Anna Karenina: Specular Moments in the Lover’s Discourse

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Anna Karenina: Specular Moments in the Lover’s Discourse

C. Discourse of the Amorous Subject in the Specular Moment

Through language, according to Lacan, the subject moves from the specular order of being to the symbolic. Lacan’s mirror-stage child eventually comes to realize that it cannot possess reality (his mirror image), but only represent it symbolically in language. In Lacan’s view, the individual’s identity, the structure of his being, is also constituted by language. Amorous subjectivity in the specular moment, as we have noted earlier, cannot render its emotions through language, but only through it’s subtexts. Merezhkovskij (1902), Wierzbicka (1973), and numerous other critics have pointed out that Tolstoy’s characters in Anna Karenina for their expression, or comprehension, of emotions rely less on language and much more heavily on external (gestural) expressions. What we have in the novel, then, in essence are numerous instances where communication of emotion is facilitated in the absence of language. The stylistic features of the novel that are related to this and which I would like to consider here are these: how amorous relationships in the novel function in the absence of language, and how the author, through language, relates these emotions to the reader.
Our example is from Chapters 22 and 23, when Kitty learns, indirectly, that Anna and Vronsky are in love. She comes to this conclusion by observing them dancing mazurkas and polkas at a ball. Through the subtexts of dance Kitty discovers a ‘dialogue’ taking place between the two amorous characters, a dialogue whose signifieds are inexpressible through language.
Certain social dances have an extremely rigid kinesic and proxemic structure. They consist of movements that are confined to established patterns that are repeated at regular intervals. Depending on the type of dance, the distance between dance partners, and between dance couples, is also regulated. One can observe the dance and its participants from two perspectives: from the perspective of the dancer and from the perspective of the non-participant, or audience. In the first instance, the observer has an opportunity to observe a dancer, or a couple, from various distances and perspectives as the dance progresses. In the second instance one can observe the dance couple in relation to other dancers or couples. By observing the ‘subtexts’ of an individual dancer, the observer can make inferences about the state of mind of the dancers. The narrator in these two chapters enters Kitty’s subjectivity and relates her discovery of the love relationship from her perspective, first as a dance participant and then as an observer. This narrative approach is a repetition of the narrative method in the scene at the train station at the beginning of the novel, where everything is related from Vronsky’s subjective viewpoint.
Kitty first notices a change in Vronsky’s behavior when he fails to respond to the look full of love that she had given him. In Chapter 23, Kitty is dancing with some gentleman, while Anna is dancing with Vronsky. As the dance progresses, “Ei sluchilos’ byt’ vis-à-vis s Vronskim i Annoi.” Now she sees a completely different Anna from the one she had expected and attempts to figure out the cause for the change. Kitty seeks to understand the ‘being’ of the Other, Anna, by identifying Anna’s subjectivity with her own, “Ona znala eto chuvstvo i znala ego priznaki i videla ikh na Anne – videla drozhashchii, vspykhivaiushchii blesk v glazakh i ulybku schast’iaq i vozbuzhdeniia, nevol’no izgibaiushchuiu guby, i itchetlivuiu graciiu, vernost’ i legkost’ dvizhenii” (Chapter 23). In Anna’s image and behavior Kitty sees a specular reflection of her own amorous subjectivity, and concludes that Anna must be experiencing the same feelings as she. Phenomenologists, such as Sartre, have noted that one can know the Other only through the signs that it exteriorizes:
Despite the fact that I am an interiority, my interiority manifests itself outwardly in bodily movements of expression. There exists a certain constancy in the relationship between my interior states and my bodily expressions: particular inner states are exteriorized in and by particular bodily movements. Now, I perceive in the other person the expressive movements through which I myself exteriorize particular inner states. This analogy gives me the right to conclude that an interiority is present in the other and that in him also there are those inner states to which I myself give expression by means of the bodily movements I perceive now in the other. (quoted by Luijpen, 275)
The signs that Kitty observes in Anna are signs that belong strictly to amorous subjectivity, and because the specular moment provides a total comprehensible image, there cannot be any confusion for Kitty as to the validity of these signs. Amorous subjectivity, however, always implies the presence of a beloved. The question that Kitty now asks is, who is Anna’s beloved, the cause or condition, or recipient of her amorous feelings: “Net, eto ne liubovan’e tolpy op’ianilo ee, a voskhishchenie odnogo. I etot odin? Neuzheli eto on?” Kitty discovers the identity of the amorous Other during one of the dances: “To, chto Kiti tak iasno predstavlialos’ v zerkale lica Anny, ona uvidela na nem.” Judith Armstrong reminds us that at this point it is impossible not to be reminded of Lacan’s mirror stage metaphor, as “each partner experiences a sense of loss of self as the object libido is brought to the object with the accompanying exhilaration of release as if from bondage, and, simultaneously, a re-identification of self with the other.” (83)
In reading this passage we should keep in mind that the observations, and interpretation, of Vronsky’s various movements are communicated by a narrator who has entered Kitty’s amorous subjectivity. The specular moment allows her to see the signs of amorous feelings in Vronsky as easily as she saw them in Anna. At this point the amorous inter-subjectivity among the characters becomes triangular. At first Kitty is not sure that what she has seen is real or imaginary. Her initial observations are confirmed after she observes their behavior during the dance as a couple from various angles and at various distances: “Ona videla ikh svoimi dal’nozorkimi glazami, videla ikh vblizi, kogda oni stalkivalis’ v parax, i chem bol’she ona videla ikh, tem bol’she ubezhdalas’, chto neschastie ee svershilos’. Ona uvidela, chto oni chuvstvovali sebia naedine v etoi polnoi zale” (Chapter 23). In this moment of non-verbal amorous communication, the use of language seems to accomplish nothing more, it becomes superfluous. It signals the final break in the Kitty-Vronsky relationship.
-Prekrasnyi bal! – skazal on ei, chtoby skazat’ chto-nibud’.
-Da, – otvechala ona.
Language, in Lacanian theory, draws the subject away from the specular moment and it provides the final break between the ego and reality. The image, according to Barthes, is much more painful for the lover than what one knows through language:
In the amorous realm, the most painful wounds are inflicted more often by what one sees than by what one knows… The image is presented, pure and distinct as a letter: it is the letter of what pains me. Precise, complete, definitive, it leaves no room for me, down to the last finicky detail: I am excluded from it as from the primal scene, which may exist only insofar as it is framed within the contour of the keyhole. Here then, at last, is the definition of the image, of any image: that from which I am excluded. (132)
It is interesting to note that this very significant scene, which confirms amorous intersubjectivity between Anna and Vrosnky, is conveyed to the reader by a subject who is outside of that relationship. This can only lead us to conclude that the scene is less about Anna and Vronsky, and more about the break of the Kitty-Vronsky relationship. Kitty realizes that she is cast away from the relationship, she becomes the other (histoire), and can no longer participate in the amorous discourse. In the specular moment the subject recognizes only two beings: ‘I’ and the ‘Other’, and the ‘Other’ is only a reflection of the ‘I’. At the ball, Kitty comes to realize that the ‘Other’ is also reflected in a third image, one that is preferred over ‘I’. She is no longer Vronsky’s ‘Other’, but one among others. The image of the ‘I’ looses its preferred status, the specular moment ends and language takes over.

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