Rear Window Questions

Modleski’s chapter on Rear Window incorporates many of the themes and ideas from our discussions on Lacan, his understanding of “the mirror stage”, the disconnect between signifiers and the signified, and even the rotating triad power dynamic revolving around the ownership of a signifier.

What ways do you see in which Jeffries represents these themes we have been discussing? For example, in what ways do we see his obsession to fit together the pieces of a complete and perfect narrative and in what places do we see how at times this is unattainable to him? How might this reflect what we have been discussing about desire? What do we make of his suspected narrative ultimatly being true in the end? Is it possible to view this movie as an analogy for Lacan’s mirror stage/theories of desire, or does the fact that Jeffries suspected narrative turned out to be correct negate that possibility? Etc.

“Ylajali” and Desire

Ben Ingegneri

It is clear that Hamsun’s narrator’s primary desire aligns directly with Lacan’s understanding in that the first object of desire is to be recognized by the other. Over and over agin, the reader is frustrated when the main character turns down a life sustaining grace for the sake of maintaining his pride and image. There is one scene that stuck out to me where his pride, for the first time in the novel, perhaps subsides.

On page 146, during the scene when he is sitting on the couch with the woman he names “Ylajali”, it seems that the two of them actually share their names. Though we do not actually receive knowledge of the names, the narrator does not present us with any false names which might allow us to take him literally when he mentions, “After long negotiations, we told each other our names” (Hamsun 146). This is a big step forward for our hero(?), which we might be able to recognize (at least in any other novel but this one) as a moment of character development. For the first time in the novel he gives power of himself to someone else by giving this woman his personal signifier. Now “Ylajali” owns the letter, and as we see as the scene plays out, it is she who mostly holds the power-ultimately.

At first, it seems that the characters are some what on an equal playing field, and they both desire each other’s acceptance and recognition equally. However, as the scene continues we see “Ylajali” gain more and more power over the narrator as she gains more knowledge about him(what underlies his already obtained personal signifier). And finally, when the narrator tells her the truth of his story, she no longer wants to accept him, which of course then sends him into a frenzy.

This process begins in a very special moment at the bottom of page 147 where the actions of the scene almost model Lacan’s diagnosis of desire perfectly. The narrator reaches for the woman’s hand. Here he desires her recognition and acceptance. This is the thing that would constitute and complete the subject . However, she moves her hand from his grasp and we see that what he desires is displaced(and later permanently displaced) from the subject. His courage is killed and he is depressed and sheepish (147). This only causes him an intense desire to get what he cannot have, the acceptance and recognition of this woman.

How Things Should Be Done: The Easy Way or The Convoluted Way?

I tried another tack, spoke sharply and refused to listen to any nonsense. Hadn’t it ever happened to her to be paid in advance in the same way? I asked. Of course, I meant by people who were well off, some of the consuls, for example? Never? Well, it wasn’t fair that I should suffer because she was unfamiliar with that social custom. It was accepted practice in foreign countries. But maybe she had never been abroad? Ah, there you are! Then she didn’t have a word to say in this matter… And I made a grab for several cakes on the table (Hamsun 194).

It is clear throughout the entirety of the story that the narrator, even though he is suffering some kind of mental collapse, is in some ways his own worst enemy. He does not readily accept handouts and feels guilty when he receives things that don’t belong to him, such as earlier in the novel when the cashier gives him too much change, and he feels like he must get rid of it, instead of using it to help himself and his ever-present hunger. Along with this, he has an inflated sense of self when it comes to multiple aspects of his life.

I find the exchange towards the end with the woman who has the cakes to be quiet interesting. He believes that by her accepting his charity, she is actually agreeing to some non-stated contract, that at some point in the future he will come to collect on his end of the deal. Does a deal count if only one person knows about it, and even then seems to come up with the deal when it best suits him? The Narrator seemed to think that this was the best course to get food to feed his hunger because he can claim to be one of those important men, the consuls that have had the luxury of traveling abroad. By implying that this is a known phenomenon and exacting it out on this woman, he is putting his own self-importance up with men like that.

He then goes on and on, displaying his “crazy” to all of the people in town when he can’t get over the fact that she was trying to cheat him out of his downpayment, and not the charity that it was perceived to be. Even with basically stealing the cakes, the best cakes, from the woman, he completely wastes one of them. He leaves it for the boy that spat on to find, even though I don’t think he will be the one to find it. If anything, some animal, like a rat, will find and eat it. I found this whole encounter, right before he departs on the ship, as a way to show that his own self-importance is still highly inflated and that when there is an easy way to do things, he will find the convoluted way to be honorable instead.

Desire and the Transience of Fulfillment

Elise Cavanaugh:

Desire is certainly a driving force between the entirety of the narration of Hamsun’s Hunger, but the narrator’s desires are not always named or even clearly recognizable.  He seems to fluctuate between wanting something in one moment and then renouncing his want of that same thing a page later.  Throughout the novel, the narrator suffers from starvation, yet each time he happens upon a small sum of money it is as if all of his woes have dissipated.  However, fulfillment is transient, and consistent with Lacan’s contention, desire can never be brought to satisfaction.

There are moments in the text when the narrator’s desire seems to all but disappear, but these moments are brief and soon overshadowed by the truth of his hunger.  For instance, in Part 3, he walks by a streetwalker, but is disinterested, commenting, “Alas, I had no real bounce in me these days; women had become almost like men to me. Want had dried me up” (106).  He is commenting on his lack of sexual desire, but the last sentence is interesting to me – it seems as if he is saying that the act of wanting had drained him of the ability to want anymore, which seems contradictory.

Even more than desire, though, the narrator seems consumed by hunger.  While “desire” suggests want, “hunger” suggests a need to be satiated.  So many of the narrator’s desires encompass basic needs of human survival and physical and mental health: food, respectful human interaction, dignity.  To have these needs go unfulfilled makes living impossible, and only serves to amplify the hunger/desire the narrator experiences.

Fulfilling Desire and Fulfilling Names

As we reflected upon in class, we notice that the narrator of this text is reluctant to give specific names to anything in the story, particularly in regards to people, as we don’t even know the name of the person narrating the story.  One particular instance that stood out to me, of the narrator failing to name something in the text, was on page 77, in regards to his interaction with the little girl who asks the narrator for a penny.

In the scene previously mentioned, the narrator describes his interaction with a little girl who asks him for a penny as he sits on the bench. However, when the narrator jumps up to give the little girl a penny, she interprets his eagerness as mocking and walks away; the narrator’s desire for interaction diminished. In response, the narrator asks her name as she walks away, and apparently she answers, resulting in the narrator classifying the young girl’s name as “pretty,” without letting the narrator in on it.

Although it is clear that the narrator craves the attention of the young girl, ironically, his actions drive her away, leaving his desired unfulfilled, and thus maybe that’s why he leaves the young girl unnamed? Perhaps the fulfillment of desire is linked to the narrator’s naming of certain objects.

The Menagerie of Kristiania

The narrator of Hunger seems to be trapped in his fear of being observed, and in his dread of being perceived as “crazy” by other people. I noticed many similarities between his narrative techniques and those used by Schreber. He is aware of his behavior and its effects on others; he struggles to make his thoughts known; and he is widely misunderstood by the community. His habit of regressing to old ways in a cyclical manner also bears close resemblance to the narrator of Kafka’s The Burrow.

I found his description of the menagerie very interesting. He says: “The animals know that you are watching them; they feel those hundreds of curious eyes and are affected by them. No, let us have animals that don’t know you are watching them, those shy creatures puttering about in their winter lairs, lying there with somnolent eyes, licking their paws and thinking” (118). From the beginning of this course we’ve talked about situations of observing and being observed. Hamsun returns us to this theme by using the menagerie as a metaphor: humans are much like the animals trapped in cages at the zoo. We know we are under observation, and we cannot escape the judgment of other people’s eyes wherever we may flee to. So instead of behaving as we should, such as an animal should “in the wild,” we keep up appearances of all kinds and perform specific roles. In this sense we are not that much different from the narrator—only unlike us, he is always aware of this fact.

I was also surprised with the ending of Hunger, when the narrator decides to leave. This seems to differentiate him from the creature in The Burrow, who cannot escape his own self-destructive cycle.

What’s In a Name

Nic Sangiovanni

Hamsun’s narrator in Hunger repeatedly uses naming to assert power; curiously though, these attempts deviate from normative speech and language. Names given to other characters in the narrative are either loosely categorical—‘Scissors’ and ‘Uncle’—or gibberish, like ‘Ylajali.’ These names create a slippage in meaning that prevents Hamsun’s reader from knowing more about them and what they signify (the same, of course, goes for the narrator who remains unnamed throughout the entirety of the novel). The (non)function of naming in Hunger becomes particularly important when considering Lacan, for whom the formulation of identity is contingent upon recognition of the subject in the Mirror Phase. Thus, fluid and non-specific names, like those in Hamsun’s narrative, drive the reader away from stable consciousness toward a grasping, paranoic, frame of mind through a convolution of language.

Lacan’s contention, in the clinical setting, that ‘what is important is to teach the subject to name, to articulate, to bring desire into existence’ might help to elucidate the behaviors and paranoic cognitions of Hamsun’s narrator. Language, articulation, is the subject’s attempt to re-align itself with The Real, and though such action is of the order of Sisyphus, it is vital to the creation and coherency of a subject’s identity. If language begets consciousness, and the actions of language are  desirous strivings of that consciousness toward unity in The Real, then it is easy to understand Lacan’s contention that ‘desire is the essence of man.’ In light of this, it should be no wonder that Hamsun’s narrator falls repeatedly into ‘nervousness:’ he struggles in the act of writing (which for him is not merely ideologically allied with his identity, for he makes his living as a writer), and deviates in his recognition, or naming, of self and others. There is certainly more to say about how language and naming contribute to the narrator’s delusions and unravelling; but, however the subtleties of Hunger play out this relationship, the presence—and simultaneous absence— of desire plays a clear role.