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Absent-centred structure in five modern novels : Henry James’s The Princess Casamassima, Joseph Conrad’s.. 1982

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ABSENT-CENTRED STRUCTURE IN FIVE MODERN NOVELS: HENRY JAMES'S THE PRINCESS CASAMASSIMA, JOSEPH CONRAD'S THE SECRET AGENT, ANDREI BELY'S PETERSBURG, JOSEPH HELLER'S CATCH-22, AND THOMAS PYNCHON'S GRAVITY'S RAINBOW by DONALD BRENTON MACLAINE B.Ed., The U n i v e r s i t y of P r i n c e Edward I s l a n d , 1973 M.A., The U n i v e r s i t y of East A n g l i a , 1975 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY i n THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES Department of E n g l i s h We accept t h i s t h e s i s as conforming to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA November 1982 Q Donald Brenton MacLaine, 1982 In presenting t h i s thesis i n p a r t i a l f u l f i l m e n t of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of B r i t i s h Columbia, I agree that the Library s h a l l make i t f r e e l y available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of t h i s thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. I t i s understood that copying or publication of t h i s thesis for f i n a n c i a l gain s h a l l not be allowed without my written permission. Department of The University of B r i t i s h Columbia 1956 Main Mall Vancouver, Canada V6T 1Y3 )E-6 (3/81) i i ABSTRACT Though the n o t i o n of absent-centred s t r u c t u r e enjoys a current fashionableness i n a number of contemporary t h e o r e t i c a l d i s c u s s i o n s , the v a r i e t y of i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s , some of them i m p l i c i t l y c o n t r a d i c t o r y , and most of them e x c e s s i v e l y a b s t r a c t , prevents "absent-centredness" from being the u s e f u l c r i t i c a l category i t might be. By surveying the h i s t o r y of the term i n my I n t r o d u c t i o n , and by d e s c r i b i n g the t e x t u a l r e a l i z a t i o n s of absent- centredness i n a number of modern novels, my t h e s i s attempts to d e f i n e the term as a s p e c i a l s t r a t e g y of n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e . That s t r a t e g y i s i d e n t i - f i a b l e by such formal devices as i n d i r e c t n a r r a t i o n , a n t i - c l i m a x , c a n c e l l a - t i o n , and negation; and by s t r u c t u r i n g images of s p a t i a l and temporal d i s - t o r t i o n , e s p e c i a l l y the a n a r c h i s t explosion and the urban l a b y r i n t h . The i n t r o d u c t o r y d i s c u s s i o n of works which might or might not be considered absent-centred f i c t i o n demarcates the category more c l e a r l y , though my choice of novels f o r more d e t a i l e d d i s c u s s i o n i s exemplary r a t h e r than exhaustive. My d i s c u s s i o n begins w i t h Henry James's The P r i n c e s s Casamassima (Chapter I I ) because, i n i t s use of anarchism, the Dickensian l a b y r i n t h i n e c i t y , and a n t i - c l i m a x , that novel represents, a l b e i t u n c e r t a i n l y , the l a t e - V i c t o r i a n beginnings of absent-centred s t r u c t u r e which James's l i t e r a r y descendents shape more c o n s i s t e n t l y . Hence, Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent (Chapter I I I ) i s governed, p a r a d o x i c a l l y , by a prominent absence, the unseen and i n d i r e c t l y narrated bomb expl o s i o n which operates as a n a r r a t i v e i i i mataphor, for the temporal and spatial distortions of the text are both the logical result of the bomb's blast and a means of circumscribing the absent centre. Andrei Bely's Petersburg (Chapter IV) illustrates best the High- Modernist use of the absent centre, though i t relies on the same devices of anarchist plot and foiled explosion which Conrad exploits. And while Bely's Symbolism has a particular Russian coloration, i t co-opts, l i k e Conrad's, the same fragmentary features of the bomb-threatened city as images for narrative structure. And whereas Conrad shows us that absent-centredness is an apt description of the moral vacancy which he sees as characteristic of the early twentieth-century West, Bely shows us that i t is also an apt de- scription of his mystical and metaphysical view of the early twentieth-century East. Like Petersburg,whose narrative is fragmented more l i t e r a l l y than The Secret Agent's, Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (Chapter V) exploits the chronolog- i c a l and spatial disruptions which result from explosion. Fragmentation in this work is mimetic of Yossarian's consciousness which, shattered by the realization of Snowden's "exploded" secret, prefers to, but cannot, forget the horror of his comrade's death. As in other works of absent-centred f i c t i o n , the hero's hyperbolic fear of his own death is transformed into the fear of apocalyptic n u l l i t y . The military establishment which prevents Yossarian's escape from that fear occasions an exploration of the blackly humorous and absurdist nature of a world with no sane centre of control. Most, i f not a l l , of these themes, images, and strategies are gathered together encyclopedically in the most ambitious of these absent-centred works, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Here, the anarchist bomb, metaphor for iv absence, finds i t s sophisticated contemporary counterpart in the rocket which, in a rainbow arc from "point to no point," transports apocalyptic ab- sence. Under the shadow of that trajectory moves Slothrop, a failed quester whose g r a i l eludes him and who wanders directionless in the labyrinthine and centreless post-war "Zone" u n t i l he disappears from both landscape and text. More reflexive than earlier absent-centred works, Gravity's Rainbow makes us aware that Slothrop's experience in the Zone is also the reader's, for lik e Slothrop, he searches for a centre in the "zone" of a f i c t i o n too complexly structured and too exploded to reveal i t s unifying source, which can only be, paradoxically, the absent centre i t s e l f . V Table of Contents Page ABSTRACT ,• ,• CHAPTER I A T h e o r e t i c a l and A n a l y t i c a l I n t r o d u c t i o n 1 CHAPTER I I Henry James's The P r i n c e s s Casamassima: The Misplaced Middle 48 CHAPTER I I I Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent: Sudden Holes i n Time and Space 76 CHAPTER IV Andrei Bely's Petersburg: Rapid Expansion 107 CHAPTER V Joseph H e l l e r ' s Catch-22: The Secret of Snowden 140 CHAPTER VI Thomas Pynchon's G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow: The S i n g l e Root Lost 174 CONCLUSION 212 BIBLIOGRAPHY 218 1 CHAPTER I A T h e o r e t i c a l and A n a l y t i c a l I n t r o d u c t i o n 1 By "absent-centred s t r u c t u r e " I mean a n o v e l i s t i c s t r u c t u r e which has at i t s centre a more or l e s s c o n s c i o u s l y constructed absence that governs the e n t i r e n a r r a t i v e . This phenomenon, I attempt to show i n t h i s study, can be analyzed i n considerable d e t a i l by d e s c r i b i n g the p a r t i c u l a r n a r r a t i v e d e v i c e s , ploys and s t r a t e g i e s of each author. Some of these devices are s p a t i a l s t r u c t u r i n g images, such as the a n a r c h i s t e x p l o s i o n and the urban l a b y r i n t h ; others are temporal fragmentations, such as d i s r u p t e d chronology, i n d i r e c t p o i n t of view, c a n c e l l a t i o n , negation and r e p e t i t i o n . Though absent-centred s t r u c t u r e i s perhaps most e a s i l y i d e n t i f i e d i n Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent and the l a t e r works which I d i s c u s s (Andrei Bely's P e t e r s - burg, Joseph H e l l e r ' s Catch-22 and Thomas Pynchon's G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow), my study begins w i t h Henry James's The P r i n c e s s Casamassima because, together w i t h much of Dickens, i t i l l u s t r a t e s the V i c t o r i a n r o o t s of t h i s n a r r a t i v e phenomenon. The task i s n e c e s s a r i l y incomplete. Which works belong to and which works are excluded from the category of absent-centred n a r r a t i v e could ex- pand i n t o a kind of encyclopedic p a r l o u r game. To avoid such a game, I have, i n the l a t t e r h a l f of t h i s i n t r o d u c t i o n , discussed some of those t e x t s which more obviously than most i n v i t e themselves i n t o the p a r l o u r . The r e s u l t i s that I have d e l i n e a t e d a " s e t " — e x e m p l a r y I would c l a i m — b u t 2 n e v e r t h e l e s s a l i m i t e d m o d e r n s e t w i t h i n t h e l a r g e r f i e l d o f a b s e n t - c e n t r e d f i c t i o n . T h e n o v e l s i n t h i s s e t s h a r e a n u m b e r o f s t r i k i n g l y s i m i l a r n a r r a - t i v e s t r a t e g i e s ; s p a t i a l a n d t e m p o r a l i m a g e s a n d d e v i c e s o f a b s e n t i n g . P a r t o f t h e d i s c u s s i o n i n my t h e s i s a t t e m p t s t o e x p l a i n t h e s i m i l a r i t i e s a n d d i f f e r e n c e s b e t w e e n t h e s e w o r k s , t h e r e b y h i g h l i g h t i n g t h e p a r t i c u l a r c o l o r - a t i o n o f e a c h a b s e n t - c e n t r e d n a r r a t i v e a c c o r d i n g t o t h e t a l e n t s a n d t a s t e s o f e a c h a u t h o r . Some o f t h e s e c o n n e c t i o n s a r e d u e t o s o u r c e a n d i n f l u e n c e ; t h e D i c k e n s - J a m e s - C o n r a d - H e l l e r l i n e a g e i s a h i g h l y v i s i b l e o n e . O t h e r s h a v e t o d o w i t h c u l t u r a l f a s h i o n ; B e l y ' s M o d e r n i s m , d e s p i t e i t s d i s t i n c t i v e R u s s i a n p e r s u a s i o n , c o n n e c t s e a s i l y t o C o n r a d ' s M o d e r n i s m . T h e t a s k i s f u r t h e r c o m p l i c a t e d b y a w i d e t h e o r e t i c a l f r a m e o f r e f e r - e n c e . A s a r e s u l t , I h a v e t h o u g h t i t p r u d e n t t o c h a r t i n t h e f i r s t h a l f o f my i n t r o d u c t i o n t h e u s a g e o f t h e t e r m " a b s e n t c e n t r e " i n a n u m b e r o f c r i t i c a l t h e o r i e s — e s p e c i a l l y p r u d e n t s i n c e t h a t t e r m e n j o y s a c e r t a i n c u r r e n t c r i t i c a l f a s h i o n . I t i s u s e f u l t o l o o k a t t h e s p e c i a l c u t s a n d c o l o u r s o f t h a t f a s h i o n , f o r . w h i l e t h e p h i l o s o p h i c a l d i s c u s s i o n s d o n o t a l w a y s o u t l i n e t h e n a r r a t i v e c o n s e q u e n c e s o f t h e a b s e n t c e n t r e , t h e y do o f t e n p r o v i d e a r i c h d i s c u s s i o n o f t h e p h i l o s o p h i c a l , h i s t o r i c a l a n d c u l t - u r a l c o n t e x t o f t h e t e r m , e s p e c i a l l y , a s we s h a l l s e e , i n r e g a r d t o M o d e r n i s m . I n s o m e i n s t a n c e s , h o w e v e r , s u c h a s T z v e t a n T o d o r o v ' s w o r k o n H e n r y J a m e s , t h e t h e o r y b e a r s m o r e d i r e c t l y o n p a r t i c u l a r t e x t s . B y s u r - v e y i n g s u c h p o s i t i o n s o n t h e a b s e n t c e n t r e , I w i l l b e a b l e t o d r a w t h e b o r d e r s o f a n d d e f i n e m o r e c l e a r l y t h e way i n w h i c h t h e f i v e n a r r a t i v e s I d i s c u s s o p e r a t e w i t h a n a b s e n t c e n t r e t h a t i s m o r e p a r t i c u l a r t h a n t h e t h e o r e t i c a l d e s c r i p t i o n s o f t h e t e r m . I w i l l , i n o t h e r w o r d s , c r e a t e a c i r c l e o f l a m p p o s t s w h i c h s h e d s l i g h t o n t h e s u b j e c t m a t t e r i t c i r c u m - 3 s c r i b e s — a s t r a t e g y which echoes at l e a s t one device of absent-centred n a r r a t i v e . The a n a l y s i s i s not intended to be p r e s c r i p t i v e , f o r the phenomenon I d e t a i l i s not so much a genre as i t i s a s t r u c t u r i n g technique (though I b e l i e v e a kind of taxonomy of absent-centred s t r u c t u r e might be undertaken). Nor i s t h i s phenomenon r e s t r i c t e d to a p a r t i c u l a r l i t e r a r y t r a d i t i o n ; the very i n t e r n a t i o n a l i s m of my authors p o i n t s to the c r o s s - c u l t u r a l nature of absent-centred s t r u c t u r e . 2 In at l e a s t two ways, a l l works of f i c t i o n are absent-centred. I f we assume that a work of f i c t i o n has at i t s source a w e l l - s p r i n g of a u t h o r i a l i n t e n t i o n , we must also assume that such i n t e n t i o n remains o u t s i d e and ab- sent from the t e x t . Indeed, i f i t i s not absent, i t i s e i t h e r d i s t r u s t e d , as i n the case of the u n r e l i a b l e n a r r a t o r or, as i n most propagandist l i t e r a t u r e , so p a i n f u l l y present that the f i c t i o n remains naive. This i s not to say that i n t e n t i o n i s unrecoverable from the t e x t , merely that as a l e v e l of d i s c o u r s e i t remains other than the primary f l o w of n a r r a t i v e language, image, character and p l o t . An author may., of course, d e c l a r e himself i n a preface, which as an instrument of i n t e n t i o n a l i t y presents s p e c i a l problems, but even here we may d i s t i n g u i s h broadly between the f i c t i o n a l preface o f , f o r example, Defoe's M o l l Flanders and Hawthorne's The S c a r l e t L e t t e r , and the more " t r u t h f u l " preface of Henry James. The former, i f considered as p a r t of the t e x t , becomes an u n r e l i a b l e bearer of a u t h o r i a l i n t e n t i o n , w h i l e the l a t t e r always remains o u t s i d e the t e x t , 4 though not necessarily a l l that more reliable because of i t s external positioning. At this simplest level, authorial intention is antithetical to and hence absented from f i c t i o n because i t represents the didactic and the prosaic; the language of what one intends is not of the same order as the language of executing that intention. The former, i t seems, is des- tined to exclusion from the literary text. Yet intentionality, in the more sophisticated sense that means a force intending literary production, may also include the historical, social, psychological or philosophical f o r c e s — or to embrace a l l of these, the ideological "intention" which can be shown to be both central yet external and instrumental to the linguistic and formal manoeuvres of the text. Different from but not unrelated to the absence of authorial and ideological intention i s the phenomenological unknown which pulls the reader through the space between the two covers of a text—that tantalizing tug across the narrative time between beginnings and endings—even of" the open kind. At the simplest level, this type of absence is the "what happened" or the "who done i t " which centrally governs a l l narrative. It is cer- tainly exploited by texts and i t may be (and often is) discussed in texts, but ultimately i t remains an extra-textual phenomenon. At a more complex level, this controlling but absented force becomes a problem for hermen- eutics, a problem of the space or "gap" between reader, text and the process of recovery. The f i r s t class of absence, we can say, is mediated by or through the author, while the second is mediated through the reader. It i s , more or less, the f i r s t type of absence which interests both Pierre Macherey in A Theory of Literary Production and Terry Eagleton in 5 C r i t i c i s m and Ideology. For Macherey i t i s important to ask of every work what i t does not say i n a d d i t i o n to what i t does say, f o r , l i k e an u t t e r - ance, what i s s a i d depends p a r t l y on what i s not s a i d . And j u s t as Freud rel e g a t e d the unspoken to a space he c a l l e d the unconscious, Macherey r e l e - gates l i t e r a r y production to a kind of unconsciousness of the t e x t . When Macherey speaks of l i t e r a r y d i s c o u r s e , he speaks of i t as "sealed and i n t e r - minable, completed or e n d l e s s l y beginning again, d i f f u s e and dense, c o i l e d about an absent centre which i t can n e i t h e r conceal nor reveal."''' Macherey examines t h i s centre by l o c a t i n g the t e x t ' s "otherness," by ig n o r i n g c r i t i c i s m ' s conventional s t r a t e g y of d e s c r i b i n g organic, u n i f i e d s t r u c t u r e s and by concentrating instead on the t e x t ' s i d e o l o g i c a l i m p e r f e c t i o n s , i t s c a r e f u l avoidances and resonant b l i n d spots. ... the work e x i s t s above a l l by i t s determinate absences, by what i t does not say, i n i t s r e l a t i o n to what i t i s not. Not that i t can conceal anything: t h i s meaning i s not buried i n i t s depths, masked or d i s g u i s e d ; i t i s not a question of hunting i t down w i t h i n t e r p r e t a t i o n s . I t i s not i n the work but by i t s s i d e : on i t s margins, at that l i m i t where i t ceases to be what i t claims to be be- cause i t has reached back to the very c o n d i t i o n s of i t s p o s s i b i l i t y (TLP, p. 154). Thus, i n searching f o r the c e n t r a l o r i g i n of the t e x t ' s coming i n t o being, Macherey sees the c r i t i c ' s f u n c t i o n as unmasking the l i m i t a t i o n s of the tex t and not as r e v e a l i n g i t s f i c t i o n a l s t r u c t u r e . "The work d e r i v e s i t s 'form from t h i s incompleteness which enables us to i d e n t i f y the a c t i v e presence of a c o n f l i c t at i t s borders" (TLP, p. 155). The d i f f i c u l t y w i t h Macherey i s that the absences which he l o c a t e s need not be c e n t r a l to a d e s c r i p t i o n of the t e x t ' s s t r u c t u r e . The t e x t ' s coming i n t o b e i n g — i t s p r o d u c t i o n — i s not n e c e s s a r i l y the same as i t s performance. The absences which Macherey i d e n t i f i e s are primary i n regard to production but only secondary i n regard to the t e x t i t s e l f . U l t i m a t e l y , the c r i t i c who adopts Macherey's s t r a t e g y i s l e d to a k i n d of p o e t i c s of the negative. In an attempt to rescue l i t e r a r y t e x t s from such a p o e t i c s , Terry Eagleton, u n l i k e Macherey, refuses to l e t ideology remain e n t i r e l y e x t e r n a l to the l i t e r a r y work. Eagleton r e s t o r e s a more dynamic and more complex r e l a t i o n s h i p between the mutually shaping f o r c e s of t e x t and ideology; ... i t [the r e l a t i o n s h i p ] can only be grasped as a ceaseless r e c i p r o c a l operation of the t e x t on ideology and ideology on t e x t , a mutual s t r u c t u r i n g and de- s t r u c t u r i n g i n which the t e x t c o n s t a n t l y overdetermines i t s own determinations. The s t r u c t u r e of the t e x t i s the product of t h i s process, not the r e f l e c t i o n of i t s own i d e o l o g i c a l environs. The ' l o g i c of the t e x t ' i s not a dis c o u r s e which doubles the ' l o g i c of ideology'; i t i s , r a t h e r , a l o g i c constructed 'athwart' that more encompassing l o g i c . 2 By a l l o w i n g the t e x t ' s s t r u c t u r e a measure of a u t h o r i t y which Macherey does not, Eagleton i s able to l o c a t e the absence ±n the t e x t as a t o t a l i z i n g system, whereas f o r Macherey the absence remains at the borders of the t e x t . The n o t i o n of an absence i n a t o t a l i z i n g s t r u c t u r e i s , as Eagleton acknowledges, p a r t l y i n s p i r e d by Perry Anderson's essay "Components of the N a t i o n a l C u l t u r e " i n which the term "absent centre" i s used i n a q u i t e d i f f e r e n t context. For Anderson, B r i t a i n alone among European nations i s c h a r a c t e r i z e d by a l a c k of a " t o t a l i z i n g conceptual system," the symptom of which i s the absence of a c l a s s i c a l s o ciology and a n a t u r a l i z e d Marxism. The r e s u l t i s that the s o c i e t y i s " c h a r a c t e r i z e d by an absent centre," and "the whole c o n f i g u r a t i o n of i t s c u l t u r e has been determined—and d i s l o c a t e d 3 by t h i s v o i d at i t s cen t r e . " When Eagleton brings t h i s n o t i o n to bear on 7 Conrad's f i c t i o n , the term takes on somewhat greater c r i t i c a l p r e c i s i o n , f o r he f i n d s i n Conrad's a e s t h e t i c a movement and a s t r u c t u r i n g towards organic u n i t y and t o t a l i t y , but one which at the same time "contains i t s own negation." I d e o l o g i c a l dissonances emerge i n h i s f i c t i o n not, as w i t h Dickens, i n an e x p l o i t a t i o n of open-ended, i n t e r - n a l l y discrepant forms, but i n the c a l c u l a t i v e o r g a n i s a t i o n of i n t e r l a c i n g patterns around a c e n t r a l absence. At the centre of each of Conrad's works i s . a resonant s i l e n c e : the unfathomable enigma of K u r t z , Jim and Nostromo, the dark, brooding p a s s i v i t y of James Wait i n The-Nigger of the N a r c i s s u s , the s t o l i d o p a c i t y of McWhirr i n Typhoon, the e t e r n a l c r y p t i c n e s s of the 'Russian s o u l ' i n Under Western Eyes, the un- seen bomb-explosion and m y s t i c a l s i l e n c e of the i d i o t S t e v i e i n The Secret Agent, Heyst's nonexistent treasure i n V i c t o r y . These absences are d e t e r m i n a t e — they demarcate the gaps and l i m i t s of the Conradian ideology, represent the 'hollows' scooped out by a c o l l i s i o n or e x c l u s i o n of meanings (CI, pp. 137-38). Thus, the c e n t r a l absence i n each of Conrad's novels p o i n t s to the s i g n i f i - c a t i o n of what i s excluded. Yet, when we look c l o s e l y at Eagleton's l i s t of absences, we can see a s i g n i f i c a n t s h i f t , a s h i f t which i l l u s t r a t e s the d i f f i c u l t y of d e s c r i b i n g n a r r a t i v e absences w i t h p r e c i s i o n . The absences i n Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, The Nigger of the Narcissus and Typhoon are enigmas of c h a r a c t e r , a c e n t r a l mysteriousness constructed i n t o the hero. S i m i l a r l y , Eagleton f i n d s that i n The Secret Agent S t e v i e c o n s t i t u t e s a " m y s t i c a l s i l e n c e " and i s thus another absenting enigma, but "the unseen bomb e x p l o s i o n " because i t d i f f e r s i n kind and degree s t i c k s out prominently i n the l i s t ; i t i s an absence which concerns n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e r a t h e r than enigmatic character. An enigma, however, does not n e c e s s a r i l y con- s t i t u t e an absence, f o r a l l kinds of n a r r a t i v e s have a l l kinds of m y s t e r i e s — of character, p l o t and subject matter, mysteries which are both i n t e n t i o n a l 8 and to a lesser degree accidental. From the Bible to Beckett, from Hamlet to Robbe-Grillet, mystery, secrecy and enigma, as Frank Kermode has shown in The Genesis of Secrecy, are necessary ingredients in the author-reader relationship of a l l literature of parable. When Kermode speaks of parables as a "simultaneous proclamation and concealment,"^ he echoes Macherey's notion of absences which are both concealed but present, yet, a hermeneutical description of secrecy (or in Macherey's case, an ideological one) does not necessarily describe narratives which have been intentionally crafted around an absent centre. While both Macherey and Eagleton share a Marxist search for textual absences which w i l l betray a work's origin, the ideological intention which is absented from the text, Eagleton's theory, which is more accommodating of the text's performance, is better equipped for a formal analysis of narrative absence, though he warns against any "fresh empiricism of the literary object" (CL, p. 99). In spite of this difference, both theorists in the end are intent on destroying organicist notions of structure by undermining them with ideological determinateness. Jacques Derrida is also intent on destroying organicist notions of structure, but his tactic is to question the very idea of structure in the f i r s t place, so that, for him, there is no longer a "privileged" centre for structure. Drawing on Levi-Strauss who claims that "there is no unity or absolute source of the myth," Derrida implies that likewise there can be no unity or absolute source for structure—especially, he claims, modern structure. The history of the concept of structure, he goes on to say, is the history of origins, sources, fixed centres and absolute presences. 9 What Derrida sees is an "event" or a "rupture" of these notions, and while he i s reluctant to pin-point the source or time of such an event, he does, nevertheless, say that i t occurs when the centre becomes not a fixed locus but a function, "a sort of non-locus." From then on i t was probably necessary to begin to think that there was no center, that the center could not be thought in the form of a being-present, that the center had no natural locus, that i t was not a fixed locus but a function, a sort of non-locus in which an inf i n i t e number of sign-substitutions came into.play. This moment was that in which language invaded the universal problematic; that in which, in the absence of a center or origin, everything became discourse—provided we can agree on.this word—that is to say, when everything became a system where the central signified, the original or transcendental signified, is never absolutely present outside a system of differences.-' More specifically, he suggests that this phenomenon is "part of the totality of an era, our own," and cites "the Nietzschean critique of metaphysics," "the Freudian critique of self-presence," and "the Heideggerean destruction of metaphysics ... of the determination of being as presence" as the originators of decentred structure. In short—Modernism, for Derrida's critique of structure i s one more way of describing the fragmentation of modernist ideology in reaction to a locus-centred world-view of the nine- teenth century and previously, that moment when, as he says, "European culture—and, in consequence, the history of metaphysics and of i t s con- cepts—had been dislocated, driven from i t s locus, and forced to stop considering i t s e l f as the culture of reference" (SSP, p. 251). But unlike Macherey and Eagleton, Derrida refuses to allow any causal relationship here, nor is he as quick as Eagleton and Macherey to affirm absence for fear of simply re-establishing another empiricist locus. Thus, the structure 10 he describes i s merely the f u n c t i o n , the f r e e - p l a y of the s t r u c t u r e i t s e l f . I t i s not something which generates the s t r u c t u r e , l i k e ideology, or which e x p l a i n s the s t r u c t u r e ; r a t h e r , i t i s something which ^Ls the s t r u c t u r e . " I t i s a r u l e of the game which does not govern the game; i t i s the r u l e of the game which does not dominate the game" (SSP, p. 167) . The problem that Derrida faces as a r e s u l t of t h i s s t r a t e g y i s how to speak of the absence; i t i s the same problem that Macherey and Eagleton face when they speak p a r a d o x i c a l l y of the absence's concealment and presence. The non-centre must be described and d e f i n e d , but i t must not be a f f i r m e d , because, e s p e c i a l l y f o r D e r r i d a , i t i s unrecoverable. D e r r i d a remarks that he i s attempting to place himself at a poi n t that I do not know any longer where I am going. And, as to t h i s l o s s of the center, I re f u s e to approach an idea of the "non-centre" which would no longer be the tragedy of the l o s s of the c e n t e r — t h i s sadness i s c l a s s i c a l . And I don't mean to say that I thought of approaching an idea by which t h i s l o s s of the center would be an a f f i r m a t i o n (SSP, p..267). Yet, i f absence can not be a f f i r m e d , then Derrida's r e f u s a l to a f f i r m absence becomes the new locus of s t r u c t u r e . Derrida i s arguing f o r a kind of c r i t i c a l mimesis, f o r a c r i t i c a l language which permits a d i s c u s s i o n of absence but which at the- same time w i l l not a f f i r m i t i n the language of empiricism. But l i k e the new novel which attempts to cut o f f the hideous head of t r a d i t i o n a l n a r r a t i v e only to f i n d another one sprouting hydra- l i k e i n i t s pl a c e , so too Derrida's language of f r e e - p l a y , of negation and evasion sprouts another source f o r s t r u c t u r e . For a l l the indeterminate- ness of, f o r example, R o b b e - G r i l l e t ' s The Voyeur or Jealousy, a locus governing such indeterminateness i s s t i l l c l e a r l y v i s i b l e — t h e r e are even 11 conventional metaphors f o r such indeterminateness i n the t e x t , such as i n the opening paragraph of The Voyeur: I t was as i f no one had heard The w h i s t l e blew a g a i n — a s h r i l l , prolonged noise followed by three short b l a s t s of ear- s p l i t t i n g v i o l e n c e : a v i o l e n c e without purpose that remained without e f f e c t . There was no more r e a c t i o n — n o f u r t h e r e x c l a m a t i o n — t h a n there had been at f i r s t ; not one f e a t u r e of one face had even trembled.6 "A v i o l e n c e without purpose that remained without e f f e c t , " i s a very accurate metaphor f o r the g i r l ' s death which i s about to be narra t e d . And inasmuch as the fragmented n a r r a t i v e i s a v i o l e n c e to conventional l i t e r a r y s t r u c t u r e , the metaphor suggests a locus ( a c t u a l l y , a "non-locus") f o r such fragmentation, j u s t as "the sudden holes i n time and space" of The Secret Agent suggest a metaphor f o r i t s n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e . The d i f f e r e n c e i s one of degree, not of k i n d . While Macherey and Eagleton r e j e c t an e m p i r i c i s t d e s c r i p t i o n of n a r r a - t i v e absences because they f e a r that i t w i l l compromise the i d e o l o g i c a l sources of such a phenomenon, Derrida r e j e c t s a formal d e s c r i p t i o n of absence because to embrace i t would be a c o n t r a d i c t i o n of h i s t h e s i s that there i s no source. This p o s i t i o n i s not so much a d e n i a l of s t r u c t u r a l i s t notions of absence as i t i s a m o d i f i c a t i o n . In h i s c r i t i q u e of s t r u c t u r a l i s m , Beginnings: I n t e n t i o n and Method, Edward W. Said notes that what becomes a pure l y metaphysical l o s s f o r Derrida i s a l o s s rooted i n language and l i n g u i s t i c s f o r the s t r u c t u r a l i s t s . French thought, he cla i m s , i s cha r a c t e r - i z e d by "the need to make a beginning," a need which i s symptomatic of the 12 l o s s of a p o i n t of o r i g i n i n language. When words l o s e the power to represent t h e i r i n t e r - c o n n e c t i o n s — t h a t i s , the power to r e f e r not only to o b j e c t s but a l s o to the system connecting ob- j e c t s to one another i n a u n i v e r s a l taxonomy of e x i s t e n c e — t h e n we enter the modern p e r i o d . Not only can the center not ho l d , but al s o the network around i t begins to l o s e i t s cohesive power.^ Such a rupture u l t i m a t e l y goes back to L e v i - S t r a u s s ' s d e s c r i p t i o n s of the language of myth, but, as i n D e r r i d a , the fragmented s t r u c t u r e has most relevance f o r the modern era. The r e s u l t f o r the s t r u c t u r a l i s t s i s the removal of any p r i v i l e g e d " O r i g i n " which "commands, guarantees and per- petuates meaning" (MM, p. 315). C i v i l i z e d man has no r e a l access to the "zero p o i n t " of a p r i m i t i v e language of a "pure semantic v a l u e " ; thus, modern man and the s t r u c t u r a l i s t i n p a r t i c u l a r i s plagued by thought and language which i s " p i t i l e s s l y r e l a t i o n a l . " In other words, man now l i v e s i n a c i r c l e without a center, i n a maze without a way out" (BIM. p. 316). Said l o c a t e s here, i n one breath, two of the predominant images which govern the absent-centred n a r r a t i v e s which I have chosen to d i s c u s s : the image of c o n c e n t r i c i t y and the maze or l a b y r i n t h . Yet n e i t h e r Said nor Derrida nor the s t r u c t u r a l i s t s i n general ( w i t h the notable exception of Tzvetan Todorov) explore the t e x t u a l and e s p e c i a l l y the n a r r a t i v e conse- quences of such s t r u c t u r i n g images. The t h e o r e t i c a l discourses on absent centres tend to s h i f t r a p i d l y from the n o t i o n of a n a r r a t i v e absence to the l a c k of an i d e o l o g i c a l centre ( l i t e r a r y production) or to the l a c k of a locus-centred world view (Modernism) o r , i n a f i n a l act of r e f l e x i v i t y , to the l a c k of a centre i n . s t r u c t u r a l i s t thought i t s e l f . The same s h i f t holds t r u e f o r the psychoanalytic o f f s h o o t s of s t r u c t u r a l i s m . In h i s 13 reworking of Freud, f o r example, Lacan r e l e g a t e s the unconscious to a 8 c u r i o u s l y absent space. I t i s " n e i t h e r p r i m o r d i a l nor i n s t i n c t u a l " ; i n s t e a d , the unconscious becomes, l i k e the s t r u c t u r a l i s t model based on l i n g u i s t i c s , a grammatical operation and a system. And j u s t as language f o r Lacan i s a kind of opening i n t o the "Other" from the c h i l d ' s s t a t e of " b i o l o g i c a l namelessness," so the separation from the mother represents the i n i t i a t i o n of sexual d e s i r e f o r l o s t p l e n i t u d e . The separation i s f e l t as a "primal l a c k " or a "gaping" and i t i s t h i s experience which i s f e l t as c a s t r a t i o n i n c h i l d r e n . Neurosis, then, becomes the f a i l u r e to accept t h i s c o n d i t i o n , a f a i l u r e to accept that at the centre of l i f e i t s e l f i s t h i s " p r i m a l l a c k . " Thus, F r e d r i c Jameson sums up the Lacanian view of c a s t r a t i o n as "a kind of zero degree of the p s y c h i c — t h a t e s s e n t i a l charged absence around which the e n t i r e meaning—or language—system n e c e s s a r i l y 9 organizes i t s e l f . " Yet when s t r u c t u r a l i s t s , as Said notes, draw on Saussure and L e v i - Strauss (or Freud) to lament the l a c k of a " t o t a l i z i n g " semantics, a purely p r i m i t i v e r e l a t i o n s h i p between s i g n i f i e r and s i g n i f i e d , they d e s c r i b e s o c i o l o g i c a l and h i s t o r i c a l phenomena but r a r e l y d i s c u s s the n a r r a t i v e responses to such theory. In f a c t , there i s a s i g n i f i c a n t r i f t between the c r i t i c i s m of modernist t e x t s and the response of c r i t i c a l theory to modern- ism. About the l a t t e r , Said says: "There i s no center a v a i l a b l e to the modern t h i n k e r , no absolute subject, s i n c e the O r i g i n has been curtained o f f " (BIM, p. 318). Yet, what i s t r u e of the modern " t h i n k e r " must c e r - . t a i n l y be t r u e of the modern n o v e l i s t , though there has been scant a t t e n t i o n to the l a c k of t h i s centre i n modern n a r r a t i v e s . P a r t of the reason may be 14 that c r i t i c a l theory has o u t s t r i p p e d c r i t i c a l p r a c t i c e ; f o r no sooner do c r i t i c s r e v e a l the fragmentation and indeterminancy of Modernist t e x t s — Joyce, Woolf and Faulkner are the three u s u a l English-language n o v e l i s t s i n the " f a s t lane" of Modernism—than they r e - c o n s t i t u t e and r e - u n i f y those t e x t s , u s u a l l y around the p o t e n t l y present centres of myth, h i s t o r i c i s m and language. Yet, i f , as so much of contemporary theory propounds, Modernism i s c h i e f l y defined by i t s de - c e n t r i n g , then such a view must have a more e x p l i c i t n a r r a t i v e and n o v e l i s t i c c o r r e l a t i v e than has so f a r been docu- mented. C r i t i c a l language has no s p e c i a l p r i v i l e g e over l i t e r a r y language, and i f the f o r c e s of Modernism are f r e q u e n t l y at work de-centring theoret- i c a l s t r u c t u r e s , the same must be t r u e of l i t e r a r y s t r u c t u r e s . What Said says about the s t r u c t u r a l i s t s ' predicament, f o r example, i s a l s o a p p l i c a b l e to the n o v e l i s t s ' predicament: The s t r u c t u r a l i s t s ' predicament i s an accurate symptom of man's c o n d i t i o n , mired as he i s i n h i s system of s i g n i f i c a t i o n . Their work can be con- strued as an attempt to manipulate t h e i r way out of our enslavement by language i n t o an awareness and subsequent mastery of our l i n g u i s t i c s i t u a t i o n . I f t h e i r c o n t i n u i n g e n t e r p r i s e i s f u n c t i o n a l ( l i k e that of Robinson Crusoe, marooned yet s u r v i v i n g and o r - ganizing the p o s s i b i l i t i e s of h i s i s l a n d around his needs), then t h e i r v i s i o n of the past i s f o n d l y Utopian and t h e i r anticipated future dimly apoca- l y p t i c (BIM, p. 319). A v i s i o n of the past which i s fondly Utopian and one of the f u t u r e which i s a p o c a l y p t i c i s , i n p a r t , the v i s i o n of the t e x t s which I have i s o l a t e d as absent-centred n a r r a t i v e s . Not that apocalypse provides a f o o l p r o o f l i t m u s t e s t f o r absent-centred n a r r a t i v e , but such a v i s i o n , which i s r e a l l y 15 a response to the f e a r of absence, i n conjunction w i t h other devices and i m a g e s — f o r example, i n d i r e c t n a r r a t i o n , c a n c e l l a t i o n , e x p l o s i o n , concen- t r i c i t y and s p a t i a l imagery of the l a b y r i n t h — c a n be u s e f u l i n l o c a t i n g absent-centred n a r r a t i v e s . Such a c a t e g o r y — i f i t i s to have any c r i t i c a l p r e c i s i o n at a l l — m u s t be capable of being defined as a s p e c i a l l i t e r a r y s t r a t e g y w i t h p a r t i c u l a r n a r r a t i v e ploys and devices which have a par- t i c u l a r c u l t u r a l reference. That i s why, of the s t r u c t u r a l i s t s , Tzvetan Todorov comes c l o s e s t to a systematic d i s c u s s i o n of absent-centred n a r r a t i v e , a d i s c u s s i o n which provides the c r i t i c a l precedent f o r my study. Using Henry James's short s t o r i e s , he sets out to show how "the Jamesian n a r r a t i v e i s always based on the quest f o r an absolute and absent cause.""^ Todorov undertakes what other s t r u c t u r a l i s t s and M a r x i s t s f e a r would concede too much to the autonomy of the t e x t . But the v a l u e of Todorov's essay i s the way he uses conventional c a t e g o r i e s of c h a r a c t e r , p o i n t of view, p l o t and s t y l e and makes them subservient to the s t r u c t u r a l p r i n c i p l e which i s prominent i n so many of James's short s t o r i e s . He i s e x p l i c i t about t h i s approach: There e x i s t s a cause: t h i s word must here be taken i n a very broad sense; i t i s o f t e n character but some- times, too, an event or an o b j e c t . The e f f e c t of t h i s cause i s the n a r r a t i v e , the s t o r y we are t o l d . I t i s absolute: f o r everything i n t h i s n a r r a t i v e owes i t s presence to t h i s cause. But the cause i s absent and must be sought; i t i s not only absent but f o r the most part unknown; what i s suspected i s i t s e x i s t e n c e , not i t s nature. The quest proceeds; the t a l e con- s i s t s of the search f o r , the p u r s u i t of, t h i s i n i t i a l cause, the p r i m a l essence. The n a r r a t i v e stops when i t i s a t t a i n e d . On the one hand there i s an absence (of the cause, of the essence, of the t r u t h ) , but t h i s absence determines everything; on the other hand there i s the presence (of the quest), which i s only the search f o r an absence (PP, p. 145). 16 By s t r e s s i n g the presence of the quest, Todorov i s able to handle the para- dox of a f f i r m i n g absence i n a more s u c c e s s f u l way than e i t h e r Macherey or De r r i d a . Thus, he asks himself at the end of the essay i f he i s not betr a y i n g the Jamesian p r i n c i p l e that the t r u t h cannot be designated by name; "How does i t come about that we can now name the s e c r e t , render the absence present?" Because the t r u t h i s the dynamic act of questing f o r what i s absent, the reader's quest i n the t e x t w i l l always be v a l i d a t e d . But c r i t i c i s m too ( i n c l u d i n g mine) has always obeyed the same law: i t i s the search f o r t r u t h , not i t s r e v e l a t i o n , a treasure hunt r a t h e r than the treasure i t s e l f , f o r the treasure can only be absent. Once t h i s "reading of James" i s over, we must then begin reading James, set out upon a quest f o r the meaning of h i s oeuvre, though we know that t h i s meaning i s nothing other than the quest i t s e l f (PP, p. 177). Todorov r e s t r i c t s h i s quest f o r the meaning i n James's oeuvre to the short s t o r i e s w r i t t e n between 1892 and 1903. Almost h a l f of the t a l e s were w r i t t e n during t h i s p e r i o d , and Todorov sees the previous work as lessons l e a r n t from Gustave Flaubert and Guy de Maupassant. No doubt a short s t o r y , being more f o r m u l a i c a l l y condensed than a n o v e l , i s i d e a l l y s u i t e d to Todorov's purposes, though he does say that James's s t o r i e s "stand as so many t h e o r e t i c a l s t u d i e s i n which James poses the great e s t h e t i c problems of h i s work" (PP, p. 143). This i s indeed the case, and I attempt to show that t h i s n a r r a t i v e experiment w i t h absence i s seeded i f not germinated at l e a s t as e a r l y as The P r i n c e s s Casamassima (1886). U n l i k e h i s d i s c u s s i o n of d e t e c t i v e f i c t i o n i n which he o u t l i n e s a broad n a r r a t i v e typology, Todorov does not suggest whether the quest f o r an absence i s a n a r r a t i v e s t r a t e g y at work i n other n o v e l i s t s than James, o r — true to h i s s t r u c t u r a l i s t l e a n i n g s — w h e t h e r or not such a s t r a t e g y has a 17 p a r t i c u l a r h i s t o r i c a l and c u l t u r a l context. By beginning w i t h James's The P r i n c e s s Casamassima and by t r a c i n g the progression of absent-centred n a r r a t i v e through to Conrad and H e l l e r , I attempt to show that t h i s n a r r a - t i v e technique i s not a p e c u l i a r l y Jamesian phenomenon but a formal s t r a t e g y , present i n n i neteenth century f i c t i o n to be sure, but a l s o warmly welcomed i n t o the Modernist l i t e r a r y context. Both s t r u c t u r a l i s t and Ma r x i s t c r i t i c a l t h e o r i e s propound what may be c a l l e d i d e o l o g i c a l and i n t e n t i o n a l views of the absent centre, i n the sense that they search out an absolute or a source outside the t e x t which generates and e x p l a i n s the l a c k of a centre. Even Derrida's notions of s t r u c t u r e , which at f i r s t glance appear to avoid such an approach, are governed by an i d e o l o g i c a l r e f u s a l to a f f i r m absence. Not so e a s i l y f i t t e d i n t o t h i s taxonomy i s the hermeneutical t r a d i t i o n and t h e o r i e s of reader-response which a l s o appropriate the term "absent-centred." There are two senses i n which Wolfgang I s e r i n The Act of Reading speaks of absence. One of these r e f e r s to the "space" between reader and t e x t : ... the gaps, the fundamental asymmetry between t e x t and reader, that give r i s e to communication i n the reading process; the l a c k of a common s i t u a t i o n and a common frame of reference corresponds to the con- tingency and the "no-thing" which b r i n g about the i n t e r a c t i o n between persons. Asymmetry, contingency, the " n o - t h i n g " — t h e s e are a l l d i f f e r e n t forms of an indeterminate, c o n s t i t u t i v e blank which u n d e r l i e s 11 a l l processes of in t e r a c t i o n . J - - L In the second sense of the term what i s absent i s lo c a t e d more s p e c i f i c a l l y by the t e x t , though, according to I s e r , not n e c e s s a r i l y in the t e x t ; gaps a c t i v a t e the reader and force him to "project" a r e l a t i o n s h i p with the text, so that what i s not said, j u s t as much as what i s said, helps the reader to recover the text. These gaps are "various types of negation": Blanks and negations both control the process of communication i n t h e i r own d i f f e r e n t ways: the blanks leave open the connections between perspectives i n the text, and so spur the reader into coordinating these p e r s p e c t i v e s — i n other words, they induce the reader to perform basic operations within the text. The various types of negation invoke f a m i l i a r or deter- minate elements only to cancel them out. What i s canceled, however, remains i n view, and thus brings about modifications i n the reader's a t t i t u d e toward what i s f a m i l i a r or determinate-—in other words, he i s guided to adopt a p o s i t i o n jLn r e l a t i o n to the text (AR, p. 169). Such notions would seem to take us a considerable distance i n describing how texts can be structured around an absent centre, e s p e c i a l l y since Iser notes an increase i n these blanks and negations i n the modern novel i n the indeterminacy between reader and text. Yet i t i s i n t e r e s t i n g to notice where these descriptions of absence lead Iser. In his discussion of Ulysses, which he takes as exemplary of modernist fragmentation and indeterminacy, he concludes that the blanks and negations efface the con ventional nineteenth-century narrator: In Ulysses we s t i l l have the perspective of the implied author, f o r without i t the novel could not e x i s t . But the implied author t r a d i t i o n a l l y supplied h i s r e a d e r — a t l e a s t i m p l i c i t l y — w i t h some form of o r i e n t a t i o n , and as t h i s i s missing from Ulysses, our fr u s t r a t e d expectation leads to the impression that the narrator has disappeared. But herein l i e s the very strategy of the narrator's perspective. The fragmentation of the f a m i l i a r n arrative patterns leads to such an intensive switching of viewpoints that the reader cannot work out any c e n t r a l focus; he cannot f i n d the o r i e n t - 19 a t i o n he had expected, and so h i s expectation forms the background against which the d i s c o n c e r t i n g jumble of n a r r a t i v e p a t t e r n s i s thrown i n t o r e l i e f . The background of h i s expectations i s indeed invoked by h i s d i s o r i e n t a t i o n , but at the same time he i s made to experience the n o n f u l f i l l m e n t of an expected f u n c t i o n — t h e n o n f u l f i l l m e n t of a f u n c t i o n i s i t s negative f u l f i l l m e n t . The f r u s t r a t i o n of such b a s i c expectations leaves a blank which the t r a d i t i o n a l novel had always f i l l e d (AR, p. 207). While the effacement of the nineteenth-century n a r r a t o r i l l u s t r a t e s a l e g i t i m a t e n a r r a t i v e phenomenon, i t does not advance us very f a r towards a d e s c r i p t i o n of more c o n s c i o u s l y constructed n a r r a t i v e absences. A l l t e x t s create t h e i r own a b s e n c e s — v a r y i n g degrees of d i s t a n c e , r e a l l y — between reader and n a r r a t i v e . This i s a phenomenon of the reading process. But some t e x t s , more than oth e r s , are i n d i v i d u a l l y programmed by n a r r a t i v e m a t e r i a l which the author conspicuously absents. This i s a s p e c i a l case of n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e . The absence which I s e r l o c a t e s i n Ulysses i s symptomatic but not n e c e s s a r i l y programmatic; that i s , the absence of the n a r r a t o r s i g n a l s a l i t e r a r y h i s t o r i c a l p rogression, but i t i s not n e c e s s a r i l y e x c l u s i v e l y programmed by that n o v e l . The Sound and the Fury, w i t h i t s m u l t i p l e n a r r a t i o n , a l s o absents the omnipotence of the nineteenth- century n a r r a t o r . In I s e r ' s sense, any Modernist novel which i s ch a r a c t e r - i z e d by a fragmented or d i s j o i n t e d p l o t l i n e must be deemed absent- centred. But there must be a more p r e c i s e n a r r a t i v e explanation f o r the f a c t t h a t , f o r example, Bely's Petersburg, Joyce's Russian r i v a l as exemplar of High Modernism, i s an e x p l i c i t l y absent-centred n a r r a t i v e i n a way which i s q u i t e u n l i k e that i n Ulysses. For I s e r the upshot of t e x t u a l absence i s that "the openness of s t r u c t u r e which c h a r a c t e r i z e s such t e x t s a r i s e s not from the f a c t that t h i s 20 type of blank s t i m u l a t e s e x t r a p r o d u c t i v i t y i n the reader, but from the f a c t that the p r o d u c t i v i t y i s e x p l o i t e d through the suspension of con- d i t i o n s the absence of which a c t u a l l y c o n s t i t u t e s the blank" (AR, p. 211). And u l t i m a t e l y , we may see i d e o l o g i c a l absolutes s l i p p i n g i n t o I s e r ' s c r i t i q u e of absence, f o r the reader's experience w i t h these blanks and negations c o n s t i t u t e s "the h i s t o r i c i t y of h i s standpoints through the act of reading i t s e l f " (AR, p. 211). And on an even more a b s t r a c t l e v e l , I s e r i m p l i e s that such a h i s t o r y of changing viewpoints has a p p l i c a t i o n f o r the reader's experience of s e v e r a l t e x t s and even of s e v e r a l p e r i o d s . In other words, the reader's experience of absence p l o t s a graph that becomes a h i s t o r y which i s "a c o n d i t i o n f o r the production of new codes" (AR, p. 212). I f contemporary t h e o r e t i c i a n s disagree about the genesis and p l a c e - ment of the absent centre, what they do agree on i s that i t makes a prominent, though by no means e x c l u s i v e , appearance i n the modern era. James M. M e l l a r d i n h i s book The Exploded Form, a restatement of the tenets of Modernism (fragmentation and a world view which i s r e l a t i o n a l ) , p o s i t s a taxonomy of Modernist t e x t s , a taxonomy which attempts to e x p l a i n the frequent appearance of the absent centre i n t h i s century. Drawing h e a v i l y on s c i e n t i f i c theory, h i s work documents the "naive," " c r i t i c a l , " and s o p h i s t i c a t e d " phases of Modernism. Generally, the movement governing these phases i s framed i n the f o l l o w i n g way: For the novel, as the world goes so goes the form i t s e l f : as the world proposed by twentieth-century science "explodes," so explodes the n o v e l . And a new metaphor i s born to r e p l a c e the old.12 Though M e l l a r d does not explore i t s s p e c i f i c n a r r a t i v e embodiments, the 21 metaphor of explosion is a rich one for my purposes, for not only does i t point to the violence done to nineteenth-century forms, but i t also points to the absence i t leaves in the narratives in which the detonation has occurred. The metaphor has more historical relevance than might be discerned at f i r s t glance. Thus, standing in awe of the onslaught of science and technology at the great world's f a i r which.ushered in the twentieth century, Henry Adams is forced to conclude that "bombs educate vigorously," and of the anarchist bomb in particular he says that i t is a 13 "powerful persuader." It i s , then, more than coincidence that the anarchist explosion should appear in several of the absent-centred texts which I have selected: The Princess Casamassima, The Secret Agent and Petersburg. As the hardware of warfare becomes more sophisticated, so do the narrative responses, as evidenced by the explosions in Catch-22 and Gravity's Rainbow. Yet even the warhead's trajectory, the rocket's rain- bow arc, which governs the narrative of Pynchon's novel, is prefigured in The Education of Henry Adams: The motion of thought had the same value as the motion of a cannon ball seen approaching the ob- server, on a direct line through the a i r . One could watch i t s curve for five thousand years. Its f i r s t violent acceleration in historical times had ended in catastrophe in 310. The next swerve of direction occurred towards 1500. Galileo and Bacon gave a s t i l l newer curve to i t , which altered i t s values; but a l l these changes had never altered the con- tinuity. Only in 1900, the continuity snapped.1^ Thus, the metaphor of explosion for the rupture brought by Modernism (present here in a seminal text which serves as a cultural and historical reference) i s also present as an operative narrative principle in Modernist literary texts. 22 3 Of course, not a l l Modernist or Post-modernist texts which exploit the explosion metaphor do so for the purpose of absenting a narrative centre."'""' Muriel Spark, in The Girls of Slender Means (1963), for example, flaunts the trappings of anarchism, war and explosion but structures the narrative to a different end and in a different way than Conrad does in The Secret Agent or Bely in Petersburg, novels which use much of the same hardware. As an instrument of death, the bomb is almost invariably shaped in the texts in which i t appears as a metaphor for apocalypse—death on the grandest scale. This tactic poses an immediate problem, for while bombs explode spectacularly throughout these texts, characters, narrators, authors and readers alike s t i l l remain alive and mostly well after the smoke and dust have settled. One explanation is that the explosions in these novels function as a kind of synecdoche for the larger, more threatening cosmic explosion. More ingeniously, however, the novelists of explosion rely on prolepsis, the representation of a future condition as occurring in the present. In The Secret Agent, Catch-22, Petersburg and Gravity's Rainbow, "the immense panorama of anarchy and f u t i l i t y , " to use T. S. Eliot's tag for Modernity, is at once a suspenseful threat of a nearby apocalypse and at the same time, a grim description of contemporary l i f e , as though that apocalypse had already arrived. Muriel Spark's panorama of anarchy and f u t i l i t y in The Girls of 23 Slender Means, however, i s not so much a p r o l e p t i c look at apocalypse as i t i s a backward glance to the shell-shocked l i v e s i n London immediately a f t e r World War I I . Spark, i n f a c t , works against the n o t i o n of war as a s p e c i a l e x p l o s i o n . Without understating the . e v i l s of war, her novel i l l u s t r a t e s how unexpected eruptions of d i s a s t e r are permanently o r d i n a r y rather than s p e c t a c u l a r l y s p e c i a l . Thus, the unexploded bomb which l i e s buried be- neath the hydrangeas i n Greggie's garden i s a mere remnant of war which unexpectedly detonates and sets the boardinghouse on f i r e . But Mrs. D o b e l l , a bystander at the f i r e , assumes that "belated bombs went o f f every day i n 16 B r i t a i n . " And i r o n i c a l l y , w h i l e London crowds c e l e b r a t e the end of death-dealing war i n f r o n t of Buckingham Palace's balconied r o y a l t y , N i c h o l a s i s witness to a seaman who " s l i d a k n i f e s i l e n t l y between the r i b s of a woman" (GSM, p. 141) . This p a r t i c u l a r crime i s enough to convert Nicholas to missionary r e v o l u t i o n i n L a t i n America; as he says: "a v i s i o n of e v i l may be as e f f e c t i v e to conversion as a v i s i o n of good" (GSM, p. 140). Yet, he too d i e s , stabbed as f o r t u i t o u s l y as the woman i n the park. No one d i s a s t e r takes prominence over another. The f i r e , Joanna's death, N i c h o l a s ' s death, the stabbing i n the park, the l o s s of l i f e a t sea (Joanna r e c i t e s w i t h n e u r o t i c r e p e t i t i o n "The Wreck of the D e u t s c h l a n d " ) — a l l these are t a l l i e d up to undermine the comfortable s e c u r i t y of a time capsule which characters so o b s e s s i v e l y search f o r . The end of war, then, does not mean the end of f a t e ' s random punishments, and thus the novel announces i t s d i s t i n c t l y metaphysical use of the e x p l o s i o n — a s a metaphor f o r the unexpected e r u p t i o n of f a t e . The explosion i n The G i r l s of Slender Means, u n l i k e that i n the novels of Conrad, Bely and Pynchon, does not so much d i s t o r t c h a r a c t e r s ' l i v e s and author's n a r r a t i v e , as i t does shock 24 characters i n t o a r e a l i z a t i o n of t h e i r d i s t o r t i n g i d e a l i s m and b r i n g them ru d e l y i n t o a time-bound, u n p r e d i c t a b l e r e a l i t y . Where Spark does e x p l o i t the device of p r o l e p s i s i s i n her use of endings; indeed, she elevates that trope to n a r r a t i v e prominence i n The D r i v e r ' s Seat. In The G i r l s of Slender Means, the n a r r a t i v e moves, on the one hand, c o n v e n t i o n a l l y forward, f o l l o w i n g the p l i g h t of the boarding- house g i r l s to the climax of t h e i r near deaths, w h i l e on the other hand, i t moves i n a "catch-up" f a s h i o n to Nic h o l a s ' s martyrdom i n H a i t i which i s revealed i n the opening pages of the novel and repeated s e v e r a l times afterwards. Thus, some characters move towards an u n p r e d i c t a b l e f a t e w h i l e Nicholas moves towards a known one. The n a r r a t o r ' s self-consciousness of t h i s device i s evident when we l e a r n that N i c h o l a s , a poet, bequeaths h i s manuscript to Rudi before l e a v i n g England: "'You can have i t , ' s a i d N i c h o l a s , meaning the manuscript. He s a i d , not f o r s e e i n g the death he was to d i e , 'You can keep i t ' " (GSM, p. 137). Thus, Nicholas l i v e s , not u n l i k e S t e v i e i n The Secret Agent, i n a n a r r a t i v e limbo. The reader's knowledge of N i c h o l a s ' s death a p r i o r i serves as an i r o n i c undercutting device to h i s a c t i o n s as he moves c l o s e r and c l o s e r to h i s death. The repeated passages about Ni c h o l a s ' s death, however, f u n c t i o n only p a r t l y l i k e the r e p e t i t i o n s of Snowden's death i n Catch-22 which occupies, by v i r t u e of i t s absence, a c e n t r a l p o s i t i o n i n the n a r r a t i v e . N i c h o l a s ' s death belongs to a sub-plot and i s r e a l l y only one more unexpected d i s a s t e r i n the more prominent n a r r a t i v e l i n e which f o l l o w s the f a t e of the g i r l s . Spark, i n f a c t , absents no important n a r r a t i v e m a t e r i a l ; she works not w i t h the absent but w i t h the unexpected, the s l i n g s and arrows 25 of an outrageous and extremely f i c k l e fortune. More generally, Spark's use of repetition (entire conversations and paragraphs are replayed) does not disrupt the novel as seriously as is the case in Catch-22 and Petersburg. Like Joanna's endless recitations of "The Wreck of the Deutschland," which she makes her elocution students recite just as endlessly, the repeated passages point to the f u t i l i t y and persevering neurosis of the g i r l s ' socially and culturally slender lives, but i t stops short of seriously fragmenting the narrative. The device of repetition, then, lik e the explosion metaphor, is really only another gear in the machinery of irony. This ironic authorial stance i s made clear in a passage which echoes the image of Conrad's professor wired to a bomb and with his hand on the detonator: There is a kind of truth in the popular idea of an anarchist as a wild man with a home-made bomb in his pocket. In modern times this bomb, fabricated in the back workshops of the imagination, can only take one effective form: Ridicule (GSM, p. 59). We must take this epigrammatic statement with more than a grain of salt (Paul Theroux's characters, for example, in The Family Arsenal do spec- tacular things with home-made bombs); yet the passage does point to the function of irony in many of these texts (The Secret Agent, Petersburg and Catch-22), which is to disrupt conventional narrative structure. But whereas Conrad invades his narrative structure with irony to emphasize the myopic immorality of his characters and the nightmarish world they inhabit, Spark uses irony mainly to set metaphysical traps for her characters who 26 are too b l i t h e l y unaware of the power of f a t e to sh a t t e r t h e i r l i v e s w i t h the unexpected. Thus Spark j o l t s her characters out of complacency by i r o n i c a l l y u ndercutting t h e i r a c t i o n s w i t h one d i s a s t e r a f t e r another. The power of these characters to maintain composure w i t h s e l f - d e c e p t i o n , d e l u s i o n and fantasy i s consid e r a b l e , but a bomb, as Henry Adams says, i s "a powerful persuader." C e r t a i n l y the f a l s e s e c u r i t y of t h e i r f r a g i l e domestic and s o c i a l world, i f not t h e i r i l l u s i o n s , goes up i n smoke. The explosions are more spectacular i n Paul Theroux's The Family Arsenal (1976), a novel which i n v i t e s i t s e l f i n t o the house of absent- centred n a r r a t i v e by a number of doors. I t s very t i t l e connects i t to the f i c t i o n of a n a r c h i s t a r s e n a l s , The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, The Secret Agent and Petersburg, and l i k e these works, The Family Arsenal i s an e x p l o r a t i o n of a n a r c h i s t i n t r i g u e f o i l e d and made mo r a l l y absurd i n the l i g h t of a d i s t o r t e d d o m e s t i c i t y . Theroux, i n f a c t , takes h i s epigraph from The P r i n c e s s Casamassima: "I determined to see i t " — she was speaking s t i l l of E n g l i s h s o c i e t y — " t o l e a r n f o r myself what i t r e a l l y i s before we blow i t up. I've been here now a year and a h a l f and, as I t e l l you, I f e e l I've seen. I t ' s the o l d regime again, the rottenness and ext r a v a - gance, b r i s t l i n g w i t h every i n i q u i t y and every abuse, over which the French Revolution passed l i k e a whirlwind; or perhaps even more a reproduction of the Roman world i n i t s decadence, gouty, a p o p l e c t i c , depraved, gorged and clogged w i t h wealth and s p o i l s , s e l f i s h n e s s and s c e p t i c i s m , and w a i t i n g f o r the on- set of the barbarians. You and I are the barbarians, you know. There are other a l l u s i o n s to The P r i n c e s s Casamassima i n the t e x t proper. Lady Arrow, l i k e Lady Aurora i n The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, assuages the conscience of the p r i v i l e g e d c l a s s e s by "slumming i t " w i t h the poor, i n 27 Lady Arrow's case, w i t h unwashed a r t i s t s and t r a n s i e n t s . She journeys to Greenwich Observatory w i t h one such female t r a n s i e n t , B rodie, j u s t as Verl o c t r a v e l s there w i t h S t e v i e , and Paul Muniment w i t h Hyacinth. Lady Arrow reminds Brodie of the p a r a l l e l : "In my f a v o r i t e novel there's a l o v e l y scene here i n Greenwich—an outing l i k e t h i s . Do you know Henry James?" (FA, p. 200). Since a reference to Conrad f o l l o w s s h o r t l y a f t e r t h i s passage, the mention of the Greenwich outing i s a double a l l u s i o n ; i t a l l u d e s to the m i l d l y suggestive homo-erotic scene between Muniment and Hyacinth (Lady Arrow has a l e s b i a n i n t e r e s t i n B r o d i e ) ; and s i n c e Conrad uses Greenwich f o r the s e t t i n g of S t e v i e ' s hideous death, the " l o v e l y scene" i s poignantly i r o n i c . These e x p l i c i t a l l u s i o n s s i t u a t e Theroux comfortably i n the James-Conrad t r a d i t i o n . For example, about The Secret Agent, the novel's hero, Hood, r e f l e c t s w i t h an echo of the opening of The Voyeur ("a v i o l e n c e without purpose that remained without e f f e c t " ) : " I t was a simple t a l e , a shadowy outrage, a bout of madness. I t s t a r t e d , i t squawked, i t was gone" (FA, p. 247). The Family Arsenal 'is perhaps too c l o s e to The Secret Agent, f o r Theroux's use of a l l the Conradian props (bowler hats, crumpled newspapers, streetlamps and ca r v i n g knives) means that the no v e l , at best, s t r a d d l e s the fence between the parodic and the d e r i v a t i v e . The novel i s a kind of update of The Secret Agent using the t o p i c a l i t y of the 1970's IRA bombings i n London— j u s t as both James's and Conrad's novels of anarchism are a l s o i n s p i r e d by t o p i c a l events: The P r i n c e s s Casamassima by the Hyde Park R i o t s and The Secret Agent by the Greenwich Bomb Outrage. Theroux, however, expresses more i n t e r e s t i n the motley, l o o s e l y glued f a m i l y of degenerates, e c c e n t r i c s , and t h r i l l seekers (who pose the r e a l threat) than i n the IRA a n a r c h i s t s 28 who so ineptly lose the arsenal. James and Conrad keep their irony aimed at the degeneracy of anarchists and their families and friends, whereas Theroux shifts the irony to characters on the fringe of bourgeois l i f e who, ironically, undermine the anarchists themselves. The explosion in The Family Arsenal, like those in the Conrad, Bely and Pynchon novels, is worked as a motif into the private lives of characters (a moral and domestic context), but inevitably i t expands to include the apocalyptic theme (a philosophical and social context). For Gawber, in his dull bureaucratic l i f e , the exploding arsenal, which lights the sky in "majestic detail" and sends "sparks traveling up in gusts curling above the rooftops," is f i r s t a private matter: "It is the end of my world" (FA, p. 293). Gawber, however, senses earlier in the novel, as he walks through Deptford squalor (Conradian squalor with an emphasis on disease) that the end might not begin so spectacularly: No: that was fancy's need for theater, the mind's idle picture, inaccuracy's enlargement. Catastrophe was l i k e this, i t was this—smoke, silence, emptiness and slow decay, an imperceptible leaching that was a strong smell long before i t was a calamity. The knotting of the city's innards into dead hanks, not combustion, but blockage, the slowest cruelest death (FA, p. 230). He disdains Londoners because "They didn't know; ignorance was part of the disease, because the illness would k i l l them before they understood i t was f a t a l " (FA, p. 231). Each of Theroux's characters has his own special version of the explosive end. For Murf, Hood's crass, unhygienic side- kick whose hippie tastes have run to knives and feats of bomb-wiring genius, the explosion ("Widdy-widdy-boom") i s a work of destructive beauty. 29 A d i r t i e r v e r s i o n of a Burgess droog, he wanders w i t h Brodie through London l i k e an a n a r c h i s t t o u r i s t imagining how he could " b r i n g down the Admiralty Arch by b l a s t i n g the c e n t r a l supports w i t h p l a s t i c e x p l o s i v e — 'then n i p on a Number One bus" 1 (FA, p. 76). Only two w e l l - p l a c e d charges, he t h i n k s , would be needed f o r the N a t i o n a l G a l l e r y , and "a p a r c e l of n i t r o i n the tube s t a t i o n " would take care of S a i n t Martin's church. Ever the o u t c a s t s , Murf and Brodie can only "possess the c i t y , by reducing i t to shattered pieces. Exploded, i n motion, i t was t h e i r s " (FA, p. 77). Hood, too, transforms London i n t o a p o s t - a p o c a l y p t i c scene. L i k e the P r o f e s s o r i n The Secret Agent who t h i n k s that "the low b r i c k houses had i n t h e i r dusty windows the s i g h t l e s s , moribund look of i n c u r a b l e 18 decay—empty s h e l l s a w a i t i n g d e m o l i t i o n , " Hood imagines a graveyard as the gutted remains of an e x p l o s i o n : "This was how the whole of London might look i f i t was devastated by bombs: m i l e s and m i l e s of shallow moan- ing c e l l a r s " (FA, p. 210). The c i t y , then, i n most of these novels e x i s t s as a convenient s e t t i n g f o r p r o l e p t i c e x p l o s i o n s : characters seem confused as to whether the apo- calypse i s about to burst or whether i t has, i n f a c t , already a r r i v e d . As a symbol, the c i t y i s at once a testament to man's highly-o r g a n i z e d s o c i a l s t r u c t u r e and, at the same time, a graveyard f o r i t s c o l l a p s e . I t provides the same dual f u n c t i o n f o r the i n d i v i d u a l s who wander there: a workshop f o r p a r t i c i p a t i o n and s o c i a l experiment, and a flophouse f o r moral d e p r a v i t y and g u i l t y concealment. In The Family A r s e n a l , Hood n o t i c e s that f o r every one who used the c i t y as an occasion to perform, a thousand chose i t as a place of conceal- ment. In i t s depths bombs were s t i f l e d . H i s own 30 was l o c a l , p ersonal, a f a m i l y matter; i t had not been heard here. ... He had been d r i v e n here, to a narrowing space i n the v a s t now f e a t u r e l e s s c i t y where i f he was not c a r e f u l he would be caught. You were allowed to hide i f you made no sound. The c i t y confounded l i k e a sea; i t was penetrable, but i t was endless and n e u t r a l , so wide that on a t r a i n t o s s i n g between s t a t i o n s — t h o s e named pl a c e s , those i s l a n d s — y o u could b e l i e v e you had gone under and were dead (FA, pp. 296-97). The c i t y i s " f e a t u r e l e s s " and "endless," and at the same time "narrowing" and "penetrable." Because the c i t y has both s t r u c t u r e and chaos, the l a b y r i n t h or maze becomes a f a v o u r i t e image f o r the n o v e l i s t s i n my study who search f o r ways to d e p i c t the modern c i t y . The l a b y r i n t h i s at once a c o n s t r u c t i o n of complex order and complex d i s o r i e n t a t i o n . Thus, j u s t as Hyacinth f i n d s himself i n the w h i r l of s t a i r c a s e s and c o r r i d o r s of M i l l b a n k p r i s o n , Hood f i n d s himself l e d down the c l a n k i n g elevator cage and down the c i r c u l a r s t a i r w e l l to the tunnel under the Thames. I t was the s o r t of glazed endless c o r r i d o r Hood had seen when he was high, a tube of echoing t i l e s , without doors or windows, s t r e t c h i n g away, and r i n g i n g w i t h the f o o t - steps of people he could not see. Voices chimed from the w a l l s and h i s own footsteps.gulped. ... On the f a r s i d e of the r i v e r they emerged from the s t a i r - w e l l and i t s s t i n k of u r i n e and chalk to a dark muddy garden and a maze of earthworks (FA, p. 246). The l a b y r i n t h image here i n The Family A r s e n a l , as i n the novels of James, Conrad, Bely, H e l l e r and Pynchon, i s c o n s i s t e n t w i t h i t s m y t h o l o g i c a l and h i s t o r i c a l o r i g i n s as a tomb to secure the s a f e t y of the dead and as 19 a temple f o r r e s t o r i n g v i t a l i t y to the l i v i n g . James, i n p a r t i c u l a r , i s t r u t h f u l to the c l a s s i c a l r e n d i t i o n of the image; Hyacinth speaks of " s a c r i f i c e " i n the "innermost sanctuary" of the "temple" of the a n a r c h i s t underworld. Characters i n the modern novel of absent-centred s t r u c t u r e , 31 l i k e t h e i r c l a s s i c a l predecessors, search desperately f o r a l i f e - renewing centre, and more o f t e n than not, f i n d themselves confronted, both by King-god and M i n o t a u r — o r e l s e they become permanently l o s t , unable to f i n d the centre at a l l . I n i t s use of these n a r r a t i v e i m a g e s — p r o l e p t i c e x p l o s i o n and l a b y r i n t h i n e c i t y — T h e Family Arsenal shares much w i t h the n o v e l i s t s of absent-centred s t r u c t u r e . But u l t i m a t e l y i t f a l l s o u t s i d e that category because i t forgoes other e s s e n t i a l devices such as fragmentation, a n t i - climax, and i n p a r t i c u l a r , i n d i r e c t n a r r a t i o n . Moreover, the exp l o s i o n i n Theroux's novel i s c e n t r a l to the n a r r a t i v e only i n the sense that i t i s a f i t t i n g climax to an a n a r c h i s t mystery (and The Family A r s e n a l , more than i t s predecessors, i s descended from mystery f i c t i o n , though i t als o has some genetic m a t e r i a l from Ian Fleming's spy f i c t i o n ) . Even the a r s e n a l i t s e l f , which i s abducted from the t e r r o r i s t s , does not remain "hidden" from the n a r r a t i v e focus as does, say, the s i l v e r treasure i n Conrad's Nostromo. Nor does the ar s e n a l ' s e x p l o s i o n operate as a n a r r a t i v e centre, f o r i t i s not something given which the n a r r a t i v e then absents and re t u r n s to r e l u c t a n t l y . And u n l i k e The Secret Agent and Petersburg in.which the e x p l o s i o n i s a metaphor f o r the fragmentation of the n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e , Theroux's ex p l o s i o n i s simply the expected bang at the end of the p l o t ' s f u s e — i n d e e d , i n i t s suspenseful l i n e a r i t y , the novel i s s u r p r i s i n g l y c o nventional. Theroux absents nothing but the outcome (the rudimentary sense i n which a l l novels are absent-centred), and even here, he does not toy w i t h a n t i - c l i m a x l i k e James or e x p l o i t i t prominently l i k e Bely and Pynchon. Nor i s the exp l o s i o n e s p e c i a l l y symbolic; i t does ca r r y a c e r t a i n i r o n i c weight, but as a n a r r a t i v e 32 device i t l a c k s s t r u c t u r a l prominence such as i n The Secret Agent and metaphysical resonance such as i n Spark's The G i r l s of Slender Means. Theroux denies anarchism i t s p o l i t i c a l v a l i d i t y by p l a c i n g i t s machinery i n the hands of characters who, i n the smallness of t h e i r moral and p o l i t i c a l natures, remain i n inverse p r o p o r t i o n to the s i z e of the bomb and the d a z z l e of i t s b l a s t . G. K. Chesterton i n The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) denies anarchism i t s v a l i d i t y by d i s t o r t i n g i t i n the s e r v i c e of fantasy and parable. W r i t t e n one year a f t e r Conrad's The Secret Agent, the novel begins w i t h a kind of s o c i a l s a t i r e and drawing room comedy, delves b r i e f l y down to the haunts of underground anarchism, surfaces and then runs r a p i d l y away as a quasi-adventure chase that f l i r t s w i t h the f a n t a s t i c a l . I t uses, l i k e Theroux's and Spark's novels, anarchism f o r a q u i t e d i f f e r e n t purpose than the absent-centred novels of my study. More than Theroux's and Spark's, however, Chesterton's novel seems e a r n e s t l y d i s t u r b e d by the scope and the seriousness of the t h r e a t posed by anarchism. No doubt, there was good reason i n 1908, f o r , as we l e a r n from the background to the James and Conrad novels, newspapers at the time were s p e c u l a t i n g rampantly about a v a s t i n t e r n a t i o n a l network of conspiracy and v i o l e n c e . Conrad's response to t h i s anarchism i s to view i t as symptomatic of a l a r g e r moral decay, and l i k e Theroux, he explores the p r i v a t e , domestic context which might e x p l a i n i t . Spark's anarchism i s presented as the f u t i l e response to metaphysical t r u t h s which are d i f f i c u l t f o r characters to grasp and even more d i f f i c u l t to deal w i t h once p a i n f u l l y understood. Chesterton's angle on the a n t i c s of anarchism i s to shape them i n t o moral parable f o r the purpose of d i s c u s s i n g the two- sided c o i n of good and e v i l . In t h i s sense, the novel i s c l o s e r to Heart 33 of Darkness than to The Secret Agent, d e s p i t e the strong p a r a l l e l s i n imagery to the l a t t e r . Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday opens i n the London suburb of Saf f r o n Park which " l a y on the sunset s i d e of London, as red and ragged as 20 a cloud of sunset." Less uniform than Coketown's red b r i c k houses on l a r g e and small s t r e e t s " l i k e one another, i n h a b i t e d by people e q u a l l y 21 l i k e one another" (Dickens, Hard Times), and t i d i e r than the "grimy b r i c k houses" i n V e r l o c ' s London, the houses of S a f f r o n Park seem, never- t h e l e s s , d i s t o r t e d because the people who l i v e i n them are d i s t o r t e d . "The stranger who looked f o r the f i r s t time at the quaint red houses could only t h i n k how oddly shaped the people must be who could f i t i n to them" (MWWT, p. 9). And j u s t as Verlo c makes h i s way to the embassy under a sun that looked "bloodshot," G a b r i e l Syme n o t i c e s , as the novel opens, that S a f f r o n Park i s bathed i n a sunset that "looked l i k e the end of the world," and that "the whole was so c l o s e about the e a r t h as to express nothing but a v i o l e n t secrecy" (MWWT, p. 11). And so once again London l i e s v u l n e r a b l e to the t h r e a t of anarchism and apocalypse. But Chesterton, more than the other n o v e l i s t s who dea l w i t h t h i s v i o l e n t v i s i o n , seems i n t e n t on unmasking i t s shortsightedness. What seems l i k e gloomy d i s t r e s s f o r a decaying moral humanism i n The Secret Agent i s presented as a c h e e r f u l reproach f o r a f a c t f o r g o t t e n i n The Man Who Was Thursday. Conrad's novel seems r e g r e t f u l ; Chesterton's i s c o r r e c t i v e — w h i c h i s a f u n c t i o n of i t s parable form. G a b r i e l Syme, f o r example, makes i t c l e a r that there are lessons to be learned. He i s a man " f i g h t i n g f o r order" who f e e l s i t i s wise to be in t i m a t e w i t h the a n a r c h i s t experience so that "the r e a l l i e of Satan may be f l u n g back i n the face of t h i s blasphemer, so that by tear s and t o r t u r e we may l e a r n the r i g h t to say to t h i s man, 'You l i e ! ' " (MWWT, pp. 183-84). But the novel's humanistic i d e a l i s m i s not rescued without a t u s s l e from the sc e p t i c i s m of e a r l y twentieth-century modernism. For example, about Syme's perceptions of a f o r e s t , we read: For G a b r i e l Syme had found i n the heart of that sun- splashed wood what many modern p a i n t e r s had found there. He had found the t h i n g which modern people c a l l Impressionism, which i s another name f o r that f i n a l s c e p t i c i s m which can f i n d no f l o o r to the univ e r s e . As a man i n an e v i l dream s t r a i n s himself to scream and wake, Syme strove w i t h a sudden e f f o r t to f l i n g o f f t h i s l a s t and worst of h i s f a n c i e s (MWWT, p. 127) . While Chesterton's fantasy parable charts a d i f f e r e n t course than the an a r c h i s t f i c t i o n s of h i s immediate predecessors, James and Conrad, the s p a t i a l imagery i n the novel i s cut from the same c l o t h . Just as Hyacinth descends i n t o the p r i s o n and Conrad's characters i n t o the London l a b y r i n t h , Syme and Gregory descend i n t o t h e i r own kind of i n f e r n o : The next moment the smoke of h i s c i g a r , which had been wavering across the room i n snaky t w i s t s , went s t r a i g h t up as i f from a f a c t o r y chimney, and the two, w i t h t h e i r c h a i r s and t a b l e , shot down through the f l o o r as i f the e a r t h had swallowed them. They went r a t t l i n g down a kind of r o a r i n g chimney as r a p i d l y as a l i f t cut lo o s e , and they came w i t h an abrupt bump to the bottom. But when Gregory threw open a p a i r of doors and l e t i n a red subterranean l i g h t , Syme was s t i l l smoking w i t h one l e g thrown over the other, and had not turned a yel l o w h a i r . Gregory l e d him down a low, v a u l t e d passage, at the end of which was a red l i g h t . I t was an enormous crimson l a n t e r n , n e a r l y as b i g as a f i r e p l a c e , f i x e d 35 over a small but heavy iron door. In the door there was a sort of hatchway or grating, and on this Gregory struck five times (MWWT, p. 22). More explicitly hellish (roaring chimney, red subterranean light, f i r e - place) than James' and Conrad's renditions of anarchist underworlds, this particular abyss is a surprising forerunner of the entombed arsenals of technology and warfare that we find in the underground tunnels of Pynchon's Germany. Walled with bombs, the very room in which Syme and Gregory find themselves "seemed l i k e the inside of a bomb" (MWWT, p. 23), just as in Gravity's Rainbow the boy Gottfried finds himself about to be launched inside the Schwarzgerat. Yet, as in The Family Arsenal, labyrinth and bomb in The Man Who Was Thursday are not elevated to a structural prominence for the purposes of absenting a centre. Chesterton leads us not to a narrative gap but along a mesmerizing journey of mysteries and enigmatic confusions, and always towards the intricate play of opposites: of anarchists and police, of the seeming and the real, of nightmare and wakefulness and of good and evil-. Like Alice's adventure through the glass, Syme's descent down the anarch- ist's elevator i s a device for disfiguring and thus for commenting on a 22 world blurred by familiarity. By contrast, the novelists of absent- centred narrative feel that there is ample disfiguration in the world as i t i s . If Spark, Theroux and Chesterton reject absent-centred structure in favour of other narrative strategies (while exploiting the metaphors of anarchism and explosion), other novelists achieve a high degree of absent- centred structure by relying on the detective f i c t i o n genre instead of 36 anarchism and ex p l o s i o n . Hubert Aquin's Hamlet's Twin (Neige N o i r e ) , f o r example, foregoes the f i r e w o r k s of a n a r c h i s t e x p l o s i o n and the l a b y r i n t h of underground i n t r i g u e , but i t does e x p l o i t other s p a t i a l s t r u c t u r i n g images and temporal d i s t o r t i o n s which connect i t to The Secret Agent, Catch-22 and Petersburg. Not s u r p r i s i n g l y , authors l i k e Aquin, persuaded by the st r a t e g y of absent-centred n a r r a t i v e , must t u r n to image c l u s t e r s of c o n c e n t r i c i t y . Bely does so on the opening page of Petersburg (the c i t y i s designated on maps by two co n c e n t r i c c i r c l e s w i t h a dot i n the c e n t r e ) ; S t e v i e ' s " c o r u s c a t i o n s of innumerable c i r c l e s " are a messier v e r s i o n , but they po i n t to the same e x p l o s i v e shockwaves, the same urban d i s o r d e r and the same moral confusions. S i m i l a r l y , i n Hamlet's Twin, N i c o l a s and S y l v i e , belated honeymooners, t r a v e l towards the a r c t i c c i r c l e and the n o r t h p o l e — C o n r a d has a l i k e i n t e r e s t i n l o n g i t u d e , l a t i t u d e and the f i r s t m eridian. During t h e i r voyage, they pass through Troms^, "a c i t y without 23 a centre, a long landing-stage rimmed w i t h a few houses and b u i l d i n g s . " And N i c o l a s dreams about an I t a l i a n enclave i n the Svalbard Archipelago: The c i t y was b u i l t according to a co n c e n t r i c p l a n . The avenues come out of the centre l i k e r a d i i , the s t r e e t s are c i r c u l a r and cut across the avenues. The c e n t r a l area i s a masterpiece (HT, p. 117). The a r c h i t e c t u r a l p l a n might have been borrowed from Peter the Great, f o r Petersburg i s constructed p r e c i s e l y i n t h i s way, as Bely reminds us repeatedly. N i c o l a s n o t i c e s that Spitsbergen, too, i s "a ba r e l y circum- s c r i b e d emptiness." To be d e f i n e d , an emptiness or an absence must be circumscribed, and t h i s i s why the novels of absent-centred s t r u c t u r e must, 37 p a r a d o x i c a l l y , r e f u s e to t e l l the s t o r y by i n d i r e c t l y and r e l u c t a n t l y n a r r a t i n g what they wish to av o i d . The bomb explosion i n The Secret Agent i s conspicuously absent i n the l i n e a r f l o w of n a r r a t i v e a t the beginning of the no v e l , but ev e n t u a l l y the circumstances and d e s c r i p t i o n s are recreated f o r us i n cha r a c t e r s ' imaginations i n grim d e t a i l . S i m i l a r l y , N i c o l a s b l o t s S y l v i e ' s murder from h i s consciousness and h i s s c r i p t , but e v e n t u a l l y the d e t a i l s f o r c e f u l l y i n t r u d e back i n t o the screenplay. The n a r r a t o r e x p l a i n s i t thus: The. present i s being used here to take an inventory of what i s l a c k i n g . This t a b u l a t i o n evokes lacunae, gaps, omissions, absences (HT, p. 188). And the c e n t r a l absence i s spotted by Eva when she reads the s c r i p t : Eva I've reread everything you've w r i t t e n from the be- gin n i n g . Do you want to know what I t h i n k of i t ? Some important scenes are mis s i n g . N i c o l a s For instance? Eva You skip over S y l v i e ' s s u i c i d e . She k i l l s h e r s e l f , t h a t ' s stated q u i t e c l e a r l y , but we aren't there when i t happens except through the intermediary of N i c o l a s ' account (HT, p. 154). S y l v i e ' s s u i c i d e i s , of course, a l i e , and e v e n t u a l l y N i c o l a s i s forced to change the s c r i p t to i n c l u d e the s a d i s t i c , r i t u a l i s t i c murder because he wants i t to be a u t o b i o g r a p h i c a l l y accurate. At t h i s p o i n t N i c o l a s p r o t e s t s that h i s screenplay i s t r u t h , though others who read the s c r i p t are r e l u c t a n t to see i t so. S y l v i e ' s murder, they assume, must be a f a b r i c a t i o n f o r the sake of a r t , and thus, f o r a time, N i c o l a s i s allowed 38 to w r i t e about h i s crime i n the guise of f i c t i o n . I t i s not so much a case of l i f e f o l l o w i n g a r t as i t i s a r t being invaded by l i f e . Only when Eva and Linda Noble, the a c t r e s s who i s to play S y l v i e ' s r o l e , glance over a summary of the crime do they r e a l i z e that N i c o l a s ' screenplay i s f a c t , and thus, that there i s a danger he may repeat the crime i n a r t , when the f i l m i s being produced. ( N i c o l a s has, i n f a c t , t i e d Linda to a bed e a r l i e r i n the novel.) N i c o l a s i s c o r r e c t when he h i n t s at the ab- sent crime and i t s e f f e c t on h i s f i l m ; " i t ' s the f i c t i o n that i s trapped by a r e a l i t y i t d i d n ' t c o n t a i n and which h y p o c r i t i c a l l y invades i t " (HT, p. 120). Hence the r e l u c t a n t l y included crime i s very much l i k e Conrad's missing e x p l o s i o n and even more l i k e Yossarian's r e l u c t a n t remembering of . Snowden's death i n Catch-22. S y l v i e ' s words, i n f a c t , as she d i e s ("I'm c o l d N i c o l a s , I'm so c o l d " HT, p. 196) are a c l e a r echo of Snowden's words as he d i e s i n the plane ("'I'm c o l d , ' Snowden whispered, 'I'm c o l d ' " ) . Aquin, Conrad and H e l l e r a l l f i n d i t necessary to r a d i c a l l y d i s r u p t n a r r a t i v e time because, to c i r c u m s c r i b e the c e n t r a l n a r r a t i v e absence, they must i n t e r r u p t the temporal f l o w and absent the c r u c i a l event or crime. We f o l l o w V e r l o c to and from the Embassy to the p o i n t where he conceives of the bombing p l a n ; then suddenly the n a r r a t i v e jumps to a p o i n t a f t e r the e x p l o s i o n . We f o l l o w N i c o l a s ' and S y l v i e ' s journey to Spitsbergen; then suddenly the n a r r a t i v e jumps to N i c o l a s ' r e t u r n to Oslo a f t e r S y l v i e ' s death. H e l l e r d i f f e r s somewhat i n that Snowden's death f u n c t i o n s as a n a r r a t i v e absence from the beginning. Yet a l l three n a r r a - t i v e s f o l l o w the same p a t t e r n of r e t u r n i n g to the absented event i n an attempt to recover the d e t a i l s and circumstances and to grapple w i t h i t s s i g n i f i c a n c e . 39 It is this narrative emphasis on the recovery of circumstances surrounding the crime which situates these novels, l i k e Robbe-Grillet 1s 25 The Voyeur, in the detective f i c t i o n mode. But whereas the emphasis in detective f i c t i o n always rests on the question "who done i t , " novelists of absent-centred narrative are more preoccupied with the fragmenting effect of the absented violence i t s e l f . Detective f i c t i o n , we might say, con- stitutes another sub-set of absent-centred narrative controlled by the absent centre of character. The absent centre here, however, is only an absence in the sense that i t is an unknown which is deployed in the service of mystery and suspense. The "who" is the formulaic gap which every reader of detective f i c t i o n implicitly knows is the raison d'etre of the narrative. Agatha Christie plays on this principle in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in which the reader scans the cast of characters looking for the criminal who f i t s most logically into the gap in the syntax of the crime's plot. But, defying a l l laws of detective f i c t i o n grammar, Christie conflates narrator and criminal. Assuming that he is a reliable narrator, the reader absents Dr. Sheppard from the cast of potential murderers. Yet, Dr. Sheppard, l i k e Nicolas in Hamlet's Twin, is a reliable narrator in the sense that his narrative is a truthful record of the crime. He explains: I am rather pleased with myself as a writer. What could be neater, for instance, than the following: "The letters were brought in at twenty minutes to nine. It was just on ten minutes to nine when I_ lef t him, the letter s t i l l unread. _I hesitated with my hand on the door handle, looking back and wondering i f there was anything I had l e f t undone.'.' A l l true, you see. But suppose I had put a row of stars after the f i r s t sentence! Would somebody then 40 have wondered what e x a c t l y happened i n that blank ten m i n u t e s ? ^ However, the temporal lacuna of those "blank ten minutes" diminishes i n i t s e f f e c t on the n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e when compared to the temporal lacuna of absent-centred n a r r a t i v e s which use t h i s d e t e c t i v e f i c t i o n mode as a skeleton f o r more monstrous experiment. Mathias, f o r example, i n The Voyeur, as a t r a v e l l i n g wrist-watch salesman, i s v i r t u a l l y a vendor of d i s t o r t e d time. In f a c t , amid the fla s h b a c k s , s h i f t i n g p o i n t s of view and r e p e t i t i o n s (or n e a r - r e p e t i t i o n s ) , the only way to t r a c k the l i n e a r time of the n a r r a t i v e i s to t r a c k the number of h i s wrist-watch s a l e s — g u s t as keeping t r a c k of the number of bombing missions i n Catch-22 helps to s o r t out the time scheme of that fragmented n a r r a t i v e . And The Voyeur, l i k e The Secret Agent, Catch-22 and Hamlet's Twin, proceeds towards the crime or v i o l e n t death and then c a r e f u l l y avoids i t . R o b b e - G r i l l e t , however, i s more p e r s p e c t i v i s t i n h i s str a t e g y ; Mathias's r o l e as murderer i s s t r o n g l y suggested, but so confused and even c o n t r a d i c t o r y are the d e s c r i p t i o n s of the crime that there must always remain an element of u n c e r t a i n t y . P a r t of the reason i s th a t , more than other absent-centred n a r r a t i v e s , we are enclosed w i t h i n the mind of the c e n t r a l c h a racter, and because "he was taken f o r a madman" (_V, p. 133), we doubt h i s r e l i a b i l i t y . For example, the s t o r y could be read as the f a n t a s t i c a l concoctions of a dreary l o s e r w i t h a f u r t i v e p ersecution complex. R o b b e - G r i l l e t ' s d i s t i n c t i v e use of indeterminacy i s evidenced by h i s s p e c i a l r e n d i t i o n of the l a b y r i n t h i n The Voyeur. James, Conrad, Chesterton, 41 B e l y , and to a l e s s e r extent, H e l l e r , appropriate the l a b y r i n t h as a symbol f o r doomed c i t i e s and as a s e t t i n g f o r doomed cha r a c t e r s . Robbe- G r i l l e t ' s urban l a b y r i n t h of In the L a b y r i n t h does t h i s too, but i t , together w i t h the l a b y r i n t h of The VOyeur (which i s the only r u r a l one of the group), are a l s o used e x p l i c i t l y as metaphors f o r the no v e l s ' n a r r a t i v e technique, and u l t i m a t e l y , as an i l l u s t r a t i o n of the n o t i o n that i t i s d i f f i c u l t i f not impossible to f i n d one's way i n the o b j e c t i v e world. Mathias, on h i s r e t u r n to the scene of the crime, chooses a shortcut through a f i e l d : U n f ortunately none of the numerous e x i s t i n g paths coincided w i t h the t h e o r e t i c a l d i r e c t i o n Mathias had s e l e c t e d ; he was th e r e f o r e confined, from the s t a r t , to one of two p o s s i b l e detours. Besides, every path looked winding and d i s c o n t i n u o u s — s e p a r a t i n g , r e - u n i t i n g , c o n s t a n t l y i n t e r l a c i n g , even stopping short i n a b r i a r patch. A l l of which o b l i g e d him to make many f a l s e s t a r t s , h e s i t a t i o n s , r e t r e a t s , posed new problems a t every step, forbade any assurance as to the general d i r e c t i o n of the path he had chosen (V, p. 159). This language i s , of course, d e s c r i p t i v e of the character's meanderings (and perhaps of h i s mind), but i t a l s o describes the d i s c o n t i n u i t y , the sepa r a t i o n s , r e p e t i t i o n s , c a n c e l l a t i o n s and i n t e r l a c i n g s which c h a r a c t e r i z e the n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e and which circumscribe the d e t a i l s of the rape and murder which are never d i r e c t l y n a r r a t e d . A l l of the inf o r m a t i o n about the crime comes i n d i r e c t l y and r e l u c t a n t l y , some of i t , as i n The Secret Agent, by way of a newspaper. Reading through the a r t i c l e on the murder, Mathias n o t i c e s that the a r t i c l e d i d not have much of importance to say. I t was no longer than a minor news item. In f a c t a good h a l f of i t merely traced the secondary circumstances of the d i s c o v e r y of the body (V, p. 61). L i k e Ossipon i n The Secret Agent, who f i n d s the "mere newspaper gup" i n - adequate f o r understanding the e x p l o s i o n , Mathias f i n d s the "conventional language of the press" h o p e l e s s l y unsuited to the p a r t i c u l a r s of the crime. "The scene," he concludes, "would have to be re-invented from beginning to end, s t a r t i n g w i t h two or three elementary d e t a i l s , l i k e the age of the v i c t i m or the c o l o r of her h a i r " (V, pp. 61-62). In The Secret Agent, the p o l i c e begin w i t h the t r i a n g l e on S t e v i e ' s overcoat. Absent-centred n a r r a t i v e s must f o l l o w p r e c i s e l y the same procedure: r e - i n v e n t by be- ginning w i t h the "secondary circumstances." The n a r r a t i v e c i r c u m s c r i b i n g the crime i n The Voyeur takes i t s imagery, l i k e other absent-centred novels, from c o n c e n t r i c i t y . Thus, the road on the i s l a n d "made .a l a r g e s e m i c i r c u l a r curve which reached the f u r t h e s t p o i n t of the i s l a n d and then curved back towards the center" (_V, p. 126). And going i n t o a s t o r e i n the v i l l a g e , Mathias' eye i s caught by a "round, long-handled enameled i r o n skimmer" which i s chipped so that " c o n c e n t r i c l i n e s faded out toward the edge." To the r i g h t , a dozen i d e n t i c a l l i t t l e k n i v e s — mounted on a cardboard s t r i p , l i k e watches—formed a c i r c l e , a l l p o i n t i n g toward a t i n y design i n the center which must have been the manufacturer's trade- mark (V, p. 42). The knives p o i n t , l i k e the n a r r a t i v e , to a centre of crime, and since the instruments of v i o l e n c e are l i k e n e d to an arrangement of watches, the passage a l s o p o i n t s to the timelessness of that crime i n the s t o r y . A 43 v e r s i o n of the c i r c l e image, the sideways f i g u r e e i g h t , a l s o suggests that the murder i s unrecoverable. The two anchor r i n g s on the wharf; the twisted cord Mathias keeps i n h i s pocket ( p o s s i b l y used to s t r a n g l e the g i r l ) ; the s e a g u l l ' s eyes which are "two p e r f e c t , motionless c i r c l e s set sid e by s i d e , each one pierced a t the center by a b l a c k h o l e " (V, p. 183); the c y l i n d r i c a l lamp w i t h "two superimposed s e r i e s of equal tangent c i r c l e s — r i n g s more e x a c t l y , s i n c e t h e i r centers are hollow" (V, p. 194); and the two c i g a r e t t e holes that Mathias burns i n h i s newspaper-—all of these are images of hollowness and s t i l l n e s s at the centre of the n a r r a t i v e . The doubling of the c i r c l e i n t o a sideways eight (the mathematical symbol f o r i n f i n i t y ) emphasizes the endless t r a v e l l i n g , c i r c l i n g , and r e c i r c l i n g that the reader experiences as he attempts to conta i n the n a r r a t i v e l i n e . Mathias himself describes h i s journey as "a kind of f i g u r e e i g h t " (V, p. 212), and l i k e him, the reader can only f o l l o w one loop, then i t s m i r r o r loop, ever passing over the s t i l l and e l u s i v e centre of the crime; What R o b b e - G r i l l e t ' s and Aquin's novels share w i t h the absent-centred n a r r a t i v e s i n my study i s a temporal d i s t o r t i o n of time and a s e r i e s of s t r u c t u r a l l y f u n c t i o n a l s p a t i a l images which are al s o metaphors f o r the absent event. The sub-set I have s e l e c t e d (James, Conrad, B e l y , H e l l e r and Pynchon) i s more p a r t i c u l a r l y governed, i n a d d i t i o n to imagery of con- c e n t r i c i t y , by the imagery of ex p l o s i o n . These s t r i c t u r e s , of course, n e c e s s a r i l y exclude many other works which i n a l a r g e r study would deserve a t t e n t i o n . But Conrad's Heart of Darkness, f o r example, d e s p i t e the array of dark and blank enigmas which are suggested by that work's imagery, i s O Q not as u s e f u l f o r my purposes as The Secret Agent. Kurtz's heart, l i k e 44 t h e C o n g o ' s , may u l t i m a t e l y b e u n e x p l a i n a b l e , b u t t h e n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e i s a s n e a t l y f r a m e d a n d e p i s o d i c a l l y d o w n - s t r e a m a s H u c k l e b e r r y F i n n . M y s t i c a l n e o - p r i m i t i v i s m a l o n e i s n o t e n o u g h t o c o n s t i t u t e a n a b s e n t - c e n t r e d n a r r a t i v e , n o r , f o r t h a t m a t t e r , i s t h e p h i l o s o p h i c a l m e t a p h y s i c s o f K a f k a ' s T h e C a s t l e , n o r t h e c a r e f u l l y c o m p l e x n u a n c e s a n d p s y c h o l o g i c a l m y s t e r i e s o f t h e l a t e r J a m e s , f o r e x a m p l e , T h e W i n g s o f t h e D o v e . My s t u d y b e g i n s , t h e n , w i t h T h e P r i n c e s s C a s a m a s s i m a b e c a u s e i t c o n t a i n s m o s t o f t h e f e a t u r e s o f a b s e n t - c e n t r e d n a r r a t i v e — a l b e i t i n a r u d i - m e n t a r y f o r m — a n d b e c a u s e i n i t s a b a n d o n m e n t o f t h e V i c t o r i a n B i l d u n g s r o m a n i t l o o k s b a c k t o D i c k e n s , t h e r e b y d r a w i n g t h e p a r a m e t e r s o f t h e M o d e r n i s t s o c i a l a n d c u l t u r a l c o n t e x t o f a b s e n t - c e n t r e d s t r u c t u r e . I t e n d s w i t h G r a v i t y ' s R a i n b o w , f o r t h a t w o r k r e p r e s e n t s a v e r i t a b l e e n c y c l o p e d i a o f t h i s p a r t i c u l a r n a r r a t i v e p a t t e r n . Notes P i e r r e Macherey, A Theory of L i t e r a r y Production, t r a n s l a t e d by Geoffrey W a l l (London: Routledge and Kegan P a u l , 1978), p. 27. Further references are given i n the t e x t by page number f o l l o w i n g the abbrev- i a t i o n TLP. Terry Eagleton, C r i t i c i s m and Ideology (London: Verso, 1978), p. 99. Further references are given i n the t e x t by page number f o l l o w i n g the a b b r e v i a t i o n CI. 3 Perry Anderson, "Components of the N a t i o n a l C u l t u r e , " New Lef t Review 50: 1968, p. 12. 4 Frank Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard U n i v e r s i t y P ress, 1979), p. 47. ~* Jacques D e r r i d a , " S t r u c t u r e , Sign, and P l a y i n the Discourse of Human Sciences," i n The S t r u c t u r a l i s t Controversy: the Language of C r i t i c i s m and the Science of Man, edite d by Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U n i v e r s i t y , 1977), p. 249. Further references are given i n the t e x t by page number f o l l o w i n g the a b b r e v i a t i o n SSP. A l a i n R o b b e - G r i l l e t , The Voyeur, t r a n s l a t e d by Richard Howard (New York: Grove, 1958), p. 3. Further c i t a t i o n s as V. ^ Edward W. S a i d , Beginnings: I n t e n t i o n and Method (New York: B a s i c Books, 1975), p. 285. Cited i n t e x t as BIM. Jacques Lacan, E c r i t s , as quoted i n S a i d , Beginnings, p. 329. 9 F r e d r i c Jameson, The Prison-House of Language ( P r i n c e t o n : P r i n c e t o n U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1972), p. 173. Tzvetan Todorov, The P o e t i c s of Prose, t r a n s l a t e d by Richard Howard ( I t h a c a , New York: C o r n e l l U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1977), p. 145. Cited i n t e x t as PP. Wolfgang I s e r , The Act of Reading (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U n i v e r s i t y P ress, 1978), p. 167. Further c i t a t i o n s as AR. 46 12 James M. M e l l a r d , The Exploded Form (Urbana: U n i v e r s i t y of I l l i n o i s P r e ss, 1980), p. 11. 13 Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (New York: Modern L i b r a r y , 1931), pp. 496 and 431 r e s p e c t i v e l y . 14 15 Adams, The Education, p. 457, Graham Greene, f o r example, gives us b i c y c l e bombs and a spectac- u l a r e x p l o s i o n at the end of The Quiet American (1955), but n e i t h e r f u n c t i o n s as a n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r i n g metaphor. S i m i l a r l y , Doctor F i s c h e r of Geneva or The Bomb Party (1980) i s a p l a y f u l and macabre parable of hate and greed, but i t s toying w i t h the a n t i - c l i m a x of the un- exploded bomb.is not so much a f u n c t i o n of an absent centre as i t i s a device f o r p o i n t i n g to a s e r i o u s moral to be drawn from the parable. 16 M u r i e l Spark, The G i r l s of Slender Means (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1963), p. 115. Further c i t a t i o n s as GSM. 17 Henry James, The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, quoted as an epigraph i n Paul Theroux's The Family A r s e n a l (Boston: Houghton M i f f l i n , 1976), p. 45. Further references to The Family A r s e n a l c i t e d as FA. 18 Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1963), p. 74. Further c i t a t i o n s as SA. 19 W. H. Matthews gives the f o l l o w i n g account of mazes and l a b y r i n t h s : Above a l l , the l a b y r i n t h was the centre of a c t i v i t i e s concerned w i t h those g r e a t e s t m y s t e r i e s , L i f e and Death. There men t r i e d by every means known to them to over- come death and to renew l i f e . The l a b y r i n t h protected and concealed the dead King-god i n order that h i s l i f e . i n the a f t e r - w o r l d might be preserved. There the K i n g - god went to renew and strengthen h i s own v i t a l i t y by a s s o c i a t i o n w i t h the immortal l i v e s of h i s dead ancestors. The l a b y r i n t h was the centre of a l l the strongest emotions of the p e o p l e — j o y , f e a r and g r i e f were there given the most intense form of expression. These emotions were d i r e c t e d i n t o c e r t a i n channels, producing r i t u a l and the e a r l i e s t forms of a r t — n o t only music and dancing, but a l s o s c u l p t u r e and p a i n t i n g . The l a b y r i n t h , as tomb and temple, f o s t e r e d the development of a l l a r t and l i t e r a t u r e , a c t i v i t i e s which i n those days possessed a r e l i g i o u s and l i f e - g i v i n g s i g n i f i c a n c e . "Mazes and L a b y r i n t h s , " i n The L a b y r i n t h : Further Studies i n the R e l a t i o n between Myth and R i t u a l i n the Ancient World, ed. S. H. Hooke (London: S o c i e t y f o r Promoting C h r i s t i a n Knowledge, 1935), p. 42. 47 20 G. K". Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1937), p. 9. Further c i t a t i o n s as MWWT. 21 Charles Dickens, Hard Times (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1969, r p t . 1974), p. 65. 22 The a l l u s i o n to A l i c e i s e x p l i c i t on p. 178 when Syme claims that the masquerade which Sunday convenes i s "as absurd as A l i c e i n Wonderland." Thus, The Man Who Was Thursday i s l i n k e d once more to The Secret Agent, i n which, claims W i l l i a m Bysshe S t e i n , we can see Lewis C a r r o l l ' s i n f l u e n c e at work i n the Humpty-Dumpty d e s c r i p t i o n s of the Secretary. See: "The Secret Agent: The Agon(ie)s of the Word," Boundary I I , VI (1978) 2: 521-40. 23 Hubert Aquin, Hamlet's Twin, t r a n s l a t e d by S h e i l a Fischman (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1979), p. 48. Further c i t a t i o n s as HT. 24 Joseph H e l l e r , Catch-22 (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1955), p. 455. Further c i t a t i o n s as C-22. 25 P a t r i c i a M e r i v a l e e x p e r t l y l o c a t e s and compares the absences i n The Secret Agent and Catch-22, and mentions the connections w i t h Aquin and R o b b e - G r i l l e t . See: "Catch-22 and The Secret Agent: Mechanical Man, The Hole i n the Centre, and the ' P r i n c i p l e of I n b u i l t Chaos,'" i n E n g l i s h Studies i n Canada, 7 (December, 1981) 4: 426-437. 2 6 Other p o s s i b i l i t i e s that warrant c o n s i d e r a t i o n as absent-centred n a r r a t i v e s of character i n c l u d e Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, i n which a major c h a r a c t e r , the s i s t e r Caddie, i s denied her own n a r r a t i v e . Benjy, Quentin, and D i l s e y have the p r i v i l e g e of s e l f - r e v e l a t i o n but Caddie's s t o r y i s i n d i r e c t . Seymour i n J . D. S a l i n g e r ' s s t o r i e s i s a much-discussed but never-present c h a r a c t e r , and i n drama, Godot i s con- spicuou s l y absent. But, as seems to be the case, characters t a l k e d about create enigmas but do not n e c e s s a r i l y d i s j o i n t the n a r r a t i v e . 27 Agatha C h r i s t i e , The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (New York: Pocket Books, 1939), p. 196. 28 For a d i s c u s s i o n of Heart of Darkness as an absent-centred narra- t i v e see: Perry M e i s e l , "Decentering Heart of Darkness," Modern Language Studies 8 (no. 3, 1978): 20-28. The c l a i m i s that c r i t i c s have erred i n " f i l l i n g i n " the enigmas that Conrad intended as absence. 48 CHAPTER I I Henry James's The P r i n c e s s Casamassima: The Misplaced Middle "The secret of Jamesian n a r r a t i v e , " claims Tzvetan Todorov i n The P o e t i c s of Prose, " i s p r e c i s e l y the existence of an e s s e n t i a l s e c r e t , of something not named, of an absent and superpowerful f o r c e which sets the whole present machinery of the n a r r a t i v e i n motion.""'" Todorov r e s t r i c t s himself to James's short s t o r i e s between 1892 and 1903, d i s c a r d i n g the previous work as " p r e f a t o r y l a b o r , " as a " b r i l l i a n t but s c a r c e l y o r i g i n a l e x e r c i s e . " Yet, The P r i n c e s s Casamassima (1886) i s impelled to motion by " e s s e n t i a l s e c r e t s " and "absent f o r c e s " as powerful as any to be found i n the t a l e s . And given that a novel has n e c e s s a r i l y more scope than a t a l e , and given that The P r i n c e s s Casamassima was w r i t t e n s i x years before the f i r s t of Todorov's dates, James's formal use of absence i s more extensive than Todorov would suggest. This i s not to say that absence i n The P r i n c e s s Casamassima i s not p r o b l e m a t i c a l , f o r as w i l l become c l e a r , i t s formal p o s i t i o n i n g i n the n a r r a t i v e i s not always c o n s i s t e n t nor always un i f o r m l y patterned as i n a t a l e l i k e "The Beast i n the Jungle," or i n a l a t e novel l i k e The Wings of the Dove, or i n the more s u c c e s s f u l l y absent- centred f i c t i o n of Conrad. Yet, as a l a t e V i c t o r i a n precursor to absent- centred s t r u c t u r e i n the modernist and post-modernist n o v e l , The P r i n c e s s Casamassima occupies a u s e f u l i f not exemplary p o s i t i o n , e s p e c i a l l y s i n c e i t contains many of the themes and images of the p a r t i c u l a r set of novels 49 which I have demarcated i n the l a r g e r set of a b s e n t - c e n t r e d . f i c t i o n . Absence i n The P r i n c e s s Casamassima i s created i n part by a s t r u c t u r a l r e l i a n c e on a n t i t h e s i s , "the precious element of con t r a s t and 2 a n t i t h e s i s , " as James c a l l s i t i n The A r t of the Novel. I t i s announced e a r l y i n the novel when we l e a r n that Hyacinth i s the unfortunate product of an unfortunate l i a i s o n between an E n g l i s h a r i s t o c r a t and a French peasant woman. The mother, F l o r e n t i n e V i v i e r , i s serving a l i f e sentence i n M i l l b a n k p r i s o n f o r her murder of Hyacinth's f a t h e r , Lord F r e d e r i c k . As Hyacinth's foster-mother, Amanda Pynsent f a c e s , at the novel's opening, the d i f f i c u l t task of d e c i d i n g whether or not to grant the mother's death- bed wish that she see her son one l a s t time. Beyond the h e r e d i t a r y a n t i - t h e s i s of a r i s t o c r a t and peasant—what the n a r r a t o r c a l l s l a t e r "the blood of h i s passionate, p l e b i a n mother and that of h i s long-descended, s u p e r - c i v i l i s e d s i r e " — H y a c i n t h i s a l s o caught i n a s o c i a l a n t i t h e s i s between h i s surrogate parents, Amanda Pynsent and her neighbour, Mr. Vetch. Amanda Pynsent coddles and p r o t e c t s Hyacinth from harsh s o c i a l r e a l i t i e s (mostly as a r e s u l t of her resigned b e l i e f that "the t r u t h never i s 3 found out" ), and her gr e a t e s t d e s i r e i s that Hyacinth should someday c a p i t a l i z e on h i s "high connections" and l i v e an a r i s t o c r a t i c l i f e of l e i s u r e . Mr. Vetch, on the other hand, when asked h i s advice about the p r i s o n v i s i t , expresses an e n t i r e l y . d i f f e r e n t view: "give him a good s t i f f dose of the t r u t h a t the s t a r t " (PC, p. 4 3 ) , he says w i t h a l l the cynicism of h i s thwarted s o c i a l i s t i d e a l i s m . Not s u r p r i s i n g l y , then, Mr. Vetch b e l i e v e s that Hyacinth's f u t u r e should be guided by i n t i m a t e observation of l i f e among the downtrodden c l a s s e s . Each a n t i t h e s i s , the 5 0 s o c i a l and the h e r e d i t a r y ( h i s surrogate parents and h i s r e a l p a r e n t s ) , operates from the beginning of the novel w i t h great power over Hyacinth's l i f e , even though at t h i s p o i n t each i s a mysterious f o r c e absent from h i s conscious knowledge. The formal s t r a t e g y which James adopts to develop a n t i t h e s i s i s to s i t u a t e Hyacinth on the outside edge of two mysterious worlds which con- s t i t u t e the terms of the a n t i t h e s i s ; he proceeds a l t e r n a t e l y to the centres of both worlds where he meets w i t h r e j e c t i o n , d i s i l l u s i o n m e n t or b e t r a y a l . The p a t t e r n i s d e f t l y worked w i t h images of the l a b y r i n t h : the p r i s o n , London i t s e l f , the P r i n c e s s ' s a r i s t o c r a t i c world and Paul Muniment's a n a r c h i s t i c one. Hyacinth, t h i n k i n g he i s on the o u t s k i r t s of important t r u t h s and v a l u e s , plunges or i s plunged to the centre of these geometric and u s u a l l y hideous l a b y r i n t h s where he i n e v i t a b l y meets wi t h a Minotaur i n one shape or another. The opening p r i s o n scene, f o r example, f o r c e f u l l y e s t a b l i s h e s the p a t t e r n of plunging i n t o l a b y r i n t h s . Approaching from the o u t s i d e , Hyacinth and Amanda Pynsent see the p r i s o n ... l i f t i t s dusky mass from the bank of the Thames, l y i n g there and sprawling over the whole neighbour- hood w i t h brown, bare, windowless w a l l s , u g l y truncated pinnacles and a character unspeakably sad and s t e r n . I t looked very s i n i s t e r and wicked, to Miss Pynsent's • eyes ... (PC, p. 4 7 ) . L i t t l e Hyacinth r e s i s t s : " I don't l i k e t h i s p l a c e , " and l a t e r , " I won't go i n . " Nevertheless, they do enter the "huge dark tomb," and, w i t h a Dickensian emphasis on geometry, they cross "the bare s e m i c i r c l e " a t the gateway and f i n d themselves i n a "draughty l a b y r i n t h " w i t h "high b l a c k w a l l s . " They then make t h e i r way t o r t u o u s l y to Hyacinth's mother 51 through a " c i r c u l a r s h a f t of c e l l s , " where there are " w a l l s w i t h i n w a l l s and g a l l e r i e s on top of g a l l e r i e s . " They al s o n o t i c e that " d r e a d f u l f i g u r e s , s c a r c e l y female, i n hideous brown uniforms and p e r f e c t f r i g h t s of hoods, were marching round i n a c i r c l e " (PC, pp. 49-50). Hyacinth's mother, we may assume, endured j u s t such a p u r g a t o r i a l existence and r i t u a l i z e d punishment. Now, however, on her deathbed at the centre of the p r i s o n l a b y r i n t h , she appears to Hyacinth as a "hollow b l o o d l e s s mask." Miss Pynsent, pondering the e f f e c t of such a powerful image upon an impressionable consciousness, wonders "what thoughts were begotten at that moment" (PC, p. 56). The germinal scene of the novel thus contains a potent symbol f o r Hyacinth, a death mask which p o i n t s to m a r i t a l b e t r a y a l and to death, the u l t i m a t e negation, the u l t i m a t e absence which threatens Hyacinth's l i f e from the beginning. This formal s t r a t e g y which opens the novel i s r e a l l y James's v e r s i o n 4 of the Dickensian Bildungsroman, f o r example David C o p p e r f i e l d . L i k e David, who i n s i s t s on h i s own d e l i c a t e and precocious nature,"' Hyacinth i s described as " a l t o g e t h e r , i n h i s tender f i n e n e s s , an i n t e r e s t i n g , appealing l i t t l e person" (PC, p. 3 2 ) . Each c h i l d i s subjected to an i n i t i a l l y damaging experience which l a t e r r e s u r f a c e s as both a cause and an e x p l a n a t i o n f o r subsequent behaviour. In Hyacinth's case, the p r i s o n scene i m p r i n t s a n t i t h e s i s i r r e p a r a b l y on h i s consciousness so t h a t , as a young man searching through back is s u e s of The Times i n the B r i t i s h Museum, he stumbles across the f a c t s of h i s parentage and r e a l i z e s that "the r e f l e x i o n that he was a bastard i n v o l v e d i n a remarkable manner the r e f l e x i o n that he was a gentleman" (PC, p. 128). In a s i m i l a r passage, 52 the formal p a t t e r n of Hyacinth's l i f e — a n d of the n o v e l — i s rooted ex- p l i c i t l y i n the opening scene: "... h i s f a t e was to be d i v i d e d to the p o i n t of t o r t u r e , to be s p l i t open by sympathies that p u l l e d him i n d i f f e r e n t ways; f o r hadn't he an e x t r a o r d i n a r i l y mingled current i n h i s blood...?" (PC, p. 126) Considering the s t r e n g t h of the i n i t i a l a n t i t h e s i s , i t i s s t r u c t u r a l l y l o g i c a l that midway through the novel Hyacinth should be swinging pre- c a r i o u s l y between two s o c i a l p o l e s : the P r i n c e s s Casamassima's world of r e f i n e d manners and g r a c e f u l r e s p e c t a b i l i t y , and the f e r v e n t , underground s o c i a l i s t world of Paul Muniment at the pub, The Sun and the Moon ( i t s very name a signpost of James's a n t i t h e t i c a l i m a g i n a t i o n ) . E v e n t u a l l y , i t becomes c l e a r t h a t James has balanced these a n t i t h e s e s a l l too w e l l . Indeed, he seems to have been aware of the problem from the outset. In a passage o f t e n quoted to i l l u s t r a t e James's uneasiness w i t h the n o v e l , c r i t i c s overlook James's own confident q u a l i f i c a t i o n : I t i s a b s o l u t e l y necessary that a t t h i s p o i n t I should make the f u t u r e e v o l u t i o n of The P r i n c e s s Casamassima more c l e a r to myself. I have never yet become engaged i n a novel i n which, a f t e r I had begun to w r i t e and send o f f my MS., the d e t a i l s have remained so vague.... the subject of the P r i n c e s s i s magnificent, and i f I can only g i v e up my mind to i t p r o p e r l y — g e n e r o u s l y and t r u s t f u l l y — the form w i l l shape i t s e l f as s u c c e s s f u l l y as the idea deserves.^ I t i s i n t e r e s t i n g to note t h a t , having sent o f f only two i n s t a l l m e n t s of the n o v e l , James i s uneasy about the " f u t u r e e v o l u t i o n " and the vagueness of d e t a i l but q u i t e confident that the subject i s "magnificent" and that "the form w i l l shape i t s e l f . " C r i t i c s ' comments about the u n c e r t a i n t y of 53 d i r e c t i o n of the novel are confusing, f o r i t i s remarkable how many f o r e - shadowings of the ending there are i n the opening scenes of the n o v e l . Such foreshadowings suggest that James d i d indeed l e t "the form shape i t s e l f , " and because that form i n the beginning i s r i g i d l y a n t i t h e t i c a l , he continued to construct the novel on that p a t t e r n . In the Preface to Roderick Hudson, James addresses the i s s u e of a n t i t h e s i s squarely: One i s r i d d e n w i t h the law that a n t i t h e s i s , to be e f f i c i e n t , s h a l l be both d i r e c t and complete. H i s q u a l i f i c a t i o n i s that "the i d e a l a n t i t h e s i s r a r e l y does 'come o f f , ' and ... i t has to content i t s e l f f o r the most pa r t w i t h a strong term and a weak term...."^ This might be true of Roderick Hudson, but i n The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, James has, i n f a c t , balanced the a n t i t h e t i c a l poles so f i n e l y and so complexly that there can be no " r e s o l u t i o n " — i n the sense that The Bostonians reaches a r e s o l u t i o n to i t s l e s s elaborate a n t i t h e s i s . To unload e i t h e r end of the balance s c a l e s at the end of The P r i n c e s s Casamassima would be a b e t r a y a l of form. Thus, there i s no centre of r e s t i t u t i o n or r e s o l u t i o n as such at the climax of the novel; there i s merely a k i n d of c a n c e l l a t i o n which leaves Hyacinth i n a vague, d r e a d f u l space, i n a v o i d between two worlds. As we s h a l l see, t h i s p a r t i c u l a r n a r r a t i v e s t r a t e g y i s the r i c h e s t though not the only source f o r the absent-centred nature of the f i c t i o n . As one term or pole of the s t r u c t u r a l a n t i t h e s i s , the p l o t which i n v o l v e s the P r i n c e s s has i t s own absent centr e . Having been introduced to the P r i n c e s s a t the t h e a t r e , Hyacinth agrees to v i s i t her at a country residence. E a r l y on the morning a f t e r h i s a r r i v a l , he r i s e s , and s i n c e 54 the P r i n c e s s i s not yet awake, decides to walk o u t s i d e i n the garden: ... he had passed out of doors and begun to roam through the park, i n t o which he had l e t himself loose at f i r s t , and then, i n narrowing c i r c l e s , through the nearer ground.... Round the admirable house he revolved repeatedly, catching every aspect and f e e l i n g every v a l u e , f e a s t i n g on the whole expression and wondering i f the P r i n c e s s would observe h i s proceed- ings from a window and i f they would be o f f e n s i v e to her.... . There was something i n the way the gray w a l l s rose from the green lawn that brought tears to h i s eyes; the s p e c t a c l e of long d u r a t i o n unassoeiated w i t h some s o r d i d i n f i r m i t y or poverty was new to him (PC, p. 249). The image of Hyacinth " r e v o l v i n g " around the house i n "narrowing c i r c l e s " i s r e m i n i s c e n t , i n geometry at l e a s t , of the female p r i s o n e r s i n M i l l b a n k "marching round i n c i r c l e s . " The grey w a l l s r i s i n g from the lawn invoke the p r i s o n " l i f t i n g i t s dusky mass" from the Thames, and c e r t a i n l y "the s o r d i d i n f i r m i t y or poverty" of which the n a r r a t o r speaks i s an accurate d e s c r i p t i o n of Hyacinth's f i r s t and only view of h i s mother. F i n a l l y , the f a c t that he i s moved to tears c l e a r l y shows to us, i f not to Hyacinth h i m s e l f , that there i s a s i g n i f i c a n t and powerful act of a s s o c i a t i o n and memory taking p l a c e . The P r i n c e s s becomes yet another surrogate parent, and Hyacinth f i n d s himself yet again c i r c l i n g the perimeter of a l a b y r i n t h that seems to deny him access. "Seems" because the i r o n y i s that access comes a l l too e a s i l y f o r Hyacinth; he i s e s p e c i a l l y l u c k y i n g a i n i n g entrance i n t o the P r i n c e s s ' s world. What he f a i l s to r e a l i z e i s that t h i s l a b y r i n t h , w h i l e not so f o r b i d d i n g as the p r i s o n , has, n e v e r t h e l e s s , beneath i t s s u p e r f i c i a l a t t r a c t i v e n e s s a centre e q u a l l y as f r i g h t e n i n g and dangerous and c e r t a i n l y much more e l u s i v e than M i l l b a n k . Madame Grandoni, the P r i n c e s s ' s e l d e r l y companion, warns Hyacinth that the 55 P r i n c e s s i s a " c a p r i c c i o s a " ; she r e f e r s to Hyacinth as "Poverino" because she knows that C h r i s t i n a L i g h t ' s treatment of young men has been l e s s than exemplary i n the past. The P r i n c e s s a t t r a c t s young men, uses them to her own advantage and then r u t h l e s s l y d i s c a r d s them; the hero of Roderick Hudson met j u s t such a f a t e i n the novel from which James re v i v e d the P r i n c e s s . Hyacinth, then, f i n d s himself at the entrance to a l a b y r i n t h , tempted by h i s ambition, h i s impulsiveness and h i s c u r i o s i t y to explore i t s c e n t r e . He ignores warnings from both Madame Grandoni and Paul Muniment (though he does get approval and encouragement from P i n n i e ) , and p e r s i s t e n t l y seeks to unravel the ominous mysteries which he en- c o u n t e r s — o r manufactures, f o r the dangers seem obvious to the reader. What i s most mysterious i s that Hyacinth can be so b l i n d to h i s own f o l l y . The centre of the P r i n c e s s ' s l a b y r i n t h i s more m y s t e r i o u s l y absent than the centre of the p r i s o n l a b y r i n t h because the P r i n c e s s h e r s e l f i s such an enigmatic c h a r a c t e r . That James f e l t C h r i s t i n a L i g h t warranted a r e v i v a l a f t e r Roderick Hudson suggests that he considered her an i n - completely drawn ch a r a c t e r , or at l e a s t that there was more to her s t o r y . Yet, her s t o r y seems to be the s t o r y of a character who d e f i e s under- standing, f o r at the end of The P r i n c e s s Casamassima we. do not know a great d e a l more about her than we d i d at the end of Roderick Hudson. We know that she has a great d e a l of personal f o r t i t u d e and s i n g u l a r i t y of mind regarding matters which she cares about, and we b e l i e v e her when she says that she would g l a d l y undertake Hyacinth's r e v o l u t i o n a r y task h e r s e l f . (Indeed, she would probably be a more e f f e c t i v e a n a r c h i s t than Hyacinth.) We a l s o sense t h a t she has hidden resources of humanity and warmth, as suggested when she makes a f i n a l but f r u i t l e s s attempt to save Hyacinth 56 from f o l l y . Nevertheless, James never r e v e a l s her psychology as f u l l y or as i n t r i c a t e l y as he does Hyacinth's or I s a b e l Archer's i n The P o r t r a i t of a Lady, which, we mustn't f o r g e t , preceded The P r i n c e s s Casamassima. The novel's t i t l e suggests that the P r i n c e s s i s the c e n t r a l character; no c r i t i c claims that James has so placed C h r i s t i n a L i g h t . I n v a r i a b l y , c r i t i c s assume that Hyacinth i s the major ch a r a c t e r , the primary focus of James's i n t e r e s t . C e r t a i n l y most of the n a r r a t i v e i s concerned w i t h Hyacinth, and the P r i n c e s s appears r e l a t i v e l y l a t e i n the n o v e l . This displacement, or de-c e n t r i n g , of the major heroine e s t a b l i s h e s the P r i n c e s s as a mysterious f o r c e l u r k i n g i n s c r u t a b l y i n the background, looming over Hyacinth, a t once an i n v i t a t i o n and a t h r e a t . I f Leon Edel i s c o r r e c t , part of the reason may be due to the f a c t that the P r i n c e s s ' s o r i g i n a l seems to have been one of the most enigmatic women i n James's l i f e . James met b r i e f l y i n Rome Elena Lowe, the daughter of a Bostonian, and James from the f i r s t found her " b e a u t i f u l , mysterious, melancholy, i n s c r u t a b l e . " He wonders i f t h i s was her way "of seeming, g or had she unfathomable depths w i t h i n ? " The same c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s f o l l o w her f i c t i o n a l counterpart i n both Roderick Hudson and The P r i n c e s s Casa- massima where she remains an "enigma" w i t h "unfathomable" coquetry and wi t h a nature " l a r g e and mysterious." As Todorov p o i n t s out, James's handling of c h a r a c t e r i z a t i o n i s con- s i s t e n t w i t h h i s handling of p o i n t of view and p l o t . Speaking of the t a l e s Todorov n o t i c e s that "the part replaces the whole, according to the f a m i l i a r r h e t o r i c a l f i g u r e of synecdoche." The technique o r i g i n a t e s w i t h Flaubert but i s extended i n James to the extent that i t becomes "the con- 57 s t r u c t i v e p r i n c i p l e of h i s oeuvre." C e r t a i n l y much of the mystery surrounding the P r i n c e s s r e s u l t s d i r e c t l y from James's hab i t of g i v i n g us only d e t a i l s or p a r t i a l p i c t u r e s r a t h e r than omniscient i n s i g h t and i n t e r p r e t a t i o n . For example, at the theatre when the P r i n c e s s i s f i r s t introduced, Hyacinth n o t i c e s "a lady concealed by the c u r t a i n ; her arm, bare save f o r i t s b r a c e l e t s , was v i s i b l e at moments on the cushioned ledge." The d e t a i l invites--us to b e l i e v e that the P r i n c e s s i s , a f t e r 137 pages, f i n a l l y going to be introduced. She i s , but i t i s Madame Grandoni's arm that we see, not the P r i n c e s s ' s . Hyacinth i s i n v i t e d to the P r i n c e s s ' s box by Captain Sholto, and as Hyacinth enters, we see that the Pr i n c e s s i s "overshadowed by the c u r t a i n of the box, drawn forward w i t h the i n t e n t i o n of s h i e l d i n g her from observation of the house" (PC, p. 147). James manages to delay a f u l l f a c e - t o - f a c e c o n f r o n t a t i o n f o r a considerable number of pages, and when that f i n a l l y does occur, the d e s c r i p t i o n i s s t i l l vague: her eyes are "dark ... blue or grey, something that was not brown" (PC, p. 148). Other d e s c r i p t i o n t e l l s us more about Hyacinth's r o m a n t i c i z i n g than i t does about the P r i n c e s s h e r s e l f . Hyacinth n o t i c e s her " p u r i t y of l i n e and form," her " l i g h t nobleness" and her colour "that seemed to l i v e and glow." As the centre of one of Hyacinth's l a b y r i n t h s , the P r i n c e s s i s not only m y s t e r i o u s l y a t t r a c t i v e , vague and enigmatic; she i s a l s o dangerous. Madame Grandoni knows that Hyacinth i s i n danger when she says to Captain Sholto, one of the P r i n c e s s ' s " d i s c a r d e d " s u i t o r s : " C e r t a i n l y h e ' l l have to be s a c r i f i c e d . " The P r i n c e s s i s a ki n d of consuming goddess who "goes through" men i n her s e l f i s h campaign of s o c i a l and personal appeasement. 58 Captain Sholto once occupied Hyacinth's seemingly enviable p o s i t i o n w i t h the P r i n c e s s , but she cast Sholto o f f , reduced him to a kind of pimp searching out p o t e n t i a l candidates f o r the P r i n c e s s ' s b e n e f i t . Speaking of Rosy, Lady Aurora and Paul Muniment, the Captain says to Hyacinth: "I'm keeping them i n reserve f o r my next p r o p i t i a t o r y o f f e r i n g " (PC, p. 292). And Paul Muniment n e a t l y encapsulates the r e l a t i o n s h i p between Sholto and the P r i n c e s s i n a b i t t e r l y toned metaphor—although he f a i l s to heed h i s own warning: "He [Sholto] throws h i s nets and hauls i n the l i t t l e f i s h e s — the p r e t t y l i t t l e s h i n i n g , , w r i g g l i n g f i s h e s . They are a l l f o r her; she swallows 'em down" (PC, p. 180). Hyacinth i s , of course, one of these f i s h e s , and he too i s s a c r i f i c e d on her personal a l t a r . The imagery makes i t c l e a r t h a t the centre of t h i s p a r t i c u l a r l a b y r i n t h , though s u p e r f i c i a l l y a t t r a c t i v e , i s u l t i m a t e l y death-giving and c e r t a i n l y as t e r r i f y i n g as the "hollow death mask" of the novel's opening. While the P r i n c e s s represents one l a b y r i n t h which i n v i t e s access to the o u t s i d e r , Paul Muniment, the a n a r c h i s t leader at the Sun and the Moon pub, represents an a n t i t h e t i c a l l a b y r i n t h from which Hyacinth i s also removed and i n t o which he plunges i m p u l s i v e l y . P a u l , at f i r s t , admits Hyacinth only to the safe f r i n g e of the s o c i a l i s t gathering and i t s p l o t s . Hoffendahl, the r e a l leader who engineers the group from the c o n t i n e n t , i s not mentioned. But when Hyacinth, i n an impulsive moment, speaks out w i t h impressive c o n v i c t i o n i n defense of the downtrodden c l a s s e s , he shows him- s e l f to be p o t e n t i a l l y " u s e f u l . " From that moment, Paul admits Hyacinth to the "inner c i r c l e , " though Hyacinth never suspects that h i s treatment w i l l be j u s t as r u t h l e s s as the treatment he r e c e i v e s from the P r i n c e s s . E v e n t u a l l y , Paul takes Hyacinth to meet Hoffendahl f o r the purpose of 59 confirming Hyacinth's commitment. They d r i v e at midnight, a d r i v e that "seemed i n t e r m i n a b l e , " and "they ended by s i t t i n g s i l e n t as the cab jogged along the murky m i l e s , and by the time i t stopped our young man had wholly l o s t , i n the d r i z z l i n g gloom, a sense of t h e i r whereabouts" (PC, p. 246). Hyacinth i s indeed "wholly l o s t , " f o r he has entered unwarily, from the out s i d e , two very obscure and dangerous l a b y r i n t h s — t h e P r i n c e s s ' s and Muniment's. H i s s i t u a t i o n i s f u r t h e r complicated because he th i n k s that those two worlds are separate and that he can l i v e i n each s a f e l y . But when the P r i n c e s s meets Muniment—when surrogate parent meets surrogate p a r e n t — a n d when they both betray Hyacinth, they repeat the p a t t e r n of h i s r e a l parents by ou s t i n g him from the centre of a f f e c t i o n and s t a b i l i t y . Hyacinth i n v e s t s too much i n both the P r i n c e s s and Muniment, so t h a t , when the values and i d e a l s which they represent are proven f a l s e and super- f l u o u s , Hyacinth l i k e w i s e becomes superfluous. The s e l f - i n f l i c t e d gun shot i s a measure of j u s t how superfluous he f e e l s . P r e d i c t a b l y (because of James's f a s c i n a t i o n w i t h the symmetry of h i s a n t i t h e s i s ) , the a n a r c h i s t l a b y r i n t h i s imaged i n a way that p a r a l l e l s the a r i s t o c r a t i c one. Having made a vow to perform an u n s p e c i f i e d a c t of v i o l e n c e at some f u t u r e date when c a l l e d upon, Hyacinth, l a t e r e x p l a i n s the s i t u a t i o n to the P r i n c e s s : " I pledged myself to everything that's sacred. I gave my l i f e away." And l a t e r he invokes r e l i g i o u s imagery: I t has made t h i s d i f f e r e n c e , that I've now a f a r other sense from any that I had before of the r e a l i t y , the s o l i d i t y of what's being prepared. I was hanging about o u t s i d e , on the steps of the temple, among the l o a f e r s and the go s s i p s , but now I've been i n the innermost sanctuary. Yes, I've seen the holy of h o l i e s . (PC, pp. 275-76). 60 The i r o n y i s that t h i s temple i s as pagan as the P r i n c e s s ' s i n which, as Madame Grandoni warned, Hyacinth i s to be s a c r i f i c e d . Indeed, the P r i n c e s s h e r s e l f c a l l s Hyacinth a " s a c r i f i c i a l lamb." The only " r e a l i t y " and " s o l i d i t y " of what i s being prepared i n t h i s r e v o l u t i o n a r y temple or l a b y r i n t h i s the c e r t a i n t y of Hyacinth's own demise. Hyacinth t h i n k s he f i n d s i n the "holy of h o l i e s " something to b e l i e v e i n w i t h c e r t a i n t y , yet the P r i n c e s s ' s question—"Then i t Is r e a l , i t i s s o l i d ? " — d r a w s a t t e n t i o n t o , w i t h James's own emphasis on the verb of being, the danger of Hyacinth's commitment. The centre, being n e i t h e r r e a l nor s o l i d , i s absent. There are u n c e r t a i n t i e s , contingencies, and more important, motives and a t t i t u d e s of which Hyacinth i s completely o b l i v i o u s . The most important of these i s Hoffendahl's and Paul's a t t i t u d e that Hyacinth i s expendable, not to mention Paul's eventual a f f a i r w i t h the P r i n c e s s which becomes a double b e t r a y a l . In f a c t , Hoffendahl and the P r i n c e s s are l i n k e d e x p l i c i t l y i n the t e x t : He [Hoffendahl] had e x a c t l y the same mastery of them that a great m u s i c i a n — t h a t of the P r i n c e s s h e r s e l f — had of the keyboard of the piano; he tre a t e d a l l t h i n g s , persons, i n s t i t u t i o n s , ideas, as so many notes i n h i s great symphonic massacre (PC, p. 280). Beyond undercutting previous scenes i n the n o v e l , where the P r i n c e s s e n t i c e s Hyacinth i n t o a romantic r e v e r i e as she plays the piano, the passage c l e a r l y p o i n t s to Hyacinth's double v i c t i m i z a t i o n . The centres of the P r i n c e s s ' s and Hoffendahl's l a b y r i n t h s are f a l s e — a b s e n t — b e c a u s e Hyacinth i n v e s t s i n them too much personal and s o c i a l v a l u e , too many of h i s own hopes, dreams and ambitions. When he f i n d s out that what he thought was at the centre i s not there—when he ceases to care f o r h i s 61 r a t h e r adolescent s o c i a l i s m and when he r e a l i z e s that the P r i n c e s s ' s i n - t e r e s t i n him i s s e l f i s h — h e f i n d s that a l l of h i s i d e a l i s t i c foundations crumble beneath him. Regrettably, f o r Hyacinth, h i s i n t e l l i g e n c e and h i s character are too f i n e l y honed, too tender, to withstand the f o r c e of that d e v a s t a t i o n . Hyacinth's subsequent s u i c i d e thus represents the space or the v o i d between two a n t i t h e t i c a l worlds, the i d e a l i s t i c s o c i a l i s t world of l e g i t i m a t e p o l i t i c a l and moral a c t i o n , and the r e a c t i o n a r y world of r e f i n e d s e n s i b i l i t i e s and a r t i s t i c form. The reader f o l l o w s Hyacinth f o r so long on the o u t s k i r t s of these a l t e r n a t i v e s that he f e e l s a sense of defeat when Hyacinth cannot s a t i s f a c t o r i l y r e s o l v e the a n t i t h e s i s , when he i s denied s h e l t e r from a l l p o s s i b l e worlds. This f e e l i n g of l o s s i s a l s o connected to dramatic e x p e c t a t i o n , the mystery and suspense created by Hyacinth's vow to perform an act of v i o l e n c e . James introduces t h i s s t r a t e g y e a r l y i n the n o v e l , and we wait a n x i o u s l y f o r the outcome of Hyacinth's foolhardy promise. But the a n a r c h i s t i c act of v i o l e n c e i s never r e a l i z e d . The reader i s l e f t w i t h a sense of a n t i - c l i m a x , which i s not to say that suspense does not come to a head, but r a t h e r , that the expected and d e s i r e d denouement i s c a n c e l l e d , or at l e a s t the c l o s u r e of the t e x t i s uncomfortably rearranged. I t i s as though James loads the poles of h i s a n t i t h e s i s so f i n e l y and so symmetrically that they cannot be unweighted s a t i s f a c t o r i l y . Perhaps, t h i s i s what James meant when he complained of the "misplaced middle" i n The P r i n c e s s Casamassima. F. W. Dupee i n t e r p r e t s t h i s phrase to mean that "the preparations f o r the a c t i o n are over-developed.""'"^ I f Dupee means that a l l a c t i o n s i n the 62 novel are overly prepared, then the explanation is incomplete. If, on the other hand, he means that only the f ina l climactic action is over- prepared for, then the statement makes sense in terms of anti-climax. There is further comment from James on this issue: Again and again, perversely, incurably, the "centre" of my structure would ins is t on placing i t se l f not, so to speak, in the midd le . . . . In several of my compositions this displacement has so succeeded, at the c r i s i s , in defying and resist ing me, has appeared so fraught with probable dishonour, that I s t i l l turn upon them, in spite of the greater or less success of f ina l dissimulation, a rueful and wondering eye. These productions have, in fact, i f I may be so bold about i t , specious and spurious centres altogether, to make up for the fai lure of the true. . . .l-*- These enigmatic statements by no means bring us out of the woods, but, at the very least, they do.point to a consciousness on James's part of certain kinds of centres. But what exactly constitutes a centre is not clear; resolution of confl ict and plot , termination of suspense, authorial intent, ideology and point of view are a l l poss ib i l i t i e s . Moreover, i f the centre of The Princess Casamassima is displaced, what precisely is the specious and spurious centre of which James speaks? Perhaps James never real ly solved these problems for himself u n t i l he discovered the "central consciousness" of a character l ike Strether in The Ambassadors. With a central consciousness, James had a natural l imiting device, a point of view and a structuring principle a l l in one. Yet James does suggest that the centre appears "at the cr is i s" and that the problem of his "misplaced middle" is "the direct and immediate f ru i t of a positive excess of foresight, the overdone desire to provide for future need and 12 lay up a heavenly treasure against the demands of my climax." J . A. Ward 63 would concur and places the problem in the context of James's symmetrical imagination: James's embarrassment over his "misplaced middles," failures in proportion caused by excessive preparation, follows from his conviction that coherence is necess- a r i l y symmetrical. The narrative consequences of this symmetry are twofold. Hyacinth f a i l s to see that the antithesis i s , in fact, spurious; the similarity between his predicament in the Princess's sphere and Muniment's should have warned him. Their movement towards each other obliterates the dia- l e c t i c and leaves him vulnerably unhoused from the warmth and safety of their affections—a condition which he endures from the novel's beginning. Hyacinth is a committed hero.apprenticed to opposing characters who, through a compromise which betrays, find their own peace. Anarchist and 14 aristocrat are really not so opposed after a l l . The second consequence is that, for the reader, the preparations for the clash and resolution of this antithesis have been so thorough that the unexpected resolution is f e l t as an anti-climax, or at least as an uncomfortable closure. And as Andrei Bely shows us more clearly in Petersburg, anti-climax is a useful ploy to effect a sense of loss in the reader, a loss or a vacancy which i s , in part, the experience of the hero but which is also the reader's experience of the absent-centred text. The special anti-climax quality of James's ending is better under- stood when i t is contrasted with Ivan Turgenev's in Virgin Soil. James's friendship with Turgenev in Paris i s well-documented,''""' and of course, James's knowledge of Virgin Soil, evidenced by his review of that novel, 64 has been r i g o r o u s l y inspected as a source f o r and i n f l u e n c e on The P r i n c e s s Casamassima."^ C e r t a i n l y the s i m i l a r i t i e s are inescapable; both Hyacinth and Nezhdanov s t r u g g l e w i t h inner d u a l i t i e s ("... there are two men i n me, and one won't l e t the other l i v e , " " ^ says Nezhdanov pre- f i g u r i n g Hyacinth's s o c i a l and h e r e d i t a r y s p l i t ) ; both commit themselves i m p u l s i v e l y to an a n a r c h i s t i c cause which they l a t e r come to doubt; both are i n f a t u a t e d w i t h and used by female r a d i c a l s who attempt to throw o f f t h e i r upper c l a s s trappings i n favour of a s o c i a l i s t i c commitment to the lower, c l a s s e s ; and both heroes choose s u i c i d e as the only escape from i r r e c o n c i l a b l e c o n f l i c t s . Yet, d e s p i t e the s i m i l a r i t i e s between the novels and even the uncom- f o r t a b l e borrowings, James's ending i s conspicuously " d i f f e r e n t . Turgenev's d e s c r i p t i o n of Nezhdanov's s u i c i d e i s d i r e c t — s o m e of i t , from Nezhdanov's own p o i n t of view, i s a c t u a l l y melodramatic. Hyacinth's death, by c o n t r a s t , i s reported w i t h the i n d i r e c t n e s s and decorum of c l a s s i c a l tragedy. I t occurs o f f stage. The n a r r a t i v e d i s c a r d s Hyacinth on h i s way to h i s room w i t h a loaded p i s t o l i n h i s pocket; when the P r i n c e s s rushes to h i s help s h o r t l y afterwards, she d i s c o v e r s that the bloody deed i s done. In t h i s s m a l l n a r r a t i v e gap at the climax of the n o v e l , Hyacinth drops from our s i g h t . Nezhdanov's death, which a l s o takes place at the climax and which i s as p a t h e t i c as Hyacinth's death, i s described w i t h a l l the dramatic sentiment—worthy.of Dickens to whom both n o v e l i s t s are i n - d e b t e d — t h a t Turgenev can muster. Then, i n nineteenth-century f a s h i o n , Turgenev adds another chapter i n which he t i d i e s up a l l the loose ends of the n o v e l , what James c a l l e d "a d i s t r i b u t i o n a t the l a s t of p r i z e s , pensions, husbands, wives, babies, m i l l i o n s , appended paragraphs, and 65 c h e e r f u l r e m a r k s . N o t that Turgenev's ending i s e x a c t l y c h e e r f u l or out of tone, but the n e a t l y rounded c l o s u r e c o n t r a s t s sharply w i t h James's ending which undercuts w i t h . i n t e n s i t y , i f not i r o n y , the e x p e c t a t i o n s — Hyacinth's and o u r s — w h i c h were so m e t i c u l o u s l y aroused during the course of the n a r r a t i v e . The drama of expectation d i f f e r s i n Turgenev's V i r g i n S o i l l a r g e l y because of i t s e p i s o d i c nature. Whereas James uses London as a c e n t r i n g device f o r The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, Turgenev's novel wanders across the Russian landscape from l o c a l e to l o c a l e i n a picaresque way such that each s e t t i n g achieves a drama and a suspense of i t s own. The only general thread of suspense to p u l l the n a r r a t i v e forward i s a frayed one: "What w i l l happen to t h i s c h a r a c t e r ? " Or at best, " W i l l t h i s character r e a l i z e h i s r e v o l u t i o n a r y ambitions?" There i s no great a n t i c i p a t i o n ; t h i n g s simply and meth o d i c a l l y go from bad to be t t e r to bad to worse to t r a g i c . James, however, e s t a b l i s h e s very e a r l y i n The P r i n c e s s Casamassima a s p e c i f i c and important question that p u l l s the n a r r a t i v e p o w e r f u l l y forward: "What w i l l come of Hyacinth's vow to perform the u n s p e c i f i e d act of v i o l e n c e ? " James, a f t e r a l l , i n h e r i t e d a Gothic s t r a i n , and we are apt to for g e t t h a t , beneath the f i l i g r e e of h i s p s y c h o l o g i c a l i n t r o s p e c t i o n , he i s a master of suspense, e s p e c i a l l y of invoking an ominous f u t u r e f o r h i s cha r a c t e r s . ' In a l e t t e r , James w r i t e s : The present and the immediate f u t u r e seem to me the best province of f i c t i o n — t h e l a t t e r e s p e c i a l l y — the f u t u r e to which a l l our a c t u a l modern tendencies and leanings seem to b u i l d a s o r t of m a t e r i a l path- way . 1 9 66 "The Beast i n the Jungle," The Wings of the Dove and of course, The Turn of the Screw are more finely-honed examples of t h i s s t r a t e g y . The e f f e c t i n those works, as i n The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, i s to achieve not only a n a r r a t i v e that g r i p s but a l s o a n a r r a t i v e that challenges us w i t h a rearrangement of the a n t i c i p a t e d c l o s u r e . The reader i s r e q u i r e d to make an adjustment which i s f e l t as a n t i - c l i m a x . James's Modernist descendents w i l l c r a f t t h i s technique of a n t i - climax more d e f t l y f o r c r e a t i n g absent centres, but none of them surpasses James's use of i n d i r e c t n e s s and mystery which are a l s o necessary s t r a t e g i e s f o r c o n s t r u c t i n g absent-centred n a r r a t i v e . James himself r e f e r r e d to t h i s technique as " t h a t magnificent and masterly i n d i r e c t n e s s . " Turgenev's n a r r a t i v e , by c o n t r a s t , i s more o m n i s c i e n t — t h e n a r r a t o r informs us more than Nezhdanov i s informed about himself.. James p r e f e r s to create mysteries around Hyacinth which a f f e c t him as much as they do the reader. The governing p r i n c i p l e , the source of command that c o n t r o l s Hyacinth's l i f e , i s as removed from us as i t i s from him. We don't know as much as we would l i k e about Hoffendhal and h i s gang or about the sources of h i s i n s t r u c t i o n ; we don't know as much as we would l i k e about Hyacinth's mother i n p r i s o n , or about the P r i n c e s s ' s past, p a r t i c u l a r l y about her r e l a t i o n s h i p w i t h her husband. ( I t i s j u s t as mysterious i n Roderick Hudson.) In h i s Preface to The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, James claims that h i s "scheme c a l l e d f o r a suggested nearness ... a p r e s e n t a t i o n not of sharp p a r t i c u l a r s , but of loose.appearances, vague motions and sounds and 20 symptoms, j u s t p e r c e p t i b l e presences and general looming p o s s i b i l i t i e s . " The reader i s always forced to guess the subterranean r e l a t i o n s h i p s , motives and shadowy mys t e r i e s . Such a technique goes a long way i n c r e a t - 67 i n g an aura of suspense, of things concealed, of important i n f o r m a t i o n absented from the t e x t . Todorov agrees t h a t such a device i s c o n s i s t e n t w i t h James's n a r r a t i v e p r i n c i p l e of the "quest f o r an absence." U n l i k e Turgenev, whose n a r r a t i v e emphasis remains w i t h the episode, James s t r e s s e s the character's s t r u g g l e to make sense of the episode. According to Todorov, the 'essence' of the events i s not given straightway; each f a c t , each phenomenon f i r s t appears enveloped i n a c e r t a i n 'mystery; i n t e r e s t i s n a t u r a l l y d i r e c t e d to 'being' r a t h e r than to 'doing.'^l But i t i s p r e c i s e l y the "being" of events which escapes Hyacinth. The P r i n c e s s ' s question concerning the s i g n i f i c a n c e of a n a r c h i s t a c t i o n ("Then i t _is r e a l , i t i s s o l i d ? " ) c a r r i e s w i t h i t an o b v i o u s l y r h e t o r i c a l n egative. Hyacinth would be b e t t e r o f f had he l i s t e n e d to P i n n i e from the beginning: "The t r u t h never Is found out." I t i s James's poi n t that beneath the t e x t ' s "vague symptoms and motions" there are no c e r t a i n t i e s or t r u t h s . Hyacinth's f l a w i s h i s f a i l u r e to r e a l i z e that the P r i n c e s s ' s world and Muniment's are as empty of s o l i d i t i e s as the spurious a n t i t h e s i s of those worlds i n which he f o o l i s h l y ensnares h i m s e l f . Thus, i n the p a t t e r n of h i s f a i l u r e , Hyacinth, f o r a V i c t o r i a n , i s a s u r p r i s i n g l y Modern hero, a quester f a i l e d because the emotional and i d e o l o g i c a l o b j e c t s of h i s quest c o l l a p s e around him. The world refuses to conform to h i s s e n s i t i v e and i n t e l l i g e n t nature which implodes as a r e s u l t of h i s m i s d i r e c t e d i d e a l i s m . In t h i s r espect, The P r i n c e s s Casa- massima becomes a v a l u a b l e l a t e - V i c t o r i a n l i n k to Modernism. Hyacinth's s u i c i d e , which i s f e l t as an a n t i - c l i m a x to or an adjustment of the 68 powerful a n t i t h e s i s , i l l u s t r a t e s Kermode's n o t i o n that p e r i p e t e i a becomes the Modernist trope f o r handling a p o c a l y p t i c v i s i o n , the 22 " f a l s i f i c a t i o n of simple expectations as to the s t r u c t u r e of a f u t u r e . " In t h i s respect as w e l l , then, The P r i n c e s s Casamassima emerges as a precursor to the modern a p o c a l y p t i c n o v e l — t h a t i s , i n i t s departure from the paradigm of the end. ' The c l a i m that any novel by Henry James i s p r e - a p o c a l y p t i c may seem exaggerated i n the context of much James c r i t i c i s m which tends to emphasize h i s r e f i n e d p s y c h o l o g i c a l p o s i t i v i s m . Yet, F. W. Dupee i s c o r r e c t when he claims that The P r i n c e s s Casamassima i s the "darkest" of James's nov e l s , that i t i s the most "palpably 'modern,' even i n i t s d e f e c t s . " He con- tinues by saying that i t i s "addressed to the f a t e of the s u p e r i o r i n d i v i d - 23 u a l i n a s i t u a t i o n where things f a l l apart and the center cannot h o l d . " 24 I t i s debatable j u s t how " s u p e r i o r " Hyacinth i s as a hero; n e v e r t h e l e s s , the Y e a t s i a n i n v o c a t i o n i s s i g n i f i c a n t , and, as we s h a l l see, i t w i l l s urface more than once i n the d i s c u s s i o n . o f these novels. Dupee i m p l i e s t h a t nineteenth-century i d e o l o g i c a l c e r t a i n t y i s undermined i n t h i s novel and that i t moves towards the fragmentation of Modernism. Speaking of the characters i n the n o v e l , he says that "the best l a c k a l l c o n v i c t i o n , while the worst are f u l l of passionate i n t e n s i t y , " and invoking another touchstone of Modernism, he claims that the novel's s e t t i n g i n London 25 suggests a "waste p l a c e . " L i o n e l T r i l l i n g expresses something of the same sentiment but w i t h an emphasis on the h i s t o r i c a l : " I t i s a novel which has at i t s very center the assumption that Europe has reached the f u l l of i t s ripeness and i s passing over i n t o rottenness ... that i t may 2 6 meet i t s end by v i o l e n c e . " For both Dupee and T r i l l i n g , then, The 69 Princess Casamassima is a pivotal work between nineteenth-century realism and twentieth-century Modernism. In terms of the present discussion, we could say more specifically that the novel is Janus-faced, looking back to Dickens and Turgenev while looking forward to Conrad and Bely. While employing a Modernist terminology to describe The Princess Casamassima may seem somewhat like hitting a tack with a sledgehammer, there i s ample evidence in the text to warrant such an approach. James himself claims in a letter to his friend A. C. Benson in 1896: "I have 27 the imagination of disaster—and see l i f e as ferocious and sinister." And certainly as Leon Edel has shown,. James's view of contemporary p o l i t i c a l activity was bleak, i f detached. (He did, however, express an interest in 28 going to Ireland to witness some p o l i t i c a l uproar firsthand.) In the novel i t s e l f the imagery and numerous references to imminent disaster give credibility to the notion of an apocalyptic theme. In imagery that prefigures Yeats' gyre and the theme of confusion when it s centre can no longer hold, the narrator writes that Hyacinth was "almost mor- bidly conscious that the c i r c l e in which he lived was an infinitesimally small shallow eddy in the roaring vortex of London, and his imagination plunged again and again into the flood that whirled past i t and round i t ..." (PC, p. 107). Hyacinth imagines that everyday London l i f e flows precariously over the surface of a "trap door" into which Bri t i s h society w i l l soon f a l l to i t s doom. And in imagery that prefigures Conrad's The Secret Agent, he imagines a fervent mass of anarchistic activity going on "beneath the surface," occasionally raising i t s head through "ugly black holes." Ultimately, such imaginings are ironic, because Hyacinth over- 70 estimates the extent and the power of the underground a c t i v i t y , and the only person i n the e n t i r e novel who f a l l s i n t o a trap door i s h i m s e l f . Much of t h i s imagery of d i s a s t e r i s , of course, connected w i t h the r e v o l u t i o n a r y movement, and i n t h i s sense, i t i s i n e v i t a b l e that i t should appear i n the n o v e l . Yet, r e v o l u t i o n or war are f r e q u e n t l y a s s o c i a t e d w i t h apocalypse, f o r they become convenient metaphors f o r the u l t i m a t e crack of doom. During one of h i s innumerable walks through London, Hyacinth imagines j u s t such a d i s a s t e r : There were n i g h t s when every one he met appeared to reek w i t h g i n and f i l t h and he found himself elbowed by f i g u r e s f o u l as l e p e r s . Some of the women and g i r l s i n p a r t i c u l a r were a p p a l l i n g — saturated w i t h a l c o h o l and v i c e , b r u t a l , bedraggled, obscene. "What remedy but another deluge, what alchemy but a n n i h i l a t i o n ? " he asked himself as he went h i s way; and he wondered what f a t e there could be i n the great scheme of things f o r a planet over- grown w i t h such vermin, what redemption but to be hurled against a b a l l of consuming f i r e . (PC, p. 410) This i s , unmistakably, the "imagination of d i s a s t e r , " and we w i l l meet s i m i l a r r e n d i t i o n s of t h i s cosmopolitan nightmare i n each of the four remaining novels to be discussed. In The P r i n c e s s Casamassima the scene occurs at the moment when Hyacinth's options are becoming more and more f o r e c l o s e d . Both Paul Muniment and the P r i n c e s s have deserted him f o r each other; M i l l i c e n t Henning, h i s childhood f r i e n d and h i s l a s t hope f o r c h a r i t a b l e understanding, has f a l l e n i n league w i t h Sholto, the P r i n c e s s ' s discarded l o v e r ; P i n n i e i s dead; he has distanced Mr. Vetch; but most important, he has l o s t h i s r e v o l u t i o n a r y commitment, even though he has r e c e i v e d the d i r e c t i v e to k i l l the Duke and even though he c a r r i e s a loaded p i s t o l i n h i s pocket. Thus the quoted passage i s at once an 71 expression of h i s bleak view of the world and an omen of h i s own f a t e . This i s the s p e c i a l Jamesian c o l o r a t i o n of the a p o c a l y p t i c theme: the novel represents not so much an a p o c a l y p t i c view of the world as i t does an a p o c a l y p t i c view of the f a t e of one p a t h e t i c i n d i v i d u a l who i s unable to cope w i t h a h o s t i l e world. The i n d i v i d u a l ' s f a t e becomes a microcosm f o r a l a r g e r h i s t o r i c a l f a t e , and t h i s too i s a p a t t e r n which i s repeated i n Conrad, Be l y , H e l l e r and Pynchon. The t e r r o r of the world's end g r a d u a l l y s h i f t s to a character's t e r r o r of h i s own personal end, which the n o v e l i s t then doubles back and uses as an image of a p o c a l y p t i c doom. Verlo c i n The Secret Agent, N i k o l a i i n Petersburg, Y o s s a r i a n i n Catch-22 and Slothrop i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow are a l l ridden w i t h paranoia, the p s y c h o l o g i c a l consequence of such t e r r o r . The a p o c a l y p t i c theme i s r e l e v a n t to absent-centred s t r u c t u r e because, i n an obvious sense, i t asks the most c r i t i c a l questions: what i s the world's f a t e and what i s man's f a t e i n that world? What remains a f t e r death and a f t e r the f i n a l upheaval? To ask such questions i s to fe a r the end, to f e a r a n n i h i l a t i o n and u l t i m a t e l y , to f e a r the v o i d . The nagging doubt that there may be only an absence, a s i g n i f y i n g of nothing a f t e r the sound and the f u r y , i s the powerful f o r c e that d r i v e s the characters i n these novels to such desperate a c t i o n s — a n d t h e i r c r e a t o r s to such lengths to devise n a r r a t i v e c o r r e l a t i v e s . At the end of The Princess"Casamassima, Hyacinth, alone i n h i s dingy room, i s described as "overpast"; "he'had become vague, he was e x t i n c t " (PC, p. 502). When the P r i n c e s s f i n d s h i s body a few pages l a t e r , 4 she f i n d s "something black, something ambiguous ..." (PC, p. 510). Hyacinth d i e s of ambiguity, because he i s unable to l i v e w i t h u n c e r t a i n t y and f e a r . When the n a r r a t o r 72 describes Hyacinth as "extinct," he reduces him to a soulless and mis- placed biological creature. Compressed in the word "extinct" is both the disillusionment Hyacinth has painfully experienced and the total lack of hope for a future which he prefers not to face. Thus, the apocalyptic theme, the terror of the end, provides part of the ideological under- pinning which exp l a i n s — i f not generates—the structure of the novel which explores the origins and bleakness of that state. 73 Notes X Tzvetan Todorov, The P o e t i c s of Prose, t r a n s l a t e d by Richard Howard ( I t h a c a , New York: C o r n e l l U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1977), p. 145. 2 Henry James, The A r t of the Novel (New York: S c r i b n e r ' s , 1934). 3 Henry James, The P r i n c e s s Casamassima (New York: Harper, 1959), p. 41. Further references and t h e i r page numbers to t h i s e d i t i o n of the novel are included i n the t e x t a f t e r the a b b r e v i a t i o n PC. Leon Edel p o i n t s out that one of James's e a r l i e s t memories i s of l y i n g under a c h a i r as a c h i l d i n the midst of a d u l t conversation and reading David C o p p e r f i e l d . See The Un t r i e d Years (New York: Avon, 1978), pp. 98-99. The Dickensian i n f l u e n c e i s rooted e a r l y . In h i s Preface .to The Ambassadors (New York e d i t i o n , 1907-17, V o l . XXI) James addresses himself s p e c i f i c a l l y to David C o p p e r f i e l d and claims that "the f i r s t person i n the long piece i s a form foredoomed to looseness." He goes on to obj e c t to the " t e r r i b l e f l u i d i t y of s e l f - r e v e l a t i o n " i n David Copper- f i e l d . In The P r i n c e s s Casamassima there i s one reference to Dickens i n general and two references to Micawber; i t would seem that David Copper- f i e l d i s one of James's l i t e r a r y touchstones. ^ Charles Dickens, David C o p p e r f i e l d (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1966), p. 61: . . . i f i t should appear from anything I may set down i n t h i s n a r r a t i v e that I was a c h i l d of c l o s e obser- v a t i o n , or that as a man I have a strong memory of my childhood, I undoubtedly l a y c l a i m to both of these c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s . ^ Henry James, The Notebooks of Henry James, ed. F. 0. Matthiessen and Kenneth B. Murdock (New York: Oxford U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1947), p. 68. ^ James, The Art of the Novel, p. 18. Leon E d e l , The Conquest of London: 1870-1881 (New York: Avon, 1978), pp. 111-112. Todorov, The P o e t i c s of Prose, p. 151. 74 F. W. Dupee, Henry James (Toronto: George J . MacLeod, 1951), p. 156. Henry James, The Art of the Novel, pp. 85-86. 12 Henry James, The Ar t of the Novel, p. 86. 1 3 James A. Ward, "James's Idea of S t r u c t u r e , " PMLA 80: 1965, 420. 14 As P a t r i c i a M e r i v a l e notes, Conrad and H e l l e r are h e i r to t h i s spurious a n t i t h e s i s . I n Conrad, "the opposites are remarkably a l i k e , " w h i l e i n H e l l e r , "fhe c a t e g o r i e s o v e r l a p . " See: "Catch-22 and The Secret Agent: Mechanical Man, the Hole i n the Centre, and the ' P r i n c i p l e of I n b u i l t Chaos,'" i n E n g l i s h Studies i n Canada, 7 (December, 1981) 4: 427. 1 5 See Leon E d e l , The Conquest of London: 1870-1881, pp. 203-221 and pp. 292-294. See Jeanne Delbaere-Garant, "Henry James's Divergences from H i s Russian Model i n The P r i n c e s s Casamassima," i n Revue des Langues Vivantes 37 (1971),: 535-44^, and EunJ.ce C.' Hamilton, "Henry James's. The P r i n c e s s Casa- massima and Ivan Turgenev's V i r g i n S o i l , " in. South. A t l a n t i c Q u a r t e r l y , 61 ( 1 9 6 2 ) : 354-364. ^ Ivan Turgenev, V i r g i n S o i l , t r a n s l a t e d by Constance Garnett (New York: Grove, 1977), p. 283. 18 Henry James as quoted i n Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending (London: Oxford U n i v e r s i t y P ress, 1966), p. 22. 19 Henry James as quoted i n Leon E d e l , The Untried Years: 1843-1870, p. 299. 20 Henry James, The A r t of the Novel, P- 76. 2 1 Todorov, The P o e t i c s of Prose, p. 153. 2 2 Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending, p. 23, F. W. Dupee, Henry James, p. 154. 75 See, f o r example, J . M. Luecke, "The P r i n c e s s Casamassima: Hyacinth's F a l l i b l e Consciousness," i n Modern P h i l o l o g y 60 (1963): 274-280. F. W. Dupee, Henry James, pp. 158 and 160 r e s p e c t i v e l y . L i o n e l T r i l l i n g , The L i b e r a l Imagination (New York: Anchor, 1953), p. 58. 27 E. F. Benson, ed., Henry James: L e t t e r s to A. C. Benson and Aguste Monod (London: E l k i n Matthews & M a r r o t , n.d.), p. 35. See Leon E d e l , The Middle Years: 1882-1895 (New York: Avon, 1978), p. 168. 76 CHAPTER I I I Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent: Sudden Holes i n Time and Space The n a r r a t i v e absence i n Henry James's The P r i n c e s s Casamassima grows uncomfortably from v a r i o u s and sometimes confusing sources: i n d i r e c t p o i n t of view, i n t e n t i o n a l l y c r a f t e d mystery, imagery, a n t i - c l i m a x , spurious a n t i t h e s i s , and, i n James's own phrase, a "misplaced middle." By c o n t r a s t , the absent centre of Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent i s more e a s i l y i d e n t i f i e d , mainly because i t so prominently governs the e n t i r e n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e . A d i s c u s s i o n of t h i s phenomenon i n The Secret Agent p r o f i t s e s p e c i a l l y by a comparison w i t h The P r i n c e s s Casamassima si n c e •both novels share s i m i l a r i t i e s i n subject matter, imagery and theme; moreover, such a comparison v i v i d l y i l l u s t r a t e s the maturation of absent- centred s t r u c t u r e from i t s uneasy beginnings i n Dickens and James to Conrad and E a r l y Modernism where i t i s developed w i t h greater confidence and s o p h i s t i c a t i o n . Beyond the f r e q u e n t l y noted s i m i l a r i t y that both n o v e l i s t s chose England as t h e i r l i t e r a r y asylum, i t i s i n t e r e s t i n g that both James and Conrad should have chosen anarchism as subject matter f o r f i c t i o n a l t r e a t - m e n t — e s p e c i a l l y i n t e r e s t i n g s i n c e both were quick to d i s c l a i m any d i r e c t knowledge of a n a r c h i s t a c t i v i t y . To compensate f o r a l a c k of such knowledge, both authors r e l i e d upon, among other sources, newspaper r e p o r t s , James only s p a r i n g l y on the P i c c a d i l l y R i o t s , and Conrad generous- 0 11 l y on the more spectacular and much b e t t e r documented "Greenwich Bomb Outrage."^ For the most p a r t , c r i t i c s have been more t o l e r a n t of Conrad's d e p i c t i o n of anarchist' character and a c t i o n than they have been of James's. The P r i n c e s s Casamassima seems f a t e d to squirm under the charge that i t s a n a r c h i s t s are n a i v e l y and incompletely drawn—a charge that p e r s i s t s d e s p i t e James's stated i n t e n t i o n to present only the " s u r f a c e " of 2 a n a r c h i s t a c t i v i t y f o r s p e c i a l l i t e r a r y reasons already discussed. Other than newspaper r e p o r t s , the c i t y of London, i n s i s t both nove- l i s t s i n t h e i r Prefaces, o f f e r e d s i g n i f i c a n t i n s p i r a t i o n f o r t h e i r f i c t i o n . James claims that Hyacinth's h i s t o r y "sprang up f o r me out of the London pavements," w h i l e Conrad w r i t e s i n h i s Preface: I had to f i g h t hard to keep at arm's l e n g t h the memories of my s o l i t a r y and n o c t u r n a l walks a l l over London i n my e a r l y days, l e s t they should rush i n and overwhelm each page of the s t o r y as these emerged one a f t e r another from a mood as s e r i o u s i n f e e l i n g and thought as any i n which I ever wrote ^ a l i n e . ("Author's Note" to The Secret Agent, p. 1 1 ) Yet, the d i f f e r e n c e here i s as noteworthy as the s i m i l a r i t y . There i s no evidence to suggest that James had to " f i g h t hard" to maintain an i r o n i c and o b j e c t i v e "arm's l e n g t h " d i s t a n c e from h i s impressions of London. Indeed, i f h i s f a c t - f i n d i n g v i s i t to M i l l b a n k p r i s o n and h i s numerous walks about the c i t y to document labour c l a s s speech are an i n d i c a t i o n , he seems to have i n t e n t i o n a l l y sought impressions of London w i t h a cool o b j e c t i v i t y , even i n the mode of n a t u r a l i s m , i t has been noted. Conrad, however, apparently struggled w i t h the abundance and the emotive r i c h n e s s of impressions, so that the Jamesian d i s t a n c i n g device of i r o n y was 78 "formulated with d e l i b e r a t i o n . " That there might be a d i r e c t influence by James i s scarcely s u r p r i s i n g considering that Conrad claimed a "frequent 4 communion" with James's work. Certainly, the imagery of the London streets i s unmistakably p a r a l l e l i n both novels to the extent that i t de- p i c t s the c i t y as a l a b y r i n t h and to the extent that i t originates from Dickens, an observation which F. R. Leavis made as early as 1941: "Con- rad's London bears something of the same kind of r e l a t i o n to Dickens as Henry James' does i n The Princess Casamassima.""' In L i t t l e D o r r i t , f o r example, houses i n the c i t y of London are very d i f f i c u l t to locate i f they have not been—so i t seems—misplaced a l t o - gether; Mr. Meagles hands Arthur Clennam a s l i p of paper on which i s written Miss Wade's address: "Here i s no number," s a i d Arthur looking over i t . "No number, my dear Clennam?" returned h i s f r i e n d . "No anything! The very name of the s t r e e t may have been f l o a t i n g i n the a i r , f o r , as I t e l l you, none of my people can say where they got i t from." ... ... They rode to the top of Oxford s t r e e t , and there a l i g h t i n g , dived i n among the great s t r e e t s of melan- choly s t a t e l i n e s s , and the l i t t l e s t r e e t s that t r y to be s t a t e l y and succeed i n being more melancholy, of which there i s a l a b y r i n t h near Park Lane.... ( L i t t l e D o r r i t , p. 303. I t a l i c s mine.)^ Or, more s p e c t a c u l a r l y , i n M a r t i n Chuzzlewit, c h a r a c t e r s , unable to l o c a t e "Todgers"' even though i t i s w i t h i n view, are doomed to walk d i r e c t i o n l e s s through l a b y r i n t h i n e s t r e e t s : 1 >• You groped your way f o r an hour through lanes and byways, and court-yards, and passages and you never once emerged upon anything that might be reasonably c a l l e d a s t r e e t . A kind of resigned d i s t r a c t i o n came 79 over the stranger as he trod those devious mazes, and g i v i n g himself up f o r l o s t , went i n and out and round about and q u i e t l y turned back again when he came to a dead w a l l or was stopped by an i r o n r a i l i n g , and f e l t that the means of escape might p o s s i b l y present themselves i n t h e i r own good time, but that to a n t i c i p a t e them was hopeless. Instances were known of people, who being asked to dine at Todgers', had t r a v e l l e d round and round f o r a weary time, w i t h i t s chimney-pots i n view, and f i n d i n g i t at l a s t impossible of attainment, had gone home again. . .. Todgers' was i n a. l a b y r i n t h , whereof the mystery was known but to a chosen few. ( M a r t i n Chuzzlewit, pp. 147-48. I t a l i c s mine..)^ S i m i l a r l y , i n The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, Hyacinth takes a c a r r i a g e r i d e w i t h Paul Muniment at midnight through the "murky m i l e s " of London fog u n t i l "he had wholly l o s t , i n the d r i z z l i n g gloom, a sense of t h e i r whereabouts" (The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, p. 246). As a c h i l d , he goes w i t h Amanda Pynsent to see h i s mother i n M i l l b a n k p r i s o n , that "draughty l a b y r i n t h " w i t h " w a l l s w i t h i n w a l l s and g a l l e r i e s on top of g a l l e r i e s " (p. 50), and as an a d u l t , to see M i l l i c e n t Henning he must t r a v e l through "the l a b y r i n t h of the shop" where she works. Not u n l i k e a character t r y i n g to f i n d Todgers', Hyacinth, at the end of the novel j u s t before h i s s u i c i d e , wanders through " s t r e e t s , i n t o squares, i n t o parks" i n "the great, i n - d i f f e r e n t c i t y " u n t i l he ends up i n S a i n t James's Park where he "followed the thoroughfare that communicates w i t h P i m l i c o . He stopped here present- l y and came back again; then, over the same pavement, he r e t r a c e d h i s steps ..." (The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, p. 504). In the London of Conrad's The Secret Agent, the "topographical m y s t e r i e s " of the c i t y are as s t r i k i n g as those i n e i t h e r James or Dickens. Verlo.c, as he nears the Embassy f o r h i s i n t e r v i e w w i t h Mr. V l a d i m i r , 80 reaches No. 1 Chesham Square and then proceeds d i a g o n a l l y to No. 10: This belonged to an imposing c a r r i a g e gate i n a high, clean w a l l between two houses, of which one r a t i o n a l l y enough bore the number 9 and the other was numbered 37; but the f a c t that t h i s l a s t belonged to P o r t h i l l S t r e e t , a s t r e e t w e l l known i n the neighbourhood, was proclaimed by an i n s c r i p t i o n placed above the ground- f l o o r windows by whatever h i g h l y e f f i c i e n t a u t h o r i t y i s charged w i t h the duty of keeping t r a c k of London's strayed houses. (SA, p. 22) The Embassy and London houses, then, are as obscurely s i t u a t e d i n the l a b y r i n t h of Conrad's s t r e e t s as Miss Wade's house or Todgers' e s t a b l i s h - ment i s i n Dickens's. Conrad invokes the l a b y r i n t h or maze e x p l i c i t l y on two occasions: once when Verl o c t r a v e l s w i t h S t e v i e and the bomb to Greenwich Park v i a "Maze H i l l " s t a t i o n , and a second time when Winnie, having j u s t murdered V e r l o c , walks desperately alone i n t o the London s t r e e t s and f i n d s that "the whole town of marvels and mud, w i t h i t s maze of s t r e e t s and i t s mass of l i g h t s , was sunk i n a hopeless n i g h t , r e s t e d at the bottom of a b l a c k abyss from which no unaided woman could hope to scramble out" (SA, p. 218). In keeping w i t h the n o t i c e a b l e symbolic use of geometry i n the t e x t ( V e r l o c ' s t r i a n g l e and S t e v i e ' s c i r c l e s are two of the more obvious examples), Conrad's l a b y r i n t h of s t r e e t s i s described w i t h an emphasis on the geometric. Having betrayed Winnie by sending her alone on the t r a i n which e v e n t u a l l y c a r r i e s her to her s u i c i d e , and having swindled her out of Verloc's money, Ossipon walks the s t r e e t s of London self-condemned and r a p i d l y s i n k i n g under the weight of h i s moral decrepitude: And again Comrade Ossipon walked. His robust form was seen that n i g h t i n d i s t a n t p a r t s of the enormous 81 town slumbering monstrously on a carpet of mud under a v e i l of raw m i s t . I t was seen c r o s s i n g the s t r e e t s without l i f e and sound, or d i m i n i s h i n g i n the i n t e r - minable s t r a i g h t perspectives of shadowy houses border- ing empty roadways l i n e d by s t r i n g s of gaslamps. He walked through Squares, P l a c e s , Ovals, Commons, through monotonous s t r e e t s w i t h unknown names where the dust of humanity s e t t l e s i n e r t and hopeless out of the stream of l i f e . He walked. (SA, p.. 241) Ossipon becomes a form, an " i t , " and the "squares," " o v a l s , " and " i n t e r - minable s t r a i g h t p e r s p e c t i v e s " remind us t h a t , f o r Ossipon, there i s no way out, nor i s there a p e r c e p t i b l e centre to t h i s geometric l a b y r i n t h . The London l a b y r i n t h , however, i s not only a s t r u c t u r e i n which characters r i s k i n terminable walking; i t i s a l s o a s t r u c t u r e ridden w i t h c o r r u p t i o n , disease and deformity, thus p r o v i d i n g a s u i t a b l e s e t t i n g f o r the m o r a l l y grotesque characters who wander there. In L i t t l e D o r r i t ' s Park Lane, f o r example,Dickens s t r e s s e s d i s t o r t i o n and disease when he invokes " p a r a s i t e l i t t l e tenements, w i t h the cramp i n t h e i r whole frame, from the dwarf h a l l - d o o r on the g i a n t model of His Grace's i n the Square to the squeezed window of the boudoir commanding the d u n g h i l l s i n the mews...." They are " r i c k e t y d w e l l i n g s " w i t h "a dismal s m e l l " and so de- formed that t h e i r i r o n columns seem to be " s c r o f u l o u s l y r e s t i n g upon crutches" ( L i t t l e D o r r i t , p. 303. I t a l i c s mine). No l e s s h o r r i f i c or monstrous, London, f o r Hyacinth i n The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, becomes "an immeasurable breathing monster," and as he walks the s t r e e t s at n i g h t , he meets characters reeking of " g i n and f i l t h , " and " f i g u r e s f o u l as l e p e r s , " a l l " v i c e , b r u t a l , bedraggled, obscene" (The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, p. 410). S i m i l a r l y i n The Secret Agent, characters i n the l a b y r i n t h of London are deformed, f a t , bloated and diseased: V e r l o c i s " b u r l y i n a 82 f a t - p i g s t y l e , " the P r o f e s s o r , a "dingy l i t t l e man" w i t h a s a l l o w face and a "greasy complexion," and Yundt i s cursed w i t h a "skinny groping hand deformed by gouty s w e l l i n g s . " The P r o f e s s o r f e e l s p a r t i c u l a r l y threatened by the m u l t i t u d e of such characters who "swarmed numerous l i k e l o c u s t s , i n d u s t r i o u s l i k e ants," even i n the back s t r e e t s of the c i t y where he wanders. The houses here, l i k e those i n Dickens's Park Lane, "had i n t h e i r dusty windows the s i g h t l e s s , moribund look of i n c u r a b l e decay" (SA, p. 74). And i n an image which h i n t s at the bomb's explosion at the centre of t h i s l a b y r i n t h (arid which p r e f i g u r e s the urban hulks of H e l l e r ' s Rome i n Catch-22), the houses appear l i k e "empty s h e l l s awaiting d e m o l i t i o n " (SA, p. 74).. S i m i l a r l y , Ossipon, during h i s rendezvous w i t h the P r o f e s s o r at the S i l e n u s Restaurant, imagines the place a f t e r an e x p l o s i o n : For a moment Ossipon imagined the o v e r l i g h t e d place changed i n t o a d r e a d f u l black hole b e l c h i n g fumes choked w i t h g h a s t l y rubbish of smashed brickwork and m u t i l a t e d corpses. (SA, p. 63) I f Dickens's imagery springs from s o c i a l and moral i n v e c t i v e , and i f James's, informed w i t h "the imagination of d i s a s t e r , " verges on apoca- l y p t i c r u i n , then Conrad's imagery seems p o s t - a p o c a l y p t i c , as though the u p h e a v a l — t h e e x p l o s i o n — h a s already occurred, and as though h i s characters are doomed to walk interminably i n p u r g a t o r i a l London. Look- ing at the imagery i n t h i s way brings i n t o sharp focus i t s t r a n s i t i o n from V i c t o r i a n to l a t e - V i c t o r i a n and to modernist f i c t i o n — e s p e c i a l l y i n respect to the n o v e l i s t s ' d e p i c t i o n of the c i t y as l a b y r i n t h . Conrad extends the s p a t i a l metaphor of the l a b y r i n t h by p l a c i n g w i t h i n i t s l a r g e spaces the s m a l l e r , enclosed and s o l i t a r y spaces of h i s 83 characters. These claustrophobic spaces, which are emphasized by Conrad's window imagery, reveal the s t i f l i n g confines of characters trapped in their own grotesque secrecy, unable or unwilling to communicate the nature of their own personal voids which exist within the larger void of London i t - self . Verloc, nervous and sweating during his interview with Mr. Vladimir, lunges impulsively towards the french windows hoping for some kind of rescue or escape, and later in the same scene he "heard against the window- pane the faint buzzing of a f l y . . . " (SA, p. 31), an image which at once reduces Verloc's moral stature to the level of an insect, while at the same time hinting at his own f u t i l e "buzzing" in an attempt to escape the unpleasant situation in the room. That evening at home, Winnie notices him standing at the bedroom window with "his forehead against the cold window-pane—a fragile film of glass stretched between him and the enormity of cold, wet, black, muddy, inhospitable accumulation of bricks, slates, and stones" ((SA, p. 54). Thus, i t is a very delicate membrane, a "fragile film" l i k e his own "mortal envelope," which separates Verloc's private space from the larger public space of the city. Both spaces are hostile to Verloc, the private space because i t s comfort and i t s "fanatical inertness" have been disrupted by Mr. Vladimir (and because he risks exposure to Winnie), and the public space because of the "enormity" of i t s indifference and i t s power to overwhelm. Michael Haltresht, in his a r t i c l e "The Dread of Space in Conrad's The Secret Agent," describes more f u l l y the claustrophobic theme in the novel and contrasts i t with acrophobia or the fear of f a l l i n g . (Winnie's refrain which expresses her fear of hanging is the finest example: "The drop was fourteen feet.") A more appropriate contrast, however, would be agoraphobia (fear of large 84 spaces), especially in the light of Verloc's dilemma which places him "in the solitude of a vast and hopeless desert" (SA, p. 148). The re lat ion- ship between large spaces and confined spaces, individual voids in the larger void of London, i s neatly expressive of one of the novel's modern- is t themes: isolation in the waste place. Conrad's sea stories can be viewed in the same way. Characters, enclosed in the confined space of a ship, are lost in the vast space of the sea, a pattern which is strongly prefigured in Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Shelley's Frankenstein. The pattern is clear in The Nigger of the Narcissus: ; The passage had begun, and the ship, a fragment de- tached from the earth, went on lonely and swift l ike a small planet. Round her the abysses of sky and sea met in an unattainable frontier.9 These two spatial worlds feed and intensify each other, for the more Verloc fears exposure from the outside world (Vladimir and Heat), the more with- drawn and uncommunicative he becomes. For a brief moment he considers "making a clean breast of things" and escaping to the continent with Winnie, but lacking the courage to speak the truth and set things right in his domestic sphere, his only alternative is to carry out Vladimir's directive in the public sphere."^ As long as Verloc remains inert , he is safe in his slothful role as double agent; however, when Vladimir forces him to unbalance his duplicitous loyalt ies , he becomes vulnerable. He risks danger i f he acts and danger i f he does not. It i s , anticipating Hel ler , a classic "catch-22" dilemma.' These spatial complexities in The Secret Agent, however, while they have a f f in i t i es with those in Dickens and James, move beyond them and i n - 85 vade the n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e i n a prominent way. Dickensian and Jamesian space i s powerfully imaged, but i t does not r a d i c a l l y a l t e r the n a r r a t i v e t h r u s t . There are innovations i n n a r r a t i v e s t r a t e g i e s , to be sure, yet The P r i n c e s s Casamassima and L i t t l e D o r r i t are s t i l l bounded by what Joyce, tongue-in-cheek, c a l l e d "wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot.""'""'' Conrad's p l o t or n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e i s c l e a r l y not "goahead," dis r u p t e d as i t i s by both s p a t i a l and temporal d i s t o r t i o n s which fragment and weave the n a r r a t i v e ( i n a more l i t e r a l sense than i n Henry James) around an absent centre, the premature bomb explosion which k i l l s S t e v i e . Terry Eagleton, i n C r i t i c i s m and Ideology, concurs and n o t i c e s i n each of Conrad's novels a " c a l c u l a t i v e o r g a n i s a t i o n of i n t e r l a c i n g p a t t e r n s around a c e n t r a l absence."''"2 One such p a t t e r n , delayed n a r r a t i v e t h r u s t , i s f e l t as a d i s t o r t i o n i n the very opening of The Secret Agent: "Mr. V e r l o c , going out i n the morning, l e f t h i s shop nominally i n charge of h i s brother-in-law" (SA, p. 13). However, the t h r u s t of the n a r r a t i v e a c t i o n of "going out" s t a l l s i n the f i r s t b r i e f paragraph, and i n the second V e r l o c i s suspended at the shop door while the remainder of the chapter f i l l s i n background and h i s t o r y to e s t a b l i s h the s e t t i n g and character of the V e r l o c household. Chapter I I repeats the opening a c t i o n , and only then i s Ver l o c "unfrozen" and f r e e to continue on h i s way to the Embassy f o r h i s i n t e r v i e w w i t h Mr. V l a d i m i r . Alan Friedman sees such a technique, on a l a r g e r s c a l e , as a formal s t r a t e g y designed as "... a brake against any mere mounting of ' e f f e c t s ' i n t o s e n s a t i o n a l i s m . " And he continues: 86 Conrad's novels are c o n t i n u a l l y about to open outward. One i s aware of an imminent ex p l o s i o n as the 'progression' i n t e n s i f i e s ; but the inward r e f u s a l holds the cumulative f o r c e i n check under i n c r e a s i n g pressure; and the s t o r y 'opens' only at the end. There i s a sudden crumbling of r e s i s t a n c e , an eru p t i o n at maximum moral i n t e n s i t y . This "inward r e f u s a l " of the n a r r a t i v e i s e s p e c i a l l y evident i n Conrad's handling of the bomb exp l o s i o n . Chapter I I I continues w i t h a r e l a t i v e l y s t r a i g h t f o r w a r d n a r r a t i v e l i n e , pausing c h i e f l y to de s c r i b e and o u t l i n e the background of the a n a r c h i s t s who meet at Verloc's shop the evening before the ex p l o s i o n . Suddenly, i n Chapter IV the s e t t i n g s h i f t s to Ossipon and the Professo r s i t t i n g a t a restaurant t a b l e d i s c u s s i n g a newspaper r e p o r t of the ex p l o s i o n . Having followed V e r l o c to the point where he re c e i v e s the d i r e c t i v e to plan t a bomb by Greenwich Observatory, i t i s something of a n a r r a t i v e "cheat" to be deprived of a c t i o n so c e n t r a l to the forward t h r u s t of the n a r r a t i v e l i n e . From t h i s p o i n t u n t i l the murder, the n a r r a t i v e i s stubbornly guarded about information concerning the e x p l o s i o n . The t o p i c of conversation between Ossipon and the Professo r does, of course, turn to the e x p l o s i o n , but the i n d i r e c t r e p o r t i n g of the event (which i s now spoken of i n the past tense) through dialogue, and the i r o n y of t h e i r mistaken assumptions ( f o r instance, that i t i s Ve r l o c who i s k i l l e d by the e x p l o s i o n ) , only serve to di s t a n c e the c e n t r a l event and remind us j u s t how absent from the t e x t t h i s c e n t r a l event i s . There can be l i t t l e argument that the expl o s i o n , w h i l e absent from the n a r r a t i v e , i s a l s o c e n t r a l to i t . As J e f f r e y R. Smitten observes: "... a l l the events r e l a t e back to the moment of the bombing e i t h e r as a cause or an e f f e c t ... each scene i n the novel i s to be understood as a c o e x i s t i n g f a c e t of a complete system of causes and e f f e c t s which r e s t 87 upon a s i n g l e moment i n t i m e " — a n d i n space, he might have added. Smitten goes on to say: "Although i t i s never d i r e c t l y rendered, the bombing—or more s p e c i f i c a l l y , the e x p l o s i o n — i s the c e n t r a l event of The Secret Agent 14 i n a very l i t e r a l sense." The c e n t r a l i t y of the event need not be con- fused w i t h the c e n t r a l i t y of character. H. M. D a l e s k i claims, f o r example, that d e s p i t e the t i t l e of the n o v e l , "Winnie's s t o r y ... may be thought of as the paradigmatic centre of a s e r i e s of co n c e n t r i c circles.""'""' Conrad himself i n the Preface w r i t e s : "This book i s that s t o r y [Winnie's], reduced to manageable p r o p o r t i o n , i t s whole course suggested and centred around the absurd c r u e l t y of the Greenwich Park e x p l o s i o n " (Preface to SA, p. 10. Conrad's i t a l i c s ) . The event, then, as a formal centre need not c o n t r a d i c t the c e n t r a l i t y of Winnie as a character or her s t o r y , j u s t as i n Nostromo, the i s s u e of the hero's c e n t r a l i t y i s not n e c e s s a r i l y i n o p p o s i t i o n to the c e n t r a l i t y of events concerning the s t o l e n s i l v e r t r e a s u r e . In The Secret Agent, the c e n t r a l event does not c o i n c i d e as i t does i n James's The P r i n c e s s Casamassima w i t h the climax of the novel. In The P r i n c e s s Casamassima the "misplaced middle" of the n a r r a t i v e i s con- nected to the climax of Hyacinth's spurious a n t i t h e s i s , whereas i n The Secret Agent the absence of the c e n t r a l event i s more s t r i k i n g and more s i g n i f i c a n t p r e c i s e l y because i t i s q u i t e d i s t i n c t from the climax (which would be V e r l o c ' s death or perhaps Winnie's s u i c i d e ) . Conrad s i t u a t e s the absent centre e a r l y i n the novel so t h a t , f o r the reader, i t q u i c k l y be- comes past n a r r a t i v e experience. Much of the subsequent n a r r a t i v e s t r u g g l e s , l i k e the characters i n the n o v e l , to recover and understand the p r e c i s e nature, the causes and e f f e c t s of that momentous event which both c a p t i v a t e s and h o r r i f i e s . This very s t r a t e g y of r e - i n t e g r a t i n g 88 seemingly impenetrable events i n the past helps to remove or absent the e x p l o s i o n from the t e x t . The n a r r a t i v e always seems to be looking back- wards. By c o n t r a s t , James p r e f e r s to s i t u a t e h i s c e n t r a l events i n the f u t u r e where they p u l l the n a r r a t i v e forward w i t h a more conventional t h r u s t of suspense. The u n s p e c i f i e d act of v i o l e n c e i n The P r i n c e s s Casa- massima which Hyacinth w i l l one day perform i s almost as f o r c e f u l a mystery as Marcher's unknown but momentous event, "a great a c c i d e n t , " which he awaits i n "The Beast i n the Jungle," the most s t r i k i n g of James's absent-centred t a l e s . In The Secret Agent, the absence of the c e n t r a l event i s achieved p a r t l y by burying the e x p l o s i o n i n the past and p a r t l y by weaving a very i n d i r e c t n a r r a t i v e l i n e . Chapter IV introduces Chief Inspector Heat, and i n t u r n , h i s s u p e r i o r , the A s s i s t a n t Commissioner; the focus then s h i f t s to the A s s i s t a n t Commissioner's w i f e who i s a f r i e n d of M i c h a e l i s ' patroness. F i n a l l y i n Chapter VII the n a r r a t i v e reaches the b u r e a u c r a t i c top when the A s s i s t a n t Commissioner's superior enters the n o v e l , "the great personage," S i r E t h e l r e d . I t i s a curious p a t t e r n t h a t , to describe and n a r r a t e the event of the e x p l o s i o n , Conrad weaves h i s n a r r a t i v e through such a tangle of b u r e a u c r a t i c h i e r a r c h i e s , always tak i n g the time to round out h i s characters w i t h i r o n i c background, h i s t o r y and d e s c r i p t i o n so that t h e i r a c t i o n s are l e g i t i m a t e l y motivated. Of course, much of the conver- s a t i o n i n these four " d i v e r s i o n a r y " chapters (IV, V, VI, VII) has to do w i t h V e r l o c and the e x p l o s i o n : Ossipon and the Professor d i s c u s s the newspaper r e p o r t s and speculate on the event; Heat examines S t e v i e ' s shattered remains and di s c o v e r s the a l l - i m p o r t a n t t r i a n g l e on h i s coat c o l l a r ; the i n t e r v i e w between Heat and the A s s i s t a n t Commissioner e s t a b l i s h e s 89 V e r l o c ' s connection w i t h the p o l i c e ; and the i n t e r v i e w w i t h S i r E t h e l r e d provides a r a t i o n a l e f o r the A s s i s t a n t Commissioner's d i r e c t i n t e r v e n t i o n i n the case. Yet, the s p e c u l a t i o n s , o f t e n erroneous, that occur i n these i n t e r v i e w s , and the piece-meal i n f o r m a t i o n about the e x p l o s i o n point out j u s t how l i t t l e i s known about the c e n t r a l event. I t i s as though the temporal or h o r i z o n t a l f l o w of the n a r r a t i v e l i n e i s s t a l l e d ( l i k e V e r l o c at the opening of the novel) w h i l e a l a b y r i n t h of v e r t i c a l ( t h a t i s , h i e r a r c h i c a l ) r e l a t i o n s h i p s i s explored. Expressed more c o n c r e t e l y , the most s i g n i f i c a n t a c t i o n s subsequent to the e x p l o s i o n (Verloc's murder and Winnie's s u i c i d e ) cannot take place u n t i l the complex circumstances l e a d i n g up to and immediately f o l l o w i n g S t e v i e ' s death are e n t i r e l y understood and p a i n f u l l y imagined, p a r t i c u l a r l y by Winnie. Only then does Winnie have s u f f i c i e n t m o t i v a t i o n f o r w i e l d i n g the carving k n i f e . When she does, she seems to r e l e a s e the n a r r a t i v e from temporal d i s t o r t i o n and what f o l l o w s i s a r e l a t i v e l y r a p i d succession of events as the t e x t ' s chronology runs i t s e l f down to a s t a t i c c o n c l u s i o n . By absenting the c e n t r a l event, Conrad s h i f t s the emphasis from the n a r r a t i o n of events to a p s y c h o l o g i c a l and e s p e c i a l l y a moral e x p l o r a t i o n of characters and t h e i r m o t i v a t i o n s . The i n t e r c o n n e c t i o n s and i n t e r - dependencies which e x p l a i n the event are h i g h l i g h t e d r a t h e r than the f a c t of the event i t s e l f . This n o t i o n accords w i t h Conrad's view of the con- f l i c t i n g newspaper r e p o r t s of the a c t u a l event i n Greenwich Park, r e p o r t s which were unable to a r r i v e at a convincing scenario of e i t h e r characters or t h e i r m o t i v a t i o n s . Conrad c a l l s i t : ... a blood-stained i n a n i t y of so fatuous a kind that i t was impossible to fathom i t s o r i g i n by any reasonable 90 or even unreasonable process of thought. For perverse unreason has i t s own l o g i c a l processes. But that outrage could not be l a i d hold of mentally i n any s o r t of way, so that one remained faced w i t h the f a c t of a man blown to b i t s f o r nothing even most remotely resembling an idea, a n a r c h i s t i c or other. (Author's Note, SA, p. 9) Thus, as Norman Sherry argues, "the q u a l i t y of the i n i t i a l i n c i d e n t which a t t r a c t e d Conrad was i t s i n e x p l i c a b l e n e s s , " " ^ j u s t as James was i n s p i r e d by the "mysteries abysmal" of a n a r c h i s t i c London. The challenge Conrad faced, then, was to preserve the q u a l i t y of an i n a n i t y "impossible to fathom," w h i l e a t the same time d e p i c t i n g characters c o n v i n c i n g l y flawed and c o n v i n c i n g l y enmeshed i n flawed r e l a t i o n s h i p s so that the whole "absurd c r u e l t y " of the ex p l o s i o n would s t i l l be s e n s i b l e to the reader. Thus, the four " d i v e r s i o n a r y " chapters play a r o l e i n d i s t a n c i n g the reader from the expl o s i o n w h i l e p a r a d o x i c a l l y e x p l a i n i n g i t by f l e s h i n g out the characters i n v o l v e d . This has not prevented E. M. W. T i l l y a r d from complaining that these chapters are " d i s p r o p o r t i o n a t e , " that they destroy the " u n i t y " of the n o v e l , and that "the theme of the p o l i c e i s not p e r f e c t l y i n t e g r a t e d 18 w i t h that of the V e r l o c s . " T i l l y a r d i s bothered, perhaps, by, the i n t e r r u p t i o n of the n a r r a t i v e l i n e , yet apart from d e s t r o y i n g the u n i t y of the t e x t , the i n t e r r u p t i o n s created by these chapters a c t u a l l y create the t e x t around the centre which the chapters circumvent. The d i s l o c a t i o n of n a r r a t i v e l i n e i s even greater i n Chapter V I I I because i t s h i f t s backwards i n time so that l o g i c a l l y i t should appear between Chapters I I I and IV. The focus of t h i s chapter i s on Winnie's mother and her d e c i s i o n to leave V e r l o c ' s shop and take up residence i n an almshouse, a d e c i s i o n which she hopes w i l l i n sure Verloc's continued care 91 of her son, Stevie. The other theme stressed in this chapter is Stevie's intuitive horror of cruelty of any form: "Don't whip," he demands of the cabman who drives the horse-drawn carriage in which he, his mother and Winnie are driven through the London streets. However, these very themes— unselfish action (Winnie's mother's is perhaps the only one in the novel) and Stevie's supersensitive empathy—are undercut by the narrative positioning of the chapter. On re-reading we know that, in terms of narra- tive time, Stevie is actually dead at this point. (We may even suspect i t on f i r s t reading.) Stevie lives, in this chapter, in a kind of narrative limbo, and thus the horror of the explosion is underlined because i t claims the l i f e of someone so harmless and vulnerable as Stevie, es- pecially as he is portrayed in this chapter. Similarly, Winnie's mother's unselfish action is admirable but utterly ineffectual, since Stevie, we know, has been destroyed by Verloc's ill-conceived plot. The chapter, then, is a retrospective interpolation in which, as in the carriage ride through London, "time i t s e l f seemed to stand s t i l l " (SA, p. 131). Straightforward sequential narrative gives the i l l u s i o n of forward movement, while Conrad's retrospective chapter, wrenched out of chonology as i t i s , gives the im- pression of stalled time. The effect is analogous to Winnie and her mother, who, as long as they can see houses "gliding past slowly and shakily" through the carriage window, have a reference point to demarcate time and space. However, we read later that "in the wider space of Whitehall, a l l visual evidences of motion became imperceptible." And at the end of the ride, the mother notices that "night, the early dirty night, the sinister, noisy, hopeless, and rowdy night of South London, had overtaken her on her last cab drive" (SA, p. 133). As characters are wrenched out of time and 92 space during t h e i r c a r r i a g e r i d e , so too the chapter i s wrenched out of the s e q u e n t i a l n a r r a t i v e sequence. The s t r u c t u r a l n a r r a t i v e i r o n y which r e s u l t s from such d i s t o r t i o n d i s t i n g u i s h e s The Secret Agent from! i t s precursor The P r i n c e s s Casamassima. Many c r i t i c s comment on Conrad's i r o n i c mode, which i s s c a r c e l y avoidable s i n c e each of h i s characters i s so severely and so s y s t e m a t i c a l l y undercut. But i r o n y , as Conrad uses i t , goes beyond the sphere of language where that mode announces i t s presence most obv i o u s l y . By manipulating n a r r a t i v e time w i t h the i n t e r j e c t i o n of the r e t r o s p e c t i v e chapter, Conrad invades the n a r r a t i v e i t s e l f w i t h a s t r u c t u r a l i r o n y , and so, p a r a d o x i c a l l y , S t e v i e ' s presence i n Chapter V I I I i s f e l t as a p a i n f u l absence. Chapter IX contains another backward leap and deals w i t h the period of time preceding the ex p l o s i o n , i n p a r t i c u l a r , the day of the event when V e r l o c takes S t e v i e to Greenwich Park to p l a n t the bomb. I t i s as though Conrad creates the absent centre e a r l y i n the novel but then returns to i t to d e f i n e the event by s i t u a t i n g i t i n p r e c i s e temporal and s p a t i a l terms. C h r i s t i n e W. Sizemore sees t h i s chapter as a s t r u c t u r a l microcosm of the e n t i r e t e x t and f i n d s "a mysterious emptiness at i t s center that 19 contains the darkness, l i g h t and d e s t r u c t i o n of the e x p l o s i o n . " The "mysterious emptiness" r e s u l t s p a r t l y from the p r e c i s e temporal d e s i g n a t i o n of the event. Thus, at f i r s t we know only that an explosion has taken place; then, the circumstances of the p a r t i c u l a r day are revealed, circum- stances which Winnie l a t e r designates more a c c u r a t e l y by remembering that V e r l o c , w i t h S t e v i e , "went out very e a r l y that morning and d i d not come back t i l l n e a r l y dusk" (SA, p. 156). And s t i l l more a c c u r a t e l y : "He had 93 certainly contrived somehow to catch an abominable cold between seven in the morning and five in the afternoon" (SA, p. 158). To protect the essential absence of the event, Conrad is careful to allow l i t t l e factual information to come from Verloc himself, who could, of course, reveal the entire story. Verloc i s , however, allowed this speculation through the narrator's voice: Fifteen minutes ought to have been enough for the veriest fool to deposit the engine and walk away. And the Professor had guaranteed more than fifteen minutes. But Stevie had stumbled within five minutes of being l e f t to himself. (SA, p. 187) The explosion is now narrowed down to a five minute time period. Thus, just as the Inspector and the Assistant Commissioner must "zero in" on the circumstances of the event—a well-worn device of detective f i c t i o n — s o too Conrad "zeroes in" gradually on the explosion i t s e l f . In fact, Chief Inspector Heat "zeroes i n " with inordinate specificity: The man, whoever he was, had died instantaneously; and yet i t seemed impossible to believe that a human hody could have reached that state of disintegration without passing through the pangs of inconceivable agony. No physiologist, and s t i l l less of a metaphysician, Chief Inspector Heat rose by the force of sympathy, which is a form of fear, above the vulgar conception of time. Instantaneous I He remembered a l l he had ever read in popular publications of long and terrifying dreams dreamed in the instant of waking; of the whole past l i f e lived with fri g h t f u l intensity by a drowning man as his doomed head bobs up, screaming for the last time. The inexplicable mysteries of conscious existence be- set Chief Inspector Heat t i l l he evolved a horrible notion that ages of atrocious pain and mental torture could be contained between two successive winks of an eye. (SA, pp. 78-79) 94 The n a r r a t i v e brackets around the e x p l o s i o n .have been narrowed from " e a r l y morning ... t i l l n e a r l y dusk" to "two successive winks of an eye." Speaking of S t e v i e and the temporal handling of the n a r r a t i v e , Joseph Wiesenfarth says that Conrad s h i f t s "the c h o n o l o g i c a l n a r r a t i o n of events 20 i n t h e i r [Verlocs ' 3 l i v e s to center on the zero hour i n h i s [ S t e v i e ' s ] . " And as Inspector Heat's passage i l l u s t r a t e s , the "zero hour" may contain the horrors of an e t e r n i t y ; i t i s that agony which cannot be understood r a t i o n a l l y r e g a r d l e s s of the temporal s p e c i f i c i t y . P r e d i c t a b l y , the same "narrowing" p a t t e r n i s t r u e of s p a t i a l d e s i g n a t i o n . We l e a r n that Winnie watches Ver l o c and S t e v i e as they leave the shop and walk down "the s q u a l i d s t r e e t " ; information i s then revealed about t h e i r t r a i n r i d e to Maze H i l l s t a t i o n ; and f i n a l l y , t h e i r entry i n t o "the p r e c i n c t s of the park" i s described, at which point V e r l o c sends S t e v i e on to the Observatory by h i m s e l f . Even the p r e c i s e l o c a t i o n of the e x p l o s i o n i s documented by the Inspector's a s s i s t a n t who notes that S t e v i e "probably stumbled against the root of a t r e e and f e l l " (SA, p. 79). There may seem to be a c o n t r a d i c t i o n here: what i s l e f t out of the t e x t , the absent centre, i s , i n f a c t , designated s p a t i a l l y and temporally w i t h e x t r a o r d i n a r y accuracy, j u s t as the Greenwich Observatory very a c c u r a t e l y designates space by l o n g i t u d e and time by the f i r s t meridian. But i t i s Conrad's poi n t that r e g a r d l e s s of how p r e c i s e l y the absent centre may be designated, the h o r r o r of the e x p l o s i o n as experienced by S t e v i e can only be imagined. And i f Inspector Heat's imagining of t h i s horror i s dominated by emphasis on the temporal, then Winnie's imagining of S t e v i e ' s death i s dominated by emphasis on the s p a t i a l . Her v e r s i o n of the explosion i s 95 thus remarkably p i c t o r i a l : Greenwich Park. A park! That's where the boy was k i l l e d . A park—smashed branches, torn leaves, g r a v e l , b i t s of b r o t h e r l y f l e s h and bone, a l l sprouting up together i n the manner of a f i r e w o r k . She remembered now what she had heard, and she remembered i t p i c t o r - i a l l y . They had to gather him up w i t h a shovel. Trembling a l l over w i t h i r r e p r e s s i b l e shudders, she saw before her the very implement w i t h i t s g h a s t l y load scraped up from the ground. Mrs. V e r l o c closed her eyes desperately, throwing upon that v i s i o n the n i g h t of her e y e l i d s , where a f t e r a r a i n l i k e f a l l of mangled limbs the decapitated head of S t e v i e l i n g e r e d suspended alone, and fading out slowly l i k e the l a s t s t a r of a pyrotechnic d i s p l a y . (SA, pp. 210-11) The "pyrotechnic d i s p l a y " i n t h i s passage (an image p r e f i g u r e d by S t e v i e ' s f i r e c r a c k e r s i n Chapter I) i s the c l o s e s t we come to a d i r e c t and d i s - i n t e r e s t e d n a r r a t i o n of the e x p l o s i o n . But, of course, i t i s n e i t h e r d i r e c t nor d i s i n t e r e s t e d because i t i s so i d i o s y n c r a t i c a l l y shaped by Winnie's emotions and so f a n t a s t i c a l l y exaggerated by her imagination. In f a c t , so v i v i d and powerful are her imaginings that they i n s t i l i n her the s w e l l i n g outrage and w i l f u l s t r e n g t h needed to avenge S t e v i e ' s death, thereby becoming a s e l f - a p p o i n t e d instrument of e f f e c t i v e i f impulsive moral j u s t i c e . (There i s something of a revenge tragedy i n The Secret Agent.) But t h i s r e t r i b u t i o n i t s e l f i s a d i s t o r t i o n and can never redeem or r e - e s t a b l i s h a moral world, as proved by the quick chain of • subsequent d i s a s t e r s that b e f a l l Winnie: her encounter w i t h Ossipon and h i s entanglement i n the crime, h i s b e t r a y a l of Winnie and h i s t h e f t of V e r l o c ' s money, Winnie's s u i c i d e , and f i n a l l y , Ossipon's f a l l to degeneracy and doomed walking through the s t r e e t s of London. There remain no p o s s i - b i l i t i e s f o r e f f e c t i v e moral a c t i o n at the end of the n o v e l . S t e v i e was a 96 fragile representative of and an inarticulate spokesman for the remnants of a moral order. His demise—the absent centre—thus means the demise of a moral order which is ultimately contingent and unrecoverable, extinguished in a moment beyond time and space. Put in other words, the absence is not only the explosion i t s e l f or the bomb but also the moral possibilities which the explosion destroys. The horror and the outrage stem from the violation of the moral order, a violation rooted in Vladimir's, Verloc's and the Professor's crude manipulation of time and space. The precise designation of time and space (as symbolized by the Observatory) is a vulgar invention by man, the symptom of extreme scientific rationalism (the bomb, after a l l , was intended as an outrage against science), and Verloc, among others, i s i t s morally numb spokesman. Contrasted to Winnie and her "pi c t o r i a l " imagination which makes her a moral agent, Verloc and his cohorts are stunted by a failure of the imagination. And i t is through such a bleak moral vision that The Secret Agent bespeaks i t s modernism. Conrad's narrative absent centre, then, exists because of the bomb, and the vacant space i t creates points to the moral world which might have been. In a passage which undercuts Heat's unwarranted confidence in his knowledge of the precise location and actions of anarchist plotters, the nature of the narrative absence is eloquently described: ... in the close-woven stuff of relations between the conspirator and the police there occur unexpected solutions of continuity, sudden holes in space and time. (SA, p. 76) 97 Stevie's death occurs in such a hole, for he is beyond Winnie's overly protective eye, just as he is out of Verloc's sight in the park. No one sees the explosion; only the sound indicates that something has happened at a particular juncture of time and space. By manipulating the arrange- ment of narrative episodes, and by the special use of temporal and spatial imagery, Conrad creates just such a "hole" in his narrative. It is as though the explosion actually leaves a gap in the text and sends i t s reverberating and fragmenting shock waves throughout the remainder of the narrative. The notion is not extravagant, for as early as 1897 in a letter to Edward Garnett, Conrad invokes the concept of explosion in regard to The Rescue which he had been working on: Where do you think the illumination—the short and vivid flash of what I have been boasting to you came from? Why! From your words, words, words. They exploded lik e stored powder barrels—while another man's words would have fizzled out in speaking and l e f t darkness unrelieved by a forgotten spurt of f u t i l e sparks. An explosion is the most lasting thing in the universe. It leaves disorder, remem- brance, room to move, a clear space. Ask your N i h i l i s t friends. But I am afraid you haven't blown me to pieces. I am afraid I am like the Russian governmental system. It w i l l take a good many burst- ing charges to make me change my ways.^l The notion of explosion here is a resonant one for Conrad; he connects i t to the power of language, to po l i t i c s and to individual psychology. It is not surprising, then, that i t should resurface as a controlling device in The Secret Agent. Certainly, the "N i h i l i s t friends," "disorder," and "remembrance" .(for example, Winnie remembering or reconstructing the explosion) are a l l v i s i b l e constituents of the explosion as i t occurs in The Secret Agent. As Avrom Fleishman concludes about this same passage: 98 .•. the Imaginative perspective of The Secret Agent is consistent with the subject matter, both personal and social. This perspective is a vision of the modern world in a state of fragmentation—as i f by explosion.^. The fragmentation of the narrative is f e l t as distortions which both emanate from and circumscribe the absent centre (and thus define i t ) . Prominent in the arrangement of larger structural units of narrative chronology, these distortions are also evident in Conrad's focus on the particular. He uses, at times, a kind of slow-motion telephoto or micro- scopic scanning of the moment and the object. For example, during one of the Verlocs' strained conversations, ridden as they are with silences and fragmented dialogue, Winnie, at one point, murmurs a sentence "after a pause which lasted for three ticks of the clock." And at the end of Chapter VII, before turning out the bedroom light, Winnie lets "the lonely clock on the landing count off fifteen ticks into the abyss of eternity..." (SA, p. 150). This kind of fastidious measurement of narrative time has the effect of trapping the characters and prolonging the agony of their situations. The distortion i s achieved in part by associating time with aural imagery and space with visual imagery. In Chapter IV, as Verloc and Winnie prepare for bed, they hear in the street below: ... measured footsteps [which] approached the house, then died away, unhurried and firm, as i f the passer- by had started to pace out a l l eternity, from gas-lamp to gas-lamp in a night without end; and the drowsy ticking of the old clock on the landing became dis- tinctly audible in the bedroom. (SA, p. 55) 99 The sound of footsteps and the ticking clock suggest, of course, intermin- able time, while the gas-lamps, like "spots of time," parallel the temporal image by invoking interminable space. The scene thus creates a particularly intense juncture of time and space by synaesthetically conflating aural and visual imagery. An even more spectacular use of synaesthesia is found in the scene which describes Verloc's murder: Her [Winnie's] fine, sleepy eyes travelling downward on the track of the sound, became contemplative on meeting a f l a t object of bone which protruded a l i t t l e beyond the edge of the sofa. It was the handle of the domestic carving knife with nothing strange about i t but i t s position at right angles to Mr. Verloc's waist- coat and the fact that something dripped from i t . Dark drops f e l l on the floorcloth one after another, with a sound of ticking growing fast and furious l i k e the pulse of an insane clock. At i t s highest speed this ticking changed into a continuous sound of trickling. Mrs. Verloc watched that transformation with the shadows of anxiety coming and going on her face. It was a trickle, dark, swift, thin..... Blood! (SA, p. 214) Winnie's eyes "travelling downward on the track of a sound," is an especially evocative image, since the drops of blood are likened to the ticks of the clock which grow faster to a continual sound which again be- comes a stream of blood. Quite l i t e r a l l y , "time has run out" for Verloc. The entire chapter from which this passage is taken i s a dis- proportionately extended motion which.occurs in a relatively short period of time. The increased amount of narration compared to the brief action i t describes lengthens and distorts the action into a kind of slow-motion nightmare which contains, perhaps, an element of poetic justice for Stevie's instantaneous nightmare during the moments of his death. As 100 Verloc's lifeblood flows out, he i s , in a manner, passing into "a sudden hole in time and space" similar to Stevie's. And just as Heat prolonged in his mind Stevie's experience to contain an eternity, and just as Winnie imagined Stevie's death as a "pyrotechnic display," so Conrad in this chapter renders Verloc a similar fate in Bergsonian time. He is forced to experience the prolonged, melodramatically depicted action of Winnie plunging the carving knife into his own breast—prolonged and "leisurely" enough, for.example, for Verloc "to taste the flavour of death rising in his own gorge," and "leisurely enough for Mr. Verloc to elaborate a plan of defence" but "not leisurely enough to allow Mr. Verloc the time to move either hand or foot" (SA, p. 212). The narrative voice here seems to take particular reli s h in rendering Verloc knowledge of his own fate. The series of parallel constructions which conclude with a conspicuous negation is carefully concocted rhetoric which emphatically precludes any chance of escape for Verloc. Even stronger evidence that the extended duration of Verloc's death scene is retribution for Stevie's is found in Conrad's description of Winnie as she approaches Verloc with the knife: As i f the homeless soul of Stevie had flown for shelter straight to the breast of his sister, guardian and pro- tector, the resemblance of her face with that of her brother grew at every step, even to the droop of the lower l i p , even to the slight divergence of the eyes. (SA, p. 212) It i s as though Stevie comes back reincarnate in Winnie to haunt Verloc and reap revenge. Winnie becomes Stevie's medium acting wildly in a trance unt i l the murderous deed is done, after which "her extraordinary 101 resemblance to her late brother ... faded" (SA, p. 213). Winnie's murder of Verloc points to a rapidly increasing fragmentation of a moral and social order built on an already shaky foundation. The force which initiates that fragmentation (both of the Verlocs' world and of the narrative) i s Stevie acting in absentia. Paradoxically, Stevie is a much more powerful force in absentia than he is when he is present in the narrative. As a spokesman for a moral order, he i s totally ineffectual because he speaks with a "fragmented" voice. He i s a kind of "half-wit" who loses his power of coherent speech whenever his impressionable moral sensibility i s assaulted by cruelty. During the carriage ride through London, Stevie shudders at the thought of the decrepit horse pulling too much weight. So upset is he that he jumps from the moving carriage to the street in protest, but when asked to explain himself, "excitement as usual robbed him of the power of connected speech. ... he stammered himself into utter incoherence" (SA, p. 132). It is part of Conrad's irony that, while Stevie represents raw pity, empathy and morality, he can never articulate those values in any rational way. As the narrator says, Stevie is a "moral creature ... at the mercy of his righteous passions" (SA, p. 143). In this respect, Stevie can never be the hero of an effectual moral option; rather, l i k e Benjy in Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, he represents a measuring stick by which to gauge the moral decay and the threatening solipsism of those who surround him. Stevie's death i t s e l f , appropriately enough, is reported in a frag- mented way: generally, by virtue of the fact that information about the explosion and the chain of events comes only sparingly and interspersed 102 throughout the t e x t , but more s p e c i f i c a l l y when Ossipon reads the news- paper r e p o r t s of the event: "Ah! Here i t i s . Bomb i n Greenwich Park. There i s n ' t much so f a r . H a l f past eleven. Foggy morning. E f f e c t s of e x p l o s i o n f e l t as f a r as Romney Road and Park Place. Enormous hole i n ground under a t r e e f i l l e d w i t h smashed roots and broken branches. A l l round fragments of a man's body blown to pieces. That's a l l . The r e s t ' s mere newspaper gup ..." (SA, p. 65) To u n d e r l i n e the horror and f u t i l i t y of the e x p l o s i o n which leaves " f r a g - ments of a man's body blown to p i e c e s , " Conrad r e p o r t s the event through a fragmented, j o u r n a l i s t i c v o i c e . Ossipon i s , of course, reading the report to the P r o f e s s o r and i s t h e r e f o r e being s e l e c t i v e , y e t , the short sentence fragments and the p a r t i c u l a r s e l e c t i o n of d e t a i l s create a very d i s t a n t and c o l d l y o b j e c t i v e tone q u i t e l i k e a newspaper's s t y l e . The e f f e c t and the s i t u a t i o n are s i m i l a r to the r e p o r t of Mrs. S i n i c o ' s death i n Joyce's "A P a i n f u l Case," i n which Mr. James Duffy, reading the r e p o r t of an inquest i n a newspaper, suddenly becomes aware that h i s own perverse guardedness was r e s p o n s i b l e f o r the woman's death. The i r o n y i s e s p e c i a l l y poignant because the b r e v i t y and the succinctness of the o b j e c t i v e language are at odds w i t h the d e l i c a t e n e s s of the emotions i n v o l v e d . ("Death ... had been probably due to shock and sudden f a i l u r e of the heart's a c t i o n . " "... he found the deceased l y i n g on the p l a t f o r m apparently dead." "No 23 blame attached to anyone.") In both works j o u r n a l i s t i c o b j e c t i v i t y , which i s symptomatic of s c i e n t i f i c r a t i o n a l i s m , i s d i s c r e d i t e d because, w h i l e i t deals w i t h the f a c t s of an outrage, at the same time, i t turns a deaf ear to' i t s s i g n i f i c a n c e . I t i s g u i l t y of the same kind of d e s e n s i t i z e d 103 calculation (Verloc and Duffy) which was responsible for the outrage in the f i r s t place. That journalism is used both as ironic device and as object of irony i s further evidenced by the narrator's comment when the Professor leaves the restaurant through the doorway where "a dismal row of newspaper sellers" are handing out "damp, rubbishy sheets of paper soiled with printers' ink" (SA, p. 72). To the post-Joycean reader, the fragmentation of The Secret Agent may seem rather unspectacular, yet when contrasted with the easily charted narrative chronology of James's late Victorian The Princess Casa- massima, the structure of The Secret Agent appears significantly enough disrupted to situate i t comfortably within the boundaries of modernism. Certainly, as Norman Sherry points out, the " d i f f i c u l t i e s " of Conrad's narrative denied The Secret Agent and other of his novels popularity among the contemporary reading public: "He was a d i f f i c u l t novelist whose com- plex methods of narration and use of broken time sequences ... militated 25 against popularity." These complex methods of narration and distortions of time originate principally from the absent centre, the explosion which k i l l s Stevie and which is never directly narrated. At the same time, the fragmented or exploded narrative actually f a l l s around the absent centre, circumscribes i t , points constantly back to i t and thus defines i t . It remained for a novelist of High Modernism, Russia's Andrei Bely (Peters- burg) , to plant the absent centre even deeper into the narrative structure of f i c t i o n and fragment i t in ways even more radical than Conrad's. 104 Notes Norman Sherry giv e s a thorough account of Conrad's i n d i r e c t con- nections w i t h anarchism, i n c l u d i n g the R o s s e t t i c h i l d r e n ' s a n a r c h i s t newspaper, the ex p l o s i o n at Greenwich Observatory, and s t o r i e s from f r i e n d s and acquaintances, e s p e c i a l l y Ford Madox Hueffer (Ford). See: Conrad's Western World (Cambridge: Cambridge U n i v e r s i t y , 1971). 2 See W. H. T i l l e y f o r a survey of these charges and h i s own r e f u t a t i o n of them. The Backgrounds of The P r i n c e s s Casamassima (Gains- v i l l e : U n i v e r s i t y of F l o r i d a Monographs, Humanities #5, 1961). 3 Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1963), p. 11. Further references and t h e i r page numbers to t h i s e d i t i o n of the novel are included i n the t e x t a f t e r the a b b r e v i a t i o n SA. 4 Joseph Conrad, Notes on L i f e and L e t t e r s (New York: Doubleday and Page, 1926), p. 11. Ian Watt, among others, e s t a b l i s h e s a strong l i n k between James and Conrad, e s p e c i a l l y i n regard to n a r r a t i v e s t r a t e g i e s . See: "Marlow, Henry James, and 'Heart of Darkness'" i n Nineteenth Century F i c t i o n 33 (1978/79): 159-74. F. R. L e a v i s , The Great T r a d i t i o n (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1972), p. 241. The observation has been repeated v a r i o u s l y s i n c e then; see, f o r example, F r e d e r i c k R. K a r l : " I t soon becomes apparent that Conrad's London i s a d i r e c t outgrowth of Dickens'" i n A Reader's Guide to Joseph Conrad (New York: F a r r a r , Straus and Giroux, 1969); and Leon E d e l , The U n t r i e d Years, pp. 283 f f . Charles Dickens, L i t t l e D o r r i t (New York: Odyssey, 1969), p. 303. ^ Charles Dickens, M a r t i n Chuzzlewit (New York: New American L i b - r a r y , 1965). g Michael H a l t r e s h t , "The Dread of Space i n Conrad's The Secret Agent," i n L i t e r a t u r e and Psychology 22 (1971): 89-97. Joseph Conrad, The Nigger of the "Narcissus" (Penguin, 1963), p. 35. 105 Avrom Fleishman sees a s i m i l a r d e l i n e a t i o n : "The dramatic a c t i o n presents t h i s v i s i o n [ s o c i a l a l i e n a t i o n ] simultaneously i n two p l o t s , one i n the p u b l i c , p o l i t i c a l realm and the other i n the p r i v a t e , domestic one." Conrad's P o l i t i c s (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U n i v e r s i t y P r e s s ) , p. 189. As quoted i n Richard Ellman, James Joyce (New York: Oxford U n i v e r s i t y P ress, 1965), p. 597. 12 Terry Eagleton, C r i t i c i s m and Ideology (London: Verso, 1978), p. 137. 13 Alan Friedman, The Turn of the Novel (New York: Oxford U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1966), p. 98. 14 J e f f r e y R. Smitten, "Flaubert and the S t r u c t u r e of The Secret Agent," i n Walodymyr T. Z y l a and Wendell M. Aycock, eds., Joseph Conrad: Theory and World F i c t i o n (Lubbock, Texas: I n t e r . Dept. Committee on Comparative L i t e r a t u r e , 1974), pp. 151-66. ^ H. M. D a l e s k i , Joseph Conrad: The Way of Dispossession (London: Faber, 1977), p. 157. 16 See: Tzvetan Todorov, The P o e t i c s of Prose ( I t h a c a , New York: C o r n e l l U n i v e r s i t y P ress, 1977), pp. 143-77. "The Jamesian n a r r a t i v e i s always based on the quest f o r an absolute and absent cause." (p. 145, i t a l i c s h i s ) . On "The Beast i n the Jungle" s p e c i f i c a l l y : "The secret was the existence of the secret i t s e l f . " And "The f i g u r e we have ob- served throughout our i n s p e c t i o n of the t a l e s here assumes i t s supreme, u l t i m a t e form ..." (pp. 176-77). Norman Sherry, Conrad's Western World, p. 239. 18 E. M. W. T i l l y a r d , "The Secret Agent Reconsidered" i n Essays i n C r i t i c i s m 11 (1961): 309-18. 19 C h r i s t i n e W. Sizemore, "'The Small Cardboard Box': A Symbol of the C i t y and of Winnie V e r l o c i n Conrad's The Secret Agent," i n Modern F i c t i o n S t u d i e s , 24 (1978/79): 23-29. Sizemore a r r i v e s a t " t h e absent centre imagery i n the novel (houses, bomb package, shop packages, cab. Box) and r e l a t e s i t to the c i t y . (Cf. my e a r l i e r argument of the c i t y as a post-e x p l o s i o n l a b y r i n t h . ) She argues: "The image of the box rep- resents the s t r u c t u r e of the novel i t s e l f , which i s b u i l t around an empty space, the a c t u a l explosion which i s never d e s c r i b e d " (p. 23). 106 20 Joseph Wiesenfarth, "Stevie and the Structure of The Secret Agent," Modern Fiction Studies, 13 (1967-68): 515. 21 Letters from Joseph Conrad, 1895-1924, ed. Edward Garnett (London, 1928), p. 79, letter of March 8, 1897. 22 Avrom Fleishman, Conrad's Po l i t i c s , p. 188. 23 James Joyce, Dubliners (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1956), pp. 105-115. 24 I am indebted to William Bysshe Stein for the observation in "The Secret Agent: The Agon(ie)s of the Word," Boundary II VI (Winter 1978) No. 2: 525. Norman Sherry, Conrad and His World (London: Thames and Hudson, 1972), p. 94. 107 CHAPTER IV Andrei Bely's Petersburg: Rapid Expansion Andrei Bely (Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev) was not acquainted with, as. far as we know, the works of either James or Conrad—though he did read much of William James. Where the three novelists do meet is at the feet of Ivan Turgenev. James, we remember, admired Turgenev enough to v i s i t him in Paris and to review Virgin Soil when i t appeared in English—and to borrow from i t l i b e r a l l y for The Princess Casamassima. Conrad comes to Turgenev not only indirectly through James, but also directly, for Turgenev was the only Russian master Conrad consistently admired throughout his lifetime. In Petersburg there are explicit allusions to Turgenev's novel On The Eve, implicit ones to Fathers and Sons, and certainly the s a t i r i c a l and distanced view of the Russian historical situation in Virgin Soil is an obvious pre- cursor to Bely's just as c r i t i c a l , though more ambitious, historical survey in Petersburg. But Bely belongs to Turgenev's family in more than a l i t e r - ary way: in 1910 he travelled to the Middle East and Africa with Turgenev's niece, Asya, who later became his wife. Oleg A. Maslenikov gives the following account of the significance of that journey for Bely: Africa already foreshadows Petersburg, the city that has no physical dimensions beyond that of a point on a map, the city that is a phantom: a powerful, e v i l , metaphysical force. The Sphinx, the pyramids, the sultry African night, f i l l e d Biely and his Asya with 108 a foreboding of a catastrophe threatening mankind and i t s c i v i l i z a t i o n . ... It was as though on the Dark^ Continent they had come face to face with mystery. Of course, Conrad also came "face to face with mystery" in the Dark Conti- nent, but whereas Conrad fashioned the African heart of darkness to a meta- physical and moral exploration of e v i l , Bely was inspired to an apocalyptic exploration of history and c i v i l i z a t i o n . (It is perhaps more than a coin- cidence that Bely fled to the mysteries of Rudolf Steiner's anthroposophy shortly after this v i s i t . ) Explosion, as we have seen in Conrad's letter about The Rescue, was for him a resonant metaphor, for he speaks of Garnett's words as though they had "exploded l i k e stored powder barrels." Andrei Bely, too, speaks of inspiration's flash in terms of explosion: On long autumn nights, I scrutinized the images swarming around me: from beneath them the central image of Petersburg slowly ripened for me. It ex- ploded within me. ... ^ But whereas Conrad chooses the inexplicableness of the "blood-stained inanity" of the Greenwich Bomb Outrage as f i t subject matter for his pen- chant for explosion, Bely's realization of the metaphor in Petersburg is motivated more idiosyncratically. Samuel D. Cioran gives the following account: The choice of the bomb as a main symbol was no accident for Belyj. It may have been suggested to him by a c r i t i c of his earlier works who, in comment- ing upon the poetry of Pepel, and the novel, Sere- brjanyj golub', alluded to Belyj's inability to create a "bomb": "In these instances [Belyj's Pepel 109 and Serebrj anyj golub'] B e l y j resembles i n l i t e r a t u r e an a n a r c h i s t who i s unable to f i n d the secret f o r making bombs and i n d i s i l l u s i o n m e n t becomes a reac- t i o n a r y t r a d i t i o n a l i s t . " This challenge d i d not go unheeded, as Petersburg proves, and a bomb of cosmic dimensions was prepared.3 Despite t h e i r d i f f e r e n t reasons f o r the choice of the bomb image f o r l i t e r - ary treatment, and d e s p i t e the more important d i f f e r e n c e between the sources of t h e i r symbolism (Conrad's from v i s i b l e r e a l i t y and Bely's from mysticism and the o c c u l t ) , both n o v e l i s t s e x p l o i t the image of the bomb as a way of achievi n g temporal and s p a t i a l n a r r a t i v e d i s t o r t i o n s which c i r c u m s c r i b e and de f i n e the absent centres of t h e i r t e x t s . B e l y , however, i n one res p e c t , creates the absence i n h i s n a r r a t i v e i n a manner that i s more l i k e James's i n The P r i n c e s s Casamassima than Conrad's i n The Secret Agent. Bely, l i k e James, i s fond of what James c a l l e d "the immediate f u t u r e " as the "best province of f i c t i o n " ; Conrad, by c o n t r a s t , p r e f e r s the immediate past, as evidenced by h i s placement of the explosion e a r l y i n The Secret Agent so that characters must recover i t w i t h imagina- t i v e remembering. Bely, l i k e James, e x p l o i t s the f u t u r e f o r the purposes of a n t i - c l i m a x , which i n Petersburg helps c o i l the n a r r a t i v e back to i t s beginnings, c r e a t i n g a c i r c l e around the suspenseful expected which remains u n f u l f i l l e d . Thus, the imagery of e x p l o s i o n — e v e n the explosion of "cosmic dimensions" of which Cioran s p e a k s — o c c u r s predominantly i n the f u t u r e tense of ch a r a c t e r s ' imaginations. N i k o l a i , f o r example, imagines the bomb's explo s i o n t h i s way: And a l i f e incomprehensible to the mind had already erupted, and the hour hand, the minute hand now crawled, 110 and the nervous f i n e h a i r that i n d i c a t e d the seconds began s k i p p i n g around the c i r c l e — u n t i l the i n s t a n t when— — t h e h o r r i b l e contents of the sardine t i n would expand i n a rush, u n c o n t r o l l - ab l y ; then: the sardine t i n would f l y apart. ... — t h e gases would b r i s k l y spread i n c i r c l e s , t e a r i n g the desk to b i t s w i t h a thunderous r o a r , and something would burst w i t h a boom i n s i d e him; and h i s body would be blown to b i t s ; mixed w i t h the s p l i n t e r s i n s l u s h ; — i n a hundredth of a second the w a l l s would c o l l a p s e , and the counters, ex- panding, would w h i r l o f f i n t o the wan sky i n s p l i n t e r s , stone and blood. Shaggy dense smoke would b i l l o w and u n f u r l and t a i l onto the Neva.^ Yet, oddly enough, t h i s passage, which i s only one of numerous others l i k e i t , occurs over one hundred pages before the bomb a c t u a l l y does ex- plode. The e f f e c t i s to create an a n t i - c l i m a x not u n l i k e the smaller one found at the end of James's The P r i n c e s s Casamassima where we wait a n x i o u s l y f o r the outcome of Hyacinth's impulsive commitment to ana r c h i s t t e r r o r . But that commitment remains u n f u l f i l l e d , and we f i n d i nstead Hyacinth's own d e s t r u c t i o n . In Petersburg, N i k o l a i , too, i m p u l s i v e l y and extravagantly claims to a group of r e v o l u t i o n a r i e s that he i s capable of p a r r i c i d e . Some months l a t e r , Dudkin, an emaciated r a d i c a l , d e l i v e r s a bomb i n a sardine t i n f o r "safe keeping." S h o r t l y afterwards, N i k o l a i r e c e i v e s a l e t t e r d i r e c t i n g him to c a r r y out h i s "promise," even though, u n l i k e Hyacinth, he has l i t t l e , i f any a n a r c h i s t commitment . I t seems as though the remainder of Bely's very tortuous and fragmented n a r r a t i v e f o l l o w s that germ of suspense to i t s r i g h t f u l conclusion—when the bomb explodes. I t does, i n a manner, but the a c t u a l e x p l o s i o n i n the end i s r e l a t i v e l y unspectacular. I t i s recorded w i t h remarkable s i m p l i c i t y : I l l "—A thundering roar: he [Nikolai] understood everything" (P, p. 287). This description is especially anti-climactic considering the numerous fantasies and forebodings of the explosion, crafted in rich imagery and dense detail, which have preceded the f i n a l bang. There has been so much preparation and fanfare during the text that a "thundering roar" hardly satisfies our curiosity to see the actual detonation. We do get some descriptions of after-effects—smoke, rubble, and the l i k e — b u t even these pale against earlier descriptions. Sidney Monas, in a 1959 review of the Cournos translation, f e l t uncomfortable enough with the novel's ending to claim: "Biely actually achieves the perverse triumph of making the reader feel disappointed,"^ while Helene Hartman-Kyer is more confident and accurate about the anti-climax: Neither the relentless buildup of the verbal formula of the bomb nor the fantastic previews of imaginary explosions in the second part of the novel creates a feeling of imminent disaster; rather both devices arouse the suspicion that some farcical denouement, and not tragedy, l i e s ahead.^ The narrative consequence•:• of such a game—potent suspense followed by anti-climax—is to make the narrative explosion a proleptic one. We sense the inadequacy of the f i n a l description of the explosion, yet, upon reflection, we also sense that the explosion has somehow occurred very vividly. Put in other words, the revolutionary bomb explosion becomes rather insignificant when compared to the extensive imagery of cosmic explosion with which the narrative is saturated. Describing the narrative explosion as proleptic i s not to say that consequences precede causes, but rather that the "true" explosion is of quite another magnitude, one which 112 transcends i n a l l i t s p h i l o s o p h i c a l , h i s t o r i c a l and p s y c h o l o g i c a l com- p l e x i t y N i k o l a i ' s r e l a t i v e l y unimpressive bomb. His f u n c t i o n s as a kind of synecdoche f o r the e s c h a t o l o g i c a l bomb. I t i s as though the a p o c a l y p t i c e x p l o s i o n i s happening, unbeknownst to c h a r a c t e r s , a l l around them—above, where " d a y l i g h t glowed blood red"; below them on the r i v e r where, at n i g h t , a ship passes w i t h a "flaming l a n t e r n on the s t e r n " l e a v i n g "ruby red" r i n g s v a n i s h i n g i n t o the fog; and on the s t r e e t s where people them- s e l v e s , "bloated and swollen," move l i k e s i l e n t broken fragments f l u n g from the e x p l o s i o n . Thus, the a n t i - c l i m a x of the bomb's exp l o s i o n i s not so much the i n i t i a l bang of an apocalypse as i t i s the f i n a l f i z z l e of an apocalypse already happened and t r a i l i n g o f f i n t o a new c y c l e of h i s t o r y . The c y c l e i s suggested by N i k o l a i ' s " r e t u r n " to Egypt a f t e r the expl o s i o n , as though, l e a n i n g "against the dead s i d e of a pyramid" (_P, p. 292), he i s studying the beginnings and endings of great c i v i l i z a t i o n s . The emphasis on c y c l e s and c o n c e n t r i c i t y i n regard to the bomb i s announced i n the very Prologue of the n o v e l . The bomb i s , as the n a r r a t o r says l a t e r , a " r a p i d expansion of gases" which sends r e v e r b e r a t i n g shock waves ( c o n c e n t r i c c i r c l e s ) from i t s centre. So too the c i t y i s a kind of bomb, as we l e a r n from the Prologue: Petersburg not only appears to us, but a c t u a l l y does appear—on maps: i n the form of two small c i r c l e s , one set inside' the other, w i t h a black dot i n the center; and from p r e c i s e l y t h i s mathematical p o i n t , which has no dimension, i t proclaims f o r c e f u l l y that i t e x i s t s : from here, from t h i s very p o i n t surges and swarms the p r i n t e d book; from t h i s v i s i b l e p o i n t speeds the o f f i c i a l c i r c u l a r (_P, p. 2 ) . 113 Thus, the n a r r a t i v e e x p l o s i o n i s already underway, "surging and swarming" from t h i s centre which governs the e n t i r e fragmented n a r r a t i v e . L i k e Conrad attempting to f i x V e r l o c ' s bomb i n a p r e c i s e mathematical point i n space (Greenwich Observatory), the n a r r a t o r i n Petersburg attempts to s i t u a t e the c i t y — t h e source of the t e x t — i n a p r e c i s e topographical l o c a t i o n . The topographical image of c i r c l e s i s a l s o a p p l i c a b l e to the s t r u c t u r e of the c i t y i t s e l f , a c i t y planned w i t h r i g i d geometric care by Peter the Great i n a v a s t , f l a t northern landscape. The n a r r a t o r t e l l s us that Petersburg ( l i k e N i c h o l a s ' s v i s i o n i n Aquin's Hamlet's Twin of the " I t a l i a n enclave," another c i t y constructed i n a northern vastness) i s "surrounded by a r i n g of many-chimneyed f a c t o r i e s , " the working c l a s s d i s t r i c t s from which r a d i c a l f o r c e s press inwards i n an attempt to destroy the r e a c t i o n a r y centre of government. The centre houses the c a p i t a l ' s bureaucracy i n which A p o l l o n , N i k o l a i ' s f a t h e r , i s a prominent o f f i c i a l who c i r c u l a t e s " o f f i c i a l c i r c u l a r s . " The " o f f i c i a l c i r c u l a r " i s a l s o Bely's t e x t because, l i k e the c i t y , i t begins w i t h the dot or o r i g i n of i n s p i r a t i o n (the image of the c i t y ) , and w i t h r e p e t i t i o n s , overlappings, fragmentations and c a n c e l l a t i o n s , ex- pands outward i n "coruscations of innumerable c i r c l e s , " to a l l u d e to Conrad, and i n "great broken r i n g s , " to a l l u d e to Yeats, one of Bely's Symbolist contemporaries. Thus, the statue of Peter the Great, The Bronze Horseman, f i g u r e s i n the t e x t as more than a l l u s i o n to the c r e a t o r of Petersburg. The s t a t u e a c t u a l l y comes a l i v e i n the t e x t and pursues characters through the s t r e e t s ; S o f i a , f o r example, from her c a r r i a g e sees 114 a Mighty Horseman. Two flaming n o s t r i l s p i e r c e d the fog there l i k e a white hot p i l l a r . . . . a r i d e r over- took the c a r r i a g e and f l e w i n t o the fog, brandishing a t o r c h . A heavy bronze helmet f l a s h e d past, and behind i t , rumbling and spewing sparks, f l e w a f i r e brigade (P, pp. 120-21). The working of such a symbol goes beyond i r o n i c and p a r a d o x i c a l a l l u s i o n to i n c l u d e Bely's v i s i o n of the c y c l i c a l nature of h i s t o r y , f o r the r e v o l u t i o n s and t r i b u l a t i o n s which Peter the Great faced are r e c y c l e d here i n the stormy r i o t s and unrest of 1905, the year i n which the novel i s s e t . Peter the Great i s not the only character who " r e t u r n s " ; most cha r a c t e r s , i n f a c t , c o n t i n u a l l y o v e r l a p , meet, and r e t r a c e t h e i r steps through Petersburg, r a t h e r l i k e Hyacinth and Ossipon c r i s s - c r o s s i n g through the maze of London s t r e e t s . The A p o l l o n o v i c h f a m i l y , at the end of the n o v e l , momentarily " r e t u r n s " to f a m i l y u n i t y before i t s f i n a l d i s i n t e g r a t i o n , a u n i t y which i s exploded by Anna Petrovna's a d u l t e r y and N i k o l a i ' s r e v o l u t i o n a r y involvement. L i k e the f a l s e domestic u n i t y i n The Secret Agent which i s broken by V e r l o c ' s b e t r a y a l of S t e v i e , and l i k e Hyacinth's search f o r a f a m i l y which i s defeated by the double b e t r a y a l of surrogate parents, the P r i n c e s s and Muniment, N i k o l a i ' s f a m i l y i s d i s i n t e g r a t e d by the e x p l o s i v e pressures of disharmony at i t s centre. Grown o l d and r e t i r e d from bureaucracy, Apollon's response at the end of the novel i s to r e t u r n to a kind of childhood, w h i l e N i k o l a i c a s t s o f f h i s Neo-Kantian r a t i o n a l i s m and r e t u r n s to e a r l y Egyptian s c h o l a r s h i p . As the n a r r a t o r says of the t e x t : " C e r e b r a l , leaden games have plodded along w i t h i n a c l o s e d - i n h o r i z o n , i n a c i r c l e that has been traced by u s — " (P, p. 265). 1 1 5 That the novel i s constructed on the p r i n c i p l e of the c i r c l e i s e v i - denced by Bely's own comment about Petersburg. According to Nina Berberova when questioned about the s t r u c t u r e of h i s no v e l , Bely r e p l i e d : " ' P e t e r s - burg ... i s a c i r c l e . Not a cube but a wheel.' He snatched an o l d envelop from a t a b l e and on i t drew a c i r c l e , and immediately another one."^ When defending h i s method i n The Awkward Age, James a l s o ran to paper and p e n c i l to e x p l a i n the c i r c u l a r c o n s t r u c t i o n of that n o v e l : ... I drew on a sheet of paper. ... the neat f i g u r e of a c i r c l e c o n s i s t i n g of a number of small rounds d i s - posed at equal d i s t a n c e about a c e n t r a l o b j e c t . The c e n t r a l o b j e c t was my s i t u a t i o n , my subject i n i t s e l f , to which the t h i n g would owe i t s t i t l e , and the small rounds represented so many d i s t i n c t lamps, as I l i k e d to c a l l them, the f u n c t i o n of each of which would be 8 to l i g h t w i t h a l l due i n t e n s i t y one of i t s aspects. These designs of s t r u c t u r e , as Berberova p o i n t s out, are p r e f i g u r e d at l e a s t as e a r l y as M i s c e l l a n i e s A e s t h e t i c and L i t e r a r y i n which Coleridge r e l i e s , l i k e B ely, on the image of the wheel to e x p l a i n l i t e r a r y s t r u c t u r e : An o l d coach wheel l i e s i n the coach-maker's yard. ... There i s beauty i n that wheel. See how the rays proceed from the center to the circumference, and how many d i f f e r e n t images are d i s t i n c t l y comprehended at one glance, as forming one whole, and each part i n some harmonious r e l a t i o n to each and a l l . ^ The emphasis here i n t h i s passage from Coleridge r e s t s on harmony and whole ness—Romantic u n i t y , but the passage from James comes c l o s e r to Bely's a e s t h e t i c because i t emphasizes perspectivism, the breaking down of u n i f i e d v i s i o n . " ^ The source, then, of Bely's s t r u c t u r e may u l t i m a t e l y be Romantic but i t s r e a l i z a t i o n i s c l e a r l y Symbolist. For t h i s reason, Rudolf S t e i n e r ' anthroposophy provides a r i c h e r source f o r the many l a y e r s of c o n c e n t r i c i t y 116 in Petersburg. Steiner's view of the wheel is all-inclusive: It is the basis of the Universe. The whole cosmogony is a c i r c l e . The c i r c l e i s the perfection of the inner unity of man. The square symbolizes the lowest state of man. The octagon is the intermediate stage. The wheel rotates around the sun, which is a wheel in i t s e l f and a spiritual illumination. The center of a c i r c l e i s , of course, immobile—the Aristotelian "unmoved mover." A spider—an obsessive image in mythic thinking—sits in the center: God, as a spider, in the middle of his web. A l l this gives us a figure in two parts: periphery and center, And the rose-window of the Gothic cathedral, And the rose—the mystical flower, And the lotus, in the East.^-'- As a prominent image in Bely's Symbolist vision, the expanding c i r c l e is not restricted to Petersburg alone. Loosely autobiographical, the novel, Kotik Letaev, written immediately before Petersburg, also contains the same principle of concentricity. Writing from the point of view of an adult attempting to recover the consciousness of childhood, the narrator this time fashions the c i r c l e image three-dimensionally: The f i r s t conscious moment of mine i s — a dot; i t penetrates the meaninglessness; and—expanding, i t becomes a sphere, but the sphere—disintegrates: ̂ meaninglessness, penetrating i t , tears i t apart. This mesmerizing pattern works on a number of levels. As i t relates to Kotik Letaev, Bely means that consciousness is an expanding force that attempts to make sense of chaos, but chaos i t s e l f is the driving force be- hind consciousness and eventually i t explodes consciousness back to the condition of chaos. Similarly, the bomb in Petersburg is the "dot," the 117 compact package of chaos which undergoes a " r a p i d expansion" and destroys order, but, of course, i n doing so i t a l s o destroys i t s e l f — c h a o s i s r e - a f f i r m e d . On another l e v e l , as John Elsworth p o i n t s out, t h i s complex p a t t e r n a l s o a p p l i e s to Bely's a e s t h e t i c : He compares a r t to a bomb, and the e v o l u t i o n of a r t forms to the path of a bomb from the hand that throws i t to the w a l l of the p r i s o n i t i s to destroy. The ensuing explosion w i l l destroy both the p r i s o n — the world seen i n the category of n e c e s s i t y — a n d the bomb—art. Thus a r t w i l l only achieve i t s t r u e aim when i t ceases to e x i s t . 1 3 Bely says as much i n the Epilogue of Petersburg: C u l t u r e i s a moldering head: everything i n i t has di e d ; nothing has remained. There w i l l be an exp l o s i o n ; everything w i l l be swept away (P_, p. 292). Thus, j u s t as the c i t y expands outward from the s t r u c t u r i n g p o i n t of s t a t e bureaucracy and e v e n t u a l l y d i s i n t e g r a t e s i n t o working-class chaos, and j u s t as i n Bely's eschatology, the s t r u c t u r e s of time and h i s t o r y e v e n t u a l l y crumble back to chaos, so the n a r r a t i v e of Petersburg expands from i t s f o c a l image of city/bomb and " d i s i n t e g r a t e s " i n t o fragments of time and space, i n t o the n a r r a t i v e f l a k and p a r t i a l glimpses of image, scene, dialogue, character and event. A r t and n a r r a t i v e become s e l f - d e s t r u c t i n g or s e l f - c a n c e l l i n g f o r c e s . They o r i g i n a t e from absence and r e t u r n to absence. Bely achieves t h i s n a r r a t i v e d i s i n t e g r a t i o n , i n p a r t , by a s p e c i a l handling of space. So w h i l e the c i t y of Petersburg proclaims i t s e l f " f o r c e - f u l l y " i n the Prologue as a dot on the map, at the same time that mathe- 118 m a t i c a l p o i n t has "no dimension." The p h y s i c a l r e a l i t y of the c i t y i s no more c e r t a i n . The geography of the c i t y i s d u t i f u l l y l a i d out f o r u s — a s w i t h Joyce's D u b l i n , s t r e e t s , b u i l d i n g s , houses and monuments a l l appear as r e c o g n i z a b l e places, yet the o v e r a l l q u a l i t y of the c i t y which s t i c k s w i t h us i s i t s shadowy e l u s i v e n e s s . More than once during the t e x t , we read that "Petersburg vanished i n t o the n i g h t " (P_, p. 101). And as Robert A. Maguire and John E. Malmstad po i n t out i n t h e i r i n t r o d u c t i o n to the 1978 t r a n s l a t i o n of the t e x t , e x t e r n a l , man-made feat u r e s tend to be as f l u i d as the waters that run through, around, and beneath the c i t y i t s e l f : when we t r y to p l o t them on a map, we f i n d , f o r i n stance, that the Ahleukhov house occupies three very d i f f e r e n t l o c a t i o n s , that the L i k h u t i n house i s an " i m p o s s i b l e " composite of s e v e r a l o t h e r s , and that the government i n s t i t u t i o n headed by the senator cannot be even approximately s i t u a t e d , even though a l l three o f - ^ these b u i l d i n g s are described i n c o n s i d e r a b l e d e t a i l . L i k e the undiscoverable Todgers i n M a r t i n Chuzzlewit, and l i k e the " l o s t " embassy i n The Secret Agent, the u n c e r t a i n whereabouts of the Ableukhov house u n d e r l i n e s the s p a t i a l d i s o r i e n t a t i o n of the l a b y r i n t h i n e c i t y . The space of Hyacinth's London i n The P r i n c e s s Casamassima i s a " r o a r - ing v o r t e x , " and h i s dilemma i s t h a t , condemned to flounder i n h i s own "shallow eddy," he can never manage to c o n s t r u c t the moral and s o c i a l order needed to organize the begrimed Dickensian chaos. I n The Secret Agent, London appears even more begrimed, a l a b y r i n t h of dark, muddy s t r e e t s dotted dimly w i t h s t r e e t lamps, behind every one l u r k i n g f i g u r e s who are more shadow than substance. The vast geometric l a b y r i n t h of Petersburg a l s o turns people i n t o shadows: 119 The wet, s l i p p e r y prospect was i n t e r s e c t e d by another wet s l i p p e r y prospect at a ninety-degree r i g h t angle. At the poi n t of i n t e r s e c t i o n stood a policeman. And e x a c t l y the same kind of house rose up, and the same kind of gray human streams passed by there, and the same k i n d of yellow-green fog hung there. But p a r a l l e l w i t h the rushing prospect was another rushing prospect w i t h the same row of boxes, w i t h the same numeration, w i t h the same clouds. There i s an i n f i n i t y of rushing prospects w i t h an i n f i n i t y of rushin g , i n t e r s e c t i n g shadows. A l l of Petersburg i s an i n f i n i t y of the prospect r a i s e d to the nth degree. Beyond Petersburg, there i s nothing (P, pp. 11-12). This i s a more c l e a n l y mathematical r e n d i t i o n of the l a b y r i n t h , than James's or Conrad's, and i n t h i s sense, i s c l o s e r to R o b b e - G r i l l e t ' s v e r s i o n i n In the L a b y r i n t h : There must be i d e n t i c a l rows of r e g u l a r windows on each f l o o r from one end of the s t r a i g h t s t r e e t to the other. A perpendicular crossroad r e v e a l s a second s t r e e t j u s t l i k e the f i r s t : the same absence of t r a f f i c , the same high gray w a l l s , the same b l i n d windows, the same deserted sidewalks. At the corner of the s i d e - walk, a s t r e e t l i g h t i s on, although i t i s broad d a y l i g h t . But i t i s a d u l l day which makes everything c o l o r l e s s and f l a t . Instead of the s t r i k i n g v i s t a s these rows of houses produce, there i s only a c r i s s - c r o s s i n g of meaningless l i n e s , the f a l l i n g snow de- p r i v i n g the scene of a l l r e l i e f , as i f t h i s b l u r r e d view were merely badly painted on a bare wall."''"' But whereas R o b b e - G r i l l e t emphasizes the claus t r o p h o b i c nature of h i s urban l a b y r i n t h ("high gray w a l l s , " " b l i n d windows"), Bely i s i n t e n t on emphasizing the scope of the Petersburg l a b y r i n t h , as though i t goes on to i n f i n i t y , to the "nth degree." He a l s o s t r e s s e s the idea that the c i t y i s a c o n s t r u c t , the v i s i b l e m a n i f e s t a t i o n of Peter the Great's elaborate plans, 120 and as a human c o n s t r u c t , the c i t y i s subject to the same thr e a t of s p a t i a l d i s i n t e g r a t i o n as a l l other s o c i a l , moral or p s y c h o l o g i c a l c o n s t r u c t s . Petersburg i s not so much an organ i c , cancerous growth out of c o n t r o l — t h e metaphor a p p l i e s b e t t e r to James's and Conrad's London-—as i t i s a geometry gone mad. The Jamesian and Conradian l a b y r i n t h s f u n c t i o n more as confusing and corrupt s t r u c t u r e s which are ap p r o p r i a t e abodes f o r the mor a l l y corrupt characters who i n h a b i t them. Petersburg i s a v a s t , ambitious attempt to organize an empty northern space r a t i o n a l l y and f o r m a l l y and to use that s t r u c t u r e as a defense against the apocalypse which threatens to reduce i t to chaos. The problem i s that the s t r u c t u r e , once i t becomes o v e r - s t r u c t u r e d , has j u s t as r e d u c t i v e an e f f e c t on characters as empty space. Wandering a i m l e s s l y through t h i s s t r u c t u r e among hordes of others wandering j u s t as a i m l e s s l y through the same s t r u c t u r e , characters cease to be i n d i v i d u a l s . L i k e characters i n The Secret Agent and The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, those i n Petersburg become l i k e shadows, s c a r c e l y r e c o g n i z a b l e , f r e q u e n t l y i n t e r - changeable and o f t e n i n d i s t i n g u i s h a b l e . Bely r e l i e s on imagery from the i n s e c t world to make the idea c l e a r : There the body of each i n d i v i d u a l that streams onto the pavement becomes the organ of a general body, an i n d i v i d u a l g r a i n of c a v i a r , and the sidewalks of the Nevsky are the surface of an open-faced sandwich. I n d i v i d u a l thought was sucked i n t o the c e r e b r a t i o n of the myriapod being that moved along the Nevsky. And w o r d l e s s l y they stared at the myriad l e g s ; and the sediment crawled. I t crawled by and s h u f f l e d on f l o w i n g f e e t ; the s t i c k y sediment was composed of i n d i v i d u a l segments; and each i n d i v i d u a l segment was a t o r s o . 121 There were no people on the Nevsky, but there was a c r a w l i n g , howling myriapod there. The damp space poured together a m y r i a d - d i s t i n c t i o n of v o i c e s i n t o a m y r i a d - d i s t i n c t i o n of words. A l l the words jumbled and again wove i n t o a sentence; and the sentence seemed meaningless. I t hung above the Nevsky, a b l a c k haze of phantasmata. And swelled by those phantasmata, the Neva roared and thrashed between i t s massive g r a n i t e banks. The c r a w l i n g myriapod i s h o r r i b l e . I t has been moving along the Nevsky f o r c e n t u r i e s . Higher, above the Nevsky, the seasons run t h e i r course. The c y c l e there i s mutable, but here i t i s immutable. The times of the year have t h e i r l i m i t . The human myriapod has no l i m i t ; a l l the l i n k s are interchangeable; i t i s always the same; beyond the r a i l w a y t e r m i n a l i t turns i t s head; i t s t a i l t h r u s t s i n t o the Morskaya; along the Nevsky s h u f f l e the i n d i v i d u a l a rthropodic l i n k s . E x a c t l y l i k e a scolopendra! (P, p. 179) Conrad p r e f e r s l o c u s t s and ants to scolopendra, but the idea i s e s s e n t i a l l y the same: He [the P r o f e s s o r ] was i n a long, s t r a i g h t s t r e e t , peopfed by a mere f r a c t i o n of an immense m u l t i t u d e ; but a l l round him, on and on, even to the l i m i t s of the horizon hidden by the enormous p i l e s of b r i c k s , he f e l t the mass of mankind mighty i n i t s numbers. They swarmed numerous l i k e l o c u s t s , i n d u s t r i o u s l i k e a nts, thoughtless l i k e a n a t u r a l f o r c e , pushing on b l i n d and o r d e r l y and absorbed, impervious to s e n t i - "ment, to l o g i c , to t e r r o r , too, perhaps (SA, p. 74). T y p i c a l l y , Conrad focuses h i s entomological image on the moral, on b l i n d n e s s , order, sentiment, l o g i c and t e r r o r , on the dangerous power of the m u l t i t u d e to blunt i n d i v i d u a l s e n s i b i l i t y . Bely, by c o n t r a s t , fashions h i s image i n the s e r v i c e of Symbolism. Thus, the m u l t i t u d e i s not p a r t i c - u l a r i z e d to 1905 Petersburg; r a t h e r , i t i s an immutable form that belongs to cosmic time. S i m i l a r l y , the v o i c e of t h i s m u l t i t u d e i s not only the 122 v o i c e of Russia; i t i s the v o i c e of a l l human language, the multitude's sentence which becomes a kind of centipede of syntax and which wafts i n t o meaninglessness above the c i t y . The d i f f e r e n c e here i s one of a u t h o r i a l p e r s p e c t i v e . Whereas James and Conrad s t r u g g l e w i t h moral and s o c i a l c r i t i q u e s of contemporary character and event, Bely takes imperfections f o r granted ( a l l of h i s characters are i n e f f e c t u a l , flawed and severely undercut w i t h irony) and looks i n s t e a d to the l o f t y Symbolist realm of cosmic p a t t e r n . This d i f f e r - ence i s evident i n the s p a t i a l o r i e n t a t i o n of the a u t h o r i a l gaze. In James's The P r i n c e s s Casamassima and Conrad's The Secret Agent, we sense that i t i s d i r e c t e d downward to the "ugly black h o l e s " and the murky London s t r e e t s and the rank Thames r i v e r . I t looks w i t h c r i t i c a l d i s t a n c e , to be sure, but u l t i m a t e l y , i t i s a d e s p a i r i n g gaze. By c o n t r a s t , the a u t h o r i a l eye i n Petersburg moves upward from the malodorous, green Neva, "higher, above the Nevsky" to the s p a r k l i n g s p i r e s of St. Isaac's Cathedral and be- yond to the spectacular sunsets of v a r i o u s t i n t s of a p o c a l y p t i c red. Bely's gaze a l s o , u n l i k e James's or Conrad's, s t r e t c h e s back i n time sweeping i n t o the novel m o t i f s and themes from e a r l y Russian h i s t o r y , events which both echo the present and portend the f u t u r e . Bely was, a f t e r a l l , from the beginning a prominent spokesman f o r and defender of e a r l y t w e n t i e t h - century Russian Symbolism,^ and f o l l o w i n g that period he was deeply im- mersed i n Rudolph S t e i n e r ' s anthroposophy—that blend of Western r a t i o n a l - ism and Eastern s p i r i t u a l i s m which so appealed to him and which i s r e a l i z e d t h e m a t i c a l l y i n the t e x t by way of the east/west dichotomy. I t i s t h i s s p e c i a l and very p r i v a t e v i s i o n which d i r e c t s Bely's eye i n the opposite 123 direction from the Conradian and Jamesian labyrinths to the "phantasmata" hanging threateningly above the city. And while there is social and moral rot in both London and Petersburg, we sense that i t is explicable i f not reformable in The Secret Agent and The Princess Casamassima, whereas in Petersburg i t i s overshadowed by the larger questions, cycles and patterns of human history. Bely looks beyond the chaotic u n i n t e l l i g i b i l i t y of the city and finds a spatial orientation in mystical spheres. Predictably, the narrative of Petersburg is fragmented by temporal distortions that are just as radical as the spatial ones. We have already mentioned the historical shifts in time from events in early Russian history to revolutionary events in 1905. In addition, the narrative leaps wildly from one present event to another disregarding chronology and moving backwards and forwards. Nikolai's mother, for example, returns relatively early in the novel, yet her v i s i t is not mentioned again unt i l late in the narrative. One chapter may begin with Senator Ableukhov's act i v i t i e s at his office and shift without warning to Nikolai's meeting with subversive friends months earlier. Phrases, sentences, entire paragraphs and scenes are repeated verbatim, a device which creates the effect of replayed time. Novelists of absent-centred structure are fond of repetition because i t is an effective interrupter and spoiler of chronology, though they ex- ploit i t for different purposes. Conrad achieves two effects: the scene of the explosion i s repeated from different imaginative perspectives— Winnie's, Heat's, the police constable's, the newspaper's, the narrator's— and thus creates a rudimentary cubism, in the sense that the moment of Stevie's death can only be grasped f u l l y through fragmentary angles of 124 of perception. The horror cannot be objectively understood; i t s significance l i e s in the subjective sum of i t s effect on a number of characters. The second effect Conrad achieves with repetition is the impression of stalled time. Characters in The Secret Agent are tagged with refrains. Thus, Winnie's "the drop was fourteen feet" is a grim reminder of death's power to destroy time altogether, while the refrains, "impenetrable mystery" and "he walked," associated with Ossipon, suggest the stalled aimless time of a living h e l l . Heller, to anticipate, uses repetition to suggest the per- ceptual phenomenon of reluctant remembering. Thus, Yossarian's flashbacks to Snowden's death in Catch-22 are replayed verbatim but gradually expanded in particulars to a point of c r i s i s . Such a disruptive technique suggests the tortures of a mind both wanting to forget and fearing to remember the details of a horror. Robbe-Grillet's repetitions in The Voyeur and in In the Labyrinth disrupt the narrative chronology just as seriously, but they are directed to .the end of exploring perception—objects, characters and events which are seen but only partly seen and which, when repeated in the text, are either properly understood, proven wrong, or, not infrequently, l e f t mysterious. Bely's repetitions serve many of these same purposes: Nikolai's and Apollon's childhood memories "repeat" themselves and confuse present perception, and the replay of scenes from different viewpoints, as we shall see momentarily, creates a similar kind of perspectivism tor that in Conrad's and Robbe-Grillet's novels. But in Petersburg there is the added emphasis that repeated images and symbols suggest return and cycle; they undercut narrative linearity and replace i t with temporal circularity. As a structural strategy, repetition, because by definition i t invokes 125 boredom, must be used judiciously. In this regard, Robbe-Grillet takes, the greatest risks because he exploits boredom as a theme—Samuel Beckett is his only r i v a l . There are, however, other less risky devices for dis- rupting time, such as the prolongation of the moment. Conrad exploits i t on a number of occasions: for Heat's imagining of Stevie's death, for the entire chapter which deals with Verloc's death, and for the painfully awkward moments in the domestic scenes between Winnie and Verloc. So too in Petersburg, time expands mercilessly; in fact, the entire novel, just as i t expands spatially from the city/bomb image, expands temporally from the relatively brief period of twenty-four hours. The narrator explains in the monologue of the f i n a l chapter: —These twenty-four hours!— —these twenty-four hours of our narrative have expanded and scattered in the spaces of the soul: the authorial gaze has gotten a l l tangled up in the spaces of the soul. Cerebral, leaden games have plodded along within a closed-in horizon, in a c i r c l e that has been traced by u s — — i n those twenty-four hours! The news of Anna Petrovna had come fluttering along from somewhere or other. We forgot that Anna Petrovna had returned. Those twenty-four hours! That i s , an entire day and night: a concept that is relative, where an instant— —or—something that can be defined by the amplitude of events in the soul i s an hour, or a zero: experience grows apace, or is absent: in an instant ( P , p. 265). The instant, then, "grows apace"; i t becomes an hour, i t expands and events scatter "in the spaces of the soul." Similarly, Inspector Heat in The 126 Secret Agent knows that Stevie died "instantaneously," but that "ages of atrocious pain and mental torture.could be contained between two successive winks of an eye." And with an image that prefigures the structural principle of William Golding's Pincher Martin, he fears that Stevie's ex- perience was l i k e "the whole past l i f e lived with frightful intensity by a drowning man as his doomed head bobs up, screaming, for the last time" (SA, pp. 78-79). The "instant" referred to in the passage from Petersburg signifies the characters' fear of that experience which Heat imagines. They fear the instant of the exploding bomb which, as in The Secret Agent, occurs at a particular juncture of time and space. The bomb becomes an apt symbol for this juncture since i t s ticking measures time methodically while i t s explosion announces a violent fragmentation of space. The bomb, in fact, measures time in a very real sense in the text, for when Nikolai turns the key to activate i t , he initiates the twenty-four hour period which is the narrative time of the text. But the ticking also has a very special private and psychological meaning for Nikolai. As a child, he experienced a vivid nightmare: In childhood he had been subject to delirium. In the night, a l i t t l e elastic blob would sometimes material- ize before him and bounce about—made perhaps of rubber, perhaps of the matter of very strange worlds. It would produce a quiet laquered sound on the floor: pepp— peppep; and again: pepp-peppep. Bloating horribly, i t would often assume the form of a spherical fat fellow. This fat fellow, having become a harassing sphere, kept on expanding, expanding, and expanding and threat- ened to come crashing down upon him. "Pepp "Peppovich.... "Pepp " 127 And I t would burst i n t o p i e c e s . Nikolenka would s t a r t s h r i e k i n g nonsensical t h i n g s : that he too was becoming s p h e r i c a l , that he was a zero, that everything i n him was z e r o i n g — z e r o i n g — z e r o - o - o . . . . (P, p. 158). The e l a s t i c , rubber b a l l , dangerous i n i t s expansion, i s uncannily l i k e the P r o f e s s o r ' s "india-rubber b a l l " i n The Secret Agent which i s connected to "an india-rubber tube, resembling a slender brown worm" (SA, p. 62) and which, when squeezed, w i l l detonate the bomb to which he i s wired. Conrad a l s o shares the emphasis on b l o a t i n g and s w e l l i n g : V e r l o c i s " b u r l y i n a f a t - p i g s t y l e " ; Wurmt t e l l s him b l u n t l y , "You are very corpulent"; w h i l e growing nervous during h i s i n t e r v i e w w i t h V l a d i m i r , we read that h i s "gross neck became crimson." V l a d i m i r himself has a "shaven, b i g face"; the t e r r o r i s t , Yundt, has hands "deformed by gouty s w e l l i n g s " ; Ossipon has a " b i g f l o r i d f a c e " ; M i c h a e l i s , according to the A s s i s t a n t Commissioner, "was marred by too much f l e s h , " w h i l e S i r E t h e l r e d , "the great personage" w i t h an "egg-shaped f a c e " "seemed an expanding man." The l a t t e r image, as mentioned i n the previous chapter, a l l u d e s to Humpty-Dumpty, an a l l u s i o n which creates a nursery-rhyme i r o n y very much l i k e the one i n N i k o l a i ' s dream: behind the innocent and c h i l d l i k e l i e s an e x p l o s i v e l y dangerous, i f not deathly power. L i k e so many other images and m o t i f s i n Petersburg, N i k o l a i ' s n i g h t - mare image sends out i t s t e n t a c l e s to connect an array of themes and ex- periences. The passage o b v i o u s l y portends the bomb's ex p l o s i o n , but i t a l s o reverses the p a r r i c i d e theme i n the t e x t . N i k o l a i ' s f a t h e r i s f r e - quently described as a f a t , "bloated" man, and we read that " i n h i s breast 128 arose the sensation of a crimson sphere about to burst i n t o pieces." (P_, p. 14), the sensation of a man plagued by a heart c o n d i t i o n . Thus, the f a t , b l o a t e d , s p h e r i c a l f e l l o w of N i k o l a i ' s dream s i g n i f i e s the f a t h e r threatening the son, w h i l e i n the present tense of the n a r r a t i v e , i t is. 18 the son who threatens the f a t h e r w i t h the bomb.. The quoted passage a l s o contains a play on the vowel "eu," pronounced "oo," which appears i n the f a m i l y surname, Ableukhov, and which throughout the t e x t portends the ex- p l o s i o n , the b l a s t e d sphere, the broken c i r c l e and the meaninglessness of "zero-o-o. S i m i l a r l y , the sound of "Pepp Peppovich Pepp" reappears more than once and e s p e c i a l l y as the moment of the exp l o s i o n draws near. N i k o l a i , who has m i s l a i d the bomb and who grows more u n c e r t a i n that h i s f r i e n d , S e r g e i , has removed i t , suddenly f i n d s h i s t i c k i n g w r i s t watch, very d i s - t u r b i n g : "Just at that time an u n s e t t l i n g sound reached h i s ears: a s o f t t i c k - t i c k , t i c k - t i c k : the sardine t i n ? ... Pepp Peppovich Pepp... " (P, p. 284). Once more, i n a c y c l i c a l manner, a temporal motif connects childhood experience w i t h present experience. I n t e r n a l experience ( N i k o l a i ' s memory of Pepp Peppovich Pepp) becomes enmeshed w i t h e x t e r i o r experience (the t i c k i n g watch). Thus, u n l i k e Conrad who uses the measure- ment of time to u n d e r l i n e the inner agonies of h i s c h a r a c t e r s , Bely manip- u l a t e s time to t h r u s t h i s c h a r a c t e r s ' experiences beyond the c i r c l e d con- f i n e s of i n d i v i d u a l experience to the l a r g e r cosmic c i r c l e of experience where "Time sharpens i t s t e e t h f o r e v e r y t h i n g — i t devours body and so u l and stone" (P_, p. 97) . 129 The devouring power of time i s nowhere more evident than during the scene i n which S o f i a r e t u r n s from the masquerade b a l l i n a c a r r i a g e . She f a l l s i n t o a h a l f s l e e p , i n t o a kind of m y s t i c a l trance w h i l e the s i l e n c e i s punctuated by the sounds of the c a r r i a g e ' s wheels and the horses' hooves on cobblestones. Behind her f e l l away a piece of what had j u s t been: masquerade b a l l , h a r l e q u i n s , and even, even the sad t a l l one. She d i d not know whence she had come. She moved back s t i l l f u r t h e r , i n search of some bu t t r e s s f o r consciousness i n the impressions of the day before t h a t , but that day too had f a l l e n away, j l i k e the cobblestones on a paved road; and i t was dashed against some dark bottom. And a cobblestone- s h a t t e r i n g crash resounded. The love of that f a t e f u l unhappy summer f l a s h e d by, and f e l l away from her memory. And a cobblestone- s h a t t e r i n g crash resounded. There f l a s h e d by and f e l l away: her conversations i n the s p r i n g w i t h N i c o l a s Ableukhov, the years of marriage, the wedd- in g . Thus a kind of v o i d was t e a r i n g o f f and swallowing piece a f t e r p i e c e . There echoed m e t a l l i c crash a f t e r crash, s h a t t e r i n g the cobblestones. Her whole l i f e f l a s h e d by, her whole l i f e f e l l away, and her l i f e had not yet e x i s t e d , ever, and i t was as i f she had not been born i n t o l i f e . The v o i d began immediately behind her back (everything had c o l l a p s e d t h e r e ) , and the v o i d continued on i n t o ages. In the ages only crash upon crash could be heard: pieces of l i v e s were f a l l i n g . . . (P_, p. 120, Bely's i t a l i c s ) . Bely s i t u a t e s S o f i a , here, on the precarious edge of the present, f o r "her l i f e had not yet e x i s t e d , " but the cosmic v o i d of the past pursues her r e l e n t l e s s l y and s h a t t e r s memory. Even the very s t r e e t on which she t r a v e l s seems to be c o l l a p s i n g s i n c e the sounds appear to be " s h a t t e r i n g the cobblestones." Thus, Bely once again debunks the n o t i o n of l i n e a r time and h i s t o r y : the past i s not, i n Bely's v i s i o n , a s t o c k p i l e or r e f u s e 130 heap of memories and events; rather, i t is a great chaotic void which actively pursues, consumes and fragments history. It is the same force, the absent centre, which fragments both time and space and hurls, narrative pieces throughout the text. When he fashioned the quoted passage, Bely was very conscious of con- tinuing (or at least defining) a kind of Russian literary tradition of cab rides. He noted to Nina Berberova: Pushkin's post chaise, Turgenev's cabriolet, Chichi- kov's carriage, Rostov's coach of 1812, Ableukhov's brougham—"A travers les. ages. "^0 The tradition i s not exclusively Russian. James, in The Princess Casamassima, uses Hyacinth's ride with Muniment through London streets to suggest a spatial disorientation. Travelling to see the anarchist leader, Hoffendahl, "our young man had wholly lost, in the drizzling gloom, a sense of their whereabouts" (PC, p. 246). And in The Secret Agent, Conrad, too, uses the same image when Winnie, her mother and Stevie travel to the mother's new house where she w i l l die. Pulled by an "infirm horse," and driven by a maimed cabman, Conrad's carriage, "the Cab of Death i t s e l f " (SA, p. 142), is more rickety and grotesque.than Sofia's, yet i t s "wobbly wheels" produce a "jolting, rattling, and jingling" which is just as disturbing as the crash- ing sounds that Sofia hears. And just as the abyss pursues Sofia, darkness and death pursue Winnie's mother: "Night, the early dirty night, the sinister, noisy, hopeless, and rowdy night of South London, had overtaken her on her last cab ride" (SA, p. 133). As the near past disintegrates into crashing fragments in the void behind Sofia, so in The Secret Agent, "the 131 fronts of the houses gliding past slowly and shakily, with a great rattling a jingling of glass, ... collapse behind the cab" (SA, p. 131). Bely stresses the loss of time in a cosmic context, but when Conrad's narrator t e l l s us that "Later on, in the wider space of Whitehall, a l l visual evi- dences of motion became imperceptible," and that consequently "time i t s e l f seemed to stand s t i l l " (SA, p. 131), we sense that the " s t a l l " is restricted to the perception of individual characters. Petersburg is concerned not only with matters of perception, but also with the conflict between individuals' false perceptions and a more "truthful" metaphysical and historical time. The temporal and spatial disorientations of Petersburg are a means of fragmenting a locus-centred unity. An exploded bomb i s , of course, an ideal metaphor for such disintegration, but i t is also an ideal metaphor for the absent centre of the narrative structure, for an explosion leaves no unifying centre—except, of course, the principle of fragmentation i t s e l f , which would have to be called a non-centre. Bely, in addition to his special handling of time and space, also uses point of view to achieve such narrative fragmentation. At times the narrator seems omniscient when he delves into the inner- most psychologies of his characters (including two lengthy dream sequences); at other times he wanders unapologetically into the lofty Symbolist worlds of planetary spaces. He is self-effacing though arrogant, f l i p yet sympathetic, cynical and biting but also amusing and sensitive. Occasion- al l y , he frustrates the reader with perspectivism, by limiting his narration to a single character's point of view. When Sofia returns to her husband after the masquerade ball, she finds herself locked out of her home. She 132 rings the doorbell but no one answers; she hears heavy breathing on the other side of the door, then a "tap-tap-tapping-away," a loud wail followed by running, "shuffling and moving of chairs," the tinkle of a lamp, the rumble of a table being moved and f i n a l l y , silence. But the sounds resume after a moment: ... a horrifying din, as i f the ceiling were collapsing and as i f the plaster were raining down. In this din, Sofia Petrovna Likhutina was struck by one sound only: the f a l l i n g from somewhere above of a heavy human body (P, p. 122). The reader may make guesses, but because the point of view is so limited to Sofia's perspective, he cannot interpret the sounds with any certainty. Not unt i l ten pages later and after several narrative interruptions is the scene replayed from Sofia's husband's perspective. Upset at Sofia's f l i r t a t i o n s with Nikolai, and angered by her refusal to obey his command that she not go to the ball, Sergei Sergeyevich makes an earnest but bungled and utterly laughable attempt at suicide. A l l the preparations have been made when suddenly he hears the doorbell (Sofia's return); he listens at the door (heavy breathing), runs away screaming (loud wail), places a chair on top of a table, hangs himself to the light fixture, pushes away the chair, whereupon the fixture rips out of the ceiling, flinging plaster, rubble and his own body heavily onto the floor. The sounds, of course, are meant to suggest an explosion—this time comically ineffectual, a miniature version of the larger bomb which is about to explode and which also is not without i t s farcical consequences. On one level, this perspectivist or cubist-like point of view attempts to be, l i k e stream of consciousness, mimetic of individual perceptual frag- 133 mentation. Like Winnie and Heat in The Secret Agent, characters in Peters- burg f l a i l hopelessly in the conf ines of their limited points of view attempting to understand the whole. In Petersburg there is the added d i f f i c u l t y that that unity i t s e l f has been fragmented. On another level, however, the device also fragments the narrative in terms of the reader's experience, for he is as limited and f l a i l s almost as hopelessly as the characters. Had the narrator allowed himself omniscience when describing such events as Sergei's attempted suicide, then the whole would have been restored and the reader would have experienced, not perspectivism, but dramatic irony. As i t i s , the reader, l i k e Sergei and Sofia, has no way of unifying the object of perception u n t i l both—or a l l — s i d e s of the event have been narrated. The same holds true for Stevie's death in The Secret Agent. Characters in Petersburg are, then, threatened by a solipsism which results from their inability to unify their immediate worlds; they are unable to control either the spatial or temporal orderings of their reality. Hyacinth faces a similar kind of solipsism when his world collapses. But whereas for James the source of solipsism l i e s in an incorrect view of the world to begin with, for Bely the source of solipsism is the very apocalyptic nature of the age. Thus, just as the bomb which Nikolai loses w i l l explode his own immediate world according to i t s own laws of time and space, the apocalyptic age w i l l reorder the very age in which the characters of Petersburg l i v e . Samuel D. Cioran concurs: The ticking bomb becomes, therefore, the arch-symbol of apocalypse not only for the characters of the novel, but indeed for Petersburg, Russia and a l l con- 134 cepts about reality of the perceived world. The only strategy available to characters faced with such a cosmic bomb is to organize, unify and systematize their lives as much as they can. That is why the city of Petersburg is such an enticing il l u s i o n ; i t s "rectilinear prospects" offer a superficial geometry to the obscure chaos which frequently, lik e the fog and smoke, hangs over the city. The pen- chant for order and geometry also appears prominently in The Secret Agent, iii the sense that Verloc and the Inspector, for: example, think that they can plan and control events in a rationalistic way, though the Greenwich bomb, that sudden hole in time and space, proves them wrong. Similarly, Apollon is so fearful of Russia's cold, ice-locked landscapes and so intimidated by the disorderliness of the factory workers on the outskirts of bureaucracy, that he arranges his own l i f e with a l l the geometry that he can muster. Thus, a l l of his personal belongings are catalogued and placed, according to compass points, on alphabetically lettered shelves. His gloves, for example, appear on shelf B-northwest. Apollon feels most secure and removed from disorder, the unwashed masses and the solipsism of apocalypse, when he rides in his cube-like carriage with i t s "four per- pendicular walls." The cube, in fact, is for Apollon a kind of Dickensian tag: After the line, the figure which soothed him more than a l l other symmetries was the square. At times, for hours on end, he would lapse into an unthinking contemplation of pyramids, triangles, parallelepipeds, cubes, and trapezoids. While dwelling in the center of the black, per- fect satin-lined cube, Apollon Apollonovich revelled 135 at length in the quadrangular walls. Apollon Apollonovich was born for solitary confinement. Only his love for the plane geometry of the state had invested him in the polyhedrality of a respons- ible position'(P, p. 11). Nikolai i s less extreme, but nonetheless, his obsession with Kant (The Critique of Pure Reason) makes him uncomfortable with disorder and fragmentation. Much of the irony in Petersburg results from the characters' ineffectual fight against the chaos of their immediate lives; this same fight functions as a kind of synecdoche for the larger fight they face with the more pervading threat of apocalyptic chaos. It i s a fight for which they are, apparently, unprepared, for Nikolai, we are told, has never read the book of Revelation. And of course, i t i s ironic that Apollon, so ob- sessed with upholding the status quo, should have a name close to that of Apollyon, the King of Angels in the bottomless pit described in Revelation. The ticking bomb is a constant reminder to the reader that their frantic efforts to maintain composure in the face of the apocalyptic threat are doomed to failure. Yet when the bomb goes off, i t hurts no one; Apollon is only mildly shaken; Anna Petrovna returns to Spain, and Nikolai retreats safely to Egypt. "Someone" is questioned by the authorities but no one is arrested. We are forced by this anti-climactic undercutting of suspense, by the un- expected closure, to realize that the most spectacular explosion i s the one which has been going on during the entire narrative. In a sense, the characters experience i t ; they fight against i t unknowingly at every foiled turn they make. And as readers we certainly experience the explosion of 136 conventional nineteenth-century narrative line. But because the apoca- lyptic mover i s outside the comprehension of characters' immediate experience, and because this same explosive force—the spoiler of unifying centres—governs the narrative, the text assumes i t s absent-centred nature. Conrad's. "sudden holes in time and space" imply a kind of moth-eaten unity, destructive gaps in the moral and social fabric of society. The cloth is ragged, undoubtedly, but i t is s t i l l recognizably cloth. Bely's vision of modern unity is much more complete in i t s disintegration. Thus, what Lippanchenko, the double agent in the novel, imagines just before.his death, accurately describes the absent-centred structure of Petersburg: The centripetal sensation has been lost; we are blown to bits; and only the consciousness of shattered sensations remains whole (P, p. 262). 137 Notes. ^ Oleg A. Maslenikov, The Frenzied Poets: Andrey B i e l y and the Russian Symbolists (Berkeley: U n i v e r s i t y of C a l i f o r n i a Press, 1952), p. 84. 2 Andrei Bely, Memoirs, as quoted i n Konstantin Mochulskyj Andrei Bely: H i s L i f e and Works, t r a n s l a t e d by Nora S z a l a v i t z (Ann Arbor, Michigan: A r d i s , 1977), p. 147. 3 Samuel D. Gioran, The Ap o c a l y p t i c Symbolism of Andrej B e l y j (The Hague: Mouton, 1973), p. 138. The c r i t i c quoted i n Cioran's passage i s Aleksandr Z a k r z e v s k i j , R e l i g i j a : P s i x o l o g i c e s k i e p a r a l l e l ! ' (Kiev, 1973), p. 111. 4 Andrei Bely, Petersburg, t r a n s l a t e d by Robert A. Maguire and John E. Malmstad (Bloomington: Indiana U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1978), p. 163. Further c i t a t i o n s as P_. The 1959 t r a n s l a t i o n of the novel by John Cournos (New York: Grove) i s now g e n e r a l l y agreed to be inadequate. I have con- s u l t e d i t only f o r comparison's sake i n p a r t i c u l a r l y d i f f i c u l t passages. 5 Sidney Monas, "Unreal C i t y , " i n Chicago Review 13 (1959): 1Q2-112, p. 111. Helene Hartman-Kyer, "The Time Bomb," i n Andrey Bely, A C r i t i c a l Review, edite d by Gerald Janacek (Lexington, Kentucky: U n i v e r s i t y of Kentucky Press, 1978), p. 124. ^ Nina Berberova, "A Memoir and a Comment: The ' C i r c l e ' of Petersburg," i n Andrey Bely, A C r i t i c a l Review, edited by Gerald Janacek (Lexington, Kentucky: U n i v e r s i t y of Kentucky Press, 1978), p. 116. Henry James, The A r t of the Novel (New York: S c r i b n e r ' s , 1962), p. 110. 9 As quoted i n Nina Berberova, "A Memoir and a Comment," p. 116. 138 Sharon Spencer's n o t i o n of the " a r c h i t e c t o n i c n o v e l " supports the n o t i o n of James's Modernist p e r s p e c t i v i s m . Indeed, her own geometry seems i n s p i r e d by James: In the center i s the subject of the n o v e l , the t h i n g that i s being observed. Each circumference about t h i s center p o i n t may be s a i d to represent a type of per- s p e c t i v e , and each i n d i v i d u a l p o i n t upon that circum- ference designates a s p e c i f i c standpoint i n time and space from which the center i s regarded. See: Space, Time and S t r u c t u r e i n the Modern Novel (New York: New York U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1971), p. 87. ^ As quoted i n Nina Berberova, "A Memoir and a Comment," pp. 116-117, 12 Andrey B e l y , K o t i k Letaev, t r a n s l a t e d by Gerald Janacek (Ann Arbor, Michigan: A r d i s , 1971), p. 16. 13 John E l l s w o r t h , "Andrei Bely's Theory of Symbolism," i n Forum f o r Modern Language Studies, 2 (1975): 327. E l l s w o r t h i s paraphrasing Bely's Arab e s k i (Arabesques) Moscow, 1911. 14 Robert A. Maguire and John E. Malmstad, " T r a n s l a t o r ' s I n t r o - d u c t i o n , " Petersburg (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1978) , p. x i v . ^ A l a i n R o b b e - G r i l l e t , Two Novels by R o b b e - G r i l l e t : Jealousy and In The L a b y r i n t h , t r a n s l a t e d by Richard Howard (New York: Grove, 1965), p. 144. ^ The f u l l e s t treatment of Bely's Symbolist theory apart from biography i s J . D. E l l s w o r t h ' s "Andrei Bely's Theory of Symbolism," i n Forum f o r Modern Language S t u d i e s , 2 (1975): 305-333. ^ Robert A. Maguire and John E. Malmstad note the e x p l i c i t a l l u s i o n to P o r f i r y P e t r o v i c h , the i n t e r r o g a t o r i n Crime and Punishment who i s described as a bouncing b a l l . Petersburg, p. 337. And P a t r i c i a M e r i v a l e n o t i c e s that Orr i n Catch-22 strengthens h i s hands by squeezing rubber b a l l s . " ' L i k e one of those crazy guys you read about,' perhaps a zany t r i b u t e to the P r o f e s s o r . " See: "Catch-22 and The Secret Agent: Mechanical Man, The Hole i n the Centre, and the ' P r i n c i p l e of I n b u i l t Chaos,'" i n E n g l i s h Studies i n Canada, 8 (1981) 4: 428. 139 Like many other themes in Petersburg, the parricide theme is prefigured in Bely's early work. See the short story, "Adam" (1908), in Andrey Bely, Complete Short Stories, translated by Ronald Peterson (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Ardis, 1979). In this story the son returns to k i l l the reactionary father and thereby ushers in a new era. He observes about his father that "He's swelling—swelling into his grave," p. 117. 19 I am indebted to Robert A. Maguire and John E. Malmstad for the observation in Petersburg, p. 318. 20 As quoted in Nina Berberova, "A Memoir and a Comment," p. 16. In the same way, Bely also continues the Russian literary tradition of the city of Petersburg in Pushkin, Gogol and Dostovesky. For a dis- cussion of this tradition see: Ada Steinberg, "Fragmentary 'Prototypes' in Andrey Bely's Novel Petersburg," in The Slavonic and East European Review, 56, 4 (October, 1978): 522-45. 21 Samuel D. Cioran, The Apocalyptic Symbolism of Andrej Belyj, p. 138. i 140 CHAPTER V Joseph H e l l e r ' s Catch-22: The Secret of Snowden If the absent centre of The Secret Agent r e s u l t s from the i n d i r e c t narration of a c e n t r a l event which i s purposefully avoided, and i f the ab- sent centre i n Petersburg r e s u l t s from a narrative perspectivism which i s mimetic of a world view of d i s u n i t y and fragmentation, then Joseph H e l l e r ' s Catch-22 (1955) represents an amalgam of those two s t r a t e g i e s . The temporal and s p a t i a l structuring of Catch-22 i s j u s t as d i s r u p t i v e — i f not more s o — than i n Petersburg, while at the same time, H e l l e r r e l i e s on Conrad's device of r e l u c t a n t l y but inexorably returning to a c e n t r a l l y absented event. Thus, j u s t as the narrative of The Secret Agent i s always directed towards a d d i t i o n a l discoveries which lead to the truth concerning Stevie's death and the circumstances surrounding the explosion, so i n Catch-22, the gradually expanding na r r a t i v e flashbacks point to the truth of Snowden's death and i t s subsequent e f f e c t s on Yossarian's behaviour. But whereas characters i n The Secret Agent must imagine or reconstruct Stevie's death, i n Catch-22, Yossarian witnesses Snowden's death i n p a i n f u l proximity. Stevie's death appears distanced by v i r t u e of the f a c t that the d e t a i l s and circumstances become incr e a s i n g l y vague as Verloc and Stevie t r a v e l from the house to Greenwich Park. We have a very p a r t i c u l a r , almost omniscient knowledge of what transpires i n the domestic scenes of 141 the Verloc household, but when Stevie and Verloc leave the house, we see them only from Winnie's point of view. From a distance (and from behind), they appear to her as "father and son,"the kind of relationship she wishes i t to be, but which can exist only in her imagination when they are removed from the domestic reality which shows her i t is otherwise. We seem to be losing touch with the pair, for after this point, we have only the frag- mentary observations of people in the Maze H i l l station. Then, as though Conrad is removing Stevie from the narrative focus altogether, Verloc sends Stevie alone into the park with the fatal bomb. Like the footsteps and the streetlights travelling off into eternity, Stevie, too, seems to be trav e l l - ing into the void, into one of those "sudden holes in time and space." Petersburg also f i t s the distancing pattern in the sense that Apollon and Nikolai imagine but never experience their own deaths by explosion, and in the sense that the explosion is "removed" because Nikolai has lost the bomb— when and where i t w i l l explode, they can only guess. In fact, they are in another part of the house when the bomb fi n a l l y detonates in the dining room. Thus, the explosion which occurs is a mere shadow of the apocalyptic one they feared. Yossarian, however, meets face to face the experience of gruesome death; Snowden's very entrails "explode" into Yossarian's view. A piece of flak has "blasted out" and created a "gigantic hole in [Snowden's] r i b s . " 1 Yossarian was cold too, and shivering uncontrollably. He f e l t goose pimples clacking a l l over him as he gazed down despondently at the grim secret Snowden had spilled a l l over the messy floor. It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowden's secret. Drop him out a window and he'll f a l l . Set f i r e to him and he'll burn. 142 Bury him and h e ' l l r o t , l i k e other kinds of garbage. The s p i r i t gone, man i s garbage. That was Snowden's s e c r e t . Ripeness was a l l (C-22, pp. 457-58). The flashbacks to t h i s scene, i n t e r s p e r s e d throughout the t e x t , seem to occur r e l u c t a n t l y , as though against Yossarian's w i l l . He i s , i n the Freudian way, a v i c t i m of r e p r e s s i o n , of r e l e g a t i n g to the subconscious a horror too d i s t u r b i n g to be lodged.permanently i n the conscious mind. So whereas characters i n The Secret Agent t r y desperately to know about S t e v i e ' s death, Yossarian would r a t h e r f o r g e t Snowden's, e s p e c i a l l y because remember- ing i s a p a i n f u l reminder of h i s own v u l n e r a b i l i t y . Conrad's.characters, however i n e f f e c t u a l l y , pursue knowledge which i s "by a c c i d e n t " distanced from them; Yossarian f l e e s an immediately experienced knowledge that i s too h o r r i b l e to contemplate. Despite t h i s d i f f e r e n c e i n the n a r r a t i v e d i s t a n c i n g of the absent centre, S t e v i e ' s death, when the d e t a i l s are f i n a l l y r e c o n s t r u c t e d , i s described w i t h some important s i m i l a r i t i e s to Snowden's death. The l o c a l p o l i c e constable i n The Secret Agent l a y s out S t e v i e ' s remains f o r Inspector Heat i n a "heap of nameless fragments" that i s j u s t as shocking as the "dangling shreds of d r y i n g f l e s h " and "mottled quarts of Snowden" that are l a i d out f o r Y o s s a r i a n : Another waterproof sheet was spread over that t a b l e i n the manner of a t a b l e c l o t h w i t h the corners turned up over a s o r t of mound—a heap of rags, scorched and bloodstained, h a l f concealing what might have been an accumulation of raw m a t e r i a l f o r a c a n n i b a l f e a s t (SA, p. 77). 143 S n o w d e n ' s l e g w o u n d w h i c h Y o s s a r i a n t h i n k s l o o k e d l i k e " l i v e h a m b u r g e r m e a t , " a n d " t h e b i t s o f s t e w e d t o m a t o e s " t h a t Y o s s a r i a n s e e s s p i l l i n g w i t h 2 S n o w d e n ' s v i s c e r a s u g g e s t C o n r a d ' s " c a n n i b a l f e a s t . " T h e u n d e r s t a n d a b l e r e s p o n s e f r o m b o t h Y o s s a r i a n a n d t h e k e e p e r o f t h e p a r k who s h o v e l s u p S t e v i e ' s r e m a i n s i s a r e v u l s i o n t h a t , l i t e r a l l y , m a k e s t h e m s i c k . I n b o t h n o v e l s m a n i s r e d u c e d t o " r a w m a t e r i a l , " t o m e r e " m a t t e r " a n d t o " g a r b a g e , " t o a w a s t e f u l a n d u n n a t u r a l d e c o m p o s i t i o n w h i c h i l l u s t r a t e s h o w f r a g i l e a n d v u l n e r a b l e t h e b o d y i s w h e n i t i s v i c t i m i z e d b y t h e c o r r u p t . S t e v i e i s t h e v i c t i m o f a c o w a r d l y a n d b u n g l e d p l o t d e v i s e d b y a d o u b l e a g e n t w h o , i n t h e s l o t h f u l n e s s o f h i s m o r a l n a t u r e , u s e s S t e v i e i n a n a t t e m p t t o s t r a d d l e t h e f e n c e o f d u p l i c i t o u s l o y a l t i e s . S n o w d e n i s t h e v i c t i m , n o t o f a d o u b l e a g e n t , b u t o f a d o u b l e b i n d , t h e " c a t c h - 2 2 " w h i c h i s t h e e x e m p l a r y c o d e o f t h a t r u t h l e s s m i l i t a r y e s t a b l i s h m e n t w h i c h d e m a n d s o f m e n l i k e Y o s s a r i a n a n d S n o w d e n t h a t t h e y c o n t r a d i c t t h e h u m a n d e s i r e t o l i v e w i t h a w i l l i n g n e s s t o d i e i n t h e s e r v i c e o f b r i n g i n g d e a t h t o o t h e r s . T h e r e p e t i t i o n o f S n o w d e n ' s d e a t h , t h e n , l i k e S t e v i e ' s , p o i n t s t o i n a n i t y , a b s u r d i t y , f u t i l i t y a n d h o r r o r . A s s u c h , H e l l e r i s a l a t e d e s c e n d e n t o f t h e l i b e r a l m o r a l i s t s ( D i c k e n s , J a m e s a n d C o n r a d ) w h o s e m o r a l v a l u e s a r e s o d e e p l y v i o l a t e d b y c r i m e s a g a i n s t t h e s a n c t i t y o f h u m a n l i f e , p h y s i c a l a n d s p i r i t u a l . B e l y , i t s h o u l d b e n o t e d , d i f f e r s s l i g h t l y h e r e s i n c e s o m u c h o f l i f e f o r h i m e x i s t s i n t h e s y m b o l i c a l w o r l d o f u n k n o w a b l e r e a l i t i e s . B u t t h e t e m p o r a l d e v i c e o f r e p e t i t i o n , a s H e l l e r u s e s i t , h a s m o r e t h a n a t h e m a t i c f u n c t i o n . B e c a u s e t h e t e x t l a c k s i t s c e n t r e ( b y v i r t u e o f t h e a v o i d a n c e o f S n o w d e n ' s d e a t h ) , i t d i s p e r s e s , l i k e P e t e r s b u r g a n d T h e S e c r e t A g e n t , i n t o n a r r a t i v e f r a g m e n t s , i n t o t e m p o r a l l y a n d s p a t i a l l y d i s - 144 rupted scenes which are repeated and s h i f t e d backwards and forwards l i k e a w e l l - s h u f f l e d deck of p l a y i n g cards. The h o s p i t a l scenes, the scene i n which Yossarian appears naked i n a t r e e , M i l o ' s numerous c a p i t a l i s t i c ventures, and the v a r i o u s bombing missions a l l f i t t h i s p a t t e r n . The immediate e f f e c t of such a device i s , of course, to d i s o r i e n t the reader, a s e r i o u s " d e f a m i l i a r i z a t i o n " , to use the F o r m a l i s t term. However, as the scenes are r e t o l d , or r e s h u f f l e d , u s u a l l y w i t h a d d i t i o n a l i n f o r m a t i o n , the chronology and the " l o g i c a l " sense of the n a r r a t i v e begin to r e c o n s t r u c t i t s e l f . The scene which helps to organize most t h i s anarchic n a r r a t i v e i s Snowden's death because, i n the sense that the n a r r a t i v e i s an analogue f o r Yossarian's consciousness, i t owes i t s fragmentary nature to that s o u r c e — j u s t as Yossarian's a n t i c s and confusions o r i g i n a t e from the ex- perience of Snowden's death. Some of the c r i t i c a l confusion about Catch-22 r e s u l t s from the r e l u c t a n c e of c r i t i c s to give Snowden's death that prominent p o s i t i o n . C l i n t o n S. Burhans J r . , f o r example, s t r e s s e s M i l o as a u n i f y i n g f o r c e i n 3 the n o v e l ; John Wain attempts to t r e a t the novel as a r e a l i s t i c r e n d i t i o n of World War I I f l y i n g experience and r a t h e r unconvincingly e x p l a i n s the 4 novel's t e x t u r e as an accurate p i c t u r e of "the f a c t s of a f l y e r ' s l i f e " ; and James M. M e l l a r d sees the t r e e scene i n which Yossarian r e j e c t s M i l o as the center of g r a v i t y of the novel, f o r i n that scene occur the keys to H e l l e r ' s method, the p i v o t a l p o i n t i n Yossarian's development, and the images of death and b i r t h that g i v e the n a r r a t i v e i t s shape and s i g - nificance.-* 145 In that same a r t i c l e , however, Mellard also claims that the narrative center of the novel is Yossarian's painful recognition of his own mortality and per- sonal involvement, his acceptance of individual guilt and a need for a new set of values.^ Inasmuch as Yossarian's "painful recognition of his own mortality" is a direct result of Snowden's death, Mellard is closest to the mark. Here, as in other absent-centred novels, c r i t i c s seem to have d i f f i c u l t y focusing on the controlling function of a force, scene or event which the author intentionally absents. Jan Solomon, however, chooses Snowden's death for special treatment and agrees that i t is "the c r i t i c a l event in the novel," and Tony Tanner agrees that "It is the spectacle of Snowden's horrible death that the book circles around...."^ The event is both c r i t i c a l and central because, l i k e the explosion which k i l l s Stevie in The Secret Agent, the explosion of flak which k i l l s Snowden is both a source for the fragmentary texture of the novel and the climactic end or solution to which the narrative inexorably moves. Rather like a psychotherapy patient slowly unearthing the centre or the structure of his neurosis, Catch-22 gradually approaches the "grim secret" which explains i t s dis- ruptions. So too Yossarian is a kind of patient (he is very fond of hospitals), for so shattered is his psyche by Snowden's death that his perception of the war likewise assumes a shattered nature. This means that much of the narrative is really mimetic of Yossarian's consciousness, though the f i r s t person pronoun and the other textual clues which would normally place a narrative within an individual's consciousness are absent. We are compelled to situate portions of the third person narrative, espe- 146 c i a l l y the repeated flashbacks, within Yossarian's mind because they are so effectively coloured by a style and voice that simulates Yossarian's irreverence and desperation. Moreover, the very nature of repeated flash- back seems to be that i t cannot remain innocently omniscient; the reader accommodates i t by treating i t as a device which is descriptive of individ- g ual consciousness and of memory in particular. The repetition of Snowden's death, however, is more than simply a recurring scene employed as symbol and disrupter of chronology. Really, i t is wrong to c a l l the device repetition at a l l , since new information is always added when the scene is replayed. It is more accurately described as a structuring device of expansion, for the circumstances of Snowden's death are at f i r s t told only sparingly, and then gradually, as the scene is remembered, more detail and description are added u n t i l a l l of the facts are clear to us. At f i r s t , for example, we know only that "Snowden had been kil l e d over Avignon when Dobbs went crazy in mid-air and seized the controls away from Huple" (C-22, p. 30). Yossarian then asks: "Where are the Snowden's of yesteryear?" No one, however, understands what Yossarian is talking about, and the conversation dissolves into inanities about Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn. Sixteen pages later we get one long paragraph describing the confusion in the plane over the intercom. At f i r s t , Dobbs, in control of the plane, thinks that "the bombardier" is dying. The bombardier i s , however, Yossarian, who is s t i l l alive. The paragraph ends with the single sentence: "And Snowden lay dying in back" (C-22, p. 46). This small but important confusion as to who is actually dead or dying is not unlike the larger confusion surrounding Stevie's 147 death in The Secret Agent in which Ossipon and the Professor speculate from newspaper reports that i t i s Verloc who has been k i l l e d . In The Secret Agent the confusion, which i s more extended than in Catch-22 in the service of suspense, underlines, when i t is sorted out, the horror of Stevie's death. That is to say, i t is "logical" or understandable that Verloc, a double agent dealing with anarchists and police, should die, but i t is in- explicable and morally grotesque that a half-wit child living under his protection should be blown to bits. In Catch-22, the confusion suggests an identification or a degree of interchangeability between Yossarian and Snowden, for the lesson that Yossarian learns is that, in the randomness of war, he i s especially vulnerable. Snowden's death brings powerfully home to him not only the realization that he is mortal but also the realization that his death w i l l be neither "special" nor significant. Yossarian dead or Snowden dead—it makes no difference in the context of war. Clevinger, l i k e Yossarian, is also puzzled by the fact that war does not distinguish when i t comes to death: Clevinger knew everything about the war except why Yossarian had to die while Corporal Snark was allowed to li v e , or why Corporal Snark had to die while Yossarian was allowed to l i v e . . . That men would die was a matter of necessity; which men would die, though, was a matter of circumstance... (C-22, p. 65, Heller's emphasis). Following the long paragraph which stresses the confusion of identities in the back of the plane, there are only a few passing references to Snowden un t i l the scene where we learn that Yossarian moves through the crawl space to the back of the plane to help Snowden who, wounded, l i e s there "freezing to death" (C-22, p. 230). But the chapter quickly turns to other matters, 148 such as the plot to k i l l Cathcart and Milo's egg ventures. There are again only passing references to Snowden u n t i l pages 343-44, when we learn that Yossarian tries to bandage Snowden's "wrong wound" which is "the yawning, raw, melon-shaped hole as big as a football in the outside of his thigh." Once more, however, the matter is dropped and not un t i l page 453 is the f u l l scene played out in i t s expanded form to a powerful conclusion. The memory of the f u l l scene is triggered by Yossarian's sensation of feeling cold as he l i e s in hospital, "bathed in an icy sweat" and feeling a "throbbing c h i l l [oozing] up his legs" (C-22, p. 453). Once more, Yossarian's identification with Snowden is stressed, for Snowden's refrain as he l i e s dying in the plane is "I'm cold." This death scene in Catch-22 functions, then, as an expanding symbol, not unlike the bomb in Petersburg which is described as a "rapid expansion of gases" and which signifies the ever-expanding threat of explosion. The force of the bomb's threat is the image of the hole which characters imagine i t w i l l leave when exploded, one just li k e Snowden's wound, a "yawning, raw, melon-shaped hole as big as a football." And Yossarian, every bit as paranoid as Nikolai, realizes that he is involved in a war which threatens to do the same to him—reduce him to nothingness, to a gaping hole. Heller's comic yet poignant use of mushroom imagery reinforces the structural pattern of expansion, points to the apocalypse of atomic ex- plosion, and at the same time, connects Yossarian's condition to the crucial event of Snowden's death on the Avignon mission. In the same way that Bely's narrative expanded from the topographical point of Petersburg, 149 infusing and reinforcing i t s e l f with echoes of that image (the bomb, Apollon's heart, dilating eyes, and Nikolai's expanding toy), so too Heller finds images which echo the narrative expansion that originates with Snowden's death. After the Bologna mission, during which Yossarian per- suades Kid Simpson to turn back, Yossarian goes immediately to his tent and strips: "He f e l t much better as soon as he was naked." He then goes swimming, but on his way through a path in the woods, he notices that ... two of the three enlisted men stationed there lay sleeping on the c i r c l e of sand bags and the third sat eating a purple pomegranate, biting off large mouthfuls between his churning jaws and spew- ing the ground roughage out away from him into the bushes. When he bit, red juice ran out of his mouth. Yossarian padded ahead into the forest again, caressing his bare, tingling belly adoringly from time to time as though to reassure himself i t was a l l s t i l l there. He rolled a piece of l i n t out of his navel. Along the ground suddenly, on both sides of the path, he saw dozens of new mushrooms the rain had spawned poking their nodular fingers up through the clammy earth lik e l i f e l e s s stalks of flesh, sprouting in such necrotic profusion every- where he looked that they seemed to be proliferating right before his eyes. There were thousands of them swarming as far back into the underbrush as he could see, and they appeared to swell in size and multiply in number as he spied them. He hurried away from them with a shiver of eerie alarm and did not slacken his pace unt i l the s o i l crumbled to dry sand beneath his feet and they had been l e f t behind. He glanced back apprehensively, half expecting to find the limp white things crawling after him in sightless pursuit or snaking up through the treetops in a writhing and ungovernable mass (C-22, pp. 144-45). Like the stewed tomatoes that s p i l l with Snowden's v i t a l organs into Yossarian's view, the "roughage" and the "red juice" spew from the pome- granate, another image of cannibalism which is parallel to ones in The Secret Agent and which functions here for Yossarian as echo of Snowden's 150 death but for us as portent, since we read this passage some three hundred pages before the f u l l description of his death. Worried that a fate similar to Snowden's w i l l befall him, Yossarian caresses his stomach to reassure himself that i t has not been "exploded." (As early as page six- teen, the explosion motif is established, for "Yossarian gorged himself in the mess hall u n t i l he thought he would explode....") The mushrooms, too, are an exploding image, for they appear to "swell in size" and "multiply in number," and since they are l i k e "nodular fingers" and "stalks of flesh," they also suggest the phallus, which Yossarian, no doubt, considers the most " v i t a l " life-giving organ of a l l . But as flesh, the mushrooms are also "necrotic" and " l i f e l e s s , " and so appear to Yossarian as Snowden's shattered remnants reincarnating themselves to haunt and horrify—Stevie's fragments in Winnie's imagination haunt just as powerfully. On yet another level, the mushrooms, because they signify potential explosion, also suggest the "mushrooming clusters of flak" (C-22, p. 147), mentioned during the Bologna mission. And since, for us, the "mushroom cloud" is synonymous with wartime disaster of apocalyptic proportions, Heller makes, here, a kind of anachronistic and tragi-comic joke. It is also significant that Yossarian sees these mushrooms on his way to have a swim, for on his return from the Avignon mission, during which Snowden was k i l l e d , we know that Doc Daneeka helped Yossarian, stunned and speechless, from the plane and "washed Snowden off him with cold wet balls of absorbent cotton" (C-22, p. 268). Because Yossarian feels that he is unclean, that he has been contaminated with Snowden's mortality, he i s , from this point onwards, irreparably sensitized. We 151 understand his disquiet, then, when during the second mission to Bologna, McWatt takes the plane on a sharp climb upwards to avoid gunshot and makes a quick turn that "sucked [Yossarian's] insides out in one enervating sniff and l e f t him floating fleshless in mid-air" (C-22, p. 148). Similarly, we understand why Yossarian feels threatened by a "mutative mass" of mushrooms that appear so much li k e the v i t a l organs which he so preciously guards as the source of his own continued existence. Neverthe- less, swimming "until he f e l t clean" i s not satisfactory purgation, for just as he i s relaxing on the beach (the same beach on which he watched McWatt's airplane k i l l Kid Sampson), the sound of airplane engines re- turning from the Bologna mission remind him that he is s t i l l trapped in the snare of catch-22, that he s t i l l must f l y more missions, and that he must face death yet again. In fact, each of the novels that we have so far discussed (and Gravity's Rainbow w i l l not be excepted) foregrounds this prominent theme of a great fear of the obliterating power of death. Hyacinth, in The Princess Casamassima, discovers that his mother committed murder, and when he is later asked to shoot a Duke, thereby repeating the crime which has overshadowed his l i f e , he refuses to do so and k i l l s himself instead. Much of The Secret Agent concerns i t s e l f with various characters' obses- sion with the actual moment of Stevie's death, and they display a grotesque fascination for the details of his dismemberment. The Professor, to be sure, carries the obsession with death to i t s extreme, keeping, as he does, a bomb in his pocket. Similarly, Petersburg is flush with imagery of impending death by explosion and paranoid characters incapacitated by 152 thoughts of their own mortality. So great is this fear of death that i t expands to image i t s e l f in terms of apocalypse and universal death. Hyacinth, distressed and dis- illusioned, sees London in such a corrupt way that he asks himself "What remedy but another deluge, what alchemy but annihilation?" and wonders "for a planet overgrown with such vermin, what redemption but to be hurled against a b a l l of consuming f i r e " (PC, p. 410). In The Secret Agent, the Professor's solution for the weak is comparable: "Theirs is the king- dom of earth. Exterminate. Exterminate!" (SA, p. 243). Apocalyptic death in Conrad's novel assumes i t s power, not in the largeness of a single explosion or death, but in the vastness of a pervasive atmosphere of isolated deaths in the labyrinthine city. Thus, the infirm horse which carries Winnie's mother in "the cab of Death i t s e l f " is no mere nag but "the steed of apocalyptic misery" (SA, p. 139) as though pulling a grim conveyance for the numerous dead. Bely prefers the grand gesture in Petersburg, and so characters' observations, perceptions and speculations usually expand to cosmic proportions that include past, present and future. Nikolai, as he ponders the predicament of the activated bomb in his house, suddenly sees the sun casting i t s rays into the room: It cast i t s sword-beams. The thousand-armed age-old titan illuminated spires, roofs and the sclerotic forehead pressed against the pane. The thousand-armed titan mutely lamented i t s solitude out there: "Come ye, come unto the age-old sun!" But the sun seemed to him a colossal thousand- legged tarantula, flinging i t s e l f on the earth with insane passion (P_, p. 157). 153 he And later, as he wanders in the corridor, he imagines death this way: Everything, everything, everything: this sunlit g l i t t e r , the walls, the body, the soul—everything would crash into ruins. Everything was already collapsing, collapsing, and there would be: delirium, abyss, bomb (J?, p. 157). Yossarian, also, in Catch-22, is not beyond invoking the grand gesture: eloquently rants against the "phantasmagorical, cosmological wickedness" of air fights and describes dropped bombs with imagery that rivals the apoca- lyptic : The f i r s t one f e l l in the yard, exactly where he had aimed, and then the rest of the bombs from his own plane and from the other planes in his f l i g h t burst open on the ground in a charge of rapid orange flashes across the tops of the buildings, which collapsed instantly in a vast, churning wave of pink and gray and coal-black smoke that went rolling out turbulently in a l l directions and quaked con- vulsively in i t s bowels as though from great blasts of red and white and golden sheet lightning (C-22, p. 148). Each of these absent-centred novels assumes i t s apocalyptic theme because, in pondering the horror of violent death and explosion, i t enlarges the question to ask what, i f anything, remains after the gaping hole l e f t by an explosion of apocalyptic proportions. This hyperbolic fear of the end, of the obliterating power of death and its a b i l i t y to reduce l i f e to nothing- ness—both one man's l i f e and a l l man's l i f e — i s a theme which co-habits well with absent-centred structure. It gives symbolic resonance to the absent centre beyond i t s structuring function for particular narrative manoeuvres. 154 Faced with a war experience of a p o c a l y p t i c p r o p o r t i o n s that promises a death as gruesome as Snowden's, Yossarian's response i s avoidance. "Yossarian was the best man i n the group at evasive a c t i o n . . . . " (C-22, p. 45). Thus, Yossarian f i n d s i t p h y s i c a l l y prudent to avoid the " t r u t h " of German a n t i - a i r c r a f t guns, j u s t as he f i n d s i t p s y c h o l o g i c a l l y prudent to avoid the t r u t h of Snowden's death. He can avoid the war i t s e l f i n two way f l y more missions, reach the quota and be discharged, or avoid f l y i n g a l - together by v i s i t i n g the h o s p i t a l as o f t e n as p o s s i b l e . Of course, n e i t h e r s o l u t i o n i s s a t i s f a c t o r y , s i n c e Colonel Cathcart keeps r a i s i n g the quota of missions, and s i n c e h i s minor ailments are never s e r i o u s enough f o r an ex- tended stay i n h o s p i t a l . There i s a t h i r d o p t i o n which Y o s s a r i a n d i s c u s s e s w i t h Doc Daneeka: Yos s a r i a n looked at him soberly and t r i e d another approach. " I s Orr crazy?" "He sure i s , " Doc Daneeka s a i d . "Can you ground him?" " I sure can. But f i r s t he has to ask me t o . That's part of the r u l e . " "Then why doesn't he ask you t o ? " "Because he's crazy," Doc Daneeka s a i d . "He has to be crazy to keep f l y i n g combat missions a f t e r a l l the c l o s e c a l l s he's had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But f i r s t he has to ask me t o . " "That's a l l he has to do to be grounded?" "That's a l l . Let him ask me." "And then you can ground him?" Y o s s a r i a n asked. "No. Then I can't ground him." "You mean there's a catch?" "Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka r e p l i e d . "Catch- 22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty i s n ' t r e a l l y c r a z y . " There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which s p e c i f i e d that a concern f o r one's own s a f e t y i n the face of dangers that were r e a l and immediate was the process of a r a t i o n a l mind (C-22, p. 41). 155 The Catch-22 i s simultaneously an assertion and a negation which, when used as a code for m i l i t a r y behaviour, leaves characters l i k e Yossarian i n a limbo of neurotic uncertainty. I t "catches" characters i n the double bind of action and non-action and leaves them contemplating i t s dizzying i r r a t i o n a l i t y . Yossarian's predecessor, Hyacinth, i n James's The Princess Casamassima, faces his own version of Catch-22. On the one hand Hyacinth i s i d e a l i s t i c a l l y committed to Paul Muniment's revolutionary aims, while on the other hand, he values the Princess's g r a c e f u l and sophisticated world of art and manners, the very world he has vowed to destroy. Confronted with such an agonizing choice and armed with a healthy dose of w e l l - intended introspection, Hyacinth takes what he thinks i s the only honourable o p t i o n — s u i c i d e , although t h i s action can never be s a t i s - f a c t o r i l y i d e a l i z e d because he i s a character too small f o r tragedy. James's idealism resides not so much i n Hyacinth's f i n a l choice as i n the pathetic and unnecessary waste of a l i f e r i c h i n s e n s i b i l i t y but im- poverished by g u l l i b i l i t y . Yossarian i s not so ponderously self-conscious as Hyacinth; nevertheless, h i s moral conscience i s s e n s i t i v e enough to r e a l i z e that he too must opt out of Catch-22. His d e c i s i o n to desert, i n contrast to Hyacinth's "desertion," i s generally viewed (there i s some debate about H e l l e r ' s ending) as responsible ac t i o n . Yossarian's desertion, then, i s a greater moral success than Hyacinth's s u i c i d e because i t solves the double bind not by evading i t , as Hyacinth does, but by r e f u s i n g to accept the f a l s e premises on which the bind i s constructed i n the f i r s t place. 156 In The Secret Agent Verloc, too, finds himself nervously sweating under the pressure of a Catch-22, especially during his interview with Sir Ethelred who makes him account for his lack of diligence in carrying out the anarchist antics he has promised to perform. Verloc's double bind is largely the result of his own making, for he i s , after a l l , a double agent by choice, a choice made to protect his own petty criminality from the notice of the police. But i t is this very duplicity which eventually leads him to foolhardy and ignominious action. Unlike Hyacinth, however, he acts neither from despair nor idealism; rather, he is motivated only by a ruthless self-serving pragmatism. Thus, Stevie's uncritical loyalty, a kind of g u l l i b i l i t y , becomes Verloc's most convenient and valuable tool when concocting his plan. Verloc's fate—seemingly slow death by Winnie's carving k n i f e — i s measure of poetic justice. Nikolai, in Petersburg, stumbles into a double bind not so much criminally as foolishly. Like Stevie and Hyacinth, he is duped and victimized as a result of his own naivety. Sworn impulsively to an anarchist act directed against his father, he finds himself no longer with the necessary conviction to carry i t out; his error is to treat statements of conviction carelessly and without regard for their seriousness, and so, unlike Hyacinth who chooses passionately, Nikolai has conviction thrust upon him. His solution to the dilemma of the double bind is mere bumbling, a comic dance which proves f u t i l e , since events conspire in their own way regardless. Catch-22 differs from these others because the double bind is not reduced to a single issue or situation (to shoot or not to shoot a Duke; to explode or not to explode a bomb); rather, the double bind in Heller's novel is a vague force, an unwritten law which, while powerfully v i s i b l e in effect, 157 is beyond inspection in the obscurity of a muddled and muddling bureaucracy. In fact, Yossarian's real triumph is to see the situation with c l a r i t y . Once he does, he can then formulate the appropriate moral response— desertion. There is also a comparison to be drawn between these texts in regard to the spuriousness of the double bind. Often i t is an i l l u s i o n of the hero. Hyacinth's downfall is his own short-sightedness and his inability to make a choice. His error is to assume that he cannot renounce commit- ments, for he is overly stringent and idealistic about their sanctity, even when he is given the opportunity to opt out of the double bind. He weights the terms of his antithesis too symmetrically and f a i l s to realize that both the Princess and Paul Muniment are flawed characters. For a l l practical purposes, the c r i s i s of the bind ceases to exist when Paul gives up his commitment and joins the Princess. Verloc's double bind in The Secret Agent is spurious in the sense that i t is foolish of Verloc to think that he can straddle the fence with duplicitous loyalties and to think that he can reap benefit, safety and protection from both. The spuriousness of Nikolai's double bind becomes evident when we realize how insignificant his dilemma really i s , shrunk to microscopic proportions beneath the great shadow of transcendent reality that marches historically onwards regardless of the sordid doings of Petersburg bureaucrats and anarchists. Yossarian, in Catch-22, is much more explicit about the spuriousness of his dilemma. He comes to realize late in the narrative that i t does not exist at a l l , that i t is a mere concoction. What began as a mystifyingly irrational rule for the discharge (actually the non-discharge of bombardiers) has 158 grown to absolute license for a war bureaucracy to wield absolute power. Leaving the brothel in Rome after i t has been raided, we find Yossarian ... cursing Catch-22 vehemently as he descended the stairs, even though he knew there was no such thing. Catch-22 did not exist, he was positive of that, but i t made no difference. What did matter was that every- one thought i t existed, and that was much worse, for there was no object or text to ridicule or refute, to accuse, c r i t i c i z e , attack, amend, hate, revile, spit at, rip to shreds, trample upon or burn up (C-22, p. 424). "Catch-22," then, at this point in the novel, is nothing real or solid; i t i s , in essence, the excuse for brute power and the rationalization for the abdication of moral responsibility. Thus, the MP's clear out the g i r l s from the brothel, ignoring the protests of the old Madam who explains to Yossarian that "Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing" (C-22, p. 422). Yossarian asks why she didn't make them show her and the g i r l s the Catch-22, but as the woman says, Catch-22 i t s e l f dictates that "they don't have to show us Catch-22" (C-22, p. 423). "Catch-22" poses as law, but because i t is the law of madmen and moral brutes, i t leads not to order but to anarchy. It inspires in the citizens of Pianosa who l i v e under i t s shadow, not reason informed by sensibility but contradiction and unpredictability. The text is similarly governed by the absent centre which disrupts order and unity into a kind of narrative fragmentation which poses as anarchy and lawlessness—"poses" because, paradoxically, i t is the very principle of fragmentation—symbolized by Snowden's disembowelment—that unifies the text. Critics have not a l - ways seen i t this way, especially the early reviewers of Catch-22 who seemed to be at pains to discover any structure at a l l beneath the surface 159 anarchy. What troubles readers most about Catch-22 is the severe distortion of time, more severe than in either The Secret Agent or Petersburg. For while we may lurch suddenly backwards and forwards in Conrad's dank London and in Bely's befogged Petersburg, we are never so far removed from a recognizable temporal chronology as to lose our way. And despite i t s fragmentation, Petersburg is remarkably unified in terms of i t s temporal structure, spanning as i t does a neat twenty-four hour period. Conrad, and to a lesser extent, Bely, are always careful to situate us precisely in their temporal schemes even though discontinuity is used to considerable ironic effect. Heller, however, drops most of the textual clues which would help orient ourselves in the anarchy of Pianosa l i f e . In fact, the only sure way to keep track of events, temporally, is to log carefully the number of bombing missions flown or required to be flown.^ This task c r i t i c s have done in the past laboriously i f , at times, slightly i n - accurately."'""'" By now, however, we can be confident that the chronological sequence in Catch-22 does hold together in an i n t e l l i g i b l e way, though this scarcely matters since Heller's themes originate not from this "deep structure" but from the principle of disunity which is made confusedly clear to us. It is the unity of linear time, after a l l , that characters attempt to evade because, in Heller's war, i t f l i e s them directly to the threat of death. The only way to protect oneself in the face of such vulnerability is to fight ruthless time i t s e l f , and there are characters other than Yossarian who do precisely that. Hungry Joe, for example, states his 160 p o s i t i o n on the matter q u i t e c l e a r l y to Huple: " L i s t e n k i d , " he explained h a r s h l y to Huple very l a t e one evening, " i f you want to l i v e i n t h i s t e n t , you've got to do l i k e I do. You's got to r o l l your w r i s t watch up i n a p a i r of wool socks every n i g h t and keep i t on the bottom of your f o o t l o c k e r on the other s i d e of the room" (C-22, pp. 47-48). L i k e Quentin i n Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury when he smashes h i s w r i s t watch i n an attempt to escape time, so too these c h a r a c t e r s , faced w i t h the t h r e a t of death on each bombing m i s s i o n , devise methods of evasion which, l i k e those of Quentin and of N i k o l a i and A p o l l o n i n P e t e r s - burg, i l l u s t r a t e the a b s u r d i t y of doing so. S i m i l a r l y , i n The Secret Agent, characters must f i g h t a p a i n f u l l y prolonged time; the c l o c k on the l a n d i n g of the s t a i r s to V e r l o c ' s bedroom counts o f f the seconds which seem l i k e hours i n the s i l e n c e s between Winnie and V e r l o c , and, of course, the bomb i t s e l f i s intended to blow up the Greenwich meritdian, the mathe- m a t i c a l demarker of time. The f i g h t against time i s p a r t l y a f i g h t against the i n s t a n t of death, f o r i t can, i n Pincher M a r t i n f a s h i o n , c o n t a i n an e t e r n i t y of h o r r o r . Inspector Heat so imagines S t e v i e ' s death, as do N i k o l a i and A p o l l o n t h e i r own. Y o s s a r i a n , because of t h i s f e a r , i s drawn to h o s p i t a l s where death i s more "reasonable," where i t takes "longer"; there i s "none of that now-I-am-and-now-I-ain't" (C-22, p. 168). He expresses the idea more power f u l l y i n the f o l l o w i n g passage which describes the experience of f l i g h t combat: 161 ... hung out there i n f r o n t l i k e some goddam c a n t i - l e v e r e d g o l d f i s h i n some goddam c a n t i l e v e r e d g o l d f i s h bowl w h i l e the goddam f o u l b l ack t i e r s of f l a k were b u r s t i n g and booming and b i l l o w i n g a l l around and above and below him i n a c l i m b i n g , c r a c k i n g , staggered, banging, phantasmagorical, cosmological wickedness that j a r r e d and tossed and shi v e r e d , c l a t t e r e d and pi e r c e d , and threatened to a n n i h i l a t e them a l l i n one s p l i n t e r of a second i n one va s t f l a s h of f i r e (C-22, pp. 44-45). Dunbar, too, i s obsessed w i t h the moment, but he f e a r s that the moment does not c o n t a i n enough time: "Do you know how long a year takes when i t ' s going away?" Dunbar repeated to C l e v i n g e r . "This l o n g . " He snapped h i s f i n g e r s . "A second ago you were stepping i n t o c o l l e g e w i t h your lungs f u l l of f r e s h a i r . Today you're an o l d man." "Old?" asked Clevinger w i t h s u r p r i s e . "What are you t a l k i n g about?" "Old." "I'm not o l d . " "You're inches away from death every time you go on a m i s s i o n . How much o l d e r can you be a t your age? A h a l f minute before that you were stepping i n t o h i g h school, and an unhooked b r a s s i e r e was as c l o s e as you ever hoped to get to Paradise. Only a f i f t h of a second before that you were a small k i d w i t h a ten-week summer v a c a t i o n that l a s t e d a hundred thousand years and s t i l l ended too soon. Z i p ! They go r o c k e t i n g by so f a s t . How the h e l l e l s e are you ever going to slow down time?" Dunbar was almost angry when he f i n i s h e d (C-22, p. 3 4 ) . The "how e l s e " r e f e r s to co n s c i o u s l y sought boredom and disc o m f o r t , Dunbar's s o l u t i o n to the r a p i d passage of time. Consequently, Dunbar l i e s i n h o s p i t a l w i t h Y o s s a r i a n "working hard at i n c r e a s i n g h i s l i f e span" by " c u l t i v a t i n g boredom" (C-22, p. 3 ) . And l a t e r we read that Dunbar loved shooting skeet because he hated every minute of i t and time passed so slo w l y . He had 162 figured out that a single hour on the skeet-shooting range with people l i k e Havermeyer and Appleby could be worth as much as eleven-times-seventeen years (C-22, p. 33). He would agree with Ossipon who, at the end of The Secret Agent, insists to the Professor: "It's time that you need. You—if you met a man who could give you for certain ten years of time, you would c a l l him your master" (SA, p. 245). Dunbar's perception of time f l i t t i n g by the present and then, once past, seeming like a moment, is not unlike Sofia's perception of time during her carriage ride through Petersburg. She experiences "pieces" of her l i f e " f a l l i n g away" into the past which is a kind of void "swallowing piece after piece." Her entire l i f e " f a l l s away" as though "her l i f e had not yet existed" (P, p. 120). Paradoxically, in these novels, the moment, particularly the instant of death, can seem li k e an eternity, yet extended experience over a period of years can be reduced to a fraction of a second. The paradox is encapsulated in Dunbar's reaction to the Bologna mission: Bologna should have exulted Dunbar, because the minutes dawdled and the hours dragged like centuries. Instead i t tortured him, because he knew he was going to be killed (C-22, p. 110). Dunbar's solution works only i f the prolonging, boring activity is innocent—such as shooting skeet—but when the solution is dangerous— shooting at men who shoot back—then the delight of discomfort turns to sheer torture. Yossarian's solution i s the only alternative. For Dunbar, then, shooting skeet (another kind of evasive action like 163 Yossarian's) i s h i s s o l u t i o n to the p a i n f u l sensation of a d i s t o r t e d time, the d i r e c t r e s u l t of war experience. Such d i s t o r t i o n makes i t s e l f f e l t at the l e v e l of s t y l e as w e l l as at the l e v e l s of image and n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e . E s p e c i a l l y i n the f i r s t h a l f of the nov e l , where the chronology of events i s most confused, H e l l e r ' s language i s conspicuous f o r the f r e - quency of temporal c l u e s . Many of h i s sentences begin w i t h or co n t a i n the phrase "the time when," and the f o l l o w i n g passage contains a r e p r e s e n t a t i v e number of l i n g u i s t i c time markers: On the other s i d e of Havermeyer stood the tent McWatt no longer shared w i t h C l e v i n g e r , who had s t i l l not returned when Yo s s a r i a n came out of the h o s p i t a l . McWatt shared h i s tent now w i t h Nately, who was away i n Rome... (C-22, p. 13, i t a l i c s mine). This compact package of events makes l i t t l e sense u n t i l those same events have been narrated l a t e r i n the nov e l . On other occasions, the s t y l e turns to a kind of s l a p s t i c k confusion, an absurd chain of cause and e f f e c t : I t was a ni g h t of s u r p r i s e s f o r Appleby, who was as l a r g e as Yossarian and as strong and who swung at Yo s s a r i a n as hard as he could w i t h a punch that flooded Chief White H a l f o a t w i t h such joyous e x c i t e - ment that he turned and busted Colonel Moodus i n the nose w i t h a punch that f i l l e d General Dreedle w i t h such mellow g r a t i f i c a t i o n that he had Colonel Cath- c a r t throw the c h a p l a i n out of the o f f i c e r ' s . c l u b ... (C-22, p. 52). The same device works f o r the novel's s p a t i a l imagery which manifests i t s e l f i n a h o u s e - t h a t - J a c k - b u i l t s t y l e : Immediately alongside [Yossarian's tent] was the abandoned r a i l r o a d d i t c h that c a r r i e d the pipe that c a r r i e d the a v i a t i o n g a s o l i n e down to the f u e l trucks at the a i r f i e l d (C-22, p. 12). 164 This s p a t i a l l i n e which goes d i r e c t l y from Yossarian's tent to the a i r - f i e l d i s continued l a t e r i n the novel by a bomb l i n e on a map, "a narrow red ribbon tacked across the mainland" (C-22, p. 118), which v i s u a l i z e s the f l i g h t path from the a i r f i e l d to the ta r g e t area. I t a l s o , of course, i s a v i s u a l symbol f o r the journey which brings them to the thr e a t of death. And thus, j u s t as the novel's l i n e a r time l i n e goes d i r e c t l y to Snowden's death, so too the s p a t i a l l i n e p o i n t s to the same p o s s i b i l i t y f o r Y o s s a r i a n and h i s c o l l e a g u e s . So powerful i s t h i s image t h a t , as they wait f o r the o f f i c i a l go-ahead f o r the Bologna m i s s i o n , the l i n e begins to assume ominous p r o p o r t i o n s : For hours they stared r e l e n t l e s s l y at the s c a r l e t r ibbon on the map and hated i t because i t would not move up high enough to encompass the c i t y . When nigh t f e l l , they congregated i n the darkness w i t h f l a s h l i g h t s , c ontinuing t h e i r macabre v i g i l a t the bomb l i n e i n brooding entreaty as though hoping to move the ribbon up by the c o l l e c t i v e weight of t h e i r s u l l e n prayers (C-22, p. 119). This advancing red ribbon begins to take on some of the topographical s i g - n i f i c a n c e of Bely's dot w i t h i n a c i r c l e which s i g n i f i e s the expanding growth of the c i t y and which informs the novel as a s t r u c t u r i n g p r i n c i p l e . The bomb l i n e i s not so i n t e g r a l to the s t r u c t u r e of Catch-22, but i t does provide an apt topographical image f o r the r e l a t i o n s h i p between the characters on Pianosa and the world beyond. The geometric image, e s p e c i a l l y of the c i t y , has, f o r James and Conrad, i t s o r i g i n i n the Dickensian l a b y r i n t h i n e g r i d of s t r e e t s , i n the monotonous r e g u l a r i t y of Coketown's sooty s t r e e t s (Hard Times), and i n the confused s n a r l of London's lanes and a l l e y s ( Martin C h u z z l e w i t ) . While 165 H e l l e r ' s geometry i s not so pervasive as Conrad's i s i n The Secret Agent, General Peckem's d i r e c t i v e that " a l l tents i n the Mediterranean theater of operations ... be pitched along p a r a l l e l l i n e s " (C-22, p. 21), represents, n e v e r t h e l e s s , the a b s u r d i s t culmination of Dickens's "devious mazes" and of Conrad's " i n t e r m i n a b l e s t r a i g h t p e r s p e c t i v e s . " I t i s a l s o General Peckem who i n s i s t s that the bombardiers f l y i n p a r t i c u l a r formations so that there w i l l be an a t t r a c t i v e p a t t e r n when the bombs explode c l o s e together, as seen from an a e r i a l photograph. Such geometry i n Petersburg, as we have seen, has numerous m y s t i c a l and h i s t o r i c a l nuances; as imagery, i t i s an v e l a b o r a t e set of symbols i n the Symbolist mode. H e l l e r ' s imagery forgoes the nuances of the emblematic o c c u l t , yet inasmuch as h i s geometry i s ass o c i a t e d w i t h the b u r e a u c r a t i c , o v e r l y r a t i o n a l mind, i t f u n c t i o n s the same way as i t does i n both Petersburg and The Secret Agent. Senator A p o l l o n A p o l l o n o v i c h i s , a f t e r a l l , a sla v e to the " o f f i c i a l c i r c u l a r s " which f l o w voluminously from h i s desk and which c i r c u l a t e end- l e s s l y through government o f f i c e s . Bureaucracy expands s i m i l a r l y i n Catch-22 (as i t does i n the Circumlocution O f f i c e of Dickens's L i t t l e D o r r i t ) , f o r we read that Major Major's "simple communications s w e l l p r o d i g i o u s l y i n t o huge manuscripts" (C-22, p. 91). The "L o y a l t y Oath" becomes a bur e a u c r a t i c tangle and Wintergreen's communications get ho p e l e s s l y confused. A c t i o n i s j u s t as complicated by bureaucracy i n The Secret Agent i n which Verloc endures the pressures of three o f f i c e i n t e r v i e w s i n a bureau c r a t i c h i e r - archy, and i n which the Inspector's d i l i g e n c e i s motivated by bureau c r a t i c l a d d e r - c l i m b i n g . The bur e a u c r a t i c mind i n each of these novels i s the o v e r l y r a t i o n a l mind that l o s e s touch w i t h e f f e c t i v e and contingent 166 r e a l i t i e s ; i t is thus unable to make moral distinctions. And whether this is the governmental mind (Bely's Senator) or the scien t i f i c mind (Conrad's Professor) or the military mind (Heller's Generals, Majors and Colonels), i t makes l i t t l e difference; they are a l l capable of crimes against the powerless and the weak. While geometry provides the spatial metaphor for the particular nightmare of extreme rationality, i t i s , in Catch-22, the city of Rome which provides a larger metaphor for the more general nightmare of the 1 2 bombardier's war experience. In a kind of Dostoevskyian dream scene, Rome is imaged with spatial distortions, parallel to the temporal ones, in much the same way that London is for James and Conrad, and Petersburg for Bely. As Yossarian walks through Rome late in the novel, he could be in either London or Petersburg when he notices "the yellow bulbs at the entrance which sizzled in the dampness like wet torches. A f r i g i d rain was fa l l i n g . He began walking slowly, pushing u p h i l l " (C-22, p. 427). Going further, he encounters a young boy, poor, sickly, and wretched; Yossarian is reminded of cripples and of cold and hungry infants and unhoused animals. He i s struck by " a l l the shivering, stupefying misery in a world that never yet provided enough heat and food and justice for a l l but an in- genious and unscrupulous handful. What a lousy earth!" (C-̂ 22, p. 428). The yellow lights and the drizzling rain are very much like the imagery of The Secret Agent, but the passage a l l i e s Catch-22 more closely to The Princess Casamassima at the end of which Hyacinth bemoans, like Yossarian, a world ridden with corruption. He moves among people who "reek with gin and f i l t h , " who are "foul as lepers," and who are "saturated with alcohol 167 and vice, brutal, bedraggled, obscene." The entire earth, he thinks, is a "planet overgrown with such vermin" (PC, p. 410). Thus, as London is to Hyacinth, Rome is to Yossarian: a pathetic fallacy for misery and despair. Both characters, at the end of their respective novels, have reached a point of c r i s i s , when they can no longer bear the strain of contradictory forces (Catch-22's) pulling at their moral sen s i b i l i t i e s . Yossarian's walk through Rome, however, is more explicitly a walk through violence than Hyacinth's. In this respect, and in the general atmosphere of the city, Catch-22 is closer to The Secret Agent. In the "shadows of the narrow winding street," Yossarian travels down a corridor of cruelties: blood, hunger, rape, robbery, corpses, and "mobs, mobs, mobs. Mobs with clubs were in control everywhere" (C-22, p. 432). Like Ossipon, he walks, i t seems, interminably through a labyrinth of winding streets. And just as characters seem to appear mysteriously out of lamp- posts in Conrad's foggy London, so too the characters are distorted by Rome's streetlights which s p i l l "gloom over half the street, throwing everything v i s i b l e off balance" (C-22, p. 430). In The Secret Agent, light and shadow are melodramatic; Conrad creates a world of ominously cloaked shadows stalking aimlessly and endlessly, victims of guilt and their own moral corruption. In Petersburg, where lampposts and shadows are just as prominent, the emphasis rests mainly on the reduction of characters to mere "shades" of a more powerful and enduring reality. In Catch-22, Heller stresses the fact that everything i s "off balance"; "The tops of the sheer buildings slanted in weird, surrealistic perspective, and the street seemed t i l t e d " (C-22, p. 427). The scene, lik e the logic of Pianosa 168 l i f e , governed as i t i s - b y Catch-22, i s d i s t o r t e d i n the s t y l e of expression- ism. L i k e the temporal s t r u c t u r e of the book which plays havoc w i t h c h r o n o l o g i c a l time, the s p a t i a l imagery of the Rome scene creates a h o r r i f y - ing i l l o g i c a l i t y that suggests the d i s t o r t e d space of nightmare. In yet another part of the Rome s e c t i o n of the nove l , there i s an uncanny j u x t a p o s i t i o n of temporal and s p a t i a l imagery which hearkens back s t r i k i n g l y to Conrad. The l i g h t on the next lamppost was out, too, the globe broken. B u i l d i n g s and f e a t u r e l e s s shapes flowed by him [Yossarian] n o i s e l e s s l y as though borne past immutably on the surface of some rank and ti m e l e s s t i d e (C-22, p. 432). In The Secret Agent, the s t r e e t l i g h t s below V e r l o c ' s bedroom window echo the steps of a passerby who "had s t a r t e d to pace out a l l e t e r n i t y , from gas-lamp to gas-lamp i n a n i g h t without end..." (SA, p. 55), a f t e r which V e r l o c hears the "drowsy t i c k i n g of the o l d c l o c k . " The gas-lamps here provide the s p a t i a l image which echoes the temporal images of f o o t s t e p s and t i c k i n g c l o c k . H e l l e r ' s r e n d i t i o n i s s l i g h t l y d i f f e r e n t , yet the f a c t t h a t the s t r e e t l i g h t s are broken and consequently that the shapes are " f e a t u r e l e s s " and, most important, that they fl o w " n o i s e l e s s l y " by on a "tim e l e s s t i d e , " means that time and space f o r Yossarian, as f o r Conrad's passerby, go on to e t e r n i t y . In a way, H e l l e r ' s image i s a c o r o l l a r y of negation. For Conrad, a v i s u a l image echoes a temporal image: gas-lamps echo the sound of f o o t s t e p s . In Catch-22, the s t r e e t l i g h t s are broken and so they echo s i l e n c e ; shapes f l o w past " n o i s e l e s s l y . " 169 H e l l e r ' s e x p r e s s i o n i s t i c s t r e e t s , however, are more than an image of anarchy and s p i r i t u a l vacancy. Rome, we are reminded by the t i t l e of one of H e l l e r ' s chapters, i s the " E t e r n a l C i t y . " Being an e t e r n a l c i t y , i t i s appropriate that Y o s s a r i a n should discover there not only present misery and decay but a l s o past c e n t u r i e s of misery and decay. At t h i s p o i n t , the novel a m p l i f i e s i t s thematic outcry against the contemporary th e a t r e of war to i n c l u d e the much l a r g e r h i s t o r i c a l one. I t i s not the l a r g e , h i s t o r i c a l panarama of Bely's Petersburg, but i t i s l a r g e enough, never- t h e l e s s , f o r Yossarian to r e a l i z e w i t h i n s i g h t of the Colosseum, which has been bombed to a " d i l a p i d a t e d s h e l l , " that Someone had to do something. Every v i c t i m was a c u l p r i t , every c u l p r i t a v i c t i m , and somebody had to stand up sometime to t r y to break the lousy chain of i n h e r i t e d h a b i t that was i m p e r i l i n g them a l l (C-22, p. 421). A few pages l a t e r , f o l l o w i n g the example of Orr who rows to Sweden, Yos s a r i a n deserts and thereby s y m b o l i c a l l y breaks t h i s "lousy chain of i n h e r i t e d h a b i t . " U n l i k e other c h a r a c t e r s , Yossarian has the moral back- bone to question the patterns of h i s t o r y and to devise a value system on which to act independently. Not that mankind's i n a n i t i e s can be h a l t e d by h i s a c t i o n , f o r H e l l e r ' s i d e a l i s m , inherent i n Yossarian's d e s e r t i o n , i s coloured by the f a t a l i s m of the o l d man i n the b r o t h e l i n Rome. He under- stands h i s t o r y i n a way that most characters do not. "Rome was destroyed, Greece was destroyed, P e r s i a was destroyed, Spain was destroyed. A l l great c o u n t r i e s are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you r e a l l y t h i n k your own country [America] w i l l l a s t ? Forever? Keep i n mind that the earth 170 i t s e l f is destined to be destroyed by the sun in twenty-five million years or so." (C-22, p. 249). Thus, amid the realization that destruction and despair are fixed and per- manent principles, Yossarian's desertion i s , at best, the action of a meliorist. The old man's oration on history, which ends with the notion of the apocalyptic destruction of time and space, is really the grand culmination of the "destruction" of time and space which originated, for Yossarian, with Snowden's death. Thus, just as Stevie's death enlarges in characters' minds to the "damned hole" of eternity, and just as, for Nikolai and Apollon, the individual death expands, as they imagine i t , to apocalyptic proportions, so too Snowden's death functions as synecdoche for the apocalyptic upheaval of time and space. The explosion which causes Snowden's death is circumscribed in the text because i t is the structural metaphor that explodes the narra- tive spatially and temporally and which, at the same time, is defined by that same narrative. If we accept Joseph Frank's view in The Widening Gyre that the modern novel, l i k e modern painting, has moved away from depth and perspective where objects exist naturalistically in time and space towards a plane of spatial 13 form where disequilibrium is made possible, then both Petersburg and Catch-22 f i t neatly into the scheme. Facing the apocalyptic disequilibrium of his time and place (revolution in early twentieth-century Petersburg), Bely sought refuge in the mystical Symbolism of geometry, of line, cube and sphere, where historical depth and perspective are collapsed into a more 171 confined time (twenty-four hours). It is as Frank speculates—the historic- a l imagination has been transformed into a mythic imagination for which historical time as such does not exist. Heller, too, takes the novel away from i t s temporal shackles towards a kind of extended horror of the moment, the kind that Inspector Heat imagines Stevie to have experienced in The Secret Agent. But while Heller's novel i s , undoubtedly, temporally collapsed, the mythic dimension is not so evident as i t is in Petersburg. In i t s place, Heller inherits the humanist moral and social sensibility of Dickens, James and Conrad. The absent centre of Catch-22 helps to ill u s t r a t e how firmly rooted that tradition i s , regardless of the novel's Post-modernist innovations and i t s forays into the absurd. 172 Notes Joseph H e l l e r , Catch-22 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955), p. 457. Further references to t h i s e d i t i o n f o l l o w the a b b r e v i a t i o n C-22. 2 P a t r i c i a M e r i v a l e draws the connection t h i s way: The b i t s of S t e v i e , picked up w i t h a shovel to f u r n i s h f o r t h V e r loc's c a n n i b a l f e a s t , remind us, as the e v i s c e r a t e d Snowden does w i t h the c a n n i b a l h i n t s of the extruded stewed tomatoes, that "man i s garbage" (C-22, p. 450). See: "Catch-22 and The Secret Agent: Mechanical Man, the Hole i n the Centre, and the ' P r i n c i p l e s of I n b u i l t Chaos,'" E n g l i s h Studies i n Canada 7 (December, 1981) 4: 436. 3 C l i n t o n S. Burhans J r . , " S p i n d r i f t and the Sea: S t r u c t u r a l Patterns and U n i f y i n g Elements i n Catch-22," i n Twentieth Century L i t e r a t u r e 19 (October, 1973) 4: 230-50. 4 John Wain, "A New Novel about Old Troubles," i n C r i t i c a l Q u a r t e r l y 5 (1963): 168-73. James M. M e l l a r d , "Catch-22: Deja. Vu and the L a b y r i n t h of Memory," i n A Catch-22 Casebook, edited by F r e d e r i c k K i l e y and Walter McDonald (New York: Thomas Y. C r o w e l l , 1973), pp. 117-118. ^ James M. M e l l a r d , "Catch-22: Deja Vu and the L a b y r i n t h of Memory," p. 115. ^ Jan Solomon, "The S t r u c t u r e of Joseph H e l l e r ' s Catch-22," i n C r i t i q u e : Studies i n Modern F i c t i o n 9 (1967) 2: 48. Tony Tanner, C i t y of Words (London: Jonathan Cape, 1971), p. 83. 8 » James M. M e l l a r d t r e a t s the use of flashbacks as deja vu: Operating w i t h i n the minds of the i n v i s i b l e n a r r a t o r ... the method of deja vu "proclaims" the w r i t e r ' s absolute need of the reader's cooperation, an a c t i v e , conscious c r e a t i v e a s s i s t a n c e . "Catch-22: Deja" Vu and the L a b y r i n t h of Memory," p. 110. 173 Simon Wincelberg c l a i m s : "There i s almost no p l o t to speak o f , at l e a s t u n t i l the very end, by which time p r a c t i c a l l y everyone you care about, w i t h the exception of the hero, i s dead or m i s s i n g . " See: F r e d e r i c k K i l e y and Walter McDonald, A "Catch-22" Casebook (New York: Thomas Y. Crowe l l , 1973), p. 17. John J . Murray concurs: " ... i t ' s not a novel at a l l but a s e r i e s of Overburyean (and overbearing) character sketches con- nected l o o s e l y by the picaresque hero," K i l e y and McDonald, A Casebook, p. 5. And Roger H. Smith i n Daedalus 92 (Winter, 1963): 155-65 says n a i v e l y : "The book t e l l s no s t o r y " ; he worries that " a r b i t r a r y mixture, formlessness and success" are duping a readership i n t o t h i n k i n g the author i s "experimental and 'modern.'" 1 0 The observation i s P a t r i c i a M erivale's i n "Catch-22 and The Secret Agent," p. 431. Jan Solomon i n "The S t r u c t u r e of Joseph H e l l e r ' s Catch-22," C r i t i q u e : Studies i n Modern F i c t i o n 9 (1967): 46-57, claims that H e l l e r creates a c h r o n o l o g i c a l i m p o s s i b i l i t y . C l i n t o n S. Burnhans J r . , i n " S p i n d r i f t and the Sea: S t r u c t u r a l P a t t e r n s and U n i f y i n g Elements i n Catch-22," Twentieth Century L i t e r a t u r e 19 (October, 1973): 239-50, a l s o has t r o u b l e w i t h H e l l e r ' s p l o t . Doug Gaukroger, however, i n "Time S t r u c t u r e i n Catch-22," A Casebook, r e f u t e s Solomon and s o r t s out the chronology f o r us a c c u r a t e l y . 12 There are two a l l u s i o n s to Raskolnikov: Yossarian sees, i n Rome, a man "beating a dog w i t h a s t i c k l i k e the man who was beating the horse w i t h a whip i n Raskolnikov's dream" (C-22, p. 430), and e a r l y i n the novel, Clevinger accuses Yossarian by saying "You're no b e t t e r than R a s k o l n i k o v — " (C-22, p. 15). 13 Joseph Frank, The Widening Gyre.: C r i s i s and Mastery i n Modern L i t e r a t u r e (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana U n i v e r s i t y Press, Midland Books, 1968) . 174 CHAPTER VI Thomas Pynchon's G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow: The S i n g l e Root -Lost Henry Adams, the American d i l e t t a n t e who was so d i s c o m f i t e d by h i s i n i t i a t i o n i n t o twentieth-century science, l i k e n e d h i s t o r y to the curve of a cannon b a l l which a c c e l e r a t e d through the ages u n t i l 1900 when, suddenly, "the c o n t i n u i t y snapped.""'" The chaos, fragmentation and un p r e d i c t a b l e e x p l o s i o n which r e s u l t s , presumably, from that snap of c o n t i n u i t y , i s what Thomas Pynchon explores i n h i s reworking of the metaphor as a rocket t r a j e c t o r y i n G r a v i t y ' s 2 Rainbow (1973). C e r t a i n l y , i n Henry Adams, as an i n t e l l e c t d i s p l a y i n g the t r i p l e t hreat of l i t e r a t u r e , science and p o l i t i c s , Pynchon could not f i n d a be t t e r a n c e s t r a l countryman. G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow represents, by i t s d i s t o r t i o n s of n a r r a t i v e c o n t i n u i t y , the kind of " v e r t i g i n o u s v i o l e n c e " that Adams prophe- s i e d and feared would c h a r a c t e r i z e twentieth-century l i f e . Encyclopedic i n 3 scope, the novel spreads before us v i r t u a l l y a l l of the themes and images— and many of the n a r r a t i v e s t r a t e g i e s — w h i c h have been accumulated and developed w i t h i n the Di c k e n s - t o - H e l l e r t r a d i t i o n . But i t i s not so much the presence of these themes (anarchy, war, threatened humanism and encroaching o b j e c t i v i s m ) and corresponding images (of time, space, l a b y r i n t h i n e c i t y and explosion) which i s s i g n i f i c a n t as i t i s t h e i r d i s t o r t i o n i n the n a r r a t i v e . I t i s a d i s t o r t i o n which focuses sharply f o r us the Post-Modernist landscape i n which Pynchon's work now occupies a comfortable and even c e n t r a l p o s i t i o n . . 175 On the most v i s i b l e l e v e l , Pynchon's novel seems c l o s e r to Bely's Petersburg than to works by n o v e l i s t s i n the English/American t r a d i t i o n , not- withstanding the f a c t that both Catch-22 and G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow share a hero who i s d r i v e n to extreme paranoia by the experience of war. In i t s handling of that character, however, and i n i t s h i s t o r i c a l and geographic sweep, and e s p e c i a l l y i n i t s e x p l o i t a t i o n of a complicated Symbolist gadgetry, G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow d i s p l a y s a f f i n i t y w i t h Petersburg. S p a t i a l l y , Pynchon's novel t r a v e l s v i r t u a l l y world wide w i t h s i g n i f i c a n t scenes i n England, America, France, S w i t z e r l a n d , A f r i c a , Russia and Germany. Equal l y as wide-ranging i s the sweep of h i s t o r i c a l time which moves from seventeenth-century Europe to post-war Germany to modern-day C a l i f o r n i a . B e l y , we r e c a l l , s h i f t e d us u n a p o l o g e t i c a l l y from medieval in v a s i o n s of Russia to the aborted r e v o l u t i o n i n 1905 and from the snow-swept expanses of S i b e r i a to the b u r e a u c r a t i c centre of Petersburg and to the a r i d Egyptian desert. E s p e c i a l l y i n the scenes which deal w i t h T c h i t c h e r i n e ' s adventures i n Russia, Pynchon's sense of the Russian landscape i s c l o s e to B e l y ' s . In G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow, the n a r r a t o r speaks of t e c h n o c r a t i c wolves e r e c t i n g settlements out of tundra,^ e n t i r e urban a b s t r a c t i o n s out of i c e and snow .... Pynchon has, no doubt, Petersburg i n mind, f o r more than most c i t i e s , i t i s a c c u r a t e l y described as an "urban a b s t r a c t i o n , " planned mathematically by Peter the Great i n an i n h o s p i t a b l e c l i m a t e i n an i n h o s p i t a b l e l o c a t i o n . The n o t i o n of the c i t y as an a b s t r a c t i o n and as a construct which i s the r e s u l t of " t e c h n o c r a t i c w o l v e s " — t h a t i s , a r a t i o n a l i s m which d e v o u r s — f i t s Pynchon's thematic purpose as n e a t l y as B e l y ' s . For B e l y , however, the image i s the c e n t r a l source and shaper of n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e ; f o r Pynchon i t i s only one 176 of many support images i n the l a r g e r network of geometric and s c i e n t i f i c imagery which i s c o n t r o l l e d u l t i m a t e l y by the rainbow arc of r o c k e t r y . Bely d i s t o r t s the r a t i o n a l i s m of Russian c i t y s c a p e and character w i t h b i t t e r i r o n y but r a r e l y , u n l i k e Pynchon, w i t h the i r r e v e r e n t l y grotesque. In Petersburg, the equestrian statue of Peter the Great comes to l i f e and g a l l o p s through the s t r e e t s of the c i t y , i l l u s t r a t i n g v i s i b l y that the s p i r i t of h i s t o r y r e t u r n s . But i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow, f o r G a l i n a , the severe schoolmarm i s o l a t e d i n remote Rus s i a , the famous Petersburg statue becomes T c h i t c h e r i n e transformed i n t o plundering r e v o l u t i o n a r y manhood, and so she stoops, "buttocks arched skyward, await i n g the f i r s t touch of h i m — o f It ... s t e e l hooves, t e e t h , some w h i s t l i n g sweep of q u i l l s across her spine ... the r i n g i n g bronze of an equestrian s t a t u e i n a square, and her f a c e , pressed i n t o the seismic e a r t h ..." (GR, p. 399. Pynchon's i t a l i c s and e l l i p s e s ) . Russian themes and images a l s o enter G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow by way of Pyn- chon's c r i t i q u e of P a v l o v i a n c o n d i t i o n i n g . Pavlov, s i g n i f i c a n t l y , c a r r i e d out most of h i s research i n Petersburg at the t u r n of the century, the p r e c i s e time and l o c a t i o n of Bely's novel. In f a c t , Pynchon makes s p e c i f i c mention of the events of 1905; the n a r r a t o r , d e s c r i b i n g Pointsman's experiments on dogs at The White V i s i t a t i o n i n England, speaks of the s c a l e used to measure the drops of dogs' s a l i v a : a s c a l e marked o f f i n " drops"—an a r b i t r a r y u n i t , probably not the same as the a c t u a l l y f a l l e n drops of 1905, of St. Petersburg. But the number of drops f o r t h i s l a b and Dog Vanya and the metronome at 80, i s each time p r e d i c t a b l e (GR, p. 90). The image i s thematic, f o r s c i e n t i f i c experiment, designed to c o n t r o l the random, i s i m p l i c i t l y connected here to p o l i t i c a l b r u t a l i t y and the s p i l l a g e 177 of human blood, the connection which Pynchon chooses to explore, i n the grandest p r o p o r t i o n s , as the c h i e f cause of "The Great Dying" of World War I I . Slothrop's u n c l a s s i f i a b l e b e h a v i o u r — h e reverses the stimulus-response p a t t e r n — t h u s represents a f o r c e f u l t hreat to Pointsman, the a r c h - b e h a v i o u r i s t . One of the most prominent p l o t l i n e s i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow f o l l o w s the chase that ensues from that c o n f l i c t and Slothrop's p o t e n t i a l danger i n the hands of experimenters. Pavlov represents f o r Pynchon the q u i n t e s s e n t i a l s c i e n t i s t , the passionate devotee of a r a t i o n a l i s t i c e xplanation of a l l behaviour. B . P . Bobkln, Pavlov's biographer, n o t i c e d that Pavlov, even at the age of s i x t y - two, was s t i l l unwearied i n h i s enthusiasm f o r students' experiments: He looked l i k e a happy l o v e r , f o r whom nothing e x i s t e d but the object of h i s love and to whom a l l e l s e was of secondary c o n s i d e r a t i o n . Pavlov was a true s c i e n t i s t , a s c i e n t i s t by God's grace!"' Pointsman i s the d i s t o r t e d extension of that m e n t a l i t y ; h i s hands become hot and moist as he l e a f s through Pavlov's theory, which he c a l l s "The Book" and which "might have been a r a r e work of e r o t i c a " (GR, p. 101). Pointsman, how- ever, i s not without h i s humanistic s i d e , f o r l a t e i n the novel we l e a r n that he was something of a poet. Pavlov, too, i s not without a humanistic s i d e ; he had very r e s p e c t a b l e l i t e r a r y connections, f o r h i s w i f e was a f r i e n d of Dostoevsky's, and the Pavlovs held l i t e r a r y s o i r e e s attended by " a l l the great t a l e n t " : Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Plescheev, Melnikov and others. Pavlov, according to Bobkin, was a staunch fan of Herbert Spencer (propounder of education i n the sciences and of a philosophy based on Darwin), and at the same time, Pavlov was f r e q u e n t l y heard to say that i t was Shakespeare who 178 brought him and h i s w i f e , Sara, together. Pynchon appears to have a f a s c i n a t i o n f o r f i g u r e s whose l i v e s , l i k e h i s own, c o n t a i n the mixture of system-building ( p r i m a r i l y s c i e n t i f i c ) and l i t e r a t u r e . In a d d i t i o n to Pavlov and Henry Adams, we could add at l e a s t two other i n f l u e n t i a l f i g u r e s to the l i s t : V l a d i m i r Nabokov, the n o v e l i s t - l e p i d o p t e r i s t (Pavlov a l s o c o l l e c t e d b u t t e r f l i e s ) and Jorge L u i s Borges, the l i b r a r i a n and short s t o r y w r i t e r . Each of these men explores, i n h i s own way, the dilemma of concocting systems i n a seemingly c h a o t i c world. And whether i t i s Pavlov d i l i g e n t l y c l a s s i f y i n g u n p r e d i c t a b l e behaviour; Adams d e v i s i n g a dynamic theory of h i s t o r y to account f o r the anarchy of contempo- r a r y events; Nabokov b u i l d i n g f o r h i s characters elaborate and o f t e n c r i m i n a l schemes which are f o i l e d by f a t e ; or Borges s t r u c t u r i n g elegant myths to b l u r v i s i b l e r e a l i t y — t h e p a t t e r n i s the same. S c i e n t i s t , h i s t o r i a n , l e p i d o p t e r i s t and l i b r a r i a n — t h e y a l l , l i k e Pynchon, are enamored of the b e a u t i f u l construct and, at the same,time, are f e a r f u l that i t may c o l l a p s e or grow out of c o n t r o l . System-building i s e s p e c i a l l y evident at The White V i s i t a t i o n where Roger Mexico, a s t a t i s t i c i a n , keeps a g r i d of V-2 rocket s t r i k e s during the London B l i t z . The g r i d i s Pynchon's h y p e r b o l i c v e r s i o n of the geometric c i t y which we have seen i n Dickens's Coketown, Conrad's London, Bely's Petersburg and H e l l e r ' s Pianosa and Rome. More than these other c i t i e s , however, Pynchon's London fades behind the g r i d , to the extent that the system achieves a greater r e a l i t y than the c i t y i t s e l f . Mexico works from an o f f i c e dominated now by a glimmering map, a window i n t o another landscape than winter Sussex, w r i t t e n names and s p i d e r i n g s t r e e t s , an i n k ghost of London, r u l e d 179 o f f i n t o 576 squares, a quarter square kilometer each. Rocket s t r i k e s are represented by red c i r c l e s (GR, p. 63). The red c i r c l e s on t h i s mapped g r i d of s p i d e r i n g s t r e e t s are uncannily c l o s e to the topographical image of a dot w i t h i n a c i r c l e which opens and extends through Petersburg. When Mexico overlays a map of Slothrop's sexual scores on t h i s g r i d , there i s a p e r f e c t c o r r e l a t i o n , f o r S l o t h r o p , when an i n f a n t , was mysterious- l y conditioned by L a s z l o Jamf to Impolex-G, an e l e c t r o n i c a l l y s e n s i t i v e p l a s t i c used i n the c o n s t r u c t i o n of r o c k e t s . The r e s u l t i s that Slothrop's e r e c t i o n s become an accurate i n d i c a t o r of rocket t a r g e t s . In Borges's s t o r y "Of E x a c t i t u d e i n Science," the o v e r l a y of maps creates an e q u a l l y f a n t a s t i c r e n d i t i o n of s c i e n t i f i c r a t i o n a l i s m gone to the extreme. In "that Empire" cartographers become so obsessed w i t h the accuracy of t h e i r map that they extend the s c a l e u n t i l , when i t i s o v e r l a i d on the l a n d , i t matches point f o r p o i n t each l o c a t i o n of the Empire. Such magnitude, of course, makes the map cumbersome, and so i t i s abandoned to "the Rigours of sun and Rain." Only i n the western deserts of t h i s land do remnants and t a t t e r e d fragments of the map remain; "no other r e l i c i s l e f t of the D i s c i p l i n e of Geography."^ The r a t i o n a l i s t i c system, then, grows out of c o n t r o l and returns to open formlessness. In G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow, Slothrop meets i n the Zone an Argentine named Francisco S q u a l i d o z z i who expresses t h i s same theme i n regard to South American empire b u i l d i n g : We are a l l obsessed w i t h b u i l d i n g l a b y r i n t h s , where before there was open p l a i n and sky. To draw ever more complex patterns on the blank sheet. We cannot abide that openness; i t i s t e r r o r to us. Look at Borges. ... the Argentine heart, i n i t s p e r v e r s i t y 180 and guilt, longs for a return to that f i r s t unscribbled serenity ... that anarchic oneness of pampas and sky... (GR, p. 307. Pynchon's i t a l i c s ; the f i r s t e l l i p s i s i s mine) . The absent-centred nature of Gravity's Rainbow results from precisely this, kind of desystemization. The post-war Zone is the kind of anarchic, un- structured world that Squalidozzi longs for. "In ordinary times," he wants to explain, "the center always wins. Its power grows with time, and that can't be reversed, not by ordinary means. Decentralizing, back toward anarchism, needs extraordinary times ... this War—this incredible War—just for the moment has wiped out the proliferation of l i t t l e states that's prevailed in Germany for a thousand years. Wiped i t clean. Opened i t " (GR, pp. 307-308. Pynchon's em- phasis) . Such openness is a mixed blessing, for while Squalidozzi is exuberant about the German Zone because "hope is limitless," he also realizes that "so is our danger." The metaphor, of course, works at the level of narrative structure, for at the same time that Gravity's Rainbow invites the paranoiac tendency to see connections everywhere and centralize the novel's themes, plots, characters and images into a unified a r t i s t i c system, i t also invites the opposite ten- dency of anti-paranoia which means refusing to see connections anywhere. The novel manages this not only by the use of themes and images of entropy, but also by flaunting the very largeness and multiplicity of i t s f i c t i o n a l parts, which demand to remain unsystematized and decentralized. In this sense, Gravity's Rainbow shares a narrative structure more li k e that of Petersburg than of The Secret Agent or Catch-22. The latter two novels achieve absent- centredness by virtue of indirectness around a central event; Gravity's 181 Rainbow, l i k e Petersburg, achieves i t s absent-centredness by v i r t u e of a negation of what Bely c a l l s the " c e n t r i p e t a l s e n s a t i o n . " And what the n a r r a t o r of Petersburg claims i s the r e s u l t of that negation i s a l s o an accurate d e s c r i p t i o n of G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow: "only the consciousness of shattered sensations remains whole" (J?, p. 262) . The negation of the c e n t r i p e t a l sensation, which becomes an a f f i r m a t i o n of absent-centredness, means that the c i t y , l i k e the characters who i n h a b i t i t , i s s p a t i a l l y contorted by that negation. The s p e c i a l f e a t u r e of Pynchon's handling of the c i t y , however, i s that no one c i t y predominates i n the n o v e l . Both London and B e r l i n , f o r example, share the same q u a l i t y of urban n i g h t - mare which has been evident i n the c i t i e s from Dickens onward. In G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow, i t i s as though the s i n g l e c i t y l o s e s the c e n t r i n g f u n c t i o n i t per- formed i n the n a r r a t i v e s t r u c t u r e s of previous absent-centred works and explodes i n t o a number of c i t y fragments. There has been a " s i n g l e root l o s t , way back there i n the May d e s o l a t i o n " (GR, p. 605). The Russian, American and E n g l i s h zones i n B e r l i n at the end of the war are the p o l i t i c a l i l l u s - t r a t i o n of t h i s p r i n c i p l e . "Separations are proceeding. Each a l t e r n a t i v e Zone speeds from a l l the others, i n f a t a l a c c e l e r a t i o n , r e d - s h i f t i n g , f l e e - i ng the Center" (GR, p. 605). 1 The centre or the " s i n g l e r o o t , " however, i s nothing that can be e a s i l y defined or regained; i t e x i s t s mainly as an a b s t r a c t i o n , as a s t r u c t u r i n g p r i n c i p l e which gives shape to randomness. Thus, " i n the Zone a f t e r 'The Great Dying' i s heard a soprano v o i c e s i n g i n g notes that never arrange themselves i n t o a melody, that f a l l apart i n the same way as dead p r o t e i n s ..." (GR, p. 723). The image i s r e m i n i s - cent of the one James uses to express Hyacinth's d i s i l l u s i o n e d view of the a n a r c h i s t , Hoffendahl. L i k e the P r i n c e s s ' s mastery of the piano (to which 182 Hyacinth l i s t e n s w i t h fawning a d m i r a t i o n ) , Hoffendahl's manipulation of people i s l i k e the mastery of so many notes i n h i s great "symphonic massacre." A s i m i l a r use of music i s found i n The Secret Agent: a mechanical r o l l e r piano executes " p a i n f u l l y detached notes" w i t h an "aggressive v i r t u o s i t y . " In the context of wartime or a n a r c h i s t disarrangement, melody, these t e x t s t e l l us, i s e i t h e r impossible or d i s s o n a n t l y mechanical. The movement towards fragmentation and d e c e n t r a l i z a t i o n i n the l a b y r i n t h of the German Zone does not only destroy coherence; i t a l s o i n v e r t s e x i s t i n g s t r u c t u r e s . Thus, the Zone i s imaged as an i n v e r s e mapping of the white and geometric c a p i t a l before the d e s t r u c t i o n — t h e f a l l o w and long-strewn f i e l d s of rubble, the same weight of too much f e a t u r e - l e s s concrete ... except that here everything's been turned i n s i d e out. The s t r a i g h t - r u l e d boulevards b u i l t to be marched along are. now winding pathways through the w a s t e - p i l e s ... I n s i d e i s o u t s i d e . C e i l i n g l e s s rooms open to the sky ... (GR, p. 434). This p o s t - a p o c a l y p t i c d e s c r i p t i o n of the c i t y contains a v e r i t a b l e catalogue of the c i t y images which have appeared i n the novels so f a r discussed. The "rooms open to the sky" i s an image reminiscent both of Conrad's "empty s h e l l s a waiting d e m o l i t i o n " and H e l l e r ' s Colosseum, a " d i l a p i d a t e d s h e l l . " The " s t r a i g h t - r u l e d boulevards," l i k e Dickens's symmetrical s t r e e t s i n Coketown, Conrad's s t r a i g h t p erspectives i n London, and Bely's p a r a l l e l prospects i n Petersburg are here, i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow, r e v e r t i n g to "winding pathways" and "strewn f i e l d s of r u b b l e " — t o "Pampas and sky," the kind of open landscape that S q u a l i d o z z i longs f o r i n Buenos A i r e s . Exploded and reduced to rubble and waste, the Zone's inorganic u r b a n i t y r e v e r t s to organic randomness. The emptiness and "the f e a t u r e l e s s concrete" remind one e s p e c i a l l y of 183 H e l l e r ' s e x p r e s s i o n i s t i c d e s c r i p t i o n s of Rome i n Catch-22, and the r e v e r s a l of i n s i d e and outside i n Pynchon's passage shows an uncanny analogue with. Snowden's death whose " i n s i d e s " when brought to the "o u t s i d e " so a f f e c t Y o s s a r i a n and indeed govern h i s a c t i o n s . P h y s i c a l i n v e r s i o n a l s o c h a r a c t e r - i z e s people who wander i n the Zone's c i t y s c a p e : Old men w i t h t i n s searching the ground f o r c i g a r e t t e butts wear t h e i r lungs on t h e i r breasts (GR, p. 434). Not so v i v i d l y gruesome as H e l l e r ' s image, t h i s one does, neve r t h e l e s s , i l l u s - t r a t e f o r c i b l y that characters who i n h a b i t post- or mid-war zones are, f i g u r a t i v e l y i n Pynchon's novel and l i t e r a l l y i n H e l l e r ' s , turned i n s i d e out. Man's "mortal envelope," the n a r r a t o r ' s phrase f o r V e r l o c ' s c o r p o r e a l i t y i n The Secret Agent, i s too d e l i c a t e a membrane to withstand the d i s p r o p o r t i o n - a t e l y powerful f o r c e s of w a r — t w e n t i e t h - c e n t u r y " o v e r k i l l " which destroys body and s p i r i t a l i k e . The experience of war wrenches the very i n t e r i o r of man to the e x t e r i o r , and the c i t y becomes, once turned i n s i d e out, the analogue f o r t h i s c o n d i t i o n , which i s a l s o a c o n d i t i o n of c o r r u p t i o n and decay. As the n a r r a t o r e x p l a i n s , p l a y i n g on the answer to the question about the meaning of "Sacrament" i n the Catechism i n The Book of Common Prayer, "the c i t y can be the outward and v i s i b l e s i g n of inward and s p i r i t u a l i l l n e s s or h e a l t h " (GR, p. 433). The c i t y , l i k e a ch a r a c t e r , becomes a v i c t i m , an idea which i s made c l e a r when the n a r r a t o r r e f e r s to London as " t h i s c i t y , i n a l l i t s bomb-pierced m i l e s : t h i s i n e x h a u s t i b l y knotted v i c t i m ..." (GR, p. 105). And f o r Roger Mexico, the red rocket c i r c l e s on h i s maps become "red pockmarks on the pure white s k i n of lady London." He wonders, contemplating "disease on s k i n , " and f e a r i n g the v e n e r e a l , i f she c a r r i e s "the f a t a l i n f e c t i o n i n s i d e h e r s e l f " (GR, 184 p. 146). These Images e x p l a i n , i n part at l e a s t , why so o f t e n the i n d i v i d - u a l ' s c o n d i t i o n and the c i t y ' s c o n d i t i o n are inseparably l i n k e d . The h e a l t h of one depends on the h e a l t h of the other. Northrop Frye a r r i v e s at the same theme when he says of the modern c i t y i n general that "no longer a community, i t seems more l i k e - a community turned i n s i d e out." Deprived of h i s humanity and s p i r i t u a l l y i n v e r t e d , man i s no longer capable of s o c i a l or humane a c t i o n , and the c i t y , fragmented and c e n t r e l e s s , cannot rescue him by p r o v i d - ing an organized s t r u c t u r e . In f a c t , Pynchon's l a b y r i n t h i n e c i t y i s constructed to work against any chance of o r g a n i z a t i o n , as i s i l l u s t r a t e d by i t s constant s h i f t s , changes and phantasmogoric a l t e r a t i o n s . This i s due p a r t l y to the nature of the c i t y ' s technology, f o r the Germans b u i l t a complex underground system of f a c t o r i e s and rocket works. T r a v e l gets c o m p l i c a t e d — a system of b u i l d i n g s that move, by r i g h t angles, along grooves of the Raketen- Stadt's s t r e e t - g r i d . You can a l s o r a i s e or lower the b u i l d i n g i t s e l f , a dozen f l o o r s per second, to d e s i r e d heights or l e v e l s underground, l i k e a submarine skipper w i t h a p e r i s c o p e — a l t h o u g h c e r t a i n paths aren't a v a i l - a ble to you. They are a v a i l a b l e to others, but not to you. Chess. Your o b j e c t i v e i s not the K i n g — t h e r e i s no K i n g — b u t momentary t a r g e t s such as the Radiant Hour (GR, p. 786). This i s the most f u t u r i s t i c a l l y s u r r e a l c i t y s c a p e that we have seen. H e l l e r ' s Rome t i l t e d and wavered i n an e x p r e s s i o n i s t i c way but never to the degree that we f i n d i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow. Yet the p a t t e r n i s r e c o g n i z a b l e : the b u i l d i n g s i n the quoted passage escape d e s i g n a t i o n , j u s t as Todgers' i n M a r t i n Chuzzlewit remains i n a c c e s s i b l e though v i s i b l e , and j u s t as the em- bassy i n The Secret Agent seems misplaced. Here, Pynchon has extended the image to suggest a kind of mechanical f i l m set f o r some science f i c t i o n 185 t h r i l l e r , Fritz Lang's Metropolis, for example. And as befits that mode, the city labyrinth, which in the works of Pynchon's predecessors remains s t a t i - cally confusing, in Gravity's Rainbow becomes dynamically dislocating by virtue of war technology which permits the labyrinth to actually move. Viewed from the air, the "ceremonial city" is one in which "nothing here remains the same," and which w i l l "always be changing" (GR, p. 846). Like the novelists of absent-centred structure before him, Pynchon images the structuring/destructuring feature of the city in terms of the maze or labyrinth. The maze is a rigorously planned construct, but at the same time, i t i s a construct in which one risks becoming hopelessly lost. The structure becomes over-structured, as though, in an attempt to systematize chaos, i t has turned to chaos i t s e l f . The paradox contained in that image is especially suited to Pynchon's dialectical imagination. As for James, the symmetry of opposites is for Pynchon a favourite ploy of narrative structure. The maze is also a useful image for absent-centred narrative structure because the centre of the maze, for James, Conrad, Heller and Bely, is either death-giving, hollow or exploded, while for Pynchon i t is un- discoverable. Thus, Slothrop never reaches the centre of his quest; search- ing for Springer, who he hopes w i l l lead him to the rocket, Slothrop "feels the whole city around him going back roofless, vulnerable, uncentered as he i s . " Through tangled barbed wire and "windowless mazes," he makes his way to a block of tenements nested one inside the other—boxes of a practical joker's g i f t , nothing in the center but a last hollow courtyard smelling of the same cooking and garbage and piss decades old. Ha, ha! (GR, p. 509). 186 Pynchon expands the image here to i n c l u d e the t h i r d ( v e r t i c a l ) dimension of the l a b y r i n t h ; f o r h i s predecessors, the maze remains, f o r the most p a r t , at s t r e e t l e v e l , two-dimensional and t o p o g r a p h i c a l . By invoking the " p r a c t i c a l j o k e r , " however, Pynchon i n v i t e s us to inspect not only the absence at the inner centre of the maze but a l s o the absence of the outer centre of c o n t r o l , the c o n s t r u c t o r above the maze. For i t i s not at a l l c e r t a i n that the p r a c t i - c a l j o k e r e x i s t s , l e t alone that he has constructed a j o k e . Such i s the dilemma of the paranoid. The same p r i n c i p l e which beleaguers Slothrop a l s o beleaguers most of the other characters i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow, f o r the "Them" and the "They" who appear to govern so much of the Zone's war madness never achieve an i d e n t i t y beyond the p r o n o u n — i n Pynchon's world, the antecedent i s permanently l o s t o r , at best, e x i s t s only i n the imagination of the paranoid. James and Conrad do not joke about such matters. The themes which accompany the l a b y r i n t h image (moral and s o c i a l a l i e n a t i o n ) are too poignantly f e l t to be parodied and spoofed as they are i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow. At best, the treatment of these themes i s achieved w i t h a wry smile of i r o n y , but even then, i t i s an i r o n y of the utmost seriousness. Not that Pynchon's treatment of the l a b y r i n t h i n e c i t y l a c k s seriousness; on the c o n t r a r y , h i s forays i n t o a b s u r d i t y and b l a c k humour are meant, by t h e i r j u x t a p o s i t i o n w i t h the s e r i o u s , to suggest the extreme degree of d i s t o r t i o n which besets characters i n the Zone. Bely e x p l o i t s the a b s u r d i s t f e a t u r e s of the l a b y r i n t h image occasion- a l l y , but the metaphysical nuances of the image are, f o r him, too s o c i a l l y s i g n i f i c a n t , too i n t e r e s t i n g l y and i n t e l l e c t u a l l y complex, to be undercut w i t h parody. Even H e l l e r , who i s so fond of the absurd i n the f i r s t s e c t i o n s of Catch-22, abandons that mode when he explores the l a b y r i n t h i n the Rome chapter of the novel. For Pynchon, however, no s u b j e c t , theme, character or 187 i m a g e — r e g a r d l e s s of what conventional connotations of reverence or d i g n i t y may be attached to i t — i s beyond spoof. C h r i s t - C h i l d , motherhood, death, or Dorothy i n Oz—none i s immune from Pynchon's d i a l e c t i c a l imagination which, as a matter of n a r r a t i v e p r i n c i p l e , i s d i r e c t e d to e x p l o r i n g grotesque opposites. Thus, w h i l e Pointsman's experiments at the l a b o r a t o r i e s i n The White V i s i t a t i o n are f i t subject matter f o r moral outrage, they are, never- t h e l e s s , the occasion f o r unreined h i l a r i t y . I t i s p r e c i s e l y because of that uncomfortable j u x t a p o s i t i o n that the humour i s p a i n f u l . The n a r r a t o r i n t r o - duces us to Pointsman's world which he c a l l s " P a v l o v i a " where the r a t s i n the experimental mazes come to l i f e complete w i t h New York gangster accents. Mouse A l e x i warns L e f t y and Louie that Slug "waz f r i e d " "da f o i s t time he fucked up runnin' dat maze. A h u n d r i t v o l t s " (GR, p. 267) . Then, i n Chinese box f a s h i o n (a three-dimensional maze reminiscent of the nest of tenement boxes), the n a r r a t o r turns to the b e h a v i o u r i s t experimenters them- selves : Reinforcement f o r them i s not a p e l l e t of food, but a s u c c e s s f u l experiment. But who watches from above, who notes t h e i r responses? (GR, p. 267, Pynchon's emphasis) L i k e these s c i e n t i s t s , Pynchon's characters are v i c t i m s i n the m i l i t a r y - i n d u s t r i a l and s c i e n t i f i c maze; they can never be sure that they act from v o l i t i o n . They must l i v e w i t h the p a i n f u l p o s s i b i l i t y that they are merely conditioned subjects i n some l a r g e r and probably hideous experiment, the design of which they can never know. They e x i s t as crooked l i n k s i n a d i s - t o r t e d "chain of Being," l i k e Borges's Golem, a simulacrum created by Judah L i o n , a r a b b i of Prague. He creates h i s demigod from a d o l l by f i n d i n g the "Name" which i s the archetype f o r Omnipotence. However, i n the "permutations/ 188 Of l e t t e r s and complex v a r i a t i o n s , " he must have made an e r r o r , f o r the creature i s more s i n i s t e r than benign, "For at h i s approach the r a b b i ' s cat/Would hide...." The chain of being i s demonstrated i n the d e s c r i p t i o n of the Golem's eyes which are " l e s s a man's than a dog's/And even l e s s a dog's than a t h i n g ' s — " And thus the r a b b i says w i t h r e g r e t : Why d i d I decide to add to the i n f i n i t e S e r i e s one more symbol? Why, to the v a i n Skein which unwinds i n e t e r n i t y Did 1 add another cause, e f f e c t , and woe? Pynchon's characters f i n d themselves caught i n j u s t such an " i n f i n i t e s e r i e s . " Their response i s a manic, tragi-comic dance, l i k e the r a t s who dance "down the long a i s l e s and metal apparatus, w i t h conga drums and a peppy t r o p i c a l o r c h e s t r a " (GR, p. 267). Their song i s b l a c k l y humorous: I t was s p r i n g i n P a v l o v i a - a - a , I was l o s t , i n a maze ... L y s o l breezes perfumed the a i r , I'd been searching f o r days. I found you, i n a cul-de-sac, As bewildered as I — Autumn's come, to P a v l o v i a - a - a , Once again, I'm a l o n e — Finding sorrow by m i l l i v o l t s , Back to neurons and bone Nothing's l e f t i n P a v l o v i a , But the maze, and the game ... (GR, p. 267). Unaware of the source of h i s P a v l o v i a n c o n d i t i o n i n g , Slothrop i s very much l i k e one of these r a t s " f i n d i n g sorrow by m i l l i v o l t s . " The maze, then, operates i n two ways: t o p o g r a p h i c a l l y or two-dimensionally as an image of the devastated post-war g r i d through which Slothrop wanders h o p e l e s s l y , and three-dim e n s i o n a l l y (boxes w i t h i n boxes) as a metaphysical teaser to i n v i t e 189 s p e c u l a t i o n about a prime and s i n i s t e r mover whose existence i s e i t h e r doubt- f u l or unknowable. While Slothrop f i n d s only a "hollow courtyard" i n the centre of h i s maze, Pointsman, at The White V i s i t a t i o n , i s t r u e r to the m y t h i c a l o r i g i n s of the image and f i n d s , not an absence, but a Minotaur. Of Pynchon's predecessors, only James e x p l i c i t l y invokes the m y t h i c a l nuances of the image. Hyacinth, we r e c a l l , f i n d s i n the f i r s t l a b y r i n t h he v i s i t s , M i l l b a n k p r i s o n , the "hollow bloodless mask" of h i s dying mother. Later i n The P r i n c e s s Casa- massima, he boasts to the P r i n c e s s that he has been on the "steps of the temple" and that he has seen the "holy of h o l i e s " i n the "innermost sanctuary" of the a n a r c h i s t l a b y r i n t h , though he f a i l s to heed the warning that he i s no Theseus, that he i s , i n f a c t , a " s a c r i f i c i a l lamb." These nuances of the maze as temple and tomb remain only i m p l i c i t i n the works of Conrad, Bely and H e l l e r , but Pynchon brings the myth back to vigorous l i f e i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow. We are t o l d that i n the centre of Pointsman's " l a b y r i n t h of con- d i t i o n e d r e f l e x work" i s K a t j e , p o s s i b l y a double agent—"Venus and Ariadne." Yet pursuing her i s worth the r i s k , even though Pointsman f e a r s that agents of the Syndicate "wait i n the c e n t r a l chamber." "They own everything: Ariadne, the Minotaur, even, Pointsman f e a r s , h i m s e l f " (GR, p. 102). He .dreams of rushing i n t o the l a s t room, burnished sword at the ready, screaming l i k e a Commando, l e t t i n g i t a l l out at l a s t — some tru e marvelous peaking of l i f e i n s i d e him f o r the f i r s t and l a s t time, as the face turned h i s way, a n c i e n t , weary, seeing none of Pointsman's humanity, ready only to assume him i n another l o n g - r o u t i n i z e d nudge of horn, f l i p of hoof (but t h i s time there would be a s t r u g g l e , Mino- taur blood the f u c k i n g beast, c r i e s from f a r i n s i d e himself whose manliness and v i o l e n c e s u r p r i s e him) ... (GR, p. 166). 190 S o l v i n g the b e h a v i o u r i s t p u z z l e of Slothrop's curious c o n d i t i o n i n g might be a success that would save him from the tyranny of the Syndicate, though there i s a strong l i k e l i h o o d that " i n t e r m e d i a r i e s " w i l l come between "himself and h i s f i n a l beast." They w i l l deny him h i s " l i t t l e p e r v e r s i t y of being i n love w i t h h i s own death ..." (GR, p. 167). The most extreme p e r v e r s i t y i n the l a b y r i n t h , however, i s reserved f o r B r i g a d i e r Pudding. The episode which describes h i s t r e k to the c e n t r a l chamber removes any v e s t i g e of the myth's pagan d i g n i t y . Pudding's f r e a k i s h journey, which has been c a r e f u l l y planned by Pointsman, i s h i s way of main- t a i n i n g a contact w i t h p h y s i c a l r e a l i t y i n the p a r a l y z i n g atmosphere of "paper i l l u s i o n s and m i l i t a r y euphemisms" at The White V i s i t a t i o n . He t r a v e l s at midnight through anterooms and o f f i c e s , and i n each room ( i n a s e r i e s of seven) l i e s a well-chosen symbol that reminds Pudding of the horrors and per- v e r s i o n s of h i s past experiences i n the f i r s t World War. In the seventh awaits a woman, "Domina Nocturna ... s h i n i n g mother and l a s t l o v e " (GR, p. 270), h i s " M i s t r e s s of the Night" (GR, p. 275) who, brandishing a cane, brings Pudding back to a " r a r e decency," to " v e r t i g o , nausea and pain. ... Above a l l , p a i n . The c l e a r e s t poetry, the endowment of greatest worth ..." (GR, p. 273). H i s r i t u a l i n v o l v e s not only masochism but excrement as w e l l , which f o r Pudding, i s "the smell of Passchendaele, of the S a l i e n t . Mixed w i t h mud, and the p u t r e f a c t i o n of corpses ..." (GR, p. 274). The scene, grotesquely v i v i d , can hardly be construed as g r a t u i t o u s pornography s i n c e so much of G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow explores, l i k e Catch-22, the d i a l e c t i c between man's mor- t a l i t y ( f l e s h , waste, decay and r o t ) and the s u p r a - r a t i o n a l systems he con- s t r u c t s to p r o t e c t him from that f a c t . The novel opens, f o r example, w i t h P i r a t e P r e n t i c e ' s rooftop garden, which grows a hardy crop of banana trees 191 from earth that has been layered "by the knives of the seasons" to an "im- pasto, feet thick" of decayed plants and trees, manure, and the waste and vomit of previous tenants. Waste and garbage is the condition of entropy from which l i f e sprouts and to which i t inevitably returns. In Catch-22, that "man is garbage" is made painfully v i s i b l e to Yossarian by Snowden's exploded viscera which include the stewed tomatoes he had for lunch; so too for Inspector Heat Stevie's "raw material for a cannibal feast" illustrates the same principle. Pynchon's scene is characteristically more extreme, yet when Pudding glances at "the bottles on the table, the plates, soiled with juices of meat, Hollandaise, bits of g r i s t l e and bone" (GR, p. 273) before he eats the excrement that reminds him of "the putrefaction of corpses," he illustrates for us, however obscenely, the same theme that we find in Conrad and H e l l e r — i n the labyrinth of an overly rational system which denies the moral and spiritual self, man is l i t t l e more than the meat he consumes. Predictably, just as the city/labyrinth themes and images in Gravity's Rainbow undergo distortions by perversion and inversion, so too characters' perceptions and behaviour are wrenched and distorted by the device of rever- sal. It is a device which works dialectically against the forward movement of the plot towards i t s suspenseful apocalyptic moment (which, as in Peters- burg, is never f u l f i l l e d except proleptically). Against this forward thrust of the narrative, we sense a movement away from apocalyptic disintegration back in time to coherence and origins. Slothrop's conditioning i s , of course, the most v i s i b l e example of reversal and reversion. Pointsman explains that Pavlov discovered that a response could be "extinguished" beyond the zero point (the idea from which the f i r s t section of the novel, "Beyond the Zero," derives i t s t i t l e ) , and this discovery, Pointsman thinks, might explain 192 S l o t h r o p , who only gets e r e c t i o n s when the sequence happens i n r e v e r s e . E x p l o s i o n f i r s t , then the sound of approach: the V-2 (GR, p. 99, Pynchon's emphasis). Slothrop i s as m y s t i f i e d as Pointsman, and so the quest he undertakes to l o c a t e the A-4 rocket i s r e a l l y a r e t u r n to h i s o r i g i n s , to h i s infancy when, a l l e g e d l y , he was conditioned by Jamf to the r o c k e t ; i t becomes a parodic romantic journey to discover who he r e a l l y i s . But the quest a l s o contains a l a r g e r r e v e r s i o n , f o r we l e a r n that There i s the s t o r y about Tyrone Sl o t h r o p , who was sent i n t o the Zone to be present as [ s i c ] h i s own assembly—perhaps, h e a v i l y paranoid v o i c e s have whispered, h i s time's assembly— (GR, pp. 860-61, Pynchon's emphasis). The quest f a i l s ; he never reaches h i s g r a i l , "the big torpedo," and we read that "to date Slothrop has s t i l l not recorded, tagged, discovered, or l i b e r a t e d a s i n g l e scrap of A-4 hardware or i n t e l l i g e n c e " (GR, p. 455). And t h i s d e s p i t e the f a c t that h i s quest has been a c t i v e f o r more than two hundred pages. His success does not improve; r a t h e r , e n t r o p y - l i k e , i t takes the path of l e a s t r e s i s t a n c e and disappears from the t e x t — a s indeed does Slothrop h i m s e l f . Hero and g r a i l never meet; "He i s being broken down i n - stead, and s c a t t e r e d " (GR, p. 861). His s c a t t e r i n g i s t e x t u a l l y l i t e r a l , f o r S l o t h r o p , towards the end of the n o v e l , assumes a confusing number of d i s - g u i s e s : Pig-Hero, Rocketman, and Ian S c u f f l i n g . The quest might have f a i l e d r e g a r d l e s s , s i n c e we read l a t e i n the novel that "There never was a Dr. Jamf"; l i k e the rocket's t r a j e c t o r y which t r a v e l s from "point to no p o i n t , " Slothrop's quest i s absent-centred i n the sense that i t s end i s un- 193 a t t a i n a b l e , i n Slothrop's case because i t s o r i g i n i s spurious. The rocket i t s e l f i s a symbol of r e v e r s i o n because i t s technology allows i t to defy time by exceeding the speed of sound. Imagine a m i s s i l e one hears approaching only a f t e r i t explodes. The r e v e r s a l ! A piece of time n e a t l y snipped out ... a few f e e t of f i l m run backwards ... the b l a s t of the r o c k e t , f a l l e n f a s t e r than s o u n d — then growing out of_ ix the roar of i t s own f a l l , c a tching up to what's already death and burning ... a ghost i n the sky ... (GR, p. 55). Thus, to f e a r the sound of the rocket i s f u t i l e , s i n c e the scream i n d i c a t e s not a p o t e n t i a l t a r g e t , but a b l a s t which has already occurred. L i k e the "sudden holes i n time and space" i n The Secret Agent, the "piece of time n e a t l y snipped out" i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow i s a kind of vacuum of experience beyond apprehension, though i t i n f l u e n c e s and even governs the a c t i o n which leads up to and surrounds i t . This f e a t u r e of rocket technology allows Pynchon to e x p l o i t the p r o l e p t i c e x p l o s i o n i n a much more l i t e r a l way than Conrad or Bely could manage w i t h t h e i r r e l a t i v e l y u n s o p h i s t i c a t e d a n a r c h i s t bombs. Despite t h i s d i f f e r e n c e , however, the p a t t e r n i s comparable: G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow opens and c l o s e s w i t h the th r e a t of a rocket s t r i k e , yet the devas- t a t i o n of the war gives us a v i v i d impression of a landscape which has been already blown to fragments by powerful e x p l o s i o n s . L i k e Conrad and Bely, Pynchon appears to g i v e us the sound a f t e r the f u r y . Pynchon t e l l s us that t h i s k i nd of r e v e r s a l i s l i k e "a few f e e t of f i l m run backwards." F i l m , of course, operates as an important thematic and s t r u c t u r a l technique i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow;"*"^ lengthy d i s c u s s i o n s of f i l m technology, the s p r o c k e t - l i k e squares'which frame each chapter, innumerable a l l u s i o n s to Hollywood k i t s c h and c l a s s i c s (westerns, horror f i l m s , S h i r l e y 194 Temple f i l m s and The Wizard of Oz, to mention a few), the sets f o r and a l l u s i o n s to F r i t z Lang's German e x p r e s s i o n i s t i c f i l m s ( M e t r o p o l i s , Die I I Frau im Mond, Der Mude Tod), and what the n a r r a t o r c a l l s the "paracinematic l i v e s " of h i s c h a r a c t e r s — a l l of these create a n a r r a t i v e mode that allows Pynchon scope f o r parody and s t r u c t u r a l d i s t o r t i o n . But the f i l m of the te x t does not only r e e l forward; by equating the rocket's t r a j e c t o r y to a f i l m running backwards, Pynchon creates h i s own v e r s i o n of the p r o v e r b i a l rewinding of one's l i f e f l a s h i n g past at the moment of death. Inspector Heat, we r e c a l l , imagined t h i s phenomenon v i v i d l y f o r S t e v i e ' s death i n The Secret Agent, and Sophia's past i n Petersburg seemed to overtake her during her c a r r i a g e r i d e from the b a l l . For Conrad the device i s a means of extend- ing the moment so that i t s b r e v i t y i s expanded to a p r o p o r t i o n which matches the largeness of the moral v i o l a t i o n i t c o n t a i n s . For Bely and Pynchon the device i s a way of enl a r g i n g the moment of horror to h i s t o r i c a l and meta- p h y s i c a l s i z e . The f e a r of t h i s moment i s , of course, expressed p r i m a r i l y i n i n d i v i d u a l terms. Thus, l i s t e n i n g to the "screaming" that comes across the sky i n the opening l i n e of the no v e l , Slothrop says, a few pages l a t e r : I mean I'm four years overdue's what i t i s , i t could happen any time, the next second, r i g h t , j u s t suddenly. ... s h i t ... j u s t zero, j u s t nothing ... and ... (GR, p. 28) . The p a r a l l e l here to Petersburg i s s u s p i c i o u s l y c l o s e , e s p e c i a l l y to the dream passage i n which N i k o l a i t a l k s to h i s f a t h e r . N i k o l a i , burdened by "the i n v i s i b l e center, which had formerly been consciousness," experiences "chronology ... running backwards." 195 But Saturn, Apollon Apollonovich, roaring with laughter, replied: "None, Kolenka, none at a l l : the chronology, my dear boy, i s — z e r o . " "Oh I Oh! What then is 'I am'?" "A zero." "And zero?" "A bomb." Nikolai Apollonovich understood that he himself was a bomb. And he burst with a boom (P, p. 168). The dread of dangerous surprises is not reserved for the moment of individual or apocalyptic import; i t is evident in the paranoid attitude to- wards even the most t r i v i a l of surprises. Early in Gravity's Rainbow, Slothrop meets Darlene, a nurse who boards with an elderly lady with the Dickensian- sounding name of Mrs. Quoad. Like Pip v i s i t i n g Estelle and Miss Havisham, Slothrop sits patiently with Mrs. Quoad while Darlene makes tea. On a table is Mrs. Quoad's "crumpled chiffon hankerchief," which Slothrop notices, is marred by "feathered blots of blood in and out the convolutions lik e a f l o r a l pattern" (GR, p. 134)."'"''' Even Victorian decorum cannot hide the v i s i b l e signs of her "antiquated diseases." The eccentric English candies she serves him are "ruddy gelatin objects" with a "dribbling liquid center," "rhubarb creams," and "marmalade Surprises"; the farce expands: his next candy i s , invitingly, a hard, red raspberry one, but Impatiently, he bites into i t , and in the act knows, fucking idiot, he's been had once more, there comes pouring out onto his tongue the most godawful crystal- line concentration of Jeez i t must be pure n i t r i c acid ... (GR, p. 136). Growing more sinister as the scene progresses, Mrs. Quoad and Darlene coax him to have more, and almost mechanically he does. Into other candies "he goes plunging, l i k e a journey to the center of some small hostile planet, into an 196 enormous bonbon ..." There i s a brown one which looks l i k e "an exact quarter- s c a l e r e p l i c a of a M i l l s - t y p e hand grenade," a black one which looks l i k e a " l i c o r i c e bazooka," and the most s o p h i s t i c a t e d m i l i t a r y l i k e n e s s of a l l , a s t r i p e d one resembling a " s i x - t o n earthquake bomb of some s i l v e r - f l e c k e d blue g e l a t i n " (GR, p. 137). L i k e Yossarian who d i s l i k e s pomegranates because they 12 spew red seeds and j u i c e s that remind him of Snowden's death, Slothrop f i n d s i t i n c r e a s i n g l y d i f f i c u l t to t o l e r a t e these "candied bombs" because they r e - mind him of the rocket's e x p l o s i o n which threatens him d a i l y . The dream of sudden death, the fantasy of rocket s t r i k e and bomb burst, r a d i c a l l y a l t e r s c h a r a c t e r s ' perceptions of t h e i r immediate worlds. The ob- j e c t of t h e i r f e a r and paranoia becomes a microcosm of the l a r g e r h i s t o r i c a l and a p o c a l y p t i c b u r s t . Thus, "the War," i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow, "has been r e - c o n f i g u r i n g time and space i n i t s own image" (GR, p. 299). The War w i t h a c a p i t a l "W" replaces G o d — t h a t i s , i t remakes " i n i t s own image." The Creator has been replaced by the Destroyer. The v e r t i g o of the moment, then, i s r e a l l y a metaphor f o r the v e r t i g o of h i s t o r y , and t h i s experience, l i k e S lothrop's quest, i s imaged as f i l m running backwards. Slothrop's P u r i t a n ancestors, f o r example, go "avalanching back from Slothrop here, back to 1630": — t h e r e go that A r a b e l l a and i t s whole f l e e t , s a i l i n g backward i n formation, the wind sucking them east again, the creatures l e a n i n g from the margin of the unknown, sucking i n t h e i r cheeks, growing crosseyed w i t h the e f f o r t ... the o l d ship zooms out of Boston Harbor, back across an A t l a n t i c whose currents and s w e l l s go f l o w i n g and heaving i n reverse (GR, p. 237). The c o l o n i z e r s i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow r e t u r n w i t h mug-faced comedy to l o c a t e the centre from which they dispersed: Slothrop's American ancestors, S q u a l i d o z z i , the Argentine, and the A f r i c a n Hereros l e d by Enzian a l l mingle i n the Zone. 197 None, of course, f i n d s the centre, except i n a d i s t o r t e d way, Enzian who, by reassembling an 00001 rocket, hopes to lead h i s people, "The Empty Ones," to a t r i b a l death of mass s u i c i d e . The people w i l l f i n d the Center again, the Center without time, the journey without h y s t e r e s i s , where every departure i s a r e t u r n to the same place ... (GR, p. 370). For Enzian, the only escape from the d i s t o r t i o n s of time and space i s i n the Zone of entropy and death. "The E t e r n a l Center can e a s i l y be seen as the F i n a l Zero. Names and methods vary, but the movement towards s t i l l n e s s i s the same" (GR, p. 371). Enzian's method, the reassembly of the rocket from s c a t t e r e d fragments of knowledge and b a l l i s t i c technology, f o l l o w s the f i l m metaphor of r e v e r s a l ; thus, the reassembly i s l i k e a "Diaspora running back- wards, seeds of e x i l e f l y i n g inward i n modest view of g r a v i t a t i o n a l c o l l a p s e , of the Messiah gathering i n f a l l e n sparks ..." (GR, p. 860). The rocket e x p l o s i o n i s w e l l - s u i t e d to the transcending of time and space, f o r i t represents the convergence of those f o r c e s : timed to i g n i t e at zero, i t s e x p l o s i o n i s a r a p i d expansion that destroys space, w h i l e i t s t r a j e c t o r y becomes the path which attempts to transcend those same f o r c e s . In The Secret Agent, Conrad shows h i s awareness of the bomb's temporal and s p a t i a l f e a t u r e s which are u s e f u l f o r c r e a t i n g a n a r r a t i v e and symbolic absence, a "sudden ho l e " i n London's space and Greenwich time. And Bely goes to considerable t r o u b l e to s i t u a t e the bomb i n Petersburg i n a p r e c i s e s p a t i a l and temporal l o c a t i o n : i n a sardine t i n i n a desk drawer i n the Appolonovich house on a Petersburg s t r e e t surrounded by a vast Russian l a n d - scape. The bomb's t i c k i n g f o r the twenty-four hours of the novel's n a r r a t i v e time i s a constant reminder t h a t , at the zero hour, both time and space w i l l 198 be n u l l i f i e d . In G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow, the Counterforce, which inc l u d e s Roger Mexico, deduces that Enzian's r o c k e t , i f i t has not been f i r e d a l r e a d y , w i l l be aimed no r t h . The Germans, they know, f i r e d the A-4 south at Antwerp, I I east when t e s t i n g at Peenemunde, and west at London. By c a l c u l a t i n g compass bearings, they p r e d i c t that the A-4 which Enzian has reassembled w i l l go "000°: t r u e North. What be t t e r d i r e c t i o n to f i r e the 00000?" (GR, p. 824). The pole, then, becomes the dead centre f o r Enzian's rocket of death. Slothrop's picaresque journey up the Swine r i v e r on The Anubis i n search of Springer and the A-4 i s a l s o a journey n o r t h to the dead centre; i t i s p a r t l y a Conradian r i v e r journey (Springer,- l i k e K u r t z , i s "the white knight 13 of the black market"), and i t i s p a r t l y a Nabokovian chase (Springer, as b e f i t s both h i s name and the chess knight that Slothrop c a r r i e s as a token f o r him, leaps and bounds at odd angles and d i r e c t i o n s through the Zone, w i t h the kind of movement that f r u s t r a t e s the n a r r a t o r i n h i s attempt to w r i t e a biography of h i s dead brother i n The Real L i f e of Sebastian K n i g h t ) . Slothrop f i n d s Springer but, u n l i k e Marlow, he never does r e t u r n to t e l l h i s s t o r y ; how c l o s e he gets to the A-4, we cannot t e l l , f o r he disappears and emerges, once s t o r i e s about him begin to grow, only as myth i n the vast 14 northern landscape of the Zone. Finding centres, then, i s not easy f o r characters i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow. The quest i n v a r i a b l y leads to one kind of absence or another: to vacancy, n u l l i t y , death, or, l i k e S l o t h r o p ' s , to a simple running down and t r a i l i n g o f f without a f i n a l word. (The theme f i n d s i t s expression at the l e v e l of s t y l e , f o r one of the most v i s i b l e f e a t u r e s of Pynchon's sentences, as a quick review of the quotations c i t e d here w i l l show, i s the use of e l l i p s e s . Sentences are e i t h e r mined w i t h gaps o r , e n t r o p y - l i k e , fade to incompleteness.) 199 Often the quester and the quested miss each other or pass by s i l e n t l y . T c h i t c h e r i n e , who, l i k e S l othrop, has been searching f o r Enzian and the A-4, meets but f a i l s to recognize h i s h a l f - b r o t h e r . And, i n another Zone scene, the adage about "ships that pass i n the n i g h t " i s t e c h n o l o g i c a l l y updated and parodied at the same time. A s h i p , The U.S.S. John E. Badass, p i c k s up a U-boat on i t s radar screen w i t h a "muscular post-war r e f l e x , " a phrase which could a l s o d e s c r i b e S l o t h r o p , s i n c e he too a c t s by post-war r e f l e x . The Badass Radarman t r a c k s an incoming torpedo f i r e d from the U-boat, a l i g h t moving f a s t toward "the unmoving center of the sweep." The enemy U-boat, however, has mistakenly f i r e d at a t h i r d abandoned hulk near The Badass, and so the torpedo misses. Or, as the n a r r a t o r puts i t : "the two f a t a l courses do i n t e r s e c t i n space, but not i n time." I t i s a t y p i c a l Pynchonesque joke (one which he could w e l l have borrowed from Nabokov, f o r Pynchon was, a f t e r a l l , a student of Nabokov's)—a joke which i l l u s t r a t e s that even the most s o p h i s t i c a t e d technology i s prone to e r r o r and misses when Fate, the un- expected and the random, intervenes. Verloc's "best l a i d p lans" meet the same demise, as do N i k o l a i ' s i n Petersburg. The r e a l menace i n these t e x t s i s not only the m a l i c i o u s or foolhardy plan i t s e l f , or the s i n i s t e r power of technology, or a r a t i o n a l l y aimed and motiveless m a l i g n i t y ; the c a p r i c i o u s e r r o r s and f a t a l mistakes a l s o pose a p o t e n t i a l l y l e t h a l t h r e a t . P a r t of the p a i n f u l i r o n y i n these t e x t s i s that t h e i r heroes t r y so v a l i a n t l y to p r o t e c t t h e i r l i v e s from such "torpedo misses": t h e i r attempts to do so are e i t h e r poignantly comic or d i s a s t r o u s l y f a t a l . They seem, f o r the most p a r t , to be i l l - e q u i p p e d f o r dangerous quests. N i k o l a i and Slothrop, and the other heroes of absent-centred t e x t s , w h i l e they a r r i v e from r a d i c - a l l y d i f f e r e n t backgrounds and move i n r a d i c a l l y d i f f e r e n t c i r c l e s , do share, 2Q0 n e v e r t h e l e s s , a c e r t a i n bumbling awkwardness. Hyacinth, i n The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, d e s p i t e h i s p r o t o t y p i c a l Jamesian precociousness, seems to stand around, hands i n pockets, gawking w i t h a s t i f l i n g s e n s i t i v i t y at both princesses and a n a r c h i s t s . N i k o l a i makes h i s p o l i t i c a l promise r a s h l y , even more r a s h l y f o r g e t s about i t , and when he does remember and summons up the courage to c a r r y out the p l a n , he has m i s l a i d the bomb. The h a r l e q u i n costume which he wears to the b a l l f i t s him much b e t t e r than e i t h e r h i s Neo- Kantian robe or h i s a n a r c h i s t garb. Y o s s a r i a n , i n a manner, i s the shrewdest of the l o t , f o r we sense that h i s n a i v e t e and s i m p l i c i t y are c o n s c i o u s l y donned as a ploy to b a t t l e and f r u s t r a t e the f o r c e s which are f r u s t r a t i n g him. False s i m p l i c i t y proves to be the most e f f e c t i v e weapon against a f a l s e l y complex and mindless m i l i t a r y establishment. More than these charac- t e r s , however, Slothrop (whose costume, i r o n i c a l l y , i s Rocketman's cape and whose Tarot card i s The Fool) i s defenceless against h i s enemies, mainly be- cause he cannot even p r e c i s e l y i d e n t i f y h i s enemies, l e t alone l o c a t e them. Not that i t would make a great deal of d i f f e r e n c e , f o r what c h a r a c t e r - i z e s Slothrop's enemy most, l i k e the bureaucracies from Dickens's Circum- l o c u t i o n O f f i c e to Bely's government o f f i c i a l s to H e l l e r ' s m i l i t a r y e s t a b l i s h - ment, i s vagueness and incompetency. In G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow, t h i s theme f i n d s a h y p e r b o 1 i c a l l y post-modern expression i n Pynchon's grand network of ob- scure power and p o l i t i c s which, however, d i s i n t e g r a t e s a l t o g e t h e r i n the Zone: There's no r e a l d i r e c t i o n here, n e i t h e r l i n e s of power nor cooperation. Decisions are never r e a l l y made—at best they manage to emerge, from a chaos of peeves, whims, h a l l u c i n a t i o n s and a l l - r o u n d assholery (GR, p. 788). 201 T h e p r o b l e m o f t h e q u e s t , t h e n , i s t h r e e f o l d : S l o t h r o p a s a q u e s t e r i s i n - c o m p e t e n t , a " c h a r a c t e r j u v e n i l e " a n d a " d u n c e a n d d r i f t e r " ; t h e c h a o t i c a n d l a b y r i n t h i n e t e r r a i n f o r h i s q u e s t p r o v i d e s n e i t h e r s h e l t e r n o r d i r e c t i o n ; a n d , n o t l e a s t , t h e r e a s o n f o r t h e q u e s t i n t h e f i r s t p l a c e i s p o s s i b l y s p u r i o u s — b y v i r t u e o f J a m f ' s d o u b t f u l e x i s t e n c e . N o t s u r p r i s i n g l y , a n o v e l w h i c h e x p l o r e s s u c h t h e m e s o f a b s e n c e ( o f d i r e c t i o n , m o t i v e a n d e n d ) w i l l f i n d i t s n a r r a t i v e c o r r e l a t i v e i n a s t r u c t u r - i n g i m a g e . We g e t t w o v i e w s o f t h i s i m a g e , o n e l i k e a c r o s s s e c t i o n , t h e r o c k e t ' s r a i n b o w a r c o r t r a j e c t o r y , a n d t h e s e c o n d , a m a n d a l a w h i c h s u g g e s t s a v i e w o f t h e r o c k e t f r o m u n d e r n e a t h . L i k e t h e t h e m a t i c o p p o s i t e s i n t h e t e x t ( p a r a n o i a a n d a n t i - p a r a n o i a , m o t i o n a n d s t a s i s , b l a c k [ E n z i a n ] a n d w h i t e [ B l i c e r o ] , s y s t e m a n d f r a g m e n t a t i o n , a n d m a n y o t h e r s ) , t h e r o c k e t ' s p a r a b o l a i s g o v e r n e d b y two f o r c e s : t h e v e r t i c a l f o r c e o f t h r u s t a n d p o w e r a n d i t s a n t i t h e t i c a l f o r c e , t h e f o r c e o f r e s i s t a n c e — g r a v i t y . T h i s a r c r e a p p e a r s u n c o m p r o m i s i n g l y t h r o u g h o u t t h e t e x t f r o m t h e a b s u r d ( t h e b a n a n a s i n t h e o p e n i n g p a g e s — t h e r o c k e t i s a " s t e e l b a n a n a " — a n d c r o i s s a n t s ) t o t h e m e t a - p h y s i c a l a n d t h e s e x u a l . K a t j e , f o r e x a m p l e , k n o w s t h a t t h e G e r m a n s w e r e c o g n i z a n t o f t h e r o c k e t ' s s e x u a l q u a l i t i e s w h e n t h e y n i c k n a m e d i t " D e r P f a u ' P f a u Z w e i ' " — V a n d V - 2 b u t a l s o t h e p e a c o c k , a n d s o f o r K a t j e t h e r o c k e t i s a " p e a c o c k , c o u r t i n g , f a n n i n g h i s t a i l . " E s p e c i a l l y i n t h e f l a m e s o f t h e r o c k e t ' s l i f t - o f f s h e s e e s " s c a r l e t , o r a n g e , i r i d e s c e n t g r e e n . " A b o u t t h e t r a j e c t o r y , s h e i s e x p l i c i t : A s c e n d i n g , p r o g r a m m e d i n a r i t u a l o f l o v e . . . a t B r e n n s c h l u s s i t i s d o n e — t h e R o c k e t ' s p u r e l y f e m i n i n e c o u n t e r p a r t , t h e z e r o p o i n t a t t h e c e n t e r o f i t s t a r - g e t , h a s s u b m i t t e d . . . . K a t j e h a s u n d e r s t o o d t h e g r e a t a i r l e s s a r c a s a c l e a r a l l u s i o n t o c e r t a i n s e c r e t l u s t s t h a t d r i v e t h e 202 planet and h e r s e l f , and Those who use h e r — o v e r i t s peak and down, plunging, burning, toward a t e r m i n a l orgasm ... (GR, p. 260). P h i l o s o p h i z i n g w i t h a touch of w i s t f u l romanticism, K a t j e whispers to Slothrop her o b s e r v a t i o n that w h i l e the r o c k e t s were descending, he was i n London and w h i l e they were ascending, she was i n Gravenhage. "Between you and me i s not only a rocket t r a j e c t o r y , but a l s o a l i f e " (GR, p. 244). Her s p e c u l a t i o n s are q u a l i f i e d by the n a r r a t o r i n the next paragraph: But i t i s a curve each of them f e e l s , unmistakably. I t i s the parabola. They must have guessed, once or t w i c e — g u e s s e d and refused to b e l i e v e — t h a t everything, always, c o l l e c t i v e l y , had been moving toward that p u r i - f i e d shape l a t e n t i n the sky, that shape of no s u r p r i s e , no second chances, no r e t u r n . Yet they do move forev e r under i t , reserved f o r i t s own black-and-white bad news c e r t a i n l y as i f i t were the Rainbow, and they i t s c h i l d - Dorothy i n The Wizard of Oz b e l i e v e s i n the rainbow, that somewhere over i t i s a t r o u b l e - f r e e realm of b l i s s and easy f l i g h t . To b e l i e v e i n Pynchon's r a i n - bow, however, i s to b e l i e v e i n the c e r t a i n t y of n u l l i t y ; thus, only by not b e l i e v i n g , only by i g n o r i n g the "black-and-white bad news" can the t r a j e c t o r y be seen as a rainbow. Symbols i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow, l i k e c h a r a c t e r s , undergo transformations; they e x i s t not as s t a t i c p o i n t e r s which are repeated only f o r the sake of p a t t e r n and m o t i f , but as dynamic and e l u s i v e signs c o n s t a n t l y , l i k e the r o c k e t ' s t r a j e c t o r y and the Zone i t s e l f , i n f l u x . Thus, the parabola, which i s the shape of the tunnel entrances to the M i t t e l w e r k e , the underground pl a n t where the rocket i s being reassembled, i s transformed, by i n v e r t i n g one of a p a i r of parabolas i n t o a sideways S: becomes • One i n v e r t e d ren (GR, p. 244) . 203 sideways S o v e r l a i d on the f i r s t becomes the mathematical symbol for i n f i n i t y and timelessness: U^> plus r\j becomes OO . Two S's form the double integer used i n b a l l i s t i c computation for the A-4; "to integrate here i s to operate on a rate of change so that time f a l l s away: change i s s t i l l e d ..." (GR, p. 351). The double integer i s also the Nazi SS, "the double l i g h t n i n g stroke," two lovers curled asleep, and an "ancient rune that stands for the yew tree, or Death" (GR, p. 351). And while a l l of t h i s t r a j e c t o r y symbolism i s baroque i n i t s i n t r i c a c y , i t i s con s i s t e n t l y simple i n i t s theme: the end of the arc, be i t t r i v i a l or apocalyptic, i s a form of absence: "no point," " s t a s i s , " "timelessness," "openness," "terminal orgasm," "explosion," or "Death." The n u l l i t y at the centre i s more gr a p h i c a l l y i l l u s t r a t e d by the second view of the rocket image, the mandala of a c i r c l e within a c i r c l e over cross h a i r s . (The c i r c l e i t s e l f can be seen as being composed of two parabolas.) Slothrop scratches t h i s sign on a rock and r e a l i z e s afterwards that "he was r e a l l y drawing ... the A4 rocket, seen from below" (GR, p. 727). The Rocket- man's mandala i s almost c e r t a i n l y inspired by a s i m i l a r one which belonged to the Schwarzkommando and which Slothrop sees when he v i s i t s the remains of the German A-4 s i t e : 204 Andreas Orukambe, a Zone Herero, e x p l a i n s i t s meaning to Slothrop: II " K l a r , " touching each l e t t e r , " E n t l u f t u n g , these are the female l e t t e r s . North l e t t e r s . In our v i l l a g e s the women l i v e d i n huts on the northern h a l f of the c i r c l e , the men on the south. The v i l l a g e i t s e l f M w a s a mandala. K l a r i s f e r t i l i z a t i o n and b i r t h , E n t l u f t u n g i s the breath, the s o u l . Zundung and Vorst u f e are the male s i g n s , the a c t i v i t i e s , f i r e and pr e p a r a t i o n or b u i l d i n g . And i n the center, here, Hauptstufe. I t i s the pen where we kept the sacred c a t t l e . The souls of the ancestors. A l l the same here. B i r t h , s o u l , f i r e , b u i l d i n g . Male and female, together. "The four f i n s of the Rocket made a cr o s s , another mandala. Number one pointed the way i t would f l y . Two f o r p i t c h , three f o r yaw and r o l l , f our f o r p i t c h . Each opposite p a i r of vanes worked together, and moved i n opposite senses. Opposites together. You can see how we might f e e l i t speak to us, even i f we don't set one up on i t s f i n s and worship i t " (GR, pp. 655-56). B l i c e r o a l s o seems to have been s t r u c k by the s i g n , f o r a marker which d e s i g - nates the l o c a t i o n of the V-2 aimed at London i s described as a red c i r c l e w i t h a t h i c k b l a c k cross i n s i d e , recog- n i z a b l e as the ancient sun-wheel from which t r a d i t i o n says the swastika was broken by the e a r l y C h r i s t i a n s , to d i s g u i s e t h e i r outlaw symbol" (GR, p. 117). The mandala al s o suggests churchtops w i t h "apses out to four sides l i k e rocket f i n s guiding the streamlined s p i r e s " (GR, p. 728); the spreadeagled man w i t h - i n the c i r c l e , arms and legs l i k e cross h a i r s ; and, f o r P i r a t e P r e n t i c e , who 205 experiences other c h a r a c t e r s ' dreams and f a n t a s i e s , the mandala a r r i v e s l i k e a " h e r e t i c a l dream" belonging to h i s pursuer, Frans van der Groov: exegeses of w i n d m i l l s , that turned i n shadow at the edges of dark f i e l d s , each arm p o i n t i n g at a spot on the rim of a g i a n t wheel that turned through the sky, stop and go, always e x a c t l y w i t h the spinning c r o s s : "wind" was a middle term, a convention to express what r e a l l y moved the cross ... and t h i s a p p l i e d to a l l wind, everywhere on Earth ... each wind had i t s own cross-in-motion, m a t e r i a l l y there or i m p l i e d , each cross a unique mandala, b r i n g i n g opposites together i n the s p i n ... (GR, p. 723. The l a s t two e l l i p s e s are mine). The w i n d m i l l a l s o speaks to S l o t h r o p , f o r i n h i s mock-heroic quest, he i s r e a l l y a Don Quixote aiming not at s i n i s t e r w i n d m i l l s but at a dead centre. Thus, "crosses, swastikas, Zone-mandalas, how can they not speak to S l o t h r o p ? " (GR, p. 729). Slothrop reaches s t a s i s ; h i s quest has f a i l e d or ceased to matter. E i t h e r he w i l l meet w i t h d e s t r u c t i o n or he w i l l be "passed over." In the P u r i t a n sense to be passed over meant to be excluded from the e l e c t ; i t meant p r e t e r i t i o n . But c h a r a c t e r i s t i c a l l y , Pynchon has i n v e r t e d the meaning; to be passed over i n the Zone means to be passed over by the rocket and so escape death, w h i l e to be " s e l e c t e d " means to be t a r - geted f o r d e s t r u c t i o n . Slothrop's f a t h e r ' s f e a r of God's hand coming out of the sky has been replaced by Slothrop's f e a r of the A-4 m i s s i l e . However, being passed over i n the Zone a l s o means being relegated to a p u r g a t o r i a l e x i s t e n c e wandering through the l a b y r i n t h of d e v a s t a t i o n and e v e n t u a l l y be- coming l o s t a l t o g e t h e r . And so towards the end of the novel we see Slothrop f o r the l a s t time i n the Zone where he became a crossroad, a f t e r a heavy r a i n he doesn't r e c a l l , Slothrop sees a very t h i c k rainbow here, a stout rainbow cock d r i v e n down out of pubic clouds 206 i n t o E a r t h , green wet v a l l e y e d E a r t h , and h i s chest f i l l s and he stands c r y i n g , not a t h i n g i n h i s head, j u s t f e e l i n g n a t u r a l (GR, p. 729). Douglas A. Mackey sees a redemptive and transcendent epiphany i n t h i s passage: G r a v i t y ' s rainbow, which represented f a t a l i t y and oppression to the paranoid m e n t a l i t y , becomes here a f e r t i l i z i n g symbol. Beholding i t , Slothrop empties h i s mind of thoughts w h i l e remaining conscious (the " I am" of R i l k e ) and w h i l e emptying h i s heart of g r i e f through t e a r s (the " I f l o w " ) . Here the rainbow assumes i t s t r a d i t i o n a l s i g n i f i c a n c e as a manifest emblem of God's grace. In a book where god has appeared only as the r e p r e s s i v e Them, the vague d e t e r m i n i s t i c gods of paranoia, the most c o n s i s t e n t r e l i g i o u s presence i s found i n nature.-'--' The rainbow may be f e r t i l i z i n g — t h o u g h that seems already to have happened by the r a i n which Slothrop can't r e c a l l — b u t i t i s a l s o , i n keeping w i t h the f l i p p a n t tone of Pynchon's crude j o k e , "screwing" the earth. Moreover, the s h i f t i n Mackey's i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of the rainbow from " f e r t i l i z i n g symbol" to "God's grace" i s uncomfortable, and to speak of the " r e l i g i o u s presence ... found i n nature" i s to reduce Pynchon's v i s i o n to a romantic pantheism which i t s e l f i s parodied by the r a t h e r h i p p i e romanticism of Slothrop's " j u s t f e e l i n g n a t u r a l . " The rainbow i s g r a v i t y ' s not Heaven's. Any epiphany that Slothrop enjoys comes not from a transcendent v i s i o n but from a mixture of exhausted searching and being searched f o r , which leaves him, f i n a l l y , not c a r i n g or f o r g e t t i n g . His "naturalness" i s the agonizing l e t t i n g - g o i n defeat which i s the only way that he can r e l e a s e himself from the t e r r o r symbolized by h i s mandala—a mandala that means, the n a r r a t o r says b l u n t l y , "Slothrop besieged." By fragmenting as a ch a r a c t e r , by disappearing and s c a t t e r i n g i n t o the realm of legend and myth, he avoids the danger of 207 being a t a r g e t , of being at the centre of i n t e r s e c t i n g cross h a i r s . Thus, the centre of the mandala i s both the absence of the q u e s t — t h a t i s , one which i s e i t h e r f a l s e or n u l l i f y i n g — a n d , at the end of the n o v e l , the absence of the quester. The mandala, u l t i m a t e l y , belongs to the t e x t as w e l l . For l i k e S l o t h - rop, we journey on a t r a j e c t o r y from "point to no p o i n t , " t r y i n g v a l i a n t l y to l i n e up the cross h a i r s of the n a r r a t i v e (spinning opposites) aimed at a centre of coherence t h a t w i l l systematize the t e x t . Enzian foregrounds the idea f o r us when, attempting to decode the meaning behind the Zone's dev a s t a t i o n and to r e c o n s t r u c t the dismantled r o c k e t , he wonders i f we are supposed to be the K a b b a l i s t s out here, say t h a t ' s our r e a l Destiny, to be the scholar-magicians of the Zone, w i t h somewhere i n i t a Text, to be picked to p i e c e s , annotated, e x p l i c a t e d , and masturbated t i l l i t ' s a l l squeezed limp of i t s l a s t drop ... (GR, p. 606). As the rocket i s f o r Enzian, the t e x t i s f o r us. We search f o r s t r u c t u r e s , connections, echoes, and p a r a l l e l s attempting to u n i f y the novel i n t o a systematic i n t e r p r e t e d whole. Arguably, Pynchon's view and p r a c t i c e of the encyclopedic novel i s p r e c i s e l y that the t e x t should r e s i s t such t o t a l i z a t i o n . And judging from the response of c r i t i c s , he has succeeded remarkably w e l l . ^ I t i s v i r t u a l l y impossible to accommodate a l l of the nuances, connections, p a r a l l e l s , s i g n systems, and opposites which mesh and part again i n the n o v e l . The temptation i s to see paranoia, Pavlov, f i l m , opera, or language as the biggest key which w i l l r e l e a s e the biggest l o c k on the novel. But w h i l e these p a r t i c u l a r themes and images r e v e a l much, the notions of ob- s c u r i t y , of l a c k of d i r e c t i o n , of entropy, of anarchy and of absence are too p o w e r f u l l y present to a l l o w f o r a t o t a l i z i n g i n t e r p r e t a t i o n . The ex- 208 ponential growth of interpretative possibilities seems designed, like a labyrinth, to seduce us to enter illusory structures and meanings which leave us stranded, l i k e Slothrop "besieged," in a Zone without a centre—except, paradoxically, that very lack of centre i t s e l f . 209 Notes Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (New York: Modern L i b r a r y , 1931), p. 431. 2 The short s t o r y "Entropy" c o n t a i n s , as Tony Tanner has pointed out, references to Henry Adams whose " t r a i l " through "the t h i c k e s t f o r e s t s of h i s t o r y " i n s p i r e d what Tanner sees as a " t r a c k " through "the urban waste- lan d " i n "Entropy." Tanner a l s o spots i n that short s t o r y a parody of Adams' use of the t h i r d person i n h i s autobiography. See C i t y of Words: American F i c t i o n 1950-1970 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1971), pp. 153-180. And Thomas H. Schaub draws i m p l i c i t connections between Adams' theory of h i s t o r y and themes i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow. See: Pynchon: The Voice of Ambiguity (Urbana, I l l i n o i s : U n i v e r s i t y of I l l i n o i s , 1981), p. 23. 3 I use the term "encyclopedic" as defined by Edward Mendelson i n h i s demonstration that G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow belongs to a h i t h e r t o u n i d e n t i f i e d but important t r a d i t i o n of encyclopedic n a r r a t i v e . The t r a d i t i o n i n c l u d e s : Dante's Commedia, Rabelais's f i v e books of Gargantua and Pantagruel, Cervante's Don Quixote, Goethe's Faust, M e l v i l l e ' s Moby-Dick, and Joyce's Ulysses. See " G r a v i t y ' s Encyclopedia" i n M i n d f u l Pleasures, edited by George Levine and David Leverenz (Boston: L i t t l e , Brown, 1976), pp. 161-195. 4 Thomas Pynchon, G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow (New York: Bantam, 1973), pp. 399-400. Page numbers w i l l be given i n the t e x t f o l l o w i n g the a b b r e v i a t i o n GR. ; B. P. Bobkin, Pavlov, A Biography , (Chicago: U n i v e r s i t y of Chicago Press, 1949), p. 124. B. P. Bobkin, Pavlov, p. 29. ^ Jorge L u i s Borges, "Of Exactitude i n Science" i n A U n i v e r s a l H i s t o r y of Infamy (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1975), p. 131. Northrop Frye, The Modern Century (Toronto: Oxford U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1967), p. 37. 210 9 Jorge L u i s Borges, "The Golem," t r a n s l a t e d by Anthony K e r r i g a n i n A Personal Anthology (London: P i c a d o r , 1972), p. 63. For a d i s c u s s i o n of the use of f i l m i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow see: Schaub, Pynchon: The Voice of Ambiguity, pp. 43-49, and David Cowart, Thomas Pynchon: The A r t of A l l u s i o n (Carbondale and E d w a r d s v i l l e , I l l i n o i s : Southern I l l i n o i s U n i v e r s i t y , 1980), pp. 31-62. ^ As an i l l u s t r a t i o n of Pynchon's t a l e n t f o r i n t r i c a t e and extended m o t i f , we read, seven hundred pages l a t e r , that the boy G o t t f r i e d , who i s to be s a c r i f i c e d i n s i d e the r o c k e t , i s dressed i n "white l a c e , c l o t t e d w i t h blood or sperm" (GR, p. 875). From o l d age to childhood, blood i s s p o i l e r of d e l i c a t e and white surfaces, v i s i b l e spots of v i o l e n c e and m o r t a l i t y . 12 At weekly b r i e f i n g s , Pudding gabs about r e c i p e s , such as "Ernest Pudding's Gourd S u r p r i s e . " "Yes," the n a r r a t o r says, "there JLs something s a d i s t i c about r e c i p e s w i t h " S u r p r i s e " i n the t i t l e . " He continues: "A chap who's hungry ... j u s t wants to b i t e i n t o the (sigh) o l d potato, and be reasonably sure there's nothing i n s i d e but potato you see, c e r t a i n l y not ... some mashed pulp a l l magenta w i t h pomegranates ..." (GR, p. 92; Pynchon's emphasis). Not improbably, the joke i s borrowed from Catch-22. 13 The journey i s a l s o C o l e r i d g e i a n , f o r N a r r i s c h , the o l d seaman, c a r r i e s "by the neck an unplucked dead turkey" (GR, p. 577). 14 Thus Slothrop j o i n s at l e a s t two other American heroes who have, as Tanner p o i n t s out, a f f i n i t i e s f o r the c o l d northern landscape, however f o r - b idding and deathly that landscape may be: Augie March, who longs f o r Greenland i n Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March, and Y o s s a r i a n , who sets out f o r Sweden i n Catch-22. An important a d d i t i o n to the l i s t would be N i c o l a s i n Aquin's Neige Noire (Hamlet's Twin). See: Tanner, C i t y of Words, pp. 80-81. The n o v e l i s t i c archetype f o r northern wanderers i s , of course, Frankenstein and the monster who seeks, he t e l l s h i s pursuer, "the ever- l a s t i n g i c e s of the n o r t h , " and who, at the end of the n o v e l , leaves Walton's ship on "an i c e r a f t " which w i l l c a r r y him to "the most northern extremity of the globe." See: Mary S h e l l e y , Frankenstein i n Three Gothic Novels (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1970), pp. 485, 496. Douglas A. Mackey, The Rainbow Quest of Thomas Pynchon (San Bernadino, C a l i f o r n i a : Bargo, 1980), p. 55. 211 Mark S i e g e l concurs: Each c r i t i c a l view has tended to i s o l a t e one of the r e l a t i v e p o i n t s of view i n the novel as an o b j e c t i v e conception of Pynchon's point of view, w h i l e a c t u a l l y each po i n t of view i s r e a l l y a part of an e n t i r e spectrum which i s the "rainbow" of p o s s i b i l i t i e s encompassed by Pynchon's v i s i o n . See: Pynchon: C r e a t i v e Paranoia i n " G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow" (Port Washington, New York: Kennikat, 1978). And Douglas A. Mackey h i n t s a t the absent- centred nature of the novel when he says: U n l i k e most novels, t h i s one does not become more coherent and more u n i f i e d as the end approaches. Rather, i t f l i e s apart l i k e a rocket e x p l o s i o n . P o i n t s of view fragment and d r i f t away from each other, l i k e separate "Zones" engaged i n a l i t e r a r y d i a s p o r a . See: The Rainbow Quest of Thomas Pynchon, p. 38. 212 CONCLUSION In Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon makes i t narratively and graphically clear to us that Rocketman's c i r c l e over cross hairs is the post-modernist mandala for contemporary landscape, character, and text. The crossed lines of the intricately imaged and grandly proportioned dialectic are aimed at a central nu l l i t y . The rocket i s the complexly structured carrier of that null i t y , though in the explosion at the end of the rainbow arc, i t too is reduced to the same kind of violent absence that i t transports. A similar principle is true of Conrad's and Bely's anarchist bombs: they contain, as i t were, highly compressed fragmentation which bursts the restrictions of it s unnatural boun- daries. If we think of them anthropomorphically—as indeed Pynchon does— bombs and rockets are suicidal. That paradox, the sophisticated structure which moves or expands towards i t s own randomness and fragmentation, finds i t s most elaborate expression in Gravity's Rainbow, but i t is prefigured, however fundamentally, as early as The Princess Casamassima. For James's aristocratic Princess and anarchist Muniment comprise essentially the same dialectic of structure and disconnectedness that we find in Gravity's Rain- bow. And while Hyacinth's uncomfortable position in the middle of that dialectic has a characteristically Jamesian moral and psychological emphasis, i t is no less dangerous than Slothrop's position at the centre of the marks- man's sight. Indeed, Slothrop fares better than Hyacinth i f we agree that his "scattering" in the Zone is a preferable fate to Hyacinth's violent 2 1 3 demise. The d i f f e r e n t n a r r a t i v e responses to the hero's dangerous p o s i t i o n , however, i l l u s t r a t e not only the d i s t a n c e between G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow and The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, but a l s o the development that absent-centred n a r r a t i v e has undergone from i t s tenuous l a t e V i c t o r i a n beginning to i t s more confident Post-Modern r e a l i z a t i o n . James, a f t e r a l l , begins The P r i n c e s s Casamassima as a Dickensian Bildungsroman, though a f t e r only three chapters, he abandons the arduous t r e k from childhood to adolescence to young manhood. Moreover, u n l i k e the generous Dickensian sweep of childhood experience and the l a r g e canvas of i n f l u e n t i a l c h a r a c t e r , James's n a r r a t i v e r e s t r i c t s Hyacinth's e a r l y years p r i m a r i l y to a s i n g l e scene, the p r i s o n v i s i t , which r a t h e r d e t e r m i n i s t i c a l l y s e t s the d i a l e c t i c a l p a t t e r n of h i s a d u l t behaviour. That accomplished, i t i s as though James gives up the V i c t o r i a n Bildungsroman form i n favour of a sur- p r i s i n g l y modern c i t y s c a p e of underground anarchism, confused interminable wandering, and i n e f f e c t u a l a c t i o n that borders on, or at l e a s t p r e f i g u r e s , modernist s o l i p s i s m . The moral vacancies at the centres of a n a r c h i s t and a r i s t o c r a t i c worlds are arranged as a spurious a n t i t h e s i s which Hyacinth, no matter how c a u t i o u s l y or a g g r e s s i v e l y he t r i e s , cannot r e s o l v e . James brings the drama of that d i a l e c t i c to a s u i t a b l y dramatic c l o s u r e : Hyacinth's s e l f - d i r e c t e d p i s t o l shot. As a r e s o l u t i o n to a moral and an i d e o l o g i c a l dilemma, the s u i c i d e i n v i t e s the reader's i n s p e c t i o n of e i t h e r the needless- ness or the pathos of Hyacinth's death. I t a l s o i n v i t e s us to inspect the growth of h i s character to determine what f o r c e s , what causes and e f f e c t s , l e d to the premature end of a hero so blessed w i t h p o t e n t i a l . There i s l i t t l e to be gained by i n s p e c t i n g c h a r a c t e r , i n the Jamesian 214 sense, in Gravity's Rainbow, for Pynchon's characters, l i k e Nabokov's, are tautly strung puppets moved mechanically in the service of narrative structure. They are closer to symbol and emblem than they are to beings with rich inner lives. Thus, Pynchon is reluctant to allow Slothrop either a tragic or a comic end in the text. Slothrop's "scattering" and his unob- trusive exit are intended to ill u s t r a t e the forces of fragmentation and in- completeness which characterize the Zone, a narrative maneuver which says l i t t l e about Slothrop's character. The entropy of Slothrop as a character is achieved in a narratively l i t e r a l way that the conventions of narrative completeness and coherence in Victorian realism could never allow. Thus, no matter how inviting he found the metaphor of anarchist n u l l i t y or the theme of moral vacancy, James chose not to explode his narrative structure in The Princess Casamassima in the manner or to the degree that his descendents did. The result is that the narrative absence in The Princess Casamassima is an uncertain one, never prominently situated, because i t is inconsistently derived from confusing sources: from the "misplaced middle" of the anti- climax, from imagery of the urban labyrinth, from spurious antithesis, and from intentionally crafted mystery. In The Secret Agent and Petersburg, Conrad and Bely inspect the anar- chist theme more completely, and because their imaginations were captivated (and horrified) by the anarchist bomb, their narratives are more consciously arranged around the absence that that instrument of death and fragmentation inevitably creates. Nor are they content, l i k e James, to explore those themes only in terms of the individual. Bely's mystical and metaphysical symbolism may be more elaborate than Conrad's, and i t may be drawn from different sources, yet both novelists explore the apocalyptic shock waves of 215 the a n a r c h i s t bomb which they i n t e r p r e t as symptomatic of the e a r l y modern c o n d i t i o n . By c o n t r a s t , the a p o c a l y p t i c note i n The P r i n c e s s Casamassima i s st r u c k only i n Hyacinth's moments of most extreme panic and de s p a i r . For both Conrad and Bely, the s p a t i a l l y and temporally p a r t i c u l a r i z e d bomb i s used as synecdoche f o r a p r o l e p t i c a p o c a l y p t i c explosion which they view as the l a r g e s t and most threatening absence of a l l . Bely's Petersburg, together w i t h H e l l e r ' s Catch-22, represents an advance i n the progression of absent- centred f i c t i o n because the temporal and s p a t i a l d i s t o r t i o n s which l o g i c a l l y r e s u l t from both a bomb-pierced landscape and an exploded t e x t are more l i t e r a l l y r e a l i z e d . E s p e c i a l l y i n Catch-22, the d i s t o r t i o n s of n a r r a t i v e chronology represent the apt c o n d i t i o n of a hero and a te x t both of which seem to avoid the c e n t r a l event which concerns each of them the most. In t h i s respect and i n i t s e x p l o r a t i o n of the absurdly and b l a c k l y humorous c o n d i t i o n of absent-centredness, H e l l e r i s an appropriate l i n k between the l a t e l i b e r a l m o r a l i s t s , James and Conrad, and the post-modern h e i r of that t r a d i t i o n , Pynchon. Catch-22 t e l l s us that s t r u c t u r e s which l a c k centres are not only p h y s i c a l l y , m o r a l l y , and s p i r i t u a l l y hazardous, but, by v i r t u e of the disconnectedness which i n e v i t a b l y r e s u l t s from absent-centredness, are l a v i s h l y absurd as w e l l . G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow i s more expansive i n i t s use of the absurd, ranging as i t does from the f a n t a s t i c to the b l a c k l y humorous to the grotesque and the pornographic. Just as expansive i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow are i t s landscapes and c i t y s c a p e s , the cast of ch a r a c t e r s , and the b a l l i s t i c technology and in d u s t r y which comprise most, but by no means a l l , of i t s subject matter. In these ways and i n the expansive treatment of s o c i a l and p o l i t i c a l s t r u c - t u r e s , Pynchon's novel i s the most ambitious treatment of absent-centred 216 s t r u c t u r e . Pynchon's predecessors create t h e i r n a r r a t i v e absences by shaping them w i t h s p e c i a l n a r r a t i v e images and s t r a t e g i e s that fragment conventional n o v e l i s t i c s t r u c t u r e ; Pynchon does t h i s too, but u n l i k e James, Conrad, Be l y , and H e l l e r , he achieves a n a r r a t i v e absence, i n a d d i t i o n to the ways mentioned, by dest r o y i n g the n o t i o n of a contained s t r u c t u r e . His predecessors arrange the fragments of t h e i r exploded n a r r a t i v e s so that they c i r c u m s c r i b e the ab- sent centre. Pynchon's expansiveness allows him the added s t r a t e g y of c r e a t - ing absence by e n l a r g i n g the s c a l e of h i s n a r r a t i v e so that a locus seems impossible. In an o v e r l y extended s t r u c t u r e , t e x t u a l or otherwise, l i n e s of f o r c e and power, cause and e f f e c t , d i r e c t i o n , and c e n t r a l i t y become imprac- t i c a b l e . G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow a l s o represents a l o g i c a l extension of absent- centred s t r u c t u r e because i t t e l l s us so. Even Catch-22, which seems as though i t i s always j u s t about to drop i t s n a r r a t i v e guard, never does be- come s e l f - r e f e r e n t i a l . Pynchon's frequent c h a t t e r w i t h the reader, however, not to mention the d i s c u r s i v e passages about the Rocket as Text, d i r e c t s our gaze from absent-centred quests and Zones i n the novel to our own quest through the t e x t — a n d i n v i t e s the obvious p a r a l l e l between Slothrop's experience and our own. Absent-centredness, then, operates on a number of l e v e l s , most of which appear i n G r a v i t y ' s Rainbow. In terms of an i n d i v i d u a l c h aracter, the absent centre can be the non-existent g r a i l of the quest or the zero p o i n t of can- c e l l a t i o n , i n s o l u b l e a n t i t h e s e s , or the "spinning opposites" of d i a l e c t i c s . . I t i s a l s o the much-feared n u l l i t y of an immediate or a p o c a l y p t i c death. In terms of man's environment, the absent-centre i s i n v a r i a b l y i n these t e x t s the l a c k of a v i s i b l e source governing or c o n t r o l l i n g the confusing and seemingly u n c o n t r o l l e d s t r u c t u r e of the c i t y . I t i s imaged c o n s i s t e n t l y as 217 the urban l a b y r i n t h which i s e i t h e r without a c e n t r a l chamber, a chamber w i t h a vacancy, or a chamber w i t h v a r i o u s v e r s i o n s of the death-giving Minotaur. In the l a r g e s t sense, i n terms of the n o v e l i s t s ' h i s t o r i c a l and p h i l o s o p h i c a l v i s i o n , the absent centre becomes the expression of man's l o s s of order, c o n t r o l , and d i r e c t i o n i n h i s world. His moral and s o c i a l s t r u c t u r e s , accord- ing to these t e x t s , are, l i k e the c i t y , c o l l a p s i n g and fragmenting from the l o s s of a u n i f y i n g f o r c e . That l o s s , which begins to appear as the r e l e a s e of a nineteenth-century locus-centred world view i n James's The P r i n c e s s Casamassima, f i n d s a comfortable n a r r a t i v e expression i n the absent-centred s t r u c t u r e i n the novels of Conrad's E a r l y - and Bely's High-Modernism. 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