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Irrationality and the Development of Subjectivity

in Major Novels by
William Faulkner, Hermann Broch, and Virginia Woolf

Sabine Sautter
Department of English
McGill University, Montreal
July 1999

A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research in partial

fulflment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

O Sabine Sautter
July 1999

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This dissertation would not have reached its final stage without the help of a
number of generous people.

I owe special thRnks to my supervisor, Gary Wihl, for his unwavering belief in
this project. His dways prompt, incisive, and insightfd comments allowed me to
see connections between theonsts and novefists that became essential to the
development of my critical arguments. Timely financial assistance offered
through a research grant permitted me to work out most of Chapter Two. For his
availability over the last years, and especiaUy these Iast weeks, when his own
persona1 and professional schedule was particularly hectic, 1 am very grateful.
1thank dso my extemal reader and dissertation cornmittee members at McGill for
taking the time during an especially hot summer to read and cornment on this

The Department of English at McGill gave me the chance to design and teach
courses on twentieth century literature through which 1 could gain professional
competence in the field and test out certain of my latest ideas on William Faulkner
and Virginia Woolf in open discussions.
A few fine fiends have helped me nd the right perspective while travelling

through the thesis lands: To Mark Cohen, Martin Behr, and Suzy Suriam, who
have al1 recently finished or are about to finish their own dissertations, thank you
for your solidarity and good compauy. Angela Marinos, though she moved fiom
literature to law and Montreal to Toronto, remains a highly chenshed fiiend and a
source of much mirth.
1must mention my family-in-law for their consideration during the last few days

of dissertation madness. Claudette and Lorraine came to baby-sit and help pack.
Normand, Franois, Alexandre, Joanne and Isabel moved us fkom one apartment
to another. To dl of uhe Lgers, for their support and aid, merci.
My father, Udo Sautter, taught me how to write. His steady encouragement and
unstinting intellectual and personal generosity over the years have contributed
directiy to the completion of this project. He proof-read recent versions of
chapters and offered invaluable guidance in the translation of certain critics. My
mother Hilla Sautter's enthusiasm for the arts, and her ability tell stories have
repeatedly brought literature into life and Me into literature. A heartfelt Danke to
both of you. Andreas and Claudia, thank you for emails, phone calls and postcards that on good occasion reminded me of the world beyond the dissertation.

1 owe my own small but growing family a greater debt than I can express. Chio,
18 months, boni during the gestation of this thesis, has an effusive love of life and

an infectious enthusiasm for detail. Every day 1 discover the world again with and
through her. Deepest thanks go to my'husband, Yves Lger, who has not ody
endured the writing of this dissertation, but also given constructive advice in
conversations about it. He translated the abstract, and in the end also generously
and patiently dealt with page set-up surprises. His amazhg fnendship has
sustained me.


This dissertation demonstrates that irrationality in representative modernist

novels is a significant and valuable feature of subjectivity- Building on
contemporary theories of the novel, the thesis develops two closely related issues:
the novel as an aesthetic vebicle of subjectivity and the novel as a reflection of its
socio-historical moment. In major novels by William F a u h e r , Hermann Broch,
and Virginia Woolf a surrender to irrationality is paradoxicdy portrayed as a
positive act which can contribute to a more complete f E h e n t of the self.
Furthemore, twentieth century notions of the self are ofien expanded,
compiicated, or revised at least in part through the genre of the novel which is
used to represent them.
In three main chapters, the thesis draws an original link between studies of
the novel as genre on the one hand, and explorations of the meaning of
irrationality in early twentieth century fiction on the other. The first on Faulkner
includes a section outlining my research into the theoretical domain of
subjectivity, irrationaiity, modemism, and the novel which serves as a background
for Faulkner, but remains pertinent aIso to the chapters on Broch and Woolf which
follow. With reference to recent social theorists, philosophers of the novel,
medical researchers, and literary critics, the dissertation establishes that Faulkner,
Broch, and Woolf construct works which advance the notion that irrationality c m
be conducive to the development of an autonomous, private self which is actively
engaged in the outside world. Moreover, in each of the novels at the centre of this
study, irrational characters personi* an aspect of the novel which is essentid to
the strucud development of the genre.
Key works by Faulkner, Broch, and Woolf insist that irrationdity is at the
core of a dynamic and modemist representation of identity. In novels by
F a u h e r , irrationality contributes to a flexible sense of time and to the elaboration
In Broch's trilogy, an irrational
of a valuable intersubjective co~~l~~lunication.
approach to reality encourages the development of a temporal, ethical, and
subjective fkeedom. For Woolf, the validation of irrational impulses restrains a
compulsive and debilitating drive towards introspection and facilitates social

Table of Contents


RsUM ......................................................................................................... vil

INTRODUCTION .............................................................................................

CHAPTER 1............................~........................................................................ 15

CHAPTER Il ................................................................................................... 99

.............................................................................................. -177

W ORKS CONSULTED ................................................................................ -245

Cette dissertation explique comment l'irrationalit, dans certains romans

modernes reprsentatifs, est un facteur significatif et dterminant de la subjectivit.
S'inspirant des thories contemporaines du roman, la prsente thse dveloppe
deux thmes troitement lis: le roman comme vhicule esthtique de subjectivit,
et le roman comme rflexion sur son propre moment socio-historique, Dans les
principaux romans de William Faulkner, Hermann Broch et Vuginia Woolf,
l'abandon l'irrationalit est dpeint paradoxalement comme un acte positif
pouvant contn'buer un plus total achvement de soi. En outre, la conception de
soi du vingtime sicle est souvent expansive, complique ou envisage, au moins
en partie, travers le genre de roman utilis pour les reprsenter.
Sur trois chapitres, cet essai dessine des liens originaux entre l'tude du
roman comme genre littraire d'une part, et l'exploration du sens de l'irrationalit
dans les uvres de fiction du dbut du vingtime sicle d'autre part. Le premier
chapitre sur Faulkner inclut une section qui expose les fondements thoriques sur
la subjectivit, l'irrationalit, la modemit et le roman. Ces ides servent de toile
de fond a ce chapitre sur Faulkner, mais elles restent pertinentes aussi pour les
chapitres suivants sur Broch et Woolf. Avec des rfrences aux rcents thoriciens
sociaux, philosophes du roman, chercheurs en mdecine et critiques litraires, cette
dissertation tablit que Fauikner, Broch et WooIfl construisent une uvre qui
avance la notion de l'irrationalit comme vecteur au dveloppement d'une
autonomie, d'une intriorit tout de mme engage dans le monde rel. Qui plus
est, dans chacun des romans au centre de cette tude, les personnages irrationnels
incarnent un aspect du roman qui est essentiel au dveloppement structurel du
Les publications cl de Faulkner, Broch et Woolf prsentent l'irrationalit
au cur de la dynamique de l'identit moderne. Dans les romans de Faulkner,
l'irrationalit contribue au sens flexible du temps et l'laboration d'une
communication subjective valable. Dans la trilogie de Broch, une approche
irrationnelle encourage le dveloppement d'une libert temporelie, thique et
subjective face la ralit. Pour WooK la validation des impulsions irrationnelles
attnue l'attraction compulsive pour l'introspection dbilitante et facilite les
interactions sociales.


Important early 20th century novels are characterised by a depiction of

irrationality that is often held to be a genuine expression of cultural barremess or
personal misery. For many crtics, this irrationality appears to be the hallmark of

those troubled times, and doubtiess some justification can be found for such a

But there is reason to go beyond such a Iimited interpretation and

understand irrationality as having a different meaning. This dissertation proposes

that irrationality in represeatative modernist novels has rather to be seen as a
signifIcant and valuable feature of subjectivity.

Building on contemporary

theories of the novei, this thesis develops two closely related issues: the novel as

an aesthetic vehicle of subjectivity and the novei as a reflection of its sociohistorical moment. The research demonstrates that in major novels by William

FauIkner, Hermann Broch, and Virginia Woolf a surrender to irrationality is

paradoxically portrayed as a positive act that can contribute to a more complete
fulilment of the self. It shows, fiirthermore, how twentieth century notions of the
self are ofien expanded, complicated, or revised at least in part through the genre
of the novei which is used to represent them.
The following chapters draw an original link between studies of the novel
a s genre on the one hand, and explorations of the meaning of irrationality in early

twentieth century fiction on the other. F a d h e r , Broch, and Woolf do not suggest
that the demented mind necessarily holds the key to clear perception. With
detailed references to the fiction of these authors, this thesis shows that the work

of these writers Uidicates rather through a more indirect process that we need
decisively to recognise that irrationality has a potentially emancipatory capacity

within modem society; also, perhaps more importantly, that it positively informs
the construction of the novel which features so prominently in the period.
The Enlightenment engendered the idea that the social and psychological
spheres shouid be understood primarily in rational terrns.

However, in the

twentieth century the reason celebrated by the Enlightenment is not so easily

accepted as a constructive instrument anymore; reason does not always function to
provide human beings with sufncient answers. Catastrophic events such as World
War 1 show one strain of the Enlightenment to be ninning wild, revealing its

potential to lead to the destruction of humankind. In other words, though our

society is still outwardly based on reason, lately reason is under question as a
secure foundation of civil society.
A loss of ratonality is usually associated with social collapse or individual
demise. However, the noveis at the centre of my dissertation work to challenge
the vaiidity of such conventional ideas. Each novel in my stridy represents an

attempt to overcome the negative connotations of irrationality.

The texts I

examine in particular were d l published around the same time-at the end of the
1920s or early in the 1930s. They are: William FauIknerYsThe Sound and the

Furv (1929) and As 1 Lay Dvine; (1930); Hermann Broch's trilogy

Schlafwandler [The Sleepwdkers] (193 112); and Woolf's Mrs. Dallowav (1925),
as w e l as (to a lesser extent) To the Lighthouse (1927) and The Waves (193 1). in

each of these novels the author endeavours to construct an irrational subject in a

positive way, to accept certain conditions of irrationality and thus show a more
liberal and genuine picture of the contemporary individual- These writers suggest
through their novels that the remedy for the negative implications of the
Eniightenment i s not to be found in a denial of the irrationai and a retum to values
of previous times now perceived as shallow, but rather in an acceptance of certain
aspects of irrationality-

In an effort to reveal the volatile, unconscious, and perhaps irrationd

forces which lead to a text's creation, certain cntics engage the vocabulary of
psychoanalytic theories. The focus in these theories has in the past tended to be
on the mind or subconscious of the inventing author; more recently, such theories
have been marked by a stniggle to discover the unconscious forces manifest in the
text itself. The work of the surrealists has perhaps been especially influentid in
bringing the importance of the unconscious to the fore in discussions of twentieth

century art. Influenced by Sigmund Freud and led in France by Andr Breton, the
surrealists tried to create art in an autonomous or liberated fashion, that is,
unhindered by logical controI or societal noms. In many cases these artists were
also obsessed with explorations of clinical insanity? thinking that poetic
reproductions of a mad person's psyche would yield more lucid representations of
Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault have similarly popularised a debate
about the place o f rnadness in our society, investigating how it figures in or is left

out of conventional or literary discourses. This controversy receives attention in

Shoshana F e l m d s Writing and Madness, wherein Felman considers what the
implications of the fact that such a debate is taking place may be. Central to this
scholarship is an examination of the fiuiction of rhetoric and grammar, and a
discussion of how these could express what may in fact not be constniable in a
logical verbal system, as weil as a consideration of how political systems must
necessarily contribute to the suppression of various kinds of madness.

Thus Faulkner, Broch, and Woolf are certainly not alone in dealing with
irrationality in twentieth century art. Their expressions and theorisations of
irrationality can be seen as contributing to a more generalised concern about the
role which irrationality plays in contemporary society. However, the dissertation
does not focus on how symptoms of mental illness may influence an artist's
creative process; nor does it deal with the question of how literature engages the
possibility of 'speaking' madness. Instead, 1concentrate more specifically on how
Faulkner, Broch, and Woolf deliberately develop a particulariy modern, irrationd
subject within their novels, and how a related irrational impulse practicallythough perhaps surreptitiously-informs the construction of the novel.
The existing research directly linking irrationality and the novel is slight.

T.R.N.Edwards reflects in Three Russian Writers and the kational on a "tension"

which exists between a system based on a purely rational philosophy and writers
whose impulse it is to rebel against an official order based on such principles (1).
Elliot B. Gose, Jr. has published a study of irrationality in the fiction of the

previous century-

In ImaPination uidulged: The Irrational in the Nineteenth

Century, he places certain prominent writers within a tradition of the irrationai.

Gose argues that the term Urationality can be expanded as Fantasy, Romance,

Fairy Tale, Dream, and Ritual (13); Iike many critics treating early twentieth
century writing, he equates rrationality with an "indulgence of the imagination"

(1 8)Other studies which deal with the issue of irrationality in modernist or

post-World War 1 literature tend generaliy to treat it as a peripheral matter or to
dismiss it as a negative feature of the artwork of an age which is easily disposed to
be nihilistic or negative. Even Georg Lukacs, whose theory of the novel 1 invoke
to a large degree in this dissertation, sounds a disapproving note when dealing
with irrationdity in early twentieth century literature. As Astradur Eysteinsson
notes in The Concept of Modernism, Lukacs, like many of his contemporaries,
"attacks modernism for not creating believable and lasting 'types,' but instead
effecting a fading of characters into a congeaiment in ghostly irrationality."
Eysteinsson remarks that within such a view, modemism redises a "dark vision"
which inchdes corruption and degeneracy. "By reducing reality to a nightmare,"
Eysteinsson writes in swomarising this idea, "possibly in the nebulous
consciousness of an idiot, and through its obsession with the morbid and the
pathological, modernism partakes in a glorification of the abnormal, ui 'anti-

humanism"' (29-30). Indeed, irrationality is seen here as destructive, as a setback

on the road to reasonable progress, or the very least, as David Pears notes, as a

malfunctioning of the mental faculties. LCIrrationality,"

Pears asserts in Motivated
Irrationaiity, "is an incorrect processing of information in the mind" (14).

In this thesis, however, 1 show that in the fiction of Faulkner, Broch, and
Woolf, irrationality often figures not simply as something erroneous or depraved,
but as something which exists as a potentially positive force. Irrationality has the
power, even the tendency, to open up new forms of meaning, to initiate a process
of restnicturing both on a personal and social level. The novels of the authors 1
have chosen corne out of rapidly changing social conditions. This thesis shows
that in a few cntical instances modemist experirnents with novelistic form
actually fiinction to promote a relinquishing of conventional modes of rational

The following chapters do not consider how the novels of Faulkner,
Broch, and Woolf may give voice to a suppressed political dissidence; nor do 1
treat inventiveness or creativity as a synonym for irrationality. The basic idea
informing my definition of irrationality is more straightforward; 1 rather hold that
to be irrational is to be not guided by reason. In the chapters that follow, this
definition is contextualised and made more precise in order to reflect how
irrational activity may be a reaction to occurrences taking place in a civilisation
based outwardly and formally on reason, and how social circumstances may
contribute to the development of beliefs about what, exactly is considered
reasonable. Some key questions guide m y discussion of the primary texts. 1
inquire how Faulkner, Broch, and Woolf offer an alternative to the "generalised

culture of nihilism" presumed to be prevaient in the twentieth century (Harrison

219). Since there is evidence that the modem individuai, faced with the horrors of
contemporary existence or the loss of mity in daily life looks to art for saivation
(Eysteinsson 9), 1aiso ask what kind of "redemption" an irrationd approach to
reality suggests. My research advances fiom the point that the novel, which is Ina

way a record of how we have defked o w conditions of subjectivity, undergoes

substantid and significant changes during the first half of the twentieth century,
tending to become increasingly experimental. 1 show that Faukner, Broch, and
Woolf help to redefine the significance of irrationality to the subjective self and so
also to open up new ways of writing the novel that represents it.

1 have chosen Faulkner, Broch, and Woolf because these writers al1 follow
an impulse to explore the possibilities associated with the negation of rational

control without totdly repudiahg the benefits usually identified with an artificial
construction of genre. In the novels at the centre of this study the authors use
novelistic discourse to examine the role of the individual subject and its
occasiondly irrational tendencies in order to develop a more vibrant, elastic, and
complex notion of the self. This dissertation focuses on the specifics of particular
novels to discover the various ways in which Faulkner, Broch, and Woolf depict
irrationality as a powerfirl and potentially liberating, if sometimes perilous forceFaulkner, Broch and Woolf each incorporate into their fiction individuals who
ultimately act on impulses which are beyond logical construction. The novels
under consideration uiclude protagonists who are not motivated to reasonable

action- Main characters such as Faulkner's Benjy, Broch's Huguenau, or Woolf3

Mrs. Dalloway, moving in worlds that are at l e s t outwardly based on reason,
often present themselves to the reader as irrationai; in some instances they seem
even to celebrate or exalt in a certain haphazardness.

Benjy is what his

community considers an "idiot'' who is unable to make logical c~mectionswith

any consistency; Huguenau delights in acting purely on impulse, in behaving

ematically; and Clarissa, perhaps more rational t h a . the rest, puts forward the
notion that she is indeed more than one person. Yet though their actions and
thoughts may seem inconsistent, random, or sometimes even absurd, the irrational
characters in these novels cannot be dismissed as merely exceptional or deviant.

The work of Faulkner, Broch, and Woolf is not usually studied with the
aim of discovering how the authors' explorations of irrationality influence the
construction of subjectivity. However, 1 argue that the irrational characters are
important in this regard for at least two major reasons. First, as mentioned above,
they represent these authors' attempt to see irrationality as a potentially positive
phenornenon. The narratives associated with the irrationai characters frequently
offer the keenest and most penetrating insight into the problem at hand. The
irrational characters, 1 furthemore contend, also play an essential part in the
structure of the works in which they figure. Upon first consideration this role may
seem inimical or at l e s t counterproductive to the novel's objective as it is
genericdy defined. The illogical connections associated with the protagonists in
the fiction of Faulkner, Broch' and Woolf in one way seem to work against the

novel's goal, which, according to theorists such as Lukacs, is totality or

wholeness, Lukks is my main source for linking subjectivity to the genre of
novel writing. The novel as a form, writes Lukics in The Theorv of the Novel,
aims dways towards a "resolution of a fundamental dissonance of existence" (62).
The irrational characters, however, do not appear to contribute to the
establishment of any kind of harrnony. Rather, sustaining Lukacs's rnetaphor of
music, one c m Say that they appear through their very existence to further a kind

of discord or cacophony.

It is important to realise, however, that the theorists who daim, as does

Lukacs, that the novel aims always toward completion, dso that the
novel will, by defmition, never fully redise its purpose, Save perhaps on a
theoretical or conceptual level. "Totality can o d y be systematised in abstract
terms" writes Lukics (Theory 70). The novel strives for closure, but its effort to
reach this end must inevitably and perpetually be frustrated.

It is thwarted

primarily by the growing difference between exterior@ and intenom, or what

Luk6cs neatly identifies as the "conventionality of the object worId and the
interionty of the subjective one" (Theow 70). In this view, there can never be a
full reconciliation of the two disparate aspects of existence within a single
novelistic piece of prose.
But the fact that the novel will never achieve its generic goal is a positive
thing. It is the novel's inability fuIly to systematise a certain totality that keeps it

fiom tuming into kitsch or a mere piece of entertainment literature. "The

compfeteness of the novei's world," maintains Lukacs, "if seen objectively, is an

irnperfection" (ThTh 71).

The novel, by Lukhcs's definition, continuaIIy

appears "as something in the process of becoming" (Theorv 72-3).

The novel acquires its dynamic quality by incorporating and actudising a

continual strife between contradictory, not easily reconcilable aspects of reality. It

gets its life-force, so to speak, fiom a kind of perpetual disparity. "Every form is

the resolution of a fiindamental dissonance of existence," writes Lukiics. "Every

f o m restores the absurd to its proper place as the vehicle, the necessary condition
of meaning" (Theory 62). Within the novel, though, the absurd, the incongruous
aspects of being are never nnally overcome; they rernain intrusive, impertinent.
By retaining theh discrepant qualities, however, they keep the genre of the novel



The creation of f o m s is the most profound c o b a t i o n of the existence

of a dissonance," Lukacs maintaim. "But in al1 other genres . . . this a h a t i o n

of a dissonance precedes the act of fonm giving, whereas in the novel it is the form
itself' (Theolr 72).

In the following chapters 1 show how the irrationai characters in the novels
of Faulkner, Broch, and WooIf somehow p e r s 0 6 this dissonance which remains
essential to the novel's form and structure.

The irrational characters deS.

predictability; their actions and mental processes are by definition illogical,

unreasonable. Their narratives are irregular, highly unconventional. True, within
their fictional world their own lives seem to hinder a more rational or conclusive

progression of events; but even here, other more reasonable characters often gain
significant wisdom only through their communication or interaction with them.

A reassessment of the role of irrationality in the modem novel is timely,

since many critics and theorists consider the novel to be the most important and
also most appropriate art form of contemporary western literature. n e novel is
deemed to be representative at least in part because at the centre of the novel there
is, generally speaking, an individual whose pnvate reality is not accessible
through the Eniightenment's tools of reason. Furthermore, the structure of the
novel itself is essentially unpredictable, apparently reflecting the tnily variable and
uncertain nature of our modern existence. "The novel is the epic of an age in
which the extensive totality of life is no longer directiy given," asserts Lukacs, "in
which the immanence of meaning in iife has become a problem, yet which still
think in terms of its totality" (Theorv 56).

The novel's protagonist, adds Lukacs,

"is the product of estrangernent from the outside wor1d" [Theow 66).
From its inception the novel as an art form has inspected the interior life of
its protagonist, attempting to reveal, directly or indirectly, the purpose or nature of
a particular subjective reality. Milan Kundera in The Art of the Novel thus claims

that it is with Don Quixote that the trend of novelistic writing was initiated.
Cervantes inaugurates an art concemed with investigations of man's being-which is forgotten by philosophy and science" (4-5).

Anthony Cascardi,

fbrthermore, points out that Cervantes through his novel brings into the world a

man whose visions of windrnills leads readers to question "the bounds of reasony'
(Bounds xi).
The problem of constructing subjectivity and figuring out the limitations
and possibilities associated with it has persistently informed the novel in ail its
various permutations, but in the early twentieth century it presents itself in
innovative ways. The fiction of this period is often highly experimental and very
often meant to provide greater insight into the nature of subjectivity. Moreover,
and perhaps most importantly, a self-conscious sense of noveIty persists during

this period. Contributing to this sense of newness is the fiction of writers such as
Faulkner, Broch, and Woolf. Important novels by these authors convey the idea
that i r r a t i o n w should be properly considered an acceptable, potentially positive,
even creative aspect of our existence. My dissertation shows that these authors
cast irrationality in a new light and so present original ways of corning to terms
with the subjectivity which is at the centre of our modem d e e t i o n of the self'.

This dissertation is comprised of three main parts, with one chapter

devoted to each wrter. Chapter One on Faulkner includes a section outlinig my
research into the theoretical domain of subjectivity, irrationality, modernism, and
the novel. This section serves as a background for Faulkner, but it remains
pertinent also to the chapters on Broch and Woolf which follow. Chapter One
reveals that my investigations benefit in particular fiom Jrgen Habermas's and
Charles Taylor's work on subject formation, Georg Lukacs's and Milan
Kundera's research into the structure and form of the novel, as well as Stephen
Kem's writings on cultural innovations in the modern period- The work of these

writers and theonsts puts forward compelhg ideas about the development of
modemism, subjectivity, and the novel, and it has contributed in valuable ways to
my own general sense of how the novel works to represent the subject of the age
out of which it cornes.

The selection of these studies as the basis of my

theoretical approach aiso impIies that 1 presume, for the most part, that modeniism

has not yet M y run its course, and that the experiments which F a d h e r , Broch,
and Woolfconstmct through their fiction are part of a larger and continuhg effort
of twentieth century writers to come to terms with the subject's tendency to see

itself as isolated fiom a more rationally oriented and public reality. Faulkner,
Broch, and Woolf do not present a sure-fie means to overcome the dilemmas of
our tirne.

But through their innovative inclusions of irrationality in their

constructions of subjectivity, they appear to incorporate more M y and

imaginatively into the novel certain diverse aspects of our contemporary

Chapter I

Finding Form Through Idiocy and Demenfia:

Willam Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and As 1 Lay Dying

Fauikner's depictions of irrationality figure most obviously in two novels:

The Sound and the Fury (1929) and As 1Lav Dving (1930).' In The Sound and
the Fur~r,an irrational character, Benjy Compson, begins the t e i h g . His lengthy

first monologue introduces the reader to the other figures in the novel, but his
language is notoriously difficult and opaque; his irrationality is congenital, and he
has trouble establishing logicd relationships between events. In As I Lay D~ing,

an irrational character again opens a series of monologues. Darl Bundren is the

first and most voluble of an extensive series of speakers. Darl's narratives are
scattered and confiised on various levels, and he behaves in a way that seems to
his community to be utterly foofish. By the end of the novel, he is committed to a
Jackson insane asylum.
With siuprisingly few exceptions, Faulkner criticism presents the
irrationality of these characters in a negative light. Whether read as a feature of
the madness assumed to be prevalent in early twentieth century society, as an
exposition of an unfortunate aspect of southem culture, or more simply as a verbal
manifestation of the bizarre eccentricity of a certain individual, the irrationality of
characters such as Benjy and Darl (and the words associated with them) is usuaily
constnied as something one rnust 'get beyond' in order to arrive at the more

coherent meaning of the novels.

In different ways, the irrational characters

dominate the novels in which they figure; critics maintain, however, that at the
same time these characters represent a kind of degeneracy and hopelessness
because their social situations are bleak and because their narratives within the
novels fi-ustrate a clear or comprehensible central idea The irrational characters

thus appear to undermine definitions of the protagonist as hero and contribute to a

nihilistic sense that twentieth century existence may be interpreted as an absurd
Using As I Lav Dvhq and The Sound and the Furv as a base, it is possible
to show that Faulkner actually promotes a more generous and constructive reading
of irrationality. The following sections on the novels demonstrate that through
characters such as Dar1 and Benjy Faulkner explores the positive effects a
surrender to irrationality rnay engender. By examinllig closely the narrations of

the irrational characters in The Sound and the Furv and As 1 Lay Dying, and by
considering also the s i g d c a n c e of their sections within the larger structural
context of the works, 1 show that Benjy and Dari both embody a force which
through the genenc form of the novel acts to diminish stulhf&~g readings and
encourages instead an open attitude towards the diverse aspects of conternporary
existence and the potential of the individual subject acting in it. My research on
the irrationai subject in The Sound and the Fuw and As 1 Lav Dvinq discloses a
conceptual contnuity between cultural theories of aesthetic modernity introduced

by Jrgen Habermas, Stephen Kern, and Charles Taylor, and theories of the novel
put forth by Georg Lukacs and Milan Kundera

In the following 1use the work of these theorists to show that though on
one level the irrational characters may appear pathetic or even doomed, on another
level they demonstrate that irrationality has a liberating capacity within modem
society. Without glorifjhg madness or diminishing the essential value of sound
mental health, Faulkner's work indicates through the narratives of the kational
characters the possibility of producing through the novel a version of what
that Iater, mid-century surrealist
Habermas describes as the "emancipatory effectY7
revolts against aesthetic structures failed to initiate ("Modemity" 11). Fadkner's
deliberate emphasis on the irrational reminds us that one of the noveIYsmain
purposes as a genre is to re-evaluate models of being, to reassess paradigms of
consciousness. Through the narratives of Benjy and Darl, Faulkner positively
evaluates the role irrationality plays in the modem novel and the complex inner
and outer worlds it aims to represent. The irrational component of Fauber's As 1
Lay Dving and The Sound and the FW affimis that the novel as a genre

emphasises the idea of process; that the novel with lasting value, however
convincingly it illustrates power relations or social dynamics of a certain time,
works primarily to initiate change and foster a critical attitude towards established

In order to demonstrate this, 1 treat The Sound and the Fury and As 1 Lay
Dving in separate sections below.

Though the significance of the irrational

protagonist's narration is at the centre of both discussions, 1 have chosen a

different path through the novel in each case. With regard to The Sound and the

Fun, 1 locate the meaning of irrationality to the construction of subjectivity by

tracing the irrationd protagonistysreationship to tirne. Critics have considered
the topic of time in The Sound and the Fuw in various ways since the publication
of the novel, but the constructive and positive link between irrationality and
subjectivity which Benjyysidiosyncratic time-consciousness encourages has yet to
be made. 1 argue that the confsion of temporal states in Benjy's opening section
expresses a post-Bergsonian time consciousness that fin& its pardel in the
construction of the novel which aims creatively and continually for total
inclusiv@. Part 1, then, evaluates the significance of irrationaiity in The Sound

and the Furv by linking Lukics's and Kundera's theories of the novel with cultural
theories of aesthetic modemity discussed by Kern and Habermas.

Part II proposes that a similar time consciousness informs As 1 Lay Dyinq.

However, the focus in this section is not on time but on social interaction, The
complex structure of As 1 Lav Deng necessitates an exploration of connections
between characters, and it is through an examination of these associations that 1
reveal how Darl's irrationaI way of narrating his existence offers vaiuable yet
unconsidered possibilities in relation to his social world. Part II on As 1 Lay

Dying takes up ideas presented in Part 1; it complements ideas on subject

formation with related concepts Charles Taylor outlines in Sources of the Self. In

Part II, 1 thus show how the novel promotes a revision of subject/object and

inside/outside categones without denying the usefulness of conventional lirnits. It

becomes apparent that Dari's narrative, like the time consciousness in the
kational sections of The Sound and the Fury, Ulvolves a continuai integration of
opposites-a process that is paramount to the generic structure of the novel and
which in Faulkner's fiction inevitably leads to a more flexible sense of subjective
identity. Where in The Sound and the Furv this integration involves an emerging
sense of past, present, and fkture, in As 1 L w Dving it signals a move towards
what, afier Habermas, we cal1 intersubjective communication.
Though rarely grouped together in a single study, these theorists-Habermas, Taylor, Kem, Lukacs, and Kundera-when considered collectively and
in relation to the irrational characters in As 1 Lay Dynq and The Sound and the
Fur% offer a new and propitious way of coming to terms with Faulkner's

imovative and cornplex contributions to twentieth century notions of subjectivityTaylor's work in Sources of the Self which defines major trends into artistic
investigations of perception helps to contextualise Faulkner's writing within a
broader fiamework of modemism. Kern's The Culture of Tirne and Space: 18801912 sirnilarly provides crucial background regarding formative social and

scientific forces current during the period leading up to Faulkner's wrting. In The
Theorv of the Novel, L u k h argues vehemently against the advantages of
incorporating an irrationai and particular subject into the novel. However, another
aspect of his theory allows us to consider the irrationai subject in a more positive
manner. Lukacs's concept of the novel as a work of art continually in process

which aims for but never quite reaches completion or wholeness offers the

possibility of an effective link between Habermas and Kundera. In other words,

through Lukacs 1 make a connection between the philosophical time
consciousness of aesthetic modernity which Habermas writes about in the opening
section of "Modernity-An

Incomplete Project" and the more accessible or

popular theory based on a fundamental existentid uncertauity which Kundera

articulates fiom the point of view of a fiction writer in The Art of the Novel. In
subsequent sections of "Modemitf

which 1 discuss directly below, 1 find the

starting point for rereading Fauikner's The Sound and the Fuw and As 1 Lay

Dving as innovative contributions to the project of the Enlightenment. Looking at

Faulkner's novels in conjunction with Habermas, Kern, Lukacs, and Kundera, we
see that an irrational approach is not so much an impediment to a fuller redisation
of the self, but a necessary and also always potentiaily positive part of the novel
that innovatively represents this self while simultaneousIy also reflecting the age
out of which it cornes.

In Modernity-An Incomplete Project" Habermas descnbes how the


project of modernity, which results in a division of cultural questions into at least

three categones--religion, morality, and art, has tended to result in an increasing
dienation of the findings of a given discipline fiom the values present in the "life

Each sphere is developed according to the niles of its "inner logic" to

such a degree that the knowledge of the expert whose time is devoted to the study

of a particular domain finaliy becomes irreievant to the person whose vocabuiary

and expenence has not grown in a suniIar way. As a result, prohibitive fences are
formed, and the particular intelligence of experts in a certain field ceases to be
accessible to the layperson or even to a professional worlcing in a difKerent
domain. Thus the project of the enlightenment fails: specialised knowledge faiis
to enrich everyday reality.


With cultural rationalisation of this soc" Habermas

writes, %e threat increases that the He-world, whose traditional substance has

already been devalued, will become more and more impoverished" ("Modernity"

In order to improve the conditions of the "Me worId" in the twentieth
century, certain avant-garde groups have attempted to break down the barriers
whkh mark the circumference of specific domains.

In the narne of greater

intellectual fieedom or social liberty, these groups bring a kind of intellectual

h a m e r down on enlightenment structures. Habermas argues, however, that these
sorts of radically destructive gestures do not bring about an "emancipatory effect";
instead, they lead only to a fundamental absurdity:

Al1 those attempts to level art and life, fiction and praxis, appearance and
reality to one plane; the attempts to remove the distinction between
artefact and object of use, between conscious staging and spontaneous
excitement; the attempts to declare everything to be art and everyone to be

an artist, to retract a11 criteria and to equate aesthetic judgement with the
expression of subjective experiences--al1 these undertakings have proved

themselves to be sort of nonsense experiments. (Habermas, "Moderniwi

To prove his point, Habermas cites the work of the surrealists. Surrealist
art is rneant to release the meaning of representation fiom artificial restraints.
Perhaps more than any other avant-garde group, the surrealists brought the
importance of the unconscious to the fore in discussions of twentieth century art.
Their artistic explorations of clinicaf insanity were often meant to lead to more
lucid representations of reality-representations in which no distinctions between
interna1 and extemal existence would be evident, and wherein borders between art

and Life would h a l l y be eliminated.

Without denigrating the surrealist ambition, Habermas deems their venture
to be an indisputable failure.

"When the containers of an autonomously

developed cultural sphere are shattered," Habennas writes, "the contents get
dispersed. Nothing remains fiom a desublimated meanhg or a destructured form;

an emancipatory effect does not follow" C'Modernity" 11).

Indeed, the

surrealists' paradoxically wilfid attempts to abandon consciousness in the hope of

facilitating an unmediated communication between inner and outer worlds or
between art and life often resulted in ostensibly chaotic, intensely personal
representations. As a result, the meaning inherent in surrealist art is often evident

only to the producer. The effect is antithetical to the intention. As Habermas

points out, the barriers that the surrealists meant to demolish were actually
fortified by their endeavours; ironically, the surrealist experiments reidorced the

separations that cuitural rationalisation had produced. The distance between self
and other, life and art-it becomes more evident when subjectivity is intensined at
the expense of the object world

"These [surrealist] experiments," Habermas

writes, "have served to bring back to We, and to illuminate all the more glaringly,
exactly those structures of art which they were meant to dissolveyyCbModeniity"

The article "Modernity-An Incomplete Projecty' cornes out of Habermas's

ongoing research on the problem of reconciling private and public spheres in a
way that encourages a pursuit of eniightenment principles, and here, as in his
earlier work, Habermas sees the individual subject as the necessary starting point
of innovation and change. Habermas proposes an extensive re-evaluation of our
conception of the individual subject's situation in the world in order to inaugurate
a special kind of conversation between people--a discussion necessary to the
eventual establishment of a true democracy. As Robert C. Holub points out,
posits intersubjectivity as a way to avoid the dilemmas inherent in the
'philosophy of consciousness.' Instead of proceeding nom the isolated
subject confionthg the objective world, Habermas opts for a mode1 that
considers human beings in dialogue with each other to be the foundation
for emancipatory social uhought. (365)

This intersubjectivity, based on the development of "communicative reason,"

stresses a laterd interaction between individual subjects and as such needs to be

differentiated fFom "instrumental reason," which promotes 3echnical control and

mastery of nature in orienting social life to calculating, goal-directed forms of
actiony' (Li 46).

Haberrnas disputes the efficiency and progressiveness of

instrumental reason, which, according to his investigations, is currently and

unfortunately dominant in the western world (Holub 365).

In his research on the novel, Habermas shows the novel to originate in the
publication of private correspondence and confessional writing; his work indicates
that the novel is essentially a means of o f f e ~ "intimacy
as a matter for public
scrutin+-an art f o m which "depends on and fosters the legitimation of the
public utterance of private opinions" (Holub 364).

His cultural theones of

aesthetic modernity might thus nuitfidly be invoked in literary criticism to

authorise or augment the cultural value of the novel and enliven the debate about
the novel's relevance in promoting private identity in the public world. However,
Habermas's work is usually included for such purposes in discussions which treat
the novel as a general phenornenon of the Enlightenment era, and it is rarely
considered in relation to specific novels of the modemist period.
1 suggest that a more explicit link between Habermas and Faulkner is

beneficial both to readers of Faulkner's novels and followers of Habermas's

theory. The connection is advantageous because, in a way, Faulkner's fiction
anticipates many of the problems that Habermas writes about in "Modernity-An
Incomplete Project."

Witten over fifty years before the publication of

Habermas's article, As 1 Lav DVinq and The Sound and the F u dramatise the

difficulties that inevitably accompany a strictly rational approach; the novels

Iikewise illustrate the negative consequences which result fiom an intensification
of subjectivity at the expense of the object world. The paralIels that can be drawn
are interesting and numerous. However, my intention here is not to provide an
extensive report of the snilarities between the two wnters, nor to superimpose
the one's theory on the other's fiction-that is, use Habermas's concepts to explain
Faulkner's novels. Rather, in the following sections, 1 accept the basic cultural
context Habermas provides in his article as a practical platform fiom which to go
on to re-evaluate an important and eequently misunderstood elernent of
Faulkner's writing.
Through a discussion of As 1 Lav Dying; and The Sound and the Furv, I
consider points relevant to those which Habermas explicitly debates in his article.
However, 1 also show that Faulkner's novels posit a possibility which Habermas

himself does not admit-that is, that an irrational approach to reality may be
constructive in the formulation of contemporary notions of subjectivity.
Habermas sees an irrational approach to reality as necessarily doomed and
cchopeIess." Faulkner's fiction shows that irrationality plays an important and
infiuential role in the novel which continuously attempts to corne to terms with
the complex inner nature of the individual subject while keeping in touch with the

problematic of its time.

In Faulkner's novels, the irrational person does not succeed in changing

the world to suit his purposes; Faulkner does not glamorise Benjy's mental

handicap or celebrate Darl's apparent lunacy. Yet an irrational approach remains

auspicious because it promises to facilitate a more accurate representation of the
heterogeneity wtiich idomis an early twentieth century conception of the world.
On the level of plot, the irrationd person tends to encourage in his peers a more
insightfiii and intuitive interpretation of events. On a structural level, an irrational
component enables the construction of a genre which moves propitiously towards

an unbounded, interactive subjectivity, but which always at the same time

includes some kind of formd, recognisable structure to ensure the public
meaningflness of the private worlds which it elaborates.

In Part 1 and Part II 1 illustrate how Faulkner's fiction suggests that it is the
irrational component in the novel that keeps the arrangement of the genre's formal
structures flexible and productive. In As 1 Lay Dyinq and The Sound and the

F m , irrationality calls into question the validity of established boundaries. It

does so, though, without finally denying the usefulness of limits imposed by a
reasonable method. In other words, Faulkner's novels uphold the vdue of chance
or accident within a carefully arranged design. Through a continuous, slightly
haphazard, necessarily serendipitous integration of opposite forces, As 1 Lay

Dving and The Sound and the Fury recommend a kind of "unconstrained
interaction" indispensable to the production of an "cemancipatoryeffecty' which
Habermas writes about.

In As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Furv, Faulkner shows the novel
to be an art form which includes a practical suggestion for approaching what

Habermas calls the "project of the enIightement." Reading As 1 Lav Dving and
The Sound and the Furv, we find the novel to be an accessible medium of
expression which underscores the positive possibilities associated with formal
anarchy, but which at the same time preserves the inevitable value, the
unavoidable necessity even, of structural limits or d c i a l divisions. Taken
together, Faulkner's The Sound and the F m and As 1 Lav Dving indicate that
irrationality is a constructive and key ingredient in the novel which both reflects
its socio-historcal moment and constnicts a subjectivity that is privately
legitimate and publicly meaningfiil. Using a Habermasian terminology, we can
Say that together The Sound and the Furv and As 1 Lay Dying suggest that the
rationalisation of society-if

it is to be practical and effective--includes an

irrational element which simultaneously enables and promotes a valuable

intersubjective communication.

My investigation of the role of irrationaiity in As 1 Lav Dving; and

Sound and the Fuzy is part of a larger current effort on the part of Faulkner
researchers to re-evaluate the meaning and relevance of the subject in Faulkner's
fiction. The issue of subjectivity lies at the centre of many recent Faulkner
studies, including, most notably perhaps, the 1995 Cambridge Cornpanion to
William Faulkner. Editor Philip Weinstein remarks in the introduction to this
study that the volume's contributors respond in their essays to ten questions

(formulated in advance in order to bring out the relevance of Faulkner's prose in

the 1990s). The questions address topics such as reader response criticism,
Fauher's possible post-modernism, the social and politicam implications of
Faulkner's writings,

and the significance of Fauikner's own cultural


Question five addresses directiy the topic of Fauikner's


of subjectivity and their relevance to and in a larger pubiic

communitytYIt reads:
How does Faulkner's work explore the construction of human subjectivity
(that personal space of thinking, feeling, and doing that-with whatever
qualifications-we insist on as the domain of our private identity and that
fiction has long taken as its special province)? How do Fauikner's texts
produce the %traffic" between this interior resource and the larger culture's
incessant demands on the individual? (2)

Most critics writing in this voiume agree with major ideas deveioped in
previous criticism: that Faullazer in his novels attempts to probe more deeply
than many of his contemporaries into the recesses of human consciousness, and
that his writing tends on the whoie to challenge what in retrospect we deem to be

a typically modernist way ideas about individual consciousness. In order to

rneasure Faulkner's continuing relevance, many of the writers in this volume aiso
comment on how Faulkner may be considered a post-modern writer; thus, in the
Com~anionanswers to the question of how Faulkner's work explores the
construction of h a n subjectivity are often formulated in terms of race, ethnicity,
class, and gender. Taken together, the articles propose that Faulkner's location

within his culture is of paramount importance, and hat the subjectivity he

formuiates in his fictions also somehow reflects conventional notions of character
and identity.

"It is difficult not to oppose these terms-autonomy


situatedness," Weinstein writes in the introduction, "yet many essays in this

volume suggest that subjectivity itself is but a reaccenting of culturalIy proffered
(or imposed) models of being" (12).
Notable exceptions are found in articles by Andr Bleikasten and Warwick
Wadlington. In ccFallaierfkom a European Perspective," Bleikasten points out
that Faulkner's uninterrupted popularity in European literary circles-in which
many readers gain their knowiedge of the American South through Faulkner's

novels-indicate the possibiity that his writing should perhaps be lauded for its
tramcultural potential insuead of its "situatedness" (77). "Knowledge of the social

and historical conditions under which a novel was written is indispensable for a
proper understanding of its cuitural environment," Bleikasten writes. "A novel' s
relationship to its environment, however, is never simply representational"
("European" 77-8). Relating Faullcner to a Iist of other "giants" of the twentieth
century who have contributed in a meaningfid way to novelistic writing>
Bleikasten claims modernist vaiting, though incredibly diverse, does usually
and "an inward turn" (81).
emphasise the idea of "an open e n ~ ~ c l o ~ e d(86)
Moreover, cc What characterises modernist fiction," Bleikasten writes, "is the ever
renewed tension between mimesis (foregrounding of the referent) and poesis
(foregrounding of the medium and the writing process)" (84).

Wadiington in "Conclusion: The Stakes of Reading Fauher-Discerning

Reading" argues that in the 1990s m e reader's subjective state is what is at
stake," since western society condones an "exaggerated split between the single
subjectivity (in this case, the solitary reader's) and the plural subjectivity (here,
that of the readers who collectively make up a reading public)" (199). Faulkner's
fiction proves this split fdse as it repeatedly shows how "multiple possibilities in
culture(s) can also produce a healthy opposition to destructive cultural mindsets
and habits" (199). Wadlington asserts that readers-critics and non-professionals
(Faulkner's "people," as Wadlington c d s them)--ofien "need but fail to receive"
the "crucial discerning recognition of clifference within relatedness and
relatedness within difference" that Faulkner's fiction offers (200). Wadlington

insists that Faulkner's pictuhg of race relations, especially in Go Down Moses,

show that Faulkner's fiction includes self-cntical aspects.

It does not avoid

and "opposition," but it certaUlly does not recommend any "false
polarisation'' either (202).
Both Bleikasten and Wadlington here propose that Faulkner continues to
be a vaIuab1e part of our cuiture because his novels contain an unresolvable
ingredient which is relevant to our persisting sense that flux and uncertainty mark
our world. Moving M e r in this direction, 1 explore in the sections that follow

how in The Sound and the Furv and As 1 Lav Dving Faulkner positively evaluates
the irrational component of the novel which helps to foreground and sustain the
idea that such factors are unmistakably paramount. I argue that Faulkner's novels

undeniably associate progressive possibilities with the irrational characters, and

that these possibilities are most evident when one considers Faulkner's novelistic
constructions of subjectivity-

In As 1 Lay Dving and The Sound and the Fury Faulkner presents
Urationaiity as a means through which to express cornplex, contradictory, and
unrealised possibilities for the seE The private worlds of the characters which
Fauikner represents through the discrete sections of the novels contain important
clues about how we shodd assess the Ilrational contributions of major players.

The various monologues in Faulkner's novels show, sometimes directly, though

often more subtly and indirectly, that the irrationality of characters such as Dar1

and Benjy is in fact not so much an obstacle in the way of the realisation of a
particular goal as it is a vehicle leading to the elaboration of a subjectivity which
resists reductive and inflexible definitions of identity and which ultimately insists
on the value of social integration and change. Through Benjy and Darl, Faulkner
dramatises an aspect of the novel which contributes to the genre's ability to
maintain flexible formal structures-boundaries which are at once open, operative,
and useful.
The narratives associated with the irrational characters in Faulkner' s

fiction are marked by detaiied explorations of individual consciousness; however,

Faulkner's prose goes beyond a romantic insistence on the primacy of subjective
States of awareness to demonstrate, especiaily in As 1 Lay Dying, the necessity of
a fluid integration of the subject into the social and physical extemal world--a

world in which the rational apprebension of phenornena is, inevitably, considered

both nomial and necessary. In other words, the irrational characters in the fictions
do not ultimately undermine the legitirnacy of a reasonable approach. Instead,

their sections are part of the author's ability effectively to revise standards by
which we rneasure and accept the exteml world and distinguish the subject's
place in it, The central presence of the irrational characters in As 1 L w Dving and
The Sound and the Furv is closely related to Fauikner's positive evaluation of the
fieedom of self-expression: Within his fiction the irrational narratives facilitate
the expression of a subjectivity which integrates contradictory, apparently
irreconcilable temporal and mental states and encourages a closer co~~ll~lunication
between individuals. The peculiar approaches of irrational characters such as
Benjy and Dar1 exemplify an indispensable feature of the genre which popularly
pictures the complicated, paradoxical private inner life of the modem individual.
Within the fictions, their narratives advocate and help to sustain a liberal impulse
indispensable to the novelistic production of subjectivity.

The novel takes as its major topic the private nature of individual, but as a
genre it simultaneously insists on an integration of various subject states and an
intenningling of private and public conditions for its success. In the following 1
show that in As 1 Lay Dvinq and The Sound and the Fury it is the irrational
component which produces in the novel what Weinstein cails a "traffIc"--between
individuals, between private and public worlds. The irrational component induces
movement, change, and a transgression of boundaries-yet in Faulkner's fiction it

does so always without totally invalidating the importance of iimits. By bringing

the irrational component to the fore in his novels, Faulkner dramatises the
unpredictable eiement vital to the novel which somehow reflects the society out of
which it emerges and innovatively offers a progressive and dynamic

representation of the individual subject enduring significantiy in it.

The Sound and the F m

With reference especiaily to the nrst section of Habermas's "ModernityAn Incomplete Project," 1show that the novel essentially works out of a kind of
post-Bergsonian conception of the present which is strikingly similar to the
temporaiity of the irrational which pervades this key modernist work. 1 argue that

in The Sound and the Furv Faulkner uses irrational episodes to express the
paradoxical nature of an apparently undefinable "now," an obscure temporal point
which continues to be the focus of recent theoretical concepts of novelistic
representation. In Fauher's The Sound and the Furv, irrationality figures as a
dynamic and somehow positive force which works to challenge the validity of a
linear unfolding of events while exploring the uncertainty which prevails in the

area between what another novelist in this study has, with reference to his own
work, neatly identifed as the "no longer" and the "not yet."6

Inspired by innovations in contemporary philosophy and science, many

early twentieth century artists tried to achieve a sense of simultaneity in writing,

painting, and film. So argues Stephen Kern in The Culture of Time and Space:
1880-1 9 12 (68).

With the


possibility of


communication came advocations for a World Standard Tirne, an artificially

constructed system of measurement which would allow the officia1 tirne of al1

parts of the world to be predictably related.

The prospect of the

institutionalisation of such a system had important repercussions in the art world.

The fictional narratives of writers such as Marcel Proust, Franz Kaka, and James
Joyce, Kern asserts, c m be viewed as reactions to the introduction of a universal,
standard, public time which was felt to be "ill-suited to order the diverse temporal
gxperience of life" (17). In other words, these writers were among those who
turned inward to explore what they thought was a more valuable, though Iess
orderly, subjective reality; the progression of time as measured in the extemal
world, in their opinion, had become too remote, too different fiom how an
individual genuinely conceives States of being succeed one another.
Not o d y did public tirne consistently move o d y in one direction--forward-but, as its name makes clear, it also implied that each person perceived time tu
pass in exactly the same way and exactly the same rate. In short, it denied that an

individual could have an impression of the nature of the passing moment that was
both totally unique and completely valid. Allowing that different and separate

subjective versions of what really constitutes time were equally vaiid meant,
however, that while an individual's personal sense of the present necessarily
became more valuable, a sense of comxnunity would ultimately be more difficult
to establish. "If there are as many private times as there are individuals," Kem
notes, "then every person is responsible for creating his own world f?om one
moment to the next, and creating it alone" (314). This is perhaps what Ricardo
Quinones means, too, when he writes in a chapter of Map~inaLiterarv
Modemism entitled 'The Bite of The" that "the Modemist vision was not

directed towards unity and fkion, but rather toward diversity-toward that which
is multiple and heterogeneous" (244).
The rnultiplicity and heterogeneity which concerns the modern novelist is
not usually a feature of the public world but rather an aspect of the private self.
That is to Say, the modem novelist does not aim primarily to describe the hectic
world which surrounds him or her. The tirne of the modem noveiist is not social
time which reflects the speed with which one carries out one's da*

agenda, but

rather a subjective tirne that has its roots in romanticism and is closely connected
to inner existence. The modem novel treats most seriously not a public and
chronological tirne, but a personal, complicated, and idiosyncratic tune. The shift
in focus, says Kern, was fiom a "homogenous public time to varieties of private

Habermas expresses a similar idea but in a different way. "The new time
consciousness, which enters philosophy in the writings of Bergson," he States in

" Modernity-An Incomplete Project," "does more than express the experience of
mobility in society, of acceleration in history, of discontinuity in everyday life.
The new value placed on the transitory, the elusive and the ephemeral, the very
celebration of dynamism, discloses a longing for an undefiled, irnrnaculate, and
stable present"


Habermas is not writing specifcalIy about the artistic consciousness which

produces a modem novel; the sensibility with wfiich his essay is concerned has
more to do with a prevailing world view, with a large-scale way of perceiving


The age in ts entirety is, in Habermas's opinion, marked by its

interruptions; by the attention people pay to things that are fleeting; by a society's
tendency to glorie energy and force. But Habermas insists that these are merely
superficial characteristics.

What he c a s aesthetic moderrity is essentially a

penod in which peopIe try to get in touch with the real "now," a time in which
people ultimately want to seize upon a pure meaning of the present in its broadest
sense, in which they want to go beyond the apparently unceasing clin of activity to
be significantly comected to the "Gegenwart-"
The time consciousness Habermas associates with aesthetic modernity is
directly related to Henri Bergson's concept of "dure," which implies that there
exists an essentidy creative, pure duration which, though perceivable through
intuition, is forever foreign to the reasoning rnind. "Intellect turns away fkom the
vision of time," Bergson explains.

"It dislikes what is fluid, and solidifies

everything it touches. We do not think real t h e . But we live it, because life
transcends the intellect (CE 48-9). Accordhg to Bergson, pure duration contains
bath past and present in an adaptable, vital fonn. "Pure duration," he contends,
"is the form which the succession of our conscious states assumes when our ego
Iets itself live, when it refiains fiom separating its present state fkom its former


. . . [when

it] forms both the p s t and the present states into an organic

whole" (TW 100).

Bergson holds his theory to be valid on both a local and cosmic level.

"The universe endures," Bergson insists. "The more we study the nature of time,

the more we shall cornprehend that duration means invention, the creation of
forms, the continuai elaboration of the absoluteiy new" (CE 11). When Bergson
himself looked inwards he found "a succession of States, each of which announces
that which follows and contains that which precedes it" (qtd. in Kem 24). In such

an experience Bergson had an absolute knowledge that was, he felt, basically

synonyrnous with existence and hardly expressible in words. Contrasting with
this cLabsolute" howledge of time is a c'relative'7 bowledge, which is
ccimpovenshed"and "achieved by moving around an object or by coming to know
it through symbols or words that fail to render its true nature" (Kern 25).

If we assume Habermas is correct about the new time consciousness, then

the modem novel is an appropriate representative of the age out of which it

The novelist workuig d e r Bergson also wants to capture, though

probably on a smaller scale, a present which is "undefiled," and "imrnaculate."

Put in Bergson's terms, the modem novelist wants to gain an "%bsolute"
knowledge of time in which the present is seen as "stable"-not

in the sense of

fixedly motionless, but as Habermas's use of the German word "innehaltenden"

also suggests, momentarily suspended above what seems to the intellect to be a
necessary and inevitable advance.
Significantly, Habermas's essay leaves open the question of where the
"stable presenty7which aesthetic modeniity longs for is to be found. The modem
novel, though, provides an answer: in the experiences of human subjectivity. in
the consciousness of a single person one is likely to h d a time which is discrete

fiom the temporal system which organises the busy world. In the rnind of a

human being one might find a present which by nature is pure and necessarily
different fkom the one-directional fleeting time which ticks away with dreadfirl
predictability on clocks al1 over the extemal world.
That is not to Say, however, that the modern novel renders in fictional
form an accurate version of such a perfect present-only that it attempts to. It
attempts to get past the discontiuous elements of the temporal reality to the

"stable present"; inevitably, though, it falls shoa of attaixling its goal.


"absolute" or intuitive knowledge of time c m o t be translated into words or

symbols. Indeed, it is worth pointing out here that in his essay on aesthetic
modernity Habermas does not go so far as to suggest that the "longing" for the
"undefiled, immacdate and stable present" is fidfiued. That he does not make
such an assertion is significant, for it makes the parallel between the t h e
consciousness of aesthetic rnodernity and that of the modem novel even more
striking: it wouid be similady misleading to irnply that the modem novel satisfies

its own "obsessive" yearning.

A common belief about the concept of time as it figures in the modern

movement is that early twentieth century poetry and prose uitimately "locks past

and present in a timeless unity and achieves a transformation of the histoncd

imagination into myth--an imagination for which time does not exist"
(Eysteinsson 10). But a theory which makes such a claim cannot legitirnately
include the modem novel. For one, the modem novel is intensely concerned with

time and a l l of its ambiguous post-Bergsonian connotations. As A. A. Mendilow,

Edwin Muir, Margaret Church, Hans Meyerhoff and other critics of time in the
novel certainly make clear, its structure aimost always admits to its creator's
preoccupation with it, and sometimes its content and style does as well. "The
novel probes tirne," writes Milan Kundera in The Art of the Novel, "the elusive
past with Proust, the elusive present with Joyce" (5).

The attempt to render accurately a true meaning of that aspect of tme

which is most important to the age, namely the present moment, cannot totaiiy
succeed, at least not in the novel. nie endeavour to get the modem present
moment with all its potentialities correctIy on the page wiil always end in a certain
amount of Enistration. Indeed, "elusive" is a key word in Kundera's statement,
one which he elaborates a little M e r on. "Joyce analyses something still more
ungraspable thao Proust's 'lost time,' he writes, echoing ~ e r ~ s o n"the
, ' present
moment. There would seem to be nothing more obvious, more tangible and
palpable, than the present moment. And yet it eludes us completely. AU the
sadness of life lies in that fact'' (24).

In other words, the modem novel does not lock past or present up in any
kind of unchanging or timeless unity. "The novel," writes Georg Lukacs in The
Theow of the Novel, "appears as something in process of becoming" (72-3).
When its time is "locked up" in a closed system, it becomes less interestbg; its
integrity is diminished. T h e novel is the art form of virile rnaturity," Lukacs

maintains. "This means that the completeness of the novel's world, if seen
objectively, is an imperfection" (71).
Lukacs is not writing about the modem novel in particular, nor is he
describing the noveI7s relationship to time, but his comrnents are strangely
pertinent to these tbings. Lukacs's theory of the novel shows that the novel is
especially suited to an exploration of issues related to modem notions of
temporality. In The Theorv of the Novel Lukacs insists that the hero of the novel
is always f h d a m e n t d y alone. "He or she is an "individual [who is] the product
of estrangement fiom the outside world. . . . The autonomous life of interiority is
possible and necessary only when the distinctions between men have made an
unbridgeable chasm" (66).
Walter Benjamin, in his essay "The Storyteller," extends this theory of the
isolated individual to the novelist. "The novelist has isolated himself," he writes.
The birth place of the novel is the solitary individual, who is no longer able to

express himself by giving examples of his most important concems, is himself

uncounselled and cannot counsel others" (87). In an era in which people are
understood to be acting out of a subjective time which is radically different fkom

one person to the next, a genre whose hero (and perhaps even author) is
necessarily alienated fkom others and their Society m u t present itself as an ideal
instrument to do what the novel aims to do-which,

in Kundera's words, is

conduct an "investigation of man's being" (4-5) and thus reveal the "wisdom of
uncertainty" (7).

Not only is the novel a continualiy developing product with an alienated

individual at the centre, it is also a dynamic form whose creation always attests to

the fact of a fonnlessness without. "Art always says 'And yet!' to life," writes

"The creation of forms is the most profound confirmation of the

existence of a dissonance. But in al1 other genres

. . . this

affirmation of a

dissonance precedes the act of fonn-giving, whereas in the novel it is the form
itself' (Theory 72)? The novel, then, is somehow a vital answer to the extemal
world; each part of its emerging pattern stands out as a response to a tumult
outside. Moreover, the novel does not have a predetermined shape or style: its
pattern or structure always evolves fiom within_ and every aspect of it functions as
both a reaction to its previous parts and an anticipation of its upcoming sections.
In short, as Lukacs's theory suggests, the novel works out of a kind of

present which is dramatically similar to the post-Bergsonian conception of the

present, Essentially, the novei also works towards an "absolute" t h e . However,
since such an "absolute" time cannot be contained, verbally explained, or even
forcefily maintained, the novel's operative mode is, practically speaking, more
discontinuous, more fleeting, more like the subjective pnvate time of the modem
individual who ultimately expresses a "longing for an undefiled, immaculate, and
stable present."

"The composition of the novel," Lukacs notes, "is the

paradoxical fusion of heterogeneous and discrete components into an organic

whole which is then abolished over and over again" (Theow 84). Fonn-making in
the creation of a novel is an afhnation of dissonance, according to Lukacs. And

aesthetic modernity, in its striving after unity, in its time-conscious longing afier a
"stable" present, also attests to a kind of dissonance, in this case the discontinuous

and ephemeral temporal reality which figures in the extemal world and which the
intellect, as Bergson suggests, inevitably apprehends.
In The Sound and the FW Faulkner makes a strong connection between
irrationality and t h e .

Especially through the character of Benjy, Faulkner

dramatises the possibilities of fnding temporal meaning in the narration of

someone who is identified-in the world of this novel and vocabulary of its
characters-as an "idiot" for whom clock time is totally irrelevant.

Most critics of The Sound and the Fwv view Benjy as a figure of
disintegration or doom. In a typical assessment, Richard Moreland descnbes
Benjy in The Sound and the Furv as an "idiot other whose sound and fry signifv
either a homfjing or a predictable nothing" (Fauikner 239). According to the

Benjy's character at best represents an impractical, disconnected

innocence; at worst it exemplifies an insidious depravity. Benjy's narration opens

The Sound and the Furv, but his prominent place suggests moral collapse andor
social and personal disintegration. "The Sound and the F m measure[s] the
Compson decline through Benjy's idiocy," according to Arthur F. Kinney.
Regarding the structure of the work, researchers sometimes admue the complexity
or experimental nature of the narratives, but at this level, too, they remark that the
inrational components, the repeated emergence of, or references to sections which

on their own tend to make littie or no ostensible sense, are obstacles in the way of

coming to tenns with the text. Charitable readings of tke irrational aspects of the
fiction for their part suggest that the substance of Faulkner's perplexing and
tangled message must at least in part be that co11111iunication in the twentieth
century is Iaboriously complex.
Because criticism which focuses on the irrational characters in F a ~ d h e r ' s
novels tends to place his fiction in a fkamework of modemism which supports the
idea that early twentieth century art is marked by a downward turn, by a stark
pessimism about the human condition, The Sound and the Fuw in one way
appears to bolster that part of Georg Lukacs's theory where he condemns the
notion of an idiosyncratic subject and disputes the value of eccentric individuals

in fiction. Indeed, Lukacs wholly disproves of the predominance of irrationality

in early twentieth century literature.1 As Astradur Eysteinsson rernarks, Lukacs,
like many of his contemporaries, "attacks modemism for not creating believable
and lasting 'types'" and sees the penod as "instead effecting a fading of characters
into a congealment in ghostly irrationality." Eysteinsson notes that within such a
view, modernisrn redises a "dark vision7' which uicludes corruption and

"By reducing reality to a nightmare," Eysteinsson writes in

summarising this idea, c'possibly in the nebulous consciousness of an idiot, and

through its obsession with the morbid and the pathological, modemism partakes

in a glorification of the abnormal, in 'anti-humanism' " (29-30).

Faulkner perhaps "reduces" reality in the first section of the novel by
limiting the point of view to "the nebulous consciousness of an idiot," but the

novel does not as a matter of course participate in "a glorification of the abnormal,

in 'anti-humanism." Notwithstanding that Benjy's social and familial situation is

decidedly bleak, his irrationality definitely plays a positive role in the novel. By
so prominently incorporating Benjy's irrationality into The Sound and the Fury,
Faulkner gives meaningful expression to the particularly modem timeconsciousness prevailing in the early twentieth century. More specificdly, this
irrational i n d i v i d d in The Sound and the F u v embodies in fictional form the
"stabie present" whXch, as Habermas suggests, aesthetic modernity longs for and

which the novel, as Lukacs maintains, perpetually tries to embrace. Benjy acts on

a personal conception of a "now" which cannot properly be described in words or

symbols and which cannot adequately be evaluated using standard units of
Moreover, the actions of Benjy in The Sound &d the Fuw, like the form

of the novel in which he figures, is generally unpredictable and essentialiy

creative. "Benjy can feel joy and sorrow, and he holds fiercely . . . to the particular
value of constancy," Donald M. Kartiganer writes. "But the narrative movement
is that of a mind utterly open to whatever sights and sounds and smells happen to
touch its senses, impelled by them to some association forward or backward in
time" (Frapile 79). Benjy reacts instinctively-indeed, virtually unconsciously--to
past and future, fiequently incorporating conceptions of both past and present into
a peculiar, though often enigrnatic, physical or verbal gesture- In other words, the
irrationality which animates key protagonists in The Sound and the Fuw somehow

parallels the novelistic imagination which produces the temporality of the work

in which they appear.

Benjy's sense of the present is remote from more rationd beings'
conceptions of tirne.

Benjy's redity, or, as Richard Feldstein calls it, his

"phantasmagorical world of inner reference" (1O), is virtually inaccessible to

others. Sometimes Caddy and Dilsey seem to understand the grounds of Benjy's
impulsive discontent or sudden happiness, but neither ever does so completely or
consistently. Benjy is by deflnition an idiot; he is a "person so deficient in mind

as to be permanently incapable of rational conducty'(Concise Odord Dictionary3.

The term is derogatory in its contemporary usage, as Lukacs's comment clearly
illustrates, but it remains highly appropriate in at l e s t one regard: The Greek
roots of the word suggest singularity, something peculiarly private, and Benjy's
reality, especially his sense of tirne, is almost entirely exclusive and personal.
Benjy is one of the most important characters in The Sound and the F w
because his section opens the novel. It is through Benjy's eyes that we frst see
the other major figures in the Compson household:

Caddy, Jason, Quentin,

Dilsey, Luster, and Mi. and Mrs. Compson. Benjy, whose social and motor skills

are minimally developed, and whose temporal reality seems totally confused,
presents the events and significance of "ApriI Seventh, 1928" in an opening
section. Thirty-three years old, Benjy is incapable of making causal connections

with any consistency; he is unable to see how a sequence of events is anything

other than random.

Benjy cannot disthguish between subjective time and objective tirne, nor
can he differentiate between conscious and unconscious states. The world which
Benjy observes with open eyes in his waking life is virtually identical to the
cosmos of colours and forms he visualises while falling asleep or drearning. In his
article on The Sound and the Furv Feldstein points to passages like the one which
ends Benjy's section to reinforce this point. "And then 1 could see the windows,
where the trees were buzzing," Benjy relates as his narration cornes to a close.
"Then the dark began to go in smooth, bright shapes, like i t always does, even
when Caddy says that 1 have been asleep" (SF 64). The temporality of the
irrational individual in The Sound and the Fuw is capricious and certainly not

Mly conscious or rational. Benjy does not


his reality according to

logical temporal systems which are acceptable to s o c i e ~he

; Fs alienated fiom the
community which calculates time as though it were sirnply a progressive, forwardmoving phenornenon. To Benjy, conventional concepts of t h e are rneaningless
and instruments which measure t h e in a predictable way are insignificant. The

sound of a clock, which for more rational beings represents the inevitable
progression of Linear time, is for Benjy ultimately nothing more than noise that
fills a silence. In an episode in which he bunis his hand o n the kitchen stove,
Benjy reports: "My hand jerked back and 1 put it in my m o u d and Dilsey caught

me. 1could s t i l l hear the clock between my voice" (53). The irrational character's
idiosyncratic sense of tune undermines the effectiveness or relevance of a linear
presentation of events; it calls into question the validity of an essentially

straightforward or sequential narration and makes accessible instead a time

consciousness which, according to Habermas, is a hallmark of the twentieth
century, and according to Lukacs, informs the novel that comes out of it.

While Benjy is easily identifiable as the most irrational character in The

Sound and the F m , other characters in Faulkner's novel sometimes function in a

similar way, and when they do they corne closer to realising a tirne-consciousness
similar to his. Benjy's brother Quentin, Faulkner notes in a classroom discussion
of The Sound and the Furv, is "half way between madness and sanity" (Gwynn
94-5). Quentin's abiiity to reason coherently fluctuates; like his brother Benjy,

Quentin has a disorderly sense of tirne.

Of course, Benjy's irrationality is

congenital, whiIe Quentin's seems rather more closely tied to an obsessive,

sometimes incestuous desire to rernain close to his sister Caddy. His feelings for
his sister intnide into the logical sequence of his thought and make him menMy
unstable. Yet it is important to note that when Quentin engages in illogicai o r
even absurd behaviour, when his mind ceases to fiinction in a strictly logically
marner, he, like his irrational brother, comes closer to perceiving the true nature
of what Bergson would cal1 an "absolute time."
Quentin's irrationality allows him to discern the existence of a temporal
reality beyond that which is ticked off on his grandfather's watch, that
"mausoleum of aU hope and desire" which is handed down to him by his father
(64). Quentin makes clear fiom the staa of his monologue that he fin& dock

tirne formal and constraining to an almost unbearable degree.

Clock time

comects him to and reminds him of the mundane; it links him to a society in
which a brother's love for his sister should never be consilmmated, a world in
which one pursues scholarly interests at the expense of a younger brother's


When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains," Quentin

begins, "it was between seven and eight oYc1ockand then 1 was in tirne again."

The place Quentin quietly retums to on June Second, 1910 is Harvard's world of
intellectual learning. More specifically, he drifts back into an awarenes of the
fact that he is Iying in a dormitory room Iistening to his watch, a piece of
technology which, according to his father, will help him to "gain the reducto
absurdum of al1 human experience," and which Quentin has-appropnately, if

next to an object which holds another symbol of

convention and restriction: his collar box (64).

Quentin has a strong aversion to artificial and s o c i d y defined restrictions.
His emotions work invariably against the d e s of his community, which
condemns incest and sanctions the use of a mentally handicapped brother's
inheritance for study at Harvard. Quentin detesl the separation that his society
authorises and supports, for his natual tendency is to want to merge, as his
feelings for Caddy exempli@. His reaction to the mechanical progression of his
watch, which measures standard, public, clock time and ticks off moments as
sequentid and discrete, is in keeping with his personality generally, which abhors
the divisions and detachments which his society deems normal and necessary. As
Weinstein points out, Quentin's narrative is marked by the sense that his identity

emerges out of an ''intolerable sense of being-helplessly-caught-up-in-the-Other"

(Weinstein, Faulkner's Subiect 86; 84); he is unabie to act normaliy in a social
world which decrees that identities, like temporal states, are, and must remain,
noticeably separate. Quentin's narrative reveals that repeatedly his rationality
gives way to confsed sense of self and a disorderly sense of time. In his section,
Quentin appears as a moment-by-moment uivolu11tary recorder of others'
voices, a sentient receptacle wounded by the shards of their utterances: the
site on which the cacophony of the larger culture registers. Quentin is a
memory box, a porous container of others' throwaway discourse. Unable
to consolidate what he has absorbed, unable to shape his own thoughts into
the coherence of a temporal project, he is a figure in motley. (Weinstein,
Faulkner's Subiect 85)
Quentin's inability to order his subjective perceptions, his incapacity to control
and logically arrange his emotions, leads him to desire a physical end to his

tortured existence. "Since he cannot finish himself," Weinstein writes, "he will
'finish' himself' (Faulkner's Subiect 84). On the whole, Quentin's narration is
govemed by his overriding desire to be dead.

John C. Hampsey wrtes in

"Checking on Tirne in The Sound and the Fur$' that "Quentin decides to kill
himself because his emotional response to time has overpowered his reasoning

mind" (130), but such a statement oversimplifies the matter. Quentin's suicidal
tendencies are already present, even if they are not always readily apparent to
everyone, in the early days of his childhood, before he cornes to view ciocks as

orninous symbols of division and hgmentation; they arise, that is, when his
obsessive feelings for bis sister begin to emerge.
Indeed, it is not specifcaliy Quentin's passionate preoccupation with time
that leads him to become less logical; a number of different factors contribute to
the development of his irrational behaviour. As Weinstein points out, even the
scent of a familia. flower somehow unsettles Quentin's rational rnind. "Spurred
by the overpowering smell of honeysuckle," Weinstein writes, "Quentin's

thoughts go on to undermine relationships he has based his sanity on:


difference between sleep and waking, night and day; the inherent comection
between things done, felt, suffered and their s i ~ c a n c e "(173). Moreover, an
impassioned or intuitive response to time does not necessarily lead to suicide, as
Benjy's relatively long Me illustrates. The irrationaliq which for many different
reasons seizes Quentin does not make him self-destructive; rather, it enabies him
to see beyond the meanings usually associated with clock time and its linear,
apparently inevitable progression. Quentin does not decide to kill hUnself because
his passionate reaction to time has made him irrational. Indeed, the converse is
tme: Quentin is able to have a thoroughly "emotiond response to time" only

because he is irrational. Quentin? whose mind tends to fluctuate between sanity

and madness, shatters the glass on his watch and tears off its hands (67),knowuig
nonetheless that as the watch is still ticking it will not stop "telling its funous lie"

As Jean Paul Sartre points out, the scene has symbolic value. "Quentin's

breaking his watch forces us to see time without the aid of clocks," he writes.

"The time of the idiot, Benjy, is also unmeasured by clocks, for he does not
understand them" (226). Sartre denounces Faulkner's "metaphysics," however,
claiming that ultimately F a u h e r ' s time-consciousness is Iimiting and abswd.
ccFaulkner'svision of the world can be compared to a man sitting in a convertible
looking back" (228), he wries in a much quoted iine.

Sartre feels that in

F a u h e r ' s work things only become meaningfiil in retrospect; Faulkner's

characters are without a future. "To be present is to appear without reason and to

be suspended," Sartre contends (227).

As for Faulkner's concept of the present, it is not a circurnscribed or

sharply defbed point between past and future. His present is irrational in
its essence; it is an event, monstrous and incomprehensible which comes
upon us like a thief--cornes upon us and disappears. Beyond this present,
there is nothuig, since the h t u r e does not exist. One present, emerging
fiom the unknown, drives out another present. (226)
Sartre finds that in Fauikner's view, "man spends his life stnrggling against time;

and acid-like, time corrodes man, tears hirn fiom himself and keeps him fiom
reaiising his hurnanity. Everything becomes absurd: 'Eifel is a tale told by an
idiot, fut1 of sound and fiiry, signif$4ng nothing' (23 1).
But Sartre's reading of the "metaphysics" does not do justice to the timeconsciousness which Faulkner develops in The Sound and the Furv. For one, the

present is not irrational for Fauikner; indeed, how can a penod or point of t h e be
either sensible or illogical?

The present in its purest form may be

incomprehensible to the intellect, but that does not make it irrational in itself.
What Faulkner's suggests in his novel is rather that the person who is not
constrained by traditional notions of what is reasonable, who does not think in a
consistently logical fashion, is more Iikely to appreciate that the past and the

fiinire are indispensable components of the present moment. The structure of the
novel fiiaher reinforces the notion that Fauikner tries to merge fbture and past into
present. The novel moves from April 17, 1928 (Benjy), to June 2, 1910 (Quentin),
to April 6, 1928 (Jason), to A p d 8, 1928 (Omniscient narrator) to an Appendix
(which Faulkner added over 20 years later). The order-or disorder--of temporal
sequence leaves the reader postulating a present moment for the action of the
novel, a present which seems at once at hand and yet always unavailable on a
larger scaie. Future and past are interrningled in the actual, intangible moment.

In The Sound and the Furv Faulkner is not trying to describe the futility of
life; he is not showing that life is ultimately ridicuious and inane. Benjy's section,
and those parts of Quentin's in which he is acting and thinking irrationally,
represent Faulkner's attempt to get the present moment, in its purest fonn, ont0
the page. "To that idiot," F a u h e r explains with reference to Benjy, '%me was
not a continuation, it was an instant, there was no yesterday and no tomorrow, it
al1 is this moment, it al1 is [now] to him. He cannot disinguish between what was

Iast year and what d l be tomorrow, he doesn't know whether he dreamed it or

saw it" (Lion 147).
Though Faulkner may blunder in his attempt to fuc the present moment
accurately, he shouid not necessady be criticised for his failure. The "now,"
which Faulkner intends to express through Benjy's narrative is, according to
Bergson and his followers, not realisable in verbal form. Francois Pitavy in

'?diocy and Idealism" argues that "the idiot . . . lives in the eterniw of a closed,
smooth world of fixed images and obsessions" (10 1). But any attempt precisely
to represent in words a "closed eternity," to get what Habermas calls a "stable
presentY'-a time beyond discontinuous temporal reality of daily existence-on the
page, will not succeed. Kartiganer suggests in "Now 1 Can Write" that Fauikner
in The Sound and the F u r -distorts and parodies Bergson's concept of "dure" in
that "the characters we i d e n t e with in [the novel] and the reality of what their
'absolutely' perceived consciousness register are indelibly marked by their mental
derangement" (78). Yet Faulkner's approximation of Bergson' s "dure" is not so

much parodic as novelistic. It reveals an openness to past and future that h d s its
pardlel in the openness of the novel form.
The present moment which contains both the past and the fiiture can only
be rendered in a fiagmented way. Quentin perceives a temporal reaiity which
exists beyond linear clock time, and in an effort mentaily to sustain it


physically smashes his watch-but his actions guarantee him only fkagments of
g l a s (67).

In an analogous fashion, Faulkner aies verbally to illustrate the

temporal reality of his irrational characters, figures who appear to perceive a

version of what Habermas calls an "undefileci, immaculate, and stable present,"
but this attempt to render it accurately also and inevitably results in hgmentsthat is, a disjunctive storyline. Faulkner's attempt to render the "now" of his more
enlightened protagonists in words results in the shattering of narrative sequence; it
concludes in a disordering of syntax and sense.
The truth that Faulkner wants to express in his novel has little to do with
rational judgements about past or future events. "1 pegan] to tell [the story]
through the eyes of the idiot chilci," Faulkner says, "since 1felt that it would be
more effective as told by someone capable only of knowing what happened, but
not whf' (Meriwether 245). Benjy, who is preoccupied by the present moment, is
also unconscious o f it. In an interview in which he publicly discusses his notions
of t h e , Faullcner aligns hirnself with Bergson, and in doing so tacitly validates the
'timeless' existence of Benjy.

"There isn't any time,"

Faulkner asserts,

"In fact," he explains, "1 believe pretty much with Bergson's

theory of the fluidity of tirne. There is only the present moment, in whch 1
include both the past and the fture, and that is etemity. In my opinion time can
be shaped quite a bit by the artist; afier ail, man is never time's slave"
(Meriwether 70). Faulkner "shapes" time most innovatively in Benjy's section,
where he incorporates and reflects a particularly modem the-consciousness
which celebrates a temporality which c m o t be explained in reasonable tems.

Through bis writing of the novel, Faulkner cornes to resemble one of his

main characters. Indeed, if the first section is Benjy's ccsoundand fury," the book
as a whole, as the title makes clear, is certainly Fauher's.

The imagination

which creates The Sound and the Fury in a way corresponds to the irrationality
which actively inspires Benjy's intuitive response to t h e .

It is perhaps

appropriate to mention, as a conclusion, that Faulkner's novel ends in the

Appendix on a note affirming a very modem kind of present which again evokes
on one tevel the key Bergsonian concept of "dure." In The Sound and the Fuw
F a b e r ' s 1 s t h e about the Compson family is sirnply 'Wiey endured" (25 1).

As 1 Lav Dving;

In the various narrative sections of As 1 Lay Dving F a u h e r again takes up

the topic of tirne, showing its fluidity, its subjective and arbitrary nature. Dar1 and

Vardaman expiore its enigmaic quaiities through protracted deliberations on the


of was in relation to is. Dar1 by himself wishes he codd "rave1 out into

time" (208). Cash makes his mother's c o f i ccclock-shape,"but the Bundrens put
Addie in her final box backwards (88), calling into question the temporal
simiificance of the fact of her death.

Peabody, a semi-involved bystander,

proposes that death is not conclusive but merely a point of transfer. 'It is no more
than a single tenant or famiiy moving out of a tenement or a town," he says (44).

Indeed, the idea of process is paramount in many of the novel's fifty-nine

monologues, and the Bundren's journey fiom home to graveyard--for many cntics
the central motif of the novel--signais its prominence even on a larger, structural

The sheer number of speakers in As 1 Lay Dving, however, invites also a

discussion of the dynamic of social activity in the novel. Where The Sound and
the Furv has four main narrat~rs,'~
As 1 Lav Dying proceeds with fifteen. Each of

these takes at least one turn; some, Iike Darl, Vardaman, and Cash hold forth
repeatedly, creating what Andr Bleikasten in The Mc of Melancholv aptiy calls a
cbkdeidoscopicrotation" effect (157).

As a result of the quickly alternathg

arrangement of the speakers, the narrative consciousness of individual

protagonists is developed Iess in isolation than in a s o a of conversation with each

other. There is no direct communication between sections-characters do n o t
directiy "answer" each other in their separate monologues--but events whch are
described in one part are fiequently rehearsed again, although fiom a different
point of view, in later sections.
The design of As 1 L w Dving thus impiies that a comparison of methods
and techniques of narration is necessary to ascertain the purpose and feasibility o f
an individual character's method of communication. An analysis of the various
parts in relation to each other reveals, for example, that Faulkner gives speciai

privileges to certain protagonists. Within the comrnunity of speakers Faulkner

creates in the novel, DarI stands out as having exceptional insight and
extraordinary powers of discemment. Dari opens the novel, and he has far more
monologues than any other character. He c m also see into the private lives of his
companions, and in his sections he ofien gives voice to thoughts his peers would
rather keep concealed.
Darl's tendency to expose the secret concerns of those who surround hirn
soon becomes problematic; Darl's peers quickly corne to resent his special
intuitive capacities. Indeed, the clearer his insight into the subjective lives of
others becomes, the more alienated he grows fkom his family, neighbours, and the
world in which they function on a daily basis. Ultimately, Darl's easy access into
the subjective lives of his companions contributes to his physical and mental

demise. Just as he seems able to plumb the deep private lives of others almost

completely, he is judged crazy and sent away to a .insane asylum. Using the
vocabulary of Habermas's "Modernity-An

Incomplete Projecf" we might Say

that Darl's subjectivity is intensified at the expense of the object world. That is,

as his extraordinary perspicacity flowers, his mental health withers and his place
in his community is eroded. Darl's irrational approach gives him access to the

cryptic and clandestine reflections of his companions, but his peers resent his
ability to know their innermost tfioughts. in the end, they attempt to secure
themselves fiom repeated invasions of privacy by committing Darl to an
institution remote fiom their own home.

Thus on one level Darl becomes the most estranged of the protagonists
featured in As 1 Lay Dving.

In general, Darl's narratives do not progress

according to accepted principles of logic. In his sections he asserts the cogency of





psychologicai puzzles and existentid riddles.




He is, according to standard

definitions of the terrn, irrational. Moreover, the irrational method which Darl
champions in his monologues stands in stark contrast to others' decidedly more
analytic and reasonable approaches. His irrationd approach costs him his place in
society and the kiendship of his relatives, who in the end leave him fiightfdly
foaming behind bars. But though Darl's situation at the end of As 1Lay Dving is
rather bleak, the novel on the whole still suggests that an irrational approach has
constructive potential in the developrnent of vital strategies of intersubjective

A comparison of narrative sections shows, interestingiy, that Darl's way of

interpreting the world offers an engaging alternative to the more socially

acceptable methods exercised by his peers. In As 1 Lay Dving Darl is clearly
depicted as the mad Bundren, but his dementia more than the others' relative
sanity positively inaugurates change on a fundamental level.

His narrations,

though in many ways contorted and contsing, ultimately expedite the possibility
of gaining valuable insight into the paradoxes which lie at the centre of the world
in which the Bundrens move. On another Ievel, they also allow the reader to

corne to terms with the inconsistencies which mark the genre which works to
illuminate important aspects of the society in which we live.

At the nsk of

oversimplwg, we c m Say that Darl's personal predicament dramatises a

problem which uifonns much modernist novelistic prose.
Because Darl's irrational approach c m best be appreciated for its vital
qudities when it is compared to its fictional opposite, 1 will examine in detail first
Addie Bundren's centrally placed monologue and then move to a carefid
consideration of Darl's sections. A comparison of Addie and Dari is appropriate
because both mother and son are similarly plagued by what may be described as a
typically twentieth century sense of alienation. Addie and Dar1 are both disturbed
by the idea that there is a cnppling divide between interna1 and external reality,

between self and other, between word and deed. But while the roots of their
probIems are analogous, their solutions are dramatically opposed. Darl allows his
mind to float fieely, irrationally, in au attempt to redise and incorporate the

heterogeneity of the world. Conversely, Addie stmggles with al1 her energy to
master her surroundings through logical control in order to take singular and h a l
advantage of them.
Addie has only one monologue, but her narration stands out as a
paricularly bitter harangue against the reaiity of her world. She hates the fact that
her existence is marked by solitude, that she does not have irnmediate access to
the subjective reality of others, that her presence rnay be irrelevant to certain


She is a teacher, and it pains her to know that her students have

individual lives and minds that in many ways must remain remote to her own. ft
infiriates her that each pupil has "his and her secret and selfish thought, and blood
strange to each other blood and strange to [hers]" (170).

In Addie's experience, involvement in the quotidian world offers no relief

from solitude; relationships one establishes and daily tasks one performs only
underscore an essential loneliness. For Addie, human contact leads repeatedly to

an aggravated sense of estrangement. An alliance between a man and a woman is

not a fortunate union; it is an association which exacerbates the problem of
isolation. Marriage and intercourse serve to highlight the temble discrepancy
between people. The word love is mereiy a "shape to fil1 a lack," Addie asserts
(172); it is like a disguise that deceives and violates one's sense of self.



are no good," Addie says; in her opinion, "words don't ever fit even what they are
trying to Say at" (1 71).

Even pregnancy is a "violation" which inevitably

reinforces for Addie the fact of a basic solitude. "My aloneness had be violated

and then made whole agah by the violation: time, Anse, love, what you will,
outside the circle" (172). In other words, expenentid reality remains for Addie
exterior to what she sees as the lamentable circumference of her individual,
subjective self.
Addie feels that the world is a tricky place, a temporary residence wherein
one c m through devious words blur truth, A man can deceive a woman through
speech into carrying children against her will.

When 1knew that 1 had Cash'"


Addie explains, "1 knew that living was terrible and this was the answer to it"
( 2 71). With each child Anse gives her, her sense of having been double-crossed is

aggravated, and her isolation is intensified. After her last chiid, Addie feels totally
detached fiom ber husband, and with an acidic comment eliminates him fiom the
equation of parenthood. "My children were of me alone," she announces, "of the
wild blood boiling dong the earth, of me and of d l that lived; of none and of dl"

(175). Some critics find that with these words Addie expresses an affinity with
the natural world, a tie to fertiiity and the creative universe-but the luik is both
exceptional and spurious. Addie's relationship to her cosmos is never really vital.
Her general message, which she relates a number of times, and which she repeats

again immediately after the above assertion, exposes the fimdamentally negative
nature of her attitude towards existence.

Chiidbirth and the surrounding

circumstances have taught her, she says, that her fatherysdictum is true: "The
reason for living is to stay dead" (175).

Although Addie does initidy have a desire to merge her identity with
others', she tends invariably to try to solve the problem of her loneliness by
isolating herself even M e r . Even when she is dive and Young, she finds that
the only way to tolerate other human beings is to go to a place away from people

where she can despise them. Mer teaching, she "go[es] down the hi11 to the

spring where [she cad be quiet and hate b e r students]" (169). When she is at
school, she lets loose her Ioathing in a different, but equally pemicious way.


the classroom, Addie believes the obstacle of her solitude c m be overcome by a

violent exertion of physical control. She feels that through physical beatings, she
can force a union between herself and those people that surround her. "1 knew
that . . . we had to use one another by words like spiders dangling by their mouths

fiom a beam, swinging nd twisting and never touching," she declares, "and that
only through the blows of the switch could my biood and their blood flow as one
stream" (172). She judges that with the lash of a whip she can drive separate
entities together, compel a fusion of antithetical particulars, fndly noti*


students of their teacher's portentous existence and p o w e f i relevance. "1 would

look forward to the times when they faulted," she reports, "so 1 could whip them.
When the switch fell 1 could feel it upon rny fiesh; when it welted and ridged it

was my blood that ran. and 1 would think with each blow of the switch: Now you
are aware of me! Now 1 am something in your secret and selfish life, who have

marked your blood with my own for ever and ever. (170)

The trouble Addie experiences with her students is reflected in her attitude

towards Ianguage, She aches for the strict adherence of her students in the same
way that she desires a meaning to cling to a word. In both cases, however, she is
perpetually disappointed. She remains forever foreign to the "secret" and "selfish
thoughts" of others in the same way that the meaning of her own Iife is never flly
communicated to her family or neighbours. Addie craves cohesion, between one
person and another, between words and deeds, but she feels that the only way she
can corne close to them is with some kind of brutality. That is, in the same way
that she remains a malicious stranger to her students, words repeatedly reved
themseives as a woefully inadequate means of expression. As Robert Dale Parker
points out in F a u h e r and the Novelistic Imagination, Addie cornes to think that
''the simiified and signifier never touch" (44). "1 would think," says Addie, "how
words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmiess, and how tembly doing
goes dong the earth, clinging to it, so that after a while the two lines are too far
apart for the same person to straddle fiom one to the other7'(173).
Melvin J. Friedman argues in "The Symbolist Novel:

Huysmans to

Malraux" that Addie's monologue is "sigularly concerned with the futility of

words" (462).

But while her speech betrays an increasingly hostile attitude

towards language, the ccicky"nature of words represents only part of her


Words do not function as she thinks they should, but as her

narrative progresses, it becomes evident that the whoIe of her Iife actually fails
repeatedly to make sense, even though Addie spends much of her verbal energy

attempting to put things in a proper order. Her entire monologue is infsed with a
fervour for careful cdculation. Addie wants language, but aiso the events of her
life that the language would describe, to be part of a clear system. She is perhaps
the most vindictive of the characters, planning her own burial as a final revenge
on her husband, but she is also the most coldly rationai. She constantly evaiuates
and catalogues, callously assigning a value to each of her child in order to settle an
emotional account with her husband, to "clean up her house," as she puts it. "1
have Anse Dewey Del1 to negative JeweI," she says. "Then 1gave him Vardaman
to replace the child 1 had robbed him of' (176).

In a way that is perhaps rerniniscent of more traditional storytelling

methods, Addie insists while she is narrahg her life on a logical explanation for
each situation she h d s heself in; as she holds forth, she probes to discover the
purpose behind every effect, l3 scrutinising her existence to unearth the purpose of
Me itself. Addie wants to organise, to control the story of her existence. Her
monologue, puctuated with moments of bitter resignation, is a grand attempt to
justiQ a Me spoiled by an inability to make vital contact with another human

being. Addie saives throughout (as Habermas says of the user of instrumental
reason) to master her surroundings; she wants to orient her social life towards a

particular, goal-directed form of action. That al1 o f Addie's action points towards
death in As I Lav Dying is ceaaialy not fortuitous. Faulkner shows through Addie
that this kid of thinking leads indisputably to a totally devitaiised state of
isolation and detachment.

More than any other character in the novel, Addie advocates throughout an
andytic, rational method. When she realises that her strategy will not help her to
achieve her purpose, it is her goal that changes, not her procedure. Instead of
yearnuig for integration and co~~munication,
she cornes to champion a selfimposed solitude; as her desire for a red union is thwarted, she redirects her
energy, concluding that she can at least by her own authority choose and guarantee
her own isolation. "1 would be I" she explains, "1 would let [&el

be the shape

and echo of his word. That was more than he asked, because he could not have

asked for that and been Anse, using himself so with a word" (174).


Wadlington notes, "It is a wholly autonomous self that Addie envisions in her
vow to herself' (55). Wadlington proposes, though, that Addie sees herself as "an
individual fiee of social arrangements yet profoundly sharing in others' lives at
the physical, active level at which al1 Living things share life" (55). But it is not
clear that Addie ever pictures her corporeal existence in such a generous way.
Even when Addie makes a deiiberate choice for Me, her decision is marked by a
resolution to avoid forming any kind of lasting alliances. As a final revenge on
the world which she feels causes her feelings of estrangement, Addie becomes
more intensely private, more and more introverted, finally sharing her body with
no man, and devising schemes whose success depend entirely on their secrecy.

Thus Addie purposely and ultimately establishes a bounded, a severely

limited and restrictive identity.

Andr Bleikasten argues in The Mc of

Melancholv that "only in death can she escape her unappeasable desire for

whdeness and acquire identity-identity as a corpse, a Meless residue, and identity

in the min& of others, as a hauntting ghost" (196). But wbile her longing for
completeness may abate with her physical demise, Addie defines ber identity as a
separate self well before she takes her last breath. As noted earlier, she designates
herself to be an "I" which is not dependent upon the "shape and echo" of
another's word- That in the end she lies enclosed in a coffin is merely the logical
consequence of ber continual desire for solitude. The encasernent of Addie's dead
body in a box is simply an outward, final, and physical manifestation of the
philosophy by which she chose to live.
Faullmer signals throughout As I Lav Deng that Addie's way of thinking
is devastating by having Addie's mind travel through a closed passage. That is,
her thoughts lead her-literally and figuratively--always to a dead end. Addie's
speaks fiom the grave, and each part of her monologue directs us inevitably back
to the inescapable fact of her demise and her belief in her father's macabre
ideology. As Bleikasten observes in The Ink of Melancholv, though Addie may in
certain places be associated with the soi1 and the land, her existence is rarely a
fertile one. "Addie's earth is the dark domain of the dead rather than the womb of
the living," Bleikasten *tes.

"Even the little we learn about her origins is

connected with graveyards." He m e r points out that in her first meeting with
Anse, Addie tells him that her people are in the cemetery, and that this to her is
normal-she has never had any "other kind" of kin (Bleikasten 171).


comection to death is evident also to her community and farnily members.

Peabody describes Addie as "no more than a bundle of rotten sticks," and her son
Dar1 sees her as a ''haudful of rotten bones" (qtd. in Bleikasten,


Bleikasten proposes, though, that the depiction of Addie in As 1 Lay DWig is not
entirely gloomy. "The text," he writes,
comects her repeatedly with images of death und Me.

Addie's Iast

journeyybearing back her body to Jefferson, the place where she was bom,
is accomplished under the triple sign of birth, sexy and death, and that
which encompasses them: t h e . Cash has made her coffin 'dock-shape,'
and Addie is laid in it with her wedding dress, 'head to foot,' like a child

in its rnother's womb at the moment of delivery.

. . . The CO&

is the

materna1 womb and the nuptial bed as well as a box for the dead. (

Perhaps these details are signs of a latent vitality; more likely, though, they are
ironic reinforcements of Addie's morbid disposition. Addie is wearing her brida1
gown, but her groom is definitely not a lively one.

Moreover, her physicd

position in the coffin may suggest that she is being born again, but this delivery is
more like a kind of macabre stillbirth; her own as well as her family's labour
leads her only to the cold, dark earth of the grave.
Addie concludes "1 would be 1," and with these words she expresses the

result of her extensive, rational deliberations: She becomes a singular, wilfully

detached and debilitatingly soritary entity.

Mary Jane Hurst points out in

ccCharacterisationand Language: A Case Study of As 1 Lay D~in&'that the

grammar of Addie's monologue too enforces the idea that "in her language and in
her behaviour, Addie separates herself fiom her family and her environment, and
she tries to conquer and control her surroundings" (75). More than any other
character, Addie makes use of the first person pronom. "Phrases beginning with I
fiil Addie's chapter," Hurst notes (72).
Because Addie cultivates the uniqueness of her self to such an extent,
regular co~nmunicationeventudy ceases to be possible for her. She defines her
existence in terms of its singular particdarity, and in doing so she retreats as far as
possible into an inner space, conclusively closing herselfoff to others. She gets as
far as possible fiom the influence of farnily and neighbours, and finally she is as
totally sequestered in the idea of her self as her physical body is stuck in a rotting
wooden box. Indeed, it is entirely fitting that Addie spends the last vestiges of her
vital energy supervising the fabrication her own coffin. In al1 of the various parts

I ~ is always either moribund or dead. Reading the novel,

of As 1Lay D J ~ Addie
we are undoubtedly meant to get the sense that part of what "lies dying" is the

validity of her approach, a strategy which through the violence of her rhetoric
leads o d y to a greater and greater isolation of her self.14 As As 1 Lay Dving
progresses, Addie becomes more of a menace than a mother--dtimately she is just
a smeliy bulk that needs to be got rid of The extreme particuiarity which she
strives to maintain, the "I" to which she tries desperately to give lasting
meaningfid shape, is in the end just a nuisance of which her family is increasingly
eager to dispose.

Thus the existence of Mrs. Addie Bundren becomes a completely trivial

matter in the end. Her "I" is easily replaced by a generic imitation in the closing
pages. The inteniment of Addie's 7" is also significantly lefi out of the novel.
Addie wants even in death to reuiforce her separation: she requests that she be
buried in a town distant fiom where her husband and children live. By the end of
the Bundren's journey Addie has successfdy brought about the isolation for
which she yearns. Her body is buried in a remote village, and she no longer has to
tolerate the fact of others' secret lives; the isolation, however, cornes at a high
pnce. Addie becomes irrelevant, Addie's existence becomes so exceptional that
the rest of the Bundrens are left without a vocabulary with which to talk about
her.15 Not one of the many protagonists in As 1 Lay Dyine, descnbes or discusses
her interment; it is cornpletely left out of the novel. Addie's burial, the ostensible
goal of the journey, is misshg from the action of the book. Grmted, in Addie's
section, her voice seems to rise out of the grave in a final attempt to make her "I"
count, to explain the ragged form of her life, but she is aIready too far gone into
seclusion. "Addie remains a secrety" Bleikasten points out, a ccshroudedfigure, a
figure ultimately reconciled in what was intended to reveal her" (205). Addie's
farnily no longer hears hm; virtually everyone is deaf to her last distressed and
isolated address.

Of course, there is one Bundren who does keep in touch with his rnother
even after her physical demise. Darl, the "queer" Bundren, senses that though
Addie is dead, she is not peacefully at rest, and that she is still, despite her

unfortunate situation in the box, trying to communkate. As Parker points out,

Darl hears Addie speak, inciting his brother Vardaman to listen closely for the
sounds a dead mother makes. Darl insists that by putting an ear to the coffin, it is
possible to make out the information Addie is trying to convey (Faulkner 40). But
while Darl insists that Addie is " g

to God," and, more specifically, that "she

wants Him to hide her away fiom the sight of man" (214-5), Vardaman cannot

make out the message his mother is trying to get across. "1 put my ear close,"
Vardaman says. cc Only 1 cant tell what she is saying" (2 14).
That Darl can interpret the voice of a dead person is just one of many signs
of his bizarre eccentncity. In the e n 4 his family commts him to a Jackson insane
asyhm because he has, as Bleikasten puts it, without "good reason" set &e to his
rnother's cofnn and destroyed another man's property.'6 Of course, the Bundrens
are also partly motivated to send Darl off because they want to avoid being sued

for damages by the owner of the ruhed grounds. But the family has always
sensed that Darl was somehow too unconventional to fit into their society. Dari
laughs sporadically and uncontrollably, and he has a weird look about him that
even neighbours comment on. For the Bundrens, the fact that Dar1 would bum
down a barn with his mother's dead body in it serves as a usefl confirmation of a
long-held suspicion that he is better off behind institutional bars.

The question of Darl's madness occupies a central place in most of the

cnticism on As 1 Lav

vin^." While some of Darl's actions suggest that he might

actually not be insane,18most of Darl's sections strongly indicate he is, at the very

Ieast, unstable. In commenting on As 1 Lav Dyinq Faulkner insisted that "Dar1

was mad fkom the start" and that Darl's madness gave him special visionary

powers, a vaiuable Yelepathy" (qtd. in Bleikasten,

191). Andysing Darl's

behaviour, Bleikasten finds evidence to prove the viability of Fauher's

statement He notes that early on Darl manifests many recognisable symptoms of
mental illness. "Nearly al1 of the classic symptoms of schizuphrenia are soon
discemible," Bleikasten writes, "withdrawal fiom reality, loss of vital identity,
sense of isolation and deadness, armageddonism (the sense that 'the end of the
world is nigh' apparent in Darl's account of the river scene)" (Znk 191).
Nonetheless, a few critics argue that Darl's madness is not obvious fkom
the outset, that Darl seems entirely normal and rational at the beginning.lgThey
purport that Dari's incarceration, and the irrational behaviour which gets him into

the institution, is not prepared for by the earlier parts of the n0ve1.~~
In this view,
the e s t chapters in which Darl narrates appear entirely normal--or at least not any

stranger than others' sections. Indeed, Darl's opening words could be read as a
straight-forward account of his and his brother Jeviel's uphill wak from the field
where they were working to the house where Cash is sawing a box for their
mother Addie Bundren "'to Iie in" (5). Notwithstanding the peculiarity of the
ckumstances depicted, the style of the narration does on one level seem at least

as coherent as any of those that foilow. In any case, even those critics who
dispute that Darl is clearly mad at the beginning of the novel agree that in the end
Dart's madness is undeniable. Faulkner's prose is clear at least on this one point.

The last pages of As I Lav Dving show Darl "in a cage in Jackson where, his
grimed han& lying light in the quiet interstices, looking out he foams" (254).
Whether Dar1 is mentally unstable fiom the outset can easily be resolved,
though, by looking more closely at his opening narration. The h t section reveals
some noteworthy incongmities-discrepancies which not only hint at the grounds
of Darl's eventual mental demise, but also clearly show that he is indeed at least
slightly irrationai at the very beginning.

James M. MeIiard points out in

c'Ideologies in As 1 L w Dving," the first paragraphs of t h e book contain marks of

Faulkner's attempts to "subvert the traditional ideology of mimesis" (230)
because perspective in this part is strangely muddied. Darl narrates in the firstperson, but objective "and subjective viewpoints are confused: Darl describes
things which' practically, he could not possibly have seen. "JeweI and I corne up
from the field," Darl explains, "following the path in single file. Although 1am
fifteen feet ahead of him, anyone watching us fiom the cottonhouse can see
Jewel's h y e d and broken straw hat a hl1 head above my own" (3). Mellard
notes that "while the objective content of what Darl reports would of course be
availabIe to a typical narrator or even to a rst person narrator situated differentiy

fiom Darl, it is not available to him in his position fifteen feet ahead of Jewel or
on the outside of the cottonhouse as Jewel strides across it" (230). Mellard finds

in Darl's opening evidence of Faulkner's modernism; that is, here as elsewhere

Faulkner 'kdercuts, questions, or challenges the epistemological assumptions of
realism in various ways and on several levels" (230)?

This passage may well prove Fauikner's modernism, but it also serves the
more simple purpose of displaying the nature of Darl's brand of irrationality. DarI
is from the outset demented, according to the Latin root sense of the word: de
mens, out of one's mind. At the be-g

of the novel Darl already has the

abiiity to see iom a different perspective. In other words, he has visionary

powers that allow him to transcend the boundaries of a personal subjectivity.
Ronald Emerick writes that "Darl's insanity at the end of the novel is not the
result of the worsening of an already present madness" (75, italics mine); but
when at the end of the novel Darl is fnally c o d t t e d to a . insane asylum, we
witness the cuirnination of a trend that is fact initiated in the opening section. In
the beginning Darl sees things fiom at least two discrete perspectives. By the end
of As 1 Lay Dyiney Darl's mind has spiralled too far out: he sees fiom a dizying
number of points of view. Darl's brother Cash says that a crazy person "cant see
eye to eye with other f o W 7 (234), and about his brother's type of insanity he is
more right than he probably knows. Dar1 also cannot see "eye to eye"; instead,
Darl sees fiom his own as well as thoughfiorn others' eyes. He speaks as though
he has complete access to his brothers' and sister's inner beings, and he narrates

their reaiity often with more facility than they themselves are prone to. Darl's
ultimate d o d a l l stems fiom the fact that he considers life fiom too many

The multiplicity of viewpoints which Darl incorporates into his

own outlook is debilitating. Darl moves in and out of various subject States with

so much ease that by the end he can no longer discern the presence of boundaries
between himself and others. Though in some rare instances in the novel Darl's

intuition falters-as critics ofien point out, he fails to recognise his family7splan to
send him off to Jackson, for example, and he never seems able to discern what is
in Dewey Deil's package-Dar1 generally does have penetrating psychic powers
which enable hirn easily to bypass traditional fiontiers of t h e , place, and identity.

He hears the dead speaking, he can set out in detail events at which he is not
present, and he can discover people's innermost secrets. Tull, a neighbour, relates
how Dari can move in and out of individuai's coosciousness, merge another's
person's subjectivity with his own. "[parl] is looking at me," Tull says. "He dont
Say nothing; just looks at me with them queer eyes of hisn that makes f o k talk. 1

always Say it aint never been what he done so much or said or anything so much
as how he looks at you. It's like he had got into the inside of you, someway, Like

somehow you was Iooking at yourself and your doings outen his eyes" (125). In
his fi*

monologue, Darl narrates the death of his mother, describing the positions

of his family members and their conversations at the time of her death, but Darl is
actually far away, running an errand with Jewel, when the event takes place.
Benjy in The Sound and the F u q cannot distinguish between temporal
States; his narration represents a confusion between past, present, and future. Darl

in As 1Lav Dving ceases to discriminate between his own identity and those of his
peers; his last narration paradoxically suggests that he is himself and also,
simultaneously, a variev of other people. Darl speaks alternately fkom a first-

person perspective, Eom the viewpoint of an objective observer, and also as

though he were a Bundren family member other than hirnself, calling himself "our
brother Darl" (254). Al1 of these discursive parts are contained under the chapter
heading "Darl."

In his linal section he is foaming behind bars because he has

erased the barriers behveen himself and others; he has been incarcerated because

he lives in a Society which collectively demands that such limits between

psychologies not be annihilated entirely. The members of Darl's community
require that their subjectivities not be totally accessible to another outside of
themselves: they need their secrets to survive. Dewey DeU cannot af5ord her
pregnancy to become public knowledge. Jewel depends for his integrity on his
ability to keep guarded the intensity of his feelings for his horse.

The Bmdrens altogether insist on the c o b a t i o n of conventional

boundaries of identity. "The private lives of the characters exist w i t h their life
as a goup for whom privacy is a cardinal virtue," Wadlington writes (29). If Darl

does not acknowledge where his subjectivity ends, his family will see to it that at
least he appreciates where the physical space they have granted him terminates.

The Bundrens commit Dar1 to a ce11 with very obvious and incontestable limits."
But though Darlysend is bleak, the irrational approach which Ieads to his
incarceration is nonetheless in a way propitious. Darlysmentality works to oppose
strict, devitalising systems of order such as Addie's. Where his mother attempts
to exert a ngid control over language and the life it describes, Darl moves in a
contrary direction, endeavouring to liberate words fiom their referents. In his

nnal monologue, Darl, foarning, looks out between "the quiet interstices" (254).

Pnor to this scene, Darl examines another kind of space, that which exists
between signifier and signified.

Darl imagines that the physical body, for

example, is not necessarily coincident with a subjective notion of the self. His

narrative suggests that depending on the circumsfances that prevail, one's imer
being can fioat fiee of the flesh, far beyond its usual corporeal boundary. "In a
strange room you must empty yourself for sleep," Darl says. "And before you are
emptied for sieep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are
not" (80).

Darl is self-reflexive enough to know that open-rninded, fkee,

wiconstrained thinking such as he engages in pulls up the anchor of

epistemological certainty. Dar1 determines that those who do not question are less
Iikely to encounter the paradox of consciousness which he deliberates. "Jewel
knows he is," Darl says, "because he does not know that he does not know
whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he
is and he is what he is not" (80).
The fact that Dar1 burns down the barn which houses for a night his
mother's dead body proves to his society that he is dangerously unpredictable and
thus needs to be detained. Cntics of the novei corne to a similar conclusion. Like
Darl's famiiy, they tend to use the incident to demonstrate Darl's growing
tendency to fall into mad fi& of impulsive, unreasonable behaviour. They argue
that though this apparently spontaneous deed is surely meant to restore grace to

the memory of Addie, it also clearly stands as evidence of Darl's flourishing


The barn burning does certainly show that Darl is growing more
unpredictable and perhaps also, more mad; but the act may also, more
productively be read as a symbolic gesture through which Darl revolts against the
normalising fimctions of language. By burning down the barn and cremating his
mother's corpse, Darl would fiee up the idea of Addie. In other words, with no
cadaver to had through the eiernents, the rest of his family would no longer be
obliged publicly to associate the word mother with the decomposing remains
inside the box. Darl knows that the Bundrens making the joumey are not plagued
by philosophical questions.

They rarely-if


such matters as

whether the signfed and signifier ever touch. Anse, Cash, and Jewel seem to
take for granted that words "get what they're m

g to Say at."

Darl's defiant,

instinctive reaction is to eliminate the physical referent in order to reveal the

uncertainty which Iurks below the vernacuiar. Without the stinking body of Addie
present, the word "mother" could more fieeiy si-

something more personally

meaningful. It could more appropnately si@@ a horse or a fish, for example, as

Darl rightly suspects it already does in the private lives of his brothers Jewel and
The Bundren farnily, however, does not admit such radical possibilities.
For the Bundrens, irrational, destructive gestures such as barn burning can Iead
only to loss and absurdity. Thus Jewel swiffly rescues fiom the stable the flaming

box containing his mother's dead body, and in doing so ensures that the word
mother has a physical, identifiable, and relatively conventional referent. As soon

as Addie is perrnanently out of sight-buried in the cemetery--Anse makes a

similar move. He guarantees that the title "Mrs Bundreny'is rescued; to Save his
family's existence f?om meaninglessness, he quickly introduces a living woman
who will not ody replace the dead one but also, as a matter of course, carry an
identical name. "Meet Mrs Bundren,"

Anse says, fiankiy and unceremoniously

presenting his new wife at the end of the novel.

The Bundrens as a group insist on the value of structure--whether it is in
the physical form of a CO&

or barn, or the more abstract and social arrangement

of family. Dari does not fit in because he repeatedly attempts to break down

structure. Darl will burn a building with his mother's corpse in it, and he will
undennine domestic stability by questioning the make-up of his family. He tauns
Jewel, for example, with the possibility of Jewel's illegitimacy. Suspecting Jewel
is the unlawful son of a union between Addie and a man other than Anse, Darl
repeatedly tries to reveal the fracture in the family circle.
Darl razes physical structures and challenges social organisations; he dso
disputes the existence of boundaries between conscious and unconscious thought.
Wadlington claims that Darl '?ries throughout the novel to maintain the extreme
mental detachment that is his form of self-sufficiency" (AILD47), but actually the
opposite is true. Dar1 always tries desperately to move towards more intimate
involvement; separation and detachment are to h i . an affliction. He is grieved by

the idea of being remote-fiom other people as well as fiom the reality of everyday
existence. Darl repeatedly invades other consciousnesses in order to merge with
those that surround him, in order intimately to experience their reality.
Darl c o n t i n d y ries to authenticate existence by making clairvoyant
connections with his peers. He silently bothers Jewel in the hope of gaining some

kind of recognition of his insight into his brother's secrets. E s gaze rests on
Dewey Dell for the same purpose. When Darl is unable completely to connect, he
s e e r s a deep amie@. The fact that there seems to be an unbridgeable distance
between himself and his mother Addie, for example, causes him an intense mental
anguish, an inner agony that has lasting consequences.

"What makes Darl's

[madness] significant in the navel," Bleikasten goes as far as to Say, "is that his
191). Emerick
schizoid condition is bound up with his foreclosed sonhood" (

also ties Darl's madness to his complicated relationship with his mother. "As

Darl broods more and more about his mother's rejection of him," he writes, "he
develops a severe identity crisis" (77).
Indeed, Darl's dementia stems not fiom a desire to remain detached fiom
others, but fiom a compulsive urge to become ever more closely invoived with
those that surround him. Isolation and disengagement are part of Addie's anthem,
not Darl's.

Darl's narrations are marked by his critical, increasuigly desperate

invasions into others' private thought. and feelings. Unlike Addie, Dar1 does not
deliberately attempt to establish his autonomy or try to withdraw. However, he
does in the end, ironically and totally against his intentions, become dissociated

and disjointed-uoDinged, as it were. As a result of his excruciating attempts to

erase bomdaries between himself and others, Darl paradoxically experiences a
profound dienation on at least two Ievels.

He becomes estranged from his

community, and he undergoes d s o a rupture between body and mind. Darl

ventures too far into the subjective reaim in his invasions of others' private lives.

But rather than h a U y connecting with all that surrounds him, he uithately
distinguishes himself as irredeemabiy and sorrowfully separate. E s self. instead
of merging with others, gets dispersed--it dissipates and scatters. He experiences
a s p l i n t e ~ off,
g a mentally and socidly crippling division.

On a philosophical level, Darl's

personal orded encapsulates a

phenomenon Charles Taylor discusses in Sources of the Self with general

reference to early twentieth century artistic explorations of interior consciousness.

A tum inward," Taylor writes,

to expenence or subjectivity, didn't mean a turn to a selfto be articdated,

where this is understood as an alignrnent of nature and reason, or instinct
and creative power. On the contrary, the turn inward may take us beyond
the self as usually understood, to a fragmentation of experience which
calls our ordinary notions of identity into question. (462)
Taylor opposes theories which propose that the move to investigate an imer
reality must be differentiated fiom a thinning out of consciousness. He insist that
"Decentring is not the alternative to inwardness; it is its complement" (465).

Dar1 tums inwards, and his intense focus on subjective states leads him
precisely to become what Taylor descnbes as "decentred." At the end of As 1 Lay

DMg Darl is literally displaced; he is physically and geographically outside the

circumference of his family circle.

On another level, his sense of self is

"decentred," that is, wrested fiom its psychological groundwork. Whereas Addie
tries to establish a bounded identiy, attempts through violence to force a
reconciliation between herself and the worid, and insists repeatedly that language
make logical sense, Darl, in the hope of achieving final communion with his
peers, allows his seif+to fioat fke, outside of organised, accepted social and
linguistic structures. As a result, bis security in the phenomenological world is

Significantly, the imagistic content of Darl's monologues reinforces the

notion of his instability. In Darl's narratives, as Bleikasten points out, "references

to uprooting are the most numerous"


Rather Iike the surrealists who attempt to raze the boundaries between self
and other, object and subject, Darl in his narrative tries to establish something
which resembles an illimitable subjectivity. Darl appears to move freely fkom one
consciousness to another. In his mind at least, the boundaries between self and
the next person are totally luid. Uniike Addie who champions the special and
singular nature of herself, Dar1 advocates cornrnonality, a lateral kind of
communication, and in doing so very often gains access to what Addie calls the
"secret" and "selnsh" of others. Where Addie is undone by the flexibility of the
sign, Darl celebrates it. For him, the personal pronoun '9" does not, indeed should

not refer solely to a singIe physicd entity. Darl does not determine that his "1
would be 1." For him,1is multiple; Darl is himself but he is also others watching

him. His identity is potentially d-encompassing. "They put him on the train,"
Darl relates in his h a 1 section,
laughing, down the long car laughing, the heads turning like the heads of
owls when he passed. 'What are you laughing at?' 1 said.
'Yes yes yes yes yes. '
Two men put him on the train.

Darl is our brother, Darl. Our brother Darl in a cage in
Jackson where, his grimed hand lying light in the quiet interstices, lookng
out he foams.
'Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.' (253-4 [ellipses mine]).

Darl tries to answer in the affirmative to everything that surrounds him. "Yes yes
yes yes yes yes yes" he says repeatedly and compdsively. This fanatical display
of assent is the conclusion to his ever increasing propensity to validate and
authorise paradoxical conditions. Darl in his opening narrative suggests that he is
h m the start both himself and not himself.

At the end, he thinks he is

everybody-himself, his family, as weII as unrelated onlookers. Darl has in his

own mid at this point obliterated limits and boundaries; he can drift in and out of

various subject States with ease, and he uses words in a way that certainly does not
rely on a restrictive, logical rnethod.

Bleikasten proposes that 'me 'yes' [in this h a 1 section] could just as

likely be a bitterly ironic 'no,' another instance of that defiant 'no' that so many of
F a u h e r ' s heroes utter in the face of t h e destiny when they are succumbing to
it" T(nJ

195). But to read Darl's Iast words in this way leaves out an important

aspect of his psychology: his perpetual tendency to establish an unconfined

territory of the self, to see everything as part of same subjective system. Emerick
suggests that the series of yesses is an assertion of existence (79)' and this seems
closer to Darl's truth. Yet it is imporiant to q-

this statement, too. That is,

we must note that Darl asserts the pertinence and legitimacy of an ever expanding

and subjective existence, one which is in the end too comprehensive to aUow him
to function practically in the extemal world.

Dari's propensity for yea-saying s in a way as debilitating as the surrealist

revolts against normative practices.

Neither Darl nor the surrealists which

Habermas writes about in "Modernity-An Incomplete Project" succeed actually

in eliminating standard psychoIogical boundaries between subjects or in totally

suspending cultural d e s of acceptable conduct. Faulkner makes clear in As 1 L w

Dving that Darl's victory, if we so cal1 it, takes place primarily in Darl's
imaginary worId. After Darl is sent off, the rest of the Bundrens continue to
fnction more or less regularly without him. Their Iives are more changed by the
purchase of a new gramophone than by the fact that Dar1 has been

Darl in the end moves into what appears to be a limiless inner reality, but
his wanderings in this subjective realm lead him dangerously f a . away fiom the
quotidian world of family and responsibility. Significantly, his compulsive "yes
yes yes" which represents his denial of restrictions closely echoes the sound of the
train conveying him to the insane a ~ ~ l u The
m . train
~ ~ leads hun literaily to a place

far away from his family; the 'yes' which parrots the sound of the train alienates

him on another level. In his last section, Darl can no longer handle a world in
which people feel a need to find a way for things to "balance," to use Cash's


In the world his family moves in, inhabitants depend on a less than

arbitrary relationship between signified and signifier and rely on relatively

conventional distinctions between subject and object. Thus, as Cash succinctly
puts it: "This world is not pari's] world, this life hs life" (261).
Neither Addie nor Darl's approach, then, appears to represent a completely
successfid way of corning to terms with twentieth century existentid problems.
Both mother and son in the end f h d themselves at a prohibitive distance fiom the
inhabitants of the 'Lhis world" Cash speaks about in his meditation on Darl.
Addie rants fkom the grave, but her invective is as useless as she is dead. The
'self she wanted in her life to cultivate and preserve through separation from
others is thoughtlessly but swiftly replaced by a new Mrs. Bundren as soon as the
trip to the graveyard has been completed. Addie is forgotten by al1 except Darl,

whose mad, demented self, though still dive, is similarly shipped off to be
contained indefinitely behind asylum bars.

But while both Addie and Dar1 evenhially falter in their endeavours, an
important m e r e n c e between their approaches remains. Addie's attitude leads
nevitably to different kinds of stagnation-the only activities she initiates within
the t i m e - h e of the novel are cofnn making and a journey to a graveyard. Once

these are over, Addie is h a l l y dismissed by her famiIy. She is interred, then
quickly replaced with a generic version of herself. Darl's dementia, however,
leads to significant and lasting change on a very fundamental level.


personality brings out an insight which saves his family's experience fiom being
merely an illustration of social meagreness and economic affliction.
Darl's continuing attempt to try to redise on a subjective level some kind
of total inclusiveness is ultimately debilitating. His calamitous eccentricity within
his c o m m ~ t yseems inevitably to necessitate his confinement.


notwithstanding this fact, Darl's dementia leads to a profound revelation, a

reconsideration or re-evaluation of the legitimacy of d e s and rituais.


irrationality, his compulsive negation of boundaries epitomised by his last fits of

laughter and his fiantic "yes yes yes yes" is certainly excessive. And yet because
of Darl's dementia another individual in the novel cornes to question society's
right to determine another person's fate or judge someone in absolute terms. "1
aint so sho that ere a man bas the right to Say what is crazy and what aint" Cash

says. "It's like there was a fellow in every man that's done a-past the sanity or the
insanity, that watches the sane and the insane doings of that man with the same
horror and the same astonishment" (238). Cash here expresses a relativity, an

indetenninacy that is central not only to his evduation of life in the world in
which he lives, but also to the construction of the novel which meaningfiilly
depicts it.
Bleikasten writes that in As I Lay Dving:
Faulkner does not allow us to move beyond astonishment, me] refuses to
ask questions or to dispel wonder; he is content to record over and over
again that initiai moment what a human consciousness


into the

intolerable and experiences the shock of outrage. No lesson is drawn, no

wisdom offered. As I Lay Dyhg, which in one sense is perhaps the most
pureiy metaphysical of Faulkner's novels, is probably also his least
IJ 200).
philosophical. n

Perhaps As I Lw Dving; is not overtly philosophical, but it does offer insight into
the lives of the characters and, more irnportantly perhaps, into the novelistic
construction of subjectivity. In other words, Darl's situation represents in a
remarkable way the circumstances of the novel in which he figures. Like Benjy in
The Sound and the fur^, Dar1 in As 1 Lay Dvinq iilustrates through his narrative
some vital aspects of modemist novelistic prose- His incarceration at the end of
the novel is part of this demonstration; it is a record of the curious irrationdity
which inspires change, and which includes the idea that it may be necessary to
rein in the material of the world to arrange it into a generic and publicly
identifiable fonn.

Darl is ''the o d y one in whose consciousness all the other hgments of the
novel inhere," Kinney points out, "and the acknowledgernents of the others undo

hirn" (167). The comment rings tme, but it is pertinent not o d y to Faulkner's
irrational protagonist. Darl's irrational inclination to probe the deepest recesses of
multiple subjective consciousnesses at the expense of psychological wholeness
signincantly p d l e l s the novelist's endeavour. As a modem novelist, Faulkner
explores the private, inner life of discrete individual sensibilities; he does so at the
risk of losing structural e t y and the ability to make absolute or conclusive
staternents. Like Dar!, the modem novel as Faulkner writes it is "undone" by the
posibility of encyclopaedic inclusion. Faulkner tries, like his irrational character,
to Say it all, to tell a whole story, all its aspects (Lion 222; 244). And yet the
effort of expressing the totd picture leads unavoidably to failure. Faulkner' s
prose, if it is to be publicly meanin@,

must be limited to a certain extent by

conventional rules of language and generic structure. The limits imposed on the
creative potential of the artist c m be likened to the straightjacket which restricts
the movements of Darl. But here it must be noted that just as the physical

restraints put on Darl bring out his highly cryptic, train-echoing laughter, the
limits imposed on the encyclopaedic matenal of the novel bring out its enigmatic,
paradoxical qualities. Though Darl is physicaliy constrained, his mind continues
to "rave1 out," so to speak. Similarly, most critics agree that As 1 Lay Dying,
though structurally recognisable as a novel and divided into discrete sections, "has

a wonderfiil immunity to schernatisation" (Bedient qtd. in Bleikasten,

c'For/Against" 48).

Faulkner's novel resiss conclusive statements about its

meaning and purpose while it facilitates access into subjective realities which are
not our own.

Darl's gradual surrender to irrationality prornotes a valuable

intersubjective cornmUNcation. His irrationality encourages, as Cash points out, a

suspension of definitivejudgements. Notably, Cash appreciates the wisdom of his

irrational brother only when Darl is forcibly constrained.

unfinalisable because it relies on an
The design of As 1 Lav D J ~ Iremains
energy as vital but aiso as irrationai as Darl's. The novel, like Darl, insist for its

Cash gleans his wisdom about

succes on the viability of logicai in~ongruities.~
the relativity inherent in 'tbis world' directly from his irrational, 'unbalanced'

brother. Critics often point out that Cash is a logical and coherent individual who
tries perpetually to make thngs "balance."
builder, and perhaps artist figure:6

But it must be noted that Cash, a

is also untable as he concludes. Cash, like

the brother he contemplates and depends upon for his wisdom, is in the end

permanently unstable.

Darl is rnentally unbalanced; Cash has an analogous

problem at the physical level. He is doomed, as another townsperson, Peabody,

notes, "to limp around on one short leg for the balance of [his lifel-if

De] walk[s]

again" (240). Cash, who speaks cogently and renectively about unfinalisablity,

must hobble.
Thus Fauikner in As 1 Lay Dvinq ultimately consecrates the idea of
imbalance. Darl's narratives, unhindered by strict logicd control, work to liberate
design fiom working toward a conclusive end. By having the Bundrens admit

Dar1 to an institution at the end of As I Lay Dvina Faulkner seems to suggest that
in our imperfect world it may be necessary to check an kitional impulse before it
leads to a totally debilitating subjectivsm or social anarchy. On a formal level, in
the work of art, structural limitts can help to c o n t e d i s e irrationality and put
subjectivity into publicly accessible terms. Yet at the same time, the irrational
individual, like the Urational cornponent of the novel, needs to be recognised as an
integral, propitious, and valuable aspect of a society which sets change and social
interaction up as goals. In As 1 Lav Dvine; and The Sound and the FUIT an
irrational approach to reality calls into question the effectiveness of boundaries
instituted by a society based on instrumental reason.
The sections of Darl and Benjy have certain traits in common with
surrealist experiments with narration, since they also work to undennine
established subjectlobject and art/life categories.

In one way, Faullaier7s

novelistic prose celebrates individuality and an indulgence in subjectivity. in

doing so, it suggests that a reliance on established forms and conventions inhibits
creative expression. Yet neither As 1 Lay Dying nor The Sound and the Furv
negates the value of structural divisions or artificial boundaries completely. This
signals a major difference between the surrealist project and Faulkner's novelistic


While the surrealists move towards s t n i c t d anarchy, towards a

complete abandonment of fonn, Faulkner, celebrating irrationality, ultimately

adrnits the usefulness of employhg some kind of restrictive measures.

Within Faullcner's fiction an irrational approach to reality is constructive

not simply because it subverts a Iogical method or celebrates any kind of surrealist
tendency toward inclusivity. In the novels, the irrationality of Dar1 and Benjy
does not take over on a literal or figurative ievel. But Faulkner shows that the
novel, when it is successfiil, reIies on an irrational component to avoid
predictability and facilitate new insight.

Darl's and Benjyys places are so

prominent in the novels because Faulkner uses them to demonstrate how

irrationality is important in maintainhg flexibility of form and promoting the
necessity of a fiesh approach to reality. The sections of the irrational characters,
Iike the novels in which they figure, call into question the finaiity of others'
judgements while underiining also the necessity of aiming always for a more
complete and laterai communication between what are conventionally considered
to be discrete subjective and temporal States.

The text for The Sound and the Furv is based on the standard edition and
includes the appendix of 1946.
See, for example, Paliiser 139; Bleikasten 147.
Rick Rodenck points out that Habermas's term 'life-world' means that
"prereflective web of background assurnptions, expectations and hfe relations that
serve as a source of what goes into explicit communication while always itself
remaining implicit" (qtd. in Li 46). Li notes that "The modem rationalization of
the Me-world involves, therefore, the process of separating out the implicit and
tangled elements of the life-world and subjecting them to critical reflection and
evduation through institutionalized forrns of validity-testing and argumentation"

Bleikasten acknowledges that his "list" is constnicted according to

personal bias. It includes: Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann, Robert Musil, James
Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, Hermann Broch, Car10 Emilio Gadda, LouisFerdinand Cline, Vladimir Nabokov, and Samuel Beckett (79).

Bleikasten here quotes Italo Calvino:

What takes shape in the great novels of the twentieth century is the idea of

an open encyclopedia, whose etymology indicates an original claim to

exhaust the knowledge of the world by confining it wiuiin a circle.
Nowadays, it has become impossible to conceive a totality that is not
potential, conjectural, and plural. ("European" 86)

See Hermann Broch, "Roman," 719, my translation.

' The English word "stable" may be sornewhat misleading.

The original

German word is "innehaltenden." Habermas writes:

Das neue ZeitbewuBtsein, das mit Bergson auch in die Philosophie

eindringt, bringt nicht nur die E r f a h g einer mobilisierten Gesellschaft,
einer akzelerierten Geschichte, eines diskontinuiertgn Alltages zum
Ausdruck. In der Aufwertung des Transitorischen, des Flchtigen, des
Ephemeren, in der Feier des Dynamismus spricht sich eben die Sehnsucht
nach einer unbefleckten, innehaltenden Gegenwart aus. ("Die Moderne"

The verb "innehalten" generaIIy denotes a sort of reflective pausing or

stopping. When used as it is here to descnbe a "Gegenwart" or present, it
suggests a kind of suspension of activity, and only in this way, perhaps, a kind of
It may also be worthwhile to point out here that the German original
includes a couple of sentences which the English translation inexplicably omits.
The above text continues in the following way:
Als eine sich selbst negierende Bewegung ist der Modeniismus

"Sehnsucht nach der wahren Priisenz." Dies, meint Octavio Paz, "ist das
geheime Thema der besten modemistischen Dichter." [As a self-negating
movernent, modernism is "longhg for the true present." This, Octavio Paz

holds, "is the secret theme of the best modernist poets" (my translation)]

Bergson writes:

You define the present in an arbitrary manner as rhar which is, whereas the
present is simply whuf is being made. Nothing is less than the present
moment, if you understand by that the indivisible limit which divides the
p s t fiom the future. When we think this present as going to be, it exists

not yet; and whgn we think it as existhg, it is already p s t .

The rather enigmatic "And yet" is here an English version of the German
"Trotzdem": "Die Kunst ist-im VerhdtniB zum L e b e n - - b e r ein Troztdem; das
Fonnschaffen ist die tiefste Bestatigung des Daseins der Dissonanz die zum
denken ist

. . ." (64).

The German "Trotzdem," which c m aiso be hranslated as

"despite this" or "but sti11" or "nonetheless" in this context gives the upcoming
passage the more precise sense that art wosks against, or at least to organize, a
prevailing formlessness.

The references here are to Lukacs's early and highly influentid work in

The Theorv of the Novel.

'' Eric Sundquist points out also that Faulkner complicates the matter of
time through the verbal structure. Shiffing tenses leave a reader guessing: it is
never quite clear how much time has passed between the events as they happened

and the moment at which the various Bundrens begin their telling (Bleikasten
177). BIeikasten suggests, however, that

Once the temporal distance between events and their telling has been
properly acknowledged, the narrative discontinuities cease to be
inonsistencies. Cash would not refer to 'Mrs Bundren's house' [218]
before the family's arrival in Jefferson if he did not speak fiom a tirne well

d e r Anse's remarriage.

note 27,383).

1 include here the authorial voice of the fourth and nnal section, the

Appendix. Section L belongs to Benjy; Section 11 to Quentin; Section III to Jason"

Michael Holiington notes in "Svevo, Joyce and Modemist Time" that

for the nineteenth century novelist "events mark the critical points of change.
Individual development is regarded as of generd human importance, and
considered logical in form: laws of psychological cause and effect, of interaction
between character and circumstantial environment, are in operation" (43 1).
Bleikasten in The Ink of Melancholv suggests that it is Dar1 who more
closely resembles the "ubiquitous, omniscient novelist of the good old days in that
he is granted prvileged access to other minds and is endowed with special gifts
for expressing what goes on there" (209). However, his random approach to
reaiity, his lack of desire of or respect for order, places him, it seems to me, at a
greater distance f?om this role than his mother, who organizes and insists on
explaining her iife.

For other possible interpretations of the title made possible by the

strange syntax (a dependent clause) and the ambiguous pronom reference ("1"
refers to whom, to what?), see Bleikasten, &&

Wadlington rnakes a similar point.


realize that "to be an


He w-rites that Addie does not

is to be shape and echo of words, the words of others as

well as our own, in the sense that we radically depend on other's stones and the
conventions that make them possible" (82).
Bleikasten's words here are not directly related to the barn burning


incident, but to Darl's generally mad state. He writes:

There is good reason to think that by the end of the journey Darl's mind is

ruly deranged. But who can tell what good reason is? In the last resort,
the boundary between sanity and insanity is but the arbirary division mark
of a social order, and mere ways of taiking and seeing turn out to be ways
of ordering and classifjmg and institutionaiizing violence. Like race and
gender, madness only exists as defined by and c o f i e d in collective
discourse and collective perception, and the prograrnmed fate of the

madman is to end up immured within the walls of an asyium. Tn(J


1 take up the ramifications of this lengthier statement later on.


'The key question in the novel," Frederick N. Smith writes in a

representative article, "would seem to be: is Darl really mad and is his committal
to an institution reaily called for?" (74).

Bleikasten points out, near the end of the Bundren's joumey to Jefferson,

for example, Darl wisely interferes in Jewel's dispute with a siranger and in daing
so saves his brother fkom geting into a M e fight (Bleikasten



For a brief synopsis of critical arguments against Darl's initial insanity,

see Ronald Emerick, "Dari BundrenrsInsanity: The Collapse of Community" 701.


See, for example, Parker, 41 E


Arthur F. Kinney cornes to a similar conclusion:

Darl's visual thinking is split between recording what he sees and

projecting what he rhinks, the realized and the imagined; M e r confused
yet, he sees not only fkom two perspectives, but fiom three, for he also

thinks about the way both of them would look to someone at the
cottonhouse as they approach it. What begins here as a juxtaposition of
what is experienced and what is thought, what performed and what
imagined, will grow progressively throughout the novel, the gap between
the two becoming irrevocably wider. (162)

For a discussion of how "use of voice" and repetition similarly undermine

narrative reliability, see Bleikasten, @ 156-7.

" John K. Simon suggests that Darl understands that his incarceration is
"'the very image of the human condition of isolation which prevents conscious
participation in events" (see Emerick 78), but 1 see no evidence in the text that
Darl interprets his place in jail in this way. The scene seems to have symbolic
value mainly for the reader and critic.

See, for example, Ronald Emerick, "DarlBundren's Fnsanity," 75, and

Charles Pdliser "Fate and Madness: The Determinkt Vision of Darl Bundren,"
" For

the idea that the yes yes yes yes echoes the sound of a train, 1 am

indebted to a student who took m y course on the modern novel, Florca Spiegel.

The title is perhaps the most obvious instance of this.


Most critics considering Cash's final section focus on the fact that Cash,

as builder, somehow resembles and represents another rnaker-the author who

fabricates a book. As Kinney notes and other critics have simiIarly suggested,
"[Cash's J d e s of carpentry are both literal and figurative, metaphoric" (1 74). By
burning the barn, Darl goes against the d e s of his community and also, perhaps
more irnportantiy, undermines someoners effort to produce sornething of lasting
value. He has destroyed a created object and with it upset the "balance" an artist
tries to achieve. Cash does not dispute the necessity of committing his brother to
an institution partly because he assigns a great worth to constnicted objects.
Darl's attempt to annihilate the product of another's labour means for Cash that
DarI1senergy definitely needs to be restrained. "Because there just aint nothing
justifies the deliberate destruction of what a man has built with bis own sweat and
stored the f i t of his sweat into," he says (23 8).

Chapter Tl[

The NoveIist's Somnambulism:

Hermann Broch's Ornamenta Construction of The ~lee~walkers'

In The Sound and the F u . and As 1 Lay Dying; Faulkner advocates

through his irrational characters a muitiplicity of meaning, an openness which is
essential to the novel that successfully renders in fictionai form the subjectivity of
the individual who actively participates in an early twentieth century corrrmunity.

Hermann Broch's The Sleepwalkers (193 1/193 2) also features inationdity as a

significant and consequential component of modem society. A tbree-part work
(each part set in a srightly different era and including a new lead character), the
novel deals with what Broch calls the realm between the "no longer" and the "not
yete7' The sleepwalkers of the titie move in this area, which, accorduig to Broch,
"encompasses the whole realm of irrational experience, specifically in the border

area where the irrational rnanifests itself as deed, thus becoming expressible and
representab1e7' ("Roman" 7 19). Irrational behaviour pervades the three major
sections of the novel; in each chapter, main characters give in to irrational
impulses that Iead to erroneous or depraved actions which eventuate personal,

social, and political turrnoil.

The regularly negative turn of events in The

Sleepwalkers suggests that irrationalis is a dubious aspect of contemporary

society, a threat to constructive activity and cultural harmony.

The novel as a whole, however, also offers the possibility that irrationaliv

exists as a positive, indispensable force. The Sleepwakers breaks with traditional

f o m s of representation and expands the portrayai of subjectivity through
innovative narrative techniques.

The novel's experimental configuration,

especially the disjunctive design of the third section, is meant in a way to mirror
certain aspects of a collapsing community and the tenuous or insecure rnorality of
the people living in it? Critics moreover point out that the progressive ethical
anarchy described in The SIeepwalkers is directly related to Broch's idea that in
the twentieth century the art form of the novel has itself moved into a state of

And yet the novel's message is not entirely negative.

Through the

complicated structure of the novei, Broch also incites the reader to go beyond the
premise he presents more directly through the behaviour of Joachim, Esch.
Huguenau, and their compatriots. The arrangement of the novel, including the
organisation of the srnaller parts of the third section, suggests that irrationd
action, though it may in some important instances undermine communal progress,
also has the tendency to open up new forms of meaning. Through an alternative
reading, then, irrational action in The Sleeuwalkers emerges as a transforming
power, as a practical catdyst for productive, even necessaxy change.
The following analysis will show that irrational elements of the novel,
however detrimental they may be in certain cases, also work against false
homogenisation. Irrationality in The Slee~walkerspromotes diversity-a diversity

that in notable instances leads to discord, discrepancy, and, in the Huguenau

section, unfortunately fatal dispute, but which at the same time remains a key to
significant transformation both withh the novel as well as the periods it

When irrationality operates positively in The Sleepwalkers, it

contributes in a instnimental way to popular early twentieth century concepts of

seE, the novel, and time. More explicitly, through his deliberate inclusion of the
irrational in The Sleepwalkers, Broch presents a narrative which, while it
dramatises the necessity of restraint, vdorises also a continual move towards
temporal, ethical, and subjective fieedom.
Broch finds the time about which he writes is marked by a "disintegration
of values." Individuais living in the penods designated by the three sections of

The Sleepwalkers- 1888, 1903, and 1918-are caught between ethical value
systems. The code of values upheld by their contemporary society is no longer
suitable or useful-and yet a new value system which would be appropriate to their
sense of a changing reality remains obscure.

Science and other established

systems of knowledge are at a Ioss to explain the hazy, uncertain and irrational
region between the "no longer" and the "not yet" ("Roman" 719).


protagonists, the sleepwalkers of the title who are unwittingly caught up in this
realrn, act on impulses which cannot clearly be classified in fixed categories; their
motives seem to onlookers and sometimes even to themselves ambiguous or

Broch's sleepwakers wander in figurative darkness; one woman,

Hama W., actually perambulates with her hands outstretched in fiont of her, thus
publicly signifjhg her relatively unconscious and thoroughly transitional state

(616)- hdeed, throughout The Slee~walkers,Broch develops a moral relativity in

which persond decisions refer less and less to established codes of right and
wrong, but d e c t insead a growing private confusion and public chaos. People's
intentions and actions become increasingly abstract and equivocal as the years go
by; at the end of the third section, irrational behaviour is cornmonplace.
The development of subjectivity in Broch's noveL is closely tied to his
ideas about the evolution of inationality. AU three chapters of The SIeepwalkers
show that a loosening social structure brought on by the pursuit of Enlightenment
ideals guarantees that the individual subject is fhaily obliged to act alone, without

a firm sense of trancendental guidance. As the penods progress--fiorn 1888 to

1903 to 1918-rational specialisation increases and society becomes ever more
dividedS4As a result of this fragmentation, people become discomected fiom each
other and their world. In The Sleepwalkers the inner selves of Broch's main
characters evolve increasingly discretely and variably, and it appears that the
solitary human being who depends primarily on a personal, changeable morality
for guidance in msikiag decisions behaves increasingly irrationally and so
contributes to an imminent "irruption fiom below."


lonelier a man

becomes," Broch writes, "the more detached he is f?om the value-system in which
he lives, the more obviously are his actions detennined by the irrational" (SW
541). The irrational behaviour of the protagonists often cornes out of a sense of
desperation and isolation.

In this chapter I argue, however, that


sleepwaIking is associated with a longing to redise a greater subjective fkeedom

or, on a structurai level, an attempt to redise totality, it signais also the prospect of
positive personai development and related social progress.
The key word, here, is longing. Critics have considered at length Broch's
fictionalised conception of the irrational in this novel, and the following is part of
an on-going discussion conceming Broch's work of the meaning and place of

irrationality in the twentieth century world. The chapter's contribution to the field
is related to the notion of freedom Broch articulates in the epilogue of his novel,
The narrator here posits that "everyuiing depends on one's relation to freedom"
- and that even the destructive Huguenau "is enlisted in the service of fieedom"

(643). The chapter builds an argument to dispute the latter part of this assertion
with careful reference to the Pasenow, Esch, and Huguenau sections. ft accounts

for the antipathy we feel for Huguenau, whose philosophy demands personal
profit no matter what the consequences, by showing that Huguenau's essential
self-satisfaction is at the base of his villainous nature. Again, using Lukacs's
theory on the novel, 1 draw a connection between the growing centrality of
sleepwalking to the ages Broch descnbes, and the striving for totality which marks
the generic form of the novel in which this sleepwalking figures. Each makes

possible new forms of meaning relevant to the society out of which it arises only
through a continual yearnuig to effect a totality which essentially-and, it will
become clear, necessarily-lies out of its reach.
Until recently, interpretative possibilities engendered for The Sleepwakers
by a link between Lukacs and Broch have ofien been overlooked. However, in the

1980s a number of critics noted generally that both Lukacs and Broch use
different approaches to discuss simiIar issues-particularly problems related to the
modem era's inabiIity to effect a totality? Paul MicMel Ltzeler, a prominent
Broch scholar and editor, has also s h o m more specifically that the three main
figures of The Sleepwakers could be read as Broch's satirical versions of the
novel hero types Lukacs describes in The Theory of the Novel ("Hermann Broch"

Also using The Theow of the Novel, 1 reveal through Broch an

alternative possibility, one that is not explored by extant Broch criticisrn and
which Lukacs himself does not envision: that an irrational approach to reality

may be a necessary and constructive part of a twentieth century attempt to redise

a totality in-and through-the novel. Ltzeler fmds that Lukacs's idea that the
novel is a vehicle by which an author searches for a unified cosmology, a totality
of being, is not substantiated by works like The Slee~walkers("Preface" 7). As
Ltzeler notes, Broch's work does portray in a typically modemist fashion an
unfortunate disparateness-in the case of this novel a deplorable division of valuespheres. But a carefid study of the irrational elements in The Sleepwakers will

also disclose their part in Broch's noveiistic search for a t o d i t y like the one
Lukics describes.
Earlier Broch criticism, especially that written until the 1960s, is still very
much concemed with establishing Broch as a major writer of this century.
Explications of Broch's work in mmy cases show, especially after Richard

Brinkmann's work on the subject, how the novel dramatises Broch's particular

ideas on the modern era's tendency toward a disintegration of values (Brinkrnann,

"Romadomi"; see also Kreutzer). Towards the end of the sixties, the writing
becomes more criticai, drawing out "flaws" such as the propensity of certain parts
to be too didactic, and questionhg Broch's overall success in achieving his
longed-for totality (see, for example, Hatfield 125-7; Ziokowski 177). Critics
writing before the 1970s on the whole veer away fkom issues related to the ethical
and political contributions Broch makes through his fiction; this, notwithstanding

the fact that Broch himself overtly defined his writing within a political and
philosophical context. Ltzeler attributes this bias away f h m a discussion of
Broch's social critique to critics' lack of historical distance and their limited
publishing possibilities in the 1930s. The forrnalist criticism which emerged in
the decades following the second world war likewise sidelined political issues,

now ostensibly in favour of structuralist concem. Essays fkom this era tend on
the whole to describe Broch's image patterns, his interior monologues, his
organisational principles, as well as the author's mysticism and relativism (HB 91O).
Ltzeler's study brings to Iight the compiicated sources of philosophical
thinking that Morms The Sleepwalkers. It, together with Gisela Brude-Firnau's
compilation of materiais related to the novel, such as Broch's correspondence,
contemporary reviews and essays, more directly facilitated a nurnber of
subsequent researches into Broch's social theory and the aesthetic development of
his persona1 politics within the framework of Germa. rnoderni~m.~The Yale

Broch Symposium that took place in 1986 favowed a multidisciplinary approach

to Broch's work in an attempt to reassess "Broch's contribution toward
understanding the modem condition, fand to] explor[e] the correlative ambitions,
methods and contradictions that attend it" (Dowden, "Literature" 2).


following essay comments on and extends much of the work presented at this
conference in order to show more clearly how main figures in Broch's
Sleepwalkers demonstrate that irrationality contributes to the development of a
dynamic and socially relevant novelistic identity.

In the frst chapter of the novel, "1 888--Pasenow or ~ornanticism,"~

introduces the main character, Joachim von Pasenow, through his relationship to
his father, the seventy-year-old Herr von Pasenow, whose appearance and actions
open the novel. The prelude is fitting, as Joachim finally defines himself through
his heritage--hs relationship to his parents, his ties to the patrimonial country
estate, and his military rank which, however spurious, tradition has more or less
guaranteed him. Joachim ultimately chooses convention over the uncertainty that

has begun to invade his social world, but until he cornmits to an arranged
mamage with the Baron and Baroness's daughter Elisabeth, he is continually both
plagued and fascinated by the possibilities that a modern, urban, and civilian life
present. While away from his manor house and property, Joachim fiaternises
often with Bertrand, his enigmatic and charismatic fnend who has abandoned the
army and "descended" to urban business iife, and whose sense of honour has little

left in common with an aristocratie ethical code.

Bertrand represents a daring kind of personal fieedom bitherto UIlfamiliar

to Joachim. His morality is based on a variable subjective sensibility rather than a
desire to obtain public approvd or maintain an older social order. In an effort to
experience his fiend's brand of liberty, Joachim spends most of his t h e in
Berlin, where he allows himself against his better judgement to be seduced by a
prostitute, a woman whom he then, rather characteristically however, takes on as a

kind of ch-

project. Joachim intends to better the life of Ruzena; he takes

great pains to set her up as an actress in a milieu he considers at least slightly safer
and a little more reputable than a brothel. His cbivaIrous actions in this regard are
more typical of his true nature than he initially redises. For, despite his attraction
to Bertrand, Ruzena, and the urban world, Joachim will at 1st choose the security
of his ancestral home; he opts for marriage to Elisabeth and life as a landowner
with miliiary rank.

Joachim's decision confirms his adherence to what Broch calls a kind of

ccRomanticism"a period wherein "the secular exalts itself as the absolute" (20).

By choosing this life with Elisabeth over Ruzena, Berlin, and Bertrand, Joachim
selects an older way of life in which values are carefidly defined in advance. The
symbol of this life is the uniform. "The real and charactenstic romanticism of [the
age of Pasenow]," Broch h e s ,
was the cuIt of the uniform, which implied, as it were, a superterrestrial
and supertemporal idea of uniform, an idea which did not redly exist and
yet was so powerfl that it took hold of men far more completely than any

secuiar vocation could, a non-existent and yet so potent idea that it

transfonned the man in uniforni into a property of his iuiiform, and never
into a professional man in the civilian sense; and this perhaps simply
because the man who wears the uniform is content to feel that he is
fidflhg the most essential function of his age and therefore guaranteeing
the sec-

of his own He. (20)

When Joachim puts on his uniform he has the impression that he safe-guards
himself against an increasingly irrational world. His social title and rnilitary dress
give him a role to play and a clear ethical code by which to Iive. However,
Joachim's adherence to such a relatively stable system cornes at a high price: loss
of a more modem, personal, and subjective fieedom.

In the remarkably

illusirative scene of his wedding night, Joachim is unable to mark the beginning of

his honeymoon with a suitable physical gesture towards his new wife. He cannot
bring himself to take off any of his confining gannents when he is alone with
Elisabeth in a hotel. Beside her on the bed, he stnves to put his feelings in order,
to behave as a land-owning nobleman with military rank should; at the same time,
he stmggles ludicrously to keep his uniform in place. "Through his position,"
Broch writes,

his military coat had becorne disordered, the lapels fdling apart left his
black trousers visible, and when Joachim noticed this he hastily set things
right again and covered the place. He had now drawn up his legs, and so

as not to touch the sheets with his patent-leather shoes, he rested his feet in
a rather constrained posture on the chair standing beside the bed. (158)

PhysicalIy Joachim is fettered by his formal attire; mentaily, Broch intirnates,

Joachim is restricted by his adherence to a "Romantic," and, in 1888, antiquated
system of values.
August Esch, the main character of the second section, "1903--Esch or

Anarchisrn," suffers fiom not having a value system to which he can refer in
moments of personal cnsis and doubt. Esch is an accountant who has just lost his
job in Cologne when we meet him for the frst tirne. Deemed responsible for a
bookkeeping mistake, Esch disputed his fault with his boss and immediately
thereupon found himself fired. Retrospectively Esch concludes that the error for
which he was blamed cCwasn'ta mistake at dl"(161); but whether he really did
miscalculate the Iedgers remains unciear. Esch resolves that his bad luck is due to
the malevolent work of an ex-coworker, a man named Nentwig whom the reader

never meets and whose imputed motivation to harm Esch's professional life is left
unexplained. Esch eventually takes up a number of other positions, including
shipping clerk for the Central Rhine Shipping Company in Mannheim-where,
incidentally, Eduard von Bertrand is the Chairperson--as well as organiser of
female wrestling for entertainment in Gemany and America. Throughout his
various employrnent experiences, however, Esch maintains his bookkeeper
mentaiity. He coniinually devises different elaborate and grandiose plans by
which he will balance the accounts, so to speak, not oniy between himself and

Nentwig, but also between the forces of good and evil cument in the world in
which he moves.
The worid, Esch determines, is in need of a redeemer since Nentwig types
are everywhere and their hudulent actions have disturbed the natural order of
things. Esch uses a perplexuig logic to just* his ideas, and he judges that only a
person educated as he has been is capable of M y appreciating what needs to be

Esch feels that Mother Hentjen, the bar owner whom he eventually

espouses, for example, definitely has less insight into such matters.


What did she

know of such complicated balancing?" he asks himself. "Or how couid she ever
trace the falsifications that are so cunningly insinuated into the world, that only a
skilled accountant could dare to die a redeemer's death?" (284). Esch means to
denounce Nentwig to restore order but becomes so hstrated first by Nentwig's
inaccessibility and then, due to a chance meeting with him, by his apparently
normal aspect, that finally he changes his target, M e r a dreamlike encounter with
Bertrand, Esch hands in a letter to the local police headquarters accusing the
Chairperson of having engaged in "illicit practices with persons of the male sex"

That a notice in the paper marking Bertrand's subsequent death a s a

probable suicide follows soon afterwards fills Esch with elation; he feels that he

has through his simple gesture helped to stay off a vaguely defined, but
immensely dangerous and ever-threatening anarchy. His exhilaration is shortlived, however, as examples of disorder continue to present themselves on a daily
basis. Esch remains inwardly plagued by the contingent and irrational nature of

reality, untii at long last he moves towards an acceptance of what appears to the
reader to be the tnie nature of his sleepwalker existence. The narrator tells us that
Esch h a l l y understands that he is caught in 'me despairing agonies of the
unprovable" (338), and that he redises at the same time that "it was mere chance
if the addition of the columns balanced" (339).
Esch is sickened in 1903 by the ethical anarchy that appears to be
prevaiting in his world. Fifteen years Iater, Wilhelm Huguenau is not at aU averse
to the increasing mord disorder which a recent war has brought on. In the third
section, "191 8--Huguenau or Realism," thirty-year-old Huguenau has been
conscripted into the army. The discipline and drudgery of the military operations
remind him larnentably of his school days, and successive battles leave him tired
and slightly depressed. Early one moming, in an impulsive moment, Huguenau
departs fiom his comrades as soon as he notices some flowers bloorning slightly
beyond his dark and fetid trench. His decision to desert the army is entirely
spontaneous and has linle to do with a revulsion at the war in general; Huguenau
simply wants a change in lifestyle. Indeed, his keen business sense leads him to
believe that in fact war has many advantages. "In any case, w g u e n a u ] belonged
to the war and be did not disapprove of the war" Broch writes.

He had not been abIe to stomach the way in which men in the canteens
abused the war and the newspapers, or asserted that Krupp had been

buying up newspapers in order to prolong the war.

For Wilhelm

Huguenau was not only a deserter, he was a man of business, a salesman

who admired all factory-owners for producing the wares that the rest of the
world used. (347)
As the chapter progresses, it becomes evident that Huguenau is aione in
everything he does. His desertion fiom the army is thus not only, as Broch
suggests in a commentary on his novel, proof that Huguenau feels no comection
to the kind of value system to which Joachim in Chapter One so desperately clings
("Roman" 720), but aiso an early indication of how little Huguenau feeb attached
to any particuiar Society or group.
Once he has distanced himself geographically fiom the battles, Huguenau
goes about as if on "holiday" (352-3). He acts as though normal rules do not
apply to his newly-created circumstances, and he changes his identity to suit every
new situation. He stays with whomever will take him in, but disguises hunself
and tells Iies about his ongins so as not to get caught or draw negative attention to
himself. He h a l l y settles in a town in the Moselle District where he decides,
more or less incidentally upon seeing a derelict vineyard, to become a middleman

in the wine buying business. The ease with which he adapts to his new lifestyle is
remarkable. Huguenau quickly integrates himself into the local affaUs, although

he does aiienate most of his colleagues while pursuing his primary goal of
becoming powerfid and rich. With each decision he makes, Huguenau estranges
hiniself further Iom those who surround him. Indeed, Huguenau has few
scmples: He h d s it profitable to dupe people, and he takes advanage of his less
fortunate townspeopIe wherever he c m . One of his numerous victims is the

owner of the t o m paper, August


Afier many manipulative moves,

Huguenau insinuates himseif into Esch's home, cheats him out of the business,
takes advantage of his wife, and murders Esch. The homicide takes place during a
period of chaos--the town is being invaded. To Huguenau, the murder is simply
part of the lawless confusion and so more or less meaningless. Mterwards he
feels no remorse and goes on with his He as though he had simply nd hirnself of a
small nuisance. Huguenau "never gave a thought to that deed, nor was he ever to

think of it again" (625).

The "Huguenauy' chapter is the most structurally complicated part of The
Slee~walkers. Huguenau's story is the main thread, but many other strands are
carefidly woven in through discrete numbered sections. In this last chapter Broch
introduces a wide array of new figures and experiments heavily with character
development and structural form. The "Joachim" and "Esch" chapters unravel in
more or less traditional narrative prose:

but the "HuguenauYy

chapter includes also

Iyrical verse sections, letters, a one-act play, and a lengthy and complicated
philosophical treatise. Generaily, the smailer parts do not interrelate and the
transition fiom style to style is often abrupt. Characters fiom the various shorter
sections are for the most part treated separately; not d

l the section which deals

with the chaotic invasion do various isolated figures corne together, although even
when they physicaily approach one another they hardly interact.

The third

chapter, and so also the novel as a whole, ends with a Iast philosophical excursus,

a protracted, concluding section of the "Disintegration of Values" essay which has

in various pieces been interspersed throughout Chapter III. In this "Epilogue," a

contemplative and learned voice considers the events which have been described
previously in the section treating the invasion of the town.

A reflection on

Huguenau's murder and its signifcance within the context of revolutionary

activity occupies a centrai place, as does an in-depth and related analysis of the
larger meaning of the irrational within contemporary existence.
Certain parts of the "Disintegration of Vaiues" essay recall parts of a
sirnilar exposition Broch published separately elsewhere. As the tone and purport
of the sections have much in common with Broch's own non-novelistic writing,
critics o h m too quickly assume that the "Disintegration of Values" offers the fmal
pronouncement and interpretation of the rest of the novel. It is important to note,
however, that within The Sleepwalkers the essay, though it has much in common
with parts of Broch's other non-fiction work, has here been adapted in order to be

more closely relevant to the Huguenau plot. As a resdt, the philosopher's voice
becomes only one voice among the -ad

of voices which can be heard in the

1 s t chapter of the tri-part work. As one of many sections of the last chapter, the
essay narrative is recontexualized as fictionalised story; as such, it becomes part
of the "events" that take place in the last chapter. The essay m a y offer an easy
way into The Slee~walkers,but it remains only one of many possible avenues of
interpretation leading to the meaning of the somnambulism of the various
prominent, troubled individuals. Io

Each chapter features one main sleepwalker: Joachim, Esch, Huguenau.

These men are ail caught in the complicated and ongoing process of the
disintegration of values. Another figure in the novel is key to understanding the
logical paradox which lies at the centre of each of these sleepwalkers' reality,
however: Eduard von Bertrand. Bertrand is a seductive and "modem" man who
does not detennine the main action directly but significantly influences the tum of

events in all three sections. Bertrand appears directly in the first two chapters,
and, as many critics suggest, his controversial spirit guides the third-that is, his
nominal ccpartner" is Bertrand Mller, whose philosophy of disintegration is
verbally elaborated and stnrcturally reflected in "1918-Huguenau or Realism"

and who may even, a few critics suggest, be the fictional author of the whole tripart senes."

In the Pasenow and Esch chapters, Bertrand brings out the main

characters' desire to redise a greater subjective fkeedom; his own tendency to

break societal d e s inspires Joachim and Esch to consider more carefidly th&
own situation and the implications of the code of values by which they live. To
the reader his alternative lifestyle also signals the highly significaflt yet
paradoxical possibility that rational thought can bring one to choose a course of
action as capricious and irrational as it is personal-a possibility that Huguenau

will redise most fully in the last chapter.

Guided by a spirit of transgression, Bertrand habitually goes beyond
conventional personal, sociai, and political limits in order to be true to his own
unique system of values- In the Pasenow Chapter we leam that he has abandoned

the army in order to participate in a world of commerce which is more dynamic,

but less organised tban the military. We recall that Joachim fights stolidly against

an encroaching sensation of isolation, insignificance, and confusion through his

desperate attempt to validate an outdated system of social hierarchy. Joachim is
fascinated by the possibility of iocreased personal fieedom that the modem world
offers, yet he is a h i d to pursue it.

His uniform gives him securityy and he

typicaliy struts about "stiff and angdar in his long regimentai coatYy(139).
Joachim's "correctyyattire brings out the "modern" aspect of Bertrand's, who
moves about more casually in fashionable, civilian clothes. In Berlin as on
Joachim's estate, Bertrand walks around with his "his white stiff shirt-fiont so
exposed that one really had to feel ashamed for h i m (22). The relaxed and
"modern" look Bertrand sports is somewhat indicative of the values system he
represents: a secular and individualistic code of personal fieedom based on
Edightenment principles of reason and logic and directed towards aestheticism.
Bertrand's creative and liberal spirit makes him altemately attractive and
dangerous to Joachim, who longs to explore the world beyond his estate but
cannot bring himself fully to step outside the margins of his own safe social
The ease with which Bertrand moves beyond d l k . d s of boundaries is
relatively spectacular and indicated most explicitly in this first chapter though
geographic tenns. Bertrand, we find out, is a traveller. His business takes him for
long periods at a time outside of his own coutry to foreign, exotic, and possibly

dangerous places. Joachim drearns of embarking on a simila. joumey, but his

position and familial responsibifities keep him rooted more securely at home. In
fact, Joachim is afiaid of the uncertainty that travel implies; he is apprehensive

and anxious about going to foreign lands. On a more syrnbolic level, Joachim is

of moving off the temtory of the past he knows well and approaching the

unknown lands of the fiiture. He fears the abstract abyss that lies between the
h e d value system of his parents' generation and social class and tomorrow's yet
undefined code of ethics because he perceives that if he moves too far out, his
whole sense of self and morality may well turnble into oblivion. Joachim, though
he does not formulate his feeling so clearly to hirnself, is wholly uncornfortable

contemplating the irrational area between the "no longery7and the "not yet."
Yet Joachim is a sleepwaker nonetheless.

Critics tend to identie

Joachim's sleepwalking in his affair with Ruzena--through his association with

Ruzena Joachim ventures into an unknown, foreign temtory where the old mies of
behaviour no longer apply (Schlant,

60). Indeed, Broch clearly describes the

two as resembling ccsleepwalkers"during a love scene (38).

But Joachim's

sleepwalking can be identified also, in less obviously predictable moments, at

times when his sense of self becomes suddenly, and very significantly, fluid. In a
few crucial instances Joachim is drawn into the r e h of irrational almost is if by
chance. A closer reading shows, however, that his advance is very often brought
about specifically, though indirectly, through Bertrand. Simply by thinking about
Bertrand Joachim may progress into a far-off reality in which thhgs and

relationships are strangely metamorphosed. In an exemplary scene, Joachim sits

with his fiiture wife considering Bertrand when objects in the room he inhabits
suddenly lose their regular matenal aspectThe solitude prescribed for her and Joachim now began to encompass
them, and fioze the room, in spite of its intimate elegance into a more
complete and dreadfid h o b i l i t y ; as they sat rnotionless, both of them, it
seemed a s if the room widened around them; as the walls receded the air
seemed to grow colder and thinner, so thin that it couid barely carry a
voice. And although everything was tranced in ixnmobility, yet the chairs,
the piano, on whose black-lacquered surface the wreath of gas-jets was
still reflected, seemed no longer in their usual places but infnitely remote,
and even the golden dragons and buttedies on the black Chinese screen in
the corner had flitted away as if drawn afker the receding walls, which now
looked as if hung with black curtains. The gas-lights hissed with a faint,
mdicious sussurration, and except for their idbitesimal mechanical
vivacity, that jetted fleeringly ffom obscenely open small dits, dl life was
extinguished. (142-3)
Bertrand's influence on Joachim here is undeniable. The unexpected and eene
desolation Joachim expenences with EIisabeth is brought on specifically by a
contemplation of his elusive fiiend. Avoiding speaking about their engagement,
Joachim and Elisabeth sit together whik each thinks separately and intensely
about Bertrmd, about his extremely variable nature, his extraordinary solitude,

and about the related possibility and nature of his death, which both (correctly)
sense wiIi be "a lonely one" (143). This inward-directed meditation moves each
into the weird, irrational state wherein the substance of daily reality seems rernote

and oddy flexible. "In the fiozen featurelessness of that second in which Death
stood beside them," Broch writes,
Joachim did not know whether it was the two of them that Death touched,
or whether it was his father, or Bertrand; he could not teli whether his
mother was not sitting there to watch over his death, punctual and calm, as
she watched in the milking byre or by his father's bed, and he had a
sudden near intuition, strangely clear, that his father was fieezing and
longed for the dark wannth of the cowshed. (143)
Joachim is at a loss to assign any logical, objective certainty to the
phantasmagorical images that fil1 his head, yet his irrational thought patterns Ieave
him unexpectedly and curiously perspicacious. The boundaries of his subjective

self extend for a moment; his inward tum allows him to feel a profound
connection to his deranged father which goes beyond the familial boundary laid
down by the aristocratie society in which he moves and beyond the boundary even
of life itself. For a moment Joachim is indeed travelling--in the abstract, irrational
realm. Here temporal and personal limits seem inexplicably arbitrary yet at the
same time unusually appropriate. In other words, through solitary reflection on
Bertrand Joachim t u m inwards and expands his notion of his subjective self until
he identifies with his father and perceives this man's complicated psychological

predicament. Broch here associates sleepwalking through the person of Bertrand

with the notion of transgression. Joachim follows his train of thought until he has

stepped out of the "Romantic" regions he is accustomed to inhabit and is

sleepwalhg into the irrational area "between the no longer and the not yet"
(143); until, that is, he is on ''that road fiom which there is no retuming" (143).
Only Elisabeth's bistent assertion that she will marry him pulls hn rudely back
to the mundane "Romantic" landscape of his quotidian H e wherein each person
has a logically comprehensible, strictly d e k e d , and relatively limited sense of

In Chapter Two Bertrand also inspires sleepwalking. Here, as in the

preceding chapter, Bertrand continues to fascinate through his charismatic power.
But in "Esch or Anarchism" Esch goes a step m e r down the road which
Joachim occasionally trods-he finally acknowledges the anarchic nature of his
existence and ceases to try to reinstate a lost order. Esch's meeting with Bertrand
represents a major step on his way to accepting the chaotic state of the world in
1903. In a central episode, Esch rnakes a long voyage specifically in order to meet

with Bertrand, to let the Chairperson know that, according to Esch, his time as a

person in charge is up.

Throughou, Esch is charmed and appalled by the

Chairperson at the same t h e :

reality, in the presence of Bertrand, seems

transmogrified. It is difficult for the reader to tell whether the scene in which he
meets Bertrand actually takes place, or if it is simpIy an imaginative incident
developed in Esch's head.12 In any case, Bertrand obviously exerts a highly

persuasive innuence on Esch, whose mind weaves together fantastic, iIlogical,

threads while in the Chairman's imagined or real presence. The understanding
Esch gleans from his meeting with Bertrand reveais Esch as a sleepwaiker, as an
c'overwakeful dreamer" (300), and with Bertrand's heip Esch has a sudden insight
similar to that which Joachim experiences. Through the oneric encounter, "Esch
saw everything more cleariy than ever before, saw too that he had deceived
himself and others, for it was as though the knowledge that Bertrand possessed
about hirn now flowed back to h i m (300). However, Bertrand's wisdom is a
little too complicated for Esch to comprehend h a l l y or flly, and the import of
the sudden insight remains for the moment undefined.

As he only partially appreciates what Bertrand communicates to him,Esch

pursues his original purpose with only slightly diminished conviction. He alerts
Bertrand that he must turn him in in order to sort out his own personal &airs and
make the world a more democratic and lawful place. Esch himself does not
ciearly understand what drives him to denounce the Chairperson in particularexcept that he sees Bertrand as a representative of evil in the world. In fact, the
particular "crime" Esch means to expose could very weil be irrelevant to Esch,
since while Bertrand's irnputed homosexuality does involve a transgression of
socially established boundaries, it does so only on a personal level that does not
involve Esch.

In any case, Bertrand's response to Esch's ongoing threats is typicaliy

enigmatic and abstruse. Bertrand maintains that "Everyone must W l his dream,

whether it be unhallowed or holy. Otherwise he will never partake of fieedom."

Here again Esch does not foIlow Bertrand's logic completely; he does not "wholly
understand this" (300). Esch in 1903 has a problem similar to that of Joachim in
1888. He is not ready to accept the paradox that lies at the centre of his 1903

existence: that is, that his rational actions are in many cases based on irrational
feelings, and that even his most carefully articulated logic may Iead again to valid,
but idiosyncratic and irrational conclusions. Indeed, Bertrand tries through his
lifestyle and in his conversation with Esch to commuaicate a relatively complex

that in order to achieve Enlightenment goals of personal liberty and

subjective fteedom, one must on occasion be willing to act on kational impulses

that go against certain rationally-oriented and socially established rules; one must
acknowledge that the freedom to which one aspires may contradict a logical
course of action, that it may necessitate the deliberate transgression of logically
erected boundaries. The message, however, does not get through to Esch quickly
enough. Ceraidy Esch wants to be fiee--he daydreams regularly of making a trip
to visit the Statue of Liberty--but at the same time he cannot get beyond his
obsession of balancing the accounts. He strives to redise a goal of personal
autonomy but is fettered by his sense that the world should finally organise itself
according to rational principles of credit and balance. So, h t r a t e d by his feeling
of constraint and yet with nothing personally agaist Bertrand, Esch returns to his
home and reports him to the police.

Not surprisingly, Esch's

M e fails to arrange itself according to his wishes

even after he denounces Bertrand; signs of general Iawlessness continue to

manifest themselves a l l around. As iife rem&

stubbody "unbdanced" with

passing tirne, however, Esch gradually relaxes his stringent demands on the world.
He concedes that on this earth one is at heart alone and dispossessed of the power
M y to control one's destiny and that even the best accounting cannot guarantee

one's subjective and ethical fieedom. No matter how hard one works as a
bookkeeper, in other words, one may not get to visit the Statue of Liberty in
person after all.

Slightly jaded, Esch gives up hope for any real travel

arrangements and contents hiaiself with a make-believe plan he and his wife
develop. Esch perceives that "fulnlment always failed one in the actual worid, but
the way of longing and of fieedom was endless and could never be trod, was

narrow and remote like that of the sieepwalker, though it was also the way which
led into the open m

s and the living breast of home" (339-40).

It must be pointed out that while Bertrand correctly judges the m o d

climate as deteriorating and while his analytic approach allows him to discern the
"Romantic" aspects of Joachim's lifestyle and divulge, albeit cryptically, the root
of Esch's existential problem, he himself does not lastingly or completely
"partake of fkeedorn" either, except perhaps in a negative sense-that is, through

death. Indeed, his compulsive travelling attests to his knowledge of the fact that a
transgression of boundaries may be necessary if true fieedom is to be achieved-

His fatal error, Broch indicates, is related to his belief that an answer to the

question of how to connect may be solved intellectually, aesthetically.


attitude is denounced in the third chapter: "There was a man who fled fiom his
own loneliness as far as hdia and America He wanted to solve the probIem of
loneliness by earthly methods; but he was an aesthete, and s o he had to kill
h s e l f " (SW 539). So whiie his character and the words he speaks inspire in
Joachim and Esch a sleepwalking that leads, even momentarily, to an edightened
state, he himself is unable to face the complications that result nom an attempt to
redise his philosophy on a transcendental as well as earthly level.
Huguenau might well be compared to Bertrand, as he also travels easily
and breaks societal mies without much hesitatioe Yet where Bertrand is perhaps
overly philosophical and "aesthetic" about his place in Society, Huguenau is
disturbingly superficiai and excessively pragmatic. Huguenau is fiequently on the
move--he does not during the war have any binding ties to family or fiiends-but

his voyages, compared to those of Bertrand, are rather directionless. He fnds

himself in a certain town by accident.

His actions, though sometirnes even

superfiuously cautionary and methodical as in the moments following his murder

of Esch (614), are very often random and thoughtless when they are not
thoroughly egotistical.

Huguenau himself frequently forgets the real reason

behind an action he has just committed. "Once more he forgot why he had corne"
(608), we leam, as Huguenau enters his workplace while mob-nile takes over the
town. On the day the town is invaded, Huguenau delights in the absence of law
enforcement and feeds on the fienzy the war b ~ g s . In the chaos he sees an

opportunity to gratif;, his selfish desires without censure. He rapes Esch's wife
out of spontaneous lust and a crass desire to assert his power, and he kills Esch
because he is enervated by Esch's "jeering expression" (614). Huguenau's code
of ethics, if it can be so named, does not involve a move towards a higher good or
a yearning for greater subjective fieedom. His actions before and during the
"invasion from below" are not based on reflective thought or a contemplation of

an irrational aspect of existence; his cunning and deceit is rather meant to increase
the bulk of his wallet and size of his ego. When his "holiday" is fnally over,
Huguenau has Ieamed nothing fkom his experiences.
Yet Huguenau is d s o a sleepwalker. Technicaiiy awake and apparently
deliberate and rational, his actions occasiondly reveal an oblivious and benumbed
attitude we have witnessed before in the two previous chapters. Huguenauys
sleepwallng is more radical and consequential than Joachim's or Esch's,
however. Huguenau does not, like Joachim in Chapter One, in his "wakingY'
moments hold fast to an outmoded system of ethics; nor does he, as does Esch in
Chapter Two, only begnidgingly accept an encroaching anarchy.


moves easily in the irrational area between the "no longer" and the "not yet." He
effortlessly discards the pst and traditional order without having a flirm sense of
what wiH corne. A uniform, charged with emotional significance for Joachim,
means nothing to Huguenau, except when he can use it to disguise his identity as
murderer. Moreover, Huguenau does not care whether the accounts baiance; he
will cheat in every way possible in order to get them to reflect a profit for himself.

Neither is Huguenau frustrated by anarchy; he delights in the "holiday" fiom d e s

that his desertion brings. Huguenau, though outwardly pragmatic and businessonented, is, as Broch points out in an afterword, inwardly more or less "vaiue
fiee" C'Ethische Konsauktion" 726 [rny translation]).

Of course while Huguenau is on the one hand "value fkee," he is still on

the other closely attached to a system of values-commercialism-but


ueflective nature leaves him blind to the implications of this system. Indeed, it
is precisely because Huguenau rnindlessly takes comrnercialism as "normal" that
he rernains unaware of its ramifications. He is not ahid to contemplate the area
between the "no longer" and the "not yet" as Joachim is; nor is he baffled by
paradoxical existentid situations, as is Esch.

Huguenau is oblivious to any

concerns outside of business transactions that will increase his stature as


we are told in the novel's epilogue to the

"Disintegration of Values" essay,

did not think of what he had done, and d l less did he recognise the
irrationality that had pervaded his actions, pervaded them indeed to such

an extent that one could have said the irrational had burst its bounds; a
man never knows anything about the irrationaiity that infoms his wordless
actions; he knows nothing of the 'invasion fiom below' to which he is
subject, he cannot know anything about it, since at every moment he is
ruled by some system of values that has no other aim but to conceal and

control al1 the rrationdity on which his earth-bound empirical life is

based. (625)
Huguenau's commercialism implies for him that profit is the legitimate goal of
every action, and his extreme rationality ailows him to justa any behaviour that
makes this goal attainable. Huguenau does partake of a certain fieedom, but it is

an extremely dangerous one in which value is assigned to human beings according

to their usefulness in his business dealings only.

During the last major chaotic invasion of the town, Huguenau's

selfishness, up to this point f o r d a t e d in terms of commerciaI go&, degenerates

quickly into pure rapacity, as he tinally makes crass self-satisfaction the absolute

unit of measurement on his scale of success. During the chaotic invasion, he no

longer cares wheher killing Esch w i l help him to increase his profits, for
example: he ehninates him because is personally offended by Esch's lack of
respect for him. Now his actions are based on pure spontaneous, subjective
feeling. Living totally in the moment, Huguenau is completely devoid of moral
guidance, and established value systems become utterly irrelevant.


evaluation of Huguenau's behaviour is clear: He pictures Huguenau as a cold,

depraved murderer. " ~ u g u e n a u ]Iowered his rifle," Broch writes,
reached Esch with a few feline tango-like leaps, and ran the bayonet into

his mgular back. To the murderer's great astonishment Esch went on

calmly for a few steps more, then he fell forward on his face without a

Huguenau stood beside the f d e n man. His foot touched Esch's

hand, wbich Iay across a wheel-track in the sticky mire. Should he starnp
on it? no doubt about it, the man was dead. (614)

The composition of the thud chapter refiects the atmosphere of destruction which
actions such as Huguenau's bring on. Broch proposes through Huguenau the idea
that when ethical systems such as commercialism are institutionalised and
accepted as normal, people wiU, Iike his protagonist, uitimately pursue personal
goals with no regard for the other. Mob nile wiIl soon follow. The structure of

this chapter breaks down to reflect on a narrative level the war-time invasion or
"irruption fkom below." "Like the concept of sleepwalking, Bertrand Muller-as
hypothetical architect of all tbree novels-is

an organisational principle that

presides over the entire trilogy," writes Stephen D. Dowden. "Yet he is explicitly

aware of being at cross purposes with himself. He is an abstract thinker who

repudiates abstract thought as the symptom of irreversible disintegration.

. . . The

novel's acerbic inteIlectuality devours itself in ironic self-condernnation"

CcOrnament' 276-7).
Formaily, too, the "Huguenau" reality of 1918 falls apart. The Huguenau
story-line is segmented and scattered among various other accounts, each one
evolving separately, virtually at the expense of, and not together with, the others.

The third chapter represents a heightening of

the insecurity and alienation

Joachim's feels in Chapter One and the anarchic confusion which confounds Esch
in Chapter Two. In the third part of Broch's trilogy, as Brinlanann notes, the

structure of the narrative breaks down to reflect on a f o n d level the dissolution

of Huguenau's society. The fact that Huguenau annihilates Esch and Pasenow is
also appropriate, since Huguenau's coldy rational pursuit of commercial profit
destmys whatever is a threat to it @rixllanann, "Roman und Werttheorie" 46-7).
Huguenau may be extremeiy solitary in his actions, but he is not alone in
acting in such a "Realist" mamer, Broch insists. Huguenau is a "child of his
times," ("Ethische Konstmkton" 726). If this is m e , it is not surpnsing that the
break-up of his community is imminent. In more theoretical terms, as the narrator
of the "Epil~gue'~
puts it:

When reason becomes autonomous it is thus radically


evil, for in annulling the logicality of the value-system it destroys the system
itself; it inaugurates the system's disintegration and ultimate collapse" (627).13
Where Joachim and Esch explore the perilous, irrational area between the "no
longer" and the "not yet," Huguenau, overly rational, ultimately lives completely
in it, and his total immersion in it equais his fellow citizens' d a t i o n .

Through Huguenau we understand most cleary that irrationality has a

destructive power. In this last chapter, and in the Huguenau sections in particular,
sleepwalking is often equated with cruel insensibility, with thoughtlessness, and
with death.

The negative association may stem f?om Broch's awareness of

contemporary social and political concerns, one critic suggests. "Huguenau takes
nothing seriously Save the arbitrary claims of his own subjectivity," writes Mark.
W. Roche, "and it is not by chance that he is a rutldess liar and swindler or that he

fails to develop a serious relationship. It is in this self-contradictory. . . spirit that

both the actions of Huguenau and the seed of National Socialism are to be found"

(2534). Broch makes no direct links in The Sleepwalkers to the dangerous

political climate outside of his novel, but Roche's connection between the two is
appropriate, as much of Broch's other writing shows his concern with the negative
implications of the economic cnsis of the late twenties and early thirties. Indeed,

as Ernestine Schlant notes, when the novel is read in historical context of Hitler's
nse to power, it c m be seen as "an analysis of the mechanisms and temptations to

fa11 for leader figures." In the narrative Broch also "dispelled any hope that such
outside intervention might bring release from individual responsibility," writes

Schlant. "From this point of view, The Slee~walkersdocuments the dinlculty of

living up to the metaphysical-cognitive responsibilities in the 'loneliness of the

(HB 67).
Within The Sleepwalkers, Huguenau's "evii" aspect has much to do with

the cold manner in which he kills Esch and deceives his colleagues and peers.
However, his character reflects negatively within the novel for another, related,
but more significant reason as well. It has to do with Huguenau's relationship to
fieedom. The last major figure in the novel, that is, does not yearn for fieedom.
Instead, he too readily assumes it.

The Huguenau sections of Chapter Three

reveal that Huguenau clairns for himself total individual autonomy.


assumption renders hirn, in the context of the novel, indecent and offensive, and
it makes his fieedom false.

Freedom is a central concept in The Sleepwalkers. Excepting Huguenau,

al1 main characters of the novel are somehow motivated, consciously or
unconsciously, by a desire to obtain a greater moral, ethical, or subjective
fkeedom, to move beyond the Iimits of an antiquated value system that restrict
them in the daily execution of their lives or to transcend the boundaries of a rigid,
socially already-defined and thts hadequate ethical responsibility. Joachim is il1

at ease in his uniform and desire to be more like the travelling Bertrand; Esch
dreams of undertaking a voyage to see the Statue of ~ i b e r t y . ' Putting
this idea in
more theoretical terms, the narrator of the "Disintegration of Values" notes:

"Everything ultimately depends on one's relation to fkeedom," he explains.

It is almost as if fieedom were in a 10% category by itself, soaring high
above all that is rational and irrational, like an end and a beginning,
resembling the Absolute. . . . It is the idea of fieedom that justifies the
continued rebirth of humanity, for it c m never be realised on earth and the
road that leads to it must ever be trodden anew. Oh, agonishg compulsion
towards fkeedom! (643)

Broch insists in an aftenvord on his novel that a significant part of every

sleepwalker's state is the desire to be woken. "Unverloren und nicht minder
schlafwandlerisch aber wirkt im Traumhaften die Sehnsucht nach Erweckung,
erkemtnism~sigerund erkemender Erweckung aus dem Schlaf, je nach dem
subjektiven Vokabular 'Erlosung,' 'Rettung,' 'Lebenssim,' 'Gnade' genannt''
("Problemkreis" 723).15 Withi the novel, as Hartmut Steinecke points out, the

hope of salvation figures as a dream of fieedom through sleepwalkerly activity

and the extended metaphor of travel and geography. From the beginning of the
novel, fi-eedom is associated with going abroad, with moving into an unknown
territory, with wanting to explore the unfamiliar. Freedom is to be found in the
distance, and symbols of far-away places are at the same tirne symbols of
fieedom: America and the Statue of Liberty stand out as poignant examples. As
long as the sleepwalker aspires to realise a greater fkeedom, whether on an
unconscious or conscious Ievel, Steinecke argues, his or her irrational activity
cannot be evaluated completely negatively (Steinecke, "Schlafivandeln" 77).16
Indeed, the sleepwalkers' general tendency to strive for freedom keeps
them from appearing simply as dubious, smalI-mlded, or misanthropic

Steinecke and other critics treating this issue (see, for example,


92) make no mention, however, of the problem associated with the

figure of Huguenau, who while sleepwalking deliberately hanns his fellows and
murders his "fiiend."

Indeed, it is difficult to find an instance in which

Huguenau's irrational actions might be construed in a way other than purely

egotistical or harmfully detrimental. There is very little evidence indeed that
Huguenau strives for anything beyond power or bodily satisfaction. According to
the narrator of the philosophicd parts of the third section, however, Huguenau,

like Joachim and Esch, pursues the abstract and venerable goal of freedom.
Even the private theology of a Huguenau

. . . is enlisted in the service of

fieedom, and regards fieedom as the real centre of its deductions, its real

mystic centre (and that was hue for Huguenau at least fkom the day on
which he deserted his trench in the grey dawn, thus following out an
apparently irrational but none the less highly rational course of action in
the service of fieedorn, so that everything he had striven towards since that

day and everything he was yet to strive for in his Mie could be taken as a
repetition of his actions in that first hi@-day and holiday mood). (643)
And yet it is hard to fnd an instance which backs up the idea that
Huguenau is "enlisted in the service of fieedorn," when we examine the Huguenau
sections. Indeed, these parts of the novel indicate that the philosopher's analysis
of Huguenau's betiaviour is rather too generous. In other words, an interpretation
of Huguenau which sees him a s inwardly motivated by a desire for freedorn falters
when we look at the narrative, where Huguenau's actions clearly betray a pure and

crass individudism unrnarked by aspirations of greater fieed~rn.'~ Even his

desertion discloses at best an attempt to escape fi-orn the daily discornforts of the

war rather than an effort to rnove towards any greater goal. As Ltzeler points
out, Huguenau's thoughts ieading up to his desertion show that he already thinks
of hirnself, albeit unconsciously, as a murderer.

"Die Verdrangung der

Chnstusbilder durch die Erinnemg an den Pastorenmorder offenbart, daB

Huguenau sich von christlichen Vorstellungen losgelost hat und eine Afkitat

zum Morder einer ihrer Reprisentanten versprt"; in other words, his desertion is
purely egotistical and not based on some kind of philosophical opposition to war

126-7).18 Reference to the expanded metaphor of travel will here prove

k t h e r illustrative. Throughout the novel the desire to travel abroad signals a

desire to achieve greater subjective or ethical liberty. Huguenau is without a
desire to voyage to distant places; he is content to stay on familiar soil. Huguenau
even "sneers contemptuously at the Statue of Liberty that Esch still retains fiom
his years in Cologne and Mannheim" as critic Theodore Ziolkowski aptly notes
(Dimensions 158). Indeed, as the narrator of the "Epilogue" admits in another,
later section, Huguenau was "cut off fiom the world and yet in it, he saw men
receding fiom him h t o regions ever more remote and more Ionged-for, but he
made no attempt to explore that far country" (644).

In other words, Huguenau's sleepwalking carries a negative accent at least

in part due to the fact that Huguenau essentially does not yeam for freedom, and
the reason behind this fact is almost deceptively simple: Huguenau does not yeam
for fkeedom precisely because he assumes he already has it. Unlike the other
sleepwallcers, Huguenau claims his subjective fieedom--completeIy and Mly--for
and by himself. Huguenau does not wish to see the Statue of Liberty or to embark

on a long joumey to see fa-offlands. Boundaries, significantly, mean nothing to

him durhg his "holiday." Huguenau ensures that he is independently powerful, in

control, and at home wherever he goes. When he is technicdiy off his native soi1

and a stranger to the population around him, he quickly adopts a persona with the
background and accent necessary to blend in. This way nothing is foreign to him;
al1 becomes part of a personal kingdom which he can exploit for his own
purposes. On an abstract level, Joachim's and Esch's apprehensive yearning to go

beyond familiar territory signifies their desire to move beyond the boundaries of a
iimited subjectivity. Huguenau's utter lack of such longing indicates that at as far
he is concerne& his desire has already been satisfed. Moving in the irrational
sphere of the "no longer3' and the 'hot yet" Huguenau uses everyihing around him

in terms of its ability to strengthen the 'Y" of his existence. Huguenau is, to use a
term which Broch ernploys in a separate publication, in a "Nullpunktsituation."

Ltzeler darifies:
Die 'empirische Autonomie,' d.h. e h schrankenloser Individualismus und
ein puer Subjektivismus sind an die Stelle des Kantschen SSttengesetzes
getreten, das ja ohne seine soziale Komponente, ohne den EinschluD der
allgemeinen Prinnpien undenkbar ist. Mit diesem Verlust der sitdichen
Autonomie ist aber, das wird von Broch deutlich herausgestellt,
gleichzeitig Heteronomie, d.h. Abhmgigkeit von auBeren, nicht selbst
gegebenen Vorschrifien verbunden.

In der Nullpunktsituation fallen

volliger Subjektivismus, also 'empirische Autonomie' und vollige

Fremdorientiemg, d.h. Heteronomie, nisamrnen. Kantisch ausgedrckt:
Die 'Freiheit im negativen Verstande' hat die 'Freiheit i n i positiven

Verstande' verd-gt.

(J 87)"

Broch sees a totally subject-centred behaviour as a "prerequisite . . . for any war

ideo1ogy"-a "Voraussetnuig

. . . der

Kriegsideologie" (Ltzeler,

87, my

translation). Within The Sleeowalkers, Huguenau's character serves as a poignant

example. His selfish individualism, publicly apparent through his unrestrained

commercialism, eliminates for him the possibility of establishing meaningful

relationships; but it leads also paradoxically to an unhealthy dependence on
others. In other words, Huguenau needs Esch and Pasenow and Mother Hentjen

in order to exercise and make relevant bis dangerous autonomy.


Huguenau's way of conceiving whe world becomes dominant, when "Realism"

emerges as the new worldview, war threatens to break out; a military invasion or

an "irruption fom beiow" is imminent.

Joachim's sleepwalking takes him far out on 'cthat road," and the
subjective insight he gains fiom his travels at least momentarily rewards his

Esch's sleepwakerly experience with Bertrand aiso includes the

possbility that he will suddedy "see" the reality of his existential situation in the
landscape he traverses. The Joachim and Esch stories thus in a way suggest that
sleepwallcing, or increased irrationality, may be pardleled to what some cntics see
as a liberation of subjectivity in the modernist period.

Part of the effect of

Broch's novel as a whole, however, is to supply mernorable exarnples of the

serious problems that a i s e when subjective fieedom is too readily assunied.
Especially the last chapter's portrait of Huguenau illustrates how excessive
subjectivity will lead swiftly to destruction.

In an essay on his novei Broch writes that

Die 'Freiheit', auf die es letzten Endes in allem wahrhaft Ethischen immer
ankommt, nirnmt auf berkommene Werte keine Rcksicht, der Begriff
der Auwonomie, in dem die Freiheit ihre Iogische Begrndung erfXhrt, hat

mit mordischen Haltungen nichts zu tun: gewiB ist diese Autonomie noch
nicht die Erfuflung des letzten gottiichen Wertes, aber sie ist die aZZeinige

Fonn,in der er sich erfllen kann. C'Ethische KonstniktionY7

Of course Huguemu7s autonomy, is indeed, as Broch points out, "bloB der Form
des Autonomen nach ethisch, sonst aber vollig amoralisch, noch keineswegs die
Freiheit der neuen GottLichkeit, des neuen Glaubens" rEthische Konstniktion"

72Q2' Can Huguenau's character nonetheless be read as a positive representation

of the possibility of regeneration of value in the modem world? The narrative
itself remains-at best--open-ended on this point. After the invasion, Huguenau
returns to his native town and takes on a conservative role as patriarch and
community leader, If he does inaugurate a new value system, it is certainly not
pictured within the novel. What is more clearly evident, on the other hand, is that
a too readily assumed subjective liberty undermines the value and relevance of the

objective world and the people living in it. Huguenau claims his fkeedom, and in
doing so he casually eliminates the significance and reality of the other. He

Iiterally annihilates Esch with a bayonet and renders heipless those stssociated
with him. Huguenau too readily assumes individual autonomy and subjective
fkeedom; his irrational actions thus contribute to uhe ongoing "disintegration of
Huguenau's murder of Esch signals the h a l phase of a disintegration of
communal principles and standards. "In a world without shared values," as Milan
Kundera points out, "Huguenau, the innocent arriviste, feels perfectly at ease. The

absence of moral imperatives is his fkedom, his deliverance."


SIeeuwalkers, Kundera suggests in a related comment that in Broch's view,

Huguenau's murder of Esch is appropriate since "it is always the adherent of the
srnalier value system who slays the adherent of the larger system that is breaking
up" (53-4).

Yet Huguenau's crime goes unnoticed by his townspeople; thus, he

avoids censure and punislunent for his villainous deed. In fact, he leaves a kind of
hero, a military saviour of sorts keeping vigil over wounded Major Joachim in an

army motor car headed to a nearby hospital. Broch allows his most detestable
character to go scott-fiee.

Kundera suggests that through Huguenau Broch

instructs the reader about the possibilities which the world as it has developed to
1918 necessarily includes. This kind of world makes possible-even legitimates-

actions such as Huguenau performs. "In Broch's mind," Kundera notes, "the
Modem Era is the bridge between the reign of irrational faith and the reign of the
irrational in a world without faith. The figure who appears at the end of that

bridge is Huguenau. The cheerhi, guilt-fiee murderer" (54).

The Sleepwalkers also makes clear, however, that a certain amount of
irrationality is a beneficial, even necessary part of any system. Within larger
political/social systems, for example, irrational forces must be kept alive in order
to maintain a kind of stability, a sort of order. When they are banished or ignored,
they resurface with a vehemence and destroy the existing system. The narrator of
the philosophical excursus States the matter outright. Viable systems are partial or

ccProtestant"systems that aim for totaiity without achieving it; they "imitate the

structure of the total system, whether it be a simple reflection of that or its

distorted perversiony'(635). The matter is cornplex:

Thus arises that remarkable ambiguiiy characterising every partial system,

an ambiguity which amounts to dishonesty, epistemoiogically speaking:
on the one hand the partial system adopts the attitude of a total system
towards the process of advancing disintegration and stigmatises the
irrationai as rebellious and criminai, while o n the other hand it is
compelled to distinguish among the homogenous mass of irrationality and
anonymous wickedness a group of 'good' irrational forces which are
needed to help it in checking M e r disintegration and in establishing its
own claim to survival. Every half-way revolution, and in this sense all
partial systems are ha-way revolutions, bases its case on irrational
assumptions, on mass feeling, on the dignity of an 'irrational inspirationy
that is exploited to discredit the radical logic of complete revolution; every
partial system must expressly acknowledge a residue of 'unformed
irrationality, which it maintains, so to speak, as a private preserve exempt

fkom reason, in order to keep itself stable in the flux of disintegration.

(636 )
Huguenau's murder certainly classifies as "anonyrnous wickedness."

But it c m

also be read within the context of the narrative, as a fictional representation of an

idea pertinent to the discussion of the novel's structure. The idea is that a certain

amount of irrationaiity is necessary also to the propagation of the "systemY' or

structure of the novel, as will be discussed momentarily.
Perhaps Broch's ideas about the necessity of irrationality to the
perpetuation of a system anticipate certain post-modem structuralist approaches to
writing. The irrational components of any system, Broch suggests, work against a
progressive but decadent rationalisation-a sophisticated process of specialisation
which is inevitably doomed to destruction. On a narrative level, the irrational
components of the novel keep it fkom descending to what Broch calls "kitsch." In
Broch's view, a rationalised system which purports to be complete and inviolable
is cckitsch"and Iiterature which is effectively to portray life must maintain an
irrational element at its core, as Manfred Durzak points out ("Auffassung" 302).
The irrational components in the novel might be compared to the
"rhetoncal gestures," which, as Frank Farrell makes clear in a separate discussion,
are in post-modern theory often held to undermine the main or explicitly
presented ideas (258)?

"Deconstruction reversed the relation between

authoritative and marginal," writes Farrell.

"It takes the "inferior" second

member of an opposition and shows that it is more important for understanding

the opposed pair and their relation." But in Broch's novel, the irrational elements

do not effect a complete reversal of meaning. In post-modern theory, these

"marginalisations" are often held to be more important than the more obviously
presented text.

The irrationaiity of the sleepwalkers, however, is a way of

understanding both the positive and negative implications of the rationd progress

of the world in which they seem lost. The irrational in Broch's novel is not meant
to undermine reason, but in a moderated capacity to limit and contextualise the
destructive potentid of a too specialised p d t of it.
The sleepwakers, or "figures in crisis" as David Suchoff calls them (23 l),
make manifest on a fictional levd what is necessary to keeping the novel as
structure a coherent but pertinent and open-ended whole. It will be instructive
here to consider the novel as a variation of the partial system Broch descnbes in
more generd tenns. Around the time he wrote The Slee~waikers,Broch saw the
novel as, among other thuigs, a way to render publicly accessible through the
complexities of character his theories on conternporary problems regarding ethical
value (Ltzeler,

a 67).

Broch insisted that the novel should move towards an

"expanded naturalism" that included equally in an objective rnanner the abstract

as well as the concrete details of an age (Ltzeler,

69). The subjective states

of the main characters, when put into the context of the character's objective
world, would capture the actual "dreams" and "fears" of the age (Ltzeler, HB
72). If it Mis its purpose, the novel reveals a human being's inevitable and
incessant desire for totality. A human being, writes Broch "hat bloD ein kurzes
Leben und schreit nach Totalitat" (r'has only a short life and screarns for totality,"
my translation.] "ber die nuidlagen" 729)

The novel as Broch writes it, then, has certain things in common with the
genre of the novel as Georg Lukacs conceptualises it. According to Lukacs, with
whom Broch has more in common than one might immediately suspect, the novel

is a vehicle of subjectivity, marked by a continual movement on a structural level.

"The novel," writes Lukacs in The Theorv of the Novel, "appears as something in
process of becoming" (72-3). For Broch, the work that incorporates this totality
inchdes a ccvorauseilendeReditaet," a kind of firture-directed actuality that can
only be understood in retrospect- Goethe's Faust and Beethoven's late creations

stand for Broch as excellent exampies ("James Joyce" 185). In the twentieth
century, the artist's situation is complicated by the increasing fjragmentation of the
world's value spheres. The question, as Broch sees it, is "ob eine Welt standig



sctiliessiich berhaupt



Totalerfssung durch das Kunstwerk verzichten m u s und sohin 'unabbildbar'

~ i r d . " In
~ his opinion, only art itseif can provide an answer. ('c.Jmes Joyce"

186). The novel which aims adequately to portray this contemporary world with
its splintered value system needs to be a "work in progress" ("James Joyce" 198).
Or, as Lukacs similarly puts it: "The completeness of the novel's world, if seen

objectively," writes Lukacs, "is an imperfection" (71).

A few cntics have noted an affinity between Broch's reflections on the

disintegration of value in the modem era and Lukacs's lament for the Iost
t ~ t a l i t ~Indeed,
. ~ ~ the two shared a number of concems with regard to modemist
prose.25 Broch and Lukacs also use a similar vocabulary in their literary criticism
(Wellek 65) and take issue with similar developments in twentieth century

The temiinology dfYers,'but the criticism moves in the same direction,

as Dowden points out.

Broch's philosophically schooled view of Western history dominates his

literary and non-literary writings. His thesis is weli-known: the loss of a

spiritual absolute has gradually plunged modemity into social, political,

and ethical chaos; with no transcendent point of reference, rival systems of
value emerge and compete with each other to fil1 the void. In the welter of
values, none predominates and ethical certainty becomes a dim memory.

The corrosive effect of relativism sets in, and with it grows the nostalgia
for a Iost golden age, a time before the disintegration of vaiues.
Although Broch's longing for the lost totaliy was not unique, his
way of addressing the conflict between mythic totaiiv and modem

disintegration was highly original. In his reflections on style as the locus

of spiritual meaning, Broch--1ike Georg Lukacs-notes that tbere is a style

expressive of totality and a style expressive of disintegration.


whereas Lukacs focuses on the tension between epic and novel, Broch
turns his anaiytic gaze to architecture.

He asserts that the death of

omament in rnodemist architecture expresses the tnumph of death in

modem civilisation, (Dowden, "Literature" 3)

But where Lukacs insists that irrationalism is synonymous with a lowering of the
philosophical Ievel (Destruction 8), Broch sees irrationd activity as the starting
point for any system which seeks to maintain itseIf in the face of opposing forces.

In essays Broch writes about the "lyrik'" as the new form of the godemist age.
Some critics read "lyric" literally, and associate the temu with the more formally

poetic Salvation Army Girl sections, for example ; but Broch's conception of
"lyRk" can easily include the a t h i i y m e n , open ended novel, as Durzak points

Fs] darf gesagt werden, daB der Begriff des Lyrischen, der offemichtlich

fr Hermann Broch zentral ist, eigedich der absbrahierte, vom konkreten

Gedicht losgeloste ist. Die Distanzierung dieses Begriffs vonder Gattung

Lyrik fiihrtjedoch zur Annahning an eine andere Gattung: den Roman. In

Relation zum Roman scheint die eigentliche Bedeutung des Lyrischen bei
Hermann Broch



. . . Das Lyrische steht am Anfang von Brochs

Romanen und an h e m Ende.

zugleich das EIement,

Es ist der irrationale Ansatzpmkt und

das die konventionelle Romanfonn


Transzendierung veranIaBt und, sich mit dem Epischen verbindend, eine

neue Fonn des Romans konstituiert. Die 'iyrische Identiikation' hat
Broch ais Wurzel aller seiner Romane hervorgehoben.


3 1 1-2p

The novel as Broch writes it offers an accurate vision of the modem world in
which total*

is no longer--or not yet-a real possibility. The modem era has

denied the relevance of the irrational so necessary to the perpetration of any

system. Broch writes, "the irrational c a ~ o be

t kept out at any point, and no
vision of the world can any longer be reduced to a sum in rational additiony7(641).

-Theirrational intrudes and wreaks havoc on the established order of a rational

system. Like Huguenau in the town, the irrational in the genre of the novel

undermines rational progress, conclusive action. The novel is an open ended

system, however, which depends on this intrusion of the irrational for its vitality,
for its ability to remain relevant and interesthg and not, in the words of Broch,
descend to c'kitsch."
Broch's novel presents irrationd components as necessary to lirnit the
destructive progression brought on by the rationakation of society, but it does
not celebrate irrationality as supenor to mtionality. It does not turn out that reason

and truth are useless notions, but rather that irrationality is a valuable part of a
system which relies on these. Although Huguenau emerges as triumphant in the
"irruption fiom below," Broch is not a proponent of illimitable subjectivity. The
novel does not rage for chaos. Broch insists that it needs to be acknowledged as
a part of any vital system which aims to stay vital and relevant.
What is true for structure holds tnie for style as well, as Brinkmann points

So kann auch der Roman als Kunstwerk nicht einen einheitlichen Stil
repriisentieren; das w&e Lge, es w&e Kitsch, d.h. mit Brochs Worten das
radikal Bose im Wertsystem der Kunst.'. - .Der moderne Roman kann also
auch nur die Abwesenheit jeglichen gemeinsamen Epochenstils vorstellen,
er kann nur die Auflosung des Stils in seiner Form realisieren. Nur in
seinem Urstil kann er Abbild des Stils der Zeit sein. Insofern er an die
Kategone der Zeit gebunden ist, hat er die Moglichkeit-und eben darin
erfllt er eine seiner angemessenen Aufgaben-,

in der progressiven

Auflosung seiner Fonn den Zerfdl der Were und damit des einheidichen
Stils der Epoche


symbolisieren. Eben das tun die Schlafivandler,

("Roman und Werttheone9'54-59"

Broch makes clear in his novei as well as in his own commentaries on it,
that his sleepwalkers live in periods marked by the steady disintegration of moral
principles and social values. The "system" most often discussed in relation to The
SIeepwalkers is therefore an ethical one. Yet there is another, specificaily early
twentieth century "system" the novel imaginatively dramatises and but which is
hardly discussed in the secondary literature-namely, a temporal one."'


often cited comments about the area between the "no longer" and the "not yet,"
make his writing pertinent also to a discussion of tirne in the modem novel. By
describing the realm in which his sleepwalkers move in temporal terms, Broch
addresses problems associated with the literal representation of t h e , problems
which are central to the evolution of the early twentieth writing and which are
intimately comected to the development of subjectivity and a striving for totality.
hdeed, Broch's remarks about The Slee~walkersimply that like many a novelist

writing in the early twentieth centus: he too is trying to find a way verbaily to
express the paradoxical nature of an apparently undefinable "now."


positions his sleepwalkers in a realm which he characterises as a perpetually

changing present, a present which is always steadily fluctuating between what has
just past and what is immediately to come-in his words, between the "no longer"

and the 'hot yet." This area, we recd, is not accessible to rational thought. In the
actions of the sleepwalkers the irrational "rnanifests itself as deed."
At least on one level the sleepwalkers can be read as representing Broch's
attempt imaginatively to personify a post-Bergsonian conception of the present
which early twentieth century novelists repeatedly try to capture in a narrative-but
which always and necessarily eludes them completely.

Dowden notes that

through his description of the Baddensen farnily and Ruzena in the Pasenow

section of the novel, "Broch is implying that the age needs an art that can admit of

the passage of time."

Dowden h d s , however, that "this insight remans

underdeveloped in [Broch's] work" (Syrnpathy 178-9). Yet, with a look at the

function of the sleepwalkers in the work as a whole, Broch's construction of a
novel which very clearly admits the passage of time emerges quite distinctly. A
starting point for such an argument is the fact that the area in which the

sleepwalkers reside can be alluded to or described but never precisely named.

Putting Broch's novel into histoncal context, Schlant notes that The Sleepwalkers
can be "viewed as Broch's defiant answer to the logical positivists of the Vienna
Circle and as his first major attempt to shape through words that which 'one
cannot speak about'" (41). Schlant's comments do not deal specifically with the
author's attempt to express a modem time-consciousness, and yet they do describe

a feature of Broch's struggle to depict the temporality of his kational


The reality of Broch's sleepwalkers is, like Bergson's perfect

present, beyond language, which ultimately works only to obscure the present's
absolute quaiity and which naturally and inevitably registers time as relative.
Bertrand Mtiiler, the only first person narrator in The Slee~walkers,proves
to be well aware of the problems associated with relating the reality of the figures
who occupy the temporally ambiguous .ares Broch describes in the afrerword.

Mller suggests that "words, too can hover between the past and the hture" (577).
Rernarking that the terms in which the outlandish quality of a sleepwakerfs
behaviour is described are vague and often paradoxical, the n m t o r notes, in this
case with reference to the Ieading figure of the thud section, Huguenau, that "the
matter cannot be put much more precisely or r a t i o d l y . . . for Huguenau's actions
now developed in a world where al1 measurable distance was annihilated, they
were in a way short-circuited into irrationality without any time for reflection"
(364). When Huguenau considers his own behaviour in retrospect, after "the
invasion fiom below," he cornes to a similar conclusion. Huguenau determines
that the truth of the actions he performed during an irrational episode cannot be
fonnulated into words; he committed homicide, but the tnie meanig of the
murder will always be different fkom any report made of it, no matter how
precisely certain significant details are presented. "1 admit too that the facts
seemed to support if" he says to Hem Major, admitting bis outward culpability,
"and that Herr Major would perhaps cal1 me a blackmailer or a murderer to-day.
And yet it's only a matter of appearance, in reality it's al1 quite different, only one
can't express it exactly, so to speak" (6 17-8).

One cannot perfectly express the true reality of a sleepwalkerly action.

This incapacity reflects a more generalised inability to articulate a new ethical

value system.


Was wir erleben," &tes Broch,

ist der Zusarnmenbruch der goBen rationalen Wertsysteme.


wahrscheiniich ist die Katastrophe des Meoschlichen, die wir erlebten,

nichts anderes ds dieser Zusammenbruch.

Eine Katastrophe der

Wir haben, kraf3 gesprochen, keine Philosophie, und wir haben

noch vie1 weniger eine Theologie-

Die rationden Mittel



Wiederauf?ichtung sind nicht vorhanden oder noch nicht vorhanden.

(Broch, "ber die Grundlagen" 73 1)?
As Broch's term for his protagonists suggests, his main characters move in
a realm in which the bizarre irrationality of dreams is the logic which often

organises one's waking reality. The sleepwalkers fkequently rnove in transitional

or paradoxical States. Operating in temporally ambiguous areas, they behave in a
way that seems irrationai to people who live in times in which rational dictums
such as "art for art's sake" or "business is business" are held to be governing and
expianatory precepts.
As the Pasenow and Esch chapters make clear, being a sleepwalker often
means being able to perceive the importance of things which are misunderstood or
regaxded as irrelevant by people who are more awake, more deliberately rational.
With regard to temporal systems, a sleepwallcer can often appreciate the tnie

nature of time; he or she can discem its convoluted quality, recognise that the past
and funire are necessarily and intricately intertwined in the present.

In an

irrational episode in the second chapter, Esch suddedy and intuitively realises that
a logicai approach to time is inadequate to life. "Esch, a man of impetuous
temperament," the narrator explains,

Iay motionless in his bed, his heart hammered time down to a thin dust of
nothingness, and no reason codd any longer be found why one shouid
postpone death into a future which was in any case already the present. To
the man who is awake such ideas may seem illogical, but he forgets that he
himself exists for the most part in a kind of twilight state . . . (3 13)

The temporality of the irrational individuals in The Sleepwalkers is at once

extraordinary and capricious. When sleepwaiking, the main characters are at a
loss to structure their reality according to logical temporal systems which are
acceptable to society; they are essentiaily alienated fkom the community which
calculates time a s though it were simply a progressive, forward-moving
phenomenon. The sudden perspicacity which figures such as Joachim and Esch

experience render such an approach irrelevant, as Brinkmann notes.

Im Esch-Roman, wie schon im Joachim-Roman, gibt es gelegentliche

Hohepunkte, in denen die Menschen entbunden werden von den
stolpernden Reaktionen des Alltags, wo sie plotzlich ganz hingenornmen
sind von einer nur noch traufnhaften, gleichsam hoheren W'iklichkeit, in
der es keinen rationalen Zusammenhang mehr gibt, in der sich eine--wie es

scheint-jenseitige Wiklichkeit aufnit, die sich fieigemacht hat von aller

Logik des Empirischen und sich der Versatzstcke des Empinschen
lediglich als Requisiten, als 'Realitatsvokabein7-wie Broch es nemtbedient, um einen neuen, nicht mehr empirischen, aber doch intensiv
wirklichen Zusamrnenhang daraus auf'zuerbauen. In diesen Situationen
scheint die Zeit aufgehoben. (" Roman und Wemheorie' 45)32
For the reader, the irrational character's idiosyncratic sense of time undennines the
effectiveness or relevance of a linear presentation of events; it calls into question
the validity of an essentially straightforward or sequential narration.


sleepwalkers seem to look forward in the present to events which have gone
before; they are led into their weird temporal state by a desire to incorporate the
past directly into the present. "The man who fiom a h off yeam for his wife or

merely for the home of his childhood,"

Broch writes, "has begun his

sleepwalking" (292).

The truth about time that Broch wants to express in his novel has little to
do with rational judgements about past or future events. According to Broch, the
artist also has the power to give form to tirne, and if he does so successfully he

will undermine its destructive, unilinear power and render a sort of timelessness
(Wellek "Literary Criticism" 63). Using a metaphor of construction and building,
Broch says that the good artist will create an architectural ornament which "annuls
tirne" since, (as Stephen Dowden explains), it "articulat[es] a continuity between
the eternal and the historical as artfully wrought space" ~Ornamentyy
273-8). An

ornament, in Broch's theory, is a thing which gives expression to the totality of the
whole of which it is an integra part. Ornament differs distinctly fiom decoration,
which in Broch's view is merely an a r b i m addition to a structure and thus a
component of kitsch (Harries 28 1-2).

The totality of any age includes both rational and irrational elements. The
tri-partite epoch which The Sleepwalkers spans, is, in Broch's view, increasingly

and negatively given over to rationalisation. The art which figures in the period of
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries fail to consider the absurd, the
illogical, or in Broch's words, the "irruption fiom below." Broch understands it as
his task however, to record how irrationality plays into the construction of reality

as well as the novel which represents it. In writing The Sleepwalkers his a h is to
show how the sleepwalker's irrational temporality influences the structure of the

"The specific task arises," Broch writes in a commentary on The

Sleepwalkers, "to show how the dreamlike

Traumbafte] determines the

action, and how the events for their part are ready again and again to transform
into the dreamlike" ("Roman" 719, my translation). Broch holds that the poetic
method of the novelist is especially conducive to rendering such a vague but
significant aspect of reality, since literature depends for its meaningfulness on a
structural tension between words and phrases ("Worten und Zeilen") which allows
for a truer expression of ideas than do more scientific fomulations ("Roman"


The Slee~walkersworks towards performing the fbction Broch prescribes

for the novel on a number of different levels. That is, throughout the narrative
events appear "ready again and again to transform into the dreamlike."

poignant example concerns the train sequence in the Esch section of the novel. At
a moment when Esch heads to a station to catch a train to Mlheim, the narrative

tone suddenly changes to accommodate an extended, vague and philcsophic

reflection on the implications of sleepwalking. Esch is just about to board the

train when the story switches gears, moving fkom a relatively realistic portrayai to
a more abstract rneditation on "uncertainty-"

An italicised paragraph in this

instance signais the shift, but the reader is not always so obviously derted to

At this juncture, Esch becomes simply "he," an anonyrnous

sleepwalker: a man for whom earthly absolutes become dangerously dubious.

This sleepwaker senses, for example, that a designation such as "Ech" is simply

an arbitrary appellation. Just as trying to understand the names of towns through

which a train passes is futile, so definhg identity through a variabIe signifier such

as "EscW7 is more or less without purpose for one caught up in this dreamlike
reality. "Names," for the sleepwalker, "are mere words" (293). in any case, the
sleepwalker himself feels his self uprooted as he steadily gains an appreciation of
the accidental, contingent nature of his reality; he who yeams for the past in the
future "knows no longer what his narne may be" (296).

In this obvious narrative tuni Broch indeed shows how "the dreamlike
determines the action." As it happens, the dreadike in this episode is the action.

When the more narrowly d e h e d Esch story resumes, we fnd that Esch has
already reached Mlheim- It is the refiection on uncertainty that provides the iink
between Esch in Mannheim and his arriva1 at his geographical destination; the
actual trip is left out of the novel.

Broch intimates through this authorial

manoeuvre that the more important 'toyage," the "incident" which is more
essential to the novel, is the sleepwalker's transcendental joumey.


sleepwalking here works on two levels, as Helmut Kooprnan points out. Esch
moves literdly as if in a dream, but he is also sleepwalking in the more
metaphoncal sense insofar as he is searching for redemption and a sacrifice
(Koopmann 149). Elsewhere in The SIeepwalkers sleepwalking may be less
clearly apparent, but the tendency of the events to transform into the dreadike is
comparable. Pasenow's quiet moment with Elisabeth reveals in a more subtle
way the fluid, almost chimerical reality that informs the quotidian. Likewise,
Huguenau's straightforward, "realistic" and rational action is on another level
paradoxically synonymous with irrationality.

His mode of being, though he

remains unaware of this fact and oniy an observing narrator and the title of the
novel imparts it to us, is that of the sleepwalker.

Indeed, the structurai

arrangement of the third part of the novel rnay be interpreted in light of Broch's
comment. The ncoherence of the Huguenau chapter c m be read as another
example of the logic of dreams suddenly intnidng. Whereas the previous two
chapters are relatively unified portrayals of a main character and his social
relations, the pattern of "Huguenau or Realism" does not make Iogical sense.

Various u n c o ~ e c t e dnarrative strands rave1 out, leaving the reader to guess what
a common thread could be.

People and things coincide without much

explartation, as in a drearn that organises itself according to a strange plan which

sunazes the sleeper, but which seems somehow oddly significant nonetheless.
Broch's remark about the dreamlike determining the action implies that
sleepwaikhg functions as a kuid of omament in The Slee~walkers;it suggests that
he believes that an exploration of the uncertainty, the "Traumhaftes" of the
sleepwaker's reality is essential to the formation of the narrative structure of his
book, the whole of which is to reflect the larger temporal realities of the era about
which he is writng. Through his investigation of the significance of irrational
sleepwakhg, Broch aims to find the totality whkh he finds tnie art must attempt
to express.

Claudia Brodsky, in her article "Writing and Building: Ornament in The


believes that Broch achieves his goal of making sleepwalking an

omarnent of his novel. Brodsky writes that ''the omament of Die Schiafiivandler is
the fundamental concept, the uniQing expression of 'schlaf'wandeln' itself' (271-

2). But because "sleepwalking" is "invisible to the eye," Brodslq continues,


what we know of the whole it expresses only wrting can make known." In other

words, ''the realiv of sleepwalking can only be read" (272).

The totalising,

unifying quality of sleepwalking cannot visuaily be apprehended, it can only be

recognised in the act of novelistic writing. "The 'present' of any 'age,'" Brodslq

resolves, "[sleepwaiking] is living meaning which cannot make visible what it

means, the single unifjing ornament of writing itseif" (272).
Brodsky's argument is interesting, yet it leads to certain problems.
Brodsky's final assertion that writing is the single e

g element of Broch's

novel does not take into account the fact that, as Stephen Dowden points out, "at
least since Nietzsche, the concept of totdity bas] become suspect" ("Oniament"

275), a notion with which Broch agrees when related to the modem novel (see
Brinkmann "Roman und Werttheorie" 57; Broch "Das Weltbild").


writing may well have something in common with the ambiguous and
unpredictable progression of his sleepwakers, but it is not that either has the
ability to uniQ the whole.

In the novei, especially the third chapter, notes

Brinkmann, "wird das Abstrakte radikalisiert, die UnmogIichkeit des modernen

Romans, eine Totalitat zu geben, sinnfiig reprtisentiert, das Errahlen des

Erzahlens drastisch verwirklicht" (Brinkmann, cbRomanformyy
Broch's The Sleepwalkers is fiagmented, consisting of various, only
sometimes related parts which constitute three major but more or less separate
sections. In many instances, especially in the "Huguenau" chapter, the writuig is
disjunctive or fiagmented, unpredictable in subject matter and style. Section fiftynine of the Huguenau chapter, for example, suddenly presents the events in
clramatic form; in many of the salvation army girl sections, the narrative without

warning turns into lyric; parts of a philosophical essay, sections of letters, and
lines of a play are elsewhere sporadicaily interspersed. Despite recurring motifs,

the overail impression is one of incoherence. Although he is a great admirer of

The Slee~walkers,one of Kundera's cornplaints about the novel is that "the
'polyhistorical'34 purpose demands a technique of ellipsis that Broch has not
completely worked out; architectural clarity suffers for it" (65). Likewise, "Im
dritten Teil zersetzt sich die Form vollends," writes Brinkmann. Through the
hgmentary nature of this section,
wird die abschildernde, wiedergebende ErziWweise im alten, berlieferten

Stil vollends ad absurdum ge-

und mit jenem Aufheben jeglicher

e d e r i s c h e r Illusion wird das Abstrakte radkdisiert, die Unmoglichkeit

des modemen Romans, eine Totalitat


geben, sinnfdlig repmentiert,

das Erzahlen des Erzahlens drastisch verwirklicht C'Romdorm9"56-7)35

In a jumbled lot of inchoate stories, only specific fragments of narrative are

convincing and effective, according to Dowden. c'Broch's own prose achieves the
effect that he attributes to KessIer's ceilo performance," he asserts "In spite of the
self-contradictory desire to comprehend the world in an encompassing
philosophical system, Broch's writing is strongest and most persuasive precisely
where his fiction succeeds in artfully illuminating, however bnefiy and modestly,
a minute, fiagmented piece of Iived experience" (278). Schlant makes a related

point with regard to Broch's fictional work generaily. ''In the novels," she writes,
the characters and events enact vividly and graphically what Broch was in
a position to observe and to anaiyze. Yet his imagination was unable to
project fictionally what a large section of his theory was about, namely the

design of a better friture. The novels stop midway through an apocalypse

when they might have portrayed feasible transitions into the 'concrete
utopia ' (Schlant

16 1)

If these critics are right, then contrary to Brodsky's contention, the reality
of sleepwalking c m never flly "be read," primarily due to the fact that it cannot
ever properly be written. Indeed, Broch's novel itself repeatedly makes ciear that

the essence of sleepwalking cannot be captured verbally; its elusive and irrational
quality persists throughout even the most painstaking narration.
Broch's sleepwaikers do fiinction as ornaments within his novel, but only

inasmuch as their existences express the the-consciousness of the novel in which

they play a necessary part. The existence of both the sleepwaikers and the novel
in which they figure is based on a conception of a present which, whenever it is

construed in words or symbois, is not adequateiy represented.

It remains

impossible that someone woufd articulate the essential quality of the sleepwalkers'
existence in the same way that it is inconceivable that the novel would verbalise
the perfect present of the timeiessness which it perpetually tries to embrace.
Thus an interesting paradox manifests itself. In failing to fnction as a
successful ornament which would uni@ and totalise The Sleepwallcers,
sieepwalking actuaily becornes an omament of the novel as it is defined in a
broader, more generic sense.

That is to Say, the progression of Broch's

protagonists parailels the process of his novelistic writing, but it does so for a
different reason than Brodslq suggests.

The two are similar because both

incorporate and reflect a particularly modem time-consciousness which ceIebrates

a temporality which carmot be explained in reasonable terms. It is worth noting,

too, that Broch's novel ends on a note m

g a very modem kind of present.

The last lines of The Sleepwallcers describe a voice "that binds al1 that has been to

al1 that is to corne" and which tries to express an urgent continuity with the final


Do yourself no harm! for we are ail still here!" (648)?

It could be argued that the novelysfinal insistence on continuity is not at

last a positive message. On the level of content, perhaps the final lines of the
novel valorise simply the bare feat of survival and nothing more. In his writing on
the novel, Broch hirnself remains vague about what cornes afier the cathartic
"irruption nom below" in which Huguenau so avidly participates.'7


demands, according to Schlant, "what the sleepwalkers were incapable of


conscious, deliberate efforts to establish a unity of the rational and

irrational forces reflecting the platonic totality.

[But] like his protagonist, he

cannot point out concrete approaches to this integration of values" (HB 66).

Simply put: "it is hard to believe that Huguenau is somehow preparhg the way,
however inadvertendy, for better things" (EIatfield 125). Critics such as LaCapra
similarly remain sceptical about the possibility that the novel offers an alternative

to the value systems it critiques. " t is cornmonplace to observe," writes LaCapra,

"that The Sleepwalkers does not fumish even an imaginative sketch of an
alternative value system or society to the one the novel critically renders" (47).
For his part, Roche points out, "Huguenay like his partner in success Bertrand, is

charactensed by his fieedom and pragmatic rationality.

. . . Bertrand and

Huguenau are figures of negativity cleverer than competing characters

who naively affirrn traditionai positions.

[Yet] Huguenau, with his

rnanipulative rationalism and his fieedom fkom social restraints, fails . . .

just like Bertrand, to provide a legitimate answer to. the romanticism of
Joachim and Esch, even if his actions are consequential. (252-3)
Indeed, on the level of content, The Sleepwalkers suggests that our modem value
systems, which are given over to increasing rationalisation, are doomed to
destruction. Huguenau's concluding ccsuccess"is a result of crass, light-hearted
pursuit of commercial goals and wilfiil deceptions. "The Slee~walkers," writes

gives a telling rendition of Broch's generai conception of the modern age

as one of increasing abstraction in which growuig technical rationality and

value-neutrality were conjoined with substantive inationality7 passivity,

and the propensity to 'experiment'

in somnambulistic, child-like

insouciance with the most basic values and norms. (44-5).

Thus Broch's novel, despite its effort to remain vital and relevant, may be said to
move towards nihilism, towards defeat.
The positive message of The Sleepwalkers does not lie directly in the
content, however. When the sleepwaikers' rrationality is considered together in a
difFerent way it appears that The Slee~waikersrnay be taken a s representative of
an alternative system, a system which posits irrational action as potentidly

constnictive. In order to see Broch's message clearly, one must look equally to
The Sleepwalkers's structure and style as well as content. Broch claimed that

'?he source of true discovery always is its methodology" ([Broch's words, in a

letter to Kurt H. WolEj Wolff, "Supremacy" 56). Through the main figures'
ornamental sleepwalking which in narrative form reflects the open-ended structure
of the novel, Broch asserts that the irrational elements of any system needs to be
rnaintained but not Mly be explained. In The Sleepwalkers irrationd action,

when it includes a genuine and thus significant yearning for fieedom or is part of
an attempt to realise a totality, suggests on the level of content as well as form, the

possibility of a ccredemption'yfkom a stringent social order, a confining temporal

reality, and a restrictive notion of the self.

For al1 primary and secondary sources appearing in this chapter, 1have

used officia1 translations where available. Where no translations exist, 1offer a

translation of the Gerrnan text in an endnote. When there is a discrepancy
between the original and the official translation, 1 aiso note the inconsistency in an

See Broch, "Problemkreis" 725.

See also Schlant, Hermann Broch 51.

See Arendt 26, and Brinkmann, "Roman" 36.

See also Ltzeler in Hemann Broch: Ethik und Politik (hereafter HB),
where Ltzeler poinl in a footnote to Wolfgang Kayser as the originator of the
idea that Broch pictures the novel's own formal hcapacities in The SIeepwalkers

(9; footnote 10, 140).

ucZerfll der Werte,'

heiDt fir Broch] ja nichts anderes als

Aufkplitterung der menschlichen Lebenswirklichkeit in immer kleinere Rollen mit

immet mehr sich verengendern Horizont," confinns Ltzeler. ["'Disintegration of

values' of course means for proch) nothhg other than the splintering of reality

into always smaller roles with an ever-shrinking horizon" (my translation)]


See, for example, Ltzeler, "Avant-Garde" 15; Ryan 32; Wellek

62,65; LaCapra 43.

For a reference to Broch's personal acquaintance with Lukacs, see endnote


See, for example, Schmid-Boaenschlager; Vollhardt; Koopman;

Durzak, Dichtung; Dowden, S m a t h y ; Kaye.

The Muirs translate the chapter titles in the following way: (I)

Romantic; (II)The Auarchist; (m) The Realist. I tramlate the Gemian more
literally: (
888-Pasenow or Romanticism; (IL) 1903-Esch or Anarchism; (III)
1918-Huguenau or Reaiism.
Both Joachim and Esch reappear in this chapter, but without reference to

their experiences as descrbed in the hst two chapters.

Broch meant the styles of each section to reflect the style of the age
which it descnbes. See Broch, "Roman" 721.

Stephen D. Dowden notes that twenty years after d t i n g

Sleepwalkers, Broch hmself asserted a similar notion, claiming that "even the
philosophical parts of his novel are subordinate to the subjective vision"
@owden7ssummary of Broch, S~mpathy33-4).

'' Cntics are probably guided by Broch's own writing on the novel in this
case. Broch writes in an afterword to his novel:

Im ersten Teil


[Bertrand] selber Person der Handlung, im zweiten

beherrscht er zwar das auBere Geschehen, tritt aber selber nur mehr
traumhaft in Erscheinung und verschwindet mit dem Seibstmord, wahrend

er im dritten TeiI, obwohl real nicht mehr vorhanden, sich uberall

auswirkt, bestimmend fr die Hdtung aller Personen, die mit ihm in

Verbindung gestanden shd.
the frst part pertrand] himself is a persona of the action; in the second

he dominates the visible occurrences, but he has only a dreamlike

appearance and disappears with the his suicide; whereas in the third part,
although he no longer really exists, he exerts bis influence everywhere,
determining the disposition of al1 persom with whom he has been n
contact (my translation)]. (LcRoman" 721)
See, for example, David Suchoff s "Figures in Cnsis: Symbol and Social
Control in The Sleepwalkers":

"Who then is the narrative's much-debated

Bertrand figure?" asks Suchoff.

He may stand, as critics have written, for the narrator of the entire novel,
the modem vuriter who projects himself as figure into the work he creates.
As figure, however, Betrtrand appears much more as the interpreter, one as
divided as the characters who divide his name. . . . Always the observer,
then, Bertrand reminds us of Broch's intention, expounded in the Joyce
essay, of 'drawing the ideai observer into the field observed,' M l l i n g the
demand for 'absolute cognition' in only the most ironic way. Bertrand
reminds us, before the advent of deconstruction, that the interpreter can
never completely separate himself fiom the logic of the figures he
observes. (244)

Perhaps the most quoted Iines in this case corne fiom Theodore
Ziolkowski in "Hennann Broch und die Relativitat im Roman," where Ziolkowski
asserts that "das degemeine, 'wertsetzende Subjekt" des ganzen Romans" is
Bertrand Mller."

["The overail 'value positing subject' of the whole novel is

Betrand Miier" (my translation)] (325).

See also Ltzeler HB 76-82.

Ltzeler makes a strong case for the notion that Esch is simply

daydrearning. See HB 17 1-2.


With reference to Broch's personal correspondence, Emestine Schlant

provides a background for Broch's thinking while he was wrting the Huguenau
section. "In the character of Huguenau," she mites,
the Janus nature of Broch's ethics approaches its most dangerous and
reprehensible representation. In 1930 and 1931, when Broch worked on
'Huguenau,' the Kantian 'Ioneliness of the 1' and the consequences of the
pursuit of the autonomy of the '1' as a fornalistic cognitive device exerted
an unmitigated impact upon Broch's thinking. Detailed reflections on the
need for an absolute human value centre and its necessity as a directive
force to channel the anarchically 'unbound' freedom appeared only later.
For this reason, Huguenau is viewed rather approvingly as the appropriate
representative of his times. (HermannBroch 58)
For Broch's debt to Kant, see also Ltzeler, IIB,esp. 33-43.


H e h t Koopmann notes that in this chapter the destination is less

important than the actual trip. Amenca itself is less the focus of attention than the
voyage there. The distant country stands more for a modem day Elysium than an
actual place of possible residence (144-5).

"Not lost and no less sleepwaikerlike. however, is the yearning for

awakening that works in the world of dreams, for a cognitive and recognizant
awakening fom sleep, which is called, depending on an individual's vocabulary,
'redemption, ' 'salvation,'

'meaning of life, ' 'grace"' ("Pro blemkreis" 723, my


Compare Ltzeler, who argues that in Broch's work the longing to go

home suggests a c'Romantic" yeaming for the past, whereas a fascination with a
distant place involves courage and implies a willingness to try to shape a future


One aspect of Broch's reading of Huguenau in "Ethische K o n s ~ o n "

more closely approaches my own. "Sicherlich hat wugenau]," he writes, "bloB

der Form des Autonomen nach ethisch, sonst aber vollig amoralisch, noch
keineswegs die Freiheit der neuen Gottlichkeit, des neuen Glaubens errungen; er
erstebt dies auch gar nicht, ersehnt es auch nicht, obwohl hier und da ein
Lichtblick kommender Moglichkeit in ihm aufimckt." ["Certainly Huguenau," he
writes, "who is oniy ethical with regard to the f o m of the autonomous but
otherwise totaliy amoral, has not at al1 yet gained the fieedom of the new divuiity'

the new faith; but he does not aspire to it, does not yeam for it, although now and
then a glimpse of coming possibilities dashes up in him" (my translation)]. (727)
Broch insists, however, that Huguenau is on the brink of tme discovery.
"Er steht am Beginn des Weges." ["He stands at the beginning of the way" (my
translation)] (727).

"The fact that he suppressed the images of Christ and replaced them

with the memory of the pastor's murderer reveds that Huguenau has abandoned

Christian ideas and feels a certain affinity to the murderer of representatives of

126-7, my translation).

Empincal autonomy, that is, limitless individualism and a certain pure

subjectivisrn, have taken the place of Kant's mord law, which of course is
unthinkable without its social component, without the inclusion of general
principles. This loss of moral autonomy, however, Broch takes care to
emphasize, at the same time means heteronomy, that is, dependence cn
regulations imposed fiom outside and not fiom within. At point-zero
complete subjectivism, in other words 'empirical autonomy,' coincides

wih complete dependence on the outside, that is heteronomy. To express

it in Kantian terms:

'Freedom negatively understood' has replaced

'fieedom positively understood.'


87, my translation)

'Freedom,' which in the end always matters in al1 things t d y ethical,

does not consider traditional values; the notion of autonomy, which serves

as the logicd foundation for fkeedom, has nothing to do with moral

attitudes: certainly this autonomy does not yet consitute the fiilfillment of
the ultimate divide value, but it is the on& form in which it c m fulfill
itseK ("Ethische Konstniktion" 726, my translation)

%hical only with regard to the form of the autonomous, but otherwise

totally amoral, in no way yet the fieedom of the new divinity, the new faith"
("Ethische Konstnrktion" 726, my translation).
Farrell uses Derrida's philosophy here.

The question, as Broch sees it, is "whether a world marked by an

increasing disintegration of vaiues must not finally become unrepresentable as a
totality in the work of art" [my translation].
"AS Karsten Harries notes, "Broch was of course not the only one of his

generation to speak of decadence and to lament that the centre will not hold."
Harries continues:
Broch's remarks also invite comparison with related ideas advanced by
such Marxist thinkers as Georg Lukacs or Ernst Bloch, both just a year

older than Broch. Different as these two are, represeriting what we can
cal1 the classical and the romantic sides of Marxism respectively, they yet
agree in their understanding of the death of ornament as an expression of
decadence. They also suggest where we should locate the roots of such

in the rationalisation of labour that, inseparable fkom

capitalism, in the name of efficiency impoverishes reality and fmds Ersatz

for lost value in the aesthetic. It is an answer that never could satisfjr

Broch, who struggled toward his own aetiology of decadence.

("Decoration" 28 6)

Making a similar point, Ren Wellek, in "The Literary Criticisrn of

Hermann Broch," notes:
Broch's conception of poetry is cognitive-poetry simply is a totdity of
recognition and experience. Every work of art is a symbol of that totaliq.
The word totaiity permeates ail of Broch's criticism: it formulates its
ideal, both of cognition and of man as a totality, as an integral person.
Broch belongs to the many Germans, particdarly of the post-war world,
who are convinced of the decay of the West (62 -2)

On the most obvious level," LaCapra writes in "Broch as Cultural

Broch's criticai framework was a variant of the traditional apocalyptic
paradigm that was important for modernisrn and 'cnsis' thuiking in
general. The present was indicted in the light of a lost totality of the past
that was to be regained on a higher level in the future. For Broch the
highest mission of the modern novel itself was to take up the quest for lost
totality that had been displaced fkom religion to idealist philosophy but
abandoned by positivism and f'ctionalism. Thus Broch's thought seems
to converge with that of a theorist he does not, to my Imowledge, discuss:
Georg Lukacs. Even his apparent tum fkom aesthetics to politics would
seem to parallel Lukacs's itinerary. But, of course, Broch's version of

Marxism was not revolutionary Hegelianism but ethicaUy motivated, neoKantian AWO-Marxism, and his understanding of modernist literature,
while not uncritical, was less dogmaticdy condemnatory than Lukacs's,
Indeed, the tension between Broch's own experimental tendencies in
literature and his affirmation of the Kantian Idea or what he termed the
'Platonic totaiity' constitutes one if [sic] the most vital dynamics of his
work. (43)
LaCapra is right: Broch does not aqwhere extensively comment on Lukacs.
However, Broch's personai writing reveals that the two met a number of times in
Viema and repeatedly discussed histoncal and philosophical issues related to both
their scholarly work. See Ltzeler, Hermann Broch: Das Teesdorfer Tagebuch

fr Ea von Allesch 15.


''While Broch was a decided opponent of Lukacs's position in the

Vlysses discussion7"Ltzeler notes,

he was more inclined to share his attitude in the 'Reportage' debate of

1932. Both of them decline to acknowledge in 'Reportage' the ideal of the

novel. Broch argues fiom the point of the avant-garde, Lukacs fiom the
position of the traditional realist against the form of the novel. Broch--1ike
Lukacs-cannot accept the postulate of objectivity fiom the theoreticians of
the reporting novel. Both miss in the newspaper-style novel the dimension
of totality. Unlike Lukacs, Broch acknowledges the subjective factor in
selecting the material portrayed, a factor that-fiom the viewpoint of the

cognitive theory-should never be excluded and that any author-ethically

speaking-should never omit. ("Avante-Garde in Crisis" 18)

'' Durzak comments on Broch's sense of the relationship between lyric

and novel in "A~~Eassung."
He argues that the "lyrik" appears in Broch's novels

as a founding element of a new kind of genre. (312-3)

"Aber eine noch

entscheidendere Rolle spielt das Lyrische in Brochs Romanen als konstituierendes

EIernent einer neuen Romdorm" writes Durzak.
Das gilt unter zweifachem Aspekt: Einmal soll das Lynsche, das noch an
die Gedichtform gebunden ist und additiv das Rationaie mit dern
Irrationalen zur Gesamterkenntis vereint, das Kunstwerk s.tnikturel1 zurn
Spiegel einer komplex gewordenen Wirklichkeit vervollkomrnen. Zum
anderen soll das bereits mit der Prosaform verschmolzene Lyrische, das
die empirischen Bedingtheiten der Wukiichkeit aufhebt, in einem idealen

Raum die Platonische Idee des Subjekts und Objekts verwirklichen. Die
Gesamterkenntis, die mittels des Lyrischen geleistet wird, betrifft also
sowohl die Wirklichkeit als auch den Menschen. Der Roman wird als
gestaltete Erkenntnis ni einern unfiassenden Akt der Befeiung: Befieiung
zu einer hinter der Erscheinungswelt liegenden Idee der Wirklichkeit und

des Humanen.
r'But the lyrical in Broch's novels palys an even more decisive role as a
contitutive element of a new form of the novel," writes Durzak.

This is true in two respects: On the one hand, the lyrical which is still
bound to the f o m of the poem and where the rational adds itself to the
irrational and thus produces a totality of cognition, is supposed stnicturdly
to round off the work of art so that it becomes the mirror of a now
complex reality. On the other hand, the lyrical that has aiready merged
with the prosaic and wbich does away with the empirical restrictions of
reality, is supposed to realize the Platonic idea of subject and objet in an
ideal space. The totality of cognition which is being achieved by means of
the lyrical thus regards reality as weIl as man. The novel, as cognition that
has taken shape, becomes an all-embracing act of liberation: liberaton
towards an idea of reality and humanness that lies behind the phenomenal
world (my translation)].

Pt] may be said that the notion of the lyrical which apparently is central

to Broch, is the abstract one, the one separated fiom the concrete poem.

The dissociation of this notion fiom the genre of the lyric, however, leads
to an approach to another genre: the novel. With Broch the real meaning
of the lyrical appears to be in relation to the novel.

. ,.The lyrical stands

at the beginning of Broch's novels and at their end. It is the irrational

starting-point and at the same time the element which causes the
conventional form of the novel to undergo a transcending process and as a
result, combining itself with the epic, to constitute a new form of the

novel. Broch has emphasized the 'lyrical identification' as the root of al1 of

his novels. C' Auffassung" 3 1 1-2, my translation)

Steinecke makes a simila.point: See Steinecke 295.

In the same way the novel, as a work of art, cannot represent a uniform

style; this wouid be a lie, it would be kitsch, that is it wouid beyin Broch's
words, the absolute (radical?) evil in the value system of art. . . . The
modem novel thus cm only represent the absence of any common epochal
style, can realize in its form only the dissolution of style. It is only in its
original style that it can be a representation of the style of its time. Insofar

as it is tied to the category of time, he has the possibility--and it is in this

that he W

s one of his appropriate tasks-y to symbolize in the

progressive dissolution of his form the decay of values and therewith of

the uniform style of the epoch. This is exactly what the Sleepwalkers do.

("Roman und Werttheone" 54-55' my translation)


Dowden puts fonvard the thesis that "time is Hermann Broch's

fundamental concern and that this concern conditions his turn to allegory."
Dowden's argument centres around "Broch's theory of history and values as well

as the origin of this theory in individual subjectivity" ( S w a t h v 29-30). While

Dowden mentions Einstein's theory of relativity and Newtonian mechanics in
comection with point of view, the link I draw between The Sleepwdkers and
modem consciousness with reference to Bergson is substantially different, as the
following paragraphs in the chapter make clear.


What we are experiencing," writes Broch,


is the breakdown of the principal rational value system. And probably the
human catastrophe we have lived through is nothing more than this
breakdown. A catastrophe of voicelessness.
We have, crassly put, no philosophy, much less a theology. The
rational tools necessary for the reconstmction of these are not avdable or
not yet available. (Broch, "Ober die Grundagen" 73 1, my translation)

'' In the Esch novel, as before in the Joachim novel, one k d s occasional
high points in which human beings are released fiom the stumbling
reactions of everyday Me, where they are suddeniy taken away by a reality

that is a merely drearnlike, as it were, a higher reality in which there no

longer exists any rational coherence, in which a seemingly otherworldly

reality is opening up that has liberated itself fiom al1 logic of the empirical
and uses the various pieces of the empirical only as props, as 'vocabulary
pieces of reality,' as Broch calls hem, in order to constnict a new
coherence, no longer empirical but at any rate intensely real. In these
situations tirne seems to be abolished. ("Roman und Werttheone" 45, my

"the abstract is radicalized, the inability of the modem novel to offer a

totaiity is clearly represented, the telling of the narration is drastically realized"

@rinkmann, ccRomanfom"56-7, my translation).

Kundera defhes Broch's polyhistoricimi as a ''tendency to embrace


other genres, to absorb philosophical and scientific knowledge." In other

words, "'po1yhistorical' means: marshalling all intellectual means and al1

poetic forms to illuminate 'what the novel alone can discover':


being" (64).

the old, redistic, and antiquated narrative style is driven into ad

absurdum, and with the abolishrnent of every narrative illusion the abstract
is radicalized, the impossibility of the modern novel meaningfully to give
a totality represented, the narrative of the narration drastically realized
("Romanform" 56-7,my translation).

My translation. The Muirs translate the final lines as "Do thyself no

h m ! for we are all here!" But such a translation misses an important aspect of
the Gennan, namely the idea of continuity. The German original significantly
includes the word "noch" which in this context means ccstilI." The lines as 1 have
rendered them here thus express more accurately and Mly the original idea.
" See,

for example, Schlant in Hem-

Broch: "In The Sleeowalkers,"

she writes:
Broch can define his position only through negative examples, that is,
through attitudes not to follow.

This is particularly evident in the

'Epilogue,' where leader--and redeemer-expectations conciude the novel.

These projections are not intended as desirable alternatives for the future,
but are viewed as part of the historical symptoms that make the

'sleepwalkers' look for refiige in closed systems. Broch's lack of positive

suggestions is even more clearly stressed in the open questions of his
letters: '

. . . the new problem:

what direction does the longing for

enlightenment and salvation take in times of disintegration and dissolution

of old value systerns? When the longing can no longer fuse into these
systems? Can a new ethos emerge out of the sleep and the dream of the
vilest everyday?' (6 1)

Chapter III

Railed in by a Maddening Reason:

Virginia Woolf's Mrs. DaIIoway (and To the Lighthouse and The Waves)

Like Faulkner and Broch's fiction of the same period, Virginia Woolf s
novels of the mid-1920s and early 1930s d e r n o m t e a preoccupation with the
complexities of identity.

Mrs. Dallowav (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927),

Orlando (1928), and The Waves (1931) all explore in different ways the
boundares of individual subjectivity and the possibility of meaningfid and
sustained psychological expenence between people. An experimental style and
structure in each novel caters to Woolf's view that a pertinent novelistic
representation of character entails the elaboration of an altered subjective reality.
According to Woolf, "On or about December 1910 human character changed"
(Essavs III, 421). The novels published around the end of the following decade
show that irrationality is a prominent aspect of the self caught up in the modern


In Mrs. Dallowav, To the Lighthouse, Orlando, and The Waves,


irrationality figures as an important component of personality and the novelistic

prose that progressively depicts it, and a favourable reading of irrationality in
Woolf s fiction of this penod is vital to understanding both the process and
purport of her work.

Where previously critics have argued that irrationality in

the novels promotes a positive turn inward, I hold that WooU?s novels suggest
that imtionaiity is propitious because it c m help us to get out of damaging

introspective tendencies. The discussion brhgs Woolf s novels together with

recent philosophical ideas on the twentieth-century self-relahng subject and
interdisciplinary research into schizophrenia. My reading shows that Woolf s
modemist innovations advocate an acceptance of imtional impulses which
restrain a compulsive and debilitating drive towards introspection and thus render
more accessible to an objective, outside world significant aspects of a private and
productive inner self.
The earliest novel of the goup,l

Mrs. Dallowav, features the mon

obvious examples of what appears to be irrational behaviour. Here Septimus

Smith, a shell-shocked, recently married young man swerves from normalcy
towards a kind of schizophrenic rnadness afkr his participation in the war. As
Woolf makes clear in her introduction to the novel, he is the intended "double" of
the main character, Clarissa Dalloway, who at one point suddenly feels an

intimate association with Septimus despite the fact that the two have never met
(Essavs IV, 549). In the subsequent novels, Woolfs treatment of irrationality is
slightly less accessible through plot. To the Lighthouse shows the subjective
developrnent of various people associated with Mrs. Ramsay, the guiding
psychological force of the novel.

Narrative descriptions of changing mental

States, as weI1 as more explicitly reported dialogue between characters, reveal the
necessity of occasionally refting the powers of logic in the attempt better to

understand the self. The premise of Orlando's storyline is based on an idea

perhaps metaphoricalky tme, but nonetheless IiteralIy fallacious: that one's sex

changes easily and according to personal incLinations and historical context. The
structure and style of The Waves offers a useful key to the text's meaning, and the
intricate socid dynarnic upon which the constrvction of the novel depends
contradicts coherent and logical story-teiling.

In tbis novel characters speak

dramaticdiy and in parallel, and the soliloquies often move towards moments of
personai crisis.

In a number of important instances they illustrate how an

irrational approach to reality is integral to the development of au individual

subjective identity that remains freely active in, and relevant to, an extended and
diverse comxnunity.

In the novels of this period, Woolf s troubled characters regularly suffer

fiom an excess of subjectivity, fkom a sense that they are cut off fiom the world,
without an adequate means of truly being engaged in it. These individuals are

generally highly self-reflective; they have developed to an elevated degree their

reflexive powers of thought and they analyse their perceived situations in great
detail. Yet their deliberations, often obsessive, tend to leave them unsatisfied

with their ability to construct their lives in a way that might bring fblfilment or

In an investigation of what it means to be a self-relating subject in the

context of recent philosophical debates on subjectivity, realism, and
postmodernism, Frank Farrell argues that "The modern process of i n t e n s w g
subjectivity, and of concentrathg there al1 significant powers of determination,
needs to be limited" (244). Human beings, he m a i n e , do not need to "bring

up for review" every choice they make in order to be able to appreciate the way

their lives work out. "An important part of what we want in being fiee is that
our deliberations and intentionai states have a causal effectiveness, so that things
do not tum out as they do through bypassing our highest faculties," d e s
Farrell. "We want to be fiee also to develop those faculties, but it is a crazy
dream to suppose that ou.fieedom should require that we be flly the authors of
ourselves" (242). He notes that
We may h d happiness and even luck settling on a Iife beyond what we
have made happen, a kind of grace fkom the world itself, as when a poem
or painting seems caught up in patterns that take on a life of their own; it
is an important fact about us as humans that we value such outcornes,
even when our vaiuing them makes us assign somewhat less value to our
self-determining powers. (243)
Woolf s fictional work of the Iate 1920s and early 1930s takes us in a
direction similar to the one in which Farrell moves. The novels, without of
course an overt philosophical fiamework such as Farrell supplies, in a more
subtle way also suggest that too much raional deliberation is debilitating and

can result in an unfortunate aggrandisement of one's subjective state. The

amplification or expansion of subjectivity in Woolfs fiction involves a
distancing f?om others; it results in an incapacity to sustain meaningfid

However, Woolf does more than descnbe the apparent

inadequacy of a person whose rational deliberations have become obsessive.

Her contribution to twentieth century explorations of subjectivity in Mrs.

Dallowav. To the Li&thouse, and The Waves consists at least in part in that her
novels also propose-albeit indirectly-a peculiar way through which one might
recover fiom such a disabling intensification of subjectivity.


recommending an abandonment to irrational impulses, these novels show a need,

that is, to recognise the healthy and constructive ramifications of an irrational

attitude towards quotidian reality,

The following analysis will focus on Mis. Ddloway and end with a look
at two other novels of the period. 1 propose that in Mrs. Dallowav Woolf
elaborates through the character of Septimus Smith an idea that she then
reiterates in different ways through the content and structure of later works.
Without denouncing the positive possibilities associated with a rational approach
to reality, Woolf indicates in Mrs. Dallowav through the physical and mental

behaviour of Septimus that a certain amount of irrationality is indispensable to a

healthy, firnctioning, and sccially adaptable psychology.

On another level,

Woolf extends this idea to suggest that an irrational impulse must be

incorporated into the formal arrangement of the novel that reflects an evolving
and modernist subjectivity.
The notion that Septimus is a vehicle through which Woolf critiques
certain aspects of her contemporary society and undermines established formal
literary conventions is of course not in itself new. Critics who read Septimus
positively tend to see him as someone who moves to an unconscious or

subjective realm in order to de@ or directly escape the dominant or rational

order--whether patriarchal or political. 1 suggest, rather, that his retreat to an
inner subjective space is part of the problem Mrs. Ddowav attempts to address.

In my reading of Septimus as a (paradoxically) constructive figure, Septimus's

downfal, literal and figurative, is brought on by his involuntary and compulsive
adherence to a rational system of thought. 1 argue, in other words, that Woolf in
fact highlights Septimus's profound inability to validate and sustain his irrational
impulses in his post-war life. In doing so she stresses the Iiability an excessive
reliance on reason entails and implies at the same time through the structure and
form of the novel that an acceptance of irrational impulses can help to limit an
ever-expanding subjectivity and d o w one more fully and meaningfully to
integrate into a social world.
Septimus Smith is c e W y one of Woolf s most afflicted characters, and
critics who discuss his madness benefit from the arnbiguities implied by his
troubled mental state. Rachel Bowlby has recently noted the apparent versatility
of Woolf s canon generally. "Whether she is seen to fit in with or to subvert
what the critic identifies as established literary standards," she wrtes, "and
depending on whether subversion or confonnity is the criterion of vaiue, Woolf

is vehemently ceiebrated or denounced fiom al1 sides" (12). Like Woolf s

writings taken coltectively, Septimus's character specifically has been used to
strengthen various cntical approaches. Writing in her diary of her plans for the
novel, Woolf explains, "1 adumbrate here a study of insanity & suicide: the

world seen by the sane & the insane side by side-sornething like thaty' @ i a r ~ 14
October 1992 [20;1). A survey of dominant interpretations of Septimus's

"insanity'' and his role in Mrs. Dallowav allows an overview of some of the
basic issues that have shaped Woolf criticism in recent decades.

In more conventional or "romantic" readings, Septimus plays a sacrificial

part in the novel. For critics who see Clarissa's final stance at the top of her

stairs as a manifestation of her spiritual success, Septimus's death provides

meaning and purpose to an otherwse superficial existence. In other words,
Septimus succumbs to society's evils so that CIarissa does not have to.
Septimus is a "victim of Science and Proportion" (Lee log), a victim of
patriarchy (Transue 98). He is "the scapegoat whose self-sacrifice represents a
positive escape from the narrowness and impossibility of civilised life" (Spoerl
6 0 ) . ~Septimus's madness and exclusion fkom upper-class society allows him to

be in touch, perhaps too intensely, with a natural world which remains somehow
inaccessible to the nonnally functioning and more "highly" civilised citizen.
"Septimus's insanity is not only insanity," writes Jean O. Love, "it is also nature
worsbip and pantheism-an

ultimate but exaggerated and unbalanced

communion with the cosmos" (Worlds 147). Without the means to join the
higher ranks of British society, Septimus becomes a living casualty of what the
politicians and the social e1ite al1 too often treat as an abstract struggie-a clash
of causes-rather than a reaI battle resdting in actuai mental and physical injury.
Woolf's mad character in Mrs. Dallowav reveals public pretence and private

duplicity : "it is the war that transforms Septimus, the lower class upstart who

faiied in his effort to rise, into Septhus the scapegoat who assumes society's
burden of guilt,"

writes Maria DiBattista. "Septirnus thus obtains a double

starus in the novel, being both society's scapegoat and its 'giant moumer.' lt is
he who most radically challenges, by the f i t y of his vision and the oppressive

weight of his guilt, the myth of social happiness" ( V i r ~ 43).

The nature of Mrs. Dailoway's 1923 society cornes to ligfit in Alex

Zwerding's assessrnent of Septimus in Vir@a Woolf and the Real World. In a
revaluation of the histoncal significance of details of Woolfs work, Zwerdling
elaborates on the non-fictional issues connected with Septirnus's complicated
post-war mental aberrations. Citing a 215-page report submitted to Parliament
in 1922 fiom the War Office Cofnmittee of Enquiry into Sheil-Shock, Zwerdling
underlines the historical accuracy of Woolf's portrayal of the medical treatment
Septimus incurs. He notes that the document holds that "ofien 'sheii-shock' is
indistinguishable from cowardice or insubordinationy'and that supposedly "these
breakdowns are usuaIIy the product of a 'congenital or acquired predisposition to
pathological reaction in the individual concerned."'

The recommended

treatment included "moral persuasion," force, and threats-in short, as Mrs.

Dalloway demonstrates, a dose of Bradshaw and Holmes (Virginia 2 9 - 3 0 ) ~ ~

For Zwerdling, working with the novel's historical context, Septimus

dlows Clarissa to cross class lines and to experience and sympathise with the lot
of the less privileged.

"Septimus is Clarissa's conscience, is indeed the

conscience of the goveming-class, though oniy she is wiiling to acknowledge

hm," he writes. "In feeling a sense of knship with Septimus, Clarissa is

crossing class lines in her imagination, for ceItainly he is beyond the pale of her
set" (Zwerdiing, "Mrs. Dailoway" 149).

For a more post-modem critic,

Septimus is a delegate of a smali league of characters in Mrs. Dallowav ail

working to disrupt a politicd, symbolic order. Septimus, like Clarissa and Peter
Walsh, are figures who "tend to participate in the psychical tendency to escape
the imposition of the social system and symbolic order and let their imagination,
their sensitivity, their bodily rhythms, their unconscious desires break through
the dominant simiifnng practice," writes Ban Wang. S e p h u s ' s rupture is the
most radical and thus also the most devastating.
A complete break with the symbolic amounts to a break with language,

thought, Iogic, and any means of signification. It means a complete

shutdown of communication, a complete blackout of consciousness, and
ultirnately a plunge h t o darkness and death, as exemplified by
Septirnus's fatal plunge out of the window to the Street. (Wang 186)
Septimus's illness, which Wang-together with more traditional critics such as
James Naremore (247)--identifies as schizophrenia, also has positive
implications, since it involves a "deviat[ion] fiom the convention of the
symbolic language" (Wang 183). Septimus's mental state
gives rise to a fiuid form of subjectivity that manifests itself most often

in nonconventional, nonlinguistic visual imagery. . . . These images are

charactensed by a hazy obscurity and mysticism, far removed fiom

logical distinctions and stasis, and hence are least susceptible to
linguistic definition and a conventionally accepted m i t y of meaning.

(Wang 187)
Septimus's relationship to language is central to many recent analyses of Mrs.
Dalloway, including a number of feminist investigations, where Septimus, due

to his marginal place in his Society, plays a significant role. For the most part,
Septimus's death proves that he, like his female contemporaries in 1923, is
treated by those in power as a tbing whose worth is relative to the (male) ruling
class's ability to make use of it. "His state again is Clarissa's, is woman's; he
becomes an object; his body is not his own," writes George Ella Lyon. "As Dr.
Bradshaw approaches, Septimus literally has no roorn, so he hurls himself out
the window to reality" (qtd. in Caramagno 238).
Many recent feminist approaches combine in an interesting way

important elements of previous popular readings. Septimus is again a sacrificial

figure, but here the concentration is on the fact that his actions Save women,
particularly Clarissa, fiom succumbing to the male order. He is, among other
things, a "substitute for Clarissa's insanity and suicida1 longing" (Gilbert and

Gubar, qtd. in Usui 151). The madness Clarissa evades through identification
with Septimus is primarily comected with problems inherent in patrarchy.

Septimus represents that part of Clarissa's psychological makeup that has

been devastated by the masculine juggernaut of war. . . . To escape the

psychic death threatened by the extemal masculine attitude, Clarissa

identifies with the damaged masculine portion within her own
personality, represented by Septimus. (Poresky 101; 104)
AItematively, Toril Moi, using Kristeva as a background to ber theoretical
approach, argues that
Septimus can be seen as the negative parallel to Clarissa Dailoway, who
herself steers clear of the threatening gulf of rnadness o d y at the price of
repressing her passions and desires, becoming a cold but briiliant woman
highly admired in patriarchd society. In this way Woolf discloses the
dangers of the invasion of unconscious pulsings as weil as the pnce paid
by the subject who successfidly preserves her sanity, thus maintainhg a

premrious balance between an overestimation of so-cailed 'ferninine'

rnadness and a too precipitate rejection of the values of the symbolic
ordes. (90)

Makiko Minow-Pinkney's exploration of Mrs. Dallowav makes original

use of psychoanalytic and post-structural theory to argue that "the 'embrace'

wfiich Septimus aims at in death may be regarded as an embrace with the

Mother. It is impossible to reach the 'centre,' since the subject is split in its very
constitution." Septimus does not achieve it, but his double does. "It is this
embrace which Clarissa seems to experience for a moment with women:
jouissance which 'gushed and poured with an extraordinary alleviation over the

cracks and sores' when she saw 'an inner meaning almost expressed."'

Clarissa's own place in the tradition of female voices is secured by her

connection with Septimus which the suicide occasions.

"When Clarissa

'understands' Septimus's suicide she momentarily assumes the guise of his

archetypal bereaved mother" (Minow-Pinkney, c'h4rs. Dalloway" 107). A few
critics also argue that Septimus's maiaise has more to do with his sexual feelings

than with his socio-historical situation. Septimus is hornosexual (Neuman 65);

or, "Septirnus's probable guilt feelings concerniag his sexual attraction to Evans

may well have made him glad to have death end the relationship [with Evans]"

(Bazin, Andromnous 110).

Elaine Showalter sees in Septimus a problem

combining shell-shock, which she identifies as a male version of an illness

traditionally associated with women, with a more complicated psychological
disturbance. "Septimus is a symbolic 'shell shock' case," she writes.

This term, alluding to the sheii explosions military doctors initially

bIamed for the epidemic of psychological disturbances among soldiers in
World War 1, actually described various forms of m d e hystena in which
the terror, anguish, and immobility of combat led to a variety of physical

and emotional conversion symptoms:

lirnps, contractions, paralysis,

stammering, loss of voice, sexual impotence, blindness, deafriess, heart

palpitations, insomnia, nightmares, dizziness, or acute depression. (146)

Yet Septirnus's behaviour also manifests signs of a more serious ilhess. "Shellshock cannot account for al1 of Septirnus's symptoms," Showalter observes.

"He is far more acutely disturbed than shell-shock patients. His visual and

auditory hallucinations, his delusions of omnipotence, and his accompanying

sene of guilt and martyrdom suggest ~chizophrenia'~
Indeed, in Mrs. Dallowa~Septimus's expenences in the war have Iefi

hirn traumatised to such a degree that he is incapable of maintainhg a tiealthy

relationship with his wife or peers: he correctly senses that his current mental
state leaves him alarmingly inadequate to deai with everyday phenornena. More
specifically, Septimus larnents that since his best fiiend Evans was killed in the

war, he fias been unable to feel. "When Evans was killed," we learn, "Septimus,
far fiom showing any emotion or recognising that here was the end of a
fnendship, congratulated himself upon feeling very little and very reasonably"

(86). His self-praise, however, quickly degenerates into panic as he realises that

this new feeling-less state rnight be permanent. "He ha& especiaily in the
evenings, "these sudden thunder-claps of f e a . He could not feel" (87). Trying
to resolve the problem which this mental state irnplies, Septimus becomes
increasingly distracted and deranged.

He compulsively analyses his new

disposition repeatedly and fiorn always more angles, judging ultimately that he
is unbearably mentally isolated--"quite alone, condemned, deserted, as those
who are about to die are alone" (92)-in a world that rnight well be "without

rneaning" (88). Finally, to avoid being socially persecuted and to deviate the
overriding intellectual anxiety that accompanies his inability to feel, Septimus
commts suicide by jumping out of a window in a Bloomsbury lodging house.

Critics of the novel generally find that Septimus's problem lies in the fact
that since the war his ernotionai life has becorne increasingly turbulent. David
Dowling's assessrnent is succinct and typical. "In the novel," he writes, "part of
Septirnus's tragedy is that he is persecuted not for what he feels but because he
feels at aU; his London is a society of people d e t d e d not to feel" (27).
Similady, Pamela J. Transue suggests,
Septimus suffers because he thinks he is incapable of 'feeling' anything,
and yet the truth is that he is incapable of not feeling, of 'non-being.'
Septimus lives at a constant pitch of emotion f5om which he has no rest.
Because he has lost contact with the source of his point in Evans' death,
he is doomed to the expenence of unmitigated grief. As Woolf says in
her notes, 'SeptUnus shouid pass though all extremes of feetinghappiness and unhappiness--intensity.

Should always remain outside

human affaUs.' (100)

Indeed, Septirnus inhabits a city where outbiusts of emotion are rare;
Mrs. Dalloway's London is oppressive and formal. And, it is tme, Septimus
does expenence a varie@ of violent emotions-a case in point is that he has
"sudden thunder-claps of fear" about his notion that h e has become incapable of

feeling. Evaluations of Septimus such as Dowling and Transue provide are not
fdse. My suggestion is rather that in understanding Septhus and his role in
Woolf s fiction, the focus is better put elsewhere on his character. The main
problem for Septimus, that is, is not that his emotions are chaotic, but that he

rhinks he is incapable of feeling. It is this pecdiar trait that dtirnately makes

him morbidly introspective and keeps him alienated fiom the world in which he
lives-it is what positions him, in Woolfs words, "always

. . . outside human

However, it is not Septimus's experience of sudden and turbulent
passions that Ieaves him acting in a schizophrenic marner, but rather his
unrelenting and obsessive sense that there must be a logical pattern behind the
apparent confusion.

Septimus's compulsive tendency to rationalise, and his

related and continual inability to legitimise or c o d h n the validity of Krational

feeling, Ieaves him withdrawn f?om his wife and peers. His ongoing effort to be
"scientific above al1 things" leads--paradoxicaiiy-to a sharp inward turn. Postwar Septimus inhabits a remote subjective reality fkom which he cannot

personally endorse the emotional value to be f o n d in the Company of other

people and the enjoyrnent of worldly things. Consulting Woolf2 private papers,
Dowling registers Woolf s "notion of the importance to mentai hedth of
uncensored feeling" as well as her positive assessrnent of "the place of emotions

and the irrational in people's lives" (27). Contrary to Dowling's suggestions,

however, Septimus is doomed not because he experiences such emotions or
irrationality, but rather because he believes he is at an utter loss to do so. His
notion of self is totdly tied up in an ongoing attempt to rationalise the rneaning
of his post-war existence: Septimus constantly tries to define who he is by

"being scientific."

WooLf indicates in Mrs. Dallowav that such an approach

leads to a subjective identity which is strange to a sociai world, to a psychology

which is incapable of affiliation or even extended appreciation of that which is
outside itself.

In his recent post-structuralist reading of Mrs. Dallowav, Wang relies on

R. D, Laing's 1960 definition of scbizophrenia as involving a striking loss of

"in merging with the externa1 world, a sctiizophrenic knows no

boundaries, no limits and no distinctions."

Wang submits that Septhus's

misery stems Iom the fact that he is "incapable of becoming a correct

grammatical subject that is in fact the discursive subject required by sociai

discourse" (183). Septhus's "moments of misery and depression," his bleak
periods, "are the ones when he has to confiont the social convention and system:
at Sir William's clinic; at the approach of 'human nature' embodied by the rednosed Dr. Holmes, and at the hand of Miss Pole, who corrects his poems in red

ink because he ignores 'the subject'" (Wang 183).

Yet Woolf insists repeatedly in Mrs. Dallowav that Septimus is a person
who is obsessed with being rational, "scientific above al1 things."

This makes

hirn, in the context of the novel, dtimately more Iike the limited discursive
subject required by social discourse than the elusive subject Wang describes.
With regard to the poems Septimus writes for Miss Pole, moreover, it is she who
disregards the topic, rather than Septimus who neglects questions of identity.
"[Septirnus] thought m i s s Pole] beautifl," writes WooIf, "believed her
impeccably wise; dreamed of her, wrote poems to her, which, ignoring the

subject, she conected in red ink" (Mrs. Dallowav 85). In his post-war traumatic
state, Septimus's &ers

om his sense that he is restricted in his ability

positively to merge with people and things of the external world.

In other words, Septimus's unhealthy predicament stems fkom the fact

that since his participation in the war he has become altogether too rational.
This interpretation of Woolf's Septirnus is inspired by Louis A. Sass's recent
work in Madness and Modemism. Sass's interdisciplinary study of insanity and
modem literature and thought brings to light uncanny sunilarities between early
twentieth century art forms and the real-life experiences of schzophrenic
patients. He notes that whether it is read negatively as an CCintrinsic
decline or
collapse of the rational faculties, a deprivation of thought that, at the limit,
amounts to an emptying out or a dying of the hman essence-the mind reduced
to its zero degree" (3), or more positively, as in the romantic, Nietzschean,
surrealist and poststructuralist tradition, as "plenitude, energy, and irrepressible
vitality--a surfeit of passion or fry bursting through al1 boundaries of reason or
( 3 4 , madness or uisanity is traditionally seen as involving a crucial

and decisive negation of reason. Sass explains that "The tnily insane, it is nearly
always assumed, are those who have failed to attain, or else have lapses or
retreated fiom, the higher levels of mental Iife" (4).
Sass suggests, however, that such assumptions niight weil be wrong, and
that the opposite codd well be the case. "What if madness," he proposes, "at
least in some of its forms, were to derive fiom a heightening rather than a

nimming of conscious awareness, and an alienation not fiom reason but fiom the

emotions, instincts and the body?" (4).4 With reference to recent medical
research, Sass puts forth the notion that the schizophrenic's problem is not that
he or she has a tendency sporadically to take an unreasonable, kational

approach to the world, but that his or her propensity to rely on the rational
faculties has become cornpulsory and enervating. The purpose of his book is to
reinterpret schizophrenic ilinesses in light of developrnents in modernist art,
which he sees as having strands that cal1 to mind saiient features of the
schizophrenic's condition. In certain cases, for example, both rnodernist art and
the rnentally ill person are "characterised

. . . by acute self-consciousness and

self-reference, and by alienation fiom action and experience-qualities we might

refer to as 'hyper-reflexivity' (8). Sass brings up detailed examinations of the
testirnonies of schizophrenic patients in order to show that what has in scientific
studies of madness "been passed off as primitive or deteriorated is far more
complex and interesting--and self-aware than is usually acknowledged" (9). As
his concentration is upon the medical side of the equation, the references to
modernist art in Madness and Modemism remain in some cases somewhat
general. With regard to Mrs. Dallowav, for example, Sass's point is that Woolf

was involved in writing perspectivist art (30).

The information Sass gives about schizophrenics, however, allows us to
understand the eccentricities of Septirnus in Mrs. Dallowav in a new way. Postwar Septirnus certainly has many of the charactenstics of the schizophrenic Sass

describes (whether these are ""essentiai" or "incidental")?

Before a mental

breakdown, the schizophrenic, Sass notes, has fiequent moods of suspicion and
restlessness, sensations of intense dread and disconnectedness (both between
himself and the world and within himself [97]) (43-4).

Schizophrenics see

highly unconventional (but often somehow logically vaiid) relationships between

diverse things (126), and tend to ignore a common sense approach to reality in
favour of extreme or eccentric innovation-a "pathologicd fieedom" in which
the "schizophrenic tendis] to enter each situation as if almost anything were
possible" (127). They show a "striking inconsistency or a tendency toward
vacillating among alternative responses to the world" (129),and fiequently feel
afflicted by their knowledge of their problem of multiple perspectives (13 1). In
narrative acts, they tend towards a spatialisation of time (155). Their language
may be marked by the following: "desocialisation, the failure to monitor one's
speech in accordance with social requirements of conversation" (177);
"atomisation," that is, when language "shed[s] its fiinction as a communicative
tool and [emerges] instead as an independent focus of attention or autonomous
source of control over speech and understanding" (178); and "impovenshment",
when the arnount or content of speech is suddenly severely reduced (180).
Moreover, schizophrenics sporadically tend towards extreme introversion, and
fixate on the multiple or fiagmented nature of the self. They ofien suffer fiom
verbal hallucinations and a sense of being watched.

The symptoms stem,

according to Sass's research, fiom a hyperrationalism or hyperreflexive-

awareness and a related feeling of having been connected more than any regular
person to a supreme tmth or truths (220-35).
A general assessrnent of S e p t h u s in Mrs. Dallowav places him more or

less securely in the category of the schizophrenic, if we use Sass's definition of

the condition. Septimus understands his problem as stemrning fiom the fact that
he is alienated fiom emotions, instincts, and the body. As noted above, it may
be true that the narrative indicates that "Septirnus does feel" Indeed, "He feels
pain, fear, disgust, loathing, isolation and an inab*

to comunicate" (Spoerl

62). But the problem, more precisely put, is that Septimus thinh he cannot feel-and this intellectual conception of himself as one who is incapable of feeling
underlies his madness.

As a result of this peculiar understanding of his

problem, Septimus has extreme, indeed, almost horrible misgivings about

certain people around him, specificaily Drs. Holmes and Bradshaw.


narrator implies that his anxiety is warranted). His eyes are at times marked by

an almost infectious look of apprehension (14). He notes peculiar (but in some

way altogether justifiable) affinities between diverse objects, such as trees and

his own body (22). M e r a period of deep depression, he might have sudden
feelings of euphona, claiming that "real things-real things [are] too exciting"
(142), or assert an ability to divine profound truths-such as the meaning of the

world, for exarnple.

But after such piercing visions, he can for a tirne no longer discem the
more prosaic truths of his Me: in one such episode, he loses control of his limbs

and denies his personal relationships (66-7). On occasion Septirnus hears the
dead speaking to him in the present and senses them o b s e ~ n him
g fiom behid
branches and screens (93). He describes on paper and dictates as well to his
f i e , Rezia, a variety of queer ideas; Rezia scrambles to take notation but it is
plain she cannot make sense of Septimus's highly eccentric trains of thought.

Her lack of comprehension is not surprising, as her husband's papers consist of

the following:
Diagrams, designs, Iittle men and women brandishing sticks for a r m s ,
with wings-were they?--on their backs; circles traced round shillings and
sixpences-the suns and stars; Ugzagging precipices with mountaineers
ascending roped together, exactly like knives and forks; sea pieces with
little faces laughing out of what might perhaps be waves: the map of the

. . . [writings about]

how the dead sing behind rhododendron

bushes; odes to T h e ; conversations with Shakespeare; Evans, Evans,

Evans--his messages fiom the dead; do not cut down trees; tell the Prime
Minister. Universal Iove: the meaning of the world. (147-8)
Septimus's intellectual turmoil leaves him muttering "Communication is health;
communication is happiness, cornmunication--"; but he speaks in such a way
that no one within earshot comprehends him (93).
Septimus's "conversations" are generaily not with someone in the
outside world, but with an aspect of his intenor self. konically, his extensive
intellectuai attempts to make sense of his place in the world actuaIly leave him

withdrawn fiom it- In oiher words, his schizophrenic state, brought on by his
attempt always to be rational, involves a debilitating expansion of subjectivity-

In his Iast ciays, Septimus is h a l l y like an "outcast, who gazed back at the
inhabited regions, who lay, like a drowned sailor, on the shore of the world"

(93). He submerges himself in introspective deIiberations, and the ensuing

inundations of reflexive thoughts leave him stranded and alienated fiom others.
Dr. Holmes, whose assessrnent and proposed cure for Septimus reveal an
insufficient knowledge of his patient's mental state, seems to be right about at
least one thing. Septimus, Holmes asserts a number of times, should 'Wwow

into outside interests" (91). Indeed, Septimus might well benefit fkom

penodic involvement in action not directly related to an exploration of his self.

It is worth noting that Septirnus seems most at ease and "healthy" in the moment
before his suicide when with his wife he works intently on a hat for a
neighbour's daughter. "Despite the crazed, disjointed rhetoric leading up to
Septimus's finals scene," Dowling aiso notes, "Woolf shows us Septimus and
Rezia sharing their best moment of sheer joy and exhilaration just before
HoImes intrudes" (Mrs. Dalloway 95). Once finished sewing with his wife,
Septirnus observes, "It was wonderful. Never had he done anythng which made
him feels so proud. It was so real, it was so substantial, Mrs. Peter's hat" (144)~~
Of course, Septimus's expenences in the war have left him unable
simply to occupy himself at wiIl with a hobby that will easily relieve him of
extensive ratiocination. Unlike Holmes, he cannot as a matter of course switch

"on to old funiiture" (91) in the evenings or when he is feeling mentally

exhausted. Indeed, the joy he fin& in millinery is itself ominously short-lived:
just after the hat is cornpleted, Holmes's insistent claim that nothing is

essentially wrong with Septimus is sadly but completely refuted through

Septimus's suicide. Ironically, however, through his jump fiom the window
Septimus W l s the not-too insightful Holmes' s 44prescription." Septimus' s leap,
however, reveals his idiosyncratic manner of interpreting the doctor's
recornmended "dosage."

Where the doctor's advice was meant to be taken

completely rnetaphorically, Septimus literally 'Ihrows" his body "into outside

interests": he hurls himself out a window of his home, which, in this instance of
desperation, is cleariy a symbol of his constrained self.
Septimus, Iike Woolf in real life (in 1941), cornrnits suicide. Since the
publication of Woolf's private papers, diaries, and notebooks in the early 1 9 7 0 ~ ~
a great number of critics have used these, together with the biographies that

inevitably followed,' to focus on the similarities between Septirxzus and Woolf

herself. Nancy Topping Bazin, in a move typical of this critical tendency,


that "the symptoms of Septimus's illness are undoubtedly based to some

extent upon the author's" (Andromous 110). Daniel Ferrer contends more
strongly: "It is possible to say," he writes, "that Vginia Woolf is, in a certain
sense, Septimus" (17). Ferrer makes references, as do many other Woolf cntics,
to the striking similarities between Woolf s experiences during her own bouts of
mental illness as described in her personal writings and the symptoms which

mark Septimus as mad in Mrs. Dallowav-both

Woolf and Septimus, for

example, at one point hear birds singing in Greek. Further evidence for the case

is to be found in the 1h.k between Septirnus's name and Woolf's place in the

birth order of her family, Ferrer suggests.

Perhaps they also share the same position in the family structure. 'The
curious name of Septimus' codd be explained as follows: Septimus-the
seventh-cm designate a rank of birth; if we take account of the three
children of Julia Duckworth and Lesiie Stephen's daughter who all came
before Vanessa and Thoby, Virginia is indeed the seventh child of her
parents. It shodd also be noted that before adopting the name Septirnus
Smith, Virginia (Stephen) Woolf envisaged Stephen Smith.


endnote 25)
Not only are some of the symptoms of Woolf s and Septirnus's maladies similar,
but the causes, too, are comparable. Author and character have both been
traumatised by death: Woolf s first breakdown occurred when her rnother died
and her second one occurred &er her stepsister Stella's death. Septimus's
response to his fiiend Evans's death, according to Bazin, is sirnilar to Woolf's
response to her mother's (Bazin 70-1).

In relating Woolf s madness to Septimus's mental illness, some cntics

use psychiatric evaluations of unrelated h i s t o ~ ~patients
to show that Woolf s
writing to reveal that her "case" was reai, and that it authenticaily parallels that

of her doomed character (see, for instance, Transue 102). Others use sirnilar

medical materiai but for a contrary purpose-to exonerate Woolf from the burden
of being Iabeiled mentally ill, arguing that her mental breakdowns were fkst of
aIi creative literary impulses.

Thomas C. Caramango's interpretations of

Woolf s novels, for example, are based on the idea that Woolf gained a peculiar
phenomenological knowledge through her own and her famiiy's mental illnesses
which she then imaginatively and therapeuticdy integrated into her fictiom8
"Her novels," writes Caramango, "dramatise her stniggle to read her perceptions
correctly and to establish a bipolar sense of identity"(3)? Using recent scientfi
information on manic-depressive illness, and including a chart of Woolf s mood

swing fiequency, Caramango rereads Woolfs life (as pictured in biographies

and Woolfs own personal non-fiction writings) and novels in order to "pifi]
fiom Woolf s shoulders the derogatory weight of responsibility for her illness"

which is attributed through more traditionai psychoanalytical and especiaily

Freudian interpretations of her oeuvre (2). He sees in Woolf s modernist style a
move towards ambiguity and multipliciv that requires readers to "self-relate,"

and in this way "experience another subject within us and so share with ~ o o l f j

a richer world" (96). "The subject life of a manic-depressive is divergent,"

writes Caramango, "and so should be the experience of readers who c m open
themselves up to the pluralistic experience of literature" (95). Caramango's
criticai manoeuvres brhg him to read specific fictional scenes as imaginative

transcriptions of actual events in Woolf s personal life.

Caramango's impulse to reinterpret Woolf's

periods of madness

primarily as intervals of intense creativity is part of a larger recent critical effort

to revise traditionai formal bomdaries within literature and We. With regard to
WooWs work, J. Hillis Miller's 1982 andysis of the element of time in Mrs.
Dailoway was seminal in bringing others to see how Woolf tends to undermine
the f i t y of certain structural categories in her novel. Miller shows that Woolf,
through subtle connections between Clarssa and her mad double, disables a
reader's confidence in traditional narrative omniscience by playing with
grammatical tenses in the description of events key to the formation of both
characters. For exampie: Woolf uses a sirnilar vocabulary to describe Clarissa's
initial action of opening a window and Septirnus's suicide-both "plunge," the

first metaphorically into the day and memory, the latter actually out a wiridow to
bis death-and in doing so undermines the polarity of established opposites in the
novel and a reader's firm sense of the timing of events. "If Mrs. Dalloway is
organised around the contrary penchants of rishg and falling," contends Miller,
then the narrative rendering of Septirnus's death shows that these motions are

not only opposites, but are also ambiguously similar.

They change places bewilderingly, so that d o m and up, falling and

rising, death and Me, isolation and communication, are rnirror images of
one another rather than a confrontation of negative and possible
orientations of the spirit. Clarissa's plunge at Bourton into the open air

is an embrace of life in its richness, promise and immediacy, but it is

when the reader encounters it already an image fiom the dead past.
Moreover, it anticipates Septimus's plunge into death. It is followed in
Clarissa's memory of it by her memory that when she stood at the open
window she felt 'something awfid was about to happen.' (Miller 53)
It is by extending the notion that what appears to be opposite might
actually be more accurately described as a reflective counterpart, that a few
critics see S e p b u s as a f o r e m e r , even a personification of certain
poststnicturalist ideals. In such readings, critics hold that Woolf shows in Mrs.
Dallowav that the roles of "dominant" and "other" are almost interchangeable.

In one specinc case, Septimus, the misfit who is dismissed and rejected by his
own contemporary society, is revealed as actually being a representative for
humankind. "He is rendered inchoate by the very forces of comprehension that
have decided not to understand," writes Roger Poole. At the same tirne, Poole
Septimus Smith occupies a privileged place in our consciousness. He is
a sort of Everyman fiom the medieval spectacles. There is something of
the Septimus in every one of us--the second part of the name, Smith,
corresponds to this universality-we have al1 had some fimdamentally
unsettluig expenence which caused us, temporarily or permanently, to
drop out of communication with others. (" We AU" 82-3)

Indeed, perhaps Septuaus embodies a problem that plagues our twentieth

century reality:

It is often ciifficuit to reconcile the efforts of science with

spontaneous emotion.

In Mrs. Dailowav, Woolf repeatediy associates Septirnus's madness with

his attempt to be reasonable, scientific, in ail his actions.

Her fictional

charactensation of Septirnus lends credence to the thesis Sass puts forth over

nfty years later based on careful medical research into schizophrenia. Certaidy
it is one of the most noteworthy aspects of Septirnus's character, the fact that he

insists, despite the mental anguish it paradoxically causes him, on the necessity
of taking a rational approach to understanding his psychological state and the
universe that he perceives through it. "Heaven was divineIy merciful, infiniteiy

benignant," Septimus reflects. "It spared him, pardoned his weakness," he

considers in a moment of joy. "But what was the scientific explanation (for one
must be scientific above al1 things)?" (68). His pecuiiar sense that one must

know the world "scientifically" is repeated a number of times in the novel.

"Beauty, the world seemed to say," Septimus notes. "And as if to prove it
(scientifically) wherever he looked at the houses, at the railing, at the antelopes
stretching over the palings, beauty sprang instantly" (69).
Septirnus's obsessive attempts to be rational or scientific "above dl
things" lead him into a kind of hellish psychological space. "He could reason"
we learn. "He couid read, Dante for exampie, quite easily ('Septirnus, do put
down your book,' said Rezia, gently shutting the Inferno), he could add up his

bill; his brain was perfect; it must be the fault of the world then-that he c o d d
not feel" (88). Septimus's reading material here works on a symbolic Ievel to

diwige the extent of his intemal tonnent. He reads the inferno while trying
mentaily to solve the problem his "perfect brain'' implies. Septimus has grown
so aiien to emotional experience that he does not even feel pity or syrnpathy for
his wife, who, crying, grieves because she is alone and unhappy in their
marriage. Noting that he lacks any empathy for Rezia, Septimus calculates that
his doom is near, and that with each moment of inciifference he sinks M e r
down into an infemd abyss. "Far away he heard her sobbing," the narrator
he heard it accurately, he noticed it distinctly; he compared it to a
piston tbumping. But he felt nothing.

His wife was crying, and he felt nothing. Only each time she
sobbed in this profound, this silent, this hopeless way, he descended
another step into the pit. (90)
Septimus's schizophrenic and excessive tendency to analyse his
predicament means that he becomes introverted to such a degree hat he loses his
ability to act socially. His exaggerated subjectivity obstructs what we might

with reference to an early scene in the novel suggestively cal1 a "fieeway of

communication." Septhus is out for a walk with his wife in a crowded area of
London when an official-looking motor car makes its way slowly down the
street before stopping in front of a shop window. Blinds on the windows of the

vehicle have quickly been pulled down to hide a face that had been visible a
moment before only for a fleeting instant. Passers-by assume a great dignitary,
perhaps even the queen, is inside. They gather and speculate about the nature of
the prominent person being escorted in the impressive motor car, and everything
cornes to a standstill on the road. Septimus at this t h e h d s himself "unable to
pass" (14).

The sudden excitement brought on by the appearance of the

supposed celebrty impedes easy movement on the street, so his difficulty in

making headway is not siirprising.

Septimus's idiosyncratic interpretation of the incident reveals a number
of things about his character, including the fact that he is no longer a reliable
observer of the extemal world. "It is 1 who am blocking the way," thiriks

Was he not being looked at and pointed at; was he not weighted


there, rooted to the pavement, for a purpose? But for what purpose?" (15).
Septimus's obsessive introspection, his ceaseless quest to understand the
"purpose" not only of his immediate place on the pavement but also of the
complicated psychological 'site' of his post-war existence, estranges him fiom
the reality of the world arowid him. As his (false) inference here shows, his
sense of self has been exaggerated to an unhealthy degree.

Indeed, he is

confused and mistaken, since he is not r e d y in anybody's way. And yet his
comments, though erroneous on a literai level, ring true on a symbolic plane.
Septimus's "I" is in a certain sense "blocking the way":
regular trafEc of verbal communication. l0

it is hindering the

Later in the novel Septimus is interrogated during a medical i n t e ~ e w

about the nature of his continuing depression. SeptUnus shows himself to be
uncertain and perplexed. The answers he gives in response to the doctor's
questions reveal to the reader, however, an integral part of his "case."


Septimus stammered.

But what was his crime? He could not remember it.

"Yes?' Sir William encouraged him. @ut it was growulg late.)

Love, trees, there is no crime-what was his message?

He could not remember it.

LbI-I-" Septirnus stammered. (98)
Bradshaw advises Septirnus to think as little about himself as possible. In giving

this counsel, Bradshaw perhaps perceives part of Septirnus's problem, but he

does not divine the cause. He does not surmise that Septimus needs to leam to
let irrational the penetrate his thought process, and more irnportantly that he
needs to Ieam to accept and legitknate irrationally inspired feelings and ideas.

Caramagno writes that Septimus is "self-estranged."

Wooifs mad

character, he holds,
is constantly haunted by split-off pieces of himself that appear,
inexplicable and strange, in trees, in dogs, in airplanes. Thus the birds
communicate a revelatory message to him alone, but their songs are sung

in Greek, which he does not understand; the message originates in

himself, but it cannot be reincorporated because it cannot be read. (219)

But "self-estranged" is perhaps not altogether the right word here. Septimus is
not so much alienated from himseif as too much caught up in a refiective
practice which leads aiways to subjective contemplation of his state. Indeed,
Septimus does understand the main gist of the world's messages-they,
according to him, are meant solely for himself. He cannot always directly
communicate the purport of the enigmatic and abstract epistles, but when he
hears voices, natural and supematural, he insists that they speak expressly to

A sparrow perched on the railing opposite chirped Septimus, Septimus,

four or five times over and went on, drawing its notes out, to sing fieshly

and piercingly in Greek words how there is no crime and, joined by

another sparrow, they sang hvoices protonged and piercing in Greek
words, fkom trees in the meadow of life beyond a river where the dead
walk, how t k r e is no death. (24-5)
Septimus tends to apprehend phenomena k t of al1 as though they were
part of a code which, if properly read, could give access to the mystenous vault

of his mind and thereby lay bare the solution to the problem of what he considers
to be his feeling-less state. When a commercial skywriting aeroplane ieaves
d e d smoke in the air in the shape of letters of the alphabet, for example,
Septimus again, Srpically, understands the indistinct " d e d bars" as a private
celestial communication. The aeroplane puffs a number of letters, including "a

K, an E, a Y, perhaps."

Other oniookers see evidence of an impersonal or

incidental message and try to guess what the final word will be.


conjectures reflect to a certain extent their own preoccupations, perhaps, but

their suggestions are on the whole rather ordinary: for example, at least one
spectator proposes that the writing is related to commercial advertisement.
'Glaxo,' said Mrs. Coates in a strained awestricken voice, gazing
straight up, and her baby, lying stiff and white in her arms, gazed straight

UP'Kreemo, murmured Mrs. Bletchley, like a sleepwaiker.


'That's an E' said Mrs. Bletchleyor a damer-'It's toffee,' m m u r e d Mr. Bowley. (20-1, ellipses mine)

In contrast, Septimus views the growing smoke in the sky as a system of signs
intended specidly for his benefit. "So, thought Septixnus, looking up, they are
signalling to me. Not indeed in actual words; that is, he codd not read the

language yet; but it was plain enough, this beauty, and tears fiIled his eyes as he
looked at the smoke words Ianguishing and melting in the s y ' (21-2).
This scene is often discussed in Woolf criticism, where it is viewed
either as a proof, since al1 viewers witness a similar event, of the fact that "we al1
dwell in one worid" (Miller 49); or as an eady "post-modern" move on Woolf s
part by which she signals the variability of not only the signified but also the

The fact that the airplane does not seem to finish any particular

word, for example, is held to be a move on Woolfs part meant to show

something about our ability to determine meaning.


Woolfs refusal to complete


the sky sign," writes Caroline Webb, '7s an anti-degorical gesture that
questions our desire to conclude" (284).
For Septirnus, however, it could also be a kind of "key," a solution to his
problem, were he to take hold of the moment and simply enjoy the scenery in the
sky. The letters inspire in him a spontaneous appreciation of beauty-"one


afier another signaihg their intention to provide him, for nothing, for ever, for
looking merely, with beauty, more beauty! Tears ran down his cheeks" (22).

The puEs of smoke inspire in him an irrational outburst of feeling, exactly the
kind of reaction he laments he is on the whole incapable of having. The "key"
presented here, the ccsolution"to the problem of his mental health may well be
that Septinius needs to allow himself more of these moments, longer periods
even, d u . g which he simply reacts to externd stimiuii without extensively
analysing them. This scene gives us a glimpse of Woolf s aesthetics. "The
process of rationalisation that leads to the penetration of de-bound and
q u a n t i m g procedures into al1 areas of science, administration and exchange is
both the irreplaceable foundation of the advances of modemity and a major
problem," writes Andrew Bowie in Aesthetics and Subiectivitv. "Aesthetics is a
constant reminder that there are other ways of seeing nature and human activity.
If art has d e s they are the products of human fieedom, not of the attempt to

grasp objective necessities or natural regularities" (4).

In Mrs. Dallowav, through the character of S e p h u s , Wooif renders this

issue in fictionai fonn. Septimus's initial response to the skywriting is authentic
and plea~ufable.The novel works on the whole to show that we need to validate
such feelings, even if we cannot account for them in a rational way. Septnus is
mentally shackled to his sense that through extensive rational analysis he will
corne upon the "truth" of his existence. Woolf indicates, however, that an
apprehension of one's existentid '7111th" also involves an irrational appreciation
of what Bowie identifies as the "products of human f?eedorn." In this instance
Septimus "could not read the Ianguage yet.," and so he allows himself to be
overwhelmed by the "unimaginable beauty" of what he sees as the
"inexhaustible ch-

and Iaughing goodness [ofl one shape &er another" (22)-

But Septimus's staggering sense that "one must be scientific, above al1
scientific" soon diminishes his emotional response as he tries to organise his
emergent feelings and the myriad "discover[ies]" that he makes through them.
So his trauma intensifies: Septimus (typically) atfempts to d e h e the purpose
behind his '%sion."

"AI1 taken together," he conchdes, "meant the birth of a

new religion--" (23).

Dr. Sir William Bradshaw replaces Holmes in the ongoing effort to

"cure" Septimus of his inability to participate in the world around him. Like
Holmes, however, Bradshaw insists that Septimus is basically fine: he lacks
only "a sense of proportion" (96) and needs to be isolated if "proportion" is to
be won back. Bradshaw orders "rest in bed; rest in solitude; silence and rest;

rest without fnends, without books, without messages; six months' rest; mtil a
man who went in weighing seven Stone six cornes out weighing twelve" (99).
Physical separation fiom a l l that is familiar, however, will hardly be propitious
for someone who, like Septimus, already feels cut off ernotionally-


Septimus needs is not a hi@-calorie diet served to him in bed in a cIosed

d w e b g remote fiom his usud home, but actively to be integrated into more
situations which will help him to foster a regular, healthy and irrational flow of
emotion related to the people and things he knows aiready. Bradshaw, who
bbsecludedEngland's] lunatics, forbade childbirth, penalised despair, made it
impossible for the unfit to propagate their views until they, too, s h e d his sense
of proportion" (99),is wrong in his generai assessrnent of Septimus. Indeed,
even healthy visitors invited to Bradshaw's home feel stifled by the enclosure of
the "great man's" home.

"Guests," we Iearn, "when the clock s m c k ten,

breathed in the air of Harley Street even with rapture; which relief, however, was
denied to bis patients" (101). Afflicted people such as Septimus need mot onIy
fresh air, but regular possibilities for varied, spontaneous motional reaction and
help in Iearning how to validate these. Further restrictions in this case, the
narrator intirnates, wiil only decrease Septirnus's chances for mental and
emotional health. Thus when Sir William says, "Trust everything to me" (98),
Septimus and Rezia rightiy sense that they have in a way been "deserted" (99).
Septimus, temfied of being alone, beiieves he is condemned to iive in

When his sense of

desolation is suddenly coupled with an

unanticipated physical solinide after a rare moment of communal happiness with

his wife, he cannot bear the consequences. After they have made the hat
together, Rezia leaves the room, and Septirnus suffers acutely.

He started up in terror. What did he see? the plate of bananas on

the side board. Nobody was there (Rezia had taken the child to its
mother. It was bedtime). That was it: to be aione forever. That was the
doom pronounced in Milan when he came into the room and saw b s
future wife and her sisters] cutting out buckram shapes with their
scissors; to be alone forever.
He was alone with the sideboard and the bananas. He was alone,
exposed on this bleak eminence, stretched out-but not on a hill-top; not
on a crag; on Mrs. Filmer's sitting room sofa. As for the visions, the
faces, the voices of the dead, where were they? There was screen in front

of him, with black bulnishes and blue swallows. Where he had once
seen mountains, where he had seen faces, where he had seen beauty,
there was a screen.
"Evans!" he cried. There was no answer. (145)
Rezia bursts back into the apartment, and her abrupt entrance brings an eerie

h to Septirnus. Having regained a sort of peace, he sits with his wife and

together they contemplate the near Euture. The couple decides that no one has
the right to separate them, and that they will stay together--run off to another
place together--despite doctors' orders to the contrary. But before they have a

chance to flee, Holmes makes a house c d . The doctor asserts that his visit is a
social one, yet the mere sound of hls voice drives Septimus to desperate

In a few hasty mental manoeuvres, S e p h u s considers the few

options of suicide open to him; he decides that the most efficacious and least
disorderIy course of action will be to jump fiom the apartment window.

In his last hours dive, while he is enjoying his time with Rezia, Septimus
cornes perhaps closer than ever to obtaining the mental and spiritual health that

has eluded him since his participation in the war. In the seconds before his
jump, Sepimus recognises that "He did not want to die" and that "Life was
good" (149). His perceptions here do not come fiom an extended intellectuai
assessrnent of his situation-there is no time for it. His reluctance to die, and his
feeling that "Life was good" appears rather to be a spontaneous reaction to,
among other things, the final happy hour spent with his wife and an irnmediate
physical sensation of heat on his body. The more emotionally and physically
connected self which Septimus has been trying to recuperate depends on an
acceptance of such instinctive, irrational and physical feelings, as well as what

Frank Farrell describes as "unquestioned commitrnents." "When one fooks back

on a life fiom its end," Farrell contends
what will stand out has h a h g made it worth living are most likely the
long-tenn comfnitments, to spouse and children and friends, that would
not be what they are if they were frequently brought up for review. We
may distinguish between what we make of a Life and what happens to

that Me, but surely some of its beauty and worth will corne fkom the

latter. (243)
Septimus has suspected something of the sort fkom the time he met Rezia: he
proposed to her with the expectation that her simple and honest emotional
approach to Me would somehow nib off on him and thus lead to his
convalescence. He made the choice to become engaged "one evening when the
panic was on him-that he could not feel" (86). On the whole, however, the
betrothal does not work as an analgesic on his "perfect brain" in the hoped-for

way. Happiness does not "happen" to him: he rnust continuaiiy b

~ upg for

review, to use Farrell's expression, his commitment to Rezia and his role in life

Once married, Septimus continues maniacally to analyse every

situation, and his madness steadily progresses until the day of his suicide.
Critics who concentrate on the suicide scene in Mrs. Dalloway note that

not only does Septimus believe that it is the most efficient procedure, but it is
also a course of action which has symbolic value for the reader. The fact that
Septimus chooses to jump out of a window shows his need to get out of the

fiafning mentalities irnposed on him by society and its representatives, such as

Holmes and Bradshaw. Yet the scene contains other material, too, that confirms
readng of Septimus as a person who aims to recuperate irrational feeling but
finds himself incapable of doing so during the short span of his post-war life.
Septimus jurnps out of a window, but he does not hurl himself blindly into the
abyss beiow. Nor is Septirnus's leap simply a "fatal plunge out of the window to

the street" (Wang 186). Septimus's hurdle leaves h i . mangled on the fence of
his landiady's s m d courtyard. As Holmes approaches, Septirnus yells T U give
it to you!" and "[fliugs] himself vigorously, violently down on to Mrs. Filmer's
area railings" (149). Deborah Guth asserts that Septimus's death, especially the
way in which he terminates his We, shows its insignificance. "The image of him
spread-eagled on nothuig more glamorous than boardkg-house area railing
serves to highlight his death as the antithesis of meaLilngfuiness," she writes
(20). However, in a novel where other characters have such overtly symbolic
names as Doris ilm man,'^ Mrs. Filmer's name is ceaainly open to interpretation.
Indeed, the appellation is highly appropriate, as it allows us to gain M e r
insight into Septimus's mind during his last moments. Septimus's suicide, in
other words, is his final attempt to redise what his neighbour's name sounds
like--that is, through fiis death he paradoxically makes one last and desperate
attempt to "feel more."

The impulse behind Septirnus's jump remains an

enigma to Holmes: "Why the devil he did it, Dr. Holmes could not conceive"
(150). Yet the carefl reader will note that through his death, Septimus has-sadly, but finally-succeeded in at least part of his project. After jumping from
the window, we learn, Septim-1s "would not recover consciousness" (150). His

excessive and debilitating compulsion to "be scientific" has at last corne to an

The scene draws on a tension which lies at the heart of Mrs. Dalloway:
the need to lose or disperse oneself in order to find and more fdly redise a

particula. identity. Afier his experiences in the war, Septirnus remains d

l the

end incapable of validating the irrational outbursts of feeling through which he

could connect with the outside world and in so doing estabhsh a more coherent,
heaithy and socially meaningful sense of self. He is comtrained by his sense that

he must be "scientific," and his body, useless to him during his post-war life, in
death confrms his problem. Though S e p h u s jiirzips out of one b e - t h e

window, he remains confined by another-the area railings. Maureen Howard in

an introduction to the novel contends that Mrs. Dallowav contrasts "endurance

and civilisation" with "insanity and mayhem" (G),
but in figures like Septimus
Woolf rather discloses the paradoxical relationship between these more than she
builds up a clear opposition.

The price Septimus pays for his liberation fiom his "perfect brain" is
death. It seems excessive, his suicide an unfortunate waste of a young life. But
Woolf is carefl to make Septimus's fatal jump more than simply a depressing
end to a troubled human being's existence. In allowing her main character
Clarissa to gain redeeming insight upon hearing the news of Septimus's death-a
fact casually imparted to Clarissa in the middle of her meticulously arranged
party which culminates the day (and the nove1)--Woolf reinforces the validity of

Septirnus's final sense that "life is good."

To understand this point, one must

see that the novel in the scene where Clarissa identifies with Septimus confirms
that one of her early "theories" is tme. As a young woman Clarissa suggests to
her fnend Peter Walsh that an innate feeling of dissatisfaction about not really

"lcnowing" other people might be due to a tendency to remain turned inward

towards a subjective reaity, rather than outward, towards the external world.
The more one loses oneself in the world, so to speak, the greater the chance of

finding oneself--and remahing socially relevant at the same time.

It was unsatisfactory, [she and Peter Walsh] agreed, how little one knew
people. But she said, sitting on the bus going up Shaftesbury Avenue,
she felt herself everywhere; not 'here, here, here'; and she tapped the
back of the seat; but everywhere.

She waved her hand, going up

Shaftesbury Avenue. She was dl that. So that to know her, or any one,
one must seek out the people who completed them; even the places. Odd
affinities she had with people she had never spoken to, some woman in
the street, some man behind a counter-even trees, or barns. It ended in a
transcendental theory which, with her horror of death, allowed her to
believe, or Say that she believed (for al1 her scepticism), that since our
apparitions, the part of us which appears, are so rnomentary compared
with the other, the unseen part of us, which spreads wide, the unseen

might survive, be recovered somehow attached to this person or that, or

even haunting certain places after death . . .perhaps--perhaps. (1 52-3)
Clarissa's personal philosophy has at its core an irrational element:


connections she feels with people and things depends on her acceptance of a
Iogically inexplicable, a totally unscientific, spontaneous empathy.


irrational element allows her, like Mrs. Ramsay who in To the Lighthouse has a

similar belief, to move beyond the confines of a restrictive sense of seKI3

"While CIarissa's vulnerability to beauty and sensation allows her to move
outward and blend with the world, Septimus sucks the world into himself,"
Transue notes.
While Clarissa shares Septirnus's insights, she differs fiom hirn in her
acceptance of human imperfections and her ability to create and share
beauty. While Septimus is immobiised by the enormity of his mission
to bring truth to the entire human race, Clarissa is capable of confining
her activities to the private sphere where a sense of accomplishment is at
least possible. (98-9)

By slightly altering Transue's words, one c m rnake another salient point:

Clarissa, through her irrational identification with parts of the outside world,
confines the rational activities which wouId lead to a too narrow limitation of her
private sphere. Clarissa7s ability to validate an untheorisable aesthetic pleasure

as well as an erratic irrational impulse to " c o n n e ~ tis~what

ultimately keeps her
socially engaged and striving for self-fulfilment.
Clarissa has used her theory as a guiding philosophy throughout her life,
and her beliefs serve her well during a moment of panic, when during her Party,
upon hearing the news of SepGmus, "the party's splendeur fell to the floor"
(184). Her theory ailows her to find a way to conquer death, so to speak, while
saving the vital message paradoxically supplied through Septimus by it. "Death
was defiance," Clarissa discerns as she removes herself fkom the festivities to

deal on her own terms with the news of Septirnus, a man she does not know but
whose suicide marks her in a strange way.
communicatey" she feels.

"Death was an attempt to

"PeopIe feeling the impossibility of reaching the

centre which, mystically evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one
was alone. There was an embrace in death" (184). During the war Septirnus lost

his ability emotionally to connect with things and people outside himself; his
final, desperate effort to feel an "embrace" leaves his body mangled on a
neighbour's area railings. However, Clarissa h d s closeness without having to
relinquish her physical self.

Her abiLity emotionally, irrationaily, to "lose"

herself in the outside world releases her fiom a ternptation to surrender her
corporeal identity. "The words came to her," Woolf writes. "Fear no more the
heat of the sun.

. . . she felt somehow very like him-the

young man who had

killed himself. She felt @ad that he had done it; thrown it away. The dock was
striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty;
made her feel the fiui" (186). Clarissa knows, however, that the intensity of
feeling she gleans fiom her contemplations must be incorporated into the
extemal world in which she lives: "But she must go back. She must assemble"
Some critics h d that Clarissa's return to the party demonstrates a
"resignation to death" (Webb 295); or that her interpretation of Septirnus's death
serves an example rather of her abiiity skilflly to manipulate facts to reflect a
reality in her favour at the expense of other people. "Clarissa's identification

with Septimus is spurious," writes Guth, "for visionary uni@ such as she claims
involves some recognition of another person's redity, and it is specificaily his
reality as a separate person which she fails to acknowledge, or even see as
important (20). In addition, Clarissa's perception of Septimus's death is a
"denial of its Iived reality" (20). To Clarissa, according to Guth, Septimus is
actually "no more than a symbol, an image of defiance and self-immolation with
which she ritually identifies" (21). The chief cornplaint about Woolf s main
figure is that her life is "a story she tells herself and lives out in the privacy of
the soul" (21). In effect, Clarissa is faulted for self-evasion because she chooses
life over death.

After afErming death to be the only pure mode of being," Guth

protests, "[Clarissa] simply retums to her party" (22). Guth sees in this final
gesture an "incapacity to commit herself M y " that is evinced in the opening
passage of the book, where Clarissa thinks "What a Iark! What a plunge" as she

opens the window, yet in actuality remains standing just looking. The criticisrn
appears to miss the point, however. Admittedly, Clarissa's uncanny and sudden
connection does not lead to suicide. That Clarissa fails to kill herself at the
beginning and end of her day in June seems like a strange and rnorbid reproach.
Death may be "an attempt to communicate" (84), but one needs to be alive in
order to appreciate and act on this knowledge. Indeed, as another critic notes,
"By using . . . Septimus's suicide to define her present self. . . Clarissa regains
her vitdiif

(Webb 285).14 Clarissa "plunges" in both cases in a manner that

allows her to transcend the limits of a corporeal self without obliterating her


Her identification is spiritually e d m g , not necessarily physically

debilitating. ls
The connection CIarissa feels with Septirnus fbrther opens up her mind
to the value of the irrational in everyday existence. As Allen McLaurin puts it,
the weird bond she establishes with a man she has never met shows that she has
an "odd affinity'' (Woolf s words) "which seems to be undexmined by reason"
(McLaurin 29)- It is a comection that, on a symbolic level, is pertinent also to

the genenc structure of the novel. Septimus's death becomes for Clarissa a
"condition of meaning" to use tenninology Georg L a c s employs in
Theon of the Novel.


Every form is the resolution of a fiindamental dissonance


of existence" writes Lukacs. "Every form restores the absurd to its proper place

as the vehicle, the necessary condition of meaning" (Theow 62).


Clarissa's carefiilly constructed evening, a soiree which borders on boring

because it is almost too perfectly arranged, Septimus's death reveals the
disorder, the irrational component of life which lurks beneatti the surface of
daily events and informs every careflllly organised structure or scene. Without
the news of Septimus's death, Clarissa's party, like the entertainment novel,
risks lapsing into what Lukacs caIIs "caricature."

The entertainment novel,

Lukks asserts, is meaningless, since the "being" which is elaborated through the
prose is not in the process of becoming, but "already attained" (Theow 73).
Clarissa feels her party is "al1 going wrong, al1 falling flat" (168) since its
predictability appears to be making it dangerously dull, and she wishes that some

chaos or disturbance wodd intermpt its srnooth progression: "Anything," she

feels, %ny expIosion, any horror was better than people wandering aimlessly,

standing in a bunch at a corner like Ellie Henderson, not even caring to hold
themselves upright" (168).
Clarissa's inritating sense that her Party is tedious does not last long,
however. As a simple breeze enters the room, her apprehemion is dispelled.
"The curtain with its flight of birds of Paradise blew out again," writes Woolf.

"And Clarissa saw-she saw RaIph Lyon beat it back, and go o n m g . So it

wasn't a failure after dl! it was going to be all right now-her party" (170). The
sudden gush of fkesh air serves as an a h o s t literd inspiration for CIarissa,
whose trust of her irrational feelings in this instance brings her much relief.
Moreover, the birds of paradise print also work to foreshadow the vision she will
have later, when she reflects in the solitude of her "Iittle room" (183) upon the
meaning of Septimus' death. For Septirnus, like Clarissa, is described in the
novel as havhg bird-like features.16

The news of Septirnus's demise reminds Clarissa about the chaos which
surrounds her and gives significance to her artificial social affairs.

On an

abstract level, it is indeed the "explosion" or "horror7' she earlier hopes wiIl
interrupt her festivities. S e p h u s ' s suicide, which she sees as aLso "her disaster-her disgrace," (185) is awful and aiarming; but at the same time it brings on a
fortifjmg flash of insight. "The immanence of meaning which the f o m of the
novel requires," Lukacs writes, "is in the hero's finding out through experience

that a mere glimpse of meaning is the highest that life has to offer and that this

g h p s e is the only things worth the commirnent of an entire Me, the only thing
by which the stmggle w i Y have been justifed" (80). The "glimpse" afforded
Clarissa substantiates her efforts to bring people together, as she recognises
through it an "attempt to communicate."

As Septimus realises in his final

moments, Clarissa through Septimus fin& out that life is good, and that one
need "Fear no more the heat of the sun."

Thus Septirnus's character is relevant to the construction of the novel.

On the level of content, Septimus reminds Clarissa that chaos lurks below order,
inform it, gives it meaning. His function within the story has a parailel on the
structural level, for here, too, a "dissonanceyykeeps alive the genenc form,
according to Lukacs (Theory 72).

The fact that Septimus reminds one of

disorder or dissonance is perhaps slightly ironic, since Septimus as he figures in

his post-war existence atternpts always to adopt a rational approach which is

anathema to &y

feelings and irrational mental meanderings. Yet, because his

rampant rationalism results in the fidure to act on and appreciate his irrational
sense that "Iife is good," Septirnus reveals the necessity of employing, at least in
certain instances, the opposite of his method. His suicide, a last, desperate
attempt to "feel more" and so experience the cLembrace,"shows his awareness of
the need to recognise, accept, and integrate irrational impulses into one's life.
Due to his experiences in the war, S e p b u s is unable to "feel more," and his
frustration about this fact brings him to commit suicide. Yet Clarissa, through

her cultivated ability to project her self outwards into the extemal world and
connect with others such as Septirnus, exempMes an approach to life which is
mirrored in the formal arrangement of the novel. "The dangers [that aise fiom
the fundamentally abstract nature of the novel"],"

writes Lukacs "can be resisted

o d y by positing the hgile and incomplete nature of the world as ultimate


By recognising consciously and consistently, everythhg that points

outside and beyond the confines of this world" (Theow 71). In Mrs. Dallowav
Woolf demonstrates through Septirnus the possibly fiagile and incomplete nature
of the subjective world, a realm whose social significance is in any case
contingent on the validation of a theory which recommends a regular and
irrational identification with what is external or objective to it.
But though Clarissa's "giimpse" cornes through an irrational impulse to

identi& with Septirnus, Woolf does not in Mrs. Dalloway recornmend a total
abandonment to irrational behaviour.

Clarissa's spontaneous, illogical

comection with her mad double perhaps saves the novel fiom becoming trite;
yet the novel insists that the organising power of reason is not to be too easiiy

A similar point marks Woolf's subsequent novels.

In To the

Linhthouse, central figures are on a voyage of self-discovery: the novel, as the

tide indicates, dramatises a movement towards a clearer sense of self,
symbolised within the novel by the Iighthouse in the distance whose light
illuminates the Ramsay surnmer house and to which family members intend to

make a joumey. In order to explore the region of the self, Woolf paradoxically

intimates, one rnust look also to the extemal world. The discovery of the inner

'T' involves at the same time an excursion toward what lies beyond; a joumey to
self-discovery necessitates an investigation of what is 'out there.' With regard to
the novel, the Ramsay's voyage to the lighthouse brings them doser to a
subjective truth about themselves.
Early on in To the Lighthouse Woolf posits m o opposing means of

getting to this destination-one depends on Mrs. Ramsay's "irrational" method

which is based almost solely on an appreciation of feeIing; the other relies on

Mr. Ramsay's logical approach which disregards sentiment in its pursuit of

rational tmth. The issue at hand is whether a trip to the lighthouse wiIl be taken

the following day as planned. According to Mr. Ramsay, bad weather promises
to dash the hopes of the youngest child, James, who count with desperate
optimism on soon seeing the lighthouse up close. Mrs. Ramsay insists with
what her husband identifies as "extraordinary irrationalityy'(44) that a trip may
well be possible despite the fact that a storm has been announced--accordhg to

Mrs. Ramsay, "the wind ofien changed" (44). Notwithstanding vanable weather
conditions, however, Mr. Ramsay's prediction tums out to be correct, and the
trip is in fact postponed by over ten years, until after the death of Mrs. Ramsay.

Had the family set out the first time, it might well have reached the lighthouse
earlier; by implication, James and his sister Cam might have deveIoped more
quicky a fidler and more sophisticated sense of identity. Yet the possibility

remains that the Ramsays could have perished as a result of tempestuous

conditions. Mrs. Ramsay's irrational approach might have allowed for a more
immediate and emotiondy-charged exploration of identity, yet it could have led

just as well to the demise of the passengers on the real and metaphoncal voyage.

Thus Mr. Ramsay's prudent course of thought serves to contain what on a

symbolic level is a potentially damaging dispersal.
Yet Mr. Ramsay's tendency to apprehend and sort out the world logically
sets him apart fiom other family members: he is "like a desolate seabird, alone"
(61); he appears distant to those who love him and only feels "safe" when he is

out of socidy demanding situations and "restored to his pnvacy7' (46). Like
Septimus, Mr. Ramsay depends on a logic which ultimately leaves a rift between
himself and those close to him. Of course ML Ramsay's intellecruaiisation of
events is not as obsessive and compulsory as Septirnus's perceived need to be
"scientific." But in both novels, the efficacy of intersubjective connections, and
a person's social significance, depends on an ability to approve an irrationality

relatively alien to figures such as Mi. Ramsay and Septimus.

On the whole, To the Lighthouse is based on a consciousness more like

Mrs. Ramsay's than her husbmd's: the story is presented not as Mr. Ramsay
would have reality described, in a specially orderly fashion.

Where Mrs.

Ramsay sometimes feels like "a sponge sopped fll of human emotions" (45),

Mr. Ramsay checks passion in order to allow his "mind" rationally to progress
towards a perceived logical end. "It was a splendid mind," the narrator tells us.
"For if thought is like the keyboard of a piano, divided into so many notes, or

like the alphabet is ranged in twenty-six letters al1 in order, then his splendid
mind had no sort of difficulty in running over those letters one by one, M

and accurately, mtil it had reached, say the letter Q (47).

But the narrator's state of mind, if we can cd1 it such, is not at al1 like a

Mrs. Ramsay's "irrati~nality~"which renders her sensitive to

idiosyncratic emotional States of others, lies more at the heart of the novel wbich
meanders in and out of main figures' consciousness. On the level of plot, her
character even after her death serves as inspiration for those figures in To The
Lighthouse engaged in (symbolic) explorations of self through art or a
geographical space. Yet the novel, like Mrs. Ramsay says of herseE, needs a
certain amount of structure that a rational approach wili afford. "There was
nobody she reverenced as she reverenced Ber husband]" (49, the narrator tells
us of Mrs. Ramsay, who also appreciates on a physicai level the solid structure
of her summer house. So, too, does Woolf use a certain Iogical structure to
accommodate the ofien contradictory impulses of the narrative. Three sections
ostensibly bring together in basic chronological order the disparate tendencies of

the story: (IThe

) Widow; (II) Tirne Passes; 0 The Lighthouse.
A similar appreciation of logical arrangement is described at the end of

Mrs. Dallowav. Clarissa knows that "She must go back. She must assemble."
She must give form to an abstract sense of self; she needs consciously to impose
boundaries on a dispersed subjective identity. She cannot continually sustain the
irrational connection she feels without eroding the differences between people

that one needs in order to play a social function in daily Mie?

Years ago she

made a conscious and logical decision to rnarry Richard instead of Peter in order
to be able to maintain a certain amount of privacy. A life with Peter would have
been unbearable for Clarissa, since with Peter "everything had to be shared" (8);
Clarissa needs the privacy that "a little independence . . . [fiom] people living
together day in day out in the same bouse7' (7-8) allows her. While at the heart
of the novel lies a recornmendation for irrational identification with what is
outside of the self, Mrs. Dallowav at the same tirne upholds the value of borders
or frontiers which keep characters and people distinct, particular. Thus Dowling
writes with some legitimacy that despite similarities between characters and a
relatively homogenous style,

The overwhelming sense in reading Mrs. Dallowav is of specificity rather

than symbolism, and of the differences between characters.


obvious differences work against image patterns that are sometimes

applied to two or three characters and often percolate through the text.
While these patterns arise out of the surface of the London day, they
remain only surface correspondences, ubiquitous but insignificant, and
the whole--despite the bells tolling the hours-does not cohere. (Dowling


The Waves is marked by a certain incoherence at the base of the


Centrifiigal narrative forces dominate; links between the various

"voices" though revealing, are sporadic and apparently haphazard.


dominant speaker, Bernard, remarks with reference to faces, "How it is

impossible to order them rightly; to detach one separately, or to give the effect of
a whole" (167). Yet like Woolf Bernard attempts to offer a totality. Woolf
imposes a basic temporal logic on the "story" of the disparate and effisive selves
pictured in the narrative-engaging, perhaps, an aspect of Bernard's identity to
"pretend that we can make out a plain and logical story" (163).


descriptions of one day of the sun's joumey over a body of water mark a unified
temporal progress which the main storyline disputes. Despite the obviously
highly artificial chapter headings, a solid sense of self in the novel appears
increasingiy elusive and illusive.

In The Waves irrational connections permeate boundares of identity; one

character blends with another, and the reader, like Louis in the novel, often feels
that there is "no frm ground to which to go" (41). The self is ambiguous and
multiple, Woolf makes clear. An investigation of it necessarily involves an
exploration of its divergent and irrational tendencies. A rational language may,

as Bernard notes, often be inadequate to express an intensely felt emotion (171).

But the novel attests to the fact that we need nonetheless to try to tell our stories,
to organise our experiences and make them recognisable. In more theoretical
language: "Once Woolf has completed her poetic critique of our traditional
notion of the self and has shown it to be an illegitimate interpretation of our
lived experience, she suggests that the disarticulation of an identifiable selfentity does not disprove the sense we sometimes have of a 'self" (Po&

33 1).

The problem arises when this sense of self denies the "intensity of emotion"
which language is sometirnes inadequate to express. Woolf uses the novel to
show how an acceptame of irrational impulses which carmot be rationally
justified renders the self privately engaged and socially meanin@-

"Lifie is

pressant. Life is good," a f l k m Bernard when he redises at the end of the novel
the impossibility of rightly and fixedly ordering his experiences. "The mere

process of Iife is satisfactory" (170).

With regard to the title character of Mrs. Dallowav, in the last lines of the

novel, it is a well-defineci, consciously separate and "assembled" Clarissa who

appears to her guests, and the effect is paradoxical. "It is Clarissa, [Peter Walsh]
said. For there she was" (194). If we again make use of Lukacs' terminology, it
appears in this nnal scene that within the c o f i e s of the novel the main

by implication, then, the novel thar bears her name--has

"become"; Clarissa and the novel seem on one level, complete and f i s h e d .
Both senses of the word finished apply to the character of Clarissa as she appears
here: refined and final. It is what the language of the last sentences implies on a
l i t e d Ievel. However, it is essential to the understanding of the novel and its

main character that we recognise that the "assembled" or "become" nature of

Clarissa is based to a large degree on her abitity to integrate into her life

irrational impulses which undermine the findity of any (re)constituted self

Clarissa must disperse in order to assemble. Woolf endeavoured to "keep the
quality of a sketch in a finished & composed work" in Mrs. Ddlowav (Diary, 7

September 1924 [3 121). What concerns this intention, she succeeded, David
Lodge argues that last line reveals-with regard to the plot-that "the cut off point

is essentiaily arbitrary" (27).19 On another level, the novel outlines various

subjectivities, but leaves the reader without drawing any final conclu~ion?~In
order to render a modemist version of subjectivity, Mrs. Dalloway moves in a
myriad of dBerent directions: Woolf descnbes the past while disclosing the
present; she shows the tangentid but necessary link between madness and
sanity; endings, on a grammatical and formai level in her novel, are spuriou.

Mrs. Dalloway and Mrs. Dailoway-that is, both novel and main character-are,
despite their "nnished" quaiities both essentially and contbually ccbecoming.'"l


These novels, with the exception of Orlando, are regularly considered to

be part of a group in the critical literature.

See, for example, David Lodge

"Virginia Woolf' who calls them Woolf's "mature novels" (26). Orlando, due to
its pseudo-biographical nature, is often treated separately.

In generaiising this argument, which Spoerl calls "k~rnantic'~

because it
ccresolve[s]the tension of opposing points of view and impl[ies] that insanity is
supenor to sanity" (60)' Spoerl refers to Beverly Schlack, Maria DiBattista, and
Roger Poole's work on Woolf. Poole's point stands out as slightly different from
the others'. He contends that Septirnus should not be considered mad, since his
actions, though weird, are comprehensible given his background (Spoerl6I).
For another, similar view of S e p h u s as "scapegoat," see Naremore 1067.

For m e r information on shell-shock in Mrs. Dallowav, see Dowling

Sass notes that this idea has emerged to a lesser extent in certain strands

of German romanticism, a few Victorian writers, and a handfuI of twentieth

century psychiatrists (5). But even when the cause of madness is traced to
overcerebration, the actual resulting insanity is usually still considered a
"lowering of the mental level." Similarly, the "movement inward" when seen as
leading to insanity, is also usually read as "a movement backward to an
unsocialised state and downward toward instinct and the body."

The ancient

Greeks beiieved that the denial of the Dionysan "could sometimes cause madness;
however, the madness that was supposed to resuIt fiom this exclusion presumably
took the form of possession by Dionysus" (401-2, fbt. 22). For more detailed
information and Sass's own references, see footnote 22 (40 1-2).
Sass notes that 'Yhe distinction between the pathological and the
pathoplastic (or between essential form and incidental content) is not aiways easy
to make, since it in t u .depends on what should count as the essential as opposed
to merely incidental features of schizophrenia--a question by no means easy to
settle" 358).
Daniel Ferrer notes that another of Wooif's novels also shows the
therapeutic effect of artistic creation.

In To The Lifithouse, Lily B ~ S C O ~

hallucinates (she has an orninous and inexplicable vision o f Mrs. Ramsay which
helps her to corne to terms with her own situation) while completing her painting.
c'Artistic creation appears as a sort of double of madness," writes Ferrer, "very
close and yet distinct.

It offers an alternative.

Aiready in Mrs Dallowav,

Septirnus seemed to be momentarily cured through his parhcipation in the artistic

elaboration (choosing colours and materials) of Mrs. Filmer's hat" (40-41; 157,
endnote 1).

Quentin BeIl's biography of Virginia Woolf was pubIished in 1972. It is

probably the most influentid book on Woolf in this genre, since it reveals for the
f i s t thne mimy details of Woolf s personality and illness (as interpreted by her
nephew, Bell).

This idea can aiso be found in Roger Poole's notion that Woolf s novels

are "exorcisms" of ''certain key persons and passages fiom her conscious or
unconscious life by writing them M y outy7(qtd. in Spoerl75).

Wang makes a similar point, but contextualises Woolf's "struggle"

differently. "WooLfs breakdowns can be seen as signs of breaking through the
constricting social code that makes individual existence false and inauthentic," he
writes (190).

Woolf includes a detail which may suggest that she fnds this is a

generalised phenornenon in culture-a problem not peculiar o d y to Septirnus.

"The Queen herself," we find out, is finally 'nable to pass" (17).

'' See also, for example, Ben Wang in '"I'

on the Run: Crisis of Identity

in Mrs. Dallowav": "The dancing and shifting letters in the sky become a theatre
where a fiee play of signfiers is set in motion," writes Wang.
These signs are open to whatever possible rneaning the onlookers might
settle on and elusive to any positive meaning. In the arbitrary and random
ways in which individuais try to read meaning into them, there is no Ionger
any natural bond between the signifier and the signified, any necessary and
transparent relation between Ianguage and meaning: the signifier takes

flight fiom the signified and becomes fkee-floating. (1 82)


See, for example, Allen 100. See aiso Gruady 200-20 for a background

to Wooifs practice of choosing names for her characters throughout her fiction.


"Tt was odd,

m.Ramsay] thought, how if one was alone, one leant to

things; trees; streams; flowers; felt they expressed one; felt they became one; felt

they knew one, in a scene were one; felt an irrationai tendemess thus . . as for
oneself." Ruth Pomt uses this paragraph to demonstrate "how [in Woolf s fiction]
perception both implies and then contradicts the 'sense of self " (33 1).

"When Clarissa hears of [Septirnus's] death, she falters but then

recovers her equilibrium," writes Bazin. "Her Mappearance seems to confirm

what Virginia Woolf claimed to feel in Apnl of 1925: 'It's life that matters.'

Bazin continues:
This then is the flnal impression the reader bas of Clarissa . . . But it
conveys not only the victory but the struggle which that victory represents.
The party itself also represents a victory, but, similady, it is a victory

which encompasses, rather than strikes out, the satirical statements

directed against the individuals of which it is composed. (Andromous

Caroline Webb argues in "LSe after Death: The Ailegoncal Progress of

Mrs. Dallowaf' that "Claiissa is figuratively killed by her absorption into the role
of wife" (282). While it may be tme that Clarissa's socialIy-defined role Iimits
"powery' to the domestic sphere on one level, the passage in which Clarissa
contemplates the death of Septimus ultimately reveals her ability on another level
to nse above conventional boundaries.

AS Annette Ailen notes: "Having recently recovered fkom an ihess,


Clarissa is white and thinks of her face as 'beaked like a bird's' while Septirnus is
'pale-faced, beak-nosed.' Both are associated with bkds in the thoughts of others:
Purvis sees Clarissa with a 'touch of the bird about her, of the jay, blue-green,
light, vivacious" and Rezia thinks of her husband as having bird-like
characteristics (75-6).

LUkacs identifies these as: 'We risk of overlapping into lyricism or

drama, the risk of narrowing reaiity so that the work becomes an idyli, the risk of
sinking to the level of mere entertainment literature" (71).

Zwerdling notes that "Clarissa's integration is horizontal, not vertical"

and argues that the real Septirnus would never have been invited to CIarissaYs
party (Zwerdling, cc Mrs. Dalloway" 138).

'' Lodge notes that To the Liphthouse uses a loose and unconventional
syntax to "keep the reader's analytical intelligence at bay" and to avoid specific
conclusions even at the level of the sentence. He then extends the argument to
apply to Mrs. Dallowa~(27-8).

Sharon Stockton writes that Woolf through her fiction suggests the

possibility of a 'turbulent' narrative--a narrative that reminds itself constantly of

its own shortcomings and illusions" (55).

Pamela L. Caughie, reading Woolf3 works and noting her tendency for

open endings like the one in Mrs. Dallowav, writes:

"The point of WooFs

continua11y experimental form, like the point of post-modem fictional strategies,

is to resist the search for a totalisingyconsistent reading or [quoting DuPlessis] for

'a new and total culture"' (14).
Another cntic, Steven Cohen, asserts, "When the end of a novel coincides
with a moment of intense vitality, as in Mrs. Ddoway, the tension between the
form's completion and the content's implication of perpetual expansion creates
the imaginatively attractive paradox of the fictional experience." (qtd. in Transue
108). "Our need for an ending, for a resolution, for death," Pamela J. Transue

likewise writes, "in Kermode's terms, is jarred by this simuitaneous reaffirmation

of He, of energy" (qtd. in Transue 108).


This dissertation has demonstrated that an investigation of subjectivity in

novels by William Faulkner, Hermann Broch, and Virginia Woolf necessitates an
exploration of irrationality. These authors foreground irrationd characters. They
indicate that an irrational approach to realiw facilitates a valuable intersubjective
communication and promotes meaningfid social interaction. Their novels, as
aesthetic vehicles of subjectivity and reflections of a socio-historic moment,
promote a dynamic concept of identity through a structure which depends on an
irrational element for its viability.

By grouping together three important early twentieth century authors fiom

very different geographical and political regions, the thesis has illustrated that a
novelistic exploration of the advantageous implications of irrational behaviour is
not an isolated endeavour particular to a certain writer. hough their styles are
remarkably divergent and the stories they tell various and distinct, Faulkner,
Broch, and Woolf in combination show that a positive rendering of irrationality is
a significant part of the modemist attempt to renegotiate in fictional form
boundaries of self and society.

In the novels at the centre of this study,

irrationality is key to maintaining--without constraining--the precarious balance

between inner and outer worlds.
For Faullrner, Broch, and Woolf, irrationality is inherent in our twentieth
century reality, and the constructive potential of the irrational needs to be

Indeed, this potential remains largely unacknowledged in the

societies pictured in the novels. Faulkner's Compson family is publicly shamed

by the fact that they are biologically related to an "idiot"; the Bundrens incarcerate

Dar1 because of his peculiar madness. Huguenau, the most intensely irrational
character in The Sleepwaikers, cornmits heinous crimes and is despised by his
peers. Woolf s Septirnus needs to learn how to validate irrational impulses, but
the social elite who treat his malady are oblivious to this aspect of his post-war
The critical writing on these novels has until now left open a space for a

discussion of irrationality which understands the latter as a productive element of

a subjectivity defhed in part by its relevance to communal concerns. As the

previous chapters have made clear, research in the area of subjectivity and
imtionality in works by Faulkner, Broch, and Woolf has hitherto moved in two
directions. On the one hand, a favourable reading of irrationality argues that an
extreme introversion and denial of qw-g

forms of reason can help one to

escape a dominant and repressive social order. The irrational individual triumphs
as the (unjust) objective world becomes irrelevant and reguiar social interaction

redundant. In a more negative assessment, the irrational human being suffers

fiom a dangerous degeneration of the reasoning facdties and is therefore
appropriately sidelined by a community whose organisation is based on rational

The foregoing chapters have demonstrated an alternative way of reading

the irrational components in novels by Faulkner, Broch, and Woolf.


reference to recent social theorists, philosophers of the novel, medical researchers,

and Iiterary critics, they have established that Faulkner, Broch, and Woolf
constnict works which advance the notion that irrationality can be conducive to
the development of an autonomous, private self which is actively engaged in the
outside world. It has also become apparent that in each of the novels at the centre
of this study, irrational characters personifv an aspect of the novel which is
essential to the structural development of the genre.

All three authors treated in the dissertation show that too much rationality

has a deadening effect. In The Slee~walkers,Broch argues that the process of

rationalisation which began in the Middle Ages results in an ever progressive
individualism and splintering off of values fiom a centralishg order; in the
twentieth centus) human beings are finally left to determine ethical value alone,
without reference to any totalising system. In Broch's view, this leads to a society
which approves war, but does not question the deeper meaning or logic behind it.

Through Broch's rilogy it becomes evident, furthemore, that extreme rationality

may be synonyrnous with irrationality. As long as this irrationality is not part of

an attempt to iinifv disparate elements or become part of a greater system, it is
degrading and destructive. When the irrational act is a part of an attempt to
realise greater fieedom, however, a fieedom defined in part by its relevance to
communal concerns, it can be auspicious and constructive. When it is part of a
novelistic attempt to realise a totality, it contributes in a positive way to the
developrnent of a broadly d e h e d subjective, ethical, and temporal fieedom.

Woolf also associates war with rationality through the figure of Septirnus
Smith. His extreme rationality which leads hn into a schizophrenic state is the
direct result of his participation in the war and his M b l e experiences in it. Mrs.
Dalloway stresses that Septirnus's deniai of feelings and other irrationai desires
helped him adequately to f'unction during battle; in other words rationality is a
mode of being which is appropriate to combat and armed codict. But in a postwar era we need to be able to recognise and, more importandy, vdidate irrational
impulses. Septimus is until his final hour consistently unable to do this. As is the
case with Broch's Huguenau, Septhus's extreme rationality is at the same tirne
irrationality. In The Slee~walkers,Huguenau remains oblivious to this fact.
Septimus, however, is more self-reflexive. He is psychologicaily tortured by his
knowledge of his compulsive rationality, but he cannot bring himself to go beyond
it. In the end his death confirms, even on a symbolic level, this destructive nature

of his problem. Only through Clarissa, as in To the Lighthouse through Mrs.

Ramsay and in The Waves through Bernard, do we u h a t e l y understand that we
need to figure out how to accept and vaiidate irrational impulses. Woolf s novels
show that it is a question not only of survivat, but also of connecting in a
significant way with the people whose lives intersect with our own.

In Fa&er7s

As 1

Lav Dving,

rationality is literaily associated with the

dead: the most coldly calculating person, Addie, is deceased.

Her "logic"

emerges out of the grave, and her approach remains, despite her desperate

harangue, irrelevant and devitalising. Darl's ccdementia"opposes the strict and

f k d ordering which marks Addie's philosophy- His irrationality, though aiso

persondy debilitating, ultimately inspires a famiiy member to formulate an

observation about his world which serves as a description of the purpose of the
novel which depicts it. Darl, iike Benjy's character in The Sound and the Fuw,
works against stasis. Both Darl and Benjy advocate change on a fundamental
level. Their narratives promote a multiplicity of meaning and an open attitude
towards the relationship between self and other.
None of the novels studied suggest that irrationality is in itself the answer
to twentieth century existentid problems. The irrational hdividuals in Faulkner's

and Woolf3 work live through dire circumstances; due to their particular mental
meanderings, theirs is an unfortunate lot.

In Broch's The Slee~walkers

Huguenau's brand of irrationality is also catastrophic. But within each novel an

irrationai approach also offers the possibility of constructive change; it presents
the prospect of establishing a socially productive and pertinent existence. By
putting into the foreground irrational characters in their novels, Fauikner, Broch,
and Woolf also draw attention to a key element of the novel. This thesis's
chapters on these authors have disclosed how the novel that makes its points
successflly relies on an irrational element for its relevance. Grounded on this
irrational element, the novel is able to support a multiplicity of meaning, a
pluraliy which may not be logicdIy explicable or rationally justifiable, but which
nonetheless allows the novel to formulate problems of our twentieth century
existentid redity in a way that has lasting significance.

The present thesis thus contributes to a larger discussion of why the novel
remains an important art form in our contemporary society. The novel reflects in

an innovative way current concerns. Through its irrationai component it marks

the value of open structures, of multiple meanings-without fkdly disputing the

usefulness of limits. In sum, this dissertation has demonstrated that certain novels
of Faulkner, Broch, and Woolf insist that irrationality is at the core of a dynarnic

and modernist representation of identity. In the novels by Faulkner, irrationality

contributes to a flexible sense of time and to the elaboration of a valuable
intersubjective communication.

In Broch's trilogy, an irrational approach

encourages the development of a temporai, ethical, and subjective fkeedom. For

Woolf, the validation of irrational impulses restrains a compulsive and debilitating
drive towards introspection and facilitates social interaction.

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