Nature and Its Discontents in the USA Of Yesterday and Today
Edited by Bernd Herzogenrath
With the publication in English in 1930 of Civilization and its Discontents and its thesis that instinct – and, ultimately: nature – had been and must be forever subordinated in order that civilization might thrive and endure, Freud contributed what some contemporaries saw to the central debate of his era -- a debate which had long preoccupied both official American pundits and the American populace at large. At the beginning of the new Millennium, evidence abounds that an American debate still rages over the meaning of “nature,” the rightful weight of instinct, and the status of civilization. The Millennium itself has appeared in popular and official discourses as an appropriate marker of an age in which nature is close to the edge of radical extinction and has also become more and more unreliable as a paradigm for representation and debate. At the same time, the contemporary tailoring of nature to postmodern needs and expectations inevitably reveals the conceptual difficulty of any possible, simple opposition between nature and culture as if they were clearly distinguishable domains. If nature, then, can clearly be seen as a discursive concept, it may also be a timeless concept insofar that it has been shaped, created, and used at all times. Every epoch, age and era had “its own nature,” with myth, history and ideology as its dominant shaping forces. From the Frontier to Cyberia, nature has been suffering the “agony of the real,” resurfacing in discursive strategies and demonstrating a powerful impact on American society, culture and self-definition. The essays in this collection “speak critically of the natural” and examine the American debate in the many guises it has assumed over the last century within the context of major critical approaches, psychoanalytical concepts, and postmodern theorizing.
Reading Paul Auster
An Art of Desire. Reading Paul Auster the first book-length study solely devoted to the novels of Paul Auster. From the vantage-point of poststructuralist theory, especially Lacanian psychoanalysis and Derridean deconstruction, this book explores the relation of Auster's novels City of Glass, In the Country of Last Things, Moon Palace, and The Music of Chance to the rewriting and deconstruction of genre conventions; their connections to concepts such as catastrophe theory, the sublime, Freud's notion of the 'death drive;' as well as the philosophical underpinnings of his work. At the focus of this study, however, is the concept of desire, an important concept in the writings of both Auster and Lacan, and the various manifestations of this concept in Auster's novels. Auster's novels always emphasize a kind of outside of the text (chance, the real, the unsayable), a kind of hope for a 'transparent language,' a hope, however, that is exactly posited as impossible to fulfill. The relation of Daniel Quinn, Anna Blume, Marco Fogg and Jim Nashe to this lack is the motor of their desire, the driving force for the subject that has always already left the real and has been inscribed into the representational system called 'reality.' It is here, in its relation to the signifier, that the subject's desire is played out, that its experience is ordered, interpreted, and articulated. It is their ability to make connections, to proliferate, to 'affirm free-play,' their ability 'not to bemoan the absence of the centre' that ultimately decides over success or failure of Auster's subjects - whether they partake in the 'joyous errance of the sign,' or whether their fate is that of the 'unfortunate traveler.'