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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hegel and Jane Austen: REDUX REDUX

Today is more or less the second and third anniversary of posts I have written in the past about Hegelian aspects of Jane Austen's writing:

I now have a _third_ post to add to that Hegelian sequence, which is the following quotation from Slavoj Zizek. The Sublime Object of Ideology. (1989), which I was led to by another Austen scholar purely by serendipity, as I was looking into an interesting subtextual Austen angle:

ppg. 62-64: “Austen, not Austin: it is Jane Austen who is perhaps the only counterpart to Hegel in literature. P&P is the literary Phenomenology of Spirit; MP the Science of Logic, and Emma the Encyclopaedia….No wonder, then, that we find in P&P the perfect case of this dialectic of truth arising from misrecognition. Although they belong to different social classes—he is from an extremely rich aristocratic family, she from the impoverished middle classes—Elizabeth and Darcy feel a strong mutual attraction. Because of his pride, his love appears to Darcy as something unworthy; when he asks for Elizabeth’s hand, he confesses openly his contempt for the world to which she belongs and expects her to accept his proposition as an unheard-of honour. But because of her prejudice, Elizabeth sees him as ostentatious, arrogant, and vain: his condescending proposal humiliates her, and she refuses him.This double failure, this mutual misrecognition, possesses a structure of a double movement of communication where each subject receives from the other its own message in the inverse form: Elizabeth wants to present herself to Darcy as a young cultivated woman, full of wit, and she gets from him the message ‘you are nothing but apoor empty-minded creature, full of false finesse’; Darcy wants to present himself to her as a proud gentleman, and he gets from her the message ‘your pride is nothing but contemptible arrogance.’ After the break in their relationship each discovers, through a series of accidents, the true nature of the other—she the sensitive and tender nature of Darcy, he her real dignity and wit—and the novel ends as it should, with their marriage. The theoretical interest of this story lies in the fact that the failure of their first encounter, the double misrecognition concerning the real nature of the other, functions as a positive condition of the final outcome: we cannot go directly for the truth, we cannot say, ‘If, from the very beginning, she had recognized his real nature and he hers, their story could have ended at once with their marriage.’ Let us take as a comical hypothesis that the first encounter of the future lovers was a success—that Elizabeth had accepted Darcy’s first proposal. What would happen? Instead of being bound together in true love, they would become a vulgar everyday couple, a liaison of an arrogant, rich man and a pretentious, empty minded young girl. If we want to spare ourselves the painful roundabout route through the misrecognition…"

I see other deeper layers of misrecognition in P&P beyond those described by Zizek, but they are all related, and also spring in part, I believe, from JA's own insight into, and extension of, Hegel's ideas, into the realm of literature.

Cheers, ARNIE

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