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Psychoanalysis and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness Essay

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Psychoanalysis and The Heart of Darkness  

 
    In Lacanian psychoanalysis, telling stories is essential to the analysand's (re)cognition of trauma. Julia Kristeva refers to the analysand's narrative as an instance of "'borderline' [neurotic] discourse" which "gives the analyst the impression of something alogical, unstitched, and chaotic" (42). She then explores the pleasure (jouissance) that the analysand experiences in the course of Lacan's talking cure. For the analysand, the pleasure is in the telling: "[T]he analyst is struck by a certain maniacal eroticization of speech, as if the patient were clinging to it, gulping it down, sucking on it, delighting in all the aspects of an oral eroticization and a narcissistic safety belt which this kind of non-communicative, exhibitionistic, and fortifying use of speech entails" (42). This notion of pleasure-in-telling serves both as a point of departure in my reading of Marlow's narrative--his own talking cure--and as a means of interrogating the pleasure-in-reading within the narratological economy of desire.

In his Freudian interpretation of the Heart of Darkness, Peter Brooks asserts that "we must ask what motivates Marlow's retellings--of his own and Kurtz's mortal adventures" (239). Brooks concludes that the primary motivation is Marlow's search for some kernel of essential meaning at the core of Kurtz's tale. Reading in a Lacanian register, I argue instead that the search for meaning plays a secondary role to the telling of the tale itself. Indeed, as Slavoj Zizek notes, symptoms have no meaning outside the context of the recreated scene of trauma: "The analysis produces the truth, i.e., the signifying frame which gives to the symptoms their symbolic place and meaning...


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...tial meaning of being in the world were revealed and every trauma were laid bare, there would be no questions left to ask and no stories left to tell. By not revealing the heart of darkness--which Lacan would argue can never be revealed--Conrad leaves the necessary space for desire in the narrative. Thus, the narratological economy of desire is maintained.

 

Works Cited

Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Dover, 1990.

Kristeva, Julia. "Within the Microcosm of 'The Talking Cure.'" Interpreting Lacan. Eds. Joseph Smith and William Kerrigan. New Haven: Yale UP, 1983.

Zizek, Slavoj. "The Truth Arises from Misrecognition." Lacan and the Subject of Language. Eds. Ellie Ragland-Sullivan and Mark Bracher. New York: Routledge, 1991.

 

 


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