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Melancholic Longing in The Shadow Lines

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Greg Esplin
Utah State University

So, when we are hoping for rescue, a voice tells us that hope is in vain, yet it is powerless hope alone that allows us to draw a single breath. All contemplation can do is no more than patiently trace the ambiguity of melancholy in ever new configurations. Truth is inseparable from the illusory belief that from the figures of the unreal one day, in spite of all, real deliverance will come.
Theodor Adorno,
Minima Moralia (121-122)

Reading Theodor Adorno against the grain, I suggest that the melancholic sensibility he identifies resonates with recent struggles to articulate emergent configurations of subjectivity in post-colonial studies. Such a sense of yearning fuels continued attempts to locate new forms of collective identification that seek to transcend the exclusivity of nationalism, while nevertheless enabling a sense of social solidarity. This messianic hope for political reconfigurations of identity haunts Amitav Ghosh's novel The Shadow Lines. Not so much a call towards an alternative political praxis as a diagnosis of the complexities of subjectivity in the age of Postmodern Capitalism, The Shadow Lines extensively explores national identity through an interrogation of its visual representations. Informed by psychoanalysis, this paper examines how photographs and maps in Ghosh's novel act as cathexed objects that artificially construct a melancholic longing for lost national identity.

By way of their physicality, such visual objects can serve to instantiate the abstract concept of the nation in an observable material form. However, a strict relationship of correspondence between the concept and its visual representations cannot exist. As filmmakers are often fond of reminding us, an abstract idea in itself cannot be visually depicted. Instead it must find visual expression in physical space. In this sense, the visual can only exist as a synecdochical device. Such a sensibility clearly implicates this paper's metaphysical underpinnings within what Derrida has branded the "logocentric" tradition of Plato, which privileges speech over writing, in that the latter is supposed to be only a representation of the former. While some might object that my analysis remains mistakenly grounded in the Western philosophical tradition, I respond that Ghosh's novel is inscribed in this very dynamic. Ghosh's preoccupation with uncovering more fundamental modes of collective identity that resist visual representation dominates much of The Shadow Lines.

The interrogation of the visual finds recurrent expression in the attempt to refigure identity in the emergent field of post-colonial studies. Obviously, the specter of racism informs much of this sensibility. However, I suggest that an equally important consideration lies in the paradoxical situation that haunts any struggle to articulate forms of identity defying current frameworks of subjectivity. Such a difficulty frustrates these new repositionings, because that to which they refer resists representation. The strength of their demand resides in their awareness that merely liberationist politics cannot enable authentic freedom because the very forms of identity that are to be liberated remain rooted in the colonialist's conceptual framework. Thus, post-colonial identity must be radically rethought because the existing modes of subjectivity are a residue of colonial domination. Such a sensibility found groundbreaking expression in Frantz Fanon's analysis; however, decades after White Skin, Black Mask this difficult task still dominates post-colonial studies.

In recent years, Homi Bhabha's The Location of Culture foregrounds precisely this concern. Bhaba's dominant criticisms are that its form is too complex, defying comprehension and that its resistance to formulating a solid subaltern identity frustrates any collective political action, further perpetuating the interests of Capital neglect to appreciate the complexities of articulating emergent forms of subjectivity (Chow 106). Of course, BhabhaÕs writing remains difficult to decipher. However, this is necessarily so since that to which he is attempting to give form cannot be easily depicted because of the nature of its emergence. This is not a weakness of Bhabha's analysis, but precisely its strength. Nonetheless, I simultaneously suggest that this endeavor to formulate that which resists formulation also results in the possibility that such fluidity of identity may work to annihilate the basis of collective identification. This difficulty haunts most attempts to reconfigure subjectivity, accounting for the attraction of melancholic yearning for forms of historical identity obscured through the passage of time.

However, in order to long for a lost identity, one must first recognize its lack. I suggest that visual representation in Ghosh's novel serves to foreground the dissonance that underlies identity in its post-colonial configurations. In suggesting that the visual frustrates the subject's fixed understanding of himself, I draw upon Bhabha's understanding of the "invisible" nature of post-colonial identity. In The Location of Culture, he writes, "By disrupting the stability of the ego, expressed in the equivalence between image and identity, the secret art of invisibleness of which the migrant poet speaks changes the very terms of our recognition of the person" (46-47). In this sense, photography introduces a lacuna between how the subject perceives him/herself and how others perceive the subject. This effect is clearly not limited to photography; other technological devices can work similarly. The sound of our voice, for example, is equally disturbing. The sound of our own recorded voice instills the disturbing realization that how we think we sound when we speak is not how others hear us. This alienating experience structures the function of the doppelganger, a device that appears throughout The Shadow Lines.

In his essay "The Uncanny," Freud identifies the competing forces of identification and repulsion that coincide with the appearing of our double. He writes:

I was sitting alone in my wagon-lit compartment when a more than usually violent jolt of the train swung back the door of the adjoining washing-cabinet, and an elderly gentleman in a dressing-gown and a traveling cap came in. I assumed that in leaving the washing-cabinet, which lay between the two compartments, he had taken the wrong direction and come into my compartment by mistake. Jumping up with the intention of putting him right, I at once realized to my dismay that the intruder was nothing but my own reflection in the looking-glass on the open door. I can still recollect that I thoroughly disliked his appearance. (248)

This alienation from the self, the realization that "I" am "that," finds expression in the opening pages of The Shadow Lines. When Ghosh's narrator introduces the character of Ila, he explains she visually orients her own story through photographs and school yearbooks. However, as the narrator explains, Ila herself is strangely absent from the photographs. When the narrator does locate a picture of her in one yearbook he later discovers that she has subsequently ripped out that page. In one sense, we might suggest that this action is empowering, demonstrating how Ila asserts control over her photographic likeness. In another sense, perhaps she is motivated by the sensibility that Freud describes upon recognizing his own reflection. We might suggest that the photograph acts to fracture her internal sense of unity, to frustrate her attempt to identify with her visual representation and her own experiential reality.

I once again draw upon Bhabha's The Location of Culture, where he explores the jarring nature of the visual. Bhabha writes, "For the image--as point of identification--marks the site of an ambivalence. Its representation is always spatially split--it makes present something that is absent--and temporally deferred: it is the representation of a time that is always elsewhere, a repetition" (51). Bhabha's elliptical formulation initially seems contradictory: how can it represent something that is forever deferred yet continually repeated? Here, Freud's understanding of the doppelganger partially explicates this situation. Our reflection is not simply a doubling of the self as usually conceived, but a reflection of the vacuous nature of identity. Its replication serves to reinforce the emptiness of the original.

Friedrich Kittler's trenchant study, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, offers an instructive formulation of this principle. Invoking Lacanian psychology, Kittler suggests that the process of perceiving ourselves in photographs acts to castrate the symbolic structure that we suppose to be inherent in the world. This perception lays bare the emptiness of the Real, by forcing us to recognize our gaze mirrored in that which we desire. I quote Kittler at length:

Precisely because the camera operates as a perfect mirror, it liquidates the fund of stored self-images in La Marr's psychic apparatus. On celluloid all gesticulations appear more ridiculous, on tapes, which bypass the skeletal sound transmissions from larynx to ear, voices have no timbre, on ID cards a "vaguely criminal face" appears, "its soul snatched by the government camera as the guillotine shutter fell." And all that not because media are lying but because their trace detection undermines the mirror stage. That is to say: the soul itself, whose technological rechristening is nothing but Lacan's mirror stage. (150)

Following Kittler, we might even suggest that the photograph is more authentic than are we. Reversing the traditional hierarchy of the original and its reproductions, the photograph is a more reliable measure of our authenticity. We experience this uncanny reversal of original and reproduction when we find ourselves in the peculiar position of proving our own identity when interrogated by the authorities. It is a matter of establishing our fidelity to the document that bears our photograph, not the other way around. The photograph becomes the original and one must demonstrate that the person in the photograph is identical to oneself. While this might seem like a mundane distinction, it is precisely this slight reversal that enables its alienating effect.

This tension between our concept of self and how one appears to others runs throughout Ghosh's novel. Clearly informed by some awareness of the semiotic distinction between the signifier and the signified, the narrator explains:

There is no more connection than there is between a word, such as mat, and the thing itself: they are utterly indifferent to each other, so that we may heap the metaphors--the diamonds, the suicides, the miles, the suffering--till the end of our abilities, and yet find no trace at all of the state itself. And equally we may find the opposite. (96)

This madding ambiguity that Ghosh insists upon, by way of his attached qualification to his extended reflection on semiotics, reflects the complexities of identity that Bhabha identifies. However, as with the struggle to figure the invisible that dominates Bhabha's work, Ghosh's longing to experience the world-in-itself without the imposing structure of language upon it simultaneously holds a redemptive possibility and self-annihilating movement by putting identity fully under erasure. While subjectivity must be rethought, if it exists only in invisible, ineffable terms, the result is not merely the destabilization of collective identification that would enable political action, but also the destruction of the very grounds of subjective experience.

Here, the connection Julia Kristeva identifies in Black Sun between melancholy and language is relevant. Kristeva suggests that the melancholic suffers from an alienation from language. Refusing to formulate their experience in words, they cease to experience insofar as language enables the very possibility for consciousness. Kristeva writes:

Let us keep in mind the speech of the depressed--repetitive and monotonous. Faced with the impossibility of concatenating, they utter sentences that are interrupted, exhausted, come to a stand still. Even phrase they cannot formulate. A repetitive rhythm, a monotonous melody emerge and dominate the broken logical sequences, changing them into recurring, obsessive litanies. Finally, when that frugal musicality becomes exhausted in its turn, or simply does not succeed in becoming established on account of the pressure of silence, the melancholy person appears to stop cognizing as well as uttering, sinking into the blankness of asymobolia or the excess of an unorderable cognitive chaos. (33)

Such an interpretation is clearly informed by the assumption that language does not merely represent experience, but shapes our very understanding of it. While objections might be raised to this paradigm, such an epistemological sensibility finds widespread popularity. To risk oversimplification, this insight that the world can only be experienced through the concepts we impose upon it is grounded in Kant's "Copernican Revolution" that enabled his distinction between the phenomal and noumenal worlds. While we remain rooted in our experience of the former world, we cannot experience the latter, the world-in-itself. That is to say, within the Kantian framework perception must be filtered through concepts. This understanding finds more eloquent expression in Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, where he explains, "the limits of language mean the limits of my world" (5.62).

A melancholic longing for expressions of identity that exceed the bounds of language appears in The Shadow Lines through Ghosh's emphasis on silence. As the narrator is uncovering the events that lead to Tridib's death he laments:

Every word I write about those events of 1964 is the product of a struggle with silence. It is a struggle I am destined to lose--have already lost--for even after all these years, I do not know where within me, in which corner of my world, this silence lies. All I know of it is what it is not. It is not, for example, the silence of an imperfect memory. Or is it a silence enforced by a ruthless state--nothing like that, no barbed wire, no checkpoints to tell me where its boundaries lie. I know nothing of this silence except that it lies outside the reach of my intelligence, beyond wordsÑthat is why this silence must win, must inevitably defeat me, because it is not a presence at all; it is only a gap, a hole, an emptiness in which there are no words. (218)

This doomed struggle that Ghosh identifies strikingly resembles Bhabha's formulation of post-colonial subjectivity as a presence of absence. Although it defies description, post-colonial identity still remains acting as an empty signifier and is only present as an absence. However, in Bhabha's understanding, this reality should enable new forms of political solidarity precisely by way of this affirmation of the lack that resists any definitive formulation of community. Heavily drawing upon Laclau and Mouffe's Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, Bhabha suggests that the most desirable communities are those that freely admit their contingent nature, that through collective reconfigurations of the very terms of identity, the fluidity of its definition is assured.

While not entirely fleshed out, Ghosh investigates a similar understanding of solidarity through resistance to the authority of the state. By refusing to entirely identify with the state hailing one as a citizen, Ghosh introduces the possibility of what Judith Butler has coined, in a different context, collective "disidentification" (Butler 4). Through alienation from the existing categories of political identity, individuals might achieve a political community based on collective resistance to national identity. Shortly after the riots that structure the novel's story, the narrator explains:

Within a few days an almost congratulatory note entered into exchanges between the ministries as they reviewed their respective success in 'quelling' the disturbances... In fact, from the evidence of the newspapers, it is clear that once the riots had started both governments did everything possible to put a stop to them as quickly as possible. In this they were subject to a logic larger than themselves, for the madness of a riot is a pathological inversion, but also therefore a reminder, of that indivisible sanity that binds people to each other independently of their governments. And that prior, independent relationship is the natural enemy of government, for it is in the logic of states to exist at all they must claim the monopoly of all relationships between peoples. (230)

Solidarity merely based on resistance to the power of the state seems problematic in that it would seem to require a form of identity that is prior to, or more fundamental than, nationalism. It is significant that Ghosh in large part inscribes this possible connection between people of different culture within the body through sexual desire. Throughout the novel, cross-cultural romantic relationships abound. However, as Suvir Kaul suggests, through the death of Tridib, Ghosh explores the reality that threatens to destroy those who struggle to refuse the boundaries of fixed identity (284). Thus, Ghosh establishes the destructive potential inherent in any project that aims to radically reformulate forms of trans-national identity.

The problematic struggle of representing that which cannot yet be represented through existing forms of subjectivity finds significant parallels in Leo Bersani's interrogations of queer identity. Bersani suggests that although a non-essentialist conception of queer identity enables revolutionary reconfigurations of sexual desire, it also contains the potential to undermine political mobilization through its rejection of fixed boundaries of group identification:

Because the representation of the birth of relations requires a figure of nonrelationality, the danger inherent in any such representation is the erasure of figurality itself. Nothing is more haunting in the work of artists otherwise so different from one another as Turner and Rothko than their reduction of the canvas to the wholly undifferentiated origins of the canvas's work. In the nearly unpunctuated whites of Turner's late paintings, in the blankets of dark sameness on the panels of the Rothko Chapel in Houston, we come as close as we can to suffering the truly rare privilege of seeing nothing— as if the lines of movement in space that art represents could, as it were, be ontologically illuminated only as they almost disappear within a representation of their emergence from nothing. (643)

In conjunction with Kristeva's notion of melancholic alienation from language, we might suggest that such attempts to rethink subjectivity teeter between the subject's annihilation and his emergence.

Reorienting ourselves back to visual objects in The Shadow Lines, I now explore how maps and photographs can act as fetish objects representing something now lost. It is in this incarnation of melancholic longing -- this sense of a collective identity that now is lost -- that I suggest this sentiment has been misplaced. Such an appeal to, supposedly, previous social configurations functions to naturalize contingent structures of group identification. Fetish objects enable this sensibility by virtue of their tangible existence. Although the relationship between the objects and the abstract idea they represent is not evident, one might mistakenly assume that at one time in the past a correspondence might have existed.

Recalling the claim that I opened this paper with, that the abstract idea of a nation can only be represented by through particulars, we find that photography with its visual presence can establish a melancholic attachment with a subject. The temporal element of photographic technology particularly encourages this sensibility. In capturing only one isolated moment in time, the photograph reinforces the temporal schism underlying the subject, the passage of time that continually acts upon everyone. Roland Barthes suggests in Camera Lucida that the photograph, in confronting us with the unceasing movement of time, that what we are now is distinct from what we were then, haunts us by displaying our movement towards death.

By recalling a time now past, the photograph can falsely suggest to the viewer that the fractured state of our current identity was once unified at the time the photograph was taken. We recognize that the persons captured in the photograph were indeed ourselves at that time. In this sense, while on the one hand photography enables us to experience the uncanny alienation of seeing how different we are perceived by others, this effect can be dampened with the passage of time, allowing us to mistakenly assume that although the photograph now is jarring, there was once a time when the photograph corresponded to our understanding of our identity.

When this false unity projected into the past is put in place, we then mourn its loss. However, this mourning is false, because that which is grieved never actually existed. Correspondence between signifier and signified can only be established by retrospectively imposing it. To fully explore how this trope works in Ghosh's novel, we must explore the relationship between melancholy and objects. In his essay, "Mourning and Melancholia," Freud suggests that the melancholic, refusing to confront the actual loss, transfers his libidinal attachment to objects that stand-in for the unrecoverable source of his longing. In this way, the subject can avoid the horrifying reality of death, through the mechanism of fetishistic investment in the material world. Freud explains that such a fixation can prove self destructive, in that the melancholic often turns himself into a fetishistic object in a self-destructive renunciation of his position as a subject. In Freud's understanding, the melancholic must confront the irrevocable nature of death. Only in doing so, Freud argues, can the subject undertake the work of mourning, the painful process of accepting the loss of that upon which the subject once focused his libidinal energies.

Within such a framework we might suggest that the melancholic longing for national identity expressed in The Shadow Lines can only be assuaged through a confrontation with its loss. Perhaps similar to Freud's Rat Man, who, even though his father had died prior to his treatment initially only admitted that he feared that his father might die, we must fully confront the reality of the father's (in our case, the nation's) death. Such an understanding, however, assumes that which we mourn, that which is lost, actually did exist and is now dead. In the case of national identity, this perhaps is not the case. Instead of commencing the work of mourning, confronting the irrevocable ontological status of its death, we must consider the possibility that solidly formulated national identity never existed in the first place.

To fully explore the mechanism of false mourning I draw on Slavoj Zizek's recent work in The Plague of Fantasies. There Zizek explains that an appeal to lost origins can function to artificially construct that which is supposedly lost. Zizek writes, "The paradox to be fully accepted is that when a certain historical moment is (mis)perceived as the moment of loss of some quality, upon closer inspection it becomes clear that the lost quality emerged only at this very moment of its alleged loss" (12-13). Thus, the claim that while now lost, an entity once existed is not simply a technique to obtain credibility through an appeal to historical continuity, but a rhetorical device that bestows ontological status. By confusing existence with essence, by supposing existence is a property, we mistakenly assume that although the quality is merely absent. In response, we must consider the possibility that while it is true that x no longer exists, x never did exist.

By appealing to a lost national identity, the melancholic falsely suggests that once a relationship of correspondence between the nation and its representation existed. Thus, we are lead to believe that while the original referent (the abstract concept of the nation) has been abandoned, there still exist representations of it that attest to its now departed presence. Photography is particularly complicit in this project, because it simultaneously serves as presence and absence. It figures a time no longer present.

Deeply flawed though it may be, one passage from Susan Sontag's On Photography captures the ersatz sense of loss constructed by the very act of taking a photograph. Sontag explains, "The photograph offers a modern counterpart of that characteristically romantic architectural genre, the artificial ruin: the ruin which is created in order to deepen the historical character of a landscape, to make nature suggestive -- suggestive of a past" (80). Following Sontag, I suggest that the photograph can serve to represent an illusory coherence that becomes a fetish object, a stand-in for a supposed configuration of the world in which how we appear to others is identical to we I perceive ourselves. In actuality, as with the artificial ruin, the photograph represents something that never was.

This feeling of lost unity fractured by time informed much of Walter Benjamin's understanding of melancholy objects. Heavily influenced by his Jewish mysticism regarding the origins of language, Benjamin assumes that a relationship of seamless harmony once existed between words and that which they represented, between the signifier and the signified. However, in Benjamin's understanding, this relationship has been corrupted with the passage of time. Although now lost, such an understanding establishes the possibility of a purely referential theory of meaning. In a similar manner, nationalism acts to establish its lost presence by pointing to its absence. Benjamin suggests that the melancholic attachment to objects remains rooted in a more fundamental yearning to discover a lost ordering for the world that assured meaning. Max Pensky, in his substantial investigation Melancholy Dialectics: Walter Benjamin and the Play of Mourning, suggests

The hopeless loyalty to the world of things constitutes, in the Trauerspiel, what in the world in the Renaissance emerges as the creative dimension of melancholy genius: both illustrate the dialectic of melancholy as the subject plunges even deeper into the fragments of an empty world in order to produce a profusion of objects for its own contemplation. The loyalty of the world of things has, for the melancholic, "strings attached": loyalty extends only so far as the things themselves are transformed from their sheer facticity into melancholy objects, capable of emanating -- or receiving -- meaning. (105-106)

In Pensky's formulation of Benjamin, melancholic objects operate as entities whose significance must be deciphered to disclose a supposed underlying reality that has become obscured through the passage of time.

The Shadow Lines shares a similar Benjaminian understanding of an original unity now lost. In his appeal to a form of collective unity that more fundamentally structures subjectivity that predates national identification, Ghosh and his characters are longing for a past that never existed. This attempt to rethink nationalism is wrongheaded in its appeal to the past, in its Benjaminian assumption that time has corrupted an original unity that assured congruence between the signified and the signifier. In this sense, the novel illustrates the false hope that nationalism can be fulfilled with a renewed correspondence between the world and our representations of it through a humanist appeal to connection that supposedly transcends nationality and all that cultural framework that goes with it. Importantly, it is not the effort to reconfigure identity that is flawed, but the sense that it must only be rediscovered, not newly fashioned.

In Ghosh's defense, however, we might suggest that perhaps it is not a national identity that he supposes we have lost, but a more fundamental connection that all people share. Importantly, I think, this is not a universal understanding of human rights or a similar Western configuration of political subjectivity, but an ontological connection that all possess insofar as they share what might be thought of as similar positions in relation to a Heideggerian sense of Being. Through his lengthy discussion of the map late in the novel, Ghosh suggests that we recognize a mode of subjectivity that exists prior to national identity. He writes:

In perplexity I turn back through the pages of the atlas at random, shut my eyes, and let the point of my compass fall on the page. It fell on Milan, in northern Italy. Adjusting my compass to the right scale I drew a circle which had Milan as its center and 1200 miles as its radius... It seemed to me that within this circle there were only states and citizens; there were no people at all. (232-233)

However, we are inclined to object, what is the alternative? Can subjectivity be formed outside the group identification? While a Heideggerian-like appeal might be made to something like a shared "concern for Being," is this a feasible basis for political mobilization? Indeed, in embracing the supposed common humanity of all, isn't the destructiveness of economic exploitation minimized?

Perhaps the most problematic aspect of Ghosh's formulation of supposed solidarity exists through his assumption that prior to the exclusive nationalistic identifications a harmonious commonality was once shared by all. What makes Ghosh's novel so madding is not his call for new articulations of subjectivity, but that, through his use of melancholic objects he seems to be asserting that a collective identity has been fractured by nationalism. In a Gramscian sense, Ghosh is attempting to sneak ideology into a seemingly non-ideological statement about the interconnectedness of all people.

Marc Redfield's recent deconstruction of Benedict Anderson's notion of nationalism as an "imagined community" might be equally applied to Ghosh's understanding. Critiquing the notion of an identity preceding nationalism, Redfield suggests:

Yet if the nation as "imagined community" is always fundamentally irreducible to the state, the difference between spontaneous and "official" nationalism nonetheless becomes, under the impact of Anderson's narrative of nationalism's origins as unstable as it is necessary. Enabled, even in its most affirmative manifestations, by the dislocations of technical reproduction, the "imagination" ceases to be a psychological faculty and becomes an aesthetic, unstable figure that tropes anonymity as identity, and difference as homogeneity. (66)

Thus, insofar as identity is posited to exist independently of nationalism, the subject can only be figured through an essential lack that all individuals share. While such an understanding does enable one to think beyond current configurations of identity, it risks erasing the subject of any positive, that is existing, characteristics. Although we might want to insist that these categories of subjectivity are contingent formations rather than necessary ones, to entirely negate their influence would seem to assume that an objective position of subjectivity exists outside of national and cultural influences. However, this limiting factor, this awareness of the indubitable import of our ideological apparatus, does not preclude collective efforts to articulate emergent forms of identity. Indeed, as Laclau and Mouffe explained, this contingency serves as the very foundation of authentic democratic communities.

Moreover, if such an effort to affirm the non-existence of subjectivity were to lead to a radical reconfiguration of categories of political identity, allowing new possibilities of intervention, such a rejection of individuality might seem more attractive. However, in Ghosh's novel this is not the case. The supposed interrelationship that Ghosh identifies between individuals not situated in economic, gender, or racial positions enables one to be simultaneously self-interested and a contributing member of the community, insofar as an ontological connection is maintained to other beings.

While serious difficulties plague Ghosh on this point, one limited response we might offer can be found in affirming that while such difficulties complicate his formation of a political community, the strength of this commonality might lay in its very vague nature. In this formulation, Lacan's understanding of the subject as an "empty signifier" and its implications for nationalism is crucial. Drawing upon Freud's framework, Lacan proposes that because our experience of the world remains forever limited by the structure of language, human subjectivity is founded upon lack, the loss of, in Lacan's terms, the "Real," that which resists symbolization. Although subjects are barred from any epistemological access to the Real, Lacan explains that we possess a limited ontological relationship to it that finds expression in jouissance, a complicated term that is expressed in English as "pleasure," a bliss referring to that which accomplishes the impossible experience of enjoyment without any symbolic remainder. However, because the "Real" cannot be formulated in language, desire can only be structured through the objet petit a, the object of our desire, acting a sort of Freudian fetish object, standing-in more fundamental jouissance that cannot be symbolically formulated. According to Lacan, while the objet petit can serve as a means to jouissance, the small object often serves to return the subject "gaze," thereby, laying bare the contingent nature of desire. Since the Real cannot be formulated in language, it can find representation in whatever forms the subject imposes on it. Thus, the objet petit a can obfuscate the lack that grounds our experience. Therefore, it is not so much that we have to come to accept the loss of particular objects of our libidinal attachment, but that we must realize that any object of desire is more fundamentally a desire for the Real. Unable to symbolize the Real in language, in the end we only desire, in Lacan's formulation, desire itself.

Thus, the importance of Lacan's reformulation of Freud for the purpose of this paper becomes apparent: it is not simply that maps and photographs act as fetish objects obscuring the loss of the origin of libidinal attachment (the nation), but that the nation is also a fetish, obscuring the Real. Thus, such visual representations are second-order fetish objects: they are a fetish of a fetish. Thus, the Lacanian recursive extension of Freud's understanding of melancholy grounds redemptive reading of politics in Ghosh's The Shadow Lines.

Thus, the task is not to properly mourn a supposed lost unity, but to accept the loss of the notion of an original loss. This task, however, is even more difficult than the work of mourning proper. To illustrate, I once again draw on Zizek. In struggling to mourn the loss of original loss, we are forced to confront the horrifying reality that Scottie finally realizes at the end of Vertigo. In mourning the loss of Madeline through his attachment to Judy, he discovers not merely that Madeline and Judy are the same, but that Madeline was never Madeline. That is to say, through the manipulation of the industrialist who hires him, Scottie mistakes the Kim Novak character, who is made to look like Madeline, for the real Madeline. Zizek suggests that the trauma Scottie experiences at the film's conclusion lies in his realization that the woman of his original libidinal attachment only existed as a duplication of the authentic Madeline. Thus, Scottie's melancholic longing that haunts him after Madeline's death is only a false mourning because that which he mourns never actually existed. This realization, however, turns out to be the most horrifying of all.

Through the trope of the doppelganger in The Shadow Lines, the vacuity of fixed identity is established by emphasizing the emptiness of our own projection. Ghosh repeatedly explores the notion that India and Pakistan mirror each other, their own existence being dependent on their opposition to the other. In foregrounding what we would describe in the Lacanian formulation as the emptiness of that which we desire (or desire to destroy), our own grounds of identity becomes questionable. Through the double we recognize ourselves mirrored in the object of our desire, not simply the banality of that which we crave by the groundless of our own desire itself.

Reorienting ourselves back to the photographic representations of identity, we might suggest that although they can easily serve to formulate false nostalgia, they might also enable a redemptive function. In fully understanding the inherent alienating effects of photography, that the distance between the photographic representation of the entity and the entity in itself is not a temporal one, but an essential ontological one that haunts regardless of the force of time, the technology could actually function to figure the non-existence of lost unity. This possibility finds eloquent articulation in Barthes's Camera Lucida, "By the mark of something, the photograph is no longer 'anything whatever.' This something has triggered me, has provoked a tiny shock, a satori, the passage of a void" (49). Recalling Bhabha's conception of invisible forms of subjectivity, the photograph jars our fixed modes of subjectivity allowing for the possibility to observe the contingent nature of our identity.

While any political praxis remains markedly underdeveloped in Ghosh's novel, insofar as he foregrounds the absence of fixed subjectivity, we might take this as a political statement as such. Indeed, instead of castigating Ghosh's novel as a misguided humanistic appeal to shared humanity, we might similarly read the novel as a deconstruction of individualism. Perhaps, then, Ghosh might even be considered a post-humanist. In this interpretation the Lacanian understanding of sexual desire enables a limited access to the world beyond our ability to experience it that finds expression in his enigmatic formulation of jouissance. This drive to achieve jouissance, however, contains a sort of death drive. To experience the world outside of our position as subjects can find expression for any substantial duration only in death. Thus the subject can experience jouissance only momentarily.

However, compared with substantial collective action, even if we assent to the dubious claim that sexual desire has a political component, it certainly does not enable significant political mobilization. While one might point to the limited success of the gay rights movement to demonstrate the effectiveness of political action based on collective identification through same sex desire, such an argument confuses the impetus of its success. Change, limited though it is, comes only through direct intervention in public discourse, not through private sexual acts confined to the domestic sphere. Moreover, such a sensibility also has the potential to become easily integrated into the capitalist apparatus, not only robbing it of its subversive potential, but additionally it can be mobilized to expand the influence of Capitalism. The inclusion of homosexual identity into the capitalist establishment testifies to its tremendously adaptive hence, robust nature.

However, by rejecting the melancholic longing for a false, pre-modern condition of unity, at least we now can project our utopian hopes where they belong, not lost forever in an irrecoverable past, but in our future, where we can fight for their realization. In this sense, we find a guiding principle in Nietzsche's call for the emergence of a new sort of subject, not one that has been lost, but one that has not yet been born.

Works Cited

Adorno, Theodor. Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life. Trans. E.F.N. Jephcott. London: Verso, 1974.

Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1981.

Bersani, Leo. "Sociality and Sexuality." Critical Inquiry 20 (2000): 641-656.

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