Tuesday, 10 May 2005

How to Open an Academic Essay, Part V: Build You a Metatheoretical Apparatus The opening sections of Donald Pease's "Psychoanalyzing the Narrative Logics of Naturalism: The Call of the Wild" browbeat readers with metatheoretical noodling about the reputation of literary naturalism, the "critical re-evaluation of liberal individualism," "Foucaultian redescriptions of disciplinary society," United States imperialism, the family resemblance of free indirect discourse to the panopticon, Mark "Seltzer's systematic confusion," Mark "Seltzer's continuous confusion," and, finally, the "dual roles" psychoanalysis plays "as an intra-regulatory discourse responsible for the normalization of disciplinary individuals and as a counter-discourse which undermines the normative presuppositions upon which the disciplinary society rests." Readers jaded by years of reading inexhaustive, uncomprehensive, un-all-inclusive metatheoretical apparatuses will delight to find paragraph after paragraph crammed with attempts to muscle psychoanalysis a bigger place between the theory propounded by John Bender in Imagining the Penitentiary and the (congenitally befuddled) Mark Seltzer in Bodies and Machines.* The short-version of Bender's interesting thesis--too clever by half to be entirely believable but better than most too-clever-by-half-to-be-entirely-believable essays I read--argues that free indirect discourse "resembled the panopticon in that it positioned the narrator within an apparently unmediated purview with omniscient powers of observation that extended into the consciousnesses of fictional characters." Old chestnuts about houses built on Foucault aside, this argument captures the invasive quality of free indirect discourse, in which characters do seem to be incarcerated in one of Benthem's panopticons and the narrator does seem to be like a prison guard who, from his position in that tower there, can peer into their innermost thoughts. (So the metaphor breaks down. They all do.) However confused Seltzer is, Mr. Pease pays him one form of respect: the always popular intricate rebuttal of metatheoretical minutiae. Seltzer's thesis--also interesting, also too-clever-by-half-to-be-entirely-believable--argues that London's writing was governed by the logic of a "body-machine complex" in which bodies regulated by a Foucauldian disciplinary apparatus became awful machine-like. That makes people (and dogs) unhappy. Or, technically speaking, "anxious," as in The anxiety which emanated from this scenario resides in the fear that individuals might lose the ability to distinguish between "natural" (sexual reproduction) and "unnatural" (machine reproduction). But since in Seltzer's account, the "natural" refers to the strategies whereby social norms are psychologically legitimized and delegitimated, the "natural" cannot be understood except as an effect of these processes of naturalization. The imagined threat through which the anxiety is communicated has deployed pre-existing psychic norms to police the boundary between bodies and machines. While this fantasy may have produced the competition between the "natural" body and the "unnatural" machine, it was the discourse of psychoanalysis that supplied the normative categories of the "natural" and the "unnatural" through which the body machine complex regulated Seltzer's disciplinary society. In the discourse of psychoanalysis, Seltzer finds the pre-existing meta-conceptual criteria enabling the distinction between the natural and the unnatural. All clear? No? The discourse of psychoanalysis instituted and thereafter enforced the normative distinctions--between "natural" and deviant disciplinary practices, between "natural" and pathological modes of reproduction--which at once precipitated and managed the anxieties through which the body-machine...

Become a Fan

Recent Comments