Archive for February, 2013

Participatory Victories in A Rose for Emily

February 15, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about A Rose for Emily lately. It is still surprises me that there is often a direct link between philosophical insight and “concrete” literary interpretation, I mean, in the sense of what happens in a particular scene. Really a central interpretive question for the book is the relationship between the townspeople and A Rose for Emily. An initial reading seems to suggest that it is merely oppositional or conflicting but further analysis reveals a omore complicated situation. We can actually move quickly between relationships of opposition and cooperation (for example, did many of the townsfolks know all along what was behind that door?), my recent conclusion is actually somewhat oppositional, which is not merely a compromise or a defensove conclusion to not be wrong.

For example, consider the scene when the people visit Emily to collect taxes. The narrator tells us that she “vanquished” them but they were in a state of being willing to be vanquished. Yet we can still imagine the situation to be, perhaps, dangerous there — like a standoff. He does mention, for example, of a case where the law was dragged in, and Emily “broke down”, giving up the body of her father. However tactful they were I think there was always a chance of them simply being stubborn, of evicting Emily from her house for refusal to pay taxes, so that Emily’s stand was perhaps a genuine victory. But we are never sure.

I’ve been thinking, then, lately, about pragmatism, or rather, events, victories, and accomplishments. But these accomplishments are carried out via shadowy means. The psychology of the tax collecting scene reveals an unexpected complexity — what I called above “concrete” literary interpretation. Did the officials and administrators knew they would relent? Or did they set out with some measure of annoyance, hoping to put an end to this charade once and for all? Or, was there already, some sympathy towards Emily before they got there, and they only had to see the evidence for themselves? Did they change their minds, or did they simply receive the evidence they needed? Did they see in Emily some exotic creature worth preserving or something so familiar to themselves? Did these pencil pushers and bureacrats who visited Emily see someone more or less bureacratic than themselves?

This is similar to Bartleby’s victory over the narrator in that other story, where he gets away with incredible disobedience. In an infathomable moment, the lawyer looks at Bartleby’s attitude, considers his response, and simply becomes disarmed. Yet the moment may not be so oppositional — is, after all, the sympathy shown towards Bartleby altruistic or selfish? In the same way, Emily disarms these tax collectors, though we are not quite sure if 1) this was or was not a victory, an event, a frightening occurence, or an adventure there at all, and 2) what exactly Emily did, or what exactly they saw, that led to this victory.

But I was quite happy when these questions were opened up to me because to be honest I was really stuck in quite an impasse. I had already formulated these notions having to do with the event — “reflexive construction”, “finite dreams”, “redemption”, “dialectically prospective” — but, lacking materials for analysis, I had a difficult time analyzing the world. But the world, I think, and its events are hollow, like we describe above with the tax collecting scene — I mean, open to a kind of profound and vertiginous conclusions. In fact, these events are never original, which means that we have a right to be fed up their occurence, they occur in very conventional ways. Yet this conventionality is the mere surface of things, which means world history, this term understood conventionally, or all of the events in our lives is the mere surface of things — but a surface which nonetheless bears traces of the depths. No, not the depths actually — because this notion of finite dreaming suggests that what’s going on here is not some profound memory but the chance at affecting an explosion, an adventure, an event. What I mean is, “depths” is incorrect because we are not suggesting, for example, that Emily reminded the tax collector of their own mother or something, some depths of sentimental feeling — assuming, of course, that the relationship to one’s mother is sentimental — it’s probably not. But rather, there is something happening there at that very moment that takes on the quality of a finite dream (I mean, simply, an unfalsifiable dream, a non-fantastic dream) — a moment when we are satisfied that something may have happened there.

I actually have a draft here called “A Rose for Emily, So Dark” — this was before I became fascinated with the tax collecting scene. But the “so dark” referred to this world of Emily, where there is no real distinction between dreaming and waking life, an entire world that seemed to hinge on the “non-false”, on the hope of the non-false. I mean, Emily was not given to fantasy but she was not cynical either. And so, reading this story, I was interested in the ways in which the narrator and Emily seemed to often merge as one (such as in Madame Bovary), where certain descriptions were really from Emily’s inner world, visions which, considered seriously, seem render the world incredibly dark and hopeless. But in that thread I was stuck on Emily’s purely creative work, as if to create something out of nothing. I mention this draft because I think we have here found a soluton to our dilemma. Emily carries on as normal in the world, but each moment becomes a victory. This is quite contrary to the blase attitude with which we come to treat accomplishments, I mean, this seems out of character for us. It is in fact our task to understand the moment as victory rather than simply as some inevitable occurrence. But, at the same time, this very understanding or half-understanding is itself a victory, I mean, as we said, there are two events here: the event of thinking about this event (participation) and the event itself – what made the tax collectors pause was precisely the feeling that they were on the verge of participating in an event.