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Depression in Hopkins’ Sonnets of Desolation

Depression in Hopkins’ Sonnets of Desolation

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) was, first and foremost, a man of the cloth. He seems to have set his gifts in musical composition, drawing, and poetry at a distant second to his ecclesiastical duties for most of his life, causing him to experience terrible bouts of depression. Hopkins poured out this depression in what are known as the Sonnets of Desolation, including “I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day,” “Not, I’ll carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee,” and “No Worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief.” In his 1970 essay entitled “The Dark Night of the Soul,” Paul L. Mariani tells us that “while [Hopkins’ friend Robert] Bridges thought that Carrion Comfort was probably the sonnet Hopkins told him in May was written in blood,” No worst, there is none was probably meant” (59). “No Worst” seems to be set rather firmly in the lowest valley of that depression, and the cumulative effect of unrealized professional goals, political visions, and artistic skills contributed to its construction. The very finality of the phrasing Hopkins chose to open the sonnet with brook no argument; things can get no worse.

Part of this despair sprung from Hopkins’ abstinence from writing. He was a Jesuit who converted to Catholicism in 1866. Due to his religious beliefs, he attempted to deny his talents; he felt that the level of pleasure he derived through poetic expression approached the sinful and “burned his youthful verses, determining ‘to write no more, as not belonging to my profession'” (Britannica 1). Yet Hopkins seems to have been drawn uncontrollably to poetry. By 1875 he had begun to write again; stirred by the death of five nuns who drowned …

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…iterature, History, and Culture in the Age of Victoria (Brown University’s Context 61). Ed. George P. Landow. 1995

Mariani, Paul. “The Dark Night of the Soul.” Originally appearing in A Commentary on the Complete Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Cornell University Press, 1970. From Modern Critical Views: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Harold Bloom, ed. Chelsea House Publishers, New York. 1986.

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. “No Worst, There is None,” “I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark,” and “My own heart let me more have pity on” 1918. London: Humphrey Milford, 1918. New York, Bartleby Online Oct. 1999.

Reid, John Cowie. “Hopkins, Gerard Manley,” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. (c) 1999- 2001 Inc.

Psychoanalysis and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

Psychoanalysis and The Heart of Darkness

In Lacanian psychoanalysis, telling stories is essential to the analysand’s (re)cognition of trauma. Julia Kristeva refers to the analysand’s narrative as an instance of “‘borderline’ [neurotic] discourse” which “gives the analyst the impression of something alogical, unstitched, and chaotic” (42). She then explores the pleasure (jouissance) that the analysand experiences in the course of Lacan’s talking cure. For the analysand, the pleasure is in the telling: “[T]he analyst is struck by a certain maniacal eroticization of speech, as if the patient were clinging to it, gulping it down, sucking on it, delighting in all the aspects of an oral eroticization and a narcissistic safety belt which this kind of non-communicative, exhibitionistic, and fortifying use of speech entails” (42). This notion of pleasure-in-telling serves both as a point of departure in my reading of Marlow’s narrative–his own talking cure–and as a means of interrogating the pleasure-in-reading within the narratological economy of desire.

In his Freudian interpretation of the Heart of Darkness, Peter Brooks asserts that “we must ask what motivates Marlow’s retellings–of his own and Kurtz’s mortal adventures” (239). Brooks concludes that the primary motivation is Marlow’s search for some kernel of essential meaning at the core of Kurtz’s tale. Reading in a Lacanian register, I argue instead that the search for meaning plays a secondary role to the telling of the tale itself. Indeed, as Slavoj Zizek notes, symptoms have no meaning outside the context of the recreated scene of trauma: “The analysis produces the truth, i.e., the signifying frame which gives to the symptoms their symbolic place and meaning…

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…tial meaning of being in the world were revealed and every trauma were laid bare, there would be no questions left to ask and no stories left to tell. By not revealing the heart of darkness–which Lacan would argue can never be revealed–Conrad leaves the necessary space for desire in the narrative. Thus, the narratological economy of desire is maintained.

Works Cited

Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Dover, 1990.

Kristeva, Julia. “Within the Microcosm of ‘The Talking Cure.'” Interpreting Lacan. Eds. Joseph Smith and William Kerrigan. New Haven: Yale UP, 1983.

Zizek, Slavoj. “The Truth Arises from Misrecognition.” Lacan and the Subject of Language. Eds. Ellie Ragland-Sullivan and Mark Bracher. New York: Routledge, 1991.

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