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Author: Ann Kennedy
Title: Inappropriate and Dazzling Sideshows: Interpellating Narratives in Djuna Barnes's Nightwood
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
Fall 1997
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Source: Inappropriate and Dazzling Sideshows: Interpellating Narratives in Djuna Barnes's Nightwood
Ann Kennedy


vol. 1, no. 1, Fall 1997
Article Type: Essay
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.pid9999.0001.105

Inappropriate and Dazzling Sideshows: Interpellating Narratives in Djuna Barnes's Nightwood

Ann Kennedy

I heard emanating from one of the sideshows a noise that was half between a melody and a regret
—Djuna Barnes, "If Noise Were Forbidden..."


 
According to Lyotard the central difference of opinion within which modern thought plays itself out is between regret and experimentation—two modes which often coexist in the same piece of art (Lyotard 13). In her novel Nightwood, Djuna Barnes takes this strange coexistence as her subject, investigating the contradictory reappearance of archaic, interpellating narratives of origin within an increasingly commodified, industrialized, and visual culture. Barnes re-views and complicates the effect of ideological institutions upon the early twentieth century Western subject and rejects the nostalgic and reifying narratives of her male contemporaries. In so doing, she creates Nightwood as a striking example of postmodern feminist theorizing within a specifically modernist context. Struggling against the terms of that context, Barnes attempts to locate a space for the possibility of non-linear narrative; but she also attempts to negotiate a space for the feminist subject from within the violent allegories that attempt to situate her as "other."

"Bow Down": the Construction of the Subject and the Commodification of History


 
Louis Althusser defines ideological recognition as the act of interpellation, of identification of a subject and that subject's recognition of herself as the one addressed ("hailing"); this recognition "guarantee[s] for us that we are indeed concrete, individual, distinguishable and (natural) irreplaceable subjects" (Althusser 173). This process, in Althusser's analysis, occurs chiefly through ideological state apparatuses (ISAs)—public/private education, media, religion, the family, etc.—and, when necessary, repressive state apparatuses (RSAs)—the police, the army. But Althusser suggests that since we are always already in ideology, we generate systems of ideologies ourselves, always already implicated as subjects of and subjects (re)producing interpellation. As "good" subjects we are always already interpellating others as "subjects" in the "work" of achieving our own recognition; always already detachments of ideology, regenerating its forms of interpellation—both "Subject" and "subject."

Barnes anachronistically extends Althusser's investigation beyond the institutions of the state, examining how our most idealized notions, our safest havens (such as the "private" spaces of love and the maternal that feminist analysis has politicized and the seeming immovable, progressive narrative of history which poststructuralist theory has deconstructed and recontextualized) are the very means through which subjects experience the contradictory and ambivalent effects of ideology. Althusser's ISAs are present throughout the novel as systems of nostalgia, transcendence and wholeness (re)hailing subjects back into an imaginary history of linearity, simplicity, and fulfillment. They are deeply embedded in the narrative subject's desire for an identity continuous with history. The suggestive implications of Althusser's analysis appear most explicitly in "Bow Down," the first section of Nightwood.

"Bow Down" comes closest to a realist style; this section establishes the repressive foundations of linear narrative. Interpellation appears in its most institutional and repressive manifestations. Felix—whose Jewish Italian father, Guido, has recreated himself as an Austrian baron—constitutes his identity through successive interactions with Christianity, the ideal of the family, and a devotion to an aristocratic history. Felix's constant bowing down to the aristocracy becomes a pathetic parody, not only of Althusser's scenario of ideological recognition, but of the life of his father. Guido is the result of a violent, barbaric (repressive) history that constitutes the narrative of his becoming "subject," specifically the Christian aristocratic subject:

with a rope about its neck, Guido's race should run in the Corso for the amusement of the Christian populace, while ladies of noble birth, sitting upon spines too refined for rest...applauded with that cold yet hysterical abandon of a people that is at once unjust and happy, the very Pope himself shaken down from his hold on heaven with the laughter of a man who forgoes his angels that he may recapture the beast. (Barnes 2)


 
This memory, which is no memory, becomes the repressive narrative against which, and through which, Guido recognizes himself in the world. The arena of "degradation" constitutes the "disqualification" of the Jewish race: in its linear representativeness, the "other" experiences himself only through the legitimating narrative of Christianity: "[they] find that they must inhabit a world whose constituents, being alien, force the mind to succumb to an imaginary populace" (3). But the conqueror's historical narrative effectively creates that "imaginary populace" as real and concrete.

Felix carries two portraits with him in his wandering from country to country—Guido's "claim to mother and father":

The likeness was accidental. Had anyone cared to look into the matter they would have discovered these canvases to be reproductions of two intrepid and ancient actors. Guido had found them in some forgotten and dusty corner and had purchased them when he had been sure that he would need an alibi for the blood. [1] (7)


 
Memory and history become souvenir, concealing the contradictory forces that constitute their singular appearance. The photographs mediate Felix's relationship with his past, entitling him to a seat in the Roman arena and substantiating the narrative that ensures his safety:

"My family is preserved because I have it only from the memory of one single woman...therefore it is single, clear and unalterable. In this I am fortunate; through this I have a sense of immortality. Our basic idea of eternity is a condition that cannot vary. It is the motivation of marriage. No man really wants his freedom. He gets a habit as quickly as possible—it is a form of immortality."
The doctor responds, "We heap reproaches on the person who breaks it, saying that in so doing he has broken the image—of our safety." (112)


 
To gain a seat in the arena, the "other" history of the subject must be cut out of the genealogy of becoming; the subject's history must be singular and undeviating to manifest identity in the image of the souvenir. But Barnes suggests that early twentieth-century souvenir culture has the potential for destabilizing interpellating narratives of origin. If Felix constantly "pay[s] homage to" a non-existent past (in the hope of "mending" it), "as the only gesture that includes the future," the images of the text continue to multiply, as character after character re-members photographic images as personal experience:

"Oh, God when I think back to my past...my mother, with hair on her head as red as a fire kicked over in spring.... She had a hat on her as big as the top of a table, and everything on it but running water...and my father sitting up beside her (snapped while they were riding on a roller- coaster)" ...Frau Mann took up her glass, looking at it with one eye closed. "I've an album of my own." (27)


 
What has been lost as history can be recaptured through the family album and reimagined as memory. Felix's belief in that "single, clear and unalterable" narrative is archaic, constantly threatened by the continuously reproducible images of a fragmented and commodified culture; his own self-consciousness about the desires and fears that motivate the need for such a narrative speaks to its rending.

The people of the circus and theater are the most obvious manipulators of this rending between past and present: "performing" the desires of a public that needs "a runner" in its "arena" to affirm its own safety. They appear to Felix, who believes in the validity of their aristocratic titles as he believes in his own, as museum pieces of the past come to life. They ape Felix's own aristocratic masquerade not in order to "bow down" but to "dazzle"; theirs is a repetition with a difference. The innocuousness of their own existence sustains them; they depend upon the oxymoronic [2] effect they have on their public: "[they knew] well that skill is never so amazing as when it seems inappropriate." The slippage that occurs between the name and its signification is lost in the "dazzle" of the belief, "that great disquiet called entertainment" (11). Their value lies in their ability to simulate and appropriate the very markers of their own "disqualification," giving new significance to a disintegrating past, recirculating past images for their own gain. Felix's own desires may be appropriated, placing him—alongside the reader—in an identificatory mode. But like the Pope who must lose a little of "his hold on heaven...to recapture the beast," for Felix and the "qualified" reader, the danger of attending the arena lies in the possibility of recognition: the possibility of becoming absorbed into the arena of the "other." [3]

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Dr. O'Connor's extensive and minute discussion of the body of the tattooed black man, Nikka, who fights bears in the circus. I quote only a brief part of the passage which covers two pages:

...over his belly was an angel from Chartres; on each buttock, half public, half private, a quotation from the book of magic, a confirmation of the Jansenist theory....On each bosom an arrow-speared heart, each with different initials but with equal drops of blood; and running into the arm-pit...the word said by Prince Arthur Tudor...[a] word so wholly epigrammatic...no way befitting the great and noble British Empire...Over his dos...a terse account in early monkish script...of the really deplorable condition of Paris before hygiene was introduced... [4] (16-7)


 
A more extreme example of the circus performers, Nikka appropriates the texts of Western culture for his benefit; the "inappropriateness" of the gesture marks his difference, "dazzles" the reader/crowd. Like Dr. O'Connor we might ask: "why all this barbarity?" His body textualizes the barbarity O'Connor sees in the grotesque. We are being silently laughed at and reconfigured through the literal inscription of barbaric Western culture. Instead of the beautiful images found in the museums Felix loves, we find that "unrecorded" history that marks us—as barbaric, as grotesque—as part of the show. Commenting on the content of the language that marks Nikka's body, Jane Marcus argues that this "gutter language...is the voice of outcast people" (226). She reads this barbarity as the overturning of hierarchy and a sign of outsiderness. But it is more so, as Nikka's body makes clear, the "unrecorded" language of the aristocratic; his body exposes the underside of the inside, and reveals the "qualified" as an "imaginary populace." Nikka's body derives its force from its exposure of the relationship between the barbaric and the beautiful; this reinscription of culture very directly forces us to read ourselves upon his body.

The Baudelairean Host: Narrative Investments and the Allegory of the Feminine


 
Through the narrative figure of Dr. Matthew-Mighty-grain-of-salt-Dante-O'Connor, Barnes attempts to play upon the "entanglement" of the beautiful and barbaric that Walter Benjamin sees as constitutive of culture. The grotesque can only take center stage through our own ambivalent—because implicated—desires. The narrative requires, at each entrance into the arena, that we attempt to situate ourselves within the ambivalent desires of identification and innocence: the desire to see ourselves mirrored in the world and the threat of being "seen" in the world. A little hedonistically (but not unkindly) Barnes gives us a parody of a narrator to help mediate our experience of the grotesque narrative(s) through which (by continuing to read) we are perpetually threatened and fascinated. Making his living off grotesque narratives, O'Connor "magically" occupies both center stage and a seat in the arena itself. This "sleight of hand" gives him the appearance of a ringmaster, allowing us to safely identify with him. But as the spatial arena of the show narrows (into the claustrophobic bedroom of personal intimacy) that identification becomes more problematic as Barnes undermines the disinterested pose of O'Connor's narrative making.

Barnes's method of narration throughout the remainder of the novel, fits into a modernist aesthetic that Christine Buci-Glucksmann designates as "catastrophic utopia": "...the destruction of the appearance of totality, system and historical specificity acts as the condition for the eternal return of a catastrophic utopia: the recognition of atrocity, fragmentation, and destruction as critical forces" (94). The alternately despairing and fascinated Baudelairean self (the flaneur) belongs to this aesthetic. The flaneur finds himself embroiled in the poetic possibilities of the shattering of the self and its attachment to the double-headed monster of progress and barbarity; able to move throughout the labyrinth of the city, seeing and remaining unseen, the flaneur is an imagined detective, eyewitness to every event, implicated in none. Nightwood finds its Baudelairean self in the figure of Dr. O'Connor, an "unlicensed practitioner" of medicine and narration. But this flaneur is implicated by his desire to turn the spectacle of the city into narrative. A perfect parody of the great male modern narrative makers—Freud, early sexologists, and Barnes's male counterparts Eliot, Pound, and Joyce—O'Connor reveals the concealed investments of the tales they tell. [5]

O'Connor most explicitly struggles with the differend between regret and experimentation. I want to suggest that in the context of modernist narratives, this differend plays itself out upon the female body, through allegories of the feminine. The Doctor participates in this ambivalence of anxiety and possibility toward the modern, and the mapping of those emotions onto the body of woman. Buci-Glucksmann describes three allegories of the feminine which express the male modernist's contradictory relationship to a newly commodified culture of the mass reproduction of object and bodies: the disappearing maternal, the prostitute, and the "heroic" androgyne. The differend has as its locus the prostituted body of woman, appearing everywhere in the street, testifying to the corrupting mortality of the body. The female body becomes the perfect commodity endlessly effortlessly reproducing itself to sell. Woman's aura, her place as that "sublimated love linking Beauty and Truth...the mediator of another, more celestial love" is lost and reconfigured as the falseness of culture and the death of the subject: "'Nothingness all dressed up to kill." [6] Only through internalization and aesthetic rehumanization can the unleashed and undifferentiated female body be repossessed: "Everything is called upon to re-mark and represent a difference between the sexes that has been brutally changed by industrialization, female labour, and the emergence of feminism" (79). In comparison, the "heroic" figure of the androgyne "is the sister of the prostitute...she protests against the dominant interiority of the family scene, the reduction of lover to family and pregnancy." But she is also an exactly opposite figure: she embodies "a protest against the technological revolution"...[a symbol] of pure love [and]...the rehabilitation of the body" (106-7). The prostitute represents the mortal (soulless) body, artificially made-up to seduce the wandering flaneur; the androgyne becomes the narrative of "intactness," a sexual wholeness represented through a bisexual utopia.

The "Mighty" O'Connor struggles with these narratives of modernity and their implicit ambivalence toward the female body and commodity culture—even as his character parodies them. Unlike Felix's ancestors, and very much like the people of the circus, he places himself purposely in the "arena" of "otherness," practicing that sleight of hand that prevents, in its humor, our wondering about the completeness of his appropriation of the narrative voice. But that sleight of hand that holds both the narrator and flaneur aloof from the grotesques of the arena, slips in its intimate relations with Robin's lover, Nora.

When she visits O'Connor in his tiny, filthy room of dusty books and rusty surgical instruments, filled with the rank smell of the masculine, he is "in a woman's flannel nightgown...framed in the golden semi-circle of a wig with long pendent curls" (79). Nora has come, looking for a cure to her love for Robin, to the "unlicensed" gynecologist/narrator/psychoanalyst in "drag," able to empathize with the position of the feminine loss, because so obsessed with it himself. Like Joyce throwing his voice into the bedded figure of Molly Bloom, he is obsessed with his own womanliness or lack thereof. [7] He dreams of a domestic bliss that the women surrounding him reject: "boil[ing] some good man's potatoes and toss[ing] up a child for him every nine months by the calendar" (91). More "womanly" than the androgynous women of modern culture, O'Connor's ideal of the feminine disappears with his very appearance: "[I] am the last woman left in this world, though I am the bearded lady" (100). The text questions the investments of male modernist writers/psychoanalysts in androgyny and their assumption of the "feminine" role, while de-naturalizing the narrative of the feminine maternal, which says "yes" to life, to heterosexuality and to maternal/eternal happiness.

The doctor, in a telling moment of nostalgic self-irony reveals the terror implicit in the literalized fantasy of a return to the narrative of the maternal womb:

How more tidy had it been to have been born old and have aged into a child, brought finally to the brink, not of the grave, but of the womb; in our age bred up into infants searching for a womb to crawl into, not to be made to walk loth the gingerly dust of death, but to find a moist, gillflirted way. And a funny sight it would be to see us going to our separate lairs at the end of the day, women wincing with terror, not daring to set foot to the street for fear of it. (98-9)


 
The literalization of the meta-narrative of maternal loss and the desire to return to the womb (so familiar it's now a cliché) shocks the reader into recognizing the motive force that such narratives have to reinforce nostalgic gender identities even in the commodified culture of fragmentation, secularization and the souvenir. To go back is to be literally forced back into a hideous seclusion for the female subject; this metonymical representation of woman (like the sculpture that is all breasts) hides the terrorism implicit in such fantasies. This ambivalent investment in the maternal is the locus through which O'Connor experiences his own limitations and his implication in the narratives of modernity. It's not surprising, then, that it should be his sleight of hand, in the role of doctor, that leads readers to our first sight of the elusive Robin.

The Squatter, the Madonna, and a Prostitute: the Rehumanization of the Commodified


 
As Felix observes the doctor stealing from his patient, the narrative propels us into our first image of Robin Vote. Felix's moment of recognition—of the motivations behind the "magic"—is recovered and internalized as the desire to believe:

With a tension in his stomach, such as one suffers when watching an acrobat leaving the virtuosity of his safety in a mad unravelling whirl into probable death, Felix watched the hand descend,...into the limbo of the doctor's pocket. He knew that he would continue to like the doctor, though he was aware that it would be in spite of a long series of convulsions of the spirit, analogous to the displacement in the fluids of the oyster, that must cover its itch with a pearl; so he would have to cover the doctor. He knew at the same time that this stricture of acceptance (by which what we must love is made into what we can love) would eventually be a part of himself, though originally brought on by no will of his own. (36)


 
This moment of covering represents also the imagification of the feminine; Felix's gaze seizes upon Robin Vote as the ideal "petrified image" and immediately recreates her, giving her the status of the rarefied objet d'art, the "aura" [8] that answers to his own desires:

he felt that he was looking upon a figurehead in a museum, which though static...seemed yet to be going against the wind; as if this girl were the converging halves of a broken fate....She was gracious and yet fading, like an old statue in a garden...; to recall her after she was gone...was as easy as the recollection of a sensation of beauty without its details. (38, 41)


 
Seeking a place in the historical narrative, Felix makes Robin the conduit through which a return to the past may be realized:

[he] walked beside Robin...wrecking himself and his peace of mind in an effort to acquaint her with the destiny for which he had chosen her—that she might bear sons who would recognize and honour the past. For without such love, the past as he understood it, would die away from the world. (45)


 
But Robin rejects the maternal, rejects her child and rejects the domestic home, seeking pleasure in the streets of the city.

In a similar manner, Robin's two lovers—Jenny and Nora, two sides of the same coin—operate within their own interpellating narratives of the feminine; seeking to legitimate their place in these narratives they look for recognition in the wandering gaze of Robin. They attempt to make Robin souvenir—the image of their value in the world. The opposite sameness of the women's relationship to Robin bases itself upon their identification with two feminine narratives which interact with one another—and which Barnes deconstructs as inevitably entangled—and the new allegory of the feminine: the commodity. Mixing the languages of romantic desire and Christian sufferance with the language of commodities, Barnes's text draws upon another key aspect of modern experience. According to Buci-Glucksmann, "[i]n mass prostitution, which is not limited to prostitutes, new and peculiarly modern figures of passion and human existence take shape: Eros is linked to Thanatos, love of pleasure to perversion, and an apparently Christian language...to the language of commodities" (100). Nora has the "temperament of an early Christian." She presents herself as the Madonna, a displaced maternal image that constantly attempts to situate Robin as innocent child. However, her sacrificial giving is actually the means through which she finds the "value" of her own narrative:

"Love has fallen off her wall. A religious woman, [thinks the doctor] without the joy and safety of the Catholic faith, which at a pinch covers up the spots on the wall when the family portraits take a slide; take that safety from a woman...and love gets loose and into the rafters." (60-1)


 
Jenny enjoys the masochistic consuming pleasure of the impossible romance, says the doctor:

"[she] search[es] among old books for the passion that was all renunciation and lung trouble, with flowers at the bosom...so you can imagine how she trembled when she saw herself going toward fifty without a thing done to make her a tomb-piece, or anything in her past that would get a flower named for her...." (102)


 
Their relations with Robin are self-fulfilling prophecies of the narratives through which they experience self. Only through being "robbed" does Nora experience herself as "profitable." Only in stealing and de-valuing the property of others does Jenny hope to feel the tragedy of her existence. They use and exchange Robin for their own self-fulfillment, exactly as if she were another souvenir. [9] The narratives of Nora and Jenny speak to the ways in which the search for a reflection of the self, a legitimation of the self, depends on a wrenching of the "other" from a world of multi-narrative possibilities; and this wrenching is as violent as it is self-affirming. Jenny, Nora, Matthew, and Felix exist between feminine narratives promising wholeness and a present of souvenirs, images that re-present and reproduce multiplying, fragmented narratives—impossibly personal and reified, continuously giving the lie to history and reimaging it. But because Robin brings "love down to a level," they cannot interpellate her as the redemptive figure of the androgyne.

Once again the narrative of safety is accessed through the body of the feminine when Nora dreams of her grandmother's house. Neither house, her grandmother, nor Robin appear as they were/are. She searches in dreams of the past for that image of maternal wholeness and finds only its absence. The maternal "aura" that gives the feminine existence occurs only through the aesthetic renderings of the dream-narrative:

This dream that now had all its parts had still the former quality of never really having been her grandmother's room....[It was] the absolute opposite of any known room her grandmother had ever moved or lived in....[yet] saturated with the lost presence of her grandmother, who seemed in the continual process of leaving it. The architecture of the dream had rebuilt her everlasting and continuous, flowing away in a long gown of soft folds....her grandmother "drawn upon" as a prehistoric ruin is drawn upon, symbolizing her life out of her life, and which now appeared to Nora as something being done to Robin, Robin disfigured and eternalized by the hieroglyphics of sleep and pain. (63; my emphasis)


 
In these redreamings of the past, not unlike Felix's own reconstructions, Nora, and implicitly Jenny and the doctor, participate in the "disfigurement" of Robin through narrative; they restructure her as the maternal, the Beloved, the innocent child, and the figure of the androgynous "other," offering a reaffirmation of self which has been lost in the unbalancing arena of a commodified souvenir culture. A less dramatic but equally "disfiguring" image of the feminine occurs in the doctor's explanation of this fetishism of the past and the maternal. He defines that myth as our impossible love for the androgyne, the boy/girl figure capable of realizing every lover's dream; yet this is the "sweetest lie of all." He proclaims the death of such myths:

"It was they [the androgyne] who were spoken of in every romance that we ever read....They go far back in our lost distance where what we never had stands waiting; it was inevitable that we should come back upon them, for our miscalculated longing has created them. They are our answer to what our grandmothers were told love was, and what it never came to be; they, the living lie of our centuries." (136)


 
The myth of attaining wholeness through love breaks down into the self/other configuration of fetishism, where the "other" can always already be only sacred or profane—saved or damned.

Robin explicitly aligns herself with the prostituted feminine body—and Nora as her buyer—in one of her few speaking scenes in the text. Robin runs behind Nora, screaming "you make everything dirty" (143). Nora has tried to "take someone's hand off her." But Robin, responding with scorn and hatred, turns to a whore in the street and tells her, "'...they don't want you to have your happiness.... I give you money and permission! These women—they are all like her....They are all good—they want to save us!'" (144). Nora only reclaims her from the street by hitting her. Robin brings Nora down from the level of her sacrificial narrative; resisting she forces a moment of suppression, calling out into the open the violence of redemptive narratives. Nora tells her: "'Die now, so you will be quiet, so you will not be touched again by dirty hands, so you will not take my heart and your body and let them be nosed by dogs—die now, then you will be mine forever'" (144-5). The pathology of this statement, as misogynistic and brutally possessive as any obsessive patriarch, reveals the violent investments behind the that narrative of the Madonna: be saved or else; be saved so I can be safe.

Finding herself "hailed" at every turn Robin is the "unpresentable," because she cannot or will not be saved or damned. The narrative without origins, the commodity as souvenir can be appropriated only in death; the commodity experiences absolute value only in its circulation. Robin figures as both prostitute and flaneur, constantly dissipating her identity into the crowds of the city; only in the reflected images of others does she experience a humanization, only through the desirous narratives of others can we experience Robin as human: steeped in an "aura" of possession that legitimates its owner. The figure of Robin wandering the streets "strips" bare the disinterested gaze that the flaneur poses: "To wish to see everything with this securing eye of the city-dweller, of the flaneur who is prey to the heaped proliferation of images—that is to condemn oneself to see nothing....[Eyes] los[e] their ability to look" (Buci-Glucksmann 75). To lose the ability to look, however, is also to lose the ability to be saved or damned; the eye cannot sustain the abject fascination with an object necessary to constitute the "aura" that interpellates the subject into narrative structures. Robin cannot identify nor be identified—one narrative, one gaze cannot fully appropriate her into its context. A wanderer, a stranger, Robin tries narratives on and discards them with a glance always "preoccupied" with what is hidden in view: peripheral vision breaks up and breaks down the narrative field of vision that attempts to fix the subject.

Matthew tells us early in the text: "Man has no foothold that is not also a bargain" (32). The doctor makes such a bargain finding both his solace and his narrative in the disappearing maternal, a desire that finds its fulfillment in an empathetic knowledge of others; speaking the misery of others he is always speaking his own. Whereas Felix, Nora, and Jenny can be easily grafted onto the souvenirs that legitimate their positions as subjects and project their desires to find themselves in the meta-narratives of history, religion, and romance, Robin visits all these sites furtively and without avail, unable to attain a "foothold" in the narrative, to locate a narrative that could adequately present her:

As the days passed they spent many hours in museums, and while this pleased Felix immeasurably, he was surprised that often her taste, turning from an appreciation of the excellent, would also include the cheaper and the debased.... [H]e showed her all the historic buildings. He kept saying to himself that sooner or later, in this garden or that palace, she would suddenly be moved as he was moved. (41-3)


 
Alone she tours with the eye all the places, and seeks out the narratives, which might provide a "foothold" for herself in the world:

Many churches saw her...she knelt alone, lost and conspicuous...her feet large and as earthly as the feet of a monk...[She] thought her unpeopled thoughts...trying to bring her mind to this abrupt necessity, found herself worrying about her height.... She wandered to the thoughts of women...women in history...out of literature....
When Felix returned that evening...a book was lying on the floor beneath her hand...the memoirs of the Marquis de Sade....(46-7)


 
With Nora she visits the circus, the locus of their love; and with Jenny the opera, motive narrative interpellating Jenny's desires. Wedded to no image of herself, Robin eludes the interpellating gaze, but is always already interpellated, giving her the kind of multi-vision more associated with the postmodern condition. Robin is an "illegitimate offspring" of interpellating narratives of wholeness and commodity culture (Haraway 181). Prostituted and prostituting every narrative catches the eye and none sustains it. Reification of memory, the mediation of self through the souvenir makes constant creation and re-creation immensely possible—and inevitable.

Endings: Unwriting the Empathetic Character


 
Having taken on the narrative of "telling the world" as his own burden, the doctor's empathetic assumption of the feminine leads to the "damag[ing] of [his] own value" (154). Ceasing, "like a careful writer to guard himself against the conclusions of his readers," he winds up revealing his own self. His narrative magic crumbles under the pressure of the conflict between "love and anonymity," the desire to experience the self as recognized and the fear of being known, captured through the desire for safety in that "single, unalterable" narrative. With the cruelty of the narrative literalized before him in the figures of Jenny, Felix and Nora, his own complicities and "regrets" stand revealed: "No one will be much or little except in someone else's mind, so be careful of the minds you get into..." (129). The experimental performance of the doctor cannot distinguish itself from its own investments in the process of narrative appropriation. No longer able to play host, he becomes merely a failed performer whose tricks are but a labor of self-fulfillment.

By refusing to end with the doctor's inexpressive predicament (the tragic moment in which only a cathartic "wrath and weeping" is possible), Barnes stifles our own desire to participate in an empathetic self-pity at the "damaging" of our own "value," that the tragic narrative teaches us is the end of all hopes and human frailties. Robin may in her very elusiveness legitimate the tragic narratives of her pursuers, but she does not fulfill our desires when she returns to the stage without Matthew's frenzied narrative digressions of consolation. Cheryl Plumb notes that T.S. Eliot

initially...had read the book as the Doctor's story and suggested 'strongly' the omission of the last chapter, "which is not only superfluous, but really an anti-climax. The doctor is so central a character and so vital, that I think the book ends superbly with his last remarks." (Plumb 154)


 
The male modernist cannot imagine a text without the tragic masculine voice: voicing the end of all tragedy.

"The Possessed" has little or nothing to offer in the way of "last remarks". [10] As she has done throughout the novel Robin profanes the souvenirs of narrative that protect her lovers from the fracturing experience of multiple competing narratives. The picture of Robin that Nora lovingly frames, Robin gives to Jenny. The statue that symbolized their love she remakes into the degraded and devalued site of her sexual affair with the other woman. And in the final show, in front of the Madonna image that represents Nora's vision of her self, she turns her undiscriminating glance away from the eternal to the bestial glance of Nora's dog: imitating and intimidating the domesticated beast in her "performance" of its "doggedness." Drunk, laughing and crying she yet wins the dog to her side, exhausted by their barking mirroring of one another. In the final arena, the beast and the runner "turn on" (in both senses of the phrase) the crowd with their inappropriateness. Quite explicitly, Robin fractures the preceding image of the doctor being carted off stage, filled with the disappearance of narrative possibilities. Other narratives, available only through the minds of others, are yet possible and probable.

Leaving Robin in the midst of the performative mode, Barnes unwrites character. Refusing to recognize "her fate as colossal," Robin denies the easy assumption of empathy implicit in the narrative of tragedy and profanes narratives of redemption through her critical gaze. She refuses the offer of a "safety" based upon the legitimation of self through the interpellation of the feminine in a binding self-sacrificial narrative of redemption. We are free to appropriate Robin for our own ends—but only through a violent "mending" of narratives into one. If being saved is only possible through the imagification of one "single, unalterable narrative" in the souvenir, Robin refuses to participate. Without a return to the nostalgic maternal or a re-interpellation of the feminine into the "heroic" protester, Barnes reimagines the figure of the always already interpellated "prostituted" subject as the embodiment of the oxymoronic potential for ever new performances and wanderings.

Works Cited

Allen, Carolyn. "The Erotics of Nora's Narrative in Djuna Barnes' Nightwood." Signs 19.1 (1993): 177-200.

Althusser, Louis. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses." Lenin and Philosophy. Trans. Ben Brewster. New York: Monthly Review, 1971. 127-86.

Barnes, Djuna. "If Noise Were Forbidden at Coney Island, a lot of People Would Lose Their Jobs, etc." Levine.

—. Nightwood. New York: New Directions, 1961.

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Trans. Harry Zohn. Ed. and intro. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken, 1968.

Broe, Mary Lynn. Ed. Silence and Power: a Reevaluation of Djuna Barnes. Carbondale: Southern Illinois P, 1991.

Buci-Glucksmann, Christine. Baroque Reason: the Aesthetics of Modernity. Trans. Patrick Camiller. London: Sage, 1994.

Gerstenberger, Donna. "The Radical Narrative of Djuna Barnes's Nightwood." Breaking the Sequence: Women's Experimental Fiction. Ed. and intro. Ellen G. Friedman and Miriam Fuchs. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989. 129-40.

—. "Modern (Post)Modern: Djuna Barnes Among the Others." Review of Contemporary Fiction. 13.3 (1993): 33-40.

Haraway, Donna. "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s." Coming to Terms. Ed. Elizabeth Weed. New York: Routledge, 1989. 173-204.

Harris, Andrea L. "The Third Sex: Figures of Inversion in Djuna Barnes's Nightwood." Genders 20 (1994): 233-59.

Levine, Nancy J. "'Bringing Milkshakes to Bulldogs': the Early Journalism of Djuna Barnes." Broe 27-36.

Lyotard, Jean Francois. The Postmodern Explained: Correspondence 1982-1985. Ed. Julian Pefanis and Morgan Thomas. Trans. Don Barry et al. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993.

Marcus, Jane. "Laughing at Leviticus: Nightwood as Woman's Circus Epic." Broe 221-51.

Plumb, Cheryl. "Revising Nightwood: 'a kind of glee of despair.'" Review of Contemporary Fiction 13.3 (1993): 149-59.

Scott, Bonnie Kime. "Barnes Being 'Beast Familiar': Representation on the Margins of Modernism." Review ofContemporary Fiction. 13.3 (1993): 41-52.

Wilson, Deborah S. "Dora, Nora, and Their Professor: the 'Talking Cure,' Nightwood and Feminist Pedagogy." Literature and Psychology. 42.3 (1996): 48-71.

1. The likeness, of course, is not "accidental", since Guido, "acts" always in the arena/stage of Christian aristocracy.

2. I use the word "oxy-moronic" throughout to express, in Christine Buci-Glucksmann's words, the "amorous paradox" of the attraction of opposites, those "inappropriate" unities that express the fascination with, and "incommensurability" of the "other" (133).

3. Bonnie Kime Scott more thoroughly discusses the trope of the bestial in Nightwood and takes up its significance in Barnes's other writings and her illustrations. See especially her remarks on the novel's final section.

4. Jane Marcus explicates the significance of each tattoo on Nikka's body, and discusses at length the "taboo" associated with such marking of the body.

5. The doctor lives in a dead-end square between the court and the church. A more Foucauldian positioning of him could hardly be possible. Carolyn Allen and Jane Marcus, respectively, read O'Connor as "doctor-confessor" and as a Freud parody. Andrea L. Harris also reads him as a parody of sexologists and as a "contemporary gender theorist". Deborah S. Wilson has a much longer analysis of O'Connor's psychoanalytic relationship with Nora—in the context of Freud's Dora and feminist pedagogy; she suggests that Nightwood not only satirizes psychoanalysis but "offers a panegyric" to its "cultural possibilities" (57).

6. Charles Baudelaire, "Danse Macabre," quoted in Buci-Glucksmann 101.

7. Whereas Molly obsesses over her big, beautiful bosoms, O'Connor rejects this vulgar display, noting that "there's something wrong with any art that makes a woman all bust" (102-3).

8. "To perceive the aura of an object we look at means to invest it with the ability to look at us in return" (Benjamin 188).

9. See Wilson's reading of Nora's relationship with Robin and her discussion of Nora's misunderstanding of "cure" as a return to wholeness (58 passim).

10. Donna Gerstenberger makes a similar point about the effect of the novel's ending, and Harris takes up the subject as well. (Gerstenberger, "Modern" 39-40, Harris 241).