What Is a Coward? According to Celine's Voyage Au Bout De La Nuit.
Romance Notes, 2006, Wntr, 46, 2
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IT might be argued that trauma constitutes one of the most obsessive themes of French literature in the modern era. To the extent that trauma implies gaps--whether actual or imaginary--in the fabric of consciousness, it creates spaces that invite and foster hermeneutic activity. In a literary context, these spaces may become hypersignificant zones where the keys to a textual unconscious are stored, and thus, where the author's motivations for writing, the narrator's motivations for telling, the reader's motivations for reading, and so forth, can be (re-)examined. As a cultural phenomenon in the first decades of the twentieth century, cowardice constitutes a particularly virulent form of trauma. Juliet Mitchell's writings on the figure of the cowardly soldier during the First World War give resonance to the new threats that cowardice begins to represent at that time for modern consciousness (27-32). To the extent that his fantasies in the process of recovery bear the marks of a shock that implodes the mind (141), the coward becomes an essential figure of a loosening of strictures that allows a new era of consciousness to develop. One aspect of the process of recovery that makes cowardice an especially "modern" form of trauma relates to the manner in which it refigures questions that, prior to World War I, had been largely ascribed to hysteria, and to its attendant inquiries about the stakes that female subjectivity pose for a discourse of knowledge and for the representation of consciousness. Cowardice marks at this point in history an eruption of new questions about the etiology of fear and its relationship to gendered subjectivity, questions that had until this point been largely subsumed in deliberations over the "enigma" of femininity. (1) Among the various discourses that endeavor to record or diagnose the emergence of cowardice within the fabric of subjectivity, literature in particular is concerned with condensing and dramatizing the effects of cowardice for knowledge of the subject. As the cowardly soldier exhibits in this new era the symptoms of shellshock, his representation in literature makes these symptoms into emblems of erasures and denials that persist in early twentieth-century attempts to chronicle the history of the gendered subject. Cowardice becomes in key literary iterations the scene of an encounter between the subject and the repressed excesses of its own identity. Part of the fascination of Voyage au bout de la nuit, Celine's landmark novel whose action is precipitated by the First World War, lies in its ability to use cowardice as a lens that focuses on the fragile points where the denials, erasures, and overwritings comprised by cowardice inflect literature's accounts of an external reality. The novel's venture to make the symptoms of cowardice into a scene of literary representation implicate the reader in unresolved conflicts that tear at the stitches where literature is affixed to selfdom. In their progressive movement toward the representation of cowardice's political, psychological, and social meanings, the discursive strategies in Voyage au bout de la nuit draw the reading experience into convergence with an unfolding of the secret meaning of selfdom encrypted within the figures of cowardice.
- 2,99 €
- Category: Language Arts & Disciplines
- Published: 01 January 2006
- Publisher: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Department of Romance Languages
- Print Length: 12 Pages
- Language: English