Anna Karenina: Specular Moments in the Lover’s Discourse

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Anna Karenina: Specular Moments in the Lover’s Discourse

Vronsky’s perception of the smile as lighting up Anna’s face, as being caressing and intended for him, is reported to the reader by a narrator who has taken residence in Vronsky’s amorous subjectivity. We are not yet sure of Anna’s intentionality in this act. The smile as an analog message gains greater semantic significance here because it is juxtaposed against a rather semantically empty digital message. The verbal equivalent of this interplay of digital and analog messages Vronsky interprets as ‘coquetry’ (koketstvo), because in Vronsky’s view Anna’s discourse and mannerisms seem to borrow from the familiar verbal practices of flirting. The discourse for Vronsky is significant for its connotative meaning. To Anna’s comment, Vronsky replies,”-Veroiatno, eto vam ochen’ naskuchilo, – skazal on, seihas, na letu, podkvvatyvaia etot miach koketstva, kotoryi ona brosila emu” (ibid.). We notice here again the metaphor of transference; flirtation acquires material form, it can be passed like a ball from one individual to another. There is nothing in Vronsky’s verbal message to indicate that he has accepted Anna’s flirtation and is willing to participate in her discourse. The message gains such meaning only because it is a semantically empty reply to Anna’s equally empty digital message. This is the beginning of the game of flirtation. And why should Anna’s behavior be interpreted by Vronsky as flirtation? As we have noted, she initiates the game by referring to him in the third person. Also, in her discourse and mannerisms there is a hint of fleeting submission followed by aversion. This interplay is repeated several times. Flirtation, according to the German sociologist Georg Simmel, “must make the person for whom it is intended feel the variable interplay between consent and refusal” (134), and “insofar as both are played continually off against each other, so that neither is sufficiently serious to repress the other from consciousness, the possibility of the Perhaps still stands above the Negative. Indeed, this Perhaps, in which the passivity of submitting and the activity of succeeding form a unity of enticement, circumscribes the entire inner response to the behavior of the flirt” (143). The interpretation of Anna’s behavior in this scene as a game of coquetry on Anna’s part originates from an amorous subject, Vronsky, in whose being the narrator has taken residence for the moment. We cannot be sure that Anna has also meant her discourse to be flirtatious. However, as Vronsky describes himself to be a “man of the world”, he is probably familiar with all the signs of flirtation. Anna is already familiar with this aspect of Vronsky’s personality having heard many things about him from his mother; she knows that such a man can easily interpret certain behavior as flirtation, and she decides to initiate it. According to Simmel, “Inwardly, the flirtatious woman is completely resolved in either one direction or the other. The meaning of the entire situation lies only in the fact that she has to conceal her resolve and that, as regards something that is intrinsically certain, she can place her partner in a state of uncertainty or vacillation which holds true only for him” (142). In his decision to participate in the game, Vronsky acts instinctively, having rehearsed this same response numerous other times in his amorous escapades. He is “predisposed to the interpretation which Anna’s eyes suggest” (Jones, 97). He ‘catches the ball of coquetry’, by pretending that ‘he’, the third person self created by his mother, is very much unlike the present being, ‘I’, conversing with Anna. Simmel identifies this type of verbal activity as the “domain of intellectual self concealment: the assertion of something that is not really meant” (138). Flirtation is not necessarily the beginning of an amorous relationship; rather, it is the mating dance that prepares the participants for the amorous relationship. Flirtation emphasizes the genital aspect of amorous feelings. It fulfills a type of need that can be easily appeased. It differs from love in that, “The being of love, the pure phenomenon of which is desire, cannot be terminated by the appeasement of this desire.” (Simmel, 133)
This chapter ends with the famous scene of the death of the guard. The significance of this event as a foreboding of Anna’s death is quite familiar to readers by now. This event is also significant in the Anna-Vronsky relationship because it offers Vronsky another opportunity to take residence in the pronoun ‘you’ and thus become a partner in Anna’s amourous discourse. When Anna hears of the accident, she says in a whisper: “Nel’zia li chto-nibud’ sdelat’ dlia nee? [the widow]”. The indefinite “chto-nibud’ sdelat’” in this “request” is accompanied by an implied “kto-nibud’”, the agent who will, through a definite tangible act, ‘replace’ both of these indefinite pronouns with definite ones. To Anna’s suggestion Vronsky replies: “Ia seichas pridu”, and gives the widow 200 rubles. In this indirect interchange, Anna’s language puts forth ’empty’ (indefinite) forms, which Vronsky, through his acts, appropriates to himself and relates them to his person in the exercise of the amorous discourse. According to discourse theory, one takes up residence in a pronoun through an act. There is no doubt that all present agree that the widow should be helped. Granting Anna’s request may serve a double purpose: to help the widow simply because one feels sorry for her, or to communicate a message to Anna (a subtext under the text of granting the request). Vronsky’s verbal reply to Anna’s request is addressed to his mother. But the narrator also tells us that before Vronsky addresses his mother he glances at Anna. Therefore, there are two addressees to whom the message “Ia seichas pridu” is sent. Vronsky replaces Anna’s indefinite “chto-nibud’ sdelat’” with the act of ‘giving the money’, and the implied “kto-nibud’” with ‘you’ which he appropriates to himself. He identifies with it, recognizes himself in the subject of speech, and takes up residence there. Lacanian psychoanalysts have noted that, “… language in the psychoanalytic setting transmits meaning through its ambiguities, denials, and ignoring of intentions” (Benvenuto and Kennedy, 72).
This sort of discourse between Anna and Vronsky continues through the early stages of their relationship. When the characters function in the field of the specular moment, the idyllic communication and reciprocity continue, all the constraints of language are eliminated. When they are outside of this moment, however, the characters perceive and interpret their being and reality through thought and language. On the level of discourse, Anna’s unrelenting desire to find meaning in the relationship through language is the main reason for the faltering of the relationship and for her thoughts of suicide. When Vronsky is absent from her several times, through language, Anna attempts to figure out the reason for the absence. This leads her to using more language and to a sense of abandonment. The abandonment is not only physical, but linguistic as well, because language can’t convey to her the essence of the Real. The amorous relationship between Anna and Vronsky becomes perverted when the specular moment shifts into the sphere of the corporeal world, where the relationship becomes genitalized and language takes over. In the specular moment all desires are fulfilled. When the moment becomes sexualized, the Other becomes an object separated from “I”, and “the logic of desires begins to function, the will-to-possess returns” (Barthes, 104).
Specular intersubjectivity, in the sense of subject to subject relationship in this corporeal world is an impossibility, because one’s relationship to the Other is based on conflict. William Barrett explains: “To the other person, who looks at me from the outside, I seem an object, a thing; my subjectivity with its inner freedom escapes his gaze. Hence his tendency is always to convert me into the object he sees. The gaze of the Other penetrates to the depths of my existence, freezes and congeals it. It is this, according to Sartre, that turns love and particularly sexual love into a perpetual tension and indeed warfare. The lover wishes to possess the beloved, but the freedom of the beloved (which is his or her essence) cannot be possessed; hence, the lover tends to reduce the beloved to an object for the sake of possessing it” ( 257). Wasiolek comes to a similar conclusion in his observation of the Anna-Vronski relationship: “It is the nature of physical passion that works for the destruction of Anna’s and Vronsky’s love, brings them to hatred of each other, brings Anna to hatred of herself, makes their relationship more and more spectral, breaks down the communication between them, brings them into a situation where they cannot speak frankly to each other, makes them avoid certain subjects, and forces them to surround themselves with other people so as to make each other’s presence tolerable” (153).
In the specular moment, there is no possibility for replaceability of the Other with just any Other. In the corporeal world and the world of language, this possibility is not excluded. For Vronsky, Anna can be replaced by someone else, she is just a woman. Initially Vronsky thinks that he is attracted to Anna because for him she represents the “noble female”. His need for Anna disappears once the desire to possess her sexually is fulfilled.

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