac, when striving for a "new totality,"

realists introduce new narrative techniques, the foremost

of these being what he calls the "spirit of overview."

Locating an analogical source for this narrative technique

of overview in "the new techniques of inspection and

centralization worked out by a growing interventionist

bureaucracy," Arac contends that the techniques of overview

work toward the formation of a totalizing perspective. They

serve as the means for achieving a "newly comprehensive

'understanding'" (9), while they strangely appeared as the

effect of this comprehensive understanding as well. "It

mobilized new powers" of perception and of knowledge that

"gave [the writers of the period] a grasp on the new content

of their society" (9). Subjects like crime, poverty, the

city, epidemic diseases, revolution, and the railroad were

regarded as some of "the major forms of disorder from which

the age made new knowledge in the service of the new order"

(9).3 This was an "epoch of expansion," wrote Matthew

Arnold.4 Once defined as a threat to social cohesiveness

and disruptive of communication, now these forms were

adapted to speak a new language by virtue of the practices

of intervention and containment. Once these forms of

disorder were portentous and, more important, irreducible to

previously standing modes of perception and organization;

why else would they mobilize a wave of forces to mollify and

transform their disruptiveness into a serviceable body of

knowledge? In other words, "the production of knowledge

from the observation of disorder and disruption .

[involved] transforming the disorder into the basis for a

newly conceived order" (17). If these forms of disorder in


the past inspired an apoplexy of fear, now they were the

newly invented objects of a nascent discourse. The argument

is that their initial distance and difference demanded

neutralization, or circumspection, by a "newly comprehensive


Hitherto I have portrayed Arac's conception of the

figure of the realist writer in relation to "understanding"

and "perception," which are epistemological categories. But

the argument goes further. Realist writers as "seers" are

also morally inclined to the "spirit of overview" and to the

work of a "totalizing understanding" of the world and

culture. This commitment spurs them to envision in their

narratives the image of an integrated society. "In a given

historical moment writers undertaking moral responsibility

for their time will share techniques of presentation,

patterns of plot, and structures of language that in their

interrelationships define a mode of writing" (118).

This moral emphasis might seem to modify Arac's initial

definition of realism, but if we return to this definition,

we find that Arac even there already apprizes us of a

complementary relationship between narrative techniques and

moral responsibility. "In realism," he writes, "the

imagination is always at a crisis, passing judgment on the

inadequacy of old forms for the urgencies of the moment"

(65). And in the following page, "within this crisis of

rejection in which the realist may say yes, it is


good, to the work offered to the demanding moment"

(66). "Crisis," "judgment," "urgencies," "must,"

"demanding," and "good" are all morally weighted terms. In

Arac's definition of realism, these kindred terms refer to

both formal, literary relations and ethical, social

relations. This relationship represents the distinguishing

trait and the trait of distinction of realism. Put rather

succinctly, what adjures the invention of realism (that is,

what presides over the literary text from the outside)

appears woven into the fabric of the narrative as a

distinguishing trait of its composition. In other words, the

literary and the social relations of a historical period are

identified by the same gestures and terms.

"Crisis," for instance, refers to a crisis of the

imagination and a "crisis of rejection" out of which the

realist writer marshals new forms of order. Then again,

"crisis" underscores what is taking place in society in a

specific historical moment, along with referring to the

transition from old to new orderings of social and

institutional relations. As a figure of knowledge endowed

with moral purpose, the realist's literary and social

objectives consist of overcoming these different forms of

crisis in one swift, comprehensive stroke: "the realist must

in his turn say yes, it is good, to the new ordering." If

what is demanded of a realist writer is a certain kind of

narrative, a "new ordering that has given its shape, its


possibility of closure, of fixity," this narrative order

must also be "good." A "total.izing understanding" resulting

from the "spirit of overview" attenuates "the urgencies of

the moment."

Furthermore, the innovative techniques that realism

uses would appear to be rationalized, invested with a

foundational status, by having as their unquestionable

provenance a moral labor. "Undertaking moral responsibility

for their time" is a criterion of authorship. Hence, one

finds that many of the period's authors, in defending

themselves from attacks that their works were morally

destitute, affirm the necessity of their writing on the

grounds that they were merely responding (and responsible)

to the demands of Truth or Reality, as opposed to the lesser

conventions of decorum. As Charlotte Bronte describes

conventionality and morality in the Preface to Jane Eyre:

"Men too often confuse them: they should not be confounded:

appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human

doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should

not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ.

There is--I repeat it--a difference; and it is a good, and

not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of

separation between them" (1). Some years after this preface

was written, Thomas Hardy would also be compelled to defend

his writing from nearly identical allegations. And like

Charlotte Bronte, Hardy would turn to a rhetoric of

necessity to invalidate these allegations. Truth and

Reality became the agents of his writing, as they did for

Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Anne Bronte, Charles

Dickens, John Stuart Mill and others.5

When Hardy wrote in an Apology, "[I] cannot help it,"6 he

established a program/device for redeeming the content of

his verses from obloquy. Here, willfulness evaporates

before the demands of responsibility and necessity. A

question of what is "good," hence, authorizes the quest for

a proper mode of writing.

And yet whence does this moral injunction originate?

By whom or what is it authorized? Is there, in other words,

a subject, a substance, or a cause to this injunction? Does

it authorize itself? Furthermore, what explains the

intersection between the question of a demand and the idea

(or rhetoric) of a literary and social crisis? Do these

questions perpetuate the terms and gestures of an

interventionist program and the correlative strategies of

containment that Arac uses to define realism as a closed

totality? Moreover, how is this demand to be responsible to

one's age maintained in writing if realists are self-

critical of their own ability to achieve a reliable and

enduring sense of order? In other words, the order of the

demand binds them to responsibility, but the means of their

fidelity, writing, is irresponsible--arbitrary, unreliable,

nonbinding, untrustworthy. Can one be both responsible and


irresponsible? Questions such as these, I will argue later,

complicate the desire to set the "place of literature" "in

the world," to borrow Arac's terminology. For if the

significance of responsibility becomes a way of marking the

limit between "an age" or "a world" and literature

(specifically realism), how is the integrity of this limit

to be preserved when the means of doing so are acknowledged

to be necessarily irresponsible? In order to designate the

place of literature, writing, one depends on the creation of

a boundary that divides and relates the external world and

the internal world of literature. To be a responsible

writer means being responsible to events in "the world";

hence, this relation, that is, relating as such, takes place

through writing responsibly. But because the techniques

that belong to realism are described as necessarily

irresponsible, the means of fulfilling one's responsibility

to the world breaks down, and with it relation as such.

Prevented from establishing a responsible relation with the

world, the place of literature cannot be designated, since

the place of literature unfolds, in Arac's argument, in a

determined response to the world.

In Arac's argument, the notion of crisis perturbs order

and the realization of enduring totalities. But Arac seems

to posit simultaneously that the crisis against which

realism reacts, a crisis that also defines realism, has the

status of an unquestionable origin. An outmoded pattern of

order requires revision and reorientation. Because of these

revisions, a new vision of the world appears along with new

methods of defining, classifying, regulating, sanctioning,

or differentiating the subjects and the objects in this

world. But something must transcend these revisions,

something inscrutable that yet makes comprehension and

realism possible. Something, in other words, sanctions

these revisions and calls them "good" and "ordered," and

thus speaks with the force of a transcendent authority.

This authority, which speaks without speaking, speaks

loudest because it need not speak at all, is the "demand"

that defines realism for Arac and so many other critics.

The Demand of Realism and Truth

A great deal of the tension realists face results from

the fact that, despite the ingenuity of their new sense of

order, the crisis is never fully superseded. Consequently,

to rise to the level of the self-critical writer

necessitates a recognition of the evanescence of their own

privileged orderings. Such writers "must recognize their

own enterprises as tentative": "the new form then made will

be no more permanent than was the old form." It is as if

the writers' self-critical responsibility led them to

conclude what Nietzsche was led to conclude in his own

thinking regarding the subject of "unities." "We need

'unities,'" writes Nietzsche, "in order to be able to


reckon: that does not mean we must suppose that such unities

exist" (WP 338). The comparison, however, would cease

there. Nietzsche, on the one hand, would have explained the

desire for unities as symptomatic of a will for an enabling

fiction motivated by interests of self-preservation and a

will to power, interests projected onto the world as

predicates of existence. The realists, on the other hand,

would have explained their desire for totalizing

understandings as a necessary response to a crisis. As the

preface from Jane Eyre and Hardy's Apology indicate, they

would not recognize their understandings as willful

interpretations, and so would turn away from issues of

conflict, difference, opposition, and alterity. Difference

would be "blamed" "as wrongful confusion!" (Derrida, "Living

On" 84). Anything that contrasts with the terms of this

crisis matrix fades from recognition. While the methods

resolving the crisis at hand would be regarded as mutable,

susceptible of adjustment and revision, the status of the

foundation, of the crisis as such, would remain


Without this crisis, the demand of literary and social

responsibility would not exist. Without this interpretation

of disorder, mobility, and jeopardized knowledge and

perception, self-criticism could not in the end reclaim for

itself a certain commission of mastery.


Ever asserting itself, this crisis is also

unquestionable because it is the putative background of

activity--a historical assumption. Unlike the other

malleable forms of social life that change in significance

as they are reprocessed and their functions reformulated

according to new discourses of knowledge, the sense of

"crisis," like the assumption of a demand, seems to be the

one form of social life that remains an undifferentiated

object of knowledge. As the transition from "outmoded"

forms of perception and organization to new ones begins to

transform and reinterpret the significance of social forms

to accommodate them to more current notions of society and

more pragmatic interpretations, the unchallenged perception

of a "crisis" perdures as the one object of knowledge not

affected by the activity that continuously adjusts, revises,

and replaces the significance of a thing. Crisis is

fundamental, and therefore an unlikely candidate to lose its

privileged meaning. Its status could be described as ironic

or, as Derrida has written in "Structure, Sign, and Play in

the Discourse of the Human Sciences," as the origin of a

structure that is itself not part of a structure.

As center, it is the point at which the
substitution of contents, elements, or terms is no
longer possible. At the center, the permutation
or the transformation of elements (which of course
may be structures enclosed within a structure) is
forbidden. Thus it has always been thought
that the center, which is by definition unique,
constituted that very thing within a structure
which while governing the structure, escapes
structurality. This is why classical thought


concerning structure could say that the center
was, paradoxically, within the structure and
outside it. The center is at the center of the
totality, and yet, since the center does not
belong to the totality (is not part of the
totality) the totality has its center elsewhere.
The center is not the center. The concept of
centered structure is in fact the concept of a
play based on a fundamental ground, a play
constituted on the basis of a fundamental
immobility and a reassuring certitude which
itself is beyond the reach of play. (279)

For just this reason, we need to question the demand of

realism, in both senses of this phrase: the demand that is

defined as an intrinsic quality of realist aesthetics and

the demand that supposedly gives rise to realism as what

justifies its development. We must examine how this demand

is represented as a seemingly unquestionable origin, an

origin of realistic aesthetics that is, however, undisturbed

despite the ongoing pressures against satisfying this demand

that emanate from its own means of representation.

Because the realists are self-critical of new

orderings, Arac surmises that they ultimately "must

recognize their own enterprises as tentative" (emphasis

added). J. S. Mill, too, wrote something to this effect,

though not in reference to realist writers. "There is no

such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance

sufficient for the purposes of human life. We may, and

must, assume our opinion to be true for the guidance of our

own conduct."7 Arac's conclusion is significant, in

particular because it stops short of studying the way

tentativeness may contribute to the interventionist program


of realism and how this kind of conclusiveness repeats the

realist gesture.

Arac's conclusion rests on the certitude of a logical

necessity. One can state this in the following way: because

X is the case, then Y "must" follow. But is Arac's argument

illustrating a logical or historical necessity? In either

case, the imperative "must" states that "this should happen,

or this should have happened." Even if one reflected on the

historical necessity of these consequences, the emphasis

placed on the necessity of a determinate outcome does not

eliminate the problems that surface with this description,

for this deference to history continues to operate with

normalizing insistence. As a result, one might say that by

invoking an imperative to describe a historical

event(uality) or a discursive practice, Arac submits his

analysis to the form of the demand that articulates the

figure of authorship and the "place of literature."

One could say that Arac here simply recovers the

process of reasoning that Victorian writers themselves very

likely observed. This recovery raises questions, though,

especially whether Arac's recovery of this process of

reasoning leads him to reenact in his own writing, albeit

with a difference, a facet of his object of study.8 By

insisting on the inevitability of this process of reasoning

in Victorian aesthetics, Arac's argument may be idealizing

the process, reflecting on it as a formal or logical dilemma


rather than a strategic contingency. One of the results of

this idealization is that the structure of the demand

survives intact, and that the relationships and distinctions

with which it coincides retain their hold. The terms

sanctioned by this apparatus will then appear fixed. A

reading that adheres to these limits extends the force of

the field in question and the priority of the terms along

which this field is articulated.

Arac's conclusion about realist modes of representation

predicts a fateful condition in realist discourse: this

almost privative discourse is tentative, impermanent,

irresponsible, and groundless. It attests, in other words,

to certain limits of representation. Even though the

realists may say "yes" to their new orderings, they must

recognize the qualitative limit within these new orderings.

But rather than relegate oneself to the other side of

knowledge, a self-critical posture enables Arac's realists

to transform a scene of crisis and of stultification into a

victory of sorts, since, like Marlow in Heart of Darkness,

they "[have] been permitted to draw back [a] hesitating

foot" (113). Arac overlooks the rhetorical effect of this

limitation within realist discourse, overlooks how this

supposed limitation serves as the foundation for the very

mode of representation that it seems to obstruct. One might

then begin to question how this limit could be employed to

extend the scope of the strategies of containment in realism


by continually expanding the range, objects, and subjects of

its containment. The limit could always be redrawn.

Confusion, crisis, and disorder do not refer necessarily to

a historical given; instead, they function as a pretext for

realist representations--pretext, not pre-text.

One, for instance, can examine the way these

intolerable limitations can harbor a different, more

constructive function by considering how J. S. Mill contends

in his own work with limitations of this ilk. There is, in

other words, a value to such a representation where

certainty has no moorings. As Nietzsche wrote in The Will

to Power, "The question of values is more fundamental than

the question of certainty: the latter becomes serious only

by presupposing that the value question has already been

answered" (322). In Mill's On Liberty, the presumably

debilitating qualities of impermanence and tentativeness are

transformed into constructive functions with a definable

purpose. For Mill, these conditions are ineluctable and

ubiquitous, saturating issues of politics, religion,

morality, judgment, opinion, and authority. They suffuse

"the business of life" (98). Because these qualities imbue

almost every state of social life, absolute certainty is

decerpted out of this life. One need only turn to On

Liberty, however, and especially chapter II, "Of the Liberty

of Thought and Discussion," to observe how Mill finds that

the conditions of impermanence and tentativeness allow


people, provided that they are "systematically trained"

(107) to walk in a disciplined manner, to step toward "a

living truth" (97). These qualities do not enervate the

reign of truth; they accomplish it.

Consider the following passage.

The beliefs which we have most warrant for have no
safeguard to rest on but a standing invitation to
the whole world to prove them unfounded. If the
challenge is not accepted, or is accepted and the
attempt fails, we are far enough from certainty
still, but we have done the best that the existing
state of human reason admits of: we have neglected
nothing that could give the truth a chance of
reaching us; if the lists are kept open, we may
hope that, if there be a better truth, it will be
found when the human mind is capable of receiving
it; and in the meantime we may rely on having
attained such approach to truth as is possible in
our own day. This is the amount of certainty
attainable by a fallible being, and this the sole
way of attaining it. (81)

Mill can find comfort in the curtailment of absolute

certainties because he can affirm that any misfortune, any

error, even any crisis, will represent a calculated moment

in the approach to truth for a "trained" person. Revision,

refinement, and improvement nurture the process of

approaching this truth, even if the truth is ultimately

confined to the process itself. "Even progress, which ought

to superadd, for the most part only substitutes one partial

and incomplete truth for another" (109).

Although truth is indefinitely deferred, projected

apocalyptically into a future moment to come that Mill can

only herald at his time, the rational method of inquiry Mill

advocates in the pursuit of truth is always enmeshed in the

act of responding to this truth--he receives its long

distance call. Just as Arac's realists are guided in their

representations of ordinary life by a notion of "good" and

by the enjoinder to be responsible in one's response to

realism's demands, the condition of uncertainty that seems

to imperil truth cannot deter one from acting responsibly in

Mill's scheme. As Mill states: "we have done the best" we

can to enhance the attainment of certainty; furthermore, "we

have neglected nothing that could give the truth a chance of

reaching us" (emphasis added). Knowledge and truth are,

therefore, matters of discipline, of comporting oneself

responsibly by being comprehensive and disdaining carelessly

shortsighted representations of truth. Responsibility is

the watchword of truth. Thus, any other representation of

truth must be irresponsible. It remains shortsighted or

unconscious of its limited purview and remiss about its

convictions to truth. In Mill's conception of truth the

twofold appeal to comprehensiveness and to self-

consciousness (for a thoroughly comprehensive view also

instructs one to learn "the grounds of one's own opinion"

[97]), affords one the means of transcending the

shortsightedness that typifies other representations. Even

if one is, for the moment, irreversibly wandering within a

circuit of uncertainty, one's representation of truth can

comprehend all others and, therefore, overcome their

shortcomings on the way to a more (and morally) satisfactory


representation. For Matthew Arnold, the "harmonizing"

effects of "culture" embodied a similar ideality. Here,

"ill-calculated" and "ill-regulated" actions and ideas (CA

73, 74) could be rehabilitated under the care of a sweet and

light form of therapy.9 Like Eliot and Arac's realists,

Mill's demand for a comprehensive view of truth is liberated

from the lamentable fate of "prevailing opinions" (94) and

"superstitions" (97) that is the lamentable fate of

"fallible beings" because Mill's disciplined pursuit of

truth never deteriorates into the sort of representation of

"narrow and uncultivated minds" (92) of "common men" (99).

Not everyone, it turns out, has access to this conception of

truth; it is exclusive and proscriptive, even while it

pretends to be incapacitated by limitations and

uncertainties. That is, even while Mill portrays this

conception of truth as lacking permanent boundaries, it

always operates within prescribed boundaries that limit its

conditions of appearance and its accessibility. This is

also the situation with the demand that sanctions realism

and that justifies its unruly representations as "good"

because one writes responsibly.

On the one hand, then, the uncertainty that surrounds

the question of truth may be construed as an obstacle to its

acquisition. On the other hand, it is precisely because of

this uncertainty and because of the surfeit of possible

representations of the truth that Mill, and Arac's realists,


must invent terms like morality, responsibility, and

discipline to create the need for and the effect of

credibility that will distinguish Mill's conception from the

desultory conception that characterizes competing

representations. Here, the very discourse of truth and

knowledge is the focus of a struggle even while Mill seems

to have dispensed with it. Without this conception of truth

as an uncertain and tentative subject, the need for

discipline and responsibility would never have been

recognized, let alone exalted. Without this conception of

truth, the trait of self-consciousness that Arac attributes

to realist writers would not have been invested with so much

value, nor would its correlate that writers who are not

self-conscious about their representations simply continue

to produce unconsciously delusive forms of certainty that,

moreover, hinder them from being responsible. For this

reason, the acquisition of truth becomes--or better, is

made--a troublesome event. Truth becomes a problem in order

to institute the necessity for a program of discipline and

responsibility that will be, as Mill states, "the sole way

of attaining [the truth]." One learns, in other words, the

value of responsibility and discipline in confronting the

limitations to truth, the absence of certainties, and the

provisional status of unities.


1. Commissioned Spirits: The Shaping of Social Motion in
Dickens, Carlyle, Melville, and Hawthorne, 65. Subsequent
references will be included in the text and designated by
the abbreviation CS.

2. See Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other
Writings 1972-1977, chapters 6 and 7.

3. Such a designation ("disorder") is part of, answers to
the demand that sets it--the designation--in play.

4. Culture and Anarchy, 83. Subsequent references will be
included in the text and designated by the abbreviation CA.

5. See Daniel Cottom's Social Figures: George Eliot, Social
History, and Literary Representation.

6. Thomas Hardy: The Complete Poems, 559. Subsequent
references will be included in the text and designated by
the abbreviation CP.

7. On Liberty, 79. Subsequent references will be included
in the text and designated by the abbreviation OL.

8. On this subject as it pertains to historical research,
see Dominick LaCapra's "History and Psychoanalysis" in
Soundings in Critical Theory. "I would like to stress an
equally important but often unnoticed sense in which
transference is at play in history, that is, in the very
relation of the historian to the 'object' of study.
Transference in this somewhat more indirect and attenuated
sense refers to the manner in which the problems at issue in
the object of study reappear (or are repeated with
variations) in the work of the historian" (37).

9. This conception of truth is also not unlike the one that
Cottom finds dictating the style and epistemology of George
Eliot's writing. "The style of her writing had to be
deliberately inserted among a host of alternative
representations so that its status as a representation could
be marked, defined, and given the appearance of greater
comprehensiveness. This is the epistemology
characteristic of the liberal intellectual: the conviction
that knowledge is refined to the extent that the discourse
with which it is advanced is able to comprehend variant and
competing ideas. In this situation, the question of
whether an argument might be true or false is practically
beside the point. The point is to produce a discourse that


does not seem to exclude from itself the competition of
other perspectives but rather seems to see through or beyond
the others" (70).


We had forgotten that some greatness, like some
goodness, wants to be beheld only from a distance
and by all means only from below, not from above;
otherwise it makes no impression.
--Nietzsche, The Gay Science 15

If this moment of comprehending the truth of truth, the

truth that truth is limited and discipline is required to

comprehend this point, is to jettison itself of the

historical differences that mark this privileged

representation as an arbitrary program of exclusivity, truth

must be made to appear transcendent. Mill himself

recognized that without this transfiguration, one would be

simply submitting to some form of authority rather than

positioning oneself to "receive" the truth. To pursue a

different course would almost be, as Arnold argued, "trying

to do violence to nature instead of working along with it"

(CA 85). As the passage from On Liberty details, a person's

orientation to truth must be almost a sign of passivity,

despite all the energy that is expended in challenging and

repelling challenges to one truth or another on the path to

a more refined sense of truth. One takes great pains to

insure that truth has "a chance of reaching us," that "it

will be found when the human mind is capable of receiving


it." Truth is, therefore, something to be discovered,

something that comes to a person rather than an invention of

that person. Its own justification is that it exists and

that it awaits to be recovered when the proper methods for

its discovery are themselves discovered. In other words,

the debate over the representation of truth will turn on

formal and methodological questions, as if to say that these

questions are spared the often irrational and pugnacious

machinations that are often part and parcel of the way truth

is institutionalized, authorized, imposed, or incubated.

Truth as transcendent is, Mill implies, something that holds

a person, not something that a person holds true.

The purpose of chapter two is to examine the collusion

between realism and the moral imperative that frames the

representation of ordinary life. In particular, I will

consider further how a particular formulation of realism

must be accorded a transcendental value equivalent to a

necessity in order to guarantee its authority over competing

representations--in fact, over representation in general.

The transcendental value attributed to the demand of realism

will nurture a strategy of neutrality and exclusion; it will

operate as the measure of truth endowed with the imprimatur

of some universal charter.

Over the years, the relationship between realistic

narrative techniques and a system of moral judgments has

received great scrutiny from critics of all orientations.

From feminist, psychoanalytic, historical, rhetorical,

philosophical, literary, and anthropological circles,

critics have demonstrated that realistic narratives, and

often narratives in general, have collaborated with morally

determined codes of propriety and categories of evaluation

to naturalize prescriptive values by identifying the site of

their authority and origin in nature or reality. Because

these values will be identified with the nature of things,

these prescriptive values will avoid being recognized as

such. Instead, these values will be discovered woven into

the texture of reality itself as something intrinsic to its

nature, something a realist needs only to describe in a

representation of ordinary life.

While one could say that the literary conventions

defining the concept of vraisemblance (or verisimilitude)

differ from those comprising realism, the concept of

verisimilitude harbors an appeal to a standard of

measurement similar to one in realism that warrants

consideration. This comparison may suggest something about

the composition of the demands of realism.

Peggy Kamuf is one who has written on the subject of

verisimilitude. For Kamuf, a recourse to this term

initiates a program of interpretation that, in its concern

to discover and ratify the authenticity of a representation,

applies itself to finding some form of intentionality (in

culture, an author, or literary conventions) to which one


can refer in order to attach a text to an originary value or

position. She has analyzed a "paradoxical" logic

constituting and deconstituting the ground of

verisimilitude in the "real," that is, in a historical and

material stratum.

For Kamuf, verisimilitude is goal oriented. It has a

teleological design, a logical structure and a moral


As a "vision of the world," verisimilitude
provides a standard for logical judgments--
probability. As a "system of values,"
verisimilitude catalogues a social group's
ethical judgments, its ideology. But as the two
can never be rigorously divorced from each other,
it follows that what a particular society judges
to be logical or probable is always bound up with
a prior determination of what is deemed proper.

Verisimilitude makes possible a selective organization,

distribution, and maintenance of "historical reality"

according to the measurements of probability and moral

judgment. As a result, Kamuf can say that verisimilitude is

not in the least concerned with representing "historical

reality." "Historical reality is not the model for

vraisemblance. On the contrary, vraisemblance is that code

according to which a society imposes an ideological order on

historical, material reality" (292). Verisimilitude tells

the history of "history;" it tells how "history" is

ideologically formed as a logical .and moral order bent on

the eventual rationalization of life from the outside, from

a privileged position of transcendence out of which it is


converted into history. Prescriptive statements dissimulate

descriptive ones; sectarian interests obtain general

validity in a synecdochic transference of values caring for

the good of the whole society. Or again, as Kamuf states

it, verisimilitude separates "historical or singular reality

from general or essential truth" (292). This separation

gives transcendental authority and neutrality to the order

of propriety that verisimilitude invokes to correlate with

its vision of the world.

What this detour through verisimilitude may suggest is

that the realist sense of "crisis" presents history as

"history." "It supposes," as Kamuf writes in her essay,

which is obviously indebted to the work of Jacques Derrida,

"that a system of differential values (for example, language

or culture) was set in operation by a non-differential term,

that is, an origin uncontaminated by the differential

structure it inaugurates" (297). A moral and logical

standard is precisely the gauge of mimetic truth on which

George Eliot and George Henry Lewes rely to determine the

referential accuracy of realist literature. Eliot's

impatience with bumptious, immature, and drivellingg"

writers throughout her essay, "Silly Novels By Lady

Novelists," is often inspired by the failure of these

writers to reflect on whether the behavior and speech of a

character has any probable foundation in the behavior and


speech of a figure in reality to which a consensus can refer

for comparison.

That probable likenesses and normative expectations

form the structure of verisimilitude become even clearer in

Lewes's essay on realism, "Realism and Idealism," which is

notable for its rejection of the premise that idealism is

the antithesis to realism. He writes,

Art always aims at the representation of Reality,
i.e. of Truth. Realism is thus the basis of
all Art, and its antithesis is not Idealism, but
Falsism. To misrepresent the forms of
ordinary life is no less an offence than to
misrepresent the forms of ideal life. (87)

For our purposes, it is most important to point out that

Lewes denounces any improbable rendering of Reality as a

"defect," a prevarication. "[E]very departure from truth in

motive, idiom, or probability, is, to that extent, a defect"

(89). Out of this contention, Lewes's essay exhorts the

reader more than once to follow his counsels in an effort to

forfend against this sort of corruption of truth. This

counsel advises the reader to avoid these defects because

they do an injustice to truth, to reality. This counsel

will be grammatically identified with an imperative. And as

Kamuf's argument indicates, this imperative veils a moral,

normative injunction as its decisive index of mimetic

veracity--that is, of truth, reality, and verisimilitude.

Lewes argues that the "highest" (88) and truest

representation of reality demands that there be in reality a

direct complement to this representation to which a


consensus can refer as a standard of comparison. Yet in

order to block any resistance to its dictums, it must

conceal its origins as a nonneutral or differential value if

it is to function convincingly and demandingly as an

uncontested measure of truth.

According to the terms of this logic of a demanding

truth, a "consensus" could never be posted as a legitimate

site of its authority. Instead, the strength of a demanding

truth resides partially in its ascension to some sanctuary

beyond the vicissitudes of history from which it delivers

its proclamations in a peremptory fashion. Perhaps the

finest achievement of this authority is that it must not

impress itself on someone as a form of authority, rather as

a necessity or a self-evident assumption. The

representation of this truth must commend itself. It must

always appear, in other words, that truth itself dictates

these aesthetic requirements and any moral principle that

will be aligned with it. Writers do not pursue truth; truth

pursues a writer. To have it otherwise would render truth

and knowledge dependent on the idiosyncracies and

limitations of subjectivity, rather than foreground it as

the condition of subjectivity (knowledge and sympathies). As

Lewes writes, "The novelist expresses his mind in his

novels. [But his subject] must always be real--true"

(89). Lewes is clear on this point elsewhere. "If the

writer's knowledge or sympathies do not lead him in the


direction of ordinary life, if he can neither paint town nor

country, let him take to the wide fields of History or

Fancy. Even there the demands of truth will pursue him"

(90). To imagine anything else would be an affront to

truth. It would amount to endorsing an authority or a

representation that would merely be the fruit of prejudice,

of some arbitrary authority, of convention, or, in general,

of "a simple falsification and bad art" (87). The logic of

this demand was, writes Daniel Cottom, "dedicated to a

transcendence of all that was arbitrary, violent, and merely

traditional or material" (52)

While it is important to notice that Lewes here

disqualifies a certain conception of art that differs from

his own for being "a simple falsification and bad art," it

is equally important to recognize in critical statements

like this one the strategic function of the language of

morality that is so much a factor in his aesthetics of

realism. Without this moral component to his criticism, his

critical statements might be incorrectly judged as a purely

aesthetic matter rather than as an ineluctable expression of

that demanding truth that serves as the subject and ground

of his essay. This language of morality grounds his

aesthetic statements, which might otherwise appear wholly

personal or arbitrary. When Lewes writes, for example, that

"a Representation must necessarily be limited by the

nature of its medium" (87), whether the medium is canvas,


marble, or language, he explains that these limitations are

brought on by the "peculiar laws" and "the necessities

imposed on [Art] by each medium of expression," both of

which, he writes, "[lie] in the nature of the medium itself"

(87). Nothing short of a set of necessary laws, then, must

appear to constitute the value, origin, and authority of

Lewes's critical framework. For these laws of

representation to be absolutely binding, they must display a

level of integrity based on nothing but self-evidence.

Without this axiomatic value, the truth of ordinary life

would need to be demonstrated as such, and the morality this

life was meant to underwrite would be exposed as a

rationalization that turns one representation of "ordinary

life" into a general truth. As a truth in need of being

demonstrated, this truth would no longer be the necessary or

inevitable expression of a collective sentiment and a

collective conception if its integrity were formulated in

different terms, such as: a convention, a doctrine, a rule,

or a policy. Despite an aesthetics that adjures to

represent the fulsomeness of ordinary life, this truth

would no longer be linked to a representation of a life that

is essentially neutral in its abandonment of historical

differences. Lewes's frequent use of all-inclusive pronouns

(the first-person plural "we" and possessive "our") to

assert a community of sentiment and conception suggests this

abandonment. Who is this "we" who speaks for and in


ordinary life, for whom the representation of "our" life is

a seamless unity? Perhaps Elizabeth Gaskell understood

better than Lewes that the representation of ordinary life

involved a bit of ventriloquism, for, as she admits in her

preface to Mary Barton, there are those unfortunates who

"pass unregarded" (38) because they just cannot speak for

themselves. The possibility of an almost untutored

apprehension of this truth, and of the shared conception of

ordinary life this truth evokes, must be a given for all

spectators in order to create a situation that allows "all

who see [to see] a perfect truth" (88). The conception of

ordinary life must be as "inevitable" to spectators, to use

one of Lewes's terms, as its representation is to realists.

One almost has a tautology as a consequence. If you know

what this life is, you know it and you will see it. Yet if

you do not, you are not a member of the "we" who inhabit

that life, who lay claim to its sentiments, and who

participate in its conception. Otherwise this truth could

not proclaim to be self-evident, inevitable, natural, and

untarnished by subjective adaptations of the forms

represented in this life. Because the representation of

truth is inevitable, one is predisposed, written by this

peremptory order of representation. What appears opposed

to this representation of ordinary life is unreasonable,

unless it is rationalized as the negative side of morality

and nature.


Hence, one can understand how aesthetic mandates like

these dictate Lewes's diction when he describes the

antithesis of realism as "falsism." Because "falsism" means

a self-evident lie, the grounds for disqualifying an

inaccurate representation of ordinary life must be,

according to Lewes, as self-evident and inevitable as the

truth of this life. No proof or explanation should be

necessary to justify the grounds for excluding a

representation of ordinary life as inaccurate beyond,

perhaps, identifying it as such. To imply something

different would imply, in turn, that this truth is not self-

evident and inevitable, that this truth is in fact an

arbitrary matter to be demonstrated, disputed, and enforced,

also that the "we" in ordinary life is an imaginary unity.

Let us not forget, moreover, that this aesthetic evaluation

carries a severe moral condemnation. Lewes could have

described this strange representation of ordinary life as a

mistake in perception, an alternative conception, an

accident of ignorance, a topical difference, or a remnant of

some traditional scheme. But if his aesthetic laws, and the

sentiments and conceptions these laws legislate, are to

overcome the shoals of history and consciousness, a

transcendent source of authority must be the standard of

judgment between realism and its opposite, between a truth

and a lie. Naming the opposite of realism a "falsism," a

self-evident lie, gives Lewes not only the means of equating


an aesthetic error with a moral one but, more important, of

finding support for this moral system in a universal value

of truth that purports to disengage itself from the

influence of historical differences and contingencies. The

underlying assumption here is that morality has no claim to

any authority outside itself--it claims its own authority in

its seeming transparency. Determining what goes into a

"good" representation ought then to be just as clear to

readers and writers, which implies that there should be no

excuse for misleading representations of ordinary life--for

"falsifications" (87).

By identifying an aesthetic order with "the nature of a

medium," Lewes identifies his aesthetic laws as formally

neutral, since these laws define a condition of

representation. Once Lewes insists that the only permissible

limitation to the representation of Art, Reality, and Truth

originates in these "laws," portrays these "laws" as being

founded on the nature of language, and reproaches any

departure from truth "except such as inevitably lies in the

nature of the medium itself" (87), representation will

operate in accordance with the stable rules of a moral

grammar. What limits, regulates, and departs from the

representation of the truth and reality is simply confined

within the nature of the medium. The fact that Lewes leaves

representation susceptible to departures and accessible to

limitations does nothing to endanger the expression of truth


and reality. On the contrary, representation is

strengthened by confining these departures and limitations

to a determined space beyond the reach of realist writers,

where it cannot be tampered with.

Lewes's framework must both acknowledge the likelihood

that errors in the representation of truth and reality will

occur and, simultaneously, restrict this occurrence to a

specific context of interpretation. In this way, he can

interpret any representation of ordinary life that conflicts

with his own aesthetic imperatives as an "offence," a

"defect," and a "falsification"--a culpable wrong, not a

mere difference. Because Lewes's framework acknowledges the

possibility of error, as do those of J. S. Mill and Arac, he

can regulate this possibility in order to fortify the

imperative of truth against transgressions while indenturing

writers to his aesthetics. Thus, he forbids alternative

representations of ordinary life, since any alternative must

appear in opposition to the universal nature of the medium

of representation. What departs from and limits

representation must be isolated: it must have a narrow

range of effects and applicability if the representation of

ordinary life is not to be obstructed by the proliferation

of conflicting, rather than defective or offensive,

conceptions of ordinary life.


Lewes writes, "[N]o departure from truth is

permissible, except such as inevitably lies in the nature of

the medium" (87); and he adds,

If [the novelist] select[s] the incidents and
characters of ordinary life, he must be rigidly
bound down to accuracy in the presentation. He is
at liberty to avoid such subjects, if he thinks
them prosaic and uninteresting (which means that
he will not feel their poetry and interest), but
having chosen, he is not at liberty to falsify,
under pretense of beautifying them; every
departure from truth in motive, idiom, or
probability, is, to that extent, a defect. (89)

Both passages revolve around the question of departures from

truth. However, the two passages ascribe a very different

function and significance to the notion of a departure from

truth. There is a departure that is permissible, the only

one permissible in fact, and then there is a departure

described as a "defect." While one might be tempted to

argue that the equivocal significance of "departure" amounts

to an inconsistency, a contradiction in Lewes's argument, it

is more rewarding to reflect on the way this distinction is

thoroughly in keeping with the framework of his aesthetic

imperatives and formal laws. After all, as Nietzsche wrote

in Human, All Too Human, "The irrationality of a thing is no

argument against its existence, rather a condition of it"


As long as the only permissible form of departure from

truth is associated with "the nature of the medium," a

departure will be regulated by the necessary and inevitable

laws of a medium that rationalize this departure as a formal

condition of a medium. This form of departure, then,

appears to function virtually independently of subjective

motivations ("liberty"). This constitutive, virtual danger

to a truthful representation of ordinary life bears all the

signs of being disarmed from the beginning, because its

function is accounted for within the more important work of

the representation of truth. Despite this constitutive

danger, "Art always aims at the representation of Reality,

i.e. of Truth" (87). Thus, Lewes's interpretative

machinery protects the truth of ordinary life from competing

views of this life by identifying a correct error, a

departure grounded on "peculiar laws" within "the nature of

the medium," in contradistinction to the wider realm of

impermissible errors that have no basis at all except in

immoral "falsisms." If the term "departure" signifies the

fall of and from truth, the limit of truth, the aim of

Lewes's interpretative machinery is to appropriate this

limit, this other, in order to master it as a correct error.

Every form of departure is not redeemable because the

terms that define the significance of each species of

departure are not consistent from case to case. If the two

forms of departure ever became synonymous, if Lewes ever

found credible or redeemable a form of departure not limited

by the "nature of a medium" and its "peculiar laws," he

would be admitting that such laws are indeed un-necessary.

But more important, he would be admitting that the terms

according to which "departure" take on a significance and

function in aesthetic evaluations are contingent, not

"inevitable." In other words, the quarrel over aesthetic

values would include a search for a specific language to

establish the boundaries of representation.

Terms like "defect," "offence," and "falsification" are

deployed to censure those untenable and unredeemable forms

of departure. Each term signifies a transgression, a

demonstration of moral and civil dissolution. That these

terms of transgression harbor legal and moral connotations

is especially intriguing, for it demonstrates how aesthetic

debates are also a matter of morality, institutionalization,

and history. In a case like Lewes's aesthetics, the

motivation for sheathing such issues within the realm of

aesthetics is to dehistoricize them as formal properties

constitutive of the "nature of the medium." For instance,

while the term "defect" means that something is incomplete,

lacking a necessary part, or altering an established form,

it can also carry a moral inflection, meaning "a flaw" or "a

blemish." Equally important is his statement that "[t]o

misrepresent the forms of ordinary life is an offence"

(87). Certain representations of truth commit an infraction

against the "peculiar laws" composing "the nature of the

medium" because they are not like that singular form of

departure that fosters the representation of truth, for only

this form is said to function always in agreement with a

medium's laws. But if Lewes's only concern in drawing on

these terms of transgression is to identify and then rectify

an aesthetic infraction, what value could there be in

coloring his aesthetic framework with a collection of terms

that so boldly denote a moral judgment? The value, of

course, is in making aesthetic laws demanding, even

necessary. Fusing moral and formal discourses in terms like

"offence," "defect," and "falsification" adds a tone of

responsibility that would be missing if Lewes's aesthetic

decrees merely passed for institutionalized conventions.

The demands of representation must not appear as

conventionally imposed, but as dutifully articulated.

Lewes, then, can refer to purely formal grounds in

prohibiting a writer from ignoring the edict to demonstrate

an obedience to the representation of truth. Thus, he will

write that a writer "is at liberty to avoid" the subject of

ordinary life "if he thinks them prosaic and uninteresting"


A writer's responsibility to the representation of

ordinary life, therefore, can never be a matter of a

refusal, or a disagreement, for to write about ordinary life

means writing the universal and necessary truth even if, as

one finds in Arac's and Lewes's analysis, the mode of

representation will at times conspire to frustrate the

fulfillment of a writer's responsibility to this truth.


This inquiry into the complicity between realist

narrative techniques and an order of moral judgment has

implications beyond the field of literary studies. For

instance, Hayden White has labored to dismantle the often

furtive appeals that the discourses of history have made to

a moral order as a way of establishing their authority.

The close relationship between realism and historiography

may show that there is something to be gleaned from the

manner in which the discipline of history imports a system

of moral judgment into its field of operations.

There are several strategic reasons for extending the

discussion of the demands of realism by taking an excursion

through the field of historiography from White's point of

emphasis. More specific reasons follow in the succeeding

pages, but for the moment, let me make a few general

statements. First, White's explicit object of analysis is

the value historians grant to narrativity in

historiographical discourses to give real events a

structure, "an order of meaning" (9), that would be absent

if these events were merely arranged in respect to their



chronology. He writes, "historians have transformed

narrativity from a manner of speaking into a paradigm of the

form which reality itself displays to a 'realistic'

consciousness, the presence of which in a discourse

having to do with real events signals at once its

objectivity its seriousness, and its realism" (27). What

White learns from his analysis of the structure of

narrativity in historiographical writing also figures as an

explanation, he argues, of the function of narrativity where

imaginary or fictional events are the material of

representation. A quick sampling illustrates this: "the

very distinction between real and imaginary events, basic to

modern discussions of both history and fiction, presupposes

a notion of reality in which 'the true' is identified with

'the real' only insofar as it can be shown to possess the

character of narrativity" (10); "For in fact every

narrative, however seemingly 'full,' is constructed on the

basis of a set of events which might have been included but

were left out; and this is as true of imaginary as it is of

realistic narratives" (14); "narrative in general, from the

folktale to the novel, from the annals to the fully realized

'history,' has to do with the topics of law, legality,

legitimacy, or, more generally, authority" (17). As one can

see in these citations, the discussion of fiction is not

accidental or secondary to the more important study of

historiographical writing; instead, it is always on the


scene. What this brief account demonstrates is that White

generalizes his analysis of narrativity to include fictional

narratives as well. But what I find particularly helpful in

his general discussion of narrativity is his identification

of a moralizing impulse as what grounds the value of

narrativity. As we found in Arac, Mill, and Lewes's

arguments, certain imperatives attempt to govern the

activity of representation by stipulating that events be

apprehended in reference to a moral framework that alone and

necessarily emerges as the peerless trustee of truth or

reality. So White argues, "narrativity, certainly in

factual storytelling and probably in fictional storytelling

as well, is intimately related to, if not a function of, the

impulse to moralize reality" (18).

White's essay is also significant to the discussion of

the demands of realism for the way the founding terms of his

analysis (the search for an origin to name one) reclaim,

like Arac's own analysis, the very things they seek to

question. This happens even though White's careful analysis

purports to take account of its own inscription as one

narrative among many as it undertakes to explain the

structure of narratives in general. "Could we ever

narrativize without moralizing?" he asks (27). What

militates against this cautionary self-consciousness is the

essay's quest for a sense of totality or mastery in either

positing an origin to narrativity or trumpeting


consciousness as the external limit to narrative infection.

In short, both forms of mastery block the general pulsion

toward narrativizing that, for White, cannot be arrested by

some figure of unity that is not already occasioned in the

act of narration, that is not already a fictional unity.

"The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of

Reality," Hayden White's essay on narrative in general and

the "narrativization" of historical events in particular,

begins with a statement that proposes a continuity between

the nature of narrative and the nature of culture. For

White, studying narrative form directly leads to the

cultural modes of understanding and ordering reality that

"authorize construction of a narrative account of reality"

(14). White discovers that narrative techniques are mimetic

of a culture's sense of order. More important, the

protocols of this type of analysis hold out the possibility

of a humanistic project. "To raise the question of the

value of narrative," White declares, "is to invite

reflection on the nature of culture and, possibly, even on

the nature of humanity itself" (5).

Throughout this brief record of White's argument, one

can see that White's analysis replicates the moment in

Arac's argument when the literary and the social are defined

according to the same terms and gestures. White's argument

states the difference between narrative, culture, and

humanity, but it also betrays this difference. The


difference between these three classifications is

perceptible in the way White's argument maps the cause of,

that is, what authorizes, a narrative account of reality.

White proceeds from a study of narrative, to culture and,

finally, humanity, the first term being subordinate to the

next and so forth. However, this sequence of events never

begins, has no first instance to build on and return to in

the analysis, since each term does not represent the

expression of a nuclear meaning exclusive to itself that

would enable the differences between each one to be

recorded. The problem is that the field to which each term

is assigned simply cites the others. One is a citation of

the other, with the provision that there is no first to

which a citation is secondary or adventitious and,

therefore, does not entitle one to isolate the first from

the second moment in the sequence. Because each field cites

the other, the priority of one over the other is invalidated

on the premise that each field can be explained according to

the same terms as its differences. Consequently, one always

finds the same thing, or one never finds any of them,

because it is in the sequence of progressions and

subordinations that one can identify their differences. By

eliding these boundaries, one cannot ascribe to one specific

field the function of authorizing the others. Neither can

one halt the fluidity between boundaries that will leave the

question of their relationship to each other open to

repeated reconfigurations because there will not be a

permanent resting place assigned to each field.

These goals notwithstanding, White's essay generally

concentrates on a more specific topic. White propounds

that the premium put on having historical events display the

formal attributes of a narrative expresses a "desire" or a

"wish." Narrative form delivers "an image of life that is

and can only be imaginary" (27) in its attempt to gratify

the desire that reality come to consciousness in the form of

a story displaying "coherence, integrity, fullness, and

closure" (27). Therefore, by being alert to the desire for

narrative coherence, to the imaginary and arbitrary

investment of order, one can ascertain the desires that

underwrite a disciplinary discourse and criticize all claims

to a methodologically proper mode of presenting events.

As the title of his essay states, narrativity is the

focus of White's critical concerns, and that is what will

receive his scrutiny. Narrativity possesses all of the

elemental formal attributes one conventionally associates

with structure (order, coherence, closure, fullness,

integrity, and continuity). White, in fact, often uses them

interchangeably. However, narrativity refers especially to

the way "real events" appear to perception or enter our

consciousness as readymade stories. It projects the illusion

"that real events are properly represented when they can be

shown to display the formal coherency of a story" (8).


For White, the relationship between narrativity and

historiography is a necessary one, a compulsion--demanding.

Narrativity, in other words, complements the project of

historiography. White is throughout concerned with the

elevation of narrative form, of narrativity, in modern

Western historiography. His analysis attempts to answer the

question: how can one account for its celebrated value? His

description of the function of language in relation to what

it represents, his designation of social relations as a

"social system," his conception of the function of language

in terms of disclosing sources, origins, and a specific

context of production, and his description of cultural

difference will guide my interpretations. In general, what

occurs when White, while reflecting on the "nature" of

narrative, culture, and "possibly" humanity and their

origins, perpetuates the terms, categories, and structure

he seeks to demystify?

According to White's argument, political, ontological,

moral, and cultural investments motivate us to represent

real events in the form of a narrative. But to acquire the

legitimacy and authority of historically significant events,

an account must coordinate these events within a structure

of meaning that obscures these investments through reference

to "reality." Recall that he writes: "the very distinction

between real and imaginary events, basic to modern

discussions of both history and fiction, presupposes a


notion of reality in which 'the true' is identified with

'the real' only insofar as it can be shown to possess the

character of narrativity" (10). Both of these points can be

adopted to explain the dimensions of the demand of realism.

According to Arac, because the emergence of realism

coincides with a scene of crisis and uncontrolled mobility,

realism must create the impression that the world of

"ordinary life" is structured, even if this impression is

itself impermanent. And as we learned from Lewes, this

representation was a response to demands projected onto

reality itself; reality itself demands its representation.

A shorthand form of stating this point is that realism

demanded a form of narration that would represent the

demands of reality. This rationalization is another form of

obscuring the investments nurturing a representation.

Three requirements determine, writes White, this

structure of meaning: a sense of closure, a consciousness of

a social center, and an evaluating principle that selects

the events to be incorporated into a narrative because they

are calculated to have a moral and ethical value not

allotted to other events. The possibility of narrative

representation depends on the integration of these three

features, of which the last is the most crucial. "It is

this need or impulse," offers White, "to rank events with

respect to their significance for the culture or group that

is writing its own history that makes a narrative


representation of real events possible" (14). However much

it "strains to produce the effect of having filled in all

the gaps" (15), however much it sculpts an image of

continuity and coherence, a representation cannot be

classified as a historical narrative (or narrative in

general) if it does not presuppose an evaluating principle

for ranking events. To repeat White, a system of ranking

"makes a narrative representation of real events possible"

(emphasis added).

Assumptions similar to White's lead Susan Stewart to

claim that realistictc genres do not mirror everyday life;

they mirror its hierarchization of information. They are

mimetic in the stance they take toward this organization and

hence are mimetic of these values, not of the material

world" (On Longing 26). One's "choice of aspect and the

hierarchical organization of information," rather than one's

"choice of subject," produce the effect of reality.

Ranking, then, fixes events in relatively stable

positions; it engenders identities and entities, which

appear identical to themselves in being designated as events

holding meanings. As a result, it represents a closed

system of values disguised as some objective or

unconditional representation of events.

Insofar as historical stories can be completed,
can be given narrative closure, can be shown to
have had a plot all along, they give to reality
the order of the ideal. This is why the plot of a
historical narrative is always an embarrassment
and has to be presented as "found" in the events


rather than put there by narrative techniques.

Ranking, and its characteristic tactics of excluding

certain events from the domain of significance (that is, not

absent of significance, but deficient of a certain treasured

significance), is comparable to the work of scapegoating.

Scapegoating is more than a ritualistic, sociopolitical

phenomenon. Dominick LaCapra, for instance, has made an

attempt to think through some of the more subtle

manifestations of scapegoating, particularly in how this

mechanism of exclusion and abasement informs the

constitution of binary opposition and dialectical syntheses

in discourses. Scapegoating, LaCapra remarks, has "subtle

connections with the complex of metaphorical identity,

narrative closure, and dialectical synthesis (all of which

require the expulsion of heterogeneities and remainders)"

(Soundings in Critical Theory 24).

Ranking simultaneously asserts a logical coherence and

a moral, proprietary order. Ranking, as White defines it

here, shares elements of Kamuf's thesis on the collaboration

between moral and logical orders in verisimilitude. Ranking

brings together an impulse for teleological certitude

(continuity and the plenitude of meaningfulness) and for

moral security (a normative authority vested in some social

ideality or totality). This partnership, White states,

consolidates itself in the impulse for narrative closure.

The demand for closure demands "that sequences of real


events be assessed as to their significance as elements of a

moral drama" (24).

What gets played out in this "moral drama" is a scene

of social conflict and tension, a crisis of order, so to

speak. During this "moral drama," the authority a social

system claims for itself and the values it institutes are

contested by an internal or an external force; they are

scrutinized with a view to being revised, replaced, or

reaffirmed. "It is because the events described conduce to

the establishment of social order or fail to do so that they

find a place in the narrative attesting to their reality"

(26). Or as White writes elsewhere, "narrativity, whether

of the fictional or factual type, presupposes the existence

of a legal [i.e., social] system against or on behalf of

which the typical agents of a narrative account militate"

(17). The historiographer's "need to claim the authority to

narrate" events is grounded in the historiographer's

recognition of a "contest" surrounding the status of the

events (22, emphasis added). That is, he writes "in the

consciousness of the threat to a specific social system and

the possibility of anarchy against which the legal [i.e.,

social] system might have been erected" (17). Like the

historiographer described here, realist writers hinge their

representations on a "need" that they can advert to in order

to idealize their authority. Furthermore, realists

construct a "threat" of their own--in this case, a crisis--


against which they can write and against which they can

define themselves and bring themselves into being from an

amorphous state of (non)existence that knows no bounds and

identities. To make this event of self-engendering a moral

and progressive act, it had to assume the form of a

necessity rather than of some arbitrary desire. As Cottom

states, in reference to the characterization of the lower

classes in Victorian literature, "The middle class needed to

attribute violence to others so that their own exertion of

power would appear to be reasonable rather than willful"

(Social Figures 42).

Moral standards are responsible for imputing to these

events the appearancee of the] 'real.'" They appear

demanding. And, White goes on to say, "it is this moralism

which alone permits the work to end or, rather, to

conclude." Consequently, whereer, in any account of

reality, narrativity is present, we can be sure that

morality or a moralizing impulse is present too" (26).

Narrative closure heralds a closure in the history a

narrative represents. Narrative closure delivers an

imaginary resolution to the "moral drama" within which a

"social system" and the authority it claims for itself are


However, this supposed desire for narrative closure,

for moralizing, ranking, and rationalizing events, is

fulfilled only if a historiographer ruminates on a "social


system" implicated in a "moral drama." S/he must exhibit

signs of being self-conscious about the "social system"

where events are meted a moral value, where they come to be

accorded their meaning and significance in relation to other

events. Consciousness of the intervening function of the

"social system" in establishing historical events, that is,

the becoming event of an event, must ground the historical

writer's work. For the social system "alone could provide

the diacritical markers for ranking the importance of

events" (14). Since the "social system" "provides the

diacritical markers for ranking the importance of events,"

to question this term is to question the basic assumptions

of White's approach.

Nevertheless, there is much in White's essay that makes

it invaluable to furthering our understanding of the

mechanisms of narrative form. One of White's

accomplishments is his description of the discursive

conditions that determine the production and circulation of

an event. That is, he describes what an event must

technically exhibit to be advanced as an event. Ranking,

closure, and a specialized moral impulse compose some of the

"rules" that process an event. Insofar as the appearance of

an event is governed and restricted by the eventuality of

its moral composition, not every phenomenon or historical

occurrence rises to the status of an event.


White argues that a narrative is always conflictual in

its treatment of historical events because

[i]n order to qualify as "historical," an event
must be susceptible to at least two narrations of
its occurrence. Unless at least two versions of
the same set of events can be imagined, there is
no reason for the historian to take upon himself
the authority of giving the true account of what
really happened. (23)

In some sense, what causes the historian to give "the true

account of what really happened" is also what causes realist

writers to pursue their truth. But while the historian

himself assumes the authority to give "the true account of

what really happened," realist writers will locate their

authority in some transcendent value that binds them to the

pursuit of truth and thus denies them the element of choice.

I would like to suggest how White's formulations,

while demystifying strategies of appropriation and

propriety, reintroduce the same values. Although White

acknowledges his own writing position in this analysis, that

is, that his essay is another instance of narrative, bound

to the same rules as other narratives, what he does not seem

to entertain is the possibility of a viable challenge to the

closure (and continuity, coherence, fullness) that he

presumes to be necessary to narration in general. Thus, the

self-awareness he cherishes may not be a sufficient attack

on the illusion of narrative closure. Like the self-

critical figure of authorship one discovered in Arac, this

self-awareness might even function to preserve a sense of


closure and a grasp on a totality instead of presenting a

basis for their removal. As White calls on them,

consciousness and subjective self-criticism provide an

impetus for appropriation and mastery. They remain an

undifferentiated locus of identification, an origin whose

authority goes uncontested and unanalyzed.

I must return, then, to my questions about the "social

system." One of White's principle preoccupations throughout

the essay is to call attention to the place of the "social

system" in any historical narrative. No historical

narrative can be both indifferent to a social system and

claim to be a genuine historical narrative. In addition, no

narrative closure or principle for ranking events in light

of their moral significance could materialize without having

recourse to the moral order that is their source and in

turn an aspect of the social system. The preeminence given

to this notion of a "social system" in his essay is perhaps

best illustrated when White states that the "social system"

is "the ground on which any closure of a story one might

wish to tell about a past" rests (18). Nearly every

segment of his analysis turns on and toward the

comprehension of this "social system." Yet White scarcely

subjects this notion to a thorough investigation.

Occasionally one will come across in White's commentary of

one mode of historical writing or another an illustration of

what he means. It "is nothing other than a system of human


relationships governed by law" (17). Or as he writes

elsewhere: "the impulse to moralize reality" represents the

effort "to identify it [i.e., reality] with the social

system that is the source of any morality that we can

imagine" (18).

Where White's presentation of this notion of a "social

system" seems most troublesome and potentially uncritical is

in the way it reduces irresolvable differences into a

systematic totality, a homogeneous, unified, or essential

structure--a system. One may find fault with this

conclusion for the following reason. Simply, how could

White allow this reduction to unfold when social

relationships are defined as an unstable or embattled "moral

drama"? If White admits to differences, which the

invocation of such terms as conflict, tension, and struggles

implies, he also seems to coordinate them within his

expectation of a rationalized systematization; the

differences appear only as a temporary interruption in a

process inevitably leading to unity. In this sense,

difference, like the crisis of realism, is a step in the

eventual constitution of unity. It is a temporary

postponement of a unity to come. Taken in this way, the

"impulse to moralize" that he identifies with a "social

system," even if the latter is said to consist of

"diacritical markers," is vested with a sense of coherence.

The "impulse to moralize" is generalized; it derives its


authority from a neutral and abstract origin that caters to

anonymity, like the demand of realism.

Mary Wollstonecraft fostered a strategy such as this

one in her Vindication of the Rights of Woman while

criticizing the various forms of a master-slave relationship

that for her typified in particular gender relations to the

subjugation of women and the whole of social life from

"brutes" to sovereigns. Although she considered reason and

education as the great equalizers between genders and social

classes, she also venerated middle-class morality above all

others and translated it into a universal solvent by

coupling it with reason to say that one and the other were

inseparable, complementary, in the eyes of God. Middle-

class morality was both historical and ahistorical, class

bound and transcendent, unjustified and necessary, the

servant of power and the offspring of truth, arbitrary and

natural. While this morality was derived from middle-class

values and expectations, it was also converted into a

universal morality in which terms like "humanity" and the

"individual" were substituted for more class-conscious

classifications that blatantly marked one within a

stratified society. In words like "humanity" and

"individual," morality acquired a face of historical

anonymity, since it originated from no one place in

particular. It transcended all forms of difference:

economic, social, gender, historical, material, and


political. Morality replaced power and authority as the

preferred instrument of socialization, though this program

of social assimilation needed to be stripped of any

semblance of coerciveness if it were to appear natural.

Those who failed to ascend to the plateau of enlightenment

and the temple of morality were not just ignorant brutes;

they were undeveloped, imperfect, unachieved, unrealized,

and unconscious people. For example, she writes, "till

women are led to exercise their understandings, they should

not be satirized for their attachment to rakes; or even for

being rakes at heart, when it appears to be the inevitable

consequence of their education" (223). In short, they

should not be held accountable for their ignominious

behavior because they do not know what they do. Stalled in

a state of aborted development, these children are denied

the status of "individuals" or partners in "humanity"

because these designations apply exclusively to moral and

reasonable adults. These views are revived in Arnold's

Culture and Anarchy, especially in his concept of the State,

where one defines oneself in terms of a community, not in

terms of class origins. To "carry us beyond the ideas and

the wishes of the class to which we happen to belong," he

states, one's "every-day" self, which keeps people

"separate, personal, at war," must be discarded for one's

"best self," which makes one "united, impersonal, at

harmony." As long as one's "old untransformed self" (94-95)

prevails, that person is frozen in its development--"[s/he

is] still an embryo," "inchoate and untrained" (93).

A more significant episode of this type of reduction

perdures in White's almost flitting consideration of the

term "moral" itself. Although White admits that each case

of narrativity promulgates a distinctive structure of

exclusion and ranking, the conceptual network to which the

concept of "morality" is strategically situated remains

constant. Put differently, it functions like an

idealization. This idealization disregards the fact that

the order of rank of desirable things is not firm
and the same at all times. [For] the order
of rank of desirable things itself is not erected
or altered in accordance with moral
considerations; but once it has been established
it then determines whether an action is moral or
immoral. (Human, All Too Human 36)

So, the idealization of order and its ability to rank is not

moral, is above the moral and sets the moral in action.

A reading prepared to fault White's analysis for its

periodic idealizations might presume that one could

decisively winnow away, especially from one's own language,

the recursiveness of idealizations. I want to avoid this

presumption, which has been thoroughly criticized by

Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida, to name only a few. For,

as Derrida has written, "even in aggressions and

transgressions, we are consorting with a code to which

metaphysics is tied irreducibly, such that every

transgressive gesture reencloses us--precisely by giving us

a hold on the closure of metaphysics--within this closure"

(Positions, 12). If, then, some recourse to idealizations

is unavoidable, can one imagine this scene differently?

How, for instance, can one criticize the strategies of

containment and the desire for order that define the demand

of realism without reassembling the terms of this demand, a

sense of order, and a more self-conscious mode of ranking?

In White's essay language is often described in

classical terms: language transports. Language functions

like a tool, an instrument. Its purpose is to facilitate

the communication and recovery of a message, or a meaning,

an expression, a sense held in reserve. Language,

therefore, effaces itself before a signified content or an

extratextual referent, before the consciousness of a subject

of intention or before the ideality of the object or thing.

Language, then, poses no threat to a ground of meaning that

would always stop interpretations.

One can find at least three tendencies in White's essay

that would suggest this instrumentalist description of the

function of language. All three tendencies illustrate

either how language holds in reserve an extratextual

referent or how White's essay subtly represents language as

a figure of transportation.

In realizing that the nature of narrativity is

fundamentally fictional, one is comfortably on the path of

discovering its proper identity as the effect of desires


and fantasies, with origins[] in wishes, daydreams,

reveries" (27). White adds that "[i]n this enigma of a

wish, this desire, we catch a glimpse of the cultural

function of narrativizing discourse in general, an

intimation of the psychological impulses behind the

apparently universal need not only to narrate but to give to

events an aspect of narrativity" (8). (Recall that wishes

and desires represent for Nietzsche and Freud moments of

conflict and parts of a narrative. This means that these

"origins" are themselves objects of interpretation and

narration, not the foundation of narration. They signify an

origin that is nonoriginary, since it does not escape the

effects of narration that, as an origin, it puts into play

and therefore is supposedly detached from.) One passes from

desire to an implied culture and vice versa, for when one

determines the intention of narrativity in a "cultural

function," a determined cultural center becomes the decisive

agent of this intention. To the extent that certain desires

and wishes are made intelligible and, subsequently,

derivative of an equally intelligible cultural source and

vice versa, the fiction of coherence and the fiction of a

coherent image of reality are replaced with a center

(culture) that is itself implicitly regarded as coherent (a

"universal need"). One has arrived at the "social system."

The coherence that White appears to criticize in narration

is then displaced onto the unexamined categories of his own

profession: system, origin, universal need, and culture, for

instance. In other words, White does not appear to ask

whether the texts he examines exile the authority of


The identification of an origin with a cultural

function reifies into a coherent totality the very notion of

authority and of ranking that the analysis of narrativity

was supposed to dislodge. In other words, if authority and

ranking are potent features of an imaginary coherence, the

identification of a cultural function as a source overlooks

the differential relations within and against which cultural

values and appeals to authority are produced and denied.

Something like this problem also informs White's essay

when, in asserting the universality of narration, he equally

asserts, "narrative is a metacode, a human universal on the

basis of which transcultural messages about the nature of a

shared reality can be transmitted" (6); or, "We may not be

able fully to comprehend specific thought patterns of

another culture, but we have relatively less difficulty

understanding a story coming from another culture, however

exotic that culture may appear to us" (5-6); and when, after

White extols the need for a "genuinely historical interest"

in studying the documents of the past, he asserts that with

such a comparative study, "we might be able to understand

why, in our own time and cultural condition, we could

conceive of narrativity itself as a problem" (10).


Difference, distance, and heterogeneity are transcended by

the force of narration. Narration transforms otherness and

strangeness into a source of familiarity and homogeneity. A

common ground exists. Moreover, this simple transmission

idealizes the "nature" of the participants. Each

participant is addressed as a unity. As a result,

intracultural inequalities are systematically dissipated.

Force, between and within these participants, disappears in

the relatively uninterrupted transmission (or

transportation) of messages, whose immediacy and

transparency is contracted in the guarantee that the message

always arrives at its destination. Messages cannot be

perfidious. There is no room for excess. What is also

shaded from critical apprehension in the notion of

transmission is how the reception, interpretation, and

institutionalization of a message may differ under differing

conditions and protocols, and how these discontinuities

alter the very possibility of unveiling the "nature" of a

subject. The capacity for the context to vary, for the

message to be read otherwise, complicates the transmission

of the message. Consequently, White's statement that "the

impulse to narrate" is "natural" is an obfuscation.

What I have tried to call attention to in this

protracted discussion of White's essay on narration is the

way an analysis that asserts the boundlessness of narration,

an essay that demystifies the institutional and disciplinary


fetters that arbitrarily foreclose this boundlessness, can

yet foist new fetters upon narration. To dismiss White's

analysis categorically would be a mistake, however. Insofar

as his analysis of historical writing finds that the staging

of a "moral drama" supplies a content to the narrative, the

event of a "crisis" is at the very "center" of the question

of narration. That is what demands to be represented and,

as White's essay demonstrates, what calls forth, engenders,

the narrative--it is the "possibility" of narration.

Without this demand, narrative and narrativity would not

"realize" themselves. But as I hope to show in the reading

of Hardy, the demands to narrate and to engender a narrative

are convoked in narration. In other words, the demand for

narration is also the "product," and not only the origin, of

narration. "Necessity," Nietzsche writes in The Will to

Power, "is not a fact but an interpretation" (297). This

means that terms like necessity, crisis, and demand are

nontotalizable. They do not represent an origin, center, or

cause that escapes interpretation because they are

nonoriginary. This is quite different from saying that they

cannot be totalized because they are subject to an infinite

number of interpretations, a notion that ultimately may

recover a sense of the origin even if only in infinity. In

"Structure, Sign, and Play," Derrida explains the difference

between these two interpretations, the two interpretations

of interpretation, as he calls it.

There are thus two interpretations, of
interpretation, of structure, of sign, of play.
The one seeks to decipher, dreams of deciphering a
truth or an origin which escapes play and the
order of the sign, and which lives the necessity
of interpretation as an exile. The other, which
is no longer turned toward the origin, affirms
play. (292)

On the subject of "conceiving the limit of totalization,"

Derrida writes:

Totalization can be judged impossible in the
classical style: one then refers to the empirical
endeavor of either a subject or a finite richness
which it can never master. There is too much,
more than one can say. But nontotalization can
also be determined in another way: no longer from
the standpoint of a concept of finitude as
relegation to the empirical, but from the
standpoint of the concept of play. If
totalization no longer has any meaning, it is not
because the infiniteness of a field cannot be
covered by a finite glance or a finite discourse,
but because the nature of the field--that is,
language and a finite language--excludes
totalization. This field is in effect that of
play, that is to say, a field of infinite
substitutions only because it is finite, that is
to say, because instead of being an inexhaustible
field, as in the classical hypothesis, instead of
being too large, there is something missing from
it: a center which arrests and grounds the play
of substitutions. One cannot determine the
center and exhaust totalization because the sign
which replaces the center, which supplements it,
taking the center's place in its absence--this
sign is added, occurs as a surplus, as a
supplement. The movement of signification adds
something, which results in the fact that there is
always more, but this addition is a floating one
because it comes to perform a vicarious function,
to supplement a lack on the part of the signified.

In Part 2, I will examine how Thomas Hardy's writings

represent a fictional world in which experience and meaning

(that is, the expression of one's intentions) resist


totalization. This resistance will be based on the attempt

to individualize experience rather than subordinate the

individual to some generalized or codified experience. The

attempt to individualize experience and to provide a

sincere representation of the world appear in Hardy's

writings as necessary and demanding endeavors. Although

part of the reason for rendering these two endeavors as

necessary is to thwart the codification of individual

experiences, there is another reason. Hardy and his

characters will repeatedly encounter the force of language

or a differentiated system of values that will dispossess

them of the intentions they attribute to their words or

actions. Like Arac's realists, Hardy will invoke certain

necessities in order to prevent this: the necessity of a

sincere representation and the necessity of a reflective





And his meaning chanced to reach.
--Thomas Hardy, "In St Paul's a While Ago,"C P

Truth, in the great practical concerns of life, is
so much a question of the reconciling and
combining of opposites that very few have minds
sufficiently capacious and impartial to make the
adjustment with an approach to correctness, and it
has to be made by the rough process of a struggle
between combatants fighting under hostile banners.
--J. S. Mill, On Liberty 110

The fictional world of Thomas Hardy's novels is

characterized by uncertainty, ambiguity, misrepresentation,

and doubt. Within this world, characters will often voice

their disappointment at being misunderstood by individual

characters or society as a whole. In his poetry, letters,

and novels, Hardy often regards this failure to understand

an individual's idiosyncratic emotions, convictions, and

experiences as the cause of countless errors and injustices.

As a result, Hardy's writings regularly dwell on the

necessity of developing a power of understanding that

overcomes personal opinion and social prejudice, egoism and

speculation, subjective convictions and traditional

assumptions. This is not an easy task, since the forces in


the world that prevent characters from developing a power of

understanding are vigilant. However, the interview seems to

provide a sanctuary from these forces and to allow

characters to develop a power of understanding.

Yet Hardy will show that even in the interview meaning

is subject to socialization, despite the fact that the

interview begins when the characters involved withdraw from

the world. Although the interview brings characters face-

to-face to allow them to communicate freely and directly, it

remains a place of disagreement and social contact. The

fact that one's experience and one's intentions require such

a setting'in order to have these two elements recognized, or

understood, demonstrates that one is never quite sure of the

meaning of one's experience or intention. A second party is

required to confirm what one believes to be certain and

self-evident. Consequently, while the interview is premised

on withdrawing from the world, the need for understanding

and clarity accentuates both the need to respect an

individual's experiences and the need to expose to the

world, i.e., to a second party, the nature of those

experiences. The interview is both worldly and unworldly.

In other words, it is not absolutely divided from the world;

instead, it is related to the world.

One of the most poignant episodes in Thomas Hardy's

Jude the Obscure appears in chapter four of Part First, "At

Marygreen." Jude, immersed as usual in meditation as he

walks slowly down an unoccupied stretch of road, suddenly

finds himself being overtaken by a swiftly moving

pedestrian, the quack-doctor, Vilbert. They talk for a

while. Almost as quickly as Vilbert strode up to Jude on

the road, the conversation turns to the topic of language.

Delighted to find someone who can provide him with the

necessary Greek and Latin grammars to begin his academic

training, Jude makes a bargain with Vilbert. Vilbert-will

supply Jude with the grammars if Jude will act as his

marketing agent and recommend to the village the doctor's

dubious concoctions. Jude keeps to his promise. But when

Vilbert returns to the area and meets Jude for a second

time, the doctor has forgotten the boy and his promise to

bring the precious grammars.

Although disappointed, Jude is soon after presented

with a second opportunity to get a set of the Greek and

Latin grammars. He writes to his former schoolmaster, Mr.

Phillotson, who, hoping to become a university graduate,

left Jude's village to go to Christminster. This time

Jude's efforts are rewarded; Phillotson mails him a package

containing the desired texts.

Cherishing the package that contains two thin books,

Jude goes "into a lonely place."1 Before we see Jude

opening the package to inspect the grammars, the narrator

interrupts to relate to the reader Jude's prior assumptions

about the "sort of process that was involved in turning the

expressions of one language into those of another" (49).

"[Jude] concluded," the narrator states, "that a grammar of

the required tongue would contain, primarily, a rule,

prescription, or clue of the nature of a secret cipher,

which, once known, would enable him, by merely applying it,

to change at will all words of his own speech into those of

the foreign one" (49). Opening the package and turning

randomly to one of the pages in the first book he happens

upon, however, Jude learns a trying lesson. "[Jude] learned

for the first time," the narrator goes on to state, "that

there was no law of transmutation, as in his innocence he

had supposed" (50). Jude has blundered; his naive

expectation has led him to commit a "gigantic error" (50).

In his Figural Language in the Novel, Ramon Saldivar

explains that "Jude's desired 'law of transmutation,' the

'secret cipher' to a system of translation, could exist only

if a prior permanent code existed to allow a free

substitution of signifiers for one, autonomous, permanently

present signified" (160). Saldivar adds, "Jude intuits that

language is not a fixed system through which meaning can be

'transmuted' from one system to another. [N]o master

code exists to guarantee the authority of the translation"

(161, 166).

At this critical moment in the chapter, the narrator

imagines how Jude could have been comforted in his despair

and reassured that his assumption about a "law of

transmutation" had not been entirely a fantasy. (After Jude

realizes that there was no "law of transmutation," the

narrator parenthetically states, "there was [a law of

transmutation], in some degree, but the grammarian [of the

Latin text] did not recognize it.") "Somebody might have

come along that way who would have asked him his trouble,

and might have cheered him by saying that his notions were

further advanced than those of his grammarian" (50).

Immediately after proposing this idea, the narrator states

peremptorily, "But nobody did come, because nobody does"


In his despair, Jude wishes "that he had never been

born" (50). In the last paragraph of the chapter--in fact,

in the last sentence of the last paragraph--the narrator

reiterates Jude's wish. However, the reiteration changes

subtly and significantly the sense of Jude's wish. "But

nobody did come, because nobody does; and under the crushing

recognition of his gigantic error Jude continued to wish

himself out of the world" (50).

Specifically, there is little difference between the

initial recording of Jude's wish in the next-to-last

paragraph and the reiteration in the last paragraph of that

wish. Both statements express the same basic meaning, which

the narrator confirms in stating that Jude "continued to

wish." The wish, therefore, seems not to have changed. But


can one say the same thing about the expression of that

wish, the way it is being said?

The reader goes from reading that Jude wished "that he

had never been born" to reading that "Jude continued to wish

himself out of the world." The transition is subtle, almost

imperceptible. To begin with, the second expression of

Jude's wish for self-extinction seems less direct than the

first. In saying this, I do not mean that the second is

more metaphorical than the first. On the contrary, both

expressions metaphorically (and perhaps even literally)

convey Jude's despair at having discovered that his naive

expectations have been proven wrong. Yet the second

expression of Jude's despair also modifies the terms of the

initial wish. The second expression of Jude's wish turns on

the issue of removing oneself from the world. Wishing

himself "out of the world," Jude seems to reaffirm his wish

for self-extinction; but in wishing himself "out of the

world," Jude also redefines the initial wish. His

disappointment and despair instill in him a desire to flee

from a world in which nobody comes and in which language is

a problem, or something to labor against. One should

remember here that both of Jude's wishes are the direct

result of his "gigantic error," that is, his mistaken

understanding about the nature of language and about the

relationship between languages.


However, the narrator suggests that Jude's "gigantic

error" may have been caused by either ignorance or

expectation, depending on how one looks at it. In his

"innocence," for instance, Jude misconstrues how languages

operate and how they are composed. What he has ignorantly

imagined in his innocence to be a relatively simple

operation of transmutation requiring little effort on his

part is unveiled to him as an extremely burdensome

enterprise when he opens the grammar book for the first

time. "This was Latin and Greek, then, was it, this grand

delusion! The charm he had supposed in store for him was

really a labor like that of Israel in Egypt" (50).

But in his innocence, Jude is also led to suppose, as

in anticipating, some things. "[I]n his innocence he had

supposed" that there was such a "law of transmutation."

Opening the grammar book, Jude "learnt for the first time"

that the reverse was true. In addition, Jude haplessly

discovers that "[t]he charm he had supposed in store for him

was really a labor" (emphasis added). Expectations,

suppositions, anticipations, assumptions, and "childish

ideas" collapse beneath the test of experience.

What Jude learns (but quickly forgets) about

suppositions here is not unique to him or to this novel.

Other characters in Hardy's fiction learn that there is a

certain belatedness, or temporal lag, to meaning; it is

retrospectively ascribed. There is a difference internal to


meaning that divides it from itself, suspends it, and

therefore can set it adrift. This belatedness is figured

throughout Hardy's novels, and in this episode in Jude, in

terms of the difference between Jude's supposition and the

"first time" that he learns his supposition is wrong. For

Hardy, this difference is defined as experience. Experience

confirms or refutes a supposition, expectation, or an axiom;

experience, in other words, makes a meaning intelligible but

also unpredictable. Consider the following from Far from the

Madding Crowd: "With the majority such an opinion is

shelved with all those trite aphorisms which require some

catastrophe to bring their tremendous meanings thoroughly

home" (199). The unstated assumption of this passage is

that the meanings of aphorisms have been exiled, rendered

homeless. The reference to the catastrophe that would bring

them "thoroughly home" implies that: under other

circumstances their return is partial, at best; they

continue to wander away from home; or they have been

wandering meaninglessly, circulating without direction or

specificity. Too general to mean anything to anyone in

particular, they are meaningless, or they are meaningful

only in the most general and therefore inapplicable way.

Experience turns these meanings home by a process of

particularization in which one specifically identifies with

the general. But if one person's catastrophe can bring

these meanings home, it is also possible for anyone who

experiences a similar or different catastrophe to enter into

this homecoming. Therefore, while the quality of

belatedness or experience can bring a meaning to its full

realization, "thoroughly home," this same quality also

exposes meaning to distortions, mutations, or

misunderstandings. Meanings can be brought home not only to

one person but to many precisely because they are homeless--

because they have no particular place to begin with. And

even when they are brought "thoroughly home," they may have

many different homes. The same rule is responsible for

bringing a meaning home and keeping it homeless, anchoring

it and casting it adrift.

So there is no simple law of transmutation, as Jude

learns; but as the narrator states parenthetically, there is

"to some degree" a law of transmutation. Jude's wish to be

out of the world constitutes an attempt to remove himself

from the "negative" effects of belatedness, one of which is

that language can betray, rebel as well as reveal. "In the

course of a month or two after the receipt of the books Jude

had grown callous to the shabby trick played him by the dead

languages" (51, emphasis added).

Although his ignorance, inexperience, and failed

expectations contribute to his wish to be out of the world,

it is the question of language that compels Jude and Hardy's

other characters to seek a way out of their world, to define

themselves as being outside of the world's prescribed

identities, or to seek a more sympathetic world. Being in

the world or out of the world involves an identification

with certain assumptions about the nature of language. How

one relates to the world, in other words, is a question

inseparable from how the question of language "relates"

meaning. As Saldivar states, "Jude intuits that language is

not a fixed system through which meaning can be 'transmuted'

from one system to another. Yet this is precisely the

insight that Jude refuses to apply to his other readings of

the world around him. Underlying the errors of both natural

and textual translation is the illusion that reality is

autonomous and stable, when it is really discontinuous and

uncentered within the fictive world of Hardy's novel" (161).

Saldivar, for instance, finds that many of Jude's

problems originate in his response to the "messages" he

receives from the world. Jude is repeatedly engaged in

translating these messages.2 One of the earliest acts of

translation occurs when Jude climbs to the top of a barn to

get a clearer perspective of the horizon, looks out in the

direction of Christminster, and imagines that the city is

calling out to him, its "message" being delivered on a

breeze that has travelled from Christminster. "Suddenly

there came along this wind something towards him--a message

from the place--from some soul residing there, it seemed.

Surely it was the sound of bells, the voice of the city,

faint and musical, calling to him, 'We are happy here!'"


(43). Jude's translation of such "messages" often leads

him astray, as during the episode of "ecstasy" in which he

"lapses from common-sense and custom" (53) and is called

back by a roving policeman.3

During such episodes, Jude is set apart from his

surroundings and society. But Jude's troubles with

language are perhaps demonstrated even more clearly in his

misguided faith in the figural language he uses to refer to

Christminster (45). Jude literalizes these figures. Like

countless other characters in Hardy's fiction, Jude unwarily

trusts in the possibility of a direct, instant meaning.

"Jude's illusions result from a figurative language taken

literally," Saldivar writes. "There is no natural truth

written anywhere which might be read without being altered

in the process" (174). Jude believes that a meaning can be

brought "thoroughly home," forwarded unmolested to its

proper place, and received unaltered. No wonder Jude

reacts with astonishment when, after one of his casual

outings with Arabella, he returns with Arabella to her home

and finds that everyone present considers their outing an

unequivocal sign of their engagement--a meaning he had never


Immediately that the door was opened he found, in
addition to her parents, several neighbors sitting
round. They all spoke in a congratulatory manner,
and took him seriously as Arabella's intended
They did not belong to his set or circle, and
he felt out of place and embarrassed. He had not

meant this: a mere afternoon of pleasant walking
with Arabella, that was all he had meant. (68)

Apparently, Arabella's parents and neighbors have made

a mistake. They appear to have misinterpreted, or

mistranslated, the significance of Jude's intentions toward

Arabella. In some sense, their mistake is like Jude's own

"gigantic error": they assume that the actions of the

lovers clearly contain a clue, a cipher, that coincides with

a preestablished pattern of behavior that can only mean one

thing, that Jude and Arabella are engaged. Within this "set

or circle" such actions have an unequivocal meaning; it is

customary for lovers to behave in this way. In matters of

custom, no discussion is necessary; no reasons need be given

to explain one's actions or intentions. No thought is given

to the possibility that Jude's intentions could be

incompatible with the customary interpretation of such

patterns of behavior. Jude's actions do not appear

singular, unconventional, or idiosyncratic. To the parents

and neighbors, Jude and Arabella are simply reenacting the

rituals of this "set or circle." The meaning of their

actions is irrefutable, direct, translatable without error:

the meaning of this behavior comes "thoroughly home." One

of Hardy's most significant refrains throughout his fiction

does not appear to slip into the consciousness of this "set

or circle": the reminder, as the narrator of Desperate

Remedies declares, that "things are not what they seem."4


Jude's astonishment is in part the result of being a

stranger to this system of interpretation, to this culture's

customs and understandings. He "reads" differently. For

him his outing with Arabella does not convey the serious

implications that the parents and neighbors ascribe to it.

What Jude meant in taking Arabella for a walk is completely

lost, or out of place, to this "set and circle," just as

their interpretation makes Jude feel "out of place." It is

as if they, like Anthony Green from Two on a Tower, let

themselves be "'carried away by opinion since common

usage would have it.'"5 Had he spoken, direct information

could have washed away the errors derived from

circumstantial information. His intentions would have been

made clear, or one assumes so. But he does not say a word.

This passage, however, also suggests how Jude may be a

stranger to his own intentions. As long as Jude believes

that his intentions have been misinterpreted there is the

chance that these mistakes could be rectified. Once

rectified, meaning would be brought "thoroughly home." Then

at least Jude would know with comfort and confidence where

and how things stood; there would be no doubt in his mind as

to their place. But what if the failure to recognize Jude's

intentions was not produced by an error in translating

these intentions? What if his intentions appeared uncertain

even to himself? What if this episode shows that an

intended meaning can never expect to govern our


Let us imagine that Jude could find himself in a place

where he would not feel "out of place." What sort of

difference would that make, especially to the issue of his

intentions? Presumably, there his intentions might be

brought "thoroughly home" since such a place would be the

site of a harmony between those present and engaged in

communication. Such a harmony is precisely absent in

Jude's meeting with Arabella's parents and neighbors. And

as that episode illustrates, the absence of such a harmony

endangers the reception of one's intended meaning,

regardless of how certain one is about what he or she means.

The interview will try to achieve this harmony.

However, imposing certain conditions to the

elucidation of one's meaning says something about the

communication and for the transmission of meaning, and about

the function of language as a medium for the expression of

one's intentions. While such conditions aim to guarantee a

continuity of meaning, the need for these conditions also

testifies to their inadequacy. There is a certain

apotropaic logic to the installation of these conditions.

They invoke the very thing they wish to defend against. In

other words, although these conditions are devised to

guarantee a continuity of meaning, a harmony between

interlocutors, they also show that these conditions are

indispensable and without them a continuity of meaning might

be continually perturbed. Intentions and meanings might

then venture out into the world unanchored, groundless,

susceptible to random changes and uncontrollable

alterations. In short, one's intentions might not be

brought "thoroughly home." The meaning of Jude's behavior,

for instance, would be potentially meaningful and not

immanently so, ascribed as the occasions, frames, positions,

or contexts changed and not invariably fixed to his

conscious expression. The desire to impose such conditions

will then manifest itself as an arbitrary means of

authorizing or disqualifying certain positions, occasions,

or perspectives. Jude, for instance, assumes that if the

conditions were right, if he were in the proper circle or

set, a harmony would be achieved. The interview will

attempt to erect a set of conditions that will guarantee the

communication of one's meaning.

Along with the interview, the demand for a sincere and

conscientious fiction and for a reflective reader are all

examples of this attempt to set up the conditions for

meaningful communication and understanding in Hardy's


Before I turn to the significance of the interview in

Hardy's fiction, I want to say a few more words that

pertain to the issues I have been discussing in reference to


Jude's predicament is not peculiar to him or the novel

Jude the Obscure. Other characters in Hardy's fiction are

equally harried by the "shabby tricks" language can play;

other characters are equally astonished that their

intentions are not brought "thoroughly home" and that

meaning seems groundless; and other characters, as a result,

feel "out of place," primarily because they intuit that the

language they wish to possess may in fact possess them.

For example, words betray several characters in

Desperate Remedies. On more than one occasion, a character

in this novel learns that once spoken, a word can almost

assume a life of its own. Words can appear to function

almost autonomously, exhibiting an unwillingness to be the

sole property of any one master.6 Words can stimulate

conjectures or responses quite remote from what one

consciously intends. Rather than bring one's intended

meaning "thoroughly home," words can send it maundering.

Cytherea Graye, for instance, "had not meant [Edward

Springrove] to translate her words about returning home so

literally at first; she had not intended him to learn her

secret" (DR 76). In another episode a few pages later,

Cytherea Graye, though she was "conscious of her success in

producing the kind of word she had wished to produce,"

nevertheless "trembled in suspense as to how it would be

taken" (81). Moreover, while revealing some bit of

information, words can suddenly be transformed into

glaringly treacherous reminders of something that should

never have been said. It may be impossible to call them

back, a lesson that Cytherea Aldclyffe learns after the

fact. "The impulsive rush of feeling which had led Miss

Aldclyffe to indulge in this revelation, trifling as it was,

died out immediately her words were beyond recall" (DR

105). Cytherea Graye experiences a similar regret. "The

instant the words were out she would have given worlds to

have been able to recall them" (DR 152). Words can even

betray a suppressed or unconscious emotion, a betrayal that

is at once a revelation of and a revolt against what a

speaker wants to suppress. "Yet it was all unconsciously

said in words which betrayed a lingering tenderness of love

at every unguarded turn" (DR 170); "She looked at him in

utter perplexity. The words could only have been said in

jest, and yet they seemed to savour of a tone the furthest

remove from jesting" (DR 360).

One of the most obvious consequences of this phenomenon

is that words and actions display an almost inexhaustible

signifying potential. Reflecting on something Edward

Springrove says, Cytherea Graye is not content with its

"commonplace" import and imagines it harbors a series of

deeper meanings.

His parting words, "Don't forget me," she repeated
to herself a hundred times, and though she thought
their import was probably commonplace, she could
not help toying with them,--looking at them from
all points, and investing them with meanings of
love and faithfulness,--ostensibly entertaining


such meanings only as fables wherewith to pass
the time, yet in her heart admitting, for detached
instants, a possibility of their deeper truth. (DR

There is, of course, a significant difference between

the events of this episode and those figured in Jude's

unpleasant confrontation with Arabella's parents and

neighbors. Although the displacement of a character's

intentions is a topic that both episodes address in some

fashion, they differ in regard to setting, circumstances,

and the emotions of the characters. The last of these

dramatic differences is especially important because it

recalls the condition that leads Jude to feel "out of

place" and, perhaps, his wish to be "out of the world."

Unlike Cytherea, who is comfortably ensconced in her room,

Jude is immersed in the world, but in a world that presents

itself to him as a discontinuous reality with conflicting

"sets" and "circles" of identity and meaning. The

displacement of Jude's intentions, as well as the

displacement of Jude's position, has its roots in this


As Hardy's fiction repeatedly emphasizes, being in the

world exposes one to the same problems that Jude must

suffer. These problems include residing within a

discontinuous reality, having one's intentions displaced,

expressing oneself with words and languages that betray,

and witnessing one's identity being carried off by the

misrepresentations of others. All of these problems can

endanger one's status as an individual, for they can

transform one into the property of others' representations.

"'Realy, sir,'" states Jane, the vicar's parlor-maid in

Under the Greenwood Tree, "' 'tis thoughted by many in town

and country that--.'" To which the vicar responds, "'Town

and countryl--Heavens, I had no idea that I was public

property in this way!'"7 Of course, the vicar is speaking

metaphorically. But his risible metaphor also suggests that

one can appear to be the possession of language, an object

of exchange rather than an autonomous subject that possesses


While Hardy's fiction repeatedly dwells on such

problems, his fiction also tries to resolve these worldly

problems. Several novels suggest that characters can find a

refuge from these worldly problems in the conditions that an

"interview" offers. "[T]he battle-field of life is

temporarily fenced off by a hard and fast line--the

interview" (DR 86). Just what are these conditions? An

interview offers a model of communication presumably founded

on the individual and on an understanding of language as a

reliable and direct medium of expression. Precipitated by

a withdrawal from the world, an interview appears as a

necessary step toward clarity, certainty, and understanding.

Hardy, however, is not the only nineteenth-century

writer to recognize in his or her writings the symbolic

value of the interview. J. S. Mill's On Liberty, for

instance, can be read as an appeal for such a practice.

Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, as some have already

observed, proposes that factional disagreements could be

attenuated if only the groups in conflict could get together

in some colloquy to discuss their disagreements. In

Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, the evening conferences and

interviews between Jane and Rochester free them from the

ligatures of propriety, formulaic conversations, social

conventions, and customs so that they may communicate

directly and candidly as individuals. During one of their

most dramatic conferences in the evening, for instance, Jane

says, "'I am not talking to you now through the medium of

custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh--it is

my spirit that addresses your spirit'" (222).

In Oliver Twist, the conference and interview are

solemn occasions, but they are also moments of imaginary

transcendence where truth can manifest itself as an

unworldly thing. During one interview, Oliver discloses

"his simple history" (266). The disclosure transforms him

into a figure of "the dark evidence of human error," which

in turn impels the narrator to wonder:

if we heard but one instant, in imagination, the
deep testimony of dead men's voices, which no
power can stifle, and no pride shut out--where
would be the injury and injustice, the suffering,
misery, cruelty, and wrong, that each day's life
brings with it!8

In the same novel, when Nancy visits Rose Maylie in Chapter

XL (which appropriately bears the inscription, "A strange

interview, which is a sequel to the last chapter" [357]),

Dickens uses the occasion to transform Nancy into an

unlikely messenger of truth. According to the social

prejudices of the novel's fictive world, Nancy's physical

appearance would disconnect her and anything she had to say

from the realm of truth. However, the interview changes her

into the voice of truth (360), thereby clarifies the

muddled history of Oliver's life and, in the process,

rouses the understanding and compassion of her social and

moral superior (361). More important, just as in Oliver's

interview, Nancy's interview with Rose is enshrined in an

unworldly atmosphere. "Rose Maylie, overpowered by this

extraordinary interview, which had more the semblance of a

rapid dream than an actual occurrence, sank into a chair and

endeavored to collect her wandering thoughts" (363). This

passage seems to imply that the revelation of truth, or the

condition of truth, occurs outside of the world of the

"actual." In other words, truth and clarity arise within an

imaginary space, in a dream or during a leap of the

imagination. In this place, one might feel secure in

knowing that the world's troubles--doubts, disagreements,

prejudices, and unsympathetic conventions--have been

suspended. But this security and certainty belong to the

imaginary world of the interview, just as the revelation of

truth and the thing truth belong to this imaginary world,

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