Forays into the unconscious

Discussions relating to John Fowles' novel Daniel Martin.

Forays into the unconscious

Postby drkellyindc on Mon Jun 07, 2010 3:00 pm


Can works of art describe or depict the unconscious?

The Wikipedia entry on “unconscious mind” ( suggests numerous ways of approaching this issue. However, one of the more compelling answers I’ve heard comes from the critic James Wood. An essay in his collection The Broken Estate, “Virginia Woolf’s Mysticism,” describes Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse as the site where “a gigantic new climate begins in English fiction” (p. 98). This “climate” opens, in Wood’s description, during three passages in which the character Mrs. Ramsay absentmindedly registers a series of cognitive impressions. Her depicted reveries have come to be known as stream-of-consciousness, although Wood points out that this overused term may now obscure what is truly innovative about the passages. In them Mrs. Ramsay appears to “step outside” the frame of her character, and outside whatever officially plotted business or dialogue the author has planned for her. (Fowles readers may think of parallel moments with Sarah Woodruff in The French Lieutenant’s Woman.)

Writes Wood,

. . . if you allow your characters to forget that they are characters, you allow the reader to forget this too. And when you do this, you allow the reader to forget that fictional consciousness, with its severe descriptive limitations, exists at all. Something else comes into being: the unconscious.

Wood’s analysis helps me articulate a central element of Daniel Martin’s intrigue: it explores not only the conscious lives of its characters but evokes unconscious aspects as well.

Fowles’s forays into the unconscious are especially nuanced in Daniel Martin. He picks up on unconscious messages relayed through “people’s minute but betraying gestures” (198)—for instance, through how they handle cutlery (198), or fiddle with drapes or houseplants (212, 322). We even see a major character (Anthony) criticized for failing to mature in relation to his unconscious: Jane laments, “He was as innocent as a new-born child, all his life, about the workings of his own unconscious” (214). Yet in a later passage about Daniel's housekeeper at Thorncombe, we are cautioned against peering too far or too confidently into a character's unconscious:

Any Freudian could nail Phoebe’s obsession with polishing and the spick-and-span; but what was also entailed was a faith in certain elementary decencies of existence—in method, habit, routine, as a prerequisite of continuity. (366)

The unconscious emerges in numerous ways in the novel—manifesting in individual psyches, in relations between people, in communities, religions, nations, and epochs. One image used to suggest the unconscious is the screen. Prior to WWII, the Herr Professor pursues his papyrus-based scholarship with a growing uneasiness about political developments in his native Germany. Speaking with Jane and Daniel decades later about this period, he describes his papyri as “screens I had put up to hide what I did not wish to understand. I now see everything as a kind of screen if one wishes it so. An excuse for not understanding” (559). This passage appears just prior to the Herr Professor’s enigmatic story about “the river between”—another image that embodies the unconscious.

Depictions of unconscious content in Daniel’s psyche are interspersed through the novel, and receive emphasis in “In the Orchard of the Blessed” (427-32), and at the end of the chapters “Beyond the Door” (221-2), “Webs” (243-5), “In the Silence of Other Voices” (590-1), “Flights” (608-9), and “North” (615-6).

Jane and the unconscious.
The novel supports an especially rich portrait of Jane “below the threshold of consciousness.” This cannot entirely be captured via quotation, but here are some indicators of the larger dynamic at work:

  • In this passage, Daniel interprets Jane’s guardedness by delving into what’s going on beneath it:
    It wasn’t quite the usual Oxford guardedness, of a fundamentally sceptical mind dissembling behind obedience to the conventions of circumstance; but something deeper, more fraught, perhaps really the reverse, what Roz had suggested, a faith dissembling behind scepticism. (319)

  • Unconscious content lies behind the combination of embarrassment and hatred in the look Jane gives Daniel in the final moment of “Compton.” (342)

  • Jane’s unconscious has a presence during the fireside talk in “Thorncombe”: see especially the descriptions of her “shifting” (413), her being bird-like (417), her being lost in contemplation of the fire (419), and her being like “Pythia . . . making secret oracular judgments.” (419)

  • As Jane silently watches the fire, Daniel speculates about the deprivation she endured as a child, imagining her as “the small girl who had somewhere never forgiven the lack of love at a crucial stage in her life . . . The unconscious demand had totally trumped all conscious judgment” (420). This provides a clear description of forces operating below the control of Jane’s conscious will.

  • Reflecting on Jane’s obstinacy and uniqueness, Daniel gives the impression that she serves as a kind of embodiment of his unconscious:
    . . . this obscure ex-sister-in-law was someone whose spirit remained not quite like that of any other woman he had ever known . . . there are some people one can’t dismiss, place, reify . . . who set riddles one ignores at one’s cost; who, like nature itself, are catalytic, inherently and unconsciously dissolvent of time and all the naturalist tries to put between himself and his total reality. . . . It was almost a heuristic quality. Even when she was being thoughtless, she made him think. (441)

  • During their Luxor excursion, Jane hesitates before buying Daniel a Coptic pottery head. Daniel later notes that the purchase involved “the conquest of caution, shyness, frugality, whatever it was, by impulse” (513-4). This list of possible traits (“caution, shyness, frugality”) followed by the open-ended phrase “whatever it was” further underscores our knowledge of Jane’s motives as complex and perhaps ultimately unknowable.

  • After talking with her about the American couple on the Nile cruise, Daniel is puzzled by Jane’s manner, noting in her “. . . a kind of withdrawnness, a thinking to herself in the night . . . Tentativenesses, hesitations, veerings, silences . . .” (522-3). These terms all promote an awareness of unconscious material working its way through Jane’s psyche. The “concave” view we see of Jane in this passage is enhanced by the fact that Daniel is puzzled by her. Daniel is, after all, a highly intelligent observer and not easily taken in by social masks and subterfuge. Decades in the past he was also greatly puzzled by Nancy Reed, but Jane presents a much more formidable challenge.

  • Unconscious material surfaces during Daniel and Jane’s visit to Kom Ombo, as witnessed in Jane’s tears, and in her downward look at their joined hands. Daniel describes this look as a “declension out of the theater of their behavior on the cruise into something undeclared . . .” (564). That Fowles leaves the behavior “undeclared” allows readers to imagine for themselves what it is; the unconscious is activated in this passage as regards 1) Jane in herself, 2) her relationship to Dan, and 3) the reader.

  • Jane uses the term “screen” (see above) to describe how she kept her husband at a distance during their marriage. She remembers an argument she had with Anthony during a vacation to Greece; he had wanted to botanize while she wanted to swim at the beach. She recalls, “He was so happy and I was so unreasonable . . . I sat under a tree reading. I only took it out on him later. He wasn’t to know . . . Behind our screens” (565). Jane’s “unreasonableness,” her husband’s being kept in the dark about her motives and behavior, and the other screens separating them—all of these are manifestations of the unconscious in Jane’s marriage.

  • Jane’s attitude toward her acting gift suggests a psyche in deep conflict: “I think the curse of my life is having been born with a small gift for acting. Hating being able to pretend I’m someone else. Then using what I hate to be it.” (578) This does not express a traditional conflict between acting and not acting, but evokes a more complicated relation between the conscious will and the unconscious, manifesting here in terms of a frustrated response to one’s own gifts.

  • During their final visit to Kitchener’s Island, Jane enthuses to Daniel about her newfound plan to enroll in a teacher training course. He notes that she speaks “with a kind of dull brightness, like that in the light around them” (594). Jane’s unconscious is notable in its absence in this passage, and thus is all the more notable for its presence in a more fully self-disclosing moment that evening. During their conversation on the terrace (the setting, music, light, and surroundings themselves may be seen as manifestations of the unconscious), Jane admits, “. . . the reality’s a middle-aged woman who talks about teaching, simple little plans for doing good and keeping herself busy—and who secretly doubts her ability to go through with them almost as soon as she’s spoken.” (605)

  • In a fraught moment at Palmyra, Jane says to Dan, “So much of me would prefer to be . . . not like this . . . It’s as if the one part of you you don’t want to be the acted part, the part that wants to give, to say yes, for some terrible reason still insists on denying the rest . . ..” (633) Once again, this is not a simple conflict between acting and not acting, but a more complex interface between conscious and unconscious intention.

  • Jane’s unconscious will is expressed through her delay on the night at Palmyra, which she later describes in terms of “praying,” though she no longer believes in prayer. (638-9)

Taken together, these instances point to another facet of whole sight in the novel: it’s not enough to depict what characters say, think, and do directly, but through the tools available to a psychologically oriented novelist, to suggest what’s also going on below the level of consciousness.

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Re: Forays into the unconscious

Postby drkellyindc on Wed Jun 30, 2010 7:19 am

How much can one “know” about one’s own unconscious?

This may sound like a trick question, or one that can only be answered, “nothing at all.” However, the unconscious manifests in outward ways, and with the right training, insight, and motivation, it’s possible to make inroads.

It may be like learning about black holes in deep space. Even if the contents of black holes are obscured from sight, an astronomer can still determine things like location and temperature, mostly through indirect means such as observing their interaction with other matter.

Daniel Martin portrays characters at various stages of awareness about their unconscious. The two main characters, Daniel and Jane, fluctuate in this regard, avoiding deeper self-awareness at some points, embracing it at others. To depict them authentically Fowles had to be unusually advanced in terms of his own psychological self-awareness.

Fowles as an artistic pioneer in matters of the unconscious

John Fowles leads us by example into a more sophisticated awareness of the unconscious. His journals reveal a man who made ruthless demands of himself in his quest for self-knowledge. Issues of the unconscious surface in his early novels, and come to the forefront as he embarked on Daniel Martin.

Eileen Warburton’s biography attests to how Fowles’s awareness in the initial phase of writing Daniel Martin was informed by an essay by Gilbert Rose, a Yale professor of psychiatry, titled “The French Lieutenant’s Woman: The Unconscious Significance of a Novel to Its Author.” The essay appeared in American Imago, vol. 29 (1972), 165-76. Warburton says this essay had “a profound and lasting effect on Fowles”; she writes,

It stayed with him and shaped his perceptions of his writing experience. He analyzed dreams by referring to it. He referred to the article often over the next twenty years . . .

In the essay Rose posits that artists are perpetually trying to recover the psychological territory marked by the “original dual unity with the mother.” Warburton writes of how Rose’s essay inspired Fowles to explore his own understanding of artistic experience as originating in identity-formation occurring in the first two years of life. Fowles believed that returning via the imagination to this original, fecund place of self-discovery was a driving factor behind all artistic expression, and a form of what he called “instinctive self-therapy.” (For a related take on this theme, see my August 21 and September 16, 2009 postings on the “Myths and mythological consciousness” thread.)

Warburton clarifies the special link between Fowles’s reading of Rose’s essay and his writing of Daniel Martin:
The impact of “The Unconscious Significance of a Novel to Its Author” was at this time greatest on the emerging Daniel Martin. Fowles had begun the book “in the spirit of my own sickness,” thinking to focus it on “futility,” on “the failure of a generation as the failure of evolution—a temporary misadaptation.” He had rehearsed this theme in writings all the way back to the 1950s. But after the “divine” delights of an unforeseen recovery of a childhood memory through his writing [which became the opening chapter, “The Harvest”] and the revelation in Gilbert rose’s theory, Daniel Martin also became a book about recovering the past through the imagination. Indeed, as the two themes intertwined, Daniel Martin became a novel about how the imaginative recovery of the green past—childhood, parents, beloved landscapes, youthful friendships, and early romantic loves—could finally redeem the man of that futile generation from his heartsickness and sense of failure. Fowles, at work on the novel in 1974, hinted at this process in a letter to Gilbert Rose, saying “even when story and narrative method require a ‘capturing’ of the past, the dominant time sense [for the writer] is actually of a kind of futureness.” Time remembered, the past recovered, allowed a future of wholeness and authenticity to emerge. (p. 343)

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Re: Forays into the unconscious

Postby drkellyindc on Fri Jul 16, 2010 8:29 am

Further aspects of the unconscious as manifest in Daniel Martin

As soon as I began seeing dynamics of the unconscious at work in Daniel Martin, I saw them pervading the novel. What an amazing control Fowles has over surface versus depth!

For readers interested in the conscious/unconscious polarity in the novel, here are some of the prominent clues I’ve found:

. . . ‘You know I love a woman who’s gone away perhaps to the nether world . . . ’ (from George Seferis’s “Mr. Stratis Thalassinos Describes a Man”) (1)

A woodlark sings over the huge hedge, in the distance somewhere, bell-fluting trisyllable, core of green, core of spring-summer, already one of those sounds that creep into the unconscious and haunt one all one’s life, though all the little boy in the lane thinks is the name and clever-clever knowing it—the name, not the bird. . . . I also know the real (though do not know that in that unconscious ‘real’ my redeemer cometh) tiger moth. (91)

If Dan did smile in his sleep that night it was because his unconscious seemed to believe that a perfect world would have room for no one else. (222)

[Jane] was not the sort of woman ever to be understood empirically, logically—indeed that was part of the problem, that she could discuss herself lucidly and frankly, and yet still live in a darkness . . . not merely inscrutable, but almost calculatedly two-faced; although that suggests hypocrisy, and this was perhaps simply a matter of self-preservation, of knowing that the feelings of the ‘dark’ self would destroy too much if allowed to show. (320)

It is a feeling I had very strongly when I bought Thorncombe—that my real need for the place came from the depths of my unconscious, and only secondarily from the various conscious reasons I found. (346)

. . . I was fundamentally an observer and storer of correspondences—like some iceberg, with nine tenths of what really pleased and moved me sunk well below the understanding of the people I moved among, and however intimately. (352)

It was a longing accented by something I knew of the men who had once lived at Tsankawi; of their inability to think of time except in the present, of the past and future except in terms of the present-not-here, thereby creating a kind of equivalency of memories and feelings, a totality of consciousness that fragmented modern man has completely lost. (353)

Perhaps, though once again he did not think this consciously (but since characteristic structures and procedures in ordinary life so seep down and shape those of the unconscious), she had some kind of kinship with the Kitchener script: a problem to crack, to be converted to another medium, though in the emotions, not on the page. (430)

He felt . . . a paradoxical sort of determined imprisonment, compared to the existence of the small wild beast he had disturbed; almost an envy of the pleasures of a life without self-consciousness. (431)

I remained . . . the seeming cause of a far-reaching accident . . . like a mistake on a chart, forgiveable inasmuch as it arose from an ignorance on the cartographer’s part, but still blamed for all that ensued. Such blames can assume formidable importance in the underlying structure of a mental life, and that was probably what most troubled Jane. (443)

[Kitchener’s] face may have personified British patriotism and the Empire, but his inner soul was devious, convoluted, far more tyrannized by his own personal myth than the public one he appeared to be building. (451)

. . . then [Dan] remembered [Jane’s] tears at Kom Ombo, and what happened if one turned on Eurydice during her ascent from the underworld. (593)

. . . it offended some archetypal sense in him of right dramatic development . . . they had come to the end of the world, and not, at last, to be able to meet there denied that remote but all-powerful place in the unconscious from where his deepest notions of personal destiny came. He could have tried for years to imagine a better place and failed to create what one day’s hazard had brought; so apt, so stripping of the outer world, so crying the truth of the human condition. (634)

It was simply that [Jane] felt deeper; and eternally lost conscious course because the unconscious knowledge of the true one always lay inexorably underneath. (652)

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Re: Forays into the unconscious

Postby drkellyindc on Sun Sep 12, 2010 8:26 am


By what process do subconscious drives become part of one's conscious awareness and informed action?

Daniel Martin explores this issue in numerous ways. One recurring example lies in Dan’s perception of Jane, his Oxford friend and one-time sexual partner.

Dan enjoys his life, for the most part, and yet he harbors a subconscious wish that he had married Jane. This wish is by no means a growing constant; rather, it fluctuates—it’s subjected to scrutiny and doubt, and for long periods goes dormant. However, in its many manifestations this desire sheds light not only on Dan as a character but more generally on the workings of the subconscious, and on what happens to deferred or suppressed wishes in the human psyche.

In the following passages, one can glimpse various stages in Dan’s awareness about his feelings for Jane:

  • After Dan’s separation from Nell, in the mid-1950s, he wants to visit his daughter Caro, who has just turned three. He arranges to pick her up at Jane and Anthony’s home in Wytham. While there he has a strained exchange with Jane, which leaves him with paradoxical feelings, revealing a divide between his conscious and unconscious desires:
    If she baffled me conversationally, she confused me in an even more frustrating way psychologically . . . All her old flashes of teasing, of frankness, of intuitive warmth, seemed to have been extinguished. . . . Yet for all this I left Wytham once again knowing that I wished I had married Jane. I can’t explain it. I hated her that day. Outwardly and consciously I left feeling deeply humiliated and telling myself that Anthony had turned her into a cold and lifeless female prig. (173-4)

  • About 20 years later, while on a car journey westward from Compton to Thorncombe, Dan and the recently widowed Jane stop on the Dorset down so that Jane’s teenage son Paul can explore ancient field-systems. This becomes the setting of a mental flashback for Dan, revealing a kind of internal bargaining about how things would have turned out if he had married Jane:
    The deserted upland, brown earth covered in flints, Jane being dutifully interested, Paul holding forth again, a flock of lapwings wheeling over our heads, the soft green Dorset countryside to the south in the pale sunlight, my being treated as human by Paul—suddenly he sought interest and agreement from me rather than his mother, as if any man was better than her. I rewrote history. I had married Jane, he was our son, we had such outings all the time . . . at least I wondered how different we two adults might have been by then, if we had spent our lives together. I might have been a better writer, or at least a less transient playwright; and perhaps she would have gone on to the career that once beckoned—the stage. But I rather doubted whether I should have made her a better woman. (360)

  • During his visit to the Kobbet el Hawa cliff near Aswan, Egypt, Dan has a peculiar experience of disorientation, in which a panoramic view across the Nile Valley seems to flatten out to the thinness of an eggshell or a painted backdrop. This is followed by another instance of memory reversal regarding Jane:
    He watched Jane’s back, as she descended the steep slope just before him . . . she was wearing the silver comb in her hair, but a dark strand had escaped. And once again Dan had a moment, like that one on the Dorset down, of imagining that they had married, had been married since the beginning; he saw his wife, not Anthony’s widow; a hand on her shoulder, a moment’s stopping, a replacing that escaped strand, an indulgent little marital nothing. Then he felt frightened again. . . . (571)

    This quoted passage doesn’t do justice to what’s happening inside of Dan; and what’s happening inside of Dan doesn’t lend itself to neat analysis. Still, it can be said that Dan’s perception undergoes a two-fold scale reversal: the physical surroundings lose their grandeur and immensity, becoming flat and artificial; and an apparently negligible detail about Jane’s appearance becomes invested with vast symbolic importance. On both scales everything seems to lose its solidity; and yet as unnerving as it is for him, this experience is also part of a profound reorientation going on inside of Dan. Fear is his entirely healthy response.

  • On Dan and Jane’s last visit to Kitchener’s Island, Dan has a momentary crisis of confidence, laden with doubt and fear, that prevents him from speaking about his desire:
    Their truth lay in their silence, not the other voices of what they had just said to each other. He knew he wanted to speak, he was a man on a brink about to plunge: to make it explicit, she must feel it, she must know . . . yet something held him fatally back. Doubt of her, doubt of himself, fear of rejection, fear of response. (597)

  • These inward experiences are part of a complex preparation that eventually permits Dan to broach his desires in an outward way, as he does during a close talk with Jane on the Old Cataract Hotel terrace, after sundown on the day of their last Kitchener’s Island visit:
    “Jane, a great deal of what you really feel is totally hidden from me. I may have misread things completely. But I keep on imagining what it would have been like if we’d spent our lives together instead of the last few days. And it seems like something so much better than actual history.” (603)

  • After his breakthrough in the discussion on the terrace, Dan appears to take a step backward by the next evening. During an after-dinner stroll with Jane past the luxury shops of Beirut, Dan experiences a sharp divide between heart and head, between inner and outer consciousness:
    It was almost as if that other great myth, destiny, was having its revenge on him for so many other affairs so coolly and calculatedly entered and enjoyed . . . One stands in front of a window of couture dresses and one wants to say, I need you beyond all my verbal capacity of defining need. Instead one plays pocket calculator, translating Lebanese prices into English pounds; hates her profoundly for this interest in gewgaws she patently exhibits only to fill a vacuum, a withdrawal . . . almost as if to show she is normal to the indifferent passers-by. (614)

    I think it would be wrong to say that Dan avoids speaking his deepest truth in this scene due to cowardice. What I see instead is his courage in admitting this truth to himself, and focusing his energies on confronting a different antagonist, the myth of destiny. Beneath that struggle, it’s possible to see a life-transforming force of will and vulnerability continuing to gather strength inside him, and awaiting the right time to act. Dan also shows a degree of humility—a rare admission for someone with his writing talents—in recognizing that what he feels surpasses what he’s able to put into words.

Dan’s journey toward a revived interest in Jane involves a great deal of movement forward, backward, and sideways; advance and retreat; moments of self-confidence and self-doubt interspersed; and feelings ranging from frustration and dread to anticipation and joy. At the end of this long, zigzagging process, in the scenes culminating at Palmyra, Dan locates what could be called the outward courage of his inward convictions. In this way an inner grain of semi-conscious knowledge works its way through to full consciousness and action. A similar journey could be traced for Jane, whose revived interest in Dan is perhaps even more complicated.

I don't mean to imply by this (nor does Fowles) that Dan and Jane's rekindled interest in each other is inevitable. The notion that they are “fated” or “meant” for each other is what Dan might call the idea for “a really bad film-script” (633). It also pays to recall that both Dan and Jane have countless other subconscious wishes that they don't act upon. The subconscious doesn’t function in a magical way, disconnected from conscious reflection and will. In Dan and Jane’s case, subconscious inclination connects with a number of more tangible and conscious factors—generational, experiential, temperamental—that work in favor of a resumed connection.

Fowles keeps the magnetic push/pull between them shifting all the way up to the Palmyra scene, and even beyond. One late-breaking wrinkle is Dan's private admission, after his farewell to Jenny in the final chapter, that the parting is more solid on her side than on his (671). This matter is troubling to some feminists; however, I see it as in keeping with a properly complex view of the subconscious. I don't think that Fowles intends for us to see Dan simply as a hypocrite, wimp, or commitment-phobic male because of this. To me, part of the point is that the subconscious (Dan’s as well as ours) is more devious than any conscious and enacted intentions can account for. Also, although Dan’s decision is outward and binding, it hasn’t had time to be fully integrated yet. I can imagine Jane will take even more time adjusting to the new situation, since in addition to her feelings about Dan, she’s also dealing with the reality of recent widowhood after a challenging marriage.

* * *

Do all major life decisions follow such a circuitous path? I’d be interested in hearing about other readers’ experience. Personally, Dan and Jane’s internal processes remind me of the run-up to some of my own major life decisions:
    --to move to Japan in my late 20s
    --to apply to graduate school a few years later
    --to commit to a Daniel Martin reassessment project a few years ago
The inspiration behind these pursuits initially startled and intrigued me, and involved subsequent groping and guesswork, plenty of neglect and denial, moments of impasse and confusion, and a whole gamut of feelings. The process makes a lot more sense in retrospect. I'm grateful to John Fowles for modeling it with such painstaking care and artistry.

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Re: Forays into the unconscious

Postby drkellyindc on Wed Nov 24, 2010 6:27 pm


Just how reliable are theories about the unconscious?

Not much at all, according to one irreverent source. I laughed recently to read a parody of psychoanalytic theory, delivered by physicist Michael Beard, the comically hard-to-like central character of Ian McEwan’s novel Solar. Beard is a bald, overweight, middle-aged boor of a man whose fifth marriage is in decline. Winning a Nobel prize has turned him into a kind of stuffed celebrity on the scientific lecture circuit, jetting from one speaking engagement to another while neglecting his research. None of his opinions may be taken at face value. Still, as a character, Beard allows McEwan to perform an acid-bath test on a number of commonly-held liberal views. Among these are theories of the unconscious, which are skewered in a passage where Beard considers his younger girlfriend Melissa and her long-held preference for older men (pp. 167-8). After hearing Melissa disclose what a therapist said about her behavior, Beard silently offers a blanket judgment against the field of psychoanalysis.

[Melissa] told Beard what a therapist friend had told her years ago. Caring for the father she loved at a formative period in her sexual development, then failing to keep him alive, she was guiltily bound in subsequent relationships to the task of finding a replacement, retrieving him from the grave, rescuing him from his misfortune and redeeming her failure.

Beard was equally bound to believe that this was the kind of nonsense that science was invented to protect him from. But he said nothing. So many unexamined assumptions, so many unproven elements! An unconscious that wrote its own craftily concealed stories peppered with inept symbolism? Not a shred of neurological evidence. Repression? Empirically, no such mechanism had been shown to exist. On the contrary, unwanted memories were hard to forget. Sublimation? Likewise, a fairy tale that no serious investigation could sustain. Attending to the toilet needs of her father could just as likely have put her off older men for life, and then there would have been an equally confident Freudian confabulation. Many women who had never nursed a dying father, or had any analogous experience, preferred older men. Why were Melissa’s lovers (with one exception) only fifteen or twenty years older when her father was thirty-seven the day she was born? Could her unconscious, so literal in other regards, not do the simple adding up?

The truth was simpler . . ..

What follows this is Beard’s litany of how much more romantically suitable—debonair, seasoned, companionable, self-aware--older men such as himself are compared with younger men. Thus, it’s not just theories of the unconscious that are parodied here but also Beard’s inflated self-regard. (No doubt therapists could send off a return volley toward Beard, about what motivates his self-regard, his interest in younger women, and his hostility toward psychoanalysis.)

Beard could be likened to the Parliament member Miles Fenwick in Daniel Martin: aside from their similar marital histories, both characters are reactionary egotists who nonetheless present a clear challenge to certain liberal assumptions.

Where McEwan uses parody, Fowles approaches skepticism about the psyche and the unconscious differently in Daniel Martin. One example comes when Dan vindicates his Thorncombe housekeeper Phoebe against any reductive Freudian explanation of her passion for cleanliness (366); other examples emerge when Dan puts up barriers against excessive analysis and introspection, or critiques the age of self (167, 530, 572, 609).

The upshot of these various approaches might stated this way: don't assume that making a psychoanalytic reading is like turning a light-switch on, and banishing darkness. Fowles takes the message further in Daniel Martin: don't assume that becoming more inwardly focused necessarily means improving either the self or the world.

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Re: Forays into the unconscious

Postby drkellyindc on Thu Jan 20, 2011 11:14 am


In this excerpt from her 1982 dissertation John Fowles: Novelist and Naturalist, Karen Sitton explores a connection between landscape and the unconscious in novels by Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence, and Fowles. The specific focus here is what motivates Jane’s breakthrough during the climactic scene at Palmyra in Daniel Martin. In the scene, Dan and Jane encounter a feral female dog and her newborn puppies. Jane doesn’t understand why the mother moves away from her offspring. Dan tells her that the mother is engaging in “distraction behavior”: she’s willing to be hunt and shot, in hopes that they’ll spare her young. Sitton’s analysis supports a close link between the setting, the animals, and Dan and Jane’s unconscious:

In the symbolic chapter, “The Bitch,” Dan and Jane witness new life as they watch a bitch protect her puppies on a Palmyra beach. These wild dogs are as much a part of the landscape as the “barren and color-drained moor.” The altruistic displacement behavior of the bitch triggers Jane’s decision to let go of her past—she buries her wedding ring in the sand—to flow into a new present with Dan. She realizes that her past, and especially her marriage to Anthony, has been a desert of altruism in which she allowed her true self to starve and perish. She must now renounce that self-destruction. Both Dan and Jane must consciously acknowledge the wasteland of their lives before any healing can occur. This symbolism, in a sense, is like Lawrence’s “internalizing” of landscape as [critic John] Alcorn defines it—“that is, of developing an idiom through which the subtle ebb and flow of the unconscious life of his characters might be charted through the device of nature description.” And like Stonehenge, in Hardy’s Tess, where Tess’s fate becomes a sacrificial rite, the desolation of Palmyra, too, takes on mythic dimensions as it allows for the rebirth of Dan and Jane. (pp. 96-7)

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Re: Forays into the unconscious

Postby drkellyindc on Thu Jul 21, 2011 11:58 am


I. Realist, modernist, and postmodernist methods
II. Accessing the collective unconscious

The novel as an art form can be described as an experiment in the development of consciousness. I see Fowles as one of its most gifted practitioners. How do novels, then, and specifically Fowles’s novels, heighten reader awareness? In this posting I’ll look at some of the traditional methods he uses, and then look at the innovative ways in which his fiction accesses the collective unconscious.

I. Realist, modernist, and postmodernist methods

To begin with, in Daniel Martin Fowles synthesizes some of the main “pathways of consciousness” established by his forebears in the novel:

  • Heightened awareness in 19th century novels often hinged on a “big reveal” in the climactic scene: the revelation of long-hidden motives or family connections, for instance, or the removal of barriers to a marriage (think of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens). In this vein Daniel Martin builds gradually toward the eventual resolution of matters between Dan and Jane.

  • For modernists like Virginia Woolf or James Joyce, heightened awareness focused on the epiphany—a moment that emerges like a shower-burst, sending out sparks of awareness in all directions, like the skywriting airplane in Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, or the ending of certain Joyce stories, e.g., “Araby” and “The Dead.” Fowles incorporates this epiphany style in Daniel Martin’s first chapter, “The Harvest,” with its startling point-of-view shift from third- to first-person narration in the concluding paragraphs.

  • For the modernist Proust, heightened consciousness emerges from a substructure of motifs and recurrences; readers of Remembrance of Things Past sometimes report feeling that they’re tapping into their own memory-banks, not just those of Proust’s characters. At least nine scholars have invoked Proust in their analysis of Daniel Martin. I explore the Proustian file on Daniel Martin in the “reassessment,” “whole sight,” and “emotional equivalent” threads on this site.

  • In my June 7, 2009, posting on the “whole sight” thread, I explore how Fowles uses postmodernist “open endings and forked paths” to heighten reader awareness. The endings of The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and of the chapter “The River Between” in Daniel Martin, promote multiple possibilities and the prospect of readers’ deciding the outcome for themselves.

II. Accessing the collective unconscious

Building on this foundation, Fowles recurrently heightens awareness by tapping into the collective unconscious.

At key moments in his mid-career novels, Fowles brings a character and a setting together and surrounds them with a sense of the uncanny. A few prominent examples:

  • In The Magus, Maurice Conchis interrupts his account of deserting the battle of Neuve Chapelle in 1914 to insist that Nicholas play a form of Russian roulette: he must roll a dice and swallow a cyanide pill if it comes up six. Nicholas rolls a six.

  • In The Magus, Conchis’s ornithological research takes him to remote Seidevarre, Norway, where he witnesses the blinded madman Henrik Nygaard holding a bizarre sightless vigil, as before an invisible pillar of fire, holding fierce communion with “something of such power, such mystery, that it explained all.”

  • Also in The Magus: Maurice Conchis, as the mayor of Phraxos, Greece, during WWII, is faced with whether to spare the lives of 80 villagers by clubbing a guerilla leader to death. He refuses to kill the leader, takes his place with the hostages, and, just before being shot, hears from the guerilla leader an expression “beyond reason, beyond logic, beyond civilization, beyond history.”

  • In The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Sarah Woodruff frequents Ware Commons by herself, without regard for her physical safety or the place’s notorious reputation; this brands her as “the scarlet woman of Lyme.”

The “uncanny” element in the first three examples is less about Neuve Chapelle, Nygaard, or Phraxos themselves than on their effects on Conchis, on Nicholas, and on us as readers. Similarly, Ware Commons in the fourth example is scandalous less in itself than in its reputation--its effects on the overactive imaginations of those who never go there. The narrator tells us that for Mrs. Poulteney Ware Commons “had become the objective correlative of all that went on in her own subconscious” (ch. 12).

Each of these moments constitutes a portal into a character’s unconscious. But because of what the character or situation represents, the moments signify more than that.

  • Conchis tells Nicholas that the cyanide test is “an entire war in one second.” In Conchis’s “perfect republic,” he initially claims, the suicide pill “would be a test for all young people at the age of twenty-one.” Then he reverses that judgment, stating that “perfect republics are perfect nonsense,” and that the “craving to risk death is our last great perversion.” First affirmed and then negated, the cyanide test can be said to symbolize paradoxical public attitudes toward WWI.

  • Conchis is a founding member of the Society of Reason; for him, Neuve Chapelle on that day in 1914 represents “hell . . . a place without the possibility of reason.” Similarly, for Conchis, Henrik’s vigil at Seidevarre represents religious insanity, an axe “driven right through the skull of all our pleasure-oriented civilization,” and a potent challenge to Conchis’s rational Enlightenment standards, beliefs, and prejudices. Henrik confronts not just Conchis the individual, but long-entrenched habits of Enlightenment rationality.

  • The incident at Phraxos—“barbarity” pitted against “European civilization”--serves as an experiential crux for WWII.

  • In The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Mrs. Poulteney represents “all the most crassly arrogant traits of the ascendant British Empire”; by extension, then, Ware Commons (representing taboo sexuality, uninhibitedness, pagan sensuality) stands in for the collective unconscious of 19th century Britain.

To summarize: in these examples, Fowles finds artistic expression for the collective unconscious 1) in the madness of World Wars I and II; 2) in the face of a crazed religious mystic; and 3) in a wilderness setting signifying the deepest fears of a historical epoch.

Examples of these portals into the collective unconscious in Daniel Martin include the following:

  • Dan and Jane’s experience on the day of the Woman in the Reeds (19-30, 52-62, 94-8);

  • Dan and Jenny’s experience of Tsankawi, New Mexico (343-56);

  • Dan on the night of his walk in the Thorncombe orchard (“In the Orchard of the Blessed”);

  • The Herr Professor’s story about the River Between (559-61);

  • Dan and the Herr Professor’s experiences (at separate times) at the rock tombs in the Kobbet el Hawa cliff (559-60, 570-1);

  • Dan and Jane’s encounter with the puppies amid the ruins of Palmyra (650-2; see posting above).

Fowles obviously isn’t the only fiction writer exploring expressions of the collective unconscious. Still, he’s more promising and dedicated in this regard than any other writer I’ve encountered.

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Re: Forays into the unconscious

Postby drkellyindc on Fri Jul 22, 2011 10:54 am


Fowles suggests psychological complexity regardless of whether a character is major or minor, extroverted or introverted. Recently I noticed this in respect to some of Daniel Martin’s male characters. In the examples below, we see these four men in their preferred or dominant mode, as well as in a secondary or subdominant mode. As I see it, the men’s unconscious side emerges in the subdominant mode.

Two extroverts
Men who shine in public and show a less savory side in private:

  • Miriam and Marjory’s father, as described by Dan and Miriam:
    . . . he was one of those ugly variants of the sad clown, all jollity and bonhomie on the boards or in a pub, but a moody, flashfisted tyrant in his home; even worse, there had been “things” when she and Marjory were younger . . . “Honest, Dan, I couldn’t tell you . . . course, ’e was always ’alf pissed.” (260)

  • Abe, and his marriage to Mildred, as described by Jenny:
    A lovely man around a dinner-table or over a pool-game must take it out on someone in private. Mildred told me in so many words: He always needed people, I guess I always needed him. His latest thing (by the way) is an innocent (Mildred is always there) pretending he’s crazy about me. But because Mildred is always there, there’s something not innocent about it that I can’t describe. Needling something in their past, not their present. I’m not sure if I’d have liked him as a young man.(248)

Two introverts
Men who prefer privacy, and who are sometimes at a loss with other people:

  • Anthony, the Catholic philosopher, as described by his eldest daughter Roz.
    In Roz’s account to Dan about how she and her sister Anne followed Jane out of the Church, we see clues about how their decision affects Anthony in unconscious ways:
    “I was sixteen, Jane knew what I felt . . . we went off one day, just he and I, on one of his orchid jaunts and I spilt the beans—and he was marvelous. Talked about doubt, and faith—you know, as if it was a philosophy problem. Asked me to try a little longer. But when I said at the end of next term that I still felt the same, he didn’t argue at all. He was absolutely reasonable, never tried to win me back. I think with Anne he just gave up—accepted the same thing was happening. I see now it isolated him unbearably. It’s absurd, he even protected us from ever remembering the problem existed. Catholics who didn’t know the scene, they’d come to dinner or whatever, and innocently bring up something, just Catholic chitchat. And he’d kill it stone dead.” (309)

  • Dan, as described by himself.
    Dan shows more self-awareness than any of the other Oxford graduates in the novel. He has a perceptiveness that is lacking in the past three examples: unlike Miriam and Marjory’s father, Abe, and Anthony, Dan knows the shadow tendency connected with his psychological type. In this passage, a wave of happiness comes over him as he listens to Mozart’s G minor symphony, and he reflects on both the upside and the downside of his mental habits:
    He needed complexity, multiple promise, endless forked roads; and simply, at this moment, felt he had them. Just as the green-gold music had, beneath the balance, the effortless development and onwardness, its shadows, so also was there a component of sadness in Dan’s happiness: he was happy because he was a solitary at heart, and that must always cripple him as a human being. (450)

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