Psychoanalysis and The Heart of Darkness
In Lacanian psychoanalysis, telling stories is essential to the analysand's (re)cognition of trauma. Julia Kristeva refers to the analysand's narrative as an instance of "'borderline' [neurotic] discourse" which "gives the analyst the impression of something alogical, unstitched, and chaotic" (42). She then explores the pleasure (jouissance) that the analysand experiences in the course of Lacan's talking cure. For the analysand, the pleasure is in the telling: "[T]he analyst is struck by a certain maniacal eroticization of speech, as if the patient were clinging to it, gulping it down, sucking on it, delighting in all the aspects of an oral eroticization and a narcissistic safety belt which this kind of non-communicative, exhibitionistic, and fortifying use of speech entails" (42). This notion of pleasure-in-telling serves both as a point of departure in my reading of Marlow's narrative--his own talking cure--and as a means of interrogating the pleasure-in-reading within the narratological economy of desire.
In his Freudian interpretation of the Heart of Darkness, Peter Brooks asserts that "we must ask what motivates Marlow's retellings--of his own and Kurtz's mortal adventures" (239). Brooks concludes that the primary motivation is Marlow's search for some kernel of essential meaning at the core of Kurtz's tale. Reading in a Lacanian register, I argue instead that the search for meaning plays a secondary role to the telling of the tale itself. Indeed, as Slavoj Zizek notes, symptoms have no meaning outside the context of the recreated scene of trauma: "The analysis produces the truth, i.e., the signifying frame which gives to the symptoms their symbolic place and meaning" (189). Marlow seems aware that for his tale to have any meaning at all for his listeners he must provide a context for reading. In fact, this move to contextualize is Marlow's narrative modus operandi: "[T]o him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine" (4).
His desire to recreate the context from which meaning arises becomes even clearer when, in an anxiety-ridden moment, Marlow demands: "Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream--making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams" (23). Here, the description of the "dream-sensation" also clearly recalls Kristeva's characterization of the "alogical, unstitched, and chaotic" impression created by the analysand's "'borderline' discourse." Ultimately, Marlow realizes that his desire to recreate...