Anna Karenina: Specular Moments in the Lover’s Discourse

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Anna Karenina: Specular Moments in the Lover’s Discourse

In this brief interlude the absence of linguistic contact in no way prevents the initiation of amorous discourse.
For any discourse to take place, two subjects are needed: ‘I’ and ‘you’. ‘I’ is the person who utters, verbally or nonverbally, the present instance of discourse. ‘You’ is the person who perceives himself to be the intended recipient of the discourse, who desires to take residence in this pronoun. “The pronoun ‘you’ only means something to the degree that the viewer identifies with it, recognizes him or herself in the subject of speech” (Silverman, 49). The messages of the speaker, therefore, are meant for whoever desires to take residence in the pronoun ‘you’. In the specular moment of idyllic communication quoted above, Vronsky perceives himself to be the ‘you’, or recipient of the non-verbal amorous messages communicated by Anna. When the narrator’s voice tells us that Anna’s eyes rested “druzheliubno, vnimatel’no” on Vronsky’s face, we also recognize that this perception, or interpretation, originates in the being of the amorous ‘you’, of Vronsky, who has chosen to allow his face to be the resting place for Anna’s eyes. Although it is ‘I’ that utters the discourse, its meaning is controlled by the ‘you’, the recipient.
We find a more obvious example of this ‘appropriation’ of the pronoun ‘you’ in Part I, Chapter 21. In this chapter Vronsky comes to Stiva’s house at half-past nine to inquire about a certain dinner party. At this time the Oblonsky’s are having a conversation and are looking at picture albums. Anna gets up and goes upstairs to get a picture of her son. A ring is heard in the hall. As Anna gets to the top of the staircase, Vronsky walks in and has a short conversation with Stiva about the dinner party. He refuses to come up into the house. This simple incident strikes everyone, except the narrator, as very strange, because of the uncertainty of who is the ‘true’ intended ‘you’, or recipient of Vronsky’s discourse, and because of the possibility that Vronsky’s verbal discourse may be hiding another message for the intended recipient. Each of the three characters (Stiva, Anna, and Kitty) recognizes himself or herself in the subject of speech and reacts accordingly. Stiva is addressed by Vronsky directly, therefore he perceives himself to be the intended ‘you’. The only thing that Stiva finds strange about the event is that Vronsky did not come up into the house. Kitty, the amorous subject, interprets Vronsky’s conversation with Stiva as insignificant, and she finds more significance in the very fact of his arrival. By appropriating to herself the pronoun ‘you’, she interprets Vronsky’s arrival as a message intended for her. From Anna’s viewpoint, Vronsky’s arrival also carries a message that is intended only for her. She comes to this conclusion by examining her own uncontrollable response to his arrival: “… strannoe chuvstvo udovol’stviia i vmeste strakha chego-to vdrug shevel’nulos’ u nee v serdce” (Part I, Chapter 21).
Having taken residence in the ‘you’ uttered by the beloved, the recipient becomes jubilant, like Lacan’s child, at the possibility of being able to manipulate the discourse of the other. In the scene at the train station, this experience for Vronsky is also a state of exultation. He has succeeded at reaching the intended signified, the ‘real’, in Anna’s various gestures without any effort. He experiences a sense of unity with, and a sense of sharing of Anna’s ‘being’. The narrator illustrates this through the extensive use of metaphors that indicate physical proximity, and metaphors of transference. For example, he notices something “laskovoe i nezhnoe” in Anna. Both of these adjectives suggest a quality that can be perceived only through tactile contact with an object. In another example, the narrator tells us that Anna’s eyes “ostanovilis’ na ego lice”. The gaze in this metaphor takes the material form of the organ producing it, the eye, which migrates onto the beloved. In Lacan’s language these are instances of a metaphoric transference of the ‘being’ of one subject onto another. The amorous subject and the beloved become one being, an androgyny . The set of gestures communicated by Anna and perceived by Vronsky in this scene “has no content or meaning taken by itself in isolation from the communicative act” (Zinkin, 88). Gibian also notes that “this is presented by Tolstoy as a subtle communication superior to the intellectual. It is an intuitive, non-verbal, non-analytic process” (315).
The second stage of the amorous discourse between Anna and Vronsky takes place after the characters have established verbal contact. The interplay between the verbal and non-verbal messages in the lover’s discourse makes the meaning of the event quite incomprehensible to an outside observer. At the level of the message, this duality of information is defined by what communication theorists have termed the ‘content’, or digital, and the ‘command’ or analog. The content level of the message consists of the ‘data’ of the communication, which is usually coded verbally. It refers exclusively to what the communication is about (Sousa-Poza, 331). The nonverbal, command (analog) cues provide qualifications about how the verbal message should be interpreted. This mode of communication often escapes conscious censoring and thus may reveal the true, primitive, or repressed side of personality (Ekman, 390). “The task of the verbal sign will be to silence, to mask, to deceive … I can do everything with my language, but not with my body. What I hide by my language, my body utters. I can deliberately mold my message, not my voice… My body is a stubborn child, my language is a very civilized adult” (Barthes, 43-44). The analog message is highly antithetical; it lends itself to very different and often quite incompatible digital interpretations (Watzlawik, 100). “Digital language has a highly complex and powerful logical syntax but lacks adequate semantics in the field of relationship, while analogical language possesses the semantics but has no adequate syntax for the unambiguous definition of the nature of relation- ships” (Watzlawik, 66). The verbal exchange between Anna and Vronsky in the scene at the train station can be characterized as “small talk”. And yet when the messages are accompanied by the meta-information communicated by Anna’s body, Vronsky interprets the exchange as an initiation of an amorous interpersonal relationship.
While still on the train, Vronsky’s mother tells him about her conversations with Anna. Anna responds, “-Da, my vse vremia s grafinei govorili, ia o svoem, ona o svoem syne, – skazala Karenina, i opiat’ ulybka osvetila ee lico, ulybka laskovaia, otnosivshaiasia k nemu” (Part I, Chapter 18). The digital message here is contained in Anna’s utterance, the analog part of the message is the accompanying smile. The message transmits both information and meta-information simultaneously. The juxtaposition of the two messages does not yield a unitary signified, but rather is interpreted subjectively by Vronsky, who chooses to become the subject of speech, to recognize himself in the discourse of the speaker. Let us remember that the previous contact between Anna and Vronsky was not only non-verbal, but it was impersonal as well. She does not yet know the identity of the man upon whom she has rested her gaze. During the long train ride Vronsky’s mother presents a certain depiction of Vronsky to Anna. From Anna’s standpoint, Vronsky at that time resides in the third person, ‘he’ (or ‘histoire’, in Benveniste’s terminology). When she sees him for the first time at the train station she recognizes a unity between the ‘he’ depicted by the old woman and the person waiting at the station. In her first recognition of him she may have experienced a sense of jubilation having perceived this unity between the ‘histoire’ and the man at the station. After they establish verbal contact, Anna still refers to Vronsky in the third person when he is the subject of speech. She tells him that the countess talked “o svoem syne”, when she could have used the second person pronoun, “o vas”. This attitude may indicate that she wants him to remain the subject of discourse, but not yet a partner in the discourse. It is one of the many signs that Vronsky interprets as ‘flirtation’.

AuthorGeorge Mitrevski
2018-08-21T17:23:08+00:00 June 19th, 2007|Categories: Literature, Essays, Blesok no. 54|0 Comments