A language is not just a set of οf nouns, and reading is not merely the assembling οf a list of οf words. Indeed, think οf the difference between the experience οf reading and the fact οf a dictionary. The dictionary is a list οf words without a subject, without couplings between the words, without comprehension, etc., and it expresses no meaning: indeed, on its own, it does not “express” at all. These characteristics, alien to the dictionary, are all essential to reading. Reading, beyond the list, is an understanding, by a subject, οf the sense manifests only in and as the determinate bondings οf words; the words, the “list,” are the expression οf a force οf meaning, a sense that is precisely what is (to be) understood.
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To read is always to understand and, indeed, to understand is always to read, to discern the sense expressed through some manifold determinacy.
“Understanding,” in Hegel’s Phenomenology οf Spirit is, in this sense, the stance οf reading, the stance that approaches its object as something to be understood, as a reality that has the character οf a force expressing itself as the immediate determinacies οf experience.
The reality, for understanding, is not the determinacy immediately sensed, but the sense expressed in and as this. The immediately encountered determinacy, then, is not “the real” as such, but how the real appears, and the immediate determinacy is thus to be explained by the intelligible sense that is its ground, source, and/or cause. Indeed, this is how we read: we understand the sentence when we have recognized the sense that caused this list οf words to be here in this order, that is, the sense that expressed itself in these terms. By these characteristics, “understanding” shows itself to be a fundamentally different attitude than “perception” or “sense-certainty.”
Perception is a stance that accepts something like the dictionary as its model for reality. Perception effectively identifies the world as a list οf positivities: “this” one thing, “that” one thing, property a, property b, property c, etc. In perception—our normal, everyday attitude—we construe the world as populated by a multiplicity οf independent, self-contained realities (“ones” in Hegel’s language; compare Aristotle’s ous¤a), and we further construe those things to be assemblages οf determinate properties (thus the thing is an “also” in Hegel’s language: this property and also this property and also this property, etc.; compare Locke’s “substance”).
In our perceptual life, we note the separation οf things, their independence from each other, but we do not note that this independence itself rests on their integration into a single, coherent texture οf reality; that is, we do not recognize their ontological (causal) dependence upon one another. (Indeed, we might here recall Hume’s argument that dependence—necessary connection—is not a perceptible reality, not a positivity.)
By Caruth’s account, Tasso’s story also shows the unpredictable ubiquity οf trauma — how it moves from one site to another. (One might well ask whether it is Clorinda, the tree, or the imagination οf Tancred that cries out; perhaps it is all three.) The trauma has become not the original wounding, but its “repeated suffering”. The crying out follows the action οf wounding rather than the victim who suffers or the one who wounds.
Thus trauma necessitates articulation, but that articulation may be obliquely directed through sites displaced from the wounded one. Particularly striking is the example from Tasso is “the moving and sorrowful voice that cries out, a voice that is paradoxically released through the wound”, Caruth believes that the language οf trauma, the voice οf the speaking wound, is always “somehow literary: a language that defies, even as it claims, our understanding”.
I want to follow this observation to consider the deeply imbricated relations οf trauma and aesthetics in Faulkner’s work and how, amid all the overwhelming woundings associated with race and slavery and the multiple and layered voices in such texts as Absalom, Absalom! and Go Down, Moses, we also may encounter a single crying-out attached to immense sites οf racial wounding but strangely detached from victims or survivors. This crying-out is testimonial at the same time it is interpretative because its mobility testifies to its ubiquity.
If one can define trauma generally as a shocking, deeply disruptive, and pain-filled experience that, as Dominick LaCapra observes, “disarticulates the self and creates holes in existence” and has “belated effects that are controlled only with difficulty and perhaps never fully mastered”, then trauma seems central to Absalom, Absalom! and Go Down, Moses, two οf Faulkner’s most wrenching texts οf racial woundings and their repetitions, whose linkages, as John T. Matthews has argued, reside in how to Go Down, Moses “searches out the contemporary consequences οf what Absalom, Absalom! had already identified as the Souths doom”.
Following Caruth, Kai Erickson describes trauma as what happens when “[s]omething alien breaks in on you, smashing through whatever barriers your mind has set up as a line οf defense. It invades you, takes you over, becomes a dominating feature οf your interior landscape…”. Carothers McCaslin’s impregnation οf his daughter Tomasina, which arguably causes Eunice’s suicide; Thomas Sutpen’s “putting aside” οf his Haitian wife and refusal to acknowledge the humanity οf many named and unnamed characters; Henry Sutpen’s murder οf his brother Charles Bon; Zack Edmond’s taking οf Molly Beauchamp into his house and probably his bed; Roth Edmond’s casting out οf Butch Beauchamp; Roth’s “No” delivered with a handful οf bills to his lover by Ike McCaslin; and so on; these woundings are both metonymic and repetitive.
They proliferate, resounding and finding articulation in character after character, like the generational phantoms described by Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, who take up “devastating psychic half-lives” in familial or cultural descendants to continue to cry out a central woundedness in the familial, communal, or cultural psyche.