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(-: The Henry James E-Journal :-)Number 9
February 9, 2006
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Hate's Rebate, Or Love's Largesse: Back to Back on 'The Bench of Desolation'
by Sigi Jöttkandt
'I shall bring an action for "breach" against you Herbert Dodd as sure as my name's Kate Cookham' (James, 1999, p. 1011) -- thus Kate threatens her former fiancé, managing to extract the promise of an exorbitant Four Hundred Pounds from the hapless man in lieu of the promised legal action. Raising this sum is evidently more than Herbert Dodd can do and in the course of delivering a mere Two Hundred and Seventy Pounds over to his former lover, Herbert descends into a spiral of poverty and despair that even his marriage to the winsome Nan Drury with the pretty dotty veil (whom he met, significantly, after his withdrawal from his engagement with Kate -- or at least so he continues to tell himself and her) is unable to alleviate. The 'quantity of hate' (p. 1013) Herbert feels towards Kate so blights the rest of Dodd's life that all he can do is sit passively on the 'bench of desolation' on the beachfront at Properley, watching 'everything impossible and deplorable happen as in an endless prolongation of his nightmare' (p. 1023) -- not helped by Nan's repeated querulous question, as they sink further and further into penury and to her and their daughters' ultimate Dickensian deaths, whether 'you didn't make sure she could have done anything, that you didn't make sure and that you were too afraid' (p. 1027). Many years later, Kate returns -- rich, refined, graceful, adorned now with her own 'pretty dotty becoming veil' -- and offers Herbert his money back, with accrued interest, to the tune of twelve hundred and sixty pounds. In response to Herbert's incredulous wonder, Kate explains, 'Everything was possible, under my stress, with my hatred. [. . .]. It made me think of everything. It made me work' (p. 1059).
Two kinds of hatred, then, are operative in this tale. We have Herbert's destructive kind that eats so deeply into every capacity he had for life and action that all he can do is watch helplessly from his 'bench of desolation' as each catastrophic event 'regularly cut itself out black, yet of senseless silhouette against the red west' (p. 1023). Herbert's figurative conception of himself as 'stranded by tidal action', 'deposited' by his 'long wave of misfortune' (p. 1026) points to his profound sense of paralysis in the face of Kate's threat. In contrast, Kate's hatred makes her active, representing a productive form of hate, as becomes evident from its results: it generates a rebate of 990 pounds. (See endnote 1.) How can we account for this difference?
Freud suggests an answer in 'The Economic Problem of Masochism' where he hypothesizes that instincts may undergo a transformation (Freud, 1923-24, p. 163-4). (See endnote 2.) In this essay he discusses how, upon encountering the death drive, the libido can call on a certain 'displaceable energy' which, while neutral in itself, is capable of binding the (self-)destructive instinct and redirecting it towards the outside world. Freud calls this fusion of the death drive with the erotic instinct 'sadism proper,' and it seems fairly aptly to describe the logic inherent in Kate's hatred. Wounded by Herbert's slight, her love transforms into hate. Yet because it continues to be bound to an original erotic instinct, her hate is just another expression of her love. All of his suffering is simply proof of the extent of her love for him, as she tries to make him understand: 'I did it for you -- I did it for you!' she tells an incredulous Herbert (p. 1041). Consequently, although its vehicle is the destructive instinct, what really drives Kate's actions is the libido, whose ultimate fealty is to the instinct of self-preservation. (See endnote 3.) The end result is that for as long as Kate can continue to love Herbert (whether erotically or sadistically), she succeeds in avoiding her own death drive.
From here it is not hard to see how such libidinally-bound hate may well produce gains. Kate's hatred, in fact, gives a particularly vivid impression of the logic of the pleasure economy that allows temporary losses to be sustained in order to generate a greater quantity of pleasure. This capacity to delay pleasure is the 'reality principle' that works, as Freud reminds us, ultimately in the service of the pleasure principle. Despite our familiarity with this principle, it is worth highlighting one of its most important economic features once more, which Kate's hatred brings conspicuously into view. For the sheer perversity of Miss Cookham's logic -- she must destroy Dodd in order to show how much she loves him -- returns us to a similar structural perversity at the level of the libidinal economy that rests on the fantasy that there are no true losses. (See endnote 4.) Any investment made within the confines of the pleasure economy can always be recouped, as Kate triumphantly informs Herbert, 'Well then, here it is -- it isn't lost!' (p. 1042). One might therefore describe the pleasure economy as a kind of pyramid scheme through which an initial 'investment' (loss) is put into circulation that generates returns for the increased satisfaction of the earlier investors. Nevertheless, such continued satisfaction depends on an infinity of investors, each perpetually willing to put in their share. The upshot is that the seeming 'gains' it profits from are really loans, borrowed against future investors who, when their number reaches its inevitable limit, stand to lose all they have put in. In disavowing this numerical limit -- in 'cooking' the books, as it were -- the pleasure economy thereby discloses its profoundly perverse structure while at the same time revealing how we always live to some extent on 'borrowed' time. Each pleasurable 'detour' that delays the ultimate destination of the pleasure principle (death) is thus really a loan against our mortality. Herbert is right, then, to gape at the enormity of Kate's 'hate rebate': ''you've only to draw.' [. . . ] 'To draw -- to draw?' Yes, he gaped it as if it had no sense' (p. 1054). To 'draw' against one's death requires no small amount of audacity.
Turning now to the other form of hate, in the same essay Freud describes how a portion of the destructive instinct does not participate in the external redirection but remains inside the organism where it becomes libidinally bound to the ego. (See endnote 5.) This portion he calls 'original, erotogenic masochism' (Freud, 1924, p. 164) or 'primary' masochism, on top of which a secondary form can then become overlaid. It is this idea of a multiple layering of the destructive instinct that Ernest Jones takes up in his 1929 essay, 'Fear, Guilt and Hate' (Jones, 1929). Here Jones observes how each of these three emotions typically emerges as a secondary formation, that is, as a reaction against another affect, which is itself a veil for something else, namely an earlier, primordial version of the topmost layer. Accordingly, for Jones, hate is 'one of the commonest covers for guilt' (Jones, 1929, p. 384) and it is certainly true that in Herbert's case we are given sufficient hints that he and indeed Nan are well aware of the terrible wrong that he originally did to Kate. Despite his self-righteous assurances, seemingly designed to convince himself even more than Nan, Herbert carries a sneaking suspicion that he had in fact probably already seen Nan prior to dissolving his engagement to Kate, a point on which Nan in the early years seems irritatingly inclined to dwell: 'Well, I'm glad I am in your life,' she tells him on their bench of desolation, 'terrible as it is, however or whenever I did come in' (James 1999, p. 1021). Herbert's 'immense' quantity of hate seems really a mask for the guilt he feels at his original lack of straightness with his former fiancée and, as such, can only result in the auto-destruction he witnesses with such helpless fascination: 'He watched himself, in a cold lucidity, do punctually and necessarily each of the deplorable things that were inconsistent with his keeping afloat' (p. 1024). Projected as hate, Herbert's guilt can only multiply with his awareness of the ongoing wrong he is doing her, producing still more hate in an endless morbid loop until Herbert's 'idiotised surrender' (p. 1022) consumes his very life force itself.
Herbert's 'particular morbid bravery' thus appears to nail him as a classic form of moral masochist whose greatest satisfaction is to watch his own suffering. The fact that this is a profoundly narcissistic form of pleasure is evident from Herbert's pride in his own passivity, which he takes as proof of his own gentility much lacking in the abhorrent Kate. It is her vulgarity he tells himself he cannot stomach, her vulgarity in threatening to drag their relationship into the 'squalor of the law-court, of claimed damages and brazen lies and published kisses, of love-letters read amid obscene guffaws' (p. 1012). James explains how,
Her taking a stand so incredibly 'low,' that was what he couldn't get over. The particular bitterness of his cup was his having let himself in for a struggle on such terms -- the use, on her side, of the vulgarest process known to the law: the vulgarest, the vulgarest. (p. 1015)
The sole redeeming aspect in the whole case, he assures himself, is that it could only occur 'because he was, comparatively, too aristocratic' (p. 1017). A lesser man would have allowed his name to be dragged through the mud of the scandal papers. As he justifies his passivity to Nan: 'What would any solicitor have done or wanted to do but drag me just into the hideous public arena [. . .] that it has been at any rate my pride and my honour, the one rag of self-respect covering my nakedness, to have loathed and avoided from every point of view?' (p. 1023-4).
Pausing for a moment on what seems like Herbert's oddly unmotivated but suggestive reference to nakedness here, let us consider what is in fact contained in the charge of vulgarity. In addition to signifying typical or ordinary, 'of the common people,' vulgar is also given by Webster's as meaning 'lewdly or profanely indecent', in other words: without shame. If this is the case, the question we must now ask is why Herbert reacts so strongly -- if indeed so passively -- to Kate's threat? What shame, in other words, is he so desperately 'afraid' of (as Nan intuits) that the vulgar Kate, on the other hand, is prepared to risk?
As Dodd has already told Nan, his principal fear is of publicity, of being publicly shamed. But more than this, his shame appears to have something specifically to do with publicizing his name. For a large part of the horror Dodd feels at Kate's threat -- her 'horrid, brutal, vulgar menace' (p. 1011) -- lies in the way she does not hesitate to 'ruthlessly' (p. 1011) form the 'ugly, the awful words' on her lips (p. 1015). Which words does he mean? I would venture the answer is quite literally 'Herbert Dodd.' Let me explain why. When Herbert reflects on everything he hates about Kate, he runs through a list of her qualities. He observes her in 'all the grossness of her native indelicacy', 'her excess of will and destitution of scruple', the 'odious, specious presentability' of her 'ignoble threat', her 'disgusting' certainty, her 'sharp and adroit' manner' (p. 1011). He reflects on her 'devilish conception' and 'appalling nature' 'worthy of a vindictive barmaid', her 'hustl[ing] and bully[ing]' (p. 1012). Yet beyond all this, her most striking characteristic is the way Kate persistently addresses him by both his first and last name: 'It's just as much my dream as it ever was, Herbert Dodd, to take up [my life] with you!' she tells him. 'Remember that for me, Herbert Dodd; remember, remember!' (p. 1013). James describes how, 'on this she left him -- left him frankly under a mortal chill' (p. 1013).
Interestingly, it is just this chill that Dodd experiences whenever he sees the dropped blind of his bookshop window. Although he gains a significant amount of satisfaction from seeing his shop in all the open glory of its window display, the 'broad, blank, sallow blind' never fails to make him shudder and the reason for this is that on it is printed his name:
'Herbert Dodd, Successor', painted on below his uncle's antique style, [. . .]--this ugly vacant mask, which might so easily be taken for the mask of failure. (p. 1014)
For as long as he can see through his window, and regard his artful arrangement of aesthetic property, he can sustain his amour propre. It is only when the blind is down and he is confronted with the bald written display of his proper name that the complicated, carefully constructed 'scheme of taking arrangement' of Herbert's narcissistic self-love begins to teeter. As a result, James tells us how
he had never held optical commerce with the drawn blind for a moment longer than he could help. [. . . ]. Big and bare, with his name staring at him from the middle, it thus offered in its grimness a term of comparison for Miss Cookham's ominous visage. (p. 1015)
Kate never softens her 'large, clean, plain brown face' with the pretty dotty veils that adorn Nan Drury's countenance and, worse, 'the words 'Herbert Dodd' [. . .] were dreadfully, were permanently, seated on her lips' (p. 1015).
My question is why these words should send such shivers of horror up Herbert's spine such that to avoid them he is willing to sit helplessly by and allow Kate to destroy him? What is it about his name or, perhaps more generally, the proper name itself that is capable of breaching the ego's carefully constructed bulwarks? The answer, I think, lies in the way one's name is invariably the repository of parental aspirations. One's name is, in a sense, the privileged signifier of their hopes and dreams, their narcissistic fantasies -- in short, of their desire. And because of this, the child always feels it imbued with a certain degree of shame -- shame, perhaps, at how one inevitably fails these dreams or, more deeply still, the existential shame that comes from being the visible, public, 'naked' medium through which we, as their offspring, are proof of their desire, strange little walking nubbins of the Other's jouissance that we are. No wonder Herbert recoils at being reminded of this (and in this light, it seems quite remarkable that anyone succeeds in becoming a subject at all). To the extent that it is the semiotic crystallization of parental desire, one's name always has something intrinsically shameful about it, as children in their taunting rituals of social humiliation intuitively sense.
Is it not true, then, that at some level we all hate our names? Doesn't every parent at some point find themselves bitterly reproached, 'Why didn't you call me such-and-such?' Strange as it sounds, however, this hatred of our names is a sign not of the failure of identification but rather of its success. For when we detest our names, we shift from a passive position, shame, to an active one, hate, with the result that this hate is more genuinely productive than Kate's because it causes us to make something, not of the other as Kate did -- 'It was for you, it was for you!' (1042) -- but of ourselves. Precisely our hatred of it drives us to 'make' our name (our own).
Nevertheless, we would be wrong if we thought we could stop here since, as Jones has taught us, if there is one thing we can be certain of with hatred, it is that it is a cover for something else. (See endnote 6.) Beneath the hate that veils the shame we feel about our names lurks another, even deeper hatred whose traces can be found in a strange ambiguity found in the name itself. This ambiguity lies in the tension that exists between the name as the core point of identification through which we gain a symbolic identity, and the peculiarly nonsensical nature of the name itself: its sheer blank unsignifyingness. This heavy, blank senseless quality of the name subsequently comes to weigh down the entire symbolic order it gives us entry into, as another favorite children's game attests: repeated enough times, this most cherished, familiar, heimlich of signifiers dissolves into a profoundly alienating, bizarre set of syllables that empties all and every sense of self. Every name thus carries an essential 'dead weight' (James, 1999, p. 1024) along with it, a reminder that it (and the universe of signifiers it inaugurates) is merely a loan against our being -- and therefore against our death. Consequently, if a name serves as a plug, a prop against the death/Tod/Dodd that is inscribed on everyone's balance sheet, it is also simultaneously a debit memorandum of that original deficit that no paper gains in the Symbolic ledger suffice to recompense. As such, a name carries the traces of the original destructive instinct, a hate that is 'older than love' as Freud has called it (Freud 1915, p. 139).
Although at first sight, then, the apparent productivity of Kate's hatred seems to triumph in the ethical stakes, hers nevertheless remains irreparably caught in the perverse ruses of the pleasure economy and its denial of death. In contrast, insofar as at its deepest level it concerns a primordial masochistic hatred of his name, Herbert's hate gives voice to our most archaic affect, the death drive. And it is in such hatred, curiously enough, that the true origin of morality for Freud lies (Freud, 1913, p. 325).
1. There is admittedly a certain ambiguity in Kate's admission of hatred where, upon Herbert's further interrogation, she seems to imply it was a hatred not of Herbert himself but of what she was doing to him. The exchange is as follows:
. . . . 'Everything was possible, under my stress, with my hatred.'My own inclination is to read Kate's secondary clarification as a sort of aesthetic relapse from her earlier admission of her hatred for him which 'after all [is] too difficult.'
'Your hatred --?' For she had paused as if it were after all too difficult.
'Of what I should for so long have been doing to you,' p. 1059.
2. Freud's most extended discussion of this transformation is in the earlier essay, 'Instincts and Their Vicissitudes' (Freud, 1915).
3. Recall how for Freud love is a 'protection against falling ill' caused by a damming up of ego-libido in narcissism. One's original libidinal attachment to objects is thus a form of defense against a tension (that may turn inward at the ego's expense). See Freud (1914), pp. 84-86.
4. The absence of lack is the main characteristic of perversion. See, for example, Paul Verhaeghe, 'in the pervert's own world, there is no lack' (Verhaeghe, 2004, p. 412).
5. See also Freud's discussion of this in his chapter, 'The Two Classes of Instincts' in 'The Ego and the Id': 'By [. . .] getting hold of the libido from the object-cathexes, setting itself up as sole love-object, and desexualizing or sublimating the libido of the id, the ego is working in opposition to the purposes of Eros and placing itself at the service of the opposing instinctual impulses' (Freud, 1923, p. 46).
6. Recall how for Jones, fear, guilt and hate operate in triple layers where the top-most emotion replicates another, more archaic form on the bottom between which is sandwiched a reaction formation. Regarding hate, Jones writes, 'various manifestations of the Hate impulse can cover both anxiety and guilt, but [. . .] there is reason to suppose that in all such cases there is present below these a still deeper layer of hate' (Jones, 1929, p. 385).
Freud, Sigmund (1913). 'The Disposition to Obsessional Neurosis,' Standard Edition 12 (1911-13), trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth, pp. 317-26.
--- (1924). 'The Economic Problem of Masochism,' Standard Edition 19 (1923-4), trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth, pp. 158-170.
--- (1923). 'The Ego and the Id,' Standard Edition 19 (1923-25), trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth, pp. 3-66.
--- (1921). 'Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego,' Standard Edition 18 (1920-1922), trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth, pp. 67-143.
--- (1915). 'Instincts and the Vicissitudes,' Standard Edition 14, (1914-16), trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth, pp. 111-40.
--- (1914). 'On Narcissism: An Introduction,' Standard Edition 14 (1914-16), trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth, pp. 73-102.
James, Henry (1999). Collected Stories, vol. 2, sel. and intro. John Bayley. New York: Knopf.
Jones, Ernest (1929). 'Fear, Guilt, and Hate,' The International Journal of Psychoanalysis 10, pp. 383-97.
Lacan, Jacques (1964-65). Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis, trans. C. Gallagher, unpublished.
Verhaeghe, Paul (2004). On Being Normal and Other Disorders. Trans. Sigi Jöttkandt. New York: Other Press.
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