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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Jane Austen: Conscious or Unconscious Innuendoist?

The erudite Mark Zussman, in Janeites just sent me a multi-part message in which he, with the skill of a Perry Mason, attempted to zero in on certain aspects of my claims about covert sexual innuendo in Austen's novels, and also about what he poetically calls "counting house" innuendo in them as well, and to expose possible flaws in my arguments.

I responded thusly to his quoted remarks:

"I think I have gathered in these last weeks that both Diana and Elissa are sympathetic to your ideas about sexual punning and other covert sexual references in Jane, and so apparently are several other people, including Catherine Schmick Janofsky in whose post of yesterday — with reference to the "Your uncle thinks you very pretty. . . " line — I might have liked to find some irony but I did not."

And don't forget Diane. Yes, I am obviously glad for the support, to whatever extent, of intelligent readers of Jane Austen such as these estimable ladies you have just named, and many others (m and f) with whom I also am in private correspondence.

"Unless I’m mistaken, though, your position, Arnie, is the most radical, isn’t that right? I know that Elissa, for example, thinks at least a good many of your finds far-fetched, and Diana yesterday said something, I believe, to the effect that she thought your batting average around 50 percent and, in addition, Diana I think is willing to concede some of this material that is arguably sexual to the workings of JA’s unconscious...

I can't speak for anybody else, and they are all perfectly capable of chiming in on this if they wish---but I can tell you that _my_ opinion is that _a very significant portion_ (if I was forced to guess, I would say, about 85%) of the innuendoes I detect are conscious--but, of course, _some_ surely are unconscious, because, as you point out and I agree (and I am sorry to have not previously been clear on this point), _nobody_ can be _that_ conscious---we are all Freudian creatures, regardless of how hard we might try to make everything conscious.

And...since I can't possibly discern which are in the 15% and which are among the 85%, I simply point all of them out. And I argue further that my decision to treat them all as if they were all conscious is not sloppiness, but is appropriate with an artist who is so clearly conscious in the vast majority of these "covert operations".

I.e., the context of a multitude of conscious sexual puns _alters_ the significance of the unconscious ones, and sweeps them up into the net along with all the conscious ones--because they were unconscious _in the mind of a very conscious author_. Whereas with a different writer who was for the most part UNconscious in promulgating such sexual material (perhaps you have some such authors in your mind?), it _would_ be inappropriate to sweep them all up---and they'd be much less significant.....except of course, to Freudians who enjoy analyzing such unconscious material--but, as should be evident, I am not a Freud-driven critic!

"You, Arnie, seem to think it’s all conscious, though. Is that right? You have gallantly ceded to Diana the more subtle and nuanced turf?"

As you see from my answer, Mark, just above, I do _not_ think it's _all_ conscious, and I am very glad you pushed me to clarify myself.

And, by the way, did I hear _you_ say your real name is Perry Mason, the master of legalistic question begging? ;)

Seriously....while I agree that Diana's arguments are always subtle and nuanced, my above answer is subtle and nuanced enough for me, too---but your mileage may vary.

"Okay, let’s go back, then, to that commercial language, the language of the counting house that Mark Schorer called people’s attention to back in 1959 and that I cited sometime yesterday in what I thought might be a kind of gotcha — but then, again if I’m not misinterpreting you, you seemed to say in response that it’s not a gotcha, you’ve assimilated that Schorer material into your own reading and indeed, thanks to later work expanding on Schorer but unknown to me, you think that Schorer didn’t go half far enough. Am I still getting it right?"

In a word, yes. ;)

"I am tempted to ask if you registered what I said I believe the commerce of Highbury really to be. But let’s skip that for now. ANSWER THE FOLLOWING INSTEAD, IF YOU WOULD. If, as you claim, all those pens and penetrations and whatever else of a perhaps sexual nature are totally conscious and deliberate in Jane, are Schorer’s credits, rates, reserves, interests and gains totally conscious and deliberate as well?"

In a word, yes, again. ;)

"As you know, I am skeptical of your reading of the pens and the penetrations and all that. I am not quite as skeptical as Nancy and Ellen are, each for her own reasons, but I come close."

You are entitled to your opinion.

"But that was an aside."

Ah, but what would life be without its asides, Mark? A poorer place!

"Let me, Arnie, warn you..."


" to what is at stake in your answer to my question about how consciously Jane uses that commercial language. Given your commitment to the idea of Jane as a totally "conscious" artist, I don’t see how you can fail to say, Yes, she knows precisely what she’s doing every time she uses one of those words that Schorer has harvested for us."

And, again, my answer on the commercial language is exactly the same as my (now clarified) answer, above, re her sexual language, i.e., 85% conscious, 15% unconscious. By the way, I have not revisited Schorer in a long while, but my recollection is that I am in agreement with him in general as to the relevant examples, but I dive more deeply into the text than he does, plus I incorporate all of that material into the shadow stories, where the economic themes are more prominent even than in the revealed stories. And I know that he was the furthest thing from a critic who would see a shadow story.

Here is a blog post of mine from 4 months ago that _perfectly_ illustrates how I read JA's commercial language, and what her purposes were:

"Schorer, incidentally, sure didn’t think this counting house language of Jane’s was conscious. In fact, that was kind of his whole point. Schorer was obviously no Marxist. He was no Arnold Kettle. But Schorer believed that the counting house language had so infiltrated Jane’s social class that it was the only language she had to speak in."

Yes, that is what I recollect, and that is precisely where Mr. Schorer and I parted ways--- but....(a bit "but"--ha ha)...his believing the examples he collected were unconscious did not _in any way_ detract--from my perspective--from his skill as a textual sleuth in identifying many of the key words of the counting house subtext. In short, we find exactly the same examples (which I think is evidence that they are not false positives), but he and I understand them very differently. And that has been true of many of the examples I have found in Austen's texts, and not just re the counting house themes, but on all sorts of themes. Fully half of the examples I have ever found in Austen's novels are those which were initially spotted by Janeites who do _not_ interpret those examples as I do--but the other half I have found on my own.

"On another little matter, Arnie, I did catch a p.p.s. "to Mark only" at the bottom of one of your extremely lengthy recent posts. "

It would have been a pity if you had not caught it, as it was, astonishingly, meant to be read by you! ;)

"No, in answer to your question there, I have not the slightest idea what Kantian nugget you might be referring to, but have I failed, despite repeated conscientious efforts, to explain the most elementary of my views on the relationship between Jane and Kant clearly? If so, let me say it one last time: I do not believe that Jane ever read Kant. To me, it seems virtually impossible that she would have or even could have, and I would like to think that she did not even know his name."

Then if you do not wish to hear of my example now, I will have to decide whether I want to bring it forward now, or wait to include it in my book.

"Maybe, Arnie, we should simply stop invoking Kant’s name in these parts. "

Maybe not.

"To other people it can only be irritating. If you want to talk to me about Kant, do me a favor and read what I have had to say on the subject first. As you know, the disquisition is in your possession. If you do not read what I have said about Jane and Kant, we are talking at cross purposes."

Quite the contrary, I know for a fact that at least some of those who do me the honor of going to the trouble of reading all the way through my posts do not find such references irritating, they actually enjoy them a lot. In fact, i know of at least two group members who are very interested in the Kant allusion I have detected in Emma--a very specific textual "bread crumb"--and I write for them.

But I thank you one last time for your civil, specific engagement with my ideas, and I try to reciprocate in kind.

Cheers, ARNIE

1 comment:

Arnie Perlstein said...

This is Arnie Perlstein writing on June 25, 2017 -- I notice there has been a sudden uptick in pageviews for the above 2011 post -- this suggests that it has been linked to by another website -- can anyone tell me which one?

Many thanks! ARNIE