Empire on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Empire on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Volume: 2
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Empire on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
    Book Description:

    Literature gives access to the “verge,” to the place where the full terror of falling is felt, and yet both feet are still on the ground. Empire on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown offers pleasurable instruction to readers who want to know and feel their ways through and beyond disciplinary conventions towards new and clearer understandings of how empires and texts shiver and fall, and why. Literature makes a difference to the ways that these questions are asked and explored. A cavalcade of writers—among them Edward Gibbon, Edgar Allan Poe, James Joyce, Sigmund Freud, the Wolf-Man, Gertrude Stein, Monique Wittig, Jeanette Winterson, Monty Python and even Miguel de Cervantes and A. Conan Doyle-- have written about empire, femininity, Spain, pain, wounds, war and love. Symptoms of imperial panic abound in their pages, very frequently manifesting directly or indirectly in allusions to Spain and things Spanish. Here female or feminized bodies often bear the brunt of any acting-out. In these highly original and highly engaging essays the reader confronts verges of cliffs, madness, window ledges, rooftops; verges of virgins and whores, slippery slopes and razor’s edges. Gossy argues that masculinity and femininity are always on the verge of slipping away from what they are supposed to be, and of dragging fantasies of imperial domination over the edge with them. The Spain of lost empire accompanies these acute symptoms of anxiety, even in texts and authors where—as in Monty Python’s version of the Spanish Inquisition—no one expects it.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-526-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 7-8)
    Mary Gossy
  4. CHAPTER ONE Verging On
    (pp. 9-11)

    Losing power is scary. Being on the verge of a breakdown of domination and control produces panic attacks. These essays form a collection of case studies of symptoms and attempts at adaptation or writing-through produced in texts that appear in critical moments of literary or political history, moments in which imperial projects show signs of insupportable stress. They are literary texts, because literature presents the multivalent charges of cultural anxiety as “a mode of cultural work, the work of giving-to-read those impossible contradictions that cannot yet be spoken.”¹ Literature gives access to the “verge,” to the place where the full...

  5. CHAPTER TWO The End
    (pp. 12-17)

    The last pages of James Joyce’sUlyssesprovide the reader with a jumping-off point for the study of imperial anxiety. In this case, the plank that empire must walk is Gibraltar. That rock marks the end of empire, in the sense that it was thene plus ultraof Roman domination of the Mediterranean,Mare Nostrum, Our Sea. It also marks the beginning of empire, in that it is the gateway through which a New World, what would come to be called the Americas, was colonized. In the United States, Gibraltar became an emblem of mid-twentieth-century North American economic solidity...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Stain of Spain in Some of Stein
    (pp. 18-23)

    When Gertrude Stein writes, in “Lifting Belly,” “What is Spain,” she enunciates a “declarative question” and creates a new grammatical trope that poses a question and states a fact at the same time.¹ The fact that is performed is the simultaneity of two terms in one time and space, without a loss of differentiation. It is not that the question says that it needs no answer, it is that it does not seek one. There is no answer sought, so there is no deferral into a future space where a lack might be filled. The declarative question constructs the familiar...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Lesbian Hymen-mending by Celestina and Wittig
    (pp. 24-36)

    The author’s note to the English translation of Monique Wittig’sThe Lesbian Bodysays that

    The body of the text subsumes all the words of the female body.Le Corps Lesbienattempts to achieve the affirmation of its reality. The lists of names contribute to this activity. To recite one’s own body, to recite the body of the other, is to recite the words of which the book is made up.²

    Within the text, lists of anatomical names for parts of the lesbian body interweave with the narratives that describe the mutual dismembering and remembering of the lovers J/e and...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Wandering Wounds
    (pp. 37-45)

    When Miguel de Cervantes published what is today known as the first part ofDon Quijote de la Manchain 1605, he may have thought that his labor as chronicler of the wanderings of the man of La Mancha had come to an end. The 1605 version ends with burlesque sonnets that serve as epitaphs to the tombs of Don Quijote, Dulcinea del Toboso, Don Quijote’s horse Rocinante, and Sancho Panza, supposedly taken from fragments of decaying parchments that the “author of the history” mentions were found in a leaden box and transcribed from gothic handwriting into legible, contemporary letters....

  9. CHAPTER SIX Language Butcher Dupes Dupin
    (pp. 46-51)

    The Murders in the Rue Morgue¹ are committed by an orangutan who wants to play barber but who ends up instead cast in the role of barbarian. His story goes like this: a sailor and a companion capture the orangutan on a voyage to Borneo. The sailor’s companion dies, and the sailor brings the orangutan back to Paris in order to sell it.

    Very early one morning, while it is still dark, the sailor returns home from a party. He finds that the orangutan has broken out of the closet in which it has been locked up, and now is...

  10. Entremes: “Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition”
    (pp. 52-55)

    Velásquez paints himself into the picture inLas Meninas. His position is like that of a U.S. Spanish professor commenting on the place of Spain in the U.S. academic imaginary. Velásquez was smart enough to know that, painted in or not, he was part of the picture he was creating, and part of the scene that he was commenting on. Thus he avoided, somewhat, the dangers of projection—that is, of attributing to others his own thoughts and emotions. It seems to me that this is a risk of trying to analyze what other parts of the academy think of...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN “My Hispanism Was Only a Symptom”
    (pp. 56-64)

    The Wolf-Man came to Freud in February of 1910 and stayed until June, 1914; his last session was the day after the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo that precipitated the First World War. After he lost his home and fortune in the Russian revolution, the Wolf-Man returned to Freud for a brief analysis in 1919. From 1919 through 1938 he lived more or less (by his own account) symptom-free in Vienna with his wife, Therese. In March, 1938, after the Anschluss of Austria with Nazi Germany, his wife killed herself, and he declined into poor mental health....

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Freud’s Spain
    (pp. 65-73)

    Freud’s essay “A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis” was dedicated to the French novelist Romain Rolland on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, which occurred on January 26, 1936. Because of political disruptions, it took Freud a long time to get the essay published; it finally appeared over a year later, inAlmanach, 1937. James Strachey mentions in his editor’s note to the piece that

    It has been impossible to trace any earlier publication of the paper in German other than that in the Almanach noted above. It should be born in mind that any publications connected with Romain...

  13. CHAPTER NINE You’ll See Your Castles in Spain Back in Your Own Backyard
    (pp. 74-78)

    This song functions through apostrophe; not only does it address an absent other, it multiplies and intensifies a prismatic absence, addressing “You” in order to remind you that you are not “there.” The song specifies that you are not happy. You are not happy because you are not There—where the bluebird of happiness is. Happiness lies in wait for you; the bluebird is a bird of prey. It is more like Poe’s raven than some animated messenger of joy. Or perhaps it has been dismantled, as by a cat, separated as it is in the lyrics from its feathers...

  14. CHAPTER TEN The Route of Writing
    (pp. 79-92)

    El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha² was written, or “composed” (compuestois the Spanish word) by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, and appeared in print in 1605. The title page of the book in which these words appear does not read, “The Life of Don Quijote,” or “The Story of Don Quijote,” or “The Adventures of Don Quijote.” It is just imprinted with a name and identifying adjectival information. It is like a plain tombstone. Or it is like a business card, or more accurately like an old-fashioned social calling card, the kind of thing that lovers in Victorian...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 93-96)
  16. Index
    (pp. 97-98)